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N Ireland sees effort to recall Assembly ahead of abortion changes

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Oct 18, 2019 / 12:23 am (CNA).- Pro-life groups in Northern Ireland are hopeful that there is sufficient support in the legislature to block an expansion of legal abortion from going into effect next week.

According to the Belfast Telegraph, the pro-life group Both Lives Matter says 30 members of the legislative assembly have pledged to ask the Speaker to recall the Assembly, which the Speaker will be obligated to do under Northern Ireland law.

In order to block the new abortion measures from taking place, however, an Executive would need to be formed, which is unlikely before the Monday deadline, the Belfast Telegraph reports.

The British parliament voted in July to add same-sex marriage and a loosening of abortion restrictions as amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, which is designed to keep the region running amid a protracted deadlock in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

If Northern Ireland Assembly is not reconvened by Oct. 21, the expansion of abortion rights and the legalization of same-sex marriage will take effect. Secretary Julian Smith would be mandated to put the laws into effect by March 31, 2020.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has been suspended for the past two years due to a dispute between the two major governing parties. The DUP, the largest party, is opposed to changing the law. Sinn Féin, another prominent party in Northern Ireland, backs a liberalization of the abortion law.

The DUP has said it is ready to return to the Assembly “immediately without pre-conditions,” according to local media reports.

Talks over the matter are being held Thursday and Friday.

“The British and Irish Governments both share the view that there remains an opportunity in the coming days to reach an accommodation,” Northern Ireland minister Robin Walker said Wednesday, according to the Guardian.

“One only has to look at the passionate and sincere demonstrations in recent weeks on both sides of this issue to appreciate that this remains a highly sensitive matter in Northern Ireland,” he said, adding that in the government’s view, it is preferable to have the matter decided by the Northern Ireland assembly.

Labour MP Stella Creasy criticized Walker for his statement, arguing that the UK government was only in favor of a quick resolution that handed power back to the Northern Ireland assembly because UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson saw a need to secure DUP support for his Brexit negotiation plan.

The DUP has said that it does not support Johnson’s plan, arguing that its provisions on customs and value-added tax rates are not in Northern Ireland’s best interest.

Leaders of the Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and the Irish Council of Churches, have called on their congregations to pray and lobby against the abortion changes, saying, “There is no evidence that these [legal] changes reflect the will of the people affected by them, as they were not consulted. They go far beyond the ‘hard cases’ some have been talking about.”

Last year, the Republic of Ireland held a referendum in which voters repealed the country’s pro-life protections, which had recognized the life of both mothers and their babies. Irish legislators then enacted legislation allowing legal abortion in what had long been a Catholic and pro-life stronghold.

Elective abortion is legal in the rest of the United Kingdom up to 24 weeks, while currently it is legally permitted in Northern Ireland only if the mother's life is at risk or if there is risk of permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health.

Northern Irish women have been able to procure free National Health Service abortions in England, Scotland, and Wales since November 2017.

The UK government’s plans to decriminalize abortion in Northern Ireland has garnered opposition from hundreds of health professionals in the region, who the BBC reports have written to Secretary Smith expressing opposition and calling for reassurance that as “conscientious objectors,” they will not have to perform or assist abortions.
 
 

 

New hotline connects women in crisis pregnancies to resources, community 

Austin, Texas, Oct 17, 2019 / 05:06 pm (CNA).- When Pamela Whitehead takes a call for LoveLine, a new pregnancy helpline, she listens.

“Too often we think we know what a woman needs and we don't really listen to what she says to us,” Whitehead told CNA, “and I think if we listen long enough, we really hear her need.”

In one recent call to the helpline, Whitehead said she listened to a woman who, at first, thought her biggest need was rent money.

The young woman from Arizona had three children with her boyfriend and had just found out she was pregnant with their fourth. Facing extreme pressure from her boyfriend and family to abort, the woman was sure she would be kicked out of her house for refusing the abortion, and said she needed rent money to prevent her from being homeless.

“So I simply asked her the question, do you want to have an abortion? And she said no,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead said she reassured the woman that no one could force her to have an abortion. She suggested to the woman on the phone that she should first try humanizing the baby to her family - telling her mom how much she would love another grandbaby, and telling her boyfriend how much better their lives would be for having another child.

“And you know what she did? She went back and she stood up for herself and she spoke to her family and they actually...turned around and she ended up not having an abortion,” Whitehead said.

“So while what she thought she needed was some material resources, what she actually needed was empowerment and confidence, and that's what we were able to provide for her.”

