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House passes farm bill and controversial rule on Yemen debate

Washington D.C., Dec 13, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- An agriculture bill supported by a coalition of Catholic groups passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday with bipartisan support. During debate over the bill, lawmakers also passed a controversial rule regarding debate on US involvement in Yemen.

The bill now moves to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.

The “farm bill” concerns agricultural programs and food assistance. It is renewed each year, and this process can sometimes be quite lengthy due to additions and amendments added to the bill by members of Congress.

The version of the farm bill passed Dec. 12 was a compromise that eliminated some of the more controversial aspects of an earlier version of the bill. Those controversial provisions included expanded work requirements for people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds. That bill passed the House of Representatives in June, but only had the support of Republican members.

SNAP is used by approximately 38 million Americans each year to purchase food items. Currently, able-bodied SNAP recipients who are between the ages of 18 and 49 who do not have dependents under the age of six, must work or volunteer for 20 hours a week or participate in a job-training program in order to receive benefits. The proposed bill would have upped the upper age limit of this requirement to 59, but that provision was dropped in the compromise bill.

In a controversial procedural move, a mostly party-line passing vote on rules for floor debate of the farm bill also included a provision that would block legislators from forcing a vote on military aid to Saudi Arabia's intervention in the Yemeni civil war.

This effectively limits the Senate's Dec. 13 vote to withdraw military aid from Saudi Arabia to a symbolic gesture.

This amended bill passed by a vote of 369-47 in the House of Representatives, and 87-13 in the Senate. The Senate passed the bill Dec. 11.

The bill was praised by a coalition of Catholic organizations.

“Agriculture policies should promote the production and access of nutritious food for all people, using the bounty from the land God has called us to tend and steward to aid the least of our brothers and sister in this country and around the world,” read a Dec. 12 letter to the House of Representatives signed by several Catholic organizations, including the USCCB, Catholic Relief Services, and Catholic Charities USA.

“We are pleased that the recently released Farm Bill Conference Committee Report includes provisions that protect global and domestic nutrition programs and strengthens rural supports and employment training programs,” they added.  

The letter also stated support for the inclusion of two programs that contribute to rural development, as well as the bill’s changes to international food security programs. These changes will make the programs “more effective and allow them to serve more people.”

The Catholic coalition expressed disappointment with other parts of the bill, including subsidies to farmers and ranchers and a decrease in funding to conservation programs. Each year, one of the hotly-debated points of the farm bill concerns subsidies that are distributed to farmers, and critics of this say the money does not always go to farmers who are in need of assistance.

The farm subsidies should be “prioritized” for struggling farmers, says the letter.

“It is disappointing that the Conference report does not take modest steps to limit subsidy payments to farmers who are actively engaged in farming.”

 

 

Trial begins for priest accused of assaulting San Diego seminarian

San Diego, Calif., Dec 13, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- A trial began Tuesday for the San Diego priest accused of sexually assaulting a seminarian in February. The alleged victim testified Wednesday that the priest groped him in a restaurant bathroom.

The seminarian told the court that he and another seminarian had drinks with Fr. Juan Garcia Castillo at a bar and restaurant on Feb. 3, after an event at St. Patrick’s Parish in Carlsbad, where Castillo served as parochial vicar. He said they had several drinks, and that the priest encouraged him to drink to excess.

The seminarian testified that he went to the bathroom sick after midnight. While he was in the restroom, Castillo allegedly approached him from behind and groped his genitals, twice.

The seminarian said he told the priest to “get away.”

“I walked out of the stall, and I look at myself in the mirror and I said, ‘Oh my God, what has happened to me?’” the seminarian said, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.

The alleged assault was reported to police and diocesan authorities almost immediately, sources say.

During his opening statement Dec. 12, Castillo’s attorney told a jury that there is no evidence for the seminarian’s claim.

"This is the uncorroborated word of a person who was throwing-up drunk."

"This is a 'he said/he said' where both he’s are drunk and there is no corroborating evidence," the attorney said.
 
Castillo, 35, is a member of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, a religious community of priests also known as the Eudists. He was charged in May with one count of misdemeanor sexual battery.

The seminarian told the court that he is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, an attorney and former Judge Advocate General. He entered the seminary after retiring from the Navy.

Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the Diocese of San Diego, told CNA in September that Castillo no longer has priestly faculties in the diocese.

Castillo was listed as a parish priest in the St. Patrick’s bulletin until late March, six weeks after the alleged assault, although Eckery told the San Diego Union Tribune that the priest was removed from his assignment on Feb. 4, the same day the diocese was made aware of the allegation.

