Browsing News Entries

Browsing News Entries

Alvare: Society needs church's 'gorgeous prescriptions for human love'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Dan Rogers

By Valerie Schmalz

NAPA, Calif. (CNS) -- Americans continue to pursue "this ridiculous path" of "unlinking sex and marriage and kids, while calling what is actually falling apart 'flying,'" said one of America's foremost Catholic feminist thinkers.

"All the while (they're) hurtling toward a collision with the ground," said Helen Alvare, founder of the activist movement Women Speak for Themselves and a law professor at George Mason University's Antonin Scalia Law School in Arlington, Virginia.

"Kids are hitting rock bottom with suicide and opioid use" as serial cohabitation and plummeting numbers of marriages signal the disintegration of a relational society, she said in a talk July 12 at the Napa Institute's eighth annual conference in Northern California's wine country.

But there are signs of hope in the "huge growth of hashtags, movements ' straining toward solidarity," Alvare said.

"There are opportunities for the church to narrow the gap between our current contemporary situation and the church's gorgeous prescriptions for human love," she said.

Movements such as Black Lives Matter, those that work for immigrant rights and #MeToo demonstrate we live in a "society that wants diversity and solidarity next to each other. I hope we can see these are a reflection of the radical need for solidarity, the need to love -- a message we can endorse," Alvare said.

"Where do we get the first message about solidarity and diversity? I don't know -- Genesis?" said Alvare, referring to the creation of man and woman in the first book of the Bible.

Effective Catholic communication needs to meet people where they are and it must discard "church talk," arcane terms such as "procreative and unitive," Alvare said in her keynote address at the July 11-15 Napa Institute conference.

"We have to give plainspoken answers," for instance, about contraception, said Alvare.

"If you disassociate where God chose to put babies" from a committed marriage, "do you realize what that does to the relationship between you and the man -- it severs tomorrow," Alvare said.

"Contraception severs sex from tomorrow and that's why we oppose it," said the law professor. She noted that in reversing the Obama administration's contraceptive mandate, the Trump administration lifted 30 paragraphs of her law journal article disproving the factual underpinnings of the mandate.

Alvare's audience included German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller, who was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 2012 to 2017; John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America in Washington; and Bishop Steven J. Lopes of the Houston-based Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, the Catholic Church's U.S. ordinariate for former Anglicans.

The Napa Institute was formed to help Catholic leaders face the challenges posed by a secular America, according to its website. Alvare's talk was inspired by the day's theme of the 50th anniversary of Blessed Paul VI's 1968 encyclical, "Humanae Vitae."

There are signs all around that people are concerned about the fallout from the sexual revolution, Alvare said. "The sexual revolution is not itself a reasoned revolution. The people who invented it did not invent it out of reason," said the married mother of three children, now teenagers and young adults.

"Children are speaking up," wearing T-shirts "My Daddy's name is donor," she noted. "Hook-up" books are a genre of teen literature that talk about how bad it feels, she said.

Both the left-leaning Brookings Institute and the conservative Heritage Foundation acknowledge the harms of family instability, she said. "Too many smart academics have pointed out that family structure ' is actually the largest part of the social and economic gap between rich and poor, between white and black," and even between men and women.

Several recent academic studies indicate boys suffer more than girls if raised by a single mother, said Alvare, citing separate works by economists Raj Chetty of Stanford University and David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Autor found that especially black boys raised by a single mother in a poor neighborhood tend to fall behind their sisters by kindergarten and the achievement gap widens as they go through school, Alvare said, surmising "girls are looking at Mom and seeing Mom does it all."

"Today we are seeing that Americans are not willing to adopt the claim that the sexual revolution was a complete hands down win," Alvare said. "Nobody thought we would reach the possibility of a fifth justice with as much of the country on our side as we have," Alvare said.

She was referring to the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to replace U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is retiring.

To counter the falsehoods of the sexual revolution, "the winning argument is relationship," Alvare said. To say: "You think that is the way to get there, but this is not going to get you there." That is because, Alvare said, "ultimately our desire is for the love of an infinite God."

- - -

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pulled from the sea, migrant's rescue puts spotlight on Italian policy

IMAGE: CNS photo/Juan Medina, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- Tweeting with hashtags that translate as "Closed ports" and "Open hearts," Italy's interior minister disputed claims that the Italian government was complicit in leaving a migrant to die in the Mediterranean Sea as she clung to a board from a destroyed fishing boat.

Matteo Salvini, the minister, has given strong support to Italy's policy of having the Libyan coast guard patrol its own shores, pushing back refugee boats or taking the migrants and refugees back to camps in Libya.

He also has worked to prevent rescue boats from docking in Italy until other European countries agree to take a share of the migrants onboard.

Salvini and others credit the Italian policy with leading to a sharp decline in the number of migrants and refugees arriving on Italy's shores. The 17,838 migrants and refugees who arrived between Jan. 1 and July 18 represent an 86.5 percent decline from the number of arrivals in the same period in 2017 and an 84.8 percent decline compared to the same period in 2016, according to figures compiled by the Department of Public Security and posted on the Interior Ministry website July 18.

