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British parliamentary committee urges action on N Ireland abortion law

London, England, Apr 25, 2019 / 05:41 pm (CNA).- A committee of the British parliament has said Westminster should bypass Northern Ireland's self-governance to clarify the region's abortion law.

The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee said Thursday that the UK government should provide a “clear framework and timeline” for Northern Ireland to address United Nations concerns on Northern Ireland’s abortion restrictions.

The committee's report was welcomed by Amnesty International UK and the Family Planning Association.

Christian groups and local officials have pushed back, saying this decision would hinder Northern Ireland's devolution. British Prime Minister Theresa May has said abortion should remain a devolved issue.

Abortion is legally permitted in Northern Ireland only if the mother's life is at risk or if there is risk of permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health.

The committee said the current law violates the rights of women in Northern Ireland.

“The lack of clarity about the current legal situation is creating confusion, fear and inequality,” said the committee’s chair, Maria Miller, according to the Independent. “Our report sets out action which the government must take to address this.”

“This government can't hide behind devolution to defend denying the women of Northern Ireland their basic human rights because they want to please the DUP,” said Labour MP Stella Creasy.

According to the committee, devolution cannot be used as an excuse to ignore human rights standards and “does not remove the UK Government’s own responsibilities to comply with its international obligations.”

The Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont is currently suspended due to disagreements between the two major governing parties

The committee said there is a lack of clarity over whether doctors in Northern Ireland may refer women for free National Health Services Abortions in England, Scotland, and and Wales, which they have been able to procure since November 2017.

Christian Action Research and Education (CARE), a pro-life group, responded to the committee's report, stating that the basis of human right standards was based on a single UN committee which had no legal standing, according to a April 25 statement by CARE’s chief executive, Nola Leach.

She also said that the report undermines devolution.

“The issue of abortion law in Northern Ireland should be decided by the people of Northern Ireland through their elected representatives and not by MPs sitting on a Westminster Committee,” Leach said. “The repercussions of damaging the devolution settlement in the way recommended in the report would be felt across the UK.”

The group pointed to an October 2018 online poll from ComeRes of more than 1,000 Northern Ireland adults, which ound 64 percent said abortion law should be decided by the people of Northern Ireland and their representatives, not MPs from other parts of the U.K.

Tory MP Eddie Hughes, a member of the Equalities Committee, released an alternative report, requesting that Westminster not interfere with the devolution of Northern Ireland. Rather, he said the Department of Health for Northern Ireland should seek to improve clinical care for women with fetal abnormalities.

Leach welcomed Hughes' report, saying it had “sensible proposals.” She said a change in the restrictions could lead to a greater increase in abortions and highlighted the number of children alive as a result of the law.

“The prospect of Westminster imposing change is highly alarming, as any legislation put forward could be amended to allow for widespread access to abortion on request for any reason in Northern Ireland. We do not believe the hardest of hard cases should be utilised to allow for abortion on request,” she said.

“We must not forget that thanks to NI’s life-affirming laws there are 100,000 people alive today across the Province.”

‘Lay co-agents essential for Church leadership’ Detroit archbishop says

Washington D.C., Apr 25, 2019 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- The role of the laity is crucial to the Church’s efforts to combat clerical sex abuse, Archbishop of Allen Vigneron said Thursday morning.

Speaking at The Catholic University of America on April 25, the Detroit archbishop explained that in his own ministry he had seen how lay collaboration is essential in Church governance, and has a natural place with the Church’s hierarchy.

“In order to act well, I recognize that I am in need of what I might call ‘co-agents’--others who help me by thinking and acting along with me,” said Vigneron.

These “co-agents” take the form of both members of the clergy and laity, he explained, and could even include non-Catholics.

Vigneron was speaking at an event titled “The Way Forward: Principles for Effective Lay Action,” part of a series organized by The Catholic Project, Catholic University's progam dedicated to helping shape the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis.

The archbishop identified three particular areas in which co-agents were crucial to his own ministry, including the review board and finance council, and the archdiocesan synod which was convened in 2016.

Recalling that when he arrived in Detroit in 2013 the archdiocese faced a financial crisis, Vigneron said it was his lay advisors who were crucial in rescuing the situation.

“Without the wise advice of the [finance] council, I would not have been able to endorse the course that enabled us to avoid financial disaster,” said Vigneron, adding that the experience  gave him confidence that lay co-agents had an equally important role to play in solving the present sexual abuse crisis.

Vigneron also identified “victim-survivors” of clerical abuse as indispensable guide to helping him understand the trauma of abuse.

Meeting abuse survivors had, he said, “provided a unique and painful perspective of the enormity of the sins perpetrated against these innocents.”

“I hear incredible anger and disappointment, especially from those victim-survivors who have been driven away from the sacraments for the rest of their lives,” he said, while expressing gratitude and admiration for the many who had told him they remained committed to the Church.  

One of the key points of discussion in the ongoing debate about enhanced lay participation in Church accountability is the strain it could place on the hierarchical nature of the Church. The office of bishops to lead and govern the Church is divinely instituted, and many - including in Rome - are reluctant to pursue reforms which could be seen to undermine episcopal authority.

