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Senate fails to pass two pro-life bills on same day

Washington D.C., Feb 25, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Senate on Tuesday failed to pass two pro-life bills to protect unborn babies who can feel pain, and babies who survive abortion attempts.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) would ban abortions after 20 weeks gestation, around the time babies in utero can feel pain.

Sen. Ben Sasse’s (R-Neb.) Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act would require that babies surviving a botched abortion be given the same standard of care as other infants born of the same gestational age.

With votes of 53-44 and 56-41 on Tuesday, the respective bills failed to receive the 60 votes necessary for consideration on the Senate Floor. “Pain-capable” bills that had previously passed the House similarly failed in the Senate in 2015 and 2017, and Graham’s legislation failed in 2018, nine votes short of the 60-vote mark needed to overcome a filibuster and force a final vote on the bill.

Graham’s bill is also named “Micah’s Law,” after seven year-old Micah Pickering who was born prematurely at 22 weeks.

“It gives a face to a name. ‘Micah’s Law’ is not just [about] Micah, but is every little baby that could ever be born,” said Danielle Pickering, Micah’s mother, in an interview with CNA outside the Senate Gallery before the vote.

To the senators voting against the bill, “I would just like to tell them to really think about their grandkids,” she said, “and every little baby that they see out there.”

“For everyone that’s out there, there’s multiple that are just gone, but they’re not forgotten,” Pickering said. “Every single baby has the ability to someday be a person that’s just here like them.”

Sasse’s bill, S. 311, received the support of only three Democrats: Sens. Bob Casey (Pa.), Doug Jones (Ala.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.).

"If the Senate says that it’s ok to ignore born-alive babies what we're really saying is we are okay with a society where some people count more than other people," said Sasse during the debate Tuesday.

"We’d be saying we want a society where some people can be pushed aside if other people decide those folks are inconvenient. A society where we can dispose of you, if you happened to come into the world a certain way."

“Even if you are unwilling to defend unborn babies, I hope that my colleagues would at least consider joining with us in voting to protect babies that have already been born,” Sasse said.

In a statement to CNA on Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said that “protecting the life of a newborn who survived a botched abortion should not be a partisan issue, yet it speaks volumes about how extremism has become mainstream in today’s Democratic Party.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), between 2003 and 2014 there were 143 infant deaths in the U.S. that occurred following a botched abortion. The CDC noted that “it is possible” the actual number is higher.

While the 2002 Born-Alive Infants Protection Act—passed into law with bipartisan support—legally defined babies who survive abortions as persons, Sasse’s 2020 legislation provides enforcement mechanisms against abortionists who fail to provide necessary care to abortion survivors.

The 2002 bill was just a “definitions bill” without penalties, Jill Stanek, national campaign chair of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, explained to CNA.

While notorious Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell was convicted in 2013 on three counts of first-degree murder for cutting the spines of infants, federal law is currently a “gray area” for abortionists who passively allow abortion survivors to die by providing them no care, Stanek said.

The legislation that failed in the Senate on Tuesday provides an enforcement mechanism and is really the “bookend” to the original bill, she said.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement in reaction to the Senate votes, calling the nation’s abortion laws a “license to kill” and noting that the Born Alive bill offered to do nothing more than “prohibit infanticide.”

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said that the Senate “failed to advance two critical human rights reforms that most Americans strongly support.” 

“The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would ban abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization when a child can certainly feel pain and has a reasonable chance of survival. And the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act helps ensure that Roe v. Wade’s license to kill unborn children does not extend to killing the newborn babies who survive abortion,” Naumann said. 

“It is appalling that even one senator, let alone more than 40, voted to continue the brutal dismemberment of nearly full-grown infants, and voted against protecting babies who survive abortion. Our nation is better than this, and the majority of Americans who support these bills must make their voices heard.”

Canadian bill to allow medical suicide even if death not 'reasonably foreseeable'

Ottawa, Canada, Feb 25, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A bill has been introduced by the Canadian government that would further liberalize the country’s “Medical Assistance in Dying” (MAiD) laws and allow those without terminal illnesses to end their lives. Doctors have raised concerns that the psychological needs of MAiD patients are being ignored. 

The bill, introduced on Monday, Feb. 23, would “remove the requirement for a person’s natural death to be reasonably foreseeable in order to be eligible for medical assistance in dying,” and would “introduce a two-track approach to procedural safeguards” depending on if a person’s natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.” 

The changes will introduce “new and modified safeguards” for people who are deemed eligible for euthanasia but who are not predicted to die in the immediate future. For persons who were previously eligible for MAiD prior to the new law, such as those with cancer or a neurodegenerative disease, “existing safeguards will be maintained and certain ones will be eased.” 

