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Can generous family policies help boost fertility rates?

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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.

Arizona governor vetoes bill requiring insurance companies to cover trans ‘detransitions’

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs sits in the audience prior to President Joe Biden's remarks at the Tempe Center for the Arts on Sept 28, 2023, in Tempe, Arizona. / Credit: Rebecca Noble/Getty Images

CNA Staff, Jun 19, 2024 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs this week vetoed a bill that would have required insurance companies to cover “detransitioning” procedures for transgender-identifying individuals who had undergone sex-change surgeries.

The Democratic governor vetoed state Senate Bill 1511 after it passed both houses of the state Legislature. The measure would have stipulated that health insurance plans that offer “coverage for gender transition procedures” may not “deny coverage for gender detransition procedures.”

It would have also required that physicians who perform gender transition procedures “must agree to provide or pay for the performance of gender detransition procedures.”

“Detransitioners,” or transgender-identified individuals who have ceased trying to make their bodies resemble those of the opposite sex, have been getting increased attention in the media in recent years. 

Oftentimes such people have been on cross-sex hormones for years, resulting in significant or irreversible changes to their bodies; in other cases, they have undergone irreversible surgeries. Extensive medical work can be required to attempt to return their bodies to normal function. 

In a “veto letter” provided to CNA by the governor’s office on Wednesday, Hobbs said the measure was “unnecessary and would create a privacy risk for patients.”

On its website, the Arizona State Senate Republican Caucus said Hobbs in her veto of the bill was “aiding doctors and insurance companies taking advantage of a vulnerable population.”

State Sen. Janae Shamp, who sponsored the bill, argued on Tuesday that doctors “must be prepared to undo the damage” of gender transition procedures “as much as possible.”

Insurance companies should also pay for such reparative procedures, she said.

“Shame on Gov. Hobbs for sending a message that the institutions tasked with protecting their health and well-being have turned their backs on them,” Shamp said on the state senate GOP’s website.

Advocates say detransitioners demonstrate why doctors and health officials should proceed cautiously with transgender procedures, especially given that many of those procedures cannot be easily reversed, if at all. 

Some formerly transgender-identified individuals, such as young adult Chloe Cole, have spoken out strongly against what they say is a too-permissive medical culture that rushes into “gender-affirming” models of care.

In the Netherlands earlier this year, a study found that nearly two-thirds of children who had wished that they belonged to the opposite sex as adolescents ultimately became comfortable with their biological sex in early adulthood.

In an interview with the New York Times last month, meanwhile, English pediatrician Hilary Cass warned there is no comprehensive evidence to support the routine prescription of transgender drugs to minors with gender dysphoria. 

The doctor earlier this year published the independent “Cass Review,” commissioned by the National Health Service in England, which prompted England and Scotland to halt the prescription of transgender drugs to minors until more research is conducted.

Shamp, the Arizona senator, this week pointed to Chloe Cole as an example of the perils of transgender medicine.

Cole was “given puberty blockers and underwent a double mastectomy” at a young age and now struggles with “the severe damage left behind,” the senator said.

“It’s unfathomable that we consider mutilating an undeveloped child’s body as ‘health care,’” Shamp said, “but what’s even more horrifying is the fact that we deny them access to care when they go on to suffer the mental and physical consequences.”

U.S. bishops approve plan for youth, young adult ministry

Pilgrims kneel in adoration at a World Youth Day event in Lisbon, Portugal, Aug. 2, 2023. The event was hosted by the U.S. bishops’ conference and featured a talk by Bishop Robert Barron culminating in a eucharistic procession and Holy Hour. / Credit: Claudette Jerez/EWTN News video screen shot

CNA Staff, Jun 19, 2024 / 11:15 am (CNA).

The U.S. bishops approved a new pastoral framework for youth and young adult outreach, titled “Listen, Teach, Send,” following their spring meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, last week. 

The framework was approved on Monday, passing with 188 in favor, four against, and four abstentions, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced in a Tuesday press release

The initial vote was held at the bishops’ spring plenary assembly, but not enough eligible bishops were present to vote and were contacted to cast their votes after, the release noted.

“We’re hoping that ‘Listen, Teach, Send’ can offer new life for these ministries in our local Churches,” Bishop Robert Barron, who is heading the initiative as chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, explained at the USCCB June Plenary Assembly in Louisville, Kentucky. 

Barron noted that it has been 30 years since the “last major moment” for the Church’s work with youth, the World Youth Day gathering in Denver, which was accompanied by the release of two national frameworks on youth and young adults. 

“Since then, frankly, enthusiasm has waned while disaffiliation has risen,” he told the bishops gathered in Louisville. “It’s our fond hope that the ‘Listen, Teach, Send’ framework, combined with the Holy Father’s encouragement in the Synod and Christus Vivit, will be another watershed moment.”

Five years ago, Pope Francis published Christus Vivit, “Christ Is Alive!”, an apostolic exhortation addressed to young people and the “entire people of God” after the Youth Synod. In response to this, the U.S. bishops authorized this framework in 2021.

The framework, “Listen, Teach, Send: National Pastoral Framework for Ministries with Youth and with Young Adults,” follows Jesus’ encounter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus and highlights how he listens to them, reveals Scripture to them, and sends them forth. 

“‘Listen, Teach, Send’ is a summons to the Church to renew her engagement with youth and young adults in imitation of Jesus Christ on the journey to Emmaus,” Barron explained.

“Like the Lord in that familiar story, we’re called deeply to listen to the realities facing young people with pastoral care and compassion; to teach in a new way that shares the light of Christ with young people and brings about a conversion of heart; and, finally, to send youth and young adults forth so they eagerly choose to follow God’s call and their mission to transform the world,” he continued. 

