Browsing News Entries

'Overwhelmed with graces': Walking across America for life

Washington D.C., Aug 17, 2019 / 08:00 am (CNA).- A three-month journey from California to Washington, DC, came to an end August 13, as 23 walkers of this summer’s Crossroads Pro-Life Walks made it to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. 

Crossroads Pro-Life Walks began in 1995, and have expanded from the United States to Spain, Canada, Australia, and Ireland. This summer, there were two walks crossing the United States--the “Southern” walk, which started in Santa Monica, and the “Central” walk, which began in San Francisco. Both walks ended in DC.

Victoria Bliss, a 19-year-old from Virginia, was one of the participants on this year’s Central walk. Bliss said the experience, while full of challenges, was one that strengthened her faith and inspired her to continue doing pro-life work.

“I’ve always been passionately pro-life, and attended the Marches and 40 Days for Life, but I really wanted to do something bigger and commit my whole summer to the pro-life mission, truly going out into the streets and spreading the gospel of life.” 

She told CNA that participating in Crossroads this summer was a fulfilment of a lifelong dream. As a child, past Crossroads walkers spoke regularly at her church following their arrival in DC. 

According to Crossroads Pro-Life Walks VP Martha Nolan, about 1,500 walkers worldwide have completed their journeys, averaging 40 to 60 miles per day, while visiting churches, pregnancy centers, and convents along the way.

Nolan told CNA that they drive “a little bit” when they fall behind. Previously, walkers would carry on by day and night, but after a tragic accidental death in 2012, the day’s walk now stops at sunset. 

Bliss told CNA that, in addition to the spiritual battles one sometimes faces on a pilgrimage, her group experienced logistical and physical struggles as well. One walker fell very ill and had to leave after three weeks, and their RV broke down numerous times.

Despite this, Bliss said “the Holy Spirit brought good out of every situation, and there was never a time when our team even thought about giving up. We were overwhelmed with graces, every second of every day.”

“There were a few threatening times when we got screamed at or chased,” she told CNA. “A couple of times cars swerved into the shoulder and we had to leap out of the way, but our guardian angels were clearly with us.”

There were also many joys that came along the 12-week journey. For Bliss, the biggest was encountering people each day along the route, many of whom broke down in tears when they saw their pro-life teeshirts. 

“We saw Jesus in so many people,” she said. “I came to realize how beautiful people are, no matter how broken, and how much they need us to radiate God’s joy and peace to them.” 

The route was dotted with what Bliss described as “Divine Providence instances,” such as abortion clinics being unexpectedly closed following the group’s prayer vigil. 

“One time, we had been praying all four mysteries of the Rosary, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and as we did the final Sign of the Cross, the lights in the clinic turned off,” she recounted.

Each day on Crossroads, the walkers attended Mass, offered “constant rosaries” when they as they went, and prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day at 3 p.m. 

Bliss said that the experience helped her to fall in love with Christ “more than ever before,” and that she witnessed the power of the rosary. 

Now that her walk has ended, Bliss said that she hopes to continue mission work, including becoming a trained sidewalk counselor outside of abortion clinics. But most of all, she hopes to continue the momentum she started this summer.

“Standing up for the unborn is the thing I have always been the most passionate about and I want to do everything I can to raise awareness of the evil of abortion, and change hearts by portraying the truth with love.”

New Jersey judge temporarily blocks assisted suicide law

Metuchen, N.J., Aug 16, 2019 / 02:31 pm (CNA).- A judge in New Jersey has temporarily halted a law allowing physician assisted suicide, which had gone into effect August 1.

The law is being challenged by a physician who says that it is a violation of religious freedom protections in the U.S. Constitution and laws against suicide.

Dr. Yosef Glassman is an Orthodox Jew who says that he is opposed to facilitating suicide both due to his religious beliefs and his profession as a doctor. He also objects to the law’s stipulation that a doctor who objects to assisted suicide must refer patients to another doctor who will help them end their life.

The law’s demands on doctors, Glassman said in his lawsuit, present “not only a violation of the rights to practice medicine without breaching the fiduciary duties owing to those patients ... but also violations of their First Amendment rights under the United States Constitution to freely practice their religions in which human life is sacred and must not be taken,” the AP reported.

The Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, which passed the New Jersey legislature with bipartisan support, allows those deemed by a doctor to have less than six months to live to request lethal medication to end their lives. The patient then must administer the medication themselves.

