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Hong Kong student leader: Catholics should take 'major role' in peaceful protests

Hong Kong, China, Aug 16, 2019 / 05:47 pm (CNA).- The acting president of the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students told CNA this week that he would like to see Catholics and other Christians take on a larger role in ongoing protests against the government, amid fears of a crackdown by Chinese authorities.

"For this movement, it's a great chance for the Catholics and [Protestant] Christians to cooperate with each other," Edwin Chow, a student studying Government and International Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, told CNA.

"It's a good chance for us to become united. Because I think for most of the Catholics and Christians, we have the same values, the same goal...so that's why we cooperate, and I think after Christians and Catholics cooperate, or strengths, our power becomes stronger."

Hundreds of thousands of protestors in Hong Kong have been demonstrating against the government's plans to allow extraditions to mainland China, where Communist courts would try alleged criminals— a plan which as of June has been indefinitely suspended.

Since the bill’s suspension, the protestors have also spoken out against an excessive use of force by the Hong Kong police, including the use of rubber bullets and tear gas, which have led to injuries.

The apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong, has asked the government to eliminate the extradition law completely, and for an independent inquiry into the excessive use of force by the Hong Kong police.

While Chow said that Christians, among them Catholics, had a more major role when the protests began— leading the singing of hymns such as "Sing Hallelujah to the Lord" in the streets during the protests, for example— their role has since diminished.

As the protests have continued, he said some participants became "more aggressive, more radical." Chow said he thinks the protests have become more radical because even after two marches in June saw more than a million marchers, the government has still not answered the protestors' demands.

Many of the protestors began to take action such as try to break into the legislative council building, or clash with police out of frustration.

"I think the Christian groups and the Catholic groups should participate more in the protests, to take a more major role, because I think nowadays the protests become more radical, and people get very emotional, I think,” Chow commented.

“For the Catholic groups, for the Christian groups, we have the responsibility and we have the power to calm our friends down. Because I think singing hymns, just in the beginning, it creates a peaceful atmosphere, and it has a power to keep everyone very calm. So I think we can use this when we do this again."

The threat of the extradition bill should be important to Catholics, Chow said, because they are afraid that if it is reintroduced and passes, it will severely affect religious freedom, giving the Chinese government additional license to arrest Christians and transfer them to mainland China if they commit “crimes” against the mainland.

He cited a case in 2001 where Hong Kongers brought bibles to mainland China, and the Chinese government arrested them.

"The Chinese government is suppressing the Church in mainland China, and so we are worried that when we have communication with the mainland Church, maybe one day the Chinese government will also arrest the Hong Kong people to suppress Hong Kong people," he said.

Though the extradition bill has been withdrawn, the situation in Hong Kong is not over. Demonstrators are calling for the proposal to be definitively withdrawn, and some are demanding Lam’s resignation.

Chow said more than 160,000 students, teachers, and alumni signed a petition against the extradition bill.

The federation had been concerned about the extradition bill since May, and so they started to raise public awareness of the issue by handing out leaflets in early June, Chow said. 

The group also organized prayer meetings and Masses near the protest sites in the beginning of June, when the larger protests started.

Chow said the clergy have been very supportive. The Federation invited bishop emeritus Cardinal Joseph Zen to celebrate Mass on June 16, in front of the government headquarters.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing has also been very active in going to the protest sites, supporting the young people, and vocally supporting the protestors. Bishop Ha took part in a continuous ecumenical prayer meeting outside the Legislative Council building with thousands of Christians overnight after one rally.

"Other ordinary Catholics, some of the older Catholics, they also join in our activities. So you can see that not only the teenagers are supporting, participating in the whole protest, but the older people, some adults...they also join, they also support the whole protest."

Henry Au, an entrepreneur who serves on the board of directors for the Irish Chamber of Commerce for Hong Hong, is one such older Catholic who has been supporting the movement. He told CNA that although he had only attended two or three of the actual marches, he has been trying to materially support the protestors however he can.

He said older Catholics are less likely to go and march in the street, but they are still able to assist by providing funds to hold Masses and buy protection gear for the protestors.

He said the police will often seize protesters' cell phones and use the photos on them as evidence against them, and telecom companies are helping the government to trace phone numbers. To guard against this, he said older Catholics have bought the protestors portable WiFi hotspots so they can connect without being traced.

