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New Orleans Saints defend assistance of archdiocese as disclosure

New Orleans, La., Jan 24, 2020 / 06:29 pm (CNA).- The New Orleans Saints have said assistance that team personnel offered to the Archdiocese of New Orleans on communications strategy was not a coverup, but disclosure.

The team’s claim comes amid a sexual abuse lawsuit filed against the archdiocese. Saints officials said that team personnel offered assistance to archdiocesan officials on how to manage a 2018 report on clerics removed from ministry for alleged sexual abuse, but that the Saints personnel did not act improperly, according to the AP.

At the center of the suit is George Brignac, a deacon of the Archdiocese of New Orleans who was removed from ministry in 1988 after being accused of sexually abusing minors in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Brignac was listed among a November 2018 report of New Orleans archdiocesan clergy who were removed from ministry for an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.

In July 2019, The New Orleans Advocate reported that attorneys of an alleged victim of Brignac were working to obtain copies of any communications between employees of the New Orleans archdiocese and those of the New Orleans Saints. The alleged victim's lawsuit, which WVUE identified as John Doe versus the Catholic Church of New Orleans and Deacon George Brignac, says the archdiocese failed to protect him from Brignac.

The attorneys said they had evidence that the Saints' Senior VP of Communications, Greg Bensel, advised the archdiocese on its 2018 clergy abuse report, and that they wanted to understand how the Saints may have been “supporting the archdiocese on addressing sexual abuse claims and the media coverage surrounding these claims.”

The AP reported Jan. 24 that lawyers “for about two dozen men suing the church” said documents obtained through discovery demonstrated that the Saints assisted the archdiocese in its “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes so that the public does not discover its criminal behavior.” They said Bensel and other Saints employees had advised Church officials on “messaging” related to the clerical abuse of minors.

The plaintiffs are seeking to have the communications made public, which both the Saints and the archdiocese are opposing.

A special master appointed by the court “is expected to hear arguments in the coming weeks on whether the communications should remain confidential,” Jim Mustian of the AP wrote. The AP has filed a motion supporting their publication.

Lawyers for the Saints “acknowledged in a court filing that the team assisted the archdiocese in its publishing of the credibly accused clergy list, but said that was an act of disclosure,” the AP reported.

The football team's lawyers called the assistance “the opposite of concealment” and called claims it had abetted the coverup of crimes “outrageous.”

According to the AP, an archdiocesan attorney had said the request to have the communications released was part of a “proverbial witch hunt with respect to decades-old abuse” and that it was merely an effort to let the media “unfairly try to tar and feather the archdiocese.”

Brignac, 85, was ordained in 1976, and an allegation against him was received the following year. He held pastoral assignments at Cabrini High School, Our Lady of the Rosary, and St. Frances Cabrini School in New Orleans; St. Louise de Marillac School in Arabi; and St. Matthew the Apostle School in River Ridge.

He was charged with indecent behavior with a juvenile in 1977, and was acquitted the next year.

In 1980, Brignac was booked with indecent behavior with a juvenile and contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile, but the allegations were not prosecuted, the New Orleans Advocate reported.

In 1988, charges of abuse of a juvenile were filed, but dismissed by the state.

The New Orleans archdiocese has settled several lawsuits involving Brignac.

One of those settlements, made in May 2018, was for more than $500,000. The victim said he was abused as an altar boy at Holy Rosary School in New Orleans beginning in 1979. Roger Stetter, the plaintiff's attorney, told the New Orleans Advocate shortly after that “it was a fair settlement, and it was very, very prompt.” He added, “I think the archdiocese is doing a lot to try to curtail this type of abuse. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to weed out possible pedophiles.”

Stetter also said Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans is “a good man and wants to do right by the victims, even though it may cost the church a lot of money.”

For several years, until shortly after the May 2018 settlement, Brignac served as a lector at St. Mary Magdalene parish in Metairie, adjacent to New Orleans. The New Orleans archdiocese said its leaders were unaware he was lectoring until after the settlement was publicized, and that the priest who allowed it “was wrong to do so.”

In September 2019 Brignac was arrested on a count of first-degree rape, after a former altar boy said he had been repeatedly raped by the deacon 40 years ago.

Pro-life Democrat calls for 'unity' for life

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- Pro-life unity comes before party loyalty, a Democratic state senator said Friday at the national March for Life on Friday.

“This is not a party issue. This is an issue of unifying America,” Louisiana State Sen. Katrina Jackson (D) told CNA in an interview on Friday, before the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.  Jackson addressed the March for Life rally later in the day.

“This is an issue that hits every community, and it’s not about where we come from or what party you’re a part of or a member of. This issue is about America itself and our children,” she said.

Jackson said her views on abortion are rooted in her Christian faith. 

