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Catholic governor signs law enshrining abortion access

Providence, R.I., Jun 20, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed the Reproductive Privacy Act on Wednesday. The act codifies the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade into state law.

The law permits unrestricted access to abortion at any time up to “fetal viability,” a disputed term with no fixed scientific meaning. Even after supposed viability, abortion will still be legal in cases where the life or health of the mother is at risk.

Raimondo, a Catholic, said when signing the bill that the abortion issue was a difficult one and that “there are good and principled people on both sides of the issue.”

“But in light of all the uncertainty in Washington, and frankly, around the country in many other states, there is a great deal of anxiety that … a woman’s right to access reproductive healthcare is in danger,” said Raimondo.

She described the bill as one that “preserves the status quo” in the Ocean State.

The population of Rhode Island has the highest percentage of Catholics of any state in the nation.

The Rhode Island Senate voted 21-17 to approve the bill. All five of the state’s Republican senators voted against it, together with 12 Democrats. In the Rhode Island House of Representatives, the vote was 45-29. In the House, one Republican voted in favor of the bill, and 21 Democrats voted against.

Sen. Sandra Cano (D-Pawtucket), a self-described “Catholic and pro-life” politician voted in favor of the bill.

During debate, Cano has said that she “believes that life is sacred” and that her faith is “very important,” to her.

“However, I also believe that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land and I can’t impose my faith on others,” said Cano, who is currently pregnant.

A statement from the Rhode Island Catholic Conference, published following the Senate vote on Wednesday, called the passage of the legislation “a sad day for Rhode Island, and a tragedy for thousands of defenseless unborn.”

“We applaud the 17 senators who, by voting no, exposed the truth that this is much more than a mere confirmation of the status quo. Rather, the surprisingly close vote reflects the degree to which legislators knew in their private thoughts that this bill significantly expands abortion in Rhode Island.”

The statement was signed by Rev. Bernard Healey, director of the conference, who added that the legislation was “deeply disappointing.”

Before Wednesday’s vote, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence said on Twitter that he was praying that members of the Rhode Island Senate would vote against the bill. After the bill was passed, he tweeted that, although he was disappointed, he had “sincere appreciation” for the state’s pro-life community.  

“Your witness to the dignity of human life has been powerful, peaceful and prayerful,” tweeted Tobin. “God is pleased!”

Tobin also offered encouragement for the state’s pro-lifers in the face of shifting public opinion against unrestricted abortion, calling the law a “very temporary set-back.”

“We will continue to oppose the prevailing culture of death in our society and faithfully and joyfully proclaim the goodness and beauty of life! God bless you!”

May cooler heads prevail regarding Iran, US bishops plead

Washington D.C., Jun 20, 2019 / 10:36 am (CNA).- The US must avoid war with Iran and instead pursue dialogue and engagement, the chair of the US bishops' committee on international justice and peace wrote Tuesday amid escalating tensions between the nations.

“It is my sincere hope that the United States will initiate sustained dialogue with allies, world powers and Iran, in order to deescalate the current situation that is a danger to both the region and the world,” Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Services wrote in a June 18 letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The US accused Iran of being responsible for explosions which hit two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week, which Iran has denied.

The Department of Defense announced June 17 it would deploy an additional 1,000 troops to the area in response to Iran's “hostile behavior.”

The same day, Iran announced it will surpass the limit on low-enriched uranium to which it had agreed in a 2015 nuclear deal reached under the Obama administration, unless Europe would protect its oil sales.

The nuclear deal had been welcomed by both the US bishops' conference and the Holy See.

Under the Trump administration, the US unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal agreement and imposed sanctions on Iran.

Both these factors “seem to have contributed to a pattern of heated rhetoric on the part of both Iran and the United States,” wrote Archbishop Broglio.

“The moves have also exacerbated tensions with close allies and other world powers. For its part, Iran has continued its verbal threats against Israel and the arming of various militia groups in the region,” he stated.

“In the absence of real diplomatic dialogue, military deployments and perceived threats on both sides increase risks of confrontation.”

The archbishop called it “ironic and troubling” that Iran “has threatened to resume some activities that potentially violate” the nuclear deal “in response to sanctions.”

“The Church consistently champions dialogue and engagement as ways to resolve political crises,” he said, recalling that the use of military force is permissible only as a last resort and when there is a probability of success.

“There is little probability that another war in the most volatile region in the world, where the recent and current experiences of conflict in Syria, Iraq and Yemen are vivid, will succeed in bringing peace to the region,” Broglio stated. “A different approach is needed. The President’s recent statement that the United States does not seek war with Iran is encouraging.”

