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'Life is always beautiful': What 81 years and 6,000 babies have taught Flora Gualdani

Rome, Italy, Aug 25, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- “Life is always beautiful,” Flora Gualdani said, sitting at a table in the space she calls “the school,” a wood-paneled room in a small house she built in the early ‘80s on her property in rural Tuscany.

Of course, life has its difficulties too, she added, but “the struggle passes, and beauty endures.”

Flora seems particularly qualified to speak about life’s beauty and challenges. Now 81 years old, she spent over half that time welcoming new life into the world as a midwife. In more than 40 years she delivered an estimated 6,000 babies, sometimes in the most difficult circumstances life can offer – illness, death, war, poverty, and despair.

According to Davide Zanelli, Flora’s close collaborator and friend, who was once one of these newborn babies, the dark-haired, charismatic woman helped him “be born twice.”

The first time was when she helped his mother give birth to him in 1968, Zanelli said, and the second was when she opened his eyes as a young adult to the beauty of the Church’s teachings on human sexuality and the family.

The whole trajectory of his life was changed, he says: “Everything I have I owe to Flora.” (Flora was also a witness at Zanelli and his wife’s marriage and assisted at the birth of the first of Zanelli’s two daughters in the 90s.)
 
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An encounter with a pregnant woman with cancer was a pivotal episode in the first part of Flora’s career as a trained midwife, when she was in her early 20s. The sick woman was being pressured by doctors to abort, against her wishes.
 
Abortion was then illegal in Italy, and it was not uncommon for Italian women to travel to London to procure the procedure, which Flora was shocked to learn on a visit to England as a young adult. Abortion was legalized in Italy in 1978.
 
With Flora’s support, the woman carried to term and gave birth to a healthy little girl. Afterward, however, the mother was in the hospital and too ill to care for her, so she asked young Flora to take charge of the girl.
 
This baby girl, born in 1964, was the first of Flora’s many “adoptive” children.
 
After the first, more babies with no place to go began to come home from the hospital with her. The second child she took in was the fourth daughter of a woman who died during labor.

The third was a baby boy whose mother, a prostitute, had abandoned him at the hospital.
 
There was no plan or organization behind it, Flora said. “It all happened spontaneously at that time.”
 
She was then still living with her parents and older brother, who were surprisingly tolerant of her habit of acquiring children, she said, and would watch after them whenever she was working.
 
Word of Flora’s generosity spread; her mother once answered a call from the courthouse in Florence, over 45 miles away, asking if she would take a baby in need of a home.
 
After a few years, Flora realized that despite her family’s patience, it was time to give them back their privacy, so she created a separate entrance and living space in the attic of the house where she welcomed her first expectant mom in distress in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s. For a period, she let a young man with nowhere to go sleep on a cot in the kitchen.
 
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Reflecting on her early life, Flora said she “was very lucky,” noting that “poverty did not take away the joy of this family.”
 
Flora’s father grew up an illiterate peasant farmer. He was conscripted to fight in World War I, and not long after entering, was captured and imprisoned. He later said what kept him alive in the work camp was the dream of one day having a family, including a dark-eyed daughter.
 
After his release, he was determined to be free – and not to work under any landowner. He taught himself to read and write, and with the help of the local priest, obtained a passport and a loan for the cost of a ticket on a steamer to the United States.
 
He worked and saved his money for 11 years. And when he returned to Italy, he bought his own land to farm on as a free man. This is the origin of Flora’s inherited property and house, built by her father.
 
Flora’s mother came from an upper-class family which disinherited her when she married Flora’s father. Together they had a son and Flora, the “dark-eyed girl” her father had dreamt of.
 
To Flora’s recollection, her parents never fought or raised their voices. The riches her family had were not material, she explained, but what they bequeathed her was the faith, liberty, and peace in the family.
 
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Bethlehem House, as Flora’s several-acre property is called, sits three miles outside the Tuscan city of Arezzo. The narrow strip of land is bordered by a busy train track one side and a state road on the other.
 
Once a working farm, the property is now made up of lawns, flowerbeds, and paths, scattered between small buildings. Well-used children’s toys and games lay about.
 
These buildings, mostly small houses, were constructed by Flora in the 1970s, out of her spare time and money and with the help of volunteers. She would not take money from Church or state.
 
The houses were built to host women facing difficult pregnancies; women with no place to go and at risk of seeking an abortion. Many of these women, she said, had been thrown out by their families, or were working on the streets, when they came. She recalled that many of them showed up at her door with only a plastic bag in their hand.
 
Flora could give shelter to up to seven or eight women at a time. The young women, many of whom were of different races, could stay with her for as little or as long a time as they needed.
 
While the woman’s child was under school age, she would contribute to the little community through sharing in the chores and childcare. Later, she would take a job in the community, such as a house cleaner. Some part of the money she earned would go toward expenses at Bethlehem House and the rest she would be required to save for an eventual apartment of her own.
 
Flora even acted as matchmaker at times, Zanelli said, and though Flora herself never married, many of the young women under her care “left having found love.” Flora, who became like a mother to many of the women she helped, witnessed many marriages and was godmother at many Baptisms.
 
