Browsing News Entries

Commentary: Sri Lanka, martyrdom, and the light of faith

Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2019 / 05:35 pm (CNA).- On Saturday night, the Church celebrated its most solemn and joyful liturgy.

As it does every year, the Vigil Mass of Easter began when the paschal candle was lit from a fire burning outside the church.
 
That candle led the assembly in silent procession into the darkened church. The priest turned toward the faithful and announced “The light of Christ!”
 
“Thanks be to God,” responded the assembly, as the light of the paschal candle was passed throughout the assembly, flooding the darkened room with the new light of the resurrection, aglow in the small flames of hundreds of candles.
 
At the same time I attended the Easter Vigil Saturday night, a series of suicide bombs exploded in churches across Sri Lanka, killing nearly hundreds. The attacks were timed to coincide with Easter Sunday celebrations.
 
The transition of the vigil liturgy, from darkness to light, reflects the procession of the Church from death to life, illuminated by the light of the Resurrection.

The Easter Exsultet, sung across the world as the bombs detonated in Colombo, hailed the arrival of the “night in which Christ has destroyed death.”
 
Of course the blood-spattered walls and ceiling of St. Anthony’s Shrine in Sri Lanka offered what appeared to be a macabre juxtaposition to the empty tomb of the gospel. But through the eyes of faith, and of the Church, the horrific violence was a witness to the Resurrection of Christ.

Those Catholics mourning in Sri Lanka know that light — the light —  has come into the world, and darkness cannot overcome it.
 
Sri Lanka is not the only place where churches are burning and Christians are dying. From Mosul to Cairo, to France, to Kaduna and Columbo, Christians, the world over, face violence and persecution. But somehow, in many parts of the West, that reality goes unseen.

The reason is complicated.
 
The Anglican Bishop of Truro, Philip Mountstephen, has been charged by the British government with reviewing its foreign policy failures to address the persecution of Christians worldwide.

Ahead of the publication of his conclusions, and before the Easter bombings, he told the Times that there is an indifference in the secular liberal establishement to the plight of Christians around the world. It is, he suggested, a studied indifference, which misunderstands the Christian faith as “an expression of white western privilege,” undeserving of protection.
 
In a western secular culture defined increasingly by anti-Christian moral norms, the slaughter of Christians – or “Easter worshippers” to those too squeamish to use the word – presents a paradox: how can the religion of white western wealth and privilege be the faith of poor minorities around the globe? Can the suffering of Christians be legitimately understood as persecution?
 
“Actually,” Mountstephen observed, “the Christian faith is overwhelmingly a phenomenon of the global poor and people who, by their very socio-economic status, are vulnerable.”

Pope Francis has spoken often of his desire to see “a poor Church of the poor.” In reality, this is what the Church already is.
 
The killing of the Sri Lankan Mass-goers, like the execution of the Coptic martyrs in 2015, is a sign of contradiction to a world ready to believe – and in some cases to print – that Christianity is inseparable from a kind of capitalistic white supremacy. But the Church is called to be a sign of contradiction, and such a sign can bear great fruit.
 
The first Easter vigils in Rome were held in catacombs not cathedrals; an empire was converted by the witness of uncounted martyrs, whose unshakable confidence that Christ had risen, destroying death, was a sign of contradiction to the pagan world.
 
In his recent essay on the root causes of the sexual abuse crisis, the pope emeritus noted the “today's Church is more than ever a ‘Church of the Martyrs’ and thus a witness to the living God.” Joseph Ratzinger also famously recalled looking around the Vatican as a young priest and foreseeing a time in which the signs of wealth and status would be stripped away.
 
Caught between the hammer of violent oppression in many parts of the world and the anvil of a secularized West suspicious if not downright hostile to the Church, many Catholics see a besieged faithful fighting for survival.
 
But in reality, in the gathering darkness, the light of the faith - like the hundreds of candles light during the Easter vigil - becomes ever brighter. The violence of persecution stokes the fires of faith.
 
Many alive now may live to see Ratzinger’s prediction come true: Francis’ poor Church of the poor once more gathered in the catacombs, real or metaphorical.

While the world will, like the pagan emperors before, scorn her seeming defeat and irrelevance, the Church will instead draw renewed strength as she becomes ever more truly herself.

