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School choice law rooted in anti-Catholicism, Supreme Court hears

Washington D.C., Jan 23, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- The Supreme Court considered arguments on Wednesday on whether a state bar on public funding for religious groups is discriminatory, or protects them from state interference. At issue during the arguments was the anti-Catholic bigotry which informed the Montana law’s passage

Oral arguments were heard Jan. 22 on the case of Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which involves the 1972 Montana state constitution’s prohibition on public funding of religious institutions.

At issue is a clause in Montana’s 1972 state constitution that goes back to its original constitution of 1889—forbidding public funding “for any sectarian purpose or to aid any church, school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other literary or scientific institution, controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination.”

In 2015, the Montana state legislature approved a scholarship program for low-income students where tax credits could be claimed for donations to a scholarship fund. The fund would help students attend private schools, including religious schools.

The state’s revenue department blocked the program, saying the state’s constitution barred public funding of schools of a “church, sect, or denomination” and ruling that the scholarships could only be used for secular schools.

In response, several parents sued the state to use the scholarships for religious schools and a Montana trial court ruled in their favor. The state supreme court reversed that decision in 2018, and struck down the program altogether. The case will be decided by the Supreme Court this term.

Opponents of the law say it violates the “Free Exercise” clause of the U.S. Constitution, unlawfully shutting religious groups out of neutral public benefits. They also say the original 1889 clause was passed during a time of anti-Catholic bigotry, to bar Catholic schools from funding that the largely Protestant public school system benefitted from. 

During oral arguments on Wednesday, multiple exchanges focused on the Montana law’s roots in the anti-religious bigotry of the 1800s, and whether its inclusion in Montana’s 1972 constitution was a continuation of that bigotry.

“I mean, I think that in the 1880s, there was undoubtedly grotesque religious bigotry against -- against Catholics,” said Adam Unikowsky, arguing on behalf of the Montana Department of Revenue.

“That was the clear motivation for this,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh replied.

“In the 1972 Constitution, which is where this provision was enacted, I don't think there's any evidence whatsoever of any anti-religious bigotry,” Unikowsky said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor had earlier noted a “long history” of people opposing public funding of religious groups. She implied that Montana in 1972 no longer exercised the anti-Catholic bigotry of the 1800s but still chose to bar public funding of religion in line with the U.S. Constitution’s “Establishment Clause.”

Justice Samuel Alito asked how it wasn’t merely coincidental that laws such as Montana’s occurred in a time of anti-Catholic bigotry.

“I'm not going to get into an argument with you about what happened in 1972, but do you really want to argue that the reason why a lot of this popped up beginning, coincidentally, in the 1840s, at the time of the Irish potato famine, that had nothing to do with discrimination based on religion?” Alito asked.

The brief of the parents before the Supreme Court argued that three separate clauses of the U.S. Constitution—“[t]he Free Exercise, Establishment, and Equal Protection Clauses—all provide that government should be neutral, not hostile, toward religion.

“Prohibiting all religious options in otherwise generally available student-aid programs rejects that neutrality and shows inherent hostility toward religion,” the brief states.

On Wednesday, two leading U.S. bishops said the Espinoza case could decide the legitimacy of anti-religious discrimination in the U.S., and continue historic anti-Catholic bigotry.

Amendments such as Montana’s “were the product of nativism,” read a joint statement of Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, the chair of the U.S. bishops’ religious freedom committee, and Bishop Michael Barber, S.J. of Oakland, California, the chair of the U.S. bishops’ education committee.

“They were never meant to ensure government neutrality towards religion, but were expressions of hostility toward the Catholic Church. We hope that the Supreme Court will take this opportunity to bring an end to this shameful legacy,” the bishops said.

After Wednesday’s oral arguments, Eric Baxter, senior counsel at Becket, tweeted that “the justices seemed to agree that excluding students just because they are religious is a clear violation of the Free Exercise Clause.”

Montana’s clause is one of 37 “Blaine Amendments” passed by states in the late 19th century. They are named for James Blaine, a former Speaker of the House (1869-1875), Senator (1876-1881) and Secretary of State (1889-1892) from Maine who pushed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution barring funding of “sectarian” causes and organizations.

At that time, opponents of the law say, Blaine’s effort mainly targeted Catholic schools and institutions. His amendment failed at the federal level but many states including Montana inserted similar language in their constitutions.  

In a 2017 case, the Supreme Court in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer ruled that Missouri’s Blaine Amendment could not block a church-owned playground from applying for state renovation grants, simply on account of its religious status.