That story is just one of many hopeful stories that have come from the newly-released LoveLine, Whitehead said, which is a pro-life helpline, founded by former abortion clinic worker Abby Johnson, who is now a pro-life advocate. The helpline connects pregnant or post-abortive women in need to the proper resources. Sometimes that means public assistance or private donations or simply a community of like-minded pro-life people. Often, it is some combination of all three.

LoveLine is a new project under the larger umbrella organization of ProLove Ministries, which houses multiple pro-life projects founded by Johnson. The organization was a spin-off of And Then There Were None, a support organization for abortion clinic workers who are leaving the abortion industry.

Through LoveLine, women in need can text, chat or call the helpline and talk to someone about what they’re going through and the resources that they need. The project hopes to respond to a “gap in services.”

“There's a population of women who are in need who aren't being served,” Whitehead explained.

Usually, she said, it’s because the resources that women in crisis pregnancies need are either unavailable, hidden, or delayed. Public assistance is often delivered on a first-come first-served basis, Whitehead noted, and by the time a woman connects to those services, there can be a long line ahead of her before she actually gets the help that she needs.

“For instance, if all of a sudden (a woman’s) partner leaves her, whether it's her spouse or her boyfriend, and she's accustomed to having a two-income household...that puts her in a major situation,” Whitehead said.

“While her pregnancy wasn't a so-called crisis, all of a sudden the pregnancy becomes a precipitating factor for her because it's just one more thing. And so she's looking at her situation and she's considering all of her options, and one of those oftentimes is abortion because it's like, well, he's left me, now what?”

LoveLine wants to be there to fill in those gaps, Whitehead said. Some other examples of assistance that the group has provided so far to women in need include baby registries, diapers and food assistance, referrals to pro-life doctors, rent assistance through private donations, and referrals to vetted, untapped public assistance.

Any public assistance or service that LoveLine refers to is first vetted by staff or volunteers to make sure that it can actually provide what the woman needs in a timely manner.

“If we are going to send her to an organization or to an individual or to a social service resource, I'm going to call that resource in advance...and make sure this woman's going to hear ‘yes.’ Because it's overwhelming when the pressures of life are on top of you and you're trying to just make it through and you've got 10 decisions you've got to deal with,” Whitehead said.

“We want to give her a yes,” she added. “So whatever that takes, we want her to say yes and feel empowered, so that means we have to vet resources.”

“So we connect, we care, we make a commitment and we offer community.”

The community aspect of LoveLine’s promise often comes in the form of volunteers spread throughout the country who offer to help with various needs of the project, Whitehead said. When baby registries are set up for women in need, for example, everything is sent to a volunteer’s house, where the goods are unpacked, sorted and personally delivered, so that the woman is not overwhelmed with receiving dozens of packages at her house. They have also helped connect women with pro-life moms’ groups in their own areas. Whitehead said she was personally delivering a highchair and some maternity clothes to a woman in her area this week.

For Whitehead, working in the pro-life movement is personal. In 2001, she had an abortion that perforated her uterus and sent her to the emergency room. For years afterward, she though the trauma she was experiencing was “what she deserved,” she said.

At the time, Whitehead had been addicted to drugs and alcohol and was living in poverty. She said the advice she received at the time ignored her needs, and was instead focused on concerns that she would not be able to care for the child.

“They all considered the child and thought, ‘There's no way you can bring this child into the world because you can't take care of it, and I'm not willing to help you,’ basically. No one tried to help me with the drug addiction or help me with the alcoholism or help me with my poverty,” Whitehead noted.

“So when I see these situations, I see the woman. Not that we don't care about the unborn, of course we do, and that's the goal. But if we don't see the woman, if we don't see her and her dignity and her worth and her value, then we're missing. We're missing it,” she said. The tagline for LoveLine is “When you love first, life follows.”

For the pro-life movement, Whitehead said, LoveLine offers people a chance to do something concrete for the women and babies in need.

“So many people love to give to tangible, practical needs. They love to buy a box of diapers and know that it's going to this person, you know? And that means so much to people,” Whitehead said.

Typically, she explained, the word gets about the womens’ needs on social media, either through Abby Johnson’s Facebook page or through ProLove Ministries’ Facebook page.

“What we've seen is every time we put out a need, the pro-life movement just moves on it. I mean, within hours a whole registry is filled. They just can't wait. The love is just exploding,” she said.

The LoveLine website offers a phone number that women in need can call or text, or an online chat. Volunteers can also offer their assistance in their area via the LoveLine website under the “Get Involved” tab.

DNA test could reveal if Catholic supply store killer was involved in 1985 murder

St. Louis, Mo., Oct 17, 2019 / 04:50 pm (CNA).- Last year, Thomas Bruce was accused of assaulting three women and killing one of them at the Catholic Supply of St. Louis retail store Nov. 19 in Ballwin, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis.

