Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 10, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A Jesuit college in California has sparked controversy by announcing that it will stop directly covering elective abortions, but will instead offer employees a separate, unsubsidized plan to cover them.
“At the end of the day, this insurance scheme facilitates employees’ abortions,” said Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, which works to promote authentic Catholic identity at Catholic colleges.
“This has been billed as a compromise on insurance coverage, but in reality it’s a compromise of the Faith and of LMU’s commitment to Catholic teaching – and it’s going to lead to innocent babies being killed in the womb.”
The decision was announced in an Oct. 7 letter from David W. Burcham, president of Loyola Marymont University, and Kathleen Hannon Aikenhead, chair of the Board of Trustees.
“We acknowledge that the issue of abortion is extremely complicated and encompasses varied and competing values that often leave no one happy,” the letter said.
“Nonetheless, we believe that the right to life and dignity for every human being is a fundamental part of Catholic beliefs (all other rights flow from this primary right to life and dignity), and that this vision needs to be evidenced in LMU’s policies and procedures.”
Burcham explained that, after years of paying for abortions under their insurance plans, the university had, “for the first time, been given the option to exclude elective abortions from its principal health insurance plans.”
He continued, adding that after receiving feedback from the campus community, the university decided to end coverage for elective abortions for the 2014 school year “because we take very seriously our fiduciary role as guardians of LMU and, particularly, upholding its Jesuit/Marymount and Catholic identity, mission, history and tradition.”
He explained that the decision is in line with the Catholic and Jesuit understanding of the “core teaching on the dignity of every human being at all stages of life.”
However, the school “will continue to cover therapeutic abortions, contraception and other forms of reproductive care mandated by the State of California.”
In addition, it will facilitate access to elective abortions through a third-party administrator. These abortions will not be funded by the university, but by employees who opt into the plan.
“The TPA-managed plan will cover elective abortions, for which an employee will pay a slightly higher premium,” the letter explained. “The employee will be responsible for the entirety of the cost associated with this additional coverage and, thus, no LMU dollars will be used in paying for this additional coverage.”
The decision – both to stop covering elective abortions directly and to offer the third-party plan – has raised opposition from faculty on both sides of the issue.
Anna Muraco, a sociology professor, told The Daily Breeze that she was disappointed with the decision, arguing that abortion is a matter of equality and the school should cover it.
“Don’t be surprised if somewhere down the line there will be an attempt to restrict sterilization coverage or limits on services for transgendered Americans or domestic partner benefits,” she said.
Faculty members who welcome the college's decision to not fund abortions, however, also have questions about the new policy, due to its facilitation of abortions through the third-party administrator.
“I don’t think it makes much sense,” said Christopher Kaczor, a Loyola philosophy professor to The Daily Breeze.
“It’s like saying abortion is seriously wrong, I will not drive you to the abortion clinic, but wait here and I’ll have my brother drive you — and that somehow gives them clean hands.”
Bangkok, Thailand, Oct 10, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - With heavy rains causing season-long flooding in Thailand, the bishops' emergency relief office in the country has increased its assistance to those whose lives have been disrupted.
Fr. Anusha Chaowpraeknoi, chaplain of Bangkok's Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Refugees, told CNA Oct. 8 that the organization has been taking people to safe shelters, and providing food and other necessary assistance to all people, “regardless of class or religion.”
“The Christian spirit of charity does not make any distinction … but it rather enhances this highly esteemed virtue as an encouraging pastoral tool for the new evangelization.”
The group has some 200 volunteers working long hours in coordinating and assisting in relief support, rescue operations, and providing food, clothing and medicine.
Since July, torrential rains have battered Thailand, as well as nearby areas of Cambodia and Vietnam, leading thousands to flee from their homes. Of the 77 Thai provinces, 28 have been affected, according to the government. More than 30 people have been killed, and at least two million have been affected.
The incessant rains have caused several rivers to swell dangerously high, with floodwaters damaging both crops and property.
In addition to coordinated national efforts, individual bishops have also initiated diocesan relief agencies.
Sr. Angela Bertelli, a Xavierien missionary nun who works in and near Bangkok told CNA, “we are living under constant fear, but we put our trust in God.”
The Thai bishops established the Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Refugees in 1978. It closely collaborates with Caritas Thailand in proactively assisting refugees and the victims of various humanitarian emergencies and disasters, as well as other vulnerable groups, with the aim of offering charity for all.
Fr. Chaowpraeknoi observed that in the current crisis, “manpower, clothes, and other provisions are a priority.”
“We are thankful for supportive contributions, but much still has to be achieved to return to normalcy.”
Vatican City, Oct 10, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
During his daily Mass homily, Pope Francis reflected that authentic prayer involves knocking “at the heart” of God with a strong, unwavering faith that he will respond.
“Do we pray…out of habit, piously but unbothered, or do we put ourselves forward with courage before the Lord to ask for the grace, to ask for what we're praying for?” he asked during the liturgy at St. Martha's residence Oct. 10.
Prayer “that is not courageous is not a real prayer,” Pope Francis emphasized. “The Lord says: 'For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.'”
“But you have to ask, seek, and knock.”
