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US military archbishop prays for victims of USS Fitzgerald collision

Yokohama, Japan, Jun 22, 2017 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday the Archbishop for Military Services, USA offered his prayers and condolences for the sailors who perished on USS Fitzgerald after colliding with a container ship off the coast of south east Japan last week.

“Deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life on the USS Fitzgerald, I ask all of the faithful to remember in prayer the victims and their families,” Archbishop Timothy Broglio said in a June 21 statement.

“I express my heartfelt sympathy to the families whose loved ones perished in this unfortunate incident,” he added.

Twenty-five minutes after a Filipino container ship, the ACX Crystal, made a sudden U-turn, it crashed into the starboard side of the USS Fitzgerald, a destroyer, in the early hours of June 17 near Shimoda, Japan.

The hull of the destroyer was penetrated below the waterline, causing water to flood into the radio room, machinery, and two sleeping quarters for the crew. The captain’s cabin was also damaged.

Seven sailers died in the collision. Three men were also injured; they were quickly evacuated by helicopter.

Archbishop Broglio also expressed his sympathy for the survivors of the collision, saying: “My heart also goes out to all of the members of the crew who not only lost their esteemed shipmates, but also all of the personal belongings they had on board with them.”

“The Naval community at Yokosuka has responded with great care in attempting to meet the physical, psychological, and spiritual needs of those who survived the collision,” he added. “May Almighty God give them continued fortitude in the days ahead.”

Most men out of the 350 person crew on the USS Fitzgerald were asleep, but sailors still acted heroically according to Seventh Fleet Commander Joseph Aucoin. He said the ship could have taken on more water and potentially sunk, but the crew worked well to keep the water from spreading.  

The ACX Crystal sustained lighter damage to its port bow, and none of its crew of 20 were injured.

The USS Fitzgerald was first commissioned in 1995, and in 2005 it was deployed to counteract missile crises around the globe.

Youssef Absi elected Patriarch of Melkite Greek Catholic Church

Beirut, Lebanon, Jun 22, 2017 / 12:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church elected on Wednesday Archbishop Youssef Absi as the Church's new patriarch, who received ecclesiastical communion from Pope Francis the following day.

Elected June 21, Patriarch Absi, 71, succeeds Patriarch Gregorios III Laham, who retired May 6 at the age of 83.

The new patriarch was born in Damascus in 1946. He was ordained a priest of the Missionary Society of St. Paul in 1973. He became superior general of the society in 1999, and two years later was appointed curial bishop of the Melkite Patriarchate of Antioch. In 2007, he was appointed the Patriarchal Vicar of of the Melkite Archdiocese of Damascus.

The Melkite Greek Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic Church of the Byzantine rite, and it consists of some 1.5 million members. It is based in Syria and Lebanon, and most of its eparchies are in the Arab world. It also has structures to serve the Melkite diaspora in Australia, Turkey, Canada, Mexico, the United States, Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela.

The Melkite Church traces its roots to the earliest days of Christianity, when Sts. Peter and Paul first evangelized the peoples of Syria, where followers of Christ were first called “Christians.”

During the 2010 Synod on the Middle East, Patriarch Absi lamented the strife among the Eastern Catholic Churches, calling the struggle a “fount of impairment and false testimony,” according to Vatican Insider.

“The Christians of the East,” he said, “are all on the same boat, and confront the same struggle. They cannot be disinterested each in the other.”

The new patriarch holds licentiates in philosophy and theology, and a doctorate in musical sciences and Byzantine hymnography from the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik in Lebanon. He has taught philosophy, Greek, and musicology at the university level.

Pope Francis wrote to Patriarch Absi the day after his election, congratulating him and granting him ecclesiastical communion.

Francis also noted the tribulation facing Christians in the region.

“The election of Your Beatitude comes at the time of a delicate situation for the venerable Greco-Melkite Church and when many Christian communities in the Middle East are called to bear witness in a special way to their faith in the dead and risen Christ,” the Roman Pontiff said. “In this particularly difficult time, Pastors are called upon to manifest communion, unity, closeness, solidarity and transparency before the suffering people of God.”

“I am certain that your Beatitude, in fraternal harmony with all the Synod Fathers, will know, in all evangelical wisdom, how to be not only 'Pater et Caput' in the service of the faithful of the Greco-Melkite Church, but also a faithful and authentic witness to the Risen One.”

