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In New York, public school officials to evaluate private schools

Albany, N.Y., Dec 12, 2018 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Leaders of New York state’s more than 500 Catholic schools are planning to boycott a new state review system, whereby public school officials would evaluate religious schools to determine whether they offer a “substantially equivalent” education to public schools.

“The parents who choose our schools can have great confidence in the academic rigor of our schools,” James Cultrara, executive secretary of the New York Council of Catholic School Superintendents, was quoted as saying in Times Union.

“We simply cannot accept a competing school having authority over whether our schools can operate.”

The rebuke to the state comes after New York’s education commissioner released guidelines Nov. 20 “to ensure that all students receive the education to which they are entitled under law,” i.e. exposure to the same basic courses such as English, civics, and mathematics that public school students take.

The state’s action follows a New York City investigation into some Orthodox Jewish schools that a group of graduates say have been deficient in terms of teaching students “secular” topics other than the Jewish religion.

Under the new guidelines, local public school superintendents or their designees would be required to visit all nonpublic schools by the end of the 2020-2021, and every five years after that, to evaluate the schools. The local school board would approve the findings with a vote.

The Catholic superintendents body said in a letter to the State Education Department that they do not oppose school inspections from state officials, but conflicts of interest could arise if public school officials, who are essentially “competing” for the same body of students, are given the power to evaluate private schools.

“A review by local public school officials and a vote at a public meeting of a locally elected public school board, as is called for in the guidance, practically guarantees inconsistency and subjectivity,” reads part of the letter, which was obtained by Times Union.

“The Council of Catholic School Superintendents is committed to maintaining high-quality Catholic schools and working with you on designing an objective review and determination process to support the education of children in our schools.”

The superintendents have rejected the state’s guidelines and directed all of the state’s Catholic schools not to participate in “any review carried out by local public school officials.”

As of Dec. 12 the State Education Department has not commented on the issue.

The new guidelines mainly impact Catholic elementary schools, as nonpublic high schools in the state generally fall under the purview of the Board of Regents.

Jewish schools, which have a significant presence in New York City, could feel strong effects from the new guidelines as well.

New York City is home to 1.1 million Jews, around 32% percent of whom identify as Orthodox, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Strongly Orthodox Jewish private schools, known as yeshivot, educate an estimated 57,000 students in New York City alone, The New York Times reports. A group of graduates say that it has been “commonplace for decades” that students who graduate from yeshivot receive little instruction beyond studying Jewish texts, and “can barely read and write in English and have not been taught that dinosaurs once roamed Earth or that the Civil War occurred.”

The administration of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio opened an investigation into the lack of secular education at yeshivot in 2015. Prominent rabbis and other Jewish leaders have resisted critics of yeshivot, citing religious freedom concerns.

In New York, public school officials to evaluate private schools

Albany, N.Y., Dec 12, 2018 / 03:01 pm (EWTN News/CNA).- Leaders of New York state's more than 500 Catholic schools are planning to boycott a new state review system, whereby public school officials would evaluate religious schools to determine whether they offer a "substantially equivalent" education to public schools.

After abortion litmus test controversy, Canada job grant program makes some changes

Toronto, Canada, Dec 12, 2018 / 01:24 pm (EWTN News/CNA).- Catholic organizations and others welcomed the Canadian government's changes to rules for job grants that had required them to affirm abortion rights and other political causes - but they are still concerned that the rules could block some pro-life groups from participating.

Trump signs law to aid Christians in Iraq, Syria

Washington D.C., Dec 11, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump signed into law Tuesday the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act, which seeks to ensure US aid reaches Christian and Yazidi genocide victims.

The bill was passed unanimously in the House Nov. 27, and in the Senate Oct. 11.

This bill was introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), and the lead Democratic sponsor was Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA). This was Smith’s second attempt at getting the bill signed into law, and altogether it took 17 months for this bill to be passed.  

Trump was joined at the Dec. 11 signing by Vice President Mike Pence, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus Carl Anderson, Smith, Eshoo, Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, and many others.

