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St. Cornelius, Pope, Martyr and St. Cyprian, Bishop, Martyr

Saint Cornelius was elected Pope in 251 during the persecutions of the Emperor Decius. His first challenge, besides the ever present threat of the Roman authorities, was to bring an end to the schism brought on by his rival, the first anti-pope Novatian. He convened a synod of bishops to confirm him as the rightful successor of Peter. The great controversy that arose as a result of the Decian persecution was whether or not the Church could pardon and receive back into the Church those who had apostacized in the face of martyrdom.  Against both the bishops who argued that the Church could not welcome back apostates, and those who argued that they should be welcomed back but did not demand a heavy penance of the penitent, Cornelius decreed that they must be welcomed back and insisted that they perform an adequate penance. In 253 Cornelius was exiled by the emperor Gallus and died of the hardships he endured in exile. He is venerated as a martyr. Saint Cyprian of Carthage is second in importance only to the great Saint Augustine as a figure and Father of the African church. He was a close friend of Pope Cornelius, and supported him both against the anti-pope Novatian and in his views concerning the re-admittance of apostates into the Church. Saint Cyprian was born to wealthy pagans around the year 190, and was educated in the classics and in rhetoric. He converted at the age of 56, was ordained a priest a year later, and made bishop two years after that. His writings are of great importance, especially his treatise on The Unity of the Catholic Church, in which he argues that unity is grounded in the authority of the bishop, and among the bishops, in the primacy of the See of Rome. In, "The Unity of the Catholic Church," St. Cyprian writes, "You cannot have God for your Father if you do not have the Church for your mother.... God is one and Christ is one, and his Church is one; one is the faith, and one is the people cemented together by harmony into the strong unity of a body.... If we are the heirs of Christ, let us abide in the peace of Christ; if we are the sons of God, let us be lovers of peace." During the Decian persecutions Cyprian considered it wiser to go into hiding and guide his flock covertly rather than seek the glorious crown of martyrdom, a decision that his enemies attacked him for. On September 14, 258, however, he was martyred during the persecutions of the emperor Valerian.

Suicide is on the rise - What can the Catholic Church do to help?

Denver, Colo., Sep 15, 2019 / 04:42 pm (CNA).- This past week marked National Suicide Prevention Week in the United States, a week where mental and public health advocates share tips and advice on suicide prevention and spotting the warning signs of suicide.

On Monday of that week, popular evangelical pastor and mental health advocate Jarrid Wilson, 30, reportedly committed suicide. Just hours prior to his death, Wilson had posted a message on Twitter about Jesus’ compassion for the depressed and suicidal.

“Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts,” Wilson wrote. “Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure PTSD. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure anxiety. But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort. He ALWAYS does that,” Wilson tweeted.

Wilson had been a long-time advocate for mental health, and founded “Anthem of Hope,” a Christian outreach for the depressed and suicidal, with his wife. His death followed that of Pastor Andrew Stoecklein, another young, vibrant evangelical pastor and mental health advocate, who committed suicide last year. 

In the span of just 16 years, suicide rates among working-age Americans (aged 16-64 years) spiked 34% between 2000 and 2016, according to data from the Center for Disease Control. Among Americans aged 10-24, the spike was even more dramatic - CDC data shows a 50% increase in suicides among this group between 2000-2017.

The suicides of these two pastors highlight this concerning upward trend in suicide, especially among young people, even among those who are part of a Christian community.

CNA spoke with three mental health professionals about why suicide rates, particularly among young people, are increasing, and what the Catholic Church and other faith communities can do to help.

Overconnected, and under pressure

Deacon Basil Ryan Balke is a licensed therapist at Mount Tabor Counseling in the Denver area, and the co-host of the podcast “Catholic Psyche,” which aims to educate people on the integration between the psychological sciences and Catholic spirituality, philosophy and theology. He is also a married deacon with the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church.

Balke told CNA that he thinks one of the driving factors of an increase in suicide among teens and young adults is their constant connectedness to the world through mobile devices, coupled with a lack of greater meaning in their lives.

“When I was in high school...I would go home, and I wouldn't really have any contact with my friends unless I wanted it,” Balke said.

“And now with the saturation of the iPhone...you get the communication that is constantly there and constantly moving and so you can never unplug, and you can never continue on with life outside of the image you have to put out into the world (through social media),” he said.

“They’re always distracted, always moving forward. I was a youth minister for many years as well, and it was just - these kids never had a moment's peace,” he added.

Tommy Tighe is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the Bay area in California, who also hosts a podcast on Catholicism and mental health called “St. Dymphna’s Playbook.” Tighe told CNA that despite having more connections, young people today are more isolated than ever.

“There's so much more pressure...there’s so much more of a drive to be popular,” Tighe said, but social media connections often do not equate to “a close-knit community of close friends.”

According to a 2015 article from the peer-reviewed research journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, frequent social media use in children and teenagers is associated with poor psychological functioning, as it limits their daily face-to-face interactions, impairing their ability to keep and maintain meaningful relationships.

The study found that students who reported using social media for two or more hours daily were more likely to poorly rate their own mental health, and experienced high levels of psychological distress and suicidal ideation.

“There’s a trend towards superficial relationships, and of course you don't post on Instagram ‘I'm depressed’ or something like that, so I think people don't know who to reach out to,” Tighe noted.

Furthermore, Balke said, “I think what is also happening is the younger people have lost meaning in their day-to-day lives as well. I think all of us have lost meaning as a force in our lives.”

Balke said especially for young people, there is an increasingly intense pressure to perform academically or athletically that has replaced the things that used to bring people a sense of greater purpose, such as faith or virtue or close familial connections.

“Whether it be sports, they have to be track stars, they have to be in all AP (advanced placement) classes, they have to have like 30 college credits before they graduate high school, a 4.0 is not good enough anymore it's gotta be a 4.3 or something,” he said. “I don't even know how you do that. They're pushing themselves so aggressively to the point where there's no meaning behind it all because they don't have an overarching purpose. These things are substitutes for that.”

