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Wealthy corporations back Equality Act stripped of religious freedom protections

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Denver, Colo., May 4, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Federal LGBT legislation that excludes important religious freedom protections has the backing of over 400 American corporations with trillions of dollars in annual revenue. 

More than 400 companies, including dozens of Fortune 500 companies, have joined a business coalition in support of the Equality Act, the LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign said on April 27. 

The Equality Act would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories under federal civil rights law, where race is currently protected. 

The legislation also prevents religious freedom claims from being made by individuals and groups under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The landmark 1993 law has been invoked by many as a defense against various government mandates, but the Equality Act would override those religious freedom protections.  

The U.S. bishops’ conference has thus warned that the Equality Act could “punish” religious groups which do not recognize same-sex “marriage” and transgender ideologies.

“Instead of respecting differences in beliefs about marriage and sexuality, the Equality Act would discriminate against people of faith,” the conference has said in an action alert.

The Equality Act passed the U.S. House in March, and is currently in the U.S. Senate. The 416 businesses supporting the legislation have their corporate headquarters in 33 U.S. states, reporting a combined $6.8 trillion in annual revenue and more than 14.6 million total employees.

In a Feb. 23 letter to Congress, five USCCB committee chairs said that passage of the bill would force “novel and divisive viewpoints regarding ‘gender’ on individuals and organizations.”

They said that the Equality Act would impose coercive mandates on religious institutions and people of faith. For instances, the bill could force church halls to host events that violate their beliefs, or threaten religious adoption agencies that cannot in good faith place children with same-sex couples, the USCCB said. Women would have to share shelters and locker rooms with biological males identifying as transgender females, under the legislation. 

The Human Rights Campaign’s announcement in favor of the bill cited the support of corporate leaders from American Airlines, Levi Strauss & Co., and the Dow Chemical Company.

Carla Grant Pickens, global chief diversity and inclusion officer for the technology company IBM, praised the bill as a positive step for innovation. She said that “a workforce that reflects the diversity of today's society drives new ideas and innovation.”

“At IBM, we seek to hire the most talented individuals regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or other personal characteristics. We also believe that equal protections should extend beyond an employer's four walls, which is why IBM stands with HRC in endorsing the Equality Act,” Grant Pickens said.

“It's time that civil rights protections be extended to LGBT+ individuals nationwide on a clear, consistent, and comprehensive basis,” she said. 

Arguing for the legislation, the Human Rights Campaign said that even if a self-identified LGBTQ person works for an employer with strong anti-discrimination policy, “that employee and their family members can still experience discrimination in other areas of life and have no legal recourse.” The group claimed that a lack of explicit non-discrimination protections mean that employees can be denied healthcare, loans, housing and “basic goods and services.”

The LGBT advocacy group said that corporate endorsements of the legislation have more than doubled since 2019, when the U.S. House passed a version of the bill. It cited a Hart Research Associates poll, which said that 70% of Americans and 50% of Republicans now back the legislation.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) was critical of anti-discrimination legislation on the basis of sexual orientation, in a 1992 document. While rejecting violence and malice against people, the CDF said that sexual orientation “does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc. in respect to non-discrimination.”

“Unlike these, homosexual orientation is an objective disorder, and evokes moral concern,” said the Vatican document.

“There are areas in which it is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account, for example, in the placement of children for adoption or foster care, in employment of teachers or athletic coaches, and in military recruitment,” said the CDF.

Legislation similar to the proposed Equality Act - barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity - has been enacted in several states and localities. 

Religious adoption agencies in several states have had to close, for declining to place children with same-sex couples as mandated by state or local laws. Business owners have faced lawsuits for declining to bake same-sex wedding cakes or photograph same-sex wedding ceremonies as required by nondiscrimination ordinances. In Connecticut, a state policy allowed for biological males identifying as transgender females to compete in girls’ sports. 

The Human Rights Campaign reported $44.6 million in annual revenue in 2019, according to tax forms. It lists many national corporate partners on its website in a four-tiered system of “platinum,” “gold,” “silver,” and “bronze.”