The bill also creates advance directives for persons with a reasonably foreseeable death “who may lose capacity to consent before MAiD can be provided,” as in the case of someone diagnosed with dementia. 

Those with mental illness as their only underlying condition will not be permitted to access an assisted death under the new bill. 

The bill was written in response to the September 2019 decision by the Supreme Court of Quebec that found that the previous regulations regarding a “reasonably foreseeable death” was in violation of the provisions in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guarantee all Canadians rights to life, liberty, and security of the person. 

That case concerned two Canadians who were stricken with incurable, but not terminal, illnesses that caused debilitating pain. They had both been denied euthanasia. 

The Canadian federal government announced that the decision would not be appealed, and new laws will take effect in Quebec in April.

During the leadup to the introduction of the new federal bill on Monday, a survey was posted online for Canadians to weigh in on the updated legislation. This survey concept was criticized by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, who said in a letter that while they “agree in principle with consulting Canadians,” they found the questionnaire to be flawed on multiple levels. 

It is “inappropriate and superficial to use a survey to address grave moral questions concerning life and death,” wrote Archbishop Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg, president of the conference. He added that he believed that the two-week for responses was “entirely insufficient” to study the issue of euthanasia.

Members of the Canadian government praised the new bill and the potential expansion of euthanasia in the country. 

“We are proud to announce proposed changes that have been informed by [Canadians’] views as well as by Canada’s experiences to date in implementing the 2016 medical assistance in dying regime,” said Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti in a statement published by the government.

A 2019 CBC profile of Lametti upon his appointment as Minister of Justice described him as someone who was driven by his Catholic faith.

“He has a deep faith, but not the kind that goes out there and proselytizes, but it motivates him,” said Richard Gold, a colleague of Lametti’s. Gold characterized Lametti’s faith as what made him “want to do good in the world.” 

While parliament considers the new bill, a psychiatrist and a lawyer who works with palliative care are raising the alarm that the overwhelming majority of MAiD patients are not given a psychiatric examination prior to their deaths, even though 96% of MAiD patients say they have “psychological suffering.” 

According to a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, only 6.2% of MAiD cases were given a psychiatric consultation, and only 15% of adults who died in Ontario from 2016-2017 received palliative care. 

In an article published in the Ottawa Citizen, Dr. Timothy Lau, a psychiatrist, and Dylan McGuinty, a lawyer and the director of a Catholic healthcare provider which provides palliative care, pointed out that studies have shown that palliative care is provided relatively late in the dying process—and that people are not being seen early enough. 

A 2018 study in Quebec found that “in 32 per cent of cases, palliative care consults came less than seven days prior to the request for MAiD, and in another 25 per cent of cases palliative care consults occurred the day of or after assisted death was requested,” said Lau and McGuinty.

“If we believe in choice, then we are not offering true choice when palliative care consults are offered so late in the journey towards death,” they added.

The Quebec study found that the earlier a person has access to palliative care, they experience fewer depressive side effects and have a higher quality of life, Lau and McGuinty wrote. They suggested that increased access to palliative care services could reduce the need for assisted deaths. 

“Instead of helping people die, is the answer not rather to accompany the dying compassionately on the journey towards death — with an early intervention of the full complement of palliative care services,” which include treatments for the patients emotional, spiritual, and psychological needs, in addition to treatment for physical ailments. 

Lau and McGuinty worry that assisted suicide is becoming a “treatment” for depression, rather than a “tragic consequence” of the condition. 

“Therefore, we invite Canadians to join us in demanding timely, complete and universal palliative care and mental health services, especially for those crying for help through requests for MAiD,” they said.

Woman with Down syndrome aims to change UK abortion laws

London, England, Feb 25, 2020 / 02:20 pm (CNA).- A 24-year-old British woman with Down syndrome has launched a lawsuit against the UK government, seeking to change British laws that allow for babies with Down syndrome to be aborted up until birth.

“At the moment in the UK, babies can be aborted right up to birth if they are considered to be “seriously handicapped.” They include me in that definition of being seriously handicapped - just because I have an extra chromosome,” Heidi Crowter told journalists this week.

“What it says to me is that my life just isn’t as valuable as others, and I don’t think that’s right. I think it’s downright discrimination.”

Crowter, along with Cheryl Bilsborrow, the mother of a two-year-old with Down syndrome, have sent a letter to the British secretary of state and are hoping to raise the £20,000 necessary to litigate the case.

Bilsborrow said she was strongly encouraged to have an abortion after doctors performed the screening test on her unborn child.