The temporary injunction, signed by Judge Paul Innes of Superior Court in Mercer County, means that the state attorney general may not enforce the law while it is being challenged in court.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who signed the bill in April, said he will fight the lawsuit, the AP reported.

A self-described “lifelong, practicing Catholic,” Murphy said when he signed the bill into law that he was aware that the Church opposed assisted suicide, but after careful consideration and prayer, he believed assisted suicide was a personal decision and legalizing it would respect residents’ freedom and humanity.

Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen condemned assisted suicide as “a grievous affront to the dignity of human life” that “can never be morally justified” in a letter to his diocese on July 30.

“Passage of this law points to the utter failure of government, and indeed all society, to care truly, authentically and humanely for the suffering and vulnerable in our midst, especially those living with an incurable disease as well as the frail elderly, the infirm and those living with disabilities,” he said.

He stressed that despite the new legality of the practice, it remains gravely immoral, and said the Church would continue advocating for the sanctity of all human life and working to educate lawmakers and the general public about the dangers of assisted suicide.

“With this law there will be a further desensitization of the value of human life,” said the bishop, adding that the elderly, sick and disabled could feel pressure to choose suicide so as to avoid burdening others.

He also clarified that Saint Peter’s University Hospital, sponsored by the Diocese of Metuchen, will not condone or participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Instead of assisted suicide, Checchio called for a renewed commitment caring for those living in pain and suffering while dying and who might otherwise consider suicide.

“Let us strive to help the sick and incapacitated find meaning in their lives, even and especially in the midst of their suffering,” he said. “Let us, as a society and as individuals choose to walk with them, in their suffering, not contribute to eliminating the gift of life.”

Assisted suicide is legal in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as in Montana under a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling.

Planned Parenthood to pull out of Title X program

Washington D.C., Aug 16, 2019 / 10:15 am (CNA).- Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest provider of abortion services, has announced that it will withdraw from the federal Title X family planning program, ending its access to millions of dollars in government funding.

The decision is set to take effect Aug. 19, the date by which funding recipients are required to make a “good faith” undertaking to comply with a new rule barring the referral of clients for abortion services.

After it was announced in final form in February, the Protect Life Rule was subject to court challenges from abortion providers and several states. In June, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the rule could come into force. In July, judges refused to issue a stay against that decision.

Planned Parenthood informed the court on Wednesday that, unless the reversed its refusal to grant a stay, it would leave the Title X program on Monday.

Planned Parenthood’s acting president Alexis McGill Johnson said the group refused “to let the Trump administration bully us into withholding abortion information from our patients.”

Calling the Protect Life Rule a “gag on health care providers,” Johnson said in a statement that the rule is “a blatant assault on our health and rights, and we will not stand for it.”

In addition to barring Title X fund recipients from referring women for abortions it also prevents participating groups from co-locating with abortion clinics and requires financial separation of government-funded programs from those that carry out abortions.

Planned Parenthood had previously intended to remain in the Title X program but refuse funding, an arrangement that HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary Diane Foley called “inconsistent” in a letter to the organization.

In guidance issued by HHS on Friday, the department responded directly to Planned Parenthood’s objections to the rule, noting that the organization operated less than 10% of participating sites nationwide.

“To the extent that Planned Parenthood claims that it must make burdensome changes to comply with the Final Rule, it is actually choosing to place a higher priority on the ability to refer for abortion instead of continuing to receive federal funds to provide a broad range of acceptable and effective family planning methods and services to clients in need of these services.”

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

The administration previously said in June that it would delay enforcement of the rule, provided that fund recipients submitted a compliance plan and made a “good faith” undertaking to comply with most of the rule’s requirements as soon as possible. Facilities are required to end co-location with abortion sites by March 2020.

Last month, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List, welcomed the 9th Circuit’s decision to deny a stay, calling the Protect Life Rule “greatly encouraging.”

“Without reducing Title X funding by a dime, the Protect Life Rule simply draws a bright line between abortion and family planning, stopping abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood from treating Title X as their private slush fund.” 

Before announcing its withdrawal from the Title X program, Planned Parenthood and its affiliates had received some $60 million annually, about one-fifth of total Title X funds, making up approximately 15% of its annual federal funding.

After Epstein death, theologians discuss suicide, salvation, and the obligations of the state

Denver, Colo., Aug 15, 2019 / 05:03 pm (CNA).- On August 10, investment banker and multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his jail cell, in what officials have called an apparent suicide.