“God hates the shedding of innocent blood,” Jackson said.

“So when America really wants to see a turnaround, in our economy and in the things that we are concerned about,” she said, “we have to honor God. And being pro-life is a part of honoring God.”

Jackson was one of a series of speakers from both political parties at Friday’s March for Life rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  

“I tell everyone Louisiana is the number one pro-life state, and you know why? Because in Louisiana the majority of Democrats that are elected are pro-lifers,” Jackson said at the rally.

Louisiana is evidence that bipartisan unity on the issue is possible, she said, while exhorting the pro-life movement to put the principle of unity into practice.

“In unity, we must fight like we’ve never fought before,” she said.

The lineup of speakers at the rally most notably included President Donald Trump, the first president to attend a March for Life in person.

Trump addressed thousands of rally participants as his impeachment trial continued in the U.S. Senate on Friday, with House trial managers making their case for a conviction on two counts of abuse of office and obstruction of Congress.

Louisiana’s First Lady Donna Hutto Edwards—whose husband John Bel Edwards is the Democratic governor who signed a “heartbeat” abortion ban into law in 2019—also spoke from the rally stage.

“Pro-life is pro-woman," Edwards said at the rally. “Life is precious in every stage and should be respected and protected.”

Jackson told CNA on Friday morning that, even though Louisiana voters might in general be more pro-life than the rest of the country, other states do have pro-life who constituencies who oppose abortion, in whole or in part. Pro-lifers need to unify behind pro-life candidates from both parties, she said.

“And so that is my concern, that if life is the issue, which it is—doesn’t matter what party you’re a member of—that pro-lifers should support each other,” she told CNA.

“And I’m hoping that what we’re seeing in Louisiana begins to basically move throughout other states.”

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), an eight-term pro-life Catholic congressman, is a national example of a politician deserving of pro-life support, she said.

His “Republican constituency” may disagree with some of his votes, she said, but the message of bipartisan unity is making inroads around the country.

Earlier this month, Lipinski told CNA that support of his campaign from pro-life groups was “not as much as I’d like to see,” as he faces a second consecutive primary challenge from pro-abortion candidate Marie Newman.

Jackson, answering for herself, said on Friday that as a Democrat she has seen support from national pro-life groups including National Right to Life and Susan B. Anthony List, as well as the group Save the Storks.

Jackson was a keynote speaker at Save the Stork's annual charity ball on Thursday evening.

Through attending national events, Jackson said she has discovered Democrats from around the country who either oppose abortion or are in disagreement with the party’s radical shift in support of abortion.

The 2016 DNC platform that stated “unequivocal” support for abortion access, and no 2020 Democratic presidential candidate opposes taxpayer funding of abortion.

Jackson said she is working to give pro-life Democrats “a place back in their party.”

“I really believe that we’re on the cusp of really building up the party and understanding that what you believe, or what the party platform is, is not what most Democrats believe,” she said.

At March for Life, Trump gets mixed reviews

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 04:45 pm (CNA).- On Friday, President Donald Trump became the first U.S. president to address the March for Life in person. His appearance was greeted by pro-lifers with both excitement and hesitation.

The presence of the president brought with it additional security, similar to when Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the pre-march rally in 2017. 

Trump’s decision to attend personally, instead of via video message as in past years, meant attendees were prevented from bringing certain items to the rally, faced long lines, and had to pass through metal detectors before entering the Mall.

The extra measures discouraged some potential attendees, who stayed away, worried that the logistics of juggling security and children would be too much. 

Connie Poulos told CNA that she had already decided, reluctantly, to skip this year’s march due rather than face the event solo with her young son. The news that Trump was speaking at the rally made her feel “less bad” about missing the event, because she feared the president would alienate non-Republicans. 

“As a pro-life person, I think the movement needs all the help it can get to cross party lines,” she said.

While signs are always commonplace at the March for Life, this year's had a distinctly partisan bent. Familiar “Vote Life” or “Choose Life” signs manufactured by the Knights of Columbus were joined this time by “Pro-Life Voices For Trump” and “Most Pro-Life President Ever” signs with pictures of president. These signs were supplied by the RNC and were distributed at the rally by volunteers.  

Despite hesitation by some, most attendees CNA spoke with said they were happy about the president’s appearance.  

“President Trump is one of the greatest presidents that this country has ever had. A man who has a heart after God to do what God has called him to do, in spite of [what] anybody else thinks or [does],” Barbara Bell, who described herself as a “black American who loves the Lord Jesus Christ, and loves President Trump,” told CNA. 

Bell, who is 70 years old, told CNA she was attending her fortieth March for Life in 2020. She came down from Massachusetts for the event, and said she was even more excited than usual when she heard that Trump would be speaking. 

While politically independent, Bell said that she was impressed with what Trump had accomplished during his time in office. 

