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How the Knights of Columbus save lives: 1,000 ultrasound machine donations

Arlington, Va., Jan 15, 2019 / 03:31 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A program to donate ultrasound machines to U.S. pregnancy centers has passed the 1,000 mark, thanks to the charitable work of the Knights of Columbus and its members.

“Building a culture of life requires all of us to strive for the just treatment of innocent unborn children and to accompany with compassionate concern women facing crisis pregnancies,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus said in the January 2019 issue of Columbia magazine, which is published by the charitable organization.

“This program is saving hundreds of thousands of lives.”

The 1,000th machine was donated to the Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic in Manassas, which has already expanded since its December 2017 opening.

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, and officials of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington joined local Knights of Columbus members at the Jan. 14 celebration marking the milestone.

The ultrasound program has put a Knights-sponsored ultrasound machine in every U.S. state and in Puerto Rico, Brazil, Canada, Jamaica, and Peru, as well as places in Africa.

Anderson said the 1,000th machine marked “a historic milestone,” adding, “there are still many more milestones ahead of us in the lives of thousands of vulnerable unborn children.”

“Our Ultrasound Initiative must continue to expand into every community where it is needed,” he said.

One woman who benefitted from the program is Lauren, from South Bend, Ind.

She told Columbia magazine that when she was pregnant two years ago she wasn’t sure what decision she should make and didn’t know what to expect from an ultrasound procedure. She went to Women’s Care Center in South Bend, which had received an ultrasound machine through the program.

“The only way I can describe it is that it changed me in the blink of an eye,” Lauren said. “The moment I saw my child on the big screen in front of me, I knew I was going to be a mom. It did not matter what I had thought before — all that mattered was loving my child and caring about her safety. I saw her little feet and little arms. I heard her heartbeat as I watched her in front of me. I still have the pictures of the ultrasound that were given to me that day — the day that changed my life forever.”

Lauren is still attending college and working “to make a great life for my daughter.” She said pregnant women in similar circumstances should know “Do not be afraid to ask for help. You are never alone.”

The ultrasound program was launched in 2009 with the goal of donating 1,000 machines. State or local knights’ councils raise funds half of the ultrasound machine expenses, which is matched from the Supreme Council’s Culture of Life Fund. On average, the machines cost about $30,000 each.

According to program details on the Knights of Columbus website, councils must first identify qualified pregnancy centers and have these centers evaluated by the local diocese’s Culture of Life director.

Evaluation criteria include whether the proposed beneficiary has the staffing, finances and other resources to justify the purchase of an ultrasound; whether the center’s location, client load and hours of operation justifies the “major expenditure,” ongoing costs, and staffing commitments; whether the center’s practices, policies and history are consistent with Catholic ethics; and whether the pregnancy center is welcoming of Catholics as employees, volunteers and clients.

The Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic opened in December 2017 with support from the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington.

It aims to provide free medical care to uninsured or underinsured adults living in northern Virginia. Many of its patients are recently arrived immigrants. Its new expansion has rooms for prenatal care, offices for adoption services, space for the Gabriel Project service for pregnant mothers in need, and space for the Project Rachael ministry to post-abortive women, the Arlington Catholic Herald reports.

The clinic is presently open 24 to 36 hours per week for no-cost patient care. It averages 65-70 patients a week and 209 registered volunteers, including five primary care physicians, four nurse practitioners, two cardiologists, an obstetrician, a pulmonologist, an orthopedic doctor, a chiropractor, and a pharmacist. The clinic also gives referrals for other services.

Bishop Burbidge blessed the ultrasound machine, the new expansion, and those gathered at the clinic on Monday.

“We want to do everything we can to promote the gospel of life, but ultimately it’s entrusting our work and our intentions to the Lord,” he said, according to the Arlington Catholic Herald. “It’s ultimately his work and upon his grace that we must depend.”

The clinic is located in a medical office formerly occupied by one of the area’s largest abortion clinics, Amethyst Health Center for Women, which closed in September 2015 when its owner retired.

The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization founded in 1882 by Connecticut priest Ven. Michael J. McGivney, have close to 2 million members worldwide.

It recently made the news when two Democratic U.S. senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned a Catholic judicial nominee about his membership in the group, citing its stands against abortion and same-sex marriage. They asked whether membership could prevent judges from serving “fairly and impartially.” The questioning drew strong objections from many Catholics and other public figures.

AG nominee says Catholic faith not an issue

Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general William Barr said Tuesday that he does not think his Catholic faith is an impediment to leading the Department of Justice.

 

Barr, a practicing Catholic and a member of the Knights of Columbus, was asked by Sen. Joe Kennedy (R-LA) if he were Catholic and what this meant.

 

“You’re a Roman Catholic, are you not?” asked Kennedy. After Barr confirmed that he was, Kennedy then asked him if he thought that this “disqualified” him from having a position in the U.S. government.

