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US State Department: Pakistan's religious freedom record a 'particular concern'

Washington D.C., Dec 12, 2018 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Religious freedom problems in Pakistan have led the US Department of State to designate the country as of “particular concern,” with nine others, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said Tuesday.

“I recognize that several designated countries are working to improve their respect for religious freedom; I welcome such initiatives and look forward to continuing the dialogue,” Pompeo said Dec. 11.

In addition to Pakistan, Pompeo listed Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. This means he believes they have engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, (and) egregious violations of religious freedom.” The designation took place Nov. 28, Pompeo said.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom makes recommendations to the State Department about the list. Its April 2018 report examined religious freedom threats in Pakistan and around the world.

In December 2017, Islamic State group-affiliated suicide bombers attacked a church in Quetta, killing nine people. The run-up to the national elections in July 2018 exacerbated religious tensions in the country. According to the USCIRF report, approximately 40 people sentenced under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws were awaiting the death penalty or serving life sentences.

“In far too many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests, or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs,” Pompeo said Tuesday. “The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression. Protecting and promoting international religious freedom is a top foreign policy priority of the Trump administration.”

“Safeguarding religious freedom is vital to ensuring peace, stability, and prosperity,” he continued. “These designations are aimed at improving the lives of individuals and the broader success of their societies.”

CNA contacted USCIRF for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.

In April, USCIRF Chair Daniel Mark told CNA he was particularly concerned about Pakistan.

“Matters concerning Pakistan are very sensitive on account of the fact that they are a partner of ours in combating terrorism around the world in the war in Afghanistan and so on,” Mark said. “But, given the rise of extremism in Pakistan... we really do think that pressure should be kept up, notwithstanding the cooperation that our two countries need.”

“Pakistan is a world leader in imprisonment and convictions, prosecutions for blasphemy and apostasy, and those sorts of things,” said Mark.

Asia Bibi, a Christian mother and field laborer, was among those facing blasphemy prosecution, spending eight years in prison despite her protestations of innocence. The Pakistan Supreme Court acquitted her of blasphemy charges in late October. The acquittal prompted protests and death threats. Her life is still in danger, as the ruling is under government review as part of a deal to appease groups that were leading riots in the streets.

Bibi’s family has sought asylum for her in the U.S., the U.K., or other countries in Europe. Italy has offered to help her find asylum.

Mark said conditions in Pakistan are bad at the legal level, such as the second-class citizenship treatment of the Ahmadi religious minority. There is also a growing “culture of impunity” in society, with vigilante mobs attacking people on the basis of blasphemy accusations.

Pompeo placed Comoros, Russia, and Uzbekistan on the special watch list for having engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom.” In January the State Department had named Uzbekistan a country of particular concern.

The special watch list is a new designation, created by Congress’ 2016 amendments to the International Religious Freedom Act. Pakistan was first named to the watch list in December 2017.

Another list, entities of particular concern, includes al-Nusra Front, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaida, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, the Islamic State Group, the Islamic State Group in Khorasan, and the Taliban.

Pompeo noted his work as Secretary of State in hosting the first Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in July, which brought together 85 governments and 400 NGOs that aimed to advance religious freedom.

“The United States remains committed to working with governments, civil society organizations, and religious leaders to advance religious freedom around the world,” Pompeo said.

Priest who survived major plane crash credits Our Lady of Guadalupe

Chicago, Ill., Dec 12, 2018 / 04:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- This year, for Father Esequiel Sanchez, the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe brings up terrifying memories - and a huge reason to be thankful.

Sanchez was one of 103 passengers aboard Aeromexico Flight 2431, which crashed and burned in a field shortly after takeoff on July 31 of this year.

While there were some injuries, no one died.

“I personally attributed that to the intercession of Our Lady, and so did the other passengers, I think most of us...saw it as miraculous,” Sanchez told CNA.

Shortly after takeoff in Durango, the plane caught strong winds, causing the left wing to hit the ground and the plane to lose both of its engines.

