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Indiana priest's suspension after Black Lives Matter letter divides Catholics

Denver Newsroom, Jul 9, 2020 / 11:22 pm (CNA).-  

Catholics in one Indianapolis suburb are divided over the suspension of a priest who called organizers of the Black Lives Matter Movement “maggots and parasites.”

On June 28, Fr. Ted Rothrock wrote in the parish bulletin at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Carmel, Indiana a letter on the Black Lives Matter movement and escalating racial tension in the country.

“The brutal murder of a black man has sparked a landslide of reaction to the alleged systemic racism in America,” the priest wrote. “We are being told that the scars of race relations in this country are really unhealed wounds that continue to fester and putrefy; amputation is required! Reforms must be sweeping and immediate to crush the rising wave of racism that pervades the nation and perverts the body politic.”

“What would the great visionary leaders of the past be contributing to the discussion at this point in time? Would men like Fredrick (sic) Douglass  and the Reverend King, both men of deep faith, be throwing bombs or even marching in the streets?”

On the “Black Lives Matter” movement, the priest asked “do those black lives really matter to the community organizers promoting their agenda? Is ‘Antifa’ concerned with the defeat of fascist right-wing nationalism or more interested in the establishment of left-wing global nationalism?”

“Who are the real racists and purveyors of hate?” the priest continued. “You shall know them by their works. They are wolves in wolves clothing, masked thieves and bandits, seeking only to devour the life of the poor and profit from the fear of others. They are maggots and parasites at best, feeding off the isolation of addiction and broken families, and offering to replace any current frustration and anxiety with more misery and greater resentment.”

“Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and other nefarious acolytes of their persuasion are not the friends or allies we have been led to believe,” Rothrock wrote.

Some groups in Carmel immediately protested the priest’s message, calling it racist and inappropriate, and called for his removal from the parish. Supporters said the priest had spoken truthfully, with one telling the Indianapolis Star that the priest was referring to organizers of “Marxist” Black Lives Matter organizations. 

Amid the controversy, Bishop Timothy Doherty of the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana issued a June 30 statement, saying “I expect Father Rothrock to issue a clarification about his intended message. I have not known him to depart from Church teaching in matters of doctrine and social justice.”

On the same day, Rothrock posted an apology on the parish website. “It was not my intention to offend anyone, and I am sorry that my words have caused any hurt to anyone,” he wrote.

The priest’s apology said that the Gospel condemns bigotry, according to the Indianapolis Star, adding that “We must also be fully aware that there are those who would distort the Gospel for their own misguided purposes. People are afraid, as I pointed out, rather poorly I would admit, that there are those who feed on that fear to promote more fear and division.”

The next day, July 1, Doherty announced that Rothrock had been suspended from ministry.

“Father Theodore Rothrock is suspended from public ministry according to Canon 1333. The suspension comes in the wake of Father Rothrock’s June 28 bulletin article. The Bishop expresses pastoral concern for the affected communities. The suspension offers the Bishop an opportunity for pastoral discernment for the good of the diocese and for the good of Father Rothrock,” Doherty wrote in a July 1 decree.

Doherty celebrated Mass and preached at St. Elizabeth Seton parish on July 5. Protesters and counter protesters gathered outside the Church.

Addressing the congregation at Sunday Mass, the bishop praised Rothrock as part of the parish’s “wonderful history” while expressing that “serious consequences of that article are still playing out among us, and in the wider community. I chose the suspension provided for in church law. The suspension offers me an opportunity for pastoral discernment for the good of the diocese, of St Elizabeth Seton Church, and for the good of Father Rothrock.”

The bishop drew a distinction between the Black Lives Matter social movement and the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, an organization which, Doherty said, “clearly says things that I oppose.” But, the bishop said, echoing remarks from black Catholic leaders in recent weeks, “it is a mistake to say that that foundation is the headquarters of what is a very diverse movement.”

When Doherty concluded his remarks with the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” one woman called out, saying the bishop was a coward, according to Catholics in attendance at the Mass, and she was then removed from the church. Outside the parish, demonstrators chanted for or against the priest.

Division over the priest continues in Carmel, a wealthy, mostly white city north of Indianapolis, where some citizens have organized as Carmel Against Racial Injustice to protest systemic racism, while others, Catholics and non-Catholics, have continued to voice support for the priest.

Rothrock could not be reached for comment.

While Doherty said that he had observed Church law in suspending Rothrock, it is not clear that the bishops’ action was undertaken in accord with canon law on the subject.

The bishop’s decree indicated that he had suspended the priest in accord with canon 1333 of the Code of Canon Law. The canon describes the formal penalty of suspension issued after a formal penal process- a canonical trial or an administrative penal process. Such a process determines whether a person has committed a “delict”- a crime in Church law.

CNA asked the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana to clarify whether the priest was accused of a particular canonical crime, and whether he had been formally sanctioned with suspension following a canonical process- a procedure which ordinary takes weeks or more to complete.

The diocese declined to respond to CNA’s questions.

It is also not clear whether Rothrock formally remains pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish. The priest was due to be transferred to another parish in Carmel, and the diocese now says the transfer will not happen. But the diocese has declined to respond to questions about whether the priest has offered his resignation from St. Elizabeth Seton, or whether he remains the pastor. Removing a pastor from office involuntarily requires a specific canonical process.

On July 8, the diocese issued an “updated statement” saying that Doherty had “asked Father Theodore Rothrock to step aside from public ministry because of the division and damage that was instantly felt within the parish, the diocese and the larger community following Father Rothrock’s controversial bulletin article. Father Rothrock has expressed regret and he understands and appreciates God’s gift of the human family, and therefore the value of every human life which is made in the image and likeness of God.”

“This time for pastoral discernment is for the good of the diocese, for St. Elizabeth Seton and for the good of Father Rothrock,” the statement said, adding that “various possibilities for Father Rothrock’s public continuation in priestly ministry are still being considered.”


NY Catholic archdiocese to close 20 schools, merge 3

CNA Staff, Jul 9, 2020 / 06:15 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of New York announced Thursday that 20 of its schools will not reopen, following the coronavirus crisis, and three of its schools will merge.

