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Second man accuses Chicago’s Father Pfleger of sex abuse

CNA Staff, Jan 25, 2021 / 02:24 pm (CNA).- A second alleged victim has accused activist Chicago priest Fr. Michael Pfleger of sexually abusing him as a minor decades ago, the Chicago archdiocese has confirmed to local media. The priest has strongly denied both accusations, which come from two brothers.

The Chicago archdiocese’s general counsel had “just received” the second allegation Sunday evening, a spokesperson told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“It is important to note that Fr. Pfleger remains removed from ministry pending the outcome of civil and church investigations,” said the spokesperson. “We will continue to follow our process as we do with all such allegations.”

Pfleger’s lawyers, James Figliulo and Michael Monico, issued a statement on his behalf.

“Father Pfleger has never abused them or anybody else. These allegations are false and are simply being made for money. This is a shakedown,” their statement said, according to ABC7 Chicago.

The two brothers were the youngest of five children who grew up in a poor neighborhood on Chicago’s west side, the Chicago Tribune reports. Their single mother insisted they go to church to avoid gangs and drugs. They joined the choir at Precious Blood Catholic Church, which was directed by Pfleger, then a seminarian. They said they were each sexually abused dozens of times over several years, beginning in the 1970s in Pfleger’s room at three churches, including Precious Blood and St. Sabina. They said they were 12 or 13 years old when the abuse began.

They said the priest would take them out for pizza, for movies, or for travel to other parishes to perform. Pfleger often gave them pocket money and once took them to the Six Flags amusement park in St. Louis, they said.

The brothers do not want to be named publicly to protect the privacy of relatives in Chicago and for fear of possible negative reactions from Pfleger’s supporters.

The men, both Black, are in their early 60s and live in Texas. The younger brother told the other brother that he had filed the complaint against Pfleger, and the older man said that he had also been abused by the priest.

Pfleger’s attorneys said one of the accusers had sent the priest a handwritten letter asking for $20,000, saying, “I am asking for a one time payment to help me move on in this troubled and confused time in my life. I did not want to put a price, but I must.” The attorneys suggested this supports the idea that accusers are seeking money.

The younger brother, who wrote the letter, rejected the claim that his motivation was purely financial, and said he wanted the payment to be proof that he was abused. He said he was motivated to come forward by a Nov. 28 televised interview with Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington. Gregory, a former priest and auxiliary bishop of the Chicago archdiocese, spoke about the Catholic Church’s failures to respond to child sexual abuse.

The brothers said they had met or seen Gregory several times. Gregory said in a statement he did not remember the brothers’ family but he voiced confidence in the archdiocese’s investigation, the Chicago Tribune said.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago asked Pfleger to step away from his duties in early January after the first accusation.

“Allegations are claims that have not been proven as true or false. Therefore, guilt or innocence should not be assumed,” Cupich said in a Jan. 5 statement about the first accusation. “Father Pfleger has agreed to cooperate fully with my request and will live away from the parish while this matter is investigated.”

The archdiocese reported the first allegation to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Cook County State’s Attorney.

Pfleger, who is white, has been a politically involved community leader based out of the predominantly African-American Saint Sabina Parish. He has served at the church since 1983 and is presently described as its senior pastor.

The 71-year-old priest indicated that many people had reached out to him after the Chicago archdiocese announced the first allegation Jan. 5. He said he was “devastated, hurt and yes angry,” but put his trust in God. He asked for prayers for his accuser.

Cupich’s Jan. 5 statement said the Chicago archdiocese “takes all allegations of sexual misconduct seriously and encourages anyone who feels they have been sexually abused by a priest, deacon, religious or lay employee to come forward.”

“It is crucial that you know nothing is more important than the welfare of the children entrusted to our care,” he said.

Pfleger’s biography on the Saint Sabina Church website said that since 1968 he has lived and ministered in the African-American community on the west and south sides of Chicago. He worked two summers in a Native American community in Oklahoma, and as a seminarian he interned at Cook County Jail and at Chicago’s Precious Blood Church.

He adopted an eight-year-old boy in 1981 and adopted another boy in 1992. In 1997, he became foster father to Jarvis Franklin, who was killed in 1998 in the crossfire of a gang shooting.

His causes include opposition to gun violence and support for gun control. He has also helped launch several employment and social services programs for youth, the elderly and the homeless.

At times he has voiced support for the ordination of women as Catholic priests, a position which the Church has held to be incompatible with the Catholic understanding of the priesthood.

