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Analysis: 'Job begun' not 'job done' in Baltimore

Baltimore, Md., Jun 14, 2019 / 10:21 am (CNA).- Today the bishops of the United States return home after the USCCB General Assembly.

After a week’s worth of meetings and votes, they can point to real steps taken towards healing the breach of trust between the hierarchy and the faithful. But the passage of several worthy policy documents to one side, there is much work left for the bishops to do.

After a year marked by one episcopal scandal after another, the message the bishops take back to their diocese is more “job begun” than “job done.”

Four key measures were approved by overwhelming majorities during the sessions in Baltimore.

An independently administered, national reporting mechanism is to be set up, to ensure that complaints against bishops can be processed in a clear and credible way.

Directives for applying the pope’s new universal law Vos estis lux mundi were approved, laying out a clear role for lay involvement in the implementation of the “metropolitan model” for investigating allegations.

The weight of the last year’s scandals was addressed with an “Affirmation of Our Episcopal Commitments” by all the bishops: “Because of these failures, the faithful are outraged, horrified, and discouraged,” they wrote, while rededicating themselves to their core mission as shepherds and the high standards the people pews had every right to expect of them.

The bishops also passed, virtually without comment, a set of protocols explaining how a diocesan bishop can restrict the ministry of his retired predecessor when necessary, and made clear that the USCCB president could formally disinvite retired or resigned bishops from attending conference meetings.

By passing these four reforms, the bishops have given themselves a considerable amount of homework.

Contracting a vendor for the independent national reporting line has been left to the conference leadership, and will take some time to put in place – though it will be up and running no later than May next year. But once a complaint is made, the hotline will have to alert the appropriate metropolitan archbishop or senior suffragan -as well as the competent lay person each has designated to help in such cases.

Accounting for every metropolitan and senior suffragan, this means that for the national reporting mechanism to come online, 64 lay people have to be identified, trained, and put in place across the country – no small task. The USCCB have promised a set of guidelines to help with this process by Labor Day.

The question of lay involvement also carries over to the directives implementing Vos estis. During a closed meeting this week of the country’s 32 metropolitans, there was, according to more than one archbishop, unanimous agreement about the “indispensable” role of independent lay experts. But ensuring that each archbishop– and each senior suffragan bishop – can put in place an expert suitably qualified to add value to the process of evaluating allegations will not be done overnight.

Much work is still needed on the standards against which allegations are to be assessed.

The affirmation of episcopal responsibility commits every bishop to publish “clear explanations as to what constitutes sexual misconduct with adults, as well as what constitutes sexual harassment of adults.” Set within the wider question of what constitutes the sexual abuse of a “vulnerable” adult raised by Vos estis, every bishop in the country is now committed to drawing “clear” lines against which to measure the often very messy facts of individual cases, a legal and pastoral challenge the size of which many might not yet fully appreciate.

On Thursday, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark told CNA that there would necessarily be different definitions of misconduct and harassment in different dioceses, because each had to reflect civil laws in each state. Thirteen states plus the District of Columbia have laws criminalizing sexual contact between a religious minister and a congregant. But how such distinctions will play out canonically could prove problematic – few will likely be impressed if a bishop in one diocese can escape unpunished for behavior that would be termed serious misconduct in another.

Technical questions like these went largely undiscussed on the assembly floor in Baltimore, with debate finishing nearly two hours ahead of schedule – something which many of the bishops may yet come to see as a missed opportunity.

It is possible that having had to wait since their last meeting in November to pass measures aimed at showing substantive progress in response to scandals like that of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the U.S. bishops were in a hurry to cast their votes. But in their haste, the bishops may also have passed up a pastoral opportunity to speak directly to the faithful.

While acknowledging the “outrage and horror” of the faithful at the behavior of some bishops, few in the assembly hall expressed those emotions at the microphone.

While passing the protocols to limit the ministry of retired or resigned bishops under clouds of serious scandal, there was no debate or conversation about the clear cases to which they could be usefully and immediately applied.

