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Full of Grace Cafe: Small-town parish opens thriving coffee shop, community center

Baton Rouge, La., Dec 18, 2018 / 04:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When Fr. Josh Johnson arrived as pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church over a year ago, he slept in a room above the choir loft.

The church and rectory had been ravaged by a flood a couple years prior that had destroyed or damaged 95 percent of the small town of St. Amant, Louisiana. The pastor of Holy Rosary had also left due to health reasons, leaving the wrecked parish without a pastor.

Knowing he was coming into a difficult situation, Johnson called in the big guns: he asked communities of cloistered nuns to surround his new parish in prayer.

“I immediately reached out to the cloistered convents and was like: ‘Hey y'all, here's the deal. I'm going to this parish that's just been devastated, can y'all please adopt this parish as spiritual mothers and intercede for these people?’” Johnson told CNA.

Then he bumped up the amount of time that the sacraments would be available to his parishioners. He rearranged the schedule so that his staff could start their day with Mass and adoration.

Fast-forward to today - the prayers of those nuns, and of the people of the parish of Holy Rosary, have come to fruition in the booming and thriving Full of Grace Cafe, a one-stop-shop community center run out of the renovated rectory.

The full name of the rectory-turned-community-center is: Full of Grace Cafe: Quenching God’s Thirst for Charity & Justice.

And the name fits, because it’s hard to come up with a service that Full of Grace Cafe doesn’t offer.

It’s a coffee shop, but it’s also a food pantry and a soup kitchen and a diaper drive and a laundromat. There are volunteer Human Resources specialists, psychological counselors, a hair stylist, a Creighton FertilityCare specialist and an ultrasound machine. There’s a room for small groups and bible studies. There’s a fireplace and a pool table and a courtyard for outdoor movie nights and socials after Mass.

That wasn’t the original vision. At first, Johnson had the simple idea to move the existing food pantry to a more prominent location, and to maybe one day open a coffee shop.

“I had a very small vision at first, just put the food pantry up front, that way when people come to our campus, you see a beautiful church, and then you see a space for service of the poor,” he said.

“And then from that, different parishioners just began to share their dreams.” All of the services are offered pro bono by parishioners who wanted to share their gifts with the community, Johnson said.

“One lady came to me and said I have the gift of doing hair, and then she said my friends do too, and we would love to come and do hair for free there. And so I said ok, cool, it can be a food pantry and a salon.”

As word got out about the cafe, the offers of help just kept coming.

“And then someone said why don't we make it a soup kitchen too? I love to cook. These people out here can cook well! So I was like ok, we can do that. Then another woman who works with me, she's a Creighton fertility care specialist, and she was like, I can walk with couples and do Creighton FertilityCare for people who are infertile or who have endometriosis or cysts on their ovaries or who want to do Natural Family Planning.”



Johnson also recruited the help of local branches of Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul, and other non-profits in the area to bolster the services and to provide legal help and counseling.

He said he hopes to bring Jesus to people in a way that is non-threatening, in a way that informs, but doesn’t force anything. He said he wants people to feel heard, and for them to know that the cafe is a place where people can come and mutually share their gifts and their lives.

“The goal is really to have a place where the body of Christ can come together to give and receive,” he said.

“I'm going there to receive too, I'm certainly going to give in there, but I'm also receiving. Like when I do a bible study with our parishioners, God speaks to me through their wisdom and through their love for the Lord. And whenever I'm with the poor I'm receiving as much as I'm giving, so its a place of mutuality, where I can give to you and I can receive your gift and we can accompany each other toward heaven.”

Johnson is not foreign to mission work. Before he became a priest, he spent time serving with Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity, in Calcutta, India. He’s served the poor with a religious order in Jamaica, and several years ago he was on mission at the U.S.-Mexico border.

But the cafe is just a means, Johnson said, not an end. The goal is to point people to Jesus, and ultimately, to make saints.

“On the wall for (Mother Teresa’s) home for the dying and the destitute, there's a quote on the wall that Mother Teresa said to God,” Johnson said. “She said: I will give Holy Mother Church saints. And I remember when I saw that quote it pierced my heart, so it’s on my ordination card...and this is my way of drawing people to the sacraments.”

Johnson himself left the Church when he was young. What brought him back, he said, was the Eucharist.

“The Eucharist is what brought me back to Jesus and so I believe if I could just get people to come to our campus, then I have the opportunity to point them to Jesus and the Eucharist because the Eucharist is where transformation happens,” he said.

“The Eucharist is going to do everything else, I've seen Jesus work miracles, it’s so cool,” he said.

He’s invited Protestants to come to Eucharistic adoration at his parish, and “I've just seen legit transformations... people who don't even know what's going on have these hardcore transformations because Jesus is alive, and I think we just need to believe that Jesus is God and that he can do what he says he does.”

Johnson has endless stories of all kinds of providential encounters that have happened through the Full of Grace Cafe. There was Micky, a homeless man who wanted community and is now connected to a bible study. There was a distressed young man in the parking lot who needed a job - and was able to take a roofing job that another man had told Johnson about the day before.

Something else Johnson wanted to emphasize was the evangelizing aspect of the Full of Grace Cafe. He didn’t just want to offer food or laundry services to people in need without also trying to tell them about Jesus, he said.

