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Wednesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Reading I Ezr 9:5-9

At the time of the evening sacrifice, I, Ezra, rose in my wretchedness,
and with cloak and mantle torn I fell on my knees,
stretching out my hands to the LORD, my God.

I said: “My God, I am too ashamed and confounded to raise my face to you,
O my God, for our wicked deeds are heaped up above our heads
and our guilt reaches up to heaven.
From the time of our fathers even to this day
great has been our guilt,
and for our wicked deeds we have been delivered up,
we and our kings and our priests,
to the will of the kings of foreign lands,
to the sword, to captivity, to pillage, and to disgrace,
as is the case today.

“And now, but a short time ago, mercy came to us from the LORD, our God,
who left us a remnant and gave us a stake in his holy place;
thus our God has brightened our eyes
and given us relief in our servitude.
For slaves we are, but in our servitude our God has not abandoned us;
rather, he has turned the good will
of the kings of Persia toward us.
Thus he has given us new life
to raise again the house of our God and restore its ruins,
and has granted us a fence in Judah and Jerusalem.”

Responsorial Psalm Tobit 13:2, 3-4a, 4befghn, 7-8

R.    (1b) Blessed be God, who lives for ever.
He scourges and then has mercy;
    he casts down to the depths of the nether world,
    and he brings up from the great abyss.
No one can escape his hand.
R.    Blessed be God, who lives for ever.
Praise him, you children of Israel, before the Gentiles,
    for though he has scattered you among them,
    he has shown you his greatness even there.
R.    Blessed be God, who lives for ever.
So now consider what he has done for you,
    and praise him with full voice.
Bless the Lord of righteousness,
    and exalt the King of ages.
R.    Blessed be God, who lives for ever.
In the land of my exile I praise him
    and show his power and majesty to a sinful nation.
R.    Blessed be God, who lives for ever.
Bless the Lord, all you his chosen ones,
    and may all of you praise his majesty.
Celebrate days of gladness, and give him praise.
R.    Blessed be God, who lives for ever.

Alleluia Mk 1:15

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Kingdom of God is at hand;
repent and believe in the Gospel.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Lk 9:1-6

Jesus summoned the Twelve and gave them power and authority
over all demons and to cure diseases,
and he sent them to proclaim the Kingdom of God
and to heal the sick.
He said to them, “Take nothing for the journey,
neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money,
and let no one take a second tunic.
Whatever house you enter, stay there and leave from there.
And as for those who do not welcome you,
when you leave that town,
shake the dust from your feet in testimony against them.”
Then they set out and went from village to village
proclaiming the good news and curing diseases everywhere.

- - -

Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine; Psalm refrain © 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither this work nor any part of it may be reproduced, distributed, performed or displayed in any medium, including electronic or digital, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Church in Poland and protection of minors: from unprepared to informed

Both the Church and society in Poland were unprepared to face the crisis caused by the sexual abuse of minors. Negative reactions prevailed at first. In the last few years, thanks to journalists and clear direction from the Holy See, the Church in Poland has learned how to create an integrated structure for the protection of minors and the support of victims.

Australia: Earthquake strikes near Melbourne

A magnitude 5.9 earthquake strikes southeast Australia, causing damage in the city of Melbourne.

St. Thomas of Villanova

St. Thomas of Villanova

Feast date: Sep 22

On Sept. 22, the Catholic Church remembers Saint Thomas of Villanova, a 16th century Spanish Augustinian monk and archbishop who lived a life of austerity in order to provide for the spiritual and material needs of his people.

Born during 1488 in the Spanish region of Castile, in the town of Villanova de los Infantes, Thomas Garcia was raised to take after the faith and charitable works of his parents Alphonsus and Lucia. His father, a mill worker, regularly distributed food and provisions to the poor, as did his mother.

Generous and devout from an early age, their son was also intellectually gifted, beginning his studies at the University of Alcala at age 16. Within ten years he had become a professor of philosophy at that same university, where he taught for two years before being offered a more prestigious position at the University of Salamanca.

Thomas, however, chose not to continue his academic career. After his father’s death, he had determined to leave much of his inheritance to the poor and sick rather than retaining it himself. At age 28, after much deliberation, Thomas embraced a life of chastity, poverty, and religious obedience with his entry into the monastic Order of St. Augustine.

