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Lowest-ever fertility rates have complicated causes, no easy solutions, experts say

Washington D.C., May 16, 2019 / 01:05 pm (CNA).- Fertility rates in the United States have fallen to an all-time low, according to provisional figures released by the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics.

According to an early statistical release from the NCHS in May, the total fertility rate, or average number of children born per woman, stands at 1.7, the lowest ever and well below the demographic replacement bar of 2.1.

In 2018, less than 3.8 million children born in the country. Since a peak in 2007, birth rates have fallen in all but one of the last 11 years. The results also show a continued trend of lower fertility among younger women over the last decade.

The data comes amid warnings from experts about the economic and social consequences of the continued decline. At the same time, the same experts say that the complicated causes of ever-lower fertility mean there are no clear or easy ways of reversing the trend.

 

Causes and effects

While the statistics underline a stark trend, experts emphasize that there is no single root cause behind the general decline.

In the past, women in their 20s have had the highest birth rate. But since 1968, the average age of a first-time mother has increased by more than five years, from 21.4 to 26.8.

Last year, childbirth rates among women aged 20-24 dropped 4%, and 3% among women aged 25-29. In 2018, women aged 30-34 had a higher birthrate than those aged 25-29 – marking the first time women in their early thirties were the leading age demographic for the number of children born.

Johnathan V. Last, author of the book “What to Expect When No One is Expecting,” points to a complex of social factors which, he says, contribute to the numbers of women having fewer children later in life.

“Many of the reasons people are having children later are good and reasonable. Look at the drop in fertility among 20-24 year-olds: that’s in large part down to the number of people now attending college, and people just don’t tend to get married and start families while they are in college,” Last told CNA.

Last also pointed out that while the broader trends all point in a single direction, individual section of society had outsized influence. “What we are seeing is record fertility lows coming off of what is essentially a drop among a single cohort, which is Hispanic-Americans.”

“If you look at the data, among white and African-Americans the fertility rates are broadly constant in their decline. What we are seeing is that Hispanics are arriving in the US with higher fertility rates that are dropping much faster than many expected, even within a generation or two.”

Dr. Catherine Pakaluk, Assistant Professor of Social Research and Economic thought at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that changes in the use of contraception could also be a factor.

Since 2002, use of the contraceptive pill has declined in favor of implanted contraceptive devices. In 2002, 19% of women aged 15-44 reported using the pill, while only 1.3% used IUDs. By 2017, pill usage had dropped to less than 14%, and 8.6% of women were using IUDs.

This, Pakaluk said, could be contributing to the sharp drop in unplanned pregnancies.

“These long-acting contraceptives tend to be much more immune to behavioral screw-ups. Even with the pill people are prone to contracepting badly and have a higher error rate leading to accidental but not necessarily unwelcome births, and these are disappearing.”

“It’s not a negligible percent, I don’t think it is the whole story but I do think it could be enough to be dragging us down to the historic lows we are seeing.”

Pakaluk said that while it is difficult to study, a shift in the way women approach pregnancy and contraceptives means that birth rates are increasingly subject to the expectations and experiences of generations raised in smaller families.

“One thing that should give us pause, and which I am really interested in examining more closely, is the effect of being around babies on adolescent wellbeing and mental health,” Pakaluk said.

“If you live in a society in which the typical family has three or four children, the older children will be experiencing a young child into their teenage years. But if you move to an average of 1.5-2, no teenagers on average will live with babies – think what that means for their own likely fertility choices.”

Experts have long warned about the wider societal and economic problems associated with declining birth rates, especially below the population replacement rate.

Last told CNA that the wider aspirations of society and politics to sustain and grow social welfare programmes depends on a demographic model opposite to current trends.

“The things we take for granted, let alone the things we aspire to do, in welfare, healthcare and so on, just do not work when you have an inversion of the population growth” Last told CNA.

Pakaluk agreed that there is widespread consensus on the economic and social problems associated with the long-term trend of lower fertility.

“We see immediately that it is not socially optimal from any rational social planning perspective because you know you cannot support the generous social programs that we like to think are good for society,” Pakaluk said. “Things like a decent social security system, MediCare, MedicAid, you just cannot sustain them in the long run with a total fertility rate of 1.7.”

But if the wider problems associated with dropping fertility rates are well known, both Pakaluk and Last highlight widespread dissatisfaction at the personal level.

