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What people with intellectual disabilities can teach us about friendship

South Bend, Ind., Nov 14, 2019 / 12:38 am (CNA).- When French Catholic Jean Vanier brought two men with intellectual disabilities to live with him in his home, he did so more out of a sense of religious duty than anything else.

But as time went on, he began to realize that what the men needed was not help, but friendship. In the founding of his L’Arche (The Ark) homes for people with intellectual disabilities, friendship became the pillar of what those communities were and are all about.

“In short, Vanier had discovered they shared a common world,” Professor Stanely Hauerwas said in his keynote address on Nov. 8 at the University of Notre Dame’s annual conference sponsored by the De Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture.

Hauerwas, a theologian and the Gilbert T. Rowe professor emeritus with joint appointments at Duke divinity school and Duke law school, was a personal friend of Vanier, who died at the age of 90 earlier this year.

“I don't know where we would be without such witnesses today. It's remarkable,” Hauerwas said of his friend.

In L’Arche homes, core members are permanent residents who have intellectual and other disabilities, while assistants are adults and trained caregivers who live in L’Arche communities with the core members, typically for a one-year commitment at a time.

As the L’Arche website states, being an assistant is primarily about being a friend.

“In the communities of L'Arche, we live and journey together, men and women with disabilities and those who feel called to share their lives with them,” Hauerwas said.

“We are all learning the pain and joy of community life where the weakest members open hearts to compassion and lead us into deeper union with Jesus. We are learning to befriend them, and through and with them to befriend Jesus.”

Friendship with people with disabilities is often hindered by fear and false perceptions on the part of non-disabled people, Hauerwas noted.

“We are fragile creatures whose vulnerabilities produce fears that make our being befriended by the disabled frightening,” Hauerwas said.

This is in large part because people with disabilities have the gift of honesty, Hauerwas said - they are unimpressed by accolades and accomplishments, and are only interested in you as yourself.

“Such fears do not go away, even if we have been befriended by the disabled. That is why, as I will suggest, that friendship must be communal because only a community who is made of those aware of their limits can create the peaceful space for all to flourish, disabled and abled alike.”

The false assumption that people with disabilities are suffering can hinder friendship with these people, Hauerwas noted.

“As (Brian Brock, an author on disability) points out, ironically, those who are severely intellectually disabled do not struggle with their disability because they're wondrously free from pondering what others suppose them to lack,” Hauerwas said.

“Brock is challenging the presumption that those who are labeled intellectually disabled suffer from being intellectually disabled. They suffer from the attitudes and behaviors of those who imagine how they would feel if they were intellectually disabled. In short, we project on the disabled how we think we would regard our lives if we were them,” he said.

“But because people who are mentally disabled are not people other than who they are, they accordingly can and do enjoy who they are,” he added.

Brock, whose own son Adam has Down syndrome and is autistic, notes in his writings that knowing Adam has led him to a deeper theological understanding of what it means to accept the gift of people with intellectual disabilities.

“(Brock) understands the Christian Gospel to offer a way of life that enables our ability to live as vulnerable beings who have made peace with our limits and are able to delight in the unexpected,” Hauerwas said.

“Such a way of life can be joyous and free because we seek no longer to be gods, but to be content, to be creatures whose flourishing does not mean we will not suffer, but as the stories of scriptures often make clear, it is through suffering and vulnerability that we discover our place in God's story.”

Throughout his life, Vanier testified to the real friendships he had with his friends with disabilities. Some people still doubt whether such friendships were possible, because they believe that friendship necessitates an equality in agency, Hauerwas noted. He then provided several examples of stories of friendship between assistants and core members, or the family members of the disabled, to show how such friendships are possible.

“Vanier's friendships with the core members with whom he lived stands as a stark reminder that friendship between people who are intellectually disabled, and those that are not, is an actual reality,” Hauerwas said.

Hauerwas drew several examples from Patrick McInerney, an English anthropologist who lived for 15 months in a L'Arche home and wrote of his experiences in a paper entitled: “Receiving the gift of cognitive disabilities: recognizing agency in the limits of the rational subject.”

McInerney, not unlike Vanier at the beginning of his work, started at L’Arche presuming that the core members did not have agency like non-disabled people.

“He encountered Rachel who was making random hand gestures. Sarah who was rolling herself around and around in her wheelchair. And Martha, who spoke constantly but did not seem to make sense. McInerney assumed such women were incapable of active engagement with the world,” Hauerwas said.

But he eventually came to see these women in a different light, and realized that their agency comes from their own acknowledgment of their vulnerabilities and dependency on others.

In one example, Maria, a long-term assistant, told McInerney about an experience with core member Sarah, who could not communicate verbally. Maria was given the task of bathing Sarah, but was having difficulties.

