Browsing News Entries

Catholic leaders speak out against 'Remain in Mexico' policy

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2019 / 06:32 pm (CNA).- Catholic leaders released a statement this week in disagreement with the United States’ expansion of a policy that restricts asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We oppose U.S. policy requiring asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while waiting to access protection in the United States. We urge the Administration to reverse this policy, which needlessly increases the suffering of the most vulnerable and violates international protocols,” the statement read.  

Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, released the joint statement on March 13.

First implemented in January, the Migrant Protection Protocols require asylum seekers at the San Ysidro border crossing to remain in Mexico while immigration courts process their case – a procedure that may take years. In previous administrations, asylum seekers were often permitted to remain in the U.S. while awaiting their court dates.

The U.S. government announced Tuesday that the program would now be expanded to the border crossing in Calexico, which is about 120 miles outside of San Diego. Department of Homeland Security officials stated that 240 asylum seekers have been returned to Mexico since the policy was enacted. They anticipate that the number will grow significantly as the program expands.

In February, a lawsuit was introduced in federal court challenging the policy, which is known unofficially as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. The suit claims that the program puts asylum seekers at risk because of Mexico’s dangerous conditions. A federal judge has not yet announced whether an injunction will be granted to block the policy while it is being considered in court.

The Associated Press reported that Mexico’s Foreign Relations and Interior departments objected to the policy update, which they say was made unilaterally by the United States. However, citing “humanitarian reasons,” the departments said a majority of the asylum seekers returned to Mexico will be allowed to stay.  

Vasquez and Callahan also voiced opposition to the policy, emphasizing the rights of the people seeking shelter from harsh conditions, especially from the dangers witnessed in Central America. 

“We steadfastly affirm a person’s right to seek asylum and find recent efforts to curtail and deter that right deeply troubling. We must look beyond our borders; families are escaping extreme violence and poverty at home and are fleeing for their lives,” the statement read.

The Church leaders reiterated the call of Pope Francis to protect and welcome immigrants and encouraged the government to respond with policies that best promote human dignity.

“Our government must adopt policies and provide more funding that address root causes of migration and promote human dignity and sustainable livelihoods,” they said.

 

Ban on gender transition among US military to take effect next month

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2019 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- Troops enlisting and serving in the U.S. military will have to serve as their biological sex and are forbidden from transitioning to another gender, a new Department of Defense policy states.

The policy was announced in a memo that was obtained by the Associated Press March 12. The policy will go into effect April 12.

While not a ban on transgender persons in the military altogether, the new policy will presumably result in many transgender troops being discharged from the military if they wish to serve under a different sex, seek cross-sex hormones, or gender transition surgeries.

The new policy has additional rules regarding gender dysphoria, a condition where someone identifies as a different gender than their biological sex. Recruits with a history of gender dysphoria will not be permitted to join the military unless they can show they have been identifying with their birth gender for three years and have not transitioned to a different gender.

If someone in the military were to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, this new policy would not permit them medically or surgically to transition to a different gender.

Transgender individuals who are either already enlisted or under contract to join the military prior to the start of the new policy will be grandfathered in to the transgender policy introduced in 2016 by then-President Barack Obama. That policy permitted transgender troops, and allowed those serving in the military to change their gender marker and begin to transition genders.

Per the updated policy, exceptions would have to be made for transgender individuals to continue to access health care associated with their gender transition. Those with gender dysphoria will be permitted to serve as their identified gender.

According to the Department of Defense website, there are “many transgender individuals already are serving honorably in uniform,” and they will not be removed from the military.

“DOD policy prohibits involuntary separation solely on the basis of gender identity, and it seeks to protect the privacy of transgender service members,” says the website.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D) said in a statement that the new policy was “bigoted” and a “stunning attack on the patriots who keep us safe and on the most fundamental ideals of our nation.”

There is no reliable data on the number of transgender troops in the military. Estimates suggest there could be as many as 10,000 transgender troops, with about 1,000 troops diagnosed with gender dysphoria. There are a little over 2 million members of the U.S. military.

Pelosi said that the House of Representatives would fight against this “discriminatory action, which has no place in our country.”

The Supreme Court ruled in January 2019 that President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender persons in the military was legal and could proceed. Trump announced this policy change in July 2017, in a tweet posted to Twitter. In that tweet, Trump said that there was “tremendous medical costs and disruption” associated with transgender troops.