Michael Deegan, the archdiocese's Superintendent of Schools, said July 9 that “the reality of these schools being lost is painful, and it was only accepted reluctantly after a detailed study was conducted of their respective fiscal standing in the wake of the coronavirus public health crisis. I have been a Catholic school educator for more than 40 years, and could never have imagined the grave impact this pandemic has had on our schools.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York commented that “I’ve kept a hopeful eye on our schools throughout this saga and my prayers are with all of the children and their families who will be affected by this sad news. Given the devastation of this pandemic, I’m grateful more schools didn’t meet this fate, and that Catholic schools nearby are ready to welcome all the kids.”

Eleven of the schools that will be closed are located in New York City: six in the Bronx, three in Staten Island, and two in Manhattan. Six schools will not reopen in Westchester County, and one each in Orange, Rockland, and Dutchess counties. Another three schools in Orange County will be merged into one.

Some 2,500 students and 350 staff will be impacted by the changes, according to the archdiocese.

No schools are closing or merging in Putnam, Sullivan, or Ulster counties.

The superintendent's office has said it will help affected families find nearby Catholic schools for the autumn, and that it “is dedicated to working in coordination with the teachers’ union to do everything it can to help faculty of the affected schools to find employment within the Archdiocesan school system.”

The archdiocese said the coronavirus crisis “has had a devastating financial impact on Catholic school families.”

It noted that unemployment and health concerns “have resulted in families’ inability to pay their current tuition, and a significantly low rate of re-registration for the fall,” and that “months of cancelled public masses and fundraising for scholarships have seen a loss of parish contributions which traditionally help support the schools.”

The local Church expects the closures and merge to ensure “the overall fiscal stability and strengthen the vitality of New York Catholic schools for decades to come.”

Deegan commented that “if more assistance is not forthcoming in the longed for HEROES Act now before Congress, I am afraid even more might close.”

The Heroes Act would provide funding for state and local governments, assistance to hospitals, and direct payments to American families along with funding unemployment insurance. The Senate and White House have indicated their opposition to the bill.

In June the US Department of Education said that federal coronavirus aid to private schools is now enforceable by law, following concerns that Catholic and other non-public schools were being excluded from sufficient epidemic relief funds to support protective equipment for students and teachers, cleaning, training in remote education, and distance education tools.

Education Secretary Besty DeVos said on a June 25 phone call with reporters that “While a number of traditional public schools aren’t sure whether they will open their doors in the fall, too many other kinds of schools are sure they won’t open at all. More than 100 private schools, including many Catholic schools, have already announced they will never reopen, and hundreds more face a similar fate.”

The Education Department's decision is being challenged by a July 7 suit filed by Michigan, California, Maine, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia

The National Catholic Education Association said in June that at least 100 Catholic primary and secondary schools across the US would not be reopening, citing low enrollment and decreased donations amid the coronavirus.

Sister Dale McDonald, public policy director for the NCEA, told CNA that for most Catholic schools about 80% of their operating budget comes from tuition. In addition, many Catholic schools hold major fundraisers in the spring, which had to be cancelled or postponed after the pandemic hit.

States sue Education Department over COVID relief for private schools

CNA Staff, Jul 9, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Five states are suing the Trump administration for directing emergency relief aid to students at private schools, regardless of their income level.

The states of Michigan, California, Maine, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia filed the complaint in federal court on Tuesday against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The states were led by the attorneys general of Michigan and California, Dana Nessel and Xavier Becerra.

“At a time when Michigan schools are facing an unprecedented crisis, every single child deserves the chance to succeed. But, yet again, Secretary DeVos has decided to tip the scales in favor of private schools, leaving the State’s public-school students behind,” Nessel said.

Congress, under the CARES Act in March, sent relief funding for education to the states, to distribute to local educational agencies (LEAs).

Although some of the Title I-A funds could go to help private school students, under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act they are specifically meant for “at-risk private-school students” and not students in general, the states’ lawsuit says.

An interim final rule issued by the Education Department directs the LEAs to “provide equitable services to students and teachers in non-public schools,” not specifying that they are meant only for low-income students, the lawsuit says.

DeVos said in a June 25 announcement that “CARES Act programs are not Title I programs,” and thus not subject to the limitation on use only for low-income students. If they are limited to only low-income students, they still must be spent equitably across public and private schools in the district, she said.

“There is no reasonable explanation for debating the use of federal funding to serve both public and private K-12 students when federal funding, including CARES Act funding, flows to both public and private higher education institutions.” 

The funding does not directly flow through LEAs to private schools, but rather is used by the agencies for “secular, neutral, and nonideological services,” DeVos said. This would probably include cleaning, health equipment, and remote learning services, she said.

Furthermore, the department’s rule “discourages the limited number of financially secure private schools from seeking equitable services,” the agency said in its press release.

However, according to the states’ lawsuit, the agency “grafted its own allocation and eligibility rules on Congress’s directive.”

“CARES Act money is designed to provide support to schools with low-income students, as it is to be allocated based on the amount of Title I funding each state and school district received in the most recent fiscal year,” the lawsuit states. 

According to the states’ complaint, the interpretation “will deprive low-income and at-risk students, their teachers, and the public schools that serve them of critical resources to meet students’ educational and social/emotional needs during and after pandemic-related school closures.”

According to McClatchy, the White House is planning to request money for scholarship programs for students of private and religious schools in the next coronavirus relief package.

Cardinal Tobin asks Trump for clemency in death row case

CNA Staff, Jul 9, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark has joined several U.S. bishops in asking President Donald Trump to commute the death sentence of a federal inmate scheduled to be executed on July 17. Exercising clemency, the cardinal told the president, can help “stem the tide of anger and revenge” in the country.

Cardinal Tobin sent a letter to Trump on Thursday asking for clemency for Dustin Honken, who was convicted of the murder of five people, including a single mother and her two daughters aged ten and six years old, in 2004.

