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Senate passes same-sex marriage bill, sending it back to the House

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St. Louis, Mo., Nov 29, 2022 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday evening to pass the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA), sending the bill back to the House for a final vote before it reaches the president’s desk. 

The bill, which would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and provide for federal recognition of same-sex marriages, has drawn criticism from Catholic leaders for not providing strong enough legal protections for individuals who believe marriage to be between one man and one woman, as taught by the Catholic Church. 

The present bill would not require any state to allow same-sex couples to marry, but would require states to recognize any and all marriages — regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin” — contracted in other states. 

The bill garnered bipartisan support, clearing the Senate Nov. 29 by a vote of 61-36, and will return now to the House. Should the House pass this amended version, the bill will proceed to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature, which he has pledged to give. Biden first signaled his support for same-sex marriage a decade ago, putting him at odds with the teaching of his Catholic faith. 

The Senate had voted 62-37 in mid-November to end debate on the bill by reaching the required 60-vote threshold. Twelve Republicans crossed the aisle to join all the Senate’s Democrats in that vote, and the same number joined in the Nov. 29 vote.

The final version of the bill includes a bipartisan amendment meant to ensure that nonprofit religious organizations will not be required to provide services, facilities, or goods for the celebration of a same-sex marriage. It also provides for individual conscience protections to the extent provided under the Constitution and federal law, and makes clear the bill does not authorize the federal government to recognize polygamous marriage. 

DOMA, which the present bill would repeal, is a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton that defined marriage federally as the union of a man and a woman, reserved federal benefits to heterosexual couples, and permitted states not to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states. DOMA was already effectively nullified by the 2013 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. 

The Catholic bishops of the United States had urged Senators in July to oppose the Respect for Marriage Act, expressing concerns about the bill’s effect on the religious freedom of those who hold to a traditional definition of marriage. 

And in November, following the bill’s advancement in the U.S. Senate, the nation’s Catholic bishops reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on marriage. They also reiterated their concerns that “the legislation could lead to discrimination against individuals who hold to a traditional view of marriage.”

“The Catholic Church will always uphold the unique meaning of marriage as a lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, said in a Nov. 17 statement. 

“[T]he act offers only limited protections. Those protections fail to resolve the main problem with the act: in any context in which conflicts between religious beliefs and same-sex civil marriage arise, the act will be used as evidence that religious believers must surrender to the state’s interest in recognizing same-sex civil marriages,” Dolan continued. 

Ahead of the Nov. 29 vote, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah called on the 12 Republican senators who voted to advance the RFMA to adopt explicit protections, by way of an amendment he introduced, for individuals who believe marriage is between one man and one woman. Lee had argued that the RFMA will lead to more litigation against those who hold to a traditional view of marriage, unless the bill explicitly provides protections for them and not merely the possibility of a defense in court. 

“Instead of subjecting churches, religious nonprofits, and persons of conscience to undue scrutiny or punishment by the federal government because of their views on marriage, we should make explicitly clear that this legislation does not constitute a national policy endorsing a particular view of marriage that threatens the tax-exempt status of faith-based nonprofits,” Lee wrote in a November letter to his fellow senators. 

“As we move forward, let us be sure to keep churches, religious charities, and religious universities out of litigation in the first instance.”

Lee’s amendment ultimately failed Nov. 29 by a vote of 48-49. 

The RFMA represents one of the first legislative responses to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. While the majority opinion in Dobbs said that “this decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right,” Democrats have pointed to Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion suggesting the court should reconsider all “substantive due process” cases, including the 2015 Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage.

Pray with the cast of ‘The Chosen’ this Advent season on Hallow

Hallow's Advent feat. The Chosen: #Pray25 Prayer Challenge / Hallow

Denver, Colo., Nov 29, 2022 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

Advent is a season of preparation, hope, and joy as we await the birth of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As in every Advent, we are called during this time to prepare our hearts for his miraculous birth. 

This Advent, Hallow, a Catholic meditation and prayer app, invites us to dive further into the journey that led to Christ’s birth by participating in the Advent #Pray25 Challenge featuring the cast of “The Chosen," the hit streaming series about Jesus and his first disciples. 

Join Jonathan Roumie, the actor who plays Jesus; Elizabeth Tabish, who plays Mary Magdalene; George Harrison Xanthis, who plays John the Evangelist; Paras Patel, who plays Matthew; Vanessa Benavente, who plays Mother Mary; David Amito, who plays John the Baptist; and Dallas Jenkins, the director and founder of “The Chosen," in daily reflections, prayers, and meditations that tell the story of salvation. 

