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Disagreements escalate over Notre-Dame rebuilding project

Paris, France, Nov 15, 2019 / 12:35 am (CNA).- Tensions are reportedly running high between French authorities overseeing the rebuilding of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, as they create plans to rebuild the church damaged by fire earlier this year.

Army General Jean-Louis Georgelin and the architect on the project, Philippe Villeneuve, disagree over whether the cathedral's new spire should look modern or medieval, the BBC reports.

Georgelin, at a meeting of the French National Assembly's cultural affairs committee late Wednesday, reportedly told the architect that he should “shut his mouth” over the spire’s design, adding that a final decision on the spire would be settled on in 2021.

The roof of the 850-year-old cathedral caught fire April 15, destroying the building’s spire and most of the roof. The stone vaults survived mostly intact, as did most of the cathedral’s artwork and relics.

Villeneuve has said previously that the only way French President Emmanuel Macron’s ambitious five-year restoration deadline can be met is if the spire is a replica of the one that burned, the BBC says.

Villenueve has expressed concern about the integrity of the structure’s stonework. In July, temperatures in Paris reached 108.7 degrees Fahrenheit (42.6 C), the highest ever recorded in the city, which Villenueve said combined with the water damage sustained during the firefighting effort could weaken the joints and masonry of the stone vaults.

France's parliament over the summer passed a bill declaring that Notre-Dame must be rebuilt exactly the way it was prior to the fire. Supporters from around the world have pledged nearly a billion euros to date to aid in the church’s reconstruction.

Before the fire, officials had been in the process of a massive fundraising effort to renovate the cathedral against centuries of decay, pollution, and an inundation of visitors. French conservationists and the archdiocese announced in 2017 that the renovations needed for the building’s structural integrity could cost as much as $112 million to complete.

Due to France’s laws regarding secularization, the French government owns all churches built before 1905, including Notre-Dame. The government lets the Archdiocese of Paris use the building for free, and will continue to do so in perpetuity. The Archdiocese of Paris is responsible for the upkeep of the church, as well as for paying employees.

The cause of the fire at Notre-Dame is still undetermined. On June 15, Mass was celebrated at one of the side altars for the first time since the fire.

Church in Mexico hails election of Archbishop Gomez as USCCB president

Cuautitlan Izcalli, Mexico, Nov 14, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Bishop Alfonso Gerardo Miranda Guardiola, auxiliary bishop of Monterrey, has welcomed the election of Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles as president of the US bishops' conference, calling it an “eloquent sign” for migrants.

Archbishop Gomez was elected president of the USCCB Nov. 12 during the US bishops' plenary assembly.
 
Bishop Miranda, the secretary general of the Mexican bishops' conference, told ACI Prensa that on communicating Gomez' election to the Mexican bishops, “the reaction was one of applause, joy and emotion on receiving the news about Archbishop José Gomez as president of the American bishops' conference. Afterwards bishops even came up to me and told me they were very happy with this news.”

The Mexican bishops are holding their plenary assembly Nov. 11-14 in Cuautitlán Izcalli.

Bishop Miranda said that “the entire conference rejoiced with this distinction given to a compatriot, a brother, and in my case, someone from my hometown."

The Mexican prelate highlighted that the relationship between the Mexican bishops' conference and Archbishop Gomez “has been extremely close.”

He also noted that Archbishop Gomez has helped the Church in Mexico with the organization of the First National Meeting on the Protection of Minors, to be held in March 2020.

Bishop Miranda said the Mexican bishops “are very grateful for that,” and emphasized that the election of Archbishop Gomez “is a gesture, is a sign, in multiple ways, toward immigrants, toward Mexicans.”

“It's a distinction, a gesture … of the importance they are giving to the Hispanic community,” he said.

Gomez, 67, is the first Latino to lead the US bishops’ conference. He is also the first immigrant at the conference helm.

He was ordained a priest of Opus Dei in 1978, and in 2001 was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Denver. He was appointed Archbishop of San Antonio in 2004, and Coadjutor Archbishop of Los Angeles in 2010, succeeding as ordinary the following year.

Planned Parenthood launches web tool to promote abortion clinics

New York City, N.Y., Nov 14, 2019 / 06:49 pm (CNA).- Planned Parenthood is already the largest abortion provider in the U.S., and its new web tool aims to direct more women to its abortion clinics.

The “Abortion Care Finder” tool, located on the abortion provider’s website, shows the nearest Planned Parenthood abortion clinics who are able to perform legal abortions based on the user’s self-reported age, ZIP code, and last menstrual cycle.

It then shows users the nearest Planned Parenthood clinics, explains any relevant state laws and abortion methods, and describes the services of each clinic and provides information about financial assistance, the New York Times reports.

Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of abortions in the United States. In 2016, the organization performed about one out of every three abortions that year.

In cases where the nearest Planned Parenthood is more than 60 miles away, the web tool refers users to a map from the National Abortion Federation.

The Planned Parenthood app results can be misleading in states like Kentucky or Mississippi, whose abortion clinics are not Planned Parenthood-operated.

Alexis McGill Johnson, Planned Parenthood’s acting president, told the New York Times that Planned Parenthood “wanted to make sure that we were connecting them directly to our centers.”

In the past decade, Planned Parenthood has seen its number of patients decline. The number of cancer screenings, contraceptives distributed, and prenatal services provided by the organization decreased as well.

