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Smith dinner's tone lighthearted, but abuse crisis not ignored in remarks

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

By Beth Griffin

NEW YORK (CNS) -- In the current toxic environment where political rivals describe each other as "evil" and "enemies," it is imperative to remember that in America, "our political opponents are not evil, they are just our opponents," according to Ambassador Nikki R. Haley.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was the keynote speaker at the 73rd annual dinner of the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Oct. 18 at the New York Hilton.

Haley distinguished the heated rhetoric from the "true evil" she has witnessed in South Sudan, Syria and North Korea since she arrived at the United Nations in 2016.

The Al Smith dinner honors the memory of the former governor of New York, who was the first Catholic nominated by a major political party to run for president of the United States. Proceeds from the $3,000-a-plate event help needy children in the greater New York area. The foundation distributed $3.4 million in grants after last year's dinner.

The event drew 700 guests to the traditionally festive gathering of political, religious and philanthropic New Yorkers. Among those sharing the three-tiered dais were New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sen. Chuck Schumer, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Jeff Glor, anchor of the "CBS Evening News."

Comedian Jim Gaffigan was the dinner's master of ceremonies. He poked fun at the presumed wealth of the guests, whom he described as a "distinguished diverse group of rich, super-rich and Michael Bloomberg."

Bloomberg, the billionaire former three-term mayor of New York, also was seated on the dais. Gaffigan said wearing a white bow tie and tails and looking at the sea of diners in formal attire made him feel "like I'm in an ugly episode of Downton Abbey."

He introduced Haley as "the next president of the United States," in a nod to widespread speculation that the Oct. 9 announcement she will leave her U.N. post at the end of the year signifies her intention to run for the presidency. Haley, the Republican former governor of South Carolina, has denied that she will challenge President Donald Trump in 2020.

She made light of the unexpected news of her departure. Haley said she asked Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, the event's host, if there was anything she could do to boost attendance at the dinner. "He said, "Why don't you resign as U.S. ambassador?'" she said.

Haley joked that as a member of Trump's Cabinet, "it's a thrill to be out to dinner without being harassed."

She said Trump, who spoke at the 2016 dinner with then-opponent Hillary Clinton, offered her advice about her speech. "He said if I get stuck for laughs, just brag about his accomplishments. It really killed at the U.N."

Haley said she learned a lot during her tenure at the U.N. Despite the serious disagreements and differences among the 193 member nations, "at one point, every single one of them was paying Paul Manafort," she laughed.

Haley said her parents emigrated from India "legally, but I keep them at an undisclosed location, just in case." She said when Trump heard she was an Indian American, "he asked if I was from the same tribe as Elizabeth Warren."

Despite the lighthearted tone of the event, the clergy sex abuse scandal and its fallout hung in the air and were addressed head-on by the speakers. In his invocation, Cardinal Dolan, the dinner's host, asked God's mercy "on a church we have also blushed at" for its response to the issue.

Haley said sexual abuse is not limited to the Catholic family and the church "recognizes its deep responsibility to address this moral failing."

"It would be tragic to allow the abuse scandal to blind anyone to the amazing good works the Catholic church does every single day," Haley said. "In the last two years, I have been to some very dark places where human suffering is on a level hard for most Americans to imagine."

She described a South American border area where church organizations are the sole providers of food and a refugee camp in central Africa where the church is on the forefront of those seeking change.

"Just about everywhere I've been, I've come across the Catholic Church doing incredible work that lifts up millions of desperate people. It is serving God's will," she said.

Gaffigan said 1928, the year Al Smith ran for president, "was a tough year to be a Catholic," as was 2018. Introducing himself, Gaffigan said, to applause, "Unlike many Catholics in America who were raised Catholic, I am still Catholic and I still go to church every Sunday. Mostly, I'm afraid to tell my wife I don't want to go."

Gaffigan and his wife are both from large Catholic families. "She is one of nine and they do everything together," he said. A movie outing at Christmas included 30 people. "That's not a group, it's a flash mob. People thought we were from a church. To put in in perspective, Jesus only walked around with 12."

The comedian said he and his wife "have recreated the chaos of our childhoods" by raising a young family of five in Manhattan. He said the real reason he accepted Cardinal Dolan's invitation to emcee the dinner was the optimistic hope that the cardinal would "write some recommendations" for his children.

During the dinner, Lowell C. McAdam, chairman and former chief executive officer of Verizon Communications, received the Happy Warrior Award. The distinction recalls the nickname given to Al Smith by Franklin D. Roosevelt at the 1924 Democratic Convention. The award recognizes someone who epitomizes Gov. Smith's character, grace and leadership by making a positive impact on others.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn offered the benediction.

