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Bill to ban transgender surgery for minors advances in South Dakota

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

50,000 young pilgrims climb to 'Cristo Rey' shrine

Mexico City, Mexico, Jan 29, 2020 / 12:00 am (CNA).- More than 50,000 Mexican young people made a pilgrimage Saturday to an iconic monument and shrine to Christ the King, situated atop Cubilete Mountain, over 8,000 feet above sea level in the Guanajuato state of Mexico.

The Witness and Hope Movement, which organizes the annual youth pilgrimage, said in a statement that the young pilgrims committed themselves Jan. 25 “to Mexico in these difficult times of insecurity, economic stagnation and the outside pressure it is undergoing.”

Devotion to Christ the King figures largely into Mexican history.

During the 1920's the country's government in power initiated a series of repressive measures and outright persecution against the Church. The Mexican government banned religious orders, restricted public worship, and prohibited priests from wearing clerical attire in public.

Allegiance to Christ the King became a hallmark of resistance, as did the cry “Viva Cristo Rey!” 

Mexico was consecrated to Christ the King in 1914 and the consecration was renewed in 1924 and 2013.

The Jan. 25 youth pilgrimage focused on the life of Blessed Anacleto González Flores, who was named the patron of the Mexican laity in 2019.

González  was arrested, tortured, and killed in 1927 by government forces for his support of the efforts of the National League in Defense of Religious Liberty to resist the persecution of the Church.

According to pilgrimage organizers gave witness “in defense of his faith and love for his homeland, even when such defense cost him his own life.” 

The statue of Christ the King atop Cubilete Mountain was erected in 1950, in honor of the martyrs of the Cristero War (1926-1929).

Weighing 80 tons and 65 feet tall, it is the largest bronze statue of Christ in the world. Beneath the statue is an adoration chapel. Pope Benedict XVI visited the shrine in 2012.

The statue was built on the site where a smaller statue of Christ was dynamited in 1928 by the government of President Plutarco Elías Calles.

The Jan. 25 pilgrimage saw “the greatest attendance ever, more than 50,000 young people from all over the country,” the Witness and Hope movement said.

Young people “not only want to announce God's plan with our witness but also bravely denounce the injustices and outrages that are committed daily in our country, outrages that on many occasions have led to the loss of peace, tranquility and even the lives of thousands of Mexicans,” organizers said.

“We young Catholics of Mexico are tired of the situation our homeland is going through. It's disturbing to be in a country where the authorities say they are for peace but routinely show their interest in legalizing the assault on the lives of the innocent that are still in their mothers' wombs,” a spokesman for the movement said.

Young Mexicans “want to publicly take up our role as builders of peace and as defenders of our faith and our principles. We know this is not simple but we're aware of the urgency of doing this.”

“As Mexican society it's necessary to combat all those situations of corruption, impunity and illegality that generate violence and reestablish conditions of justice, equality and solidarity that build peace,” the spokesman said.

The organization entrusted its efforts to “Mary of Guadalupe, recognizing her as mother and intercessor of all Mexicans and as Queen of Peace.”

 

A version of this story was first reported by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pray for your priests.

Love your priests. pic.twitter.com/mR5v6StrKw

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funeral announcements for Harkins have not yet been announced.

Three churches reportedly burned down in Sudan

Khartoum, Sudan, Jan 28, 2020 / 04:27 pm (CNA).- According to a local rights group in Sudan, three churches in a town were burnt down in December 2019 and quickly rebuilt, only to be burnt down again earlier this month.

Human Rights and Development Organization said that a Catholic church, an Orthodox church, and a Sudan Internal Church in Bout were burnt down on both Dec. 28 and Jan. 16; the church buildings had been rebuilt in the interim. Bout is the capital of Tadamoun district in Blue Nile state, more than 300 miles southeast of Khartoum.

According to HUDO, the alleged arsons were reported to Bout police each time, “but police did not investigate further or put preventive measures.”

The human rights organization has decried the attack and criticized the government for negligence of religious freedom.

