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Washington Letter: Forum looks at two decades of religious freedom fight in world


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — It has been nearly 20 years since the International Religious Freedom Act became law. Organizers of a forum at Georgetown University thought it a good time to see how the religious freedom landscape worldwide has changed since 1998.

People display signs showing their support for religious freedom during a 2012 rally in downtown Minneapolis. It has been 20 years since the International Religious Freedom Act was passed by Congress and became law. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

People display signs showing their support for religious freedom during a 2012 rally in downtown Minneapolis. It has been 20 years since the International Religious Freedom Act was passed by Congress and became law. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

Passed by overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton that year, the U.S. law created a multifacted system for promoting religious freedom as part of U.S. foreign policy, monitoring religious persecution in foreign countries and advocating on behalf of individuals persecuted in other countries for their religion.

At the forum, while the view wasn’t always encouraging, speakers professed hope for the future, along with a side dish of skepticism.

Andrew Bennett said those concerned about the issue should ask whether they ought to be similarly concerned about protecting religious beliefs of someone in another country as they are about fighting political discrimination against individuals overseas. He had been the first ambassador for religious freedom within Canada’s foreign ministry, from 2013 to 2016 until the Cabinet position created by the Conservative Party was abolished by the Liberal Party government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“We in Canada are increasingly vague as to what those answers should be,” said Bennett, now a research fellow at the Religious Freedom Research Project of Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, which sponsored the forum.

Canada’s founding story, he noted, is quite different from that of the United States, whose first refugees were those who fled England because of religious persecution, Bennett said at the forum, “Best Practices in International Religious Freedom Policy.”

Bennett cited “ignorance of religious faith and tradition” for liberal Western democracies being diplomatically tone-deaf on the matter. A “narrowing of our understanding of human rights” that may leave religious freedom out of the picture can result, he said. “We should not be equating freedom of expression with freedom of religion,” Bennett added.

Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, a Cuban-American who is a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, created as a result of the 1998 law, said her experience working in the Reagan-era State Department led her to believe that “giving a religious freedom speech was a career-killer and still is.”

Religious freedom does not always get the high priority it deserves, according to Arriaga, who noted that women’s rights trump religious freedom among key decision-makers.

In other cases, countries enforce restrictions based on religion. In Saudi Arabia, she said, “women cannot get surgery unless they have permission from a (male) guardian,” which Arriaga held as an interpretation of religious codes in the predominantly Muslim nation. Americans looking to make trade deals in that country, she added, may look askance at its “open for business” sign because of these and similar religion-based restrictions.

Tom Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Research Project and forum moderator, noted that nations that give greater religious freedom to its people are both more stable and more attractive trading partners.

Arriaga outlined several suggestions for improving U.S. analysis of religious freedom issues in other nations. One was to develop an “international balancing test” for the issues involve to avoid the dangers of missteps on religious freedom, calling for more comprehensive education for diplomats and others receiving foreign postings.

“We should be working with all the (United Nations’) special rapporteurs who work in the area” to get them attuned to religious freedom issues, Arriaga said. The United Nations’ own religious freedom specialist has no staff save for a part-time secretary, she added; the State Department, by comparison, now has about 50 people on staff working on religious freedom issues.

“We should all be principled” in international dealings, Arriaga said, such as taking Iran to task for its treatment of Baha’is living there despite the lifting of U.N. sanctions against Iran in 2015. And “raise religious freedom to the seventh floor always,” where the secretary of state’s office is in the State Department building in Washington, she added.

Rabbi David Saperstein, now a senior fellow at the Religious Freedom Research Project after his term ended earlier this year as U.S. ambassador at large for religious freedom, another outgrowth of the 1998 law, said he had then-Secretary of State John Kerry’s ear on religious freedom issues during his tenure.

He said one reason he accepted the appointment was because he was promised “structural access” to Kerry, adding Kerry would get back to him within 30 minutes on notes he had written.

Kerry set up the office on global religious freedom and that it had worked well. But “it’s not enough to talk theoretically about the role of religious freedom in statecraft,” Rabbi Saperstein said. “These issues really had to be woven in at the macro level.”

No replacement for Rabbi Saperstein has been nominated yet, but rumors were circulating aloud during the forum, and Arriaga even gave the initials of who she believed would be President Donald Trump’s nominee.

Rabbi Saperstein cautioned that diplomats have to avoid being seen as “Western imperialists” by extremists in any one country by the mere giving of assent to an event or initiative in that country that promises to expand religious freedom within that country which would win approval by its moderates. Even so, he said, “I was encouraged by how many people wanted our support, our stamp of approval.”

