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Pro-abortion, pro-LGBT groups applaud confirmation of new Secretary of State

Washington D.C., Jan 26, 2021 / 01:15 pm (CNA).- Pro-abortion and pro-LGBT groups applauded the Senate’s confirmation of Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken on Tuesday.

 

Blinken, nominated to be the next Secretary of State by President Joe Biden, was confirmed to the position by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, by a vote of 67-22. He served as deputy secretary of state under President Obama, from 2015-2017.

 

In response to Blinken’s confirmation, the groups Planned Parenthood Global and the Human Rights Campaign stated their approval on Tuesday.

 

On Tuesday, Planned Parenthood Global stated its expectation that Blinken’s State Department would be “supporting SRHR [sexual and reproductive health and rights] across foreign policy.”

 

The term “sexual and reproductive health and rights” has been used by the United Nations’ human rights office to refer to a variety of issue areas that include abortion, contraception, and gender ideology.

 

“We are ready to work together to advance global health & human rights,” Planned Parenthood Global stated of Blinken.

 

Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, stated that the organization would work with Blinken “in the days, weeks, and years ahead to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world!”

 

The Human Rights Campaign also gave its approval of Blinken’s confirmation on Tuesday.

 

“Antony Blinken will ensure the rights of all LGBTQ people, from every background, are once again a top priority in America’s foreign policy — and that when LGBTQ people abroad are under threat, they can count on the State Department as an ally,” the group stated.

 

During his confirmation hearings last week before members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Blinken said he would allow U.S. embassies to fly rainbow “Pride” flags and would appoint a Special Envoy for LGBTI issues at the agency.

 

Planned Parenthood Global said on Tuesday that it anticipates “strong leadership” under Blinken at the State Department, “including undoing the harm of the #GlobalGagRule.” The “Global Gag Rule” is a term used by pro-abortion groups to refer to the Mexico City Policy, which bars foreign NGOs that perform or promote abortions from receiving U.S. family planning funding.

 

Incoming presidents normally repeal or reinstate the policy among their first actions in office. President Biden will reportedly repeal the Mexico City Policy on Thursday in an executive action.

 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical advisor on COVID-19, told board members of the World Health Organization (WHO) last week that the administration would be reversing the policy in the “coming days,” and reiterated the administration’s commitment to upholding “reproductive health” abroad.

 

The Trump administration expanded upon the Mexico City Policy, which normally just applies to family planning funding. The administration extended the policy to include more than $8 billion in global health assistance, requiring partner groups not to promote abortion as a condition of receiving the assistance.

 

The International Planned Parenthood Federation was one of the groups outspoken against the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy in 2017, claiming it could lose $100 million in annual funding for non-abortion services.

 

During his confirmation hearings last week, Blinken also affirmed his “judgement” that that China is committing “genocide” against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang province—in agreement with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who made the genocide designation on Jan. 19.

 

Why birth rates fell more sharply during COVID

Washington D.C., Jan 26, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Recently-published data suggest that the birth rate in the U.S. declined considerably from 2019 to 2020, refuting hopes of a “baby boom” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

According to NBCLX, real-time data from several states showed marked declines in their birthrates in 2020. In Dec., 2020, Florida’s birthrates declined 8% from the previous year, Ohio’s by 7%, and Arizona’s by 5%. Several major hospital systems also reported similar drops in birthrates from Dec., 2019 to Dec., 2020.

 

The real-time 2020 data from states follows a steady decline in the overall U.S. birth rate that reached its lowest recorded level in 2019. According to CDC data published in May, 2020, only 58.2 births were registered for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15-44 in 2019. The birth rate has fallen steadily for more than a decade, following a peak before the 2008 economic crisis.

 

While many had wondered if widespread changes to Americans’ lifestyles—such as stay-at-home orders and cancellations of social events—could spur an increase in the birth rate, researchers told CNA that they instead had expected a continued decline during 2020. 

 

Jonathan V. Last, a journalist and author of the 2013 book on America's demographic challenges What To Expect When No One’s Expecting, told CNA that he was “not surprised in the least” to hear the updated state figures. 

 

In the future, Last said that demographers will be curious to discover whether or not the number of births will “rebound” to the pre-pandemic years, or if the number will continue to decline. 

 

“We won’t know the answer to this question for many years,” said Last. “Probably at least a decade. But when a shock of this magnitude happens, the ripples take a long time to work their way out.” 

