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Romania takes step toward marriage defense amendment

Bucharest, Romania, May 25, 2017 / 07:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Romania’s lower house of parliament has overwhelmingly approved a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

The Chamber of Deputies passed the measure by a vote of 232-22, with 13 abstentions.

If approved, the amendment would change Paragraph 1 of Article 28 of the Romanian Constitution to say: “The family is founded on the freely consented marriage between one man and one woman, on their equality and on the right and duty of parents to assure the growth, education and training of their children.”

The proposed amendment began with a signature drive, initiated by the Coalition for the Family, which collected 3 million signatures from Romanian citizens in support of the constitutional language.

It has also garnered support from Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical leaders, along with legal groups such as ADF International and the European Center for Law and Justice.

The measure has already been approved by the Romanian Constitutional Court as satisfying all requirements for a constitutional amendment.

It will next go to the Senate. If it is approved there, it will become a referendum to be voted on by the Romanian people.

Romania is not the only country in the region to consider a defense-of-marriage amendment. Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and Slovakia all define marriage as the union of one man and one woman within their constitutions.

 

Can you be pro-life and anti-war? In Pittsburgh, apparently not.

Pittsburgh, Pa., May 25, 2017 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- On Tuesday, a “Consistent Life Ethic” group was booted from sponsorship of the Pittsburgh March Against War after Facebook complaints against their pro-life stance.

Rehumanize International, previously Life Matters Journal, is a group that opposes all violence against human beings, including abortion, war, euthanasia, torture, capital punishment and human sex trafficking.

They were invited to co-sponsor the Pittsburgh March Against War, set to take place this summer, and were then removed from sponsorship after a vote of the other co-sponsors, following several complaints on the event’s Facebook page.

By Wednesday afternoon, the Facebook page for the March event had been deleted.

The Pittsburgh March Against War was organized by the Pittsburghers in Solidarity Against War, a coalition consisting of several organizations: the Anti-War Committee of the Thomas Merton Center, Veterans for Peace, CAIR Pittsburgh, International Socialist Organization - Pittsburgh, Socialist Alternative, Party for Socialism and Liberation, ANSWER Coalition, WILPF Pittsburgh, the Democratic Socialists of America, and Redneck Revolt.  

CNA reached out to all of the co-sponsor groups and the March event’s main e-mail for comment on this story, but did not receive any responses, aside from the Thomas Merton Center, by press time.

Aimee Murphy, Executive Director of Rehumanize International, said that she was first invited by one of the co-sponsors to a meeting about the Pittsburgh March Against War, a grassroots event scheduled to take place July 1 at the Schenley Plaza. Murphy previously hadn’t heard about the March, but wanted her organization to get involved after attending the meeting.

Murphy said she introduced herself, as well as the vision of Rehumanize, at the meeting and handed out her card to multiple people before her organization was added to the sponsors of the event.

“I handed out my card and said yeah, we’re kind of new to this, but check us out. So people in the roundtable had ample opportunity to vet us before they ever added us to the event, and they didn’t,” Murphy told CNA.

Once the group was added to the list of sponsors on the Facebook event, attendees began researching the group and complaining about Rehumanize’s pro-life stance in Facebook comments.

While the event page was deleted Wednesday, Murphy saved screenshots of some of the comments.

“...I can’t and won’t march alongside a group that equates my choices as a person with a uterus and my work as a scientist with war and imperialism. It’s dehumanizing and detrimental to the anti-war and anti-imperialist movement overall…” Abby Cartus wrote in Facebook comments on the event.

“I definitely believe Rehumanize was passed off as an anti-war group,” wrote another commenter, who amended her comment to be “an anti-war group only.”

In a Medium post, Patrick Young said that most people involved in Rehumanize “seem like caring and loving people. I do believe that they genuinely intend to be loving and compassionate in their work. They’ve gone to great lengths to separate themselves from the hateful and aggressive anti-abortion advocates that have been so persistent for decades and train volunteers on what they believe is a compassionate approach.”

Nevertheless, he said, they engage in the “abhorrent” practice of approaching women outside of abortion clinics “to guilt and shame women out of choosing to have an abortion,” and therefore he believes they were rightly removed from co-sponsorship of the anti-war march.