He added, “There are times when the tools that we have really make a difference,” referring to sanctions or the threat to apply them. “I don’t think we use the tools nearly as well as we can.”

“We feel that the problem is too large and it’s impossible to do well. That’s not true,” Arriaga said. “It is our right to live according to our deeply heal convictions. It’s our duty to defend those to others.”


Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Contrition and hope: Georgetown University, Jesuits apologize for roles in sale of slaves


WASHINGTON — Georgetown University and the Society of Jesus’ Maryland province apologized April 18 for their roles in the 1838 sale of 272 enslaved individuals for the university’s benefit.

More than 100 descendants attended a morning “Liturgy of Remembrance, Contrition and Hope” that the university created in partnership with descendants, the Archdiocese of Washington and the Society of Jesus in the United States.

Jessica Tilson, descendant of the Hawkins, Hill, Scott, Butler and Diggs family lines, delivers remarks at the dedication ceremony of the Isaac Hawkins and Anne Marie Becraft halls April 18 at Georgetown University in Washington. (CNS/Georgetown University)

Jessica Tilson, descendant of the Hawkins, Hill, Scott, Butler and Diggs family lines, delivers remarks at the dedication ceremony of the Isaac Hawkins and Anne Marie Becraft halls April 18 at Georgetown University in Washington. (CNS/Georgetown University)

“Today the Society of Jesus, who helped to establish Georgetown University and whose leaders enslaved and mercilessly sold your ancestors, stands before you to say that we have greatly sinned,” said Jesuit Father Timothy Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, during the liturgy. “We pray with you today because we have greatly sinned and because we are profoundly sorry.”

The event took place the day after the District of Columbia marked Emancipation Day, which celebrates the emancipation of slaves in Washington April 16, 1862. This year, the local holiday was moved to April 17 because the actual day fell on Easter Sunday.

In early April, Georgetown announced plans for the liturgy and a renaming ceremony for two buildings on campus previously named for priests who sold women, children and men into slavery for financial gain in 1838.

Jesuit Father Thomas Mulledy, as Georgetown president, authorized the transaction, and Jesuit Father William McSherry also was involved in the 1838 sale and in other slave sales.

Mulledy Hall was renamed after Isaac Hawkins, the first enslaved person listed in the sale documents. McSherry Hall is now named after Anne Marie Becraft, a teacher and free woman of color who established one of the first schools for black girls in the District of Columbia. She later joined the Oblate Sisters of Providence.

Sandra Green Thomas, a descendant of the slaves and president of the GU272 Descendants Association, spoke at length at the liturgy about the 272 enslaved people, her ancestors and her Catholic faith.

“The ability to transcend the realities of this life in this country has been a necessary tool in the survival kit of my people,” she said. “For the 272, I believe that their Catholic faith enabled them to transcend. No matter how incongruous their existence was with the gospel of God’s love and protection, they clung to their faith.”

President John J. DeGioia of Georgetown also spoke during the liturgy, saying that “slavery remains the original evil of our republic.”

The university “was complicit in” that evil, “a sin that tore apart families,” he said. “Through great violence, (it) denied and rejected the dignity and humanity of our fellow sisters and brothers. We lay this truth bare, in sorrowful apology and communal reckoning.”

Jesuit Father Robert Hussey, provincial of his order’s Maryland province, and DeGioia met with descendants in the afternoon.

Karran Harper Royal, another descendant, thanked Georgetown for its steps toward acknowledging its ties with slavery, particularly the students who took their concerns about the university’s history to the administration in 2015.

“The actions of Georgetown students have placed all of us on a journey together toward honoring our enslaved ancestors by working toward healing and reconciliation,” she said. Our history has shown us that the vestiges of slavery are a continuum that began with the kidnapping of our people from our motherland to keeping them in bondage with the brutality of American chattel slavery, Jim Crow, segregation … the school-to-prison pipeline and the over-incarceration of people of color.”

Other events included opportunities for members of the descendant community to connect with one another and with Jesuits through a private vigil the evening of April 17, a descendant-only dinner April 18 and tours of the Maryland plantation where their ancestors were enslaved.

DeGioia and other university officials have met with some descendants of the slaves on various occasions and they have had access to historical materials regarding the sale of their relatives.

Some of the families sold included adults and children the Jesuits had baptized. On March 12, The New York Times published a photo, the only known image, that an archivist in Thibodaux, Louisiana, found of one of the slaves sold by the Jesuits. His name was Frank Campbell and the story accompanying the photo said the slave was sold out of St. Inigoes plantation in Maryland, named after St. Ignatius. He had kept ties to the Catholic Church after gaining his freedom, the story said.

