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Texas bishops support Catholic Charities in wake of gay adoption lawsuit

Fort Worth, Texas, Feb 22, 2018 / 01:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic bishops of Texas voiced strong support Tuesday for a Catholic organization being sued by a lesbian couple in Texas.

The couple, Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin, filed a complaint this week in district court in Washington against Catholic Charities of Fort Worth after being denied a request to adopt refugee children.

The couple believes they are being discriminated against on the grounds of their sexual orientation, and told the Washington Post that they hope their lawsuit results either in a policy change at Catholic Charities or in a loss of the organization’s taxpayer funding.

In a joint statement Tuesday, the Catholic bishops of Texas voiced their support for Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, which they said is in compliance both with Catholic teaching and “with all federal regulations associated with funding from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through its Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is carrying out the federal government's Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) and the Unaccompanied Alien Child (UC) programs.”

“Catholic Charities of Fort Worth's International Foster Care program is an outreach that is faithful to the Church's mission to care for the poor and vulnerable,” Bishop Michael Olson of the diocese of Fort Worth said in a statement. “This mission is entrusted to the Church by Christ.”

“Finding foster parents – and other resources – for refugee children is difficult work,” Bishop Olson added. “Catholic Charities are often the lead agent in this work. It would be tragic if Catholic Charities were not able to provide this help, in accordance with the Gospel values and family, assistance that is so essential to these children who are vulnerable to being mistreated as meaningless in society.”

According to Church teaching, the ideal and normative family situation is a married mother and father and their children.

In 2014, Pope Francis emphasized that “(c)hildren have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child's development and emotional maturity.”

In compliance with Church teaching, Catholic Charities places children in families in which the child can experience the presence of a married mother and father.

Marouf and Esplin learned about Catholic Charities after Marouf, who directs Texas A&M’s Immigrant Rights Clinic, was invited to visit Catholic Charities of Fort Worth and learn more about their refugee programs.

Marouf said she felt “shock, disappointment, anger” after being denied the adoption, and the couple told the Washington Post they did not know of other agencies through which they could adopt refugee children.

In the bishops’ statement, Jennifer Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, noted that “all couples seeking to foster in Texas can easily find a regional agency to serve them. By contacting Wendy Bagwell at 512-438-2133, or visiting https://www.dfps.state.tx.us/adoption_and_foster_care/adoption_partners/private.asp, all couples in Texas have the opportunity to serve and through the protections of HB 3859, faith based providers are welcome to serve as well.”

This case is not the first time that Catholic Charities has come under fire for reserving adoptions to a mother and a father. In 2006, Catholic Charities of Boston was forced to shut down its adoption services because of a state law barring “sexual orientation discrimination.” That same year, Catholic Charities of San Francisco was forced to close for similar reasons.

In 2010, after a law redefining marriage, the Washington, D.C. branch of Catholic Charities was forced to close its foster care and adoption services for holding the belief that children should be placed with a married mother and father.

In 2011, Catholic Charities affiliates in Illinois were forced to close after a new requirement stipulated that state money could only go to adoption services that offered those services to same-sex couples.

“In the name of tolerance, we're not being tolerated,” Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, said at the time.

On their website, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says that Catholic adoption agencies should be allowed to operate according to Church teaching as a matter of religious freedom.

“Religious liberty is more than freedom of worship; it includes our ability to make our contribution to the common good of all Americans without having to compromise our faith,” the bishops noted.

“Without religious liberty properly understood, all Americans suffer, including the neediest children seeking adoptive and foster families, as well as birth parents who wish to turn to faith-based providers in order to place their children with adoptive parents.”

Pope Francis to youth: face your fears with discernment, courage

Vatican City, Feb 22, 2018 / 12:55 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Addressing youth around the globe, Pope Francis encouraged young people Thursday to face their fears with discernment and courage, looking to the Mother of God as their example.

“What are your fears? What worries you most deeply? An ‘underlying’ fear that many of you have is that of not being loved, well-liked or accepted for who you are,” Pope Francis said in his Feb. 22 message, saying that many insecurities arise from a “sense of inadequacy.”

