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Bishops decry introduction of assisted suicide, euthanasia in Australian state

Melbourne, Australia, Jun 19, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- The four Latin rite ordinaries in Victoria have written a pastoral letter denouncing the state's “new, and deeply troubling chapter of health care,” as voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide became legal Wednesday.

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 took effect June 19.

In a June 14 letter, the bishops of Melbourne, Ballarat, Sale, and Sandhurst wrote that “We cannot cooperate with the facilitation of suicide, even when it seems motivated by empathy or kindness.”

“What is being referred to as ‘VAD’ is a combination of what in plain- speaking is more commonly known as physician assisted suicide and euthanasia,” they noted.

“We feel a responsibility not just to say ‘no’ to VAD, but to give every encouragement to model a way of life that renders VAD unnecessary.”

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 allows adult Victoria residents who are terminally ill, expected to die within six months (or 12 if they have a neurodegenerative condition), and mentally competent, to ask their doctor to prescribe drugs that will end their lives.

Two doctors must verify the requester's eligibility, and the person must make three requests for assisted suicide or euthanasia. Those seeking to end their lives must have lived in Victoria for at least a year, and be an Australian citizen or permanent resident.

According to The Age, a Melbourne daily, pharmacists at The Alfred Hospital will prepare and supply the mixture of drugs. They will deliver to the terminally ill the dose of about 100mL of liquid in a locked box with a key.

The box will include instructions on how to mix and drink the drugs, “and there is no expiry date on when the drugs can be consumed,” The Age reported.

Physicians will be allowed to administer the drugs via an intravenous drip to those incapable of swallowing.

Health practicioners are granted conscientious objection rights against participation in euthanasia or assisted suicide under the law.

About 100 doctors across the nearly 92,000 square mile state “have began receiving the mandatory training required to be allowed to assist terminally ill patients who need medical help to die,” according to The Age.

A review board of 13 medical and legal experts will review assisted suicide-euthanasia applications after the fact to ensure compliance with the law. The board will also be able to recommend improvements to the state government, and refer breaches to police, coronors, or the Australian Health Practicioner Regulation Agency.

The bishops said the legislation has been inappropriately labeled as a compassionate response to terminal illness. They pointed to Pope Francis, who has characterized euthanasia as a feature of a “throw-away culture.”

“Francis calls us to follow Christ by accompanying people with compassion, sharing hope not fear. In Victoria, we have entered a moment in which we are called to join this task,” they said.

“We object to the unnecessary taking of a human life; we object to the diminishment of the love that can be given and received in the last days of our loved ones; we object to the lack of adequate funding for excellent palliative care; we object to state-sponsored practices that facilitate suicide; and most of all we object to the lazy idea that the best response our community can offer a person in acute suffering is to end their life.”

The bishops said that Catholics should accompany those dying, providing them with love and friendship until the last moment of their life. They encouraged Victoria’s Christian community to engage the law with prayer and dialogue.

“We are called to engage with our Victorian communities with friendship and wisdom, not motivated by fear,” they said. “We will not abandon those we love, and we believe they have a right to be loved from the beginning to the end of their life.”

They pointed to the examples of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla and Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, who bore witness to the value of the human person “despite great personal cost.”

The bishops also applauded the efforts of Catholic hospitals.

“Catholic hospitals and Catholic residential care organisations have shown great courage. They have united to find ways to model excellent care for their patients, and are committed to resisting calls to involve themselves in VAD,” they said.

“Please learn about their thoughtful and considered response to VAD, which is framed through their enduring commitment to excellence in end of life care, and show them your support.”

Victoria Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, of the Australian Labor Party, expects the number of persons seeking assisted suicide or euthanasia to be low initially, and increase in later years.

“We anticipate that once the scheme has been in place for some time, we’ll see between 100 and 150 patients access this scheme every year,” Mikakos told the ABC.

“In the first year, we do expect the number to be quite modest — maybe only as low as a dozen people,” she added.

According to The Australian, pro-life supporters held a vigil outside Parliament House in Melbourne June 18.

Denise Cameron, president of Pro-life Victoria, said the law is still widely opposed by those in the medical field.

“The Andrews government has set in motion a regime which will legitimise suicide for our most vulnerable community members, devalue palliative care and pressure doctors into abandoning their medical ethic of first do no harm,” she said.

While the bill was being considered in 2017, Bishop Peter Stasiuk of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Saints Peter and Paul of Melbourne said support of euthanasia and assisted suicide is “motivated by a false sense of compassion.” He wrote in a pastoral letter that “Endorsing suicide as a solution to pain or suffering sends the wrong message, especially to the young. Suicide is a tragedy for the person who takes their own life, but it also seriously affects their family and community. It would be morally corrupt to legally endorse any form of suicide.”

The assisted suicide and euthanasia law has been opposed not only by Catholics, but by leaders of the Greek and Coptic Orthodox Churches, as well as Anglicans and Lutherans.

