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Catholic judge Barbara Lagoa on the shortlist of Supreme Court nominees

CNA Staff, Sep 21, 2020 / 03:05 pm (CNA).-  

President Donald Trump’s shortlist of potential nominees to the Supreme Court includes Judge Barbara Lagoa, a Catholic who has spoken about how her faith has shaped her legal career.

Lagoa, 52, was born in Miami and is the daughter of Cuban immigrants. Trump appointed Lagoa to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta in late 2019. She had previously served as a Justice on the Florida Supreme Court, the first Hispanic woman to do so.

President Donald Trump announced Monday that he would announce a nominee by Sept. 26 to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday evening at 87.

In addition to an existing White House list of two dozen potential Supreme Court nominees, Trump added 20 more names Sept. 9, including three sitting U.S. senators.

Trump said that he was “looking at five, probably four, but I'm looking at five very seriously” options to replace Ginsburg. Trump had also said he will nominate a woman for the position.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic, is widely reported to be the front-runner in the president’s deliberations regarding a nominee, but Lagoa is also on Trump’s shortlist, and Florida lawmakers are said to be advocating for her appointment.

Lagoa, who has three children, has spoken about the importance of the Catholic faith in her own life.

Speaking at an October 2019 dinner for the Thomas More Society, a Catholic lawyers’ organization, Lagoa praised the group’s namesake saint as a model for Catholic law professionals, who she said should not compartmentalize their professional lives from their spiritual lives.

“I suggest that in order to be a good Catholic advocate, one should start with St. Thomas More,” Lagoa told the attorneys. More, the patron saint of attorneys, is hailed for his commitment to his conscience and to Catholic doctrine, which lead eventually to martyrdom.

“It is more than going to Mass every Sunday, and to me at least, it means having a personal relationship with God that in turn informs how we treat others,” she said of her Catholic faith.

Following More’s humility in legal practice “starts with reminding ourselves, even when it is hardest, of the dignity of each human being — even the most difficult opposing counsel — and it also starts with reminding ourselves that none of us are perfect and that we ourselves can contribute to or exacerbate a difficult situation,” she said.

Lagoa also urged lawyers to ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the gifts of wisdom, counsel and fortitude, in daily life, according to the Florida Catholic.

Lagoa has also been outspoken about the importance of her own Catholic education, having attended Catholic elementary and high school in Miami.

As a Florida Supreme Court Justice, she took part in a major ruling reversing a judge’s decision striking down a Florida law that requires that people with past serious criminal convictions pay all fines, restitution and legal fees before regaining the right to vote, NBC News reported.

Lagoa is married and a mother of three.

"I think the most important thing I can tell women about their leadership roles is the thing I tell my three daughters, which is: do not be afraid of failure, do not be afraid to make mistakes, be bold, and take risks,” she said in an April 2019 interview.

“That's the one thing I can tell you about all women who are in positions of leadership; they all have taken risks...Nothing is ever perfect. Just do it, and you will be happy that you did. Maybe you will fail initially, but failure also leads to learning."

Since Justice Ginsburg’s death last week, pro-life and pro-abortion voices have made it clear that any nominee’s stance on abortion will be a key issue. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz has described Lagoa as “very pro-life, reliably pro-life.”

Lagoa said in written answers to the Senate upon her nomination to the appeals court that she believes Roe v. Wade is “settled law” and that as an appellate court judge, she “would faithfully follow it as I would follow all precedent of the Supreme Court.”

“I am particularly mindful of the fact that under our constitutional system, it is for the legislature, and not the courts, to make the law. It is the role of judges to apply, not to alter, the work of the people's representatives. And it is the role of judges to interpret our constitution and our statutes as they are written,” Lagoa said in a speech after being appointed to the Florida Supreme Court.

If the Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade and removes the inferred constitutional protection for abortion, the legality of abortion would be subject to state-by-state regulation.

As many as a dozen states, including New York and California, have enshrined a right to abortion in their own constitutions. Other states, such as Arkansas, have “trigger laws” on the books that would automatically ban abortion entirely if the case were overturned.

On Saturday, Americans United for Life, a major pro-life organization, endorsed Judge Barrett and urged President Trump to nominate her.