Flora’s approach in this work can be summed up in a small phrase she repeats like a motto: “Chi ha sbagliato va amato di più” – “Who has erred should be loved more.”
 
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Flora was also a world traveler. In the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, she traveled alone to missionary areas around the globe. (When someone asks her how she was able to do it, she replies, “Providence.” She paid for everything from her own salary.)
 
She helped women and children in Egypt, China, Thailand, Bangladesh, and more. In 1980, she traveled to Cambodia and helped to deliver babies in the midst of the Cambodian-Vietnamese War.

The name “Bethlehem House” came from the first of Flora’s many visits to the Holy Land. It was in the cave where Jesus was born that she first heard a distinct call from God to give her life in service.
 
Bethlehem House, in its simple appearance, matches the origins of its name. “We stay faithful to the name, ‘Bethlehem,’ and Bethlehem has a cave, not a roof,” Flora said. Manger scenes and other statues of the Christ child can be found around the property.
 
The chapel is in the former stable, which was built beneath the family’s home. A simple wooden tabernacle sits along the back wall in a trough still filled with hay, a reminder of its original purpose – a container for the nourishment of its inhabitants.
 
Most of the “little houses,” as Flora calls them, have now been empty for about eight years, when they were discovered to have significant structural problems making them dangerous to inhabit.
 
She would like to one day fix or rebuild the houses, and again shelter women, but said this aspect of her ministry would begin again only with God’s will and in his timing.
 
The last two decades, with the shelter closed and her obstetric career completed, Flora has focused her time on teaching, writing, and speaking about the Catholic Church’s teachings on human sexuality, particularly as expressed in Humanae Vitae, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, and other Church documents.
 
She also continues to teach couples and train instructors in Natural Family Planning, which she studied in Rome in the 1980s.
 
The community surrounding Bethlehem House, which helps her in these endeavors, was given the status of a public association of lay faithful in 2005, and is focused around prayer, study, and work.
 
Flora spoke about her conviction that one of today’s most important spiritual works of mercy is to instruct the ignorant. There is ignorance at all levels of the Church, she said, describing what she called a temptation to “embalm” Church doctrine, and like a taxidermied animal, to leave the outside intact while emptying the teaching of its substance.
 
To those who disagree with her, or try to tell her times have changed, Flora answers: “but the human person has not changed.”
 
Her day starts at around 5:30 am, when she goes to work in the yard before the worst of the day’s heat. Around 8 am she returns inside for breakfast, then says morning prayer in the chapel. She spends the rest of the morning working on writing and correspondence.
 
Flora, who prays a rosary at least daily, explained that “the motor of all the work is prayer.”
 
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Over the years, Flora’s work also included counseling women after an abortion, which she said leaves a deep wound, and often leads to terrible remorse. Those who are suffering from the wounds of sins such as abortion, prostitution, or contraception have even more need to be loved, listened to, and understood, she said.
 
She also witnessed the loss of babies in miscarriage or stillbirth. “Among the babies I helped to be born here, some I also accompanied to heaven.”
 
One of her desires for Bethlehem House is for it to be “a little university of love for the person.”
 
“In my life, not one woman has returned regretful for having welcomed life,” she said, estimating that she has helped three, or in some cases, four generations to be born.
 
“I have always seen so much joy when a baby is born, even if there are certain anxieties, struggles… at that moment, you forget,” she said.

 

Pope Francis: Mary helps Christians enter heaven through the 'narrow gate'

Vatican City, Aug 25, 2019 / 06:10 am (CNA).- The way to heaven is difficult and the gate to enter small, but Jesus’ mother, Mary, who herself entered through the narrow gate, will help those who ask, Pope Francis said Sunday.

Mary can be invoked under the title “Gate of Heaven,” he explained in his Angelus address Aug. 25.

“She welcomed [Jesus] with all her heart and followed him every day of her life, even when she did not understand, even when a sword pierced her soul.”

The Blessed Virgin Mary is “a gate that exactly follows the form of Jesus: the gate of the heart of Jesus, demanding, but open to all,” he said. “May the Virgin Mary help us in this.”

Pope Francis reflected on the day’s Gospel passage from Luke, when someone asks Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”

This was a highly debated issue at the time, Francis said, and with his answer, Jesus turns the question “upside down.” Instead of focusing on the number of people who get to heaven, he speaks of the path to heaven, and how many will choose to follow it.

Using the present tense, Jesus invites people to take personal responsibility, saying, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”

“With these words, Jesus makes it clear that it is not a question of numbers, there is no ‘closed number’ in Paradise! But it is a question of going through the right passage, which is there, for everyone, but it is narrow,” Francis said.

He explained that Jesus does not deceive people; he does not say that the way to heaven is a big, beautiful highway with a large door at the end, to not worry.

“No, Jesus tells us things as they are: the passage is narrow,” he said.

“In what sense? In the sense that to be saved one must love God and one’s neighbor, and this is not comfortable! It is a ‘narrow door’ because it is demanding, it requires commitment, indeed, ‘effort,’ that is a determined and persevering will to live according to the Gospel.

