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This beautiful church was a gift from Slovakia to Icelandic Catholics

Reykjavik, Iceland, Jun 24, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop David Tencer of Reykjavik last week consecrated a new wooden church building, a gift from the Slovak Catholic Church.

The church is a tribute to Bishop Tencer, who is a Capuchin Franciscan and a native of Slovakia.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico and two other members of the Slovak government joined Bishop Tencer for the June 17 consecration of the church in Reyðarfjörður, more than 400 miles northeast of Reykjavik, Iceland's capital.

Wood is scarce in the volcanic, rocky country of Iceland, so the church was made of Slovakian wood, then disassembled and shipped to Iceland for reassembly.

“You will not find a single house or church of this type in Iceland,” Bishop Tencer told The Slovak Spectator.

The church is in the shape of a St. Damian Crucifix, an eastern-style icon sometimes called a Franciscan crucifix because St. Francis of Assisi prayed before a cross of this style when he received a commission from God to rebuild the Church.

Icelandic sources report that the new church doubles the seating capacity of the previous chapel of the Capuchin friars from 25 to 50, allowing them to accommodate the growing number of people who come from all regions of the country to attend Mass with the friars.

Iceland’s population is mostly Lutheran, with the country’s 13,000-some Catholics making up only 3-4 percent of the country’s 350,000 population. Many of Iceland’s Catholic population are Polish immigrants who moved to the country for work.

Most of the country’s priests also come from elsewhere, including Poland, Slovakia, Ireland, France, Argentina, Britain, and Germany. The orders of religious sisters with a presence in the country include The Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, The Mexican sisters from Guadalajara, the Missionaries of Charity, and two Carmelite orders.

The country is divided into six parishes, and the single Diocese of Reykjavik is immediately subject to the Holy See.

But the small size of the Church in Iceland is part of its charm, Bishop Tencer told The Spectator, because this means, “I know many of its members in person.”

It is also a result of a turbulent history of Catholicism in the country, which was nearly wiped off the island during the reformation and the rule of a harsh Danish king in the 16th century. Bishop Jon Arason, the island's last Catholic bishop until 1929, was executed in 1550 for his refusal of the reformation.

The Slovak prime minister said he was happy to be a part of the project of providing a church building to Iceland, an initiative of the Church in Slovakia, because it paid tribute to the service that Slovaks are doing in Iceland.

“So, I’m happy that a piece of Slovakia from Hrinyová, and the bishop, who is also from Slovakia, are representing our country in Iceland,” he told Slovakian media.

What does it mean to be a 'pro-life' police officer?

Washington D.C., Jun 24, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- “Ultimately, this report is about the sanctity of all human life.”

This remarkable line opens up an international police group's flagship document on how to improve incidents of officer-involved shootings and the kinds of non-armed crisis situations that take place regularly across the United States.

“The essence of policing is the preservation of life,” Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, D.C., told CNA.

“That's why we exist; life is very precious, and we have to remind ourselves of that.”

This ethic of protecting human life extends even to the use of force in responding to incidents, Wexler argued: “Everything should be what we have to do to preserve human life – especially in the area of use of force.”

This principle, that human life is sacred has found itself at the core of PERF's work as an independent research and policy organization that looks at best practices in policing, as well as assistance, education and advice for law enforcement agencies.

With the idea that “the sanctity of human life should be at the heart of everything an agency does” at the center of the organization's 30 Guiding Principles on the Use of Force and training guide, the group is already revolutionizing the way police departments approach policies on force and the response to crisis situations.

Keeping everyone safe

The pro-life approach to police work is part of a years-long project undertaken by PERF, which has more than 2500 members from around the globe.

Wexler explained that the organization was inspired to readjust their recommended policies and training after high-profile cases of police violence in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere sparked a national conversation on the appropriate force.

“We needed to take a hard look at what we were doing,” he said.

It's hard to capture the scope of the issue of police-involved shootings in the United States, because there is no data or source of official reports that's collected on a national level.

FBI Director James B. Comey explained in a 2015 speech at Georgetown University that the federal agency can't even investigate the issue because “reporting by police departments is voluntary and not all departments participate. That means we cannot fully track the number of incidents in which force is used by police, or against police, including non-fatal encounters, which are not reported at all.”

This means that any information available is at best unreliable, and hampers both investigating and addressing the issue, the director said.

In its report, PERF pointed to attempts by journalists at the Guardian and the Washington Post to help fill this void of data by documenting the number of people killed in officer-involved shootings in the United States. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C., also collects data on allegations of police misconduct, including shootings, at the National Police Misconduct Reporting Project.

PERF furthermore noted that according to the data collected by the Washington Post, nearly one-third of fatal police-involved shootings in 2015 could have a significant potential for de-escalation, either because the subject killed was mentally ill, unarmed, or armed with a weapon that was not a firearm.

Wexler was assisting colleagues in Scottish police departments when these issues rose to public prominence in 2014. It occurred to Wexler that these colleagues – most of whom are not armed in departments in the United Kingdom – still must respond to and stay safe when dealing with incidents involving weapons like bats or knives, without the option of deadly force.

