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Supreme Court again upholds Affordable Care Act

Rena Schild/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jun 17, 2021 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

The Supreme Court once again upheld the Affordable Care Act, in a 7-2 ruling against the latest challenge to the law on Thursday.

In the majority opinion authored by Justice Stephen Breyer, the court ruled that the state of Texas, in leading the case against the Affordable Care Act, “failed to show a concrete, particularized injury fairly traceable to the defendants’ conduct in enforcing the specific statutory provision they attack as unconstitutional.”

“They have failed to show that they have standing to attack as unconstitutional the Act’s minimum essential coverage provision,” Breyer wrote. The court vacated the Fifth Circuit’s judgment on standing, and remanded the case to the circuit court to dismiss. 

Breyer was joined in his opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, Sonia Sotomayor, and Clarence Thomas. Additionally, Thomas filed a concurring opinion. 

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the dissenting opinion, and was joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch. 

In the case, the Supreme Court was asked to decide if the Affordable Care Act should be struck down if its “individual mandate” was effectively nullified by Congress in 2017. In 2017, Congress changed the penalty for not complying with the mandate to $0. 

The mandate that every American have health insurance – or face a financial penalty – was seen as critical to the law’s implementation and guarantee of affordable health coverage for all. While the fine was reduced to nothing, the language of the individual mandate remained in the law. 

Texas, along with more than a dozen other states, sued, claiming that the mandate was unconstitutional without a fine to enforce it - and was also not severable from the rest of the law. Thus, Texas argued that the law must be thrown out as well. California and other states eventually intervened to defend the law’s constitutionality.

President Joe Biden (D), who was vice president when the law was passed, called the ruling on Thursday, “a big win for the American people,” and encouraged people to “sign up for quality, affordable health care.” 

“With millions of people relying on the Affordable Care Act for coverage, it remains, as ever, a BFD,” said Biden, referring to his hot-mic comment in 2010 that the bill was a “big [expletive] deal.”

Thursday’s ruling marks the third time the Supreme Court has upheld the Affordable Care Act as constitutional. 

In 2012, Chief Justice John Roberts authored the majority opinion that upheld the constitutionality of the law’s individual mandate. The Court ruled that the mandate’s penalty for non-compliance was a tax, and thus a lawful requirement of Congress to make on Americans.

Three years later, in 2015, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in the case King v. Burwell that the law’s subsidies and tax credits could be made available to people who purchased health insurance coverage on a federal, rather than a state, exchange. 

The U.S. bishops’ conference supported the law’s goal of expanded health coverage, but ultimately opposed its passage for several reasons, including that it “makes new and disturbing changes in federal policy on abortion and conscience rights.” The conference warned about funding of abortions in subsidized health plans under the law. 

Included in the law was a mandate for preventive services, which the Obama administration eventually interpreted to include the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacients. That mandate for employer coverage was challenged in court by Catholic dioceses and the Little Sisters of the Poor, who won their second Supreme Court case regarding the mandate last July.

Polish Catholic priest guillotined by Nazis to be beatified in November

Fr. Jan Macha (1914-1942). / Public domain.

Katowice, Poland, Jun 17, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

A Polish Catholic priest guillotined by the Nazis will be beatified in November.

Fr. Jan Macha will be declared blessed at a Mass on Nov. 20 in the Cathedral of Christ the King, Katowice, southern Poland.

The Mass will be celebrated by Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints,

Macha, known as Hanik, was ordained a priest months before Nazi Germans invaded Poland in 1939. He offered aid to families who lost members in the fighting and was a member of an underground group codenamed “Konwalia” (Lily of the Valley).

The Gestapo, the secret police of Nazi Germany, arrested him on Sept. 5, 1941, at a train station in Katowice, Upper Silesia. After humiliating interrogations, he was sentenced to death on July 17, 1942.

He was executed by guillotine at a prison in Katowice at 12:15 a.m. on Dec. 3, 1942, despite his mother’s efforts to secure a pardon.

He was 28 years old when he died and had served only 1,257 days as a priest. His body was never recovered.

Welcoming the beatification, Archbishop Wiktor Skworc of Katowice said: “The beatification is certainly a very important event for our local Church. I am happy that our Hanik will be proclaimed blessed. He has waited a long time for this, and so have we.”

“I hope that this event will turn into an opportunity to strengthen the faith and revitalize religious life in our archdiocese in this difficult time of recovery from the pandemic.”

Fr. Damian Bednarski, the postulator of Macha’s beatification cause, said: “The time of the pandemic has shown us that we must learn patience. We waited patiently for the decision regarding the date of the beatification.”

“Now, let us ask Providence that we may participate in the elevation of the martyr from Upper Silesia to the altars without any obstacles.”

