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Arlington priest pays restitution for burning KKK cross in family's lawn

Arlington, Va., Dec 11, 2017 / 03:48 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An Arlington priest who was formerly a KKK member has written an apology letter and paid restitution to a family for burning a cross in their lawn in 1977.

Fr. William Aitcheson, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Va. is a former member of the Ku Klux Klan and was arrested in 1977 for burning six crosses, one on the lawn of Philip and Barbara Butler. He was 23 years old at the time.

In a handwritten letter to the Butlers released on Friday, Aitcheson apologized for his “despicable act” and for the pain that it caused. “I also know that the symbol of the most enduring love the world has ever known must never be used as a weapon of terror,” he wrote.

Besides the letter, the priest also sent the Butlers a check for $23,000, the original restitution owed them in 1977, and offered to pay their legal fees of $9,600.

While the family originally refused to accept Aitcheson’s apology and money, the diocese said in a press release that the Butlers “have since reconsidered and accepted” the restitution and money for legal fees, which were paid from Aicheson’s personal funds and a private loan.

The diocese also stated that “Fr. Aitcheson had no legal obligation to make restitution, and it should be clarified that he had no obligation under Church law either. Fr. Aitcheson felt a moral obligation to pay as much as he could. The Diocese supported this decision.”

“Fr. Aitcheson acknowledges that he should have reached out to the Butler family and paid restitution decades ago, but he hopes this resolution begins a process of healing and peace,” the diocese added.

In August, Aitcheson’s past as a KKK member was made public when he wrote an article in the diocesan newspaper “with the intention of telling his story of transformation” from being a Klan member to abandoning his racist beliefs and becoming a Catholic priest.

The article, entitled “Moving from hate to love with God’s grace,” was written in the wake of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. on Aug. 11-12, which drew national attention. According to the diocese, a freelancer reporter contacted the diocese at that time after she found that Fr. Aitcheson’s name matched that of a man arrested in the 1970s. Fr. Aitcheson saw it as a chance to share his story of conversion, and the diocese agreed to publish his account.

“He left that life behind him 40 years ago and since journeyed in faith to eventually become a Catholic priest,” the diocese said in a statement in August.

The Butlers’ lawyer has told local media that the family is still pursuing a civil suit against the law firm that originally represented them at the time of the incident and failed to renew the judgment on the case, allowing it to expire. The family is seeking to collect the interest accrued on the original $23,000, which would now be more than $68,000.

The family is also looking into a civil suit against the diocese, which they believe should have come forward about Aitcheson’s past, and alleging harm caused by an apology letter published by the priest.

The diocese has said that they were aware of Aitcheson’s past KKK involvement but were not made aware of the civil suit until August.

Fr. Aitcheson entered the seminary and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas, Nev. in 1988. He came to the Arlington Diocese in 1993. The Arlington Diocese stated in August that “there have been no accusations of racism or bigotry against Fr. Aitcheson throughout his time in the Diocese of Arlington.”

Fr. Aitcheson has been on a voluntary leave of absence since August. According to the diocese, “plans for (Aitcheson’s) future priestly ministry are still being discerned.”

 

Court rejects Washington archdiocese's Advent metro ad

Washington D.C., Dec 11, 2017 / 11:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A federal court has denied relief to the Archdiocese of Washington, in its request for an injunction that would have allowed it to run bus ads encouraging riders to discover the true meaning of Christmas.

“We are disappointed that the federal court denied our emergency request for an injunction to run our ‘Find the Perfect Gift’ Advent ad campaign,” said Ed McFadden, Secretary for Communications for the Archdiocese of Washington.

“While this preliminary ruling that there should be no room made for us on [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] buses is disappointing, we will continue in the coming days to pursue and defend our right to share the important message of Christmas in the public square.”

The district court’s decision denied emergency relief to the archdiocese after the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) declined to run the ad campaign, citing a 2015 policy which prohibits the promotion or opposition of religion in advertisements.

The archdiocese’s ad shows the Star of Bethlehem and reads “Find the perfect gift,” advertising the website www.findtheperfectgift.org and the hashtag #PerfectGift.

