Browsing News Entries

Prepare the way of the Lord

Pencil Preaching for Sunday, December 8, 2019

Second Sunday of Advent: Change from the ground up

Scripture for Life: What's not to love about John the Baptist? Frankly, just about everything if you happen to be the object of his acidic critiques.

In 'Gospel of John' onstage, actor takes on John's voice, telling his story

Theater: What began with memorizing John's Gospel as a form of prayer became a recitation of it that actor Ken Jennings took to churches, and is now a fully realized theatrical production in New York.

Fr. Robert Pelton built links between Latin America and US church

Appreciation: The passing of Holy Cross Fr. Robert Pelton on Nov. 4 feels like the end of an era. He played a significant role in transforming the church into an outward-facing impulse for social justice.

NCR wishes you a light-filled Christmas

NCR Connections: "Light is not so much what you directly see as that by which you see everything else." With gratitude to Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr for that beautiful line from his latest book, it seems a fitting frame for the season and for the era.

God’s Promise of Fulfillment

One of our deepest longings as human beings, as social beings, is to be understood even (or perhaps especially) in our most perplexing and difficult moments. We long to be loved for who we are, with the worst of our shortcomings and the best of our gifts. We want people in our lives who will rejoice with us, who will weep with us, who will simply be present to us. In these moments of deep connection with one another, we truly experience the presence of God in our midst, renewing us in his love. This is the promise of the prophets, a promise that came to fulfillment in the incarnation.

—from the book Simple Gifts: Daily Reflections for Advent by Diane M. Houdek

FBI investigating fourth church attack this year in El Paso

El Paso, Texas, Dec 6, 2019 / 04:59 pm (CNA).- The FBI is investigating the fourth case of church vandalism in El Paso this year, with authorities saying they are uncertain whether the incidents are related.

An unknown perpetrator vandalized St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church on Thursday, destroying nearly half a dozen windows and doors and starting a small fire in one of the parish offices.

ABC-7 reported that FBI officials are unsure if the vandalism is related to three other attacks that took place this year in the west Texas city, which borders both Mexico and New Mexico.

No one was in the church at the time of the vandalism, but a parish fire alarm alerted authorities to the intrusion. The damaged windows and doors were replaced on the same day.

Fernando Ceniseros, a spokesman for the Diocese of El Paso, encouraged anyone with information on the crime to reach out to the police, FBI, or the local crime stoppers initiative.

“If you see something, if you know something or if you hear something we are asking our people to say something,” he said, according to ABC-7.

Three other Catholic churches in the area have been subject to vandalism and arson in the last eight months.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and St. Matthew Catholic Church were both vandalized in May. Small fires had been set outside of each church, where the FBI found incendiary devices, according to local media.

St Jude Catholic Church was then attacked in June. Another incendiary device was used, starting a fire inside the church, which led to minor smoke damage.

The FBI has issued a $15,000 reward to help track down the offender in the church attacks.

In May, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso questioned the motives behind the destruction, suggesting that the back-to-back attacks were beyond random acts of violence.

“When we see that two events happen like this in such short order it certainly concerns us that it wasn’t simply an act of random vandalism but two events targeting churches,” said Seitz, according to KTSM.

After the most recent attack, a parishioner of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church told ABC-7 that they were shocked by the offense but that the community is not intimidated.

“To whoever did it, we are not afraid of you, we will continue to come here to worship God and we will continue praying for those who did it,” the parishioner said.

Prosecute pornographers for obscenity, Congressmen tell AG

Washington D.C., Dec 6, 2019 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- Four members of Congress have requested that the Department of Justice (DOJ) use obscenity laws already on the statute book to prosecute major pornography producers and distributors.

In a letter to the DOJ provided to National Review, Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), and Brian Babin (R-Tex.) all warned of an “explosion in pornography” that is fueling violence against women, human trafficking, and child pornography.  

The members asked Attorney General William Barr to bring back the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force in the DOJ’s Criminal Justice Division. The task force, founded in 2005 under the George W. Bush administration, was responsible for invesitgating and prosecuting producers of hard core pornography under obscentiy laws. The task force was dissolved by Eric Holder, Attorney General under President Barack Obama, in 2011.

