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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.

New poll asks Catholics what they believe about abortion

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2020 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- While the Catholic Church teaches that procuring an abortion is always immoral, a majority of U.S. Catholics do not believe abortion is intrinsically evil and say it should be legal in all or most cases.

According to a RealClear Opinion Research poll sponsored by EWTN and published on Monday, 47% of Catholics in the U.S. believe abortion is “intrinsically evil,” while a 53% hold otherwise.

A majority -- 51%-- say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with 31% saying it should be legal except for late-term cases and 20% saying it should always be legal.

The poll of 1,512 Catholic registered voters was conducted between Jan. 28 - Feb. 4, 2020, and surveyed U.S. Catholic opinion on a range of subjects, including political affiliation, preferred presidential candidate, the morality of abortion, and religious practices.

U.S. Catholics were slightly less likely to support legal abortion than Americans overall. According to 2019 Gallup polling, 25% of Americans think abortion should be “legal under any circumstances,” while 20% of Catholics take that position, according to Monday’s poll.

But while 21% of Americans believe abortion should be “illegal in all” circumstances according to the Gallup poll, only 11% of Catholics think so.

Michael New, a visiting professor of social research and political science at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that religious practice, not self-identification, is the strongest predictor of opinions on abortion.

“What is a much stronger predictor” for Catholics, he said, is “attendance at Mass.”

Among Catholics attending Mass at least weekly, the majority, 55%, answered that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.

More than one-third of weekly Mass-goers, 35%, said abortion should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest, or “to save the mother’s life.” Twenty percent said that abortion should always be illegal. Meanwhile, 20% of weekly Mass-goers said abortion should be legal in all cases, and 22% said it should be legal except for late-term cases.

Among Catholics who say they accept everything the Catholic Church teaches, and that their lives reflect Church teaching, a substantial number 27% said that abortion should be legal in all cases, and 15% said it should be legal except in cases of late-term abortion. A majority said that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.

While they remain divided on the question of the legality of abortion, a far greater number of Catholics in who attend Mass weekly or say they accept everything the Catholic Church teaches also believe abortion to be “intrinsically evil,”

More than seven-in-ten Catholics, 71%, who say they accept all the Church’s teachings believe abortion is intrinsically evil. 66% of “weekly-plus” Mass attendees answered the same way—far more than the 47% of Catholics overall who answered this way.

“The term ‘intrinsically evil’ isn’t used all that much” in society, New told CNA, and thus this term might seem “unnecessarily harsh” to describe abortion if Catholics are not well-versed in the language of moral theology.

Catholics of other demographics did not vary with great significance in their answers on the morality of abortion. Catholics of generations X, Y, and Z were only slightly less likely than Catholics of the Boomer and Silent generations to believe abortion is intrinsically evil.

Hispanic Catholics offered perspectives on abortion similar to Catholics overall; 21% said abortion should be legal in all cases, and 32% said it should be legal except in late-term cases. Only 48% said abortion is intrinsically evil.

Beliefs about abortion vary significantly among political party affiliations. Catholics identifying as Republicans were more likely to say abortion is intrinsically evil, with 63% answering thus. In this subset, only 37% said it should be legal all or most of the time while 61% said it should be illegal all or most of the time.

Two-thirds of Catholics identifying as Democrats said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to just 37% of Republicans. Meanwhile, just 36% of Democratic Catholics said that abortion is intrinsically evil, compared to 63% of Republican Catholics who said it is.

 

New poll shows Catholic divide over 2020 election tracks with deeper rifts

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- As Democratic primary voters choose which candidate will oppose President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, the second in a series of landmark polls shows Catholic voters are sharply divided over politics, and over issues of faith and morality.

A RealClear Opinion Research poll, sponsored by EWTN News, was released Monday showing Catholics equally divided over whether they will vote for or against Trump in November.

“In, kind of, ‘the broad frame,’ the Catholic vote is the American vote,” John Della Volpe, director of polling for RealClearOpinion Research, told EWTN News Nightly on Monday.

A poll of 1,512 Catholic registered voters conducted from Jan. 28 through Feb. 4, 2020, the EWTN News/RealClearOpinion Research poll surveyed Catholics on issues such as their preferred presidential candidate, political party affiliations, and matters of morality.

