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Poll suggests a majority of Buffalo Catholics want Bishop Malone to resign

Buffalo, N.Y., Sep 18, 2019 / 04:05 pm (CNA).- Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, New York is facing fresh calls for his resignation, after a local news organization commissioned a poll that suggests a majority of Catholics and lapsed Catholics in the diocese would like to see him step down because of his alleged mishandling of clerical sexual abuse cases.

A poll commissioned by The Buffalo News has found that among a sample of 473 Erie and Niagara County residents surveyed, nearly 86% said they believe Malone should step down. All of those surveyed self-identified as either “Catholic” or “lapsed Catholic.”

Of those surveyed, just 3% said they thought Malone should continue as bishop.

The diocese is home to over half a million Catholics out of a total population of 1.5 million.

In addition, local reporter Charlie Specht reported Sept. 17 that St. Joseph University Parish in northeast Buffalo took a poll at Masses last weekend, and found that of those surveyed, 504 parishioners wanted Malone to resign and 24 parishioners want him to stay.

Malone has so far remained firm in his conviction to remain as bishop, at least until he reaches the normal retirement age for bishops at 75. He is 73 now.

“I’m here because I feel an obligation as the one who was sent here to lead this diocese, to carry on, and once again, if I thought that the majority of Catholic people in particular were calling for my resignation, that would be a different story,” Malone said at a Sept. 4 news conference, as reported by The Buffalo News.

At least two whistleblowers with high-level access in the diocese— Malone’s former executive assistant and former priest secretary— have gone public with accusations that Malone mishandled several cases of sexual abuse by priests in the diocese, some of which involved minors.

One such case involves a priest accused of sending inappropriate Facebook messages to a minor. Malone reinstated the priest, Father Art Smith, to ministry in 2012 and allowed him not only to work at a diocesan Catholic youth conference, but also to minister at a nursing home, where reports of inappropriate conduct with adults later surfaced. Smith is currently listed on the diocesan page for clergy with substantiated claims of sexual abuse of a minor.

In Sept. 2019, local news station WKBW released recordings of private conversations between Bishop Malone and Fr. Ryszard Biernat, Malone’s former priest secretary, which appear to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the diocese removed the priest from ministry.

Biernat recorded the conversations as the bishop discussed how to deal with accusations against Fr. Jeffrey Nowak by then-seminarian Matthew Bojanowski, who in a January letter to Malone accused Nowak of grooming him, sexually harassing him, and violating the Seal of the Confessional.

In an Aug. 2 conversation, Malone can reportedly be heard saying, “We are in a true crisis situation. True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop.”

In another, earlier conversation from March, Bishop Malone seems to acknowledge the legitimacy of Bojanowski’s accusation against Nowak months before the diocese removed Nowak from active ministry.

WKBW published a report about allegations against Nowak in May. Nowak was not removed from ministry until Aug. 7, after the seminarian’s mother accused Malone of allowing Fr. Nowak to remain in ministry despite the allegations against him.

Biernat says he made the secret recording after Nowak became jealous of Biernat and Bojanowski’s close friendship.

According to a conversation taped Aug. 2, the bishop was concerned that media coverage would focus on a possible “love triangle” between Nowak, Bojanowski, and Biernat.

Biernat also says he was a victim of sexual abuse by Father Art Smith. He alleges that Auxiliary Bishop Grosz threatened to halt his ordination as a priest and have him deported to Poland after Biernat complained in 2004 to Buffalo Diocese administrators that Smith sexually assaulted him, according to The Buffalo News. Grosz denies this.

Biernat was also vice-chancellor of the diocese for a time, and was required to notarize documents from Bishop Malone keeping Father Smith in ministry.

Biernat is currently on a voluntary leave of absence.

Smith denies the allegations of abuse made against him. The diocese includes Smith’s name on its list of clergy with credible allegations of abuse of a minor.

The diocese has responded to various allegations of mishandling abuse cases by Malone, stating in August that “Bishop Malone has never allowed any priest with a credible allegation of abusing a minor to remain in ministry.”

"The bishop very much respects area Catholics' right to express their opinion," diocesan spokeswoman Kathy Spangler told The Buffalo News in response to the poll.

The diocese did not respond to CNA’s request for further comment on the poll by press time.

 

Maine bishop laments failed challenge to assisted suicide and abortion laws

Portland, Maine, Sep 18, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Bishop Robert Deeley of Portland, Maine, has expressed his disappointment at the failure of efforts to force a public vote on the legalization of physician-assisted suicide and taxpayer-funded abortion in the state. 