Now, authorities are wondering if Bruce may be connected to a 1985 murder in Tennessee, Fox 2 Now St. Louis reported. One complicating factor: another man was already tried and executed for that murder.

Suzanne Collins was a 19-year-old Marine Lance Corporal in an avionics training school when she was murdered in Tennessee in 1985. According to authorities, Sedley Alley confessed to the crime but eventually retracted his confession, claiming he had been coerced into it. Alley was executed in 2006.

Bruce’s possible connection to the 1985 murder was revealed in court last week by Barry Scheck with the Innocence Project, Fox reported. The Innocence Project is an organization that works to clear innocent people of wrongful convictions.

According to Fox, Scheck told the court that there was untested DNA from Collins’ clothing that could help to clarify whether Bruce was involved in her murder. Bruce reportedly attended the same school as Collins at the time of the murder.

“It is clear that if we don’t get a DNA test in this case, it is wrong,” Scheck said in court. “It is fundamentally unfair. He was entitled to that test.” He added that the people of St. Louis deserve answers about Bruce.

According to Fox 2, the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office opposes the DNA test on the grounds of not letting litigation for the 1985 case drag on forever, and on the grounds that Sedley is already dead.

A judge is set to rule Nov. 18 whether there will be additional DNA testing allowed on Collins’ clothing in order to investigate the possible connection to Bruce.

Bruce had no known convictions in November 2018, when he sexually assaulted, shot, and killed 53-year-old Jamie Schmidt and sexually assaulted two other women.

Schmidt was a customer in the Catholic Supply store at the time of the attack and was transported to a hospital where she later died of her injuries. She was survived by her husband and three children.

Authorities at the time said Bruce did not appear to know Schmidt and that the attack seemed to be at random.

Fox 2 reported that after the 2018 incident, their reporters uncovered two other incidents involving Bruce for which he had not yet been charged.

In one incident, a 77 year-old woman recognized a photo of Bruce on T.V. and reported that in September 2018, just two months prior to the Catholic Supply store attack, Bruce had sexually assaulted her. Bruce was subsequently charged with kidnapping, sexual abuse, and assault for the incident.

The next month in October 2018, a man reported that Bruce’s road rage had caused a deliberate accident on US Highway 61, according to Fox. A dashcam video retrieved by Fox 2 in St. Louis reportedly revealed Bruce yelling and cussing at a police officer responding to the scene.

Bruce’s trial is scheduled for next October. Authorities told Fox in St. Louis that they are still investigating whether Bruce is connected to any other criminal activity.

Vatican denies Indian nun's appeal of dismissal from religious life for disobedience

Vatican City, Oct 17, 2019 / 02:22 pm (CNA).- The Congregation for the Oriental Churches has rejected the appeal of Sister Lucy Kalapura, who was dismissed from religious life in August for several acts of disobedience, including a protest of the handling of another nun's accusation that a bishop serially raped her.

The congregation's Sept. 26 decree denying recourse to the nun of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation  was conveyed in an Oct. 11 letter from the apostolic nunciature in India.

Sr. Lucy has the right to further appeal to the Apostolic Signatura.

However, she told the BBC that “I don't see any point in doing that since they have made up their mind. I will now go to court on behalf of all the people who are being suppressed and facing illegal behaviour from authorities of the congregation.”

She maintained: “I am not going to leave the convent. The lifestyle I lead is as per the rules and regulations.”

Sr. Lucy was sent a letter Aug. 5 from the superior general of the FCC, Sr. Ann Joseph, notifying her she had been dismissed from the community, which decision had been confirmed by the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

Sr. Lucy has led a life against the principles of religious life, the community says, by disobeying a transfer order, publishing poems after having been denied permission to do so, buying a vehicle, withholding her salary from the congregation, and participating in a protest against Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jullundur, who has been charged with several instances of raping a nun of a different congregation.

The letter from Sr. Ann Joseph said that Sr. Lucy “did not show the needed remorse and you failed to give a satisfactory explanation for your lifestyle in violation of the proper law of the FCC.”

Sr. Lucy had been sent a letter of warning Jan. 1, asking that she appear before Sr. Ann by Jan. 9 to explain her disobediences, or face expulsion from the congregation.

In January Sr. Lucy said that the congregation was trying to silence her, and denied any wrongdoing.

She was sent a second letter of warning in February, and India Times reported that she “failed to respond to a notice issued against her in March”.

