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What does it mean to be a 'pro-life' police officer?

Washington D.C., Jun 24, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- “Ultimately, this report is about the sanctity of all human life.”

This remarkable line opens up an international police group's flagship document on how to improve incidents of officer-involved shootings and the kinds of non-armed crisis situations that take place regularly across the United States.

“The essence of policing is the preservation of life,” Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, D.C., told CNA.

“That's why we exist; life is very precious, and we have to remind ourselves of that.”

This ethic of protecting human life extends even to the use of force in responding to incidents, Wexler argued: “Everything should be what we have to do to preserve human life – especially in the area of use of force.”

This principle, that human life is sacred has found itself at the core of PERF's work as an independent research and policy organization that looks at best practices in policing, as well as assistance, education and advice for law enforcement agencies.

With the idea that “the sanctity of human life should be at the heart of everything an agency does” at the center of the organization's 30 Guiding Principles on the Use of Force and training guide, the group is already revolutionizing the way police departments approach policies on force and the response to crisis situations.

Keeping everyone safe

The pro-life approach to police work is part of a years-long project undertaken by PERF, which has more than 2500 members from around the globe.

Wexler explained that the organization was inspired to readjust their recommended policies and training after high-profile cases of police violence in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere sparked a national conversation on the appropriate force.

“We needed to take a hard look at what we were doing,” he said.

It's hard to capture the scope of the issue of police-involved shootings in the United States, because there is no data or source of official reports that's collected on a national level.

FBI Director James B. Comey explained in a 2015 speech at Georgetown University that the federal agency can't even investigate the issue because “reporting by police departments is voluntary and not all departments participate. That means we cannot fully track the number of incidents in which force is used by police, or against police, including non-fatal encounters, which are not reported at all.”

This means that any information available is at best unreliable, and hampers both investigating and addressing the issue, the director said.

In its report, PERF pointed to attempts by journalists at the Guardian and the Washington Post to help fill this void of data by documenting the number of people killed in officer-involved shootings in the United States. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C., also collects data on allegations of police misconduct, including shootings, at the National Police Misconduct Reporting Project.

PERF furthermore noted that according to the data collected by the Washington Post, nearly one-third of fatal police-involved shootings in 2015 could have a significant potential for de-escalation, either because the subject killed was mentally ill, unarmed, or armed with a weapon that was not a firearm.

Wexler was assisting colleagues in Scottish police departments when these issues rose to public prominence in 2014. It occurred to Wexler that these colleagues – most of whom are not armed in departments in the United Kingdom – still must respond to and stay safe when dealing with incidents involving weapons like bats or knives, without the option of deadly force.

“For me it was an epiphany,” Wexler said. He asked himself, “If they can do it, why can't we?”

PERF had researchers spend time studying police tactics in Scotland as well as in special emergency units in New York City and other departments around the United States. While the organization’s later research made a point not to blame most of the officers at the center of these events, PERF reassessed the training and policies surrounding the use of force in challenging situations.

“It really got us to think about how to re-engineer use of force policy and training,” Wexler said.

The result of their research was a document outlining guiding principles on the use of force and a training guide to teach officers how to better diffuse situations where de-escalation is possible. The guiding principles document notes that in most non-firearm cases “the threat is not immediate and the officers will have options for considering a more methodical, organized approach,” and many lives have the potential to be saved.

All of this is about trying to de-escalate a situation, giving officers the tools they need to do that.

It is this potential for saving lives – and not only the lives of civilians who interact with the police – which is the focus of the revised guidelines and tactics. PERF's research states that changing approaches to incidents can increase officer safety, too.

“Rather than unnecessarily pushing officers into harm's way in some circumstances, there may be opportunities to slow those situations down, bring more resources to the scene, and utilize sound decision-making that is designed to keep officers safe, while also protecting the public,” the report states.

In its findings, the document emphasizes the sanctity of human life as well as administering life-saving aid, transparency in reporting officer-involved shooting, use of less lethal options, and promoting effective means of managing mental illness in crisis situations.

The documents also criticize “line in the sand” policies and other training and field tactics which they found escalated, rather than calmed, crisis situations not involving firearms.

Wexler also said the principles of proportionality and effective communication are key to protecting the lives of all involved.

“All of this is about trying to de-escalate a situation, giving officers the tools they need to do that,” emphasizing the importance of teamwork, tactical skills and crisis intervention. “What's really important is the safety of the officer and the safety of the person you're dealing with.”

From the church to the streets

These policies aimed at respecting the dignity of life are not just formulated in an abstract environment, but with feedback from around the world.

“We have consulted with literally hundreds of police officers and police departments. We met and studied best practices around the country,” Wexler said.  

The research organization consulted with hundreds of police chiefs for over two years, and looked at countless case studies and reports to put together their findings and then their training program.

“We would not be recommending something if we didn't think it would work, and we've seen enough cases in the United States and in other countries where some may already be doing it or are in the process of implementing it.”

One of the other sources Wexler and PERF president, Scott Thompson, consulted in putting together the report was the archbishop of the largest city in the United States, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.

“The person who we thought would really be interested in this concept was Cardinal Dolan in New York,” Wexler recalled. “We went to see Cardinal Dolan because we thought our principles, and in particular that principle, would be very significant to him.”

Cardinal Dolan was elected as the chairman-elect of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life activities beginning his term as chair in 2015.

“We had a really good meeting and he really understood and embraced” the core principle of protecting life, Wexler said. “It was something he could be very supportive of.”

There has been pushback from a lot of the major organizations.

PERF mentioned that Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago has also lent his support in helping the group's training programs for the Chicago Police Department.

While the police policy guidelines have been met with support among the hundreds of departments who worked with PERF, the organization’s focus on prioritizing the sanctity of the lives of all persons involved in police incidents has not been without controversy.

“There has been pushback from a lot of the major organizations,” Wexler acknowledged.

When PERF first released its guidelines in March 2016, it was met with harsh criticism from both the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Fraternal Order of Police.

“We cannot reasonably expect law enforcement officers to walk away from potentially dangerous situations and individuals in the hope that those situations resolve themselves without further harm being done,” the organizations said in a joint response to PERF’s initial report.

A year later, however, national police organizations have started to adopt consensus principles that echo many of the ideas emphasized by PERF.

In a document laying out “National Consensus Policy” on the use of force, released in January 2017, 11 national police organizations – including the FOP and IACP – emphasized the importance of de-escalation policies, “reasonably prudent” responses, and less-lethal force. The policy also asks that departments around the country openly state that the “policy of this law enforcement agency is to value and preserve human life.”

