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Church of England maintains sex guidance, despite apologizing for it

January 31, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

London, England, Jan 31, 2020 / 02:04 pm (CNA).- The Church of England will not be withdrawing its recent pastoral guidance affirming that sex is reserved for married, heterosexual partners, despite an apology over the statement from two of the ecclesial community’s bishops.

The guidance, “Civil Partnerships – for same sex and opposite sex couples. A pastoral statement from the House of Bishops of the Church of England”, was issued last month after civil partnerships were first made available to heterosexual couples.

The guidance draws a clear distinction between marriage and civil partnerships, noting that sexual relations are not proper to the latter.

“Sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God’s purposes for human beings,” says the guidance on the issue. “The introduction of same sex marriage, through the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, has not changed the church’s teaching on marriage or same sex relationships.”

Civil partnerships were created in 2004 for same-sex couples but are legally distinct from marriage. Same-sex couples were given the legal right to marry in the England and Wales in 2013, but civil partnerships had been available to same-sex couples only.

In the guidance, the Church of England states that because of the “ambiguity” regarding sexual activity in civil partnerships, combined with its teaching on the nature of marriage, it does “not believe that it is possible for the church unconditionally to accept civil partnerships as unequivocally reflecting the teaching of the church.”

Although the Church of England acknowledges that “many of the provisions in the legislation on civil partnerships are, however, similar to, or identical with, those in marriage law,” the nature of the commitment in a civil partnership is different than that of a marriage.

“In particular, [civil partnerships are] not predicated on the intention to engage in a sexual relationship,” says the guidance.

“There is likely to be a range of circumstances in which people of the same sex or opposite sex choose to register a partnership, including some where there is no intention for the relationship to be expressed through sexual activity.”

Some pairs of people who are not romantically involved have entered civil partnerships for tax or benefit purposes.

The Church of England does not conduct or recognize same-sex marriages as marriage. In December 2012, the Church of England permited same-sex attracted clergy in civil partnerships to become bishops, provided they observe continence.

Justin Welby and John Sentamu, the Anglican archbishops of Canterbury and York, said Jan. 30: “We as archbishops, alongside the bishops of the Church of England, apologise and take responsibility for releasing a statement last week which we acknowledge has jeopardised trust. We are very sorry and recognise the division and hurt this has caused.”

They added that the Church of England’s College of Bishops is continuing its study on human sexuality, which they said “is intended to help us all to build bridges that will enable the difficult conversations that are necessary as, together, we discern the way forward for the Church of England.”

The College of Bishops have voted against a proposal to withdraw the guidance.


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Three of four abducted Nigerian seminarians have been released

January 31, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Kaduna, Nigeria, Jan 31, 2020 / 11:13 am (CNA).- Three of the seminarians kidnapped earlier this month in northwestern Nigeria have been released safely by their captors, an official at Good Shepherd Seminary announced Friday.

One of the seminarians who was abducted Jan. 8 remains at large.

Fr. Joel Usman, registrar of the seminary in Kaduna, made the announcement Jan. 31.

One of the three men who were released had been freed Jan. 18. He was dumped on the side of the  Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria Express Way. He was taken to hospital after being found by passing motorists, and was being treated in an intensive care unit.

Pius Kanwai, 19; Peter Umenukor, 23; Stephen Amos, 23; and Michael Nnadi, 18, were taken from Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna, around 10:30 pm on Jan. 8 by gunmen.

The gunmen, disguised in military camouflage, broke through the fence surrounding the seminarians’ living quarters and began shooting sporadically. They stole laptops and phones before kidnapping the four young men.

Each of the abductees were first year philosophers, sources told ACI Africa.

Nearly 270 seminarians live at Good Shepherd.

Good Shepherd Seminary is located just off the Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria Express Way. According to AFP, the area is “notorious for criminal gangs kidnapping travelers for ransom.”

The news agency said that schoolgirls and staff from a boarding school also located near the highway were kidnapped in October, and were later released.

“The security situation in Nigeria is appalling”, Thomas Heine-Geldern, executive president of ACN International, said Jan. 13. “Criminal gangs are further exploiting the chaotic situation and making matters still worse.”

He compared the situation in Nigeria to that of Iraq prior to the Islamic State’s invasion: “Already at that stage, Christians were being abducted, robbed and murdered because there was no protection by the state. This must not be allowed to happen to the Christians of Nigeria. The government must act now, before it is too late.”

Kidnappings of Christians in Nigeria have multiplied in recent months, a situation that has prompted Church leaders to express serious concern about the security of their members and to call on the government to prioritize the security of its citizens.