However, a concurring opinion from Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch warned that the Court’s language implied a very narrow ruling on “playground resurfacing” cases, and not on general cases of religious groups accessing public funds.

On Wednesday, Justice Elena Kagan distinguished between the Court’s Trinity Lutheran case—regarding access to a “completely secular public benefit” like playground resurfacing grants—and Montana’s case where the scholarship program could be considered by the state to “subsidize religious activity.” 

Justice Stephen Breyer asked if government could provide police protection for all schools but not religious schools, to which Unikowsky answered that it would be unconstitutional to do so, under the Trinity Lutheran decision. However, he said, there was a difference between government “distinguishing among religions”—such as allowing access to benefits for Catholic schools but not Jewish schools—and simply removing itself “out of religion altogether.”

In 1972, religious leaders were some of the supporters of the “no-aid” clause, Unikowsky said, because they warned about “using government leverage to influence religious education.”

Kavanaugh replied that “a religious school that doesn't want to be part of a neutral program doesn't have to be.”

Cleveland's Bishop Nelson Perez to lead Philadelphia archdiocese

Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 23, 2020 / 04:25 am (CNA).- Bishop Nelson Perez of Cleveland was appointed Archbishop of Philadelphia Thursday, returning to the local Church of his priestly ordination.

He succeeds Archbishop Charles Chaput, 75, who had led the Philadelphia archdiocese since 2011. Ordained a priest of the Capuchin Franciscans in 1970, Archbishop Chaput served as Bishop of Rapid City and Archbishop of Denver before his transfer to Philadelphia.

"Bishop Perez is a man who already knows and loves the Church in Philadelphia, and is already known and loved by our priests and people. I cannot think of a better successor to lead this Archdiocese," Chaput wrote online following the announcement.

Bishop Perez, 58, was born in Miami to Cuban parents, and grew up in New Jersey. He is the first Hispanic bishop to lead the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

"I am deeply grateful to the Holy Father for this appointment and his confidence in me," Perez said Jan. 23.

"It is with great joy tinged with a sense of sadness that I accept the appointment -- joy that I will be returning to serve the archdiocese in which I was ordained to the priesthood, where I served as the pastor of two parishes and where I held several leadership positions within the archdiocese, and sadness that I will be leaving an area and the incredible people in Northeast Ohio I have come to love deeply,” he said.

After pastoral and Hispanic ministry in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Perez was named in 2012 an auxiliary bishop of Rockville Centre, and was consecrated a bishop that July.

As auxiliary bishop he was episcopal vicar of Long Island’s eastern vicariate and oversaw the Hispanic apostolates of the diocese.

In 2017 he was appointed Bishop of Cleveland.

When a 'heartbeat bill' was signed into law in Ohio last year, he said it represented “a major step forward in efforts to protect the sanctity of life.”

“Pope Francis reminds us that all life has inestimable value – even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor – are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect,” he said. “Always remembering that God is the creator and we are not, I encourage everyone to pray that the world grows in its respect for life, from conception to natural death, and to build awareness to reaffirm the Gospel teaching about the gift of life.”

Perez was part of the delegation that presented the conclusion of the National V Encuentro of Hispanic and Latino Ministry to Pope Francis in September 2019.

Bishop Perez, who chairs the USCCB Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church, told CNA at the time that some of the fruit of Encuentro has been the “emerging leadership, in so many ways, of the next generation of leaders and pastoral lay leaders in the church in the United States,” which he called “really promising and very hopeful.”

“The V Encuentro is really in so many ways the implementation of the joy of the Gospel. So the whole process, the spirit, the mysticism of the spirituality revolves all around the joy of the Gospel,” Bishop Perez said.

Noting that deportations have taken place in the Cleveland diocese, Bishop Perez said one of the blessings of the V Encuentro was that “it comes at a time of that uncertainty and fear and became, in so many ways, a soothing balm where people would come together and support each other, accompany each other and strengthen each other in a very tumultuous time.”

After a June 2018 immigration raid in the diocese, the bishop said the event “makes clear that our current immigration system contributes to the human suffering of migrants and the separation of families.”

While recognizing “the role of our government in enforcing current immigration law,” Bishop Perez also voiced “great sadness for the families whose lives have been disrupted following the large-scale immigration action.”

“The Church is advocating for comprehensive and compassionate reform of our immigration system so that persons are able to obtain legal status in our country and enter the United States legally to work and support their families. Since this is a responsibility of our Congress, I would encourage you to speak with your legislators advocating for reform of our present system.”

