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Catholic women's conference to be held in New Mexico

Albuquerque, N.M., Jul 21, 2017 / 06:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Women of Grace apostolate will mark 30 years at its national conference this year, an event which aims to help women celebrate their “gift of authentic femininity.”

“Come be restored, renewed, and refreshed as we journey together through this transforming weekend!” organizers said in an announcement. “Discover the blessing of your femininity and how to follow our Blessed Mother’s example in the world today!”  

Johnnette S. Benkovic, EWTN host and founder and president of Women of Grace, will be among the event’s speakers.

The national conference will take place in Albuquerque, N.M. at St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church Friday, Sept. 8 through Sunday, Sept. 10.

The conference is based on the theme “Bloom Who You Are.”

Besides Benkovic, other presenters include Father Philip Scott, F.J., founder of the Family of Jesus; singer/songwriter and Catholic evangelist Kitty Cleveland; and Carol Marquardt, founder of the Mantle of Mary Association Prayer Network.

Musical presenters include Kitty Cleveland and the worship team Living Praise.

The conference will include Mass, opportunities for confession and Eucharistic Adoration, a healing service, and a musical presentation. Spanish translation will be provided, as will a young women’s track.

The full cost of $140 includes a Friday boxed dinner, as well as lunch and dinner on Saturday. Other registration options are available.

Benkovic will lead a Benedicta Leadership Enrichment Seminar at the same location Sept. 7-8.

More information and registration is available at http://www.womenofgrace.com

 

 

Bishop: Senate mustn't repeal health care law without suitable replacement

Washington D.C., Jul 21, 2017 / 04:52 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The US bishops' representative for domestic justice has asked Senators not to vote to repeal the current health care law unless they have an alternative in place that offers acceptable levels of coverage.

“In the face of difficulties” of bringing health care legislation to the Senate floor, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice said in a letter to senators on Thursday, “the appropriate response is not to create greater uncertainty, especially for those who can bear it least, by repealing the ACA [Affordable Care Act] without a replacement.”

“Yet,” he said July 20, “reform is still needed to address the ACA's moral deficiencies and challenges with long-term sustainability.”

After the House passed a health care bill repealing the ACA and replacing it with provisions of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the Senate has worked on producing a bill of its own, the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). However, the Senate has so far failed to bring a health care bill to the floor for a vote.

This week, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that not only did the Senate not have the votes to pass the health care bill, but it did not have the votes required to sustain debate on repealing and replacing the ACA.

He announced that a vote would occur anyhow, on the House health care bill with an amendment attached that would repeal the current health care law but allow for a two-year transition period for stability.

A vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act is expected as soon as Tuesday. However, according to reports it is still unclear exactly which bill the Senate would vote on to replace the Affordable Care Act.

The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, for example, advocated on Friday that the Senate should vote either on its own health care bill or on the 2015 reconciliation bill that repealed the ACA. Those bills would end the funding of abortion coverage within the ACA, Susan B. Anthony List said.

Pro-life leaders, including Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, and Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, met with Vice President Mike Pence on Friday. Mancini called it a “good meeting” and reiterated that “abortion is not health care,” referring to funding of abortion coverage under the current health care law.

Bishop Dewane had previously said that no repeal of the current health care law should be made without a suitable replacement plan. “To end coverage for those who struggle every day without an adequate alternative in place would be devastating,” Bishop Dewane said.

He said any replacement plan must be one that “protects poor and vulnerable people, including immigrants, safeguards the unborn, and supports conscience rights.” The replacement plans that have been proposed by the House and Senate are “seriously flawed, and would have harmed those most in need in unacceptable ways,” he said.

While the bishop had applauded the Hyde Amendment protections in the House bill that would have blocked the taxpayer funding of abortions through tax credits and other subsidies, he had expressed serious concern about its changes to Medicaid and other provisions. The bill, he said, would cut coverage or make it more cost-prohibitive for those who may need it most, like the elderly, the poor, and the chronically ill.

The revised Senate plan, meanwhile, was still “unacceptable,” the bishop said in a statement last Thursday.