But the Sundanese religious affairs minister, Nasr al-Din Mufreh, has claimed that only one church had been attacked twice.

The Sudan Tribune reported that Mufreh stated “Sudan’s full commitment to protecting religious freedoms.”

“If it is proven that it occurred as a result of a criminal offence, the perpetrators will be identified, pursued and brought to justice,” he said. He added that a suspect had been interrogated, but was released for lack of evidence.

Mufreh added that “The Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Blue Nile state government have committed themselves to build a church with modern materials (...) and taking appropriate measure for its future protection.”

Sudan was listed as a Country of Particular Concern for its religious freedom record by the US Department of State from 1999 to 2019.

In December 2019, it was moved to the Special Watch List “due to significant steps taken by the civilian-led transitional government to address the previous regime’s 'systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.'”

Sudan had been under the military dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir since 1989, but pro-democracy protests led to his overthrow in April 2019. The country is now led by a transitional government.

According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, under Bashir the government “actively promoted and enforced a strict interpretation of Sunni Islam and imposed religious-based constraints on Muslims and non-Muslims.”

At least 90 percent of Sudan's population is Muslim, and sharia is the source of the nation's legislation. Apostasy from Islam is punishable by the death penalty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump and Netanyahu propose two-state plan for Israel-Palestine peace

Washington D.C., Jan 28, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed a new peace plan for the Middle East on Tuesday. The plan includes an independent Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem. 

Trump said Jan. 28 that the plan offers a “win-win opportunity for both sides” and a “realistic two-state solution that resolves the risk of Palestinian statehood to Israel’s security.” 

“This is the first time Israel has authorized the release of a conceptual map, illustrating the territorial consequences it’s willing to make for the cause of peace,” said Trump. “And they’ve gone a long way. This is an unprecedented and highly significant development.” 

Netanyahu, who was in Washington on Tuesday for the unveiling of the plan, also used the term “realistic” when describing the proposal and said that it “strikes the right balance where others have failed.” 

Despite optimism from the two leaders, the proposal was not welcomed by the Palestinian Authority. President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement on Tuesday evening that the proposal “will not pass.” Protests erupted in Gaza following the announcement of the plan.

Under the terms of the proposal, the Palestinian state would have a capital city called Al-Quds, the Arabic name for Jerusalem, which would include parts of East Jerusalem. Despite this, Trump insisted that Jerusalem would also remain “Israel’s undivided--very important--undivided capital.” The United States moved their embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in 2017. 

Under the plan, none of Jerusalem’s Old City or territory within the current security wall would be ceded to the  Palestinian state. The agreement also preserves the status quo policy regarding control of various religious sites, including the site of the Temple Mount and Al Aqsa Mosque, and, under the proposal, Muslims would still have access to the site. 

The plan also proposes the construction of a “West Bank-Gaza Tunnel” to connect the two halves of the new state, and that a third of the Gaza Strip be designated as a “high-tech manufacturing industrial zone.” 

Trump claimed Tuesday that the plan would “more than double Palestinian territory” without causing additional displacement for either Israelis or Palestinians. The plan includes provision for a “land freeze” over the next four years to maintain the borders of the proposed Palestinian state. 

As part of the plan, Trump also pledged $50 billion towards the Palestinian state for job creation and poverty reduction. Trump said that if Abbas and the Palestinian Authority “choose the path to peace,” that the United States and other countries “will be there, we will be there to help you in so many different ways.” 

After the announcement of the plan, Trump sent out a variety of tweets in English, Hebrew, and Arabic championing the proposal.

 “I will always stand with the State of Israel and the Jewish people. I strongly support their safety and security and their right to live in their historic homeland. It's time for peace!” the president tweeted in English and Hebrew.

“This is what a future State of Palestine can look like, with a capital in parts of East Jerusalem,” Trump tweeted in Arabic and English. Both tweets included a map of the proposed two states. 

Parts of the proposed plan would seem to be in line with the Holy See’s stated preferences for a lasting peace in the Holy Land.