But the numbers did not bump from the front pages of Italian newspapers the photographs of Josefa, a migrant from Cameroon, being pulled from the Mediterranean July 17 by rescuers from the Spanish organization Proactiva Open Arms. The organization said it also pulled from the water the dead bodies of a woman and a child.

The organization accused the Libyan coast guard of attacking the boat the refugees were on and leaving some of the migrants to die.

A Libyan official said it intercepted a boat with 158 people on board July 16; the migrants were transferred to a coast guard vessel, given food and medical attention and returned to Libya. The boat was destroyed to prevent other smugglers from using it, the Libyans said.

After Proactiva accused the Italian government of being complicit in the abandonment of Josefa and in the deaths of the two people pulled from the sea, Salvini on Twitter accused the organization of "lies and insults" and said that what happened "confirms we are right: reducing the number of departures and arrivals means reducing deaths, reducing the earnings of those who speculate on clandestine immigration."

Salvini, who has been deputy prime minister and interior minister since June 1, has insisted on a hardline policy limiting immigration. The policy relies both on turning migrants and refugees back to Libya and on forcing member countries of the European Union to contribute to the care of migrants and refugees, who tend to reach land in Italy, Greece, Malta or Spain.

Like other church commentators, Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, the Geneva-based secretary-general of the International Catholic Migration Commission, noted how Salvini's actions and comments came so close to the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis' first trip outside of Rome as pope. The pope visited the island of Lampedusa, a major port for migrants and refugees, and he prayed there for the thousands of people who lost their lives at sea in the search for peace and a better life.

"I am left with the haunting question cited by Pope Francis, 'Cain, where is your brother?'" Msgr. Vitillo said in an email response to questions July 18. "While states and civil society have spent countless hours in consultations and negotiations, how many more precious and invaluable lives are being lost? While we continue to fight over 'burden sharing,' how much do we recognize the contributions of refugees and migrants to host populations who welcome them? Why aren't we talking about 'resource sharing' instead of 'responsibility sharing'?"

As for the claim that Proactiva and other NGOs rescuing the migrants at sea actually entice people to set out and make smugglers' jobs easier since they increase the possibility of a safe passage, Msgr. Vitillo suggested people making that claim need to speak with some of the migrants and refugees "who felt forced to leave their homelands in order to seek safety, security, freedom and dignity elsewhere."

Ordained in 1972 for the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, Msgr. Vitillo said he has worked with hundreds of refugees and migrants in his 46 years as a priest.

"I spent much time in refugee camps and migrant processing centers," he said. Most of the people "have told me how much they would have preferred to stay at home. Many of the refugees have shared with me the horrors of their frequent and unsuccessful attempts to leave their home countries because they saw no other way to survive."

Today, he said, "forced migrants reveal the same circumstances --- they are responding to basic needs for survival, not any lure of 'search and rescue' boats!"

- - -

Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

- - -

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Nicaraguan bishops to pray for exorcism as violence continues

IMAGE: CNS photo/Oswaldo Rivas, Reuters

By

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (CNS) -- Police and paramilitaries in Nicaragua have attacked another parish in an indigenous community as churches and clergy come under attack for trying to protect populations protesting authoritarian rule.

Gunfire and was directed at Mary Magdalene Parish in Monimbo, "where the priest is seeking shelter," tweeted Managua Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Jose Baez July 17.

Later in the day he tweeted, "I have suffered and I have prayed intensely for my city of Masaya and the beloved barrio of Monimbo. There still is not clear news. What is clear is that Monimbo, even hurt, lives and today obtained a great moral victory of courage and love of the homeland."

Father Augusto Gutierrez, pastor at Mary Magdalene Parish, told Spanish radio: "It's been four hours of attack with heavy military weapons, destroying churches. ' It's genocide. There's no other name for it."

Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, apostolic nuncio to Nicaragua, said in an message July 17: "Violence cannot solve the political crisis and guarantee future peace in Nicaragua. Crying for the dead and praying for their families, I call the consciences of everyone to truce and a return to the national dialogue."

As attacks on Catholic clergy continued and anti-government protesters were besieged by Nicaraguan police and paramilitaries, the country's bishops said they would pray an exorcism prayer.

The bishops said July 20 would be a day of prayer and fasting "as an act of atonement for the profanation carried out in recent months against God." On that day, "We will pray the prayer of exorcism to St. Michael Archangel."

On July 15, the vehicle of Bishop Juan Mata Guevara of Esteli was shot as he traveled to the city of Nindiri, where he had hoped to stop an attack by police and paramilitaries. The bishop escaped unharmed, but the vehicle's tires were shot out and windows broken, said Father Victor Rivas, executive secretary of the Nicaraguan bishops' conference.

An attack July 14 at the nearby National Autonomous University of Nicaragua campus in Managua left two students dead and injured 15 more. Some of the fleeing protesters sought shelter in Divine Mercy Church, where the injured were being treated, but armed assailants stopped ambulances from reaching the church.