“For us Christians, this means that we are called to establish a true communion with Jesus, praying, going to church, approaching the Sacraments and nourishing ourselves with his Word,” he explained.

“This keeps us in faith, nourishes our hope, revives charity,” he continued. “And so, with the grace of God, we can and must spend our lives for the good of our brothers, fight against every form of evil and injustice.”

After the Angelus, Pope Francis spoke about the ongoing fires in the Amazon, saying “that forest lung is vital to our planet.”

“We pray that, with everyone’s commitment, they may be tamed as soon as possible,” he said.

Francis also greeted the community of the Pontifical North American College (NAC), the American seminary in Rome, especially, he said, the new group of seminarians who arrived this month to begin their studies. U.S. seminarians studying at the NAC usually stay four to five years.

 

How these college freshmen found the faith through friendship

Denver, Colo., Aug 25, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- The phenomenon is well-documented. When young Catholics go away to college, a troublingly high percentage of them stop practicing their faith. And many who stop going to Mass in college never return.

Initiatives like FOCUS, and Newman Centers across the country, are all geared toward helping young Catholics stem the tide - to grow as Catholics in college, rather than wither.

Last Easter, three young men in Colorado were part of a different trend. They didn’t leave Catholicism in college. Instead, they became Catholics.

Jake Keller, a civil engineering major; Ian Horton, a finance major; and Anthony Ascolese, a natural resource management major, will be upcoming sophomores at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado.
 
Keller and Ascolese began their freshman year in 2018 with little religious formation at all. Horton, who had been a committed atheist until age 17, entered the University of Colorado at Boulder as a newly converted Protestant. He transferred to CSU during his second semester.
 
Ascolese told CNA that he grow up occasionally going to Baptist services with his grandmother, or to Mass with Catholic families, but that he had never given much attention to faith. But when he began attending CSU, he connected with some Catholic friends and was invited to some events at the Catholic student cener.

“[Growing up,] they have always invited me to [Catholic] stuff, and [they] invited me to the intramural fields that are on campus,” Ascolese said.

“I saw this big flag that said ‘Ram Catholic,’ and I was like, ‘Oh no, here they go again,’” he told CNA.

Initially, Ascolese said, he felt uncomfortable at Catholic events.

“I would just feel really out of place because I didn’t have much of a knowledge of God or anything like those traditional stories... So anytime I was there, like a Bible study or Mass, I felt really out of place.”

But he was joined at some of those events by other non-Catholics, among them Horton and Keller. That helped overcome the awkwardness.

Ascolese said the community was friendly and he soon realized that “religious people” could be “ordinary people.”

As he spent time in a Catholic circle, he grew more comfortable with the faith.

“I just kept growing and learning and hanging out with everyone and really falling in love with Mass. Everything about the Church was really coming together, and God was doing so much work through that,” he said.

Eventually, Ascolese attended a campus ministry retreat: “Ram Awakening.” There students participated in the sacraments, praise and worship sessions, and had religious discussions.

One of the major turning points, he said, was receiving letters of encouragement from his family and strangers during the retreat.

“The amount of love I felt from them, even just reading a piece of paper. You can really see how genuine and loving every letter was, even though I didn’t know any of the people staffing it. It shows how happy, joyful, and loving they were for me being there. It was really amazing,” he said.

“I think three days after that, I went over to the Church and met with Jessica Harris who leads RCIA at St John [XXIII Catholic Church].”

Keller has a similar story. He told CNA that he and his family and attended nondenominational services a few times each year.

At Colorado State University, Keller was invited to attend some religious events by some Catholic friends from high school. He said the events began as an opportunity to reconnect with old friends, but the faith soon became his point of interest.

“I started to become more in touch with God, praying a lot more, and believing a lot more. After joining their Bible study [and] doing a bunch of stuff with the Church, I eventually went on this retreat called Ram Awakening, we have at CSU,” he said.

“That retreat really changed me. I learned a lot about suffering and how that can make your life better,” he further added.

Keller said he especially struggled with the clergy sex abuse scandals and the Church’s stance on marriage and abortion. He said, through discussions with friends, he was better able to understand these issues.

“[The scandals] was the main thing holding me back. I guess just trying to think about priests not as someone who is representing God but someone who God is acting through. It’s hard to look up to someone but also understand that they are still human and they’re imperfect,” he said.

“Going through with them, I wasn’t doing it alone. It helped me look past the scandals in the Church because I am not doing it alone and there are other people doing it with me. Working through community helped a lot.”

Holton was a staunch atheist for about ten years; as a teen he devoured the work of intellectual atheists like Christopher Hitchens. But when he was 17, he became focused on researching and understanding Christianity. After reading books by authors like Thomas Aquinas and GK Chesterton, he realized, to his surprise, that he accepted Christianity.

A new believer, Holton said he didn’t know where to fit in among Christians when he began attending college. He said that one day he visited the Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center, just off campus in Boulder. There, he said, a priest answered a lot of his questions about faith, and set him in the direction of Catholicism.

“From then on, I recognized that I appreciated Catholicism more than Protestantism because it was far more beautiful, interesting, and, most importantly, that is when I realized it was true.”