Monday’s poll is the second in a series of four polls that EWTN News has commissioned for the 2020 election year. The first poll, by RealClear Opinion Research in partnership with EWTN News, surveyed more than 2,000 registered voters--more than half of them identifying as Catholic--from Nov. 15-21.

That poll, published in December, found various Democratic presidential candidates beating President Trump in the Catholic vote in hypothetical head-to-head contests.

Monday’s poll, just nine months before the 2020 presidential election, reveals a polarized Catholic community.

Politically, more Catholics believe the country is on the “wrong track” than “generally headed in the right direction,” 47% to 41%.
 
President Trump receives a 47% net approval rating from Catholics overall, with a 53% net disapproval.
 



Catholics are equally divided as to whether or not they will vote for or against Trump. 46% say they will either certainly vote for the incumbent or that there is a “good chance” they will do so; an equal percentage say they would “never” vote for Trump or that it is “unlikely” they would do so.

The remaining 8% of Catholics who say it is “possible” they would vote for Trump.


 
Those numbers change dramatically within a small subset of Catholics--18% of those surveyed--who say they believe all of what the Church teaches and that these teachings are “reflected in how I live my life.”

With that group, Trump enjoys a 63% net approval rating. Two-thirds, 67%, say they will certainly or likely vote for Trump in November.

Three-quarters say they vote “all the time” in federal elections, compared to 58% of Catholics overall. And a vast majority, 83%, say they will “definitely” vote in the 2020 general election, with another 10% saying they will “probably” vote.

A significant portion, 41%, of the “devout Catholic” subset are Hispanic Catholics.
 
The Catholic vote normally mirrors the general vote in presidential elections, and the responses in the recent poll match Hillary Clinton’s popular vote victory in 2016.
 
For those Catholics who voted in the 2016 presidential elections, 48% say they voted for Clinton, while 46% voted for Donald Trump, and 6% voted for “someone else.”
 
Among Catholics who accept all of the Church’s teachings, however, Trump won them handily in 2016 by a margin of 60% to 34%.

The Catholic divide also reveals itself in hypothetical head-to-head matchups between Trump and various Democratic presidential contenders. Those matchups provide a general sense of where candidates stand in relation to each other, but because they are not adjusted to factor in the electoral college, they are not predictive of election day outcomes.

Among Catholics overall, Trump lost each hypothetical match-up with Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, and Michael Bloomberg. Biden enjoyed the largest margin of victory with Catholics, beating Trump 51% to 40%; Buttigieg saw the narrowest margin of victory with only 44% of the Catholic vote to Trump’s 40%.

 



Within the “devout” subset of Catholics, however, Trump beat each of the five Democratic contenders handily, by anywhere from 16 to 22-point margins. He led current Democratic front-runner Bernie Sanders by a 16-point margin in this group of Catholics, 55% to 39%.

Divides among Catholics are also manifested in their moral positions and religious practices.
 
Overall, only 56% of U.S. Catholics say they accept “all or most” of the Church’s teachings.
 
Just more than one-third of Catholics, 35%, attend Mass weekly, or more frequently.

Other Catholics, 14%, attend Mass “once or twice a month,” or “a few times a year,” 25%. While nearly half of Catholics, 49%, say they pray every day, only 27% pray the rosary weekly or more.
 
More than eight-in-ten, 81%, Catholics believe in Hell, and 78% believe in the devil.
 
Catholics widely support the death penalty, 57% to 29%, despite a 2018 proclamation from Pope Francis that the practice is “inadmissible.” Only 36% of Catholics say they knew that the Church had previously defended the legitimate use of the death penalty and that Pope Francis “has declared it inadmissible.”
 


 

Despite the Church’s condemnation of abortion, euthanasia, and physician-assisted suicide as “intrinsically evil,” a majority of Catholics say those things are not intrinsically evil. Only 47% of Catholics believe that abortion is intrinsically evil, 45% say euthanasia is intrinsically evil, and 41% believe physician-assisted suicide is intrinsically evil.

 



The 18% of Catholics who say they believe all of what the Church teaches are far more likely than other Catholics to attend Mass and pray frequently, and to believe abortion, euthanasia, and physician-assisted suicide are intrinsically evil. 
 
More than seven-in-ten Catholics  among that group attend Mass weekly or more frequently. 71% pray daily, and 62% say they pray the rosary at least once a week.
 