 

Lyman Stone, a research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was similarly unsurprised by the state numbers.

 

Back in Feb., 2020, Stone predicted that not only would there be no spike in births due to the coronavirus, but also that the virus--and ensuing state measures to prevent its spread, such as mandatory lockdowns--would result in a decline. At the time, he said that many people were skeptical of this assessment but he now believes that has “been vindicated.” 

 

“Lockdowns communicate worry and a negative outlook on society, which motivates pessimism about fertility,” Stone told CNA on Tuesday. 

 

Stone said that he does “not see any reason to be optimistic” about birth rates in the United States, but he added that they may stabilize after the pandemic is over. 

 

“If early data on January births shows a decline above 10-15% for that month, that would be a negative surprise,” he said. “Alternatively, if births remain far below trend after October 2021, that would also be very worrying.”

 

Despite this, Stone does not think that people should worry about the pandemic when it comes to deciding whether or not to bring a child into the world.


“It’s always a good idea to have a kid,” he said.  

 

 

Members of Congress come out in support of Hyde Amendment

Washington D.C., Jan 26, 2021 / 09:30 am (CNA).- Nearly 200 members of Congress have signed a letter supporting bans on taxpayer funding of abortions.


On Tuesday, 197 House Republicans sent a letter to House and Senate leaders of both parties, in support of the Hyde Amendment and other pro-life “riders” that are attached to federal budget bills and which prohibit funding of abortions.

 

“We write to express our unified opposition to Congressional Democrats’ efforts to repeal the Hyde Amendment and other current-law, pro-life appropriations provisions,” the letter stated, which was led by House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), chair of the Republican Study Committee.

 

The provisions in question “generally prevent the federal government from using taxpayer dollars to support abortion procedures,” the members wrote. “Repealing these pro-life provisions would destroy nearly half a century of bipartisan consensus.”

 

The Hyde Amendment, enacted into law each year since 1976 as part of budget legislation, prohibits federal funding of abortions in Medicaid. Members of both parties—including former Senator Joe Biden—have voted for appropriations bills that included Hyde provisions.

 

Democrats in recent years have stated their intent to repeal the policy. The 2016 Democratic Party platform called for its repeal, and in 2019 some Democratic members made a last-minute unsuccessful attempt to repeal the Hyde Amendment in an appropriations bill.

 

During the 2020 presidential campaign, President Joe Biden reversed his long-standing support for the Hyde Amendment, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in August that she intended not to include the policy in FY 2022 appropriations bills.

 

In the senate, meanwhile, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has vocally supported the Hyde Amendment. Pro-life groups have turned their focus to the moderate senator as a possible vote to oppose pro-abortion policies in the next two years.

 

Last week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) supported the Hyde Amendment, in a response to Mark Irons of EWTN News Nightly. Hyde “should not just be a Republican issue. It’s an American issue,” McCarthy stated.

 

 

With Democrats holding power in Washington, @markironsmedia asks House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, @GOPLeader, about the future of the Hyde Amendment. It prevents taxpayer money from funding abortions. McCarthy says both parties have supported it for decades. pic.twitter.com/zFfnVWfzx2

— EWTN News Nightly (@EWTNNewsNightly) January 21, 2021  

 

In their letter on Tuesday, the Republican members stated that Hyde is estimated to have resulted in more than two million fewer abortions since 1976, “and continues to protect the conscience rights of a vast majority of Americans opposed to publicly funded abortions.”


In the years after the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, members in Congress fought over whether and to what extent legal abortions should be publicly funded. In 1977, the federal government shut down three times over debates on abortion funding.

 

The Hyde Amendment had just been enacted in 1976, named after former Congressman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), and has been passed into law each year as a rider to appropriations bills.

 

Over the years, provisions similar to Hyde have been included in other congressional funding bills. Such provisions have prohibited funding of abortions at the Defense Department, in health plans for federal employees, in federal prisons, and in the District of Columbia.

 

Existing pro-life provisions could be at stake in the new Congress, and pro-life groups are expecting that the next COVID relief bill might not have language expressly prohibiting funding of abortions, abortion providers, and abortion coverage.

Vatican exonerates retired bishop of multiple abuse claims but issues canonical rebuke

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 26, 2021 / 08:15 am (CNA).- The Vatican’s doctrinal congregation has exonerated retired Bishop Joseph Hart of Cheyenne over numerous accusations of the sexual abuse of minors, but issued a canonical rebuke. 

