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Vatican summit opens with acknowledgment of evil committed

IMAGE: CNS photo/Evandro Inetti, pool

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Opening the Vatican summit on child protection and the clerical sexual abuse crisis, Pope Francis said, "The holy people of God are watching and are awaiting from us not simple, predictable condemnations, but concrete and effective measures" to stop abuse.

The summit meeting Feb. 21-24 brought together almost 190 church leaders: the presidents of national bishops' conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic churches, superiors of some men's and women's religious orders and top Vatican officials.

In his brief opening remarks, the pope prayed that with "docility" to the Holy Spirit, the bishops at the summit would "listen to the cry of the little ones who ask for justice."

The pope's main address to the assembly was scheduled for Feb. 24 after the discussions, a penitential liturgy and a concluding Mass.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, gave the first formal talk of the gathering, acknowledging how church leaders for so long ignored the suffering of the victims of clerical sexual abuse and covered up the evil crimes of the priest-perpetrators.

Sometimes, he said, bishops were simply afraid to look at the wounds caused by their priests, but he insisted that one cannot profess faith in Christ while ignoring the wounds inflicted on the people Jesus loves.

Using the Gospel stories of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances to the disciples, especially the story of Jesus inviting St. Thomas to put his hands into the wounds on Jesus' hands and side, Cardinal Tagle told the bishops, "Those who are sent to proclaim the core of our Christian faith -- the dying and rising of Christ -- can only do so with authenticity if they are constantly in touch with the wounds of humanity."

The Christian faith itself and the ability of the Catholic Church to proclaim the Gospel is "what is at stake in this moment of crisis brought about by the abuse of children and our poor handling of these crimes," the cardinal said.

But, he asked, "how do we as bishops, who have been part of the wounding, now promote healing?"

First, the cardinal said, the bishops must "draw close to their wounds and acknowledge our faults" and then take concrete steps to ensure all children and vulnerable adults are safe in the church's care.

Justice for the victims is an absolute necessity, he said, but justice by itself "does not heal the broken human heart."

The church can never ask victims to forgive and move on -- "no, far from it," the cardinal said.

But, knowing that forgiveness often aids healing, he said, church leaders must "continue to walk with those profoundly wounded by abuse, building trust, providing unconditional love and repeatedly asking forgiveness in the full recognition that we do not deserve that forgiveness in the order of justice, but can only receive it when it is bestowed as a gift and grace."


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Nigerian Catholics brave persecution to remain steadfast in faith

Abuja, Nigeria, Feb 21, 2019 / 12:35 am (CNA).- Despite the constant threat of violence from Boko Haram terrorists, Catholics in Nigeria remain faithful to the Gospel, trusting God as they offer a witness of forgiveness, said a priest from the country.

As they attend Sunday Mass each week, Catholics in Nigeria “go into a church but don't know if they'll come out,” said Fr. Kenneth Chukwuka Iloabuchi.

The Nigerian priest, who is currently serving in the Diocese of Cartagena, Spain, recounted the experience of Christians in his home country to ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language sister agency. Iloabuchi visited several cities in Mexico in mid-February as part of the second Night of Witnesses organized by the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

The most populous nation in Africa, Nigeria for years has faced attacks and kidnappings by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. The group is estimated to have killed tens of thousands over the last decade. Christians are targeted, sometimes in attacks during Mass.

But the Catholics in Nigeria hold fast to the faith “unto death,” Iloabuchi said.

“There's one case that really struck me,” he recalled, that of “a woman who during Christmas Eve Mass lost all of her family members” to a terrorist attack.

“This woman said at the burial that she would not give in, that she would remain a Catholic unto death, that that was not going to take away her faith,” he said.

“With that peace of heart, with this attitude of forgiveness, they're giving a great witness.”

Two years ago, the priest said, while visiting a village in northern Nigeria, “in the middle of Mass a sacristan came up, an assistant, and told me that a message had been received that Boko Haram was going to enter the village and was going to attack the people, was going to attack Christians.”