 

“Some of my colleagues think it might,” Kennedy added. Barr replied that if he were the attorney general, he would “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

 

Kennedy’s question appeared to reference the recent controversy that erupted following a CNA report that Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) questioned judicial nominee Brian Buescher about his membership in the Knights of Columbus, which they described as an organization with “extreme views” that are “opposed to marriage equality” and “women’s reproductive rights.”

 

If confirmed, Barr will replace Matthew Whitaker, who has served in the role on an acting basis since the resignation of Jeff Sessions in early November.

 

Barr previously held the post of attorney general under President George H.W. Bush from November of 1991 until January 20, 1993. Prior to that, he served as deputy attorney general and assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel.

 

After leaving the White House in 1993, Barr worked in private practice. Most recently, he was with the firm Kirkland & Ellis. A practicing Catholic, he a graduate of Columbia University and George Washington University law school.

 

The Knights of Columbus are a Catholic fraternal organization with approximately 2 million members. Last year they carried out more than 75 million hours of volunteer work and raised more than $185 million for charitable purposes. As a Catholic organization, it holds views that are in line with Church teaching.

 

Buescher said that he would not be leaving the Knights of Columbus if he were to be confirmed to the district court, and that he joined the organization because of its charitable work. He said that it was the “role and obligation” of a judge to “apply the law without regard to any personal beliefs regarding the law.”

 

At least six other judicial nominees have faced scrutiny from Democratic senators over their Christian faith or membership in the Knights of Columbus since President Donald Trump took office. Last May, District Judge Peter J. Phipps was asked by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) during his confirmation hearing about his membership in the Knights of Columbus, and if he stood by the group’s pro-life mission.

 

Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who now sits on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, was questioned about her Catholic faith by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

 

“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” said Feinstein, adding, “And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.”

 

Feinstein also pressed Judge Michael Scudder, who is now on the Seventh Circuit Court, if he had been involved through his local parish in the creation of a home for women facing crisis pregnancies. Scudder said he did not know if the home had ever even been built.

 

Last November, Feinstein asked Third Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Paul Matey about his involvement in the Knights of Columbus, and if he intended on either leaving the organization or recusing himself from any case if the Knights had taken a position.

 

Similar to Buescher, Matey said that his involvement in the Knights was limited to “participation in charitable and community events in local parishes,” and that he was not involved in any policy work with the organization.  

Pro-choice and pro-life majorities want more abortion restrictions, poll shows

Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2019 / 01:15 pm (CNA).- A new poll shows that while most Americans identify themselves as pro-choice, the vast majority of the same group support increased restrictions on abortion.

 

The poll found that overwhelming majorities of people, even those who identify as “pro-choice” in theory, support major restrictions on abortion. The poll also found only minority support for late term abortion.

 

The poll, conducted by Marist Poll and sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, surveyed 1,066 American adults between January 8th and 10th.

 

While the headline number showing a majority of Americans calling themselves pro-choice would suggest a similar number would oppose abortion restrictions, they do not tell the whole story, Marist Poll Director Barbara Carvalho and Knights of Columbus Vice President Andrew Walther explained in a call with members of the media.

 

“We actually have an enormous amount of support [for restricting abortion] from Americans of all political stripes,” said Walther.

 

“We’re not really looking at a lot of people at the extremes, as we often hear in the debate in Washington,” said Carvalho. “But we actually see one where there is a good deal of common ground on a whole host of policy positions.”

 

Only 25 percent of those who identified themselves as pro-choice said they believed abortion should be available to a woman at any time during a pregnancy, the current law in the United States. Conversely, 42 percent of pro-choice respondents said that they believed abortion should only be legal during the first trimester of pregnancy.

 

In total, 55 percent of those surveyed said they identified as pro-choice, compared to 38 percent who claimed to be pro-life, and seven percent who were unsure.

 

When further broken down by political parties, 20 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of Republicans, and 38 percent of independents said they were pro-life; 75 percent of Democrats, 25 percent of Republicans, and 55 percent were pro-choice.

 

Among those who identify as pro-life, 24 percent said that abortion should never be legal, and another 22 percent said that it should be legal only to save the life of the mother.

 

Slightly more than four out of 10 people who called themselves pro-life said that abortion should be legal only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.

 

When specifically asked if abortion should be banned after 20 weeks gestation, when fetuses are capable of feeling pain, nearly 60 percent of respondents said they would support or strongly support a ban. Slightly under one third of respondents said they would be opposed or strongly opposed to a ban.

 

For the first time, Marist surveyed what respondents would like to see the Supreme Court do if Roe v. Wade were to be reconsidered.

 

Three out of 10 respondents said that they would like to see the Supreme Court hold abortion to be legal without restriction, as Roe decided.

 

Nearly half of respondents--49 percent--said they would like the Supreme Court to allow states to make certain restrictions, similar to the legal framework pre-Roe.

 

Only 16 percent said that they would like the Supreme Court to make abortion illegal in all circumstances.

 

The poll did show that Americans largely disagree with the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for abortion, both in the United States and abroad.

 

Three out of four people surveyed said that they were opposed or strongly opposed to the use of public money to pay for abortion abroad, 54 percent said they were opposed to tax dollars being used to pay for abortion at all.

