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Now is the time to defend the truth, Phoenix bishop says at prayer breakfast

Washington D.C., Apr 23, 2019 / 04:28 pm (CNA).- Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix called on a gathering of the nation’s Catholic leaders to stand up to the heresies of the modern age and defend the dignity of the human person, body and soul, as an integral part of defending the faith.

Speaking at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast April 23, the keynote speaker said that the importance of the human body was at the center of a contemporary moral crisis, and crucial to presenting the Church’s teaching in modern society.

Olmsted said that he believes the “disaster” predicted by Pope St. Paul VI in the encyclical Humanae vitae had come to fruition. Quoting from an exhortation to the married couples of his own diocese, he said that the sexual revolution of the last century had caused humanity “a plague of misery on a scale never known before.”

“Enough! Husbands and wifes, mothers and fathers, you are called to have great hearts here, counter-cultural and brave. You can build something better, freer, more generous, and nobler,” he said, insisting that rebuilding society began in the home.

Husbands and wives have to be “all-in” for their sacramental marriage vows, explained Olmsted. This means that couples need to be open to new life, whether “by way of the marital act” or through adoption and fostering.

"Do not be afraid to sink your roots deeply into the living water that is Jesus Christ. He will not abandon you,” said Olmsted. “Lead your family, and lead in whatever other place the Lord asks, with deep and childlike faith in Him."

The family, Olmsted said, was the sign that would defeat the heresies of the current age, all of which concerned the human body.  Whether in reference to the true nature of marriage, life, and gender, or the resurrection of Christ, when the dignity of the body is questioned, Olmsted said, the truth preached by the Church is cast aside, to the detriment of marriage and unborn children.

Sacramental marriage “stands now in the way of the gender ideology,” he said, insisting that Catholics must proclaim the truth and oppose attempts to weaken marriage and the family - attempts which “do nothing to strengthen our great country.”

“Look at the vociferous opposition to the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” said Olmsted, referring to Congressional attempts to legislate to require that doctors provide age-appropriate care for infants who survive late-term abortions.

“Where does this blatant disregard come from?” he asked. “From a hardened heart.”

Olmsted said it is the great duty of Catholics to “stand up for each child,” offering a courageous witness for life. This, he said, requires each person to “expand our hearts to receive that child” and to “stand in the breech left by hardened hearts.”

“We Christians, then, must stand up for this reality of marriage today, in our homes, and in the public square, despite the real risk of persecution for doing so," he said.

“We can do this. We were made for such a time as this.”

Catholic church vandalized in Northern Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Apr 23, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- A Catholic church in Northern Ireland was desecrated with paint in the early hours of Easter Sunday morning, receiving disapproval from political officials.

Sacred Heart Church in Ballyclare, about 13 miles north of Belfast, had white paint thrown on it after midnight April 21.

Police arrested a 26 year-old man related to the “criminal damage.” He has cooperated with the police and has been released on bail.

A 35 year-old woman was also warned by the police for assisting an offender.

Noreen McClelland, a local politician of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, lamented the incident, saying, according to The Irish News: “This is an appalling, senseless act, the motive being to cause hurt and distress to the Catholic community of Ballyclare. Easter Sunday is a special date in the Christian calendar and for the congregation to find their church defaced in such a way is totally unacceptable.”

Members from the Democratic Unionist Party also spoke against the vandalism. MP Paul Girvan and assembly members Pam Cameron and Trevor Clarke released a joint statement, noting that these actions did not represent the community as a whole.

"All places of worship should be free from attack and from the fear of attack,” they said, according to The Irish News. “We stand with our neighbours at this time and assure them of our support.”

Religious disputes have long been part of the history of Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom and has been predominantly Protestant, while the majority-Catholic Republic of Ireland gained its independence in 1916.

The region has had ongoing religiously and politically based conflicts, most notably “the Troubles”, which included violent clashes that lasted from the late 1960s until 1998, when the Good Friday Agreement was struck.

Since 1998, there has been only sporadic sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

In July, St. Mary's church in Limavady was vandalized with sectarian graffiti. Paramilitary slogans from an anti-Catholic group marked a door and some of the walls of the church, and a large crucifix outside of the church was also painted on.

In October 2017, the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force made threats which forced four Catholic families to flee their homes at a social housing project in Belfast.

Recent demographic figures have suggested that Catholics will likely outnumber Protestants in Northern Ireland by 2021. According to the last census, in 2011, Protestants outnumbered Catholics in Northern Ireland by just three percent.