The liturgy and building rededications were recommendations of Georgetown’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation in September 2016. The group, which included faculty, students, alumni and descendants of slaves, had suggested the university offer some form of reparative outreach as well as a meaningful financial commitment.

“Our work as a group was to help tear down the walls, the walls of mystery and silence and (the) unknown surrounding Georgetown’s historical ties to the institution of slavery,” said working group member Connor Maytnier at the dedication.

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Catholic panelists discuss ‘Faithful Priorities in a Time of Trump’


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Catholic panelists gathered to discuss “Faithful Priorities in a Time of Trump” said it is difficult to get over some of the words the president-elect said during the campaign, and even before he was a candidate. But as his presidency nears, many of them said it’s important to find ways to work with him for the common good.

“When Donald Trump says things about women … I have a hard time stomaching those comments,” said Msgr. John Enzler, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. “We can still find a way, though, to listen and say, ‘How do we find common ground?’”

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks Jan. 11 during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York City. (CNS /Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks Jan. 11 during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York City. (CNS /Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Msgr. Enzler was one of five panelists Jan. 12 who addressed the role the Catholic faith can play as the country gets ready for the incoming Trump administration. Some Catholics such as Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Florida, expressed great optimism.

“We can have a lot of hope that he will protect life the way we want him to do … defunding Planned Parenthood, protecting life,” Rooney said. “Things like the insurance mandate can be brought into harmony of First Amendment rights.”

Yet others such as panelist Jessica Chilin Hernandez expressed uncertainty and apprehension of the days ahead. Chilin works at Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, thanks to a work permit she has through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA. President Barack Obama, through executive action in 2012, created a policy that allows certain undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children to have a work permit and be exempt from deportation.

Chilin is one of more than 750,000 people who signed up for DACA. During the campaign, Trump said he would kill the program and threatened mass deportations, sending those like Chilin into panic.

“I felt a fear unlike any other fear I have had before,” she said about the moment she learned Trump won the election. “The fear was visceral. … one thought that occupied my mind was that homeland security knows exactly where I live. It was hard to imagine myself having a future in 2017.”

Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president of U.S. Operations for Catholic Relief Services, said now is a good time to review the principles of Catholicism and social justice, explaining that they don’t divide people and don’t say refugees or immigrants are enemies or a burden on society.

“What we have to do is lift up our principles,” Rosenhauer said. “The problem is deeper because our own Catholic people do not know those principles.”

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobbying organization, said the country is showing a high level of ambiguity, fear, dysfunction and chaos.

“I think that challenges all of us as people of faith,” she said.

Now is the time to stand up for the stranger, the working poor, and anyone who needs of our kindness or help, and Catholic social teaching has a lot to say about it, Sister Campbell said.

Msgr. Enzler noted it is also important to understand that individuals can do much by performing kind actions toward others. People can start by asking: “What did I do today? It’s not an agency that can make things better but people,” he said.

Chilin said it’s important to keep in mind language that we use in daily conversation.

“Be conscientious of language,” she said. “Illegal is a racial slur. No human being is illegal and yet, in many circles, they use it to describe us.”

Panel moderator John Carr, director of Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, which sponsored the event, asked how Catholics can build bridges in “an angry country, a divided country.” There are a lot of people who feel under attack, he said.

“It’s important to see what role (Catholics) can play in divisions that have been created over the past year,” Rosenhauer said. “I was really struck by Cardinal (Joseph) Tobin and his homily at his installation where one of his key points was that our kindness must be known to all.”

It’s important to stand up for beliefs even when others disagree with them, she said, “but we have to find a way to do it with kindness.”

“We want to protect children in the womb. That’s something we can work with this (the Trump) administration and Congress on. … Senator (Jeff) Sessions said there would be no Muslim ban. That’s something we would support and work together on … then let’s be clear about the areas for disagreements.”

Msgr. Enzler said Catholics, particularly the church’s leaders, must also speak and raise their voices for the vulnerable, and strongly speak the church’s message.

Moderator Carr asked Sister Campbell whether she could offer any lessons about building bridges that she learned during the Nuns on the Bus tour last summer, a 19-day trip that a group of women religious undertook from Wisconsin to the national political conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia. Its aim was to learn what people around the country were thinking about just before the presidential election.

Sister Campbell used the bus as a metaphor for the country. Some said the bus had made them feel as if they were welcome back into a community, a feeling they had not had in a long time, because everyone was welcome on the bus. She said she heard stories about poverty, lack of jobs and lack of access to health care that resulted in the deaths of loved ones.