“For me it was an epiphany,” Wexler said. He asked himself, “If they can do it, why can't we?”

PERF had researchers spend time studying police tactics in Scotland as well as in special emergency units in New York City and other departments around the United States. While the organization’s later research made a point not to blame most of the officers at the center of these events, PERF reassessed the training and policies surrounding the use of force in challenging situations.

“It really got us to think about how to re-engineer use of force policy and training,” Wexler said.

The result of their research was a document outlining guiding principles on the use of force and a training guide to teach officers how to better diffuse situations where de-escalation is possible. The guiding principles document notes that in most non-firearm cases “the threat is not immediate and the officers will have options for considering a more methodical, organized approach,” and many lives have the potential to be saved.

All of this is about trying to de-escalate a situation, giving officers the tools they need to do that.

It is this potential for saving lives – and not only the lives of civilians who interact with the police – which is the focus of the revised guidelines and tactics. PERF's research states that changing approaches to incidents can increase officer safety, too.

“Rather than unnecessarily pushing officers into harm's way in some circumstances, there may be opportunities to slow those situations down, bring more resources to the scene, and utilize sound decision-making that is designed to keep officers safe, while also protecting the public,” the report states.

In its findings, the document emphasizes the sanctity of human life as well as administering life-saving aid, transparency in reporting officer-involved shooting, use of less lethal options, and promoting effective means of managing mental illness in crisis situations.

The documents also criticize “line in the sand” policies and other training and field tactics which they found escalated, rather than calmed, crisis situations not involving firearms.

Wexler also said the principles of proportionality and effective communication are key to protecting the lives of all involved.

“All of this is about trying to de-escalate a situation, giving officers the tools they need to do that,” emphasizing the importance of teamwork, tactical skills and crisis intervention. “What's really important is the safety of the officer and the safety of the person you're dealing with.”

From the church to the streets

These policies aimed at respecting the dignity of life are not just formulated in an abstract environment, but with feedback from around the world.

“We have consulted with literally hundreds of police officers and police departments. We met and studied best practices around the country,” Wexler said.  

The research organization consulted with hundreds of police chiefs for over two years, and looked at countless case studies and reports to put together their findings and then their training program.

“We would not be recommending something if we didn't think it would work, and we've seen enough cases in the United States and in other countries where some may already be doing it or are in the process of implementing it.”

One of the other sources Wexler and PERF president, Scott Thompson, consulted in putting together the report was the archbishop of the largest city in the United States, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.

“The person who we thought would really be interested in this concept was Cardinal Dolan in New York,” Wexler recalled. “We went to see Cardinal Dolan because we thought our principles, and in particular that principle, would be very significant to him.”

Cardinal Dolan was elected as the chairman-elect of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life activities beginning his term as chair in 2015.

“We had a really good meeting and he really understood and embraced” the core principle of protecting life, Wexler said. “It was something he could be very supportive of.”

There has been pushback from a lot of the major organizations.

PERF mentioned that Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago has also lent his support in helping the group's training programs for the Chicago Police Department.

While the police policy guidelines have been met with support among the hundreds of departments who worked with PERF, the organization’s focus on prioritizing the sanctity of the lives of all persons involved in police incidents has not been without controversy.

“There has been pushback from a lot of the major organizations,” Wexler acknowledged.

When PERF first released its guidelines in March 2016, it was met with harsh criticism from both the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Fraternal Order of Police.

“We cannot reasonably expect law enforcement officers to walk away from potentially dangerous situations and individuals in the hope that those situations resolve themselves without further harm being done,” the organizations said in a joint response to PERF’s initial report.

A year later, however, national police organizations have started to adopt consensus principles that echo many of the ideas emphasized by PERF.

In a document laying out “National Consensus Policy” on the use of force, released in January 2017, 11 national police organizations – including the FOP and IACP – emphasized the importance of de-escalation policies, “reasonably prudent” responses, and less-lethal force. The policy also asks that departments around the country openly state that the “policy of this law enforcement agency is to value and preserve human life.”

While Wexler said he could not comment on these adaptations, he did say the shift in focus to emphasize the dignity and value of all lives – even in the most challenging situations – is a “difficult” shift in perspective: “The changes we're recommending are probably some of the biggest changes in police tactics that we’ve seen in 25 years.”

And the size of the policing community in the United States – more than 18,000 departments – only adds to the challenge.

Still, while the values and emphasis in police policy might still face some debate, PERF's training and concrete policies have met with wide acceptance.

“We've had no pushback from our training,” he said, pointing to the hundreds of departments who have come to their training workshops in New Orleans, Baltimore, and Los Angeles.

With this support in the year since putting out the guidelines and what they've seen in the research process, Wexler is confident that they can create a culture that defends the sanctity of human life in all aspects of its police work.

“I'm optimistic that in five years, this will no longer be controversial,” Wexler said. “This will be the way people handle these situations.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA April 7, 2017.

Judge halts deportations of Chaldean Christians to Iraq

Detroit, Mich., Jun 23, 2017 / 03:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A district court judge on Thursday halted the deportation of more than 100 Iraqis, including many Chaldean Christians, who were recently picked up by immigration officers and detained.