Trump’s likely nomination of a Supreme Court Justice to replace Ginsburg has become a matter of political controversy, in an already fractious U.S. political and social context.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged Friday that a Trump Supreme Court nominee will be voted on for confirmation by the United States Senate, even while there are fewer than seven weeks until the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Democratic leaders have pushed back, and pointed to McConnell’s refusal to consider Obama Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in March 2016, seven months before that year’s presidential contest. At the time, Republicans said that it would be more appropriate to wait until after the November election to fill the Court vacancy.

McConnell defended his decision Friday night, saying that “in the last midterm election before Justice Scalia’s death in 2016, Americans elected a Republican Senate majority because we pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame-duck president’s second term. We kept our promise. Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite-party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year.”

Vatican’s doctrinal office critiques German theologians’ intercommunion call

Vatican City, Sep 21, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has criticized an appeal by German theologians for intercommunion between Catholics and Protestants. 

In a letter to Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops’ conference, the CDF said that the proposal did not do justice to the Catholic understanding of the Church, the Eucharist, and Holy Orders. 

The letter, dated Sept. 18, was signed by CDF prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria and secretary Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, and accompanied by a four-page doctrinal note. 

The letter and note, obtained by CNA, were prompted by a document entitled “Together at the Lord’s Table,” issued by the Ecumenical Study Group of Protestant and Catholic Theologians (ÖAK) in September 2019.

The 57-page text advocated “reciprocal Eucharistic hospitality” between Catholics and Protestants, based on previous ecumenical agreements on the Eucharist and ministry. 

The CDF letter said: “The question of the unity of the Eucharist and the Church, in which the Eucharist presupposes and brings about unity with the communion of the Church and her faith with the pope and the bishops, is undervalued in the aforementioned document.” 

“Essential theological and indispensable insights of the Eucharistic theology of the Second Vatican Council, which are widely shared with the Orthodox tradition, have unfortunately not been adequately reflected in the text.”

The CDF said that Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, had requested a doctrinal assessment of the document in May. It noted that the German bishops had discussed the text at their plenary meeting that month in Mainz.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German language news partner, reported that the ÖAK adopted the intercommunion document under the co-chairmanship of Bätzing and the retired Lutheran Bishop Martin Hein. 

It added that Bätzing announced recently that the text’s recommendations would be put into practice at the Ecumenical Church Congress in Frankfurt in May 2021.

The ÖAK was founded in 1946 to strengthen ecumenical ties. It is independent of both the German Catholic bishops’ conference and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), an organization representing 20 Protestant groups, but it informs both bodies about its deliberations. 

The doctrinal congregation emphasized that significant differences in understanding of the Eucharist and ministry remained between Protestants and Catholics.

“The doctrinal differences are still so important that they currently rule out reciprocal participation in the Lord’s Supper and the Eucharist,” it said.

“The document cannot therefore serve as a guide for an individual decision of conscience about approaching the Eucharist.”

The CDF added that the ÖAK text should inspire further theological discussions. But it cautioned against any steps towards intercommunion. 

“However, an opening of the Catholic Church towards Eucharistic meal fellowship with the member churches of the EKD in the current state of the theological discussion would necessarily open new rifts in ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox Churches, not only in Germany,” it said.

Cardinal Zen: Church is losing ‘credibility’ to evangelize China

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 21, 2020 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- The former Bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, has said that the Church’s efforts to negotiate an extension to the 2018 provisional agreement with China are harming the evangelization of that country.

In an interview with CNA, Cardinal Zen said that the Church’s silence on Communist human rights abuses, including the detention of more than 1 million Uyghurs in a network of concentration camps in Xinjiang Province, was damaging the ability of the Church to play a role in shaping the future of the country.

“The resounding silence will damage the work of evangelization,” the cardinal said. “Tomorrow when people will gather to plan the new China, the Catholic Church may not be welcome.”

While Cardinals Zen, Charles Muang Bo of Burma and Ignatius Suharyo of Indonesia have repeatedly denounced China’s human rights violations, the Vatican, including Pope Francis, have remained silent on what human rights groups have called a “genocide” and campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against the Uyghurs as diplomatic talks continue on the future of the Vatican-China agreement.

In recent weeks, both the Holy See and the Chinese government have signaled their intention to extend the 2018 deal, which was meant to unify the country’s 12 million Catholics, divided between the underground Church and the Communist-administered Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, and clear a path for the appointment of bishops for Chinese dioceses.