As the craft was hurtling toward the ground, Sanchez said he thought he would either die, be paralyzed, or be burned by subsequent explosions. All he walked away with was a broken arm.

But his fear in the moment didn’t stop his priestly training from kicking in - he immediately started to pray out loud.

“They say police officers and firefighters and soldiers will tell you that when you get into a crisis situation, your training kicks in. I think that’s happened to me too,” he said.

“I prayed ‘God come to our assistance, Blessed Mother come to help us,’ and then I began to absolve everybody on the plane. I immediately said: ‘I absolve everyone on this plane, may the Lord have mercy,’” he recalled.

“I thought it was just going to be it, because it was happening so fast. You don’t (crash) a 100-ton airplane at 150 miles per hour and think you’re gonna be ok. But happily we were.”

When the plane crash-landed, emergency crews helped evacuate everyone before the plane exploded into flames.

Sanchez’ first thought was for the victims.

“I just couldn’t imagine finding someone’s mother who died and I survived. So for me to I wanted to tell them that I tried to get to them, so my primary concern was getting to the victims as best I could, and start ministering to them. When that’s what you’re concerned about, that’s what you’re going to go after.”

Some survivors had worse injuries - a little girl with burn injuries was taken to a hospital, others had neck and back injuries.

The plane “completely disintegrated,” Sanchez said, so the lack of deaths or worse injuries is miraculous.

Besides being a plane crash survivor, Sanchez is also the rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, Ill., a Chicago suburb.

The shrine is the site of a massive celebration for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe every year on Dec. 12. The event attracts more than 200,000 pilgrims annually, many whom walk for hours or even days on foot to get there.  

For Sanchez, and for some other Durango plane crash survivors who have made the trek to the shrine this year, the Feast Day has taken on new significance.

“So for me, on Our Lady of Guadalupe today, and all those memories...I’m a pilgrim just like them, I come to give her thanks,” he said.

“Some of the survivors came and did the same thing, they came to give thanks to Our Lady.”

Besides being grateful for his survival and lack of serious injury, Sanchez said one of the greatest blessings since the event has been the “outpouring of everyone from the city of Chicago and beyond.”

“Everyone found out about the story and they prayed for us, there’s no place I can go without  people saying we prayed for you,” he said.

“So when you get that kind of generosity, my only response other than to say thank you is: I am so looking forward to becoming a better priest and a better minister, and I do things with a lot more joy,” he said.

Sanchez said he loves his ministry as the rector at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and that every year it brings him hope to see the numerous pilgrims on Dec. 12, many of whom come with their whole families.

“I find no more effective image or evangelizing tool than Our Lady of Guadalupe and her message,” he said.

And whether you’re a pilgrim hurtling through the air in a near-death experience plane crash, or an undocumented immigrant trekking to the Shrine to beg her help: “She’s a source of hope.”

 

Nashville's sole remaining abortion clinic suspends abortion provision

Nashville, Tenn., Dec 12, 2018 / 04:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As Tennessee has seen an increase in pro-life legislation in recent years, the only abortion clinic in Nashville temporarily ceased its abortion services last week.

According to the Associated Press, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, Tereva Parham, confirmed Dec. 10 that abortion provision had been suspended the week prior.

The time-frame of the suspension has not been provided.

Parham said the clinic is “undergoing a period of quality improvement” and added that part of the reason for the suspension is a lack of abortion providers.

The Planned Parenthood clinic is still offering other services, but has been referring patients who request abortion to clinics in Knoxville and Memphis, both of which are about 200 miles away.

Nashville previously had two abortion providers, but The Women's Center closed in August when its building was sold. The organization said it would be looking for a new location, but it has not yet reopened.

Tennessee has enacted a number of abortion regulations in recent years.

In 2014, voters approved an amendment which categorically excludes abortion rights from the state’s constitution.

“Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives or state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother,” the amendment reads.

