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Heartbeat bill passes Georgia Senate

Atlanta, Ga., Mar 26, 2019 / 12:09 am (CNA).- The Georgia Senate has approved a bill that would ban abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected, about six weeks into pregnancy.

The state Senate passed House Bill 481 on Friday. It will now return to the House, which has already approved an initial version of the bill but will now need to vote on changes made by the Senate.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp applauded the bill’s progress. He is expected to sign the legislation if it comes to his desk.

The legislation would prohibit doctors from performing abortions after a baby’s heartbeat is detected. Those who do could lose their medical licenses. It includes an exception for cases of rape or incest, as well as if doctors determine that a pregnant woman’s life is in danger or that the baby would not survive.

Current Georgia laws bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

If signed into law, the legislation is likely to face legal challenges. The ACLU has already said it is prepared to file a lawsuit against the measure. A similar law in Kentucky was blocked by a federal judge just hours after going into effect.

Tennessee’s Catholic bishops chose to oppose their state’s heartbeat bill over concerns that it would not stand up to judicial scrutiny. They voiced concern that it was an imprudent approach to fighting legal abortion, citing other states where legal challenges to such bills ended up further enshrining a legal “right to abortion” and forcing the state to pay significant sums of money to the lawyers representing the pro-abortion challengers to the laws.

In a March 22 opinion piece for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Rep. Ed Setzler, who sponsored the Georgia heartbeat bill, argued that it is both scientifically and legally sound.

“[S]cience tells us that a child with a beating heart has crossed the definitive scientific threshold in which they have a 95 percent chance of being carried to term and the definitive medical threshold that for centuries has established the presence of human life: the heartbeat,” he said.

The Georgia representative also argued that the heartbeat bill can survive a legal challenge. He said it is unique among other similar state legislation because it establishes “the legal personhood of the unborn child,” building on “the long established foundation of a state’s authority to recognize a person’s rights more expansively than the minimum required by federal law.”

Setzler said the bill is an effort to balance “the individual liberty of pregnant mothers with the right to life of the distinct persons living inside of them.” He noted that it would ensure new benefits for pregnant women, including “access to child support from the baby’s father and a full dependent tax deduction.”

The Georgia Catholic Conference has encouraged support for the legislation.

“The core of the bill is a prohibition against abortion after a detectable fetal heartbeat, usually six to eight weeks after conception,” the conference said. “While we understand life to begin at conception, not heartbeat, this language is as close as the authors think we can come and still withstand challenge in court.”

The conference more that the bill “contains exceptions in the case of rape, threatened death of the mother, or a medically futile diagnosis, all of which are exceptions that we would prefer were not permitted. Nonetheless, we recommend support because it would prohibit many abortions that are legal today.”

This Protestant pastor has been detained in China since December

Chengdu, China, Mar 25, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Wang Yi and more than 100 members of his congregation were detained in China's Sichuan province in early December. Some were released the next day, but then put under house arrest. Wang, his wife, and nearly 10 others remain in detention, charged with inciting subversion.

Wang is pastor of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, which has now been closed. Some members of the ecclesial community are in hiding, some have been effectively exiled from the Sichuanese capital, and others are under surveillance. In all, more than 300 members of the community have been arrested, according to the church.

The building rented by Early Rain Covenant Church has new tenants, and police turn away those looking for the church.

The community posted on its Facebook page March 20 that one of its members was last seen two days earlier at a train station “being escorted by multiple plainclothes police officers. His head was shaved and he was handcuffed. We do not know where he was being taken.” The statement added that several members “have been forcefully evicted from their homes.”

Wang has been an outspoken opponent of the Chinese government's effort to 'Sinicize' religion.

Religious freedom is officially guaranteed by the Chinese constitution, but religious groups must register with the government, and are overseen by the Chinese Communist Party. The Sinizication of religion has been pushed by President Xi Jinping, who took power in 2013 and who has strengthened government oversight of religious activities.

Earlier this year Early Rain Covenant Church posted a May 2017 sermon by Wang, called “When to Resist, When to Submit”.

He gave the example of the police coming to the church and offering two options: that the pastor attend religious instruction at the Religious Affairs Bureau once a month and that the list of candidates for elders and pastors be reported, or the church's property will be confiscated and the leaders arrested.

Wang held in his sermon that “in matters involving the body, God wants us to wholly submit, to give up these things, to bear the losses. But the Lord has not given them [i.e., governments] the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”

“Over the past 2000 years of church history and Chinese church history, the church has always been faced with this struggle and this choice … what should we do? Which option should the church choose?”

