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Amarillo diocese disavows Fr. Frank Pavone statements, requests prayer

CNA Staff, Sep 17, 2020 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Amarillo has spoken out about election-related comments from Fr. Frank Pavone, the national director of the pro-life group Priests for Life, and asked prayers for the priest.

In a Sept. 16 statement, the diocese noted that Pavone, in videos posted online, had condemned the act of “voting for candidates of a particular political party” and had reportedly suggested he might need to refuse absolution if such votes were confessed with contrition.

According to the diocese, Pavone also used “scandalous words not becoming of a Catholic priest.”

“These postings are not consistent with Catholic Church Teachings,” the diocese said in its statement. “Please disregard them and pray for Father Pavone.”

Pavone served on official Trump campaign outreach positions in 2016, and was originally a co-chair of Trump’s 2020 pro-life coalition, as well as an advisory board member of Catholics for Trump.

Canon law forbids clerics from having an active role in political parties unless they receive the permission of their bishop.

Although he has since stepped down from the two positions at the request of “the competent ecclesiastical authority,” he has still maintained public support for the re-election of President Trump, citing abortion and religious freedom as key issues of concern.

In tweets that were subsequently deleted, Pavone last weekend reportedly called Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden a “[expletive] loser” and said the Democratic party was “God-hating” and “America-hating” and that Biden’s supporters “can’t say a [expletive] thing in support of their loser candidate without using the word Trump.”

“What the hell do you have to say for yourselves, losers?” Pavone asked.

As the diocesan statement indicated, Pavone also reportedly tweeted that he would hear the confession of a Catholic who votes Democrat, “but we are trained that in the absence of repentance, absolution has to be withheld.”

In other videos posted on the Priests for Life Facebook page, Pavone referred to the “terrible mistake of even considering voting Democrat.”

Asked by CNA in April whether he had obtained permission from his bishop to officially campaign for Trump’s re-election, Pavone would not answer directly; he said that he had not been forbidden from doing so, and that communication with his bishop was a “dysfunctional process.”

The priest faced criticism from Church leaders ahead of the 2016 presidential election as well.

In November 2016, Pavone filmed a video at the Priests for Life headquarters, urging support for Trump. The video was staged with the body of an aborted baby laid before Pavone on what appeared to be an altar. 

Bishop Patrick Zurek of Amarillo said soon after the video’s release that he would open an investigation into the incident, calling it “against the dignity of human life” and “a desecration of the altar,” and adding that “the action and presentation of Father Pavone in this video is not consistent with the beliefs of the Catholic Church.”

Pavone told CNA in April that “nothing happened” after the incident, and the Amarillo diocese has not responded to questions about its investigation or its outcome.

Pavone said he had done similar things before that incident.

“[W]ould I do it again? Absolutely,” he told CNA.

Pavone was incardinated in the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, in 2005, when he transferred to that diocese from the Archdiocese of New York with plans to begin a pro-life religious order of priests. Those plans did not materialize, and Pavone found himself at odds with Bishop Patrick Zurek, soon after the bishop was installed in 2008.

In 2011, the dispute between Pavone and Zurek became public, after the priest was recalled to the diocese and suspended by the bishop. Pavone appealed to the Vatican, and the suspension was eventually lifted in 2012.

In April, the priest told CNA that his relationship with Zurek remained rocky, and that he was in the process of transferring to a new diocese.

The Diocese of Amarillo has not responded to repeated requests from CNA for clarity about Pavone’s political activity or ecclesiastical status, including requests to clarify whether he has faculties to minister publicly as a priest.

Pavone told CNA in July that he remains incardinated in the Amarillo diocese, “but my transfer has been canonically completed to a different bishop who has good will toward me and my work.”

He declined to name that diocese, saying that “the announcement of what diocese I’m in now is up to the same ecclesiastical authority to make.”

Pavone sought a transfer to the Diocese of Colorado Springs in 2016. Asked by CNA in April if his pending transfer was to that diocese, he would not say. The diocese told CNA then that Bishop Michael Sheridan had not received information from the Vatican indicating that Pavone was being transferred there.

Why priests don't endorse candidates: Experts respond to FEC chair

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 17, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).-  

In an interview Wednesday, the chairman of the Federal Election Commission accused Catholic bishops of “hiding” behind the Church’s tax exempt status instead of backing political candidates, and said that priests and lay Catholics have a “right” to conduct political activity on parish premises. 

The Catholic Church has had long-standing policies against endorsing particular candidates for political office. Experts in civil and canon law explained to CNA why Catholic clerics do not endorse political candidates, and why that issue touches on the religious liberty of the Church.

James E. Trainor, a Catholic, was appointed to the bipartisan commission by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Senate earlier this year. He spoke Wednesday in an interview with the website Church Militant.

In his interview, Trainor questioned the legal and moral authority of bishops to limit the endorsement of candidates from the pulpit and in the pews.

