Browsing News Entries

Ending isolation key to fighting assisted suicide, Catholic health group founder says

Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The founder of a Catholic health-share group has said that battling loneliness is crucial to opposing the growing acceptance of assisted suicide in popular culture.

Chris Faddis, co-founder of Solidarity HealthShare, spoke to CNA about the importance of respecting the dignity of all patients at the end of life.

Speaking to CNA during the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast April 23, Faddis said that a rising social and legal acceptance of assisted suicide is exacerbated by a lack of healthcare options that are both ethical and affordable, but is ultimately driven by loneliness and despair in the face of suffering.

“When you see no way out, something like a pill seems tempting,” he said.

Solidarity helps patients and their families find other options to assisted suicide to ease suffering and, Faddis said, expressed a kind of communion in its structure. In a health-share system, members of the organization help to pay each other’s healthcare costs. Members are self-pay patients who can see the provider of their choice while Solidarity helps to negotiate a lower rate, which would then be paid by the group of members.

“We're just there to facilitate and to kind of direct them,” said Faddis. “The affordability is there because there's no profit in it. We're a non-profit, we're just kind of facilitating that sharing."

“In all ways, we lead our members to the options that are going to respect life, that are going to promote their dignity. We provide care management, we provide services. And we encourage them."

Faddis, who serves as the Catholic health-sharing company’s chief operating officer, told CNA that the experience of suffering and death in his own family had formed his commitment to protecting human dignity at the end of life and led to his founding Solidarity. He served as a caregiver for his wife as she was dying of cancer, and experienced first-hand the importance of dignified and respectful hospice and palliative care.  

The experiences like his, Faddis said, needed to be shared in the wider battle to resist a culture of death in which suffering has no meaning.

“If we don't tell [an alternative view of suffering], the other side's telling the horror stories of suffering all day long."

Approaching death with dignity, Faddis said, is important for patients and families alike. “It’s worth taking time over,” he said, noting that his family benefited “in ways too many to count” from the care and support his wife received from their own community.

Solidarity does not pay for health services that are contrary to Catholic teaching, such as abortion, contraception, or euthanasia. When members are diagnosed with terminal illnesses, Faddis said that his organization works to ensure that members are directed to specific palliative care physicians who will not encourage assisted suicide.

Faddis said that an approach that underscores the value of life is especially important for terminal patients who are often feel as though they are a burden on their family and community. Terminal illness was, he said, a painful experience, but one that can be lived with dignity and meaning.

"When people are cared for well, then they can suffer well. So as they're going through those difficult times, or just those difficult decisions, people can help them just by caring well for them,” he said.

Assisted suicide is now legal in eight states, and is being considered by an additional four. New Jersey’s Catholic governor recently signed it into law in his state, after “careful prayer.”

Faddis said that in the United States, there is a general fear of suffering, which has resulted in an embrace of a quick death.

"I think we have a responsibility to console and give solace to the dying,” he said, stressing that preventing isolation was a vital part of respecting the dignity of human life.

“And I think if we do that well, we've solved the problem. I mean, if you're dying alone, you want the pill."

US House asks court to block funding for border wall

Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2019 / 12:40 pm (CNA).- Lawyers representing the US House of Representatives on Tuesday filed a motion in federal court to block funding for the construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border, which President Donald Trump had planned to fund primarily using Department of Defense money.

“Absent this Court’s timely intervention, defendants are poised to begin construction on the border wall next month, using funds that Congress declined to appropriate for that purpose,” the motion reads.

“This Court should therefore issue a preliminary injunction to prevent that irreparable injury to the House.”

Trump had planned to fund the wall’s construction using money appropriated under an emergency declaration he issued in February. By invoking the National Emergencies Act, the president can gain access to sources of funding otherwise unavailable to him. The 1976 act does not contain a specific definition of what constitutes a “national emergency.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement Feb. 15 opposing Trump’s emergency declaration.

“We are deeply concerned about the President’s action to fund the construction of a wall along the U.S./Mexico border, which circumvents the clear intent of Congress to limit funding of a wall,” read a joint statement from USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, who leads the USCCB’s migration committee.

In their statement, DiNardo and Vasquez said the wall is a “symbol of division and animosity” between the United States and Mexico.

Following Trump’s emergency declaration, the Democrat-controlled House sued Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the executive branch, claiming the president’s decision to transfer Defense Department funds to fund the border wall violated the clause of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to designate federal spending.