The number of abortions, however, has increased by about 10 percent since 2006, despite Planned Parenthood seeing fewer patients.

Planned Parenthood said that search queries on its website and online spiked for the phrase “abortion near me” in spring 2019, when abortion restrictions and bans were debated and passed in state legislatures.

McGill Johnson said prospective clients became more desperate for information about that time.

“Restrictions have just been coming so fast and furious,” she told the New York Times.

Changes in the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court are believed to increase the likelihood that a future ruling on abortion could modify or strike down precedents that mandate legal abortion nationwide.

An iPhone app mapping nearby abortion clinics, called Cara, dates back to late 2016, the New York Times reports. It was created in response to accusations that some crisis pregnancy centers presented themselves as abortion providers when one of their goals is to dissuade women from performing abortion.

Pro-abortion rights advocates have also objected to internet search algorithms that sometimes take women seeking abortions to crisis pregnancy centers.

Planned Parenthood itself is in a time of tumult.

In July the board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America fired its president, Dr. Leanna Wen, only eight months after she took over the role.

Wen said there were philosophical differences over the direction of the organization. She saw the organization as a health care organization “with advocacy as a necessary vehicle to protect rights and access.” She contended her critics on the board aimed “to double down on abortion rights advocacy.”

The debate about whether Planned Parenthood’s public image should be that of a health care provider or abortion advocacy group comes as cuts in funding and abortion restrictions in dozens of states across the country have put the organization on the defensive.

In addition, a rule under the Trump administration prevents Title X fund recipients from performing or referring for abortions. It bars abortion clinics from sharing facilities with entities that receive Title X money.

Planned Parenthood stands to lose about $60 million in federal funding as a result of the rule.

Since 2015, Planned Parenthood has also faced increased scrutiny following the release of a series of undercover videos in which executives at the organization and leaders in the National Abortion Federation appear to be discussing the transfer of body parts from aborted babies for money, a practice that would violate federal law.

In response to the controversy over the videos, Planned Parenthood and its supporters launched a multi-million-dollar publicity campaign.

Analysis: The USCCB 'abortion debate,' and what came after

Baltimore, Md., Nov 14, 2019 / 05:45 pm (CNA).- On Tuesday, 69 U.S. bishops voted against the inclusion of a paragraph in a letter they plan to soon publish. Within hours, a conservative social media figure said those bishops “are not Catholic,” and ignited an online firestorm. Here’s how that happened:

The bishops were at the fall meeting of their episcopal conference, discussing proposed amendments to a short letter they intend to issue, as a supplement to “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” their 2015 document on voting and public life.

On Monday Nov. 11, the bishops had been given the opportunity to review a draft text of the letter and propose changes. They had several hours to submit written amendments, which would be debated Nov. 12, before a vote on the entire letter.

Cardinal Blase Cupich proposed an amendment.

Cupich proposed to add into the letter paragraph 101 of Pope Francis’ 2018 Gaudete ex esultate. The paragraph cautions against those who would relativize “the social engagement of others,” or act as if “the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend.”

The cardinal said in his proposal that he wished to add the text because “the draft proposed wording citing this paragraph omits ‘equally sacred’ from the start of that list of important concerns, defacing the point the pope was making, which is obviously that ‘defense of the unborn is not ‘the only thing that counts.’”

Led by Archbishop Jose Gomez, the letter’s drafting committee reviewed the Cupich proposal, along with dozens of other amendment proposals, on the evening of Nov. 11, before presenting them the next day alongside recommendations about their adoption.

On the Cupich amendment, the committee asked the bishops to accept a compromise recommendation, namely, to include the phrase “equally sacred,” but not the entire paragraph Cupich proposed. The committee said the whole paragraph would add length to a letter already three pages long, but it encouraged adding the phrase Cupich said he wanted.

On Tuesday, Cupich rose to ask for a reconsideration of that recommendation. He said he appreciated the desire for brevity, but he wanted the whole paragraph.

From his view, the proposed paragraph contains “all of the elements in the call to holiness that we are to exercise as faithful citizens. He speaks about the need to make sure we avoid those kinds of ideological frameworks that our society today is so paralyzed in our political discourse by, but also, he wants to make sure...that not only do we avoid that, but we engage one another and he also makes sure that we do not make one issue that a political party or group puts forward to the point where we’re going to ignore all the rest of them.”

Bishop Frank Dewane said the committee had tried to accommodate the cardinal’s request, and suggested he could add even more additional language into the text as a compromise.

Cupich was not interested in that suggestion.

“I appreciate that attempt at accommodation. My point is that this is the magisterial teaching of Pope Francis put in a very succinct way, and I think we can all benefit from it as we speak to our people about issues...so I would still like to have the entire paragraph,” he said.

Gomez asked the body of bishops to debate and vote on the point in question: Should the committee summarize the pope’s text, or include the entire paragraph Cupich had mentioned?

The disagreement was not, at that point, perceived to be a matter of doctrinal debate.

To be sure, some bishops have suggested that Cupich wanted to include the full text to advance his commitment to a “seamless garment” vision of social justice, and to dilute the text's prioritization of the fight against abortion. Others, though, noted that Cupich has a regular habit of calling for greater use of the pope’s texts in conference documents; one bishop called this habit “obsequious.”