 

In the United States, the Mexico City Policy prevents the use of U.S. funds from being given to organizations that provide or promote abortion abroad, and the Hyde Amendment prevents the use of taxpayer money from being spent on abortions domestically.

 

The Democratic Party has made the repeal of the Hyde Amendment and overturning the Mexico City Policy part of its party platform.

 

This is the 11th year Marist and the Knights of Columbus have polled abortion and pro-life attitudes in the United States.

Lori announces whistleblower system for allegations against Baltimore bishops

Baltimore, Md., Jan 15, 2019 / 01:13 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Baltimore introduced Tuesday a third-party system for reporting allegations of abuse or misconduct against its archbishop and other bishops serving in the archdiocese.

“I pray this step and our continued commitment to child protection will send a clear message to the faithful of this local Church that abuse of any kind will not be tolerated and that those in positions of authority, namely bishops, will be held accountable for keeping the Church safe, especially for children and others who may be vulnerable,” Baltimore’s Archbishop William Lori told reporters Jan. 15.

“In this we hope to begin rebuilding the confidence of trust of those we serve, and the wider community.”

Lori is one of four bishops active in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Bishops Adam Parker and Mark Brennan are auxiliary bishops of the archdiocese, and Bishop William Madden is a retired auxiliary bishop who is still active in the archdiocese, an archdiocesan spokesman told CNA.

The third-party reporting system is administered by Ethics Point, which also facilitates third-party whistleblower reporting in the Archdiocese of Baltimore for fraud, theft, workplace and school safety and harassment issues, and allegations of sexual misconduct by diocesan priests, deacons, employees, or volunteers.

Complaints made through the Ethics Point systems about bishops will be routed to Baltimore’s diocesan review board, a lay led panel that will be charged with reporting allegation to civil authorities and the apostolic nuncio, the pope’s diplomatic and administrative representative to the U.S.

The system does not facilitate complaints against bishops other than those active in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Lori told reporters that in 2002, when the U.S. bishops’ conference developed policies to address child sexual abuse by priests or deacons, “the nation’s bishops drew a line in the sand by establishing clear and consistent standards of accountability and transparency for priests, deacons and others working in the Church. Those standards are working and have contributed to increased scrutiny and accountability.

“Now it is time for the Church to establish similar consistent standards for bishops. Therefore, I have asked that the lay Independent Review Board serve as the direct recipient for any allegations of abuse or misconduct by a bishop serving in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.”

The archbishop said he had also asked the diocesan review to issue an annual report on the the archdiocese has handled abuse allegations.

“There must be a ‘zero tolerance’ policy and approach for dealing with any priest, bishop, employee or volunteer who violates their office and harms in any way a young person or adult.  Moreover, the high-profile case of former Cardinal McCarrick makes clear that utmost accountability must be required of all, regardless of rank,” Lori said.

The announcement of the third-party reporting system comes one month before the Vatican will hold a summit on the sexual abuse of minors for bishops’ conference leaders from around the world. That meeting is not expected to produce specific policies on sexual abuse, but is expected to charge bishops to create policy on the national level.

The announcement comes two months after the U.S. bishops’ conference was stopped by the Vatican from voting on proposals that would have created a nationalized third-party whistleblower system for reporting allegations against bishops, and a lay-led independent commission for investigating those allegations. The Vatican said it had not had sufficient time to review the proposals ahead of the scheduled vote.

The Baltimore policy resembles some aspects of those proposed policies, although the diocesan review board would apparently not be charged with investigation allegations independently, and would instead forward them directly to Church authorities. The possibility of lay investigations of bishops has raised concern among some Catholics, who note that only the pope is empowered to investigate bishops regarding potential canonical offenses.

Lori, 67, has led the Archdiocese of Baltimore since 2012. In September 2018, the archbishop was also assigned to lead temporarily the neighboring Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, and to investigate allegations of “sexual harassment of adults” against Bishop Michael Bransfield, who resigned from the diocese at that time.

The archbishop has for months called for lay involvement in addressing the Church’s sexual abuse crisis.

In August, he said that the anger, disillusion, or frustration of Catholics over the sexual abuse crisis “must be met with more than prayers and promises. They must also be met with action by any and all with responsibility for ensuring the safety of children and others in our care."

Laity must be a part of the solution to the Church’s sexual abuse crisis, he said, “for no longer can we expect the faithful to entrust this to the hierarchy, alone."

 

 

Should Catholic health plans cover transgender surgeries? Settlement raises questions

Seattle, Wash., Jan 15, 2019 / 12:03 am (CNA).- A Catholic healthcare network has settled an ACLU lawsuit over transgender surgeries, saying that it has covered these procedures in its employee medical plan since January 2017.

Plaintiffs in the suit said they want Catholic employers to cover minors’ transition surgeries as well, though one leading Catholic ethicist says Catholic institutions can’t ethically provide these health plan options for anyone, adults or minors.

“People who suffer from gender dysphoria exhibit great anguish. We can acknowledge this and should accompany them on a personal level and try to offer effective interventions,” John F. Brehany, director of institutional relations at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA.

