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Archbishop Chaput: Other moral issues not equivalent to abortion

Philadelphia, Pa., Aug 10, 2015 / 04:28 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Of the many struggles plaguing modern society, none can be equated with the blatant taking of innocent human lives, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said regarding the latest investigative videos of Planned Parenthood.

“Here’s a simple exercise in basic reasoning. On a spectrum of bad things to do, theft is bad, assault is worse and murder is worst. There’s a similar texture of ill will connecting all three crimes, but only a very confused conscience would equate thieving and homicide,” he said in his August 10 column for Catholic Philly.  

“Both are serious matters. But there is no equivalence. The deliberate killing of innocent life is a uniquely wicked act. No amount of contextualizing or deflecting our attention to other issues can obscure that.”

In a series of five videos released thus far by the Center for Medical Progress, Planned Parenthood officials casually discuss prices for various aborted baby body parts and how abortion procedures may be altered to ensure intact organs and even “intact cadavers.” One video shows a medical assistant looking through body parts from an aborted baby before proclaiming, “Another boy!”

The videos have raised questions of whether the organization is harvesting and selling organs from aborted babies.

Planned Parenthood has maintained that its actions are legal. However, the videos have prompted widespread outrage, nationwide rallies, congressional investigations and calls to defund the organization, which receives more than half a billion dollars in taxpayer money annually.

While today’s world is filled with many social ills – which are connected and must all be acknowledged and addressed – there is a natural hierarchy to these problems, because some are foundational to human life itself, Archbishop Chaput said.

One common argument against the pro-life movement – of which Catholics make up a large contingent – is that they are merely pro-birth; they do not care about the needs of the child or the mother once the child has been born. That understanding is mistaken, the archbishop commented.

“It makes no sense to champion the cause of unborn children if we ignore their basic needs once they’re born,” he said. “Thus it’s no surprise that – year in and year out – nearly all Catholic dioceses in the United States, including Philadelphia, devote far more time, personnel and material resources to providing social services to the poor and education to young people than to opposing abortion.”

The Catholic Church is one of the largest charitable organizations in the world. Although it is difficult to quantify exactly what percentage of social services are rendered by the Church in the United States every year, a 2013 report by Forbes ranked Catholic Charities alone as number five in the nation. And this doesn’t account for other Catholic charitable organizations such as Christ in the City, St. Vincent de Paul societies, and soup kitchens or other charities run by religious orders or local parishes.   

However, it is correct to prioritize the right to life as the foundation for all other rights, Archbishop Chaput noted.

“But of course, children need to survive the womb before they can have needs like food, shelter, immigration counseling and good health care.  Humanity’s priority right – the one that undergirds all other rights – is the right to life,” he said.

And while being opposed to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse anyone from caring about other social injustices, such a poverty and violence, there is a right ordering of moral priorities, Archbishop Chaput said, which is the reason the United States’ bishops released their 1998 pastoral letter, “Living the Gospel of Life.”

“Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care . . . But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life.   

Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the ‘rightness’ of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community” (Living the Gospel of Life pp. 22).

Another common argument against the mainstream pro-life movement is that politics can never provide a solution to the problem of abortion, and therefore political involvement is a waste of time.

“In practice, politics is the application of moral conviction to public discourse and the process of lawmaking. Law not only constrains and defends; it also teaches and forms. Law not only reflects culture; it shapes and reshapes it. That’s why Christians can’t avoid political engagement,” Archbishop Chaput said.

While political action is never the main focus or goal of faith, Christians have a duty to defend life that “inescapably involves politics.”

“Thus the recent Senate vote to defund Planned Parenthood was not only right and timely, but necessary. And the failure of that measure involves a public failure of character by every Catholic senator who voted against it,” he said.

At the end of his statement, Archbishop Chaput urged everyone to read “veteran ‘pro-choice’ voice” Ruben Navarette, Jr.’s August 10th column in the Daily Beast, in which he honestly questions his pro-abortion stance after his revulsion at what is shown in the videos.

The column’s strongest lines, Archbishop Chaput said, are when Navarette quotes his pro-life wife.

“Those are babies that are being killed. Millions of them. And you need to use your voice to protect them. That’s what a man does. He protects children – his own children, and other children. That’s what it means to be a man.”  

