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After religious liberty win, judge orders payment to Catholic Benefits Association

Denver, Colo., Aug 21, 2018 / 03:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A federal judge has ordered that $718,000 in compensation be paid to the Catholic Benefits Association after its successful religious freedom legal fight against mandated health care coverage that would have violated Catholic beliefs.

“We are proud of a result which will benefit so many in coming years,” Doug Wilson, CEO of the Denver-based Catholic Benefits Association, said Aug. 20.

“In addition to our current and future members, Americans of all faiths will benefit from the legal precedents we have achieved and from the court’s affirmation of (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act).”

The payment goes to the group’s legal fees and litigation costs.

Dating back to 2012 under President Barack Obama, the Department of Health and Human Services has tried to mandate health plan coverage of sterilization and contraceptives, including some drugs that can cause abortion. The Catholic Benefits Association objected to this, as well as to a counseling mandate, on the grounds it would require the association and its employer members to violate their religious beliefs.

The Catholic Benefits Association was among the plaintiffs who challenged the regulation under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which bars substantial burdens upon religious freedom.

The health coverage mandates “had attempted to force CBA members to violate Catholic moral teaching by covering contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization procedures in employee health plans,” the association said. “Failure to comply with these morally objectionable mandates carried crushing fines which, in the case of CBA’s membership, were estimated to be as much as $19 billion.”

The association has more than 1,000 Catholic employer members including hospitals, colleges, religious orders, privately-owned Catholic businesses, 60 local Churches, and about 4,000 parishes. These employers have over 88,000 employees combined.

It filed lawsuits in 2013 and 2014 on behalf of its membership. The association was the largest plaintiff in the challenge, with more religious employers than the 100 other similar lawsuits combined.

In March U.S. District Court Judge David Russell agreed with the association’s case and issued a permanent injunction to prevent the federal government from enforcing the mandate upon it. Russell also ruled that this mandate had violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by attempting to force employers to provide contraception and sterilization against their sincerely held religious beliefs.

The companies that make up the CBA had collectively accrued $6.9 billion in fines, which were eliminated by the March ruling.

Wilson, the benefits association CEO, suggested that more religious freedom cases could be on the horizon.

“While it is gratifying to reach a successful conclusion to this issue, there is so very much more to be addressed,” he said. Wilson cited the use of other federal regulations to attempt to coerce immoral actions by religious employers, such as transgender services. There are efforts to mandate insurance coverage for clinical trials involving embryonic stem cells, while state-level healthcare mandates lack sufficient religious freedom protections.

He said his organization would continue to defend religious freedom.

“Established as an association of Catholic employers, we can engage wherever we have a member,” Wilson said. “That now includes almost every state and a growing membership. We are here for as long as it takes.”

The association’s Aug. 20 statement said it is “committed to ensuring the right of Catholic employers to provide life-affirming health coverage consistent with Catholic teaching.”

The ruling in the benefit association’s favor follows the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. that closely-held corporations with religious employers opposed to the mandate cannot be forced to comply with it. Hobby Lobby is a craft store owned by Christians who were opposed to certain abortion-causing drugs included in the mandate.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic women religious who operate nursing homes for the elderly poor, also filed against the mandate. The Little Sisters of the Poor were granted an exemption from the mandate, but were back in court in November 2017 to argue their case again.

After religious liberty win, judge orders payment to Catholic Benefits Association

Denver, Colo., Aug 21, 2018 / 03:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A federal judge has ordered that $718,000 in compensation be paid to the Catholic Benefits Association after its successful religious freedom legal fight against mandated health care coverage that would have violated Catholic beliefs.

“We are proud of a result which will benefit so many in coming years,” Doug Wilson, CEO of the Denver-based Catholic Benefits Association, said Aug. 20.

“In addition to our current and future members, Americans of all faiths will benefit from the legal precedents we have achieved and from the court’s affirmation of (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act).”

The payment goes to the group’s legal fees and litigation costs.

