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US Supreme Court won't hear case of states defunding Planned Parenthood

Washington D.C., Dec 10, 2018 / 02:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The US Supreme Court will not hear an appeal from states which were seeking to terminate Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood, meaning that these contracts will remain.

Kansas and Louisiana had attempted to block Medicaid funds from being used for preventative care services provided by Planned Parenthood. A lower court ruled that this policy violated federal law, and the states were attempting to appeal this decision.

By deciding not to hear the case, the court has not cast a judgement on the questions contained in the appeals.

Only three judges – Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch – voted to grant certiorari. This is one short of the four needed.

Voting against certiorari were newly-confirmed Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

In his dissent, Thomas wrote that he thought his colleagues on the bench were trying to avoid any cases involving Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest abortion provider. This case in particular did not involve abortion, but concerned other services provided by Planned Parenthood.

"What explains the court’s refusal to do its job here?” asked Thomas, adding, "I suspect it has something to do with the fact that some respondents in these cases are named 'Planned Parenthood.'”

Thomas was furious with the court’s denial of certiorari, saying: “But these cases are not about abortion rights,” but rather “about private rights of action under the Medicaid Act.”

“Resolving the question presented here would not even affect Planned Parenthood’s ability to challenge the States’ decisions; it concerns only the rights of individual Medicaid patients to bring their own suits. Some tenuous connection to a politically fraught issue does not justify abdicating our judicial duty.”

Former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson told CNA that she did not agree with the court’s decision.

“States should have every right to divert funding away from the nation's largest abortion provider and towards health centers that provide true healthcare to patients, not one that promotes abortion above all else,” Johnson said.

She also pointed out that Planned Parenthood has done fewer and fewer preventative services in recent years. Between 2009 and 2016, the number of breast cancer screenings done by the organization dropped by 61 percent, she said.

"Other cancer screenings have dropped by 64 percent during the same time. And forget about prenatal services and adoption referrals. Those services are barely offered, if at all at some Planned Parenthoods,” added Johnson.

Johnson told CNA she believes states should instead fund federal qualified healthcare clinics, which “outnumber Planned Parenthood nearly 20-to-1 and sees ten times the number of patients that Planned Parenthood does every year.”

Holy See affirms enduring importance of UN human rights declaration

New York City, N.Y., Dec 10, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Seven decades after its proclamation, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is still being hailed as “a great triumph achieved at a tremendous cost,” in the words of St John Paul II.

The landmark declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris Dec. 10, 1948. It includes a preamble and 30 articles that provide for individual freedoms, denounce torture and slavery, and affirm the equal dignity of all people.

The Vatican’s diplomatic representative to the United Nations recently praised the declaration, saying the anniversary presented an opportunity to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights,” but also warned that parts of the world are experiencing the consequences of failing to uphold those rights.

Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, offered his reflections at a Dec. 4 conference commemorating the document’s 70th anniversary.

Since Auza was in Katowice, Poland for another conference, his remarks were read by Msgr. Tomasz Grysa. The conference was jointly hosted by the Holy See and Alliance Defending Freedom International at the UN headquarters in New York.

He said the then-recent atrocities of the Holocaust and two World Wars had “revealed that there are some actions so wicked that no one can or will justify them, and certain fundamental values that no one will dispute.”

Archbishop Auza hearkened back to St. John Paul II’s praise for the declaration, which he offered a year after being elected Bishop of Rome.

“When Pope John Paul II spoke to the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1979, he called [the declaration] the 'fundamental document,' the 'basic inspiration and cornerstone of the United Nations Organization,' and a 'milestone on the long and difficult path of the moral progress,'” Auza wrote.

“After the horrors of the first half of [the 20th] century, it was obvious that human progress could not be measured only by scientific and technological advances, since even those could become weapons against the innocent,” Auza wrote, affirming that “human progress” includes ethical development as well.

Auza noted that the preamble of the UN charter affirms “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small,” but does not specify what rights are to be upheld. The Commission on Human Rights later elaborated both political and civil human rights in the declaration, making them “practical” so as to guide action.

“[The rights] were framed not only in relation to the State but also to various mediating institutes like the family, human community, and religious groups, since human beings are persons in solidarity and fraternity rather than isolated individuals,” Auza wrote.

The original declaration itself did not contain any enforcement mechanisms per se, but later agreements such as the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights sought to incorporate human rights principles into the legal systems of individual nations. The United States ratified that covenant in 1992.

On the occasion of the declaration’s 70th anniversary, Azua highlighted three of the document’s “fundamental presuppositions” that he said “are perhaps not as widely and deeply appreciated today as they were by the framers and the delegates who voted for its adoption” because of cultural changes since the 1940s.