Vigneron rejected the idea that effective lay involvement would necessarily supercede or undermine his role as a bishop.

“It is the final firm determination of the bishop that secures the stable basis for consistent acting,” he said. “And no healthy approach to lay-clergy collaboration can contradict this aspect of Christ’s constitution of his Church.”

Collaboration would be most fruitful and effective, explained the archbishop, when “any actions taken to respond to the challenges of the current crisis are parts of a greater whole” which is in harmony with the Church’s essential nature. The “greater whole,” he said, is the entire work of the Church for the salvation of souls, final responsibility for which rests with the bishop.

“It is the particular competence of the diocesean bishop to be the trustee of this common good and to ensure that all particular ecclesial acts contribute to this end.”

Speaking after the event, Vigneron told CNA that he was preparing for the release of a report into clerical sexual abuse by the Michigan attorney general and that "there will be a great involvement of the lay faithful helping us as this unfolds.”

While the laity could play unique and expert roles in many areas according to their skills and experience, Vigneron said that it is vitally important that all the faithful maintain their prayer lives and work to hold people accountable for inaction.

The archbishop told CNA that healing the scandal of sexual abuse in the Church was a spiritual as well as structural labor.

"All the laity can continue to be engaged at the spiritual level, to realize that if there's going to be change in the Church, part of it has to be that we all pray for that to happen,” he said.

“The other thing is to continue to hold the pastors accountable, to urge us to do what we need to do to advance the purification of the Church and to support us as we're engaged in those challenges."

CUA president applauds students' decision to block porn

Washington D.C., Apr 25, 2019 / 03:40 pm (CNA).- The president of The Catholic University of America has voiced his support for a student government resolution that asked the university to block the 200 most popular porn sites from its internet system.

“I am so proud of our students,” CUA president John Garvey wrote in an op-ed for the Arlington Catholic Herald April 24.

“This month the student government association, the body that represents our undergraduates, passed a resolution asking the university to prohibit access through the campus network to the 200 most frequently visited pornography websites. I told them we'd be happy to.”

The non-binding resolution was passed by a vote of 13 to 12, and student body president Jimmy Harrington signed it April 1.

Student Sen. Gerard McNair-Lewis, a junior at the university, was the resolution’s sponsor.

Garvey noted that pornography has become more accessible than it once was; where in the past it could only be found in “leather-bound books in gentlemen's clubs and private libraries,” today “any 6-year-old can find it on a cellphone.”

In addition, pornography has become more graphic, and advances in technology not only make pornography more addictive, but also make it easier for people to slip into the mindset of: “We don't need one another for sexual fulfillment. We can summon imaginary partners at the touch of a button.”

“I think that basic human urges are fairly constant from one generation to another. But technology can change our stimuli and the way we respond. That's happening here,” Garvey said.

Reproductive technology such as artificial contraception have reinforced the idea, Garvey asserted, that if sex is merely a form of recreation, then “any partner will do: even a virtual one.”

“Our students are right to be concerned about the trend in this direction, because the digital revolution's ambition is to make virtual reality indistinguishable from life,” he noted.  

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes pornography as a “grave offense.”

It “offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other” and does “grave injury to the dignity of its participants,” the Church teaches.
 
“Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials,” the Catechism says.

Of course, Garvey acknowledged, blocking pornography on the university’s internet system will not solve students’ appetite for porn—they can still use their phones or access a site that is not yet blocked.

But, “it does communicate a point of view that our students say they want to hear,” Garvey wrote.

“It says that this is not the sort of relationship they should be looking for, and we're not going to lend our system to help them find it.”

Garvey’s op-ed did not include specific details about how and when the university would implement the pornography ban, but a spokesperson for the university told CNA that the block on top porn sites should go into effect “within weeks.”

“Our students asked President Garvey to block the top 200 porn sites, and he told them that he’d be happy to do so,” Catholic University spokesperson Karna Lozoya told CNA on Thursday.

“We are working on implementing those blocks, and should have the top sites blocked within weeks.”

When the university last considered banning porn from the network, they found it would have been both expensive and ineffective. Now, due to advances in technology, it is now more affordable to implement this kind of filter, Loyoza told CNA earlier this month.
 
While students may work around a firewall and continue to access porn, “the student resolution made a convincing argument that banning porn on the University network sends the right message to the student body.”

One of the resolution’s co-sponsors, Alexandra Kilgore, told CNA that she was surprised to learn action had not already been taken.
 
“I was honestly shocked to learn that such a ban wasn't already in place. Even my public high school blocked inappropriate content on its wi-fi, so I knew The Catholic University of America could do better,” she said.
 
“As a woman, I thought it was important to be a cosponsor to bring to light that pornography is not just a men's issue. Not only does the industry exploit and prey upon primarily women and girls, but females can struggle with addiction and consumption just as much as males.”
 
Kilgore described the resolution as a positive expression of corporate concern among the student body, not a condemnation.
 