Advocates for assisted suicide and euthanasia have said the eligibility requirements are too onerous, and intend to challenge them in court, but do hope other Australian states will follow Victoria's lead.

Queensland and Western Australia are considering similar bills.

New South Wales rejected such a bill in 2017, as did the national parliament in 2016, and that of Tasmania in 2013.

Australia's Northern Territory legalized assisted suicide in 1995, but the national parliament overturned the law two years later.

Botched abortions at Missouri's last abortion clinic raise questions

St. Louis, Mo., Jun 19, 2019 / 05:49 pm (CNA).- In a legal battle over the closure of Missouri’s last functioning Planned Parenthood, state health department officials cited four botched abortions as part of the reason that they do not want to renew the clinic’s license, according to reports from the AP.

The closure of the clinic would mean the closure of the last abortion clinic in the state. Last month, Planned Parenthood sued the state of Missouri after the health department declined to renew the clinic’s license.

On Friday, June 14, the state’s health department sent the St. Louis clinic and the court “documents, a letter and statement of deficiencies,” the AP reported, which included details on the four botched abortions at the heart of the licensure dispute.

The records, which were published by pro-life group Operation Rescue in an expose, were ordered to be sealed by St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer on Monday, June 17, after Planned Parenthood voiced concerns that the publication of the documents violated their patients’ right to privacy, the AP reported.

William Koebel, a state health department official, told the AP that the records now sealed by the court documented the failed abortions of three patients, whose babies survived after the botched abortions, and required additional surgical or medical abortions to end the pregnancies. Koebel noted that one of the patients with a failed abortion developed sepsis, a serious bacterial infection of the blood stream.

A fourth patient’s abortion at 21 weeks of pregnancy was completed at the clinic, but the patient was hospitalized afterward with “life threatening complications,” Koebel told the AP. He also noted his concerns that some of the botched abortions were done by resident doctors, who have failed to comply with the state health department’s investigation of the clinic.

In early June, Stelzer ruled that doctors, including doctors in residence, who were not currently employed by the St. Louis Planned Parenthood did not have to testify in the state’s investigation of the clinic. Stelzer dismissed the subpoena for their interviews as an “undue burden” on those doctors.

Koebel told the AP that their cooperation is “imperative” for a full investigation.

“Refusal of health care providers to cooperate in the Department's investigations thwarts the Department's ability to conduct meaningful review of troubling instances of patient care, and obstructs the Department's ability to ensure that problems will not be repeated,” Koebel said.

Lawyers representing the Planned Parenthood affiliate secured a restraining order in late May from Stelzer, which allows the clinic to continue operating while its licensure is disputed in court. The clinic’s ability to operate is up for review again on June 21.

In a separate case, on Friday, June 14, St. Louis Circuit Court Judge David Dowd ruled that Missouri’s legislature cannot cut funding from the Planned Parenthood clinic, after the clinic argued that it not only provided abortions, but other health care services, according to a local Fox News affiliate. Missouri Governor Mike Parson said the decision will be appealed.

Parson also recently signed a bill that punishes abortion doctors who perform abortions on a woman who is past eight weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for medical emergencies which seriously threaten the life or quality of life of the mother. The law does not penalize women who obtain abortions.

Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis called the eight-week abortion ban “a giant step forward for the pro-life movement.”

Analysis: One year after McCarrick, what's next for the Church?

Washington D.C., Jun 19, 2019 / 04:20 pm (CNA).- Exactly one year after revelations about the sexual abuse of then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick were made public, the Church in the U.S. remains in a state of serious scandal, and Catholics remain angry and discouraged. But what’s next for the Church - what happens after McCarrick - depends as much on the decisions of ordinary Catholics as it does on the policy decisions of the U.S. bishops.

McCarrick told the Washington Post in 2002 that to address the scourge of clerical sexual abuse uncovered that year, “everybody has to have a plan, everybody has to have a procedure, everybody has to have a policy."

His fellow bishops needed to begin "really tackling this in a more comprehensive way,” McCarrick told reporters.

In the months that followed those remarks, McCarrick would become an architect, and a tireless promoter, of the U.S. bishops’ plans and policies to address clerical sexual abuse.

“I think we have to somehow make sure that our people know what we're doing, that the people know that the bishops are taking this seriously.”

People did not, in fact, know what McCarrick had been doing. By 2002, Theodore McCarrick had serially sexually abused at least two minors, and sexually coerced dozens of young priests and seminarians.

Knowing now what he knew then, it seems incredible that McCarrick was celebrated in the Post as a “national leader” on clerical sexual abuse.

But he was.

In April 2002, a scholar from Notre Dame told the Washington Post that McCarrick “understands the depth of the problem and the need to address it transparently...If his style of leadership were emulated, I think the church would be in better shape."

One year ago, on June 20, 2018, the Church learned far more than about McCarrick’s “style of leadership” than was expected. And the revelations about his decades of sexual abuse and coercion gave the Church a new look at the “depth of the problem.”