“We need permanent points of reference and the clear testimonies of those who have given their lives out of love for Christ. This can help us renew our faith.”

The beatification was originally scheduled for Oct. 17, 2020, but was postponed due to the pandemic.

Fr. Tomasz Wojtal, spokesman for the archdiocese of Katowice, said: “We wanted to wait until all the faithful wishing to take part in the ceremony could be present.”

Macha’s sainthood cause opened in 2013. After the diocesan stage was completed in 2015, the cause was sent to Rome. Pope Francis issued a decree recognizing him as a martyr on Nov. 29, 2019.

Macha was the subject of the 2011 documentary film “Without One Tree, a Forest Will Stay a Forest,” directed by Dagmara Drzazga.

The title comes from a line in a letter Macha wrote to his family shortly before his execution.

“This is my last letter. In four hours, the sentence will be carried out. So when you read this letter, I will no longer be among the living! Stay with God! Forgive me for everything,” he said.

“I am going before the Almighty Judge who will judge me now. I hope that He will accept me. My wish was to work for Him, but it was not given to me. Thank you for everything!”

He continued: “I die with a clear conscience. I have lived a short life, but I believe that I have achieved my goal. Don’t despair! Everything will be all right.”

“Without a one tree, the forest will stay a forest. Without one swallow, the spring will come and without one man, the world will not collapse.”

Abortion is not healthcare, bishops say ahead of European Parliament vote

The European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. / JLogan via Wikimedia (public domain).

Rome Newsroom, Jun 17, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

A commission of European bishops has responded to a report on abortion, due to be debated and voted on by the European Parliament next week.

The group said that it was “very concerned about a number of the representations and arguments” made in the so-called Matić Report, which seeks the recognition of a “right to abortion” and the redefinition of conscientious objection as a “denial of medical care.”

The position paper of the Secretariat of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), published June 17, said that it was “ethically untenable” to classify abortion as an “essential health service.”

“A medical intervention of such magnitude cannot and must not become a normal practice; its qualification as an essential service degrades the unborn child,” the paper said.

The bishops wrote that “as Church, we are convinced that human life from the beginning, including unborn life, possesses its own dignity and independent right to protection. In the Church’s view, abortion is not a means of family planning or part of ordinary healthcare.”

“The unborn child has a human right to life,” the commission underlined.

COMECE, which consists of bishops delegated by the bishops’ conferences of the 27 member states of the European Union, said that human health is a core concern of the Catholic Church, which recognizes the right to health as “an essential basis for a dignified life.”

“Standing up for human rights is a central component of the Church’s social-ethical proclamation; it sees human rights as the basis for peaceful coexistence between peoples and is convinced that they correspond profoundly to the Christian and biblical understanding of the dignity of the human being,” the paper said.

The commission added that it valued the fundamental concern of the draft resolution, which is the protection of the health and rights of women, but regretted the document’s “one-sided perspective” on abortion.

The Matić Report “does not reflect the tragedy and complexity of the situations in which mothers considering aborting their unborn child find themselves,” it said.

Quoting a 1996 document from the German bishops, it said that “‘all too easily,’ however, ‘the independent right to life of the child is left out of the consideration and it is overlooked that the unborn child is not the property of the parents, but precisely in its defencelessness is only entrusted to them.’”

“There is no question that the life of the unborn cannot be protected against the mother, but only with her,” the bishops said. “Taking care of women who are in distress or in a conflict situation because of their pregnancy is a central part of the diaconal ministry of the Church and should be also a duty of our societies.”

The report, which was presented to the European Parliament, the EU’s law-making body, by Croatian politician Predrag Fred Matić, is due to be debated on June 23. A vote will take place the next day.

COMECE also noted “with concern and regret” the draft resolution’s negation of the fundamental right to conscientious objection, “which is an emanation of freedom of conscience.”

“While other rights such as the right to life can take precedence in specific situations, we are alarmed that the text questions the mere existence of a right of medical institutions and their staff to refuse to provide certain health services, including abortion, on the basis of conscience clauses,” the position paper said.

"This reference entails a blatant disregard for the right of organizations based on religion or belief to follow their ethos and to organize their services in accordance with them. It also neglects the right of individuals to follow their conscience.”

The COMECE statement also said that the report does not do justice to the legislative competence of the member states in the area of “sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

“We recall that a fundamental principle of the European Union is the principle of conferral, whereby the Union shall act only within the limits of the competences conferred upon it by the member states in the treaties to attain the objectives set out therein,” the bishops said.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the president of COMECE, said in an interview published this week that he believed that “we must make it clear that approving such a report is against subsidiarity, because abortion is a subject of national and non-EU legislation.”

“It would therefore be a grave sin for the European Union not to respect the subsidiarity of which it always speaks,” he said.