Legislators passed a 48-hour waiting period and in-person informed consent counseling for women seeking to procure abortion in 2015, which are currently being challenged in federal court.

In 2017, the state banned abortion of viable unborn children after 20 weeks.

The state also requires hospital admitting privileges for abortion doctors, and parental consent for teen abortions.

And in May, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam signed a law calling for the erection of a privately funded monument to unborn children on the grounds of the state capitol.

Haslam also signed a law seeking federal approval to prohibit the state's Medicaid program from payments for non-abortion services to any provider of more than 50 abortions in a year.

About 9,700 abortions were procured in Tennessee in 2016.

In New York, public school officials to evaluate private schools

Albany, N.Y., Dec 12, 2018 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Leaders of New York state’s more than 500 Catholic schools are planning to boycott a new state review system, whereby public school officials would evaluate religious schools to determine whether they offer a “substantially equivalent” education to public schools.

“The parents who choose our schools can have great confidence in the academic rigor of our schools,” James Cultrara, executive secretary of the New York Council of Catholic School Superintendents, was quoted as saying in Times Union.

“We simply cannot accept a competing school having authority over whether our schools can operate.”

The rebuke to the state comes after New York’s education commissioner released guidelines Nov. 20 “to ensure that all students receive the education to which they are entitled under law,” i.e. exposure to the same basic courses such as English, civics, and mathematics that public school students take.

The state’s action follows a New York City investigation into some Orthodox Jewish schools that a group of graduates say have been deficient in terms of teaching students “secular” topics other than the Jewish religion.

Under the new guidelines, local public school superintendents or their designees would be required to visit all nonpublic schools by the end of the 2020-2021, and every five years after that, to evaluate the schools. The local school board would approve the findings with a vote.

The Catholic superintendents body said in a letter to the State Education Department that they do not oppose school inspections from state officials, but conflicts of interest could arise if public school officials, who are essentially “competing” for the same body of students, are given the power to evaluate private schools.

“A review by local public school officials and a vote at a public meeting of a locally elected public school board, as is called for in the guidance, practically guarantees inconsistency and subjectivity,” reads part of the letter, which was obtained by Times Union.

“The Council of Catholic School Superintendents is committed to maintaining high-quality Catholic schools and working with you on designing an objective review and determination process to support the education of children in our schools.”

The superintendents have rejected the state’s guidelines and directed all of the state’s Catholic schools not to participate in “any review carried out by local public school officials.”

As of Dec. 12 the State Education Department has not commented on the issue.

The new guidelines mainly impact Catholic elementary schools, as nonpublic high schools in the state generally fall under the purview of the Board of Regents.

Jewish schools, which have a significant presence in New York City, could feel strong effects from the new guidelines as well.

New York City is home to 1.1 million Jews, around 32% percent of whom identify as Orthodox, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Strongly Orthodox Jewish private schools, known as yeshivot, educate an estimated 57,000 students in New York City alone, The New York Times reports. A group of graduates say that it has been “commonplace for decades” that students who graduate from yeshivot receive little instruction beyond studying Jewish texts, and “can barely read and write in English and have not been taught that dinosaurs once roamed Earth or that the Civil War occurred.”

The administration of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio opened an investigation into the lack of secular education at yeshivot in 2015. Prominent rabbis and other Jewish leaders have resisted critics of yeshivot, citing religious freedom concerns.

Trump signs law to aid Christians in Iraq, Syria

Washington D.C., Dec 11, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump signed into law Tuesday the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act, which seeks to ensure US aid reaches Christian and Yazidi genocide victims.

The bill was passed unanimously in the House Nov. 27, and in the Senate Oct. 11.

This bill was introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), and the lead Democratic sponsor was Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA). This was Smith’s second attempt at getting the bill signed into law, and altogether it took 17 months for this bill to be passed.  

Trump was joined at the Dec. 11 signing by Vice President Mike Pence, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus Carl Anderson, Smith, Eshoo, Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, and many others.

