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Florida priest and parish administrator embezzled $1.5 million from parish, police say

Deborah True was investigated on suspicion of embezzling church funds at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Vero Beach, Florida. Police say the former pastor, Father Richard “Dick” Murphy, who died on March 22, 2020, was also involved in funneling money from the parish. / Indian River County Jail/ YouTube screenshot of Murphy

Boston, Mass., Sep 22, 2022 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

A priest along with the former parish administrator of a Catholic church in Florida funneled nearly $1.5 million in parishioners’ donations into a secret bank account for personal use, Vero Beach police said Tuesday.

The former pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Vero Beach, Father Richard “Dick” Murphy, died on March 22, 2020, at the age of 80. The administrator, 69-year-old Deborah True, “turned herself in” to the Indian River County Jail in Vero Beach on Sept. 19, police said in a statement posted on the Vero Beach Police Department’s Facebook page

The Diocese of Palm Beach contacted the police department in December 2021, raising concerns about a fraudulent bank account and the misappropriation of church funds that took place over the course of five years.

After a nine-month investigation, police concluded that from 2015–2020, $1.5 million in parishioner donations was funneled into a bank account called “Holy Cross Catholic Church” that was opened by Murphy and True in 2012. The account was hidden from the Diocese of Palm Beach, police said. 

Between 2015 and 2020, True paid off her personal debts with over $500,000 of the funds, police said. True transferred an additional $147,000 from the fake account into her checking account, police added.

According to the police statement, the late priest “personally benefited from the funds in the account.” It is unclear whether the entire $1.5 million in the fake account was spent. Police did not respond to a phone call inquiry on Thursday afternoon.

Police said that a criminal investigation has not been opened against Murphy because of his death. True “turned herself in at the Indian River County Jail on one count of Organized Fraud over $50,000,” and was released the same day on bond for $25,000, according to the police statement. According to veronews.com, True is scheduled for arraignment on Nov. 3 at 8:45 a.m.

In a statement to CNA, the Diocese of Palm Beach said: “Criminal charges were recently filed by the state attorney’s office related to financial irregularities discovered last year by the Diocese of Palm Beach at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Vero Beach.”

“The Diocese of Palm Beach reported concerns to local law enforcement after discovering these irregularities and has fully cooperated throughout their investigation. The diocese understands that an arrest has been made of a former employee,” the statement said. 

“The Diocese of Palm Beach is committed to financial accountability in all of its parishes and entities and will continue to cooperate in this process,” the statement said. “This matter does not involve the current pastor at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Vero Beach.”

According to Murphy’s obituary, True was his “longtime” secretary and his caregiver. Murphy was the pastor at Holy Cross for almost 23 years, from 1997 to 2020, True told veronews.com at the time of Murphy’s death. 

True told the outlet that Murphy was a “fantastic leader” and that “he cared about the parishioners and they cared about him.”

“He believed we needed to reach out to people in the community whenever there was a need,” True said.

True added that “he really cared about Vero Beach” and said that “he was a private person who didn’t like accolades or awards. He did stuff from the heart.”

According to Murphy’s obituary, he was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1939 and was ordained in Ireland. He then served as a priest in Miami and at various parishes in South Florida, including St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Pompano Beach, Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Lake Worth, St. Brendan Catholic Church in Miami, and Sts. Peter and Paul in Miami. 

Murphy then served as the pastor of Ascension Catholic Church in Boca Raton, St. Joseph Catholic Church in Stuart, and finally Holy Cross in Vero Beach.

Murphy served as the bishops’ delegate in the building and real estate development department for the diocese and as president of the affordable housing for seniors at Catholic Charities, the obituary said.

“He always relished being a pastoral priest,” the obituary said.

Methodist-linked university’s Christian conduct code under fire from LGBT advocates

Hand wearing gay pride rainbow wristband making a power fist gesture in front of the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Via Shutterstock / null

Denver Newsroom, Sep 22, 2022 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

Do church-affiliated universities and Christian moral codes have a place in higher ed?

Critics of the Methodist-linked Seattle Pacific University, it seems, think the answer is no. They have filed a lawsuit against the university’s board of trustees after it reaffirmed that full-time employees may not be in same-sex relationships.

The controversy could have broad implications: Catholic and other Christian educational institutions have faced similar lawsuits over their religious identities and expectations for faculty and staff.

“Seattle Pacific is fighting to protect its freedom, as a religious university, to have religious standards in hiring,” said Lori Windham, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket legal group, which is representing the school in a separate, related legal dispute over the university’s conduct code with the state attorney general.

“The First Amendment protects the right of churches and other religious institutions to decide what they believe and who should lead them,” she told CNA. “If Seattle Pacific loses that right, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and other faith groups will lose it, too.”

Multiple undergraduate and graduate students, alumni, and faculty and staff of Seattle Pacific University filed a lawsuit against the university’s trustees on Sept. 11 in Washington state superior court.

Their complaint is pointed in its criticisms of the trustees and the university’s affiliation with the Free Methodist Church, whose members founded the school in 1891. It alleged that the reaffirmation of the conduct code is a breach of fiduciary duty.