While Zen says there is a lack of visible progress on either Communist tolerance of underground Catholics or on the nomination of bishops, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, said last week that negotiations continued to “normalize” the life of the Church in China.

“With China, our current interest is to normalize the life of the Church as much as possible, to ensure that the Church can live a normal life, which for the Catholic Church is also to have relations with the Holy See and with the Pope,” Parolin said Sept. 14.

Zhao Lijian, spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a press conference Sept. 10 that “With the concerted efforts from both sides, the interim agreement on the appointment of bishops between China and the Vatican has been implemented successfully since it was signed around two years ago.”

Supporters of the agreement say that the deal has prevented invalid episcopal ordinations and begun to normalize legal status for Catholic believers, at a time when followers of illict religious organizations are persecuted in China.

Zen is not the only expert to criticize the Vatican's agreement with Beijing. On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on the Holy See to take a more prominent role in opposing and denouncing human rights abuses by the Chinese government.

“What the Church teaches the world about religious freedom and solidarity should now be forcefully and persistently conveyed by the Vatican in the face of the Chinese Communist Party’s relentless efforts to bend all religious communities to the will of the Party and its totalitarian program,” Pompeo wrote Friday in First Things

“Two years on, it’s clear that the Sino-Vatican agreement has not shielded Catholics from the Party’s depredations, to say nothing of the Party’s horrific treatment of Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong devotees, and other religious believers,” Pompeo observed.

Pompeo noted that “as part of the 2018 agreement, the Vatican legitimized Chinese priests and bishops whose loyalties remain unclear. Meanwhile, Pompeo wrote, “communist authorities continue to shutter churches, spy on and harass the faithful, and insist that the Party is the ultimate authority in religious affairs.”

Cardinal Zen told CNA that, in his view, there is little reason to expect an extension will yield progress toward Parolin’s stated aims. The cardinal said that he had little hope a renewed Vatican-China deal would secure the future of Chinese Catholics “unless the regime collapses.”

Zen especially criticized Vatican acceptance of the CPCA, which operates under the direct control of the Chinese Communist Party. Many bishops and priests have refused to cooperate with the state-sponsored CPCA, and have said that they are expected by Beijing to sign documents acknowledging Communist teaching and the supremacy of the party over Church affairs - attestations that run counter to Catholic doctrine regarding the primacy of the pope.  

While some experts have emphasized that clerics can agree to the deal with certain mental reservations, Zen has said the status quo is not satisfactory.

Expressing his opposition to the Communist Party’s requirements for Catholic clerics, Zen offered his assessment of the situation bluntly: “Parolin is calling a united schismatic Church, which he has produced, ‘Catholic.’”

Clergy who refuse to submit to Communist oversight continue to be arrested and imprisoned, church buildings are regularly demolished, and government officials have offered bounties of thousands of dollars for people to report underground Christian worshippers.

In Hong Kong, the diocese Zen led until 2009, the mainland government has imposed a sweeping new National Security Law, which criminalizes previously protected civil liberties under the headings of “sedition” and “foreign collusion.” Before the law’s implementation, many Catholics, including Zen, warned that it could be used to silence the Church in Hong Kong, though the law was defended by Cardinal John Tong Hon, Zen’s successor in the diocese, who is currently serving as apostolic administrator.

Since the law came into effect on 1 July, several prominent pro-democracy activists and journalists – many of them Catholics – have been arrested.

Cardinal Zen told CNA that Catholics arrested under the new law’s provisions, like Jimmy Lai, Agnes Chow, and Martin Lee, were “simply putting into practice the social teaching of the Church.”

“In this moment, democracy means freedom and human rights, human dignity,” Zen said.

The cardinal has previously warned that a crackdown on religious liberty in Hong Kong by the mainland government could see the diocese, which has enjoyed relative freedom compared to mainland dioceses since the 1997 handover from the U.K., subject to the same restrictions as Catholics on the mainland.

“We are already in that situation,” said Zen.

Recently, Cardinal Tong instructed Catholic schools and clergy to refrain for addressing contentious political issues in classrooms and homilies and instead “foster the correct values on national identity.”

Tong also intervened to stop a Catholic group affiliated with the diocese from running a prayer for democratic freedoms in Hong Kong in local newspapers.

