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Pittsburgh diocese announces first wave of parish mergers

Pittsburgh, Pa., May 20, 2019 / 02:35 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Pittsburgh has announced the first results of a sweeping reorganization of its parishes, creating five new parishes and designating five former parish churches as shrines.

These changes are the first results of the “On Mission for The Church Alive” initiative, charged with reordering the parochial landscape of the diocese to accommodate fewer priests and shifting parish attendance. The plan, first announced in 2018, will eventually see the 188 parishes of the diocese consolidated into 58 new groupings.

The announced changes will go into effect on July 1, 2019.

In a letter to the clergy and parishioners of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Bishop David A. Zubik credited the soon-to-be-merged parishes for working “extremely hard” since October of last year to create strong relationships between the communities.

“These five parish groupings have worked extremely hard since last October to foster relationships and, after consultation in the groupings, were prepared to share with me their desire and readiness to form a new parish community,” the bishop wrote in the May 18 letter.

The parish grouping plan was approved unanimously by the diocesan college of consultors and does not include plans for the closure of any church buildings.

Zubik expressed his gratitude to everyone involved in the creation of these new parishes, as their work went “beyond the practical matters related to merging parishes, and highlights the work being done to encourage their respective parishioners to deepen their relationship with Jesus and with each other.”

This, said Zubik, “is the most important reason for On Mission.”

The five churches of Greene County will be combined into the single new parish of Saint Matthias Parish, and served by a pastoral team of two priests and two deacons. The new parish of Christ Our Savior will be made up of the four former parishes of Pittsburgh’s North Side, and will be led by four priests and a deacon.

Seven parish churches located in the New Castle area will collectively become the parish of the Holy Spirit Parish, and will have four priests and two deacons. The parishes of Saint Anne, in Castle Shannon and Saint Winifred, in Mount Lebanon, will merge under the new name of Saint Paul of the Cross. The clergy team for this parish is two priests and two deacons.

The newly created Saint Teresa of Kolkata Parish will consist of five parishes from Beechview and Brookline, and will be served by three priests and two deacons.

In addition to the groupings, five downtown parish buildings of historic and spiritual value will be designated as shrines, and served by a clergy team for the “Shrines of Pittsburgh Grouping.” The clergy team will consist of two full-time priests, one priest assisting on a part-time basis, and a deacon.

One parish building, the Corpus Christi Church building of Saint Charles Lwanga Parish in Pittsburgh’s East End, will close as part of this reorganization.

‘Mayor Pete’ backs no-limits abortion

Washington D.C., May 20, 2019 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg called abortion a “national freedom” on Sunday, and defended the practice of late term abortion.

The mayor of South Bend, Ind., made the comments during a “town hall” broadcast for Fox on May 19. In defending unrestricted abortion, Buttigieg appeared to put himself at odds with the majority of voters both in his own party and nationwide.

Asked if he believed there should be any limit on access to abortion, at any time during pregnancy, Buttigieg responded “I trust women to draw the line.”

Mayor Pete, as his campaign prefers him to be styled, was asked specifically about recent legislation at the state level to either expand or restrict abortion access.

In a tweet sent in response to the passage of a law to outlaw abortion in Alabama, Buttigieg said legislators were “ignoring science” in efforts to protect unborn life. Responding to the example of the New York Reproductive Health Act passed earlier this year, which effectively removed all limitations on abortion, Buttigieg said there is no place for the government in discussing limits on abortion.

Characterizing the decision to terminate a pregnancy during the final weeks before term as “an impossible, unthinkable choice,” he repeated that he believed there was no place for the law to intervene.

“That decision is not going to be made any better, medically or morally, because the government is dictating how that decision should be made.”

While Buttgieg’s comments drew applause from the crowd, consistent poll results show a trend in public opinion away from supporting abortion and especially against late-term abortions.

The New York law was passed in January of this year, making abortion a legal right up to the point of birth. Subsequent polling has shown that the vast majority of New Yorkers were opposed to late-term abortion.

A Marist poll published in March found that that 75% of New York residents are opposed to abortion after the 20th week of a pregnancy. Only 20% of those surveyed said they approved of late-term abortion.

Those opposed to abortion after 20 weeks included nearly 70 percent of surveyed Democrats, 73% of political independents and 89% of Republicans.

An earlier poll, released in February, recorded a sharp drop in the proportion of Democrats identifying as pro-choice, from 75% to 61% since the beginning of the year. The same poll found a 19-point jump in pro-life identification among people under 45 years old. Forty-seven percent of people under the age of 45 now say they are pro-life, compared to 48% who say they are pro-choice.

As legislators in New York and Vermont have moved to entrench access to abortion, other states have enacted measures to protect children in the womb. Four states – Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio – have so far this year passed laws to ban abortions after the unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected, often around 6 weeks of pregnancy. All four laws are already facing legal challenges.