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Response to sexual abuse crisis tops agenda for USCCB fall assembly

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The firestorm surrounding the clergy sex abuse crisis and the way some bishops handled allegations of abuse against priests will be an important part of the agenda of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' fall general assembly.

The bishops have had to deal with seemingly endless revelations of allegations of abusive clergy since June, most of which referred to long-past incidents. New reports from media outlets also were expected as the Nov. 12-14 assembly in Baltimore approaches.

Bishops nationwide also are facing new challenges as several state attorneys general have opened investigations into the handling of abuse allegations. The investigations follow the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report in August that linked more than 300 priests and church workers to abuse claims and identified more than 1,000 victims over a 70-year period dating from 1947.

The USCCB has not directly addressed the investigations and has not offered any indication that it will advise bishops on how to respond.

Beyond the discussions of clergy sexual abuse and any further actions, the bishops were expected to accept a new pastoral letter on racism, vote on whether to approve a revised national directory for permanent deacons, consider 139 English translations of Latin hymn texts used in praying the Liturgy of the Hours, and adopt a budget estimated at more than $23 million.

Security, always tight during the twice-a-year assemblies, is expected to be stricter than usual to prevent access to the Marriott Waterfront Hotel meeting site by protesters upset with the way the bishops have handled reports of abuse by clergy.

In preparing for the fall assembly, the bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 outlined actions to address the abuse crisis, including approving the establishment of a third-party confidential reporting system for claims of any abuse by bishops.

Committee members instructed the bishops' Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance to develop proposals for policies addressing restrictions on bishops who were removed or resigned because of allegations of abuse of minors or adults.

The Administrative Committee also initiated the process of developing a code of conduct for bishops regarding sexual misconduct with a minor or adult or "negligence in the exercise of his office related to such cases."

The Administrative Committee consists of the officers, chairmen and regional representatives of the USCCB. The committee, which meets in March and September, is the highest authority of the USCCB outside of the full body of bishops when they meet for their fall and spring general assemblies.

A USCCB spokesman said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, conference president, was unavailable to discuss specific plans for the assembly because he and other conference leaders were in Rome attending the Synod of Bishops on young people, faith and vocational discernment. The synod was to conclude Oct. 28.

Francesco Cesareo, chairman of the National Review Board, also declined to discuss the issue, saying in an Oct. 16 email to Catholic News Service that board members were continuing to draft recommendations that would be delivered to the bishops during the assembly.

In August, Cesareo told Catholic News Service that the bishops "have to put their trust in lay leadership and allow that lay leadership to develop the processes and oversight when these kinds of allegations occur, particularly holding bishops accountable."

The all-lay National Review Board, established by the bishops in 2002, oversees compliance by dioceses with the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People." It has no role in oversight of bishops.

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Communications, told Catholic News Service Oct. 19 that the bishops must "continue to press forward" in explaining how well the charter "is working and continues to work."

"It important that we as a conference have made incredible strides in protecting children to the point that one of the safest places for children to participate is the Catholic community in the United States," he said.

"But that message is not getting out there. Many people still believe that the abuse of children and the cover-up by church authorities is an ongoing issue and that the bishops haven't done enough to address the issue. That's contrary to the evidence in contrast to the number of reported abuses since 2002," Bishop Coyne said.

"We have to continually say the charter is working and doing its job."

Bishop Coyne also told CNS he would recommend that dioceses voluntarily open their clergy personnel files -- including those of bishops -- to investigators.

"We all do it and it's done," he said.

Meanwhile, work on the pastoral letter addressing racism was nearing its conclusion.

Bishop Sheldon J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, chairman of the bishop's Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, has shepherded the final stages of work on the document since May when he stepped in for Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, who resigned to undergo treatment for acute leukemia.

The proposed statement, "Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love -- A Pastoral Letter Against Racism," says that "despite many promising strides made in our country, the ugly cancer of racism still infects our nation."

"Racist acts are sinful because they violate justice. They reveal a failure to acknowledge the human dignity of the persons offended, to recognize them as the neighbors Christ calls us to love," the proposed pastoral letter says.

The document examines the history of racism in the U.S. While acknowledging many other groups in the county have endured racism and discrimination in the past, it focuses on three groups: African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans.

The revised national directory for permanent deacons, if approved, would cover all U.S. Latin-rite dioceses and would give instruction on the formation, ministry and life of permanent deacons.