“While the wider societal problems are well known,” Pakaluk said, “what is fascinating is that is seems that it isn’t individually optimal either.”

“What we do know, which is not often raised in media coverage, is that over the last several decades every survey in a Western country that asks women to describe their ideal family size – every single one everywhere – gives you a number about one child more than women end up having.”

Last told CNA that these numbers need to be considered as a factor in the state of our society.

“What we are seeing is the constant ‘fertility gap’ between people’s stated desire to have more than two kids and the reality that they tend to have less,” Last said. “For a whole host of reasons, people aren’t meeting their own expectations, and that has wider societal impact.”

Pakaluk said that the connection between parenthood and individual happiness is well known but rarely considered in relation to the fertility gap.

“We do know that children are a tremendous source of satisfaction for both men and women and if you take the net effect of [available data] on happiness and wellbeing - even in very controlled studies - we know that children contribute a tremendous amount of happiness.”

“I would certainly say that we need to look at [how] we have the lowest birthrates on record and the highest rates of addiction and depression on record. I’m not ready to say that is causal, but I think we need to think about it,” Pakaluk said.

“We are living in a fascinating paradox. In the post-feminist age of women’s right and control of reproduction they are not getting what it is that they say they want.”

 

No easy answers

If the causes of long-term demographic decline are difficult to untangle, so too are efforts to reverse or mitigate the effects of the trend.

Last noted that the standard response to address the economic problems associated with declining fertility is to rely on immigration to supply the demographic difference. But, he cautioned, this offers an imperfect fix.

“Immigration offers a short-term solution to the problem of funding entitlement programs for governments, but it doesn’t solve the long-term problem,” Last told CNA.

“In a healthy model you want to see a kind of pyramid shape, with the largest cohort among the youngest people tapering up to the oldest. Relying on adult immigration creates a bulge around the middle, which doesn’t address the underlying problem or future effects of low fertility and an ageing population.”

Last said that various policy solutions had been tried in different parts of the world, but without significant effects.

“Governments in all different parts of the world have experimented with policies to try to get people to have more children, but there isn’t any example which demonstrates real success – even in Singapore where the government basically offered $20,000 for people to have a kid, that only goes so far,” Last said.

“The bottom line is that having a child is a heavy lift, and no policy is going to make up someone’s mind to do it.”

Pakaluk agreed, pointing out that most models and policies made assumptions about individual behavior which simply could not account for the full human condition.

“Economists like to model fertility choices as the product of a highly rational process,” she said. “But in reality, no economist will ever tell you that even their idealized agents are acting subconsciously.”

“My read is that if you talk to women in their early 20s, you will get a response that sound very conscious and deliberate. But the choices that ‘make sense’ to people seem to be highly informed by something in the [cultural] water,” said Pakaluk.

According to Last, there is a level or irreducible complexity to changes in the fertility rate, intended or otherwise.

“The causes of lower fertility are incredibly complicated, and there is no obvious or simple mechanism for moving those numbers in the other direction,” he said. “It isn’t a matter of simply pushing button A and pulling lever X, it’s everything.”

“Of course,” Last noted, “ consistently the single greatest tracker of higher fertility is church attendance: across all faith communities, people who regularly show up for religious services have more kids.”

“I think a big part of this is looking at your life as part of a linear continuum, understanding your place between what has come before and what will come after helps condition you to understanding the greater good of starting a family and having children,” said Last.

“If your worldview is primarily formed around personal fulfillment and self-actualization, where is the incentive to have a family? You might have one child for the experience, but not two or three or four.”

Detroit archdiocese cancels sporting events on Sundays

Detroit, Mich., May 16, 2019 / 03:05 am (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Detroit has announced that it will no longer hold required sporting events on Sundays, in an effort to refocus the day on prayer, family and rest.

In a reflection on his 2016 pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel, Archbishop Allen Vigneron issued a pastoral note on Wednesday, emphasizing the importance of “the Lord’s Day.”

He said Sunday is ultimately a time for faith, family, and rest, announcing that Catholic grade and high schools in the archdiocese will cease sports practices and games on this day.

“Sunday [is] a day set apart for the Lord, for family and for works of mercy,” he said. “In our time, Sunday has slowly lost its pride of place. In the Archdiocese of Detroit, we are committed to setting aside this day as much as possible for God-centered pursuits.”

“In shifting away from the hustle of required sporting activities on Sunday, we will reclaim this holy day and create more time for families to choose activities that prioritize time spent with each other and our Lord,” he added.