He started RCIA in Boulder, but he transferred to CSU in Fort Collins, where he is from.

There, he said he discovered a rich and active Catholic community among the youth. He said he was further inspired to the faith by Fr. Rocco Porter, the pastor of St. John XXIII Catholic Church near the university.

Holton said he is inspired by discovering the traditions of the Church and participating in Mass, noting he has had a strong connection to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the Latin Mass. He said he’s realized, through the impact of the saints and Catholic intellectuals, that the Church has been the most influential institution in the world’s history.

“I love to know that I’m part of the faith and the Church that Jesus himself founded.  And to know that I’m participating in the original sacrifice of the Mass that’s been going on for 2000 years.”

“I love to couple the Bible with the Sacred Tradition that we have of how we do love Mary [and] how we do venerate the saints,” he said. “Not only do we have [these saints], we have 2000 years of some of the best philosophers and theologians the world has ever seen.”

The three men said that through RCIA, they were able to grow closer to Christ together, pray for each other, and discuss the intricacies of the faith.

Ascolese said it is exciting to have a group of men who shared in each other’s enthusiasm and kept each other accountable.

“We talked about God, but we were also there to be there for each other and love each other. You could really see the good from that, like God was just with us during that time,” he said. 

“When I knew I wanted to become Catholic, saying prayers and working with Jake...and God was working through my prayers and that really helped me too, seeing something was working.”

Ascolese recalled the power of prayer: One night all of the men went to Qdoba in place of Bible study. Keller had not yet decided to become Catholic. But after their conversation at Qdoba, he received a text from Keller about his conversion.

“When I got to my dorm room I got a text from him saying ‘hey, can you send me [the RCIA] number.’ which was wild to me, because I was just praying about that stuff,” Ascolese said.

All the men said they felt supported by their parish and the RCIA program but added that it has been a challenge to face ethical questions, including abortion and gay marriage, with other students on campus.

When asked about additional tools parishes should offer to support new Catholics, Horton said there should be mentorship opportunities or an apologetic course.

“I think what parishes can do to support new converts would be to have a bit of spiritual mentorship by either a priest, an RCIA leader, or a theologian,” he said.

“I am in favor of apologetics,” he said. “I think it is very important in this day and age when most young people leave the Church because of questions about science and genesis.”

All three men are excited and joyful for their encounter with new faith. They said the experience has not only challenged each other to entertain intellectual properties of the faith but it also has encouraged them to embrace a life of virtue. 

The change in his lifestyle has been a thrill, said Anthony, “seeing the difference of having God in your life can do for you, especially in the truest form through Catholicism. You can see so much good from it and the suffering you do get ultimately leads to good.”

 

Abortion groups in South Africa can't find doctors willing to perform abortions

Johannesburg, South Africa, Aug 24, 2019 / 03:38 pm (CNA).- Despite efforts by abortion advocates to expand the number of abortion clinics in South Africa, doctors in the country are largely unwilling to perform the procedure.

Under the Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1996, abortions are legal in South Africa up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. In cases of rape, incest, and financial hardship, abortions are legal up to 20 weeks.

Kgaladi Mphahlele, manager of Doctors Without Borders’ Choice of Termination of Pregnancy in Rustenburg, said it is hard to find clinics willing to perform abortions or doctors willing to give referrals.

Mphahlele said access to abortion clinics is necessary to prevent women from seeking unsafe abortion methods, according to Health-E News.

Guttmacher-Lancet Commission in Johannesburg issued a report last year finding that out of the 8000 medical clinics in South Africa, about 7% performed abortions, Health-E News reported.

Judiac Ranape, a nurse who trains doctors on abortions, argued that conscientious objection is a problem.

“You’ll find an operations manager who says, ‘We won’t perform it [an abortion] because it’s against my religious beliefs’,” Ranape said, calling for restrictions on conscientious objection.

However, surveys show that the general population in the country is strongly opposed to abortion.

The South African Social Attitudes Survey, conducted 2003-2006, found that 9 of out 10 adults in South Africa believed abortion to be wrong in times of financial dilemma, and three-quarters said abortion was still immoral if the child was to be born with a disability.

Church leaders have called for efforts to provide women facing difficult pregnancies with alternatives to abortion. Catholic Mater Homes, a pro-life group in the Archdiocese of Cape Town, is one such organization. It works to provide shelter for women during a crisis pregnancy.

“The establishment of Mater Domini was was born out of the need that existed within Archdiocese of Cape Town to create an alternative to abortion for women who might have felt forced into making such a decision out of desperation,” the organization's Facebook page reads.

“When we talk about the nameless, faceless and voiceless victims of abortion, we have to include the mothers, who so often find themselves in helpless circumstances, with little other alternative but to make the difficult choice to end the life of their unborn child.”

Kentucky Supreme Court hears religious freedom case over LGBT shirts

Frankfort, Ky., Aug 24, 2019 / 07:00 am (CNA).- The Kentucky Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Friday in the case of a Christian business owner who is facing punishment for declining to print shirts for a LGBT Pride festival because of his faith.

