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Can Americans today afford to have kids?

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

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

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

And it was worth it, the Hernons told CNA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trusting God is also critical, they said.

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

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

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

 

Pope Francis: Advent demands conversion, recognizing our mistakes

Vatican City, Dec 9, 2018 / 06:46 am (CNA).- Advent is a time of waiting and expectation, Pope Francis said Sunday, but this season also requires a “journey of conversion.”

“To prepare the way for the Lord who comes, it is necessary to take into account the demands of conversion,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus address Dec. 9.

Conversion requires changing your attitude, Francis explained. “It leads to humbly recognizing our mistakes, our infidelities, and defaults.”

The pope focused on the invitation of St. John the Baptist, who proclaimed a baptism of repentance as a voice of one crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

“The Baptist invited the people of his time to conversion with force, vigor, and severity,” Francis said. “Yet he knew how to listen, he knew how to perform gestures of tenderness, gestures of forgiveness towards the multitude of men and women who came to him to confess their sins and be baptized.”

“Even today, the disciples of Jesus are called to be his humble, but courageous witnesses to rekindle hope,” the pope said.

The pope suggested that each person asks, “How can I change something in my attitude to prepare the way for the Lord?” 

One necessary step is “making concrete gestures of reconciliation with our brothers, asking for forgiveness of our faults,” he explained. “The Lord helps us in this, if we have good will.”

Christians are called to help people understand that “despite everything, the kingdom of God continues to be built day by day with the power of the Holy Spirit,” he said.

“May the Virgin Mary help us to prepare the way of the Lord day by day, beginning with ourselves,” Pope Francis prayed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

On feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis points to Mary’s trust in God

Vatican City, Dec 8, 2018 / 08:43 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis encouraged Catholics to imitate Mary’s deep trust and openness to God when faced with serious problems.

“Today we look at the beauty of Our Lady, who was born and lived without sin, always docile and transparent with God. This does not mean that life was easy for her. Living with God does not magically solve problems,” Francis told pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square Dec. 8.

Pope Francis highlighted Mary’s radical trust at the moment of the Annunciation found in her response to the angel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

“Why not start your days like this? It would be nice to say every morning: ‘Here I am, Lord, today your will be done in me,” Pope Francis said, noting that the Angelus prayer provides an opportunity to repeat Mary’s words.

After the Annunciation, the angel departed and Mary’s “problems began immediately,” he said.

Mary knew that “she would become the Mother of God, but the angel had not explained it to others,” Francis explained. “Think of her irregular situation according to the law, the torment of St. Joseph, the skipped life plans, what the people would say …”

“The angel leaves the Virgin alone in a difficult situation … And she trusts,” he said. “We ask the Immaculate to have the grace to live like this.”

The pope expressed joy at the beatification of the Bishop Peter Claverie and 18 martyred companions, who were proclaimed blessed in Algeria on the feast day. 

“Their courageous testimony is a source of hope for the Algerian Catholic community and a seed of dialogue for the whole of society,” Francis said.

Pope Francis later prayed in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, venerating the Byzantine icon, “Salus Populi Romani,” inside.

The Holy Father then offered a bouquet of flowers at the foot of the Column of the Immaculate Conception in the piazza below Rome’s Spanish Steps.

Standing beneath the nineteenth-century Marian monument, Pope Francis entrusted all priests, religious, and Catholic families to the care of the Immaculate Mother.

“O Mother of Jesus, one last thing I ask you, in this time of Advent, thinking of the days when you and Joseph were anxious about the imminent birth of your child, worried because there was a census and you had to leave your country, Nazareth, and go to Bethlehem,” Pope Francis prayed.

“You know what it means to bring life into your lap and feel indifference, rejection, and sometimes contempt. This is why I ask you to stay close to the families that are living today in Rome, in Italy, in the whole world live in similar situations, so that they are not abandoned.”

Scottish mall refuses to allow nativity scene amid Christmas display

Edinburgh, Scotland, Dec 8, 2018 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Both Catholics and Protestants in Scotland are lamenting a shopping center's decision not to include a nativity scene in its Christmas display.

Thistles Shopping Centre in Stirling, fewer than 40 miles northwest of Edinburgh, said it will it not include a nativity scene in its Christmas display this year, noting the mall “prides itself on being religious and politically neutral,” according to The Scotsman, an Edinburgh daily.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh said Dec. 5 that “At this time of year Christmas cribs grace many public squares all across the British Isles, bringing joy to nearly all who encounter them, regardless of their religion. And so it seems just a wee bit, well, Grinch-like for the Thistles Shopping Centre to ban the Christmas crib, and in the true spirit of Christmas, we would certainly ask them to reconsider their decision.”

