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U.S. bishops react to McCarrick laicization

Washington D.C., Feb 16, 2019 / 09:32 am (CNA).- Bishops from across the United States have reacted to the news that Theodore McCarrick has been found guilty of sexual abuse and expelled from the clerical state.

 

The disgraced former cardinal and archbishop of Washington and Newark was found guilty in a Vatican decision announced Saturday.

 

A Vatican administrative penal process concluded that McCarrick had solicited sex in the confessional and molested minors and adults, crimes aggravated by his abuse of authority. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handled the canonical process, imposed a penalty of laicization.

 

“The imposition on former Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of the penalty of his dismissal from the clerical state, thus prohibiting him any type of priestly ministry, underscores the gravity of his actions,” a Saturday statement from the Archdiocese of Washington reads.

 

McCarrick was Archbishop of Washington from 2001 until his retirement in 2006.

 

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the Vatican’s penalty is “a clear signal that abuse will not be tolerated.”

 

“No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the law of the Church. For all those McCarrick abused, I pray this judgement will be one small step, among many, toward healing,” Dinardo said.

 

DiNardo said that his fellow bishops were strengthened in their resolve to be accountable to the Gospel, and that he is grateful for the way Pope Francis has responded to claims of abuse.

 

Cardinal Joseph Tobin, archbishop of McCarrick’s former diocese of Newark, said in a statement that McCarrick and other clerical abusers had “violated a sacred trust” and “caused incalculable harm” to the lives of victims - young and old.

 

“To all those abused by clergy, especially the victims of Theodore McCarrick, I continue to express my profound sadness and renew my heartfelt apologies for the life-long suffering you have endured,” Tobin said.

 

“Despite the reprehensible misconduct and crimes of all who have abused minors, we must challenge ourselves to continue to follow Christ our Redeemer in our Church, where the healing power of God’s love is manifest each day.”

 

The Archdiocese of Washington expressed hope the Vatican decision will assist survivors with the healing process, and reassure those who have “experienced disappointment or disillusionment because of what former Archbishop McCarrick has done.”

 

Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, New Jersey, another of McCarrick’s former diocese, released a statement Saturday in which he reflected on the “range of emotions” those in his diocese were feeling as the news of McCarrick’s laicization continues to sink in. 

"Today I am praying particularly for those lay people and priests who are survivors of Theodore McCarrick,” Checchio wrote.

"While the news does not take away the pain these survivors have experienced, it is hopefully a further step in their healing and a statement by the Church that these crimes and sins are certainly not to be tolerated, in any way."

Checchio noted that McCarrick was in fact the founding bishop of the Metuchen diocese after its creation in 1981. 

"Theodore McCarrick will always be associated with the history of our diocese and his legacy has become one of scandal and betrayal,” he wrote.

"However, I was reminded in prayer that our diocese is not founded on Theodore McCarrick, but Christ the Lord, who renews His Church in every age...I am grateful for the leadership of Pope Francis in acting decisively, in expediting this process and coming to this appropriate conclusion.”

Checchio reiterated his support for "all those who have been abused and victimized by members of the clergy” and encouraged victims to come forward. 

"Since the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the first believers, up and down the ages, the Church has been beset by scandals and divisive betrayals,” he reflected. 

"However, those failings do not define our Church, but rather testify to the truth that Christ continues to work through the failures by calling us all to a life of repentance and holiness."

Since last summer, McCarrick has been in residence at a Kansas friary, living a life of “prayer and penance” at the orders of Pope Francis, pending the outcome of his canonical process.

Now that McCarrick has been laicized, it is unclear if and for how long he will remain at the friary, or where he will go from there. McCarrick is 88 years old.

McCarrick abuse trial: A CNA timeline

Washington D.C., Feb 16, 2019 / 02:14 am (CNA).- Theodore McCarrick has been laicized, nearly 10 months after sex abuse allegations against him were first made public. Here is a timeline of major events since last summer.

June 20
The Archdiocese of New York announces that an allegation of sexual abuse by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been found to be “credible and substantiated.” 

July 19
The New York Times reports a new allegation by a man who says he was McCarrick serially abused him beginning in 1969, when the man was 11 years old.

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

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

August 17
CNA interviews reveal numerous Newark priests claiming McCarrick had a widely-known reputation for sexual advances toward seminarians.

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

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

August 30
Archdiocese of Washington confirms that seminarians were permitted to serve as assistants to McCarrick while the archbishop was being investigated for the alleged sexual abuse of a teenager.

