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San Diego Catholic Charities struggles with security risks after accusation of ‘smuggling’

Asylum seekers wait in line to be processed by the Border Patrol at a makeshift camp near the U.S.-Mexico border east of Jacumba, San Diego County, California, Jan. 2, 2024. / Credit: GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, Jun 20, 2024 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

A California Catholic charity has been struggling for weeks to deal with ongoing security risks amid claims that the organization is illegally sheltering and trafficking migrants.

Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego CEO Vino Pajanor told CNA that the ongoing chaos, which includes protests and harassing messages, has been a shock even to workers who have served at the organization for decades.

“They have never seen something like this,” he said.

The difficulties began earlier this year after activist-journalist James O’Keefe reported on what he described as an “illegal immigrant compound” at a Ramada Suites in San Diego. In the video, O’Keefe suggests the facility is involved in the trafficking of illegal immigrants. 

At one point O’Keefe’s team identifies what it claims is a list of “people who run the facility,” which included workers listed with the San Diego Catholic Charities. O’Keefe also posted an organizational chart of the charity group on X.

The New York Times reported on June 2 that Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego began experiencing protests and harassing calls after O’Keefe’s allegations. Pajanor, meanwhile, told CNA this week that the organization is still dealing with those threats. 

“More of [O’Keefe’s] followers” have been demonstrating, he said, “thinking that we are harboring undocumented ‘illegal’ individuals, and that we are smuggling kids and trafficking kids.”

“Protesters have come to our buildings,” he said. “Over the weekend they protested in front of our migrant shelter, blocking our driveway for about an hour, until the local police came by.”

There is no truth, Pajanor said, to the suggestion that the charity is participating in a smuggling scheme. 

“None at all,” he said. “None at all.”

O’Keefe did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Spokeswoman for Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego Kimberly Ortiz told CNA that the charity has “a lease with the hotel and CCDSD does the day-to-day management of the shelter operations.” 

“The hotel management does the janitorial, upkeep, and maintenance of the hotel,” she said. 

‘Exactly what Jesus calls us to do’

For years, San Diego Catholic Charities has offered immigrant services in the Diocese of San Diego. The charity group’s main headquarters is fewer than two dozen miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. 

On its website Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego says it aspires to be “the premier nonprofit provider of immigration services in San Diego and Imperial Counties.” It offers immigrants help with applications and other services with the aim to “enable eligible immigrants to obtain legal immigrant or citizenship status.”

Pajanor said the organization began operating migrant shelters in April 2021 amid a surge of illegal immigration to the U.S. “We’ve always been open about what we’re doing,” he said. 

The organization shared material with CNA showing that it has assisted more than 245,000 individuals since the shelters opened — many from Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil. About 25% have been children.

“Every one of these individuals are processed by [the U.S. Border Patrol],” Pajanor said. “Every one of them has a notice to appear in a court of law. Once they get that notice, Border Patrol releases them to us.” 

“When they come to Catholic Charities, every one of them has a document,” he said. “They’re all documented individuals in the United States. Not a single one is undocumented.” 

“There’s nothing illegal about what Catholic Charities is doing,” he said. “What we are doing is a humanitarian service.”

The CEO said the group has been forced to deal with a logistical headache of security in the months since O’Keefe made his allegations. 

“It made us add more security,” he said, saying the process involves both “unnecessary costs and unnecessary fear for our team members and clients and guests coming to our location.”

“This has cost us unnecessary work and unnecessary expenses while we’re taking care of the people coming to ask us for help,” he said.

Pajanor said the security process is a “constant pain.”

“Every time that a sporadic group wants to protest, we have to add security,” he said. “Either we add security ahead of time or we add it afterwards until it dies down.”

Amid successive years of record illegal immigration, San Diego has lately been at the center of illegal border crossings. U.S. government data show that the city’s border enforcement has encountered more than 220,000 illegal immigrants fiscal year-to-date, seconded only by Tucson. 

Pajanor argued that the immigrant facilities run by the San Diego charity group are addressing both a humanitarian crisis and the local civic emergency of rising homeless populations. 

“We’re preventing them from being homeless in the streets,” he said. “If we’re not involved with Border Patrol to bring them to migrant shelters, those hundreds of individuals every day would end up on the streets of San Diego and add to the homeless population.”

The CEO expressed disappointment over the negative response to its migrant work. 

“Matthew 25 calls us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, and visit prisoners,” he said. “That’s our faith and that’s our belief. And we are doing exactly what Jesus calls us to do.”

