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French cigarette smokers: We didn’t start Notre-Dame fire

Paris, France, Apr 26, 2019 / 09:49 am (CNA).- Sure, smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, low birth rates, strokes, and arthritis. But smoking didn’t cause the April 15 fire at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, at least according to construction workers who smoked on the site.

A spokesman for a scaffolding firm doing work on the cathedral told reporters last week that while his workers “sometimes” smoked on the oak roof of the building, cigarettes were not the cause of the conflagration.

“We condemn it. But the fire started inside the building... so for company Le Bras this is not a hypothesis, it was not a cigarette butt that set Notre-Dame de Paris on fire,” Le Bras Frères spokesman Marc Eskenazi told Reuters April 24.

Eskenazi’s remarks came after French newspaper Le Canard Enchaine reported that police had found seven cigarette butts in the burnt-out cathedral, and sources close to the investigation confirmed the report.

“If cigarette butts have survived the inferno, I do not know what material they were made of,” Eskenazi said, questioning how the butts could have survived the blaze at Notre-Dame Cathedral. The spokesman also said it is impossible for cigarette butts to set even dry wood on fire.

The company also said that the fire was not started by its own scaffolding elevators, noting that their electrical systems were well-maintained, and that power was not running to the elevators at the time the fire begin.

Still, French prosecutors say they have not ruled out any possibilities regarding the start of the fire, and that they continue to investigate all possible causes.

The fire began on the evening of April 15, and destroyed the cathedral’s roof, and spire. While the images of the cathedral’ exterior suggested nearly total devastation after the fire, the cathedral’s vaulted stone ceiling mostly held, and protected many of the cathedral's religious and historical treasures from the flames.

There is no formal estimate yet for how long the cathedral restoration will take. While France’s President Emmanuel Macron has said that he would like to see restoration completed within five years, experts say that possibility is extremely unlikely.

Nearly one billion euro have been pledged to the restoration effort.

The cathedral’s famed rose windows, its bell towers and massive bells, and its organ were all intact after the fire. The Church’s most important religious items were spared from the fire: the Eucharist, and relics of Christ’s crown of thorns and cross were saved during the fire.

Pope Francis: Bible the 'beating heart' of the Church

Vatican City, Apr 26, 2019 / 09:47 am (CNA).- Pope Francis emphasized Friday the importance of the Bible in the life of the Church, echoing Benedict XVI’s call for “a new season of greater love for Sacred Scripture.”

“It is important to remember that the Holy Spirit, the Life-Giver, loves to work through Scripture. The Word brings the breath of God into the world, infuses the warmth of the Lord in the heart,” Pope Francis said April 26.

“The word of God is alive: it does not die nor does it age, it remains forever,” he said. “It is alive and it gives life.”

The pope met with the participants in international congress promoted by the Catholic Biblical Federation in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace on the 50th anniversary of the organization’s founding. The April 24-26 congress discussed “the Biblical inspiration of the whole pastoral life and mission of the Church.”

Pope Francis said “it would be nice to see ‘a new season of greater love for sacred Scripture on the part of every member of the People of God, so that … their personal relationship with Jesus may be deepened,’” quoting Benedict’s 2010 apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini.

Francis called for the “Word of God to become the heart of every ecclesial activity; the beating heart, which vitalizes the limbs of the Body.”

“The Word gives life to each believer by teaching them to renounce themselves in order to announce Him,” he said.

The Bible is “constantly calling us to come out of ourselves” he explained, adding that Word of God helps people to be less self-centered.

“The Word leads to Easter living: as a seed that dying gives life, like grapes that give wine through the press, like olives that give oil after passing through the mill. Thus, provoking radical gifts of life, the Word vivifies,” Francis said.

The pope said that the Bible should not remain in the library, but should be brought into the streets of the world where people live.

“The Bible is not a beautiful collection of sacred books to study, it is the Word of Life to sow,” he said.

“I wish you to be good bearers of the Word, with the same enthusiasm that we read these days in the Easter stories, where everyone runs,” Pope Francis said. “They run to meet and announce the living Word.”

Lent is over. Now what?