Zen told CNA that, while he understood the sensitivity of the situation, “this servile attitude saddens me a lot.”

“We are losing dignity and credibility,” he said.

“I admit that in this moment it is very difficult to run a school. The way the government school authority is dealing with teachers is utterly disgraceful, humiliating. But we are no more in the position to defend the teachers.”

The cardinal lamented division in the Church, saying that unity among all Hong Kongers is necessary if there is to be hope of resistance to creeping Communist repression.

“The society is lacerated,” the cardinal said. “The division and contrast is everywhere: in families, in work place, obviously also among teachers and parents of the students. Are we bound to accept the position of the Government, when they impose an unjust law on the community?”

“How to teach the duty of discerning between right and wrong? Surely not by imposition but by free open discussion. But even if we dare to do this against the will of the Government, without a unanimous, or even only a strong majority [in favor], how can we proceed further?

“When the day comes that our teachers must only teach what the Government commands them to teach, against truth and justice, we may have no choice than declare publicly that the school can no more be called Catholic, because we are no more responsible for it,” Zen said.

Asked if he saw any prospect of an improvement for the local Church coming out of Vatican negotiations with the current Communist government, Zen said simply “No.”

“Is there any choice between helping the Government to destroy the Church or resisting the Government to keep our Faith?”

Supreme Court: Full docket of religious liberty cases during nomination fight

CNA Staff, Sep 21, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- As the Trump Administration looks to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court, the coming judicial session features a slate packed with religious freedom cases.

The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday created the first opening on the Court during a fall or spring term since 2017; the Court’s opening conference for the fall is on Sept. 29.

The Court also announced on Sept. 16 that it will begin its fall term hearing oral arguments telephonically and not in-person, a continuation of its extraordinary policy from last spring that was due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Perhaps the most notable religious freedom case this term, that of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, will be heard on Nov. 4. A decision could impact faith-based adoption and foster care agencies around the country which are affected by state and local non-discrimination ordinances.

In 2018, the city of Philadelphia notified Catholic Social Services with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, as well as Bethany Christian Services, that their policies of not working with same-sex couples on foster care placements were discriminatory; the city stopped contracting with both services.

Later in the year, Bethany Christian said that while the organization’s religious beliefs on marriage remained the same, it would begin working with same-sex couples. Catholic Social Services, however, did not alter its policy and has not had any new foster care placements through the city.

Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch, who have fostered more than 40 children and who partnered with Catholic Social Services, brought the case against the city that is currently before the Supreme Court.

Another religious freedom case pending before the Supreme Court, Dalberiste v. GLE Associates, involves a lawsuit by a Seventh-Day Adventist, Mitche Dalberiste, who is seeking a religious accommodation for the technician job for which he was hired.

The job reportedly required employees to serve 12-hour shifts seven days a week for a period of time, but Dalberiste requested leave from sundown on Fridays until sundown on Saturdays, to observe the Sabbath. He filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) when the job offer was rescinded.

Becket is also representing three Muslim men, Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibhah, and Naveed Shinwari, who were placed on the FBI’s No-Fly list in order to pressure them to act as informants on Muslim communities.

Becket is arguing that individual government officials can be held liable for damages in Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) cases, or where they unlawfully violate someone’s religious freedom.

The group Alliance Defending Freedom is also bringing a college free speech case to the Court, and is petitioning for the Court to consider a pro-life speech case.

In Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, a student at Georgia Gwinnett College sued over the college’s restrictions on the space where he could evangelize fellow students; while using the limited space, he was also told by a campus police officer to stop and was charged with “disorderly conduct.” The school altered its policy, but Uzuegbunam sued, alleging the previous violation of his free speech.

There are also multiple cases which the Supreme Court has not yet taken up, but which Becket and others are asking it to consider.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is asking the Supreme Court to hear the case of Nikki Bruni and other pro-life sidewalk counselors, who has challenged Pittsburgh’s 15-foot “buffer zone” outside abortion clinics; they were banned from speaking with women or praying within the zone, which included sidewalks and streets.

ADF has also petitioned the Court to consider the case of the Michigan non-profit Thomas More Law Center, which litigates religious freedom, family, and life issues. 

In 2012, the California attorney general’s office demanded that the center provide the names and addresses of its California supporters.