Regarding the original Senate health care proposal, in his June 27 letter Bishop Dewane said that “at a time when tax cuts that would seem to benefit the wealthy and increases in other areas of federal spending, such as defense, are being contemplated, placing a ‘per capita cap’ on medical coverage for the poor is unconscionable.”

He added that under the bill health coverage costs could increase for many elderly and poor persons “because of decreased levels of tax credit support and higher premiums.” And, the bishop said, the bill, like its House counterpart, lacked conscience protections.

He warned that the pro-life language in the bill was laudable, but echoed concerns of other pro-lifers that the language could be stripped by the Senate Parliamentarian before it reached the Senate Floor.

The revised Senate bill contained some slight improvements like more funding to fight opioid addiction, “but more is needed to honor our moral obligation to our brothers and sisters living in poverty and to ensure that essential protections for the unborn remain in the bill,” he said last Thursday.

This week, however, the Senate bill was scuttled. Yet amid the uncertainty of what the senators may vote on next week, “the appropriate response is not to create greater uncertainty, especially for those who can bear it least, by repealing the ACA without a replacement,” Bishop Dewane said.

On Friday, Pence urged Americans to ask their senator to vote to begin the debate to repeal and replace the ACA on Tuesday.

Susan B. Anthony List, meanwhile, said the Senate should work to ensure a bill is passed which defunds Planned Parenthood and protects taxpayer funding from going to abortion coverage in federally-subsidized plans.  

“The first step is voting for the motion to proceed to the House-passed bill which replaces Obamacare abortion funding with health assistance that does not include abortion coverage and redirects funding for certain abortion providers to noncontroversial community health centers,” the group’s president Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a July 20 letter to senators.

“While the House bill faces procedural hurdles, we support passage of a substitute amendment that is substantially similar to the Obamacare repeal bill sent to President Obama in January 2016,” she added.

“Obamacare has been a disaster for unborn children through its unprecedented expansion of taxpayer-funded abortion,” Dannenfelser said.

“The 2015 reconciliation bill that was sent to President Obama’s desk or the Better Care Reconciliation Act would roll back this damage and help return us to the principle that abortion is not health care.”

Bishop Conley: 50 years after Land O'Lakes, Catholic education needs renewal

Denver, Colo., Jul 21, 2017 / 04:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The 50th anniversary of a historic statement that changed Catholic higher education in America represents both a cautionary tale and a chance to reflect on Catholic renewal, said Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska.

“The Land O’Lakes statement proposed to redefine the mission of the Catholic university. It rejected the authority of the Church, and of her doctrinal teaching,” Bishop Conley said. “It rejected the idea that faith and reason work best in communion with one another. It prioritized the standards and culture of secular universities over the authentic mission of Catholic education. It was a statement of self-importance, and self-assertion.”

Bishop Conley delivered his remarks July 5 in Denver to teachers and principals at the Regional Catholic Classical Schools Conference at the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education.

He said that the Land O’Lakes statement “declared that Catholic universities would become independent from the hierarchy of the Church, from any obligation to orthodoxy, and from the authentic spirituality of the Church.”

Fifty years ago, 26 Catholic university presidents and administrators gathered at the Land O’Lakes retreat center in Wisconsin for the North American summit for the International Federation of Catholic Universities. The University of Notre Dame’s influential president, Father Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, was president of the federation at the time.

The meeting aimed to help the federation develop a vision for Catholic higher education in light of the Second Vatican Council, produced a document called “Statement on the Nature of the Contemporary Catholic University,” signed July 23, 1967. Many observers consider the statement a watershed moment in Catholic education.

Bishop Conley cited historian Philip Gleason’s characterization of the statement as “a declaration of independence from the hierarchy,” then suggested it represented “the ‘non serviam’ moment of many of America’s Catholic universities.” The Latin phrase, meaning “I shall not serve,” is used by the Prophet Jeremiah to refer to the Hebrew people’s disobedience to God. The phrase is also used to characterize Satan’s rejection of God.

“Fifty years ago, a ‘declaration of independence’ in Catholic education transformed the Church,” the bishop told the Catholic educators gathered in Denver. “Today, may your humility, wonder, and dependence on the grace of God transform your schools, transform the Church, and transform hearts for Jesus Christ.”