While the president of the conference can now formally disinvite retired bishops from future meetings, no bishop rose to suggest this be extended immediately to cover, for example, Cardinal Roger Mahony, who attended the last session in November; Bishop Robert Finn, who was in Baltimore this week; Archbishop John Neinstedt; or Bishop Michael Bransfield, who was at the center of a damning report released just prior to the June meeting.

Seeing the bishops overcome their squeamishness at calling out their scandalous brethren is, to many faithful, more than just an exercise in catharsis.

Anonymous votes may signal unity, but they are unlikely to displace McCarrick as the image that comes to mind for many when they think of the American bishops; individual bad cases may be the small minority, but the majority remain essentially faceless for many ordinary Catholics. For all the solidarity behind the reforming measures in Baltimore, the assembly lacked a clear, urgent, moral voice denouncing the sins of the few and sharing the anger, not just the sadness of the faithful.

As they return to their dioceses, the bishops have considerable work still to do before they meet again. Much of that essential work will take place in chancery offices, but the more urgent – and likely more fruitful – work will be in the pulpit.

Illinois bishops oppose abortion law, disagree on Communion for pro-choice lawmakers

Baltimore, Md., Jun 14, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- While two Illinois bishops are unified in their strong opposition to the state’s new abortion law, they differ on the question of prohibiting to receive Holy Communion the Catholic state legislators who led the effort for the bill’s passage.

“I think that our Catholic people are rightfully scandalized when they see Catholic politicians not only voting for, but actively promoting abortion rights, and they wonder, ‘Well how can you promote abortion rights and call yourself a Catholic in good standing?’”

“And the answer to that is ‘You can’t,’” Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill. told CNA of his decision to prohibt from receiving Holy Communion in his diocese the two legislators who led in the effort to pass a law recognizing abortion as a “fundamental right” and explicitly denying independent rights to unborn children apart from the mother.

He added that “to be clear and say ‘no, you can’t be promoting abortion legislation and be a Catholic in good standing,’ it also protects the integrity of the sacraments, saying that receiving Holy Communion is a very sacred thing to do.”

The Illinois Reproductive Health Act (Senate Bill 25), signed by the state’s Governor J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday, recognizes abortion as a “fundamental right” and mandates that insurance companies cover abortions.

And it goes even further than that, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago told CNA.  

“What’s pernicious about this law, and what’s so very difficult, is that it says that the unborn child has absolutely no claim on rights,” Cupich said.

“It says that human life is cheap. That’s the message that we send—that human life is cheap in the State of Illinois.”

Cupich, however, told CNA that he thought it would be “counterproductive” to deny Holy Communion in his archdiocese to the legislators who championed the law.

“I think it would be counterproductive to impose sanctions, simply because they don’t change anybody’s minds, but it also takes away from the fact that an elected official has to deal with the judgment seat of God, not just the judgment seat of a bishop. I think that’s much more powerful,” Cupich told CNA.

“I have always approached the issue saying that the bishop’s primary responsibility is to teach, and I will continue to do that.”

Leaders in the state legislature, the Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, both supported the legislation.

Paprocki issued a decree on June 5 that, because of “their leadership roles in promoting the evil of abortion by facilitating the passage of Senate Bill 25 this legislative session and House Bill 40 in 2017, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton have been barred from receiving Holy Communion in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.”

Furthermore, Paprocki instructed that other Catholic state legislators who supported the abortion bill should not present themselves for Holy Communion.

The earlier 2017 legislation he referenced, House Bill 40, facilitated taxpayer funding of abortion and mandated that, if Roe v. Wade were to be reversed at the Supreme Court, abortion would remain legal in Illinois.

Bishop Paprocki cited the Code of Canon Law, specifically canons 915 and 916, in his decree. Canon 916 forbids Catholics who are conscious of mortal sin from receiving Communion without first going to Confession and repenting of sin. Canon 915 instructs that public figures who obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin not be admitted to the sacraments.