The vast majority, 71%, think that abortion is intrinsically evil, 70% say physician-assisted suicide is intrinsically evil, and 64% believe the same of euthanasia.
 
Catholics who say they believe all of what the Church teaches are slightly more likely than all Catholics to have a graduate degree. They are much more likely to have attended a religious college or university than a secular school for their undergraduate studies.

They are less likely to be white than are Catholics overall, and are more likely to be black or Hispanic. While 37% of Catholics overall identified as Hispanic, 41% of those accepting all the Church’s teachings identified as Hispanic.
 
Although most Catholics who say they accept Church teaching believe abortion is intrinsically evil, that subset is still divided—as are Catholics overall—about the legality of abortion.

More than one-quarter of that group, 27%, think abortion “should always be legal,” and 15% think it should only late-term abortions should be legal. Only 23% think abortion should always be illegal.

Among all Catholics, 20% say it should always be legal and 31% say it should be legal except for late-term abortions. One-third say it should illegal except in cases of rape, incest, or where the life of the mother is at stake, and 11% say it should be illegal.

Catholics overall are also divided on religious freedom questions. 45% say that religious business owners should not be required to serve a same-sex wedding against their beliefs, while 40% say they should have to do so in spite of their beliefs.

Catholics are evenly split on the matter of religious adoption agencies being forced to match children with same-sex couples, with 41% saying they should not be forced to do so and 40% saying they should be forced to do so.

Regarding the employment of persons who do not follow Church teaching, Catholics said that parochial schools should not be required to employ them, 41% to 36%.

However, on the matter of people identifying as a different gender than their biological sex, the majority—55%—said they should have to use the bathroom or locker room of their biological sex at birth, and not their gender identity, while just 30% said they should be able to use the facilities of their gender identity.

Among Catholics accepting of all the Church’s teachings, they were more likely to favor the religious freedom of business owners and adoption agencies on these questions.

More than half, 57%, defended the rights of religious business owners to chooose whether to serve same-sex weddings. 50% said that adoption agencies should not have to match children with same-sex couples, while 46% said that parochial schools should not be required to employ people who do not follow the Church’s teachings.

 

Federal appeals court upholds Trump's 'Protect Life Rule'

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2020 / 03:10 pm (CNA).- A federal appeals court ruled Monday that the Trump administration’s policy adjustments to the Title X program can stay, meaning that Planned Parenthood will continue to lose out on about $60 million in federal funding. 

On Feb. 24, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 7-4 to uphold the “Protect Life Rule,” which changed eligibility requirements for the Title X program. The policy change, first announced in May, 2018, bars clinics that provide abortion services or referrals for abortions from receiving funds from the program.

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

The Protect Life Rule also requires that clinics receiving federal funds be located in a different physical location than an abortion facility by March 2020. 

The rule had been blocked by courts in Washington, Oregon, and California, and judges in Washington and Oregon had issued nationwide injunctions stopping the rule entirely. The Department of Health and Human Services announced in July that they would be delaying enforcement of the rule due to the numerous legal challenges. Planned Parenthood pulled out of the Title X program entirely in August. 

Planned Parenthood’s acting president Alexis McGill Johnson said at the time that the group refused “to let the Trump administration bully us into withholding abortion information from our patients.”

Calling the Protect Life Rule a “gag on health care providers,” Johnson said in a statement that the rule is “a blatant assault on our health and rights, and we will not stand for it.”

In the majority opinion, Judge Sandra Ikuta wrote that the Supreme Court had approved of similar regulations in the 1991 case Rust v. Sullivan, and that the Protect Life Rule was actually “less restrictive in at least one important respect.”

Under the terms of the Protect Life Rule, “a counselor providing nondirective pregnancy counseling ‘may discuss abortion’ so long as ‘the counselor neither refers for, nor encourages, abortion,’” wrote Ikuta. 

Planned Parenthood was critical of the 9th Circuit’s ruling, calling the Protect Life Rule an “unethical, dangerous Title X gag rule” that will result in people losing access to medical care.

“Congress must reverse the gag rule,” said Planned Parenthood on Twitter.

The American Medical Association wrote that they “strongly disagree” with the court’s decision, and that it is “unacceptable for the government to tell physicians what they can and cannot say to patients.”