“Our resolution is not intended to shame anyone or to make pornography addiction more isolating than it already is. Rather, it demonstrates the Student Government Association's commitment to the well-being of the student body and the University's continued demonstration of the teachings of the Catholic Church.”
 
Harrington rejected the idea that blocking pornography amounted to censorship or a violation of personal freedoms, saying “it is a regulation that the national University of the Catholic Church or any private institution ought to enact.”
 
Harrington pointed out in his statement that many secular organizations ban pornography from their networks, not only out of moral concerns, but also because such websites often contain viruses and other malware that can damage machines.
 
“If a secular company can block these sites from their networks and computers, then I am even more convinced that The Catholic University of America ought to be able to and should regulate these sites on its own network,” Harrington said.

Injunction against Title X funding rules draws pro-life criticism

Portland, Ore., Apr 25, 2019 / 03:32 pm (CNA).- Pro-life advocates have lamented a federal judge’s preliminary injunction against the federal Protect Life Rule, which bars family planning funds for clinics at the same location as abortion providers and for those which refer for abortion.

“Abortion is not healthcare, and that’s how we evaluate these kinds of decisions,” Todd Cooper, executive director of the Oregon Catholic Conference, told CNA.

“Coming from that perspective, it’s troubling,” he said. “I ask myself: why would medical professionals want to refer women to something that would cause untold harm and result in the death of a child?”

Lois Anderson, executive director of Oregon Right to Life, agreed.

“Abortion is not healthcare nor is it family-planning,” she said April 24 statement, characterizing abortion as “big business.”

“Planned Parenthood performs almost 40 percent of abortions in the country. They have a financial interest in keeping Title X funding coming their way,” she said. In her view, the new regulation would not cut any money from family planning, and “reflects the original intent of the program: helping people plan their families.”

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family planning, including contraception and other health screenings, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

The Protect Life Rule, finalized in February, requires that there be a physical and financial separation between recipients of Title X funds and facilities that perform abortions. Clinics that provide “non-directive counseling” about abortion can still receive funds, but cannot refer for abortion.

Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the country, is expected to lose about $60 million in federal funds due to its intention not to comply with the rule change, which would make it ineligible for funds for its family planning work.

On April 24 U.S. District Judge Michael McShane issued a preliminary injunction against the new rule’s ban on taxpayer funding for clinics that refer for abortion, calling it a “ham-fisted approach to public health policy,” The Oregonian reports.

Twenty states, including Oregon, and the District of Columbia, have challenged the rule change, joined by Planned Parenthood affiliates and the American Medical Association.

Fourteen other states back the rule change, which had been set to take effect May 3.

The plaintiffs in the case had sought a national injunction, but McShane said he was reluctant to set “national health care” policy. He said he would describe the injunction’s scope in a forthcoming formal written opinion.

The U.S. Justice Department has asked that the injunction apply only to the plaintiffs. There are four similar lawsuits pending in other states.

In his discussion of the case, McShane said the ban on abortion referrals prevent doctors from behaving like medical professionals. He ruled the new regulation would remove the full range of medical options for low-income women, create a “geographic vacuum” in reproductive health care, and would likely increase abortion numbers due to more unwanted pregnancies, The Oregonian reports.

The rule’s prohibition on federal funding for family planning clinics housed in the same location as abortion providers will also be the subject of an injunction, the judge said.

Attorney Andrew Bernie argued on behalf of the federal government, saying there was no proof of “irreparable harm” to the plaintiffs. The administrative record did not show a political motive for the changes.

Further, the changes are in line with the 1991 U.S. Supreme Court decision Rust v. Sullivan, which upheld federal regulations barring abortion counselling by employees of federally funded family planning facilities. The Department of Health and Human Services holds that the new rules best reflect a Title X section which bars abortion as a family planning method, said Bernie.

McShane, however, said “good health outcomes” are the standard.

“Are these rules going to bring about good health outcomes?” he asked Bernie, according to The Oregonian.

The judge said the government hadn’t provided data to counter medical experts’ claims that the rule’s restrictions on medical professionals regarding abortion referral would result in unwanted pregnancies, ineffective contraceptive use, and an increase in sexually transmitted diseases.

Cooper, of the Oregon Catholic Conference, questioned the judge’s conclusion.

“Abortion is not a good health outcome,” he told CNA, asking for more evidence for the claim that the rule could result in more abortions.

Attorney Alan Schoenfeld, who represented Planned Parenthood and the American Medical Association, said all Planned Parenthood providers would leave the Title X program because the rules, which they consider a “gag rule,” require unethical health care practice. Planned Parenthood operates about 40 percent of health care clinics in the U.S. If they reduce or close operations, Schoenfeld argued, some communities could not replace the resulting vacuum in health care, which would reduce low-income women’s access to cancer screening and other health services.

Anderson of Oregon Right to Life, however, rejected this argument. The refusal of Planned Parenthood to comply would mean the money would go to federally-qualified healthcare clinics, of which there are over 13,500 across the U.S., she said.

“In Oregon alone, there are 24 (federally-qualified healthcare clinics) for every single Planned Parenthood clinic,” said Anderson. “The idea that there would be a dearth of providers should this rule take affect is an outright lie.”

