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Erie diocese dropped from suit charging Bishop Trautman with abuse cover-up in NY

CNA Staff, Jul 9, 2020 / 11:42 am (CNA).- The Diocese of Erie has been dropped as a defendant in a lawsuit against Bishop Donald Trautman and the Diocese of Buffalo which claims they covered up a priest’s sex abuse of a 10-year-old boy in the mid-1980s.

  The suit, filed in January, concerns actions that Trautman allegedly took while serving in the curia of the Buffalo diocese. After his time in Buffalo, Trautman was Bishop of Erie.

The Erie diocese had asked to be removed from the suit, saying that the claims against Trautman concern only his time in Buffalo.

“The Erie Diocese has absolutely no relationship whatsoever to this case,” it said in a dismissal request filed May 18.

According to the Erie Times-News, the plaintiff agreed May 29 to discontinue the claim against the Erie diocese, though the plaintiff will not be paying the diocese’s legal fees, as it had requested.

Trautman, 84, is the Bishop Emeritus of Erie. He served in various roles in the Buffalo diocese under Bishop Edward Head, including chancellor and vicar general. He was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the diocese in 1985. He was Bishop of Erie from 1990 to 2012. He has denied accusations he has ever covered up abuse.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit was born in 1974. The lawsuit said the plaintiff was abused multiple times by Fr. Gerard Smyczynski, a priest of the Buffalo diocese, for about a year, starting when he was a ten-year-old student and altar boy. According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff met the priest at Infant of Prague Catholic Church and school in Cheektowaga, New York.

The lawsuit alleges that Trautman knew of the priest’s abuse and failed to investigate and report it. It alleges that he and the diocese “participated in covering up such heinous acts by moving errant priests and clergy members from assignment to assignment, thereby putting children in harm’s way.”

Fr. Smyczynski lost his faculties in 1985. His name is on the Buffalo diocese’s list of credibly accused clergy. The priest died in 1999.

The lawsuit further accuses Trautman of expediting an annulment for a member of the plaintiff’s family “with the hope of ensuring their silence about the abuses perpetrated by Fr. Smyczynski and covering up those abuses.”

One of the plaintiff’s lawyers said Trautman made a “paltry” settlement with the plaintiff that “amounts to hush money.” The sum was four figures and allegedly an inducement not to share their story. He alleged that this allowed the priest to abuse at least one other child.

He accused Trautman of hastening the annulment of the plaintiff’s parents.

The lawsuit’s original claims about the Erie diocese did not include improper handling of abuse. Rather, it claimed that the diocese was implicated in the alleged cover-up because Trautman was its bishop and he “perpetrated” a policy to cover up abuse.

It had charged that Trautman “took his playbook of covering up clergy abuse from Buffalo, New York, to Erie, Pennsylvania… where he continued to carry out the aforesaid cover up for decades.”

The lawsuit takes advantage of the Child Victims Act, which created a new legal window for sex abuse victims to sue regardless of statutes of limitations.

Bishop Trautman in March filed a request to have the suit dismissed, and is challenging the Child Victims Act.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Shapiro criticized Trautman at an August 2018 press conference releasing his grand jury report on clergy sex abuse. He alleged that the bishop failed aggressively to pursue an abuser. He has charged that the Erie diocese under Trautman curbed its investigation of sex abuse claims to wait out the statute of limitations.

Trautman in his responses to the attorney general said the claims were “baseless.” He said he did not condone or enable such abuse during his tenure leading the Diocese of Erie, and he stressed his support for abuse victims and said the report does not fully or accurately assess his record. He cited a Pennsylvania Supreme Court finding that the grand jury process suffers “limitations upon its truth-finding capabilities” and lacked “basic fairness.”

Shapiro’s report, released in August 2018, claimed to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 301 credibly accused priests in Pennsylvania. It presented a devastating portrait of alleged efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations—either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.

Trautman had caused controversy by criticizing the report.
“We should not be so naive as to accept every government
report every attorney general report as being totally accurate or honest and I wouldn’t cite the Philadelphia Inquirer or Boston Globe as sources of confident information,” he said at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ general assembly in fall 2018.

Bishop Persico, his successor in Erie, has been publicly supportive of abuse victims. He said Trautman spoke as a retired bishop, adding, “he doesn’t represent the diocese so what he’s doing is giving his opinion.”