"We don't say the kids are always right...but you shouldn't be using bullets, or even plastic bullets, to shoot their heads," Au said. "They way they are treating the younger generation is totally unacceptable."

He said the protestors have, on the whole, been peaceful and not destructive. On Sept. 1, the students will have to go back to school, he said, so it remains to be seen whether the protests will continue after the summer break ends.

Chow said last week some protestors found that there were undercover policemen within the crowds. The government may use this strategy to create a "sense of terror" so that the protestors no longer trust each other and are divided, he said. 

Father Bernardo Cervellera, editor of Asia News, told EWTN News Nightly that Catholic youth are “totally involved” in the protest against the extradition law. He said older people might be less inclined to take part in the protests because of threats of violence.

“These two requests are the main requests of the movement [that] is doing all these demonstrations in Hong Kong,” Cervellera said.

The Chinese government has influenced the government of Hong Kong, Cervellera said, refusing to allow full democracy in the territory and trying to control the education system, which has negatively affected Hong Kong’s economy.

Hong Kong has total freedom of worship and evangelization, Cervellera said, because for the past 50 years it has been a “liberal society” where the decisions of the dioceses are not subject to government control.

“Our fear is that if this extradition law goes into effect, this could destroy the possibility of priests in Hong Kong, faithful in Hong Kong, who can help the Church in China. Because in this way, the help brought by the Catholics in Hong Kong to China could be considered as a criminal case.”

Cardinal Tong invited Catholics in Hong Kong to take part in a Eucharistic celebration for the well-being of the territory on Friday, August 23 at St. Francis of Assisi Church.

There are some 581,000 Catholics in Hong Kong, or about 8% of the population.

Hongkongers currently have significantly more freedoms than Chinese living on the mainland, including access to uncensored internet. Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997, and it was returned to China under a “one country, two systems” principle, allowing it its own legislature and economic system.

The Church in mainland China has been divided for some 60 years between the underground Church, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a government-sanctioned organization.

Canadian man receives assisted death after funding cut for in-home care

Vancouver, Canada, Aug 16, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The family of a Canadian man who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is urging the country’s government to change the way it treats patients with the disease after he received a “medically-assisted death” following years of struggle to find adequate care. 

Sean Tagert, 41, was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gherig’s disease, in March of 2013. In October 2017, he suffered cardiac arrest, and was subsequently placed on a ventilator. His illness robbed him of the ability to move his body, eat, or speak, and he communicated via an eye-gaze computer. His mental acuity was unaffected. 

At that time, Tagert’s doctors recommended 24-hour in-home care, which is typical for a person who uses a ventilator full time. Vancouver Coastal Health, Tagert’s regional health authority, only initially offered 15.5 hours of care a day. Eventually, after much effort, they increased their offer to 20 hours a day--which still meant that Tagert had to pay $263.50 each day for the remaining four hours of required care. 

Tagert and his family continued to fight for coverage of a full day’s care, to no avail. 

“Hey everyone. I've been quiet lately because I'm just done, worn-out,” wrote Tagert in a July 25 post on his Facebook page. 

“So last Friday I officially submitted my Medically assisted death paperwork, with lawyers and doctors, everything in proper order. It's been over a month since I submitted my appeal to the Vancouver Coastal Health patient care quality department. They didn't even respond.”

Tagert went on to explain that earlier in the day, two Vancouver Coastal Health officials came to his home, and had refused to talk to him when they realized he was recording the conversation. Eventually, they told his mother that they were there to cut his funding for care hours. 

“Welcome to the great Canadian Healthcare system people,” said Tagert. 

On August 6, he received a “medically-assisted death” and passed away. In Canada, patients over the age of 18 who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness are able to apply for a “medically-assisted death.” The lethal medication can either be self-administered, or, as it is in the vast majority of cases in the country, administered by a doctor. 

Full funding for the procedure is available, and is advertised in hospitals around Canada.

“We would ask, on Sean's behalf, that the government recognize the serious problems in its treatment of ALS patients and their families, and find real solutions for those already suffering unimaginably,” reads a post on his Facebook page announcing his passing. 

The post outlined the difficulties he endured to remain in his own home.  

“Ensuring consistent care was a constant struggle and source of stress for Sean as a patient,” said the post. 

“While he succeeded, with the help of many, in piecing together a suitable care facility in his own home (including an expensive saliva-suction machine, needed to prevent him from choking, obtained with the help of donations raised online), gaining the 24-hour care he required was extremely difficult, especially as the provincial government refused to fully fund home care.” 

