CNA News

Subscribe to CNA News feed CNA News
ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa ( is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 2 hours 5 min ago

Opus Dei US head confirms misconduct settlement against popular DC priest

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 11:00

Washington D.C., Jan 8, 2019 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Opus Dei announced Monday that it had paid a settlement following accusations of misconduct against a priest of the society made in 2002.


Fr. C. John McCloskey was the subject of a complaint by a married woman to whom he had been giving spiritual counsel. As a result of the complaint, Opus Dei paid a reported settlement of $977,000 to the woman in 2005.


At the time of the complaint, McCloskey was serving as the director of the Catholic Information Center in downtown Washington, D.C. The center is a popular venue among Washington  Catholics, offering daily Mass during the working week and a program of Catholic events in the evenings.


McCloskey had a high public profile during his time in Washington, preparing several senior politicians for reception into the Catholic Church, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and serving U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback.


In a statement released by Msgr. Thomas Bohlin, Vicar of Opus Dei in the United States, the prelature expressed its sorrow and called any case of harassment or abuse “abhorrent.”


“What happened was deeply painful for the woman, and we are very sorry for all she suffered,” Bohlin wrote. “I am very sorry for any suffering caused to any woman by Father McCloskey’s actions and pray that God may bring healing to her.”


“I am painfully aware of all that the Church is suffering, and I am very sorry that we in Opus Dei have added to it. Let us ask God to show mercy on all of us in the Church at this difficult time.”


The Washington Post reported that McCloskey groped the woman on several occasions while giving her spiritual direction. According to that report, the woman was left with feelings of guilt and shame, and struggled with depression. The Post also reported that the woman took her concerns to McCloskey in the confessional, where he absolved her.


Bohlin said that Opus Dei had acted swiftly when the complaint was first made, telling McCloskey to have no further contact with the woman and to offer spiritual direction to women only through a screen in a traditional confessional - something Bohlin noted was already a rule for Opus Dei priests.  


“After investigating the complaint in subsequent months, we found the complaint to be credible, and in December 2003, Father McCloskey was removed from his position at the CIC,” Bohlin said in the statement.


After leaving Washington, McCloskey was first sent to the United Kingdom before being assigned in different regions of the United States. McCloskey has since returned to the Washington area because of his declining health.


Bohlin stated that McCloskey’s ministry had been restricted since he left Washington, and his contact with women limited to the confessional. “Throughout the years, we were careful to ensure that he would not have any opportunities to engage in the kind of actions that led to the complaint.”


Opus Dei is personal prelature founded in Spain by St. Jose Maria Escriva in 1928 and first approved by the Vatican in 1950.


According to Opus Dei, McCloskey is currently suffering from advanced Alzheimer's disease and is unable to say Mass, even privately, as he is “largely incapacitated.”


“I would also ask you to pray for Father McCloskey as his health continues to decline,” Bohlin said.


The prelature released details of the complaint at the request of the woman involved in the settlement in an effort to encourage any other potential victims to come forward.


Brian Finnerty, spokesman for Opus Dei, told CNA he was not aware of either the woman who brought the complaint or the society had contacted the police.


Opus Dei said it believes there could be at least two other women similarly abused by McCloskey in Washington, and that the group has attempted to make contact with one of them. In his statement, Bohlin said the prelature had received no complaints about McCloskey concerning his time in ministry either before or after his term as director of the CIC.


According to the statement from Msgr. Bohlin, the woman who raised the original complaint remains in contact with Opus Dei’s ministry in Washington. She told the Washington Post this week she is “very happy with how it’s being handled right now. They listened.”

New Mexico bill could allow 'suicide tourism,' critics warn

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 04:53

Santa Fe, N.M., Jan 8, 2019 / 02:53 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Proposed legislation in New Mexico could legalize assisted suicide in the state, and may even allow for the prescription of deadly drugs outside the state via telemedicine, and by healthcare professionals other than physicians.

Deacon Steve Rangel, associate director for the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the bill was disheartening to read.

“In our Catholic faith, we know the dignity of life from conception to natural death,” he told CNA.

“Here we have an attack on [life]. It's really disheartening that we even have to be put in this type of position...Our driving force has always been to prevent harm and loss of life.”