“I don’t think a bishop has the right to tell a priest that he can’t come out and speak… When the priest takes the vow [sic] of obedience to the bishop, it is in the area of faith and morals, but they have a higher duty to our Lord, and if the bishop is putting something out there that is not right then the priest has an obligation to the faithful to correct it,” he said.

Fr. Pius Pietrzyk, OP, is a civil and canon lawyer who was nominated by President Barack Obama and unanimously confirmed by the Senate to the Board of Directors of the Congressionally-funded Legal Services Corporation, which provides funding for legal aid programs. 

The priest, who serves as a professor of canon law at St. Patrick’s University and Seminary in California, told CNA it is not the function of clergy to instruct laity on who they should choose in the voting booth.

“The primary end of the Church is not the ordering of civil society,” he told CNA. “The primary end of the Church is the sanctification of humanity,” he said. “While the Church is concerned that secular society be just and moral, the prudential decisions on carrying that out is properly the role of lay people in the world.”

“While it is true, as the Second Vatican Council said in Gaudium et Spes, ‘the Church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous and independent from each other,’ that autonomy of the secular world does not mean an autonomy from natural and divine law. The Church must grant to the secular government its legitimate autonomy, and the legitimate freedom of Catholics within a particular country to participate in that governance.” 

“Nonetheless,” he said, “the Church has a right and duty to elucidate the moral precepts that guide a society in properly fostering the common good.”

Trainor also said bishops are too cautious about their ability to engage directly in partisan politics under civil law.

“The bishops are using their nonprofit status as a shield to hide behind,” he said, “from having to make a decision about who to support [in the elections].”

He charged that bishops choose to be silent on political matters out of concern they might lose grants received by Catholic institutions for refugee resettlement and other federal programs. 

Eric Kniffin, an attorney specializing in First Amendment and religious freedom cases, told CNA that, in practice, bishops have little reason to be concerned about government ramifications from political speech.   

“The Internal Revenue Code, on its face, bars tax-exempt organizations—including churches and other religious organizations—from saying anything ‘on behalf of’ or ‘in opposition to’ a political candidate,” Kniffin said.

“This restriction, often referred to as the ‘Johnson Amendment,’ is still on the books, even though President Trump has directed the IRS to be lenient in its enforcement of the law.

“At a practical level, the federal government has not had much appetite to enforce this rule,” Kniffin, who has worked for the Department of Justice and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNA.

During the interview, Trainor also said that in his view, civil law prevents bishops from prohibiting their priests from endorsing candidates.

“If you look at it just from a legal perspective, the priest to bishop is still an employer-employee relationship and that’s the employer telling the employee what they can and cannot do.”

“We don’t tolerate that anywhere else, in fact there has been this huge uproar over NFL owners not allowing players on the field to be able to protest.”

But Kniffin told CNA that the comparison to NFL franchises was inapt, and that the legal ability of churches to regulate the actions of clergy is well established.

“The Supreme Court recently affirmed that the First Amendment’s church autonomy doctrine guarantees churches ‘independence in matters of faith and doctrine and in closely linked matters of internal government,’” he told CNA.

“This doctrine prevents government from interfering with the relationship between churches and their members and between churches and their ‘ministerial’ employees.”

Fr. Pietrzyk explained that in the mind and law of the Church, the relationship between a bishop and priest is much more than employer-employee.

“It is completely inappropriate, and a violation of the Church’s legitimate autonomy, an autonomy recognized in the First Amendment to the Constitution, for a federal official to opine, under the cloak of that office, on the duty of obedience owed by a priest to his bishop,” he said.

“There is a tendency among U.S. government officials – whether federal bureaucracies or local judges – to try to fit the Church into a secular category,” he told CNA. 

“Certainly there are aspects of the bishop-priest relationship that look like employment.  The diocese usually pays the priest’s salary, provides him health insurance, etc. But it is an ongoing mistake on the part of secular authority, and indeed a violation of the freedom of religion, to force the employer-employee model as the primary or only way of understanding that relationship,” the priest added.

“The document Christus Dominus, a decree from the Second Vatican Council on the Pastoral Office of the Bishop, said that, ‘[Bishops] should regard the priests as sons and friends.’”

“At the same time,” Pietrzyk told CNA, “the bishop is the head of the diocese, as a father in a family. The ministry of the priest depends on his submission to the legitimate authority of his bishop. Thus, as Pope St. John Paul II wrote, ‘there can be no genuine priestly ministry except in communion with the one's own Bishop, who deserves that filial respect and obedience.’”

“Every Catholic, and even more so a priest, has a duty to submit to the legitimate governance of their bishop,” he said.

George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told CNA that in his view Trainor’s comments reflected a serious misunderstanding of the relationship between priests and bishops in the Church.

“Mr. Trainor seems woefully ill-informed about the relationship between the bishop and priests of a diocese,” Weigel said.