The witness of its suffering – as in Sri Lanka – offers the same witness the martyrs of the early Church offered pagan Rome, and it will achieve the same result. The experience of the Church in the first centuries of the third millennium will likely come to resemble that of the first centuries AD. And from the forge of persecution will come a New Evangelization to rival the old.
 
Wedded to her risen spouse and called to share in his glory, those now confidently burying the Church as a remnant of history are destined to find her tomb empty. Through death, Christ has already conquered death, and with him the Church rises victorious.

 

Arlington diocese launches addiction support for families

Arlington, Va., Apr 24, 2019 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- At the request of Bishop Michael Burbidge, the Diocese of Arlington has launched a multifaceted program to get parishes involved with the healing of addicts and their families.

Organized by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, the project is composed of five parts – clinician training, workshops, addiction resources, family support, and prayer.

Art Bennett, president of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Arlington, told CNA that the apostolate comes as the damages of opioid abuse have extended into the suburbs. Fairfax County, a generally well-off area, has the highest rate of opioid-related deaths in Virginia, he said.

“Bishop Burbidge has long been concerned about the opioid problem in our diocese; we cover 21 counties in the northern part of Virginia,” he said, noting that parishes have seen an increase in funerals for people who have overdosed.

After the bishop challenged the diocese to respond to the opioid crisis,  a conference was held in September to gather interested parties and to brainstorm. A psychologist was brought in to speak on the challenges faced in addiction recovery.  

There are four parishes involved: St. John the Evangelist in Warrenton, Good Shepherd in Alexandria, St. Bernadette in Springfield, and St. John Neumann in Reston.

As part of the program, 17 mental health clinicians have already been trained on the opioid crisis, its growing impact in the United States, and the best means to respond to it. These clinicians are now able to travel and run workshops for other parishes and Church staff.

Arlington's Catholic Charities has also piled together a virtual collection of resources for immediate intervention, including crisis intervention hotlines, case management services, and evaluations for treatment.

The new ministry will seek to add resources for families of addicts, including Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Families Anonymous, and parent support groups. It will also offer literature and the contact info of therapists.

“Catholic Charities has been asked to focus on providing clinical support to those secondarily impacted by the opioid crisis – providing counseling to the children, families, and loved ones of those struggling with addiction. This is a broadly under-served population in the current response to addiction,” Michael Horne, director of clinical services for Arlington's Catholic Charities, told CNA.

Bennett said two of the major components of this apostolate are the prayer teams who intercede on behalf of addicts, and parish resource committees to support families. Both will be discussed in upcoming workshops, he said.

The next seminar will take place April 29 at St. John Neumann and will continue at a different parish every quarter. Here, Bennett will give an overview of the project, and former nurse Sandi Sale will discuss the boundaries volunteers should put in place.

Susan Infeld, a parent of an addict and a parish nurse in charge of the project at St. John Neumann, will also discuss both successful measures and those that have failed in the past.

Bennett said prayer, while a simple way to support the addicted and their families, is “also the most powerful thing that can be done.”

The apostolate may bring about new opportunities for prayer, but it could also be tacking on the intentions to already-established prayer groups.

“Any parish can have that; they might already have Eucharistic adoration or rosary groups and they just add on the intentions of the families suffering from the opioid crisis so that healing power in prayer and Christ can be involved with them,” he said.

The parish committee programs will provide opportunities for the laity to be supportive of the families of addicts. “That support could be encouragement, referrals, or someone to talk to if there kid is in jail or very sick,” he said.  

Addiction is especially rough on the family, as young people are sometimes forced out of the house when they start supporting their addiction with thieving. The family of addicts is an untapped area for ministry, he said, noting that many parents feel ashamed and ostracized from the Church when a child is going through addiction.

“The families pretty much felt like they are hung out to dry,” he said. “They feel very harshly judged, they feel weak,” and he emphasized the importance of compassion in the situation.

At the Arlington Catholic Herald, Infeld gave insight into her own struggles as a parent of alcoholic. She said addiction ministry is an opportunity to share the message of God’s mercy and to promote healing.

“Families are being destroyed by this disease. Grandparents are raising their grandchildren in retirement because the parents are addicts. Parents are going into debt trying to pay for rehab not just once, but sometimes multiple times. Families most often suffer in silence, not getting the tremendous support and tools that a (ministry or support group) can offer,” she said.

