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Millionaire pornographers charged with sex trafficking in California

San Diego, Calif., Oct 11, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The owners and two employees of two related pornography websites were charged in federal court with sex trafficking on Thursday, Oct. 10. 

Michael James Pratt, 36, Matthew Isaac Wolfe, 37, and Ruben Andre Garcia, 31, are all charged with “Sex Trafficing by Force, Fraud and Coercion,” which carries a minimum of 15 years in prison and maximum penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

Pratt, Wolfe, Garcia, and a woman named Valorie Moser, 37, are additionally charged with “Conspiracy to Commit Sex Trafficking by Force, Fraud and Coercion,” which also has a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Pratt and Wolfe are the owners of two pornographic websites, GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys. Garcia is described in the release as an “adult film performer and producer,” and Moser is an administrative assistant. 

According to the release from the Department of Justice U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, Garcia was arrested on Wednesday, Wolfe was placed into custody by immigration officials and transferred into federal custody on Tuesday, and Moser will be arranged on Friday. Pratt is described as a “fugitive” who is at large. On Wednesday, the FBI raided the websites’ office in San Diego. 

The four are accused of placing ads for “modeling jobs” that would pay $5,000. In fact, the jobs were for pornographic films. The complaint alleges that Pratt, Wolfe, Garcia, and Moser told the women they could remain anonymous and that their videos would not be shared online. The charges allege that this was not true, and that the videos were made exclusively for the internet. 

Financial records show that the two websites earned more than $17 million for Pratt and Wolfe. 

The complaint alleges that instead of a modeling job, women were “pressured” into signing documents they were not given the chance to read thoroughly, and were threatened with legal action or “outing” if they did not “perform” in a video. Others alleged victims say they were not allowed to leave the location of the shoot until a video was complete, and that their families and friends saw their videos online, which resulted in harassment and estrangement from their families. 

The complaint also says that at least one performer was raped during a shoot, and others were sexually assaulted. The complaint states that performers would be forced to perform things they did not want to, or else they would not receive payment for their work or be allowed to leave. 

The FBI in San Diego is requesting that any additional victims come forward and share their experiences. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes pornography as a “grave offense.”

It “offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other” and does “grave injury to the dignity of its participants,” the Church teaches.

“Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials,” the Catechism says.

The Amazon synod, by the numbers

Vatican City, Oct 11, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The Vatican’s Amazon synod began this week. Over 200 people are gathered in the Vatican to discuss the life and ministry of the Church in the Pan-Amazonian region, an area surrounding the Amazon River which spans nine countries.

Here are a few facts about the Amazon synod, as told by the numbers:

 

2, 260, 87,000

Pope Francis announced a meeting of the Synod of Bishops to discuss matters of importance to the Pan-Amazonian Region in 2017. The two years since that have been spent planning for this month’s gathering.

According to the head of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, around 260 events were held in the Amazon to prepare for the synod. Most of those events were listening and consultation sessions, attended by approximately 87,000 people.

 

147, 22, 2/3

The synod’s working document, or Instrumentum laboris, guides the process. The document is 147 paragraphs long. According to Baldisseri, it is the product of listening to the thoughts, questions, and concerns of people in the Amazon. He said it is a starting point for discussion.

The document is controversial, and some Church leaders have criticized its theological approach. Pope Francis himself, at the synod’s opening session, called the document a “martyr text destined to be destroyed.”

How much of the Instrumentum laboris gets incorporated into the final document depends on the work of the assembly, which will produce a final document of recommendations to give to Pope Francis.

The actual synod assembly is taking place in Vatican City over 22 days. The synod began with an opening Mass said by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica Oct. 6 and continues through Oct. 27, concluding with a closing Mass.

During those 22 days, the synod’s bishops, experts, observers, and other advisers are meeting inside the Vatican’s Synod Hall to hear presentations, and to work in small groups that discuss aspects of the assembly’s Instrumentum laboris.

The synod’s final document, essentially a set of recommendations to Pope Francis, is approved by the synod fathers toward the end the synod. It will require a 2/3 majority to pass.

