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California Catholic Conference asks governor to veto college abortion bill

Sacramento, Calif., Sep 17, 2019 / 12:05 am (CNA).- California legislators passed a bill Friday that would require all state universities to offer medication abortions, despite the objections of pro-life leaders.

In a Sept. 16 statement, Andrew Rivas, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, encouraged California Governor Gavin Newsom to oppose the bill.

“We urge him to veto this unprecedented and unnecessary legislation because it purposely narrows a young woman’s choices and puts the state’s prestigious academic institutions in a position of actually promoting, facilitating and potentially funding only abortions,” he said.

The California State Assembly voted 55-19 in favor of the bill. It had passed through the Senate in May. Newsom has a month to decide whether to veto the bill or sign it into law.

Currently, a majority of campus health centers offer gynecological services and contraceptives, but they will refer students seeking an abortion to an off-campus abortion clinic. If the bill passes, all 34 public universities throughout California will be required to offer medical abortions for the first 10 weeks of a pregnancy.

The proposal would be funded by the College Student Health Center Sexual and Reproductive Health Preparation Fund, which would be established under the bill and administered through the Commission on the Status of Women and Girls.

The bill would require nearly $10.3 million in private money to be raised before Jan 1, 2020. According to the New York Times, supporters said the amount has already been raised. The money would be used to train staff and buy medical equipment. State law already requires abortion costs to be covered by insurers.

A spokesperson declined to comment on what Newsom intends to do, but during his campaign last year, he supported a similar bill vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who said the bill was “not necessary” because abortion services were “widely available” off-campus.

Sen. Connie Leyva, sponsor of the bill, said the legislation comes at a time when other states are “rolling back women’s health care.” She said California is leading the charge in reproductive rights.

“SB 24 reaffirms the right of every college student to access abortion. By ensuring that abortion care is available on campus, college students will not have to choose between delaying important medical care or having to travel long distances or miss classes or work,” she said, according to The Sacramento Bee.

The California Catholic Conference said the bill overemphasizes abortion as an option for college pregnancies. While the bill invites health centers to include abortion counseling services, the conference said it is “specifically written in such a way to exclude pro-life counseling.”

“This bill will promote only abortion-inducing drugs on college campuses,” said Rivas. “No government-funded institution, medical or counseling center, should ever provide only one set of services. If this bill is truly about providing choices for female students, the state should then also require and fund life-affirming services on campus.”

“Offering state-funded abortions as the only alternative to pregnancy undermines the ability of a state academic institution to promote the value of diversity and the empowerment of women,” he added.

Rivas said college-age women deserve a safe and supportive environment when faced with a pregnancy. He said campus centers should offer services like pregnancy counseling, childcare, housing assistance, and adoption.

“The life and dignity of every person is due respect and protection at every stage and in every condition. The right to life is the first and most fundamental principle of human rights. As Catholics, we recognize the sacredness and primacy of human life and we oppose any legislation or attempt to deny the basic human right to life,” he said.

Other groups, including the Department of Finance and California’s major university systems, have also questioned the bill’s effectiveness and potential problems with its implementation.

According to The Sacramento Bee, the Department of Finance said the program will likely exceed the established fund and expressed doubt that the commission had enough experience to lead a program of this size.

The New York Times reported that the University of California and California State University systems have raised questions about financial logistics and liability. If the private implementation fund is exhausted, the costs would have to be covered by the universities, who might then have to increase student health fees.

California’s bishops have also condemned the bill. In July, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Bishop James Soto of Sacramento encouraged their parishioners to oppose the bill.

“If we are going to be the people God calls us to be, if we are going to restore and renew the Church and rebuild society, then we need a new dedication to living our Catholic identity and communicating that identity in everything we do, from our schools and religious education programs to the way we live our faith in society,” Gomez said in the Angelus, the archdiocesan publication.

“This is unprecedented intrusion on university campuses. It is unnecessary and only serves to further indoctrinate the young to the ideology of abortion,” said Soto in a pastoral letter. “We must continue our efforts to stop this deadly piece of legislation. The womb should not become a tomb for any child anywhere in our state. Women and children deserve better.”