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

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

September 28
The Diocese of Salina and Archdiocese of Washington announce that Archbishop McCarrick has begun his life of prayer and penance at St. Fidelis Capuchin Friary in Victoria, Kansas.

October 6
The Vatican announces that Pope Francis has ordered a review of all Holy See files pertaining to allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of McCarrick.

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

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

December 27
James Grein testifies in a canonical deposition by the Archdiocese of New York, saying he was serially sexually abused by McCarrick, beginning when he was 11 years old.

January 11
McCarrick is laicized. Also known as losing the clerical state, he no longer has the right to exercise sacred ministry in the Church, except in the extreme situation of encountering someone who is in immediate danger of death. In addition, he no longer has the canonical right to be financially supported by the Church.

January 14
Archbishop Vigano writes an open letter urging McCarrick to publicly repent of the sexual abuse and misconduct of which he has been accused.

February 13
McCarrick appeals decision against him.

February 15
Appeal rejected and decision confirmed.

NJ bill would expand window for sex abuse victims to sue

Trenton, N.J., Feb 15, 2019 / 06:18 pm (CNA).- The New Jersey legislature is considering expanding the legal window to file civil actions for sex abuse against both individual perpetrators and institutions.

The New Jersey Catholic Conference backs expanding the statute of limitations for civil actions related to future crimes. However, it is arguing that only individual offenders, not institutions, should face civil action for past acts of abuse.

“The Catholic Bishops of New Jersey are committed to keeping our teaching, worship and ministry spaces safe for everyone, especially children,” said Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference.

“All of our dioceses have committed to assisting victims of abuse whenever and however we can,” he said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

At present, criminal cases of sexual assault have no statute of limitations under state law. The statute of limitations for civil action is two years.

If the proposed New Jersey bill becomes law, victims of sex assault would have an expanded statute of limitations for civil action against both individuals and institutions.

The bill would allow child victims of sexual assault to file civil lawsuits until they turn 55 or until seven years from the time they become aware of the injury, whichever comes later. Adult victims of sexual assault would have a seven-year time frame after the incident to file a civil lawsuit, or until seven years after they become aware of the abuse, the Wall Street Journal says.

Further, the bill would create a one-time two-year legal window for civil complaints for anyone previously barred from filing civil actions due to the time limit.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy backs the proposed law.

“Victims of sexual abuse, especially those victimized in childhood, deserve to find doors held open for them as they seek justice against their abusers,” he said Feb. 14.

Bill sponsors are Sen. Joseph Vitale and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, both Democrats. Senate President Steve Sweeney, also a Democrat, supports the legislation, the Wall Street Journal said.

The New Jersey State Senate’s Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on the proposed legislation March 7.

Similar legislation in New York, passed Jan. 28, met with some initial resistance from New York’s bishops, who had expressed concern about retroactive provisions in the bill. Once those provisions were amended, the state’s bishops dropped their concerns.

New Jersey dioceses have set up their own victims’ compensation fund as an alternative to civil lawsuits. According to Brannigan, the fund has “significantly lower level of proof and corroboration than required in a court of law.” It promises “an attractive alternative to litigation” and “speedy and transparent process.”

After agreeing on and receiving a settlement, abuse survivors will not be able to pursue additional legal action against the diocese. All settlements will be funded by the dioceses themselves.

On Feb. 13, all the Catholic dioceses of New Jersey released lists of clergy who had been “credibly” accused of sexual abuse of minors dating back to 1940.

On the list is disgraced former cardinal Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who headed New Jersey’s Diocese of Metuchen from 1981 until 1986 and the Archdiocese of Newark from 1986 until 2000. He retired as Archbishop of Washington.

A total of 188 clerics, including deacons, were listed. The Archdiocese of Newark list had the most names, with 63, and the Diocese of Metuchen had the fewest with 11.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said in a statement that the release of the list of names of credibly accused clergy was part of “an effort to do what is right and just.”

“It is our sincerest hope that this disclosure will help bring healing to those whose lives have been so deeply violated,” said Tobin. “We also pray that this can serve as an initial step in our efforts to help restore trust in the leadership of the Catholic Church.”

Archbishop McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018 after being credibly accused of abusing two minor boys. He faces numerous charges of sexual abuse against minors and adults over a period of decades.

A verdict following McCarrick’s canonical process for his abuse of minors is expected at any time. Many expect the punishment to remove him from the clerical state.