“He also seems to think of his fellow-Catholics as dolts who require specific instructions on voting from their religious leaders.”

Weigel reflected on a longstanding American anti-Catholic stereotype that bishops and priests direct Catholics about how to cast their votes. 

Trainor’s view “mirrors the false charge laid against Catholic immigrants for decades by anti-Catholic bigots, which suggests that Mr. Trainor is also not very well versed in U.S. Catholic history,” Weigel said. 

Fr. Pietrzyk told CNA that as chairman of the FEC, Trainor “is certainly free to opine on freedom, in American law, he is not competent, however, to evaluate the provisions of ecclesiastical law.”

“The ministry of a priest in a sacred place, like a church, may be legitimately directed by a bishop,” Pietrzyk said. 

“In addition, preaching within a sacred place, even a parish church, may be regulated by the diocesan bishop. Absent that guidance, a pastor does exercise that authority within his own parish. However, simply because he is the pastor does not give him the right to act contrary to the directives of his own pastor, the bishop.”

“As Pope St. John Paul II emphasized, the ministry of the pastor is not genuine when it runs contrary to the legitimate direction of his local bishop.”

El Paso cathedral vandal charged with criminal mischief

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 17, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- A man has been charged after he decapitated a statue of Christ in El Paso, while the NYPD is looking for a man who threw a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe into the sidewalk outside a church in Brooklyn.

Isaiah Cantrell, 30, has been charged with criminal mischief and possession of marijuana after being arrested. Cantrell walked into St. Patrick Cathedral in El Paso Sept. 15 and proceeded to smash the nearly 90-year-old statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that was displayed behind the altar.

Mass was not being celebrated during the vandalism, but the cathedral was open for prayer.

Cantrell reportedly told police that “the skin color of the statue was the wrong color,” and that “Jesus was Jewish and therefore should be a darker skin color.” He is being held on a $20,500 bond.

The Diocese of El Paso is raising money to assist with renovations and increased security at the cathedral. Bishop Mark Seitz earlier appealed for people to pray for Cantrell, and that he may get the help he needs.

Amid an ongoing wave of vandalism at Catholic churches, the Twitter account for the NYPD Crime Stoppers released a video Sept. 15 asking for help identifying a man who threw a statue onto a sidewalk.

 

?WANTED? for a Criminal Mischief in front of 2866 West 17 Street #coneyisland #brooklyn @NYPD60Pct on 9/11/20 @ 11:40AM ?Reward up to $2500? Seen him? Know who he is?☎️Call 1-800-577-TIPS or DM us!?Calls are CONFIDENTIAL! #YourCityYourCall @NYPDDetectives @NYPDShea @News12BK pic.twitter.com/Ht8Vp5NNg7

— NYPD Crime Stoppers (@NYPDTips) September 15, 2020  

The video shows two men standing outside the Shrine of Our Lady of Solace, located in Coney Island, New York, Sept. 11. One of the men is seen climbing over a fence, where he then pulled the statue out of the ground.

The man proceeds to then throw the statue onto the sidewalk. The base of the statue was damaged by the vandalism.

According to the NYPD, the man is facing charges of criminal mischief. The NYPD is offering a reward of $2,500 for any information about his identity.

San Francisco archbishop: Worshipers should be treated equally during the pandemic

CNA Staff, Sep 17, 2020 / 03:25 pm (CNA).- The archbishop of San Francisco penned an op-ed in the Washington Post this week citing the First Amendment as he called for city officials to relax the current restrictions on public worship, which are some of the strictest in the country.

Rather than asking for special treatment, “all we are seeking is access to worship in our own churches, following reasonable safety protocols — the same freedoms now extended to customers of nail salons, massage services and gyms,”  Cordileone wrote in the Sept. 16 op-ed.

“It’s only fair, it’s only compassionate, and, unlike with these other activities, it’s what the First Amendment demands.”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed has said the city will allow indoor services up to a maximum of 25 people by Oct. 1. This is, Cordileone noted, less than 1% of the capacity of San Francisco’s cathedral.

Mayor Breed had announced this week that starting Sept. 14, houses of worship may have 50 people at religious services outdoors. In addition, indoor private prayer is allowed, but only one person at a time is allowed inside a house of worship.

Previously, the limit for outdoor services had been 12 people, with all indoor services prohibited. The archdiocese covers the city and county of San Francisco— where the cathedral is located— as well as San Mateo and Marin counties.

In contrast, hotels in San Francisco are fully reopened; indoor gyms are set to reopen at 10% capacity; and most retail stores are allowed to operate at 50% capacity, while malls are restricted to 25%. Gyms operated in government buildings for police officers and other government employees have already reopened.

“Catholics in San Francisco are increasingly noticing the simple unfairness,” Cordileone wrote.

“As one of my parishioners asked recently, ‘Why can I spend three hours indoors shopping for shoes at Nordstrom’s but can’t go to Mass?’”