Five facts about St. Robert Bellarmine, SJ, doctor of the Church

St. Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) was a scholar who focused primarily on studies of Church history and the Church Fathers. In response to the Protestant Reformation, much of his efforts went toward organizing Church doctrine for clarity and understanding. A cardinal, Jesuit, and a doctor of the church, his feast day is Sept. 17. St. Robert […]

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Analysis: The Amazon and Germany - A tale of two synods

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2019 / 04:48 pm (CNA).- For the next two months, most of the ink spilled by Catholic journalists will be dedicated to the Amazon, and especially the three-week Rome meeting of bishops in October that will discuss the region. But while the Amazon synod of bishops holds popular attention, some astute Church-watchers wll be more attentive to the emerging controversy surrounding a different synod, to be held in Germany.

The pan-Amazonian synod has become the latest battleground in the long series of internecine conflicts that have plagued the Church in recent years. Conservative figures have decried the synod’s preparatory documents as pantheistic heterodoxy, while progressive Churchmen have cast the meeting as the occasion of some kind of new beginning for the Church, after which, at least one bishop has said, “nothing will be the same.”

At issue, at least theoretically, are two loaded topics in the Church’s life: the possibility of ordaining married men to the priesthood, and the quagmire surrounding questions of “inculturation,” which ask how the Gospel can be expressed in diverse cultural settings.

The topic of ordaining married men is on the table because the remoteness of some Amazon villages, which almost never see a priest, has led to the suggestion that ordained “viri probati,” older, married men, could make it possible for more Catholics to have access to the sacramental life.

But some bishops are concerned that considering the possibility of married priests in the Amazon region, where priests are few, will lead to widespread adoption of the practice, and the loss of the custom of clerical celibacy. There is also concern that a broadly applied dispensation from the obligation of priestly celibacy will stir up the simmering debate over ordaining women to the diaconate, and even the officially settled argument over ordaining women as priests.

While most proponents of the possibility say their sights are fixed only on the problems of Amazonia, critics are skeptical. Among advocacy groups, intellectuals, and even a few bishops, heated rhetoric has begun to fly.

As the synod grows closer, the rhetoric will grow only more intense, from all corners of the Church.

Rome will host an entire cottage industry of pundits in the weeks preceding the synod, and “experts,” from both the left and the right, will hold symposia and conferences, trying to make the case that the synod matters, that their opponents are wrong and that, whatever their viewpoint, it is the only legitimately Catholic perspective on the matters at hand.

The pan-Amazonian synod, in short, is likely to follow the playbook that has characterized the two most recent synods in Rome, beginning with the 2015 Synod on the Family. After that meeting, which is best remembered for a fracas over divorce and communion, a 2018 synod on youth and young people was similarly polemical.

The conflicts surrounding synods are unfortunate, for at least two reasons. In the first place, they distract from the sincere and earnest conversation that might take place among bishops about critical issues.

Synods are supposed to be conversations, and the topics discussed are usually ones about which many people in Church leadership or pastoral ministry have something to contribute, or something to learn. The Amazon region, in which Pentecostalism is overtaking Catholicism, in which child labor and human trafficking are serious issues, and deforestation threatens whole communities, is in need of the Church’s leadership and pastoral presence. A conversation, rather than a debate, over the issues in the Amazon would be of real benefit to the Church there. But conflict over hot-button issues, and a sense that the synod is a gladiatorial contest between warring sides, is likely to blunt that conversation.

Conflict over synods of bishops is unfortunate mostly because there is very little to be gained from it. Synod assemblies are low-stakes affairs: synods have no power, they can not make policies or declare doctrine or do anything, except publish documents to be reviewed by the pope as he formulates his thoughts on the topic under discussion. Synods are consultative conversations. They do not bind the pope, or instruct him. They just offer the advice of a usually diverse-thinking assembly of leaders.

Synods have grown contentious because Pope Francis used his 2016 post-synodal document Amoris laetitia to signal an openness to the possibility that divorced and remarried people could, under certain circumstances, receive the Eucharist while remaining in a sexual relationship. That suggestion has been divisive, and because it is associated with the family synod of 2015, at least some bishops have begun to treat synods as though they are convened to legislate for the Church.