But several others, even some who regularly disagree with Cupich on serious doctrinal matters, took the suggestion at face value, telling CNA they thought the amendment was a good idea.

Up to that point, the question was about whether to include a text or to summarize that text. No one who had spoken disagreed with the substance of the paragraph; their conversation had been about how best to present it.



As the debate began, Bishop Robert McElroy rose to speak first. He said he supported Cardinal Cupich’s amendment for the reasons already stated, and because of his objection to a line in the bishops’ letter which said “the threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself.”

McElroy called that line “at least discordant” with the pope’s teachings, though he did not explain himself directly, or address repeated condemnations of abortion from Pope Francis.

The “preeminent quote,” McElroy did say, would be used to undermine what he understood the pope’s point to be in the paragraph suggested by Cupich.

“So either we should get rid of ‘preeminent,’ or, if we’re going to keep ‘preeminent’ in there, let’s at least give the pope a fighting chance with his view, to keep that whole paragraph in there, because that’s where he articulates his vision of this very controversial question.”

“It is not Catholic that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face as a world in Catholic social teaching. It is not. For us to say that, particularly when we omit the pope’s articulation of this question, I think is a grave disservice of our people...so either we shouldn’t have preeminent in there, or we should have the pope’s full paragraph where he lays out his vision of this same question, delicately balancing all of it in the words he does,” McElroy said.

Many bishops looked shocked by McElroy's words.

The draft language McElroy objected to, that abortion “remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself” came from an amendment proposed by Archbishop Joseph Naumann. Any bishop had been free to stand and ask that it be given separate consideration, rather than be passed on a consent agenda. That was exactly what Cupich had done with his proposed amendment, and McElroy had been free to do the same.

But for some reason McElroy had not asked for debate on the Naumann “preeminent priority” amendment. Instead, the bishop made his objection to the language a kind of diversion from the Cupich amendment that was then on the table.

In short, McElroy’s objection to “preeminent priority” was not formally manifested according to the rules of order, even though it could have been. The motion on the table was still about the Cupich amendment.



After McElroy spoke, Bishop Joseph Strickland was given the floor.

“I absolutely think ‘preeminent’ needs to stay,” Strickland said.

The bishop seemed to think that McElroy had changed the matter up for debate. Some journalists suggested he had gotten confused. Although he made his point plainly, “preeminent” was not up for debate, there was no formal question of taking it out.

Strickland has been lauded by some Catholics for the courage he is thought to have shown by his remark. But whatever his reasoning, the bishop contributed to McElroy's diversion: he weighed in on a debate the body wasn’t actually having. And it was not the first time at the meeting that Strickland seemed to be out of step with the conversation.

On Monday morning, as they got underway, the bishops were asked to approve their meeting’s agenda, a standard part of the rules of order. Bishop Earl Boyea made a motion that an update on the Vatican’s McCarrick investigation be added to the agenda. Strickland seconded that motion. The bishops voted and Boyea’s motion, seconded by Strickland, passed by a voice vote.

Immediately after that vote, Strickland asked for the floor and was recognized.

“I echo the request for the investigation of the report on McCarrick,” Strickland said, before proposing that “future agendas” include a section “to address the questions of guarding the deposit of faith,” though the bishop did not specify what exactly he meant.

Strickland’s “echo” seemed out of place: He stood, it seemed, to “echo” a motion that he himself had already seconded, and that had already passed the entire assembly of bishops. In the press gallery, journalists asked one another whether the bishop understood that the idea had just passed, after he personally seconded it.



On Tuesday, it was Archbishop Charles Chaput who got the debate on the Cupich amendment back on track. He spoke after Strickland.

“I am certainly not against quoting the Holy Father’s statement,” Chaput said.

“I think it’s a beautiful statement, I believe it,” the archbishop added, weighing in on the motion on the floor.

Chaput then turned his attention to McElroy’s remarks. He did not address the question of whether “preeminent” ought to remain in the document. But he did address, forcefully, the argument McElroy used to support the Cupich amendment.

“I am against anyone stating that our saying [abortion] is ‘preeminent’ is contrary to the teaching of the pope. Because that isn’t true. It sets an artificial battle between the bishops’ conference of the United States and the Holy Father which isn’t true. So I don’t like the argument Bishop McElroy used. It isn’t true.”

“We do support the Holy Father completely, what he said is true, but I think it has been very clearly the articulated opinion of the bishops’ conference for many years that pro-life is still the preeminent issue. It doesn’t mean the others aren’t equal in dignity, it’s just time, in the certain circumstances of our Church, in the United States,” Chaput said.

The bishops applauded Chaput.

An analysis of Chaput’s remarks suggests two things: that he might have been favor of Cupich’s amendment, of which he said he was "not against;" and that he opposed the argument used by McElroy to support that amendment.

After Chaput, Gomez said the committee preferred to leave the long quote out, mentioned that a reference to the full text was made in a footnote, said the committee was “called to have a brief document,” and called for a vote.

By a vote of 143-69, the bishops chose the committee’s summarized text over Cupich’s preference for a long excerpt from Pope Francis.

Some bishops might have thought, as Strickland did, that the vote was on “preeminence.” Some might have thought it was a vote on McElroy and Chaput's divide over Catholic social teaching. But the question was explained to them immediately before they voted; it seems likely most bishops understood what they were being asked.