Rangel cited several particularly objectionable points in House Bill 90, known as the “Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act,” including a provision that medical practitioners other than doctors can administer the drugs, without ever having examined the patient in person.

He also pointed out that the bill reduces the waiting period for assisted suicide from 15 days to 48 hours.

“We all get down. We're human beings,” he said. “But at [a patient’s] most vulnerable point, are we going to let them make a life decision like that?”

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, an international organization with a headquarters in Ontario, told CNA that this assisted suicide bill jumped out at him as particularly expansive and vague.

“This bill allows nurses and physician assistants to be involved also. So you have this wider group of people who can be involved in the act itself of prescribing,” he told CNA.  

The current bill allows for the prescription of assisted suicide drugs after a healthcare professional examines a patient via telemedicine.

“A doctor could assess you, or even a nurse, by telemedicine. So you have a terminal condition, supposedly, and this is going to be approved that you can die by assisted suicide but your interview for this process is done over a screen,” Schadenberg said.

“To me, this is a crazy thing because we're talking about life and death.”

The bill includes a provision that makes assisted suicide acceptable if it can be determined that a terminal condition will cause a patient's death “in the foreseeable future.”

“'Foreseeable future' is not defined,” Schadenberg noted. “So it's wide open...basically you can have your interview by telemedicine, and die two days later because your terminal condition that you supposedly have might cause your death in the 'foreseeable future.’”

The bill also removes conscience protections, he said, because although doctors are not required to prescribe the lethal medication, they are mandated to refer the patient to a medical professional who will.

“So if you think it's wrong to prescribe lethal drugs for a patient, knowing that they're going to die by assisted suicide, then it must be equally wrong for you to send them to a doctor who's willing to do that,” Schadenberg said.

In addition, the bill does not clearly define whether residents of states other than New Mexico might be allowed to avail themselves of assisted suicide. It was reported in some publications that the bill lacks a residency requirement completely, meaning patients coming from other states to seek the procedure, so-called “suicide tourism,” could become a reality.

Most assisted suicide laws, such as Oregon's, Schadenberg clarified, explicitly state that the patient must be a resident of the state in order to qualify for the procedure.

The New Mexico bill, however, only has an indirect residency requirement under the definition of the word “adult,” which is defined as a resident of the state. But the word “adult” is only mentioned once in the bill, under the proposed form that must be signed to be approved for assisted suicide, he said.

“But even under the wording of this bill, it still seems a very weak way of defining a resident. It's very awkward.”

Schadenberg said some advocates of assisted suicide are calling for a complete elimination of waiting periods for the procedure.

“We're talking about life and death,” he said. “Obviously you could be depressed today, and the purpose of the waiting period is not to be onerous and force suffering people to have to live 14 more days. It's that you might be depressed, and the way to ensure [assisted suicide] is your real will is to create a waiting period. You might be feeling better in two weeks.”

Schadenberg said about 20 states introduced assisted suicide bills in 2018, but only one state actually passed the measure.

“This is not what you'd call an inevitability,” he said. “The opposition to assisted suicide has been very successful, but the sad reality is that it only takes one state and things look bad...New Mexico I'm very concerned about. There's no question about it.”

Rangel echoed Schadenberg’s consternation at the bill’s current language, but reiterated that as Catholics the best approach to terminal illness is compassion.

“We align ourselves with our Lord's pain and suffering,” Rangel reflected. “I have a priest friend who has [Multiple Sclerosis,] and when he's feeling the most pain, that's when he offers it up for other people's intentions. I thought that was so powerful...We truly are compassionate for those who are suffering.”

He said his own daughter suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident, resulting in the loss of part of her brain which has left her cognitively impaired.

“Did she lose some things because of the injury? Absolutely,” he said. “But at the same time, [we gained] so many other blessings. So we look for the blessings in everything in life...she loves people, people respond to her, and so if you'd ask me, ‘Iis that quality of life?’ I would say absolutely.”

Assisted suicide has been illegal in New Mexico since the 1960s, but doctors have been protected from liability for removing life support from terminally ill patients since 1978.

The New Mexico Supreme Court previously ruled in June 2016 that assisted suicide was not a “fundamental or important right” under the state constitution, after a woman with terminal cancer expressed her wish for “a more peaceful death.” At that time the New Mexico Supreme Court suggested a  “robust debate in the legislative and the executive branches of government” to determine if the law needed to be changed.  

