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Founding member of CFRs and EWTN host Fr. Andrew Apostoli dies at age 75

New York City, N.Y., Dec 13, 2017 / 09:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Franciscan friar and EWTN host Fr. Andrew Apostoli, CFR, passed away on the morning of Dec. 13, his community has confirmed.

Fr. Apostoli was a founding member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and was a regular on EWTN programming, most recently as the host of “Sunday Night Prime.”

He also authored numerous books and was considered one of the leading experts on the Our Lady of Fatima apparitions.

“All of us at EWTN are saddened by the loss of our dear friend Father Andrew Apostoli, CFR. Father Andrew was a constant presence on the Network for nearly twenty-five years, particularly as the host of ‘Sunday Night Prime’ for the past five years,” said Michael P. Warsaw, Chairman of the Board and CEO of the EWTN Global Catholic Network.

Fr. Apostoli was born Joseph Dominic Apostoli on July 3, 1942 in Woodbury, New Jersey, and was the second of four boys. He first encountered Capuchin Franciscan friars at his parish in 8th grade and was inspired by their joy.

“I felt that the brothers were joyful and I wanted the joy that I saw,” he told the Catholic Herald in 2015.

He met Archbishop Fulton Sheen while attending high school seminary, and would later be ordained a priest by Archbishop Sheen on March 16, 1967. He would eventually become the Vice Postulator for Sheen’s cause for canonization.

Fr. Apostoli was a founding member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in 1988, and was also influential in the founding of the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal.

During his time in active ministry, Fr. Apostoli served as a teacher, retreat leader and spiritual director. He also wrote many spiritual books on subjects including Our Lady of Fatima and the Holy Spirit. His most recent book, “Answering the Questions of Jesus,” is a book designed to lead readers into deeper reflection on each of the personal questions Jesus asks in the Gospel.

Fr. Apostoli first appeared on EWTN on the “Mother Angelica Live” program in July of 1993, together with Fr. Benedict Groeschel, and taped his own series for the network in 1994, which first aired in 1995.

In 2012, Fr. Apostoli took over as host for EWTN’s “Sunday Night Prime” which had previously been hosted by Fr. Benedict Groschel, a fellow Franciscan Friar of the Renewal.

On November 10, Fr. Apostoli announced on the CFR’s website that due to declining health, he could no longer maintain a public schedule. Over the past month, the brothers have been posting brief health updates about the priest and asking for prayers.

In the morning of Dec. 13, the brothers confirmed that he had passed away.

“We always looked forward to his many visits to Irondale to produce programs,” Warsaw said.

“He was such a kind and holy man who always brought joy to the EWTN Family and who was a constant witness to the Franciscan spirit. We will certainly miss him.”

New York archdiocese stresses commitment to aiding victims of clergy abuse

New York City, N.Y., Dec 13, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Nearly 200 sex abuse victims of clergy in the New York archdiocese have received compensation through a program the archdiocese says shows the Church’s willingness to reach out to and listen to victims.

“At a time when nearly every institution that involves minors has had to face allegations of abuse, the Church is now a model in how to respond to this horror,” the Archdiocese of New York said Dec. 7.

Since its program launched last year, the archdiocese has compensated 189 victims of archdiocesan clergy abuse in amounts totaling more than $40 million.

“By any measure, the reconciliation program has been a success,” the archdiocese said. “Many of the victim-survivors have expressed their gratitude that the Church extended an invitation, listened, and responded with compassion and understanding. All left knowing that the Archdiocese of New York was willing to make a genuine act of reparation for the harm that was done to them.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York launched The Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program in October 2016.

The program was headed by Kenneth Feinberg, an attorney and mediator who led the September 11 victims’ fund. He has been assisted by his colleague Camille Biros. They determined issuance and amount of compensation to be given to victims.

The compensation figures are accurate as of Nov. 30. More than 200 individuals applied, and additional claims made before the Nov. 1 application deadline are still being processed.

The Church’s effort against sex abuse and its care for survivors are summarized in the report.

“The crime and sin of the sexual abuse of minors has surfaced in every segment of society – schools, families, Hollywood, sports teams, youth groups, government programs for youth, religion – really, any group or organization that brings adult and minors into contact,” the report’s introduction says.

