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Catholic US News

Struggle with porn? The Church can help you, US bishops say

Washington D.C., Nov 29, 2015 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- For the first time, U.S. bishops have issued a historical pastoral letter specifically addressing the global crisis of pornography, looking at how the industry is affecting the parishioners in their pews and what the Church can do to offer mercy, healing, and hope to recovering pornography users.

“We offer this statement to give a word of hope and healing to those who have been harmed by pornography and to raise awareness of its pervasiveness and harms,” the statement reads, saying the Church wants to offer healing to the families destroyed by pornography and to the individuals who have been exploited by it.

The USCCB officially approved the pastoral letter created by the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth called “Create in Me a Clean Heart” on Nov. 17. The letter addresses the crisis of porn and how the Church is reaching out with mercy to those who fall prey to the thriving billion-dollar pornography industry, which creates an increasing slew of victims and perpetrators every year.

Pornography’s wide acceptance and even at times promotion in today’s global culture has prompted the U.S. bishops to address the crux of the issue: the failure to recognize every human’s innate call to love.

According to the pastoral letter, “every man and woman, whether called to marriage or not, has a fundamental vocation of self-giving, fruitful love in imitation of the Lord.”

The bishops describe pornography, however, as the opposite of love – the love for which every individual is created. Instead, pornography creates “a disordered view of the person, because it is ordered toward use, as of a thing, rather than love, which pertains to persons.”

Pornography also “rejects the equal dignity and complementarity between man and woman and strikes at the heart of God’s plan for communion between persons,” the letter stated.

The bishops also linked pornography as a gateway to other problems, such as: masturbation, addiction, adultery, prostitution, domestic violence, abuse, and sex trafficking. It also leads to a distorted view of human sexuality, and in some cases, damages the capacity for healthy, human intimacy.

Engaging in pornography might appear to some like a harmless, private affair, but the bishops pointed to multiple victims who are involved in the making. Many individuals and children portrayed in pornography are victims of human trafficking and also forced into prostitution, the bishops wrote, citing a study by former litigation attorney and anti-porn advocacy leader Noel Bouche.

The crisis of pornography inflicts deep wounds on many individuals, spouses, and families – including faithful Catholics, they said. Recognizing this danger and the reach of pornography within their own pastoral corners, the U.S. bishops were quick to point out that the Church is waiting to welcome those who are hurting.

“No wound is so deep, however, as to be out of the reach of Christ’s redeeming grace. The Church as a field hospital is called to proclaim the truth of the human person in love,” the letter stated.

“You are beloved sons and daughters of the Father. Be not afraid to approach the altar of mercy and ask for forgiveness. Many good people struggle with this sin. You are not alone,” the bishops said.

For many, use of pornography has become an addiction, or at the very least, desensitizing. Because of this, many individuals will have to seek other help in addition to confession or spiritual direction.

“We wish to specifically address Catholics in a range of circumstances and present opportunities for guidance, healing and grace,” the statement continued.

The bishops recommended counseling, coaching, accountability groups, conferences, and retreats as good options for recovering pornography users. Other tools like online monitoring software, couples therapy, and chastity education are also good resources.

“Freedom from pornography is a daily choice and calls for ongoing formation,” the pastoral letter noted.

Parents also have a responsibility to protect their sons and daughters from the modern-day scourge of pornography. The bishops noted that the average age of children who are exposed to pornography is age eleven, meaning that there are many children who are even younger.

“Parents and guardians, protect your home! Be vigilant about the technology you allow into your home and be sensitive to the prevalence of sexual content in even mainstream television and film and ease by which it comes through the Internet and mobile devices,” the letter stated.

In addition, the bishops encouraged intensified seminary and priestly formation on pastoral care to treat those involved with pornography. Priests, they noted, have a crucial role to play in creating authentic relationships and fraternal support with individuals who want to defeat their struggle with porn.

“God’s grace and concrete help are always available. Healing is always possible,” the bishops noted.

“Trust in and be led by the Holy Spirit. The Lord’s mercy and forgiveness are abundant!”

A full list of USCCB-approved resources on recovering from pornography is available at:

Catholic US News

What does Christ have to do with cancer? One woman’s path to peace

Los Angeles, Calif., Nov 21, 2015 / 04:02 pm (CNA).- Heather King never cared much for doctors.

It’s an attitude she partly inherited from her mother, “who classified ginger ale as a medicine, considered Novocain a snobbish extravagance” and somehow managed to avoid a visit to the doctor’s office for almost 30 years.