Going to a nursing home was not an option, said the post, as the facilities in his province “would have offered vastly inferior care while separating him from his family, and likely would have hastened his death.”  Tagert had partial custody of his 11-year-old son, Aidan. 

“Above all else Sean was devoted to his son,” said the post.

“Sean often said that Aidan was his reason for living, and had a close relationship with him right to the end.” 

Since Tagert’s death, Canadian commentators and palliative care physicians have called for changes in the way the country’s health system handles patients with complicated health needs. 

“No one should have to feel death is the only option due to lack of care,” Dr. Leonie Herx, a palliative care physician from Toronto, said on Twitter. 

Herx pointed out the paradox that presently, Canadians have a “right” to medically-assisted dying, but not to palliative and disability care. 

“We must do better for vulnerable Canadians,” she said. 

The ALS Society of Canada was unavailable to comment specifically on Tagert’s case, but CNA was provided with a statement from CEO Tammy Moore saying “People living with ALS must have access to the appropriate personal care supports and palliative care to meet their needs.” 

Medically-assisted death is fully funded in the Canadian healthcare system.

New Jersey judge temporarily blocks assisted suicide law

Metuchen, N.J., Aug 16, 2019 / 02:31 pm (CNA).- A judge in New Jersey has temporarily halted a law allowing physician assisted suicide, which had gone into effect August 1.

The law is being challenged by a physician who says that it is a violation of religious freedom protections in the U.S. Constitution and laws against suicide.

Dr. Yosef Glassman is an Orthodox Jew who says that he is opposed to facilitating suicide both due to his religious beliefs and his profession as a doctor. He also objects to the law’s stipulation that a doctor who objects to assisted suicide must refer patients to another doctor who will help them end their life.

The law’s demands on doctors, Glassman said in his lawsuit, present “not only a violation of the rights to practice medicine without breaching the fiduciary duties owing to those patients ... but also violations of their First Amendment rights under the United States Constitution to freely practice their religions in which human life is sacred and must not be taken,” the AP reported.

The Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, which passed the New Jersey legislature with bipartisan support, allows those deemed by a doctor to have less than six months to live to request lethal medication to end their lives. The patient then must administer the medication themselves.

The temporary injunction, signed by Judge Paul Innes of Superior Court in Mercer County, means that the state attorney general may not enforce the law while it is being challenged in court.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who signed the bill in April, said he will fight the lawsuit, the AP reported.

A self-described “lifelong, practicing Catholic,” Murphy said when he signed the bill into law that he was aware that the Church opposed assisted suicide, but after careful consideration and prayer, he believed assisted suicide was a personal decision and legalizing it would respect residents’ freedom and humanity.

Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen condemned assisted suicide as “a grievous affront to the dignity of human life” that “can never be morally justified” in a letter to his diocese on July 30.

“Passage of this law points to the utter failure of government, and indeed all society, to care truly, authentically and humanely for the suffering and vulnerable in our midst, especially those living with an incurable disease as well as the frail elderly, the infirm and those living with disabilities,” he said.

He stressed that despite the new legality of the practice, it remains gravely immoral, and said the Church would continue advocating for the sanctity of all human life and working to educate lawmakers and the general public about the dangers of assisted suicide.

“With this law there will be a further desensitization of the value of human life,” said the bishop, adding that the elderly, sick and disabled could feel pressure to choose suicide so as to avoid burdening others.

He also clarified that Saint Peter’s University Hospital, sponsored by the Diocese of Metuchen, will not condone or participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Instead of assisted suicide, Checchio called for a renewed commitment caring for those living in pain and suffering while dying and who might otherwise consider suicide.

“Let us strive to help the sick and incapacitated find meaning in their lives, even and especially in the midst of their suffering,” he said. “Let us, as a society and as individuals choose to walk with them, in their suffering, not contribute to eliminating the gift of life.”

Assisted suicide is legal in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as in Montana under a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling.

Planned Parenthood to pull out of Title X program

Washington D.C., Aug 16, 2019 / 10:15 am (CNA).- Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest provider of abortion services, has announced that it will withdraw from the federal Title X family planning program, ending its access to millions of dollars in government funding.

The decision is set to take effect Aug. 19, the date by which funding recipients are required to make a “good faith” undertaking to comply with a new rule barring the referral of clients for abortion services.