Pro-life group launches targeted campaign for Born Alive bill

Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List has launched a new campaign to pressure members of Congress to sign the discharge petition for the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.

If 218 members of the House of Representatives sign the discharge petition, the bill will move to the floor, where it will be considered. Presently, 199 members have signed, including all but two Republican members, but only two Democrats: Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) and Collin Peterson (D-MN).

The petition opened for signatures on April 2.

In an April 2 statement, Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chairman of the U.S. bishops' pro-life committee, called for the bill's passage.

“Our nation is better than infanticide. Babies born alive during the process of abortion deserve the same care and medical assistance as any other newborn. To not provide care is a lethal form of discrimination against the circumstances of the child’s birth.”

“I strongly urge all representatives to sign this petition, and then vote for the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. This bill would add specific requirements to help ensure that babies born alive after an abortion attempt can have a fair shot at life,” he said.

"The purpose of this campaign is to really focus on the House," SBA List Vice President of Communications Mallory Quigley told CNA. "This is where the pressure point is now because the Senate's already voted. We think this should be bipartisan."

Quigley said that signing the petition would not present an electoral problem for Democrats, “especially for people who were elected in Republican-leaning districts."

The new campaign, which will feature digital ads and events aimed at explaining what the Born Alive bill is, is focused on representatives in what SBA List considers to be persuadable districts.

Reps. Cindy Axne (IA-03), Collin Allred (TX-32), Abby Finkenauer (IA-01), Lizzie Fletcher (TX-07), Conor Lamb (PA-17), Lucy McBath (GA-06), Elissa Slotkin (MI-08), Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), and Haley Stevens (MI-11) have been singled out for attention, with each of them representing states won by President Donald Trump during the 2016 election.

“This is a very moderate proposal that we think they ought to support,” Quigley told CNA. She said the timing of the ad campaign was centered around the Congressional recess, when the members would be in their districts.

“Many Democrats who represent Republican-leaning districts have not yet signed the discharge petition to hold a vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser in the press release.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO), said that her legislation was “a measure that has passed with bipartisan support in the past.”

Presently, 26 states have some sort of legal protection for babies who survive abortions. Wagner said that it was important that this be extended throughout the entire country.

Dannenfelser said the bill "is urgently needed" as lawmakers in New York, Virginia, and other states push a "radical agenda of abortion on demand through the moment of birth and even infanticide."

"The overwhelming majority of Americans – including 70 percent of Democrats – want Congress to protect vulnerable babies who survive abortions, yet Speaker Pelosi and House Democratic Party leaders have repeatedly blocked this compassionate, common-ground bill.”

She referred to the Democrats blocking the legislation as “extremists” who are out of step with their own party.

Polls have consistently shown that the majority of Americans, including Democrats and even those who call themselves pro-choice, are opposed to late-term abortion.

The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act would criminalize doctors who do not provide age-appropriate medical care to an infant that is born alive after an abortion. It also would provide the mother of the infant the ability to file a civil suit against her doctor. It does not criminalize abortion nor add any new restrictions on abortion.

Ending isolation key to fighting assisted suicide, Catholic heath group founder says

Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The founder of a Catholic health-share group has said that battling loneliness is crucial to opposing the growing acceptance of assisted suicide in popular culture.

Chris Faddis, co-founder of Solidarity HealthShare, spoke to CNA about the importance of respecting the dignity of all patients at the end of life.

Speaking to CNA during the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast April 23, Faddis said that a rising social and legal acceptance of assisted suicide is exacerbated by a lack of healthcare options that are both ethical and affordable, but is ultimately driven by loneliness and despair in the face of suffering.

“When you see no way out, something like a pill seems tempting,” he said.

Solidarity helps patients and their families find other options to assisted suicide to ease suffering and, Faddis said, expressed a kind of communion in its structure. In a health-share system, members of the organization help to pay each other’s healthcare costs. Members are self-pay patients who can see the provider of their choice while Solidarity helps to negotiate a lower rate, which would then be paid by the group of members.

“We're just there to facilitate and to kind of direct them,” said Faddis. “The affordability is there because there's no profit in it. We're a non-profit, we're just kind of facilitating that sharing."