Supreme Court will hear Philadelphia Catholic foster care case

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court will decide if the city of Philadelphia was correct to terminate its relationship with Catholic Social Services because the agency did not work with same-sex couples in providing foster care. 

The case, Fulton v. Philadelphia, will be heard by the Supreme Court at the opening of the next judicial session in October.

In March 2018, Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CSS) was informed that the city would no longer be referring foster children to the agency for assistance because of its faith-based stance on same-sex marriage. The city then passed a resolution calling for an investigation into religiously-based foster care services, after a same-sex couple claimed they were discriminated against by a different faith-based agency.

For over a century, the city of Philadelphia worked with CSS to facilitate the placement of children in foster care. Catholic Social Services also assisted with home visits, training of foster parents, and placements. 

CSS has not been the subject of any discrimination complaints by same-sex couples, and had never been asked to certify or endorse a same-sex couple. The agency says that it assists all children in need, regardless of a child’s race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, and, according to Becket, a law firm that promotes religious liberty, no couple had ever been turned away from fostering due to the religious beliefs of Catholic Social Services. 

Two foster mothers who worked with CSS, Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch, brought the lawsuit against the city. They are being represented by Becket. Fulton has fostered more than 40 children with the assistance of CSS over a period of more than 25 years. Simms-Busch adopted the children she fostered through the agency. 

“CSS has been a godsend to my family and so many like others. I don’t think I could have gone through this process without an agency that shares my core beliefs and cares for my children accordingly,” said Toni Simms-Busch in a statement released by Becket. 

She said she was “grateful” that the Supreme Court would be considering the case, and hoped the court would “sort out the mess that Philadelphia has created for so many vulnerable foster children.” 

Both Simms-Busch and Fulton said that they chose to work with CSS, instead of one of the more than 20 other foster care agencies in Philadelphia, becausue the Catholic organization matched their personal beliefs and values.

The City of Philadelphia's website says that prospective foster families should look to “find the best fit” when picking an agency. 

“You want to feel confident and comfortable with the agency you choose. This agency will be a big support to you during your resource parent journey,” says the website. 

Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket, said in a statement that she was “relieved” that the Supreme Court will consider the case, especially in the light of growing numbers of foster care cases in many states. 

“Over the last few years, agencies have been closing their doors across the country, all the while children are pouring into the system,” said Windham. “We are confident that the Court will realize that the best solution is the one that has worked in Philadelphia for a century--all hands on deck for foster kids.” 

Around the same time that the city severed its relationship with Catholic Social Services, Philadelphia issued a plea for more families to sign up to take in children in need due to a shortage of homes. 

Before the relationship ended, CSS served about 120 foster children in 100 foster homes. In 2017, the charity says it helped more than 2,200 children in the Philadelphia area.

Fasting and Abstinence at Lent: A CNA Explainer

Denver, Colo., Feb 24, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- Most Catholics, even those who don’t often go to Mass, know that Lent is a time for Friday Fish Fries and “giving something up.” But many Catholics wonder what exactly the Church requires during Lent, and why.

Here are a few points that might help you have a great Lent this year:

What is Lent?

At the beginning of his public life, Jesus was baptized by his cousin John the Baptist in the Jordan River. John was a prophet and a preacher, and he urged people to be baptized as a sign of their repentance from sin.

After Jesus was baptized, according to the Gospel of Matthew, the Holy Spirit descended upon him “like a dove,” and a voice from heaven said “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

People were amazed, but Jesus immediately went away by himself into the desert. There he fasted and prayed, and while he was there, Satan appeared to him three times, tempting him.

Jesus stayed in the desert for 40 days. When he left the desert, he began calling his disciples and apostles, as the mission that led to his crucifixion had begun.

The Church says that Lent is a 40-day period of unity with “the mystery of Jesus in the desert.”

By sacrificing small things, as well as fasting, praying, and giving to charity, Catholics are invited to experience a period of prayer like the one Jesus experienced, and to prepare themselves to resist Satan’s temptation, and fulfill the mission God has given the Church.

Lent comes before Easter, and is a preparation for that feast, which is one of the most important in the Church’s life.

Cool. So, I can’t eat meat then?