Thomas made his first vows as an Augustinian in 1517 and was ordained a priest in 1518. He taught theology within his order and became renowned for his eloquent and effective preaching in the churches of Salamanca. This led to his appointment as a court preacher and adviser to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

Presented with the prospect of being named an archbishop, Thomas initially declined and instead continued his work within the Order of St. Augustine, during a period that saw its expansion across the sea to Mexico. In August of 1544, however, he was ordered by his religious superiors to accept his appointment as the Archbishop of Valencia.

Thomas arrived wearing the same well-worn monastic habit that he had worn for several years and would continue wearing for years to come. Given a donation to decorate his residence, he funnelled the money to a hospital in need of repair. After his installation, he visited local prisons and ordered changes to be made in response to their inhumane conditions.

While continuing his life of monastic asceticism, the archbishop worked to improve the spiritual lives and living conditions of the faithful. He gave special attention to the needs of the poor, feeding and sheltering them in his own residence. During the same period he worked to promote education, restore religious orthodoxy, and reform the lifestyles of clergy and laypersons.

After 11 years leading the Archdiocese of Valencia, St. Thomas of Villanova succumbed to a heart condition at the end of a Mass held in his home on Sept. 8, 1555. He is said to have died on the floor rather than in his bed, which he insisted on offering to a poor man who had come to his house. Pope Alexander VII canonized him in 1658.

Pope at Audience: Budapest & Slovakia visit was ‘pilgrimage of prayer, hope’

At his weekly General Audience, Pope Francis reflects on last week’s Apostolic Journey to Budapest and Slovakia, calling it a pilgrimage to the roots of prayer and hope.

Diocese, former orphanage residents in Vermont differ in views of recovery process

null / Manfred Antranias Zimmer via Pixabay (public domain)

Burlington, Vt., Sep 21, 2021 / 17:05 pm (CNA).

Some former residents of a long-closed Catholic orphanage in Vermont say they are dissatisfied with the local diocese’s response to their complaints of abuse, while the Diocese of Burlington maintains it has been transparent and helpful. 

St. Joseph's Orphanage in Burlington was founded in the mid-1800s. It was operated by the Sisters of Providence, and overseen by Vermont Catholic Charities. It closed in 1974.

The Vermont attorney general’s office launched an investigation into allegations of abuses at Catholic institutions after an August 2018 article in BuzzFeed News described allegations of murder and sexual abuse at the orphanage.

The investigation concluded in December 2020, and “sufficient evidence to support a murder charge was not found.”

Alleged abuses at St. Joseph's Orphanage were the subject of lawsuits brought by former residents in the 1990s. Some of the cases were dismissed, and some reached settlements.

Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington announced in September 2018 that the diocese was waiving nondisclosure agreements for abuse victims, and that the diocese had not required nondisclosure agreements on the part of victims since 2002.

"It is my hope that this past action as well as the present one will allow the truth of what happened to survivors and their families to be heard," Bishop Coyne wrote. "I pledge to you, as the bishop of Burlington, that I will do everything that I can to make sure this never happens again and to work for healing and reconciliation with those who were so badly abused by clergy."

A group of former St. Joseph’s residents, the Voices of St. Joseph’s Orphanage, is involved in efforts to find restitution.

“We want to be known as working for change and justice for children, and to never let anybody that's in a foster home group just be thrown in there and forgotten.” Brenda Hannon, a spokesperson for VSJO, told CNA Sept. 20.

Some of their initiatives include letter writing campaigns to the pope, creating an anthology of their experiences, working to build a memorial, and working to remove statutes of limitations. 

Hannon told CNA one of VSJO’s successes was the passage in May of a law repealing the statute of limitations for civil actions based on childhood physical abuse.

One of their requests has been for the diocese to pay for their therapy bills. 

They say their requests to the diocese have been dealt with unsatisfactorily.

The Burlington diocese said in a statement last week that Bishop Coyne, Vermont Catholic Charities, and diocesan representatives “have been meeting with former residents of St. Joseph’s Orphanage one-on-one as they have requested and will continue to do so.” 

“Each meeting is unique, each person’s story is unique, and the help we offer each former resident is specific to them,” they added. “If the person feels they would be helped through counseling, we will work with them as needed.”