The states of California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, plus the District of Columbia, have already legalized assisted suicide.


Analysis: Their retreat accomplished, the U.S. bishops remain under siege

Mon, 01/07/2019 - 18:41

Chicago, Ill., Jan 7, 2019 / 04:41 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Chicago’s Mundelein Seminary is beautiful. Set on 600 leafy acres, its buildings merge the aesthetics of the American Colonial Revival with the motifs of great Roman edifices. Its library is expansive. Its chapel is a gem. Mundelein is the kind of place that is hard to leave.

When their seven-day retreat at Mundelein ends Jan. 8, some of the U.S. bishops may be reluctant to leave the seminary. But if they are not eager to go home, it will not be because of the setting.

When they depart, many bishops will find their retreat was not an end to the siege under which they find themselves.

Once home, they will face the same questions, the same investigations, the same demand for answers that they left behind. And they will face the same impatience from Catholics across the country.

The president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, for example, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, will likely face questions about his dealings with the Vatican in the lead-up to the bishops’ meeting: he will be asked whether he knew earlier than he let on that the conference would not be permitted to vote on a reform package of policies that he championed.

Back in Houston, DiNardo will also face questions from county prosecutors who have accused the archdiocese of withholding evidence during a police investigation.

DiNardo will not be the only U.S. cardinal with problems when the retreat comes to an end.

After losing an auxiliary bishop to allegations of sexual abuse, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York now faces questions about why his archdiocese misrepresented a priest under investigation.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston is investigating accusations of misconduct at the seminaries in his archdiocese. Cardinal Blase Cupich faces a diocesan investigation from Illinois’ attorney general.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin’s Archdiocese of Newark remains at the center of questions regarding long-time archbishop Theodore McCarrick. And Cardinal Donald Wuerl, McCarrick’s successor in Washington, faces continued scrutiny as he remains the archdiocesan interim leader until his successor is named.

Other bishops face allegations of misconduct or cover-up, among them Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo and Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston.

Like Dolan, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles must also address an auxiliary bishop accused of sexual abusing a minor. And dozens of other bishops are faced with state and federal investigations into the historical and current administration of their dioceses.

The bishops did not formally discuss strategy or plans during the retreat: meals were taken in silence, recreation periods were few. But their leaders, DiNardo and Gomez, will go to Rome next month for a meeting with Pope Francis, and the heads of bishops’ conferences from around the world. That summit, occasioned by the eruption last year of sexual abuse scandals in the United States, is scheduled to address the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults around the world.

Sources expect very little practical policy to come from the February summit. The meeting is expected to encourage bishops in the developing world to develop the baseline child protection protocols that U.S. bishops developed in 2002, and to engender in all participants a greater awareness of the profound harm that clerical sexual abuse can cause to victims.

As he did in his letter to the U.S. bishops at Mundelein, Pope Francis is likely to encourage the assembled bishops to greater personal conversion, and to emphasize, as he often has, the centrality of personal integrity in resolving allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct.

It is expected that a guilty verdict for Archbishop McCarrick will be announced before the February meeting, along with the likely penalty of laicization. But Vatican sources do not expect a report on the Vatican’s investigation into its own documents on McCarrick to be forthcoming.

Leadership and committees of the U.S. bishops’ conference continue to revise and discuss the policies they proposed in November, along with alternatives that emerged during their meeting. It is not likely that the February summit will substantially impact that work. Instead, it seems most likely that the bishops’ will work on their policies and proposals until a March meeting of the conference’s administrative committee, and then send them to Rome for review.

After DiNardo was accused of not giving the Vatican enough time to weigh in on proposals before the November meeting, the bishops will want to leave ample time for back and forth with Rome before they vote at their June meeting on whatever draft policies have received an initial approval from the Vatican.

The priorities for the U.S. bishops are said to be establishing a mechanism for credibly investigating allegations of abuse, negligence, or misconduct against bishops; investigating the possibility of expanding the Church’s definition of vulnerable adults to include seminarians and others under the authority of bishops, and creating protocols for bishops who are removed or resign from their posts amid scandal or allegations.

