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New Orleans, La., Jan 18, 2019 / 06:59 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit vacated Thursday a previous injunction barring Texas from stripping Planned Parenthood affiliates of Medicaid funding.

The injunction was based largely on undercover videos released by the pro-life group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) during the summer of 2015 which show Planned Parenthood workers negotiating the sale of body parts from aborted children.

“The [Texas Office of Inspector General]...concluded, based on the videos, that [Planned Parenthood affiliates] at a minimum violated federal standards regarding fetal tissue research and standards of medical ethics by allowing doctors to alter abortion procedures to retrieve tissue for research purposes or allowing the researchers themselves to perform the procedures,” Circuit Judge Edith Jones wrote in the court’s Jan. 17 opinion.

Many media reports since 2015 have characterized CMP’s undercover videos as “deceptively” or “heavily” edited, undercutting their credibility.

“The district court stated, inaccurately, that the CMP video had not been authenticated and suggested that it may have been edited...In fact, the record reflects that OIG had submitted a report from a forensic firm concluding that the video was authentic and not deceptively edited,” Jones wrote. “And the plaintiffs did not identify any particular omission or addition in the video footage.”

In the videos in question, two individuals including journalist David Daleiden posed as representatives from a fetal tissue procurement company, and claimed to be interested in purchasing liver, thymus, and neural tissue from fetuses aborted during the second trimester of pregnancy.

Melissa Farrell, Research Director for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, is shown in the videos discussing the possibility of a research partnership, providing a tour of her clinic’s surgical facilities, and displaying tissue samples from recently aborted fetuses, according to the court ruling.

An Aug. 2016 grant proposal attributed to George Soros’ Open Society Foundations indicated at least $7-$8 million would be spent in a campaign to counter the CMP videos and “transform the narrative, charging that the videos were doctored.”

Following the release of the videos, the Texas Office of the Inspector General (OIG) subsequently informed Planned Parenthood’s affiliates in October 2015 that they were “no longer capable of performing medical services in a professionally competent, safe, and legal manner” and their funding would be terminated, and sent final notice of the decision during December 2016.

Planned Parenthood’s 30 affiliates in Texas currently receive $3.4 million in Medicaid funds.

The affiliates sued in federal court to block the termination of funding, and the district court granted an injunction for the plaintiffs in part because, in the February 2017 opinion of district judge Sam Sparks, the undercover videos had not been authenticated and appeared to have been edited.

The district court also discounted statements from Farrell because she claimed on the witness stand that she had no personal knowledge of the medical aspects of abortion procedures and “had never even been in the room when an abortion was performed.”

Jones affirmed that the state has the right to exclude a healthcare provider from Medicaid funds, and criticized the Planned Parenthood affiliates’ argument that the OIG has insufficient expertise to determine the qualifications of abortion providers.

“That the Chief Medical Officer is a surgeon – and not himself an abortion provider – does not mean that he deserves no deference when deciding whether a provider has failed to meet the medical and ethical standards the state requires,” Jones wrote.

“It is even odder to claim that federal judges, who have no experience in the regulations and ethics applicable to Medicaid or medical practice, much less in regard to harvesting fetal organs for research, should claim superior expertise.”

The case is now remanded to the district court for further review, which has been ordered to apply a different legal standard to determine the final outcome.

The Texas House of Representatives first passed a budget that would have stripped Planned Parenthood of its state funding in April 2017. Texas’ Inspector General had sought to strip the abortion provider of state funding because the videos “indicated noncompliance with accepted medical and ethical standards,” according to the lawsuit.

“Planned Parenthood’s reprehensible conduct, captured in undercover videos, proves that it is not a ‘qualified’ provider under the Medicaid Act, so we are confident we will ultimately prevail,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote in a Jan. 17 statement.

Detroit, Mich., Jan 18, 2019 / 05:47 pm (CNA).- Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit announced this week the resignation of Sr. Mary Finn, 84, a long-time faculty member and assistant professor of theology, after allegations surfaced that she had sexual contact with young adult novices under her charge in the 1970s.

“In recent days, information came to my attention regarding inappropriate conduct over fifty years ago by Sr. Mary Finn,” Msgr. Todd J. Lajiness, the rector and president of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, said in a statement published Wednesday.

“After a series of conversations with her, her superior, Archbishop Vigneron and members of the Archbishop’s team, I have accepted her resignation from the faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary, effective today.”