During the Fridays of Lent, Roman Catholics are to abstain from meat, in union with the fasting of Jesus, and in memory of Christ’s death on a Friday. Fish is not considered meat for these purposes, nor are some other kinds of aquatic creatures in certain places- alligator is ok in Louisiana, and, curiously, muskrat is allowed in some parts of Michigan!

Generally speaking, products derived from animals, like broth or gelatin, are not considered to violate the rule of abstinence- this is because the point is to make a spiritual sacrifice in union with Christ, not to become consumed with parsing ingredient lists for animal byproducts.

The point, really, is for the Fridays of Lent to be days of simplicity and even a bit of hunger- while seafood is allowed, a butter-soaked lobster probably misses that point.

All Catholics age 14 and older are expected to abstain from meat, although those who can’t do so for health reasons, along with pregnant and nursing women, are obviously exempted.

I have heard the Fridays of Lent referred to as “days of abstinence.” Usually when the Church talks about abstinence…

This is a surprisingly common question. When the Church talks about abstinence in this context, she is referring to abstention from eating meat.

What about fasting? When do I fast? And what do I do?

The two required days of fasting during Lent are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. These are also days of abstinence. All Roman Catholics who are 18 but not yet 59 are required to both fast and abstain from meat on those days.

In 1966, Pope St. Paul VI said that the Church’s “law of fasting allows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food in the morning and evening.” This is often taken to mean that the most Catholics should eat on a day of fasting is one normal sized meal--with no meat--and two smaller snacks.

Those who wish for a more intense fast are not prohibited from more fasting, but this is generally a good idea to discuss with a spiritual director, confessor, or pastor.

Wait-- so I’m 60, and my grandson is 17. Does that mean we don’t have to fast?

That’s correct. You are not required by canon law to fast- though you are still bound by the law of abstinence. This means that whether to fast should be a matter for your discernment, perhaps with some guidance from your pastor or confessor.

What about candy? Should I give that up? What’s that about anyway? I don’t even like candy.

I like candy. But here a few thoughts on what to do for a fruitful Lent:

The season of Lent emphasizes three things: prayer, fasting, almsgiving. Prayer means prayer, that's pretty simple. Almsgiving refers to acts of charity or generosity. And fasting refers to going without something, especially something on which we’ve become dependent, something we think we can’t live without, or something that distracts us from God.

Actually, these three themes are related directly to the three temptations Christ faced in the desert, and you can read about that here.  

But for a fruitful Lent, it is helpful to decide on one practice for each of those themes. To find some practice of prayer you can add to your day. To decide on some act of charity or work of mercy you’ll take up. And to decide what you can fast from- it might be food, like candy, or it might be your phone, or music and news on the car radio, or soda.

The key is to choose something that you will sustain the whole of Lent, and something that does not gravely disrupt your family life or the people around you. If you drive miles to work, don’t give up driving. If you take care of young children, don’t commit to all-night prayer vigils, at least not every night.

Ideally, the practices of prayer we commit to will become incorporated into our regular lives, and our sacrifices and almsgiving might become something we continue to do as well.

There is a story about Dorothy Day, who used to give up cigarettes each year, but who would annually become so grumpy that the members of her community would beg her to take them back up again. Think about the people you live with, and work with, as you decide on your Lenten practices-- If you work in this office, don’t give up showering, please.

But think also about prayer. Eventually Dorothy Day decided that instead of giving up cigarettes for Lent, she would start praying daily, “Dear God, help me stop smoking.” She prayed it faithfully for years, though she continued to smoke. One day, she realized she didn’t want to smoke. She never picked up a cigarette again.

Prayer should be the central focus of our Lent. Without prayer, Lent will be a kind of endurance test for us. A test of how strong we are, or how much willpower we have. But Lent isn’t really about that. Lent is about how much we can turn to God the Father, through Jesus, and hand over our lives to him. That should be the center of our Lenten discipline.

So, no candy then?

Maybe on Sundays. Sunday is weekly our celebration of Christ’s resurrection, and some Catholics decide to put aside their Lenten disciplines, in order to celebrate Christ. There are no rules about this; it’s a matter of your individual conscience. If keeping Lenten practices on Sunday helps you to focus on Christ, keep them. If celebrating Sunday with candy helps you to focus on Christ, that’s ok too.

Have a blessed Lent!

This story was originally published March 5, 2019.