Since June 20, 2018, the Church in the U.S. has reeled from the Pennsylvania grand jury report, allegations of startling misconduct, neglect, or outright cover-up from many trusted or influential bishops, from the August letter of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, international reports concerning Bishops Gustavo Zanchetta, Jose Pineda, and Franco Mulakkal, from revelations concerning large cash gifts proffered by a bishop abuser, and from a USCCB and Vatican response to these disclosures that, in the judgment of many observers and commentators, has been tepid, at best.

It seems likely, even now, that more scandals, especially regarding finances, will be soon to emerge.

One year after McCarrick, what’s next? What will the Church face, and how will she face it?

It should be noted that the U.S. bishops’ conference has, despite multiple serious setbacks, passed some norms and policies intended to respond to this crisis. Those policies, are, in the view of many experts, a good start to policy reform in the Church, though only in the limited spheres they deign to address.

Those reforms have been panned by some critics as insufficient, merely reactionary, and totally inadequate to addressing an apparently complex constellation of problems, which includes immoral sexual activity, some of it coercive, by some priests and bishops, an apparent reluctance to stridently address those matters when they arise, a clerical culture that sometimes includes self-interest and self-protection, financial malfeasance, and a lack of accountability regarding those matters.

McCarrick called for policies in 2002, and in 2019, the bishops now have policies to address McCarrick.

But just as 2002's policies did not stop the McCarrick or Bransfield scandals, the USCCB’s measures are insufficient to resolutely address the scandal’s cluster of problems.

The bishops would be wise to recognize more publicly and directly the limited impact of policies and procedures, and the importance of personal integrity, virtue, accountability, and personal holiness.

But many Catholics say that while they have heard some bishops articulate that sentiment, they remain skeptical about even the just implementation of the bishops’ own reform policies. And their discouragement over those norms reflects a broader shift.

In fact, the most striking effect of the Church’s year of scandal is the degree to which faithful and practicing Catholics - among them priests, religious, and lay ecclesial staffers - have become discouraged, demoralized, and hesitant to trust.

And it has become clear that the U.S. bishops are unlikely to regain that trust in one fell swoop - through one grand or dramatic gesture of transparency, accountability, contrition, or condemnation. They had an opportunity for such a gesture at their November 2018 meeting, when they considered a resolution calling for the Vatican to release all available material on McCarrick. But that resolution failed.

It is clear that reform, and holding malfeasant bishops to account, will be a long-term project of limited success. Catholics will continue to call for greater accountability, transparency, and for basic answers to basic questions, but it remains to be seen whether their calls will be answered. If they are not, the scandal will be prolonged, and Catholics will likely grow even more demoralized.

In the meantime, the Church will suffer the loss of some Catholics, who have or will become less engaged in the practice of the faith in the wake of this scandal.

Of course, it is not only bishops who are responsible for preserving the bonds of ecclesial communion.

The Church has before faced crises occasioned by the sinfulness of its leaders. In each of those crises, believers have had to decide whether or not to remain in the communion of the Church, and to work themselves for reform and renewal. This case is no different.

No policies or procedures can overcome the reality of fallen humanity. Each Catholic must ask himself, in the wake of the McCarrick scandal, what it is reasonable and just to expect of a Church predicated on the premise that each of its members is a sinner in need of redemption.

This exercise should not make excuses for malfeasance and ineptitude, but it should be an honest assessment of the limits of all human endeavors for reform.

One year after the initial disappointment, and then the compounding disappointments of cover-ups, denials, and missed opportunities, Catholics must begin to ask themselves whether they will still commit to communion with a Church of woeful sinners, and whether they will commit to its mission.

And, in this moment, each Catholic must ask himself whether his righteous indignation has become self-righteous hubris. After the initial shock of the last year has worn off, a protracted hermeneutic of suspicion or reactive anticlericalism is not likely to contribute to a renewal of the Church in the United States. But those things are a temptation.

Also temptations are endless bureaucratic tinkering, empty promises, and covering up cover-ups. Bishops must ask themselves how radically committed they are to their promises of reform.

In short, saints will move the Church forward, and each Catholic must ask himself whether he wishes actually to become a saint.

The project of the new evangelization is that of reproclaming in the Gospel in once Christian cultures. As the influence of the Church wanes - even on the moral and spiritual lives of Catholics - the secularity of American culture is, for many Catholics, laid clearly bare.

The McCarrick scandal could be the moment in which the Church steps back, to ask more fundamental questions about why so few people baptized as Catholics practice the faith into adulthood, and what can be done about it. Some bishops seem to have seriously taken up those questions in recent years, and others have not. Some bishops will see in this scandal the bigger picture, and others will not.

But nothing precludes laity, religious, and clerics aggrieved and angry about scandal to ask that question, and to look for answers that will bear more fruit than perduring fulmination against the failures of bishops.

Answers will be diverse. They should include ongoing and serious efforts for reform, but they should not be limited to those efforts.