Barron and his department took inspiration from ministries such as the National Dialogue, the Hispanic ministry V National Encuentro, and Journeying Together, as well as other bishops’ insights in drafting the document.  

“What we heard was a strong desire to develop a framework that was streamlined and straightforward, one that could be used not just by pastors and pastoral ministers but also by families and by young people themselves who can evangelize and guide their peers to Christ,” Barron said.

“We heard a desire to name and address issues, including sexuality, mental health, disaffiliation, racial justice, polarization, and the desire of so many young people to transform our society,” he continued. “Most importantly, we heard that we cannot be silent or inactive when it comes to the engagement and accompaniment of youth and young adults.”

The framework highlights mutual listening, mentorship, evangelization, and vocation, noting that formation should take place in the home and through parents, grandparents, and families but can take place in a variety of contexts.

The USCCB will be releasing complementary and supplemental resources this year with concrete ideas for implementing the framework on a local level.

“In this, we encourage ministry leaders and families to establish conditions for mutual listening to take place: where older generations can truly listen to the young and where the young can truly listen to God speaking to them in the Word and the wisdom of the Church,” the document reads.

The document notes that young people “need faith-filled parents and pastoral ministry leaders (and peers) who can lovingly interpret young people’s stories through the lens of faith and foster a conversion of the heart.”

“Too many youth and young adults today lack mentors in their lives, and yet these wisdom figures can do so much to guide a young person along the right path,” it continues. “This experience of accompaniment is something that begins in the family and extends to the teachers, respected adults, Church leaders, and professional connections that a young person encounters as they mature through life.”

The framework explains the importance of conveying the whole Gospel, including what may challenge young people.

“The teachings of Christ are countercultural and transformative: seeking God’s kingdom first above all, loving enemies, living a moral life, and sacrificing one’s own self for the good of others, especially those who are marginalized and forgotten,” the document reads. “It may take time to embrace these truths, and young people should be given loving environments where they can ask questions without judgment and wrestle with difficult issues.”

“As young people are accompanied on a pilgrimage of faith, they need to hear a clear proclamation of the message of salvation, the implications of Gospel living (including the effects of sin), the embrace of God’s mercy, and the unconditional love that Christ offers those who follow him — all inculturated in their lives in a language and style they can understand, appreciate, and appropriate within their own lives,” the document notes.

The document concludes by highlighting that young people have a mission to “go where Christ is calling them,” highlighting the importance of reaching out to the vulnerable and marginalized, embracing the universal call to holiness, and being transformed by Christ through “prayerful openness” while recognizing God’s work in their lives. 

LGBTQ+ Catholics & the Synodal Process

LGBTQ+ Catholics & the Synodal Process

Last February, a sixteen-year-old nonbinary student named Nex Benedict died after an altercation with three other students in a women’s bathroom at Owasso High School in Oklahoma. The tragedy generated national attention as well as an outcry from LGBTQ+ rights groups. Benedict, whose death was later ruled a suicide, had been bullied for more than a year before the incident. Many blamed their death (Benedict used they/them pronouns) in part on a recently passed Oklahoma policy requiring students to use the bathroom corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificate. 

The federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights later opened an investigation into whether the public school district in Owasso had failed to respond adequately to complaints of harassment. President Joe Biden issued a statement saying he and his wife were “heartbroken,” and called on Americans to address the suicide crisis affecting transgender and nonbinary children. Benedict’s death also received attention from religious leaders. Though Benedict was not Episcopalian, Bishop Poulson Reed of the Episcopalian Diocese of Oklahoma issued a statement following their death, acknowledging Benedict’s nonbinary identity and reaffirming the diocese’s “respect for the dignity of every human being.” Like Biden, Reed also offered a prayer for Benedict’s family and friends. 

If only Bishop David Konderla of the Diocese of Tulsa had done the same. About ten days after Benedict’s death, the Diocese of Tulsa released an episode of its podcast, Tulsa Time with Bishop Konderla. In an episode titled “What does the Church say about Transgenderism and Sexual Identity?,” host Derek Lyssy spent nearly an hour with Bishop Konderla and another guest, attorney Dr. Mary Rice-Hasson, cofounder and director of the Person and Identity Project, dismissing the legitimacy of gender-affirming care. Calling the science behind it “corrupt,” they characterized the medically-recognized DSM-V diagnosis of gender dysphoria as a “false answer” and “insidious evil.” The Church, they argued, must fight back against “an activist community” that exists “online” and “exploits vulnerable young people.”

Konderla’s remarks were repugnant but hardly surprising. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has faced scrutiny for its responses to national instances of anti-LGBTQ+ hatred, which some argue lacks the “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” called for by the Catechism. Recall the bishops’ response to the 2016 massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. They condemned the horrific violence that claimed the lives of 49 people and injured 53 more, yet failed to note that the victims had been targeted simply for being LGBTQ+. 

 

Many Catholics, energized by Francis’s papacy, are animated by the hope that the Vatican will institute sweeping changes to Church teaching about diversity of sexuality and gender. But history demonstrates that change starts small, often beginning with the movement of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of local churches. Over the past few decades, more Catholics have taken up the baptismal call of all Christians to exercise the priestly, prophetic, and political dimensions of their vocations. And the Church has slowly become more inclusive. From the Second Vatican Council to the Synod on Synodality, it has created pathways—however slowly—for LGBTQ+ persons to journey together with the rest of the Catholic community. At last the Spirit is being heard.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Vatican II as a pivot point for Catholicism. For the first time in history, the Church convened a council not to combat a potential heresy or correct a practical problem, but instead to rearticulate and renew tradition by fusing it with an active engagement in the world—“scrutinizing the signs of the times” and “interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.” Key to this effort was the council’s recognition that ordained clergy and laity are united as one People of God. This challenged old ideas about lay inferiority; clergy were now to respect and even rely on lay expertise.  