Trump said it was a “great honor” to sign H.R. 390 into law, and remarked that his administration has had great success in fighting Islamic State. The group has lost nearly all of its territory since its peak in 2015.

“This bill continues my administration's efforts to direct US assistance for persecuted communities including through faith-based programs,” he said.

The signing of the legislation is a symbol of the US speaking “with bold moral clarity and political unanimity,” Anderson said in a statement provided by the Knights of Columbus, which were heavily involved with the process of writing the bill and assisting the situation of Christians in the Middle East.

Since 2014, the Knights of Columbus have donated more than $20 million to help Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria with food, housing, and other needs. The Knights also spent $2 million to rebuild an Iraqi town that had been destroyed by Islamic State.

H.R. 390 provides funding to various entities, including faith-based and religious organizations, that are helping with recovery and stabilization efforts in Iraq and Syria in religious and ethnic minority communities, including Christians and Yazidis.

The bill also instructs the Trump administration to “assess and address the humanitarian vulnerabilities, needs, and triggers that might force these survivors to flee” the region and for the administration to identify signs of potential violent action against minority groups in the country.

Another part of the law encourages foreign governments to identify those who belong to Islamic State in security databases and security screenings to aid with their prosecution. The bill provides support for groups that are investigating members of Islamic State who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the region.

Since Islamic State took control of the region, the country’s Christian population has dwindled to only a few thousand families. Many of these people fled to nearby Turkey and Lebanon out of concern for their safety. Although the situation has drastically improved since nearly all of Islamic State's territory has been regained, Christians are reluctant to return to the region due to a lack of economic opportunities and continued concerns for safety.

Archbishop Gomez: Church needs to 'return to Guadalupe'

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 11, 2018 / 03:06 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of Los Angeles wrote this week that Our Lady of Guadalupe, a messenger of reform and renewal, has important lessons for contemporary Catholics.

“In the Church today we face new challenges to our fidelity to Jesus Christ, both personally and institutionally,” wrote Archbishop Jose Gomez in a Dec. 10 column in Angelus.
 
“In this moment, I am more and more convinced that we need to ‘return to Guadalupe,’ to the original vision, the original path that Christ wanted for us in this country and throughout our continent. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the messenger who is sent to lead us to renewal and reform in our time.”

The archbishop noted that Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared “at a time of confusion and discord — and a time of immense cruelty and suffering, corruption, and infidelity.”

She appeared in 1531 to St. Juan Diego, a poor indigenous man, on a hill near what is now Mexico City. She identified herself as the Mother of the True God.

She instructed Juan Diego to have the local bishop build a church on the site, and famously left an image of herself imprinted miraculously on his tilma, a cactus-cloth tunic. The image has survived to this day. Several million pilgrims journey each year to see that tilma.

Gomez wrote that the apparition occurred less than two decades after the start of the Protestant Reformation, at a time when the Church in Europe was “confronting decadence and corruption and the need for renewal and reformation.”

There were debates among theologians in the so-called Old World about whether indigenous peoples in the Americas were even people with souls, the archbishop wrote.

At the same time, the economy of the New World was being developed on the backs of slaves, and “the greed and ambition of Spanish colonizers led to unspeakable horrors” and the destruction of many native peoples and their ways of life.

Gomez noted that Mary appeared as a “mestizo,” a brown-skinned mixture of European and indigenous peoples, and spoke to Juan Diego in his own indigenous language.

“She reminds us that beyond the color of our skin or the countries where we come from, we are all brothers and sisters,” the Archbishop reflected.

“We are — every one of us, without exception — children of one heavenly Father and we have the Mother of God as our mother...a profound icon of the unity of humanity and the Church’s mission to create one family of God out of all the world’s nations and races, peoples, and languages.”

Today, as in Juan Diego’s time, there are new forms of inhumanity and cruelty, Gomez wrote. “Selfishness and greed” lead to injustices like abortion and the persecution of religious minorities.