“Maria confesses she did not know what she was doing. But she assumed that neither did Sarah know what she was doing. Finally, however, after some time, Maria figured how to help Sarah bathe herself. She (later said) to Sarah: ‘And you just sat there very patiently and quietly letting me make error after error. When I finally worked out what the right thing to do was, you looked at me dead in the eye and then you laughed at me,’” Hauerwas said.

“Through these exchanges, the core members’ gifts of the heart are discovered,” he added.

In another story of friendship and encounter, Hauerwas recalled Hilary, an assistant who watched a core member smiling and swaying and enjoying herself in front of a full-length mirror. Hilary said she realized that Sarah was not able to care whether other people might consider this behavior self-obsessed, and so she was free to love and enjoy herself.

“Sarah really loves herself and she helps me to start loving myself,” Hilary told McInerney.

The lessons learned from accepting one’s life as a gift, and accepting others’ lives - including those with disabilities - as a gift, leads to a system of ethics that stands in stark contrast to ethicists like Peter Singer, who believes that people with disabilities are of limited moral value to society, Hauerwas noted.

The lives of people with intellectual disabilities “have more in common with unruly saints of the Church, according to McInerney, than the rational agents such as Peter singer assumes. Those who have learned to be their friends, friends with people like Sarah, value the way they transgress assumed norms of behavior and express the value of a liminal community.”

“I think that my own view is that if in a hundred years Christians are identified as those people who do not kill their children or their elderly, we'll have done a pretty good job, but that's the challenge,” Hauerwas said.

In one final example of friendship, Hauerwas recalled the friendship between a core member Eric and Vanier. Eric was blind, deaf and could not speak, but Vanier knew he could still communicate through touch.

“That is what they did day after day. They held and washed his body with respect and love. Slowly but surely they were able to communicate with him and he communicated with them,” he said.

Vanier reflected on this friendship “by suggesting what Jesus commands us to do is to be befriended by the weak those in need, the lonely.”

“For when the poor, the weak and the lonely claim us as friends, they prevent us from falling into the trap of power, especially the power to do good,” Hauerwas said. “To be befriended by the poor and the disabled saves us from the presumption we must save the savior and the church.”

Ohio bill would target proposal on abortion reversal notification

Columbus, Ohio, Nov 13, 2019 / 03:20 pm (CNA).- Two Democratic lawmakers in Ohio have introduced legislation that would prohibit the state from requiring doctors to provide patients with information that is not recognized by expert medical associations or supported through peer-reviewed research.

The bill challenges another piece of proposed legislation in the state, which would require physicians to inform patients seeking a medication abortion about the possibility of an abortion reversal. Supporters of the abortion reversal protocol argue that initial research indicates it increases the survival rate of a baby after the first part of a two-pill medical abortion regimen has been administered, without risk of harm to the mother or baby.

On Nov. 12, State Reps. Beth Liston (D-Dublin) and Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) introduced a bill that would prevent the state from requiring doctors to give patients information that they deem to be lacking evidence-based support, peer-reviewed research, or backing from medical organizations, as well as information they consider inappropriate for the patient’s circumstances.

“Government shouldn’t force healthcare providers to lie to their patients,” Liston said. “People should be able to trust their doctors and nurses to give them accurate and complete information.”

Earlier this month, the Ohio senate passed a bill that would require doctors administering medication abortions to inform women about the option to pursue an abortion reversal if they changed their minds.

Liston criticized that legislation in May, saying it was based on inaccurate medical information and “an extreme ideology.”

“Abortion pill reversal is not true medicine,” Liston said at the time. “This is legislation that interferes with standard practice and inappropriately puts politicians between doctors and patients.”

Other states - including Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Utah - have passed laws requiring that patients undergoing medication abortions receive information about the possibility of a reversal. These laws have frequently been met with legal challenges.

Medication abortions have become an increasingly common method of abortion in the United States, making up 30-40% of all abortions.

Medical abortions involve the taking of two pills - the first pill, mifepristone (RU-486) blocks the progesterone hormone, which is essential for maintaining the health of the baby. The second pill, misoprostol, is taken 24 hours after mifepristone and works to induce contractions in order to expel the baby.

Some women, after taking the first pill (mifepristone), experience regret and do not want to follow through with the abortion by taking misoprostol.

The abortion reversal protocol, administered after the mifepristone is taken, floods a woman’s system with more progesterone, in the hopes of overriding the progesterone-blocking effects of the drug she has in her system.

A study published in April 2018 in Issues in Law and Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal, examined 261 successful abortion pill reversals, and showed that the reversal success rates were 68% with a high-dose oral progesterone protocol and 64% with an injected progesterone protocol.