“In all ways, we lead our members to the options that are going to respect life, that are going to promote their dignity. We provide care management, we provide services. And we encourage them."

Faddis, who serves as the Catholic health-sharing company’s chief operating officer, told CNA that the experience of suffering and death in his own family had formed his commitment to protecting human dignity at the end of life and led to his founding Solidarity. He served as a caregiver for his wife as she was dying of cancer, and experienced first-hand the importance of dignified and respectful hospice and palliative care.  

The experiences like his, Faddis said, needed to be shared in the wider battle to resist a culture of death in which suffering has no meaning.

“If we don't tell [an alternative view of suffering], the other side's telling the horror stories of suffering all day long."

Approaching death with dignity, Faddis said, is important for patients and families alike. “It’s worth taking time over,” he said, noting that his family benefited “in ways too many to count” from the care and support his wife received from their own community.

Solidarity does not pay for health services that are contrary to Catholic teaching, such as abortion, contraception, or euthanasia. When members are diagnosed with terminal illnesses, Faddis said that his organization works to ensure that members are directed to specific palliative care physicians who will not encourage assisted suicide.

Faddis said that an approach that underscores the value of life is especially important for terminal patients who are often feel as though they are a burden on their family and community. Terminal illness was, he said, a painful experience, but one that can be lived with dignity and meaning.

"When people are cared for well, then they can suffer well. So as they're going through those difficult times, or just those difficult decisions, people can help them just by caring well for them,” he said.

Assisted suicide is now legal in eight states, and is being considered by an additional four. New Jersey’s Catholic governor recently signed it into law in his state, after “careful prayer.”

Faddis said that in the United States, there is a general fear of suffering, which has resulted in an embrace of a quick death.

"I think we have a responsibility to console and give solace to the dying,” he said, stressing that preventing isolation was a vital part of respecting the dignity of human life.

“And I think if we do that well, we've solved the problem. I mean, if you're dying alone, you want the pill."

US House asks court to block funding for border wall

Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2019 / 12:40 pm (CNA).- Lawyers representing the US House of Representatives on Tuesday filed a motion in federal court to block funding for the construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border, which President Donald Trump had planned to fund primarily using Department of Defense money.

“Absent this Court’s timely intervention, defendants are poised to begin construction on the border wall next month, using funds that Congress declined to appropriate for that purpose,” the motion reads.

“This Court should therefore issue a preliminary injunction to prevent that irreparable injury to the House.”

Trump had planned to fund the wall’s construction using money appropriated under an emergency declaration he issued in February. 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 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement Feb. 15 opposing Trump’s emergency declaration.

“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,” read a joint statement from USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, who leads the USCCB’s migration committee.

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

Following Trump’s emergency declaration, the Democrat-controlled House sued Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the executive branch, claiming the president’s decision to transfer Defense Department funds to fund the border wall violated the clause of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to designate federal spending.

Congress passed a spending package earlier this year— which Trump signed, ending a 35-day government shutdown— appropriating $1.375 billion for 55 miles of new barriers in the Rio Grande Valley sector. Trump had requested $5.7 billion.

The House’s motion notes that the Executive Branch has already transferred $1 billion in Defense Department money to the military’s Drug Interdiction and Counterdrug Activities fund, with plans to transfer $2.5 billion more. In addition, $3.6 billion will be reallocated to fund the wall from Department of Defense military construction projects, as well as $600 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund. The Executive Branch has already awarded contracts for construction of the wall, set to begin next month.

The motion asserts that the 2019 Department of Defense Appropriations Act only authorizes transfers for “higher priority items, based on unforeseen military requirements” and “in no case where the item for which funds are requested has been denied by the Congress.”

“The House is unaware of any other instance in American history where a President has declared a national emergency to obtain funding after having failed to win Congressional approval for an appropriation,” the motion reads.

U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden has not yet set a date for a hearing on the House’s motion.

There are at least two lawsuits against Trump’s funding decision still pending. In one, 16 states are challenging the president’s actions, while another suit was brought by the Sierra Club and a border-communities group, according to Politico.

A judge in Oakland, California has agreed to hear motions for injunctions in those suits May 17, Politico reports.

Bishops of dioceses along both sides of the border have said that the additional construction of a wall would pose dangers to migrants and would create unnecessary divisions in societies that have transcended countries’ borders.