Salvation is found in Jesus - not in ideologies - says Cuban priest

Havana, Cuba, Apr 23, 2019 / 03:05 pm (CNA).- While recent policy changes in the U.S. have left the people of Cuba facing increasing uncertainty, the message of the Catholic Church is always that security is ultimately found in Christ, said a priest from the island nation.

“This is the task of the Church: to say that salvation is found only is Jesus, who gives concrete, precise answers to the person seeking the truth,” said Fr. Yosvany Carvajal, pastor of the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Havana and director of the Father Felix Varela Cultural Center.

“Ideologies don't save people, ideologies are ideas. They are a body of ideas that exist in various political systems; but man's definitive salvation is found only in that true man and true God who has come to speak to us of an everlasting love that saves,” the priest told Vatican News April 21.

He highlighted the participation of the faithful in the Holy Week celebrations, saying that although the Church in Cuba is poor, it is “a living Church” with hope in “the Risen One who has conquered death, sin and evil.”

Religious celebrations were publicly banned in Cuba after the triumph of Fidel Castro's revolution. However, Christmas became a holiday beginning in 1997, as a concession to the request by Saint John Paul II before his visit in January 1998.

Likewise, during his visit to Cuba in March 2012, Benedict XVI made the same request for Good Friday. The communist government allowed its celebration as an exception in 2012 and 2013, and made it an official holiday beginning in 2014.

Carvajal said the faith of the Cuban people can be seen particularly clearly during Holy Week.

“Signs of Christianity are seen everywhere, and also popular religiosity. You can see that all this is alive, present in the people,” the priest said. He pointed to the high participation in Good Friday services as a sign that the people desire to be close to Christ in his Church.

The Cuban priest also said the Church in the country “is a Church that accompanies the people, which is suffering, especially these days due to the embargo policy.”

Last week, the Trump administration announced new penalties and tighter sanctions on Cuba. Among the new policies is the activation of a previously unused provision allowing U.S. citizens to sue foreign companies that operate on property confiscated by the government following the Castro revolution.

As a result of this, Carvajal said, “the population is going through hard times because they don't know what is going to happen.”

“The economic situation is not easy, but the Cuban people are a joyful people,” he said, and they never lose “the sense of the joy of living.”

He recalled the visits that Saint John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis made to Cuba, which “helped greatly the Church to not be afraid.”

“The people now find themselves in this difficult situation following the measures announced by the U.S. Government. There is concern,” he noted. “But with the message of the Gospel we must always announce the joy and hope of the definitive triumph of Christ. We must always continue on this path of announcing reconciliation and dialogue as the only possible way of seeking the true good.”

 

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

Court rules against Catholic foster agency in Philadelphia

Philadelphia, Pa., Apr 23, 2019 / 02:23 pm (CNA).- After a yearlong legal struggle, a federal appeals court has ruled that city contractors in Philadelphia must place foster children with same-sex couples, a ruling that threatens the future of the local Catholic archdiocese’s foster placement program.

“We’re disappointed that the court decided to let the city place politics above the needs of kids and the rights of parents, but we will continue this fight,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at the legal group Becket, which is representing the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Catholic Social Services.

Becket noted that despite being hundreds of beds short of what is necessary to serve the children in the foster care system, the City of Philadelphia failed to renew the Catholic foster care agency’s contract.

“The need to find those children homes is so dire that earlier this year the city put out an urgent call for 300 new families to become foster parents,” the institute wrote in an April 22 release.

“But shortly after this call for help, the city inexplicably prohibited Catholic Social Services from placing any more children with the families it has certified—solely because of the agency’s religious beliefs. There are dozens of families licensed to foster through Catholic Social Services who are willing to take in children, but because of the city’s actions, their beds have remained empty for close to a year.”

The City of Philadelphia received an allegation in March 2018 that two of the Department of Human Services’ 30 or so contracted agencies would not place children with same-sex couples as foster parents. After the department investigated, it stopped referring foster children to those agencies.

One of those agencies was Catholic Social Services (CSS), an arm of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that has been working with foster children since its founding in 1917. CSS serves about 120 foster children in about 100 homes at any one time.

City officials cited the group’s unwillingness to place foster children with same-sex couples due to its religious beliefs on traditional marriage, even though lawyers for Catholic Social Services argued that no same-sex couple had ever approached the agency asking for certification to accept foster children.