“I am saddened to learn that despite great opposition in the public to physician-assisted suicide and taxpayer-funded abortion, these issues will not be sent to a statewide vote,” said Deeley in a statement released on Sept. 18. 

Deeley, who leads the state’s only diocese, said that the two laws, which will now go into effect as written, will have “tragic consequences” and “contribute to a further deterioration of the common good.”

The separate campaigns each failed to attract enough signatures from registered voters to force the issues onto the ballot at a future state-wide election, petition drive organizers announced Wednesday, the day the laws go into effect and the legal deadline to mount a successful challenge. 

Deeley also noted that when Mainers were last allowed to vote on the question of euthanasia, in 2000, they rejected it, and expressed his frustration that voters would not be given a say this time.

“That the voice of Maine voters, whether they live in the very heart of the state or near any of its borders, will not be heard in a statewide referendum on both issues makes this a sad day for people of good will,” he said. 

Deeley warned that so-called assisted dying “desensitizes our young people and society at large to the inherent value of human life at a time when suicide rates are the highest that they have been since World War II. Suicide should never be presented as an option, but only recnogied for what it truly is, a tragedy.” 

Maine’s suicide rate is higher than the national average. 

Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed a bill legalizing assisted suicide in the state in July, after much deliberation. She said it was the toughest decision that she had made in her legislative career, and that she hoped assisted suicide did not become commonplace. 

The failed people’s veto effort also means that Maine taxpayer dollars will go to fund abortions, and that every insurance plan offered in the state offering pregnancy coverage must also cover abortion.

The bishop said this law was “coercing people to act against their moral beliefs and ethical principles.”

“Understandably, outrage has grown since citizens have learned the true nature of this law. Abortion is not health care, and this law deprives families and individuals of the simple right to respect the dignity of human life,” said Deeley. 

A third petition, promoted by those opposed to “government-mandated vaccinations,” did gather enough signatures to make the ballot. Organizers of that petitioner are seeking, partly on religious freedom grounds, to overturn a law that ended all non-medical exemptions from required childhood vaccinations. Under the proposed law, children who are not vaccinated will not be permitted to attend public schools. 

In 2005, the Pontifical Academy for Life in Rome considered the moral issues surrounding vaccines prepared using cell lines obtained from abortions. The Vatican group concluded, in part because of the passage of time and the generations of research since the original use of the aborted remains, it is both morally permissible and morally responsible for Catholics to use these vaccines.

The document also noted that Catholics have an obligation to use ethically-sourced vaccines when available, and when alternatives do not exist, they have an obligation to speak up and request the development of new cell lines that are not derived from aborted fetuses.

Maine has one of the highest rates of kindergarteners who were not vaccinated due to “religious or philosophical” reasons. Some towns report that more than 15 percent of kindergarteners were not vaccinated, a lower rate than that of Sudan, Libya, and several sub-Saharan African countries. 

Maine also has the highest rate of whooping cough in the nation, a disease that is prevented by vaccine. 

Study finds U.S. abortion rates at all time low

Washington D.C., Sep 18, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A new study from a Planned Parenthood thinktank released on Wednesday has found that abortion in the United States have dropped to its lowest rate since the procedure was made legal in 1973. 

The report from the Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, estimated that there were approximately 862,000 abortions in 2017. The rate of 13.5 abortions per 1,000 “women of reproductive age,” marks a drop of 3.4 from 2011, and half of the rate in 1980. 

Overall, the total number of abortions fell by 196,000 over the past six years, with just over 500,000 of 2017 abortions carried out via abortion pills, as opposed to a surgical method. 

The report suggested that increased availability of contraception, including long-term contraceptives such as intrauterine devices, not state laws restricting abortion, were responsible for the drop. This conclusion was disputed by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, a pro-life organization, which suggested that cultural change over time has played a significant role. 

“We welcome the new report showing the decline in both the abortion rate and the overall number of abortions from 2011 to 2017. There are several reasons for this positive news, including factors that Guttmacher does their best to ignore,” said Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute. 

“American mothers are increasingly choosing life for their children, as well as choosing to identify themselves with the pro-life cause and pro-life policies. This includes the broad protections for women and children being enacted at the state level such as strengthened health and safety standards for abortion facilities, limits on public funding of abortion, parental involvement laws, and increased informed consent,” he added.

Donovan also expressed concern at the increasing percentage of women who opt to end their pregnancies using chemical abortifacients. This, he said, “reveals the abortion industry’s increasingly successful effort to cut the overhead costs of surgical abortion while still profiting off the destruction of unborn children and wounding of his or her mother.” 