Since Broglio's letter, tensions have only increased.

In the early hours of June 20, a US military surveillance drone was shot down by Iranian forces over the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran claims the drone violated its airspace, while the US claims it was over international waters at the time.

After the drone was downed Hossein Salami, commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said, “Iran is not seeking war with any country, but we are fully prepared to defend Iran … our borders are our red line.”

Peace Cross can stay, Supreme Court rules

Washington D.C., Jun 20, 2019 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The Supreme Court declared Thursday that a large, cross-shaped war memorial on public land is constitutional.

In a 7-2 decision, the court ruled in the case American Legion v. American Humanist Association that the Bladensburg Peace Cross does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and can remain on public land and be maintained by public funds.

The majority opinion, issued June 20, was authored by Justice Samuel Alito, who was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer and Brett Kavanaugh. Justices Elena Kagan and Clarence Thomas concurred with parts of Alito’s opinion.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor were the only judes to dissent from the decision.

The Supreme Court reversed a previous Fourth Circuit decision that found that the monument was unconstitutional due to its overt religious symbolism. The monument was installed in 1925 to honor local soldiers killed in World War I. Presently, the county maintains the grounds of the monument, which the American Humanist Association argued was an entanglement of government and religion.

Writing for the majority, Justice Alito issued strong criticism of the soc-called “Lemon Test” that has been used since 1972 case  Lemon v. Kurtzman to determine if an action creates “excessive government entanglement with religion.” Alito wrote that the test “presents particularly daunting problems” in cases that involve religious words or symbols that are primarily for commemoratory or ceremonial reasons.

“Together, these considerations counsel against efforts to evaluate such cases under Lemon and toward application of a presumption of constitutionality for longstanding monuments, symbols, and practices,” wrote Alito.

The court determined that removing a longstanding monument like the Peace Cross “may no longer appear neutral, especially to the local community for which it has taken on particular meaning.”

“A government that roams the land, tearing down monuments with religious symbolism and scrubbing away any reference to the divine will strike many as aggressively hostile to religion,” he said, adding that “Militantly secular regimes have carried out such projects in the past, and for those with a knowledge of history, the image of monuments being taken down will be evocative, disturbing, and divisive.”

While the Supreme Court did not reject outright the standards of the Lemon Test, the new decision limits its future application.

“The Supreme Court rightly recognized that religious symbols are an important part of our nation’s history and culture,” said Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, responding to the decision.

“We look forward to the coming gap in cable-news programming, as atheist organizations that made bank by suing over harmless religious symbols find a new line of work and learn to look the other way.”

Andrea Piccotti-Bayer, the legal advisor for The Catholic Association, an organization dedicated to “defending religious liberty, life, and the Church in the public square,” praised the Supreme Court for its “common sense and clarity” in deciding that the monument was constitutional.

“The Constitution does not require eliminating the great symbols of America’s religious pluralism from the public square,” said Piccotti-Bayer in a statement sent to CNA.

Disgraced ex-cardinal ‘Mr. McCarrick’ remains at Kansas friary, one year later

Denver, Colo., Jun 20, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- One year after credible allegations of sex abuse of a minor led to his public disgrace, the 88-year-old Theodore McCarrick is no longer a cardinal of the Catholic Church, no longer an archbishop, and no longer a cleric. He continues to reside at a Franciscan friary in Kansas, perhaps indefinitely.

“Mr. McCarrick continues to reside at St. Fidelis Friary in Victoria, Kansas. He is in poor health and remains under a supervision plan,” Father Joseph Mary Elder, O.F.M. Cap., communications director for the Capuchin Franciscans’ Province of St. Conrad, told CNA June 18.

“At this point, the length of his stay is indeterminate, but he is looking for lodgings closer to his family. There is no timetable for when or if that might happen,” said Elder. 

“Mr. McCarrick follows the everyday life and routine of a friar with the exception of public ministry; he lives in the same type of room as the friars, joins in the community prayers and the celebration of the Mass, and participates in community meals and interactions,” he continued.

McCarrick will turn 89 years old on July 7. He has been at the friary since September 2018, when then-Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl asked Bishop Gerald L. Vincke of Salina, Kansas and Father Christopher Popravak, the Denver-based Capuchin provincial, to make arrangements to house McCarrick.

“Regarding payment for his lodgings, the Archdiocese of Washington was paying room and board for him until the time of his laicization,” said Elder. “While Mr. McCarrick has offered to pay out of pocket, the Capuchins have declined the offer.”