Pfleger has often been a source of controversy. In 2019 he invited controversial preacher Louis Farrakhan to speak at his parish after Farrakhan was banned from Facebook for violating its hate speech policies. Farrakhan is the founder of the Chicago-based group Nation of Islam and has a history of anti-Semitic preaching.

During the controversial 2008 Democratic presidential primary, the late Cardinal Francis George publicly responded to comments Pfleger made deriding Sen. Hillary Clinton and advocating the candidacy of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

In addition, in 2011 George suspended Pfleger from his ministry at St. Sabina and barred him from celebrating the sacraments because of public statements Pfleger had made threatening to leave the Church if he were reassigned from his current parish. George reinstated Pfleger after the priest apologized.

Father Thulani Magwaza is serving as temporary parish administrator during Pfleger’s current absence. Magwaza stood in as parish administrator during the priest’s 2011 suspension as well.

Appeals court rules on California churches that challenged Covid restrictions

CNA Staff, Jan 25, 2021 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- An appeals court last week ruled for a second time against a California church which challenged the state’s rules barring in-person worship services for much of the state, deciding that a total ban on indoor worship services in most areas of the state is justified to block the spread of coronavirus.

The same court ruled Jan. 25 to prevent the state from enforcing fixed numerical attendance limits in areas where indoor worship is allowed, in favor of limits based on percentage of the house of worship’s capacity.

South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista had brought a legal challenge on First Amendment grounds against California’s COVID-19 restrictions, which currently prohibit indoor worship in most areas, while allowing unlimited attendance at outdoor services.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Jan. 22 ruled against the church, affirming a district court’s previous ruling and concluding that “California’s restrictions on indoor worship are narrowly tailored to meet its compelling—and immediate—state interest in stopping the community spread of the deadly coronavirus.”

Under current California rules, indoor worship services are banned in all “purple-tiered” counties; counties deemed to have “widespread” transmission risk based on the number of cases per 100,000 and the average positivity rate.

All but four of the state’s counties are currently classified in the purple tier, and as of Jan. 19, the “purple” tier covered 99.9% of California’s population.

California is the only state in the country with an indoor worship services ban. In the second-highest tier, red, indoor services are allowed but only with 25% capacity or— until the 9th Circuit’s Monday ruling— 100 people, whichever is fewer.

In the 9th Circuit’s Monday ruling, the court wrote in a case brought by Harvest Rock Church that in light of the South Bay decision, the court would not strike down the total ban on indoor worship, but would enjoin the state from enforcing its numerical restrictions in lower tiers.

Instead, the state may only enforce the attendance limitations based on the percentage of total capacity, the court said.

Harvest Rock had alleged that Governor Gavin Newsom applied a double-standard during the nine months of the pandemic, curbing religious services while allowing comparable non-religious gatherings and mass protests to continue “without numerical restriction.”

The Supreme Court had in December 2020 vacated the district court ruling against South Bay and sent the case back to the circuit court for consideration in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in a November case brought by the Diocese of Brooklyn.

New York state in October had limited indoor religious gatherings in certain areas to only 10 people, with other areas limited to 25 people, due to the spread of the virus in those areas, while allowing other venues to open and operate under far less restrictions.

The federal Second Circuit court ordered that the 10 and 25-person caps to worship had to be suspended while the case is pending.

In another recent and influential case, the Supreme Court in December 2020 vacated a district court decision, granting a church’s requested injunction on the state’s order that limited indoor worship to 50 people in certain areas where the virus was spreading. The court then sent the case back to the lower courts for reconsideration in light of the Brooklyn diocese case.

Supreme Court rules favorably toward inmate requesting priest at execution

Washington D.C., Jan 25, 2021 / 12:55 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court on Monday ruled favorably toward a Catholic death row inmate requesting the presence of a priest at his execution.

In a set of orders released on Monday morning, the court vacated a ruling of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court against Ruben Gutierrez, a Catholic death row inmate in Texas challenging the state’s prohibition of chaplains at executions.

 

In addition to vacating the Fifth Circuit Court ruling, the Supreme Court also sent Gutierrez’s case back to lower courts for reconsideration, in light of findings by a district court that a chaplain inside the state execution chamber wouldn’t present security concerns.

 

One attorney at the religious freedom legal group Becket said the decision was a win for religious freedom, and called on the state of Texas to stop fighting Gutierrez’s case in court and provide him with a priest at his execution.

 

Eric Rassbach, attorney at Becket, called the ruling an “important” victory for religious freedom and called on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice “to take the hint and reinstate the centuries-old practice of affording comfort of clergy to the condemned.”