“For us Christians in particular, fear must never have the last word but rather should be an occasion to make an act of faith in God…and in life!” the Pope continued.

Pope Francis’ words come ahead of the 33rd diocesan-level World Youth Day, which will take place March 25. This localized event is a preparation for the international World Youth Day, which is set to occur in Panama in 2019.

The diocesan World Youth Day also coincides with the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will discuss the topic of “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.” Pope Francis called this a “happy coincidence,” which will place the gaze of the Church on young people.

While many youth are ruled by their fears and hide behind “masks and false identities,” Pope Francis encouraged young people to remember the words from Scripture “do not be afraid,” which have been “repeated 365 times with different variation, as if to tell us that the Lord wants us to be free from fear, every day of the year.”

“In moments when doubts and fears flood our hearts, discernment becomes necessary,” the Holy Father said, noting that it is also “indispensable when searching for one’s vocation.”

While many see discernment as an individual process, Pope Francis said that it is rather an interior reflection on each person’s vocation, or “call from above.” Prayerful silence and dialogue with others, the Pope said, are necessary for the process of discernment.

On this note, the Roman Pontiff pointed to the example of Mary and her witness of love despite her fears, which was “full of boldness and focused completely on the gift of self.”

“Mary, like others in the Sacred Scriptures, trembles before the mystery of God’s call, who in a moment places before her the immensity of his own plan and makes her feel all her smallness as a humble creature,” Pope Francis said, noting her complete willingness even in the face of uncertainty.

“The first reason not to fear is the fact that God has called us by name. The angel, God’s messenger, called Mary by name,” Pope Francis continued, noting that God has also called “each of you by name.”  

The angel’s words to Mary also ring true for youth today, the Pope said, noting that the all-knowing power of God will always sustain every individual, even amidst fear and darkness.

“The Angel’s words descend upon our human fears, dissolving them with the power of the Good News of which we are heralds: our life is not pure chance or a mere struggle for survival, rather each of us is a cherished story loved by God,” Pope Francis said.

However, the Pope said that courage is also needed for the youths of today to address their fears and discern what God wants for them, just as Mary did.

“From the certainty that God’s grace is with us comes the strength to take courage in the present moment: the courage to carry forward what God asks of us here and now, and in every area of our lives,” the Holy Father said.

Encouraging young people to face their fears with faith, discernment, and courage while looking to Mary as an example, Pope Francis said that the universal Church awaits the gift that all youths have to offer in their unique personhood.

“Dear young people, the Lord, the Church, the world are waiting for your answer to the unique call that each one receives in this life!” the Pope said.

“As World Youth Day in Panama draws closer, I invite you to prepare yourselves for our gathering with the joy and enthusiasm of those who wish to participate in such a great adventure… do you accept the challenge?”

German bishops discuss intercommunion of Lutheran, Catholic spouses

Munich, Germany, Feb 22, 2018 / 10:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Reinhard Marx has announced that the German bishops' conference will publish a pastoral handout for married couples that allows Protestant spouses of Catholics "in individual cases" and "under certain conditions" to receive Holy Communion, provided they "affirm the Catholic faith in the Eucharist".

According to the press report of the Archbishop of Munich and Freising, the handout is primarily aimed at pastoral workers and is to be understood as a tool for pastoral situations, "to consider the concrete situation and come to a responsible decision about the possibility of the non-Catholic partner to receive Communion".

The announcement was made "after intensive debate" at the conclusion of the general assembly of the German bishops' conference, which was held Feb. 19 - 22 in the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt, and attended by 62 members of the bishops' conference under the leadership of conference chairman Cardinal Marx.

The press release declares that its premise is that "in individual cases, the spiritual hunger for receiving Communion together in interdenominational marriages can be so strong that it could jeopardise the marriage and the faith of the spouse". The statement goes on to say that this applies all the more to spouses who "already want to live out their marriage very consciously" as a Christian couple.