Congress passed a spending package earlier this year— which Trump signed, ending a 35-day government shutdown— appropriating $1.375 billion for 55 miles of new barriers in the Rio Grande Valley sector. Trump had requested $5.7 billion.

The House’s motion notes that the Executive Branch has already transferred $1 billion in Defense Department money to the military’s Drug Interdiction and Counterdrug Activities fund, with plans to transfer $2.5 billion more. In addition, $3.6 billion will be reallocated to fund the wall from Department of Defense military construction projects, as well as $600 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund. The Executive Branch has already awarded contracts for construction of the wall, set to begin next month.

The motion asserts that the 2019 Department of Defense Appropriations Act only authorizes transfers for “higher priority items, based on unforeseen military requirements” and “in no case where the item for which funds are requested has been denied by the Congress.”

“The House is unaware of any other instance in American history where a President has declared a national emergency to obtain funding after having failed to win Congressional approval for an appropriation,” the motion reads.

U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden has not yet set a date for a hearing on the House’s motion.

There are at least two lawsuits against Trump’s funding decision still pending. In one, 16 states are challenging the president’s actions, while another suit was brought by the Sierra Club and a border-communities group, according to Politico.

A judge in Oakland, California has agreed to hear motions for injunctions in those suits May 17, Politico reports.

Bishops of dioceses along both sides of the border have said that the additional construction of a wall would pose dangers to migrants and would create unnecessary divisions in societies that have transcended countries’ borders.

Although “the Church has long recognized the first right of persons not to migrate, but to stay in their community of origin,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas wrote in 2017, “when that has become impossible, the Church also recognizes the right to migrate.”

 

Supreme Court to hear sexual orientation, gender identity employment cases

Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2019 / 03:30 am (CNA).- In a decision that could have potentially far-reaching consequences, the U.S. Supreme Court has said it will hear cases involving claims that sexual orientation and gender identity should be included under current federal protections barring sex discrimination.

One case involves a male employee who identifies as a woman and was fired from a funeral home for deciding to wear women’s clothes to work.

John Bursch, vice president of appellate advocacy at the religious freedom legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, argued that the court should uphold current federal law.

“Neither government agencies nor the courts have authority to rewrite federal law by replacing ‘sex’ with ‘gender identity’—a change with widespread consequences for everyone,” he said April 22.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday said it would hear the cases in the upcoming court term, with decisions and opinions possible in 2020.

Alliance Defending Freedom is backing the funeral home at the center of one case, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The family-owned funeral home, owned by Tom Roost, has operated since 1910 and now has several chapels.

In 2007 it hired a male employee who agreed to follow the company’s policies, including its sex-specific dress code. The ADF summary of the case said the dress code is “crafted to emphasize professionalism and keep the focus on those mourning the loss of a loved one.”

In 2013, the employee told Roost that he intended to begin dressing as a woman at work.

“Tom determined that allowing this would not be in the best interests of his clients processing their grief,” Alliance Defending Freedom said on its website summary of the case. “He offered the employee a severance package, which the employee refused.”

The employee, who now goes by Aimee Stephens, wrote to colleagues that year: “What I must tell you is very difficult for me and is taking all the courage I can muster... I have felt imprisoned in a body that does not match my mind, and this has caused me great despair and loneliness.”

Stephens filed suit on legal grounds including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law which bars discrimination on categories including race, religion, national origin and sex.

In 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan backed the funeral home. However, the EEOC appealed the case, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit then ruled that the dress code was discriminatory against a male employee who identifies as a woman.

“It is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex,” said the appellate court, according to the New York Times. “Discrimination ‘because of sex’ inherently includes discrimination against employees because of a change in their sex.”

Bursch, who served as solicitor general of Michigan from 2011 to 2013, said the funeral home wanted “to serve families mourning the loss of a loved one.” He charged “the EEOC has elevated its political goals above the interests of the grieving people that the funeral home serves.”

“Businesses have the right to rely on what the law is—not what government agencies want it to be—when they create and enforce employment policies,” Bursch added.

The Supreme Court accepted the funeral home case on the limited questions of whether Title VII bars discrimination against self-identified transgender people based on “their status as transgender” or “sex stereotyping” under a 1989 Supreme Court decision, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins.

Alliance Defending Freedom’s brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court argued that the Sixth Circuit’s interpretation “undermines the primary purpose for banning discrimination based on sex,” namely to ensure equal opportunities for women and to eliminate workplace inequalities that have held women back.