An April poll by Rasmussen showed that while only 45% of voters supported banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, that number rose to 56% once they were told a fetal heartbeat can be detected at that point.

Other states have sought to outlaw particular abortion methods, or pass trigger laws which would ban abortion in the event the Supreme Court were to overturn its ruling in Roe v. Wade.

California confession bill amended, but still would require priests to violate seal

Sacramento, Calif., May 20, 2019 / 10:16 am (CNA).- California’s state senate will vote on a bill that would require priests to violate the seal of confession in certain limited circumstances. An amended text of the bill passed the Senate appropriations’ committee May 16.

The bill, as amended, would require priests to report to law enforcement knowledge or suspicion of child abuse gained from hearing the sacramental confessions of other priests or co-workers.

The bill originally would have required California priests to violate the seal of confession anytime they gained knowledge or suspicion of child abuse from hearing the confession of any penitent.

In a May 20 statement, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles said the bill remains “an unacceptable violation of our religious freedoms that will do nothing to protect children.”
 
As amended, he said, “SB 360 still denies the sanctity of confession to every priest in the state and to thousands of Catholics who work with priests in parishes and other Church agencies and ministries.”

According to Angelus News, more than 1,300 people contacted California state senators before the May 16 hearing on the bill, encouraging senators not to require priests violate the confessional seal. Gomez expressed gratitude for those calls.

Clergy in California are already required to report knowledge or suspicion of child abuse in most circumstances, though penitential conversations like sacramental confession are exempted, as are other kinds of privileged conversations, including those covered by attorney-client privilege.

The bill’s sponsor, California state Senator Jerry Hill (D-Calif. 13), has claimed that “the clergy-penitent privilege has been abused on a large scale, resulting in the unreported and systemic abuse of thousands of children across multiple denominations and faiths.”

The senator has claimed that such abuse has been revealed through “recent investigations by 14 attorneys general, the federal government, and other countries.”

In response to questions from CNA about those investigations, Hill’s office provided two resources to CNA. One was a news article from PBS, reporting that several states have undertaken investigations into clerical sexual abuse, but not explicitly mentioning abuse of the sacrament or seal of confession.

The other was a 2017 report from Australia’s Royal Commission, appointed to investigate child sexual abuse in that country.

The Royal Commission report suggests that there should be no exemption from abuse reporting for religious confession. While the commission's executive summary states that "the practice of the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) contributed... to inadequate institutional responses to abuse," it does not provide data detailing the frequency of that contribution.

Hill’s office did not respond to follow-up questions about that report, or about whether the senator considers attorney-client privilege, which is not challenged by the bill, to represent a potential problem of equal proportions.

Gomez, for his part, called Catholics and lawmakers to try other approaches to fighting the child abuse in California.

“Even as amended, SB 360 remains an unacceptable violation of our religious freedoms that will do nothing to protect children. As a Catholic community, let us continue to work with lawmakers for a bill that truly advances our shared goals of fighting the scourge of child sexual abuse in our society,” he wrote.

The bill could be subject to a Senate vote as early as May 21.
 

 

US bishops oppose Trump immigration plan, say families are foundational

Washington D.C., May 19, 2019 / 03:09 am (CNA).- Leaders of the U.S. bishops’ conference voiced concern over President Donald Trump’s new immigration plan, stressing that families should be strengthened and promoted in the immigration system.

“We oppose proposals that seek to curtail family-based immigration and create a largely ‘merit-based’ immigration system,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, who heads the conference’s migration committee.

“Families are the foundation of our faith, our society, our history, and our immigration system,” they said. “As Pope Francis notes: ‘Family is the place in which we are formed as persons’.”

DiNardo and Vásquez responded May 17 to the immigration plan announced by Trump the previous day. They said that although they appreciate the effort to address concerns in the current immigration system, the new plan falls short in several areas.

Trump said his plan prioritizes American values and workers, while attracting “the best and brightest from all around the world.”

The proposal would not seek to cut back on total annual legal immigration numbers, but would significantly reduce the current family-based portion of the immigration system, instead focusing on applicants with high education and skill levels.

The current system awards a majority of immigration visas based on family connections in the U.S. About 12% are approved based on skill level – a number that would be increased to more than 50% under Trump’s proposal.

According to the New York Times, officials said this would result in nearly 75% of immigrants to the United States holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, and would increase the average immigrant salary from $43,000 to $96,000.

Nuclear families would be prioritized under the proposal, while it would be harder for extended family members to immigrate based on family connections.

The plan also involves the completion of a border wall and new technology to monitor the southern border. It would “a permanent and self-sustaining border security trust fund,” financed by border crossing fees, Trump said.