While Wexler said he could not comment on these adaptations, he did say the shift in focus to emphasize the dignity and value of all lives – even in the most challenging situations – is a “difficult” shift in perspective: “The changes we're recommending are probably some of the biggest changes in police tactics that we’ve seen in 25 years.”

And the size of the policing community in the United States – more than 18,000 departments – only adds to the challenge.

Still, while the values and emphasis in police policy might still face some debate, PERF's training and concrete policies have met with wide acceptance.

“We've had no pushback from our training,” he said, pointing to the hundreds of departments who have come to their training workshops in New Orleans, Baltimore, and Los Angeles.

With this support in the year since putting out the guidelines and what they've seen in the research process, Wexler is confident that they can create a culture that defends the sanctity of human life in all aspects of its police work.

“I'm optimistic that in five years, this will no longer be controversial,” Wexler said. “This will be the way people handle these situations.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA April 7, 2017.

Judge halts deportations of Chaldean Christians to Iraq

Detroit, Mich., Jun 23, 2017 / 03:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A district court judge on Thursday halted the deportation of more than 100 Iraqis, including many Chaldean Christians, who were recently picked up by immigration officers and detained.

“We are thankful and relieved that our clients will not be immediately sent to Iraq, where they face grave danger of persecution, torture or death,” Michael Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan, which represented the Iraqi nationals, stated in response to the ruling.

On Sunday, June 11, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement began picking up Iraqi nationals in the Detroit metropolitan area who had previous criminal records.

Ultimately, 114 Iraqis were picked up, some reportedly at their homes in front of their families and others in public places like restaurants. They were detained and informed of their immanent deportation.

Many of the detainees were Chaldean Christians, and members of the local Chaldean Church were dismayed at the arrests.

ICE stated that the detainees had criminal records and although they had entered the U.S. legally and had not yet become citizens, they were no longer eligible for full citizenship. Furthermore, they had been ordered for removal by a federal judge, although in some cases the orders were reportedly decades old.

Iraq had previously refused to accept the Chaldeans, “in some cases, for humanitarian reasons,” Thursday’s decision read.

However, they recently agreed to accept them as part of a deal with the U.S. that removed Iraq’s place on a list of countries where foreign nationals were barred from traveling to the U.S., except in special cases, as part of President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order.

Bishop Francis Kalabat of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Detroit insisted that many of those who were detained were responsible residents since they had served their time in prison, and that many of the crimes had been committed decades prior to the June 11 arrests.

Pleas to stay the deportations reportedly reached the highest levels of government. The ACLU represented the Chaldeans in court, filing a habeas corpus action petition on their behalf, while the Knights of Columbus and members of Congress wrote Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.

Leading U.S. bishops also wrote Secretary Kelly, advocating for a stay on the deportations until Iraq could guarantee the safety of religious minorities.

“Returning religious minorities to Iraq at this time, without specific plans for protection, does not appear consistent with our concerns about genocide and persecution of Christians in Iraq,” a letter by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston-Galveston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, chair of the U.S. bishops’ international justice and peace committee, and Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chair of the bishops’ migration committee, stated.

“The persecution that the Christian and Chaldean Catholic community has faced in Iraq is well- documented,” they added. “The deportations to this same country, under such scrutiny for abuse and genocide of Christian and other minorities, seems to run counter to what is happening in other parts of our government.”

Lawyers for the detainees insisted that under the Convention Against Torture they should not be sent back to a country where they have a reasonable expectation of persecution.

Furthermore, since the detainees have already served their prison sentences for their previous crimes, “we believe it would not be just or humane to deport a person who has integrated into American life and poses no evident risk to the local community,” the bishops continued.

This past week, Bishop Kalabat noted in a Facebook post that Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako was also involved in the efforts to halt the deportations, and “spoke with an international Catholic organization that are in contact with Vice President Pence directly.”

Bishop Kalabat also said he had appealed to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to pardon all those who had state felonies.

Then on June 22, Judge Goldsmith granted a two-week stay on the deportations of the Iraqi nationals “within the jurisdiction of the Detroit ICE Field Office with final orders of removal, who have been, or will be, arrested and detained by ICE.”

“In light of these complex jurisdictional issues, and the speed with which the Government is moving to remove Petitioners, it is necessary to stay Petitioners’ removal pending the Court’s determination regarding its jurisdiction,” Judge Goldsmith stated.

He also cited the threat of “irreparable harm” claimed by the detainees through the “significant chance of loss of life and lesser forms of persecution” if they were to be deported to Iraq, as well as “the public interest” in due process that their requests for relief be heard by a federal court before their deportation.

“The court took a life-saving action by blocking our clients from being immediately sent back to Iraq,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, stated. “They should have a chance to show that their lives are in jeopardy if forced to return.”

US Senate healthcare bill 'unacceptable as written', bishops warn

Washington D.C., Jun 23, 2017 / 11:10 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops' conference has warned that the proposed Senate health care bill will put serious burdens on poor families and is “unacceptable as written.”

After the draft of a Senate health care bill was finally released on Thursday, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, stated that “this proposal retains many of the fundamental defects of the House of Representatives-passed health care legislation, and even further compounds them.”

He had previously explained, in a March letter to members of Congress, how the House bill was problematic for vulnerable populations such as the poor, the seriously ill, and the elderly.

After the Senate draft, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act, was released June 22, he reiterated that “it is precisely the detrimental impact on the poor and vulnerable that makes the Senate draft unacceptable as written.”

After the House narrowly voted May 2 to pass its own version of a health care reform bill, the US bishops wrote to Senators urging them to reject the “grave deficiencies” of the American Health Care Act.

The bishops had asked the Senate to reject major changes to Medicaid, to retain protections for human life, to increase tax assistance for those with low-income and the elderly, to retain a cap on health care plan costs for the elderly, to protect immigrants, and to add health care protections.

Senate Republicans released the draft version of their bill after weeks of anticipation and controversy that the draft was being worked on behind closed doors. The bill would repeal much of the Affordable Care Act.

A major sticking point for pro-life groups and the U.S. bishops was Hyde Amendment-language protecting taxpayer subsidies from being used to pay for abortions.

However, pro-life leaders are concerned – or are even certain – that the pro-life language will be removed by the Senate Parliamentarian before the bill reaches the Senate floor.