Although “the Church has long recognized the first right of persons not to migrate, but to stay in their community of origin,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas wrote in 2017, “when that has become impossible, the Church also recognizes the right to migrate.”

 

Pope Francis: To stop evil, give more love than required

Vatican City, Apr 24, 2019 / 04:46 am (CNA).- To stop the spread of evil in the world, Catholics must go above and beyond, loving and forgiving others even when it is undeserved, Pope Francis urged Wednesday.

“Jesus inserts the power of forgiveness into human relationships. In life, not everything is resolved with justice,” he said April 24.

“Especially where we must put a barricade against evil, someone must love beyond what is necessary, to start a story of grace again,” he said, warning that “evil is familiar with its revenge, and if it is not interrupted it risks spreading and suffocating the whole world.”

The Easter Octave, he said, is a good time to think about the beauty of forgiveness and to pray to the Father for the grace to forgive others, explaining that Jesus replaced the “law of retaliation” with the “law of love: what God has done for me, I give it back to you!”

The pope continued his general audience catechesis on the ‘Our Father’ by reflecting on the line which says, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

In forgiveness we find “the bond between love for God and love of neighbor,” he said. “Love calls love, forgiveness calls forgiveness.”

“Every Christian knows that forgiveness of sins exists for him. This we all know, that Jesus forgives everyone and forgives always. Nothing in the Gospels suggests that God does not forgive the sins of those who are well disposed and who ask to be re-embraced,” he said.

“But,” he continued, “the abundant grace of God is always challenging. He who has received so much must learn to give so much.”

He said God gives every Christian the grace to do good in the lives of their brothers and sisters, even those who have done something wrong, and with “a word, a hug, a smile, we can convey to others what most precious thing we have received.”

“And what precious thing have we received? Forgiveness.”

Sometimes, the pope said, he has heard people say they will “never forgive” some person for what they have done to them. But God has told his people if they do not forgive others, they will not be forgiven, Francis underlined. “You close the door.”

He recounted a story told to him by a priest, who had visited an old woman on her death bed. She could barely speak, but when asked if she was sorry for her sins, she said ‘yes.’

But when the priest asked her if she forgave others, she said, ‘no.’ “The priest was distressed,” Pope Francis said. “If you do not forgive, God will not forgive you. If you cannot forgive, ask the Lord to give you strength to do it.”

Jesus tells a parable which illustrates the concept of forgiving others as God has forgiven you, he noted.

In the parable, found in the Gospel of Matthew, a servant owes his master a huge debt, something impossible to repay. But miraculously, he receives not only an extension, but full forgiveness of the debt. “An unexpected grace!”

But, Francis explained, the servant immediately turned to his brother to demand from him the much smaller debt he was owed.

“Therefore, in the end, the master calls him back and has [the servant] condemned,” he said. “Because if you do not try to forgive, you will not be forgiven; if you do not try to love, you will not be loved either.”

Supreme Court to hear sexual orientation, gender identity employment cases

Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2019 / 03:30 am (CNA).- In a decision that could have potentially far-reaching consequences, the U.S. Supreme Court has said it will hear cases involving claims that sexual orientation and gender identity should be included under current federal protections barring sex discrimination.

One case involves a male employee who identifies as a woman and was fired from a funeral home for deciding to wear women’s clothes to work.

John Bursch, vice president of appellate advocacy at the religious freedom legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, argued that the court should uphold current federal law.

“Neither government agencies nor the courts have authority to rewrite federal law by replacing ‘sex’ with ‘gender identity’—a change with widespread consequences for everyone,” he said April 22.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday said it would hear the cases in the upcoming court term, with decisions and opinions possible in 2020.

Alliance Defending Freedom is backing the funeral home at the center of one case, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The family-owned funeral home, owned by Tom Roost, has operated since 1910 and now has several chapels.

In 2007 it hired a male employee who agreed to follow the company’s policies, including its sex-specific dress code. The ADF summary of the case said the dress code is “crafted to emphasize professionalism and keep the focus on those mourning the loss of a loved one.”

In 2013, the employee told Roost that he intended to begin dressing as a woman at work.

“Tom determined that allowing this would not be in the best interests of his clients processing their grief,” Alliance Defending Freedom said on its website summary of the case. “He offered the employee a severance package, which the employee refused.”