Mimi Vertrees, an 18 year old attending the March for Life for the first time, traveled to DC from Nashville, Tennessee. She carried a sign reading “Stop Calling Violence Feminism,” and she told CNA that she believed there is a “misconception” about feminism because of its embrace of abortion.

Vertrees said she thought it was “amazing” that Trump was coming to address the March for Life, and that she was “so excited” when she found out he would be coming. She stressed that she thought it was important for the president to be physically present at the event.

One young woman was en route to Washington when she found out that Trump would be speaking at the rally. Quinley Fawks, who traveled 22 hours on a bus from Salisbury, Missouri to attend the March for Life, said that finding out Trump was coming heightened her anticipation. 

After it was announced on Wednesday that Trump would be attending the rally, Fawks told CNA, her bus leader made the announcement, and “everyone was really excited. We were surprised and happy.” 

This was Fawks’ second time attending the March for Life, and she said that she made the choice to embark on the long journey because “We’re here to save the babies.” 

One rally attendee who was not excited to see Trump was Clarence Richard of Minnetonka, Minnesota. Richard was dressed as Uncle Sam, and his hat read “U.S. Army Veteran” and “Remove the GOP.” 

Richard was most upset by Trump’s policies at the southern border, which resulted in children being separated from their parents. He carried two dolls, which he said were meant to “represent the young children at the border.” 

While this was Richard’s first March for Life, he said he had been a longtime supporter of the pro-life cause. 

“This is bananas,” said Richard. “We shouldn’t be allowing [Trump] to speak. 

Each year the March for Life winds its way past the Canadian embassy, where a small contingent of Canadians come out to show their support. Valerie Luetke of Oakville, Ontario, was one of the people there this year. 

This said this was her first trip to the March for Life in the United States, but she had attended the Canadian March for Life in Ottawa several times. 

“We just kind of wanted to see how big it is, how passionate [everyone] is, and of course, Trump is speaking,” Luetke said. She told CNA that she found Trump’s speech to be “amazing,” especially because Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, is publicly against the pro-life cause, she said. 

“It’s really inspiring,” she said. “I know not everyone supports him for all of his policies, but I think the fact that he’s here is really amazing.”

States announce pro-life, pro-choice initiatives ahead of March for Life

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- On the eve of the 2020 March for Life in Washington DC, lawmakers in several states announced the introduction of potentially significant pro-life legislation, while others announced efforts to preserve legal protection for abortion.

In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee (R) announced Thursday that the state’s Republican lawmakers would pursue several measures aimed at restrcting abortion including a bill which would ban abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected, which can be around six weeks gestation.

The legislation, which is still under development, would also require a woman seeking an abortion be shown an ultrasound of her baby, and would ban abortions based on race, sex, a Down syndrome diagnosis or the diagnosis of a fetal abnormality.

“We know that when a mother views her unborn child and hears a heartbeat, hearts and minds are changed,” Lee said during the Jan. 23 announcement.

The legislative strategy, the Tennessee Lieutenant Governor says, will be modeled after a bill passed in Missouri which includes abortion bans at various stages of gestation and is designed to stand up to judicial scrutiny.

The proposed Tennessee law includes bans after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as well as at eight, 10, and 12 weeks gestation. The hope is that if one of these bans is struck down in court, the others will stand.

Lee’s office confirmed to The Tennesseean newspaper that the proposed legislation would include an exception allowing for abortions in the case of a mother's life being in danger.

Tennessee lawmakers have pursued a heartbeat bill before, in 2019, but that legislation failed to garner enough support in the Tennessee Senate to advance.

At the time, the Catholic bishops of Tennessee voiced their opposition to a fetal heartbeat law and instead urged alternative legislation less open to legal challenges, stating last February that while they are opposed to abortion, they believe the Heartbeat Bill would fail a likely court challenge. They instead voiced support for “trigger ban” legislation that would ban abortion in the state in the case of the Supreme Court overturning the 1973 Roe v Wade decision.

Georgia’s governor signed a similar heartbeat bill into law during May 2019, but in October 2019 a federal judge blocked the law from coming into force.

In Kentucky, a Senate panel on Thursday approved a bill that would require doctors and other health workers to provide “medically appropriate and reasonable life-saving and life-sustaining medical care and treatment” to any infant born after a failed abortion. Violating the bill would be a felony punishable by 1 to 5 years in prison.

Nearly half of the Kentucky Senate's members have signed on as cosponsors of SB 9, the AP reports.

“Who can dispute that that's a human life?" Sen. Whitney Westerfield, the bill's lead sponsor, told the AP.

“It's outside the womb. It's alive. Who would advocate for it to be killed?...We want to make sure the law's there to punish those that are trying to do it and get away with it.”