In a story reported by Deadline Detroit, Theresa Camden, a former novice with the Home Visitors of Mary, recalled “confusing” experiences with Finn, then the novice director for the order, such as being made to lie very close to her on exclusive retreats.

Camden told Deadline Detroit that in hindsight, she knew something felt wrong. After Camden and another novice, who has remained anonymous, were suddenly kicked out of the order in 1972, they sought therapy for their experiences with Finn. The anonymous novice confirmed to Camden that she had had a sexual relationship with Finn.

Michael Betzold with Deadline Detroit reported that Finn’s resignation was announced by the seminary as his story on the allegations was being prepared.

In her resignation letter, posted to the seminary’s website, Finn admits to having “misused my position of authority as a director of novices in the Home Visitors of Mary (HVM) Order, engaging in inappropriate conduct with two adult novices. I regret that behavior, have repented of my actions, and sincerely apologize for the harm I have caused.”

The Home Visitors of Mary hung up the phone when CNA attempted to contact the order about Finn. Subsequent attempts to contact the order went unanswered.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, chairman of the board of trustees at Sacred Heart, was quoted in the seminary statement supporting Finn’s resignation, citing “additional information and what we have come to learn about how best to respond to these situations.”

He said that “While serving as rector of Sacred Heart in the late 1990s, I was given partial details about Sr. Mary's inappropriate conduct that had occurred in the early 1970s. At the time, I thought the matter had been resolved. I regret this was not the case.”

In a Jan. 18 statement, Archbishop Vigneron went on to say: “It is only in recent days that I have come to know new and additional details and context regarding Sr. Mary's misconduct. Based on this information, the current rector, Msgr. Lajiness, accepted Sister Finn's resignation and I endorse this action.”

In 1969, three years before Camden and the other novice were expelled from Finn’s order, Finn began working at Sacred Heart Seminary, where she has served in various positions ever since.

Most recently, Finn was an assistant professor of theology and served on the Priestly Formation Team for the College of Liberal Arts, among other roles, according to a cached website of her seminary page, which had been removed from the school’s website by Friday, Jan. 18.

Edward Mischel, director of community psychiatry at Wayne State University in Detroit, was in the seminary at Sacred Heart about 10 years after Finn started there, in the late 1970s.

Mischel, who completed four years of college at the seminary before discerning that he was not called to the priesthood, told CNA that he chose Finn for his spiritual director and remembers her fondly. They still maintain contact to this day.

“She’s been this quiet, spiritual, loving, easy-going person,” Mischel told CNA. “The guys in the seminary, they adore her.”

News of the allegations of sexual misconduct in the early 1970s was “disheartening,” Mischel said, but he rejected any insinuations that Finn “was dominant or in this old boy’s club, that’s like the antithesis of her. I’ve never seen that in the 30, 40 years I’ve known her, nothing like that at all.”

Mischel said he knows Finn to be a staunch advocate for the people of Detroit, and a very kind and forgiving person.

When asked if he had any concerns that she was placed in charge of young seminarians, after having been accused of sexual misconduct with young women, Mischel said he was not concerned, because he had seen “nothing like that at all” by Finn against the seminarians.

But not all former seminarians of Sacred Heart remember Finn as fondly, and the news of her resignation and the allegations against her as a novice master have also raised serious questions and concerns about her conduct at the seminary.

Two former seminarians at Sacred Heart seminary have told CNA that Finn had a reputation for being overly “handsy” with seminarians - extended hugs, smooches, squeezes and generally unwanted contact were to be expected from Finn.

“In legal terms, it was unwelcomed touching. But if a seminarian reported it, they became a problem,” one former seminarian, who asked for anonymity, told CNA.

Another former seminarian, who also asked for anonymity, told CNA that Finn had become such a “fixture” of the seminary and was so well-liked and considered so holy that she became “untouchable” - any complaints against her were promptly dismissed.

This same seminarian told CNA that Finn was always “touching people,” and while he doesn’t know of any explicitly sexual touching, he said her behavior was “grossly inappropriate.” He recalled on instance where Finn almost pushed a seminarian over a balcony, only to pull him back at the last second, as a joke. When the seminarian turned to throw a punch, assuming it had been a fellow seminarian, he instead saw Sr. Mary.

“She had no sense of boundaries,” the former seminarian said. Her meetings would often run late, and seminarians were expected to listen to her for hours, in what felt like “indoctrination lectures,” he said.