Washington D.C., Apr 26, 2019 / 03:18 am (CNA).- Chocolate bunnies and marshmallow Peeps have graced the shelves of U.S. stores for weeks in anticipation of Easter, but now that the actual Easter Season has begun, how should Catholics observe it?

“We cannot, as Christians, walk out of Easter liturgy and wash our hands of the business. Our life is forever changed, and it can never be what it was, if we believe that a man has walked out of the tomb,” said Fr. Hezekias Carnazzo, director of the Institute of Catholic Culture.

Easter Sunday begins the liturgical season of Easter, which continues through the celebration of the Ascension to Pentecost Sunday, 50 days in all. Each day of the Octave of Easter, the first eight days of the season, is a solemnity, ending on the Second Sunday of Easter, or Divine Mercy Sunday.

The Easter Triduum follows the 40-day penitential season of Lent, which is marked by penance, prayer, and almsgiving.

However, once the Triduum is over and Catholics cast off their Lenten penances, what comes next? Was Lent just one big detox program, and is the Easter Season a marathon of steak dinners, chocolate eggs, Netflix binges and bigger bar tabs, while practices of daily Mass and prayer are neglected?

Not so, said liturgical experts, who stressed that Catholics can both celebrate Easter and also grow in their spiritual life.

How do we do that? First, Catholics must remember the spiritual focus of the season, which is on Christ’s Resurrection and the evangelization that immediately follows from it, Fr. Chrysostom Baer of the Norbertines of St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange County, Calif., told CNA.

“The apostles were trying to convert the world because Jesus rose from the dead. And they really got the impulse to go at Pentecost, but the message is ‘Jesus died and rose’,” he said.

This evangelization was powered by a type of “evangelical poverty,” he said, pointing to the Acts of the Apostles: “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all.”

While Easter is not a time for hairshirts and fasting, he clarified, Catholics shouldn't feel like they must abandon good Lenten practices during Easter, if those practices help them be better Catholics – especially if they gave up things that were occasions of sin for them.

The Resurrection should change everything about our lives, Fr. Hezekias insisted, because in the words of St. Paul, since Jesus rose from the dead, “death no longer has dominion over Him.”

“It’s no great mystery that God is not able to be controlled by death. The great mystery is that a man walked out of the tomb that day. He was filled with Divine life. He’s the God-man. His divinity destroyed the power of death, but destroyed the power of death over us,” he said.

“We can say now, we who have been baptized in Him, death no longer has dominion over us,” he said. “Easter, Pascha, is the Christian life. Death no longer has dominion over us.”

This means that the created world has been brought back “into communion with God,” he said, and that realization should change how we see everything.

“I would think the first best way to celebrate the season is to go to daily Mass. That is bar none, the best,” Fr. Chrysostom said. “Because it really puts you in the mind of the Church, with regard to the season. The prayers change every day, but they’re all focused on the Resurrection.”

Catholics should also continue any good practices they fostered during Lent like prayer or almsgiving, he insisted, and should give attention to virtues they cultivated from Lenten penance.

“The Easter Season is for fostering those virtues that you’ve planted during Lent, and allowing them to grow,” he said. This requires taking “concrete steps” and not just vague promises to ensure that good habits are maintained, he added.

For instance, if someone gave alms during Lent, they could resolve to give money to the poor a certain number of times per week, he said.

However, Easter shouldn’t just be lived at church, but “it’s got to live out in our everyday lives,” Fr. Hezekias told CNA. There must be a “more intense realization that every aspect of my life has come into communion with God.”

“What about reading the Gospel in our homes or singing the Gospel in our homes before we bless the food at the dinner of that Sunday?” he suggested.

Another way to do this is for Catholics throw a party, he said, which we can enjoy in a new way having first fasted during Lent.

“The reason the Church has us set aside meat [during Lent] is because we’ve become dependent on those things,” Fr. Hezekias explained. “The key to the celebration of Easter and Pascha is the re-ordering in our life, that now I eat meat as a gift from God,” he said.

If someone has given up meat for 40 days, he explained, they will appreciate its goodness all the more: “Suddenly they take a bite of meat, and what do you say? ‘Thank you, God!’”

And Catholics should party together.