Current “Platinum Level” sponsors include American Airlines, Apple, the Coca-Cola Company, Smirnoff, Google, Intel, Lyft, Microsoft, Nationwide, Northrop-Grumman, Pfizer, Target and UPS.

The organization’s gold-level partners include CapitalOne, Carnival, Lexus, Nike, and Nordstrom.

As CNA previously reported, several NGOs are making a major push to strip religious freedom protections where they conflict with LGBT causes, or with access to abortion and contraception. Major donors like the Ford Foundation, the Arcus Foundation, and the Proteus Fund have dedicated millions of dollars in earmarked grants toward campaigns to redefine or marginalize religious freedom protections.

Such donors poured over $100 million into the decades-long effort to recognize same-sex unions as marriage. The Human Rights Campaign said that in 2015, 379 major corporations signed onto an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to mandate legal recognition of same-sex “marriage.”

USCCB applauds Biden for raising limit on refugee admissions

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Washington D.C., May 4, 2021 / 11:30 am (CNA).

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Tuesday praised the Biden Administration for its decision to raise the refugee ceiling.

“As a nation of immigrants, we have a moral obligation to help our brothers and sisters around the world who are in need. The updated refugee admissions cap is a step in the right direction to help those who need it most,” said Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington and chair of the USCCB’s migration committee, in a statement on Tuesday. 

On Monday, May 3, the Biden Administration announced that it would be increasing the limit on the number of refugees admitted to the United States for the 2021 fiscal year; the new cap for refugee admissions has now been set at 62,500.

Dorsonville said the bishops were “pleased” at the decision, adding that it is “a crucial step toward rebuilding the crippled Refugee Admissions Program.”

“We view this number as a stepping stone toward the Administration’s stated goal of 125,000 admissions, a figure more consistent with our values and capabilities as a nation,” he said. 

Addressing the 40th anniversary celebration of Jesuit Refugee Services in November, Biden had announced his goal of eventually resettling 125,000 refugees. In executive actions signed on Feb. 4, he said he intended to make reforms to U.S. refugee admissions, with the goal of resettling 125,000 refugees in the 2022 fiscal year.

“For decades, the United States has been a leader in refugee resettlement,” Dorsonville said on Tuesday. “We are in the midst of the greatest forced displacement crisis of our lifetime and know that there are more than 26 million refugees worldwide and more than 47 million people who are internally displaced.”

The bishop added that it was “imperative” that the United States act to “ensure the safety of these individuals and their families,” and that welcoming refugees is in line with the Church’s teaching on human dignity. 

“It is more important now than ever that our country continue to lead as we address this humanitarian emergency,” he said. 

While President Biden had previously signaled his intent to raise the refugee ceiling, he did not issue a final determination to do so during the initial weeks of his administration. The delay frustrated immigration and refugee groups, who told CNA last month they were “disappointed” at the slow pace of refugee admissions.

According to the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit that assists refugees, as of mid-April only 2,050 refugees had been admitted to the United States in the 2021 fiscal year. Biden issued a draft “Presidential Determination” in February that would have raised the refugee cap to 62,500, but he did not sign it. 

On April 16, about eight weeks after the draft Presidential Determination was issued, the Biden administration said it would be keeping the refugee cap at 15,000 for the current fiscal year, a number which was set by former President Donald Trump. The limit of 15,000 was the lowest-recorded number in the history of the refugee resettlement program.

Later that day, Press Secretary Jen Psaki clarified that “The President’s directive today has been the subject of some confusion.” and added that the president “has been consulting with his advisors to determine what number of refugees could realistically be admitted to the United States between now and October 1.” 

Psaki said that a new refugee cap would be announced by May 15; on Monday, Biden raised the cap.

According to the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR), the number of people forcibly displaced worldwide is nearly 80 million. There are nearly 26 million refugees around the globe, UNHCR says.

The bishops and Catholic Relief Services did praise previous actions by the Biden administration on immigration, including the lifting of a Trump-era travel ban from several Muslim-majority and African countries. Bishop Dorsonville also praised Biden’s action on April 16 to allow for prompt admission of refugees from certain geographic areas.

