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Pope says 'false dichotomy' exists between religious ethics, business

Vatican City, May 26, 2018 / 04:24 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis Saturday criticized what he said is a “tragic” and false dichotomy that has been created between religious ethics and the economic-financial sector of society, telling business leaders that the two are not only compatible, but necessary for social advancement.  

“All too often, a tragic and false dichotomy – analogous to the artificial rift between science and faith – has developed between the ethical teachings of our religious traditions and the practical concerns of today’s business community,” the pope said May 26.

However, there is “a natural circularity between profit and social responsibility,” and there is an “indissoluble connection” between an ethics that respects both the human person and the common good, and the functionality of economic and financial systems, he said.

This ethical dimension of social and economic interaction “cannot be imported into social life and activity from without, but must arise from within,” he said, adding that this is a long-term goal that requires the commitment of all persons and institutions in society.

Pope Francis spoke to members of the Centesimus Annus-Pro Pontefice institution, who are in Rome May 24-26 for an international convention titled “New policies and lifestyles in the digital age,” marking their 25th anniversary.

The foundation was founded in 1993 by St. John Paul II to study and promote Catholic social teaching.

Among the high-profile participants in the gathering was Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who gave a lengthy keynote speech on the last day of the conference.

Sitting beside Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and the president of Centesimus Annus Domingo Sugranyes Bickel, Bartholomew condemned a widespread culture of consumerism and indifference, and advocated for greater solidarity and collaboration in pursuing human development in an increasingly globalized world.

During the conference, Bartholomew met with both Pope Francis and retired pontiff Benedict XVI. He spoke to Benedict Friday, and he met Francis in a private audience at the Vatican Saturday morning.

In his speech, Pope Francis spoke on themes brought up in the recent Vatican document Oeconomicae et pecuniariae quaestiones, (Economic and financial issues), published by Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

He said current financial and social challenges faced by the global community “have an undeniable ethical dimension” and are related “to a mentality of egoism and exclusion that has effectively created a culture of waste blind to the human dignity of the most vulnerable.”

This can be seen by the increasing “globalization of indifference” in front of blatant moral challenges humanity faces, he said, citing migration and a lack of development not only in materially poor countries, but also increasingly in the “opulence of the developed world.”

Referring to the conference theme, Francis noted how one major threat to families is a lack of stable jobs and the impact of the “digital cultural revolution,” which he said is “a vital area in which the solidarity of the Church is actively needed” and is a key theme in the upcoming Synod of Bishops on young people.

When it comes to ensuring a better future for young people and families, Francis said ecumenical cooperation “is of especial importance,” and cited the presence of Patriarch Bartholomew at the conference as “an eloquent sign of this common responsibility.”

Pope Francis closed his speech urging attendees to “persevere in these efforts which contribute to the building of a global culture of economic justice, equality and inclusion.”

In the footsteps of a saint – St Philip Neri's Rome

Rome, Italy, May 26, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The 16th century St. Philip Neri is known for joyful holiness and for the foundation of the Congregation of the Oratory, but the legacy he left in Rome can still be traced today, even walking in the saint’s very footsteps.

Called the “Third Apostle of Rome,” Neri came to the city from Florence at a time of religious and cultural upheaval after the Sack of Rome in 1527 and, desiring to be a missionary in India, discovered he was being called to evangelize Rome instead.

Today remainders of St. Philip Neri’s life can still be found in the Eternal City – from the rooms where he started the Oratory, to the churches he prayed in, to the streets he walked.

One well-known tradition Neri began is the Seven Churches Pilgrimage. While still a layman, Neri noticed many people had lost sight of the joy of the Gospel, and therefore started leading “walks” to important churches in Rome.

These mini pilgrimages would include music and laughter, in keeping with the saint’s cheerful personality, and were a way of encouraging young people to discover the faith through visiting historically significant churches in the city.

Many people still go on this urban pilgrimage annually. “It is a way in which you can really grow in faith, not only through the beauty of the churches, but also through the history of the places,” said Carlo Munns, an author and expert on the saint.

St. Philp Neri felt faith was like “climbing a mountain,” Munns told CNA. “Climbing a mountain by yourself is very dangerous, but if you can do it together, in a community, it’s better.”