“However, just because someone requests some intervention doesn't mean it should be provided. Sometimes people who are depressed request assistance in suicide, but no one, including Catholics, should provide such assistance.”

Brehany said such coverage falls short on Catholic ethical grounds and the medical evidence for the benefits of these surgeries is lacking.

“There is no clear and compelling evidence that gender transitioning interventions ‘cure’ or resolve the anguish of people suffering extreme distress from gender dysphoria. In fact, there is some evidence that those who complete sex reassignment surgery are more likely to commit suicide than those who do not.”

In October 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington filed a federal lawsuit against PeaceHealth on behalf of an employee claiming it was “discriminatory and illegal” for the medical plan not to cover a mastectomy and chest reconstruction for a 16-year-old child who identifies as transgender.

The ACLU affiliate said the minor, Paxton Enstad, was born female and has “a male gender identity.” A doctor had prescribed the mastectomy and chest reconstruction but the health plan declined to cover it, citing a lack of coverage for “transgender services.”

PeaceHealth and the plaintiffs “reached a mutually agreeable settlement of the litigation,” the ACLU affiliate said Jan. 2.

“We applaud PeaceHealth’s decision to include coverage for transition-related care in their employee medical plan, and hope it will set a good example for other employers to follow suit,” said Lisa Nowlin, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Washington.

The lawsuit charged that not including these services in the medical plan coverage constituted discrimination under the Affordable Care Act and Washington state anti-discrimination law, the Bellingham Herald reports.

“PeaceHealth was telling me my son was undeserving of medical care simply because he’s transgender. It’s heartbreaking. It is not fair,” Cheryl Enstad, the mother of the young patient, said at a press conference after the lawsuit was filed.

From 1996 to 2017, Cheryl was a medical social worker at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, Wash., a coastal city near the Canadian border.

PeaceHealth is based in Vancouver, with over 15,000 employees and 10 medical centers in Oregon, Washington and Alaska. It traces its history to the institution founded in 1890 by the Sisters of St. Joseph. On its website it describes itself as “the legacy of the founding Sisters” that “continues with a spirit of respect, stewardship, collaboration and social justice in fulfilling its mission.”

Its system’s Dec. 21, 2018 announcement described its history of employee health care coverage for transgender care.

“In 2016, prior to the filing of the Enstad lawsuit, PeaceHealth began the process of updating its employee medical plan,” the healthcare network said. “Effective January 1, 2017, PeaceHealth’s employee medical plan was changed to cover medically necessary transgender surgery as determined under Aetna’s Gender Reassignment Surgery policy, a nationally-recognized guideline.”

Brehany said Catholic institutions should not cover such services because “they are often provided based on the mistaken belief that one can and may change his or her outward bodily appearance in a significant manner to match an inner belief about ‘true gender identity’.”

Catholic ethics includes principles like “respect for the body as created” and “the inadmissibility of mutilating or destroying one’s body or parts,” he said.

Brehany’s organization, the National Catholic Bioethics Center, does not provide medical or legal advice, but “ethical discernment” about bioethical issues based on Church teaching and the Catholic moral tradition.

For Cheryl Enstad, the result was “bittersweet” because the policy change did not go far enough.

“Our number one priority in bringing this case was to ensure access to gender-affirming care for transgender people, and we are pleased PeaceHealth changed its policy,” she said. But we hope that PeaceHealth eventually removes the age-related limitation on coverage.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit still objected to the amended policy because Aetna’s gender reassignment coverage does not include mastectomies and chest reconstruction surgery as a treatment for gender dysphoria

Because Paxton is no longer a minor, the lawsuit cannot challenge the amended plan.

The PeaceHealth statement stressed its commitment to “an inclusive healthcare environment for all” and said it “does not discriminate based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other basis prohibited by applicable federal, state, or local law.”

In its over 100 years of service, it said, “we have been dedicated to embracing and celebrating the diversity of our communities, our caregivers and the individuals we are privileged to serve.”

Paxton’s problems reportedly began around puberty, with poor functioning and withdrawal from activities. Attempts to treat depression had little effect, the northwestern U.S. news site Crosscut said.

Paxton claimed to have self-diagnosed gender dysphoria through self-research.

Paxton’s doctor suggested the surgery, which took place in 2016. The family took out a second mortgage and used college fund money, but also paid $11,000 out of pocket for the operation.

Brehany said there is a need for caution in accepting minors’ claims about their identity.

“Minors in particular should be protected from their own immaturity and from advocacy organizations who claim to have their best interests at heart,” he told CNA. “The vast majority of minors resolve doubts about their gender identity by age 18. Interventions, such as puberty blockers, provided early in life make it harder to accept that biological sexual identity and can cause major health and developmental issues, including sterility.”

The ACLU cited standards of care from the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, saying these standards are recognized as authoritative by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

These standards mean “it may be medically necessary for some transgender people to undergo treatment to affirm their gender identity and transition from living as one gender to another.” This treatment may include hormone therapy, surgery and other medical services that “align individuals’ bodies with their gender identities.”