It seems likely they’ll be able to accomplish some portion of those goals by the conclusion of their June meeting.

The question, of course, is whether Catholics will wait.

Among the effects of the scandal has been a much broader sense of disillusionment and disenfranchisement from Catholics than was palpable in the aftermath of the 2002. It is not yet clear whether the scandals of 2018 have impacted Church attendance or diocesan financial support. And, of course, for many Catholics the anger of last summer has abated. But episcopal leadership is under a new level of scrutiny in the U.S., and voices from across the ecclesial spectrum have been unrelenting in calling for change.

Some of those voices are likely to intensify after the February meeting, at which the outcomes, and even the agenda, are not likely to meet public expectation.

Since June, the bishops seem to have been playing catch-up with a tornado. Their responses to new fronts of the crisis often seemed insincere or unconvincing. They have seemed often to have been owned by the events unfolding around them, and they frequently have been criticized for seeming to lack authenticity, contrition, and above all, leadership.

As a result, in addition to the legitimate questions bishops have faced from Catholics, and from the media, they now must also contend with a growing anticlerical populist backlash in the U.S. Church, one that seems to foster broad distrust for episcopal initiatives and the Church's governing structure, rather than on calling for or supporting reform efforts.

The retreat may well motivate bishops to address their problems with new vigor: it may have given them an opportunity to regroup, catch their breath, and emerge as the leaders that Catholics seem to have been looking for.

If they have any hope of restoring confidence in U.S. Catholic hierarchy, the opportunity afforded to them by their retreat is one the bishops ought not miss. 

Because any practical change is likely six months away, if there is to be change in the narrative of the last six months, or if the burgeoning anti-episcopal populist movements in the U.S. Church are to lose steam, it will only be because bishops emerge renewed from their retreat, and begin to address the Church with the kind of courageous, direct, transparent, and fatherly leadership Catholics have been calling for, even in the absence of new policies. Even then, it will be an uphill battle, and will become more difficult with each passing month in which leadership is seen to be lacking.

If their retreat has had its effect, the U.S. episcopate may now have more spiritual health and vigor with which to lead the Church than it has had since before the crisis began. Whether they will emerge ready to take the mantle of leadership, and begin to foster healing from the Church’s still-gaping wounds, remains to be seen.


Christian cake baker's second lawsuit can go forward, federal judge says

Mon, 01/07/2019 - 18:40

Denver, Colo., Jan 7, 2019 / 04:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Colorado baker who already won a U.S. Supreme Court case may proceed with a second lawsuit claiming the state of Colorado is again wrongly prosecuting him, this time for declining to bake a cake celebrating a “gender transition,” a federal court ruled Friday.

Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in the Denver suburb of Lakewood, was plaintiff in a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled he was wrongfully prosecuted for declining to bake a cake marking a same-sex wedding ceremony on the grounds that doing so would violate his religious beliefs.

While the state of Colorado has tried to argue that the federal courts should dismiss a second lawsuit against members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a federal judge did not agree.

Jim Campbell, senior counsel with the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, argued on behalf of Phillips before the U.S. District Court.

“The same agency that the Supreme Court rebuked as hostile to Jack Phillips has remained committed to treating him unequally and forcing him to express messages that violate his religious beliefs,” Campbell said Jan. 7.

“Colorado is acting in bad faith and with bias toward Jack,” Campbell continued. “We look forward to moving forward with this lawsuit to ensure that Jack isn’t forced to create custom cakes that express messages in conflict with his faith.”

Phillips, a Christian, also does not create cakes that demean those who identify as LGBT, express racism, celebrate Halloween, promote marijuana, or celebrate Satan, Alliance Defending Freedom said.

Autumn Scardina, a Colorado attorney celebrating the seventh anniversary of a “male-to-female gender transition” asked for a cake signifying this transition, pink on the inside and blue on the outside. Phillips declined to make the cake because doing so would violate his religious beliefs.

Scardina then filed a civil rights complaint when he declined, charging discrimination on the basis of gender identity, a protected status under Colorado anti-discrimination law.

The district court’s Jan. 4 ruling by Judge Wiley Y. Daniel said that there is evidence of unequal treatment against Phillip, given that the state of Colorado commission allows other cake artists to decline requests to create cakes that “express messages they deem objectionable and would not express for anyone.”