The attorney general report has come under criticism from longtime Catholic commentator Peter Steinfels. In a lengthy essay published in January 2019 by the magazine Commonweal, Steinfels argued that many of the report’s charges are “grossly misleading, irresponsible, inaccurate, and unjust.” He said the report deserved more thorough scrutiny and said its “sensational charges” have been too easily accepted.

Biden plans to end contraception exemption for Little Sisters

CNA Staff, Jul 9, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Former vice president Joe Biden pledged on Wednesday to reinstate Obama-era policies that would require the Little Sisters of the Poor to ensure access to birth control and abortifacients for employees in violation of their religious beliefs. 

Biden, who is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, made the promise July 8, following the Supreme Court decision in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor in the case Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, which upheld an exemption for the sisters from the “contraception mandate” which obliges employers to provide for contraceptive coverage for employees through their health care plans.

“If I am elected I will restore the Obama-Biden policy that existed before the [Supreme Court’s 2014] Hobby Lobby ruling: providing an exemption for houses of worship and an accommodation for nonprofit organizations with religious missions,” said Biden in a statement released by his campaign. 

“This accommodation will allow women at these organizations to access contraceptive coverage, not through their employer-provided plan, but instead through their insurance company or a third-party administrator.” 

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law in 2010, while Biden was serving as vice president. On August 1, 2011, then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebellius announced an interim final rule that required all ACA-compliant insurance plans to cover at least one form of female birth control, including sterilization. At the time the bill was voted on and signed, there was no contraception mandate included.

The rule, finalized on January 20, 2012, contained a narrow religious exemption to the mandate which only covered employees of a church or religious organization. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious order dedicated to serving the elderly poor, were one of many groups who were not covered under the religious exemption because they do not exclusively employ or serve Catholics. 

The Little Sisters of the Poor have repeatedly stated that authorizing a “third-party administrator” to provide birth control to their employees is still a violation of their beliefs and is not an acceptable compromise. 

Following an initial 2016 appeal to the Supreme Court, in 2017, the Trump administration granted a religious and moral exemption to the mandate for the sisters and other objecting groups. Several states filed lawsuits saying that the executive action shifted the burden of providing coverage onto the states and claimed the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act in setting up the exemption.

On Wednesday, the court found that the Trump administration “had the statutory authority to craft that exemption, as well as the contemporaneously issued moral exemption,” and “that the rules promulgating these exemptions are free from procedural defects.”

The court’s decision only found in favor of the executive action excusing the sisters and others with conscience objections – action that could be revoked or reversed by a subsequent administration. 

On Wednesday, Biden, who has campaigned on the importance of his Catholic faith, said he did not agree with either the court’s decision or the exemption for the sisters, adding that there is “a clear path to fixing it: electing a new President who will end Donald Trump’s ceaseless attempts to gut every aspect of the Affordable Care Act.”  

“I am disappointed in today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that will make it easier for the Trump-Pence Administration to continue to strip health care from women--attempting to carve out broad exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s commitment to giving all women free access to recommended contraception,” said Biden.

Are Catholic flame wars evangelizing online? Bishop Barron says ‘no’ 

CNA Staff, Jul 8, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- A California bishop challenged Catholics online to “cut it out” and better represent their Christian faith through their social media engagement.

On Tuesday, Bishop Robert Barron, an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, issued a “pastoral cry of the heart” to encourage Catholics to stop tearing each other apart online and instead provide well structured and charitable arguments.

“I understand that people are passionate, especially about religious matters, but when it comes to this commentary we always must keep truth and love in the forefront,” he said.

Speaking of social media, Barron said that “I must admit the vitriol, negativity, personal attacks, and outright calumny that come regularly from self-professed Catholics is dismaying and disedifying in the extreme.”

The video message followed a June 24 article Barron had written, which he said the drew unhealthy criticism from mobs of Catholics who responded not with arguments, but with vicious insults. For four days, the bishop had to assign co-workers to assess and remove disturbing comments from his different social media pages, he said.

“In the wake of my article,” he said, “armies of commenters, encouraged by certain internet provocateurs, inundated my Twitter and all my social media sites with wave upon wave of the most hateful, vituperative, venomous words that you can imagine.”

“I was called spineless, gutless, cowardly, and that’s just to mention the most benign and unobscene remarks.”