“What the gospel gives us is freedom of the soul and submission of the body,” Wang stated, arguing against seemingly small compromises with the government.

“How do we demonstrate that we are a group of people who trust Jesus, who follow Jesus to the cross? How do we demonstrate that Christians are are goup of people whose souls are free? That we are no longer a people who are slaves through fear of death?” he asked. “It is through bodily submission, through bodily suffering, that we demonstrate the freedom of our souls.”

It is against the backdrop of the Sinicization of religion that the Holy See has been in negotiations with China's government in recent years.

In September 2018 the Holy See and Beijing reached an agreement meant to normalize the situation of China’s Catholics and unify the underground Church and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.

The Church in mainland China has been divided for some 60 years between the underground Church, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities, and the CPCA, a government-sanctioned organization.

The agreement has been roundly criticized by human rights groups and some Church leaders, including Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong.

In December, two bishops of the underground Catholic Church agreed to step aside in favor of bishops of the CPCA, in the wake of the September agreement.

And the month prior, four priests from the underground Church in Hebei province who refused to join the CPCA were taken into police custody for indoctrination.

Franciscan friar from Kenya wins $1m Global Teacher Prize

Nairobi, Kenya, Mar 25, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- What happens when you give a Franciscan $1 million?

He gives it away.

At least that’s what Brother Peter Tabichi, OFM, plans to do with the $1 million prize he won March 23, which came alongside the 2019 Global Teacher Prize, which he received at a conference Saturday in Dubai.

"This prize does not recognize me but recognizes this great continent’s young people. I am only here because of what my students have achieved. This prize gives them a chance. It tells the world that they can do anything,”  Tabichi said.

The brother is a science teacher at a school in rural Kenya.

Chosen from among 10,000 nominees, Tabichi will also become global ambassador for the Varkey Foundation, which established the award. The international organization, founded in 2010 by Indian businessman Sunny Varkey, looks to raise the standards of education for students across the developing world.

In Kenya’s Rift Valley, afflicted by drought, violence, and drug abuse, many students have either been orphaned or are being raised by only one parent.

Tabichi teaches science and math at Keriko Mixed Day Secondary School in Pwani Village, Kenya. The school is in need of resources and equipment, and has a student-teacher ratio of 58:1.

Tabichi often walks four miles to a cyber-cafe, to download educational material for his lessons. He also donates 80 percent of his income to aid poor students, and intends to donate his prize money to support the school.

Under Tabichi’s instruction, the school’s students have had success at national and international science competitions. More students have also been able to attend college, and girls’ tests scores have particularly seen an increase.

Last year, his students won first place in the public school category at the Kenya Science and Engineering Fair 2018. The students submitted a device allowing blind and deaf people to measure objects. The team is preparing to participate in the INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair 2019 in Arizona.

Over a video conference at the event, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta congratulated the Franciscan brother.

"Peter – your story is the story of Africa, a young continent bursting with talent. Your students have shown that they can compete amongst the best in the world in science, technology and all fields of human endeavor.”

 

Vintage-style procession photo a snapshot of renewal in Detroit, priest says

Detroit, Mich., Mar 25, 2019 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- Maybe it was the classic sunglasses, the skinny jeans or the flocculent mustache. Maybe it was the vintage-style religious art, the men in embellished uniforms, or what looks like incense rising from the streets.

Whatever it was, a photo of a religious procession with a circa-1940’s aesthetic recently fascinated Catholics, who shared it on social media and other places around the internet.

Except the photo of a St. Joseph’s procession on the streets of Detroit wasn't taken in 1945. It was taken last week.  

“I guess what really makes it ‘epic’ in today’s terms is the steam from the city that...looks like holy incense,” said Canon Michael Stein, ICRSS, rector of St. Joseph’s Oratory in Detroit, which sponsored the procession.  

“We dubbed it ‘city incense,’” he said of steam that can be seen rising up from the street in the already-iconic photo.

Canon Stein is a member of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a Roman Catholic society of apostolic life with an emphasis on the traditional Latin Mass. The Institute was invited to St. Joseph’s Church in Detroit in 2016 to revive what was then a struggling Church community.

(What is a “canon,” you ask? “In layman's terms, if you take a monk on the one hand, and a diocesan priest on the other, and smoosh them together, you get a canon,” Canon Stein said.)

“When there was every material reason to shut it down (not enough funds, not enough faithful, a crumbling building), we’re very grateful that Archbishop Vigneron had a much grander vision (for the parish),” Stein told CNA.

