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Posted on 12/16/2018 21:47 PM (CNA Daily News - US)
Louisville, Ky., Dec 16, 2018 / 02:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Students with Down syndrome study Latin and logic alongside their classmates at Immaculata Classical Academy, a Catholic school in Louisville, Ky., that integrates students with special needs into each of their pre-K through 12 classrooms.
The school emphasizes “education of the heart,” along with an educational philosophy tailored to the abilities of each student. About 15 percent of students at Immaculata have special needs.
“When you look at these students with Down syndrome in a classical setting, it is truly what a classical education is all about -- what it truly means to be human,” the school’s founder, Michael Michalak, told CNA.
“You can't learn compassion in a book,” Michalak explained. He said the students at Immaculata are gaining “the ability to give of yourself to help others” through mutual mentoring constantly taking place in the classrooms.
Michalek founded the academy along with his wife, Penny, in 2010. The couple saw a need for a Catholic school in which students like their daughter, Elena, who has Down syndrome, would not be segregated from her siblings. They wanted to keep their children together without compromising educational quality or spiritual formation.
“A classical education is, I think, the best education for a child with special needs because it is an education in everything that is beautiful, true, and good. It is perfect for these children,” Penny told CNA.
The school’s course schedule is configured so that students can move up or down grade levels by subject at each class hour, according to individual needs. “A second-grader might go to third grade math class and a child with Down syndrome in second grade might go over to first grade or might stay in second grade,” Michael Michalak explained. “Nobody is looking around and saying, 'Oh, they are going to special classroom.’ They are just going where they need to be.”
“In the midst of all of this we are not leaving students behind,” Penny added, “We keep our high academic standards while integrating students with special needs.”
Since its founding, the independent Catholic school has grown to a student body of 160. Other Catholic schools across the country have begun looking to Immaculata as a model, the Michalaks say.
“Whenever anyone visits our school, they always say, ‘Oh my goodness the joy of this place!’” Penny told CNA.
The couple attributes the school’s sense of joy to the Holy Spirit and “the joy of belonging.”
“Inclusion is more of a buzzword these days, but it is true that we all want to belong and we all want to be loved,” said Michael Michalek.
"Prayer is the air that we breathe. We start the day with prayer. Every class starts with a prayer and ends in a prayer,” said Penny, who entrusted the school to our Our Lady at the school’s founding with St. Maximilian Kolbe as its patron.
"Our whole philosophy is to teach every child as if we were teaching the Christ child, so that is how we handle each and every student," Penny continued.
A developing religious community, the Sisters of the Fiat, also teach at Immaculata. The sisters take an additional vow to serve those with with special needs, along with the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
The school’s founders say they are aware of their unique witness and role in a world where many children with Down syndrome are aborted. The estimated termination rate for children prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome in the United States is 67 percent; 77 percent in France; and Denmark, 98 percent, according to CBS News.
At the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, students from Immaculata Classical Academy hold signs that read, “Abortion is not the cure for Down syndrome." The students are united in mission as “a pro-life school” and pray together for an end to abortion for their brothers and sisters with Down syndrome around the world, Michalak said.
The Michalaks have also adopted three children with Down syndrome.
Michael sees the founding of a school like Immaculata as the natural Catholic response at a moment in history when children with Down syndrome are especially at risk.
"Look at what the Catholic Church has done throughout history: We see orphans; we build orphanages. We see sick people; we build hospitals. It is in this particular time and place that we saw the need to take the lead on this and to start a school that incorporates the whole family.”
His wife adds, “When you are doing something that you feel called by God to do, it is a vocation, it is a mission, it is a calling...how can you not be full of joy when you know that this is the will of God. It is very rewarding.”
This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 2, 2018.
Posted on 12/16/2018 00:42 AM (CNA Daily News - US)
Newark, N.J., Dec 15, 2018 / 05:42 pm (CNA).- In the wake of sex abuse allegations against a former cardinal, the Catholic bishops of New Jersey have announced the creation of a fund to compensate victims of clergy sex abuse, while details of similar funds in Pennsylvania are also being finalized.