In the article, “Why ‘what are the bishops doing about it?’ is the wrong question,” Barron noted Catholics had been calling for a greater contribution from the bishops against racial injustices, including the death of George Floyd.

He said bishops are lobbying politicians, encouraging legislative changes, and calling on community leaders. However, he said there must be footwork done by the laity as well.

“The crisis precipitated by the brutal killing of George Floyd is one that involves many dimensions of our society: law, the police, education, government, neighborhoods, families, etc. Priests and bishops, to be sure, ought to teach clearly and publicly,” he wrote.

“But I would argue that the lion’s share of the work regarding this massive societal problem belongs to those whose proper arena is the society and whose expertise lies precisely in the relevant areas of concern, namely, the laity.”

As a public figure on social media, Barron said in his recent video, he expects vocal opposition and even welcomes well-formed criticism. He said even the most finely articulated demonstration is susceptible to objections and new suggestions.

But the comments he received last week were a “moral outrage,” he said. Rather than challenges offered in love and truth, the comments were “calumny” - mean spirited accusations that violate both charity and justice.

“There is a sharp distinction between legitimate argument and calumny. A real argument, involving the marshaling of evidence, the citation of authorities, the fair and careful reporting of one’s opponent’s position, etc, is morally praiseworthy,” he said.

“For real argument fosters both truth and love. It seeks to shed light on what is really the case - truth - and to invite others to see more clearly - it’s a type of love. Calumny, on the other hand, is indifferent to truth and inimical to love.”

Among those with whom Barron has clashed in recent weeks is author and YouTube commentator Taylor Marshall, whose book “Infiltration,” claims to outline a plot by which “Modernists and Marxists hatched a plan to subvert the Catholic Church from within. Their goal: to change Her doctrine, Her liturgy, and Her mission,” according to the book’s website.

Marshall has said that bishops should lead defenses of sacred statues at risk of being torn down by rioters. After the bishop blocked Marshall on Twitter, the author has also criticized Barron’s response to criticism.

“What we see here is kinda tone deaf. We feel like we have been bullied, and pushed down and lied to by our bishops for decades,” Marshall said in a July 8 video. 

In the face of attacks against Catholic statues, “we’re looking for the bishops to do something….So when we hear ‘that’s the laity’s job,’ that really ticked off a lot of people, Bishop Barron.”

Marshall said those engaging with the bishop disrespectfully should repent, but also that Barron seems not to understand the frustration of him and his supporters. “That is why you had to make a video yesterday.”

Marshall disputed the idea that he encouraged his supporters to attack Barron online, “but what you saw, Bishop Barron, were tens and tens of thousands of Catholics who want to support you outraged - is that too strong a word?-  confused, bothered, that the bishop who has the biggest platform and the biggest voice would say ‘that’s the laity’s job!’ or ‘Vatican II taught that the secular arena belongs to the laity.’”

In his video, Marshall subsequently criticized Barron because he said that the bishop did not condemn “the sin of idolatry” during the 2019 Amazon synod, and that he did not believe Barron had vigorously enough defended the institution of marriage at the time of the Obergefell vs. Hodges decision. He added that the reason “trolls” antagonize Barron is because he is not sufficiently accessible to answer questions about such criticisms.

Marshall and Barron have clashed previously over theological issues. Marshall has recently criticized other bishops for their response to the coronavirus pandemic, among other things, and is affiliated with the priestly Society of St. Pius X, a traditionalist group in “irregular communion” with the Catholic Church. Barron has reportedly described Marshall as an “extremist.”

In his video, Barron said that online mob comments and abusive reviews do not help promote change but are, instead, anti-evangelical. If non-Catholics who are curious about the faith were to observe such behavior, he said, they would be repelled by the insidious comments of Catholics toward their pastors.

Catholics should be examples of charity, and model respectful disagreement within the Catholic community.

“As Tertullian reminded us long ago, what first attracted many pagans to Christianity was the obvious love that Christians showed to one another,” he said.

“Catholics on social media,” Barron concluded, “you need to pick up your game”


What the Supreme Court ministerial exception ruling could mean for LGBT employment lawsuits

Washington D.C., Jul 8, 2020 / 04:59 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court’s ruling today on ministerial exception should encourage Catholic schools expecting teachers to live out Church doctrine on matters of sexual morality, two religious liberty lawyers suggested.