They are not convened for that purpose.

And the pope could have introduced his ideas about divorce, remarriage, and the Eucharist in any way he chose. He happened to do it in a post-synodal document, but not because the synod in some way freed him to do so, or mandated that he do so. It is sometimes suggested that the synod gave him some political cover, but since the idea did not have full-throated support from the synod’s participants, the hypothesis seems flimsy.

In short, nothing about the synod compelled, authorized, or permitted the pope to teach as he did. But because of Amoris laetitia, and the controversial synod of 2015, pundits seem now to characterize each synod not as an exchange of ideas, but as a battle for the pope's endorsement.

While the stakes of the pan-Amazonian synod are far lower than they’re usually perceived, the stakes of a showdown over a synod in German are much higher than has likely been realized by many Catholics.

The German bishop are planning a two-year “synodal pathway” in the country. The idea is to bring bishops together with lay people, especially those associated with the Central Committee of German Catholics, to pass “binding resolutions,” on controversial topics, including sexual morality and clerical leadership.

The planned synod in Germany is not intended to be a conversation. It is intended to redefine the course of Christianity in Germany, even while giving new consideration to long-established points of Christian doctrine.

The Vatican has warned the German bishops not to continue with their plans, noting that a synod of the type planned by the Germans would disrupt the Church’s life, and could cause a catastrophe by denying the Church’s doctrinal teaching.

But the German bishops, under the leadership of Cardinal Reinhard Marx, have insisted that the synod will proceed, and that the Vatican simply doesn’t understand what’s at stake.

Marx will meet with Vatican officials this week. The cardinal hopes to persuade the Vatican to allow him to proceed with his plans. He is not in a position to back down, because he has assured the Central Committee of German Catholics, which includes advocates of same-sex marriage, that they will have a deliberative voice in the future of the German Church. Relenting, for Marx, would likely mean losing his support among secular German figures, and, by admitting that the Vatican was right, falling out of favor among the Churchmen who support him.

Cardinal Marx, by some estimates, seems to be playing a kind of ecclesiastical game of chicken with the Vatican, and betting that the pope’s Curia will back down before he does.

But if the Vatican does not relent, and the Germans push forward, a great deal is at stake: some experts have suggested that if the Germans proceed with their synodal path in defiance of instructions from Pope Francis and the Vatican, they run the risk of being declared in schism.

At the moment, Marx seems unintimidated by efforts from two different Vatican offices to rein in Germany’s planned synodal process. He might be persuaded, if at all, only by a direct and personal intervention from Pope Francis.

Marx is said to be persuasive with Pope Francis, but sources tell CNA that the pope is growing impatient with the cardinal’s approach to the German synod. If Francis has to intervene, and Marx does not accept the pope’s direction, the result would be a serious crisis for the Church in Germany.

The situation is still developing.

The pan-Amazonian synod will provide plenty of fodder for debate this autumn. But a serious ecclesiological crisis is unfolding in Germany, and how it will be resolved remains to be seen.

St. Robert Bellarmine-Peace and union

Optional Memorial of St. Robert Bellarmine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church Peace and union are the most necessary of all things for men who live in common, and nothing serves so well to establish and maintain them as the forbearing charity whereby we put up with another’s defects. — St. Robert Bellarmine

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Optional Memorial of St. Robert Bellarmine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Optional Memorial of St. Robert Bellarmine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church Readings: 1 Timothy 3:1-13 Psalms 101:1B-2AB, 2CD-3AB, 5, 6 Luke 7:11-17 Optional Memorial of Saint Robert Bellarmine Readings: Wisdom 7:7-10, 15-16 Psalms 19:8, 9, 10, 11 Matthew 7:21-29

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Ousted Planned Parenthood president says board violating contract on terms of exit

Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2019 / 03:59 pm (CNA).- Dr. Leana Wen, the former president of Planned Parenthood whom the board fired in July amid a dispute over the group’s mission, is reportedly still locked in a contract disagreement with the board over the terms of her exit.