“We are thankful and relieved that our clients will not be immediately sent to Iraq, where they face grave danger of persecution, torture or death,” Michael Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan, which represented the Iraqi nationals, stated in response to the ruling.

On Sunday, June 11, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement began picking up Iraqi nationals in the Detroit metropolitan area who had previous criminal records.

Ultimately, 114 Iraqis were picked up, some reportedly at their homes in front of their families and others in public places like restaurants. They were detained and informed of their immanent deportation.

Many of the detainees were Chaldean Christians, and members of the local Chaldean Church were dismayed at the arrests.

ICE stated that the detainees had criminal records and although they had entered the U.S. legally and had not yet become citizens, they were no longer eligible for full citizenship. Furthermore, they had been ordered for removal by a federal judge, although in some cases the orders were reportedly decades old.

Iraq had previously refused to accept the Chaldeans, “in some cases, for humanitarian reasons,” Thursday’s decision read.

However, they recently agreed to accept them as part of a deal with the U.S. that removed Iraq’s place on a list of countries where foreign nationals were barred from traveling to the U.S., except in special cases, as part of President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order.

Bishop Francis Kalabat of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Detroit insisted that many of those who were detained were responsible residents since they had served their time in prison, and that many of the crimes had been committed decades prior to the June 11 arrests.

Pleas to stay the deportations reportedly reached the highest levels of government. The ACLU represented the Chaldeans in court, filing a habeas corpus action petition on their behalf, while the Knights of Columbus and members of Congress wrote Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.

Leading U.S. bishops also wrote Secretary Kelly, advocating for a stay on the deportations until Iraq could guarantee the safety of religious minorities.

“Returning religious minorities to Iraq at this time, without specific plans for protection, does not appear consistent with our concerns about genocide and persecution of Christians in Iraq,” a letter by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston-Galveston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, chair of the U.S. bishops’ international justice and peace committee, and Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chair of the bishops’ migration committee, stated.

“The persecution that the Christian and Chaldean Catholic community has faced in Iraq is well- documented,” they added. “The deportations to this same country, under such scrutiny for abuse and genocide of Christian and other minorities, seems to run counter to what is happening in other parts of our government.”

Lawyers for the detainees insisted that under the Convention Against Torture they should not be sent back to a country where they have a reasonable expectation of persecution.

Furthermore, since the detainees have already served their prison sentences for their previous crimes, “we believe it would not be just or humane to deport a person who has integrated into American life and poses no evident risk to the local community,” the bishops continued.

This past week, Bishop Kalabat noted in a Facebook post that Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako was also involved in the efforts to halt the deportations, and “spoke with an international Catholic organization that are in contact with Vice President Pence directly.”

Bishop Kalabat also said he had appealed to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to pardon all those who had state felonies.

Then on June 22, Judge Goldsmith granted a two-week stay on the deportations of the Iraqi nationals “within the jurisdiction of the Detroit ICE Field Office with final orders of removal, who have been, or will be, arrested and detained by ICE.”

“In light of these complex jurisdictional issues, and the speed with which the Government is moving to remove Petitioners, it is necessary to stay Petitioners’ removal pending the Court’s determination regarding its jurisdiction,” Judge Goldsmith stated.

He also cited the threat of “irreparable harm” claimed by the detainees through the “significant chance of loss of life and lesser forms of persecution” if they were to be deported to Iraq, as well as “the public interest” in due process that their requests for relief be heard by a federal court before their deportation.

“The court took a life-saving action by blocking our clients from being immediately sent back to Iraq,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, stated. “They should have a chance to show that their lives are in jeopardy if forced to return.”

Francis urges Serrans to 'keep moving forward' promoting vocations

Vatican City, Jun 23, 2017 / 02:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis offered encouragement Friday to members of Serra International, which promotes religious vocations, urging them to persevere in their “beautiful vocation of being laity who are friends to priests” and to “(k)eep moving forward!”

Pope Francis said June 23 that friendship “is central to the experience of faith.”

Serra International is a lay apostolate dedicated to promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and does this by both prayer and assistance to discerners.

Serra’s conference is taking place from June 22-25 in Rome under the theme Siempre Adelante, “keep moving forward.” Friday’s papal audience was open to all attendees after a Mass in St. Peter’s.

Reflecting on friendship, Francis said that “the word ‘friend’ has become a bit overused.”

“But, when Jesus speaks of ‘friends,’ he points to a hard truth: true friendship involves an encounter that draws me so near to the other person that I give something of my very self. Jesus says to his disciples: ‘No longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you’. He thus establishes a new relationship between man and God, one that transcends the law and is grounded in trust and love.”

Friends accompany us, he said. “They stand at our side, gently and tenderly, along our journey; they listen to us closely, and can see beyond mere words.”

He linked this Christian idea of friendship to Serra’s work in promoting vocations and helping priests. They are “(f)riends who share the wonder of a vocation, the courage of a definitive decision, the joy and fatigue of ministry. Friends who can offer priests support and regard their generous efforts and human failings with understanding and tender love.”

He compared their work to the home of Mary and Martha in the gospel, which Christ frequently visited and where he “was able to find rest and refreshment.”

