U.S. Church News

UPDATE: Pro-life leaders welcome 'Born Alive Executive Order' announced by Trump

By  Catholic News Service

A pro-life sign is displayed during the 2019 annual March for Life rally in Washington. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn) 

WASHINGTON (CNS) --The chairman of the U.S. bishops' pro-life committee Sept. 26 applauded President Donald Trump's signing the "Born Alive Executive Order" to ensure babies born alive receive care.

The order, which Trump signed the evening of Sept. 25, means "babies born prematurely or with disabilities receive a basic medical assessment and appropriate care as required by our federal laws," said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

"In addition to our laws, basic human rights demand that no baby born alive should be abandoned and left to die due to being disabled or premature," the archbishop said. "Every human life, regardless of its stage of development or condition, is precious and irreplaceable and deserves a shot at life."

Trump's action orders the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to make certain federally funded facilities comply with current law to provide life-saving medical care for infants who survive abortions, are born prematurely or are born with disabilities. The order also calls for more funding for research "to improve outcomes" for these babies.

Trump announced he would be signing the executive order in his remarks during the annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast Sept. 23, which this year could not be an in-person event because of the pandemic and was livestreamed to over 10,000 registered participants.

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, issued a statement shortly after the president's remarks, saying the order will "provide necessary legal protections for some of the most vulnerable in society"

"These steps had to be taken," she said, "because some Democrats in the Senate promised to block legislation that mandates basic medical care for children who survive an abortion -- an extremist view shared by vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris."

Trump told the breakfast participants, "We believe in ... the eternal truth that every child, born and unborn, is made in the holy image of God. ... I will always defend the sacred right to life." He said his order will "ensure that all precious babies born alive, no matter their circumstances, receive the medical care that they deserve. This is our sacrosanct moral duty."

Trump's opponents and some obstetricians and gynecologists say existing law already provides protections to newborns, whether born during a failed abortion or under other circumstances. Trump's order ensures federally funded hospitals are aware of the law.

But Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, the lead co-sponsor of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, S. 311, has said current law does not provide enough protections. His bill would protect newborns who survive abortions by requiring appropriate care and admission to a hospital. On Feb. 23, a Senate vote to advance the bill failed.

In other reaction to Trump's planned executive order, said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, "protects the youngest of patients and ensures that their right to life is defended to the greatest extent of the law."

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life Action, called it "a humane response to a struggling infant gasping for air."

"The fact that Democrats in the House and Senate have blocked efforts to provide legal protections for babies born during botched abortions should horrify all Americans," she said, adding that "one of the sleeper issues of this election cycle is infanticide, which is allowed under our current laws."

The Guttmacher Institute estimates that out of about 926,000 annual abortions, about 12,000 take place after viability, or after 20 weeks, she said.

"The radical reality of Roe is that abortion is legal in the U.S. through all nine months, sometimes with taxpayer funding, and it offers no legal protections for babies born during botched abortions," Hawkins said.

UPDATE: Parishioners share their perspective on BLM movement, organization

By Jonathan Liedl Catholic News Service

Justina Kopp, a member of Holy Family Parish in St. Louis Park, Minn., poses for a photo outside her home Aug. 26, 2020. She believes the "Black Lives Matter" sign in her yard is not only a way to express support for racial equality and justice, but also a way to express her Catholic faith. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- The Men's Ministry group at St. Peter Claver is a reflection of the parish it's affiliated with, historically founded as a faith home for St. Paul's African American Catholics.

Most of the group's nine core members are Black, though men from other ethnic backgrounds participate, too. What unites them is their faith and friendship in Christ. It has motivated them to gather on the second Saturday of the month for over 20 years to pray, read Scripture and discuss current events.

But even with this common foundation, members of the group found themselves taking different viewpoints on the topic of conversation at their July 10 meeting: Black Lives Matter.

Circled up in the parking lot of St. Peter Claver -- their normal meeting place, Day By Day Cafe, wasn't available due to COVID-19 restrictions -- the six men in attendance, along with St. Peter Claver's pastor, Father Erich Rutten, shared their perspectives on this social phenomenon with The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

From NBA courts to suburbia yard signs, Black Lives Matter has become a ubiquitous presence amid the nation's ongoing conversation about racism and reform following the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody May 25.

For some, like 79-year-old Cedric Waterman, "Black Lives Matter" is a statement of fact that needs to be said in a country where, even after slavery and discriminatory laws have been abolished, the lives of Black people still seem to be undervalued.