'A saint for our times' – the inspiring story of Chiara Corbella Petrillo

Manchester, N.H., Jun 22, 2017 / 09:05 am (CNA).- Chiara Corbella Petrillo lived a short life.    She met her husband Enrico Petrillo at age 18, became the mother of three children, and died at the age 28.    But what happened within those 10 years has touched the hearts of thousands across the globe. Chiara's sainthood cause was opened last week, five years after her death. Her story is told in the 2015 book, “Chiara Corbella Petrillo: A Witness to Joy,” published by Sophia Institute Press.    “In the story of the Petrillo couple, many people recognize a providential consolation from heaven,” said Simone Troisi and Christiana Paccini, close friends of the Petrillo's who wrote the biography of Chiara's life.    “They discover that in any situation, there is no real reason to be sad. This is because Chiara shows that if you have God as your guide, misfortunes do not exist,” they told CNA.     Chiara and Enrico married in Italy on September 21, 2008 after having met at Medjugorje in 2002. During the early years of their marriage, the young Italian couple faced many hardships together, including the death of two children, who both died only 30 minutes after birth.    Chiara became pregnant a third time with their son, Francesco. However, the joyful news of their pregnancy also came with a fatal diagnosis of cancer for Chiara. Her cancer was an unusual lesion of the tongue, which was later discovered to be a carcinoma.    Chiara rejected any treatment that could have saved her life during pregnancy because it would have risked the life of her unborn son. As the cancer progressed, it became difficult for Chiara to speak and see clearly, eventually making her final days on earth particularly excruciating.    “Her [Chiara's] suffering became a holy place because it was the place where she encountered God,” Troisi and Paccini recalled.   Although many couples face hardships, Troisi and Paccini remembered something different about the Petrillos - they leaned on God’s grace which made their family particularly serene. They made peace with the reality that Chiara would never grow old with Enrico or watch Francesco grow up.    During Chiara’s last days, Enrico embraced God’s grace just as Chiara did, saying, “If she is going to be with Someone who loves her more than I, why should I be upset?”     Chiara died on June 13, 2012 at home in her wedding gown, surrounded by her family and friends. Although her earthly life was over, Chiara would continue to be a witness to joy.   Troisi and Paccini believe that Chiara’s legacy is still living on because she gave witness to the truth that “love exists.” Neither she nor Enrico were afraid of love, marriage, or of committing themselves to their family.    According to the authors, the young couple showed how “the purpose of our life is to love... to be married is a wonderful thing, an adventure that opens you up to Heaven in the home.”    Chiara and Enrico's remarkable story is “a story of salvation in which God shows himself as a faithful God: they trust in Him and are not disappointed,” they stated.    However, they were quick to note that Chiara was not “an extraordinary young woman, in a way that makes her different from us.” Rather, she struggled with many human fears and anxieties, especially with thoughts of pain, vomiting, and purgatory.    “She had the same questions that we have, the same objections and struggles, the same fears,” Troisi and Paccini noted, saying what made her different was her “capacity to cast everything on the Father, to welcome the grace needed for whatever step she had to make.”   With Chiara, the ordinary always became the extraordinary. Troisi and Paccini have fond memories of everyday life with the Petrillos, when a conversation about cooking chicken would end in talking about heaven.    “We would share simple things like dinner, chatting, games on the rug with little Francesco... always very simple, without masks,” they remembered.   “But when we were together, there was no difficulty in believing that eternal life was here and now!”    Chiara has been called “a saint for our times.” Although her death was only five years ago, her legacy lives on and has inspired others around the world to be the same witness to joy.   “Today, this joy is visible in those that lived alongside her: even if they miss her, they experience a mysterious and profound joy,” Troisi and Paccini stated.   “We cannot insist enough on the fact that Chiara did what she did, not trusting in her own strength, but trusting in the grace and the consolation of God... She never doubted God's faithfulness to His promise of happiness for her story.”   An earlier version of this article was originally published on CNA Dec. 2, 2015.  

Pope Francis meets Dutch king and queen, returns long-lost stick

Vatican City, Jun 22, 2017 / 07:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday Pope Francis met with King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, as part of the visit returning to them a long-lost royal stick of a 16th century Dutch king.

An important diplomatic portion of the audience June 22, was the Vatican's return of the stick of William I, Prince of Orange, which until recently had remained lost in the Jesuit Catalan archives.

 

  The story of the long-lost stick of the Netherlands involves wars, a Spanish general, and Jesuits. Given by the Dutch Royalty to a commander in the army, he carried it into the Battle of Mookerheyde in 1574. Luigi of Nassau waved the stick in the battle. After its loss, it passed through the hands of a Spanish general to Catalan Jesuits, who stored it in their archives, and the stick was largely forgotten. On Thursday, #PopeFrancis returned the stick to the King and Queen of the Netherlands during their visit to the Vatican. #royalstick #Catholic #Vatican (????L'Osservatore Romano)

A post shared by Catholic News Agency (@catholicnewsagency) on Jun 22, 2017 at 10:55am PDT

 

The stick, which resembles a sort of scepter or baton, and depicts the coat of arms of William of Orange, was given by the 16th century Dutch royal to a Dutch commander in the Battle of Mookerheyde in 1574.

The stick was waved by William's brother, Luigi of Nassau, during the battle.

After it was lost, it came into the hands of a Spanish general and eventually a Jesuit general, until being returned Thursday, through the Vatican, to Willem-Alexander, current King of the Netherlands and Prince of Orange.