According to reports, Wen says that Planned Parenthood is refusing to give her severance pay and pay for her family’s health insurance unless she agrees to a gag clause.

The New York Times reported Saturday that Wen had on Sept. 9 sent a 1,400 word letter to Planned Parenthood’s Board of Directors, accusing the organization of withholding her contractually-mandated health insurance and severance pay as “ransom” to pressure her to sign a confidentiality agreement.

The Times has not released the full text of the letter, and Wen has expressed her disappointment that the letter leaked to the press.

“There should be no dispute regarding the terms of my employment contract, which are clearly spelled out,” she said in a statement.

Melanie Newman, a senior vice president for communications at Planned Parenthood, called Wen’s accusations “unfortunate, saddening, and simply untrue.”

“The attorneys representing the board have made every good faith effort to amicably part from Dr. Wen, and are disappointed that they have been unable to reach a suitable resolution regarding her exit package,” she said, as quoted by the Times.

According to the Times, Newman stated that Wen has remained on payroll during the negotiations and will be salaried through mid-October, with health benefits through the end of that month. She said Planned Parenthood had offered Wen a full additional year of salary and health benefits.

Wen took the reigns at Planned Parenthood in September 2018, following the 12-year presidency of Cecile Richards. She was president until July 16, when she announced that the “board ended my employment at a secret meeting.”

“We were engaged in good faith negotiations about my departure based on philosophical differences over the direction and future of Planned Parenthood,” she said via Twitter.

Wen cited philosophical differences with the new board chairs over the direction that the organization should be moving. Wen has said she firmly believes Planned Parenthood to be a healthcare organization, not primarily a political advocacy organization.

“The new Board leadership has determined that the priority of Planned Parenthood moving forward is to double down on abortion rights advocacy,” Wen said.

Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion performer in the United States. In 2016, the organization performed about one out of every three abortions.

Alexis McGill Johnson, a former political organizer, was named acting president after Wen’s ouster, and the organization has said that they hope to appoint a new president by the end of 2019.

Wen said in her September letter, as quoted by the Times, that “there is a vocal minority” including many national staff and board members “who prefer a stridently political, abortion-first philosophy.”

Wen has recently announced her new position as visiting professor at George Washington University, and also that she and her husband are expecting a baby.

Former Planned Parenthood director-turned pro-life advocate Abby Johnson told CNA that Planned Parenthood is “once again showing their true loyalties” and that she hopes Wen will open up about her experience. Johnson left her position as Planned Parenthood and founded And Then There Were None, an organization that seeks to help abortion clinic workers leave the abortion industry.

“Dr. Wen has been horribly betrayed by Planned Parenthood. It's heartbreaking to watch her former employer throw her under the bus because she dared to question their commitment to actual healthcare,” Johnson said in a statement to CNA.

“They don't value their employees because they don't value people, especially pregnant women, who they see more as dollar signs than human beings.”

Johnson has been publicly reaching out to Wen on Twitter to encourage her to speak confidentially about her situation.

"Dr. Wen doesn't need to go through this ordeal alone,” Johnson said.

“I sincerely hope she knows she has an ally in me, someone who went through a similar situation and who has not only excellent attorneys but also a vast network of support through And Then There Were None who would welcome Dr. Wen with open arms.”

In the past decade, Planned Parenthood has seen its number of patients decline. The number of cancer screenings, contraceptives distributed, and prenatal services provided by the organization decreased as well.

Abortions, however, have increased by about 10 percent since 2006, despite Planned Parenthood seeing fewer patients.

 

More than 2,000 aborted remains discovered at doctor's home

South Bend, Ind., Sep 16, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- An investigation has been launched by police after more than 2,000 remains of aborted children were found at the former home of late-term abortionist Dr. Ulrich “George” Klopfer in Will County, Illinois. 

Klopfer passed away on September 3. Nine days later, an attorney representing his family contacted the Will County coroner's office, reporting that “medically preserved fetal remains” had been discovered on the property and requesting proper removal. It was discovered that a total of 2,246 fetal remains were on the property. 