 

Gutierrez was sentenced to death for the 1998 murder of Escolastica Harrison, an 85-year-old woman, during an attempted robbery. He has maintained his innocence, saying he was part of the robbery but did not commit the murder of Harrison.

 

He had requested that his prison’s Catholic chaplain be present in the execution chamber at his death. Gutierrez’s request was denied due to a 2019 state execution protocol prohibiting chaplains in the execution chamber.

 

He challenged the policy in court, alleging that it violated his rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

 

The Supreme Court ultimately stayed his execution, which had been scheduled for June 16, 2020, instructing the district court to consider the security concerns of a chaplain being present in the execution chamber. The district court later found that “no serious security problems would result” from a chaplain being present in the execution chamber.

 

Last summer, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops had called the state’s denial of a chaplain for Gutierrez “an egregious rejection of the possibility of forgiveness and redemption while the state commits the violence of an execution.”

 

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, said the state’s decision was “cruel and inhuman.”

 

 

Pro-lifers pleasantly surprised at Kentucky’s enactment of ‘Born-Alive’ bill

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 25, 2021 / 11:45 am (CNA).- A Kentucky bill requiring appropriate medical care for babies surviving attempted abortions became law on Friday.

 

Gov. Andy Bashear (D) neither signed nor vetoed the “Born-Alive” bill that passed the state legislature. The bill, SB9, requires that infants who are born alive after an attempted abortion be given appropriate medical care. 

 

Kentucky’s legislature passed the bill on Jan. 9, and sent it to Bashear later that day. After nearly two weeks had passed without either a veto or signature, the bill automatically became law on Jan. 22, the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. 

 

The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List declared it an “Unexpected #ProLife victory,” as Beshear had vetoed six other bills that had been sent to him.

 

The bill had received support from members of both political parties and was passed overwhelmingly by votes of 76-18 in the state house and 32-4 in the state senate. 

 

The text of the bill reads “Any born-alive infant, including one (1) born in the course of an abortion procedure, shall be treated as a legal person under the laws of this Commonwealth, with the same rights to medically appropriate and reasonable care and treatment.”

 

Violation of the law results in the suspension of a medical license; it also parents to file civil cases against the medical professionals complicit violating the law. 

 

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-Crofton), tweeted on January 22 that he believed the bill was now law and that the veto window had passed. 

 

“Working to confirm, but it seems SB9, Kentucky’s Born Alive Infant Protection Act, has become law without the Governor’s signature,” said Westerfield. “Yesterday was the deadline for a veto. I’ll take it.” 

 

Westerfield later confirmed that the bill was indeed law, and that it was “a good day!”. He noted that the bill became law on the 48th anniversary “of the tragic Roe v Wade decision.”  

 

“I have hope that there are still victories for life ahead,” said Westerfield.

 

Beshear received support from pro-abortion groups during his campaign, and he has vetoed similar pro-life legislation during his time as governor. This is the first piece of pro-life legislation to become law during his time as governor. 

 

Federal “Born-Alive” legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Congress, but did not receive a vote in the 116th Congress. In the House, 205 members signed a “discharge petition” to bring the bill to the House Floor for full consideration, but the effort fell short of the necessary 218 signatures for action.

 

 

Biden reverses military ban on gender transitioning

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 25, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).- President Joe Biden on Monday revoked a ban on gender transitioning in the military, allowing troops to serve on the basis of their gender identity.

The White House on Monday announced that President Biden signed an executive order reversing certain Trump-era orders on transgender service in the military.

 

The previous orders had prohibited gender-transitioning by servicemembers while in the military, and barred acceptance of recruits with a current diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

 

“President Biden believes that gender identity should not be a bar to military service, and that America’s strength is found in its diversity,” a fact-sheet released by the White House stated on Monday.

 

Biden’s order prohibits certain military actions taken against servicemembers because of gender-transitioning, such as “involuntary separations, discharges, and denials of reenlistment or continuation of service.” The new order allows troops to “serve in their gender when transition is complete.”

 

Trump first announced the transgender military ban in 2017. In Jan., 2019, the Supreme Court upheld the ban, but in the next month the Defense Department announced a new policy allowing for people identifying as transgender to serve in the military, under certain exceptions.

 

Under the revised policy, soldiers identifying as transgender could not have already transitioned from their biological sex. Further, they could not undergo gender-transition surgery while serving, and could not have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. They had to serve under their biological sex.

 

In addition, military recruits with a history of gender dysphoria had to prove they had identified with their biological sex for three years and had not transitioned their gender.

