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The Catholic faith of Kobe Bryant

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 26, 2020 / 02:08 pm (CNA).- Basketball superstar Kobe Bryant died Sunday in a helicopter crash in Southern California, along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.

Bryant, the father of four, was Catholic.

In all nine people were killed in the Jan. 26 crash.

Bryant, 41, is widely considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He retired in 2016 after a 20 year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, in which the shooting guard won five NBA championships, a league MVP award, two scoring championships, and myriad other distinctions.

Beyond basketball, Bryant was a husband and a father who in 2015 credited his Catholic faith with helping him move past a challenging period in his own life and the life of his family.

Bryant was raised in a Catholic family, and spent much of his childhood living in Italy. He married in 2001 in a Southern California parish.

In 2003, Bryant was arrested after he was accused of raping a woman in a Colorado hotel room.

Bryant admitted a sexual encounter with the woman, but denied that he had committed sexual assault. When the allegation became public, Bryant lost sponsors and faced criminal charges, which were eventually dropped.

Bryant issued an apology to his accuser, with whom he also reached a settlement in a civil lawsuit.

“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter,” Bryant said in his 2004 apology.

In 2015, the basketball player told GQ that after the matter was resolved, he decided to shed some superficiality he felt he had built up in his public persona.

“What I came to understand, coming out of Colorado, is that I had to be me, in the place where I was at that moment.”

Bryant said it was a priest who helped him to make some important personal realizations during the ordeal.

Describing his fear of being sent to prison for a crime he believed he had not committed, Bryant told GQ that “The one thing that really helped me during that process—I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic—was talking to a priest.”

“It was actually kind of funny: He looks at me and says, ’Did you do it?’ And I say, ’Of course not.’ Then he asks, ’Do you have a good lawyer?’ And I’m like, ’Uh, yeah, he’s phenomenal.’ So then he just said, ’Let it go. Move on. God’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle, and it’s in his hands now. This is something you can’t control. So let it go.’ And that was the turning point,” Bryant said.

A 2004 decision to place deeper trust in God did not mean the basketball star’s life was thereafter without difficulties, or defined by virtue.

In 2011, Vanessa Bryant filed for divorce from Kobe, citing irreconcilable differences. But Bryant said he decided not to give up on his marriage, and two years later, his wife withdrew her divorce petition.

“I’m not going to say our marriage is perfect, by any stretch of the imagination,” Bryant told GQ in 2015.

“We still fight, just like every married couple. But you know, my reputation as an athlete is that I’m extremely determined, and that I will work my ass off. How could I do that in my professional life if I wasn’t like that in my personal life, when it affects my kids? It wouldn’t make any sense.”

Bryant and his wife have been reported to be regular parishioners at an Orange County, California parish, and after his death, some on social media said that he had been seen at Mass before the helicopter ride that ended his life.

Some also reported seeing him at weekday Mass in California.

Singer Cristina Ballestero posted on Instagram Jan. 26 a story of her encounter with Bryant at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, California at a weekday Mass.

“As we went up to communion, [Bryant] waited for me to go. If you grew up in the Catholic Church, you understand this is a respectful thing men do in church as a sign of respect to women. He said I have a beautiful voice.”

“His most inspiring trait was his decision to turn to his faith in God and receive God’s mercy and to be a better man after a regretful decision,” Ballestero added.

 

       

View this post on Instagram                   I wanna tell a story about the time I met Kobe Bryant. I was sitting in the very back of Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, CA, on a WEEKDAY mass. At the time I was very into wearing veils and on this particular day I had a scarf I used as veil. Right as mass begins I see a huge shadow in my right peripheral vision and hear a decently loud creak from probably a big man. I double took to see... it was KOBE BRYANT IN THE SAME PEW AS ME ON THE OTHER END! I just went about my normal praying and singing as usual cause he like all of us came to pray. Thank God I had the veil so I could stay focused on Jesus not this insanely talented Basketball player my whole family has looked up to and watched our whole lives. As we went up to communion, he waited for me to go. If you grew up in the Catholic Church, you understand this is a respectful thing men do in church as a sign of respect to women. He said I have a beautiful voice. I said thank you and went up to communion. @marydallal @mandymissyturkey and a couple other friends saw him standing behind me going to receive Jesus. And we talked about it after mass and freaked out together. It was such a cool experience to receive Jesus right before him, and also, to walk up to receive Jesus together. It was also cool to see him come for a weekday mass. He said in his GQ interview how a Catholic Priest helped him through the tough time he went through in the media. He also talks about how his faith is important. His most inspiring trait was his decision to turn to his faith in God and receive God’s mercy and to be a better man after a regretful decision. Him and his wife do so much great work with their foundation. I’m heartbroken at the news of his death. My prayers go out to his Family, friends and loved ones. Eternal rest grant unto him oh Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he Rest In Peace, Amen. We love you Kobe. . . . . #kobebryant

A post shared by Cristina Ballestero (@cristinaballestero) on Jan 26, 2020 at 12:44pm PST

 

Kobe Bryant's death was reported in the media before the death of his daughter, Gianna. Before the death of Gianna Bryant'was reported, Los Angeles' Archbishop Jose Gomez tweeted a tribute to the elder Bryant.