A version of the ad which includes a Bible verse is already posted at numerous city bus stops, which are controlled by the District Department of Transportation, not WMATA. The bus ads have been running for nearly a decade, and reach areas of the city which do not have many bus shelters.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson stated in her decision that she declined to grant the archdiocese relief from WMATA’s decision because she does not believe its case will succeed on religious freedom or free speech grounds.  

“The advertisement does not seek to address a general, otherwise permissible topic from a religious perspective — the sole purpose of directing the public to www.findtheperfectgift.org is to promote religion. The website declares: ‘JESUS is the perfect gift. [F]ind the perfect gift of God’s love this Christmas’,”she wrote.

 

Why 'Silence Breakers' are key in any abuse crisis

Denver, Colo., Dec 10, 2017 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- This week, TIME Magazine announced a group of women and men as their collective Person of the Year.

What do these people have in common? They are what TIME called “The Silence Breakers” - people who have blown the whistle on sexual assault and abuse within the workplace, largely in the industries of film, politics, and media.

In recent months an avalanche of abuse allegations have been brought to light against powerful figures, starting most notably with a piece in the New York Times in which several women accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. This sparked a flood of men and women coming forward with other allegations of abuse against numerous people in positions of power.

“These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day, and in the past two months alone, their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced. In some cases, criminal charges have been brought,” TIME reported.

Not long ago, the Catholic Church in the United States was reeling from its own sex abuse crisis. In the early 2000s, reporters at the Boston Globe broke the story of a former priest who was accused of molesting more than 100 boys over 30 years, which led to a large-scale uncovering of thousands more allegations of abuse in dioceses throughout the country.

Since then, the Church has taken care to provide numerous resources to such victims, and develop robust child protection policies.

Edward Mechmann, director of public policy and the safe environment office for the Archdiocese of New York, told CNA that the “silence breakers” who came forward and continue to come forward with accusations of abuse by clergy and Church personnel are key in maintaining a safe environment in the Church.

“I think the one thing we have to make sure we understand is who the whistleblowers are, and for the most part, the whistleblowers are victims,” Mechmann said.

“As much as the outside observers like the Boston Globe and the media in general contributed to our awareness of the scope of the problem, we would really be nowhere unless we had some of these courageous victims coming forward, because without them, we would have many more men in service who are victimizers,” he added.

It is especially important that victims come forward in order to protect others from abuse, he noted, because in some cases, abusers have victimized numerous people over the span of many years.

Recently, the Church has seen victims coming forward “much more willingly now, because they see that we’re serious, they see that we’re not going to victimize them again, and they see concrete results” such as accused persons being removed from ministry, he said.

“The first and most important thing we do is we listen to them, and I can’t tell you how important that is,” Mechmann said.

“So many people that come in to see us are afraid, they’ve been victimized, they’re afraid they’re going to be victimized again, and just the fact that we listen to them is just an enormously healing thing,” he said.

Besides listening to victims, Mechmann said the Church also provides support through counseling and through talking with victims about the Church’s internal processes for dealing with cases of abuse.

“And we stay in contact with them, if they want to stay in contact with us, we walk with them,” he added.

Dr. Benjamin Keyes, a Catholic psychologist and Director for the Center for Trauma and Resiliency Studies at Divine Mercy University, told CNA that supporting and encouraging victims who come forward is of the utmost importance.

“There’s a whole lot of relief that someone has finally heard the story...they’re no longer isolated with the information, and how well they fare afterwards really depends on what happens around them,” he said. “Are they supported, are there people in their network, whether it's family, friends, or co-workers, that really understand and really support them in the courage that it takes to do this?”

Sometimes it can takes months or even years for victims of abuse to break the silence on what happened to them, Keyes said, because there is usually “a lot of embarrassment, a lot of shame involved, and most people, women in particular, don’t want to expose that to the public or to others, even to those who are close to (them),” he said.

The fear of retaliation or retribution is also something that can keep victims from coming forward, especially if the abuse came from someone who is in a position of power over the victim, Keyes noted.

For these reasons, victims need encouragement and support from the Church in order to feel comfortable coming forward.

“The Church can be supportive, especially in the parishes, (by) making it safe for (whistleblowers) to be who they are, by acknowledging the courage that it took for them to do that, and to be supportive vocally within the body of the Church so that people hear that the Church is supporting it,” he said.

Supporting victims also involves “making sure that they stay networked into not only the activities that they’ve been involved with, but that they stay networked into the body of the Church, so that they don’t walk away,” he added.