Kentucky law already bans abortions after 20 weeks gestation, and other pro-life proposals are already under consideration in the state. One such proposal would amend the state Constitution to specify it includes no protection for abortion rights. Another proposal would ban public funds for any agency that performs or counsels patients about abortion, the AP reports.

On the other side of the abortion debate, a Democratic majority in the Virginia General Assembly this week said they want to make the state a “safe haven” for abortion rights.

A Virginia Senate committee passed a bill Jan. 23 to undo the state’s 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, as well a requirement that women seeking an abortion undergo an ultrasound and counseling, the AP reported.

HB 980 would also roll back state requirements that an abortion be provided by a physician, allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to perform them; and would undo building code requirements on facilities where abortions are performed, the AP reported.

The Virginia Catholic Conference released information on the House bill and its companion Senate bills Jan. 22, urging voters to oppose the measures and encouraging them to attend the Virginia March for Life in Richmond on February 13, 2020.

Governor Ralph Northam, who is supportive of the measures to relax abortion restrictions this year, in 2019 supported the Repeal Act, a bill that would have relaxed laws regarding third-trimester abortions. The bill’s lead sponsor, Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) admitted that there was nothing in her bill that would prevent an abortion from being carried out while a mother was in active labor.

When questioned about this provision in the bill, Northam said that such a case would see the newborn infant be given “comfort care” while a discussion ensued about whether or not to pursue medical intervention. The bill eventually was tabled.

 

California abortion mandate violates federal law, Trump administration says

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 02:23 pm (CNA).- The Trump administration has said that California state policies violate federal law for requiring abortion coverage in religious groups’ health insurance plans – a mandate that Catholic leaders had charged “directly targeted” Catholic universities that had stopped paying for employees’ elective abortions.

California has 30 days to comply with federal law, and failure to comply could threaten its federal funding, Roger Severino, director of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, said in a Jan. 24 conference call with reporters.

Catholic leaders welcomed the Trump administration’s move, which coincided with the March for Life in Washington, D.C. where President Donald Trump became the first president to address the event in person.

“Today’s announcement is extraordinarily good news for the right to life, conscientious objection, religious freedom and the rule of law,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Jan. 24. “For nearly six years, employers in California – including churches – have been forced to fund and facilitate abortions in their health insurance plans in direct violation of a federal conscience protection law known as the Weldon Amendment. This coercive California policy is abhorrent, unjust and illegal.”

The bishops’ statement came from Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chair of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop George Murry, S.J., of Youngstown, who chairs the Committee for Religious Liberty.

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

Severino told reporters the HHS action was a response to complaints from a Catholic mission, Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit, and the California-based Skyline Wesleyan Church, the Washington Post reports.

“There is a process, if we do not reach accord, that could lead to revocation of streams of federal funding,” Severino said. “California is a big consumer of HHS funds. We’re giving them 30 days so that we don’t have to cross that bridge.”

The California Catholic Conference filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights, but the Obama administration rejected the complaint in June 2016.

“We strongly commend the Trump Administration for taking this critical action to enforce federal law and correct this supreme injustice to the people and employers of California,” the U.S. bishops said. “Sadly, violations of federal conscience laws are on the rise. We hope that this enforcement action, and subsequent actions by the Administration, will stop further unlawful discrimination against people who reject abortion as a violation of the most basic human and civil rights.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, was dismissive of the action.

“The Trump administration would rather rile up its base to score cheap political points and risk access to care for millions than do what’s right,” Newsom said. “California will continue to protect a woman’s right to choose, and we won’t back down from defending reproductive freedom for everybody — full stop.”

The Trump administration’s move could have ramifications for at least five other U.S. states with similar mandates, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Oregon Right to Life has filed suit against the 2017 Oregon law requiring health plans to cover abortion. In October 2019, the Thomas More Society challenged a similar Illinois mandate. New York and Washington also require abortion coverage in private health plans.

The California rule was so broad that churches and other religious groups could not secure abortion-free California health plans for their employees. Its history, however, was rooted in an effort of Catholic universities to reform their health plans to become more consistent with their Catholic identity.

In August 2014 California’s Department of Managed Health sent a letter to seven insurance companies stating that they are required to include elective abortions in their health plans. A 1975 state health care law, the California constitution, and court precedent, it said, prohibits health plans “from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy.” The law requires all health plans to “treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally,” the state regulator said.

The action came after the autumn 2013 announcements from two Catholic universities, Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University, which said that they planned to stop paying for employees’ elective abortions. They said their insurers, Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente, had secured approval from state officials.

In an October 2013 letter, Santa Clara University president Father Michael E. Engh, S.J., said that the university’s “core commitments” are incompatible with abortion coverage. Before the policy was revised, Santa Clara’s health plan also provided abortion coverage to dependents of faculty and staff.