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) said that the bishop had acted irresponsibly as a priest and upheld restrictions placed on him in 2018. 

In January 2018, the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming, began an investigation into claims of abuse by Hart, its retired bishop. Hart, who is now 89 years old, led the diocese from 1978 until his 70th birthday in 2001. 

The diocese said that its investigative team “were convinced that we had sufficient evidence to conclude with moral certainty that the six accusations against Bishop Hart are credible” and passed the case to Rome for a final decision in the canonical process.

The diocese announced on Jan. 25 that the CDF had concluded that Hart was “exonerated of seven accusations, and five other accusations could not be proven with moral certitude.” 

In a statement, Cheyenne diocese said: “Therefore, based on the assessment of the bishop delegate, Bishop Hart’s guilt was not proven with moral certitude, which is held to be equivalent to ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’ the legal standard of proof required to impose a criminal conviction. These findings do not equate to innocence; rather, a high burden of proof has not been met.” 

Hart was accused of sexually abusing children in the mid-1970s, and he received many accusations against him in 1989, 1992, 2002, and 2004. In 2008, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, where he was ordained a priest before his consecration as an auxiliary bishop in 1976, paid a settlement to 47 victims of clerical sexual abuse, some of whom alleged that they were abused by Hart. 

Hart was additionally accused of solicitation in confession.

According to the diocese, the accusations against Hart involved 11 males and one female. The CDF found that two of the accusers did not meet the standard for abuse of a minor as the alleged victims were 16 and 17 at a time when the Code of Canon Law considered anyone under the age of 16 to be a minor. It is now 18. 

The diocese said: “As a matter of record, it should be noted that the decree made no mention of assessing one credible allegation of a male under 16 years of age, which the Diocese of Cheyenne reported to the CDF. This individual’s name was not listed in the allegations adjudicated in the penal process.” 

Despite clearing Hart of the charges, the CDF issued a canonical rebuke to the retired bishop. 

The Vatican congregation rebuked Hart “for his flagrant lack of prudence as a priest and bishop for being alone with minors in his private residence and on various trips, which could have been potential occasions endangering the ‘obligation to observe continence’ and that would ‘give rise to scandal among the faithful.’”

Hart was further rebuked “for his disregard of the urgent requests that he refrain from public engagements that would cause scandal among the faithful due to the numerous accusations against him and the civil and canonical investigations and processes being conducted in his regard.”

The CDF did not lift the restrictions imposed on Hart in 2018 and reminded him that he should not have “any contact with minors, youth, seminarians and vulnerable adults” or preside over any public celebration of the liturgy. 

In 2020, prosecutors declined to press charges against Hart, due to insufficient evidence of the claims of abuse. At that time, Bishop Steven Biegler, the current bishop of Cheyenne, issued a statement saying that, despite the lack of criminal charges, he believed the allegations to be credible and supported the alleged survivors of abuse. 

Biegler reiterated his support for abuse survivors in the Jan. 25 release from the diocese. 

“Today, I want the survivors to know that I support and believe you,” said Biegler. “I understand that this announcement will not bring closure to the survivors, their family members, Bishop Hart and all those affected.”

Biegler added that he “will continue to work and pray for their healing and for all involved in these painful and distressing matters.” 

“In the Diocese of Cheyenne, we remain steadfast in our commitment to protect the most vulnerable and to accompany those who have been harmed on a journey of healing.”

Memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus, bishops

Reading I 2 Tm 1:1-8

Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God
for the promise of life in Christ Jesus,
to Timothy, my dear child:
grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father
and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am grateful to God,
whom I worship with a clear conscience as my ancestors did,
as I remember you constantly in my prayers, night and day.
I yearn to see you again, recalling your tears,
so that I may be filled with joy, 
as I recall your sincere faith
that first lived in your grandmother Lois
and in your mother Eunice
and that I am confident lives also in you.

For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power and love and self-control.
So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord,
nor of me, a prisoner for his sake;
but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel
with the strength that comes from God.

OR:

Ti 1:1-5

Paul, a slave of God and Apostle of Jesus Christ
for the sake of the faith of God’s chosen ones
and the recognition of religious truth,
in the hope of eternal life 
that God, who does not lie, promised before time began,
who indeed at the proper time revealed his word
in the proclamation with which I was entrusted
by the command of God our savior,
to Titus, my true child in our common faith:
grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our savior.