Based upon his own remarks, it is reasonable to conclude that Chaput himself may well have voted in favor of including the whole text, which he called “beautiful,” even while he strongly disagreed with McElroy on the reasons to vote for it.



Shortly after the vote, Strickland weighed in again, this time by tweet. “Thank God the USCCB voted to uphold the preeminence of the Sanctity of the life of the unborn.  It is sad that 69 voted no,” he tweeted.

Strickland’s tweet went viral. It was an incorrect interpretation of the vote, based upon the bishop’s apparent belief that the language of preeminence was on the ballot. Not to belabor a point, but it never was.

A half hour after Strickland tweeted, a conservative YouTube commentator named Taylor Marshall retweeted the bishop’s text, adding his own brief comment: “69 USA bishops voted ‘no,’ which means 69 USA bishops are not Catholic.”

That tweet, like Strickland’s, took off into the ether of social media, and soon more voices weighed in, accusing bishops of heresy and spinelessness.

The vote was over whether bishops should quote a long paragraph, or summarize it. For that, bishops were accused of heresy.

On Nov. 14, Strickland weighed back in, tweeting about “the hard data that approx 1/3 of the bishops voted against the language of ‘preeminence.’”

“I pray for unity, Guarding the Deposit of Faith with Pope Francis,” he added.

By his own tweeted admission, the bishop who sparked an online backlash that ended with bishops being called heretics did not know what they had actually voted about.

The consequence of that backlash is that some Catholics may needlessly lose trust in their bishops, and lose confidence in the claims of the Catholic Church.



The U.S. bishops face a serious divide over their understanding of Pope Francis, occasioned by a small number who seem to have positioned themselves as the pope’s authoritative interpreters. It seems clear that divide may well boil to a head.

But the bishops are also divided by what seems to be a hermeneutic of suspicion, which allows some among their number to accuse others of voting against the dignity of human life, even when that misrepresents what’s actually happened.

The bishops are in danger of the kind of partisanship that could lead them to reflexively oppose those with a different viewpoint, rather than doing the hard work of listening carefully, condemning what is false while seeking unity whenever possible. That kind of partisanship would inevitably heighten disunity among practicing Catholics.

Bishops like Chaput and the late Cardinal Francis George, who sought unity with brother bishops even amid real disagreement, are often hailed as models for a conference that could address serious issues with an authentic spirit of fraternity. But whether those models will be heeded by future generations of leaders remains to be seen.

Praying for unity is important. So is the virtue which leads to it. In the social media era, bishops can feed the polarization and nastiness of hot-take culture, even inadvertently. Charity and prudence, especially amid disagreement, must be “preeminent priorities” of the apostles, if Christ’s Church is to live in unity.

Statement of 11 nations opposes 'reproductive rights' focus of Nairobi Summit

Nairobi, Kenya, Nov 14, 2019 / 05:35 pm (CNA).- On the sidelines of the Nairobi Summit, the US and 10 other nations delivered a joint statement Thursday indicating their commitment to women's health, and their concern over the summit's process and content.

The statement echoes concerns that the international gathering is too focused on “reproductive rights”.

“We are … concerned about the content of some of the key priorities of this Summit,” read the Nov. 14 joint statement from the US, Brazil, Belarus, Egypt, Haiti, Hungary, Libya, Poland, Senegal, St. Lucia, and Uganda.

“We do not support references in international documents to ambiguous terms and expressions, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), which do not enjoy international consensus … In addition, the use of the term SRHR may be used to actively promote practices like abortion.”

The Nov. 12-14 Nairobi Summit is sponsored by the UN Population Fund and the governments of Kenya and Denmark, and it marks the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development, which was held in Cairo.

Its program includes five themes, among which are “Universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights as a part of universal health coverage” and “Upholding the right to sexual and reproductive health care even in humanitarian and fragile contexts.”

The 11 nations opposed to the summit's abortion focus recalled that the 1994 Cairo Conference “had as its stated objectives and actions to collectively address the critical challenges and interrelationships between population and sustained economic growth in the context of sustainable development.”

In the past 25 years “many countries have made substantial progress in reducing death rates and increasing education and income levels, including by improving the educational and economic status of women. It is noteworthy that, as opposed to the population growth predictions included in the ICPD Program of Action, these predictions have not come to pass,” the joint statement noted.

“Indeed, in most regions of the world today, fertility is below population replacement rates. As a result, family planning should focus both on the voluntary achievement of pregnancy as well as the prevention of unwanted pregnancy.”

The 11 countries affirmed the “key foundational principles” of the Cairo Conference, saying, “We strongly support the holistic pursuit of the highest attainable outcomes of health, life, dignity, and well-being … this includes but is not limited to: reproductive concerns; maternal health; primary health care; voluntary and informed family planning; family strengthening; equal educational and economic opportunities for women and men.”

“We wish to emphasize that the agreement reached at Cairo remains a solid foundation for addressing new challenges within a consensus-driven process that gives each government equal opportunity to negotiate a broadly accepted document within the UN, reaffirming that health is a precondition for and an outcome and indicator of the realization of ICPD,” read the joint statement.

The nations said the Cairo Conference's action program was “approved by consensus” because, in part, it “made clear that the conference did not create any new international human rights.”