A Washington Post reporter was among those trapped in the parish, which churchmen said had been "profaned," and pictures posted to social media showed the church had been pockmarked by bullets.

"They are shooting at a church," Father Erick Alvarado Cole, a pastor at the parish, told The Washington Post. "The government says it respects human rights. Is this respecting human rights?"

On July 9, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes Solorzano of Managua, Bishop Baez and Archbishop Sommertag were among clergy from Managua pummeled as they attempted to protect St. Sebastian Basilica in the city of Diriamba from an incursion by a pro-government mob. Bishop Baez and at least one other priest were injured. Journalists also were attacked and had cameras and other equipment stolen.

A July 14 statement from the bishops said: "In recent days, the repression and violence carried out by the pro-government paramilitaries against the people who protest civically has gotten worse. ... Today, like never before, human rights are being violated in Nicaragua. ... Members of the national dialogue" -- convened by the bishops' conference -- "defenders of human rights and independent media have been the objects of campaigns of defamation by the government."

In their statement, the bishops said brokering a deal through dialogue has proved difficult.

"We have been witnesses to a lack of political will of the government to dialogue in a sincere way and look for real processes that will lead us to a true democracy" and not carrying out "the urgent dismantling of the armed pro-government forces," the bishops' statement said. "Government representatives have twisted the principal objective for which the national dialogue was established."

Human rights groups put the death toll in Nicaragua at more than 350 since April 18, when protests erupted over reforms to the Central American country's social security system. Protests later demanded the ouster of President Daniel Ortega, who has dismissed proposals for early elections and repressed protests with violence.

Churches in Nicaragua have served as centers for treating the wounded and allowing the work of human rights groups. Priests toll church bells to warn local populations of the police and paramilitaries arriving.

Covenant House, known as Casa Alianza in Latin America, issued an urgent call for donations, saying staff were forced to sleep in the shelters due to security concerns and its homes had to buy months of supplies such as food and medicines in advance. Casa Alianza works with homeless and trafficked children.

A Catholic analyst in Nicaragua, who preferred not to be named for security reasons, said the dialogue has been interpreted as an attempt by Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, to buy time. The bishops also run the risk of being blamed for the collapse of the talks if they withdraw as mediators, the analyst said.

"(The government) and vice president have been appropriating religious language for some time and now are saying the government is doing God's work," the analyst told CNS.

The bishops said they would continue working as mediators, but their role goes beyond sitting at the negotiating table.

"Given the prophetic dimension of our ministry we have seen the urgency of going to the places of conflict to defend the lives of the defenseless, to bring comfort to the victims and mediate with the goal of a peaceful solution to the situation," the bishops said. "The Nicaraguan church will continue to use all of the means it is able to. Our mission as pastors and prophets does not contradict our role as mediators and witnesses, given that what we seek is peace and justice as Nicaraguans."


- - -

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Dark to light: Buried under scaffolding, Holy Stairs set for resurrection

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With large sheets of plain plywood blocking public access to the Holy Stairs, one woman lovingly touched a large color photograph of the stairs, made the sign of the cross, lowered her head and prayed.

For centuries, the faithful have climbed up the 28 steps in prayer on their knees.

But the popular devotion has been put on hold for an entire year, and the tall placard depicting the staircase is all the public can see as a team of Vatican restorers complete the final phase of a 20-year effort to repair the sanctuary of the Holy Stairs and clean its 18,300 square feet of frescoes.

According to tradition, the Holy Stairs are the ones Jesus climbed when Pontius Pilate brought him before the crowd and handed him over to be crucified. It's said that Constantine's mother, St. Helen, brought the stairs to Rome from Jerusalem in 326 A.D.

In 1589, Pope Sixtus V had the sanctuary specially built and decorated for the stairs and the Sancta Sanctorum above, which houses some of the oldest relics of Rome's early Christian martyrs and a silver- and jewel-covered Byzantine image of Christ.

The 16th-century pope wanted the sanctuary not only to preserve the important relics, but also to express the essentials of the faith through an abundance of vivid, colorful images describing key events in the Old and New Testaments, said Mary Angela Schroth, a Rome art gallery curator who has been involved in the restoration project.

"Since the faithful often did not read or write, the stories came to life" through images, she told Catholic News Service in mid-July. And so, "every square inch" of the sanctuary -- its two chapels, five staircases, vaulted ceilings and broad, high walls -- were covered in frescoes and decorative art.

"This was meant to amaze and attract the public," she said.

But the illustrative gems slowly vanished over the centuries as dirt, grime, water damage and primitive or aggressive restoration techniques discolored or covered up what lay beneath. Add poor lighting to the mix and the dingy, gloomy space no longer did what it was designed to do: be a completely immersive physical, spiritual experience with visual cues accompanying the faithful on their journey toward the Sancta Sanctorum, said Paolo Violini, the Vatican Museums' top expert in fresco restoration.