Rep. Banks, who led the letters signatories, said in a statement provided to CNA that the internet and other technologies have brought about convenience, but that has a “dark side” to it.

“Anyone connected to the Internet – including children – has on-demand access to billions of photos and videos of people having sex or committing other lewd acts,” Banks stated.

“The prevalence of pornography in our society has consequences, especially for our children. It’s time we start talking about it,” Banks said.

Obscenity laws are already on the books forbidding obscene pornography online, on TV, at motels, and through retail, but the laws need to be enforced, the letter says.

“Given the pervasiveness of obscenity, it’s our recommendation that you declare the prosecution of obscene pornography a criminal justice priority and urge your U.S. Attorneys to bring prosecutions against the major producers and distributors of such material,” the letter stated.

Pornography has been declared a “public health crisis” by 15 state legislatures. President Trump, as a 2016 presidential candidate, signed the Children’s Internet Safety Presidential Pledge to prioritize enforcement of obscenity and anti-child pornography laws.

Pope Francis, in a recent meeting at the Vatican with technology executives from Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Paramount Pictures, emphasized the responsibility of technology companies to protect against the abuse and exploitation of children.

New McCarrick lawsuits brought as New Jersey litigation window opens

Newark, N.J., Dec 6, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Two new lawsuits were filed against Theodore McCarrick and New Jersey dioceses this week, after the state temporarily lifted its statute of limitations on sexual abuse allegations.

The two lawsuits allege that McCarrick sexually assaulted two males while he was bishop of Metuchen and archbishop of Newark, in some cases at the cathedral rectories. One of the males was a minor at the time of the assault.

The other male was James Grein, who originally went public with his allegations against McCarrick in July of 2018 in the New York Times. Grein said he was abused by McCarrick, a family friend, beginning at age 11 when McCarrick was a priest in the Archdiocese of New York.

In his lawsuit filed on Thursday, Grein said the abuse continued while McCarrick was Bishop of Metuchen and Archbishop of Newark; the counts of sexual assault in Grein’s lawsuit were alleged to have taken place in the 1980s, by the time he was an adult.

Other counts include gross negligence by the Diocese of Metuchen and Archdiocese of Newark.

Theodore McCarrick was laicized for sexual abuse of minors and adults in February after a Vatican canonical penal process triggered by an initial complaint made in the Archdiocese of New York was found “credible” and subsequent investigation showed a history of alleged sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.

In one of the two lawsuits in New Jersey courts this week, plaintiff John Bellocchio alleged that McCarrick “engaged in unpermitted sexual contact” with him when Bellocchio was a minor, “approximately 13 or 14 years old” in “approximately 1995 or 1996” while McCarrick was Archbishop of Newark.

The abuse allegedly occurred at a parish in the archdiocese as McCarrick was “presiding [at] ceremonial services as Archbishop.”

Bellocchio’s family attended St. Francis of Assisi parish in Hackensack, New Jersey, and he had “participated in youth activities and/or church activities at St. Francis”

In the other lawsuit, plaintiff James Grein alleged that McCarrick “engaged in unlawful sexual contact” with him “at times” when he was bishop of Metuchen, from around 1982 to 1986, and then while McCarrick was archbishop of Newark from around 1986 to 1989.

Grein also filed a lawsuit in August against the Archdiocese of New York for alleged abuse by McCarrick while he was a priest of the archdiocese.

Grein alleged that some of the abuse in the 1980s took place “at times” in the rectories of the cathedrals of Metuchen and Newark; McCarrick allegedly pressed his naked body against Grein’s and grabbed his genitals.

Grein also alleged gross negligence on the part of the Diocese of Metuchen and Archdiocese of Newark for not properly recognizing and addressing the threat McCarrick posed.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Newark stated to CNA that “The Archdiocese of Newark takes all allegations of sexual abuse seriously. We are carefully reviewing the allegations in new lawsuits. Today and every day, we stand with survivors of clergy abuse on their journey towards healing.”