“No one can be left out of our care,” Sister Campbell said. “We are a nation of problem-solvers, but we have sunk into extreme individualism.”

As Pope Francis has said, it’s about the people, and when people feel loved, they flourish and when they flourish so does the country, she said.


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Catholic-Muslim dialogue opens to support Islamic American communities


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — An emerging Catholic dialogue with Muslims aims to show public support for Islamic American communities.

The dialogue stems from concerns expressed by U.S. bishops in the wake of “a serious uptick in violence against American Muslims … to make sure that they are sensitive to what is going on in the (Muslim) communities,” said Anthony Cirelli, associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Read more »

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Former Attorney General calls for forms of slavery reparations in Georgetown talk


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Former Attorney General Eric Holder added his voice to the call for slavery reparations during a program at Jesuit-run Georgetown University.

Such reparations can take a variety of forms and may not necessarily mean cash payments to descendants of slaves, Holder said in a response to a question from a student during an April 29 program on race and justice.

Michel Martin, Emmy Award-winning journalist and weekend host of NPR’s "All Things Considered," asks former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder a question during an April 29 conversation on "Race and Justice in America" at Georgetown University in Washington. (CNS courtesy Georgetown)

Michel Martin, Emmy Award-winning journalist and weekend host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” asks former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder a question during an April 29 conversation on “Race and Justice in America” at Georgetown University in Washington. (CNS courtesy Georgetown)

Reparations, he said, “can mean a whole bunch of different things. You can come up with policies that take into account what slavery meant then, what it means now. Affirmative action can be thought of as reparations, you know? And it takes into account … the negative impacts of negative racial policies that have hobbled the progress of African-Americans, people of color in this country.”

Holder’s comments came after a student asked him about the growing body of knowledge of the sale of 272 slaves by the Jesuit administrators in order to pay off the school’s debts in 1838.

University accounts used to assert that all the slaves, which were held on a Maryland plantation, had died not long after the sale to sugar plantations in Louisiana. The independent Georgetown Memory Project, founded last year to trace living descendants of those slaves, has estimated that there could be as many as 15,000.

Holder, U.S. attorney general from 2009 to 2015, recalled the oral arguments in Grutter v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court case that upheld affirmative action at the University of Michigan’s law school in 2003. Writing the majority opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote, “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”

“I remember thinking to myself, all right, well, you know, if we’re going to look at it that way, when do we say that discrimination ended? People say, oh, it’s been a hundred-some years since slavery ended. Really? OK. That’s 1865. Brown v. Board of Education is 1954, Civil Rights Act is ’64. Voting Rights Act is ’65.

“Where do we get to the point where we say all right, we’ve got a system, a country, that is truly fair, that is race-neutral? We’re not there yet. We’re simply not there yet,” Holder said.

“A lot of the attitudes that we associate with slavery and the post-slavery era are still resonant, you know, in the United States now. And if we’re not willing to admit that, and it’s not even a question of admitting it, you know? Study it; understand it; realize it. Deal with the facts,” he added.

Holder recalled a recent conversation “with a bunch of folks up in Philadelphia. It just happened to be a bunch of Republicans who were all assuring me that they were not supporters of Donald Trump. And I remember one young kid, very bright kid, and he said, ‘Why should I have to pay for things that I didn’t do? Why should I have to be penalized?’

“That’s seeing it as a zero-sum game, you know? That’s like if something happens to somebody here that is positive and is tied to trying to deal with historical wrongs, that necessarily means that you are negatively impacted, when the reality is we ought to be thinking about how that makes the pie more fair, how it probably expands the pie, and at the end of the day increases opportunities for everyone and is better for the nation, you know, as a whole,” Holder said.

Last year, Georgetown announced that it would rename two buildings named for school presidents who organized the slave sale. Both now have temporary names until permanent names are chosen.

Mulledy Hall, a new dormitory named for the Jesuit Father Thomas Mulledy, the president who authorized the sale, is now called Freedom Hall. McSherry Hall, named for another university president, the Jesuit Father William McSherry, who advised on the sale, is now Remembrance Hall.

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Ryan, back at Georgetown, says he was ‘wrong’ about views on poor


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan apologized for his earlier criticism of recipients of government benefits as “takers and makers,” and said Republicans strive for a country that is “open, diverse, dynamic” in a speech at Georgetown University.