Trump said it was a “great honor” to sign H.R. 390 into law, and remarked that his administration has had great success in fighting Islamic State. The group has lost nearly all of its territory since its peak in 2015.

“This bill continues my administration's efforts to direct US assistance for persecuted communities including through faith-based programs,” he said.

The signing of the legislation is a symbol of the US speaking “with bold moral clarity and political unanimity,” Anderson said in a statement provided by the Knights of Columbus, which were heavily involved with the process of writing the bill and assisting the situation of Christians in the Middle East.

Since 2014, the Knights of Columbus have donated more than $20 million to help Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria with food, housing, and other needs. The Knights also spent $2 million to rebuild an Iraqi town that had been destroyed by Islamic State.

H.R. 390 provides funding to various entities, including faith-based and religious organizations, that are helping with recovery and stabilization efforts in Iraq and Syria in religious and ethnic minority communities, including Christians and Yazidis.

The bill also instructs the Trump administration to “assess and address the humanitarian vulnerabilities, needs, and triggers that might force these survivors to flee” the region and for the administration to identify signs of potential violent action against minority groups in the country.

Another part of the law encourages foreign governments to identify those who belong to Islamic State in security databases and security screenings to aid with their prosecution. The bill provides support for groups that are investigating members of Islamic State who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the region.

Since Islamic State took control of the region, the country’s Christian population has dwindled to only a few thousand families. Many of these people fled to nearby Turkey and Lebanon out of concern for their safety. Although the situation has drastically improved since nearly all of Islamic State's territory has been regained, Christians are reluctant to return to the region due to a lack of economic opportunities and continued concerns for safety.

Archbishop Gomez: Church needs to 'return to Guadalupe'

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 11, 2018 / 03:06 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of Los Angeles wrote this week that Our Lady of Guadalupe, a messenger of reform and renewal, has important lessons for contemporary Catholics.

“In the Church today we face new challenges to our fidelity to Jesus Christ, both personally and institutionally,” wrote Archbishop Jose Gomez in a Dec. 10 column in Angelus.
 
“In this moment, I am more and more convinced that we need to ‘return to Guadalupe,’ to the original vision, the original path that Christ wanted for us in this country and throughout our continent. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the messenger who is sent to lead us to renewal and reform in our time.”

The archbishop noted that Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared “at a time of confusion and discord — and a time of immense cruelty and suffering, corruption, and infidelity.”

She appeared in 1531 to St. Juan Diego, a poor indigenous man, on a hill near what is now Mexico City. She identified herself as the Mother of the True God.

She instructed Juan Diego to have the local bishop build a church on the site, and famously left an image of herself imprinted miraculously on his tilma, a cactus-cloth tunic. The image has survived to this day. Several million pilgrims journey each year to see that tilma.

Gomez wrote that the apparition occurred less than two decades after the start of the Protestant Reformation, at a time when the Church in Europe was “confronting decadence and corruption and the need for renewal and reformation.”

There were debates among theologians in the so-called Old World about whether indigenous peoples in the Americas were even people with souls, the archbishop wrote.

At the same time, the economy of the New World was being developed on the backs of slaves, and “the greed and ambition of Spanish colonizers led to unspeakable horrors” and the destruction of many native peoples and their ways of life.

Gomez noted that Mary appeared as a “mestizo,” a brown-skinned mixture of European and indigenous peoples, and spoke to Juan Diego in his own indigenous language.

“She reminds us that beyond the color of our skin or the countries where we come from, we are all brothers and sisters,” the Archbishop reflected.

“We are — every one of us, without exception — children of one heavenly Father and we have the Mother of God as our mother...a profound icon of the unity of humanity and the Church’s mission to create one family of God out of all the world’s nations and races, peoples, and languages.”

Today, as in Juan Diego’s time, there are new forms of inhumanity and cruelty, Gomez wrote. “Selfishness and greed” lead to injustices like abortion and the persecution of religious minorities.