“I think what makes a feast really a feast is that it’s shared, with friends,” Fr. Chrysostom said, and where drinks served “heightens the conviviality and the joy.”

“Everyone should be asking themselves right now, who should I invite to my home [during the Easter Season]?” Fr. Hezekias said. They should also consider inviting the newly baptized at their parish over to their homes.

“We’ve forgotten our ability as Christians to go out and really have a party,” he said. “Our society is starving because of that. We’re the ones who are supposed to be showing everyone else what true joy is, but unfortunately we’ve forgotten it ourselves.”

“We’ve got to re-discover that for the sake of society.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA April 18, 2017.

British parliamentary committee urges action on N Ireland abortion law

London, England, Apr 25, 2019 / 05:41 pm (CNA).- A committee of the British parliament has said Westminster should bypass Northern Ireland's self-governance to clarify the region's abortion law.

The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee said Thursday that the UK government should provide a “clear framework and timeline” for Northern Ireland to address United Nations concerns on Northern Ireland’s abortion restrictions.

The committee's report was welcomed by Amnesty International UK and the Family Planning Association.

Christian groups and local officials have pushed back, saying this decision would hinder Northern Ireland's devolution. British Prime Minister Theresa May has said abortion should remain a devolved issue.

Abortion is legally permitted in Northern Ireland only if the mother's life is at risk or if there is risk of permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health.

The committee said the current law violates the rights of women in Northern Ireland.

“The lack of clarity about the current legal situation is creating confusion, fear and inequality,” said the committee’s chair, Maria Miller, according to the Independent. “Our report sets out action which the government must take to address this.”

“This government can't hide behind devolution to defend denying the women of Northern Ireland their basic human rights because they want to please the DUP,” said Labour MP Stella Creasy.

According to the committee, devolution cannot be used as an excuse to ignore human rights standards and “does not remove the UK Government’s own responsibilities to comply with its international obligations.”

The Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont is currently suspended due to disagreements between the two major governing parties

The committee said there is a lack of clarity over whether doctors in Northern Ireland may refer women for free National Health Services Abortions in England, Scotland, and and Wales, which they have been able to procure since November 2017.

Christian Action Research and Education (CARE), a pro-life group, responded to the committee's report, stating that the basis of human right standards was based on a single UN committee which had no legal standing, according to a April 25 statement by CARE’s chief executive, Nola Leach.

She also said that the report undermines devolution.

“The issue of abortion law in Northern Ireland should be decided by the people of Northern Ireland through their elected representatives and not by MPs sitting on a Westminster Committee,” Leach said. “The repercussions of damaging the devolution settlement in the way recommended in the report would be felt across the UK.”

The group pointed to an October 2018 online poll from ComeRes of more than 1,000 Northern Ireland adults, which ound 64 percent said abortion law should be decided by the people of Northern Ireland and their representatives, not MPs from other parts of the U.K.

Tory MP Eddie Hughes, a member of the Equalities Committee, released an alternative report, requesting that Westminster not interfere with the devolution of Northern Ireland. Rather, he said the Department of Health for Northern Ireland should seek to improve clinical care for women with fetal abnormalities.

Leach welcomed Hughes' report, saying it had “sensible proposals.” She said a change in the restrictions could lead to a greater increase in abortions and highlighted the number of children alive as a result of the law.

“The prospect of Westminster imposing change is highly alarming, as any legislation put forward could be amended to allow for widespread access to abortion on request for any reason in Northern Ireland. We do not believe the hardest of hard cases should be utilised to allow for abortion on request,” she said.

“We must not forget that thanks to NI’s life-affirming laws there are 100,000 people alive today across the Province.”

‘Lay co-agents essential for Church leadership’ Detroit archbishop says

Washington D.C., Apr 25, 2019 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- The role of the laity is crucial to the Church’s efforts to combat clerical sex abuse, Archbishop of Allen Vigneron said Thursday morning.

Speaking at The Catholic University of America on April 25, the Detroit archbishop explained that in his own ministry he had seen how lay collaboration is essential in Church governance, and has a natural place with the Church’s hierarchy.

“In order to act well, I recognize that I am in need of what I might call ‘co-agents’--others who help me by thinking and acting along with me,” said Vigneron.