The parish priest, as well as members of the parish community, are especially key in making victims feel welcomed and supported, he noted, which can be done simply by including them and befriending them.

“We’re taught in the Bible to love and to love unconditionally, and this is part of that,” Keyes said.

“It’s embracing the broken places and binding up the suffering and reaching out to the broken-hearted, and we’re called as Christians, not just as counselors, to do that,” he added.

Since the sex abuse crisis in the Church in the United States, the bishops have put into place numerous policies and practices to protect victims, and especially children from sexual abuse, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Charter for Child and Youth Protection, which calls for an annual audit and report of all the dioceses in the country.

The Church has also implemented safe environment trainings that call for a zero-tolerance policy of abuse in Church environments.

“I think a lot of what’s happening is really good,” Mechmann said, regarding the silence breakers in media and politics who have recently come forward.

“Maybe the world as a whole could learn a little bit from the way that we have handled this, in terms of creating a clear corporate culture of zero tolerance. Transparency is at the heart of what we’ve done, and I hope that some of these other industries can do the same.”

US bishops call for solidarity with migrants on Our Lady of Guadalupe's feast day

Washington D.C., Dec 9, 2017 / 03:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops are encouraging Catholics to observe the upcoming Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe as a day of solidarity with immigrants.

In the nation’s capital, a 12:10 p.m. Mass at St. Peter's Church will mark the Dec. 12 feast day. The Mass will be celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, D.C.

Additionally, more than 55 events – including prayers services, Masses, and processions – will be held throughout the U.S. this month. These events, the bishops’ conference said, will honor Our Lady of Guadalupe and will “seek to honor the accomplishments, hopes, fears, and needs of all families who have come to the U.S. seeking a better life.”

“As we enter the Advent season and Christmas approaches, we are reminded of the unique role and importance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a unifier and peacebuilder for communities,” said Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, chairman of the migration committee at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“We honor her role as protectress of families, including those families separated and far from home,” he said in a Dec. 7 statement.

The conference is also offering resources for parishes looking to accompany migrants, including Our Lady of Guadalupe prayer cards and informational material. Other suggestions include ways to incorporate the intentions of the migrant community in parish prayer services, social media sharing, and efforts to support government policies such Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas and the unborn, appeared to St. Juan Diego on the Hill of Tepeyac in Mexico City in 1531, during a time of conflict between the Spanish and the indigenous peoples.

Our Lady took the appearance of a pregnant native woman, wore clothing in the style of the indigenous community, and spoke to Juan Diego in the native language of Nahuatl.

She asked Juan Deigo to appeal to the local bishop to build a church on the site of the apparition, stating she wanted a place where she could reveal to the people the compassion of her son. Initially turned away by the bishop, Diego returned to site asking Our Lady for a sign to prove the authenticity of her message.

She instructed him to gather the Castilian roses that he found blooming on the hillside, despite the fact that it was winter, and present them to the Spanish bishop. Juan Diego filled his cloak – known as a tilma – with the flowers. When he presented them to the bishop, he found that an image of Our Lady was miraculously imprinted upon his tilma.

Today, nearly 500 years later, the bishops said, we should still remember Mary’s words to Juan Diego: “Let your face and heart not be troubled, don’t be afraid … Am I not here who am your mother?”

The bishops’ statement said many immigrants from the Americas have relied on Our Lady of Guadalupe’s intercession for safety during their migrant journey. The statement included a prayer requesting her protection over the most vulnerable.

 

Pope meets Sisters of Congregation founded by Mother Cabrini

By Seàn-Patrick Lovett

Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini is an Italian-born saint who dedicated her life to helping thousands of Italian immigrants living in the United States during the late 19th century. She died in Chicago exactly one hundred years ago.

On Saturday morning in the Vatican, Pope Francis met members of the religious congregation she founded, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The congregation is present today on 6 continents and in 15 countries around the world.

Click below to hear the report by Seàn-Patrick Lovett

During his discourse in Italian, the Pope recalled the holiness of their Foundress and praised her tireless work with migrants and the poor. He held her up as an example for today, adding that the reality of migrants has evolved and is now “more current than ever”. Migrants, said the Pope, “need good laws, programs of development and organization but, above all, they always need love, friendship, human closeness; they need to be heard, looked in the eye, accompanied”. They need God, he said, “encountered in love that is freely given”. We must do as Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini does, concluded Pope Francis: “be capable of responding to the signs of our time, reading them in the light of the Word of God and living them in such a way as to provide an answer that can reach the heart of every person”.

