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John Caron, former NCR board chair, mixed business and social justice acumen

John Caron provided the leadership, belief in the mission, business acumen, and determination that made National Catholic Reporter work.

Mike Pence to meet Pope Francis in Vatican next week

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Vice President Mike Pence will travel to the Vatican next week to meet with Pope Francis.

Pence’s office confirmed with CNA on Thursday that the Vice President is scheduled to be received by the Pope during his overseas trip next week. No details have yet been released about the topics that might be discussed at the meeting.

The Vice President’s visit comes immediately after the U.S. religious freedom ambassador traveled to Vatican City for the launch of the Abrahamic Faiths Initiative, held on Tuesday at the official residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich.

Sam Brownback, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, was present at Tuesday’s opening session of the initiative, which was described by Ambassador Gingrich as “a dialogue designed to promote peace, religious freedom, and interreligious harmony” between Christians, Muslims, and Jews.

It was inspired, she said, by the 2019 document on “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” a joint statement of Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Abu Dhabi that was signed in the United Arab Emirates.

That document, in part, stated that “[t]he pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.”

Cardinal Miguel Ayuso, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, was present at the gathering, according to Gingrich’s remarks.

“It’s fitting that your discussions should take place at the Pontifical Gregorian University,” Gingrich said, citing St. John Henry Newman that a Catholic university should “aid in the discernment of truth.”

Quoting Pope Francis, Gingrich stated the questions that could be considered by the initiative: “‘How do we look after each other?  ‘How do we nourish a fraternity which is not theoretical, but translates into authentic fraternity?’ And ‘how can religions be channels of fraternity, rather than barriers of separation?’”

In her remarks at the launch, Gingrich thanked Pastor Bob Roberts of NorthWood Church in Keller, Texas, Imam Mohammad Magid of All Dulles Area Muslim Society, and Rabbi David Saperstein, the former U.S. religious freedom ambassador from 2014 to 2017, “for making this gathering possible.”

During Brownback’s trip, he and Ambassador Gingrich also met with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See Secretary for Relations with States.

Trump boosts school prayer, faith groups as he rallies base

In a bid to solidify his evangelical base, President Donald Trump took steps Jan. 16 to give religious organizations easier access to federal programs and he reaffirmed students' rights to pray in public schools.

Australian archbishop rejects breaking seal of confession for abusers

The president of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference is the latest of the country's senior clerics to push back against legislation to lift the seal of confession for child sexual abuse.

Bangladesh says once-submerged island ready for Rohingya

An island in Bangladesh that was regularly submerged during monsoon seasons is ready to house 100,000 Rohingya refugees, but no date has been announced to begin relocating people from crowded and squalid camps on the country's border with Myanmar, officials said Jan. 16.

Update: Knights, N.Y. Archdiocese and others providing aid to quake victims

IMAGE: CNS photo/Marco Bello, Reuters


PONCE, Puerto Rico (CNS) -- Jose Lebron-Sanabria, a Knight of Columbus and a general insurance agent for the fraternal organization, is coordinating assistance to Puerto Ricans in the aftermath of devastating earthquakes.

He led the Knights' recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico in September 2017. Among other efforts this time, he is working with the Diocese of Ponce to bring food, water and nutrition drinks, like Glucerna and Ensure, to a religious monastery, home to 25 elderly nuns.

"I have a tool to offer my community and that is the Knights of Columbus," Lebron-Sanabria said in a statement. The island is home to 5,240 Knights and 81 councils.

The series of earthquakes, the highest being a magnitude 6.4, has leveled towns and parish churches on the southern coast of the island. Gov. Wanda Vazquez Garced has declared a state of emergency. Aftershocks continue to rock Puerto Rico.

The Knights of Columbus, based in New Haven, Connecticut, has established an online portal for donations for those affected by the quakes: https://bit.ly/2FN5pG0. Catholic Charities USA has established a Puerto Rico disaster relief fund that can accessed online at https://bit.ly/30hHwQd.

In addition, the Archdiocese of New York is raising funds for Puerto Rico assistance. In a Jan. 10 letter, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan asked priests of the archdiocese to raise funds to help the quake victims through a second collection at Mass.

In his letter, the cardinal said he was reluctant to ask for a second collection in the parishes, but, "given the unique relationship we share with Puerto Rico, I believe our people will respond generously if asked to show their support, as they have always done."

He also noted that the Puerto Rico is still struggling to overcome the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria, making assistance even more critical.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, and the archdiocese itself, have already sent a combined $80,000 to Caritas Puerto Rico, which is helping lead the relief efforts.