The New Jersey program aims to compensate “eligible victims of child sexual abuse including those whose financial claims are legally barred by New Jersey's statute of limitations,” the New Jersey Catholic Conference said in a Dec. 14 statement. “This program follows the many initiatives adopted by the Catholic dioceses in New Jersey since 2002 to implement safeguards and procedures to provide safe environments for children and to provide assistance to victims.”
Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille Biros will design, implement and administer the statewide compensation program. Feinberg is an attorney and mediator who headed the September 11 victims’ compensation fund.
He and Biros have adminsitered sex abuse victims compensation programs for many diocese in New York and Pennsylvania. New Jersey’s bishops described them as “respected internationally.”
The program will accept submissions of individual claims of sexual abuse of a minor, evaluate the claims, and settle them. It will be independent of any participating diocese. Program administrators will have “complete autonomy” to determine if a claim is eligible and what amount to compensate a victim.
The Catholic Church in New Jersey has already paid out $50 million in settlements to abuse victims, mostly involving claims where lawsuits are barred by the statute of limitations on civil actions, the Catholic bishops of the state said.
“This will give victims a formal voice and allow them to be heard by an independent panel,” the Newark archdiocese said last month in an announcement that the program was under development.
Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said last month that “the program also will assure that victims who have not received any financial compensation will be paid, regardless of whether their claims meet the time requirements of the statute of limitations.”
Tobin added that New Jersey’s dioceses will “undertake a complete review of their files” and release the names of all priests and deacons who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor. The list is expected to be released in early 2019.
In September, New Jersey’s Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced the creation of a task force in the state to investigate the allegations of sexual abuse and cover up.
Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop emeritus of Washington, headed the Newark archdiocese from 1986 to 2000 and was the first Bishop of Metuchen when it was founded in 1982.
In the early 2000s, the Archdiocese of Newark and the dioceses of Trenton and Metuchen paid settlements to men who alleged they were abused by McCarrick when they were adults studying in seminary. These settlements were not public knowledge until the summer of 2018, after two men came forward to say that they had been abused by McCarrick as minors.
Cardinal Tobin told journalist Mike Kelly he had heard rumors of McCarrick’s sexual misconduct soon after he became Archbishop of Newark in 2017, but did not investigate because he found the rumors unbelievable.
In neighboring Pennsylvania, a grand jury report published in August claimed to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 300 credibly accused priests. It presented a devastating portrait of efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations, either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.
The accusations concerned incidents that are often decades old. Most of the priests accused of abuse have died.
Seven of the eight Roman Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania have said they will create compensation funds for victims of clergy sex abuse. The Altoona-Johnstown diocese started its own victim assistance program in 1999.
Bishop Lawrence Persico of Erie, Pa. announced details of a victims’ compensation fund on Friday, the Erie Times-News reports. That fund will also be administered by Feinberg and Biros, who are administering other funds in Pennsylvania.
“It is my sincere hope that the establishment of the Diocese of Erie’s Survivors’ Reparation Fund will provide some measure of justice, closure and validation for the terrible acts that victims endured,” Persico said. “Although money will never fully heal the deep wounds felt by survivors, this fund is a crucial step in the diocese’s ongoing reconciliation and reform efforts.”
Victims could have access to the fund by mid-February, with a claims period open for six months.
Known victims of abuse, whether by diocesan clergy, lay employees or diocesan volunteers, will be notified by letter.
Those victims not known to the diocese may submit a form on the Diocese of Erie’s website. Those who claim abuse will be asked to submit documents backing their claim.
Both minors and vulnerable adults will be eligible for the first phase of compensation, but not those who were victimized by members of religious orders.
The fund administrators will determine compensation based on many factors including the severity and duration of abuse; the age of the victim at the time of abuse; whether the diocese failed to act on prior knowledge of the accused abuser; when the abuse was reported; and the credibility of the claim.
Victims who accept compensation will be required to waive any rights they have against the diocese related to sex abuse allegations.
Persico emphasized that victims who accept compensation will not be obligated to refrain from public comment or public disclosure of abuse.
The estates of deceased victims and victims of non-diocesan personnel could be compensated in a second phase, depending on future contributions from insurance companies and religious orders.
