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Children before politics say parents as Catholic adoption agency heads to court

Lansing, Mich., Aug 22, 2019 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- Parents of five adoptive children were present in court on Thursday in support of a Catholic adoption agency in Michigan that is threatened with closure by a new state policy.

“Political grandstanding should never come at the expense of vulnerable children,” stated Melissa Buck, who with her husband Chad has adopted five children with special needs through St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Michigan.

Buck was speaking out against a new state requirement that adoption agencies match children with same-sex couples—regardless of the agencies’ religious mission—in order to receive state funding.

“No one has ever been kept from adopting or fostering a child in need because of St. Vincent’s religious beliefs,” Buck stated on Aug. 22 after oral arguments in Buck v. Gordon, the challenge to Michigan’s new policy, at the Western District Court of Michigan in Grand Rapids.

Kristy and Dana Dumont, a same-sex couple seeking to adopt a child out of foster care, said they were referred elsewhere by St. Vincent Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services in 2016 and 2017 when they tried to adopt children through them. The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the two organizations on their behalf.

St. Vincent is one of the oldest adoption and foster care agencies in the state, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the agency.

The State’s health department opened investigations into the complaints. Then on March 22, 2019, the state’s new Attorney General, Dana Nessel, settled with the ACLU and required all adoption agencies to match children with qualified same-sex couples in order to receive state funding.

Nessel, a self-identified lesbian, once represented a same-sex couple April DeBoer and Jane Rowse in their fight to marry and adopt children; the case eventually made it to the Supreme Court as part of Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark 2015 decision that mandated the legal recognition of same-sex unions as civil marriages nationwide.

The settlement reversed a 2015 state law that protected religious-based adoption agencies from having to match children with same-sex couples if they were morally opposed to doing so.

Becket filed a lawsuit on behalf of St. Vincent Catholic Charities as well as people who have benefitted from their work—Shamber Flore, a former foster child placed with a family by St. Vincent, and Melissa and Chad Buck, a married couple who adopted five children with special needs through St. Vincent.

After oral arguments on Thursday, Buck shared her personal story of working with St. Vincent to adopt five children with special needs.

“It’s the best and the hardest thing we’ve ever done, and there were challenges that we weren’t equipped to face on our own—but we were never alone. St. Vincent was there for us every step of the way, at all hours of the day or night, for anything we needed, even if it was for just a shoulder to cry on,” Buck said.

“We chose to foster and adopt through St. Vincent because the faith and values that motivate their ministry make them the very best at what they do, particularly finding homes for the children who need it most.”

There are currently more than 13,000 children in Michigan’s foster care system, and more than 600 children “age out” of the foster care system each year without having been adopted.

Becket said that in 2017, St. Vincent “recruited more adoptive families than nearly 90 percent of the other agencies in its service area.”

Lori Windham, senior counsel for Becket, wrote in an op-ed for The Detroit News that “already, Washington, D.C., Boston, San Francisco, Buffalo, and the state of Illinois have forced faith-based adoption agencies to close, and several more agencies are entangled in court battles, all amid a nationwide adoption and foster care crisis.”

“That crisis is only growing worse as with children flooding into the system, their lives the collateral damage of an opioid epidemic,” Windham wrote.

Suspected Hindu radicals arrested in India after attack on Catholic pilgrims 

Velankanni, India, Aug 22, 2019 / 05:24 pm (CNA).- Six suspected members of a radical Hindu group were arrested in India this week after dozens of Catholics were attacked on a Marian pilgrimage.

On Sunday, 40 Catholics were physically or verbally assaulted while on a 280-mile pilgrimage from Karnataka to Velankanni, a coastal town in south east India, ucanews reported.

The assailants blocked the road and destroyed the pilgrims’ Marian statue. No one was seriously injured in the attack.

A police official said six men have been arrested in connection with the assault. They are being charged with rioting, attempted murder, and disturbing religious peace. A local Catholic told ucanews that the attackers claimed to be affiliated with the radical Hindu Munnani group.

The century-old pilgrimage ends at the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health. Beginning on Aug. 31, the shrine hosts nine days of festivities, leading up to the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Sept. 8.

During the trek, a Marian statue is typically pulled in a decorated cart while pilgrims sing hymns or pray the Rosary. Pilgrims stay overnight at parishes along the way to Velankanni.

Father L. Sahayaraj, deputy secretary of the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council, told ucanews the pilgrimage had not seen similar disturbances in the past. He warned that such attacks will sow hatred and division.

Since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party took power in 2014, Church leaders have said that India’s Christians have faced an increase in persecution from radical Hindu groups.

Father Cyril Joseph, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Bangalore, called the attacks a threat to the constitution’s protections of free expression and free movement in the country.

“Such attacks are a serious threat to peace and harmony, especially between people of different religious groups,” he said, according to ucanews. “Though the attack was on a small group, the message is for all Christians. It was an open threat against public expression and practice of our faith.”