He spoke of the document’s universality, which he characterized as an attempt to formulate rights that would be valid regardless of time, place, and culture, which presumes that there exist universal human rights rooted in human nature. This ties into the document’s objectivity, Azua said; if human nature is objectively the same everywhere, then this prevents the universality of the rights “to be denied for cultural, political, social, philosophical or religious reasons.”

“Human rights are premised on the existence of a nature objectively shared by all members of the human race by the very fact of their humanity,” the archbishop wrote.

“From that nature flows human dignity, which refers to the intrinsic worth of the person, no matter one’s circumstances, no matter how young or old, rich or poor, strong or vulnerable, healthy or sick, wanted or undesired, economically productive or incapacitated, politically influential or insignificant.”

In other words, this recognition presupposes that all human beings are equal in value.

Finally, Auza highlighted the unity of the declaration— the importance of applying all the rights listed, rather than picking and choosing which rights to honor “piecemeal, according to trends or selective choices”— as an important element that was highlighted by Benedict XVI in 2008.

“The Declaration, [Pope Benedict] was saying, is not, and cannot be allowed to become, a menu of rights from which one can choose according to personal, national, or international taste,” Auza wrote.

To this point, Auza highlighted some of the notable instances of human rights violations in the world today.

For example, an estimated one in ten children will be subjected to child labor, and “tens of millions are ensnared by various forms of so-called modern slavery.”

Article 18 of the declaration upholds the freedom of “thought, conscience, and religion,” but “in so many places changing one’s religion or even practising one’s faith is still a death sentence or a reason to be discriminated against.”

Many countries, such as Sudan, have laws that criminalize apostasy, or converting from the state religion, usually Islam.

Auza noted that Pope Francis has spoken out against the reinterpretation of some rights over the years that conflict with each other, leading to, among others things, a breakdown of the family.

“Human rights in general, and the Universal Declaration in particular, were not meant to be used as weapons to advance political, economic, military or cultural agendas contrary to the fundamental human rights,” he wrote.

Can Americans today afford to have kids?

Washington D.C., Dec 9, 2018 / 04:36 pm (CNA).- When Alicia Hernon realized she was pregnant with her eighth child, her first reaction was to start crying.

“I thought, ‘Our car is too small, our house is too small, we’re going to have to move’,” she said.

But while the process was a difficult one, she and her husband Mike were able to make ends meet and went on to welcome two more children into their family.

And it was worth it, the Hernons told CNA.

While raising children has required financial sacrifices, Alicia said, “I know we have become better people because of that.”

The Hernons are far from alone in wondering how they will be able to afford children. In fact, the vast majority of Americans raising children are facing financial difficulties, according to the 2018 American Family Survey, released last week.

Of those who have children at home, 73 percent say they worry about being able to pay at least one monthly bill, and 44 percent have faced an economic crisis in the last year – being unable to pay an important bill or going without food, medical care or housing due to financial difficulty, the survey found.

For both men and women who do not currently have children, the cost of raising a child was the top consideration in deciding whether to become parents, ranking ahead of current relationship status, desire to raise a child of one’s own, and difficulty of balancing family and career.

Anthony Granado, director of the Office of Domestic Social Development for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that while the data may seem surprising, it is consistent with other recent studies on the economy and American families.

He pointed to a 2017 study by the Federal Reserve showing that 40 percent of Americans would not be able to come up with $400 for an emergency expense, without borrowing from someone or selling a possession.

While the economy has turned around since the Great Recession, Granado told CNA, this doesn’t show the whole picture.

“If you’re only looking at GDP as your sense of economic progress in the country, you’re missing how the unemployed, underemployed and poor people are faring in the country,” he said.

Although unemployment rates are at historic lows, Granado said, many of the jobs that have been created have been low-wage or part time jobs, with few to no benefits.

And while there has been an uptick in overall U.S. wages, the largest wage growth has come for the top 10 percent of Americans, he said, while those with lower incomes have seen their wages increase at a slower rate than the cost of living.

Recent data from the Department of Labor indicates that the cost of living in the United States is increasing at its fastest pace in a decade. Soaring costs of college tuition have left many graduates with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, and increasing housing, health care and child care costs in many parts of the country compound financial struggles.

“Therefore, you have in effect a loss of wages, a loss of buying power. This is clearly affecting families…average and lower income people are not doing as well,” Granado said.

“If you don’t have the economic means or the benefits through your employer to help provide those things, people are definitely going to be dis-incentivized to have children, which is a bad thing, because we want to promote flourishing families.”

Family structure may also be playing a role in financial well-being, as marriage rates have declined in recent years.

“Marriage is definitely associated with greater financial stability for families,” said Dr. Scott Stanley, research professor and co‑director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver.

This is partly because “those with better resources are much more likely to marry than those with less,” but the nature of marriage is also relevant, he told CNA.

