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California doubles down on rule forcing Catholic nuns to pay for abortion

Sacramento, Calif., Feb 24, 2020 / 05:20 pm (CNA).- Facing the threat of major cuts to federal HHS funds, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has said the state will not back down from its ban on health insurance plans that exclude abortion, even after federal authorities have sided with Catholic nuns who object to the ban.

The attorney general has accused the federal government of interfering in his state’s sovereign duty to protect women’s “reproductive rights.”

“Clearly, this is a disappointing response by the attorney general,” Stephen J. Greene, the attorney representing the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit religious sisters said in a statement sent to CNA Feb. 24.

“As we have repeatedly stated, our clients, the Guadalupanas, just want their conscience rights (and those of others who may hold different, but sincerely held views, as well) to be respected as provided for under the law.”

“At this point, my clients need to consider their next steps as does the federal government,” said Greene.

The Guadalupanas, whose province is headquartered in Los Angeles, are consecrated Catholic women who live among the poor and needy in inner city and rural areas. Their service includes teaching religion classes and working with destitute Spanish-speaking immigrants.

Their June 2017 complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights alleged that California’s 2014 rules mandating abortion coverage in health plans burdened their conscience rights and compelled them to fund “the practice of abortion on demand for other plan participants,” despite their Catholic beliefs that direct abortion is “gravely contrary to the moral law.”

On Jan. 24, federal officials sided with the Guadalupanas and another complainant, the Skyline Wesleyan Church of La Mesa.

In a document known as a notice of violation, the Office of Civil Rights said that California’s Department of Managed Health Care ignored its specific request to confirm or deny whether it would align its practices to the federal Weldon Amendment, and instead issued a response that “confirms its non-compliance.”

The office gave California 30 days to agree to comply with the law or face limits on federal HHS funds.

The Weldon Amendment, first passed in 2005, bars HHS-appropriated federal funds to state or local governments if they discriminate against institutional or individual healthcare entities, including health insurance plans, that decline to pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for, abortions.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, in a letter to Severino dated Feb. 21, said has said the state will take “no corrective action” in response to the federal notice.

In a Feb. 21 press release, Becerra said “California has the sovereign right to protect women’s reproductive rights.”

“Political grandstanding should never interfere with that,” he added.

Becerra’s letter objected that the notice contradicts a 2016 determination that California was in compliance with the Weldon Amendment, despite complaints from groups like the California Catholic Conference. The attorney general argued that the latest notice “dramatically reinterprets” the amendment and threatens to cut federal funding for vital state programs.

Becerra’s letter to Severino did not mention either the Missionary Guadalupanas or Skyline Wesleyan Church whose legal complaints prompted the HHS action.

For his part, Severino said the Department of Health and Human Services will take appropriate action in response.

“For decades Californians could choose whether or not they wanted abortion-free health insurance coverage until California took away that option,” Severino told CNA Feb. 24.

“HHS is assessing the recent letter from the California Attorney General and all appropriate remedies in light of California’s continued refusal to comply with federal law.”
 
Becerra’s letter echoed the arguments behind the state’s 2014 rule change. California Supreme Court precedent, and California constitutional provisions require protections for “women’s right to privacy and reproductive freedom.” California legislation requires health plans to offer abortion services as part of “basic health care services.”

Only one provider had requested an exemption, he said, and this exemption was granted. This was proof the state was willing to comply with the Weldon Amendment.

Federal action he said, threatens programs like emergency preparedness, infectious disease programs and child welfare programs.

The attorney general requested all evidence related to the Notice of Violation so that California could have a “full and fair opportunity” to refute it. His letter objected that “corrective action” was not specified.

California officials mandated the coverage after two Catholic universities in autumn 2013 announced that they planned to stop paying for employees’ elective abortions and had secured state approval for the new health plans.

Lobbyists from Planned Parenthood wrote to the California Department of Health and Human Services to insist that agency rules be changed to force religious groups to provide coverage for elective abortions, according to emails published in court filings from the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group.