 

So very sad to hear the news of #KobeBryant’s tragic death this morning. I am praying for him and his family. May he rest in peace and may our Blessed Mother Mary bring comfort to his loved ones. #KobeBryantRIP pic.twitter.com/QYMRL7RvCL

— Abp. José H. Gomez (@ArchbishopGomez) January 26, 2020  

 

Bryant also had connected his Catholic faith to a family commitment to help the poor, through the Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation. The foundation helped fund youth homeless shelters and other projects aimed at serving the poor.

“You have to do something that carries a little bit more weight to it, a little more significance, a little more purpose to it,” he said in 2012, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Homelessness “is one that kind of gets pushed on the back burner because it’s easy to point the blame at those who are homeless and say, ‘Well, you made that bad decision. This is where you are. It’s your fault.”

“In life, we all make mistakes and to stand back and allow someone to live that way and kind of wash your hands of it … that’s not right,” he said.

Funeral announcements for Bryant and his daughter have not yet been announced.

 

This story is developing and has been updated.

 

How family life led this couple back to the Catholic Church

Gallup, N.M., Jan 26, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- With their children getting older, the Aguilars wanted to find a church home for their family. They visited a few Christian churches close to home, but nothing felt right. They were surprised, the couple said, to find that Catholic Church - the Church of their youth - was the place where they realized they were at home.

Michelle and Andres Aguilar decided to reenter the Catholic Church in 2019, finishing Michelle’s confirmation process and validating their marriage in the Church.

The couple now attends St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Bloomfield, New Mexico, which is pastored by Fr. Josh Mayer. Michelle, 38, owns the oilfield company Ernie’s Pilot Service, and Andres, 33, works as a parole officer.

Michelle was confirmed by Bishop James Wall of Gallup last Easter. She told CNA that the Easter Mass, where her two children also received their first communion, was one of the most beautiful experiences of her life.

“Last April, we all made our sacraments together. I tell everybody that aside from my marriage and my kids’ births, that was the best day of my life. I felt so much joy and it was at the Easter vigil. We [got] home [at] like one in the morning and I could not sleep. I was just so excited from it,” she said.

Michelle and Andres were both baptized and raised in the Church. Michelle attended Mass and catechetical classes with her aunt, but she fell away during her teenage years once her aunt became too busy to take her to Mass. Andres told CNA that he began distancing himself from the Church when he was in his 20s, after a priest who gave a disappointing homily with a judgmental and unkind attitude at his cousin’s funeral.

“The priest at the time made a comment during her funeral. It just kind of shut me out,” he said. “She was murdered … the comment he made was, had she not been living the lifestyle [she] was living, she wouldn't have died. It was like I saw him almost condemn her in the Church.”

“I didn't want to be a part of something group that would condemn people,” he further added.

The couple was civilly married in 2008, three years after their son Augustine was born and a few months after their daughter Cheyann was born - both of whom were baptized in the Catholic Church.

The Aguilars said the family was a major reason for their desire to return to the faith, but they had tried several other denominations before finding themselves in the Catholic Church.

“We wanted to get back into church,” she said. “So we kind of tried different religions. We tried Baptist, we tried Pentecostal, we tried a nondenominational [church]. We just never really liked any of them. It didn't feel like church.”

“Other denominations, it is beautiful there, but they don't have structure, and I need that. I need structure and tradition. … It is so beautiful to see even the older ladies in Mass and it just reminds me of family,” she further added.

Not having found anything that fit, the family took a break from their search. Meanwhile, Augustine started attending Mass with Michelle’s father, who would often have Augustine stay over at his house on Saturday night before Mass. She said, seeing that, she wanted to start attending Mass again as a family.

“I kind of wanted to start going as a family and I spoke to my husband about it and then we decided that we would go,” she said. “We started a friendship with a family here [Adam and Desiraye Benavidez]. They’re really devout and we liked how they put [the faith] first. So we started talking and we decided to join them.”

Andres said the Benavidezs were a big motivator for his rejoining the Church too. He said Adam is a powerful example of a good Catholic father. He said the family possessed a peace and joy he wanted for his own family.

“They have this tradition where they, after mass, all eat breakfast, and I just saw happiness in them,” he said “It just made me want that for my family as well. He owns that peace, like you can't bring that man down. I think his faith has a lot to do with it, and being a part of the church I think really helps him be who he is as a person.”

He said, while he still disagrees with some of the things the priest said at the funeral, he has come to better understand the need to forgive and forget.

“This priest is a human and he sins just as much as I do. He made a mistake. That's the beauty of the church and reconciliation is that you can ask for forgiveness and start fresh.”

Michelle emphasized the important role of the RCIA classes. She said the group watched videos from the Augustine Institute and analyzed scripture prior to the Sunday Mass. She expressed a love for the group, especially Deacon Pat Valdez, who heads the parish’s RCIA class.

“I miss them since I've made my confirmation. I really miss them because it was so fulfilling. I learned so much,” she said.

“[Deacon] would give us the scriptures for the next week and he would break that down. So it was really neat to hear it there, and then on Sunday we'd go and hear it again.”

She said her decision to reenter the Church was verified during the first RCIA class. On the first day, she said, the deacon answered most of the questions she was struggling with, namely the Sacrament of Penance and prayers to the saints.