“One thing I noticed in seminary, helping out at Catholic apostolates, when they did work for the poor and with the poor, they wouldn't evangelize well,” he said. “They would give people food, like handouts and stuff, but they wouldn't try to tell people about the story of salvation, and share Jesus with people and really proclaim the faith.”

That’s why in every room of Full of Grace Cafe, there are scripture verses on the wall and pictures of saints. “And they're really diverse saints, because I want everyone who comes to see a saint who looks like them,” he said, from Our Lady of Kibeho to Our Lady of Guadalupe to Fr. Augustus Tolton, St. Jose Sanchez, St. Dymphna, Saints Peter and Paul and more.

“So whether you're white, black, Asian or Hispanic, you're going to see someone who looks like you who's a saint, so you're going to be inspired. You're going to see scriptures on the wall. You're going to meet people who aren't just going to give you a hand-out, but who are going to ask you your story and ask if they can pray with you. I want it to be a place where people would legit encounter Jesus.”

He’s also hoping that he will find an order of religious sisters who will fill the convent in the back of the cafe and help out at the parish.

“I want nuns!” he said. So far he’s had a few different orders of religious sisters come and visit to see if the parish would fit them.

“I want nuns who love Jesus and who love the poor and who love the Blessed Sacrament,” he said.

Johnson said one of the most rewarding things about Full of Grace Cafe has been seeing how willing his parishioners are to pitch in and share their gifts with the community.



“They're like my kids,” he said of his parishioners. “It’s like wow, I'm younger than them because I’m only 31, but I'm like oh man, look at my kids, they're happy about this, they're excited about doing ministry.”

“I recognize I am a limited member of the Body of Christ,” he added. “I'm a necessary member for sure, but I'm very limited, my role is limited, so if I can just build up my parishioners to say yes to being the particular member of the body of Christ that they're called to be, I've done my job well because then we're gonna run, we're gonna thrive.”

The projects at Holy Rosary parish and Full of Grace Cafe have only just begun.

Taking another cue from Mother Teresa, the next step for Johnson is, unsurprisingly, building an adoration chapel and setting up perpetual adoration.

“I've been telling people ok, now, we have to set up perpetual adoration because I don't want any of us to become a bunch of heretics out here thinking we're gonna work our way to heaven,” he said. “We've got to focus on the Eucharist and we're going to see so much more supernatural fruit.”

He said that when Mother Teresa’s sisters prioritized time in prayer in front of the Eucharist, they saw their order and apostolates flourish in new ways.

“We're going to follow the model of saints,” he said. “We're going to next focus on getting an adoration chapel built so that we can have really hardcore time of just Jesus and I, and adore the Lord and watch him work! Watch the Lord do his thing, and he will, he will. It’s so exciting.”

All photos courtesy of Fr. Joshua Johnson.

California priest convicted of sexually assaulting San Diego seminarian

San Diego, Calif., Dec 17, 2018 / 04:26 pm (CNA).- A California priest was convicted Monday of sexually assaulting a seminarian. After his conviction, Fr. Juan Garcia Castillo will be listed on California’s sex offender registry, and could face up to six months of incarceration.

During a week-long trial, the San Diego seminarian assaulted by Castillo testified that the priest approached him Feb. 4 in a restaurant bathroom and groped his genitals twice.

The assault followed a night in which Castillo took two seminarians to a bar and restaurant after an event at St. Patrick’s Parish in Carlsbad, where the priest served as parochial vicar. The seminarian said they had several drinks, and that Castillo encouraged him to drink to excess.

The seminarian testified that he went to the bathroom sick after midnight, and that Castillo approach him from behind and groped him.

In September, a spokesman for the Diocese of San Diego told CNA that the diocese had not publicly commented on the allegations because “we need to see what happens to the criminal case because the issue of consent is so important and if it’s not clear, we wait for that to get made clear.”

Castillo's defense did not address consent, but instead denied that contact between the men was sexual.

The priest told jurors Dec. 14 that when he touched the seminarian, he was trying to put pressure on the man’s stomach in order to help him stop vomiting, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Castillo told jurors he put one hand on the seminarian’s back and then “tried to put my other hand on his stomach.”

“My mom always put pressure on my stomach to calm down, stop the vomiting. That’s what I was taught as a kid,” he said. Castillo added that he might have “accidentally” touched the seminarian’s genitals, but that he couldn’t recall.

Castillo sent text messages to the seminarian after the incident, offering apologies, but not specifying what the apologies were for, San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Castillo told jurors he was apologizing for encouraging the seminarian to drink to excess. However, in one exchange, a seminarian accused the priest of “sexually com[ing] on to seminarians.”

Castillo responded: “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

A jury decided Dec. 17 that Castillo’s contact constituted misdemeanor sexual battery. He is expected to be sentenced within a month.

Castillo, who is also known as Juan Gabriel Castillo, is a member of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, a religious community of priests also known as the Eudists. The priest, 35, was born in Honduras, and in 2011 was ordained a priest at St. Patrick’s Parish by Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa.

In a statement released Monday afternoon, Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego said that “upon reviewing the facts regarding the allegation of sexual assault against Father Castillo, the diocese of San Diego removed him from ministry in the diocese immediately and permanently.”