The Thomas Merton Center (TMC), which created the event Facebook page, responded that they were listening to concerns and that many of the groups planning the event only became aware of Rehumanize’s ideology “that stand against our human rights” after the Facebook comments.

On Tuesday night, a democratic vote was held with the co-sponsors of the event on whether or not to remove Rehumanize from sponsorship. Murphy said she was included in the call, and the thread of the conversation was whether or not an anti-abortion group could be allowed to sponsor the anti-war March.

As stated on the event page, before it was deleted: "The votes consist of 8-remove, 1-abstain, 2-absent, and 1-remain. Rehumanize International was removed as a member of the organizing group and sponsor of the Pittsburgh March Against War."

A statement on the Rehumanize International Facebook page reads: "Though we know that this is not meant as a personal slight against us, we are disappointed in the decision to exclude pro-life anti-war organizers as we fear it sends a signal to grassroots pro-peace, pro-life people that they are not welcome in the anti-war movement. [As with any social movement dedicated to the abolition of violence,] in order to end the atrocity of war, we need everyone committed to peace."

Murphy said she was “flabbergasted” that a representative of the TMC voted to "remove" Rehumanize, because Thomas Merton was a Catholic, pro-life Trappist monk who believed in a consistent life ethic.

"It seems a little strange that we are so wildly exercised about the ‘murder’ (and the word is of course correct) of an unborn infant by abortion... and yet accept without a qualm the extermination of millions of helpless and innocent adults... I submit that we ought to fulfill the one without omitting the other," Thomas Merton wrote in a letter to fellow activist Dorothy Day on Dec. 20, 1961.

Antonio Lodico, Executive Director of the TMC, told CNA that the involvement of the center in the March was largely through their anti-war committee, which consists of volunteers. Lodico said the TMC did not cast a vote regarding whether or not to remove Rehumanize because they had not had a chance as an organization to meet and discuss beforehand.

The TMC vote was likely a provincial vote cast by a representative of the volunteer group, but one that is considered binding unless the group changes their vote in the future. CNA asked the TMC to be put in contact with their volunteer anti-war committee but did not receive a response by press time.

Lodico added that while the TMC created the Facebook event for the March, they had given admin access to several of the co-sponsor groups and are unsure which group deleted the event.

“You may have received a notification that the Thomas Merton Center deleted the Pittsburgh March Against War Facebook event page. We did not approve deleting this event. A co-host deleted the event. The groups involved in planning this event are just finding out about this now. We acknowledge the labor that went into the education and conversation on the Facebook page and we regret that this effort was lost,” the TMC said in a Facebook post on their page.

This is not the first time that Rehumanize International has been excluded from sponsoring or organizing marches and protests. According to a press release from the group, “leading up to the Women's March earlier this year, they were summarily ignored despite their support of women's rights and nonviolence (while their sister group New Wave Feminists was accepted, then removed as a partner).”

Murphy noted in the press release that Rehumanize will attend the anti-war march regardless of whether or not they are sponsors.

"We are anti-war for the same reason we are anti-abortion: we believe in the inherent dignity of human beings and therefore, that all violence against them is contrary to that dignity," Murphy said.

"Because those who are bombed, aborted, and killed by other acts of aggression cannot afford for us to cease our holistic, human-centered work, we will march on July 1, even if we are unwanted. We will be there, supporting a message for peace and all life."

Following the deletion of the Facebook event, it is unclear whether the March will continue.

Why this cardinal has high hopes for Pope Francis' Colombia visit

Rome, Italy, May 25, 2017 / 04:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis is headed to Colombia this summer, and one of the nation's leading bishops believes the visit will be a chance for progress for many countries in the region.

Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez of Bogota said the Pope’s message will be relevant for all Latin American countries. The visit is “truly going to help all of us create stronger bonds between the different countries and also to be able to work toward common solutions,” he said.

“I think the Holy Father is aware that Colombia has a certain emblematic character in Latin America, because perhaps it is the best sample of the problems we suffer from on the continent,” said the cardinal, who is also president of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM).

He was speaking to reporters after the CELAM president met with ambassadors accredited to the Holy See.

