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Doing well and doing good: Charities wary of Trump tax plan

IMAGE: CNS photo/Eugene Garcia, EPA

By Carolyn Mackenzie

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- While Capitol Hill and much of the nation have been following the roller coaster of debate surrounding what will come of GOP efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, some are focused on what President Donald Trump's proposed tax plan might mean for charitable giving.

His proposed tax plan would place a cap on total itemized deductions, including those for charitable giving. By raising the standard deduction and eliminating the estate tax, experts say that this plan would reduce incentives that often prompt donations to charities.

According to Giving USA's "Annual Report on Philanthropy," individual donors drove the rise in philanthropic giving seen in 2016. Giving to religion increased by 3 percent, 1.8 percent adjusted for inflation, in 2016, with an estimated $122.94 billion in contributions. This accounted for 32 percent of all charitable giving in 2016, which totaled at $390.05 billion.

The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy prepares these estimates for the Giving USA Foundation. Though giving rates rose across the board, giving by individuals grew at a higher rate than did giving by foundations or corporations.

Rick Dunham, board member of Giving USA and CEO of Dunham+Company, a consulting company based in Plano, Texas, remarked that two factors that significantly affect charitable giving are the stock market and attendance at religious services.

"When you look at those who give charitably, there's a direct correlation between those who attend church or religious services at least weekly," Dunham told Catholic News Service in a phone interview.

Furthermore, Dunham noted, donations by the top 2 percent of income earners account for a large percentage of charitable giving by individuals. As such, the stock market has a direct impact upon charitable giving.

Joseph Rosenberg, senior researcher at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center in Washington, noted that tax incentives are just one of many reasons why people donate to charity. One tax policy that may motivate donations, he explained, is the individual income tax deduction for charitable contributions.

"The clear consensus is that the deduction does increase giving," Rosenberg told CNS. "It's unclear how big the size of the effect is."

While it is theoretically available to all taxpayers, Rosenberg observed, as an itemized deduction it goes unused by most taxpayers, who claim a standard deduction instead.

"Roughly speaking, only about 30 percent of taxpayers elect to itemize deductions," Rosenberg said. "But, those 30 percent obviously make up a very large chunk of charitable giving, in particular our higher income households."

Under Trump's proposed plan, the standard deduction would double. For the 2016 tax year, the standard deduction for singles and married persons filing separate returns was $6,300; under Trump's plan it would be $12,600. For married couples filing jointly it was $12,600 in 2016; under Trump's plan it would be $24,000.

Rosenberg indicated that an increase in the standard deduction would result in a decrease in the number of people who itemize their deductions. If people who choose the standard deduction make charitable donations, Rosenberg explained, they are not necessarily paying more taxes than they would if they choose to itemize.

"It does mean that what they're sort of mentally thinking about is, 'What if I gave $100 more to charity?'" Rosenberg said. "If they're not itemizing their deductions, they're not changing their taxes. They get no additional tax benefit unless they itemize."

Dunham affirmed that an increase in the standard deduction would likely reduce the amount that people give to charity.

"I don't believe that the charitable tax deduction is an incentive to give as much as it is an incentive to give more," Dunham said.

Lucas Swanepoel, senior director of government affairs at Catholic Charities USA, said that with less of an incentive, donations from individuals will likely decrease, calling it an "unintended consequence."

"If we were to double the standard deduction, only about 5 percent of taxpayers would itemize," Swanepoel told CNS, citing a study done by Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

The same study found that reducing the top tax bracket to 35 percent and doubling the standard deduction, as outlined in Trump's plan, could potentially lead to a $13.1 billion reduction in charitable giving, which Dunham also noted. The study further estimates that this would reduce charitable giving to religious congregations by up to 4.7 percent.

"One of the interesting things about the Indiana University study is that it looked at secular givers and religious givers," Swanepoel said. "Even in religious giving, we see that there is a change in incentive to give based on tax policy."

A second issue that Rosenberg raised is that of the estate tax, which Trump often refers to as the "death tax." Trump's proposal would eliminate the estate tax. Under current tax law, if the decedent leaves property to a qualifying charity, that amount is deductible.

"When people die, they can leave assets to charity and they get a full deduction against the estate tax," Rosenberg said.

According to Giving USA, giving by bequest accounted for 8 percent, or $30.36 billion, of all charitable giving in 2016.

"There should be some concern about what would happen to charitable bequests if they eliminate the estate tax," Rosenberg said. "That's not to say that folks like Warren Buffett wouldn't leave their money to charity just because they're not getting a deduction."

Dunham explained that while giving by bequest accounts for about 8 percent of charitable giving, giving by individuals accounts for about 72 percent. As such, Dunham expressed more concern about the changes that may occur with itemized deductions under Trump's proposed plan.

Swanepoel highlighted other important aspects of tax policy, such as the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit, that are important for families and low income individuals, explaining that charitable giving is just one dimension of charity in tax law.

"We want to foster a culture of giving, and the tax code is one way in which we help that effort," Swanepoel said.

Trump's plan proposes to boost the child and dependent care credit, according to a one-page document distributed by the White House. The Trump administration released this proposal April 26 and hopes to have a tax plan in place before Congress departs for its August recess.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Health bill must protect poor, unborn and conscience rights, bishop says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Andrew Gombert, EPA

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- U.S. senators must reject any bill that would replace the Affordable Care Act unless such a measure "protects poor and vulnerable people, including immigrants, safeguards the unborn and supports conscience rights," said the chairman of the U.S. bishops' domestic policy committee.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, called on the Senate to fix problems with the ACA in a more narrow way, rather than repeal it without an adequate replacement.

"Both the American Health Care Act legislation from the U.S. House of Representatives and the Better Care Reconciliation Act from the Senate were seriously flawed, and would have harmed those most in need in unacceptable ways," Bishop Dewane said.

The House passed its bill to repeal and replace the ACA health care law May 4 with a close vote of 217 to 213. The Senate's version collapsed July 17 after four Republican senators said they couldn't support it, leaving Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, short of the 50 votes needed to bring the bill to the floor for a debate.

"In the face of difficulties passing these proposals, the appropriate response is not to create greater uncertainty, especially for those who can bear it least, by repealing the ACA without a replacement," he said.

Bishop Dewane made the comments in a June 20 letter to U.S. senators released July 21.

President Donald Trump had lunch with the GOP senators at the White House July 19 in an effort to get them to commit to moving forward a repeal and replace measure. A new Senate draft of a bill was released July 20, and McConnell is expected to hold a vote to begin debate July 25.

Bishop Dewane referred back to a Jan. 18 letter in which the U.S. bishops "encouraged Congress to work in a bipartisan fashion to protect vulnerable Americans and preserve important gains in health care coverage and access."

That letter reiterated principles he said the bishops laid out when the ACA was being debated in early 2010. "All people need and should have access to comprehensive, quality health care that they can afford, and it should not depend on their stage of life, where or whether they or their parents work, how much they earn, where they live, or where they were born," the bishops said at the time. "The bishops' conference believes health care should be truly universal and it should be genuinely affordable."

"Before any legislation had been proposed, the bishops were clear" in their Jan. 18 letter to lawmakers, Bishop Dewane said, "that a repeal of key provisions of the Affordable Care Act ought not be undertaken without the concurrent passage of a replacement plan that ensures access to adequate health care for the millions of people who now rely upon it for their well-being.

"To end coverage for those who struggle every day without an adequate alternative in place would be devastating," he said. "Nothing has changed this analysis."

At the same time, "reform is still needed to address the ACA's moral deficiencies and challenges with long-term sustainability," Bishop Dewane said.

"Problems with the ACA can be fixed with more narrow reforms, and in a bipartisan way," he said, "Congress can extend full Hyde Amendment protections to the ACA, enact laws that protect the conscience rights of all stakeholders in health care, protect religious freedom, and pass legislation that begins to remove current and impending barriers to access and affordability, particularly for those most in need."

In an analysis issued late July 20, the Congressional Budget office said the new version would still increase the current number of uninsured Americans by 22 million by 2026. In 2016, 28 million people were uninsured last year; in 2010, just over 48 million were uninsured in 2010, the year the ACA was signed into law by President Barack Obama.

It would reduce average premiums in the ACA exchanges by 25 percent in 2026, end the individual and employer mandates, and rescind the Medicaid expansion under the current law. Taxes on investment income and payroll taxes affecting higher-income Americans would remain.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

U.S. bishops call for permanent protection for young migrants

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The chair of the migration committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urged the Trump administration to "ensure permanent protection" for youth who were brought to the U.S. as minors without legal documentation.

Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chair of the Committee on Migration Committee, reiterated the bishops' support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a 2012 policy under then-President Barack Obama that, while not providing legal status, gives recipients a temporary reprieve from deportation and employment authorization in the United States as long as they meet certain criteria.

During his campaign for president, Donald Trump said he would get rid of the program but later backtracked and it's unclear what will happen to the estimated 750,000 youth who signed up for the program.

"DACA youth are contributors to our economy, veterans of our military, academic standouts in our universities, and leaders in our parishes," said Bishop Vasquez in a July 18 statement. "These young people entered the U.S. as children and know America as their only home. The dignity of every human being, particularly that of our children and youth, must be protected."

He urged the administration "to continue administering the DACA program and to publicly ensure that DACA youth are not priorities for deportation."

The bishops join other Catholic institutions worried about the group and urging protection. In May, more than 65 college presidents representing U.S. Catholic institutions asked for a meeting with the Secretary of Homeland Security to talk about immigration policy, particularly DACA, saying they worried about the future of their students. They cited incidents in which DACA recipients have been placed under immigration detention, including a case in which one of them was deported.