“There’s a lot of public pressure right now on Catholic schools, and on Catholic charities and the Church as a whole, to give up their teaching on marriage and human sexuality,” said John Bursch, Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy at Alliance Defending Freedom.

He told CNA he hopes today’s ruling will embolden the Church - and particularly Catholic schools - to expect their communities to live in accordance with Church teaching.

“This should give them a degree of confidence they maybe didn’t have before, that they will have legal protection when they do that,” Bursch said.

In a 7-2 decision on Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that two Catholic school teachers in California are covered by the legal doctrine of “ministerial exception,” which prohibits government interference in religious organizations’ hiring and firing decisions regarding ministers.

The case, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, involved two teachers in California Catholic schools whose contracts were not renewed. In separate cases combined by the Supreme Court, the teachers alleged that their dismissals were based on disability and age, not poor performance. The schools claimed they were exempt from employment discrimination laws under the principle of “ministerial exception.”

At the heart of the case was a question over what constituted a “minister.” In the 2012 Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC decision, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld ministerial exception in the case of a teacher at a Lutheran school who was commissioned and given the title of “minister.” In today’s ruling, the justices determined that ministerial exception also applied to the Catholic school teachers in question. They noted that even through the teachers were not given the formal title of “minister” or the same level of formal training, the essence of their job was the same as in the Hosanna-Tabor case - to transmit the faith to students.

Adele Keim, an attorney with the religious freedom legal group Becket, said the court’s decision reinforced the idea that “government should not be in the business of telling religious schools who is qualified to teach the faith to their students.”

Keim, who worked on the case, told CNA this is a “common-sense principle” rooted in the First Amendment, which helps to ensure a healthy separation of church and state.

For decades, she said, courts have recognized that Title VII employment discrimination law does not apply in certain cases involving religious institutions.

This principle is important in cases of sexual morality. Last month, the Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that employers cannot fire employees on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, Keim noted that the majority ruling in Bostock gave a nod to religious freedom, acknowledging that there are a special set of legal doctrines that operate in the case of religious organizations, and explicitly mentioning ministerial exception as one of them.

“There’s a protected sphere that gives religious organizations independence in deciding who’s going to carry out core religious functions. And so Title VII doesn’t come in there,” she said.

“If you can show that the employee is carrying out important religious functions, then that’s an area where the state just has to stay out.”

In several high-profile cases in recent years, teachers at Catholic schools who have entered civil same-sex marriages have been fired.

Bursch said today’s ruling could protect schools from lawsuits in these situations, provided they could show that the teachers in question were expected to transmit the faith to students.

“If the teacher is considered a minister at that school, as the Catholic teachers were in the two schools that the court decided today, then Title VII would not apply, no matter what the claim is,” he said. “The ministerial exception simply says that the federal government can’t be involved in regulating appointment law when it comes to religious institutions and their ministers. So the Bostock decision would not apply.”

Non-teacher employees would be similarly evaluated, with courts looking at their job responsibilities to determine whether the role is ministerial in nature. For example, a school janitor who is only present in the building outside of normal school hours and is not responsible for transmitting the faith would likely not be considered ministerial in nature, he said.

In one case in Indianapolis last year, two guidance counselors were dismissed from a local Catholic school for entering civil same-sex marriages, and a social worker then lost her job after publicly defending them.

Bursch said employment decisions such as these would be evaluated based on what the expectations of the employees are, and what job responsibilities they have.

For a guidance counselor, courts may consider questions such as, “Do they have any kind of religious or theological education or training? Is it expected that they’re going to transmit principles of the Catholic faith to students as they work through issues? Are they going to encourage students to consider religious vocations, such as being Catholic priests or being nuns?”

“The more of those types of things you have, the more likely it is that the court would consider the counselor a minister,” Bursch said.

“Each [case] will be a facts and circumstances examination of how much that person is expected to help carry on the faith to others. And if there’s a lot of that, they’re almost certainly a minister. If there’s none of that, then they almost certainly would not be,” he added.

The same principles apply to other Catholic organizations as well, he said. For example, a Catholic Charities social worker who is instructed to avoid religious conversations in his or her work with foster families would likely not be considered a minister. In contrast, a social worker who is instructed to spread the Gospel, and to encourage Mass attendance, prayer, and Catholic schools is more likely to be considered a minister.

“It would all depend on what the organization expects of that person in their job responsibilities,” Bursch stressed.