A February report from the Institute for Family Studies – where Stanley serves as a senior fellow – found that only 50 percent of children in the U.S. are currently being raised by both their married biological parents throughout childhood.

Of the other 50 percent, nearly half are being raised by just one parent. The IFS report also highlighted the “abundant evidence” that children fare better when both of their biological, married parents raise them throughout childhood.

“Married couples have usually formed a much clearer commitment to a future together than cohabiting, non-married couples,” Stanley said. “Having a future together reinforces approaching money (and life) as a team. Hence, the greater commitment to a future makes it more likely that a couple will manage money effectively and develop assets for the future.”

In addressing the complex causes of financial insecurity, there is no silver bullet, Granado said.

“Everyone has a role to play in the common good,” he explained. This includes individuals, families, organizations, companies, and government.

“There is a definite positive, proactive role for the government, the public authority,” Granado said. “This has been a hallmark of Church social teaching for centuries.”

This does not mean that the Church advocates for a state-centered society, he clarified – there is a need for charitable acts and individual responsibility.

“But at the end of the day, even if you look at the numbers Catholic Charities has across the country, there are so many people [in need], they are not able to help everybody, they just don’t have those resources,” he said.

“So long as people are not making the wages necessary to care for themselves and their families, there has to be something there to assist them.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been calling on the federal government to address wages and other factors causing families to struggle, Granado said.

“We’ve been looking at things like affordable housing, access to nutrition programs, labor questions, criminal justice reform.”

The Hernons – who today have 10 kids and run The Messy Family project and podcast – offered suggestions for those who want to have children but are concerned about their financial situation.

They cautioned against allowing materialism and the allure of Pinterest-perfect purchases to blur the lines between wants and needs.

Kids can share bedrooms, clothes and toys, and a 16-year-old does not need their own car, Alicia said. Shopping at thrift stores and making gifts instead of buying them are other creative ways that families can save money, she added.

As the kids get older, they also contribute, the Hernons said. By the time their kids reach their mid-teens, they pay for their own cell phones, non-essential clothes and video games. This not only eases the financial burden on the family, but also teaches the children hard work, responsibility, and wise money management.

Families may need to forego expensive vacations and opt for simple birthday celebrations, such as a water balloon fight in the backyard rather than an expensive party, the Hernons said. But ultimately, these sacrifices are what make parents into better people.

They advised couples to discuss finances before marriage to make sure they are on the same page about their goals. They also recommended living on a single income when a couple is first married, so one parent can more easily stop working or cut back on hours once children are born.

Trusting God is also critical, they said.

“One of the things I’ve found is that saying yes to God’s gift of life has always come with blessings,” Mike reflected.

Ultimately, he said, the Church must remind society of the true value of children and family life.

“I think that we [as a culture] have lost a real sense of the joys of family life, in that we are seeing the financial burden first, rather than the joy in it,” he said. “As Catholics, we need to do a more effective job of sharing and celebrating the joy of family life.”

 

Is time running out for Ohio's 'heartbeat abortion' bill?

Cincinnati, Ohio, Dec 8, 2018 / 04:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Lawmakers in the Ohio Senate have delayed a key vote on a bill to bar abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable. Given Gov. John Kasich’s promise to veto the bill, the delay has raised questions about whether an override vote will be possible before the close of the legislative session.

On Dec. 6, the Ohio Senate’s Health, Human Services and Medicaid Committee chairman Sen. David Burke said there were several amendments to the bill and more time was needed to study them.

“Based on the short timeline that we received the bill from the House, we wanted to make sure people had ample time to testify,” said the Senate’s Republican spokesman John Fortney, according to the news website Cleveland.com.

The committee vote would have advanced the bill to the Senate floor. While the legislative session officially ends Dec. 31, leading lawmakers have said they are likely to finish by Dec. 19 or sooner.

If H.B. 258 becomes law, it would ban abortions at around six weeks into pregnancy, once a baby’s heartbeat is detectable. The law allows exceptions to prevent a woman’s death or bodily impairment, or in cases of medical emergency.

The bill’s text makes clear that a pregnant woman who undergoes an abortion is not considered in violation of the law. Rather, it allows her to take civil action against the abortion doctor involved if it is proven he or she broke the law, on grounds related to the “wrongful death of the unborn child.”

An doctor who performs an abortion in violation of the law would commit a fifth-degree felony, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine, the New York Times reports. The bill requires state inspections of abortion facilities to ensure their compliance with reporting requirements. It also establishes more ways to promote adoption.

Kasich has a strong pro-life record, signing into law at least 18 abortion regulations or restrictions, including a 20-week abortion ban. The heartbeat bill is the only one he has vetoed, doing so in 2016. He is about to leave office in January for governor-elect Mark DeWine, a Republican who supports the legislation.