“We are here to serve the community,” he said. “Why are they targeting us?”

U.S. bishops issue plea for nonviolence ahead of elections

Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. / Credit: Matt Cashore/Notre Dame de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 20, 2024 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

A leading U.S. bishop issued a statement Wednesday urging Christians “and people of goodwill” to abstain from political violence and resolve differences through dialogue and the voting process.

In the statement titled “‘Pursue What Leads to Peace’: A Christian Response to Rising Threats of Political and Ideological Violence,” Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia warned that violent behavior is “seen by many as an acceptable means for carrying out political or ideological disputes.”

Gudziak, who serves as chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) committee on domestic justice and human development, wrote:

“We pray and urge all Christians and people of goodwill: Abstain from political violence of any kind! Instead, ‘pursue what leads to peace and building up one another’ (Rom 14:19) through dialogue, seeking justice.”

Describing the political climate today, Gudziak wrote that “political speech is often full of insults, fear, anger, and anxiety. Sadly, racism, religious discrimination, and xenophobia are on the rise. People in public office are receiving more death threats than ever before, some of which turn into physical attacks.”

The document references an Axios poll from earlier this year, which showed that 49% of Americans expect there will be violence in response to the results of future presidential elections.

He called on Christians to address others “with the God-given human dignity” of each person when engaging in political discussions.

“It is hypocritical for a Christian to ‘bless the Lord and Father,’” the document continues, “and then turn around and ‘curse human beings who are made in the likeness and image of God’ (Jas 3:9).”

“Between violence and indifference, persistent and humble dialogue is the necessary path to peace,” the statement said.

The statement’s release comes during a tense presidential election year, fewer than five months until the rematch between President Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

“Let us pray, then, that by turning away from violence, away from anger, away from demeaning others who are made in the likeness and image of God, we may work for peace through dialogue and justice,” the statement concludes.

“We pray with trust and thanksgiving that the Lord will bless our country, including our political process, and that ‘the tender mercy of our God’ will ‘guide our feet into the path of peace’ (Lk 1:78-79).”

Former U.S. nuncio Viganò to undergo Church trial for schism, rejecting Pope Francis 

Archbishop Carlo Vigano. / Credit: Edward Pentin/National Catholic Register

CNA Newsroom, Jun 20, 2024 / 14:19 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò on Thursday claimed that the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith has initiated proceedings against him over the alleged crime of schism.

Citing a document he published on his website and posted on social media, the former papal nuncio to the United States wrote that he was summoned to Rome on June 20 to face an extrajudicial penal process for the charges.

“I have been summoned to the Palace of the Holy Office on June 20, in person or represented by a canon lawyer,” the prelate wrote on X. “I assume that the sentence has already been prepared, given that it is an extrajudicial process.”

The specific charges outlined against Viganò involve making public statements that allegedly deny the fundamental elements necessary to maintain communion with the Catholic Church. This includes denying the legitimacy of Pope Francis as the rightful pontiff and outright rejection of the doctrines established during the Second Vatican Council.

Viganò, who served as apostolic nuncio in Washington, D.C., from 2011 to 2016, commented he regarded the accusations against him “as an honor.”

Vatican News reported that the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith has not commented on the alleged proceedings.

CNA contacted the Vatican for confirmation and comment.

Viganò made headlines in 2018 with the allegation — followed up by several letters — that senior prelates had been complicit in covering up alleged sex abuse by former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. He also called on Pope Francis to resign.

According to Vatican News, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said on Thursday in reaction to the news: “Archbishop Viganò has taken some attitudes and some actions for which he must answer.”

Parolin added: “I am very sorry because I always appreciated him as a great worker, very faithful to the Holy See, someone who was, in a certain sense, also an example. When he was apostolic nuncio he did good work.”

Daniel Payne contributed to this report.

This is a developing story.

Colorado baker returns to court after activist sues over ‘gender transition’ cake

Cake artist Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. / Credit: Alliance Defending Freedom

Denver, Colo., Jun 20, 2024 / 12:08 pm (CNA).

A Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, is back in court defending what he sees as his right not to bake a cake celebrating a gender transition on the grounds that doing so would interfere with his religious beliefs. 

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who was sued for refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. 

On Tuesday the Colorado Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in Phillips’ appeal of a lower court’s ruling that found he had discriminated against the individual who had sued him for refusing to make a pink birthday cake with blue frosting.