“We are deeply saddened by the victimization of one of our students, and the damage to society and the Church that it represents.”

Pro-life group concerned over NIH head’s support of fetal tissue research

Washington D.C., Dec 17, 2018 / 02:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A pro-life group dedicated to electing pro-life officials is calling on U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration to “correct” comments supportive of fetal tissue sales and research, recently made by National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins.

At a meeting of an NIH advisory panel in Maryland on Dec. 13, Collins said that while fetal tissue sales are currently being audited by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and alternatives to fetal tissue are being explored, fetal tissue “will continue to be the mainstay” of federal scientific research.

“There is strong evidence that scientific benefits can come from fetal tissue research, which can be done with an ethical framework,” he added.

His comments come at a time when HHS, the parent agency of NIH, has terminated contracts with groups over their use of fetal stem cell tissue, has declined new contracts with other groups over the same, is auditing the use of fetal stem cell tissue throughout the department, and is exploring alternatives to the use of fetal tissue research.

For the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List, a pro-life group that works to end abortion and elect pro-life officials, the remark drew deep concern.

The comments from Collins “put him at odds with HHS and the whole Trump Administration in the audit process and begs the question of whether anything can truly change while he’s in charge at NIH,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA List, said in a statement.

“We urge HHS to correct his comments, which are dramatically out of step both with President Trump and the pro-life voters who elected him,” Dannenfelser said.

In comments to reporters, Collins argued that fetal tissue is necessary for certain kinds of research, and said that “even for somebody who is very supportive of the pro-life position, you can make a strong case for this being an ethical stance...That if something can be done with these tissues that might save somebody’s life downstream, perhaps that’s a better choice than discarding them.”

Dannenfelser said in her statement that “there is absolutely no moral or ethical justification for treating these children like commodities to be chopped up and sold piece-by-piece to anyone - especially the federal government with taxpayers footing the bill.”

“These hearts, eyes, livers and brains belong to fellow members of the human family. They are ‘harvested’ following abortions that deprive these unborn boys and girls of their right to life,” she said.

She urged correction of Collins, noting that pro-life voters are looking to the administration for pro-life action.

“Pro-life voters across America reject the use of their tax dollars to purchase the ‘fresh’ body parts of unborn children and are looking for a pro-life policy change.”

 

Pennsylvania diocese opening faith-based addiction recovery high school

Allentown, Pa., Dec 17, 2018 / 03:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, is opening a drug and alcohol recovery high school for students, combining education, counseling, and faith in promoting healing.

Kolbe Academy will start its first term in September 2019. It will be a Catholic high school for students dealing with addiction, looking to recover from drug or alcohol abuse.

The academy is named after St. Maximillian Kolbe, who is the patron saint of people struggling with addiction.

Before entering the school, a student must have reached at least 30 days of sobriety. The school’s tuition will be about $16,000, which is similar to a 28-day treatment program. According to the diocese, it expects to establish scholarships to assist students with tuition.

Brook Tusche, the diocesan deputy superintendent of secondary and special education, told CNA that she had first discovered recovery schools after working in the public school system. She said the lack of effective resources in public schools for students with substance abuse was frustrating.

Normally, students who undergo treatment have only a 20 percent chance of sustaining their sobriety when they re-enter school. In comparison, she said recovery high schools have an 85 percent success rate maintaining sobriety.

After serving as a special education supervisor and director at a public school, Tusche was asked to join a recovery charter school. However, she found that secular recovery schools were still missing an important aspect – faith, described by Alcoholics Anonymous and similar groups as accepting a higher power.

“Many of these models were private, public, or charter, and they were not engaging a faith component,” she said. “Being actively engaged in my faith family and my work, I learned so much about addiction and recovery that the faith component is it. That’s the missing piece.”

Tusche pointed to a study conducted by the Pew Foundation, which highlighted the role of faith in the healing process. She said the study looked at those who reached long term recovery, 10 years or more of sobriety, and uncovered a widespread connection to faith.

“Those addicts in the recovery said the single reason they were able to maintain their sobriety and continue to grow in their recovery was because of their faith.”

In 2017, there were more than 72,000 drug overdose deaths in the nation, Tusche said, and Pennsylvania was the state with the fourth-highest overdose rates.

Kolbe Academy will accept about 80-90 students, in order to ensure an environment conducive to healing.

“That is done very deliberately to keeping a very small environment so that we really can cultivate the family component as well as the students’ individual healing and recovery,” Tusche said.

The program is a trifecta of sorts, promoting healing through a strong diocesan curriculum, intensive counseling, and a plethora of spiritual and sacramental opportunities.

Part of the education, she said, will be an online component. This is especially important for students whose school life has been impaired through their addiction or the initiation of their recovery. The virtual class option will allow students to catch up on the credits they may have missed.

The school will also utilize a variety of mental health professionals, including certified recovery specialists, certified coaches, and drug and alcohol certified counselors.

Part of the school’s goal, Tusche said, is to direct students to develop a peer-to-peer fellowship model.

“Recovery is more than just putting down the substance…[it’s] really understanding who they are themselves, understanding their strengths, some of their triggers for them.”