“I have known Mr. Honken for seven years,” Cardinal Tobin said, noting that he visited Honken several times a year at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, while Archbishop of Indianapolis from 2012 to 2017.

“His present spiritual guide, Father Mark O’Keefe, OSB, confirms that the spiritual growth in faith and compassion, which I had witnessed in our meetings some years ago, continues to this day,” Tobin wrote.

Fr. O’Keefe, meanwhile, filed a motion to delay Honken’s execution at least until after the COVID-19 pandemic is controlled, so he could fulfill his “sacred religious duty to minister Mr. Honken at his execution” while not risking his own “life and health.”

Honken is one of four federal inmates scheduled to be executed in coming weeks, between July 13 and August 28.

The Justice Department last year announced that the federal bureau of prisons would resume executions for the first time since 2003, with five executions scheduled. Four of the death row inmates filed a complaint in court against the one-drug execution protocol, but the D.C. Circuit Court ruled against them in April and the Supreme Court denied their appeal on June 29, clearing the way for their executions to proceed. The fifth inmate, Wesley Ira Purkey, had his execution temporarily halted by the Seventh Circuit appeals court on July 2.

Honken committed his murders in Iowa, and the state’s four Catholic bishops sent a letter on July 1 to Trump, asking for his sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment without parole.

Tobin said on Thursday that Honken’s crimes are “heinous,” but that his execution “will do nothing to restore justice or heal those still burdened by these crimes.” 

“Instead, his execution will reduce the government of the United States to the level of a murderer and serve to perpetuate a climate of violence which brutalizes our society in so many ways,” Tobin wrote, noting that the use of the death penalty makes the United States an “outlier” in the world.  

“If his death sentence is commuted, Mr. Honken expects to spend his remaining days in prison,” Tobin wrote.

“By commuting this death sentence, you would help stem the tide of anger and revenge that threatens our country,” he told the president.

Several Catholic bishops joined a statement of more than 1,000 faith leaders calling for a stop to the executions, on July 7. Former USCCB president Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Bishop William Medley of Owensboro, Kentucky, Bishop Oscar Solis of Salt Lake City, Bishop Thomas Zinkula of Davenport, Iowa, and Bishop Richard Pates, the apostolic administrator of the diocese of Joliet, Illinois, all signed the statement.

Why White House Catholics are concerned about Trump’s Catholic tweets

Washington D.C., Jul 9, 2020 / 01:57 pm (CNA).-  

Officials working in the Trump administration have told CNA that they have been frustrated by recent presidential tweets elevating controversial Catholic figures, saying the tweets undermine the work many Catholics in the administration hope to accomplish.

In recent weeks, the president’s Twitter account has cited support from two figures with polarizing reputations among Catholics: former papal nuncio to the United States Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, and the author and online polemicist Taylor Marshall.

While both men have been publicly supportive of the president, both are better known for their criticism of Church authorities than for their views on secular politics.

Two Catholics in senior positions in the administration told CNA the decision to elevate Viganò and Marshall has put the White House at odds with the U.S. bishops, instead of putting a focus on issues of agreement, and has frustrated some Catholic administration officials.

“It puts those of us who care about the Church and care about the work we are doing here in a bind,” one White House official told CNA. “I believe in the work I’m doing, and believe it matters as a Catholic. But I spend enough time just defending that simple premise – I don’t want to have to deal with crazy Catholic Twitter too.”

“Everyone knows the campaign needs religious voters, and Catholic voters for sure. But there is such a divide between the people working on policy stuff around here and the people doing this. For us, we are doing things that matter: on religious freedom, on life issues.”

A second senior administration official, who attends weekly meetings with the president in the Oval Office, told CNA the president believes he has not been supported by U.S. bishops for his efforts on religious liberty, and that White House strategists have urged him to court Catholic votes through figures like Marshall and Viganò.

Both officials requested anonymity because of the nature of their positions.

The officials each independently attributed the decision to highlight support from outside the Catholic mainstream to Dan Scavino, White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications and the president’s social media director. They said it is part of a broader effort to stoke enthusiasm among the president’s most ardent supporters through social media engagement.

“You know who is putting [Viganò’s letter] in front of the president?” one official said, “It’s coming from [Dan] Scavino. He runs all of that side of things.”

“Around him and the rest, they have only one plan right now, or only one they are talking about: weaponize the base, the base, the base.”

Earlier this year, the Trump administration garnered attention for hosting telephone calls with bishops and other institutional Catholic leaders regarding both the impact of the coronavirus on Catholic schools and the decision of some bishops to begin limited reopenings of public Masses in the early stages of a national reopening.

In those calls, the president promised his administration’s support to Catholic initiatives, and to financially struggling Catholic schools. Bishops, including New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, faced criticism for seeming to lend implicit support to the president’s reelection bid, a charge Dolan and others disputed, while defending their engagement with the president.

The administration is continuing to advocate for parochial school assistance in coronavirus relief legislation.

But Trump’s more recent Catholic overtures have been of a different stripe.

Both administration officials told CNA that after Trump’s June 2 visit to the St. John Paul II National Shrine, a decision was made by Scavino and other strategists that the president should cultivate Catholic support from leadership figures outside the mainstream.

“The president doesn’t get why the bishops aren’t with him for doing work on religious liberty – especially after the shrine visit, he was pissed about that,” one official said.

The official told CNA that Scavino, himself a Catholic, views the support of figures like Viganò as a means of delivering Catholic votes without the implicit or explicit support of diocesan bishops.

The president’s shrine visit came at the height of protests and demonstrations across the county, following the killing of George Floyd. It also came one day after the controversial dispersal of demonstrators in Lafayette Park, opposite the White House, to accommodate a presidential photo-op in front of the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory issued a stinging critique of the shrine visit, calling it “reprehensible,” and saying the shrine had been “egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles.”

The next week, on June 10, Trump’s Twitter account retweeted a long letter from Archbishop Carlo Viganò, former papal nuncio to the United States, in which the archbishop lavished praise on the president and repeated his own theories about an international conspiracy to use the coronavirus pandemic to bring about a one-world government.