This could happen because the language might be determined to be not pertaining to the rules of budget reconciliation. Since the bill may be passed through the budget reconciliation process – thus requiring a simple majority vote, rather than the normal 60 votes needed to bring it to the floor for a vote – its measures would need to be ruled as pertaining to the budget.

Senate Republicans can also afford no more than two members of their party voting against the bill, as no Democrats are expected to support it. Several moderate Republicans in the chamber have voiced concern about the bill, and four conservatives have said the draft does not go far enough in repealing the Affordable Care Act.

The draft also strips Planned Parenthood of taxpayer funding and redirects that funding to community health centers which do not provide abortions.

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, approved of the Planned Parenthood language but added that “the reality is that necessary pro-life protections in this bill will be stripped by the Senate Parliamentarian, as we have now publicly heard from two Senators.”

The Washington Examiner reported Wednesday that Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) both admitted that the Senate Parliamentarian would not approve of the pro-life language being used in a bill passed by reconciliation.

“If this happens, one of the most egregious aspects of Obamacare – tax credits for plans covering abortion – will continue under this Administration and Congress,” Mancini continued.

Pro-life groups have insisted that the Affordable Care Act ushered in a massive expansion of abortion funding through tax credits paying for abortions and federally-subsidized plans offering abortion coverage, without sufficient guarantees that the subsidies were not being used themselves to pay for the abortion coverage.

While President Obama issued an executive order forbidding taxpayer dollars from funding abortions under the health care law, many – including then-president of the U.S. bishops, the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago – insisted that would not offer sufficient guarantee against taxpayer dollars funding abortions.

A 2014 GAO report found that in five states, all the taxpayer-subsidized plans offered on the health exchanges covered abortions, thus leaving no choices for those who wanted a health plan on the exchanges which did not include abortion coverage.

Furthermore, the report found that 15 insurance issuers and one state exchange were not billing abortion coverage separately from other coverage in federally-subsidized plans, thus leaving open the possibility that federal dollars were going to fund abortion coverage.

“The expectations of the pro-life movement have been very clear: The health care bill must not indefinitely subsidize abortion and must re-direct abortion giant Planned Parenthood’s taxpayer funding to community health centers,” Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said in a joint statement released Friday.

“The Senate discussion draft includes these pro-life priorities, but we remain very concerned that either of these priorities could be removed from the bill for procedural or political reasons,” they added.

“We are working closely with our pro-life allies in the Senate to prevent this from happening as it could result in our opposition.”

Bishop Dewane echoed those concerns that the pro-life language could be stripped from the bill. He insisted as well that “full Hyde protections are essential and must be included in the final bill.”

Moreover, there are other serious problems with the Senate draft legislation that carry over from the House bill, he maintained.

Changes to Medicaid could cut vital coverage for low-income families; conscience protections for everyone in the health care system are lacking; and access for immigrants to health care would not be furthered, he said, which the bishops pointed out as one of the problems in the Affordable Care Act when it was passed in 2010.

The “per-capita cap” on Medicaid dollars to states would limit Medicaid funding based on the populations of the states themselves, “and then connects yearly increases to formulas that would provide even less to those in need than the House bill,” the bishop stated.

“These changes will wreak havoc on low-income families and struggling communities, and must not be supported,” he stated.

While efforts to assist people “living at an above the poverty line” are laudable, he continued, the proposed bill “stands to cause disturbing damage to the human beings served by the social safety net.”

The bill would phase out the expansion of Medicaid more gradually than did the House's version, but the program would see larger cuts in the long run under the Senate's plan.

Bread for the World, a social welfare organization of Christians that advocates for the ending of hunger the US and abroad, was also critical of the Senate bill's changes to Medicaid, saying it will increase hunger and poverty domestically.

“Rolling back the Medicaid expansion at a slower rate still means that millions of vulnerable Americans will lose their health care coverage,” said David Beckmann, Bread for the World's president. “Without health insurance, people must often choose between putting food on the table and receiving the medical care they need.”

He charged that “any senator who supports this bill will be voting to take away health insurance from the elderly, people with disabilities, and children.”

Bishop Dewane also said the bill “fails, as well, to put in place conscience protections for all those involved in the health care system, protections which are needed more than ever in our country's health policy,” he stated.

For instance, the bill could set up conscience protections for religious organizations that refuse to comply with previous mandates that coverage for sterilizations and contraceptives be provided in their employee health plans, the bishop noted. Or doctors who conscientiously refuse to perform abortions or gender-transition procedures could be protected against federal or state mandates that they do so.

“The Senate should now act to make changes to the draft that will protect those persons on the peripheries of our health care system,” Bishop Dewane stated.

A doctor prescribed a procedure, but insurance offered death

Reno, Nev., Jun 23, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Dr. T. Brian Callister chose to become a physician for the reason many choose to go into the medical field – to make a difference in people’s lives.

But that difference has recently been cut short by assisted suicide legislation.

An internal medicine specialist and the National Medical Director at The LifeCare Family of Hospitals based in Reno, Nevada, Callister sees many patients from out of state, since the Reno-Tahoe area is a vacation destination.

Recently, he had two patients within two months who both needed life-saving procedures.

In both cases, he requested a hospital transfer to their home state: one in California and one in Oregon, both of which have legalized assisted suicide.

Both patients were denied the requested transfer and requested life-saving procedure by their insurance companies, who instead asked Callister if he had offered his patients assisted suicide.

“I was just floored. The best I could muster was ‘uh, that’s not legal here yet.’ And they said if you get them back home we can take care of it,” Callister told CNA.

He said he had not at any point indicated that he or his patients would be interested in assisted suicide. It was offered simply because it was the cheapest option.

HIPPA laws, which govern the privacy of patient information, limit the specifics that Callister can go into on these cases.

However, he said one of these patients ended up going to a lower level of care but did not get the lifesaving procedure, and the other got so frustrated that they left the hospital.

Neither received the care recommended by their doctor.

Callister said in both cases, the recommended care was a standard medical procedure and not an experimental therapy, which are often not covered by insurance companies for other reasons.

“Most people look at (assisted suicide) as a freedom and autonomy thing, and it really is the opposite when you look at my cases, since access to care and choices are being limited by this law,” Callister said.

“It’s cutting your choice, not adding to it.”

Physician-assisted suicide is legal in a handful of states, gaining momentum ever since the high profile suicide of cancer patient Brittany Maynard in 2014.