Kentucky Senate approves fetal heartbeat bill

Frankfort, Ky., Feb 15, 2019 / 04:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Kentucky Senate has approved a bill that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks into pregnancy.

The bill passed 31-6 on Feb. 14. It will now head to the state’s House, which has a Republican majority.

During a committee review of the measure earlier on Thursday, the heartbeat of a Kentucky resident’s unborn baby was played live through an electronic monitor. The woman, April Lanham, is a resident of the district of the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Matt Castlen (R).

“That child in her womb is a living human being,” said Castlen, according to the Associated Press. “And all living human beings have a right to life.”

Lanham, who is 18 weeks into her pregnancy, told reporters that she thought her baby’s heartbeat would be a “powerful noise” for lawmakers ahead of the vote.

If the law passes, an examination would be required before an abortion to determine whether the unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected. If so, an abortion would be illegal, unless the mother’s health is determined to be in danger.

The Kentucky bill is one of several similar heartbeat bills being considered throughout the country.

Florida, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia have also introduced fetal heartbeat bills this year. A handful of states have passed similar bills in recent years, although they generally face court challenges.

Opponents of the bill promised similar legal challenges if Kentucky’s legislation becomes law.

“This law is patently unconstitutional,” said Kate Miller, who works with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. “The second it is signed, the ACLU of Kentucky will file a lawsuit. And much like the other laws you have passed, we expect that you will be held up in litigation unsuccessfully for years.”

Abby Johnson, a former director of a Planned Parenthood and now pro-life activist, spoke in favor of the legislation at the committee hearing on Thursday.

“Abortion can never, on its face, be safe, because in order for an abortion to be deemed successful, an individual and unique human with a beating heart must die,” Johnson said, according to WDRB.

McCarrick has 'private income' in the event of laicization

Washington D.C., Feb 15, 2019 / 03:11 pm (CNA).- Ahead of an expected decision in the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, new details have emerged about his likely financial status in the event that he is laicized.

Sources close to the former cardinal told CNA that McCarrick has previously declined an income from the Church, and that he has private means of support in place.

McCarrick’s conviction and possible laicization have been the subject of consistent media speculation and expectation in recent days. He faces numerous charges of sexual abuse against minors and adults over a period of decades. A decision in the case is widely predicted to be announced ahead of a Vatican summit on child sexual abuse, which begins Feb. 21.

While no decision or penalty has yet been announced, sources close to the archbishop told CNA Friday that, in the event he were defrocked, he would still have a personal income.

This could prove significant, as clerical offenders of advanced age or poor health are often kept in a penitential assignment, in recognition that they might otherwise have no means of support. If McCarrick were known to be able to provide for his own living outside of Church support, it could weigh against him in any deliberation about imposing a penalty of laicization.

As a cleric and former archbishop of Washington and Newark, and former bishop of Metuchen, McCarrick currently has a right to financial support from the Church. At present, expenses at the Kansas monastery where McCarrick is living in “prayer and penance” are being met by the Archdiocese of Washington which, as the last diocese of his assignment, has an ongoing obligation to provide basic “sustenance” under canon law.

That right would cease, along with many others, if he were expelled from the clerical state - laicized - following a conviction for sexual abuse.

But sources close to the former cardinal told CNA that he never drew either a salary or a pension from any of the three dioceses he led. They said that he declined to take remuneration from his former dioceses, but that he does have a private income from savings and monthly annuities.

“While he is not without resources, they are modest, in keeping with what one might expect of a parish priest,” one source close to McCarrick told CNA.

The same source told CNA that the annuities had been privately purchased over a period of years.

Questions remain, however, about the scale and sources of McCarrick’s private income. If, as those close to him have indicated, he declined any formal remuneration from the dioceses he led as a bishop, what was the source for any savings he might have, and how did he come to purchase the annuities to give himself a private income in retirement?

One source close to McCarrick speculated that the annuities could have come from “friends or benefactors” of the archbishop before his fall from grace.

The web of formal and informal financial networks around him remains hard to untangle, but what is known gives a strong indication of his access to funds.

In 2001, McCarrick established the Archbishop’s Fund, which he continued to personally oversee during his retirement, only ceding control to Cardinal Donald Wuerl in June last year.

According to the Archdiocese of Washington, that fund was designated for McCarrick’s personal “works of charity and other miscellaneous expenses.”