“The nurse reminded me I could have a termination right up to 40 weeks if the baby had Down’s,” Bilsborrow told the Catholic Herald.

“I just said to her: ‘I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,’ but it did make me feel very anxious.”

Abortions are legal in the UK for any reason up until 24 weeks, and most of the country’s 200,000 or so annual abortions take place before 13 weeks.

Abortions after 24 weeks are legal only if a woman's life is in danger, there is a fetal abnormality classified as “severe”, or the woman is at risk of grave physical and mental injury, the BBC reports.

If the baby has a disability, including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot, abortion is legal up to birth. About nine in ten women have abortions after being given a diagnosis of Down syndrome, the Daily Mail reports.

The “Don’t Screen Us Out” campaign in the United Kingdom has, for the past four years, been drawing awareness to and seeking to change the UK’s abortion laws, seeking to amend Abortion Act of 1967 so that abortions for non-fatal disabilities are outlawed in the third trimester, which starts around 28 weeks of pregnancy.

Lynn Murray, a spokesperson for the group, told CNA in an interview that the campaign began in response to the government’s proposal of a new screening test for Down syndrome that, according to the government, would find an additional 102 cases of Down syndrome a year.

Given the high rate of termination for babies in the UK found to have Down syndrome, the campaign formed in order to try to get the government to assess the impact that the non-invasive prenatal testing technique, called ‘cell-free DNA’ or cfDNA, would have on the Down syndrome community. The campaign attracted attention among Britons with similar concerns, she said.

The group is backing Crowter and Bilsborrow in their lawsuit against the government.

“Launching this case gets people talking about it,” she said, adding that most people don’t even realize abortion is available up until birth in the UK.

"We are keen for people with Down syndrome to advocate for themselves. And this is what Heidi has decided to do...she feels that abortion after 24 weeks suggests that the lives of people like her don't have the same value as everyone else."

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has consistently criticised countries which provide for abortion on the basis of disability, the group says. In some countries, such as Denmark and Iceland, the abortion rate for babies found to have Down syndrom is close to 100%.

In the United States, there have been numerous attempts at the state level to ban abortions based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome.

Missouri lawmakers passed a law during 2019 that, in addition to banning all abortions after eight weeks, prohibits “selective" abortions following a medical diagnosis or disability such as Down syndrome, or on the basis of the race or sex of the baby. The law is currently blocked in the courts amid a legal challenge.

Ohio lawmakers attempted in 2017 to pass a ban on Down syndrome abortions, but a federal judge in 2019 blocked the legislation from taking effect.

Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, North Dakota, and Utah have all considered or passed similar bans.

At the federal level, the Down Syndrome Discrimination by Abortion Prohibition Act has been introduced in Congress, but has not yet been debated. The proposed law would ban doctors from “knowingly perform[ing] an abortion being sought because the baby has or may have Down syndrome.”
 

 

What do Catholics believe about the Church, the devil, and faith? A new poll sheds light

Washington D.C., Feb 25, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A poll released Monday provides new insight into the religious practices, beliefs, and other demographic trends of U.S. Catholics.

Only a small majority of Catholics in the U.S., 56%, say they accept “all” or “most” of what the Church teaches, according to the poll, released Feb. 24 by RealClear Opinion Research. Only 18% say they accept all the Church’s teachings and try to live them out, with another 38% saying they “generally accept most of the Church’s teachings” and try to put them into practice.

A slight majority of Catholics, 51%, believe that religion is “very important” in their own lives, while another 35% deem it to be “somewhat important.”

The research, conducted by polling firm RealClear in partnership with EWTN News, surveyed more than 1,500 Catholics in the U.S. from January 28 through February 4. The poll gathered information on the religious beliefs of Catholics, their political party affiliation, and their frequency of prayer and Mass attendance.

The poll reveals a divide in Catholic acceptance of particular Church teachings.

While more than seven-in-ten Catholics, 72%, believe that certain actions are “intrinsically evil,” a majority do not think that abortion, euthanasia, and physician-assisted suicide are intrinsically evil acts.

The vast majority of Catholics, 81%, however, believe in the existence of Hell, and 78% believe that Satan exists.

A substantial majority of Catholics also do not attend Mass on a weekly basis—although the Church holds that Catholics are required to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.

35% attend Mass at least once a week—less than one percent attend Mass daily, 5% more than go once a week, and 29% once a week.

Fourteen percent say they attend “once or twice a month,” and 25% “a few times a year,” and 3% “once a year.” Another 15% say they attend Mass less than once a year, and 8% said they never attend Mass. Divides on religious practice and political beliefs were clearly visible between Catholics who say they accept everything the Church teaches, and those who say they only accept “most” or “some” of Church teaching, or who do not think religion to be very important in their lives.