Doubtless, some Catholics will say that a renewal of the Church will come from a resurgence of more traditional liturgical forms. Others will make mention of ecclesial movements like the NeoCatechumenal Way or Communion and Liberation. Still others will suggest evangelical initiatives like Focus or Word on Fire. That diversity - a motley flurry of evangelical activity - is likely the key to real renewal in the life of the Church in the U.S.

The history of the Church proves that there is not one methodology or program that has the corner on evangelization - that instead various spiritualities and movements can be fruitful, if they are rooted in the person of Jesus Christ.

That focus - which points toward a renewal far beyond hurried policy documents - is the key to a fruitful and living Church after the McCarrick scandal. Some bishops may lead on those fronts, while others disappoint, or seem to miss the mark. Some scandals will be addressed, while others may long go unresolved, and new ones will emerge. The life of the Church will be often messy, often disappointing, often frustrating, and always in need of renewal, reform, and conversion. Catholics, bishops included, will face the choice of working towards those ends, or not.

But a serious commitment to apostolic and evangelic activity- to the proclamation of the Gospel - is also the best prospect for reform. A holier Church, dedicated more zealously to mission, will also be a more just and less corrupt Church.

A great deal has changed in the aftermath of the McCarrick scandal. But sin, corruption, betrayal, and failure are not new to the Church. Nor is Jesus Christ, the source of grace, justice, and renewal, who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  
 

 

One year since the McCarrick allegations: A CNA timeline

Washington D.C., Jun 19, 2019 / 04:18 pm (CNA).- June 20 marks one year since the announcement that credible allegations of sexual abuse had been raised against then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. In the months that followed, a major crisis of abuse and cover up within the Church in the U.S. was revealed, and Church officials have responded with new policies and pledges of transparency. Here is a timeline of major events in the last year:


June 20
The Archdiocese of New York announces that an allegation of sexual abuse by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been found to be “credible and substantiated.” In the following months, additional allegations will be raised against McCarrick, including claims that McCarrick had a widely-known reputation for sexual advances toward seminarians.

July 3
The Diocese of Cheyenne says Emeritus Bishop Joseph Hart has been credibly accused of sexually assaulting two boys after he became bishop of the diocese in 1976. A third credible allegation is confirmed a few weeks later.

July 28
Pope Francis accepts the resignation of McCarrick from the College of Cardinals and suspends him from the exercise of any public ministry. He directs McCarrick to observe a life of prayer and penance, pending the canonical process against him.

August 14
A grand jury report in Pennsylvania details allegations against some 300 priests, from more than 1,000 victims in six of the state’s Catholic dioceses over a 70-year period. The report was met with national outcry and prompted more than a dozen other states to follow suit.

August 16
The U.S. bishops’ conference calls for a Vatican-led investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up surrounding McCarrick.

August 25
Former apostolic nuncio to the U.S. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano releases a “testament” claiming that Pope Francis knew about sanctions imposed on McCarrick by Benedict XVI but chose to repeal them.

August 26
Asked during an in-flight interview about Vigano’s letter, Pope Francis says he “will not say a single word” on the subject and instructs journalists to use their “journalistic capacity to draw your own conclusions.”

September 12
Pope Francis calls for all the presidents of the Catholic bishops’ conferences of the world to meet at the Vatican Feb. 21-24 to address the protection of minors.

September 19
The administrative committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announces new accountability measures, including a code of conduct for bishops and the creation of an independent reporting mechanism for complaints against bishops. The committee also calls for a full investigation into the allegations against McCarrick and the Church’s response to these allegations.

October 6
The Vatican announces that Pope Francis has ordered a review of all Holy See files pertaining to allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of McCarrick. The results of that review have not, to date, been released.

November 12
U.S. bishops gather for an annual fall meeting in Baltimore; the Vatican instructs them to delay until after the February meeting a vote on two proposals intended to be the foundation of the U.S. Church’s response to the abuse crisis.

November 14
The U.S. bishops fail to pass a resolution that would have “encouraged” the Holy See to release all documents on the allegations of misconduct against McCarrick.

January 2-8
At the suggestion of Pope Francis, the U.S. bishops hold a retreat to consider how to respond to the still ongoing sexual abuse crises facing the Church.

January 11
McCarrick is laicized. Also known as dismissal from the clerical state, he no longer has the right to exercise sacred ministry in the Church, except in the extreme situation of encountering someone who is in immediate danger of death. In addition, he no longer has the canonical right to be financially supported by the Church. A statement from the Vatican announcing the laicization is released Feb. 16.

February 21 - 24
The Vatican holds a sex abuse summit with the heads of bishops’ conference from countries around the world. The summit’s stated purpose is to educate the world’s bishops on their responsibility for protecting minors from abuse within the Church.

April 4
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith upholds a 2018 verdict finding Archbishop Anthony Apuron of Agana, Guam, guilty of several abuse related charges. Apuron is deprived of his office as archbishop and forbidden to use the insignia of a bishop or live within the jurisdiction of the archdiocese. He is not removed from ministry or the clerical state, and is not instructed to live in prayer and penance.