“He created a win-win situation by unmerging St. Joseph’s (from a cluster of three parishes), making it its own parish within the archdiocese, and then inviting the Institute of Christ the King to come live here and breathe daily parish life back into it from scratch, and that’s exactly what we’ve done for the past two years,” he said.

One very visible sign of that new life in the parish is the beautiful St. Joseph’s procession, which the Institute has organized since 2017.

The appeal of the photo, and of the procession (which this year included 500 people), goes deeper than aesthetics, Stein said.

“I think it’s safe to say there’s a profound theological and spiritual reason why that photo resonates so much with our hearts,” he said.

“We are the religion of the Incarnation. God became man, the invisible God became visible, he sanctified the material world and elevated these visible, tangible signs to communicate invisible graces and to convey eternal truths.”

“This is my parish; this is what we do,” said Daniel Egan told The Detroit Catholic about the procession.

“This is a perennial St. Joseph Day tradition. St. Joseph Parish has been here for almost 150 years, so this isn’t new to this area. Maybe it fell out of practice for the last 30, 40 years, but we are showing we are Catholic, as we are called to,” he said.

“As Catholics, we’re told to live our faith in season and out of season, in the public square and in private, and that includes the city streets. If we’re not Catholic out there, we are truly failing to be authentically Christian.”

The photo of the procession includes the Knights of St. John in full uniform (a Catholic charitable organization with a very long history), as well as parish vicar Canon Adrian Sequeira, ICRSS, leading the procession in full choir habit, which is used when the order chants the Liturgy of the Hours together. The spots of blue throughout the photo symbolize the order’s total consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Stein said.

St. Joseph speaks to the hearts of today as a gentle and loving man and father and worker, Stein told CNA.

Part of the homily from the feast day, he said, explained that God sends saints for the times - either holy people of the time who are witnessing to the Gospel, or saints of old who are re-presented and raised up as intercessors for the times.

“It only takes a quick glance around the world to see a fatherless society, and to see either a slothful or workaholic society, or a lack of an appropriate understanding of manliness,” Stein said.

“It’s neither brute nor effeminate, it’s faithful, it’s steadfast, it’s courageous and gentle. And we find all those things in St. Joseph, so I think that’s another part of the power of that picture.”

The procession, which traveled for less than a mile, stopped rush-hour traffic in the city, with the collaboration of Detroit police. It travelled to the Eastern Market, an iconic makers market in Detroit that has remained in the city since the 1800s, where workers can sell their wares and fathers can support their families - two things of which St. Joseph is the patron, Stein noted.

“So all the workers got to see their patron processing through the streets, whether they knew it or not,” he said.

The procession was part of numerous events celebrating St. Joseph that took place in both St. Joseph’s parish and throughout the archdiocese. In addition to the procession, St. Joseph’s parish had three Masses, an Italian dinner, and a running litany of other activities and devotions throughout the day.

Other Detroit parishes had St. Joseph’s Masses and dinners, including San Francesco Parish, which held a Mass, Italian dinner and St. Joseph’s play, and Holy Family Parish, which held an Italian-language Mass.

Beyond being a photogenic opportunity, Stein noted, the procession and all of the festivities on the feast of St. Joseph are the fruit of a lively spiritual and liturgical life.

“It shows that we’re alive,” Stein said. “These things are the fruit of a daily sacramental life, these things are the fruit of a reverent liturgy, and the fruit of a solid catechesis. They’re the fruit of our young adults being committed...Detroit as a city is coming back, and a lot of millennials are staying after college to get their first career jobs here.”

To fill the needs of an increasing number of young people, St. Joseph’s offers teenage catechesis and young adult groups, Stein said. The parish also has daily Mass and confession, a schola choir, and active volunteer groups, among other ministries.   Within just two years, it’s become a hub for millennials in the Archdiocese, he noted.

“We are predominantly young,” Stein said, and young people are hungry for an incarnational faith.

“We are body and soul, all these spiritual truths are meant to be communicated through our senses. We get to see our faith, hear our faith, taste our faith, etc., and that just appeals to us so much,” he said.

“Truth needs to shine in beauty...we’re not angels, we’re not just pure intelligences, we need to see, touch, hear; and that’s something the traditional liturgy has always done. That’s something that a reverent Mass or procession can do, these visible signs that the Church has used throughout her history to excite devotion and promote devotion.”

 

 

Cardinal Ezzati leaves Santiago with 'head held high'

Santiago, Chile, Mar 25, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, whose resignation as Archbishop of Santiago was accepted Saturday, said he is leaving office “very grateful” and with his “head held high” regarding the way the archdiocese dealt with cases of sexual abuse and cover-up.