The universities’ move against abortion coverage drew praise from Catholic and pro-life groups. However, the policy changes drew strong opposition from pro-abortion politicians and advocacy groups, as well as from many faculty and staff at the historically Jesuit Catholic schools. In December 2013, Santa Clara University faculty rejected the anti-abortion changes to the health care plan by a vote of 215 to 89.

Lobbyists from Planned Parenthood wrote to the California Department of Health and Human Services to insist that agency rules be changed to force religious groups to provide coverage for elective abortions. Emails showing this effort were contained in 2017 court filings from the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group but date to the time of the controversy.

The emails specifically named the two Catholic universities.

The insurers and the universities agreed to comply with the state’s new pro-abortion requirements. However, the state rules drew strong opposition from the California Catholic Conference, which charged that the state government “directly targeted” the two Catholic universities and violated federally guaranteed civil rights by ordering their health insurance plans to cover abortions.

“This is a coercive and discriminatory action by the State of California,” said Bishop Robert McElroy, then an auxiliary bishop of San Francisco and chairman of the state Catholic conference’s Institutional Concerns Committee.

McElroy, who became Bishop of San Diego in 2015, characterized the decision as a demand “directly targeted at Catholic institutions like Santa Clara University, Loyola Marymount University, along with other California employers and citizens.”

“It is a flagrant violation of their civil rights and deepest moral convictions, and is government coercion of the worst kind,” McElroy said Oct. 1, 2014.

In June 2016, the Obama Administration rejected the California Catholic Conference’s federal complaint against the mandate. The HHS Office for Civil Rights said it “found no violation of the Weldon Amendment and is closing this matter without further action.”

At that time, leaders with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said it was “shocking” that the federal government allowed California to force all employers, including churches, to fund and facilitate elective abortions.

“Even those who disagree on the issue of life should be able to respect the conscience rights of those who wish not to be involved in supporting abortion,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore said in June 2016. They objected that the ruling was “contrary to the plain meaning of the law” and called for Congress to pass the Conscience Protection Act.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, praised the Trump administration’s move against the California policy.

“Abortion is not health care and no American should ever be forced to participate in the destruction of innocent human life,” said Dannenfelser, who also co-chairs the Pro-Life Voices for Trump National Advisory Board ahead of the 2020 election.

'Pro-Life is Pro-Woman': The 2020 March for Life

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A crowd estimated in at least the tens of thousands flooded the National Mall for the March for Life on Friday.

The annual gathering draws pro-life advocates from all over the U.S. and foreign countries to Washington, D.C., marking the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Jan. 22, 1973 decision that legalized abortion.

The march was kicked off by a rally on the National Mall attended by thousands, where President Donald Trump became the first U.S. president to address the March for Life. He did so while Democratic House trial managers were making the case for his impeachment in the U.S. Senate.

"Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House,” Trump said. “Every life brings love into this world. Every child brings joy to a family. Every person is worth protecting."

The president highlighted recent state-level efforts to expand abortion to include all nine months of pregnancy, singling out legislation passed in New York last year as well as controversial comments by Virginia Governor Ralf Northam (D).

Trump was joined on stage by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), March for Life president Jeanne Mancini, Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony List, and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), and others.

Other speakers at the rally included political figures from both Republican and Democratic parties: the First Lady of Louisiana, Donna Bel Edwards; House Minority WHIP Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.); Louisiana State Sen. Katrina Jackson (D); U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.); and Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List and co-chair of the Trump 2020 campaign’s pro-life coalition.

“Today, as President of the United States, I am truly proud to stand with you,” Trump said at the rally, noting that the March was “to defend the right of every child, born and unborn, to fulfill their God-given potential.”

“Every child is a precious and sacred gift from God,” he said.

Following the speeches from the rally’s main stage, the march proper began, progressing up the National Mall towards the Supreme Court.

Carrying the giant March for Life banner at the front of the crowd is regarded as a privilege, bestowed on a different group each year.

For 2020, students at Oakcrest School in McLean, Virginia—a Catholic all-girls middle and high school—led the march. Oakcrest administrators said that the school had a long history of supporting life and participating in the march each year, with classes suspended for the day to allow students and teachers to attend. The banner was carried by members of the school’s student-run Respect Life Club.

Behind Oakcrest, students at Colorado Christian University carried flags ahead of the main body of the march. The estimated tens of thousands of marchers moved up the National Mall towards the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill were a few hundred pro-abortion demonstrators had gathered earlier in the day.

Now in its forty-seveth year, the theme of the 2020 march,“Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman,” was chosen to mark the centennial anniversay of women’s right to vote in the United States with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. The march’s theme was chosen to counter the narrative put forward by abortion supporters that the practice “empowers” women. 

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, told CNA when the theme was announced that “we primarily chose it because of the centennial” and to show that real “empowerment” meant valuing the lives of mothers and their unborn children.