The archbishop recalled the words Mary spoke to Juan Diego: “Do not let your heart be disturbed. Do not fear. ... Am I, your Mother, not here? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Are you not in the folds of my arms? What more do you need?”

In her role as our mother, Mary “guides us along the pathways that lead us to her Son,” Gomez wrote.

“In leading the mission to the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe was showing us the vision of a way forward — to a new humanity, a new Church, a new world.”

“Authentic reform and renewal are always based on a return to the origins — to the purity of first beginnings. That is what distinguishes reform and renewal from revolution, which always seeks to destroy the old in order to build the new.”

“In these troubling times, we need to go always forward with joy and confidence. May we lay our fears and hopes at the feet of the Virgin. And may we contemplate these times we are living in under the gaze of her loving eyes,” Gomez concluded.

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated on Wednesday, Dec. 12.

What is a lay 'Parish Life Coordinator'? A CNA Explainer

Washington D.C., Dec 11, 2018 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Last week the Diocese of Bridgeport announced the appointment of a lay “parish life coordinator” in the parish of St. Anthony of Padua.

Dr. Eleanor Sauers has been placed in charge of the day-to-day administration of the parish, following the untimely death of the parish’s former pastor, Fr. John Baran.

The appointment has led some to ask: What is a parish life coordinator? What does such a lay person do?

In Bridgeport the arrangement, announced in a letter from Bishop Frank Caggiano, will see Sauers “work with the parish community to develop and foster its pastoral vision and mission.”

It is the first appointment of its kind in Bridgeport, though similar appointments have been common in other American dioceses for some years.

When such an appointment is made, it can strike some parishioners as a novelty. In fact, the possibility of lay “parish life coordinators” exists in the Code of Canon Law, and has been an option available to bishops since in 1983.

Canon 517 of the Code of Canon Law gives the diocesan bishop options for dealing with circumstances in which it is not possible to assign to a parish a priest who is able to serve as its resident and full-time pastor.

The first option offered by the canon is for a parish, or several parishes, to be given into the care of a team of priests, with one of them serving as the “moderator,” of leader of the team, responsible for coordinating the pastoral care of the people.  

The second option the canon presents is for a deacon “or some other person who is not a priest” to be given “a share” in the “exercise of the pastoral care of the parish.” This is only to be done, according to canon law, because of a shortage of priests; it is a remedy for exceptional circumstances and not something the Church allows to be done for its own sake.

In addition to the sacramental life which is the heart of their existence, modern Western parishes are busy places, often requiring leadership and coordination on the ground.

There are clear advantages to placing a lay person in charge of the day-to-day coordination of the parish’s activity, rather than a team of priests who could be spread across a number of other parishes and have many other demands on their attention.

Overseeing finances, religious education programs, the maintenance of buildings and other facilities, even a school in some places, is a complex set of responsibilities - one that, in the judgment of some bishops, cannot be overseen effectively by even a well-intentioned and well-organized team of non-resident priests.  

In the case of the parish of St. Anthony of Padua, this would seem to be the role Caggiano has in mind, noting in his letter to parishioners that Sauers will “oversee the day-to-day operations of the parish.”

She will also be “working with a team of priests who will provide the sacramental ministries at St. Anthony,” while having decision-making authority in the parish itself.

Arrangements like these often leave some Catholics with the impression that the priests are working “for” or “under” a lay person (which would be a novelty in a parish setting, but not unusual in other ecclesiastical settings). However, there is a distinction in canon law, and in the teaching of the Church, between collaboration and a hierarchical relationship.

Finding the right balance in ecclesial collaboration is important. Bishops are enjoined to promote and authentic expression of the gifts of all members of the Church, and to avoid any blurring of roles and responsibilities, that might obscure the unique dignity of the different members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

St. John Paul II issued in 1997 an authoritative instruction on lay and clerical collaboration, Ecclesiae de mysterio.

The pope instructed that arrangements like the one at St. Anthony of Padua should only be made in “exceptional cases” and because of a shortage of priests. The possibility of such arrangements is not, St. John Paul said, to be used for “convenience or ambiguous ‘advancement of the laity.’”