Many prominent Catholic leaders, such as Pope Francis, have spoken out against assisted suicide, calling it “false compassion.” Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles has said assisted suicide “represents a failure of solidarity” and abandons the most vulnerable in society.

Callister’s cases are not the first time patients have been denied care and offered death instead.

Stephanie Packer, a terminally ill wife and mother, was recently denied chemotherapy, but was offered assisted suicide by her insurance for just $1.20.

Packer said it was the ultimate slap in the face: her insurance company denied the coverage of critical chemotherapy treatment that her doctors recommended for her condition.

Particularly concerning is that the insurance company had initially suggested that they would cover the chemotherapy drugs. It was one week after assisted suicide was legalized in 2016 that they sent Packer a letter saying they were denying coverage. Despite multiple appeals, they continued to refuse.

Often, proponents of assisted suicide will argue it is necessary for people to avoid unending pain or unbearable suffering at the end of their life.

This argument ignores the advances made in palliative and hospice care which can control pain and symptoms at the end of life, Callister noted.

“In this day and age, we have outstanding palliative care, hospice care, we have the education, the skill and the drugs to keep you comfortable,” he said.

Opponents of assisted suicide say there are not enough legal safeguards possible to guard against coercion and abuse, whether by insurance companies or by family members who may benefit financially from the death of a family member.

“It’s illegal for a family to coerce the patient. How are they going to regulate that? The coercion police are going to go to your house? It all sounds good on paper, but none of it is practically enforceable; it really isn’t,” Callister said.

Another argument used by proponents of assisted suicide is that they follow the same guidelines as do doctors for referring patients to hospice and palliative care – they only suggest assisted suicide for patients with a terminal diagnosis with six or fewer months to live.

But the problem with that, Callister said, is that doctors are often wrong when it comes to terminal diagnoses: the margin for error is 50-70 percent. Some patients die sooner than expected, while many also go on to outlive their prognoses, sometimes by years.

“My take on it is: if we’re not sure how much quality time you have left, why would you throw that away? And the second part of that is once it becomes clear that you are dying, you’re in your last weeks, we have the ability to keep you comfortable. So why do we need this law?”

He added that as a physician for 30 years, he has seen the end of life be some of the most important times in a family for healing, for reconciliation, for self-giving love.

“I see more self-giving love for other people, I see more families healed and brought together, and bad rifts healed and reconciled at the end of life than any other time.”

Dating apps and the death of romance – what's a Catholic to do?

Denver, Colo., Jun 23, 2017 / 03:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- If a recent Vanity Fair issue is to be believed, there's some disheartening news for single people: the “dating apocalypse,” brought on by wildly popular dating apps like “Tinder,” is upon us.

Young singles are too busy swiping left and right on their phones making shallow, transient connections, rather than finding real love with real people. Romance is dead, proposes author Nancy Jo Sales, in the September 2015 issue of the publication.

What sets Tinder apart from most other dating app or online dating experiences is speed and brevity. Based on a photo, first name, and age alone, users decide whether to swipe left (to pass) or right (to like). With GPS tracking, the app also tells users exactly how far away potential matches may be, making life even easier for those just looking for a quick hook-up. 

Shallowest dating app ever?

The biggest criticism of Tinder? It's a seriously shallow app that turns people into quickly-judged commodities on a screen.

In a 2013 article by The Guardian, “Tinder: the shallowest dating app ever?” author Pete Cashmore explains the ick-factor, yet addictiveness, of Tinder when compared to another dating app called Twine.

“Of the two apps, though, Tinder sounded worse, just because it seemed so contemptuously superficial. There are hundreds upon thousands of women, about whom you know almost nothing, and you snap-appraise them with a single swipe. It's a finger-flicking hymn to the instant gratification of the smartphone age. It's addictive.”

Matt Fradd is a Catholic speaker and author and founder of The Porn Effect, a website with a mission to “expose the reality behind the fantasy of pornography and to equip individuals to find freedom from it.” In his ministry, he’s heard a lot of stories from young people about their struggle to overcome objectifying people through porn.

Fradd had some harsh words for Tinder.

“Tinder exists for those who would rather not purchase a prostitute,” he told CNA.

“I would imagine most people who use that app aren’t there because they’re looking for a chaste relationship,” he added. 

And indeed, quite a bit of colloquial evidence backs him up. Alex in the Vanity Fair article said dating apps have turned romance into a competition of “Who's slept with the best, hottest girls?”

“You could talk to two or three girls at a bar and pick the best one, or you can swipe a couple hundred people a day—the sample size is so much larger,” he said. “It’s setting up two or three Tinder dates a week and, chances are, sleeping with all of them, so you could rack up 100 girls you’ve slept with in a year.”

But Tinder doesn't always have to be that way, users argue. It is possible to find people on the app who want to go on some good old-fashioned dates.

Tinder users speak

Ross is a twenty-something Nebraska-to-New York City transplant and a cradle Catholic who’s used his fair share of both dating apps and sites. When signing up for Tinder, Ross said, probably the most important factor in whether someone will find potential dates or hook-ups is location, location, location.

“Your region matters so much,” he told CNA in an e-mail interview. “In Nebraska, women date on Tinder. They really do… In New York, (most) want a distraction, attention, and/or a hook up. Not emotion or connections.”

Holly, a twenty-something devout Catholic living in Kansas City, said she has had success finding a date – and a pretty decent one at that – on the app.

“I went on a great Tinder date. Granted it was the only Tinder date, but we even went out a few times before things ended. At the time Tinder sort of freaked me out, but I decided to jump in head first and it was an enjoyable experience over all,” she said. 

Many young people who've used Tinder also argue that the “shallow” critique is a bit overblown, considering that dating always takes into account whether or not a potential mate is physically attractive.

“How is me swiping right on a guy that I find attractive, and swiping left (on those) that I'm not that into any different than someone approaching a guy that I find attractive in a bar? We make snap judgements all the time. Why is it suddenly so much worse if I'm doing it online?” asked Michelle, a twenty-something practicing Catholic who lives in Chicago.

While she's definitely experienced the creepier side of Tinder – with guys sending her “rankings” on a scale of 1 to 10 and other, um, less-than-endearing messages, she said she found the app could be used as a way to maybe meet some new people in person and to get recommendations of things to do in the city.

“I think to immediately classify Tinder or any other dating app as a 'hook-up' app or as a very bad thing goes against the idea that things are morally neutral,” Michelle said. “Just like alcohol is not inherently bad but can be used for evil, I don't think Tinder is inherently evil as well. I definitely think you can use Tinder if you're using it to meet people – not to hook up with people.”