Eighteen percent of U.S. Catholics say they accept all the Church’s teachings, “and that is reflected in how I live my life.”

Within this group, respondents were far more likely than other Catholics to attend Mass weekly or more, 72%. Nearly one-in-three, 31%, of these Catholics pray the rosary daily, and 71% pray daily.

More Catholics who say they accept all of the Church’s doctrine received an undergraduate degree from a religious college or university (49%) than a secular one (43%).

Such Catholics are far more likely than Catholics overall, 63% to 36%, to be aware of the Church’s teaching on the death penalty and Pope Francis’ declaration that it is “inadmissible.” Even so, 61% of Catholics who say they accept all the Church’s teachings support the death penalty, compared to 57% of all Catholics.

On religious freedom issues, Catholics who say they accept all of the Church’s teaching are more likely than Catholics overall, 57% to 45%, to support the rights of religious business owners not to serve a same-sex wedding. They are also more likely, 50% to 41%, to support the freedom of adoption agencies not to match children with same-sex couples.

Demographically, the vast majority of Catholics surveyed hail either from urban, 33%, or suburban, 50% communities, with just 7% from small towns and 10% from rural America.

Just over half, 51%, are married, while 26% have never been married. One in ten Catholics report they are living with a partner, 9% are divorced, and 4% are separated.

 

Supreme Court sends back case against Puerto Rican archdiocese

Washington D.C., Feb 25, 2020 / 12:10 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court has sent a case concerning the Archdiocese of San Juan, Puerto Rico, back to Puerto Rican courts, overturning a previous decision against the Church which it said would be a First Ammendment violation.

The case involves a lawsuit against the archdiocese over a failed pension fund for Catholic school teachers. The Puerto Rican Supreme Court had ruled that "the Roman Catholic Church" could be recognized as a single legal entity, responsible for all Catholic institutions even if they were separately legally incorporated.

The court announced its decision in Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Juan, Puerto Rico v. Yali Acevedo Feliciano, et al. on Monday, Feb. 24. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, and ruled that the Puerto Rico Court of First Instance did not have proper jurisdiction to rule on the case. 

The case concerned the 2016 decision by the Archdiocese of San Juan to terminate a pension plan for employees of Catholic schools in the archdiocese. The pension trust was created in 1979. The case was brought forward by retired and current employees of three schools in the U.S. territory. 

In the initial lawsuit, the defendants were listed as the “Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church of Puerto Rico,” the Archdiocese of San Juan, the schools’ Superintendent, the pension trust, and the three Catholic schools in Puerto Rico. 

After the lawsuit made its way through the Puerto Rico courts, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court found that “if the Trust did not have the necessary funds to meet its obligations, the participating employers would be obligated to pay.” 

When the Puerto Rico Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Puerto Rico Court of First Instance, that court decided that the “Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church in Puerto Rico” was the only entity with separate legal personhood, rather than any of the other defendants. The Archdiocese and other defendants were determined by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court to be a “division or dependency” of the Church as a whole.

The Catholic Church in Puerto Rico was subsequently ordered to make payments to the employees formerly covered by the pension plan, and the Church was required to pay $4.7 million into an a court account. The Puerto Rico Supreme Court also issued an order which required law enforcement to “seize assets and moneys of … the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church, and any of its dependencies, that are located in Puerto Rico.”

When that verdict was appealed to the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals, it was reversed. That court found that “Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church in Puerto Rico” is a “legally nonexistent entity.” Instead, the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals ruled that the Archdiocese of San Juan or the schools themselves would be the ones to make pension payments. 

Following further appeals, the Archdiocese of San Juan petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States to hear their case. The Supreme Court received the petition for writ of certiorari on January 14, 2019.

In the per curiam decision, the Supreme Court returned the case to Puerto Rico, with the added stipulations that the Puerto Rico Court of First Instance lacked jurisdiction in the case. 

The Supreme Court also noted that Puerto Rico Supreme Court decision could violate the First Amendment because it “relied on a special presumption--seemingly applicable only to the Catholic Church…--that all Catholic entities on the Island are ‘merely indivisible fragments of the legal personality that the Catholic Church has.’"

By singling out the Catholic Church, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court “thus violated the fundamental tenet of the Free Exercise Clause” that prohibits unequal treatment of religious beliefs and denominations. 

Justice Samuel Alito wrote a concurring opinion in the case, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, adding commentary on “other important issues that may arise on remand.” 

Alito wrote that the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico erred in its interpretation of past cases in making its decision in the case Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Juan, Puerto Rico v. Yali Acevedo Feliciano.