 

A 2016 assessment by the RAND Corporation estimated around 2,450 transgender active military personnel out of approximately 1.3 million members.

 

In 2017, when former President Trump first announced the administration’s decision to ban gender transitioning in the military, the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, said the decision was correct but did not fully address “the dignity of the human person” in emphasizing the practical consequences of the policy, such as military readiness, over the spiritual consequences.

 

The Church teaches that human beings are created “in the image and likeness of God,” Archbishop Timothy Broglio stated, emphasizing that “personal choices in life, whether regarding the protection of the unborn, the sanctity of marriage and the family, or the acceptance of a person’s God-created biology, should be made not solely for a penultimate reality on this earth but in anticipation of the ultimate reality of sharing in the very life of God in heaven.”

 

Biden has ‘developed’ approach to abortion, Sister Simone Campbell says

Washington D.C., Jan 25, 2021 / 10:35 am (CNA).- President Joe Biden has a “very developed approach” to abortion, Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, said during a recent panel discussion hosted by the National Catholic Reporter.

 

Campbell, who also offered a prayer at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, said at the Jan. 21 discussion that the “political obsession” with the “criminialization of abortion” has broken the Church apart. 

 

Campbell said she hopes someone interviews Biden “about what he thinks” on the issue. 

 

“He has a very--I know from a conversation with him--he has a very developed approach to it [abortion],” Campbell said. “And for him, it hinges on religious liberty, and that he will not force his religious belief on the whole nation.” 

 

She added that many conservatives are concerned over religious freedom, and implied that Biden’s “religious liberty” case for legal abortion could serve as a bridge to those citizens.

 

“And the far-right is glomming onto this religious liberty argument,” she added. “Maybe there’s a way forward there, where we could find some understanding. So that would be my hope.” 

 



 

Montserrat Alvarado, vice president and executive director of Becket, told CNA that Biden’s treatment of the Little Sisters of the Poor will reveal how serious he is on respecting religious freedom. 

 

"The litmus test for whether President Biden is taking the intersection of abortion and religious liberty seriously is how he treats the Little Sisters of the Poor,” Alvarado told CNA.

 

“He will either give them an exemption or he will fight them in court, knowing full well that an exemption is the protection our laws and the Supreme Court have given Catholic nuns in this country,” Alvarado said. “We should know soon.” 

 

During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden said he would remove religious exemptions to the HHS contraceptive mandate that were granted by the Trump administration to objecting religious groups, including the Little Sisters of the Poor. If Biden follows through on that promise, it is expected that the sisters would once again have to return to court to push for a religious exemption.

 

Biden also supported taxpayer-funded abortion during his presidential campaign, pledging to reverse various prohibitions on federal funding of abortions, abortion providers, and groups promoting abortion. These policies include the Hyde Amendment, the Mexico City Policy, and the Protect Life Rule. The Biden administration is expected to repeal the Mexico City Policy later this week.

 

Campbell offered a prayer at the Democratic National Convention last year. Asked by CNA in August whether or not her social justice organization opposes legal abortion, Campbell replied, “That is not our issue. That is not it. It is above my pay grade.” 

 

“It’s not the issue that we work on. I’m a lawyer. I would have to study it more intensely than I have,” Campbell said at the time.

As eviction crisis looms, priest highlights the legal needs of the poor

Denver Newsroom, Jan 23, 2021 / 02:00 am (CNA).- In the waning months of 2020, the United States watched as the Senate conducted hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic mother of seven. President Donald Trump had nominated Barrett to fill the Supreme Court seat left by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

Among the observers was Father Pius Pietrzyk, OP, a canon lawyer and among the few Catholic priests to, like Barrett, hold a Senate-confirmed political appointment.

In late 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Pietrzyk to serve on the board of the Legal Services Corporation, a nonpartisan body that gives grants to local legal aid offices to provide free civil legal services for the poor.

“I never thought I'd like the work as much as I have. I've enjoyed it very much. And a big part of that is because I've seen the people who have been helped by it,” Pietrzyk told CNA.

“But I also see, in a much bigger way, the people who continue to need to be helped by it. And there's far more need certainly than we have resources. But we keep trudging along doing our best and helping as many people as we can.”

Pietrzyk is a Dominican friar of the Province of St. Joseph, and chairs the Pastoral Studies department at St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, California, where he also teaches canon law. 

Before being ordained to the priesthood in 2008, he practiced civil law for several years at a large firm in Chicago. 

Pietrzyk received the news of his appointment to the LSC’s board in early 2010. As a lawyer, he had heard of the Legal Services Corporation and was vaguely aware of what they did. But his appointment was still a big surprise. 

