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Bill to ban transgender surgery for minors advances in South Dakota

Pierre, S.D., Jan 29, 2020 / 12:26 am (CNA).- A bill aiming to ban sex-reassignment surgery and puberty-blocking medication for minors in South Dakota cleared a House committee Jan. 22, and is set to be debated in the House of Representatives.

HB 1057 would make it a Class 1 misdemeanor for doctors to dispense puberty-blocking drugs to those under the age of 16 for the purpose of changing or affirming the perception of their sex, and lists a number of surgical procedures including castration, vasectomy, and hysterectomy that doctors would not be allowed to perform on minors.

The bill was set to be debated in the House on Monday, but the House deferred the debate to another day.

The South Dakota Catholic Conference announced its support for the measure Jan. 16.

“HB 1057 would protect boys and girls from harmful medicalization with unknown, potentially life-long consequences,” the conference wrote Jan. 16.

“With deep compassion for the experience of suffering that marks those with gender dysphoria, the Church firmly insists on the dignity of all human persons as created and loved by God, and further expresses special affection for the marginalized and suffering.”

“HB 1057 would ensure children, especially those experiencing distress concerning their sex, are given the chance to develop and grow in understanding the gift of their created nature without pressures towards harmful medicalization,” the conference concluded.

The Republican-sponsored bill is likely to advance in South Dakota as both the House and the Senate hold Republican supermajorities.

The provisions of the bill do not apply to “the good faith medical decision of a parent or guardian of a minor born with a medically-verifiable genetic disorder of sex development.”

The South Dakota bill comes in the wake of an October 2019 decision by a federal judge to strike down an Obama-era requirement that doctors perform gender-transition surgeries upon request.

The regulation stemmed from Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination in health care on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. HHS interpreted “sex discrimination” under this rule to include gender identity, thus mandating the provision of gender-transition surgeries.

In response to the rule, an alliance of more than 19,000 health care professionals, nine states, and several religious organizations combined in two lawsuits against the mandate, saying that it unlawfully required doctors who objected to the procedures to violate their religious beliefs or the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm to the patient.

Similar bills to the one proposed in South Dakota are under consideration in other states, including ones introduced during the 2020 session in Florida and Colorado that, like the South Dakota bill, would impose criminal penalties for transgender surgery performed on minor.

In other states, like Illinois, Oklahoma and South Carolina, bills are under consideration that provide for the loss of a doctor’s medical license if they perform transgender surgery on a minor.

A bill under consideration in Missouri, HB 1721, would revoke a doctor’s medical license if they administer gender-reassignment treatment, and parents who consent to such treatment would be reported to child-welfare officials for child abuse, the AP reports.

State lawmakers in Kentucky and Texas also have announced plans to file similar bills, the Washington Post reports.

A state representative in Georgia during November 2019 proposed a law that would make it a felony for medical professionals to attempt to change a minor’s gender either through surgery or medication.

 

KC priest Harkins remembered as a 'good man and a good priest'

Kansas City, Mo., Jan 28, 2020 / 09:31 pm (CNA).- Catholics in Missouri and across the country remembered Fr. Evan Harkins Tuesday as a good priest, and urged prayer for the repose of his soul.

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph announced the priest’s death on Jan. 28.

Harkins “had apparently taken his own life,” the diocese said in a statement.

“In the face of this devastatingly tragic news, we ask that you pray for Fr. Harkins, his family, and the parish and school communities that he served as well as all of our priests,” the statement added.

Harkins was ordained a priest in 2010, and was serving as pastor of St. James Catholic Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. He also oversaw the nearby St. Patrick Catholic Church as parochial administrator. He was, according to his LinkedIn profile, studying at the Catholic University of America for a degree in canon law.

Harkins was ordained a priest at 24 years old, nearly three months shy of the required canonical age of 25, with a dispensation from his bishop. Before his ordination, he told the Catholic Key that he first began thinking about becoming a priest at eight years old.

His parents supported his vocation. The oldest of five children, Harkins attended a seminary high school. He then enrolled at Conception Seminary College in Missouri, followed by major seminary at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis.

In 2010, Harkins described to the Catholic Key his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“Through her intercession I grew in holiness. A priest stands in the person of Christ, absolving sin, and in the person of Christ saying ‘This is my body.’ Therefore we should be as Christ-like as possible, and part of that is drawing close to His mother, Our Lady,” he said.

Harkins also told the Catholic Key about his enthusiasm for the priesthood.

A priest “brings the channels of Christ’s grace to the sacraments: New life through baptism; absolution through the sacrament of Penance, His love for us and His grace through the Eucharist. A priest is a bridge connecting people to God in a sacramental way, and he extends Christ’s love for His Church, in a human way.”

“I see a lot of pain and sadness in the world. You can see in people’s eyes. Satan makes people unsure of who they are. To me being ordained a priest is to be sent out in to the world to give God to people and His gifts of joy and truth. I think that’s awesome; there is nothing beyond that I could want,” Harkins added.

Priests in Missouri and other parts of the country remembered Harkins on social media.

Fr. Joseph Kelly of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau wrote on Facebook that Harkins “was a few years ahead of me at Kenrick, and I always remember him as humble, quiet, prayerful, always joyful, and had a great love for the traditional liturgy.”

Kelly requested prayers for the repose of Harkins’ soul, and “for all those struggling with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, that they may know there is always hope even in the midst of the greatest darkness.”



Fr. Adam Prichard of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois requested prayers for Harkin’s soul, for his family, and for his parishioners.

“He was a good man and a good priest,” Prichard wrote.

 

Please pray for the repose of the souls of Fr. Evan Harkins, for his family, and his parishioners. He was a good man and a good priest. https://t.co/qa19coLlC2

— Fr. Adam Prichard (@FrAdamPrichard) January 28, 2020  

Fr. Cassidy Stinson of the Diocese of Richmond asked on Twitter that Catholics pray for all priests.