“I struggled with those growing up. I didn't understand why we were doing that. [During] my first RCIA class, [Deacon Pat] answered both of those without me even asking the question. That was what he talked about. And I was like, okay, this is where I'm supposed to be,” she said.

Both of them described how faith has inspired meaningful interactions with their children, especially for their son who is 15 years old. Michelle said, through the use of the Catechism, she has been able to engage the children in learning, such as looking up answers to moral questions.

“It's been really helpful in those aspects like discipline,” she said. [My son] had messed up and he felt really bad and I could tell it was weighing heavy on him. … [so] he went to confession.”

“We went together and I could just tell when he got out, he felt a relief and I got to explain that to him that you can mess up but you need to ask for forgiveness and then try your best not to make the same mistakes.”

Andres said the faith has given him more patience. He also said that faith has improved communication with Augustine and given him a better perspective on what it means to be a parent.

“Sometimes I can [be] pretty hot-headed and I can be a little strict with the kids, but at the same time I'm learning that being a parent is important in God's eyes,” he said.

“I feel like it's my job now to make sure that my kids have that happiness and the peace that they can find with the Lord and through the church. I feel like I shouldn't deprive them of that anymore.”

Cardinal Cupich: God 'schemes' for our salvation

Washington D.C., Jan 25, 2020 / 10:01 pm (CNA).- God is a “tricky God” who schemes for the good of humanity and salvation, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said in a homily Saturday at the opening Mass of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, DC. 

“How many times in the scripture have we seen, either telling stories or having encounters with people, who all of a sudden are tricked into salvation,” Cupich said Jan. 25. 

“We think of the woman at the well - all of a sudden she's talking about all sorts of things and then (Jesus) asks her that question: bring me your husband. And then she ends up evangelizing the entire community even though she's the one who is shunned by God.” 

Cupich cited the Caravaggio painting “The Calling of St. Matthew,” which depicts Matthew “cornered” by Christ.

“Jesus is at the doorway. There’s no exit for Matthew,” said Cupich.

The cardinal explained that these “tricks” extend past scripture, and are present in everyday life. 

“How many times in our life have we found ourselves tricked by God?” asked Cupich. These “tricks” include “putting us in situations where, all of a sudden, there was a grace that came from us that we otherwise would have not had.”

These tricks, explained the cardinal, help people to realize they must rely on God, and trust in God and His plan. 

“And yet in our lives so often our spiritual relationship with God, we have this little idea in our mind that we've got to be the one to save ourselves, that we have to do something to earn salvation,” he said. 

Cupich spoke at length about how people today seem more concerned with “image” over anything else. This is misguided, he said, as the “image” of something does not necessarily mean it is the reality. 

“We're in a moment of crisis and the life of the Church, where the brand name of the Catholic Church has been seriously damaged because of bad decisions, and so we might think we need a PR firm to get our image back,” said Cupich. 

“You have to be careful with that though, because the Lord is the one who saved us, but not our image.” 

Cardinal Cupich shared a humorous anecdote from when he was consecrated a bishop in 1998. His young niece took several of the prayer cards with his picture on it and brought it to show and tell at her preschool, where her classmates guessed he was a “ninja warrior.”

“How foolish would it be for me to get into that image of keeping up a reputation as a ninja warrior?” asked Cupich, to laughter. 

“I think of that, because it is foolish as well for us to try to keep up an image that we think (will) please other people,” he said. 

Other people choose to make their image a “central preoccupation” of their lives, he said, but the Christian should not. 

“It is a good test of whether or not we're open to this God who wants us to trust Him,” said Cupich. “A God who in fact schemes to the point of trickiness so that we trust Him.”

Earlier in the day, Cupich delivered the opening keynote address, titled “Our Call to Holiness: Life and Justice for All,” to the meeting. In the address, Cupich said that Christians should look to the actions of Christ as the inspiration for their lives. 

“Our Christian call to holiness is not about being called as individuals, but an invitation from God in which he brings people together, and invites believers to a deeper level of human intercommunion and a shared life,” Cupich said during his keynote.  

The cardinal reflected on his experience seeing an exhibit of Andy Warhol’s paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, including one that included an image of the Last Supper superimposed with camouflage. A piece of the camouflage exposed the image of Christ, which Cupich said “forc(ed) the viewer to look for the otherwise familiar image of the Lord at table.”

“May the light of the Gospel help us see through whatever camouflages the needy from our sight, whatever impedes us from being evangelized from those on the margins,” he said. 

“For it is in encountering the poor and the marginalized that we are mutually enriched, that we respond to the call to holiness as we take up the social ministry of the Church - because we know that whatever we do for the least of our sisters and brothers, we do for Christ.”

1 killed after car crashes into bus of Covington Catholic students heading home from March for Life

Lexington, Ky., Jan 25, 2020 / 11:27 am (CNA).- One person is dead and others are injured after an oncoming car struck a charter bus carrying Covington Catholic students and chaperones back from the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., local sources have reported.

According to witnesses speaking to WLWT in Kentucky, the car had been traveling in the southbound lane of AA Highway in the city of California, Kentucky, when it crossed the median into the northbound lane and hit the bus head-on.

"I saw a car come across the median and head toward me," Ricky Lynn, a witness driving north on the highway, told WLWT. "I was able to get out of the way."

The car's driver, whose name has not been released, was pronounced dead at the scene. Witnesses told WLWT that a priest on the bus gave the driver of the car a final blessing.