If the lower court’s interpretation holds, it said, employment reserved for women like playing basketball in the WNBA or working at a shelter for abused women “now must be opened to males who identify as women.” Such a definition would also undermine Title IX efforts to advance women’s participation in sports and educational opportunities, it said.

“Substituting ‘gender identity’ for ‘sex’ in nondiscrimination laws also threatens freedom of conscience,” the ADF petition added, saying that such interpretations have forced doctors to participate in surgical efforts to alter sex “in violation of their deeply held beliefs” and best medical judgment.

“In sum, the Sixth Circuit ushered in a profound change in federal law accompanied by widespread legal and social ramifications,” the legal group charged.

Two other cases, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia and Altitude Express, Inc. vs. Zarda, will also go before the Supreme Court. They were consolidated because of similar claims regarding employer discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, National Public Radio reports.

The case Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda involves the late New York skydiving instructor Donald Zarda, who said he was fired because he was gay. He was fired after a female customer complained. She had voiced concerns about being tightly tied to Zarda during a tandem dive, and Zarda tried to reassure her by telling her he was “100% gay,” the New York Times reports.

Zarda was killed in a skydiving accident in 2014 but his estate is continuing to pursue the case.

A divided 13-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled that the lawsuit could proceed.

Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann, writing the court’s majority opinion, said “sexual orientation discrimination is motivated, at least in part, by sex and is thus a subset of sex discrimination.” Sexual orientation discrimination is “predicated on assumptions about how persons of a certain sex can or should be, which is an impermissible basis for adverse employment actions.”

“(S)exual orientation discrimination—which is motivated by an employer’s opposition to romantic association between particular sexes—is discrimination based on the employee’s own sex,” Katzmann’s decision added.

The case Bostock v. Clayton County involves a Georgia child welfare services coordinator who said he was fired for being gay, the New York Times reports.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2018 issued an unsigned opinion citing a 1979 5th circuit court decision ruling that firing for homosexuality is not barred by Title VII.

Most federal courts do not consider sexual orientation discrimination to be a form of sex discrimination, the New York Times reports.

EEOC publications on the commission website hold that “sex stereotypes” like “the belief that men should only date women or that women should only marry men” constitute illegal discrimination on the basis of sex. They say that the 1964 civil rights legislation against sex discrimination in the workplace includes discrimination “based on an applicant or employee’s gender identity or sexual orientation.”

However, those opinions lack Congressional approval. Proposed legislation known as the Equality Act would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected categories under federal law.

Critics have warned that the legislation explicitly rejects religious freedom protections and would open the gates to anti-discrimination lawsuits against religious believers and institutions who disagree with the bill’s broad view of what constitutes LGBT discrimination.

Now is the time to defend the truth, Phoenix bishop says at prayer breakfast

Washington D.C., Apr 23, 2019 / 04:28 pm (CNA).- Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix called on a gathering of the nation’s Catholic leaders to stand up to the heresies of the modern age and defend the dignity of the human person, body and soul, as an integral part of defending the faith.

Speaking at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast April 23, the keynote speaker said that the importance of the human body was at the center of a contemporary moral crisis, and crucial to presenting the Church’s teaching in modern society.

Olmsted said that he believes the “disaster” predicted by Pope St. Paul VI in the encyclical Humanae vitae had come to fruition. Quoting from an exhortation to the married couples of his own diocese, he said that the sexual revolution of the last century had caused humanity “a plague of misery on a scale never known before.”

“Enough! Husbands and wifes, mothers and fathers, you are called to have great hearts here, counter-cultural and brave. You can build something better, freer, more generous, and nobler,” he said, insisting that rebuilding society began in the home.

Husbands and wives have to be “all-in” for their sacramental marriage vows, explained Olmsted. This means that couples need to be open to new life, whether “by way of the marital act” or through adoption and fostering.

"Do not be afraid to sink your roots deeply into the living water that is Jesus Christ. He will not abandon you,” said Olmsted. “Lead your family, and lead in whatever other place the Lord asks, with deep and childlike faith in Him."

The family, Olmsted said, was the sign that would defeat the heresies of the current age, all of which concerned the human body.  Whether in reference to the true nature of marriage, life, and gender, or the resurrection of Christ, when the dignity of the body is questioned, Olmsted said, the truth preached by the Church is cast aside, to the detriment of marriage and unborn children.