May 9
Pope Francis issues new experimental norms for the handling of some sex abuse allegations. The norms place seminarians and religious coerced into sexual activity through the abuse of authority in the same criminal category as abuse of minors and vulnerable adults. They also establish obligatory reporting for clerics and religious, require that every diocese has a mechanism for reporting abuse, and put the metropolitan archbishop in charge of investigations of accusations of abuse or negligence against suffragan bishops.

June 4
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, is accused of mishandling an allegation of sexual coercion made against his former vicar general by permitting the priest to transfer to another diocese and continue in ministry. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston disputes the claim, saying the priest underwent a rehabilitation process, and was recommended to be returned to ministry by the professionals who assessed him.

June 5
An investigation finds credible allegations of sexual harassment and coercion of adults by former Bishop Michael Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, as well as the fostering of “a culture of fear of retaliation and retribution” that prevented his conduct from being discovered or reported. Pope Francis had accepted Bransfield’s resignation the previous September when he turned 75.

June 12-13
At their annual spring meeting, the U.S. bishops approve the creation of a national third-party reporting mechanism, directives to apply the pope’s new norms, protocol for a diocesan bishop to restrict the ministry his predecessor when needed, and a set of non-binding moral commitments pledging to hold themselves to the same standards applied to priests.

House Democrats pass appropriations bill with Hyde Amendment intact

Washington D.C., Jun 19, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The House of Representatives passed a combination appropriations bill on Wednesday afternoon that renews the Hyde Amendment, preventing federal Medicaid funds from being used for abortions.

The bill passed by a vote of 226-203 on June 19 and contains funding for four separate spending areas, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the provisions of the Hyde Amendment.

The vote was cast almost entirely along party lines. All but seven Democrats voted for the spending bill, and no Republicans voted for it. A last-ditch bill amendment effort by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) to remove the Hyde Amendment from the bill was rejected as a violation of the House procedural rules.

Democratic presidential candidates have expressed an increasing consensus in favor of overturning the Hyde Amendment, and scrapping the policy was part of the Democratic Party platform in 2016.

Former vice president Joe Biden, who currently leads the field of candidates for the Deomcratic nomination for president, recently announced a reversal of his position on the Hyde Amendment and now backs its repeal after over four decades of supporting the measure.

Despite widespread opposition to the policy within the Democratic Party, the Hyde Amendment was included in this year’s spending bill in recognition of the need for approval in the Republican-controlled Senate and be signed by President Donald Trump.

Senate Republicans have indicated that they would not vote for an appropriations bill without the Hyde Amendment, and it is considered unlikely that President Trump would sign such a bill.

The Hyde Amendment was first passed in 1977, and prohibited the use of federal money for abortions, except in cases where the woman’s life is at risk. The amendment was slightly modified in 1994, when exceptions were added for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest.

The Hyde Amendment applying only to federal funds, individual states are free to use their own Medicaid funds for abortions.

Venezuelan bishops concerned by risk of emigrant trafficking

Caracas, Venezuela, Jun 19, 2019 / 02:32 pm (CNA).- The Venezuelan bishops have expressed their concern for the risks to which Venezuelan emigrants, especially women, are exposed. More than 4 million Venezuelans have emigrated since 2015.

Under the socialist administration of Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela has been marred by violence and social upheaval, with severe shortages and hyperinflation.

“The Justice and Peace Commission and Caritas urge the authorities in all branches of government to investigate, pursue, prosecute and sentence those responsible for human trafficking crimes,” the bishops said.

They also called for “guaranteeing the relatives of victims direct access and without any kind of obstacles to law enforcement and the justice system so they can present their cases.”

They also asked the authorities to provide the victims with “timely justice without any delay, as established by the Constitution and the different international agreements for the protection of human rights than have been signed and ratified by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.”

The commission warned that the vulnerable position of migrants fleeing from destitution could cause them to become victims of human trafficking.

“Migrants can be enslaved by 'the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs,'” they noted, citing a UN resolution.

In their statement, the bishops said that they met with relatives of the 28 people who disappeared in Güiria following the shipwreck of a boat that left April 3 heading for Trinidad and Tobago.

The relatives indicated that although the bodies of the victims have not been found, “the agencies in charge of carrying out the investigation have not given a timely response.”

“The Commission observes with concern the increase of this type of incident, not just in the eastern part of the country but also in the border areas of Falcón, Brazil and Colombia,” the bishops emphasized.

Another boat carrying 32 Venezuelan emigrants sank on its way to Curaçao earlier this month. Each had paid $400 for the crossing.

The bishops' commission warned that in the border areas there operate “criminal gangs that put in danger the life and physical integrity and dignity of women, especially youths and minors.”

This situation produces “enormous anxiety and despair” in the families, affecting the children who are left abandoned, they said.

They expressed their commitment to those affected, to whom they will continue to provide support in following up their cases, in order to obtain justice, timely information, and a determination of facts.