After years of relatively good health despite a 25-year stint as a functioning alcoholic, King had always taken her physical health somewhat for granted. She viewed her body as a “dependable tractor” that simply required exercise and a balanced diet to function, and considered nutritionists, chiropractors, acupuncturists and their ilk “to be a bunch of overpaid quacks.”

So when she dutifully showed up to Mercy General Hospital for her yearly mammogram, squeezing the appointment in on a Friday after several other errands, she shook with fear when the technician came back from the lab asking for a second picture of her left breast.

“Immediately right then I just thought ‘Cancer! Cancer! Cancer!’” King told CNA.

Although she’d have to wait two weeks for the final word, King immediately made her way down to the chapel in the Catholic hospital after her appointment. A devout convert after years of drinking and promiscuity, King attempted to piece together a prayer amid her anxiety.

“I’m pretty sure I really heard Him that afternoon because after a while, there in that sterile chapel, I experienced a moment of peace such as I never had known before and never have quite known since,”
King recalls in her new memoir, “Stripped: at the intersection of cancer, culture, and Christ.”

At that moment, she had a deep sense that whatever happened to her, even if it was death, Christ would be with her.

That moment of peace and surrender to Christ was what she clung to in the subsequent moments of fear and panic – the actual diagnosis, deciding what further treatment she would accept, a struggling marriage that further crumbled under the stress.

Throughout her immersion in the world of the oncology ward, King was struck by what she saw as a very militant response to cancer from the medical world and the culture at large.

“What I object to is the implication that when you get a cancer diagnosis, right away you’re supposed to put on your fatigues and pick up your gun and do battle with it,” she said.

“And that’s the word we use, a ‘battle’ with cancer, and it’s always in obituaries, it’s odd.”

Despite her tumor’s small size – and her cancer’s stage one, grade one diagnosis – a mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation were all recommended to her as courses of treatment, as well as five subsequent years of a heavy-hitting estrogen medicine.

But after doing a lot of research and soul-searching, King opted to forgo most of the traditional treatments. She had the tumor removed and spent not even one night in the hospital, returning to her normal life the next day.

It’s not because she had a death wish, King insists. It’s not because she was expecting some radical, miraculous healing from God. It’s not because she distrusts doctors and the medical field.

Rather, she said, it was about how she wanted to live and offer the rest of her life, and death to God.

“It’s not really a book about cancer as much as it’s a book about what master do I really want to serve?”
she said.

“My point is I want to surrender in a way, and that doesn’t mean lying over and playing dead, it doesn’t mean being a doormat, it doesn’t mean having a sublimated death wish,” she said. “It means fighting the battle that St. Paul fought when he says ‘I have stayed the course, I have run the race.’”

That race, she said, is being able to love life without clinging to it through extreme medical measures out of fear. It means coming to some sort of peace with the ultimate mystery of life, with the paradox that good people suffer and die, with “the deepest questions of human existence.” It means not being afraid to die out of the fear that you haven’t fully lived.

For King, it meant resting in the peace that she had “ordered her life to true North.”

Earlier in life, King was looking for answers and thought they could be found in the world of law. As a functioning alcoholic, she made it through law school, passed the bar, and went on to a high-paying but ultimately unfulfilling job as a lawyer.

She’d recently kicked her salary and benefits to the curb in order to pursue the life she felt God was truly calling her to – a quiet life centered around the sacraments, silence, and plenty of time devoted to the vocation of writing. In a way, she’d already surrendered much of her worldly security to God.

The fact that she had the presence of mind to call upon faith during the diagnosis, and the tumultuous aftermath, came as somewhat of a surprise to King herself.

“I always thought if this happened, I’d be so scared that I wouldn’t bring my faith to it,” King said.

“But there’s always an element of surprise, like the woman at the well who runs back to the town yelling ‘People, people! I think I’ve met him! I’ve met the Messiah.’”

It’s been 15 years since King’s original diagnosis, and she’s still doing well.

“I had a mammogram for the first time in a long time, it came back normal, so everything’s been fine,” she said.

King said her advice to anyone facing a new cancer diagnosis would be to not be afraid to listen to their own bodies, hearts and souls when it comes to making the big decisions, despite outside pressure from family, friends or even doctors.

Having faith in something bigger than yourself, even if it’s simply in the power of love, is also invaluable when facing something so drastic, she said.

“The word accompany and the word companion come from the Latin ‘com panis,’ or ‘with bread’” King said. “And if you’re already a follower of Christ, this bread, he accompanies you, he walks with you. You’re not alone.”