Persico has said he favors such a compensation fund rather than a two-year window for victims of past sexual abuse to sue in cases where the statute of limitations for civil action has expired. Such legislation is stalled in the Pennsylvania legislature.
The diocese has argued that even if the statutes of limitations is lifted, the first claimants could receive significant judgments that leave little compensation for the majority of other victims.
Persico has backed an end to the abolition of statute of limitation for criminal penalties for sex abuse.
Posted on 12/15/2018 11:49 AM (CNA Daily News - US)
Washington D.C., Dec 15, 2018 / 04:49 am (CNA).- At a time when labor unions are weak, Catholics still have a place in the labor movement, said a priest who emphasized the Church’s historic efforts to teach the rights of labor and train workers to organize.
“On the local and state level, Catholics are a major part of the labor movement. They took to heart our Catholic social teaching, and tried to implement it in their workplace,” Father Sinclair Oubre, the spiritual moderator of the Catholic Labor Network, told CNA.
However, he said, there is sometimes a disconnect between Catholics and support for organized labor.
“Like in so many areas of our faith, the heresy of radical individualism, a lack of knowledge about why unions were formed, and a general ignorance of what options workers have, have led to many Catholics to either not realize that the Church has favored workers’ associations, or that the Church even has a teaching that has to do with the workplace.”
Union membership peaked at 28 percent of the American workforce in 1954. According to 2017 figures, about 34 percent of public sector employees are unionized, but under 7 percent of private-sector employees are, CBS Moneywatch reports.
Unions continue to enjoy strong approval in the U.S., with 62 percent of respondents telling a recent Gallup survey they support organized labor.
But union support among some Catholics has waned, in part due to labor unions’ political support for legal abortion and pro-abortion rights political candidates, among other issues.
For Fr. Oubre, this shows the need for more faithful Catholics to join a union, not withdraw.
“The fact that many of the cultural war issues have been embraced by labor unions is a concern to me,” he said. “However, the Church and Labor have been here before.”
“From the 1930s to the 1950s, there was a real effort by communists to take over the U.S. unions, and in some cases, they were successful. Instead of saying, ‘Catholics can’t join unions because they are communists,’ which was not accurate because many were not, the Church instead set up labor schools by the hundreds in parish basements.”
“The Church taught workers their rights under the law and Robert’s Rules of Order. It encouraged Catholic workers to run for union office, and bring their Catholic social teachings to bear,” the priest said. “This was very successful, and led to the purging of many communists from the union ranks.”
Catholics have historically played a major role in the U.S. labor movement, as evidenced by several prominent Catholics who have headed the AFL-CIO, the largest union federation in the U.S.
Oubre said unions are a place for Christian evangelization and contribution.
“We cannot write off whole groups of people because part of their agenda is not in line with Catholic teaching,” he said. “Rather, we are called to engage these groups, be active in the organizations, and like in the past, direct these organizations in ways that respect God’s truth.”
The record of Catholic social teaching also backs labor and the right of workers to organize, Oubre said.
In the 19th century, Pope Leo XIII recognized that economic changes introduced new relationships between those who had wealth and those who did not.
“As cities grew, and manufacturing and industry developed, the relationship of responsibility that has existed in the past between the landowner and the peasant no longer existed,” Oubre explained.
“Pope Leo XIII recognized the natural right of people to associate with each other, whether these were religious associations or work guilds, he endorsed the importance of collective bargaining to promote the common good, and recognized the unequal contractual relationship between the worker and the employer.”
The labor market meant that workers were negotiating not only with an employer, but competing against all the other workers seeking the same job. Leo XIII said these pressures to accept employment at ever-lowering wages could lead workers “to agree to employment terms that did not supply the basic needs for a dignified family life.”
The labor-focused traditions of Catholic social teaching have continued especially through the work of Popes Pius XI, John XXIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis.
The Second Vatican Council’s apostolic constitution Gaudium et Spes names the right to found unions for working people as “among the basic rights of the human person.” These unions “should be able truly to represent them and to contribute to the organizing of economic life in the right way.” These rights include the freedom to take part in union activity “without risk of reprisal.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 1986 pastoral letter “Economic Justice for All” also addresses the place of labor in Catholic thought and action.