The cardinal discussed a few details of Pope Francis’ Sept. 6-11 trip to Colombia, saying the Pope is aware of the problems facing Colombia and Latin America.

Cardinal Salazar named poverty as a problem. He also noted the “cancer of corruption”, which Pope Francis has described as “a cancer that has metastasized everywhere, that has infiltrated all areas of society.”

Violence is another scourge on the continent, the cardinal said, calling the papal visit “a balm of hope and consolation.”

“The Holy Father is going to give us courage, make us realize that if we really want to resolve our problems in depth, we have to start with a change of heart,” he said.

Cardinal Salazar told CNA that Colombians “are preparing ourselves well” to receive the Pope.

“Not only because for the people the Pope’s visit is extremely important, but also because we are doing everything possible to prepare ourselves spiritually,” he added.

“There is going to be a very strong evangelization effort on all levels,” he said. “Meetings, forums, catechesis, and preaching are being prepared so the people will be truly prepared, so the Pope's message falls on good ground and, therefore, produces fruit. We are doing all this and we are very hopeful.”

He also explained some points on the program for the trip.

“The Mass to be celebrated in Bogota will have a special emphasis on respect for, care for and the promotion of life,” Cardinal Salazar said. “There will also be special priority for the disabled, the sick and the elderly to attend.”

“In Villavicencio,” he continued, “the emphasis will be ecological: the whole Amazon region’s problems, and (the need for) respect for the Earth, but also respect for indigenous cultures, ethnic minorities.”

He also discussed the peace process with FARC rebels and other guerrillas, acknowledging that “the situation is not easy, but despite the difficulties there have been, it’s going gradually moving forward.”

“I hope that what we have achieved so far not only won’t be destroyed, but that we can move forward to the point of achieving complete peace,” he said. “There is genuine hope. We're sure that despite the difficulties, peace will prevail.”

He recognized concern that Colombia is polarized on the “very complex issue” isssue.

“The political polarization that we are experiencing which every day seems to be getting stronger,  deeper, more difficult. We hope the Pope works those miracles that politically are not easy to do,” said Cardinal Salazar.

Cardinal pleads for Islamist militants to release Philippines hostages

Cotabato, Philippines, May 25, 2017 / 01:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Filipino cardinal has prayed for the release of Catholic hostages held by Islamist militants who have seized parts of a city on Mindanao, appealing to Muslim leaders to help secure their release.

“I pray for the safety of all the hostages. I appeal to the consciences of the hostage takers not to harm the innocent as the Islamic faith teaches. I appeal to religious leaders of Islam to influence the hostage takers to release the hostages unharmed,” Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato told Radio Veritas.

“For God’s will is the safety of innocent people. May the loving God protect the people of Marawi,” said the cardinal, whose see is also on Mindanao.

Militants of the Maute group stormed the city of Marawi, on the southern Philippines island Mindanao, on Tuesday. The group, formed in 2012, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015.

The militants' violence began after a failed army and police raid to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a local Islamist leader.

The Maute militants have burned several buildings, including the Catholic cathedral and the bishop’s residence. They are also said to have freed more than 100 inmates from prisons in the city. The fighting has reportedly killed at least 20 people in the city.

At the cathedral, they took hostages including a Catholic priest and a group of church-goers, threatening to kill them if the nation’s military does not cease its current offensive against them.

The captive priest, Fr. Chito Suganob, is vicar general of the Territorial Prelature of Marawi, which has a very small Catholic population. Bishop Edwin de la Peña y Angot, Prelate of Marawi, was on a return trip home at the time of the attack.

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has cut short a trip to Russia, and placed all of Mindanao under martial law for 60 days. He has also proposed that martial law be extended across the country. Duterte's presidency has drawn controversy for his brutal crackdown on drugs.

Another Mindanao prelate, Archbishop Martin Jumoad of Ozamiz, has said he backs martial law, but with an important caveat.

“I am for the imposition of martial law provided a mechanism has to be established so that human rights will not be violated,” he said, according to CBCP News.

Archbishop Jumoad warned the people to be “extra-careful” and to cooperate with the military, particularly those in Marawi.

“If the people will not cooperate with the armed forces, things could get more complicated,” he said.