Becket, a religious liberty law firm, has a page tracking restrictions on public worship related to the pandemic. By their estimation, six states— California, Nevada, Virginia, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maine— are treating religious activities unequally as compared to similar secular activities.

The City of San Francisco has been closely monitoring Catholic churches in the city and has repeatedly issued warnings to the archdiocese for apparent health order violations.

“I sometimes wonder whether the increasingly secular elites imposing these restrictions understand the pain they are unnecessarily inflicting. The sacraments as we Catholics understand them cannot be live-streamed,” Cordileone wrote.

“People are being denied the religious worship that connects them with God and one another. For hundreds of thousands of San Franciscans facing the simultaneous challenges of a pandemic and economic downturn, the church is their key source of spiritual, emotional and practical help.”

Cordileone said priests at many parishes around the archdiocese, including the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, are celebrating multiple Masses every Sunday— outside, and spaced out— in order to adapt to the restrictions.

These outdoor Masses pose their own health challenges, as the Bay Area is experiencing some of the worst air quality in the world, due to smoke and other pollutants coming from wildfires ravaging the West Coast.

Cordileone related the message of Father Moises Agudo, who pastors the predominantly Latino churches in San Francisco’s Mission District. The priest said his people have “lost many things” because of the pandemic but “the consolations of the Mass should not be one of those things.”

This weekend, San Francisco Catholics will participate in Eucharistic processions across the city, which will join together and walk past city hall, in part to protest the city’s revised limits on public worship.

Cordileone said the archdiocese has ordered 100 banners in English, 15 in Spanish, and 5 in Chinese that read: “We Are Essential: Free the Mass!” He asked that parishioners carry the banners during the Eucharistic processions.

While the archbishop said city officials have been “cordial and respectful” in their dialogue with the archdiocese, he added that the city still has not responded to the archdiocese’s safety plan— outlining how churches could be safely opened for indoor services— which was submitted in May.

Even while protesting the city’s apparent unequal application of health restrictions, the archbishop has encouraged his priests to lead their parishes in following the city’s guidelines, adding that “Catholics are not indifferent to the very real dangers posed by covid-19.”

In advocating for a safe reopening of indoor Masses, Cordileone has cited a recent article on Mass attendance and COVID-19, authored Aug. 19 by doctors Thomas McGovern, Deacon Timothy Flanigan, and Paul Cieslak for Real Clear Science.

By following public health guidelines, Catholic churches have largely avoided viral spread during the more than 1 million Masses that have been celebrated across the United States since the lifting of shelter-in-place orders, the doctors found.

They said in their article that there is no evidence that church services are higher risk than similar activities when guidelines are followed, and no coronavirus outbreaks have yet been linked to the celebration of the Mass.

California’s church service limits earlier this year were challenged by a Pentecostal church, which argued that houses of worship were being unfairly treated more strictly than other secular venues, including restaurants, hair salons, and retail stores.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the state of California. In a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the court lacks the expertise and authority to second guess the decisions of elected officials in the context of public health decisions during a pandemic.

In several other states, churches have successfully challenged restrictions against houses of worship, on the grounds that public officials were not able to justify the decision to treat them more strictly than other secular gathering venues.

In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine signed a bill into law Sept. 16 that prevents local or state officials from shutting down houses of worship.

'Expedited' investigation ordered over ICE detainee hysterectomies

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 17, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- This story has been updated.

The acting director of U.S. immigration services has ordered an expedited investigation into allegations that hysterectomies were performed on immigrant women in federal custody without their full consent. 

On Monday, The Intercept reported a whistleblower complaint had been filed by several advocacy groups on behalf of a nurse at a U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center for migrants in Georgia. 

The complaint was filed with the inspector general’s office of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). On Wednesday, National Review reported that Ken Cuccinelli, acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, ordered the investigation to be expedited and said he will be conducting a separate, parallel investigation. DHS staff confirmed the report to CNA on Thursday.

The nurse, Dawn Wooten, as well as several immigrant women, claimed that an apparently high rate of hysterectomies were performed on immigrant women while in ICE custody at Irwin County Detention Center, and that some of the women did not understand the procedure they were receiving. The center is operated by the private prison company LaSalle Corrections.

On Thursday, the Daily Caller reported that the doctor identified in the whistleblower report for allegedly conducting the hysterectomies—Dr. Mahendra Amin—was indicted in 2013 by federal prosecutors for Medicaid fraud.

According to the indictment, Amin was believed to be part owner of Irwin County hospital, where patients were given unnecessary medical procedures and the hospital in turn billed Medicare and Medicaid; Amin settled with prosecutors for $520,000 in 2015.

Cuccinelli’s investigation will include a Coast Guard doctor, a medical nurse from the deputy secretary’s office, and a lawyer in the DHS general counsel’s office, National Review reported.