“Fortunately, for the Catholic Church, such horrors are now mostly confined to the past,” it continues. “That does not mean our work is over. Prevention, education, and, yes, reconciliation with those who have been hurt remain an ongoing priority.”

Youth with special needs rock runway in NYC church

New York City, N.Y., Dec 12, 2017 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Last Friday night, more than 200 people gathered for a Times Square fashion show in New York City.  It wasn't in a fashion house or theater. Instead, the models walked in a unique venue: a Church. The special venue was only fitting: the models have special needs, and they modeled adaptive clothing brands and styles, raising money for charities that help children with disabilities.

"Organizing a fashion show for those with special needs reminds us that true beauty lies in our dignity as unique children of God" said Sean O'Hare, fashion show organizer, in a statement.

The show was held at St. Malachy’s Church on the West Side of Manhattan, and all proceeds from the show went to benefit the Special Needs Activity Center for Kids and Adults. Models, who have a variety of special needs, modeled outfits from dress designer Jovani, fashion brand Thursday Boots, and adaptive clothing brand Independence Day Clothing.

Because some of the models have sensitivities to loud music, shouting, or clapping, the show chose a novel soundtrack for its show: a live choir. The St. Joseph’s Choir, a Catholic choir based at the university parish at New York University, sang pop and praise songs as the models walked.

Along with O’Hare, former Miss America 2008 and Fox News Contributor Kirsten Haglund co-hosted the event.

Any fashion show, one of the most important elements, besides the clothes themselves, is the audience reception. At St. Malachy’s the models were met with overwhelmingly positive reviews.  

"What a terrific night!” said Tracy Nixon, a mother and founder of a non-profit for those with Down syndrome, Gigi's Playhouse NYC. “My daughter and everyone from GiGi’s Playhouse NYC had the best time tonight!"

The positive reception of the show has even inspired organizer O’Hare to plan other fashion shows like this around the country under the name, “100 Million Strong.”

"According to the UN there are approximately 100 million severely disabled individuals around the world,” O’Hare explained. “We want to demonstrate that this a large community, but one with strength, fortitude and joy!"  
He hopes these shows can help to raise money for local special needs charities, encourage other designers to consider adaptive clothing solutions for people with unique physical needs, and celebrate the special needs community around the nation.

 

Companies admit illegal fetal tissue sales, end California operations. Is Planned Parenthood next?

Orange, Calif., Dec 12, 2017 / 04:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The trade in fetal tissue from aborted babies proved costly for two bioscience companies who will admit fault, cease California operations and meet the terms of a legal settlement close to $7.8 million in value for violating state and federal laws against the purchase or sale of fetal tissue.

“This settlement seized all profits from DV Biologics and DaVinci Biosciences, which they acquired by viewing body parts as a commodity and illegally selling fetal tissues for valuable consideration,” said Orange County district attorney Tony Rackauckas. “These companies will never be able to operate again in Orange County or the state of California.”

The Yorba Linda-based DV Biologics LLC and its sister company DaVinci Biosciences LLC reached the settlement with the Orange County district attorney’s office, the Los Angeles Times reports. Prosecutors began their investigation in September 2015 after the California-based Center for Medical Progress filed a complaint.

David Daleiden, project lead for the Center for Medical Progress, helped run undercover investigative reports into the illicit sale of body parts and tissue from unborn babies at Planned Parenthood clinics, fetal tissue companies, and leaders in the abortion industry.

“The DaVinci companies’ admission of guilt for selling baby parts from Planned Parenthood is a ringing vindication of (the Center for Medical Progress’) citizen journalism methods and accuracy,” said Daleiden.

“In light of the news that Planned Parenthood is now under federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for the sale of fetal body parts, the next step is for Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties to be held accountable under the law for their seven-year-long aiding, abetting, and profiting in DaVinci’s criminal scheme to sell baby parts for profit,” he added.

The prosecutors’ complaint was filed in October 2016 in Orange County Superior Court, charging that the defendants’ business practices were unlawful, unfair and fraudulent.

The companies were accused of illegally selling cells from fetal brain tissue for up to $1,100 per vial, in at least 500 sales, between 2009 and 2015. Sales brought in more than $1.5 million from 2013 to 2015. Tissue was acquired from Planned Parenthood and other sources, the Orange County Register reported.