For this reason I left you in Crete
so that you might set right what remains to be done
and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you.

Responsorial Psalm 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 7-8a, 10

R.    (3)  Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Sing to the LORD a new song;
    sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name.
R.    Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Announce his salvation, day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations;
    among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
R.    Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Give to the LORD, you families of nations,
    give to the LORD glory and praise;
    give to the LORD the glory due his name!
R.    Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
Say among the nations: The LORD is king.
He has made the world firm, not to be moved;
    he governs the peoples with equity.
R.    Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.

Alleluia See Mt 11:25

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth;
you have revealed to little ones the mysteries of the Kingdom.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mk 3:31-35

The mother of Jesus and his brothers arrived at the house.
Standing outside, they sent word to Jesus and called him.
A crowd seated around him told him,
“Your mother and your brothers and your sisters
are outside asking for you.”
But he said to them in reply,
“Who are my mother and my brothers?”
And looking around at those seated in the circle he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of God
is my brother and sister and mother.”
 

- - -

Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine; Psalm refrain © 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither this work nor any part of it may be reproduced, distributed, performed or displayed in any medium, including electronic or digital, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

As Senate dynamic shifts, pro-lifers examine Manchin’s record

Washington D.C., Jan 25, 2021 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- As Democrats last week took effective control of the Senate, pro-life leaders turned their attention to the record of one senator who could cast pivotal votes in the next two years.

 

Having gained control of 50 seats in the Senate, Democrats now enjoy a narrow majority in the chamber courtesy of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. However, when the process of reconciliation is invoked—a Senate procedure by which only 50 votes are needed to pass certain budget-related measures—every vote will count. And the name of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is being discussed by pro-life groups as a possible obstacle to Democrats passing pro-abortion items.

 

Manchin, a moderate West Virginia Democrat who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010 after serving as governor of that state, has been known to cast pro-life votes before.

 

He joined Republicans in voting for two important pro-life policies in the last Congress, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act and the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. Manchin also recently pledged his support for the Hyde Amendment, a long-standing policy which prohibits federal funding of elective abortions--despite growing calls within his party to rescind that amendment. 

 

However, despite these votes and statements, Manchin’s scores from pro-life groups range from an “F” rating on life to 100% pro-life.

 

David O’Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), told CNA that Manchin earned a perfect 100% score from NRLC for his votes in the 116th Congress. However, the group gave him mixed ratings in previous congresses, such as a 42% rating the 115th Congress and a 75% rating in the 114th Congress.

 

These lower grades were largely due to disagreement over the Affordable Care Act. While Manchin has supported the law, some pro-life groups—along with the U.S. bishops’ conference—have opposed it because it ultimately allowed for public funding of abortions.

 

“So you kind of see a pattern here,” O’Steen said. “On standalone abortion votes, he [Manchin] will vote with us.

 

He added that “the changes in percentages are not so much that he [Manchin] is changing, it’s that the issues before him are changing.” 

 

O’Steen said he wouldn’t speculate on Manchin’s future votes, but added that “we will certainly be in touch with Senator Manchin.” 

 

“We would certainly be hopeful that he would listen to the concerns of the pro-life movement,” he said, adding that before his time in the Senate, Manchin was a pro-life governor. 

 

Mallory Quigley, vice president of communications for the Susan B. Anthony List, told CNA this month that while Manchin “voted pro-life consistently” during the last Congress, he “has an overall very mixed record throughout his time in Congress.” The group gave Manchin an “F” rating on its congressional scorecard. 

 

Quigley argued that in a Congress with a pro-abortion majority, “the most important issue for the pro-life movement becomes the filibuster.”

 

The filibuster is a Senate procedure by which one senator may object to a vote on legislation and hold up its passage; 60 votes are required to break a filibuster and vote on legislation. Pro-life groups have stated that if the filibuster is abolished, Democrats could successfully pass pro-abortion policies needing only 50 votes.

 

“The most important thing Sen. Manchin can do is to prevent the destruction of the filibuster which would allow a simple majority of pro-abortion Senators to expand the Court and radically change the structure of our government – destroying the system of checks and balances put in place by our Founders,” Quigley told CNA in a statement.

 

“We hope he [Manchin] will adhere to his declared position of opposing the destruction of the filibuster, as well as his support for the Hyde Amendment – the pro-life movement, and his WV constituents, will thank him if he does,” Quigley said.