He then offered his reflections for the convention’s theme of Siempre Adelante.

“Like you, I believe that this is a synonym for the Christian vocation,” he said. He compared the phrase to Christ's call to his disciples to go forward in their ministerial journey, and he cautioned against giving into fear on this journey.

“Of course, we cannot make progress unless we take a risk,” he said. “We do not advance toward the goal if, as the Gospel says, we are afraid to lose our lives. No ship would ever set out into the deep if it feared leaving the safety of the harbour.”

“On the other hand,” he said,” when Christians go about their daily lives without fear, they can discover God’s surprises.”

He referenced the example of St. Junipero Serra, whom he canonized in Washington, D.C. in 2015, who, despite a limp, proceeded on his pilgrimage. He also warned against “museum Christians” who fear change.

“It is better to go forward limping, and even at times to fall, while always trusting in the mercy of God,” he said.

He concluded his speech by instructing them to not be afraid of changing the structures of their organization, humbly renouncing old roles and practices in favor of living their vocation.

“So you too, siempre Adelante! With courage, creativity, and boldness,” he said.

“The Church and priestly vocations need you. May Mary Most Holy, Mother of the Church and Mother of priests, be with you every step of the way And I ask you, please, pray for me!”

How Catholic culture can thrive on the internet

Quebec City, Canada, Jun 23, 2017 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Social media can be difficult to navigate, but Catholics can reach out with a content-savvy approach that can truly engage people, young social media professionals told Catholic media leaders on Thursday.

“The internet and particular our social media environment have created new genres,” Brantly C. Millegan, founder and editor-in-chief of ChurchPop, said June 22. “ChurchPop was dedicated to zeroing in on these genres.”

Millegan was among several panelists speaking at the Catholic Media Conference held in Quebec City this week. He said ChurchPop aims to respond to the dynamism of the social media age.

“What works in one media form does not necessarily work in another,” he explained.

ChurchPop’s content ranges from substantive articles to collections of pictures and memes.

“Catholic culture is very wide and our faith touches all aspects of life,” Millegan told CNA, voicing confidence that the truth of the Catholic faith can be expressed in a multi-faceted internet culture.

“The mission of ChurchPop is to spread Catholic culture to as many people as possible,” he said.

On the internet, success is hard to predict. Millegan said he was surprised by the success of a ChurchPop post about how all the apostles died and where one can find their remains today. That was by far ChurchPop’s most successful content across all languages.

Another unexpected success? A collection of pictures of beautiful churches.

The article was a very simple list that could be replicated using a different series of churches.

Just one picture in the series, a beautiful Lithuanian church, drew some unusual fans.

“Somehow the Lithuanian government started sharing it,” Millegan said. “It went huge in Lithuania.”

The panel on which Millegan spoke was organized by the Association of Roman Catholic Communicators of Canada.

Another panelist, Jasmin Lemieux-Lefebvre, communications director of the Archdiocese of Quebec, stressed the power of videos on social media.

“The conversion stories are the one stories that bring us the most attention,” he said.

Lemieux-Lefebvre suggested professional Catholic communicators should regularly ask one simple question to judge the quality of their content: “Are you willing to share it on your personal social networks?”

Samantha Wallace, a social media specialist with the Knights of Columbus, stressed the importance of listening to everyone who engages with one’s organization: every Facebook comment and Twitter reply. Monitoring what kind of content is successful helps an organization modify and improve its strategy.

She found that Knights of Columbus social media followers and their friends started responding well to faith formation and spiritual content once the organization began to create and share it. Experimentation with Facebook Live, despite initial setbacks, also proved fruitful.

Vicki McEachern of Catholic Christian Outreach, a Canadian campus missionary ministry, stressed the importance of authenticity in speaking to people on social media.

“Truly trust your audience,” she said.

Success on social media shows that when content is appealing, the number of people sharing it can grow exponentially.

“What this means is that if you have a piece of content that reaches many people, the content doesn’t do 10 percent better or 40 percent better,” Millegan said. It can do 40,000 times better.

“One really good piece of content can be worth more than a huge number of okay pieces of content,” he said, adding that the changing nature of social media platforms requires some flexibility.

“It’s easy to have success in one medium and get complacent. Then the world changes around us and we’re left behind. Always have humility and try new things,” said Millegan.

US Senate healthcare bill 'unacceptable as written', bishops warn

Washington D.C., Jun 23, 2017 / 11:10 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops' conference has warned that the proposed Senate health care bill will put serious burdens on poor families and is “unacceptable as written.”

After the draft of a Senate health care bill was finally released on Thursday, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, stated that “this proposal retains many of the fundamental defects of the House of Representatives-passed health care legislation, and even further compounds them.”

He had previously explained, in a March letter to members of Congress, how the House bill was problematic for vulnerable populations such as the poor, the seriously ill, and the elderly.

After the Senate draft, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act, was released June 22, he reiterated that “it is precisely the detrimental impact on the poor and vulnerable that makes the Senate draft unacceptable as written.”

After the House narrowly voted May 2 to pass its own version of a health care reform bill, the US bishops wrote to Senators urging them to reject the “grave deficiencies” of the American Health Care Act.