A major aspect of the counseling process will be family counseling and the development of a family support system. Because addiction affects family, friends, and the community, Tusche said, it is important to undergo healing along with the community.

“In order for true healing to happen, we all have to experience that healing, and families and friends need to be a part of that process because [the addicted] struggle with a stigma, with their own sense of guilt and shame, their own enabling.”

The family support will deal with a spectrum of experience levels – parents who may never have previously encountered addiction in their lives or parents who themselves struggle with addictive habits. The school will look to connect those families with other resources in the community, such as Catholic Charities.

The final aspect of the recovery program is spiritual – the school will include frequent prayer and service opportunities, seeking to reach students of all faiths.

It will be an “authentically Catholic experience with Mass, sacraments, with prayers in every class, with service, with campus ministry, and opportunit[ies] for kids who are Catholic and who are not Catholic to come in and experience what higher power is,” Tusche said.

While many high schools have a zero-tolerance policy, meaning students are expelled if they are caught even once with drugs or alcohol, Kolbe Academy will work with students to discover the reasons behind the relapse. Tusche clarified that the school will not tolerate terrorist threats, weapons, or intent to distribute.

“For individual use or relapse that may or may not have happened on campus, we are going to work with students for their safety and for their continued healing,” she said. “That may mean increased drug testing, increased accountability, [and] increased counseling sessions.”

Relapse does not always occur, but if it does happen, it is important for students to recognize the reasons behind the relapse, she said. Students can learn to identify the triggers which appeared before the relapse and the behavior that set them up for that regression.

“The most important thing in a relapse isn’t the actual day they brought the substance into their system, it’s looking back prior to that because a relapse really is behavioral, the thinking behind a relapse starts before they actually ingest that chemical.”

With the statistics pointing to rapidly increasing overdose deaths nationwide, Tusche voiced hope that faith-based recovery schools will be modeled throughout the country.

“Clearly, there is opportunity for and a need for more of this model, not only here locally, but when you look at those staggering statistics – 72,000 lives lost – this could be a national model in integrating quality academics, intensive recovery support in a faith based environment to help these kids heal, and really embrace their true identity and God’s purpose for their life.”

 

The cycle of porn and loneliness

Richmond, Va., Dec 16, 2018 / 04:46 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Andy*, a devout Catholic and recently married man in his twenties, encountered a vicious cycle of pornography in high school and some college – a cycle of porn and loneliness.  

“[Porn] would create this whole loneliness, but then, [because of] that loneliness itself, I was seeking for some sort of connection and I was seeking that through the use of pornography, like this reciprocating cycle,” he told CNA.

Starting sophomore year of high school and ending sometime in college, Andy’s porn use would also make him feel shame about interacting with people. It would lead him to be more anti-social, then to loneliness, and ultimately to more porn use. He said it was real, human connection which broke that cycle.

“I found that one of the things that actually helped me break that cycle was actually more interaction with people that were really good friends and people that were there for me.”

Andy’s experience is not uncommon, according to a recent study from the Institute of Family Studies.

IFS linked greater porn use to increased loneliness and higher levels of loneliness to more porn use, pointing to a vicious and unhealthy cycle. One of the men behind the study, Mark Butler, wrote an article describing the research.

“If loneliness can lead to pornography use, and pornography use may bring about or intensify loneliness, these circular linkages may create a vicious cycle, pulling the user even further from health-promoting relationship connections,” he wrote July 3.

The study surveyed more than 1,000 people from around the world, and a statistical model was developed to analyze the potential reasons behind this cycle of loneliness and porn use.

Butler wrote that “each incremental increase in loneliness was associated with an increase in pornography use (by a factor of 0.16), and each incremental increase in pornography use predicted a significant increase in loneliness (by a factor of 0.20).”

“While the magnitude of effects was small, they were statistically significant,” Butler wrote. “Interlocking partnerships like this are worrisome since they represent an entrapment template associated with addiction.”

The model highlights the biological experience and results of the sexual system that ought to produce greater relational connection through pleasure and comfort.

“First, there’s the physical pleasure of arousal, intercourse, and climax – the engine designed to ensure offspring. Then, after climax, partners experience the brain’s 'love' plan for pair bonding, when oxytocin … is released, producing feelings of comfort, connection, and closeness.”

However, without a partner with whom to bond, the sexual activity produces a false relationship experience, “offering temporary ‘relief’ from lonely feeling, but soon enough, the user again faces a real-world relationship void,” he said.  

The mental fantasy of a relationship experience invited by pornography “only tricks the brain for a while,” Butler said.

“The user can’t escape the fact that when the experience is over, they’re still alone in an empty room. So, when sexual intoxication wears off, the experience may only end up excavating a deeper emptiness – a setup for a vicious cycle.”

The temporary escape from the long term loneliness creates a false-belief that porn is a “fix” for loneliness, he said, noting that it is similar to drug addictions.  

“The sexual system’s combination of two very different rewards – intense sensual gratification during arousal and climax, followed by oxytocin’s relief and comfort during the resolution period – could be thought of like a combined cocaine-valium experience and ‘hook.’”

“We hypothesize that this experience could create the potential for getting trapped in the short-term, feel-good escape of pornography joined with long-term loneliness.”