According to officials, four other people were sent to the hospital with minor injuries, WCPO in Cincinnati reported.

The passenger side of the bus was significantly damaged in the crash, and passengers in the bus escaped through emergency windows, WLWT reported. The bus was one in a caravan of four, carrying a total of about 200 people who had attended the March for Life on Friday.

In a statement given to local media, the Diocese of Covington said: "This morning, a bus carrying students and chaperones home from the March for Life in Washington, DC was involved in an accident. EMT personnel and the Campbell County police have been at the scene and are handling the matter. Please join us in praying for everyone involved in this accident."

Covington Catholic students were the center of a barrage of media scrutiny following the March for Life last year, when a video published online showed Covington Catholic students as part of a confluence of demonstrators near the Washington Memorial, including some from a Washington-based religious group called the Black Israelites, and some from the Indigenous Peoples’ March.

Initially, a viral video depicted a crowd of teenage boys chanting, dancing, and doing the “tomahawk chop” cheer, while a Native American man played a drum in chanted in close proximity to Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann, who stood silently. The drummer was soon identified as Nathan Phillips, an elder of the Omaha Tribe and Native American rights activist.

The students became the subject of widespread condemnation from media figures and some Catholic leaders, who accused them of disrespect, racism, and antagonism.

Later video and reports that emerged showed a more complex picture, depicting the protestors approaching the students rather than the students surrounding them. The students said that they were chanting school songs in response to taunts from the Black Israelites when Phillips approached.

In January of this year, CNN settled a lawsuit with Sandmann, who sued the network for accusing him of racism in its coverage of the incident.

According to the Washington Examiner and photos posted on Instagram by Catholic Connect, Sandmann attended the March for Life again this year, though it is unclear if he was on the bus that was struck in the accident or in the caravan of busses.

 

New Orleans Saints defend assistance of archdiocese as disclosure

New Orleans, La., Jan 24, 2020 / 06:29 pm (CNA).- The New Orleans Saints have said assistance that team personnel offered to the Archdiocese of New Orleans on communications strategy was not a coverup, but disclosure.

The team’s claim comes amid a sexual abuse lawsuit filed against the archdiocese. Saints officials said that team personnel offered assistance to archdiocesan officials on how to manage a 2018 report on clerics removed from ministry for alleged sexual abuse, but that the Saints personnel did not act improperly, according to the AP.

At the center of the suit is George Brignac, a deacon of the Archdiocese of New Orleans who was removed from ministry in 1988 after being accused of sexually abusing minors in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Brignac was listed among a November 2018 report of New Orleans archdiocesan clergy who were removed from ministry for an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.

In July 2019, The New Orleans Advocate reported that attorneys of an alleged victim of Brignac were working to obtain copies of any communications between employees of the New Orleans archdiocese and those of the New Orleans Saints. The alleged victim's lawsuit, which WVUE identified as John Doe versus the Catholic Church of New Orleans and Deacon George Brignac, says the archdiocese failed to protect him from Brignac.

The attorneys said they had evidence that the Saints' Senior VP of Communications, Greg Bensel, advised the archdiocese on its 2018 clergy abuse report, and that they wanted to understand how the Saints may have been “supporting the archdiocese on addressing sexual abuse claims and the media coverage surrounding these claims.”

The AP reported Jan. 24 that lawyers “for about two dozen men suing the church” said documents obtained through discovery demonstrated that the Saints assisted the archdiocese in its “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes so that the public does not discover its criminal behavior.” They said Bensel and other Saints employees had advised Church officials on “messaging” related to the clerical abuse of minors.

The plaintiffs are seeking to have the communications made public, which both the Saints and the archdiocese are opposing.

A special master appointed by the court “is expected to hear arguments in the coming weeks on whether the communications should remain confidential,” Jim Mustian of the AP wrote. The AP has filed a motion supporting their publication.

Lawyers for the Saints “acknowledged in a court filing that the team assisted the archdiocese in its publishing of the credibly accused clergy list, but said that was an act of disclosure,” the AP reported.

The football team's lawyers called the assistance “the opposite of concealment” and called claims it had abetted the coverup of crimes “outrageous.”

According to the AP, an archdiocesan attorney had said the request to have the communications released was part of a “proverbial witch hunt with respect to decades-old abuse” and that it was merely an effort to let the media “unfairly try to tar and feather the archdiocese.”

Brignac, 85, was ordained in 1976, and an allegation against him was received the following year. He held pastoral assignments at Cabrini High School, Our Lady of the Rosary, and St. Frances Cabrini School in New Orleans; St. Louise de Marillac School in Arabi; and St. Matthew the Apostle School in River Ridge.

He was charged with indecent behavior with a juvenile in 1977, and was acquitted the next year.

In 1980, Brignac was booked with indecent behavior with a juvenile and contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile, but the allegations were not prosecuted, the New Orleans Advocate reported.

In 1988, charges of abuse of a juvenile were filed, but dismissed by the state.

The New Orleans archdiocese has settled several lawsuits involving Brignac.

One of those settlements, made in May 2018, was for more than $500,000. The victim said he was abused as an altar boy at Holy Rosary School in New Orleans beginning in 1979. Roger Stetter, the plaintiff's attorney, told the New Orleans Advocate shortly after that “it was a fair settlement, and it was very, very prompt.” He added, “I think the archdiocese is doing a lot to try to curtail this type of abuse. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to weed out possible pedophiles.”