For Bishop Conley, the 1967 statement represented a burgeoning trend of Catholics becoming prominent in public life, but doing so by playing down faith elements that were out of step with general American culture.

He focused on several principles of the statement, including its commitments to “contemporary and experimental” liturgy, favoring “creative dialogue” over “theological or philosophical imperialism,” and “true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.”

He was critical of the statement’s presentation of Catholic universities as the Church’s “critical reflective intelligence” that could “objectively evaluate” the Church’s life and ministry in order to give “the benefit of continual counsel.”

“It seemed to bemoan the fact that Catholic universities were not asked more often how bishops should be undertaking their ministry,” he said.

The bishop suggested that secularization in the universities and colleges has “impacted every single facet of Catholic life” and secularized many Catholic elementary and high schools. This impact is found both in textbooks and teachers who have “not been trained to think or teach from the heart and wisdom of the Church.”

He cited the decline of Catholic school attendance from 5 million in the early 1960s to 2 million today, faulting factors like the decline of the Catholic university. The university, properly ordered, can also be “a training ground for dynamic and faithful Catholic educators, and as a context in which to discern and discover vocations.”

Bishops, clergy, religious and lay Catholics were formed in the wake of the statement, Bishop Conley said – himself included – resulting in “all of us doing the best we can, but regrettably, without being exposed to much of the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Church’s tradition.”

But there is still cause for hope: if dissenting universities can have a deep impact on Catholic and civic life, so can faithful schools. “The work being done to foster renewal in Catholic schools across the country will significantly impact the culture of the Church in the United States,” the bishop told the Denver gathering,

He encouraged Catholic educators to avoid several temptations and not measure Catholic universities “according to the standards of the world” or “to confuse influence, sophistication, or social acceptance with virtue and fidelity.”

“Meaningfully engaging with modernity is much more difficult than either capitulating to it or rejecting it out of hand,” he said.

The Land O’Lakes statement’s self-importance and self-assertion show the importance of “humility, docility, wonder, and receptivity,” Bishop Conley added.

“Encountering the living God is at the heart of true and meaningful Catholic education. This means that teachers, and administrators, must first themselves be disciples of Jesus Christ. It means that prayer – silent communion with the Eucharistic Lord – is at the center of the vocation of a teacher.”

 

Venezuelan bishops offer day of prayer, fasting as riots continue

Caracas, Venezuela, Jul 21, 2017 / 01:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Venezuela's bishops have organized a day of prayer and fasting amid ongoing riots throughout the country as opposition to President Nicolas Maduro hardens.

They have called on the people to use the penitential practices July 21 to ask God “to bless the efforts of Venezuelans for freedom, justice and peace.”

With the help of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, they voiced their hope in a July 13 statement which could be dubbed their manifesto on the current crisis that the effort would help so that “peace and fraternal coexistence may continue being built in the country.”

The day of prayer and fasting follows two similar initiatives, one of which took place Aug. 2, 2016, and the second May 21, 2017.

The bishops urged all faithful to participate in the day, in order “to not let themselves be robbed of the hope that makes possible, with the help of God, what is impossible; to communicate hope and to be protagonists in this historic moment and in the future of our country.”

In order to draw attention and support for the event, those who are participating are promoting it on social media with the hashtag #OracionporVenezuela – in English #PrayerforVenezuela.

The day of prayer and fasting comes amid ongoing violent protests prompted by an opposition-organized July 16 referendum in which roughly 7.6 million Venezuelans voted in rejection of the national, socialist government.

Sunday's unofficial referendum led to violence in several areas across the country, which so far has lead to the deaths of at least three people.

As voters were waiting to cast their ballot near the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Caracas' Catia area, shots rang out, leaving one man dead. When people fled into the parish for refuge, where Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino had been celebrating Mass, the doors were locked, barring the people and the cardinal from leaving.

According to reports, yesterday two more young men were killed in Valencia during a 24-hour strike that blocked businesses and public transport, bringing the death toll in anti-government protests to nearly 100 since April.