"It's a cry of 'What about me?' Does my life matter?" said Waterman, who believes BLM also is a rallying call for reforming the way law enforcement interacts with the Black community.

Others, like Bill Butchee, 71, don't disagree that they and their fellow African Americans face discrimination, but they question whether Black Lives Matter is the proper vehicle for change, and express deep concerns about what they perceive as an anti-family, anti-Christian ideological agenda associated with the movement.

"They say they're about saving Black lives, but when you stand back and look at it from a panoramic view, there's more to it than that," he said.

The conversation that took place in the parking lot of St. Peter Claver is one that is playing out within the Catholic Church across the country. From Catholic Twitter to bishops' statements, parish bulletins to dinner conversations, Catholics are trying to make sense of Black Lives Matter and what a faithful response looks like.

It's a task made difficult by confusion over what exactly those three words refer to: a simple message, a broad movement, or particular organizations and agendas that take the name?

Historically, "Black Lives Matter" first emerged as #BlackLivesMatter, a social media hashtag that began to be used after the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death the year prior of Trayvon Martin, an African American teen.

The phrase provocatively makes the case that, despite the end of slavery and legalized discrimination, Black people still face unequal treatment in the United States, particularly in interactions with law enforcement.

The statement "Black Lives Matter" has been criticized by some for elevating the concerns of one group, and is sometimes rebutted with "All Lives Matter."

But those who use the phrase often argue that, because of the ongoing effects of systemic racism in the U.S., the injustices faced by African Americans deserve special attention. Some have made this point by comparing it to the Good Shepherd's preferential treatment of the lost sheep in the Gospel parable.

Black Lives Matter also can be understood as a broad movement calling for racial justice, but even in common usage, there are some discrepancies in how the movement is understood.

Wikipedia describes BLM as a "decentralized movement" that uses nonviolent civil disobedience to protest "incidents of police brutality and all racially motivated violence against Black people," while the dictionary.com entry states that BLM is "a political and social movement ... emphasizing basic human rights and racial equality for Black people campaigning against various forms of racism."

Black Lives Matter made the transition from online moniker into a boots-on-the-ground movement after the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, when protests and demonstrations began to be carried out under the BLM name. BLM demonstrations in Minnesota have included a 2015 march to the State Fairgrounds, a protest at the Mall of America later that year, and a 2016 demonstration that shut down I-94 in St. Paul.

The number of BLM-associated demonstrations has surged since Floyd's death on May 25. The New York Times reported that between 15 million and 26 million people participated in protests through the month of June, which would make BLM the largest mass movement in American history.

A Pew Research Center analysis showed that #BlackLivesMatter was used 47.8 million times on Twitter between May 26 to June 7 alone.

A Pew poll found that public approval for the movement reached 67% in June, though a September poll from Politico shows that figure has fallen to 52%.

Civil unrest associated with some BLM protests is a likely factor in the recent decline in support. Reports indicate that 7% of demonstrations associated with the movement have not been peaceful.

The views of some BLM-groups also have come under more intense scrutiny. For instance, two of the three founders of Black Lives Matter Global Network -- the most prominent and influential of the groups that take the BLM name -- have described themselves as "trained Marxists." This global network also has stated its commitment to "disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure" and "dismantle cisgender privilege" on its website's "What We Believe Page." The page has since been removed.

Many Catholics find these facts troubling. However, attributing a Marxist agenda or violent tactics to the entire Black Lives Matter movement may be inaccurate, given the movement's decentralized nature. For instance, a report by the nonpartisan Office for Special Counsel described BLM as a "leaderless movement."

The memo suggested that BLM's closest parallel in terms of structure is the Tea Party movement, a network of independent organizations and individuals that protested tax policy during the Obama presidency.

When it comes to Catholic engagement with Black Lives Matter, there's a consensus among some leaders that distinguishing between the broader movement and problematic organizations that bear the name is a key place to start.

In comments submitted to The Catholic Spirit, Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, said that the phrase "Black Lives Matter" "fits within Catholic social teaching regarding the intrinsic value of each person as created in the image and likeness of God," and "places before us this reality that Black lives have not always been afforded intrinsic and equal value."

Bishop Fabre, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, added that "it is entirely possible to give a positive response to the concept of Black Lives Matter ... without being beholden to an organization with objectives that are in conflict with the Catholic faith," and that the church must always respond to social issues "through a Christian worldview."