Dating back to 2012 under President Barack Obama, the Department of Health and Human Services has tried to mandate health plan coverage of sterilization and contraceptives, including some drugs that can cause abortion. The Catholic Benefits Association objected to this, as well as to a counseling mandate, on the grounds it would require the association and its employer members to violate their religious beliefs.

The Catholic Benefits Association was among the plaintiffs who challenged the regulation under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which bars substantial burdens upon religious freedom.

The health coverage mandates “had attempted to force CBA members to violate Catholic moral teaching by covering contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization procedures in employee health plans,” the association said. “Failure to comply with these morally objectionable mandates carried crushing fines which, in the case of CBA’s membership, were estimated to be as much as $19 billion.”

The association has more than 1,000 Catholic employer members including hospitals, colleges, religious orders, privately-owned Catholic businesses, 60 local Churches, and about 4,000 parishes. These employers have over 88,000 employees combined.

It filed lawsuits in 2013 and 2014 on behalf of its membership. The association was the largest plaintiff in the challenge, with more religious employers than the 100 other similar lawsuits combined.

In March U.S. District Court Judge David Russell agreed with the association’s case and issued a permanent injunction to prevent the federal government from enforcing the mandate upon it. Russell also ruled that this mandate had violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by attempting to force employers to provide contraception and sterilization against their sincerely held religious beliefs.

The companies that make up the CBA had collectively accrued $6.9 billion in fines, which were eliminated by the March ruling.

Wilson, the benefits association CEO, suggested that more religious freedom cases could be on the horizon.

“While it is gratifying to reach a successful conclusion to this issue, there is so very much more to be addressed,” he said. Wilson cited the use of other federal regulations to attempt to coerce immoral actions by religious employers, such as transgender services. There are efforts to mandate insurance coverage for clinical trials involving embryonic stem cells, while state-level healthcare mandates lack sufficient religious freedom protections.

He said his organization would continue to defend religious freedom.

“Established as an association of Catholic employers, we can engage wherever we have a member,” Wilson said. “That now includes almost every state and a growing membership. We are here for as long as it takes.”

The association’s Aug. 20 statement said it is “committed to ensuring the right of Catholic employers to provide life-affirming health coverage consistent with Catholic teaching.”

The ruling in the benefit association’s favor follows the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. that closely-held corporations with religious employers opposed to the mandate cannot be forced to comply with it. Hobby Lobby is a craft store owned by Christians who were opposed to certain abortion-causing drugs included in the mandate.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic women religious who operate nursing homes for the elderly poor, also filed against the mandate. The Little Sisters of the Poor were granted an exemption from the mandate, but were back in court in November 2017 to argue their case again.

Safeguarding commission member: bishops' role in crisis must be acknowledged

Vatican City, Aug 21, 2018 / 01:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A member of Pope Francis’ commission for the protection of minors said Tuesday that the role bishops and superiors have played in the crisis of clerical sex abuse must be made explicit if change is to take place.

In comments to CNA Aug. 21, Myriam Wijlens said the text of Francis’ letter on recent clerical abuse revelations “does not contain the words ‘bishop,’ ‘superior,’ and ‘leadership,’” though it was implied, but “necessary conversion requires that these words find explicit articulation.”

“It is an important step in creating a culture of accountability,” she noted. A member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) and a canon lawyer, Wijlens said for justice to be carried out, “more steps” must follow.

“Create clear institutions where complaints against bishops and superiors can be brought forward, provide for truly independent investigations, and hold those who cover up accountable,” she advised.

Wijlens, from the Netherlands, was appointed to the PCPM in February.

She noted three areas which are of concern to her as a canon lawyer: first, the formation of a culture that not only prevents sexual abuse but also the abuse of power that leads to cover-ups; and second, having appropriate ways for victims of abuse to report, be heard, and obtain justice.

“Third, see to it that accused get a just and transparent trial and those who cover up including bishops are held accountable,” she said. “Here the conversion begins: the leadership of the church must go out of its own circles.”