Stetter also said Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans is “a good man and wants to do right by the victims, even though it may cost the church a lot of money.”

For several years, until shortly after the May 2018 settlement, Brignac served as a lector at St. Mary Magdalene parish in Metairie, adjacent to New Orleans. The New Orleans archdiocese said its leaders were unaware he was lectoring until after the settlement was publicized, and that the priest who allowed it “was wrong to do so.”

In September 2019 Brignac was arrested on a count of first-degree rape, after a former altar boy said he had been repeatedly raped by the deacon 40 years ago.

Pro-life Democrat calls for 'unity' for life

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- Pro-life unity comes before party loyalty, a Democratic state senator said Friday at the national March for Life on Friday.

“This is not a party issue. This is an issue of unifying America,” Louisiana State Sen. Katrina Jackson (D) told CNA in an interview on Friday, before the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.  Jackson addressed the March for Life rally later in the day.

“This is an issue that hits every community, and it’s not about where we come from or what party you’re a part of or a member of. This issue is about America itself and our children,” she said.

Jackson said her views on abortion are rooted in her Christian faith. 

“God hates the shedding of innocent blood,” Jackson said.

“So when America really wants to see a turnaround, in our economy and in the things that we are concerned about,” she said, “we have to honor God. And being pro-life is a part of honoring God.”

Jackson was one of a series of speakers from both political parties at Friday’s March for Life rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  

“I tell everyone Louisiana is the number one pro-life state, and you know why? Because in Louisiana the majority of Democrats that are elected are pro-lifers,” Jackson said at the rally.

Louisiana is evidence that bipartisan unity on the issue is possible, she said, while exhorting the pro-life movement to put the principle of unity into practice.

“In unity, we must fight like we’ve never fought before,” she said.

The lineup of speakers at the rally most notably included President Donald Trump, the first president to attend a March for Life in person.

Trump addressed thousands of rally participants as his impeachment trial continued in the U.S. Senate on Friday, with House trial managers making their case for a conviction on two counts of abuse of office and obstruction of Congress.

Louisiana’s First Lady Donna Hutto Edwards—whose husband John Bel Edwards is the Democratic governor who signed a “heartbeat” abortion ban into law in 2019—also spoke from the rally stage.

“Pro-life is pro-woman," Edwards said at the rally. “Life is precious in every stage and should be respected and protected.”

Jackson told CNA on Friday morning that, even though Louisiana voters might in general be more pro-life than the rest of the country, other states do have pro-life who constituencies who oppose abortion, in whole or in part. Pro-lifers need to unify behind pro-life candidates from both parties, she said.

“And so that is my concern, that if life is the issue, which it is—doesn’t matter what party you’re a member of—that pro-lifers should support each other,” she told CNA.

“And I’m hoping that what we’re seeing in Louisiana begins to basically move throughout other states.”

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), an eight-term pro-life Catholic congressman, is a national example of a politician deserving of pro-life support, she said.

His “Republican constituency” may disagree with some of his votes, she said, but the message of bipartisan unity is making inroads around the country.

Earlier this month, Lipinski told CNA that support of his campaign from pro-life groups was “not as much as I’d like to see,” as he faces a second consecutive primary challenge from pro-abortion candidate Marie Newman.

Jackson, answering for herself, said on Friday that as a Democrat she has seen support from national pro-life groups including National Right to Life and Susan B. Anthony List, as well as the group Save the Storks.

Jackson was a keynote speaker at Save the Stork's annual charity ball on Thursday evening.

Through attending national events, Jackson said she has discovered Democrats from around the country who either oppose abortion or are in disagreement with the party’s radical shift in support of abortion.

The 2016 DNC platform that stated “unequivocal” support for abortion access, and no 2020 Democratic presidential candidate opposes taxpayer funding of abortion.

Jackson said she is working to give pro-life Democrats “a place back in their party.”

“I really believe that we’re on the cusp of really building up the party and understanding that what you believe, or what the party platform is, is not what most Democrats believe,” she said.

At March for Life, Trump gets mixed reviews

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 04:45 pm (CNA).- On Friday, President Donald Trump became the first U.S. president to address the March for Life in person. His appearance was greeted by pro-lifers with both excitement and hesitation.

The presence of the president brought with it additional security, similar to when Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the pre-march rally in 2017. 

Trump’s decision to attend personally, instead of via video message as in past years, meant attendees were prevented from bringing certain items to the rally, faced long lines, and had to pass through metal detectors before entering the Mall.

The extra measures discouraged some potential attendees, who stayed away, worried that the logistics of juggling security and children would be too much. 

Connie Poulos told CNA that she had already decided, reluctantly, to skip this year’s march due rather than face the event solo with her young son. The news that Trump was speaking at the rally made her feel “less bad” about missing the event, because she feared the president would alienate non-Republicans. 

“As a pro-life person, I think the movement needs all the help it can get to cross party lines,” she said.

While signs are always commonplace at the March for Life, this year's had a distinctly partisan bent. Familiar “Vote Life” or “Choose Life” signs manufactured by the Knights of Columbus were joined this time by “Pro-Life Voices For Trump” and “Most Pro-Life President Ever” signs with pictures of president. These signs were supplied by the RNC and were distributed at the rally by volunteers.  