In 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME struck down a 1997 Illinois law that required non-union public employees to pay fees to public sector unions for collective bargaining.
A U.S. bishops’ conference spokesperson said the decision threatened to mandate a “Right-to-Work” environment in government employment in a way that undermines the ability of workers to organize.
Oubre said Catholic union backers object to such a legal principle “because it works against the principle of solidarity and the right of association.”
“‘Right to Work’ laws have their primary intention of weakening the organizing power of unions, and allow people to receive the benefit the union, without taking on the responsibility of being part of the union,” he said.
In Oubre’s view, a union-friendly legal environment is critical.
“One can pass laws that promote workers ability to organize together, or to discourage it,” he said.
He noted the proposals for a “card check” unionization effort, in which an employer must recognize a union if a majority of workers express a desire for a union using signed cards.
Obure said this effort now faces legal obstacles and simply “begins a long process where union avoidance experts are brought in, one-on-one meetings take place with workers, sometimes the leaders are fired, and every effort is made to dishearten the workers.”
“When the election comes around, the will of the workers has been crushed,” he said.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issues annual Labor Day statements which continue “the long tradition of support for workers’ right to organize and join unions,” Oubre said.
In 2018, the statement stressed the importance of just wages for workers, especially for those who have difficulty securing basic needs. It also discussed problems of income inequality between the wealthy and the poor, as well as between ethnic groups and between the sexes.
“This Labor Day, let us all commit ourselves to personal conversion of heart and mind and stand in solidarity with workers by advocating for just wages, and in so doing, ‘bring glad tidings to the poor’,” the bishops’ message concluded.
This article was originally run on CNA Sept. 3, 2018.
Posted on 12/15/2018 04:01 AM (CNA Daily News - US)
Harrisburg, Pa., Dec 14, 2018 / 09:01 pm (CNA).- New rules are set to ensure strong religious exemptions to federal mandates requiring employer health care plans to provide birth control coverage, but Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s legal challenge could derail them.
“Families rely on the Affordable Care Act’s guarantee to afford care,” Shapiro said Dec. 14. “Congress hasn’t changed the law, and the president can’t simply ignore it with an illegal rule.”
He filed an amended complaint Friday challenging the Trump administration’s final religious exemption rules, set to take effect Jan. 14, 2019. New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal joined the complaint, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Shapiro’s complaint makes several claims, including charges that the new rules violate the separation of church and state and allow employers to discriminate on the basis of sex.
On Nov. 7, the Trump administration released two updated rules concerning conscience protections for organizations and individuals in relation to the Department of Health and Human Services’ so-called contraception mandate.
The rules allow colleges, universities, and health insurance companies to decline to cover contraceptives, including drugs that can cause abortion, whether for religious or non-religious moral objections.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed the new rules as “common-sense regulations that allow those with sincerely held religious or moral convictions opposing abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception to exclude such drugs and devices from their health plans.”
Mark Rienzi, president of the Becket religious liberty legal group, praised the new rules, saying they signaled the end of a “long, unnecessary culture war.” Rienzi’s legal group represents the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have challenged mandates requiring them to provide such coverage to employees.
“All that is left is for state governments to admit that there are many ways to deliver these services without nuns, and the Little Sisters can return to serving the elderly poor in peace,” Rienzi said last month.
The Little Sisters of the Poor are currently being sued by the attorneys general of Pennsylvania and California, which challenge their religious exemptions allowing them to decline to provide the coverage to which they object.
The U.S. Supreme Court had barred enforcement of the mandate on closely held private companies in its 2014 case involving Hobby Lobby, which is owned by an Evangelical Christian family that objected to some of the mandated drugs.
In May 2016, the Supreme Court voided the federal circuit court decisions involving other plaintiffs challenging the mandate and sent these cases back to their respective federal courts. The court directed the lower courts to give all parties time to come to an agreement that satisfied their needs.
The Little Sisters of the Poor case, Zubik v. Burwell, is named for Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, who is a plaintiff.