The employee, who now goes by Aimee Stephens, wrote to colleagues that year: “What I must tell you is very difficult for me and is taking all the courage I can muster... I have felt imprisoned in a body that does not match my mind, and this has caused me great despair and loneliness.”

Stephens filed suit on legal grounds including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law which bars discrimination on categories including race, religion, national origin and sex.

In 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan backed the funeral home. However, the EEOC appealed the case, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit then ruled that the dress code was discriminatory against a male employee who identifies as a woman.

“It is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex,” said the appellate court, according to the New York Times. “Discrimination ‘because of sex’ inherently includes discrimination against employees because of a change in their sex.”

Bursch, who served as solicitor general of Michigan from 2011 to 2013, said the funeral home wanted “to serve families mourning the loss of a loved one.” He charged “the EEOC has elevated its political goals above the interests of the grieving people that the funeral home serves.”

“Businesses have the right to rely on what the law is—not what government agencies want it to be—when they create and enforce employment policies,” Bursch added.

The Supreme Court accepted the funeral home case on the limited questions of whether Title VII bars discrimination against self-identified transgender people based on “their status as transgender” or “sex stereotyping” under a 1989 Supreme Court decision, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins.

Alliance Defending Freedom’s brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court argued that the Sixth Circuit’s interpretation “undermines the primary purpose for banning discrimination based on sex,” namely to ensure equal opportunities for women and to eliminate workplace inequalities that have held women back.

If the lower court’s interpretation holds, it said, employment reserved for women like playing basketball in the WNBA or working at a shelter for abused women “now must be opened to males who identify as women.” Such a definition would also undermine Title IX efforts to advance women’s participation in sports and educational opportunities, it said.

“Substituting ‘gender identity’ for ‘sex’ in nondiscrimination laws also threatens freedom of conscience,” the ADF petition added, saying that such interpretations have forced doctors to participate in surgical efforts to alter sex “in violation of their deeply held beliefs” and best medical judgment.

“In sum, the Sixth Circuit ushered in a profound change in federal law accompanied by widespread legal and social ramifications,” the legal group charged.

Two other cases, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia and Altitude Express, Inc. vs. Zarda, will also go before the Supreme Court. They were consolidated because of similar claims regarding employer discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, National Public Radio reports.

The case Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda involves the late New York skydiving instructor Donald Zarda, who said he was fired because he was gay. He was fired after a female customer complained. She had voiced concerns about being tightly tied to Zarda during a tandem dive, and Zarda tried to reassure her by telling her he was “100% gay,” the New York Times reports.

Zarda was killed in a skydiving accident in 2014 but his estate is continuing to pursue the case.

A divided 13-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled that the lawsuit could proceed.

Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann, writing the court’s majority opinion, said “sexual orientation discrimination is motivated, at least in part, by sex and is thus a subset of sex discrimination.” Sexual orientation discrimination is “predicated on assumptions about how persons of a certain sex can or should be, which is an impermissible basis for adverse employment actions.”

“(S)exual orientation discrimination—which is motivated by an employer’s opposition to romantic association between particular sexes—is discrimination based on the employee’s own sex,” Katzmann’s decision added.

The case Bostock v. Clayton County involves a Georgia child welfare services coordinator who said he was fired for being gay, the New York Times reports.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2018 issued an unsigned opinion citing a 1979 5th circuit court decision ruling that firing for homosexuality is not barred by Title VII.

Most federal courts do not consider sexual orientation discrimination to be a form of sex discrimination, the New York Times reports.

EEOC publications on the commission website hold that “sex stereotypes” like “the belief that men should only date women or that women should only marry men” constitute illegal discrimination on the basis of sex. They say that the 1964 civil rights legislation against sex discrimination in the workplace includes discrimination “based on an applicant or employee’s gender identity or sexual orientation.”

However, those opinions lack Congressional approval. Proposed legislation known as the Equality Act would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected categories under federal law.

Critics have warned that the legislation explicitly rejects religious freedom protections and would open the gates to anti-discrimination lawsuits against religious believers and institutions who disagree with the bill’s broad view of what constitutes LGBT discrimination.

