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'Fertility fraud' scandals raise broader questions about IVF, ethicist says

Washington D.C., Aug 21, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Lawmakers in three states have passed laws to criminalize “fertility fraud” following a series of scandals in which fertility doctors impregnated women with their own sperm without their knowledge or consent. But amid renewed discussion of the fertility industry, one ethicist told CNA that the laws do not go far enough.

On June 4, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed into law Senate Bill 1259, making the use of reproductive material from an unagreed upon donor a form of sexual assault, and could require an offending doctor to register as a sex offender. The bill was unanimously passed by both the Texas House and Senate, and went into effect on July 1. 

The Texas law is unique in classifing donor-deception as sexual assault. 

Legislation in Indiana, passed in May of this year, made it a felony for someone to misrepresent a medical procedure, device, or drug, including reproductive material. A plaintiff may also sue the medical professional for damages. Similar laws were passed in California in 2011.

The Indiana law passed after it was discovered that a fertility specialist, Dr. Donald Cline, had used his own sperm to father at least 61 children in the 1970s and 1980s. The estimated 36 mothers were unaware that he was the source of the donor sperm.

In 2017, eight years after he retired, Cline was sentenced to a one-year suspended sentence, and surrendered his medical license. He pled guilty to two counts of felony obstruction of justice, though his professional conduct was not yet a crime in Indiana. 

Cline’s case is not unique. Doctors in 12 states and several countries have been found to have fathered children with women who did not consent to being inseminated with their own doctor’s sperm. 

Dr. John Di Camillo, an ethicist with the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that scandals only served to highlight the deeper problems with the fertility industry.

“Interventions that bypass or replace the conjugal act, on the other hand, such as in vitro fertilization, are always contrary to human dignity,” Di Camillo said.

While it is understandable that a woman or couple would feel violated by a doctor’s betrayal of their trust in the selection of the sperm donor, Di Camillo told CNA that “the very act of seeking a sperm donor is already a betrayal of any child that might be conceived.”

The child has the right to be born from and within a marriage, where the child’s biological parents are identifiable,” he said.

Such cases of abuse, he said, were rooted in society’s changing views on the nature of childbearing, as well as from the “morally corrupt” practice of in vitro fertilization. 

“When a child is no longer understood as a gift that a married couple receives as the direct fruit of their act of mutual self-giving love, and is instead perceived as a product that can be obtained human procreation becomes exposed to an endless chain of ethical abuses,” he said.

While the fertility industry continues to grow, the availability of commercial DNA testing has meant many previously unknown cases of abuse have come to light.

Sixteen years ago in Texas, Eve Wiley discovered, at the age of 16, that she had been conceived with donor sperm. She tracked down the man who she thought was the donor, and developed what she described as a “beautiful father-daughter relationship.” The man even officiated her wedding. 

After taking a consumer DNA test in 2017 and again in 2018, she learned the truth: the man was not her father. In fact, her father was Dr. Kim McMorries-the doctor who had inseminated her mother. 

McMorries had told Wiley’s mother that he was using donor sperm from California. Her mother had requested a donor from far away, as she was concerned that her potential child could eventually date a half-sibling if a local donor were used. 

Wiley has since been featured on national television programs, and spoke in committee hearings in favor of the Texas law. 

While Di Camillo is supportive of the Indiana and Texas laws, he told CNA that they do not do enough to address the source of the problem: the fertility industry. 

“I would certainly support any legislation outlawing this type of deception as a form of incremental legislation curbing abusive sequelae of the abusive practice of IVF,” he said. 

“The bigger issue is that in vitro fertilization and all forms of assisted reproduction involving donor gametes should be outlawed altogether. The root of the moral problem needs to be addressed.”

Florida bishops: Serial killer's execution is 'unnecessary'

Tallahassee, Fla., Aug 21, 2019 / 09:30 am (CNA).- The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops is pleading for Gov. Ron DeSantis to stop the execution of Gary Ray Bowles, who confessed to murdering six men during a six month period in 1994.

“As we approach the date of Gary Ray Bowles’ scheduled execution, we urge you to grant a stay,” said an Aug. 14 letter, signed by Michael B. Sheedy, the executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the state’s bishops.

Bowles’ execution is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Aug. 22. He was first sentenced to death in May 1996, after pleading guilty to the murder of Walter “Jay” Hinton, and then re-sentenced to death in 1999 after his initial death sentence was overturned. While in prison for Hinton’s murder, he was convicted of three other murders, and sentenced to two life sentences.