“You might do something stupid like literally eating a tide pod, laundry detergent, and you become world-famous for thirty seconds. It's so crazy,” he said. “It's like these kids are just waiting for their next big break.” 

The lingering stigma of mental health care

Another driving factor in the spike in suicides among young people and other populations is the lingering stigma of seeking out therapy or other mental health interventions, Tighe said.

“I think we try to act like we’ve really changed (as a society) in our perception of mental health, but I don't think that's really true,” Tighe said.

“Especially...it seems like every time there's one of these mass tragedies in our country, mental health gets brought up and I think that pushes people even further away from wanting to reach out or identify as having an issue,” he added.

Additionally, Tighe said, not only do young people today have a harder time making meaningful relationships with their peers, parents are also often afraid to broach the subject of suicide and mental health with their children.

“I'm hoping that the younger generation of parents will be a little bit more willing, but it's scary, right? That’s super scary to talk about.”

But talk about it parents must, Balke said, and the more specific they are, the better.

“You want to use that exact phrase: ‘Are you thinking about killing yourself?’ Or ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ You don't want to use the phrase ‘self harm,’ or ‘Are you thinking about hurting yourself?’” he said. “You want to be very clear.”

Some people fear that bringing up suicide may plant the idea of suicide in their child’s head, or may worsen their depression, but Balke said that studies show that these fears are unfounded.

“Statistically speaking - you can't catch suicidal thoughts,” Balke said. “You're not going to be pushing kids to become suicidal by asking, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ That’s actually... helping them come out of that isolation.”

The Soul Shop movement: helping congregations prevent suicide 

In 1999, Fe Anam Avis was the pastor of a Presbyterian church in a small suburban town in southern Ohio when the suicide of three students within seven months rocked his community.

Searching for help and resources for his grieving congregants, he found that there was little to nothing when it came to faith-based resources for suicide prevention and mental health. He started traveling to speak about suicide, but noticed that clergy and church leaders weren’t among his audience members.

“He said, ‘I would go to these towns and they would have me in a fire hall and I would give a presentation about suicide and a hundred people would show up in a small town. And not one of them would be a clergy person,’” Michelle Snyder told CNA. Snyder is the director of Soul Shop, an organization founded by Fe that trains clergy and congregations in suicide prevention and interventions. Fe has since retired.

“(Fe) said consistently it felt like people in the church were not connecting this issue of suicide prevention with faith, and pastors were just not showing up to engage with this as an issue as a matter of faith.”

That’s what spurred Fe to found Soul Shop movement, a group which now travels the country to give workshops to congregations on how to speak about suicide, how to prevent it, and what the warning signs are.

“I'll often say to a group of faith community leaders, if you're asking yourself the question, is anybody in my parish thinking about suicide? You're asking yourself the wrong question. Because the right question is, which six people out of the hundred here are thinking about suicide right now?” Snyder said.

Part of the training consists in simply raising the awareness among clergy and church leaders that there are people in desperation within their own congregations who are at risk for suicide and need help. Snyder said they also train congregations on how to support people who have been impacted by the suicide of a family member or friend.

In addition, they study the stories about suicide, or suicidal ideation, found in Bible passages.

“There's quite a few,” she said. “We've got Judas, the story of Judas, and that's a suicide. But you've also got stories like Elijah (who was) praying to die. You've got Saul, who fell on his own sword and killed himself...you've got Job, who said death would be better than what I'm experiencing. You've got lots of heroes in the Bible who thought about (it) or else just said, ‘I'm in so much pain. Death would be better,’ but who didn't attempt (it). So you've got lots of suicide - you've got suicide attempts, you've got suicides, you've got suicide intervention.”

They also train church leaders in spotting some of the warning signs of a person who is at risk for suicide.

Tighe said some of those warning signs include people who have been noticeably depressed for long periods of time, social withdrawal, talking about suicide or self-harm, or the giving away of prized pocessions, among other things.

A warning sign that might seem strange, Tighe said, is when someone who has been depressed for a while is suddenly and inexplicably happy again.

“If someone's been super depressed and then all of a sudden they're sort of feeling really good...that makes us very nervous, because sometimes it’s because they’ve made the decision like, okay, on Friday, I'm going to do it. And they feel like a burden lifted off their shoulders, because there's an end in sight,” he said.

When those risk factors are spotted, those are the times to specifically ask people if they’re considering suicide, Tighe added.

During the Soul Shop trainings, Snyder said, the group takes a public health approach to suicide, meaning that they train faith communities to take a collective responsibility for the health of their own people.

“We spend a whole day equipping communities of faith on how to be communities of faith in relationship to this issue,” she said.

One of the biggest suicide prevention tools that communities of faith can provide, Snyder said, is being full communities of faith, where people feel connected and valued as whole people, and not just for one aspect of their identity.

People who are more resiliant to suicide are those whose don’t have all of their “eggs in one basket,” Snyder noted.

“If every egg is in the basket of being on a full scholarship for football, and then I get injured, every egg was in that basket. I have no Plan B, and so that becomes a risk. And helping our people in our congregation become well-rounded people with lives that are full and rich and diverse can be a suicide prevention initiative.”

Soul Shop, church communities that are trained in suicide awareness and prevention are called “full faith communities,” Snyder said, which are “communities where people are intentionally connected to each other...communities where everybody knows what to look for. Communities where we are aware of our tendency to shun when we get uncomfortable and are challenged to not do that.”

What else can be done?

Besides hosting a Soul Shop or other suicide prevention training, what else can pastors and parishes do to help prevent suicide?

Balke said he would encourage all pastors to meet with their staff and frequent volunteers in order to familiarize them with locally available mental health resources. They should know the location of clinics, the hours of those clinics, and what crisis numbers to call, he said.