“Let us combat the sale of children, women and men as slaves for the purposes of begging, prostitution or forced labor,” they urged.

Some 1.3 Venezuelan emigrants are being hosted by Colombia, and some 800,000 are in Peru.

In a move to restrict the flow of immigrants, Peru mandated June 15 that Venezuelans have a passport and visa to enter the country; previously, only a national ID card was needed.

'Transgender' track rules violate Title IX, ADF says

Washington D.C., Jun 19, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The governing body for high school sports in Connecticut is facing a federal complaint after allowing male students to compete in female events.

Three female students, supported by Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit group advocating for the defence of religious liberty, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights after male students were allowed to compete in the 2018 female outdoor track season.

The complaint alleges that the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), which is a governing body for high school sports in Connecticut, is violating federal Title IX norms by allowing male athletes who identify themselves as females to compete in sports against female athletes.

CIAC member schools include many of the state’s Catholic high schools.

The two male students, who identify themselves as female, were allowed to compete during the track season and placed well ahead of their female competitors.

Since 2017, the CIAC allows athletes to compete in leagues consistent with “preferred gender identity.”

In the spring 2018 outdoor track season, a sophomore runner who had already competed in the 2018 indoor track season on the boys’ team changed his gender identification and was permitted to compete as a female.

In the 2018-2019 seasons, he, along with another female-identifying male runner, have consistently placed as the top-two finishers in their events against female runners. One of the males now holds 10 state records in female track events. Previously, these records were held by 10 different runners.

ADF is requesting that the Office for Civil Rights investigate alleged Title IX violations, and compel the CIAC to change its athlete policy.

Title IX of the 1972 Educational Ammendments Act states that "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."

ADF asserts that allowing male athletes to compete in female events is discriminatory against female athletes.

Additionally, the ADF has requested that the CIAC retroactively recognize runners who would otherwise have won or qualified for events had they not been competing against males.

One of the three girls represented by the ADF complaint is Selina Soule, a 16-year-old from Glastonbury High School in Connecticut. Soule, who runs track, missed qualifying for the state finals in the 55-meter dash by one place. The top two finishers in the event were both males identifying themselves as female.

The other two complainants, who also run track, have chosen to remain anonymous.

“Girls deserve to compete on a level playing field. Forcing female athletes to compete against boys is grossly unfair and destroys their athletic opportunities,” said ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb in a statement posted on the organization’s website.

“Title IX was designed to eliminate discrimination against women in education and athletics, and women fought long and hard to earn the equal athletic opportunities that Title IX provides. Allowing boys to compete in girls’ sports reverses nearly 50 years of advances for women under this law.”

Speaking on Fox News, Soule said that she has received “nothing but support” from her teammates and from other athletes, but she has “experienced some retaliation from school officials and coaches.”

In a 2018 interview after the state championships, Soule said that she had “no problem with [the male athletes] wanting to be a girl,” but that she did not think it was right that she had to race males.

“I think it’s unfair to the girls who work really hard to do well and qualify for Opens and New Englands,” she said in 2018. The New England championships serve as a scouting venue for many college-level coaches.

Earlier this month, the Congregation for Catholic Education issued a document laying out principles for Catholic engagement with so-called gender theory, which posits that biological sex and gender are intrinsically mutable and seperable.

The document, titled “Male and Female He Created Them,” called gender theory an effort “chiefly to create a cultural and ideological revolution driven by relativism, and secondarily a juridical revolution, since such beliefs claim specific rights for the individual and across society.”

“There is a need to reaffirm the metaphysical roots of sexual difference, as an anthropological refutation of attempts to negate the male-female duality of human nature, from which the family is generated,” said the document.

“The denial of this duality not only erases the vision of human beings as the fruit of an act of creation but creates the idea of the human person as a sort of abstraction who ‘chooses for himself what his nature is to be.’”

Pentecost pilgrimages in France, Middle East link Catholics in prayer

Paris, France, Jun 19, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Catholics walked through Syria’s Wadi al-Nasara, or “Valley of the Christians,” this Pentecost, praying the rosary, alternating between the Arabic and French prayers for each decade.

Their two-day pilgrimage, inspired by the annual Notre Dame-Chartres walk in France, coincided with Pentecost pilgrimages in Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt organized by the French humanitarian organization SOS Chretiens d’Orient as a gesture of prayer and solidarity.

“These few intense days of hiking and prayers will remain engraved in hearts as precious moments when Syrians and French were united by the same Spirit,” Madeleine, a French volunteer for SOS Chretiens d’Orient in Aleppo, Syria wrote on their blog.

“The pride of having traveled the kilometers with bravery, the long discussions shared, the services rendered together have been a reflection of the love that binds our two countries by the grace of God,” she said. “We were in communion with the pilgrimage of Notre Dame de Chretiente in Chartres.”

The Syrian pilgrims and volunteers came from Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo to walk the path along Mediterranean Sea toward the sanctuary of Saint Charbel in the village of Daher Safra.