According to the archbishop, an attack by another Islamist group, Abu Sayyaf, in the province of Bohol was foiled because the people cooperated with authorities.

Local media reported that nine Christians stopped at a checkpoint run by the militants in Marawi were captured and executed after they were identified as Christian.

Thousands of people have fled Marawi, where the attackers also beheaded the police chief and burned the city jail and Dansalan College, the Philippines’ ABS-CBN News reports.

The college is run by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. Its staff is about 80 percent Christian, wth a student body that is about 95 percent Muslim. Marawi itself is predominantly Muslim.

The United Church of Christ in the Philippines said the Maute group must be held accountable, but warned against “portraying these tragic events as a religious war.”

“This will only increase tensions, and may further fan the flames of Islamophobia,” the ecclesial community said May 24.

The statement was critical of martial law imposed across all of Mindanao and said military solutions to the problems had repeatedly failed. The community prayed that martial law will not be used as a pretext to undermine peace talks with other movements.

To meet God we need silence, Cardinal Sarah says

Rome, Italy, May 25, 2017 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- At a presentation for his new book on Wednesday, Cardinal Robert Sarah said that not only does the Church need silence, but the act of being in silence and of listening to God is efficient, in its own way.

“We have seen we must talk, we must do something, we must act; but silence is an act of adoration, it is an act of goodness, so it’s not about doing something that is efficient,” said Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

“Silence is (itself) very, very efficient. It gives you the opportunity to see yourself, to listen to yourself, to listen to God.”

Cardinal Sarah said that he wrote The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise because “we need silence, not only regarding the liturgy, but even to read a book, to listen to music.”

“To have rest, you need silence,” he continued, “and silence helps one to see inside oneself.”

People are in a very “awkward” situation, he said. “We never have silence in our lives, from the beginning to the last hours of the day. We listen to rumors, news, radio, the telephone. We need silence, anyway, to meet God and to have a very human life. Man needs to be silent.”

Cardinal Sarah spoke to EWTN May 24 after a presentation on the German edition of his book, given at the church of Santa Maria dell’Anima near Piazza Navona in Rome.

The German edition is unique because it has an afterword written by Benedict XVI, marking one of the rare occasions he has spoken publicly or published any sort of document since his 2013 resignation.

This came about after Benedict read the book, Cardinal Sarah said, when he approached the cardinal to say he would like to write an afterword for the German edition. Silence “is a fountain for my spiritual life,” Cardinal Sarah recalled him saying.

“I think that Pope Benedict is very interested in liturgy. And liturgy needs silence,” he said, explaining that Benedict told him the book had moved his heart deeply. “I said: ‘I’m very honored, Holy Father, please do it.’ It was his own initiative.”

During his presentation, Cardinal Sarah said that “when creation knows how to place itself in silence, God makes his voice heard.”

If we want to combat the modern problem and confusion in the world and in the Church, the solution, he told EWTN, is that “we must pray.”

In addition to prayer, we should uphold the doctrines of the Church and the family, as well as be faithful to the doctrines, he said.

“God will give us the right way to walk, you know: [that] confusion is not a good way to live. If we see clearly the way, then we can walk with security. So I think we must hold firmly to doctrine, and pray.”

He went on to say that is hopeful about the future of the liturgy in the Church, however, because many young priests do believe in and understand the importance of silence, which gives him confidence that there could be change in the future.

In his presentation the cardinal was careful to point out that finding and making silence in our lives and liturgy wasn’t the end in itself, but “a necessary condition” for the true destination, which is communion with God.

The voice of God, he said, is “Jesus Christ, the Word, and it is precisely the mystery of the Incarnation to shed light on the divine-human relationship. And it is in this light that he illuminates also the sense of the liturgy.”

“It is the irruption of divine in the human being,” he explained. “A bundle of light that comes down to us and brightens all our darkness.”

And silence is what creates the environment which makes it possible to “welcome the incarnation.”

Closing, the cardinal said that silence is “the inner climate, the inner attitude, the inner disposition that allows all this and makes the Word of the Church fruitful.”

“To a Church that is likely to become impoverished because it can close itself in parameters of purely human judgement, I humbly allow myself to point the way of silence, so that every believer, but also every celebrating community, opens to God's initiative and accepts all grace which comes from Him.”