He called the “saint of joy,” Munns said, “because he said that faith should be lived in hope and joy.”

“Yes, you need to repent, you have to understand and deeply live your faith, but always in joy.”

Catacombs of San Sebastiano

One of the significant places early in the life of St. Philip Neri are the Catacombs of San Sebastiano, which are found outside the city center, beneath the Appian Way. Here Neri would go to pray during the night.

One night, about 10 years after he arrived in Rome, Neri had a “mystical experience in which a globe of fire entered his chest and exploded inside, ruining his chest, his ribs, and doubling the size of his heart,” Munns said.

“This experience marked him for life,” not only physically, Munns noted, but also because he “understood that the Spirit wanted him to spend his life for Rome.”

At the time, these catacombs were the only ones discovered in Rome, though now there are many more which can be visited by the public today, including San Sebastiano.

San Girolamo della Carita

Located near the famous Roman landmark of Campo dei Fiori, the narrow historic streets of the neighborhood of the church of San Girolamo della Carita are the very same the saint walked; and faded paintings of the saint can be spotted on random street corners in the area.

The church was built on the site of a devout Roman woman’s house where St. Jerome stayed in the 4th century when he was compiling the Vulgate – the principal Latin version of the Bible used by the Catholic Church.

After being ordained a priest in 1551, Neri came to live at San Girolamo. There he would meet many friends, among them St. Charles Borromeo and St. Ignatius of Loyola. It is also where he informally started his congregation of priests, called the “Oratory,” which received papal recognition in 1575.

The saint’s rooms and private chapel, located above the church, can be visited with an advance reservation with the Sisters of St. Philip Neri, who maintain the church.

Another way to experience the life of the saint is through music, the rector of San Girolamo della Carita, Fr. Filippo Goyret, told CNA. Many churches in Rome put on beautiful concerts of classical music free of charge, including San Girolamo. Music, Goyret said, was very much “part of the spirit of St. Philip Neri.”

San Giovanni dei Fiorentini

From San Girolamo, a stretch of the historic Via Giulia connects to Piazza dell’Oro and San Giovanni dei Fiorentini. This church was built starting in 1523 by Florentines living in Rome.

After he was ordained a priest, Neri served as rector at the Florentine parish for about a dozen years, though he continued to live down the street at San Girolamo.

In the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini is a side chapel dedicated to the saint, with a bust of his head and a painting depicting him with the Virgin Mary, as well as a simple, wooden cross he used to pray before.

Neri discovered the ancient cross at the church when he became rector, Munns said, noting that the saint considered the symbol of the cross to be vital to his relationship with Christ.

Munns explained that Neri had realized his mission in Rome was to follow the example of Christ in bringing healing to people in hospitals, and in Rome at the time “there was a lot to heal in terms of both physical and spiritual needs.”

“He took strength for this mission from this cross.”

Chiesa Nuova

From San Giovanni, just five minutes down one of the historic center’s main streets, lies the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella – commonly called “Chiesa Nuova,” or the New Church – where St. Philip Neri spent the final 12 years of his life.

The church received the nickname of “New Church” because it was built on the site of a smaller parish church the Oratory had outgrown.

This church – the headquarters so-to-speak of all the Oratories of St. Philip Neri around the world – houses the saint’s mortal remains, which can be found in the Blessed Sacrament chapel to the left of the main altar.

Next to the church are the rooms where he lived, along with numerous relics, which can be visited on select Saturdays and by advance appointment.

In Chiesa Nuova is also where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Neri in 1594. The vision is depicted in a large painting over his tomb.

This church is where St. Philip Neri spent his final days, passing away in the early hours of May 26, 1595, after a day spent joyfully hearing confessions and saying Mass for the feast of Corpus Christi.

He was beatified in 1615 by Paul V and canonized by Gregory XV in 1622, fewer than 30 years after his death.

The saint is commemmorated May 26 with a third class feast in the extraordinary form, and a memorial in the ordinary form.

Letter to George Clooney: Help stop frivolous 'hate group' charges

Los Angeles, Calif., May 25, 2018 / 03:59 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Southern Poverty Law Center is wrongly targeting social conservative organizations as “hate groups,” and George Clooney, a major financial supporter of the law center, should demand better, one commentator said this week.