Epstein, already a convicted sex offender, was awaiting trial for sex trafficking charges, including one count of sex trafficking of a minor and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking. He had pled not guilty to both.

Following his death, theories about how Epstein died abound.

The well-connected Epstein, who counted princes and presidents and other elites among his associates, might have exposed the crimes of powerful friends at trial, and the risk of that exposure, some speculate, could have prompted an assassination.

Epstein had been taken off of suicide watch just 12 days prior to his death. According to a report in the New York Times, two guards who were supposed to check on Epstein every 30 minutes fell asleep for three hours and fudged the records of their rounds in an attempt to cover their mistake. They have since been removed from their posts at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, where Epstein was being held.

An autopsy of Epstein has so far raised more questions than answers.

Whether or not Epstein committed suicide remains to be confirmed. But federal data shows that suicide rates in the U.S. are at the highest they’ve been since World War II, and even higher than they were during the Great Depression, according to a report from TIME magazine.

The Catholic Church teaches that suicide is a violation of the 5th commandment “Thou Shall Not Kill,” and a mortal sin.

CNA spoke with three moral theologians about suicide, on the hope for salvation that the Church holds for those who take their lives, and the obligations of the state to protect prisoners from themselves.

Grave matter and mortal sin

David Cloutier is a moral theologian and associate professor of theology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Cloutier told CNA that when considering suicide, it is important to remember that it is taught by the Church to be a grave sin.

“(That) means all things considered, this is a serious matter, and to make a choice against life is to choose against God, who gives everyone the gift of life, and to also choose against your obligations to others,” Cloutier told CNA.

In a section on suicide, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that God is the master of life, and that human beings “are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of. Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life.”

The Catechism adds that suicide “unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.”

While suicide is grave matter, the Catechism also notes that in order for a person to commit a mortal sin, three conditions must be a met: that the sin is grave matter, and that the person commits the sin with “full knowledge and deliberate consent.”

There could be mitigating factors, such as mental illness or some other kind of great distress, that might relieve a person of at least some culpability in committing suicide, Cloutier said.


The hope for salvation

Even given the gravity of suicide, Christians should always hope in the love and mercy of God in cases of suicide, Scott Hefelfinger, a moral theologian and assistant professor of theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver, told CNA.

“If we lose all hope with respect to this person's salvation, we could in fact be sort of repeating the same emotional disposition of despair that afflicted the person who did commit suicide. So we're counseled to hope rather than despair,” he said.

“We put our trust in God's mercy.”

Furthermore, Cloutier said, the Catechism itself is “pretty straightforward” in saying that those who commit suicide are not necessarily denied eternal salvatinon, because the state of their mind and soul at the time of committing the act is a factor.

If the person was in “some kind of emotional stress, or depression, or other various ways in which a person’s emotions get in the way of fully knowing what they’re doing,” their responsibility is at least somewhat mitigated, he said.

Fr. Edward Krasevac, OP, is a professor of theology, and the theology department chair at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, California.

Krasevac said that because the will to live is such a basic human instinct, it seems possible that many cases of suicide are committed by people who are influenced by serious clinical depression or other mental illnesses or psychological factors that would impair their judgment and mitigate to at least some degree the consent of their will.

“People who are clinically depressed don’t think straight, they can’t think straight,” Krasevac said.

He added there could be other mitigating factors in a person’s life, such as fear of the pain of death, or the fear of what is going to happen to them if they stay alive, such as a person “facing the rest of their life in not a good prison situation, losing everything they ever had, not being able to deal with life in prison...these are what we call modifiers of responsibility.”

“So in many cases of suicide, a person's responsibility is seriously diminished,” he said. “[In such a case] it's not subjectively mortal sin even though it may look like it from the outside and it is objectively a mortal sin.”

Another reason to hope is that a person could have repented of their actions in the moments before their death, Hefelfinger noted.

“In the case of someone who, let's say is culpable of the act of suicide, and they begin this process. Well, usually there's some suffering involved, and usually death doesn't come about instantaneously,” he said.

“And so, God's mercy doesn't need a very wide crack to get through. I think there are always these opportunities prior to death, in the split second before death, where we certainly do not want to rule out the possibility of God's mercy,” he said. 

“And again, we say this without in any way diminishing the gravity of the act. It's the gravity of the act that makes us lean on God's mercy so much, so we turn our attention to that and pray for that so greatly.”