Both procedures significantly improved the 25% fetal survival rate if no treatment is offered and a woman simply declines the second pill of a medical abortion. The case study also showed that the progesterone treatments caused no increased risk of birth defects or preterm births.

The study was authored by Dr. Mary Davenport and Dr. George Delgado, who have been studying the abortion pill reversal procedures since 2009. Delgado also sits on the board of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Delgado told the Washington Post that he thinks more research should be done on abortion pill reversal, but that he believes there should be nothing to stop doctors from using the progesterone protocol in the meantime.

“(T)he science is good enough that, since we have no alternative therapy and we know it's safe, we should go with it,” he said.

Advocates of the abortion reversal protocol stress that progesterone is a naturally occurring hormone in pregnant women that has been used for decades to treat women at risk of miscarriage.

Nurse practitioner Dede Chism, co-founder and executive director of Bella Natural Women’s Care in Englewood, Colo., stressed that hundreds of successful abortion pill reversals that have been documented in the U.S., without evidence of risk to the mom or baby.

Chism told CNA last year that it is common practice in medicine to share information about protocols that have yet to undergo even more rigorous prospective studies, if they have been shown to be safe and effective in case studies.

“We’re not causing harm, and even if the possibility of saving a baby is small, even if the population who desires it is small, is it not worth it to recognize it?” she said. “Isn’t it beautiful that there could be a possibility that just maybe could change and help you out when you’ve made a decision that you’ve regretted?”

“To be able to tell a patient that it may be possible in some circumstances to reverse an abortion pill, I think that is simply informed consent,” she added.

 

Daytime vandalization of Irish Carmelite monastery shocks locals

Dublin, Ireland, Nov 13, 2019 / 02:51 pm (CNA).- A group broke into an Irish Carmelite monastery during the daytime, vandalized its chapel and shouted slurs at the elderly nuns who lived there on Monday.

“The poor sisters who live there play such an integral part of life in the area and it’s outrageous that a small group of thugs would target them like this,” a local parishioner who regularly goes to the chapel told the news site Dublin Live.

The incident happened after 1 p.m. Nov. 11 at Star of the Sea Monastery in Malahide, about 10 miles north of Dublin City Center.

Fr. Jimmy McPartland, co-parish priest at the nearby St. Anne’s Church in Portmarnock, announced the incident to parishioners during a morning Mass.

McPartland said the vandals had “desecrated” the chapel. The gang had shouted “very horrible things” about the nuns after the vandalism.

The parishioner told Dublin Live the priest was “visibly upset” in reporting the news and the congregation was “shocked.”

"He mentioned that the thugs had said very offensive things about the nuns and there was possibly racist graffiti," the parishioner reported.

Police said they are investigating and no arrests have been made.

“Any vandalism is bad but on a group of elderly nuns is disgraceful,” Darragh O’Brien, a Deputy to the Dáil from Malahide, equivalent to a Member of Parliament, told Dublin Live.

“Unfortunately we’ve become used to burglaries and break-ins in the area, but this type of violation of a monastery—to desecrate a religious building—is shocking,” he added. “The effect this has on a group of lovely women—most of whom are elderly—will disgust people in the area.”

The incident will mean that the chapel, which is usually open to the public, will be locked and Massgoers will no longer be able to access it freely. Its 8:30 a.m. Mass will continue to be open to the public.

“The sad outcome of this is that those wishing to pray in the oratory at the convent can no longer do so freely,” the local parishioner told Dublin Live. “The chapel has always been open during the day for anyone who wanted to go in and pray or reflect. Now because of the actions of a few thugs, we can no longer use this beautiful place of worship freely, but must instead request a key.”

O’Brien, the local representative to Ireland’s parliament, has previously campaigned for more police resources in the area. After the incident, he called for a 24/7 police station to be restored to Malahide “to deter criminality.”

The Carmelite community moved to Malahide in 1975. The current monastic foundation resulted from a combination of two other monasteries in 2011, the monastery’s website said.

Bishop DiMarzio denies allegations of sexual abuse

Newark, N.J., Nov 13, 2019 / 01:54 pm (CNA).- Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn is rejecting an allegation that he sexually molested a minor in the 1970s, calling it a “false allegation.”

Allegations were reported Wednesday against DiMarzio, who recently concluded an investigation into accusations of cover-up against Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo.

“I am just learning about this allegation,” DiMarzio told the Associated Press. “In my nearly 50-year ministry as a priest, I have never engaged in unlawful or inappropriate behavior and I categorically deny this allegation.”

The bishop said in a Nov. 13 letter to members of his diocese that he will vigorously fight the allegation and is confident that his name will be cleared.