“‘Obstinate’ means they’re stubborn,” Paprocki explained. “The Church has been clear on this teaching, they’ve been repeatedly calling them back to what the Church teaches, and they’re just digging in, they’re not going to change their views. And ‘persistent’ means that happens over a period of time.”

Both bishops said they had communicated, or attempted to communicate, directly with Madigan and Cullerton.

“I have conversations with them, and those continue to take place. They have to,” Cupich said.

Paprocki said he conversed with Madigan and made a phone call to Cullerton that was not returned, and subsequently wrote both of them “because I wanted them to hear directly from me” before he made the decree.

Both Paprocki and Cupich told pro-lifers to continue fighting for life.

“We’ve been at this since Roe v. Wade, and we’re going to continue. This is not going to daunt us at all. We are going to continue to say our message, and we are gaining ground among young people, especially,” Cupich said.

“This is not only an issue of the Church, it’s an issue for the soul of the country and for American people.”

“I know it can be very discouraging when you see legislation like this passing,” Paprocki said.

“I had one person say to me ‘maybe I’m in the wrong state, maybe I need to move to another state.’”

Referencing the early Christians who lived in the Roman Empire, Paprocki said that “the Christians didn’t try to move somewhere where they could all be together and not be surrounded by the pagan culture. What they did was they stayed in that culture but they tried to transform the culture. Or they just said ‘We’re going to live differently. We’re going to live by our Christian values.’”

Don’t subsidize the taking of innocent life, archbishop says of attempts to repeal Hyde Amendment

Baltimore, Md., Jun 13, 2019 / 07:02 pm (CNA).- Abolishing the Hyde Amendment, a proposal made recently by both Congressmen and presidential candidates, would unravel over 40 years of broad, bipartisan consensus, the head of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee told CNA.
 
“I think it’s a very important principle that’s at stake here. And it’s something that there historically was broad consensus (on) and both parties had supported,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Pro-Life Committee, told CNA on Thursday. “So it’s very disappointing to see the extremism now that’s attacking what most Americans would consider a very important principle.”
 
“Why should taxpayers pay for something that they find morally objectionable?” he asked, noting recent attempts by lawmakers to equate abortion with health care. “When you’re destroying a human life, this isn’t health care.”
 
Naumann spoke with CNA at the annual spring meeting of the U.S. bishops held in Baltimore, Md. from June 11-13.
 
The Hyde Amendment is named for the late Rep. Henry Hyde (D-IL), who sponsored the amendment that was first enacted in 1976, and which prevents taxpayer funding of abortions except in cases of rape or incest. The amendment has passed every year since 1976 as an attachment to spending bills, with bipartisan support.
 
A 2016 study by the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List, estimated that the amendment has saved over two million lives - or more than 60,000 people per year.
 
Current Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden was a long-time supporter of the Hyde Amendment, but last week he announced that he would oppose the policy. Biden insisted that politics did not play a role in his decision, in an interview with WHO Channel 13 in Iowa.
 
Other presidential candidates, including Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have opposed the Hyde Amendment on the grounds that it would allegedly restrict abortion access for low-income women on Medicaid. The 2016 Democratic National Committee platform called for the repeal of the policy as well as of the Helms Amendment, which restricts U.S. foreign assistance for abortions.
 
On Monday, Roll Call reported that an amendment was inserted into the Labor-HHS appropriations bill by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), that would remove the Hyde Amendment from the package and require federal funding of abortion in Medicaid and other federal health programs, as well as prevent any state or local restrictions on abortion coverage in the private insurance sector.
 
That amendment would likely be removed from the package by the Rules Committee, Rep. Jayapal admitted to Roll Call on Tuesday, and the amendment was removed from the legislation amidst concerns that it could endanger passage of the bill.
 