In an op-ed published Friday morning, Mancini said that “abortion does not improve the lives of women and, unlike many who claim to be part of the women’s movement today, the suffragists wanted no part of it.”

“Abortion not only destroys women’s offspring, it can also cause lasting physical harm and psychological trauma. It’s a violent step backward that disproportionately affects women,” Mancini said.

“It has been 100 years since the suffragists won women the right to vote. They did so over time with single-minded focus and perseverance, and, in the end, gave voice to their voiceless sisters."

"We should not take for granted the progress they made. This November, we should use their victory to give voice to the voiceless unborn. They too deserve equal rights and protection under the law,” said Mancini.

Trump at March for Life: 'I am truly proud to stand with you'

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 12:07 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump addressed the annual March for Life Friday, telling pro-life demonstrators that he is an advocate for the right to life of unborn children, and calling for a federal prohibition on late-term abortion.

The president spoke about his administration’s record on abortion policy and criticized Democrats at the state and federal level for their positions on human life.

He is the first president to attend in person the March for Life, which began in 1974 and has become one of the largest annual political events in the country.  

“All of us here understand an eternal truth: Every child is a precious and sacred gift from God,” Trump told the crowd, which spanned across a large section of the National Mall and which the president described as a “tremendous turnout.”

“We’re here for a very simple reason, to defend the right of every child born and unborn to fulfill their God-given potential,” the president said.

“As President of the United States, I am truly proud to stand with you,” Trump said.

“Together we must protect, cherish, and defend the dignity and the sanctity of every human life.”

“You embrace mothers with care and compassion, you are powered by prayer and motivated by pure, unselfish love,” the president told the crowd.

Trump especially praised the college and high school students in attendance at the March for Life.

“Young people are the heart of the March for Life, and it’s your generation that is making America the pro-family, pro-life nation. The life movement is led by strong women, amazing faith leaders, and brave students, who carry on the legacy of pioneers before us, who fought to raise the conscience of our nation and uphold the rights of our citizens,” Trump said.

The president’s attendance at the March for Life was announced earlier this week. In 2019 Vice President Mike Pence attended the march, and in 2018 Trump welcomed pro-life leaders to the White House Rose Garden on the same day as the event.

The president’s unexpected attendance at the event led to heightened security. Initial security announcements said that no strollers would be permitted at the event, leading to criticism from attendees who had brought children. Security organizers eventually relented on the stroller policy, saying the initial prohibition was the result of a miscommunication

Trump took the stage shortly after noon to chants of “Four more years” from some, but not all, in the crowd. Some attendees held signs distributed by the president’s campaign team, some of which read “Most Pro-Life President Ever.”

Before he spoke, Trump greeted leaders on the stage while Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” played. Before he had taken the stage, songs from the Rolling Stones and Tina Turner played, as well as The Animals’ 1964 “House of the Rising Sun,” had played for the crowd. The songs are standard fare at Trump campaign events.

The president was welcomed enthusiastically by March for Life president Jeanne Mancini.

Describing the March for Life as a “pro-life and pro-woman” event, and the “largest human rights demonstration in the entire world,” Mancini told Trump that “your presence here today makes a very powerful statement.”

“You are leader of the free world and you stand for life. Thank you for being here. Thank you for everything you’ve done for life. And thank you for everything you will be doing for life in the years ahead,” Mancini said, apparently in reference to the president’s upcoming election.

The welcome marked a stark contrast to a March 2016 statement from Mancini, who responded to remarks from Trump calling for the imprisonment of women who undergo abortions as “completely out of touch with the pro-life movement and even more with women who have chosen such a sad thing as abortion.”

“Being pro-life means wanting what is best for the mother and the baby. Women who choose abortion often do so in desperation and then deeply regret such a decision. No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion," Mancini added in 2016.

But Trump has made efforts since his 2016 election to respond to the policy proposals of pro-life leaders, administration officials say.

On Friday, he touted some of those efforts, mentioning his expansion of the Mexico City policy that bars federal funding from supporting abortions in foreign countries, along with his 187 appointments to the federal bench, among them two justices of the Supreme Court. The president also mentioned that new regulations on Title X policies block abortion providers from some federal funds.

Trump said that his administration is concerned about protecting religious liberty, and is “taking care of doctors, teachers, nurses, and groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor.”

“Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House,” the president said, to applause from the crowd.

Trump has faced fierce criticism from the U.S. bishops’ conference and other faith leaders for his immigration, social welfare, and foreign aid policies, and did not make mention of those issues during his speech. His rhetoric and policies on this issues have been criticized by Catholic leaders as inimical to respect for human dignity. Nor did the president mention his recent drone strike against Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, which has also drawn criticism from faith leaders who have raised concerns about the possibility that the U.S. could enter another war in the Middle East.