This latest case began in 2017 when Autumn Scardina, a “transgender” attorney, asked Phillips to make a cake to celebrate Scardina’s “transition.” Scardina later requested the cake shop make a custom cake of Satan smoking marijuana, to “correct the errors of [Phillips’] thinking.”

After both a trial court and an appeals court ruled against him, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) appealed on behalf of Phillips.

“Jack serves everyone at Masterpiece Cakeshop, including those who identify as LGBT,” ADF Legal Counsel Jake Warner told CNA in a statement. “Whether he creates a custom cake always depends on what the cake will express, not who requests it.” 

“For over a decade, government officials and activists have misused state law to threaten and punish Jack because they disagree with him,” he continued. 

“Yesterday, we asked the Colorado Supreme Court to affirm free speech is for everyone and to ensure that the government cannot force Jack to create a custom cake expressing a message that violates his beliefs,” he said of the oral arguments in the Colorado Supreme Court.

The case is related to a recent Supreme Court decision to affirm a graphic designer’s religious freedom, Warner noted. 

“We also argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in 303 Creative v. Elenis reaffirmed that Colorado can’t force artists to express a message inconsistent with their beliefs,” he added. 

Phillips opened Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, in 1993 and runs the shop with his wife, Debi. Both prioritize their faith as Christians and don’t make cakes that go against their consciences. Phillips has noted in the past that he won’t make cakes for messages he disagrees with including Halloween, divorces, or any cakes with disparaging messages. 

“We hope the Colorado Supreme Court will protect free speech for all and finally bring justice for Jack,” Warner said.

The ethics of IVF: Where Catholics and Baptists can agree

null / Credit: Tati9/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jun 20, 2024 / 11:15 am (CNA).

Last week, the Southern Baptist Convention, which represents the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., voted to approve a resolution laying out the ethical implications of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and calling on Baptists to “only utilize infertility treatments and reproductive technologies in ways consistent with the dignity of the human embryo.”

The resolution, which is a statement of belief and is nonbinding, follows a landmark ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court in February that found that frozen human embryos are children under state law. The resolution represents the first official statement on IVF from the SBC — which claims nearly 13 million members — despite prominent SBC leaders and ethicists criticizing the use of IVF for years. 

The SBC resolution garnered national attention when it passed last week, in part because it now means that the two largest single Christian denominations in the United States — Catholics and Southern Baptists — have both officially explicated teachings specifically against IVF, despite the procedure remaining popular among members of both faiths. Overall, roughly 2% of all children in the U.S. are conceived through IVF. 

What does the Baptist faith teach about the use of IVF, and how does this compare with the teaching of the Catholic Church? Here’s what you need to know. 

First, the Catholic view

While the Catholic Church encourages certain fertility treatments for couples struggling to have children, the use of IVF is contrary to Catholic teachings. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2377) states that IVF is “morally unacceptable.”

In the IVF process, the sperm and egg are joined in a lab environment and the live embryo is later implanted into a uterus to continue developing until birth. Prior to this, a drug is administered to the woman to induce the release of multiple eggs in one cycle, while the man’s sperm is retrieved through masturbation. 

Ultimately, IVF involves the use of artificial means to achieve pregnancy outside of sex between a husband and wife, or “the marital act” — a disassociation that the Church teaches is contrary to the dignity of both parents and children. 

In addition, almost half of the human embryos — millions — created through IVF are “discarded” during the process whereby embryos are selected for implantation, according to the Center for Genetics and SocietyMillions more are being kept frozen in laboratories across the country, where they are often stored indefinitely, discarded after a while, accidentally destroyed, or intentionally destroyed in embryonic scientific research

For these and other reasons, the Church has judged the process of IVF, similar to surrogacy, to be incompatible with the Church’s understanding of the sanctity of every life from the moment of conception. 

What do Baptists believe about IVF?

Like many Protestants, Baptists believe in the Bible as “a perfect treasure of divine instruction.” According to a 2000 statement of faith from the SBC, Christians “should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death.” 

The SBC has released over 20 resolutions affirming the pro-life view that life begins at the moment of conception. Still, similar to several other major Protestant denominations, the SBC lacked a clear teaching on the morality of IVF. 

The June 12 resolution calls on Southern Baptists to pray for couples who experience infertility, promote adoption, and ask the government to restrict actions that violate the sanctity of human life. And, specifically for couples experiencing infertility, the resolution asks them to consider reproductive technologies that are ethical.