“The Supreme Court of Puerto Rico held that Ponce decided that in Puerto Rico the Catholic Church is a single entity for the purposes of civil liability. That was incorrect,” wrote Alito.

Alito said that the misinterpretation of the Ponce case would have been enough to reverse the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico’s decision, had the issue regarding proper jurisdiction not been raised, plus the First Amendment violations.

“The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment at a minimum demands that all jurisdictions use neutral rules in determining whether particular entities that are associated in some way with a religious body may be held responsible for debts incurred by other associated entities,” said Alito.

Indian bishop charged with rape faces allegation from second nun

Kottayam, India, Feb 25, 2020 / 10:48 am (CNA).- It has emerged that a second nun of the Missionaries of Jesus has accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jullundur of sexual harassment. The bishop has been charged with raping a nun repeatedly over the course of two years, allegations he denies.

The first nun, who is a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, has said that Bishop Mulakkal, 55, raped her during his May 2014 visit to her convent in Kuravilangad, in Kerala. In a 72-page complaint to police, filed in June 2018, she alleged that the bishop sexually abused her more than a dozen times over two years.

The Missionaries of Jesus is based in the Diocese of Jullundur, and Bishop Mulakkal is its patron.

Bishop Mulakkal was arrested in September 2018 amid protests calling for a police investigation of the allegation. He was subsequently released on bail, and he has maintained his innocence.

According to The New Indian Express, a witness in the case against the bishop told investigators Sept. 9, 2018 that from 2015 to 2017 she participated in sexual video chats with the bishop, having been pressured by him, and that he groped and kissed her April 30, 2017, at a convent in Kannur.

This second alleged victim did not wish to press charges, but there are calls for police in Kerala to bring a suo motu case against Bishop Mulakkal.

A preliminary hearing was held in Bishop Mulakkal's case Feb. 22, where his lawyers asked that the charges be dismissed. The defense said that the leak of witness statements to the media demonstrated a collusion between prosecutors and the press, and that the bishop could not have a fair trial. The bishop's counsel have also argued that his accuser bears a grudge against him.

The Times of India reported that the court adjourned the case to Feb. 29.

The nun who initially accused Bishop Mulakkal of rape has complained against him to the Kerala women's commission, saying he his harrassing her and others through social media videos.

In August 2019 a nun representing the alleged victim accused the defense of evidence tampering in the case and demanded that the real evidence be presented.

The bishop has claimed the allegations were made in retaliation against him because he has acted against the nun’s sexual misconduct. He said the nun was alleged to be having an affair with her cousin's husband.

The bishop was charged in April 2019 with rape, unnatural sex, wrongful confinement, and criminal intimidation. He faces imprisonment of 10 years to life if found guilty.

He was temporarily removed from the administration of his diocese shortly before his arrest.

Lesotho PM murder case could have canon law consequences

Cape Town, South Africa, Feb 25, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Prime Minister Thomas Thabane of Lesotho has been charged with the murder of his estranged former wife, police announced last week Thursday. The trial, and its verdict, could have an unforeseen canonical consequence for Thabane and his second wife, who has also been charged with the murder.

The murder took place in 2017, two days before Thabane took office as prime minister of the African nation, which is surrounded entirely by South Africa. 

Lipolelo Thebane was shot multiple times at close range as she walked beside a road in a village outside of the capital city of Maseru. The couple was in the midst of an acrimonious divorce, and Thomas Thabane was living with another woman at the time.

The prime minister married his former paramour, Maesaiah, in a Catholic wedding two months after the murder. Maesaiah Thabane has already been charged in the murder, after she surrendered to police custody earlier this month.

Charges against the prime minister were filed on Friday.

The prime minister appeared in court on Monday, Feb. 24, sitting in the public gallery with his second wife, while his lawyers argued he should be given immunity from prosecution, and that filing criminal charges against a sitting prime minister raised constitutional questions which the country’s high court would need to resolve before the case could proceed.

A spokesman for Thabane said that “the prime minister is protected by the constitution,” though conceding he is not “above the law.” 

“This whole exercise is just meant to embarrass [Thabane] and nothing else,” he said.

Paleka Mokete, Maseru’s Deputy Commissioner of Police told CNN that there is a “strong case” against the prime minister for the murder of his wife.

Thabane, 80, had previously announced that he would step down in July, and indicated that he wished to retire from public life. A spokesman for the prime minister said these plans remained unchanged.

In addition to the political and criminal repercussions of the case, the Thabane murder charges could have canonical effects.