Enacting the rule, she said, “would ensure that family-planning funds go towards actual family-planning, not killing members of families.”

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum argued against the rule in court, saying that Title X funds are “a true safety net for low income individuals and those who would not be able to access care, due to a lack of insurance or other barriers.”

After the finalized rule was announced in February, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, praised the Trump administration for “reaffirming that abortion is not family planning.”

“Abortion ends the lives of families’ most vulnerable members, as well as damaging the spiritual, mental and physical health of mothers,” said the archbishop.

Previous regulations, written under President Bill Clinton’s administration, not only allowed for health clinics that were co-located with abortion clinics to receive funds, but also required that Title X recipients refer patients for abortions. That rule kept some organizations opposed to abortion from applying for grants.

Cooper gave an overview of the pro-life cause in Oregon, which he described as “difficult territory.”

“It’s just a challenge out here, because abortion supporters really want unfettered access to abortion,” he said. “They want to force this on society, they want to force this on women, they even want to force this on medical professionals.”

“For Catholics and many others here in Oregon that do not support abortion for different reasons, this is a battle that we are never going to give up on, regardless of where it goes in the near future. This is something that we’ll be relentless in fighting because of the harm it does to women.”

“Who wants a world where only certain children are welcome?” Cooper asked. “That’s not a world that is a good place to be.”

He pointed to efforts like the Renew Life Oregon coalition, which includes Oregon Catholic Conference and the Archdiocese of Portland.

“There are a lot of very committed people who are working in the trenches to support life, and ultimately help people recognize and understand the harm that abortion causes society and women in particular, and obviously the children who are being killed in their mothers’ wombs.”

According to Liberty Pike, communications director for Oregon Right to Life, almost 50 percent of abortions in the state are taxpayer-funded.

State law required all insurance plans to cover abortions without any deductible. A Catholic health care provider only secured an exemption after it threatened to leave the state.

“We are already spending an exorbitant amount of tax dollars on abortion,” she said.

Pike argued the new rule would not even force Planned Parenthood out, given it has a choice to give up the Title X funding or to comply with the funding rules.

IRS grants Satanic Temple recognition as a 'church'

Washington D.C., Apr 25, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A satanic group has announced they have been granted recognition as a church by the Internal Revenue Service.

In a statement published Thursday, the Massachusetts-based Satanic Temple said that they have received notice from the IRS and that the decision would grant the organization equal legal footing with other religious groups.

“This acknowledgement will help make sure the Satanic Temple has the same access to public spaces as other religious organizations, affirm our standing in court when battling religious discrimination, and enable us to apply for faith-based government grants,” the statement said.

The IRS has not commented on any conferral of status for the group, but guidance published on its website confirms that churches benefit from special tax rules, including automatic exemption from federal income tax.

IRS regulations draw a clear distinction between “churches” and other religious organizations. A church must have certain characteristics, according to IRS requirements, including: a recognized creed and form of worship; distinct ecclesiastical government; formal code of doctrine; ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study; established places of worship and regular religious services.

Despite its overtly demonic allegiance, the Satanic Temple was founded by professed atheists and articulates a set of secular humanist beliefs. Its satanic imagery appears to many to be a deliberate provocation in response to what the group perceive as interference by religion in the public square.

In a 2013 interview, the group’s spokesman, Douglas Mesner, described their intention to be a “poison pill in the Church-State debate.” They have previously mounted lawsuits to display satanic images and statues on public property alongside traditional Judeo-Christian symbols, such as the Ten Commandments.

In February of 2019, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled against a self-professed member of the Satanic Temple who claimed that a state law on “informed consent” before an abortion violated her religious beliefs.  

Mary Doe, as the plaintiff was listed in that case, argued that a booklet distributed to all women seeking abortion in the state was a violation of her religious beliefs and an articulation by the state of an alternative religious creed.

The case focused on the booklet’s statement that “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”

The apparent recognition of the IRS comes after members of the Satanic Temple have had to defend themselves against accusations that their “church” is essentially a political stunt. A recent documentary entitled “Hail, Satan?” presented the group as sincere, despite ongoing suggestions that the temple was founded to make a “mockumentary” film and is essentially performance art and political theatre.

Whatever the sincerity of its founders, its conflict with the Catholic Church have been real.

In May 2014, the Satanic Temple was part of an attempt to organize a “black mass” on the campus of Harvard University. A spokesman for the group initially told the media that a consecrated Host would be desecrated during the event, although the temple and the Harvard club hosting the event both later denied this.

Following sustained outcry from Catholics and other religious groups, the event was first moved off campus and eventually cancelled.

Benefit concert for Notre Dame Cathedral to end with Resurrection piece

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- An organist from Notre Dame Cathedral -- performing an April 26 benefit concert in Washington for the reconstruction of the iconic Parisian church -- will end his program, fittingly, with a piece about Christ's resurrection.

The concert at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is free and open to the public with a freewill offering to help repair the cathedral that was severely damaged in the April 15 fire.