Despite this action, many Baptist individuals have expressed support for IVF, especially since the resolution passed. Because Baptist congregations are autonomous and the Baptist faith lacks a central, infallible teaching authority — such as the pope — Baptist Christians are free to assess the issue of IVF for themselves and decide accordingly. 

But just because the SBC as a body has not explicitly taught against IVF until now doesn’t mean prominent Baptist leaders and ethicists have not been critical of the practice. In particular, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the SBC has released detailed ethical analyses of IVF, with the commission variously concluding that it is “opposed to the willful destruction or even donating to scientific experimentation of non-implanted human embryos wantonly created in the typical IVF process.”

Other Baptist leaders such as Russell Moore, Karen Swallow Prior, and Albert Mohler, president of the flagship Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, Kentucky, have written and spoken extensively against the use of IVF for years. Mohler’s criticisms, in part, include the fact that IVF can be used by LGBT couples. 

In an op-ed published following the SBC resolution, Mohler admitted that “evangelical Christians have been late to get serious on this issue.”

“Far too many Christians say they believe in the sanctity and dignity of human life at every stage, from fertilization to natural death, but when the issue turns to the massive ethical issues related to IVF, many evangelicals, including far too many Southern Baptists, have refused to connect the dots,” Mohler wrote. 

“The SBC gains nothing politically by speaking up for human embryos. We speak up because we truly believe that human life is sacred from the moment of fertilization,” the respected theologian continued. 

Mohler authored the June 12 SBC resolution along with SBTS professor Andrew Walker. In a June 13 statement on social media, Walker noted that “Southern Baptists can no longer remain silent or on the fence about IVF.”

“Protestants, I fear, have unwittingly acquiesced, with the greatest of intentions, to an industry that promises life by also tampering with it. Given what is happening in the culture, now is as good a time as ever to speak with biblical clarity,” he continued. 

“Human embryos are human beings who bear God’s image at all stages of their development. We believe this consistently, or we do not. Everyone who is reading this was once an embryo themselves. Though you and I are no longer in the embryonic stage of our existence, who we are today is not substantively different than who we were then. Our nature is all the same,” Walker said. 

“The bottom line is this: If we believe it is wrong to kill unborn life in the womb, we should extend that logic to understand that creating excess embryos and freezing them outside the womb is also wrong.”

What should Catholics make of the Baptists’ resolution?

Andrew Kubick, a Catholic bioethicist with the Religious Freedom Institute and the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that he welcomes the SBC’s resolution, saying it affirms numerous truths that Catholics and Baptists hold in common as Christians. These include the belief that every human being bears God’s image, has intrinsic dignity, and possesses inherent rights, and also that children are a gift from God.

“These truths are expressly taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but they are also expressed in the Bible and accessible through reason so that our brothers and sisters outside of the Church can understand and live according to the moral order established by God,” Kubick said. 

While the Catholic Church’s moral analysis of IVF “goes much deeper,” he said, it is commendable that the South Baptist’s resolution identifies some immoral elements of IVF.

However, there are a few ambiguities in the resolution that ought to be clarified, Kubick noted. First, he said, the immoral elements of IVF were enumerated, yet IVF was never outright condemned. Rather, he said, it falls to the prudential considerations of the married couple. 

In addition, the SBC resolution encourages couples who are infertile to consider embryo adoption in order to “rescue” these children who are in danger of death. Embryo adoption is a practice that the Catholic Church has not definitively addressed, but the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith has expressed serious moral reservations about it.  

“While embryo adoption sought as a treatment for infertility is explicitly condemned by the Catholic Church, (see Dignitas Personae, No. 19), Catholic theologians and ethicists who are faithful to the magisterium are split on whether such a rescue operation is morally permitted,” he noted.

Family sues over hospital’s religious exemption for euthanasia

St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. / Credit: Margarita Young/Shutterstock

Vancouver, Canada, Jun 20, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The parents of a terminally ill woman who was transferred to another facility to be euthanized after St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, refused to allow the procedure on its premises are suing the provincial government and Providence Health Care, the Catholic health care provider that operates St. Paul’s Hospital.

The couple’s lawsuit says their daughter’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms were violated by the British Columbia government’s religious exemption to the provincial medical assistance in dying (MAID) policy.

The lawsuit filed in British Columbia’s Supreme Court on June 17 wants the province to remove the religious exemption.

Providence spokesperson Shaf Hussain said in a statement that the court filing is being reviewed.

“Providence is committed to providing compassionate care to all patients and residents,” he said.