With initial help from the Getty Foundation in 2000 and then through the generosity of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, both the St. Lawrence and St. Sylvester chapels and the four stairwells -- two sets on either side of the central stairwell of the Holy Stairs -- have been fully restored.

With the central staircase restoration planned to be completed by the end of the year and the front atrium at the end of 2019, it will have taken 11 modern-day restorers nearly two decades to resurrect what 40 artists created in less than two years in the 16th-century. But the careful craft of restoration has paid off, allowing today's visitors the privilege of seeing, after 400 years, the original decorative beauty Pope Sixtus' painters had conceived, Violini said.

People barely glanced at the darkened surfaces before the restoration, Schroth said, but now with "these glorious colors" and proper lighting, visitors are doing more than just looking, "they are observing and studying these stories" and recalling their meaning.

The sanctuary's rector, Passionist Father Francesco Guerra, told CNS that Christian art in sacred spaces is not just some extraneous, decorative flourish, but is a medium as powerful as the spoken and written word, created to explain and share the faith and bring the faithful into a deeper, closer relationship with God.

The sanctuary, which is entrusted to the care and protection of the Passionist fathers, powerfully exemplifies this visual catechism, which exists in so many churches and shrines, but needs "re-evaluating" and re-emphasizing today, he said.

Paul Encinias, director of the Rome-based Eternal City Tours, told CNS that when he has taken groups to the Holy Stairs, their focus is inward -- on their individual prayers and intentions -- as they climb each step on their knees.

"Twenty-first century Catholic pilgrims are far removed from artistic narratives," he said, and they are "not used to these visual cues" that surround them, so the purpose and meaning of such artwork would probably have to be explained.

Nonetheless, some of the visitors Encinias brings to pray on the Holy Stairs often have "a strong emotional" experience as they pray and reflect on life's problems or trials.

"We're usually afraid of suffering," and most homilies don't dwell on it, he said. But because the Holy Stairs tour encourages people to connect with Christ's passion, "something hits home" and people realize "Christ is with us always, even in our suffering."

Even though while the Holy Stairs are closed the sanctuary has offered a side staircase for the same devotional practice of praying on one's knees, there were only about a dozen people using the alternative staircase late morning on a July weekday. On average, about 3,000 people visit the sanctuary each day.

Father Guerra said Pope Francis has underlined the importance of traditional, popular devotions and pilgrimages to sanctuaries and sacred places. People are made up of "spirit and intellect, but we are also flesh, emotions, feelings," he said.

In the Bible, when Jesus performs a miracle, "he touches the person, he puts his fingers in the ears of the deaf man" and takes the hand a dead girl to bring her back to life, the priest said.

This physical contact, which is an inseparable part of one's humanity, is a key feature of the Holy Stairs, he said. By climbing the stairs on one's knees and reflecting on Christ's passion, "people feel in union with Jesus, they feel understood by Jesus, they feel loved by God."

- - -

Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz

- - -

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

'Prosperity gospel' props up policies lacking compassion, journal says

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- The "prosperity gospel" that U.S. President Donald Trump and many of his advisers and followers seem to espouse does not promote solidarity for the common good, but sees God as giving his blessings to the rich and punishing the poor, said an influential Jesuit journal.

The philosophy "is used as a theological justification for economic neo-liberalism" and is "a far cry from the positive and enlightening prophecy of the American dream that has inspired many," said the article in La Civilta Cattolica, a journal reviewed at the Vatican before publication.

The article was written by the journal's editor, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, and by Marcelo Figueroa, an evangelical pastor, who is director of the Argentine edition of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

In an email, Father Spadaro described the article as "what I consider the second part of our article on the relationship between politics and fundamentalism in the United States."

The first article, published in July last year, was titled "Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism: A Surprising Ecumenism" and examined what the authors saw as growing similarities in the rhetoric and world views adopted by some evangelical fundamentalists and some "militant" Catholic hardliners.

They decried what they saw as an "ecumenism of hate" resulting from the political alliance in the United States of Christian fundamentalists and Catholic "integralists."

The article set off widespread debate, ranging from criticism that it was a superficial reading of the U.S. reality from the outside to praise for shining a light on ways that some tenets of the Christian faith have been manipulated for political gain.

The new article describes the "prosperity gospel" as a theological current that emerged from neo-Pentecostal evangelical communities in the United States and is thriving now in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, South Korea, China, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil.

"At its heart is the belief that God wants his followers to have a prosperous life, that is, to be rich, healthy and happy," Father Spadaro and Figueroa wrote. In such a view, opulence and well-being are "the true signs of divine delight."

The modern "prosperity gospel" owes much, they said, to E.W. Kenyon, a U.S. pastor who lived 1867-1948, and "maintained that through the power of faith you can change what is concrete and real," the Civilta article said. "A direct conclusion of this belief is that faith can lead to riches, health and well-being, while lack of faith leads to poverty, sickness and unhappiness."

"In the United States millions of people regularly go to the megachurches that spread the prosperity gospel," the article said. Preachers including "Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, Robert Tilton, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer and others have increased their popularity and wealth thanks to their focus on knowing this gospel, emphasizing it and pushing it to its limits."