 

On Monday, SBA List thanked Manchin for pledging to uphold the filibuster and the Hyde Amendment, launching a $200,000 campaign highlighting his position to preserve the filibuster. 

 

Manchin’s office declined to comment to CNA on the differing scores of his voting record. 

 

Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life, told CNA in an interview that she has found Manchin to be both reliable and direct. 

 

“You don’t have to worry about where he stands,” Day said of Manchin. “He’s been a big supporter of Democrats for Life. I feel very comfortable with Senator Manchin being with us.” 

 

Day praised Manchin for reiterating his support last month for the Hyde amendment--which prohibits the use of taxpayer funds for elective abortion procedures--despite calls from many in his own party to rescind it.  

 

But Day said she understands distrust in the pro-life community towards the Democratic Party. 

 

“I think there is a realistic concern about Democrats because there have been so many that have turned. But I think we have to support these pro-life Democrats, we have to establish this trust,” she said. “If we start trusting each other it will be better for the movement.” 

 

Second man accuses Chicago’s Father Pfleger of sex abuse

CNA Staff, Jan 25, 2021 / 02:24 pm (CNA).- A second alleged victim has accused activist Chicago priest Fr. Michael Pfleger of sexually abusing him as a minor decades ago, the Chicago archdiocese has confirmed to local media. The priest has strongly denied both accusations, which come from two brothers.

The Chicago archdiocese’s general counsel had “just received” the second allegation Sunday evening, a spokesperson told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“It is important to note that Fr. Pfleger remains removed from ministry pending the outcome of civil and church investigations,” said the spokesperson. “We will continue to follow our process as we do with all such allegations.”

Pfleger’s lawyers, James Figliulo and Michael Monico, issued a statement on his behalf.

“Father Pfleger has never abused them or anybody else. These allegations are false and are simply being made for money. This is a shakedown,” their statement said, according to ABC7 Chicago.

The two brothers were the youngest of five children who grew up in a poor neighborhood on Chicago’s west side, the Chicago Tribune reports. Their single mother insisted they go to church to avoid gangs and drugs. They joined the choir at Precious Blood Catholic Church, which was directed by Pfleger, then a seminarian. They said they were each sexually abused dozens of times over several years, beginning in the 1970s in Pfleger’s room at three churches, including Precious Blood and St. Sabina. They said they were 12 or 13 years old when the abuse began.

They said the priest would take them out for pizza, for movies, or for travel to other parishes to perform. Pfleger often gave them pocket money and once took them to the Six Flags amusement park in St. Louis, they said.

The brothers do not want to be named publicly to protect the privacy of relatives in Chicago and for fear of possible negative reactions from Pfleger’s supporters.

The men, both Black, are in their early 60s and live in Texas. The younger brother told the other brother that he had filed the complaint against Pfleger, and the older man said that he had also been abused by the priest.

Pfleger’s attorneys said one of the accusers had sent the priest a handwritten letter asking for $20,000, saying, “I am asking for a one time payment to help me move on in this troubled and confused time in my life. I did not want to put a price, but I must.” The attorneys suggested this supports the idea that accusers are seeking money.

The younger brother, who wrote the letter, rejected the claim that his motivation was purely financial, and said he wanted the payment to be proof that he was abused. He said he was motivated to come forward by a Nov. 28 televised interview with Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington. Gregory, a former priest and auxiliary bishop of the Chicago archdiocese, spoke about the Catholic Church’s failures to respond to child sexual abuse.

The brothers said they had met or seen Gregory several times. Gregory said in a statement he did not remember the brothers’ family but he voiced confidence in the archdiocese’s investigation, the Chicago Tribune said.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago asked Pfleger to step away from his duties in early January after the first accusation.

“Allegations are claims that have not been proven as true or false. Therefore, guilt or innocence should not be assumed,” Cupich said in a Jan. 5 statement about the first accusation. “Father Pfleger has agreed to cooperate fully with my request and will live away from the parish while this matter is investigated.”

The archdiocese reported the first allegation to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Cook County State’s Attorney.

Pfleger, who is white, has been a politically involved community leader based out of the predominantly African-American Saint Sabina Parish. He has served at the church since 1983 and is presently described as its senior pastor.

The 71-year-old priest indicated that many people had reached out to him after the Chicago archdiocese announced the first allegation Jan. 5. He said he was “devastated, hurt and yes angry,” but put his trust in God. He asked for prayers for his accuser.