After it was announced in final form in February, the Protect Life Rule was subject to court challenges from abortion providers and several states. In June, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the rule could come into force. In July, judges refused to issue a stay against that decision.

Planned Parenthood informed the court on Wednesday that, unless the reversed its refusal to grant a stay, it would leave the Title X program on Monday.

Planned Parenthood’s acting president Alexis McGill Johnson said the group refused “to let the Trump administration bully us into withholding abortion information from our patients.”

Calling the Protect Life Rule a “gag on health care providers,” Johnson said in a statement that the rule is “a blatant assault on our health and rights, and we will not stand for it.”

In addition to barring Title X fund recipients from referring women for abortions it also prevents participating groups from co-locating with abortion clinics and requires financial separation of government-funded programs from those that carry out abortions.

Planned Parenthood had previously intended to remain in the Title X program but refuse funding, an arrangement that HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary Diane Foley called “inconsistent” in a letter to the organization.

In guidance issued by HHS on Friday, the department responded directly to Planned Parenthood’s objections to the rule, noting that the organization operated less than 10% of participating sites nationwide.

“To the extent that Planned Parenthood claims that it must make burdensome changes to comply with the Final Rule, it is actually choosing to place a higher priority on the ability to refer for abortion instead of continuing to receive federal funds to provide a broad range of acceptable and effective family planning methods and services to clients in need of these services.”

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

The administration previously said in June that it would delay enforcement of the rule, provided that fund recipients submitted a compliance plan and made a “good faith” undertaking to comply with most of the rule’s requirements as soon as possible. Facilities are required to end co-location with abortion sites by March 2020.

Last month, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List, welcomed the 9th Circuit’s decision to deny a stay, calling the Protect Life Rule “greatly encouraging.”

“Without reducing Title X funding by a dime, the Protect Life Rule simply draws a bright line between abortion and family planning, stopping abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood from treating Title X as their private slush fund.” 

Before announcing its withdrawal from the Title X program, Planned Parenthood and its affiliates had received some $60 million annually, about one-fifth of total Title X funds, making up approximately 15% of its annual federal funding.

Iraqi church formerly defaced by ISIS rededicated on Assumption feast

Qaraqosh, Iraq, Aug 16, 2019 / 05:23 am (CNA).- An Iraqi church damaged and defaced by the Islamic State in 2014 was rededicated Thursday for the parish’s celebration of the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.

The Syriac Catholic Church of Mar Behnam and Mart Sarah in the Iraqi city of Qaraqosh welcomed Archbishop Petros Mouche of Mosul, priests, and the local Catholic community to celebrate the solemnity.

Archbishop Mouche rededicated the church's altar, which had been burned by the Islamic State. After renonvations and rebuilding, the interior of the church, once charred black by fire, has been painted white.

“All these people do not see the community reborn only as stones, but as faith around Christ who is celebrated in the Resurrection. So the Resurrection of Christ is the resurrection of the community itself that goes on. Our community has about 800 families,” Fr. George Jahola told Vatican News in an interview published Aug. 15.

Five years ago on the August Feast of the Transfiguration, the Islamic State devastated the city of Qaraqosh in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains causing Christians to flee the region.

“In 2014 we left our churches and our homes. The city had about 50,000 Christian inhabitants,” Fr. Jahola said.

Now the Christian population in the city has been reduced to half of what it was. About 26,000 Christians have returned to Qaraqosh, Jahola explained.

During their occupation, the Islamic State desecrated the churches in Qaraqosh, in some cases writing battle instructions on church walls. St. George’s Syrian Catholic Church was turned into a bomb factory and used as storage for supplies of deadly chemicals to make powerful explosives. The church of the Immaculate Conception was used as an indoor shooting range with mannequins as targets, according to Aid to the Church in Need.

The Church of Mar Behnam and Mart Sarah was charred black and its bell tower was demolished. “But we never stopped imagining how beautiful our church would be, once fixed,” Fr. Jahola said.

 

À Qaraqosh, l’évêque Mgr Petros Moiche a consacré le nouvel autel de l’église Mar Behnam et Sarah. Elle avait été incendiée par les djihadistes. Une impressionnante rénovation a été menée, signe de la victoire de la vie sur la destruction. #15aout #Irak pic.twitter.com/wgYfrY1jM2

— Fraternité en Irak (@FraterniteIrak) August 15, 2019  

Christmas Mass was celebrated in the church in Dec. 2018 during the church's reconstruction. The bell tower was rebuilt in 2019.