“I know from experience that it can be very hard to seek help and support  when you’re the one called upon to support everyone else,” Stinson wrote.

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Fr. Evan Harkins, who took his own life this morning.

I know from experience that it can be very hard to seek help and support when you’re the one called upon to support everyone else.

Pray for your priests.

Love your priests. pic.twitter.com/mR5v6StrKw

— Fr. Cassidy Stinson (@TheHappyPriest) January 28, 2020  

Fr. James Clark of Memphis wrote that he and Evans “were good friends in seminary.  I never would have expected such a thing.  May God give him eternal life and console his beautiful family. You are a priest forever, Fr. Evan.”

Heartbroken to hear of the death of Fr. Evan Harkins. We were good friends in seminary. I never would have expected such a thing. May God give him eternal life and console his beautiful family. You are a priest forever, Fr. Evan. pic.twitter.com/uwR0Xx8dO8

— Fr James Clark (@FatherJcl) January 29, 2020  

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “voluntary cooperation in suicide is contrary to the moral law,” but adds that “grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.”

“We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. the Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives,” the Catechism adds.

Funeral announcements for Harkins have not yet been announced.

Transport Secretary vows to stamp out 'modern slavery' of human trafficking

Washington D.C., Jan 28, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, has announced several new initiatives aimed at combatting human trafficking, vowing to stamp out use of American transport routes for “this modern form of slavery.”

“It is shocking to learn that in this day and age, something so horrible as human trafficking exists, and there are so many people who don’t believe it,” Chao said Jan. 28. 

“But it is happening, and it’s happening in the United States, in our cities, in our suburbs, in our rural areas.” said Chao at the agency’s “Putting the Brakes on Human Trafficking” summit in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.

“Our purpose today is to make a difference, and that’s to make the transportation sector a more effective force against the evil that is human trafficking. Because America’s roadways, railways, airways, and waterways are being used to facilitate this modern form of slavery,” Chao stated.

Chao was joined by members of Congress, officials from multiple states, law enforcement personnel, and leaders of the transportation industry on Tuesday at the U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters in Washington, D.C.

USDOT launched its new “100 Pledges in 100 Days” initiative to increase the number of transportation companies promising to train their employees to recognize suspected cases of human trafficking.

Chao called on leaders of transportation companies—in the airline, shipping, trucking, and locomotive industries—to take the “Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking Pledge” to train their employees.

Currently, there are commitments to train more than one million employees to fight human trafficking, according to USDOT, and Chao listed anti-trafficking initiatives already underway at the agency, with the strategies of “detection, deterrence, and disruption.” More than 53,000 agency employees have received mandatory counter-trafficking training, including special instructions for bus and truck inspectors, she said.

The agency is also partnering with the Department of Homeland Security on the Blue Lightning initiative for the airline industry, providing anti-trafficking training for more than 100,000 airline employees.

The Department also announced an annual $50,000 award for individuals or organizations for “innovative” solutions for combating trafficking, as well as $5.4 million in grant selections

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who has authored five laws combatting human trafficking, also spoke at the event. 

Smith drafted the International Megan’s Law, named for 7 year-old Megan Kanka of Hamilton, New Jersey, who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by a repeated sex offender in 1994. The law requires convicted child sex offenders to register with the U.S. government before travelling abroad. The government in turn notifies their destination countries, which can refuse to accept the offender.

“Human trafficking is a barbaric human rights abuse that thrives on greed, secrecy, a perverted sense of entitlement to exploit the vulnerable and an unimaginable disregard for the victims,” Rep. Smith said.

Supreme Court allows ‘public burden’ rule for migrants, but Catholic leaders object

Washington D.C., Jan 28, 2020 / 01:15 pm (CNA).- A Trump administration rule defining more low-income immigrants as a public burden may go into effect, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week. Catholic leaders decried the ruling, saying it will harm families’ ability to secure basic services and that it represents a radical departure from American traditions.

“We implore the administration to reconsider this harsh and unnecessary policy and rescind it in its entirety,” Sister Donna Markham O.P., president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, said Jan. 27. “By allowing this harmful policy to go into effect, the administration imposes a chilling effect on access to basic services, creating fear among eligible individuals threatening family unity and stability.”

“We will be judged on how we treat the hungry, the homeless and the stranger among us and this decision signals a watershed change of course from the best moments of our American heritage of welcoming immigrants and refugees,” Markham said.

The rule change expands the criteria under which immigrants would be ineligible for a green card, encompassing those who use public benefits on a more temporary basis than the previous standards.

Catholic Charities USA said the rule harms families, targets legal immigrants, and could prevent families from securing basic nutrition and housing assistance.

The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the Trump administration in a 5-4 vote on Jan. 27 to overturn a nationwide injunction against the rule. The justices did not comment on the merits of the case. However, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, issued a concurring opinion objecting to the use of nationwide injunctions.

The decision means the new rule can go to effect in every state except for Illinois, a separate case. The rule will still face legal challenge in several courts across the country.

Immigrant advocates and several states had challenged the rule, saying it would impose costs on the states and penalize immigrants who rely on temporary government assistance. They objected that it limited access to green cards for low-income immigrants seeking legal entry to the U.S. or seeking to remain legally.

The concept of a “public charge” dates back to at least 1882, when federal lawmakers wanted to ensure that immigrants were independent and would not burden public services.

Since 1996, government regulations had defined a public charge as someone who is “primarily dependent” on government assistance, meaning this assistance supplies more than half their income through cash benefits, such as the Temporary Aid for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Income from Social Security, CNN reports.

Previously, fewer than 1% of applicants were disqualified on public charge grounds.