Catholic Social Services in its lawsuit sought an order to require the city to renew its contract with them, arguing that the city’s decision violated their religious freedom under the constitution. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled against CSS in its April 22 ruling.

“The City’s nondiscrimination policy is a neutral, generally applicable law, and the religious views of CSS do not entitle it to an exception from that policy,” Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro concluded.

Catholic Social Services has never been the subject of discrimination complaints by same-sex couples. The agency says that it assists all children in need, regardless of a child’s race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.

“CSS will only certify foster parents who are either married or single; it will not certify cohabitating unmarried couples, and it considers all same-sex couples to be unmarried. So far as the record reflects, no same-sex couples have approached CSS seeking to become foster parents,” Judge Ambro wrote.

Despite this, Ambro concluded that the City of Philadelphia “stands on firm ground in requiring its contractors to abide by its non-discrimination policies when administering public services,” and that the record demonstrates, in his view, the “City’s good faith in its effort to enforce its laws against discrimination” rather than an anti-religious bias.

Several foster families who relied on Catholic Social Services to help foster children were plaintiffs in the case, including the late Cecilia Paul, who has fostered more than 100 children, and Sharonell Fulton, the leading plaintiff who has worked with the agency for 25 years.

The U.S. Supreme Court in August 2018 declined to grant an injunction that would require the city to continue its foster-care placement with the agency during litigation over the matter.

Philadelphia is not the only city to refuse to work with a Catholic organization on the issue of foster care and adoption placement. In Buffalo, Catholic Charities recently ceased adoption and foster care work due to rules that would have forced the organization to violate their religious beliefs. Catholic Charities had done work with adoption in Buffalo for nearly a century before the rule change.

In recent years, faith-based child welfare providers in multiple states including in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and the District of Columbia, have also been forced to shut down their adoption and foster care services because of beliefs that children should be placed with a married mother and father.

National Catholic Prayer Breakfast hears call for 'Catholic great awakening'

Washington D.C., Apr 23, 2019 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- The National Catholic Prayer Breakfast heard an uncompromising call to holiness and the defense of every human life Tuesday, with speakers calling for a “Catholic great awakening.”

A total of 1,400 gathered in Washington, DC for the 15th-annual prayer breakfast, where keynotes were delivered by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix and Curtis Martin, founder and director of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.

Leading attendees in the Divine Mercy Chaplet, Sr. Bethany Madonna, S.V., vocations director for the Sisters of Life, told the nation’s assembled Catholic leaders to be undaunted by their own failings and limitations. Christ “loves you, and wants your weakness,” she said.

“You can be strong with his strength,” she told the audience, “and you will be able to endure the insults that come with defending every human life.”

Pro-life activist Abby Johnson also addressed the crowd, urging them to work towards a society in which abortion was “unthinkable” and its legality became irrelevant.   

In his keynote address, FOCUS president Curtis Martin noted that human history was punctuated by periods of renewal, sparked by a return to God in a spirit of atonement. But instead of doom and gloom, he said, the coming generation of young Catholics has the potential to do great things.

The current generation, he said, are “survivors by God’s design” having been born after abortion was legalized and are poised to “wake up” and “vanquish the devil in this generation.”

The United States has experienced ebbs and flows in religious devotion before, and has seen two “great awakenings” among Protestants that resulted in renewed faith for believers. Perhaps, said Martin, this is what the Church in America needs.

"Wouldn't it be a great time for a Catholic great awakening?"

Also among the speakers to address the the pro-life cause was acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who assured the audience of the president’s personal commitment to protecting the unborn.

Trump was frequently criticized during the 2016 presidential campaign for his past statements in support of abortion. Since his election, the administration has made efforts to block state funding for abortion a consistent theme, renforcing the Mexico City policy preventing U.S. from going to organizations which fund or promote abortion.

Mulvaney told the crowd that uncompromisingly pro-life language in the 2019 State of the Union address was expanded at the president’s personal insistence.

Trump used the speech to condemn the newly-passed Reproductive Health Act in New York, which widely expanded abortion access. He was also critical of efforts to pass a similar law in Virginia. According to Mulvaney, these comments were Trump’s own last-minute additions to the text, made by hand as he reviewed the final draft.

Despite political battles and increased polarization in national political life, Mulvaney said that was “comfortable” serving in the Trump administration and with its priorities.

“The principles of our [Catholic] faith are alive and well and well-respected in this administration and are driving many of our policies,” Mulvaney said.