“Since its implementation in 1976 when it was strongly supported by Democrats, the Hyde Amendment has saved the lives of more than 2 million Americans who otherwise would have been victims of taxpayer-funded abortions. There’s nothing ‘rare’ about millions more abortions if the Hyde Amendment is repealed,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, stated last Friday after Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden announced his opposition to the pro-life policy.
 
The Susan B. Anthony List noted that, according to a February Marist poll, a majority of Americans (54 percent) oppose taxpayer funding of abortion.
 

Pinterest suspends pro-life group's account, citing 'health misinformation'

San Francisco, Calif., Jun 13, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Pinterest, a social media site with 300 million active users, has banned pro-life activist group Live Action from its platform, just days after a whistleblower revealed documents that purport to show active suppression of pro-life and Christian content by Pinterest.

Alison Centofante, Live Action's director of external affairs, posted a screenshot June 11 of an email from Pinterest informing Live Action that their account was “permanently suspended because its content went against our policies on misinformation.”

“We don’t allow advice on Pinterest that may have immediate and detrimental effects on a Pinner’s health or on public safety,” the communication read.

Live Action founder Lila Rose shared a second email from Pinterest support that said the account was suspended because of “medically inaccurate information and conspiracies that turn individuals and facilities into targets for harassment and violence.”

“What exactly is Pinterest attempting to block? Inspirational messages to pregnant mothers, ultrasound images showing the science of prenatal development, medically accurate information on the abortion procedure, and images saying women deserve better than abortion industry leader Planned Parenthood,” Rose said in a June 11 statement.

“Pinterest has targeted Live Action, I believe, because our message is so effective at educating millions about the humanity of the preborn child and the injustice of abortion...Pinterest users deserve to know the truth and our messages deserve to be treated fairly. If Planned Parenthood can promote their message on Pinterest, then Live Action should be able to as well.”

Despite Live Action’s suspension for purported “immediate and detrimental” health effects of their pro-life materials, pins linking to websites that offered “20 Best Ways to Induce a Miscarriage Naturally at Home” were still active and available on Pinterest June 13.

Before Live Action’s total ban, documents released Tuesday by former software engineer-turned whistleblower Eric Cochran show that Live Action was intentionally marked as a “pornographic” site, thus suppressing users’ ability to link to LiveAction.org’s content.

The documents also allege that Pinterest employees labeled Christianity-related terms like “christian easter” and “bible verses” as “sensitive” search terms, meaning those terms would not show up in autocomplete search results on the site.

Cochran released the documents via the activist group Project Veritas, and says he was subsequently fired from his job at Pinterest.

“Because ‘LiveAction.org’ was added to the list of pornographic sites, the [whistleblower] showed that users cannot create pins that link to ‘LiveAction.org.’ Live Action has received complaints from supporters over the last few months that they have had difficulty pinning content from ‘LiveAction.org,’” Live Action said in a June 11 statement.

“After testing the website, Live Action was unable to create pins from our own website but was able to create pins to other pro-life websites and create pins to pro-abortion websites like Planned Parenthood.”

The whistleblower at Pinterest also revealed, Live Action says, that Pinterest added “David Daleiden/Planned Parenthood” to a list of “conspiracy theories” it monitors.

David Daleidan is a journalist and activist who used hidden camera footage to reveal Planned Parenthood executives and staff negotiating the sale of fetal body parts in 2015.

In another June 11 email, also shared by Rose, a Pinterest spokesperson said Live Action’s account was suspended because of “misinformation related to conspiracies and anti-vaccination advice, not porn,” and that the platform’s “internal tools” were “named years ago to combat porn” and had not been updated.

A media inquiry from CNA to Pinterest, enquiring what specific pins posted by Live Action the platform flagged as containing “misinformation” and how they vetted the information in question, went unanswered as of press time.

Twitter has barred Live Action from purchasing paid advertisements on their site, and the pro-life group has also alleged detrimental treatment from Google and YouTube.

Who's responsible for the USCCB's Twitter?