The next month, the Pentagon announced a new policy that would permit transgender soldiers in the military, as long as they have not been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and have not transitioned from their birth sex. Troops identifying as transgender would have to wear the uniform associated with their biological sex and would not be permitted to use facilities associated with their desired sex.

The new policy forbade individuals who have transitioned genders from serving in the military or joining the military.

When Trump announced the policy in 2017, a theology professor at the Catholic University of America said it was the “right decision.”

Those who identify as transgender are “people made in God's image, and they deserve our compassion, and they deserve to be treated with dignity, but that doesn't mean that they are fit for combat in the defense of a nation,” Dr. Chad Pecknold told CNA.

“Pope Francis is famous for his stress upon dialogue, and his non-judgmental approach with respect to the dignity of every person,” he said. “But the Holy Father has also been crystal clear that ‘gender theory’ represents a burning threat to humanity, starkly describing it as a ‘global ideological war on marriage’.”

Critics question ‘Equality Act’ exclusion of religious freedom

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2019 / 05:08 pm (CNA).- Federal legislation purporting to guarantee equality explicitly rejects religious freedom protections and would open the gates to anti-discrimination lawsuits against religious believers and institutions who disagree with the bill’s broad view of LGBT discrimination, critics said.

Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of Alliance Defending Freedom's U.S. legal division, said the proposed Equality Act, reintroduced into the House of Representatives on March 13, would undermine “the fundamental freedoms of speech, religion, and conscience that the First Amendment guarantees for every citizen.”

She said “disagreement on important matters such as marriage and human sexuality is not discrimination.”

The Equality Act would add anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to existing protections for race, color, national origin, sex, disability and religion.

Waggoner compared it to similar state and local laws that would “force Americans to participate in events and speak messages that violate their core beliefs.”

About 20 states have such legislation. Besides combating mistreatment of self-identified LGBT persons, they have been invoked to shut down Catholic adoption agencies that only place children with a mother and a father or to compel people working in the wedding industry, like florists, photographers and bakers, to provide their services for same-sex ceremonies.

Critics have argued that the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity are too broad and will lead to rejecting appropriate recognition of difference between the sexes or differences between married heterosexual couples and other couples.

The legislation could endanger religious protections, particularly for those who believe marriage to be the union of one man and one woman. While U.S. law has historically allowed for broad religious freedom protections, those who disagree with same-sex marriage could be viewed as “discriminating” against a same-sex couple.

Though the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) passed with overwhelming support, such protections have recently drawn strong opposition from some lawmakers, pro-abortion access groups and LGBT advocates who contend they interfere with basic rights.

As drafted, the Equality Act explicitly removes the ability under RFRA to cite religious freedom as a defense against discrimination claims.

Tim Schulz, president of 1st Amendment Partnership, told the Deseret News that if the Equality Act becomes law, religiously affiliated schools and other faith-based organizations could face lawsuits over policies on self-identified LGBT students, customers or employees.

“There would be an effort to punitively sue them into oblivion,” he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union, a backer of the bill, said the legislation “clarifies that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act cannot be used in civil rights contexts, prohibiting religious liberty — which is a core American value — from being used as a license to discriminate.”

The ACLU has long opposed Catholic hospitals that act according to Catholic ethics and refuse to provide “reproductive health” services including abortion and sterilization. In California, the legal group filed a lawsuit against a Catholic hospital for refusing an elective hysterectomy to a woman who identifies as a man and who sought the procedure as part of her putative sex reassignment.

It has also sided with efforts targeting institutions and small businesses that do not recognize same-sex unions as marriages. ACLU lawyers have backed a lawsuit against a Washington State florist who declined to serve a same-sex ceremony, while the group has tried to block Michigan state agencies’ cooperation with Catholic adoption and foster agencies.

Waggoner was critical of the Equality Act and predicted negative consequences if it becomes law.

“Americans simply deserve better than the profound inequality proposed by this intolerant, deceptively titled legislation,” she said.

“Our laws should respect the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of every citizen, but the so-called ‘Equality Act’ fails to meet this basic standard,” Waggoner added. “It would undermine women’s equality and force women and girls to share private, intimate spaces with men who identify as female, in addition to denying women fair competition in sports.”

The proposed law would apply not just to employment, but other areas like housing, jury duty, credit, and education. It bars discrimination in retail stores, emergency shelters, banks, transit and pharmacies, among others. It would also specify facility access for self-identified transgender persons, such as access to male and female bathrooms.