Perez will be installed as the Archbishop of Philadelphia on Feb. 18.

Minnesota abuse survivors to speak at 'restorative justice' conference

St. Paul, Minn., Jan 22, 2020 / 09:05 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is set to open a conference for survivors of clerical sexual abuse on Thursday, with the goal of bringing healing and “restorative justice” to survivors.

The archdiocese, in conjunction with the Office of the Ramsey County Attorney, is set to open the first annual Restorative Justice and Reconciliation Conference Jan. 23.

The conference will include presentations from key figures in the archdiocese, including Archbishop Bernard Hebda, alongside the Minnesota director of the Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests, who will discuss how the Church has responded to cases of sexual abuse in the past five years, according to diocesan outreach coordinator Paula Kaempffer.

Kaempffer, herself a survivor of clergy abuse, told CNA that as of Wednesday organizers expect at least 82 attendees, and the conference is open to the public.

In addition to the presentations, there is set to be a 5-person panel of the survivors of sexual abuse, who will take questions from the audience.

Kaempffer, as emcee of the conference, told CNA that she plans to ask the panelists first: "What has been the effect of clergy sexual abuse on your life?" and secondly "What steps have you taken to heal from this trauma?"

Gina Barthel, a hospice nurse and victim-survivor of clerical sexual abuse, is set to be one of the panelists.

“I hope that anyone in the Church who has felt the great sorrow and pain and impact of clergy abuse would be encouraged to attend this event, so they can see where the Church is, at least in our archdiocese today, and see how much we've grown and changed and are promoting a culture that is victim-friendly, and also that is really working hard to prevent further clergy abuse," Barthel told CNA in an interview Wednesday.

Barthel said she has seen marked improvement in the archdiocese’ response to abuse cases since she first came forward with her story of abuse in 2007.

"Initially, when I came forward back in 2007, the archdiocese at that time did a horrible job. And it caused me greater pain than healing, and was very, very frustrating,” Barthel told CNA.

“And so the beauty is, now, that same office is staffed with people who are very competent, intelligent, caring, and really working to help bring victims to healing, which is very beautiful."

Barthel said that the archdiocesan safe environment office, in contrast to 2007, is today very victim-survivor focused. She said when she originally came forward, it seemed that the office was focused on protecting the Church, rather than helping survivors.

With the current administration, she said, she never gets the feeling that they're trying unfairly to protect or defend the Church, nor give “lip service” to survivors. 

"It's often the case that the victims are the ones that end up suffering more if they come forward. And with the current administration in our archdiocese, I think that's just not the case,” Barthel said.

“They want you to come forward, they want you to share your story, and they're going to walk with you through that journey. And that's really powerful as a victim, because we don't always experience that. And that's just very beautiful."

Barthel said one of the first people she called to tell about her story of abuse was the mother superior of the religious community she was a part of at the time.

"Her immediate response, the first words off of her lips were 'I believe you,'" Barthel recalled.

"And for a victim, I think that's very healing and affirming. Let the victim of any type of abuse know that you believe them. Make sure, especially for clergy, I think it's important for clergy to recognize that they're not therapists. And to make sure that they help direct the person to get professional therapeutic help as well."

Barthel has previously told CNA about the help offered her by Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens, who first met with Barthel in 2014 after she contacted him telling him she was a victim of clerical abuse and asking to meet with him.

Barthel said the main thing that Bishop Cozzens did right was that he listened.

"I think what he did right was first, he listened. He believed me, he listened,” she said.

“And he has been very patient in walking with my journey back to living a life of faith, and that's been really helpful because I've never felt pressured.”

She also said the most comforting thing Cozzens often would say to her is “Jesus understands.”

“And so when I'm struggling— and living the life of faith sometimes is difficult for me— his response will be 'Jesus understands.' And that's always been very freeing for me, actually, and healing," she said.

Barthel said she hopes to be able to give advice and support to fellow victim-survivors at the conference, especially if they have not yet managed to tell the Church or law enforcement about their abuse.

"The very first thing that I tell people is that I believe them," Barthel advised.

"Because it's not my place to try and find out if they're telling the truth or not. So the very first thing I do is to tell them that I believe them, and to reassure them that they're not alone.”

She said she will then encourage the person to go to the police, offering to go with them if they don't feel comfortable. She said she will also offer to reach out to the Archdiocesan Victim Advocate Office, again offering to go with them.

“In addition to that, I encourage them to find a therapist, and if they need that we have resources in our diocese for finding therapists that work with victims," she said.