"Many of these students will leave our campuses for internships, summer programs and jobs. Our prayer is that they return," their letter said, but so far there have been no announcements of what the administration will or won't do regarding the program.

In his statement, Bishop Vasquez said that since DACA is not a permanent solution, "I also call on Congress to work in an expeditious and bipartisan manner to find a legislative solution for DACA youth as soon as possible."

Some members of Congress had been working on a bipartisan bill to provide relief for "Dreamers," as the DACA recipients are known, but the McClatchy news agency reported July 19 that White House officials said the president would not support the legislative action.

The administration already is facing pressure from some groups for not rescinding DACA, as it had promised. In late June, officials from nine states joined Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in urging the Trump administration to end DACA, threatening the government with a lawsuit on Sept. 5 if the program continues.

Trump has said at least on a couple of occasions that the decision is more difficult than he first imagined and recently said he's still weighing what to do about it.

The country's Catholic bishops will continue efforts to find a humane and permanent resolution "that protects DACA youth," Bishop Vasquez wrote.

"Additionally, I note the moral urgency for comprehensive immigration reform that is just and compassionate. The bishops will advocate for these reforms as we truly believe they will advance the common good," he said.

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Investigation into Regensburg choir finds more than 500 boys were abused

IMAGE: CNS photo/Armin Weigel, EPA

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- More than 500 boys suffered abuse at the hands of dozens of teachers and priests at the school that trains the prestigious boys choir of the Regensburg Cathedral in Germany, said an independent investigator.

Former students of the Domspatzen choir reported that the physical, emotional and even sexual abuse at the school made life there like "a prison, hell and a concentration camp," said Ulrich Weber, the lawyer leading the investigation of claims of abuse at the choir and two associated boarding schools.

A "culture of silence" among church leaders and members allowed such abuse to continue for decades, Weber said as he presented the final report on his findings during a news conference in Regensburg July 18.

The investigation, commissioned by the Diocese of Regensburg, found that at least 547 former members of the Regensburg Domspatzen boys choir in Germany were subjected to some form of abuse, according to Vatican Radio. Of those victims, 67 students were victims of sexual violence, the radio said.

But Weber told the Regensburg news conference that many former victims had declined to come forward during his two-year inquiries into the Domspatzen, adding that he believed the real number could be closer to 700.

Regensburg church sources said around 300 financial compensation claims had been received from abuse victims, adding that 450,000 euros (US$518,000) had been paid out by the diocese so far.

The 440-page report, which spanned the years between 1945 and the early 1990s, found highly plausible accusations against 49 members of the church of inflicting the abuse, with nine of them accused of being sexual abusive. The Diocese of Regensburg and the Domspatzen choir supplied links to the report and related news stories or resources on their respective web sites: www.bistum-regensburg.de and www.domspatzen.de.

In the report, Weber sharply criticized Cardinal Gerhard Muller, who was bishop of Regensburg from 2002 until 2012, when Pope Benedict appointed him to head the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Then-Bishop Muller had "a clear responsibility" in the "strategic, organizational and communication weaknesses" that marked the process he launched of reviewing allegations. Cardinal Muller had ordered the creation of a commission to investigate and search through diocesan archives in the wake of the 2010 abuse crisis.

But in an interview with TV2000, the satellite television station owned by the Italian bishops' conference, Cardinal Muller denied he had not done enough as bishop of Regensburg.

"I launched the process of investigation" when abuse claims increasingly emerged in 2010, he said in the interview, which aired July 20.

Time, resources and assistance were dedicated to "offering justice to victims," he said, and he personally set up a team of experts and appealed to victims to come forward.

"Those responsible for abuse are relatively few and a number of them are dead," he said, adding that "unfortunately we can't put dead people on trial, but whatever could be done, juridically and pastorally, the diocese did, just as it does today."

He said the elementary school where the choir boys studied was "institutionally independent from the diocese" and that, at the time, it was also very reserved, "very closed, nobody could go in."

"Perhaps there were rumors, but they never reached the diocese," the cardinal said.

One of the first Domspatzen student-victims to come forward in 2010 with allegations of sexual abuse, Alexander Probst, told Deutsche Welle July 18 that he had been very frustrated and angry with the way then-Bishop Muller reacted to his claims. He said the bishop accused him of denouncing the church.

In the interview, whose link could be found on the Regensburg boys' choir website, Probst said he felt the bishop actively protected abusers, and that "it got even worse when he was appointed head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; it was like putting a fox in charge of the henhouse."

"It was only after the new bishop of Regensburg, Rudolf Voderholzer, realized that there was much more to all this than met the eye when things began to get better. Starting in 2015, he personally wanted to cooperate with us," Probst said.

Widespread news of the suspected abuse first emerged in 2010 as religious orders and bishops' conferences in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands were faced with a flood new allegations of the sexual abuse of children, mainly at Catholic schools.

The boys' choir had been led between 1964 and 1994 by Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, the older brother of retired Pope Benedict XVI.

In an interview with the German newspaper Passauer Neue Presse in 2010, Msgr. Ratzinger apologized to victims at his former school, even though he said he had been unaware of the alleged incidents.

"There was never any talk of sexual abuse problems, and I had no idea that molestation was taking place," the priest said, as he recalled his 30 years as the school's choirmaster.

Msgr. Ratzinger had said when he served at the school, "there was a climate of discipline and rigor ... but also of human understanding, almost like a family." He knew that the priest who headed the school from 1953 until his death in 1992 had slapped boys in the face, but said he had not considered such punishments "particularly brutal."

"If I'd known the exaggerated vehemence with which the director acted, I would have reacted," he said in the 2010 interview.

In his report, Weber said Msgr. Ratzinger should have known about at least some cases of physical violence, but that his role "was still not at all clear."

Msgr. Michael Fuchs, diocesan vicar general, described Msgr. Ratzinger as a "passionate musician, priest and pedagogue" and an "emotional person," who had personally regretted slapping pupils during his 30 years as the school's choirmaster and apologized to Domspatzen victims.

"I have no information to suggest his account, expressed many times, needs to be revised," Msgr. Fuchs told the news conference.

Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, told Vatican Radio the new report shows how Bishop Voderholzer "has taken seriously all the allegations" and is "very courageous in taking on an issue that has been looming for many years."

It is only now that the facts have become "plain, in the light of day" because of establishing and cooperating with a professional, independent investigation, he said.

This latest report should inspire church leaders around the world, Father Zollner said, "so that they do the same today because this will help, first of all, those who have been harmed in the past."

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Contributing to this story was Jonathan Luxmoore.

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Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.


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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Dewane: Budget 'moral document'; House bill puts poor in 'real jeopardy'

IMAGE: CNS photoAaron P. Bernstein, Reuters

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. House budget resolution "will place millions of poor and vulnerable people in real jeopardy" because it reduces deficits "through cuts for human needs" and by trying to slash taxes at the same time, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops' domestic policy committee.

"A nation's budget is a moral document," said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. "Congress should choose a better path, one that honors those struggling in our country."

Bishop Dewane's July 20 statement was issued in response to the budget resolution that was voted out of the House Budget Committee along party lines July 19.

The nonbinding Republican measure is a 10-year budget blueprint that calls for $621.5 billion in national defense spending, provides for $511 billion in nondefense spending and ties cuts to a major overhaul of the U.S. tax code.

It makes at least $203 billion in cuts over a decade in Medicaid, food stamps, tax credits for the working poor and other programs that help low-income Americans. The bill also would change Medicare into a type of voucher program for future retirees.

"The USCCB is monitoring the budget and appropriations process in Congress very carefully, and is analyzing the proposed House budget resolution in more detail," Bishop Dewane said. "We note at the outset that the proposal assumes the harmful and unacceptable cuts to Medicaid from the American Health Care Act."

The House May 4 passed the American Health Care Act to replace the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act. The Senate effort to repeal and replace the health care law collapsed late July 17.

In the House budget resolution, "steady increases to military spending ... are made possible by cutting critical resources for those in need over time, including potentially from important programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) that provide essential nutrition to millions of people," Bishop Dewane said.

"This would undo a bipartisan approach on discretionary spending from recent years, that, while imperfect, was a more balanced compromise given competing priorities," he added.

Catholic Charities USA also rejected the measure's "dramatic cuts in key social safety net programs."

Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of the national Catholic Charities network, urged House members "to prioritize and protect programs that support and uplift the poor and vulnerable in our country."

"While CCUSA supports the responsible use of our nation's fiscal resources and has worked consistently to improve effectiveness in anti-poverty programs, reforms that seek only to cut our nation's social safety net will further strain efforts to meet individual needs and risk pushing more Americans into poverty," Sister Markham said July 20.

She made the comments in a letter to Rep. Diane Black, R-Tennessee, who is chair of the House Budget Committee, and Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Kentucky, ranking member.

Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, also wrote to Black and Yarmuth expressing her opposition to the budget resolution.

"As an organization guided by the social teachings of the Catholic Church, we firmly believe that the federal budget should be informed by moral principles and offer special protections for the poor and vulnerable," she wrote July 18, the day the measure was unveiled.

"A budget must be fair and just and cannot be balanced on the backs of those among us who least can afford it," Sister Keehan said. "We recognize that the proper role of federal spending programs should be to lift up the neediest among us enabling them to active participants in society.

"Unfortunately, the deep cuts in programs and services assumed by this budget proposal will severely reduce or eliminate access to basic necessities such as food, shelter, health care, education and other social supports that help lift families and individuals out of poverty and improve their health outcomes," she said.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Facebook restores Catholic pages after their accidental removal

IMAGE: Catholic News Service

By Josephine von Dohlen

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic Facebook pages whose sponsors reported had been suddenly removed late July 17 were restored just over 24 hours later.