The lawsuit accused the trustees of “placing their personal religious beliefs above their fiduciary duty” to the university and its people. It claimed that the board is “rogue” for various actions, including its consultations with the Free Methodist Church, and demanded the appointment of a new board.

“These men treat the university and its assets like a personal weapon and war chest to fight the sectarian battles of the Free Methodist Church USA,” said the lawsuit.

The Free Methodist Church USA, headquartered in Indianapolis, has about 68,000 members in under 850 churches in the U.S. However, the Protestant denomination has more than 1.2 million adherents globally, with its largest church membership in India and Burundi. The denomination has five other universities and a seminary in the U.S.

The lawsuit characterized the church as “a denomination with a small domestic constituency” that is “openly hostile to the LGBTQ+ community.” The lawsuit claimed the trustees have “pledged their primary allegiance” to the Methodist denomination. The lawsuit characterizes the link between the university and the denomination as “voluntary” and “informal.” 

The lawsuit objected that the university’s hiring policies “advance the interests of a religious denomination at the expense of the students, alumni, staff, and faculty of the university.”

Some trustees leave, but board stands firm

The university’s board of trustees reaffirmed the conduct code in May, in part due to concerns about preserving its affiliation with the Free Methodist Church USA. In reaction, some students and staff held protests and called for the board to be removed. About 80% of the faculty voted to back the employment of people in same-sex marriages.

The university’s bylaws require the president and at least one-third of all trustees to be members of the church, according to Becket. Each year, each trustee must reaffirm his or her commitment to the university’s mission and faith statement.

The six trustees named as defendants include Dr. Matthew Whitehead, currently the lead bishop of the Free Methodist Church who oversees the denomination in the Western U.S., Africa, and Asia. Another defendant is Mark Mason, who serves with Whitehead on the Free Methodist Church Board of Accountability. Seven of the board’s 14 trustees have resigned since last year, with some voicing objections to the conduct code.

“Seattle Pacific University is aware of the lawsuit and will respond in due course,” Tracy Norlen, director of public information at the university’s Office of Communications, told CNA Sept. 19.

The lawsuit against the trustees has a financial aspect. It contends that the board “derives power from its ability to control the highly valuable assets of both the university and its foundation.” The complaint claimed that the university is “financially and structurally imploding” and that these assets will go to the Free Methodist Church if the university dissolves. University assets, land, and buildings exceed $500 million in value, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleged that the board of trustees now lacks the minimum number of members required by its bylaws. It asked the court to remove the trustees and university officers and put the university into receivership so that new trustees can be elected.

The university faces a $10 million deficit and an enrollment decline since 2015 from 4,175 students to 3,400 last fall. Cedric Davis, a former chair of the board of trustees who resigned over his disagreement with the sexual conduct statement, told the Seattle Times some of the enrollment decline is due to broader trends in higher education. He disagreed with the lawsuit’s claim that the university is “imploding.” Rather, he suggested the school will become smaller and more conservative.

Paul Southwick, the attorney representing the student and faculty plaintiffs, is director of the Portland, Oregon-based Religious Exemption Accountability Project. The project is sponsored by Soulforce, an LGBT advocacy group that has for more than a decade rallied opposition against sexual conduct codes at religious colleges and universities, including Seattle Pacific University.

Soulforce also backs a federal lawsuit that seeks to end federal funding of “any university that discriminates and abuses LGBTQI people.” 

University pressured by attorney general

The office of Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson also is involved in the legal controversy.

After receiving complaints from students and faculty about the conduct code, Ferguson’s office sent a letter to the university in June saying the policies may violate state anti-discrimination law. The letter sought detailed information about how the university applies the policies. Additionally, it sought contact information for those affected by the policies and job descriptions of every position at the school.

Ferguson’s involvement prompted the Becket legal group’s federal lawsuit, filed July 27 in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, challenging the attorney general’s actions.

“If the university changed its employment policies to permit employment of Christians in same-sex marriages, the university would be automatically disaffiliated from the Free Methodist Church. The university would no longer be a denominational institution,” Becket’s lawsuit states.

The university can fulfill its mission, it adds, “only with a faculty of Christians who affirm the university’s Statement of Faith, who affirm the university’s mission, who live out their Christian faith, and who bring their faith into all aspects of their lives, including their teaching and scholarship.”

The U.S. Constitution protects the university’s right “to decide matters of faith and doctrine, to hire employees who share its religious beliefs, and to select and retain ministers free from government interference,” the Becket lawsuit states.

It accuses the attorney general’s probe of violating the constitution’s “clear prohibition on interference in matters of church governance, including entangling investigations of religious employment decisions and the selection of ministers.”

The probe “inquires into confidential religious matters and is beyond the scope of authority granted under state law and the federal constitution,” the lawsuit argues. It alleges that Ferguson is “wielding state power to interfere with the religious beliefs of a religious university, and a church, whose beliefs he disagrees with.”

Just days after Becket filed the lawsuit, Ferguson announced on July 29 that his office was investigating alleged discrimination charges against the university. He characterized the religious freedom lawsuit as a demonstration “that the university believes it is above the law to such an extraordinary degree that it is shielded from answering basic questions from my office regarding the university’s compliance with state law.”