The morality of Tinder

It's admittedly a bit difficult to find someone who can speak with moral authority specifically to dating apps in the Catholic world. Because of the very recent explosion of smartphones, followed by the subsequent explosion of dating apps, or because of vows of celibacy, many clergy and moral experts have actually never used dating apps themselves.

Fr. Gregory Plow, T.O.R., falls into that category. Even though he's a young priest and friar who’s never used Tinder, Fr. Plow works with hundreds of young people every day as the director of Households at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio (kind of like Greek houses, but faith-based).

Fr. Plow said when Catholics determine the morality of any act or tool, like Tinder, three things must be considered.

“Whenever discerning the morality of an act not explicitly defined by Church teaching, we must examine the object, the intention, and the circumstances,” he said, referencing paragraph 1757 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

“Regarding the 'object,' apps – in general, as an invention – are not bad in and of themselves. Like most other technologies, they are morally neutral in and of themselves,” he said. “Apps do, however, possess a certainly quality of being transitory that can factor in to the other two components (intention and circumstances) that factor in to judging the morality of an act.”

The transitory, cursory nature of swiping based on one picture in Tinder can be morally dangerous if that same mentality transfers to relationships with people, he said. Instead of pausing and taking the time to form real relationships, some people may decide to move on to the next best thing because they have so many options.

“Therefore, in as much dating apps are impersonal and transitory, or are used with the intention for receiving gratification and pleasure, they are immoral,” he said. “If, however, online dating apps or services assisting people in leading them to find another person to share the love of God with in the uniqueness of a dating relationship or marriage, it can be (morally) good.”

Mary Beth Bonacci, a Catholic speaker and author on John Paul II's Theology of the Body, said what's concerning about Tinder when compared to online dating sites such as CatholicMatch is the rapidity with which people can be turned into objects.

“The entire realm of dating is full of opportunities to turn a human person into a commodity. We get so wrapped up in thinking about what we want for ourselves that we forget we are dealing with another human person – and image and likeness of God. It's always been a temptation,” she said.

“But the rapid-fire nature of Tinder's 'scan and swipe' makes it easy to turn many, many human persons into commodities in a short period of time. That is what is scariest to me.”

Bonacci said while it's possible to find someone who’s interested in a virtuous dating relationship through apps like Tinder, the chances of that happening are probably pretty low when compared with online dating sites that have more extensive profiles.

Meeting someone in person as soon as possible is also key, she said, in determining whether or not a match made online or in an app has a chance of turning into a dating relationship. But apps like Tinder aren’t exactly helping breathe new life into romance, she said.

“Everything is instant. The nearly-anonymous sex is of course the antithesis of anything romantic or respectful. In the old days of the 'meat market' singles' bar, a person had to get dressed up, leave the house, buy a few drinks and at least pretend to have some real interest in the other person.”

The Church has a duty, she said, to offer young people better alternatives in the dating world than the instant gratification that they find in the current culture.

“The Vanity Fair article reminded me once again that we have to offer teens and young adults an alternative to the degrading, hook up world that surrounds them. We can't scare them out of it. They need to be inspired, to fall in love with the real beauty of the Christian vision of human sexual morality,” she said.

“They need to see their own dignity, their own importance, and how respecting their bodies and the beautiful language of human sexuality is the only way to finding real love. We have to. We can’t allow another generation of kids to fall into this cesspool.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Sept. 13, 2015.

Calif. court drops 14 charges against Planned Parenthood investigator

San Francisco, Calif., Jun 22, 2017 / 04:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A California court on Wednesday dismissed 14 of 15 criminal charges against an undercover journalist behind the video exposé of Planned Parenthood’s role in the fetal tissue trade.

“This is a huge victory to have 14 criminal counts dismissed,” Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, which defended Sandra Merritt in court as she faced 15 felony charges. One charge of conspiracy to invade privacy has still not been dismissed.

“We will now turn our attention to dismissing the final count,” Staver continued. “Sandra Merritt did nothing wrong. The complaint by the California Attorney General is unprecedented and frankly will threaten every journalist who provides valuable information to the public.”

In March, California Attorney General Xavier Beccerra charged Merritt and her colleague David Daleiden with 14 criminal counts of recording others without their consent in a confidential conversation, and one count of conspiracy to invade privacy.

Merritt and Daleiden were undercover journalists at the Center for Medical Progress, a group which seeks to expose the role of Planned Parenthood clinics and tissue harvesters in the trade of fetal tissue of aborted babies. The group began releasing videos in July of 2015 that were undercover video recordings of conversations with Planned Parenthood officials.

CMP alleged that Planned Parenthood clinics illegally broke the law by profiting off of the transfer of the fetal tissue to harvesters. Federal law does allow for reasonable compensation for fetal tissue in cases where it is procured for medical research purposes. The compensation cannot be for “valuable consideration,” but may cover operating expenses like storage and transfer costs.

The recorded conversations Merritt and Daleiden had took place as they posed as representatives of a tissue procurement company BioMax seeking to possibly partner with Planned Parenthood clinics and other representatives in the abortion industry to obtain body parts of aborted babies.

In the criminal complaint against Merritt and Daleiden, Beccerra had alleged that both persons had recorded confidential conversations without the consent of other parties involved. Each of the 14 counts involved a separate conversation that allegedly took place.

Eight of the charges had to do with secretly recorded conversations with attendees at a National Abortion Federation conference in San Francisco. Other conversations with Planned Parenthood officials and tissue procurement representatives were recorded at other times.

California is a “two-party consent” state, which means that both parties of a conversation, where it is expected to be private and confidential, must agree to it being recorded.

An affidavit from a California Peace Officer claimed that, according to accounts from multiple persons to whom Daleiden and Merritt allegedly talked, they recorded conversations that were believed to be confidential by the other party.

Liberty Counsel, on the other hand, said that the “the videos produced by Merritt and Daleiden exposed unethical and potentially illegal conduct by Planned Parenthood, and Planned Parenthood itself has admitted, under oath, that the recorded conversations took place in ‘non-confidential’ and public venues,” such as restaurants.

Beccerra also charged Daleiden with conspiracy to invade privacy, alleging that Daleiden used a password from a former employee at the tissue procurement company StemExpress, accessed the company’s email system, and took documents.

