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US bishops to Trump: 'Enough. Stop these executions'  

CNA Staff, Sep 22, 2020 / 02:45 pm (CNA).-  

The Catholic bishops of the United States on Tuesday implored President Donald Trump to halt two federal executions set to take place this week.

“We say to President Trump and Attorney General Barr: Enough. Stop these executions.” 

“After the first murder recorded in the Bible, God did not end Cain’s life, but rather preserved it, warning others not to kill Cain (Gn. 4:15). As the Church, we must give concrete help to victims of violence, and we must encourage the rehabilitation and restoration of those who commit violence,” the bishops wrote in a statement Sept. 22.

“Accountability and legitimate punishment are a part of this process. Responsibility for harm is necessary if healing is to occur and can be instrumental in protecting society, but executions are completely unnecessary and unacceptable, as Popes St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis have all articulated.”

The statement was signed by Archbishop Paul Coakley, chair of the bishops’ domestic policy committee, and Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chair of the pro-life committee.

Naumann, whose own father was murdered, said earlier this month: “Murder is an unspeakable evil. Those who perpetrate such a crime have inflicted a grave injustice, not only upon the person who was murdered but also upon all their loved ones.”

“The criminal justice system has a responsibility to protect the innocent from victimization and to deter the commission of violent crimes. However. in the United States in 2020, we have the ability to protect society from violent criminals without resorting to the death penalty.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the death penalty as “inadmissible,” citing increasing effectiveness of detention systems, the unchanging dignity of the person, and the importance of leaving open the possibility of conversion.

William LeCroy is set to be executed Sept. 22, while Christopher Vialva’s execution is set for Sept. 24, both by lethal injection. The executions will be the sixth and seventh to take place in the last three months alone.

LeCroy was convicted of raping and killling a nurse in 2001; Vialva was convicted of killing two youth ministers in 1999, who reportedly prayed, spoke about God, and pleaded for their lives as Vialva murdered them.

Attorney General William Barr, a Catholic, during July 2019 announced that executions of federal death-row inmates would resume for the first time since 2003.

The U.S. bishops’ conference has repeatedly condemned the executions, as has Archbishop Charles Thompson of Indianapolis, whose diocese includes the federal prison in Terre Haute, where federal executions take place.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic and several legal challenges delayed the resumption, the federal government resumed executions during July 2020 after the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

On July 7 of this year, several U.S. bishops joined a statement of more than 1,000 faith leaders opposing the resumption of federal executions.

Federal executions are rare, but the bishops noted that there have been more federal executions carried out already in 2020— five— than were carried out in the last sixty years.

One of the most recent federal executions was that of Lezmond Mitchell, a Navajo man whose tribe objected, asking that his sentence be commuted to life in prison. Bishop James Wall of Gallup led a virtual prayer vigil on the afternoon of Aug. 26 ahead of Mitchell’s execution.

President Donald Trump has defended the use of the death penalty and has claimed that his support of the death penalty did not impact his pro-life credentials.

Attorney General Barr is set to be honored at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on Sept. 23. 

 

Poll: Catholics overwhelmingly concerned about church attacks, oppose ‘defund the police’

CNA Staff, Sep 22, 2020 / 01:40 pm (CNA).-  

Eighty-three percent of Catholic likely voters are concerned about attacks on churches in recent months, a new poll has found.
 
The poll, conducted Aug. 27 - Sept. 1 by RealClear Opinion Research in partnership with EWTN News, surveyed 1,212 likely voters who self-identify as Catholic.

More than 60% of those surveyed said they were “very concerned” about recent vandalism and attacks on churches, and another 22% said they were “somewhat concerned.” Just 11% said they were either not very concerned or not at all concerned by the recent church attacks.

Recent months have seen numerous acts of vandalism and destruction at Catholic churches across the United States, including arsons and graffiti.

In July, a man crashed a minivan into a Florida Catholic church and then started a fire inside the building.

In Los Angeles, San Gabriel Mission church, founded by St. Junipero Serra, also burned in a fire being investigated for arson. Numerous statues of the saint have been vandalized or destroyed, most of them in California.

Several other churches across the country have been set aflame, and statues of Jesus or Mary have been toppled or decapitated.

While some attacks on statues have been committed by large groups with clear political affiliations, the perpetrators of other acts have not been identified.

Some commenters see the attacks against churches as part of a worrying rise in anti-Christian views.

More than 3 in 4 Catholics surveyed were concerned about anti-Christian sentiment amid recent social protests.

A little more than half of those surveyed said they were “very concerned” by the anti-Christian sentiment, and an additional quarter said they were “somewhat concerned.” Thirteen percent said they had little or no concern.

Nearly three-quarters of Catholics surveyed also voiced concern about vandalism of Catholic statues and burning of bibles at some recent protests.

More than 80% of Catholics who say they accept all or most of Church teaching said they were concerned about the acts of violence against statues, compared to just over half of those whos say their Catholic faith has little to no influence in their lives.