The congregation's General Council, held May 11, voted unanimously to dismiss Sr. Lucy, and asked for confirmation from the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

In the January letter of warning sent to Sr. Lucy, the superior general wrote that she joined a protest regarding Bishop Mulakkal “without the permission of your superior. You have published articles in some non-Christian newspapers and weeklies … gave interviews to 'Samayam' without seeking permission from the provincial superior. Through Facebook, channel discussions and the articles, you belittled the Catholic leadership by making false accusations against it and tried to bring down the sacraments. You tried to defame FCC also. Your performance through social media as a religious sister was culpable, arising grave scandal.”

The letter also said Sr. Lucy failed to obey a transfer order given her in 2015 by her provincial superior, and that she published a book of poems despite being denied permission to do so, and used 50,000 Indian rupees ($700) from the congregation's account “without proper permission” to do so.

Sr. Kalapura is also accused of buying a car for about $5,670 and learning to drive without permission, and failing to entrust her salary from December 2017.

Sr. Ann Joseph called these acts “a grave infringement of the vow of poverty.”

The superior general added that Sr. Kalapura has been corrected and warned several times by her provincial over her “improper behaviour and violations of religious discipline.”

“Instead of correcting yourself, you are simply denying the allegations against you stating that you have to live your own beliefs, ideologies and conviction. You are repeatedly violating the vows of obedience and poverty. The evangelization and social work you do should be according to the FCC values, principles and rules. The present mode of your life is a grave violation of the profession you have made,” Sr. Ann Joseph wrote.

Another nun of the FCC, Sister Lissy Vadakkel, was transferred earlier this year from Muvattupuzha to Vijawada.

Sister Alphonas Abraham, superior of the FCC's Nirmala Province, said in February that Sr. Lissy's transfer was unrelated to her acting as a witness in the case against Bishop Mulakkal.

In April, Bishop Mulakkal was charged with rape.

‘No one ever talked about McCarrick and the boys’

Washington D.C., Oct 17, 2019 / 12:41 pm (CNA).- A man claiming to be a former child victim of Theodore McCarrick has written an open essay in response to a recent interview given by the former cardinal. Writing under the name Nathan Doe, the man says that McCarrick sexually abused a series of minors during his years as a cleric.

Media reports have detailed a string of allegations made against McCarrick since the announcement of a Vatican investigation in June 2018. Those reports have referred to McCarrick’s alleged victims as including eight former seminarians and three minors.

“The ‘third’ accuser they were referring to in those news articles was me,” Doe said.

The man says he chose to maintain his anonymity because he does not wish to expose other innocent people to “pain and suffering” by making his name public.

Media coverage of allegations against the former cardinal has focused on apparent crimes against seminarians in the dioceses he led as a bishop, first in New Jersey and later in Washington, D.C. 

In some reports, McCarrick's sexual misconduct has been called an “open secret” among those close to him.

“I am not even sure I know what ‘open secret’ means,” Doe wrote in an essay published online on Oct. 17. “What I do know is that no one ever talked about McCarrick and the boys.”

“I am referring to McCarrick’s targets and victims before he was given power and control over all of those seminaries. I am referring to the first act in McCarrick’s sexual abuse career that no one ever talked about before the Summer of 2018. I am referring to young Catholic boys - almost always between the ages of 12 and 16.”

A source with knowledge of the Vatican investigation into McCarrick told CNA that the former cardinal is alleged to have regularly invited high school boys to accompany him on trips between 1971-1977, when he served as secretary to Cardinal Terrence Cooke, then-Archbishop of New York. 

As previously reported by CNA, during that same period, McCarrick already had a well-established reputation among seminarians as a predator, with one former student at a New York seminary telling CNA last year that “the dean of our theology school was a classmate at CUA with McCarrick, and he knew about the rumors.” 

The priest told CNA that so well-known was McCarrick’s reputation, the priest said, that when McCarrick would accompany Cooke to visit the seminary there was a standing joke that they had to "hide the handsome ones" before he arrived. 

Similar accusations were reported by former students at Seton Hall University, home to the Archdiocese of Newark’s seminary. An independent report, commissioned in response to reports on the seminary's culture, concluded that as Archbishop of Newark, McCarrick created a “culture of fear and intimidation” at Seton Hall's seminary and “used his position of power as then-Archbishop of Newark to sexually harass seminarians.” 

In his essay, published on Thursday, Doe said that in addition to these seminary-related allegations, McCarrick abused a group of at least seven boys under the age of 16 when he was a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. Members of that reportedly provided evidence to Church authorities during the canonical penal administrative process which resulted in McCarrick’s laicization earlier this year.