Beginning in 2009, the companies hired marketing consultants and launched an advertising campaign with summer sales and promotional discounts on fetal tissue.

State and federal law only allow charges for the processing and shipping of fetal tissue. Sale of tissue for profit is illegal.

Other defendants in the case were company principals Estefano Isaias Sr., Estefano Isaias Jr. and Andres Isaias.

Not much of the $7.785 million settlement will be in cash, however. DV Biologics will pay the county $195,000. About $7.5 million of the settlement is the estimated scientific value of donated adult biological samples.

The defendants will donate adult samples, tissues and cells to a nonprofit academic and scientific teaching institution affiliated with a major U.S. medical school whose name prosecutors did not disclose. They will also donate and transfer lab storage containers and equipment.

DaVinci Biosciences focuses on medical research for spinal injuries, sports injuries and degenerative diseases. DV Biologics provides human tissue to research facilities.

The companies’ purchasers included academic institutions and pharmaceutical businesses in Japan, China, Singapore, South Korea, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, the Netherlands, Canada and the U.K.

Documents from financier George Soros’ Open Society Foundations were posted to the site DCLeaks.com last year, which appeared to show Planned Parenthood’s allies and funders engaged in a multi-million dollar damage control campaign to counter the fallout from the videos.

The document, apparently written weeks after the July 2015 release of the first Center for Medical Progress videos, cited a need to defend the reputation and credibility of the provider and to defend it against potential loss of federal funding.

 

Thousands gather in LA to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 12, 2017 / 03:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, thousands of Catholics attended midnight Mass at the Los Angeles cathedral following festivities drawn from Mexican culture.

“This is always a special night for me. On this night, we know, in a beautiful way, that the Blessed Virgin Mary is truly our mother, who loves us and protects us,” commented Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, who said the Dec. 12 Mass.

“This year, we will be praying also for our brothers and sisters who are suffering because of the wildfires, and also for all those young people and families who are anxiously waiting for Congress to act on immigration reform, especially to help the Dreamers. We entrust everyone in our community to the maternal tenderness of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” Archbishop Gomez said.

The festivities began the preceding evening with traditional Aztec and Matachines dances and a performance by a Oaxacan band.
 
Inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, many faithful brought flowers to the chapel which houses a half-inch square relic of the cloak on which is miraculously imprinted the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
 
The relic was gifted to Archbishop John Cantwell of Los Angeles after he led a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the 1940s and is the only Guadalupe relic in the U.S.

The celebration moved into the church at 10 p.m. where a rosary was said, accompanied by the cathedral’s Spanish choir, before the Mass.

In 1531 on the Hill of Tepeyac in Mexico City, Our Lady appeared to Saint Juan Diego as an indigenous woman speaking in the native language Nahuatl. She asked Juan Diego to appeal to the bishop to build a church on the site of the apparition, as a place where the compassion of Christ could be proclaimed.

After the bishop demanded a sign, Mary requested that Juan Diego gather the roses growing on the hillside, despite it being winter. Collecting the roses in his cloak, Juan Diego presented them to the bishop only to have the image of Our Lady be miraculously imprinted upon his tilma.

These Dominican brothers are releasing a folk album

Washington D.C., Dec 12, 2017 / 12:09 pm (CNA).- Folk music is known for its foot-tapping, hand-clapping, barn-raising style – but now, a group of Dominican brothers is giving the genre a theological twist.

Meet the Hillbilly Thomists, a group of Dominican brothers who have a new album coming out on Dec. 12, which they describe as an authentic human and religious experience.

“Music can be sacred, but it can also be simply human – which is also sacred, just in a less explicit way with lyrics and themes,” Brother Timothy Danaher, one of the vocalists, told CNA in an interview with four of the band members.

“The New Evangelization needs all kinds of music, both the sacred and the human, to get the attention of people going about their daily lives.”

The band consists of 10 members from the Dominican House of Study and St. Dominic’s Priory in Washington D.C. It began as a lighthearted project with a focus on traditional Celtic music.

“The band itself was started by a couple of friars in our province,” said Brother Jonah Teller, who sings and plays guitar in the band. It grew out of a group of brothers who would get together to play Irish tunes, he said.