 

185, 145, 34, 20

There are 185 synod fathers participating in the Amazon synod. A synod father is the name given to the bishops, or in some cases, priests and religious brothers, who make up the voting members of a synod assembly. More than 145 of the members of the 2019 synod come from, or serve in, places in South and Central America.

Women are also participating in the synod in the capacity of auditors or experts. Baldisseri said last week that the 34 women is a record number to participate in a synod. Of  the 34 women, 20 are members of religious orders.

 

50, 438,373, 134,435, 10,000, Zero

Baldisseri has proposed to make a “symbolic gesture” of commitment to ecological friendliness by buying bonds that would reforest 50 hectares (nearly 124 acres) of land in the Amazon basin.

This purchase would be, he said, to offset the CO2 emissions caused by the synod, of which it is calculated that 438,373kg is caused by the air travel of participants in the assembly, and 134,435kg by other emission-causing activities, such as the use of energy, water, and transportation in Rome.

The cost of the 50 hectares is “very low,” Baldisseri said – just 10,000 euros.

This and other initiatives, including the use of glass and metal water bottles, along with biodegradable cups instead of plastic, are intended to make it a “synod at ‘Impact Zero,’” Baldisseri said.

 

2,400,000, 34,000,000, 79+26+3

The Amazon River basin, most of which is covered by the Amazon rainforest, encompasses 2.4 million square miles, mostly in Brazil, but also in the countries of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Guyana, French Guiana, and Suriname.

According to statistics provided by the Vatican, due to large migration from forest villages, now an estimated 70 to 80% of the Pan-Amazonian population, around 34 million people, live in cities. Because of this, many cities in the Amazon face urban crowding and lack of infrastructure and resources, making urban poverty one of the major issues facing the region, and one of the many topics to be addressed over the next three weeks.

There are 79 Catholic dioceses, 26 apostolic vicariates, and three prelatures in the Amazon basin. The apostolic vicariates and prelatures are supported financially by the Pontifical Mission Societies, which is under the jurisdiction of the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

$$??

As with any major international event, the synod takes a sum of money to prepare for and to conduct. Expenses include international and domestic transportation, lodging, food, personnel, and interpreters, among many others. Information about how much money has been spent has not been made public. Both the Vatican press office and the office of the Synod of Bishops declined to provide that information to CNA.

Abortion funding fight looms over Senate appropriations process

Washington D.C., Oct 11, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- When the Senate returns for business on Oct. 15, it will have little more than a month to pass legislation funding the government—and pro-lifers are concerned that attempts to circumvent protections against taxpayer funding of abortion could be successful.

Shortly before the Senate left for the October recess, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) successfully included an amendment in a funding bill for the State Department, Foreign Operations, and related agencies, that increased U.S. international family planning assistance and reinstated funding of the UN’s Population Fund (UNFPA).

Some pro-lifers are concerned that this is problematic because the appropriations could end up increasing funding of groups that promote abortions abroad.

The bill including Shaheen’s amendment was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee and, like other bills funding various parts of the government, will have to be approved by the full Senate. After that, any differences between it and the House funding bill would have to be resolved in negotiations between members from both chambers; the final product would then have to pass both chambers to reach the President’s desk.  

However, for pro-life advocates, the approval of Shaheen’s amendment by the full Senate Appropriations Committee set a troubling precedent because it established a “ground floor” in fights over abortion funding in the budget negotiations.  

Shaheen had previously tried to offer an amendment directly repealing the Mexico City Policy but, she claimed, she was denied the opportunity to do so by Senate Republicans.

The Mexico City Policy bars U.S. family planning funds from going to foreign non-governmental organizations that promote or perform abortions as a method of family planning. The Trump administration expanded upon this policy, applying the funding prohibition to an estimated $8.8 billion in U.S. global health assistance.

Shaheen’s amendment that was successfully approved by the committee would increase international family planning and reproductive health funding to $665 million. If the Mexico City Policy were to be repealed in the future—as it has been by the last two Democratic presidents—this increased funding would go to organizations that promote abortions abroad.

Certain domestic organizations promoting abortions already receive foreign aid, and could stand to receive even more funding if Shaheen’s amendment is enacted into law in spite of the Mexico City Policy.