Health Minister Adrian Dix issued a statement saying he respects all parties’ perspectives but can’t comment on the matter while it is before the courts. 

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition said in a statement that it is examining the case and will apply to intervene.

St. Paul’s routinely arranges for the transfer of patients who request euthanasia to non-Catholic facilities, but the decision by the hospital to transfer Sam O’Neill last summer ignited public and media reaction after her family drew attention to the case.

Dix addressed the situation at the time, saying hospital transfers for MAID are rare, occurring in about 0.2% of cases. He said St. Paul’s Hospital acted according to protocol and praised its contributions to the provincial health system, saying the overall relationship with faith-based health care providers is beneficial.

Media extensively covered the issue, with stories quoting critics calling for the British Columbia government to reconsider the master agreement with the Denominational Health Association, which allows religious health providers to follow their ethical guidelines.

Further fueling the debate, Dying with Dignity Canada released a poll to indicate strong public support for MAID. Health Canada also announced $560,000 in funding for a project to gather Canadians’ experiences with MAID. Dying with Dignity is listed as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, a survey last year by the Angus Reid Institute, in collaboration with Cardus, showed the majority of British Columbians support the right of religiously affiliated health care facilities’ right to reject providing MAID and transfer patients seeking euthanasia to other institutions.

Fifty-eight percent agreed with transferring patients, while only 24% said these hospitals should be forced to provide MAID against their beliefs.

Nationally, a majority in all regions except Quebec said transferring a patient who wants MAID should be sufficient. In Quebec, 47% believed transferring the patient is adequate while 35% said the hospital should be mandated to provide MAID on-site. 

The survey also found that 61% of Christians and 56% of those from other faiths supported transfers, while 54% of nonreligious individuals agreed. However, 70% of Canadians said doctors who object to MAID should be required to refer patients to another willing doctor.

In November, the British Columbia government announced a plan to provide euthanasia and assisted suicide at St. Paul’s Hospital — by making it available next to the hospital. The Ministry of Health announced it was taking over property beside the hospital to create a “clinical space” where St. Paul’s patients requesting euthanasia can receive it without having to be transferred to another setting.

In the announcement, the ministry said it had directed Vancouver Coastal Health authority to take land next to the hospital and “establish a clinical space and care setting for VCH use.” 

The government said it is updating protocols for discharging and transferring St. Paul’s patients to the new site where MAID can take place.

The government said the “clinical space” will be staffed by Vancouver Coastal Health staff and be connected by a corridor to St. Paul’s. Patients who want MAID will be discharged from the hospital and transferred to the care of the regional health authority. The new site is expected to be completed in August 2024.

Providence Health Care, the Catholic health care provider that operates St. Paul’s, said at the time that the ministry’s announcement respected Providence’s position of not allowing MAID to be performed within the walls of a Catholic facility or setting.

The ministry said in an announcement at the time: “While faith-based organizations may opt not to offer MAID services at their facilities, they are expected to work with regional health authorities to ensure the option is available to patients who choose it.”

Archbishop J. Michael Miller said the directive “respects and preserves Providence’s policy of not allowing MAID inside a Catholic health care facility,” and the new patient discharge and transfer protocols are consistent with existing arrangements for transferring patients from its other hospice and palliative care sites, St. John Hospice and May’s Place. 

“Providence Health Care and St. Paul’s Hospital will continue to provide compassionate care, in accordance with Catholic teachings, and support the physical, emotional, spiritual, and social needs of every patient we serve,” he said.

The government’s announcement came just hours before the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement reiterating its opposition to euthanasia in Catholic hospitals. Miller noted that the bishops had already drawn a line in the sand at their September 2023 plenary meeting when they stated unanimously that MAID would not be delivered at Catholic hospitals. 

The new statement formalized that stance by saying the bishops “unanimously and unequivocally oppose the performance of either euthanasia or assisted suicide (MAID) within health organizations with a Catholic identity.”

The bishops said: “Any efforts by governments or others to compel such facilities to perform MAID” would be “in violation of Catholic teachings” and would “deeply betray the identity of these institutions as Catholic and would not be in keeping with the Church’s moral teachings on the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person.”

This article was originally published by The B.C. Catholic and is reprinted here with permission.

Can generous family policies help boost fertility rates?

null / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jun 20, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Advocates and policymakers have for years argued that extending family benefits — such as paid leave, job guarantees, and cash payouts for new babies — could help reverse the steep declines in fertility rates observed in recent decades in most of the developed world. 