“At one point, I was scared and I asked him if I had to end the Mass so the people could leave. He told me no, that never for fear of this group… had they left the church. They had never abandoned their church for fear [the militants] were going to come in to kill the people, because if they started living that way, the terrorists will have won the war.”

Iloabuchi confessed he was afraid. “But seeing the people praising God, living the ceremony, praying, I had to ask myself: 'You, who are a priest are afraid, while these people are praising God?' And I had to take this encouragement from the people to celebrate the Holy Eucharist with dignity, and we celebrated it well without a problem.”

That night, they received a message that the militants had entered the neighboring village and killed six people.

The priest said he was struck by those who lost family members to attacks such as these, yet remained at peace.

“The ministers of the Church are working hard, beginning with the Nigerian Bishops' Conference and the priests who live in the parishes with the people,” he said.

“What they are preaching is forgiveness, justice, peace and love,” the priest said. “That leads even young people in the Church, instead of taking up arms,…to forgive those who are persecuting them, and think that tomorrow will be better.”


Fifty Years

Hattip to commenter Dale Price.  My motto has always been:  “Slay all the Lunies, and let God sort ’em out!”

Deep State? What Deep State?

Surprise!:     Who would have thought that, this deep into the Russia collusion probe, we’d be learning about yet another dossier connected to Hillary Clinton? And, as it turns out, it was sort of a family secret. By his… Continue Reading

Update: N.J. priest at Vatican, removed in 2018, was accused of abuse in 2003

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- U.S. Msgr. Joseph R. Punderson, a senior official of the Vatican's highest court, was instructed by his bishop to resign his Vatican post late in 2018 and then was removed from ministry 15 years after he was found to be credibly accused of the sexual abuse of a minor.

The abuse was reported to the Vatican, and Msgr. Punderson offered to resign in 2004, but the Vatican allowed him to continue working.

Msgr. Punderson's named was included on a list of credibly accused clergy published by the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey, Feb. 13. Bishop David M. O'Connell heads the diocese.

After initially declining to comment, Alessando Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican press office said Feb. 20 that Msgr. Punderson "is no longer in service at the tribunal of the Apostolic Signature and has been in retirement since last fall."

Rayanne Bennett, director of communications for the Trenton Diocese, said in a statement Feb. 20 that diocesan records indicated Msgr. Punderson "was credibly accused in 2003 of the sexual abuse of a minor 26 years earlier."

"The allegation, the first and only claim against Msgr. Punderson, was promptly reported to the appropriate prosecutor, who declined to pursue criminal charges," Bennett said.

"The allegation was also reported to the Holy See, and Msgr. Punderson submitted his resignation in 2004," Bennett said. "The Holy See, however, permitted him to continue in office but under specific restrictions regarding public acts of ministry initially imposed by the Diocese of Trenton in 2003."

Msgr. Punderson, who was named defender of the bond at the Apostolic Signature in 1995, "was instructed to resign his Vatican position by the bishop in late fall 2018 and his resignation was accepted. He has been removed from all public ministry," Bennett said.


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Pipeline struggle reveals value of community to religious congregation

IMAGE: CNS photo/Stephanie Keith, Reuters

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- For the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision not to hear the order's religious freedom claims in a legal challenge to a natural gas pipeline through their land in Pennsylvania came as no real surprise.

"But we needed to see it through and that's what we did," said Sister Janet McCann, a member of the Adorers' leadership team in St. Louis.

Without comment, the Supreme Court announced Feb. 19 that it had declined the congregation's petition for a hearing.

The Adorers' argument centered on their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA. They maintained that allowing construction of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline and its use would be contrary to their 2005 Land Ethic, which holds that all of creation is sacred and that it must be protected from desecration.

Sister McCann said despite the court's decision her congregation realized the 19-month ordeal had given it ample opportunity for "continuing to educate ourselves and educating other people and heightening the awareness of what is happening with our earth."