In a public statement Tuesday, the PCPM said it was encouraged by Pope Francis’ letter on the sexual abuse crisis and thanked him for his “strong words recognizing the pain and suffering” of survivors of abuse from members of the Church.

They said members of the commission “feel supported by the Holy Father’s call to church leadership” to implement zero tolerance and emphasized that this and accountability are foundational for the protection of children now and in the future.

In the same statement, Wijlens added that the pope’s clear connection between sexual abuse, abuse of power, and abuse of conscience means he “verbalizes what many do not want to see connected.”

She also said that asking for pardon and reparation will “never be sufficient” because it only looks at the past, whereas a “forward looking response implies asking for a radical change of culture, where the safety of children enjoys top priority.”

Safeguarding commission member: bishops' role in crisis must be acknowledged

Vatican City, Aug 21, 2018 / 01:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A member of Pope Francis’ commission for the protection of minors said Tuesday that the role bishops and superiors have played in the crisis of clerical sex abuse must be made explicit if change is to take place.

In comments to CNA Aug. 21, Myriam Wijlens said the text of Francis’ letter on recent clerical abuse revelations “does not contain the words ‘bishop,’ ‘superior,’ and ‘leadership,’” though it was implied, but “necessary conversion requires that these words find explicit articulation.”

“It is an important step in creating a culture of accountability,” she noted. A member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) and a canon lawyer, Wijlens said for justice to be carried out, “more steps” must follow.

“Create clear institutions where complaints against bishops and superiors can be brought forward, provide for truly independent investigations, and hold those who cover up accountable,” she advised.

Wijlens, from the Netherlands, was appointed to the PCPM in February.

She noted three areas which are of concern to her as a canon lawyer: first, the formation of a culture that not only prevents sexual abuse but also the abuse of power that leads to cover-ups; and second, having appropriate ways for victims of abuse to report, be heard, and obtain justice.

“Third, see to it that accused get a just and transparent trial and those who cover up including bishops are held accountable,” she said. “Here the conversion begins: the leadership of the church must go out of its own circles.”

In a public statement Tuesday, the PCPM said it was encouraged by Pope Francis’ letter on the sexual abuse crisis and thanked him for his “strong words recognizing the pain and suffering” of survivors of abuse from members of the Church.

They said members of the commission “feel supported by the Holy Father’s call to church leadership” to implement zero tolerance and emphasized that this and accountability are foundational for the protection of children now and in the future.

In the same statement, Wijlens added that the pope’s clear connection between sexual abuse, abuse of power, and abuse of conscience means he “verbalizes what many do not want to see connected.”

She also said that asking for pardon and reparation will “never be sufficient” because it only looks at the past, whereas a “forward looking response implies asking for a radical change of culture, where the safety of children enjoys top priority.”

'Natural cycles' fertility app gets FDA approval to prevent pregnancy

Washington D.C., Aug 21, 2018 / 01:14 pm (CNA).- The FDA has approved a fertility-tracking app that boasts a lower unintended pregnancy rate than the pill, without the side effects of hormonal contraception.

The Natural Cycles app was developed by a Swedish nuclear physicist Elina Berglund and her husband Raoul Scherwizl. They created the app as a way to go “beyond contraception,” and to “get to know your body and unique cycles,” according to their website.

Berglund told Business Insider last year that the goal of the app is use scientific research to empower women with knowledge about their body, and to replace medication with technology.

In approving the app for use to prevent pregnancy, the FDA noted that its expected failure rate is 6.5 percent – lower than the 9 percent expected failure rate of the contraceptive pill, and 18 percent expected failure rate of condoms.

“Consumers are increasingly using digital health technologies to inform their everyday health decisions, and this new app can provide an effective method of contraception if it’s used carefully and correctly,” said Dr. Terri Cornelison, assistant director for the health of women in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, in a Aug. 10 statement.

Users of the Natural Cycles app record their temperature each morning with an extra-sensitive thermometer. This data is combined with information about the woman’s menstrual cycle into an algorithm that can help determine when a woman is ovulating. A woman’s body temperature rises slightly when she is fertile, allowing her track her fertility day-to-day.