“The industry’s migration to chemical self-abortion is deeply disturbing as it carries with it the possibility of increasing the overall abortion rate over time and also carries with it a higher rate of injury, about which women are often under informed or deceived,” he added.

Guttmacher’s report found that nearly one out of five abortion clinics, or “nonhospital facilities,” had reported treating a woman who had attempted and failed to induce an abortion on her own. They termed this a “self-managed abortion.” 

There are many organizations that will facilitate delivery of abortion drugs to women through the mail, and they are easily accessed online. 

The new data on the lowest abortion rates recorded comes just weeks after a report on declining  pregnancies and fertility rates in the United States. 

In July, the CDC confirmed that fertility rates in the United States had dropped to their lowest rate ever.

“The 2018 general fertility rate fell to another all-time low for the United States,” researchers with the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics wrote in a July 24 report.

The fertility rate among women aged 15 to 44 dropped 2% between 2017 and 2018, from 60.3 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44, to 59.1.

According to the early statistical release from the NCHS in May, the total fertility rate, or average number of children born per woman, stands at 1.7, well below the demographic replacement bar of 2.1.

In 2018, fewer than 3.8 million children were born in the country. Since a peak in 2007, birth rates have fallen in all but one of the last 11 years. The results also show a continued trend of lower fertility among younger women over the last decade.

Senate confirms Catholic law professor as Asst. Secretary of State

Washington D.C., Sep 18, 2019 / 11:40 am (CNA).- The Senate voted Wednesday to confirm a prominent Catholic law professor to a high-ranking State Department position.

By a margin of 49 to 44, Robert Destro, a law professor at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, was confirmed by the Senate as the next Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joined Democrats in opposition to Destro’s confirmation.

“Robert Destro is one of the nation's experts on human rights, both in terms of international law and the moral basis for human rights,” Thomas Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute, told CNA in a statement, noting Destro’s experience both as a human rights scholar and activist “in the best sense of that term.”

Destro’s new role at the State Department is tasked with promoting democracy, civic and religious freedom around the world.

It “is the senior human rights position in American diplomacy,” Farr said, charged with promoting human rights “not simply as the right thing to do (which it is), but also as a strategic interest of the United States.”

“Destro will excel in both tasks,” Farr said.

Destro is the founding director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law & Religion at Catholic University; he previously served as a Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 1983 to 1989, addressing issues of discrimination on the basis of disability, national origin, and religion.

He has also served on the State Department’s Working Group on Religion in Foreign Affairs, as well as the special counsel for voting rights for the Ohio Secretary of State from 2004 to 2006.

Catholic University president John Garvey welcomed Destro's confirmation, calling him "one of the most treasured members of our law school faculty."

"This appointment is a unique opportunity for Bob to work at the highest levels of our nation’s government to protect the freedoms of all people, and in particular of those on the margins of societies around the globe," Garvey said. 

"I have no doubt that he will serve our nation as he served Catholic University, with great skill and dedication."

Stephen C. Payne, dean of Catholic’s law school, said he was “thrilled” by the appointment, and that in Destro the “country -- and the rest of the world -- is getting a strong advocate and leader for Democracy and Human Rights, and we wish him well.”

The appointment was also welcomed by Toufic Baaklini, president of the group In Defense of Christians (IDC), who cited Destro’s years of work with the group and called him “a critical leader in the fight for genocide recognition for victims of ISIS in Iraq and Syria” and “a powerful voice for religious freedom in the Middle East, and throughout the world.”

Senate Democrats questioned Destro at his confirmation hearing in March over the role of religion in foreign affairs as well as the redefinition of marriage.

Destro said that he would work to improve both training on religious freedom and understanding of the role of religion in foreign affairs within the State Department, and cited his own past work bringing various religious groups together on the international stage.

Destro said that he had learned from “the many years that I have been dealing with the State Department” that many at the agency “have had a hard time dealing with the issue of religion, and that’s one of the issues I’d like to bring to their attention.”

Later in the hearing, he explained that the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016—authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and signed into law by President Obama—required religious freedom training for all foreign service officers.

Destro said he would work to expand on that, saying that “not only do the foreign service officers need to be trained, but so do the lawyers at the State Department and at USAID.”

“I think that we need to bring people together, and I’ve devoted most of my career, for at least the last 16 years, to doing just that,” he said of bringing religious groups together.

