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Vatican praised, cautioned on dialogue with al-Azhar university

Rome, Italy, Apr 27, 2017 / 09:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A leading scholar in the Arab world has applauded the goodwill of both the Vatican and the prestigious Islamic al-Azhar university Pope Francis will visit for aiming to increase Catholic-Muslim dialogue.

But she also issued a warning that goodwill isn't enough for things to change.

“Dialogue is good, generally any dialogue is good. Any kind of debate and any steps to show goodwill, to show a commitment, to show a recognition of the other in principle is very good,” Mariz Tadros told CNA in an interview.

However, “the extent to which this will translate into a change in eliminating or reducing the appeal of militant Islam, that’s what I’m questioning.”

Tadros, who spoke over Skype from the U.K., is an author and scholar on persecution in the Arab world. She is currently a fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University in the U.K.

She spoke ahead of Pope Francis' April 28-29 visit to Cairo, where he is set to meet with Coptic Pope Tawadros II and the Grand Imam of the Mosque of al Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayyib, as well as Egypt's president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the bishops of the local Catholic Church.

His visit comes as the result of a recent thawing in relations between the Vatican and the al-Azhar University, which had been strained since 2011. The imam of al-Azhar is considered by some Muslims to be the highest authority the 1.5-billion strong Sunni Muslim world and oversees Egypt’s al-Azhar Mosque and the prestigious University attached to it.

Dialogue picked up between the two after el-Tayyib visited the Vatican in May 2016 with a message condemning the acts of Islamic fundamentalism, culminating a year later in the Pope’s visit to Egypt this weekend.

However, in addition to the heightened prospect for dialogue, the trip will also have an inevitable undertone of the very real risks Christians still face in Egypt, particularly from extremist factions of militant Islam.

While Catholic-Muslim dialogue has picked up over the past year, so have attacks against Coptic Christians.

According to His Grace Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, there have been at least 40 reported murders of Christians in Egypt in the past four months alone.

In February 2015, Egyptian society was shocked by the grisly beheading 20 Orthodox Coptic faithful in Libya carried out by ISIS, the video of which was circulated online. The extremists have also claimed responsibility for several other high-profile attacks, including a bombing at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo in December that killed 29 people.

Most recently, ISIS claimed responsibility for twin bombings in Tanta and Alexandria April 9 that left some 45-people dead. The blasts took place on Palm Sunday, one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar commemorating Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem before his Passion and Death.
 
With these attacks looming closely in the rear-view mirror, many are asking whether the Pope’s attention to dialogue with Islam, particularly his relationship with al-Azhar and his trip to Egypt, will make a difference.

The debate surrounding al-Azhar

According to Tadros, the prospect of any dialogue is good and shouldn’t be discouraged. However, she cautioned that despite the well-intentioned gesture of meeting with the Pope and cementing good relations with the Holy See, there is still cause for concern regarding al-Ahar – particularly the university's duplicitous curriculum.

“When we look at institutions such as al-Azher, there have been many Egyptian non-Islamist Muslims, very progressive Muslims, who have sought to hold al-Azhar accountable for the duality of its discourse,” she said.

On one hand, “al-Azhar will sit with you and say we love you, we care for you, we’re all one citizenship, we’re all one people.” But on the other hand, “if you look at the syllabi, what they are teaching the generations of scholars that graduate from that university about the religious other, it is horrendous.”

What they are teaching is “undoubtedly a message that these are infidels, and at best they should be tolerated and at worst, killing them is not such a travesty.”

If one actually looks at what comes out of al-Azhar, “there’s a massive, massive disconnect between the public discourse and what is being taught to people across the country,” she said, explaining that there have been several moderate Muslim activists who have called on the university to reform their syllabi, including a man who was jailed for his activism, but who has recently been released.

While al-Azhar is seen by many militant Islamic groups as lacking legitimacy for not following the “right path” of Islam, others have criticized the university for failing to speak out strongly enough when condemning extremist groups such as ISIS.

Many have asked al-Azhar to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak, and declare ISIS as “un-Islamic.” In short, it's no longer good enough to simply condemn what they are doing, but the entity itself must be recognized as not being faithful to the Muslim religion.

“As a Christian you can tell me, 'if you lie that is not consistent with Christianity,' but you are not telling me, 'for shooting people in the name of Christianity, you no longer belong to Christianity.' Do you see the difference?” Tadros said.

But when it comes to Al-Azhar, they have “consistently cowed away from declaring ISIS as not part of the Islamic community.”

