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Missouri governor calls special session to protect St Louis pro-lifers

June 8, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Jefferson City, Mo., Jun 8, 2017 / 03:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Missouri’s Gov. Eric Greitens has called a special session of the legislature to pass stronger legal protections for pro-life groups, like pregnancy centers he charged are “under attack” by a controversial St. Louis ordinance.

“Our faith community and volunteers do incredible work to support people in need. And there’s few finer examples than the work pregnancy care centers do across our state,” Greitens said in a video posted to his Facebook page June 7.

He said his pro-life stand was motivated in part from witnessing “the value of true love and compassion in one of Mother Teresa’s homes for the destitute and dying.”

The governor’s action follows the February enactment of a controversial ordinance in the City of St. Louis which has drawn strong pro-life opposition. Opponents said the law would bar any individual or entity, including Christian organizations, from refusing to sell or rent property to individuals or businesses that promote or provide abortions. It could create the risk of lawsuits for Catholic schools with a policy against hiring abortion supporters.

The ordinance creates a protected status for anyone who has “made a decision related to abortion,” even in cases where the abortion was not their own. The protections apply to corporations and all businesses, not only individuals.

The St. Louis’ archdiocesan school system, a pro-life pregnancy center called Our Lady’s Inn, and a Catholic-owned private business are among the parties to a lawsuit challenging the ordinance.

Last month, Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis said the archdiocese will not comply with the “vile bill” which he said marks the city’s “embrace of the culture of death.”

Greitens was also among the ordinance’s critics.

He praised pregnancy centers’ pro-life work with pregnant women, new mothers, and newborns.

“In the city of St. Louis, some of these pregnancy care centers are under attack,” his video message said. “There’s a new city law making St. Louis an abortion sanctuary city – where pregnancy care centers can’t work the way they’re supposed to. Politicians are trying to make it illegal, for example, for pro-life organizations to say that they just want to hire pro-life Missourians.”
 
The governor said the Missouri Senate failed to act on a bill that would address the measure, which prompted the need for the special session.

Another focus of the special session will be what the governor called “common-sense health and safety standards in all medical facilities.” These include proposed requirements such as annual safety inspections in abortion clinics and mandatory plans for abortion complications.

The governor also advocated laws that “will stop abortion clinics from interfering with emergency responders.” He contended that abortion clinics currently can tell an ambulance to come slowly, not to use lights and sirens, or go around to the back of the clinic.

According to the governor, a court decision weakened health standards for abortion clinics.

In April a federal judge, citing a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision on a similar law in Texas, struck down a Missouri law that required abortion clinics to have the same standards as similar outpatient surgical centers. The law also required abortionists to have hospital privileges.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is appealing the ruling.

Allison Dreith, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, charged that the governor’s action was intended “to shame women for their personal medical decisions and make basic reproductive health care harder to access.”

Susan Klein, legislative liaison for Missouri Right to Life, backed the legislation, saying it would allow legislators to pass “a life-saving bill to protect women, unborn babies and reaffirm our religious liberties so that Pregnancy Resource Centers and Faith Communities from all denominations are not forced to participate in abortion.”

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Calif. Supreme Court weighs ballot measure to hasten death penalty

June 8, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Sacramento, Calif., Jun 8, 2017 / 11:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A ballot measure intended to speed up the application of the death penalty is now being challenged before the California Supreme Court.

For its part, the California Catholic Conference has repeated its warning that a speedy death penalty risks further injustice.

“The last three Popes have said that the death penalty is no longer needed,” Steve Pehanich, director of communication and advocacy at the California Catholic Conference, told CNA. “We don’t think it’s needed any longer in California. We have supported the end of its use, and we continue to do so.”

The Catholic conference opposed Prop. 66, whose fate is now before the state’s Supreme Court. The court heard oral arguments over the ballot initiative’s constitutionality June 6.

The ballot measure imposes time limits on death penalty reviews and requires death row inmates to work and pay restitution to victims. It requires attorneys who are qualified for the most serious appeals in non-capital appeal cases to take appeals in death penalty cases.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit before the Supreme Court argue that some of the requirements for appeals, like the five-year limit, are simply impossible to meet. University of California-Berkeley School of Law professor Elizabeth Semel told Sacramento’s Capital Public Radio the proposition could violate the constitutional separation of powers by taking away court authority.

Backers of the measure argued against objections about its practicality, saying it should be given a chance to work.

The California Catholic Conference has not taken a position on the merits of the lawsuit. However, Pehanich said Prop. 66’s stated goal was “to speed up executions.”