Edward Pentin and Paul Badde contributed to this report.

Pro-lifers slam Christian school for punishing pregnant teen

Hagerstown, Md., May 25, 2017 / 11:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Students for Life of America had strong words for a Maryland Christian high school that banned a pregnant student from walking at her graduation – a move they say will only deter women from being pro-life.

“Not allowing Maddi to walk in her graduation ceremony sends the message that being pregnant in a Christian school is an embarrassment that should be hidden away,” president Kristan Hawkins wrote in a May 23 letter.

“…this example may be the turning point causing many students to turn away from the pro-life and Christian message.”

The letter was sent to principal David Hobbs of Heritage Academy in Hagerstown, Maryland. The private school refused to let senior Maddi Runkles walk at her graduation due to violating a moral clause she was obligated to sign.

Eighteen-year-old Maddi had a 4.0 grade point average, was involved in her student council and other leadership programs, and played soccer.

She found out she was pregnant in January this year and entertained the idea of an abortion. However, Maddi encountered the loving support of her parents and the Christian community at her church and chose to keep the baby.

Originally, Maddi was going to be expelled from campus and placed on independent study, but the degree of punishment was lessened after her family and 25 other parents and classmates appealed to the principle in person.

Principal Hobbs had said in a statement on the school's website that “we love Maddi Runkles,” but that the “best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her immorality that began this situation.”

According to Students for life, Hobbs was planning on telling the school that the student had broken the rules, “but Maddi didn't want the information to go through a secondhand source.”

“So instead, she voluntarily got up in front of the entire high school and tearfully told them what she did and that she was pregnant.”

Even with the lessened punishment, Hawkins criticized the school board for deciding that graduation “is too great of an honor…on which to present a pregnant girl with her earned academic achievements.”

Hawkins argued that the public nature of the punishment is unnecessary, given Maddi's suspension and stripped leadership roles – as well as the sheer difficulty of pregnancy.

“It appears that the school is not satisfied that she has repented of and been held accountable for her initial offense, and that satisfaction of such only comes at a public cost.”

She insisted that the public punishment will only work to shame other women who will go or are going through a similar situation. Students for Life was founded with the mission of ending the need for abortion by educating youth, engaging with the students on campuses throughout the U.S., and lobbying for campus pregnancy programs.

A study released by the Guttmacher Institute shows that over 50 percent of women who procured an abortion in 2014 consider themselves to be part of a Christian denomination – nearly half of the group identifying as Catholic.

Another study, according to Care Net, said that 76 percent of women did not feel they were able to discuss their abortion with members of their church. Additionally, 65 percent felt judged by parishioners, and 41 percent did not believe their church was prepared to counsel them through pregnancy decisions.

Religious freedom cited in first US female genital mutilation case

Detroit, Mich., May 25, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A U.S. federal law prohibiting female genital mutilation will be challenged for the first time in a case in Detroit, where lawyers plan to cite religious freedom as a defense of the practice.

In the case, two physicians and one of their wives are charged with subjecting young girls to genital cutting. The three adults are members of the Dawoodi Bohra, a small Indian-Muslim sect located in Farmington Hills, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), or the cutting or removal of a female’s clitoris and labia, has officially been illegal in the United States since 1997, under the Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act.

Until modern times, the cutting or removal of female genitalia was considered a “cure” for various ills - hysteria, excessive sexual desire, lesbianism, etc. and was covered by some insurance providers well into the 1970s.

Now, FGM is widely understood by the United Nations and numerous other international human rights groups as a “harmful traditional practice”. The procedure has no health benefits for women, multiple health risks, and is considered a human rights violation.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the defense “maintains that the doctors weren't engaged in any actual cutting — just a scraping of the genitalia — and that the three defendants are being persecuted for practicing their religion by a culture and society that doesn't understand their beliefs and is misinterpreting what they did.”

Court documents state that the two Minnesota girls in the case had scarring and abnormalities on their clitorises and labia minora as a result of the procedure.

