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End of Catholic Charities program reflects challenges in international adoption 

Denver Newsroom, Oct 29, 2020 / 03:41 am (CNA).- After decades of helping place children overseas with adoptive families in the United States, Catholic Charities of Baltimore has ended its international adoption program.

Ellen Warnock, adoption program coordinator at Catholic Charities of Baltimore, told CNA this month that multiple factors have contributed to the decision to end the program.

“It’s the capacity of the countries [to provide required documentation] on the one hand, and the willingness of our country on the other hand to believe the documentation from the sending country about the child’s orphan status,” she said.

Catholic Charities of Baltimore has facilitated adoptions for 75 years, including international adoptions for more than 40 years. During that time, it has helped nearly 3,500 children from other countries be united with families in the United States.

But international adoptions have plummeted in recent years. In the mid-2000s, about 24,000 foreign-born children were adopted each year into families in the United States. By last year, that number had dropped to below 3,000.

In some cases, this is because of internal decisions within foreign countries. Russian President Vladamir Putin signed a law in 2012 banning U.S. citizens from adopting children from Russia. Ethiopia, which once accounted for 20% of foreign adoptions by U.S. families, banned international adoptions in 2018.

But increased scrutiny from U.S. authorities has also played a role, Warnock said. She cited a shift in recent years in how the government views international adoption, although she said that the changes have not been partisan in nature.

Warnock said especially that a concern that adoption will be used for human trafficking has changed the process and requirements of international adoptions.

“The Department of State does not trust the documentation that is coming from certain countries. So they are making it very difficult to adopt from those countries,” she said.

Many children in overseas orphanages were abandoned in public places, such as train stations. Police officers take such children to orphanages, but usually without birth certificates or identifying documentation, Warnock said. The United States will not allow children to be adopted without evidence of birth that includes a birth mother’s name.

“There are countries that simply don’t have a sophisticated child welfare infrastructure,” she said. “There might be millions of children within that country who need homes, but the resources within that country to provide the appropriate documentation that our country needs before a child can immigrate, those resources are very limited.”

Many adoption advocates point to the 2014 appointment of Trish Maskew as the head of the Adoption Division in the State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues as a key turning point in the government’s stance on international adoption.

Maskew had testified before Congress that she believed insufficient regulations in the field of international adoptions had led to a climate where illegal and unethical activity was far too common.

She cited the situation in Cambodia in 2001, when officials said they had found evidence of child trafficking, with corrupt middlemen profiting from the adoption of children whose parents had not consented to them being adopted. In some cases, the birth parents had left the children at an orphanage temporarily with plans to recover them when their financial situation improved, while the adoptive families were unaware that the children were not actually orphans.

Advocates of reform say the Cambodia crisis shows a need for greater regulation of the international adoption process, while many adoption advocates say there is no evidence that trafficking is widespread, and existing international standards are sufficient to prevent potential abuse. They also warn that children living in orphanages face significant risks of trafficking and abuse in their own countries.

Under Maskew’s leadership, the State Department proposed new regulations, including a new “country-specific authorization,” increased training requirements for adoptive parents, and additional oversight of adoption agencies and the service providers they work with during the adoption process.

In late 2017, the Council on Accreditation announced that it was withdrawing from its role as the sole U.S. international adoption accrediting entity. The council cited new requirements at the State Department which it saw as being “inconsistent with [its] philosophy and mission.”

A new accrediting organization was created – the Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity (IAAME) – which began implementing new regulations and fees.

IAAME maintains that ensuring compliance with federal regulations is necessary to ensure that adoptions are conducted ethically.

“There have been instances of trafficking of children within intercountry adoptions,” IAAME Executive Director Kim Loughe told CNA.

“With the safety of children, adoptive families, and biological parents as our top priority, IAAME works with adoption service providers to ensure intercountry adoptions take place in the best interest of children,” she said.

“In doing so we work to prevent the abduction, exploitation, sale, or trafficking of children.”

However, critics argue that the regulations are so strict that they impose unrealistic burdens on other countries, and fail to accommodate for their lack of resources to meet these requirements.

In some countries, such as Nigeria, birth certificates are not created until they are needed for legal purposes. A Nigerian birth certificate, not registered at the time of birth, is disallowed by U.S. regulations, despite the explanation given for discrepancy, Warnock said.

“They’re imposing U.S. standards on countries that don’t have those kinds of practices in place. How can families meet that requirement? They can’t. And then they’re stuck,” she said.