The central message of the handout is "that everyone in a marriage that binds denominations," after a "mature examination in a spiritual conversation with their priest or another person charged with pastoral care, that has come to a decision of conscience to affirm the Faith of the Catholic Church as well as thereby concluding a 'grave spiritual need' as well as fulfilling the desire to receive the Eucharist may approach the Lord's table and receive Communion."

Cardinal Marx' statement emphasises: "We are talking about decisions in individual cases that require a careful spiritual discernment."

The handout is expected to be published in a few weeks' time.

The Code of Canon Law states that in the danger of death or if “some other grave necessity urges it,” Catholic ministers licitly administer penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick to Protestants “who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.”

The bishops' announcement follows a discussion of such a proposal at a previous general assembly held in the spring of 2017.

According to Archbishop Ludwig Schick of Bamberg in a report in the German diocesan newspaper "Tag des Herrn" from March 2017, Schick is quoted as saying that the bishops were seeking "a responsible decision" on the question of non-Catholic partners in interdenominational marriages in individual cases by pastoral means.


On Dec. 31 2016, the website of the Lutheran ecclesial community in Germany reported that Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück was hoping for a recognition of what was already the case, namely, that in many places, Protestants went to Communion with their Catholic spouses. "We have to give a foundation to what often already is in place in practice", the website quotes Bode from an interview with the Lutheran press agency EPD.


Bode, who also attended the 2014-2015 Synods of Bishops on the family, was elected vice-chairman to the German bishops' conference Sept. 26, 2017.

 

What to do if you're too ashamed to go to Confession

Madrid, Spain, Feb 22, 2018 / 03:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- While Reconciliation is intended to allow Christ’s victory to overcome sin in our lives, what happens when shame over one’s sins is so great that it keeps people away from the sacrament?

The famous Spanish theologian Father José Antonio Fortea discussed this phenomenon, and practical solutions to it, in a blog post.

Normally, a sense of Christ’s mercy should be enough to help people overcome their shame and go to Confession, in order to receive forgiveness and healing.

However, in some cases, Fr. Fortea acknowledged, people are overwhelmed by their sins, and this shame becomes “a wall” keeping them away from Reconciliation.

“They would rather make a 100-mile pilgrimage than have to confess face-to-face certain things they did that are terribly and frightfully humiliating to them,” he said, reflecting on the torment that faces some penitents who struggle approaching the sacrament.

The Spanish priest first pointed out the importance of priests offering fatherly compassion on those who have “these burdens on their consciences.”

He also noted the importance of ensuring truly anonymous confessions. In each city, he said, “there ought to be at least one confessional where instead of a grill, there is a metal sheet with small holes, making it totally impossible to see the person making their confession.”

The person confessing should not be visible to the priest as they approach or leave, he continued. If there is a window on the priest’s door, it should not be transparent.

“With these measures, the vast majority of the faithful can resolve the problem of shame,” Fr. Fortea said.

But for those “truly very rare” cases where shame is still a major obstacle, even with anonymous confessionals, additional steps can be taken.

In these instances of extreme shame, the person can “make an anonymous phone call to a priest in the city and tell him about this problem.” Confession itself cannot take place over the phone, but “in many cases, the phone conversation will be enough so the penitent can get up his confidence and can approach the kind of above-mentioned confessional.”

If the penitent still finds that the shame of mentioning his sins is too great to bear, he can arrange for a written confession with the priest.

Fr. Fortea said that in several of the confessionals in his city of Alcalá de Henares, Spain, “it's possible for the penitent to move the screen slightly, just a fraction of an inch, and slip in a piece of paper.”

He offered guidelines for such written confessions: they should generally not be longer than one page, sins should be written “in a clear and concise manner,” or if possible, should be typed for clarity in reading.

“The priest will give his counsel, the penance and absolution without needing to bring up any questions for the penitent. In this case asking questions would be counterproductive,” he reflected.