The change in the archdiocesan sporting policy comes in response to a local synod in 2016, which included lay Catholics, religious, and clergy members. The archbishop’s pastoral letter soon followed, calling Catholics to embrace greater conversion and efforts of evangelization.

In his recent pastoral note, Archbishop Vigneron emphasized the importance of Sunday as a day of holy rest. He said it is a weekly celebration of the Holy Spirit’s outpouring on the disciples and Christ's resurrection, making it a mini-Easter and mini-Pentecost.

“First and foremost, Sunday is the day of the Resurrection of Jesus to new life. It is the day that definitively marked Jesus’ victory over sin and death, and it is the day that represents that in Jesus we too share in this same victory through our baptism,” he said.

“Finally, Sunday is the day when the Holy Spirit was poured out in power upon the disciples of Jesus. In fact, John Paul II called Sunday a ‘weekly Pentecost,’” he added.

He said the holiness of Sunday should, first, be exercised by participation in Mass. Beyond that, he said, it is appropriate for families to pursue other faith-based activities together, as well as “technology-free family time.”

“Eucharistic adoration, personal prayer, reciting the Rosary, time for catechesis and Bible studies, faith sharing groups and the like all are ways families and individuals honor the Lord’s Day beyond Sunday Mass,” he said.

The archbishop also noted the importance of rest, saying that society has a “cult of busyness,” which has created false identities. He warned that an overemphasis on work can accentuate what Pope Francis calls a “throwaway culture.”

“When work becomes the most important thing in our lives, we value ourselves and others by what they can contribute rather than by who they are,” he said.

“Instead our worth comes from what God has done for us: We are made in his image and likeness, and Christ has died for us. When we choose to make Sunday a day of rest, we choose to renounce these false cultures and live as part of Christ’s band of disciples.”

The new regulations will take place in the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year. In upcoming months, the archdiocese will be issuing additional resources for families to embrace the Lord’s Day.

“Ultimately, by removing the requirement of sporting activities, we leave more time for families to choose activities that prioritize time spent with each other and our Lord,” the archdiocese said.

Several other local schools have held Sunday as a holy day of rest, including Calvinist schools and the Michigan High School Athletic Association. The Frankel Jewish Academy also does not host games from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.

Archbishop Vigneron said this time of “missionary conversion” requires radical opposition to the culture. He said setting aside Sunday as a Holy Day will be part of doing this and will be a source of additional graces.

“Living Sunday more radically and intentionally as God’s people will help us do this. It will help us to root our lives in prayer and the sacraments. It will create the space for us to demonstrate unusually gracious hospitality and to include those on the margins. And it will remind us of God’s presence even in difficult and stressful times, so that we can be Jesus’ band of joyful missionary disciples in Southeast Michigan,” he said.

 

'We all need to be a little more like Kendrick': Friends and family remember STEM hero

Denver, Colo., May 15, 2019 / 05:12 pm (CNA).- A funny, selfless, and kind kid who loved tinkering with his car, goofing around with his friends, and above all, serving others, whether at Knights of Columbus pancake breakfasts or in robotics class - this was the Kendrick Castillo that friends and family gathered to remember at a celebration of his life on May 15 at Cherry Hills Community Church.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit,” Fr. Javier Nieva, pastor of St. Mary’s in Littleton, Colo., said at the ecumenical celebration. The quote, from Jesus, is in the Gospel of John.

“We celebrate fruits today,” Nieva said. “Not death (but the) fruits of his life.”

Kendrick laid down his life for others not only “in the moment of dying, but in his love for his family, his passion for service, his love for the truth” and helping others, Nieva said.

Kendrick Castillo, 18, gave his life to protect his friends when he jumped into the line of fire to stop a school shooter on May 7, according to witnesses. Castillo was the only casualty in the shooting at STEM high school in Highlands Ranch, Colo.; eight other students were injured in the incident.

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon in May, friends and family packed Cherry Hills Community Church to remember a funny and kind friend, parishioner and son who was always smiling and helping others. On display at the church were some things representative of Kendrick’s hobbies and passions: a kayak, a red blazer he wore while ushering at Notre Dame parish, robotics and engineering paraphernalia.

Former teachers and friends from school took to the stage one by one to share a favorite memory of Kendrick, to extol his virtues and thank his parents.