Although some might say making such a declaration is playing into the game of name-calling and labeling one another as infidels, Tadros stressed that “unless you tell the broader international community that those who kill and maim and commit genocide in the name of Islam no longer are part of the Islamic community, they do not have the right to claim themselves as Muslim,” nothing will change.

That, she said, is “a very different story and they have cowed away from doing that.”

Tadros clarified that she is “in no way” saying that dialogue between Pope Francis and al-Tayeeb isn’t good or that it shouldn’t happen. “All I’m saying is let’s not count on that as a way of making militant Islam less appealing.”

She stressed that there are “a lot of Muslims” that have shown solidarity with Christians in Egypt, including speaking out on their behalf after the most recent bombings earlier this month, proving that not all Muslims espouse the radical views of ISIS or other like-minded branches.

However, while not all Muslims are extremists, she said history has proven that no matter how much dialogue is done, fundamentalism will never entirely disappear from Islam.

When asked if she thought this was a realistic eventual outcome of the dialogue between the Vatican and al-Azhar, she said “absolutely not.”

“I think that is the biggest myth that exists in the West and it’s a myth that history has dispelled and is it a myth, the perpetuation of which, only serves to increase the vulnerability of religious minorities in the Middle East. In fact, I would say it directly contributes to it.”

The growing threat of militant Islam “is one that we should not take lightly,” she said, “because they are networked.”

“Even though organizationally they follow different leaders, there are links between them, they are well-resourced, they are recruiting people globally from around the world, and they represent an existential threat to Christians and religious pluralism and all kinds of pluralism in the region.”

So while the importance of dialogue as an expression of finding common values and forging friendships across religions should be appreciated, it should only be valued to the extent that true goodwill and respect for the religious other result, she said.

“But I do support those who challenge their effectiveness in making militant Islam more appealing or undermining its power and influence and implications for Christian minorities.”

A history of persecution

Christian persecution has happened on and off for centuries in Egypt, but this intolerance recently spiked in the 1970s under President Anwar Sadat, who empowered radical Islamists, but was assassinated by fundamentalist army officers in 1981.

A period of higher tolerance ensued after Sadat's death, but attacks targeting Christians picked back up during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.

The 2011 revolution, part of the Arab Spring, had overthrown Hosni Mubarak, a military officer who had been Egypt's president since 1981. The following year Morsi, of the Islamist movement the Muslim Brotherhood, became the first democratically elected Egyptian president.

On July 3, 2013, Egypt's military ousted Morsi, and in August began a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Violence then spread across the country, with Islamists killing hundreds of people from August to October. Churches were vandalized, burned, and looted, as were the homes and businesses of Christians.

In January 2014, the interim government approved a new constitution, leading to the May 2014 election of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as the country’s new president. The elections were boycotted by the Muslim Brotherhood as well as other political groups.

Tadros explained that part of the chaos after the revolution was due to “a complete breakdown in public safety and law and order” in which police left the streets and organized groups of “thugs” took over, meaning public safety was no longer a guarantee.

With a lack of secure borders given the crisis in Egypt and the collapse of nearby Libya, extremists became emboldened, and began smuggling and trading weapons with greater confidence and ease.

Radical Islam also began to take on different forms in this time, Tadros said, explaining that whereas previously terrorists were homegrown and committed smaller acts of violence, the rise of factions such as ISIS looking to impose maximum damage through suicide bombs is new.

“The fact that ISIS is now a player is a game-changer,” she said, explaining that with an increase in deadly attacks, there is greater need for security. However, she voiced doubt that the current state of emergency declared by el-Sisi in wake of the April 9 bombings will be effective in terms of protecting Copts.

From a scholarly and historic point of view, emergency law has done nothing, she said, noting that it was implemented by both Mubarak and Morsi when they were in power, “and in both cases it was not conducive to the well-being of the Egyptian population in general.”

Since his election el-Sisi has been praised for receiving representatives from both the Orthodox and Catholics, as well as Protestants.

However, even though the situation has “officially” improved under el-Sisi, who has said and done the right things, Tadros said the improvement is due not so much to el-Sisi’s efforts as it is to the fact that Morsi was driven from power.

“The situation under el-Sisi is very complicated, because on the one hand there is an improvement in the Copts’ everyday experience. Not directly as a consequence of any of el-Sisi's policies by any stretch of the imagination, but it is an unintended outcome of ousting Morsi,” she said.

“Never in the modern history of the Copts have they been such a target of militant targeting as they are today,” she said, explaining that if fundamentalists want to target Copts, there is realistically little that can be done to stop them.