The governor would have ten days from a bill’s passage to veto, excluding Sundays. In the event of a veto, lawmakers would have to return to the capitol to override the veto with a three-fifths vote in each chamber.

While legislators did not have support to override the governor’s veto of a 2016 bill, this year the Ohio House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 60-38, exactly the number of votes needed to override. The Senate would need 20 votes to override a veto.

Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof said Senate Republicans support the bill and he anticipated that it will be passed “at some point.” There are 24 Republicans currently in the Ohio Senate.

However, some lawmakers travel out of state for the holidays and may not return to vote. Many also hold that lawmakers should rarely override a governor’s veto, Cleveland.com reports.

While Kasich has supported pro-life legislation, he has joined critics of the bill who say it contradicts current Supreme Court precedent on abortion.

Backers of the legislation have said it is specially designed to pass Supreme Court scrutiny.

David F. Forte, a law professor at Cleveland-Marshall School of Law at Cleveland State University, in written remarks to the Senate committee said the bill will give the Supreme Court “an opportunity to modify its abortion jurisprudence so that Congress and the states may protect those unborn children who are virtually certain to be born,” Cleveland.com reports.

Sen. Peggy Lehner, a supporter of the bill, cited the Supreme Court’s repeated support for racial segregation before striking it down. She said she hoped the treatment of unborn babies by the Supreme Court would prove “as successful for the unborn as it was for the African American.”

Bill opponent Sen. Charleta Tavares asked several bill backers who spoke to the committee about whether the government would support women and children with services like housing, employment and Medicaid.

Ellen Schleckman, a medical student focusing on obstetrics and gynecology, said the proposed legislation would harm a doctor’s ability to give best care to patients and result in fewer doctors wanting to practice medicine in the state.

Despite questions about the bill’s future, it still could become law.

“It would be up to the members, obviously, but if it was passed theoretically next week, I think it would come back (for a veto override) before the end of the year,” Fortney said, noting this final vote would take place after Christmas.

Ohio law currently bars abortion 20 weeks or more after conception, based on when an unborn child can feel pain. Pro-abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio is considering a legal challenge to that law.

The Ohio Catholic Conference on Nov. 15 said it supports “the life-affirming intent of this legislation,” but stopped short of endorsement. The conference said it will continue to assist efforts to resolve “differences related to specific language and strategies.”

“In the end, the Catholic Conference of Ohio desires passage of legislation that can withstand constitutional challenge and be implemented in order to save lives,” the Catholic conference said.

 

Los Angeles archdiocese updates list of priests credibly accused of abuse

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 7, 2018 / 04:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archdiocese of Los Angeles announced Thursday that it has updated its list of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors.

The 2004 Report to the People of God covers 70 years of credible cases of sexual abuse by clergy against minors. It has been updated two times before, in 2005 and 2008.

The Dec. 6 update follows an October lawsuit which accused all California bishops of covering up sexual abuse by clergy. The suit requested that each diocese “publicly release the names of all agents, including priests, accused of child molestation, each agent’s history of abuse, each such agent’s pattern of grooming and sexual behavior, and his or her last known address.”

At the announcement of the update, which took place at a press conference at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said clergy guilty of abuse “must answer to God for their sins, they must be held accountable by law enforcement for any crimes, and they must be removed and never again entrusted with ministry in the Church.”

“Still, every case of child sexual misconduct is one too many, a harm committed against an innocent soul, a sin that cries out to heaven for justice, reparation, and healing. We owe it to the victim-survivors to be fully transparent in listing the names of those who perpetrate this abuse. Again, I encourage others who might have been injured to come forward,” he said.

The 2018 update to the list includes all credible cases of abuse fielded by the archdiocese since the last update 10 years ago. According to the archdiocese, since 2008, two living priests, Juan Cano and Jose Cuevas, were credibly accused of sexual abuse against minors in the parishes and ministries where they served.

The allegations against Cano and Cuevas were reported to law enforcement and made public at the time they were received. The allegations were then investigated by the independent Clergy Misconduct Oversight Board, which declared that the accusations were substantiated. Gomez removed both priests from active ministry, and they are both in the process of being removed from the priesthood.

The recent update also includes an incident from 2010 involving a minor and Roberto Barco, an extern priest from Argentina who was serving in Los Angeles until 2016, at which time the archdiocese was informed of the allegation.

The update also includes cases of abuse in which there is one “plausible” report of sexual misconduct against a priest that was unable to be corroborated, due to either the death of the priest or his leaving the diocese “long before” the allegation had been received.

Victims Assistance Coordinator for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Dr. Heather Banis, a clinical psychologist, noted in a statement the importance of the inclusion of plausible allegations in the report.
“Coming forward and reporting abuse or misconduct is one of the hardest things to do after suffering a betrayal trauma as a child,” Banis said.