"Also we learned the process of how to stand up and speak out to big, powerful multibillion-dollar corporations," she told Catholic News Service Feb. 20. "We're hoping that our willingness to kind of stumble through all of this will give some encouragement to other individuals, other communities or other entities to do the same."

The Adorers' opposition to the 42-inch transmission line operated by Oklahoma-based Williams began in July 2017. It found them becoming allies with other faith-based and grass-roots activists, namely Lancaster Against Pipelines, which continues to hold vigils and nonviolent protests along parts of the 183-mile pipeline route.

Early on, the sisters allowed Lancaster Against Pipelines to construct a symbolic chapel on their property adjacent to the project's route.

In their petition to the court, the sisters asked the justices to determine how widely government agencies must regard claims under RFRA and whether a lower court's review of an agency's order satisfies the religious freedom guarantees under the law.

Attorney Dwight Yoder, who filed the Adorers' case, credited the sisters for their prayerful presence as their appeals wound through the court system.

He also predicted that the Supreme Court's decision will have ramifications for other faith-based communities and organizations as they consider legal action based on religious freedom claims.

"This is a violation that's going to continue indefinitely," Yoder told CNS from his office in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. "Here are sisters that have committed their lives to living their faith and part of that is to care for the earth and use their own land in a way that is critical to their faith.

"To have a multibillion-dollar private company to force its way onto your own property and use the federal government to do so seems counter to the basic principles that the country stands for," he said. "The sisters are grieving that they're going to have the pipeline on their land."

Yoder is unsure if any other legal avenues remain for the sisters to explore. He said the option for the Adorers to seek monetary damages for the pipeline's construction seemed to have been left open by the federal court.

I'm not sure it's something we can pursue," he said, "but we're going to examine it."

Despite the denial, Sister McCann said the effort had been "God-led."

"We've learned about this whole thing, what religious women are learning and relearning, is what it means to live the common life, what it means to live in community, especially these days when our world seems to be so at odds with each other," she told CNS.

"Perhaps that's a call for all religious women or communities like Lancaster Against Pipelines, all of us, how we can use that gift of community."

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski


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Tolton sainthood cause advances; next step would be 'venerable' decree

IMAGE: CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic

By Joyce Duriga

CHICAGO (CNS) -- The canonization cause for Father Augustus Tolton is just one step away from going to Pope Francis for the priest to be declared "venerable."

On Feb. 5, the feast of St. Agatha, a nine-member Vatican theological commission unanimously voted that Father Tolton's cause be moved forward to the cardinals and archbishops in the Congregation for Saints' Causes for a final vote to send a decree of the priest's "heroic virtues" to Pope Francis for his approval.

Upon the promulgation of that decree, Father Tolton would receive the title "venerable," which indicates he lived the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance at a heroic level.

The next steps would be beatification and canonization. In general, one miracle attributed to the sainthood candidate's intercession is needed for beatification, and a second such miracle is needed for canonization.

Father Tolton, the first African-American to be ordained a Catholic priest for the United States, was born into slavery, ordained in 1886 in Rome because no U.S. seminary would take him and died serving in Chicago in 1897.

Father James Healy (1830-1900) is considered by some to be the first black U.S. Catholic priest in the U.S. He was biracial; his father was Irish. Born in Georgia, he was ordained in 1854 in Paris for ministry in the U.S. He later became a bishop, heading the Diocese of Portland, Maine.

If canonized, Father Tolton would be the nation's first African-American saint.

"Father Tolton's story represents the long and rich history of African-American Catholics, who have lived through troubling chapters and setbacks in our American history," said Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Joseph N. Perry, archdiocesan postulator for the cause.

"Lessons from his early life as a slave and the prejudice he endured in becoming a priest still apply today with our current problems of racial and social injustices and inequities that divide neighborhoods, churches and communities by race, class and ethnicity. His work isn't done. We will continue to honor his life and legacy of goodness, inclusivity, empathy and resolve in how we treat one another."

Bishop Perry said unexplained physical healings have been reported to the cause and are under investigation.