The ‘tyranny of uniformity': will the US have a diverse public square in the future?

Baltimore, Md., Nov 19, 2015 / 03:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The case of the Little Sisters of the Poor before the Supreme Court may determine if the United States will continue to have a diverse public square, said the head of the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty committee.

The case is about “the tyranny of uniformity,” Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore told CNA.

The Little Sisters of the Poor have challenged the HHS contraception mandate on the grounds that it violates their freedom to live out their religious beliefs in public. Archbishop Lori said the administration is effectively telling the sisters, “you must play by our rules,” he explained; but the Church is “different, and we still have our place in the public square.”

“We would like to run our health insurance programs in a way that conforms as well to our moral teaching,” he explained.

In 2012, the Obama administration mandated under its health care law that all employers provide coverage in employee health plans for contraceptives, sterilizations, and drugs that can cause abortions.

They later offered what it called an accommodation for some religiously-affiliated groups and non-profits that objected to the mandate on grounds that it forced them to act against their consciences. In the revised rules, the parties would notify the government of their religious objection, who in turn would direct their insurers to provide the mandated coverage.

Critics charged that the cost for the drugs and procedures would still be passed on to the employers, and many of the objecting parties, including the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Archdiocese of Washington, said they were still being forced to act against their conscience under the offered accommodation.

The Little Sisters of the Poor challenged the mandate in court but lost their case at the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in July. The ruling determined that the government’s accommodation did not put a substantial burden on their free exercise of religion.

The sisters filed for and received a temporary injunction against the law and appealed their case to the Supreme Court, which agreed Nov. 6 to hear the case along with the other challenges to the mandate. The injunction will expire if the Supreme Court rules against the sisters.

Archbishop Lori insisted the Little Sisters should be exempt from the mandate because of their religious work.

“When you go to see the sisters, as I do – I’m very good friends with the Little Sisters of the Poor –  and you spend any time at all in their home, you know it’s a work of religion,” he said. “You know it’s motivated by faith. And so it’s hard to understand why a ministry such as that would not be completely exempt from anything that compromises their faith in any way.”

Archbishop Lori spoke with CNA on the second day of the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. bishops’ conference in Baltimore. During the first two days of the session the bishops adopted a formal statement on pornography, approved an amended version of their 2007 voting guide “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” and elected six committee chairs.

In his Nov. 16 address to the bishops on religious liberty, Archbishop Lori warned that current threats to the beliefs of religious institutions, such as the HHS mandate, could dismantle the diverse public square that is so necessary to a free society.

If religious organizations such as schools and hospitals must close their doors rather than comply with a law that forces them to act against their religious beliefs, he explained, the public square will become less diverse and pluralistic.

“We are not isolated individuals, but members of communities,” he said, adding that such communities as schools, families, and charities should all have the freedom to practice their beliefs in public.

“The struggle for religious freedom is not only a struggle for the survival of our institutions, important as that is, but indeed it is a struggle for a public square that welcomes a plurality of visions and communities,” he told the bishops.  

“We are standing for the space that civil society needs” in order to flourish, he continued. “Pope Francis has called attention to the need for a healthy pluralism. This is a vision that is attractive. Who really wants a secularized public square stripped of all differences?”

Pope Francis spoke very clearly about this when he was in the U.S., Archbishop Lori continued.

“I think the Pope gave us [U.S. bishops] great support when he was here,” he told CNA of the Pope’s September visit to the U.S. “He put it [religious freedom] in the context of serving the poor and the needy and the vulnerable, and so have the U.S. bishops done as well.”

Pope Francis even made a short, unscheduled stop at the Little Sisters of the Poor home in D.C. as a sign of support for them in their mandate case, the archbishop pointed out. That detail was first revealed in the Sept. 23 evening press conference by the director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi.

In Philadelphia that weekend, Pope Francis had warned of “the challenge of modern tyranny which imposes what he called a ‘false uniformity’,” Archbishop Lori continued.

In his address to the general assembly, the archbishop also announced developments for next year’s “Fortnight for Freedom,” a two week-long campaign of prayer, education, and action for religious freedom from June 21-July 4.

“Witness to Freedom” will be theme of the 2016 fortnight, an opportunity to “remember those witnesses past and present throughout the Church … who testify to the meaning of freedom of conscience and of obedience to the truth,” he explained.

First-class relics and possessions of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher will make a U.S. tour in 2016, he noted. All this will be an opportunity for Catholics “to pray for the modern-day martyrs for faith.”