The bishops had asked the Senate to reject major changes to Medicaid, to retain protections for human life, to increase tax assistance for those with low-income and the elderly, to retain a cap on health care plan costs for the elderly, to protect immigrants, and to add health care protections.

Senate Republicans released the draft version of their bill after weeks of anticipation and controversy that the draft was being worked on behind closed doors. The bill would repeal much of the Affordable Care Act.

A major sticking point for pro-life groups and the U.S. bishops was Hyde Amendment-language protecting taxpayer subsidies from being used to pay for abortions.

However, pro-life leaders are concerned – or are even certain – that the pro-life language will be removed by the Senate Parliamentarian before the bill reaches the Senate floor.

This could happen because the language might be determined to be not pertaining to the rules of budget reconciliation. Since the bill may be passed through the budget reconciliation process – thus requiring a simple majority vote, rather than the normal 60 votes needed to bring it to the floor for a vote – its measures would need to be ruled as pertaining to the budget.

Senate Republicans can also afford no more than two members of their party voting against the bill, as no Democrats are expected to support it. Several moderate Republicans in the chamber have voiced concern about the bill, and four conservatives have said the draft does not go far enough in repealing the Affordable Care Act.

The draft also strips Planned Parenthood of taxpayer funding and redirects that funding to community health centers which do not provide abortions.

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, approved of the Planned Parenthood language but added that “the reality is that necessary pro-life protections in this bill will be stripped by the Senate Parliamentarian, as we have now publicly heard from two Senators.”

The Washington Examiner reported Wednesday that Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) both admitted that the Senate Parliamentarian would not approve of the pro-life language being used in a bill passed by reconciliation.

“If this happens, one of the most egregious aspects of Obamacare – tax credits for plans covering abortion – will continue under this Administration and Congress,” Mancini continued.

Pro-life groups have insisted that the Affordable Care Act ushered in a massive expansion of abortion funding through tax credits paying for abortions and federally-subsidized plans offering abortion coverage, without sufficient guarantees that the subsidies were not being used themselves to pay for the abortion coverage.

While President Obama issued an executive order forbidding taxpayer dollars from funding abortions under the health care law, many – including then-president of the U.S. bishops, the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago – insisted that would not offer sufficient guarantee against taxpayer dollars funding abortions.

A 2014 GAO report found that in five states, all the taxpayer-subsidized plans offered on the health exchanges covered abortions, thus leaving no choices for those who wanted a health plan on the exchanges which did not include abortion coverage.

Furthermore, the report found that 15 insurance issuers and one state exchange were not billing abortion coverage separately from other coverage in federally-subsidized plans, thus leaving open the possibility that federal dollars were going to fund abortion coverage.

“The expectations of the pro-life movement have been very clear: The health care bill must not indefinitely subsidize abortion and must re-direct abortion giant Planned Parenthood’s taxpayer funding to community health centers,” Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said in a joint statement released Friday.

“The Senate discussion draft includes these pro-life priorities, but we remain very concerned that either of these priorities could be removed from the bill for procedural or political reasons,” they added.

“We are working closely with our pro-life allies in the Senate to prevent this from happening as it could result in our opposition.”

Bishop Dewane echoed those concerns that the pro-life language could be stripped from the bill. He insisted as well that “full Hyde protections are essential and must be included in the final bill.”

Moreover, there are other serious problems with the Senate draft legislation that carry over from the House bill, he maintained.

Changes to Medicaid could cut vital coverage for low-income families; conscience protections for everyone in the health care system are lacking; and access for immigrants to health care would not be furthered, he said, which the bishops pointed out as one of the problems in the Affordable Care Act when it was passed in 2010.

The “per-capita cap” on Medicaid dollars to states would limit Medicaid funding based on the populations of the states themselves, “and then connects yearly increases to formulas that would provide even less to those in need than the House bill,” the bishop stated.

“These changes will wreak havoc on low-income families and struggling communities, and must not be supported,” he stated.

While efforts to assist people “living at an above the poverty line” are laudable, he continued, the proposed bill “stands to cause disturbing damage to the human beings served by the social safety net.”

The bill would phase out the expansion of Medicaid more gradually than did the House's version, but the program would see larger cuts in the long run under the Senate's plan.

Bread for the World, a social welfare organization of Christians that advocates for the ending of hunger the US and abroad, was also critical of the Senate bill's changes to Medicaid, saying it will increase hunger and poverty domestically.

“Rolling back the Medicaid expansion at a slower rate still means that millions of vulnerable Americans will lose their health care coverage,” said David Beckmann, Bread for the World's president. “Without health insurance, people must often choose between putting food on the table and receiving the medical care they need.”

He charged that “any senator who supports this bill will be voting to take away health insurance from the elderly, people with disabilities, and children.”

Bishop Dewane also said the bill “fails, as well, to put in place conscience protections for all those involved in the health care system, protections which are needed more than ever in our country's health policy,” he stated.

For instance, the bill could set up conscience protections for religious organizations that refuse to comply with previous mandates that coverage for sterilizations and contraceptives be provided in their employee health plans, the bishop noted. Or doctors who conscientiously refuse to perform abortions or gender-transition procedures could be protected against federal or state mandates that they do so.