The Archdiocese of Chicago formally opened Father Tolton's cause for canonization in 2010.

Norbertine Father Gerard Jordan holds the canonical title "promoter of the cause" and travels the country sharing the message of Father Tolton and the canonization efforts on behalf of Bishop Perry.

He said Father Tolton's story transcends the lines of race, gender and priesthood.

"If we start with the black part, then it's just a nice Black History Month story. If we start from the priesthood part you only include the ordained," Father Jordan told the Chicago Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper. "First off, he didn't start off as a black man or an ordained priest. The first thing that Tolton was was a created child of God. You gotta start there."

"The first experience Tolton would have recognized, and it would have had a physical and spiritual effect on him, was his baptism," Father Jordan said. "If we connect with his baptism, then everybody is included and can relate to his story."

All the baptized are connected, he said.

"The baptism of Tolton tells the real story that we're supposed to be paying attention to and that's the story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Father Jordan said. "Everything that Tolton experienced in life is the Gospel story."

Father Tolton had great love for the church, the people of God.

"He saw himself connected to the church who loved him. His mother, Martha Jane, was his physical mother but his spiritual mother was very real to him," Father Jordan said. "He said himself that the Catholic Church was the only thing that would help him to beat the double slavery of his mind and his body."

In his lifetime, Father Tolton also talked about how his mother the church took him as a poor slave to become fully who he was in the eyes of God.

"Everybody has to realize that the greatest inheritance we will ever receive is our baptism," Father Jordan said. "It is your decision whether or not you're going to keep that inheritance and invest in it or whether you're going to squander it or give it away or abandon it. Tolton never abandoned his inheritance."

His story begins and ends there, the priest said.

"Once people relate to Tolton's baptism they will find pieces of their life that they can relate too."

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Duriga is editor of Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

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Update: Blaming homosexuality for abuse of minors is distraction, victims say

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

ROME (CNS) -- People must stop using homosexuals as scapegoats for the sexual abuse of children, two male survivors of abuse by priests told reporters.

"To make this link between homosexuality and pedophilia is absolutely immoral, it is unconscionable and has to stop," said Peter Isely, a survivor and founding member of the survivor's group SNAP.

Speaking to reporters outside the Vatican press office Feb. 18, he said: "No matter what your sexual orientation is, if you've committed a criminal act against a child, you're a criminal. That's the designation that counts. Period."

Isely and other survivors were in Rome to speak with the media ahead of a Vatican summit Feb. 21-24 on child protection in the Catholic Church.

Phil Saviano, who founded SNAP's New England chapter and is a board member of, told reporters Feb. 19 that he felt "there has been a lot of scapegoating of homosexual men as being child predators."

To lay the blame for the abuse of children on homosexuality "tells me that they really don't understand" the problem and have made a claim "that is not based on any source of reality."

"I will admit that if a priest is abusing a 16-, 17- or 18-year-old boy, that part of the element that is going on there is homosexuality, but that is not the root of the problem" of abuse by clergy, he said at an event at the Foreign Press Association in Rome.

Saviano was a prepubescent boy when he was abused by Father David A. Holley of Worcester, Massachusetts, and he said, very often, a perpetrator is no longer "interested" in his victim when the child goes through puberty.  

Saviano, whose story of abuse triggered the Boston Globe investigation and was featured in the film Spotlight, said he hears from victims from all over the world "and many of them are women who were abused as children."

"Trying to lump it all together under homosexually," he said, is "a dodge" and will not "lead to a proper solution."

"It is also an insult to all the women who have been sexually abused as children," he added.

U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke and German Cardinal Walter Brandmuller released an open letter Feb. 19, urging the Vatican summit to take up the theme of homosexuality in the priesthood and other evidence of a more general questioning of traditional Catholic morality.

With the summit, they said, it seems that the "difficulty" in the church "is reduced to that of the abuse of minors, a horrible crime, especially when it is perpetrated by a priest, which is, however, only part of a much greater crisis. The plague of the homosexual agenda has been spread within the church, promoted by organized networks and protected by a climate of complicity and a conspiracy of silence."