Joseph Nguyen, a family friend of the Castillos and a member of the Catholic charitable group the Knights of Columbus, presented Kendrick’s parents, John and Maria Castillo, with a plaque that honored Kendrick as a full member of the Knights.

“Kendrick is forever a brother within the Knights of Columbus,” Nguyen said, presenting a plaque that came from members throughout the country and the world.

“His service with the Knights, in everything he did, there was a smile on his face,” Nguyen said, noting that Kendrick and his father John had logged  a combined 2,600 hours of community service with the Knights.

“I remember Kendrick for the just young man he was, the one who imitated Christ’s self-sacrificing love so that others might live and be safe,” he said. “Kendrick loved people, he loved his Church, and he loved his God.”

Charlene Molis, the principal of Notre Dame Catholic School, which Kendrick attended from pre-K to 8th grade, remembered a loving child who “is certainly proof that one person can make a difference.”

Molis said she saw Kendrick’s caring nature on the very first day of preschool, when he noticed a little boy crying across the room.

“The little boy was missing his mom,” Molis said. “Kendrick walked over, put his arm around him and told him it was going to be ok.”

She remembered a student who “respected everyone and always did his best.” She remembered that he liked to get dressed up for school plays as a cowboy or a pilgrim, but when it came to all-school Masses, he donned a three-piece suit.

She remembered his ability to figure out “anything technology related,” and how by the time he was a 6th grader, he became a sort of pseudo IT technician for his teachers, helping them with computer issues. She remembered his bright smile, quick wit, and willingness to collaborate with his teachers in playing jokes on his fellow classmates.

Most of all, she remembered how he served others.

“He seemed to be happiest serving others, and he did this humbly,” she said, whether it was working in the background to put on the school talent show, making and serving pancakes for the Knights of Columbus, DJing school dances, leading the computer club, or serving on the student council.

“He was the first to arrive and last to leave at school and church functions,” she said.

“He was the epitome of a young Christian man, and an inspiration to everyone who was lucky enough to know him,” Molis said. “We love you, Kendrick. We are all better people for having known him.”

Jordan Monk, Kendrick’s best friend, said they first met as freshmen in an engines class in high school. When it became clear that Kendrick knew the most about engines in the class, Monk jumped at the chance to become his lab partner.

“Our friendship started purely out of survival instincts,” Monk said. “I wanted an A in that class, and found the best way to do so.”

But after just one class period, “I like many others knew there was something special about Kendrick. I’d figured we’d get along just fine as lab partners, but I had no idea he’d have such a profound impact on my life.”

The two bonded over lab projects and mishaps, and soon became best friends.

“Teachers had a love-hate relationship with us,” Monk said. “They loved us because of the joy and laughter that we brought to class, but that joy and laughter was apparently distracting for some students.”

When they weren’t in school, Monk spent hours with Kendrick in his backyard, where they would tinker on mini-bikes or golf carts, and on their cars once they got their licenses.

“We changed brakes and oil...and detailed our cars almost religiously,” Monk said. “Whenever I was able to drag (Kendrick) to our school dances, we always had the two cleanest rides.”

Monk recalled a favorite memory with Kendrick, when they dressed up as the main characters from the movie Wayne’s World, and drove around with their car tops down, fake mullets flowing in the wind, and Queen blasting on the radio.

“The only sound you could hear over Bohemian Rhapsody was our laughter,” Monk recalled. He said he and Kendrick often were up to things that could be considered weird, but they didn’t care, “because we had the time of our lives doing it.”

At the end of the celebration, Kendrick’s father, John, addressed the crowd. He thanked the school and church communities and first responders for their care and support, and said he has “felt the love of thousands” in the days since his son’s death.

“If we had to describe him a certain way, first it would be love, the love for anybody he met,” John said. “I mean anybody. He was compassionate. If you were walking down the street and fell, he’d walk over to make sure you’re ok.”

“There’s risk in love,” he added. “There’s risk in being hurt, in rejection. Kendrick knew all of these things and he never wavered. He knew right from wrong, and we all do.”

John remembered Kendrick as a son who valued relationships over physical things, who cherished hunting trips with his dad and grandpa and loved going to animated movies with his mom.

“We all really really love Kendrick, and to carry on his life’s message, we need to be more like him,” John said, whether that’s helping someone who is struggling or including someone who is lonely.

“I always knew he was a gift and a hero, he was filled up with the good stuff” of life, he noted, like faith and love.