“Seattle Pacific University’s attempt to obstruct our lawful investigation will not succeed,” Ferguson said. “My office protects the civil rights of Washingtonians who have historically faced harmful discrimination. That’s our job — we uphold Washington’s law prohibiting discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation.”

“My office respects the religious views of all Washingtonians and the constitutional rights afforded to religious institutions,” Ferguson said. “As a person of faith, I share that view. My office did not prejudge whether Seattle Pacific University’s employment policies or its actions are illegal.”

Ferguson’s biography on his office’s website notes his personal involvement in successfully suing a florist who declined to serve a same-sex wedding ceremony on religious grounds.

Other legal cases in the state could have an impact. Last year the Washington Supreme Court allowed a bisexual lawyer to proceed with a discrimination lawsuit against a Christian nonprofit that serves the homeless. The organization had declined to offer him a job because he was in a same-sex relationship and rejected its Christian code of conduct.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has a “ministerial exception” for many religious nonprofits’ employee policies, the state Supreme Court said a trial court must answer the “open question” of whether a staff attorney for the nonprofit qualifies as a minister.

Another Methodist body, the United Methodist Church, agreed to split over disagreement on LGBT issues, though plans for the separation have fallen through after delays from the COVID-19 pandemic.

US bishops’ pro-life chair asks Catholics to practice ‘unconditional love’ after Roe

null / Thanatip S/Shutterstock.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 22, 2022 / 09:50 am (CNA).

In anticipation of Respect Life Month in October, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore is encouraging Catholics to practice “radical solidarity and unconditional love” for pregnant and parenting mothers.

In a new statement issued Wednesday, Lori, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, called the Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade an “answer to prayer” — and an opportunity to build a culture of life.

The decision that leaves abortion up to the states ended the court’s “nearly fifty-year nationwide regime of abortion on demand,” Lori stressed.

He called it a “victory for justice, the rule of law, and self-governance” as well as a “time for a renewal and rededication of our efforts to build a culture of life and civilization of love.”

“Justice is, of course, essential to this end. But it is not sufficient,” he commented. “To build a world in which all are welcome requires not only justice, but compassion, healing, and above all, unconditional love.”

In a post-Roe world, he called on the faithful to “shift the paradigm” to what St. John Paul II described as “radical solidarity” — or “making the good of others our own good, including especially mothers, babies (born and preborn), and families throughout the entire human lifespan.”

Lori added: “It is a call to friendship and compassion rooted in the truth that we are made to love our neighbor as ourselves.”

To practice radical solidarity and unconditional love, the bishop called on the faithful to take certain steps.

“First, by speaking the truth that abortion not only unjustly kills a preborn child, but also gravely wounds women, men, families, and the nation as a whole,” he wrote. “We must speak these truths with compassion, and we must live these truths with compassion.”

Next, he asked the faithful to have the “courage to love — to act and bear witness by caring for the least among us, without condition or expectation of recompense.”

Lori pointed to the work that Catholics are already doing on a personal level to help those in need.

“Many are engaged in parish and community initiatives such as pregnancy resource centers, post-abortion counseling and more recently Walking with Moms in Need,” he said, referring to the USCCB’s parish-based pro-life ministry.

On a larger level, he recognized the Catholic Church as the largest charitable provider of social services to women, children, and families in the United States.

“Catholics have already done much at both the institutional and personal level to help address the problems of poverty, healthcare, education, housing, employment, addiction, criminal justice, domestic violence, and the like that push women towards abortion,” he confimed. “Our Church understands that parents, children, and families need help not just during pregnancy, but throughout the whole of life’s journey because millions of Catholics already accompany their neighbors in such circumstances.”

That includes, he said, accompanying parents during adoption or offering mercy and healing to women and men suffering after abortion.

He concluded by calling for a “new politics” through radical solidarity.

“Those who disagree on the morality or justice of abortion should nonetheless come together to pursue common-ground solutions to provide care and support to mothers, children, and families in need,” he wrote. “Public officials can stake out new ground, to move beyond the political divisions of Left and Right and build a new coalition of people of good will that will focus on the best outcomes for those in need by whatever means — public or private — that prove to be most effective.”

He emphasized that “we belong to each other, and each of us was made for love and friendship.”

“Accordingly, we must live and act in radical solidarity with mothers, children, and families in need,” he urged. “That means doing whatever we can through law, policy, politics, and culture to provide them with the care and support necessary for their flourishing throughout the entire arc of life’s journey.”

“Through our collective and individual actions, we can build a culture of life and civilization of love in America,” he added. “Let us begin.”

In November, Lori told CNA that if the overturning of Roe translated into an increase of mothers giving birth, the Church must “step up to the plate and be there,” with its Catholic health care institutions, Catholic charities, and Catholic parishes.

For Catholics, he said, “The duty to cherish and foster human life is always going to be part of who we are.”

Tennessee governor urges investigation of Vanderbilt pediatric transgender clinic

null / Image credit: ADragan/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 21, 2022 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has called for an investigation into the Vanderbilt University Medical Center after faculty comments on the lucrative nature of transgender surgeries were brought to light.