The data, meanwhile, paint a less optimistic picture, though there are signs that some policies could play a role in convincing families to have more children. 

Government leaders in numerous countries have been struggling in recent years to address falling birth rates. In South Korea, for instance — where the birth rate has cratered to less than one birth per woman — the Seoul metropolitan government will next year begin offering housing subsidies to newlywed couples, in part so husbands and wives might have more children. 

Some private companies in South Korea, meanwhile, have begun offering generous baby bonuses to employees.

In Taiwan, which has a similarly grim birth rate, the government has grown desperate enough to begin hosting its own singles mixers in the hopes of encouraging men and women to marry and have children. 

The Japanese government, meanwhile, has vowed to take on the country’s perilously low birth rate, with the Tokyo government launching its own dating app and the national government considering expanding both child allowances and parental leave.

European countries are trying to institute their own policies and incentives to boost birth rates. 

Italy is offering “baby bonuses” to couples, doling out a monthly allowance for the first year of a new baby’s life.

In France earlier this year, President Emmanuel Macron proposed free fertility checks for 25-year-old women. The government is also looking to expand its parental leave policy.

And the Greek government has raised its own baby allowance in a bid to fight the country’s low fertility.

‘It takes a rather large amount of money’

Beyond special measures that specifically target falling fertility rates, many countries have offered generous family policies for decades. Sweden, for example, began offering parental leave benefits in the 1970s, while Germany has offered various forms of paid leave for nearly as long. 

Yet both of those countries are nevertheless posting birth rates well below “replacement rate,” or the rate necessary to keep a population stable. Below the replacement rate, a country’s population will inevitably decline.

Essentially every country in Western Europe is recording sub-replacement fertility rates, as are the U.S., Canada, and many Asian countries.

Lyman Stone, a research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told CNA in an interview that there have been numerous studies in recent years on the effectiveness of family policies in boosting the fertility rate. 

“In general, these policies work,” he said. 

Stone pointed out that there are “nuances” to the data. “It takes a rather large amount of money,” he acknowledged. But “not an implausible amount,” he said.

He noted that a family policy’s effect on fertility depends on the policy itself. Some policies merely guarantee a parent’s job will be held for a period of time after a baby’s birth; others offer straight cash payouts for a new baby.

“What the research suggests is that job guarantees have probably no effect on fertility, and possibly in some contexts have a negative effect on fertility,” he said. 

“Job guarantees might convince currently employed people to have a bit more babies than they otherwise have; they may also convince people who might have stayed home to have another baby to return to the workforce. Job lock doesn’t seem to do very much.”

“However, the compensation side does,” he said. “When you increase the wage replacement rate for maternity leave programs, you get more babies.” 

“Money works,” he said. “Job guarantees probably don’t have a big effect.”

Stone pointed to a 2017 study from Anna Raute, an economics professor at Queen Mary University London, one that examined a “major maternity leave benefit reform” in Germany that “considerably increase[d] the financial incentives for higher-educated and higher-earning women to have a child.”

Raute in her study found “an up to 22% increase in the fertility of tertiary educated versus low educated women” stemming from the new policy. 

Stone said the overall picture of the data is straightforward. “If you put more money into families, you get more babies,” he argued. 

‘You need to solve it for 18 years’

Not all experts are as confident about the data, however. Catherine Pakaluk, an associate professor of social research and economic thought at the Catholic University of America, said the field doesn’t have “enormous experimental data on paid leave and maternity leave policies,” mainly because “they’re hard to implement at a really huge macro level.”

But “if you survey leading economists and demographers around the world, the bulk of the evidence is that it doesn’t work,” she argued. 

The source of the stubborn problem, she said, lies within “the collision between career and family” that occurred throughout the 20th century as more and more women went to work. Pakaluk described this phenomenon as “an enormous inflection point.”

“That is the source of low birth rates,” she argued. 

“The goal of a good maternity leave program is to keep women attached to their jobs,” she pointed out. “They have the baby, they stay home, then they can return to their jobs.” 

But “is keeping women attached to their jobs longer — past the birth of their child — likely to solve the problem that arose in the first place with the tension? What we’re trying to do is, in a sense, more of that which got us the problem in the first place.”

“It sounds a little weird,” she said, “but the point of maternity leave is to give women a break right after a baby comes. Well, you’re resolving the tension for just six weeks. Okay, double it. You’ve solved it for 12 weeks.” 

“You need to solve it for 18 years,” she said bluntly. 