Athar, a Syrian participant, reflected, “We shared with each other our life with the good times and the bad times. We prayed together. We walked together. It was great because we learned how to accept each other, how to help each other.”

In Iraq, the Pentecost pilgrimage through the Nineveh Plains led to the Rabban Hormizd Monastery in Alqosh, a Chaldean Catholic church founded in the 7th century.

Sistine, a French SOS Chretiens d’Orient volunteer in Iraq, described the experience:

“Arriving at the foot of the monastery, as night begins to fall, our songs to Mary resound magnificently in this calm and wild place. The whole group climbs the remaining few hundred steps in a final burst of energy to reach the small chapel. Finally, after so much effort, prayers, sweat and empty water bottles, we gather here to put all our intentions in Mary's arms.”

We “gather together to express our prayer intentions, entrusting our lives, vocations, Christians of the East and Iraq to our Heavenly Mother,” she said.

The Notre Dame-Chartres walk, which inspired the pilgrimages in the Middle East, drew more than 14,000 participants this year.

Benjamin Blanchard, director of SOS Chretiens d’Orient, told CNA that each of the pilgrimages in the Middle East used the same book of prayers and hymns used in the Notre Dame-Chartres walk.

Blanchard has led a group of volunteers and staff from the Middle East in the French pilgrimage to Chartres for the past four years.

“We are here to pray and to work with all of the pilgrimage, but we especially pray for the Christians of the Middle East, for all of the volunteers and donors of the organization,” he said.

Johnny Dagaly, a Chaldean Catholic from Iraq, told CNA that walking the pilgrimage in France with 14,000 other Catholics gave him a strong sense of the “Body of Christ” that is the Church.

“It has been a very good experience to be here, and when I come back to Iraq, I will share that with all of my friends, my family, with everyone,” Dagaly said.

“I am praying for peace, for peace in all the world and in my country, in Iraq, because we have not had peace from 40 years ago until now,” he said, adding, “I also prayed for my mom.”

Majd Kassouha, a 26 year-old Syrian Melkite Catholic, told CNA that he walked the 62-mile French pilgrimage with prayers for his country to rebuild, not just the infrastructure lost in the war, but also the hearts of the Syrian people.

“The suffering in the heart and the mind is much more painful than the ... physical suffering,”  Kassouha said. He and his family remained in Aleppo throughout the country’s civil war and said he witnessed the death of many of his friends and family.

“When we were attacked and I saw my friends dead … I started to think that without Jesus I can't continue, so I prayed to Jesus to encourage me, to give me the force to continue,” he told CNA.

“Our country, a beautiful country, deserves a condition better than now. Rebuilding the people because we are all destroyed in our hearts. Everyone has lost a lot of dear people,” he said.

“I hope that Syrian people find peace in their hearts and in the country in general,” he said. “I hope to go back to my home and to see it in peace.”

Efforts to ease tensions over Orange walks in Glasgow

Glasgow, Scotland, Jun 19, 2019 / 11:16 am (CNA).- Some figures in the Catholic Church and Protestant loyalist groups in Scotland are seeking to reach a compromise regarding Protestant marches passing by Catholic churches.

Opposition to Orange walks have increased since last July, when a priest, Canon Tom White, was spat at and verbally abused while greeting parishioners after Mass while an Orange march approached his Glaswegian parish, St. Alphonsus.

Orange marches are organized by the Orange Order, largely in Northern Ireland and Scotland, to commemorate the defeat of James II by William of Orange at the July 1, 1690 Battle of the Boyne. James had been deposed as king of England, Ireland, and Scotland in a 1688 revolution by the Parliament of England after he had expanded toleration of Catholics and Protestant nonconformists in the officially Protestant kingdoms.

In the past year, Orange walks have been rerouted by Glasgow city council to keep them from passing in front of Catholic churches. Organizers have cancelled some of the walks in response to their rerouting.

When Glasgow city council rerouted an Orange march in September, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Glasgow said, “We are grateful that common sense has prevailed. The re-routing of the march will bring relief to the people of St Alphonsus parish and the surrounding area, who viewed with anxiety and fear the prospect of another march past the church so soon after the disgraceful scenes earlier this summer.”

Archbishop Leo Cushley of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh recently told STV that “objectively,” Orange walks passing by Catholic churches “shouldn't be a problem. If it is done respectfully, I don't see where the problem is.”

“If it is done to taunt your neighbour that's a different question but it is difficult for me to look into the hearts of everyone who is going past a church,” the bishop, whose see is located 50 miles east of Glasgow, commented.

In response to Archbishop Cushley, a spokesman for the Grange Orange Lodge of Scotland said that “Roman Catholics, Protestants, and people from many other faiths and none, all live harmoniously in communities right across Scotland,” The Herald, a Glasgow daily, reported June 18.

The spokesman added: “This should mean that we can all share the same roads and streets as we each celebrate our own heritage and culture. We will certainly play our part in ensuring that our parades are respectful when passing any place of worship … it is our hope that we find a shared solution that demonstrates that it is perfectly ok to have different religious views and opinions, without the need for religious divisions and divides.”