The Vatican approval, known as "recognitio," for the directory currently in use was set to expire in 2009. However, the bishops secured a pair of five-year extensions from the Vatican so the directory could be more closely scrutinized.

The proposed second edition of the directory has been approved by the bishops' Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, and was reviewed by the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance and the Committee on Doctrine.

The 139 English translations of Latin hymn texts are part of a wider effort focusing on a new translation of the breviary agreed to by the bishops in 2012, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship, wrote to the Administrative Committee in September.

"That plan directed ICEL (International Commission on English in the Liturgy) to prepare English translations of the 291 Latin hymns of the typical edition, some of which have never been put into contemporary English," Archbishop Gregory said.

Should the translations be approved in November, the remaining hymns likely will be presented to the full body in November 2019 or June 2020, he added.

The proposed 2019 budget for the USCCB reflects changes -- cuts more frequently than additions -- largely outside the bishops' control, yet will reflect a surplus.

The budget using the USCCB's unrestricted funds is projected at $23.09 million next year, with a surplus of $245,811. The unrestricted funds are spent on the general secretariat, administrative offices, pastoral ministries, politics and advocacy, communications, and "other funding relationships."

The USCCB's restricted funds -- contributions to national collections, funding for the National Religious Retirement Office and government contracts for the Office of Migration and Refugee Services -- show proposed expenditures of $162.6 million, with a surplus of $178,372.

When cuts come into play, the most telling line item is the MRS budget.

"MRS administration is decreasing $12.1 million due primarily to the reduction in the number of refugee arrivals and that directly impacts pass-through funding to the dioceses for local administration and direct assistance to clients," said a budget overview prepared by Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati, USCCB treasurer.

Federal awards and contracts are the chief source of MRS funds.

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Contributing to this report was Mark Pattison in Washington.

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Scalabrini shelter in Guatemala swamped by Hondurans seeking safety

IMAGE: CNS photo/Luis Echeverria, Reuters

By David Agren

MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- A Scalabrini migrant shelter in Guatemala City has served 1,700 Hondurans heading north as part of a caravan seeking to reach the U.S. border.

Carlos Lopez, a shelter official, told Catholic News Service the Scalabrini facility in Guatemala normally serves up to 80 guests at a time, but the number of migrants arriving from Honduras has forced the shelter to offer lodging in a nearby school.

Resources, he added, are strained and "staff are exhausted," having worked 48 hours nonstop. Rain is also making life miserable for migrants traveling mostly on foot and sometimes forced to sleep outside.

"We have a soccer field full of people, in the dining room, in every nook and cranny. They're on the bleachers, in the school gym," he said Oct. 18. "The problem now is feeding people and hygiene. ... We're experiencing chaos right now."

A caravan of Hondurans departed the city of San Pedro Sula Oct. 13, but its ranks swelled as it crossed into Guatemala. Lopez said no one was certain of the caravan's exact size, but he compared it to a "snowball going downhill" and estimated it at more than 5,000 participants.

"This is a humanitarian crisis. Here there are 75-year-old elderly women and 2-month-old babies," he said.

The caravan has captured the attention of Trump, who threatened to cut off assistance to Guatemala and Honduras -- $1.1 billion in 2017 and 2018, according to the Washington Office on Latin America -- if the caravan proceeded.

Guatemala issued a statement saying it would stop the caravan, even though Central American countries allow each other's citizens to cross borders freely.

Mexico sent two planeloads of federal police officers to its southern border Oct. 15 as the first migrants in the caravan arrived in the area. The country's foreign ministry said in a statement anyone with the proper papers could enter Mexico, while those planning to apply for asylum could do so. Anyone not meeting the entry requirements would be turned back, however.

In a tweet, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence warned Central American migrants to stay put, saying the road north poses risks and "if (migrants) cannot come to the U.S. legally, they should not come at all."

The northern triangle of Central America -- Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador -- is one of the most violent regions in the world, though murder rates have declined in recent years. Nicaragua has also experienced an outflow due to political unrest and attacks by police and paramilitaries on the opposition, though many of those migrants head to neighboring Costa Rica.

"Poverty, the lack of opportunities, violence and extortion due to gangs ... (people) can no longer live with such anxiety and, hence, are taking these actions," Lopez said.

In 2017, nearly 299,000 Central Americans were considered refugees or applied for asylum, according to the Jesuit Network with Migrants -- Central America and North America.