The state and the suicidal person

The Catholic Church teaches that states have a duty to uphold the common good of society, and although the Catechism does not specifically express what a state should do in the case of a suicidal person, Cloutier said the state has several interests in preventing the suicide of people in prison.

“The reason the state wants to avoid suicide is because it wants to allow the prisoner a fair, public trial, which is in the public interest,” he said.

“It’s in the interest of the prisoner, because then he might be found innocent, and it’s in the interest of the public, because if the prisoner is found guilty through this, then the prisoner is subjected to appropriate punishment,” he added.

“So the state...has an interest in the person going through the justice system.”

In upholding the common good, the state also has an interest in keeping prisoners alive, Cloutier said. “This is why we have suicide watch. It is also the case that in our society, we generally believe that anyone who is suicidal should be prevented from taking their own life,” he said.

Suicide is the leading cause of death in prison. According to recent data from the U.S. Department of Justice, 372 suicides occurred in 3,000 federal prisons in 2014. This number is 2.5 times higher than suicide rates in state prisons and 3.5 times higher than in general society.

In the case of someone like Epstein, who was at one point known to be suicidal, the state assumes the responsibility for that person’s mental health while they are in prison, and therefore cut off from other communities of support, Hefelfinger added.

“(Prisoners) typically don't have access to those more closely knit communities,” he said. “And so there is a moral responsibility, it would seem, for the state and for those running these facilities to attend to the mental health of those folks who are in these institutions.”

The investigation of Epstein’s death is ongoing.

If you are feeling suicidal, contact the National suicide preention lifeline at: 1-800-273-8255 or text CONNECT to 741741 to be connected to a crisis counselor in the United States.

Labor Department rule aims to widen religious freedom protection for employers

Washington D.C., Aug 15, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Department of Labor announced Wednesday that it is considering a new rule that would allow federal contractors who identify as religious to hire employees based on faith and religious practice.

The new policy would expand a Johnson-era executive order protecting the rights of religious employers with federal government contracts to hire from within their religious group. 

The new proposal was announced Aug. 14. The Department of Labor said the new policy “clarifies the scope and applications of the religious exemption contained in section 204(c) of Executive Order 11246.”  

Executive Order 11246 forbids federal contractors from engaging in discriminatory hiring on the basis “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” An exemption for religious-based employers allowed them legally to hire only people of a certain faith if they so choose, but the executive order did not fully define as to what “religious-based” meant. 

The proposed new rule takes steps to better define the term, saying that the “religious exemption covers not just churches but employers that are organized for a religious purpose, hold themselves out to the public as carrying out a religious purpose, and engage in exercise of religion consistent with, and in furtherance of, a religious purpose.” 

The new definition also includes companies that claim to be religious “in response to inquiries from a member of the public or a government entity.” 

Additionally, the new rule states that “employers can condition employment on acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets without sanction by the federal government,” meaning that a federal contractor can make hiring decisions based upon how devoutly an employee practices a certain religious faith. 

All companies are still barred from discriminating on other grounds. 

The Department of Labor cited recent Supreme Court cases, including Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Hobby Lobby v. Burwell as having underscored constitutional religious freedom protections.

Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Patrick Pizzella said in a released statement that “As people of faith with deeply held religious beliefs are making decisions on whether to participate in federal contracting, they deserve [a] clear understanding of their obligations and protections under the law.” 

About a quarter of workers in the United States are employed by a company that is contracted with the federal government. 

LGBT-rights activist groups like the Human Rights Campaign, who called the change a “license to discriminate,” came out strongly against the policy shift.

Louise Melling, acting deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union told a press call that the rule was “just the most recent in an ever-lengthening list of actions by this administration to authorize discrimination in name of religion.”

The White House responded to the criticism in a statement Wednesday, saying “In no way does today’s announcement by the Department of Labor undermine the President’s promise and commitment to the LGBTQ community.” 

“The proposed rule will continue to responsibly protect religious freedom and members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination,” the statement said.

While some activist groups have criticized the new rule as a license for widespread discrimination, Luke Goodrich, senior counsel and vice president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNA that he believes the policy is a far from controversial. 

"When a religious group hires people of the same religion to carry out their mission, it's not 'discrimination,' it's common sense,” Goodrich told CNA. 

“And when the government refuses to work with religious groups that do the best job of caring for the needy, it's not 'equality,' it's nonsense,” he added. 

The new rule is open for comment in the Federal Register until September 16.