“Collectively, we were able to provide law enforcement with names, dates, times, locations, who was present, supporting evidence, and related documentation covering hundreds of Church-related or fundraising-related overnight trips between the years 1970 and 1990 that, as fate would have it, all resulted in McCarrick sharing a bed with a young Catholic boy.”

Doe says he recognized his own experience, and those of other minors abused by McCarrick, in the account of James Grien, initially published anonymously in the New York Times last year.

“To varying degrees, Grein’s story was our story. I don’t know James Grein, have never spoken to him, and I never even knew he existed until that moment, but there were too many details in that interview that only a person in our exclusive club would know.” 

The report comes just weeks before the U.S. bishops will meet for their third assembly since the McCarrick scandal broke in June 2018. In November 2018, the bishops defeated 83-137 a resolution that would have urged the Vatican to release a comprehensive dossier on McCarrick.

In October 2018, Pope Francis ordered an internal Vatican investigation into the career of the disgraced McCarrick. Results of that investigation have not been released. While many have criticized the delay in making public a report on McCarrick, Doe said he is undeterred by the apparent delay.

“I have no insights at all into who is writing that report and how all of that will work. What I can tell you is that if they had completed and issued their report before today, I would be sitting here telling you that they closed the book too soon,” he wrote.

Calling McCarrick a “walking jurisdictional nightmare,” Doe said it is important not to “underestimate the sheer volume of information that began coming in last year, the number of different channels that information came in through, and all of the various investigative processes and law enforcement agencies that have been involved with the examination of the information.”

“I am personally inclined to grant all of the investigators all the time they need to do whatever work is necessary to get this done right once and for all,” he said.

Sources in Rome and Washington have confirmed to CNA that large quantities of documents and a detailed report on archdiocesan records have already been compiled and forwarded to Rome, but the Archdiocese of Washington has repeatedly declined to comment on those records.

In June 2019, Newark Cardinal Joseph Tobin told CNA he was prevented by a state attorney general’s investigation from releasing the files and reports compiled by his diocese on McCarrick, who was Newark’s archbishop from 1986 to 2000. Tobin is believed to have also forwarded a report to the Vatican detailing McC’s time in Newark.

Doe wrote that although he saw the coverage of McCarrick’s disgrace, and even though he participated in the canonical process that resulted in the former cardinal’s laicization in February, he “never” thought about making a public statement.

“That all changed when I read McCarrick’s recent interview with Slate magazine where he attempted to discredit the victims of his sexual abuse while creating further division and confusion within our Church.”

In that interview, McCarrick said he is “not as bad as they paint.” 

“I do not believe that I did the things that they accused me of,” McCarrick said, while going on to suggest that his accusers “were encouraged” to come up with allegations by “enemies” of the former cardinal, pointedly referring to former Vatican diplomat Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano as “a representative of the far right” for coming forward with a series of allegations about McCarrick and apparent Vatican knowledge about his behavior.

Some senior Church officials have told CNA that McCarrick was under consideration for an influential Vatican post in 1999; concerns about the former cardinal’s lifestyle are rumored to have played a role in scuttling that plan. McCarrick was nevertheless appointed Washington’s archbishop in 2000, where he continued to serve until his retirement in 2006.

Doe said that he was only concerned with the integrity of McCarrick’s victims, whom he said McCarrick had further abused by suggesting they were politically motivated.

“I don’t have an axe to grind with anyone other than Theodore McCarrick. For me, this is not an attack on our Church. This is not about Conservative vs Liberal. This is not about Straight vs Gay. This is not about Benedict vs. Francis. In my view, those arguments are a distraction.” 

“For me, this is about our humanity. This is about the criminal, sexual abuse of minors,” Doe said.

Sasse resolution: Church beliefs should not jeopardize tax-exempt status

Washington D.C., Oct 17, 2019 / 11:59 am (CNA).- One U.S. senator is looking to bring up a vote on protecting churches from attempts to police their beliefs, after a presidential candidate said churches should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has introduced a resolution in the Senate expressing support for freedom of conscience (S.J.Res. 58). He said on Wednesday that his measure aims to put senators on the record on protecting the tax-exempt status of houses of worship, amidst attempts to condition that status on a church’s support for same-sex marriage.

Introduced Wednesday, the joint resolution recognizes the importance of religious freedom to the framers of the Constitution and the role of religion in the history of the U.S., and says that the government cannot condition religious protections such as tax-exempt status upon certain viewpoints it deems “correct.”