The commission’s “disparate treatment” for Phillips shows “hostility towards Phillips, which is sufficient to establish they are pursuing the discrimination charges against Phillips in bad faith,” motivated by his religion, the ruling said.

It added that Phillips “has adequately alleged his speech is being chilled by the credible threat of prosecution.”

The judge allowed departing Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to be dropped from the suit because he is leaving office. Governor-elect Jared Polis will not be added to the suit.

Last month One Colorado, the largest LGBT advocacy organization in the state, contended that the lawsuit would legalize discrimination, the Denver Post reports.

“All people — including LGBTQ people — deserve to be served equally in public spaces, and no religious belief gives anyone the right to pick and choose whom they serve and what laws they want to follow,” said Daniel Ramos, One Colorado’s executive director.

He charged that Alliance Defending Freedom is trying “to undermine laws that protect Coloradans in the areas of public accommodations, employment, and housing.”

Campbell, however, said it was the message of the cake, not the identity of the customer, which prompted his refusal to make the cake.

“Jack serves all customers, and he is even happy to serve the attorney who lodged the complaint against him,” the attorney said. “But Jack doesn’t create custom cakes that express messages or celebrate events in conflict with his deeply held beliefs.”

Campbell said that the civil rights commission was unfair, saying, “A commissioner set to decide the state’s new case against Jack has publicly referred to him as a ‘hater’ on Twitter, one of several indications of the commission’s ongoing bad faith toward him and his beliefs.”

The first Masterpiece Cakeshop case dated back to July 2012, when owner Jack Phillips was asked by two men to bake a cake for their same-sex wedding ceremony.

He explained to the couple that he could not cater to same-sex weddings because to do so would have violated his Christian beliefs. The couple filed a complaint with the state civil rights commission, which ordered him to serve same-sex weddings and undergo anti-discrimination training.

On June 4, 2018 the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, backing Phillips’ claim that he could to refuse to create cakes celebrating same-sex weddings due to his religious beliefs.

The commission “showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection,” the Supreme Court said.

Several commission members’ statements endorsed the view that “religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain, implying that religious beliefs and persons are less than fully welcome in Colorado’s business community,” said the court.

The ruling said the law was inconsistently applied, citing cases in which some prospective customers at other bakeries requested cakes with anti-gay marriage messages, but were refused service.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop cases come after more than a decade of political and social change on religious freedom issues.

Opponents of broad religious freedom protections like the San Francisco-based Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund have spent over $500,000 on advocacy and public relations campaigns related to the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court decision, a CNA analysis of foundation grantmaking found.

Since 2014 at least $9.9 million in grants from multiple sources have been earmarked to oppose broad religious freedom protections. The grants generally come from backers of LGBT political causes, legal abortion and mandatory contraception coverage. Grantees tend to argue that abortion rights and anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT status are equally important as or more important than religious freedom.

The Massachusetts-based Proteus Fund’s Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative is one major node in this funding network, as is the New York-based Arcus Foundation.


Be missionaries, trust Providence, save souls, SEEK conference told

Mon, 01/07/2019 - 18:00

Indianapolis, Ind., Jan 7, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- At the closing Mass of the SEEK 2019 conference, Fr. Doug Grandon offered advice to the 17,000 attendees on how to become effective missionary disciples. Grandon is a national chaplain with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), meeting in Indianapolis this week for their annual conference.


Grandon centered his homily on Monday’s reading from the gospel of Matthew, which recounts Jesus’s arrival in Capernaum to preach perform miracles in the region. He related this story to his own personal experience of a missionary disciple: his friend Dan, who helped to bring him to Christ.


“What Dan did for me, each of us can do for someone else in our circle of influence,” he said.


“Our ‘yes’ to becoming missionary disciples will make an eternal difference for more souls than we will ever realize.”


Grandon then provided three pieces of advice to the congregation on being an effective and productive missionary disciple in their own communities: a commitment to learning and spiritual growth, planning, and reading signs in their own lives.


“Missionary disciples commit to life-long learning and ongoing spiritual growth,” said Grandon. With Jesus, the Bible only tells a few stories about his childhood and training, but instead there are many stories of Christ beginning his messianic ministry, he pointed out.