According to the Associated Press, 56-year-old Mark Matzek says DiMarzio and another priest, who is now deceased, repeatedly abused him when he was an altar server at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in the Diocese of Newark. DiMarzio was a priest there at the time.

Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian sent a letter to the Archdiocese of Newark earlier this week notifying them that he is preparing a lawsuit on behalf of Matzek, according to the AP. The suit will ask for $20 million.

The Archdiocese of Newark said it had received the allegations and reported them to law enforcement, in accordance with Church policy for handling abuse accusations, the AP reports.

The state of New Jersey recently passed a law extending the statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims. The window to file a lawsuit under the new legislation will open next month.

DiMarzio said in his letter that sex abuse is a “despicable crime” that he has worked for more than 15 years to eradicate in the diocese. He noted that the diocese has, under his leadership, instituted background checks and sexual abuse awareness training aimed at abuse prevention, as well as a victim assistance ministry and annual healing Mass to help reach out to victims.

DiMarzio recently completed an Apostolic Visitation of the Diocese of Buffalo, which has faced months of scandal surrounding its bishop, Richard Malone, who has been accused of mishandling sex abuse claims against a priest in his diocese.

Leaked documents and recordings from within the diocese appear to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before he removed the priest from ministry. Malone has said that he fell short in responding to the allegations, but denies that his actions amounted to a cover-up. He has resisted calls for his resignation.

The visitation, a canonical inspection and fact-finding mission, was ordered by Cardinal Marc Ouellet of the Vatican’s Congregation of Bishops.

DiMarzio made three trips to Buffalo for the visitation, interviewing nearly 90 people. On Oct. 31, the Diocese of Brooklyn announced that the visitation had been completed.

Garabedien, the attorney preparing the lawsuit, told the AP that the allegation against the DiMarzio taints his investigation into Bishop Malone, and said law enforcement should carry out a new investigation in Buffalo.

Adriana Rodriguez, press secretary for the Brooklyn diocese, told CNA Nov. 13 that the visitation report had been submitted to Rome the previous week.

US reporting mechanism for episcopal abuse cases could go live by February

Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2019 / 11:48 am (CNA).- A national third-party reporting system for allegations of abuse, neglect, or misconduct against bishops could be activated by February 2020, the U.S. bishops’ conference said Wednesday.

Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told bishops Nov. 13 at their annual fall meeting in Baltimore that a contract had been finalized for the anticipated third-party reporting mechanism for allegations of abuse, neglect, or misconduct made against bishops.

The system could be ready for use by February 2020, he said, well ahead of the Holy See’s May deadline. However, metropolitans and dioceses would need to be ready to receive allegations.

Picarello spoke to the U.S. bishops near the close of their general meeting in Baltimore held Nov. 11-14. The bishops had elected a new conference president—Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles—and a new vice president, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, as well as six committee chairs.

In September 2018, the bishops’ executive committee had initially proposed a third-party reporting mechanism to handle accusations made against bishops. The decision followed new claims of sex abuse that had been made against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in the summer of 2018; in August, McCarrick was removed from the College of Cardinals and assigned a life of prayer and penance.

At their November 2018 meeting, however, the U.S. bishops did not take substantive action on the abuse crisis following instructions from the Vatican that they not act until a clergy sex abuse summit in Rome would be convened in February 2019.

After that February summit, Pope Francis issued his apostolic letter Vos estis lux mundi, which outlined a canonical process of handling accusations of abuse, neglect, or misconduct made against bishops.

To handle such accusations, the U.S. bishops voted overwhelmingly at their spring meeting in June to authorize a third-party reporting mechanism to receive accusations made online or by phone.

The mechanism had to be updated from the bishops’ September 2018 proposal. For instance, Vos estis called for allegations against bishops to be sent to regional metropolitans, not just the apostolic nuncio. Also, the system would have to handle specific violations outlined in Vos estis, not those listed in the U.S. Bishops’ Code of Conduct.

Picarello said on Wednesday that at their September 2019 meetings, the bishops’ administrative committee picked the vendor Conversant for the reporting system, decided how costs would be allocated, and finalized a contract. Dioceses would be billed directly for their portion of the overall cost.

The contract provides that the reporting system could go live by February 2020, he said.

In the ensuing discussions after Picarello’s presentation, some bishops expressed concern that the hotline could be hit with a deluge of irrelevant requests.

Once the number for the national hotline is advertised, could people share “all sorts of concerns” such as priests not genuflecting for the consecration at Mass, Bishop Daniel Conlon of Joliet in Illinois asked, at the insistence of his metropolitan, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago.