“While the allegation may not be able to be corroborated because of time passed, the death of the accused or the ability to investigate, the Archdiocese is sending a clear message to victim-survivors that they are being heard, and all allegations will be respected.”

In a statement, Gomez noted the positive steps that the archdiocese has taken since the first report was compiled in protecting minors from sexual abuse.

“In the past two decades, we have put in place an effective system for reporting and investigating suspected abuse by priests and for removing offenders from ministry,” he said. “We have also established an extensive program of education and background checks to make sure our children are safe and cared for in our parishes, schools and ministries.”

“Still,” he added, “every case of child sexual abuse is one too many, a crime committed against an innocent soul, a sin that cries out to heaven for justice, reparation, and healing.”

“We must remain committed and vigilant at every level of the Church to creating safe environments for our children and reporting and investigating allegations of misconduct and removing perpetrators from ministry.”

He also apologized to victims and reiterated his encouragement to victims to come forward with allegations, and promised swift action on the part of the archdiocese, should those allegations be substantiated.

“To every one of you who has suffered abuse at the hands of a priest, I am truly sorry. Nothing can undo the violence done to you or restore the innocence and trust that was taken from you. I am humbled by your courage and ashamed at how the Church has let you down,” he said.

“On behalf of the Church, I ask your forgiveness, while understanding how hard it is to forgive when one has suffered such deep wounds at the hands of those you should have been able to trust.”

He said the healing of each victim and survivor of abuse was his priority.

“Finding the ability to trust again is a slow and difficult journey. But I promise I will walk that journey with you, along with the whole family of God here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.”

“May we find hope in Jesus Christ, may the Blessed Virgin Mary be a mother to us all, and may God grant us peace.”

Trump announces picks for new AG and UN Ambassador

Washington D.C., Dec 7, 2018 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump announced Friday his nominations for the positions of U.S. Attorney General and Ambassador to the United Nations.

Trump will nominate William Barr to be the next attorney general of the United States. Barr will replace Matthew Whitaker, who has served in the role on an acting basis since the resignation of Jeff Sessions in early November.

On Twitter, President Trump said that he was “pleased to announce” Barr’s nomination, calling him “one of the most highly respected and legal minds in the Country [sic],” and “a great addition” to the administration.

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.

Reaction to Barr’s nomination were largely positive, with support for the pick coming from members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, indicating a potentially smoother confirmation process in the Senate than other recent Trump nominations.

According to C-SPAN footage of Barr’s Senate confirmation in 1991, he was unanimously approved by voice vote. Among his supporters was then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), who said that Barr was “throwback to the days when we actually used to have attorneys general who would talk to you and cooperate with you.”

The pro-life organization Americans United for Life told CNA that they were pleased with Trump’s pick, in part because of his opposition to abortion.

“Mr. Barr is a strong supporter of the right to Life, and is committed to the rule of law for all persons,” said AUL. They noted that when Barr was questioned during his initial hearings in 1991, he elaborated that he thought that the decision reached in Roe v. Wade was not the “right opinion” as it took power away from the states.

Trump also announced the nomination of State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert to replace outgoing United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who will be leaving her role at the end of the year.

“I want to congratulate Heather, and thank Ambassador Nikki Haley for her great service to our Country!” tweeted Trump.

Nauert has a journalism background and worked as a broadcaster prior to joining the Department of State in 2017.

Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, offered praise for Nauert’s nomination. Brownback called Nauert a “staunch defender of Israel and religious freedom” and said that she was a “great pick for UN Ambassador.”

Mississippi priest under investigation for fraudulent cancer fundraising

Jackson, Miss., Dec 7, 2018 / 10:57 am (CNA).- The federal investigation of a priest who allegedly fundraised more than $42,000 fraudulently, including through a GoFundMe campaign, has led Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson, Mississippi to ask those who donated to document their giving for the diocese.

“He has asked anyone who donated to Father Vargas directly to notify the chancery offices and provide any documentation they may have, as well as a narrative outlining the circumstances of the donation so the diocese can submit a claim to the insurance company,” diocesan spokeswoman Maureen Smith told CNA.

“We will continue to work toward healing and restorative justice in Starkville and in the diocese,” she said.

Questions about the financial activities of Father Lenin Vargas-Gutierrez, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Starkville, led to federal agents raiding the parish and the chancery office of the Diocese of Jackson on Nov. 7.

Agents with the Department of Homeland Security have been investigating accusations that the priest raised money by lying that he had cancer when in fact he was HIV positive and was sent to a sexual addiction facility for priests in Canada, the Mississippi Clarion Ledger reported in early November.

Details come in an affidavit from Homeland Security Special Agent William Childers, filed Nov. 2 in U.S. District Court in Jackson.