How can Christians be helped?

With Christians in Egypt increasingly becoming a target of systematic violence and a bleak prospect of effective help from the government, Tadros suggested several things that can be done now to help the 9 million-strong Coptic community in Egypt.

First, “security is crucial,” she said, explaining that the ability to ensure basic protection of schools, places of worship such as churches and monasteries, and faith-based organizations, “is extremely important.”

Another essential help is “drying out the sources of funding,” Tadros said, noting that currently “we do have a problem with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Arab countries funding Islamist movements.”

“They have to be named and shamed, and even if it goes to the point of economic sanctions against any country that funds Islamist movements, that would significantly help the Christians,” she said, adding that this is “one of those unintended outcomes: if you remove their sources of income, they can’t buy arms, and therefore their ability to strike is significantly decreased.”

A third option Tadros mentioned is the growth and promotion of solidarity among the different churches in the region. As an example, the scholar noted how Pope Francis called Coptic Pope Tawadros personally to offer his sympathies after the April 9 attacks.

“We need to see more of that,” she said, stressing the need for Christians of all rites and practices to band together, because “divided we fall, united we’re strong.”

Finally, she pointed to the importance of raising awareness in international Christian communities of the “existential threat” that Christians in the Middle East face.

“We’re no longer talking about what we saw in Egypt four or five years ago where it’s a number of Muslim mobs burning a number of houses,” she said. “We are now talking about a broader, new strategic plan to eliminate Christianity from the region.”

The global community, she said, needs to “raise awareness and sensitize their congregations of the need to support the churches in the Middle East” in various ways, such as through prayer and concrete initiatives that will help those who have lost everything to rebuild their lives.

Another important aspect is “strengthening local Christian civil society,” she said, “because sometimes Church leadership, such as in the case of Egypt, find themselves in a position where they can’t come out and criticize governments, there’s too much at stake.”

“So you need Christian civil society that play the role of monitoring the situation, raising alarm bells when they see signs of genocide and of strengthening local initiatives.”

Holding governments accountable is also part of the equation, she said, sometimes by “criticizing the government, and sometimes mobilizing against government policy if it’s not going to be conducive to citizenship.”

Revised health care bill still has 'serious flaws', US bishops maintain

Washington D.C., Apr 27, 2017 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A leading U.S. bishop expressed grave concerns Thursday about a revised health care bill which the House may vote on within days.

The bill is an effort replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

“It is deeply disappointing to many Americans that, in modifying the American Health Care Act to again attempt a vote, proponents of the bill left in place its serious flaws, including unacceptable modifications to Medicaid that will endanger coverage and affordability for millions of people, according to reports,” Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, stated April 27.

Although the American Health Care Act was scuttled in March before a planned floor vote due to lack of support, an amended version of the bill was introduced in Congress this week, garnering the support of members of the House Freedom Caucus – which was instrumental in blocking AHCA last month.

The amended version includes allowing states to drop Affordable Care Act mandates that insurers cover “essential health benefits” such as maternity care, emergency services, and mental health and substance abuse services.

Bishop Dewane, who had serious concerns about the AHCA, said the new bill does not fix those concerns, especially regarding ensuring access to affordable health care for vulnerable populations.

“The House must not pass the legislation as it is. Members should insist on changes, especially for the sake of those who are struggling in our communities,” he said.

“Sadly, some of the recently proposed amendments – especially those designed to give states flexibility – lack apparent safeguards to ensure quality of care,” he said. “These additions could severely impact many people with pre-existing conditions while risking for others the loss of access to various essential coverages.”

The Christ Medicus Foundation (CMF) CURO, a Catholic health care ministry, called on Congress on Thursday to pass a bill that would honor conscience protections, respect the “sanctity of life”, and provide more “access to medical care for all, especially for the poor and single mothers,” as well as “empowering health sharing ministries as an affordable health care option for lower-income Americans.”

“We want to see an American health care system where people have access to care but where doctors and patients are making decisions consistent with their conscience and religious freedom,” Louis Brown, Esq., director of (CMF) CURO, stated, noting that premium increases and a decrease in the number of available health plans meant that “too many impoverished families do not have access to the quality medical care they deserve.”

In an earlier, March 17 letter to Congress, Bishop Dewane had outlined his chief concerns about the AHCA while praising certain aspects of it, including its barring of funding of abortions in tax credits and health plans and stripping funding from abortion providers.

However, the bill lacked sufficient conscience protections for doctors and health care providers, he said.