According to a press release from the National Military Museum of the Netherlands, the delivery of the stick represents "a testimony of reconciliation, and of the current union between the two countries and religions."

"It is also a symbol of the long journey that the Roman Catholic Church, as well as the Kingdom of the Netherlands, have passed from the past of rivalry, war and repression to a present of mutual respect and promotion of peace and human rights."

The baton will be displayed to the public in the National Military Museum in Soesterberg, Netherlands from April 27 to the end of October 2018.

According to a June 22 Vatican communique, in the audience the three cordially discussed topics “of shared interest,” including protection of the environment, the fight against poverty and how the Holy See and Catholic Church are contributing in these areas.

Particular attention, it stated, was paid to “the phenomenon of migration, underlining the importance of peaceful co-existence between different cultures, and joint commitment to promoting peace and global security, with special reference to various areas of conflict.”

They also shared reflections on the prospects of the European project. The private portion of the audience, which included both the King and the Queen, lasted 35 minutes.

Queen Máxima, who was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, greeted Pope Francis in “porteño,” a dialect of Spanish spoken by people from the Río de la Plata basin of Argentina.

“How are you? Delighted to see you again,” she said.

During the visit Pope Francis gifted the royal couple a medallion depicting St. Martin of Tours, in the classic image of the saint dividing his cloak to give to a poor man.

He also gave them the customary gift of copies of his environmental encyclical Laudato Si, his 2015 Apostolic Exhortation on the family “Amoris Laetitia,” and his 2013 exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” as well as a copy of his message for the 2017 World Day of Peace.

For their part, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima gave the Pope a gift of Dutch flowers, white and yellow tulips from their country.

Giving the gifts, they told Pope Francis that tulips aren't only for Easter, but could be planted in the Vatican.

Afterward, the two met with Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher.

The Royal couple are in the midst of a state visit to the Italian Republic, taking place June 21-23.

Before their meeting with the Pope, the King and Queen visited the Church of Saints Michael and Magnus, the national church of the Netherlands in Rome. Located next to the Vatican, it was built in 1140 in the place where pilgrims from the Netherlands met back in the 8th century.

According to church statistics, Catholics currently make up 23 percent of the population of 17 million in the Netherlands.

This pro-life talk at Google's headquarters was a hit

Mountain View, Calif., Jun 22, 2017 / 05:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A pro-life activist walks into Google’s headquarters and delivers a speech so compelling that within 24 hours, the online video of it surpassed a similar speech given by the head of Planned Parenthood.

It may sound like the start to a far-fetched joke, but on April 20th, pro-life speaker and activist Stephanie Gray did just that.

Gray was the co-founder of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform and served as its executive director for several year before starting the ministry which she now runs, Love Unleashes Life.

She spoke in April as a part of the Talks at Google series, a program that brings a variety of speakers to the company’s headquarters to discuss their work. Gray has participated in more than 800 talks and debates on abortion.

Gray’s talk centered around the idea that there are three qualities that lead us to call someone “inspiring:” They place others ahead of themselves, have “perspective” on their sufferings and situation in life, and do the right thing even in difficult situations. She linked these criteria to the process of dialoguing with others about abortion, emphasizing question asking.

She began by contrasting two stories, that of the shipwreck of the Costa Concordia in Italy in 2012 and the “Miracle on the Hudson” emergency plane landing in 2009. In the first story, she explained, the captain had jumped ship along with the rest of the crew. In the second, the pilot, Captain Chesley Sullenberger, had been the last off the flooding vessel, ensuring his passengers all exited safely.

In comparing the two stories, she noted that Sullenberger was lauded as a hero, and the captain of the Concordia internationally shamed.

“If you agree that it was correct for the pilot to put the passengers ahead of himself, to prioritize the needs of his dependents,” she said, “then wouldn’t it follow, that when it comes to the topic of abortion and an unplanned pregnancy, that a pregnant woman ought to prioritize the needs of her dependent?”

However, she noted that the comparison was only valid “depending on, indeed, whether embryos and fetuses are human beings, like the passengers on the airplane.”

To determine whether or not a fetus is a human being, Gray displayed an image of a human fetus and posed the question, “What are her parents?” It would logically follow that two human parents’ offspring must be the same species, she said.

Despite the ambiguity around the origin point of human life when it comes to abortion, she said, in discussing other topics “we have great clarity.” For example, an IVF specialist or dog breeder would agree that the life they attempt to create begins at fertilization.

Taking a look at what qualifies as “personhood,” Gray considered the terms used by pro-infanticide philosopher Peter Singer, that a person is a being which is “rational, conscious, and self-aware.” She contrasted a human embryo with an amoeba: the embryo lacks these qualities “because of how old she is,” where the amoeba lacks them “because of what it is.”

 “Should personhood be grounded in how old we are, or should personhood be grounded in what we are?” she asked.