When Bowles was arrested for Hinton’s death, he admitted that he had killed a total of six people. As Bowles’ crime spree spread from Jacksonville, Florida to Montgomery County, Maryland, he was dubbed the “I-95 Killer.”

He killed men in three states, two of which presently use the death penalty. At the time of the crimes, the death penalty was legal in all three states.

Bowles met most of his victims in gay bars, and offered to have sex with them in exchange for money. He would then beat and strangle the men to death, and rob them. At the time he was arrested, he was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.

The letter said that while Bowles’ “violent actions” ended the lives of six people, and caused “great grief” to their loved ones, “each of us is more than the worst thing we have done.”

“Mr. Bowles is more than a man who committed multiple murders,” said the bishops’ conference.

“He is a human being who survived many years of childhood abuse and, after escaping his stepfather’s violence as a young teenager, endured years of homelessness and child prostitution.”

“Neuroscientific research has found that such traumatic experiences severely affect a child’s developing brain, and thus affect subsequent behavior,” the letter added.

The bishops’ conference wrote that Bowles does not pose a danger to society as long as he remains in prison without parole, and that the death penalty is not necessary. Instead, “premeditated, state-sanctioned homicide of Mr. Bowles would only perpetuate the cycle of violence that victimized him, and which he later perpetuated.”

“Killing him will only further erode the sense of the sacredness of human life and implicate us all – the citizens of the State of Florida – in his death.”

On Wednesday and Thursday, Florida Catholics, as well as others opposed to the death penalty, will be gathering at locations around the state, including the governor’s mansion and across the highway from the Florida State Prison’s Execution Building. They say they will be praying for  Bowles, his victims, the families of the victims, and for an end to the death penalty.

If Bowles is executed, he will be the 99th person sentenced to death in Florida since the state reinstituted its death penalty in 1976. His will be the second execution presided over by DeSantis, a practicing Roman Catholic.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty is today “inadmissable,” because “there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes,” and “more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.”

Minnesota archbishop reflects on the significance of a pastoral heart

Minneapolis, Minn., Aug 21, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St Paul and Minneapolis reflected in a recent interview on several major milestones: his 60th birthday, 30 years as a priest, and 10 years as a bishop.

In an interview with the Catholic Spirit, the archbishop emphasized the importance of a pastoral heart in the priestly vocation.

“Being a pastor of a diocese is a little bit like being a pastor of a parish. It’s the same desires that you have for being able to make Christ known, being able to serve people, being able to bring the presence of Christ not only through the sacraments but also through God’s word,” he said.

The archbishop celebrated Mass on July 1 at the Cathedral of St. Paul in honor of the 30th anniversary of his priestly ordination. Hebda will also commemorate his 60th birthday on September 3, and 10 years of being a bishop on December 1.

Born in Pittsburgh, Hebda entered Saint Paul Seminary after he graduated from Harvard and received his JD from Columbia Law School. He was ordained in 1989 and, seven years later, he began his role at the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, where he served until he was appointed bishop in 2009.

He said it was initially tough to leave behind a college ministry, where he had been placed as Director of the Newman Center at Slippery Rock University two years prior to his assignment in Rome. However, he said a priest must have a pastoral heart no matter the assignment.

“A priest has to bring a pastoral heart to whatever task is before him. Even if it’s an administrative position, he has to bring to that a pastoral heart,” he said.

“I came to recognize, though, that it was in the work that I was doing (at the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, responsible for interpreting Church law), even though it was very technical, legal work, that I was being given an opportunity to really participate in Christ’s priesthood.”

In any vocation, he said, the most important thing is to place God above all else. He said this fosters acts of service for others.

“I think [God] wants us to put him first in our lives. We love God and we love our neighbor. It’s a way in which we’re also going to have our hearts expanded so that we can serve others, too,” he said.

The archbishop has led Minnesota’s largest archdiocese through a turbulent period. The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in January 2015 amid many abuse claims that had been made possible under Minnesota legislation that opened a temporary window for older claims to be heard in civil court.

Hebda announced in May of last year a $210 million settlement package for victims of sexual abuse.

He is also leading the archdiocese toward a 2021 synod to address pastoral concerns and discern the call of the Holy Spirit.