Judge killed by mafia 30 years ago is a candidate for sainthood

Rome Newsroom, Sep 21, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Thirty years ago Judge Rosario Livatino was brutally killed by the mafia on his commute to work at a courthouse in Sicily. Today he is recognized in the Catholic Church as a Servant of God and a candidate for sainthood. 

Before his murder at the age of 37 on Sept. 21, 1990, Livatino spoke as a young lawyer about the intersection between the law and faith. 

“The duty of the magistrate is to decide; however, to decide is also to choose... And it is precisely in this choosing in order to decide, in deciding so as to put things in order, that the judge who believes may find a relationship with God. It is a direct relationship, because to administer justice is to realize oneself, to pray, to dedicate oneself to God. It is an indirect relationship, mediated by love for the person under judgment,” Livatino said at a conference in 1986.

“However, believers and non-believers must, in the moment of judging, dismiss all vanity and above all pride; they must feel the full weight of power entrusted to their hands, a weight all the greater because power is exercised in freedom and autonomy. And this task will be the lighter the more the judge humbly senses his own weaknesses,” he said. 

Livatino’s convictions about his vocation within the legal profession and commitment to justice were tested at a time when the mafia demanded a weak judiciary in Sicily. 

For a decade he worked as a prosecutor dealing with the criminal activity of the mafia throughout the 1980s and confronted what Italians later called the “Tangentopoli,” or the corrupt system of mafia bribes and kickbacks given for public works contracts. 

Livatino went on to serve as a judge at the Court of Agrigento in 1989. He was driving unescorted toward the Agrigento courthouse when another car hit him, sending him off the road. He ran from the crashed vehicle into a field, but was shot in the back and then killed with more gunshots.

After his death, a Bible full of notations was found in his desk, where he always kept a crucifix. 

On a pastoral visit to Sicily in 1993, Pope John Paul II called Livatino a “martyr of justice and indirectly of faith.” 

Cardinal Francesco Montenegro, the current archbishop of Agrigento, told Italian media on the 30th anniversary of Livatino’s death that the judge was dedicated “not only to the cause of human justice, but to the Christian faith.”

“The strength of this faith was the cornerstone of his life as an operator of justice,” the cardinal told the Italian SIR news agency Sept. 21.

“Livatino was killed because he was prosecuting the mafia gangs by preventing their criminal activity, where they would have demanded weak judicial management. A service that he carried out with a strong sense of justice that came from his faith,” he said. 

The courthouse where Livatino used to work in Agrigento also organized a conference over the weekend marking the anniversary of his death.

“Remembering Rosario Livatino … means urging the whole community to join forces and lay the foundations for a future no longer burdened by mafia loans,” Roberto Fico, president of the chamber, said at the event Sept. 19, according to La Repubblica. 

“And it means strengthening the determination -- which continues to animate so many judges and members of the police on the front line against organized crime -- to want to do their duty at all costs.” 

Pope Francis expressed his support this year for an initiative aimed at countering mafia organizations’ use of the figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary to promote submission to the will of the mafia boss.

A working group organized by the Pontifical International Marian Academy will bring together about 40 Church and civil leaders to address the abuse of Marian devotions by mafia organizations, who use her figure to wield power and exert control.

The pope previously met with the Anti-Mafia Parliamentary Commission on the anniversary of Livatino’s death in 2017. On that occasion, he said that dismantling the mafia begins with a political commitment to social justice and economic reform.

The pope said that corrupt organizations can serve as an alternative social structure which roots itself in areas where justice and human rights are lacking. Corruption, he noted, “always finds a way to justify itself, presenting itself as the ‘normal’ condition, the solution for those who are ‘shrewd,’ the way to reach one's goals.”

The diocesan phase of Livatino’s cause closed in September 2018. There are two alleged miracles attributed to his intercession that need to be verified by the Vatican.

“Justice is necessary, but not sufficient, and can and must be overcome by the law of charity which is the law of love, love of neighbor and God,” Livatino said. 

“And once more it will be the law of love, the vivifying strength of faith, that will solve the problem at its roots. Let’s remember Jesus’ words to the adulterous woman: ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’ By these words, he indicated the deep reason of our difficulty: sin is shadow; in order to judge there is need of light, and no man is absolute light himself.”