A podcast had also highlighted statements from the school’s faculty on the “consequences” faced by conscientious objectors.

The Republican governor said in a statement to The Daily Wire that “The ‘pediatric transgender clinic’ at Vanderbilt University Medical Center raises serious moral, ethical, and legal concerns.”

“We should not allow permanent, life-altering decisions that hurt children or policies that suppress religious liberties, all for the purpose of financial gain,” Lee added. “We have to protect Tennessee children, and this warrants a thorough investigation.”

Matt Walsh, an internet host for the The Daily Wire, shared the recordings of the faculty members’ comments in the Sept. 20 edition of his podcast “The Matt Walsh Show.”

The comments were made by two faculty members: Dr. Shayne Taylor, a university professor and a physician at the Vanderbilt Clinic for Transgender Health, and Dr. Ellen Clayton, law professor in the center for biomedical ethics and society department. They were recorded in 2018 and in 2019 at the Nashville school’s Medicine Grand Rounds lecture, a weekly faculty lecture series.

The Vanderbilt University Medical Center responded to the report with a statement on Wednesday saying the videos in Walsh’s report are misrepresentative of the center’s care for transgender patients.

Transgender surgeries: ‘huge moneymakers’

A video of Taylor’s 2018 lecture — which Walsh says is the same year that the transgender clinic opened — shows her speaking about cost estimates for transgender surgeries. 

“These surgeries make a lot of money,” Taylor said in the video. “So female-to-male chest reconstruction can bring in $40,000. A patient just on routine hormone treatment who I’m only seeing a few times a year can bring in several thousand dollars. ... It actually makes money for the hospital.”

Citing the Philadelphia Center for Transgender Surgery, which performs transgender surgeries, Taylor said that vaginoplasty surgeries — performed on males seeking to transition into women — are priced at $20,000. 

Taylor also added that the price tag doesn’t include hospital-stay costs, post-operation costs, anesthesia, or operating room costs.

“So I would think that this would have to be a gross underestimate,” she said. “I think that’s just like the surgeon’s piece of it, which anybody who’s ever been in a hospital knows that that’s like 10% of it.”

Speaking of female-to-male “bottom surgeries,” Taylor called them “huge moneymakers.” 

Phalloplasty surgeries cost up to $100,000, Taylor said on the recording.

Women who undergo phalloplasty must first have a hysterectomy, and the vagina may also be removed. On average, it takes a patient 12 to 18 months to heal from a phalloplasty. 

Citing Vanderbilt’s own transgender surgeon, Taylor said that there are clinics that are financially supported solely from phalloplasty surgeries.

“And that is like a fraction of the surgeries that they’re doing,” she said. “These surgeries are labor intensive, they require a lot of follow-ups, they require a lot of OR [operating room] time, and they make money. They make money for the hospital.”

Conscientious objection ‘not without consequences’

Speaking to staff at the medical center, Clayton, the law professor, said at a Medicine Grand Rounds Lecture on Nov. 22, 2019: “If you are going to assert conscientious objection [to transgender surgeries], you have to realize that that is problematic.”

She added that the university may have to “accommodate” the religious beliefs of a staff member who conscientiously objects, but said that “I just want you to take home that saying that you’re not going to do something because of your religious beliefs is not without consequences.”

“And it should not be without consequences,” she added. “And I just want to put that out there. If you don’t want to do this kind of work, don’t work at Vanderbilt.”

Medical center issues statement

In response to Walsh’s exposé, the hospital issued a statement saying that the comments were not reflective of its policies.

“Vanderbilt University Medical Center is now the subject of social media posts and a video that misrepresent facts about the care the Medical Center provides to transgender patients,” the statement said.

“VUMC began its Transgender Health Clinic because transgender individuals are a high-risk population for mental and physical health issues and have been consistently underserved by the U.S. health system,” the statement said. 

The statement said the medical center is “family-centered” when dealing with adolescents and abides by the law.

“VUMC requires parental consent to treat a minor patient who is to be seen for issues related to transgender care, and never refuses parental involvement in the care of transgender youth who are under age 18,” the statement said.

“Our policies allow employees to decline to participate in care they find morally objectionable, and do not permit discrimination against employees who choose to do so,” the statement said. “This includes employees whose personal or religious beliefs do not support gender-affirming care for transgender persons.”

Walsh tweeted on Wednesday that he had a meeting with Tennessee state representative William Lamberth and state senator Jack Johnson, both Republicans, to work on legislation that will “shut down Vanderbilt’s child gender transition program and ban the practice in the state.”

CNA reporter Edie Heipel contributed to this story.

Pregnancy clinic firebombed in ‘Jane’s Revenge’ attack sues police for surveillance footage

CompassCare, a pro-life pregnancy center near Buffalo, New York, was heavily damaged by fire and spray-painted with pro-abortion graffiti on June 7, 2022. / CompassCare

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 21, 2022 / 13:45 pm (CNA).

After the pro-life pregnancy center he runs outside Buffalo was firebombed and vandalized on June 7, James Harden gave investigators video-surveillance footage of the attack, along with what he described as a “mountain of other evidence.”