The Obama administration had set a target for resettling 110,000 refugees in the 2017 fiscal year, but President Trump declared a halt to refugee admissions after he took office and ultimately set a limit of 50,000 refugees to be resettled that year. His administration progressively lowered the refugee cap to the initial 2021 limit of 15,000.

Vermont diocese says immigration delays forcing the departure of four priests

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Washington D.C., May 4, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

The Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, says that four immigrant priests will be forced to return to their home countries for 12 months, due to visa renewal delays in the United States. 

Five Vermont parishes will be left without a priest in residence due to the development. A spokesperson for the diocese explained that the visa renewal process currently takes much longer than it used to.

“We were recently informed that the [visa renewal] process now takes four times longer for several reasons: stricter screening process, reduction of staff to process applications, and the pandemic/remote work," Ellen Kane, executive director of development & communication for the Diocese of Burlington, told CNA on Tuesday. 

According to the diocese, visa renewal applications for the priests were submitted within the typical timeframe, but now will not be renewed in time. 

Three of the priests affected are from the Philippines, while the fourth is from Nigeria. All four were legally residing in the United States under a religious worker visa. 

In a press release from the diocese, Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington said that this situation was “completely unexpected” and prompted “a significant number” of priest transfers to help fill parish vacancies. The early stage of the visa renewal process usually takes about four months, he said, but now takes around 17-18 months. 

“My staff began the process for the green cards in what we understood to be a timely fashion only to discover that we were at least a year too late for the priests to be able to stay,” said Coyne. “Even though these priests want to stay with their parishes here in Vermont, they must go home now so that they can return to Vermont in 12 months.”

Along with retirements and transfers, five parishes in the diocese will not have a priest in residence for the coming year. The Diocese of Burlington has shuffled priests around in an attempt to mitigate the unexpected shortage of clergy.  

“I’ve tried to do everything I can to make sure that as many parishes and churches will continue to have pastors to care for them and I think we will be okay,” Coyne said. “I know it will be difficult for a while for those ‘priest-less’ parishes, but we will try and provide as much coverage as possible for Sunday Mass and the sacraments.”

The five parishes without a priest in residence are located throughout the state. 

The diocese announced a total of 17 clergy transfers - 16 priests and one deacon who will be serving as a temporary administrator of a parish - in the press release on Monday. Most of the changes will go into effect on July 1. 

The Diocese of Burlington is the only Catholic diocese in the state of Vermont. 

 

 

Former altar boy buys Akron church: ‘I’ll make sure it’s still taken care of’

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Denver, Colo., May 4, 2021 / 10:24 am (CNA).

A former altar boy with close family ties to a former Catholic parish in Akron, Ohio, now has a different connection to the church’s edifice: he owns it. 

Christ the King Catholic Church in North Akron, Ohio has been vacant since November 2009, after the Cleveland diocese merged its congregation with two nearby parishes. Sacred items - including the altar, statues, and stained glass windows - have since been removed from the church, reported the Akron Beacon Journal. 

It was also the Catholic parish where Joe Breiding grew up. Breiding, a former altar boy and now an accountant and businessman, recently purchased the church complex from the Diocese of Cleveland. 

The property reportedly includes the church, rectory, a school building and two ballfields. The school building has been used by a charter school for the past seven years. 

The Breiding family, with parents Dick and Elizabeth and twelve children including Joe, lived across the street from the church as the children grew up. 

Breiding says he bought the building primarily as a “business investment,” but it still retains great sentimental value. 

“I’ll make sure that it’s still taken care of,” he said. 

Breiding and his business partner told the Akron Beacon Journal that they hope to renovate and lease the church building to a new congregation, and plan to market the rectory as a space for professional offices. The school building will remain home to the charter school. 

As a backup plan for the church, if a religious congregation cannot be found, Breiding says he would consider turning it into an “athletic facility.”

Christ the King parish was originally founded in the 1930s with a Croatian congregation; the original church was demolished in the 1950s for the construction of a new expressway, and a new church was consecrated in 1959 with a convent on the property, which has since been demolished. 

Joe Breiding’s grandfather Leonard had offered the congregation the original land on which the 1959 church sits today, near what was once the family farm. 