These daily reflections will take the listener back to the beginning with Adam and Eve, continue with Noah, Abraham, Moses, Ruth, David, and the prophets in the Old Testament, and end with the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Nativity in the New Testament, showing how God has called people throughout the generations.

The 25-day prayer challenge starts “in the beginning” with a meditation on the opening of the Gospel of John, read by Xanthis, and then turns its focus back to the Old Testament with the Book of Genesis. Each session starts with prayer followed by a reading from Scripture and ends with thought-provoking questions to guide your meditative prayer. 

When asked what his favorite part of the challenge was during an Instagram livestream Monday, Roumie explained that the imaginative prayers with Benavente, who plays Mother Mary, were particularly “impactful.”

“A lot of the placing yourself in the time periods and the moments before, and the moments leading up to Christmas, I think a lot of those readings were really impactful for me personally,” he explained. “Especially having that on-screen relationship with Vanessa Benavente, who plays Mother Mary, and then just thinking about our interactions and thinking about some of the stuff coming up this season even.”

Roumie added: “I think it was a really powerful instinct to move forward to try to execute this for Advent this year. I think people are really going to come away from it changed on another level.”

“I am excited for people to pray with their favorite characters on the show,” he said.

Alex Jones, CEO of Hallow, said in a press release on Nov. 23: “We’ve been blessed at Hallow to partner with a lot of amazing content creators, but I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to announce a partnership than I am today. ‘The Chosen’ has changed my own life and brought so many millions of folks around the world closer to Christ. We’re blessed to be able to journey together with some of our favorite folks from the series this Advent season in a one-of-a-kind prayer experience.”

“The Chosen,” created and directed by Jenkins, an evangelical Christian, premiered on Christmas Eve in 2017. During its first season, the show was the largest-ever crowdfunded television series. The series has been translated into 56 languages and has more than 420 million views worldwide.

The first two episodes of Season 3 are being shown in theaters through Dec. 14. The production was among the top 10 grossing films over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, outselling “She Said,” the film about Harvey Weinstein and the “Me Too” movement.

“The Chosen” can be streamed for free through The Chosen app for iOS or Android systems and the website of its distributor, Angel Studios. From the app you can stream to your TV using another device, such as Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, Android TV, and Chromecast. Season 1 was recently released on Netflix. The seasons are also available to purchase on DVD/BluRay.

Hallow bills itself as “the No. 1 Catholic app in the world” and the “No. 1 Christian app in the United States.” Launched in 2018, it has had more than four million downloads and has been used to pray more than 100 million times across 150 countries, according to the press release. It can be downloaded on the App Store and Google Play. 

Watch the trailer for Hallow’s “Advent featuring The Chosen: #Pray25 Prayer Challenge” here: 

Major win for Catholic doctors fighting Biden’s transgender mandate after appeal deadline passes

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 29, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

President Biden’s controversial transgender mandate has been blocked after the administration failed to meet last week’s deadline to appeal a court ruling that struck down the mandate earlier this year.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the mandate Aug. 26, ruling that religious groups could not be required to perform procedures that violate their beliefs. The deadline for the Biden administration to appeal the decision passed Nov. 25.

“The final demise of this unconscionable mandate is a major victory for conscience rights and compassionate medical care in America,” Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel for Becket Law, told CNA.

“Thousands of doctors will be able to do their jobs without the government requiring them to perform harmful, irreversible procedures against their conscience and medical expertise,” Goodrich added.

Becket, a religious liberty nonprofit legal firm, served as counsel to thousands of Catholic and other religious medical professionals in a federal lawsuit — Franciscan Alliance v. Becerra — challenging the mandate in a continuation of a long legal battle stemming from a similar rule enacted by the Obama administration in 2016. 

Religious medical groups including Franciscan Alliance, Christian Medical and Dental Society, and Specialty Physicians of Illinois fought to to stop the requirement from taking effect.

Goodrich applauded the decision on Twitter Monday, adding that “the Admin has declined to appeal to #SCOTUS — meaning this win is FINAL.” 

According to Goodrich, the fight will continue in a similar case pending in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is expected to issue a decision in the coming weeks. 

Mandating ‘unconscionable’ procedures

If finalized, Biden’s rule would have empowered the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to force hospitals and doctors to perform gender-transition surgeries, in addition to expanding the Obama-era version of the rule to include abortion.  

The rule revised Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act to add “sexual orientation and gender identity” and “reproductive health care services” including “pregnancy termination” to existing “protections against discrimination on the basis of sex.” 

It also reversed Trump-era conscience protections that sought to allow medical professionals to opt out of performing procedures against their beliefs.

The proposal met with strong opposition from religious doctors, medical organizations, and the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, which condemned the move in a statement July 27.