The Church has struggled for nearly sixty years to take this message to heart. Soon after the Covid lockdowns began in 2020, Pope Francis introduced the Synod on Synodality in hopes that it would move the entire Church closer to the renewal called for by Vatican II. The Synod on Synodality was not to reach a conclusion for the Church, but to nurture a way of being Church. Francis thus encouraged prayerful listening to the voices of all Catholics. This process of “journeying together” explicitly includes the laity as active participants and meaningful agents in reform.

By all accounts, this really did happen. Present at the Global Synodal Assembly in Rome were 365 voting participants; 295 were bishops, and seventy were not, including priests, women religious, and laypeople. These members were advised by eighty-five non-voting theologians. There were no openly LGBTQ+ members at the Assembly.

Before the Assembly began, Francis appointed Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP, to lead participants in a three-day retreat. “Conversation needs an imaginative leap into the experience of the other person…[t]o see with their eyes, and hear with their ears,” Radcliffe noted. To facilitate this, the Synod altered its usual seating arrangements based on episcopal authority and filled the Synod Hall with round tables, meant to promote conversation and symbolize the future of the Church. 

 

Ever since his 2013 remarks aboard the papal plane (“Who am I to judge?”), Pope Francis has had a mixed reception among LGBTQ+ Catholics. Some welcomed his remarks as gestures of mercy and compassion; others noticed that they didn’t necessarily support or welcome LGBTQ+ persons in the Church. Francis has taken other positive steps since then, including befriending an openly gay man, Juan Carlos Cruz Chellew, also a survivor of clerical abuse. In 2021, Francis appointed Cruz to the Pontifical Council for the Protection of Minors, making him the first openly LGBTQ+ person to serve at such a prominent level at the Vatican. He was instrumental in Francis’s announcement that “being homosexual is not a crime.” The announcement isn’t trivial, as several countries still have laws making homosexuality illegal; some, as Dignitas Infinita notes, even punish it with execution. 

But at the same time, Francis has repeatedly signaled that he may still regard LGBTQ+ persons as second-class Catholics. How else could the pope welcome transgender women to the Vatican and call them “children of God” while also qualifying his support for baptizing transgender people if doing so could “cause scandal?” How can Francis openly tell worshipers at World Youth Day that “in the Church, there is room for everyone” (“todos, todos, todos”), and yet repeatedly use an anti-gay slur while speaking behind closed doors in Rome? 

Some of Francis’s vacillation is reflected in the proceedings of the Synod on Synodality. While the gatherings raised hopes in some quarters of a breakthrough regarding LGBTQ+ people, the synthesis document, A Synodal Church in Mission, disappointed many. To start, it only mentions LGBTQ+ people tangentially, listing “issues” of “sexuality and identity” among those requiring more reflection, specifically in the realm of theological anthropology. The prior Instrumentum laboris had used the term “LGBTQ” instead of “homosexual,” which many saw as a sign of the Church’s growth. But there was real disagreement with such terminology among the Synod delegates. After the conclusion of the October Assembly, Fr. James Martin described how Synod participants wrestled with the issues concerning LGBTQ+ Catholics: 

[T]he approaches fell along two lines: First, there were people, like myself, who shared stories of LGBTQ Catholics struggling to find their place in their own church, along with calls for the church to reach out more to this community. On the other hand, many delegates objected even to using the term “LGBTQ,” seeing it more reflective of an “ideology” foisted upon countries by the West or a form of “neo-colonialism,” and focusing more on homosexual acts as “intrinsically evil.” From my point of view, I wish that the synthesis was more reflective of the rich conversation around the topic and admitted our divergences, as was done in other controversial areas.

Martin is not alone in his ambivalence and disappointment. Journalists covering the Synod reported a troubling lack of information provided by Vatican officials. From the start, the Vatican framed this as a media “fast” designed to protect the freedom of participants to speak without fear. But in the end, it may have proved counterproductive. At a minimum, it’s puzzling that an event championing openness and accountability would so strictly limit participants’ freedom to speak to journalists, even after the conclusion of the Assembly. And while Pope Francis has repeatedly stressed listening and consultation, especially around controversial issues, he and the Vatican Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith nevertheless issued two doctrinal declarations that concern LGBTQ+ people, Fiducia supplicans and Dignitas infinita, that show little (if any) evidence of consultation of those actually affected by the documents.

Instead of fostering consensus and unity, these actions have exacerbated existing differences. While many liberal Catholics, especially in the West, took Fiducia supplicans as a step toward greater inclusivity, some African bishops pointedly rejected it. Other, more progressive critics have highlighted the fact that Fiducia pointedly denies the possibility of sacramental same-gender marriages and explicitly bars the blessings from resembling a marriage ceremony in any way. In the end the document, meant to demonstrate greater inclusivity, has partly had the opposite effect, further alienating LBGTQ+ Catholics who already feel that the Church does not want them. 

Near the midpoint of the October Assembly, Fr. Radcliffe gave a “spiritual reflection” that was later made public. He reminded Synod participants that they had heard from a guest speaker about a young woman who died by suicide “because she was bisexual and did not feel welcomed” by the Church. Radcliffe’s focus on the young woman and his use of the word “feel” is revealing—both call attention to the distress of the victim at the margins of the Church, rather than the culpability of the clerics whose very suspicion of her sexuality had placed her in that position. What if Radcliffe had instead challenged his listeners to ponder why the young woman wasn’t being welcomed? What if he had asked them what they were doing to ensure that their LGBTQ+ parishioners really were welcomed? 