Monsignor Fredrik Hansen, chargé d’affaires of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, told the UN Security Council on Jan. 22 that Pope Francis continues to advocate for a two-state solution and a status quo policy in Jerusalem for shared religious sites. 

“Indeed, the appeal to maintain the status quo of the holy sites of Jerusalem, dear to Jews, Christians and Muslims in virtue of their religion and important for the cultural heritage of the whole human family, is one that has been repeatedly made,” said Hansen. 

Pope Francis, Hansen said, wishes for Jerusalem to live out “its vocation as a city of peace,” which can be a symbolic location of peace and encounter, with respect between religions and continued dialogue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pope Francis to publish a book with reflections on St. John Paul II

Vatican City, Jan 28, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has co-authored a book of reflections on the life of St. John Paul II to be published in Italian.

The book, entitled "St. John Paul the Great," is the product of a series of conversations between Pope Francis and Fr. Luigi Maria Epicoco which took place from June 2019 to January 2020, according to its preface.

The book is expected to be published sometime ahead of the 100 year anniversary of the birth of Karol Wojtyla on May 18.

When Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II in 1978, a 41-year-old Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was serving as the provincial superior of the Jesuits in Argentina. Pope John Paul II appointed Bergoglio to be an auxiliary bishop in 1992, elevating him to become Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998, and creating him a cardinal in 2001. Pope Francis canonized St. John Paul II in 2014.

The book’s co-author, Fr. Epicoco, 39, has written two dozen books on spirituality since his ordination in 2005, including “John Paul II: Memories of a Holy Pope” which he wrote with Archbishop Piero Marini in 2014. Epicoco is a professor of philosophy at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, and offers numerous lectures and spiritual retreats throughout Italy.

The pope is known to admire Fr. Epicoco’s writing. Before Christmas, Francis gave each member of the Roman curia a copy of the Italian priest’s book, “Someone to look up to: A spirituality of witness”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laser cited similar court decisions in Pennsylvania and California.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Legionaries of Christ: Sexual abuse was perpetrated at minor seminary

Vatican City, Jan 27, 2020 / 08:00 pm (CNA).- The Legionaries of Christ acknowledged that sexual abuse took place at the religious order’s El Ajusco minor seminary in Mexico City between 1985 and 1992.

The group issued two separate statements Jan. 24, during its general chapter in Rome. The statements were in response to allegations of sexual abuse on the part of Fr. Antonio Rodríguez Sánchez, 65, and laicized priests José María Sabín Sabín, 61.

In its statement on Rodríguez, Legion officials said that during an internal review, “several indications were found of possible sexual abuse of minors by Fr.  Rodríguez in relation to the period when he was rector of the El Ajusco minor seminary in Mexico, between 1983-1988.”

“The initial indications [of abuse] were confirmed by complaints from victims,” the Legion said, and the Rodriguez admitted the abuse.

The Legionaries said that Rodríguez has been banned from contact with minors and prohibited from public priestly ministry since September 2019.

An investigation into Rodriguez has been sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, which began a canonical trial concerning the matter.

“There are no indications of the abuse of minors during other periods of his ministry,” the statement added.

In the case of José María Sabin, the Legionaries of Christ stated that “in relation to his time as rector of the minor seminary between 1988-1992, there are credible private complaints against him for the sexual abuse of minors that were compiled and verified during the work of reviewing cases from the past that the Congregation carried out in 2019.”

Sabín requested in 2014 to leave both the congregation and the priesthood, and the Holy See granted those requests in 2015.

The religious order said it plans to report the abuse to civil authorities in Mexico, and cooperate with any criminal investigation.

The group also said the cases of  Sánchez and Sabín are noted in a December 2019 report on abuse within the congregation, although the priests are not mentioned by name. The report documents statistics on sexual abuse but does not disclose details. 

Since its founding in 1941, 33 priests of the Legionaries of Christ have been found to have committed sexual abuse of minors, victimizing 175 children, according to the 2019 report.

Fr. Marcial Maciel, who founded the order, abused at least 60 minors, according to the order.

 

A version of this story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.