They see the purpose of faith as being to win God's favor, which is demonstrated in material wealth and physical health, a position that is "far removed from the life of conversion usually taught by the traditional evangelical movements," Father Spadaro and Figueroa wrote.

The teachings of the prosperity gospel have obvious implications for how a believer in that philosophy views and treats others, they said. "There can be no compassion for those who are not prosperous, for clearly they have not followed the rules and thus live in failure and are not loved by God."

The philosophy, they said, promotes policies that are "unjust and radically anti-evangelical."

"One of the serious problems that the prosperity gospel brings is its perverse effect on the poor," the authors wrote. The philosophy "not only exasperates individualism and knocks down the sense of solidarity, but it pushes people to adopt a miracle-centered outlook," which allows them to wash their hands of the obligation to work for justice and accept sacrifices for the common good.

- - -

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

India's Sister Prema condemns trafficking, says nuns not involved

IMAGE: CNS photo/EPA

By

NEW DELHI (CNS) -- Facing child trafficking allegations at one of its homes for unmarried mothers in India, the Missionaries of Charity said the order condemns the actions of individuals involved and stressed that these are unrelated to the order.

A baby born in Nirmal Hriday (Tender Heart) home in the eastern Indian city of Ranchi was not handed over to state adoption authorities after the mother had declared her intention to do so, Sister Mary Prema Pierick, superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, said in a July 17 statement from Kolkata.

"We are fully cooperating with the investigations and are open to any free, fair and just inquiry," Sister Prema said, noting that "false news" "and "baseless innuendos" are being spread.

"While we place our full trust in the judicial process that is underway, we wish to express regret and sorrow for what happened," she said.

The order condemns "in unequivocal terms" the individual actions "which have nothing to do with the Congregation of the Missionaries of Charity," she said.

Police maintained that Jharkhand state's Child Welfare Committee came to suspect the home was involved in the illegal trading of children after a couple complained they were not given a child, despite paying 120,000 rupees (US$1,850) as an adoption fee.

Sister Concelia, whose duties as sister in charge of the home in Jharkhand state included accompanying mothers and babies to the welfare committee, which handles adoptions, was assisted by Anima Indwar, Sister Prema said.

Indwar had been employed by the home, which is part of the mission for children and unwed mothers of the order founded by St. Teresa of Kolkata in 1950, since 2012 and had come "to enjoy the trust of the sisters," she said.

Sister Prema's statement said Karishma Toppo, who had been in the home for about six weeks before her baby was born May 1, had declared in the home's register her intention to "surrender her child" to the welfare committee.

While Indwar, Toppo and her guardian took the baby from the home to do this, neither the home nor the sisters "had any way to ascertain whether the child was actually surrendered" to the welfare services, she said.

When she admitted to the welfare committee early July that the baby had not been given to them, Indwar was handed over to police, Sister Prema said.

Sister Concelia was arrested and her superior, Sister Marie Deanne, was questioned and held in police custody overnight, she said.

The following day, the home's 11 mothers, a baby and a guardian were removed from the home by the welfare services, Sister Prema said.

The women "were subjected to utmost humiliation and public embarrassment by the officials as they were carried in full view of the media," she said.

Another Missionaries of Charity home in Hinoo was raided by police soon afterward, with its 22 children, including a one-month-old baby, "carried away" by authorities, Sister Prema said.

"It is distressing that" the welfare committee "meted out such treatment to a home which," weeks before, officials had "described as having an 'excellent environment for the care of children,'" she said.

- - -

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Jesuit aims to stem decline of faith with launch of catechetical website

IMAGE:

By Maureen Pratt

ANAHEIM, Calif. (CNS) -- Jesuit Father Robert J. Spitzer, former president of Gonzaga University, launched a cutting-edge catechetical website to confront the rising tide of unbelief spurred by an increasingly skeptical, science-saturated society.

Developed through Father Spitzer's Magis Center, based in Garden Grove, Credible Catholic offers 20 downloadable "modules" that equip Magis Center learners with evidence-based arguments for core Christian beliefs. The catechetical website is www.CredibleCatholic.com.

"The Credible Catholic modules correspond to fundamental apologetics in light of modern scientific methods," said Father Spitzer, author and co-host of the Eternal Word Television Network program, "Father Spitzer's Universe."

"For example, I approach the Resurrection through evidence, but I respond to every Scripture passage, too," he said in an interview with Catholic News Service.

Each module is available in animated PowerPoint or document format in three levels of complexity, from highly detailed to a "Cliff Notes" version, with a separate teaching.

Interactive resources on the website include a robust search engine for navigation to key words or phrases, and a "contact us" click-through to enable direct contact with Credible Catholic staff. The modules, downloadable files and all supporting resources, including Magis Center staff support, are free.

Based on Father Spitzer's books and other work in apologetics, modules include contributions from astrophysicists, historians, theologians, physicists, and other experts. Each module aligns with specific sections of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, so it can easily be used to supplement sacrament preparation or for individual study.