These “co-agents” take the form of both members of the clergy and laity, he explained, and could even include non-Catholics.

Vigneron was speaking at an event titled “The Way Forward: Principles for Effective Lay Action,” part of a series organized by The Catholic Project, Catholic University's progam dedicated to helping shape the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis.

The archbishop identified three particular areas in which co-agents were crucial to his own ministry, including the review board and finance council, and the archdiocesan synod which was convened in 2016.

Recalling that when he arrived in Detroit in 2013 the archdiocese faced a financial crisis, Vigneron said it was his lay advisors who were crucial in rescuing the situation.

“Without the wise advice of the [finance] council, I would not have been able to endorse the course that enabled us to avoid financial disaster,” said Vigneron, adding that the experience  gave him confidence that lay co-agents had an equally important role to play in solving the present sexual abuse crisis.

Vigneron also identified “victim-survivors” of clerical abuse as indispensable guide to helping him understand the trauma of abuse.

Meeting abuse survivors had, he said, “provided a unique and painful perspective of the enormity of the sins perpetrated against these innocents.”

“I hear incredible anger and disappointment, especially from those victim-survivors who have been driven away from the sacraments for the rest of their lives,” he said, while expressing gratitude and admiration for the many who had told him they remained committed to the Church.  

One of the key points of discussion in the ongoing debate about enhanced lay participation in Church accountability is the strain it could place on the hierarchical nature of the Church. The office of bishops to lead and govern the Church is divinely instituted, and many - including in Rome - are reluctant to pursue reforms which could be seen to undermine episcopal authority.

Vigneron rejected the idea that effective lay involvement would necessarily supercede or undermine his role as a bishop.

“It is the final firm determination of the bishop that secures the stable basis for consistent acting,” he said. “And no healthy approach to lay-clergy collaboration can contradict this aspect of Christ’s constitution of his Church.”

Collaboration would be most fruitful and effective, explained the archbishop, when “any actions taken to respond to the challenges of the current crisis are parts of a greater whole” which is in harmony with the Church’s essential nature. The “greater whole,” he said, is the entire work of the Church for the salvation of souls, final responsibility for which rests with the bishop.

“It is the particular competence of the diocesean bishop to be the trustee of this common good and to ensure that all particular ecclesial acts contribute to this end.”

Speaking after the event, Vigneron told CNA that he was preparing for the release of a report into clerical sexual abuse by the Michigan attorney general and that "there will be a great involvement of the lay faithful helping us as this unfolds.”

While the laity could play unique and expert roles in many areas according to their skills and experience, Vigneron said that it is vitally important that all the faithful maintain their prayer lives and work to hold people accountable for inaction.

The archbishop told CNA that healing the scandal of sexual abuse in the Church was a spiritual as well as structural labor.

"All the laity can continue to be engaged at the spiritual level, to realize that if there's going to be change in the Church, part of it has to be that we all pray for that to happen,” he said.

“The other thing is to continue to hold the pastors accountable, to urge us to do what we need to do to advance the purification of the Church and to support us as we're engaged in those challenges."

CUA president applauds students' decision to block porn

Washington D.C., Apr 25, 2019 / 03:40 pm (CNA).- The president of The Catholic University of America has voiced his support for a student government resolution that asked the university to block the 200 most popular porn sites from its internet system.

“I am so proud of our students,” CUA president John Garvey wrote in an op-ed for the Arlington Catholic Herald April 24.

“This month the student government association, the body that represents our undergraduates, passed a resolution asking the university to prohibit access through the campus network to the 200 most frequently visited pornography websites. I told them we'd be happy to.”

The non-binding resolution was passed by a vote of 13 to 12, and student body president Jimmy Harrington signed it April 1.

Student Sen. Gerard McNair-Lewis, a junior at the university, was the resolution’s sponsor.

Garvey noted that pornography has become more accessible than it once was; where in the past it could only be found in “leather-bound books in gentlemen's clubs and private libraries,” today “any 6-year-old can find it on a cellphone.”

In addition, pornography has become more graphic, and advances in technology not only make pornography more addictive, but also make it easier for people to slip into the mindset of: “We don't need one another for sexual fulfillment. We can summon imaginary partners at the touch of a button.”