“The Senate should now act to make changes to the draft that will protect those persons on the peripheries of our health care system,” Bishop Dewane stated.

How the Church is helping Christians return to Aleppo

Aleppo, Syria, Jun 23, 2017 / 10:06 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Christians who fled Aleppo because of the four year battle for the city are now returning, and in the face of such challenges as poverty, destruction, and a shortages of basic goods, they persevere with the help of the local Church.

Fr. Ibrahim Alsabagh, a Franciscan priest in the city, told CNA that between January and June, 18 Catholic families have returned to Aleppo from places like Armenia, France, Germany, and Venezuela. In addition, 400 Christian families of the Armenian community returned to the area.

He said these families have decided to return because in their host countries “they live in poverty and feel like foreigners. Also because they miss the warmth of the Christian community that welcomes, heals, and accompanies each family with all its needs.”

“When they see they aid that we give to the Christians in Aleppo, they say, ‘Why don’t we return home, to our culture, to our society when the bombings have ceased?’” he said.

Syria's largest city before the country's civil war began in 2011, control of Aleppo was divided among government and several rebel groups from July 2012 until the Syrian government recaptured the metropolis in December 2016.

The Franciscan said that while rebels have been expelled from the city, unfortunately "living conditions have not improved in Aleppo. The only thing that has improved is that there are no more bombings, thank God, but there is still insecurity."

In addition, “it is difficult to work because there are few hours in which there is electricity. There is also a small labor force because many young people are gone.There is food, but high prices,” he added.

He explained that the economic situation in Aleppo is so difficult that "even if the both parents work, it is impossible to get ahead without the help of the Church. There are many needy people and we trust in divine providence."

On the other hand, he indicated that only a third of the Christians have stayed in the city. He stated that the Christians who remained were the poorest. There are also some families who had the firm conviction that "what the Lord wants them there because they must fulfill the mission of being a bridge of reconciliation and of bearing witness to Jesus Christ in this land.”

Fr. Ibrahim stressed that in the midst of this difficult situation "the key is the community that comes out to give people a sign of hope and remains a beacon. They are a very strong support to the family, especially when people feel alone and have left everything to return to their country. "

He commented that the Franciscans have developed a project to help Christians rebuild their homes. Since 2016 the order has rebuilt some 470 homes, and this year they have created an office where nine engineers evaluate the cases of families whose houses were damaged in the war.

Fr. Ibrahim added that there are several families who, despite having their homes destroyed, are still required to pay the mortgage on their home to the bank. The church also helps them.

The priest said that the money with which he supports the families comes from "many of the people and the families around the world who pray for us and send donations. Even if they are modest, it shows how the Lord works miracles with them."

"As St. Francis of Assisi said, we depend on the generosity, the divine providence from which our aid comes. Every day we see this miracle and we thank those who help us with our whole heart.”

In addition, the priest said that there are 30 couples who will get married soon, and said that this aid is also for them.

"This is a great joy for us, to see that young people get married and say yes to the gift of life. This gives us great consolation,” he said. “It means that there is a future in Aleppo and a desire for life to conquer death.”

A doctor prescribed a procedure, but insurance offered death

Reno, Nev., Jun 23, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Dr. T. Brian Callister chose to become a physician for the reason many choose to go into the medical field – to make a difference in people’s lives.

But that difference has recently been cut short by assisted suicide legislation.

An internal medicine specialist and the National Medical Director at The LifeCare Family of Hospitals based in Reno, Nevada, Callister sees many patients from out of state, since the Reno-Tahoe area is a vacation destination.

Recently, he had two patients within two months who both needed life-saving procedures.

In both cases, he requested a hospital transfer to their home state: one in California and one in Oregon, both of which have legalized assisted suicide.

Both patients were denied the requested transfer and requested life-saving procedure by their insurance companies, who instead asked Callister if he had offered his patients assisted suicide.

“I was just floored. The best I could muster was ‘uh, that’s not legal here yet.’ And they said if you get them back home we can take care of it,” Callister told CNA.

He said he had not at any point indicated that he or his patients would be interested in assisted suicide. It was offered simply because it was the cheapest option.

HIPPA laws, which govern the privacy of patient information, limit the specifics that Callister can go into on these cases.

However, he said one of these patients ended up going to a lower level of care but did not get the lifesaving procedure, and the other got so frustrated that they left the hospital.

Neither received the care recommended by their doctor.

Callister said in both cases, the recommended care was a standard medical procedure and not an experimental therapy, which are often not covered by insurance companies for other reasons.

“Most people look at (assisted suicide) as a freedom and autonomy thing, and it really is the opposite when you look at my cases, since access to care and choices are being limited by this law,” Callister said.

“It’s cutting your choice, not adding to it.”

Physician-assisted suicide is legal in a handful of states, gaining momentum ever since the high profile suicide of cancer patient Brittany Maynard in 2014.

Many prominent Catholic leaders, such as Pope Francis, have spoken out against assisted suicide, calling it “false compassion.” Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles has said assisted suicide “represents a failure of solidarity” and abandons the most vulnerable in society.