When the Obama administration rejected complaints from groups like the California Catholic Conference, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the ruling was “contrary to the plain meaning of the law.” They said it was “shocking” that the federal government allowed California to force all employers, including churches, to fund and facilitate elective abortions.

Now the controversy includes the Guadalupanas, who work closely with farm workers and with immigrants.

“They’re wonderful women,” Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the California Catholic Conference, told CNA Feb. 18. “They just didn’t understand why their conscience rights were being ignored, so they took action for themselves and others.”

Eckery said that the California Catholic Conference is “pleased” that federal action has been taken, but he stressed the need to seek a resolution and to reject partisan political interpretation of objections to the state rule.

“We’re not out to start or continue a culture war. We’re just out to make sure that the beliefs of people like the Guadalupanas are respected,” he said.

“We’re not seeking to cut off federal funds,” he said. “All we’re seeking is a respectful conversation, but one that is now clearly backed by the government which recognizes that this is a violation of conscience rights.”

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

The HHS Office of Civil Rights estimated that the state mandate wrongly affected at least 35 employer groups serving over 28,000 enrollees, including 13 groups that met California’s definition of religious employer.

California officials framed the federal action as a dispute with President Donald Trump.

“This is extreme presidential overreach and would, if carried out, jeopardize lives of Californians,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Feb. 21. “We will not allow it.”

HHS had announced the action on Jan. 24, the same day that President Donald Trump became the first U.S. president to address the National March for Life in person.

“California’s abortion mandate not only devalues life, but cruelly compels many Californians to support abortion against their will,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, said Jan. 24. “I urge Governor Newsom to reconsider his support for this unlawful policy.”

McCarthy’s office characterized the Weldon Amendment as “a critical federal law crafted to protect the civil rights of Americans who want to live their lives without being discriminated against by the government simply because they are not willing to provide, pay, or cover abortions.”

His office charged that California disregarded the law under the Obama administration and “is forcing health insurance plans to cover abortion.”

McCarthy’s office pointed to a January 2019 ruling that California discriminated against pro-life pregnancy resource centers, violating both the Weldon Amendment and the Coats-Snow Amendment.

US Hispanic Catholics more likely to attend Mass, less likely to vote Trump

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- A new poll shows that Hispanics Catholics in the U.S. are more likely to attend weekly Mass and far less likely to support President Trump than other U.S. Catholics.

An EWTN News/RealClear Opinion Research poll published on Monday surveyed 1,512 Catholic registered voters from Jan. 28 through Feb. 4, 2020. The poll asked Catholics about their political affiliation, preferred presidential candidate, religious beliefs and practices, and opinions on life issues such as abortion and euthanasia.

The poll surveyed Catholic voters across various demographics; 37% of the respondents identified as Hispanic.

Politically, Hispanic Catholics are more likely to affiliate with the Democratic Party and to oppose President Trump.

The president’s net approval rating among all Hispanic Catholics is only 29%, nearly 30 points below his net approval from white non-Hispanic Catholics. Nearly half (48%) of Hispanic Catholics say they would never vote for Trump.

A majority, 53%, of Hispanic Catholics are “strongly” or “somewhat” open to voting for a third-party presidential candidate in 2020, up five points from 48% of non-Hispanic Catholics.

They are much more likely to think that the country is on the “wrong track,” with 55% answering that way. Not even one-third say the country is generally headed in the right direction.

Nearly six-in-ten (58%) think the country is worse off financially now than it was four years ago; in comparison, two-thirds of non-Hispanic Catholics (67%) share the opposite sentiment—they think the country is better off financially than four years ago.

As he did with Catholics overall, Joe Biden led the Democratic presidential contenders in support from Hispanic Catholics with 31%. Bernie Sanders registered second place with 28% support, and Michael Bloomberg third with 17%.

Regular religious practice is higher among the demographic; Hispanic Catholics are more likely to attend Mass once or more per week, 39% compared to 32% for non-Hispanic Catholics.

They are more likely to pray the rosary weekly or more frequently—33% of Hispanics to 24% of non-Hispanic Catholics.