Breiding says his family was very involved in the parish’s life throughout his entire childhood. He was baptized at Christ the King, and as an altar boy who lived so close to the church, he says he was called in to serve “thousands of Masses and funerals and weddings” over the years. Breiding was also married at the church in 1996. 

He says one of his favorite things to do in the church building he now owns is to play the organ - something the nuns who educated him and his peers never allowed. 

“Growing up, you never were allowed to play the organ,” Breiding said. “So when I bought it, my mission was to figure out how to turn on the organ. And I figured it out.”

Church official visits Cuban dissident leader on hunger strike

San Cristobal Cathedral, Havana / nodff/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 3, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

The chancellor of the Archdiocese of Havana reportedly visited Cuban dissident Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara on April 30, and attempted to persuade him to end his hunger strike.

Alcántara heads the civil society San Isidro Movement and has been on a hunger strike without food or water since April 25, demanding the Cuban government respect his freedom of expression.

The Palabra Nueva (New Word) magazine published by the archdiocese of Havana, reported April 30 that “at the request of Cardinal Juan de la Caridad García, Archbishop of Havana, the Chancellor of the Archdiocese, Msgr. Ramón Suárez Polcari, visited this afternoon Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who went on a hunger strike six days ago.”

“The Church official ‘went to see the young artist to ask him to desist from the strike, but he was unsuccessful in his endeavor,” the magazine reported.

Palabra Nueva reported that Polcari and Alcántara “talked for an hour.”

“On behalf of the Church, the Cuban priest said the priority is to save the life of the young man and avoid suicide, however, he acknowledges that the activist remains firm in his decision,” the magazine reported.

The San Isidro Movement, which takes the name of the neighborhood where it is based, is a group of Cuban artists that has carried out protests in the Cuban capital. In November 2020, some 300 people peacefully demonstrated outside the Ministry of Culture for freedom of expression.

The website of the artist group has pointed to “the urgent need to call all Cuban men and women, living inside or outside of Cuba, to a National Dialogue to aspire to build a country that represents a safe home for all its sons and daughters.”

Alcántara charged that several weeks ago, members of State Security came into his house and took away his artwork. The dissident leader has been on a hunger strike in his home, which is under surveillance by government agents.

On May 2, the Havana Provincial Board of Health reported that Alcántara, who was on the eighth day of his hunger strike, was taken early that morning to the General Calixto García University Hospital emergency room. 

According to officials, the dissident was diagnosed with “voluntary starvation” and arrived “in a state of consciousness and walking around without difficulty.” They indicated that “there are no signs of malnutrition,” that the patient “shows normal clinical and biochemical parameters,” and that Alcántara “remains in stable condition." 

“A team of specialists is continuing appropriate medical care. He remains under observation based on the aforementioned reasons” that he was admitted to the hospital, the medical update stated.

However, members of the San Isidro Movement charged on Twitter that their leader “was taken away by force” and questioned how it can be said "he has no signs of malnutrition and dehydration if he has been on a hunger strike without food or water for more than seven days.”

“We demand transparency, and that’s not a favor, you are an institution and you must serve the people. Someone should explain why with that diagnosis it was necessary to be admitted [to the hospital]. If he’s okay, it should come out in the press,” they demanded on social media.

According to the most recent annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the Cuban government cracked down on the San Isidro Movement in November 2020.

“Cuban authorities harassed, surveilled, and stopped some protesters from leaving their homes, including preventing individuals from attending religious services,” USCIRF reported, adding that “Catholic officials were reportedly blocked from visiting protesters.”

New online course aims to foster devotion to St. Joseph

St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus, by Guido Reni. / Public Domain

Denver, Colo., May 3, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

A new online course to be offered by the Archdiocese of Denver this summer will aim to teach lessons from St. Joseph, in honor of the ongoing Year of St. Joseph. 

The course for both men and women will be taught by Daniel Campbell, director of Denver’s St. John Vianney Seminary Lay Division. He told CNA that the course is intended to offer an intensive, in-depth study of Jesus’ foster father, based primarily on Scripture. 

Pope Francis in December declared a Year of St. Joseph, in honor of the 150th anniversary of Blessed Pius IX declaring the saint patron of the Universal Church. 