Ezzati, 77, has faced accusations that he was involved in covering up the crimes of several abusive priests. His resignation was accepted March 23.

The current crisis of the Church in Chile is a consequence of the uncovering of a great number of cases of sexual abuse and the abuse of authority and conscience as well as cover-up by members of the clergy.

In that context Ezzati is facing the civil justice system, accused of allegedly covering up sexual abuse by the former chancellor of the Archdiocese of Santiago, Fr. Oscar Muñoz Toledo.

At a press conference Ezzati said that the crisis in the Church in Chile “without a doubt has been the greatest sorrow of this time.”

But he stated that “every complaint has been addressed and consequently we will have to wait for what the justice system will say about this. It's not enough for them to say that someone has covered up, it has to be proven, and I hold my head high, confident that that will not be shown."

He also said that the archdiocese has cooperated with the civil justice system, “has had open doors,” and “the prosecutor has requisitioned the documents he has wanted” in the different raids carried out in the context of the investigations.

Regarding the accusations against him, the cardinal explained that “all the complaints that have come to the OPADE (Pastoral Office for Complaints) have been investigated or are being investigated.”

Asked about the petition to dismiss the case requested by his defense lawyer, in the case of the former chancellor,  Ezzati said that he has asked the prosecutor's office to deliver the necessary documents but “we haven't gotten them and we still don't have them.”

“For now I am availing myself of my right to remain silent which Chilean legislation offers me.  I will speak at the appropriate time. My lawyer knows the day and the hour to speak,” he said.

When Ezzati's resignation was accepted, Pope Francis also appointed Bishop Celestino Aós Braco of Copiapó as apostolic administrator Santiago.

Ezzati thanked Pope Francis for his gesture, “which naturally conforms to a criterion of canon law.”

“The Holy Father Francis, with kindness, fraternity, with a great sense of closeness to the Church of Santiago, has decided to appoint an apostolic administrator. I am happy with the action of the Holy Father,” the cardinal said.

“I have profound respect and love for Bishop Aós. I believe he will carry out a very important task and I ask everyone that in this difficult time, I ask at least all Catholics that they go on and support the new apostolic administrator and the Church of Santiago with their prayers and closeness,” Cardinal Ezzati concluded.

 

 

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

Michigan AG: no funds for Catholic adoption agencies if LGBT non-compliant

Lansing, Mich., Mar 25, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has barred state funds from adoption agencies that won't place children with same-sex couples, after reaching a settlement with the ACLU and same-sex couples who approached a Catholic agency and another Christian agency.

The settlement is despite a state law protecting the religious freedom and funding of adoption agencies.
 
“This settlement does nothing to protect the thousands of children in foster care looking for loving homes,” the Michigan Catholic Conference objected in a March 22 Facebook post. These children are “the very people our state is charged with protecting.”

It is “highly unlikely” the settlement is “the last chapter of the story,” the conference added in a March 22 Twitter post.

The settlement means the state must enforce non-discrimination provisions in contracts. Agencies may not turn away otherwise qualified LGBT individuals and must provide orientation or training, process applications, and perform a home study, the Associated Press said.

As of February, Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services had helped oversee 1,600 of the state’s 13,000 foster care and adoption cases, state spokesman Bob Wheaton said, the AP reports. Neither agency places children with same-sex couples.

The State of Michigan contracts with 59 private adoption and foster care agencies. Twenty are affiliated with religious organizations, though state officials were not able to say how many follow similar policies, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Lori Windham, senior counsel at the religious freedom legal group Becket, said the attorney general and the ACLU are “trying to stop the state from working with faith-based adoption agencies.”

“The result of that will be tragic. Thousands of children will be kept from finding the loving homes they deserve,” Windham said March 22. “This settlement violates the state law protecting religious adoption agencies. This harms children and families waiting for forever homes and limits access for couples who chose to partner with those agencies.”

Becket is representing the Catholic adoption agency affected by the case.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit in 2017 on behalf of two same-sex couples and a woman who was in foster care in her teens after the previous attorney general, Bill Schuette, declined to speak to the legal group.
The couples had approached St. Vincent Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services to adopt children referred to the agencies through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Nessel justified the settlement on Friday.

“Discrimination in the provision of foster care case management and adoption services is illegal, no matter the rationale,” said Nessel. “Limiting the opportunity for a child to be adopted or fostered by a loving home not only goes against the state’s goal of finding a home for every child, it is a direct violation of the contract every child-placing agency enters into with the state.”