Now is the time to defend the truth, Phoenix bishop says at prayer breakfast

Washington D.C., Apr 23, 2019 / 04:28 pm (CNA).- Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix called on a gathering of the nation’s Catholic leaders to stand up to the heresies of the modern age and defend the dignity of the human person, body and soul, as an integral part of defending the faith.

Speaking at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast April 23, the keynote speaker said that the importance of the human body was at the center of a contemporary moral crisis, and crucial to presenting the Church’s teaching in modern society.

Olmsted said that he believes the “disaster” predicted by Pope St. Paul VI in the encyclical Humanae vitae had come to fruition. Quoting from an exhortation to the married couples of his own diocese, he said that the sexual revolution of the last century had caused humanity “a plague of misery on a scale never known before.”

“Enough! Husbands and wifes, mothers and fathers, you are called to have great hearts here, counter-cultural and brave. You can build something better, freer, more generous, and nobler,” he said, insisting that rebuilding society began in the home.

Husbands and wives have to be “all-in” for their sacramental marriage vows, explained Olmsted. This means that couples need to be open to new life, whether “by way of the marital act” or through adoption and fostering.

"Do not be afraid to sink your roots deeply into the living water that is Jesus Christ. He will not abandon you,” said Olmsted. “Lead your family, and lead in whatever other place the Lord asks, with deep and childlike faith in Him."

The family, Olmsted said, was the sign that would defeat the heresies of the current age, all of which concerned the human body.  Whether in reference to the true nature of marriage, life, and gender, or the resurrection of Christ, when the dignity of the body is questioned, Olmsted said, the truth preached by the Church is cast aside, to the detriment of marriage and unborn children.

Sacramental marriage “stands now in the way of the gender ideology,” he said, insisting that Catholics must proclaim the truth and oppose attempts to weaken marriage and the family - attempts which “do nothing to strengthen our great country.”

“Look at the vociferous opposition to the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” said Olmsted, referring to Congressional attempts to legislate to require that doctors provide age-appropriate care for infants who survive late-term abortions.

“Where does this blatant disregard come from?” he asked. “From a hardened heart.”

Olmsted said it is the great duty of Catholics to “stand up for each child,” offering a courageous witness for life. This, he said, requires each person to “expand our hearts to receive that child” and to “stand in the breech left by hardened hearts.”

“We Christians, then, must stand up for this reality of marriage today, in our homes, and in the public square, despite the real risk of persecution for doing so," he said.

“We can do this. We were made for such a time as this.”

Court rules against Catholic foster agency in Philadelphia

Philadelphia, Pa., Apr 23, 2019 / 02:23 pm (CNA).- After a yearlong legal struggle, a federal appeals court has ruled that city contractors in Philadelphia must place foster children with same-sex couples, a ruling that threatens the future of the local Catholic archdiocese’s foster placement program.

“We’re disappointed that the court decided to let the city place politics above the needs of kids and the rights of parents, but we will continue this fight,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at the legal group Becket, which is representing the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Catholic Social Services.

Becket noted that despite being hundreds of beds short of what is necessary to serve the children in the foster care system, the City of Philadelphia failed to renew the Catholic foster care agency’s contract.

“The need to find those children homes is so dire that earlier this year the city put out an urgent call for 300 new families to become foster parents,” the institute wrote in an April 22 release.

“But shortly after this call for help, the city inexplicably prohibited Catholic Social Services from placing any more children with the families it has certified—solely because of the agency’s religious beliefs. There are dozens of families licensed to foster through Catholic Social Services who are willing to take in children, but because of the city’s actions, their beds have remained empty for close to a year.”

The City of Philadelphia received an allegation in March 2018 that two of the Department of Human Services’ 30 or so contracted agencies would not place children with same-sex couples as foster parents. After the department investigated, it stopped referring foster children to those agencies.

One of those agencies was Catholic Social Services (CSS), an arm of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that has been working with foster children since its founding in 1917. CSS serves about 120 foster children in about 100 homes at any one time.

City officials cited the group’s unwillingness to place foster children with same-sex couples due to its religious beliefs on traditional marriage, even though lawyers for Catholic Social Services argued that no same-sex couple had ever approached the agency asking for certification to accept foster children.

Catholic Social Services in its lawsuit sought an order to require the city to renew its contract with them, arguing that the city’s decision violated their religious freedom under the constitution. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled against CSS in its April 22 ruling.