Under the Trump administration rules announced in August 2019, “noncash benefits providing for basic needs such as housing or food” count towards consideration of whether a person would be a public charge. These include most forms of Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers.

An immigrant who received one or more designated benefits for more than 12 months in a 36-month period could be designated a public charge. Use of two kinds of benefits in a single month would count as two months, the New York Times reports.

Lawyers for the private groups challenging the rule cited Department of Homeland Security estimates that the rule will cause hundreds of thousands of households to forgo benefits for which they are eligible “out of fear and confusion about the consequences for their immigration status of accepting such benefits.” The Department of Homeland Security warned of increased malnutrition, especially for pregnant or breastfeeding women and their infants and children; increased prevalence of communicable disease; and increased poverty and housing instability, the lawyers said in their brief.

New York Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood, whose state was among the plaintiffs to the legal challenge, said the new rule would “radically disrupt over a century of settled immigration policy and public-benefits programs.” The established consensus was that the phrase “public charge” was limited to mean “individuals who are primarily dependent on the government for long-term subsistence,” she argued.

U.S. Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco, who defended the rule, asked the Supreme Court to lift the lower court injunctions. He argued that the new rule was a permissible interpretation of the concept “public charge.” It is a lawful goal to discourage immigrants seeking green cards from using public benefits, and enjoinment of the rule would cause “long-term harm” to the government, he said.

Francisco said if any resident aliens not subject to the rule disenroll from benefits for fear they would endanger their immigration status, then “such disenrollment is unwarranted, easily corrected and temporary.”

Susan Welber, a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society, opposed the new policy. She told CNN the policy aimed to exclude “as unworthy and unwelcome anyone who is predicted to receive even a small amount of food, health or housing assistance at any point.”

“We are very disappointed in the Supreme Court's decision, and the irreparable consequences it will have for immigrants and their families across the nation, but we continue to believe that our legal claims are very strong that we will ultimately prevail in stopping this rule permanently,” she said.

In September 2018, when the initial changes to the rule were proposed, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops warned that the rule will be “very harmful to families” and cause fear among immigrant families who are “already struggling to fulfill the American Dream.” The proposed rule “further compounds strict eligibility guidelines already in place preventing many immigrants from receiving federal aid,” they said.
 

 

Judge allows student group’s abortion lawsuit to progress against Notre Dame

South Bend, Ind., Jan 28, 2020 / 12:59 am (CNA).- The University of Notre Dame’s refusal to pay for drugs that can cause early abortions will face further litigation in court, after a federal judge in Indiana allowed a lawsuit to challenge an agreement between the university and the Trump administration.

“Notre Dame stands on firm legal and moral ground in refusing to subsidize the limited number of contraceptive products that can act as abortifacients and harm an unborn child,” Paul Browne, vice president of public affairs and communications at the University of Notre Dame, said in a Jan. 20 letter to the editor of the Notre Dame Observer, a student-run newspaper.

U.S. District Court Judge Philip Simon rejected the university’s motions to dismiss the case on Jan. 16. A pretrial conference is scheduled for early March, the South Bend Tribune reports.

The lawsuit, filed in June 2018, charges that the Catholic university’s failure to provide abortifacient drugs violates a federal requirement dating back to 2012 holding that employer health plans must provide contraceptive coverage.

The lawsuit comes from a group of students allied with national pro-abortion rights NGOs.

Browne told the South Bend Tribune the university’s position is “grounded in the autonomy of litigants, including the government, to settle claims.” He added “we are confident that Notre Dame will prevail.”

Among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are three unnamed students and the group Irish 4 Reproductive Health, a 501c4 non-profit not affiliated with or funded by the Catholic university.

“No one at Notre Dame — and no one anywhere —should have to choose between what is right for their body and life and what they can afford,” said the group Irish 4 Reproductive Health, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

In February 2018, University of Notre Dame president Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., announced that while the insurance plan at the university will not provide abortifacients, the school will fund the use of “simple contraceptives.”

Irish 4 Reproductive Health still objected, contending that the policies follow a February 2018 “secretive deal with the Trump-Pence administration to impose unnecessary and burdensome costs on us and restrict our reproductive healthcare options to methods deemed acceptable by Fr. Jenkins’s coterie of advisors.”

The group of Notre Dame undergraduate and graduate students describes itself as an advocate for “reproductive justice.”

“We work to expand access to sexual health resources and information at the University of Notre Dame as well as in our surrounding community. Our feminism is intersectional and sex-positive,” it says on its Facebook page.

The group says the majority of its funding comes from individual donors but it also reports receiving grants from Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest performer of abortions, and Catholics for Choice, whose claims to be a Catholic organization have been rejected by the U.S. bishops.

Irish 4 Reproductive Justice works with South Bend-area pro-abortion rights and feminist groups as well as the National Women’s Law Center, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. The latter two groups are assisting in the lawsuit, as is the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights and the Fried Frank and Macey Swanson law firms.

Americans United named Irish 4 Reproductive Health as its 2020 Students of the Year.

Named alongside Notre Dame in the lawsuit are the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury, and Labor.

“The Supreme Court should affirm that it is unconstitutional for the Trump administration to misuse religious freedom to block employees’ and students’ access to birth control,” Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Jan. 17.

Laser cited similar court decisions in Pennsylvania and California.

The 2010 Affordable Health Care Act, she said, “guarantees employees and students the right to contraceptive coverage.”

The 2010 health care legislation required employer-provided health insurance plans are required to cover certain “preventative services.” Guidance issued under the Obama administration in January 2012 defined these services to include all FDA-approved sterilization procedures and contraceptive methods, including abortifacient birth control pills and IUDs.

Initially, there were no religious exemptions for those opposed to the distribution of contraceptives. The eventual exemption was so narrow in scope it excluded religious orders such as the Little Sisters of the Poor and non-profits like the EWTN Global Catholic Network.

