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US bishops conference approves project funding for Africa, Eastern Europe

Washington D.C., Jul 19, 2018 / 12:28 am (CNA).- Subcommittees at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have approved more than $6 million for pastoral projects in Africa and Central and Eastern Europe.

The grants partner with local bishops’ conferences and Church organizations in dozens of countries to respond to specific needs within the communities.

“The Catholics of the United States show that we stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Africa and recognize their courageous commitment to peace, justice, reconciliation, and Christian hope throughout the continent,” said Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, who chairs the Subcommittee on the Church in Africa.

The subcommittee recently approved 54 grants providing $1.4 million for pastoral efforts in Africa, which include religious formation, seminarian and lay leader education, evangelization, and family ministry. Money for the grants comes from the Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa.

Among the projects funded by the grants will be the establishment of child protection measures in the Diocese of Wa, Ghana. The new Child Protection Office in the diocese is organizing training sessions on the protection of children and vulnerable adults, safe environment creation, policy development and collaboration with government agencies.

Funding will also be given to the bishops’ conference in Rwanda, which is continuing its peace and reconciliation efforts after the 1994 genocide in the country by translating conflict prevention resources for use in local Catholic schools.

In Lesotho, a grant from the U.S. bishops’ conference will support Radio Maria in establishing three new transmitting stations, so that their educational faith programs can reach the entire national population.

In addition, the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee on Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe has approved $4.9 million in funding for 209 projects in 22 countries. Used to support the Church in nations that previously saw oppression under communism, the funding will go toward construction projects, formation of Church leaders, and education and evangelization efforts.

These include a seven-week formation program to help develop youth ministries in Romania, where only one-third of the parishes in the Archdiocese of Alba Iulia currently have youth programs, and the expansion of a homeless day center run by Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in Rijeka, Croatia.

A rehabilitation center for children with cancer in Minsk, Belarus, will also receive a grant. The facility, run by Caritas, offers free housing and psychological support for poor families whose children are going through cancer treatment.

Youth summer camps for children internally displaced by war in East Ukraine will also receive funding. Caritas Donetsk will host two summer camps for 100 young people, who will be offered medical health care from professionals and spiritual care from priests.

“As the people of Central and Eastern Europe continue to build a new future after decades of repression, we are all inspired by the example of great hope they give to the world that it is possible to bring healing to the wounds of the past,” said Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee on Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe.

“We can take pride that our steadfast support makes a significant contribution to all their efforts in renewing their communities and passing on the faith of their ancestors to the next generation,” he said.

The grants are funded by the annual Collection for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe, which is generally collected in churches throughout the U.S. on Ash Wednesday each year.

 

Embryo gene-editing poses inescapable ethical problems, critic says

London, England, Jul 18, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Genetic editing of human embryos, even in special circumstances, ignores the complex ethical problems related to creating and destroying human embryos, a Catholic bioethicist has said.

“On first glance, genetic editing of human embryos to treat diseases seems like a laudable project. But the reality is far more complex,” Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA.
 
The most likely approach for genetic modification of an embryo or embryos would require their creation through in vitro fertilization, said Fr. Pacholzyck, who holds a doctorate in neuroscience. This step “violates their human dignity and ‘objectifies’ them.”
 
“Humans are entitled to be brought into the world not in the cold, impersonal world of laboratory glassware, but exclusively in the loving bodily embrace of their parents,” he added.
 
Pacholzyck’s remarks were a response to a London-based think tank that called recently for further research into embryonic gene editing.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics on July 17 took the position that changing a human embryo’s DNA could be morally permissible if it was in the child’s interests and did not worsen social inequality, disadvantage, discrimination or division.
 
“It is our view that genome editing is not morally unacceptable in itself,” Karen Yeung, chair of the Nuffield working group, told The Guardian. “There is no reason to rule it out in principle,” said Yeung, a professor of law, ethics and informatics at the University of Birmingham.
 
The council’s report did not advocate changing U.K. law to allow genetic modification. Rather, it advocated research into the safety and effectiveness of gene editing, along with inquiry into its impact on society, and widespread debate about its implications.
 
The council is an independent body founded in 1991. It is involved in policy and media debates on bioethical issues.
 
Pacholzyck told CNA that proposed genetic treatments would not treat the embryo “as a unique patient, within his or her mother’s womb.” Rather, it would involve “treating the embryo as laboratory fodder.”
 
Many embryos would have to be simultaneously created or thawed out, then “treated as ‘products’ and subjected to genetic ‘treatments’ to see if just a few of them might end up surviving and developing without the disease,” he said.
 