Despite hesitation by some, most attendees CNA spoke with said they were happy about the president’s appearance.  

“President Trump is one of the greatest presidents that this country has ever had. A man who has a heart after God to do what God has called him to do, in spite of [what] anybody else thinks or [does],” Barbara Bell, who described herself as a “black American who loves the Lord Jesus Christ, and loves President Trump,” told CNA. 

Bell, who is 70 years old, told CNA she was attending her fortieth March for Life in 2020. She came down from Massachusetts for the event, and said she was even more excited than usual when she heard that Trump would be speaking. 

While politically independent, Bell said that she was impressed with what Trump had accomplished during his time in office. 

Mimi Vertrees, an 18 year old attending the March for Life for the first time, traveled to DC from Nashville, Tennessee. She carried a sign reading “Stop Calling Violence Feminism,” and she told CNA that she believed there is a “misconception” about feminism because of its embrace of abortion.

Vertrees said she thought it was “amazing” that Trump was coming to address the March for Life, and that she was “so excited” when she found out he would be coming. She stressed that she thought it was important for the president to be physically present at the event.

One young woman was en route to Washington when she found out that Trump would be speaking at the rally. Quinley Fawks, who traveled 22 hours on a bus from Salisbury, Missouri to attend the March for Life, said that finding out Trump was coming heightened her anticipation. 

After it was announced on Wednesday that Trump would be attending the rally, Fawks told CNA, her bus leader made the announcement, and “everyone was really excited. We were surprised and happy.” 

This was Fawks’ second time attending the March for Life, and she said that she made the choice to embark on the long journey because “We’re here to save the babies.” 

One rally attendee who was not excited to see Trump was Clarence Richard of Minnetonka, Minnesota. Richard was dressed as Uncle Sam, and his hat read “U.S. Army Veteran” and “Remove the GOP.” 

Richard was most upset by Trump’s policies at the southern border, which resulted in children being separated from their parents. He carried two dolls, which he said were meant to “represent the young children at the border.” 

While this was Richard’s first March for Life, he said he had been a longtime supporter of the pro-life cause. 

“This is bananas,” said Richard. “We shouldn’t be allowing [Trump] to speak. 

Each year the March for Life winds its way past the Canadian embassy, where a small contingent of Canadians come out to show their support. Valerie Luetke of Oakville, Ontario, was one of the people there this year. 

This said this was her first trip to the March for Life in the United States, but she had attended the Canadian March for Life in Ottawa several times. 

“We just kind of wanted to see how big it is, how passionate [everyone] is, and of course, Trump is speaking,” Luetke said. She told CNA that she found Trump’s speech to be “amazing,” especially because Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, is publicly against the pro-life cause, she said. 

“It’s really inspiring,” she said. “I know not everyone supports him for all of his policies, but I think the fact that he’s here is really amazing.”

States announce pro-life, pro-choice initiatives ahead of March for Life

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- On the eve of the 2020 March for Life in Washington DC, lawmakers in several states announced the introduction of potentially significant pro-life legislation, while others announced efforts to preserve legal protection for abortion.

In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee (R) announced Thursday that the state’s Republican lawmakers would pursue several measures aimed at restrcting abortion including a bill which would ban abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected, which can be around six weeks gestation.

The legislation, which is still under development, would also require a woman seeking an abortion be shown an ultrasound of her baby, and would ban abortions based on race, sex, a Down syndrome diagnosis or the diagnosis of a fetal abnormality.

“We know that when a mother views her unborn child and hears a heartbeat, hearts and minds are changed,” Lee said during the Jan. 23 announcement.

The legislative strategy, the Tennessee Lieutenant Governor says, will be modeled after a bill passed in Missouri which includes abortion bans at various stages of gestation and is designed to stand up to judicial scrutiny.

The proposed Tennessee law includes bans after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as well as at eight, 10, and 12 weeks gestation. The hope is that if one of these bans is struck down in court, the others will stand.

Lee’s office confirmed to The Tennesseean newspaper that the proposed legislation would include an exception allowing for abortions in the case of a mother's life being in danger.

Tennessee lawmakers have pursued a heartbeat bill before, in 2019, but that legislation failed to garner enough support in the Tennessee Senate to advance.

At the time, the Catholic bishops of Tennessee voiced their opposition to a fetal heartbeat law and instead urged alternative legislation less open to legal challenges, stating last February that while they are opposed to abortion, they believe the Heartbeat Bill would fail a likely court challenge. They instead voiced support for “trigger ban” legislation that would ban abortion in the state in the case of the Supreme Court overturning the 1973 Roe v Wade decision.

Georgia’s governor signed a similar heartbeat bill into law during May 2019, but in October 2019 a federal judge blocked the law from coming into force.

In Kentucky, a Senate panel on Thursday approved a bill that would require doctors and other health workers to provide “medically appropriate and reasonable life-saving and life-sustaining medical care and treatment” to any infant born after a failed abortion. Violating the bill would be a felony punishable by 1 to 5 years in prison.

Nearly half of the Kentucky Senate's members have signed on as cosponsors of SB 9, the AP reports.

“Who can dispute that that's a human life?" Sen. Whitney Westerfield, the bill's lead sponsor, told the AP.