Butler also pointed to other studies that show a decrease in porn use after marriage, suggesting that human connection contrasts with this vicious cycle.

“Married persons use pornography less than single persons. The fact that pornography use decreases after marriage may hint at a link between pornography, relational success, and loneliness.”

 

*Name changed to respect privacy

This article was originally published on CNA July 11, 2018.

How this classical Catholic school welcomes children with Down syndrome

Louisville, Ky., Dec 16, 2018 / 02:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Students with Down syndrome study Latin and logic alongside their classmates at Immaculata Classical Academy, a Catholic school in Louisville, Ky., that integrates students with special needs into each of their pre-K through 12 classrooms.

The school emphasizes “education of the heart,” along with an educational philosophy tailored to the abilities of each student. About 15 percent of students at Immaculata have special needs.

“When you look at these students with Down syndrome in a classical setting, it is truly what a classical education is all about -- what it truly means to be human,” the school’s founder, Michael Michalak, told CNA.

“You can't learn compassion in a book,” Michalak explained.  He said the students at Immaculata are gaining “the ability to give of yourself to help others” through mutual mentoring constantly taking place in the classrooms.  

Michalek founded the academy along with his wife, Penny, in 2010. The couple saw a need for a Catholic school in which students like their daughter, Elena, who has Down syndrome, would not be segregated from her siblings. They wanted to keep their children together without compromising educational quality or spiritual formation.

“A classical education is, I think, the best education for a child with special needs because it is an education in everything that is beautiful, true, and good. It is perfect for these children,” Penny told CNA.

The school’s course schedule is configured so that students can move up or down grade levels by subject at each class hour, according to individual needs. “A second-grader might go to third grade math class and a child with Down syndrome in second grade might go over to first grade or might stay in second grade,” Michael Michalak explained. “Nobody is looking around and saying, 'Oh, they are going to special classroom.’ They are just going where they need to be.”

“In the midst of all of this we are not leaving students behind,” Penny added, “We keep our high academic standards while integrating students with special needs.”

Since its founding, the independent Catholic school has grown to a student body of 160. Other Catholic schools across the country have begun looking to Immaculata as a model, the Michalaks say.

“Whenever anyone visits our school, they always say, ‘Oh my goodness the joy of this place!’” Penny told CNA.

The couple attributes the school’s sense of joy to the Holy Spirit and “the joy of belonging.”

“Inclusion is more of a buzzword these days, but it is true that we all want to belong and we all want to be loved,” said Michael Michalek.

"Prayer is the air that we breathe. We start the day with prayer. Every class starts with a prayer and ends in a prayer,” said Penny, who entrusted the school to our Our Lady at the school’s founding with St. Maximilian Kolbe as its patron.

"Our whole philosophy is to teach every child as if we were teaching the Christ child, so that is how we handle each and every student," Penny continued.

A developing religious community, the Sisters of the Fiat, also teach at Immaculata. The sisters take an additional vow to serve those with with special needs, along with the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

The school’s founders say they are aware of their unique witness and role in a world where many children with Down syndrome are aborted. The estimated termination rate for children prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome in the United States is 67 percent; 77 percent in France; and Denmark, 98 percent, according to CBS News.

At the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, students from Immaculata Classical Academy hold signs that read, “Abortion is not the cure for Down syndrome." The students are united in mission as “a pro-life school” and pray together for an end to abortion for their brothers and sisters with Down syndrome around the world, Michalak said.

The Michalaks have also adopted three children with Down syndrome.

Michael sees the founding of a school like Immaculata as the natural Catholic response at a moment in history when children with Down syndrome are especially at risk.

"Look at what the Catholic Church has done throughout history: We see orphans; we build orphanages. We see sick people; we build hospitals. It is in this particular time and place that we saw the need to take the lead on this and to start a school that incorporates the whole family.”

His wife adds, “When you are doing something that you feel called by God to do, it is a vocation, it is a mission, it is a calling...how can you not be full of joy when you know that this is the will of God. It is very rewarding.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 2, 2018.

New Jersey bishops finalizing plans to compensate sex abuse victims

Newark, N.J., Dec 15, 2018 / 05:42 pm (CNA).- In the wake of sex abuse allegations against a former cardinal, the Catholic bishops of New Jersey have announced the creation of a fund to compensate victims of clergy sex abuse, while details of similar funds in Pennsylvania are also being finalized.

The New Jersey program aims to compensate “eligible victims of child sexual abuse including those whose financial claims are legally barred by New Jersey's statute of limitations,” the New Jersey Catholic Conference said in a Dec. 14 statement. “This program follows the many initiatives adopted by the Catholic dioceses in New Jersey since 2002 to implement safeguards and procedures to provide safe environments for children and to provide assistance to victims.”

Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille Biros will design, implement and administer the statewide compensation program. Feinberg is an attorney and mediator who headed the September 11 victims’ compensation fund.
 
He and Biros have adminsitered sex abuse victims compensation programs for many diocese in New York and Pennsylvania. New Jersey’s bishops described them as “respected internationally.”

The program will accept submissions of individual claims of sexual abuse of a minor, evaluate the claims, and settle them. It will be independent of any participating diocese. Program administrators will have “complete autonomy” to determine if a claim is eligible and what amount to compensate a victim.