Bishop Gregory Hartmayer, O.F.M. Conv., of Savannah asked if the reporting mechanism could be advertised too much.

Picarello replied that a process will be in place promptly to filter out irrelevant claims and ensure that allegations pertain to bishops and to those acts of misconduct listed in Vos estis.

“We just want to make sure this system is reserved for this very specific, very high-priority purpose,” Picarello said. The conference, he said, will provide advertisement resources for regional provinces but will ultimately leave the implementation to dioceses and provinces.

Bishop Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City asked how allegations made against religious superiors would be handled on the hotline. Picarello said the conference is waiting on a canonical determination for that question, as the matter is “complex.”

As SCOTUS hears DACA arguments, bishop calls for congressional action

Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2019 / 09:44 am (CNA).- The USCCB’s migration committee chairman hopes that Congress can come to a solution regarding the situation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy recipients, as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a case seeking approval to eliminate the program altogether.

Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin told CNA Nov.12 that while he and his brother bishops have been advocating for a congressional solution to DACA, their main concern now was the situation of the approximately 700,000 DACA recipients.

“Those people need also to have someone advocate for them. So the bishops need to speak up and say very clearly that these people, we don't want separation of families," said Vasquez. About 256,000 children have at least one parent with DACA status.

There are fears that if DACA were to be repealed, these people would then be deported, splitting up the family. This is “a big concern for the Church,” said Vasquez.

“The Church is always going to advocate on the side of the family, because the family is very important," he added.

DACA recipients, he said “already are...part of the fabric of this country” and contribute to the economy and to their communities.

“They’re leaders already in many of our parishes and churches,” said the bishop.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in three cases – Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of University of California; McAleenan, Secretary of Homeland Security v. Vidal; Trump, President of U.S. v. NAACP – which concern whether the Trump administration may end DACA outright.

President Barack Obama introduced DACA via executive memorandum in June 2012. It permits people who were brought to the United States illegally as children to apply for temporary protection from deportation and work permits. The program was set to expire in 2017, but this has been delayed after Congress was given a chance to codify parts of DACA into law.

Congress failed to pass DACA into law, and the partisan-based debate over immigration and border security has continued.

The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision about whether President Donald Trump would be permitted to end DACA in the spring or early summer of 2020.

As for Vasquez, he will continue to hope that Congress can come to a solution.

"My hope and prayer is that they would be able to do something, they'd be able to reconcile and come together and take care of these people,” he said. “I think deporting them is the wrong answer. It's not the way to address this issue.”

Record floods in Venice damage St. Mark’s Basilica

Venice, Italy, Nov 13, 2019 / 08:05 am (CNA).- The crypt of St. Mark’s Basilica was completely flooded Wednesday, after Venice’s water levels hit the highest level in more than 50 years.

Local authorities have called for a state of emergency after one man died in the worst flooding in Venice in decades. The high water mark reached over 6 feet, the highest level since 1966.

The Patriarch of Venice Francesco Moraglia and the city’s mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, inspected the damage at St. Mark’s Basilica together on Nov. 13, the morning after the heavy rains subsided.

"St. Mark’s Basilica has suffered serious damage, as has the entire city and the islands,” Venice mayor Brugnaro confirmed after the visit.

“Venice is on its knees,” Brugnaro wrote in a Twitter Nov. 13 post with photos of him and the patriarch at the basilica.

 

#Venezia è in ginocchio. La Basilica di San Marco ha subito gravi danni come l’intera città e le isole.
Siamo qui con il Patriarca Moraglia per portare il nostro sostegno ma c’è bisogno dell’aiuto di tutti per superare queste giornate che ci stanno mettendo a dura prova. pic.twitter.com/3Qy7070hZn

— Luigi Brugnaro (@LuigiBrugnaro) November 13, 2019

 

Patriarch Moraglia said he is concerned above all for those who sleep on the streets of Venice, and said that he hopes that Venice parishes will be the first to open their doors to them.

“To my Venetians, so much closeness, I have asked Caritas to be active in all possible ways, and I also make available emergency funds for charity,” Moraglia said, according to ACI Stampa.

In St. Mark’s Basilica’s 926 year history, there have been only six floods of similar severity. In October 2018, flood waters inside the basilica damaged part of the marble mosaic floor of the Madonna Nicopeia chapel.

Church staff cleared water and mopped the floors of the flooded basilica Nov. 13 to avoid repeating the damage caused last year when part of the nearly 1,000 year old marble floor of the basilica was left under flood water for 16 hours.

“We are here with Patriarch Moraglia to show our support, but we need everyone's help to overcome these days that are putting us to the test,” Mayor Brugnaro said after his visit to the basilica.