 

Here is our English translation of the Pope’s address

It is with great pleasure that I welcome all of you, representatives of the Cabrini Family, who wish in this way to conclude the celebrations for the centenary of the birth of St Frances Xavier Cabrini. On December 17, 1917, this holy woman, who had crossed the ocean twenty-four times to assist migrants in the Americas, and who, untiringly, had gone as far as the Andes and Argentina, died suddenly in Chicago, and departed on her final journey.

Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini the Missionary

St Cabrini was a true missionary. She had grown up keeping before her the example of St. Francis Xavier, the pioneer of evangelization in the East. In his heart he had China and in that distant land he hoped to bring the proclamation of the Gospel. He did not think of the thousands and thousands of emigrants who, because of hunger, lack of work and the absence of a future, embarked with their scant belongings to reach America, driven by the dream of a better life. As we know - and as she said - it was the vision of Pope Leo XIII who, jokingly, made her change course: "Not to the east, Cabrini, but to the West!". The young Mother Cabrini, who had just founded the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, needed to see where God was sending her on mission. Not to where she wanted to go, but to where He had prepared the way for her, the path of service and holiness. Here is the example of a true vocation: to forget oneself in order to surrender oneself fully to the love of God.

Migrants then and now

After so many years, the reality of migrants, to whom St Frances Xavier Cabrini dedicated her entire life, has evolved and is more current than ever. New faces of men, women and children, marked by so many forms of poverty and violence, appear before our eyes, hoping to find outstretched hands and welcoming hearts, like those of Mother Cabrini, along their way. In particular, you are offered the responsibility of being faithful to the mission of your Holy Foundress. Her charisma is of extraordinary actuality, because migrants certainly need good laws, programs of development and organization but, above all, they always need love, friendship, human closeness; they need to be heard, looked in the eye, accompanied; they need God, encountered in the freely given love of a woman who, with her consecrated heart, is your sister and mother.

“I can do all things in Him who gives me strength”

May the Lord renew always in you the attentive and merciful gaze towards the poor who live in our cities and our countries. Mother Cabrini had the courage to look into the eyes of the orphaned children entrusted to her, the unemployed youth who were tempted to commit crimes, the men and women exploited for the humblest jobs; and therefore today we are here to thank God for her holiness. In each of those brothers and sisters, she recognized the face of Christ and was able to put to good use the talents that the Lord had entrusted to her. She had a strong sense of apostolic action; and if she had such great energy to accomplish extraordinary work in a few years, it was only because of her union with Christ, following the model of St. Paul, from whom she took her motto: "I can do all things in Him who gives me strength".

Grasping the moment of grace

Mother Cabrini lived the spirituality of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Step by step, hers was an existence wholly intended to console and make the Sacred Heart known and loved. And this made her able to look at the hearts of those who approached her and to assist them in a coherent way. This important anniversary is a powerful reminder to us all of the need for a faith that knows how to grasp the moment of grace that is lived. As difficult as it may seem, she tells us that we must do as she does: be capable of responding to the signs of our time, reading them in the light of the Word of God and living them in such a way as to provide an answer that can reach the heart of every person.

(from Vatican Radio)

'Crown Jewel' of nation's basilica blessed in DC

Washington D.C., Dec 8, 2017 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With the blessing of its final mosaic, America’s Basilica – The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. – is finally complete after nearly a century of construction and adornment.

“This magnificent tribute in stone, glass, marble mosaic to Mary, Mother of Jesus, Mother of God and our Mother, invites all of us to recognize not only the special role of Mary in our life but the unique glory that is hers in her Immaculate Conception,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington in his Dec. 8 homily before the dedication of the basilica’s new Trinity Dome mosaic.

Blessing of Trinity Dome by Card. Kevin Farrell and @Cardinal_Wuerl at the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception @MarysShrine pic.twitter.com/1V6IRYqOJz

— Addie Mena (@AddieMMena) December 8, 2017 Cardinal Wuerl blessed the dome with incense during Mass for the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life attended the dedication as an envoy on behalf of Pope Francis and presented the cardinal and the rector of the Basilica, Msgr. Walter Rossi, with a letter of Apostolic Blessing from the Pope for the blessing.

