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Small, well-funded LGBT group to challenge Catholic teaching at World Youth Day

Panama City, Panama, Jan 16, 2019 / 04:06 pm (CNA).- A U.S.-based coalition of dissenting Catholics, whose backers include wealthy non-Catholic funders, is sending a small group of LGBT activists to World Youth Day in Panama to engage with media and pilgrims and to challenge Catholic teaching and practice they say is “harmful.”

The six pilgrims are backed by the Equally Blessed Coalition, currently composed of the groups Call to Action, Dignity USA and New Ways Ministry. The group Fortunate Families had belonged to the coalition for several years but left it in 2018.

This year’s World Youth Day, a major international Catholic young adult event, will take place in the Panama City area Jan. 22-27. It is expected to draw 3 million people, including 200,000 Panamanians, according to local papers. Pope Francis will take part in the events and celebrate a penitential liturgy with juvenile detention center detainees, a Way of the Cross with young people, a prayer vigil with youth, and a Mass for World Youth Day participants.

The Equally Blessed Coalition’s November 13, 2018 announcement cited Pew Research Center and Public Religion Research Institute polling that they said showed two-thirds of American Catholics backed “gay marriage” and a majority oppose “so-called ‘religious freedom’ laws that allow businesses and other public service providers to discriminate against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“While we raise awareness about issues of gender and sexuality in the lives of Catholics, we will challenge harmful teachings and pastoral practices that dehumanize us rather than celebrate the gifts that we LGBTQI people bring to the church and to the world,” said the coalition on its website. “While our church has repeatedly villainized LGBTQI people as ‘disordered,’ our pilgrims will counter this with a message of love and radical inclusion.”

The Equally Blessed Coalition previously sponsored pilgrims to World Youth Day in 2011 and 2013 and to the World Meeting of Families in 2015 and 2018. Its website says it has raised around $6,000 from about 60 donors for this year’s group visit.

The Arcus Foundation, an LGBT advocacy funder launched by billionaire heir Jon Stryker, is among the coalition’s major backers.

In 2014 the foundation gave a $200,000 grant to Dignity USA for the Equally Blessed Coalition “to support pro-LGBT faith advocates to influence and counter the narrative of the Catholic Church and its ultra-conservative affiliates.” The effort was linked to both the Church’s Synod on the Family and World Youth Day and aimed to “amplify pro-LGBT voices within the Catholic Church.”

According to the foundation, the funding was part of an effort to engage “open-minded religious leaders who can use their influence to shift public views away from prejudice.”

In 2016 the foundation gave a $250,000, two-year grant to Dignity USA to fund the Equally Blessed Coalition, in order to “support and give voice to the growing majority of Roman Catholics who support full acceptance and equality for LGBT people.”

Another grant of $125,000 to Dignity USA for the Equally Blessed Coalition was earmarked for “advocating for LGBTQ acceptance and for an end to harmful religious exemption policies within Catholic communities,” according to the June 2018 grant announcement.

Dignity USA was among the backers of a messaging effort called the Equal Future project, which sought to influence the Catholic Church’s 2018 youth synod. The project contended that the “rules” of the Catholic Church are causing “damage” to those who self-identify as LGBT.

Ann Schneible, communications director for the Courage apostolate, commented on Equal Future last year. She told CNA that Catholic teaching insists that everyone has the fundamental identity “to be the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.”

“Seen from this perspective, it becomes clear that the Church’s approach provides the most compassionate response to people, including youth and young adults, who experience same sex attractions,” Schneible said. “Far from being a misfortune or a disappointment, their identity as sons and daughters of God – who are made in his image and likeness, and have received divine grace and a call to holiness – is a profound and life-giving joy.”

Those who experience same-sex attraction deserve compassionate outreach from Catholics, she said, adding, “we do so in the belief and hope that following God’s plan will always lead one to happiness and ultimate fulfillment.”

Equally Blessed claims World Youth Day typically “includes sessions sponsored by organizations that oppose any advancement of civil rights for LGBTQI people.” It said the pilgrimage aims to “create the space now for LGBTQI people within the Catholic Church.”

Its objections included the recent synod on young people discussion about LGBT issues “where only (mostly older) cisgender men were allowed to vote.” It objected to what it said was “a recurrence of rhetoric that blames child sexual abuse on homosexuality” and protested what it said was the “attempted erasure of LGBTQI Catholics and same sex couples from the church.”

Equally Blessed objected to “unjust treatment of LGBTQI church workers, “including violence and threats of violence,” citing the case of a pastoral worker at San Diego’s St. John the Evangelist Parish who resigned from his position after he became the focus of strongly critical internet coverage from fringe Catholic blogs and news sites, which said he was in a same-sex union and backed LGBT advocacy. The pastoral worker said he had endured “physical and emotional violence” due to the internet sites and their readers. Extreme harassment, including death threats placed on the man’s car, were reported to police and the FBI, an associate pastor at the parish told Fox 5 San Diego.