Lay advisor urges U.S. bishops to reconcile with all Catholics over clergy abuse

Members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pray at their fall meeting in Baltimore, Maryland on Nov. 11, 2019 / Christine Rousselle/CNA

Washington D.C., Jun 17, 2021 / 12:32 pm (CNA).

In responding to clergy sex abuse, U.S. bishops must expand their reconciliation efforts to include not only victim survivors, but all Catholics affected by the abuse crisis, the head of a lay advisory body to the U.S. bishops’ conference said on Thursday.

Suzanne Healy, chair of the National Review Board (NRB) - a lay advisory group to the U.S. bishops on protecting minors from abuse – addressed the U.S. bishops at their virtual spring meeting on Thursday.

“Since 2018 and 2019, there has been increased focus and expansion on responding to victim survivors by Church ministers,” Healy said, alluding to the recent revelations of abuse and misconduct by former cardinal Theodore McCarrick and by other bishops.

“But we must evolve in our response to reach the community of people in the pews, the people who have left the pews, and those who have yet to fill the pews, as well as the clergy who have suffered for the past failing of their brother clerics and have been devastated by the crisis,” she said.

The bishops are meeting for their annual spring meeting from June 16-18. They heard addresses from conference president Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles on Wednesday, as well as from the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christoph Pierre.

On Thursday, the bishops are scheduled to vote on approval of two causes of canonization, as well as on authorizing the creation of a statement on Native American ministry and a teaching document on the Eucharist. They will also vote to approve a pastoral statement on marriage ministry.

The National Review Board was constituted by the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) in 2002, after widespread revelations of the sexual abuse of minors by clerics that spanned decades and which occurred around the country. The board advises the USCCB Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.

In her address to the bishops on Thursday, Healy said that the historic nature of most recent allegations of clergy sex abuse – allegations that date back decades – is evidence that recent abuse prevention standards are working.

Healy said that an annual audit from the compliance auditor StoneBridge revealed that 4,250 abuse allegations were reported in the year 2020 – and that most allegations were several decades old.

“This large number gives the appearance that nothing has changed in the Catholic Church, and we know that isn’t true,” she said, pointing to the age of most of the allegations. In the current year, 22 allegations have been reported – less than 1% of the previous year’s total – she said, adding that “of course, one is too many.”

Audits are conducted annually to ensure compliance among dioceses and eparchies with the 2002 Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People – drafted by the U.S. bishops as a response to the abuse crisis of the time.

Healy urged the bishops to strengthen abuse prevention, accountability, and transparency efforts.

Publishing lists of clerics with substantial abuse allegations - including diocesan, religious, or eparchal clergy – is just one way to tell survivors “we hear you,” she told bishops.

“We have a long way to go to be as transparent as possible in this area,” she said. “The NRB encourages you to look at such lists as exemplary models of transparency.”

She requested that all dioceses implement a formal parish audit program for child protection as “good risk-management,” noting that 35% of U.S. dioceses have yet to do so.

“We have not reached our commitment to the [Dallas] Charter until we have 100% participation from all dioceses and eparchies,” she said.

Bishop Mark Brennan of Wheeling-Charleston affirmed the importance of parish audits in the comment session following Healy’s address. He pushed for the audits to be conducted on-site, citing his previous experience as a pastor.

“That’s really where you find out what is going on, and we need to know what is going on, on the ground,” he said.

The review board also recommended audits of the bishop abuse reporting service, the national third-party reporting system for allegations of abuse, neglect, or misconduct made against bishops in the U.S. which launched in March 2020. The allegations are fielded and forwarded to the metropolitan archbishop, where they are assessed.

While praising implementation of the reporting service, Healy recommended it be audited as well “to ensure all matters are being handled according to proper standards.”

Regarding the McCarrick Report, which was published in November 2020, she noted its revelations of “systemic reporting failures,” “manipulation by offenders,” “instituting fraternal correction,” and “the handling of anonymous reports.”


She stated that the review board did not support the “metropolitan model” of Vos Estis, the process by which accusations against bishops are sent to their metropolitans. Yet, she added, “we are grateful that in the case of McCarrick, the process initiated by the Archdiocese of New York worked. What we have in place works.”

Pope Francis: Do not forget workers pushed to the margins by pandemic

Pope Francis at his general audience address in the library of the Apostolic Palace May 5, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jun 17, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis addressed an International Labor Organization (ILO) summit Thursday, calling for dignified working conditions and support for workers on the margins of the labor market still affected by pandemic losses.

“In 2020, we saw an unprecedented loss of employment all over the world. In our haste to return to greater economic activity, at the end of the COVID-19 threat, let us avoid excessive fixations on benefit, isolation and nationalism, blind consumerism, and denial of the clear evidence of discrimination against our ‘dispensable’ brothers and sisters in our society,” the pope said via a video message to the ILO’s World of Work Summit on June 17.