“It was completely out of the blue for me. I never saw this coming,” he said. 

'Fundamental disparities'

The Legal Services Corporation is a 501(c)(3) corporation created in 1974 with bipartisan Congressional sponsorship. 

Congress appropriates money to the LSC each year— for 2021, some $465 million in funding is expected. The LSC does not itself provide legal services, but rather provides grants to 132 independent nonprofit legal aid programs throughout the country. 

People earning 125% or less of the federal poverty line are eligible for the services that the local legal aid agencies provide. Pietrzyk said some of the common civil law issues that the aid agencies deal with are issues of domestic violence, housing (such as landlord-tenant disputes), elder law, and veterans issues. 

In civil cases, many people living in poverty cannot afford lawyers, and often have to represent themselves, making them less likely to win their cases. 

“You look in the housing courts in the United States, and most of the landlords are represented by a lawyer, and almost none of the tenants are represented by a lawyer. And so you've got these fundamental disparities when it comes to as basic a human need and human right really as housing issues,” he said.

So how did a Dominican priest get picked for a political appointment like this?

Apart from Pietrzyk’s legal qualifications for the position, there was another reason his name came up as a possible candidate. 

By tradition, at least two members of the LSC’s board are “client-eligible,” meaning they themselves qualify for the free services that they oversee. 

Because Dominicans take a vow of poverty, Pietrzyk is technically poor. So when the Senate was looking for potential nominees to recommend to President Obama, a Senate staffer suggested looking for a nominee who had taken a vow of poverty. 

Pietrzyk is quick to point out that his Senate hearing was not the flashy, high-profile media affair that often accompanies hearings for Supreme Court nominees, such as Barrett. 

Instead, his hearing was conducted as a conference call with several Democratic staffers, away from the public eye. Pietrzyk described the room where it took place as little more than a “cloakroom.” 

Still, as you might expect, any nominee for a Senate-confirmed position has to be vetted by the FBI. The FBI conducted interviews with several people whose names Pietrzyk provided, as well as with several of Pietrzyk’s parishioners and neighbors. 

At one point during the vetting process, Pietrzyk was studying in Rome. Since the FBI lacks jurisdiction outside U.S. territorial boundaries, a retired State Department agent living in Europe met with Father Pietrzyk and conducted additional interviews in Rome. 

“I had really nothing to hide, nothing that's going to cause a major objection,” Pietrzyk laughed.  

“I wasn't a foreign agent. I wasn't engaging in some sort of heavy illegal practices. That made it a lot easier. I had no complicated financial situations that would cause embarrassment to the President or anything like that.”

Although Pietrzyk says he is not aware of any major ideological objections to his appointment, he says there was some suspicion in the Senate that he fit the mold of a “client eligible” candidate. After all, he says, not many poor people have a University of Chicago law degree. 

“And while I live a vow of poverty, it wasn't as if there was any danger of me being on the streets. I don't think my religious community was going to throw me out on the street anytime soon,” he pointed out. 

“So that caused, I think, a little bit of grumbling from some people, but it never came back to me, and it never affected my nomination, and it never affected the vote in the Senate.”

The Senate confirmed Pietrzyk’s nomination on March 29, 2010. He said he regularly wears his religious habit to board meetings, and has earned the respect of his fellow board members. 

“My other board members have accepted me as a Catholic priest, as Catholic religious, and have received that whole-heartedly and have just been very professional to me,” Pietrzyk said. 

“We rarely have, if ever, ideological disputes. That camaraderie and friendship and professionalism has been part of what's made this such a rewarding experience for me, in addition to the stories that we hear of the poor people who are helped by the services. And some of them are really quite compelling.”

In Dec. 2019, Pietrzyk was further elevated to Vice-Chairman of the LSC’s board. 

'We haven't seen the worst of the poverty'

Pietrzyk said the work of the Legal Services Corporation is particularly important today, as millions of Americans face eviction from their homes because of the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. 

A handful of states have made it illegal for landlords to evict tenants during the pandemic, but many have not. In a July 2020 survey done by the LSC, 95% of their grantees reported an increase in eviction cases. 

Late last year, Congress extended a moratorium on evictions nationwide until the end of this month, January 2021.

The federal moratorium applies when renters meet certain conditions, and data show that landlords in many states have ignored moratoria and have continued with evictions. The Eviction Lab, a research group at Princeton University, has tracked at least 200,000 evictions in the US since the pandemic began.

President Joe Biden has pledged to make an extension of the federal moratorium one of his top priorities, pledging to sign an executive order extending the moratorium until March on his first day in office. 