Chuck Donovan is an author, policy researcher and president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research and education arm of the pro-life political advocacy group the Susan B. Anthony List.

However, he wrote to Clooney in a personal capacity, encouraging the star to use his influence to help persuade the SPLC to avoid its “embittering and unproductive campaigns to label any political or social issue opponent as a hate group.”

“This tactic is injurious both to the reputations of some outstanding people and to the flourishing of the common good,” Donovan charged in an open letter published May 20 at the Public Discourse website. It is a betrayal of “the honorable history of the SPLC’s founding in opposition to the denial of civil rights to African Americans, he said.

Last year, the Clooney Foundation for Justice announced a $1 million gift for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

Based in Montgomery, Ala., the SPLC was founded in 1971 with the original stated aim of monitoring persons and groups fighting the civil rights movement. It began to track racist and white supremacist groups like neo-Nazis and affiliates of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1980s. It monitors other groups it considers extremist, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim.

More recently, however, it has labeled as “hate groups” Christian organizations that believe in marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

In recent months, several groups were removed from the charitable donation program Amazon Smile based on the SPLC’s designation of them as “hate groups.”

Amazon told the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian religious liberty legal organization, that the “hate group” designation made it ineligible for the program.

The SPLC has also listed as “hate groups” other mainstream Christian-backed advocacy groups like the Family Research Council and the Ruth Institute, a non-profit group that studies and explains the effects of the sexual revolution. The SPLC said they have an “anti-LGBT” stance.

Donovan suggested that George Clooney can lead the way to help civilize public life.

“There is great ugliness on the national scene. God has given you the ability to speak to millions of people around the world and to capture their attention,” he said in his letter, encouraging the star to “take a closer look at a good number of the SPLC’s scattershot targets, including Alliance Defending Freedom, the Ruth Institute, Coral Ridge Ministries, and many more.

“The vituperation the SPLC levels at some public policy groups it disagrees with is part of the problem, not the solution,” said Donovan.

He focused on the “hate group” label placed on the Family Research Council. After finding this designation on the SPLC website, a man named Floyd Corkins decided to attack the Christian organization in 2012. Corkins entered the Family Research Council building with a gun and shot building manager Leo Johnson in the arm before Johnson wrestled him to the ground. Corkins later told authorities that he wanted to kill as many employees as possible because of the group’s opposition to gay marriage.

Donovan said Johnson “recognized the humanity of the attacker in front of him, and he refrained from violence.”

“This is the accurate picture I know of Leo and the other people at FRC. They have deep convictions. They hate no one,” he said in his letter to Clooney.

“It should be to our credit that we can debate deep differences and emerge from these debates with mutual respect and a willingness to continue discussions in the interest of building a better nation.”

In Donovan’s view, Clooney roots his views in his Midwestern upbringing and hard work throughout his life. He asked Clooney, “please keep in mind that there are people just like you in all these respects who, because of different views on some questions, are being unfairly and even dangerously vilified.”

Donovan said he is sure he and Clooney do not differ about “truly odious groups” that the SPLC opposes, like the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

However, he encouraged Clooney to reject efforts to depict Christian views on life and marriage as akin to bigotry and hatred.

“Certainly, each of these issues generates argument and disagreement, but for the life of me I cannot fathom, and completely reject, the idea that these values have anything to do with abhorrent racism and hatred.”

 

Papal agency raises funds to help Christians remain in the Middle East

Ottawa, Canada, May 25, 2018 / 03:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic Near East Welfare Association in Canada is launching a fundraising campaign to help Christians in the Middle East remain in their homelands.

The fundraising campaign launched May 16 is known as “Christians Can't Survive Without You”.

“This campaign’s very important purpose is to tell Canadian Catholics that they should care about the presence of Christians in the Middle East, because they are the leaven of peace in the Middle East,” Carl Hétu, CNEWA Canada's executive director, told The Catholic Register.

“If we turn our backs on what’s happening in the Middle East, particularly to the Christians of the Middle East, then we’re turning our back on ourselves as Christians,” he added.

Since the Iraq War which began in 2003, the number of Christians in the Middle East has plummeted. In addition to conflict in Iraq, the Syrian Civil War has also pushed many Christians out, as have economic pressure, discrimination, and persecution.