The app had already been approved by German inspection and certification agency Tüv Süd.

As of last year, the app reported having more than 150,000 users in over 160 countries around the world.

While the Catholic Church teaches that the use of contraception is immoral, because it intentionally separates procreation from the sexual act, it does approve of fertility mapping methods like natural family planning, which helps married couples achieve pregnancy – or avoid it, if there is a just reason to do so – by tracking a woman’s natural fertility.  

While fertility-awareness methods are sometimes conflated with the decades-old rhythm method – which assumes a standard 28-day cycle and has high failure rates – modern methods track specific changes in an individual woman’s body that indicate fertility, including temperature, cervical mucus, and hormone levels.
 

 

'Natural cycles' fertility app gets FDA approval to prevent pregnancy

Washington D.C., Aug 21, 2018 / 01:14 pm (CNA).- The FDA has approved a fertility-tracking app that boasts a lower unintended pregnancy rate than the pill, without the side effects of hormonal contraception.

The Natural Cycles app was developed by a Swedish nuclear physicist Elina Berglund and her husband Raoul Scherwizl. They created the app as a way to go “beyond contraception,” and to “get to know your body and unique cycles,” according to their website.

Berglund told Business Insider last year that the goal of the app is use scientific research to empower women with knowledge about their body, and to replace medication with technology.

In approving the app for use to prevent pregnancy, the FDA noted that its expected failure rate is 6.5 percent – lower than the 9 percent expected failure rate of the contraceptive pill, and 18 percent expected failure rate of condoms.

“Consumers are increasingly using digital health technologies to inform their everyday health decisions, and this new app can provide an effective method of contraception if it’s used carefully and correctly,” said Dr. Terri Cornelison, assistant director for the health of women in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, in a Aug. 10 statement.

Users of the Natural Cycles app record their temperature each morning with an extra-sensitive thermometer. This data is combined with information about the woman’s menstrual cycle into an algorithm that can help determine when a woman is ovulating. A woman’s body temperature rises slightly when she is fertile, allowing her track her fertility day-to-day.

The app had already been approved by German inspection and certification agency Tüv Süd.

As of last year, the app reported having more than 150,000 users in over 160 countries around the world.

While the Catholic Church teaches that the use of contraception is immoral, because it intentionally separates procreation from the sexual act, it does approve of fertility mapping methods like natural family planning, which helps married couples achieve pregnancy – or avoid it, if there is a just reason to do so – by tracking a woman’s natural fertility.  

While fertility-awareness methods are sometimes conflated with the decades-old rhythm method – which assumes a standard 28-day cycle and has high failure rates – modern methods track specific changes in an individual woman’s body that indicate fertility, including temperature, cervical mucus, and hormone levels.
 

 

Cardinal O’Malley apologizes for missed letter on McCarrick allegations

Boston, Mass., Aug 21, 2018 / 12:48 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston has issued an apology for not seeing a 2015 letter to his office, which detailed accusations of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s sexual misconduct and abuse of diocesan seminarians.

The apology came after media reports revealed that New York priest Father Boniface Ramsey had tried to warn church officials about McCarrick multiple times, including in the 2015 letter, which he sent to O’Malley because of his role as President of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

O’Malley said his secretary Father Robert Kickham received the letter and responded to Ramsey himself, saying that the accusations fell outside of the jurisdiction of O’Malley’s office, as they did not involve minors. O’Malley said he only found out about Ramsey’s letter after the recent media reports.

“In retrospect it is now clear to Fr. Kickham and to me that I should have seen that letter precisely because it made assertions about the behavior of an Archbishop in the Church,” O’Malley said in his apology, posted on the Archdiocese of Boston’s website.

“I take responsibility for the procedures followed in my office and I also am prepared to modify those procedures in light of this experience.”

O’Malley’s lack of knowledge of the 2015 letter comes as a surprise from someone widely considered to be a “zero-tolerance” bishop on matters of sexual abuse.