“The quality of age shouldn’t be the basis for which someone has personhood status,” she answered, noting that the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the rights of “all members of the human family.”

She then addressed the question of the fetus’ dependence, arguing that the fetus’ greater dependent status as a weaker entity than a baby entitles it to greater, not less, protection. She related this to the story of a friend’s husband who, faced with the choice between rescuing a mother or her baby first from the roof of a sinking car, made the “obvious” choice to take the baby.

“Since you believe that we should prioritize weaker and more vulnerable people ahead of stronger people, then shouldn’t we actually prioritize the needs of the pre-born child?” she said.

She recalled meeting a Rwandan genocide survivor who, seeing a picture of a child killed in the conflict next to an aborted fetus, pointed to the image of the fetus and said, “That’s worse, because at least my family could try to run away.”

Considering the concept of perspective, she posed another question: “How can we change our perspective in an unplanned, crisis situation?” She recalled dialoguing with a college student whose stepmother had an abortion upon learning her baby was expected to die at birth. Responding with a thought experiment involving a terminal cancer diagnosis, she answered the student, “Why would we cut short the already short time we have left? Instead, wouldn’t we want to savor every moment of every day of the next 20 weeks (of the pregnancy)?”

Moving to her final criterion for what makes a person inspirational – “do the right thing” – she listed a number of circumstances that make pregnancy hard and often lead to abortion, including poverty or rape. But when we look at parents raising an already-born child in the same circumstances, she said, we can see that we ought to have the same attitude towards carrying an unborn child as towards parenting a child in the same situation.

Gray closed with a number of stories from people she knows personally, including a woman who was raped and had a child at age 12, a woman who cared for her baby daughter with respiratory issues, and a woman who regretted her own abortion and ended up counseling another woman to carry her baby to term.

“They’re inspiring because they put others ahead of themselves, because they had perspective, and because they did the right thing, even when it was hard,” she said of all the stories she had told throughout the talk. “And that’s the challenge that I leave all of you with today.”

In a question-and-answer session after her talk, she recommended that audience members seek to start dialogue on the difficult topic of abortion with open-ended questions, and to “seek to understand where (another) person is coming from.” She also used the analogy of a person choosing rape to address the thought that pro-life views cannot be “forced on” pregnant women, saying that just as it is illegal to make the choice to rape someone, it ought to be illegal to choose to end the life of a fetus.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards also gave a Talk at Google, in a video published March 7. Gray’s talk, published June 19, had surpassed Richards in views within 24 hours of being uploaded.

 

Euthanasia mindset looms over disabled baby's legal fight, ethicist warns

London, England, Jun 22, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Legal efforts to bar the parents of a British baby born with a disabling medical condition from seeking treatment overseas are based on deep ethical errors, a Catholic expert in medical ethics has warned.

“It seems to me completely wrongheaded that the state should be stepping in here when the decision that the parents are making is really aimed at the best interests of the child,” Dr. Melissa Moschella, a Catholic University of America philosophy professor, told CNA.

“It’s not crazy, it’s not abusive, it’s not neglectful. It’s the decision of parents who want to, however they can, to give their very sick child a chance for life.”

She said such a decision “should be completely within the prerogative of the parent,” citing the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to Moschella, that declaration “clearly indicates that the parents, not the state will have primarily responsibility.”

Charlie Gard, now aged 10 months, is believed to suffer from a rare genetic condition called mitochondrial depletion syndrome, which causes progressive muscle weakness. The disorder is believed to affect fewer than 20 children worldwide. Charlie has been in intensive care since October 2016. He has suffered significant brain damage due to the disease and is currently fed through a tube. He breathes with an artificial ventilator and is unable to move.

His parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, have wanted to keep him on life support and transport him to the United States in order to try an experimental treatment.

However, their decision was challenged in court by hospitals and an attorney appointed to represent Charlie. The parents appealed a High Court decision, and their appeal to the U.K.’s Supreme Court was rejected.

Their final legal challenge is presently before the European Court of Human Rights. The court has said Charlie must continue to receive treatment until its judges make a decision.

Moschella said the legal decisions favoring ending life support for Charlie are effectively “telling the parents that their child’s life has no value and that therefore they should cease any effort to heal him of his disease.”

These decisions represent a “quality of life” ethic and an ideology that say human life is valuable only if it meets certain capacities.

“It’s the same ideology that underlies allowing euthanasia or physician assisted suicide,” she said. “That’s completely opposed to the Catholic view in which every human life has intrinsic value regardless of the quality of that life.”

 

  Patiently waiting........

A post shared by #charliesfight (@charliesfight) on Jun 19, 2017 at 7:28am PDT

 

Charlie’s parents have raised more than $1.6 million to help seek experimental treatment for him in the U.S. Their decision faced legal challenge from Great Ormond Street Hospital, where he is being treated.