“There are very good reasons why you have to take your time on this. You don’t want to be wrong. You don’t want to execute an innocent person,” he said. “Speeding them up just makes matters worse. It makes the likelihood of executing innocent people all the greater.”

The Catholic conference strongly backed a different amendment in the 2016 election: Proposition 62, which promised to end the death penalty and reduce death sentences to life in prison without parole. That measure was favored by only 46.8 percent of voters.

However, 50.9 percent of voters backed Prop. 66.

Pehanich said there was political strategy behind two competing ballot measures.

“Proposition 66 was really put on the ballot to confuse the situation,” he said. “It’s a very common technique in California ballot politics. If you don’t like the proposition, for a small amount of money you can get a different proposition. People look at the two and just scratch their heads. They don’t vote for either one.”

California’s Supreme Court has 90 days to issue a ruling on Prop. 66.

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Can the Catholic Church help an addicted generation?

June 8, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Greenwich, Connecticut, Jun 8, 2017 / 11:31 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Young Americans are dying at a rate not seen since the Vietnam War.

But they are not dying in combat – they’re dying of the effects of drug overdoses, alcoholism, mental illness and suicide, at a rate 200 percent higher than the 1980s in much of the United States. 

A recent report from the U.S. surgeon general estimates that more than 27 million Americans have problems with prescription drugs, illegal drugs or alcohol. But just a fraction of those people, only 10 percent, get meaningful help.

And it’s not just substance addictions that are on the rise. Process addictions, related to behaviors, have also seen recent spikes. Pornography addiction in particular has reached what some view as crisis levels.

A 2011 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information estimated that roughly 47 percent of all American adults struggle with at least one of the 11 most common forms of process or substance addictions.

The prevalence of all kinds of addiction likely mean that most people in the pews of a Catholic Church on any given Sunday have experienced addiction in themselves or in a loved one.

So what is the Church doing to address the problem?

Understanding addiction

Dr. Gregory Bottaro is a clinical psychologist and the founder and director of Catholic Psych Institute in Connecticut. He frequently sees clients who are dealing with either substance or process addictions.

Part of the problem of addiction is a widespread misunderstanding of addiction as a lack of intellectual or spiritual willpower, Dr. Bottaro said.

“You have to recognize that there is an actual brain disease in effect,” he told CNA.

“So as much as you can sit and talk through the issues, you’re dealing with real brain chemicals that are out of balance, and a real disease that has occurred in the brain, so approaching it from a number of different angles is very important.”

Behaviors or substance abuse have to reach certain diagnostic marks to be considered addictions, Dr. Bottaro said. Generally, an addiction is occurring when a person is compulsively dependent on a substance or behavior, and continues to do it despite negative consequences and a desire to stop.

And just like addicted individuals can build up tolerances to substances and require more to achieve the same effect, process addictions also show tolerance buildups, such as when a pornography addict requires more hardcore viewing to achieve the same release.  

Erik Vagenius is the founder of Substance Abuse Ministry Scripts, or SAM Scripts, a faith and scripture based ministry designed to help ease the process from recognition of addiction to seeking professional help.

Vagenius, who has been involved in addiction ministry for decades and is a recovered alcoholic himself, said that the first step to solving the problem is recognizing that there is one.

“I firmly believe so much for this (ministry) to be part of the church,” he told CNA. “(T)o have a church community that recognizes that they’re behind you, just as they would be if somebody had cancer, helps to destigmatize this thing.”

“Unfortunately the reactions I sometimes get are well, this isn’t really a Catholic problem. But I’ll bet everybody in the pew on any given day has had some relationship with the disease of addiction,” he added.  

What does faith have to do with it?

Faith has long been a tenet of many addiction recovery programs. One of the most popular, Alcoholics Anonymous has strong Christian roots because it’s co-founder, Bill Wilson, had a spiritual awakening after he was hospitalized for his drinking in 1934. He joined the Oxford Group, a nondenominational Christian movement popular in the U.S. and Europe at the time, and helped found AA in 1935.

The AA tenets of self-examination, acknowledgment of character defects and restitution for harm done to others grew out of Oxford Group teachings.

Today, allegiance to a specific creed is not required for membership, though the group still considers itself a spiritual, albeit denominationally non-preferential group. Four of the 12 steps in the AA program mention God directly, and the 12th calls for a “spiritual awakening as a result of these steps.”

Vagenius also considers addiction a spiritual battle.

