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Pa. court indefinitely blocks release of clergy sex abuse report

Harrisburg, Pa., Jun 22, 2018 / 05:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The release of a Grand Jury report detailing cases of clerical sex abuse in six of the eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania has been blocked by the state’s Supreme Court for unspecified reasons.

The court released the unsigned order June 20, but did not state which individuals or groups had applied for the stay or the reason behind the application. It also does not state for how long the stay applies or when the report could be published in the future.

“And now, this 20th day of June, 2018, the Applications for Stay are granted. The Honorable Norman A. Krumenacker, III, and the Office of the Attorney General are enjoined from releasing Report No. 1 of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury pending further order of this Court,” the order, issued by the state’s Supreme Court, reads. Krumenacker is a Cambria County judge who has overseen the Grand Jury proceedings.

The stay indefinitely delays the release of a report that has been more than two years in the making, during which time victims of past abuse have recounted incidents of sexual abuse to the jury. Legal experts have told local news sources that the depth and breadth of this investigation is almost unprecedented among clerical sex abuse investigations that have taken place in the United States.

The two non-participating dioceses in the report, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, have already undergone similar investigations.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who has headed the investigation, said in a May 21 statement that he believed dioceses and bishops were behind the push to block or delay the publication of the report.

However, the participating dioceses - Allentown, Erie, Pittsburgh, Greensburg, Harrisburg, and Scranton - and their bishops have all said that they did not apply for the stay, and that they support the publication of the report.

“We anxiously await the Supreme Court’s decision on this matter, and support the release of the report which will give victims a voice,” Bishop Lawrence Persico of Erie said in a statement. “Until the report is released, we will continue our efforts to identify abusers and provide counseling and assistance to victims.”

“The contents of the report will be painful, but it is necessary for the report to be released in order for us to learn from it and to continue in our efforts to be responsive to victims and to create safe environments for our children,” the Diocese of Scranton said in its statement. “With regards to the stay, it's important that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court take all the steps it deems necessary.”

“The Diocese of Harrisburg has fully cooperated with the Office of the Attorney General. The Diocese and Bishop Gainer strongly support the release of the Grand Jury report and have not filed anything to cause the stay ordered (Wednesday),” spokesman Mike Barley said in a statement. “However, as we have stated before, it is critical that this report is accurate.”

Diocesan officials told CNA that they were unaware whether those who had applied for the stay had ties to the Church.

Ed Palattella, a reporter for the Erie Times, wrote that it is believed that those who filed for the stay petition were not diocesan officials, but others who were named in the report.

Because the majority of those named in the report would be priests, it is likely that a priest or group of priests named in the report filed for the stay.

According to an order from Krumenacker written earlier this month, anyone who is named in the Grand Jury report is given notice of their inclusion in the report and is allowed to file a rebuttal. However, once approved by a Grand Jury, written reports cannot be amended. All documents regarding the report remain sealed and so the identity of the party or parties who filed for the stay cannot be confirmed.

Victims said that the delay of the release of the report is causing further harm to those who have experienced clerical sex abuse.

State representative Mark Rozzi told The Inquirer that the stay order was a “travesty of justice and insult to all victims of childhood sex abuse.”

“It’s just like it’s been since Day One with me, kick us to the curb. Let the trash on the curb get old, maybe we’ll rot and die and go away. We’re not going away. I’m not going away, and I can promise that to all the victims across the commonwealth,” he said.

Last month, Krumenacker rejected an attempt by defense lawyers to stall the publication of the report. Defense lawyers said that the state’s interest in protecting their unidentified clients’ reputation and due process were enough to halt the publication of the report.

Krumenacker dismissed the request, arguing that “The commonwealth’s interest in protecting children from sexual predators and persons or institutions that enable them to continue their abuse is of the highest order.”

The request was appealed to the state’s Supreme Court, which ordered the stay June 20.

Murdered nuns' opposition to death penalty leads to life in prison for killer

Jackson, Miss., Jun 22, 2018 / 12:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A man convicted of the 2016 slayings of two religious sisters in Mississippi will not receive the death penalty and will instead spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Rodney Earl Sanders, 48, pled guilty on Thursday to murdering Sr. Margaret Held, SSSF, and Sr. Paula Merrill, SCN, as well as the theft of Held’s car. The two were found stabbed to death and sexually assaulted at their home in Durant, Mississippi, on August 25, 2016. They worked as nurse practitioners at a medical clinic near their home. Their bodies were discovered after they failed to arrive to work.