He encouraged those present to “walk your faith like Kendrick did,” recalling how his son would take off his hat and bless his food before eating at Taco Bell without caring what people might think.

“It’s not difficult,” he said. “We just have to love.”

Kendrick’s funeral and burial will be at the end of this week. The details are kept private at the request of the family.

Mom demands apology from state Rep. Brian Sims, who doxed her daughters outside Planned Parenthood

Philadelphia, Pa., May 15, 2019 / 02:29 pm (CNA).- A Pennsylvania mother of teenage daughters is demanding an apology from state representative Brian Sims, who shouted down and tried to dox the teens while they were quietly praying outside of a Planned Parenthood in late April.

Sims has been under fire recently after he livestreamed a video posted to Twitter May 2 in which he appears to harass and confront a woman who was praying the rosary quietly by herself outside of a Pennsylvania Planned Parenthood.

Ashley Garecht, the mother demanding an apology from Sims, said he treated her daughters similarly, shouting them down, calling them racists, and offering to donate $100 to Planned Parenthood if someone could reveal the girls’ identities and personal information online, a practice known as doxing, which is illegal in most jurisdictions.

“The three girls deserve your genuine, explicit apology. I believe you know that your actions toward them were inherently wrong. You accosted them and said that they should be ashamed of threatening and attacking young girls trying to enter the clinic,” Garecht said in an open letter to Sims, published in Philadelphia newspaper The Inquirer.

“You and I both know that the girls were peacefully standing at the far corner of the property line, praying in a barely audible voice. They were not threatening, and they certainly weren’t attacking anyone or preventing access to the building,” she added.

Garecht said she had brought her two daughters, along with one of their friends, to pray quietly at the Planned Parenthood. One of the girls is 13 years old, while the other two are 15. When Sims reportedly began shouting at the girls and pointing a camera at them, Garecht said she tried to intervene and asked Sims that he engage only with her, as the adult in the situation.

“...you looked over my shoulder and continued to scold the girls that they were white racists who shouldn’t dare tell women what to do with their bodies,” she wrote.

The friend that Garecht brought with her daughters isn’t white, Garecht noted.

“...our purpose there was to pray that women of all races would choose life for their babies because we believe that all human life is sacred and we know that our society is better off with more children of every color walking among us,” she said in the letter.

“These girls aren’t racist, Mr. Sims. You devalue the term and cheapen it by using it so egregiously and inappropriately.”

She called his attempts to dox her girls especially “dangerous”, and said that she and her family now live “in constant heightened alert” because of his actions.

Despite Sims’ harassment, Garecht said her daughters and their friend “were not intimidated by you. After we left, they saw you berating the kind young gentleman who respectfully removed his hat to speak with you. All three girls told me we should go back and stand with him. They didn’t want him to have to endure your bullying alone.”

Garecht said that as an elected official, Sims should support the girls’ “First Amendment right to express their faith through speech.”

“Those rights aren’t theories or hypotheticals. They are specifically enumerated guarantees. It’s your job to protect and uphold those rights for all citizens, including beautifully courageous and kind teenage girls,” she said.

On May 7, Sims said in a post to Twitter that he acknowledged his aggressive behavior toward the woman in his May 2 video.

“I will fiercely protect a woman’s right to make the best choices for her health & her body, unimpeded. I also know that two wrongs don’t make a right, especially on the front lines of a civil rights battle. I can do better, and I will do better, for the women of Pennsylvania,” he said.

Sims has since set his Twitter account to private.

On May 10, a “Pro-Life Rally Against Bullying” drew 1,000 people outside of that same Planned Parenthood where Sims had allegedly harassed numerous people. Pro-life speakers at the event called for Sims’ resignation. Leaders from local and national pro-life groups attended the rally, including the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Family Council, 40 Days for Life, Students for Life, Sidewalk Advocates for Life, Sidewalk Servants and the Susan B. Anthony List.

Garecht said in her letter that she believes Sims owes a specific apology to her teenage daughters.

“Mr. Sims, you said you wanted to do better for the women of Pennsylvania. I take you at your word, and I forgive you,” she wrote.

“I’m now asking you to do the right thing by being accountable for your actions and making a genuine, explicit apology to my daughters and their friend. They don’t need anything from you, but they certainly deserve it.”