Dave Scott of Nil by Mouth, an anti-sectarian charity based in Glasgow, commented that “Archbishop Cushley is providing clear-eyed and thoughtful analysis of the situation and the statement in response from the Orange Order would suggest they recognise this and the need for genuine dialogue moving forward.”

Call It Out, a campaign against anti-Catholic bigotry and anti-Irish racism in Scotland, said on Twitter that “We intend no disrespect whatsoever to [Archbishop Cushley] but we very much doubt he has had much experience of anti-Catholic marches or has consulted the Catholic community across Scotland of their own experiences of these parades.”

Scotland has experienced significant sectarian division since the Scottish Reformation of the 16th century, which led to the formation of the Church of Scotland, an ecclesial community in the Calvinist and Presbyterian tradition which is the country's largest religious community.

Sectarianism and crimes motivated by anti-Catholicism have been on the rise in Scotland in recent years.

An April 2018 poll of Catholics in Scotland found that 20 percent reported personally experiencing abuse of prejudice toward their faith; and a government report on religiously-motivated crime in 2016 and 2017 found a concentration of incidents in Glasgow.

Call It Out has indicated it will organize counter-protests of any Orange walk passing by a Catholic parish, while some Orange groups have said they won't accept rerouting, according to The Herald.

In April the Protestant fraternal society the Apprentice Boys of Derry cancelled an an Easter walk after the Glasgow city council insisted that it not pass in front of St. Alphonsus.

Police Scotland have indicated that public disorder is likely if Orange walks take place in front of some Catholic churches in Glasgow, requiring a disproportionate number of officers to keep the peace.

California bishops call Catholics to 'ecological spirituality'

Sacramento, Calif., Jun 19, 2019 / 10:26 am (CNA).- On the fourth anniversary of Laudato Si’, the bishops of California challenged the community to grow in an “ecological conversion” that respects God, man, and creation.

The California Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a June 18 pastoral statement reflecting on Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’: On care for our common home.”

The bishops reflected on the call to stewardship of the environment and how concrete actions are necessary to exercise this stewardship in preserving the natural beauty of California.

“The astonishing diversity of landscapes across California - formed by the dynamic interplay of diverse natural forces - moves us to recognize God’s artistry in creation,” the bishops said.

“We propose a practical application of the Laudato Si’ message of ecological spirituality - that the ecological well-being of California is meant to be deeply embedded in a spirituality that unites all creatures and all creation in praising God.”

Man is responsible for caring for creation, the bishops said in their message. They encouraged people to find ways to prevent waste and ensure sustainability. They suggested Catholics invest in energy efficient appliances, residences, and vehicles. In two examples, the bishops said families may consider adding solar panels to their homes, and businesses may reflect on the environmental impact of the products they produce.

In addition, the bishops highlighted the importance of dialogue about environmental issues and the development of educational materials to further awareness on the topic. They called for works of art that reflect the beauty of creation in order to “inspire a culture of ecological and human care in the light of the moral applications of the Pope’s encyclical.”

The California bishops said climate change harms both the environment and people, especially the most vulnerable. They noted that Pope Francis has included the issue in his admonitions of a “throwaway culture,” which also includes consumeristic excess, abortion, and euthanasia.

“The disruption of the earth’s climate is one of the principal challenges facing humanity today, with grave implications for the poor, many of whom live in areas particularly affected by environmental degradation and who also subsist largely on access to natural resources for housing, food, and income,” they said.

It is the responsibility of the local community to work together to overcome climate change, the bishops stressed, calling particularly on young people, businesses, and public officials to be involved.

“Subsidiarity presents an opportunity for all of us to act locally, but with an eye to broader social transformation to advance sustainability and climate protection,” they said.

In recent years, California has faced significant drought, as well as the largest fire in state history, which took place last year, when more than 400,000 acres were burned in and around Mendocino County. The state’s four hottest years on record occurred from 2014-2018.

To respond to these climate crises, the bishops said, it is important to ensure that people have access to clean, affordable water and to provide proper fire education and prevention measures.

They also called for efforts to strengthen aqueducts and water ways to withstand drought, as well as greater investment in attempts to better understand the effects of climate change on water systems.

“The Laudato Si’ call to live integral ecology means listening to creation and observing what is happening in it,” the bishops said. “To live out a spirituality of the common good, we must recommit ourselves to fostering greater harmony in our relationship with the earth.”

The state bishops promised to work with pastoral leaders to spread the message of Laudato Si’. They challenged parishioners and communities to undergo a spiritual conversion and grow in virtues which will positively affect the environment.

“At the heart of all spirituality is conversion. We all need to change for the better. Conversion is not just turning back to God, but always embraces new thinking and new decisions - a new way of life as we move into the future,” they said.

“Ecological conversion challenges us to advance in culture, to grow spiritually, and to be better educated about the world entrusted by God to our care. The heavens and the earth belong to God, but we have been called to be good stewards.”