CNEWA noted that “Over the past 15 years, over 2.5 million Middle East Christians have been forced out of their homes. They desperately need your help.”

“We are one body in Christ united with Christians in the Middle East. Their struggles are our struggles and it is our responsibility to help our brothers and sisters there to keep our faith alive,” the agency stated.

In recent years, CNEWA has worked to set up schools, nurseries, and medical clinics in Iraq to serve Christians who were displaced by the Islamic State. It also supports St. Peter Patriarchal Seminary in Erbil.

CNEWA was founded in 1926 to give pastoral and humanitarian support to the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India, and Eastern Europe. An agency of the Vatican, the group supports the Eastern Catholic Churches.

Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, board president of CNEWA Canada, said that an attack on Middle East Christians “is an attack on the values Christians promote worldwide. To lose Christianity in the region would be a devastating loss.”

Maronite Patriarch of Antioch Bechara Boutros Rai said last year at the In Defense of Christians summit that “The conflicts that have beset the Middle East have driven out millions of busy citizens, including so many Christians, and with their exodus, our region becomes more extreme, more dangerous to the outside world.

Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch John X Yazigi said, “We as Christians in the Middle East: we are going to remain and stay there. We are not strangers in that part of the world: we are people of light and of truth.”

Catholic priest in DRC quarantined as Ebola outbreak continues

Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of the Congo, May 25, 2018 / 01:52 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Catholic priest has contracted the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo amid a continuing outbreak that began in the nation earlier this month.

The priest, whose name was not released, serves in the eastern diocese of Mbandaka-Bikoro, which has around 1 million residents. Medical sources told AFP that the priest who tested positive for Ebola has been quarantined.

The Catholic priest joins more than 50 other individuals in the nation infected with Ebola, according to new statistics released by the Congolese Health Ministry on May 25. The new figures reflect recent lab tests on bodies and show a lower death toll than originally reported, confirming 22 deaths from Ebola instead of 27.

Extremely contagious and highly deadly, Ebola gained major international attention during the 2014-2016 epidemic in West Africa that left more than 11,000 people dead.

In the latest outbreak in DRC, the first case of Ebola was reported on May 8 in the rural Equateur province near Bikoro, and later spread to Mbandaka. The World Health Organization has said that the chances of Ebola spreading to other parts of the nation are “very high.”

Efforts to contain the fatal disease were set in motion by the nation’s health ministry last week, as officials administered Ebola vaccines to more than 600 people on May 21. Most of the doses were given to medical staff and those in close contact with Ebola patients.

President Joseph Kabila also approved an increase in Ebola emergency funds to $4 million, while various aid organizations such as Catholic Relief Services have been working to educate locals on the best protocols to prevent and fight Ebola.

The World Health Organization is also responding by sending health workers and medical supplies to the affected areas, while UNICEF has installed hand-washing stations in more than 50 schools.

Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, a pioneer in the field of Ebola from its first identification in 1976 in DRC, believes that previous experience will be of use to containing the disease.

“I am confident because I think we have very good experience of this disease and we’ll stop this outbreak as soon as possible,” Muyembe told the BBC.

“We have some experience of managing this kind of an outbreak in a city. I don’t think we’ll have the kind of situation witnessed in West Africa in 2014,” he continued, adding that he was “positively surprised” by most of the affected areas that he visited.

However, containment of the virus heavily relies on quarantine and isolation. On Monday, three Ebola patients were removed from their treatment centers by their families and taken to church for a prayer service. This was considered a major breech in the medical protocol for Ebola treatment and prevention.

“Patient adherence is paramount,” read a statement from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the medical agency running the treatment centers. The agency said that “forced hospitalization is not the solution to this epidemic,” although it is making efforts to convince patients to remain in their isolation units.

Ebola, which has no known cure, has proven fatal in as high as 90 percent of cases, depending on the strand of the virus. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pains and occasional bleeding. It is primarily spread through contact with bodily fluids.

 

Pope makes surprise visit to school named after book-loving child

Rome, Italy, May 25, 2018 / 11:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his most recent “mercy Friday” outing, Pope Francis visited a school recently named after a little girl who passed away, but who left her mark on the institute when a international library was created in her honor.