Twenty-one Brazilian-based Catholic Facebook pages, such as a Papa Francisco Brazil page, as well as four English sites, could not publish content July 18 due to Facebook silently taking down their sites. Millions of followers were affected, according to ChurchPOP, a Christian Culture brand website.

"All pages have now been restored. This incident was triggered accidentally by a spam detection tool. We sincerely apologize for the issue this has caused." a Facebook spokesperson told Catholic News Service in an email sent late afternoon July 19.

Among those with pages who were affected was the executive director of Relevant Radio, Father Francis J. Hoffman, affectionately known as "Father Rocky," who has 3.95 million likes from Facebook fans around the world.

Relevant Radio reported that on July 17, all the page administrators of the Relevant Radio "Father Rocky" Facebook page found themselves unable to log onto Facebook. Once passing through a security measure, they found the Father Rocky page left "unpublished, with no other details or explanation."

Father Rocky livestreams Mass daily from his Facebook page, as well as posts prayers, photos and even educational videos for his almost 4 million followers. Early July 19, Father Rocky posted a picture of a statue of Mary, stating, "Thanks be to God, I am back on Facebook!!"

"This serves as a wake-up call and we urge all Relevant Radio listeners and Facebook followers to download the free Relevant Radio App as a secure and reliable resource for the daily Mass and inspirational programs," Father Rocky stated in a news release.

The Facebook page, Catholic and Proud, which has over 6 million followers, told CNS in a Facebook message that things appeared to be fine until the evening of July 17, when the page then became unpublished for the next day.

"The only notification I received was that we weren't adhering to their policies, but that's it, no reason, no example, absolutely nothing," the Catholic and Proud page wrote to CNS. "That's all we know. The inbox message reply here was also removed, so we couldn't respond to anyone." 

According to Facebook, protocols aimed at taking down fake pages out of line with commercial spam policies allow for machine searches of posts that have similar comments indicating any abuse of policy. Many religious sites often produce similar comments to spam on their posts, which may cause their sites to go down. When Facebook realized the mistake, they were able to restore the pages.

In May 2016, Gizmodo, a design, technology, and politics website, published a piece accusing Facebook of censoring conservative trending topics, specifically the Conservative Political Action Conference and other conservative leaders. Their sources, former Facebook "news curators," even admitted that stories that were covered by conservative outlets could not be trending unless mainstream sites covered similar topics.

In response, Facebook's vice president of search, Tom Stocky, released a statement saying, "We take these reports extremely seriously, and have found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true."

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Catholic cartoonist draws inspiration from fantasy classics, family life

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ashleigh Kassock, Catholic Herald

By Ashleigh Kassock

FRONT ROYAL, Va. (CNS) -- As many parents know, all kids come into the world ready to draw, but as the years pass, each child reaches a point where they make a choice -- to draw or not to draw.

It was never a question for comic artist and arrow enthusiast Ben Hatke, who doodled his way through many a grade school and high school class, filling the margins with grand adventures.

His dad was an architect at Purdue University in Indiana and his mom took him and his two sisters to the library regularly. When the young boy discovered newspaper comics such as Calvin and Hobbes, it was love at first sight.

Now, many pounds of pencil lead and paper later, the Christendom College grad and father of five has made a career out of "drawing in class." For nearly two decades, he has illustrated comics, Seton Home Study School textbooks, children's books and graphic novels.

The rights to his first graphic novel, "Zita the Spacegirl," was picked up recently by Fox for a movie and there is hope that one day Hatke's brave characters will make it to the big screen.

"Zita the Spacegirl" chronicles the adventures of young Zita as she braves the unknown in pursuit of her friend who vanished after pushing a mysterious red button. The story, and subsequent trilogy, became a hit with readers who have become big fans of Hatke's work. What many of the fans don't know, however, is that Zita was not Hatke's idea.

"I feel like I'm always coming clean when I tell this story," said Hatke, as he sat next to his desk, covered with pens, paper, tiny action figures and a Madonna and Child statue.

"I stole the idea from this cute girl I met at Christendom College," he told the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington. "She had done these series of short little comics when she was in high school about this future girl named Zita so I was like, 'I'm going to develop this character.'"

The admirer from Indiana gave Zita a new outfit and added a green cape. He then presented his crush with a whole Zita comic book.

"This plan of impressing this girl totally worked because she married me and here I am with my five daughters and Anna is still putting up with my crazy artistic ways," he said.

According to Hatke, Anna chose the name Zita after St. Zita, who was the patroness of the region where Anna's father grew up in a village in Italy.

"(St. Zita) is a beautiful saint because she is not dramatic. She was a serving girl to a wealthy family and she was just known for being kind to poor people and baking really great bread and giving it away," Hatke said. "In a time period when many of the saints were priests or religious, she was a lay saint. She just lived a really good life."

From the very beginning of Hatke's career, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien have been favorite storytelling influences. But while his style is similar to "The Chronicles of Narnia" by Lewis, Hatke tends to favor the storytelling philosophy of Tolkien, who was against making a story too message driven.

"The most important thing is that you are telling a good story and if you are being honest in your good storytelling then what you think and feel and believe about the world will come out in that story and become apparent."

One thing that's become more apparent in Hatke's work is the influence of his family.

"I had a reason to look back in my stack of books, and it was shocking just how much of my interior life and psychology life comes out, especially in the Jack books," he said. In his latest graphic novel "Mighty Jack," released in 2016, the main character's house is identical to Hatke's and the similarities do not stop there.

"I grew up with sisters. I now have daughters and Jack also is surrounded by these different feminine characters who are pulling him in different directions," he explained. "I didn't even notice I was doing it until I read it in a review and then I was like, 'Oh man, this is me.'"

Anna and the girls play an important role as his first line of editorial support. The girls like to check on their dad at work and sometimes he will test a joke on them. If it goes over their heads he knows to try again.

One night when he was working on the third Zita book, Hakte felt he finally had a good story and told it to the girls during homemade pizza night.

"I was telling the story and I got three-quarters of the way through and I was like this is getting late, why don't we eat our dinner and finish up and they were like 'No! No! Finish the story now!' And I knew this was working," Hatke said with a smile. He relies a lot on Anna's advice. They discuss developing projects when they are driving around town.

There are times, however, that motivation jumps ship and abandons even the best creative minds in the midst of looming deadlines. One of the ways Hatke has learned to get through these dry periods is through small side projects, also known as "goofing-off" or "drawing in class."

His book "Little Robot" started out as a series of comic strips that he made during a time when he definitely had more important things to do. It turned into a book and won the 2016 Eisner Award for best publication for early readers.

"It has ended up being one of the books that is so important to me and it came because I was just 'goofing-off,'" he said.

The rising popularity of his books and the possible movie has reminded Hatke about the responsibility writers have to their young audience. He equates it to the responsibility felt by a favorite arachnid-bitten superhero of his.

"I'm so thankful and so grateful that I've wandered into this position that I really can share stories with people in this way," he said. "Having a voice and a young audience comes with a lot of responsibility, but also a lot of joy and a lot of excitement. The harder and more contentious times are the more serious the role of the artist is in the world."

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Kassock is multimedia designer at the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.

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Gingrich, nominee for U.S. ambassador to Vatican, testifies at hearing

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

By Carolyn Mackenzie

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Callista Gingrich testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations July 18 for her confirmation hearing as President Donald Trump's nominee to be the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

Gingrich, 51, affirmed the administration's commitment to protecting human rights and religious freedom and responded to questions about refugees and the environment.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, presided, introducing Gingrich and referencing her involvement with the Catholic Church. He noted that Gingrich was the organist for her local parish, St. John's Catholic Church, in her hometown of Whitehall, Wisconsin, and has been a longtime member of the choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

"Callista is a lifelong Catholic and has been active in her faith for many years," Johnson said.

He marked her almost three decades of experience as a congressional staffer and subsequent work as president of Gingrich Productions, a company that produces documentaries, books, newsletters, and other materials related to history and public policy.

Johnson cited Gingrich's experience gained in producing a documentary film about Pope John Paul II's historic trip to Poland as evidence of her connections with and understanding of the Catholic community and the Vatican, calling her "an ideal choice."

Johnson noted that Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Florida, who served as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican from 2005 to 2008, was in attendance in support of Gingrich's nomination.

In her testimony, Gingrich emphasized her desire to work with the Vatican to protect religious freedom and human rights, fight terrorism, violence and human trafficking, and seek peaceful solutions to international crises.

Gingrich spoke of her time spent producing "Nine Days That Changed the World," and "Divine Mercy: The Canonization of John Paul II" as influential in her education in the "bilateral relationship" between the United States and the Vatican. The two entities, she said, "can act as a worldwide force for good when we work together."

After Gingrich and other nominees delivered their testimonies, members of the committee questioned them. Questions for Gingrich focused primarily on refugees and the environment.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, said that Pope Francis has called upon America and the rest of the Western world to welcome refugees and asked Gingrich how she planned to work with the Holy See on this critical issue.

"We have a deep commitment in this country to work so that people don't have to become refugees," Gingrich said.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, pressed the question further, noting that the president's most recent budget proposal included a cut to the refugee bureau.

"We're sending a message," Kaine said in reference to such cuts.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, also referred to the budget, alluding to a hiring freeze for the State Department.

"You are all going to feel the brunt of that," Murphy said to Gingrich and the nominees for other positions who were present at the hearing.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, asked Gingrich if she planned to work with the Vatican to increase ties between the U.S. and Cuba. Gingrich replied that she hopes to aid in efforts to advance religious freedom, human dignity and human rights in Cuba.

Udall also questioned Gingrich on the environment, referencing Trump's recent visit to the Vatican, at which Pope Francis presented him with a copy of his encyclical "Laudato Si'."