Callister’s cases are not the first time patients have been denied care and offered death instead.

Stephanie Packer, a terminally ill wife and mother, was recently denied chemotherapy, but was offered assisted suicide by her insurance for just $1.20.

Packer said it was the ultimate slap in the face: her insurance company denied the coverage of critical chemotherapy treatment that her doctors recommended for her condition.

Particularly concerning is that the insurance company had initially suggested that they would cover the chemotherapy drugs. It was one week after assisted suicide was legalized in 2016 that they sent Packer a letter saying they were denying coverage. Despite multiple appeals, they continued to refuse.

Often, proponents of assisted suicide will argue it is necessary for people to avoid unending pain or unbearable suffering at the end of their life.

This argument ignores the advances made in palliative and hospice care which can control pain and symptoms at the end of life, Callister noted.

“In this day and age, we have outstanding palliative care, hospice care, we have the education, the skill and the drugs to keep you comfortable,” he said.

Opponents of assisted suicide say there are not enough legal safeguards possible to guard against coercion and abuse, whether by insurance companies or by family members who may benefit financially from the death of a family member.

“It’s illegal for a family to coerce the patient. How are they going to regulate that? The coercion police are going to go to your house? It all sounds good on paper, but none of it is practically enforceable; it really isn’t,” Callister said.

Another argument used by proponents of assisted suicide is that they follow the same guidelines as do doctors for referring patients to hospice and palliative care – they only suggest assisted suicide for patients with a terminal diagnosis with six or fewer months to live.

But the problem with that, Callister said, is that doctors are often wrong when it comes to terminal diagnoses: the margin for error is 50-70 percent. Some patients die sooner than expected, while many also go on to outlive their prognoses, sometimes by years.

“My take on it is: if we’re not sure how much quality time you have left, why would you throw that away? And the second part of that is once it becomes clear that you are dying, you’re in your last weeks, we have the ability to keep you comfortable. So why do we need this law?”

He added that as a physician for 30 years, he has seen the end of life be some of the most important times in a family for healing, for reconciliation, for self-giving love.

“I see more self-giving love for other people, I see more families healed and brought together, and bad rifts healed and reconciled at the end of life than any other time.”

Dating apps and the death of romance – what's a Catholic to do?

Denver, Colo., Jun 23, 2017 / 03:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- If a recent Vanity Fair issue is to be believed, there's some disheartening news for single people: the “dating apocalypse,” brought on by wildly popular dating apps like “Tinder,” is upon us.

Young singles are too busy swiping left and right on their phones making shallow, transient connections, rather than finding real love with real people. Romance is dead, proposes author Nancy Jo Sales, in the September 2015 issue of the publication.

What sets Tinder apart from most other dating app or online dating experiences is speed and brevity. Based on a photo, first name, and age alone, users decide whether to swipe left (to pass) or right (to like). With GPS tracking, the app also tells users exactly how far away potential matches may be, making life even easier for those just looking for a quick hook-up. 

Shallowest dating app ever?

The biggest criticism of Tinder? It's a seriously shallow app that turns people into quickly-judged commodities on a screen.

In a 2013 article by The Guardian, “Tinder: the shallowest dating app ever?” author Pete Cashmore explains the ick-factor, yet addictiveness, of Tinder when compared to another dating app called Twine.

“Of the two apps, though, Tinder sounded worse, just because it seemed so contemptuously superficial. There are hundreds upon thousands of women, about whom you know almost nothing, and you snap-appraise them with a single swipe. It's a finger-flicking hymn to the instant gratification of the smartphone age. It's addictive.”

Matt Fradd is a Catholic speaker and author and founder of The Porn Effect, a website with a mission to “expose the reality behind the fantasy of pornography and to equip individuals to find freedom from it.” In his ministry, he’s heard a lot of stories from young people about their struggle to overcome objectifying people through porn.

Fradd had some harsh words for Tinder.

“Tinder exists for those who would rather not purchase a prostitute,” he told CNA.

“I would imagine most people who use that app aren’t there because they’re looking for a chaste relationship,” he added. 

And indeed, quite a bit of colloquial evidence backs him up. Alex in the Vanity Fair article said dating apps have turned romance into a competition of “Who's slept with the best, hottest girls?”

“You could talk to two or three girls at a bar and pick the best one, or you can swipe a couple hundred people a day—the sample size is so much larger,” he said. “It’s setting up two or three Tinder dates a week and, chances are, sleeping with all of them, so you could rack up 100 girls you’ve slept with in a year.”

But Tinder doesn't always have to be that way, users argue. It is possible to find people on the app who want to go on some good old-fashioned dates.

Tinder users speak

Ross is a twenty-something Nebraska-to-New York City transplant and a cradle Catholic who’s used his fair share of both dating apps and sites. When signing up for Tinder, Ross said, probably the most important factor in whether someone will find potential dates or hook-ups is location, location, location.

“Your region matters so much,” he told CNA in an e-mail interview. “In Nebraska, women date on Tinder. They really do… In New York, (most) want a distraction, attention, and/or a hook up. Not emotion or connections.”