In addition to yesterday's 24-hour strike and the ongoing protests, a large opposition-backed demonstration is scheduled to take place July 22 in a show of support for parliament's election of new magistrates.

Frustration in Venezuela has been building for years due to poor economic policies, including strict price controls coupled with high inflation rates, which have resulted in a severe lack of basic necessities such as toilet paper, milk, flour, diapers, and medicines.

Venezuela's socialist government is widely blamed for the crisis. Since 2003, price controls on some 160 products, including cooking oil, soap and flour, have meant that while they are affordable, they fly off store shelves only to be resold on the black market at much higher rates.

A layperson living in Venezuela, who preferred to speak on terms of anonymity due to safety concerns, told CNA July 21 that the day of prayer and fasting is “a light” for the country amid the darkness of the current crisis.

“It seems like a very banal, fragile and simple action in front of yesterday's strike and tomorrow's demonstration,” the source said. However, “it's not only political power or social change that can change the world, but also the awareness of our relationship with God.”

“So a prayer and a fast is something very powerful which are often trivialized,” they said, and, quoting St. John Paul II, added that 'a prayer and the sacrifice of an unknown person in any unknown place can change the world.'”

The source said there has been an “exaggerated” response to the demonstrations on the part of the government, but that amid the violence, the day of prayer and fasting – which ranges from organized initiatives from parishes to personal commitments – is a chance to make “our true need” burn brighter.

It is reported that at least 300 people have been arrested for protesting the government in recent days.

In terms of the international community, the source said politicians are doing what they can, but asked Catholics to unite with Venezuelans in prayer, “but also and above all in communion, which means to be interested and aware of what is happening here.”

What the bishops are asking for is justice and social peace, they said, asking for prayer that “it can be true justice and peace … This is not an alternative, it's part of life. Not only to make a protest, but to pray, to pray for peace.”

Could a California bill make Catholic conduct codes illegal?

Sacramento, Calif., Jul 21, 2017 / 12:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pro-abortion groups are lobbying for a California law that Catholic leaders warn would open employers like Catholic schools to lawsuits for asking teachers to follow their codes of conduct.

“The bill unmistakably targets religious organization employers in the state, and goes further, inviting expensive litigation that could take years to sort out,” the California Catholic Conference said July 14, adding that it “sets a dangerous precedent for religious employers.”

The Catholic conference strongly opposes the bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales Fletcher (D-San Diego).

Assembly Bill 569 would prohibit employers from requiring their employees to sign a waiver or other document that “purports to deny any employee the right to make his or her own reproductive health care decisions,” its summary says.

It would also bar an employer from taking any adverse action against an employee based on the employee’s or employee dependent’s use of any drug, device or medical service related to “reproductive health” – which would include abortion, contraception and sterilization.

If an employer has an employee handbook, the bill would require the handbook to notify employees of these legal rights.

The California Catholic Conference charged that the bill targets religious employers who “expect faithful public and workplace conduct by their employees, including those who teach at religious schools and are reasonably expected to model the principles of that faith.”

The bill would make employers vulnerable to “nuisance lawsuits” from both employees and their dependents. The vulnerability from dependence is “unprecedented in California law,” the conference said.

“On the surface, the bill claims to seek legal protections from discrimination or retaliation for the ‘reproductive decisions’ of employees,” the conference continued. “However, the bill does not allow employers to enforce codes of conduct, even those negotiated with employees as part of union contracts. Those ‘codes of conduct’ – which are actually just standards and expectations set by an employer for the individuals it employs – bind religious employers and their employees in pursuit of a good society.”

The pro-abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice California is among the bill’s backers. Its February 14 statement in favor of the bill cited the actions of two Catholic schools in other states that had fired teachers on morality grounds.

The California Catholic Conference said backers of the bill can cite only one California case in the past decade, and that case was settled out of court.

Other backers of the bill include the California Council of Churches, which represents mainline Protestant and Orthodox Christian churches. Opponents include the California Family Council.

Similar legislation was enacted in February in the city of St. Louis, Missouri. Several Catholic organizations have filed a legal challenge against the law and the Missouri governor has called for a special session of the legislature to pass stronger legal protections for pro-life groups.