Authorities say there is no evidence that Klopfer was performing abortions at his house in Illinois.

The Will County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment further to CNA, citing the open and ongoing investigation into the remains and deferring all questions to a forthcoming press conference.

It is unknown what the approximate gestational ages of the fetal remains are, how old the remains were, or where the abortions took place. It is not legal to transport fetal remains over state lines, and abortion in Indiana is not legal past the 22nd week of pregnancy. If the abortions were found to have been performed on older fetuses, Klopfer also would have been guilty of this crime as well. 

Klopfer’s medical license was suspended in 2016 following numerous safety and legal violations in the state of Indiana.

Prior losing his medical license, Klopfer was believed to be one of the most prolific abortionists in Indiana. Over his four-decade career, he is estimated to have aborted more than 30,000 children. He worked at three clinics, which he owned, with locations in South Bend, Fort Wayne, and Gary. Klopfer only reported performing first-trimester abortions, rasing further questions about the nature and developmental age of the fetal remains.

His home in Will County, where the remains were discovered, is not far from the Indiana border. 

Klopfer’s license was initially suspended in 2015 after he failed to timely report that two of his patients were 13-year-old girls. He was charged with a misdemeanor, but that charge was dropped after the completion of a pre-trial diversion program. 

Indiana law requires that abortions on patients that young must be reported within three days, and Klopfer instead waited six months to report their abortions. The state medical board voted to suspend his license, even though the charges were dismissed. The three clinics he owned were all closed by November 2015.

Indiana’s age of consent for sexual intercourse is 16 years old, although there are “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions for consensual relations between two underage teens. 

In 2016, after his license was suspended, the state’s attorney general’s office filed a complaint alleging that Klopfer had failed to provide proper personnel to monitor women who were undergoing a surgical abortion procedure. Klopfer was accused of regularly failing to offer painkillers to women undergoing an abortion, and often performed surgical abortions without any anesthetic.

During those proceedings, Klopfer also admitted to performing an abortion in Illinois on a 10-year-old girl who had been raped by her uncle, and that he did not report the crime to the appropriate authorities. 

The state’s medical board also found that Klopfer was using outdated surgical practices from the 70s and 80s, and that his facility in Fort Wayne was “rundown, not well-maintained” with expired medications and equipment that did not work. 

Police said Klopfer’s family has been cooperating with the investigation. 

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is currently a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. In August, Buttigieg expressed support for an unlicensed abortion clinic, Whole Woman’s Health, was beneficial for the women of his city. Due to a court injunction, the clinic is allowed to continue to operate. 

“The South Bend clinic would be the only one for a radius of several counties," said Buttegieg’s press secretary Chris Meagher. "It is a restriction on a woman's right if she is low-income, or doesn’t have a vehicle, and she has to visit multiple times, but the clinic is dozens of miles away.”

The administrator of Whole Woman’s Health’s South Bend location is a former employee of Dr. Klopfer who worked at his now-shuttered South Bend clinic. 

As Mayor of South Bend, Buttigieg attempted to block the operation of a pro-life pregnancy center that was attempting to open next door to Whole Woman’s Health, saying that he thought it was not “responsible.” The pregnancy center, Women’s Care Center, was eventually able to open across the street.

Abuse crisis, leadership failure seen having impact on church giving

IMAGE: CNS illustration/Emily Thompson

By Brian Fraga

The Catholic Church in the United States has spent a staggering amount of money -- close to $4 billion in the past 20 years -- to investigate, adjudicate and prevent clergy sex abuse, and to compensate victims for the harm they've suffered.

And as those expenses have prompted dioceses to lay off staff, sell property and liquidate some assets, there is growing evidence that more Catholics across the country are deciding not to contribute to their bishops' diocesan appeals because of the scandals.

"Clearly the leadership failures related to the abuse crisis are a major factor in some of the church's financial problems," said Kim Smolik, CEO of the Leadership Roundtable, a national Catholic organization.

At least 20 dioceses since 2004 have filed for bankruptcy protection to pay their bills and provide financial compensation for clergy sex abuse survivors. On Sept. 12, the Diocese of Rochester in New York became the latest to petition the federal courts for Chapter 11 reorganization.