The move to Capernaum to begin this ministry was significant, Grandon explained, as Capernaum was more centrally located than Nazareth.


In terms of his own spiritual growth, Grandon spoke of Dan and his Protestant pastor, who led him to embrace a life of Christian ministry. They “taught me to serve, even though I didn’t like that very much,” he explained. At the time, Grandon was a Protestant. He would eventually be received into the Catholic Church in 2002, and was given a special dispensation by the Vatican to become a married priest.


In addition to a commitment to growth and learning, Grandon said that missionary disciples “must engage in careful strategic planning,” and remain “attentive to providential signs,” much like Jesus did in Monday’s gospel.


He shared a story of a young woman who came to Denver to follow what she thought was God’s will, yet did not properly plan and quickly ran out of money. Failure to properly plan will make one an ineffective missionary disciple, he said.


Grandon told the hall that a recognition of signs and trusting in God’s providence were also important, noting that the places in today’s Gospel reading where Jesus preached were “overshadowed by death” in past generations, and were often the first to be invaded and occupied. Jesus arrived and changed this, he said, and these cities were the first to witness the “blazing light” of the Gospel and of Christ’s teachings.


“Isaiah's prophecy was a providential sign” of Christ’s eventual mission, he said.


Grandon shared a story of his own reliance on providence, when he thought he would have to cancel a mission trip due to a lack of funds. He went to preach at a small church, and, miraculously, that church donated exactly the amount that was needed for the trip to happen. This encounter left him “astounded at God’s miraculous providence.”


Referring back to his friend Dan, Grandon said his friend eventually visited him in Denver to see him celebrate Mass. The parish, being familiar with his vocation story and Dan’s role in bringing him to God, gave him a standing ovation once they learned he was present.


“Where would I be today if it wasn’t for Dan?” Grandon asked.


“Let’s go home. And change the world.”

Critics slam 'Shout Your Abortion' kids' video as sad, disturbing

Sun, 01/06/2019 - 18:01

Denver, Colo., Jan 6, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- Founder of the pro-abortion campaign “Shout Your Abortion”, Amelia Bonow was featured in a recent kids’ YouTube video to talk abortion with adolescents, telling them that life begins when they decide it does and that abortion is “part of God’s plan.”

The video, entitled “Kids Meet Someone Who’s Had an Abortion,” was published by Seattle-based company HiHo kids, and is a part of a series of videos called “Kids Meet.” Other videos in the series include kids meeting a ventriloquist, a deaf person, a Holocaust survivor, a gender non-conforming person, and a gynecologist, among others.

“Shout Your Abortion” (SYA), the organization founded by Bonow, has as its mission the normalization and celebration of abortion as an act of female empowerment.

“We’re in a fight for our lives, and it’s time to tell the truth. Every single day, all sorts of people have abortions, for every reason you can imagine. We are your siblings, your coworkers, your spouses and your friends. Abortion helps people live their best lives. We are the proof. And we’re only going to get louder,” the organization’s website states.

In the “Kids Meet” video featuring Bonow, she answers the questions of the kids, who appear to be middle-school aged, about the abortion she procured, which spurred her to found SYA. She also questions the kids about their own views - about what they think abortion is, their opinion on abortion, and even their religious and moral views.

“Do you think that sometimes it’s not ok to have an abortion?” Bonow asked one of the boys in the video.

“I want to say if you’re being reckless, if there’s nothing wrong going on…” he replied.

“I don’t know, I just don’t agree,” Bonow said. “Do we want people to just have all those babies?”

When the boy responds that unwanted babies could be put up for adoption, Bonow argues that that would still be forcing women to “create life.”

“I feel like if I am forced to create life, I have lost the right to my own life,” she said. “I should be the one to decide if my body creates life. Even if you give a kid up for adoption, you still like have a kid out there somewhere, you know?”

Bonow also questions several of the kids in the video about their religious views. When one girl identifies as Catholic, Bonow questions her whether she knows what the Catholic Church teaches about abortion.

“I don’t think the Church liked it. Because they see it as like, killing the baby,” the girl responds.

Bonow then asks her and another girl what their personal opinions are.

“I think it’s up to you,” one of the girls responds. “Same,” says the girl who identified as Catholic.