"It's not just a great opportunity to learn about Joseph, but in the Year of St. Joseph it's such a great chance to expose ourselves to the graces of his intercession," Campbell told CNA of his course. 

The Denver seminary’s Lay Division holds many programs of study throughout the year, he said, the main two programs being a four-year biblical school and two-year catechetical school. While the courses were previously accessible only to the faithful of Colorado, anyone may now join for the six-week St. Joseph course, as it is being offered online.  

The online course will span six weeks, with lectures taking place on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the mornings (9:30-11:30 a.m.) and evenings (6:30-8:30 p.m.), beginning on Tuesday, July 13. All four lectures each week will be the same, so people can choose the day and time that works best for them each week, Campbell says. 

The course curriculum will use Scripture as its basis, working through the basic chronology of St. Joseph’s life and explaining the theological significance of events involving him. 

The course will also offer meditations on the genealogy of Christ - which is also Joseph's genealogy - as well as on Joseph’s response to significant Scriptural events including the Incarnation, Christ’s birth, the adoration of the Magi and the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt. 

Joseph is famously silent in Scripture, but Campbell says he also plans to use the writings of Church fathers and various saints to offer insightful meditations and “logical inferences” about St. Joseph, and about what Joseph was likely thinking and experiencing during his life. 

"There's really a lot there, even if it doesn't seem like much," Campbell said. 

The saints are not abstract theories, Campbell noted, emphasizing that they are real people. Thus, he hopes the logical inferences about St. Joseph’s life will help participants to relate to Joseph personally, and thus grow in devotion to him. 

One such inference, he noted, is the fact that Joseph likely was the first to receive the Magi when they came to visit the Christ child following the Nativity. Since Joseph was likely the one to introduce these foreigners to Jesus, Campbell notes that Joseph is a great intercessor to ask for help if we want to introduce others to Christ. 

The course will also seek to teach participants lessons from St. Joseph about the moral life and prayer. 

Campbell says the fact that Joseph was given such an incredible task as Jesus’ earthly father - and that his affirmative response was so immediate - makes him a great example of trust and virtue for all Christians. 

One of the Church’s approved titles for Joseph is “Terror of Demons,” a title that Campbell says makes sense theologically in the context of Jesus as the chief exorcist, the one to Whom all demons are subject. 

Despite Jesus’ obvious superiority as the Son of God, He nonetheless submitted himself to Joseph's authority as His earthly father. Christians should accordingly foster a devotion to St. Joseph because, Campbell notes, Jesus chose to be under his “rule,” care, and guide, and Christians can choose to do the same. 

Campbell said in a course such as this about St. Joseph, husbands, fathers, and men are an obvious target audience. But he said it is his goal to make the course relevant for spouses, parents, and Christians - both men and women. 

“Whoever you are, whatever state in life, he is a great model of virtue and prayer,” Campbell said. 

Campbell noted that the archdiocese is currently running a tuition promotion: the St. Joseph course costs $100, but for those who sign up for both the class and a year-long course in the fall, they receive $100 off the class. 

States continue ‘unprecedented’ surge of pro-life bills

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Washington D.C., May 3, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

A multitude of pro-life bills passed through state legislatures last week, creating new protections for the unborn around the country. 

Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) signed the state’s “heartbeat” bill into law on April 27, banning most abortions after a child’s heartbeat can be detected - usually around six weeks into pregnancy. The bill makes exceptions for cases of rape and incest. 

“Idaho is a state that values the most innocent of all lives – the lives of babies,” Little said. “We should never relent in our efforts to protect the lives of the preborn.” 

Unlike other “heartbeat” bills, Idaho’s legislation has a “trigger” provision; it will not go into effect until similar legislation in another state has been upheld by a federal appeals court. Presently, all attempts at passing “heartbeat” abortion bans have been blocked by federal courts; South Carolina’s “heartbeat” bill was temporarily blocked from going into effect by a federal judge in March.

On April 26, Gov. Greg Gianforte of Montana (R) signed three pro-life bills, including a “Pain-Capable” ban on abortions when an unborn child is determined to be capable of feeling pain - usually around 20 weeks into pregnancy. He also signed bills requiring that a mother see an ultrasound of her child before having an abortion, and restricting abortion-inducing drugs. 