"This is a very difficult and painful decision," Bishop Salvatore R. Matano of Rochester said during a Sept. 12 news conference. The diocese is facing nearly 50 lawsuits filed in the wake of New York's Child Victims Act, which took effect Aug. 14 and suspended the state's civil statute of limitations in sex abuse cases for one year.

The Catholic Courier, Rochester's diocesan newspaper, reported Bishop Matano as saying that filing for Chapter 11 was "the best and fairest course of action for the victims and for the well-being of the diocese, its parishes, agencies and institutions."

"We believe this is the only way we can provide just compensation for all who suffered the egregious sin of sexual abuse while ensuring the continued commitment of the diocese to the mission of Christ," Bishop Matano said.

The most recent figures compiled by BishopAccountability.org, a website that tracks the bishops' response to the clergy sex abuse scandals, indicates the scandals to date have cost dioceses and religious orders in the United States more than $3.8 billion in total settlements.

And according to data provided by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, dioceses and religious orders in the 2018 fiscal year incurred almost $302 million in total expenses related to investigating sex abuse allegations, legal fees, victim payments, living costs and therapy for offenders, and operating abuse prevention programs. In the last five fiscal years, those expenses have cost dioceses and religious orders an estimated $1.1 billion, according to CARA figures.

"It's a difficult financial time for the church," Mark Gray, director of CARA Catholic Polls and a senior research associate at CARA, told Catholic News Service.

The dollar amounts of what dioceses have spent only capture a small snapshot of the financial impact the clergy sex abuse scandals have wrought on the church.

"There are other things that are probably happening and very real, but they're not as easily identifiable as a direct result of the abuse crisis," said Pat Markey, executive director of the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference, an organization that provides fiscal and administrative expertise for the local and national church.

"If someone wants to stop withholding from a capital campaign or the bishop's appeal, it could be because of the abuse crisis, but that's a lot more difficult to make that cause and effect connection," Markey told CNS.

A Pew Research Center survey released this past summer indicated that 26 percent of U.S. Catholics reported giving less money as a result of the recent reports of sexual abuse and misconduct by priests and bishops. Father Jay Mello, a pastor of two parishes in Fall River, Massachusetts, told CNS that his parishioners have been quite "vocal" about not donating to diocesan collections.

"They don't trust the bishops and feel this is the only way they can send the message," Father Mello said.

However, there are no readily available spreadsheets to document the extent that lay Catholics across the board have actually stopped donating to parish collections, bishops' appeals or national collections. The data is anecdotal, and often varies from parish to parish, even within the same diocese.

"In terms of dollar for dollar week to week, anecdotally I haven't seen a real fluctuation. My fear however is that five to 10 years from now is when it will be felt as those who contribute fade away and aren't replaced by anyone," said Father Bryan Small, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Atlanta. Father Small told CNS he fears the abuse scandals have pushed away future parish council presidents and other lay leaders.

Gray, of CARA, said there is a perception the church "should be like Walmart" and have a national spreadsheet and financial report. However, he noted that religious institutes, individual parishes, Catholic social service agencies and other diocesan entities have their own budgets and financial systems.

"There is nothing that aggregates all those figures and then releases it publicly," Gray said. "It's always been a bit of a blind spot for the church. There is just no way to connect all the dots and fill in all the information. One diocese may report one set of financials that may not match what is publicly reported by another diocese."

Matt Manion, faculty director of the Center for Church Management at Villanova University's School of Business, identified three major financial impacts from the clergy sex abuse scandals: Chapter 11 filings and settlement payments for sex abuse survivors, the potential losses in donations and collections, as well as the expenses of litigation and other related administrative responses to the crisis.

"That's time that could have been spent on other parts of the church's mission," Manion told CNS.

The settlements that dioceses have given to clergy sex abuse survivors have prompted many of them to liquidate assets and shrink operating budgets. In some 2018 diocesan financial reports and accompanying documents, church officials admit the settlements have impacted their ability to carry out the works of evangelization and ministry.