And a smaller proportion of Hispanic Catholics (51%) support the death penalty than do non-Hispanic Catholics (60%), and, compared to just 42% of non-Hispanic Catholics, a majority of Hispanic Catholics (51%) believe euthanasia is “intrinsically evil.”

As with U.S. Catholics more broadly, Hispanic Catholics are evenly split on several contentious religious freedom issues, with no clear majority for or against the rights of religious business owners to not serve same-sex weddings—41% support their right not to serve, 40% say they should be required to serve, and 19% say they are not sure.

Hispanic Catholics also registered split perspectives on the rights of religious adoption agencies to not pair children with same-sex couples—37% said the agencies should not be required to do so, 38% said they should be required, and 24% said they are “not sure.”

The rights of parochial schools to make hiring decisions contingent upon employees’ adherence to Church teaching also divided Hispanic Catholic respondents —38% support the rights of the schools, 38% oppose, and 24% are “not sure.”

In line with repsonses from other Catholic demographics, less than half of Hispanic Catholics think abortion and physician-assisted suicide are “intrinsically evil,” with just 48% and 47% answering “yes” to those questions, respectively. They are slightly more likely than non-Hispanic Catholics to say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with 54% of Hispanic Catholics saying that compared to 50% of non-Hispanic Catholics.

Filipino archbishop requests abstinence from applause during Mass

Dagupan, Philippines, Feb 24, 2020 / 04:41 pm (CNA).- In a pastoral letter anticipating the beginning of Lent on Wednesday, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan has asked that the faithful not clap in church, either during or after Mass.

“The season of Lent has a somber purple color. It has a sober and calm aura. The altar decors are restrained. The musical instruments are subdued. We fast from pleasure and restrain our appetite,” the archbishop wrote in his pastoral letter.

“Let us add more abstinence to this sober season,” he exhorted. “Let us abstain from applause in Church. May this abstinence from clapping flow over into the other days of the year. That in all things, God alone and Him only may be glorified!”

Archbishop Villegas noted that Ash Wednesday is “a good occasion to reflect on the value and importance of sobriety, silence and self-restraint in the pursuit of holiness of life.”

Setting aside clapping at a Mass of ordination to signify consent to the calling, which is directed to God, he suggested that “this is not the case with many of our applauses in the church.”

He said applause is a product of boredom during Mass, noting that it reduces the liturgy to a source of entertainment rather than a spiritual encounter with Christ.

“Is not this boredom coming from a misunderstood sense of worship and prayer? The community of prayer becomes just an audience in need of entertainment; liturgical ministers become performers; and preachers become erudite toastmasters. It should not be so.”

The archbishop cited the words of two popes on applause during the liturgy.

According to a story that seems to originate in the biography by F. A. Forbes, first published in 1918, St. Pius X disallowed applause at St. Peter's, which had become customary at papal services, saying, “It is not fitting that the servant should be applauded in his Master's house.”

Archbishop Villegas also cited the words of Benedict XVI, who wrote in The Spirit of the Liturgy that “Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.”

The archbishop said that while ovation does signify a sense of gratitude and recognition of a job well done, it is often ordered to the actions of priests or parishioners. The Mass should be directed at God alone, he said.

“Clapping can be shallow and cheap,” he said, adding that while applause for benefactors is justified as  an inspiration to greater generosity, “We need to inspire our benefactors to seek treasures that 'moth cannot decay destroy, and thieves cannot break in and steal'.”

He noted also that “it can even brood unpleasant competition, jealousy and resentment because somebody received less applause than the others.”

And rather than applauding for ministery well done by the choir or servers, “let us lead our people to aim to decrease so that the Lord may increase,” he exhorted.

“In public prayers and liturgy, self-consciousness must bow down to God- consciousness. We are a Church called together by God not a self-organized mutual admiration club.”

He urged ministers to resist applause for their works: “Resist the ego booster and aim for greater things. Be an arrow pointing to God.”

The archbishop encouraged relatively shorter homilies, saying that applause shouldn't be used to keep parishioners “alert and awake.” “A well prepared, brief, inspired and inspiring homily has a longer lifespan than intermittent clapping as you preach.”