The Catholic Church in New Jersey has already paid out $50 million in settlements to abuse victims, mostly involving claims where lawsuits are barred by the statute of limitations on civil actions, the Catholic bishops of the state said.

“This will give victims a formal voice and allow them to be heard by an independent panel,” the Newark archdiocese said last month in an announcement that the program was under development.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said last month that “the program also will assure that victims who have not received any financial compensation will be paid, regardless of whether their claims meet the time requirements of the statute of limitations.”

Tobin added that New Jersey’s dioceses will “undertake a complete review of their files” and release the names of all priests and deacons who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor. The list is expected to be released in early 2019.

In September, New Jersey’s Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced the creation of a task force in the state to investigate the allegations of sexual abuse and cover up.

Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop emeritus of Washington, headed the Newark archdiocese from 1986 to 2000 and was the first Bishop of Metuchen when it was founded in 1982.

In the early 2000s, the Archdiocese of Newark and the dioceses of Trenton and Metuchen paid settlements to men who alleged they were abused by McCarrick when they were adults studying in seminary. These settlements were not public knowledge until the summer of 2018, after two men came forward to say that they had been abused by McCarrick as minors.

Cardinal Tobin told journalist Mike Kelly he had heard rumors of McCarrick’s sexual misconduct soon after he became Archbishop of Newark in 2017, but did not investigate because he found the rumors unbelievable.

In neighboring Pennsylvania, a grand jury report published in August claimed to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 300 credibly accused priests. It presented a devastating portrait of efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations, either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.

The accusations concerned incidents that are often decades old. Most of the priests accused of abuse have died.

Seven of the eight Roman Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania have said they will create compensation funds for victims of clergy sex abuse. The Altoona-Johnstown diocese started its own victim assistance program in 1999.

Bishop Lawrence Persico of Erie, Pa. announced details of a victims’ compensation fund on Friday, the Erie Times-News reports. That fund will also be administered by Feinberg and Biros, who are administering other funds in Pennsylvania.

“It is my sincere hope that the establishment of the Diocese of Erie’s Survivors’ Reparation Fund will provide some measure of justice, closure and validation for the terrible acts that victims endured,” Persico said. “Although money will never fully heal the deep wounds felt by survivors, this fund is a crucial step in the diocese’s ongoing reconciliation and reform efforts.”

Victims could have access to the fund by mid-February, with a claims period open for six months.

Known victims of abuse, whether by diocesan clergy, lay employees or diocesan volunteers, will be notified by letter.

Those victims not known to the diocese may submit a form on the Diocese of Erie’s website. Those who claim abuse will be asked to submit documents backing their claim.

Both minors and vulnerable adults will be eligible for the first phase of compensation, but not those who were victimized by members of religious orders.

The fund administrators will determine compensation based on many factors including the severity and duration of abuse; the age of the victim at the time of abuse; whether the diocese failed to act on prior knowledge of the accused abuser; when the abuse was reported; and the credibility of the claim.

Victims who accept compensation will be required to waive any rights they have against the diocese related to sex abuse allegations.

Persico emphasized that victims who accept compensation will not be obligated to refrain from public comment or public disclosure of abuse.

The estates of deceased victims and victims of non-diocesan personnel could be compensated in a second phase, depending on future contributions from insurance companies and religious orders.

Persico has said he favors such a compensation fund rather than a two-year window for victims of past sexual abuse to sue in cases where the statute of limitations for civil action has expired. Such legislation is stalled in the Pennsylvania legislature.

The diocese has argued that even if the statutes of limitations is lifted, the first claimants could receive significant judgments that leave little compensation for the majority of other victims.

Persico has backed an end to the abolition of statute of limitation for criminal penalties for sex abuse.

Why organized labor is (still) a Catholic cause

Washington D.C., Dec 15, 2018 / 04:49 am (CNA).- At a time when labor unions are weak, Catholics still have a place in the labor movement, said a priest who emphasized the Church’s historic efforts to teach the rights of labor and train workers to organize.

“On the local and state level, Catholics are a major part of the labor movement. They took to heart our Catholic social teaching, and tried to implement it in their workplace,” Father Sinclair Oubre, the spiritual moderator of the Catholic Labor Network, told CNA.

However, he said, there is sometimes a disconnect between Catholics and support for organized labor.

“Like in so many areas of our faith, the heresy of radical individualism, a lack of knowledge about why unions were formed, and a general ignorance of what options workers have, have led to many Catholics to either not realize that the Church has favored workers’ associations, or that the Church even has a teaching that has to do with the workplace.”

Union membership peaked at 28 percent of the American workforce in 1954. According to 2017 figures, about 34 percent of public sector employees are unionized, but under 7 percent of private-sector employees are, CBS Moneywatch reports.

Unions continue to enjoy strong approval in the U.S., with 62 percent of respondents telling a recent Gallup survey they support organized labor.

But union support among some Catholics has waned, in part due to labor unions’ political support for legal abortion and pro-abortion rights political candidates, among other issues.

For Fr. Oubre, this shows the need for more faithful Catholics to join a union, not withdraw.

“The fact that many of the cultural war issues have been embraced by labor unions is a concern to me,” he said. “However, the Church and Labor have been here before.”