“They need to have quick access to them, so that when someone is coming in their office, or after a bible study or whatever it is when this kind of conversation comes up, they have it on their phone ready to go and they won't have to go searching for it,” he said.

Tighe said he recommended that parishes have flyers posted on their bulletin boards with information on local mental health resources, as well as local crisis hotlines to call or text. In the United States, texting “741741” will connect users to a crisis text line.

Text lines get great response rates, Tighe said, because “everyone's like, okay I would send a text, because it's easier. And they're incredible. We get people who come to our clinic who are like, ‘I was driving to the bridge, (because that's a very popular thing here in the Bay Area for people who are suicidal), and for whatever reason texted these people and they told me to come to your clinic before I went.”

Pastors and clergy should also make it a point to build a personal relationship with the mental health professionals in their congregation, Balke said.

“Someone that they can just phone and say, ‘Hey, what do you think about this? What should I do in this situation?’” he said. “I have a number of priests and deacons who have phoned me on a regular basis and say, ‘You know, someone came into my office and said this this and this. What's going on here?’”

Pastors and other church leaders also need to treat suicide and mental health issues with the seriousness they deserve, Balke said, and not treat them as something that is either not a serious issue, or something that can be solved solely by prayer or spiritual direction.

“Mental health in the Church is a real problem, and...it's not necessarily being addressed with the seriousness, from an institutional level, that it deserves. People are committing suicide in our parishes and in our churches.”

Snyder said that she is confident that, if properly trained, churches and parishes have a key role to play in preventing suicides in their communities.

“We talk a lot about putting your seatbelt on before the accident happens. And that's kind of what we're describing here, is how do we do that in faith communities long before crisis strikes,” she said.

 

A bowl of soup, and a chance for compassion

Elmira, NY, Sep 14, 2019 / 04:25 am (CNA).- For nearly 15 years, a Catholic charity in south-central New York has sold ceramic bowls to raise both money for a local food pantry and awareness about the problem of homelessness in the region.

Catholic Charities of Chemung and Schuyler Counties is preparing for its 14th annual Empty Bowls Luncheon on Oct. 15, where donors will eat soup and hear the stories of homelessness.

Lindsay Baker, director of development for Catholic Charities in the area told CNA that the project informs people on poverty statistics and provides them with a souvenir bowl as a reminder of all the “empty bowls in the community.”

The project is a major event for the region. Local artists, including high-schoolers and students and faculty from nearby Elmira College, handcraft commemorative bowls for the luncheon.

“[We have partnered] with our local potters. They create commemorative bowls for each participant to take home with them. It’s meant to be a reminder of hunger in the community,” Baker said.

Most of the bowls are made by professional artisans, like Gene Carr, a local artist who helps each year with the pottery. Bowls are also made by two Elmira professors - Doug Holtgrewe, a former teacher of ceramic, and Chris Longwell, a professor of art. So far, they have made more than 200 bowls for the event.

Participants choose a custom-created bowl when they enter the luncheon, and are served soup from a local deli. Baker said last year the soup was chicken noodle and pumpkin squash.

“The idea is that you are satisfied but you are not stuffed. It’s a hunger awareness event so you may not leave extremely full, but people leaving the soup kitchen don’t always leave full too,” she told CNA.

During the event, those who have been homeless, or whose family members have been homeless, tell their stories.

“Last year, we had a woman share her story. Her son had been in a homeless shelter and he’s a heroin addict. She talked about the struggle she went through and how Catholic Charities met him where he is at and how is on a much better path,” Baker said.

She said the testimonies are a cause for personal reflection, but they’re also fun.

During lunch this year, Baker will read three testimonies from community members who have struggled with poverty. After the three people gather on stage, the crowd will guess which story belongs to whom.

She said the testimonies emphasize the work of Catholic Charities and the success of people who have overcome homelessness. She said stories help contextualize the reality of poverty because the testimonies are from ordinary people in the local community.

“I think this is one of the few events that highlight that it can happen to anybody. We have community members, we have volunteers, we have donors who will share their story. It’s not just somebody else’s problem. It’s actual human beings you can see.”

Proceeds will go to the Samaritan Center, an emergency shelter and a food pantry for homeless families and individuals. According to Catholic Charities, $40, the cost of a single ticket, will allow the organization to feed a family for a week, and $320, the cost for a table of eight, will cover the cost to temporarily shelter 15 people.

Baker said the event is a force for good in the region. She said the project is not only a fundraiser for the Samaritan Center, but it also promotes mental healthcare and awakens people to a reality which is often neglected.

“I think people are kind of numb to the reality of what life is like for some people,” she said. “[This event], in a nice way, slaps them in the face and tells them what life is like. People really leave moved. They have a better appreciation for what is going on behind the scenes.”

Missouri AG refers 12 former clerics for prosecution

St. Louis, Mo., Sep 13, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt released Friday a report on his investigation into sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clerics in the state, and referred 12 former clerics for potential criminal prosecution.

“Since I took office, one of my top priorities has been conducting a thorough, exhaustive review of allegations of abuse by clergy members in the Roman Catholic Church. Today, as a result of that review, we are announcing that we will refer 12 cases of alleged abuse to local prosecutors for further investigation and possible prosecution – more referrals than any other state attorney general,” Schmitt, who is a Republican and a Catholic, said Sept. 13.

He added that his office will assist any local prosecutors who want to pursue charges.

“Additionally, we’ve provided concrete recommendations to the Catholic Church moving forward,” he added. He noted that his “suggestions for reform” are “aggressive and substantive.”

The attorney general's office made five recommendations in its report, the first of which was that “the Church should assume greater responsibility and oversight over all religious order priests and priests visiting or relating from other dioceses to subject them to the same procedures and oversight with regard to youth protection and clergy abuse as if they were diocesan priests.”

The report said that dioceses have less oversight over religious priests than their secular counterparts, and stated: “this arrangement has prevented the AGO from conducting a complete review of religious order priests working in Missouri. The AGO has had to rely on the scant diocesan records provided to it regarding these priests, along with information gathered from victims presenting evidence relating thereto.”