The affadavit also alleged that Daleiden and Merritt set up a tissue procurement company of their own – BioMax Procurement Services, LLC – and used false names to “pose” as representatives of the company and to be admitted to a National Abortion Federation conference in San Francisco, “where they secretly video recorded conference speakers, vendors, and attendees.”

On Wednesday, the San Francisco Superior Court dismissed the 14 recording charges, but the charge for conspiracy to invade privacy has not yet been dropped.

Beccerra, a former Democratic congressman, had previously received small donations from Planned Parenthood as a candidate for Congress amounting to around $6,000 over the last 20 years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“Sandra did not break any law and the criminal complaint against her is legally deficient, vague and full of inconsistencies,” Horatio Mihet, Liberty Counsel's vice president of legal affairs and chief litigation counsel, stated.

“No other citizen journalist or organization has ever been charged with a crime for undercover recordings,” he added.

After Center for Medical Progress began releasing its recorded conversations with officials at Planned Parenthood and tissue procurement companies, Congress and several states launched investigations into Planned Parenthood to find out whether it broke the law in the fetal tissue trade.

A final report from a House select investigative panel released in January detailed various abuses in the abortion industry in the fetal body parts trade.

Consent forms required by law were not obtained from mothers to have the fetal tissue of their aborted child used for research. Private medical information may have been shared between abortion clinics and tissue procurement companies in a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.

In another case, the University of New Mexico established a possibly illegal relationship with a local abortion clinic where students and fellows performed abortions at the clinic and the clinic’s abortionists were reportedly granted “volunteer faculty” status at the university where they received benefits like insurance coverage and access to university facilities.

'A saint for our times' – the inspiring story of Chiara Corbella Petrillo

Manchester, N.H., Jun 22, 2017 / 09:05 am (CNA).- Chiara Corbella Petrillo lived a short life.    She met her husband Enrico Petrillo at age 18, became the mother of three children, and died at the age 28.    But what happened within those 10 years has touched the hearts of thousands across the globe. Chiara's sainthood cause was opened last week, five years after her death. Her story is told in the 2015 book, “Chiara Corbella Petrillo: A Witness to Joy,” published by Sophia Institute Press.    “In the story of the Petrillo couple, many people recognize a providential consolation from heaven,” said Simone Troisi and Christiana Paccini, close friends of the Petrillo's who wrote the biography of Chiara's life.    “They discover that in any situation, there is no real reason to be sad. This is because Chiara shows that if you have God as your guide, misfortunes do not exist,” they told CNA.     Chiara and Enrico married in Italy on September 21, 2008 after having met at Medjugorje in 2002. During the early years of their marriage, the young Italian couple faced many hardships together, including the death of two children, who both died only 30 minutes after birth.    Chiara became pregnant a third time with their son, Francesco. However, the joyful news of their pregnancy also came with a fatal diagnosis of cancer for Chiara. Her cancer was an unusual lesion of the tongue, which was later discovered to be a carcinoma.    Chiara rejected any treatment that could have saved her life during pregnancy because it would have risked the life of her unborn son. As the cancer progressed, it became difficult for Chiara to speak and see clearly, eventually making her final days on earth particularly excruciating.    “Her [Chiara's] suffering became a holy place because it was the place where she encountered God,” Troisi and Paccini recalled.   Although many couples face hardships, Troisi and Paccini remembered something different about the Petrillos - they leaned on God’s grace which made their family particularly serene. They made peace with the reality that Chiara would never grow old with Enrico or watch Francesco grow up.    During Chiara’s last days, Enrico embraced God’s grace just as Chiara did, saying, “If she is going to be with Someone who loves her more than I, why should I be upset?”     Chiara died on June 13, 2012 at home in her wedding gown, surrounded by her family and friends. Although her earthly life was over, Chiara would continue to be a witness to joy.   Troisi and Paccini believe that Chiara’s legacy is still living on because she gave witness to the truth that “love exists.” Neither she nor Enrico were afraid of love, marriage, or of committing themselves to their family.    According to the authors, the young couple showed how “the purpose of our life is to love... to be married is a wonderful thing, an adventure that opens you up to Heaven in the home.”    Chiara and Enrico's remarkable story is “a story of salvation in which God shows himself as a faithful God: they trust in Him and are not disappointed,” they stated.    However, they were quick to note that Chiara was not “an extraordinary young woman, in a way that makes her different from us.” Rather, she struggled with many human fears and anxieties, especially with thoughts of pain, vomiting, and purgatory.    “She had the same questions that we have, the same objections and struggles, the same fears,” Troisi and Paccini noted, saying what made her different was her “capacity to cast everything on the Father, to welcome the grace needed for whatever step she had to make.”   With Chiara, the ordinary always became the extraordinary. Troisi and Paccini have fond memories of everyday life with the Petrillos, when a conversation about cooking chicken would end in talking about heaven.    “We would share simple things like dinner, chatting, games on the rug with little Francesco... always very simple, without masks,” they remembered.   “But when we were together, there was no difficulty in believing that eternal life was here and now!”    Chiara has been called “a saint for our times.” Although her death was only five years ago, her legacy lives on and has inspired others around the world to be the same witness to joy.   “Today, this joy is visible in those that lived alongside her: even if they miss her, they experience a mysterious and profound joy,” Troisi and Paccini stated.   “We cannot insist enough on the fact that Chiara did what she did, not trusting in her own strength, but trusting in the grace and the consolation of God... She never doubted God's faithfulness to His promise of happiness for her story.”   An earlier version of this article was originally published on CNA Dec. 2, 2015.  

This pro-life talk at Google's headquarters was a hit

Mountain View, Calif., Jun 22, 2017 / 05:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A pro-life activist walks into Google’s headquarters and delivers a speech so compelling that within 24 hours, the online video of it surpassed a similar speech given by the head of Planned Parenthood.

It may sound like the start to a far-fetched joke, but on April 20th, pro-life speaker and activist Stephanie Gray did just that.

Gray was the co-founder of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform and served as its executive director for several year before starting the ministry which she now runs, Love Unleashes Life.

She spoke in April as a part of the Talks at Google series, a program that brings a variety of speakers to the company’s headquarters to discuss their work. Gray has participated in more than 800 talks and debates on abortion.

Gray’s talk centered around the idea that there are three qualities that lead us to call someone “inspiring:” They place others ahead of themselves, have “perspective” on their sufferings and situation in life, and do the right thing even in difficult situations. She linked these criteria to the process of dialoguing with others about abortion, emphasizing question asking.