In 2015,  the Supreme Court ruled against the mandate as it applied to Christian-owned business Hobby Lobby and similar “closely held for-profits.”

The Trump administration established new rules in October 2017 allowing companies with religious or moral objections to contraception to opt out of the mandate. Federal judges blocked the rules in December 2017, resulting in new rules in November 2018.

Judges in California and Pennsylvania issued injunctions against these new rules in January 2019, again halting the Little Sisters of the Poor’s legal case. On Jan. 17, 2020 the U.S. Supreme Court said it would again hear the Little Sisters of the Poor’s case.

Americans United, one supporter of the lawsuit against Notre Dame, is historically an anti-Catholic group. Formerly known as Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church & State, it was founded in 1947 with financial backing and other support from prominent Scottish Rite Masons, Southern Jurisdiction, Phillip Hamburger reports in his 2002 book “Separation of Church and State,” published by Harvard University Press.

In a Feb. 7, 2018 statement, Notre Dame’s president Father Jenkins acknowledged that the use of contraception is indeed “contrary to Catholic teaching.” Attempting to justify the health plan policy, he said that offering contraception in the school health plan was a way to “respect” other religious traditions and conscientious decisions—particularly decisions made by those in the university’s community who rely on access to contraception through the insurance plan.

This step came as a surprise to many, since the university was one of the institutions which sued the United States over the mandate. Prior to the mandate, Notre Dame did not provide contraception coverage in its insurance plans, except when prescribed to treat a medical condition.

Notre Dame law professor Gerard V. Bradley criticized the new university policy in a February 2018 Public Discourse essay “Notre Dame Swallows the Pill.” He said the policy was “a giant leap into immorality” that made the university “sole funder and proprietor of a contraception giveaway.”

Bradley cited Notre Dame’s previous claims that justified its lawsuit on the grounds of fidelity to Catholic teaching. In his words, the university argued that “to remain faithful to its beliefs, it could not be involved in any way whatsoever with a process designed to provide contraceptives to its employees, its students, or their dependents.”

Bradley said the allowance for contraception will cause incalculable harm to “so many persons’ minds, bodies and souls.”

“Our moral duty to respect others’ choices does not have anything to do with giving them the means to do evil,” he said.

 

TX judges increasingly denied abortion to minors without parental consent from 2016

Austin, Texas, Jan 27, 2020 / 06:18 pm (CNA).- A study of statistics from Texas suggests that since 2016, judges in the state were less likely to grant permission to minors to procure abortion without their parents’ consent than in previous years.

Thirty-seven states, including Texas, require minors to obtain parental consent before procuring an abortion. In those states, minors can also seek the approval of a judge, in what is known as a “judicial bypass.”

From 2000 to 2015, Texas’ laws mandated that a minor seeking an abortion without parental consent must demonstrate to a judge that they were mature and well-informed, that notifying a parent would not be in their best interest, and that notifying a parent might lead to physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

According to a study published this month in the American Journal of Public Health, between 2001 and 2015 the number of times a judge in Texas denied a minor an abortion ranged from zero to six per year, which in turn represented between 0% and 6.2% of the total requests judges received that year. The rate of denial was 2.8% in 2015.

In 2016, the year that Texas implemented a law changing regulations for minors requesting permission for abortions from judges, the number of denials rose to 23, which represented about 10.3% of the total requests that judges received that year. The number of denials dipped to 10 in 2017 (3.1%) and then rose slightly to 12 in 2018 (5.1%).

The data for 2016-18 came from the Texas Office of Court Administration, while that from 2001-15 were based on reports from Jane's Due Process, a group that provides legal representation to minors seeking to procure abortion without their parents' consent.

Reuters reported that one of the changes implemented in 2016 was the removal of the criterion related to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse if the minor tells the parent they are having an abortion. Another change implemented after 2016 required girls to file their petitions in the county they live in, and to include their name, address, and date of birth, Reuters reported.

The study's lead author, Amanda Stevenson, said that the purpose of the judicial bypass process “is to protect minors from a veto of their abortion decision. We find sometimes the process doesn’t protect them from being vetoed. It’s just the judge instead of the parent.”

Texas’ requirements regarding judicial consent for minors to obtain an abortion recieved national attention when a 17-year-old from Central America, known as Jane Doe, obtained state permission in September 2017.

The minor had been in federal custody in a Texas shelter operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement – an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Department of Health and Human Services objected to transporting the minor to abortion appointments.

The government argued that since she is a minor in their custody, it has the right to determine what is in the best interest of the teen, and also stated that it has an interest in not creating incentives for minors to cross international borders in order to obtain abortions.

On Oct. 20, 2017, a three-judge appellate panel ruled that Doe would not be allowed immediately to obtain the abortion. This overruled a Texas district court’s ruling that Doe should be allowed to access an abortion immediately.

However, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision five days later, ordering instead that an adult custodian be found for the teenager, which would remove her from federal custody. The teen subsequently procured the abortion.

Other states attempting to pass “parental notification laws,” such as Indiana, have been blocked by the courts.

Indiana law requires any Indiana minor seeking an abortion to provide the courts with written consent from a parent, but the state allows a minor to petition a court for approval to have an abortion without parental consent.

A 2017 law would have allowed judges to notify parents that their daughters are seeking to have an abortion without consent.

In 2017, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that prevents judges from notifying parents when minors seek abortions, and the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that injunction during August 2019 by a vote of 2-1.

Also in 2017, a federal judge struck down an Alabama law requiring more scrutiny for minors who seek an abortion without parental consent, saying that the law violates the minor’s confidentiality by possibly bringing other people from her life into the process.