So honored by Archbishop Viganò’s incredible letter to me. I hope everyone, religious or not, reads it!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 10, 2020  

“Both of us are on the same side in this battle,” Viganò wrote to Trump, calling criticism of the president’s June 2 visit to the National Shrine of St. John Paul II part of an “orchestrated media narrative” against the president.

Viganò gained national headlines in 2018, when he claimed that he had warned Pope Francis about allegations of sexual abuse against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and then called on the pope to resign. Since then, the archbishop has lived in self-imposed exile, writing frequent open letters that make apocalyptic claims, proffer globalist conspiracy theories, and denounce sitting diocesan bishops and the Second Vatican Council.

Viganò last month denounced Washington’s Archbishop Gregory as a “false shepherd” after Gregory’s criticism of Trump’s shrine visit.

One administration official said Scavino saw Viganò’s letter as a way of touting support for Trump in the face of Gregory’s opposition.

“He thinks it’s a punch back against [Archbishop] Gregory,” said the official.

On July 2, Trump’s Twitter account tweeted about an appearance by Taylor Marshall on the One America News Network, in which Marshall said “there is a war on Christianity,” and praised the president’s leadership.


Dr. Taylor Marshall, author. “There Is A War On Christianity”. @OANN

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2020  

Marshall has recently been associated with the traditionalist priestly Society of St. Pius X, who are in “irregular communion” with the Catholic Church. He has tweeted that Catholic men should not attend diocesan seminaries, spoken about his “resistance” to Pope Francis, and has recently clashed with Bishop Robert Barron, who reportedly referred to him as an “extremist,” amid a disagreement over the role of clerics and laity amid the destruction of the statues of saints.

Marshal’s 2019 book “Infiltration” claims to outline a plot by which “Modernists and Marxists hatched a plan to subvert the Catholic Church from within. Their goal: to change Her doctrine, Her liturgy, and Her mission,” according to the book’s website.

Both Marshall and Viganò have large online audiences; Marshall’s YouTube videos regularly draw more than 100,000 viewers, and Viganò’s missives are regularly published on popular conservative and traditionalist websites.

But one administration official told CNA that Catholics working in the executive branch have been discouraged by the president’s decision to promote Viganò and Marshall, especially because they believe the administration’s work on life issues and religious liberty is important, and would benefit from more engagement with the bishops.

“You feel like you can’t win,” the official said. “Frankly, we’d have liked a little more support from the bishops – not for the president personally or the campaign, but for the work we are doing. There is stuff here that is important. But absent that, the thinking from the comms side seems to be ‘have the friends we can get,’ and if they’re crazy, who cares? It’s so frustrating.”

Both officials told CNA that there exists a clear line between those senior Catholics in the administration working on policy priorities and those pursuing Trump’s social media strategy.

“There is no way the serious Catholics in the administration are pushing this stuff. They have too much to do,” the first official told CNA.

The other senior source said the same, and lamented that some in the administration seem to view a combative stance against the bishops as a good in itself.

“For headbangers like Scavino, ‘real Catholics’ are the ones on message with the president, it doesn’t matter how off the reservation they might be in the Church.”

“To [Scavino and Senior Advisor to the President Stephen Miller] the [U.S.] bishops are all shades of Pope Francis, especially on immigration, which drives Miller crazy.”

The first official agreed, telling CNA that: “The president doesn’t know who Viganò is, he just knows he’s an archbishop, he definitely doesn’t know who Taylor Marshall is – even I had to look him up. But you bet Dan [Scavino] knows, knows they are anti-establishment and have a following, and that’s the campaign they want to run with everyone – get to the people who are already there, intensify them, get them working for you – and give the president some proof of support for what he’s been doing.”

“[Scavino] has this idea that the more you can talk around the bishops the better the more radical you can be and the more you will deliver with the base. Him and [Stephen] Miller love that kind of stuff.”

The White House first conceded in 2017 that Scavino “assists President Trump in operating the @realDonaldTrump account, including by drafting and posting tweets to the account.”

Scavino is an unlikely figure to mastermind the most famous Twitter account in the world.

A 2018 New York Times profile recounts that he first met Trump while acting as his caddie during a round of golf on a course upstate in 1990. In 2004, he returned to the course, then owned by Trump, as assistant manager, rising to manager four years later before starting his own business.

He returned to the Trump orbit at the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign, eventually began helping candidate Trump run his Twitter account and later managed his social media output. Scavino earned a reputation for playing hard along the way. On one occasion, Scavino retweeted a video alleging that Sen. Ted Cruz was having an affair with a married former aide, Amanda Carpenter, who called the allegations a “smear.”

Carpenter told the New York Times Magazine that “What Scavino did to me and what he still does to others would get any other professional fired. In Trump’s universe, it’s a qualification. A willingness to engage in lies and smears on behalf of Donald Trump is a sign of loyalty that Trump treasures.”

In the same profile, Former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks told the Times Magazine that Scavino is the “conductor of the Trump train,” and that his role in the administration is to “tell [Trump] how things are playing with his people. That’s a gauge for him that the president takes seriously.” Hicks left the White House in March 2018 but was named a counselor to the president in February this year.

Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon has also credited Scavino with bringing fringe figures and social media personalities to the president’s attention. Bannon told the Times Magazine that he used to share with Scavino an office in the West Wing and “he has his hands on the ‘Pepes,’” in a reference to a popular cartoon image used by alt-right internet posters.

“[Scavino] knew who the players were and who were not. He’d bring me Cernovich — I didn’t know who Cernovich was until Scavino told me,” Bannon told the magazine of Mike Cernovich, an alt-right blogger who has made highly controversial comments on race, women’s rights, and rape.

According to Politico, Scavino’s ability to represent Twitter support to the president has real-world policy effects. In a 2019 profile, Politico quoted two sources saying Trump turned to Scavino to justify the announcement of his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.

Trump himself told Politico that “Oftentimes, I’ll go through Dan.”

“You know, I’ll talk it over. And he can really be a very good sounding board. A lot of common sense. He’s got a good grasp.”