In another example of boundary violation, both former seminarians told CNA separately that Finn was known for wandering the residence wing of the seminary late at night unannounced, and would often walk past seminarians who were in their towels or boxers, coming to and from the communal showers.

One time, Finn wandered in on a priest in the shower, but that issue was “promptly addressed,” one of the former seminarians said.

At some point after the late 1970s, Finn had been moved from her community to live at the seminary. While she would wander the wing belonging to the seminarians, her room was in the faculty wing.

Mischel told CNA that Finn was still living with her community during his time at Sacred Heart. He said he suspects she may have been moved to the seminary due to health problems - she eventually developed Parkinson’s disease, which may have made it difficult for her to drive.

Mischel said he had never had any experience of Finn intentionally walking past half-dressed seminarians, and said he wondered whether it could have been a sign that Finn was entering stages of dementia.

One of the former seminarians who spoke to CNA also said Finn seemed to be “detached from reality” at times, and had difficulty remembering dates. Both of the anonymous former seminarians included in this article were at Sacred Heart in the early and mid-2000s.

When asked why Finn had been moved from her community to live at the seminary, Mary Henige, Strategic Communications Director for Sacred Heart Major Seminary, told CNA that “We do not know when and why Sr. Mary Finn moved to the seminary.”

Both former seminarians also told CNA that Finn’s theology was “unsound.” Part of her theology classes, they said, included “feelings lists” where seminarians were asked to recall an experience from their lives and describe their feelings. The lists, provided by Finn, included “feeling words” such as “sexy”, “hot,” or “horny”, they recalled.

One of the former seminarians told CNA that multiple men had attempted to register complaints against Finn’s conduct, but they were ignored because of the reputation she enjoyed. Many of the faculty at Sacred Heart had been formed by Finn during their time in seminary, and believed her to be saintly. He said at one point, he had heard a faculty member refer to Finn as the “Holy Spirit Incarnate.”

He said on the one hand, she did seem to have a genuine love and concern for people. She saw Christ in people in a way that was “beautiful,” he said.

But she acted like she “was everyone’s mom, but she wasn’t and she’s not,” he said. “There were clear boundary issues. She was very emotionally manipulative of people, very passive aggressive.”

“She had a cult-following, so this is devastating to a lot of people,” he added.

When CNA asked the archdiocese about these claims about Finn’s conduct at Sacred Heart seminary, the archdiocese referred all questions to Sacred Heart.

When asked whether the faculty at Sacred Heart were aware of Finn’s alleged reputation for unwanted touching, inappropriate contact or for allegedly wandering by seminarians in towels, Henige told CNA that “We’re not going to respond to character allegations, nor would that be our role. Sr. Mary’s resignation letter outlines the reasons why she resigned.”

 

Washington D.C., Jan 18, 2019 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- Their activism has sparked controversy in recent months, after a U.S. senator called the Knights of Columbus and their pro-life work “extreme.” But the Knights of Columbus say their work in the pro-life movement is a part of their Catholic identity, and that they’re proud of their long-standing involvement in the annual March for Life  

In fact, according to Supreme Knight and CEO Carl A. Anderson, when the March for Life began in the early 1970s, the Knights of Columbus was one of the first groups to lend a hand.

Anderson told CNA that the Knights now play a part in “just about everything that needs to be done” on the days leading up to, and during, the march.

CNA spent the 2019 March for Life getting a behind-the-scenes look at the work of the Knights of Columbus during the nation’s largest annual pro-life gathering.

Standing guard

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the largest Catholic Church in North America; it was designed to hold about 10,000 people. The night before the March for Life there were at least that number present for the National Prayer Vigil for Life. People filled the pews, and nearly every space around them in the aisles.

At 5:30 p.m., a procession of priests, bishops, and cardinals entered the basilica. When they did, Knights of Columbus from 19 different local councils were among the volunteers serving as ushers to help keep the crowd in order.

One of those ushers was Alec McGuire, a sophomore at the Catholic University of America.

McGuire told CNA that joined the Knights of Columbus because his grandfather was a Knight. At Catholic University, the Knights of Columbus is one of the largest student groups on campus. On Thursday, it was his job to “make sure people are where they're supposed to be."

Patrick McAleer is a field agent for the Knights of Columbus, selling the insurance policies the organization offers to its membership. He is also the chairman of the Shrine’s usher ministry. He’s been a Knight for 25 years.

For McAleer, volunteering at the Vigil Mass and other events is “a way to serve and be around so many young people who travel long distances to take part in the Mass and March.”