"To be certain, the crisis has had an ongoing impact on the church's ability to invest in its mission," Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, told the Fairfield County Catholic, the diocesan newspaper, when the diocese released its 2018 financial report.

Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, which filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2011 and emerged from the process in 2015, said the archdiocese over the years sold its pastoral center, liquidated property that had been set aside for a cemetery and future parish sites, and cut its staff by more than 45 percent.

"You start cutting things when you can, and when you are a service organization, like a central office of a diocese is, it's people who are the bulk of our budget," said Topczewski. He told CNS the Chapter 11 process enabled the archdiocese to maintain day-to-day operations while creating an equitable system that distributed $21 million to 355 priest-abuse survivors and established a $500,000 fund to cover victims' personal therapy expenses.

"It's all been quite the strategic pivot that all began with Chapter 11," Topczewski said. "When you don't have two dimes to rub together, you've got to figure out what to do."

In the past year and a half, at least four Catholic dioceses -- the St. Cloud and Winona-Rochester dioceses in Minnesota, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and New York's Rochester Diocese -- have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In letters to the faithful and via news conferences, the bishops in those dioceses cited the need to provide financial compensation to victims while keeping the mission of the local church alive.

"We could see where this was all leading and the trajectory wasn't changing. We just don't have any money. If we're not here, we can't help anybody," Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe said during a November 2018 news conference in New Mexico, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

Manion, of the Center for Church Management, said Chapter 11 in theory has the benefit of keeping the diocese up and running while it goes through a plan of reorganization. The process also can create a compensation fund that enables abuse survivors to be compensated fairly.

"The victims are all evaluated together, so it's not like the first ones in get the most money," Manion said. "Chapter 11 creates a steady fund so all claimants are evaluated in a consistent fashion, so there is the potential for this to be a more fair way for the claimants than doing it on a case by case basis."

Each diocese has its own set of financial realities when deciding whether to file for bankruptcy protection, according to Smolik, of the Leadership Roundtable, which promotes best practices and accountability in management, finances, communications and human resource development for the church in the U.S.

Noting the recent Pew Research Center survey, Smolik said the apparent drop in giving appears to be connected to the twin crises of clergy sexual abuse and the failure of church leadership.

"I think Catholics are concerned about how their contributions are being used, and it's important that dioceses move toward greater accountability, transparency and co-responsibility, in terms of their financial affairs," Smolik said.

In February, the Leadership Roundtable convened the Catholic Partnership Summit, a gathering of more than 200 Catholic lay leaders and clergy. From the summit, it released a report, "Healing the Body of Christ," which is a plan to develop a new culture of leadership in the church and a new response to the abuse crisis.

The report urged church leaders to "provide full financial transparency regarding all aspects of the (abuse) crisis, include how donations are used." The report also called upon bishops to "build a broad, deep, and transparent financial management and accounting system."

Said Smolik, "We're going to have to look at new models at how the church is served."

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Arizona Supreme Court says artists have right to decline same-sex wedding creations

Phoenix, Ariz., Sep 16, 2019 / 01:47 pm (CNA).- The Arizona Supreme Court ruled Monday in favor of two Christian artists who argue that they should not be forced to create custom artwork for same-sex weddings in opposition to their religious beliefs.

“The rights of free speech and free exercise, so precious to this nation since its founding, are not limited to soft murmurings behind the doors of a person’s home or church, or private conversations with like-minded friends and family,” the court ruled. Rather it said, “these guarantees protect the right of every American to express their beliefs in public. This includes the right to create and sell words, paintings, and art that express a person’s sincere religious beliefs.”

Attorney Jonathan Scruggs, who had argued the case before the court, hailed the ruling in Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix as a victory for religious freedom.

“The government shouldn’t threaten artists with jail time and fines to force them to create custom artwork, such as wedding invitations, expressing messages that violate their beliefs, and that’s what the court has affirmed today,” said Scruggs, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom.

Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski are the owners of Brush & Nib Studio. The pair creates custom artwork, such as wedding invitations and place cards with calligraphy and handpainting. The women say that their religious convictions forbid them from using their artwork to promote a message they disagree with morally.