On Jan. 16, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, asked parishes in his diocese to take up a special voluntary collection for earthquake victims during weekend Masses Jan. 18 and 19. The diocese will send the money collected for distribution and direct assistance to the Archdiocese of San Juan in Puerto Rico.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to all those affected by this terrible natural disaster," the bishop said in a statement announcing the collection. "We also must remember that Puerto Rico continues to recover from the devastating effects caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017, which affected the infrastructure, health services, education, energy and telecommunications networks on the island."

In Puerto Rico, Jose Vazquez-Padilla, the Knights' state deputy, and other Knights purchased 20 canopies to bring to the now homeless living outside of San Antonio Abad Church in Guanica. Not only were they providing immediate shelter, but more than 300 Knights cooked 1,000 hot meals Jan. 12 for those affected by the earthquakes in Guayanilla.

According to Father Segismundo Cintron, a Knight of Columbus from Don Juan Ponce de Leon Council 1719, 20,000 people from the town of Guanica were living and sleeping outdoors. Every structure in town has been deemed unsafe and uninhabitable in the aftermath of the earthquakes.

In Guayanilla, Immaculate Conception Church lost both of its bell towers and collapsed due to the seismic activity. The nearly 180-year-old church withstood a large earthquake in 1918, but now the only thing left is the parish courtyard, where Father Melvin Diaz Aponte has been celebrating Mass.

The priest, a Knight from Council 1719, told EFE News of his sadness witnessing the pain of the parishioners.

"We want to support them, help them and do what we have to do, as we all should," he said.

He assured the congregation that they will rebuild, according to The New York Times.

Immaculate Conception is one of three churches destroyed by the earthquakes. Knights have brought the churches canopies so the parish priests will be able to continue Masses for their congregations.

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Hearing cites successes, undone work in protecting trafficking victims

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- On the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a Jan. 15 hearing to celebrate the act cited numerous successes -- including the passage of four subsequent bills to further clamp down on trafficking -- but noted work yet to do to keep both children and adults safe from others who would exploit them for sex or cheap labor.

Rep. Christopher Smith, R-New Jersey, co-chair of the House's Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, said few in Congress signed on when he first sponsored the bill. "For most people at that time -- including lawmakers -- the term 'trafficking' applied almost exclusively to drugs and weapons, not human beings," he said.

The act, Smith said, included a number of "sea change" provisions, "including treating as a victim -- and not a perpetrator of a crime -- anyone exploited by a commercial sex act who had not attained the age of 18 and anyone older where there was an element of force, fraud or coercion."

He added, "Thousands of human traffickers have been prosecuted and jailed pursuant to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act including all charges brought against (billionaire financier) Jeffrey Epstein (who committed suicide in his jail cell before trial) and the infamous convictions involving the 'Smallville' actress Allison Mack."

Smith, who chaired the hearing, said the law "is working as intended. In just over two years, the U.S. government has notified foreign governments of the planned travel of 10,541 covered sex offenders to their countries. As of July, 3,681 individuals who were convicted of sex crimes against children were denied entry by these nations."

Reciprocity is another feature of the law, as other countries now notify the U.S. government if a convicted sex offender is planning to travel from their nation to the United States, Smith said.

Limnyuy Konglim, head of the International Catholic Migration Commission's U.S. Liaison Office in Washington, testified that "faith-based actors" play a "critical role" in protecting both communities and individuals. Konglim said her commission's work is "inspired by the holy Bible, as well as by the ongoing teaching and tradition" of the church.

Partnering with local groups, the ICMC has worked since 1999 to "prevent and respond to human trafficking, provide direct assistance to survivors, conduct international advocacy on behalf of those most vulnerable to human trafficking, and train border officials to strengthen identification of trafficked victims and increase prosecution of traffickers," Konglim said. "We continuously and actively engage with our faith-based partners to ensure that the needs of affected communities are identified and appropriate services are sought."

She lauded last year's pastoral orientations on human trafficking issued by the Vatican, as well as Pope Francis' leadership on the issue. "We are facing a global phenomenon that exceeds the competence of any one community or country," the pope said. Therefore, he added, "we need a mobilization comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself."

Trafficking issues, though, persist both in the United States and worldwide.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts, the other co-chair of the Tom Lantos Commission -- named after the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress -- criticized the Chinese government's treatment of ethnic minorities, singling out Tibetans and Uighur Muslims, estimating there are 1 million Uighurs in government-run camps.

Witness Neha Misra, a senior specialist in migration and human trafficking for the Solidarity Center, a project of the AFL-CIO that deals with labor rights around the world, said similar problems exist in Indonesia, although the perpetrators tend to be companies and not government. Still, "items made from their forced labor appear on grocery and retail shelves" in the United States, she said.