While not a well-known public figure, Scavino has attracted controversy through his responsibility for the president’s Twitter account.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump came under fire for the use of alleged anti-Semitic imagery in a graphic describing Hilary Clinton as the “most corrupt candidate ever.” The image featured Clinton, a red star of David, and images of cash.

While the campaign initially dismissed criticism of the image, insisting that the star was meant to resemble a sheriff’s badge, it later altered the image to a circle. CNN also reported that the image was originally posted on an “anti-Semitic and white supremacist message board.”

It was Scavino who defended both the original image and the eventual alteration, saying that it “was not created by the campaign nor was it sourced from an anti-Semitic site.” Scavino rejected any insinuation of anti-Semitism, citing his wife’s Jewish family, but took personal responsibility, saying "I would never offend anyone and therefore chose to remove the image."

The White House did not respond to questions from CNA regarding Scavino’s role in Trump’s retweets of Marshall and Viganò.

One White House official told CNA that the president’s recent Catholic retweets fit Scavino’s approach.

“I totally get why people like Viganò and Marshall appeal to Scavino. Conspiracy theories, communists, freemasons, tons of retweets and YouTube followers? It’s right up his alley,” the official said.

“The problem is it has happened now, even if this isn’t the president’s idea, one thing you’re not going to do is change his mind – there is no reverse gear.”

“It drives the Catholics around here crazy because we are trying to do real work,” the first official said. “We take the faith seriously, we came here to serve.”

Erie diocese dropped from suit charging Bishop Trautman with abuse cover-up in NY

CNA Staff, Jul 9, 2020 / 11:42 am (CNA).- The Diocese of Erie has been dropped as a defendant in a lawsuit against Bishop Donald Trautman and the Diocese of Buffalo which claims they covered up a priest’s sex abuse of a 10-year-old boy in the mid-1980s.

  The suit, filed in January, concerns actions that Trautman allegedly took while serving in the curia of the Buffalo diocese. After his time in Buffalo, Trautman was Bishop of Erie.

The Erie diocese had asked to be removed from the suit, saying that the claims against Trautman concern only his time in Buffalo.

“The Erie Diocese has absolutely no relationship whatsoever to this case,” it said in a dismissal request filed May 18.

According to the Erie Times-News, the plaintiff agreed May 29 to discontinue the claim against the Erie diocese, though the plaintiff will not be paying the diocese’s legal fees, as it had requested.

Trautman, 84, is the Bishop Emeritus of Erie. He served in various roles in the Buffalo diocese under Bishop Edward Head, including chancellor and vicar general. He was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the diocese in 1985. He was Bishop of Erie from 1990 to 2012. He has denied accusations he has ever covered up abuse.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit was born in 1974. The lawsuit said the plaintiff was abused multiple times by Fr. Gerard Smyczynski, a priest of the Buffalo diocese, for about a year, starting when he was a ten-year-old student and altar boy. According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff met the priest at Infant of Prague Catholic Church and school in Cheektowaga, New York.

The lawsuit alleges that Trautman knew of the priest’s abuse and failed to investigate and report it. It alleges that he and the diocese “participated in covering up such heinous acts by moving errant priests and clergy members from assignment to assignment, thereby putting children in harm’s way.”

Fr. Smyczynski lost his faculties in 1985. His name is on the Buffalo diocese’s list of credibly accused clergy. The priest died in 1999.

The lawsuit further accuses Trautman of expediting an annulment for a member of the plaintiff’s family “with the hope of ensuring their silence about the abuses perpetrated by Fr. Smyczynski and covering up those abuses.”

One of the plaintiff’s lawyers said Trautman made a “paltry” settlement with the plaintiff that “amounts to hush money.” The sum was four figures and allegedly an inducement not to share their story. He alleged that this allowed the priest to abuse at least one other child.

He accused Trautman of hastening the annulment of the plaintiff’s parents.

The lawsuit’s original claims about the Erie diocese did not include improper handling of abuse. Rather, it claimed that the diocese was implicated in the alleged cover-up because Trautman was its bishop and he “perpetrated” a policy to cover up abuse.

It had charged that Trautman “took his playbook of covering up clergy abuse from Buffalo, New York, to Erie, Pennsylvania… where he continued to carry out the aforesaid cover up for decades.”

The lawsuit takes advantage of the Child Victims Act, which created a new legal window for sex abuse victims to sue regardless of statutes of limitations.

Bishop Trautman in March filed a request to have the suit dismissed, and is challenging the Child Victims Act.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Shapiro criticized Trautman at an August 2018 press conference releasing his grand jury report on clergy sex abuse. He alleged that the bishop failed aggressively to pursue an abuser. He has charged that the Erie diocese under Trautman curbed its investigation of sex abuse claims to wait out the statute of limitations.

Trautman in his responses to the attorney general said the claims were “baseless.” He said he did not condone or enable such abuse during his tenure leading the Diocese of Erie, and he stressed his support for abuse victims and said the report does not fully or accurately assess his record. He cited a Pennsylvania Supreme Court finding that the grand jury process suffers “limitations upon its truth-finding capabilities” and lacked “basic fairness.”

Shapiro’s report, released in August 2018, claimed to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 301 credibly accused priests in Pennsylvania. It presented a devastating portrait of alleged efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations—either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.

Trautman had caused controversy by criticizing the report.
“We should not be so naive as to accept every government
report every attorney general report as being totally accurate or honest and I wouldn’t cite the Philadelphia Inquirer or Boston Globe as sources of confident information,” he said at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ general assembly in fall 2018.

Bishop Persico, his successor in Erie, has been publicly supportive of abuse victims. He said Trautman spoke as a retired bishop, adding, “he doesn’t represent the diocese so what he’s doing is giving his opinion.”

The attorney general report has come under criticism from longtime Catholic commentator Peter Steinfels. In a lengthy essay published in January 2019 by the magazine Commonweal, Steinfels argued that many of the report’s charges are “grossly misleading, irresponsible, inaccurate, and unjust.” He said the report deserved more thorough scrutiny and said its “sensational charges” have been too easily accepted.