Radcliffe continued sharing about the bisexual young woman, “Many of us wept when we heard the story. I hope it changed us.” Radcliffe never defines the change he hopes for, but there is a note of presumption in his remarks, as if LGBTQ+ Catholics need the Church’s pity, as if they should be content with assimilation into a Church that has always viewed them with suspicion, if not outright hostility. 

Perhaps it is the Church and its ordained ministers, and not LGBTQ+ people as a group, that is called to greater transformation. The grace of Baptism and incorporation into the Body of Christ calls LGBTQ+ Catholics to take on a prophetic role within the People of God. Instead of more tales of suffering, what if, before the next October assembly, Synod participants heard prophetic stories of LGBTQ+ flourishing? The Church is too familiar with our griefs and anxieties. What about our joys and hopes? 

 

A prayer attributed to the Jesuit paleontologist and cosmologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin advises listeners to “trust in the slow work of God,” to accept the momentary anxiety of feeling “in suspense and incomplete” while God works to bring about “something new.” It isn’t hard to see how such advice could apply to LGBTQ+ Catholics still waiting for the Church to change today. Be patient, don’t rock the boat, have faith in incrementalism, and respect Catholic tradition. 

These sentiments may be well intended, but they can also quickly lead to despair. LGBTQ+ Catholics are often told to hope in the Synod. But “hope” can easily become an excuse for accepting an unjust, intolerable status quo. Worse, it can encourage passivity. Divine grace blossoms through active human participation, and is evidenced by “good works.” If the Church really does believe in the indelible dignity of LGBTQ+ persons, as both Fiducia supplicans and Dignitas infinita emphatically reaffirm, it can’t only express sorrow for past abuses or offer words of welcome. It has to actually do something.

In her book Reset the Heart: Unlearning Violence, Relearning Hope, practical theologian Mai-Anh Le Tran uses the lens of religious educator Thomas Groome to reflect on the parable of the Persistent Widow recounted in the Gospel of Luke. Recall that in the parable, in which Jesus teaches his disciples “to pray always and not lose heart,” a widow repeatedly asks an obstinate judge to do justice for her. Annoyed, the judge eventually relents. Le Tran’s interpretation focuses on the widow’s steadfast pursuit of her cause: 

Refusing to accept what unjust systems dictate as her faith, relentless in the pursuit of a corrective response, she is the example of what it means to pray, a reminder that prayer is an active pursuit of reparation, a model of how tenacious faith is a verb and not a noun.

The faith Jesus intends is indeed a verb, not a noun. As he concludes the parable, he wonders whether “at the end of time” there will be “faith like this on Earth.” What if we took that seriously when we think about the faith of LGBTQ+ Catholics asking for recognition and affirmation, and the work of theologians interpreting Scripture in new ways in light of contemporary realities? 

Tradition roots and guides us, but it is not a prison. As Vatican II affirmed, the Church continues to grow specifically as a response to God’s love for a suffering world. Yet much of the current discourse around LGBTQ+ Catholics is rooted in fear, a fact the synthesis report of the October Assembly explicitly acknowledges in the first section:

Among the fears expressed is that the teaching of the Church will be changed, causing us to depart from the Apostolic faith of our forebears and, in so doing, will fail to respond to the needs of those who hunger and thirst for God today. However, we are confident that synodality is an expression of the dynamic and living Tradition.

In the United States, this fear is often expressed through the language of “scandal.” Diocesan bans on LGBTQ+ self-expression in Catholic schools, bishops withholding the Eucharist from transgender people, or priests questioning the legitimacy of offering blessings to same-gender couples are all justified as a means of “preventing scandal.” What if the Church thought differently about scandal? Christian theologians remind us that salvation history and the Gospel itself is “scandalous”: God enters human history at a particular time and place, in and with and through the particular person of Jesus Christ, whose crucifixion and resurrection likewise “gave scandal”—and gave birth to the Church. 

Francis has been clear that the Synod is not a parliament, that the Church’s doctrine cannot be altered by majority vote. But the mandate to treat LGBTQ+ people with the love of Christ revealed in the Gospel should not need to be a topic of discussion, much less a debate. Yet it has become one, and the Church is at least partly responsible: How can it both communicate “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” for LGBTQ+ persons while at the same time telling transgender people, as it does in Dignitas infinita, that their convictions about who they are amount at best to a kind of illusion, at worst to an “insidious evil”?

It will probably take a long time to repair the harm caused by the Church’s offensive words, and it’s unlikely that we’ll see major changes when the Synod Assembly reconvenes in Rome this October. In the meantime, we LGBTQ+ Catholics can model ourselves on the Persistent Widow, even when it feels like the clergy and Vatican aren’t listening. Our hope for ecclesial justice is a living testament to our faith and our prophetic role within the Body of Christ. Even if others choose to live with scales over their eyes, LGBTQ+ Catholics can see the Spirit creating and renewing. We cannot control how the rest of the Church chooses to see us, but we can choose to live boldly, embodying prophetic love and illuminating our collective journey toward a renewed Church.

Nick Fagnant

Rights Clashes

Rights Clashes

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The text of Dignitas Infinita gives no indication that transgender people were consulted during its drafting. In that respect, it is similar to many official Church documents that tell women about their bodies, and about the meaning of their bodies, without having done much listening to them first. It doesn’t surprise me that Church leaders will comfortably opine on the phenomenology and significance of bodily experiences they haven’t had.