The new dome and its mosaic, which depicts the Trinity, Mary, and nearly twenty saints and blessed who share a connection with either the Americas or the National Shrine itself, is the capstone which finishes 97 years of construction and decoration of the Basilica and its interior. Five cardinals, 23 bishops, nearly 90 priests, and over 4,000 people gathered to celebrate the event. Also present at the event were Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Callista Gingrich.

At @MarysShrine in DC for the Feast Day and also the dedication of the final piece of the National Basilica: the Trinity Dome pic.twitter.com/Akru6AN6ft

— Addie Mena (@AddieMMena) December 8, 2017 The construction of a National Shrine to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception was announced in 1918 and construction began in 1920. “People were invited all over the country to contribute in whatever way they could,” Cardinal Wuerl explained, and “some donated some pieces of old jewelry and others donated some precious stones.”

After the completion of the Crypt Church in 1931, construction on the Upper Church was paused for the Great Depression and World War II, but resumed in 1945. The Church’s structure was completed in 1959.

Since then, different side chapels depicting a variety of Marian apparitions, scenes from Mary’s life, and other mosaics on the ceilings and walls have been completed. In addition, St. John Paul II dedicated the church as a basilica in 1979, and both Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have visited the shrine during their pontificates.

During his September 2015 visit to the shrine for canonization of Junipero Serra, Pope Francis blessed the first section of the Trinity Dome mosaic. The largest dome in the entire shrine, the mosaic contains more than 14 million pieces of handmade Venetian Glass. The artwork for the dome was designed by studios in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and then fabricated in Italy into smaller puzzle-like sections. After being shipped over to the United States, the mosaic was then installed section by section onto the “crown jewel” of the shrine.

During his homily, Wuerl recalled an early gathering of United States bishops which chose the Blessed Mother of the Immaculate Conception to be the patroness for the young nation. “She is the supreme model of what our faith should be,” the cardinal said. “She was the vessel of the incarnation.”

The cardinal pointed to the new dome’s many pieces coming together as one piece of art, drawing upon its reflection of the unity within the universal Church as well the many different cultures that have come together in the United States.

“Just as there are chapels throughout this Basilica reflecting national heritages, ethnic backgrounds, all proclaiming in unison ‘Hail Mary,’ so, too, do we look across this great Church of God and see out of so many one great faith family,” Wuerl reflected.

Following his homily, Farrell read a special blessing from Pope Francis. Through his envoy, the Pope expressed his wish that all who gaze on Mary “show forth special love for the Church of Christ and the Gospel, even in our own age, and may distinguish themselves by their spiritual constancy.” Farrell also said that the Pope asks that the faithful consider “ the great honor and great gift that we have received from God’s mercy and God’s bounty.”

In addition to completing construction of the shrine, the blessing of the Trinity Dome is the first of a series of preparations for the upcoming 100th anniversary celebrations for the foundation of the basilica. A full series of centennial celebrations will take place around 2020.

With prayer and aid, Catholics rally around California wildfire victims

Ventura, Calif., Dec 8, 2017 / 04:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The massive wildfires of California have drawn calls for prayer and assistance from the U.S. bishops, as Catholic Charities affiliates in the state work to aid victims.

“I am sure all the faithful join me in saying: we stand ready to help in the recovery,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, said Dec. 8.

Dan Grimm, Santa Barbara/Ventura regional director for Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, also called for prayers.

“We are praying for a quick end to this 'trial by fire' but so grateful for the generosity of so many coming to the aid of their brothers and sisters in Christ,” he told CNA.

Six fires currently affect the state, having burned nearly 160,000 acres. About 190,000 people have been forced from their homes as over 5,700 firefighters combat the flames.

The worst blaze, the Thomas Fire, started late Monday near Santa Paula, Calif.  It has burned 132,000 acres, about 206 square miles. In its first day, it spread at a rate of one acre per second.

Wind gusts are expected to continue to fan the flames through Sunday, CNN reports.

Calling for prayer, Cardinal DiNardo noted that on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Catholics “commit ourselves to the loving protection of Mary the Mother of God and patroness of America.”