“Before granting faculties to a religious order priest or a priest from another diocese, the IRB should complete a meaningful and thorough review of the prospective priest’s records, rather than simply accepting a simple attestation from another bishop or provincial,” the office said.

It also recommended that each diocese ensure its “Independent Review Board is composed entirely of lay people and its determinations of credibility and sanctions will be given authoritative weight with respect to the ability of an offending priest to minister in its diocese.”

The third recommendation was that dioceses review all claims of abuse from before the 2002 adoption of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, subjecting them to the Charter's standards.

The office said that when the review boards have found credible allegations against priests, this “should be publicly disclosed without delay.” It stated that an offending priest's age and health should not be considered a reason to forgo dismissal from the clerical state, and that dioceses “should advocate for reforms of the laicization process so that it may be completed within one year after the IRB makes its decision,” or that “discussions of reform within the church should include proposals for expediting the process of laicizing priests after the completion of a diocesan review of misconduct and the establishment of a complete corroborating factual record.”

Finally, the attorney general's office recommended that “a robust program on notification and supervision of priests removed from public ministry or from the clerical state should be undertaken.”

The report said it recommendations would “strengthen oversight and protect victims from future abuse.”

The Archdiocese of St. Louis said that it is “taking the Attorney General’s recommendations to the Catholic Church into careful consideration and will continue to evaluate and enhance our safe environment programs for the safety of all of our families.”

Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City commented that “it is my sincere hope the report assists the Catholic Church in Missouri in achieving our goals of accountability and transparency, while respecting the legal standards for privacy of all affected by the report.”

“I will take into consideration the recommendations from the report on how we can improve our efforts to keep our children safe and in healthy environments,” he added.

Schmitt's investigation was begun last year by his predecessor, Josh Hawley.

His office reviewed the personnel records of priests serving in the state's four dioceses dating back to 1945, and spoke to abuse victims or their families who contacted the office.

The investigation found credible allegations of 163 instances of sexual abuse or misconduct by diocesan clerics against minors. The offenses range from boundary violations, such as inappropriate discussion or correspondence, to forcible rape.

Of the credibly accused, 83 are dead. Of the remaining 80, 46 are past the statue of limitations for prosecution, 16 have already been referred for prosecution, 12 will be referred for prosecution, five have been or are being investigated by prosecutors, and one is still under investigation by the Church.

The instances of misconduct “overwhelmingly” occurred before 2002, the report notes, and since that year the dioceses in Missouri “have implemented a series of reforms that have improved their response to, and reporting of, abuse.”

It added, however, “that since 2002, the church has, on occasion, failed to meet even its own internal procedures on abuse reporting andreporting to law enforcement,” citing Bishop Robert Finn's failure for five months to report possession of child pornography by one of his priests. Finn resigned from office in 2015.

The report said that since 2002 “the church has generally taken a much more pastoral approach to engaging with victims and has, in most instances, promptly reported suspected abuse.”

The attorney general's office identified what it called “certain internal and systematic failures of the dioceses,” saying first that “there is no independent oversight of a bishop’s day-to-day implementation of church protocols. Bishops report to no one below the Pope in the hierarchy of the church and, while uncoordinated and sometimes overlapping networks of associations and working groups exist throughout the states, regions and country, there is simply no single source of outside oversight over each bishop and no means by which best practices are effectively implemented.”

It asserted that “the lack of independent oversight of the bishops’ implementation of protocols, as well as the lack of independent review of allegations against bishops themselves, remain significant impediments to reform and improved protections.”

Judgment reached in Knights of Columbus contract lawsuit

Denver, Colo., Sep 13, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A federal jury concluded Thursday that the Knights of Columbus breached a verbal contract with a technology company that hoped to become a “designated vendor” for local councils and other organizations connected to the Catholic fraternal organization. The jury awarded plaintiff UKnight Interactive $500,000, far less than the $100 million its lawsuit petitioned for.

In a statement released Sept. 12, the Knights of Columbus said they were pleased that the jury saw the lawsuit as a “garden variety contract case,” and not the complex case of conspiracy or fraud alleged by the plaintiff.

In the course of litigation, the plaintiff alleged that the Knights of Columbus pad membership numbers, a charge the Knights of Columbus called “baseless.”

“As testimony and evidence during the trial revealed, the plaintiffs sought in this contract case to concoct a narrative about the manner and intent behind the way the Knights track its membership numbers. We defended ourselves vigorously against these false claims because we believe we owe it to the men who volunteer their time as members of this organization and to the many people who give generously to our charities to remove any doubt about the honesty, character and integrity of our organization,” the Knights of Columbus said.

UKnight Interactive first filed suit against the Knights of Columbus in 2017, claiming a verbal contract worth $100 million to UKnight had been broken, and that the fraternal organization used the company’s proprietary website design elements to seek contracts with other technology companies.

The Knights of Columbus denied that claim.

The Knights of Columbus, founded in 1882, are a Catholic fraternal and service organization, offering life insurance and other financial products to members. The organization began, in part, to provide insurance to Catholic immigrant laborers and their families. The Knights of Columbus claim nearly two million members worldwide, and announced in August that the organization gave $185.7 million in charity in 2018.

 

Bishop Bransfield's life of luxury

Wheeling, W.V., Sep 13, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- New details have emerged about the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by disgraced Bishop Michael Bransfield. Bransfield spent nearly one million dollars on private jets and over $660,000 on airfare and hotels during his 13 years as bishop of his former diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

A new investigation by the Washington Post, published Sept. 12, reported that during his last year in active ministry, Bransfield took at least 19 trips in what was described as a chartered luxury jet. Those trips cost the diocese more than $142,000. 

In accord with canon law, Bransfield submitted his resignation as bishop of Wheeling-Charleston was to Pope Francis last September following his 75th birthday. It was accepted immediately.