Father Spitzer's foray into a multidisciplinary catechetical website sprung from his growing concern that religious affiliation is declining, due in large part, he believes, to the influence, particularly on youth, of "secular myths that misstate and/or misrepresent the facts."

These myths include "science has proven God does not exist," "humans are just a bunch of conglomerated atoms and molecules," "suffering proves God does not exist," and Jesus was "a very special person but he certainly was not divine."

Older Catholics can find these arguments challenging, but particularly vulnerable, Father Spitzer said, are many young people whose faith is tremendously shaken or dissipates when confronted with the stresses of academic and peer pressures.

The Credible Catholic's "7 Essential Modules," the first modules developed by Father Spitzer, give students and catechists tools to meet the challenges of skeptics. They cover core Christian beliefs and offer science-based evidence to support them.

"Kids demand proof," said the priest. "The more validated it is, the more they like it. '7 Essential Modules' is the inoculation that we give to students so they can go through their college years without getting their faith knocked out from under them."

A discussion of terminal lucidity, for example, is included in the module regarding proof of the soul. In another, research in Near Death Experiences, or NDEs, help illuminate the reality of life after death. And an explanation of the physical properties of light and heat transference is used to explain how the image on the Shroud of Turin could not have been humanly possible at the time it was made.

Anne Steinemann, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Melbourne, Australia, an early supporter of Credible Catholic, has seen the positive impact Credible Catholic has on students.

"Science can explain 'what,'" Steinemann told CNS, "but it cannot answer the question, 'Why?' Credible Catholic is effective, easy and exciting. It answers, head on, the typical objections to the Catholic faith."

The modules' format also helps facilitate learning.

"Students," said Steinemann, "can view the presentations on their own time, on their own device, in their own way. In the age of information overload, and trying to get students' attention, this does."

Michael O'Hara, executive director for Credible Catholic, works with teachers, clergy and staff of dioceses and parishes to understand how the unique material can work with existing ministries, departments or catechetical classes.

"Most parishes are 'programmed out,' but this isn't a program," said O'Hara. "A school in Texas might use Module 2 in their science class. Another parish did the modules for homework, a summer study or journaled on it."

Parents benefit from the modules' content, too.

"The problem for the parent," said O'Hara, "is that their kids are growing up in a world unlike anything that they grew up in. They don't have a counter to the arguments. The modules help the parent cope, and help them feel confident to counter the arguments."

In November 2017, Father Spitzer and his team from Magis Center debuted "7 Essential Modules" at an event attended by U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, retired head of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation, and 34 other U.S. Catholic bishops.

In June of this year, the priest presented the modules to 75 archbishops and bishops during the spring assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Florida. He now has 80 dioceses lined to use the modules in their religious education or sacrament preparation programs, or as independent study add-ons.

Father Spitzer also plans to continue adding modules, eventually covering all of the catechism.

- - -

Editor's Note: The Credible Catholic modules and a link to sign up for updates or staff support can be found at www.crediblecatholic.com. The website for Father Spitzer's Magis Center is www.magiscenter.com.

- - -

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Tennessee's Catholic bishops urge governor to halt upcoming executions

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jed DeKalb, courtesy State of Tennessee

By Theresa Laurence

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- Bishops J. Mark Spalding of Nashville, Richard F. Stika of Knoxville and Martin D. Holley of Memphis have written to Gov. Bill Haslam urging him to "use your authority as governor to put an end to the fast-track executions planned" in the state of Tennessee in the upcoming months.

"It is within your power to establish your legacy as a governor of Tennessee who did not preside over an execution on your watch," the state's three Catholic bishops wrote.

The last person to be put to death by lethal injection in Tennessee was Cecil Johnson in 2009, when Phil Bredesen was governor. The state has carried out a total of six executions since 1976, five of those during Bredesen's tenure.

In Tennessee, the governor has sole authority to grant clemency to death-row inmates.

There are currently 62 men and one woman on Tennessee's death row.

The next man scheduled to be executed by the state is Billy Ray Irick Aug. 9. Irick, 59, who has a history of serious mental illness, was convicted in 1986 of the rape and murder of a 7-year-old Knox County girl named Paula Dyer, and has been on death row for more than three decades.

In their letter to Haslam, the bishops called for mercy, including for those who have committed terrible crimes. "We join with many other religious denominations in firm opposition to the execution of even those convicted of heinous crimes," they wrote.

The bishops thanked Haslam for meeting with them in the past, and for his willingness to learn more about the Catholic Church's opposition to capital punishment and the foundations of that teaching.

In their letter, the bishops recalled the story of St. John Paul II's visit to St. Louis in 1999, when he called for an end to the death penalty as both cruel and unnecessary. The pope said, "It is simply not necessary as the only means to protect society while still providing a just punishment for those who break civil laws," the bishops wrote in their letter. "Rather than serving as a path to justice, the death penalty contributes to the growing disrespect for human life."