“We’re dealing with a spiritual disease, and that’s why the Church needs to be involved with it,” he said.

The website for SAM Scripts recognizes that “addiction is a spiritual illness that disconnects a person: from self, loved ones, and God. SAM’s mission is to help these individuals reconnect through education, prevention, referral, and family support.”

Dr. Bottaro said he also incorporates faith in his recovery programs for addicts.

He said he was especially inspired after hearing a talk by Catholic speaker Christopher West, who specializes in Theology of the Body.

“He said basically we have this desire, and our desires are insatiable. So God made us with this desire for more more more, and with that desire we can do one of three things…we can become a stoic, and addict or a mystic.”

A stoic ignores the desire or tries to repress it and pretend it doesn’t exist. An addict tries to fulfill their desires with the things of this world, and a mystic “directs their desires towards God, and that’s where we enter into that mysticism by transcending the finitude of this life,” he said.

That’s still an abstract way of looking at a very real disease, Dr. Bottaro said. However, there are several Catholic programs that offer concrete assistance to struggling addicts of all levels.

Catholic recovery programs

On the less intensive side, Dr. Bottaro has developed an 8-week online program that anyone can access from home called Catholic Mindfulness. It adds the Catholic understanding of abandonment to Divine Providence to a traditional mindfulness approach to healing.

“If you look into what mindfulness is, you’re basically training your brain to know that you’re safe, because the anxiety response is how God made us to react to danger,” he said. “The problem is we overuse that…we activate our anxiety response, but most of the time we’re not actually in danger. So mindfulness is basically paying attention to what’s actually real right now to convince your brain that you’re safe, and that corrects the brain chemistry.”

“The Catholic perspective as to why we’re safe is that we have a Father who loves us and who always keeps us in his hands, and we have a reason to trust that everything is going to be ok.”

Vagenius refers to those in his ministry as “SAM teams” who share their time and talent, typically through talks and meetings, to offering hope, healing and reconciliation to those touched by addiction. SAM teams provide a safe, confidential place for people to seek help and referral at the parish level.

Team members do not have to be in recovery but need to be acquainted with addiction, and must be approved by their pastor.  

The ministry’s exact format varies from parish to parish, depending on those involved and the needs of the faith community. Vagenius’ trainings provide a basic format, and the parish SAM team develops its own dynamic from that outline based on specific needs.

Depending on the person, more intensive work may be necessary, including outpatient psychotherapy and group counseling, or even residential programs.

St. Gregory Retreat Center is a Catholic residential program for adults struggling with substance abuse located in Adair, Iowa.

The program offers separate residential facilities for men and women and offers a “holistic approach that combines the very best research in psychology, health, social support, and other methodologies.”

The program targets addiction behavior in four different aspects of life: biological, psychological, social, and spiritual.

Besides counseling, social activities and physical exercise, daily Mass and regular access to the sacraments are part of the residents’ normal routine.

Natalie Cataldo, Director of Admissions at St. Gregory, told CNA that incorporating spirituality in the recovery process has proven to be very effective.

“Research shows that people are more successful in overcoming addiction when they have an active spirituality in their lives,” she told CNA in an e-mail interview.

“Most people who come to us have had not a great past. With the sacrament of reconciliation, our guests are able to ask for forgiveness… Allowing them to feel like they are getting rid of the past, making new good habits for the future that they can start using and making better choices.  It also allows for self reflection and self evaluation.”

For those in post-recovery, there are programs available to help ease people back into their normal routine.

Dr. Bottaro works at one such facility, Ender’s Island in Connecticut, a residential program for young men “with or without faith” who are recently out of recovery. The program provides a community in which to practice the 12 steps and support for a better transition into regular life, as well as daily Mass and regular access to the sacraments.

The biggest barriers to seeking help for addiction can be denial on the part of the individual and a perceived stigma in seeking help. Increased education and understanding from everyone in the Church can help break these barriers, Dr. Bottaro said.

“It’s important to have support and understanding that there are other ways to fight these battles than just prayer, or just kind of sucking it up and hanging in there and seeing how far you can go before you get help,” he said.

“Once you’re looking for help, there’s a wide spectrum.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Dec. 16, 2016.

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Nun urges Catholic prayer breakfast attendees to keep the faith

June 7, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Jun 7, 2017 / 10:43 am (CNA/EWTN News).- To preserve their future and reveal the life found within the Church, Catholics in the United States must not forget their faith, but should find hope within it.