 

 

Man who brought gasoline, lighter into New York cathedral deemed unfit to stand trial

New York City, N.Y., May 15, 2019 / 01:54 pm (CNA).- A man accused of attempting to enter St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York last month carrying containers of gasoline and a lighter has been deemed unfit to stand trial due to his mental health.

Police arrested Marc Lamparello in April after he attempted to enter the cathedral. The 37-year-old is a New Jersey resident and Ph.D. student at City University of New York.

A court-appointed psychiatrist has now found him mentally unfit to stand trial, according to his lawyer Chris DiLorenzo, who also said May 14 that Lamparello suffers from schizophrenia and was off his medication on the day of the alleged arson attempt.

Assistant District Attorney David Stuart said his office would review the results and determine how to proceed with the case, the New York Post reports.

Manhattan prosecutors had that day indicted Lamparello on attempted arson and reckless endangerment charges. The suspect will remain in Bellevue Hospital Center’s prison ward pending a court hearing June 7, the North Jersey Record reports.

Lamparello’s apparent arson attempt took place two days after a major fire destroyed the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The cause of that fire has not yet been determined, but police suspect it was an accident.

Lamparello was also an adjunct professor of philosophy at Lehman College in the Bronx and also taught at Seton Hall University. He published a 400-plus page book on philosophy in 2016.

A friend of Lamparello’s family described them to the New York Post as “a good religious family” and as “strict Catholics.”

Lamparello was apprehended by cathedral security around 8 p.m. April 17 and taken into police custody by officers with the NYPD Critical Response Command. He attempted to start a fire using a lighter, police said, and he had a car nearby to escape the scene.

According to the NYPD, Lamparello had four gallons of gasoline, two cans of lighter fluid, and two lighters with him when he attempted to enter the cathedral. He was prevented from entering by cathedral security, but was able to spill some of the gasoline on the floor as he was leaving.

NYPD said that Lamparello’s story was “not consistent” and suspicious, though they have not yet determined any sort of motive. He claimed he cut through the cathedral as a shortcut, as his van had run out of gas. The minivan had in fact not run out of gas, which led to police taking him into custody.

He was charged initially with resisting arrest, defiant trespassing and interfering with the administration of law.

The attempted entry was the second time that week the man was arrested at a Catholic cathedral. Earlier in the week, Lamparello was arrested for refusing to leave the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey.

Lamparello has been arrested previously for criminal trespass and public drunkenness.

NYPD have confirmed that Lamparello had recently purchased a one-way airplane ticket to Rome, scheduled to depart the next evening, and had already cancelled class. He had also booked a hotel room not far from St. Peter’s Basilica.

California confession bill won't stop abuse, but threatens religious liberty, critics say

Sacramento, Calif., May 15, 2019 / 10:47 am (CNA).- The appropriations committee of California’s state senate will hold a hearing Thursday on a bill that would require priests to violate the seal of confession if they became aware of allegations of child abuse or neglect while celebrating the sacrament of penance. Critics say the bill would deny Constitutional religious liberty protections, and that there is no evidence it would actually prevent child abuse.

The bill, California SB 360, requires clergy members to report to law enforcement knowledge or suspicion of child abuse or neglect, “including when the clergy member acquires the knowledge or reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect during a penitential communication.”

Clergy in California are already required to report knowledge or suspicion of child abuse in most circumstances, though penitential conversations like sacramental confession are exempted, as are other kinds of privileged conversations, among them those covered by attorney-client privilege.

The bill’s sponsor, California state Senator Jerry Hill (D-Calif. 13), has claimed that “the clergy-penitent privilege has been abused on a large scale, resulting in the unreported and systemic abuse of thousands of children across multiple denominations and faiths.”

The senator has claimed that such abuse has been revealed through “recent investigations by 14 attorneys general, the federal government, and other countries.” Hill’s office declined to respond to requests from CNA for clarity or specific instances of the abuse cited.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said in a May 15 column that Hill’s claim is “simply not true. Hearings on the bill have not presented a single case — in California or anywhere else ­— where this kind of crime could have been prevented if a priest had disclosed information he had heard in confession.”

“SB 360 claims to solve a crisis that does not exist,” Gomez said.

While priests are forbidden from disclosing the contents of sacramental confessions under any circumstances, and face excommunication for doing so, few believe Hill’s bill would prevent child abuse.

California Catholic Conference executive director Andy Rivas told Angelus News May 15 that “there is no evidence that forcing priests to disclose what is learned in the confessional would prevent a single case of child abuse.”