Catholic uni reform triggered California abortion mandate that violated federal law

Los Angeles, Calif., Feb 23, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A California rule to require abortion coverage in health care plans now faces scrutiny from federal officials who say it violates the law. The controversial rule was a reaction to two Jesuit universities’ removal of abortion coverage, prompting Planned Parenthood and others to lobby state officials to block the effort.

“In 2013, Loyola Marymount University and Santa Clara University, two religiously affiliated universities in California, implemented changes to their employee health care plans to no longer provide elective abortion coverage,” the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights said in its Jan. 24 notice of violation to the State of California.

“Abortion providers and advocacy groups, including Planned Parenthood, learned of this development and pressured (California’s Department of Managed Health Care) to not only reverse its decision to allow the coverage changes, but also to make elective abortion coverage mandatory for all health care plans falling under (the department’s) jurisdiction,” the notice continued.

The 2014 California rules mandating abortion in health care plans were a response to a “pressure campaign,” the notice said. The HHS office ruled that these rules violated the Weldon Amendment, which bars federal funds to state or local governments if they discriminate against healthcare entities, including health insurance plans, that decline to pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.

James G. Hanink, a philosophy professor who taught at Loyola Marymount University from 1976 to 2015, had discovered the abortion coverage in his employee health plan in the summer of 2013. Soon after, the university planned to drop the coverage.

“When LMU announced that it had dropped the abortion coverage, I thought that the school could still, if the light was shining on it, act on principle,” Hanink told CNA Feb. 20.

The health plan changes to remove abortion coverage initially won approval from state officials. However, the changes prompted significant protests from some faculty as well as lobbying from abortion advocates. After California mandated abortion coverage in health plans, the universities complied—despite Catholic teaching against cooperation with the provision of abortion.

Hanink lamented the continued coverage of abortion in Loyola Marymount University’s health plan. He said the university should again work to drop abortion coverage if federal officials bring an end to California’s ban on abortion-free health care plans.

“LMU should act in favor of human rights. Doing so, moreover, could help rebuild the badly tarnished Jesuit legacy,” said Hanink, whose scholarly focuses include the philosophical aspects of abortion, the personhood of the unborn human being, and the work of Jacques Maritain.

Hanink backed the Weldon Amendment action.

“Insofar as the action is effective, I strongly support it,” he told CNA. “I doubt, though, that it will be effective. State leadership is locked into pro-abortion policies. Litigation will be endless.”

However, Hanink was also sceptical towards his former employer’s actions.

“What LMU does has largely been a matter of public relations. In Southern California ‘the public’ is largely secular. It sees abortion coverage as a positive thing. LMU pretty much caves in.”

CNA contacted Loyola Marymount University and Santa Clara University for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.

Patrick J. Reilly, president of the Virginia-based Cardinal Newman Society, said the Weldon Amendment action against California was “very encouraging.”

“The California mandate was a brazen violation in need of enforcement, but pro-abortion politics got in the way. Without the Trump administration’s leadership on this, we would have never seen action,” said Reilly, whose organization focuses on strengthening Catholic fidelity in education.

“Abortion is not healthcare, and it certainly has no place in truly Catholic education,” he told CNA Feb. 21. “This is a mandate that no Catholic college should have obeyed. They should have fought the mandate all the way to the Supreme Court. But certainly, if the mandate is repealed, no faithful Catholic college should provide abortion coverage voluntarily.”

In 2013, Hanink told the National Catholic Register he thought “bureaucratic incompetence” was behind the inclusion of abortion coverage. The university had dropped the coverage in 1988 but it somehow returned to the health plan before 2013.

When California officials in 2014 required health plans to cover abortions, their mandate was so broad it did not exempt churches and religious communities.

In last month’s notice, federal authorities sided with complaints from two groups, Skyline Wesleyan Church of La Mesa and the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit. Both had objected to being forced to cover abortions.

The HHS Office of Civil Rights estimated that California’s abortion coverage mandate wrongly affected at least 35 employer groups serving over 28,000 enrollees, including 13 groups that met California’s definition of “religious employer.” It gave the state of California 30 days to comply with federal law, or face limits on federal HHS funds.

Some California authorities, like Gov. Gavin Newsom, voiced defiance.