“I think that basic human urges are fairly constant from one generation to another. But technology can change our stimuli and the way we respond. That's happening here,” Garvey said.

Reproductive technology such as artificial contraception have reinforced the idea, Garvey asserted, that if sex is merely a form of recreation, then “any partner will do: even a virtual one.”

“Our students are right to be concerned about the trend in this direction, because the digital revolution's ambition is to make virtual reality indistinguishable from life,” he noted.  

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes pornography as a “grave offense.”

It “offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other” and does “grave injury to the dignity of its participants,” the Church teaches.
 
“Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials,” the Catechism says.

Of course, Garvey acknowledged, blocking pornography on the university’s internet system will not solve students’ appetite for porn—they can still use their phones or access a site that is not yet blocked.

But, “it does communicate a point of view that our students say they want to hear,” Garvey wrote.

“It says that this is not the sort of relationship they should be looking for, and we're not going to lend our system to help them find it.”

Garvey’s op-ed did not include specific details about how and when the university would implement the pornography ban, but a spokesperson for the university told CNA that the block on top porn sites should go into effect “within weeks.”

“Our students asked President Garvey to block the top 200 porn sites, and he told them that he’d be happy to do so,” Catholic University spokesperson Karna Lozoya told CNA on Thursday.

“We are working on implementing those blocks, and should have the top sites blocked within weeks.”

When the university last considered banning porn from the network, they found it would have been both expensive and ineffective. Now, due to advances in technology, it is now more affordable to implement this kind of filter, Loyoza told CNA earlier this month.
 
While students may work around a firewall and continue to access porn, “the student resolution made a convincing argument that banning porn on the University network sends the right message to the student body.”

One of the resolution’s co-sponsors, Alexandra Kilgore, told CNA that she was surprised to learn action had not already been taken.
 
“I was honestly shocked to learn that such a ban wasn't already in place. Even my public high school blocked inappropriate content on its wi-fi, so I knew The Catholic University of America could do better,” she said.
 
“As a woman, I thought it was important to be a cosponsor to bring to light that pornography is not just a men's issue. Not only does the industry exploit and prey upon primarily women and girls, but females can struggle with addiction and consumption just as much as males.”
 
Kilgore described the resolution as a positive expression of corporate concern among the student body, not a condemnation.
 
“Our resolution is not intended to shame anyone or to make pornography addiction more isolating than it already is. Rather, it demonstrates the Student Government Association's commitment to the well-being of the student body and the University's continued demonstration of the teachings of the Catholic Church.”
 
Harrington rejected the idea that blocking pornography amounted to censorship or a violation of personal freedoms, saying “it is a regulation that the national University of the Catholic Church or any private institution ought to enact.”
 
Harrington pointed out in his statement that many secular organizations ban pornography from their networks, not only out of moral concerns, but also because such websites often contain viruses and other malware that can damage machines.
 
“If a secular company can block these sites from their networks and computers, then I am even more convinced that The Catholic University of America ought to be able to and should regulate these sites on its own network,” Harrington said.

Injunction against Title X funding rules draws pro-life criticism

Portland, Ore., Apr 25, 2019 / 03:32 pm (CNA).- Pro-life advocates have lamented a federal judge’s preliminary injunction against the federal Protect Life Rule, which bars family planning funds for clinics at the same location as abortion providers and for those which refer for abortion.

“Abortion is not healthcare, and that’s how we evaluate these kinds of decisions,” Todd Cooper, executive director of the Oregon Catholic Conference, told CNA.

“Coming from that perspective, it’s troubling,” he said. “I ask myself: why would medical professionals want to refer women to something that would cause untold harm and result in the death of a child?”

Lois Anderson, executive director of Oregon Right to Life, agreed.

“Abortion is not healthcare nor is it family-planning,” she said April 24 statement, characterizing abortion as “big business.”

“Planned Parenthood performs almost 40 percent of abortions in the country. They have a financial interest in keeping Title X funding coming their way,” she said. In her view, the new regulation would not cut any money from family planning, and “reflects the original intent of the program: helping people plan their families.”