While the general rule is that confession should be vocal, it can be done through writing in some cases, the priest said. He noted that those who are deaf or mute have always been permitted to make written confessions.

And in the case of insurmountable shame, this would also be licit, he said. “A psychological inability can be just as real as a physical one.”

This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 18, 2016.

In Aleppo, a heroine of endurance

Aleppo, Syria, Feb 21, 2018 / 03:23 pm (Aid to the Church in Need).- Annie Artin, 15, is a lonely girl who lives with her mother, Silva Owadis, 37, her grandmother, and aunt in a modest but new apartment in Aleppo, Syria.

The family has lived there since the middle of 2016, after moving a number of times, each time because neighborhoods had come under attack in the battle for control of the city.

Annie is lonely because she had to move so often and change schools, plus her father disappeared from her life. This Armenian Catholic family has no regular income and depends on support from local Catholic sources for its livelihood.

Annie is a tenth grader at a school run by her Church, Al-Markazia. She loves going to school and studies very hard.

Here is her story, in her own words:

“I came up against serious problems with both French and math. While I was the top student in chemistry, my math scores suffered a lot at one point. I attribute this problem to my teacher who did not have a streamlined approach to teaching. To make matters worse, my mother didn’t have enough money to pay for a math tutor. There were difficult circumstances, too, with many mortar attacks on areas very close to my school. Fortunately, we survived the terrible consequences of war after a long period of having to stay home from school.

“Even before the war started, things had not been going well between my mother and father; he was unemployed and rather lazy. Things got worse when the fighting started – they clashed every day. Eventually, my father decided to go to Armenia, supposedly in search of work and finding a way to make better life for himself and his family. He ended up disappearing, no longer responding to our communications and calls; he didn’t even try to ask about us.

“After a while, visiting a government center for some paperwork, my mother was shocked to discover that my father had divorced her and married another woman. My mother collapsed upon learning the news and got sick. I was left with no financial support owing to the fact that my father couldn’t care less about my school requirements. I was in dire need of financial help not only to pay tuition, but also to secure the basic necessities of life.  

“My father wasn’t even worried about us after a mortar shell hit the side of our apartment. To the best of my knowledge, fathers are not only supposed to be fully committed to their families, they are also in charge of providing financial support. Life dealt us heavy blows; my mother had lost her job and we were left homeless in the middle of very difficult circumstances.

“I was hoping my father would call to inquire about our situation, but there was no response from his side. Despite being in touch with him in the beginning after he first left, he vanished without a trace a few months later. In an attempt to survive hardships after being without food for quite so long, we tried desperately to ask my father for financial support, but he was reluctant to do anything for us. Even a few loaves of bread were not available to keep us alive for one single day. My heartless father kept giving us unjustifiable excuses, such as road blocks.  

“At one point, I fell gravely ill; I was also psychologically bruised as I had been fatherless, homeless, and penniless for a long time. My mother pleaded with the doctor repeatedly to call my father and ask him to call me to make me feel better, yet there came no answer. To be frank, I would never have survived without God’s blessings.

“My mother has been with me every step of the way in unimaginable situations. I owe my success to her long-term effort to keep me going despite the challenges. Despite being envious of my friends who had private tutors and generous fathers, I never lost faith in God. I kept wearing religious symbols to offer supplications to God. I clung onto hope that God would never forget me. I always felt comfortable after my prayers, confident that I would stay safe no matter what happened.

“I did not know what to do – but God did not leave us; he was with us in every sad moment; he used to send us many people who helped us; they were angels in our lives.

“I have always dreamed of moving to Tartus, where I was born. However, the prospect of living abroad has been haunting me because of the scarcity of job opportunities in Syria. Following long discussions with my mom, however, I came to realize that this lovely idea would be hard to pull off. No matter what, I will never relent in my pursuit of being a pharmacist; and faith in God is carrying me. And should I ever leave the country, I would hope to return to Syria as soon as security and stability are restored.

 


Fawzy Basily writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international papal charity providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org