"According to some members of the community who have spoken out against the practice, the purpose of this cutting is to suppress female sexuality in an attempt to reduce sexual pleasure and promiscuity," a Homeland Security Investigations special agent wrote in an April 20 court filing, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Although it is the first case specifically challenging the law on female genital mutilation, experts believe it is unlikely that the religious freedom defense will work in this case.

“I don’t think the religious freedom argument will work. Based on Jehovah Witness cases of denying blood transfusions to children, the court should decide this type of case on the basis of what’s in the best interest of the child,” Nina Shea, an international human-rights lawyer and director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, told CNA.

Religious freedom has failed as a defense in numerous cases where a child has either been abused or denied healthcare, because the government has an overriding compelling interest in what is best for the child, a basic standard in the family law codes or statutes of most Western nations.  
 
A complicating factor in cases of FGM is that it is sometimes presented as the female equivalent of male circumcision.

However, “FGM is very different in purpose in that it is to deprive the woman of sexual enjoyment throughout the rest of her life.  Also unlike male circumcision, there are no health benefits and there are health risks to FGM,” Shea said.  

Some of those health risks include severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

"I can't imagine any court that would say that the parents' right to practice their religion gives them the right to inflict this harm on their daughters," First Amendment expert and constitutional law scholar Erwin Chemerinsky told the Detroit Free Press.

"It's going to come down to medicine, and if (the procedure) really inflicts great, lifelong harms on those who are subjected to it — that's what is going to decide this case," he said.

Despite the risks, the practice remains deeply ingrained in some cultures and religions where it is seen as a sort of “rite of passage” for young women, who often opt for the procedure themselves, rather than being forced into it by males in the community.   

Anthropologists have found that even educating mothers about the health risks of FGM is not enough to deter the practice in some areas, where it is a matter of cultural pride and a way of ensuring a girl’s future and acceptance in a society where this has been a long-accepted practice.

“What we're coming to realize is that programs that target individual mothers (about the harms of FGM) are completely ineffective. Mothers are not solely in charge of the decisions for their daughters,” Bettina Shell-Duncan, an anthropology professor at the University of Washington, told The Atlantic in 2015.

“We need to be targeting people who are in the extended family, and we know that we need to figure out who are the figures of authority in these families, and who are the influences on them in the community. We need to do male elders, but also female elders.”

“It’s about a conversation about, What is the best way to secure the future for your children? The future for their girls might not be best secured by being circumcised any longer,” she added.

Stronger religious freedoms in Texas could boost Catholic foster care

Austin, Texas, May 25, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic Church in Texas will work to promote more foster parenting, following the state legislature’s approval of strong legal protections for religious adoption and foster care agencies.

“Now Catholics can join other people of good will and serve Texas’ children in good faith,” said Jennifer Carr Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops.

This fall, the bishops’ conference has said, it will work with diocesan offices on a campaign to encourage Catholic families to be foster parents.

“Most Catholic Charities in the state had withdrawn from serving foster children,” the bishops’ conference said May 22. “The new law removes a significant barrier to Catholics serving children in the foster care system and will trigger greater recruitment efforts by Catholic parishes and ministries.”

The bill, called the Freedom to Serve Children Act, could protect the ability of organizations and individuals in Texas’ foster care system who have sincerely held religious beliefs to remove themselves from actions that would directly violate their faith.

It has multiple applications. It could allow groups opposed to abortion to avoid helping a minor obtain an abortion. It could allow groups that believe children should be placed only with a married adoptive mother and father to provide foster services without facing lawsuits from same-sex couples.

The bill passed the Texas Senate May 22 on a 21-10 vote. Democratic Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville joined Republicans to support the bill, saying it would help add more private adoption agencies to Texas’ system: “It's about increasing capacity, it's about providing homes for kids.”

The bill now heads to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who is expected to sign the bill.

The Texas House of Representatives had passed the bill by a 93-49 vote on May 10, largely along party lines.

Private foster care and adoption agencies receive about 25 percent of child placement funding in the state, the Associated Press reports. Some groups had suspended services for fear of discrimination lawsuits.

In other states and the District of Columbia, long-serving Catholic adoption agencies have been shut down by laws against sexual orientation discrimination or new state funding rules that would have required them to place children with same-sex couples.