The Pope drew his remarks from the day's Gospel reading from Luke, where Christ urges the disciples to trust in God as a loving father who will give the gift of himself to those who ask.
“Do we get ourselves involved in prayer,” the Pope asked. “Do we know to knock at the heart of God?”
Reflecting on Jesus' words – “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” – the Pope responded that this “is a great thing.”
“The Lord never gives or sends a grace by mail: never! He brings it himself!”
What we ultimately discover in our asking for various things, the Pope observed, is that “the true grace” and answer to our prayers is God's gift of himself to us.
“When we pray courageously, the Lord gives us the grace, but he also gives us himself in the grace: the Holy Spirit, that is, himself!” he stressed. “Who comes to bring it to me. It's him. Our prayer, if it is courageous, receives what it asks for, but also that which is more important: the Lord.”
“We ask for a grace, but we don’t dare say, 'But come Yourself to bring it to me.' We know that a grace is always brought by him: It is He himself who comes and brings it to us,” Pope Francis said.
“Let us not embarrass ourselves by taking the grace and not recognizing him who brings it to us, him who gives it to us: The Lord.”
Vatican City, Oct 10, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
After the conclusion of their meetings, two cardinals from Pope Francis' group of eight reveal that curia reform will largely focus on service to Pope Francis and the universal Church in its various areas.
“We want to change the look – that the curia be at the service of the Pope, and also at the service of the local Churches, the universal Church, and the episcopal conferences,” Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, India told CNA on Oct. 7.
Cardinal Gracias was appointed by Pope Francis to be among the eight members to the council of cardinals instituted by the pontiff in April to advise him on matters regarding church reform and governance.
“The vision of the Pope is an open and merciful Church,” Cardinal Gracias said, also touching on the upcoming Synod of Bishops slated to take place in October of 2014.
“We want to make the synod a real thought from all the bishops of the world, and come to a conclusion, because the world is very distinct.”
“The languages are different and the challenges are different,” he noted, “and we want to see how we can put everything together.”
In an Oct. 9 interview with CNA, Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia – also among the eight council members – spoke on the theme of the upcoming synod, “The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.”
“The family is a fundamental element in society, we speak of the family as the domestic church, its fundamental to the church, its fundamental to the life of society,” he stressed, “The family weakens, society weakens.”
“We believe the Christian teaching on marriage is beautiful and life-giving, and it’s worked for two thousand years and we want to be able to put together new strategies to give people hope.”
The plan for the synod at this time, he noted is to “bring together the Christian teaching and the analyses of the situation, and these go out in different parts of the world…there will be different strategies to confront that.”
Cardinal Pell also touched on the questions concerning the Apostolic Constitution “Pastor Bonus,” a document written by Bl. John Paul II which outlines the role of the Roman Curia in the Church.
He said that despite recent comments from Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi that the document would not be changed, the council is still discussing the matter at length, uniting their efforts to find the best method to execute the reform.
Throughout their meetings, Cardinal Gracias noted the strong presence of the Holy Father, emphasizing that “the Pope only listened, supported and greeted us.”
Although the council is “still in discussion,” Cardinal Gracias expressed his confidence that “The Holy Father will give us a direction, he is a good Pope that gives great hope for the Church, the world, and all of us, the bishops.”
The council of cardinals concluded their first set of meetings on Oct. 3, and will begin their next session in just under two months on Dec. 3, 2013.
Correspondent Marta Jimenez contributed to this article.
Damascus, Syria, Oct 10, 2013 (CNA) - A Jesuit priest missing since July is alive in an area of northern Syria that is controlled by an Islamist opposition group allied with Al-Qaida, one reporter has said.
“Father Paolo Dall’Oglio is alive and is being treated well by his kidnappers,” Khalaf Ali Khalaf, a reporter and activist opposed to the Syrian government, told Aki-Adnkronos International news agency.
Khalaf said the Italian-born priest was seen on Saturday, Oct. 5 in an area controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a group active in both Iraq and Syria. He did not name his sources on the grounds he wanted to protect them from reprisals.
The priest disappeared from the northern Syrian city of Raqqa on July 28. A website favoring the Syrian government previously reported that the priest had been executed, but neither the Vatican nor the Italian government could confirm the claim.
Fr. Dall’Oglio, 58, had been working to restore the Monastery of St. Moses the Abyssinian in northern Syria for over 30 years. In 2012 the Syrian government expelled him for his criticisms of President Bashar al-Assad and his government, but he regularly returned to rebel-controlled areas.
He last returned to the country to attempt to negotiate peace between Kurdish and Islamist groups, the news site Aleteia reports. He was abducted from the streets of Raqqa.
The Syrian National Coalition, a leading organization of groups opposed to the Syrian government, had called on activists to come forward with any information about the priest.
Since March 2011, over 110,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict and millions have fled their homes as refugees.
Vatican City, Oct 10, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - At a recent audience, Pope Francis encouraged the Knights of Columbus to continue working towards the renewal of society through their charitable efforts, prayer and the witness of their lives.
Meeting with the organization’s Board of Directors on Oct. 10, the Pope thanked the Knights for their prayers on his behalf.