Ryan’s one-hour talk April 27 at the Jesuit-run university’s Gaston Hall was billed by him as an effort to reach out to millennials. Political observers described it as an effort to soften his image in preparation for a 2020 run for the presidency.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., listens to a questions as he speaks at a town hall meeting with millennials April 27 at Georgetown University's Institute of Politics and Public Service in Washington. (CNS photo/Yuri Gripas, Reuters)

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., listens to a questions as he speaks at a town hall meeting with millennials April 27 at Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service in Washington. (CNS photo/Yuri Gripas, Reuters)

The speech came nearly four years to the day that the Wisconsin Republican told a Georgetown audience, “The work I do as a Catholic holding office conforms to the social doctrine as best I can make of it.”

This time around, however, Ryan said nothing about his Catholic beliefs.

“What prompted you to reconsider your previous statements about poor people as takers?” asked Rachel Hirsch, a graduate student.

“I was just wrong,” Ryan replied. “I didn’t mean to give offense. … There are people who get knocked down in life. And to lump an entire category of people in one broad brush is wrong, I think.”

He added that the only way to deal with his previous rhetoric is, “Just own up to it. Just fess up and fix it.”

His 2012 remarks at the university were a flashpoint of that year’s presidential campaign when he ran for vice president on the Republican ticket headed by Mitt Romney.

Ryan had been criticized by advocates of poor and marginalized people for his stance. Rather than chastise, however, charitable organizations, led by Catholic Charities USA, have worked with Ryan and his staff for months to showcase programs that aid poor families, homeless individuals, the sick and the elderly while stressing the importance of a federal partnership to support such efforts because the nonprofits would be overwhelmed if left to provide social services solely on their own.

Ryan’s words were a version of the apology he has been offering in speeches and TV interviews since January. His language to students was less strident than during his first visit, but he did not get into the specifics of policy proposals.

In response to a student question, Ryan said action by Congress on immigration reform “will have to wait for the next president” and repeated his familiar accusation of President Barack Obama “going around Congress and making laws” with executive orders.

Securing the border, he said, is about “heroin and opiods. This is about ISIS. It’s not about Latinos. It’s not at all about that.”

Ryan called for “more competition in student lending” to provide more alternatives in college choices. “Look, I love this school, you’ve had some awesome basketball teams … but not everyone can afford a place like this,” he said.

Ryan did not mention Donald Trump or any other Republican presidential candidates by name. One student, who said he was a Republican, said he was unhappy with both Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and asked Ryan if there was a reason for hope.

Ryan maintained his neutrality on the race for the Republican nomination, but added, “I have never seen the well poisoned as much as it is these days. … I’d like to say it’s just the Democrats, but it’s not; it’s both.”

He decried the use of “identity politics” as a successful political strategy. “Now unfortunately, both sides are playing this game. And all it’s doing is dividing us as a country,” he said.


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Planned Parenthood CEO speaks at Georgetown University


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Members of Georgetown Right to Life were hoping for dialogue with Cecile Richards, but complained after her April 20 speech that she was dismissive of anything spoken by pro-life students.

Pro-life demonstrators gather outside the campus of Georgetown University in Washington April 20. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

Pro-life demonstrators gather outside the campus of Georgetown University in Washington April 20. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

The one-hour appearance by Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, sponsored by the student-run lecture fund at Georgetown University, had created an uproar since it was announced in March. The event itself, though, ran without incident, and with heavy security, including District of Columbia police officers to supplement campus officers.

The event was closed to news media and accessible only to students with university IDs. Ryan King, a university spokesman, said a transcript might be released later in the week.

In the meantime, what Richards and students actually said in the 406-seat auditorium in the Rafik B. Hariri Building was relayed through occasional tweets from inside and the recollection of students outside just after the talk, billed as “a conversation.”

Richards received a standing ovation as she walked onstage. Introducing her, Helen Brosnan, a senior who is one of the chairs of the lecture fund, asserted both that “God is pro-choice,” and “I believe that I’m a strong Catholic.”

Student Amber Athey, a member of Georgetown Right to Life, tweeted, “According to head of GU lecture fund, hosting an abortion provider is ‘in the spirit of a Jesuit university.’”

Another member of the group, a Maryland student who would only give her first name, Caroline, said of Richards: “Her speech didn’t address abortion and I felt that was very intentional.”

Richards was dismissive of mentions of a Guttmacher Institute poll that asserted that 52 percent of Americans believe that life begins at conception, and noted a series of recent videos released by activist David Daleiden saying that his operation was “fraudulent.”

Daleiden and his partner, Sandra Merritt, have been indicted by a Houston grand jury for using deceptive means of accessing employees and clinics of Planned Parenthood, and in California, Planned Parenthood also is suing him and his Center for Medical Progress for allegedly spurring violence and causing an increase in threats at its clinics.