Bishop Zubik came under fire for his diocese’s handling of sex abuse cases after Shapiro’s office in August released a grand jury report on six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania, citing allegations of abuse over a span of decades.
The Trump administration’s 2017 religious exemptions to the HHS rule were still being litigated in court. A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals three-judge panel on Thursday lifted a district court’s preliminary nationwide injunction against the 2017 religious exemptions, but allowed the injunction to stand in the five states that have filed legal challenges.
The majority decision by Ninth Circuit Judge J. Clifford Wallace acknowledged that free exercise of religion and conscience are “undoubtedly, fundamentally important.”
“Protecting religious liberty and conscience is obviously in the public interest. However, balancing the equities is not an exact science,” the decision continued. The majority said the appellate court lacked sufficient basis “to second-guess the district court and to conclude that its decision was illogical, implausible, or without support in the record.”
The decision faulted federal officials for not satisfying the rules of the Administrative Procedure Act, including requirements for public comment on new rules.
A nationwide injunction against the 2017 rules was still in effect in Pennsylvania, however.
Last month the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a 2014 District Court decision against EWTN Global Catholic Network, the parent company of Catholic News Agency, in its lawsuit against the mandate.
Under the terms of the settlement with Department of Health and Human Services, EWTN will not be required to provide contraception, sterilization, or abortifacients through its employee health care plan.
Posted on 12/15/2018 03:01 AM (CNA Daily News - US)
St. Paul, Minn., Dec 14, 2018 / 08:01 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis announced Friday several changes meant “to change the culture that fostered the clergy abuse crisis.”
Among these are the creation of a new position within the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis to ensure that “the voice of survivors of clergy sexual abuse will be regularly heard within Archdiocesan leadership,” Hebda wrote in a Dec. 14 letter.
“To strengthen that voice, I want to say again today that any survivor who at any time entered into a settlement agreement containing a confidentiality provision is released from that provision,” he added.
“I also reiterate my pledge to meet with any survivors who would like to do so.”
Hebda wrote that he plans to make himself available to survivors of abuse all Friday afternoons in February, March, and April, as well as other times and places. Planning for spiritual outreach in 2019 is also underway, he said.
Hebda reiterated that he strongly favors a “lay-led mechanism for investigating and assessing any allegations made against me or any other bishop.”
Hebda’s predecessor, Archbishop John Nienstedt, was the subject of a misconduct allegation involving adult males in 2014. Nienstedt delegated the investigation to his senior auxiliary bishop, who submitted the investigative materials to then-Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò after seeking the counsel of two law firms. In addition, the allegations against Nienstedt were provided to the county attorney’s office.
However, the situation remains “unresolved for the accusers, for Archbishop Nienstedt and for the public” because Hebda said as far as he knows, the Vatican’s effort into the investigation ended when Archbishop Nienstedt resigned his office in June 2015.
Archbishop Viganò has since denied that he ordered the Vatican’s investigation of Nienstedt to be halted.
Hebda wrote of the investigation: “I share the frustration that is felt by them, and believe this situation highlights the need for a better-defined process and independent mechanism to resolve allegations made against bishops.”
An additional allegation emerged that then-bishop of New Ulm Nienstedt, at a 2005 World Youth Day event in Germany, had invited minors to his hotel room, proceeded to undress and had invited them to do the same – an account which Nienstedt denies. Hebda said he transmitted information about this allegation to the nuncio in 2016.
“I have been asked repeatedly whether there are any restrictions on Archbishop Nienstedt’s ministry,” Hebda wrote.
“My answer has always been that although I do not know of any, I am the wrong person to ask: Bishops report to the Holy Father, not to each other. I have no general juridical authority over Archbishop Nienstedt or any other bishop outside the Archdiocese.”
However, Hebda did offer clarification that Nienstedt, like any priest facing misconduct allegations, “would not be free to exercise public ministry in this Archdiocese until all open allegations are resolved.”
Hebda said he would continue to advocate for an independent review board, and would commit to transmitting the entire 2014 archdiocesan investigation to whatever national or regional review board is created.