Despite the improvements in the Church’s response in Minnesota that Barthel has witnessed, she remains critical of the response in many areas of the Church to sexual abuse of adults by clergy— which is what happened to her.

Barthel was abused by a now-laicized priest as an adult, in the context of a spiritual direction relationship. Her abuser, Jim Montanaro— who admitted to abusing other adult women— is now working as a photographer in Massachusetts.

"Where I think the Church in our archdiocese and across the world is failing is how we deal with victims who are adults who have been abused,” Barthel said.

“With a child, it's always very clear-cut that it's illegal, and it's immoral, and it's wrong. With an adult, in not every state is it illegal for a priest to have sexual relations with an adult."

His former religious order, the Oblates of the Blessed Virgin Mary, have declined to name Montanaro as a sexual abuser. Barthel worries that he remains a risk to women.

“It seems that his religious community that he was a part of has a moral obligation, an ethical obligation, to make that public for the good of society, not just for the good of the Church, but for the good of society.”

By the time Barthel had mustered the courage to go to the police with her abuse story, she missed the statute of limitations by less than a month.

"In my case, the only way that it was able to be made public was by my voice, and that doesn't seem right to me...If there's no criminal charges, then the person's name will never be made public, unless the Church does the right thing and makes it public,” she said.
Barthel emphasized the importance of victim-survivors supporting each other.

"Walking with a victim of abuse, any type of abuse, is not for the faint of heart. There's lots of challenges that go along with that, and having good boundaries for someone who's been abused is very important," she advised.

In addition to the speakers, the Restorative Justice and Reconciliation Conference is also set to include “healing circles,” in which participants sit at round tables and speak, one at a time, on a prompt offered by a moderator.

Often times, Barthel said, the leader will ask a single question, such as "What has been the effect of clergy sexual abuse on your life?" and each participant will answer without interruption or discussion.

Barthel said the wide range of participants, all in different stages of healing, make the experience of healing circles, for her, “actually very powerful and very beautiful.”

"We're all together in our pain, but we can be together in our healing as well," she commented.

Barthel said beyond the networks of friends and supporters who have helped her along her journey of healing, a huge part of her recovery— in her words, 90%— has been accomplished through time spent in Adoration.

"The large majority of my healing, especially the deep spiritual healing that I needed...the deepest healing has just come from sitting with Jesus in adoration, in the silence, and having conversations with Him, just in my heart, heart-to-heart with Him,” she said.

“Mostly just sitting in the silence and letting the power of the Eucharist and His presence in the Eucharist heal and transform my wounded heart."

 

Survey finds significant 'pro-choice' support for abortion regulations

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Americans favor returning abortion restrictions to the states, favor a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and are favorable to voting for politicians who would restrict abortion. This is according to a survey that finds unexpected support for these policies among those who self-identify as pro-choice.

The results come from a January 2020 Marist Poll sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the U.S.

The survey weighs American opinion as observers speculate the U.S. Supreme Court will revisit the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and other precedents mandating legal abortion nationwide.

“Most Americans want the court to reinterpret Roe either by stopping legalized abortion or by returning the issue to the states,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus said Jan. 22.

According to the survey, 55% of Americans back a ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. 45% of pro-choice respondents backed such a ban, as did 69% of self-identified pro-life respondents.

41% of respondents who identified as pro-choice said they are more likely to vote for candidates who support abortion restrictions. More than 90% of those who identified as pro-life said the same.

Anderson said the support for abortion restrictions among pro-choice Americans “shows how misleading it is to conflate the term ‘pro-choice’ with support for radically pro-abortion position that calls for unrestricted abortion.”

About 65% of respondents said they are more likely to vote for candidates who would limit abortion to the first three months of pregnancy, at most. Broken down by party affiliation, 88% of Republicans, 62% of unaffiliated voters, and 44% of Democrats said this.

At the same time, the survey indicated that 55% of Americans self-identify as pro-choice, while 40% identify as pro-life.

The survey indicated Americans would be favorable to changes in the abortion status quo if the Supreme Court revisits Roe v. Wade: 46% of respondents said the Supreme Court should allow states to determine abortion restrictions. Another 16% wanted the high court to make abortion illegal, while 33% said the court should allow unrestricted legal abortion at any time in pregnancy.

When considering voter dedication to their views of abortion and legal protections for unborn children, “intensity is stronger on the pro-life side,” the Knights of Columbus summary of the survey said. About 45% of self-identified pro-life respondents said abortion is a “major factor” in their vote for president, compared to 35% of self-identified pro-choice respondents.