Thomas and Maesaiah Thabane married in the Catholic Church shortly after Lipolelo’s murder. Lipolelo’s death brought the ongoing divorce proceedings to a close and made the marriage possible. Before the killing, Thomas Thabane was attempting to obtain legal recognition for Maesaiah as first lady, despite being still legally married to his first wife, a move Lipolelo was blocking.

Canon 1090 of the Code of Canon Law provides that “Anyone who with a view to entering marriage with a certain person has brought about the death of that person’s spouse or of one’s own spouse invalidly attempts this marriage.”

In fact, the canon continues that “those who have brought about the death of a spouse by mutual physical or moral cooperation also invalidly attempt a marriage together,” even if the collaborators didn’t intend to marry.

If either or both of the Thabanes are found to be responsible for the death of Lipolelo, it could result in a determination of invalidity by a canonical tribunal.

The ecclesiastical promoter of justice in the Archdiocese of Maseru can petition the archdiocesan tribunal to consider the validity of the marriage, if he believes it is in the public interest to do so. The promoter of justice could not be reached before publication.

California doubles down on rule forcing Catholic nuns to pay for abortion

Sacramento, Calif., Feb 24, 2020 / 05:20 pm (CNA).- Facing the threat of major cuts to federal HHS funds, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has said the state will not back down from its ban on health insurance plans that exclude abortion, even after federal authorities have sided with Catholic nuns who object to the ban.

The attorney general has accused the federal government of interfering in his state’s sovereign duty to protect women’s “reproductive rights.”

“Clearly, this is a disappointing response by the attorney general,” Stephen J. Greene, the attorney representing the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit religious sisters said in a statement sent to CNA Feb. 24.

“As we have repeatedly stated, our clients, the Guadalupanas, just want their conscience rights (and those of others who may hold different, but sincerely held views, as well) to be respected as provided for under the law.”

“At this point, my clients need to consider their next steps as does the federal government,” said Greene.

The Guadalupanas, whose province is headquartered in Los Angeles, are consecrated Catholic women who live among the poor and needy in inner city and rural areas. Their service includes teaching religion classes and working with destitute Spanish-speaking immigrants.

Their June 2017 complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights alleged that California’s 2014 rules mandating abortion coverage in health plans burdened their conscience rights and compelled them to fund “the practice of abortion on demand for other plan participants,” despite their Catholic beliefs that direct abortion is “gravely contrary to the moral law.”

On Jan. 24, federal officials sided with the Guadalupanas and another complainant, the Skyline Wesleyan Church of La Mesa.

In a document known as a notice of violation, the Office of Civil Rights said that California’s Department of Managed Health Care ignored its specific request to confirm or deny whether it would align its practices to the federal Weldon Amendment, and instead issued a response that “confirms its non-compliance.”

The office gave California 30 days to agree to comply with the law or face limits on federal HHS funds.

The Weldon Amendment, first passed in 2005, bars HHS-appropriated federal funds to state or local governments if they discriminate against institutional or individual healthcare entities, including health insurance plans, that decline to pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for, abortions.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, in a letter to Severino dated Feb. 21, said has said the state will take “no corrective action” in response to the federal notice.

In a Feb. 21 press release, Becerra said “California has the sovereign right to protect women’s reproductive rights.”

“Political grandstanding should never interfere with that,” he added.

Becerra’s letter objected that the notice contradicts a 2016 determination that California was in compliance with the Weldon Amendment, despite complaints from groups like the California Catholic Conference. The attorney general argued that the latest notice “dramatically reinterprets” the amendment and threatens to cut federal funding for vital state programs.

Becerra’s letter to Severino did not mention either the Missionary Guadalupanas or Skyline Wesleyan Church whose legal complaints prompted the HHS action.

For his part, Severino said the Department of Health and Human Services will take appropriate action in response.

“For decades Californians could choose whether or not they wanted abortion-free health insurance coverage until California took away that option,” Severino told CNA Feb. 24.

“HHS is assessing the recent letter from the California Attorney General and all appropriate remedies in light of California’s continued refusal to comply with federal law.”
 
Becerra’s letter echoed the arguments behind the state’s 2014 rule change. California Supreme Court precedent, and California constitutional provisions require protections for “women’s right to privacy and reproductive freedom.” California legislation requires health plans to offer abortion services as part of “basic health care services.”

Only one provider had requested an exemption, he said, and this exemption was granted. This was proof the state was willing to comply with the Weldon Amendment.

Federal action he said, threatens programs like emergency preparedness, infectious disease programs and child welfare programs.

The attorney general requested all evidence related to the Notice of Violation so that California could have a “full and fair opportunity” to refute it. His letter objected that “corrective action” was not specified.