Joshua De Gastyne, a Georgetown medical student, and Hunter Estes, another member of Georgetown Right to Life, complained that questions were restricted to the final eight minutes of the presentation, leaving Richards to take only four questions, with just two of them from pro-life students.

Richards, they said, dismissed both the question about the Guttmacher Institute poll and one about why most of Planned Parenthood’s business concerns only abortions.

Richards, they said, framed “reproductive rights” as a civil rights and social justice issue.

There were no outbursts outside from members of Students for Life, who were occasionally joined by adults, including a woman wearing a T-shirt that read, “The Pill Kills.”

At one point, a woman walking by announced, “Thank God for Planned Parenthood!” A male protester shouted back, “The body inside your body is not your body!”

Outside the university’s O Street gate, some 20 members of the American Society for Tradition, Family, and Property, an all-male Catholic organization based in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, wore red sashes, played bagpipes and held placards such as “Purity is the Answer.”

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Planned Parenthood speaker scheduled at Georgetown prompts protests


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The scheduled April 20 appearance at Georgetown University by Cecile Richards, head of the Planned Parenthood Federation, has spawned a series of protests.

Richards was invited by the student-run Lecture Fund, which is calling her appearance a “conversation.” Her afternoon talk will be closed to the public.

Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia said April 12 that  Georgetown seeks "to be both authentically Catholic and authentically a university.” (CNS file/Bob Roller)

Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia said April 12 that Georgetown seeks “to be both authentically Catholic and authentically a university.”
(CNS file/Bob Roller)

That evening, Georgetown Right to Life, the campus affiliate of Students for Life, will stage a rally featuring Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood clinic director who resigned in 2009 to become a pro-life activist. She also operates a ministry for former abortion workers called And Then There Were None.

“In this case, because a Catholic university has asked the president of the largest abortion corporation in our country to come and speak, we are more than happy to respond with life-affirming truth,” Johnson said in a prepared statement.

The day before, Georgetown Right to Life also is sponsoring a panel featuring Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, who chairs a select House panel named last fall to investigate the abortion practices of Planned Parenthood. Other speakers will include Kathleen Eaton Bravo, founder of Obria Medical Clinics, which are pregnancy-resource centers.

On April 12, the university’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought & Public Life took on the approaching events with a program titled “Resisting the Throwaway Culture.”

University president John J. DeGioia reminded the audience that the essential role of a university is to “capture the openness to pursue the truth wherever it leads us,” but cautioned that as a Catholic university, there are “some matters of precepts of this faith in which we are not disinterested.”

With the goal of a “shared vision of what human sacredness demands,” DeGioia added, “we seek to be both authentically Catholic and authentically a university.”

Panelists were George Mason University law professor Helen Alvare, founder of Women Speak for Themselves; Fordham University theology professor Charles Camosy, author of “Beyond the Abortion Wars”; and Sister Norma Pimentel, a Missionary of Jesus, who is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas.

“This language of life and choice pitted against each other is not helpful,” Camosy said of the current rhetoric.

Alvare defended the recent series of videos by activist David Daleiden, particularly the fourth one that was released showing a Planned Parenthood clinic assistant sorting through fetus parts and announcing, “And another boy.”

That one, Alvare said, “caused shock waves” because the moment was “an acknowledgment of some common humanity.”

Georgetown Right for Life also has invited Daleiden to speak on campus.

An independent analysis last year by a research firm hired by Planned Parenthood concluded that the videos were misleadingly edited. But Daleiden has stood by the videos. He and Sandra Merritt, his partner at the California-based Center for Medical Progress, have been indicted by a Houston grand jury for misrepresenting themselves as being from a biotechnology firm, and Planned Parenthood also is suing the center, claiming it is responsible for an uptick in violent threats against its clinics.

The panel dodged political questions, particularly when moderator John Carr, referring to one of Donald Trump’s recent statements, asked who should be punished if abortion is made illegal.

In late March Trump had said he was for a ban on abortion, and initially said if there were such a ban, women should be punished for having an abortion, but he later walked back that comment.

“Pennsylvania banned sex-selection abortions in the 1980s. Planned Parenthood didn’t challenge that,” Alvare said. “We know that law is hard to enforce.”

Carr observed that Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders don’t want any restrictions on abortion, while the Republican candidates have offered mostly confusing statements.

“Donald Trump is a convert who doesn’t seem to know the hymns,” he said.

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Cardinal Wuerl, Biden among speakers at Georgetown interfaith peace forum


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Even though he wasn’t on the program, Vice President Joe Biden stole the show at a Georgetown University program promoting peace in wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.