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family planning, including contraception and other health screenings, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

The Protect Life Rule, finalized in February, requires that there be a physical and financial separation between recipients of Title X funds and facilities that perform abortions. Clinics that provide “non-directive counseling” about abortion can still receive funds, but cannot refer for abortion.

Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the country, is expected to lose about $60 million in federal funds due to its intention not to comply with the rule change, which would make it ineligible for funds for its family planning work.

On April 24 U.S. District Judge Michael McShane issued a preliminary injunction against the new rule’s ban on taxpayer funding for clinics that refer for abortion, calling it a “ham-fisted approach to public health policy,” The Oregonian reports.

Twenty states, including Oregon, and the District of Columbia, have challenged the rule change, joined by Planned Parenthood affiliates and the American Medical Association.

Fourteen other states back the rule change, which had been set to take effect May 3.

The plaintiffs in the case had sought a national injunction, but McShane said he was reluctant to set “national health care” policy. He said he would describe the injunction’s scope in a forthcoming formal written opinion.

The U.S. Justice Department has asked that the injunction apply only to the plaintiffs. There are four similar lawsuits pending in other states.

In his discussion of the case, McShane said the ban on abortion referrals prevent doctors from behaving like medical professionals. He ruled the new regulation would remove the full range of medical options for low-income women, create a “geographic vacuum” in reproductive health care, and would likely increase abortion numbers due to more unwanted pregnancies, The Oregonian reports.

The rule’s prohibition on federal funding for family planning clinics housed in the same location as abortion providers will also be the subject of an injunction, the judge said.

Attorney Andrew Bernie argued on behalf of the federal government, saying there was no proof of “irreparable harm” to the plaintiffs. The administrative record did not show a political motive for the changes.

Further, the changes are in line with the 1991 U.S. Supreme Court decision Rust v. Sullivan, which upheld federal regulations barring abortion counselling by employees of federally funded family planning facilities. The Department of Health and Human Services holds that the new rules best reflect a Title X section which bars abortion as a family planning method, said Bernie.

McShane, however, said “good health outcomes” are the standard.

“Are these rules going to bring about good health outcomes?” he asked Bernie, according to The Oregonian.

The judge said the government hadn’t provided data to counter medical experts’ claims that the rule’s restrictions on medical professionals regarding abortion referral would result in unwanted pregnancies, ineffective contraceptive use, and an increase in sexually transmitted diseases.

Cooper, of the Oregon Catholic Conference, questioned the judge’s conclusion.

“Abortion is not a good health outcome,” he told CNA, asking for more evidence for the claim that the rule could result in more abortions.

Attorney Alan Schoenfeld, who represented Planned Parenthood and the American Medical Association, said all Planned Parenthood providers would leave the Title X program because the rules, which they consider a “gag rule,” require unethical health care practice. Planned Parenthood operates about 40 percent of health care clinics in the U.S. If they reduce or close operations, Schoenfeld argued, some communities could not replace the resulting vacuum in health care, which would reduce low-income women’s access to cancer screening and other health services.

Anderson of Oregon Right to Life, however, rejected this argument. The refusal of Planned Parenthood to comply would mean the money would go to federally-qualified healthcare clinics, of which there are over 13,500 across the U.S., she said.

“In Oregon alone, there are 24 (federally-qualified healthcare clinics) for every single Planned Parenthood clinic,” said Anderson. “The idea that there would be a dearth of providers should this rule take affect is an outright lie.”

Enacting the rule, she said, “would ensure that family-planning funds go towards actual family-planning, not killing members of families.”

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum argued against the rule in court, saying that Title X funds are “a true safety net for low income individuals and those who would not be able to access care, due to a lack of insurance or other barriers.”

After the finalized rule was announced in February, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, praised the Trump administration for “reaffirming that abortion is not family planning.”

“Abortion ends the lives of families’ most vulnerable members, as well as damaging the spiritual, mental and physical health of mothers,” said the archbishop.

Previous regulations, written under President Bill Clinton’s administration, not only allowed for health clinics that were co-located with abortion clinics to receive funds, but also required that Title X recipients refer patients for abortions. That rule kept some organizations opposed to abortion from applying for grants.