Unless that moratorium is later renewed, an estimated 30-40 million needy people are going to find themselves homeless. 

“We haven't seen the worst of the poverty that has been a result of the COVID, and we'll see it a lot worse once the evictions crisis really hits. And so being on the front lines and trying to ameliorate that as much as possible, I think, is something we all really need to be invested in,” Pietrzyk said. 

The need for affordable legal services for the poor has been highlighted recently as an important component of the country’s response to poverty, especially in light of the pandemic. 

Notably, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote a Sept. 2020 op-ed calling for reform of the court system, noting that “even to accomplish the simplest task, hiring a lawyer is expensive — too expensive.” 

As one possible remedy, Gorsuch highlighted new programs in Utah and Arizona that will, beginning this year, permit “trained, non-lawyer legal professionals” to represent clients in some legal areas. 

Although the LSC is set to receive $465 million in funding this year, the largest dollar amount ever appropriated, the figure is significantly lower than what the LSC requested for 2021. The Trump administration recommended “zero funding” for the LSC every year that Trump was in office. 

Pietrzyk said he believes all Americans— regardless of income—  ought to be able to access the court system. 

“When you're a poor person, you can barely have money to feed your family. When you become a victim of injustice in the civil realm, you often have no outlet at all, because you can't hire a lawyer,” he said.  

“You oftentimes don't have the resources to be able to navigate yourself through a very complicated court system. And so what's left?...I do think that if you are committed to the rule of law and to justice for all Americans, that you have to be committed in some way to a program that provides civil legal services to the poor.”

The LSC’s grantees nationwide have seen a large increase in demand for their services during the pandemic. 

Guy Lescault, executive director of Legal Services Alabama, one of the LSC’s grantees, told CNA that at least 1.5 million Alabama residents cannot afford to hire lawyers when faced with civil issues like fighting an eviction. 

Alabama has long ranked near the bottom in terms of average income and racial disparities, Lescault said. Alabama does not have a state moratorium on evictions, and it is one of only two states nationwide— the other being Idaho— that has never appropriated any state money toward legal services for the poor. 

Typically, some 80% of their funding comes from the LSC, and last year they got some much-needed additional funding from the CARES Act and in the form of a grant from HHS. Legal Services Alabama is hoping to fill in gaps with their own fundraising. 

Legal Services Alabama operates a call center where people can call to get connected to free legal services, and they have seen a massive increase in demand since the pandemic started. 

Most calls they receive at the call center, Lescault says, are from needy people seeking information, such as asking about how to access SNAP (Food stamps). 

Lescault says they deal with many elderly people and children in their work. Moreover, the population served by LSA is about 70% female and nearly two-thirds black.

For serious situations, such as a poor person facing eviction or domestic violence, a call to the statewide call center often will be directed to one of their lawyers. 

“Domestic violence sort of goes hand in hand when you have lockdown orders, loss of employment, all of the other things. These issues, they’re not isolated, they’re all intertwined,” Lescault said. 

“What we should be doing is addressing some of this holistically. So we are trying as fast as our little feet can get us to apply for more domestic violence money from the Department of Justice that would give us additional staff to help address that issue around the state.”

'Make your town and community a better place'

Father Pietrzyk’s status as a Senate-confirmed Catholic priest is fairly unique. 

In 2015— five years after Father Pietrzyk’s confirmation— the Senate confirmed Father Paul Hurley to be U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains. The record of whether there have been any other priests confirmed by the Senate is thin.

Most Catholics will never get the chance to help the poor by way of a national political appointment. But Father Pietrzyk encouraged all Catholics to seek out opportunities to help the poor in their neighborhoods and local communities. 

“Where you can have a great deal of influence is at the local level, getting involved in helping people who are in need in your own community, in your own town, in your own city,” he said. 

“I think that's what Catholics need to be about— to try to avoid all of the political and ideological gamesmanship that goes on sometimes at the national level, and ask yourself what you can do to make your town and community a better place.”

This story originally aired on Catholic News Agency’s podcast, CNA Newsroom. It has been adapted for print. Listen to the segment below, beginning at 23:13. 



CNA Newsroom · Ep. 90: For God and Country  
 

 

George Weigel: Cardinal Cupich’s criticisms of Archbishop Gomez are baseless

CNA Staff, Jan 22, 2021 / 07:56 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, showed courage in releasing a statement on the day of President Joe Biden’s inauguration despite opposition from within the conference, said papal biographer and longtime Church observer George Weigel.