Baltimore, Md., Jun 13, 2019 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- Over the course of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ spring general assembly, questions arose online: what was going on with the suddenly-chatty USCCB Twitter account? Did they give an intern, or perhaps a particularly hip young priest or enthusiastic new convert the password? Had the account been hacked?

As it turns out, none of those were true. The account is run by Connie Poulos, a 31-year-old content and marketing coordinator at the USCCB. She’s not an intern – and has worked for the conference since 2017, originally as a digital media specialist – and she’s not a convert, and she’s definitely not a priest. She’s married, and she and her husband are in the process of adopting a son from China.

Poulos sat down with CNA during this week's general assembly to discuss what prompted the USCCB’s new online persona. Apparently, this strategy was part of a larger plan to attempt to present a more humanizing look at the bishops of the conference, and better to engage with the account’s 156,000 Twitter followers.

“When I first started in 2017, we didn’t engage on this level, but we did engage,” she explained. “Then, McCarrick happened.”

After the actions of the now-laicized former Archbishop of Washington came to light, Poulos said the conference decided to take a step back when it came to their online presence. About a year later, that mentality has shifted, even as a new crop of scandals begin to emerge.

"We just kind of decided, 'look, all bets are off. We're just gonna be us, we're going to use this account to engage,’” said Poulos. She said that she received instructions to “be bold” on the internet.  

"Then I took that and ran with it,” she added, beginning with her tweets at the spring general assembly.

As a way to expand upon what was being discussed at the general assembly, the USCCB tweeted a picture of Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles with the caption “If you are a young Catholic who is still Catholic, what has made you stay?” At the time of the tweet, Barron was speaking about how half of all young people who leave the Catholic Church become religiously unaffiliated.

The tweet received thousands of replies, including one from Dr. Taylor Patrick O’Neill, a professor of theology at Mount Mercy University. O’Neill tweeted, “Not sure if I am young anymore, but when I was young, the thing that made me stay (or rather return), was finding out that there was a rich intellectual and spiritual REASON (or Logos) behind the felt banners and superficial platitudes which initially pushed me away.”

Then, Poulos, on the USCCB account, responded to this tweet with “Beautifully said. I'm … not sure anyone likes the felt banners.”

Beautifully said.

I'm... not sure anyone likes the felt banners.

— US Catholic Bishops (@USCCB) June 11, 2019


 

This tweet “blew up,” so to speak, and was liked over 700 times. After that tweet, people began to take notice of Poulos’ new approach to the account and started to interact more with the USCCB’s Twitter presence.

For what it’s worth, Poulos insists she’s “ambivalent” on the topic of felt banners.

"If you look at the actual wording of the tweet, I was carefully non-committal,” she said. “I was like 'I'm not sure anybody likes them.' It wasn't a statement,” she said, laughing. She did, however, appreciate the jokes people made, such as one saying “anathema felt!” and others who said the USCCB has spoken out against felt banners.

As a self-described “true millennial” working for the USCCB, Poulos said she is aware of how the organization is viewed by others her age. By engaging on social media with other Twitter users, Poulos said she is trying to be “accessible” and “take away some of the mystery” of the conference of bishops. She said the reaction to her tweets have been “overwhelmingly positive,” even if some of her older coworkers were initially concerned someone unauthorized had accessed the account.

Poulos said her supervisors at the USCCB were entirely supportive of this new approach to engagement on social media, although some other USCCB workers were not so sure about it in the beginning.

"I think they were encouraged when they saw the positive reaction," said. She hopes that she will be able to keep up the engagement on the USCCB social media accounts after the general assembly concludes.  

For Poulos, this approach to online engagement is a fulfilment of the vision she first had when she started working at the USCCB in 2017.

“To put a human face on the bishops is important, I think, and to be a presence (online),” she said. “Just as they say ‘Christ has no hands, but yours,’ Christ has no Twitter account, but yours.”

"This is where people are, we need to meet them there."

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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