“We started the reconstruction project even before the liberation of the city, in the Nineveh Plains, when we were refugees,” he said. “We have worked to rebuild houses and communities as believers, because this is the sense of belonging both to a parish and to a community.”

ISIS was driven from Mosul in 2017, and the last remaining town of the original caliphate in Syria fell earlier this year. However many Christians who fled the ISIS onslaught in 2014 have not returned to their homes in Mosul and the Nineveh region.

Although the territorial ISIS caliphate is gone, security threats to Christians and Yazidis in the region remain. There are up to 15,000 ISIS fighters estimated to have remained in Iraq, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Christianity has been present in the Nineveh plain in Iraq – between Mosul and Iraqi Kurdistan – since the first century.

“What we have learned from the Gospel, from the Lord, is to be instruments of peace, and also to live peace,” Fr. Jahola said.

“We try in every way to realize it here, where the majority is Muslim, where there is still someone who still bears hatred. We truly believe in this, in forgiveness and in leaving the past behind to continue towards the future,” he said.

A Catholic group wants to honor Ireland’s oldest grandparents

Dublin, Ireland, Aug 16, 2019 / 12:04 am (CNA).- In anticipation of the Irish National Grandparents Pilgrimage, a Catholic group has launched a search for the oldest grandparents in Ireland.

The Catholic Grandparents Association (CGA) has issued an invitation for the oldest grandparents and longest married couple to attend the 17th annual pilgrimage.

“Please help us find the longest married couple in Ireland and the oldest grandparents to come celebrate with us and be honoured at our annual national grandparents pilgrimage at the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock,” the organization said, according to Irish news.

On September 8, thousands of grandparents from all over Ireland will travel to Knock Shrine in County Mayo. The event draws over 10,000 attendees each year.

The deadline for entries into the grandparent search is August 30. According to Irish News, participants may email their submission to catholicgrandparents@gmail.com.

The national shrine has been a destination for pilgrims since 1879, when 15 townspeople witnessed an apparition of the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, angels, and Jesus Christ - as the Lamb of God - on the south gable of the town church, which was named St. John the Evangelist. For a period of about two hours, a crowd gathered to adore the apparition and to pray the rosary. Despite the rainstorm, the ground around the gable did not get wet.

The shrine began hosting the National Grandparents Pilgrimage in 2007.

The CGA was formed two years later to manage the pilgrimage. It has a goal of providing grandparents in the country with the encouragement to support their families. Both the pilgrimage and the organization were founded by Catherine Wiley.

“This association grew out of our Grandparents Pilgrimages, where thousands of grandparents gathered in recent years, united by the same goal to do the very best we can for our children and grandchildren,” the organization says on its website.

“Grandparents’ vital contribution to the family, the Church and society was never as important as now,” it adds.

In Ireland, Catholic group warns of housing discrimination against migrants

Dublin, Ireland, Aug 15, 2019 / 05:29 pm (CNA).- A representative from an Irish Catholic charity has warned that discrimination against immigrants in the private housing market has forced more people to pursue public housing.

The housing market in Ireland is “unbelievably difficult” for immigrants, said Danielle McLaughlin, a policy officer for Crosscare, a Catholic charity which aids the homeless.

McLaughlin said many immigrants face discrimination in the rental market and workplace, according to RTÉ News. She also said they receive lower wages because of a lack of language proficiency and qualifications.

Many immigrants have encountered a poor quality of accommodation or exploitation efforts by a landlord, she said.

“We have huge numbers coming to us with notices to quit. They are more susceptible to exploitation or not knowing their rights,” said McLaughlin, according to RTÉ News.

She cited two reports - one from the Economic and Social Research Institute and another from the Dublin City Council. The first report found that African immigrants suffered discrimination in the workplace. The other report determined that migrants had a greater chance of becoming homeless than those who were not migrants.

The Dublin Region Homeless Executive reported that last March, 2,704 migrants applied for social housing in Ireland.

It also found that, while the total number of applicants on a waiting list for social housing dropped 12% since 2016, the number of immigrant applications have increased by 45%.