“Despite a federal opinion four years ago confirming California’s compliance with the Weldon Amendment, the Trump Administration would rather rile up its base to score cheap political points and risk access to care for millions than do what’s right,” he said. “California will continue to protect a woman’s right to choose, and we won’t back down from defending reproductive freedom for everybody — full stop.”

In June 2016, Obama Administration officials rejected the California Catholic Conference’s federal complaint against the mandate. The HHS Office for Civil Rights said it found no violation of the Weldon Amendment.

At that time, leaders with 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.

The effort to remove abortion coverage from university health plans sparked division at the Catholic universities, the National Catholic Register reported in September 2013. A group of faculty members wrote to then-president David Burcham and then-chair of the board of trustees Kathleen Aikenhead objecting to the removal.

“LMU can either be a great American Catholic university in the Jesuit and Marymount traditions or it can be an institution that demands obedience to and conformity with Catholic doctrine; it cannot be both,” they said.

In 2013 the Santa Clara University chapter of the American Association of University Professors responded to the decision to drop abortion coverage, alleging that the decision “caused widespread concern on campus about the limitation of women's rights and the failure to follow established governance procedure.”

“The campus chapter was active in facilitating a campus response to the decision, including coordinating a special meeting of the Faculty Senate to consider a course of action,” the chapter’s website said.

Santa Clara University faculty voiced their rejection of the changes to the health care plan by a vote of 215 to 89 in December 2013, the California Lawyer magazine reported. Before the policy was revised in 2013, Santa Clara’s abortion coverage also applied to dependents of faculty and staff.

Reilly lamented the mindset among some faculty at Catholic schools.

“Bad actors within Jesuit universities are as much to blame for the California mandate as are state legislators, and Catholic families should take note of that when choosing a college,” he charged. “I wouldn’t want my tuition money paying for someone’s abortion coverage.”

“Pray for the conversion of hearts at these universities,” he told CNA. “Sadly, people who embrace gender ideology and the contraceptive mentality have a lock on the leadership of many large Catholic universities, where Catholic identity has steadily declined.”

Christopher Kaczor, a philosophy professor at Loyola Marymount, told CNA in August 2014 that California government officials’ scrutiny of abortion coverage in health plans was hindering Catholic colleges’ ability to be consistently Catholic.

“A Catholic university, if it is to retain its identity, must be distinctive in its fidelity to fundamental truths,” he said. Kaczor cited the Society of Jesus’ 2003 document “Standing for the Unborn,” saying that “the defense of human life prior to birth is a justice issue.”

Reilly saw some promise in the appointment of federal judges who tend to favor religious freedom.

“The political threat to Catholic education is enormous today, but our short-term hope rests with the courts, and our long-term hope depends on Catholic education itself, to form a new generation of virtuous leaders who will change the culture,” he said.

Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the California Catholic Conference, told CNA Feb. 18 that the Missionary Guadalupanas sisters and the Catholic conference do not aim to start or continue a “culture war” or to revoke California’s federal funding. Rather, they just want their beliefs respected and a return to policy that allows abortion-free health plans.

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

After LGBT teachers resign, Seattle archbishop says teachers must be Gospel witnesses

Seattle, Wash., Feb 21, 2020 / 06:04 pm (CNA).- After students at a Catholic high school in Washington state staged protests in support of two teachers who resigned their posts in order to civilly marry their same-sex partners, the Archbishop of Seattle said that teachers in Catholic schools must live Catholic doctrine.

“Pastors and church leaders need to be clear about the church’s teaching, while at the same time refraining from making judgments, taking into consideration the complexity of people’s lived situations. We are always called to compassion as we journey with our people. The end goal of walking together in faith is to help people embrace the fullness of the Gospel message and integrate the faith more deeply into their lives,” Archbishop Paul Etienne of Seattle said in a statement Feb. 19.

“Those who teach in our schools are required to uphold our teaching in the classroom and to model it in their personal lives. We recognize and support the right of each individual to make choices. We also understand that some choices have particular consequences for those who represent the church in an official capacity,” the archbishop added.

The statement came after Michelle Beattie and Paul Danforth of Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien, Washington voluntarily resigned last week, according to school officials, although the teachers later retained an attorney. They have not opened legal action against the school, and have not yet spoken out publicly, but their attorney has said the teachers expected the Archdiocese of Seattle to terminate the employment.