In early April, the baby’s hospital challenged their efforts. The hospital’s experts argued in court that long-term life support should be withdrawn from the baby because his quality of life was so poor.

Charlie’s court-appointed lawyer argued before a High Court judge that any treatments in the U.S. would be experimental and long-term life-support would only “prolong the process of dying.”

Charlie’s parents had their own legal representative in the case, who argued that travel to the U.S. for treatment would not cause the boy significant suffering or harm and could give him another chance.

Yates, Charlie’s mother, has argued that she would welcome any treatment that could help him live. She also suggested anything learned during an experimental treatment could help treat future babies who suffer from the disorder.

According to Moschella, who has a background in parental rights and medical ethics, said parental rights derive both from the “special intimate relationship” they have with their child and from their primary obligations to care for their own children. Interfering with their conscientious best efforts is akin to violating religious freedom, she said.

“It is a deep violation of conscience, when, without a very serious reason, the state prevents parents from fulfilling that conscientious obligation,” she said.

She noted that what Charlie’s parents are trying to do by helping secure extraordinary treatment is not ethically required by Catholic ethics.

“It would be perfectly morally acceptable should they choose to forgo seeking further treatment and take the baby off life support and allow him to pass away naturally due to the underlying disease,” the professor said. “But it’s also acceptable, on Catholic ethics, to do whatever you can to heal a person if you think that there’s any chance that a treatment could have a positive effect.”

She suggested that extraordinary treatment could be unethical only when “there is absolutely no hope of any benefit whatsoever” and the treatment is painful to the patient, or the treatment would take away “important resources that are needed to help other patients who could benefit.”

Moschella said there should only be legal intervention against the wishes of parents in cases “when there is a clear case of abuse or neglect or some significant threat to the public order.”

“Neither of those situations is the case here.”

We must speak, act more on criminal justice reform, Christian leaders insist

Washington D.C., Jun 22, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With the justice system rife with abuse, there is still much work to be done to call the faithful to minister to prisoners, victims, and their families, Christian leaders maintained on Tuesday.

“We need to raise this as a priority within the Church,” Karen Clifton, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Death Penalty, told CNA of criminal justice reform and ministries to prisoners and their victims.

“Our Pope has been very outspoken about that, and spoken numerous times about our need to visit those imprisoned, and then accompany and journey with those that are affected by crime, all aspects, the perpetrators family, and the victims’ families,” she continued.

Clifton was one of a number of Christian leaders who spoke out against injustice in the justice system during a June 20 press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The panel included Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, as well as Harry Jackson of the International Communion of Evangelical Churches. They unveiled the “Justice Declaration,” which calls for “a justice system that is fair and redemptive for all.”

It also calls for Christians to be more active in advocating for more humane conditions in prisons, “proportional punishment” for offenders, better educational and economic opportunities for poor people as crime prevention, and to “invest in the discipleship” of prisoners.

Christians must “treat every human being as a person made in God’s own image, with a life worthy of respect, protection, and care,” they stated.

“The Church has both the unique ability and unparalleled capacity to confront the staggering crisis of crime and incarceration in America and to respond with restorative solutions for communities, victims, and individuals responsible for crime,” the declaration said.

Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, is among the signatories, along with Karen Clifton.

Over-incarceration, racial disparity, and disproportionate sentencing are only some of the injustices that underscore the urgency for reform of the justice system, panel members insisted.

The U.S. is home to five percent of the world’s population, but holds 25 percent of the world’s prison population. 2.2 million are behind bars, leaving 2.7 million children with an incarcerated parent. African-Americans are incarcerated at a rate six times that of whites, according to the NAACP. 65 million Americans suffer from the collateral consequences of a conviction, which include difficulty in finding a job or renting a home even after they serve their prison sentence.

All this has produced a “crisis” to which the Christian community must respond, the leaders insisted.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2266 states that “punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people's safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.”

Pope Francis has also advocated for the eventual reintegration of prisoners into society, warning against only focusing on justice as an “instrument of punishment.”

Criminal justice reform measures had been gaining bipartisan momentum at the federal level as members of Congress in both parties supported various policies like ending mandatory minimum sentencing and limiting the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons.

However, with the advent of the new administration that momentum has slowed.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions dropped the Obama administration’s “Smart on Crime” initiative and has directed prosecutors to pursue stricter mandatory minimum sentences, which reform advocates say gives judges less flexibility to adjust one’s sentence based on the details of their case.

“We believe that it removes from the judge the ability to do his or her job,” James Ackerman, CEO of Prison Fellowship Ministries, said on Tuesday.

Christians are be on board with certain aspects of criminal justice reform, but for many there still remains a “disconnect” between their views on justice and reform of the justice system, Prison Fellowship claims in its report “Responding to Crime & Incarceration: a Call to the Church.”

In a recent poll commissioned by Prison Fellowship, 88 percent of practicing Christians answered that the primary goal of the justice system should be “restoration for all involved: the victim, the community, and the person responsible for the crime.”