The Church of Scotland also lamented the decision of the shopping center, with a spokeswoman saying, “We find it very disappointing that the true meaning of Christmas has been completely lost here. When a shopping centre can focus purely on commercialism to the exclusion of the reason for the celebration of Christmas it is a sad day for all of us.”

Stephen Kerr, member of parliament for Stirling, and the Legion of Mary have both requested that Thistles install a nativity scene.

"While we understand that no one wants religious or political evangelists in a shopping centre, the request was simply to have a nativity, which would be manned and anyone approaching could ask about it,” said the Legion on Facebook.

Nicaraguan priest attacked with acid during confession

Managua, Nicaragua, Dec 7, 2018 / 05:59 pm (ACI Prensa).- Father Mario Guevara was injured in an acid attack Wednesday while hearing confessions in the cathedral of Managua.

Elis Leonidovna Gonn, a 24 year old Russian citizen, threw sulfuric acid on the 59 year old priest Dec. 5.

Fr. Guevara was taken to hospital to be treated for severe burns to his face, arms, and shoulders.

The Archdiocese of Managua has said the priest is now in stable condition, has been discharged, and will continue his treatment at home.

“We deplore this act because we priests are there to provide a service and this pains us very much: that they would  attack a priest in this way because they attacked his health,” Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes of Managua told the media.

The Auxiliary Bishop of Mangua, Silvio Báez, deplored the attack and expressed his solidarity with Fr. Guevara. “I accompany him with my love as a brother and I offer my prayers for his complete recovery. Jesus and his Most Holy Mother protect our priests!” the prelate wrote on Twitter.

The attack comes amid tension between the Church in Nicaragua and the country's government.

Protests against president Daniel Ortega which began April 18 have resulted in more than 300 deaths, according to local human rights groups. The country's bishops have mediated on-again, off-again peace talks between the government and opposition groups.

The Church in Nicaragua was quick to acknowledge the protesters' complaints, which quickly turned to Ortega's authoritarian bent.

Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

The Church has suggested that elections, which are not scheduled until 2021, be held in 2019, but Ortega has ruled this out.

Ortega was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Los Angeles archdiocese updates list of priests credibly accused of abuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Options emerge for handling the ‘other sexual abuse crisis’

Washington D.C., Dec 7, 2018 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The recent sexual abuse scandals which have rocked the Church in the United States and beyond have mostly focused on the abuse of minors. At the same time, many recent revelations and allegations, as in the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, have involved the sexual abuse or harassment of adults.

 

How the Church deals with clerical sexual misconduct when it does not involve minors remains a thorny issue, but an increasingly urgent one. Independent investigations are currently underway by local bishops to examine allegations of serious sexual misconduct in seminaries in Boston, Philadelphia, and Newark.

 

In a recent interview, Pope Francis highlighted how a “fashionable” acceptance of homosexual relations had entered the Church. During the recent USCCB assembly in Baltimore, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler made the same point, offering it as the explanation for how McCarrick was serially promoted, despite his sexual behavior apparently being known to the hierarchy.

 

Also in Baltimore, Cardinal Séan O’Malley of Boston, who heads of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said that the bishops need to have a “fulsome discussion about adult misconduct and how to deal with that.”

 

Such a discussion could play a crucial role in forming a common answer to a problem looming large, both in America and Rome. While not yet drawing much attention, several different ideas have begun to surface.

 

O’Malley offered his own recommendation for how to address the issue, at least in part.

 

“I wonder if now is not the time to change the definition of vulnerable adult which we have been using in canon law,” the cardinal told the bishops.

 

The gravest crimes in the Church are handled by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Regarding sexually abusive relationships, their competence extends to cases of the abuse of minors and “vulnerable adults.”

 

The CDF’s current definition of a vulnerable adult is someone who “habitually lacks the use of reason,” essentially someone with a clearly diminished psychological or rational capacity.

 

The definition does not apply to many recent cases including, or example, the allegations that McCarrick sexually imposed himself on seminarians. Nor does it apply to instances where priests or bishops take advantage of a spiritual or hierarchical relationship to coerce or groom a subordinate, employee, or parishioner into an illicit sexual relationship.

 

Some bishops are left exasperated when cases of clear clerical sexual misconduct are returned to them by the CDF as not falling under their narrow legal purview, even when the matter is clearly serious.

 

Some CDF officials have themselves been left with similar frustrations as they try to make headway with the McCarrick case under intense pressure to deliver a result, but with many of the allegations not appearing to violate a specific canon law.

 

“I think we need to extend [the definition of vulnerable] to adults who can be the victims of abuse of power,” O’Malley said in Baltimore.

 

An expanded definition along the lines suggested by O’Malley would allow the CDF to treat the cases of sexual misconduct like those alleged against McCarrick.