Nessel is the first self-identified lesbian elected to statewide office in Michigan and made LGBT advocacy a major part of her campaign, the Detroit Free Press said. She represented a same-sex couple in a case that led to the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating legal recognition of same-sex unions as civil marriages.

The ACLU characterized the settlement as a victory for the 12,000 children in Michigan foster care.

“Our children need every family that is willing and able to provide them with a loving home,” said Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project. She said agencies that choose to accept taxpayer dollars “must put the needs of the children first.”

A 2015 law, passed with the backing of the Michigan Catholic Conference, prevents state-funded adoption and foster agencies from being forced to place children in violation of their beliefs. The law protects them from civil action and from threats to their public funding, while requiring agencies that decline to place children with same-sex couples to refer the couples to other providers.

When the law was passed, about 25 percent of Michigan’s adoption and foster agencies were faith-based.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Republican, criticized the settlement and said faith-based adoption agencies will have to close because of a lack of taxpayer-funded support.

“Dana Nessel has shown us that she cares little for the Constitution and even less for the vulnerable population of children in need of forever homes,” Shirkey charged. “Nessel’s actions make it clear that she sought the office of attorney general to further her own personal political agenda.”

State Rep. James Lower, R-Cedar Lake, wasn’t in the legislature when its 2015 bill passed but said he would have backed it, the Detroit Free Press said.

For Lower, the law made sense because “the situation puts these agencies in a tough situation because they have been able to refer couples to another agency that is willing to work with same-sex couples.”

“But now, they'll have to choose to either not to help the kids or violate their religious beliefs,” he added.

In 2017, the Michigan Catholic Conference described the lawsuit as “mean-spirited, divisive and intolerant,” and “yet another egregious attack on religious faith in public life.” The 2015 law was needed to “promote diversity in child placement” and to maintain a public-private partnership to stabilize adoption and foster care, the conference said.

A 2017 court filing from St. Vincent Catholic Charities said it recruited more new families than seven of eight adoption agencies in the capital region. It would be unable to continue its programs without the contract.

In 2018 Becket said St. Vincent Catholic Charities found more new foster families than almost 90 percent of other agencies within its service district, with particular success in finding homes for hard-to-place children such as those with special needs, larger sibling groups, or older children.

A 2003 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith considered the proposed legal recognition of same-sex unions rejected the placement of children with same-sex couples. That document cited the need for a child to grow up with both a mother and a father and said placing a child with a same-sex couple would “place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development,” something that is “gravely immoral” and in violation of the child’s best interest.

Laws barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or barring state funding from adoption agencies considered discriminatory have shut down Catholic adoption agencies in Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and Illinois, among others.

While religious freedom was long an assumption of American political and legal life, recent decades have produced an increased push against religious freedom protections. The proposed federal Equality Act explicitly bars appeals to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a defense in cases of alleged discrimination.

CNA investigations have found close to $10 million in grants earmarked to restricting religious freedom in cases impacting LGBT causes and “reproductive rights.” The New York-based Arcus Foundation and the Massachusetts-based Proteus Fund’s Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative play leading roles, and both were leaders in pushing for the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

The national ACLU and some state affiliates are among this funding network’s grantees.

While Christian teaching has rejected same-sex sexual behavior as sinful since the origins of Christianity, in recent decades some American Christian denominations and American jurisprudence as a whole have come to categorize such views as erroneous, discriminatory, and opposed to equality. Sometimes these changes followed significant organizing and lobbying by LGBT advocates.

Catholic hospital group sued for refusing transgender hysterectomy

San Francisco, Calif., Mar 25, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A group of five Catholic hospitals in California is being sued by a woman who identifies as a transgender man after one of its locations, St. Joseph Hospital, Eureka, refused to perform a hysterectomy.

 

Oliver Knight is suing St. Joseph Health of Northern California, alleging that she was refused the surgery because of her “gender orientation.”

 

The suit was filed in the Humboldt County Superior Court on Thursday, March 21. In the lawsuit, Knight says that workers at the hospital canceled the surgery because she identifies as transgender. Knight had identified herself as “male” for a period of four years before the surgery, which was initially scheduled for Aug. 30, 2017.

 

Prior to the scheduled hysterectomy, Knight had begun cross-sex hormone therapy and undergone a mastectomy.

 

After the surgery at St. Joseph was denied, Knight underwent a hysterectomy at a hospital unaffiliated with the St. Joseph Health of Northern California system, 30 minutes away.

 

Knight’s lawsuit suit claims that by denying the surgery St. Joseph Health caused “severe anxiety and emotional turmoil.”