Warnock acknowledged that there could be better educational outreach for some facilities that do not have a good record-keeping system.

“We would hope that record-keeping would be better [in some of the international orphanages], but there is still no evidence that, despite certain gaps in the record-keeping, that children are being trafficked,” she said.

“I also know that these orphanages are just struggling to make ends meet,” she said. “And for them to hire the administrative or social work staff to meet the enormous amount of bureaucratic requirements, it would be impossible.”

A State Department official told CNA that intercountry adoption is a high priority for the department, but preventing harm and corruption is an essential part of working to support adoption.

The official noted that the department’s Office of Children’s Issues created a bilateral engagement division earlier this year to focus on relationships with foreign partner nations and expanding intercountry adoption opportunities. In July, the department announced that it had begun discussions with Vietnam on a plan to expand adoptions by U.S. families, which are currently only permitted for children with special needs, children over age 5, and sibling groups.

For Warnock, the bottom line is that children’s needs are going unmet.

“The real struggle for Catholic Charities and for the agencies that are left is that the children we are placing are really children who desperately need homes...kids with significant issues, children who are coming from really challenging backgrounds, and more and more agencies are being closed.”

Catholic Charities of Baltimore nearly ended its program several years ago, after years of watching international adoptions drop, Warnock said.

But then Nigerian-American families began to contact them and ask for help adopting. The families – U.S. citizens who had immigrated from Nigeria – were hoping to adopt from their home country.

“We stepped up to that challenge,” Warnock said. Catholic Charities hosted conferences in Nigeria, and met with government ministries, American embassy personnel, judges and orphanage directors. It became one of the few agencies that worked with Nigerian-American families in the United States. Over the course of four years, it helped place hundreds of children with adoptive families.

As the agency’s Nigerian adoption program got underway, an uptick in visa approvals attracted the attention of IAAME and the State Department, which determined they could not rely on the accuracy of documents from Nigeria, Warnock said. Families started getting denied at the embassy level, after having completed the adoption process and receiving U.S. immigration approval. Then in April the State Department and IAAME contacted Catholic Charities of Baltimore and instructed the agency to cease its work in Nigeria.

“That has had a domino effect on our other programs,” Warnock said. “Because even though we didn’t get any complaints about any of our other programs, those other programs were so small – the Philippines and Colombia – that they could not sustain our work. There’s a certain level of work that you have to do to be financially sustainable and the work that we’re doing in Colombia and the Philippines now is a victim of the action the IAAME took against us about Nigeria.”

For families whose adoptions were already well underway, the news that their adopted children cannot enter the United States is crushing, Warnock said.

About 30 families working with Catholic Charities of Baltimore have already finalized the adoption process and were waiting on the immigration paperwork to be approved by the embassy so their children could enter the United States.

In many cases, the children had already left the orphanages where they were staying and were expected to join their families in the United states. To be denied by the embassy in the very final stages of the long and exhausting process is devastating, Warnock said. Some families are now hiring lawyers or contacting their lawmakers as they desperately attempt to be united with their children.

“Those families are a wreck,” she said. “The parents are hysterical - this is their daughter, this is their son.”

As Catholic Charities of Baltimore ends its international adoption program – the domestic adoption program was shut down several years ago due to decreasing numbers of adoptions –  Warnock will now oversee a small amount of post-adoptive work for the agency.

This includes help connecting adoptees – both foreign-born and domestic – with their birth parents, and referrals for counseling or other services, sometimes decades after an adoption takes place.

Warnock said she is grateful that Catholic Charities will be continuing to offer these limited services, despite the fact that they do not bring money into the agency. She said the post-adoptive work is a way for the agency to show that it is still committed to the work that it began 75 years ago.

“We can’t walk away from that legacy,” she said.
 

 

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Citing pope's warnings about drugs, Catholic bishops speak on ballot proposals

CNA Staff, Oct 29, 2020 / 12:07 am (CNA).- This Election Day, voters in multiple U.S. states will consider several proposals to legalize drugs, ranging from medical and recreational marijuana to harder drugs. Catholic bishops in several states have said voters should look to Pope Francis' warnings that legalization is 'highly questionable,' as it becomes a compromise with drug addiction.

The Oregon Catholic Conference “strongly opposes” Ballot Measure 110, which would decriminalize the possession and use of small amounts of controlled substances including heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines. It would reduce penalties for possession of large amounts of such controlled substances.

“The Oregon Catholic Conference firmly supports treatment and rehabilitation for all those suffering from addictions. We encourage you to get behind solid programs and not accept an initiative that promotes the use of illegal drugs,” the bishops said.