Archbishop Chaput’s response: “Amen.”


Catholic US News

When the Senate won’t defund Planned Parenthood, states will

Washington D.C., Aug 7, 2015 / 03:41 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Alabama on Thursday became the third U.S. state this week to withdraw funding from its local branches of Planned Parenthood, after the U.S. Senate failed to bring to the floor a bill that would have blocked federal funding of the abortion group.

The decision comes in the wake of a series of undercover videos showing officials from the organization describing the harvesting of body parts from aborted babies at their clinics.

Alabama governor Robert Bentley wrote to the head of Planned Parenthood Southeast Aug. 6 informing her that his state’s Medicaid agency is terminating is existing agreements with Planned Parenthood Southeast. The termination will take effect in 15 days.

Bentley tweeted that “As a doctor and Alabama’s Governor, the issue of human life, from conception to birth and beyond, is extremely important to me” and “I respect human life, and I do not want Alabama to be associated with an organization that does not.”

Casey Mattox, a senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, commended Bentley’s decision: “Not one more penny should go to Planned Parenthood, a billion-dollar abortion dealer caught on camera negotiating the sale of hearts, lungs, and livers from aborted babies. Governor Bentley should therefore be commended for ending the use of state taxpayer dollars for such barbarism.”

“Our tax dollars instead should fund local public health clinics, which outnumber Planned Parenthood locations more than 10 to 1 and are not tainted by constant scandals and misdeeds. America doesn’t need Planned Parenthood,” Mattox concluded.

On Aug. 5, New Hampshire’s Executive Council (the state’s executive body alongside its governor) voted 3-2 to deny the state’s contract with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. The decision will remove $639,000 in state funding of the organization.

Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, a Republican, voted to deny Planned Parenthood’s contract, even though he supports legal abortion. According to the Washington Times, Sununu said that “When you have a group like this here at the national level under all this investigation and scrutiny – look, if it were any other contractor, there wouldn’t even be a debate. Of course we wouldn’t be doing business with them.”

“But for some reason the Democrats seem to be going out of their way to find an excuse to keep Planned Parenthood around, and on the line and on contract. There are lots of other providers of these services out there. All I’m saying is, let’s go contract with them and use these other health care providers to make sure we are giving adequate choice to these women.”

The council voted to allocate state funding to three alternative health care providers instead: Concord Feminist Health Center, the Joan G. Lovering Health Center, and Weeks Medical Center.

Louisiana’s health department ended its Medicaid provider contract with Planned Parenthood Aug. 3, though it will take effect in 30 days. The decision was made, according to Governor Bobby Jindal, because “Planned Parenthood does not represent the values of the people of Louisiana and shows a fundamental disrespect for human life. It has become clear that this is not an organization that is worthy of receiving public assistance from the state.”

According to The Times-Picayune, Planned Parenthood does not perform abortions in Louisiana, but does provide family planning, cervical exams, and gynecology services in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Jindal, who is a candidate for the Republican nominee for U.S. president, noted that terminating Planned Parenthood’s contract will “not jeopardize those services in any way as Planned Parenthood is just one of many providers in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas.”

The recent rise in controversy around Planned Parenthood is related to a series of videos released by the Center for Medial Progress. The videos show Planned Parenthood officials casually discussing prices for various body parts, and how abortion procedures may be altered to ensure intact organs.

The bishops of Colorado, as well as Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, have called for penance and prayer in response to the content of the videos. The bishops of Colorado have designated Aug. 28 as a day of penance and prayer, and Archbishop Coakley called on the faithful “to engage in the political process as advocates for the dignity of human life” and added, “I urge a prayerful response. Our hearts must be converted before our society will be able to consistently enact and embrace just laws that embody a proper regard for the sanctity of life.”


Catholic US News

And you shall be like gods – the fierce warning of ‘Ex Machina’

Denver, Colo., Aug 7, 2015 / 03:37 am (CNA).- Much has already been said about director Alex Garland’s slick transhumanist thriller “Ex Machina.” It’s been heralded as everything from a stellar work of speculative fiction to a complex take on gender roles.