Funds from the concert will be added to donations that began immediately pouring in from around the world, boosted by large contributions from billionaires. French President Emmanuel Macron had said the cathedral could be reconstructed in five years.

Msgr. Walter Rossi, rector of the basilica, told reporters April 25 that the day of Notre Dame's fire, basilica officials were talking about how to help and set up an online collection that night on the basilica's website.

The benefit concert was organized by the basilica and the French Embassy, in partnership with the Friends of Notre Dame and the French American Cultural Foundation. It will be broadcast live on Eternal Word Television Network.

The concert will feature the basilica's choir and organ pieces played by Johann Vexo, a Notre Dame organist who was playing when the fire began.

Vexo spoke to reporters the day before the concert in the basilica's choir loft, sharing his relief that the cathedral's Grand Organ with about 8,000 pipes and five keyboards was reported to be undamaged from the massive fire.

"We still have to switch it on to make sure that everything is OK," he added, with caution.

He also spoke lovingly of the cathedral's ancient and historic instrument, noting that it is both powerful and poetic and that there is not another organ like it.

Vexo said he had been playing the organ for daily Mass when the fire began but didn't know what was happening. After an alarm sounded, the priest said he would finish the Mass without music, urging the organist and cantor to leave, which Vexo did, only to realize later what was happening.

Vexo has been pleased by the outpouring of support for Notre Dame's rebuilding, but he is not entirely surprised, saying he knows how much the historic cathedral means to both Parisians and the world.

When asked what Notre Dame means to him, he spoke of its beauty and cultural and historical significance, but he also spoke of his familiarity with it, noting that he spends more time there than in his apartment.

"It's like a second home to me," he told Catholic News Service, and to prove his point, he said he has the keys to it.

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Editor's Note: The website set up by Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for online donations for the Paris cathedral's reconstruction is www.SupportNotreDame.org.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

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Rwandan bishops apologize for letter urging pardon for genocide perpetrators

Kigali, Rwanda, Apr 25, 2019 / 11:47 am (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Rwanda have apologized for calling for the release of old and ill prisoners convicted for crimes committed during the country’s 1994 genocide.

“We wrote to Christians, encouraging them to continue promoting unity and reconciliation, while also seeking forgiveness,” the bishops said in an April 7 statement signed by Bishop Phillippe Rukamba of Butare, the president of the Rwandan bishops' conference.

“This letter caused a lot of hurt, especially for what we requested on behalf of the elderly and sickest who are still in prison for the crime of genocide. We are saddened it offended people – this was not what we intended,” the bishops said.

The bishops had issued a pastoral letter March 25 commemorating the victims of the genocide, urging reconciliation and forgiveness in the face of violence, but including a sentence exhorting those responsible for older or sick perpetrators to “examine whether their sentences can be reduced.”

Twenty-five years ago this month, ethnic tensions in Rwanda boiled over as members of the Hutu ethnic majority took up machetes and turned on their minority Tutsi neighbors, friends, and colleagues, killing them based on the color of their skin and the width of their nose.

In the 100-day genocide that followed, it is estimated that 1 million people were slaughtered.

Rwandans marked the anniversary of the tragedy April 7 at the Genocide Memorial Center in the capital city of Kigali. President Paul Kagame and leaders from Africa and the European Union were in attendance, the Catholic Information Service for Africa reported.

The bishops apologized for issuing the pastoral letter during the period of commemoration.

"After this tragedy of genocide against the Tutsis, the light of the Lord's resurrection was not quenched –asking and giving forgiveness can become a means of building a tomorrow for everyone," the bishops said.

In the 1994 genocide, clergy members were included in the ranks of both perpetrators and victims. In some cases, Hutu priests, bishops. and religious helped to hide and protect Tutsis. In other cases, they took up arms against them, ushering them into church buildings with false promises of security and then trapping and betraying them, facilitating their massacre.

The Church has since played a large role in helping to promote reconciliation and forgiveness. More than half of Rwanda’s population is Catholic.

The country’s bishops in November 2016 issued an official apology for Christians’ role in the genocide.

“We apologize for all the wrongs the Church committed. We apologize on behalf of all Christians for all forms of wrongs we committed. We regret that church members violated (their) oath of allegiance to God’s commandments,” they wrote.

Church needs joyful disciples, pope tells young people, deaf association

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In back-to-back audiences with a group of French young people and an Italian association for deaf people, Pope Francis cited personal example and witness as a vital piece in the church's evangelization mission.

Meeting with young people from the Diocese of Aire et Dax in southwestern France April 25, the pope encouraged them to remain united with Christ through the sacraments and the example of the saints so that they can spread the message that "God wants to give to the world through your lives."

"Yes, let yourselves be transformed and renewed by the Holy Spirit to bring Christ to every environment and give witness to the joy and youthfulness of the Gospel," he said.

The pope told the young men and women their pilgrimage to Rome was an opportunity to reflect on the lives of the martyrs who remained faithful to Christ until the end.

The martyrs' example, he added, is important now more than ever "because many people today think it is more difficult to call themselves Christians and live their faith in Christ."