“Pope Francis has unequivocally stated that drug use is incompatible with human life,” the conference said in a flier. It cited the pope's 2014 address to the International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome.

“Let me state this in the clearest terms possible: the problem of drug use is not solved with drugs! Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise,” the pope said. “To think that harm can be reduced by permitting drug addicts to use narcotics in no way resolves the problem. Attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called ‘recreational drugs’, are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects.”

According to the Oregon Catholic Conference, local communities and treatment groups have expressed reservations about how the program will be applied under Ballot Measure 110. Other critics have said decriminalization of the drugs would cause more addiction by making drugs easier to acquire and by removing law enforcement and the courts from drug regulation, the New York Times reports.

“The treatment options the measure provides will be primarily funded by diverting marijuana tax revenues away from education, alcohol/drug abuse prevention and law enforcement,” said the Catholic conference, citing the Oregon Secretary of State's financial impact evaluation of the measure.

Major backers of the measure include the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, which previously backed the successful 2014 Oregon ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of social media giant Facebook, and his wife Priscilla Chan have backed the measure through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Oregon Public Broadcasting reports.

The text of the proposed act cites poor access to drug addiction treatment compared to other states. Backers of the measure argue that reduced arrests and incarceration will provide savings that can be used to make addiction treatment more widely available and free of charge. They also say drug crimes are disproportionately enforced against racial minorities.

Oregon has already legalized marijuana, which is a talking point in the proposed act.

“Oregon now receives more than $100 million in marijuana tax revenue a year,” it says. “The amount of marijuana revenue is expected to grow by more than $20 million per year.”

Oregon voters will also consider ballot Measure 109, which would legalize psilocybin, a psychoactive compound found in some mushrooms, for mental health treatment. Though the FDA has deemed psilocybin a potential breakthrough therapy for major depression, studies are inconclusive. The American Psychiatric Association and the Oregon Psychiatric Physicians Association both oppose the measure, saying proponents overstate the drug's usefulness in treating many phenomena including anxiety and addiction, according to the New York Times.

In South Dakota, voters will consider Amendment A, which would legalize recreational use of marijuana for those 21 years and older. It would legalize possession or distribution of up to one ounce of the drug. It would require the state legislature to pass laws providing for a medical marijuana program and the sale of hemp.

Like the bishops of Oregon, the South Dakota Catholic Conference cited Pope Francis' June 2014 remarks to drug enforcement agencies. The conference also noted the Catechism of the Catholic Church's paragraph 2291, which teaches that drug use “inflicts very grave damage on human health and life.”

The conference said on its website that marijuana use overstimulates the nervous system while also decreasing high-functioning rational thought.

“Often these effects are accompanied by others, including distorted sensory perception or hallucinations, irrational anxiety or panic, diminished motor control and slowed reactions, and reduced learning and memory,” South Dakota's bishops said. “Studies have shown that impaired cognitive function continues into the workweek even after a person no longer feels intoxicated, and that regular users are at approximately twice the risk of developing psychosis as non-users.”

“Human beings are endowed by God with the gift of reason. Reason aids us in differentiating between right and wrong and is foundational for human freedom and personal responsibility,” the bishops continued. “Thus, we can understand that to directly intend to suppress our God-given rational faculties is gravely wrong.”

They warned that in Seattle and Denver, where marijuana businesses are legal, they are disproportionately located in poorer neighborhoods. According to another analysis, every dollar raised in marijuana sales costs $4.50 in unwanted effects, primarily in healthcare and reduced workforce readiness.

In Arizona, the bishops of the Arizona Catholic Conference criticized Proposition 207, called the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, which would both allow persons 21 and older to possess one ounce of marijuana and provide for the legal sale of the drug.

“It is anticipated that legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Arizona will lead to more abuse by teens, increase child fatalities, and result in more societal costs,” the Arizona bishops said in a Sept. 23 statement.

Legalization would send the message to children that “drug use is socially and morally acceptable,” they warned. Marijuana use is 25% higher among teens in states with legalized recreational marijuana, they said.

Self-reported use of Arizona middle- and high-schoolers has already increased because fewer youth believe it is risky, said the bishops. Marijuana is a direct or contributing factor in almost as many child deaths as alcohol, according to the state's most recent child fatality report.

“As people of faith, we must speak out against this effort and the damaging effects its passage would have on children and families,” the Arizona bishops said.