But perhaps a lesser known take on the film is its rampant Old Testament allusions that come together to portray a high-tech garden of Eden.

For Denver-based priest Father Nathan Goebel, “the whole movie is a new Genesis.”

“It’s a new beginning: we’re returning back to the garden,” he told CNA. “What is the temptation of the garden? You will be like gods.”

For all of its cold, tech-savvy glamor, he says, “Ex Machina” could be seen as a simple retelling of the Biblical account of Adam and Eve – but with a twist.

Set in the not-too-distant future, the movie’s plotline involves Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a young computer programmer at a Google-esq corporation who wins a trip to visit Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the company’s reclusive, eccentric founder. There, he finds an android with artificial intelligence named Eva (Alicia Vikander), whom he is challenged to interact with, in order to determine how human she is.

What follows is a riveting, mind-spinning web of love, lies, betrayal, manipulation and murder.

While it is not a perfect Old Testament analogy, there are several striking similarities. The names are all Biblical – Eva is a derivation of Eve, the first woman. Caleb, who is chosen to explore the brave new world of artificial intelligence, shares a name with the Israelite sent as a scout for the Promised Land. Nathan, the brilliant but nihilistic inventor, shares a name with the prophet who offers warnings to King David, both after he committed adultery and when there was a plot to take over his throne.

The setting also evokes Genesis imagery. A pristine paradise-like garden, removed from the outside world, houses the facility in which Nathan gives his creation life. The seven sessions he arranges for Caleb and Eva to interact are reminiscent of the seven days of creation.

But there’s a critical difference between God creating in the Genesis story and man creating in the film. “We cannot create ‘ex nihilo’,” Fr. Goebel stressed. “God is the only one who can create out of nothing.”

When God creates man in his own image, he makes a being who participates in his own infinite goodness. In “Ex Machina,”, though, Nathan is creating in his own image; he makes a being who reflects his own flawed nature.

And Nathan’s relationship to his creation is also flawed. Far from the Biblical God, who loves his creation to the point of sacrificing himself for them, Nathan in the movie is more like a Greek god, Fr. Goebel reflected.

“He’s playing with creation. Trying to satisfy his need for control over the creatures he’s made. He’s not a hero – he’s tragic. You don’t like him,” the priest said, adding that while Nathan interacts with his creation – he creates, destroys, talks to and apparently sleeps with the machines he has made – he does not actually have a human relationship with them.

This is illustrated in one jarring scene, when Nathan spontaneously dances with one of the androids. But the interaction is cold and empty: they are not dancing together, but rather, the machine mimics each of his moves.

Some reviewers have seen the movie as reducing man to the same level as machine, both responding to stimuli that amount to programming of one sort or another.

Yet, Fr. Goebel rejected this interpretation. “Love can’t be programmed. Love is necessarily transcendent,” he said, pointing to the disparity between machine and human. “The fulfilment of creation is to love and be loved, and machines cannot do this.”

In the end, Eva does not love. She has been created to “prove” that she is human by manipulating and abandoning those around her. The inhumanity with which she carries out her final acts of betrayal is ironically striking in its contrast with the humanity she has supposedly achieved.

“She’s become fallen,” Fr. Goebel said. In her final acts, Eva reflects the flaws of her human creator. “Human nature wants to dominate the other. It wants control. She becomes a beast again.”

This desire for control is also seen throughout the film as Nathan attempts to maintain control over a world that is ultimately larger than he is. At different times, he turns to the idols of alcohol, sex and an obsession with working out, while at the same time grappling with a stark loneliness.

“Ex Machina” also offers a sharp commentary on the cultural dependency on technology.

“We think that through tech we extend our reach, our control,” Fr. Goebel said. “But we’re actually quite helpless without our gadgets.”

The film’s writer and director, Alex Garland, has talked about the film in the context of a warning about humanity’s increasing dependence on and fascination with technology.

The machines in question “are weak. They have no motivation, no intention; they’re neutral,” he said. “The thing with an agenda is us: consumers, who want to buy the machines, and manufacturers, who want to sell them.”

“And looming over both, giant tech companies, whose growth only ever seems to be exponential, whose practices are opaque, and whose power is both massive and without true oversight. Combine all this with government surveillance and lotus-eating public acquiescence, and it’s not the machine component that scares me. It’s the human component.”