Efforts are currently underway to remove the longstanding requirement for teens to obtain parental consent before getting an abortion in Massachusetts, a rule that can only be bypassed if the minor is granted permission for the abortion by a state judge. The bill, which state Sen. Harriet Chandler introduced during January 2020, also seeks to establish a state right to an abortion, which would stand even if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned.

Legislators back 'School Choice Week' as Supreme Court considers key case

Washington D.C., Jan 27, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Political leaders have come out in support of School Choice Week, as the Supreme Court considers a crucial case on the right of parents to public assistance if they choose religious schools.

National School Choice Week is Jan. 26 through Feb. 1. “School choice” is a policy to provide families, particularly low-income families, the option of using public funds such as tax credits, public scholarships or vouchers, to help pay for the cost of sending their children to private schools or charter schools.

The U.S. bishops’ conference has promoted school choice over the years, in line with Church teaching that parents are the primary educators of their children.

The chair of the U.S. bishops’ education committee, Bishop Michael Barber, S.J. of Oakland, outlined the conference’s stances on school choice in a March, 2019 letter to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), Education Freedom Scholarships.

“In addition to parents having the duty to educate their children, the Catholic Church also teaches that parents should have access to government resources to successfully meet the education needs of their children,” Bishop Barber wrote.

Byrne quoted Pope St. Paul VI’s declaration on Christian education, Gravissimum Educationis: “The public power, which has the obligation to protect and defend the rights of citizens, must see to it, in its concern for distributive justice, that public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children.”

Barber also praised Congress in December for reauthorizing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), which allows for education vouchers.

“The Catholic Church has consistently taught that children have the universal right to an education, and that parents have the right and responsibility to serve as the primary educators of their children,” Barber stated, “The Church also teaches that the state has a fundamental obligation to support parents in fulfilling such a right.”

President Trump, in a proclamation for School Choice Week issued last Friday, said that “[e]ach child is a gift from God who has boundless potential and deserves a fair shot at the American Dream.” The president said that “children and their families must be free to pursue an educational environment that matches their individual learning style, develops their unique talents, and prepares them with the knowledge and character needed for fulfilling and productive lives.” 

The USCCB has also weighed in on a recent school choice case, Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue, currently before the Supreme Court.

A clause in Montana’s state constitution that dates back to 1889, and which was included again in the state’s 1972 constitution, bars public funding of religious schools.

A state scholarship program funded by donations—through which donors could claim tax credits dollar-for-dollar—was created to help low-income parents to send their children to private schools, including religious schools. The state supreme court ruled that the program violated the state constitution and struck it down, saying that it could not be remedied.

Bishop Barber, along with USCCB religious freedom chair Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, stated that “Our country’s tradition of non-establishment of religion does not mean that governments can deny otherwise available benefits on the basis of religious status.”

Legislators have also drawn attention to School Choice Week. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) sponsored the Senate resolution designating the week of Jan. 26 through Feb. 1, 2020 as School Choice Week. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Education Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) were original cosponsors of the resolution.

“I firmly believe that a child’s zip code should not affect his or her access to quality education nor should it affect the child’s future, which is why I proudly support National School Choice Week,” Sen. Scott stated. 

“I have long believed that parents should have an informed and meaningful choice in their children’s education,” said Senator Feinstein.

Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla,) office tweeted on Monday that he “proudly supports the right of every parent to decide what educational option is best for their child, regardless of zip code or socioeconomic background.”

“Parents should be the ultimate decision makers on where their children go to school,” Sen. Cruz tweeted, adding that “poor and working class parents often have no choice about what schools their children can attend.”

The Joint Economic Committee in the Senate, which runs the Social Capital Project, stated Monday that “Public education aspired to be the common ground on which sectarianism could be put aside to focus on values we all share.” 

“This model is breaking down,” the committee said, “evidenced by parents frustrated at their inability to influence the content or context of their child’s educational experience.”

At Kobe and Gianna Bryant's parish, prayer and Masses for crash victims

Newport Beach, CA, Jan 27, 2020 / 03:25 pm (CNA).- Hours before he died Sunday, basketball superstar Kobe Bryant knelt in prayer at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Newport Beach, California. His parish is now praying for his soul.

Holy Mass was offered Monday at the parish for the souls of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other victims of the Jan. 26 helicopter crash that took their lives, according to NBC 4 Los Angeles.

NBC also reported that parishioners have gathered to pray the rosary for the Bryants, and for the other victims of the crash.

Parishioners said Bryant was a regular part of their parish community.

Heny Russell, an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at the parish, remembered that Bryant presented a bit of a challenge to her.

"When I give him communion I have to put my arm and feet up like that so I can reach him," Russell said, demonstrating a stretch on the tip of her toes.

“They are very humble people, you know,” Russell told NBC of her fellow parishioners.

Kobe Bryant, 41, was the father of four. Gianna Bryant, 13, was an upcoming basketball player in her own right, who had said she hoped to play for the University of Connecticut. They were killed Sunday, along with seven other people, while en route via helicopter to a youth basketball tournament.

Bryant, his wife, and children, are reported to be regular parishioners at Our Lady Queen of Angels Parish.

After his death was announced, Catholics reported their experiences of seeing Bryant at Sunday and weekday Mass in other parts of California, and other parts of the country. Some reported seeing him at Mass in their cities whenever the Los Angeles Lakers, the team for which Bryant played for 20 years, were in town.

Singer Cristina Ballestero posted on Instagram Jan. 26 a story of her encounter with Bryant at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, California at a weekday Mass.

“As we went up to communion, [Bryant] waited for me to go. If you grew up in the Catholic Church, you understand this is a respectful thing men do in church as a sign of respect to women. He said I have a beautiful voice.”

“His most inspiring trait was his decision to turn to his faith in God and receive God’s mercy and to be a better man after a regretful decision,” Ballestero added.