Weigel said Gomez displayed “episcopal courage” at a time when others demanded “a reprise of the accommodationist approach to Catholic public officials long championed by Theodore McCarrick.”

Weigel, a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Washington D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, penned an essay published in First Things on Friday, commenting on the statement released by Gomez on Inauguration Day and the subsequent criticism from Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago.

The statement from Gomez noted that Biden’s inauguration marks the first time in 60 years that a president has professed the Catholic faith. This presents a unique circumstance, Gomez said, particularly because Biden is in support of legal abortion and has pledged to increase taxpayer funding for it.

Cupich later criticized Gomez for releasing the statement, saying it was an “ill-considered statement” that “was crafted without the involvement of the Administrative Committee, a collegial consultation that is normal course for statements that represent and enjoy the considered endorsement of the American bishops.”

Norms from the bishops’ conference, however, indicate that standard procedures were followed ahead of the release of the statement.

Weigel argued that Gomez releasing a statement on the inauguration was in keeping with the recommendations from the Working Group on Engaging the New Administration created by the bishops at their November 2020 meeting.

As Gomez told his brother bishops, Weigel said, the working group had proposed “a letter to the new president from Archbishop Gomez, writing as a pastor. The letter would promise support for the new administration in areas of agreement. It would also identify administration policies, including abortion, that the bishops believed violated human dignity, and it would urge the new president to reassess his positions on these questions.”

The letter did just that, Weigel said. It noted numerous issues of concern among both political parties, but said that “the continued injustice of abortion remains the ‘preeminent priority’.”

“By any reasonable standard, Archbishop Gomez’s statement was balanced and measured; absent the controversy that erupted before and after its release,” Weigel said.

However, he said, “Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark put intense pressure on Archbishop Gomez to make no statement, as did the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre.”

Weigel said the controversy “underscored the statement’s firm, clear, and unambiguous stance on the 'preeminent priority' of the life issues—and thus heightened the impact of those parts of the statement that the dissident cardinals may have found so objectionable that they tried to quash the entire document.”

He said Cupich’s suggestion that Gomez was somehow acting against the norms of the bishops’ conference “is itself unfair and irresponsible.”

“To suggest that there was something unprecedented here is to falsify history,” he said. “What was indeed unprecedented, as Archbishop Gomez pointed out in his statement, was the situation of a president of the United States who professed a devout and heartfelt Catholicism and yet was publicly committed to facilitating grave moral evils.”

Read George Weigel's full essay in First Things here: https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2021/01/archbishop-jos-gomez-a-profile-in-episcopal-courage
 

US bishops urge Biden to reject abortion rights after 'deeply disturbing' statement

CNA Staff, Jan 22, 2021 / 05:40 pm (CNA).- President Joe Biden’s statement backing legal abortion on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade drew swift reaction from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, whose pro-life chairman said the no president of the United States should ever defend denying the right to life of unborn children.
 
“We strongly urge the president to reject abortion and promote life-affirming aid to women and communities in need,” the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities head Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas said Jan. 22.
 
“It is deeply disturbing and tragic that any president would praise and commit to codifying a Supreme Court ruling that denies unborn children their most basic human and civil right, the right to life under the euphemistic disguise of a health service,” he said.
 
The U.S. bishops’ conference responded to the statement from President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision which mandated permissive abortion laws nationwide.
 
The president and vice president stressed their commitment to legal abortion, saying “The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to codifying Roe v. Wade and appointing judges that respect foundational precedents like Roe.”
 
Although Roe v. Wade was a critical pro-abortion rights decision, the statement did not mention abortion by name, preferring to use euphemisms such as “reproductive health” and “health care.”
 
“In the past four years, reproductive health, including the right to choose, has been under relentless and extreme attack,” they said.  “As the Biden-Harris Administration begins in this critical moment, now is the time to rededicate ourselves to ensuring that all individuals have access to the health care they need.”
 
The U.S. bishops’ conference said the statement wrongly characterized the Roe v. Wade decision as “an advancement of women’s rights and health.” While the Biden-Harris statement did not mention religion, the bishops said Catholics cannot support abortion.
 
Biden has repeatedly emphasized his Catholicism, attending Mass the morning of his inauguration and citing St. Augustine of Hippo in his inaugural address. He has put a Pope Francis picture in the Oval Office.
 
Even on Biden’s first day in office, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki cited Biden’s Catholicism when asked questions about abortion.
 
At a Jan. 20 press briefing, Owen Jensen of EWTN News asked Psaki what Biden plans to do regarding the Hyde Amendment and the Mexico City Policy, which Biden has opposed because they limit abortion funding.
 