Laila Brothers, a Georgetown freshman, had just given a moving reflection about being Muslim and her hijab-wearing mother feeling as if she had “a target on her back” in the month following the terror attacks.

Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a Dec. 16 forum, billed as "Interfaith Gathering for Solidarity, Understanding and Peace," at Georgetown University in Washington. (CNS photo/Georgetown University)

Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a Dec. 16 forum, billed as “Interfaith Gathering for Solidarity, Understanding and Peace,” at Georgetown University in Washington. (CNS photo/Georgetown University)

Brothers talked about how Republican presidential aspirant Donald Trump had suggested that Muslims wear a badge to identify them to others. She added how she wanted to spare her mother the stress that comes with wearing the hijab. Her mother’s response: “If they’re talking about Muslims wearing a badge, I already have a badge. My hijab is my badge.”

While Brothers was receiving applause after her remarks, Biden walked up onto the stage and greeted some of the other participants at the Dec. 16 forum, billed as “Interfaith Gathering for Solidarity, Understanding and Peace,” but gave Brothers a warm embrace.

Stepping to the microphone, he said, “My name’s Joe Biden, and I align myself with the words of this courageous young woman.”

Then, using only index cards as reference points, he spoke for nearly as long as the other speakers combined. Among those speakers was Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, who was quoted by Biden at one point during his remarks.

The immigrants who came “in waves” to the United States, Biden said, told themselves, “We don’t know the language. We’re not sure if they want us, but let’s go.”

Those immigrants, Biden added, had “the greatest fortitude, the greatest courage, the greatest sense of optimism.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, also attended the event but did not speak.

Cardinal Wuerl, in his remarks, reflected on the parable of the good Samaritan, which was read as part of the gathering.

While “e pluribus unum,” out of many, one, embodies the American idea in a legal framework, he said, when looking at the nation “through the eyes of faith,” Cardinal Wuerl said, it is incumbent for each person who answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

“We are part of one great human family,” Cardinal Wuerl added.

Imam Talib M. Shareef, president of the Nation’s Mosque, Masjid Muhammad, in Washington said that when God created Adam, the first man, “Adam’s own identity was not a racial identity. His identity was not a national identity. His identity was not an ethnic identity. The identity was human.” From that, the imam added, “that has to be the most important identity” when governing relationships with all other people.

“The idea of Genesis,” the first book of the Bible, “is that we are created in the image of God,” said Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig, senior rabbi of the Washington Hebrew Congregation.

He acknowledged how some have used their faith’s sacred scriptures to justify violence. But, he said, “if it can be used to teach hate, it can also be used to teach love.”

The gathering was the idea of Georgetown’s president. John DeGioia, who declared his intent to sponsor a forum exactly one week after the San Bernardino shootings. The event was held exactly one week after his announcement, as Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh clergy quickly committed to participating.

DeGioia had declared beforehand, “We shouldn’t let this moment go without an expression of solidarity by the university,” said John Carr, director of Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought & Public Life, before the event began. “Look at the turnout. You can see it’s the A-team,” he added, referring to the assembled clergy.

Despite the quick turnaround time, a 500-seat auditorium on the Georgetown campus was nearly filled, even though students, a reliable source of bodies for many a school’s events, had been dismissed the week prior after final exams.

At the gathering, DeGioia remarked on how the event was imbued with “a spirit of unity and solidarity with all members of the global family.” He said such a gathering was needed to enhance “the common good,” adding that it was necessary for it to be a sign “of where we are” and “what we would expect of ourselves.”


Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Homily at Beau Biden funeral: A life of love, commitment, friendship


The following is the prepared text of Jesuit Father Leo J. O’Donovan’s homily at the June 6 funeral Mass of former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden in St. Anthony of Padua Church in Wilmington. Father O’Donovan, president emeritus of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., was the main celebrant.

Dear friends: The reaction has been universal, whether you were a friend of Beau Biden’s or knew him only from the press. “How sad.” “How very, very sad.” “It’s heartbreaking.” “When I heard the news I wept.”

This great young man, this splendid son, this devoted, deeply loving husband and father, as true a brother as anyone could ever have, this peerlessly patriotic public servant — gone. Gone. Gone. It was, is, like the night of Good Friday. The one we hoped in, counted on, thought our future, has been taken from us.

The casket with the body of Beau Biden, son of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, is carried into St. Anthony of Padua Church in Wilmington, Del., for his June 6 funeral Mass. Beau Biden, 46, died May 30 after a battle with brain cancer. (CNS photo/Yuri Gripas, pool via Reuters)

The casket with the body of Beau Biden, son of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, is carried into St. Anthony of Padua Church in Wilmington, Del., for his June 6 funeral Mass. Beau Biden, 46, died May 30 after a battle with brain cancer. (CNS photo/Yuri Gripas, pool via Reuters)

How do you say goodbye to “the finest man any of us have ever known”?