At first, the project was a fun excuse for the brothers to get together weekly and enjoy music. But as it grew from Irish tunes to more folk and bluegrass, the band began to perform publicly, receiving gigs for Catholics venues outside of the house.  

The name “Hillbilly Thomists” comes from a line delivered by Catholic author Flannery O’Connor. After her novel Wise Blood was released, she said people had identified her as a “hillbilly nihilist,” to which she responded that she was more like a “hillbilly Thomist.”

The album is eponymous – named after the band – and consists of 12 songs featuring instruments including the guitar, washboard, fiddle, banjo, and the bodhrán, an Irish drum. Eleven of the songs are covers of old-timey spirituals like “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” “Amazing Grace,” and “St. Anne’s Reel.” The album also includes an original song, “I am Dog,” written by Brother Justin Bolger.

When asked how music corresponds to evangelization, the band emphasized that humans are both spiritual and physical beings, and that their spirits are lifted by beautiful images and sounds, especially when accompanied by Scripture-based lyrics.

“I do think music can enhance evangelization if done right. We’re bodily beings, so beautiful images and sounds can be good for us, can help lift our minds to God,” said Brother Peter Gaustsch, who plays mandolin, piano, and guitar.

The Dominican order has released several albums of choir music, but the band hopes that this project reaches hearts of its listeners in a different way.

“There are so many great old songs in this tradition that speak of God's love, his mercy, his grace, and our hope in him,” said Brother Justin Bolger, who sings and also plays piano, accordion, bass, and guitar.

Among the songs on the album is “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” – an American spiritual which has been covered by artists including Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris.

The wayfarer – or traveler – is an important image in Catholic theology, one of the brothers said, and cited examples from St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine.

“The poor wayfaring stranger is all of us,” said Gautsch. “There’s a strong theme in the history of Christian spirituality of our lives as a kind of pilgrimage to our heavenly homeland.”

“There's a loveliness and beauty that carries with it the longing for our heavenly home and the trials that can face us as we make our way towards the Lord, hopeful because of the promise of his love and mercy,” added Teller.

Gautsch said the song depicts the struggle that is part of carrying our individual cross and learning to rely on the graces Christ provides for the journey.

“Sometimes the way is hard and steep, as the song says – in fact, it inevitably involves the cross – but the path has already been trod by Christ, who goes before us to prepare a place for us.”

The album can be ordered online, and is available for download at iTunes and Google Play.

Surprise! Chicago suburb is home to a major Guadalupe shrine

Chicago, Ill., Dec 12, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Marian devotion is intense among the hundreds of thousands of people who visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe each year on her feast day.

Not just her shrine in Mexico City. The Virgin of Guadalupe has a major place of honor in Des Plaines, Ill., a Chicago suburb.

“People make the journey to come, and they leave their flowers and their offerings. They light a candle,” said Father Esequiel Sanchez, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “They want to get here, they want to get to her. When you talk to the pilgrims, you see the genuineness of the people’s faith.”

Last year, despite cold and snow, 250,000 people visited the shrine for the Dec. 12 feast day, Sanchez told CNA. The shrine draws over 1 million pilgrims each year.

While most pilgrims arrive by vehicle, many people walk to the shrine either from Chicago or throughout the Midwest as a sign of devotion or mortification.

“They walk miles to arrive,” said Fr. Sanchez. They each have a story to tell. A 2016 pilgrim walked on his knees part of the final two-and-a-half miles to the shine.

People like him will say “my daughter’s sick, and I want Our Lady to help,” the priest recounted, adding: “the extreme of the expression only indicates the extreme of the concern for their petition.”

The shrine hosts a digital replica of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is the most visited U.S. shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the second most-visited in the world after Mexico’s Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Its origins date to 1987, when a group of Chicago-area Catholics decided to launch a mission to promote devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe using a special pilgrim statue from the shrine in Mexico City.

In 1995, construction began on an outdoor shrine in Des Plaines modeled after Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City, where the Virgin Mary appeared to the indigenous Mexican St. Juan Diego in 1531. The Virgin Mary left her image on his cloak, known as a tilma, and asked him to build a church on a hilltop.

The apparition helped inspire mass conversions of indigenous people to Christianity.