       

Ver esta publicación en Instagram                   I wanna tell a story about the time I met Kobe Bryant. I was sitting in the very back of Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, CA, on a WEEKDAY mass. At the time I was very into wearing veils and on this particular day I had a scarf I used as veil. Right as mass begins I see a huge shadow in my right peripheral vision and hear a decently loud creak from probably a big man. I double took to see... it was KOBE BRYANT IN THE SAME PEW AS ME ON THE OTHER END! I just went about my normal praying and singing as usual cause he like all of us came to pray. Thank God I had the veil so I could stay focused on Jesus not this insanely talented Basketball player my whole family has looked up to and watched our whole lives. As we went up to communion, he waited for me to go. If you grew up in the Catholic Church, you understand this is a respectful thing men do in church as a sign of respect to women. He said I have a beautiful voice. I said thank you and went up to communion. @marydallal @mandymissyturkey and a couple other friends saw him standing behind me going to receive Jesus. And we talked about it after mass and freaked out together. It was such a cool experience to receive Jesus right before him, and also, to walk up to receive Jesus together. It was also cool to see him come for a weekday mass. He said in his GQ interview how a Catholic Priest helped him through the tough time he went through in the media. He also talks about how his faith is important. His most inspiring trait was his decision to turn to his faith in God and receive God’s mercy and to be a better man after a regretful decision. Him and his wife do so much great work with their foundation. I’m heartbroken at the news of his death, alongside his daughter Gianna. My prayers go out to his Family, friends and loved ones. Eternal rest grant unto him, and her oh Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they Rest In Peace, Amen. We love you Kobe & Gianna. ? . . . . #kobebryant

Una publicación compartida por Cristina Ballestero (@cristinaballestero) el 26 de Ene de 2020 a las 12:44 PST


After Bryant’s death was reported, but before news emerged that his daughter Gianna had also been killed, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez tweeted his condolences.

So very sad to hear the news of #KobeBryant’s tragic death this morning. I am praying for him and his family. May he rest in peace and may our Blessed Mother Mary bring comfort to his loved ones. #KobeBryantRIP pic.twitter.com/QYMRL7RvCL

— Abp. José H. Gomez (@ArchbishopGomez) January 26, 2020 An auxiliary bishop in Los Angeles, Bishop Robert Barron, also tweeted his condolences.

Friends, I just learned of the shocking death of Kobe Bryant, the legendary basketball icon here in Los Angeles. We pray for the repose of his soul, along with the others killed in the helicopter crash. May the Lord grant them his mercy and welcome them into his heavenly kingdom. pic.twitter.com/3ngYRC0zZn

— Bishop Robert Barron (@BishopBarron) January 26, 2020 Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange, Bryant’s bishop, also tweeted a message of prayer.

A message from @OCBishop pic.twitter.com/h13LJpjSWl

— Diocese of Orange (@OrangeDiocese) January 26, 2020 Bryant credited his Catholic faith with helping him move past a challenging period in his own life and the life of his family.

In 2003, Bryant was arrested after he was accused of raping a woman in a Colorado hotel room.

Bryant admitted a sexual encounter with the woman, but denied that he had committed sexual assault. When the allegation became public, Bryant lost sponsors and faced criminal charges, which were eventually dropped.

Bryant issued an apology to his accuser, with whom he also reached a settlement in a civil lawsuit.

“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter,” Bryant said in his 2004 apology.

In 2015, the basketball player told GQ that after the matter was resolved, he decided to shed some superficiality he felt he had built up in his public persona.

“What I came to understand, coming out of Colorado, is that I had to be me, in the place where I was at that moment.”

Bryant said it was a priest who helped him to make some important personal realizations during the ordeal.

Describing his fear of being sent to prison for a crime he believed he had not committed, Bryant told GQ that “The one thing that really helped me during that process—I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic—was talking to a priest.”

“It was actually kind of funny: He looks at me and says, ’Did you do it?’ And I say, ’Of course not.’ Then he asks, ’Do you have a good lawyer?’ And I’m like, ’Uh, yeah, he’s phenomenal.’ So then he just said, ’Let it go. Move on. God’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle, and it’s in his hands now. This is something you can’t control. So let it go.’ And that was the turning point,” Bryant said.

Bryant’s Catholic faith is also reported to have helped the basketball superstar renew his marriage. His wife Vanessa filed for divorce in 2011.

But Bryant said he decided not to give up on his marriage, and two years later, his wife withdrew her divorce petition.

“I’m not going to say our marriage is perfect, by any stretch of the imagination,” Bryant told GQ in 2015.

“We still fight, just like every married couple. But you know, my reputation as an athlete is that I’m extremely determined, and that I will work my ass off. How could I do that in my professional life if I wasn’t like that in my personal life, when it affects my kids? It wouldn’t make any sense.”

Bryant’s longtime teammate and sometime rival, Shaquille O’Neal, tweeted Sunday that Bryant was “a family man.”

Kobe was so much more than an athlete, he was a family man. That was what we had most in common. I would hug his children like they were my own and he would embrace my kids like they were his. His baby girl Gigi was born on the same day as my youngest daughter Me’Arah. pic.twitter.com/BHBPN5Wq8V

— SHAQ (@SHAQ) January 26, 2020 Funeral plans for Bryant and his daughter Gianna have not yet been announced.

Correction: This story originally stated that, according to NBC 4 Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant attended morning Mass Jan. 26 at Our Lady Queen of the Angels parish. While NBC 4 has not issued a correction or retraction of that reporting, a representative from the Diocese of Orange contacted CNA Jan. 28 to state that Bryant prayed in the church before the 7:00 am Mass, he was not in attendance at the Mass. This story has been edited to reflect that clarification.

'We’ve had enough': Pro-life Democrat blasts Mayor Pete

Washington D.C., Jan 27, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Pro-life Democrats are “fed up” over the party’s staunch support of abortion and need to let the presidential candidates know it, the leader of Democrats for Life of America said on Monday.