Indeed, there are signs that the fertility crisis goes beyond concerns of financial stability. In one recent survey, a majority of Americans who don’t want children cited “maintaining personal independence” as a motivating factor. 

Large percentages, meanwhile, also cited politics, work-life balance, and “safety concerns” in addition to financial constraints.

Pakaluk, who has eight children, says couples “have to figure out a 20-year solution for how you’re going to make work and family work together.”

“Once that conflict has been settled, in that context, a generous maternity leave can be a really great benefit or blessing,” she pointed out.

“For people on the margin, who haven’t got the 20-year thing solved, I don’t see how it’s likely to incentivize people to solve a 20-year plan,” she said. 

Stone, meanwhile, said that even when they do work, family policies should not be seen as a panacea for low fertility rates. He shared with CNA a survey he co-authored on the effects of various family policies on fertility, one that found mixed results across various countries.

The effects of those policies, the survey noted, are “sufficiently irregular that they are likely contingent on the wider realm of social norms and political structures in which the policy is implemented.” 

“Family leave probably helps boost fertility in contexts where it is part of a wider pro-family policy regime, complementing, supporting, and enabling voluntary family choices,” the review said. 

“But implementing family leave on its own, or in a context where parents primarily want to make bigger investments per child rather than having more children, may have little impact on fertility.”

Stone told CNA that “all these different family policies have a different role.”

“None of them is a silver bullet,” he said. “They’re part of the types of things that societies would need to do if they wanted to get fertility rates meaningfully elevated.”

New York court puts pro-abortion amendment back on November ballot

Pro-abortion activists gather in front of pro-life advocates outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic in downtown Manhattan on Feb. 3, 2024, in New York City. / Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

CNA Staff, Jun 19, 2024 / 17:45 pm (CNA).

A New York court ruled in favor of putting a proposed amendment to enshrine a right to abortion in the state constitution back on the Nov. 5 ballot, but Republicans plan to take the fight to appeal.

The unanimous appellate court decision on June 18 reverses a lower court ruling that would have taken the proposal off of state ballots.

Although the lower court had ruled that the state did not follow the proper procedure when approving the ballot language, the appellate court found that the lawmakers who challenged the procedure had done so after the statute of limitations had passed. For this reason, the appellate court dismissed the complaint entirely.

Republican opponents of the ballot measure intend to appeal the appellate ruling to New York’s highest court, according to the Associated Press.

“We continue to believe the Legislature violated the constitution when it adopted the proposal,” said David Laska, a party spokesperson, according to the AP report. “We will fight this proposal in the courts and, if necessary, at the ballot box.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James praised the appellate court ruling for allowing the proposal back on the ballot. 

“Today’s decision to put the Equal Rights Amendment back on the ballot in November is a huge victory in our efforts to protect our basic rights and freedoms,” James said in a statement.

“The ERA was advanced to protect access to abortion care, enshrine this basic right in our constitution, and protect people from discrimination,” James added. “We will continue to do everything in our power to protect these rights and ensure everyone can live safely and freely in the great State of New York.”

Although the proposed “Equal Rights” amendment does not use the word “abortion,” it would establish broad rights to “reproductive health care” by prohibiting any discrimination based on “pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes, and reproductive health care and autonomy.”

The text would also prohibit discrimination based on a person’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

Constitutional amendments to establish abortion rights will also appear on the ballots in other states on Nov. 5, including Colorado and Florida.

Culture of death advances in Spain with two new developments

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ACI Prensa Staff, Jun 19, 2024 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

The culture of life suffered two setbacks as the culture of death advanced again in Spain: The government is proposing to extend euthanasia to people with mental illness, while the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of abortion for minors 16 and over without parental knowledge.

According to the Diario Médico journal, the Spanish government’s Ministry of Health is going to modify the “Manual of Good Practices for Euthanasia” to include mental illnesses.

The draft of the planned change states that the Organic Law for the Regulation of Euthanasia “does not exclude mental illness, allowing people with an unbearable suffering due to the presence of a mental illness to request PAM [aid in dying] on ​​equal terms with those whose suffering comes from a bodily illness.”

Consequently, the government would apparently allow euthanasia for people with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, or those who are bipolar.

In addition, the Constitutional Court upheld a provision in a recently passed law that allows minors 16 years of age and older to abort their baby without the knowledge and permission of their parents.

The VOX political party had filed a challenge to the constitutionality of the latest changes to the abortion law made in February 2023.

This change in the law, in addition to allowing minors to make a decision of this magnitude without the involvement of their parents or legal guardians, establishes other anti-life measures.