“Let us remember, especially, her sons and daughters in danger from the terrible wildfires in California, both those whose homes are in the fire’s path and those courageous first responders and firefighters who are putting their lives at risk,” he said.

Grimm reflected on the response to the wildfires.

“The effect of the wildfires has been devastating, but people are responding with faith and generosity even before the flames have stopped, helping those displaced temporarily or permanently with food, water, clothing, bedding and other personal necessities,” he said.
“Catholic Charities has been one of the collection points for this great outpouring of generosity and we’re working extra to receive, store and distribute while taking care of our regular clients, both working low-income and homeless people,” he continued.

Grimm said the Red Cross and local cities have been “great” at running evacuation centers and first response operations.

“Now we are helping people as they regroup, return to clean up and protect their homes, and deal with lack of power, heat, safe water and adequate food,” the Catholic Charities official said.

The Catholic Charities of Los Angeles website, at catholiccharitiesla.org, is collecting funds to aid relief.

Catholic Charities’ Ventura Community Services Center is accepting in-kind donations for the victims of the Ventura County fire, while Catholic Charities’ Guadalupe Community Center is taking in-kind donations for victims of the Sylmar/Santa Clarita fire.

Grimm said the Ventura center in the course of one day received food, clothing and personal items that filled the client reception room. These donated goods are planned to be moved to a temporary distribution center in Casita Springs, staffed by Boy Scouts, so that residents in need may have easier access to them.

“As those whose homes were partially or completely destroyed seek to restart their lives, Catholic Charities is helping to find short-term housing,” he said.

The charities’ Santa Barbara thrift store will provide low- or no-cost furniture, clothing and household goods. The archdiocese’s Cardinal McIntyre Fund and a special fund for victims will help address uninsured housing repair and replacement costs.

Cardinal DiNardo made specific prayer recommendations, saying: “Please find a moment today, whether after Mass or while gathered as a family around the Advent wreath, to pray a Rosary in gratitude for Mary’s gifts to humanity and entrusting to her protection our sisters and brothers in the fire’s path.”

 

 

DOJ investigates Planned Parenthood for fetal tissue sales

Washington D.C., Dec 8, 2017 / 03:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. Department of Justice has launched a formal investigation of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of abortions, for their role in the alleged sale of baby body parts.

“The Justice Department’s investigation of Planned Parenthood is a major turning point in the battle to hold the nation’s largest abortion business accountable,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said Dec. 8.

“Evidence shows Planned Parenthood sought to squeeze every last opportunity for cash from the sale of hearts, brains, lungs, and livers of aborted children… that ends now,” Dannenfelser continued.

The Justice Department confirmed Dec. 7 they were formally looking into allegations against Planned Parenthood for the illegal sale of aborted baby body parts.

The investigation comes two years after undercover journalist David Daleiden released footage of Planned Parenthood employees negotiating the price and monetary compensation of fetal tissue from aborted babies. The footage also includes conversations from representatives of StemExpress, a company that provides biological material for medical research company.

“Over two years ago, citizen journalists at the Center for Medical Progress first caught Planned Parenthood’s top abortion doctors in a series of undercover videos callously and flippantly negotiating the sale of tiny baby hearts, lungs, livers and brains,” said Daleiden Dec. 8, according to Fox News.

“It is time for public officials to finally hold Planned Parenthood and their criminal abortion enterprise accountable under the law,” he continued.

While federal law allows compensation for fetal tissue to be used for research purposes, the amount of money received from clinics is not allowed to be of “valuable consideration,” and should only cover the costs of transportation and preservation.

Planned Parenthood and other clinics were recommended to the Justice Department for investigation by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in December 2016, after publishing the “Human Fetal Tissue Research: Context and Controversy” report.

Grassley reported that the committee found “substantial evidence” suggesting that Planned Parenthood and other parties “may have violated” the law by charging more money for fetal tissue and baby body parts than was actually recommended.

Stephen Boyd, the Justice Department assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, originally requested the unredacted documents from the Senate Judiciary Committee from the 2016 report. Last month, the FBI additionally requested these documents for investigative purposes.

“The Department of Justice appreciates the offer of assistance in obtaining these materials, and would like to request the Committee provide unredacted copies of records contained in the report, in order to further the Department’s ability to conduct a thorough and comprehensive assessment of that report based on the full range of information available,” stated Boyd, according to Fox News.