The joint statement noted, “There is no international right to abortion; in fact, international law clearly states that '[e]veryone has the right to life'” and that the Cairo Conference said “that countries should 'take appropriate steps to help women avoid abortion, which in no case should be promoted as a method of family planning' (ICPD 7.24) and to 'reduce the recourse to abortion'.”

The 11 countries added that they “cannot support a sex education that fails to adequately engage parents and which promotes abortion as a method of family planning.”

They indicated that “we would have appreciated more transparency and inclusiveness in the preparation of the Conference, including regarding criteria for civil society participation. While the Cairo ICPD Program of Action was negotiated and implemented with and by the entire UN General Assembly membership, only a small handful of governments were consulted on the planning and modalities of the 2019 Nairobi Summit. Therefore, outcomes from this summit are not intergovernmentally negotiated, nor are they the result of a consensus process. As a result, they should not be considered normative.”

The countries said the Nairobi Summit “is centered on only certain aspects of the ICPD Program of Action and does not fully reflect all views and positions of the Member States … unless negotiated and adopted by consensus of all Member States, within the process and structure of an international body such as the UN General Assembly, no ICPD follow-on document has consensual weight or standing amongst governments.”

“We call upon Member States to maintain the original and legitimate 1994 ICPD principles … that explicitly retain important government statements and reservations that permitted consensus, to reiterate their reservations to the ICPD Program of Action as reflected in the conference’s report, and to focus our efforts, resources, and determination to fulfill the unfinished work of attaining sustainable development for every nation so as to promote the dignity of the human person and human flourishing.”

The objections of the 11 countries represented by the joint statement echoed concerns from the Holy See and from bishops in Kenya.

The Holy See is not partipating in the summit, saying that the organizers chose “to focus the conference on a few controversial and divisive issues that do not enjoy international consensus and that do not reflect accurately the broader population and development agenda outlined by the ICPD.”

“The ICPD and its encompassing Programme of Action within the international community’s broad development agenda should not be reduced to so-called 'sexual and reproductive health and rights' and 'comprehensive sexuality education,'”, the Holy See stated.

Bishop Alfred Rotich, Bishop Emeritus of the Military Ordinariate of Kenya and chair of the Kenyan bishops' family life office, told ACI Africa: “We find such a conference not good for us, (and) destroying the agenda for life.”

Archbishop Martin Kivuva of Mombasa described the summit's agenda as “unacceptable according to our teaching of the Catholic Church.”

The US delivered a commitment statement at the summit Nov. 13, saying it is committed “to empowering women and girls to thrive, but this statement is only intended for the purposes of this reading and is not to be used as an endorsement of the commitments of this summit.”

The commitment statement added that the US “has been, and will be a prime advocate and will continue to invest in programs which empower women and girls to realize their full potential, reinforce their inherent dignity, promote and advance their equality, protect their inalienable rights, and support optimal health outcomes across their lifespans. Families, positive male figures, (including caring fathers), communities, and civil society, (including faith based organizations), play an important role in supporting women and girls to thrive.”

Dr. Frederick Wamalma, regional president of Pax Romana International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs, told ACI Africa that the desire of many participants in the Nairobi Summit to have a decreasing rate of population growth in Africa is a fallacy.

“Africa needs to focus on population growth because we need to grow the population of working people, which is very important for us,” he said.

“If you go to some of the European countries, they don't have the working age population. So, they have this larger population of old people who are no longer working. We don't want to be caught up with what we're seeing there,” Wamalma stated.

He added: “From a developing country point of view, population shouldn't be a problem. What we need to be stressed with is being able to give these young people who are coming, joining the labour market the right skills to be able to be productive in the labour market.”

Wamalma stressed that African countries need clear “policies around education, policies around health, policies around labour market, policies around social protection.”

Rep. Chris Smith, a congressman from New Jersey, wrote in a Nov. 11 opinion piece at the Wall Street Journal that through the Nairobi Summit, “the governments of Kenya and Denmark and the United Nations Population Fund are attempting to hijack the U.N.’s global population and development work to support an extreme pro-abortion agenda.”

Smith, who attended the Cairo Conference, said the “conveners of the Nairobi Summit have blocked attendance by conservative organizations and excluded countries and stakeholders that disagree with their agenda from offering input on the substance and planning of the conference,” including the US.

He lamented that “key elements of the Cairo program are missing from the Nairobi Summit agenda,” noting that the ICPD recognized sex-selective abortion as a harmful practice.

“The Nairobi Summit isn’t a true reflection of ICPD but a gathering of like-minded individuals and organizations departing from the Cairo consensus as they promote a pro-abortion agenda while attempting to exploit Cairo’s name and reputation,” the congressman concluded.

To counter the agenda of the Nairobi Summit, the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum, with the backing of Kenya's bishops, has organized a parallel convention to be held Nov. 11-14.

 


Magdalene Kahiu contributed to this report.

Catholic identity carefully guarded at CRS, bishop says

Baltimore, Md., Nov 14, 2019 / 04:20 pm (CNA).- Adhering to Church teaching is a priority for Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and policies are in place to ensure it is not complicit in immoral activities as it partners with groups that do not hold Catholic beliefs, said the bishop who heads the agency’s board.