What does surprise me is that Dignitas Infinita appears to say so little about sex, gender, and the status of transgender people. The sections titled “Gender Theory” and “Sex Change” are short and worrisomely obscure. But Dignitas Infinita does have good suggestions for addressing questions about sex, gender, and rights. They just don’t appear in the “Gender Theory” section.

The document reminds us that respecting the dignity of every person may require us to “build alternative social structures” (31). Precisely because of differences in wealth, health, and liability to historical injustices, not everyone is able to exercise their freedom fully. Some people are living in situations that “contradict their inalienable dignity” (8). Rectifying those situations can require that we create structures—spaces, resources, forms of social organization—that will liberate people subject to oppression and discrimination.

We are also reminded that each of our individual selves develops in the midst of the human community; our rights are rights of individuals in communities of other rights-bearing individuals (25–26). So the concept of a right will differ from the concept of subjective preference. Not everything a person prefers, nor even everything that improves her happiness, is a right. It takes hard work to figure out the best way to understand “rights,” and hard work to enumerate the specific rights every individual has. Dignitas Infinita frequently praises the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a paradigmatic result of such work.

The 1972 Title IX law passed in the United States attempted to create a social structure to help make freedom more than merely notional for a group of people. It recognized that women and girls were denied access to educational opportunities on the basis of their sex, and it made such denial illegal. The legislation nevertheless recognized some situations in which students could be differentiated on the basis of sex, precisely because such differentiation was needed to secure the equal access demanded by law. For example, K-12 schools, colleges, and universities were permitted to create and maintain sex-segregated bathrooms, locker rooms, dormitories, and athletic teams. That is, there had to be facilities that women and girls could use, and some of the facilities for their use could be designed for their exclusive use. That would ensure they wouldn’t exclude themselves from opportunities at a school that notionally welcomed them but which had no changing rooms or bathrooms that felt private, dignified, or safe. Similarly, the law recognized that for girls and women to have safe experiences of challenging athletic competition, it would not suffice to tell them that they were now welcome to try out for the already existing teams for men and boys. They needed girls’ soccer teams, women’s basketball teams, and so on.

Shortly after the release of Dignitas Infinita, new Title IX regulations were released. These regulations instruct schools, colleges, and universities on how they are to meet their responsibilities under the 1972 legislation. The new regulations define “discrimination on the basis of sex” to include discrimination on the basis of gender identity. This effectively substitutes gender identity for sex as the principle around which facilities and resources at educational institutions are designed. It also complicates the collection and analysis of data about whether women and girls are still being excluded from educational opportunities. Unpicking why it does so illuminates some of the questions about individual self-understanding, social structures, and competing goods on which Dignitas Infinita invites us to reflect.

Arguably, U.S. laws and regulations already ensured certain protections for gay, lesbian, and trans students. (It would be naïve, of course, to assume that regulations are always followed. Perhaps one good effect of the new guidance will be that more schools actually uphold their responsibilities in this regard.) For example, a school can’t use the fact that a male student identifies as a girl as a reason not to address persistent peer bullying targeting that student. The new regulations clarify that this failure would also give that student grounds to complain under Title IX.

For every sane person who doesn’t want kids to be bullied, this may seem like an uncomplicatedly good result. The trouble is that the guidelines don’t just ensure that trans students can attend school without being bullied or harassed. They also change how access to facilities and resources is managed. The regulations hold that educational institutions may maintain what they call “sex separate” facilities like bathrooms and locker rooms. But they also hold that institutions must provide such facilities without imposing more than de minimis harm to any student, and the regulations assert that trans students suffer more than de minimis harm when they are not allowed to access facilities or resources that align with their gender identity. Such access must therefore be allowed whenever requested, so as to prevent such harm. This means that all facilities and resources become, in principle, mixed-sex. Female students who identify as boys or men can access facilities designated for boys and men, and male students who identify as girls or women can access facilities designated for girls and women. Under that condition, it is misleading to call the facilities “sex-separated.” They are, in fact, mixed-sex spaces designed around students’ gender self-identifications.

This is an example of the kind of rights conflict with which Dignitas Infinita is concerned in paragraph 56. I suspect that when Dignitas Infinita says what little it does about gender theory, it is gesturing at certain claims made by some (not all) trans-rights activists that set up conflicts over what kind of structures and resources a society can maintain. These claims come out of “understandable aspirations,” but I agree with the Vatican that we need more careful reflection about how these aspirations are met (59).

 

There are, of course, different visions of what being trans involves, and different ideas about how the rights of transgender people are best secured. But versions of these four claims are common in trans-rights advocacy:

(1) Gender identity is distinct from sex. Gender identity is revealed to each person in ways that undergird first-person authority claims: no one knows your gender identity better than you.

(2) At least for transgender people, but perhaps for everyone, one’s gender identity is more important than one’s sex in one’s experience of one’s own life. 

(3) When we consider how to treat or respond to another person, in an individual interaction, their gender identity should matter more than their sex.

(4) When we consider what spaces and resources our society should offer, we should not have sex-segregated spaces; instead, we should have gender-identity-segregated spaces.

There is no evidence that the drafters of Dignitas Infinita spent time in dialogue with transgender people. They didn’t hear directly about why people endorse, sincerely and passionately, the first and second of these claims. Along with the document’s lack of attention to the pastoral care of transgender people, this absence of dialogue expresses a lack of respect. But I think the drafters were, however awkwardly, making a reasonable point: claims like (1) and (2) don’t automatically entail claims like (3) and (4). They were also noting, however vaguely, that in considering how best to meet the needs of trans people—an important social good—there may be trade-offs with other important social goods. Despite the document’s shortcomings, its authors are right that everyone should think carefully about such potential trade-offs.