As numerous McCarrick allegations continued to surface in late July, O’Malley issued a statement saying that the Church needed “more than apologies” to sexual misconduct cases.

He proposed that future allegations against bishops needed to be handled as a matter of highest priority; that a new system be put in place to handle complaints against bishops; and that these reforms be clearly announced, so there can be no doubt about how such cases should be handled in the future.

Ramsey told CBS News that accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse against McCarrick first came to his attention in 1986, and he was under the impression that “virtually everyone knew” about them, including many bishops.

"Archbishop McCarrick was inviting seminarians to his beach house...There were five beds...and there were six people. Archbishop McCarrick arranged it in such a way that somebody would join him in his bed," Ramsey told CBS.

He said that the 2015 letter contained not just rumors about McCarrick, but first-hand accounts of abuse from seminarians who had encountered McCarrick.

“I apologize to Fr. Ramsey for not having responded to him in an appropriate way and appreciate the effort that he undertook in seeking to bring his concerns about Archbishop McCarrick’s behavior to my attention,” O’Malley noted. “I also apologize to anyone whose concerns were reflected in Fr. Ramsey’s letter.”

O’Malley said that he recognized that his apology and lack of knowledge of the 2015 letter was probably still insufficient “given the way the Church has eroded the trust of our people.”

However, he said his hope is “that we can repair the trust and faith of all Catholics and the wider community by virtue of our actions and accountability in how we respond to this crisis.”

He added that the U.S. bishops are all “anxious to understand” how McCarrick became a bishop, archbishop, and cardinal if there were known allegations against him, given the vetting process that bishops have to go through before they are appointed to such positions.

“That is why the Bishops Conference are requesting an investigation by the Holy See with the participation of lay people,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley closed his apology by quoting an Aug. 20 his own letter of apology to sex abuse victims from Pope Francis: “Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others. An awareness of sins helps us to acknowledge the errors, the crimes and the wounds caused in the past and allows us, in the present, to be more open and committed along a journey of renewed conversion.”

Cardinal O’Malley apologizes for missed letter on McCarrick allegations

Boston, Mass., Aug 21, 2018 / 12:48 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston has issued an apology for not seeing a 2015 letter to his office, which detailed accusations of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s sexual misconduct and abuse of diocesan seminarians.

The apology came after media reports revealed that New York priest Father Boniface Ramsey had tried to warn church officials about McCarrick multiple times, including in the 2015 letter, which he sent to O’Malley because of his role as President of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

O’Malley said his secretary Father Robert Kickham received the letter and responded to Ramsey himself, saying that the accusations fell outside of the jurisdiction of O’Malley’s office, as they did not involve minors. O’Malley said he only found out about Ramsey’s letter after the recent media reports.

“In retrospect it is now clear to Fr. Kickham and to me that I should have seen that letter precisely because it made assertions about the behavior of an Archbishop in the Church,” O’Malley said in his apology, posted on the Archdiocese of Boston’s website.

“I take responsibility for the procedures followed in my office and I also am prepared to modify those procedures in light of this experience.”

O’Malley’s lack of knowledge of the 2015 letter comes as a surprise from someone widely considered to be a “zero-tolerance” bishop on matters of sexual abuse.

As numerous McCarrick allegations continued to surface in late July, O’Malley issued a statement saying that the Church needed “more than apologies” to sexual misconduct cases.

He proposed that future allegations against bishops needed to be handled as a matter of highest priority; that a new system be put in place to handle complaints against bishops; and that these reforms be clearly announced, so there can be no doubt about how such cases should be handled in the future.

Ramsey told CBS News that accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse against McCarrick first came to his attention in 1986, and he was under the impression that “virtually everyone knew” about them, including many bishops.

"Archbishop McCarrick was inviting seminarians to his beach house...There were five beds...and there were six people. Archbishop McCarrick arranged it in such a way that somebody would join him in his bed," Ramsey told CBS.

He said that the 2015 letter contained not just rumors about McCarrick, but first-hand accounts of abuse from seminarians who had encountered McCarrick.