Cooper gave an overview of the pro-life cause in Oregon, which he described as “difficult territory.”

“It’s just a challenge out here, because abortion supporters really want unfettered access to abortion,” he said. “They want to force this on society, they want to force this on women, they even want to force this on medical professionals.”

“For Catholics and many others here in Oregon that do not support abortion for different reasons, this is a battle that we are never going to give up on, regardless of where it goes in the near future. This is something that we’ll be relentless in fighting because of the harm it does to women.”

“Who wants a world where only certain children are welcome?” Cooper asked. “That’s not a world that is a good place to be.”

He pointed to efforts like the Renew Life Oregon coalition, which includes Oregon Catholic Conference and the Archdiocese of Portland.

“There are a lot of very committed people who are working in the trenches to support life, and ultimately help people recognize and understand the harm that abortion causes society and women in particular, and obviously the children who are being killed in their mothers’ wombs.”

According to Liberty Pike, communications director for Oregon Right to Life, almost 50 percent of abortions in the state are taxpayer-funded.

State law required all insurance plans to cover abortions without any deductible. A Catholic health care provider only secured an exemption after it threatened to leave the state.

“We are already spending an exorbitant amount of tax dollars on abortion,” she said.

Pike argued the new rule would not even force Planned Parenthood out, given it has a choice to give up the Title X funding or to comply with the funding rules.

IRS grants Satanic Temple recognition as a 'church'

Washington D.C., Apr 25, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A satanic group has announced they have been granted recognition as a church by the Internal Revenue Service.

In a statement published Thursday, the Massachusetts-based Satanic Temple said that they have received notice from the IRS and that the decision would grant the organization equal legal footing with other religious groups.

“This acknowledgement will help make sure the Satanic Temple has the same access to public spaces as other religious organizations, affirm our standing in court when battling religious discrimination, and enable us to apply for faith-based government grants,” the statement said.

The IRS has not commented on any conferral of status for the group, but guidance published on its website confirms that churches benefit from special tax rules, including automatic exemption from federal income tax.

IRS regulations draw a clear distinction between “churches” and other religious organizations. A church must have certain characteristics, according to IRS requirements, including: a recognized creed and form of worship; distinct ecclesiastical government; formal code of doctrine; ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study; established places of worship and regular religious services.

Despite its overtly demonic allegiance, the Satanic Temple was founded by professed atheists and articulates a set of secular humanist beliefs. Its satanic imagery appears to many to be a deliberate provocation in response to what the group perceive as interference by religion in the public square.

In a 2013 interview, the group’s spokesman, Douglas Mesner, described their intention to be a “poison pill in the Church-State debate.” They have previously mounted lawsuits to display satanic images and statues on public property alongside traditional Judeo-Christian symbols, such as the Ten Commandments.

In February of 2019, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled against a self-professed member of the Satanic Temple who claimed that a state law on “informed consent” before an abortion violated her religious beliefs.  

Mary Doe, as the plaintiff was listed in that case, argued that a booklet distributed to all women seeking abortion in the state was a violation of her religious beliefs and an articulation by the state of an alternative religious creed.

The case focused on the booklet’s statement that “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”

The apparent recognition of the IRS comes after members of the Satanic Temple have had to defend themselves against accusations that their “church” is essentially a political stunt. A recent documentary entitled “Hail, Satan?” presented the group as sincere, despite ongoing suggestions that the temple was founded to make a “mockumentary” film and is essentially performance art and political theatre.

Whatever the sincerity of its founders, its conflict with the Catholic Church have been real.

In May 2014, the Satanic Temple was part of an attempt to organize a “black mass” on the campus of Harvard University. A spokesman for the group initially told the media that a consecrated Host would be desecrated during the event, although the temple and the Harvard club hosting the event both later denied this.

Following sustained outcry from Catholics and other religious groups, the event was first moved off campus and eventually cancelled.

Rwandan bishops apologize for letter urging pardon for genocide perpetrators

Kigali, Rwanda, Apr 25, 2019 / 11:47 am (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Rwanda have apologized for calling for the release of old and ill prisoners convicted for crimes committed during the country’s 1994 genocide.