This Japanese painter found the faith through sacred art

Rome, Italy, Nov 13, 2019 / 03:01 am (CNA).- Osamu Giovanni Micico had never read the Bible, knew nothing of the stories of Christ in the gospels, and had never heard of the apostles, when his experience studying sacred art in Italy brought him to the Catholic faith.

“When I came to Italy, painting was the only street for me as far as my profession goes. Thank God, that is also where God gave me my spiritual rebirth,” Micico told CNA.

Catholicism “transformed my life. The way I relate to others, the way I view the world. And the direction I’m taking in my life. The meaning of suffering. It all changed. My conversion gave life to death.”

From his childhood and adolescence in Tokyo, Micico was interested in drawing and painting, but he originally pursued a science-based career to please his parents.

During university, however, he encountered an artist who inspired him to pursue his passion for painting.

The 37-year-old artist moved to Florence in 2008 to study the paintings of the Old Masters, such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

He told CNA that at the time he mostly painted landscapes or portraits, except when he copied the great masterpieces to learn from them. But he did not know what he was looking at.

“I was with my Catholic friend, asking my friend, who are those fishermen?” the artist said. In a way, he noted, he encountered the gospel the same way it was encountered by people in the Middle Ages who could not read, through the symbols of art.

“I was ‘reading’ those paintings before I knew the gospel. I didn’t know what stories they represented,” he explained.

“I think like music, those paintings spoke to me with harmony and it animated my soul. It was not just technique – that they made a realistic painting – but there was something else that was very holy there.”

Another personal encounter was influential in Micico’s conversion: his friendship with Irish religious artist and Catholic Dany MacManus, who was then living in Florence.

While Micico still knew nothing about the Bible, MacManus invited him to a lecture he was giving on St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. “That left an impression,” Micico said.

MacManus became Micico’s godfather at his baptism in 2010.

“Art was the entrance. I think that even without words, like with the music of Bach, one can intuit the beauty of a creator,” he said. “Ultimately, God the merciful was represented in the painting ... That’s what spoke to me.”

Micico now creates sacred art himself.

“I wanted to spread this Good News using the same medium,” he said. “I’m sure there are a lot of people who will be touched by contemporary sacred art. And if I can give my hand to this beautiful mission, by my profession, that’s fantastic. It was very natural.”

In November 2018, one of Micico’s paintings was gifted to the Archdiocese of Nagasaki. Micico’s “Holy Mother of Sorrow and Hope” was hung in Nagasaki's Immaculate Conception Cathedral in the Marian chapel, which is dedicated to the victims of the 1945 atomic bomb.

It shows Our Lady of Sorrow in the foreground, with the background depicting the exploding atomic bomb and the burning city beneath.



“I experienced that painting can be an instrument, very useful, very strong,” the painter said. “And it goes directly to the heart, like music. Even without understanding it people can stand in front of it with mouth wide open, looking at it, contemplating it.”

After his conversion, Micico learned more about the history of Christian persecution in Japan. Christianity was outlawed starting around 1600 until 1873. In the late 16th century, military ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi expelled the missionaries who had brought the faith to Japan, had religious objects and Bibles destroyed. There were thousands of martyrs.

The few Catholic lay people who survived preserved the faith orally and through baptism, the only sacrament they had, for hundreds of years. During this period, they created their own sacred art, Micico said.

Some pieces were visibly religious, such as “Ecce Homo” style images of Christ. In many others, however, the Christian symbolism, for safety, was hidden in a Buddhist or Shinto style. For example, they would paint a traditional Buddhist female figure, but add a baby to her arms to create an image of the Madonna and Christ child.

“This clandestine art is so beautiful to see, as their devotion took form in this visible form,” Micico said.

“When I think of myself in that situation, I think, why would someone risk their life by painting sacred pictures? I mean, it would have been easier for them to survive without painting those pictures, but they wanted to manifest their love for the Lord.”

“Sacred art,” he said, “is not for one person, or one group of people, but for everybody, for all the generations.”

Amid NY officials' legal threats, Christian adoption agency gets chance for appeal

New York City, N.Y., Nov 12, 2019 / 10:01 pm (CNA).- New Hope Family Services, a Christian non-profit, is defending its long-standing child placement program from New York state officials who say it must shut down if it does not place children with same-sex and unmarried couples.

It is appealing a U.S. district court’s dismissal of its lawsuit, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has temporarily halted action against the agency until its appeal can be heard.

“Every child deserves a permanent home with loving parents,” Roger Brooks, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group, said Nov. 5. “New Hope’s faith-based services do nothing to interfere with other adoption providers, but banishing it means fewer kids will find permanent homes, fewer adoptive parents will ever welcome their new child, and fewer birth parents will enjoy the exceptional support that New Hope has offered for decades.”