"The pope and the president share a great concern about the environment," Gingrich said.

Gingrich then said that while the U.S. is pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, as Trump announced in early June, the U.S. will pursue a "balanced approach to climate change."

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, also pressed Gingrich on the environment, asking Gingrich if Trump had read "Laudato Si'."

Although unsure if Trump had read "Laudato Si'," Gingrich explained that she had read "some of it" and believes that climate changes exists and that some of it is due to human behavior. She also said that Trump "wants the U.S. to be an environmental leader."

Merkley said that he "must have missed" any of the president's statements showing his dedication to the environment.

With questions from other committee members ended, Johnson asked Gingrich about her experience producing "Nine Days that Changed the World." Gingrich responded that her work affirmed that Pope John Paul helped usher in end of communism in Poland and Eastern Europe. After Gingrich's answer, Johnson concluded the hearing.

"America has been a phenomenal force for good in the world; the Catholic Church has been a phenomenal force for good in this world," Johnson said.

If confirmed, Gingrich, wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and a former congressional aide, will become the 11th U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. She would succeed Ambassador Ken Hackett, who retired in January. She would be the third woman to serve in the post after Lindy Boggs, who served 1997-2001, and Mary Ann Glendon, who served 2008-2009.

The ambassadorship began in 1984 with the official opening of diplomatic relations between the United States under Ronald Reagan and the Vatican under Pope John Paul.

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Health care prescription? Regroup, cooperate, Catholic health leaders say

IMAGE: CNS photo/Yuri Gripas, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- After efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act collapsed late July 17 in the U.S. Senate, Catholic health care leaders said they hope Congress will work together, in small steps, to fix flaws in the current legislation.

The bill lost ground when two Republican senators announced their opposition to it, joining two other senators who opposed the bill and leaving Republican leaders at least two votes short of the 50 needed to start debate on the measure.

Four days earlier, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said in a statement that the measure, a revision of an earlier draft, still did not have "enough improvement to change our assessment that the proposal is unacceptable."

"The Catholic Health Association is pleased that the bill in the Senate will not go forward," said Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, who is president and CEO of the association, adding: "It would have had incredibly negative consequences for so many Americans."

Dr. Steven White, a pulmonary specialist in Ormond Beach, Florida, and chairman of the Catholic Medical Association Health Care Policy Committee, said that because of the complexity of the heath care legislation, he would hope people would see what happened -- when the Senate failed to secure the necessary votes for the health care repeal -- as a setback not a failure.

In his July 13 statement about the Senate bill, Bishop Dewane also referred to his June 27 letter to senators that said any health care reform bill must uphold several moral principles: affordability; access for all; respect for life; and protection of conscience rights. The bishops also have stressed the need for U.S. health care policy "to improve real access" to health care for immigrants.

In a July 18 statement, Sister Keehan said Congress can "now turn a page and open a new chapter" stressing that the country deserves a health care bill that gives quality and affordable health care to everyone.

The Congressional Budget Office said the Senate bill would leave 18 million more people uninsured within a year, and 32 million fewer people would have coverage in 2026, compared with the number of those insured under the current law. Health insurance premiums also would increase by at least 20 percent within the first year and would likely double by 2026.

The bill would have done away with the Affordable Care Act's expansion of Medicaid and subsidies for the purchase of private insurance, but it would have left in place requirements prohibiting insurers from denying coverage or charging higher premiums because of a pre-existing medical condition.

Sister Keehan, who was consulted on the initial Affordable Care Act legislation, said moving forward will require bipartisan efforts and broad consultation. "There is the competence and resources to do this if we work together. Health is too critical to be allowed to be a partisan issue," she said, adding that CHA "stands ready to work with all members of Congress to achieve this."

The woman religious, who is a nurse and heads an organization of more than 600 hospitals and 1,400 long-term care and other health facilities in the United States, also said her organization would "definitely not support a bill that repeals but delays replacement" of the Affordable Care Act because it would create "incredible uncertainty."

"Health care is too critical to put at that much risk," she added.

White told Catholic News Service July 18 that members of Congress need to "get together and view in incremental steps what they can do" acknowledging that fixing flaws in the Affordable Care Act "can't all be done at once."

He said one aspect of the reform efforts -- Medicaid cuts -- is not fully understood. As he sees it, the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA is currently hurting state budgets, so some type of reform is necessary.

He also stressed that any future health care legislation that comes before Congress must include conscience protections that he said are "absolutely essential."

Three days before the Senate plan was stopped in its tracks, Sister Keehan said she hoped more senators would take a stand against the proposed legislation. The next step would be for "Democrats and Republicans to show they can be statesmen and women and come together -- not gloating or finding fault but looking to stabilize the Affordable Care Act for now and to look at what might be better in the future."

On the Senate floor July 18, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said: "I regret that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failures of Obamacare will not be successful. That doesn't mean we should give up. We will now try a different way to bring the American people relief from Obamacare. I think we owe them at least that much."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Not being afraid of controversy is part of Civilta Cattolica's mission

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When an influential Jesuit-run journal criticized U.S. politics in mid-July, it was not the first time it had caused controversy in the United States.

Stirring up controversy is nothing new for La Civilta Cattolica, which sees defending the faith as part of its mission.

Over the years, it has written articles calling professional boxing "attempted murder"; labeling distracted or impaired driving a sin that should be confessed; praising the powers of Harry Potter in getting kids to read; recommending anger management training for priests and religious; advocating Western governments regulate mosque construction; and condemning states for profiting from cigarette sales.

It also made some fur fly when it criticized animal rights movements that ignore the unique dignity and superiority of human beings over animals. It noted the hypocrisy of insisting on basic rights to life for animals but not for the disabled, sick or young children. The editorial asked if all animals have an equal right to exist, then wouldn't humans have to be responsible for protecting some species from others and "spend our entire lives keeping the cats away from the mice?''

The journal often reflects Vatican opinion and is reviewed by the Vatican Secretariat of State, so its contents are closely watched. Its authority also stems from the authority, expertise and influence of its authors, who have been top experts or leaders in the fields of canon law, theology and education or as official advisers to important Vatican offices and courts.

However, sometimes that scholarly expertise in canon law and the church's social doctrine does not mesh well with local contexts and national initiatives.

In 2002, Jesuit Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda wrote an article expressing reservations over the direction U.S. bishops were taking in their national policy on clerical sex abuse. At the time he wrote the piece, he was a Vatican City appeals court judge and dean of the canon law faculty at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University.

Speaking from a perspective of church law, he had said bishops -- unless clearly negligent in investigating and correcting abuse situations -- generally are not morally or legally responsible for the actions of their priests. His point underlined Vatican perplexity over the U.S. legal system and the fact that dioceses had been sued because of the actions of a single cleric.

The priest also cautioned it was not good pastoral practice to notify civil authorities of all priestly sex abuse accusations; that psychological testing should not be required of suspected clerical abusers; and that, if reassigning a past abuser to active ministry, a bishop should not tell parishioners of the past abuse. Many U.S. bishops at the time, however, were doing the opposite.

Father Ghirlanda later told Catholic News Service that his article should not be seen as a Vatican "directive" to U.S. bishops as they formulated a national policy. Although the Vatican reviews the journal, Father Ghirlanda said the article represented his own opinion.

"I honestly don't know if the Holy See will accept these points," he had said.

In 2010, an article praised the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, so-called "Obamacare." It said the health care reform law marked "a needed and long-awaited beginning" of bringing greater justice to all citizens, especially the most vulnerable.

It explained the position of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which was against the measure because its provisions on abortion funding and conscience protections were morally unacceptable.

However, the Jesuit journal lamented the extreme divisiveness of debate on the measure and said it believed the different positions within the U.S. Catholic community just reflected a "clash" of differing opinions over how to implement church social teaching.

It did a follow-up editorial nine months later, saying any initial positive reactions to the health care reform law were "hasty and partial" and "not in harmony with the position of the U.S. bishops, who expressed their judgment on the basis on the moral teaching of the church, taking into account every aspect of the reform."

It said that in the eyes of the Catholic Church, the goal must be health care for all, accomplished in a way that also "guarantees the protection of the unborn and of the consciences" of Catholics who want to continue their jobs as health care workers, but cannot participate in abortions or other procedures they and the church consider immoral.

According to the journal's website, part of its mission is to "read and interpret" current events and trends in culture, history, science, art and politics "in the light of the Christian faith offered by the magisterium of the church."

The journal was founded in 1850 by a group of Italian Jesuits to provide a Catholic point of view for the political, religious and cultural upheaval of the day because of increasing hostility toward religious figures, the church's temporal authority and its teachings. The journal wanted to defend -- against threats from Masonic groups and other perceived enemies -- the values of a "Catholic civilization," which gave rise to its Italian title, "Civilta Cattolica."

Its unique relationship with the Vatican and the pope was established by Pope Pius IX in 1866 with a papal brief that spelled out the statutes for this Jesuit "community of writers" that would continue to produce a journal that would fight for and defend "with all its strength and incessantly, the Catholic religion and its doctrine and its rights." The journal's authority, then, is rooted in its mission and identity as having, according to its website, "a particular bond with the pontiff" and being "in harmony" with the Holy See.

Recent pontiffs -- St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis -- have continued to endorse and uphold the journal's unique purpose and relationship to the Holy See.

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Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

 

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Border bishop denounces hateful words, militarization of border

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Denouncing the "demonization of migrants," hateful rhetoric, the militarization of the border and a system that divides families, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, called on Catholics to heed the church's teachings to welcome the migrant.