Now, frustrated that no arrests have been made in the case after more than three months, he wants the footage back.

“It’s Day 106. There have been no arrests. There have been over 50 attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers. And our patience is at an end,” Harden, president and CEO of CompassCare Pregnancy Services, told CNA on Wednesday.

Harden said that he has asked both the FBI and local police for access to the footage so he can make a copy of it, to no avail. The police showed him still images taken from the video, he said, but would not give him access to the footage itself.

So on Tuesday CompassCare filed a lawsuit asking a judge to order the police department to provide CompassCare with a copy of the footage.

“Time is of the essence to commence a civil litigation because the longer time goes by the more likely it will be that those responsible for the firebombing will spoliate other evidence,” reads the complaint, which was filed in state Supreme Court in Buffalo.

The legal action is the latest manifestation of mounting frustration about what some see as a lackluster response by the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies to the wave of violent attacks on pro-life groups and Catholic churches across the U.S. since an early draft of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked on May 2.

The same day CompassCare filed its lawsuit, Republican Reps. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington introduced a bill that, among other things, would require the Biden administration to publicly report its handling of the investigation and prosecution of those engaging in “domestic violent extremism” against pregnancy centers.

The legislation, called the Protect Pregnancy Care Centers Act of 2022, already has 28 co-sponsors and boasts the support of national pro-life organizations, including SBA Pro-Life America, the March for Life, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

‘Jane’s Revenge’

The June 7 attack on CompassCare’s clinic, located in Amherst, New York, is one of at least 18 attributed to assailants invoking the pro-abortion moniker “Jane’s Revenge.” To date, there have been no arrests in any of those cases, Fox News reported last week.

In fact, no arrests have been reported in the more than 50 vandalism attacks on pregnancy centers since the Supreme Court leak, according to CNA’s tracker of these crimes.

“The public has a right to know what’s going on,” Harden told CNA. 

“There is a serious sickness in the body politic of America and the FBI isn’t even talking about it,” he said. “It’s the largest law enforcement agency on the globe and it appears that they’re treating this like some sort of bubble gum theft.”

CompassCare, a pro-life pregnancy center near Buffalo, New York, was heavily damaged by fire and spray-painted with pro-abortion graffiti on June 7, 2022. CompassCare
CompassCare, a pro-life pregnancy center near Buffalo, New York, was heavily damaged by fire and spray-painted with pro-abortion graffiti on June 7, 2022. CompassCare

In the attack on CompassCare’s Amherst facility, windows were shattered, an office was burned and heavily damaged, and the words “Jane was here” were spray-painted on the side of the building.

In an interview with EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo not long after the attack, Harden said it was clear from video footage that “multiple perpetrators” were involved.

“We had video footage on security cameras trained at all the points of penetration,” he said at the time. You can watch the full interview with Arroyo in the video below.

Harden told CNA he does not understand why the Amherst Police Department has not released the video to the public. He said the footage shows clear figures and license plates that ought to make it possible to identify someone. CompassCare was not able to make a copy of the footage before handing it over to authorities because of the damage to its building, its lawsuit notes.

A ‘quiet’ investigation?

The Amherst Police Department did not respond to CNA’s request for comment. In a statement released Aug. 1, the department said it was “working diligently” with the FBI to resolve the case.

“There have already been multiple leads examined and we are continuing to follow up with those at this time,” the statement read. Anyone with information about the case should contact the police department at 716-689-1311, referencing case number 22-224665, the statement added.

Stanley J. Silwa, the Amherst town attorney, told Buffalonews.com that giving CompassCare a copy of the footage would put the police investigation in jeopardy and added that the police would release the footage after the investigation is complete.

“Apparently they don’t like the explanation,” Silwa said, referring to CompassCare officials. “They should understand that.”

In an interview with the Epoch Times, Silwa said that the police department wants a “quiet” investigation because of fears that “these people don’t go further underground, as they may already be.”

“You’re aware of all the nut jobs out there with guns and AK-47s, bombing and killing people because they have certain political views,” Sliwa said in the interview.

Asked to elaborate on which people he was referring to, Silwa told the Epoch Times he was referring to the riot on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Silwa clarified that he was not linking supporters of CompassCare with the Capitol riot.

Silwa was not immediately available for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Congressional bill aims to protect pro-life pregnancy centers against ‘terror attacks’

Photos of the June 3 vandalism show a splash of red paint covering the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center’s white door. On the brick outer building, the words “Jane says revenge” are written in black spray paint. / Mary Margaret Olohan, reporter for The Daily Wire

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 21, 2022 / 10:30 am (CNA).

Republican Reps. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington introduced a bill Tuesday aimed at protecting pro-life pregnancy centers against a surge in violent attacks. 

“Despite dire threats and horrific attacks, the selfless volunteers and medical professionals who serve at these pregnancy care centers continue to heroically provide life-affirming medical care and crucial material support to pregnant women in need,” Smith told CNA. “We must ensure that those who work at these centers and the women who rely on them for support are safe from violent extremists who seek to inflict harm and terror.”