“We wrote to Christians, encouraging them to continue promoting unity and reconciliation, while also seeking forgiveness,” the bishops said in an April 7 statement signed by Bishop Phillippe Rukamba of Butare, the president of the Rwandan bishops' conference.

“This letter caused a lot of hurt, especially for what we requested on behalf of the elderly and sickest who are still in prison for the crime of genocide. We are saddened it offended people – this was not what we intended,” the bishops said.

The bishops had issued a pastoral letter March 25 commemorating the victims of the genocide, urging reconciliation and forgiveness in the face of violence, but including a sentence exhorting those responsible for older or sick perpetrators to “examine whether their sentences can be reduced.”

Twenty-five years ago this month, ethnic tensions in Rwanda boiled over as members of the Hutu ethnic majority took up machetes and turned on their minority Tutsi neighbors, friends, and colleagues, killing them based on the color of their skin and the width of their nose.

In the 100-day genocide that followed, it is estimated that 1 million people were slaughtered.

Rwandans marked the anniversary of the tragedy April 7 at the Genocide Memorial Center in the capital city of Kigali. President Paul Kagame and leaders from Africa and the European Union were in attendance, the Catholic Information Service for Africa reported.

The bishops apologized for issuing the pastoral letter during the period of commemoration.

"After this tragedy of genocide against the Tutsis, the light of the Lord's resurrection was not quenched –asking and giving forgiveness can become a means of building a tomorrow for everyone," the bishops said.

In the 1994 genocide, clergy members were included in the ranks of both perpetrators and victims. In some cases, Hutu priests, bishops. and religious helped to hide and protect Tutsis. In other cases, they took up arms against them, ushering them into church buildings with false promises of security and then trapping and betraying them, facilitating their massacre.

The Church has since played a large role in helping to promote reconciliation and forgiveness. More than half of Rwanda’s population is Catholic.

The country’s bishops in November 2016 issued an official apology for Christians’ role in the genocide.

“We apologize for all the wrongs the Church committed. We apologize on behalf of all Christians for all forms of wrongs we committed. We regret that church members violated (their) oath of allegiance to God’s commandments,” they wrote.

Bishop Donald J. Hying appointed to lead Madison diocese

Vatican City, Apr 25, 2019 / 04:04 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Thursday appointed Donald J. Hying the next bishop of Madison, Wis., following the death of Bishop Robert C. Morlino in November.

Hying, 55, has been the bishop of Gary, Ind. since 2014. Before that he was an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisc. for three and a half years.

He replaces Bishop Morlino, who died Nov. 24, 2018 at St. Mary Hospital in Madison after suffering a cardiac event while undergoing scheduled medical tests. He was 71.

Morlino was installed as the fourth bishop of Madison Aug. 1, 2003. Prior to his time in Madison, he was bishop of Helena.

Bishop Hying was born on Aug. 18, 1963 in West Allis, Wis. He is the youngest of six brothers. He was ordained a priest for the Milwaukee archdiocese in May 1989 at the age of 25.

He is fluent in Spanish. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history, philosophy and theology from Marquette University and a master’s of divinity degree from St. Francis de Sales Seminary.

From 2007 to 2011 he was the rector of St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee.

As bishop of Gary, Hying called the diocese's first synod in 2017, following which he outlined the top pastoral priorities for the diocese over the coming years.

In support of those plans, Hying was making comprehensive visits to each parish in the diocese during 2019.

The Diocese of Madison was established in 1945 and has 104 parishes and 142 diocesan and religious priests.

The diocese has around 285,000 Catholics, which is just over 27% of the area's total population.

In the statement announcing the death of Morlino in November, the Diocese of Madison outlined his three priorities as bishop. These were to “increase the number and quality of men ordained to the diocesan priesthood,” to increase a sense of reverence throughout the diocese, and “to challenge Catholic institutions in the diocese to live out their professed faith in Jesus Christ” with their ministry in the secular realm.

In August 2018, Morlino released a pastoral letter saying the “homosexual subculture” within the Church was “wreaking great devastation.” He also called for additional Masses of reparation and fasting, and promised to respond firmly to any allegations of sexual misconduct by members of the clergy or seminarians.