However, in the same poll, 53 percent of practicing Christians answered that “it’s important to make an example out of someone for certain crimes” even if that entailed punishing them more harshly than they deserved.

“Disproportional punishment is not consistent with our values,” Ackerman stated.

How can the Church better bridge this “disconnect” in polling answers?

The Church must educate laypeople on the importance of the issue, and mobilize them to act through parish ministries, Clifton insisted.

“I want to say, ‘where are our resources?’” she asked. “There is so little funding for prison ministry, for care for victims, for programs for victims,” she said, and for incarceration prevention programs.

There is a “challenge to the churches to bring the stories to the pulpit,” she said, “to convert those in the pews, and know that this is the Gospel message, to be a voice to the voiceless and to go to the margins and the peripheries and be present in accompanying those back into society.”

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy arm, agreed.

“Our criminal justice system exists in order to restrain evil, and in order to rehabilitate and to reform those who have committed crimes,” he said.

If, however, the system “doesn’t stop crime, but in many cases actually furthers crime, making criminals out of those who are not yet criminals, ignoring those who have been victims of crime, not dealing with issues of addiction,” he continued, “then we have a criminal justice system that doesn’t work and ought to be fixed.”

“When we have family members who are left behind, waiting for those who are incarcerated and wondering if anyone remembers them, the church of Jesus Christ needs to be at the forefront of that,” he said.

Harry Jackson maintained that Christians must be actively fighting the racial disparity in the justice system.

“In this hour of racial tension, the most important step of healing that we could take at this point is to deal with the fact that there is an increasing, permanent underclass that’s coming out of black and Hispanic people being incarcerated,” he said, “and their lives being in a sense marked off the list of potential, or the list of achievers in our culture.”

“We have the opportunity now to make a difference,” he added. “I believe this is the most important civil rights step that we will take in our lifetimes.”

US bishops launch 2017 Fortnight for Freedom

Washington D.C., Jun 21, 2017 / 09:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops have launched a website and video to mark the beginning of this year’s Fortnight for Freedom, focusing on religious freedom issues both at home and abroad.

The video, about ten minutes long and viewable on the Fortnight for Freedom website, features a number of legal, religious, and other personalities discussing the importance of religious liberty. The Fortnight for Freedom takes place June 21 - July 4.

“Religious freedom is one of the basic freedoms of the human person because without religious freedom, the freedom of conscience, all other freedoms are without foundation,” Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami says at the beginning of the video.

“A government that doesn’t acknowledge limits on its own power to regulate religious institutions is probably going to come after other institutions as well,” said Professor Rick Garnett of the Notre Dame Law School.

The video chronicles the struggle between the Little Sisters of the Poor and the HHS mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

“It’s over three now that this issue has been pursuing us,” says Sr. Constance, L.S.P.

Testimonies from beneficiaries of the Sisters’ work are showcased in the video.

“There is a spiritual component in the way that they live their lives that adds to not only enrichment of the residents’ lives but to those who are in contact with them, who work with them, who just hear about them,” says Carmel Kang.

“When religious freedom goes away, and there is no transcendent authority, then the law is the only norm, and the people in power now are always the only power,” says Professor Helen Alvare of George Mason University Law School.

The video emphasizes the United States’ historical connection to freedom of religion.

“The United States is the greatest country in the history of the world precisely because of the exceptional character of its relationship to faith which permeates every dimension of its evolution,” says Eugene Rivers II, an activist and Pentecostal pastor.

The video also highlighted the struggle of religious peoples in other parts of the world.

“Tragically, we see the killings, the martyrdom of Christians in Iraq, and Libya, and Egypt, Syria,” says Archbishop Wenski. The video then showed clips from the video of 21 Coptic Christians being martyred by the Islamic State in early 2015.

Professor Thomas Farr of Georgetown University noted the increased threat since the Obergefell vs. Hodges Supreme Court decision in June 2015, and also observed that viewpoints motivated by religion are being silenced.

The video also summarized Dignitatis humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on religious freedom, as well as noting Pope Francis’ concern for persecuted Christians around the world.

“We have to bring not just optimism, but genuine Christian hope,” says Archbishop Lori of Baltimore, head of the USCCB’s Committee on Religious Liberty, which was made a permanent structure of the conference at their annual spring meeting last week.

The video closed with a montage of scenes and figures including the Selma to Montgomery March, St. John Paul II, and the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
 
The USCCB’s Fortnight for Freedom website provides a host of prayer and practical resources on the topic of religious freedom.

The prayer resources are based in Scripture as well as the examples of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, and are available in both English and Spanish.

Among the practical resources is a brief guide to the issue, which seeks to defend and clarify the bishop’s views, responding to concerns that defense of liberty is an affront to treating people “with equal dignity.”