According to Brehany, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health is “comprised significantly of people committed to using the full resources of medicine to support people in their mistaken beliefs.”

“Most secular standard medical societies have gone along because their leadership complies with the demands of activists,” he said. “Their position statements or guidelines often do not represent the beliefs of most of their members.”

The ACLU of Washington is in legal action against another Catholic non-profit hospital network, Providence Health and Services, and its affiliate Swedish Health Services. Providence is the largest healthcare provider in the state.

That lawsuit, filed in December 2017, concerns a 30-year-old law student’s claims that his chest reconstruction surgery was abruptly canceled.

Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a senior attorney with the LGBT legal group Lambda Legal, said that employer plans appear to be changing to include transgender services, many individual hospitals and doctors, especially Catholic ones, decline such services on the grounds of religious exemptions.

“It is a growing problem that we are seeing nationally because of the consolidation of hospitals,” he told Crosscut, noting that most hospitals in Washington state are Catholic-affiliated.

For several decades the national ACLU has been charging that Catholic hospitals wrongly refuse certain medical procedures, like sterilization and abortion, that the legal group says are necessary to ensure reproductive rights.

There is also a growing effort, based out of social change funders and strategists like the New York-based Arcus Foundation and the Massachusetts-based Proteus Fund, to limit religious freedom they consider to be discriminatory and in violation of what they consider to be LGBT or reproductive rights.

 

Analysis: The fall of Cardinal Wuerl

Washington D.C., Jan 14, 2019 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- For the last six months, Cardinal Donald Wuerl has managed to keep his head above water amid dogged and persistent criticism of his leadership. The cardinal managed to draw praise from the pope even while his priests and parishioners called for his ouster from Washington, DC, and he managed to remain in a leadership position in Washington’s archdiocese even amid a growing body of concern about his ability to lead a diocese at all.

 

But this week, Wuerl seems to have reached the end of whatever combination of luck and skill has kept him on his feet.

 

It now looks clear that Wuerl’s mandate to lead, and whatever was left of his legacy as a reformer, are gone. All that is left now is for the pope to announce his successor, and for Wuerl to make his quiet exit from public life.

 

CNA reported last week that in 2004 Wuerl was made aware of an allegation that Archbishop Theodore McCarrick had engaged in inappropriate behavior with seminarians. This was a surprise to some, since Wuerl has denied for months that he had ever heard even rumors about McCarrick’s alleged sexual behavior.

 

Set against last week’s revelation, Wuerl’s seven months of denial appear to undercut completely his decades-long career, which until the events of the last year was marked by a reputation for competence and reliability.

 

After months of repeated and increasingly narrow denials, news that Wuerl forwarded 14 years ago a direct accusation against McCarrick to Rome is seen nearly everywhere as the final blow to the cardinal’s credibility.

 

Wuerl is the Archdiocese of Washington’s apostolic administrator, essentially a placeholder for his own successor. His resignation as Washington’s archbishop was accepted by Pope Francis in October 2018. At that time, the move was widely understood as a response to the cumulative weight of scandal following the McCarrick revelations and the July release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on clerical sexual abuse, in which he was named more than 200 times.

 

Francis accepted Wuerl’s resignation as archbishop with reluctance, heaping praise on the cardinal as he did so.

 

“You have sufficient elements to ‘justify’ your actions and distinguish between what it means to cover up crimes or not to deal with problems, and to commit some mistakes. However, your nobility has led you not to choose this way of defense. Of this, I am proud and thank you,” the pope wrote in October.

 

In the light of last week’s revelations, that praise now looks, to many Catholics, to have been seriously misplaced.

 

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When the first accusation against McCarrick was made public in June last year, involving the abuse of a minor, Wuerl spoke of his “shock and sadness.”

 

In the following weeks, numerous accusations surfaced about McCarrick’s conduct with seminarians in the now-famous beach house, and even in the cathedral rectory in Newark.

 

Wuerl was repeatedly asked what he knew about McCarrick’s apparently serial misconduct with minors, priests, and seminarians. The cardinal responded, on camera, that he had never even heard rumors about his predecessor.

 

In a private address to Washington priests about the subject last summer, Wuerl joked that bishops are “often the last to know” about widespread rumors.

 

His tone shifted after it was discovered that he had known for more than a decade that McCarrick was accused of sexual improprieties with seminarians.

 

In a letter to Washington priests sent Saturday, Wuerl said that when he “stated publicly that I was never aware of any such allegation or rumors [about McCarrick],” his denial “was in the context of the charges of sexual abuse of minors, which at the time was the focus of discussion and media attention.”

 

“While one may interpret my statement in a different context,” he wrote, “the discussion around and adjudication of Archbishop McCarrick’s behavior concern his abuse of minors.”

 

On several occasions last year, a spokesman for Wuerl told CNA that the cardinal took “no particular interest” in where McCarrick lived or ministered during his retirement - especially as it pertained to his contact with seminarians. CNA was told Wuerl was unaware of any reason he should be concerned about McCarrick’s seminary domicile.