“In order to fully address bishop accountability, the Church needs a national or regional board empowered to act, much as our well-respected Ministerial Review Board has been empowered to address allegations involving our priests and deacons,” the archbishop wrote.
“The Church cannot fulfill its mission without public trust.”
Posted on 12/15/2018 02:01 AM (CNA Daily News - US)
Spokane, Wash., Dec 14, 2018 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane installed six laymen who are not in formation for holy orders as acolytes Wednesday.
“The men were chosen for their dedication to the cathedral family, and their service at the Altar reflects their commitment to service in the wider community,” Fr. Darrin Connall, vicar general and rector of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, said Dec. 12.
The six men insalled as acolytes are Dave Gibb, Gene DiRe, Justin Bullock, Dennis Johnson, Thomas Lavagetto, and Rick Sparrow.
The installation of acolytes is effected by the bishop praying over the candidates, and then giving each the Eucharistic vessels.
The ministry of acolyte is most often conferred upon men in who are in formation for the diaconate or priesthood, but the Code of Canon Law does provide that “Lay men who possess the age and qualifications … can be admitted on a stable basis through the prescribed liturgical rite to the ministries of lector and acolyte.”
Becoming an acolyte does not grant one the right to obtain support or remuneration from the Church.
In the dioceses of the US, the qualifications to be installed as a lector or acolyte are having completed one's 21st year, and possessing the skills necessary for an effective service at the altar, being a fully initiated member of the Church, being free of any canonical penalty, and living a life which befits the ministry to be undertaken.
Lay persons who are not installed acolytes can supply certain of their duties, when the need of the Church warrants it and ministers are lacking.
However, installed acolytes are permitted to purify the Eucharistic vessels, which task cannot be supplied by another lay person.
The installation of lay men not in formation for holy orders as acolytes is not common among dioceses in the US, though the Diocese of Lincoln is among those which do so.
Bishop Daly, 58, was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1987. He was consecrated a bishop in 2011, serving as auxiliary bishop of San Jose until he became Bishop of Spokane in 2015.
Posted on 12/15/2018 01:44 AM (CNA Daily News - US)
Washington D.C., Dec 14, 2018 / 06:44 pm (CNA).- The number of gun deaths in the United States reached almost 40,000 last year, the highest number since firearm deaths were first recorded in mortality data nearly 40 years ago.
According to an analysis from CNN, 39,773 people died by guns last year.
The analysis, using CDC data, found that nearly 24,000 people died from suicide by guns in 2017. This number is the highest in 18 years, and a more than 7,000 death increase from 1999.
“In 2017, nearly 109 people died every single day from gun violence,” said Adelyn Allchin, director of public health research for the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence.
“Gun violence has been part of our day-to-day lives for far too long. It is way past time that elected leaders at every level of government work together to make gun violence rare and abnormal.”
The U.S. bishops have long called for more restrictive gun legislation.
In their 2000 statement “Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration,” on crime and criminal justice, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supported certain gun laws in the name of safety.
“As bishops, we support measures that control the sale and use of firearms and make them safer (especially efforts that prevent their unsupervised use by children or anyone other than the owner), and we reiterate our call for sensible regulation of handguns,” the bishops stated.
In April of 2013, four months after the Sandy Hook school shooting, then-chair of the domestic justice and human development committee Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton wrote members of Congress.
Among the policies Bishop Blaire cited for support were “universal background checks for all gun purchases,” restrictions on civilian purchases of “high-capacity ammunition magazines,” and an “assault weapons” ban. He cited Pope Francis’ call “to ‘change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace’.”
A similar statement encouraging public debate on gun control was released last year after mass shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada and the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Spring, Texas,
Earlier this year, after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. that killed 17 people, the heads of the bishops’ committees on domestic justice and Catholic Education released another statement on gun laws.
“Once again, we are confronted with grave evil, the murder of our dear children and those who teach them. Our prayers continue for those who have died, and those suffering with injuries and unimaginable grief. We also continue our decades-long advocacy for common-sense gun measures as part of a comprehensive approach to the reduction of violence in society and the protection of life,” they said.