"The current context isn't easy, especially due to the painful and complex issue of abuse committed by members of the church," the pope said. "Still, I would like to tell you once again that it isn't more difficult than in other eras of the church: It is only different."

Pope Francis said that the youthfulness and enthusiasm of young people in the church is a visible sign that Jesus "does not abandon his church" and continues to entrust the church's renewal to younger generations.

"I am counting on you," the pope said. "The church needs your impulse, your intuition and your faith!"

Immediately after, the pope made his way to the Clementine Hall and met with members of the Italian Federation of Associations for the Deaf. Founded in 1920, it is the oldest organization in the country representing the Italian deaf community.

Acknowledging the prejudice people who are deaf experience, "at times even within Christian communities," Pope Francis urged them to overcome "the barriers that do not allow you to seize the potential of your active presence and go beyond your disability."

"You teach us that only by taking on our limitations and frailties can we become builders -- together with leaders and members of the civil and ecclesial communities -- of a culture of encounter, in opposition to widespread indifference."

Catholics who are deaf, he continued, are called to play an active role in evangelization and "place the fruits of the talents the Lord gave you at the benefit of families and all the people of God."

"God's presence isn't perceived through the ears, but through faith," Pope Francis said. "For this reason, I encourage you to revive your faith so that you may feel God's closeness more and more."

In this way, he added, "you can help those who do not 'hear' God's voice to be more attentive to it. This is a significant contribution that deaf people can make to the vitality of the church."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Bishop Donald J. Hying appointed to lead Madison diocese

Vatican City, Apr 25, 2019 / 04:04 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Thursday appointed Donald J. Hying the next bishop of Madison, Wis., following the death of Bishop Robert C. Morlino in November.

Hying, 55, has been the bishop of Gary, Ind. since 2014. Before that he was an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisc. for three and a half years.

He replaces Bishop Morlino, who died Nov. 24, 2018 at St. Mary Hospital in Madison after suffering a cardiac event while undergoing scheduled medical tests. He was 71.

Morlino was installed as the fourth bishop of Madison Aug. 1, 2003. Prior to his time in Madison, he was bishop of Helena.

Bishop Hying was born on Aug. 18, 1963 in West Allis, Wis. He is the youngest of six brothers. He was ordained a priest for the Milwaukee archdiocese in May 1989 at the age of 25.

He is fluent in Spanish. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history, philosophy and theology from Marquette University and a master’s of divinity degree from St. Francis de Sales Seminary.

From 2007 to 2011 he was the rector of St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee.

As bishop of Gary, Hying called the diocese's first synod in 2017, following which he outlined the top pastoral priorities for the diocese over the coming years.

In support of those plans, Hying was making comprehensive visits to each parish in the diocese during 2019.

The Diocese of Madison was established in 1945 and has 104 parishes and 142 diocesan and religious priests.

The diocese has around 285,000 Catholics, which is just over 27% of the area's total population.

In the statement announcing the death of Morlino in November, the Diocese of Madison outlined his three priorities as bishop. These were to “increase the number and quality of men ordained to the diocesan priesthood,” to increase a sense of reverence throughout the diocese, and “to challenge Catholic institutions in the diocese to live out their professed faith in Jesus Christ” with their ministry in the secular realm.

In August 2018, Morlino released a pastoral letter saying the “homosexual subculture” within the Church was “wreaking great devastation.” He also called for additional Masses of reparation and fasting, and promised to respond firmly to any allegations of sexual misconduct by members of the clergy or seminarians.

 

Should Catholics care about poetry?

Denver, Colo., Apr 25, 2019 / 03:51 am (CNA).- Do you remember the last poem you read, or heard?

Statistics suggest it has probably been since high school that the average American took the time (or was forced by a teacher) to read a piece of poetry. The rise of the internet and the correlating decline in the number of people who say they’ve read a poem in the past year has fueled an ongoing debate among those who still care: is poetry dead? Whether it is dead, or dying, or not, should Catholics care?

“Yes, emphatically they should,” said Joseph Pearce, the director of book publishing at the Augustine Institute in Denver, and editor of The Austin Review and of the Faith & Culture website.

“Up until relatively recently in the history of Christendom, poetry was the main form of literature that people enjoyed and read,” Pearce said. “The best-selling works of literature up until Shakespeare’s time were poetry...so you can’t talk about the legacy or the heritage of Christian literature and leave poetry out of the equation without doing violence to what Christian literature is.”

What happened to poetry?

Poetry used to be memorized in schools and was a central, normal part of people’s literary lives - something they would just “bump into” on a regular basis.

“I can remember growing up...we would get Reader's Digest at home and it would have poetry in it, so would the newspapers, and The Christian Science Monitor...there were a lot of places where you would just bump into it,” said Tim Bete, who serves as poetry editor for the website Integrated Catholic Life (ICL). ICL is a website that provides articles, spiritual reflections, blogs and resources that strive to help Catholics better live lives of faith, according to its description.

So what, exactly, has contributed to its decline?

Pearce blames the so-called “death” of poetry on the “rather pathetic culture in which we find ourselves,” with decreased standards of literacy and decreased attention spans brought on by technology.