Biden plans to end contraception exemption for Little Sisters

CNA Staff, Jul 9, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Former vice president Joe Biden pledged on Wednesday to reinstate Obama-era policies that would require the Little Sisters of the Poor to ensure access to birth control and abortifacients for employees in violation of their religious beliefs. 

Biden, who is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, made the promise July 8, following the Supreme Court decision in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor in the case Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, which upheld an exemption for the sisters from the “contraception mandate” which obliges employers to provide for contraceptive coverage for employees through their health care plans.

“If I am elected I will restore the Obama-Biden policy that existed before the [Supreme Court’s 2014] Hobby Lobby ruling: providing an exemption for houses of worship and an accommodation for nonprofit organizations with religious missions,” said Biden in a statement released by his campaign. 

“This accommodation will allow women at these organizations to access contraceptive coverage, not through their employer-provided plan, but instead through their insurance company or a third-party administrator.” 

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law in 2010, while Biden was serving as vice president. On August 1, 2011, then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebellius announced an interim final rule that required all ACA-compliant insurance plans to cover at least one form of female birth control, including sterilization. At the time the bill was voted on and signed, there was no contraception mandate included.

The rule, finalized on January 20, 2012, contained a narrow religious exemption to the mandate which only covered employees of a church or religious organization. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious order dedicated to serving the elderly poor, were one of many groups who were not covered under the religious exemption because they do not exclusively employ or serve Catholics. 

The Little Sisters of the Poor have repeatedly stated that authorizing a “third-party administrator” to provide birth control to their employees is still a violation of their beliefs and is not an acceptable compromise. 

Following an initial 2016 appeal to the Supreme Court, in 2017, the Trump administration granted a religious and moral exemption to the mandate for the sisters and other objecting groups. Several states filed lawsuits saying that the executive action shifted the burden of providing coverage onto the states and claimed the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act in setting up the exemption.

On Wednesday, the court found that the Trump administration “had the statutory authority to craft that exemption, as well as the contemporaneously issued moral exemption,” and “that the rules promulgating these exemptions are free from procedural defects.”

The court’s decision only found in favor of the executive action excusing the sisters and others with conscience objections – action that could be revoked or reversed by a subsequent administration. 

On Wednesday, Biden, who has campaigned on the importance of his Catholic faith, said he did not agree with either the court’s decision or the exemption for the sisters, adding that there is “a clear path to fixing it: electing a new President who will end Donald Trump’s ceaseless attempts to gut every aspect of the Affordable Care Act.”  

“I am disappointed in today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that will make it easier for the Trump-Pence Administration to continue to strip health care from women--attempting to carve out broad exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s commitment to giving all women free access to recommended contraception,” said Biden.

Are Catholic flame wars evangelizing online? Bishop Barron says ‘no’ 

CNA Staff, Jul 8, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- A California bishop challenged Catholics online to “cut it out” and better represent their Christian faith through their social media engagement.

On Tuesday, Bishop Robert Barron, an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, issued a “pastoral cry of the heart” to encourage Catholics to stop tearing each other apart online and instead provide well structured and charitable arguments.

“I understand that people are passionate, especially about religious matters, but when it comes to this commentary we always must keep truth and love in the forefront,” he said.

Speaking of social media, Barron said that “I must admit the vitriol, negativity, personal attacks, and outright calumny that come regularly from self-professed Catholics is dismaying and disedifying in the extreme.”

The video message followed a June 24 article Barron had written, which he said the drew unhealthy criticism from mobs of Catholics who responded not with arguments, but with vicious insults. For four days, the bishop had to assign co-workers to assess and remove disturbing comments from his different social media pages, he said.

“In the wake of my article,” he said, “armies of commenters, encouraged by certain internet provocateurs, inundated my Twitter and all my social media sites with wave upon wave of the most hateful, vituperative, venomous words that you can imagine.”

“I was called spineless, gutless, cowardly, and that’s just to mention the most benign and unobscene remarks.”

In the article, “Why ‘what are the bishops doing about it?’ is the wrong question,” Barron noted Catholics had been calling for a greater contribution from the bishops against racial injustices, including the death of George Floyd.

He said bishops are lobbying politicians, encouraging legislative changes, and calling on community leaders. However, he said there must be footwork done by the laity as well.

“The crisis precipitated by the brutal killing of George Floyd is one that involves many dimensions of our society: law, the police, education, government, neighborhoods, families, etc. Priests and bishops, to be sure, ought to teach clearly and publicly,” he wrote.

“But I would argue that the lion’s share of the work regarding this massive societal problem belongs to those whose proper arena is the society and whose expertise lies precisely in the relevant areas of concern, namely, the laity.”

As a public figure on social media, Barron said in his recent video, he expects vocal opposition and even welcomes well-formed criticism. He said even the most finely articulated demonstration is susceptible to objections and new suggestions.

But the comments he received last week were a “moral outrage,” he said. Rather than challenges offered in love and truth, the comments were “calumny” - mean spirited accusations that violate both charity and justice.

“There is a sharp distinction between legitimate argument and calumny. A real argument, involving the marshaling of evidence, the citation of authorities, the fair and careful reporting of one’s opponent’s position, etc, is morally praiseworthy,” he said.

“For real argument fosters both truth and love. It seeks to shed light on what is really the case - truth - and to invite others to see more clearly - it’s a type of love. Calumny, on the other hand, is indifferent to truth and inimical to love.”

Among those with whom Barron has clashed in recent weeks is author and YouTube commentator Taylor Marshall, whose book “Infiltration,” claims to outline a plot by which “Modernists and Marxists hatched a plan to subvert the Catholic Church from within. Their goal: to change Her doctrine, Her liturgy, and Her mission,” according to the book’s website.

Marshall has said that bishops should lead defenses of sacred statues at risk of being torn down by rioters. After the bishop blocked Marshall on Twitter, the author has also criticized Barron’s response to criticism.

“What we see here is kinda tone deaf. We feel like we have been bullied, and pushed down and lied to by our bishops for decades,” Marshall said in a July 8 video. 