Sanders did not give a motive for his crimes. At the time of the murders, he was living in a shed across the street from the sisters’ home. He was arrested and charged the day after the crime. Police said he was a person of interest from the beginning of the investigation.

Held was a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis, which is based in Milwaukee, and Merrill was a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, from Kentucky.

While Sanders was indicted for the sexual assaults, those charges were not included in his guilty plea, according to the Associated Press. Sanders was eligible for the death penalty, but was sentenced to life in prison after the judge took into account the fact that Held and Merrill were opposed to the death penalty and would not want their killer executed.

In a statement at Sanders’ plea hearing, Sister Susan Gatz, president of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, said that the two sisters were “two of the most gentle persons you could ever know,” who based their lives on “peace, justice, and the love of God.”

Gatz said the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth were in favor of the plea agreement as it took away the possibility of the death penalty for Sanders.

“We have longed for justice with regard to our two beloved sisters,” she said. “And so, we support this plea agreement for life in prison without parole. It is justice that recognizes all life is valuable. It is justice that holds out hope, always, that love can break through the hardest barriers.”

Speaking directly to Sanders, Gatz said that her congregation would “never forget what you did to them,” and that many people had suffered as a result of his actions.

“But, because we believe in Christ and his gospel, we forgive you. We have learned over these couple of years that your life has had much turmoil and pain. We want you to know that we will pray that you can find peace.”

Held and Merrill were “examples of goodness, examples of Christ-like love,” said Gatz, “and nothing and no one can ever take that away.”

Des Moines diocese defends legality of school grants

Des Moines, Iowa, Jun 22, 2018 / 10:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After reviewing $844,000 worth of grants that were given by Polk County, Iowa to local Catholic schools a few years back, the Diocese of Des Moines said that it believes the grants complied with state law.

“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Des Moines has concluded that there is nothing improper associated with the technology grant,” the diocese said in a June 21 statement.

It added that after reviewing the relevant facts and law involving the Polk County grant, “We agree completely with Polk County that the Community Development Grant was entirely legal and proper.”

Iowa state law says that government officials “shall not appropriate, give, or loan public funds to, or in favor of, an institution, school, association or object which is under ecclesiastical or sectarian management or control.”

In 2011, after the Polk County Board of Supervisors learned that it could not give grant money directly to church-affiliated schools, Catholic school supporters formed a separate corporation through which to route the grant money.

Called Education for the 21st Century, the corporation is now defunct. During its two years in operation, 100 percent of its reported revenue came from Polk County grants, according to the Des Moines Register.

The grant money was taken from gambling revenue accrued by the Prairie Meadows Casino and Hotel.

The Polk County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 in 2012 to give $400,000 to the corporation. The year after, the board approved $444,000 to the corporation.

With the money, new technology equipment was bought for St. Anthony, St. Joseph, St. Augustin, St. Pius X, St. Theresa, Christ the King, Holy Trinity, Holy Family, and Sacred Heart schools. The money was used to purchase iPads, cameras, computers, projectors, and whiteboards.

“If Iowa taxpayer money was, in fact, intentionally funneled to religious schools, that is unacceptable and a misuse of the taxpayers' public dollars,” said Mark Stringer, executive director of ACLU Iowa, according to the Des Moines Register.

However, county supervisors have defended financial assistance to Catholic schools. They say that going forward, such assistance can be given directly to the schools, thanks to a 2017 Supreme Court ruling which held that states cannot discriminate against religious schools by making them ineligible for non-religious amenity funding programs.

The Diocese of Des Moines stressed that the Catholic Church “did not manage or control the foundation that received the grant,” and that grant money was not used for religious purposes, but “for purchasing learning technology that was provided to Christian and parochial schools.”

The diocese noted that Catholic schools already receive state funding for transportation and textbooks, “in recognition of the fact that families choosing a religious education are taxpayers.”

“Providing this form of support that does not directly advance religion is entirely consistent with the law,” the diocese said. “In fact, as the US Supreme Court has recognized, a law or policy that expressly discriminates against an otherwise eligible recipient and disqualifies them from a public benefit because of their religious character, is a clear violation of the United States Constitution.”