“We reassure the faithful that we continue to do all we can to promote the healing of victims, to enact structures of accountability, and to provide greater transparency into the activities of the Archdiocese of Newark. Cardinal Joseph Tobin’s Statement of Accountability on our website represents an important step in our ongoing efforts to heal the Body of Christ and uphold our commitment to the faithful,” the statement continued.

Anthony P. Kearns III, Esq., spokesperson and chancellor of the Diocese of Metuchen, stated that “it is our moral obligation to face any allegations, even those from long ago, with transparency and truth to ensure that justice is served and to make certain these actions can never be repeated.”

“The Diocese of Metuchen is aware of the pending lawsuits and while we cannot discuss pending litigation in detail, we can say with confidence that every allegation of abuse, as a matter of strictly adhered to policy, has been and will continue to be reported to law enforcement.”

The diocese also pointed to the Independent Victim Compensation Program of the five New Jersey dioceses which serves as “an efficient alternative to litigation; one that is both speedy and transparent, and which can resolve their claims with a significantly lower level of proof and corroboration than required in a court of law.” Claims through the program are accepted through Dec. 31, the diocese said. 

McCarrick was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of New York by Cardinal Francis Spellman in 1958, and rose through the ranks to become one of the most prominent, powerful, and well-known ecclesiastical figures in the Church before he was laicized in 2019.

He was appointed as the bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey, in 1981, and appointed as archbishop of Newark in 1986. He served there until 2001 when he was appointed as archbishop of Washington, D.C. He served until his retirement in 2006, but even in retirement he traveled frequently despite reported sanctions placed on him by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008.

After the Archdiocese of New York found allegations against him to be “credible” and other allegations were publicized to the press, he was subsequently assigned by Pope Francis to a life of prayer and penance in August of 2018.

McCarrick was laicized in February of 2019 after the Vatican’s expedited investigation found him guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”

In a canonical deposition by the Archdiocese of New York in December of 2018, Grein reportedly said that McCarrick abused him during confession.

Catholic leaders say food stamp cuts will harm people, but not put them to work

Washington D.C., Dec 6, 2019 / 02:05 pm (CNA).- A new rule that will disqualify roughly 700,000 people from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly called food stamps, will not help people find or keep employment, leaders of Catholic charitable and social policy organizations told CNA.

“Just because suddenly they're not eligible for SNAP doesn't mean they don't need SNAP. It doesn't mean they don't need nutrition assistance,” Julie Bodnar, a policy advisor for the department of Domestic Social Development at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA.

“So they're going to turn elsewhere and the Church is going to strive to meet those needs, but it's hard. There's no increased resources on our end, so I think people will do their best, but it's going to be a struggle to try to respond to that increased need,” Bodnar added.

On Dec. 4, the Trump administration officially announced a change in SNAP eligibility rules that will apply to single adults between the ages of 18-49 who do not have children and are not disabled. Such adults qualify for food stamps if they work at least 20 hours a week for more than three months within a three-year period. However, states have until now been allowed to grant waivers for the work requirement in areas with high rates of unemployment.

The new rule tightens restrictions on these waivers, only allowing them in areas where the unemployment rate is 20% above the national average unemployment rate, and at least 6% over a two-year period. The national unemployment rate in October was 3.6%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This new rule would disqualify 688,000 people from food stamps when it takes effect in April 2020, the USDA told NBC News. It is the first of three new rules being considered by the USDA. If the other two measures pass, millions of people could lose their eligibility for food stamps.

Brian Corbin is the Executive Vice President of Member Services at Catholic Charities USA. Corbin told CNA that the new restrictions violate a principle of Catholic social teaching, which is that “food is a basic right, a basic human right to help fulfill our dignity and flourishing,” he said. “We have to remember that we're dealing now with people and food and food security.”

Corbin said that many of those who lose their eligibility for food stamps will likely come to Catholic Charities branches throughout the U.S. for help.

He added that most people overestimate the amount of financial assistance food stamp recipients actually get.