“It's outside the womb. It's alive. Who would advocate for it to be killed?...We want to make sure the law's there to punish those that are trying to do it and get away with it.”

Kentucky law already bans abortions after 20 weeks gestation, and other pro-life proposals are already under consideration in the state. One such proposal would amend the state Constitution to specify it includes no protection for abortion rights. Another proposal would ban public funds for any agency that performs or counsels patients about abortion, the AP reports.

On the other side of the abortion debate, a Democratic majority in the Virginia General Assembly this week said they want to make the state a “safe haven” for abortion rights.

A Virginia Senate committee passed a bill Jan. 23 to undo the state’s 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, as well a requirement that women seeking an abortion undergo an ultrasound and counseling, the AP reported.

HB 980 would also roll back state requirements that an abortion be provided by a physician, allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to perform them; and would undo building code requirements on facilities where abortions are performed, the AP reported.

The Virginia Catholic Conference released information on the House bill and its companion Senate bills Jan. 22, urging voters to oppose the measures and encouraging them to attend the Virginia March for Life in Richmond on February 13, 2020.

Governor Ralph Northam, who is supportive of the measures to relax abortion restrictions this year, in 2019 supported the Repeal Act, a bill that would have relaxed laws regarding third-trimester abortions. The bill’s lead sponsor, Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) admitted that there was nothing in her bill that would prevent an abortion from being carried out while a mother was in active labor.

When questioned about this provision in the bill, Northam said that such a case would see the newborn infant be given “comfort care” while a discussion ensued about whether or not to pursue medical intervention. The bill eventually was tabled.

 

California abortion mandate violates federal law, Trump administration says

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 02:23 pm (CNA).- The Trump administration has said that California state policies violate federal law for requiring abortion coverage in religious groups’ health insurance plans – a mandate that Catholic leaders had charged “directly targeted” Catholic universities that had stopped paying for employees’ elective abortions.

California has 30 days to comply with federal law, and failure to comply could threaten its federal funding, Roger Severino, director of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, said in a Jan. 24 conference call with reporters.

Catholic leaders welcomed the Trump administration’s move, which coincided with the March for Life in Washington, D.C. where President Donald Trump became the first president to address the event in person.

“Today’s announcement is extraordinarily good news for the right to life, conscientious objection, religious freedom and the rule of law,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Jan. 24. “For nearly six years, employers in California – including churches – have been forced to fund and facilitate abortions in their health insurance plans in direct violation of a federal conscience protection law known as the Weldon Amendment. This coercive California policy is abhorrent, unjust and illegal.”

The bishops’ statement came from Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chair of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop George Murry, S.J., of Youngstown, who chairs the Committee for Religious Liberty.

The Weldon Amendment, first passed in 2005, bars federal funds to state or local governments if they discriminate against institutional or individual healthcare entities, including health insurance plans, that decline to pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for, abortions.

Severino told reporters the HHS action was a response to complaints from a Catholic mission, Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit, and the California-based Skyline Wesleyan Church, the Washington Post reports.

“There is a process, if we do not reach accord, that could lead to revocation of streams of federal funding,” Severino said. “California is a big consumer of HHS funds. We’re giving them 30 days so that we don’t have to cross that bridge.”

The California Catholic Conference filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights, but the Obama administration rejected the complaint in June 2016.

“We strongly commend the Trump Administration for taking this critical action to enforce federal law and correct this supreme injustice to the people and employers of California,” the U.S. bishops said. “Sadly, violations of federal conscience laws are on the rise. We hope that this enforcement action, and subsequent actions by the Administration, will stop further unlawful discrimination against people who reject abortion as a violation of the most basic human and civil rights.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, was dismissive of the action.

“The Trump administration would rather rile up its base to score cheap political points and risk access to care for millions than do what’s right,” Newsom said. “California will continue to protect a woman’s right to choose, and we won’t back down from defending reproductive freedom for everybody — full stop.”

The Trump administration’s move could have ramifications for at least five other U.S. states with similar mandates, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Oregon Right to Life has filed suit against the 2017 Oregon law requiring health plans to cover abortion. In October 2019, the Thomas More Society challenged a similar Illinois mandate. New York and Washington also require abortion coverage in private health plans.

The California rule was so broad that churches and other religious groups could not secure abortion-free California health plans for their employees. Its history, however, was rooted in an effort of Catholic universities to reform their health plans to become more consistent with their Catholic identity.

In August 2014 California’s Department of Managed Health sent a letter to seven insurance companies stating that they are required to include elective abortions in their health plans. A 1975 state health care law, the California constitution, and court precedent, it said, prohibits health plans “from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy.” The law requires all health plans to “treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally,” the state regulator said.

The action came after the autumn 2013 announcements from two Catholic universities, Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University, which said that they planned to stop paying for employees’ elective abortions. They said their insurers, Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente, had secured approval from state officials.

In an October 2013 letter, Santa Clara University president Father Michael E. Engh, S.J., said that the university’s “core commitments” are incompatible with abortion coverage. Before the policy was revised, Santa Clara’s health plan also provided abortion coverage to dependents of faculty and staff.