“The right to decide which ideas to express is core to human freedom. The Commission violated that freedom by ordering Blaine Adamson to print messages that violate his religious beliefs,” Jim Campbell, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom who argued the case before the Kentucky Supreme Court, stated after oral arguments in the case on Friday.

Blaine Adamson, owner of the Lexington, Kentucky-based print shop Hands On Originals, was sued for declining to print T-shirts promoting a Lexington Pride festival in 2012. His business had been requested by the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, but Adamson declined to print the shirts because he believed that to do so would violate his Christian faith. He did refer the group to other companies.

In 2014, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission ruled that Adamson violated an anti-discrimination ordinance, and ordered him to print the shirts and undergo diversity training.

Adamson challenged the decision and won in a Kentucky court in 2017; the case has since been appealed to the state supreme court, and oral arguments before the court were heard Aug. 23.

Speaking to reporters and supporters after oral arguments, Adamson said that “I will work with any person, no matter who they are, and no matter what their belief systems are. But when I’m presented with a message that conflicts with my faith, that’s just something I cannot print.”

“I don’t walk into my business every morning and leave my faith at the door,” he said. “For the last seven years, the government has tried to punish me for declining to print a message that went against my conscience.”

In oral arguments, Campbell emphasized to the court that Adamson’s company Hands On Originals “serves everyone,” but reserves the right not to print certain messages it deems inappropriate or that would otherwise conflict with Adamson’s Christian faith.

Campbell said that Adamson, in his initial conversation with representatives of the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization who were looking for a shirt promoting the Lexington Pride Festival, only declined to print the shirts after he asked and learned what would be printed on the shirt.  

Campbell argued that this constituted a “substantial burden” on Adamson’s religious beliefs, as defined by the Supreme Court in Holt v. Hobbs.

The Commission required Mr. Adamson to violate his religious beliefs, and its mandate that he attend diversity training says that it’s “wrong” for him to operate his business according to his religious beliefs, Campbell argued.

Opposing Adamson, and representing the Commission, attorney Edward Dove said that Hands On Originals “practices censorship” according to Campbell’s admission.

“That’s why we have a public accommodation ordinance,” he said, to protect against people enduring discrimination as they seek to enjoy goods.

“They can do anything they want in the name of religion and censor any message they don’t like, which would affect the free speech argument in the country,” he said of Hands On.

Justice Michelle Keller asked Campbell how far the government could go to mandate that the shirts for the Pride festival be printed, asking if a disclaimer could be put on shirts saying the messages do not reflect the views of Hands On.

Adamson and other business owners have a constitutionally-protected “individual freedom of mind,” Campbell said, with an “individual dignity” to protect free expression.

HHS conscience rule essential for freedom say Catholic healthcare groups

Washington D.C., Aug 23, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- Medical professionals do not give up their right to conscience protections upon accepting a job, Catholic healthcare organizations have argued in support of new rules issued by the Department of Health and Human Services. 

In legal briefs filed Aug. 21 on behalf of four non-profit organizations, including the National Catholic Bioethics Center and the Catholic Medical Association, the groups argue that medical professionals should not be forced to perform procedures or refer patients for procedures to which they are morally opposed. 

The cases concern the Conscience Rights in Health Care Rule, first announced in May. The rule mandates that institutions receiving federal money be certified that they comply with more than two dozen laws protecting conscience and religious freedom rights, including a doctor’s right to refuse to participate in abortion or so-called gender reassignment surgery. 

State attorneys general have filed several suits against the rule, with California AG Xavier Becerra calling it dangerous to American lives and part of “a war being waged on access to health care across our country.”  

Dennis Herrera, city attorney for San Francisco, wrote that “hospitals are no place to put personal beliefs above patient care,” and that “refusing treatment to vulnerable patients should not leave anyone with a clear conscience.”    

After the “significant litigation,” HHS announced last month that the rule would not come into effect until November 22. 

Roger Severino, the director of the Office for Civil Rights at HHS, said in a statement last July that the rule is simply an enforcement mechanism for policies that have existed for years. 

“The rule gives life and enforcement tools to conscience protection laws that have been on the books for decades,” he said in a statement provided to CNA. 

“Protecting conscience and religious freedom fosters greater diversity in the healthcare space. We will defend the rule vigorously.”

The briefs were filed by Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the four organizations in the cases City and County of San Francisco v. Azar, and State of New York v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Conscience rights are not limited based on one’s professional status. The argument that too many health care workers’ consciences would be protected under the HHS Conscience Rule shows a misunderstanding of the fundamental rights we have historically protected—beginning with the guarantees of the First Amendment,” the submissions argue. 

These conscience rights are “paramount,” they said, no matter what a person’s job may be, and that “decades of Supreme Court caselaw teach that complicity in an act creates an unconstitutional conscience burden.” 

Removing conscience rights from medical professionals would force them to sacrifice their “core convictions,” said ADF Legal Counsel Denise Harle.

“That’s why protecting the freedom to live and work consistent with one’s conscience is critical: It is at the heart of what motivates many who enter the medical field, a profession full of individuals who dedicate their lives to healing and doing no harm,” she said. 