“Life is precious and ought to be protected,” Gianforte said in a tweet. “Today, I proudly signed into law bills to protect the life of our most vulnerable, the unborn.”

The enactment of pro-life bills is the continuation of efforts at the state level to put restrictions in place on abortion. According to a report published April 30 by the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, 536 pro-life bills have been introduced in 46 states in the year 2021, with 61 new pro-life laws.

“The unprecedented surge of pro-life activity in state legislatures this year proves life is winning in America,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List. 

“The 61 new laws enacted and hundreds of bills introduced include legislation to stop late-term abortions after five months of pregnancy, end lethal discrimination against unborn children for reasons like a Down syndrome diagnosis, protect unborn babies from the moment their heartbeat can be detected, safeguard women from dangerous abortion drugs, and more,” she said.

On April 26, Oklahoma’s governor Kevin Stitt (R) signed three pro-life bills into law. The bills include a “heartbeat” abortion ban, a bill requiring abortionists to get a certification in obstetrics and gynecology, and a measure adding abortion to the list of unprofessional conduct by doctors.

The next day on April 27, Stitt signed S.B. 918, automatically outlawing abortions in the state if the Supreme Court were to ever overturn the abortion rulings Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson also signed a bill on April 27 requiring all facilities that perform abortions to obtain a license by the state Department of Health. Hutchinson previously signed a near-total ban on abortions in the state earlier this year, which will take effect at the end of the legislative term and is expected to be challenged in court.

Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona (R) signed a bill last week prohibiting abortions done solely because of a nonlethal genetic abnormality, such as Down syndrome. The state already prohibits race and sex-selective abortions. The new law also recognizes the civil rights of unborn children.

Earlier this year, other states advanced a number of pro-life bills. The Tennessee legislature approved a bill in April that would require medical providers to bury or cremate the bodies of aborted babies. 

The Florida state Senate introduced a “Pain-Capable” abortion ban in March. 

The Texas Senate passed six pro-life bills in March, including one banning abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy and one that would ban abortion outright should the Supreme Court overturn Roe.

Biden raises refugee admissions cap to 62,500

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Washington D.C., May 3, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

President Joe Biden on Monday raised the refugee admissions cap for the current fiscal year, more than quadrupling the current limit.

In a White House statement on Monday afternoon, Biden said he was raising the limit on U.S. refugee admissions to 62,500 from 15,000, for the 2021 fiscal year. The raise comes as the White House was criticized for keeping the Trump-era refugee cap in place – which was at the lowest-recorded level for the U.S. refugee admissions program.

Biden admitted, however, that a goal of resettling 62,500 refugees by the end of September is unreachable.

“The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year,” he stated on Monday. He said that the current limit of 15,000 refugees “did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees,” and promised to improve the resettlement program, with a goal of resettling 125,000 refugees in the 2022 fiscal year.

“It is important to take this action today to remove any lingering doubt in the minds of refugees around the world who have suffered so much, and who are anxiously waiting for their new lives to begin,” he stated.

In November, Biden promised to raise the refugee ceiling to 125,000 in his remarks to a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Jesuit Refugee Services.

For months after his inauguration, however, refugee advocates pointed out that he had yet to issue a final determination to officially increase the refugee cap. Meanwhile, refugee admissions had reportedly slowed to a trickle, with the International Rescue Committee noting on April 12 that the United States had only resettled 2,050 refugees in the 2021 fiscal year.

Bill Canny, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) migration committee, told CNA on April 14 that he was “absolutely” disappointed with refugee admissions and added that he was "very disturbed that without a presidential determination, refugee resettlement has effectively been halted."

On April 16, the White House said it would keep the current refugee cap of 15,000; later that day, however, the White House reversed its position and said Biden expected to raise the refugee limit by May 15.

The chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee – Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C. – said on April 19 that the cap of 15,000 was “far short of what we can do as a country,” adding that he expected the administration to raise the cap as promised. He pushed for the administration to retool the refugee admissions program with the goal of eventually resettling 125,000 refugees.

Biden also said on April 16 that he would act to allow for refugees from certain regions to begin traveling to the United States within days. Due to this action, travel preparations are currently underway for more than 2,000 refugees who were previously excluded from admissions, the White House said on Monday.