As an usher, McAleer said it is his job to “welcome to all our visitors to the Basilica, handle the congregation with care when we have to move people for the processional and recessional, as well as the most important duty: protecting the Blessed Sacrament, at communion time.”



‘An amazing group’

The day of the March for Life began bright and early at 7:30 a.m. for Tyler Lomnitzer, the Knights of Columbus’ program manager for pro-life activities. He spent the morning unloading signs for marchers from a U-Haul, and organizing the volunteers who would help disperse those signs.

“We successfully distributed 10,000 ‘Love Life, Choose Life’ Knights of Columbus signs,” Lomnitzer told CNA. In addition to signs, the Knights of Columbus distributed drawstring bags, fleece headbands, and beanies emblazoned with their logo.

Lomnitzer said he got involved in the Knights of Columbus when he was a freshman at CUA. When he was in school, he thought the Knights were “an amazing group of faithful and dedicated young men, helping one another grow in holiness.” Like McGuire, he too served as a volunteer at the Vigil Mass when he was in school.

“It left such an impression on me that I now oversee the pro-life activities of the Knights of Columbus on a global level,” said Lomnitzer.



On the March

Making sure that throngs of marchers begin and end the march in a safe and orderly way is a tough job, but one the Knights of Columbus have handled for years. Members of councils from around Virginia served as marshalls, and were present on street corners, around the front of the stage, and near the media and speaker areas.

Santiago Garcia, a Knight from Manassas, VA, has been in the Knights of Columbus for about two and a half years. He told CNA that he prayed to the Blessed Mother for her to “find something for me to do in the Church,” and then inquired about the Knights of Columbus. This is the second March for Life at which he has volunteered.

Garcia, along with Chris Sozio, an eight-year Knight but a first-time March for Life volunteer, was posted at the street corner by the Natural History Museum. The two worked to make sure that the sidewalks would stay open and free from loiterers before the march began, and then would walk ahead of the crowd of marchers to make sure nobody jumps ahead.



A long road

It is not unheard of for March for Life pilgrims to endure a several-hour bus journey to Washington for the march. John Moore, a Knight from Gallup, New Mexico, had by far the longest trip of all: he walked to Washington, DC from San Francisco, carrying a 20-pound wooden cross the entire way.

Moore, and his 26-year-old daughter Laura, stepped off from San Francisco on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2018. Laura drove ahead each day and provided assistance as needed, and they spent each night at hotels. She told CNA that her father spent years saving and planning the trip and was inspired by his first March for Life six years ago.

At 11:43 a.m. the morning of the March, their journey came to an end as they finally arrived at the National Mall, just in time for the start of the March for Life Rally.



Leading from the front

Carl A. Anderson, CEO and Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, has the most public role of any member of the Knights of Columbus at the March, including an address to the massive crowd during the March for Life rally.

Anderson pumped up the crowd, and announced that his organization had recently donated its thousandth ultrasound machine to a pregnancy clinic.

“Science is on your side, and so is the American public,” said Anderson. He told the crowd that an end to abortion is “not far off” and that one day the March for Life will become a “victory parade.”

“Together we will celebrate the victory of both faith and science--both compassion and common sense.”



Keeping the momentum going

The Knights’ work does not end with the March. Local Washington-area and Virginia councils clean up the mess left behind by marchers, while out-of-town Knights board busses, planes, and cars and travel back to their homes. Once home, they continue the pro-life and other charitable work that the Knights of Columbus have done for decades.

Last year, the Knights of Columbus made $187 million in charitable donations and served over 85 million hours of volunteer time.  

Anderson explained to CNA that in addition to the ultrasound initiative, the Knights of Columbus are also involved in the distribution of educational materials each October for the USCCB’s Respect Life Month. Local councils work with area pro-life groups and do fundraisers and volunteer hours.

"I would say just about everywhere the pro-life movement is active, Knights are involved," said Anderson.

The Knights of Columbus’ core principles are charity, fraternity, and unity.

Over two days, between taking care of marchers and worshipers, distributing warm clothes and cleaning up after the crowds, all while raising thousands of dollars to help women in crisis pregnancy situations, the Knights of Columbus offered a clear picture of their notion of a commitment to charity.

It may not be “extreme,” but it is extraordinary.



 

Photo credits, in order: Knights of Columbus, Knights of Columbus, Christine Rousselle / CNA, Knights of Columbus, Knights of Columbus, Knights of Columbus.