Bishops praise proposal to clarify religious exemptions for federal contractors

Washington D.C., Aug 22, 2019 / 04:15 pm (CNA).- Leaders at the U.S. bishops’ conference have praised a U.S. Labor Department proposal to clarify protections for religious employers seeking federal contracts.

“Faith-based groups should have the opportunity to compete on a level playing field as they seek to partner with the federal government to provide critical social services,” said the heads of three committees for the U.S. bishops.

Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, FL, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, signed an Aug. 21 statement about the proposed changes.

“These proposed rules protect religious liberty, a core constitutional right, by clarifying existing religious exemptions consistent with federal law and recent Supreme Court precedent. We are grateful to the Administration for taking this step, and we look forward to filing more detailed public comments with [the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs],” they said.

The Labor Department announced the proposed rule changes Aug. 15 in the federal register and asked for public comment.

Under existing law, religious nonprofit organizations that enter into contracts with the federal government are exempt from the requirement that federal contractors not discriminate on the basis of religion in employment decisions.

The Labor Department wrote that some organizations, including for-profit companies that have a religious mission, have provided feedback saying they are reluctant to participate as federal contractors because of uncertainty regarding the scope of existing religious exemptions.

In light of recent Supreme Court decisions such as Masterpiece Cakeshop and Trinity Lutheran, the department proposed to clarify that the religious exemption “allows religious contractors not only to prefer in employment individuals who share their religion, but also to condition employment on acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets as understood by the employing contractor.”

Among other changes, the department wrote, the proposal is intended to make clear that the existing religious exemption covers not just churches, but also employers that are “organized for a religious purpose, hold themselves out to the public as carrying out a religious purpose, and engage in exercise of religion consistent with, and in furtherance of, a religious purpose.”

It is also intended, the department said, to make clear that religious employers can “condition employment on acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets without sanction by the federal government,” provided that they do not discriminate based on other protected bases such as race, sex, or national origin. Companies will also still be bound by the state laws of the jurisdictions in which they are located.

Secular groups such as Lambda Legal reacted to the proposed changes with concern, fearing that the rules would allow companies to “opt-out” of civil rights laws and discriminate against religious minorities and the LGBT community.

But Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel of the Becket Fund, told The Washington Post that the new rules give religious groups greater clarity on what exemptions they can legally seek in their hiring practices after the Obama administration expanded protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

“When a religious group says ‘Hey, we need you to be a Christian and adhere to Christian teachings,' federal law has recognized that’s not discrimination,” he said.

Ex-Philly pastor arrested for charges of embezzling roughly $100,000 of church funds

Philadelphia, Pa., Aug 22, 2019 / 02:50 pm (CNA).- A priest in Downingtown, Penn., a suburb west of Philadelphia, was arrested yesterday for stealing roughly $100,000 in church funds over six years to fund his New Jersey beach house and sexual encounters with men among other personal expenses, authorities have reported.

Rev. Joseph McLoone, 56, was removed as pastor of St. Joseph's Parish in Downingtown and placed on administrative leave in early 2018, shortly after his secret account of stolen funds, which he had named the “St. Joseph Activity Account”, was discovered by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

“Monsignor McLoone was the only signer on this account and he acted alone with respect to all of the account’s activity,” the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said in a statement released Wednesday.

“Off book accounts are in violation of standard Archdiocesan financial control practices and procedures. This bank account was frozen in February 2018 and a review of parish financial records was then undertaken by personnel from the Archdiocesan Office for Parish Services and Support,” the statement added.

According to the Reading Eagle, investigators reported after a year-long investigation that McLoone used his secret account to siphon off the entire collection taken up at the parish each year on the feast day of All Soul’s Day in November, for a total of $39,543 over six years.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, some of the rest of the money came from McLoone doubling his stipends for weddings, funerals and other special Masses. Authorities report that he spent at least $3,000 of the money on men with whom he had sexual relationships, including one New York prison inmate.

“Those expenses were related to relationships with adults that represented a violation of ‘The Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries’ established by the Archdiocese. None of this activity involved other members of the Saint Joseph Parish community,” the archdiocesen statement noted.

McLoone made “regular withdrawals” from the account and spent “thousands” of dollars in New Jersey, where he has a beach house, the Eagle Reader reported.

Money from regular Sunday collections, donations to the parish capital campaign, and school and PREP tuition fees do not seem to have been stolen by McLoone, the archdiocese said.

In total, McLoone is charged with embezzling between $98,000-$125,000 in funds from the parish during his time there.

“Father McLoone held a position of leadership, and his parishioners trusted him to properly handle their generous donations to the church,” District Attorney Chief of Staff Charles Gaza said in a statement, reported by the Inquirer. “Father McLoone violated the trust of the members of St. Joseph’s for his own personal gain.”

The charges against McLoone include dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property and other related counts, the Reading Eagle reported.

The priest maintains his innocence.

“The Chester County District Attorney’s Office is overreaching,” Melissa McCafferty, McLoone’s attorney, told the Inquirer. “They filed these charges based off speculation, conjecture, and innuendo.... They won’t be able to prove them.”