David Cicilline, D-R.I., is the bill’s main sponsor in the House, NBC News reports. As of March 13, the bill had 239 co-sponsors in the House.

“In most states in this country, a gay couple can be married on Saturday, post their wedding photos to Instagram on Sunday, and lose their jobs or get kicked out of their apartments on Monday just because of who they are,” he charged. “We are reintroducing the Equality Act in order to fix this.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is the only Republican to back the bill, though she was one of four currently serving Republican Senators to back similar anti-discrimination categories in a 2013 employment bill.

The legislation’s 161 corporate sponsors include PayPal, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft. Overall they have a combined revenue of $3.7 trillion, CNBC reported March 8.

Leaders with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have not yet commented on the Equality Act. However, in the past they have criticized the proposed federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would bar actions deemed to be employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

In May 2010, the bishops said the act “could be used to punish as discrimination what the Catholic Church teaches.” While they called for a “comprehensive religious exemption” to such a bill, there could be “government retaliation” for institutions that rely on such exemptions. Without strong protections, it would be applied “to jeopardize our religious freedom to live our faith and moral tenets in today's society,” they said.

The bishops rejected “every sign of unjust discrimination,” while also stating that Catholic teaching cannot be equated with unjust discrimination.

Leading bishops criticized the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in an Oct. 31, 2013 letter to the U.S. Senate, saying it does not advance “authentic non-discrimination.” They warned that the bill’s vague definition of sexual orientation does not distinguish between homosexual “status” and “conduct.” Its concept of “gender identity” rejects the “biological basis of gender” and would give force of law to a view of gender as “nothing more than a social construct or social psychosocial reality.”

CNA investigations have found close to $10 million in spending that targets religious freedom protection, including funding for ACLU projects. Major backers of the campaign include the Ford Foundation, which gives out some $500 million in grants annually, as well as the Arcus Foundation, an LGBT advocacy group that also funds groups that reject historic Christian ethics on LGBT issues. The network of funded groups tends to argue that religious freedoms are too broad if they exempt objectors to “reproductive rights” and LGBT political and legal concerns.

FDA clamps down on sale of unapproved mail-order abortion pills

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- As part of a wide-reaching crackdown on the online sale of illegal drugs, the US Food and Drug Administration has warned several online providers of abortion-inducing medications to stop the sale of unapproved abortion pills.

The FDA sent last week a letter to Rablon, an online pharmacy network, and Aid Access, requesting they immediately desist selling unapproved versions of the abortion drugs mifepristone and misoprostol online.

According to the FDA warning letter, the "sale of misbranded and unapproved new drugs poses an inherent risk to consumers who purchase those products."

"Drugs that have circumvented regulatory safeguards may be contaminated; counterfeit, contain varying amounts of active ingredients, or contain different ingredients altogether," the letter states.

Mifepristone and misoprostol are two drugs taken together to carry out a medical abortion. They work by inducing miscarriage in pregnancies before 10 weeks.

FDA-approved versions of the drugs have been available to US consumers since 2000, but may only be prescribed by a certified health care provider in a hospital, clinic, or medical office setting. They may not be sold online or in a retail pharmacy.

The health care provider must inform patients about the serious risks associated with use of the medications, and sign a waiver certifying the patient has access to emergency care or a surgical abortion in the case of complication.

These requirements are part of an FDA risk mitigation program called REMS, which is used for all higher-risk medications.

The letter to Aid Access stated that the FDA-approved version of mifepristone, called "Mifeprex," is under the REMS program because "the drug carries a risk of serious or even life-threatening adverse effects, including serious and sometimes fatal infections and prolonged heavy bleeding, which may be a sign of incomplete abortion or other complications."

Failure by the websites to correct the violations outlined, the FDA stated, could result in "regulatory action, including seizure or injunction, without further notice."

Aid Access is a website that says it offers abortion-inducing drugs to healthy women who are nine weeks pregnant or less.

If women qualify for the pills through online consultations, Aid Access writes them prescriptions for the two drugs. These prescriptions are filled at a pharmacy in India, which mails the drugs to women in the U.S. The service costs $95, and the website notes that financial aid is available.

Rablon is an online pharmacy network owning at least 87 websites, with sites such as AbortionPillRx.com and AbortPregnancy.com offering mail-order access to mifepristone and misoprostol.