The resolution states that “government should not be in the business of dictating what ‘correct’ religious beliefs are; and any effort by the government to condition the receipt of the protections of the Constitution of the United States and the laws of the United States, including an exemption from taxation, on the public policy positions of an organization is an affront to the spirit and letter of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

Sasse introduced his resolution on Wednesday in response to comments by Democratic presidential candidate and former congressman Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke at a “#PowerOfOurPride” town hall on LGBTQ issues sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign and broadcast by CNN on Oct. 10.

At the town hall event, O’Rourke had said in response to a question by moderator Don Lemon that “religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities” should be stripped of their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.

O’Rourke’s campaign later offered a clarification, saying he was not referring to the tax-exempt status of houses of worship but rather access to public grants and tax dollars of religious-based charities.

On Sunday, O’Rourke told MSNBC, “when you are providing services in the public sphere, say, higher education, or health care, or adoption services, and you discriminate or deny equal treatment under the law based on someone's skin color or ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation, then we have a problem.”

Despite the clarification, however, the comments sparked backlash and questions about the constitutionality of such a proposal.

Sasse, on Wednesday, issued a rebuke of O’Rourke’s original proposal on the Senate Floor, calling them “extreme intolerance,” “extreme bigotry,” and “profoundly un-American.”

“I don't care what some nitwit said on CNN last week to satisfy his fringy base and try to get a sound bite in a presidential debate. The American people ought to know that this body stands for the historic First Amendment, that's what we all took an oath to uphold and to defend and that's what we ought to vote to affirm again,” Sasse said.

The government cannot regulate the speech of churches and cannot “define true and false religion,” he said.

“Government doesn't rifle through your pastor's or your rabbi's sermon notes, government doesn't tell your clerics what they can or can't say, government doesn't tell your religious leaders how they will perform their services, government doesn't tell you where or when you will worship,” Sasse said.

The Supreme Court ruled in a 1970 decision Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York that tax exemptions for houses of worship did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

In a 7-1 decision, the Court said that such exemptions did not single out one particular religious group for favor, but rather “creates only a minimal and remote involvement between church and state, far less than taxation of churches would entail.” Furthermore, two centuries of tax exemptions for churches “has not led to an established church or religion, and, on the contrary, has helped to guarantee the free exercise of all forms of religious belief,” the Court said.

Other presidential candidates—Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Pete Buttigieg—said in the past week that they would not take such action to strip churches of tax exemptions.

“Religious institutions in America have long been free to determine their own beliefs and practices, and she [Warren] does not think we should require them to conduct same-sex marriages in order to maintain their tax exempt status,” a statement from the Warren campaign to NBC News read.

On CNN on Sunday, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said that removing tax exemptions “means going to war not only with churches, but I would think with mosques and a lot of organizations that may not have the same view of various religious principles that I do.”

He added that “if we want to talk about anti-discrimination law for a school or an organization, absolutely. They should not be able to discriminate.”

At the same town hall where O’Rourke made his original comments, fellow presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), was also asked if he would strip houses of worship of tax-exempt status for opposing same-sex marriage, and responded that such a move would produce a “long legal battle,” but added that “if you are using your position to try to discriminate others, there must be consequences to that. And I will make sure to hold them accountable using the DOJ or whatever investigatory [body].”

Bishops in Middle East urge prayer for northern Syria

Al-Hasakah, Syria, Oct 17, 2019 / 11:36 am (CNA).- Bishops in Syria and Iraq have called for worldwide prayer as fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces further destabilizes northern Syria.

“We were very concerned when we learned of the Turkish incursion at our borders, for our Christians,” Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo told Vatican News Oct. 14.

The archbishop said that the Turkish invasion revives a memory for Christians of the Ottoman occupation of the region. “Our country and our entire region was occupied for four centuries already,” he said.

“We hope that finally all the Syrians will unite to liberate the country and give freedom to all people, whether Christians, Kurds or Muslims, so that they can return to live in this country as they did before: all together and with the security that is lacking in past years,” the archbishop said.

While US government officials and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are scheduled to meet Oct. 17 in an American effort to pressure Turkey to end the offensive against the Kurds, the humanitarian situation in northern Syria has worsened.

Christians civilians have been killed and wounded in Turkey’s bombing of the Syrian towns of Ras al-Ayn and Al-Darbasiyah, which both have large Christian populations, according to In Defence of Christians.

Aid groups working in northeastern Syria have begun to pull out of the area, saying that it is becoming too dangerous. More than 100,000 people have been displaced in the past week by the violence, according to the United Nations.

Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil said that his community is preparing to receive another wave of refugees.

“Already in Erbil over the past two years we have witnessed a growing number of Syrian Christian refugees who have sought safety within the Christian community here. We expect that should additional Christians seek to flee conflict in Northeast Syria, most of them would come here to Erbil,” Warda said in a statement Oct. 12.