“On the contrary, let us look for solutions that will help us build a new future of work based on decent and dignified working conditions, originating in collective negotiation, and promoting the common good, a phrase that will make work an essential component of our care for society and Creation. In this sense, work is truly and essentially human.”

The pope was one of several world leaders to speak on the first day of the ILO’s virtual summit.

U.S. President Joe Biden, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, also addressed the summit on the same day.

In his video message delivered in Spanish, Pope Francis warned summit participants against having an “elitist dynamic” that discards others and sacrifices “those who have been left behind, on the so-called ‘altar of progress.’”

“Faced with the Agenda of the International Labor Organization, we must continue as we did in 1931, when Pope Pius XI, after the Wall Street crisis and in the midst of the ‘Great Depression,’ denounced the asymmetry between workers and entrepreneurs as a flagrant injustice that gave carte blanche and means to capital,” the pope said.

Quoting Pius XI’s encyclical, Quadragesimo anno, he said: “‘Property that is, ‘capital,’ has undoubtedly long been able to appropriate too much to itself. Whatever was produced, whatever returns accrued, capital claimed for itself, hardly leaving to the worker enough to restore and renew his strength.’”

He added: “Even in those circumstances, the Church promoted the position that the amount of pay for work done should not only be intended to meet the immediate and current needs of workers, but also to open up the ability of workers to safeguard their families’ future savings and investments to provide a margin of security for the future.”

“Legal norms must be geared towards employment growth, dignified work, and the rights and duties of the human person,” he said.

The pope called for the expansion of social protection systems to ensure access to health services, food, and basic human needs. He said that the lack of social protection during the pandemic resulted in increased poverty, unemployment, and an increase in illegal work.

“We are called upon to prioritize our response to workers on the margins of the labor market who are still affected by the COVID-19 pandemic: low-skilled workers, day laborers, those who work illegally, migrant and refugee workers, those who carry out what is commonly referred to as … dangerous, dirty and degrading,” he said.

The ILO is a United Nations agency based in Geneva dedicated to improving labor conditions. Its member states are not only represented by government officials, but also by leaders of trade unions.

Pope Francis told the ILO that the trade union movement currently faces two major challenges. The first is not to forget its “prophetic” call to “expose the powerful who trample on the rights of the most vulnerable workers, defend the cause of foreigners, the least and the rejected.”

“Clearly, when a trade union becomes corrupt, it can no longer do this, and its status transforms into that of a pseudo-employer, itself distanced from the people,” the pope said.

The second challenge facing trade unions is that of innovation, he explained, adding that unions should also protect those who are excluded from work and rights.

“As we seek to shape our future action and shape a post-COVID-19 international agenda, we should pay particular attention to the very real danger of forgetting those who have been left behind. They run the risk of being attacked by a virus even worse than COVID-19: that of selfish indifference,” Pope Francis said.

Hungary passes law barring pornography, pro-LGBT content for minors

Parliament building in Budapest, Hungary. / Shutterstock

Budapest, Hungary, Jun 17, 2021 / 11:51 am (CNA).

Hungary’s parliament has passed a sex crimes law that includes elements aiming to protect children, barring providing pornography and content that promotes gender reassignment and homosexuality to anyone under age 18. 

Backers of the law emphasized the need to protect children and to support parents, though the move has drawn criticism from the Hungarian opposition parties, LGBT activists, NGOs, and the U.S. embassy.


Citing the need to ensure “the protection of children’s rights,” the law says, “pornography and content that depicts sexuality for its own purposes or that promotes deviation from gender identity, gender reassignment and homosexuality shall not be made available to persons under the age of 18.”


Sexual education classes, says the law, “should not be aimed at promoting gender segregation, gender reassignment or homosexuality,” Agence France Presse reports.


Outside of school teachers, only officially registered individuals or organizations may hold sex education classes.


“This means that liberal NGOs would probably be excluded,” the news site Hungary Today said.


Television stations would be required to carry an “18 and over” certificate for films and programs whose content diverges from the law, restricting it to the hours between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Hungary’s media authority must take action where any infringement takes place, the New York Times reports.


Gabriella Selmeczi, an MP from the governing Fidesz party, said, “true liberalism is about leaving children under the age of 18 alone with issues that affect their sexual orientation,” the news site Hungary Today said.


The law was packaged as an anti-pedophilia law.


Hungary’s Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó commented on the law, saying, “protection of our children might not be a question: zero tolerance for pedophiles, while the education of children about sexual orientation is the parents’ sole right.”  