The universities’ move against abortion coverage drew praise from Catholic and pro-life groups. However, the policy changes drew strong opposition from pro-abortion politicians and advocacy groups, as well as from many faculty and staff at the historically Jesuit Catholic schools. In December 2013, Santa Clara University faculty rejected the anti-abortion changes to the health care plan by a vote of 215 to 89.

Lobbyists from Planned Parenthood wrote to the California Department of Health and Human Services to insist that agency rules be changed to force religious groups to provide coverage for elective abortions. Emails showing this effort were contained in 2017 court filings from the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group but date to the time of the controversy.

The emails specifically named the two Catholic universities.

The insurers and the universities agreed to comply with the state’s new pro-abortion requirements. However, the state rules drew strong opposition from the California Catholic Conference, which charged that the state government “directly targeted” the two Catholic universities and violated federally guaranteed civil rights by ordering their health insurance plans to cover abortions.

“This is a coercive and discriminatory action by the State of California,” said Bishop Robert McElroy, then an auxiliary bishop of San Francisco and chairman of the state Catholic conference’s Institutional Concerns Committee.

McElroy, who became Bishop of San Diego in 2015, characterized the decision as a demand “directly targeted at Catholic institutions like Santa Clara University, Loyola Marymount University, along with other California employers and citizens.”

“It is a flagrant violation of their civil rights and deepest moral convictions, and is government coercion of the worst kind,” McElroy said Oct. 1, 2014.

In June 2016, the Obama Administration rejected the California Catholic Conference’s federal complaint against the mandate. The HHS Office for Civil Rights said it “found no violation of the Weldon Amendment and is closing this matter without further action.”

At that time, leaders with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said it was “shocking” that the federal government allowed California to force all employers, including churches, to fund and facilitate elective abortions.

“Even those who disagree on the issue of life should be able to respect the conscience rights of those who wish not to be involved in supporting abortion,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore said in June 2016. They objected that the ruling was “contrary to the plain meaning of the law” and called for Congress to pass the Conscience Protection Act.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, praised the Trump administration’s move against the California policy.

“Abortion is not health care and no American should ever be forced to participate in the destruction of innocent human life,” said Dannenfelser, who also co-chairs the Pro-Life Voices for Trump National Advisory Board ahead of the 2020 election.

'Pro-Life is Pro-Woman': The 2020 March for Life

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A crowd estimated in at least the tens of thousands flooded the National Mall for the March for Life on Friday.

The annual gathering draws pro-life advocates from all over the U.S. and foreign countries to Washington, D.C., marking the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Jan. 22, 1973 decision that legalized abortion.

The march was kicked off by a rally on the National Mall attended by thousands, where President Donald Trump became the first U.S. president to address the March for Life. He did so while Democratic House trial managers were making the case for his impeachment in the U.S. Senate.

"Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House,” Trump said. “Every life brings love into this world. Every child brings joy to a family. Every person is worth protecting."

The president highlighted recent state-level efforts to expand abortion to include all nine months of pregnancy, singling out legislation passed in New York last year as well as controversial comments by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D).

Trump was joined on stage by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), March for Life president Jeanne Mancini, Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony List, and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), and others.

Other speakers at the rally included political figures from both Republican and Democratic parties: the First Lady of Louisiana, Donna Bel Edwards; House Minority WHIP Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.); Louisiana State Sen. Katrina Jackson (D); U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.); and Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List and co-chair of the Trump 2020 campaign’s pro-life coalition.

“Today, as President of the United States, I am truly proud to stand with you,” Trump said at the rally, noting that the March was “to defend the right of every child, born and unborn, to fulfill their God-given potential.”

“Every child is a precious and sacred gift from God,” he said.

Following the speeches from the rally’s main stage, the march proper began, progressing up the National Mall towards the Supreme Court.

Carrying the giant March for Life banner at the front of the crowd is regarded as a privilege, bestowed on a different group each year.

For 2020, students at Oakcrest School in McLean, Virginia—a Catholic all-girls middle and high school—led the march. Oakcrest administrators said that the school had a long history of supporting life and participating in the march each year, with classes suspended for the day to allow students and teachers to attend. The banner was carried by members of the school’s student-run Respect Life Club.

Behind Oakcrest, students at Colorado Christian University carried flags ahead of the main body of the march. The estimated tens of thousands of marchers moved up the National Mall towards the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill were a few hundred pro-abortion demonstrators had gathered earlier in the day.

Now in its forty-seveth year, the theme of the 2020 march,“Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman,” was chosen to mark the centennial anniversay of women’s right to vote in the United States with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. The march’s theme was chosen to counter the narrative put forward by abortion supporters that the practice “empowers” women. 

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, told CNA when the theme was announced that “we primarily chose it because of the centennial” and to show that real “empowerment” meant valuing the lives of mothers and their unborn children.

In an op-ed published Friday morning, Mancini said that “abortion does not improve the lives of women and, unlike many who claim to be part of the women’s movement today, the suffragists wanted no part of it.”

“Abortion not only destroys women’s offspring, it can also cause lasting physical harm and psychological trauma. It’s a violent step backward that disproportionately affects women,” Mancini said.

“It has been 100 years since the suffragists won women the right to vote. They did so over time with single-minded focus and perseverance, and, in the end, gave voice to their voiceless sisters."

"We should not take for granted the progress they made. This November, we should use their victory to give voice to the voiceless unborn. They too deserve equal rights and protection under the law,” said Mancini.