Additionally, the replacement of federal subsidies for purchasing health insurance with tax credits could disproportionately benefit the younger and wealthier while making affordability an issue for sicker and older populations, he said. Premiums for many elderly persons could rise significantly, he warned.

A 30 percent premium fine for a significant gap in health coverage could also persuade some not to purchase health insurance at all, he added.

Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who chairs the House Pro-Life Caucus, was also among the opponents of AHCA in March.  He said he could not support the bill, despite its pro-life protections, because of how other provisions would “likely hurt disabled persons, the elderly and the working poor.”

Remembering two anniversaries

Denver, Colo., Apr 27, 2017 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- "The recent pledge by the Democratic National Committee chair to support only candidates who embrace the radical unrestricted abortion license is very disturbing. The Democratic Party platform already endorses abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy, even forcing taxpayers to fund it; and now the DNC says that to be a Democrat--indeed to be an American--requires supporting that extreme agenda.
 
True solidarity with pregnant women and their children transcends all party lines. Abortion doesn't empower women. Indeed, women deserve better than abortion.
 
In the name of diversity and inclusion, pro-life and pro-'choice' Democrats, alike, should challenge their leadership to recant this intolerant position."
 
--Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chair
U.S. bishops’ Pro-Life Activities Committee, April 26

 
 
We mark two forgotten anniversaries in 2017.  Here’s the first.

Exactly 50 years ago this Easter season, Pope Paul VI (now Blessed Paul VI) issued his great encyclical Populorum Progressio (“On the Development of Peoples”).  The text focuses powerfully on global issues of social and economic justice and the need for rich nations to share generously with the poor.  It includes the line – worth remembering today – that we “cannot insist too much on the duty of giving foreigners a hospitable reception.  It is a duty imposed by human solidarity and by Christian charity” (67). 

But Paul’s idea of “development” was much larger than simply providing more and better material goods for the poor, vital though that task is.  As he makes clear in Populorum Progressio, there’s no real progress without a right understanding of man’s spiritual identity.  There’s no real development without a respect for the wholehuman person as a creature of moral purpose. 

Real development, for Paul VI, demands a reverence for human life from conception to natural death.  This is why he reminded the U.N. General Assembly (1965) that “Your task is to ensure that there is enough bread on the tables of mankind, and not . . . to diminish the number of guests at the banquet of life.”  It’s why he forcefully rejected abortion – echoing the words of the Second Vatican Council -- in his other great encyclical, Humanae Vitae, just a year after Populorum Progressio.

To put it another way:  There’s something irrational, something deeply contradictory, in (admirably) arguing for the rights of our nation’s foreign newcomers while (wrongly) allowing – and even sacralizing -- the systematic killing of a different kind of foreigner, the child in the womb, the newcomer to life itself.  Both the immigrant or refugee and the unborn child are human beings, both have inviolable dignity, and both demand our protection.  The difference today is, we don’t recognize and applaud anyone’s right to kill an immigrant.

As of mid-April though, that kind of logic is apparently absent from the national leadership of the Democratic Party.  The Huffington Post noted on April 21 that Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez “[has become] the first head of the party to demand ideological purity on abortion rights, promising . . . to support only Democratic candidates who back a woman’s right to choose.”

Which leads us to a second anniversary.

In 1992, exactly 25 years ago this July, Pennsylvania’s Governor Bob Casey, a prolife Democrat, was refused an opportunity to address the Democratic National Convention that nominated Bill Clinton and Al Gore.  Casey claimed he was barred because of his opposition to abortion.  The Clinton camp claimed otherwise.  But the history of the party in the decades since speaks for itself.

It’s now less and less possible for any genuinely prolife candidate to hope for national office as a Democrat.  Cardinal Dolan’s articulate concerns, noted above and voiced earlier this week, will be repeated and amplified by many others in 2018, an election year.  Party leaders chose this course freely, and they’ve earned whatever bad consequences result in the voting booth.  They have no one to blame but themselves.  In the meantime, they’ve placed state and local Democratic elected officials – many of whom are good and effective public servants – in needlessly difficult circumstances.

None of this absolves the current White House of its own ugly views, or the Republican Party of its own callous policies, or us as Christians of our duty to help women facing the pressures of an unwanted, unplanned pregnancy.  But a key to simple human decency is this:  Don’t intentionally kill the innocent.  One of our national parties is now fully and forcefully committed to tolerating, and even celebrating, the “right” to exactly that kind of killing.  

And no amount of dissembling can excuse it.  None.