In addition to seeking confirmation, CNA also asked DHS who specifically would be part of Cuccinelli’s separate investigation, and why the parallel investigation was ordered in addition to the inspector general’s review; DHS staff did not address those questions directly.

According to the whistleblower complaint, the immigrant women were referred to one doctor in particular who was allegedly known for performing frequent hysterectomies; Wooten called the doctor “the uterus collector.” Wooten reported that some nurses could not communicate well with Spanish-speaking migrants, even resorting to using Google Translate to talk to them about medical procedures.

A senior ICE official has reportedly disputed the claims that immigrant women were allegedly subject to hysterectomies without full consent. A top ICE medical official said only two women were referred for hysterectomies at Irwin County Detention Center since 2018, according to NPR.

More than 170 members of Congress wrote the DHS inspector general’s office on Wednesday asking for an investigation.

“We are horrified to see reports of mass hysterectomies performed on detained women in the facility, without their full, informed consent and request that the Office of Inspector General (OIG) conduct an immediate investigation,” the letter stated.

The private prison company LaSalle, which operates the ICE detention center in Irwin County, is also the subject of a lawsuit filed by the family of a deceased woman Holly Barlow-Austin on Wednesday, the Washington Post reported. 

In the lawsuit, Barlow-Austin’s family members charged LaSalle with neglect by company guards at an East Texas prison, neglect that resulted in Barlow-Austin leaving the prison “blind, emaciated, and barely able to move.” The family alleges that LaSalle was culpable in Barlow-Austin’s death.

Charlotte Diocese opens new seminary to serve growing Catholic population

CNA Staff, Sep 17, 2020 / 12:02 am (CNA).- As the number of Catholics in the Diocese of Charlotte continues to rise, Bishop Peter Jugis opened a new seminary this week to help prepare future priests in the area.

The bishop blessed St. Joseph College Seminary in Mount Holly with holy water on Sept. 16, officially completing the first phase of the building project, which broke ground in 2018.

“This is an enduring structure that is both traditional and modern, with beauty and function, that we hope will inspire future generations of Catholics in Western North Carolina to continue our mission to share the Gospel,” said Father Matthew Kauth, St. Joseph’s rector, according to the Gaston Gazette.

Seminarians at Tuesday’s opening ceremony - which followed social-distancing protocols - sang “Salve Pater,” a Latin hymn recognizing the loving care of the holy family.

The $20 million project, built in the Gothic architectural style, includes 40 seminarian rooms, a conference room, a refectory and kitchen, classrooms, administrative offices, guest rooms, a temporary chapel, and a meditative cloister walk. Donors have so far contributed $15.5 million to the seminary.

The 27 seminarians at St. Joseph Seminary will also attend classes at nearby Belmont Abbey College.

“St. Joseph is an extraordinary milestone for our diocese and for the Charlotte region,” Jugis said, according to the Charlotte Observer.

“It’s a sacred place where those who feel called to serve God can be nurtured and grounded in faith that will carry throughout their lives.”

The new seminary is a response to rapid growth of the Church in Charlotte. There are an estimated 400,000 Catholics in the diocese, more than 10 times the number present when the diocese was established in 1972.

When the diocese’s seminary program first opened four years ago at St. Ann Catholic Church, seminarians lived at a former convent and other housing nearby. Since 2016, enrollment has tripled, the Charlotte Observer reported.

Bishop Jugis voiced gratitude for the 92 priests currently serving in the diocese, while noting the need to increase these numbers to serve the needs of the people. Since becoming bishop of Charlotte in 2003, Jugis has prioritized efforts to increase the number of priests in the diocese, the Charlotte Observer reported.

“Though we’ve been blessed with many good and holy priests, we need more to meet the needs of our rapidly growing flock,” Jugis said in a statement. “So it is essential that we make every effort to help form young men to be ready to serve in our parishes when the time comes.”

 

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Listen to Black community to build pro-life consensus, Black pro-life leader says

Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2020 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- Pro-life leaders should prioritize listening and understanding in order to make inroads in the Black community, Black pro-life advocate Benjamin Watson said Tuesday.

While white Christians may be comfortable identifying themselves as “pro-life,” some Black Christians who oppose abortion are reluctant to identify themselves as “pro-life” for other reasons, Watson, a former NFL player told an audience of reporters and pro-life leaders on Tuesday evening.

Watson spoke at a screening of his new pro-life movie “Divided Hearts of America” which streams online on Thursday. He and his wife Kirsten are co-executive producers of the movie.

“You look at statistics, the Black community is very, very religious, going back years and decades,” Watson said. “We have a desire to honor life.”

“What we don’t, however, have, is a desire to be affiliated, sometimes, with all the other things that are in the pro-life bucket,” he said.

Pro-lifers, Watson said, should seek to understand other issues of import to the Black community, including the racial wealth gap and unemploymentd disparities, as a means of grounding pro-life positions in broadly shared concerns among the Black community.