The report of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice on clergy abuse in the Catholic Church in the United States found there was no "causative relationship" between either celibacy or homosexuality and the sexual assault of children by church members.

The report concluded clerical sexual abuse of children was more a crime of opportunity with abusers violating whomever they had more unsupervised access to -- regardless of age and gender -- and that abusive priests almost always had more access to boys.

Barbara Dorris, a survivor and former executive director of SNAP, told reporters in Rome Feb. 19 that in the past 17 years, she has spoken to "thousands, thousands of victims" and close to half of them were women.

"Survivors only come forward when they feel they will be believed, when they feel they can get help or when reporting the crimes will make a change, when it will help others protect children," she said. "Most of the stories in the media in the past have been about the altar boys; the abuse of women and girls has not been the focus of coverage and when it has, unfortunately, words like 'affair' and 'relationship' have been used."

Too many women feel they will not be believed or "will be blamed" as having tempted a priest, Dorris said. "It's a vicious cycle," because victims speak up when they see other victims have been believed.

Framing the abuse crisis "as a homosexual issue," she said, takes the focus away from "the real issue, which is criminal sexual assault."

Focusing on homosexuality also "acts as a smokescreen; people now are discussing homosexuality, rather than the crimes themselves," she said. Pretending clerical sexual abuse is a result of homosexuality in the priesthood "automatically removes the women from the discussion and, magically, half the victims have been made to disappear."

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Contributing to this story was Liam McIntyre in Rome.


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To know God is to know love, pope says at audience

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When speaking to God as a father, Christians experience a love that goes beyond human love and affection, which can be unpredictable and mired by selfishness, Pope Francis said.

While often compared to the love of parents, the love of God is greater; "there is a God in heaven who loves us like no one on this earth has ever done and can ever do," the pope said Feb. 20 during his weekly general audience.

"God's love is that of the father 'who is in heaven,' according to the expression that Jesus invites us to use. It is the total love that we in this life can savor only in an imperfect way," he said.

Continuing his series of talks on the Our Father, the pope reflected on the first verse of the Lord's Prayer. Praying to God in heaven, he said, is the first step of every Christian prayer to enter the "mystery of God's fatherhood."

While God's paternal love is a reminder of the love humans experience, the pope said that there can be no comparison between the two since human love is "capable of blossoming" in one moment and "withering and dying" in the next.

"This is what our love often is: a promise that is hard to keep, an attempt that soon dries up and evaporates, a bit like when the sun comes out in the morning and takes away the dew of the night," the pope said.

While human love can be fickle, he said, "no one should doubt that" they are worthy of God's love.

Some may think that the phrase "Our Father, who art in heaven" is meant to convey the distance between God and humankind, but Pope Francis said that it is instead meant to express "a radical diversity, another dimension" of love.

"None of us are alone," the pope said. "If, even by misfortune, your earthly father had forgotten about you and you had resentments against him, you were not denied the fundamental experience of the Christian faith: that of knowing that you are God's beloved child and that there is nothing in life that can extinguish his passionate love for you."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Dolan: Church loves, welcomes pregnant women, is 'honored' to serve them

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chris Sheridan, Catholic New York

By Beth Griffin

NEW YORK (CNS) -- In a robust demonstration that actions speak louder than words, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan Feb. 18 introduced representatives of six church-related organizations that help pregnant women in need.

Standing in the modest living room of a convent that Sisters of Life share with expectant and new mothers and their children, the cardinal reaffirmed the commitment first made in 1984 by his predecessor, Cardinal John J. O'Connor.

"Any pregnant woman can come to the Archdiocese of New York, to its parishes and facilities, and we will do all in our power to assist you, so that you never feel that you have no alternative except an abortion," Cardinal Dolan said. "It does not matter what your marital status, your religion, or your immigration status might be. None of that matters, folks."