Also included are summaries of religious liberty concerns in the United States and internationally. Domestically, issues listed include the HHS mandate, the right to practice faith in business, and religious institutes’ right to aid undocumented immigrants. Internationally, concerns are presented from the Central African Republic, Myanmar, and Mexico.

On May 4, the National Day of Prayer, President Trump signed an executive order on religious liberty while surrounded by faith leaders, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl of D.C. and the Little Sisters of the Poor. The order called for agencies to consider different enforcement of the mandate and looser enforcement of the Johnson Amendment. It was modified from an earlier, leaked version which critics claimed would have allowed for unjust discrimination of LGBT people.

On May 31, a draft rule providing blanket protection from the mandate was leaked.

The bishops’ website does not include the Johnson Amendment among its concerns.

Pro-lifers claim victory in Georgia House vote

Atlanta, Ga., Jun 21, 2017 / 04:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Abortion rights groups invested heavily and lost in Tuesday night’s runoff special election for a Georgia House seat, and pro-lifers maintain the outcome proves the futility of the pro-abortion agenda.

In the June 20 special election to replace former congressman and now HHS Secretary Tom Price in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional district, Republican candidate Karen Handel was victorious, holding off Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff with 52 percent of the vote to his 48 percent.

“I think that this is really encouraging for pro-life candidates,” Mallory Quigley, communications director for the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, told CNA Wednesday of the race in the Atlanta suburbs. “Planned Parenthood has just suffered another humiliating loss.”

Ossoff ran on arguably a moderate fiscal platform with ostensibly mild rhetoric, promising to fight wasteful spending and bring more tech jobs to the Atlanta metropolitan area, and vowing to work with Republicans on areas of agreement.

However, from the start of the abbreviated campaign he did zero in on Handel's opposition to taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, stating that “with all due respect to Karen, I think her record on women's health issues is lacking,” according to WXIA local news.

On the matter of abortion, he cast himself as a defender of a woman’s right to choose. “I would never disparage anyone who has differing views on the issue,” he said, as reported by WXIA, adding that “it's precisely that complexity at the ethical and medical level that makes it unacceptable for federal bureaucrats to be getting between women and families and their doctors.”

Handel, meanwhile, was vocally pro-life. She was previously the vice president of Susan G. Komen For the Cure, an organization that raises breast cancer awareness and funds research and which is also a prominent funder of Planned Parenthood.

In 2011, the foundation temporarily cut its grants to Planned Parenthood citing Congress’s investigation into the organization. The investigation was launched over concerns that Planned Parenthood’s federal funding might be used for abortions, and that it allegedly did not report suspicious cases of sexual abuse of minors.

After a widespread backlash in the media, Susan G. Komen quickly backtracked and promised to continue funding Planned Parenthood. Handel then resigned from the foundation.

Ossoff focused on this in a campaign ad, attacking Handel for trying to cut off Planned Parenthood funding and falsely claiming that Planned Parenthood provides breast cancer screenings. A moderator corrected Ossoff on this claim in a recent debate; Planned Parenthood provides referrals for screenings, not the screenings themselves.

Planned Parenthood’s political arm bragged of Ossoff’s strong support on its website. He had promised to be “an unyielding defender of Planned Parenthood,” and had insisted that “my commitment to reproductive health and family planning, as essential to the health of this community, is very strong.”

Abortion rights groups poured cash into the race. Planned Parenthood was the second-largest contributor to Ossoff’s campaign, with $820,000, behind only the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, according to OpenSecrets.org.

The National Abortion Rights Action League ran a six-figure onslaught of video ads, phone calls, and mail outreach in the last days before the election, hoping that accusations of Handel being “extreme” in her opposition to Planned Parenthood would resonate with voters.

Susan B. Anthony List was also active in the race, reaching “65,000 inconsistent voters who are pro-life through mail, phone calls, and digital advertising” and pointing to Ossoff’s “extreme pro-abortion agenda.”

Ultimately, Handel won the day by four percentage points, in a district that Price won by 23 percentage points last election cycle. The seat has not been held by a Democrat since 1979.

The race was the single most expensive House race in history, with spending at $56 million.

Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, insisted that promoting abortion rights continues to be a losing issue for Democrats in states outside of the Northeast and the West Coast.

“Any time you do that in a pro-life district, you risk alienating voters who might otherwise vote for you,” she told CNA.

“We need to be helping people, not spending $25 million on an election that we’ll lose,” she added, referring to the record-setting level of campaign spending for a single House race.

“What are we doing to promote helping those in need?” she asked. “We’ve lost our focus on the little guy.”

The outcome of the election proves that “extreme pro-abortion positions” are losing, Quigley said. She pointed to a recent Susan B. Anthony List poll of voters in states that are considered to be battlegrounds for 2018 Senate races, saying that a majority of voters in select states opposed taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood.

The little-known final interview of Ted Bundy: Porn motivated me

Raiford, Florida, Jun 21, 2017 / 04:15 pm (CNA).- Editor’s note: The following content may be disturbing to some readers. Reader discretion is advised.