“The thing about our modern culture is that most of us spend most of our time wasting it in the dust storm and the desert of modern secular social media,” he added.

Dana Gioia is a Catholic by faith and a poet by trade, and has served as the Poet Laureate of California since 2015.

Gioia spent much of his career as a poet in the secular world, but told CNA that he has become an increasingly vocal Catholic, as it has become harder to be a Catholic in the world of poetry and literature.

The decline of Catholic poetry in the United States, for example, is in part because of Catholicism’s “very complicated position” in American literature since the beginning of the country, he said.

“Catholics were initially banned from coming to the U.S., and then they enjoyed very little rights where they were allowed at all for a long time,” he told CNA.  “And there persisted to be - persists to this day - a kind of anti-Catholic prejudice in the U.S. for a variety of religious, cultural, economic and political reasons.”

“American Catholics largely represent poor, immigrant communities from Europe, Latin America and Asia, and to this day if you go to most Catholic Churches you are sitting among the poor,” he added.

For these reasons, there was no “significant” Catholic American poetry (that is still being read today) until the 20th century, Gioia said. Then suddenly, around the 1950s, there is an explosion of Catholic literature in the United States, he said.

Writers such as Robert Lowell, Flannery O'Connor, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Walker Percy, William Tate and Brother Antonitus were leading the way (many of them converts from Protestantism), Gioia said, and Catholicism was being taken seriously for the first time in American cultural life.

“You have a huge list of these really significant thinkers who reshaped American intellectual life...a moment in the 1950s when Catholicism is part of the conversation of American literature,” he said.

But by the early 2000s, that was already gone.

“By 2000 it had fallen apart. In 2010, Catholics are marginalized in American literary lives,” he said.

The reasons for this were several, Gioia suggested: firstly, as Catholics became accepted into American society, they became increasingly secularized. Secondly, the world of art became increasingly anti-Christian, and finally, Vatican II caused “schisms” in the Catholic Church in America, turning her focus to internal debate rather than to an external, unified identity.

“I’m the uncomfortable truth-teller in the room,” Gioia added as an aside. “The contemporary Catholic Church in America, and everywhere, lost its connection with art and beauty.”

“For centuries, millennia really, the Church was a patron of the arts, and understood that beauty was an essential medium for its message,” he said.

“Now the Church is so caught up with practical necessities, that it considers beauty an unaffordable luxury. But beauty is not a luxury, it is a central and essential element of the Catholic faith. And we know this, because if we have anything at all to say about creation, it is that it is beautiful - nature is beautiful, the world is beautiful, our bodies are beautiful. So we’ve lost this essential connection because we’re so busy funding the parish school, keeping the homeless center running, and paying the mortgage on the church - all good things, but useless if the message of the Church is not heard among its own congregations and secondly in the modern world,” he said.

It’s a problem that has been identified by many in the Catholic Church who are concerned with the New Evangelization - Fyodor Dostoevsky’s maxim “beauty will save the world” has become the battle cry of many Catholics who want to reconnect the Church and the arts.

But “healthy” Catholic culture has two cultural conversations going at once, Gioia said - one internally, and one that reaches out to the world - “and both of those conversations have become greatly diminished in the last half-century.”

What poetry has to say to Catholics

The thing about being Catholic, Bete noted, is that if you’re going to Mass and reading the Bible, you are probably are more immersed in poetry than you realize.

“About 30% of all scripture is poetry,” Bete said. “Even (Catholics) that say oh, I never read poetry, well, if you're praying the Divine Office (a Catholic form of prayer centered on the Psalms), it's almost all poetry.”

“We're hearing poetry preached at Mass every week,” he added, and so becoming familiar with all kinds of poetry “helps you understand scripture better because it gets you in tune and trains you to think about metaphor.”

“So much of (scripture) is poetry but I think we kind of race through it sometimes and we don't really kind of appreciate it for being poetry,” he said.

“In my mind, one of the reasons that there's so much poetry in there is it's so difficult to define who God is, and God is so much greater than any author can put down on paper, but poetry...it provides a different type of truth.”

Bete added that poetry is often the fruit of silence and prayer, and vice versa - one can lead into the other. An example of this in scripture, he said, is the Canticle of Mary, when the pregnant Blessed Virgin Mary is visiting her cousin Elizabeth and bursts into poetic song about how God has blessed her by calling her to be the mother of Jesus.

“When Mary really has to explain to Elizabeth what is going on, what does she do? She speaks in poetry. It's very powerful...and so one of my hopes is that if people read current poetry, it trains them to look at things differently and will translate back to scripture and really help to bring the scripture alive for them,” Bete said.

Pearce said another reason Catholics should engage with poetry is because God himself is a poet.

“The word ‘poet’ comes from the word ‘poesis’ which means to make or to create,” he said.

“So when we are being poets in that broader sense of the word of being creative...it’s God’s creative presence in us, so we’re actually partaking in the divine when we write poetry or read it and appreciate it.”

Many great works of literature, from Beowulf to The Divine Comedy to The Canterbury Tales and the works of Shakespeare, are works of Christian and Catholic poetry, Pearce said.