To help rally opposition to the California bill, the Catholic conference has prepared an action alert on its website, http://www.cacatholic.org.

 

100 descendants and counting: The remarkable story of Pat Klingbeil

Denver, Colo., Jul 21, 2017 / 10:30 am (CNA).- When most people hear about a stereotypical “large Catholic family,” they might picture a van that seats six or eight kids. Most wouldn’t think of having so many great-grandchildren that you’ve lost count.

But this is reality for Pat Klingbeil of Colorado.

Pat has nearly 50 great-grandchildren (an estimate she gave that was confirmed by one of her more mathematically talented daughters), having given birth to eight children and raised a total of 11.

“Parenting is a career,” she says, “and it has a lot of paybacks.”

One of the many signs and newspaper clippings hanging throughout her house bears the first half of that same message. Another, tucked amid jokes about Irish heritage and a morning prayer hanging above her coffee pot, depicts a mother surrounded by rambunctious children: “Lord, give me the strength to endure my many blessings!”

And her many blessings, along with the trials in which they have sometimes appeared, are something of which Pat often speaks in these conversations: “See how God works” and other such phrases are constant refrains of hers.

“It’s certainly been an adventure,” she said of her family. She paused before saying: “It’s what I always wanted to do, since I was old enough to know better. I always wanted to be a mom. So, to be blessed with a large family is just incredible.”

Dinnertimes at Pat’s are rarely low-profile events, as many nights out of a week the kitchen is packed with friends, former boarders, and most of all, her extensive family.

Pat was born in Aurora near Denver and just north of where she lives now, on St. Patrick’s Day in 1933 to an impoverished family.  

She discussed coming to a knowledge of God’s love, saying it was an awareness that slowly grew in her life, and came largely through her family: “having babies, giving birth, living the wonder of life, of having that experience.”

“I don’t think there was ever an ‘ah-ha!’ moment. I think it just began to develop in me. And as I lived, and as my children grew and all, I began to experience the presence, the presence of God.”



Pat speaks often of this presence of God. Far from being simply a nice Catholic slogan to her, it is something she always turns backs to, not only when talking about the joys of life, but also its sorrows.

“If there is a God, then you believe that he will not abandon you,” she says.

And the stories Pat tells reveal this clearly.

A growing family

Pat raised four of her grandchildren, after their parents (her stepdaughter and son-in-law) were murdered after a Fourth of July party in the early 1980s.

Neighbors and even families in Utah filed to take the kids, but only volunteered for one or two. However, the coroner promised Pat that she and her husband would be the ones to raise them.

“When all else fails, God’s still here, and I can still say, ‘Help me,’ and he does. And the best part of that is that he’s always allowed me to see that he’s helping me.”

And so the four grandchildren joined the family, and their grandparents became their mom and dad.

“When I became mamma to them, there was so much that need to be cared for and loved for, that I had to give myself to them,” Pat says.

Sadly, however, another trial waited which God would bear them through. A few years later, in 1988, her husband received a diagnosis with cancer. The eldest of the adopted grandchildren asked her new mom, “How many of my parents does God want to take away from me?”

Doctors gave him at most 18 months to live.

“And that’s what he took. He took 18 months,” says Pat.

He passed away in a hospital with Pat at his side.

“Everybody in the family, and close friends, all said, ‘What are you gonna do? What are you gonna do?’” Pat says.

“Well, you do whatever God sent you. And he takes care of it. If you ask him to take care of it, he takes care of it.”

Decades later, in 2004, Pat was invited by some friends to a Thanksgiving dinner. One of these felt it would be good for her to meet her boyfriend’s brother, Roger.

“We had dinner at their house on Thursday night, and when he walked me to my car, he said, ‘Well, will I see you again? Because I’m going back to Washington on Monday.’”

Pat offered for him to call her sometime.

He did so the next day, asking her to dinner.

After a meal where they both expressed distaste at the food, Roger walked Pat to her car.

“He said, ‘Can I kiss you goodnight?’ And I said, ‘Oh, I don’t think so.’ I don’t know where I was.”

The next day, Sunday, he came to Pat’s house, and the two simply chatted.