Philosophy professor: Live Action, Facebook dispute shows definitions matter

Denver, Colo., Sep 18, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- A dispute has developed between Facebook fact checkers and a pro-life group about whether abortion is ever medically necessary. One philosophy professor suggested the key to resolving the discussion lies in a clear definition of abortion.

“I think the inherent ambiguity of ‘abortion’ – the gap between its medical and social meanings – gets used as a tool to muddy up the debate,” said Dr. Angela Knobel, a philosophy professor at The Catholic University of America.

In recent weeks, the investigative pro-life group Live Action has raised objections, after it was penalized by Facebook’s third-party fact-checking program.

Through a program launched in December 2016, Facebook uses more than 54 third-party fact-checking partners, who label content that they determine to be false or misleading. The fact-checkers must be certified through a non-partisan fact-checking network.

Pages that consistently publish or share information marked as “false” by fact-checkers are penalized with a reduction in their reach and the loss of the ability to advertise.

On Aug. 30, Live Action was informed that a video it had created and posted was labeled “false” by fact checkers, and that the distribution of their posts would be lowered as a result.

According to Live Action, the video featured a neonatal-perinatal physician and had been flagged as false because it made the claim that “abortion is never medically necessary.”

On the same day, Health Feedback, a website operated by Science Feedback, one of Facebook’s six U.S. fact-checking partners, published a feedback review of Live Action’s claim.

The Health Feedback review pulled from a website operated by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, which defines abortion as “a procedure to end a pregnancy. It uses medicine or surgery to remove the embryo or fetus and placenta from the uterus.”

The review charges that Live Action “redefines the meaning of abortion to exclude the cases when abortion is medically necessary,” in order, it said, to claim that abortion is not actually necessary.

The review cites the example of an ectopic pregnancy, in which an embryo implants outside the uterus. The embryo is unable to survive in this situation, which is also life-threatening to the mother if not promptly removed.

Live Action says that in such a case, removing the fallopian tube or a portion of it, is not an abortion because, although it results in the death of the unborn child,  it does not have as its goal the death of the child.

Knobel said the debate essentially comes down to definitions.

Live Action defines abortion as “the intentional killing of a preborn child.” In some cases when a medical emergency arises, the group says, it may be necessary to induce labor early, when the baby has little – or even no – chance of survival. But this differs from abortion, Live Action says, because the death of the baby is not intended, but rather accepted as an undesired outcome of treating the mother’s medical condition.

This distinction is important, Knobel said, because how one defines abortion determines whether one believes it is ever medically necessary.

“Live Action is referring correctly to the social meaning the term abortion has taken on — the direct, intentional killing of a pre-born child,” she said. In contrast, the Facebook fact checkers are “referring to the technical medical definition, and according to the very old, very technical, non-social medical definition, ‘abortion’ actually is sometimes medically necessary.”

Knobel suggested that the difference in the definitions can cause confusion.

“The medical meaning gets used as a tool to insist that what conservatives want will kill and oppress women,” she said. “Because when people read headlines, it’s the social, not the medical meaning of abortion they assume. So they come away believing that abortion (understood socially) is necessary for women’s health, when of course that’s not true.”

Live Action objected to the August fact-check, saying the doctors who carried it out also performed abortions, and that one is a board member of the pro-abortion group NARAL. Live Action said it is a violation of Facebook policy for fact-checkers to advocate on the issues they fact check.

On Sept. 12, Live Action founder Lila Rose said Facebook had removed the page violations and was investigating the matter. Rose said that Live Action could still face future penalties pending the result of that investigation.

But as pro-life legislation moves forward at both a state and federal level, the debate over definitions is not over. Knobel stressed that wording is important in preserving the legality of life-saving procedures that do not intend to end a human life.

For example, she said, a woman may spontaneously miscarry, but her body does not naturally expel the baby, and a dilation-and-curettage procedure is necessary to remove the baby’s body.

This is similar to the dilation-and-evacuation procedure commonly used in second trimester abortions. Using the procedure to remove the remains of already-deceased baby may fall under some technical definitions of abortion, but would not match the social definition of abortion, Knobel said.

A 2015 Oklahoma law currently being challenged in court bans dilation-and-evacuation abortions. But the text of the legislation explicitly clarifies that a procedure intending to save an unborn child’s life, or to remove the body of a dead unborn child, is not considered an abortion under the law.

This type of clarification is important to avoid confusion, Knobel said.

“[I]f our efforts ever succeed, we need to make sure we don’t make laws the prohibit things we don’t actually intend to prohibit.”