The former legal advisor for Polk County’s School Board, Michael O’Meara, told the Des Moines Register that he had told the board that they could only support Catholic schools if they did so via an entity that was not under ecclesiastical control.

State Auditor Mary Mosiman said she will not review the case. Her chief of staff and legal counsel noted that the county attorney appeared to have been consulted and approved the grants.
 
 
 

 

‘Congreso’ draws Hispanic youth for day of inspiration

The overall theme of the conference, “The Answer Generation,” pointed to young people’s search for meaning in an increasingly secular society and Fr. Sergio López’s presentation encouraged them to believe that they are all called to become saints.

Study finds mounting global restrictions on religion

Washington D.C., Jun 22, 2018 / 12:06 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Government restrictions on religion continued to rise across the globe in 2016, according to a recently released Pew study, which linked the stifling of religion to nationalist parties and organizations.

“This marks the second year in a row of increases in the overall level of restrictions imposed either by governments or by private actors (groups and individuals) in the 198 countries examined in the study,” said the Pew report.

The research found that 42 percent of countries experienced high or very high levels of overall religious restriction, which included hostile acts by government or private individuals or groups. This number is up from 40 percent in 2015, and 29 percent in 2007.

“This marks the biggest number of countries to fall in this top category since Pew Research Center began analyzing restrictions on religion in 2007,” Pew said.

“The share of countries with ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels of government restrictions…rose from 25 percent in 2015 to 28 percent in 2016,” the study found. “Meanwhile, the share of countries with ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels of social hostilities involving religion…remained stable in 2016 at 27 percent.”

The Middle-East and North Africa experienced the highest median level of government restrictions on religion, while Europe and the Americas were the only areas to experience an increase in median levels of social religious hostility.

Additionally, the research pointed to nationalist groups’ role in the rise of religious restrictions, particularly through targeting specific ethnic and religious minorities.

“In many countries, restrictions on religion resulted from actions taken by government officials, social groups or individuals espousing nationalist positions,” the Pew study noted.

Around 11 percent of countries saw government actors who “at times used nationalist, and often anti-immigrant or anti-minority, rhetoric to target religious groups in their countries in 2016,” – a 5 percent increase from the previous year.

European countries experienced this attitude most strongly, with around 33 percent having nationalist parties making statements against religious minorities, while 12 percent of Asia-Pacific countries shared a similar experience.

“Typically, these nationalist groups or individuals were seeking to curtail immigration of religious and ethnic minorities, or were calling for efforts to suppress or even eliminate a particular religious group, in the name of defending a dominant ethnic or religious group they described as threatened or under attack.”

Additionally, there was a 5 percent increase in countries where organized groups aimed to overtake public life at the expense of a religion.

The most popular targets for religious restrictions were Muslims, Christians and Jews.

“Looking at religious groups, harassment of members of the world’s two largest groups – Christians and Muslims – by government and social groups continued to be widespread around the world, with both experiencing sharp increases in the number of countries in which they were harassed in 2016,” the study said.

This research, which included 198 countries making up 99.5 percent of the world, comes from Pew’s ninth annual study of global restrictions on religion, which analyzes the “extent to which governments and societies around the world impinge on religious beliefs and practices.”

These levels were measured by government laws and policies, acts of individual or group hostility against religion, including armed conflict and terrorism. Harassment of religious groups was gathered by data relating to physical or verbal assaults, arrests, detentions, desecration of holy sites, and discrimination against religious groups via employment, education and housing.

The 2016 year was the most recent year in which data was available.

 

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Releases New Edition of Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services

 WASHINGTON— The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is publishing the sixth edition of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, a revision that implements modifications regarding collaborating with non-Catholic partners.

The health care system in the United States is marked by both extraordinary challenges and immense possibilities for good.

In these revised Directives, approved by majority vote during the USCCB Spring General Assembly 2018, the bishops reaffirm the Church's commitment to Catholic health care ministry, in faithful imitation of Jesus Christ, the Divine Physician. The Directives aim to reaffirm ethical standards of behavior and provide authoritative guidance on moral issues that face health care today.

This new edition offers a helpful update of Part Six, "Collaborative Arrangements with Other Health Care Organizations and Providers." This section offers background and guidelines for collaborative arrangements between Catholic and non-Catholic health care institutions.