McCarrick also sat on the board of numerous grant-making bodies during his time in office, at least two of which combined to donate more than $500,000 to his personal charitable fund. These included nine grants of $25,000 each from the Minnesota-based GHR Foundation designated for the “former archbishop’s fund” or the “former archbishop’s special fund,” according to tax records.

The Virginia-based Loyola Foundation made grants of $20,000 - $40,000 per year to the archbishop’s fund for at least a decade. According to the foundation, the sums were “specifically designated by Archbishop McCarrick” who as a trustee could allocate “limited discretionary grants” to qualified 501(c)(3) organizations.

While the archdiocese told CNA in August 2018 that the fund was audited annually and that “no irregularities were ever noticed,” it would not confirm the balance of the fund at the time McCarrick turned over control, or how much money had passed through the fund over the years, or where it had gone.

McCarrick was known for producing sizable donations for projects and funds with which he was associated, including the Papal Foundation, as well as individual projects in dioceses around the world. At the same time, he was also well known for his more personal acts of generosity.

In September 2018, a cardinal who formerly served as a curial official recalled McCarrick’s habit of doling out large sums, in cash, to senior officials in Rome.

“When he would visit Rome, Cardinal McCarrick was well-known for handing out envelopes of money to different bishops and cardinals around the curia to thank them for their work,” the cardinal told CNA.

“Where these ‘honoraria’ came from or what they were for, exactly, was never clear – but many accepted them anyway.”

Given that McCarrick has access to a private income, unconnected to the Church, it is unlikely that any of the three dioceses which he once led would put themselves forward to offer him additional support in the event he were laicized.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Metuchen confirmed to CNA that McCarrick had not received a pension from the diocese but could not confirm if he drew a salary as bishop, citing diocesan files on salaries which only date back seven years.

Both the Archdiocese of Newark and the Archdiocese of Washington declined to comment on McCarrick’s private financial circumstances. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington referred CNA to the archbishop’s personal attorney.

Bishops 'deeply concerned' by Trump border emergency declaration

Washington D.C., Feb 15, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement Feb. 15 opposing President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the southern border. Trump made the declaration as part of an attempt to secure full funding for the construction of a border wall.

 

“We are deeply concerned about the President’s action to fund the construction of a wall along the U.S./Mexico border, which circumvents the clear intent of Congress to limit funding of a wall,” said the statement, which was jointly written by USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, who leads the USCCB’s migration committee.

 

The two bishops said they were against the use of additional funds for the construction of a border wall. In the latest appropriations bill, Congress allocated $1.3 billion to erect barriers along parts of the southern border, but included several exceptions for locations where the funding may not be used to construct barriers.

 

Trump had requested $5.7 billion to fund the entire project.

 

On Friday, in an effort to supplement the funding allocated by Congress, the president declared a national emergency on the southern border. By invoking the National Emergencies Act, the president can gain access to sources of funding otherwise unavailable to him. The 1976 act does not contain a specific definition of what constitutes a “national emergency.”

 

“The current situation at the southern border presents a border security and humanitarian crisis that threatens core national security interests and constitutes a national emergency,” said Trump in a declaration announcing the state of emergency.

 

“The southern border is a major entry point for criminals, gang members, and illicit narcotics,” Trump said.

 

The president asserted that illegal immigration is a worsening problem on the border, and therefore action must be taken to address this issue.

 

The bishops disagreed with the president's assessment of the situation at the border, and on the suitability of a border wall.

 

In their statement, DiNardo and Vasquez said the wall was a “symbol of division and animosity” between the United States and Mexico.

 

“We remain steadfast and resolute in the vision articulated by Pope Francis that at this time we need to be building bridges and not walls,” they added.

 

On Feb. 14, the House of Representatives and Senate both passed a bill to provide $1.3 billion in funding for the construction of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, but which contained a list of five specific places where these funds cannot be used to build a wall. One of these was the site of La Lomita Chapel in Mission, TX, in the Diocese of Brownsville.

 

The Brownsville diocese has been contesting government attempts to survey public land around the chapel ahead of a border wall being erected.

 

The diocese filed suit against the federal government arguing that the construction of a border wall restricting access to the chapel would be a violation of religious freedom.

 

On Feb. 6, U.S. District Court Judge Randy Crane ruled that allowing the federal government to survey the land surrounding the chapel to determine if a wall could be built would not interfere with the exercise of religious freedom rights.