Harle said she believes the rule is “constitutionally sound” as well as “consistent with related federal laws.” 

ADF also observed that Congress has passed multiple laws, with the support of both major political parties, that protect health care professionals from being forced to violate their consciences. These protections, however, are not often supported on the state level— as evidenced by the lawsuits and the 13 state attorneys general who previously denounced conscience protection regulations. 

Kevin Theriot, vice president of the ADF Center for Life, said in a statement that the rule was “commonsense” and simply worked to enforce existing conscience protections. 

“Despite clear constitutional principles assuring respect for conscience, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, and health care providers have faced discrimination and even have lost their jobs because of their commitment to saving life,” said Theriot. 

“The government may not pick and choose which views deserve protection.”

Amid efforts to rebuild, residents of Karala face another round of floods

Karala, India, Aug 23, 2019 / 05:02 pm (CNA).- Just a year after devastating floods swept through Kerala, India, the state is again facing devastating flooding.

Indian officials said that heavy rains this month have resulted in landslides and flash floods. According to ucanews, 100 people in Kerala have been killed and 1,115 homes have been destroyed.

According to the Indian Express, over 150,000 people have been relocated to one of the 1,221 relief camps in Kerala.

Father George Vettikattil, secretary of the Justice, Peace and Development Commission of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council, said 300 church institutions are being used as relief camps for about 45,000 people. Like last year, he said, Catholic fishing communities are also using their boats for rescue missions.

“We have opened all our institutions to accommodate needy people in temporary and safe accommodation,” he told Vatican News.

Vettikattill told ucanews that “the destruction is less than last year.” In 2018, the monsoon season was the worst Kerala had seen in nearly a century. The natural disaster took over 400 lives and damaged 75,000 homes.

Families are still working to rebuild after last year’s floods.

Vettikattill said many people have offered money and volunteer work to help rebuilt the community. Caritas India alone has carried out $4 million worth of rebuilding efforts, including a loan program to help families buy goats, which can then be used to sell milk. In three years, the families are expected to repay the diocese with a baby lamb.

The loans help, but they are not enough, according to Kunjumol and Velayudhan, one couple participating in the program. They said the income from the goat’s milk will not be enough to rebuild their damaged home. They believe the government must do more to assist.

“The government has almost abandoned us,” he said, according to ucanews. “Some officials came and asked us questions but we got none of the benefits the government promised in the media.”

 

New West Virginia bishop addresses scandals head-on at installation Mass

Wheeling, W.V., Aug 23, 2019 / 04:43 pm (CNA).- After nearly a year without a bishop, due to the scandal-ridden former Bishop Michael Bransfield, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia has a new shepherd, who was installed at a Mass yesterday on the feast of the Queenship of Mary.

Hundreds of Catholics, hopeful for a fresh start, came from throughout the diocese to fill the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling for the 2+ hour Mass and glimpse their new leader, Bishop Mark Brennan. Thousands more tuned in to the event via a Facebook live stream posted by the diocese.

“It's a new beginning. We hope it's a new beginning,” Joe Herrick, a Catholic who attended the Mass, told a local Fox News affiliate.

“We're very hopeful for the future. I'm really praying Bishop Brennan will be able to lead us and mend the flock together so we can be one.”

Brennan, who gave the homily, did not hesitate to address the tumultuous year that both the diocese and the universal Church have experienced.

“My friends, the ‘people walked in darkness’ and ‘dwelt in the land of gloom’. Those words of Isaiah, referring to enemy armies oppressing the kingdom of Israel, are an apt description for how many Catholics in this country have felt over the past year and how many West Virginia Catholics have felt for even longer,” Brennan said on Thursday, Aug. 22 at his installation Mass.

While he did not specifically name Bransfield, Brennan spoke of the diocese’s “painful past” and the “crisis” it now faces as a result of the scandals.

“The scandals we have learned about have caused painful disappointment, confusion, anger and distrust of Church leaders,” he said.

In September 2018, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield from the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston while an investigation was launched regarding allegations of financial and sexual misconduct against him. Archbishop William E. Lori was appointed apostolic administrator of the diocese in the interim.

Bransfield, who had been bishop of the diocese since 2004, reportedly sexually harassed, assaulted and coerced seminarians, priests, and other adults during his time there. He is also reported to have used diocesan funds to make large financial gifts to other bishops and to pay for personal luxuries. According to a report from the Washington Post, concerns about Bransfield’s finances were raised as early as 2012 and were evidently ignored for years by some bishops who were the recipients of these gifts.

In July 2019, after assessing the investigation into Bransfield by Lori, the Vatican announced sanctions against Bransfield, including that he is no longer allowed to participate in public Masses or to live within his former diocese. He is also expected to “make personal amends” for his wrongs, Pope Francis said in a communique.

“Behavior has consequences, and there are consequences to bad behavior in the past that will have to be dealt with,” Brennan said in his homily. “That is one of my responsibilities and I assure you that I will meet it.”

But still, there is hope, the new bishop added. “...Isaiah’s message to an oppressed people does not end in the darkness. Hear it again: ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone,’” he said.