First, I think, we face the loss. The fact that we have lost the handsome, winning, humble presence of an incomparable gift. The richness of that gift is the measure of our grief. The nobler a man is the more he is praised and even revered. But the truly noble man, the “righteous man” of the Book of Wisdom, knows that the one to be praised and indeed worshiped is not himself but his Creator, the ground and goal of his life. For all his sense of responsibility and commitment, he knows that he did not invent himself but was given life and a world to fulfill it in by a loving Lord. Only at the end of that life can he or his Lord or indeed any of us make a full accounting of its achievement.

Whether young or old at our dying, it is only then that we can say of the life we have been given, and of all those we have loved within the gift: Take it now, Lord; it was your gift, all my family and friends and public service were your gift as well. Take them now, enfold them in your mercy, lead us home. You alone know fully the grace that accompanied your gift.

As surely as Beau Biden knelt at night to pray with his wife and children, he knew this truth, whether in these words or some like them. For he knew the words of Jesus on the cross — “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” — that are offered to all of us to share on the Good Fridays of our lives.

Whether in prolonged suffering, like Beau’s, or in the gradual diminishments of age, our mortal lives are gifts that must pass through the darkness of death if they are to know the splendor of eternity. In this sense, “death is not extinguishing the light,” as the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote; “it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” Or in the words of Paul: our hope is that even “if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands” (2 Cor 5.1).

Beau’s life of giving, to his fellow citizens and above all to his family, was dazzling. As a young lawyer working for the Justice Department in Philadelphia and also in war-torn Kosovo, as a member of the Delaware Army National Guard and a major in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, as Attorney General of Delaware forgoing a run for the United States Senate because he felt it his duty to continue his mission to protect children from abuse — the watchwords were honor, courage, integrity.

My own favorite picture shows him standing before his father at an American base near Baghdad on July 4, 2009, mid-way through his deployment to Iraq. The two men known for the warmth of their smiles are close to grim. A sense of danger and possibly worse hangs over the crew-cut son in fatigues looking into the eyes of the earnest father. There is no limit to what the protection of life may entail.

Nor was there for Jesus. If all of life is ultimately gift, how was he the gift that would redeem and fulfill the gift of our creation? How did God give us this Son to reveal God’s vision of the world and lead it to God? I would prefer not to say that God gave us the Son to die for us. (What father could imaginably envisage that?) Rather, God gave us the Son, God’s own Word in our flesh, to live with and for us. God gave us Jesus to preach the Kingdom among us, a reign of reciprocity, forgiveness, healing and fulfillment.

If that mission led to violent rejection by authorities, civil and religious, that it threatened, then so be it. Jesus would not turn back. He remained true to his word in the very deepest sense, even to the cross, which made it possible for God once and forever to reveal the power of his forgiving love over even the cruelest death.

Death is always cruel. We feel that today, moving from Good Friday into Holy Saturday, when all is silence, feelings are muted, grief and mourning overtake everything. Beau is gone.

But from our immediate vision only. For we live now not only after Good Friday and through Holy Saturday, but in Easter.

And here is Beau’s great final gift to us. Promising as he most assuredly was, his death calls us to hear again the promise, the promise that the gift of life entails. It is the promise first given to the Jewish people that their God would never fail them but would be faithful to them forever. It is the promise spoken by Jesus to Martha of Bethany, after the death of her brother Lazarus: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, though the person dies, yet shall that person live.”

In Jesus Christ, writes St. Paul, “it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why we utter the Amen through him to the glory of God” (2 Cor 1.19-20) .

In a few moments, in our Eucharistic Prayer, we will recall this mystery of our redemption, the fulfillment of the promise that attended creation from its beginning and courses through it still in the Holy Spirit. And for us, in a special way, it becomes the promise of union with Beau in the Communion of Saints — now, and one day forever. We pray to be united now, and one day forever, with a remarkable man for whom belief was not simply a view of life but engaged love, not merely confession but commitment, not only a generous life but a discipline of justice meant ultimately for friendship.

For many of its saints, the Catholic Church celebrates their feast on the day of the saint’s death — the day of final union with God through Christ and in the Holy Spirit. I have little doubt that in this sense May 30, 2015, is a feast day for everyone here. We may be weeping still, and may weep more. But thanks to Beau this is also a time of almost unlimited grace. I pray, for all of us, that the gift and promise of his life may deepen our love and faith and hope in God — and in one another.










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