In a July 18 pastoral letter "Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away," on migration and addressed to the "People of God in the Diocese of El Paso," Bishop Seitz, who serves a border community near Mexico, said the country's security cannot be used as a "pretext to build walls and shut the door to migrants and refugees."

"God did not create a world lacking room for all at the banquet of life," he wrote.

He said that while some might question his reflections, "I am not substituting politics for the teaching of the church," but as a pastor, his "duty is to the Gospel of Jesus Christ," he wrote. And the Gospel in the Old Testament is clear, he said: "You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you."

Bishop Seitz also criticized a system that "permits some to detain human beings for profit," while eroding the country's "historic commitment to the refugee and asylum seeker."

In the letter, he shared personal anecdotes. One involves a teenager named Aura he met at a sister parish in Honduras who later decided to make the trip north to escape extreme poverty and violence. She was caught by immigration authorities and ended up in a detention center in El Paso but not before experiencing "serious physical and psychological wounds." 

She left Honduras for the U.S. because she had been enslaved by a gang and then ended up being treated like a criminal as she sought refuge in the U.S., the bishop wrote. He also wrote about a devoted Texas parishioner named Rosa, who in addition to long hours volunteering, works long hours caring for people with disabilities as well as cleaning houses to raise her family alone after her husband was deported.

"Aura is your neighbor! Aura is your sister!" Bishop Seitz wrote, and when it comes to Rosa, he asked: "Who can deny that our community would be diminished without the faith, hard work and contributions of Rosa and her family?"

He said moments of encounter with such migrant brothers and sisters can provide opportunities for conversion but he lamented that instead, people keep going about their old ways of seeing the world, with indifference, including an indifference toward God.

"This growing indifference toward God seems to exist side by side with a growing coldness toward the poor and suffering, as if they did not exist," he wrote.

Bishop Seitz said that even though the immigration system is broken and has not been fixed in large part because "elected leaders have not yet mustered the moral courage to enact permanent, comprehensive immigration reform," migrants should not be the ones paying the price.

"Still, migrants are treated, as Pope Francis says, as 'pawns on the chessboard of humanity.' Their labor and talents are exploited but they are denied the protections of the law and are scapegoated for our social and economic ills," he wrote.

He praised the work of border communities in welcoming the stranger, and says places such as his diocese, are filled with "heroic individuals, families, pastors, religious, parishes and institutions that spend themselves in service to migrants and refugees" feeling conflict, hunger and persecution. They also advocate for "just laws and against the militarization of our border," he wrote.

As the pastor of a border community, he said, he asks God to help him console, denounce injustice and announce redemption.

"I am pastor of a diocese divided by walls and checkpoints that separate individuals from loved ones. I am bishop of a flock frightened by the flashing lights of police cars in the rearview mirror, who wonder if this family outing or that drive home from work will be the last," he wrote. "I am (a) spiritual father to thousands of Border Patrol and ICE agents, who put their lives on the line to stem the flow of weapons and drugs and those who carry them.

"Many agents are troubled in conscience by divisive political rhetoric and new edicts coming from Washington, D.C.," Bishop Seitz added. "I am a citizen of a community where children worry whether mom or dad will be there when they return from school."

Migrants, he wrote, are not just seeking a better life, "but life itself."

He asked for compassion and solidarity with migrants and says the church "must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice."

To migrant brothers and sisters, he said: "We stand with you!"

"As your bishop, I pledge my commitment to stand with you in this time of anxiety and fear. I promise to hear you, celebrate with you, break bread with you, pray with you and weep with you," he wrote. "You possess a dignity that no earthly law or court can take away. Your families enrich our community and strengthen our parishes. Your perseverance, dedication and enthusiasm for a better future renew our hope."

Bishop Seitz announced he is establishing the Sonador Fund to offer financial assistance to children of migrant families so they can attend Catholic schools in the El Paso Diocese.

The Catholic Church, he wrote, considers itself a mother to all and therefore no human being can be illegal in her eyes, he wrote. He encouraged parishes to become places of prayer, study and dialogue on the issue, "where Catholics can get involved in the work of building a more humane border through education and advocacy."

"We must continue to denounce the evil of family separation, the militarization of our border communities, for-profit immigrant detention, the mistreatment of asylum seekers and the disparagement of our Muslim brothers and sisters," he said.

He encouraged others to learn from the work and culture of border communities.

"Our border is beautiful, rich in history and culture, faith and natural wonder. This is a place where people of many cultures, languages and nationalities coexist and thrive," Bishop Seitz said. 

"I invite young people, volunteers, attorneys and other professionals to spend time with us in service opportunities available through our many church and community organizations," he concluded. "The voice of border communities must be taken into consideration in the shaping of border enforcement policies and in debates on immigration reform. Let us reject a mindset of hostility and work together in generous cooperation for the common good."

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

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Trial begins for ex-Vatican officials accused of stealing hospital funds

IMAGE: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Two former top Vatican hospital officials appeared before a Vatican court for a pretrial hearing on allegations of embezzlement.

Giuseppe Profiti, who was president of Bambino Gesu hospital from 2008 to 2015, and Massimo Spina, the former treasurer, appeared with their lawyers before Vatican magistrates July 18 in a nearly two-hour preliminary hearing, led by the presiding Vatican judge, Paolo Papanti-Pelletier.

A court clerk read the charges, which the Vatican had made public July 13: Profiti, 55, and Spina, 57, were accused of an illicit appropriation and use of funds belonging to the Bambino Gesu Foundation to pay Gianantonio Bandera, an Italian contractor, to refurbish an apartment belonging to Vatican City State. The apartment was used as the residence of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, former Vatican secretary of state.

The indictment said Profiti and Spina extracted more than 420,000 euros for "completely non-institutional ends" by using the money to refurbish Vatican property in order "to benefit Gianantonio Bandera's company." It said the alleged crime was committed in Vatican City State and spanned from November 2013 to May 28, 2014 -- the time period that the contractor's seven invoices were dated and paid for, according to news reports.

Lawyers for the defendants made their pretrial motions, beginning with Antonello Blasi, Profiti's attorney.

He asked that Vatican-accredited journalists not be present in the courtroom to "avoid eventual disturbances," according to the pool report. Journalists had made "signs of approval and disapproval" during other Vatican trials, Blasi said, and he asked the court to make a livestream of the trial available to reporters in another room.

Alfredo Ottaviani, Spina's lawyer, agreed, suggesting that he and his client felt "a bit pressured" with reporters looking on from behind.

The Vatican prosecutor, Gian Piero Milano, dismissed the motion, saying an exception would only be made in extreme cases regarding "morals or public order." In a case like this one, he said according to the pool report, having journalists be present was "necessary" and in the "public interest."

The defense lawyers then challenged the Vatican tribunal's jurisdiction, saying that even though the hospital foundation has extraterritorial status as Vatican property, its address is in Italy, not inside Vatican City State proper. They also said the presumed crime occurred in the United Kingdom where the payments ended up, destined for an Italian contractor. Ottaviani also said that while the foundation is a Vatican entity, the presumed crime was attributed to subjects or persons "outside the Vatican."

Vatican co-prosecutor Roberto Zannotti dismissed the arguments and reaffirmed that newly expanded Vatican laws approved of in 2013 very clearly define who is considered a Vatican "public official" and that there was "not the slightest doubt" that the alleged crime occurred while Profiti and Spina were acting as public officials, so Vatican laws applied to them.

Zannotti added that the funds were extracted from the Vatican's procurement agency, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See; the allegation of misappropriation centers on from where the funds are taken -- a Vatican account -- and not where those funds eventually ended up, the Vatican prosecutor said.

After the preliminary hearing, prosecutors opened the floor to other arguments presented by the defense lawyers.

Among the arguments, Blasi requested the court hear witnesses all the same day in order to avoid "contamination," implying public knowledge of a witness's testimony might affect other witnesses' accounts later.

Ottaviani argued that his client, even though he was treasurer of the foundation, had no power or authority to transfer assets, adding that a letter written by Cardinal Bertone had been submitted to the court to prove Spina's lack of authority. The lawyer then said if the letter were not enough proof, he would like to call the cardinal as a witness.

The presiding judge, Papanti-Pelletier, said the court would make its decision on the requests at a later date and set Sept. 7-9 for a new round of hearings.

If found guilty, Profiti and Spina can face between three and five years in prison and fines starting at 5,000 euros.

According to letters released by investigative news reports, Profiti wrote Cardinal Bertone in late 2013, allegedly offering to pay for remodeling his residence using the foundation money in exchange for being able to use the top floor of the residence for work-related gatherings.

In a letter of reply the next day, the cardinal allegedly accepted the proposal, adding that he would make sure the costs were taken care of by a "third party" so that the foundation would not have to pay. However, the cardinal later said he paid the Vatican, which owns the apartment, 300,000 euros with his own money to cover the costs and had been unaware the foundation had already paid the contractor.

Mariella Enoc, current hospital president, told reporters in late 2015, "Cardinal Bertone never directly received money (from the hospital's foundation), but recognized that we suffered a loss and, therefore, assisted us with a donation of 150,000 euros."

Giuseppe Dalla Torre, president of the tribunal of Vatican City State, was not part of the trial proceedings because he is a member of the Bambino Gesu hospital's board of directors.

 

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USCCB: Retain open internet 'by strongest legal authority available'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Susanna Bates, EPA

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In comments delivered July 17 to the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urged the FCC to use "the strongest legal authority available" to "retain open internet regulations."

The current regulations, adopted in 2015 by a Democratic-majority FCC, treat the internet as a utility. A prior FCC effort to regulate the internet as a communication service did not stand up to judicial scrutiny. The regulations are now under review by a Republican-led FCC. The concept of an open internet has long been called "net neutrality," in which internet service providers neither favor nor discriminate against internet users or websites.