“I apologize to Fr. Ramsey for not having responded to him in an appropriate way and appreciate the effort that he undertook in seeking to bring his concerns about Archbishop McCarrick’s behavior to my attention,” O’Malley noted. “I also apologize to anyone whose concerns were reflected in Fr. Ramsey’s letter.”

O’Malley said that he recognized that his apology and lack of knowledge of the 2015 letter was probably still insufficient “given the way the Church has eroded the trust of our people.”

However, he said his hope is “that we can repair the trust and faith of all Catholics and the wider community by virtue of our actions and accountability in how we respond to this crisis.”

He added that the U.S. bishops are all “anxious to understand” how McCarrick became a bishop, archbishop, and cardinal if there were known allegations against him, given the vetting process that bishops have to go through before they are appointed to such positions.

“That is why the Bishops Conference are requesting an investigation by the Holy See with the participation of lay people,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley closed his apology by quoting an Aug. 20 his own letter of apology to sex abuse victims from Pope Francis: “Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others. An awareness of sins helps us to acknowledge the errors, the crimes and the wounds caused in the past and allows us, in the present, to be more open and committed along a journey of renewed conversion.”

Francis hopes Ireland visit will bring unity, reconciliation

Vatican City, Aug 21, 2018 / 12:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis said in a video message to the Irish people Tuesday he hopes his visit will bring about unity and reconciliation among Christians in the country.

"Although the specific reason for my visit to Ireland is the World Meeting of Families, I would like it to embrace all members of the Irish family," he said Aug. 21.

"In particular, I pray that it will serve to increase unity and reconciliation among all the faithful of Christ, as a sign of that lasting peace which is God's dream for the whole human family."

The pope will travel to Dublin Aug. 25-26 for the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families. In his message, Francis said he was looking forward to being in Ireland again. In 1980, while a priest, Pope Francis spent two months in the country to try to improve his English.

Mostly speaking in Italian, Francis added in English: “I'm excited to think I’ll come back to Ireland!”

The World Meeting of Families is "a celebration of the beauty of God's plan for the family" and "an opportunity for families from all over the world to meet and support each other in living their special vocation," he said.

You all know that families today face many challenges, he stated, and voiced his hope that the meeting will be a source of encouragement to families around the world – especially those present in Dublin.

"May we remember the essential place of the family in the life of society and in building a better future for young people," he said.

The pope also thanked everyone for their work in preparation of his visit and asked for prayers for the meeting to be a moment of "joy and serenity."

"From my heart, I give you my blessing," he said, adding in English, "God bless you all. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."

Francis hopes Ireland visit will bring unity, reconciliation

Vatican City, Aug 21, 2018 / 12:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis said in a video message to the Irish people Tuesday he hopes his visit will bring about unity and reconciliation among Christians in the country.

"Although the specific reason for my visit to Ireland is the World Meeting of Families, I would like it to embrace all members of the Irish family," he said Aug. 21.

"In particular, I pray that it will serve to increase unity and reconciliation among all the faithful of Christ, as a sign of that lasting peace which is God's dream for the whole human family."

The pope will travel to Dublin Aug. 25-26 for the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families. In his message, Francis said he was looking forward to being in Ireland again. In 1980, while a priest, Pope Francis spent two months in the country to try to improve his English.

Mostly speaking in Italian, Francis added in English: “I'm excited to think I’ll come back to Ireland!”

The World Meeting of Families is "a celebration of the beauty of God's plan for the family" and "an opportunity for families from all over the world to meet and support each other in living their special vocation," he said.

You all know that families today face many challenges, he stated, and voiced his hope that the meeting will be a source of encouragement to families around the world – especially those present in Dublin.

"May we remember the essential place of the family in the life of society and in building a better future for young people," he said.

The pope also thanked everyone for their work in preparation of his visit and asked for prayers for the meeting to be a moment of "joy and serenity."

"From my heart, I give you my blessing," he said, adding in English, "God bless you all. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."