“For the pro-life community, it’s not about just throwing out statistics,” he said. “You want to throw the [abortion] stat out, but behind the stat there’s not a caring posture to why that might be the case.”

“The way that you bridge any gap between any communities is when you try to understand the ‘why’,” he said. “It’s been said that when white America gets a cold, Black America gets the flu. And that’s what’s happening with abortion—any negative outcome is worse in the Black community.”

“Many of us do care about life,” he added.

At a University of Notre Dame panel discussion on racism as a “life issue” in July, Watson explained that many African-Americans associate the term “pro-life” with party politics and “a host of other issues that seem to be anti-Black,” rather than with concern about abortion rates and other life issues.

On Tuesday, Watson noted that pro-lifers can reach more hearts through listening and understanding rather than by arguing from statistics on abortion. “The way the pro-life community bridges the gap is in our rhetoric. It’s in how we embrace. It’s in understanding,” he said.

Watson is the father of seven children and an outspoken pro-life advocate, in addition to playing tight end in the National Football League for 15 seasons. On Tuesday, he said that he and his wife were looking for a way to become more involved in the pro-life movement when they were recruited for the movie, which was directed by Chad Bonham.

“This was a labor of love,” he said of the movie, describing the goal as “just wanting to get to the bottom of what this whole [abortion] debate is about.”

Some of the interviewees in the film are pro-abortion, he said, including the New York legislator who authored the Reproductive Health Act that that Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law in 2019, legalizing abortions in some cases up until the point of birth. Watson said on Tuesday that the New York law was part of “the impetus for the film,” with the goal of seeking to understand the issue more deeply and “see the humanity of everybody.”

The documentary explores the life issue from several angles, including racial issues of abortion clinics in majority-Black neighborhoods, and interviews of Black religious and pro-life leaders as well and members of the media.

At the Notre Dame panel event in July, Watson said that pro-lifers should take the life issue “out of the political realm.”

“The Black community is overwhelmingly pro-life in the sense of for-life, against-abortion. We are,” he said, adding that the pro-life label “has come to mean something totally different than the essence of what it is.”

Watson was also one of a coalition of Black leaders who sent a letter to Planned Parenthood head Alexis McGill Johnson, calling out the organization as hypocritical for “targeting” Black communities for abortions while at the same professing to support calls for racial justice.

Advocacy group hails Israel-Bahrain deal as 'positive step' for Middle East Christians

Denver Newsroom, Sep 16, 2020 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- An advocacy group for Christians and other religious minorities living in the Middle East this week praised an agreement between Israel and Bahrain, which comes on the heels of a similar agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

“While there are many contentious issues left to be discussed in the Middle East Peace Process and many injustices that Christians in Bahrain, Israel, and across the Middle East continue to face, today’s peace agreement is a positive step for Christians in the Middle East,” Toufic Baaklini, president of In Defense of Christians, said when the deal was announced.

“Politics should not stand in the way of any Christian being able to visit the sites of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

The foreign ministers of the UAE and Bahrain signed the deal to normalize relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a ceremony at the White House Sept. 15.

President Donald Trump had announced the diplomatic accord between Israel and UAE Aug.13, releasing a statement on the normalization of relations which included a provision that Israel will “suspend declaring sovereignty” over some areas of the West Bank.

On Sept. 11, it was announced that Bahrain, too, would normalize relations with Israel.

Jeremy Barker, Director of the Religious Freedom Institute’s Middle East Action Team, told CNA that agreements between governments are an important first step toward peace, but must be followed by concrete action.

“An agreement that commits to the pursuit of living together in peace, despite deep differences, is important and should be commended,” Barker told CNA.

“We hope the steps taken by these Gulf States will encourage others to follow suit in a way that promotes peace for everyone in the Middle East whether Muslim, Jewish, Christian, or otherwise.”

In February last year, Pope Francis made an historic trip to the UAE, the first by a pope to the Arabian peninsula. While there, Francis signed a joint document on human fraternity with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb. The document condemned “all forms of violence, especially those with religious motivation,” and committed the two leaders “to spreading authentic values and peace throughout the world.”

The UAE has strict laws governing religion, including the death penalty for Muslims who convert to another religion. While Bahrain provides freedom of conscience, the constitution declares Islam to be the official religion and sharia to be a principal source for legislation.

Barker added that the recent agreements between nations and the political, economic, and social relations that they encourage may provide a context that helps to cultivate greater religious freedom in the region.

“The absence of religious freedom, whether through government repression or social hostilities, hurts everyone in society. Any steps that Bahrain, the UAE, Israel, or any other country takes to provide greater respect for religious freedom will also prove to unleash other goods in society as well,” he said.

Trump has suggested that Saudi Arabia may be the next Middle Eastern nation to normalize relations with Israel, since analysts have suggested that Bahrain was unlikely to agree to normalize ties without the blessing of its ally, Saudi Arabia.