“We pray that the government of Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and the international community would not turn them away, but would help in providing for their care, along with all the other innocents of all faiths,” he said.

Archbishop Warda called for all people to pray “at this critical time” for Syria and Iraq, stressing, “minorities will not be able to withstand another serious conflict.”

“As the Church, our prayers and hopes are always for an end to this never-ending cycle of violence from all participants. We urge all parties to remember at all times their obligations to protect innocent civilians,” Warda said.

US President Donald Trump pledged $50 million in stabilization assistance to ethnic and religious minorities in northeast Syria in an Executive Order Oct. 13. It stated: “the United States condemns the persecution of Christians, and we pledge our support to Christian communities everywhere suffering under the burden of oppression and brutal violence.”

Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon Louis Raphael I Sako "appealed to all the Chaldean churches in the world, asking them to pray for a week for peace in Syria and Iraq,” Curial Bishop Basel Yaldo of Babylon said Oct. 16.

Bishop Yaldo said that Middle Eastern Christians “are afraid of a return of the Islamic State.”

Both Islamic State and al-Qaeda have experienced a resurgence in recent months, regrouping in rural areas, following U.S. disengagement, according to two former Pentagon officials writing in Foreign Affairs. After the fall of the Islamic State caliphate in April, the U.S. cut its troops down by half.

The White House announced Oct. 6 that Turkish forces would take over some security responsibilities in northern Syria and that the U.S. would no longer maintain its military forces in the region. The announcement has caused widespread concern among Kurds in northern Syria and Iraq, and some human rights advocates have accused Trump of abandoning Kurdish allies while implicitly sanctioning a Turkish military offensive.

After the U.S. announcement, Turkish military forces moved into Syria, with the stated aims of repelling Kurdish forces in Syria perceived to be a threat to Turkish security, and creating a space within Syria in which to house 2 million Syrian refugees now living in Turkey.

Amid the conflict, 950 Islamic State supporters escaped from the Ain Issa detention facility, according to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

The U.S. government announced Oct. 14. sanctions on senior Turkish officials responsible for the offensive in Syria, and the House of Representatives voted Oct. 17 to condemn the president’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Kurdish-controlled Syria.

Pope Francis appealed for dialogue and prayer for Syria in his Angelus address Oct. 13.

“My thoughts go once again to the Middle East. In particular, to the beloved and tormented Syria, from which dramatic news arrives again about the fate of the people of the country’s northeast, who are forced to abandon their houses because of military actions,” Pope Francis said.

Moroccan king pardons woman who procured abortion, those who participated

Rabat, Morocco, Oct 17, 2019 / 10:39 am (CNA).- Morocco's king pardoned Wednesday a journalist, her fiance, and the medical team who last month were found guilty of procuring and performing an abortion. The country's penal code bars abortion except in cases when the mother's life is endangered.

Mohammed VI's pardon was granted Oct. 16.

Hajar Raissouni, 28, had been sentenced Sept. 30 to a year imprisonment for procuring an abortion and for fornication. Her fiance, Rifaat al-Amin, was also given a years' imprisonment, and her doctor, Mohammed Jamal Belkeziz, was given two years in prison and a two-year ban on practising medicine.

A nurse and an assistant at the Rabat obstetrics-gynecology clinic were given suspended sentences.

Th e pardon was communicted by a statement from the justice ministry saying the king's act was “within a framework of royal compassion and clemency” and considered his concern “to preserve the future of the two fiances who intended to found a family in conformity with religious precepts and the law, despite the error they committed and which led to the legal proceedings.”

Raissouni writes for Akhbar Al-Yaoum, which is critical of the Moroccan government.

Prosecutors have said her arrest has “nothing to do with her profession as a journalist,” but some worried it was politically motivated.

Raissouni was arrested in August as she left the clinic.

Saad Sahli, a lawyer for Raissouni and al-Amin, said that Raissouni had been receiving treatment for internal bleeding at the clinic where she was arrested.

After her arrest, Raissouni was taken to hospital where she was given a gynecological exam.

Prosecutors say there were indications of pregnancy and that she had received a “late voluntary abortion.”

Rabat officials have also indicated the clinic where the five were arrested if being surveilled, after reports that abortions are regularly procured there.

Raissouni and al-Amin have been religiously, but not legally, married.

Sunni Islam is the established religion of Morocco. The country has strict rules on moral behavior and has criminalized debauchery and adultery.

According to a group that support abortion rights, most abortion-related arrests in the country involve medical officials, and only rarely do they include the women who procure abortions.

In 2018, Moroccan courts tried more than 14,500 people for debauchery; 3,048 for adultery; 170 for homosexuality; and 73 for abortions, AFP reported.