 

Reprinted with permission from CatholicPhilly.com

We need to 'shatter' the anonymity of sex purchasers, lawmakers say

Washington D.C., Apr 27, 2017 / 03:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. government needs to be continually equipped to fight the scourge of human trafficking in new and effective ways, said members of Congress introducing an anti-trafficking bill on Thursday.

“We have a huge human trafficking problem in the United States, and it needs to be combated even more robustly than it has,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said on Thursday at the capitol, introducing the Frederick R. Douglas Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Act of 2017.

“We must shatter the anonymity of purchasing sex and the violence against our women, our boys, and our young girls,” Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), who joined Smith at the press conference, said.

The bill, introduced by Reps. Smith, Wagner, and Karen Bass (D-Calif.) builds upon the 2000 Victims of Trafficking Protection Act, which was a large new anti-human trafficking bill at the time, a “landmark” bill as Rep. Smith called it.

The new bill has six other original co-sponsors, and enjoys bi-partisan support among the group.

The original TVPA included provisions for sheltering and support for victims, tough punishment of those convicted of trafficking, and introduced actions the U.S. could take against countries which failed to abide by the international trafficking standards set up by the act. The State Department ranks countries in a tier system in its annual Trafficking in Persons report, and actions can be taken against the worst countries.

Last year, the report left China, Cuba, and Malaysia off its worst offenders tier, prompting Rep. Smith to criticize the Obama administration for playing politics with the rankings. In 2015, the report also received criticism for leaving Malaysia off the Tier 3 worst offenders list as the administration was working with Malaysia on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

Now, the new bill is named after Frederick Douglass, a slave who, once he escaped slavery at age 20, became a chief advocate against slavery in the U.S. and against the prejudiced Jim Crow laws of the post-Civil War era.

Douglass insisted that education is freedom, Ken Morris, Douglass’ great-great-great grandson, said on Thursday. Education must be upheld as the “primary prevention” of trafficking, he insisted, saying ““the prevention education era is here.”

“Slavery has plagued humankind for hundreds of generations, perhaps, since the beginning of civilization,” Morris said. “We can reverse the progress of slavery by fortifying individuals and the social structures around them through the application of knowledge.”

The new bill authorizes $130 million in funding over four years to, in the words of Rep. Smith, “prevent human trafficking, to protect victims and prevent them from being further enslaved,” to provide for asylum for international victims who need it, and “beefs up prosecution,” fighting trafficking in the U.S. and abroad.

The bill also funds education to help prevent girls from being trafficking victims, teaching them how to avoid dangerous situations. It provides for job training for victims – “resumption of education” for minors – who have been rescued and need to re-enter society.

Better enforcement of laws is also being called for, as federal agencies like State and Defense cannot grant contracts to entities that have been convicted of human trafficking.

Regarding government employee traveling expenses, “preferential treatment will be given to those individual hotels and airlines that have in place a comprehensive human trafficking initiative,” Smith said.

“Human trafficking is the most profitable criminal enterprise in the world after drugs, and it is able to flourish because predators purchase sex in a supply and a demand market,” Wagner said, adding that the U.S. must more vigorously enforce anti-trafficking laws.

According to the 2016 Trafficking in Persons report, illicit human trafficking and forced labor make up a $150 billion worldwide industry with estimates of 20 million victims. As many as 800,000 trafficking victims are brought through the U.S. annually.

“Our government must vigorously prosecute buyers of sex trafficking and finally end demand for this horrific crime,” Wagner said.

Another major issue for trafficking victims is housing, Rep. Bass insisted. “Eliminating pathways to child sex trafficking inevitably requires the elimination of youth homelessness,” she stated, noting that many victims have “fallen through the cracks” of the foster care system.

“Escaping is not an option without access to safe housing equipped to meet the special needs of victimized youth,” she said. “Our government has an urgent responsibility to shut down pathways for child sex trafficking and to invest in critical housing needs for vulnerable girls and foster youth.”

Big honors for scholar who revitalized Christian philosophy

Philadelphia, Pa., Apr 27, 2017 / 03:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has won the prestigious Templeton Award for once again making belief in God “a serious option within academic philosophy,” the Templeton Foundation has said.

“The field of philosophy has transformed over the course of my career,” Plantinga said in response to the honor. “If my work played a role in this transformation, I would be very pleased.”

“I hope the news of the Prize will encourage young philosophers, especially those who bring Christian and theistic perspectives to bear on their work, towards greater creativity, integrity, and boldness,” he said April 25.

The Pennsylvania-based John Templeton Foundation awards the prize to a living individual who has made “an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery or practical works.”