She began by contrasting two stories, that of the shipwreck of the Costa Concordia in Italy in 2012 and the “Miracle on the Hudson” emergency plane landing in 2009. In the first story, she explained, the captain had jumped ship along with the rest of the crew. In the second, the pilot, Captain Chesley Sullenberger, had been the last off the flooding vessel, ensuring his passengers all exited safely.

In comparing the two stories, she noted that Sullenberger was lauded as a hero, and the captain of the Concordia internationally shamed.

“If you agree that it was correct for the pilot to put the passengers ahead of himself, to prioritize the needs of his dependents,” she said, “then wouldn’t it follow, that when it comes to the topic of abortion and an unplanned pregnancy, that a pregnant woman ought to prioritize the needs of her dependent?”

However, she noted that the comparison was only valid “depending on, indeed, whether embryos and fetuses are human beings, like the passengers on the airplane.”

To determine whether or not a fetus is a human being, Gray displayed an image of a human fetus and posed the question, “What are her parents?” It would logically follow that two human parents’ offspring must be the same species, she said.

Despite the ambiguity around the origin point of human life when it comes to abortion, she said, in discussing other topics “we have great clarity.” For example, an IVF specialist or dog breeder would agree that the life they attempt to create begins at fertilization.

Taking a look at what qualifies as “personhood,” Gray considered the terms used by pro-infanticide philosopher Peter Singer, that a person is a being which is “rational, conscious, and self-aware.” She contrasted a human embryo with an amoeba: the embryo lacks these qualities “because of how old she is,” where the amoeba lacks them “because of what it is.”

 “Should personhood be grounded in how old we are, or should personhood be grounded in what we are?” she asked.

“The quality of age shouldn’t be the basis for which someone has personhood status,” she answered, noting that the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the rights of “all members of the human family.”

She then addressed the question of the fetus’ dependence, arguing that the fetus’ greater dependent status as a weaker entity than a baby entitles it to greater, not less, protection. She related this to the story of a friend’s husband who, faced with the choice between rescuing a mother or her baby first from the roof of a sinking car, made the “obvious” choice to take the baby.

“Since you believe that we should prioritize weaker and more vulnerable people ahead of stronger people, then shouldn’t we actually prioritize the needs of the pre-born child?” she said.

She recalled meeting a Rwandan genocide survivor who, seeing a picture of a child killed in the conflict next to an aborted fetus, pointed to the image of the fetus and said, “That’s worse, because at least my family could try to run away.”

Considering the concept of perspective, she posed another question: “How can we change our perspective in an unplanned, crisis situation?” She recalled dialoguing with a college student whose stepmother had an abortion upon learning her baby was expected to die at birth. Responding with a thought experiment involving a terminal cancer diagnosis, she answered the student, “Why would we cut short the already short time we have left? Instead, wouldn’t we want to savor every moment of every day of the next 20 weeks (of the pregnancy)?”

Moving to her final criterion for what makes a person inspirational – “do the right thing” – she listed a number of circumstances that make pregnancy hard and often lead to abortion, including poverty or rape. But when we look at parents raising an already-born child in the same circumstances, she said, we can see that we ought to have the same attitude towards carrying an unborn child as towards parenting a child in the same situation.

Gray closed with a number of stories from people she knows personally, including a woman who was raped and had a child at age 12, a woman who cared for her baby daughter with respiratory issues, and a woman who regretted her own abortion and ended up counseling another woman to carry her baby to term.

“They’re inspiring because they put others ahead of themselves, because they had perspective, and because they did the right thing, even when it was hard,” she said of all the stories she had told throughout the talk. “And that’s the challenge that I leave all of you with today.”

In a question-and-answer session after her talk, she recommended that audience members seek to start dialogue on the difficult topic of abortion with open-ended questions, and to “seek to understand where (another) person is coming from.” She also used the analogy of a person choosing rape to address the thought that pro-life views cannot be “forced on” pregnant women, saying that just as it is illegal to make the choice to rape someone, it ought to be illegal to choose to end the life of a fetus.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards also gave a Talk at Google, in a video published March 7. Gray’s talk, published June 19, had surpassed Richards in views within 24 hours of being uploaded.

 

We must speak, act more on criminal justice reform, Christian leaders insist

Washington D.C., Jun 22, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With the justice system rife with abuse, there is still much work to be done to call the faithful to minister to prisoners, victims, and their families, Christian leaders maintained on Tuesday.

“We need to raise this as a priority within the Church,” Karen Clifton, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Death Penalty, told CNA of criminal justice reform and ministries to prisoners and their victims.

“Our Pope has been very outspoken about that, and spoken numerous times about our need to visit those imprisoned, and then accompany and journey with those that are affected by crime, all aspects, the perpetrators family, and the victims’ families,” she continued.

Clifton was one of a number of Christian leaders who spoke out against injustice in the justice system during a June 20 press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The panel included Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, as well as Harry Jackson of the International Communion of Evangelical Churches. They unveiled the “Justice Declaration,” which calls for “a justice system that is fair and redemptive for all.”

It also calls for Christians to be more active in advocating for more humane conditions in prisons, “proportional punishment” for offenders, better educational and economic opportunities for poor people as crime prevention, and to “invest in the discipleship” of prisoners.

Christians must “treat every human being as a person made in God’s own image, with a life worthy of respect, protection, and care,” they stated.

“The Church has both the unique ability and unparalleled capacity to confront the staggering crisis of crime and incarceration in America and to respond with restorative solutions for communities, victims, and individuals responsible for crime,” the declaration said.

Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, is among the signatories, along with Karen Clifton.

Over-incarceration, racial disparity, and disproportionate sentencing are only some of the injustices that underscore the urgency for reform of the justice system, panel members insisted.

The U.S. is home to five percent of the world’s population, but holds 25 percent of the world’s prison population. 2.2 million are behind bars, leaving 2.7 million children with an incarcerated parent. African-Americans are incarcerated at a rate six times that of whites, according to the NAACP. 65 million Americans suffer from the collateral consequences of a conviction, which include difficulty in finding a job or renting a home even after they serve their prison sentence.

All this has produced a “crisis” to which the Christian community must respond, the leaders insisted.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2266 states that “punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people's safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.”

Pope Francis has also advocated for the eventual reintegration of prisoners into society, warning against only focusing on justice as an “instrument of punishment.”