The group Pathfinder International, for instance, receives U.S. assistance and says on its website that it works “to ensure access to comprehensive abortion care for all women.” The group Population Council says it teaches safe abortions, and claims that “[w]here abortion is not legal, we document the public health and cost burden of unsafe abortion.”

Other abortion-supporting groups that could receive more U.S. assistance include Engender Health and PATH.

Shaheen’s amendment also reinstated funding of the UNFPA. The Trump administration has redirected funding away from the UNFPA for three straight years because of the fund’s partnership with the Chinese government, which has instituted a coercive two-child policy and has enforced it through forced abortions and sterilizations.

Currently, the $32 million in funding of the UNFPA under Shaheen’s amendment could not be used in China, cannot be “comingled” with other UNFPA funds, and would be blocked if UNFPA funds abortions.

In addition, it would be subject to the Kemp-Kasten amendment prohibiting funding of organizations that perform or participate in forced abortions and sterilizations; the administration has invoked this amendment as an authority when announcing that UNFPA funding is being redirected.

Nevertheless, the reinstatement of UNFPA funding would seek to undercut the administration’s policy and could at least be a statement of support for the organization despite its partnership with the Chinese government on family planning.

Shaheen’s amendment comes after several attempts in the Senate to insert “poison pill” amendments into appropriations bills to undo pro-life policies, despite an early bi-partisan agreement not to do so during the appropriations process.

The chamber had to pass a dozen appropriations bills by Sept. 30 to fund various government agencies for the 2020 fiscal year, but disagreements on border wall funding and pro-abortion amendments derailed the process.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) tried to repeal the Title X Protect Life Rule in a proposed amendment for a bill funding the Departments of Labor, HHS, Education, and related agencies. The Protect Life Rule forbade Title X family planning grants from going to entities that were co-located with abortion clinics, or that referred for abortions.

Instead of passing the appropriations bills, Congress instead passed a continuing resolution that would temporarily fund the government through November 21, setting up the new deadline for perhaps another showdown over abortion funding.

Also included in Shaheen’s amendment was a mechanism to enforce an Obama-era nondiscrimination rule, that USAID contractors cannot discriminate against beneficiaries on the basis of “gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy.”

The 2016 USAID rule was interpreted as a prohibition on discrimination against individuals identifying as LGBTI, but the inclusion of “pregnancy” has led some pro-lifers to believe it could also be interpreted to prohibit “discrimination” against women seeking abortions.

For instance, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act prohibited discrimination on basis of sex, which HHS interpreted to include discrimination by health care providers against the “termination of pregnancy.”

Shaheen’s amendment would also mean that USAID has to create a mechanism to investigate claims of discrimination. As a press release by Shaheen’s office explained, “The investigation would ensure biases by the administration regarding reproductive health do not interfere or alter the delivery of services on the ground.”

Republicans in the committee inserted a mandate that such investigations be conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and not from within the State Department.

Sole private abortion clinic in New Brunswick to close

Fredericton, Canada, Oct 11, 2019 / 02:16 pm (CNA).- Clinic 554, the only private abortion clinic in the Canadian province of New Brunswick, is closing because of financial instability, its director announced Thursday.

The Fredericton clinic is a family practice that, according to its website, believes “patients have a right to self-affirming services. We are committed to sex-positive, gender-celebratory care, anti-racist and feminist practices, and full-scope reproductive care, including abortions.”

The clinic notes that “the breadth of services offered by our family practice includes all scopes of medicine, from pediatrics to geriatrics with a focus on reproductive, trans*, LGBT/Queer, and HIV care.”

Clinic 554’s medical director is Dr. Adrian Edgar.

In an Oct. 10 statement Edgar said the clinic is closing because “the province of New Brunswick unilaterally refuses to allow Medicare to cover the cost of a patient who sees me for an abortion procedure.”

“The province either offloads that fee onto the patient or myself and our loving team of nurses and allied providers … As a direct result, it is financially unsustainable for us to keep our doors open, and the clinic has been placed for sale.”

Bruce Macfarlane, spokesperson for the province’s health department, said that “abortions are available in publicly-funded hospitals” in the province. “The Department of Health, in accordance with the Canada Health Act, does not fund private healthcare services.”