Last month, after a shooting at Mercy Hospital in Chicago left four dead, including the gunman, the president of the U.S. bishop’s conference again reiterated the call for “reasonable gun measures.”
“In our desire to help promote a culture of life, we bishops will continue to ask that public policies be supported to enact reasonable gun measures to help curb this pervasive plague of gun violence,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said Nov. 20.
Posted on 12/15/2018 00:00 AM (CNA Daily News - US)
Washington D.C., Dec 14, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Catholic groups expressed optimism at a criminal justice reform bill, as the “First Step Act” legislation makes its way through the U.S. Senate.
The full title of the bill is “Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act.”
The bill, which has received bipartisan support, including from President Donald Trump and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), aims to reform the country’s prison system and better assist with integrating former prisoners into society after they have served their sentence.
Among other things, the bill will increase credits for good behavior and for participating in “evidence-based recidivism reduction programming”and other “productive programming.”
A total of $250 million would be authorized for the creation of educational, vocational and other skill-building programs for those in prison. Nonprofit organizations, including faith-based groups, would be permitted to assist with the creation and implementation of these programs.
These provisions would only apply to prisoners who were incarcerated for certain crimes. Those in prison for violent offenses, such as assault of a spouse, arson, or sex trafficking, are not eligible to receive these earned time credits.
The First Step Act would also ban the practice controversial practice of shackling pregnant women, and require that feminine hygiene products be provided to female prisoners free-of-cost. The bill also mandates that prisoners be held no more than 500 driving miles away from their families, because evidence suggests that increased time with loved ones assists with societal reintegration.
Under the bill, prisoners deemed to be “low” or “minimum” risk would be instead be held in either a halfway house or home confinement. The minimum age for “compassionate release” would be lowered from 65 to 60.
Two Catholic organizations told CNA that they are optimistic about the bill and that they feel as though it is a way to improve the country’s criminal justice system.
“The First Step Act is exactly what it sounds like: an important first step by the federal government as part of our ongoing national conversation about draconian punishments, disparate sentencing, and collateral consequences,” Griffin Hardy, a spokesperson for anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean, told CNA.
While Hardy acknowledged that there is still much work that can be done in terms of easing re-entry for those who were incarcerated, “it’s even more important to remember that passage of this bill would mean that real people get to return home to their families.”
“You just can’t overstate that,” he added.
Hardy’s comments were echoed by the Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN), an organization that promotes restorative justice and an end to the death penalty.
CMN “considers the First Step Act an important piece of legislation deserving of the collective attention of U.S. Catholics and all Americans,” a spokesperson for the organization told CNA in a statement.
“The timing of the bill coincides with the recent release of the Catholic bishops pastoral letter against racism, which highlights the ways in which racial prejudice has become enshrined in our social structures, especially prisons,” they added.
This bill is a “modest but critical foundation” for confronting these issues, and “creates an opportunity for faithful Catholics to respond to the bishops’ call to ‘shape policies and institutions for the good of all.’”
Posted on 12/14/2018 23:05 PM (CNA Daily News - US)
Santa Fe, N.M., Dec 14, 2018 / 04:05 pm (CNA).- The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled on Thursday to uphold a book-lending program that gives school children at public and private schools equal access to state-approved textbooks.
The Becket law group, which represented the New Mexico Association of Non-public Schools, called the decision a victory for low-income students and against religious discrimination.
“In shutting the book on religious discrimination, the New Mexico Supreme Court has opened access to quality textbooks for all students,” Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a statement on the ruling.
“All kids deserve an education free from discrimination,” he added.
When it comes to public education, New Mexico consistently ranks poorly in comparison to other states. A 2017 report from Education Weekly ranked them second-to-last among the 50 states for quality of public education. A U.S. News report from the same year put them in last place.
Becket said in their statement that stopping the textbook loan program had most disadvantaged minority and low-income students living in rural areas.
In its Thursday, the state Supreme Court sided with Becket, and ruled that the textbook program “furthers New Mexico’s legitimate public interest in promoting education and eliminating illiteracy.”
In 2011, two parents challenged the 80-year-old textbook lending program. They claimed that New Mexico’s state constitution bars education funds from being used “for the support of any sectarian, denominational or private school, college or university.” This language is commonly known as a “Blaine Amendment.”