The bishops' letter to the governor comes at the same time that a trial begins over Tennessee's new lethal injection protocol. More than 30 death-row inmates filed suit against the state, contending that the new three-drug combination -- midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride -- used in the lethal-injection protocol amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Tennessee has not used this three-drug cocktail to carry out an execution before, but similar or identical drug combinations were used in botched executions in other states, according to the death-row inmates' attorneys.

The lethal-injection drug trial began July 9. With that underway and Irick's execution date set for Aug. 9, the state's capital punishment system is facing renewed scrutiny. The state's Catholic bishops are not the only ones voicing their opposition to it. 

The national organization Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty earlier this month named Nashville resident Hannah Cox its new national manager and is expanding its coalition of conservative lawmakers and constituents who are "questioning whether capital punishment is consistent with conservative principles and values due to the system's inefficiency, inequity and inaccuracy."

Cox, formerly with the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank, said in a statement, "Ending the death penalty aligns perfectly with my conservative beliefs because it eliminates the risk of executing innocent people, reduces costs to taxpayers, and is consistent with valuing life."

Three men have been released from Tennessee's death row in recent years after they were proven innocent. Paul House, who was exonerated by DNA evidence after spending 22 years on death row, has written an open petition to ask the state not to pursue Irick's execution or any execution, noting the risk of executing an innocent person.

In June, the American Bar Association released a study titled "Potential Cost-Savings of a Severe Mental Illness Exclusion from the Death Penalty: An Analysis of Tennessee Data," which noted that the state could save an estimated $1.4 million to $1.8 million per year by adopting a ban on capital punishment for defendants with severe mental illness.

The report stated that if defendants with severe mental illness were excluded from the death penalty, this "could result in cost savings because a subset of individuals could face expensive capital prosecutions and decades of appeals would become ineligible" for capital punishment.

- - -

Laurence is a staff writer for the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.

- - -

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

A good Christian shares the Gospel, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Fabio Frustaci, EPA

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- All Christians are called to be missionaries, concerned more with sharing the Gospel than with earning money or even with being successful at winning converts, Pope Francis said.

"A baptized person who does not feel the need to proclaim the Gospel, to announce Christ, is not a good Christian," the pope said July 15 before reciting the Angelus prayer with an estimated 15,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square.

Pope Francis was commenting on the day's Gospel reading, which told about how Jesus sent the disciples out two-by-two to preach and to heal in his name.

"It was a kind of apprenticeship for what they would be called to do with the power of the Holy Spirit after the resurrection of the Lord," the pope explained.

Speaking only in the name of Jesus, he said, "the apostles had nothing of their own to proclaim and none of their own abilities to demonstrate, but they spoke and acted as emissaries, as messengers of Jesus."

"This Gospel episode concerns us, too, and not only priests, but all the baptized, who are called to witness to the Gospel of Christ in all the situations of life," the pope said.

Christians fulfill their mission, he said, when their proclamation is motivated only by love for and obedience to Christ and when the only message they share is Christ's.

In the reading from St. Mark's Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples "to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick -- no food, no sack, no money in their belts."

The poverty and simplicity of lifestyle Jesus asks for, the pope said, were meant to make the disciples of yesterday and today "free and light."

Jesus, he said, calls his disciples to set out as "messengers of the kingdom of God, not powerful managers, not unmovable functionaries (and) not stars on tour."

Although all the baptized are sent out on mission by Christ, they go with no guarantee of success, the pope said. "This, too, is poverty: the experience of failure."

Pope Francis prayed that Mary, "the first disciple and missionary of the word of God, would help us bear the message of the Gospel in the world with a humble and radiant exultation that goes beyond every refusal, misunderstanding or tribulation."

- - -

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

If it is broke, fix it: Ideas on reshaping U.S. immigration policy

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lucas Jackson, Reuters

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In 2008, Kenan Thompson of "Saturday Night Live" unveiled a "financial expert" character named Oscar Rogers on the "Weekend Update" segment. His advice on the economy, shouted loudly and often as the nation was careening into the Great Recession, was "Fix it!"

That Oscar Rogers mantra would suit U.S. immigration policy as well, as people and advocates complain about a broken immigration system.

The U.S. bishops in 2003 published a pastoral letter, "Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope," which listed principles of reforming U.S. immigration policy. But 15 years later, how do those principles translate into concrete legislative proposals?

"This year, we've seen the failure to pass on both sides of Congress larger-scale bills that have fixes for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), most recently here in the House," said Ashley Feasley, director of policy for Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. 

"(The month of) June had a couple of votes that they didn't pass and (got) broken down from bipartisan negotiations at the beginning of June to negotiations within the Republican Party," which controls the White House and both houses of Congress, Feasley added. "The bishops opposed both bills, which failed to pass."

Currently, according to Feasley, "there's a lot of focus on the family separation issue and the family detention issue" after the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" on border crossers caused an uproar once it was put into effect this spring.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order to reunite families, but not all children who were separated from parents have been reunited with them.