A Texas Department of Family and Protective Services report indicates that 314 children slept in state offices, hotels, shelters and other temporary housing between Sept. 1 and March 31, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

The bill drew opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union and LGBT activist groups like the Human Rights Campaign.

Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, charged that the bill would “prioritize discrimination over the best interest of kids in the child welfare system.”

Critics voiced concern the bill would allow foster parents to prevent children from being vaccinated. Some critics objected to protecting foster parents’ abilities to limit children’s access to contraceptives and abortion.

South Dakota passed a similar bill in March, but no other states currently have similar legislation.

Catholic academics urge protection of undocumented students

Washington D.C., May 24, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In the wake of increased government crackdown on immigration, a letter was sent to the Department of Homeland Security voicing Catholic support for programs promoting deferred deportation.

“As leaders of Catholic colleges and universities, we are dedicated to educating students from all backgrounds,” read the May 23 statement with over 65 signatures from presidents of Catholic colleges throughout the U.S.

“In keeping with this commitment, many of our institutions are home to young men and women who are undocumented and have met the criteria for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). We are deeply concerned about the futures of our undocumented students.”

The letter was addressed to John Kelly, secretary of the DHS. It requested that he meet with leaders of Catholic colleges to discuss greater involvement and understanding of current immigration policies aimed at protecting undocumented migrants with no criminal activity.

“We would like to better understand how immigration enforcement agencies in the Department of Homeland Security, including ICE and Customs and Border Patrol, approach DACA holders during targeted enforcement actions, police encounters or in public.”

The statement responds to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement which said that the reprieve granted to undocumented childhood arrivals isn't necessarily legally binding, but that they are less of a priority to deport than undocumented immigrants with criminal charges.

“DACA is not a protected legal status, but active DACA recipients are typically a lower level of enforcement priority,” the group said in a tweet in March.

Individuals who are registered for DACA are also known as “DREAMers,” since many meet the general requirements of the 2001 Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was a policy put in place by the Obama administration in 2012. The policy promised to defer deportation for two y ear periods to those who qualified underneath the program’s guidelines.

In order to apply for DACA a person must be under the age 31 before June 2012, moved to the US before turning the age of 16, has a high school degree or are aiming to receive one, and has no record of felony charges, significant misdemeanors, or three smaller misdemeanors.

According to a study released in January by the Pew Research Center, over 750,000 undocumented migrants have received either deportation relief or work permits since the program’s establishment.

The current administration has a stricter interpretation of immigration policy than Obama's, but President Donald Trump has stated that he would not revoke the DACA program. He said targets for immigration enforcement will be criminals and not “DREAMers.”

Cracking down on immigration was a major platform of President Trump’s campaign. According to ICE, over 41,000 suspected undocumented immigrants have been arrested this year, a nearly 38 percent increase since this time last year.

However, just because “DREAMers” aren't targeted does not mean they are not affected.

The letter cited that 10 DACA recipients have been arrested and one has been deported since President Donald Trump took office this year.

DACA does not commission legal protection or defines legal status of the individual. But the policy is rather an omission by the DHS in order to ignore legal action, which they may have been carried out as defined by the immigration laws.

The policy does not necessarily bind the government to inaction, and even though the Trump administration has stressed the arrest of DACA immigrants to be of minute importance, there is still a danger that “DREAMers” will still be subject to punishment.

John Kelly confirmed a statement from President Trump that migrants like “Dreamers” will not be targeted, but only the immigrants with criminal records. However, Kelly acknowledged that laws were already broken in illegally crossing the border, and said “Dreamers” may still be subject to negative ramifications.

“People fall into our hands incidentally that we have no choice in most cases but to go ahead and put in the system,” said Kelly in an April 23 interview with CBS.

The letter stated that protecting the vulnerable is a Christian obligation, and applauded the policy’s ability to help undocumented students within the US.

“The DACA policy has enabled our students to continue their studies and pursue careers in their chosen fields, from education to medicine, despite great anxiety and uncertainty.”

Budget proposal draws concern for cuts to poverty programs

Washington D.C., May 24, 2017 / 05:11 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump’s budget requests, although applauded for their pro-life measures, were largely met with concern from Catholic aid groups, particularly for their cuts to welfare programs and international aid.