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Catholic US News

Resist the urge to scapegoat Syrian refugees after Paris attacks, bishops advise

Washington D.C., Nov 18, 2015 / 04:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Several bishops are saying we must resist the temptation to scapegoat all Middle Eastern refugees, since they themselves are fleeing violence similar to what happened in Paris last Friday.

“We cannot and should not blame (refugees) for the actions of a terrorist organization,” Bishop Eusebio Elizondo Almaguer, auxiliary bishop of Seattle, said Nov. 17 during the United States bishops’ general assembly.

“These refugees are fleeing terror themselves—violence like we have witnessed in Paris. They are extremely vulnerable families, women, and children who are fleeing for their lives,” said the bishop, who is chair of the bishops’ committee on migration.

Coordinated gun and bomb attacks linked to militants of the Islamic State killed 129 people in Paris Nov. 13, and wounded some 350 others. Officials have identified one of the suspected terrorists as a Syrian national who they believe posed as a refugee to gain entry into France. Several other suspected attackers, however, are French nationals.

Bishop Elizondo condemned the Paris attacks, saying, “I offer my deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the November 13 attacks in Paris, France and to the French people. I add my voice to all those condemning these attacks and my support to all who are working to ensure such attacks do not occur again – both in France and around the world.”

In response to the Parish attacks, some federal and state officials, including the governors of more than 30 states, have called on an end to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States.

Bishop Elizondo commented that the screening process for refugees to gain entry into this country contains more security checks and interviews “than any arrival to the United States,” highlighting that the process can take more than two years.

Shutting out those seeking refuge from violence in their homeland is not the answer, Bishop Elizondo said. Instead, the U.S. should consider “strengthening the already stringent program,” while at the same time continuing to “welcome those in desperate need.”

He added that public officials should continue to unite in making sure the Syrian civil war reaches a peaceful resolution soon.

“Until that goal is achieved, we must work with the world community to provide safe haven to vulnerable and deserving refugees who are simply attempting to survive.”

Similarly, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence issued a statement Nov. 16 saying that “it would be wrong for our nation and our state to refuse to accept refugees simply because they are Syrian or Muslim. Obviously the background of all those crossing our borders should be carefully reviewed for reasons of security.”

“Too often in the past, however, our nation has erroneously targeted individuals as dangerous simply because of their nationality or religion. In these turbulent times, it is important that prudence not be replaced by hysteria.”

Bishop Tobin added that “as is our well-established practice, the Diocese of Providence stands ready to assist in a careful and thoughtful process of refugee resettlement.”

And the Diocese of Cheyenne responded Nov. 18 to Governor Matt Mead’s call to stop Syrian refugee resettlement saying it is “appreciative of Governor Mead’s responsibility to ensure the safety and security of all of Wyoming’s citizens.”

The statement of Deacon Mike Leman, the diocese’s legislative liaison, added that “we hope the governor has in mind a means in which the vetting process can be measured in an expedient manner, so that a resettlement option for those fleeing from war can once again be considered.”

“It is important to remember that these are our fellow human beings who are fleeing the same kind of terror that occurred last week in Paris. By denying them sanctuary, we play into the hands of terrorists. We believe that this is not an either or issue. Measured steps can and should be taken to ensure safety while also allowing that Wyoming continues to be a welcoming place.”

Since the Syrian civil war began in March 2011, more than 4.1 million Syrians have fled their homeland. Most are in Turkey and Lebanon, but many are seeking asylum in Europe and the United States.

In September the Obama administration announced that the United States was to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year. To date, the country has already accepted about 1,800 refugees from Syria.

Candidates for resettlement are vetted by several federal agencies, which takes 18-24 months on average. According to the BBC, about half of applicants are approved for resettlement, and the American process is much stricter than that in Europe.

But some officials, such as FBI director James Comey, worry that United States intelligence in Syria isn’t good enough to prevent “gaps” in the process.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican presidential candidate, told ABC, “There is no background-check system in the world that allows us to find that out, because who do you call in Syria to background-check them?”

House Speaker Paul Ryan called Nov. 17 for a “pause” in Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States to allow Congress to “verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population.”

Ryan added that “Our nation has always been welcoming. But we cannot let terrorists take advantage of our compassion. This is a moment where it’s better to be safe than to be sorry.”

Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has introduced a bill that would place new restrictions on the entry of Iraqi and Syrian refugees to the United States.

Several governors, however, have indicated they will continue to welcome Syrian refugees, including those of Utah, Colorado, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Washington, Vermont, and Hawaii.

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