Following his resignation, Pope Francis ordered Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore to conduct an investigation into allegations that Bransfield had sexually harassed adult males and misused diocesan finances during his time in West Viginia. 

Following that investigation, Lori banned Bransfield from public ministry within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and Archdiocese of Baltimore in March, and the Vatican announced a series of sanctions in July. 

In addition to restrictions on publicly celebrating Mass within the diocese, Bransfield was also prohibited from living in his former diocese ordered to “make personal amends for some of the harm he caused.” These “personal amends” are to be determined by Bransfield’s successor, Bishop Mark Brennan, who took office on September 3, 2019. 

Other examples of financially irresponsible conduct highlighted by the report included a diocesean pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC,  which is just under a five-hour drive from St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Wheeling. Pilgrims who opted to spend the night in DC paid $190 each for bus, hotel, and breakfast, while others paid $30 for a day-trip ticket. 

Bransfield did not take the bus with the other pilgrims. Instead, he chartered a private plane for the 33-minute trip between Wheeling and Dulles International Airport, taking a limousine to and from the airport. Bransfield’s travel costs of nearly $7,000 were paid by the diocese. 

The Post also found that Bransfield had a pattern of travelling first-class when flying on commercial airlines and stays in luxury hotel suites - including a weeklong stay in The Colony Hotel’s “Presidential Penthouse” in January 2018 that cost the diocese $9,336. 

Bishop Bransfield told the Post that he was not the one who made the reservations at luxury hotels, and instead placed the blame on his staff. He declined to say who was responsible for making reservations. 

On trips to Europe, both for work and personal vacation, Bransfield stayed in luxury accommodation, and often travelling with young priests in their 20s. Bransfield was accused of sexual harassment by at least one of his travel companions. 

Some of the bishop’s travel was connected to his work with the Papal Foundation, the board of which he led until his retirement last year. 

Bransfield also spent thousands of dollars on jewelry and other clothing, including spending more than $60,000 of diocesean money at a boutique jeweler in Washington, DC during his time in office. 

In an interview with the Washington Post, Bransfield said that West Virginia was unable to provide “the lifestyle [he] lived in Washington.” 

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston met the costs for Bransfield’s travels to visit his family, and much of his month-long stays on the Jersey Shore. The diocese paid for a $276 purchase at a liquor store, as well as a month-long car rental for $2,975. 

He also chartered a jet to and from the Jersey Shore to Washington, DC, for a meeting following the announcement that he was being investigated for financial improprieties. 

During Bransfield’s time as bishop, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston either shut down or ceased funding more than 20 parishes and parochial schools.

Bishops say reducing refugee numbers 'wholly counter to our values'

Washington D.C., Sep 13, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- As the Trump administration reportedly considers further cuts to U.S. refugee admissions, the leader of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee has stated his opposition to any such plan.

Any “further reductions in the number of refugees” accepted into the U.S. “would be wholly counter to our values as a nation of immigrants,” Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration said on Friday, in a joint statement with conference president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo

The bishops were responding to reports by the New York Times that the White House is considering further reductions to U.S. refugee admissions from the current cap of 30,000, which is already the lowest cap on record for the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

Some of the reported considerations range from accepting zero refugees altogether, unless in case of emergency, to reducing the admissions cap to a range of 10-15,000. In July, POLITICO also reported that administration security officials had suggested in a meeting of lowering the cap on refugee admissions to 10-15,000, or even zero.

The administration’s previous ceiling for refugee admissions for FY 2018 was 45,000; in FY 2017, the Obama administration set the ceiling at 110,000 but the Trump administration instituted a freeze of the resettlement program, and ultimately admitted 53,716 refugees.

The current cap on refugee acceptance for the 2019 fiscal year is 30,000; as of August 31, the U.S. had accepted 28,062 refugees for FY 2019, according to State Department data.

“America welcomes refugees; that is who we are, that is what we do. Such reductions would undermine America’s leadership role as a global champion and protector of religious freedom and human rights,” Vasquez and DiNardo said.

They cited the Catholic Church’s history of helping resettle refuges in the U.S., “beginning with European refugees in the aftermath of World War I.”

“The 3.4 million refugees that America has welcomed since 1975 have paid billions of dollars in taxes, founded companies, earned citizenship, and bought homes at notably high rates,” the statement added.

“As the Catholic Church prepares to celebrate the World Day of Migrants and Refugees on September 29th, we are reminded of Pope Francis urging us all to work for a ‘globalization of solidarity’ with refugees, not a globalization of ‘indifference’,” they said.

Catholic bishops, leaders lament U.S. decision to deny Bahamian immigrants TPS

Miami, Fla., Sep 13, 2019 / 09:15 am (CNA).- U.S. officials announced Wednesday that a protective immigration status will not be extended to Bahamian migrants, despite the small country’s ongoing recovery from a destructive storm this month. Catholic leaders have condemned the decision, and two Florida bishops say that Bahamians need help from U.S. Catholics.
 
Jose Magaña-Salgado, TPS Campaign Coordinator for CLINIC, said the move lacks compassion, especially while thousands of Bahamians are still missing as a result of the Category 5 Hurricane Dorian.

“There is not even a sense of [the range] of destruction here or the chaos that these individuals are all facing, and to dismiss TPS out-of-hand so prematurely is just a very cruel and unnecessary action,” Magaña-Salgado  told CNA.

Established in 1990, “Temporary Protective Status” (TPS) allows immigrants from an unsafe country to reside in the United States for up to 18 months. Immigrants from a TPS-designated nation would not face deportation and would have permission to work. If the country’s problems continue after the initial period, TPS-designates can apply to extend their stay.

“Temporary Protective Status is an immigration humanitarian protection that was created by Congress for situations where it was unsafe to return nationals back to their home country because of extraordinary and temporary positions, like an armed conflict [or] environmental disaster,” said Magaña-Salgado.