He also commented on the morality clauses added into teaching contracts in some Catholic dioceses, indicating that teachers accept and agree to publicly abide by Church teaching.

“Even before Our Lady of Guadalupe, they should feel pretty good about those clauses because an employment relationship is at-will,” he said. “[T]he courts have long recognized that wholly apart from the ministerial exception, a religious organization has the ability to hire individuals who share that organization’s faith beliefs. But I think having Our Lady of Guadalupe in place should help them feel even better about those types of clauses.”

Keim agreed that today’s ruling is reassuring for religious schools who ask teachers to abide by basic moral tenets.

“I think the Supreme Court has been very clear,” she said. “Two cases in eight years that have said resoundingly that ‘educating and forming students in the Catholic faith are vital religious duties’…If someone’s engaged in that process, the court has spoken twice and spoken very loudly, 9-0 and 7-2, those are areas where the state cannot be in the business of picking religion teachers.”

Trump administration starts withdrawal from WHO

Denver Newsroom, Jul 8, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- The United States will withdraw from the World Health Organization by July 6, 2021, the Trump administration has told the WHO, launching a yearlong process that will likely require approval from Congress and President Donald Trump’s re-election if it is to come to completion.
While the move would end the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money to the WHO, withdrawal does not necessarily mean a reduction in overall global health aid, Elyssa Koren, director of United Nations advocacy at ADF International, told CNA July 7.
“Withdrawal from the WHO does not mean that the U.S. has stopped prioritizing humanitarian assistance, in particular COVID-19 relief, but that instead it can channel these funds directly without going through the U.N.,” Koren said.
A draft appropriations bill in Congress would increase overall money for U.S. development spending, and allocate another $10 billion for coronavirus assistance, she added in a July 8 essay in Newsweek.
President Donald Trump said he would withdraw from the WHO in a May 29 Rose Garden media briefing. He charged that the agency failed to alert the world when the novel coronavirus emerged. He accused the U.N. agency of helping China cover up the threat.
The claims of a cover-up have been questioned by experts, including a report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
In April, Trump put a temporary freeze on U.S. funds during a review of U.S. membership. The U.S. had typically given $400 million per year to the organization, whose budget is about $4.8 billion annually.
Former vice-president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, rejected the withdrawal effort.
“Americans are safer when America is engaged in strengthening global health,” Biden said on Twitter July 7. “On my first day as President, I will rejoin the WHO and restore our leadership on the world stage.”
A State Department spokesperson explained the Trump administration’s perspective.
“The President has been clear that the WHO needs to get its act together. That starts with demonstrating significant progress and the ability to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks with transparency and accountability,” a State Department spokesperson told CNBC July 7.
“The United States will continue efforts to reform the WHO and other international organizations to ensure they operate with transparency, fulfill their mandates, and hold governments accountable for their commitments under international law,” the spokesperson said.
While Koren has backed defunding, rather than disengaging, from the WHO, she characterized the possible end of a U.S. relationship with the WHO as “an important step for the protection of American interests.”
“The U.S. spent $900 million on the organization last year alone, and given significant evidence of WHO dysfunction, it is clear that U.S. funds are better spent elsewhere,” she told CNA.
There are no reports that the Trump administration action is motivated by abortion.
However, Koren, a longtime observer of abortion issues at the U.N., said there is further reason for the U.S. to withdraw given “mounting proof that the WHO is promoting abortion under the guise of coronavirus relief.”
The WHO’s coronavirus pandemic plans for Ecuador includes Minimum Initial Service Packages from the United Nations Population Fund, which include instruments used in the context of abortion: vacuum extractors, craniocrasts for the crushing of fetal skills, and drugs to perform abortions. The equipment comes with manuals from the abortion support organization Ipas, which explain how the equipment can be used for abortion.
“The U.S. is prohibited from the funding of abortion abroad, thus rendering the relationship with the organization untenable,” Koren said.
Given recent years’ U.S. leadership on pro-life protections at the United Nations, Koren said that as the U.S. withdraws from the WHO it should “seek avenues to maintain engagement across the U.N. system in the interest of the pro-life cause and other American priorities.” “Continued pressure for reform is needed for the longevity of the international human rights project,” she said.
After the president’s May 29 media briefing, the State Department began redirecting funds away from the WHO, instead giving the funds to other global health organizations, CNBC reports.
The withdrawal has drawn criticism from Congress, including Republicans in the House of Representatives. They have said the U.S. would be able to have a larger impact on the response to the novel coronavirus epidemic as part of the organization.
It is unclear whether Trump has the authority to withdraw unilaterally from the WHO. The draft 2021 foreign aid bill of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriations would renew $200 million in WHO funding.
Koren, writing in Newsweek, has said the draft bill’s provision to give $55.5 million to the UNFPA would violate the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which bars U.S. funds for organizations with links to forced abortion.
Some reports have called into question Trump's claim that the U.N. agency was involved in cover-up. On June 2 the Associated Press reported that while WHO publicly praised China's response to the new coronavirus, it encountered significant delays in collecting data from the Chinese government. WHO officials were frustrated they did not get the information they needed.
Experts have debated whether WHO should have been more confrontational, or whether that approach would have put it at risk of being kicked out of China.
WHO has agreed to an independent probe of how it handled the global pandemic.
A Department of Homeland Security report dated May 1, acquired by the Associated Press, showed that some U.S. officials believe China covered up the extent of the outbreak and the contagiousness of the new coronavirus in order to stock up on medical supplies.