The women were challenging Phoenix’s public accommodation law. Under the criminal law, they could face up to six months jail time, $2,500 in fines, and three years probation for declining to create artwork for same-sex weddings.

The city of Phoenix says declining same-sex weddings is an illegal act of discrimination based on sexual orientation, in violation of City Code Section 18-4(B). However, the women say that they will happily serve clients of any sexual orientation, but that they cannot promote all messages.

In a brief filed with the court, ADF argued that “Courts have long recognized individuals’ right ‘to hold a point of view different from the majority and to refuse to foster…an idea they find morally objectionable.”
The brief warned that imposing on the right to refrain from speaking or supporting a certain message poses a threat to all people, regardless of belief.

A lower court had ruled against Duka and Koski. Scruggs said the Arizona Supreme Court was right to overturn the lower ruling.

“Joanna and Breanna will now be able to create custom wedding invitations and to communicate about their beliefs without fear of government punishment, as any artist should be free to do,” he said. “This isn’t just a victory for them. It’s a victory for everyone.”

Man jailed for threatening Little Sisters of the Poor set for bail hearing

Allentown, Pa., Sep 16, 2019 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- A Pennsylvania man who sent online threats to the Little Sisters of the Poor is asking a federal court to allow him out of jail. Jaan Kruus, Jr., 55, will present his bail request in court on Monday at 3pm. 

Kruus was was indicted by a federal grand jury in July on two counts of sending threatening messages online, via his computer, to the Little Sisters of the Poor, LehighValleyLive.com reported.

According to the indictment, Kruus sent “a threat to injure another, specifically, persons affiliated with the Little Sisters of the Poor,” on February 1, 2017 and again on May 9, 2017, from Emmaus, Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C.. The Little Sisters of the Poor operate a residence for elderly patients in Northeast Washington, D.C., the Jeanne Jugan Residence.

Kruus was ordered to undergo a health and psychological evaluation by U.S. Magistrate Judge Harry S. Perkin. He requested bail, and at his hearing will take place September 16 in the Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania.

According to his motion for pretrial release, Kruus resides in Emmaus, Pennsylvania and cares for a disabled friend while living with his parents. He was evaluated by psychologist Jeffrey E. Summerton, Ph.D., who decided that he could benefit from mental health counseling and may have anger management issues.

The motion says that after being questioned by FBI agents in June of 2017 about the online threats, Kruus was not arrested or deemed a threat despite having allegedly admitted to sending the threats.

“In its argument for detention the government relies heavily on a crumpled note purportedly in Mr. Kruus' handwriting that was found in a wastebasket in 2011 by his then and still estranged wife,” the motion states. “The note uses the verbs ‘kill’ and ‘bomb’ in the imperative voice with various objects including his parents, two neighbors, and law enforcement officials.”

“He [Kruus] was investigated by the local police regarding that writing and was not charged. Nothing has come of the writing in the following eight years,” the motion states.

It is unclear from the July indictment what specific content was contained in the threats Kruus sent to the Little Sisters of the Poor in 2017, as well as his motive for doing so.

The Little Sisters of the Poor have been in national news in recent years for their lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The health care law required coverage of certain preventative services in health plans, clarified by the Obama administration to include contraceptives and sterilizations—including emergency contraceptives that prevent implantation of a fertilized embryo, thus causing early abortions.

The religious exemptions to the mandate were narrowly tailored and excluded many religious non-profits that objected to the mandate, including the Little Sisters of the Poor. An “accommodation” offered by the Obama administration did not satisfy the sisters and others, who argued in court that it would still force them to contradict their religious mission in forcing them to provide contraceptive coverage in their health plans.

Although the Trump administration issued a rule in 2017 expanding the religious exemptions to the mandate, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed a lawsuit against the religious order, as did the California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, saying the sisters should not receive a religious exemption to the mandate.

The Little Sisters of the Poor congregation was founded in France in 1839 by St. Jeanne Jugan and entered the United States in 1869; the congregation is dedicated to living with and caring for the elderly poor, and serves in more than 30 countries around the world.