In the face of attacks against Catholic statues, “we’re looking for the bishops to do something….So when we hear ‘that’s the laity’s job,’ that really ticked off a lot of people, Bishop Barron.”

Marshall said those engaging with the bishop disrespectfully should repent, but also that Barron seems not to understand the frustration of him and his supporters. “That is why you had to make a video yesterday.”

Marshall disputed the idea that he encouraged his supporters to attack Barron online, “but what you saw, Bishop Barron, were tens and tens of thousands of Catholics who want to support you outraged - is that too strong a word?-  confused, bothered, that the bishop who has the biggest platform and the biggest voice would say ‘that’s the laity’s job!’ or ‘Vatican II taught that the secular arena belongs to the laity.’”

In his video, Marshall subsequently criticized Barron because he said that the bishop did not condemn “the sin of idolatry” during the 2019 Amazon synod, and that he did not believe Barron had vigorously enough defended the institution of marriage at the time of the Obergefell vs. Hodges decision. He added that the reason “trolls” antagonize Barron is because he is not sufficiently accessible to answer questions about such criticisms.

Marshall and Barron have clashed previously over theological issues. Marshall has recently criticized other bishops for their response to the coronavirus pandemic, among other things, and is affiliated with the priestly Society of St. Pius X, a traditionalist group in “irregular communion” with the Catholic Church. Barron has reportedly described Marshall as an “extremist.”

In his video, Barron said that online mob comments and abusive reviews do not help promote change but are, instead, anti-evangelical. If non-Catholics who are curious about the faith were to observe such behavior, he said, they would be repelled by the insidious comments of Catholics toward their pastors.

Catholics should be examples of charity, and model respectful disagreement within the Catholic community.

“As Tertullian reminded us long ago, what first attracted many pagans to Christianity was the obvious love that Christians showed to one another,” he said.

“Catholics on social media,” Barron concluded, “you need to pick up your game”


What the Supreme Court ministerial exception ruling could mean for LGBT employment lawsuits

Washington D.C., Jul 8, 2020 / 04:59 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court’s ruling today on ministerial exception should encourage Catholic schools expecting teachers to live out Church doctrine on matters of sexual morality, two religious liberty lawyers suggested.

“There’s a lot of public pressure right now on Catholic schools, and on Catholic charities and the Church as a whole, to give up their teaching on marriage and human sexuality,” said John Bursch, Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy at Alliance Defending Freedom.

He told CNA he hopes today’s ruling will embolden the Church - and particularly Catholic schools - to expect their communities to live in accordance with Church teaching.

“This should give them a degree of confidence they maybe didn’t have before, that they will have legal protection when they do that,” Bursch said.

In a 7-2 decision on Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that two Catholic school teachers in California are covered by the legal doctrine of “ministerial exception,” which prohibits government interference in religious organizations’ hiring and firing decisions regarding ministers.

The case, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, involved two teachers in California Catholic schools whose contracts were not renewed. In separate cases combined by the Supreme Court, the teachers alleged that their dismissals were based on disability and age, not poor performance. The schools claimed they were exempt from employment discrimination laws under the principle of “ministerial exception.”

At the heart of the case was a question over what constituted a “minister.” In the 2012 Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC decision, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld ministerial exception in the case of a teacher at a Lutheran school who was commissioned and given the title of “minister.” In today’s ruling, the justices determined that ministerial exception also applied to the Catholic school teachers in question. They noted that even through the teachers were not given the formal title of “minister” or the same level of formal training, the essence of their job was the same as in the Hosanna-Tabor case - to transmit the faith to students.

Adele Keim, an attorney with the religious freedom legal group Becket, said the court’s decision reinforced the idea that “government should not be in the business of telling religious schools who is qualified to teach the faith to their students.”

Keim, who worked on the case, told CNA this is a “common-sense principle” rooted in the First Amendment, which helps to ensure a healthy separation of church and state.

For decades, she said, courts have recognized that Title VII employment discrimination law does not apply in certain cases involving religious institutions.

This principle is important in cases of sexual morality. Last month, the Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that employers cannot fire employees on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, Keim noted that the majority ruling in Bostock gave a nod to religious freedom, acknowledging that there are a special set of legal doctrines that operate in the case of religious organizations, and explicitly mentioning ministerial exception as one of them.

“There’s a protected sphere that gives religious organizations independence in deciding who’s going to carry out core religious functions. And so Title VII doesn’t come in there,” she said.

“If you can show that the employee is carrying out important religious functions, then that’s an area where the state just has to stay out.”

In several high-profile cases in recent years, teachers at Catholic schools who have entered civil same-sex marriages have been fired.

Bursch said today’s ruling could protect schools from lawsuits in these situations, provided they could show that the teachers in question were expected to transmit the faith to students.

“If the teacher is considered a minister at that school, as the Catholic teachers were in the two schools that the court decided today, then Title VII would not apply, no matter what the claim is,” he said. “The ministerial exception simply says that the federal government can’t be involved in regulating appointment law when it comes to religious institutions and their ministers. So the Bostock decision would not apply.”

Non-teacher employees would be similarly evaluated, with courts looking at their job responsibilities to determine whether the role is ministerial in nature. For example, a school janitor who is only present in the building outside of normal school hours and is not responsible for transmitting the faith would likely not be considered ministerial in nature, he said.

In one case in Indianapolis last year, two guidance counselors were dismissed from a local Catholic school for entering civil same-sex marriages, and a social worker then lost her job after publicly defending them.

Bursch said employment decisions such as these would be evaluated based on what the expectations of the employees are, and what job responsibilities they have.

For a guidance counselor, courts may consider questions such as, “Do they have any kind of religious or theological education or training? Is it expected that they’re going to transmit principles of the Catholic faith to students as they work through issues? Are they going to encourage students to consider religious vocations, such as being Catholic priests or being nuns?”

“The more of those types of things you have, the more likely it is that the court would consider the counselor a minister,” Bursch said.

“Each [case] will be a facts and circumstances examination of how much that person is expected to help carry on the faith to others. And if there’s a lot of that, they’re almost certainly a minister. If there’s none of that, then they almost certainly would not be,” he added.