A 2015 New Mexico Supreme Court decision, Moses v. Ruszkowski, sided with the plaintiffs and ended nonpublic school students’ participation in the program.
In May, Becket challenged the ruling’s reliance on the Blaine Amendment, saying that the 19th century law was “originally designed to disadvantage New Mexico’s native Catholic citizens” and “was all about anti-Catholic animus.”
Becket appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which urged the Supreme Court of New Mexico to reconsider it in light of a ruling on a similar case in 2017, Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, which granted public funds to help update a Lutheran school playground.
In their Thursday statement, Becket added that the Blaine Amendment has historically been used for discrimination in everything from trying “to stop children with disabilities from attending schools that best meet their needs, to prevent schools from making their playgrounds safer, to stop food kitchens from helping the poor, and to close service providers that help former prisoners successfully reintegrate into society.”
Becket said that the state Supreme Court acknowledged on Thursday the Blaine Amendments’ “malicious history, noting that ‘New Mexico was caught up in the nationwide movement to eliminate Catholic influence from the school system.’”
“New Mexico’s kids are better off today because the New Mexico Supreme Court rejected 19th Century religious discrimination,” John Foreman, state director of the New Mexico Association of Non-public Schools, said in a statement on the ruling.
The court’s ruling has effectively reinstated the textbook lending program.
Posted on 12/14/2018 02:00 AM (CNA Daily News - US)
Washington D.C., Dec 13, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- An agriculture bill supported by a coalition of Catholic groups passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday with bipartisan support. During debate over the bill, lawmakers also passed a controversial rule regarding debate on US involvement in Yemen.
The bill now moves to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.
The “farm bill” concerns agricultural programs and food assistance. It is renewed each year, and this process can sometimes be quite lengthy due to additions and amendments added to the bill by members of Congress.
The version of the farm bill passed Dec. 12 was a compromise that eliminated some of the more controversial aspects of an earlier version of the bill. Those controversial provisions included expanded work requirements for people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds. That bill passed the House of Representatives in June, but only had the support of Republican members.
SNAP is used by approximately 38 million Americans each year to purchase food items. Currently, able-bodied SNAP recipients who are between the ages of 18 and 49 who do not have dependents under the age of six, must work or volunteer for 20 hours a week or participate in a job-training program in order to receive benefits. The proposed bill would have upped the upper age limit of this requirement to 59, but that provision was dropped in the compromise bill.
In a controversial procedural move, a mostly party-line passing vote on rules for floor debate of the farm bill also included a provision that would block legislators from forcing a vote on military aid to Saudi Arabia's intervention in the Yemeni civil war.
This effectively limits the Senate's Dec. 13 vote to withdraw military aid from Saudi Arabia to a symbolic gesture.
This amended bill passed by a vote of 369-47 in the House of Representatives, and 87-13 in the Senate. The Senate passed the bill Dec. 11.
The bill was praised by a coalition of Catholic organizations.
“Agriculture policies should promote the production and access of nutritious food for all people, using the bounty from the land God has called us to tend and steward to aid the least of our brothers and sister in this country and around the world,” read a Dec. 12 letter to the House of Representatives signed by several Catholic organizations, including the USCCB, Catholic Relief Services, and Catholic Charities USA.
“We are pleased that the recently released Farm Bill Conference Committee Report includes provisions that protect global and domestic nutrition programs and strengthens rural supports and employment training programs,” they added.
The letter also stated support for the inclusion of two programs that contribute to rural development, as well as the bill’s changes to international food security programs. These changes will make the programs “more effective and allow them to serve more people.”
The Catholic coalition expressed disappointment with other parts of the bill, including subsidies to farmers and ranchers and a decrease in funding to conservation programs. Each year, one of the hotly-debated points of the farm bill concerns subsidies that are distributed to farmers, and critics of this say the money does not always go to farmers who are in need of assistance.
The farm subsidies should be “prioritized” for struggling farmers, says the letter.
“It is disappointing that the Conference report does not take modest steps to limit subsidy payments to farmers who are actively engaged in farming.”