Established in the 1950s, the school – originally named the Comprehensive Institute of Via Rocca Camastra – is a state school that expanded to four other locations in the 1970s, and just this year received permission to be renamed as the Comprehensive Institute of Elisa Scala.

Elisa Scala is the name of a little girl who attended the school, but who died in 2015 at the age of 11 from a form of fulminant leukemia. After her death, Scala's parents launched a project in the school aimed at sharing Elisa's passion for books and libraries.

With their help, a small space called “Elisa's Library” was established, and a project called “Give a Book for Elisa” was launched in order to fill the space with books.

Donations came in the thousands. Some 20,000 books in different languages from all over Italy, Europe and even Australia now line the shelves of the library, which is included on the list of public libraries in Rome.

According to a Vatican communique on the pope's surprise May 25 visit to the school, Francis arrived around 4 p.m. local time and was greeted by Scala's parents, Giorgio and Maria, as well as the director of the school, Claudia Gentili, and hundreds of children who attend the institute.

Pope Francis gave Scala's parents several books to put in the library, all of which were dedicated to Elisa.

The children then sang for the pope, and he greeted the dean, staff, parents and students present before heading back to the Vatican.

Pope Francis' visit to the school is a continuation of his “Mercy Friday” custom, which he began in 2016 during the Jubilee of Mercy.

Originally planned once per month for the duration of the jubilee, the pope has continued the tradition after the end of the jubilee as a means of practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. He has met with refugees, children, women freed from sex trafficking, and the terminally ill, among others.

 

American seminarians to battle for the title in Rome soccer tournament

Rome, Italy, May 25, 2018 / 10:29 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For the first time in five years, seminarians and student priests from the North American College in Rome will hit the soccer field to battle it out for the winning title in the city’s holiest tournament – the Clericus Cup.

An annual soccer tournament among the priests and seminarians of Rome’s pontifical universities, the Clericus Cup started in 2007. In 11 years, the North American College has been in the semi-finals six times, even snagging first place back-to-back in 2012 and 2013.

But since then, the North American Martyrs have fallen short of the final four. Until now, when they have the opportunity for redemption May 26 in a face-off against the reigning champs, the Pontifical Urban University.

It has been long enough since 2013 that none of the team’s 25 or so players, even the most senior, have witnessed a tournament win for the Martyrs.

Making it to the final “is exciting,” said Fr. Timothy Wratkowski, a fifth-year student from the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. A defensive player, he said it is great to see “the last five years come together. We view it as a really fun opportunity.”

Team coach, Deacon Drew Olson from the Diocese of Madison, said the key difference this year is a talented crop of new players from this year’s first-year students. Starter Paul Floersch, who is studying for the Archdiocese of Omaha, was identified as one of the team’s most valuable players.

But Wratkowski said that in general they have all grown as soccer players in the last year, increasing communication and mutual support among each other.

Another “tweak” the Martyrs made this year was adding a short spiritual reflection before the start of practices to connect “the spiritual life to what we’re doing as a team,” said Will Nyce, a third-year seminarian and team captain.

“But you have to back that up with nature,” he continued, laughing, “so we ran more this year too. I think we’re more in shape.”

Earlier in the season, the North American Martyrs lost 2-1 in a match against the Urbaniana, so Saturday’s game is likely to be close. Hailing largely from African countries, the other team fields very fast, very technically skilled attackers, so the game will be a challenge for the Martyr’s defense, Olson said.

They will also have to be careful not to “lose the mental game” if referee calls do not go their way.

The Martyr’s pre-game rituals this year have included Morning Prayer together at the college and “American pump-up music” on the way to the field. As one of the few teams with players all from the same country, Clericus Cup organizers also let them play the American national anthem before the match.

As team captain, Nyce, who studies for the Diocese of Arlington, was part of a group of Clericus Cup representatives who met Pope Francis after the General Audience May 23. He said he told the pope the American seminarians and priests “on the hill” were praying for him. “[The pope] seemed really happy to see us,” he said.

Overall, the past few months of games and practices have been “a wonderful joy, a way to share leisure time together, a way to share something in common and then to get to know guys in the house that we might not know well otherwise,” Nyce said.