The Protect Pregnancy Care Centers Act of 2022 already has 28 co-sponsors and boasts the support of national pro-life organizations, including SBA Pro-Life America, the March for Life, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The bill, among other things, would require the Biden administration to publicly report its handling of the investigation and prosecution of those engaging in “domestic violent extremism” against pregnancy centers.

“Now more than ever, we need to ensure the safety and security of the estimated 3,000 pregnancy care centers that provide life-affirming alternatives to abortion,” Smith said in a press release. 

McMorris Rodgers added, “My goal is to foster an environment where no woman feels like their only option is abortion.”

The new legislation responds to a growing number of pro-abortion attacks targeting churches and pro-life pregnancy centers in the United States surrounding the Supreme Court’s June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. That decision leaves abortion up to the states.

The Smith-McMorris Rodgers bill lists and condemns the dozens of “terror attacks.”

“Pregnancy care centers across the country have suffered a surge of violent attacks, firebombing, and vandalism by pro-abortion activists in a coordinated effort to intimidate front-line volunteers and licensed medical professionals providing critical support to mothers in need and their unborn baby boys and girls,” Smith said.

McMorris Rodgers cautioned that the attacks “only endanger and intimidate the women who depend on them for critical medical care, education, and other resources.”

“I believe all extreme and hateful acts of violence should be condemned, which is why I’m helping lead this legislation to hold President Biden accountable for his failure to respond to this threat with the urgency it deserves,” she added.

The bill would require the inspector generals of the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security to report information to Congress on the Biden administration’s response to the attacks, including information on groups that have claimed responsibility and the number of prosecutions initiated.

It would also require the administration to identify funding available to pregnancy centers for security measures and provide recommendations for the creation of additional grant programs.

In the press release, Smith said that these “crimes against innocent victims” violate 18 U.S. Code § 248, a law that he said requires the Biden administration to investigate and prosecute the individuals threatening, vandalizing, and damaging pregnancy centers. The law, titled the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994 and prohibits the destruction of reproductive health care facilities, including pro-life counseling centers.

“Our new bill takes President Biden to task for his dereliction of duty to protect these centers from domestic violent extremists and will help hold the Biden administration accountable for its obligation to prosecute those who are inflicting terror and destroying these vital resource centers,” he said.

These centers, Smith stressed, save lives. 

According to the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI), the research arm of SBA Pro-Life America, roughly 828,130 unborn babies’ lives were saved over the course of five years because of pregnancy centers. CLI also reports that these centers offered services and material assistance amounting to more than $266 million in 2019 alone. These centers serve hundreds of thousands of women at little to no cost by offering everything from medical services, pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, and parenting classes to supplies such as diapers, baby food, and even a place to stay.

The White House press office did not respond with comment by time of publication.

Will Italy’s Elections Hurt Francis?

Italy’s upcoming elections could be the most consequential for the country in a very long time. They are likely to bring to office its first hard-right-wing prime minister, Giorgia Meloni—leader of the Fratelli d’Italia party, which combines disaffection from Republican institutions with a nostalgia for the fascism of Benito Mussolini. Given this, it’s almost of secondary importance that Meloni would also be the first woman at the head of government in Italian history.  

The campaign has been vulgar and trashy, and all of the substantial issues—from the war in Ukraine to climate change—have been ignored. Facing rejection of the values informing Italy’s post-1945 constitutional system, the Vatican and the Catholic Church in Italy have been unusually cautious in their statements. Pope Francis has been particularly restrained: the pope who directly confronted Donald Trump’s promises to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico has hardly been heard from, though the plans of Meloni and her ally, League leader Matteo Salvini, are no less cruel. But this is a different situation, and a different Pope Francis: he has limited the autonomy of the Vatican Secretariat of State not just on the finances of the Holy See, but also in taking positions on political issues. And at the same time, a traditionally important observer of Italian politics, the Jesuit-run and Vatican-vetted Civiltà Cattolica, has published nothing about what’s at stake in these elections—a departure from its coverage in 2018, or its coverage of the 2019 elections for European Parliament.  

On September 21, just days before the election, the leadership of the Italian episcopate issued guidance for Italian voters with a three-page statement titled “Dare to Hope: An Appeal to the Women and Men of Our Country.” *  The document encourages participation, reminds voters of the need to care for the marginalized, lists the many emergencies Italy is facing, and makes reference to Catholic social doctrine. There was also a statement in late August from bishops in rural and mountain areas opposing tax proposals that would widen the gap between the wealthy north and the poorer south. The overall impression is that Italian Catholic leaders, both the ecclesiastical hierarchy and lay organizations, are overwhelmed by the gap between the seriousness of the situation and the forces at their disposal, underscoring the growing political irrelevance of the Catholic Church in Italy. In this campaign, only right-wing parties are trying to win the votes of Catholics. The “political homelessness” of Italian Catholics can also be traced to the difficulty of communication between Francis and the Italian bishops.

The new president of the bishops’ conference, Bologna Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, is also a member of the Community of Sant’Egidio. Some community members are running for parliament on a slate connected with the center-left Democratic Party; this may be influencing how freely Zuppi (elected last spring by the bishops, but on the strong recommendation of the pope) feels he can speak during the campaign. Right-wingers, who have abandoned all pretenses of deference to the Catholic hierarchy, could raise the issue of a conflict of interest. 