Editor's note, 2020 July 9 1035: A previous version of this article indicated that manuals accompanying instruments used in abortion from the UNPF came from the group IBIS, rather than Ipas. It has been corrected.

Kanye West says Planned Parenthoods 'do the devil’s work'

CNA Staff, Jul 8, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- American hip-hop singer Kanye West has denounced the nation’s largest abortion provider as racist and demonic after announcing an unexpected run for the Oval Office on July 4. 

Excerpts and a summary of an interview with Forbes magazine were published on Wednesday, four days after West announced on Twitter that he would run for president. 

“Planned Parenthood [clinics] have been placed inside cities by white supremacists to do the devil’s work,” said West, referring to allegations that the nation’s largest abortion chain intentionally focuses on offering abortions to women of color. 

Nia Martin-Robinson, Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s director of Black Leadership and Engagement rejected West’s assertion, telling celebrity news website The Blast that “Black women are free to make our own decisions about our bodies and pregnancies, and want and deserve to have access to the best medical care available.” 

Martin-Robinson said that “any insinuation that abortion is Black genocide is offensive and infantalizing,” and that black communities are more threatened due to a “lack of access to quality, affordable health care, police violence and the criminalization of reprooductive health care” by pro-life activists.

Planned Parenthood performs approximately 345,000 abortions in the United States each year. In 2016, the Guttmacher Institute found that Black women had 28% of the nation’s abortions, despite being approximately 14% of the population. 

Planned Parenthood was founded by noted eugenicist Margaret Sanger, who once said that “before eugenists and others who are laboring for racial betterment can succeed, they must first clear the way for birth control. Like the advocates of birth control, the eugenists, for instance, are seeking to assist the race toward the elimination of the unfit.”

Planned Parenthood has come under renewed scrutiny regarding racial issues in recent weeks. The CEO of Planned Parenthood’s largest affiliate, Planned Parenthood Greater New York, recently left the company after complaints that she mistreated Black employees and had a “Trumpian” style of leadership. 

In Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores condemned the organization on July 4 after they used a racial slur in its attack ad against a pro-life state senator of Mexican descent. Flores said he was “not surprised” by the attack on the pro-life record of state Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.

For his part, West affirmed that he is “pro-life, because I’m following the word of the Bible,” and that he is against the death penalty. Previously, the rapper, who has released an album titled Jesus is King, has spoken out in favor of abortion rights.

During the interview, West offered less mainstream views on other topics, especially vaccines. The singer said he believes a coronavirus vaccine could be part of a global plot to implant microchips in the human population during the discussion of his political motivations and ambitions.

West said that he had contracted coronavirus in February, and that he was not in favor of a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine, or any vaccines, and voiced his support for a number of conspiracy theories on the subject. 

“It’s so many of our children that are being vaccinated and paralyzed… So when they say the way we’re going to fix Covid is with a vaccine, I’m extremely cautious. That’s the mark of the beast,” said West, referring apparently to an interpretation of Revelation 13:16-17 prominent among some vaccine opponents.  

West further also said that “they” - he did not specify who -  had a plan to implant microchips in the global population and “to do all kinds of things, to make it where we can’t cross the gates of heaven.” He also said he believes that the coronavirus was sent from God as a punishment to humanity. 