In January 2019 he was removed from the clerical state, one of the most extreme sanctions for a clergyman, and which deprives him of the right to financial support normally guaranteed to clerics under church law. Without this punishment, McCarrick’s former archdiocese would still be required to support him financially.

The decision to host McCarrick in the Salina diocese was not taken lightly, Vincke said in a Sept. 13, 2018 letter to the diocese’s faithful.

Vincke, who had only taken office in August 2018, said he believes in both justice and mercy. In saying “yes” to hosting McCarrick, he said, “I had to reconcile my own feelings of disappointment, anger and even resentment toward Archbishop McCarrick,” he explained, stressing reliance upon Jesus Christ for guidance, mercy and forgiveness.

Vincke said he was “deeply sorry” for all victims of abuse, adding “This purification of the Church by God is painful, but much needed. We need the eyes of faith as we suffer through this.”

The Salina diocese did not provide additional comment in response to inquiries. McCarrick’s civil attorney, Barry Coburn of the Washington, D.C.-based firm Coburn & Greenbaum, on June 18 confirmed that he is still the ex-cardinal’s attorney but declined further comment.

In February, sources close to the former cardinal told CNA that he has private means of support in place. While McCarrick reportedly did not draw a salary or a pension from any of the three dioceses he led, he does have a private income from savings and monthly annuities.

“While he is not without resources, they are modest, in keeping with what one might expect of a parish priest,” a source close to McCarrick said.

One source speculated that the annuities could have come from “friends or benefactors” of the archbishop before his fall from grace.

McCarrick was well-known for giving envelopes of money to different bishops and cardinals, ostensibly to thank them for their work. Such practices have come under scrutiny as a possible source of corruption and unwarranted influence.

McCarrick was a co-founder and the longtime head of the Papal Foundation, which since 1990 has given over $100 million to support projects and proposals recommended by the Holy See. After a 2018 controversy over a $25 million grant from the foundation to a legally and financially troubled Italian hospital, questions have been raised about whether McCarrick attempted to use foundation influence and assets to forestall investigations against him.

As CNA reported in August 2018, McCarrick sat on the boards of two family foundations which helped funnel $500,000 to his personal archbishop’s fund over about a decade’s time.

McCarrick was a paid consultant for Thomas Donohue, president and chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Wall Street Journal reported June 6. Over the period 2011 to early 2018, Donohue paid him over $200,000 for advice on global development and other matters.

The day McCarrick was first accused of sexual misconduct, he contacted Donohue for help returning to Washington from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Donohue dispatched a private jet and later compensated the Chamber more than $23,000 for the flight.

The Chamber of Commerce spends the most on lobbying of any interest group in Washington. Donohue is also president of the board of the Chamber’s affiliate the Center for International Private Enterprise, which is part of the globally influential U.S. nonprofit the National Endowment for Democracy.

One year ago, on June 20, 2018, the Archdiocese of New York announced that its investigation found “credible and substantiated” allegations that McCarrick had committed sexual abuse of a teenager. It also came to light that the Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Metuchen had previously reached out-of-court settlements with several adult men who alleged they were sexually abused by McCarrick during their time as seminarians.

In July 2018 McCarrick was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by Pope Francis pending the completion of a canonical process against him. That same day, the pope accepted McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals.

That July another victim, James Grein of Virginia came forward to say McCarrick had begun sexually abusing him in 1969, when Grein was 11 and McCarrick was a 39-year-old priest. Some of the abuse took place in the context of the sacrament of reconciliation, further compounding McCarrick’s offenses. McCarrick was reportedly a friend to Grein’s Swiss-American family and Grein was the first baby he baptized as a priest, the New York Times reported.

Grein has said his family provided early financial support for McCarrick and trips to Switzerland with family members, which could have provided a key boost to McCarrick’s ability to network internationally and to rise in the Church.

While McCarrick’s fall shocked many, some said they had long heard rumors of questionable behavior towards adult seminarians. McCarrick’s fall brought scrutiny for U.S. bishops who had served under him, with many denying they knew of any misbehavior.

Pope Francis himself has faced questions. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former apostolic nuncio to the U.S., has charged that Pope Francis knew of sanctions placed on McCarrick. He said that McCarrick’s alleged sexual misconduct had been known to some Vatican officials for years, eventually leading to a restriction on the archbishop’s ministry by Pope Benedict XVI in the late 2000s, and a subsequent restoration of McCarrick’s place as a papal advisor by Pope Francis.

Since the charges first emerged, Pope Francis has maintained that he will not respond to the content of the Vigano letters, and instead has encouraged journalists to investigate their allegations. Some aspects of the former nuncio’s testimonial seem to have been verified, while other aspects remain controversial or unproven, and some have proven to have been exaggerated, overstated, or unlikely.

Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo, a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark and a former secretary to McCarrick, last month released apparent excerpts from private correspondence between McCarrick, the priest, and various other Church officials. In his view, these show high-ranking Vatican churchmen “likely had knowledge of McCarrick’s actions and of restrictions imposed upon him during the pontificate of Benedict XVI.”

The excerpts seem to contain admissions of wrongdoing from McCarrick, and to confirm subsequent reports about the Vatican’s response to the former cardinal’s behavior. But some Vatican officials have said Figueiredo’s report did not fully explain the ways in which McCarrick operated in the Vatican. They painted a picture of a man expert at exploiting a curial culture and creating an appearance of conflicting instructions that allowed him to justify his travels.

The excerpts from Figueiredo’s correspondence also appear to confirm reports that McCarrick played an ongoing, though sometimes unofficial, role in Vatican diplomatic efforts, especially in China, during the pontificates of both Benedict XVI and Francis.

McCarrick’s long career began, perhaps, with his ordination as a priest by the deeply influential Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York. He later served as an auxiliary bishop of New York before becoming Bishop of Metuchen, Archbishop of Newark and then Archbishop of Washington.

McCarrick’s career included time as a university leader and service on diplomatic missions and advisory roles for both the U.S. State Department and the Holy See. He has served on pontifical councils for Promoting Christian Unity, Justice and Peace, Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples and for Latin America. Similarly, he served in the office of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See and as chair of multiple U.S. bishops’ conference committees.


Ed. note: This article erroneously made reference to the Diocese of "Salinas." It has since been corrected to "Salina."

Botched abortions at Missouri's last abortion clinic raise questions

St. Louis, Mo., Jun 19, 2019 / 05:49 pm (CNA).- In a legal battle over the closure of Missouri’s last functioning Planned Parenthood, state health department officials cited four botched abortions as part of the reason that they do not want to renew the clinic’s license, according to reports from the AP.

The closure of the clinic would mean the closure of the last abortion clinic in the state. Last month, Planned Parenthood sued the state of Missouri after the health department declined to renew the clinic’s license.

On Friday, June 14, the state’s health department sent the St. Louis clinic and the court “documents, a letter and statement of deficiencies,” the AP reported, which included details on the four botched abortions at the heart of the licensure dispute.

The records, which were published by pro-life group Operation Rescue in an expose, were ordered to be sealed by St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer on Monday, June 17, after Planned Parenthood voiced concerns that the publication of the documents violated their patients’ right to privacy, the AP reported.

William Koebel, a state health department official, told the AP that the records now sealed by the court documented the failed abortions of three patients, whose babies survived after the botched abortions, and required additional surgical or medical abortions to end the pregnancies. Koebel noted that one of the patients with a failed abortion developed sepsis, a serious bacterial infection of the blood stream.

A fourth patient’s abortion at 21 weeks of pregnancy was completed at the clinic, but the patient was hospitalized afterward with “life threatening complications,” Koebel told the AP. He also noted his concerns that some of the botched abortions were done by resident doctors, who have failed to comply with the state health department’s investigation of the clinic.

In early June, Stelzer ruled that doctors, including doctors in residence, who were not currently employed by the St. Louis Planned Parenthood did not have to testify in the state’s investigation of the clinic. Stelzer dismissed the subpoena for their interviews as an “undue burden” on those doctors.

Koebel told the AP that their cooperation is “imperative” for a full investigation.

“Refusal of health care providers to cooperate in the Department's investigations thwarts the Department's ability to conduct meaningful review of troubling instances of patient care, and obstructs the Department's ability to ensure that problems will not be repeated,” Koebel said.

Lawyers representing the Planned Parenthood affiliate secured a restraining order in late May from Stelzer, which allows the clinic to continue operating while its licensure is disputed in court. The clinic’s ability to operate is up for review again on June 21.

In a separate case, on Friday, June 14, St. Louis Circuit Court Judge David Dowd ruled that Missouri’s legislature cannot cut funding from the Planned Parenthood clinic, after the clinic argued that it not only provided abortions, but other health care services, according to a local Fox News affiliate. Missouri Governor Mike Parson said the decision will be appealed.

Parson also recently signed a bill that punishes abortion doctors who perform abortions on a woman who is past eight weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for medical emergencies which seriously threaten the life or quality of life of the mother. The law does not penalize women who obtain abortions.

Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis called the eight-week abortion ban “a giant step forward for the pro-life movement.”