He also urged that priests not acknowledge persons or groups for their work or donations at the post-communion: “You must do this appreciation outside the Mass, by sending a greeting card, sending a text message or even visiting them in person. Be God centered and to Him alone be the glory.”

Archbishop Villegas also stressed the Mass' dual nature as both joyful and sorrowful: “The Eucharist is a happy feast AND a memorial of Calvary. Who would have clapped at Calvary? Would the Blessed Mother and John the Beloved have clapped? The breaking of the Bread is a commemoration of the violent death that the Lord went through. Who claps while others are in pain? It is pain with love; yes, but it still pain.”

New poll asks Catholics what they believe about abortion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 



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

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

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


 

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

 



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supreme Court will hear Philadelphia Catholic foster care case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Belgian PM condemns anti-Semitic floats in historic parade

Brussels, Belgium, Feb 24, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The Belgian Prime Minister, Sophie Wilmes, has condemned a traditional parade in the country which featured apparently anti-Semitic floats.

For the second consecutive year, organizers of the Aalst Carnival included numerous apparetnly anti-Semitic caricatures and floats in the annual parade. This year the event also included marchers who appeared to be dressed as Nazi soldiers.

“The federal government is sensitive to the reactions to some floats and costumes at the carnival,” said Wilmes in a statement released on Sunday, Feb. 23. “Even though the Aalst Carnival is much more than [anti-Semitic displays], these actions damage our values and the reputation of our country.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="fr" dir="ltr">Les Juifs sont de la vermine (de la vermine pleine de fric qui contrôle le monde quand même) et les nazis sont des gars sympas que les enfants applaudissent et avec qui on a bien envie de boire une bière. Bienvenue au carnaval d’Alost en 2020, en Belgique, cœur de l’UE. Dégénérés <a href="https://t.co/svFR1MxxZf">pic.twitter.com/svFR1MxxZf</a></p>&mdash; Raphael Glucksmann (@rglucks1) <a href="https://twitter.com/rglucks1/status/1231659321701871619?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 23, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Wilmes, whose mother is Jewish, became Belgium’s first female prime minister in 2019. 

“Belgium is a state of law. It is for the Justice Department and concerned authorities to see if the events during Carnival are in contravention of the law,” she said. 

The parade, held on Sunday, included 12 men dressed in traditional Haredi Jewish clothing augmented with insect legs and body parts attached as costumes. The costume was called “De Klaugmier,” which means “an ant who complains” and is a play off the term for “Wailing Wall” in German.

The parade also featured men dressed as Orthodox Jews with plastic fake noses, wearing red armbands. The armbands were printed with the word UNESCO, in apparent defiance of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, which previously listed the Aalst Carnival as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”

That designation was stripped in 2019 after the parade at that year’s carnival included multiple anti-Semitic caricicatures of Jewish people, including a float featuring two large Haredi men with exaggerated noses. Men attending that float wore fake pink “sidelocks” along with pink hats. 

The 2020 parade also mocked priests, Muslims, Jesus, and Brexit. According to the New York Times, the vast majority of the floats in the parade were mocking some sort of group or person. 

Aalst Mayor Christoph D’Haese defended the parade, and said that he thought Wilmes’ statement was “bizarre.” He extended an invitation for Wilmes to come to the 2021 parade in order to “form her opinion based on facts.” 

“I did not see an anti-Semitic or racist parade,” said D’Haese. “To the contrary, I saw a high mass of free speech and creativity.” 

The parade was “display of unity,” said D’Haese, not one of anti-Semitism. 

D’Haese’s spokesperson, Peter Van den Bossche, told the BBC that the parade was “just fun” and not meant to bring harm to anyone. 

“It’s our parade, our humor, people can do whatever they want,” said Van den Bossche. “It’s a weekend of freedom of speech.” 

Van den Bossche said that criticism to the 2019 parade was “over the top,” and insisted that the floats “did not encourage anti-Semitism.” 

“Two hundred percent it’s not anti-Semitic,” he said. 

Van den Bossche did, however, condemn the presence of people in the parade who were dressed as Nazis, saying that “normally we don’t accept that, we condemn that.”  