For the 2016 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, then-Bishop John Buckley of Cork and Ross expressed gratitude for the contribution immigrants have offered to Ireland. He encouraged parishioners to welcome migrants and refugees, who may have already faced numerous hardships, including hunger and displacement.

“Some will be coming to this country and they are hoping that Ireland will be a place where they are safe and can begin the process of rebuilding their lives,” he wrote.

“It is important that the local church be at the forefront of efforts to welcome them.”

 

After Epstein death, theologians discuss suicide, salvation, and the obligations of the state

Denver, Colo., Aug 15, 2019 / 05:03 pm (CNA).- On August 10, investment banker and multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his jail cell, in what officials have called an apparent suicide.

Epstein, already a convicted sex offender, was awaiting trial for sex trafficking charges, including one count of sex trafficking of a minor and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking. He had pled not guilty to both.

Following his death, theories about how Epstein died abound.

The well-connected Epstein, who counted princes and presidents and other elites among his associates, might have exposed the crimes of powerful friends at trial, and the risk of that exposure, some speculate, could have prompted an assassination.

Epstein had been taken off of suicide watch just 12 days prior to his death. According to a report in the New York Times, two guards who were supposed to check on Epstein every 30 minutes fell asleep for three hours and fudged the records of their rounds in an attempt to cover their mistake. They have since been removed from their posts at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, where Epstein was being held.

An autopsy of Epstein has so far raised more questions than answers.

Whether or not Epstein committed suicide remains to be confirmed. But federal data shows that suicide rates in the U.S. are at the highest they’ve been since World War II, and even higher than they were during the Great Depression, according to a report from TIME magazine.

The Catholic Church teaches that suicide is a violation of the 5th commandment “Thou Shall Not Kill,” and a mortal sin.

CNA spoke with three moral theologians about suicide, on the hope for salvation that the Church holds for those who take their lives, and the obligations of the state to protect prisoners from themselves.

Grave matter and mortal sin

David Cloutier is a moral theologian and associate professor of theology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Cloutier told CNA that when considering suicide, it is important to remember that it is taught by the Church to be a grave sin.

“(That) means all things considered, this is a serious matter, and to make a choice against life is to choose against God, who gives everyone the gift of life, and to also choose against your obligations to others,” Cloutier told CNA.

In a section on suicide, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that God is the master of life, and that human beings “are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of. Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life.”

The Catechism adds that suicide “unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.”

While suicide is grave matter, the Catechism also notes that in order for a person to commit a mortal sin, three conditions must be a met: that the sin is grave matter, and that the person commits the sin with “full knowledge and deliberate consent.”

There could be mitigating factors, such as mental illness or some other kind of great distress, that might relieve a person of at least some culpability in committing suicide, Cloutier said.


The hope for salvation

Even given the gravity of suicide, Christians should always hope in the love and mercy of God in cases of suicide, Scott Hefelfinger, a moral theologian and assistant professor of theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver, told CNA.

“If we lose all hope with respect to this person's salvation, we could in fact be sort of repeating the same emotional disposition of despair that afflicted the person who did commit suicide. So we're counseled to hope rather than despair,” he said.

“We put our trust in God's mercy.”

Furthermore, Cloutier said, the Catechism itself is “pretty straightforward” in saying that those who commit suicide are not necessarily denied eternal salvatinon, because the state of their mind and soul at the time of committing the act is a factor.

If the person was in “some kind of emotional stress, or depression, or other various ways in which a person’s emotions get in the way of fully knowing what they’re doing,” their responsibility is at least somewhat mitigated, he said.

Fr. Edward Krasevac, OP, is a professor of theology, and the theology department chair at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, California.

Krasevac said that because the will to live is such a basic human instinct, it seems possible that many cases of suicide are committed by people who are influenced by serious clinical depression or other mental illnesses or psychological factors that would impair their judgment and mitigate to at least some degree the consent of their will.

“People who are clinically depressed don’t think straight, they can’t think straight,” Krasevac said.

He added there could be other mitigating factors in a person’s life, such as fear of the pain of death, or the fear of what is going to happen to them if they stay alive, such as a person “facing the rest of their life in not a good prison situation, losing everything they ever had, not being able to deal with life in prison...these are what we call modifiers of responsibility.”

“So in many cases of suicide, a person's responsibility is seriously diminished,” he said. “[In such a case] it's not subjectively mortal sin even though it may look like it from the outside and it is objectively a mortal sin.”