“On this occasion I also wish to express my gratitude for the unfailing support which your Order has always given to the works of the Holy See,” Pope Francis said, according to Vatican Radio.
“This support finds particular expression in the Vicarius Christi Fund, which is an eloquent sign of your solidarity with the Successor of Peter in his concern for the universal Church, but it is also seen in the daily prayers, sacrifices and apostolic works of so many Knights in their local Councils, their parishes and their communities.”
The Vicarius Christi Fund is an initiative that supports the Pope’s personal charities. It is one of many charitable endeavors run by the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest lay Catholic organization which has more than 1.8 million members throughout the world.
Fraternity and charity are two key marks of the organization, which over the past decade has donated $1.475 billion to charity and given more than 673 million hours of volunteer hours to support charitable works.
Pope Francis voiced hope that prayer, witness and charity may remain the “pillars” of the Knights’ work, both collectively and individually.
He called for them to continue in fidelity to the mission of their founder, Venerable Father Michael McGivney, seeking “new ways of being a leaven of the Gospel and a force for the spiritual renewal of society.”
“As the present Year of Faith draws to its close, I commend all of you in a special way to the intercession of Saint Joseph, the protector of the Holy Family of Nazareth,” the Pontiff said.
He pointed to St. Joseph as “an admirable model of those manly virtues of quiet strength, integrity and fidelity which the Knights of Columbus are committed to preserving, cultivating and passing on to future generations of Catholic men.”
Pope Francis concluded by imparting his Apostolic Blessing to the Knights and their families, asking for their continued prayers.
In a statement following the audience, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson – who also met separately with the Pope – voiced gratitude for the Holy Father’s encouragement and said that the organization has assured him of its solidarity.
“As an organization founded on the principle of charity to those on the margins of society by the sons of immigrants in the New World, we have a special affinity with the pope from the New World, whose ministry has been so focused on those on society’s periphery,” he said.
“I see in the ministry of Pope Francis a similarity with the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” Anderson continued.
He noted that during a period of “cultural conflict and upheaval,” Our Lady “brought a message of hope to the downtrodden, she served as a bridge between cultures, she appeared as the mother ready to welcome everyone.”
“In doing so, she created enormous interest in the faith, and many millions came to embrace the love of Christ through her, making our continent, even today, the Catholic continent.”
“Pope Francis is doing something similar,” the Supreme Knight said. “He is presenting the Church in the same loving manner. He is championing the downtrodden, and bringing the love of Christ to the frontiers. He is working to bridge cultural divides, and in doing so, he is awakening an interest in the faith around the world.”
Washington D.C., Oct 10, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - As the U.S. government shutdown continues, nonprofit aid groups such as Catholic Charities are feeling an added strain on their work at the national and local levels.
“While some may wonder what effect political disagreements in Washington, D.C., could have on people in need across our country,” explained Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, “the truth of the matter is that uncertainty, furloughs, and limited resources at federal agencies directly hinder the vital work Catholic Charities agencies do every day.”
“The impact of this shutdown is being felt in communities across the nation,” he explained in an Oct. 4 blog post.
The government shutdown began on Oct. 1, when federal lawmakers failed to agree on spending authorization bills for the new fiscal year.
This stalemate prompted a shutdown of government services deemed “non-essential,” including education programs for at-risk preschoolers, scientific research, and grants to charitable organizations.
As a result, federal workers working for “non-essential services” have been furloughed, placed on unpaid leave, until legislators can agree on spending bills.
The shutdown’s impact on aid programs – such as food stamps and the Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program – has been mixed. Some programs are protected from the effects of the shutdown, while others are subject to a freeze in federal administration funding.
Across the country, Fr. Snyder said, furloughed workers are relying upon Catholic Charities to help feed their families while they are not receiving pay due to the shutdown. At the same time, funding for programs such as Meals on Wheels, initiatives to help at-risk youth, and other activities that rely upon federal grants are on hold.
“Our agencies are being forced to choose between shutting the doors to much-needed programs or opening them at a severe loss while waiting for government reimbursement that may or may not ever come,” Fr. Snyder explained.
“The longer this stalemate continues, the wider the ripples of Congress’ failure to compromise will spread.”
The shutdown is also affecting Catholic Charities affiliates throughout the country. Many of these affiliates have been forced to go without government funding during the shutdown, while at the same time seeing increased need in their community due to furloughed workers.
Michael Burrus, executive director of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Wichita, told the Wichita Star when the shutdown started that the organization would try its best to continue running its programs.
However, he said, “ if the government is out of business, Catholic Charities cannot expect to continue to receive funds to support these programs or to pay staff to run them.”
Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C., is also facing challenges to its programs, a situation which is compounded by the city’s close relationship to the federal government.
“Due to the unique ways that D.C. is funded, we’re running into a lot of problems or funding delays that no other states or Catholic Charities are encountering,” communications director Erik Salmi told CNA.
Because the budget of the nation’s capital requires congressional authorization, many of its programs and services are placed on hold during the shutdown.
Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C. is “in the midst of assessing our situation,” Salmi continued, adding that the organization has the capacity “for a short while to continue providing services.”