A statement from the school last week praised the teachers as "highly capable, gifted and qualified teachers who have served our community with dedication and humility. Their loss will be felt deeply by their students and the entire community. We are thankful to Paul and Michelle for their years of service."

Some students at the high school staged a sit-in and a walkout on Feb. 18 in support of the teachers.  Students, as well as parents and alumni of the school, also staged a protest outside the diocesan chancery in Seattle.

Michael Prato, president of Kennedy Catholic, said in a statement that the two teachers approached him in November 2019 to share their desire to civilly marry their same-sex partners. 

The teachers had voluntarily signed a covenant agreement to “live and model the Catholic faith in accord with Church teaching,” Prato said. In light of the agreement they signed, both chose to resign, he said.

“I hired these teachers and I care about them very much. I still do,” Prato said.

“I wanted to make sure they felt supported, and so we discussed several options including the possibility of finishing out the school year.”

He said he gave the teachers the option to select the date they wanted to resign, and they indicated they wished to resign prior to the winter break in February. He said they also worked out a transition plan and financial package for the teachers.

In the United States, various Catholic schools and dioceses have faced lawsuits from employees who have been fired after contracting civil same-sex marriages in violation of the diocesan or school policy.

The Catholic Church teaches that while homosexual inclinations are not sinful, homosexual acts “are contrary to the natural law...under no circumstances can they be approved.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes on to say that people with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” should be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

However, in 2003, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that “in those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty.”

“One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection,” the CDF added.

 

 

 

 

Fla. bishops laud parental consent for abortion bill as it goes to governor

Tallahassee, Fla., Feb 21, 2020 / 03:21 pm (CNA).- The Florida bishops applauded Thursday the passage through both houses of the state legislature of a bill requiring parental consent for minors seeking to procure abortion. The governor has said he intends to sign the bill.

The Florida House of Representatives passed SB 404 by a 75-43 vote Feb. 20. It had cleared the Senate by a 23-17 vote earlier this month.

“We praise our state’s legislative leaders for advancing this pro-life legislation, especially bill sponsors, Senator Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) and Representative Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach), who took on the difficult task of guiding it through the committee process and onto the floor of the Senate and House,” the Florida bishops' conference said Feb. 20.

“We also commend the Democratic lawmakers who courageously crossed party lines and voted to ensure vital protections for parents and their children.”

The bill would require minors to received notarized approval from a parent or guardian, or to get consent from a judge after a hearing, before procuring an abortion.

Under the bill, minors seeking an abortion will be required to receive notarized approval from at least one parent, guardian, or from a judge. Doctors who perform abortions without the parental consent of a girl under 18 would face up to five years in prison for a third-degree felony.

The permission requirement would not apply in cases of “medical emergencies” when there is not sufficient time to obtain written permission from a parent.

The bishops noted that “Parental consent is required prior to a minor's medical treatment in most every instance, this includes simple medical interventions such as taking an aspirin or getting one’s ears pierced. This legislation is a common-sense measure that holds abortion to the same consent requirements as most every other medical decision involving a child.”

Ingrid Delgado, associate director for social concerns and respect life for the Florida bishops' conference, commented that “standards that relate to children's health care should apply especially in the context of abortion, which critically affects the lives of two children.”

Rep. James Bush, D-Miami, voted for the measure, calling it “a good bill for our children,” the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, a sponsor of the measure, said: “It is indisputable that abortion ends a life, and the decision to end a life is permanent and life-altering not only for the baby, but for the girl, the father and the family.”

Those opposed to the bill said it will create more difficulties for young girls who are already in a desperate situation, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, said that “we don't live in a Utopia where parents always love and advise their children and young girls never get pregnant.”

The Florida legislature first enacted a parental consent law in 1979, but the state Supreme Court struck it down a decade later, saying it violated privacy rights.

Governor Ron DeSantis has said he thinks parental consent “deserves to be reconsidered” at the court, adding that parents “want to be involved with what’s going on with their kids.”

The Florida House passed a similar bill last year, but it failed to make it out of Senate committees for full debate.

Existing Florida law requires a minor seeking to procure abortion to give notice to their parent, or a judge.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, 1,398 minors, 193 of whom notified a judge rather than her parents, procured abortion in the state in 2018.

Twenty-six states require parental consent for a minor's abortion.