 

Knight’s doctor prescribed the hysterectomy as treatment for gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a condition in which a person believes themselves to have been “misassigned” their gender at birth.

 

St. Joseph Health said in a statement reported March 25 that hysterectomies are only performed at their facilities when they have been deemed “medically necessary,” and not for purposes of sterilization. The teaching of the Catholic Church recognizes such procedure as licit when there is a grave and present danger to the life or health of the mother, and when the intention of the procedure is not to prevent the possibility of conception.

 

In January 2019, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued an authoritative response which explained the circumstances under which a hysterectomy could be morally licit.

 

A 2016 letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services signed by the general counsel for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, together with other groups, affirmed that the denial of surgery to someone seeking to change their gender would not be discriminatory, noting that in such cases there would be nothing medically wrong with otherwise healthy organs to be removed.

 

“It is not ‘discrimination’ when a hospital provides care it considers appropriate, declines to perform procedures destructive to patients’ welfare and well-being, or declines to take actions that undermine the health, safety, and privacy of other patients,” the letter said.

 

“A hospital does not engage in “discrimination” when, for example, it performs a mastectomy or hysterectomy on a woman with breast or uterine cancer, respectively, but declines to perform such a procedure on a woman with perfectly healthy breasts or uterus who is seeking to have the appearance of a man.”

 

Knight is being represented in part by the ACLU. The suit requests unspecified damages. She also claims to have been repeatedly “mis-gendered” by workers at St. Joseph Hospital, and was allegedly given a pink hospital gown to wear instead of a blue one.

 

In California, “gender identity” based discrimination is illegal, but the application of the statute in cases invovling religious organizations remains disputed.

 

In 2017, a woman sued California’s largest chain of hospitals, Dignity Health, after doctors declined to perform a scheduled hysterectomy at Mercy San Juan Medical Center. The defendant in that case also claimed that she was denied the procedure due to gender identity.

 

The case Minton v. Dignity Health was decided in favor of Dignity Health, but an appeal has been filed.

Under pressure, UK to reconsider asylum application of Iranian Christian

London, England, Mar 25, 2019 / 01:33 pm (CNA).- The British Home Office has agreed to reconsider the asylum claim of an Iranian Christian, after it was shown on Twitter that the department had denied the application on the grounds that Christianity is not a peaceful religion.

“The Home Office have agreed to withdraw their refusal and to reconsider our client’s asylum application, offering us a chance to submit further representations. A good start, but more change is needed”, the Iranian's caseworker, Nathan Stevens, tweeted March 22.

Stevens added that he hopes “there will be real change though as it isn't all about this one case; there's a much wider problem to be addressed here.”

The immigration caseworker had tweeted photos March 19 of the Home Office's letter explaining its reason for refusing the convert's asylum claim, commenting: “I’ve seen a lot over the years, but even I was genuinely shocked to read this unbelievably offensive diatribe being used to justify a refusal of asylum.”

 

Excerpt from a home office reasons for refusal letter for a convert to Christianity. I’ve seen a lot over the years, but even I was genuinely shocked to read this unbelievably offensive diatribe being used to justify a refusal of asylum. pic.twitter.com/R1wA1HMNwH

— Nathan Stevens (@nathestevens) March 19, 2019


 

The asylum seeker had noted in his 2016 application that among his reasons for converting was that Christianity talks of “peace, forgiveness and kindness” while “in Islam there is violence rage and revenge.”

The refusal letter cited biblical passages, from Leviticus, Matthew, Exodus, and Revelation, which it said contradicted the asylum seeker's claims: “These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a 'peaceful' religion,” the denial letter stated.

Stevens said: “Whatever your views on faith, how can a government official arbitrarily pick bits out of a holy book and then use them to trash someone’s heartfelt reason for coming to a personal decision to follow another faith?”

The Home Office, the British government department responsible for immigration, drugs policy, crime, fire, counter-terrorism, and policing, has said that the refusal letter is “not in accordance with our policy approach to claims based on religious persecution,” the Catholic Herald reported. It added that “we continue to work closely with key partners … to improve our policy guidance and training provided to asylum decision-makers.”

Sarah Teather, director of Jesuit Refugee Service UK, said March 21 that the refusal letter “is a particularly outrageous example of the reckless and facetious approach of the Home Office to determining life and death asylum cases – they appear willing to distort any aspect of reality in order to turn down a claim.”

“This case demonstrates the shocking illiteracy of Christianity within the Home Office … Here at JRS, we routinely encounter cases where asylum has been refused on spurious grounds.”

She added that “as this instance gains public attention, we need to remember it reflects a systematic problem and a deeper mindset of disbelief within the Home Office, and is not just an anomaly that can be explained away.”