Another reason to hope is that a person could have repented of their actions in the moments before their death, Hefelfinger noted.

“In the case of someone who, let's say is culpable of the act of suicide, and they begin this process. Well, usually there's some suffering involved, and usually death doesn't come about instantaneously,” he said.

“And so, God's mercy doesn't need a very wide crack to get through. I think there are always these opportunities prior to death, in the split second before death, where we certainly do not want to rule out the possibility of God's mercy,” he said. 

“And again, we say this without in any way diminishing the gravity of the act. It's the gravity of the act that makes us lean on God's mercy so much, so we turn our attention to that and pray for that so greatly.”

The state and the suicidal person

The Catholic Church teaches that states have a duty to uphold the common good of society, and although the Catechism does not specifically express what a state should do in the case of a suicidal person, Cloutier said the state has several interests in preventing the suicide of people in prison.

“The reason the state wants to avoid suicide is because it wants to allow the prisoner a fair, public trial, which is in the public interest,” he said.

“It’s in the interest of the prisoner, because then he might be found innocent, and it’s in the interest of the public, because if the prisoner is found guilty through this, then the prisoner is subjected to appropriate punishment,” he added.

“So the state...has an interest in the person going through the justice system.”

In upholding the common good, the state also has an interest in keeping prisoners alive, Cloutier said. “This is why we have suicide watch. It is also the case that in our society, we generally believe that anyone who is suicidal should be prevented from taking their own life,” he said.

Suicide is the leading cause of death in prison. According to recent data from the U.S. Department of Justice, 372 suicides occurred in 3,000 federal prisons in 2014. This number is 2.5 times higher than suicide rates in state prisons and 3.5 times higher than in general society.

In the case of someone like Epstein, who was at one point known to be suicidal, the state assumes the responsibility for that person’s mental health while they are in prison, and therefore cut off from other communities of support, Hefelfinger added.

“(Prisoners) typically don't have access to those more closely knit communities,” he said. “And so there is a moral responsibility, it would seem, for the state and for those running these facilities to attend to the mental health of those folks who are in these institutions.”

The investigation of Epstein’s death is ongoing.

If you are feeling suicidal, contact the National suicide preention lifeline at: 1-800-273-8255 or text CONNECT to 741741 to be connected to a crisis counselor in the United States.

International scholars express concerns about John Paul II Institute

Vatican City, Aug 15, 2019 / 04:17 pm (CNA).- A group of 49 academics from universities around the world has asked the administrators of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Rome to reinstate several faculty members recently dismissed from the institute.

Contributors to the recently completed Dizionario su Sesso, Amore e Fecondità, an interdisciplinary academic tome on sex, love, and fertility, expressed their view in an Aug. 3 letter to administrators of the institute.

The project, which involved scholars from multiple specializations, was coordinated by recently dismissed John Paul II Institute professor Fr. Jose Noriega.

The scholars said that their work on the project was “a very fruitful and professional scientific collaboration which has highlighted to us the outstanding academic profile of your institute as well as the great scientific and editorial competence of the main curator of the Dizionario, Professor José Noriega.”

“It is therefore with great distress that we learned the news about the sudden dismissals of two full professors, José Noriega and Livio Melina, together with other colleagues: Maria Luisa Di Pietro, Stanisław Grygiel, Monika Grygiel, Przemysław Kwiatkowski, and Vittorina Marini. All of them are scholars of outstanding international reputation and some of them have equally collaborated with us at the Dizionario,” they wrote.

“We cannot see any convincing reason – academic, doctrinal or disciplinary – which justifies their dismissal.”

“If your institute wants to maintain its high academic profile and international reputation, we ask you to revoke these dismissals and to reassume the aforementioned scholars among the faculty of your Institute,” the scholars concluded.

The letter comes during a period of controversy at the institute.

Last month, new statutes were approved for the institute, in response to a 2017 announcement that Pope Francis would legally refound the Institute, and broaden its academic curriculum, from a focus on the theology of marriage and the family to an approach that will also include the study of the family from the perspective of the social sciences.

After the new statutes designed to implement that vision were approved, students, alumni, and faculty raised concerns about the role of faculty members in the institute’s new governing structure, about the reduction of theology courses and the elimination of some theology disciplines, and about the dismissal of some faculty members, including Msgr. Livio Melina and Noriega.