He was one of the worst serial killers in U.S. history. An infamous murderer, rapist and necrophile in the 1970s, Ted Bundy’s life continues to attract the interest of psychologists today, who speculate about what drove the promising young law student to commit such horrific crimes.

Bundy admitted to committing 30 homicides of young women and girls in the 1970s, though he may have been guilty of many more. He appeared charming and approachable, which allowed him to lure his victims into brutal and often fatal assaults. Many of his victims were young, attractive, college women in the Pacific Northwest.

But what exactly led Bundy to commit these heinous acts? According to the serial killer himself, violent pornography was a huge motivating factor.

While the testimony of a serial killer – widely believed to be a psychopath – is clearly suspect, his account aligns with numerous other instances of violent criminals having strong connections to pornography.  

On the day before he was put to death by electric chair in 1989, Bundy received hundreds of interview requests from media outlets nationwide. He declined these requests and granted his final interview to Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, to whom he said he believed he had something to say.  

In their exclusive interview, Bundy discussed pornography as a possible explanation for what drove his behavior.

“I was essentially a normal person, I had good friends, I led a normal life except for this one small but very potent, very destructive segment of it that I kept very secret and very close to myself and I didn’t let anybody know about it,” he said.

Bundy said he first discovered “soft core pornography” in grocery stores, and was compelled to consume more, and increasingly violent, forms.

“...like an addiction, you keep craving something harder, which gives you a greater sense of excitement, until you reach a point where the pornography only goes so far.”

It was an “indispensable link in the chain of behavior” that led to the assaults and murders that he carried out on dozens of victims, he said. It also was a common factor among other violent offenders that he encountered during his stays in prison.  

“I’ve lived in prison for a long time now and I’ve met a lot of men who were motivated to commit violence just like me and without exception, every one of them was deeply involved with pornography. Without question, without exception, deeply influenced and consumed by addiction to pornography,” he added.

When asked about his fate, he said: “I think society deserves to be protected from me and from others like me. That’s for sure.”

However, “well-meaning people will condemn the behavior of a Ted Bundy while they’re walking past a magazine rack full of the very kinds of things that send young kids down the road to being Ted Bundys. That’s the irony,” he added.

While causation has been difficult to prove, a strong relationship with pornography exists for many violent offenders including numerous high profile murderers.

Brian Mitchell, who kidnapped and assaulted 14 year-old Elizabeth Smart in 2002, also had a pornography addiction. In 2016, after her release, Smart spoke to anti-pornography group Fight the New Drug about the effect that pornography had on her captor.

“Looking at pornography wasn’t enough for him. Having sex with his wife, after looking at pornography, it wasn’t enough for him,” Smart said. “And then it led him to finally going out and kidnapping me. He just always wanted more.”

She recalled one time when her captor “was just really excited and really kind of amped up about something.”

It turned out his excitement was over hard-core pornography, which he forced her to watch and reenact.

“I remember he would just sit and look at it and stare at it,” Smart said. “And he would just talk about these women. And then when he was done, he would turn and he would look at me, and he would be like, ‘Now we’re going to do this’.”

“It just led to him raping me more. More than he already did, which was a lot.”

Smart said she doesn’t know whether Mitchell would have kidnapped her had pornography not been involved.

“All I know is that pornography made my living hell worse.”

Studies show a correlation between pornography viewing and violent crimes. A 1995 analysis of 33 different studies showed that viewing pornography increases aggressive behavior, including having violent fantasies and even actually committing violent assaults. A University of New Hampshire study showed that states with the highest readership of pornographic magazines like Playboy and Penthouse, also have the highest rape rates.

Other violent criminals who frequently watched pornography and became violent offenders include Mark Bridger, who abducted, sexually assaulted and killed five-year-old April Jones, and kept explicit images of child sex abuse on his laptop.

In addition, U.K. serial killer Stuart Hazell amassed images of child abuse and bestiality, and took naked, sexual photographs of one 12-year-old victim. There is evidence he sexually assaulted her before killing her.

Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer also once said in an interview that part of his routine before searching for his next victim included viewing pornography.

Online pornography is one of the fastest growing addictions in the United States, on par with cocaine and gambling.

Once confined to the pages of a smuggled Playboy magazine, pornography can now be in the hands of anyone with a smartphone, and is more prolific and anonymous than ever. PornHub, one of the world’s largest sites with porn video streaming, reports that it averages 75 million viewers per day, or about 2.4 million visitors per hour.

With growing access has come growing awareness of pornography addictions, however, with several celebrities speaking out against it, numerous states declaring it a public health crisis, and grassroots anti-pornography groups sprouting up to help the addicted quit pornography.

Resources to fight pornography addictions include the online Fortify video program, Covenant eyes internet accountability and filtering software, and websites with information and support for individuals, spouses and communities facing addiction.