They cited the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area's September 2019 report on the effects of marijuana legalization in Colorado under a November 2012 ballot measure. That report found that Colorado traffic deaths, crime, emergency room visits, and youth usage of marijuana increased significantly in the period of 2013 to 2015, the first two years following the legalization of recreational pot.

In Mississippi, Initiative 65 would license and regulate marijuana dispensaries and allow a patient to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana to treat any of 22 conditions.

The American Medical Association said there is a “lack of rigorous medical evidence to support cannabis as a medical treatment” that is a good alternative to FDA-approved drugs. The Mississippi proposal would require state health officials to create “new complex agriculture and revenue programs” that divert resources from its public health focus, the association said.

“Amending a state constitution to legalize an unproven drug is the wrong approach,” Susan R. Bailey, MD, president of the American Medical Association, said Oct. 8. “Early data from jurisdictions that have legalized cannabis are concerning, particularly around unintentional pediatric exposures that have resulted in increased calls to poison control centers and emergency department visits, as well as an increase in traffic deaths due to cannabis-related impaired driving.”

The Mississippi State Medical Association also opposes the measure.

If approved by voters, fees on dispensaries would fund only the medical marijuana oversight program. The language prohibits revenue from going into the state's general fund.

Critics say the fees are extremely low and the amendment fails to restrict the number of marijuana businesses. They also argue the amendment could trump local zoning laws. Pot dispensaries are barred within 500 feet of a school, church or child care center, but the language says zoning ordinances on dispensaries must be no more restrictive than they are on pharmacies and “shall not impair the availability of and reasonable access to medical marijuana.”

Some law enforcement leaders say the amount of legal purchase allowed is enough that patients would be able to re-sell marijuana on the streets.

Since marijuana is still an illegal drug under federal law, banks tend to avoid handling money linked to marijuana businesses and insurance companies also avoid involvement, Mississippi Today reports.

Over 228,000 Mississippi voters signed a petition to place Ballot Measure 65 the ballot. The legislature responded by approving its own ballot measure 65A, which would allow lawmakers to regulate medical marijuana. Some thirty-four states have already legalized medical marijuana, with a great diversity of regulations and programs, Mississippi Today said.

In New Jersey, where medical marijuana use is already allowed, the state legislature has introduced Public Question 1, a ballot proposal to legalize recreational marijuana.

Legalized drug sales are being touted as a way to boost revenue and employment, save money and redirect police resources.

New Jersey borders Pennsylvania and New York, which have not legalized the drug. Medical marijuana presently sells for about $400 to $500 per ounce in the state, the New York Times reports. The state legislature's research arm has estimated that a developed recreational marijuana industry would generate about $126 million in tax revenue a year. Municipalities may charge their own 2% tax under the proposal.

Backers of the New Jersey measure also point to the disproportionate criminal charges against Black Americans for marijuana possession, even though they use the drug at similar rates to white Americans.

Catholic News Agency sought comment from the New Jersey Catholic Conference and the Mississippi dioceses of Jackson and Biloxi but did not receive a response by deadline.

Some 2016 Trump critics say record on abortion, religious liberty changed their minds

Washington D.C., Oct 28, 2020 / 08:00 pm (CNA).-  

During the 2016 Republic primaries, some prominent conservative Catholics warned about Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. Four years later, some say they now support his reelection, while one Catholic scholar told CNA his focus is on the future of American political discourse.

“I have never been more happy about being wrong,” Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote.org, told CNA about Trump.

In January 2016, Burch issued a warning that Trump, who was by then the Republican front-runner, would not uphold Catholic principles as president. Burch exhorted Catholics to support another candidate, saying that Trump would “sell out everyone and anyone when it benefits him.” In the general election, CatholicVote.org did not endorse Trump.

But four years later, Burch told CNA that Trump has delivered “far more than we ever thought possible” on pro-life issues and religious freedom.

In September, CatholicVote launched a nearly $10 million campaign to target Catholic voters, highlighting Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s record “on issues of fundamental importance to Catholics including the sanctity of life, religious liberty, judges, education, the dignity of work, and other core issues.”

Trump has been widely praised by pro-life advocates for his appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic, to the Supreme Court. The president said in 2016 that he would fully defund abortion providers, and sign laws to ban abortions after 20 weeks and make the Hyde Amendment permanent, actions which have not been completed during his term in office.

Burch noted those moves depend upon Congressional action.  “The president’s done what he can via executive order, but he had an unwilling Congress,” he told CNA.