The bill also creates a public database of sex offenders. Many last-minute changes were made to the bill following sex scandals involving political and government figures, including Fidesz members.


The bill passed July 15 by a vote of 157-1. Most opposition parties boycotted the vote.


Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing populist Fidesz party holds 116 seats and controls parliament in coalition with the Christian Democratic People’s Party. The nationalist Jobbik Party backed the law along with several independent lawmakers.


The television station RTL Klub stressed its desire to protect families and children but added, “we also believe that diversity and tolerance are important European values, and we are concerned that a bill presented last week also seriously violates freedom of expression” and non-discrimination principles. The television station wondered whether movies like Billy Elliot, Bridget Jones’ Diary, or some Harry Potter movies could fall under the law, as well as American television series like Modern Family or Friends.


Fidesz recently condemned a Hungarian children’s book for including “homosexual propaganda.” The fairy tale-themed book, which presented itself as promoting minority rights, included a portrayal of a same-sex relationship between two princes.


Opponents of the new law organized protests in the capital which drew several thousands of people. They argued it violated principles of equality and freedom and objected to linking LGBT advocacy with pedophilia.


Krisztian Rozsa, a psychologist and board member with the Foundation for Rainbow Families, told the New York Times he was worried the bill could increase bullying among young people against those not perceived as heterosexual and affect children raised by same-sex couples.


Other observers placed the bill in the context of the upcoming 2022 elections, where Orban and Fidesz could face challenges.


Some European leaders have objected to the law. European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli warned that the European Union could withhold funding over the law, Reuters reports.


Dunja Mijatovic, the commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, had asked that the legislation be rejected, criticizing measures she said “limit human rights or stigmatize ... some members of society.” She argued that international human rights groups have established that young people have a right to comprehensive sex education, including discussion of LGBT issues. The proposals “run counter to international and European human rights standards,” she said.


A coalition of LGBT groups called Budapest Pride on July 10 had asked U.S. LGBT groups, political leaders and government officials to “call out” President Joe Biden to raise the issue of the law at meetings with NATO and EU leaders on July 14 and July 15, respectively, BBC News reports.


While Biden is a professed Catholic who attends Mass and makes his faith part of his public identity, he was the first sitting U.S. vice-president to endorse gay marriage and has officiated at same-sex ceremonies. He is backing a strict LGBT anti-discrimination Equality Act that would strip religious freedom protections.


The U.S. Embassy to Hungary, which had praised the Budapest Pride evet in an August 2020 statement, was critical of the law.


“The United States stands for the idea that governments should promote freedom of expression and protect human rights, including the rights of members of the LGBTQI+ community,” the embassy said.


Russia and Poland have also passed legislation limiting LGBT advocacy, and the issue has become a point of contention in relations with Western Europe and the United States, which have taken a strong pro-LGBT turn in recent decades.


Budapest Pride objected that the law will “put a de facto ban on LGBTQ educational programs in schools,” ban LGBTQ-themed media content, products and television advertising.


Budapest Pride also objected to “inflammatory sentences” added to the Hungarian Constitution such as “The father is a man, the mother is a woman,” “every child has a right to receive Christian upbringing,” and “every child has a right to live according to their sex at birth.”


The Hungarian constitution recognizes the family and the nation as “the principal framework of our coexistence” and declares “our fundamental cohesive values are fidelity, faith, and love.”


“Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of the nation’s survival,” it said.


The United States decriminalized same-sex sex acts nationwide in the early 2000s, when the Supreme Court struck down a rarely enforced Texas anti-sodomy law. However, LGBT issues have become dominant in many aspects of American culture, religion, business, and law, with marriage being redefined to recognize same-sex couples in a 2015 Supreme Court decision.


Increasing stigma in the U.S. against Christians and others who do not accept or recognize same-sex relationships has raised questions about American commitments to religious freedom and a place for traditional religion in society.

Update: US bishops vote in favor of advancing two causes of canonization

Fr. Joseph Lafleur, whose cause of canonization is one of those that will be considered at the USCCB Spring General Assembly, June 17, 2021. Credit: Andrepont Printing.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 17, 2021 / 10:44 am (CNA).

The US bishops voted Thursday that they consider it opportune to advance two causes of canonization, for Father Joseph Verbis Lafleur, a World War II military chaplain, and for Marinus (Leonard) LaRue, a merchant mariner who became a Benedictine monk.

Both causes were regarded as opportune by 99 percent of voting bishops in June 17 votes at the USCCB spring general assembly.

“It was something I would have never thought would have happened in my lifetime,” said Carrol Lafleur, the wife of Father Lafleur’s nephew, Richard. “I had always hoped that my children would have gotten to see it. But for Richard and I [sic] to actually see it, see it in progress, and to have people want to know about Fr. Lafleur is just beyond words.”