Cupich’s Jan. 5 statement said the Chicago archdiocese “takes all allegations of sexual misconduct seriously and encourages anyone who feels they have been sexually abused by a priest, deacon, religious or lay employee to come forward.”

“It is crucial that you know nothing is more important than the welfare of the children entrusted to our care,” he said.

Pfleger’s biography on the Saint Sabina Church website said that since 1968 he has lived and ministered in the African-American community on the west and south sides of Chicago. He worked two summers in a Native American community in Oklahoma, and as a seminarian he interned at Cook County Jail and at Chicago’s Precious Blood Church.

He adopted an eight-year-old boy in 1981 and adopted another boy in 1992. In 1997, he became foster father to Jarvis Franklin, who was killed in 1998 in the crossfire of a gang shooting.

His causes include opposition to gun violence and support for gun control. He has also helped launch several employment and social services programs for youth, the elderly and the homeless.

At times he has voiced support for the ordination of women as Catholic priests, a position which the Church has held to be incompatible with the Catholic understanding of the priesthood.

Pfleger has often been a source of controversy. In 2019 he invited controversial preacher Louis Farrakhan to speak at his parish after Farrakhan was banned from Facebook for violating its hate speech policies. Farrakhan is the founder of the Chicago-based group Nation of Islam and has a history of anti-Semitic preaching.

During the controversial 2008 Democratic presidential primary, the late Cardinal Francis George publicly responded to comments Pfleger made deriding Sen. Hillary Clinton and advocating the candidacy of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

In addition, in 2011 George suspended Pfleger from his ministry at St. Sabina and barred him from celebrating the sacraments because of public statements Pfleger had made threatening to leave the Church if he were reassigned from his current parish. George reinstated Pfleger after the priest apologized.

Father Thulani Magwaza is serving as temporary parish administrator during Pfleger’s current absence. Magwaza stood in as parish administrator during the priest’s 2011 suspension as well.

Appeals court rules on California churches that challenged Covid restrictions

CNA Staff, Jan 25, 2021 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- An appeals court last week ruled for a second time against a California church which challenged the state’s rules barring in-person worship services for much of the state, deciding that a total ban on indoor worship services in most areas of the state is justified to block the spread of coronavirus.

The same court ruled Jan. 25 to prevent the state from enforcing fixed numerical attendance limits in areas where indoor worship is allowed, in favor of limits based on percentage of the house of worship’s capacity.

South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista had brought a legal challenge on First Amendment grounds against California’s COVID-19 restrictions, which currently prohibit indoor worship in most areas, while allowing unlimited attendance at outdoor services.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Jan. 22 ruled against the church, affirming a district court’s previous ruling and concluding that “California’s restrictions on indoor worship are narrowly tailored to meet its compelling—and immediate—state interest in stopping the community spread of the deadly coronavirus.”

Under current California rules, indoor worship services are banned in all “purple-tiered” counties; counties deemed to have “widespread” transmission risk based on the number of cases per 100,000 and the average positivity rate.

All but four of the state’s counties are currently classified in the purple tier, and as of Jan. 19, the “purple” tier covered 99.9% of California’s population.

California is the only state in the country with an indoor worship services ban. In the second-highest tier, red, indoor services are allowed but only with 25% capacity or— until the 9th Circuit’s Monday ruling— 100 people, whichever is fewer.

In the 9th Circuit’s Monday ruling, the court wrote in a case brought by Harvest Rock Church that in light of the South Bay decision, the court would not strike down the total ban on indoor worship, but would enjoin the state from enforcing its numerical restrictions in lower tiers.

Instead, the state may only enforce the attendance limitations based on the percentage of total capacity, the court said.

Harvest Rock had alleged that Governor Gavin Newsom applied a double-standard during the nine months of the pandemic, curbing religious services while allowing comparable non-religious gatherings and mass protests to continue “without numerical restriction.”

The Supreme Court had in December 2020 vacated the district court ruling against South Bay and sent the case back to the circuit court for consideration in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in a November case brought by the Diocese of Brooklyn.

New York state in October had limited indoor religious gatherings in certain areas to only 10 people, with other areas limited to 25 people, due to the spread of the virus in those areas, while allowing other venues to open and operate under far less restrictions.

The federal Second Circuit court ordered that the 10 and 25-person caps to worship had to be suspended while the case is pending.