“Our efforts overseas are seen as among the finest examples of a morally-based Catholic agency,” said Bishop Gregory Mansour, chairman of the board of directors for Catholic Relief Services.

“Nonetheless, we are seen as a bit strange by some international agencies that serve the poor, because we believe that serving the poor is just that – not eliminating the poor by abortion or contraception, but by truly serving them in all their human dignity.”

The bishop stressed that CRS prioritizes Catholic teaching, to the point that the agency stands out internationally for its insistence on carefully crafting grant language to ensure that it is not participating in immoral programming. The agency will not get involved in grants that require it to compromise on Catholic doctrine, he said.

CRS was founded in 1943 and is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States.

Mansour, who heads the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn, offered an update on the work of CRS to the U.S. bishops at their fall general assembly in Baltimore this week.

As part of that presentation, the bishop stressed the importance of Catholic identity in CRS’ work.

“We’re Catholic to the core, training our 6,700 employees throughout the world – whether they’re Catholic or not – on all the tenets of Catholic social teaching,” he said. He pointed to the agency’s zero tolerance policy and whistleblower program.

“The grants we apply for at CRS to serve - whether from large donors, from the U.S. government, the Global Fund – are vetted to be sure that we do not agree to do anything against Catholic teaching as we serve the poorest of the poor, and we have that same fidelity to all of those people who give either in a second collection for CRS or Operation Rice Bowl,” he added.

Following the presentation, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, thanked Mansour, as well as CRS President and CEO Sean Callahan, for safeguarding the integrity of the agency and listening respectfully to those who have had concerns.

“Thank you for all that you’ve done to protect the Catholicity of all that we’re doing, and I just applaud your great work,” he said.

Mansour replied that both the CRS staff and board of directors are “very conscious” of Catholic identity.

“And so we’ve been listening to anybody who has any criticism, trying to see if there’s some validity to it, and if there is, we deal with it. If there’s not, we tell them, ‘Please. We’ve vetted this, we’ve looked at it. And we’re at peace with it’,” he said.

At various times in the past, CRS has faced criticism from Catholic groups and individuals who are concerned that the agency is cooperating in immoral activities, including the distribution of contraceptives and abortifacients.
 
In 2013, Catholic Relief Services was accused of being involved in a contraception and abortifacient distribution program in Madagascar.

However, the agency suggested that the allegations mistook the actions of CRS staffers with those of non-staff community health workers, who are locally chosen on the ground of the countries where they work. CRS was training Madagascar community health workers in areas such as children’s health, nutrition, and malaria prevention, and these health workers may also have been involved in contraceptive distribution programs, but they were not affiliated with CRS in doing so, the organization said.

In 2016, the agency was accused of being complicit in a contraceptive distribution program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. CRS responded that while the language in the grant report was unclear, the agency had actually been working to promote Natural Family Planning in accordance with Catholic teaching. It said the report was written by an outside group that may not have understood the difference between Natural Family Planning and artificial contraception.

Catholic Relief Services has repeatedly said that it follows Catholic teaching and does not provide or facilitate access to contraception.

When CRS partners with groups that disagree with Catholic doctrine, the extent of their work together is limited to efforts that align with Church teaching, such as work to prevent malaria, promote childhood nutrition, or offer clean drinking water, the agency says. Both bishops and moral theologians review programming to ensure that it complies with Church teaching.

At a press conference following the presentation, CNA asked Mansour if he could elaborate on efforts to ensure the Catholic identity of programs in which CRS participates.

“To be honest, we are the only group that won’t do contraception, that won’t do referrals for abortions. And we make that quite clear when we write grants,” Mansour replied.

However, he said, international grant funding is often given to joint projects with multiple partners. When CRS works with partners – including other Christian groups – that do not abide by Church teaching, the agency tries to avoid scandal and make it clear that they are only participating in work that is morally acceptable.

“And all of those the grants are vetted by moral theologians and bishops on the board, as well as laity who have a strong sense of Catholic identity,” he added.

In addition, Mansour said, “when we get a complaint, we investigate it on the ground. We go to the place and we investigate with everybody. We do our best to do that.”

The agency works with more than 1,000 different partners globally, so these investigations can be a lot of work, the bishop acknowledged.

However, he added, “I’m not afraid of doing it. I myself as chair, any time anybody had a criticism, I dealt with it personally.”

CRS has a team in place to look at concerns raised, he said. “So I think if there are still complaints out there, our ears are open to listening.”

Congressional committee examines state pro-life measures

Washington D.C., Nov 14, 2019 / 12:10 pm (CNA).- A House of Representatives committee will hold a hearing on Thursday to investigate restrictions on abortion clinics passed in pro-life states. 

The hearing, titled “Examining State Efforts to Undermine Access to Reproductive Health Care” will feature testimony from abortion advocates and the chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri. 

The hearing is being convened by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led by the majority-member Democrats. 

Allie Stuckey, a new mother who hosts a podcast discussing politics and culture from a conservative, Christian perspective, is scheduled to be the minority witness.

The hearing will focus on recent laws passed in Missouri, which may become the first U.S. state without an abortion clinic. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), who chairs the House Oversight Committee, told NPR in a statement that Missouri has served as a “case study” in state resistance to abortion under the Trump administration. 