“Alvin Plantinga recognized that not only did religious belief not conflict with serious philosophical work, but that it could make crucial contributions to addressing perennial problems in philosophy,” said the foundation’s president Heather Templeton Dill.

Plantinga's 1974 work “God, Freedom and Evil” is now widely regarded as having provided a definitive counter to the logical challenge that the existence of evil is incompatible with the existence of God. His argument rested on the nature of freedom and God’s ability to determine behavior.

His 1984 essay, “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” argued that Christian philosophers should let their religious beliefs influence their academic research and serve the needs of their religious communities.

His other work has considered the basis of knowledge, the nature of justified belief, religious belief as a basis for human reasoning, and arguments for the existence of God.

While some philosophers have argued that evolution is incompatible with belief in God, Plantinga has argued that evolution is incompatible with belief in philosophical naturalism that denies the existence of spiritual reality.

Plantinga's religious background is the Calvinist Dutch Reformed tradition. He currently teaches at Calvin College. He taught at the University of Notre Dame from 1982-2010.

He and his wife, Kathleen, live in Grand Rapids, Mich.

There are now 47 winners of the Templeton Prize, including Mother Teresa, Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn, philosopher Charles Taylor, and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

Other winners include Czech priest and philosopher Tomas Halik, South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama.

The prize was established in 1972 by global investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton. The current prize includes a cash award of about $1.4 million. 

Catholic hospital sued for denying sex reassignment surgery

Sacramento, Calif., Apr 27, 2017 / 12:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A lawsuit has been filed against a Catholic hospital in California for refusing an elective hysterectomy to a female who identifies as a man and who sought the procedure as part of their sex reassignment.

The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Evan Minton, who had a hysterectomy scheduled for August 2016 with the Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Carmichael, Calif., in the Sacramento metro area.

Minton claims the procedure was cancelled once the hospital learned that Minton was transgender, and asked to be referred to as “he”. The hospital offered to send Minton to a different medical center.

"We feel very clearly that they discriminated against me because I’m transgender – and that is against the law," Minton told local media.

The ACLU alleges in the suit that the hospital’s actions amount to "sex discrimination in violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act" which prohibits businesses from discriminating against patrons on the basis of one’s gender. The group is seeking a court order that would force the hospital to perform elective hysterectomies in the future.

Dignity Health, the group that owns Mercy San Juan, was able to transfer Minton to one of its Methodist hospitals a few days after the initial procedure was denied.

Following Catholic teaching, Mercy San Juan does not perform elective sterilization procedures on anyone.

Dignity Health said in a statement that it cannot reply to the allegations because they have not yet been served with the complaint.

"What we can share is that at Dignity Health Mercy San Juan Medical Center, the services we provide are available to all members of the communities we serve without discrimination. We understand how important this surgery is for transgender individuals, and were happy to provide Mr. Minton and his surgeon the use of another Dignity Health hospital for his surgery within a few days.”

"We do not provide elective sterilizations at Dignity Health’s Catholic facilities in accordance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs) and the medical staff bylaws."

The ACLU has long opposed Catholic hospitals operating according to Catholic teaching.

The ACLU and the group the MergerWatch Project co-authored a 2013 report that claimed the growth of Catholic hospitals was a “miscarriage of medicine.”

In 2015, the ACLU sued the Detroit area's Trinity Health Corporations, one of the largest Catholic health care operations in the United States, for their refusal to perform abortions and tubal ligations. The lawsuit was dismissed.

In 2016, an ACLU report alleged that Catholic hospitals put women at risk for following Catholic teaching regarding abortion and reproductive health.

Also in 2016, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against a Catholic hospital in Chicago, claiming it had denied IUD removal to Melanie Jones. However, a representative from Mercy Hospital told CNA that the doctors at Mercy Hospital had offered to remove the woman’s IUD — the removal is an entirely ethical procedure from the Catholic moral standpoint — but Jones declined.

All Catholic hospitals in the United States operate under the U.S. Bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which ban abortion, sterilization, emergency contraception, and tubal ligations.

Pope thanks charity organization for generous service to the Church

Vatican City, Apr 27, 2017 / 07:25 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday Pope Francis met with members of the U.S.-based Papal Foundation, telling them that in a world full of desperation, their charitable assistance helps the Church spread a message of hope to those most in need.

“Today’s world, so often torn by violence, greed and indifference, greatly needs our witness to the Gospel message of hope in the redemptive and reconciling power of God’s love,” he said April 27.