Eliminated from the provisions of the previous law were the three-day waiting period after the initial appointment for an abortion and the practitioner’s obligation to provide complete information, which could include ultrasounds, alternatives to abortion, and the methods and risks involved in abortion.

Furthermore, the changes to the law now upheld by the Constitutional Court mandate that abortion be deleted from the patient’s medical history after five years.

VOX told Spanish media that the court’s ruling affects “millions of young women who are left helpless at a time when they are most vulnerable.” According to the political party, it is “a decision against the value of human life” that creates “the configuration of a society without a culture of life and that represents another attack on the family, parental authority, and the duty and right of parents to ensure the well-being of their children.”

Also in February 2023, the Constitutional Court dismissed an appeal against the abortion law passed in 2010. This was a decision surrounded by controversy due to accusations of lack of impartiality on the part of the judges since at least four of them had been involved in the legislative process for the law under appeal.

In response the Christian Lawyers Foundation filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights for prevarication against the president of the Constitutional Court, Cándido Conde-Pumpido.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Argentine bishops speak out about interrupting Mass with political chants

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ACI Prensa Staff, Jun 19, 2024 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

In two separate recent incidents, participants at Mass in Argentina started chanting the political slogan “the country is not for sale,” an expression of opposition to the policies of President Javier Milei. Videos showing the chanting have circulated on social media, leading several bishops to speak out about the situation.

One of the Masses was celebrated by the auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires, Gustavo Carrara, who later issued a statement “humbly apologizing” to those who might have felt offended. Although he did not participate in the chanting, as the celebrant he took responsibility for what had happened.

The archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge García Cuerva, also spoke out about the incidents during a June 15 Mass at St. Ildephonsus Parish, making it clear that “the Mass is something sacred.”

“Here we come to be nourished by unity, brotherhood, peace. That’s why it’s not good to use the Mass to divide, to fragment, to be partisan,” he added.

Two more bishops have now commented on the matter. 

In an interview with Radio 10, the bishop of San Justo, Eduardo García, when asked about the “political tone” that has been attributed to the actions of the Church lately said it “would seem that since there is no opposition, we [the Church] are the opposition.”

“We are doing what we have to do, what we always do, and perhaps it becomes more visible and stronger because the reality is more painful,” he said in defense of the Catholic Church and its solidarity work in the face of the crisis besetting Argentina.

“Reality kills the story,” García added. “You have to get down to reality, look at the people, ask questions, see what is happening to them.”

Regarding the videos going viral of people chanting political slogans at Mass, García said: “We are in a critical moment, what is critical is accentuated, perhaps, by the issue of communications, social media, that anyone can say anything and it’s taken as truth, then that creates even more confusion.”

“I believe that social media used well, coming from the truth, ethically, with common sense and with sensitivity can do a lot of good; when used coming from another place they are very harmful,” he concluded.

In a June 15 post on Facebook, the bishop of San Francisco in Argentina, Sergio Osvaldo Buenanueva, also referred to what happened, expressing his appreciation for Carrara’s gesture of apologizing for the incident.

“In a polarized country like ours, the power of social media quickly makes incomplete information go viral. Thus people rush to take positions and make judgments, largely unappealable. And social harmony is greatly diminished,” the prelate noted.

“This polarization also hurts our Christian communities,” lamented Buenanueva, who, referring to Carrara, said that “the words and the gesture of the bishop are sincere and ameliorating, and so they are appreciated.”

“The Mass cannot be used to promote political causes,” he pointed out, “not because politics is bad, but because that’s not the purpose of the Mass, which is to glorify God and sanctify the baptized, strengthen the unity of the Church and promote its mission in the world, also encouraging ‘better politics’ as Pope Francis says and Bishop Carrara has aptly noted.”

“This video, like another one that circulated before, causes estrangement, discouragement, and annoyance in many good Catholics, both pastors and especially laypeople,” he acknowledged. 

“The vast majority of our Christian communities, when they celebrate the Eucharist, do so with deep faith and respect for the sacred mystery,” Buenanueva noted, pointing out that “some minority positions and — in my opinion — also anachronistic positions, cannot make us lose sight of the rich life of faith, mission, and commitment of our communities throughout the country.”

“I say it again that I value the gesture of Bishop Gustavo Carrara because it expresses the will to work for the harmony that animates all bishops. It is the power of the charity of Christ to which we must always return so that he may transform us into artisans of peace,” he concluded.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.