The Aalst Carnival was first held in the middle ages. The event as it currently exists was first officially celebrated in 1923. It is organized by the Aalst City Council. 

Pope Francis has repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism during his pontificate. 

“It is troubling to see, in many parts of the world, an increase in selfishness and indifference, lack of concern for others and the attitude that says life is good as long as it is good for me, and when things go wrong, anger and malice are unleashed,” Pope Francis said Jan. 20.

“This creates a fertile ground for the forms of factionalism and populism we see around us, where hatred quickly springs up,” he added. “Even recently, we have witnessed a barbaric resurgence of cases of anti-Semitism. Once more I firmly condemn every form of anti-Semitism.”

Fasting and Abstinence at Lent: A CNA Explainer

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

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

What is Lent?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cool. So, I can’t eat meat then?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, no candy then?

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

Have a blessed Lent!

This story was originally published March 5, 2019.

Dioceses in northern Italy suspend Mass during coronavirus outbreak

Milan, Italy, Feb 24, 2020 / 06:54 am (CNA).- Several Catholic dioceses in northern Italy have suspended Mass and other activities this week to help contain the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by coronavirus.

The northern regions of Italy saw a dramatic uptick in coronavirus cases over the weekend, prompting some regions to suspend all events or gatherings of any form, in public or private.

In response to the outbreak, dioceses in the area have taken various measures, including cancelling Masses and asking Catholics to receive the Eucharist only in the hand.

Italian officials have also imposed quarantine restrictions on several towns in the Lombardy and Veneto regions, where most of the infections have occurred.

The number of coronavirus infections in Italy has reached 219 as of Monday. Six people have died from the virus in the country, which has the highest number of cases in Europe.

The Archdiocese of Milan suspended Masses beginning in the evening Feb. 23 until further notice. The Milan Cathedral has also been closed to tourists Feb. 24 and 25.

In Venice, Patriarch of Venice Archbishop Francesco Moraglia suspended Masses and other liturgical celebrations including baptisms and Stations of the Cross, until Sunday March 1.

Moraglia invited the faithful to “dedicate a convenient time to prayer and meditation” in place of Mass on Ash Wednesday.

The Italian bishops’ conference released a statement Feb. 24 in which they said they renew Pope Francis’ prayer of closeness to those affected by the virus and their families; prayer for doctors and nurses from healthcare facilities, called to face this emergency at the frontier; prayer for those responsible for taking precautionary and restrictive measures.”

The bishops also said they are committed to doing their part “to reduce bewilderment and fears.”

“This is the time to find reasons for pragmatism, trust, and hope, which allow us to face this difficult situation together,” they said.

Other responses include the Diocese of Turin, where the archbishop cancelled all parish events and meetings for the week of Feb. 24 to March 1 with the exception of Mass, asking that all Catholics receive the Eucharist in the hand and abstain from exchanging the sign of peace.

Bishops in the regions of Emilia-Romagna and Liguria also called for the cancellation of Masses and other parish activities this week in cooperation with civil ordinances against public gatherings.

In Padua, the Pontifical Basilica of St. Anthony will remain open for prayer, but Masses and other religious functions are suspended. The basilica’s museum will be closed until March 1.

In an announcement, the Franciscan friars who operate the shrine said they “entrust to the intercession of St. Anthony all the people who are suffering from this epidemic, those who have lost loved ones and those who are doing their utmost to assist the sick and to adequately face this health emergency."”

COVID-19, is a respiratory disease caused by coronavirus which originated in Hubei province (which borders Henan) in China.

The new strain of coronavirus can cause fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. In some cases, it can lead to pneumonia, kidney failure, and severe acute respiratory syndrome.

In mainland China, the death toll of the coronavirus has reached 2,442, and more than 76,000 have been infected.

The virus has spread to 28 countries, with about 1,769 confirmed cases outside mainland China and 17 deaths.

According to the Chinese health authority last week, 80.9% of coronavirus infections are mild, 13.8% are severe, and 4.7% are critical.

 

This story was updated.