These were the words of an Iraqi-born nun to hundreds of political and religious leaders gathered for the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on Tuesday. The annual event was begun in 2004 as a response to St. John Paul II’s call for a “new evangelization.”

“I believe in the future of our country and our Church as long as we keep our roots grounded in the soil of Grace that comes from God,” said Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart at a June 6 speech in Washington, D.C.

Originally from Iraq, Mother Olga is now an American citizen and lives in Boston, where she founded the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth in 2011. She was raised in the Assyrian Church of the East, and was received into the Catholic Church in 2005.

Mother Olga warned the several hundred Catholics gathered not to forget their religious identity, but to embrace it.

“A tree with no roots does not blossom. When we forget where we came from, and where we have been planted and what we have to do to in order to flourish, we can lose hope,” she said.  “However, when we are living in hope, we find the strength and courage to journey forward, helped by the Lord and with others.”

Fellow keynote speakers at the prayer breakfast were Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese of the Military Services, USA, and Vice President Mike Pence, who was raised Catholic.

At the breakfast, Mother Olga spoke of her time ministering to prisoners in Iraqi prisons, many of whom were kept in cells underground and whose family members rarely visited. Many of the prisoners Mother Olga met asked why she visited, and why she did other acts of charity during the four wars she experienced growing up, such as gathering the bodies of the dead to give them a proper burial.

“My answer to them was always the same,” she said: “my love God and my love for his children.”

Mother Olga recounted her experience moving to the United States and learning about the religious background of the pilgrims and other colonists who founded the country – particularly of their search for religious freedom.  

“The true democracy and the strength of our democracy should not only be seen as an expression of the political minds of the people, but also in our embrace of our own identity as Americans and appreciation of the religious roots of our foundation of a nation,” she commented.

However, Mother Olga commented that she is concerned by trends within her new country that belie “a hesitation to speak about God, even in the simplest ways, such as saying ‘God bless you’ when somebody sneezes.”

She urged the Catholics gathered to look at the examples of the American Saints, Blesseds, Venerables, and Servants of God, as well as the example of holy men and women alive today who are “serving in an ordinary, hidden way.”

“They are the true expressions and finest fruit of the American religious expression.”

“May our gathering today as people who love God and this country be a renewed commitment to renew the spirit of cooperation which has accomplished so much good through the history of our nation,” Mother Olga prayed.

“May the fruit of today’s prayer for our nation be a grace for our people to experience a new birth of freedom, freedom planted with faith, grounded in hope, nourished by love in the soil of truth.”

Archbishop Broglio’s address also highlighted to the importance of the Catholic faith for Americans. To do so, he recounted the story of  Father Joseph Lafleur, a military chaplain who died while helping others escape from a damaged prison ship during World War II.

“If we were to survey the history of the Church, and look at the lives of the saints, we would discover men and women who built on their virtues, to reflect the authenticity of their faith. The same thing has an impact on the nation,” he said.

The archbishop expounded on the importance of the virtues, and how they strengthen and form the foundation of Christian life.

Quoting Cardinal James Hickey, who was Archbishop of Washington from 1980 to 2000, the archbishop said that “a good Catholic is a good American because the practice of virtue also leads to good citizenship and there is no dichotomy between faith and life if we cultivate and practice virtue.”

“Each of us has the potential to rebuild our society and our world if we cultivate authentic virtue,” he added.  “Our virtue will give us strength and wisdom if we are open to it.”

Pence’s keynote address encouraged those attending to be a “voice for the voiceless”, after proclaiming that “life is winning” in the United States through a variety of pro-life initiatives.

Also speaking at the event was Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington, who gave the opening invocation for the event. The bishop began by reading a letter from Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, who was unable to attend.

“Let us also be mindful of so many of our brothers and sisters around the world who continue to face persecution and suffering on account of their faith,” read Cardinal Wuerl’s message, speaking to the persecution Christians face in the Middle East and elsewhere. “As our Holy Father, Pope Francis said, ‘We must not resign ourselves to thinking of a Middle East without Christians who for 2,000 years have confessed the name of Jesus and have been fully integrated as citizens into the social cultural and religious life of the nations to which they belong.'”

Bishop Dorsonville also gave a benediction asking for the strength of the Holy Spirit and the visibility of Catholics’ faith and prayer for all persons, including the immigrants, homeless, and refugees.

“As we proclaim the good news of the Gospel: love, hope and faith,” the bishop prayed. “We continue to build up this world, not just so that we are right in this life, but that we are right in the other.”

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