Satanic Temple loses abortion religious freedom case in Missouri

Jefferson City, Mo., Feb 14, 2019 / 04:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Missouri Supreme Court has rejected a legal challenge against an informed consent abortion law from a self-described Satanic Temple adherent who claimed the state violated her religious beliefs.

Chief Justice Zell M. Fischer, writing in a concurring opinion, said that the U.S. Supreme Court “has made it clear that state speech is not religious speech solely because it ‘happens to coincide’ with a religious tenet,” St. Louis Public Radio reports.

State law requires abortion providers to distribute a booklet from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services which includes the statement: “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”

The plaintiff, who goes by the name Mary Doe in the lawsuit, became pregnant in February 2015. In May 2015 she traveled from southeast Missouri to a St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic for the abortion.

She told her doctors that she held religious beliefs contrary to those of the booklet. She claimed her religious beliefs meant they did not need to follow the informed consent requirements. Planned Parenthood declined to ignore the law’s provisions, which include a mandatory 72-hour waiting period and offering an ultrasound.

Doe’s lawsuit, filed during the waiting period, claimed the law violated the U.S. Constitution’s establishment clause barring the government establishment of an official religion. The woman also claimed her free exercise of religion had been restricted, in violation of the Missouri Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

According to St. Louis Public Radio, the plaintiff’s complaint cited Satanic Temple tenets professing a belief that a woman’s body is “inviolable and subject to her will alone” and a belief that health decisions are made “based on the best scientific understanding of the world, even if the science does not comport with the religious or political beliefs of others.” The complaint said a pregnancy is “human tissue” and “part of her body and not a separate, unique, living human being.”

The state’s Supreme Court rejected the claim that the informed consent law adopted a religious tenet. It noted the law did not require the woman to read the booklet, have an ultrasound, or listen to the fetal heartbeat, because the statute “imposes no such requirements,” Judge Laura Denver Stith said in the decision.

W. James MacNaughton, a New Jersey lawyer representing Doe, said that the court “really avoided dealing with the issues.”

In January 2018 MacNaughton had told the Washington Post the lawsuit was prompted by the Hobby Lobby decision which sided with the art-and-craft company owners whose Christian beliefs conflicted with federal mandates to provide abortifacient contraceptives in their employee health plans.

The attorney thought religion was the defining issue in the case.

“Are you committing murder when you have an abortion? That’s a religious question,” he said.

A Cole County judge had dismissed the case, but on appeal the Missouri Court of Appeals sent it to the state Supreme Court, saying the case raised “real and substantial constitutional claims.”

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt praised the state Supreme Court’s decision, saying the law is “a commonsense measure designed to protect women from undue pressure and coercion during the sensitive decision of whether or not to have an abortion.”

“Judy Doe,” another self-professed adherent of the Satanic Temple, has filed a different challenge to Missouri’s informed consent requirement for abortion in a case pending in federal court. She is also represented by McNaughton.

The temple, based in Salem, Mass., was founded by self-described atheists who profess disbelief in a literal Satan.

While the Satanic Temple currently appears to support legal abortion, a previous version of its beliefs lacked the relevant tenet. According to a March 2013 cache of its website at the Internet Archive, it previously claimed “all life is precious in the eyes of Satan” and “the Circle of Compassion should extend to all species, not just humans.”

At present the Satanic Temple website rejects claims that media attention is its primary object, or that it is a hoax or trolling. At its origins, however, are credible reports indicating it was launched for a mockumentary, with several of its founders having a background in film and entertainment.

In a July 22, 2014 Village Voice article, former Satanic Temple collaborator Shane Bugbee said he at first saw the group as a prank and “a joke on the public at large and, in general, the grossly inept media.”

He said the group’s purpose seemed to shift quickly, from an initial effort to make a mockumentary about satanism to “a real religious sect.” He contended that the group was exploiting Satanism while engaging in social climbing and “slick psychological marketing tricks.”

Satanic Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves, whose real name is Douglas Mesner, contended that Bugbee had quit working for the group over a financial dispute. He said that his effort is “a mission… especially for me.” Mesner said the group planned to leverage the Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby religious freedom decision to advance “a women’s rights initiative.”

In a 2013 interview with Vice, Mesner said a friend had conceived the Satanic Temple as “a ‘poison pill’ in the Church-State debate” to help expand the idea of religious agendas in public life.

“So at the inception, the political message was primary,” he said, contending that the group has “moved well beyond being a simple political ploy and into being a very sincere movement that seeks to separate religion from superstition and to contribute positively to our cultural dialogue.”