Although Castillo was the subject of a criminal investigation at the time he was removed from the parish, the diocese did not disclose the circumstances of his departure to parishioners, or make any statement at the time Castillo was charged with sexual battery.

Eckery told CNA in September that the diocese did not disclose to Castillo’s parish the allegation of sexual assault because “it would be wrong for us to influence the case.”

“We need to see what happens to the criminal case because the issue of consent is so important and if it’s not clear, we wait for that to get made clear,” he added.

The diocese would not explain the priest’s removal from ministry to the parish where he served, Eckery told CNA, without trying first to determine if an act of sexual misconduct took place, and whether any sexual act was “non-consensual.”

Castillo was born in Honduras, and in 2011 was ordained a priest at St. Patrick’s Parish by Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa.

A spokesman for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office told CNA in September that if he is convicted, Castillo could face up to six months of incarceration, and be listed on California’s sex offender registry.

 

Ohio 'heartbeat abortion' ban advances toward governor's veto decision

Columbus, Ohio, Dec 13, 2018 / 04:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Ohio Senate has passed a modified bill to ban abortions when the unborn child has a detectable heartbeat, and backers could have enough votes to override a promised veto from Gov. John Kasich.

The 18-13 vote on House Bill 258 came Oct. 12, with four Republicans voting against the bill. Though 20 votes are required to override a veto, two absent Republicans’ votes could still help the bill become law.

An override vote would have to take place during the week of Christmas before the official end of the legislative session Dec. 31. Senate president Larry Obhof did not seem enthusiastic about the possibility of a Christmas week vote, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

Kasich, a Republican, has a strong pro-life record, signing into law at least 18 abortion regulations or restrictions, including a 20-week abortion ban. The heartbeat bill is the only one he has vetoed, doing so in 2016, when legislators did not have the votes to override him.

Kasich is about to leave office in January for Governor-elect Mark DeWine, a Republican who supports the legislation.

The Ohio Senate passed an amendment clarifying that the bill would not require the use of a transvaginal ultrasound to detect a heartbeat, which would extend the period of pregnancy before a heartbeat can be detected. It removed language that would have allowed the state to suspend a doctor’s medical license before a crime related to abortion is proved in court.

The law allows exceptions to prevent a woman’s death or bodily impairment, or in cases of medical emergency.

Republican votes in committee and on the Senate floor rejected several Democratic amendments, including one that would have added exceptions for victims of rape or incest.

The House of Representatives passed the bill last month by a vote of 60-38, exactly the number of votes needed to override. Once the House agrees to the Senate’s changes to the bill, the governor would have ten days from a bill’s passage to veto it, excluding Sundays.

During 2016 debates over the bill, some pro-life critics voiced concern it could result in a counterproductive Supreme Court decision that would strengthen legal abortion in the U.S. It is unclear how the Supreme Court will rule with Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh replacing Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, even if a legal challenge is made and progresses to the high court.

While groups like Ohio Right to Life have remained neutral on the bill due to constitutional concerns, backers of the legislation have said it is specially designed to pass Supreme Court scrutiny.

The Ohio Catholic Conference on Nov. 15 said it supports “the life-affirming intent of this legislation,” but stopped short of endorsement. The conference said it will continue to assist efforts to resolve “differences related to specific language and strategies.”

“In the end, the Catholic Conference of Ohio desires passage of legislation that can withstand constitutional challenge and be implemented in order to save lives,” the Catholic conference said.

Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, who is a past leader of Ohio Right to Life, said Dec. 12 that women who had testified against the bill spoke about their abortions with “tears in their eyes, pain in their heart,” the Columbus Dispatch reports.

“I have never had a woman cry when she said she chose life. Not once. Not a single time,” she said. “Because in our hearts we know this is a human life.”

Bill opponents like Sen. Charleta Tavares, D-Columbus, charged that the bill sends the message that women “don’t have the capacity to make decisions themselves.” Women would still have abortions, in “a cruel and very dangerous way,” she said.

The bill’s text makes clear that a pregnant woman who undergoes an abortion is not considered in violation of the law. Rather, it allows her to take civil action against the abortion doctor involved if it is proven he or she broke the law, on grounds related to the “wrongful death of the unborn child.”

A doctor who performs an abortion in violation of the law would commit a fifth-degree felony, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine, the New York Times reports. The bill requires state inspections of abortion facilities to ensure their compliance with reporting requirements. It also establishes more ways to promote adoption.

The legislature is expected to pass a bill to ban the dilation and extraction abortion procedure, typically used between 13 and 24 weeks into pregnancy.