“I feel supported by that,” Bonow replies, smiling.

Bonow then asks a boy in the video whether he believes in God. When he says he does, she asks him what he thinks God would think about abortion.

“If I were to say, I think he’s ok with it because there’s still babies being born,” he answers hesitantly. “What do you think God thinks about abortion?”

“I think it’s all part of God’s plan,” Bonow responds. “I really was just thinking about Drake when I said that,” she adds.

A few of the kids in the video asked Bonow why she had the abortion, and whether she and her partner had used a condom or contraception to try to prevent pregnancy.

“He wasn’t wearing a condom,” Bonow said, because it seemed “easier at the time.”

When asked what the abortion was like, Bonow compared it to “a crappy dentist appointment or something.”

“You go to the doctor and they put this little straw inside of your cervix and inside of your uterus. And then they just suck the pregnancy out,” she said. “It was like a body thing that’s kind of uncomfortable, but then it was over and I felt really just grateful that I wasn’t pregnant anymore.”

The content of the video, released Dec. 28, garnered so much negative attention that the comments for the video on YouTube have been disabled.

As of Jan. 4, the original video had more than 250,000 views, with 5,900 “thumbs up” ratings and 6,700 “thumbs down” ratings on YouTube.

Thousands of concerned parents and critics in social media comments called the video “disgusting”, “disturbing” and “irresponsible.”

Kristi Hamrick, a spokesperson for pro-life group Students for Life of America, told CNA that the video lies to children about the weight of the decision of having an abortion.

“It’s clear that when an abortion takes place, there’s a tragedy that affects both woman and child,” she said.

“And to pretend otherwise, and to tell children that it’s an irrelevant, insignificant choice is the largest lie of abortion, because so many people understand that no matter how you feel about it, it is an unchangeable thing that you have done,” she said.

Hamrick added that she thought it was unfortunate that the video expended effort on justifying abortion to children, rather than trying to teach them how to make good choices.

“To go to kids and say I want to help you feel comfortable with what is an unchangeable and terrible choice, why would we do that?” Hamrick said. “Why wouldn’t we talk about children what is best, what is aspirational, about their hope and future?”

Georgette Forney is an Anglican deacon, the president of Anglicans for Life, and co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, whose mission is to give a voice and platform to women who regret their abortions.

Forney told CNA in e-mail comments that she thought the video should be called “Kids Meet Abortion Propaganda.”

“...when I looked into the organization producing the series – I realized it was indeed an organization pumping out ‘content’ for kids that features a liberal agenda,” she said.

She said the video with Bowon is “disingenuous and not representational of women who have abortions,” many of whom have deep regrets.

She said she attempted to reach out to the group to suggest that they make an alternative video, where kids talk with women who regret their abortions, but could not find any contact information.

“Guess they don’t want to hear from people but do want to decide what kids should hear!” she said.

Mallory Quigley, a spokesperson for pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, which advocates for pro-life politicians, told CNA that she thought it was sad that Bowon felt the need to use children to justify her decision.

“It’s sad that she felt the need to justify the choice to end a life, and to bully kids into supporting her decision,” she said. “People who are comfortable with their decisions don’t usually take that step.”

She added that she thought the video was an act of “desperation” on the part of the “abortion lobby.”

“They see that life is winning, that a majority of young people are pro-life,” she said. “This is sort of a desperate attempt to try out what’s really old and tired language at this point on the next generation. And I think that it reveals a lot of the flaws in their arguments and the subjectivity of it all.”

D. C. McAllister, writing for P.J. Media, wrote that the video was “creepy” and “targets children.”

“Notice how she dehumanizes the baby, the life inside of her. She also fails to tell the children about the physical risks to the mother. She ignores the pain women suffer and the long-term adverse effects. She skips over the emotional toll having an abortion takes on most women,” McAllister wrote.

“She doesn’t describe what happens to the baby - how it’s chemically burned, how it feels pain. How it is cut up into pieces. Little arms, legs, and torsos. Planned Parenthood has plenty of pictures she could have provided, but no, she tells these kids it’s a simple procedure - and you’ll be so grateful afterwards.”

Nathan Apodaca, writing for life advocacy group Human Defense, deconstructs the arguments made for abortion in the video, which he said “simply helps confirm many of the biases that people have against those who oppose abortion, through lazy dismissals, bad arguments, ad hominem insults, and snarky political posturing.”

