Gabriel House Project: On the front lines of Diaper Need  

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Did you know that one in three households struggle with diaper need? That three out of five parents struggling with diaper need miss work or school for lacking enough diapers required for childcare? Or that diapers are a basic need for babies, as important as food or housing? That lack of diapers is a strong cause of depression for a new mother, even more than lacking sufficient food for her family? Or that some families desperately attempt to re-use diapers, causing infections and other health problems?  Personally, these facts were shocking when I first learned them; and I have found them all to be true in the faces and stories of the families that we serve at the Gabriel Houses.

Most of the families we serve are immigrants and refugees. Some are homeless. Some are middle-class but living paycheck to paycheck due to high costs of living. Most are families with both parents involved; some are single parents, some are grandparents raising their grandchildren. In particular, we see many large families, who need diapers for multiple babies at once. Surprisingly, there is no government assistance resource available for diapers. Cloth diapers have become less of an option in recent years, as both apartment complexes and laundromats have banned washing them in their machines.  That is where organizations like ours are critical.

The Gabriel House Project is a ministry of Catholic Charities that provides diapers and other baby supplies to expectant mothers and families of young children. We also provide family education programming at 13 locations across the Archdiocese of Denver. Most of our sites are in the Denver metro area, though we also serve on the Western Slope, Eastern Plains, and up north in Ft. Collins. Uniquely approachable, we don’t require IDs or other documents, which makes us accessible to undocumented populations. We try to care for those who come seeking assistance in a relational way, doing a personalized intake, assessing broader needs beyond what we can offer, and facilitating an encounter between volunteers and clients. This changes lives on both sides of the interaction.

A special aspect of the program, that we value highly, is that we are housed in parishes, and it is a blessing to be there. Prior to coming to Catholic Charities, I was in parish/diocesan ministry for 8 years, and something that struck me was that oftentimes a person in need calls a parish before anything else. When I answered the phones, I frequently fielded calls requesting assistance and realized two things — one that those in need are present among us, right in our pews, and two, that, despite the negative publicity the Catholic Church often receives, it seems we are still the speed-dial for emergency help, even for those not involved in a church!  What attracted me to Gabriel House was the fact that this ministry forms a bridge between the parishes, who are on the front lines, and Catholic Charities’ network of resources, which we call our “continuum of care.” It is a blessing to be there; we find the pastors and their communities very supportive to our outreach. At times, where the family expresses an interest, we have been able to assist with integrating them into the faith community that the parish offers. We are grateful to be able to mutually enrich each other’s mission.

That mission is very broad! We serve 14,000 families per year and have distributed 350,000 diapers annually. With increasing need across communities, we expect those number to increase significantly over the next couple years.  All of this activity is donation-dependent; and so, therefore, I’d like to conclude with a call to action enlisting your help! Sept. 23 – 29 is National Diaper Need Awareness Week, and we kick off our fall diaper drives during that time through mid-November.  To learn more about how you can help the Gabriel Houses, and our other Catholic Charities ministries that provide diapers, please go to ccdenver.org/diaper-drive.

Kalynn Webster is the Director of the Gabriel House Project ministry of Catholic Charities of Denver. If you would like to learn more about the program, or participate in the Fall Diaper Drive, please email [email protected] or call 720-799-9307

COMING UP: A last chance for Australian justice

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My late parents loved Cardinal George Pell, whom they knew for decades. So I found it a happy coincidence that, on November 12 (which would have been my parents’ 70th wedding anniversary), a two-judge panel of Australia’s High Court referred to the entire Court the cardinal’s request for “special leave” to appeal his incomprehensible conviction on charges of “historic sexual abuse,” and the even-more-incomprehensible denial of his appeal against that manifestly unsafe verdict.

Thus in 2020 the highest judicial authority in Australia will review the Pell case, which gives the High Court the opportunity to reverse a gross injustice and acquit the cardinal of a hideous crime: a “crime” that Pell insists never happened; a “crime” for which not a shred of corroborating evidence has yet been produced; a “crime” that simply could not have happened in the circumstances and under the conditions it was alleged to have been committed.

Since Cardinal Pell’s original appeal was denied in August by two of three judges on an appellate panel in the State of Victoria, the majority decision to uphold Pell’s conviction has come under withering criticism for relying primarily on the credibility of the alleged victim. As the judge who voted to sustain the cardinal’s appeal pointed out (in a dissent that one distinguished Australian attorney described as the most important legal document in that country’s history), witness credibility – a thoroughly subjective judgment-call – is a very shaky standard by which to find someone guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” It has also been noted by fair-minded people that the dissenting judge, Mark Weinberg, is the most respected criminal jurist in Australia, while his two colleagues on the appellate panel had little or no criminal law experience. Weinberg’s lengthy and devastating critique of his two colleagues’ shallow arguments seemed intended to signal the High Court that something was seriously awry here and that the reputation of Australian justice – as well as the fate of an innocent man – was at stake.

Other recent straws in the wind Down Under have given hope to the cardinal’s supporters that justice may yet be done in his case.

Andrew Bolt, a television journalist with a nationwide audience, walked himself through the alleged series of events at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, within the timeframe in which they were supposed to have occurred, and concluded that the prosecution’s case, and the decisions by both the convicting jury and the majority of the appeal panel, simply made no sense. What was supposed to have happened could not have happened how it did and when it did.

Australians willing to ignore the vicious anti-Pell polemics that have fouled their country’s public life for years also heard from two former workers at the cathedral, who stated categorically that what was alleged to have happened could not have happened how it did and when it did, because they were a few yards away from Cardinal Pell at the precise time he was alleged to have abused two choirboys.

Then there was Anthony Charles Smith, a veteran criminal attorney (and not a Catholic), who wrote in Annals Australasia that the Pell verdict and the denial of his appeal “curdles my stomach.” How, he asked, could a guilty verdict be rendered on “evidence….so weak and bordering on the preposterous?” The only plausible answer, he suggested, was that Pell’s “guilt” was assumed by many, thanks to “an avalanche of adverse publicity” ginned up by “a mob baying for Pell’s blood” and influencing “a media [that] should always be skeptical.”

Even more strikingly, the left-leaning Saturday Paper, no friend of Cardinal Pell or the Catholic Church, published an article in which Russell Marks – a one-time research assistant on an anti-Pell book – argued that the two judges on the appellate panel who voted to uphold the cardinal’s conviction “effectively allowed no possible defense for Pell: there was nothing his lawyers could have said or done, because the judges appeared to argue it was enough to simply believe the complainant on the basis of his performance under cross examination.”

The Australian criminal justice system has stumbled or failed at every stage of this case. The High Court of Australia can break that losing streak, free an innocent man, and restore the reputation of Australian justice in the world. Whatever the subsequent fallout from the rabid Pell-haters, friends of justice must hope that that is what happens when the High Court hears the cardinal’s case – Australia’s Dreyfus Case – next year.

Photo: CON CHRONIS/AFP/Getty Images