The faithful have the right, expressed in c. 213, to receive the administration of the sacraments, the preaching of the Word of God, and other means of obtaining sanctity from the pastors of the Church - that is from the priests and bishops. When lay parish life coordinators are appointed, they are not given charge of the spiritual care of the community: the “care of souls” is explicitly reserved to the clergy.

For that reason, while canon 517 creates the possibility for a lay person to be given “a share” in the running  of a parish, it also requires that there be a priest designated responsible for the pastoral care of the the people. Whenever a deacon or lay person is appointed to such a role, “the bishop is to appoint some priest who, with the powers and faculties of a pastor [parish priest], will direct the pastoral care” of the people, canon law explains.

This condition, Ecclesiae de mysterio affirms, must be followed with “strict adherence” in order to safeguard both the care of the faithful of the parish, and the distinction of the roles between a lay collaborator and a priest.

“Directing, coordinating, moderating or governing the parish; these competencies, according to the canon, are the competencies of a priest alone,” the instruction explains.

In Ecclesiae de mysterio, St. John Paul taught that the impetus of Vatican Council II “opens vast horizons, some of which have yet to be explored, for the lay faithful.”

As the Church responds to the changing landscape of society in different parts of the world, new ways for the laity to work together with the clergy will continue to emerge.

St. John Paul II taught that as those new modes of collaboration are developed, it is important for bishops to promote the role of lay people in the Church, while ensuring among Catholics “the correct understanding of true ecclesial communion.”

Trump signs law to aid Christians in Iraq, Syria

Washington D.C., Dec 11, 2018 / 06:01 pm (EWTN News/CNA).- President Donald Trump signed into law Tuesday the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act, which seeks to ensure US aid reaches Christian and Yazidi genocide victims.

Our Lady of Guadalupe: Empress of the Americas

Mexico City, Mexico, Dec 11, 2018 / 05:47 pm (EWTN News/CNA).-

U.S. Bishops’ Chairman Applauds Enactment of Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act

WASHINGTON—Today, after more than two years of hard work and bipartisan cooperation in the US Congress, the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) applauds the enactment of the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act (H.R. 390).

This critical legislation will direct humanitarian relief to genocide victims in Iraq and Syria and hold ISIS perpetrators accountable.

“Today is a signal of hope for the critically vulnerable of this region. We thank Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ), the bill’s author, and Anna Eshoo (D-CA), its lead cosponsor, and President Donald Trump for signing it into law,” says Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services USA and Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

“Less than 200,000 Christians remain in Iraq, down from 1.4 million in 2002 and 500,000 in 2013, before ISIS swept through the region on its genocidal campaign. Many of the remaining Christians in Iraq are displaced, mostly in Erbil in the Kurdistan region, and need desperate assistance to return to their homes and stay in Iraq. After the ISIS invasion, 60,000 Yazidis fled to Europe, and of the 550,000 Yazidis still in Iraq, 280,000 remain displaced and only 20 percent have been able to return to their historic homeland of Sinjar, according to the Yazdi organization Yazda.

The Catholic Church has consistently raised its voice in support of the most vulnerable who are facing persecution and displacement in the Middle East and around the world. Pope Francis has denounced the persecution, torture and killing of Christians in the Middle East, calling it a "form of genocide" that must end, and lamenting the wider conflicts that have put so many in danger. USCCB has joined with Pope Francis in condemning the actions of those who would persecute others solely for reasons of their faith and ethnicity.”

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Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., President Donald J. Trump, Chris Smith (R-NJ), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Committee on International Justice and Peace, genocide, Iraq, Syria, Christians, ISIS, Erbil, Yazidis, persecution, displacement, conflict, fait, ethnicity, humanitarian relief

Media Contact:
Judy Keane
202-541-3200

 

Iran, China detain hundreds of Christians

Tehran, Iran, Dec 11, 2018 / 04:20 pm (EWTN News/CNA).- While religious leaders marked the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this week by saying that more should be done to preserve human rights, both Iran and China detained upwards of 100 Christians.