Equally Blessed claimed that Pope Francis had shown “public silence” after all these developments.

The Equally Blessed contingent to World Youth Day includes Melissa Barber, who quit her job as a religious education director in Indianapolis to contract a same-sex union; Catherine Buck, an adjunct professor from New Jersey who writes for New Ways Ministry’s blog; and Keith Hall, a federal employee from Washington, D.C. who co-chairs the Dignity Young Adult Caucus.

The self-described Catholic groups in the coalition reject Catholic teaching on the immorality of homosexual acts and have called for same-sex unions to be recognized as sacramental.

In a February 12, 2010 statement, then-U.S. bishops’ conference president Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said New Ways Ministry’s claim to be Catholic “only confuses the faithful regarding the authentic teaching and ministry of the Church with respect to persons with a homosexual inclination.” He rejected claims that it provides “an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and an authentic Catholic pastoral practice.” The group has no approval from the Church and “they cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States,” he said.

In 2016 New Ways Ministry awarded its Bridge Building Award to media commentator and America magazine editor Father James Martin, S.J., who based his book on LGBT outreach on his acceptance speech.

In 2012 the Equally Blessed Coalition issued a report attacking the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Knights of Columbus for their work to maintain the legal definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

The report’s funders included the Human Rights Campaign and the report acknowledged Arcus Foundation funding for the Equally Blessed Coalition.

The Arcus Foundation is also a grant maker to the Catholics United Education Fund and the pro-abortion rights group Catholics for Choice. It has funded groups in other Christian communities, including Episcopalian groups ahead of the breakup of the Anglican Communion over issues such as ecclesial authority and homosexuality.

It has been a partner of the U.S. State Department’s Global Equality Fund.

Missionary families evangelize indigenous towns in Paraguay

Fuerte Olimpo, Paraguay, Jan 16, 2019 / 03:32 pm (ACI Prensa).- Some 60 people belonging to the Communities of Missionary Families conducted a mission beginning Jan. 1 in a series of towns on the Paraguay River.

The families, who come from across Paraguay and also include a Cuban couple, gathered in Porto Murtinho, Brazil, to embark on the week-long evangelization project. They were accompanied by four priests, a religious sister, and Archbishop Edmundo Ponziano Valenzuela Mellid of Asuncion.

They held a Mass together before separating into groups to go on mission to eleven towns situated downstream from Porto Murtinho.

Under temperatures reaching 110 degrees Fahrenheit, the missionaries settled into tents, mats, inside of chapels, and in the homes of the locals. There they had catechism, Mass in the native language, fraternal sharing, confessions, and even mediated in a local labor dispute with a company

“The missionaries went in an atmosphere of prayer which allowed dialogue and the almost immediate solution of a long conflict. I admired the courage of the missionaries because they announced the love of Christ that transforms lives and when that love is taken seriously, it rebounds in human and labor relations,” Archbishop Valenzuela said.  

“The joy of these families is awesome, and especially that of their young children. Their faith, preparation, and conviction are awesome. It is part of being a witnessing Church,” the archbishop said at the end of the mission.

The Communities of Missionary Families was founded in 2010 by the couples Carmen and Aldo Fanego, and Kika and Vidal Benítez.

Encouraged by Archbishop Valenzuela, who was at the time Vicar Apostolic of Chaco Paraguayo, ten years ago they began doing river missions in the area, inaccessible except by the river, where indigenous peoples live, sustained by farming and the extraction of tannin, a substance used for curing hides and making certain pharmaceuticals.

 

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

Religious liberty innate to every human person, Trump says

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2019 / 02:17 pm (CNA).- Religious freeom is innate and must be protected, US president Donald Trump said in his proclamation for Religious Freedom Day, which is observed Wednesday.

“On Religious Freedom Day, we celebrate our Nation’s long-standing commitment to freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess one’s own faith,” Trump said in his proclamation for the Jan. 16 observance. “The right to religious freedom is innate to the dignity of every human person and is foundational to the pursuit of truth.”

He said many of America's settlers, including the Pilgrims, “fled their home countries to escape religious persecution. Aware of this history, our Nation’s Founding Fathers readily understood that a just government must respect the deep yearning for truth and openness to the transcendent that are part of the human spirit. For this reason, from the beginning, our constitutional republic has endeavored to protect a robust understanding of religious freedom.”

Trump noted that Virginia enacted a Statute for Religious Freedom Jan. 16, 1786, “to protect the right of individual conscience and religious exercise and to prohibit the compulsory support of any church.”

The statute “set forth the principle that religious liberty is an inherent right and not a gift of the state,” and was the model for religious freedom clauses of the First Amendment, the president stated.

“Unfortunately, the fundamental human right to religious freedom is under attack,” he said. “Efforts to circumscribe religious freedom — or to separate it from adjoining civil liberties, like property rights or free speech — are on the rise.”