After he returned to Washington, the two stayed in touch over the phone. When Roger came back in town a couple weeks later, Pat invited him to her daughter and son-in-law’s house warming.

“Really and truly, I totally believe it, I’ve always told him: he fell in love with my family, and he wanted to be a part of my family.”

In 2005, Roger moved to Denver, and the next year they set the wedding date for August 13, the day after Pat’s grandson Matt married.

“We really did have a good time,” Pat says of their travelling the country and golfing together.

In 2010, the couple were staying a few nights in Estes Park on the way back from Washington. One day while they were there, Roger pointed out a swell on his stomach to Pat.

The two came home, saw a doctor the next morning, and received an MRI immediately.

It was her second time hearing the news of a spouse’s cancer diagnosis. This time, it was stage 4 liver and gallbladder cancer.

“It was harder because it was so hard for him,” Pat says. “He just cried, and he said, ‘I don’t want you to have to go through this again.’”

The doctors said he might live six months, but more likely around three weeks.

But just like her first husband, Roger lived the full time, passing away six months later on October 28.

“It’s a different experience this time,” Pat says.

She told me Roger’s story sitting in the living room by the backyard patio. When we had wrapped up our chat, she stood up and indicated a Divine Mercy image hanging above the wall. In front of this image, here in that room, she told me, she had prayed for Roger hours before he died in his hospice bed two rooms over.



Difficult circumstances, unexpected blessings

As a young mother while her first husband was serving overseas, Pat became pregnant after being raped. Her husband managed to secure a re-assignment in the States, and the young family moved to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

There, the family met a priest sympathetic to the situation, who found a couple willing to adopt the child. Pat delivered the child, who was then delivered to his new family.

“It doesn’t matter how that life is in you,” Pat says. “It matters how you nurture that life and allow it to grow in God’s image in likeness, and go on with your life in a proper way.” Pat has in years since given talks to young people which discuss, among other things, the challenges and beauty of adoption.

Around the year 1980, having been given his birth certificate by his adoptive mother, this son of Pat’s, named Joe, began searching for his birth mother. With the advent of the internet, he began using online genealogy tools and was able to hunt down her contact information.

Pat tells the story:

“Late morning, I answered the telephone, and this soft, quiet voice said, ‘This is not a business call, this is a personal call. My name is Joseph John Gongalski. I am calling looking for a Patricia Klingbeil. I was born at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.”

Pat cut across him at this point: “And you weighed seven pounds, four ounces.”

As Pat tells it, Joe went “blubbery” at this point in the conversation.

They arranged for Joe, along with his wife and one of their sons, Matthew, to come to Pat’s birthday party on March 17, an annual event which draws family from across the country and friends from across the Denver area, packing the house.

Joe and his family arrived a couple of days early, and Pat, in her usual Irish mischief, had an idea.

“I decided that I would pull a trick on him.”

Grabbing Roger’s old cane, she hobbled out the door, bent halfway over, and made her way meekly across the lawn, surrounded by family armed with cameras.

“When we saw the car pull up, I went out across the lawn. He had gotten out of the car and was coming in between the cars on the driveway. And I’m coming across the grass with the cane and I’m bent way over, like a real old lady.”

From her feigned stoop, she could see Matthew over the cars.

“In that one glance, I could see his expression of, ‘Oh my God, look at her.’ It was just horror that was on his face!” she remembers, laughing.

“As Joe came out from between the cars, I threw the cane and ran to him.”

When Joe shows the video to church groups, audiences typically believe they’ve witnessed a miracle.

“I think that was the cream of it all,” says Pat, still laughing.

Joe and his wife Joanna now make regular visits to Pat from where they live in Michigan.



If you started from Pat’s name on a family tree and counted all the members extending below her, you’d count over 100 names. Among them would be kids, grandchildren raised as her kids, great-grandkids not yet born, a whole family rejoined after Joe’s search climaxed on her birthday one year: members lost, and members gained.

“See how God works,” as she says.