The film includes disturbing content and several scenes of female robot nudity. But mature Catholic viewers can see this movie as a challenge to themselves, Fr. Goebel said. It can cause them to pause and ask themselves, “For me as a Catholic, where is God? Where is God in relation to man? Am I made in the image of God and am I satisfied with that, or do I want to be like God?”

Ultimately, he reflected, “Ex Machina” is making “an anthropological statement – What is man? What is the purpose of man? What is the nature of man in the world?”

Catholic US News

Pope to Knights: Thank you for your steadfast witness to truth of marriage

Philadelphia, Pa., Aug 7, 2015 / 02:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis thanked the Knights of Columbus for their support of Christian marriage in a message to their 133rd Supreme Convention this week. The letter comes less than two months before the Pope’s visit to the United States for the World Meeting of Families at the end of September.

“Elevated by the Savior to the dignity of a sacrament, marriage is, in the Creator’s plan, a natural institution, a life-long covenant of love and fidelity between a man and a woman, directed to their perfection and sanctification, and to the future of our human family,” the Pope said in his message.     

The support of the truth of marriage is a duty for all of the lay faithful, Pope Francis continued, because marriage “is essential to the wise and just ordering of society.”

As marriage has recently been under attack in the United States, the Pope said he hoped the theme of the convention, “Endowed by their Creator with Life and Liberty,” would spur American Catholics to “contribute to the reasoned defense of those freedoms on which their nation was founded.”

The Holy Father expressed his hope and trust that the catechetical programs founded by the Knights ahead of the upcoming World Meeting of Families and the Synod on the Family would contribute to the witness to the truth about marriage.

Pope Francis’ message to the Knights came during the same week as his general address on divorced and remarried Catholics. The Holy Father encouraged a more welcoming approach toward Catholics in these situations, and urged clergy to not treat them as though they are excommunicated.

“The Church well knows that such a situation contradicts the Christian Sacrament,” the Pope said in his Aug. 5 General Audience at St. Peter’s Square. Nonetheless, he added, the Church should always approach such situations with a “mother’s heart; a heart which, animated by the Holy Spirit, seeks always the good and the salvation of the person.”

In his letter to the Knights, the Pope also praised the group’s efforts to aid persecuted Christians in the Middle East and in other parts of the world through their Christian Refugee Relief Fund, and appealed to them for their continued efforts and prayer.

At the Supreme Convention, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson unveiled a new portal on the Knights’ website, christiansatrisk.org, where Americans can go to donate to help Christians in the Middle East. He also announced that the Knights will be selling wooden crosses made from the olive trees in Bethlehem as another way to fundraise for the cause.

“It is urgent that, from Catholics throughout the world, an unceasing sacrifice of prayer be offered for the conversion of hearts, an end to fanatical violence and intolerance, and a general recognition of those fundamental human rights which are not granted by the state, bur from the hand of the Creator, whom all believers invoke as a God of peace,” he said.  

With 1.8 million members around the globe, the Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization. The group was founded in 1882 by the Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney. In 2014, the Knights raised more than $173.5 million for charity and performed more than 71.5 million hours of volunteer work.

Catholic US News

Judge rules in favor of sisters in LA convent sale controversy

Los Angeles, Calif., Aug 3, 2015 / 02:05 pm (CNA).- Los Angeles County Superior Court James Chalfant ruled July 30 that the contested sale of the former convent of the Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters to restaurateur and urban developer Dana Hollister is invalid.

The judge also confirmed that the eight-acre, villa-style hilltop property located in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles is Church property under the oversight Archbishop José H. Gomez.

“I would like to reiterate my continued commitment to all of the Immaculate Heart sisters that the archdiocese will take care of them and ensure their well-being now and in the future,” the archbishop said in a recent statement.

The archdiocese initiated legal action June 19 to protect the sisters by seeking to nullify the “unauthorized” transaction with Hollister. In a recent deposition, Hollister confirmed that she took possession of the Waverly Drive property for $100,000 (of which the sisters received only $44,000), and the balance of $9.9 million in a non-recourse promissory note, with no payments for three years.