Brazilian bishop: Yes, Amazon people can understand celibacy

Breves, Brazil, Oct 17, 2019 / 03:12 am (CNA).- A retired bishop from Brazil has spoken out against the claim that married priests are necessary in the Amazon region because the indigenous people do not understand celibacy.

“It’s not the indigenous culture that finds insurmountable difficulties in understanding celibacy. It's that there was not a real inculturation of the Gospel among them,” said Bishop emeritus José Luis Azcona of Marajó, Brazil.

“For many reasons, there has been a transmission of the faith that was not transformed into culture, a faith that was not completely received, not thought out completely, not lived faithfully.”

Therefore, he said, “the first step in solving the problem of celibacy is not the abolition of it” but to work toward a more authentic incultration of the Gospel.

In an article sent to ACI Digital, CNA’s Portuguese language sister agency, Azcona commented on the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, an Oct. 6-27 meeting on the Church’s life and ministry in the region.

Bishop Erwin Kräutler, the retired head of the Xingu prelature in Amazonian Brazil and a contributor to the synod’s working document, said last week that married priests are the only option in the region because “the indigenous people do not understand celibacy.”

Azcona, who led the Amazonian diocese from 1987-2016, rejected this argument, noting that cultures throughout history have had to learn truths about sexuality and celibacy, and saying this learning process does not post “an insurmountable hindrance.”

The Greeks, Romans, and Jews, he said, “all had the same difficulty in understanding, but at the same time they experienced the unbridled joy of 'glorifying Christ in their bodies.'”

“It’s not an indigenous world-vision that determines evangelization and establishes what can or cannot be accepted of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he stressed. Doing so would create a pseudo-Gospel, based not on the person of Christ and on his Church, but instead “arising from the indigenous, from their cultures or from their analysis.”

“The evangelization of the Amazon cannot arise from the desire to please men, or to win their favor,” he stressed.

“It's Jesus Christ and his Spirit that transcends all culture, but at the same time he is incarnated in the values and deepest expressions of each culture. He is the beginning, the middle and the end of all inculturation.”

The bishop argued that elements of the synod’s working document reflect a secular worldview and lacks the joy and hope that come from authentic Christian witness. He added that celibacy in the priesthood allows for an undivided focus on the work of God.

Abandonment to the will of God will create the environment in which priestly celibacy can be joyfully understood and experienced, Azcona said.

“It is exclusively God who gives the gift of celibacy. Man is incapable of achieving it with his own efforts,” he said.

Rather than abandoning celibacy, the bishop urged the Church to renew its prayers to Christ for strength to carry out his will.

“The time has come to reaffirm in the Amazon the importance of prayer in face of the activism and secularism that threatens many Christians in evangelization.”

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Digital. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Gonzaga, Catholic Charities team up to offer immigration legal assistance

Spokane, Wash., Oct 17, 2019 / 12:08 am (CNA).- Gonzaga University Law School in Spokane is partnering with Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington to offer immigration legal assistance to low-income individuals, as well as training in immigration law for students.

Second- and third-year law students under faculty supervision will assist clients pro bono in the “Catholic Charities Immigration Clinic at Gonzaga Law School” starting this fall.

“We're viewing this almost like a joint venture between the two of us,” Jacob Rooksby, dean of Gonzaga Law School, told CNA.

“The attorney in charge has a vast network through her time at Catholic Charities. We envision the students and the attorney going on-site to different areas of the state to provide walk-up assistance, and that's going to start as we get further into the project,” Rooksby said.

The law school has several pro bono clinics already, including Indian Law, Elder Law, and Business Law. The students will work with Megan Case, an attorney who formerly worked with Catholic Charities.

Case told CNA that the center has a significant caseload at the moment, mostly on family reunification cases, whereby legal immigrants can petition for other family members to come and join them in the United States.

The center will also work with individuals seeking asylum. Additionally, they have an immigration court hearing scheduled for January in a deportation case.

Case noted that immigration law is one of the broadest and most complicated areas of U.S. law. She said during her time at Catholic Charities, she oversaw a number of naturalization cases, family reunification cases, and green cards, among others. They also helped individuals who qualified for victim-based visas.

She noted that the center assists both documented and undocumented individuals.

“There's definitely a need for attorneys to assist people in these types of cases, and there's a lot of work,” Case told CNA.

Rooksby said there is already student interest and client need for the program.

“As a Jesuit institution, I think we're taking seriously the Catholic Church's position on immigration as being one of the signature issues of our time,” he said. “So we see this as very consistent with our mission...the need is already there.”