Fr. Lafleur is most remembered for his heroic service during World War II.

He  was born Jan. 24, 1912 in Ville Platte, Louisiana. During his summer breaks from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Lafleur would spend his time teaching catechism and first communicants.

He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Lafayette April 2, 1938 and requested to be a military chaplain, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. Initially, his request was denied, but when the priest asked a second time, it was granted. 

Carrol told CNA Fr. Lafleur wished to accompany the drafted men who had no choice but to fight in the war. 

He was deployed to the Philippines, and spent two and a half years as a prisoner of war of the Japanese.

“Fr. Lafleur did a lot of work in the prison camps as well,” said nephew Richard Lafleur. “He gave his own food when they were starving to death.”

Richard Lafleur told CNA that men in the camps with Fr. Lafleur testified that his character caused the conversion of about 200 men to Catholicism while in the prison camp.

Fr. Lafleur earned the Distinguished Service Cross for Valor, and he ended up on a ship with other Japanese POWs that was torpedoed, unwittingly, by an American submarine that did not realize the ship was carrying POWs. 

He was last seen Sept. 7, 1944 helping men out of the hull of the sinking ship, for which he posthumously earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, and a second Distinguished Service Cross for his acts as a POW.

Of the hundreds of prisoners on the ship, 82 survived, according to Fr. Lafleur’s nephew. Each surviving man came back to the United States telling stories about Fr. Lafleur’s heroic actions of leadership, sacrifice, and courage amid the prisoners’ conditions. 

Fr. Lafleur’s body was never found, but a shrine and monument exist at St. Landry Catholic Church, where he grew up. Each year Mass is celebrated in honor of his life around the date of his death. 

Bishop Douglas Deshotel of Lafayette opened Fr. Lafleur’s cause for canonization Sept. 5, 2020.

Fr. Lafleur was recognized in a keynote to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, on June 6, 2017, by Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the military archdiocese, who said: “He was a man for others right to the end… Father Lafleur responded to his POW situation with creative courage. He drew on his virtue to care for, protect, and fortify the men imprisoned with him.”

“Many survived because he was a man of virtue who gave unstintingly of himself. To speak of the greatness of our country is to speak of men and women of virtue who gave of themselves for the benefit of all. We build for a new tomorrow when we draw from that wellspring of virtue.”

Brother Marinus LaRue was also involved in military efforts during an American war. 

Born Jan. 14, 1914, LaRue attended the Pennsylvania Nautical School. After his graduation in 1934, he served as the U.S. Merchant Marine Captain of the SS Meredith Victory during the Korean War. 

LaRue was tasked with delivering military supplies to a port in Hungnam, North Korea, where hundreds of thousands of soldiers and refugees were searching for safety from advancing communist forces.

Arriving before Christmas, LaRue came to discover the multitudes of people who were awaiting help. LaRue chose to unload almost all of the ship’s weapons and supplies, in order to provide space for as many refugees as possible on the ship. 

The USS Meredith Victory, which was designed to serve around 50 passengers, sailed away from the coast with approximately 14,000 refugees.

Father Pawel Tomczyk, postulator for LaRue’s the canonization cause said, “the fact that he was able to rescue so many without losing a single life” was inspiring. 

LaRue later discerned a religious vocation and entered St. Paul’s Benedictine Abbey in Newton, New Jersey in 1954, taking the name Brother Marinus in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Brother Marinus lived a humble life, dishwashing, working in a gift shop, and serving his brother monks. 

“This is the uniqueness of this cause in that he was one man but almost had two lives,” Fr. Tomczyk told CNA. “He combines the two vocations: One as a lay person, as a successful captain of a ship, and then the latter part of his life as a religious monk-as a Benedictine, a man of prayer and simplicity.”

Brother Marinus died Oct. 14, 2001. Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson issued a decree opening Brother Marinus’ cause March 25, 20

A Eucharistic document: What the USCCB will be debating and voting on today

Alexey Gotovsky/CNA

Washington D.C., Jun 17, 2021 / 10:30 am (CNA).

On Thursday afternoon, the U.S. bishops are scheduled to debate and vote to begin drafting a teaching document on the Eucharist.

As the bishops meet for their annual spring general assembly, held virtually this year from June 16-18, they will consider whether the conference’s doctrine committee can begin drafting “a formal statement on the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.”

Although some bishops have warned against moving ahead with such a document due to its mention of Communion for Catholic pro-abortion politicians, the proposed outline of the document reveals a broad, comprehensive treatment of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist.

The doctrine committee’s proposed outline covers teachings including the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, a “recovery of understanding the Eucharist as sacrifice,” “the importance of Sunday as a day of obligation,” the need for beautiful liturgies, Catholics living as a “Eucharistic people” in daily life, the Eucharist as a “call to conversion,” and the importance of practicing the works of mercy.

Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend – chair of the USCCB doctrine committee – explained on Wednesday that the proposed Eucharistic document is the fruit of the bishops’ three-year strategic plan “Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ, Source of Our Healing and Hope,” approved in November 2020.

The three main sections of the outline draw from Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 apostolic exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, that followed the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist. In that document, Benedict described the Eucharist as a mystery to be “believed,” “celebrated,” and “lived.” The three main sections of the USCCB document outline list these three aspects of the Eucharist.

Both Bishop Rhoades and Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington on Wednesday said that the proposed document came about for multiple reasons – a chief one being a decline of belief in the Real Presence among Catholics.

The proposed document “isn’t anything brand new,” Bishop Burbidge said on Wednesday, at a press conference following the USCCB proceedings. “It’s what the Church has always taught in the Eucharist.”

The document would aim to reignite “a sense of Eucharistic wonder and awe that in many ways may need to be revitalized,” he said.

Rhoades cited a “convergence” of events that triggered the proposal for the document on the Eucharist, pointing to a poll showing a decline in Catholics’ belief in the Real Presence.

The document would be meant to “help to reignite that faith” and help catechize the faithful on the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist. “But it has to be the whole truth,” he emphasized.

General worthiness to receive Communion – “Eucharistic consistency” – is included as a sub-section in the document outline; the problem of Catholic politicians supporting policies contrary to Church teaching is also mentioned in the introductory note.

The topic of “Eucharistic consistency” was mentioned years ago, both Benedict XVI and by the Latin American bishops (including then-Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio) in their 2007 Aparecida document, the bishops noted.

“Consequently, Catholic politicians and legislators, conscious of their grave responsibility before society, must feel particularly bound, on the basis of a properly formed conscience, to introduce and support laws inspired by values grounded in human nature. There is an objective connection here with the Eucharist,” Benedict wrote in Sacramentum caritatis.

“Bishops are bound to reaffirm constantly these values as part of their responsibility to the flock entrusted to them,” he added.

Bishop Rhoades on Wednesday explained that although worthiness to receive Communion is just one part of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist, it is an essential one.

“We want to talk about the whole truth about the Eucharist, and how can you do so without talking about the importance of living what we receive, and being in communion with the faith of the Church?” he said.

“That’s Eucharistic consistency. So, I think we can’t do a full treatment of the Eucharist without talking about that, or teaching about that,” he said.

Yet some bishops have warned against the document’s treatment of who may receive Communion, pushing for an outright delay on drafting the document and arguing that it required an in-person deliberation among the bishops.

In May, some bishops wrote to the president of the USCCB, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, asking that the planned debate and vote on the Eucharistic document be postponed until the bishops can meet in-person. The letter was led by Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago.

Archbishop Gomez in response said that the discussion would proceed as originally planned.

Again, on Wednesday some bishops moved to delay consideration of the document, this time by proposing to remove time limits on discussion of the document and arguing that all bishops who want to speak should be allowed to do so.

“We owe this to our people,” said Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of St. Louis, who introduced the motion. Cardinal Cupich – who originally called for a delay on debate of the Eucharistic document in his May letter to Gomez – on Wednesday supported Rozanski’s motion to allow for unlimited debate.

Other bishops, such as Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, noted that the motion to remove time limits was essentially a “delaying tactic” and a “filibuster” on moving ahead with a Eucharistic document.

Thursday’s vote is merely to begin drafting a document, they argued, and the bishops will have the opportunity later on to debate the document’s text once it is approved and written.

Supreme Court sides unanimously with Catholic Social Services in religious freedom case

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Washington D.C., Jun 17, 2021 / 09:17 am (CNA).

The Supreme Court on Thursday decided unanimously in favor of Catholic Social Services in its lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia, ruling that the city violated the group’s free exercise of religion. 

The city in 2018 had stopped partnering with the agency in its foster-care program, since Catholic Social Services [CSS] would not certify same-sex couples as foster parents on religious grounds.

In the majority ruling, the high court found that “The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless CSS agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.”

“CSS seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. 

“The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless it agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents cannot survive strict scrutiny, and violates the First Amendment,” he added. 

According to Becket, a religious liberty law firm representing the foster moms and Catholic Social Services in the case, 29 other foster care agencies in Philadelphia work with LGBTQ couples, and three of those agencies are certified by the Human Rights Campaign for their excellent service to LGBTQ families. The firm also said that Catholic Social Services had not turned away any same-sex couples before the city ended the contracts. 

In a tweet, Becket stated on Thursday, “This is a huge victory for heroic foster moms and for #religiousfreedom. It ensures that religious groups like Catholic Social Services—who serve kids regardless of their race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation—can continue their great work.”