“We are strongly urging the administration to use Temporary Protective Status to protect, at least, the 4,000 Bahamians who have already arrived in the United States,”  he added.

Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice also expressed concern over the government’s decision for Bahamian immigrants. He said, as a Florida resident, he has witnessed hurricanes and has sympathy for all those affected by this natural disaster.

“The United States has a long history of granting some kind of status to refugees who might come to us because of natural disasters,” he said.

“I think it would have been appropriate, and there was every ability of the government to grant TPS. However, they’ve chosen not to,” Dewane told CNA.

“Florida has the greatest number of Bahamians outside of the Bahamas themselves, so for us, it would have been a natural way in. I think the population of Florida has always been helpful” for people in similar situations, he said.

Hurricane Dorian made landfall in the northwestern Bahamas on Sept. 1 and it churned atop some of the country’s islands for two days. In the Bahamas, the storm’s death toll is officially 50, but that number is expected to climb. 2,500 people are still missing after the storm.

Catholic Relief Services said the hurricane struck the country with winds between 185 mph and 220 mph. More 76,000 people have been displaced or severely impacted; there is not yet power or clean water in the northwestern islands of the country.

According to a recent statistic from The Migration Policy Institute, an estimated 33,000 Bahamian immigrants are living in the United States, a majority of whom are in Florida. Since the storm hit, an additional 4,000 Bahamians have arrived in the U.S.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami told CNA that about 80 percent of the Bahamas is unaffected by the hurricane. However, he said the islands like Abaco and Grand Bahama are devastated.

He said people are displaced from their homes seeking shelter in the southern regions of the country, like the capital Nassau. He said these places are running out of space.

“The Bahamians need assistance with rebuilding after the hurricane,” he said. “A lot of people are concerned. I talked to the [Archbishop of Nassau] twice already and he’s lost a couple of schools on the islands there and he’s lost a church.

“I have taken up a collection in all my parishes. I gave the pastors the option to do either last week or this week.”

The archbishop said he is not surprised that the current administration denied TPS to Bahamians, noting that Venezuelans who face a dangerous dictatorial regime were also denied the temporary status earlier this year.

While TPS has allowed more than 300,000 people to reside in the U.S., the Trump administration has discouraged the use of TPS and tried to remove six countries from the TPS list, USA Today reported. These countries make-up 98 percent of the TPS immigrant population.

Wenski said, in the Parable of the Last Judgment, Christ encourages people to care for the vulnerable. In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ compares the services rendered to those in need as a charity done towards himself. Wenski said, likewise, Christ is reflected in the immigrant.

“We remember that Jesus was the immigrant … not only because he was a refugee in Egypt, but, since God became man, you could say that Jesus immigrated from Heaven to come live among us,” he said.

“So being welcoming to the immigrant is in the DNA of our Catholic faith.”

ND judge nixes law requiring doctors to inform women on abortion pill reversal

Bismarck, N.D., Sep 12, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- After a North Dakota judge nixed part of a new law requiring doctors to inform their patients about abortion pill reversal, pro-life advocates say they hope the decision will be overturned.

“While this is a disservice to women, who have a right to this information, we're hopeful that Attorney General Stenehjem will appeal and defend this common-sense law. Women have a right to know,” Medora Nagle, Executive Director of North Dakota Right to Life, told CNA.

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland granted a preliminary injunction Sept. 10 against part of a North Dakota law which would have required physicians to tell their patients that a medically-induced abortion could be reversed if the patient acted quickly.

The injunction was sought by the American Medical Association, Access Independent Health Services, Inc., Dr. Kathryn L. Eggleston, and Red River Women's Clinic, which is the only clinic providing abortions in the state.

"Legislation which forces physicians to tell their patients, as part of informed consent, that 'it may be possible' to reverse or cure an ailment, disease, illness, surgical procedure, or the effects of any medication—in the absence of any medical or scientific evidence to support such a message—is unsound, misplaced, and would not survive a constitutional challenge under any level of scrutiny," Hovland said in his decision.

A medical abortion, sometimes called a chemical abortion, is a two-step process that involves the ingestion of two drugs: mifepristone and misoprostol. The first drug, mifepristone, effectively starves the unborn baby by blocking the effects of the progesterone hormone, inducing a miscarriage. The second drug, misoprostol, is taken up to two days later and induces labor.

Several pro-life clinics throughout the country provide abortion pill reversals, a protocol that involves giving pregnant women who regret their decision to take the first drug doses of progesterone to counteract the progesterone-blocking effects of the mifepristone.

Teresa Kenney is a women's health nurse practitioner with the Sancta Familia (Holy Family) Medical Apostolate in Omaha, Nebraska. Kenney told CNA that because progesterone is safe for pregnant women and their unborn babies, and the benefit of reversing a medical abortion is so great, the procedure “makes complete sense” from a scientific standpoint.

“If I give a medicine that decreases or blocks progesterone to stop a pregnancy, then it makes perfect logical medical sense to give progesterone to help reverse that,” Kenney told CNA.

“The benefit is overwhelmingly positive,” she added, “and in this situation...I would argue that two lives are actually saved when it works, because not only do you save the life of the baby, and that's a human life being saved...but you also save the life of the mother in the sense that when she has made a choice that she deeply regrets, and we have now given her the opportunity to emotionally and physically change that choice, and it succeeds, we've saved her life too.”

Kenney said that progesterone has been scientifically proven to be safe for women and their babies in early pregnancy to prevent natural miscarriages from occurring.

“Just because there hasn't been a randomized controlled double-blind study on abortion pill reversal doesn't mean that it doesn't make sense to implement it in medicine, because there is already scientific support for progesterone in early pregnancy in the prevention and miscarriage,” she said.

“Do we need more research? Absolutely. But to withhold treatment when, again, we know that it does no harm...we know that it medically makes sense, it scientifically makes sense, and the benefits are overwhelmingly positive, why wouldn't we do it?” she said.