The archdiocese said it has pledged to “pursue full financial restitution” to the parish for the reportedly stolen funds, and said that it shared this information along with other updates on the case throughout the past year with the parish during the investigation.

“These charges are serious and disturbing,” the archdiocesan statement said. “The Archdiocese and the parish will continue to cooperate with law enforcement as the criminal matter enters its next phase. Pending the outcome, Monsignor McLoone remains on administrative leave. Information regarding his arrest will be shared with the Saint Joseph Parish community.”

McLoone now awaits a hearing before a district court judge for the charges.

Vatican diplomat: Solidarity must be at the heart of the European project

Rimini, Italy, Aug 22, 2019 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- The Vatican Secretary for Relations with States said Wednesday that politics surrounding migration in Europe fuel ideological conflicts that do not fully take into account the complexity of the problem.

“I believe it is clear to everyone that such a delicate issue cannot be dealt with effectively without a clear political vision at all levels. But how can we have such a vision, without a cultural perspective that allows us to face the wide spectrum of related problems?” Archbishop Paul Gallagher said Aug. 21 in a speech in Rimini, Italy.

Gallagher pointed to the Catholic social principles of solidarity and inalienable human dignity. He also spoke of the necessity to balance the rhetoric of “rights” in Europe with that of their corresponding duties.

“The concept of law no longer seems to be associated with the equally essential and complementary concept of duty, so that we end up affirming the rights of the individual without taking into account that every human being is linked to a social context, in which his rights and duties are connected to those of others and to the common good of society itself,” Gallagher said, quoting Pope Francis’ speech to the European Parliament in 2014.

The bishop said that the duty of solidarity is an indispensable underlying principle to achieve the pillars of the European unification project: the defense of freedom, the promotion of justice and the building of peace.

Solidarity, he said, is “not based on the compassion or repulsion that another arouses, but on the objectivity of a common human nature.”

The crises Europe has faced in the last decade from the financial crisis to Brexit have been compounded by the growing “emotionality and reactiveness of political choices,” he said.

“It is precisely this characteristic of objectivity and reasonableness that links duties and rights between them. Since the objective duty of solidarity with others corresponds to that set of rights that are as objective as any human person,” Gallagher said.

“Where objectivity is lacking, the same system of rights loses its meaningfulness. This is what has been happening in the last fifty years when the interpretation of some rights has progressively changed, so as to include a multiplicity of new rights,” he continued.

The process of “relativization of rights,” Gallagher said, is intricately connected to the progessive exclusion of religion from European social life, which has resulted in an unhealthy secularization.

Gallagher said that the result of this process is a “fragmentation of existence,” which he said was presciently described by St. John Paul II in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Church in Europe:

“We find ourselves before a widespread existential fragmentation. A feeling of loneliness is prevalent; divisions and conflicts are on the rise. Among other symptoms of this state of affairs, Europe is presently witnessing the grave phenomenon of family crises and the weakening of the very concept of the family, the continuation or resurfacing of ethnic conflicts, the re-emergence of racism, interreligious tensions, a selfishness that closes individuals and groups in upon themselves, a growing overall lack of concern for ethics and an obsessive concern for personal interests and privileges,” John Paul II wrote in 2003.

“The weakening of the sense of duty and the progressive subjectivation of rights has therefore weakened the very heart of the European project,” Gallagher said.

“The European project arises with the idea of ​​giving life to a community of peoples who agree to be bound by mutual duties,” he said at the Rimini “Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples.”

Gallagher outlined examples duties of states that relate to the migration issue in Europe.

“Above all, there is the most obvious duty: that of human solidarity with the person who is in need, suffering and often in danger,” he said.

He said that the duty of solidarity between states  is “a key principle of the very existence of the European Union.”

States also have a duty to offer opportunities for integration to migrants and security to their citizens, Gallagher said, explaining that cultural integration can free migrants from “the dynamics from which they had fled home and which often reappear in the lands of landing remaining within their national communities.”
 
In an interview with Vatican News Aug. 22, Gallagher responded to the current debate in Europe on national sovereignty surrounding both the migration and European Union issues.

“No one questions the sovereignty of a country, of a nation. The problem emerges … when there is again an exaggerated view of sovereignty, when there is an insistence on sovereignty,” he said.

“It is very difficult for a government to guarantee all rights to their peoples, as well as peace, defense, security. We are all interconnected… The idea that ‘sovereignty’ means a total closure to others perhaps has a certain theoretical, pragmatic attraction, but I do not think it's the path to follow,” he added.

Gallagher underlined in his speech in Rimini that when approaching the issue of migration, in particular, “ we need to rediscover the duties, rather than the rights,that are at stake.”

“The first and perhaps greatest contribution that Christians can bring to today's Europe - the Pope affirms - is to remind them that it is not a collection of numbers or institutions, but is made up of people, endowed with of transcendent dignity,” he said.