Cardinal Dolan acknowledged that the timing of his reaffirmation of the church's outreach coincided with the attention given to the Reproductive Health Act of 2019, which effectively removed restrictions on abortion in New York, and the current "almost pro-abortion atmosphere out there."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the measure into law Jan. 22, the anniversary of U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v Wade ruling legalizing abortion nationwide.

"Every once in a while we need to trumpet and put a spotlight on the good work that we do," the cardinal said. "Most of us bristle when the church is criticized for speaking all the time but not offering action. Nothing could be further from the truth."

Cardinal Dolan said he was worried that poor women especially were getting the impression that abortion is their only choice. "This is a very teachable time for us to stand up and say, 'We're here. We love you. We welcome you. There is an alternative here and we'd be honored to serve you.'"

Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, superior general of the Sisters of Life, said her group has provided assistance to more than 9,000 women since the religious community was established in 1991, and they have shared their convents with pregnant women since 1996.

"We are standing in radical solidarity with women during an unexpected or difficult pregnancy. The sisters and the woman together find a pathway through fear, a pathway defined by realistic and ongoing emotional and practical support that she may respond with courage and dignity to one of life's most difficult moments," she said.

Mother Agnes Mary said the Sisters of Life serve 600 to 1,000 women each year. She said their message to vulnerable pregnant women is: "Know you are not alone. We believe in you. This pregnancy does not mean your life and your dreams are over. We stand ready to help you realize the deepest desires of your heart."

She said approximately 85 percent of the women who contact the Sisters of Life for counsel "will choose to bring life to their child. We provide critical and strategic support that is timely and important to her life," she said.

While her impossibly cute toddler captured all the attention in the room, an Ethiopian professional runner named Brhane described meeting the Sisters of Life in New York. It was when she was pregnant, alone, far from home and feeling pressure to abort her baby, she said.

"They helped me to find a home for me and my baby. They were with me the whole way and are still with me. They helped me with my immigration, to find a job, to find baby-sitting. They helped me with everything."

Brhane named the little girl Sena Love, which translates, "I love my history."

The Sisters of Life helped Brhane to run the New York Marathon and she is training to run professionally again, she said. "I love my daughter. She changed my life. I am so happy. Thank you God."

Dr. Anne Nolte, director of the Gianna Center for Women's Health and Fertility, said her medical practice provides primary care and reproductive health care to women and teenagers that aligns with church teachings. The center offers service to patients of all backgrounds and has "a particular commitment to helping women whose babies have an adverse diagnosis in the womb," Nolte said.

Chris Bell is a co-founder with the late Father Benedict Groeschel, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, of five Good Counsel residences in New York and New Jersey for homeless single pregnant women and their children. He said his group provides "concrete help and real hope" to women in crisis.

Since 1985, Good Counsel has served more than 7,800 mothers and children with more than 755,000 nights of shelter as well as material aid, counseling, parenting and education programs.

The Good Counsel homes have a 100 percent occupancy rate, and women are invited to stay for up to a year to reap the maximum benefits of the program, Bell said.

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, described a network of 90 affiliated agencies that provide dignified, compassionate care to people in all stages of life. "Our door is open," he said.

Among the agencies is the Catholic Guardian Society. Dolores Ortiz, assistant executive director, said each year more than 300 "at-risk pregnant and parenting women" receive support, case management services, parenting resources and referrals from Catholic Guardian Society.

Teresa Georgeo, a director of Archcare, the continuing care program of the Archdiocese of New York, said her group's maternal child health program provides prenatal care for women with high-risk pregnancies, and helps new mothers and infants.

The speakers said their services are free or low-cost and available to all women regardless of race, religion, background or ability to pay.

Cardinal Dolan acknowledged the hurt, frustration and anger people in the archdiocese might feel at the new abortion law. "We should not respond with bitterness and divisiveness, but put our faith and trust in the Lord and reach out with love to troubled moms and their babies," he said.

He said it would be a good time for people on both sides of the abortion debate to come together to discuss providing "life-giving alternatives to the horror of abortion."

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at