New Open Society Foundations leader co-founded controversial 'Catholic Spring' groups

New York City, N.Y., Mar 14, 2019 / 03:18 pm (CNA).- The deeply influential Open Society Foundations has announced that Tom Perriello - a former congressman, pro-abortion rights gubernatorial candidate and co-founder of controversial Catholic political groups linked to John Podesta amid speculation of a “Catholic Spring” revolution against the bishops - will oversee grantmaking and advocacy for the U.S. programs branch of financier George Soros’ philanthropy network.

The foundations’ Oct. 10 announcement of Perriello’s new role as executive director of its U.S. programs cited his roles as diplomat, educator, and activist for human rights, civil rights, economic equality and democratic practice in the U.S. and around the world.

As executive director, his duties will include oversight of the foundations’ U.S. grantmaking and advocacy in areas like civic, political and economic participation as well as accountability and effectiveness of civil society institutions. Laura Silber, communications director for the foundations, also cited work in criminal justice reform and support for high-quality journalism, the Roanoke Times reports.

“Our institutions are under attack, the rule of law is being challenged as seldom before in our history, and the very foundations of our democracy are under enormous stress,” Open Society Foundations president Patrick Gaspard said in the announcement. “These times demand bold leadership, new ideas, and sharp strategic thinking.”

Perriello was listed as a guest in the meeting book for the foundations’ U.S. programs September 2012 board meeting in New York. His biography in the book cited his roles in helping to launch Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Catholics United, Faith in Public Life, and FaithfulAmerica.org.

Perriello served in Congress from 2009-2011, then served as president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the political wing of the Podesta-founded Center for American Progress. Perriello then took a position with the State Department analyzing U.S. diplomacy and development efforts in 2014, and was named by President Obama as special envoy to the African Great Lakes in 2015.

The co-founder of Catholics in Alliance and Catholics United made a failed bid for the Democratic nomination for Virginia governor in 2017. During this race, Perriello had major backing from Soros, who gave at least $500,000 to his campaign. Three of Soros’ sons gave another $185,000, while Donald Sussman, a hedge fund manager and a board member of the Center for American Progress, gave $300,000, the Washington Free Beacon reported in June 2017.

Perriello on his gubernatorial campaign website said “I have always been pro-choice.” He voiced opposition to a ban on abortion 20 weeks into pregnancy. He backed a state constitutional amendment to guarantee legal abortion in the event the U.S. Supreme Court overturns precedent. He advocated the removal of abortion restrictions such as a 24-hour waiting period, mandatory counseling and mandatory ultrasounds for women seeking an abortion.

After the 2017 election, Perriello joined the board of directors of the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood.

Perriello said his work with the Open Society Foundations will likely focus on funding policy research, expanding political engagement, and racial issues.

He also praised Soros, telling the Roanoke Times in November, “I think a lot of what he does is calling us to our highest aspirations, and I think as Americans, we also have traditionally fallen well short of those aspirations.”

Soros’ foundations spend about $100 million in the U.S. each year and about $1 billion worldwide. He gave $18 billion to his foundations in 2018.

While Soros and his foundations are the subject of much unfounded rumor and speculation, his foundations have undeniably had global influence on many issues.

Various reports established that the Open Society Foundations helped fund pro-abortion rights groups to repeal Ireland’s pro-life constitutional amendment, seeing this effort as a model for change in other traditionally Catholic countries, such as Poland. The foundations gave at least $1.5 million to Planned Parenthood’s damage control efforts to counter the Center for Medical Progress videos appearing to show the abortion provider and other pro-abortion leaders involved in the illegal for-profit sale of fetal tissue and unborn baby parts. As part of a funding collaborative at the Proteus Fund, the foundations helped gay marriage become legally recognized in the U.S.

The foundations funded groups that sought to use Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. to influence the 2016 elections and to cultivate influence within the Catholic Church. These include Faith in Public Life, which foundation documents describe as a partner organization with Catholics in Alliance.

Catholics in Alliance itself received at least $450,000 in funding from the Open Society Foundations, then known as the Open Society Institute, from 2006 to 2010. An internal foundations document from 2009 cited the group’s key role in influencing Barack Obama’s controversial 2009 Notre Dame speech, and praised its campaigns that “broadened the agenda” of Catholic voters to see abortion as just one of several election issues.

Catholics United effectively merged with Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good in 2015.

The two groups were founded in the wake of then-Sen. John Kerry’s defeat in the 2004 presidential election campaigns. This loss was in part attributed to the failure of Democrats to sway religious voters. The two groups engaged in various forms of religious commentary, activist organizing, issue advocacy, and political campaigning.