According to Monday's announcement, refugee admissions for 2021 will be allocated by region.

For Africa, the new admissions ceiling is 22,000 refugees; for the Near East and South Asia, a limit of 13,000 refugees will be accepted. For East Asia, the cap is 6,000, while the refugee limit for Latin America and the Caribbean will be 5,000. For Europe and Central Asia, the cap is 4,000 refugees. An “unallocated reserve” is designated for 12,500 refugees.

Catholic sister: Pro-lifers must be ‘battle ready’ to defend the family

Lisa Bourne/Heartbeat International

Washington D.C., May 3, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

Catholics must be “battle ready” to defend the family and their faith, said Sister Deirdre Byrne, POSC, at an international pro-life conference on April 30. 

Byrne, a member of the Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, is a surgeon and a retired colonel in the U.S. Army. She serves as the superior of her community and works at a medical clinic in Washington, D.C.  

“We have to be prepared, battle ready” as “soldiers for Christ in this dark time, where every day, things seem to be ramping up about things that are against the family and faith,” she said to the 50th annual conference of the pro-life group Heartbeat International; the conference was held in-person and streamed online for attendees. 

Heartbeat International is an association of pro-life pregnancy resource centers, medical clinics, maternity homes, and nonprofit adoption agencies. It says it is the largest association of pro-life pregnancy resource centers in the world.

The annual conference offers training for staff, board members, and volunteers at pregnancy clinics and other pro-life ministries, along with health care and social workers. 

Byrne has spoken openly about her political beliefs, as she addressed the August 2020 Republican National Convention in support of President Trump on the life issue. On Friday, however, she explained that the “battle” facing Catholics is not a partisan one. 

“This battle we face is not a battle between Republicans and the Democrats, it’s not conservatives or liberals, or left versus right,” said Byrne. “This is a battle between the devil, who is real, and Our Lord.”

Byrne said that Catholics must “fight with love” and continue to pray for elected officials. 

“We have to pray for the president, we have to pray for the [Speaker Nancy Pelosi], we have to pray for all these people, these politicians who are wanting to make the abortion pill over the counter so people will be able to take it like bubble gum or Tylenol,” she said. 

The Biden administration recently suspended regulations of the abortion pill regimen during the pandemic, allowing for it to be prescribed and dispensed remotely instead of at a health clinic setting as previously required.

“We have to pray for these people because their soul is in a mortal state,” she said of pro-abortion elected officials.

Part of Byrne’s work at her order’s Washington, D.C. medical clinic involves attempting to reverse the effects of the abortion pill. A chemical abortion is a two-step process; the first pill cuts off the supply of nutrients to the unborn baby, and the second causes the uterus to expel the deceased baby. 

“Abortion pill reversal” can occur with varying degrees of success after the first pill is taken. Byrne said on Friday that her work on abortion pill reversals has been “an incredible blessing,” and that about 60% of women who seek to reverse the effects of the first drug are able to continue their pregnancies. 

During her career in the army and as a missionary, Byrne explained that she had extensive experience with injuries and death in the wake of conflict and natural disasters. She said it was “horrible to see man’s inhumanity to man” in conflict settings. 

Abortion, however, is “the greatest” inhumanity,” she said. “It’s really bad because people don’t even think about it anymore, it’s become a natural thing.” 

Catholics will be forced to take a stand and “pick sides” in the figurative battle, she said. 

“We know that God is in charge and that He’s far greater than the devil,” said Byrne.

“It is He that’s going to make things better. And so we have to be just there, prayer warriors and be battle ready.”

Reckoning with history, Long Island diocese names 101 clergy accused of sex abuse

Cathedral of St. Agnes, Rockville Centre, New York / Nassau Crew via Wikimedia (CC0 1.0)

Washington D.C., May 3, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

The Diocese of Rockvillle Centre has released a list of 101 diocesan clergy it believes to be credibly accused of sex abuse of minors. The list is not meant to be complete, and most allegations date back decades.

The list comes amid lawsuits from alleged clergy sex abuse victims and other compensation efforts in the New York diocese, which is one of the largest in the U.S.