Asked if laws can protect both a mother and her unborn child, 80% of respondents said they could.

An “overwhelming majority” of respondents, 75% vs. 21%, opposed taxpayer funding of abortion overseas. About 60% oppose taxpayer funding of abortion in the U.S. Another 52% of Americans back requiring ultrasounds for women before they have abortions.

The Marist Poll survey of 1,237 adults was conducted Jan. 7 to Jan. 12. It claims a statistical significance of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. Among the 1,070 registered voters who responded, the survey claims statistical significance of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points.

President Donald Trump to attend March for Life on Friday 

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2020 / 04:53 pm (CNA).- U.S. President Donald Trump will address the national March for Life in person on Friday, making him the first president in the event’s 47-year history to do so, organizers announced.

“See you on Friday...Big Crowd!” the president said Wednesday in a retweet of a video from last year’s march, posted by the national March for Life account.

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, said in a statement that the organizers of the Washington, D.C., event are “deeply honored” to welcome Trump to the march.

“He will be the first president in history to attend and we are so excited for him to experience in person how passionate our marchers are about life and protecting the unborn,” she said.

She also praised the efforts Trump and his administration have made in increasing legal protections for the unborn.

“From the appointment of pro-life judges and federal workers, to cutting taxpayer funding for abortions here and abroad, to calling for an end to late-term abortions, President Trump and his Administration have been consistent champions for life and their support for the March for Life has been unwavering,” Mancini said. “We are grateful for all these pro-life accomplishments and look forward to gaining more victories for life in the future.”

Many of Trump’s pro-life policies - such as the restoration and expansion of the Mexico City Policy, which bars U.S. aid to foreign organizations that perform or promote abortions as a means of family planning - have been praised by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, while his crackdowns on immigration have frequently drawn criticism from the bishops.

Other political speakers at the March for Life this year will include First Lady of Louisiana Donna Hutto Edwards, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), state senator Katrina Jackson (D-LA), and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ).

While Trump will be the first U.S. president to address the March in person, President Ronald Reagan and President George W. Bush also delivered messages to the March for Life remotely via telephone in previous years.

In his 2004 message, Bush thanked the marchers for their “devotion to such a noble cause” and encouraged them to “continue with civility and respect to remind our fellow citizens that all life is sacred and worthy of protection,” the New York Times reported.

In 2017, Vice President Mike Pence became the highest-ranking politician to address the March for Life in person. He encouraged attendees to let the pro-life movement be known “for love, not anger...let it be known for compassion, not confrontation.”

In 2018, U.S. Speaker Paul Ryan spoke at the March for Life while President Trump addressed attendees of the march via a videocast from the White House Rose Garden.

Last year, Trump also addressed the March via a pre-recorded message, which was introduced in person by Vice President Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence.

“When we look into the eyes of a newborn child we see the beauty of the human soul and the majesty of God’s creation, we know that every life has meaning and every life is worth protecting,” the president said last year. “I will always protect the first right in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life.”

US bishops speak up on school choice as Supreme Court hears case

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2020 / 04:05 pm (CNA).- States should not deny tax credit programs to families who choose religious private schools, said members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a case addressing the issue of school choice.

“The case before the Supreme Court today concerns whether the Constitution offers states a license to discriminate against religion,” said Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland, head of the Committee on Catholic Education.

“Our country’s tradition of non-establishment of religion does not mean that governments can deny otherwise available benefits on the basis of religious status,” they said in a Jan. 22 statement.

“Indeed, religious persons and organizations should, like everyone else, be allowed to participate in government programs that are open to all. This is an issue of justice for people of all faith communities.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. Kendra Espinoza, a mother of two daughters attending a Christian school in Kalispell, Montana, is the lead plaintiff in the case.

An 1889 amendment to the Montana state constitution, known as a Blaine Amendment, prohibits both direct and indirect state aid to religious institutions. The amendment was passed a second time when the state constitution was revised and rewritten in 1972.

The Montana Supreme Court originally decided the case 5-2 during late 2018.

That ruling found that the state’s tax credit program, which began in 2015 and provided for a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for a person’s donation to nonprofit student scholarship organizations, was allowing the Montana legislature to “indirectly pay tuition at private, religiously-affiliated schools” in violation of state law.

The Supreme Court granted cert to the case June 28, 2019.

Montana is just one of 38 states with similar “no-aid” provisions in its constitution, NPR reports.

So-called Blaine Amendments have their roots in anti-Catholic sentiment of the late 19th century, according to historians and religious liberty advocates.