Many Catholics who have taken part in BLM-affiliated events say the focus is simple: protesting the perceived unjustified use of lethal force by police against Black people, and calling for reform. The topics that concern other Catholics about Black Lives Matter -- Marxism, transgender ideology and even support for abortion rights -- don't necessarily come up.

"I went to three (BLM) events here in the Twin Cities, I heard a lot of speakers," said Bernard Brady, a theology professor at the University of St Thomas in St. Paul. "I don't remember hearing anything other than calls for racial justice and changes through the police."

At St. Peter Claver, Father Erich Rutten considered spray painting "Black Lives Matter" on the plywood when the parish was boarded up during looting after Floyd's death.

He said the phrase is important to many of his parishioners as a powerful, succinct expression of a deeply held conviction, and that the agenda of particular problematic BLM groups "doesn't get talked about in regular life."

He added that he is sometimes concerned that Catholics "write off" the entire idea of "Black Lives Matter" on the basis of the actions of individual groups and activists, as a way to excuse themselves from asking difficult questions about race and privilege.

For Justina Kopp, 29, the Black Lives Matter sign in her yard ties seamlessly together with the Marian garden outside the window of the master bedroom and the St. Francis of Assisi statue by the front step.

"Mary and Francis defied a lot of societal norms," said Kopp, a parishioner of Holy Family in St. Louis Park. "And that's what this moment calls for." Kopp said the combination of Catholic piety with a call for racial justice "paints a very complete picture" of her faith and the way she wants to witness to her neighborhood.

"To acknowledge that racism is evil, I think you have to be able to say 'Black Lives Matter,'" Kopp said. For her, the three words signify a message, though she adds there's a "good heart" in the movement.

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Liedl writes for The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Trump announces Judge Amy Coney Barrett as U.S. Supreme Court nominee

By Carol Zimmermann Catholic News Service

President Donald Trump arrives at the White House Rose Garden with federal Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th Circuit Sept. 26, 2020, to nominate her to fill the U.S. Supreme Court seat left vacant by the Sept. 18 death of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Eight days after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, President Donald Trump announced Sept. 26 that Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a judge on the Chicago-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, is his nominee to fill that seat.

The president said he was honored to nominate Barrett whom he described as "one of the nation's most gifted legal minds" to the court and praised her for her loyalty to the Constitution.

This should be a "straightforward and prompt confirmation," he added before a small crowd seated in the White House Rose Garden. "The stakes are incredibly high," he added.

Barrett, for her part, said she was "humbled by the prospect of serving in the Supreme Court," and said if she were confirmed, she would always be mindful she would be following in Ginsburg's footsteps.

Noting she would be in a group of nine as a justice, she said this is something she is very used to, with her husband and their family of seven children. She also stressed that if confirmed she would "assume the role to serve you," the American public, and she has no illusions that the road ahead will be easy.

Trump's pick is not a surprise. The 48-year-old Catholic and law professor at the University of Notre Dame was reported to be on the president's short list of nominees just hours after Ginsburg's death and news outlets began announcing she was the likely pick a day ahead of the official announcement.

The news drew immediate reaction from both sides of the political spectrum and Catholics were similarly vocal in either support or alarm over Trump's nominee choice.

Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote, an independent political advocacy group, said in a Sept. 26 statement ahead of Trump's formal announcement: "Catholics are thrilled with the expected nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett and believe she represents the best choice to protect the rule of law and our constitutional rights." He added that she "deserves a speedy confirmation process and a Senate vote as soon as possible."

Catholics expressing concern about Trump's pick stressed unease with her stance on a number of issues. For example, John Gehring, the Catholic program director for Faith in Public Life, a Washington-based advocacy group, said in a Sept. 26 tweet: "Being 'pro-life' isn't a single issue. Many Catholic voters are worried that Amy Coney Barrett could undermine health care access, workers rights', environmental protections and other moral issues central to church teaching."

Barrett is not an unknown. Two years ago, she was viewed as a potential candidate for the nation's high court after Justice Anthony Kennedy retired, in the slot that was filled by Justice Brett Kavanaugh. At the time, Trump reportedly told advisers that he was "saving" Barrett if Ginsburg announced her retirement during his presidency.

In 2017, Barrett, who had clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia, was nominated by Trump to serve on the 7th Circuit in Chicago and she garnered support from some for her responses to the line of questioning she received in her confirmation hearing from Senate Democrats that focused on her Catholic faith.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, told her: "The dogma lives loudly within you, and that's a concern," to which Barrett responded: "It's never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge's personal convictions, whether they arise from faith or anywhere else, on the law."