“We pray. We pray for the freedom. It’s all about God. We need to stop doing things that make God mad,” said West. 

In the past, West has spoken openly about his struggles with bipolar disorder, a condition for which he has said he is under a doctor’s care. On the cover of his 2018  album “Ye”, West included the statement “I hate being bi-polar it’s awesome.”

Regarding his presidential ambitions, West said that he would work to “reinstate in God’s state, in God’s country, the fear and love of God in all schools and organizations,” and that he believes that the devil is behind spikes in the suicide and murder rate in his hometown of Chicago.

“The human beings working for the devil removed God and prayer from the schools,” said West, adding “that means more drugs, more murders, more suicide.”

West said that if President Donald Trump were not the incumbent, he would run as a Republican, but that instead he will run as an independent candidate. While he is no longer a vocal Trump supporter, West said that Trump “is the closest president we’ve had in years to allowing God to still be part of the conversation.”

At the 2015 MTV Music Video Awards, while accepting the lifetime achievement Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, West announced that he would be running for president in 2020. Following Trump’s election in 2016, West amended his plans to say he would now run in 2024. 

In the interview with Forbes, he stated that he believes that “God appoints the president” and that if he were to win in 2020, it would be the result of God appointing him as president.

'We are overjoyed': Little Sisters of the Poor react to Supreme Court decision

CNA Staff, Jul 8, 2020 / 10:40 am (CNA).- Catholic leaders and religious liberty advocates have welcomed the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor on Wednesday, calling it a victory for freedom of conscience and the freedom of religious people to serve the poor.

“We are overjoyed that, once again, the Supreme Court has protected our right to serve the elderly without violating our faith,” said Mother Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters in a statement July 8.

“Our life’s work and great joy is serving the elderly poor and we are so grateful that the contraceptive mandate will no longer steal our attention from our calling.”

The Little Sisters’ victory at the Supreme Court on Wednesday comes nine years into their legal fight against the Obama-era “contraception mandate” which obliges employers to provide cost-free coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and “emergency birth control” in employee health plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

In 2017, the Trump administration granted a religious and moral exemption to the mandate for the sisters and other objecting groups, but then states including Pennsylvania and California filed lawsuits saying that the burden of providing coverage was being shifted onto the states and claiming that the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act in setting up the exemption.

On Wednesday, the court found that the Trump administration “had the statutory authority to craft that exemption, as well as the contemporaneously issued moral exemption,” and “that the rules promulgating these exemptions are free from procedural defects.”

Mark Rienzi, president of Becket, the religious freedom legal group which represented the sisters, said Wednesday that “America deserves better than petty governments harassing nuns.”

“The court did the right thing by protecting the Little Sisters from an unnecessary mandate that would have gutted their ministry,” Rienzi said. “Governments don’t need nuns to distribute contraceptives. But they do need religious groups to care for the elderly, heal the sick and feed the hungry.”

Referring to the states of California and Pennsylvania, which initiated the latest round of legal action against the sisters, he said that “these governments all have real work they ought to be doing rather than dividing people with old and unnecessary culture wars.”

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty committee, also issued a statement together with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, who chairs the committee on pro-life activities, calling the verdict “welcome.”

“This is a saga that did not need to occur. Contraception is not health care, and the government should never have mandated that employers provide it in the first place,” the bishops wrote.

“There were multiple opportunities for government officials to do the right thing and exempt conscientious objectors,” they said. “Time after time, administrators and attorneys refused to respect the rights of the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the Catholic faith they exemplify, to operate in accordance with the truth about sex and the human person.”

The bishops said that the Little Sisters are “committed to building a culture of life. They care for the elderly poor. They uphold human dignity. They follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Church. The government has no right to force a religious order to cooperate with evil.”

The court’s decision Wednesday was widely hailed as a final victory for the sisters after nearly a decade of legal battles, including two trips to the Supreme Court. However, the court’s decision only found in favor of the executive action excusing the sisters and others with conscience objections – action that could be revoked or reversed by a subsequent administration.

The bishops ended their statement on a note of caution:

“We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision. We hope it brings a close to this episode of government discrimination against people of faith. Yet, considering the efforts we have seen to force compliance with this mandate, we must continue to be vigilant for religious freedom.”

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