Liat Shetret, a senior adviser at cryptocurrency compliance tools provider Elliptic, said traffickers are now turning to "privacy coins" to evade scrutiny. She cautioned, though, against banning privacy coins, saying it would be akin to "shooting ourselves in the foot" as other nations, especially China, are developing their own cryptocurrencies.

Lori Cohen, executive director of ECPAT-USA -- originally known as End Child Prostitution and Trafficking -- testified that while women and girls are most commonly thought of as the victims of human trafficking, the phrase "and boys" also must be added.

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Copyright © 2020 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 [email protected]

School threatens suspension for student's 'Virginity Rocks' sweatshirt

Kansas City, Mo., Jan 16, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- School administrators in Wentzville, Missouri, threatened to suspend a seventh grade student if he returned to school wearing a sweatshirt printed with the slogan “Virginity Rocks.” 

The student, 13-year-old Londyn Piglowski, received the sweatshirt as a birthday gift from a classmate. 

Local news station KMOV4 reported Thursday that Piglowski  was pulled out of social studies class and taken to the principal’s office after wearing the shirt to school. The principal instructed him to either remove the shirt or turn it inside out.

“He said it was a little bit borderline for the school and he told me to take it off or flip it inside or else they would have to take action," said Piglowski to KMOV4.

“I didn’t think this was bad so whenever they told me to take it off I was like, ‘why am I taking this off because it’s a positive message?’”

Piglowski removed the shirt, and his parents say the Wentzville School District threatened to suspend him from class if he showed up to school wearing the shirt again. He says his friend, who owns the same shirt, did not get in trouble when he wore it to school. 

His parents have said their son’s treatment for wearing a shirt that advocated virginity was inconsistent with other school policies.

“They teach sex ed," said Todd Piglowski, Londyn’s father. “How can you teach it but then say hey let’s not have it on a sweatshirt?"

The Wentzville School District has a dress code which prohibits clothing which advocates “immoral, sexual, or violent behavior.” 

The school defended the decision to make Piglowski change clothing. In a statement, the school said that the shirt was “potentially disruptive to the educational environment.” 

“We routinely have conversations with students around attire that may be inappropriate and by and large, our students and families work with our staff to address any concerns,” said the statement. 

Piglowski is not the first student who has been reprimanded over wearing a pro-virginity shirt. 

“Virginity rocks” shirts have been sold for over a decade by various Christian organizations to promote responsible sexual activity.

In 2008, students at Albemarle High School in Virginia reported that they were told by officials to stop wearing the shirts. The students were wearing them in an attempt to promote abstinence. The school district denied that the students were ever told what to wear.

Six years later, a student at Ramay Junior High School in Fayetteville, Arkansas was asked to change out of her “virginity rocks” shirt. The student, Chloe Rubiano, an eighth grader, said it was one of her favorite shirts, and that she had bought it at a Christian festival. 

In Rubiano’s case, the school vice principal said that while she agreed with the message on the shirt, she did not think it was appropriate for school as “it opens up too many doors for conversations."

Piglowski’s shirt came via the website of YouTube personality Danny Duncan, who sells clothing items with the slogan on them. Duncan, who makes skateboard and prank videos, started selling the apparel in 2018, and has said he designed the shirts to be tongue-in-cheek, but also with a positive message.

Since Duncan, who has nearly 3.5 million subscribers, began selling merchandise with the phrase to a more secular audience, increasing numbers of students have reported punishments. 

In 2018, a 17-year-old at Roseburg High School in Oregon was forced to go home and change after he came to school wearing a Virginity Rocks shirt from Duncan’s apparel line. He went home and changed into another Duncan shirt--one that made a sexual innuendo. That shirt was allowed to be worn. 

The district superintendent defended the decision to prohibit the Virginity Rocks shirt, saying that the school “would have made the same decision if the student had been wearing a T-shirt that said sex rocks or smoke more pot.” 

In October 2019, a student at Chetek-Weyerhaeuser High School in Chetek, Wisconsin, was suspended for a day after he came to school wearing one of Duncan’s virginity rocks sweatshirts. 

The student, sophomore Thorn Willsui, was suspended after he refused to take off the sweatshirt or turn it inside out.

Pope speaks to U.S. bishops about pro-life issues, transgender ideology

Protecting human life is the "preeminent" social and political issue, Pope Francis said, and he asked the head of the U.S. bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities to convey his support to the pro-life community.

Francis finishes work on Amazon synod text, publication expected within weeks

Pope Francis has completed work on his highly anticipated response to last year's Vatican gathering of Catholic bishops from the Amazon that may allow for the ordination of married men as Catholic priests in the nine-nation region.