The archbishop recalled the words Mary spoke to Juan Diego: “Do not let your heart be disturbed. Do not fear. ... Am I, your Mother, not here? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Are you not in the folds of my arms? What more do you need?”

In her role as our mother, Mary “guides us along the pathways that lead us to her Son,” Gomez wrote.

“In leading the mission to the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe was showing us the vision of a way forward — to a new humanity, a new Church, a new world.”

“Authentic reform and renewal are always based on a return to the origins — to the purity of first beginnings. That is what distinguishes reform and renewal from revolution, which always seeks to destroy the old in order to build the new.”

“In these troubling times, we need to go always forward with joy and confidence. May we lay our fears and hopes at the feet of the Virgin. And may we contemplate these times we are living in under the gaze of her loving eyes,” Gomez concluded.

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated on Wednesday, Dec. 12.

What is a lay 'Parish Life Coordinator'? A CNA Explainer

Washington D.C., Dec 11, 2018 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Last week the Diocese of Bridgeport announced the appointment of a lay “parish life coordinator” in the parish of St. Anthony of Padua.

Dr. Eleanor Sauers has been placed in charge of the day-to-day administration of the parish, following the untimely death of the parish’s former pastor, Fr. John Baran.

The appointment has led some to ask: What is a parish life coordinator? What does such a lay person do?

In Bridgeport the arrangement, announced in a letter from Bishop Frank Caggiano, will see Sauers “work with the parish community to develop and foster its pastoral vision and mission.”

It is the first appointment of its kind in Bridgeport, though similar appointments have been common in other American dioceses for some years.

When such an appointment is made, it can strike some parishioners as a novelty. In fact, the possibility of lay “parish life coordinators” exists in the Code of Canon Law, and has been an option available to bishops since in 1983.

Canon 517 of the Code of Canon Law gives the diocesan bishop options for dealing with circumstances in which it is not possible to assign to a parish a priest who is able to serve as its resident and full-time pastor.

The first option offered by the canon is for a parish, or several parishes, to be given into the care of a team of priests, with one of them serving as the “moderator,” of leader of the team, responsible for coordinating the pastoral care of the people.  

The second option the canon presents is for a deacon “or some other person who is not a priest” to be given “a share” in the “exercise of the pastoral care of the parish.” This is only to be done, according to canon law, because of a shortage of priests; it is a remedy for exceptional circumstances and not something the Church allows to be done for its own sake.

In addition to the sacramental life which is the heart of their existence, modern Western parishes are busy places, often requiring leadership and coordination on the ground.

There are clear advantages to placing a lay person in charge of the day-to-day coordination of the parish’s activity, rather than a team of priests who could be spread across a number of other parishes and have many other demands on their attention.

Overseeing finances, religious education programs, the maintenance of buildings and other facilities, even a school in some places, is a complex set of responsibilities - one that, in the judgment of some bishops, cannot be overseen effectively by even a well-intentioned and well-organized team of non-resident priests.  

In the case of the parish of St. Anthony of Padua, this would seem to be the role Caggiano has in mind, noting in his letter to parishioners that Sauers will “oversee the day-to-day operations of the parish.”

She will also be “working with a team of priests who will provide the sacramental ministries at St. Anthony,” while having decision-making authority in the parish itself.

Arrangements like these often leave some Catholics with the impression that the priests are working “for” or “under” a lay person (which would be a novelty in a parish setting, but not unusual in other ecclesiastical settings). However, there is a distinction in canon law, and in the teaching of the Church, between collaboration and a hierarchical relationship.

Finding the right balance in ecclesial collaboration is important. Bishops are enjoined to promote and authentic expression of the gifts of all members of the Church, and to avoid any blurring of roles and responsibilities, that might obscure the unique dignity of the different members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

St. John Paul II issued in 1997 an authoritative instruction on lay and clerical collaboration, Ecclesiae de mysterio.