“Rather than balancing the budget on the backs of those who are poor while shoring up military spending, our budgetary policies should reflect compassion for those most fragile and, at the same time, should allocate funds to protect safety and the common good,” Sister Donna Markham, O.P., president and CEO of Catholic Charities, USA, stated on Tuesday.

President Trump released his FY 2018 budget proposal “The New Foundation for American Greatness” on Tuesday, calling for a $54 billion increase in defense spending and an increase in immigration enforcement and border security funding.

To balance the budget over 10 years, these increases would supposedly be offset by cuts elsewhere, including to international aid, the State Department, a $191 billion cut in food stamp funding over 10 years, and cuts to other welfare programs.

The administration also announced a proposed budget increase in fighting the opioid epidemic, including “$12.1 billion for treatment and prevention efforts” and “$10.8 billion in treatment funding.”

In anticipation of the budget proposal, leading U.S. bishops wrote Congress on Tuesday outlining their serious concerns. The goal of reducing the deficit was legitimate, they said, but such deficit reduction must include a comprehensive set of cuts and not just cuts in programs tailored for low-income groups while increasing spending in other areas.

Particularly concerning to them were cuts to international aid programs at a time when conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa threaten to destabilize whole regions, along with droughts and famines. Famine has already been declared in South Sudan, and three other countries are on the brink of famines.

Overall, the proposed cuts to diplomacy and development amount to almost $60 billion, Catholic Relief Services says.

“This budget also shifts attention to short-term ‘strategic’ issues and countries,” Bill O’Keefe, vice president of advocacy for Catholic Relief Services, stated on Tuesday of the proposed cuts. “The danger is that problems elsewhere ignored today become the expensive strategic challenges our military has to address tomorrow.”

“The people who say aid does not work should come stand in my shoes here in Somalia,” said Mohamed Dahir, CRS’ country manager in Somalia. “They should talk to a woman who walked with her children for days and days, trying to escape drought, only to lose some of those children along the way.”

“In previous droughts, people like her found water in the major rivers, but this drought is so bad even the rivers have dried up,” Dahir said. “How can we abandon them – good, hardworking, innocent people who have done nothing wrong? Our aid not only brings them life, it brings them another commodity that is very precious in Somalia – hope."

Cuts to diplomacy are also distressing, CRS and the bishops said, as the international community still has yet to come together to negotiate a peace to end the six year-long conflict in Syria.

 Other Catholic aid groups largely were concerned over the domestic budget proposals.

Catholic Charities, USA “supports efforts to improve vital safety-net programs needed to move people out of poverty and protect life,” Sister Donna Markham said.

Yet “the disastrous, albeit cruel, cuts to anti-poverty programs such as SNAP, Medicaid and jobs training will have a devastating effect on millions of vulnerable individuals and families who depend on them,” she continued.

The Catholic Climate Covenant also expressed serious concerns about Trump’s proposed budget, calling the cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency “dramatic and unwarranted” and saying that they hurt the poor.

This is because the EPA has done “excellent work” for the environment, “yet far too many families, especially in low-income and of color communities, live near heavily polluted areas such as Superfund and brownfields sites, incinerators and coal-fired power plants,” the group explained.

Trump’s budget would cut programs having to do with clean-up of these areas and enforcement of environmental laws, rendering poor people in these communities more “vulnerable” to pollution.

“These cuts threaten the future of our children not only in the U.S. but around the world,” Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, bishop liaison to the group’s board of directors, stated on Wednesday, pointing to cuts of programs working “to help reduce greenhouse gases, the major cause of the global warming we are experiencing.”

“Pope Francis has made it clear that the threat of climate change demands that ‘the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay’,” he said, quoting the encyclical Laudato Si’ paragraph 165.

The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, however, approved of the proposal that funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, would be redirected to community health centers. That funding would be estimated at $422 million.

“We’re encouraged to see that the budget released today prevents federal funds from going to the nation’s largest abortion chain, Planned Parenthood,” the group’s president Marjorie Dannenfelser stated on Tuesday. “Taxpayers should not have to prop up Planned Parenthood’s failing, abortion-centered business model.”