“[The] proposed regulations threaten our ability to carry out our healing ministries and others’ to practice medicine,” the bishops wrote. “They mandate health care workers to perform life-altering surgeries to remove perfectly healthy body parts. Assurances that HHS will honor religious freedom laws offer little comfort when HHS is actively fighting court rulings that declared HHS violated religious freedom laws the last time they tried to impose such a mandate. This is a violation of religious freedom and bad medicine.”

The HHS did not respond to CNA’s request for comment.

Canadian fashion retailer runs ad promoting assisted suicide 

null / HQuality/Shutterstock.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 29, 2022 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

A new ad campaign from a Canadian fashion retailer features a terminally ill woman who ended her life by assisted suicide.

“Dying in a hospital is not what’s natural. It’s not what’s soft,” 37-year-old Jennyfer Hatch says at the start of the three-minute video. “In these kinds of moments, you need softness.”

Produced by La Maison Simons, a popular fashion chain better known as Simons, the video has received more than one million views since its release on Oct. 24 — the day after Hatch died. 

Hatch sought medical assistance in dying (MAID) after being diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a group of inherited disorders that affect connective tissues, CBC News reported.

Since Canada legalized assisted suicide in 2016 the number of MAID deaths has increased each year. In 2016 the number of people who chose assisted suicide was 1,018. In 2021 there were 10,064 MAID deaths, making up 3.3% of all deaths in Canada.

The Simons ad, titled “All is beauty,” follows Hatch as she draws in the sand, watches the waves, blows bubbles, and laughs with friends while soft music plays in the background. The words “The most beautiful exit” float across the screen.

“Last breaths are sacred,” Hatch says at one point. “Even though as I seek help to end my life, with all the pain and in these final moments, there is still so much beauty.”

In another, separate video, Peter Simons, chief merchant for the fashion chain, says he felt inspired to tell Hatch’s story after meeting her earlier this year. He insists that it is “not a commercial campaign.”

“It’s more an effort to use our freedom, our voice, and the privilege we have to speak and create every day here in a way that is more about human connection,” he says. “And I think we sincerely believe that companies have a responsibility to participate in communities and to help build the communities that we want to live in tomorrow and leave to our children.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which summarizes Church teaching, explicitly condemns euthanasia. 

“Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible,” it says. “Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.”

It also forbids “an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering,” saying that it “constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator.”

Simons did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication.

U.S. bishops express outrage at increase in antisemitic attacks

People participate in a Jewish solidarity march across the Brooklyn Bridge on Jan. 5, 2020, in New York City. / Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 29, 2022 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Catholic bishops strongly condemned in a Nov. 28 statement what they called a “reemergence of antisemitism in new forms.”

“Outraged by the deeply hurtful proliferations of antisemitic rhetoric, both online and in person, and the violent attacks on Jewish individuals, homes, and institutions, we wish to convey our sincere support to the Jewish people,” the bishops wrote.

“In unequivocal terms, we condemn any and all violence directed at the Jewish people, whether motivated by religious, racial, or political grievances,” said the statement, which was signed by the nine bishops on the Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Committee.

The statement was issued on the 60th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Nostrae Aetate, which made clear the Church’s condemnation of hatred and violence against Judaism, beginning a new era of understanding and cooperation between the two faiths.

Since Nostrae Aetate, the bishops’ statement explained, “the Catholic and Jewish faiths have learned to encounter each other in a spirit of goodwill and a sincere desire to encourage our respective faithful to live together.”

The bishops called on Christians to join them in opposing acts of antisemitism:

“As the 60th anniversary of this prophetic document approaches, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs has issued a statement urging all believers in Christ once again to decry all ‘hatred, persecutions, displays of antisemitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone’ (Nostra Aetate, 4).”

The bishops went on to remind the faithful of Christianity’s shared heritage with Judaism.

“We continue to remind ourselves of the shared spiritual patrimony that remains the foundation of our relationship with the Jewish people. We affirm that the Jewish people cannot be held responsible for the death of Christ or be depicted as rejected or accursed in theological discourse. It must always be remembered that Jesus, Mary, and his apostles were all Jewish.

“Finally, we remain firm in our dedication to a just political solution — a secure and recognized Israel living in peace alongside a viable and independent Palestine,” the bishops wrote.

Antisemitism in the form of violence and online rhetoric has been a growing issue in recent months. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported 2,717 antisemitic incidents across the nation in 2021, a 34% increase in incidents from 2020 and an all-time high since ADL began tracking.

“As partners and neighbors, we seek to foster bonds of friendship between members of the Body of Christ and the Jewish people,” the bishops stated, recalling that Pope Francis said “a true Christian cannot be an antisemite.”