“We're talking about $167 is the average monthly voucher for SNAP,” he said. According to the USDA, the intention of the new restriction on food stamps is to be fair to taxpayers, and to incentivize able-bodied people to return to work. “We’re taking action to reform our SNAP program in order to restore the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population and be respectful of the taxpayers who fund the program,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told NBC News.

“Americans are generous people who believe it is their responsibility to help their fellow citizens when they encounter a difficult stretch. That’s the commitment behind SNAP, but, like other welfare programs, it was never intended to be a way of life.”

Bodnar said her department welcomes and supports efforts to expand SNAP education and job training programs, rather than measures that disqualify people from food assistance.

“It just doesn't help meet that goal (of people returning to work) in any concrete way. It’s only a punitive measure.”

Corbin said that while the idea to incentivize people to return to work is good in theory, in practice it will take food away from people who were laid off their jobs or who are living in states experiencing recession.

“First, these are people that are probably struggling because they were laid off or that jobs are not available in certain parts of the country,” Corbin said. “And second, recessions come and go, so this really prevents states from (having) the ability to act appropriately, to respond to the recession.” “And third, a lot of states are not mandated to have employment training programs,” Corbin added, making jobs even more out of reach for people in already high unemployment areas.

Monsignor John Enzler, President and CEO of Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C. said he has personally witnessed the hunger of low-income people and was worried the new SNAP restrictions would let more people go hungry.

“My experience is an awful lot of people out there...really are in desperate situations, not of their own wishes or desire, and they need assistance to get themselves out of that situation,” Enzler told CNA.

According to a recent press release from Catholic Charities D.C., the District of Columbia has a food insecurity rate of 14.5% due to food deserts and families living below the poverty line. This means more than 82,000 are food insecure, including 31,000 children.

Enzler said when he was a pastor in a local parish he personally knew of some low-income people who resorted to eating dog food when they couldn’t afford to feed themselves. He has also known of grandmothers who go without food so that they can feed their own grandchildren.

“These are real, honest situations going on,” Enzler said. “That should shock the jeepers out of all of ourselves. The nation’s capital? The capital of the Free World? What are you talking about? Well, it's true. It's real.”

Citing chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew, the monsignor added that Jesus taught his disciples to care for the poor, the hungry and the thirsty in their midst.

“He actually says on judgment day...we'll be judged on whether we met Jesus in those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, in prison, or ill,” he said. “This is part of the Gospel. This is part of our call to take care of people. And we do the best we can.”

Catholic Charities in D.C. already operates several programs that serve meals to homeless or low-income people along with other forms of assistance. They are currently in the midst of their third annual Virtual Food Drive, through which people can make online donations that will benefit a local food bank and several other food assistance programs that partner with Catholic Charities.

One of those programs is St. Maria’s Meals, a food truck and bike delivery program that provides warm meals to 300 people in need on a weekly basis. The name comes from the wife of St. Isidore, the patron saint of farmers. Enzler said that according to the story of St. Isidore, he would send poor people home to his wife, Maria, and she would feed whoever showed up.

“The legend is that the food never ran out. So basically she and Isidore just took care of people. That's the Gospel, basically, taking care of people. That's why it's Maria’s, because we say our food will not run out. You come to us, we'll take care of you.”

Last year, Catholic Charities D.C. provided more than 2.5 million meals to people in need and distributed more than 1 million pounds of food to local pantries. They also served 28,000 people through St. Maria’s Meals and more than 32,000 people through a program that provides grocery assistance to recently released prisoners.

Enzler encouraged Catholic leaders to preach out the call to help the poor, and he encouraged Catholics to pray for those in need and to contact their representatives to voice their concerns about the SNAP restrictions.

“With a program like SNAP, basically what the government says is that we'll help the situation. Without it, it's going to be more on us,” Enzler said.

“We'll keep doing the best we can, but our resources are limited. We don't have anywhere near that amount of money that the government has to do the things we're called to do. So obviously, we find ourselves limited in our response,” he added.

“What's the bottom line? People are starving. That's the bottom line.”