“The use of genetic modification technologies on embryos imposes significant risk for the embryo, simply in terms of the mechanical procedures themselves, the numerous manipulative steps involved, and the risks of potential ‘off target’ genetic changes that might reasonably be expected to occur,” said Pacholzyck.
 
“Permission for research on genetic modification of embryos will “open up the floodgates for further subjugation of vulnerable, embryonic humans, individuals at the earliest stages of their existence who will be created in unsuitable settings, manipulated, manhandled, and will often end up perishing as part of the experiment,” he said.
 
Some experiments indicate that DNA editing of embryos could prevent children from inheriting diseases from faulty genes.
 
However, a newly published study in Nature Biotechnology suggests that Crispr-Cas9, the most popular current tool for genome editing, causes more damage to DNA than scientists previously realized. The editing process could disrupt healthy genes.
 
Regardless of effectiveness, any successful changes to an embryo’s DNA would affect all of its cells, including so-called germline cells, like sperm or eggs. These changes would be inherited by any offspring of the fully-grown human being.
 
Professor Dave Archard, Chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, reflected on his report’s recommendations.
 
“Huge advances are happening in genomics research, and whilst we have to acknowledge that genes alone do not shape a person, the possibility of using genome editing in reproduction to secure or avoid a characteristic in a child offers a radically new approach that is likely to appeal to some prospective parents,” adding that in his view close attention must be given to the welfare of those involved, especially any children born after the genetic editing process.
 
Last year, researchers in Oregon announced they had successfully altered genes in a human embryo for the first time in the United States.
 
The ethics of gene editing have been considered for several years. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith addressed the issue in Dignitas personae, its 2008 instruction on certain bioethical questions.
 
“The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life,” the instruction says.
 
The instruction says gene therapy for non-inherited cells are in principle morally licit, provided medical treatment ethics are followed. It warned that germ line cell modification that are “considerable and as yet not fully controllable,” and it is not permissible to act in a way that may cause potential harm to resulting children.
 
It warned against a “eugenic mentality” that aims to improve the gene pool, adding that there could be social stigmas and privileges applied to people with certain genetic qualities, when “such qualities do not constitute what is specifically human.”

 

From bartender to priest: 'God is very insistent!'

Santander, Spain, Jul 18, 2018 / 05:17 pm (ACI Prensa).- How do you go from being a bartender who has not attended Mass for 15 years to becoming a priest?

For Fr. Juan de Cáceres, the answer is that God was persistent in pursing his heart and revealing his call.

Today, Fr. Juan is a priest of the Diocese of Santander in Spain. But he had been away from the sacraments for 15 years when he had a conversion that allowed him to hear God’s call in his life.

After finishing his undergraduate studies, Juan enrolled in law school. However, he was not a good student, and in 2006, at the age of 28, he decided to quit law school to open a trendy bar in Santander.

However, with the onset of the economic crisis in Spain, what had initially promised to be a successful business became the focus of his financial problems, compounded by the crisis of turning 30 and feeling a lack of direction in his life.

“I was really lost, drowning in debt and with the [economic] crisis, there were almost no customers. In addition, my friends quit going out like they used to. They began to get married and stopped dating. I found myself all alone,” he said in an interview with the El Diario Montañés news.

While Juan had stopped going to Mass 15 years ago, a friend invited him to some talks on prayer, which became the turning point that changed his life.

At first, he went to the talks to spend time with his friend. But something within him changed little-by-little: he began to go to Mass again, returned to confession, and re-enrolled in school.

His life started to come together again, until two years after that new beginning, he “felt the call” to the priesthood.

But his first reaction was “to say no.”

“I came up with all kinds of objections: my work, my debts, my life. I thought what I needed to do was to settle down, meet a woman who would make me very happy and have a family. But God is very insistent! And from then on, he would not let that thought out of my heart or mind,” he told El Diario Montañés.

When he decided to discern a vocation, he asked then-Bishop Vicente Jiménez of Santander if he could enter seminary in another city, because “had to keep his distance” from his past life. He entered a seminary in Pamplona, about 120 miles away.

“I was working at the bar up to the day before going to Pamplona, where I spent three fantastic years,” he recalled. During that time, Fr. Juan also worked with the Chinese Catholic community.

He was ordained a priest last January and was assigned to serve four parishes in Santander. He also teaches religion classes three days a week to teenagers.

The experience of being a bartender ended up having value for the priest, who noted that during those years, “I was sort of a confessor to everyone.”

He also helps foster vocations in the diocese because as he explains, “a lot of people have felt the same way I did, but they haven't figured out how to follow up…I'm here to listen and guide.”