The same principles apply to other Catholic organizations as well, he said. For example, a Catholic Charities social worker who is instructed to avoid religious conversations in his or her work with foster families would likely not be considered a minister. In contrast, a social worker who is instructed to spread the Gospel, and to encourage Mass attendance, prayer, and Catholic schools is more likely to be considered a minister.

“It would all depend on what the organization expects of that person in their job responsibilities,” Bursch stressed.

He also commented on the morality clauses added into teaching contracts in some Catholic dioceses, indicating that teachers accept and agree to publicly abide by Church teaching.

“Even before Our Lady of Guadalupe, they should feel pretty good about those clauses because an employment relationship is at-will,” he said. “[T]he courts have long recognized that wholly apart from the ministerial exception, a religious organization has the ability to hire individuals who share that organization’s faith beliefs. But I think having Our Lady of Guadalupe in place should help them feel even better about those types of clauses.”

Keim agreed that today’s ruling is reassuring for religious schools who ask teachers to abide by basic moral tenets.

“I think the Supreme Court has been very clear,” she said. “Two cases in eight years that have said resoundingly that ‘educating and forming students in the Catholic faith are vital religious duties’…If someone’s engaged in that process, the court has spoken twice and spoken very loudly, 9-0 and 7-2, those are areas where the state cannot be in the business of picking religion teachers.”

Trump administration starts withdrawal from WHO

Denver Newsroom, Jul 8, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- The United States will withdraw from the World Health Organization by July 6, 2021, the Trump administration has told the WHO, launching a yearlong process that will likely require approval from Congress and President Donald Trump’s re-election if it is to come to completion.
While the move would end the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money to the WHO, withdrawal does not necessarily mean a reduction in overall global health aid, Elyssa Koren, director of United Nations advocacy at ADF International, told CNA July 7.
“Withdrawal from the WHO does not mean that the U.S. has stopped prioritizing humanitarian assistance, in particular COVID-19 relief, but that instead it can channel these funds directly without going through the U.N.,” Koren said.
A draft appropriations bill in Congress would increase overall money for U.S. development spending, and allocate another $10 billion for coronavirus assistance, she added in a July 8 essay in Newsweek.
President Donald Trump said he would withdraw from the WHO in a May 29 Rose Garden media briefing. He charged that the agency failed to alert the world when the novel coronavirus emerged. He accused the U.N. agency of helping China cover up the threat.
The claims of a cover-up have been questioned by experts, including a report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
In April, Trump put a temporary freeze on U.S. funds during a review of U.S. membership. The U.S. had typically given $400 million per year to the organization, whose budget is about $4.8 billion annually.
Former vice-president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, rejected the withdrawal effort.
“Americans are safer when America is engaged in strengthening global health,” Biden said on Twitter July 7. “On my first day as President, I will rejoin the WHO and restore our leadership on the world stage.”
A State Department spokesperson explained the Trump administration’s perspective.
“The President has been clear that the WHO needs to get its act together. That starts with demonstrating significant progress and the ability to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks with transparency and accountability,” a State Department spokesperson told CNBC July 7.
“The United States will continue efforts to reform the WHO and other international organizations to ensure they operate with transparency, fulfill their mandates, and hold governments accountable for their commitments under international law,” the spokesperson said.
While Koren has backed defunding, rather than disengaging, from the WHO, she characterized the possible end of a U.S. relationship with the WHO as “an important step for the protection of American interests.”
“The U.S. spent $900 million on the organization last year alone, and given significant evidence of WHO dysfunction, it is clear that U.S. funds are better spent elsewhere,” she told CNA.
There are no reports that the Trump administration action is motivated by abortion.
However, Koren, a longtime observer of abortion issues at the U.N., said there is further reason for the U.S. to withdraw given “mounting proof that the WHO is promoting abortion under the guise of coronavirus relief.”
The WHO’s coronavirus pandemic plans for Ecuador includes Minimum Initial Service Packages from the United Nations Population Fund, which include instruments used in the context of abortion: vacuum extractors, craniocrasts for the crushing of fetal skills, and drugs to perform abortions. The equipment comes with manuals from the abortion support organization Ipas, which explain how the equipment can be used for abortion.
“The U.S. is prohibited from the funding of abortion abroad, thus rendering the relationship with the organization untenable,” Koren said.
Given recent years’ U.S. leadership on pro-life protections at the United Nations, Koren said that as the U.S. withdraws from the WHO it should “seek avenues to maintain engagement across the U.N. system in the interest of the pro-life cause and other American priorities.” “Continued pressure for reform is needed for the longevity of the international human rights project,” she said.
After the president’s May 29 media briefing, the State Department began redirecting funds away from the WHO, instead giving the funds to other global health organizations, CNBC reports.
The withdrawal has drawn criticism from Congress, including Republicans in the House of Representatives. They have said the U.S. would be able to have a larger impact on the response to the novel coronavirus epidemic as part of the organization.
It is unclear whether Trump has the authority to withdraw unilaterally from the WHO. The draft 2021 foreign aid bill of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriations would renew $200 million in WHO funding.
Koren, writing in Newsweek, has said the draft bill’s provision to give $55.5 million to the UNFPA would violate the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which bars U.S. funds for organizations with links to forced abortion.
Some reports have called into question Trump's claim that the U.N. agency was involved in cover-up. On June 2 the Associated Press reported that while WHO publicly praised China's response to the new coronavirus, it encountered significant delays in collecting data from the Chinese government. WHO officials were frustrated they did not get the information they needed.
Experts have debated whether WHO should have been more confrontational, or whether that approach would have put it at risk of being kicked out of China.
WHO has agreed to an independent probe of how it handled the global pandemic.
A Department of Homeland Security report dated May 1, acquired by the Associated Press, showed that some U.S. officials believe China covered up the extent of the outbreak and the contagiousness of the new coronavirus in order to stock up on medical supplies.


Editor's note, 2020 July 9 1035: A previous version of this article indicated that manuals accompanying instruments used in abortion from the UNPF came from the group IBIS, rather than Ipas. It has been corrected.