“My friends, it takes no humility on my part to admit that I am not the light,” Brennan said, provoking laughter from the congregation. Instead, he said, it is the light of Christ that will lead the diocese out of these “dark times” and into a future of hope.

“The light of Christ beckons us to move now from the painful past toward him, not in denial but in confidence that the Lord will supply us with the wisdom and strength to do things better, to live our faith with greater integrity and to reflect more brightly, as far as our human weakness and limitations will permit, his own enduring light,” he said.

Brennan acknowledged numerous groups of people whom he said have already been lights in the darkness, including parents who continue to catechize their children, Catholic school and religious education teachers who do the same, parish priests who faithfully administer the sacraments, as well as diocesan chancery workers and faithful young people.

“Christ’s light has been shining in the darkness through all of them and, as St. John says in his Gospel, the darkness has not overcome it. I thank God for these faithful West Virginia Catholics,” he said.

The scandals may also have driven some people away from the Church, Brennan said, but he encouraged Catholics in the diocese to look to their roots circa the Civil War - when West Virginia seceded from Virginia in order to remain in the Union - for inspiration to remain united in faith.

“When the dark clouds of secession were rolling over the State of Virginia in the spring of 1861, the people of these western mountains chose to remain in the United States of America. They would not break their unity with Ohio and Pennsylvania, Michigan and Kentucky. They petitioned Congress to admit them as the State of West Virginia, which Congress did in 1863,” he said.

“Many of their sons—the ancestors of some here present — fought to maintain the integrity of the Union.”

He urged Catholics of today to fight for that same unity in the Church.

“Unity with one another and with God is what the Lord wants for us— and what, in our hearts, we truly desire,” he said.

“One man told me not long ago that he stopped going to Mass in his parish because of the recent scandals but then he asked himself: who was he helping by doing that? No one. Who was he hurting? Himself. He has since returned to Mass, still eager to see the Church address its failings and bring about lasting reform but conscious that walking away doesn’t help,” he added.

“As Simon Peter said to the Lord when some disciples were leaving Jesus because of hard teachings, ‘Lord to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.’” The Blessed Virgin Mary is another example of someone who said “yes” to the Lord despite difficult circumstances, Brennan said.

“...like Mary, we can let God fulfill his purpose in us and not let the darkness return to cover the earth. We can right the wrongs of the past and move on to make Christ known, helping our neighbor in need and remaining united in faith and love,” he said.

“West Virginia Catholics: cherish your faith and the holy Church that has nurtured it,” he added.

“Make Mary’s ‘yes’ to God your own and work with me and your brothers and sisters to let the light of Christ be a light brightly visible in the mountains and valleys, the city streets and country roads of this beautiful part of God’s creation: West Virginia.”

Catholic leaders voice concern over Amazon fires

Sao Paulo, Brazil, Aug 23, 2019 / 04:23 pm (CNA).- Catholics groups in the Amazon have expressed concern over the wave of forest fires that have been ravaging the region.

The NGO Manos Unidas decried the “risks and assaults the Amazon is suffering, which bring with them an accelerated deforestation, toward the increasingly closer point of ‘no return,’ at which time the disappearance of this ‘green lung’ of humanity will already be irreversible.”

In a statement posted on their webpage, the group reported that the situation is especially serious in Brazil, where in 2019 alone the number of wildfires has increased 82% for a total of 71,497 fires, 54% of which are in the Amazon region.

The NGO considers this especially serious within the context of climate change since “the variations in the rainfall cycles and temperatures are already seriously altering the ecosystems.”

The fires that have occurred in recent weeks add to other “threats to the Amazon” and that have a special impact “in the most deforested areas, where economic interests meet the most weakened natural environments,” they said.

Manos Unidas warned that the area is also threatened by “the uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources to obtain minerals or fuels and the extension of the agricultural frontier for single crop farming or extensive livestock production.”

The Secretary General of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Alonso Miranda, expressed the Church’s concern and called for support with prayers and material aid.

On Twitter, Bishop Miranda said that the forest fires “are not just a regional emergency, it’s a catastrophe that urgently requires international aid.”

“Please, let us lend our support with prayer, national and international material and technological aid,” he said.

In addition to natural causes, many of the blazes begin when farmers start fires to clear or maintain farmland and pastures.

On the afternoon of August 21, black clouds produced by multiple fires reached Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, darkening the sky around 2:00 p.m. local time.

Fires have also been recorded in the forested areas of Bolivia and Paraguay, and it is feared they may occur in Peru.

According to NASA, “it is not unusual to see fires in Brazil at this time of year due to high temperatures and low humidity. Time will tell if this year is a record breaking or just within normal limits.”

“In the Amazon region, fires are rare for much of the year because wet weather prevents them from starting and spreading. However, in July and August, activity typically increases due to the arrival of the dry season.”

The Archbishop of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, Sergio Gualberti Calandrina, called on the parishes in the archdiocese of hold a day of prayer Sunday, August 25, for the victims of the Amazon fires, asking God for rain and to “raise awareness for the care of our Common Home, everyone’s task.”