Jewish, Christian and Muslim National Religious Leaders Unite for Israeli-Palestinian Peace

WASHINGTON—In a letter to President Donald J. Trump, thirty-five Jewish, Christian and Muslim national religious leaders agree that Israeli-Palestinian peace is possible. They believe, "based on the legitimate, long-standing aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians for national self-determination and security, a two-state solution still represents the most realistic way to meet essential interests of both peoples and to resolve the conflict."

The letter includes the signatures of Bishop Oscar Cantú, of Las Cruses, Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington.

The statement by Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders points to the fact that, "despite deep distrust on both sides, recent polls among Israelis and Palestinians show that the majority still yearn for two states." The leaders believe, "pursing either side's version of a one-state solution would likely lead to more years of violent conflict."

The leaders are encouraged that, building on years of official and informal negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, "the basic parameters of a framework for a two-state solution are widely known." And they say, "combined with a broader regional framework such as the Arab Peace Initiative, the incentives for all sides to make the historic decision for a two-state peace agreement are monumental."

They believe that "achieving a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians would have substantial positive effects for the people of Israel and Palestine, the region, the United States' own interests, and our world." The religious leaders are united in pledging their "support for US efforts to achieve this goal."

The full letter can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/global-issues/middle-east/israel-palestine/nili-letter-to-president-on-israel-palestine-2017-07-19.cfm

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Keywords:  U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, President, President Donald J. Trump, religious leaders, Israelis, Palestinians, two-state solution, Bishop Oscar Cantú, Committee on International Justice and Peace, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus, Washington, D.C., Arab Peace Initiative, conflict, peace.

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MEDIA CONTACT:
Judy Keane
202-541-3200


Why we should care about the spike in women prisoners

Washington D.C., Jul 21, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- While there is talk of criminal justice reform in the U.S., something must also be done about a decades-long spike in female inmates, experts and members of Congress of both parties said.

“We talk a lot about racial disparities in our system, but for some odd reason, we've really not focused on women, and it’s been to the detriment of public safety,” Holly Harris, executive director of the Justice Action Network, told CNA.

Harris spoke at the event “Women Unshackled,” sponsored by both the Justice Action Network and the Brennan Center for Justice, and was held at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. on July 18.

It featured a keynote address by Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma (R) and speeches by members of Congress of both parties, Rep. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Rep. Sheila Jackson lee (D-Tex.), Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah).

“If we as a country value life as much as we say we do, then we value all life, even those who have made mistakes and have went through the incarceration system,” Rep. Collins said in the morning welcome remarks.

“How can we justify a system that takes people who are survivors of trauma, survivors of abuse, and put them on a survivor of sexual trauma to prison pipeline?” asked Sen. Booker, who had said in his address that many women in prison have previously suffered trauma, which may be triggered or exacerbated during their stay in prison.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had addressed the rising numbers of women in prison in their 2000 statement on criminal justice reform “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration.”

The bishops said that the large increase in the number of women in prison came “largely as a result of tougher drug laws,” that most of the women were incarcerated for non-violent offenses, and that “an equal number have left children behind, often in foster care, as they enter prison.”

According to the Vera Institute of Justice, the numbers of women behind bars have grown more with each decade, especially when the U.S. is compared to other countries on the issue.

The research is “incredibly dated and scarce,” Elizabeth Swavola of the Vera Institute said at the “Women Unshackled” event on Tuesday, but from what information the organization has been able to study, the numbers are striking.

While fewer than 8,000 women were incarcerated in the U.S. in 1970, 110,000 were incarcerated in 2014, the Vera Institute reported, with the sharpest increases coming in small or “midsize” counties. In the U.S.,127 women per 100,000 people are incarcerated. In Canada that rate is just 11 per 100,000.

They make up the “fastest growing segment of the prison population” Harris said. Most of them are mothers, and many, like the men in prison, suffer from drug issues, poverty, and mental illness, and racial minorities make up higher rates of the prison population than in society.

Many women, however, have suffered previous instances of trauma – which can be exacerbated or triggered in prison. Vera reported that “almost a third had experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the past 12 months,” and that 86 percent of women in prison have “experienced sexual violence in their lifetime,” along with 77 percent suffering from partner violence.