"The daily crisis of subsistence ... derived from the imposition of authoritarian political systems and economic models, which exclude, force people to flee their countries to have a dignified life and sometimes save their lives," the network said in a statement Oct. 17.

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Synod about learning from Christ, not producing document, bishop says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Anne Condodina

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The point of the Synod of Bishops on young people is not primarily to produce a document, but instead is to learn from Christ how to "bring God's mercy into the world," Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, said in a homily at the synod.

"We have come to sit at the feet of the 'Divine Physician' and learn from him how to become physicians of broken hearts, among youth, young adults, and all God's people," the bishop said Oct. 18.

Each day a different bishop is chosen to give a homily during midmorning prayer at the synod. Speaking on the feast of Saint Luke, Bishop Caggiano began by asking, "How can one heal a broken heart?"

"It is a question that no disciple of the Lord can avoid asking, since it was to heal broken hearts that our savior came among us," he said.

The young physician, Luke, was among the many doctors who sought to "remedy the brokenness of life" with their own skills and tools. But he learned that there was a better way to heal after the Holy Spirit inspired him: He unlocked the power of divine mercy, the bishop said.

God's mercy offered through the life and death of Jesus healed "hearts burdened by the frailty of disease and old age, hearts that struggle with doubts and fears, hearts that question whether I am either lovable or will ever be loved by anyone," he said.

"My friends, we cannot truly heal anyone on our own," Bishop Caggiano told synod members. "Only Christ brings authentic and lasting healing. Luke understood this and lived his life serving as a simple channel of Christ's mercy."

St. Luke also "gave voice to the poor, the Samaritan, the prodigal son and the women forgotten by society" in a world that had grown blind to the needs of the helpless, he said.

"His Gospel compels us to walk into the shadows of our modern world and become channels of Christ's mercy for those whom the world has left behind," Bishop Caggiano said.

"Let us bring God's mercy into the world, one broken heart at a time."

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Report: Immigrant aid agencies urge end to family separation policies

IMAGE: CNS/Bob Roller


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A report from two leading faith-based agencies serving immigrants entering the United States from Mexico and Central America called on the federal government to end a policy of separating children from their families and help families comply with immigration law.

The report details the collaboration in July between the U.S. bishops' Office of Migration and Refugee Services and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service to assist more than 1,200 families to reunite after children were separated from adults under the U.S. Department of Justice's "zero tolerance" policy.

The policy caused a crisis at the border in the spring and summer months this year as federal agents jailed adults crossing into the U.S. and placed the children who had accompanied them in detention centers, largely in Texas, Arizona and California.

The faith-based agencies mobilized in July to assist the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services reunify separated families and provide shelter, food, clothing, counseling and case management.

Dozens of Catholic Charities and Lutheran social service agencies throughout the country also were involved in the reunification effort.

Titled "Serving Separated and Reunited Families: Lessons Learned and the Way Forward to Promote Family Unity," the report outlines the agencies' response and offered a series of recommendations to the federal government, the U.S. Congress, foreign governments and nongovernmental organizations to better serve families traveling north to the U.S.

It said that while little is known about how the forced separation of children and adults will affect young people, initial reports from service providers "indicate that families are experiencing symptoms of trauma, including separation anxiety."

It also suggested alternatives to detention for asylum-seeking families, especially those who pose no threat to the country.

"Such alternatives are often preferable as they avoid inflicting unnecessary and long-lasting trauma on children and families. Additionally, detaining families that do not present a flight or safety risk is an unnecessary use of limited (Department of Homeland Security) resources," the report said.

Leaders of both organizations welcomed the report.

"I am proud of the response of USCCB/MRS, LIRS and our Catholic and Lutheran partners around country, including my brother bishops, to be able to work with the administration to provide support to those vulnerable families," Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Migration, said in a statement accompanying the Oct. 17 release of the report.

"I believe the recommendations made are important and should be seriously considered in order to avoid pain and suffering in the future caused by the separation of families," he said.

In a separate statement, Kay Bellor, vice president of programs for LIRS, praised the agencies for stepping up quickly to aid families.

"As we have been for decades, communities of faith were there, poised and ready, to love and serve our neighbors in need," Bellor said. "It is our deep hope that the lessons learned from this time in our history will prevent the cruel separation of children from their parents from happening again."

As of Sept. 27, nearly 2,300 families had been reunited, according to the report. Some of the reunited families remained in detention facilities, some were reunited in their countries of origin, and some were released to allow them to travel to families and friends throughout the U.S.