“From the 1930s to the 1950s, there was a real effort by communists to take over the U.S. unions, and in some cases, they were successful. Instead of saying, ‘Catholics can’t join unions because they are communists,’ which was not accurate because many were not, the Church instead set up labor schools by the hundreds in parish basements.”

“The Church taught workers their rights under the law and Robert’s Rules of Order. It encouraged Catholic workers to run for union office, and bring their Catholic social teachings to bear,” the priest said. “This was very successful, and led to the purging of many communists from the union ranks.”

Catholics have historically played a major role in the U.S. labor movement, as evidenced by several prominent Catholics who have headed the AFL-CIO, the largest union federation in the U.S.

Oubre said unions are a place for Christian evangelization and contribution.

“We cannot write off whole groups of people because part of their agenda is not in line with Catholic teaching,” he said. “Rather, we are called to engage these groups, be active in the organizations, and like in the past, direct these organizations in ways that respect God’s truth.”

The record of Catholic social teaching also backs labor and the right of workers to organize, Oubre said.

In the 19th century, Pope Leo XIII recognized that economic changes introduced new relationships between those who had wealth and those who did not.

“As cities grew, and manufacturing and industry developed, the relationship of responsibility that has existed in the past between the landowner and the peasant no longer existed,” Oubre explained.

“Pope Leo XIII recognized the natural right of people to associate with each other, whether these were religious associations or work guilds, he endorsed the importance of collective bargaining to promote the common good, and recognized the unequal contractual relationship between the worker and the employer.”

The labor market meant that workers were negotiating not only with an employer, but competing against all the other workers seeking the same job. Leo XIII said these pressures to accept employment at ever-lowering wages could lead workers “to agree to employment terms that did not supply the basic needs for a dignified family life.”

The labor-focused traditions of Catholic social teaching have continued especially through the work of Popes Pius XI, John XXIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis.

The Second Vatican Council’s apostolic constitution Gaudium et Spes names the right to found unions for working people as “among the basic rights of the human person.” These unions “should be able truly to represent them and to contribute to the organizing of economic life in the right way.” These rights include the freedom to take part in union activity “without risk of reprisal.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 1986 pastoral letter “Economic Justice for All” also addresses the place of labor in Catholic thought and action.

In 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME struck down a 1997 Illinois law that required non-union public employees to pay fees to public sector unions for collective bargaining.

A U.S. bishops’ conference spokesperson said the decision threatened to mandate a “Right-to-Work” environment in government employment in a way that undermines the ability of workers to organize.

Oubre said Catholic union backers object to such a legal principle “because it works against the principle of solidarity and the right of association.”

“‘Right to Work’ laws have their primary intention of weakening the organizing power of unions, and allow people to receive the benefit the union, without taking on the responsibility of being part of the union,” he said.

In Oubre’s view, a union-friendly legal environment is critical.

“One can pass laws that promote workers ability to organize together, or to discourage it,” he said.

He noted the proposals for a “card check” unionization effort, in which an employer must recognize a union if a majority of workers express a desire for a union using signed cards.

Obure said this effort now faces legal obstacles and simply “begins a long process where union avoidance experts are brought in, one-on-one meetings take place with workers, sometimes the leaders are fired, and every effort is made to dishearten the workers.”

“When the election comes around, the will of the workers has been crushed,” he said.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issues annual Labor Day statements which continue “the long tradition of support for workers’ right to organize and join unions,” Oubre said.

In 2018, the statement stressed the importance of just wages for workers, especially for those who have difficulty securing basic needs. It also discussed problems of income inequality between the wealthy and the poor, as well as between ethnic groups and between the sexes.

“This Labor Day, let us all commit ourselves to personal conversion of heart and mind and stand in solidarity with workers by advocating for just wages, and in so doing, ‘bring glad tidings to the poor’,” the bishops’ message concluded.

 

This article was originally run on CNA Sept. 3, 2018.

Pennsylvania AG files challenge to new federal religious freedom rules

Harrisburg, Pa., Dec 14, 2018 / 09:01 pm (CNA).- New rules are set to ensure strong religious exemptions to federal mandates requiring employer health care plans to provide birth control coverage, but Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s legal challenge could derail them.

“Families rely on the Affordable Care Act’s guarantee to afford care,” Shapiro said Dec. 14. “Congress hasn’t changed the law, and the president can’t simply ignore it with an illegal rule.”

He filed an amended complaint Friday challenging the Trump administration’s final religious exemption rules, set to take effect Jan. 14, 2019. New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal joined the complaint, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Shapiro’s complaint makes several claims, including charges that the new rules violate the separation of church and state and allow employers to discriminate on the basis of sex.

On Nov. 7, the Trump administration released two updated rules concerning conscience protections for organizations and individuals in relation to the Department of Health and Human Services’ so-called contraception mandate.

The rules allow colleges, universities, and health insurance companies to decline to cover contraceptives, including drugs that can cause abortion, whether for religious or non-religious moral objections.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed the new rules as “common-sense regulations that allow those with sincerely held religious or moral convictions opposing abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception to exclude such drugs and devices from their health plans.”

Mark Rienzi, president of the Becket religious liberty legal group, praised the new rules, saying they signaled the end of a “long, unnecessary culture war.” Rienzi’s legal group represents the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have challenged mandates requiring them to provide such coverage to employees.