If penitents report being abused, several priests told CNA, they are generally asked to discuss the matter with the priest-confessor immediately after confession has ended. When such conversations take place after confession, clergy members in California are already required by law to report them.

The bill is not the first time Hill has taken issue with internal Church practices. In 2015, he signed a letter urging San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone to end an archdiocesan requirement that Catholic school teachers live in accord with the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.

The letter said the requirement had “a divisive tone, which stands in stark contrast to the values that define the Bay Area and its history.”

The right to confidential religious communications has been recognized in Western legal traditions for centuries. The sacrament of confession is understood within Catholic teaching to be a revelation to God of sins, and confession is kept absolutely confidential in order to ensure that no penitent is discouraged from making use of the sacrament.

California’s bill would be a striking reversal of long-standing legal precedent preceding even the foundation of the United States. The state would be the first to explicitly revoke religious confidentiality while keeping protection for other kinds of confidential conversations in place.

Gomez’ May 15 column noted directly that the proposed measure “only targets Catholic priests.”

While the bill’s sponsor insists that’s not true, the bill was introduced shortly after the release a Pennsylvania grand jury reporting detailing decades of clerical sexual abuse allegations, and after the scandal that began June 20, 218, when credible allegations of abuse against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick were made public.

Gomez also said this week that “from a public policy standpoint, if the goal is to prevent child sexual abuse, it does not make sense to single out Catholic priests and the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, which is the formal name for confession.”

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, California’s largest, has faced two allegations of child sexual abuse by priests in the last ten years. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, there are seven allegations of clerical sexual abuse made each year, across the United States.

Although all educators in California, as in most states, are mandated reporters, the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 10% of public school students in the U.S. will experience sexual misconduct by a school employee before graduating from high school. 6,220,413 students were enrolled in California public schools in 2017-2018, according to the state’s department of education. If California does not significantly deviate from national statistics, 622,041 of those students are likely to experience sexual misconduct by public school employees before graduation.

Hill, himself a licensed teacher, has not weighed in publicly on another California bill that would remove the civil statute of limitations for lawsuits involving sexual abuse claims against employees of public schools and other California institutions.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, along with five other California dioceses, established May 14 an independently managed compensation program, which would provide compensatory payment to those alleging to be victims of priestly sexual abuse, regardless of what that abuse is alleged to have happened.

Gomez, for his part, has called Catholics to oppose the confession bill, which he called “a mortal threat to the religious freedom of every Catholic.”

“The privacy of that intimate conversation — our ability to speak with total honesty from our lips to God’s ear — is absolutely vital to our relationship with God,” Gomez wrote.

At the same time, the archbishop encouraged Catholics to pray for the healing of abuse victims and their families.

“Let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help us bring healing to every victim-survivor of abuse and help us build a society where every child is loved, protected, and safe.”

 

 

Police search Dallas diocesan chancery

Dallas, Texas, May 15, 2019 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Police are conducting a search of Church premises in the Diocese of Dallas. Officers executed a warrant on the chancery offices at 7:30 am local time.

Investigators from the Dallas child exploitation unit arrived at the chancery Wednesday morning to search for information and evidence in relation to five current or former clergy of the diocese.

According to a search warrant affidavit, the investigation is focused on Fr. Edmundo Paredes, Fr. Richard Thomas Brown, Fr. Alejandro Buitrago, Fr. William Joseph Hughes, Jr., and Fr. Jeremy Myers.

Local media have also reported that searches are being carried out at a warehouse storage facility and the parish of St. Cecilia in Oak Cliff.

All five men were included in a list of names of clergy “credibly” accused of sexual abuse released by the dioceses of Texas in January. The Diocese of Dallas released the name of 31 accused clerics, including 24 incardinated in the diocese and seven priests either from other dioceses or religious orders who had worked in Dallas.

Local media have reported that police increased their investigations into clerical sexual abuse in the diocese following the January release of names.

Fr. Paredes is the former pastor of St. Cecilia’s. After serving in the parish for 27 years, he was suspended from ministry in June 2017, under suspicion of having stolen between $60,000 - $80,000 from the parish. In February of 2018, Paredes was accused of sexually abusing three teenage boys over the course of his time at the parish.

Paredes fled the diocese and his whereabouts are currently unknown, though Burns has previously said the diocese believes he returned to the Philippines, from where he originally came.

Both Meyers and Buitrago were removed from ministry in 2018.