We ought to defer to one another with respect to our claims about experience. This deference is especially important on matters that cut to the heart of one’s sense of self. Such deference is a key part of respect. Deferring to your claims about your pain, your hopes and joys, your sense of purpose—that’s part of recognizing you as a distinct person whose point of view is not reducible to anyone else’s.

But deference can be serious without being absolute or unreflective. This is especially true when the claim to which one is being asked to defer is not a claim about how someone feels, or the meaning she makes of something in her own life, but a claim about how other people ought to behave in response to that feeling or meaning. Respecting someone as a distinct person likely requires, in most contexts, deferring to a claim such as “In my experience, in my sense of self, my gender identity is much more important than my sex.” But such respect won’t necessarily require deferring to a claim such as “In every context in which you interact with me, my gender identity will (or should) be more important to you than my sex.”

Considering sexual orientation—rather than gender identity—can help us see that appropriate deference to first-person authority can’t require that we always accept that second claim. Most lesbians understand themselves as female people who are same-sex attracted: that’s a claim they make about themselves and their embodied experience to which it seems others ought to defer. But some transwomen—males who identify as women—are sexually attracted to women, and because they emphasize their gender identity over their sex, they also describe themselves as lesbians. It isn’t possible for society to defer equally to both of these claims for the following reason: society can’t allow lesbians to define themselves as same-sex-attracted for purposes of political organizing, or allow lesbians to form single-sex support groups, and defer to transwomen who identify as lesbian. A political organization will either describe lesbians as same-sex attracted or it won’t; a support group for queer women will either include males who identify as women or it won’t. They can’t do both simultaneously. It will take real work to address such questions, and that requires that the questions be recognized as questions. Requiring, as a proof of respect for transwomen, that lesbians either change or be silent about their self-understanding isn’t an effective way to acknowledge the social good of generally deferring to others’ self-descriptions.

Here’s another example that shows why it isn’t helpful to treat as “absolute and unquestionable” the “understandable aspirations” of (for example) transwomen to be treated as female people. Suppose a young woman is scheduling her first pelvic exam and requests a female gynecologist, or a disabled woman is hiring home-health assistance with intimate bodily care and requests female aides. There are talented and compassionate transwomen working in the health-care field. But deferring to their sense of themselves as women stands in tension with deferring to the women and girls who articulate a need for their bodies to be handled by someone female. There’s a serious disagreement here about whether gender identity or sex should determine if an interaction between two people will proceed.

If first-person claims about gender identity were to carry absolute authority, then any time a male person said his gender identity should give him access to a female-only space, there would be no way to tell him “no,” no matter what his trans status might actually be. This would make it impossible to maintain single-sex spaces. This has already happened for federal and many state prisons in the United States, as well as in the prison systems of other countries. It also happens at rape crisis centers and domestic-violence shelters.

Precisely because violence rooted in sexism and misogyny continues, women need refuges from it and ways to combat it. Precisely because sex-based practices for denying girls opportunities continue, resources explicitly designed to overcome those practices need to be supported. Precisely because patterns of male sexual violence against women are complex, and still need to be studied as the patterns of male sexual violence they are, legal systems need a way to record sex as well as gender identity when tracking crime. Women and girls need the right to say in court that the person who raped them was a man—even if that man identifies as a woman and prefers female pronouns. Legislation and regulation that privilege gender identity over sex in the design of spaces and resources, and in rules about how people should be categorized and described, do threaten the rights of women and girls, including rights codified in international human-rights agreements. That’s why Reem Alsalem, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and Girls, has repeatedly expressed concern about such laws and regulations. She recently criticized America’s new Title IX guidance. But neither her voice nor the voices of feminist legal organizations with similar concerns are getting much traction. 

 

Dignitas Infinita leaves much to be desired. It is murky and unclear and refuses to define key terms. In that, it is of a piece with the new Title IX guidance, which insists it need not define either “sex” or “gender identity” in order to assert that prohibitions on sex discrimination include prohibitions on gender-identity-based discrimination. But Dignitas Infinita points toward legitimate concerns: respecting the dignity of trans people; ensuring that violent crimes against them are prosecuted; ensuring that their trans identity cannot be used as a pretext to deny them housing, fire them from a job, or deny them an education—all of that can be worked toward without pre-judging the question of whether there are some contexts in which it might be important to continue to notice sex, and to design spaces and resources for female people. In some cases, a male person’s declared sense of being a woman may not be enough to allow him entry into, say, a particular hospital ward or a particular support group. In some contexts, it may be appropriate to refer to that person as male. These are the “rights clashes” the Vatican discusses, and that the new Title IX regulations paper over. The Vatican, along with some left-wing feminist organizations, appreciates that “[h]uman beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems” (47).

My worry is that the “gender theory” behind some activism for trans rights violates this principle. It tells women and girls what they cannot do and are not allowed to have. It feels odd to me for my Church to be recognizing this, when it has spent, and still spends, so much time telling women and girls what we cannot do and are not allowed to have.  

This article is part of a symposium about Dignitas Infinita published in Commonweal’s June 2024 issue. To view the whole symposium, click here. 

Maura Tumulty

Juneteenth and the life of the first Black American Catholic priest

Venerable Augustus Tolton. / Credit: Public domain

CNA Staff, Jun 19, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

On June 19, the United States commemorates the anniversary of the 1865 order that gave freedom to enslaved African Americans in Texas, issued two months after the Civil War ended. More commonly known as “Juneteenth,” it became a federal holiday in 2021 and serves as a fitting day to remember the first Black Catholic priest in the U.S. whose cause has been opened for canonization — Venerable Augustus Tolton.