“We hope the court will permanently uphold New Hope’s ability to serve children and families according to the very beliefs that motivate its valuable services,” said Brooks, whose legal group is representing the agency.

New Hope Family Services said it has placed over 1,000 children in New York. It operates a pregnancy resource center and a foster placement agency. In accord with its beliefs, the agency only places children with married men and women.

Its lawsuit charged that New York state officials ordered the agency to change its child placement policy or submit a close-out plan.

State officials are “actively demanding that such ministries, including New Hope, violate their religious convictions and say things that they believe to be false — or shut their doors,” its lawsuit said. It objects that New York state has never changed adoption laws to require the placement of children with couples other than an adult husband and wife, Courthouse News Service reported in May.

According to the lawsuit, officials with the New York Office of Children and Family Services who made a site visit to the agency initially praised it for showing “a number of strengths in providing adoption services within the community.”

State officials later reviewed New Hope’s policy and procedures manual and allegedly singled out its policy on child placements. The officials described the policy as “discriminatory and impermissible.”

The attorneys said the agency refers couples it cannot serve to other providers and has received no formal complaints.

In May, U.S. District Judge Mae D’Agostino dismissed the agency’s lawsuit. She said Christian agencies are free to believe that unmarried or same-sex couples are unfit parents but cannot prohibit such couples from adopting without running afoul of laws barring discrimination, Courthouse News Service reported.

“While religious belief is always protected, religiously motivated conduct enjoys no special protections or exemptions from neutral, generally applied legal requirements,” she said.

While the agency argued that it faced discrimination based on its religious beliefs, the judge said the law was not discriminatory because it applied to any adoption service and did not single out the agency or Christian agencies.

“The fact that New Hope’s conduct springs from sincerely held and strongly felt religious beliefs does not imply that OCFS’s decision to regulate that conduct springs from antipathy to those beliefs,” she said.

She said the agency is not being forced to state that it approves of non-married or same-sex couples. The state agency “is not prohibiting New Hope’s ongoing ministry in any way or compelling it to change the message it wishes to convey.”

In the judge’s view, the New York adoption statute was not drafted to interfere with any agency’s religious expression.

However, New York state rules have already forced the adoption and foster services of Catholic Charities of Buffalo to close because the rules do not allow the agency to maintain its practice of only placing children in homes with a married mother and father. The agency had been providing such services almost since it began more than 90 years ago.

“Because Catholic Charities cannot simultaneously comply with state regulations and conform to the teaching of the Catholic Church on the nature of marriage, Catholic Charities will discontinue foster care and adoption services,” the agency said in August 2018.

Long-standing Catholic and other Christian child placement agencies have been forced to close due to new laws or policies that considered their practices discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation. March 2006 marked the end of adoption services for Catholic Charities of Boston and the end of adoption services of Catholic Charities affiliates in Illinois came in November 2011.

In 2018, the city of Philadelphia stopped placing adoptive children with Catholic Social Services, only days after calling for 300 new families to adopt foster children. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to review the case in mid-November.

On Nov. 1 the Trump Administration announced a change to federal rules to preserve federal funding of faith-based adoption agencies, regardless of their views on same-sex marriage.

The Department of Health and Human Services said it would revise a 2016 rule that required federally-funded child welfare agencies to place children with same-sex couples.

Analysis: US bishops at odds over abortion and 'the Francis test'

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- During the second day of the USCCB Fall General Assembly in Baltimore, divisions among the bishops bubbled briefly to the surface, with bishops exchanging sharp interventions on the “preeminence’ of abortion as a social concern.

 
The exchanges highlighted simmering tensions among the bishops, which have less to do with the centrality of abortion to the Church’s political engagement, and more to do with bishops contending to appear closer to the pope than their colleagues.

Cracks in the conference appeared as the bishops discussed amendments to a letter meant to accompany a series of videos aimed at helping Catholics engage with the American political process when Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago asked for a separate consideration of one of the amendments.
 
The cardinal suggested the insertion of a long paragraph into the text which would contextualize the Church’s position on life issues, and especially the teaching of Pope Francis.
 
The committee considering the amendments, led by the USCCB president-elect Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, agreed to include an abbreviated version of Cupich’s paragraph, including language insisting that the “firm and passionate” defense of the unborn should be matched with support for the “equally sacred” lives of the poor, inform, elderly, and marginalized.
 
Cupich argued that his proposed wording was necessary, even if it was longer, in order properly to represent the full concerns of the pope.
 
Speaking in support of Cupich, Bishop Robert McElroy told the assembly that he was specifically opposed to the letter’s retention of language calling abortion the “preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself.”
 