Other initiatives by the Satanic Temple include efforts to place satanic statues on the grounds of government buildings and claims of planning black mass re-enactments.

The Satanic Temple has crowdfunded expenses to help pay for a Missouri woman’s abortion, though it is unclear whether this was linked to the legal cases. It has also crowdfunded its “reproductive rights” campaign, gathering over $45,000 by July 2015.

 

Senate confirms William Barr as attorney general

Washington D.C., Feb 14, 2019 / 12:45 pm (CNA).- William Barr was confirmed as United States attorney general on Thursday by a 54-45 vote in the Senate.

 

Barr, a practicing Catholic, previously served as  attorney general under President George H. W. Bush from November of 1991 until January of 1993. He has since been employed in private legal practice.

 

President Donald Trump announced Barr’s nomination for the roll on Dec. 7 to replace Jeff Sessions, who resigned from the post following the November 2018 midterm elections.

 

Matt Whitlock has served as acting attorney general during the confirmation process.

 

When Barr was first confirmed as attorney general in 1991, he was approved by unanimous voice vote. That was not the case in 2019.

 

Barr’s nomination advanced out of committee on a 12-10 party-line vote.

 

A practicing Catholic and a member of the Knights of Columbus, Barr said in his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he did not believe his faith would hinder his ability to serve as an effective attorney general.

 

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) asked Barr about his religious faith, and questioned whether or not he thought this “disqualified” him from the position. Kennedy said that “some of (his) colleagues think it might,” referencing questioning by Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) attacking a Catholic judicial nominee for his membership in the Knights of Columbus.

 

Barr told Kennedy that he planned to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” if he were to be confirmed as attorney general.

 

Other recent candidates before the Senate Judiciary Committee have faced questions about their religious beliefs, concepts of sin, and membership in charitable and fraternal organizations.

 

Prior to the full confirmation vote on the floor of the Senate, several senators, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), announced that they intended to vote against his confirmation.

 

Paul cited his opposition to Barr’s views on surveillance as reasons for voting against him. Paul was the sole Republican senator to vote against Barr on Thursday.

 

“He's been the chief advocate for warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens,” Paul told POLITICO, adding that he believed the Fourth Amendment protects privacy rights.

 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), however, announced prior to the vote that he supported Barr’s confirmation “because he is well-qualified and I am confident that he will faithfully execute the duties of the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America.”

 

Manchin, along with Sens. Doug Jones (D-AL) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) joined the rest of the Senate Republicans in voting in favor of Barr.

 

All other Democrats, as well as independent Sens. Angus King (I-ME) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) voted against confirmation.

Texas chapel fenced off from border wall funding

Washington D.C., Feb 14, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- A congressional budget compromise that would fund the construction of physical barriers along parts of the southern border of the United States includes an explicit provision that excludes La Lomita Park from the funding. The park is the site of a chapel at the center of a court case between the Diocese of Brownsville and the government.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, the text of which was released Feb. 13, would provide $1.3 billion in funding for the construction of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border but contains a list of five specific places where these funds cannot be used to build a wall, the third of which is the site of La Lomita Chapel. 

According to section 231 of the bill, “None of the funds made available by this Act or prior Acts are available for the construction of pedestrian fencing [...] (3) within La Lomita Historical park.” 

The bill is slated to be considered by the House of Representatives on February 14.

La Lomita Park in Mission, TX, is home to La Lomita Chapel. Constructed in 1865 by missionaries, the chapel is located close to the U.S. border with Mexico. While there are no regularly scheduled religious services held at the chapel, it is used for weddings, funerals, and other cultural events. 

The chapel is maintained partly by the city of Mission, as it is located in a park, and is affiliated with Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, located a 10-minute drive away.

If the border wall were to be built as planned, the chapel would be on the southern side of the wall, limiting parishioner access to it from the north.

The Diocese of Brownsville, which includes Mission, filed suit against the federal government arguing that the construction of a border wall restricting access to the chapel would be a violation of religious freedom.

Last week, a District Court decision cleared the way for the land to be surveyed. 

On Feb. 6, Judge Randy Crane ruled that allowing the federal government to survey the land surrounding the chapel to determine if a wall could be built would not interfere with the exercise of religious freedom rights. 

An attorney representing the diocese told CNA that she was pleased La Lomita Park was included in the compromise bill, and that she hoped the bill would be passed by Congress.