The affidavit said investigators have probable cause to believe that Vargas obtained money through means of false and fraudulent pretense, using wire communications. It charged that the Diocese of Jackson knew about the felony and concealed it by not making it immediately known.

No criminal charges have yet been filed.

Father Vargas, a Mexican native, was removed from ministry pending the outcome of the investigation. He was ordained a diocesan priest in 2006. His parish in Starkville, a city of about 25,000 people, also serves campus ministry at Mississippi State University.

According to the affidavit, federal agents in August or September met with five confidential informants who had years of experience with the diocese to discuss allegations about Vargas.

After the weekend raid, the diocese said in a statement that the parish and the diocese are cooperating in the investigation. It announced that Vargas would not engage in public ministry and had been removed from all pastoral and financial administration pending the outcome of the investigation.

In April 2015, Vargas went to the Toronto-based Southdawn Institute, which treats priests with addiction or mental health issues, inducing sexual addiction. He told parishioners it was for cancer treatment. In April and May 2015, the church bulletin invited parishioners to write to the priest, at the address of the Southdawn Institute.

During a September 2014 hospital visit, a doctor ordered an HIV test for the priest but he checked out without seeing his doctor. In July 2016, the priest’s medical records show, he told hospital authorities he had HIV.

The GoFundMe project established on behalf of the priest claimed that Vargas faced high costs associated with his cancer treatment and had significant bills. A reported 57 people gave $9,210 to the GoFundMe funding project, which had a disclaimer saying the Jackson diocese was not responsible for the campaign.

Several of the informants told federal agents that the diocese’s medical coverage is very good and that Vargas’ medical expenses were covered.

Additionally, parishioners and others gave more than $33,000 to Vargas. He allegedly raised funds to support a chapel and orphanage in Mexico, but used the money for personal expenses instead.

According to the affidavit, one informant said Bishop Kopacz was forwarded information that the priest had HIV, not cancer, in 2015. Two informants said they believe the diocese was aware of the diagnosis when he went to the Southdawn Institute. The affadavit alleges that the diocese supported Vargas’ cancer story in an email sent to diocesan priests in March 2015.

Vargas “continued to raise money for his supposed cancer treatment” and the federal agent “believes the email was sent in order to perpetuate the cancer story, to hide Vargas’ HIV condition and protect the Diocese of Jackson from negative publicity,” said the affidavit.

In October 2017, the affidavit said, concerned clergy told Bishop Kopacz and vicar general Kevin Slattery that Vargas was raising significant amounts of money for his reported cancer treatment and unverified charitable causes. They reported Vargas’ many trips to Mexico and money missing from parish accounts.

“After receiving complaints, Bishop Joseph Kopacz ordered an internal accounting audit of the Starkville parish’s finances,” diocesan spokeswoman Maureen Smith said in a Nov. 12 statement.

After diocesan staff finished the audit, the diocese placed fiscal constraints on Vargas’ spending and found that he was violating the diocese’s policy regarding solicitation of charitable donations. The diocese “demanded that he stop these activities and conduct no further charitable fundraising without first informing the diocese of these planned activities,” Smith said.

While facts about the priest’s health are at issue, the diocese said federal privacy laws prevent them from stating anything.

“Federal law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPPA, prohibits our discussion of Father Vargas’ medical condition — not only when we first learned of it, but also throughout the time period mentioned in the affidavit,” Smith said. “In fact, HIPPA law continues to bind us today in that we can neither admit nor deny anything related to Rev. Vargas’ medical condition.”

Fr. Jeffrey Waldrep, pastor of Annunciation in Columbus, was named parish administrator while Fr. Rusty Vincent was put in charge of all pastoral ministry at the parish and at its Corpus Christi mission.

“We ask that you pray for everyone involved as we continue to work toward a resolution,” the diocese said Nov. 12.

Bishop Kopacz hosted listening sessions at the parish and its mission, which turned contentious, the Clarion-Ledger reported. The previously rescheduled assignment of priests, including the priest now in charge of the parish’s pastoral ministry, has also become controversial.

“Kopacz’s decision to reassign Father Rusty in the coming weeks only illustrates his lack of understanding or care with regard to the needs of our parish” parishioner Garett LaFleur said. "One of the few things that is providing my family with hope at this time is knowing that three of the confidential informants were priests. The assurance that there are still members of the clergy who are willing to stand up for and protect their parishioners when our bishop is not, is worth fighting for. In Father Rusty our parish has a priest with our best interest at heart and someone willing to protect us from deceit and cover-ups."

While parishioners have voiced concern that parish reassignments of priests were decided based on the case, Smith said these decisions were separate.

“I do think it is important to note: the bishop does not know who the confidential informants are. While the Clarion-Ledger story identifies Father Vincent as one, the story does not attribute the source for that statement,” Smith told CNA.