 

Wuerl told priests this weekend that his words were being placed in a “different context” than one in which he said them. The effect of his denials seems to be that his entire life of ministry is now being evaluated in a “different context” than the one he would have preferred.

 

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In August 2018, former nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano released his first “testimony,” a letter that alleged, among many other accusations, that McCarrick’s life and ministry had been restricted in his retirement by order of Pope Benedict XVI.

 

Vigano charged that McCarrick had been ordered out of the seminary where he lived, and that Wuerl was well aware of both his predecessor’s situation and of Rome’s efforts to curtail his ministry. Wuerl denied ever receiving specific “documents or information” about any such restrictions, despite conceding that he had intervened to cancel an event at which McCarrick was due to address aspiring seminarians.

 

In the weeks and months following Vigano’s intervention, as some of Vigano’s assertions were confirmed, Cardinal Wuerl’s denials became markedly more narrow and carefully worded.

 

CNA also discovered that, even after Wuerl had first been informed of the New York allegation against McCarrick in 2017, he declined to warn the religious order providing McCarrick with seminarians to serve as his personal staff - much to their frequent discomfort.

 

Despite that, Wuerl’s supporters have been willing to believe, until now, that his apparent inaction in Washington must be the result of some misunderstanding.

 

Just a few months ago, Wuerl still enjoyed support from Church watchers who felt he was being unfairly singled out, and his quiet support for a new phase of reforms held weight in Rome.

 

In the light of last week’s revelation, most now agree that Wuerl’s failure to act on or acknowledge what he now says he learned in 2004 marks the final landslide in the erosion of his reputation as a credible reformer on the issue of sexual abuse.

 

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As the bishops of the United States gathered at Mundelein Seminary for a retreat earlier this month, they received a letter from Pope Francis underscoring the “crisis of credibility” facing the US hierarchy.

 

During the 2018 U.S. bishops’ conference meeting in Baltimore last November, Wuerl spoke from the floor, recalling that in 2002 St. John Paul II invited the U.S. bishops to begin “a time of profound purification, not just personal but institutional.”

 

“That frame of reference has to be with us today,” he told the bishops.

 

“Transparency on the level of a diocese but [also] transparency on the level of all of us working together: I think that is going to be a very significant factor,” he said.

 

“We’ve come a long way since 2002, but we still have some way to go.”

 

“Part of purification is [that] sometimes we simply have to take personal responsibility,” Wuerl told the bishops.

 

The conclusion now being drawn is that, by his own measure, Wuerl cannot now continue even as administrator of the archdiocese he once led.

 

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For decades, Wuerl was known for advancing policies and systems to deal quickly and efficiently with accusations of abuse against priests. But, when asked about McCarrick in June 2018, his first instinct - conscious or otherwise - was to dissemble. In that, it has been observed, he appears now to embody the cause of, not the solution to, the “crisis of credibility” the pope identified.

 

Wuerl’s eventual departure from Washington is a coming certainty. But the mere appointment of a successor is in itself unlikely to quiet those outraged by last week’s revelation.

 

Wuerl’s “precision of language” in recent months, many fear, has effectively salted the earth behind him.

 

A consensus has formed that Wuerl’s response to questions about McCarrick betrays a culture of evasion, even among those bishops with the strongest reforming credentials.

 

Wuerl’s example, it seems, demonstrates that no bishop armed only with policies can bring systemic change to an episcopal culture which turns inwards in the face of hard truths. Individuals, many are saying, not policies create and sustain that culture, and it is they that need systemic change - beginning with Wuerl. As Pope Francis has argued to the U.S. bishops, integrity must precede policy if policy is to have any effect.

 

Facing a diocese and a city hardened against him even before he arrives, Wuerl’s eventual successor is likely to need near heroic reserves of sincerity and humility in the face of the Church’s failings.

 

Washington Catholics are saying they want a bishop with the courage to make decisions rooted in truth and justice, not policy and procedure, and one with the mind and heart to explain those decisions patiently, and without reservation, to a world which may not understand or accept them.

 

They are praying they receive such a shepherd, and soon.

Judges block Little Sisters' religious exemption from contraception mandate

Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 14, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Judges in California and Pennsylvania have issued injunctions against a Trump administration rule that would allow the Little Sisters of the Poor and similar groups to claim a religious exemption against the Department of Health and Human Services so-called Contraception Mandate.

Judge Haywood Gilliam of the U.S. District Court for Northern California issued a preliminary injunction Jan. 13 that affects 13 states plus the District of Columbia in the case State of California v. HHS. Gillam declined to issue the nationwide injunction requested by the plaintiffs, the attorneys general of several states led by California.

Responding to the ruling, Mark Rienzi, president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said Sunday’s decision “will allow politicians to threaten the rights of religious women like the Little Sisters of the Poor,” whom the Becket Fund represents.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone issued a nationwide injunction blocking the same rule in her decision for the case Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Trump.

“We never wanted this fight, and we regret that after a long legal battle it is still not over,” said Mother Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

“We pray that we can once again devote our lives to our ministry of serving the elderly poor as we have for over 175 years without being forced to violate our faith.”