“The list is not exhaustive,” said the introduction to the April 22 list. “The fact that this list may not include the name of the accused clergy who sexually abused you does not mean that you should not file a Sexual Abuse Proof of Claim Form.”

The names of 101 accused clergy are listed on the document, published at the website of Epiq Corporate Restructuring, LLC. The list names priests and deacons that the diocese’s review board determined to have a “credible” allegation of abuse against them. It also names clergy who faced an allegation through the diocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program that resulted in a payment to the alleged victim.

The list also names the clergy assignments and locations where they have been accused of abuse. Some clergy on the list have been in active ministry recently, but many have not been in ministry for decades.

The diocese said it had not previously published a list “because of ongoing investigations, privacy issues, as well as potential legal considerations. The inclusion of any name does not represent an admission of guilt on the part of the accused.”

The diocese’s territory on Long Island includes the counties of Nassau and Suffolk. It serves some 1.4 million Catholics out of 3 million residents, one of the largest dioceses by population in the U.S. Currently the diocese has about 130 parishes and about 390 priests in active ministry, with some 220 of these being priests of the diocese, according to the diocese’s website.

In October 2020 the diocese announced it would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, after more than 200 new clergy sex abuse lawsuits were filed against the diocese. In March the diocese announced the sale of its $5.2 million pastoral center to help pay creditors.

The diocese said that it prayed that the compensation program and the Chapter 11 bankruptcy processes “will offer some measure of healing and reconciliation to the survivors of clergy sexual abuse.” It said it is working with its creditors on “a robust media campaign” so that sexual abuse survivors will know they have until Aug. 14 to file all claims.

Sean Dolan, a spokesperson for the diocese, told CNA on April 30 the bankruptcy court set the criteria for the list of clergy, not the Church.

“It is a matter of public record that the court determined the objective criteria for the list and the diocese was simply following the court order,” he said. “The diocese will continue that cooperation as we seek some measure of healing for survivors of abuse and maintain the highest standards for child protection.”

Others involved in diocesan finances and clergy sex abuse litigation have lists that name other clergy as alleged abusers.

A committee of the diocese’s unsecured creditors has published the names of 46 clergy not included on the list who at some point served in the Rockville Centre diocese’s territory, which was part of the Diocese of Brooklyn until 1957. 

The committee said it “has not independently investigated the allegations of sexual abuse against the people listed” and “does not assert that the allegations of sexual abuse against them are true.” Those named on the committee’s list either faced lawsuits accusing them of abuse or another diocese or religious order had found allegations against them to be credible.    

Those names include Bishop John McGann, who served as the second bishop of the Rockville Centre diocese from 1976 to 2000. Two women and a man have filed a lawsuit against the late bishop in October 2019. They allege that McGann, other priests, and a church groundskeeper abused them when they were children.

The creditors’ list, posted at LongIslandChurchCommittee.com, includes some priests who have not served in decades, including a priest ordained in 1916 who died in 1980, but was named as credibly accused by the Diocese of Brooklyn. The list also includes religious orders’ clergy, who tend to be under the jurisdiction of their religious order, not the diocese.

Jeff Anderson & Associates, a law firm specializing in Catholic clergy abuse lawsuits, in April released a database of 144 clergy accused of abuse in lawsuits the law firm says involves the Rockville Centre diocese.

Trusha Goffe, an attorney with Jeff Anderson and Associates, said the Rockville Centre diocese had been the only New York diocese that had not released a list of accused clergy.

“It was a decision made by this bankruptcy judge, that part of reaching survivors included the diocese being compelled to put out a list of names like this,” Goffe told the Bronx news station News 12.

On April 22 the law firm listed four “notable” alleged abusers not included on the diocese’s list but named on the creditors’ committee list, who have at least one lawsuit filed against them.  These alleged abusers include Bishop McCann, accused in one lawsuit; Harold Cox, accused in 11 lawsuits; Romano J. Ferraro, accused in 21 lawsuits; and Alan Placa, accused in two lawsuits both involving the Rockville Centre diocese.

Dolan told CNA the diocese is not commenting on particular cases but is addressing them in “appropriate legal forums.”