The report showed that the flow of immigrants from Mexico had eased, but that refugees from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador shot upward in 2017 and 2018. It cited the growing violence from criminal gang and illegal drug networks in the three countries as reasons cited by immigrants for seeking to enter the U.S.

MRS and LIRS also called for:

-- Better coordination and data collection on immigrants throughout the government to allow for improved tracking of family reunification.

-- The release of families during "normal but extended business hours" from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. to allow families to be safely transported.

-- Reinstating family case management that had been discontinued in 2017 after just 18 months of operation in what originally was a five-year pilot program.

-- Improved training for care providers.

-- Expanding programs that address the causes of migration.

-- Increased coordination among aid agencies to better serve separated families.

MRS and LIRS also encouraged the U.S. government to "commit to immigration policies that are humane and uphold each individual's human dignity. Such policies should also ensure compliance with immigration requirements and be fair to the U.S. taxpayer."

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Editor's Note: The full report can be accessed online at

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Pope, meeting South Korean leader, says he's open to visiting North

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis, at a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, said he is willing to visit North Korea.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had asked Moon to tell the pope of the invitation. According to Yonhap, the Korean news agency, Moon's press secretary told reporters the pope said he would accept "if an (official) invitation arrives and I can go.'"

Meeting the South Korean president Oct. 18, the pope praised Moon's efforts to promote peace in the Korean peninsula.

"Move forward without stopping. Do not be afraid," the pope told Moon according to Yonhap.

In a statement released after the meeting, the Vatican said Pope Francis and Moon discussed the church's role in promoting "dialogue and reconciliation between Koreans."

"Strong appreciation was expressed for the common commitment to fostering all useful initiatives to overcome the tensions that still exist in the Korean Peninsula, in order to usher in a new season of peace and development," the Vatican said.

Greeting Moon at the entrance to the library of the Apostolic Palace, the pope said, "Welcome! It is nice to see you."

"I come here as the (South) Korean head of state but I am also Catholic and my baptismal name is Timothy. And for me it is an honor to meet you," Moon replied.

The South Korean leader also thanked the pope for taking time to meet him despite his busy schedule during the Synod of Bishops.

According to the Vatican press pool, Pope Francis and Moon spoke privately for more than 30 minutes, assisted by a translator, Korean Father Han Hyun-taek.

After their private meeting, Moon presented the pope with a Korean artist's sculpture of Christ's face adorned with a crown of thorns. The thorns, Moon explained, "are the sufferings of the Korean people."

Among the gifts the pope gave Moon was a split medallion held together by an olive tree which he said was "a symbol of peace in the Korean Peninsula."

Before departing, Moon thanked the pope again for welcoming him and said, "You are not only the head of the Catholic Church, but also a teacher for humanity."

"I wish you well in your work for peace," the pope replied.

The evening before his meeting with the pope, President Moon attended a Mass for Peace in the Korean Peninsula presided by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

Addressing those present after the Mass, President Moon said the historic signing of the Pyongyang Joint Declaration between North and South Korea as well as their commitment to ending the decades-long military confrontation were "blazing the trail for a noble endeavor that will secure the future of peace for the Korean Peninsula and the whole world."

"Right now, on the Korean Peninsula, historic and heartwarming changes are taking place," he said.

President Moon also thanked Pope Francis for blessing "our journey toward peace" and walking "together with us through his prayers."

"Our prayers today will turn into reality for sure," he added. "We will achieve peace and overcome division without fail."

In his homily during the Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, Cardinal Parolin said that the peace offered by Christ to his disciples after his resurrection is the same peace offered to the hearts of men and women "who search for true life and full joy."

The first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy -- in which God promises the people of Israel that although they are "dispersed to the farthest corner of the heavens, even from there will the Lord, your God, gather you" -- reflects the prospects of peace between North and South Korea, he said.

"The wisdom of Scripture makes us understand that only those who have experienced the inscrutable mystery of the apparent absence of God in the face of suffering, oppression and hatred can fully understand what it means to hear the word peace resound again," the cardinal said.

The Vatican secretary of state said that although peace is built daily through a serious commitment to justice and solidarity as well as the protection of human rights and dignity, it is first and foremost a gift from God that "is not an abstract and distant idea but an experience lived concretely in the daily journey of life."

The peace that God offers, he added, "is not the fruit of a simple compromise" but involves "all the dimensions of life, even the mysterious ones of the cross and the inevitable sufferings of our earthly pilgrimage."

"Christian faith," Cardinal Parolin said, "teaches us that 'peace without the cross is not the peace of Jesus.'"

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2018 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