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Planned Parenthood sues Idaho over new abortion law

Boise, Idaho, Jul 18, 2018 / 04:15 pm (CNA).- Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit Tuesday opposing a new Idaho law that requires abortion providers to report abortion-related medical complications to state authorities.

The Abortion Complications Reporting Act went into effect July 1. It mandates that abortion providers to report complications that occur during or after an abortion procedure. Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands filed a lawsuit arguing that the law is unconstitutional and requires “invasive reporting that has nothing to do with protecting patient health care."

The act specifies 37 potential abortion complications that clinics must report to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. These include cervical perforation, hemorrhages, and endometritis, as well as any psychological or emotion conditions the patient discloses after the procedure, such as depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts.

Patient identity remains confidential in the reporting process, but the physician must be identified. Other information, such as the gestational age of the unborn baby, and the mother’s age, race, and number of previous abortions must also be included, according to the law. 

Planned Parenthood, who filed the suit in Idaho’s U.S. District Court on July 17, stated that the law “violates constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection by arbitrarily singling out one particular medical procedure” and puts “patient and provider privacy at risk.”

“Previous laws targeting abortion rights have been struck down in Idaho and other states, with some courts saying there isn’t enough information about alleged complications of abortions to justify the laws,” reports the Associated Press.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion research and policy organization founded by Planned Parenthood, 27 states require abortion providers to report post-abortion complications.

The text of the legislation cites the Supreme Court decisions Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey and Akron v. Akron Ctr. for Reproductive Health, asserting the state’s “legitimate interest” in protecting women’s health from “the outset of pregnancy,” and its “legitimate concern with the health of women who undergo abortions.”

The stated aim of the law is to gather “essential” information to enable scientific studies and research on the safety of abortion.

 

Is this cross-shaped WWI memorial unconstitutional?

Washington D.C., Jul 18, 2018 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A petition has been submitted to the United States Supreme Court as part of an appeal to prevent the destruction of the Peace Cross, a 93-year-old war memorial because it is in the shape of a cross.

The petition was filed by Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, following a ruling by the United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in October 2017 that declared the monument unconstitutional.

The cross, erected in 1925 by the mothers of fallen World War I servicemen, is located in Prince George’s County, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C. It bears a plaque listing the names of 49 residents of Prince George’s County who lost their lives serving in that war. The seal of the American Legion is prominently displayed at the center of the cross. The sides of the cross are inscribed with the words “valor,” “endurance,” “courage,” and “devotion.”

The monument was the subject of a 2014 lawsuit brought by the American Humanist League. The suit was originally rejected by the District Court, which held that it was “uncontroverted” that the maintenance and display of the memorial was not “driven by a religious purpose whatsoever.”

The American Humanist League appealed the case, and the Fourth Circuit found the memorial to violate the establishment clause of the Constitution, which guards the separation of church and state.

In a divided opinion, the circuit court judgment held that because the memorial was in the shape of a cross - “the preeminent symbol of Christianity” - it lacked any meaningful “connection” to national history and government and was inherently “sectarian.” The decision also held that even minimal expenditure by the Commission to maintain the monument “entangled” the state in religion and would lead “any reasonable observer” to conclude that the state was placing “Christianity above other faiths” or viewed “being American and Christian as one and the same.”

The petition to the Supreme Court argues that there has been no previous challenge to the shape of the memorial, which has been in continuous use by the American Legion as a site for patriotic events in honor of fallen soldiers. Moreover, the petition argues, it has never been used for a religious ceremony and the only known connection of the monument to a religious event was 87 years ago.

The monument has been under the management of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission since 1961, as part of its management of the roadway median where it is located.

Unless the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, the cross must have its arms knocked off, be moved off public land, or destroyed completely.

Lawyers for the Park Commission argue that the cross was not erected to promote or convey a religious message, but to resemble the World War I cemeteries of Europe. They also point out that the “absolutist” approach taken by the circuit court decision would be immediately applicable to memorials across the country, including Arlington National Cemetery.

Fourth Circuit Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote a dissenting opinion. He and other dissenting judges noted that the decision, if it stands, would invalidate virtually any public display in the shape of a cross, including military medals, regardless of how longstanding the usage or neutral their purpose.

Public monuments with religious symbols have been repeatedly challenged by secularists, and the Fourth Circuit decision represents a split with earlier court findings which have recognized the passive nature of such memorials and the lack of religious intent by the state in maintaining them. It is expected that this divergence of judicial findings could make the case ripe for Supreme Court consideration.