In October 2017, the Trump administration issued a new rule that would expand the eligibility of groups to claim religious exemptions to the contraceptive mandate. The new rule was set to go into effect on Monday.

California attorney general Xavier Becerra filed suit against the Trump administration over the new rule shortly after it was announced, and was joined by 12 other states and the District of Columbia.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, and many other religious-based organizations, were not eligible under previous religious exemptions to the mandate since they do not exclusively employ or serve people of their religion.

The Sisters argue that forcing them to offer an insurance plan that provides birth control pills and devices to their employees would violate their religious beliefs.

Rienzi said in a statement Monday that the Little Sisters will return to court to fight the injunctions.

“Now the nuns are forced to keep fighting this unnecessary lawsuit to protect their ability to focus on caring for the poor,” said Rienzi.

“We are confident these decisions will be overturned.”

Indulgence available for participants in National Prayer Vigil for Life

Washington D.C., Jan 14, 2019 / 02:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Holy See has granted that a plenary indulgence may be obtained by those who participate in the National Prayer Vigil for Life or other sacred celebrations surrounding the March for Life, being held Jan. 18 in Washington, D.C.

“The Apostolic Penitentiary of the Holy See has granted a plenary indulgence that may be obtained, under the usual conditions, by those who participate in the sacred celebrations carried out on January 17 and 18,” Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington said in a statement on the March for Life. “The elderly, sick and homebound may also gain a plenary indulgence if they spiritually unite themselves to these events and make their prayer and penance an offering to God.”

Kat Talalas, assistant director for pro-life communications at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that “the Vatican has granted that a plenary indulgence may be obtained under the usual conditions by participating in the National Prayer Vigil for Life, as well as the other sacred celebrations surrounding the March for Life.”

An indulgence is the remission of the temporal punishment due to sins which have already been forgiven.

The usual conditions for a plenary indulgence which must be met are: that the individual be in the state of grace by the completion of the acts, have complete detachment from sin, and pray for the Pope's intentions. The person must also sacramentally confess their sins and receive Communion, up to about twenty days before or after the indulgenced act.

The National Prayer Vigil for Life will be held Jan. 17-18 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The vigil begins with a Mass said by Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the US bishops' pro-life committee. It continues through the night with confessions, rosary, Compline in the Byzantine rite, Holy Hours, Lauds, and Benediction. The vigil concludes with a Mass said by Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond.

The March for Life, an annual peaceful protest against abortion, will take place at the National Mall Jan. 18. The 2019 march's theme is “Unique From Day One: Pro-Life is Pro-Science”.

The march is held to oppose publicly the US Supreme Court’s Jan. 22, 1973 Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion across the country. It remains one of the largest political protests in the United States today.

In addition to the March for Life, Bishop Burbidge noted the Diocese of Arlington's Life Is VERY Good Evening of Prayer, Rally, and Mass, being held Jan. 17-18 in Fairfax.

Along with the March for Life, the US bishops' conference is promoting 9 Days for Life, a Jan. 14-22 novena.

“Even if you cannot attend the Prayer Vigil or the March, you can always remain united in the cause of life through prayer,” Talalas said.

Bishop Burbidge wrote that January “provides us with opportunities to express our belief in the dignity and value of all human life and to provide public witness that we will not be silent when injustices like abortion continue to have a place in our society. Each year, people from around the country gather in our nation’s capital for the March for Life. I take this opportunity to thank all who travel from great distances to take part in public action on behalf of those who cannot speak out for themselves.”

“I pray that one day we, united in prayer, and persistent in our advocacy for the unborn and the vulnerable, will root out any instance of injustice or violence again human life,” Bishop Burbidge wrote.

Wuerl denies prior denials denied knowledge of McCarrick seminarian abuse

Washington D.C., Jan 14, 2019 / 10:45 am (CNA).- Cardinal Donald Wuerl told Washington, DC priests Saturday that he appropriately handled a 2004 allegation of misconduct against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. The cardinal also said that his recent denials of knowledge concerning McCarrick’s alleged misdeeds pertained only to the sexual abuse of minors.

In a Jan. 12 letter to priests, Wuerl said that in 2004 he received a complaint alleging McCarrick’s “inappropriate conduct” from a former priest who was primarily reporting other incidents of sexual abuse, one involving a Pittsburgh priest. Wuerl was at the time Bishop of Pittsburgh.

“The entire report was also immediately turned over to the Apostolic Nuncio – the Papal Representative in the U.S. Having acted responsibly with the allegation involving Bishop McCarrick’s behavior with an adult and hearing nothing more on the matter I did not avert to this again,” Wuerl wrote.

“The man asked for confidentiality to protect his own name.”

On June 20, 2018, the Archdiocese of New York announced it had deemed credibly an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor made against McCarrick, who served as a New York priest in the 1970s. Media reports subsequently revealed allegations that McCarrick had serially sexually abused at least two teenage boys, and that he had engaged in coercive sexual misconduct with priest and seminarians for decades.