Kenney said that she finds it “frustrating” that there has been a lot of research and effort in the medical community to prevent pregnancy, but not as much to support it.

“We do live in a contraceptive society,” she said. “We have a culture against life. And so all of the studies are geared towards preventing pregnancy.”

Christopher Dodson, executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, said Sept. 10 that “North Dakota legislators rightly believed that women should know about the procedure before starting the abortion process.”

He stated, “the abortion lobby co-opted the American Medical Association and used legal technicalities and medical complexities to deny women the right to know. We applaud the legislators who overwhelming supported HB 1336, Governor Burgum for signing the measure, the physicians who submitted testimony to the court in support of the law, and the Attorney General for defending women’s rights.”

One pro-life clinic that offers abortion pill reversal is Bella Natural Women’s Care in Englewood, Colorado.

Dede Chism, a nurse practitioner and co-founder and executive director of Bella, told CNA in 2018 that because progesterone is known to be safe for pregnant women and unborn babies, the progesterone abortion pill reversal procedure is “common sense.”

A recent study, published in Issues in Law and Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal, examined 261 successful abortion pill reversals, and showed that the reversal success rates were 68 percent with a high-dose oral progesterone protocol and 64 percent with an injected progesterone protocol.

Both procedures significantly improved the 25 percent fetal survival rate if no treatment is offered and a woman simply declines the second pill of a medical abortion. The case study also showed that the progesterone treatments caused no increased risk of birth defects or preterm births.

The study was authored by Dr. Mary Davenport and Dr. George Delgado, who have been studying the abortion pill reversal procedures since 2009. Delgado also sits on the board of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a group that supports the abortion pill procedure reversal.

Nagle said that women should be empowered by the law, and that they should be given “all of the information before making a decision of this magnitude.”

According to Nagle, seven other states have similar laws on the books requiring doctors to tell their patients about the abortion pill reversal procedure, which she said has saved more than 750 babies so far.

“We won't be discouraged,” she said. “We will continue to fight for women's rights to be given all of the information.”

Florida parents who refused chemo for child denied custody

Tampa, Florida, Sep 12, 2019 / 05:20 pm (CNA).- A judge in Florida has denied a couple custody of their four-year-old son, who has leukemia, because there is “imminent risk of neglect” if he stays with his parents, who skipped a chemotherapy session for the child in order to leave the state to seek alternative treatments.

A judge ruled Sept. 9 that the Tampa Bay-area parents, Joshua McAdams and Taylor Bland-Ball, will be required to undergo a psychological evaluation with a parenting index after which point they may be able to be reunified with their son Noah, who is currently with his grandparents, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Kevin Miller, assistant professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, stressed that the Catholic Church takes parental rights very seriously, but these rights should not be misused.

“When it is not fairly clear that parental rights are being abused, it seems to me, the state should generally be deferential to parents,” Miller told CNA.

But this case, he said, raises serious questions about whether the parents are misusing their authority and rights.

Florida law allows the state to provide medical treatment to children even if the parents object, CBS News reports.

“There was no alternative with a remote chance of success...They were choosing between life and death for their child,” Judge Palermo said as quoted by Fox13.

If the parents do not comply with the evaluation, the out-of-home placement could become permanent. They have 30 days to appeal the judge’s decision, the Times reports.

Doctors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg diagnosed Noah with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in April 2019.

After two rounds of treatment, on April 22, 2019, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office issued a Missing Endangered Child alert after the parents did not show up for Noah’s third treatment, stating that “the parents failed to bring in the child to a medically necessary hospital procedure.”

McAdams, Bland-Ball, and Noah were located in Kentucky a week later; they had fled to Ohio to seek alternative treatments. Authorities placed Noah in the custody of his maternal grandparents in early May 2019.

The child’s mother argues that rather than denying him lifesaving treatment, she and her husband were simply seeking a second opinion, believing that chemotherapy had harmful side effects. On a GoFundMe page, Bland-Ball says that they were unhappy with the treatment they received at the hospital in St. Petersburg, and also that Noah’s condition has not improved.

Bland-Ball had sought to use “rosemary, Vitamin B Complex, including B17, completely alkaline diet, Rosemary, a liver/kidney/gallbladder/blood herbal extract, daily colloidal silver, high dose vitamin c, collagen, Reishi mushroom tea and grapefruit peel and breastmilk” as alternative treatments for Noah’s leukemia.

She has also posted on Facebook seeking cannabis treatments for Noah, and her attorney has confirmed that Noah also has received CBD and THC oil treatments. Medical marijuana is legal in Florida.

Bland-Ball also moved Noah’s PICC line, which she had no formal training on how to do other than watching instructional YouTube videos, the judge said.

Among the reasons the judge cited for his decision were evidence the parents dumped a car and cell phones while fleeing Florida, and the judge stated that he was convinced that the parents would flee Florida again if given the chance.

The judge also cited McAdams’ “proclivity for aggression” towards family members. McAdams in August 2016 was arrested on a charge of misdemeanor domestic battery by Brooksville police, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

McAdams reportedly threw a plastic toy bucket at Bland-Ball but accidentally hit Noah, cutting his face. McAdams then shoved Bland-Ball into a wall "multiple times," causing a head contusion, the Times reported.

He spent three days in jail, records show, and the case was dropped in March 2017; McAdams later attended counseling. The Times reports that Bland-Ball also filed for a protective injunction against McAdams, according to court records, but it was later dismissed.

‘Appropriate social measures’

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “In creating man and woman, God instituted the human family and endowed it with its fundamental constitution. Its members are persons equal in dignity. For the common good of its members and of society, the family necessarily has manifold responsibilities, rights, and duties.”

According to Miller, those rights include the right of parents to make decisions about how to promote the welfare— physical, psychological, intellectual, spiritual— of their children.

He also emphasized that “the family is a community of love in a way that no other community is capable of being,” and thus respect for family rights serves the good of both family members and of society more broadly.