Though not a part of formal seminary formation, playing sports can benefit men studying for the priesthood because sports “are a major part of people’s lives,” Wratkowski noted. “In the parish a lot of kids participate in sports… We can be present to them in that [showing them] what it means to be a Christian who plays sports.”

Being on the field can bring out a different side of a person, with all different emotions, from joy to disagreement, he continued. Playing soccer with their brothers in the seminary is a good training ground “to learn how to play in a truly Christian way.”

Nyce said that playing sports is also a way to learn to “enjoy the good things that God gives you in a healthy way. Fraternity, good exercise, health – it is good for our all-around well-being.”

He also pointed out St. Paul’s use of running as a metaphor for the moral life. Sports require “discipline, teamwork and giving of yourself for a goal that’s greater than yourself,” he said, something priests “are called to do for our brothers and sisters.”

Pope Francis sends poor, needy to major Roman sporting event

Vatican City, May 25, 2018 / 05:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Next week the poor, homeless, refugees, migrants and needy around Rome will be offered free tickets to the city's Golden Gala, an international track and field event that happens annually in the Eternal City.

Set to take place in Rome's Olympic stadium May 31, the gala will begin at 2p.m., with the last event starting at 10:25p.m. Events slated for the gala include a discus throw, relay races, pole vault jumps, hurdles and Paralympic courses for both men and women.

The gala was established in 1980 by Italian sports official and then-president of the Italian Athletics Federation (FIDAL) Primo Nebiolo as a way to gather athletes and individuals from the United States and NATO countries who boycotted the Moscow Olympics in wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Francis' guests will enter the event free of charge thanks to FIDAL, and they will be accompanied by volunteers from the Community of Sant'Egidio, the Cooperativa Auxilium – an Italian co-op that offers welfare services to the disadvantaged – and Athletica Vaticana, the running association for employees of the Holy See.

The goal of the event, according to the papal almoner's office, is to offer the poor “an evening of celebration and friendship through the beauty of [sports]” and to place greater emphasis on the importance of hospitality and solidarity.
 
In addition to their free entry, those who come with the papal almoner will be offered a sack dinner.

Such initiatives on the part of the pope are not uncommon. He frequently invites the poor, homeless, migrants and refugees to special events such as concerts, tours of the Vatican Museums and days at the beach. Showers and haircuts are also available inside St. Peter's Square courtesy of the papal almoner.

The man who heads the papal charity office, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, was recent tapped by Francis to become a cardinal. He will get his red hat from the pope during a June 29 consistory, showing the importance Pope Francis places on service to the poor.

After punishing Christian cake baker, Colo. civil rights board revised

Denver, Colo., May 25, 2018 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new law will revise the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, after the commission gained attention when its decision in a free speech case involving a Christian cake baker was taken to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Before the Colorado law was changed, the governor was allowed to appoint all seven commission members, with no more than four being from the governor’s own party.

The new law, signed by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper May 22, now limits the governor to appointing three Democrats, three Republicans and one unaffiliated as commissioners. Four members must be from classes protected by law, three members must be considered workers, and three members must be serving as business owners.

The commission will now be subject to legislative audit as well. The new law says that if a commissioner has been rejected by the state senate, the governor cannot re-appoint him or her to the commission for a period of two years, the Denver Post reports.

The changes come following a February vote by Republicans on the Colorado legislature’s Joint Budget Committee to withhold funding from the commission until legislative changes were made. The commission reviews allegations of discrimination and makes policy recommendations.

Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission was involved in a case that is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case involves baker Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakes in the Denver suburb of Lakewood.

In 2012, Phillips was sued by a same-sex couple after he declined to make a wedding cake for them on the grounds that doing so would violate his religious beliefs. Phillips had offered to create a different cake for the couple. The couple was able to obtain a rainbow-themed cake from a bakery near Phillips’ cake shop.

Colorado law did not recognize same-sex unions as marriages at the time.

The couple took the case before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which ruled that by declining to make the cake, the baker had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law categorizing sexual orientation as a protected class.

In the commission’s unanimous vote against the baker, then-Commissioner Diane Rice said: “Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be—I mean, we ... can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use—…to use their religion to hurt others.”