Many saints, too, have written great works of poetry, Pearce said, such as St. Patrick’s breastplate poem or St. Francis of Assissi’s Canticle of Brother Sun.

Bete, a secular Carmelite, said he loves to read poetry by Carmelite saints - “it's actually hard to find one who was not a poet,” he said.

“Elizabeth of the Trinity, Therese the Little Flower, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, they all wrote poetry,” Bete said, including some that was prayerful and some that was more lighthearted.

“Almost always it came out of their prayer life,” Bete added. “I think it has to do with the closer that you get to God, especially if you're a writer, I think it just comes out.”

“I would say poetry is like going to Mass or saying your prayers,” Pearce said. “The writing of it and the reading of it is time taken and not time wasted, its something which is worth doing in its own right, as is prayer.”

Poetry 101: How can Catholics start a poetry habit?

Pearce has made it easy for Catholics who are looking for an introduction to Catholic poetry, with his book “Poems Every Catholic Should Know.”

“That book is very popular, and I think it’s popular because people are very aware that they don’t know poetry very well, because they haven’t really been taught it, and they are perhaps intimidated by it or they have misconceptions about it,” he said.

“So they see a book called ‘Poems Every Catholic Should Know’ and they think well, I should at least own one book of poetry and perhaps this is it,” he added.

The book goes through 1,000 years of Christian poetry, from the year 1,000-2,000, Pearce said, from both well-known and lesser-known poets, and it includes short biographies of each poet and how they fit into the broader context of the Christian poetry and literary world.

“A personal favorite of mine is a 20th century war poet, Siegfried Sassoon, who was a convert to the Catholic faith, so we published some of his post-conversion poetry in the book which I’m very fond of,” Pearce noted.

It was because of the sharp decline in the reading and writing of poetry that Bete pitched the idea for Integrated Catholic Life to start publishing poetry, to provide a new opportunity for visitors to the site to once again “bump into” poetry.

“The response has been great,” he said. “I think it just goes to show that when people see...beauty, and they see something that is of interest to them,” they respond, he said. “It doesn't take a huge time commitment. It's not like reading War and Peace or anything.”

Bete said he thinks it’s important for Catholics to come up with new and creative ways to reintroduce people to Catholic poetry.

“On Instagram where you're seeing some of these Instagram poets who are up and coming, and I haven't seen any Catholic ones yet, but I think what they're doing is they're putting poetry where people already are,” Bete said.

Another innovative concept that brings poetry to the people is the “Raining Poetry” project in Boston, Bete said, which paints poetry on the sidewalk with clear paint so that it only shows up when it rains.

“And I love that as a concept. Where are people, and then how do we find ways to get poetry in front of them? And I don't think we've been very good or innovative at that.”

Gioia said the most important thing Catholic creatives can do is to create communities for Catholic artists.

“This country is full of Catholic writers and artists who feel isolated,” Gioia said. “If we can create communities for them, they will understand their own art and its possibilities much better. We are stronger together than we are alone.”

Pearce, Bete and Gioia all said they have been heartened by what seems to be the start of a Catholic cultural revival, in which Catholics are talking more about the need for the Church to reconnect with beauty and the arts and to create great Catholic art again.

“I find this very encouraging,” Pearce said. “One of the things I’m doing with ‘Faith and Culture’ at the Augustine Institute and with the magazine The Austin Review...is to try to engage this new Catholic revival in the arts that we see going on. Certainly there’s a Catholic literary revival going on, so there’s an increase not just in the quantity, but more importantly in the quality with Catholic literature written today in the 21st century.”

Gioia said that while he’s encouraged by these movements, he would also caution against the notion of “homemade” culture.

“I worry that they sometimes have a kind of homemade version of culture that needs a shot of energy and perspective you only get by studying masterpieces, especially contemporary masterpieces,” he said. “Any serious writer must engage with the broader literary culture.”

“So I think one of the things to do is we need to identify the very best contemporary writers. What that doesn’t mean is saying here’s a list of 65 writers. It’s - who are the three or four best fiction writers? Who are the three or four best poets?”

“If we had a (Catholic literary) community, we’d invite everyone in, because that’s the right thing to do,” he said. “But when we write about literature we have to be ruthlessly discriminating, because the best work is what will speak most loudly. That’s what a critic does, that’s what an editor does, that’s what an anthologist does. Right now we do not have enough anthologies, or magazines; we do not have enough Catholic writers conferences. We need to build the infrastructure.”

Gioia started the first Catholic Imagination Conference for this reason - to bring together serious Catholic writers as a community.

“Four hundred people came, and they looked around and they were astonished and heartened by how many serious writers they saw in the same room,” he said. “Each one is bigger than the one before, and some of the people who came to the first conference created magazines, book clubs, discussion groups, and so once again, we’re stronger as a community than we are separately.”

The third such conference will be held at Loyola University this fall.

Ultimately, Gioia said, while he is concerned about the state of Catholic poetry and literature in the U.S., he has hope.

“I believe that our Church and our tradition embodies in it a great central truth of existence. And so if you believe that, how could you not be optimistic?”