“He was already on the list of priests up for reassignment prior to the investigation,” Smith added, saying reassigning priests requires “months of work on the part of the personnel board.”

“All of the moves announced last weekend were part of a process that long predated the federal investigation.”

One local pastor who said he was among the informants cited in the affidavit was not moved, Smith noted.

At USCCB conference, advocate explains immigrant recruitment fraud

Washington D.C., Dec 6, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- An immigrant rights group hopes the Maryland legislature will protect migrant workers in the state from labor trafficking and fraud by banning recruitment fees, licensing recruiters for jobs, and prohibiting discrimination in recruitment.

It is fairly common for migrant workers to be charged a fee by a recruiter to be matched with a job in the United States.

But some migrants have reported paying the fee for a promised job that does not really exist. In other scams, a job is real, but the work is very different than the initial job description.

Rachel Micah-Jones, founder and executive director of Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc., a transnational migrant rights organization based in Mexico and the United States, explained to CNA that a labor trafficking and fraud bill is important for Maryland because of the number of foreign workers in the state.

Michah-Jones says a labor-trafficking bill could create a system of licensing for recruiters, and a registry of recruitment agencies. This bilingual registry would be a way for a potential worker to verify that the job they are being offered actually exists and that the terms of employment are what they are expecting. This registry would also be a way to track employers, create a level of oversight, and crack down on labor trafficking.

Micah-Jones spoke Dec. 6 on a panel at the USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services “Justice for Immigrants” conference held in Arlington, Va.

While similar bills have been proposed in California and New Jersey, Micah-Jones highlighted the importance of this legislation for the Old Line State. Maryland is “a big destination state” for international workers, she explained, and has “the full alphabet soup” of visa holders who work in industries across the state.

“This bill is really important because it would prohibit the charging of fees for workers who are recruited to work in the state of Maryland,” she said. These recruitment fees make migrant workers more vulnerable to abuse, as they are indebted to their employer. Other times, these workers may be discouraged or afraid to speak out about abuse on the job due to fear of losing their visa.

These types of fees “need to be eradicated,” said Micah-Jones. Nearly 37,000 guest workers came to work in Maryland in 2016. The largest percentage of these workers were in the United States on J-1 visas, and worked as au pairs, camp counselors, or in internships.  

In addition to the elimination of fees, a bill could also add transparency to the international labor recruitment system, which Micah-Jones said is “crucial” for the prevention of fraud.

Micah-Jones thinks that the passage of such a bill would be a “huge step forward” to increasing transparency and accountability for recruiters who are bringing workers to Maryland.

“Many workers are recruited for jobs that oftentimes that don’t exist, (even) after paying for those jobs,” she added.

 

What is the Apostles' Creed, anyway? A CNA Explainer

Denver, Colo., Dec 6, 2018 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- During Wednesday's funeral for George H.W. Bush, US President Donald Trump made headlines when he did not recite the Apostles' Creed. Supporters and critics of the president speculated on what his omission might have meant.

But the occasion raises another important question: What is the Apostles’ Creed, and what does it mean?  

The Apostles' Creed is a developed expression of the faith handed down by the apostles, which originated in Rome and is used by the Catholic Church and the ecclesial communities of the West.

The creed took shape in the second or third century in connection with baptism, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Benedict XVI, wrote in his 1968 work Introduction to Christianity.

Catechumens in those centuries were asked successively if they believed in each of the three persons of the Trinity, responding, “I believe”.

“Thus the oldest form of the confession of faith takes the shape of a tripartite dialogue, of question and answer, and is, moreover, embedded in the ceremony of baptism,” Ratzinger wrote.

The middle section of the creed, concerning God the Son, was expanded in the second, or, probably, third century, and it was in the fourth century that a continuous text, detached from the question and answer format, began to emerge.

The text of the Apostles' Creed was finalized in Gaul during the ecclesiastical reforms of Charlemagne in the ninth century. That text was received in Rome, and the creed has been used in the same form ever since.

Ratzinger noted that the Apostles’ Creed is focused on salvation history and Christology, and is rooted in the ecclesiastical form of faith: that “faith demands unity and calls for the fellow believer; it is by nature related to a Church.”

The creed was treated by the early Church as a kind of symbolum, a tradition whereby a ring, staff, or tablet would be broken in half, and the corresponding halves used as identification for guests, messengers, or treater partners.

“Possession of the corresponding piece entitled the holder to receive a thing or simply to hospitality. A symbolum is something which points to its complementary other half and thus creates mutual recognition and unity. It is the expression and means of unity,” according to Ratzinger.

“In the description of the creed or profession of faith as the symbolum we have at the same time a profound interpretation of its true nature. For in fact this is just what the original meaning or aim of dogmatic formulations in the Church was: to facilitate a common profession of faith in God, common worship of him.”