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New sacrament formation program released in American Sign Language 

January 31, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

West Chester, PA, Jan 31, 2020 / 03:19 am (CNA).- A new sacrament formation program for the deaf and hard of hearing is offering adult catechetical information in American Sign Language.

Designed by Ascension Press, Hands of Grace: The Catholic Sacraments in American Sign Language became available on Jan. 6. It was developed by Father Sean Loomis, the chaplain for the Deaf Apostolate for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Creators of the new project hope the materials, designed specifically for the deaf community, can fill in gaps left by other catechetical programs and address some of the unique challenges faced by the hearing impaired, who may struggle with participating in Mass, Confession, and the Catholic community.

“A huge challenge among the deaf is that they are very uncatechized, and while that is certainly the case with the vast majority of Catholics, that catechesis is impoverished in a significant way” for those who are deaf, Loomis told CNA.

“Most deaf people at this point aren’t even interested. They already feel turned off,” he said. “So like 1% of deaf people even go to church because they feel like the church of any denomination really has nothing to offer them.”

The new project offers three-part videos on each sacrament. Each segment is about 6-10 minutes long, and together they discuss the presence of the sacrament in scripture and tradition, the theology of the sacrament, and the sacrament’s personal significance.

“The first video … [introduces] them to the scriptural defense of where Christ established the sacraments so that they get exposed to the Word of God as well as the writings of the Church fathers…So that they see what the Catholic church believes is not something we fabricated somewhere along the way, but has been the same belief from the very beginning age of the Church all the way until now,” he said.

“The second video for every sacrament … is about the theology of it,” he said. “It’s the catechesis behind it. It’s what’s really going on in the divine plan when this sacrament is received. So it’s sort of the dogmatic approach.”

“The third one is about living the grace. So now that you are a baptized individual, for example, what does that mean about your life? I want them to practice the mental exercise of taking theory and abstract theology and applying it concretely to their very individual and specific life,” he added.

The program also includes a workbook, which offers quotes from saints and the catechism, as well as works of art. Loomis stressed the value of artwork as a visual stimulus for deaf Catholics to pray and learn about Church history.

“I also have Visio Divina,” he said, a type of prayer “where they look at a piece of artwork and learn how to read that Christian art to see what it is that they actually believe. In that way, I’m trying to expose them to the wealth of the Christian artwork that has been part of our heritage.”

“That is specifically something I thought would help them encounter God in a way that’s unique to their culture and their specific needs.”

Fr. Loomis is not deaf, but began learning American Sign Language during seminary, after being asked to consider deaf ministry. He practiced sign language each week with a local deaf man to gain proficiency.

After years of practice, Loomis said he has come to better understand the isolation and misunderstanding that often faces the deaf community. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is particularly challenging, he said.

“They can go to a hearing priest and write their sins down on a sheet of paper, which some will do. And of course, they experience a diminished satisfaction with that since they can’t receive any feedback from the priest…They’re not consoled by the words of absolution because they can’t hear them.”

Under Loomis’ leadership, the Deaf Apostolate for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has been able to designate interpreters for 13 different churches, and to offer a Mass entirely in American Sign Language.

“When I offer Mass, I don’t voice it and then have an interpreter stand nearby. I do the entire thing in American Sign Language so that they can experience the incarnation of Christ who comes to them as they are, in persona Christi, through my priesthood,” he said.

Father Shawn Carey, director and chaplain of the deaf apostolate for the Archdiocese of Boston, understands firsthand the significance of these ministries.

Carey, who was born deaf, told CNA that he faced difficulties in accessing catechetical classes as a child.

Growing up in Massachusetts, Carey’s family had to approach a few Catholic parishes to find a first communion class that would be willing to work with him. Eventually, he said, one pastor decided to hire a private tutor for him instead.

While improvements have been made in some areas, challenges still exist today, including Mass without interpreters and theological videos with captions, he said.

“[However,] we are making progress,” he said. “We do have a good number of deaf priests who’ve been ordained, which is great. So that’s a real positive.”

Progress has been made with additional resources as well, he added, although more remains to be done. Carey has recently been involved in translating the youth catechism YouCat into American Sign Language. A series of weekly videos will be released to discuss YouCat’s 527 questions.

Carey said that as a deaf priest, he has been able to connect with the deaf community and bring them closer to the sacraments and the faith. One of his favorite memories in the ministry was leading deaf Catholics on a pilgrimage for World Youth Day in Krakow. He said it was an opportunity to build bridges between the deaf community and others in the Church.

“I think that for me as a deaf priest, it is really beneficial to be able to minister to people who are deaf, because we have a similar background and shared experiences of struggles growing up … [We have] a lot in common that people who are not deaf wouldn’t necessarily understand.”