Sacramental marriage “stands now in the way of the gender ideology,” he said, insisting that Catholics must proclaim the truth and oppose attempts to weaken marriage and the family - attempts which “do nothing to strengthen our great country.”

“Look at the vociferous opposition to the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” said Olmsted, referring to Congressional attempts to legislate to require that doctors provide age-appropriate care for infants who survive late-term abortions.

“Where does this blatant disregard come from?” he asked. “From a hardened heart.”

Olmsted said it is the great duty of Catholics to “stand up for each child,” offering a courageous witness for life. This, he said, requires each person to “expand our hearts to receive that child” and to “stand in the breech left by hardened hearts.”

“We Christians, then, must stand up for this reality of marriage today, in our homes, and in the public square, despite the real risk of persecution for doing so," he said.

“We can do this. We were made for such a time as this.”

Court rules against Catholic foster agency in Philadelphia

Philadelphia, Pa., Apr 23, 2019 / 02:23 pm (CNA).- After a yearlong legal struggle, a federal appeals court has ruled that city contractors in Philadelphia must place foster children with same-sex couples, a ruling that threatens the future of the local Catholic archdiocese’s foster placement program.

“We’re disappointed that the court decided to let the city place politics above the needs of kids and the rights of parents, but we will continue this fight,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at the legal group Becket, which is representing the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Catholic Social Services.

Becket noted that despite being hundreds of beds short of what is necessary to serve the children in the foster care system, the City of Philadelphia failed to renew the Catholic foster care agency’s contract.

“The need to find those children homes is so dire that earlier this year the city put out an urgent call for 300 new families to become foster parents,” the institute wrote in an April 22 release.

“But shortly after this call for help, the city inexplicably prohibited Catholic Social Services from placing any more children with the families it has certified—solely because of the agency’s religious beliefs. There are dozens of families licensed to foster through Catholic Social Services who are willing to take in children, but because of the city’s actions, their beds have remained empty for close to a year.”

The City of Philadelphia received an allegation in March 2018 that two of the Department of Human Services’ 30 or so contracted agencies would not place children with same-sex couples as foster parents. After the department investigated, it stopped referring foster children to those agencies.

One of those agencies was Catholic Social Services (CSS), an arm of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that has been working with foster children since its founding in 1917. CSS serves about 120 foster children in about 100 homes at any one time.

City officials cited the group’s unwillingness to place foster children with same-sex couples due to its religious beliefs on traditional marriage, even though lawyers for Catholic Social Services argued that no same-sex couple had ever approached the agency asking for certification to accept foster children.

Catholic Social Services in its lawsuit sought an order to require the city to renew its contract with them, arguing that the city’s decision violated their religious freedom under the constitution. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled against CSS in its April 22 ruling.

“The City’s nondiscrimination policy is a neutral, generally applicable law, and the religious views of CSS do not entitle it to an exception from that policy,” Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro concluded.

Catholic Social Services has never been the subject of discrimination complaints by same-sex couples. The agency says that it assists all children in need, regardless of a child’s race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.

“CSS will only certify foster parents who are either married or single; it will not certify cohabitating unmarried couples, and it considers all same-sex couples to be unmarried. So far as the record reflects, no same-sex couples have approached CSS seeking to become foster parents,” Judge Ambro wrote.

Despite this, Ambro concluded that the City of Philadelphia “stands on firm ground in requiring its contractors to abide by its non-discrimination policies when administering public services,” and that the record demonstrates, in his view, the “City’s good faith in its effort to enforce its laws against discrimination” rather than an anti-religious bias.

Several foster families who relied on Catholic Social Services to help foster children were plaintiffs in the case, including the late Cecilia Paul, who has fostered more than 100 children, and Sharonell Fulton, the leading plaintiff who has worked with the agency for 25 years.

The U.S. Supreme Court in August 2018 declined to grant an injunction that would require the city to continue its foster-care placement with the agency during litigation over the matter.

Philadelphia is not the only city to refuse to work with a Catholic organization on the issue of foster care and adoption placement. In Buffalo, Catholic Charities recently ceased adoption and foster care work due to rules that would have forced the organization to violate their religious beliefs. Catholic Charities had done work with adoption in Buffalo for nearly a century before the rule change.

In recent years, faith-based child welfare providers in multiple states including in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and the District of Columbia, have also been forced to shut down their adoption and foster care services because of beliefs that children should be placed with a married mother and father.