The lawsuit was decided in favor of the plaintiffs in 2013, and a Colorado judge ordered Phillips to receive anti-discrimination training and to serve same-sex weddings or stop serving weddings altogether.

He chose to stop serving weddings through his bakery, which he had opened in 1993.

Phillips lost appeals at the state level, and the Colorado Supreme Court declined to take the case. In June 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, known as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

Attorneys for the baker have argued that forcing Phillips to advance a message about marriage that is contrary to his faith violates the Constitution’s protections for free speech.

In oral arguments in December 2017, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy had asked whether the commission decision could stand if at least one member based his or her decision “in significant part” on grounds of “hostility to religion.”

Kennedy appeared critical of the commission, saying, “Tolerance is essential in a free society. And tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual… It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs.”

At the same time, the justice had wondered whether a victory for the plaintiff’s argument would enable discrimination.

“It means that there’s basically an ability to boycott gay marriages,” said Kennedy, who is considered a swing vote in the case.

“If you prevail, could the bakery put a sign in its window, ‘We do not make cakes for gay weddings’?” Kennedy asked Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco. “And you would not posit that an affront to the gay community?”

Francisco, who backed Phillips’ case, suggested that the baker could say he does not make “custom-made wedding cakes for gay weddings, but most cakes would not cross that threshold.” While there are dignity interests at stake, Francisco said, and he would not minimize the same-sex couple’s dignity interests, “there are dignity interests on the other side here too.”

Phillips declines to bake other kinds of cakes that promote ideas at odds with his beliefs, such as cakes that portray anti-American, atheist, or racist messages or disparage members of the LGBT community, his attorneys said. Phillips also declines to create custom cakes for other events he is uncomfortable supporting, such as Halloween and bachelor parties.

Since the litigation started, Phillips has said that he has lost more than 40 percent of his business due to his inability to serve any weddings. As a result, he has lost nearly half of his employees, and now struggles to keep in business.

He has also received death threats and has voiced concern for the safety of family members.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Phillips.

Bishops urge Nicaraguan president to investigate violence against protestors

Managua, Nicaragua, May 24, 2018 / 05:10 pm (ACI Prensa).- Nicaragua's bishops urged president Daniel Ortega Tuesday to comply with a recommendation that he investigate April's violence in order to facilitate talks between the opposition and his government.

The Nicaraguan bishops' conference's May 22 letter encouraged Ortega to create “a mechanism of international investigation of the acts of violence which occurred, with guarantees of autonomy and independence to ensure the right to the truth and duly identify those responsible.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visited Nicaragua May 17-21 to document human rights violations in four cities and to issue recommendations.

The commission found that since protests began April 18, there were at least 76 deaths and 868 injured, the vast majority “in the context of the protests.” Five of those injured “remain in the hospital in critical condition.” In addition, “438 people were arrested, including students, civilians, men and women human rights advocates and journalists.”

A priest of the Diocese of Matagalpa was wounded by shrapnel May 15 while trying to separate protestors and security forces, the AP reported.

In their letter the bishops stated that “only by fulfilling this recommendation of the IACHR” will the stakeholders be able “to continue making progress toward a good outcome to the national dialogue.”

They also stressed that agreeing to this “becomes imperative for the well being of the nation” and so that the talks produce “fruitful results of truth, justice, freedom and true and lasting peace for all Nicaraguans.”

Finally, the bishops offered their disposition "to collaborate in the path to peace, with justice.”  

“We respectfully greet you, imploring the light of the Holy Spirit for you and the intercession of the Virgin Mary so that you can make the best decisions,” they concluded.

On the same day, May 22, the bishop's conference charged in a statement that bishops and priests are being discredited by attacks orchestrated by the government and that they have been receiving death threats through “anonymous social media” posts.

The bishops stated that Nicaragua is currently  going through “one of the worst crises in its history after the blatant crackdown by the government, which is trying to evade its responsibility as the main actor in the various attacks.”

Talks to overcome several weeks of anti-government protests and riots in Nicaragua which have been met harshly by security forces began May 16 under the mediation of the Catholic Church.

Protests began April 18 after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests have only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces.

Demonstrators have called for freedom of expression, an end to violent repression, and for Ortega to step down from office. The Church in the country was quick to acknowledge the protestors' complaints.

Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

He was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.