The Catechism also teaches: “The family must be helped and defended by appropriate social measures. Where families cannot fulfill their responsibilities, other social bodies have the duty of helping them and of supporting the institution of the family. Following the principle of subsidiarity, larger communities should take care not to usurp the family's prerogatives or interfere in its life.”

But, Miller told CNA, some actions that parents might claim to be exercises of parental rights might actually be abuses of those rights. In case of gross abuses, he said, putting children in serious danger, it can be appropriate for the state, as part of its natural purpose of looking after the common good of its members, to step in and stop those abuses; this is obviously the case when, for example, parents subject their children to certain kinds of violence.

Parents overruled

Of course, Miller said, it is possible for the state to overstep its authority.

International cases such as that of 11-month-old Charlie Gard in 2017 and toddler Alfie Evans last year have highlighted situations of the state determining treatment for a patient against the parent’s wishes. In both cases, which took place in the UK, the state determined that the patients be removed from life support, despite the protest of the parents.

These cases are different from the Florida case, Miller said, because in both UK cases, the state was choosing death for the children in question, and in the Florida case, the state is prioritizing a treatment aimed at saving child’s life.

“I think one clear difference is that in those [UK] cases, it was the state that— I don't think it's hyperbole to say— wanted them to die,” Miller commented.

He noted that in the Gard case, the parents attempted to transfer to transfer the child to the United States to undergo an experimental treatment for his condition.

"In the one case, it was experimental treatment, but it was experimental treatment offered as part of a bone fide study by a bone fide doctor at a bone fide hospital here in the US. So in that case they were pursuing an approach that you could certainly call extraordinary rather than ordinary means of treatment, but there's nothing wrong with that. I think it's within the rights of the parents to decide whether to pursue that kind of a treatment or not."

He noted that in both of the UK cases, the question was not whether or not to pursue an alternate form of treatment, but rather whether or not to continue basic life-saving measures.

Miller said the only similarity he sees between the UK cases and the Florida case is the fact that the state overruled the wishes of the parents.

“This [Florida] case, in multiple respects, is almost like the opposite of what was going on in the Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans cases,” Miller said.

“In terms of what the parents are trying to do, and in terms of what the state is trying to do...there's absolutely no inconsistency in siding with what the state is doing in this present case and siding with the parents in those earlier cases.”

‘An abuse of parental rights’

“I suspect that the parents are genuinely sincere in claiming that what they want to do is in their son’s best interest – although the fact that the father, on one occasion, attempted an act of violence against the mother that ended up injuring their son is cause for concern,” Miller said.

“Nevertheless – and putting aside that point about the father’s history – it seems to me that what they want to do constitutes an abuse of parental rights.”

According to Fox13, the judge said the particular type of chemotherapy being given to Noah has a 70-year track record with 90-95% success rate.

“Proper treatment, based on evidence established by a tremendous amount of research, is, sadly, very difficult for the child, his parents, and other family members. It takes several years. There are side effects, including serious ones, during this period. There is the possibility of other side effects appearing years later. The fact remains that in the vast majority of cases, treatment is lifesaving, and so confers benefits that far outweigh the burdens,” Miller noted.

“In contrast, there is absolutely no evidence to support the parents’ view that stopping standard treatment very early, and switching to the approach that they favor, will confer any benefit. Rather, it is certain that – barring a miracle – the child will come out of remission and die of leukemia.”

Miller also pointed out a fact that has been circulated in news reports about the case: that at least one of the alternative treatments that Bland-Ball mentions, known commonly as Vitamin B17, has been found by the National Center for Biomedical Information to not only be likely ineffective for curing cancer, but also bringing with it the potential for cyanide poisoning.

“Again: We ought to be vigilant about the problem of abuse of state authority. This does happen – including in the area of health-care decision making. The phenomenon of ‘medical kidnapping’ is not purely fictitious,” Miller cautioned.

“But in the case at hand, it is clear to me that it is the parents – not the state – who are abusing their rights.”

‘Measure of last resort’

Father Tad Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that removal of a child from parental custody ought to be a measure of “last resort,” to be used only after a “shared understanding” between the parents and healthcare professionals cannot be achieved.

“Sometimes parents may be attracted to ‘alternative’ treatments they came across on the internet that have not [been] tested or verified, and it may be important to spend a great deal of time and energy explaining to such parents the clear preferability of using standard treatments that have been tested and verified as efficacious for many patients,” Pacholczyk said.

Pacholczyk said parents should generally be permitted to make medical judgements on behalf of minor children, especially when weighing the burdens of particular treatments such as chemotherapy— or, as in the Charlie Gard case, whether to discontinue treatment altogether.

“The decision to discontinue such interventions ultimately lies with the patient — or in this case with the parents as the child’s proxy,” he said.

In making such judgements, he noted, parents need to be in close communication with healthcare professionals, and avail themselves of their medical expertise, prior to reaching any conclusions regarding the proposed treatment.

“In situations where there is a standard treatment available, one that works in a high percentage of cases...it may indeed be unreasonable, and even wrong, for parents to decline such a treatment if the burdens to their child associated with its use are fairly low,” he said.

“In such cases, however, the first line of attack should be not to take away the custody of their child, but to work assiduously to convince the parents to use the most effective approach.”

Echoing Miller, Pacholczyk said that the family is, broadly speaking, the best place for a child, and “custody should be taken away only in clear situations of manifest danger to the child or in other evident situations of abuse or gross neglect.”

Judge Palermo in the Florida case emphasized that in his view, the state had “met its burden and found clear and convincing evidence for neglect.”

“Being raised through substitute arrangements set up by the state is many times more detrimental to the well-being of children than remaining within their native family setting,” he said.

“State and governmental agencies are almost invariably worse at caring for the needs of children than the child's own parents, even when those parents may not exercise perfect judgment or may lack ideal parenting skills.”