Ohio law currently bars abortion 20 weeks or more after conception, based on when an unborn child can feel pain. Pro-abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio is considering a legal challenge to that law.

Australian PM promises bill to protect against religious discrimination

Canberra, Australia, Dec 13, 2018 / 03:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid competing claims of religious freedom rights and LBGT rights, the Australian prime minister said Thursday the government will next year introduce a bill to protect against discrimination based on religious belief or activity.

“Australia is a place where discrimination on the basis of a person’s identity – including their religious identity – is unacceptable,” the office of Scott Morrison said Dec. 13.

“It is also a place where we respect the right of religious institutions to maintain their distinctive religious ethos. Our laws should reflect these values.”

Morrison also plans to appoint a freedom of religion commissioner at the Australin Human Rights Commission.

The government wants to make religious belief and activity a protected class, like race or sex. It also hopes to ensure that groups rejecting same-sex marriage are not stripped of their charitable status.

The proposals are among the government's response to a review on religious freedom in Australia, which was finished in May.

Australia has seen debate over religious freedom in recent years with respect to the seal of the confessional, hiring decisions, and same-sex marriage.

The religious freedom review made 20 recommendations, of which the government will implement 14 as soon as practicable.

One recommendation, a Religious Discrimination Bill, will be “implemented following consultation to seek bipartisan support.”

Five more recommendations “require further consideration,” the government said. These include provisions relating to employment and enrolment in religious schools.

The head of the religious freedom review panel, Phillip Ruddock, told the Guardian Australia that it had “looked for examples of questionable conduct” against LGBT employees and students, but such examples were “few and far apart and ill-defined”.

Morrison's governing Coalition alliance has been at odds with the opposition Australian Labor Party over efforts to legislate regarding religious schools' ability to discriminate against LGBT students and staff.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney noted earlier this year that “we cannot take the freedom to hold and practice our beliefs for granted, even here in Australia,” and that “powerful interests now seek to marginalize religious believers and beliefs, especially Christian ones, and exclude them from public life. They would end funding to faith-based schools, hospitals and welfare agencies, strip us of charitable status and protections.”

For example, in July, a group of trade unions in the country passed a motion saying that they will lobby to restrict the right of religious organizations to make hiring decisions based on adherence to Church teaching on sexuality.

And when same-sex marriage was legalized in Australia in 2017, efforts to include amendments that would protect religious freedom failed during parliamentary debate.

Bill recognizing 'reproductive rights' as human rights introduced in US House

Washington D.C., Dec 13, 2018 / 02:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A bill was introduced Monday in the US House of Representatives to require that the State Department include “reproductive rights” in its annual human rights report.

The Reproductive Rights are Human Rights Act of 2018 was introduced Dec. 10 by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA-5), and was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The Trump administration's State Department included statistics on “coercion in population control” rather than “reproductive rights” in its 2017 annual human rights report.

The State Department's decision was applauded by pro-life leaders.

“‘Reproductive rights’ has long been a euphemism for destroying human life in the womb,” said Lila Rose, founder and president of the pro-life group Live Action, said when the report was released in April.

“A phrase that sounds like empowerment is a really only code for the subjugation of preborn children,” Rose added.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, told CNA at the time that abortion is an “inappropriate indicator of human rights.”

The Reproductive Rights are Human Rights Act is a direct response to the State Department's decision.

A statement from Clark's office said that “removing women’s right from the annual report in 2017 was a dramatic and dangerous shift in U.S. efforts to protect the international rights of women.”

The State Department began including “reproductive rights” in its human rights report in 2011.

Clark commented that “documenting and reporting human rights violations is a major part of eradicating their existence. This bill would ensure that our State Department maintains its vital role as an international watchdog and protector of women’s rights no matter the ideology of our White House.”

Rep. Nita Lowey, a co-sponsor of the bill, characterized the State Department's decision as the US “turn[ing] its back on the countless women around the world who are deprived of basic reproductive rights.”

Another cosponsor, Rep. Lois Frankel, asserted: “Women’s rights are human rights. There is no greater right for women than to be in charge of their own bodies.”

Among the 45 organizations which have endorsed the bill are the Center for Reproductive Rights, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the American Psychological Association, and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, stated that “when women’s rights are limited and they are unable to access basic health care like contraception, safe abortion, and maternal health care, their ability to achieve economic, social, and political empowerment is fundamentally hindered.”

The State Department's report currently includes a section on “Coercion in Population Control”, under a larger section titled “Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons”. The new section appears under the subsection for “women” and features reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization procedures, and “other coercive population control methods.” There are also links to maternal mortality figures as well as the prevalence of contraceptives in a country.