Planned Parenthood has denied accusations of breaking the law.

In US, abortion rates reach new low

Washington D.C., Dec 8, 2017 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A report from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that abortion rates in the country are at a historic low since the nationwide legalization of abortion in 1973.

According to the study, abortion rates have fallen 22 percent between the years of 2005-2014. In 2014, the CDC cited 653,639 performed abortions, while over 1.4 million abortions took place in 1990.

“The CDC report indicates the percentage of abortion rates declined across all race, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds, which means pro-lifers are continuing to make great strides in protecting women and the unborn child,” Kathleen Neher, the president of the National Catholic Social Workers Association, told CNA.

The study included both surgical abortions and chemical abortions, which include abortifacient pills that end a pregnancy before 8 weeks gestation.

A number of different factors are playing into the overall decline in abortions. The CDC reported that “the proportion of pregnancies in the United States that were unintended decreased from 51 percent in 2008 to 45 percent during 2011–2013.” It pointed to increased use of long-acting contraceptives such as IUD and hormonal implants as one reason for this decrease.

However, another factor is the declining birthrate in the U.S. The National Center for Health Statistics found that the number of babies delivered in the U.S. has declined by about 1 percent over the past few years. It said that 3,941,109 babies were born in the U.S. in 2016, which was 37,388 fewer babies than were born in 2015.

Fertility rates hit a record low in the U.S. in 2016, bringing the number of births to 62.0 per 1,000 women, compared to the previous 62.5 births.  

“People are choosing less frequently to be parents, and women who are pregnant are choosing less frequently to abort the baby,” said James Studnicki, a statistics expert from the Charlotte Lozier Institute, according to The Hill.

While Neher considers the overall decline of abortions to be a positive sign, she had additional concerns about the high number of women living in poverty who are still choosing abortion.

“This is a concern, as various factors contribute to these decisions – the day-to-day complexities of economic challenges, and the break-down of the family in our society, often leaving women to make these choices on their own,” Neher said.

“The response to this is to support and offer women alternative choices,” she continued, saying efforts to promote alternatives should include support for adoption, prenatal care, housing, and connecting women to programs that care for the dignity of both mother and child.  

The number of abortions could potentially hit an even lower rate in the year to come. Of the abortions performed in 2014, about 1.3 percent took place after 20 weeks gestation. The practice of abortions after 20 weeks could be outlawed if the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act becomes a law. The bill has passed the House but is currently pending in the Senate.

While the CDC numbers do show an overall decline in abortions, the study is limited in its findings. States are not obligated to report their abortion data, and California, New Hampshire and Maryland did not include their numbers in the report.

 

Pope Francis celebrates the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis left the Vatican on Friday afternoon, headed for Rome’s central Piazza di Spagna in order to pay homage to the statue of the Immaculate Conception there.

Listen to Seán-Patrick Lovett's report:

Surrounded by crowds of pilgrims, tourists and local Roman residents, the Pope recited a specially-composed Prayer to Our Lady in which he asked her, among other things, to help us “rid ourselves of all pride and arrogance and to recognize ourselves for what we really are: small and poor sinners” – but always Mary’s children.

The Pope’s visit to the memorial column dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, included the traditional blessing of a garland of flowers which Roman firemen placed on the statue of Our Lady which dominates the summit of the ancient marble column.

Visit to Basilica of Mary Major

On his way to Piazza di Spagna this year, Pope Francis also stopped to visit the Basilica of St Mary Major where he laid a floral wreath below the icon of Salus Populi Romani, depicting Our Lady and the Christ Child. This is the same image the Pope always prays at both before and after his apostolic journeys abroad.

Alphonse Ratisbonne

Before returning to the Vatican later in the afternoon, Pope Francis paid a private visit to the Rome Basilica of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte.

It was here, 175 years ago, that a French Jew by the name of Alphonse Ratisbonne, experienced a vision of the Virgin Mary. At that moment, in the words of the Pope, “from being an atheist and enemy of the Church, he became a Christian”.

Even more so, following his conversion, Alphonse became a Jesuit priest and missionary and ended up cofounding his own religious Congregation dedicated to Our Lady of Sion.

(from Vatican Radio)