“We are of course glad that the authors of this bill have recognized the significance of La Lomita Chapel to the Catholic community in the Rio Grande Valley, and we hope that Congress and the president pass the spending bill with these protections for La Lomita and other local landmarks,” Amy Marshak, an attorney at Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP), told CNA.

ICAP is representing the Diocese of Brownsville in its suit against the government.

It is not yet clear if the compromise bill will be accepted by President Donald Trump, who had requested $5.7 billion to build a wall along parts of the U.S. border with Mexico.

Trump indicated Thursday that he was pleased with parts of the compromise, and congressional leaders have expressed cautious optimism that the president could sign the bill and avoid another partial government shutdown.

On Thursday afternoon, the president tweeted that he was reviewing the bill with his staff. 

In addition to funding the border wall, the bill also includes funds for international aid to Central America, and a reduction in the number of beds available to detain undocumented immigrants away from the border. 

Offices for the Diocese of Brownsville were closed on Thursday for an all-staff retreat. 

If passed, the Consolidated Appropriations Act would also prevent funds from going to construction of a border barrier within the National Butterfly Center or within the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge.

A bloody secret still haunts the diamond industry

Washington D.C., Feb 14, 2019 / 03:26 am (CNA).- Imagine being woken up in the middle of the night by a dark figure in your room. He presses a gun to your head and demands that you get up. You and your family are dragged out of bed and led to a mining field, where you are forced to dig for hours on end.

They may be the proverbial “girl’s best friend,” but diamonds are far from friendly for many of those involved in the mining process.

With abuses ranging from forced labor to the funding of child soldiers, many diamonds still carry the shadow of blood and conflict, even decades after the first attempts to address some of the more troubling practices in getting the stones from their rocky deposits to a glittering setting.

What – if anything – can Catholics do to counter the immense human cost still attached to some of these gems?

Plenty, according to Max Torres, director of management and professor at The Catholic University of America's business school.

“In this economy, the consumer is king,” he told CNA. “The day that consumers want to get worked up over diamonds, this will stop, whatever abuse it is we’re trying to eradicate, it will stop.”

While there are many steps in the process and levels of moral responsibility from consumers to the diamond exporters themselves, Torres maintained that ordinary people can still work to change large-scale moral problems in the industry.

“Do not underestimate the power of the consumer to move supply-chain decisions throughout the economy,” he stressed.

Clear stones; Blood-red controversies

Despite the 2006 hit film “Blood Diamond,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, many consumers are still unaware of the controversy surrounding the diamond industry. Meanwhile, the need for accountability and higher ethical standards is still sorely felt by many working to mine the precious gems.

In recent decades, the conversation surrounding diamond mining has focused on the so-called “blood diamonds” – those mined in conflict areas whose profits are used to fund the bloody war efforts.  Also called “conflict diamonds,” these previous stones are most associated with the illicit industries backing of civil wars in Angola, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Liberia.

These countries all now have, at least in theory, legitimate diamond mining industries subject to international standards.

The most well-known international standard, the Kimberley Process, was set up in 2003 following a United Nations resolution against the sale of blood diamonds, to ensure that any given shipment of diamonds does not finance rebel groups. Certified shipments of rough diamonds must be transported in tamper-resistant containers and must be accompanied by a government certificate verifying their compliance.

But many advocates say the process is inadequate at addressing the problems underlying the diamond industry. For starters, there is no guarantee beside the exporting government’s assurance that a given shipment of diamonds is, in fact, conflict-free. Issues of corruption and bribery surrounding some governments’ certification, and a lack of transparency has led some key groups to pull out of the process altogether.

The 2003 National Geographic special “Diamonds of War” found that despite the early efforts of the Kimberley Process to regulate the industry, illegal transactions at the time were still rampant in some areas. A Sierra Leone official said that some 60 percent of the diamonds exported from the country were smuggled rather than going through officially regulated channels. One expert in the documentary estimated that 20-40 percent of the global rough diamond trade at the time was done illicitly.

Another complaint about the Kimberley Process is that while it works to combat funding of conflicts, it does not deal with other issues in the diamond industry, including forced labor and violence against workerssubstandard and exploitative working conditions, the use of child labor and environmental concerns.

These problems show that the current definition of “conflict-free” is “far too limited in scope,” said Jaimie Herrmann, director of marketing for Brilliant Earth, a San Francisco-based jeweler that focuses specifically on providing ethically-sourced diamonds, gemstones and metals.