Eighty percent are also mothers, with some being the primary caretaker for their children, Vera reported. “In many instances,” Cynthia Berry of the Council for Court Excellence said, “children aren’t even told their mother is incarcerated.”

If their mother is their primary caretaker, children may end up in the foster care system as a result, and mothers may not eventually be reunited with their children after they are released from prison.

Most are in prison for low-level or non-violent offenses. “According to the latest available national data, which are now more than a decade old,” Vera reported, “32 percent of women in jail are there for property offenses, 29 percent for drug offenses, and nearly 21 percent for public order offenses.”

For the violent offenders, some are serving sentences for violence committed against people who were violent with them, like women retaliating against abusive husbands or boyfriends.

Why has there been such a sharp increase in the number of women behind bars?

There is “very little out there explaining why,” Swavola said, but from Vera’s findings, “at the very front end, policing practices have come to increasingly focus on low-level, non-violent offenses” like low-level drug possession and disorderly conduct. This would be the result of “broken window” type policing, based on the belief that if smaller infractions are punished, there will be fewer greater infractions.

Because of a “punitive” approach to drug enforcement, she said, there are more women in the prison system.

Yet once they land in prison, they face a system that is hard enough for men to cope with, but one that at least is designed for men. For the women, they face greater threats of abuse and a more severe lack of privacy.

“Women are different from men,” Harris told CNA/EWTN News. “Their needs would be different. So unfortunately right now, women are entering prisons that are programmed for men.”

The result is that, although time in prison may help men become more hardened criminals, women may exit feeling far more degraded and dejected.

“All of these women have completely physically changed,” Harris said. They are visibly lacking self-confidence and staring at the floor. “It’s just clear that they are emotionally and mentally devastated.”

They are more likely to be victimized in prison. For instance, while women accounted for only 13 percent of the local jail population between 2009 and 2011, 67 percent of victims of staff-on-inmate sexual victimization were women, as well as 27 percent of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization, Vera reported.

They may have to endure indignities like male prison officers walking in to their room while they are undressed, Sen. Booker said. Practices common in prison like shackling and searching inmates “can really re-trigger a lot of that trauma,” Swavola said.

Also, women prisoners tend to be poorer, which means that they may have less of a chance of having their bail paid or may not be able to afford expenses in prison like basic health necessities, laundry expenses, or phone calls home.

“Some jails charge inmates a per diem fee during their incarceration,” Vera reported, “which can leave an individual with thousands of dollars of criminal justice debt upon release.”

Prison can be “incredibly destabilizing and disruptive” to a woman’s life, Swavola said, especially in the case of a severely mentally ill woman.

Cash bail and “excessive fines and fees” can “trap women in the system,” she said.

What solutions can be attempted for the problem of women in prisons? States and counties could begin to invest more in drug treatment and prevention programs rather than law enforcement, Swavola said.

“A huge portion of these county and community budgets go toward public safety,” she said, and “oftentimes it’s 70 to 80 percent.” Much of that portion “is to corrections,” she said.

Other programs like diversion programs do not get resources, she said. “I think we really need to rethink how we are using our taxpayer dollars to fund the justice system.”

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin (R) said that her state has put too many women behind bars and is working on decreasing the number of incarcerated.

“For many of our non-violent, low-level offenders, there are alternatives that work better,” she said, like “drug and mental health courts” and “community based treatment, diversion programs, supervision.”

Recidivism is also a large cause of women in prisons, Vera reported.

“It’s no wonder that the female prison population is spiking, because we’re not providing these women with the tools that they’ll need to successfully re-enter society,” Harris said.

“They are not equipped mentally, emotionally, they can’t find jobs, they can’t improve their education, they can’t reconnect with their families, they can’t get adequate housing.”

For instance, CNA spoke with an ex-convict, Casey Irwin, back in April who had been convicted of bank fraud and drug-related offenses.

“I can get a job, but it wasn’t going to pay me any money, and I wasn’t going to ever move up,” Irwin told CNA of her difficulty in finding a job after prison that paid her enough in wages.

Eventually, she was offered a managerial position at a fast food franchise, but said that more opportunities must be available to ex-convicts, who face a myriad of obstacles from employment to obtaining loans.

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