Wuerl wrote in a June 21 letter to his diocese that he was “shocked and saddened” by allegations made against McCarrick, his predecessor as Archbishop of Washington.

In the same letter, Wuerl affirmed that “no claim – credible or otherwise – has been made against Cardinal McCarrick during his time here in Washington.”

In July, Wuerl told WTOP that he had never heard rumors of sexual misconduct regarding McCarrick. In August, he told CBS News that he was not aware of rumors that McCarrick had relationships with other priests.

Wuerl’s Jan. 12 letter said that his remarks had only pertained to rumors regarding the sexual abuse of minors.

“When the allegation of sexual abuse of a minor was brought against Archbishop McCarrick, I stated publicly that I was never aware of any such allegation or rumors. This assertion was in the context of the charges of sexual abuse of minors, which at the time was the focus of discussion and media attention.”

“While one may interpret my statement in a different context, the discussion around and adjudication of Archbishop McCarrick’s behavior concern his abuse of minors,” Wuerl wrote.

Wuerl received the 2004 complaint from Robert Ciolek, a laicized priest from the Diocese of Metuchen, where McCarrick served as bishop from 1981 to 1986.

In a Jan. 10 statement, the Diocese of Pittsburgh said that Ciolek appeared in November 2004 before its diocesan review board to discuss the allegation of abuse Ciolek had made against a Pittsburgh priest.

During that meeting, “Mr. Ciolek also spoke of his abuse by then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. This was the first time the Diocese of Pittsburgh learned of this allegation,” the statement said.

“A few days later, then-Bishop Donald Wuerl made a report of the allegation to the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States."

The disclosure was the first confirmation by Church authorities that Wuerl was aware of allegations against McCarrick before the Archdiocese of New York announced in June 2018 a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor made against McCarrick.

Ciolek reached a settlement agreement with three New Jersey dioceses in 2005 in connection with clerical sexual abuse allegations. The settlement awarded Ciolek some $80,000 in response to allegations that concerned both McCarrick and a Catholic school teacher.

Wuerl’s letter did not offer detail on the specific allegations Ciolek made against McCarrick, but Archdiocese of Washington spokesman Ed McFadden told CNA last week they concerned behavior by McCarrick at his New Jersey beach house, where the archbishop is alleged to have shared beds with seminarians, and exchanged backrubs with them.

McFadden said Ciolek “never claimed direct sexual engagement with McCarrick” in his complaint to Wuerl.

In a Jan. 10 statement, the Archdiocese of Washington said that “Cardinal Wuerl has attempted to be accurate in addressing questions about Archbishop McCarrick.  His statements previously referred to claims of sexual abuse of a minor by Archbishop McCarrick, as well as rumors of such behavior. The Cardinal stands by those statements, which were not intended to be imprecise.”  

“Cardinal Wuerl has said that until the accusation of abuse of a minor by Cardinal McCarrick was made in New York, no one from this archdiocese has come forward with an accusation of abuse by Archbishop McCarrick during his time in Washington.”

On Jan. 10, Ciolek told the Washington Post that Wuerl could have acknowledged the report against McCarrick even while honoring his initial request for confidentiality.

“Wuerl at worst could have said: ‘I am aware but I can’t name that person,’” Ciolek said.

Wuerl was appointed to Washington in 2006. The cardinal’s resignation as Archbishop of Washington was accepted Oct. 12, 2018, although he was appointed to serve as interim leader of the archdiocese until his successor can be appointed. That appointment is expected by some Vatican observers to be made before a February Vatican summit on child sexual abuse.

The cardinal’s Jan. 12 letter acknowledged to DC priests that the controversy surrounding McCarrick “has been disruptive in your ministry and difficult for you personally.”

The cardinal said he was sharing his perspective with the priests while “trusting in your understanding.”

“My remarks are not intended as a self-defense but as a way to share some thoughts personally with you.”

 

 

 

Ed Condon contributed to this report.

Diabolical possession very rare, priest says

Charleston, S.C., Jan 14, 2019 / 09:01 am (CNA).- While an exorcist of the Diocese of Charleston has received many more requests relating to diabolical possession in recent years, the phenomenon is in fact exceedingly rare, he said.

Fr. Marreddy Allam told the Post and Courier that on coming to South Carolina in 2013, he received 10 requests for exorcisms, and that that figure had jumped to about 45 by 2018.

However, in the past five years, only one of these persons was the subject of diabolical possession.

Fr. Allam expressed that prayer, therapy, or medical treatment are often what is needed for those who think themselves possessed.

Fr. Bryan Babick, another priest of the Charleston diocese, reflected that the rise in requests for exorcism may be related to occult practices, as people “are seeking the supernatural in other places, such as Wicca and even worship of Satan.”

Fr. Jeff Kirby, also a priest of Charleston, said that “as our society begins to engage in areas of darkness, there are spiritual consequences of that.”

Fr. Babick said, “Not everyone who thinks they are possessed is, and sometimes medical science relative to mental health is not as equipped to treat every condition as it thinks.”