Critics of the proposal argue that it fails to address the root causes of the migration crisis at the southern border and inhumanely turns away those in need. Democrats in Congress have indicated that they will oppose the plan.

The plan does not provide legal status for Dreamers, those brought to the United States illegally as children. Nor does it provide a clear path forward for Temporary Protected Status holders.

In their statement, DiNardo and Vásquez called these omissions deeply troubling.

They also said that “securing our borders and ensuring our safety is of the utmost importance, but this will not be achieved by heightening human misery and restricting access to lawful protection in an attempt to deter vulnerable asylum-seeking families and children.”

“Instead, we must confront the root causes of migration and look to humane and pragmatic solutions, such as improving our immigration courts, expanding alternatives to detention, and eradicating criminal networks,” they said. “We urge lawmakers to put aside differences and engage in meaningful action on humane and just comprehensive immigration reform.”

The ‘young man with a big, good heart’: STEM hero Kendrick Castillo laid to rest

Denver, Colo., May 17, 2019 / 03:35 pm (CNA).- On a warm Friday morning in May at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Littleton, Colorado, about 40 Knights of Columbus dressed in full regalia flanked the entrance of the church as friends and family of Kendrick Castillo filed in to commend him to God at his funeral.

Each attendee was handed a small card - on one side, Kendrick smiling, dressed in a Christmas sweater and sitting on a Jeep. On the other side, a simple tribute including his birth and death dates, funeral location, and the bible verse John 15:13 that seems to capture the way his life ended: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Kendrick was the lone casualty in the STEM high school shooting on May 7 in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. He died, witnesses say, after he jumped up in the line of fire and ran to stop one of the shooters with a couple other students.

His funeral was attended by relatives and friends that filled the large Catholic church, and included an honor guard of 80 Knights of Columbus, about half of whom dressed in the old feather-capped regalia, and half in the new uniform with a beret.

The Knights lined the aisles and drew their swords in tribute to Kendrick during the processional and recessional, honoring a young man who spent hundreds of hours volunteering for the Knights of Columbus with his dad. A group of Kendrick’s close friends from high school served as pallbearers.

Bishop Jorge Rodríguez, auxiliary bishop of Denver, and five other priests and deacons presided at the Mass.

In his homily, Rodriguez talked about how Kendrick imitated Christ and “pleased God” throughout his life as a selfless, loving person.

Kendrick was “a holy young man,” Rodriguez said. “A young man who was a good disciple of Jesus Christ. We call ‘saints’ those able to love to the end. Kendrick gave everything he is, and everything he had -family, a future, a degree, his life- so other young men and women could go back to their families, have a future, graduate and live.”

“Kendrick’s life is like the echo of Jesus’ words: ‘Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends,’” he added, again referencing John 15:13.

The bishop referenced Scripture throughout his homily, noting how Kendrick was pleasing to and loved by God.

“Only a young man with God in his heart and possessing a big good heart can do what he did: to lay down his life to save his friends. I’m sure John and Maria, that you feel proud of your son: God too is very proud of his child, Kendrick,” Rodriguez said.

“The Book of Wisdom repeats: ‘His soul was pleasing to the Lord.’ The soul is the center of our consciousness, freedom, the seat of love and will; that self that makes us God’s image and touches who we really are. God loves Kendrick’s soul because he is a good young man,” he added.

He noted that Kendrick was only a few days from his high school graduation when he was killed, and could have accomplished many more things on earth with his “big good heart,” but that he was now with God, where “all the evil of this world will not be able to touch him again.”

Instead, Kendrick experienced a much more profound kind of graduation, Rodriguez said.

“Kendrick graduated not for an academic degree, but he graduated in humanity and in Christian life,” he said.

At the end of life, everyone will be examined not on their academic knowledge or worldly success, the bishop noted, but on how well they loved.

“Kendrick passed this test with honors,” he said. “He accomplished in a short time a great career in honorableness, love and holiness. As Scripture says, the greatness of a man ‘cannot be measured in terms of years.’”

Even though Kendrick was a good person and is loved and cared for by the Lord, his death still causes “unbearable” pain, especially for his family, Rodriguez said.

The bishop encouraged John and Maria, the parents of Kendrick, to hold fast to the Gospel of John 6:40: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.”

That passage, Rodriguez said, contains two promises for Kendrick: that he is enjoying eternal life in heaven, and that he will be raised with Jesus on the last day.

“Dream with that moment, when you will see Kendrick right in front of you, radiant, smiling and coming to you for a big hug,” he said.

He then encouraged everyone in attendance to follow the example of Kendrick’s faith and love, and thanked John and Maria for their son.

“John and Maria, Kendrick, your son, is a gift for all of us. And we all must commit to keep his legacy and to praise God for the gift of Kendrick’s years among us.”

“God loves your child. Now, he is with him. And he left, keeping you in his heart.”