“The City’s nondiscrimination policy is a neutral, generally applicable law, and the religious views of CSS do not entitle it to an exception from that policy,” Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro concluded.

Catholic Social Services has never been the subject of discrimination complaints by same-sex couples. The agency says that it assists all children in need, regardless of a child’s race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.

“CSS will only certify foster parents who are either married or single; it will not certify cohabitating unmarried couples, and it considers all same-sex couples to be unmarried. So far as the record reflects, no same-sex couples have approached CSS seeking to become foster parents,” Judge Ambro wrote.

Despite this, Ambro concluded that the City of Philadelphia “stands on firm ground in requiring its contractors to abide by its non-discrimination policies when administering public services,” and that the record demonstrates, in his view, the “City’s good faith in its effort to enforce its laws against discrimination” rather than an anti-religious bias.

Several foster families who relied on Catholic Social Services to help foster children were plaintiffs in the case, including the late Cecilia Paul, who has fostered more than 100 children, and Sharonell Fulton, the leading plaintiff who has worked with the agency for 25 years.

The U.S. Supreme Court in August 2018 declined to grant an injunction that would require the city to continue its foster-care placement with the agency during litigation over the matter.

Philadelphia is not the only city to refuse to work with a Catholic organization on the issue of foster care and adoption placement. In Buffalo, Catholic Charities recently ceased adoption and foster care work due to rules that would have forced the organization to violate their religious beliefs. Catholic Charities had done work with adoption in Buffalo for nearly a century before the rule change.

In recent years, faith-based child welfare providers in multiple states including in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and the District of Columbia, have also been forced to shut down their adoption and foster care services because of beliefs that children should be placed with a married mother and father.

National Catholic Prayer Breakfast hears call for 'Catholic great awakening'

Washington D.C., Apr 23, 2019 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- The National Catholic Prayer Breakfast heard an uncompromising call to holiness and the defense of every human life Tuesday, with speakers calling for a “Catholic great awakening.”

A total of 1,400 gathered in Washington, DC for the 15th-annual prayer breakfast, where keynotes were delivered by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix and Curtis Martin, founder and director of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.

Leading attendees in the Divine Mercy Chaplet, Sr. Bethany Madonna, S.V., vocations director for the Sisters of Life, told the nation’s assembled Catholic leaders to be undaunted by their own failings and limitations. Christ “loves you, and wants your weakness,” she said.

“You can be strong with his strength,” she told the audience, “and you will be able to endure the insults that come with defending every human life.”

Pro-life activist Abby Johnson also addressed the crowd, urging them to work towards a society in which abortion was “unthinkable” and its legality became irrelevant.   

In his keynote address, FOCUS president Curtis Martin noted that human history was punctuated by periods of renewal, sparked by a return to God in a spirit of atonement. But instead of doom and gloom, he said, the coming generation of young Catholics has the potential to do great things.

The current generation, he said, are “survivors by God’s design” having been born after abortion was legalized and are poised to “wake up” and “vanquish the devil in this generation.”

The United States has experienced ebbs and flows in religious devotion before, and has seen two “great awakenings” among Protestants that resulted in renewed faith for believers. Perhaps, said Martin, this is what the Church in America needs.

"Wouldn't it be a great time for a Catholic great awakening?"

Also among the speakers to address the the pro-life cause was acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who assured the audience of the president’s personal commitment to protecting the unborn.

Trump was frequently criticized during the 2016 presidential campaign for his past statements in support of abortion. Since his election, the administration has made efforts to block state funding for abortion a consistent theme, renforcing the Mexico City policy preventing U.S. from going to organizations which fund or promote abortion.

Mulvaney told the crowd that uncompromisingly pro-life language in the 2019 State of the Union address was expanded at the president’s personal insistence.

Trump used the speech to condemn the newly-passed Reproductive Health Act in New York, which widely expanded abortion access. He was also critical of efforts to pass a similar law in Virginia. According to Mulvaney, these comments were Trump’s own last-minute additions to the text, made by hand as he reviewed the final draft.

Despite political battles and increased polarization in national political life, Mulvaney said that was “comfortable” serving in the Trump administration and with its priorities.

“The principles of our [Catholic] faith are alive and well and well-respected in this administration and are driving many of our policies,” Mulvaney said.