Faculty members have told CNA they do not object to the pope’s desire to expand the school’s mission or approach, but say that the administrators responsible for implementing that mission have acted unfairly.

More than 250 students and alumni of Rome’s John Paul II Institute have signed a letter expressing their concern about the school’s new statutes, and the dismissal of Noriega and Melina. The letter expresses concern that current students will not be able to complete the academic programs in which they are currently enrolled, and the faculty dismissals have taken place without due process.

On July 31, Fr. Jose Granados, the Institute’s vice-president, told CNA that “the identity of the Institute is seriously threatened,” and called for administrators to resume discussion with faculty members about the approach to implementing Pope Francis’ call for an expansion of the school’s approach.

Earlier in July, the Institute’s president, Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, told Vatican News that that although some students have raised concerns about the Institute's direction, others “have already written expressing confidence in the renewal and expansion of research and training in theological-pastoral and anthropological-cultural fields,” at the Institute.

Sequeri lamented the controversy surrounding changes to the Institute’s identity.

“The polemics, more or less malicious, that in this regard, try to involve the many students that look with trust to the project of a truly 'Catholic' knowledge and formation, obviously cultivate other interests. They are not the ones of John Paul II, not the ones of Pope Francis, not the ones of the Institute."

Among the signatories to the letter are John Crosby, a professor of philosophy at Franciscan University of Steubenville; Ignacio de Ribera-Martin, an assistant professor at the School of Philosophy of the Catholic University of America; and Tracey Rowland, the St John Paul II Research Chair in Theology at Australia’s University of Notre Dame, Australia and member of the International Theological Commission.
 

 

 

 

Labor Department rule aims to widen religious freedom protection for employers

Washington D.C., Aug 15, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Department of Labor announced Wednesday that it is considering a new rule that would allow federal contractors who identify as religious to hire employees based on faith and religious practice.

The new policy would expand a Johnson-era executive order protecting the rights of religious employers with federal government contracts to hire from within their religious group. 

The new proposal was announced Aug. 14. The Department of Labor said the new policy “clarifies the scope and applications of the religious exemption contained in section 204(c) of Executive Order 11246.”  

Executive Order 11246 forbids federal contractors from engaging in discriminatory hiring on the basis “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” An exemption for religious-based employers allowed them legally to hire only people of a certain faith if they so choose, but the executive order did not fully define as to what “religious-based” meant. 

The proposed new rule takes steps to better define the term, saying that the “religious exemption covers not just churches but employers that are organized for a religious purpose, hold themselves out to the public as carrying out a religious purpose, and engage in exercise of religion consistent with, and in furtherance of, a religious purpose.” 

The new definition also includes companies that claim to be religious “in response to inquiries from a member of the public or a government entity.” 

Additionally, the new rule states that “employers can condition employment on acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets without sanction by the federal government,” meaning that a federal contractor can make hiring decisions based upon how devoutly an employee practices a certain religious faith. 

All companies are still barred from discriminating on other grounds. 

The Department of Labor cited recent Supreme Court cases, including Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Hobby Lobby v. Burwell as having underscored constitutional religious freedom protections.

Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Patrick Pizzella said in a released statement that “As people of faith with deeply held religious beliefs are making decisions on whether to participate in federal contracting, they deserve [a] clear understanding of their obligations and protections under the law.” 

About a quarter of workers in the United States are employed by a company that is contracted with the federal government. 

LGBT-rights activist groups like the Human Rights Campaign, who called the change a “license to discriminate,” came out strongly against the policy shift.

Louise Melling, acting deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union told a press call that the rule was “just the most recent in an ever-lengthening list of actions by this administration to authorize discrimination in name of religion.”

The White House responded to the criticism in a statement Wednesday, saying “In no way does today’s announcement by the Department of Labor undermine the President’s promise and commitment to the LGBTQ community.” 

“The proposed rule will continue to responsibly protect religious freedom and members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination,” the statement said.

While some activist groups have criticized the new rule as a license for widespread discrimination, Luke Goodrich, senior counsel and vice president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNA that he believes the policy is a far from controversial. 

"When a religious group hires people of the same religion to carry out their mission, it's not 'discrimination,' it's common sense,” Goodrich told CNA. 

“And when the government refuses to work with religious groups that do the best job of caring for the needy, it's not 'equality,' it's nonsense,” he added. 

The new rule is open for comment in the Federal Register until September 16.