The Directives are especially relevant to institutionally based Catholic health care services, and they are directly addressed to "sponsors, trustees, administrators, chaplains, physicians, health care personnel, and patients or residents" of Catholic health care institutions. The Directives are also useful as a teaching tool to give sound guidance to students and faculty at Catholic medical schools, Catholic medical associations, Catholic hospitals and medical facilities, and to all pastors, administrators, doctors, nurses, and staff involved in the health care ministry and related pastoral care.

CONTENTS:

″           Preamble

″           General Introduction

″           Part One: The Social Responsibility of Catholic Health Care Services

″           Part Two: The Pastoral and Spiritual Responsibility of Catholic Health Care

″           Part Three: The Professional-Patient Relationship

″           Part Four: Issues in Care for the Beginning of Life

″           Part Five: Issues in Care for the Seriously Ill and Dying

″           Part Six: Collaborative Arrangements with Other Health Care Organizations and Providers

″           Conclusion

The USCCB has made the book available for order online at: http://store.usccb.org/searchresults.asp?Search=ethical+and+religious

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Keywords: Ethical and Religious Directives, Catholic Health Care Service, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, health care system, health care organization, health care providers, social responsibility.

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Media Contact:

Judy Keane

202-541-3200

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Announces the Publishing of a New Book, Pope Francis: Embrace of Hope - Compassion in Times of Illness

 WASHINGTON—  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is making available a new book, Pope Francis: Embrace of Hope - Compassion in Times of Illness. The book is filled with the Pope's insight and inspiration for all who face the test of sickness and illness.

In this book, Pope Francis shows how hope is found in seeing and experiencing illness in the light of the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Holy Father reveals how grace grows in times of illness when:

*Christians bring the peace of Christ to the sick through service and care.

*Difficult moments become the path to forge stronger relationships with family, communities, and with Christ.

*Men and women in science cultivate and apply God's gift of creation for the treatment and cure of diseases, setting free the oppressed.

*Christ sets one free, helps one endure, and allows suffering for the sake of a greater joy yet to come.

This work is a collection of Pope Francis's most significant words to the sick. It is a series of valuable reflections, considerations, and prayers taken from his speeches, messages, homilies, and Angeluses over a period of about four years, from his election to the See of Peter to June 2017.

This easy-to-read book has the best of Pope Francis's reflections on this challenging human experience. Presented in an elegant design, this small book is easy to take with you and an important read for all those facing illness, for caregivers, health care professionals, as well as health care professionals, educators and researchers.

The USCCB has made the book available for order online at http://store.usccb.org/pope-francis-embrace-of-hope-p/7-584.htm

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Keywords: Pope Francis, Embrace of Hope, Compassion in Times of Illness, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, sickness, illness, Jesus Christ, Holy Father.

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Media Contact:

Judy Keane

202-541-3200

 

Farm bill with SNAP restrictions passes narrowly in House

Washington D.C., Jun 21, 2018 / 04:59 pm (CNA).- On Thursday evening, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the 2018 farm bill, H.R. 2, which included controversial changes to food assistance programs that Catholic leaders had voiced concern over.

The Farm Bill is the main agricultural and food policy guide for the country. It provides funding for a number of programs and regulations in the food and agriculture industries.

The party-line vote was 213-211. No Democrats voted for the bill, and 20 Republicans voted against it. The same bill failed in May, when 30 Republicans voted against the legislation.

The most controversial element of the bill was a provision to change the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, previously called food stamps.

The farm bill would tighten restrictions on eligibility for SNAP. It would require people between the ages of 18 and 59 who receive SNAP to either have a job or participate in a job training program for 20 hours per week. Adults with disabilities or young dependents are exempted from this requirement.

Penalties for not complying with work requirements increase under the bill, from one month ineligibility to one year for a first violation, and from three months to three years for a second violation.

When the farm bill was being discussed in April, representatives from the U.S. bishops conference, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Rural Life, and the National Council of the U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul wrote a letter to leaders of the Congressional Agriculture Committee.

“Efforts to improve state workforce training programs by providing case-management, streamlining workforce programs, providing increased training slots and setting minimum standards are welcomed,” they said.