Stephen Evans, CEO of the National Secular Society, commented on Twitter that it was “totally inappropriate” for the Home Office “to play theologian.” He added that “Decisions on the merits of an asylum appeal should be based on an assessment of the facts at hand – and not on the state’s interpretation of any given religion.”

Paul Butler, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, expressed “extreme concern” that the Home Office “could determine the future of another human being based on such a profound misunderstanding of the texts and practices of faith communities … that these comments were made at all suggests that the problem goes deeper than a lack of religious literacy among individual civil servants and indicates that the management structures and ethos of the Home Office, when dealing with cases with a religious dimension, need serious overhaul.”

Stevens has also noted that the refusal letter was part of a larger problem. He quoted in a March 20 tweet from another refusal that stated: “You affirmed in your AIR that Jesus is your saviour, but then claimed that He would not be able to save you from the Iranian regime. It is therefore considered that you have no conviction in your faith and your belief in Jesus is half-hearted.”

Shia Islam is the state religion of Iran, though several religious minorities are recognized and granted freedom of worship. However, conversion from Islam is strictly prohibited.

Open Doors UK said that 114 Christians were arrested in Iran in December 2018. Many of them were reportedly converts from Islam.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote in its 2018 report that “in the past year, religious freedom in Iran continued to deteriorate … with the government targeting Baha'is and Christian converts in particular.” It said that “Christian converts and house church leaders faced increasingly harsh sentencing: many were sentenced to at least 10 years in prison for their religious activities.”

California AG files to block Title X abortion 'gag rule'

San Francisco, Calif., Mar 25, 2019 / 11:42 am (CNA).- California’s attorney general on Friday asked a federal judge to block a new Trump administration rule designed to strip abortion clinics of federal funds distributed through the Title X program.

In a March 22 announcement, California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra called the Protect Life Rule “reckless and illegal” and “a dangerous political ploy to sabotage women’s reproductive healthcare.”  

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services finalized the “Protect Life Rule” in late February, by which abortion clinics will be ineligible to receive Title X Program funding. The rule also prohibits clinics receiving funds from referring patients to other doctors for abortions, and bars funded clinics from sharing space with abortion clinics.

The California attorney general’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the rule argues that the rule “undermines clinically established standards of care, interferes with the patient-provider relationship, and contradicts core tenets of the Title X program.”

Dr. Tanya Spirtos of the California Medical Association wrote in a declaration filed with the attorney general’s motion that the Protect Life Rule "restricts physicians from speaking freely with their patients, violates core ethical standards, and undermines the physician-patient relationship."

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.  California has the largest Title X program in the country, serving nearly a quarter of all Title X patients nationwide, according to the attorney general’s office.

Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions, is expected to lose about $60 million in federal funds under the new federal rule, which is set to go into effect during April.

Last year, Planned Parenthood received over $500 million in federal funds, about 10% of which came from the Title X program. The abortion chain is still eligible for federal funds that are not part of Title X.

Nearly two dozen states, led by Oregon and including California, are already suing the administration over the Protect Life Rule.

Becerra filed California’s lawsuit against the US Department of Health and Human Services on March 4 in the Northern District Court of California in San Francisco.

The preliminary injunction, if granted, would block the rule’s implementation while the court reviews the state’s lawsuit.

The District Court is set to hear arguments on the preliminary injunction April 18.

Among other provisions, the Protect Life Rule requires that there be a physical and financial separation between recipients of Title X funds and facilities that perform abortions. Clinics that provide “nondirective counseling” about abortion can still receive funds.  

Previous regulations, written during Bill Clinton’s presidency, not only allowed for health clinics that were co-located with abortion clinics to receive funds, but also required that Title X recipients refer patients for abortions.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), chairman of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, said the new rules move Title X closer to “its originally intended purpose—the provision of family planning services, not abortions.”

Pro-life advocates have welcomed the HHS rule change. Marjorie Dannefelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, praised the move, saying that it was targeted at abortion provision alone and would not reduce other family planning services by “a single dime.”

“The Title X program was not intended to be a slush fund for abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood, which violently ends the lives of more than 332,000 unborn babies a year and receives almost $60 million a year in Title X taxpayer dollars,” she said in a Feb. 22 statement.

Why Archbishop Wester says prayer to Santa Muerte is 'really wrong'

Santa Fe, N.M., Mar 25, 2019 / 10:38 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of Santa Fe said recently that people praying to “Saint Death” won’t find the answers they’re looking for.