Roberts’ majority opinion was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. Justice Samuel Alito filed a concurring opinion, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch. Gorsuch also filed a concurring opinion, joined by Thomas and Alito, and Barrett also filed a concurring opinion, joined by Kavanaugh, and Breyer - in part.

The case - Fulton v. City of Philadelphia - concerns the largest city in Pennsylvania ending its foster care contracts with Catholic Social Services because the faith-based agency said it would not certify same-sex couples to be foster parents; the agency’s policy was religious, due to the Church’s teachings on marriage and family. The agency also does not certify unmarried couples as foster parents, regardless of their sexual orientation. 

The city argued that the policy constituted discrimination according to its nondiscrimination ordinance, and would no longer work with the group. 

Two foster mothers who worked with the agency - Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch - sued Philadelphia, arguing that in ending the contracts the city violated the agency’s First Amendment right to religious freedom. 

A spokesperson for the city of Philadelphia did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNA. 

Catholics and religious freedom advocates praised the decision on Thursday.

“Today's decision prohibits government sanctioned discrimination against religious adoption and foster care agencies because of their beliefs about marriage,” stated Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with The Catholic Association. “Those efforts are rooted in an anti-Catholic bigotry that refuses to tolerate pluralistic views and beliefs.”

“For more than two centuries, Catholic agencies have successfully placed the most at-risk kids in loving, forever homes. Today, the Supreme Court rightly affirmed that the Constitution guarantees faith-based agencies freedom from government harassment and discrimination because of their religious beliefs about marriage,” stated Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote.

Other pro-LGBT activists criticized the ruling.

In a statement, Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said the decision “does not negate the fact that every qualified family is valid and worthy—children deserve a loving, caring, committed home.” 

One legal expert said the ruling was significant for religious freedom.

Professor Richard Garnett, a First Amendment expert, said the ruling "will have significant impact."

"It is striking, and telling, that the Court's more liberal justices joined the Court's decision," Garnett noted. "Today's ruling illustrates that respect for religious freedom should not be a partisan, or left-right issue.  All nine justices agree that, when a rule targets religious practices for disapproval, or singles our religious exercise for burdens, it is highly suspect."

This story was updated on June 17.

Pro-life group files complaint with Small Business Administration over Planned Parenthood PPP loan

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Washington D.C., Jun 17, 2021 / 09:01 am (CNA).

A pro-life group recently filed a complaint with the U.S. Small Business Administration, alleging that a regional Planned Parenthood affiliate “unlawfully obtained” emergency loans during the pandemic.

In the complaint filed by New Hampshire Right to Life last week, the group said the Planned Parenthood of Northern New England received a $2,717,300 loan from the Paycheck Protection Program. They cited data from the administration showing the affiliate was approved for a PPP loan of that amount in April 2020.

Jason Hennessey, president of New Hampshire Right to Life, said in a statement that “Taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize or pay for abortions.” 

“The SBA has already determined that the Planned Parenthood affiliate structure is such that it was unlawful to apply for the PPP funds; therefore, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England should return the taxpayer funds,” Hennessey said. 

A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNA. 

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was set up under a pandemic relief bill passed by Congress in March 2020, the CARES Act, and has been administered by the Small Business Administration. It was established to provide emergency loans to small businesses and eligible non-profits to keep employees on payroll; the loans could be forgiven provided certain conditions were met.

The loans were intended for businesses and non-profits with fewer than 500 employees. Planned Parenthood argued last year that its affiliates were individual non-profits with their own leadership structure, and thus would qualify as eligible small non-profits. 

Critics, including Republican senators, argued the affiliates are all part of a broader umbrella organization, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America - and thus the entire organization would be too large to receive the emergency loans. 

The Small Business Administration appeared to make that case multiple times. In one letter, the administration asked a Planned Parenthood affiliate in Delaware to return a loan it had received under the program. In another letter obtained by NPR last year, the administration told Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, Inc. that it was “ineligible” for the loan it received given its relationship to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. 

Last month, the office of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the ranking member of the Senate Small Business Committee, said the SBA did not respond to its inquiry as to why Planned Parenthood affiliates were continuing to receive PPP loans.

It was reported in May 2020 that Planned Parenthood affiliates had received $80 million in emergency loans under the Paycheck Protection Program. In recent months, data released by the SBA showed that two Planned Parenthood affiliates in Pennsylvania and New York were approved for loans on April 21 and April 27. 

Planned Parenthood Keystone, in Warminster, Pennsylvania, was approved for a PPP loan in the amount of $853,975 on April 21. On April 27, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, Inc. in New York City was approved for a PPP loan of $10 million - the maximum loan amount under the program