The survey comes amid ongoing protests against instances of police brutality and racism across the U.S. In some cases, demonstrators have become violent, including by attacking police officers. Law-and-order, police reform, and systemic racism have become major topics of discussion in the upcoming election.

An overwhelming majority – 82% of those surveyed – said they have at least some trust in their local police department to protect the interests of their family.

Older respondents were more likely to trust the police department than young adults, and white participants voiced higher levels of trust than Black and Hispanic participants, although all age ranges and racial groups saw more than 60% saying they trust the police.

Only 1 in 3 Catholics surveyed said they support “defund the police” initiatives, intended to shift funding from police departments to other social services.

Men were more likely to support defunding the police than women were, and young adults were more likely to support the initiatives than older people were.

Just 29% of white respondents supported “defund the police” initiatives, compared to 48% of Black respondents and 41% of Hispanics.

Fifty-three percent of poll participants said Catholics should be doing more to heal divisions in America on race, compared to 19% who said Catholics should not be more active on this issue, and 28% who were unsure.
 

 

Trump to UN: Protect the unborn and religious minorities

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 22, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- President Trump told world leaders that the United States is committed to “protecting unborn children” in remarks to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) from the White House on Tuesday.

“America will always be a leader in human rights,” Trump said in his speech to the UNGA from the White House. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, world leaders were invited to deliver their speeches to the assembly remotely, and they were then broadcast as “live.”

“My administration is advancing religious liberty, opportunity for women, the decriminalization of homosexuality, combatting human trafficking, and protecting unborn children,” the president said.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations.

Trump previously raised the defence of the unborn in his 2019 address to the UNGA, saying that “like many nations here today, we in America believe that every child, born and unborn, is a sacred gift from God.”

Trump’s administration has sought to redirect U.S. foreign assistance away from foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provide or promote abortions, under the Mexico City Policy

While the Mexico City Policy applied to about $600 million in USAID family planning assistance, the administration expanded it to include billions of dollars in global health assistance and is now seeking to apply its conditions to military and government contracts with foreign NGOs.

The administration stopped funding the UN’s population fund (UNFPA) because of its partnership with China, where the Communist government’s two-child policy is enforced through forced abortion and sterilization. It also reduced funding for the Organization of American States after one of its organs apparently lobbied for abortion.

Trump’s remarks echoed those of the Holy See, also given at the UN this week.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, addressed a high-level meeting at the UNGA on Monday, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the UN.

“The UN has strived to champion universal human rights, which also include the right to life and freedom of religion, as they are essential for the much needed promotion of a world where the dignity of every human person is protected and advanced,” he stated.

On Tuesday, Trump also called on the UN to “focus on the real problems of the world,” which he said included “human and sex trafficking, religious persecution, and the ethnic cleansing of religious minorities.”

Trump also used his address to criticize China for its response to the new coronavirus pandemic, as well as its pollution of oceans and high rate of carbon emissions.

Although Trump criticized China and called on the UN to attend to religious persecution, he did not mention China’s mass imprisonment of an estimated 800,000 to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in its northwest region.

The largely-Muslim ethnic population has reportedly been subject to forced birth control and sterilization, repression of religious practice, mass surveillance, and forced labor, and detainees have suffered indoctrination and torture.

Trump also defended the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, saying that the country reduced its carbon emissions more than any other country in the accord last year.

Pope Francis in his 2015 speech at the UNGA, praised the Paris agreement as a step that could “secure fundamental and effective agreements” to protect the environment.

Who is potential Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett? What you need to know.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 22, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- Following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on September 18, speculation on who President Donald Trump will nominate to replace her has focused on Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who currently serves on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. 

Who is Amy Coney Barrett? Here's what you need to know:

Dogma lives loudly

Barrett first rose to prominence during her confirmation hearing in September 2017, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) questioned her on her Catholic faith. 

“Why is it that so many of us on this side have this very uncomfortable feeling that dogma and law are two different things, and I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different,” Feinstein said at the time.

“And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern,” said Feinstein.

The California senator’s questioning of Barrett raised the Notre Dame Law School professor to a national figure. Just over two weeks after she was confirmed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, she was added to President Donald Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court picks, and was rumored to have been one of the finalists to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy upon his retirement.

Trump chose Justice Brett Kavanaugh at that point, and a report emerged in 2019 that Trump had said he was “saving” Barrett to fill a potential vacancy caused by the death or retirement of Justice Ginsburg, the oldest member of the court at the time. With Ginsburg’s death, Barrett is once again being discussed for the highest court in the country. 

Personal life

Born in New Orleans, the eldest of seven children, she graduated from Rhodes College before receiving a full scholarship to Notre Dame Law School. After graduating first in her class from law school, and then clerked for Judge Laurence Silberman and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, before going into private practice. She returned to Notre Dame Law School and taught classes in 2002 before becoming a professor in 2010. 

Since Ginsburg’s death, Barrett has been scrutinized for her Catholic faith and family size. Barrett and her husband have seven children, including two adopted from Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. 