While devotion to the Guadalupe Marian apparition is strong among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, Fr. Sanchez said other Catholics in America are “beginning to appreciate her a little more, and honor her.”

“I think American Catholics are looking at the story itself, and how much it sounds like the gospel,” he said.

The Catholic hierarchy in the U.S. is promoting Our Lady of Guadalupe, and she has become an image for the pro-life movement as well as for women’s issues, the priest noted. Other ethnic groups are growing in devotion to her, including the Indian and Polish communities.

Sometimes the mortifications of the pilgrims are extreme. In severe cold weather, senior citizens will still walk through the snow.

“Here we don’t judge them. We just get them to Our Lady,” Sanchez said. “Our job is to make sure you get there safely.”

Sometimes safety is a concern.

Once, a group of pilgrims traveled on foot through the northern Illinois city of Rockford on their way to the shrine. They were holding a banner and singing songs. A group of people voicing anti-immigrant attitudes began to assault them, told them to get out of the neighborhood, and threw rocks at them.

“It’s not necessarily a wonderful experience,” Sanchez said. “They continued their pilgrimage and made it.”

The priest suggested the pressures of contemporary American culture also drive devotion.

“Whatever the country is feeling, the community is looking for hope,” he said. “We live in a time when people feel less welcomed, where people feel scared, and often the only thing they feel they can trust is their prayer, and the one thing that has got them through the hardest times of their lives thus far: Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

The feast day can create a major traffic issue, with 300,000 people in a 36-hour period. Planning begins months in advance, with the local police department helping to manage the situation.

There are 150 to 200 volunteers just to care for the pilgrims Dec. 11-12.

“Our job is to take care of the pilgrims when they come. They are trying to get to her,” Sanchez said, adding that they aim to help the pilgrims feel loved and well-fed.

“We make sure that the people’s experience is one that is very, very festive,” he said. “There’s a lot of music, a lot of serenading mananitas, a lot of indigenous dancing, what you see in other shrines.”

Sanchez said there is a strong custom in Mexican Hispanic culture of “mandas,” which means “promises” in English.

“People make promises to Our Lady of Guadalupe for a specific intentions or miracles or an act of gratitude,” he said.

“The problem is a lot of people here in the U.S. can’t go back to Mexico. There are immigration issues, economic issues, health issues, there are a lot of issues that keep them from going to Mexico City to fulfill their life’s promise to Our Lady.”

To help these pilgrims fulfill their promises, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City has offered them the same graces and indulgences if they visit the Illinois shrine.

Other pilgrimages come during the novena, the nine days before the feast day.

“On the ninth, we have a pilgrimage of truckers,” Sanzhe said. “They bring their tractor trailers, the truck, just the cab… and they decorate their trucks and they come to the shrine and they have a special Mass in which all their trucks get blessed.”

About 300 horseback riders come through for a separate blessing.

Devotees even organize through their occupations. The local landscapers’ union sought a special blessing and a Mass.

“It’s wonderful to see they’re finding Our Lady of Guadalupe, and how much that really helps them,” the shrine’s rector said.

Arlington priest pays restitution for burning KKK cross in family's lawn

Arlington, Va., Dec 11, 2017 / 03:48 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An Arlington priest who was formerly a KKK member has written an apology letter and paid restitution to a family for burning a cross in their lawn in 1977.

Fr. William Aitcheson, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Va. is a former member of the Ku Klux Klan and was arrested in 1977 for burning six crosses, one on the lawn of Philip and Barbara Butler. He was 23 years old at the time.

In a handwritten letter to the Butlers released on Friday, Aitcheson apologized for his “despicable act” and for the pain that it caused. “I also know that the symbol of the most enduring love the world has ever known must never be used as a weapon of terror,” he wrote.

Besides the letter, the priest also sent the Butlers a check for $23,000, the original restitution owed them in 1977, and offered to pay their legal fees of $9,600.

While the family originally refused to accept Aitcheson’s apology and money, the diocese said in a press release that the Butlers “have since reconsidered and accepted” the restitution and money for legal fees, which were paid from Aicheson’s personal funds and a private loan.

The diocese also stated that “Fr. Aitcheson had no legal obligation to make restitution, and it should be clarified that he had no obligation under Church law either. Fr. Aitcheson felt a moral obligation to pay as much as he could. The Diocese supported this decision.”