California officials mandated the coverage after two Catholic universities in autumn 2013 announced that they planned to stop paying for employees’ elective abortions and had secured state approval for the new health plans.

Lobbyists from Planned Parenthood wrote to the California Department of Health and Human Services to insist that agency rules be changed to force religious groups to provide coverage for elective abortions, according to emails published in court filings from the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group.

When the Obama administration rejected complaints from groups like the California Catholic Conference, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the ruling was “contrary to the plain meaning of the law.” They said it was “shocking” that the federal government allowed California to force all employers, including churches, to fund and facilitate elective abortions.

Now the controversy includes the Guadalupanas, who work closely with farm workers and with immigrants.

“They’re wonderful women,” Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the California Catholic Conference, told CNA Feb. 18. “They just didn’t understand why their conscience rights were being ignored, so they took action for themselves and others.”

Eckery said that the California Catholic Conference is “pleased” that federal action has been taken, but he stressed the need to seek a resolution and to reject partisan political interpretation of objections to the state rule.

“We’re not out to start or continue a culture war. We’re just out to make sure that the beliefs of people like the Guadalupanas are respected,” he said.

“We’re not seeking to cut off federal funds,” he said. “All we’re seeking is a respectful conversation, but one that is now clearly backed by the government which recognizes that this is a violation of conscience rights.”

“We’re interested in simply rolling back to the status quo that existed prior to 2014,” Eckery said.

The HHS Office of Civil Rights estimated that the state mandate wrongly affected at least 35 employer groups serving over 28,000 enrollees, including 13 groups that met California’s definition of religious employer.

California officials framed the federal action as a dispute with President Donald Trump.

“This is extreme presidential overreach and would, if carried out, jeopardize lives of Californians,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Feb. 21. “We will not allow it.”

HHS had announced the action on Jan. 24, the same day that President Donald Trump became the first U.S. president to address the National March for Life in person.

“California’s abortion mandate not only devalues life, but cruelly compels many Californians to support abortion against their will,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, said Jan. 24. “I urge Governor Newsom to reconsider his support for this unlawful policy.”

McCarthy’s office characterized the Weldon Amendment as “a critical federal law crafted to protect the civil rights of Americans who want to live their lives without being discriminated against by the government simply because they are not willing to provide, pay, or cover abortions.”

His office charged that California disregarded the law under the Obama administration and “is forcing health insurance plans to cover abortion.”

McCarthy’s office pointed to a January 2019 ruling that California discriminated against pro-life pregnancy resource centers, violating both the Weldon Amendment and the Coats-Snow Amendment.

US Hispanic Catholics more likely to attend Mass, less likely to vote Trump

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- A new poll shows that Hispanics Catholics in the U.S. are more likely to attend weekly Mass and far less likely to support President Trump than other U.S. Catholics.

An EWTN News/RealClear Opinion Research poll published on Monday surveyed 1,512 Catholic registered voters from Jan. 28 through Feb. 4, 2020. The poll asked Catholics about their political affiliation, preferred presidential candidate, religious beliefs and practices, and opinions on life issues such as abortion and euthanasia.

The poll surveyed Catholic voters across various demographics; 37% of the respondents identified as Hispanic.

Politically, Hispanic Catholics are more likely to affiliate with the Democratic Party and to oppose President Trump.

The president’s net approval rating among all Hispanic Catholics is only 29%, nearly 30 points below his net approval from white non-Hispanic Catholics. Nearly half (48%) of Hispanic Catholics say they would never vote for Trump.

A majority, 53%, of Hispanic Catholics are “strongly” or “somewhat” open to voting for a third-party presidential candidate in 2020, up five points from 48% of non-Hispanic Catholics.

They are much more likely to think that the country is on the “wrong track,” with 55% answering that way. Not even one-third say the country is generally headed in the right direction.

Nearly six-in-ten (58%) think the country is worse off financially now than it was four years ago; in comparison, two-thirds of non-Hispanic Catholics (67%) share the opposite sentiment—they think the country is better off financially than four years ago.

As he did with Catholics overall, Joe Biden led the Democratic presidential contenders in support from Hispanic Catholics with 31%. Bernie Sanders registered second place with 28% support, and Michael Bloomberg third with 17%.

Regular religious practice is higher among the demographic; Hispanic Catholics are more likely to attend Mass once or more per week, 39% compared to 32% for non-Hispanic Catholics.

They are more likely to pray the rosary weekly or more frequently—33% of Hispanics to 24% of non-Hispanic Catholics.