The pope instructed that arrangements like the one at St. Anthony of Padua should only be made in “exceptional cases” and because of a shortage of priests. The possibility of such arrangements is not, St. John Paul said, to be used for “convenience or ambiguous ‘advancement of the laity.’”

The faithful have the right, expressed in c. 213, to receive the administration of the sacraments, the preaching of the Word of God, and other means of obtaining sanctity from the pastors of the Church - that is from the priests and bishops. When lay parish life coordinators are appointed, they are not given charge of the spiritual care of the community: the “care of souls” is explicitly reserved to the clergy.

For that reason, while canon 517 creates the possibility for a lay person to be given “a share” in the running  of a parish, it also requires that there be a priest designated responsible for the pastoral care of the the people. Whenever a deacon or lay person is appointed to such a role, “the bishop is to appoint some priest who, with the powers and faculties of a pastor [parish priest], will direct the pastoral care” of the people, canon law explains.

This condition, Ecclesiae de mysterio affirms, must be followed with “strict adherence” in order to safeguard both the care of the faithful of the parish, and the distinction of the roles between a lay collaborator and a priest.

“Directing, coordinating, moderating or governing the parish; these competencies, according to the canon, are the competencies of a priest alone,” the instruction explains.

In Ecclesiae de mysterio, St. John Paul taught that the impetus of Vatican Council II “opens vast horizons, some of which have yet to be explored, for the lay faithful.”

As the Church responds to the changing landscape of society in different parts of the world, new ways for the laity to work together with the clergy will continue to emerge.

St. John Paul II taught that as those new modes of collaboration are developed, it is important for bishops to promote the role of lay people in the Church, while ensuring among Catholics “the correct understanding of true ecclesial communion.”

LA archdiocese to press charges against sisters accused of embezzlement

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 10, 2018 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Los Angeles will file a criminal complaint against religious sisters who have been accused of embezzling from a Catholic school at which they had worked for more than a decade.

Sr. Mary Margaret Kreuper, CSJ and Sr. Lana Chang, CSJ, who both retired this year from St. James Catholic School in Torrance, are alleged to have misappropriated nearly $500,000 from the school.

They are suspected of using the money for gambling, trips, and other personal expenses.

While the archdiocese initially said that it would not press charges in the case, an archdiocesan spokesman told CNA Monday afternoon that the archdiocese will become a “complaining party” in the case.

Kim Westerman, a spokesperson for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, told CNA Monday that canonical restrictions have been imposed on the sisters, and a formal canonical process “will be determined when the criminal aspect of the case is completed.”

Westerman told CNA that the sisters’ alleged embezzlement was not known before their retirements from the school was announced, and that the congregation has no record of either sister being accused of financial misconduct in the past.

In a Dec. 11 statement, the Sisters of St. Joseph announced that they would not defend the actions of Krueper and Chang.

"What happened is wrong. Our Sisters take full responsibility for the choices they made and are subject to the law.”

A Nov. 28 letter from St. James Parish pastor Msgr. Michael Meyers announced that after an internal investigation discovered the embezzlement, the sisters’ congregation “has agreed to arrange for full restitution for the benefit of the School of the funds that are found to have been misappropriated and is imposing appropriate penalties and sanctions on each of the Sisters in accordance with the policies of the Order.”

In his letter, Meyers wrote that “the Archdiocese does not wish to pursue criminal proceedings against the Sisters but instead plans to have the Archdiocese, the School and the Order address the situation internally through the investigation, restitution and sanctions on the Sisters.”

Despite the theft, “no student or program at St. James has suffered any loss of educational resources, opportunities, or innovations. In sum, the education of your children has not and will not be affected by these events,” Meyers wrote.

He added that the sisters felt “deep remorse” for their actions and asked for forgiveness.

Meyers told parents last week that the sisters' theft went undetected because they took money destined for a reserve fund, and did not immediately attract the attention of auditors and other officials.

St. James School's 2016 enrollment was 325 students, according to an archdiocesan directory.