Hannon told CNA that “most of us feel that he [Bishop Coyne] is offering this and the one-on-one stance so that he can control the meeting and the situation.”

She said the members harbor these concerns because Bishop Coyne is “refusing” to meet with the VSJO as a group, the meetings are not recorded, and there is “some type of a counselor person evaluating you as you’re talking.”

She also said that going to the diocese to meet with Bishop Coyne is a “hard trigger” for many of the members.

Hannon said that “if this person that sits in the meetings determines that this person needs counseling, it will be with [diocesan] counselors of their choosing and not with the members current counselor that they have been seeing and paying for years.”

She added that Bishop Coyne has affirmed that he would help members of the group, but said nothing has come to fruition.

Hannon also said that Catholic Charities of Vermont will not release orphanage records to the members. She said that members are only allowed to see their records, which contain redacted information, while they are sitting in a room with a staff member of Catholic Charities. 

The diocese told CNA Sept. 21 that “Bishop Coyne has offered one-on-one meetings to former residents which includes a support person of their choice.” 

“Bishop Coyne has offered to invite the Vermont Catholic Charities’ victim assistance coordinator to the meeting with consent, if the former resident has chosen not to bring a support person,” the statement says.

“An initial screening is completed by the victim assistance coordinator to verify basic information prior to moving forward with a therapy request,” the diocese said. “Thus far, Bishop Coyne has never denied a request for additional therapy.”

Hannon told CNA that “not one person” has chosen to move forward with the process offered by the diocese.

The diocese told CNA that “there is a process for requesting records on the Vermont Catholic Charities website” noting that “Vermont Catholic Charities adheres to all Vermont Adoption laws outlined here.”

Abortion doctor sued under Texas abortion law

Pro-life advocates at the 45th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., Jan. 19, 2018. / Jonah McKeown/CNA

Austin, Texas, Sep 21, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

A Texas abortion doctor who said he performed an abortion in violation of a new state law was sued Monday by two non-Texas residents, in what appears to be the first legal action taken since the law took effect this month. 

A Texas pro-life group has criticized the lawsuits, however, calling them “imprudent” and “self-serving.” 

Dr. Alan Braid, a San Antonio abortion doctor, took to the opinion page of The Washington Post on Sunday to announce that he had violated Texas’ new law Sept. 6 by performing an abortion on a woman whose unborn baby had a heartbeat, and did so because of “a duty of care to this patient...and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights is reportedly representing Braid. 

Texas’ law, which is designed to be enforced through private lawsuits, prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, around six weeks gestation, except in medical emergencies. The law took effect Sept. 1. 

The law allows for at least $10,000 in damages in successful lawsuits, which can be filed by residents or non-Texas residents against anyone who “aids and abets” an illegal abortion; women seeking abortions cannot be sued under the law. 

In early September the Supreme Court ruled that the abortion providers challenging the law had not made a sufficient case for relief from it, and declined to block the law in a 5-4 decision. The U.S. Department of Justice, at the direction of President Joe Biden, filed a legal complaint in a federal district court Sept. 9, arguing that Texas acted “in open defiance of the Constitution” in restricting “most pre-viability abortions.” 

Despite the law’s intentions, neither of the two men filing lawsuits against Braid appear to have done so because of anti-abortion convictions. 

One of the lawsuits was brought by Oscar Stilley, an Arkansas man and self-described “disbarred and disgraced” lawyer currently serving a 15-year house arrest sentence for tax evasion. Stilley told the New York Times that he is “not pro-life” and filed the lawsuit in an attempt both to “vindicate” the Texas law and to collect the up to $10,000 he could be awarded if he wins the suit. 

The second lawsuit was filed by an Illinois man, Felipe Gomez, who in the complaint described himself as “pro-choice” and opined that the Texas law is “illegal.” He said if he is awarded money, he would likely donate it to an “abortion rights group” or to the patients of the doctor he sued, NPR reported. 

Texas Right to Life criticized the two lawsuits as “self-serving legal stunts.”

“Neither of these lawsuits are valid attempts to save innocent human lives,” John Seago, legislative director for Texas Right to Life, told the New York Times. 

Braid claimed the law had “shut down about 80 percent of the abortion services we provide.” 

“I fully understood that there could be legal consequences — but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested,” he wrote. 