Criminal justice reform measures had been gaining bipartisan momentum at the federal level as members of Congress in both parties supported various policies like ending mandatory minimum sentencing and limiting the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons.

However, with the advent of the new administration that momentum has slowed.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions dropped the Obama administration’s “Smart on Crime” initiative and has directed prosecutors to pursue stricter mandatory minimum sentences, which reform advocates say gives judges less flexibility to adjust one’s sentence based on the details of their case.

“We believe that it removes from the judge the ability to do his or her job,” James Ackerman, CEO of Prison Fellowship Ministries, said on Tuesday.

Christians are be on board with certain aspects of criminal justice reform, but for many there still remains a “disconnect” between their views on justice and reform of the justice system, Prison Fellowship claims in its report “Responding to Crime & Incarceration: a Call to the Church.”

In a recent poll commissioned by Prison Fellowship, 88 percent of practicing Christians answered that the primary goal of the justice system should be “restoration for all involved: the victim, the community, and the person responsible for the crime.”

However, in the same poll, 53 percent of practicing Christians answered that “it’s important to make an example out of someone for certain crimes” even if that entailed punishing them more harshly than they deserved.

“Disproportional punishment is not consistent with our values,” Ackerman stated.

How can the Church better bridge this “disconnect” in polling answers?

The Church must educate laypeople on the importance of the issue, and mobilize them to act through parish ministries, Clifton insisted.

“I want to say, ‘where are our resources?’” she asked. “There is so little funding for prison ministry, for care for victims, for programs for victims,” she said, and for incarceration prevention programs.

There is a “challenge to the churches to bring the stories to the pulpit,” she said, “to convert those in the pews, and know that this is the Gospel message, to be a voice to the voiceless and to go to the margins and the peripheries and be present in accompanying those back into society.”

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy arm, agreed.

“Our criminal justice system exists in order to restrain evil, and in order to rehabilitate and to reform those who have committed crimes,” he said.

If, however, the system “doesn’t stop crime, but in many cases actually furthers crime, making criminals out of those who are not yet criminals, ignoring those who have been victims of crime, not dealing with issues of addiction,” he continued, “then we have a criminal justice system that doesn’t work and ought to be fixed.”

“When we have family members who are left behind, waiting for those who are incarcerated and wondering if anyone remembers them, the church of Jesus Christ needs to be at the forefront of that,” he said.

Harry Jackson maintained that Christians must be actively fighting the racial disparity in the justice system.

“In this hour of racial tension, the most important step of healing that we could take at this point is to deal with the fact that there is an increasing, permanent underclass that’s coming out of black and Hispanic people being incarcerated,” he said, “and their lives being in a sense marked off the list of potential, or the list of achievers in our culture.”

“We have the opportunity now to make a difference,” he added. “I believe this is the most important civil rights step that we will take in our lifetimes.”

US bishops launch 2017 Fortnight for Freedom

Washington D.C., Jun 21, 2017 / 09:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops have launched a website and video to mark the beginning of this year’s Fortnight for Freedom, focusing on religious freedom issues both at home and abroad.

The video, about ten minutes long and viewable on the Fortnight for Freedom website, features a number of legal, religious, and other personalities discussing the importance of religious liberty. The Fortnight for Freedom takes place June 21 - July 4.

“Religious freedom is one of the basic freedoms of the human person because without religious freedom, the freedom of conscience, all other freedoms are without foundation,” Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami says at the beginning of the video.

“A government that doesn’t acknowledge limits on its own power to regulate religious institutions is probably going to come after other institutions as well,” said Professor Rick Garnett of the Notre Dame Law School.

The video chronicles the struggle between the Little Sisters of the Poor and the HHS mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

“It’s over three now that this issue has been pursuing us,” says Sr. Constance, L.S.P.

Testimonies from beneficiaries of the Sisters’ work are showcased in the video.

“There is a spiritual component in the way that they live their lives that adds to not only enrichment of the residents’ lives but to those who are in contact with them, who work with them, who just hear about them,” says Carmel Kang.

“When religious freedom goes away, and there is no transcendent authority, then the law is the only norm, and the people in power now are always the only power,” says Professor Helen Alvare of George Mason University Law School.

The video emphasizes the United States’ historical connection to freedom of religion.

“The United States is the greatest country in the history of the world precisely because of the exceptional character of its relationship to faith which permeates every dimension of its evolution,” says Eugene Rivers II, an activist and Pentecostal pastor.

The video also highlighted the struggle of religious peoples in other parts of the world.

“Tragically, we see the killings, the martyrdom of Christians in Iraq, and Libya, and Egypt, Syria,” says Archbishop Wenski. The video then showed clips from the video of 21 Coptic Christians being martyred by the Islamic State in early 2015.

Professor Thomas Farr of Georgetown University noted the increased threat since the Obergefell vs. Hodges Supreme Court decision in June 2015, and also observed that viewpoints motivated by religion are being silenced.

The video also summarized Dignitatis humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on religious freedom, as well as noting Pope Francis’ concern for persecuted Christians around the world.

“We have to bring not just optimism, but genuine Christian hope,” says Archbishop Lori of Baltimore, head of the USCCB’s Committee on Religious Liberty, which was made a permanent structure of the conference at their annual spring meeting last week.

The video closed with a montage of scenes and figures including the Selma to Montgomery March, St. John Paul II, and the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
 
The USCCB’s Fortnight for Freedom website provides a host of prayer and practical resources on the topic of religious freedom.

The prayer resources are based in Scripture as well as the examples of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, and are available in both English and Spanish.

Among the practical resources is a brief guide to the issue, which seeks to defend and clarify the bishop’s views, responding to concerns that defense of liberty is an affront to treating people “with equal dignity.”

Also included are summaries of religious liberty concerns in the United States and internationally. Domestically, issues listed include the HHS mandate, the right to practice faith in business, and religious institutes’ right to aid undocumented immigrants. Internationally, concerns are presented from the Central African Republic, Myanmar, and Mexico.

On May 4, the National Day of Prayer, President Trump signed an executive order on religious liberty while surrounded by faith leaders, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl of D.C. and the Little Sisters of the Poor. The order called for agencies to consider different enforcement of the mandate and looser enforcement of the Johnson Amendment. It was modified from an earlier, leaked version which critics claimed would have allowed for unjust discrimination of LGBT people.

On May 31, a draft rule providing blanket protection from the mandate was leaked.

The bishops’ website does not include the Johnson Amendment among its concerns.