Trump added that legislative attacks on religious liberty “have given way to actual violence,” citing the October 2018 attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh, and saying that “attacks on people of faith and their houses of worship have increased in frequency in recent years.”

He said his administration is acting “to protect religious liberty and to seek justice against those who seek to abridge it.”

The president noted that the Department of Justice “is aggressively prosecuting those who use violence or threats to interfere with the religious freedom of their fellow Americans”; and that last January the department raised the profile of religious liberty cases in its Justice Manual, and the Health and Human Services department adopted more robust conscience protection regulations.

Trump also noted international religious freedom problems, saying his Secretary of State convened a Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in July 2018 to “[listen] to the voices of those risking their lives for their religious beliefs, and … to the families of people who have died fighting for their fundamental right of conscience.”

“Our Nation was founded on the premise that a just government abides by the 'Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.' As the Founders recognized, the Constitution protects religious freedom to secure the rights endowed to man by his very nature,” he concluded.

“On this day, we recognize this history and affirm our commitment to the preservation of religious freedom.”

Manx abortion bill receives royal assent

Douglas, Isle of Man, Jan 16, 2019 / 12:39 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Isle of Man's Abortion Reform Bill 2018 gained royal assent Tuesday, meaning women in the territory will soon be able to procure elective abortion up to 14 weeks of pregnancy.

Abortion policy on the the Isle of Man, a crown dependency located between England and Northern Ireland, had been governed by the Termination of Pregnancy Act 1995, which allows abortion only in cases where the mother’s life is endangered or if the baby has a low survival rate.

Royal assent was given Jan. 15 by Richard Gozney, Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Man.

Abortion rights supporters have urged the Department of Health and Social Care to enact the change as soon as possible.

The bill, which decriminalizes abortion, was passed unanimously by the Legislative Council Nov. 6, 2018. It allows elective abortion up to 14 weeks; up to 24 weeks if medical reasons or “serious social grounds” were presented; and, according to Isle of Man Today, “in certain emergency or serious situations after 24 weeks.”

Among amendments made to the bill were measures regarding counseling services and conscientious objection.

It will provide for buffer zones around medical centers to keep pro-life counselors and protesters at a distance from women procuring abortion, as well as measures to prevent sex-selective abortions.

The Anglican bishop of Sodor and Man, Peter Eagles, who is an ex officio member of the Legislative Council, had voted against the bill earlier in the year, but was in favor of it at the November vote.

“I see these amendments as being entirely within the spirit of the discussion held in this council earlier and as being instrumental in enhancing the bill’s effectiveness,” Eagles said, according to Isle of Man Today.

The bill has been opposed by the Catholic Church on the island and by Humanity and Equality in Abortion Reform.

It was expected to receive royal assent in 2018, but Manx Radio reported that the process was delayed by “the increased workload currently on the UK's civil service” due to preparations for Brexit.

To gain royal assent, the British Ministry of Justice needed to examine the bill to ensure its compliance with human rights laws.

“There have been several recent cases where anti-abortion groups have tried to overturn laws made by democratically elected parliaments through employing barristers to present technical legal arguments,” Alex Allinson, a Member of the House of Keys, told Manx Radio last week.

The bill will be promulgated on Tynwald Day, July 5, 2019.

Apostolic nuncio, not Wuerl, will celebrate Mass for Life

Washington D.C., Jan 16, 2019 / 11:20 am (CNA).- Cardinal Donald Wuerl will not celebrate the Jan. 18 Mass for Life, to be held at a youth rally before the annual March for Life. Wuerl was until today scheduled to be the principal celebrant of the Mass.

 

In his stead will be Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, the Archdiocese of Washington announced on Wednesday.

 

Pierre will be joined by Washington auxiliary bishops Mario Dorsonville and Roy Campbell, who will represent the archdiocese.

 

The Youth Rally and Mass for Life takes place the morning of the annual March for Life, at which thousands of pro-life supporters are expected to process up the National Mall towards the Supreme Court. The march is held in January each year to mark the Supreme Court decision in the case Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion in the United States.

 

The Mass for Life is organized by the Archdiocese of Washington and in previous years has been celebrated by Wuerl.

 

The archdiocese declined to comment on the reasons for Wuerl’s decision not to participate in this year’s event.

 

Pope Francis accepted Wuerl’s resignation as the archbishop of Washington in October, and has not yet named his replacement. In the meantime, he continues to lead the archdiocese on an interim basis.

 

Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, there had been a growing call for Wuerl to step aside from celebrating the Mass, following criticism of the cardinal for his response to the allegations sexual abuse and misconduct made against his predecessor, Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.

 

More than 300 people signed a petition requesting that Wuerl not celebrate the Mass, and others threatened to walk out in protest if he were present.

 

The Archdiocese of Washington has hosted a large youth rally and Mass before the March for Life for the last 25 years. The 2019 event will be held in the Capital One Arena, and 20,000 pilgrims from across the country are expected to attend. In addition to the Mass, there will be testimonies from pro-life leaders and musical performances.