Archbishop Gualberti said that “as Christians we cannot remain indifferent,” especially given the Synod on the Amazon called by Pope Francis, which will be held at the Vatican in October.

The Archbishop of Santa Cruz asked that the ecological disaster “awaken a greater awareness that the destiny of present and future generations is closely linked to the destiny of nature, a creation of God and that we decisively assume the care of creation.”

So far in Brazil, the fire has devastated more than 1.2 million acres of forests, crops and grasslands, generating carbon monoxide contamination in nearby areas. The states of Acre and Amazonas have been declared to be in an environmental emergency.

In Bolivia, Vice President Álvaro García Linera said the fires have affected some 1.48 million acres in Chiquitanía, in the Santa Cruz administrative district.
 
This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


Cincinnati Catholic raised 'red flags' about priest over a year before rape indictment

Cincinnati, Ohio, Aug 23, 2019 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- A Cincinnati news station is reporting on the contents of a letter, sent to Archbishop Dennis Schnurr and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Binzer in August 2018, accusing them of ignoring “red flags” related to a priest now indicted on nine counts of rape.

"What are we to do with these 'red flags' about Father [Geoff] Drew?" the parishioner wrote, addressing auxiliary Bishop Binzer.

"They were brought to your attention on many occasions and your response was to place Fr. Drew in a parish with the largest Catholic grade school in the state! I can't be the only one to see the irony in this."

Fr. Geoff Drew was arrested Aug. 19 on allegations dating back 20 years, which concern Drew’s time as music minister at St. Jude parish, prior to his ordination as a priest. The accusations concern abuse said to have taken place over two years, when the reported victim was 10 and 11 years old. If convicted, the priest could face life in prison.

The priest entered a “not guilty” plea at his Aug. 21 arraignment.

Because she considers the priest a flight risk, Common Pleas Court Judge Leslie Ghiz set Drew’s bond at $5 million. He remains incarcerated.

Local news station WCPO reported that in the letter in question, a longtime lay leader at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish told Schnurr he had failed to deliver on his promise of being "unequivocally committed" to children and that the church had ignored "red flags" about Father Drew.

WCPO reported that the author of the letter is a mother of three children who attended St. Maximilian Kolbe in Liberty Township, where Drew was pastor from 2009 to mid-2018.

CNA reported earlier this month that complaints were raised to at least one archdiocesan official about Drew’s inappropriate behavior with teenage and pre-teenage boys as early as 2013. Complaints were made to auxiliary bishop Joseph Binzer, who is the archdiocesan vicar general, in 2013 and 2015.

Binzer referred the complaints to law enforcement, who found no evidence of criminal activity. Binzer did not, however, notify the archdiocesan personnel board or Archbishop Dennis Schnurr about the multiple complaints he had received against Drew. The allegations were also reportedly not recorded by Binzer in the priest’s personnel file.

In early 2018, Drew applied for a transfer to St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish in Green Township, which is attached to the largest Catholic school in the archdiocese. As head of priest personnel, Bishop Binzer was in charge of the process that considers requests and proposals for reassignment, in conjunction with the priest personnel board. Neither the board nor the archbishop were made aware of the multiple complaints against Drew, and the transfer was approved.

Archbishop Schnurr released a public letter Aug. 17, 2018, following the announcement of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, which detailed hundreds of cases of historical clerical sexual abuse. Schnurr wrote that there were no active cases of clerical abuse of minors anywhere in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and that the archdiocese is “committed to transparency."

Schnurr’s letter— as well as Drew’s successful transfer— prompted the St. Maximilian Kolbe parishioner to write hers, WCPO reported.

The archdiocese referred the letter to the Butler County Prosecutor's Office, which determined that Drew’s behavior was inappropriate but not criminal, WCPO reported.

One month after Drew’s arrival at his new parish, a parishioner at his previous church resubmitted a 2015 complaint made about the priest. The complaint was again reported to Butler County officials, but this time it was also brought to the attention of Archbishop Schnurr.

The priest was asked to restrict his involvement with the school and was assigned to meet regularly with a “monitor,” but school faculty and administration were not told about these restrictions, or the reasons for them.

The archdiocese removed Drew from ministry last month, after allegations surfaced that he had sent a series of inappropriate text messages to a 17-year-old boy. The archdiocese then confirmed a history of similar allegations against Drew.

Drew worked as music minister at the parish of St. Jude in Bridgetown, Ohio, from 1984-1999. During that time he was also a music teacher at Elder High School until 1991. He entered seminary in 1999, and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2004.

The archdiocesan statement, issued Aug. 19, emphasized that neither the archdiocese, nor Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr were aware of the rape allegations at the time of Drew’s removal last month.

Despite the long history of allegations made against the priest, Archdiocese of Cincinnati spokesman Mike Schafer told local reporters that archdiocesan officials were “stunned” by the rape charges.

“We were stunned," Schafer said Aug. 21. “Just stunned.”

Following the initial reports of Drew's removal from ministry, Bishop 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 was removed from some of his responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, and could face an internal Church investigation for his handling of the allegations.