Ahead of the 2012 election, Catholics United told pastors of Florida Catholic churches they had a network of volunteers monitoring election-related speech in churches for reputed illegal political activity. Local Catholic leaders said appeared to be “an attempt to silence pastors on issues that are of concern to the Church this election season.”

The same group criticized the Knights of Columbus for its work to support civil marriage as a union of only a man and a woman.

Its state affiliate Keystone Catholics criticized Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput on matters like his interpretation of Pope Francis’ “Amoris Laetitia,” his critical approach to LGBT political causes, and his refusal to allow the 2015 World Meeting of Families to be a platform for groups to lobby against Church teachings.

Catholics United received funding from the Gill Foundation, founded by savvy LGBT strategist and millionaire Tim Gill. The group was a partner on the website of the Arcus Foundation, which has funded dissenting Catholic groups and other religious organizations to advocate on LGBT issues, among others.

Ahead of the 2016 elections, the site Wikileaks posted 2012 emails apparently involving Hillary Clinton campaign chief John Podesta, at a time of significant Catholic controversy over mandatory health plan coverage of contraception. His email responded to Sandy Newman’s suggestion of a “Catholic Spring” revolution within the Church which, in Newman’s vivid words, “Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic church.”

Podesta, a former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, replied: “We created Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to organize for a moment like this. But I think it lacks the leadership to do so now. Likewise Catholics United. Like most Spring movements, I think this one will have to be bottom up.”

He suggested consultations with former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

According to Open Society Foundations internal documents from 2009, the departure of Catholics in Alliance co-founder Alexia Kelley to join the Obama White House left the group “without strong leadership.” Kelley is now president and CEO of the influential philanthropy consortium Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities.

Catholics in Alliance did draw opposition from Catholics for Choice, a pro-abortion rights group not acknowledged by the U.S. bishops as Catholic. In 2015, when surreptitiously filmed videos showed Planned Parenthood’s apparent involvement in the illegal sale of aborted baby parts, Catholics in Alliance’s then-executive director Christopher Hale voiced strong criticism of the abortion provider.

In various interviews with Hale in late 2016, Hale said his organization had changed emphasis in recent years, speaking out more against abortion than it had in the past. He said that the Podesta email did not reflect the daily work of the organization and rejecting claims his group was concerned with “the internal politics of the Catholic Church.”

Hale sought to distinguish the organization’s work from its funders, saying “we work with people who disagree with a lot of the work we do.”

CNA contacted the Open Society Foundations and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.

George Soros outlined his philosophy and his work in a Jan. 24, 2019 speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He said he has devoted his life to “fighting totalizing, extremist ideologies, which falsely claim that the ends justify the means.”

“I believe that the desire of people for freedom can’t be repressed forever. But I also recognize that open societies are profoundly endangered at present,” he said.

According to Soros, his foundations aimed “to open up closed societies, reducing the deficiencies of open societies and promoting critical thinking.” He claimed success in undermining South African apartheid and in liberalizing his home country of Hungary and the Soviet Union itself. However, he admitted previous decades’ work failed to advance an open society in China. His speech voiced criticism and concern about that country’s present state, and he also warned about President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Criticism of George Soros has become controversial in recent years and there are charges his political opponents have engaged in active sabotage. Russian hackers are believed to have targeted his foundation and released some of its internal documents to the website DCleaks.com. He has cut back on efforts in Hungary amid claims that the government there is tapping into anti-Semitic hatemongering against him; and the social network Facebook hired a public relations firm to attack Soros in seeking to undermine its own critics. He was among many prominent targets of a pipe bomb attack.

The Podesta emails were posted to Wikileaks at a critical time in the election, and some reports attribute the hacking of his email account to Russians.

Soros and Podesta are part of a wider network of wealthy funders, NGOs, and political leaders that share left-leaning or Democratic political causes and goals, and sometimes even sharing leadership, staff and funding.

The Open Society Foundations have given millions to the Center for American Progress, which it considers “the most influential think tank in our funding universe.” According to the foundations’ internal documents, the center also enjoys support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Humanity United Fund, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Ford Foundation, among others.

The unexpected success of President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign has renewed scrutiny for Republican- or right-leaning political and social advocacy, including from Catholic groups, with much focus on Steve Bannon. Bannon was executive chairman of Breitbart News before becoming chairman of the Trump campaign and then serving as chief strategist for the Trump White House.