The Apostles' Creed's connection to a dialogue between the Church and a catechumen during the ceremony of baptism is thus reflective of the communal nature of faith, which arises in the Church.

It also demonstrates that it is in worship that doctrine “assumes its proper place,” Ratzinger wrote, and that the Church “belongs necessarily to a faith whose significance lies in the interplay of common confession and worship.”

According to the Pope emeritus, the Church herself “holds the faith only as a symbolum ... which signifies truth only in its endless reference to something beyond itself, to the quite other.”

This profession of faith was called the Apostles' Creed at least as early as 390, when a council headed by St. Ambrose used the term in a letter to St. Siricius.

A legend holds that it is known as the Apostles' Creed because it includes 12 articles, each of which was contributed by an apostle before their dispersal.

This legend “has the disadvantage of calling attention to a division ... into twelve articles,” Henri de Lubac wrote in The Christian Faith, “whereas the structure of the Creed is tripartite because Christian faith is essentially faith in the indivisible Trinity.”

Moreover, this legend was discredited when at the Council of Florence in the 15th century, the Latins were surprised to find that the Greeks did not use the Apostles' Creed.

The Apostles' Creed has not been received by the Eastern Orthodox because it was not a subject of the first seven ecumenical councils; their sole profession of faith is the Nicene Creed. This has led at least a few journalists to wonder if perhaps Trump is seeking admission to an Eastern Church.

The Apostles' Creed was used liturgically in the Latin rite of the Church until 1955. Prior to that year's reform of the general calendar and the rubrics of the Roman Breviary, it was recited at the beginning of Matins and Prime, at the end of Compline, and during the preces of Prime and Compline during certain seasons.

 

Statistical analysis seeks context for Pa. grand jury report

Philadelphia, Pa., Dec 6, 2018 / 05:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new statistical analysis seeks to contextualize data about child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania, four months after a grand jury report detailed hundreds of abuse allegations in six of the state’s diocese, spanning nearly eight decades.

To “properly understand the import” of the grand jury’s findings, the statistical analysis compares the number of abuse allegations to other institutions during similar time periods, and seeks to better understand when most of the cases of alleged abuse took place.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia commissioned the analysis, which was conducted by the law firm Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie LLP.

The 884-page grand jury report, released Aug. 14, was written by 23 grand jurors who spent 18 months investigating the six dioceses with the help of the FBI, examining half a million pages of documents in the process. The six diocese are Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton.

The report claimed to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 301 credibly accused priests and presents a devastating portrait of efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations - either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.

Despite the high number of abuse cases mentioned in the grand jury report, the statistical analysis focused on “factual information related to 680 separate allegations of abuse over an 84 year period,” spanning from 1934 to the present.

The details of the remaining cases, such as dates of the alleged abuse, the analysis said, were so “deficient” that they could not be included.

Of the 680 cases studied whose cases were tied to specific years, 23 cases, or roughly 3 percent, involved allegations of abuse that took place after the 2002 adoption of the Charter for the Protection Children and Young People. The Diocese of Greensburg did not report any alleged incidents that took place after 2002.

The most recent alleged abuse incident described in the grand jury report, to the extent that dates for the allegations were provided, is from 2013. The average year that each alleged incident of abuse in the grand jury report ended was 1979, the analysis says.

The analysis notes that while the grand jury report did not identify any priests with substantiated claims of sexual abuse of minors who are still in active ministry, there are three active priests from the Diocese of Pittsburgh who have been accused of sexual abuse, but the allegations were not substantiated.

By means of comparison, the authors write that in 2016, the year the grand jury began its investigation, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services identified over 3,000 total substantiated allegations of sexual abuse during the calendar year— more than three times the number of total allegations against the Catholic Church, both substantiated and unsubstantiated, identified by the grand jury over an eighty year time span.

“What is true in Pennsylvania is also true on a national level,” the analysis reads, noting that nationally, 24.7 percent of women and 16 percent of men have experienced sexual abuse during their childhood.

“Evidence shows that sexual abuse of minors is a huge epidemic that touches every major institution in society. Further, by all accounts, few institutions have done as much as the Catholic Church to learn from past failures and take steps to prevent abuse going forward.”

Citing a 2007 New York Times report, the analysis says that insurance companies receive around 260 reports per year of sexual abuse of a minor in U.S. Protestant churches.

“This annual number is more than the total accusations against Catholic clergy since 2005,” the authors assert.

And according to a 2004 Education Week study, 290,000 students experienced some sort of physical sexual abuse by a public school employee from 1991 to 2000.

The analysis also compared this figure to the estimated 10,677 allegations of abuse against priests and deacons from 1950 to 2002, which was detailed in a 2004 report from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.