“We’ve had enough,” Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, told CNA. 

Day spoke to CNA after Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg told her at an Iowa townhall event on Sunday that he would forego the support of pro-life voters to maintain his absolute support for legal abortion.

Pro-abortion presidential candidates “are so afraid of the abortion lobby, and even making any inroads to Democrats for Life, pro-life Democrats, they’re afraid that they’re going to lose all their money and support,” Day said.

Pro-life Democrats throughout the country are frustrated over the party leadership’s increasingly staunch support of abortion, she told CNA.

“We need pro-life Democrats all over the country to go to these [presidential] candidates and ask the question: Do you want pro-life Democrats in the party? Because if not, we won’t vote for you,” Day said.

On Sunday evening, Day asked Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, about the party’s tolerance for pro-life Democrats, at a Des Moines, Iowa, townhall event moderated by Fox News’ Chris Wallace.

“I am a proud pro-life Democrat. So, do you want the support of pro-life Democrats—pro-life Democratic voters?” Day asked. “And if so, would you support more moderate platform language in the Democratic Party, to ensure that the party of diversity, of inclusion, really does include everybody?”

Buttigieg responded that “I am pro-choice. And I believe that a woman ought to be able to make that decision [on abortion],” to applause from the audience.

He said that public officials should not be making decisions for women on abortion, and that if Democratic voters would not support him for his stance, “I understand.”

“The best I can offer is that if we can’t agree on where to draw the line, the next best thing we can do is agree on who should draw the line. And in my view, it’s the woman who’s faced with that decision in her own life,” he said.

Day told CNA on Monday that she hadn’t actually asked Buttigieg about his abortion stance because “I know where he stands.”

In May 2019, when asked by Fox News’ Chris Wallace if there should be any limits on abortion at any stage of pregnancy, Buttigieg responded “I trust women to draw the line.”

Day said on Monday that “I just wanted to know if he [Buttigieg] thought there was room for us in the party. And he doesn’t.”

She told CNA that pro-life Democrats have been asking his campaign staff since December for a meeting, but no meeting has been offered. Instead, she decided to ask him in person at the townhall.

Buttigieg’s comments came two months after Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was asked at a Nov. 20 debate if there is room in the Democratic Party for a pro-life politician.

Warren said the party is “fundamentally” about preserving abortion access and that “abortion rights are human rights,” but added that “I’m not here to try to drive anyone out of this party.”

Day followed up her first question on Sunday evening by asking if Buttigieg if he would at least support language in the Democratic National Committee platform for 2020 that would recognize “diversity of views” on abortion within the party.

“Would you be open to language like that in the Democratic platform that really did say that our party is diverse, and inclusive, and we want everybody?” she asked the candidate on Sunday.

Buttigieg declined to support that language, instead calling abortion “medical care” that should be universally available.

“I support the position of my party, that this kind of medical care [abortion] needs to be available to everyone,” he said.

While he said earlier Sunday evening that abortion should be left up to women, Buttigieg eventually said he did back limits on late-term abortions in line with the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe decision.

“I support the Roe v. Wade framework that holds that early in pregnancy there are very few restrictions, and late in pregnancy there are very few exceptions,” he said.

He expressed his hope that pro-life Democrats will be willing to support him despite their disagreement on abortion.

“And again, the best I can offer is that we may disagree on that very important issue, and hopefully, we will be able to partner on other issues,” he said.

“I cannot imagine that a decision that a woman confronts is going to ever be better, medically or morally, because it’s being dictated by any government official,” Buttigieg said.

The president of the National Abortion Rights Action League, Ilyse Hogue, tweeted on Sunday evening that Day’s question and the applause Buttigieg received for his answer “is a good reminder to differentiate between people who feel personally pro-life and those who are anti-choice like Kristen Day.”

“The latter category believes it’s fine to force their beliefs on others through law. The former does not,” Hogue said.

Day told CNA that despite the applause for Buttigieg’s answer, people sitting around her at the event supported her question to him and expressed disappointment in his response.

A 2019 CNN poll of likely Iowa Democratic Caucus attendees showed around 80% of respondents saying that a candidate’s support for a “woman’s right to abortion” was a “must-have.”

Day said that support for abortion increases among Democratic activists, and that pro-life Democrats need to become more active within the party.

Many voters, Day told CNA, say they support a woman’s choice for abortion, but when it comes to the details of abortion policy, they can not be classified as "pro-abortion."

“A lot of people think that that [abortion] choice should still be there,” but when they learn of detailed policy positions such as legal abortion for all nine months of pregnancy, or the removal of safety regulations of abortion clinics, “when it comes right down to it, most people agree with me,” Day said.

“The abortion extremism,” she said, “this is not going to be a good long-term strategy for them.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, on Monday pointed to a recent Knights of Columbus/Marist poll showing “44% of rank-and-file Democrats want to vote for a candidate who supports common-ground limits on abortion.”

Dannenfelser is also the co-chair of “Pro-Life Voices for Trump,” the campaign’s outreach to pro-life voters.

“The modern Democratic Party is the party of abortion on demand through birth, paid for by taxpayers, and even infanticide. President Trump, in stark contrast, has championed popular legislation to stop late-term abortion and protect babies who survive abortions,” Dannenfelser said. 

The Catholic faith of Kobe Bryant

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 26, 2020 / 02:08 pm (CNA).- Basketball superstar Kobe Bryant died Sunday in a helicopter crash in Southern California, along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.

Bryant, the father of four, was Catholic.

In all nine people were killed in the Jan. 26 crash.

Bryant, 41, is widely considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He retired in 2016 after a 20 year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, in which the shooting guard won five NBA championships, a league MVP award, two scoring championships, and myriad other distinctions.