Catholic bishops around the country reacted with praise to the law, and noted that women experiencing a crisis pregnancy have resources available, instead of abortion.

The bishops of Texas have said that opponents of the law, who have described a fetal heartbeat as “electrically induced flickering of embryonic tissue” or “embryonic cardiac activity,” are making a “disturbing” effort to “dehumanize the unborn.”

“Abortion is a human rights issue; the most fundamental human right is the right to life,” said the Texas bishops Sept. 3. “Abortion is not healthcare. Abortion is not freedom. Abortion does not help women. Abortion is never the answer. It is always the violent taking of innocent human life.”

Pro-life leaders pointed out that the state legislature recently increased public benefits for low-income mothers, expanding Medicaid coverage for new mothers and funding the Alternatives to Abortion program.

“Texas is further leading in compassion for women and families with its $100 million Alternatives to Abortion state program and ten times as many pro-life pregnancy centers as abortion facilities,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List. 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday signed into law a ban on the use of abortion-inducing drugs in the state seven weeks into a pregnancy. The measure is set to take effect in December.

As Biden looks to raise refugee cap, Catholics argue he can do more

President-elect Joe Biden addresses a virtual 40th anniversary celebration of Jesuit Refugee Services on Nov. 12, 2020. / Jesuit Refugee Services/Vimeo

Washington D.C., Sep 21, 2021 / 13:01 pm (CNA).

Catholic refugee advocates on Tuesday praised President Joe Biden for pushing to raise the refugee cap in the coming fiscal year, and urged even more refugee admissions.

On Monday, President Biden recommended that the United States double its limit on refugee resettlement in the coming fiscal year, to 125,000 refugees from 62,500. The U.S. bishops’ conference has also pushed for an increase in the refugee cap to 125,000.

"The number announced today is a step in the right direction and signals the President's commitment to return to our nation's moral leadership and track record of welcoming refugees,” said Joan Rosenhauer, executive director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA in a statement on Tuesday.

"However, we would have hoped that this number was higher,” Rosenhauer said, pointing to the recent refugee crisis in Afghanistan and arguing for a total cap of 200,000. Saying the United States “has a moral and legal duty” to help refugees, she noted that “[t]he Afghan refugee crisis only made the need to increase this number more pressing.”

Bill O’Keefe, executive vice president for mission and mobilization at Catholic Relief Services (CRS), told CNA on Tuesday that he welcomed Biden's announcement.

“It is very good to see the United States increase its welcoming of these very vulnerable people fleeing conflict, and CRS sees in so many parts of the world – Afghanistan is top of mind – how innocent people get caught in situations of violence, and need to flee for safety,” O'Keefe said.

“The Church calls us to welcome the stranger, and this year, more than in recent years I can remember, we need to do that."

Each year, the President makes a report to Congress recommending a limit on the number of refugees the United States will accept in the coming fiscal year.

While outgoing President Obama had set the refugee cap at 110,000 for the 2017 fiscal year, President Donald Trump several months later lowered it to 50,000 for that year; the United States still resettled more than 53,000 refugees during that fiscal year. Trump progressively lowered the refugee cap during his presidency, setting it at just 15,000 refugees for the 2021 fiscal year.

Biden in May acted to raise the refugee admissions cap for the 2021 fiscal year to 62,500. However, he admitted that the goal of 62,500 admissions would not be achievable by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The United States has only resettled a fraction of that number, as of Aug. 31; only 7,637 refugees had been admitted at that point in the 2021 fiscal year, according to U.S. State Department data.

“We’re in a moment of history when displaced people need our help more than ever. More than 80 million people have been forced to flee their homes, the highest levels in recent history,” Rosenhauer said on Monday. “Far less than 1% have successfully resettled in the United States so far this fiscal year.”

“Raising the number to 200,000 would have allowed for the accommodation of a significantly higher total number of refugees from Afghanistan and around the world,” she said.

As the last U.S. military forces left Afghanistan in August, thousands of Afghan civilians were still reportedly seeking to evacuate as the Taliban took control of the country.  

The Biden administration says it will prioritize resettlement of certain classes of refugees, including those from Central America, those identifying as LGBTQI+, “at-risk Uyghurs,” Hong Kong refugees, and Burmese dissidents and Rohingyas. In addition, the administration says it will expand access to the refugee admissions program “for Afghans at risk due to their affiliation with the United States.”

The chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) also praised Biden’s announcement on Tuesday.

USCIRF vice chair Nury Turkel called on the administration “to expand its P-2 designation granting access to the refugee program for certain Afghan nationals to include members of religious groups at extreme risk of persecution by the Taliban."

In November 2020, Biden had promised to increase the refugee cap to 125,000 for the 2022 fiscal year, in remarks to the 40th anniversary celebration of Jesuit Refugee Services. However, several months into his administration, he had not taken executive action to do so for the 2021 fiscal year.

In April, the White House said that the refugee cap would remain at 15,000, before reversing that stance on the same day that it was widely reported. The executive director of the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) migration committee had told CNA on April 14 that he was “absolutely” disappointed with refugee admissions, which had at that point “effectively been halted."

This article was updated on Sept. 21 with comment from Catholic Relief Services.

Justice Department asks Supreme Court to uphold legal abortion  

null / Claudette Jerez/CNA

Washington D.C., Sep 21, 2021 / 10:15 am (CNA).

The Justice Department on Monday asked the Supreme Court to uphold Roe v. Wade, the court’s 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

The court on Monday had announced that oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a major abortion case, will be held on Dec. 1. The case involves a challenge to Mississippi’s restrictions on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The state of Mississippi, in defending its law, has asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its Roe ruling altogether.

In an amicus brief filed at the Supreme Court on Monday, the Justice Department argued that the state is seeking to overturn nearly 50 years of court rulings that upheld legal abortion, and asked the court to maintain its previous abortion rulings.  

“Petitioners insist that a woman’s decision whether to carry a pregnancy to term—perhaps the most intensely personal and life-altering choice a person can make—should enjoy no more protection than workaday social and economic matters that trigger rational-basis review,” the Justice Department stated in its brief.

“If the Court considers that new argument, it should decline to disturb Roe’s central holding—just as it did a generation ago,” the brief stated.

Mississippi’s law, the Gestational Age Act, restricts abortions after 15 weeks but includes exceptions for when the mother’s life or “major bodily function” is at stake, or if the unborn child has a condition “incompatible with life outside the womb.”

Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s only abortion clinic, sued over the law, and is represented in court by the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The Supreme Court in May agreed to take up the case, after lower courts ruled against the law and the state of Mississippi appealed. The court is considering only one legal question in the case, “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortion are unconstitutional.”

The court’s decision to take up the case was seen as significant, as it had previously refused to consider appeals in favor of other state pro-life laws restricting abortions after 20 weeks, 12 weeks, and as early as six weeks.

On Sept. 1, the court also declined a challenge to Texas’ law restricting most abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat. By rejecting the legal challenge, the court allowed the law – which is enforced by private civil lawsuits and not by the state – to remain effective. In response, President Joe Biden promised a “whole-of-government” effort to maintain abortion in Texas.

In its Supreme Court brief on Monday, the Justice Department invoked the legal principle of stare decisis to urge the court to respect and uphold its previous abortion rulings. The court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey upheld Roe, the brief noted.

“And the passage of another three decades means that every American woman of reproductive age has grown up against the backdrop of the right secured by Roe and Casey, which has become even more deeply woven into the Nation’s social fabric,” the Justice Department argued.

“Roe and Casey were and are correct. They recognize that forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy against her will is a profound intrusion on her autonomy, her bodily integrity, and her equal standing in society,” the brief stated.

Although the Supreme Court upheld its Roe ruling in the Casey decision, the state of Mississippi has argued that the court should reconsider those two rulings altogether.

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch in July argued that those decisions established “a special-rules regime for abortion jurisprudence that has left these cases out of step with other Court decisions and neutral principles of law applied by the Court.”

“As a result, state legislatures, and the people they represent, have lacked clarity in passing laws to protect legitimate public interests, and artificial guideposts have stunted important public debate on how we, as a society, care for the dignity of women and their children,” Fitch said in the state’s brief at the court.

“It is time for the Court to set this right and return this political debate to the political branches of government,” she wrote. 

‘Sexual abuse in the Church has deep theological implications’

As a safeguarding conference in Warsaw wraps up its third day of deliberations, Church leaders from across Central and Eastern Europe examine how the suffering caused by clerical sexual abuse impacts the lives of survivors.