“Well, I think we’ll have more to say on the Mexico City Policy in the coming days,” Psaki said.
 
“But I will just take the opportunity to remind all of you that he (Biden) is a devout Catholic, and somebody who attends church regularly,” she told reporters. “He started his day with attending his church this morning.”
 
In the bishops’ conference statement, however, Archbishop Naumann emphasized Church teaching on abortion.
 
“I take this opportunity to remind all Catholics that the Catechism states, ‘Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable’,” he said.
 
The statement also emphasized politicians’ responsibilities to reject a right to abortion.
 
“Public officials are responsible for not only their personal beliefs, but also the effects of their public actions. Roe’s elevation of abortion to the status of a protected right and its elimination of state restrictions paved the way for the violent deaths of more than 62 million innocent unborn children and for countless women who experience the heartache of loss, abandonment, and violence,” said Naumann.

The president of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Fr. Dave Pivonka, also reacted to the Biden-Harris declaration, saying their “aggressive pro-abortion statement … is saddening to Catholics worldwide. The policies they have promised to put forward are harmful to the dignity of the human person and are contrary to the teachings of the Church.”

Pope Francis has often rejected abortion as part of a “throwaway culture,” but some American pro-abortion rights advocates and politicians, and their supporters, have tried to claim the Pope has taken a non-confrontational approach at variance with most U.S. bishops. 
 
On the day of Biden’s inauguration, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, in his role as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, said he was praying for Biden. He noted areas of agreement and disagreement between the bishops and Biden.
 
“Catholic bishops are not partisan players in our nation’s politics,” Gomez said in a statement. “We are pastors responsible for the souls of millions of Americans and we are advocates for the needs of all our neighbors.”
 
“For the nation’s bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the ‘preeminent priority’,” he said, adding that “preeminent does not mean ‘only’,” and there are a wide variety of challenges and threats to human dignity facing the country today,” he said.
 
The U.S. bishops will engage with Biden with the aim of starting “a dialogue to address the complicated cultural and economic factors that are driving abortion and discouraging families,” Archbishop Gomez said.

UN adopts resolution on protecting religious sites

CNA Staff, Jan 22, 2021 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution Thursday calling for greater efforts to protect religious sites from acts of terrorism and asking for a global conference on the subject.

Titled “Promoting a culture of peace and tolerance to safeguard religious sites,” the resolution asks Secretary General Antonio Guterres to launch an international conference to discuss the best means of implementing the United Nations Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites.

“Religious sites are representative of the history, social fabric and traditions of people in every country and community all over the world and should be fully respected as such,” the resolution says.

The resolution highlights the increasing threats to culturally and spiritually significant sites by terrorists and militias, who have at times destroyed religious property and illicitly trafficked artifacts.

The resolution denounces “all attacks on and in religious places, sites and shrines … including any deliberate destruction of relics and monuments” and condemns “all acts or threats of violence, destruction, damage or endangerment, directed against religious sites as such, that continue to occur in the world, and denounces any moves to obliterate or forcibly convert any religious sites.”

It calls on the governments to promote these religious sites as vulnerable targets and to implement safeguards to protect them. The resolution states that governments should assess risks and potential targets as well as “ensure that comprehensive measures are in place for the immediate response to an attack.”

The resolution also challenges the United Nations to develop “strategies, educational initiatives, and global communications campaigns and tools” that foster greater multicultural respect and media awareness.

“[We invite] all Member States to enhance education and capacity-building to counter incitement to violence through fostering the messages of unity, solidarity and interreligious and intercultural dialogue,” it said, calling for the promotion of peace and coexistence among different religions and cultures.

Saudi Arabia proposed the resolution, which was co-sponsored by Arab nations including Egypt, Iraq, the UAE, Yemen, Sudan, and Palestine. The resolution was also supported by the United States and the European Union.

“The United States is pleased to join the European Union’s statement concerning this resolution, and recalls that the rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression are mutually reinforcing and complementary,” said David Messenger, the advisor for Political Affairs of the U.N. Mission to the United States, in a Jan. 21 statement.

However, Messenger voiced concern that the resolution overemphasizes a condemnation of hate speech, “at times equating speech to acts of violence.” Offensive speech is not necessarily a form of violence, he said, and the resolution should not be used to justify restrictions on free speech.

“Rather than seek restrictions to expression to deal with intolerance or hate speech, the United States advocates for robust protections for speech, as well as the enforcement of appropriate legal regimes that deal with discriminatory acts and hate crimes,” he said.