In the years following the Civil War, there was widespread suspicion and even open hostility toward Catholics in the U.S., especially toward immigrant Catholic populations from Europe.

Public schools at the time were largely Protestant, with no single Christian denomination in charge, and many Catholics attended parochial schools which were seen as “sectarian” by prominent public figures, historian John T. McGreevy explained in his book “Catholicism and American Freedom.”

Public figures, he notes, including one current and one future U.S. president at the time, pushed against taxpayer funding of Catholic schools and even advocated for an increase in the taxation of Catholic Church property in the U.S.

President Ulysses S. Grant pushed for a 1875 federal amendment by Sen. James Blaine of Maine that prohibited taxpayer funding of “sectarian” schools – the original “Blaine Amendment.” It failed in the Senate, but the federal amendment took form at the state level and many states eventually passed versions of the bill barring state funding of Catholic schools.

In the Supreme Court’s 2000 decision Mitchell v. Helms, a four-justice plurality insisted that the Blaine Amendment’s motive to deny public funding of “sectarian” institutions was bigoted, particularly against Catholics. The court ruled that a religious school could receive a federal grant under certain conditions.

In 2017, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer that a church property couldn’t be barred from a state renovation program simply on account of its religious affiliation.

“This case [Espinoza] is not only about constitutional law. It is about whether our nation will continue to tolerate this strain of anti-Catholic bigotry,” the bishops continued.

“Blaine Amendments...were never meant to ensure government neutrality towards religion, but were expressions of hostility toward the Catholic Church. We hope that the Supreme Court will take this opportunity to bring an end to this shameful legacy.”

The Second Vatican Council's 1965 declaration on Christian education, Gravissimum educationis, said that parents “must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools.”

“Consequently, the public power, which has the obligation to protect and defend the rights of citizens, must see to it, in its concern for distributive justice, that public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children,” the document states.

President Donald Trump on Jan. 16 issued new rules for nine federal agencies. The rules seek to ensure that federal government social service programs are administered in line with the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, so that religious groups are not barred simply on account of their religious status.

The National Catholic Educational Association, which includes more than 150,000 educators serving 1.9 million Catholic school students across the U.S., is supportive of a proposed plan to create a federal tax credit-based scholarship program that could provide a boost for parents who want to send their children to Catholic school. The proposed scheme, which the U.S. Department of Education calls Education Freedom Scholarships, would be funded through taxpayers’ voluntary contributions to state-identified Scholarship Granting Organizations.

Should the proposal become law, donors will receive a federal tax credit equal to their contribution.

 

Archbishop Chaput asks Pakistani PM to follow through on religious liberty

Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 22, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- On behalf of Philadelphia’s Pakistani Catholic community, Archbishop Charles Chaput encouraged the Pakistani prime minister Tuesday to shape a culture of religious freedom in the country.

“I urge you to make every effort to secure the full rights of Pakistan’s citizens of every religion. And please understand that I will be pressing this issue vigorously in the American public square on behalf of Philadelphia and other Pakistani Catholics,” the Archbishop of Philadelphia wrote Jan. 21 to Imran Khan, prime minister of Pakistan.

The letter, published in First Things, highlighted the Pakistani Catholic community in the Philadelphia area, whom Archbishop Chaput said “are grateful for their Pakistani heritage” and “whose Catholic faith was nourished in Pakistan.” He added, however, that “the hardships now faced by Christians in Pakistan profoundly concern them.”

The archbishop encouraged Khan to “work urgently to assure true religious liberty for all citizens of Pakistan, especially for members of minority faiths.”

Pakistan's state religion is Islam, and around 97 percent of the population is Muslim.

The country was designated, for the first time, a “Country of Particular Concern” in December 2018 for its religious freedom record by the US Department of State. The designation had been recommended by the US Commission for International Religious Freedom in 2017 and 2018.

Archbishop Chaput noted that despite this designation, Sam Brownback, US ambassador at large for religious freedom, had in February 2019 “indicated that your nation shows a sincere 'desire to change' for the better on this issue. I thank you for your willingness to pursue that positive change.”

“I believe in the honest intentions of many in the Pakistani government to assure full religious freedom for their nation. But Pakistan still does not fully protect the religious liberty of all of its citizens,” the archbishop pointed out.

He cited reports that religious minorities in Pakistan face “chronic hostility, harassment, and persecution,” and that the government “seems to do little to ensure their personal safety and their
full participation in public life.”

This situation, he said, is both unjust and it “aggravates misunderstandings and resentments of Islam among American Christians and other concerned U.S. citizens.”