Catholic faith

At the time of her last judicial nomination, criticism of Barrett focused on the size of her family and her Catholic faith, attracting pushback from some commentators and making the judge a popular figure among many Catholics. 

Amid renewed scrutiny of Barrett’s personal life and beliefs in advance of a possible Trump nomination, Princeton University Professor Robert George highlighted the anti-Catholic tropes again being used in criticism of the judge.

“One would have hoped that having brought shame on themselves last time, and blunted their spear on Judge Barrett by attacking her religion, they would be more careful this time about exposing their bigotry to public view. But no,” he said on Twitter. 

During Barrett’s confirmation hearings, questions were also raised about Barrett’s association with the lay organization People of Praise. 

People of Praise has been referred to in the media as a “cult,” and criticized for a practice, which has since been changed, that called leaders “heads” and “handmaidens,” both of which are references to Biblical passages. 

People of Praise was founded in 1971 as part of a “great emergence of lay ministries and lay movements in the Catholic Church,” following Vatican Council II, Bishop Peter Smith, a member of the organization, told CNA.

The group began with 29 members who formed a “covenant”- an agreement, not an oath, to follow common principles, to give five percent of annual income to the group, and to meet regularly for spiritual, social, and service projects.

Covenant communities- Protestant and Catholic- emerged across the country in the 1970s, as a part of the Charismatic Renewal movement in American Christianity.

While most People of Praise members are Catholic, the group is officially ecumenical; people from a variety of Christian denominations can join. Members of the group are free to attend the church of their choosing, including different Catholic parishes, Smith explained.

What will happen next?

On Monday President Trump announced that he expects to name his nominee for the Supreme Court by the end of the week, following memorial and funeral services for Justice Ginsburg.

Ginsburg will lie in state at the National Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol on Friday, following two days of lying in repose at the Supreme Court on Wednesday and Thursday. Ginsburg will lie underneath the Portico, and the public will be permitted to view the casket outdoors. 

As per tradition, Ginsburg’s former law clerks will serve as her honorary pallbearers. 

Ginsburg will be buried in a private ceremony alongside her husband at Arlington National Cemetery.

Kroger employees allege religious discrimination over 'rainbow' apron

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 22, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- The federal government is suing the Kroger Company for discrimination after two employees at an Arkansas store were fired for not wearing a symbol they say represents the LGBT cause.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against the supermarket chain on Sept. 14, alleging that store No. 625 in Conway, Ark., infringed on the religious beliefs of two employees who refused to wear a uniform apron with a multi-colored heart; Kroger fired the employees after disciplining them several times for failure to comply with the uniform.

The EEOC filed a Title VII lawsuit in a federal district court, seeking back pay, compensatory damages, and a halt to any future acts of discrimination against employees. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act forbids discrimination on a number of counts, including on the basis of religion.

“Companies have an obligation under Title VII to consider requests for religious accommodations, and it is illegal to terminate employees for requesting an accommodation for their religious beliefs,” Delner-Franklin Thomas, district director of the EEOC’s Memphis District Office, stated.

“The EEOC protects the rights of the LGBTQ community, but it also protects the rights of religious people,” he said.

When the Conway Kroger introduced a new dress code in April, 2019, it asked employees to wear an apron with a multi-colored heart emblem on the bib; the EEOC complaint says that it was a “rainbow-colored” emblem, while some pro-LGBT websites claimed that the heart was not rainbow-colored and was not an LGBT symbol.

The sites reported pictures of Kroger employees wearing an apron with a heart that appears to be navy blue in the center, with yellow, red, and light blue outline.

The rainbow flag is a common symbol of the LGBTQ movement, and both employees had a “good faith belief” that the multicolored heart represented the LGBTQ cause, the EEOC complaint said. 

A Kroger corporate affairs manager told CNA that the company would not comment on the case, due to the pending litigation. However, corporate marketing materials for other Kroger venues explain the four-colored heart as representing "Everyone Friendly and Caring, Everything Fresh, Uplift Every Way, Improve Everday."

The two women employees in the lawsuit—Brenda Lawson and Trudy Rickerd—say they declined to wear the emblem because of their Biblical religious beliefs against same-sex marriage.

Lawson, who had worked in the deli department at the Kroger since August of 2011, asked the store manager multiple times to wear her name tag over the heart and clarified her religious reasons for doing so. She also made the request of the store’s human resources department in writing.

The other employee, Trudy Rickerd, worked as a cashier and file maintenance clerk at the store since October, 2006. She wrote that she had “a sincerely held religious belief that I cannot wear a symbol that promotes or endorses something that is in violation of my religious faith.”

“I respect others who have a different opinion and am happy to work alongside others who desire to wear the symbol. I am happy to buy another apron to ensure there is no financial hardship on Kroger,” she wrote.

According to the EEOC, they were “repeatedly” disciplined for not wearing the heart, and Rickerd was fired on May 29, 2019; Lawson was fired shortly afterward on June 1.