Archbishop John Wester told the Associated Press recently that Catholics praying to the skeletal figure, popular in Central America, may be fooled into thinking that “Santa Muerte” is an approved devotional practice in the Church.

But the practice of praying to “Saint Death” is not consistent with Catholic teaching, the archbishop said.

"It's really wrong," Wester told the AP.

"I think in part, it's (because) people are looking and searching. It's a symptom of a search looking for answers."

"Our devotion is to the God of life," he added.

In 2013, a Vatican official condemned devotion to “Santa Muerte,” equating it to “the celebration of devastation and of hell.”

“It’s not every day that a folk saint is actually condemned at the highest levels of the Vatican,” Andrew Chesnut, a Santa Muerte expert, told CNA in 2016.

Chesnut is the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of "Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint," the only English academic book to date on the subject.

Despite her condemnation from on high, Santa Muerte remains increasingly popular among criminals, drug lords and those on the fringe of society, as well as cultural Catholics who maybe don’t know (or care) that she is condemned by the Church.

“She’s basically the poster girl of narco-satanic spirituality,” Chesnut said.

According to Chesnut’s estimates, Santa Muerte is the fastest growing religious movement in the Americas - and it’s all happened within the past 10-15 years.

“She was unknown to 99 percent of Mexicans before 2001, when she went public. Now I estimate there’s some 10-12 million devotees, mostly in Mexico, but also significant numbers in the United States and Central America,” he said.

Part of the attraction to Santa Muerte, as several sources familiar with the devotion explained, is that she is seen as a non-judgemental saint that can be invoked for some not-so-holy petitions.

“If somebody is going to be doing something illegal, and they want to be protected from the law enforcement, they feel awkward asking God to protect them,” Fr. Andres Gutierrez, the pastor of St. Helen parish in Rio Hondo, Texas, explained to CNA in 2016.

“So they promise something to Santa Muerte in exchange for being protected from the law.”

Devotees also feel comfortable going to her for favors of vengeance - something they would never ask of God or a canonized saint, Chesnut said.

“I think this non-judgemental saint who’s going to accept me as I am is appealing,” Chesnut said, particularly to criminals or to people who don’t feel completely accepted within the Mexican Catholic or Evangelical churches.

The cultural Catholicism of Mexico and the drug wars of the past decade also made for the perfect storm for Santa Muerte to catch on, Chesnut explained. Even Mexicans who didn’t grow up going to Mass every Sunday still have a basic idea of what Catholicism entails - Mass and Saints and prayers like the rosary, all things that have been hi-jacked and adapted by the Santa Muerte movement.

“You can almost see some of it as kind of an extreme heretical form of folk Catholicism,” he said. “In fact, I can say Santa Muerte could only have arisen from a Catholic environment.”

This, coupled with the fact that Mexican Catholics are suddenly much more familiar with death, with the recent drug wars having left upwards of 60,000 - 120,000 Mexicans dead - makes a saint of death that much more intriguing.

“Paradoxically, a lot of devotees who feel like death could be just around the corner - maybe they’re narcos, maybe they work in the street, maybe they’re security guards who might be gunned down - they ask Santa Muerte for protection.”

Her familiarity and appeal is actually part of the danger of this devotion, Fr. Gutierrez said.

“(Santa Muerte) is literally a demon with another name,” he said. “That’s what it is.”

In his own ministry, Fr. Gutierrez said he has witnessed people who “suffer greatly” following a devotion to the folk saint.

Fr. Gary Thomas, a Vatican-trained exorcist for the Diocese of San Jose, told CNA in 2016 that he has also prayed with people who have had demonic trouble after praying to Santa Muerte.

“I have had a number of people who have come to me as users of this practice and found themselves tied to a demon or demonic tribe,” he said.

Fr. Gutierrez noted that while Catholics who attend Mass and the sacraments on a regular basis tend to understand this about Santa Muerte, those in danger are the cultural Catholics who aren’t intentionally engaging in something harmful, but could be opening the door to spiritual harm nonetheless.

Besides her demonic ties, “Santa Muerte” is also a perversion of what the practice of praying to saints is all about, Fr. Ryan Kaup, a Nebraska priest active in Hispanic ministry, told CNA in 2016.

“What we venerate as saints are real people who have chosen this life to follow the will of our Lord and have done great things with their lives, and now they’re in heaven forever, and so that’s why we ask for their intercession,” Kaup said.

“So taking this devotion and this practice that we have of asking for this saint’s intercession and twisting it in such a way as to invoke this glorified image of death is really a distortion of what we believe is true intercession and truly the power of the saints.”