The USCCB is "concerned that the FCC is contemplating eliminating current regulations limiting the manner by which the companies controlling the infrastructure connect people to the internet," said USCCB assistant general counsel Katherine Grincewich.

"Without the current strong open internet regulations, including prohibitions on paid prioritization, the public has no effective recourse against internet service providers' interference with accessibility to content," Grincewich said.

"There will be uncertainty about how and whether those companies can block, speed up or slow down access to internet content, and nonprofit religious entities will be relegated to an internet slow lane," she added. "Since public interest noncommercial -- including religious -- programming is a low priority for broadcasters and cable companies, the internet is one of the few mediums available to churches and religious groups to communicate their messages and the values fundamental to the fabric of our communities."

Grincewich noted, "Without protections to prohibit internet providers from tampering with content delivery on the internet, the fundamental attributes of the internet, in which users have unfettered access to content and capacity to provide content to others, are jeopardized." Such protections, she added, "have particular importance" for those "committed to religious principles" who depend on the internet to convey to the public information "on matters of faith" and on the services provided to the public by those organizations or individuals.

"The internet is an indispensable medium for Catholics -- and others with principled values -- to convey views on matters of public concern and religious teachings," Grincewich said.

"The internet was constructed as a unique medium without the editorial control functions of broadcast television, radio or cable television. The internet is open to any speaker, commercial or noncommercial, whether or not the speech is connected financially to the company priding internet access or whether it is popular or prophetic These characteristics make the internet critical to noncommercial religious speakers."

Grincewich added, "Just as importantly, the internet is increasingly the preferred method for the disenfranchised and vulnerable -- the poor that the church professes a fundamental preference toward -- to access services, including educational and vocational opportunities to improve their lives and their children's lives."

The USCCB "also supports the rights of parents to protect their children from pornography," one consequence of an open internet, Grincewich said. "The means of protecting children from such material is available to parents," she added, "without ceding it to companies providing internet access."

In the USCCB's filing, Grincewich noted how Pope Benedict XVI warned against the "distortion that occurs when the media industry becomes self-serving or solely profit-driven, losing the sense of accountability to the common good," which the pope said in this 2006 World Day of Communication message.

"As a public service, social communication requires a spirit of cooperation and co-responsibility with vigorous accountability of the use of public resources and the performance of roles of public trust," Pope Benedict said, "including recourse to regulatory standards and other measure or structures designed to affect this goal."

Grincewich also noted Pope Francis has called the digital world "a public square" and said the internet "can help us be better citizens."

An online "day of action" July 12 on net neutrality issues resulted in a reported 2 million comments on the FCC proposal being sent online to the FCC.

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Religious order welcomes gas pipeline opponents to pray at new 'chapel'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mark Clatterbuck, cour

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As chapels go, the simple structure on property owned by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ congregation in Columbia, Pennsylvania, is not much.

It's more of an arbor, really: four posts and several cross boards built near a cornfield on farmland the sisters lease. Several pewlike benches are arranged around it.

Still, said the sisters, it stands as a symbol of resistance by people of faith to a planned natural gas pipeline called Atlantic Sunrise that developers want to build through miles of farmland and small towns of picturesque Lancaster County.

The pipeline's path takes it through a strip of land the congregation owns in the Harrisburg Diocese that includes farmland and the sisters contend that construction poses a danger to God's creation. They have declined repeated offers of compensation from Transco, the project's developer, to allow an easement for it to be built.

"This is something that we felt as a matter of conscience," said Sister Sara Dwyer, coordinator of the congregation's justice, peace and integrity of creation ministry. "We had to look at it more deeply and take a stronger stand."

Allowing the pipeline through the property would run contrary to the congregation's Land Ethic, she explained. Adopted in 2005, the document upholds the sacredness of creation, reverences the earth as a "sanctuary where all life is protected" and treasures the earth's beauty and sustenance that must be protected for future generations.

Further backing its claim, the congregation filed a civil rights lawsuit July 14 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania challenging the pipeline. The complaint argues that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's Feb. 3 order authorizing construction and operation of the pipeline violates the sisters' right to practice their faith under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

"FERC's decision to force the Adorers to use land they own to accommodate a fossil fuel pipeline is antithetical to the deeply help religious beliefs and convictions of the Adorers. It places a substantial burden on the Adorers' exercise of religion by taking land owned by the Adorers that they seek to protect and preserve as part of their faith and, instead, using it in a manner and for a purpose that actually places the earth at serious risk," the complaint reads in part.

Attorneys for the sisters argue in the filing that allowing the pipeline through the property "would harm God's creation, violate the sacred nature of their property and interfere with their right to freely exercise and practice their religious beliefs in the use of their own land."

The lawsuit asks the court to overturn the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's action and have the pipeline rerouted from the Adorers' 24-acre plot eyed by Transco.

The Adorers' stance has inspired others who have opposed the entire 183-mile pipeline since it was proposed three years ago by Transco, which is owned by Tulsa, Oklahoma-based pipeline company Williams. The pipeline will carry natural gas from hydraulic fracturing wells in northeastern Pennsylvania to existing pipelines that run 10,200 miles from New York to Texas.

Sister Sara told Catholic News Service July 12 the congregation was pleased to allow construction of the chapel after it was proposed earlier this year by Lancaster Against Pipelines, a community group working to stop the project.

The chapel was dedicated July 9 with about 300 people attending. People prayed for guidance in their effort to oppose the project, listened to the Land Ethic being read, and heard from a group of Sisters of Loretto from Kentucky, who joined religious and community groups in a 2013 campaign to oppose another pipeline project by Williams in the state. Williams pulled out of the venture in 2014 citing market forces.

Mark Clatterbuck, Lancaster Against Pipelines co-founder, said the Adorers have inspired the effort to stop the pipeline.

"Having the sisters publicly involved reinforced the moral and religious anchor that has guided this movement," he told CNS.

"Lancaster Against Pipelines has never been a religious organization," Clatterbuck added, "but for a lot of the leadership and core folks doing the work, it's always been a spiritual and religious battle for us. This is care of creation, stewardship of the earth."

News of the chapel caught the company's attention, said Chris Stockton, a Williams spokesman. Company lawyers filed an emergency motion in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to take immediate control of the land through eminent domain, which allows the government to appropriate land for the public good.

A federal judge, however, denied the emergency request July 7. The judge said that although the project had been approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an already-scheduled court hearing set for July 17 in cases filed against all landowners who have turned down Transco's monetary offers for easements would be the appropriate venue to hear arguments.

Stockton told CNS said company was concerned that the chapel was going to be a more involved "permanent structure" and it responded to head off any effort that would delay pipeline construction, which is set to begin this fall.

He said the easement being sought from the Adorers involves about an acre.

"The reality also is (the property) is a cornfield and farmed by a tenant farmer. Once (the pipeline is) constructed, it can still be farmed and still be utilized for the same purpose if they want to put the arbor up again. Or they can put it up in any other location," Stockton said.

Taking such a public stance is new to the Adorers, said Sister Janet McCann, a member of the congregation's leadership team in St. Louis. She offered a reflection at the chapel dedication. She said if energy companies wanted to invest in sustainable or renewable energy projects on their property, the order would listen.

"We want the energy companies to invest all this time and money and resources into finding sustainable energy sources," she said. "That's how this is going to happen. The system has got to change. That's why we're standing up to this.

"And we are extremely encouraged by the amount of support we're getting from all sorts of people, from all sorts of faith tradition and people from no faith tradition who have a love for the earth."

Lancaster Against Pipelines planned a picnic and prayer service at the chapel July 14 in advance of the court hearing. Some of the Adorers planned to be there.

The sisters realize the courts could clear the way for construction, which would force the chapel to be removed.

"From a congregational point of view," Sister Sara said, "we're just taking it one step at a time and seeing what happens next."

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Editor's Note: The Adorers of the Blood of Christ's Land Ethic can be read in full at http://adorers.org/asc-land-ethic.

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Laziness, vices prevent seeds of Gospel from taking root, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ciro Fusco, EPA

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God proposes -- not imposes -- his Gospel and offer of salvation, putting the responsibility of being open to and moved by his message on the listener, Pope Francis said.

Jesus doesn't draw people to him by conquering them, but by giving himself, like a sower, spreading "with patience and generosity his word, which isn't a cage or a trap, but a seed that can bear fruit" if people welcome it, the pope said before praying the Angelus July 16.

Speaking to people gathered in St. Peter's Square, the pope reflected on the Sunday reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew, in which Jesus speaks to the crowds about the parable of the sower.

The parable, the pope said, speaks more about the soil than the sower because the quality of the terrain is critical for whether a seed will eventually bear fruit.

In Jesus' parable, the seed that falls on rich soil produces fruit, while seed that falls on hard or rocky ground or among the thorns does not.

The pope said the parable is like Jesus taking a "spiritual X-ray" of the different conditions of the heart that reveal how receptive it may or not be to God's Word.

If a heart is hard and impenetrable, it's like asphalt or cobblestones, he said, because the seed of the Gospels "bounces off" and doesn't sink in.

A weak, "superficial heart," is like rocky ground with little soil; a seed may sprout, but the tender plant is vulnerable to harsh conditions because of a lack of roots, he said.

A superficial heart that lacks depth welcomes the Lord, "wants to pray, love and give witness, but it does not persevere, it gets tired out and never takes off." The roots of faith can never sink deep because there are too many "stones of laziness" in the way and "love is fickle and fleeting," the pope said.

A seed tossed among thorns will choke new growth, he said, and the thorns represent a heart filled with "worldly anxiety and the lure of riches"; they are "vices that come to blows with God," suffocating his presence, the pope said.