Archbishop Chaput noted in particular the abuse of Pakistan's blasphemy laws; economic inopportunity for religious minorities; and attacks on minority houses of worship.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws impose strict punishment on those who desecrate the Quran or who defame or insult Muhammad. Although the government has never executed a person under the blasphemy laws, accusations alone have inspired mob and vigilante violence.

The laws, introduced in the 1980s, are reportedly used to settle scores or to persecute religious minorities; while non-Muslims constitute only 3 percent of the Pakistani population, 14 percent of blasphemy cases have been levied against them.

Many of those accused of blasphemy are murdered, and advocates of changing the law are also targeted by violence.

Citing such problems, the archbishop said that “a reform of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and its investigation and prosecution procedures, is thus urgently needed.”

Turning to economic problems, he said that the government has long “promised to provide quotas for public and education sector jobs for Christians and other religious minorities … but such promises have not been fulfilled, and members of religious minorities in Pakistan still face job and opportunity discrimination.”

In 2013 the then-governing party, the Pakistan Muslim League (N), promised a quota for jobs in the educational institutes and the public sector for members of religious minorities. The Pakistan Peoples Party discussed an Equality Commission to monitor job quotas in Sindh.

Both parties are now in the opposition in the national parliament, and the proposed safeguards have not been put into action.

Finally, Archbishop Chaput said, “police too often fail to protect non-Muslim sacred spaces,” which have been frequently attacked.

“Little effort is made to prosecute and bring to justice the perpetrators of this religious hatred,” the archbishop stated.

“I do believe in the good will of many citizens of Pakistan and many members of your government,” Archbishop Chaput told Khan.

“I also know that Pakistan faces many economic and social challenges, and you have the difficult task of managing them. I respect the demands of your office, and I gladly pray for both justice and success in your public service.”

On 'Roe' anniversary, bishops announce parish initiative to help pregnant women  

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2020 / 03:06 pm (CNA).- While lamenting the anniversaries of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decisions that mandate legal abortion nationwide, the U.S. bishops announced the launch of a project that aims to mobilize Catholic parishes to help pregnant women in need.

“January 22 marks the sorrowful anniversary of the tragic Supreme Court decisions of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, which legalized abortion through all nine months of pregnancy,” Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said Jan. 21.

“The Church will never abandon her efforts to reverse these terrible decisions that have led to the deaths of millions of innocent children and the traumatization of countless women and families.”

The Catholic Church in the U.S. commemorates January 22 as the National Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children.

Naumann said the Catholic bishops’ pro-life committee is asking all bishops to invite their parishes to take part in the initiative “Walking with Moms in Need: A Year of Service.”

“Everyone in the parish community should know where to refer a pregnant woman in need,” the Walking With Moms in Need website says. The initiative was presented to U.S. bishops during their November 2019 plenary meeting.

Observers of the Supreme Court expect significant changes to the 1973 abortion precedents, given recent appointments to the court under President Donald Trump.

Many states have passed restrictions on abortion that face court challenge. The Trump administration and some local states have implemented regulations that hinder or prevent government funding for abortion providers like Planned Parenthood.

A January 2020 Marist Poll sponsored by the Knights of Columbus suggests that most Americans favor returning abortion restrictions to the states or ending legal abortion altogether.

About 65% of registered voters said they are more likely to vote for candidates who would limit abortion to the first three months of pregnancy, at most. At the same time, the survey indicated that 55% of Americans self-identify as pro-choice, while 40% identify as pro-life.
 
“Most Americans want the court to reinterpret Roe either by stopping legalized abortion or by returning the issue to the states,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus said Jan. 22.

Naumann reflected on the possibility of changes to the status quo on abortion.
 
“As the Church and growing numbers of pro-life Americans continue to advocate for women and children in courthouses and legislatures, the Church’s pastoral response is focused on the needs of women facing pregnancies in challenging circumstances,” he said. “While this has long been the case, the pastoral response will soon intensify.”
 
The Walking With Moms In Need initiative is set to begin March 25 and end March 25, 2021. The initiative is planned around the idea that women can be most effectively reached at the local level.

The year of service, Naumann said, “invites parishes to assess, communicate, and expand resources to expectant mothers within their own communities.”

Project leaders are developing tools for parishes to document local resources for pregnant mothers in need, and will provide ideas to improve parish responses to pregnant mothers and specially written prayers to build “a culture of life and a civilization of love,” the website says.

The project is designed to reflect the teachings of Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae as well as Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium and his 2015 encyclical Laudato si.