“State governments have been emboldened in their efforts to restrict access to abortion by the Trump Administration’s systemic attacks on reproductive health care, including by dismantling the Title X federal family planning program and expanding providers’ ability to discriminate by denying care,” the Committee on Oversight and Reform said in a background explainer before the hearing.

The Trump administration announced a new policy that does not allow Title X fund recipients to perform abortions or refer people for abortions. Planned Parenthood, the nations’ largest abortion provider, lost millions in funding due to its refusal to stop providing abortions. Title X funds are designated for family-planning purposes. 

Additionally, the administration has moved to protect conscience rights of doctors and other medical professionals who consider abortion to be against their religious beliefs. 

The hearing also concerns the “draconian steps” taken by some states to limit the availability of abortion. Due to these new state laws, six states have only one abortion clinic. 

Missouri’s last remaining abortion clinic was denied a state license earlier this year and was scheduled to close. It remains open only because of a court order.

Planned Parenthood sued the state of Missouri May 28 after the state’s health department declined to renew the clinic’s license. Representatives of the clinic have argued that there is no valid reason for state rules that mandate two pelvic exams before the administration of abortion-inducing drugs. It has also rejected state demands that officials interview its medical trainees on staff.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services rejected a license renewal request June 21 from the clinic, citing an “unprecedented lack of cooperation, failure to meet basic standards of patient care, and refusal to comply with state law and regulations.”

'We need to become an evangelizing Church,' says new USCCB VP

Baltimore, Md., Nov 14, 2019 / 11:05 am (CNA).- The new vice president of the U.S. bishops’ conference says that he wants to help bring a spirit of evangelism to the conference as organized religion continues to decline in the U.S.

“We need to become an evangelizing Church where the faith is passed from person to person more directly,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, told CNA on Tuesday on the sidelines of the bishops’ annual fall meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

Archbishop Vigneron was elected vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on Tuesday after a third-ballot run-off. Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles was elected the new president of the conference.

Vigneron has served as archbishop in Detroit since January of 2009, when he was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI. Prior to that, he was first coadjutor and then bishop of Oakland, California since 2003, and was previously rector-president of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit from 1994 until 2003.

The archbishop told CNA that there must be an “urgency” of evangelization in the U.S. at a time when the percentage of Americans identifying as Christian continues to decline.

A report by Pew Research last month revealed that the percentage of Americans identifying as Christian fell by double digits since 2009, and that Catholics no longer make up a majority among Hispanics in the U.S.

Evangelization is the answer to this, Vigneron said, pointing to a 2016 archdiocesan synod he convened with lay faithful, priests, and religious in Detroit. The synod led to his pastoral letter, issued the following year, “Unleash the Gospel.” In that letter, Vigneron established ten “guideposts” for evangelization and warned against certain “capital vices” in the local church.

“It galvanized the diocese from bottom to top,” Vigneron said of the synod, telling CNA that evangelization cannot just be one among many priorities for the Church, but that it is “the form that’s supposed to inform everything.”

“It was of inestimable worth for us to have a synod,” Vigneron said, pointing to a time of  “epic change” in Church in the U.S., with a shift away from institutions that were once powerhouses of evangelization—schools and charities—but are no longer.

Evangelization, he said, “involves everybody learning some way, or thinking about, how today am I going to meet people that I can bring to Christ? And everybody can do that.”

Following his election as USCCB vice president, Vigneron also spoke with CNA about the church’s response to the clergy sex abuse crisis, including an update given to the bishops on the Vatican’s much-anticipated report on Theodore McCarrick. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston told the conference on Tuesday that the report had been prepared and was awaiting papal approval before publication either before Christmas or early in the New Year.

Vigneron told CNA he was early awaiting the report’s release, and that it was a necessary step in healing the breach of trust between bishops and the faithful in the United States.

“I think it will be good for us to understand how this evil behavior was allowed to continue in the life of someone who—in whom so much pastoral trust was placed so that we can start on a path so that we don’t do it again,” he said.

As part of the related abuse scandals to hit the Church in the last 18 months, many dioceses are facing investigations by states’ attorneys general into clergy sex abuse. The Pennsylvania grand jury report, released in 2018, revealed more than a thousand allegations of abuse over the span of several decades, and more than a dozen other states - including Vigneron’s own state of Michigan - have open investigations.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel launched his investigation into clergy sex abuse in all seven Catholic dioceses in the state last year. In May, Nessel’s office announced charges of 21 counts of criminal sexual conduct against five priests in the ongoing investigation.

Vigneron told CNA that he was committed to working with civil authorities to address historic injustices, but that he and other bishops did not know when the investigation might conclude.

“I don’t know where the work of the Attorney General in our seven dioceses stands right now,” Vigneron told CNA but said he and the Archdiocese of Detroit were being “very cooperative” with state officials.

Vigneron told CNA that although the McCarrick scandal had been painful for the Church in the United States, many past victims of abuse had now come forward, and that is an important part of serving justice and healing in the Church.

“I can account for some of this matter by saying that the investigations that became very prominent led some people to come forward and speak up, and—when in the past they didn’t do that,” he said.

In past decades, abuse victims were asked by some dioceses to sign confidentiality agreements as part of settlements with Church authorities, something now specifically prohibited by Pope Francis. Vigneron said that it was important that no victim felt intimidated into silence.

“I think the time for confidential agreements is gone,” he said.