The archdiocese contended that the sale violates the California law protecting the elderly from transactions that are not in their best interest — the five surviving Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters are between 77 and 88 years of age.

Because the loan is non-recourse, it does not require payment after the three years, the archdiocese explained in a recent statement. As such, if Hollister were unable to pay the remaining $9.9 million, the only remedy to get the property back would be foreclosure and the sisters would have to pay the related legal costs.

Other points of contention include the archdiocese’s lease of the buildings on the property for the priests’ house of prayer, which has a remaining term of 77 years, and Hollister’s reported plan to convert the villa property into a boutique hotel.

Judge Chalfant set another hearing for Sept. 15 and ordered the lawyers to prepare proposals detailing possible remedies that would most benefit the five sisters. He said that Hollister may remain in possession of the property pending the hearing, but ordered her to pay $25,000 a month rent and stipulated that she cannot sell, lease or modify the property in the interim.

“The care and well-being of all five sisters has always been our primary concern,” said the archdiocese in a statement released shortly after the July 30 court ruling. “We were forced to take legal action to protect the sisters from the Dana Hollister transaction, which allowed Hollister to take possession of their property away from them. We are grateful that the judge found the sale to Hollister to be invalid, and that he agreed that this was a ‘bad deal’ for the sisters.”

Most of the sisters agree.

During July 29 interviews, three of the five sisters — Jean-Marie Dunne, Marie Christine Muñoz Lopez and Marie Victoriano — reiterated their unequivocal support for the archbishop. All three sisters had previously signed declarations stating that they agree that the institute may not sell the property without the written approval of leadership in the archdiocese, as outlined in the institute’s amended articles of incorporation.

Further, the activities of the sisters are overseen by the archdiocese under orders issued in 2005 and 2013. Father Thomas Anslow was appointed as the legal agent authorized to act in all civil matters on behalf of the institute.

The remaining two sisters, Sister Rita Callanan and Sister Catherine Rose Holzman, disagreed and opted to move ahead with the sale to Hollister. At the time of the unauthorized transaction, the archdiocese had already accepted an alternate offer from pop star Katy Perry, which was supported by Sisters Jean-Marie, Marie Christine and and Marie Victoriano, for $14.5 million — $10 million in cash and $4.5 million for an alternative property for the house of prayer (to be owned by the sisters).

Due to continued litigation, the sale is now in limbo, but all proceeds from any future final sale will be dedicated to the care of the sisters, according to the archdiocese.

“I am sad, frustrated and disappointed, because I feel this shouldn’t have happened; the sisters have no right to sell the property,” said Sister Marie Victoriano. “And I have never, never thought that the archbishop ever took advantage of us. … I would like to see the situation resolved as soon as possible.”

Sister Jean-Marie Dunne agrees.

“The archbishop has counsel … and we feel that he knows more about selecting between the two [buyers],” she explained. She emphasized that her opinion isn’t being “suppressed” or coerced; rather, she agrees with the archbishop in part because Perry’s cash offer for the property versus “an I.O.U. [is] a no-brainer.”

“And according to the decree … the archbishop can’t sell [the property] without us, and we can’t sell without him,” continued Sister Jean-Marie. “So all this wasting of money on lawyers, and wasting of everybody’s time — it’s just ridiculous.”

According to Sister Marie Christine, her position is very simple and straight-forward: she stands firmly with the archdiocese and Archbishop Gomez.

“As I say all the time, I am with [the archbishop], always with him,” she said.

The sisters vacated the villa in 2011.

Despite having fond memories of her years in residence at the villa — feeding the squirrels outside, having educational retreats and celebrating her mother’s 90th birthday — Sister Jean Marie said she doesn’t feel a sense of loss nor overly sentimental at the prospect of selling the property.

“People are more sacred than the ground of the villa,” she said.

For Sister Marie Victoriano, who is enjoying her 60th year of consecrated life, living at the villa made her feel “as if I was near God, because it is a very peaceful place.”

“As I would take a walk in the morning, I would watch the sun rise from the east … it’s an incentive to praise God,” she said, adding that she hopes the property will be sold to a buyer who will love it and “enjoy the beauty around them.”

This article originally ran in LA’s Angelus, The Tidings Online.

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