On Wednesday morning, a diocesan spokesperson told local media that the diocese was “surprised” by the early morning search, but that chancery staff were "cooperating" with investigators. 

"We've been talking with and working with police throughout the process," said Annette Gonzales Taylor. "We're obviously surprised by it this morning."

The Diocese of Dallas is home to more than 1.2 million Catholics. Bishop Burns has served in the diocese since his appointment in December 2016.

Prior to his arrival, Dallas was led by Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who now serves as the head of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life in the Vatican.

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It's time to fight for holiness, Bishop Barron tells 2019 Catholic grads

Santa Paula, Calif., May 15, 2019 / 03:22 am (CNA).- Contemporary America is “mission territory,” and young Catholics must step up to respond to the twin crises of Church corruption and increasing religious disaffiliation, Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles said in a recent speech.

Speaking to young graduates, Barron cited a “time to fight” by becoming saints and sanctifying the world.

“Don’t wait for other reformers to arise; this is your moment to meet this crucial moral challenge. And no pusillanimous people need apply,” he said at the May 11 commencement for Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., where the college’s graduating class numbered 83.

Barron, citing Pope Francis, said that corruption is not far behind when the Church fails to go outward and instead turns in on itself.

For Barron, the Thomas Aquinas College campus reminded him of Chicago’s Mundelein Seminary because of its “distinctive blend of natural and man-made beauty.” He compared it to “something of a Catholic heaven on earth.” It is a campus he said offers liturgy, prayer, fellowship, and “deep communion with the saints and geniuses of the Catholic tradition.”

“Just as the students at Mundelein were not meant to stay on the grounds of the seminary, so you are not meant to stay at this lovely place,” he added. “Rather, you are meant to go forth, carrying what you have received and cultivated here, in order to sanctify our suffering world.”

In his remarks, Barron named two challenges that call forth “heroic moral excellence,” namely corruption in the Church and “the massive attrition of our own Catholic people, especially the young.”

“Wicked priests and clueless religious superiors are, sadly, nothing particularly new in the life of God’s people,” he said.

“Undermining the work of the Church in practically every way, the clerical sex abuse catastrophe has been the devil’s masterpiece,” the bishop continued, acknowledging that many Catholics face the temptation to leave the Church.

“But it is my conviction that this is not the time to leave; this is the time to fight,” said Barron.

He encouraged the new graduates to fight by entering the priesthood or religious life as well as to “fight by your very holiness of life, becoming the saint that God wants you to become.”

The young should fight by “calling for real reform” and “insisting that the guilty be held accountable.” He encouraged graduates to do a daily Holy Hour to purify the Church, to perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, to take part in the sacrifice of the Mass, and to evangelize. They should sanctify their family, their workplace, public life, and the realms of politics, sports and entertainment, he said.

Another great crisis, according to Barron, is the rise of the religiously unaffiliated. The religiously unaffiliated in early 1970s America made up only 3%, doubling to 6% by the early 90s. At present, they make up nearly 25% of Americans. About 40% of Americans under 30 describe themselves as non-affiliated.

For every one person who becomes Catholic, six leave the faith.

“Any way one looks at these statistics, one must conclude that we are hemorrhaging young people from religion in general and Catholicism in particular,” the bishop said.

Disbelief in the teachings of Christianity is the principal reason for people leaving the faith. They find Christianity “intellectually untenable,” Barron said.

However, he suggested that Thomas Aquinas College graduates are “specially qualified for the arduous task of engaging the army of skeptics who have wandered from the Church.” The graduates’ contemplation of great intellectuals is good in itself, but at this moment it should give rise to “active evangelization and compelling apologetics.”

Barron drew on St. Thomas Aquinas’ reflections on the virtue of magnanimity, “the quality of having a great soul,” and the vice of pusillanimity, faintheartedness or fear of attempting moral excellence.

“It seems to me that the entire purpose of the programs here at Thomas Aquinas College is to produce magnanimous people, young women and men of great souls, capable of high moral achievement, willing and able to undertake arduous tasks for which they will rightly merit great honor,” he said. “Thomas Aquinas College has no interest in giving rise to pusillanimous graduates, men and women with small souls, who would shrink from the difficult moral challenge of the present time.”

He told the graduates they faced “arduous tasks” and “choppy seas,” but he encouraged them that they had been prepared.

“Your four years here have given you great souls. Let them be unleashed!” his commencement address concluded. “God bless you all!”