He voiced his gratitude to the organization “for your desire to assist the Church’s efforts to proclaim that message of hope to the ends of the earth and to work for the spiritual and material advancement of our brothers and sisters throughout the world, especially in developing countries.”

Pope Francis met with members of the Philadelphia-based charitable organization Thursday morning in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace. They are gathered in Rome April 26-29 for their annual pilgrimage, during which they present the Pope with their annual contribution to his charities.

The Papal Foundation was established by U.S. Catholics in 1988 under St. John Paul II, to whom it offered its first donation of financial support in April 1990.

Since then, the organization, according to their website, has provided more than $111 million in grants and scholarships, the funds of which go toward building up the Church, educating and preparing leaders, and caring for vulnerable people, both young and old, throughout the world.

The primary purpose of the organization is to provide financial support for the Pope’s charities, with the commitment “to walk in union with the Holy Father and the Magisterium of the Church as we bring the love of Christ to a world in need.”

In 2015, the Papal Foundation awarded almost $15 million in grants and scholarships to various projects around the world, including to churches, seminaries, schools, hospitals, convents and monasteries, and in the areas of humanitarian aid, communications, and education.

Last year the foundation donated a whopping $10 million to support the Pope’s numerous global charitable initiatives.

In his speech, Pope Francis said he was happy to greet the group on their visit, particularly in the joy of the Easter season, when the Church “celebrates the Lord’s victory over death and his gift of new life in the Holy Spirit.”

“It is my hope that your pilgrimage to the Eternal City will strengthen you in faith and hope, and in your commitment to promote the Church’s mission by supporting so many religious and charitable causes close to the heart of the Pope,” he said.

“Each of us, as a living member of Christ’s body, is called to foster the unity and peace that is the Father’s will, in Christ, for our human family and all its members,” he continued.

Francis then said a “vital” part of their commitment to the work of the foundation is to pray for “the needs of the poor, the conversion of hearts, the spread of the Gospel, and the Church’s growth in holiness and missionary zeal.”

He also asked them to not forget to pray for him.

“Dear friends, with these words of encouragement, and with great affection, I commend you and your families to the loving intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church,” he concluded. “To all of you I impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of abiding joy and peace in the Lord.”

Court ruling could yank funds for non-Catholics at Catholic schools in Canada

Regina, Canada, Apr 27, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Non-Catholic students at Catholic schools in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan will not receive taxpayer funding, a judge ruled last week.

The Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association criticized the April 20 ruling, saying Catholic school divisions have “the right to decide to admit non-Catholic students” and to determine the extent to which their admission allows them to have “a truly authentic faith-based Catholic school system.”

“Our faith is a journey that includes inquiry of non-Catholics and growth of existing members. This requires inclusion and a welcoming spirit,” the school boards association said in a letter responding to the decision.

The association charged that the complaint threatens parents’ choices and limits the choices of non-Catholic parents.

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Donald Layh ruled that any provincial government funding would violate Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the state’s duty of religious neutrality, and equality rights.

The ruling will take effect in July 2018.

The decision concerned a lawsuit between the Good Spirit School Division and the Christ the Teacher Catholic Separate School Division, the Canadian site Global News reports.

The lawsuit challenged the creation of a separate school division in 2003 in the village of Theodore, 130 miles northeast of Regina, before the village’s public school closed.

Some parents of non-Catholic students decided to send their children to the local Catholic school instead of busing them to a public school in another town.

A local public school division filed a legal complaint against the Catholic school division and the provincial government in 2005. The complaint charged that the funding was unconstitutional and wrongly put the Catholic school in the role of a public school. Funding of non-Catholic students at the Catholic school constituted discrimination against public schools, the complaint said.

The complaint also charged that the creation of the new school division was not qualified. It charged that the division was created to prevent the public school from closing.

Tom Fortosky, the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association president, said the association was “obviously disappointed” by the decision and was evaluating its response.

“This has already been a 12-year journey instigated by the public boards, and we don’t have much of an appetite to spend more on legal defense,” he said April 20. “However, we have an obligation to stand up for the constitutional rights of separate school divisions, so we are giving serious consideration to an appeal.”

Saskatchewan's head of government, Premier Brad Wall, has said the ruling “is not good news” for the province's students. “Consider the implications here … you could have massively overpopulated public schools and empty or near-empty separate schools. You could actually risk the viability of community schools because there's a number of people who will choose to send their students to the school closest to them.”

“We want to give parents as much choice as possible," Wall said April 24. “That's where we will stand on this issue and we're going to work to be able to preserve that stance.”