Naumann said he prays that the project “will help us reach every pregnant mother in need, that she may know she can turn to her local Catholic community for help and authentic friendship.”

Virginia parish to hold holy hour against planned black mass

Richmond, Va., Jan 22, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A parish in Chesapeake, Virginia will host a Holy Hour of Reparation on Saturday to spiritually combat a scheduled black mass to be held at a bar in nearby Norfolk. A separately organized  rosary rally is planned for outside the bar at the time of the event. 

“We’re holding the Holy Hour at our parish to combat the attacks on the Holy Mother Church and the Holy Mass,” an employee of the parish of St. Benedict told CNA on Jan. 22. 

“This is our way of fighting back,” she said. 

The counter-events were announced on the Facebook page for Eucharistia, a eucharistic procession through the Hampton Roads area of southern Virginia. 

The black mass is scheduled to occur at Pourhouse of Norfolk, located about eight miles from St. Benedict’s church. 

The Diocese of Richmond told CNA they are encouraging everyone to pray for those who are involved in the black mass, and to stay vigilant at protecting the Eucharist. 

“We support the efforts of Father Eric Ayers, who is the dean of the Norfolk Deanery, and our other local pastors who are offering prayers, a Holy Hour(s) of Adoration and rosaries at our parishes as a result of this private, Norfolk business holding such an event,” Deborah Cox, director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, said to CNA in a statement. 

“We ask for all the faithful in the area to pray for the conversion of hearts of the individuals holding such an event and to continue to be attentive at safeguarding the Holy Eucharist.”

On the Facebook page promoting the black mass, attendees are invited to join Satanic Norfolk to “boldly cast off lingering indoctrination of past religious beliefs.”

“Consecrated communion wafers were kindly donated for this blasphemous event,” the event adds. It is unclear if consecrated hosts will actually be used, and, if so, how they were obtained. On Twitter, event organizer Kate Cobas said that she fed “consecrated communion wafers” to her dog, who proceeded to spit them out.

Past black masses, which initially claimed to use consecrated hosts, later admitted the bread was purchased from a religious supplier and was not consecrated. 

On another event page, participants are told there will be an “un-baptism” after the black mass, which will then be followed by live performances from black metal bands. Catholic Church teaches that baptism is permanent and can not be reversed.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte ‘a new creature,’ an adopted son of God, who has become a ‘partaker of the divine nature,’ member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.” The 

The Pourhouse of Norfolk did not respond to CNA’s request for a comment.

DOJ files brief in support of Ohio Down syndrome abortion ban

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The Department of Justice is officially supporting Ohio’s Down syndrome abortion ban before a federal circuit court.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed on Tuesday with the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said that Ohio’s law is constitutional, protects vulnerable individuals and mothers from coercive abortions, and upholds the integrity of the medical profession.

“The federal government has an interest in the equal dignity of those who live with disabilities,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division stated. “Nothing in the Constitution requires Ohio to authorize abortion providers to participate in abortions the providers know are based on Down syndrome.”

The law bans doctors from performing abortions in cases where a positive test or prenatal diagnosis indicates Down syndrome, or where there is “[a]ny other reason to believe that an unborn child has Down syndrome.” The bill was signed into law by former Gov. John Kasich in December of 2017.

Under the law’s provisions, mothers are explicitly excluded from prosecution for abortions in such cases, while doctors who knowingly performed the abortions could be charged with fourth-degree felony or could face the loss of their medical license or liability for damages.

After organizations including Planned Parenthood and the ACLU sued over the law, a district court judge blocked it from going into effect in March of 2018. Judge Timothy Black ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in their argument that the law unconstitutionally blocked abortion access in cases of pre-viability of the baby.

A partial panel of the Sixth Circuit upheld that decision in October of 2019, in a 2-1 decision. The Sixth Circuit decided to rehear the case before the full court.

“This Ohio law prevents discrimination against individuals with Down syndrome,” said Justin E. Herdman, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. 

Federal law already prohibits disability discrimination in a variety of cases, the DOJ argued in its amicus brief, including through the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act expressly bars discrimination in health insurance and employment regarding an individual’s genetic information, the DOJ said, including that “of any fetus carried by [a] pregnant woman.” 

Ohio’s law does not pose an unlawful “undue burden” on women’s access to abortion, the brief argued.

“The law does not create a substantial obstacle to obtaining a pre-viability abortion. It certainly does not create a substantial obstacle for a large fraction of affected women—let alone all such women. And regardless, any burdens would be outweighed by the law’s substantial benefits,” the DOJ argued.