Sectors in Italian Catholicism and the Vatican would be just fine with an Italian government following the script of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán.

Further, Zuppi knows that some clerics in Italy and in the Vatican would welcome a right-wing government that, though anti-immigration, would also block Western-style policies recognizing LGBT rights and tighten the provisions of Italy’s Law 194 on abortion. Sectors in Italian Catholicism and the Vatican would be just fine with an Italian government following the script of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán. The recent meeting between Meloni and Cardinal Robert Sarah, one of Francis’s most outspoken critics, seems to confirm the plan of Italy’s right-wing parties to rely on traditionalist prelates to legitimize their ascent to power.  

Immigration might be the only real point of friction between the Vatican and a right-wing government. But there could be a more muted reaction from the Catholic Church in Italy. The visibility and influence of Catholicism are far weaker than at the time of Berlusconi’s rise thirty years ago. Events staged for the media cannot conceal the cultural and sociological anemia of Catholic movements active in Italian politics (especially Communion and Liberation). At the same time, one wonders whether the bishops and the Vatican are underestimating the meaning of a hard-right victory and ascension to power. Italy’s hard Right pushes a reactionary ideology drawing from “paternal Catholic modernism”—a robust state that protects and promotes the traditional family (“God, homeland, and family”) and is neither capitalist nor libertarian. But describing Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia merely as “populist” obscures its neo-fascist origins and nature. It’s worth remembering that the neo-fascists who came to national government with Berlusconi in 1994 (the Alleanza Nazionale party) strove to distance themselves, at least rhetorically, from Mussolini in order to gain legitimacy. Fratelli d’Italia makes no such pretense: the democratic and constitutional crises have surfaced the nostalgia for fascism in the form of appeals to authoritarianism. 

Between 2018 and 2019, Steve Bannon et al.’s attempt to establish a beachhead for Catholic illiberalism in Rome and the Vatican went nowhere. But a lot has changed since then, especially because of the war in Ukraine and the ideological and geopolitical fault lines it has exposed. With a hard-right government in Italy, Francis would be forced to find a way to live with political leaders who have a very different worldview and even a different language than he has. A new government in Italy could very easily strengthen opposition to Francis and severely limit the social and political reception of his pontificate’s core message. 

* This story has been updated to reflect the release of the Italian episcopate's document on electoral guidance on September 21.

Pro-life pregnancy center network calls Elizabeth Warren accusations a political ‘stunt’

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren addresses the public during a rally to protest the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe Vs. Wade at the Massachusetts State House in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 24, 2022. / Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 20, 2022 / 16:35 pm (CNA).

A leading international network of pro-life pregnancy centers is pushing back against claims made by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other top Democrats that it engages in “misleading practices” and could use the data it collects to incriminate women seeking abortions.

Warren and six other senators made those allegations in a Sept. 19 letter sent to Jor-El Godsey, the president of Heartbeat International.

“We all know what this is,” Godsey said in a statement Tuesday. “This is naked politics intended not to help women but to influence elections. It is clearly a stunt designed to appease Big Abortion power brokers.”

Heartbeat International currently serves over 2,800 affiliated pregnancy centers, maternity homes, and nonprofit adoption agencies worldwide.

The senators’ letter claims that the data that the organization gathers from women who access its pregnancy centers is not protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, most commonly referred to as HIPAA, which grants protections to a patient’s health information.

The letter also requests that Godsey answer more than a dozen questions related to Heartbeat’s operations. One question reads, “Does Heartbeat International share people’s data with anyone? If yes, with whom?”

Jor-El Godsey, president of Heartbeat International. Courtesy of Heartbeat International
Jor-El Godsey, president of Heartbeat International. Courtesy of Heartbeat International

Godsey says that the senators’ letter is promoting a fabricated narrative based on “unfounded speculation.”

“What we do is safe, secure, and legal. Heartbeat has been providing help for more than fifty years and never once did we receive any of these questions or concerns until recently, and then from those with a clear abortion agenda,” he said in the statement.

“It’s politics, and we regret only that it’s a distraction to our important work of helping women find alternatives to abortion,” he added.

Godsey also criticized the senators who signed the letter for not condemning any of the acts of vandalism that have targeted pro-life pregnancy centers in recent months. 

“Instead,” Godsey wrote, “they’ve spent their time fabricating a narrative on unfounded speculation. Rather than finding ways to help women be able to choose something besides abortion, they have used their political powers to bully those who are helping women make life-affirming choices.”

Besides Warren, of Massachusetts, the other senators who signed the letter are Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

Catholic Charities to provide aid to Puerto Ricans devastated by Hurricane Fiona

A man walks down a flooded street in the Juana Matos neighborhood of Catano, Puerto Rico, on Sept.19, 2022, after the passage of Hurricane Fiona. Hurricane Fiona smashed into Puerto Rico, knocking out the U.S. island territory's power while dumping torrential rain and wreaking catastrophic damage before making landfall in the Dominican Republic on Sept. 19, 2022. / Photo by AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 20, 2022 / 15:51 pm (CNA).