Abortions are covered by the provincial government at two hospitals in Moncton, and one in Bathurst.

New Brunswick is governed by the center-right Progressive-Conservative Party.

Cardinal Newman’s time in Rome

Rome, Italy, Oct 11, 2019 / 01:12 pm (CNA).- Cardinal John Henry Newman, who will be canonized Oct. 13, is more often associated with Birmingham than Rome, but his four visits to the Eternal City mark significant moments in the life of this soon-to-be saint.

An exhibit hosted by the Venerable English College and the British Embassy to the Holy See in Rome Oct. 10-14 demonstrates the significance of Newman’s time in Rome, where he was ordained a Catholic priest, celebrated his first Mass, and discovered the Oratory of St. Philip Neri.

Newman’s first time setting eyes on Rome was in 1833. An Anglican clergyman still years away from conversion, he wrote that he found the city to be “the most wonderful place in the world,” and said even his “dear Oxford” is dust compared with Rome’s “majesty and glory.”

Newman also saw the Vatican Museums during the trip and was impressed by the beauty of Rome’s churches, art, and sculpture.

But his anti-Catholic views also worked against his enjoyment of the Christian aspects of the city. He called Rome “cruel,” because though he was awed by walking in the footsteps of the Apostles and saints martyred in Rome, he found the experience to be overshadowed by what were called Catholic “superstitions.”

This visit, which lasted five weeks, also marked Newman’s first time at a Mass. He attended a Mass said by Gregory XVI for the feast of the Annunciation at the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

It was during the Oxford professor’s return journey from Italy to England that he composed the hymn “Lead Kindly Light.”

His next visit to the Eternal City, and the longest, took place over a decade later, shortly after his conversion to Catholicism.

He came to Rome to prepare for the Catholic priesthood. Arriving Oct. 28, 1846, with his friend Ambrose St. John, they walked the next morning to St. Peter’s Basilica to pray the Creed before the tomb of St. Peter. And when they arrived at the chapel of the relics, they found Bl. Pius IX celebrating Mass.

At that time, the college for students from mission countries preparing for priesthood was called the College of Propaganda Fide, located in a building near the Spanish Steps.

About studying at Propaganda Fide in Rome, Newman once wrote in his diary that he was “happy at Oriel, happier at Littlemore, as happy or happier still at Maryvale -- and happiest here.” 

During his 13 months in the city, Newman encountered the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, a fraternity of priests founded in Rome in 1575. He found the Oratory to be a beneficial way to live aspects of religious life in the context of the secular priesthood.

He asked permission to bring the Oratory to England, which was granted by the pope in February 1847.

Newman was ordained a Catholic priest May 30, 1847 at the Re Magi collegiate church inside the Propaganda Fide building. Newman celebrated his first Mass in another chapel of the building, at an altar above a shrine of martyr St. Hyacinth.

Later that year a novitiate was set up for his new English oratorians, and in December Newman returned to England, establishing the Oratory near Birmingham.

Newman’s next appearance in Rome was for a less happy occasion. In 1856 he returned to the city to meet with the pope to resolve a dispute between the Birmingham Oratory and the newer London Oratory. 

His fourth and final visit to the Eternal City was as a cardinal-elect. Newman had wanted to refuse the honor of being named cardinal, because he was worried he would have to leave the Birmingham Oratory to reside permanently in Rome. But Leo XIII made an exception for Newman, who was the first cardinal he created, bestowing upon him the red biretta May 13, 1879.

The exhibit at the Venerable English College brings together several artifacts connected to Newman and his Roman visits.

Among these are letters to Newman written by cardinals on behalf of the pope, first edition copies of his The Pope and the Revolution and his “Biglietto Speech,” which he gave on the occasion of becoming a cardinal.

There is also an original letter from Newman to the then-prefect of Propaganda Fide in 1881, thanking him for sending a copy of an apostolic constitution by Leo XIII.

The temporary exhibit, which collects items from the College of Propaganda Fide, the International Centre of Newman Friends, the Anglican Centre, the Beda College, and the Venerable English College, also includes a large oil pastel portrait of the soon-to-be saint and a first class relic of his hair.