If people spend more time cultivating "the idols of worldly riches, living greedily -- for themselves, for possession and for power," he said, then "we choke off the growth of God in us."

People must reflect on their heart's condition and, like a gardener, reclaim and work their land -- their hearts -- by eliminating the weeds and stones of vices and weaknesses.

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House members approve measure to repeal D.C. assisted suicide law

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lawrence Looi, EPA

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The House Appropriations Committee voted July 13 in favor of an amendment to repeal the District of Columbia's assisted suicide law.

The day before the vote, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan sent a letter to members of the committee urging them to "nullify the D.C. City Council's deceptively named 'Death with Dignity Act' that legalizes the dangerous and unethical practice of doctor-assisted suicide."

The amendment to the fiscal year 2018 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill looks to repeal the assisted suicide law, which went into effect this past February. It was introduced by Rep. Andy Harris, R-Maryland, who told the committee there is "nothing dignified about suicide" in his opinion.

Harris also called the act "bad policy" and said that "physicians were playing God" by prescribing lethal medications to terminally ill patients who want to end their lives.

The legislation permits physicians in the District of Columbia to legally prescribe lethal drugs to patients who have been deemed mentally competent and who have received a terminal diagnosis of six months or less.

In his July 12 letter to House Appropriations Committee members, Cardinal Dolan said the law was "seriously flawed" and said it "poses the greatest risks of abuse and coercion to those who are poor, elderly, disabled, members of a minority group, or without access to good medical care."

The cardinal, who is chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, also told committee members that the law could cause the deaths of many people who are not terminally ill and it also "reflects a bias against persons with disabilities and serious illness."

He went on to say the legislation "undermines the very heart of medicine. Doctors vow to do no harm, and yet assisted suicide is the ultimate abandonment of their patients. Seriously ill patients -- who are often depressed -- need our authentic support, including doctors fully committed to their welfare and pain management as they enter their final days."

The National Right to Life Committee similarly sent a July 12 letter urging House committee members to vote for the amendment to repeal the assisted-suicide measure.

In a statement, the group said the pro-life movement is as "concerned with protecting the lives of older people and people with disabilities as it has been dedicated to protecting unborn children from abortion."

J.J. Hanson, president of the Patients Rights Actions Funds, praised the committee's vote to repeal the assisted -suicide measure, saying: "We welcome any efforts at the congressional level to halt assisted suicide policy which will only put vulnerable D.C. residents -- the terminally ill, the disabled and the poor -- at risk."

The D.C. Catholic Conference, which represents the public policy interests of the Catholic Church in the District of Columbia, joined a broad-based coalition of other groups in opposing the assisted-suicide measure when it came up for a vote.

After the City Council approved it, the Catholic conference issued a statement saying the bill "imperils residents particularly those who are sick, elderly, disabled, and uninsured in our communities. It allows for coercion and abuse including third-parties administering the lethal drugs to patients who may or may not be incapacitated and or even requesting assisted suicide."

The District is the nation's seventh jurisdiction to allow doctors to assist the terminally ill to kill themselves. Six states -- Vermont, Oregon, Washington state, Montana, California and Colorado -- also have legalized allowed assisted suicide.

Similar physician-assisted suicide laws have been introduced and have failed in 22 states.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Decline of civil society, community seen as 'spiritual crisis' for nation

IMAGE: CNS photo/Michael Reynolds, Reuters

By Carolyn Mackenzie

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has initiated the Social Capital Project, a research effort that examines the importance of "associational life," which includes families, religious congregations and other communities.

The project found that civil society has declined in America, and a panel at the American Enterprise Institute introduced localism and federalism as two routes for combating this trend.

Lee's address and a subsequent panel discussion among a team of experts took place July 12 and explored the topics of localism and social capital. The participants talked about "why federalism is key to restoring civic connectedness and faith in the American government."

The project also researched religion in the United States, as religious institutions naturally facilitate the types of communities that the project discovered are declining. The project cited surveys that found only 42 to 44 percent of Americans attend religious services monthly -- part of a trend of fewer people being raised in religious traditions and more people exhibiting decreased confidence in organized religion.

"Church attendance and trust in organized religion have dropped sharply since the 1970s," Lee said. "The destruction of community life is a spiritual crisis for millions of our fellow citizens."

Ryan Streeter, director of domestic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, introduced Lee. Vice chair of the Joint Economic Committee in Congress, Lee began his remarks by referencing a common platform for social interactions: Facebook. Dubbed a "community" by founder Mark Zuckerberg, the site has approximately 2 billion monthly users. Lee argued, however, that Facebook is not a true community.

"Community institutions like churches and like little leagues can't be replaced by the glowing rectangles that we keep in our pockets, that we sometimes seem to check obsessively," Lee said. "Rather, community is the stage where we perform the most rewarding roles in our lives, as children and parents, as siblings, as spouses, as friends, as mentors and disciples."

The Social Capital Project released its first report in May and found that American communities are growing weaker. Lee argued that as the federal government has expanded, offering programs more traditionally offered by religious institutions, communities have begun to come apart.

"Government crowds out civic groups by competing with them to perform civic functions," Lee said.

Lee, however, did not advocate for a repeal of government programs. Rather, he suggested a focus on initiatives at the state and local levels, which would do more to serve communities.

"The government does not have to refrain from playing a role, but it needs to aim for city hall rather than the federal government," Lee said. "It should be the people's servant."

A panel discussion followed Lee's remarks. Joel Kotkin, presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism, moderated the panel and asked the participants for their reaction to Lee's words.

Lee Drutman, senior fellow in the program on political reform at the think tank New America, considered the fractured political climate in his response.

"Let's face reality," Drutman said. "We are an incredibly divided country."

Drutman described two competing visions that emerged in the 1960s and still affect America. One was diverse, urban and socially progressive; the other was rooted in faith, tradition and small-town life. Drutman explained that the 2016 election placed these two ideologies in opposition.

As a result of the election of President Donald Trump, Drutman remarked that many Democrats say they do not recognize the United States under Trump.

"Think about what that's doing to our collective psyche as a nation," Drutman said.

Yuval Levin, the Hertog fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the editor of National Affairs magazine, also recognized this adverse effect upon the American mindset and community.

"We have in our politics a debate between two radical forms of individualism," Levin said.

In response to this rise of individualism, the panelists had a debate over localism and federalism as two potential solutions. Consensus among the panelists was that the party out of power in Washington often "remembers" federalism while the opposition party does not have as much incentive to do so, since its members can enact change on a national level.

"There are some who have been making this case for a while," Drutman said. "People who are minorities at the national level can come to set policy at the local level."

Drutman shared some caveats about localism, pointing out that voter turnout is typically low in local elections. Furthermore, he argued, people tend to trust local government more but tend to know less about it than they do of the federal government.

"People most trust the institutions they know nothing about," Drutman said.

Levin, while agreeing that localism helps to foster civil society, also warned that often localism can lead to "majority tyranny," as James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 10, of the Federalist Papers. He and Winship cited race in the 1960s as an example.

"The history of race in America offers an argument against localism that cannot be ignored," Levin said.

Scott Winship, director of the Social Capital Project, asserted that for localism to work properly, America needs strong local institutions as well as strong communities.

"Affluence has allowed us to outsource the responsibilities we used to have to each other," Winship said.

Winship explained that as Americans become wealthier, they rely less upon their neighbors for simple favors that form the foundation of community life.

"We may be materially richer than in the past," read the project's May report. "But with atrophied social capabilities, with a diminished sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves, and with less security in our family life, we are much poorer for doing less together."

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Cardinal hopes church's history of survival in Iraq will help its future

IMAGE: CNS photo/Robert Duncan

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- To understand the current situation in Iraq -- the evolving and complex conflicts there, and the fear and resilience of its Christians -- one has to understand its past, which is often ignored or unknown in the West, said a former papal representative to the country.

"History is itself a victory over ignorance, marginalization and intolerance; it is a call for respect and to not repeat the mistakes of the past," said Cardinal Fernando Filoni in his book, "The Church in Iraq."

The book is also "a testimonial" to the victims of "the Islamic terrorism of ISIS," he told the Christians and non-Christians he met when Pope Francis sent him as his personal representative to encounter and pray with these shaken communities that fled the Islamic State.

That brief visit in 2014 was a homecoming of sorts.

The Italian cardinal, now 71, lived in Iraq during a time of great tension and turmoil. St. John Paul II made him the apostolic nuncio -- the pope's diplomatic representative -- to Iraq and Jordan in January 2001. Several months later, after 9/11, the United States administration started building pressure against Iraq, pushing for military action.

St. John Paul firmly opposed military intervention and, despite the fact that he sent peace-seeking missions to Washington and Baghdad, the United States attacked.

"Not even the stern warning of the saint-pope could deter President George W. Bush from his purpose," the cardinal wrote. He said the day of the invasion, March 19, 2003, became "a very sad day for Iraq and for the whole world."

The nunciature never shut down, not even during the airstrikes and occupation or the ensuing chaos of looting and revenge.

It was during his tenure there in Baghdad, which ended in 2006, that Cardinal Filoni went through the nunciature's archives, which housed "a rich history" of documentation and letters, detailing the history of the Vatican's diplomatic relations with Iraq and the establishment of an episcopal see in Baghdad in the 16th century.

"Naturally, this caught my eye," he said, and the idea for a book emerged there in the wealth of material buried in an archive.

The book's chapters take a historical overview of the church's long presence in Mesopotamia, dating back to the time of St. Thomas the Apostle, and looks at how the expanding early Christian communities there evolved, faced internal divisions and challenges, and still shared their unique gifts.