“Fr. Aitcheson acknowledges that he should have reached out to the Butler family and paid restitution decades ago, but he hopes this resolution begins a process of healing and peace,” the diocese added.

In August, Aitcheson’s past as a KKK member was made public when he wrote an article in the diocesan newspaper “with the intention of telling his story of transformation” from being a Klan member to abandoning his racist beliefs and becoming a Catholic priest.

The article, entitled “Moving from hate to love with God’s grace,” was written in the wake of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. on Aug. 11-12, which drew national attention. According to the diocese, a freelancer reporter contacted the diocese at that time after she found that Fr. Aitcheson’s name matched that of a man arrested in the 1970s. Fr. Aitcheson saw it as a chance to share his story of conversion, and the diocese agreed to publish his account.

“He left that life behind him 40 years ago and since journeyed in faith to eventually become a Catholic priest,” the diocese said in a statement in August.

The Butlers’ lawyer has told local media that the family is still pursuing a civil suit against the law firm that originally represented them at the time of the incident and failed to renew the judgment on the case, allowing it to expire. The family is seeking to collect the interest accrued on the original $23,000, which would now be more than $68,000.

The family is also looking into a civil suit against the diocese, which they believe should have come forward about Aitcheson’s past, and alleging harm caused by an apology letter published by the priest.

The diocese has said that they were aware of Aitcheson’s past KKK involvement but were not made aware of the civil suit until August.

Fr. Aitcheson entered the seminary and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas, Nev. in 1988. He came to the Arlington Diocese in 1993. The Arlington Diocese stated in August that “there have been no accusations of racism or bigotry against Fr. Aitcheson throughout his time in the Diocese of Arlington.”

Fr. Aitcheson has been on a voluntary leave of absence since August. According to the diocese, “plans for (Aitcheson’s) future priestly ministry are still being discerned.”

 

Court rejects Washington archdiocese's Advent metro ad

Washington D.C., Dec 11, 2017 / 11:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A federal court has denied relief to the Archdiocese of Washington, in its request for an injunction that would have allowed it to run bus ads encouraging riders to discover the true meaning of Christmas.

“We are disappointed that the federal court denied our emergency request for an injunction to run our ‘Find the Perfect Gift’ Advent ad campaign,” said Ed McFadden, Secretary for Communications for the Archdiocese of Washington.

“While this preliminary ruling that there should be no room made for us on [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] buses is disappointing, we will continue in the coming days to pursue and defend our right to share the important message of Christmas in the public square.”

The district court’s decision denied emergency relief to the archdiocese after the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) declined to run the ad campaign, citing a 2015 policy which prohibits the promotion or opposition of religion in advertisements.

The archdiocese’s ad shows the Star of Bethlehem and reads “Find the perfect gift,” advertising the website www.findtheperfectgift.org and the hashtag #PerfectGift.

A version of the ad which includes a Bible verse is already posted at numerous city bus stops, which are controlled by the District Department of Transportation, not WMATA. The bus ads have been running for nearly a decade, and reach areas of the city which do not have many bus shelters.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson stated in her decision that she declined to grant the archdiocese relief from WMATA’s decision because she does not believe its case will succeed on religious freedom or free speech grounds.  

“The advertisement does not seek to address a general, otherwise permissible topic from a religious perspective — the sole purpose of directing the public to www.findtheperfectgift.org is to promote religion. The website declares: ‘JESUS is the perfect gift. [F]ind the perfect gift of God’s love this Christmas’,”she wrote.

 

Why 'Silence Breakers' are key in any abuse crisis

Denver, Colo., Dec 10, 2017 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- This week, TIME Magazine announced a group of women and men as their collective Person of the Year.

What do these people have in common? They are what TIME called “The Silence Breakers” - people who have blown the whistle on sexual assault and abuse within the workplace, largely in the industries of film, politics, and media.

In recent months an avalanche of abuse allegations have been brought to light against powerful figures, starting most notably with a piece in the New York Times in which several women accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. This sparked a flood of men and women coming forward with other allegations of abuse against numerous people in positions of power.

“These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day, and in the past two months alone, their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced. In some cases, criminal charges have been brought,” TIME reported.