McElroy told the conference this language was “discordant with the pope’s teaching, if not inconsistent,” and implied that a failure to accept Cupich’s proposed language was tantamount to a breach with the Holy Father’s magisterium.
 
“It is not Catholic teaching that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face as a world in Catholic social teaching. It is not.”
 
McElroy’s intervention triggered murmurs on the conference floor, with several bishops visibly distressed.
 
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia responded to McElroy, saying that calling abortion the “preeminent priority” was not just correct but necessary, pointing out that in the current American political context it was the most pressing concern. Chaput went on firmly to reject McElroy’s implication that recognizing this reality was in any way a breach with the pope, or a failure to present or value his own magisterium.
 
“I’m certainly not against quoting the Holy Father’s full statement [as Cupich proposed],” Chaput said, “I think it’s a beautiful statement and I believe it.”
 
“But I am against anyone saying that our stating that [abortion] is preeminent is contrary to the teaching of the pope, because that isn’t true. It sets up an artificial battle between the bishops’ conference of the United States and the Holy Father which isn’t true.”
 
“I don’t like the argument Bishop McElroy used, because it isn’t true.”
 
In a rare break with etiquette, the bishops in the hall broke into applause in support of Chaput.

Pope Francis himself has repeatedly spoken out against abortion in the strongest possible terms, likening abortionists to “hitmen,” and comparing the practice to genocide “with white gloves.”
 
McElroy’s pointed suggestion that the U.S. bishops are out of step, even resistant, to the pope’s own teaching comes one week after the publication of a book which accused the American bishops of resisting the pope’s leadership in their efforts to pass stricter measures for bishops’ accountability last year. That book, Wounded Shepherd, drew a strong response from the USCCB, which last week said it “perpetuates an unfortunate and inaccurate myth that the Holy Father finds resistance among the leadership and staff of the U.S. bishops’ conference.”
 
As the bishops of the United States have been at pains to emphasize their closeness to the pope, many in Rome have noted the rise of a narrative in which Americans are cast as totems of opposition to Francis.
 
During a September trip to Africa, the pope casually remarked that “it is an honor that Americans are attacking me,” in response to a book which suggested that so-called conservative opposition to his teaching was organized by U.S. Catholics.
 
In his address at the opening of the USCCB assembly on Monday, the apostolic nuncio to the U.S. emphasized the importance of the pope’s priorities being reflected in American dioceses, and many U.S. bishops, including the USCCB leadership, are deeply sensitive to the impression that they are anything less than supportive of the pope and reject any suggestion of disloyalty. Many also saw McElroy’s intervention as harmful to the conference and even disingenuous.
 
“He wants us to think that to disagree with him – or [Cardinal] Cupich – is to disagree with the pope. It’s not true, but it works to undermine the conference leadership,” another bishop told CNA immediately following the vote. “It doesn’t serve communion among us, or with the pope. It’s about personalities and power.”
 
The final vote on the amendment declined to include Cupich’s longer text, with applause again breaking out when the result was announced, but several bishops approached CNA after the session concluded to express their concerns that the actual substance of the amendment had been obscured by McElroy’s pointed intervention.
 
“I had no problem with either [Cupich’s] longer version or [Gomez’s] preferred formulation,” one bishop told CNA. “But Bishop McElroy suggesting that by calling abortion what it is in our society we are against the pope is absurd.”
 
The bishop suggested to CNA that McElroy’s intervention “needlessly weaponized” the debate about the language of the letter.
 
During a press conference after the morning session, several bishops sought to smooth over the exchange between McElroy and Chaput, insisting that there was no contradiction between the bishops holding abortion to be the “preeminent” concern for the conscience of Catholics and the teachings of Pope Francis.
 
Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, who was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2016, said that “The short answer is that yes, abortion is the preeminent [concern] and the vote makes that obvious.”
 
Asked about McElroy’s characterization of his view, and that of the conference, that calling abortion the preeminent concern was either opposed to or discordant with the pope’s teaching, the cardinal suggested the McElroy was perhaps trying to make a different point.
 
“I think Bishop McElroy was warning against exclusive choices – either/or – or highlighting something to the point that other issues disappear. And I think, if I have understood his intention correctly, he was right.”
 
It is likely that McElroy’s intervention will be raised behind closed doors, when the bishops will gavel themselves into executive session. Behind closed doors, efforts to insist that the conference speaks and thinks with one mind are unlikely to continue long.
 
The increasingly serious challenge facing the large majority of U.S. bishops is how to deal with a small minority of their number who seem to be attempting to position themselves between the conference leadership and Rome, and appearing to drive a wedge between them and the pope at the same time.