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Democracy activists in Cuba report ongoing repression

January 30, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Havana, Cuba, Jan 30, 2020 / 04:50 pm (CNA).- A pro-democracy group in Cuba says its members are continuing to experience repression and harassment from police and government officials under the presidency of Miguel Díaz-Canel.

Eduardo Cardet, the national coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement (CLM), says he was blocked Jan. 25 from traveling to the United States from Cuba, despite having his recently renewed passport and the appropriate visa.

According to the CLM, an immigration official at the Havana airport told Cardet he was prohibited from traveling. Asked why, the official reportedly told Cardet that “he ought to know the reason” and gave no further details.

Cardet was arrested Nov. 30, 2016, outside his home on charges of attacking law enforcement, scandal, and disorderly conduct. He was sentenced to three years in prison in 2017. The CLM contends, however, that the real reason for Cardet’s arrest was his criticism of the legacy of Fidel Castro and for his pro-democracy activism.

Cardet was released from prison under certain conditions in May 2019 and completed his sentence in September that year.

He was consequently “totally free and had no restrictions imposed on him,” Carlos Payá, CLM’s representative in Spain, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language new partner. Payá called the government’s refusal to let Cardet travel Jan. 25 “an arbitrary decision by the regime.”

Regis Iglesia, the CLM’s spokesman, says he was similarly blocked Jan. 1 from boarding an American Airlines plane departing from Miami International Airport for Havana because the Cuban government had notified the airlines that Iglesias was prohibited from entering the country. The Cuban dissident leader was exiled to Spain in 2010 by the Fidel Castro regime.

The CLM blasted the travel ban as a discriminatory violation of international law and a total disregard for the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Cuba has signed.

The organization has reported that other members had been given citations by State Security agents and threatened with prison if they continued their activism, been called terrorists by police officials, and been accused of vandalism.

The group said on its website last December that Cuban State Security issued a citation to Eduardo Cardet on Christmas Day, warning him that “the expansion of this organization will not be permitted” and that it would have “zero tolerance for the opposition.”

The Christian Liberation Movement was founded in 1988 by Oswaldo Payá and four other founders to achieve “peaceful and democratic change and respect for human dignity.” It advocates for free, fair, multiparty elections and other democratic reforms.



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Federal court: labor board can’t judge Catholic schools’ religious mission

January 30, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Jan 30, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- Longstanding court precedent has recognized religious schools’ right to pursue their mission in faculty employment decisions, and so the National Labor Relations Board wrongly claimed jurisdiction over Duquesne University, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has said in a decision vacating the board’s recognition of a labor union for adjunct faculty.

“Just like churches, schools may pursue a religious mission. Indeed, education is at the core of religious activity for many Americans,” Judge Thomas Griffith said in the 2-1 decision issued Jan. 28. Court precedent has recognized teachers’ “critical and unique role” in “fulfilling the mission of a church-operated school,” he said.

“This holds true regardless of whether the teacher provides instruction in religious or secular subjects,” Griffith continued. “Given this vital role played by teachers, exercising jurisdiction over disputes involving teachers at any church-operated school presented a ‘significant risk that the First Amendment will be infringed’.”

He cited the NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago 1979 Supreme Court decision, which sided with the Catholic schools’ refusal to recognize a teachers’ union. The Supreme Court held that the labor board lacked jurisdiction over all teachers at church-operated schools.

Similar cases said this reasoning applied to religious colleges and universities, according to Griffith. Various precedents deny the labor board the ability to inquire about the relationship of faculty to religious mission for fear of chilling effect on the free exercise of religion and disrupting a community’s ability to define itself.

Duquesne is a Catholic school of about 6,000 undergraduates and 3,000 graduate students. It is the only U.S.-based university affiliated with the Congregation of the Holy Spirit.

Adjunct faculty organizing efforts formalized in 2012, when a majority of about 88 adjuncts at Duquesne’s McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts sought to unionize through the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Allied-Industrial and Service Workers International Union. At present they teach 44 percent of all credit hours in the university’s core curriculum, including math, science, writing, philosophy, theology, and ethics, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

Duquesne asked the national labor relations board to vacate the election, but the board’s regional officials asserted jurisdiction on the grounds Duquesne did not hold out to the public that its adjunct faculty performed specific religious roles at the school.

In 2018, the university challenged the labor board’s ruling in federal court.

Gabriel Welsch, a spokesman for Duquesne University, welcomed the Jan. 28 decision.

“The university is grateful that the court recognized the importance of our religious mission in rendering this significant decision,” Welsch said. “The Constitution’s First Amendment protection of religious freedom from government intrusion and regulation is one of America’s most important rights, and we are pleased that the court upheld the religious rights of Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit.”