Vigneron’s three-year term as USCCB vice president formally began on Wednesday, at the conclusion of the conference’s Fall Assembly in Baltimore.

Pope Francis: Tech companies have a responsibility to protect children

Vatican City, Nov 14, 2019 / 10:39 am (CNA).- In a speech to the head of major global tech companies, Pope Francis said Thursday that protecting children from evils such as trafficking and pornography requires a recognition of the limits of online freedom.

“A crucial aspect of the problem” of child safety online “concerns the tension – which ultimately becomes a conflict – between the idea of the digital world as a realm of unlimited freedom of expression and communication, and the need for a responsible use of technologies and consequently a recognition of their limits,” the pope said.

“A fitting balance must be found between the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression and the interests of society,” he continued, “so as to ensure that digital media are not used to perpetrate criminal activities against minors.”

The pope underlined the huge potential of digital technology, but noted also its negative impact when abused for “human trafficking, the planning of terrorist activities, the spread of hatred and extremism, the manipulation of information and – we must emphasize – in the area of child abuse...”

He noted that many children use cellphones, and current protections against access to pornography are inadequate; studies show, he said, that the average age of first encountering pornography is 11 – and it is lowering.

“This is in no way acceptable,” he stressed.

Pope Francis spoke in the Vatican’s apostolic palace to participants in a Nov. 14-15 Vatican meeting on promoting child dignity online.

Sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the meeting included the participation of high-level executives from Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Paramount Pictures.

The pope said companies have long considered themselves to be mere “suppliers” of technological platforms, without having a legal or moral responsibility for how they are used.

But freedom and protection of privacy must be balanced with concern for the common good, he urged.

Leading technology-based companies can no longer consider themselves unaccountable for the services they provide their customers, the pope said.

“I make an urgent appeal to them to assume their responsibility towards minors, their integrity and their future,” he said.

To protect minors in the digital world requires the “full involvement of companies in this sector,” he added. It also requires the companies’ “full awareness of the moral and social repercussions of their management and functioning.”

“Such companies are bound not only to respect the law, but also to be concerned with the direction taken by the technological and social developments which they produce and promote, since such developments are far ahead of the laws that would seek to regulate them,” he said.

The Vatican meeting, which continues through Friday, also has an interreligious focus, with speeches by Orthodox leader Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, Lutheran Queen Silvia of Sweden, and Muslim Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb Sheikh of Al-Azhar.

Vatican City State’s new president of the tribunal Giuseppe Pignatone and Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin will also speak.

The meeting is a follow-up to the 2017 Vatican and the 2018 Abu Dhabi conferences on digital child dignity.

Pope’s cousin, a Salesian missionary, to join papal entourage in Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand, Nov 14, 2019 / 09:15 am (CNA).- Salesian Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, Pope Francis’ second cousin who has been a missionary in Thailand for over 50 years, will be in attendance during papal meetings in the country later this month.

While in Bangkok Nov. 20-23, Sivori, 77, will be a part of the papal entourage, following the pope to all his events and encounters, according to Reuters.

Pope Francis and Sivori, who grew up in Argentina together, are related through their grandfathers, who were brothers.

Since Pope Francis’ election in 2013, whenever Sivori visits Argentina, she first makes a stop in Rome to see him. She said she has grown closer to him in the last few years, Reuters reports.

In an interview with Italian magazine Il Mio Papa, Sivori said she is happy to be able to greet her second cousin, but she is “especially happy for the small Catholic community here and for all the Thai people. It is a great blessing and a special gift for Thailand.”

“Although Catholics here are a minority, thanks be to God there is a great religious tolerance that allows peaceful coexistence marked by simplicity and brotherhood,” she added.

Sivori joined the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco, also called the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, at the age of 23. She was sent soon after, in 1966, to be a missionary in Thailand, where she has been living ever since.

She is currently vice principal of St. Mary’s School in the northeastern part of Thailand, over 350 miles from the capital city of Bangkok.

On the pope’s schedule in Bangkok is a meeting with King Maha Vajiralongkorn at the Amphorn Royal Palace.

The pope will meet with Christian and other religious leaders, and also with the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, who is the leader of the order of Buddhist monks in the country.

He will also celebrate Mass in the National Stadium and in the Cathedral of the Assumption.

Sivori told Reuters that when she and Francis talk, “we feel like brother and sister. For me, of course I know that he’s the Pope ... but we talk simply.”

“When I meet him, I’ll call him by his name, Jorge. Pope Francis just came after,” she said. “I’m proud of him.”

Francis’ visit to Thailand is in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the Vatican Mission to Siam in 1669.

The small Catholic community in Thailand, less than 0.5% of the mostly Buddhist population, has been celebrating the anniversary throughout 2019.

After Thailand, Pope Francis will travel to Japan for three days.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Pope Francis’ family reunion -- The Holy Father announced he will travel to Thailand in November. The trip may result in the reunion between <a href="https://twitter.com/Pontifex?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Pontifex</a> and his second cousin, Sr. Ana Rosa, who has worked in Thailand as a missionary since 1966. <a href="https://t.co/ihIgSmbADn">pic.twitter.com/ihIgSmbADn</a></p>&mdash; EWTN News Nightly (@EWTNNewsNightly) <a href="https://twitter.com/EWTNNewsNightly/status/1173612591878422528?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>