Tolton was born into slavery in Brush Creek, Ralls County, Missouri, on April 1, 1854, to Catholic parents Peter Paul Tolton and Martha Jane Chisley.

Peter Paul escaped shortly after the beginning of the Civil War and joined the Union Army, dying shortly thereafter. In 1862, Augustus Tolton, along with his mother and two siblings, escaped by crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois. 

“John, boy, you’re free. Never forget the goodness of the Lord,” Tolton’s mother reportedly told him after the crossing.

Tolton began to attend St. Peter’s Catholic School, an all-white parish school in Quincy, Illinois, thanks to the help of Father Peter McGirr. The priest went on to baptize Tolton, instruct him for his first holy Communion, and encouraged his vocation to the priesthood.

No American seminary would accept Tolton because of his race, so he studied for the priesthood in Rome and was ordained in 1886 at the age of 31, becoming the first African American ordained as a priest.

Tolton returned to the U.S. where he served for three years at a parish in Quincy. From there he went to Chicago and started a parish for Black Catholics — St. Monica Parish. He remained there until he died unexpectedly while on a retreat in 1897. He was just 43 years old. 

During his short but impactful life, Tolton learned to speak fluent English, German, Italian, Latin, Greek, and African dialects. He was also a talented musician with a beautiful voice. He helped the poor and sick, fed the hungry, and helped many discover the faith. He was lovingly known as “Good Father Gus.”

Tolton’s cause was opened by the Archdiocese of Chicago on Feb. 24, 2011, making him a Servant of God, and then on June 12, 2019, Pope France declared him Venerable, which is the second step toward canonization.

Cardinal Giovanni Simeoni, announcing to the committee deciding where Tolton would be sent after his ordination in 1886 and who overruled the previous decision to send him to Africa, reportedly said the following:

“America has been called the most enlightened nation in the world. We shall see whether it deserves that honor. If the United States has never before seen a Black priest, it must see one now.”

Despite President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation going into effect on Jan. 1, 1863, it could not be implemented in states still under Confederate control, and enforcement of the Proclamation relied upon the advance of Union troops. It wasn’t until Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, on June 19, 1865, that more than 250,000 enslaved African Americans were freed by executive decree.

‘American Spartacus’: Honoring a Black Catholic Civil War hero on Juneteenth

An 1889 rendition by architects Bullard & Bullard of the National Emancipation Monument proposed for Springfield, Illinois (Library of Congress), superimposed on a 34-star U.S. flag dating to the Civil War. / Credit: Wikimedia Commons

National Catholic Register, Jun 19, 2024 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Juneteenth is a federal holiday recognizing the liberation of Black Americans and marking the conclusion of the U.S. Civil War. On June 19, 1865, enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas, saw the Union Army, which included regiments of armed Black Americans fighting under the American flag, reunite the country and declare them free from bondage. 

Black Americans began Juneteenth celebrations in Texas, and the celebration eventually spread throughout the country as the struggle to secure the peace and promise of racial equality won by the Civil War continued. This Juneteenth 2024 marks 168 years after the first Juneteenth celebration and is the fourth time the entire U.S. will observe it as a national holiday. 

Catholics on Juneteenth should celebrate this day by honoring the memory of Capt. André Cailloux, the Black Catholic hero and patriot called the “American Spartacus,” whose ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield was crucial to turning the tide of the Civil War and allowing us the opportunity to live in a country that strives after “peace and justice for all.” 

In 1861, at the outset of the Civil War, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens proudly declared the Confederacy would be the first nation in the world built on white supremacy, “upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”

But the Confederacy would end in ruins by 1865, and the United States would triumph, because Black Americans — making up 10% of the Union Army and suffering 10% of total battlefield casualties — would help turn the tide of the U.S. Civil War.

President Abraham Lincoln, at the strong urging of abolitionists like the Black orator Frederick Douglass, agreed in 1863 to allow the enlistment of Black Americans for combat regiments. But everything depended on how the first Black Americans proved their valor in battle and whether Black Americans would join in the overwhelming numbers needed to win the war.

Cailloux responded to the call to form one of the first Black combat regiments in the Union Army, the First Louisiana Native Guard. Moreover, this Catholic — a married father who owned a cigar business, supported the charitable works of the Church, and proudly called himself the “Blackest man in New Orleans” — was a commissioned officer. So much responsibility rested on his decisions; he doubtless knew his conduct in the heat of battle would become the measure by which the fighting capability of Black Americans would be judged.

Cailloux and his men met their finest hour in the bitter siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana. He was ordered to lead the First Louisiana Native Guard in an assault on entrenched Confederate fortifications — practically a suicide mission in the face of artillery and sharpshooters. In his charge, Cailloux never wavered, urging his men onward in both French and English as the bullets pierced his flesh, until finally an artillery shell struck him down. Even then, he managed to give one final order for his lieutenant to take charge.

The news of Cailloux’s undaunted heroism in the face of certain death electrified the country, and the significance of his pivotal sacrifice as a Black officer, soldier, and free man led African Americans to enlist in droves into the Union Army. With the valiant sacrifices of the Black volunteers of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry at the Battle of Fort Wagner following Cailloux’s death in July 1863, the U.S. had its answer: Black Americans would fight with courage and distinction for the union and freedom. 

Over the next two years, Gen. Robert E. Lee would see the ideology of the Confederacy unravel before his very eyes. White and Black Americans together in the Union Army fought his Army of Northern Virginia, and with their combined strength, finally defeated Lee and forced his surrender at Appomattox Court House. 