Feasley described one aspect of the immigration system's brokenness: "Frankly, there has been an overreliance on administrative methods because there's been an absence of consensus in Congress on passing legislation on the immigration issues that need to be solved."

DACA, she said, is "a perfect example. The DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001 and it has been brought up in several iterations, either by itself or part of a comprehensive bill, on the House and on the Senate side. The Obama administration initiated the DACA program in 2012, and the Trump administration ended the program in 2017, and now there's judicial challenges."

One suit, brought by Texas and several Southern states, is challenging DACA's legality. If a federal court agrees with Texas, that could prompt a legislative fix, Feasley said. But that is "reactive to the court case," she added, and "there's not a lot of proactive action going on now." Depending on the midterm elections, Feasley said, a lame-duck session could see some immigration bills brought to the floor.

"We strongly believe that family-based immigration is one of the most important aspects. Then, after that, humanitarian issues. Protection for people seeking asylum, protection for people when things happen, the TPS (Temporary Protected Status)," said Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.

"We need to legalize the people who are here. We're talking about people undergoing background checks, paying fines and stepping forward. That is a component," Atkinson said.

"We need to look at the system that we have and say, 'What numbers, what level of immigration works for our country?'" she added. "Our system hasn't been reformed in decades. So what was set up all those years ago doesn't serve our country well."

There are labor aspects to immigration, she noted. Currently, stricter enforcement coupled with low unemployment has resulted in fewer workers coming from other countries to perform available jobs. "It needs to be looked at and evaluated," Atkinson said. "And you need to protect those people who are brought to this country to work: seasonal workers, but also the professional visas."

Atkinson said, "Many people are paying taxes anyway, but (legal status means) getting better jobs and paying more in taxes. People who couldn't pay taxes or knew how to pay taxes are paying taxes. So there are financial benefits for the country." Those benefits, she added, "will pay off for decades in the future."

Atkinson said the United States needs to examine the "root causes" of immigration. "The vast majority of people want to stay where they are. Most people want to be in a place where they know the place, they know the culture, they know the language" but they leave due to gang violence, domestic violence or dire poverty.

She admitted there would be a high price tag to comprehensive immigration reform. But border enforcement, which Atkinson pegged at $22 billion a year, is "more than every other federal law enforcement as well as state employment protection agencies. We're already spending massive amounts of money" -- and still more "if you tried to deport all the people who have unauthorized status."

Moreover, "there's a very big price tag for inaction," Atkinson said, the latest item on that receipt being "the psychological impact" of family separation and deportation of parents while their children are U.S. citizens.

"We need to change the law. It's a poor system," declared Sister Mary Ellen Lacy, a Daughter of Charity and immigration lawyer who is currently a grass-roots mobilization specialist for Network, the nun-run Catholic social justice lobby.

In her immigration law practice, she helped impoverished clients in Texas, Alabama and the New York City borough of Brooklyn. "They come because they want to live, and then they end up in the shadows. Some of them have been in here for 20 years," Sister Lacy said. "And then they get picked up, and then they come to you. A woman's husband doesn't come home. And she comes looking for him. Was he in a raid?"

The fees, forms and time lags in following immigration law are "punitive," she added. "Some people just wanted to bring their family members over. Or they fell in love, wanted to get married, and do it legally, and it took years. ... It's terrible when someone tells you, 'We don't think your marriage is legal,'" Sister Lacy said. "We have celebrities and politicians who get married several times over and no one questions their bona fides."

Sister Lacy criticized the Trump administration actions that had "eliminated all the TPS. Most of the countries that we've granted TPS status to we've eliminated in the past year. People who've made a life for themselves 10, 20, 30 years. Now we're saying you've got to go back to a country you don't know. And they were here -- with permission! These hardship cases are hard to see."

Comprehensive immigration reform, "loosely quoting (House Speaker) Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) -- is the best economic package we could ever produce," Sister Lacy said. "I agree with Paul Ryan. But it's been a long time since he said that," putting that quote in 2012, when he was Mitt Romney's GOP running mate on the party's presidential ticket.

Sister Lacy has a six-point plan to fix U.S. immigration policy. It largely mirrors what the bishops sought in 2003.

Then, the bishops asked for an earned legalization program; a worker program to allow foreign-born workers to enter the United States safely; an increase in the number of family visa and a reduction in family reunification waiting times; restoring due process rights taken away by a 1996 immigration bill and eliminating the three- and 10-year re-entry bars which also were part of that law; "targeted proportional and humane" enforcement measures; and addressing the root causes of migration.

The bishops recognized a sovereign nation's right to control and protect its borders, but opposed "some of the policies and tactics that our government has employed to meet this ... responsibility."

Sister Lacy's points are prioritizing family unity; creating a process that leads to legal status and citizenship; improving access to the legal immigration system; strengthening the country's legal asylum processes and refugee resettlement program; protecting all workers and reducing exploitation; and addressing the root causes of migration.

- - -

Follow Twitter: @MeMarkPattison

- - -

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.