 

It could also allow for cases involving lay men and women induced into a relationship with a priest giving them pastoral care to be termed “vulnerable” and come under the same legal treatment as the abuse of minors. It is worth noting that in several states sexual contact between a minister and someone under their pastoral care is a criminal offence. In several states, including for example Minnesota, the consent of the other party is not a defence under the law.

 

But some worry that broadening the scope of cases handled by the CDF could lead to total gridlock at the already stretched congregation. Prominent voices like Marie Collins, herself an abuse survivor and former member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, have drawn repeated attention to the lack of manpower at the CDF for handling existing cases of abuse of minors.

 

Some have also raised the point that illicit sexual contact between adults should not be conflated with the abuse of minors, even if there are apparently aggravating circumstances. Abuse of minors, they note, has its own special gravity.

 

During the Baltimore meeting, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago noted that sexual misconduct by clerics with adults and minors were completely different situations, and should be handled differently.

 

“I would strongly urge that they be separate [in the way they are handled] because it’s a different discipline,” Cupich told the U.S. bishops.

 

“In some of the cases with adults involving clerics it could be consensual sex, anonymous [sex], but also involving adult pornography. There is a whole different set of circumstances that need to come into play here as it is examined, and a whole different skill set as well.”

 

Cupich noted that the Chicago archdiocese uses a separate disciplinary board for misconduct involving adults and said that “it really does help us sort out the issues.”

 

While there are some concerns about broadening the definition of a vulnerable adult, other options are being discussed. One of these involves handling clerical sexual misconduct with adults simply as a moral failure and a violation of clerical continence.

 

Bishops already have the authority to punish clerics engaging in illicit sexual relations. But in severe cases where they want to see the priest laicized, a bishop has to petition the pope through the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy. Laicization is usually only granted in cases where the barriers to and eventual return to ministry are insurmountable, like the fathering of children or severe public scandal.

 

CNA has learned that some such cases have recently been handled in a new way, one which can take account of coercive pressure or abuse of power, and result in laicization when appropriate, but which keeps the distinction between illicit sexual behavior by clerics and the specific abuse of minors or vulnerable adults as currently defined.

 

Some canonists familiar with recent decisions by the Congregation for Clergy have told CNA that abuse of office has begun to be applied as an aggravating factor in some cases of sexual misconduct with adults. Canon law provides for this to be done already (canon 1326, 2º), but abuse of office has not previously been invoked when treating cases of adult sexual misconduct.

 

In the case of a priest who, for example, engages in the sexual coercion of seminarians, or has an illicit affair with a parish employee or parishioner, it has been unlikely that Rome would grant laicization absent a long-established pattern of punishment and reoffending, even in cases where the behavior continued for a period of years before detection.

 

Applying abuse of office as an aggravating factor allows for distinctions to be drawn between cases in which there is evidence of coercion or abuse of power versus one-off lapses or relations where the cleric’s ministry was not a factor, and for different levels of punishment where appropriate.

 

CNA spoke to a canonist who works closely with the Congregation for Clergy on such cases. They said that while this newly developing method was not a perfect solution to handling cases of sexual misconduct with adults, it offered a practical way forward.

 

“It’s one way to canonically recognize the gravity of an illicit sexual relationship by a cleric without trying to make every case analogous to the abuse of a minor,” they told CNA. “It doesn’t mean every guilty priest can or should be laicized, but it does create the scope for escalating punishments where they are merited.”

 

Such an approach, which provides greater scope for assessing individual cases and weighing mitigating and aggravating circumstances, could prove prescient.

 

In an interview released last week, Pope Francis seemed to acknowledge what some have been calling a crisis of continence among certain sections of the clergy.

 

“This is something I am concerned about, because perhaps at one time it did not receive much attention,” the pope said, calling active homosexuality among the clergy in some places “a reality we can't deny.”

 

The reality does appear to be undeniable; statistics indicate that as much as 80 percent of sexual abuse allegations against clergy concern boys or young men.

 

While underlining the prohibition on ordaining men with deep-seated homosexual tendencies, the pope went on to say that gay priests had a duty to live celibacy with “impeccable responsibility” and that if they could not “it's better for them to leave the ministry or the consecrated life rather than to live a double life.”

 

While the pope’s mind appears to be clear, there is – at present – no settled mechanism for local bishops to conform to it.

 

While it remains to be seen how much attention will be given to clerical sexual misconduct generally during the February meeting of the heads of the world’s bishops’ conferences in Rome, it is increasingly clear that sexual abuse of minors cannot be discussed or addressed in isolation.

 

Solving a wider crisis of clerical sexual misconduct will require a bigger conversation, one that may be happening already.

Trump announces picks for new AG and UN Ambassador

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mississippi priest under investigation for fraudulent cancer fundraising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No criminal charges have yet been filed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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