The president also did not mention directly his reelection, but he did tell the crowd that “Democrats have embraced the most radical and extreme positions taken and seen in this country for years and decades, and you can even say, for centuries. Nearly every top Democrat in Congress now supports taxpayer-funded abortions all the way up until the moment of birth.”

Trump mentioned the 2019 passage of New York state’s Reproductive Health Act, which ushered in a wave of legislation in several states aimed at expanding legal protection for abortion. He also mentioned Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam, who in 2019 made public comments that seemed to support allowing a child who survived a botched abortion to die without medical treatment.

The president did not mention Louisiana state Rep. Katrina Jackson, a pro-life Democrat scheduled to speak at the March for Life shortly after Trump. Jackson sponsored a Louisiana law requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within a 30-mile radius. That law, signed by a Democratic governor and now under judicial review at the Supreme Court, is expected to pose a challenge to the binding precedent of Roe v. Wade.

Trump is currently subject to impeachment proceedings in the U.S. Senate, which he did not mention directly in his speech. He did, however, aim to connect his political challenges to his pro-life advocacy.

“Sadly the far left is actively working to erase our God-given rights, shut down faith-based charities, ban religious believers from the public square, and silence Americans who believe in the sanctity of life,” Trump told the crowd.

“They are coming after me, because I am fighting for you, and we are fighting for those who have no voice, and we will win, because we know how to win.”

“We all know how to win. You’ve been winning for a long time. You’ve been winning for a long time,” Trump told the crowd.

As he closed his remarks, the president told the crowd his attendance was a “very special moment.”

“It is so great to represent you. I love you all...God bless America.”

As Trump left the stage, the Rolling Stones' 1969 classic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” played over the speakers.

 

Christine Rousselle contributed to this report.

 

 

HHS Secretary says he is proud to lead 'Department of Life'

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said his department is committed to protecting life “from conception to natural death,” as he prepares to attend Friday’s national March for Life.

“We are proud to be ‘the Department of Life’ and will continue protecting life and lives while upholding the fundamental freedoms and inherent dignity of all Americans,” said Azar in a statement released on Jan. 23.

Azar said that “it is an honor to lead a department that has demonstrated our full commitment to protecting the dignity of life from conception to natural death.”

HHS released the statement the evening before the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., an annual pro-life gathering that is attended by tens of thousands from all over the U.S. and foreign countries.

The theme of the 2020 March for Life is “Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman.”

A spokeswoman from HHS’ Office of Public Affairs confirmed to CNA that Secretary Azar will be attending the March for Life.

The secretary also noted the department’s efforts over the past year to oppose “an international right to abortion” at the United Nations and at other international meetings. In September he read a joint statement of the U.S. and other countries against finding an “international right to abortion,” at a meeting on universal health coverage on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

He also noted the department’s efforts to uphold conscience rights. In May, HHS issued a final rule based on various federal laws protecting conscience in health care, allowing health care workers and providers to opt out of participating in or paying for procedures such as abortion, sterilization, and assisted suicide.

Azar will join President Donald Trump at the March for Life, who this week announced he would be addressing attendees of the march at a rally on the National Mall. 

Trump will be the first president to speak at the March for Life. He will do so while his impeachment trial, on two counts of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, is underway in the U.S. Senate.

“Jeanne Mancini, President, March for Life: ‘We have never had a President of the United States actually come in person to the March for Life.’ But now you do! See you later Jeanne,” the President tweeted early Friday morning.

Youth Mass for Life told to 'give back our life to the One to whom it belongs'

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 09:05 am (CNA).- Living the “Gospel of Life” requires sacrifice but God is infinitely generous in return, the secretary to the Apostolic Nunciature to the U.S. told youth at the Mass for Life in Washington, D.C. on Friday.

“To be a witness to the Gospel of Life, we have to give back our life to the One to Whom it belongs,” said Father Daniele Rebeggiani, a Washington archdiocesan priest and secretary to the Apostolic Nunciature to the U.S. and the homilist for the Mass for Life celebrated at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. on Friday. The Mass preceded the 47th annual March for Life, expected to attract nearly 100,000 people from across the U.S. and foreign countries.

Fr. Rebeggiani preached on the Gospel for the Mass, the story of the rich young man who left Christ sad because his “heart was divided.”

“This Mass is an invitation to all of us to leave everything, to abandon our life totally to the Lord,” Rebeggiani said, inviting those present to ask a priest if they “ever regretted living a life of celibacy” or their parents if “they’ve ever regretted their sleepless hours.”

In order to be a witness to the gift of life, “we should be willing to undergo some persecution,” he said. Yet, he said, “the Lord will never, ever disappoint you,” and “I have never, ever regretted giving my life to the Lord.”