The US bishops have called gratifying Israel's decision to suspend the annexation of parts of the West Bank, part of its normalization of relations with the UAE, but reiterated the need for Israel to negotiate directly with Palestine.

Other states in the region have criticized the accord between Israel and the UAE. Iran’s state news agency IRNA quoted the country’s foreign ministry calling the agreement a “strategic act of idiocy” and “dangerous.”

A spokesperson for Palestinian National Authority president Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian government “rejects and denounces” the agreement. The UAE, Bahrain, and other Arab countries broadly support Palestine.

“The Palestinian leadership rejects the actions of the Emirati government, considering it to be a betrayal of the Palestinian people and Jerusalem and al-Aqsa,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh.

During the White house ceremony Sept. 15, Palestinians expressed their anger over the agreements by launching rockets into Israel from Gaza, the New York Times reported.

Invalidly baptized Oklahoma priest baptized and ‘re-ordained’ 

Denver Newsroom, Sep 16, 2020 / 04:08 pm (CNA).-  

In the second known instance in the United States, a man who believed himself to be a validly baptized Catholic and ordained priest had to “re-receive” all of his sacraments, including ordination, after discovering that his baptism was invalid.

Fr. Zachary Boazman, a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, thought he was validly ordained in 2019. But in August, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a doctrinal note, reminding Catholics that baptisms are not valid if the minister of the baptism changed the words, or formula, of the baptism from “I baptize you” to “We baptize you.”

Boazman, who was baptized in another diocese in 1992, reviewed a videotape of his baptism after the announcement from the Vatican and discovered that the deacon ministering his baptism had used the invalid “We baptize you.”

A Sept. 14 letter sent to priests, deacons and staff of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, and shared with CNA, said Boazman was “immediately contacted Archbishop Paul Coakley to explain the situation and seek guidance” after his discovery.

Because Boazman’s baptism had not been valid, the subsequent sacraments he received - reconciliation, Holy Communion, confirmation, ordination - were therefore also not valid. His invalid baptism also invalidated many of the sacraments he offered before his valid ordination, including Masses, confessions, and some marriages. A key exception to that are the baptisms ministered by Boazman, as baptisms can be validly performed by anyone using the correct formula (wording) and the right intention.

Within days of Boazman’s discovery, he was validly baptized Catholic and validly ordained as a priest.

“To rectify the issue, Father Boazman was baptized, confirmed and received the Eucharist on Sept. 8 at Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Oklahoma City,” the archdiocese stated in the letter. “He was ordained by Archbishop Coakley a transitional deacon and a priest on Sept. 12 also at Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Church,” the letter added.

“This has been a heart-breaking experience for Father Zak, but one that he handled with grace and patience,” Coakley said in the letter.

“I am certain this past week, as unsettling as it was, will further strengthen Father Zak’s resolve to serve God’s people and develop an even deeper appreciation for the gift of the priesthood.”

Boazman could not be reached for comment on September 16, as he was on retreat.

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City noted that Coakley sanated, or validated, the marriages witnessed by Boazman prior to his valid ordination last week. Boazman had not celebrated any confirmations prior to his valid ordination.

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City encouraged anyone with concerns about sacraments they have received from Boazman prior to his valid ordination to call the archdiocese.

Boazman is not the only priest to have recently discovered that he was not even a Catholic, let alone a priest.

In August, soon after the Vatican announcement, Fr. Matthew Hood of the Archdiocese of Detroit remembered from the tape of his baptism that the ministering deacon had said “We baptize you...”

Hood contacted the Archdiocese of Detroit and after he validly baptized and receiving valid sacraments of penance, Holy Communion, confirmation, and diaconal ordination, he was validly ordained a priest on Aug. 17. 

Hood’s story raised concern among some Catholics about whether their own baptisms had been valid, and to what extent they should go to find out. The Catholic Church normally presumes a sacrament is valid, unless there is some proof to the contrary, such as the videos of Boazman’s and Hood’s baptisms.

While the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith concluded baptisms administered according to the “We baptize” formula are invalid, another Vatican congregation had previously given advice to the contrary.

A letter sent to a diocese from an undersecretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and published in the 2003 issue of “Roman Replies and CLSA Advisory Opinions” addressed the “We baptize you” formula.

“Employing the first person plural, rather than the singular...does not cast into doubt the validity of the Baptism conferred. That is, if the three divine Persons are named specifically as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the use of the first person plural does not invalidate the conferral of the Sacrament.”

“The liceity of such a celebration, however, is quite another matter.”

“It is the responsibility of the celebrant of Baptism to confer the Sacrament in a way that is licit as well as valid, and any infraction such as the one you describe should be brought immediately to the attention of the local Bishop.”

But the August letter of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which said such baptisms are always invalid, has set some U.S. bishops assessing what to do about baptisms previously thought illicit but actually invalid.