After this interaction, several Catholic leaders spoke out against pointed questions about Barrett's faith.

Feinstein had been referring to Barrett's speeches and a 1998 article she co-wrote about the role of Catholic judges in death penalty cases. The senator also questioned Barrett about upholding Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that made abortion legal.

When Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, asked Barrett if she considered herself an "orthodox" Catholic, Barrett said: "If you're asking whether I take my faith seriously and am a faithful Catholic, I am. Although I would stress that my present church affiliation or my religious beliefs would not bear in the discharge of my duties as a judge."

She ended up getting bipartisan support and was confirmed with a 55-43 vote.

Prior to this vote, The New York Times reported that Barrett was a member of a group called People of Praise, an ecumenical charismatic community, which gained some attention at the time that has now been revisited. The group, based in South Bend, Indiana, has more than 1,700 members living in 22 branches in the United States and its members are primarily Catholic.

A key aspect of the group is that many of its members sign a lifelong commitment or covenant. Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University, said the Senate Judiciary Committee should be prepared to "examine any covenant -- a solemn contract binding before God" that Barrett signed in the course of becoming a full member of the group. "Doing so will protect, not erode, America's foundational value of religious liberty," he wrote in a Sept. 24 commentary in Politico magazine.

In 2018, Our Sunday Visitor spoke with Auxiliary Bishop Peter L. Smith of Portland, Oregon, who is a member of People of Praise, who said misunderstandings about the group are a "a fundamental part of what's going on in our culture and in our political system right now -- where we decide we don't like somebody, maybe they have different views from us ... so we demonize them."

Another concern expressed by those opposed to Barrett's nomination is that she could be a vote for dismantling Roe v Wade.

In her 2017 hearing she said she would "commit, if confirmed, to follow unflinchingly all Supreme Court precedent," adding: "I would not want to leave the impression that I would give some precedents more weight than others because of some sort of academic disagreement."

As a judge, she has not ruled specifically on abortion cases but as a member of the full appeals court she has voted in a few Indiana cases related to abortion. After several judges determined that an Indiana law requiring fetal remains to be buried or cremated following an abortion was unconstitutional, Barrett voted to rehear the case. She also dissented when appeals court judges attempted to block an Indiana law mandating parental consent for a minor to have an abortion.

In a 2013 speech at University of Notre Dame, she said if Roe were overturned, "abortion would be neither legal nor illegal throughout the United States. Instead, the states and Congress would be free to ban, protect or regulate abortion as they saw fit."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has vowed that Trump's nominee "will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate" which Democrats have criticized since McConnell did not consider President Barack Obama's nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, several months before the 2016 election. McConnell and other Republicans have said the situation is different this time because the same party, Republicans, control both the Senate and the White House.

Paolo Carozza, a Notre Dame law professor, said he was "conflicted" about his colleague potentially being rushed into a confirmation just weeks before the election.

He told WBEZ, Chicago public radio, that he would love to see Barrett on the bench "because I think she'd be a great justice," but he said he wished there were "more sort of harmony and less conflict in the process of creating our highest court, because in the long run, I think it really undermines the credibility of the judiciary."

Some in the Notre Dame community said Barrett would be a fair-minded justice, not guided by ideology but by her strict "originalist" reading of the U.S. Constitution.

"One thing that really stands out is how fair minded her scholarship is. And she doesn't go in with an ax to grind. She doesn't go in with an ideological sort of conclusion in search of justifications. She goes in with a genuine, open, scholarly mind, tackling a question," Notre Dame law professor Carter Snead told the radio program.

Snead also said he does not believe there is anyone in the country "more well qualified than she is to be on the Supreme Court because of her combination of brilliance, her work ethic, her open mindedness, her charitable manner of engaging with people."

Barrett has been married for more than 18 years to Jesse Barrett, a partner in a South Bend law firm who spent 13 years as a federal prosecutor in Indiana. Two of their children are adopted from Haiti.

She now faces the Senate process which includes public hearings, a committee vote and the Senate floor vote where a simple majority, or 50 votes, is needed to confirm her as the next Supreme Court justice. The Republicans have 53 seats in the current Senate, and if needed, Vice President Mike Pence could break a tie vote.

Although the exact timeline has not been set, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, has said he hopes to hold a final confirmation vote by the end of October, just days before the election.

If Barrett is confirmed as a Supreme Court justice she would be the sixth Catholic justice, joining Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Neil Gorsuch was raised Catholic but is now Episcopalian. Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan are Jewish.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

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