The Mass, preceded by a youth rally, was attended by an estimated 18,000 teenagers and young adults from more than 50 dioceses around the country just hours before the March for Life was set to begin on the National Mall.

The March for Life is held each year on or around the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Jan. 22, 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that overturned state abortion bans and legalized abortion nationwide in cases before the unborn baby is “viable.”

On Friday morning, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. celebrated the Mass for Life, with the Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Christophe Pierre, concelebrating along with more than 180  bishops and priests.

Archbishop Pierre greeted those present at the beginning of the Mass and thanked them on behalf of Pope Francis for “showing your solidarity with the unborn in the ‘throwaway culture’.”

“We don’t fight for an idea. We fight for the future of the human being,” Pierre said.

The nuncio cited Pope Francis’ comparison of abortion to hiring a hitman to kill someone, saying “never, never eliminate a human life or hire a killer to solve a problem. Abortion is never the answer that women and families are looking for.”

“The Holy Father is close to you, and believes in you, and with his spirit he marches with you,” he said.

The Youth Rally and Mass for Life is the largest annual event of the Archdiocese of Washington. It precedes the March for Life, attended annually by tens of thousands of pro-life advocates from all over the U.S. and internationally.

Friday’s rally and Mass carried the theme of “Living the Gospel of Life,” taken from the “life in abundance” promised by Christ in the Gospel of John, chapter 10, in answer to the culture of death which promotes abortion.

At the rally preceding Friday’s Mass, abortion survivor Melissa Ohden told her story to the audience. Two religious sisters—Sister Josephine Garrett of the Holy Family of Nazareth, and Sister Maria Juan Anderson of the Religious Sisters of Mercy—addressed the youth, and Catholic singer Sarah Kroger performed.

Archbishop Gregory hails youth for life: ‘They have the energy to pull it off’

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 06:40 am (CNA).- An estimated 18,000 young Catholics from around the country filled the Capital One Arena in downtown Washington, DC, Friday morning for the annual Youth Rally and Mass for Life.

Organized by the Archdiocese of Washington, the early morning rally opens a day of events for the March for Life each year. Doors opened just after 6am, but busloads of pilgrims and marchers had already arrived in the early hours of Jan. 24.

Many of the attendees had been up late at the previous evening’s Mass and Vigil for Life at the Basilica of National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at the campus of The Catholic University of America.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Washington told media that the annual rally and Mass was the largest event hosted by the archdiocese every year.

“This is about our protest, our positive witness to the gift of life, on this anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This is what we do. We gather so that we can pray and we take action.”

Speaking to reporters during the rally, Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory talked about the significance of the event, his first since succeeding Cardinal Donald Wuerl last year.

CNA asked Gregory about the use of abortion as a political wedge issue by, and how the Church could help build unified culture of life, Gregory said the event showed the breadth and youth of the pro-life movement.

“First of all, [abortion] can be used in a very isolating way,” Gregory acknowledged.

“But part of the rally, part of our Catholic witness, is that while life within the womb is certainly threatened, on so many levels, it is the first step of the significance of life in all of its manifestations. So what we try to do, especially with our young people, is to say ‘it is the beginning,’ its not the end of our respect for human life and its dignity.”

“I think one of the things that this event does, and I am new to it, is it makes a promise that our witness to the dignity of life is youthful and it has a future,” Gregory said.

Gregory was also asked about the announced address by President Donald Trump scheduled for later in the day at the main rally for life on the National Mall, hand the president's closeness to the anti-abortion movement politically, but divergence from the Church on other issues such as immigration and social welfare.

“The bishops of the United States have consistently, and for a long time, spoken about the integrity of our teaching on the dignity of human life. While the focus today in many respects will be on protecting life in the womb – that is not the end. Because of that, individuals from whatever political persuasion might decide to focus on one dimension, but we as Catholics have to say ‘we are grateful for that focus on that one dimension, but there is more to come.’”

The rally portion of the morning was led by Sr. Maria Juan of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, who opened the event calling out pilgrims from across the country and inviting young people, priests and religious to share their own experiences of this and past events.

The rally program also included an address from Melissa Ohden, founder of The Abortion Survivors Network, and herself an abortion survivor, while Christian rock bands and the choir of John Carroll High School kept energy levels high in the early morning.

Gregory greeted pilgrims and marchers on the arena floor before preparing for the 9am Mass, at which he was scheduled to be the principle celebrant, together with Archbishop Christoph Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.   

The Washington archbishop pointed to the enthusiasm of the crowd as a clear sign that they were undeterred in the fight against abortion, even though the vast majority had never known a time when it was not legal.

“The fact that they have taken such an enthusiastic position is an indication that our future in our young people is bright. They have the right focus, they have the right intention, they have the energy to pull it off,” Gregory said.