In another recent and influential case, the Supreme Court in December 2020 vacated a district court decision, granting a church’s requested injunction on the state’s order that limited indoor worship to 50 people in certain areas where the virus was spreading. The court then sent the case back to the lower courts for reconsideration in light of the Brooklyn diocese case.

Supreme Court rules favorably toward inmate requesting priest at execution

Washington D.C., Jan 25, 2021 / 12:55 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court on Monday ruled favorably toward a Catholic death row inmate requesting the presence of a priest at his execution.

In a set of orders released on Monday morning, the court vacated a ruling of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court against Ruben Gutierrez, a Catholic death row inmate in Texas challenging the state’s prohibition of chaplains at executions.

In addition to vacating the Fifth Circuit Court ruling, the Supreme Court also sent Gutierrez’s case back to lower courts for reconsideration, in light of findings by a district court that a chaplain inside the state execution chamber wouldn’t present security concerns.

One attorney at the religious freedom legal group Becket said the decision was a win for religious freedom, and called on the state of Texas to stop fighting Gutierrez’s case in court and provide him with a priest at his execution.

Eric Rassbach, attorney at Becket, called the ruling an “important” victory for religious freedom and called on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice “to take the hint and reinstate the centuries-old practice of affording comfort of clergy to the condemned.”

Gutierrez was sentenced to death for the 1998 murder of Escolastica Harrison, an 85-year-old woman, during an attempted robbery. He has maintained his innocence, saying he was part of the robbery but did not commit the murder of Harrison. 

He had requested that his prison’s Catholic chaplain be present in the execution chamber at his death. Gutierrez’s request was denied due to a 2019 state execution protocol prohibiting chaplains in the execution chamber. 

He challenged the policy in court, alleging that it violated his rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). 

The Supreme Court ultimately stayed his execution, which had been scheduled for June 16, 2020, instructing the district court to consider the security concerns of a chaplain being present in the execution chamber. The district court later found that “no serious security problems would result” from a chaplain being present in the execution chamber. 

Last summer, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops had called the state’s denial of a chaplain for Gutierrez “an egregious rejection of the possibility of forgiveness and redemption while the state commits the violence of an execution.” 

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, said the state’s decision was “cruel and inhuman.”

 

Pro-lifers pleasantly surprised at Kentucky’s enactment of ‘Born-Alive’ bill

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 25, 2021 / 11:45 am (CNA).- A Kentucky bill requiring appropriate medical care for babies surviving attempted abortions became law on Friday.

 

Gov. Andy Bashear (D) neither signed nor vetoed the “Born-Alive” bill that passed the state legislature. The bill, SB9, requires that infants who are born alive after an attempted abortion be given appropriate medical care. 

 

Kentucky’s legislature passed the bill on Jan. 9, and sent it to Bashear later that day. After nearly two weeks had passed without either a veto or signature, the bill automatically became law on Jan. 22, the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. 

 

The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List declared it an “Unexpected #ProLife victory,” as Beshear had vetoed six other bills that had been sent to him.

 

The bill had received support from members of both political parties and was passed overwhelmingly by votes of 76-18 in the state house and 32-4 in the state senate. 

 

The text of the bill reads “Any born-alive infant, including one (1) born in the course of an abortion procedure, shall be treated as a legal person under the laws of this Commonwealth, with the same rights to medically appropriate and reasonable care and treatment.”

 

Violation of the law results in the suspension of a medical license; it also parents to file civil cases against the medical professionals complicit violating the law. 

 

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-Crofton), tweeted on January 22 that he believed the bill was now law and that the veto window had passed. 

 

“Working to confirm, but it seems SB9, Kentucky’s Born Alive Infant Protection Act, has become law without the Governor’s signature,” said Westerfield. “Yesterday was the deadline for a veto. I’ll take it.” 

 

Westerfield later confirmed that the bill was indeed law, and that it was “a good day!”. He noted that the bill became law on the 48th anniversary “of the tragic Roe v Wade decision.”  

 

“I have hope that there are still victories for life ahead,” said Westerfield.

 

Beshear received support from pro-abortion groups during his campaign, and he has vetoed similar pro-life legislation during his time as governor. This is the first piece of pro-life legislation to become law during his time as governor. 

 

Federal “Born-Alive” legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Congress, but did not receive a vote in the 116th Congress. In the House, 205 members signed a “discharge petition” to bring the bill to the House Floor for full consideration, but the effort fell short of the necessary 218 signatures for action.