What the Kimberley Process “doesn’t include is human rights abuses, violence, sexual abuses, and severe environmental degradation, as well as corruption,” Herrmann continued.

“For that reason, we go above and beyond the Kimberley Process’s definition of conflict free,” she said. Brilliant Earth gets its diamonds from select sources in Canada, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Russia. “We feel like those diamonds really do go above and beyond that guarantee and they are untainted by human rights abuses.”

The chance to establish a legitimate and ethical source of diamonds has also been an economic opportunity for some countries. In Botsawna, the government and DeBeers diamond company each own half of the Debswana mining company, and the nation has seen a rapidly growing economy and increasing economic freedom thanks in part to its booming mining industry and trusted industry standards.

Canada too has invested heavily in its mining infrastructure and increased production, quickly becoming a key diamond-producing country since the discovery of large diamond deposits in the 1990s.

Synthetic diamonds too offer promise for more ethically-produced diamonds, though currently the lab-produced stones comprise only two percent of the diamond gemstone market, with the remainder of the synthetic stones used in industrial settings.

The Ethics of Luxury and Necessity

Dr. Christopher Brugger, professor of moral theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado, told CNA that in the diamond industry, as in any other work, Catholic social teaching instructs employers that “people come before profit.”

For businesses, he said, this means “pay employees a fair wage; respect the integrity of the marriages and families of employees; respect the faith of employees; permit labor to organize in socially constructive ways; work for fair access for all to goods and services necessary to living a dignified life.”

“Do producers who use their profits to fund conflicts or who use forced labor fulfill those duties?” he asked. “Emphatically no.”

Sustained abuses ranging from the funding of bloody conflicts to mining practices that exploit and demean workers not only fail to fulfill the moral duties of employers, Brugger said. The unjust practices also affirm that the high profits coupled with neglect for moral obligations have been “attracting scoundrels” to the industry.

But business leaders are not the only people with moral stakes in the diamond industry, he continued.

“It seems to me that morally conscientious people have an increasing responsibility to ‘shop ethically,’ i.e., to keep in mind where things come from, the conditions of those who supply things, the processes by which they are supplied,” Brugger suggested.

While it may not be possible to know the sourcing behind every product in every store, he said, it could be easier to find information on larger suppliers and specific industries.

Furthermore, he elaborated, there is a “greater responsibility on a person who is buying luxury items not to cooperate in the immoral actions of suppliers than there is on persons who are purchasing products for basic subsistence.”

“Ordinarily I do not need diamonds or chocolate,” Brugger said. “If we are dealing with luxuries, I think our obligations are still pretty strong to avoid purchasing from sources that do really bad things.”

“As one becomes aware of the ethical conditions surrounding an industry, one's duty to factor that knowledge into one's moral decision making becomes greater,” he added, noting that not everyone has the same access to the facts on abuses in a given industry.

“As knowledge of the ethical deficiencies become more widely known and the knowledge becomes easily available, our responsibility to use that knowledge in our shopping becomes greater,” he said. Knowledgeable customers should “inquire into the origins of the diamond they purchase; if shopkeepers are coy and not forthcoming about their sources, consumers ordinarily should look elsewhere.”

A Good Place to Start

Lack of information is “a big part of the problem,” according to Herrmann. She recommended that jewelers seek to trace the origin of their diamonds to countries and mines known for more ethical practices.

“Most jewelers know that their diamond is certified as conflict-free by the Kimberley Process, but do not know any more information about where their diamond is coming from,” she said.

Stephen Hilbert, a foreign policy adviser specializing in Africa and Global Development for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, seconded the suggestion that people looking at diamonds ask where they come from. He added that customers should also ask electronics dealers to check for conflict minerals, which face many of the same concerns as the diamond mining industry. 

“Dealers may not be able to tell you whether their devices have been checked, but at least this raises the profile of the issue and this may trickle up,” he told CNA.

Consumer instance could be the force that leads to tighter standards and improved processes aimed at preventing abuse.

Still, Torres insisted, “no process is perfect.”

The Kimberley Process is a reputable starting point that could “be broadened and be brought more into line with human rights,” he said, and asking about the origin of diamonds “seems to be a rather painless method of at least garnering some amount of accountability.”

But in the end, the moral issues surrounding the industry are fundamentally a problem of human sin, which no process or regulations can erase.

“The only thing that can ensure moral behavior is the heart is human beings,” Torres said. Ultimately, “Jesus Christ is the answer.”

This article was originally published on CNA July 5, 2015.