And a smaller proportion of Hispanic Catholics (51%) support the death penalty than do non-Hispanic Catholics (60%), and, compared to just 42% of non-Hispanic Catholics, a majority of Hispanic Catholics (51%) believe euthanasia is “intrinsically evil.”

As with U.S. Catholics more broadly, Hispanic Catholics are evenly split on several contentious religious freedom issues, with no clear majority for or against the rights of religious business owners to not serve same-sex weddings—41% support their right not to serve, 40% say they should be required to serve, and 19% say they are not sure.

Hispanic Catholics also registered split perspectives on the rights of religious adoption agencies to not pair children with same-sex couples—37% said the agencies should not be required to do so, 38% said they should be required, and 24% said they are “not sure.”

The rights of parochial schools to make hiring decisions contingent upon employees’ adherence to Church teaching also divided Hispanic Catholic respondents —38% support the rights of the schools, 38% oppose, and 24% are “not sure.”

In line with repsonses from other Catholic demographics, less than half of Hispanic Catholics think abortion and physician-assisted suicide are “intrinsically evil,” with just 48% and 47% answering “yes” to those questions, respectively. They are slightly more likely than non-Hispanic Catholics to say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with 54% of Hispanic Catholics saying that compared to 50% of non-Hispanic Catholics.

Filipino archbishop requests abstinence from applause during Mass

Dagupan, Philippines, Feb 24, 2020 / 04:41 pm (CNA).- In a pastoral letter anticipating the beginning of Lent on Wednesday, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan has asked that the faithful not clap in church, either during or after Mass.

“The season of Lent has a somber purple color. It has a sober and calm aura. The altar decors are restrained. The musical instruments are subdued. We fast from pleasure and restrain our appetite,” the archbishop wrote in his pastoral letter.

“Let us add more abstinence to this sober season,” he exhorted. “Let us abstain from applause in Church. May this abstinence from clapping flow over into the other days of the year. That in all things, God alone and Him only may be glorified!”

Archbishop Villegas noted that Ash Wednesday is “a good occasion to reflect on the value and importance of sobriety, silence and self-restraint in the pursuit of holiness of life.”

Setting aside clapping at a Mass of ordination to signify consent to the calling, which is directed to God, he suggested that “this is not the case with many of our applauses in the church.”

He said applause is a product of boredom during Mass, noting that it reduces the liturgy to a source of entertainment rather than a spiritual encounter with Christ.

“Is not this boredom coming from a misunderstood sense of worship and prayer? The community of prayer becomes just an audience in need of entertainment; liturgical ministers become performers; and preachers become erudite toastmasters. It should not be so.”

The archbishop cited the words of two popes on applause during the liturgy.

According to a story that seems to originate in the biography by F. A. Forbes, first published in 1918, St. Pius X disallowed applause at St. Peter's, which had become customary at papal services, saying, “It is not fitting that the servant should be applauded in his Master's house.”

Archbishop Villegas also cited the words of Benedict XVI, who wrote in The Spirit of the Liturgy that “Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.”

The archbishop said that while ovation does signify a sense of gratitude and recognition of a job well done, it is often ordered to the actions of priests or parishioners. The Mass should be directed at God alone, he said.

“Clapping can be shallow and cheap,” he said, adding that while applause for benefactors is justified as  an inspiration to greater generosity, “We need to inspire our benefactors to seek treasures that 'moth cannot decay destroy, and thieves cannot break in and steal'.”

He noted also that “it can even brood unpleasant competition, jealousy and resentment because somebody received less applause than the others.”

And rather than applauding for ministery well done by the choir or servers, “let us lead our people to aim to decrease so that the Lord may increase,” he exhorted.

“In public prayers and liturgy, self-consciousness must bow down to God- consciousness. We are a Church called together by God not a self-organized mutual admiration club.”

He urged ministers to resist applause for their works: “Resist the ego booster and aim for greater things. Be an arrow pointing to God.”

The archbishop encouraged relatively shorter homilies, saying that applause shouldn't be used to keep parishioners “alert and awake.” “A well prepared, brief, inspired and inspiring homily has a longer lifespan than intermittent clapping as you preach.”

He also urged that priests not acknowledge persons or groups for their work or donations at the post-communion: “You must do this appreciation outside the Mass, by sending a greeting card, sending a text message or even visiting them in person. Be God centered and to Him alone be the glory.”

Archbishop Villegas also stressed the Mass' dual nature as both joyful and sorrowful: “The Eucharist is a happy feast AND a memorial of Calvary. Who would have clapped at Calvary? Would the Blessed Mother and John the Beloved have clapped? The breaking of the Bread is a commemoration of the violent death that the Lord went through. Who claps while others are in pain? It is pain with love; yes, but it still pain.”