“All that is left is for state governments to admit that there are many ways to deliver these services without nuns, and the Little Sisters can return to serving the elderly poor in peace,” Rienzi said last month.

The Little Sisters of the Poor are currently being sued by the attorneys general of Pennsylvania and California, which challenge their religious exemptions allowing them to decline to provide the coverage to which they object.

The U.S. Supreme Court had barred enforcement of the mandate on closely held private companies in its 2014 case involving Hobby Lobby, which is owned by an Evangelical Christian family that objected to some of the mandated drugs.

In May 2016, the Supreme Court voided the federal circuit court decisions involving other plaintiffs challenging the mandate and sent these cases back to their respective federal courts. The court directed the lower courts to give all parties time to come to an agreement that satisfied their needs.

The Little Sisters of the Poor case, Zubik v. Burwell, is named for Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, who is a plaintiff.

Bishop Zubik came under fire for his diocese’s handling of sex abuse cases after Shapiro’s office in August released a grand jury report on six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania, citing allegations of abuse over a span of decades.

The Trump administration’s 2017 religious exemptions to the HHS rule were still being litigated in court. A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals three-judge panel on Thursday lifted a district court’s preliminary nationwide injunction against the 2017 religious exemptions, but allowed the injunction to stand in the five states that have filed legal challenges.

The majority decision by Ninth Circuit Judge J. Clifford Wallace acknowledged that free exercise of religion and conscience are “undoubtedly, fundamentally important.”

“Protecting religious liberty and conscience is obviously in the public interest. However, balancing the equities is not an exact science,” the decision continued. The majority said the appellate court lacked sufficient basis “to second-guess the district court and to conclude that its decision was illogical, implausible, or without support in the record.”

The decision faulted federal officials for not satisfying the rules of the Administrative Procedure Act, including requirements for public comment on new rules.

A nationwide injunction against the 2017 rules was still in effect in Pennsylvania, however.

Last month the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a 2014 District Court decision against EWTN Global Catholic Network, the parent company of Catholic News Agency, in its lawsuit against the mandate.

Under the terms of the settlement with Department of Health and Human Services, EWTN will not be required to provide contraception, sterilization, or abortifacients through its employee health care plan.

Minn. archbishop announces moves to end culture fostering clergy abuse

St. Paul, Minn., Dec 14, 2018 / 08:01 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis announced Friday several changes meant “to change the culture that fostered the clergy abuse crisis.”

Among these are the creation of a new position within the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis to ensure that “the voice of survivors of clergy sexual abuse will be regularly heard within Archdiocesan leadership,” Hebda wrote in a Dec. 14 letter.

“To strengthen that voice, I want to say again today that any survivor who at any time entered into a settlement agreement containing a confidentiality provision is released from that provision,” he added.

“I also reiterate my pledge to meet with any survivors who would like to do so.”

Hebda wrote that he plans to make himself available to survivors of abuse all Friday afternoons in February, March, and April, as well as other times and places. Planning for spiritual outreach in 2019 is also underway, he said.

Hebda reiterated that he strongly favors a “lay-led mechanism for investigating and assessing any allegations made against me or any other bishop.”

Hebda’s predecessor, Archbishop John Nienstedt, was the subject of a misconduct allegation involving adult males in 2014. Nienstedt delegated the investigation to his senior auxiliary bishop, who submitted the investigative materials to then-Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò after seeking the counsel of two law firms. In addition, the allegations against Nienstedt were provided to the county attorney’s office.

However, the situation remains “unresolved for the accusers, for Archbishop Nienstedt and for the public” because Hebda said as far as he knows, the Vatican’s effort into the investigation ended when Archbishop Nienstedt resigned his office in June 2015.

Archbishop Viganò has since denied that he ordered the Vatican’s investigation of Nienstedt to be halted.

Hebda wrote of the investigation: “I share the frustration that is felt by them, and believe this situation highlights the need for a better-defined process and independent mechanism to resolve allegations made against bishops.”

An additional allegation emerged that then-bishop of New Ulm Nienstedt, at a 2005 World Youth Day event in Germany, had invited minors to his hotel room, proceeded to undress and had invited them to do the same – an account which Nienstedt denies. Hebda said he transmitted information about this allegation to the nuncio in 2016.

“I have been asked repeatedly whether there are any restrictions on Archbishop Nienstedt’s ministry,” Hebda wrote.

“My answer has always been that although I do not know of any, I am the wrong person to ask: Bishops report to the Holy Father, not to each other. I have no general juridical authority over Archbishop Nienstedt or any other bishop outside the Archdiocese.”

However, Hebda did offer clarification that Nienstedt, like any priest facing misconduct allegations, “would not be free to exercise public ministry in this Archdiocese until all open allegations are resolved.”

Hebda said he would continue to advocate for an independent review board, and would commit to transmitting the entire 2014 archdiocesan investigation to whatever national or regional review board is created.

“In order to fully address bishop accountability, the Church needs a national or regional board empowered to act, much as our well-respected Ministerial Review Board has been empowered to address allegations involving our priests and deacons,” the archbishop wrote.

“The Church cannot fulfill its mission without public trust.”