Welsch said the university has deep respect and appreciation for unions, citing its long-term relationships with four unions which represent several hundred non-faculty employees.

“The university looks forward to continuing those positive and fruitful relationships in every way,” the spokesman said.

United Steelworkers spokeswoman Jess Kamm Broomell said the union is “disappointed with the court’s decision and even more concerned that Duquesne’s administration would fight this hard to keep their workers from having a voice on the job.”

“Unlike other Catholic universities that recognized adjunct faculty unions, the Duquesne administration decided to invoke its status as a religiously affiliated institution in an effort to stop adjuncts from joining together to improve their working conditions and the university community,” Kamm Broomell said.

It is unknown whether the national labor board will appeal the ruling, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

Catholicism in America has had a long tradition of supporting labor unions. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issues a statement every Labor Day. The U.S. bishops were critical of a major 2018 Supreme Court ruling striking down mandatory fees paid to public-sector unions undermines workers. They cited Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical Caritas in veritate, which defends labor unions and objects to limits on their freedom.

In her dissent from the appellate court ruling, Judge Cornelia Pillard argued that the ban on unionization under national labor board rules applies only to full-time faculty, not part-time adjuncts who “often have a very different role.”

“It is not at all apparent that temporary, part-time adjuncts whom the school does not even hold out as agents of its religious mission necessarily fall within an exemption from the National Labor Relations Act that was drawn to account for the ‘critical and unique role’ of faculty in ‘fulfilling the mission of a church-operated school’,” she said.

Welsch said that in the wake of the court decision, Duquesne president Ken Gormley is “committed to taking a fresh look” at the university’s engagement with adjunct faculty.

“The university looks forward to working with our adjuncts, and indeed with all of our faculty and staff, to identify the right solutions for our wonderful community of scholars, teachers, and learners in the context of our unique mission,” Welsh said. “Our Catholic and Spiritan mission requires nothing less.”

The court also recognized the Catholic identity of the school.

“Duquesne holds itself out as providing a religious educational environment by publicly identifying itself as a Catholic institution guided by Catholic principles, providing regular Catholic religious services on campus, and encouraging students to participate in religious study groups, lectures, and projects,” the appellate court’s ruling said.

The court cited the danger of labor board intervention if a school took action against teachers for failing to comply with religious principles and of entanglement in questions like judging the content or application of religious principles.

The lack of jurisdiction similarly means the labor board “will not get involved in disputes between churches and their employees for fear of interfering with the churches’ religious missions.”

The court faulted the labor board’s framing of the issue, saying it pitted academic freedom against religious mission, both because this view entangled the board in adjudicating religious claims, and because it excluded the possibility that the faculty’s exercise of academic freedom might be understood as serving a religious mission.

The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, which filed an amicus brief in support of Duquesne, said the case was about how the government decides to recognize faith-based institutions. The labor board, in the association’s view, “chose to limit the designation of ‘Catholic’ strictly to the work that is done by professors teaching religion or other narrow corners of our institutions to be decided, institution-by-institution, by the NLRB itself.”

“No government office should ever have the power to decide, department-by-department, course-by-course, which ones are doing the Church’s work and which ones are not,” the association said.

Court precedents articulate “the problems that can arise when a government office decides what activity is religious and what is not.” While acknowledging that a number of its Catholic campuses welcome labor unions, the association said that “empowering government offices to decide which components of a university are faith-based is simply the wrong way to protect faculty.”

The appellate court ruling said that because the court has established that the labor board does not have jurisdiction over religious schools and faculty, it did not need to address the plaintiff’s claims that the board lacks jurisdiction for other reasons and claims that the board violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.


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South Dakota House passes ban on transgender surgery for minors

January 30, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

Pierre, S.D., Jan 30, 2020 / 03:32 pm (CNA).- A bill aiming to ban sex-reassignment surgery and puberty-blocking medication for minors passed the South Dakota House of Representatives by a vote of 46-23 on Wednesday.

Christopher Motz, executive director of the South Dakota Catholic Conference, praised the vote.

“Given the moral and ethical issues at stake, which are fundamental to the integral good of the human person, it’s great to see such a strong vote in the House,” he told CNA Thursday.

“The voices of faithful citizens encouraging their elected leaders no doubt contributed to this positive result,” he continued. “As the bill advances to the Senate, the voices of faithful citizens will be crucial to securing another strong vote.”

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 South Dakota Catholic Conference supports the measure and is encouraging Catholics to contact their lawmakers about the bill.

“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.

Just a few Republicans voted against the bill, the Associated Press reported. The legislation will now be considered in the Senate.

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 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.