Some parents at the school alleged that the sisters often took gambling trips to Las Vegas. Krueper has a P.O. Box and a prior address in Las Vegas, according to The Beach Reporter.

Marge Graf, an archdiocesan attorney, told St. James School parents that the sisters “had a pattern of going on trips, we do know they had a pattern of going to casinos, and the reality is, they used the account as their personal account,” The Beach Reporter noted.

The sisters are members of the Los Angeles Province of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cardondelet. Though they are commonly referred to as “nuns,” that term is reserved in the Church to consecrated women living in contemplative monasteries. Kreuper and Chang are more properly referred to as “religious sisters.”

Lori Barr, a former principal of St. Paul School in Santa Fe Springs, California, was sentenced in 2015 to 180 days in county jail for stealing $64,000 from the school, which is owned and operated by the Los Angeles archdiocese. Barr was discovered to have made charges on the school’s American Express card, making purchases from Disneyland, Tiffany & Co, United Airlines, and Victoria’s Secret, among others.

Barr paid restitution to the archdiocese before she was sentenced, and apologized to school and diocesan officials.

It has not yet been announced what charges Krueper and Chang will face.

 

This story is developing and has been updated.

US Supreme Court won't hear case of states defunding Planned Parenthood

Washington D.C., Dec 10, 2018 / 02:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The US Supreme Court will not hear an appeal from states which were seeking to terminate Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood, meaning that these contracts will remain.

Kansas and Louisiana had attempted to block Medicaid funds from being used for preventative care services provided by Planned Parenthood. A lower court ruled that this policy violated federal law, and the states were attempting to appeal this decision.

By deciding not to hear the case, the court has not cast a judgement on the questions contained in the appeals.

Only three judges – Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch – voted to grant certiorari. This is one short of the four needed.

Voting against certiorari were newly-confirmed Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

In his dissent, Thomas wrote that he thought his colleagues on the bench were trying to avoid any cases involving Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest abortion provider. This case in particular did not involve abortion, but concerned other services provided by Planned Parenthood.

"What explains the court’s refusal to do its job here?” asked Thomas, adding, "I suspect it has something to do with the fact that some respondents in these cases are named 'Planned Parenthood.'”

Thomas was furious with the court’s denial of certiorari, saying: “But these cases are not about abortion rights,” but rather “about private rights of action under the Medicaid Act.”

“Resolving the question presented here would not even affect Planned Parenthood’s ability to challenge the States’ decisions; it concerns only the rights of individual Medicaid patients to bring their own suits. Some tenuous connection to a politically fraught issue does not justify abdicating our judicial duty.”

Former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson told CNA that she did not agree with the court’s decision.

“States should have every right to divert funding away from the nation's largest abortion provider and towards health centers that provide true healthcare to patients, not one that promotes abortion above all else,” Johnson said.

She also pointed out that Planned Parenthood has done fewer and fewer preventative services in recent years. Between 2009 and 2016, the number of breast cancer screenings done by the organization dropped by 61 percent, she said.

"Other cancer screenings have dropped by 64 percent during the same time. And forget about prenatal services and adoption referrals. Those services are barely offered, if at all at some Planned Parenthoods,” added Johnson.

Johnson told CNA she believes states should instead fund federal qualified healthcare clinics, which “outnumber Planned Parenthood nearly 20-to-1 and sees ten times the number of patients that Planned Parenthood does every year.”

Holy See affirms enduring importance of UN human rights declaration

New York City, N.Y., Dec 10, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Seven decades after its proclamation, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is still being hailed as “a great triumph achieved at a tremendous cost,” in the words of St John Paul II.

The landmark declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris Dec. 10, 1948. It includes a preamble and 30 articles that provide for individual freedoms, denounce torture and slavery, and affirm the equal dignity of all people.

The Vatican’s diplomatic representative to the United Nations recently praised the declaration, saying the anniversary presented an opportunity to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights,” but also warned that parts of the world are experiencing the consequences of failing to uphold those rights.

Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, offered his reflections at a Dec. 4 conference commemorating the document’s 70th anniversary.

Since Auza was in Katowice, Poland for another conference, his remarks were read by Msgr. Tomasz Grysa. The conference was jointly hosted by the Holy See and Alliance Defending Freedom International at the UN headquarters in New York.

He said the then-recent atrocities of the Holocaust and two World Wars had “revealed that there are some actions so wicked that no one can or will justify them, and certain fundamental values that no one will dispute.”

Archbishop Auza hearkened back to St. John Paul II’s praise for the declaration, which he offered a year after being elected Bishop of Rome.

“When Pope John Paul II spoke to the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1979, he called [the declaration] the 'fundamental document,' the 'basic inspiration and cornerstone of the United Nations Organization,' and a 'milestone on the long and difficult path of the moral progress,'” Auza wrote.

“After the horrors of the first half of [the 20th] century, it was obvious that human progress could not be measured only by scientific and technological advances, since even those could become weapons against the innocent,” Auza wrote, affirming that “human progress” includes ethical development as well.

Auza noted that the preamble of the UN charter affirms “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small,” but does not specify what rights are to be upheld. The Commission on Human Rights later elaborated both political and civil human rights in the declaration, making them “practical” so as to guide action.

“[The rights] were framed not only in relation to the State but also to various mediating institutes like the family, human community, and religious groups, since human beings are persons in solidarity and fraternity rather than isolated individuals,” Auza wrote.

The original declaration itself did not contain any enforcement mechanisms per se, but later agreements such as the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights sought to incorporate human rights principles into the legal systems of individual nations. The United States ratified that covenant in 1992.

On the occasion of the declaration’s 70th anniversary, Azua highlighted three of the document’s “fundamental presuppositions” that he said “are perhaps not as widely and deeply appreciated today as they were by the framers and the delegates who voted for its adoption” because of cultural changes since the 1940s.

He spoke of the document’s universality, which he characterized as an attempt to formulate rights that would be valid regardless of time, place, and culture, which presumes that there exist universal human rights rooted in human nature. This ties into the document’s objectivity, Azua said; if human nature is objectively the same everywhere, then this prevents the universality of the rights “to be denied for cultural, political, social, philosophical or religious reasons.”

“Human rights are premised on the existence of a nature objectively shared by all members of the human race by the very fact of their humanity,” the archbishop wrote.

“From that nature flows human dignity, which refers to the intrinsic worth of the person, no matter one’s circumstances, no matter how young or old, rich or poor, strong or vulnerable, healthy or sick, wanted or undesired, economically productive or incapacitated, politically influential or insignificant.”

In other words, this recognition presupposes that all human beings are equal in value.

Finally, Auza highlighted the unity of the declaration— the importance of applying all the rights listed, rather than picking and choosing which rights to honor “piecemeal, according to trends or selective choices”— as an important element that was highlighted by Benedict XVI in 2008.

“The Declaration, [Pope Benedict] was saying, is not, and cannot be allowed to become, a menu of rights from which one can choose according to personal, national, or international taste,” Auza wrote.

To this point, Auza highlighted some of the notable instances of human rights violations in the world today.

For example, an estimated one in ten children will be subjected to child labor, and “tens of millions are ensnared by various forms of so-called modern slavery.”

Article 18 of the declaration upholds the freedom of “thought, conscience, and religion,” but “in so many places changing one’s religion or even practising one’s faith is still a death sentence or a reason to be discriminated against.”

Many countries, such as Sudan, have laws that criminalize apostasy, or converting from the state religion, usually Islam.

Auza noted that Pope Francis has spoken out against the reinterpretation of some rights over the years that conflict with each other, leading to, among others things, a breakdown of the family.

“Human rights in general, and the Universal Declaration in particular, were not meant to be used as weapons to advance political, economic, military or cultural agendas contrary to the fundamental human rights,” he wrote.