In preparation for the synod, the archdiocese will have 20 prayer events and spiritual talks. The first one will kick off on September 24. Hebda expressed hope that the process will lead the archdiocese to a richer connection to the Holy Spirit.

“My hope is that we might, together, be able to detect the presence of the Holy Spirit. That we would find reassurance in that. We would be reinvigorated by that realization, as well,” he said.

“I also am trusting that the process will help us to identify priorities for moving forward in a way that’s reflective not only of my own thinking but also the thinking of the faithful of the archdiocese, whether it be our priests, whether it be our lay faithful, whether it be men and women in consecrated life, it will all have a chance to shape the next steps we take as an archdiocese.”

Archdiocese to break ground for Bl. Stanley Rother shrine in November 

Oklahoma City, Okla., Aug 21, 2019 / 12:01 am (CNA).- The shy and unassuming Blessed Father Stanley Rother, a missionary priest and martyr from a farming family, would likely be surprised to learn that the largest Catholic Church in Oklahoma will bear his name.

On Tuesday, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City announced that it will be breaking ground for the Blessed Stanley Rother shrine in November. The $40 million shrine will seat 2,000 and be the largest Catholic church in the state once it is complete.

The project is the “signature element” of the archdiocese’s first-ever capital campaign, the archdiocese told Oklahoma News 4.

Besides the main church, the shrine site will include a prayer chapel devoted to Bl. Stanley Rother, where he will be buried, religious education and ministry classrooms, and a museum and pilgrim center with artifacts and stories about Rother’s life.

“Padre Francisco”, as Rother was affectionately called at the mission in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala where he served, was shot and killed by masked gunman early in the morning on July 28, 1981, in the midst of the country’s civil war. Rother had refused to call for help, not wanting to endanger anyone else at the mission.

The five-foot-ten, red-bearded missionary priest was from the unassuming town of Okarche, Okla., where the parish, school and farm were the pillars of community life. He went to the same school his whole life and lived with his family until he left for seminary.

In June 2015, the Theological Commission of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints voted to recognize Fr. Stanley Rother as a martyr. Pope Francis recognized his martyrdom in early December 2016, and on Sept. 23, 2017, Rother was beatified at a Mass in Oklahoma City.

“The groundbreaking for the shrine will be a significant moment in the life of the Church in Oklahoma and for the broader community,” Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City told News 4.

“The shrine is being built to honor Blessed Stanley Rother, an Oklahoma original and the first U.S.-born priest and martyr ever beatified. It will be a place of pilgrimage where the faithful will come from near and far to honor Blessed Stanley at his final resting place and to seek his intercession for their many needs. It will be a place of welcome, serving all people.”

The groundbreaking for the shrine is set to take place at 3 p.m. on November 3 in Oklahoma City.

 

 

CEOs promise people before profits in new statement on 'Purpose of a Corporation'

New York City, N.Y., Aug 20, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A new commitment by business leaders to move past pure profit, and commit to employees, communities, and the environment, echoes what the Church has been teaching about business for years, a Catholic scholar has said.

On Monday, chief executives on the Business Roundtable—181 CEOs of corporations like Apple, Amazon, Wal Mart, banks and other businesses from various industries—issued a new joint Statement on the “Purpose of a Corporation.”

The updated statement alters more than 20 years of policy that previously held that the primary duty of a company is to provide profit for its shareholders. The Business Roundtable has issued regular statements on corporate governance since 1978, and in 1997 stated that “the principal objective of a business enterprise is to generate economic returns to its owners.”

Now, the roundtable lists several other commitments of business leaders in addition to shareholder profit, including investing in employees through training programs, dealing ethically and fairly with suppliers, and caring for the environment and for local communities.

“I think it’s a really good move,” Professor Andrew Abela, Dean of the Busch School of Business at the Catholic University of America, told CNA.

“Church teaching has been, I think, some of the most sensible teaching on the role of a business anywhere,” he said, to “make a profit as well as to serve society.”

The statement reflects those principles, Abela said.

“It’s something that the Church has been saying for decades,” Abela said, noting that the new announcement is not an “about-face” on the priorities of corporations, but is rather “an expansion of the understanding of the purpose of the firm.”

The statement will need to be put into action to be effective, but it gives “cover” to any business owner who claims that a company has duties to employees and local communities along with shareholders, Abela said.