Beyond basketball, Bryant was a husband and a father who in 2015 credited his Catholic faith with helping him move past a challenging period in his own life and the life of his family.

Bryant was raised in a Catholic family, and spent much of his childhood living in Italy. He married in 2001 in a Southern California parish.

In 2003, Bryant was arrested after he was accused of raping a woman in a Colorado hotel room.

Bryant admitted a sexual encounter with the woman, but denied that he had committed sexual assault. When the allegation became public, Bryant lost sponsors and faced criminal charges, which were eventually dropped.

Bryant issued an apology to his accuser, with whom he also reached a settlement in a civil lawsuit.

“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter,” Bryant said in his 2004 apology.

In 2015, the basketball player told GQ that after the matter was resolved, he decided to shed some superficiality he felt he had built up in his public persona.

“What I came to understand, coming out of Colorado, is that I had to be me, in the place where I was at that moment.”

Bryant said it was a priest who helped him to make some important personal realizations during the ordeal.

Describing his fear of being sent to prison for a crime he believed he had not committed, Bryant told GQ that “The one thing that really helped me during that process—I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic—was talking to a priest.”

“It was actually kind of funny: He looks at me and says, ’Did you do it?’ And I say, ’Of course not.’ Then he asks, ’Do you have a good lawyer?’ And I’m like, ’Uh, yeah, he’s phenomenal.’ So then he just said, ’Let it go. Move on. God’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle, and it’s in his hands now. This is something you can’t control. So let it go.’ And that was the turning point,” Bryant said.

A 2004 decision to place deeper trust in God did not mean the basketball star’s life was thereafter without difficulties, or defined by virtue.

In 2011, Vanessa Bryant filed for divorce from Kobe, citing irreconcilable differences. But Bryant said he decided not to give up on his marriage, and two years later, his wife withdrew her divorce petition.

“I’m not going to say our marriage is perfect, by any stretch of the imagination,” Bryant told GQ in 2015.

“We still fight, just like every married couple. But you know, my reputation as an athlete is that I’m extremely determined, and that I will work my ass off. How could I do that in my professional life if I wasn’t like that in my personal life, when it affects my kids? It wouldn’t make any sense.”

Bryant and his wife have been reported to be regular parishioners at an Orange County, California parish, and after his death, some on social media said that he had been seen at Mass before the helicopter ride that ended his life.

Some also reported seeing him at weekday Mass in California.

Singer Cristina Ballestero posted on Instagram Jan. 26 a story of her encounter with Bryant at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, California at a weekday Mass.

“As we went up to communion, [Bryant] waited for me to go. If you grew up in the Catholic Church, you understand this is a respectful thing men do in church as a sign of respect to women. He said I have a beautiful voice.”

“His most inspiring trait was his decision to turn to his faith in God and receive God’s mercy and to be a better man after a regretful decision,” Ballestero added.

 

       

View this post on Instagram                   I wanna tell a story about the time I met Kobe Bryant. I was sitting in the very back of Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, CA, on a WEEKDAY mass. At the time I was very into wearing veils and on this particular day I had a scarf I used as veil. Right as mass begins I see a huge shadow in my right peripheral vision and hear a decently loud creak from probably a big man. I double took to see... it was KOBE BRYANT IN THE SAME PEW AS ME ON THE OTHER END! I just went about my normal praying and singing as usual cause he like all of us came to pray. Thank God I had the veil so I could stay focused on Jesus not this insanely talented Basketball player my whole family has looked up to and watched our whole lives. As we went up to communion, he waited for me to go. If you grew up in the Catholic Church, you understand this is a respectful thing men do in church as a sign of respect to women. He said I have a beautiful voice. I said thank you and went up to communion. @marydallal @mandymissyturkey and a couple other friends saw him standing behind me going to receive Jesus. And we talked about it after mass and freaked out together. It was such a cool experience to receive Jesus right before him, and also, to walk up to receive Jesus together. It was also cool to see him come for a weekday mass. He said in his GQ interview how a Catholic Priest helped him through the tough time he went through in the media. He also talks about how his faith is important. His most inspiring trait was his decision to turn to his faith in God and receive God’s mercy and to be a better man after a regretful decision. Him and his wife do so much great work with their foundation. I’m heartbroken at the news of his death. My prayers go out to his Family, friends and loved ones. Eternal rest grant unto him oh Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he Rest In Peace, Amen. We love you Kobe. . . . . #kobebryant

A post shared by Cristina Ballestero (@cristinaballestero) on Jan 26, 2020 at 12:44pm PST

 

Kobe Bryant's death was reported in the media before the death of his daughter, Gianna. Before the death of Gianna Bryant'was reported, Los Angeles' Archbishop Jose Gomez tweeted a tribute to the elder Bryant.


 

So very sad to hear the news of #KobeBryant’s tragic death this morning. I am praying for him and his family. May he rest in peace and may our Blessed Mother Mary bring comfort to his loved ones. #KobeBryantRIP pic.twitter.com/QYMRL7RvCL

— Abp. José H. Gomez (@ArchbishopGomez) January 26, 2020  

 

Bryant also had connected his Catholic faith to a family commitment to help the poor, through the Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation. The foundation helped fund youth homeless shelters and other projects aimed at serving the poor.

“You have to do something that carries a little bit more weight to it, a little more significance, a little more purpose to it,” he said in 2012, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Homelessness “is one that kind of gets pushed on the back burner because it’s easy to point the blame at those who are homeless and say, ‘Well, you made that bad decision. This is where you are. It’s your fault.”

“In life, we all make mistakes and to stand back and allow someone to live that way and kind of wash your hands of it … that’s not right,” he said.

Funeral announcements for Bryant and his daughter have not yet been announced.

 

This story is developing and has been updated.