Cailloux’s body would later be recovered with the fall of Port Hudson. New Orleans commemorated this native son and hero with a military parade, with mourners stretching a mile long. Cailloux’s funeral Mass was celebrated by Father Claude Paschal Maistre, the only Catholic priest in New Orleans who opposed slavery against the pro-Confederate clergy and suffered greatly for his witness at the hands of his own archbishop.

Cailloux’s life was cut short in his prime, but contemporaries stood in awe of his decisive contribution to ending the Civil War.

Louisiana civil rights activist Rodolphe Desdunes (1849–1928), whose brother served under Cailloux, wrote: “The eyes of the world were indeed on this American Spartacus. The hero of ancient Rome displayed no braver heroism than did this officer who ran forward to his death with a smile on his lips and crying, ‘Let us go forward, O comrades!’”

One Union Army veteran, Col. Douglass Wilson, would say of Cailloux: “If ever patriotic heroism deserved to be honored in stately marble or in brass that of Captain Caillioux deserves to be, and the American people will have never redeemed their gratitude to genuine patriotism until that debt is paid.”

This article was first published by the National Catholic Register, CNA's sister news partner, and has been updated and adapted by CNA.

U.S. bishop applauds Biden’s move to allow undocumented spouses pathway to citizenship

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks at an event marking the 12th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in the East Room at the White House on June 18, 2024, in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 18, 2024 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

The head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, on Tuesday praised the Biden administration’s new plan to offer a pathway to citizenship for undocumented spouses and children of American citizens.

This new streamlined process will permit noncitizen spouses married to U.S. citizens to apply to legally live and work in the U.S. without fear of being deported. In addition to the spouses, noncitizen children of applicants would also be allowed to receive such protections.

To be eligible for this process, noncitizens must have resided in the U.S. for 10 years or more and be legally married to an American citizen while satisfying all other applicable immigration requirements. Those who qualify under these guidelines would be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship after three years while also being allowed for work authorization in that period of time.

“We welcome today’s announcement and the hope it brings to thousands of American families who have grappled with the fear of separation for a decade or more,” Seitz shared following Tuesday’s announcement from the White House.

This executive action would also relieve the visa process for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), who would be able to stay in the country upon receiving a degree from an American educational institution and a job offer with a company based in the United States.

The Biden administration’s announcement comes on the anniversary of DACA, an Obama-era program created to protect eligible young adults who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

“As we commemorate the 12th anniversary of DACA, we’ve seen the positive impacts such programs can have, not only for beneficiaries themselves but for the families, employers, and communities that rely on them. This new program is sure to yield similar benefits,” Seitz stated. “However, as the fate of DACA hangs in the balance, we also know how insufficient these programs are.”

This plan of action comes amid an ongoing legislative stalemate on immigration reform. Last month, a bipartisan security bill pushed by the Democrat-led Senate failed to advance on a 43-50 procedural vote. Immigration policy has especially remained a prominent issue leading up to November’s presidential election, in which both candidates have spoken extensively of the topic on their campaign trails.

Despite this, Seitz emphasized the importance of advancing legislation centered on families.

“Legislators have a moral and patriotic duty to improve our legal immigration system, including the opportunities available for family reunification and preservation. A society is only as strong as its families, and family unity is a fundamental right,” he said. “For the good of the country, Congress must find a way to overcome partisan divisions and enact immigration reformation that includes an earned legalization program for longtime undocumented immigrants.”

Texas doctor indicted after exposing transgender child surgeries at children’s hospital

null / Credit: ADragan/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jun 18, 2024 / 17:08 pm (CNA).

A Texas doctor has been indicted for allegedly breaking federal law after he accessed patient records as part of an exposé into child transgender surgeries. 

In 2022, Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston announced that it would cease performing transgender procedures on minors, citing concerns over “legal ramifications” after state Attorney General Ken Paxton said some of those medical procedures could be considered child abuse under state law. 

Roughly a year later, journalist Christopher Rufo reported at City Journal that the hospital had “secretly continued to perform transgender medical interventions … on minor children.” Rufo cited “whistleblower documents” he obtained from inside the institution. 

On Monday the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas said in a press release that Texas doctor Eithan Haim had been “indicted for obtaining protected individual health information for patients that were not under his care and without authorization.” Rufo previously identified Haim as the source of the documents. 

Haim was set to make his first court appearance on Monday afternoon, the attorney’s office said. The doctor allegedly “obtained personal information including patient names, treatment codes, and the attending physician” from the Texas children’s hospital without authorization. 

He “allegedly obtained this information under false pretenses and with intent to cause malicious harm to TCH,” the press release said. 

If convicted, Haim “faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 maximum possible fine,” the government said. 

Texas has in recent years been at the forefront of the ongoing cultural and legal fight over transgender issues. The Biden administration in 2022 condemned the state policy whereby parents who facilitate “gender transition” medical treatments for children can be investigated for child abuse.  

Gov. Greg Abbott in February of that year directed Texas Family and Protective Services to investigate certain procedures performed on children, including ​​castration and hysterectomy, as well as puberty blockers and hormone treatments, as possible instances of child abuse. 

Earlier this month, Paxton announced that the state had “won a major victory” against the Biden administration over the White House’s attempt to rewrite federal Title IX law to include transgender protections.

The government’s new education rules in part redefined “sex discrimination” under Title IX to include protections for “gender identity.” A judge subsequently ruled that the federal government “cannot regulate state educational institutions in this way without violating federal law.”

Texas “prevailed on behalf of the entire nation,” Paxton said in announcing the ruling. 

The Texas Supreme Court, meanwhile, heard oral arguments in January in a challenge to the state’s ban on extreme transgender procedures performed on children. The outcome of that case is still pending.