Holly, a twenty-something devout Catholic living in Kansas City, said she has had success finding a date – and a pretty decent one at that – on the app.

“I went on a great Tinder date. Granted it was the only Tinder date, but we even went out a few times before things ended. At the time Tinder sort of freaked me out, but I decided to jump in head first and it was an enjoyable experience over all,” she said. 

Many young people who've used Tinder also argue that the “shallow” critique is a bit overblown, considering that dating always takes into account whether or not a potential mate is physically attractive.

“How is me swiping right on a guy that I find attractive, and swiping left (on those) that I'm not that into any different than someone approaching a guy that I find attractive in a bar? We make snap judgements all the time. Why is it suddenly so much worse if I'm doing it online?” asked Michelle, a twenty-something practicing Catholic who lives in Chicago.

While she's definitely experienced the creepier side of Tinder – with guys sending her “rankings” on a scale of 1 to 10 and other, um, less-than-endearing messages, she said she found the app could be used as a way to maybe meet some new people in person and to get recommendations of things to do in the city.

“I think to immediately classify Tinder or any other dating app as a 'hook-up' app or as a very bad thing goes against the idea that things are morally neutral,” Michelle said. “Just like alcohol is not inherently bad but can be used for evil, I don't think Tinder is inherently evil as well. I definitely think you can use Tinder if you're using it to meet people – not to hook up with people.”

The morality of Tinder

It's admittedly a bit difficult to find someone who can speak with moral authority specifically to dating apps in the Catholic world. Because of the very recent explosion of smartphones, followed by the subsequent explosion of dating apps, or because of vows of celibacy, many clergy and moral experts have actually never used dating apps themselves.

Fr. Gregory Plow, T.O.R., falls into that category. Even though he's a young priest and friar who’s never used Tinder, Fr. Plow works with hundreds of young people every day as the director of Households at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio (kind of like Greek houses, but faith-based).

Fr. Plow said when Catholics determine the morality of any act or tool, like Tinder, three things must be considered.

“Whenever discerning the morality of an act not explicitly defined by Church teaching, we must examine the object, the intention, and the circumstances,” he said, referencing paragraph 1757 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

“Regarding the 'object,' apps – in general, as an invention – are not bad in and of themselves. Like most other technologies, they are morally neutral in and of themselves,” he said. “Apps do, however, possess a certainly quality of being transitory that can factor in to the other two components (intention and circumstances) that factor in to judging the morality of an act.”

The transitory, cursory nature of swiping based on one picture in Tinder can be morally dangerous if that same mentality transfers to relationships with people, he said. Instead of pausing and taking the time to form real relationships, some people may decide to move on to the next best thing because they have so many options.

“Therefore, in as much dating apps are impersonal and transitory, or are used with the intention for receiving gratification and pleasure, they are immoral,” he said. “If, however, online dating apps or services assisting people in leading them to find another person to share the love of God with in the uniqueness of a dating relationship or marriage, it can be (morally) good.”

Mary Beth Bonacci, a Catholic speaker and author on John Paul II's Theology of the Body, said what's concerning about Tinder when compared to online dating sites such as CatholicMatch is the rapidity with which people can be turned into objects.

“The entire realm of dating is full of opportunities to turn a human person into a commodity. We get so wrapped up in thinking about what we want for ourselves that we forget we are dealing with another human person – and image and likeness of God. It's always been a temptation,” she said.

“But the rapid-fire nature of Tinder's 'scan and swipe' makes it easy to turn many, many human persons into commodities in a short period of time. That is what is scariest to me.”

Bonacci said while it's possible to find someone who’s interested in a virtuous dating relationship through apps like Tinder, the chances of that happening are probably pretty low when compared with online dating sites that have more extensive profiles.

Meeting someone in person as soon as possible is also key, she said, in determining whether or not a match made online or in an app has a chance of turning into a dating relationship. But apps like Tinder aren’t exactly helping breathe new life into romance, she said.

“Everything is instant. The nearly-anonymous sex is of course the antithesis of anything romantic or respectful. In the old days of the 'meat market' singles' bar, a person had to get dressed up, leave the house, buy a few drinks and at least pretend to have some real interest in the other person.”

The Church has a duty, she said, to offer young people better alternatives in the dating world than the instant gratification that they find in the current culture.

“The Vanity Fair article reminded me once again that we have to offer teens and young adults an alternative to the degrading, hook up world that surrounds them. We can't scare them out of it. They need to be inspired, to fall in love with the real beauty of the Christian vision of human sexual morality,” she said.

“They need to see their own dignity, their own importance, and how respecting their bodies and the beautiful language of human sexuality is the only way to finding real love. We have to. We can’t allow another generation of kids to fall into this cesspool.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Sept. 13, 2015.

Missouri Senate Passes Special Session Pro-life Bill

Just after midnight Thursday morning, during the second extraordinary session called by Governor Greitens, the Missouri Senate passed SB 5, sponsored by Senator Andrew Koening (R-Manchester), after a long day of negotiations and a pro-life rally at the Capitol.   Most importantly, the bill includes language pre-empting the “abortion sanctuary” ordinance passed by the St. [...]