Looking at the church's journey in the past also made him realize: "This is unknown to us. And so I thought, writing a book that traced, especially for us in the West, the birth, the evolution of this history up to present day could be ... of service to Christianity in the Middle East, particularly in Mesopotamia, which is suffering because of expulsions, persecution or discrimination."

Published first in Italian in 2015, The Catholic University of America Press is releasing the English edition toward the end of July in the United States and in mid-August in the United Kingdom.

The cardinal spoke to Catholic News Service in Rome during an interview at the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, where he has served as prefect since 2011.

The book looks particularly at how minorities and the country as a whole suffered invasions, despots and Western hegemony, and yet tenaciously held on to its cultures and religious identities.

"In order to defend their identity within this great sea of Islam, Christians had to withdraw into themselves, keeping their own language, which dates back to the time of Jesus, that is, Aramaic," he said. While, over the centuries, the everyday spoken language developed into different dialects, the liturgy still maintained the original form of ancient Aramaic, he added.

Even though Christians held on to their traditions and culture, they were "truly open" and didn't ignore the world around them, learning and speaking Arabic, for example, he said.

This kind of everyday contact between Christians and their Muslim neighbors also led to a sharing of ideas, influence and mutual respect on the local level, Cardinal Filoni said.

For example, he recalled when he lived in Baghdad, he visited a church dedicated to Mary in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood.

"I was astounded by the fact that the walls of this church were dirty" with what looked like handprints smudged everywhere, he said.

When he asked church members, "'Why don't you clean this?' They said 'No! Because these are the signs of the Muslim women who come to pray to Mary, mother of Jesus, and as a sign of their prayer, they leave an imprint of their hand.'"

Since Mary is revered by Muslims, he said many expectant mothers visit this church to pray to her for protection.

"This influence, for example of Mary, in people's daily lives" and similar devotions to prayer, fasting and charity, fostered closer relationships, mutual respect and understanding between Christians and Muslims, he said.

"A modern Iraq, full of history, of possibility and responsibility -- not least because of its huge oil resources, which continue to be a source of discord, jealousy, envy, and oppression -- should be defended, helped, and supported more than ever," the cardinal concludes in his book.

While the primary responsibility for allowing Muslim, Christian and other minorities to return to their country and help build its future belongs to Iraq's three largest communities -- Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds -- the rest of the world is also "in some way responsible for this crisis," he told CNS.

"We all have to assume responsibility to rebuild, which is very difficult, because once people emigrate, they very rarely go back," he said. "But if we can still preserve the coexistence of these even small communities (that remain), this will benefit peace, which is essential so that Christians don't keep leaving behind this ancient land so rich in culture, tradition and history."

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Editors: Book can be ordered through the Catholic University of America Press website: cuapress.org or call 1-800-537-5487. In Europe, the CUA book distributor is Eurospan: www.eurospanbookstore.com or call +44 0 1767-604972

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Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

 

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Cardinal Schonborn: Church doing best to strengthen families of all types

IMAGE: CNS photo/Liam Burke courtesy Press 22

By Sarah Mac Donald

LIMERICK, Ireland (CNS) -- The Catholic Church is doing whatever it can to strengthen the family, including families often considered nontraditional, said Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, the theologian who reviewed Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation on the family.

"Favoring the family does not mean disfavoring other forms of life -- even those living in a same-sex partnership need their families," the cardinal said during a visit to Ireland, which next year hosts the World Meeting of Families.

The family is "the survival network of the future" and "will remain forever the basis of every society," Cardinal Schonborn told journalists July 13 ahead of addressing a conference, "Let's Talk Family: Let's Be Family."

The cardinal told the conference at Mary Immaculate College that people should not be discouraged about the future of the family, despite the many social and economic threats and policies that disregard it.

"Today, everybody can get married," he said, but acknowledged "so many choose not to get married." He suggested that the number of so-called irregular situations has increased enormously because the "framework of society has changed so much."

"But let us not forget that marriage, as we have it today, is a privilege that was fairly rare in previous centuries, (when at most) a third of the population were able to get married."

He said his great-grandmother, a wealthy widow who lived in what today is the Czech Republic but then was part of the Austrian empire, had six servants who remained unmarried because of laws against marriage for people of their status. "Marriage was a privilege," he said.

The cardinal, a former student of retired Pope Benedict XVI, also noted that his German professor's grandmother was the "illegitimate daughter of a maiden, who was not permitted to marry."

He said if he had to sum it up for Twitter, he would say, "'Amoris Laetitia' tells you marriage and family are possible today." "Amoris Laetitia" is Pope Francis' 2016 apostolic exhortation after two synods of bishops on the family.

Asked about the reception of "Amoris Laetitia" within the church and the "dubia" -- a series of questions raised by four cardinals to clear up confusion -- Cardinal Schonborn said the "process of reception is a long process" and needs negotiation and discussion.

But he also criticized the cardinals over the manner in which they raised their concerns. "That cardinals, who should be the closest collaborators of the pope, try to force him and put pressure on him to give a public response to their publicized letter is absolutely inconvenient behavior," he said.

He told journalists, "I fear those who have rapid, clear answers in politics and economy and also in religion. Rigorists and laxists have clear and rapid answers, but they fail to look at life. The rigorist avoids the effort of discernment, of looking closely at reality. The laxist lets everything possible go, and there is no discernment. They are the same but opposite."

"St. Gregory the Great said the art of the pastoral accompaniment is the art of discernment. It is an art and it needs training," he added.

During the conference, Cardinal Schonborn, whose own parents divorced, described Chapter 8 of "Amoris Laetitia" as the section that has been "most hotly debated."

"Most often the topic is reduced to one question -- 'May they (remarried divorcees who did not receive an annulment) receive Communion? Yes or no!' Pope Francis has said, 'This is a trap!' By narrowing this to one question the main purpose of 'Amoris Laetitia' is forgotten: Look closely and discern," the cardinal said.

Commending the importance of pastoral discernment, the cardinal said that, in view of the immense variety of situations that can arise for couples encountering difficulties, "It is understandable that neither the synod nor this exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases."

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Aspiring religious delay entry to pay off debt

IMAGE: CNS photo/Colleen Dulle

By Colleen Dulle

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- For some aspiring priests and religious, the biggest obstacle to pursuing their vocation is student debt.

Because many religious orders do not accept members with outstanding debts, 42 percent of individuals discerning religious life in the U.S. are barred from formation because of their student loans, according to the Laboure Society, a nonprofit that helps people in this situation raise funds to pay off their loans.

According to multiple studies by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, one in three people seeking to enter religious life carries student debt, which on average amounts to about $28,000.

For Andrew McCullough, an aspiring Dominican, that number was $20,000.

McCullough studied mechanical engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle and moved to Washington, D.C., last fall to be near the Dominican community he hoped to join. The plan was to work off his loans for a year, then begin his novitiate this fall.

After some difficulty finding a job, McCullough realized he would have to delay entry another year, until fall 2018. He currently sells insurance with State Farm, lives according to the Dominican rule for aspirants and joins the brothers for prayer when he can.

"Something about (St. Thomas) Aquinas' spirituality and his being both kind of a mystic and an intellectual, having a profound sanctity, a real profound holiness but also a great mind really attracted me" to the order, McCullough told CNS.

McCullough said that until recently, the Dominicans' Eastern province was able to take on a certain amount of student debt, but because of an influx in vocations, the province can no longer afford to pay off entrants' loans.

A 2012 study by CARA for the National Religious Vocation Conference found that seven in 10 of the religious communities where more than three aspirants had educational debt reported turning someone away because of debt. In the same study, 80 percent of those communities asked someone to delay their application because of debt.

For this story, Catholic News Service reached out to every Catholic seminary and religious community in the Archdiocese of Washington to learn their policies on student debt. Most did not respond.

Paulist Father Frank DeSiano, director of formation, told CNS that the Paulist Fathers will pay new members' outstanding debt once they are ordained.

"We just consider this one of the things you have to do to make it possible for people not only to enroll in seminary but to support them in their present and their past life," he said. "We're not likely to change this. Now if we had 10 guys with $100,000 in debt maybe it would be a different story."

A spokesman for the Jesuits' Northeast province said that the Jesuits also are able to pay off entrants' loans once they are ordained.

For aspirants with greater debts, the Laboure Society's intensive fundraising program can help individuals raise about $45,000 over six months.

Aspirants are trained in ethical fundraising and strive to meet certain goals along with their classmates each week. In the end, each aspirant tries to raise the same amount, even if they owe more or less.

Dominican Brother James Mary Ritch, an alumnus of the Laboure Society, owed $60,000 after earning his bachelor's degree in biology and master's in neuroscience.

Brother Ritch said the weekly goal of 15 letters, 30 phone calls and five face-to-face meetings with donors was daunting at times.

"It's a difficult road, but it's well worth it because it solidifies your commitment to the religious community, talking to various people from different backgrounds who say, 'Wow, you're going to raise that much money? That's ridiculous! Why don't you just get another job, or why don't you work a few more years?' But you want to give your life to the religious community rather than sticking it out for a few more years," Brother Ritch said.

He also mentioned that it would have been difficult for him to find a well-paying job quickly in his field, because research jobs require months of training.

Brother Ritch took simple vows two years ago and is working this summer at the Franciscan Center, a soup kitchen in Baltimore. He takes courses at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington during the school year.

The Laboure Society is currently making monthly payments on his student loans, and next year will pay off his loans in full.

"Will I teach biology one day? I have no idea," Brother Ritch said. "Maybe I'll be able to use the master's degree ... but I want to be a priest of Jesus Christ. That's what I think God wants, and that's what I want. If that means being a pastor or a professor, then he'll give me the grace and the opportunity, and I have to keep saying yes."

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