“It is significant, in terms of language. I think a question is, will it also be significant in terms of a change to policies?” Martijn Cremers, dean of the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, told CNA. He added that such a statement provides a means of holding the executives “accountable.”

A Vatican document from May of 2018 explained the role of shareholders in ethical business dealings. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued its “Considerations for an ethical discernment regarding some aspects of the present economic-financial system,” saying that a business operates as “a true intermediate social body” within a “social fabric.”

When a business pursues profit at all costs, the document said, “every ethical claim is really perceived as irrelevant.”

This mindset leads to the promotion of “greedy and unscrupulous” executives, the document states. Furthermore, primacy is then given to shareholder profit and not to the well-being of employees, consumers and stakeholders, producing “a profoundly amoral culture—in which one often does not hesitate to commit a crime when the foreseen benefits exceed the expected penalty.”

What the Church teaches is not a set of rules for business but “a way of life,” Abela said.  “Running a corporation well” involves various duties both “effective” and “ethical,” he said, including “taking care of your employees, taking care of your customers, taking care of the communities in which the corporation works.”

This reflects a “cooperative” mindset that Pope Benedict talked about in his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate, emphasizing the need for businesses to consider the needs not only of shareholders but all stakeholders--communities, customers, employees, society as a whole, and the environment.

More corporations are moving towards this more “inclusive” business model that operates for the long-term, Cremers said, with an increase in technology and “intangible assets” underlining the need for relationships and “long-term investments.”

“And that is also why I think the statement now is timely,” he said, pointing to a 2018 letter to CEOs from Larry Fink, the CEO of the financial planning and investment management firm BlackRock; Fink stated that “a company’s ability to manage environmental, social, and governance matters demonstrates the leadership and good governance that is so essential to sustainable growth.” 

The Business Roundtable statement expands upon that, Cremers said, explicitly stating the goal of “generating long-term value for shareholders” and not just short-term profits.

Shareholders “are the owners of the corporation” and have property rights, Abela said, but other duties must be looked to as well. “And if you don’t do that, you’re not going to be long-term successful as a corporation, as a business.”

The Church teaches private property rights in conjunction with the “universal destination of goods,” Abela said, “the idea that the goods of this world are for the good of all.”

“What that means is if you own property, you ought to use that property to serve others,” he said.

A New York Times article on the statement noted that it did not address the pay of executives being tens or even hundreds of times greater than lower-level employees.

“It’s a controversial issue,” Abela acknowledged, saying that unjust pay is wrong and that executives should not be paid exorbitant salaries if a company is performing poorly.

However, he said, “if a firm is doing well and paying its employees fairly, and making tons of money for its investors, then I don’t think anyone should put any limits on how much the CEO is being paid. It’s a rare skill to run a large corporation, a large complex corporation, especially in this litigious age.”

Pope Francis’ ‘journalism for peace’ starts with you

Is it just me or is the truth getting harder to find? It seems there is an increasing disagreement in our country over how to interpret both the news and the Good News.

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It’s OK if kids play church

A joyful squeal erupts from the hallway outside of the kitchen as I prepare dinner.

“En garde!” shouts my son in the deepest, throatiest voice his 8 years can dig up.

“En garde!” volleys his 3-year-old sister in a voice far less successful at impersonating a pirate.

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How can I keep them singing?

There are many ways my husband and I differ, but perhaps the most significant is that I come from a family prone to spontaneous outbursts of song while he comes from a family prone to subtle nods as they listen to the car radio together.

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Flint’s holy water

In the spring of 2016, as a graduate student at Michigan State University, I spent some time in Flint interviewing residents and business owners on how they were dealing with the lead crisis. I attended Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Michael Catholic Church  in Flint and was heartbroken to see the drinking fountains and faucets covered with signs saying not to use them. No one living in the church’s rectory could use tap water, either. The holy water bowls were empty, but the hallway was full of donated bottled water for parishioners to take home.

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How to talk to your children about Jesus’ death

“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” blares from the Echo Dot sitting on our kitchen counter. We listen to it so much, my 3-year-old daughter Dahlia perfectly mimics the announcement of it in that sing-songy computer voice of Alexa’s. “‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’ by Gene Autry,” they report in unison, with the first syllable in Autry drawn out as though Alexa might be a little Southern. It’s the 11th time we’ve listened to “Rudolph” today, which would be fine but for the fact that it’s March and we’re in the middle of Lent.

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