Other Catholics also told CNA last week that Trump’s White House support for life and religious freedom causes has surprised them. They recalled that, early in the 2016 election, his record did not evince a deep grasp of social conservatism.

Trump was on the record in 1999 saying that he was “very pro-choice.” He had been criticized for making crude, sexually-explicit comments about women on host Howard Stern’s radio show and in other contexts.

Looking at those factors in 2016, some critics thought the president’s pledges on abortion would not have much follow through.

“I did not believe his promises on behalf of the unborn, or on judges, or on foreign policy. I thought he would start wars,” Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at the Catholic University of America, told CNA this month. “I was wrong.”

Pecknold added that he has not endorsed Trump, but he thinks a case can be made for supporting him in the 2020 election.

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie did not believe that Trump would defend life and religious freedom causes, but voted for him reluctantly in 2016 because she thought his opponent Hillary Clinton would “expand” attacks on those causes.

When President Trump dramatically expanded a policy that prevents federal funding of foreign groups that provide or promote abortions—known as the “Mexico City Policy”— Christie said her doubts about him subsided.

As someone who grew up in Latin America, Christie saw Trump’s policy as a victory against “ideological colonization” of groups that promote abortions in developing countries.

“I know that he [Trump] has surrounded himself with really good people,” she said, “who really understand in a deeply philosophical way the issues of human dignity, marriage, and family.”

Nina Shea, an expert in religious freedom at the Hudson Institute, also warned about Trump’s candidacy in 2016. She recalled thinking that he did not have the foreign policy background required to promote religious freedom and defend persecuted religious minorities overseas.

A year later, Shea watched Vice President Mike Pence promise a summit on international Christian persecution that promoting religious freedom would be a priority for the administration.

The direct assurance was a departure from earlier administrations’ seeming reluctance to promote religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy, Shea said. Since then, she noted that Trump’s “speeches, initiatives, and directives” on religious freedom “have set the high water mark” for the issue.

Not all conservative Catholics who opposed Trump in 2016 support his re-election four years later.

Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at National Review and a Catholic, wrote an Oct. 15 column he said was “a case for principled abstention.”

Ponnuru wrote that in his view, Trump’s “character flaws” are bad enough to “keep him from meeting the threshold conditions to be entrusted with the presidency.”

The president is “deficient” in “judgment, honesty, and self-control,” Ponnuru wrote, lamenting “a more degraded and less honest political culture, the cheapening of the president’s word, and a decline in trust.”

But in the same column, Ponnuru said he would also not be voting for Biden.

Biden “says he now favors taxpayer funding of abortion. He may seek to enlarge the Supreme Court to make room for more justices who won’t make room in American law for unborn children,” Ponnuru wrote.

“If there’s a persuasive case for recognizing abortion as a grave injustice and voting for Biden anyway, I haven’t seen it,” the columnist said, while explaining why he will abstain from voting for a presidential candidate.

George Weigel, a distinguished senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, helped in March 2016 to initiate a petition urging Catholics to support alternative candidates to Trump during the Republican primary.

Weigel told CNA that he is grateful the Trump administration has defended religious freedom “at home and internationally” and has been “firmly pro-life.”

But the author lamented “continued coarsening of public debate, the deliberate polarization of opinion and sentiment, and the lack of any magnanimity toward opponents.”

Weigel said his focus is on the future. The author said that in his view both Trump and Biden are “seriously flawed in numerous ways.”

“My primary focus now is on building a political culture that doesn't, in the future, produce two such distasteful options. America can and must do better than this,” Weigel told CNA.

In an Oct. 28 column, Weigel pointed to the U.S. Senate as a critical aspect of the 2020 election.

American cultural renewal “will be more difficult if the Democratic party wins the presidency, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives—and is thus able to enforce the agenda of lifestyle libertinism and intolerant 'tolerance' to which its platform commits it, especially in matters of the sanctity of life and the conscience rights of believers,” Weigel wrote.

“As the House will certainly have a Democratic majority in 2021-2022, prudence dictates maintaining a Republican Senate, irrespective of who is elected president,” he added.

Supporters told CNA that after reviewing his record, they think Trump’s policies are a more important consideration than his personal behavior.

“I’m happy with his policies. I don’t plan to have him over for dinner,” Christie said.

Pecknold acknowledged the importance of character in a president, but cautioned that character should not be “reduced to table manners.”

Political leaders, he said, “should be judged by whether their laws help a society to live in greater accord with virtue.”

 

Battleground

Pencil Preaching for Thursday, October 29, 2020