"However, the new workforce training program appears to lack sufficient investment to meet the additional demand for meaningful job training and skill building that will be generated by the new requirements,” they said in the April letter. The letter noted that the majority of SNAP recipients currently work.

“Moreover, rural communities may find compliance especially challenging given that job training programs are often located far away, and there is insufficient access to transportation,” the letter said.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said the passage of the farm bill was a step “moving toward a poverty-fighting system,” where Americans will be able to move out of a cycle of poverty.

“This is a big deal,” said Ryan in a statement published on his website.

Ryan referred to the SNAP reforms as “critical,” saying they will “close the skills gap, better equip our workforce, and encourage people to move from welfare to work.”

“These reforms will return agency to people, rather than keeping it in government, empowering individuals to reach their full potential and make the most of their lives.”

President Donald Trump, posting on Twitter, said that he was “so happy to see work requirements included” in the version of the bill that passed the House of Representatives.

“Big win for the farmers,” said Trump.

The bill now moves on to the Senate, where a bipartisan compromise bill is expected to be debated next week.

The Catholic Church's long history of resettling refugees in the US

Washington D.C., Jun 21, 2018 / 04:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic Church has resettled nearly one-third of all refugees received by the United States since 1980 through a public-private partnership with a high rate of successful integration of refugees into society, according to a report released in June 2018.

The Center for Migration Studies report examines data on 1.1 million of the refugees resettled in the U.S. from 1987 to 2016. These refugees came from more than 30 countries, including Ukraine, Iraq, Vietnam, Somalia, Bosnia and Burma.

“What we've found is that they are integrating, contributing, and accomplishing a lot in the United States after starting from basically nothing. Not surprisingly, we found that refugees with the longest residence have integrated the most fully in the country, and we provide statistics on how that progresses over time,” said Donald Kerwin, the primary author of the report, at a World Refugee Day event at the U.S. Capitol building.

Frances McBrayer has seen this successful integration firsthand in her experience as senior director of refugee services of Catholic Charities Atlanta.

“More than 90 percent of the refugees that we have resettled through Catholic Charities Atlanta were self-sufficient in 2017 within 6 months of arrival,” said McBrayer at the June 20 event.

“That means they are working, paying their own bills, and they are not receiving government cash assistance,” she continued.

This rapid success can be partially attributed to the committed volunteer efforts of local communities, according to McBrayer, who said that Catholic Charities Atlanta had 874 volunteers working with refugees last year.

Parish volunteers are matched with incoming refugee families, whom they accompany in everything from English practice and job applications to American grocery shopping.

In partnership with its affiliates, the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services resettles approximately 30 percent of refugees arriving in the U.S. each year through a network of more than 100 diocesan offices.

“In the United States, we offer a model public-private partnership,” said Ashley Feasley, director of migration policy for the U.S. bishops, at a congressional briefing co-hosted by Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services, and the U.S. bishops conference.

The U.S. also has one of the safest refugee programs in the world, Feasley said, as each refugee is required to go through extensive vetting, including a series of very rigorous interviews by the Department of Homeland Security.

“They will have their information checked by the FBI. They will have their information checked by the NSA. They will have much of their biographical information verified as well as going through a security check and a health check. All of this will occur before a refugee is ever finally selected to be admitted to the United States.”

Feasley explained how the U.S. refugee resettlement program as we know it today emerged out of the ad hoc charitable actions of faith-based groups in response to the Vietnam War. As a result, Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1980, which laid out a definition of who counts as a refugee and how resettlement would work.

The American Catholic involvement with refugee resettlement dates back even earlier, as documented in an archive exhibit at The Catholic University of America on the American Catholic Church’s refugee aid from the late 1930s to early 1950s.

Despite this history, the U.S. is on pace this year to resettle the lowest number of refugees in the history of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, according to the 2018 CMS report.

There are currently some 25.4 million refugees worldwide who have fled their countries to escape conflict or persecution, according to statistics released by the UN refugee agency on June 19. This constitutes the largest increase in refugees in a single year that the UN has ever documented.

A ‘sacramentally fortified’ fatherhood: Diocese gains three new priests

The trio — Fr. Frankie Cicero, Fr. John Nahrgang and Fr. Vinhson Ngueyn — can now take the place of Christ the high priest forever more as they serve the growing and diverse vineyard that is the Diocese of Phoenix.