The Archdiocese of Detroit issued some pastoral guidance for anyone with concerns, that addressed many questions surrounding the issue.

“...theology is a science that studies what God has told us and, when it comes to sacraments, there must not only be the right intention by the minister but also the right ‘matter’ (material) and the right ‘form’ (words/gestures – such as pouring or immersion in water by the one saying the words),” the Archdiocese of Detroit stated on its website.

“As far as God ‘taking care of it,’ we can trust that God will assist those whose hearts are open to Him. However, we can have a much greater degree of confidence by strengthening ourselves with the sacraments He has entrusted to us,” the archdiocese added.

“Indeed, all the other sacraments increase and fortify sanctifying grace in the soul. One can see then, that sanctifying grace is a treasure of treasures and we should do everything we can to protect the integrity of the sacraments and stay very close to them – receiving them as often as possible.”

 

Pennsylvania bishop tells Catholics: Vote with life ‘uppermost in mind’

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 16, 2020 / 03:15 pm (CNA).- Defense of innocent human life should be “uppermost” in the mind of Catholic voters at election time, the bishop of Allentown, Pennsylvania, has told Catholics in his diocese.

In a letter issued Sept. 9 on voting in the upcoming presidential elections, Bishop Alfred Schlert of Allentown said that “abortion and euthanasia are the ‘preeminent’ issues in forming an opinion about how to vote,” citing Catholic teaching as outlined by the U.S. bishops and Pope Francis.

Schlert cited Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Christifideles Laici to underline this point; that document stated that “the right to health, to home, to work, to culture is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.”

Catholics, Schlert said, should be voting with the intent of protecting innocent human life “uppermost” in their minds.

“While there is no initiative on the part of the Church to support one candidate over another,” said Schlert, “it is an indispensable obligation of bishops, priests, and deacons to inform the faithful about the hierarchy of issues that must be considered in conscience by every voting Catholic.”

“Hence, a Catholic voter is to approach the ballot box with the defense of innocent human life uppermost in his/her mind and conscience,” he wrote, adding that Catholic voters should consider whether their vote would constitute cooperation “with a candidate’s promotion of the grave sins of abortion and euthanasia.”

The voting document of the U.S. bishops, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” says that Catholics may vote for a candidate for political office who takes “unacceptable” positions on intrinsically evil acts; they may vote this way only “for truly grave moral reasons,” and “not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.”

Bishop Schlert exhorted Catholics to vote, but to do so in a serious manner and with a “well-formed conscience.”

“A ‘well-formed conscience’ for the Catholic is one that has been formed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit through prayer, studying Scripture, and honestly informing oneself about the moral teachings of the Catholic Church,” he said.

Voters could be faced with “many challenges and much soul-searching” in this election cycle, he noted, as “[t]here never are, and are not now, perfect candidates for office.”

Nevertheless Catholics should form their consciences according to the teaching of the Church, “especially on the overriding, foundational issues of abortion and euthanasia,” he said.

Abortion has been addressed extensively by both presidential candidates, President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden. 

Trump has promised to “fully defund the big abortion industry of our taxpayer dollars” and “overcome Democratic filibusters in Congress” to sign a 20-week abortion ban and legislation protecting babies who survive abortion attempts. 

Biden supports taxpayer-funded abortion, and has said that his health care “public option” would fund abortion and contraception, and has promised to review state laws regulating abortions, such as ultrasound or parental consent requirements.

The issues of euthanasia or of doctor-prescribed suicide do not appear in the 2020 Democratic Party platform; the 2020 Republican Party platform, recycled from 2016, states its opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide. 

The word “preeminent” regarding abortion appears in the U.S. bishops’ 2020 introductory letter for their voting document “Faithful Citizenship”; it was also the subject of some discussion at their fall, 2019, meeting.

According to the bishops’ letter, “[t]he threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.”

The letter goes on to add that “we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty.”

At their November meeting in Baltimore last year, the U.S. bishops voted to approve the draft language of the letter.

During a parliamentary discussion about the letter, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego then brought up the use of the word “preeminent” before the mention of abortion in the bishops’ draft letter. McElroy objected to use of the word, and said that if it stayed in the document, a more extensive quotation from Pope Francis should also be included to summarize his full social teaching more accurately.

“It is not Catholic that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face as a world in Catholic social teaching. It is not,” Bishop McElroy said.

After that remark, Archbishop Charles Chaput weighed in: “I am against anyone stating that our saying [abortion] is ‘preeminent’ is contrary to the teaching of the pope. Because that isn’t true,” he said. “It sets an artificial battle between the bishops’ conference of the United States and the Holy Father which isn’t true.”

“I think it has been very clearly the articulated opinion of the bishops’ conference for many years that pro-life is still the preeminent issue,” Chaput said. “It doesn’t mean the others aren’t equal in dignity, it’s just time, in the certain circumstances of our Church, in the United States.”