Not long ago, the Catholic Church in the United States was reeling from its own sex abuse crisis. In the early 2000s, reporters at the Boston Globe broke the story of a former priest who was accused of molesting more than 100 boys over 30 years, which led to a large-scale uncovering of thousands more allegations of abuse in dioceses throughout the country.

Since then, the Church has taken care to provide numerous resources to such victims, and develop robust child protection policies.

Edward Mechmann, director of public policy and the safe environment office for the Archdiocese of New York, told CNA that the “silence breakers” who came forward and continue to come forward with accusations of abuse by clergy and Church personnel are key in maintaining a safe environment in the Church.

“I think the one thing we have to make sure we understand is who the whistleblowers are, and for the most part, the whistleblowers are victims,” Mechmann said.

“As much as the outside observers like the Boston Globe and the media in general contributed to our awareness of the scope of the problem, we would really be nowhere unless we had some of these courageous victims coming forward, because without them, we would have many more men in service who are victimizers,” he added.

It is especially important that victims come forward in order to protect others from abuse, he noted, because in some cases, abusers have victimized numerous people over the span of many years.

Recently, the Church has seen victims coming forward “much more willingly now, because they see that we’re serious, they see that we’re not going to victimize them again, and they see concrete results” such as accused persons being removed from ministry, he said.

“The first and most important thing we do is we listen to them, and I can’t tell you how important that is,” Mechmann said.

“So many people that come in to see us are afraid, they’ve been victimized, they’re afraid they’re going to be victimized again, and just the fact that we listen to them is just an enormously healing thing,” he said.

Besides listening to victims, Mechmann said the Church also provides support through counseling and through talking with victims about the Church’s internal processes for dealing with cases of abuse.

“And we stay in contact with them, if they want to stay in contact with us, we walk with them,” he added.

Dr. Benjamin Keyes, a Catholic psychologist and Director for the Center for Trauma and Resiliency Studies at Divine Mercy University, told CNA that supporting and encouraging victims who come forward is of the utmost importance.

“There’s a whole lot of relief that someone has finally heard the story...they’re no longer isolated with the information, and how well they fare afterwards really depends on what happens around them,” he said. “Are they supported, are there people in their network, whether it's family, friends, or co-workers, that really understand and really support them in the courage that it takes to do this?”

Sometimes it can takes months or even years for victims of abuse to break the silence on what happened to them, Keyes said, because there is usually “a lot of embarrassment, a lot of shame involved, and most people, women in particular, don’t want to expose that to the public or to others, even to those who are close to (them),” he said.

The fear of retaliation or retribution is also something that can keep victims from coming forward, especially if the abuse came from someone who is in a position of power over the victim, Keyes noted.

For these reasons, victims need encouragement and support from the Church in order to feel comfortable coming forward.

“The Church can be supportive, especially in the parishes, (by) making it safe for (whistleblowers) to be who they are, by acknowledging the courage that it took for them to do that, and to be supportive vocally within the body of the Church so that people hear that the Church is supporting it,” he said.

Supporting victims also involves “making sure that they stay networked into not only the activities that they’ve been involved with, but that they stay networked into the body of the Church, so that they don’t walk away,” he added.

The parish priest, as well as members of the parish community, are especially key in making victims feel welcomed and supported, he noted, which can be done simply by including them and befriending them.

“We’re taught in the Bible to love and to love unconditionally, and this is part of that,” Keyes said.

“It’s embracing the broken places and binding up the suffering and reaching out to the broken-hearted, and we’re called as Christians, not just as counselors, to do that,” he added.

Since the sex abuse crisis in the Church in the United States, the bishops have put into place numerous policies and practices to protect victims, and especially children from sexual abuse, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Charter for Child and Youth Protection, which calls for an annual audit and report of all the dioceses in the country.

The Church has also implemented safe environment trainings that call for a zero-tolerance policy of abuse in Church environments.

“I think a lot of what’s happening is really good,” Mechmann said, regarding the silence breakers in media and politics who have recently come forward.

“Maybe the world as a whole could learn a little bit from the way that we have handled this, in terms of creating a clear corporate culture of zero tolerance. Transparency is at the heart of what we’ve done, and I hope that some of these other industries can do the same.”