More than a day after Hurricane Fiona dumped 30 inches of rain on Puerto Rico before heading toward the islands of Turks and Caicos, a million people still do not have electricity, and 760,000 are without running water.

The storm hit Puerto Rico just before the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, the most devastating storm to hit the island since 1928. The island is still reeling from that storm, which the government says caused $90 billion in damage and killed almost 3,000 people.

In the hardest-hit areas, in southern and central Puerto Rico, more than 900 people had to be rescued as surging floodwaters submerged houses and damaged roads. Authorities report two deaths: one man drowned in a flooded river, and another was killed filling his generator with gasoline while it was running.

Kim Burgo, vice president of Catholic Charities USA’s disaster operations, told CNA that the local Catholic Charities agencies in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are planning to do assessments Tuesday to get an idea of what aid is needed. Their staff is currently organizing distributions of food, water, and other essential items.

Many families are still recovering from Hurricane Maria, she noted; some had gotten to a point where things were better, only to lose everything again.

While no two disasters are alike, Burgo said Catholic Charities learned important lessons from the experience of responding to Hurricane Maria. One of those lessons was about the importance of strategically pre-positioning supplies around the island — especially the kinds of items that go quickly from supermarket shelves — so that they can be quickly distributed to those in need when a disaster hits. 

Those who would like to donate to the hurricane relief effort can visit the Catholic Charities website. Every dollar will go directly to the recovery effort, Burgo said.

Father Enrique “Kike” Camacho, executive director of Cáritas Puerto Rico, coordinated relief efforts after Hurricane Maria in 2017. Working closely with Catholic Charities, he helped relief get to those who needed it most through a support network operated out of 500 parishes.

Cáritas Puerto Rico’s Facebook page on Monday published an appeal for monetary donations with a promise that the organization would once again serve those affected by the disaster.

It read: “At Cáritas of Puerto Rico we are already activated to help so many Puerto Rican families and communities affected by the passage of Hurricane Fiona on our island. As on other occasions, we will be receiving monetary donations to use for top needs that arise to support our people.

“Just like in Hurricane Maria, in which we helped the 78 municipalities of PR with love and dedication, we are ready to repeat this gesture. We are resilient people and with faith we will stand again. Let us remain united in prayer, faith, and action, and may God bless you always,” the message read, advising people to donate through caritaspr.net (via PayPal).

‘To dust you shall return,’ but human composting? California bishops raise objections

null / Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., Sep 20, 2022 / 13:33 pm (CNA).

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday signed a bill into law that will allow the composting of human remains — a bill that the state’s Catholic Conference had opposed.

The process of human composting — also known as natural organic reduction (NOR) — is a relatively new phenomenon in the U.S. and is legal in a handful of other states. When a body is composted, it is placed in a reusable container where microbes and bacteria decompose it into soil over the course of 30–45 days.

The resulting soil can then be used on private land, such as on a farm or garden, and otherwise would be subject to the same restrictions as scattering cremated remains in the state, the LA Times reported.

A demonstration "vessel" for the deceased, which has been decorated with flowers and compostable mementos by Return Home on top of a bed of straw, is pictured during a tour of the funeral home that specializes in human composting in Auburn, Washington, on March 14, 2022. Human composting is now legal in Washington, California, and a handful of other states. Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images
A demonstration "vessel" for the deceased, which has been decorated with flowers and compostable mementos by Return Home on top of a bed of straw, is pictured during a tour of the funeral home that specializes in human composting in Auburn, Washington, on March 14, 2022. Human composting is now legal in Washington, California, and a handful of other states. Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images

The state’s Catholic conference had expressed opposition to the bill in a June letter.

Kathleen Domingo, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, said the use of a body composting method originally developed for farm animals creates an “unfortunate spiritual, emotional, and psychological distancing from the deceased.” In addition, she said, the process “reduces the human body to simply a disposable commodity.”

The process will be available in California beginning in 2027. The bill’s sponsor, Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, argued that the process is more economical and eco-friendly than traditional burial methods and could help to reduce overcrowding in cemeteries.

The Catholic Church does not have an official teaching on the composting of human bodies but has weighed in many times over the years on the practice of cremation. While strongly discouraged, cremation can be permissible under certain restrictions; notably, the remains are not to be scattered and must be kept in a sacred place, out of reverence for the Church’s teaching on the eventual resurrection of the body.

“We believe that the ‘transformation’ of the remains would create an emotional distance rather than a reverence for them,” Steve Pehanich, a spokesperson for the California Catholic Conference, told Religion News Service in 2020.

“Even with cremated remains, they directed that they remain in a communal place befitting of the dignity inherent in the human body and its connection to the immortal soul,” Pehanich said.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s October 2016 instruction Ad resurgendum cum Christo states that while cremation “is not prohibited,” the Church “continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased, because this shows a greater esteem towards the deceased.”

In that same document, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarified that a person’s ashes are not to be scattered, nor kept in the home or preserved in mementos or jewelry, but instead must be “laid to rest in a sacred place,” such as in a cemetery or church. As the document explains, “by burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity.”