New study: Birth control pills reduce women's well-being

Stockholm, Sweden, Apr 27, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new Swedish study has shown that women who are taking the contraceptive pill might be putting themselves at risk for decreasing their overall health and well-being.
 
Mood swings, energy level shifts, and a “significantly lower” quality of  life were the reported side effects of the contraceptive pill when the three-month study had concluded.
 
“Despite the fact that an estimated 100 million women around the world use contraceptive pills we know surprisingly little today about the pill's effect on women's health,” said Professor Angelica Linden Hirschberg, one of the study’s leaders, according to the Karolinska Institute.
 
“The scientific base is very limited as regards the contraceptive pill’s effect on quality of life and depression and there is a great need for randomized studies where it is compared to placebos,” Dr. Hirschberg continued.
 
The study that explored the side effects of contraception was conducted by the Karolinska Institute and Stockholm School of Economics, and included 340 healthy women between the age of 18-35. Their findings were recently published in the scientific journal “Fertility and Sterility.”
 
A randomized group of women in the study were given a placebo pill, and the other group was given a common contraceptive pill with levonorgestrel and ethniylestradoil. Both groups of women and the leaders of the study were unaware of which pills the women were taking.
 
Compared to the placebo group, the women taking the pill reported back saying their self-control, vitality and moods were all impacted by the contraception, and noted that their quality of life plunged significantly.
 
“This possible degradation of quality of life should be paid attention to and taken into account in conjunctions with prescribing of contraceptive pills and when choosing a method of contraception,” stated Niklas Zethraeus, one of the study’s co-authors, according to the Independent.
 
While most women are aware that some side effects come will taking contraceptive pills, more and more studies are showing just how negative the impact can be.
 
Last year, a popular Danish study reported the adverse connection between hormonal birth control and depression, which linked women on the pill to a subsequent use of anti-depressants.
 
While this particular Swedish study did not pick up on any increase in depression, the researchers did note that contraception cannot be generalized and that different pills carry different side effects.
 
“All types of hormonal contraception have advantages and disadvantages. This possible effect on life quality adds to this knowledge and could be of particular importance for women who have experienced negative mood symptoms previously,” Dr. Hirschberg stated.
 
For the over 100 million users of contraceptive pills, the study’s researchers suggested that the negative life quality impact could be of “clinical importance” for women, and is something that women should be aware of.  

Pope donates rent for beach serving people with disabilities

Vatican City, Apr 27, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has donated the rent for a private Italian beach that allows disabled people to enjoy the shore, the charity that manages the project announced this week.

The group Work of Love, a Catholic non-profit, has rented part of the Little Madonna beach located near Rome since 2012 in an effort to give disabled people better access to the beach. It is equipped with ramps, walkways and specialized beach chairs and water-friendly wheelchairs, and includes amenities such as a snack bar, changing rooms, and showers.

The beach is run by a group of volunteers and specialized FINP (Italian Swimming Federation Paralympic) staff and is open every day of the week during peak summer swimming season.

Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, told CNN Pope Francis gave the group an undisclosed sum to "support the project that helps disabled youth and in particular to cover the cost of the annual rent for the beach known as the Little Madonna."

The beach is the only one of its kind in the region, and was created to allow all people to enjoy the beach “without architectural and mental barriers,” the group states on their site.

In a statement, the charity said they received the donation with "enthusiasm and astonishment."

It is not the first time Pope Francis has sponsored trips to the beach. Last summer, Archbishop Krajewski told Vatican Insider that the Holy Father had been treating Rome’s homeless to beach trips followed by pizza parties, sometimes with the Pope himself serving up a slice.

He said the van would take about 10 people each day to go swimming on the Italian coast, nearly 20 miles from Rome. The archbishop drove the van, while passengers sang and listened to the radio. At the beach, each guest was offered a swimsuit and towel and afterwards was treated to pizza.

“We certainly are not saving the world with some of these initiatives, we are not solving the problems of the homeless in Rome, but at least we are restoring to them a little dignity,” Archbishop Krajewski said at the time.

Other initiatives carried out by Archbishop Krajewski on behalf of the Pope include a dormitory, barber services and showers for those in need. In 2015, the Pope invited a group of homeless people in Rome to the Sistine Chapel. In 2016, he invited 2,000 homeless people and migrants to the circus. Pope Francis also sent an electronic scooter to an elderly couple with disabilities, who had difficulty getting around. He has also given Christmas gifts to poor migrants and umbrellas to the homeless.