“The ‘#SHOUTYOURABORTION’ movement may be holding the hearts of many at the moment through tearful and heart wrenching stories, but it is instead the desperate plea of a movement which has broken tens of millions of men and women and helped slaughter tens of millions of little children who never got to see the light of day or feel the warm embrace of those who loved them,” he wrote.

Bonow posted the video on her Twitter, and announced that her group was also working on a children’s book: “I let a bunch of kids grill me about my abortion and it was great. #ShoutYourAbortion will be releasing a children’s book about abortion in 2020!”

But the 2,200-plus comments on her post were overwhelmingly against the video.

“I notice not one child was filmed who rejected her position,” Twitter user MamaD said.

“I watched this. No information given such as facts of embryonic developmen [sic] & what abortion procedures at various trimesters actually entail. No, it's platitudes & emotional appeals; of course kids will tell you it's ok and sadly so will many adults. Abortion is a grave injustice,” Twitter user Jenny S. commented.

Several commenters on Twitter and Facebook recommended that the “Kids Meet” series also expose children to someone who has survived abortion, such as Gianna Jessen, a pro-life speaker and advocate who survived a late-term saline abortion at 7 months, and has cerebral palsy as a result.

Jessen herself responded to the video on Twitter: “as someone who was actually born in an abortion clinic, resulting in cerebral palsy, and being a woman-i would Love to give these kids another perspective. the baby’s perspective-what were my rights?”

Want to know the history behind the Feast of the Epiphany?

Sun, 01/06/2019 - 15:01

Washington D.C., Jan 6, 2019 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- While the hustle and bustle of Christmas ends for many people on Dec. 26, throughout Christian history Christmas lasts for twelve days – all the way until Jan. 6.

This feast marking the end of Christmas is called “Epiphany.”

In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, Epiphany celebrates the revelation that Jesus was the Son of God. It focuses primarily on this revelation to the Three Wise Men, but also in his baptism in the Jordan and at the wedding at Cana.

In the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church, Theophany – as Epiphany is known in the East – commemorates the manifestation of Jesus' divinity at his Baptism in the River Jordan.

While the traditional date for the feast is Jan. 6, in the United States the celebration of Epiphany is moved to the next Sunday, overlapping with the rest of the Western Church’s celebration of the Baptism of Christ.

However, the meaning of the feast goes deeper than just the bringing of presents or the end of Christmas, says Fr. Hezekias Carnazzo, a Melkite Catholic priest and founding executive director of the Virginia-based Institute of Catholic Culture.

“You can't understand the Nativity without Theophany; or you can’t understand Nativity without Epiphany.” The revelation of Christ as the Son of God – both as an infant and at his baptism – illuminate the mysteries of the Christmas season, he said.

“Our human nature is blinded because of sin and we’re unable to see as God sees,” he told CNA. “God reveals to us the revelation of what’s going on.”

Origins of Epiphany

While the Western celebration of Epiphany (which comes from Greek, meaning “revelation from above”), and the Eastern celebration of Theophany (meaning “revelation of God”), have developed their own traditions and liturgical significances, these feasts share more than the same day.

“The Feast of Epiphany, or the Feast of Theophany, is a very, very early feast,” said Fr. Carnazzo. “It predates the celebration of Christmas on the 25th.”

In the early Church, Christians, particularly those in the East, celebrated the advent of Christ on Jan. 6 by commemorating Nativity, Visitation of the Magi, Baptism of Christ and the Wedding of Cana all in one feast of the Epiphany. By the fourth century, both Christmas and Epiphany had been set as separate feasts in some dioceses. At the Council of Tours in 567, the Church set both Christmas day and Epiphany as feast days on the Dec. 25 and Jan. 6, respectively, and named the twelve days between the feasts as the Christmas season.

Over time, the Western Church separated the remaining feasts into their own celebrations, leaving the celebration of the Epiphany to commemorate primarily the Visitation of the Magi to see the newborn Christ on Jan. 6. Meanwhile, the Eastern Churches' celebration of Theophany celebrates Christ’s baptism and is one of the holiest feast days of the liturgical calendar.

Roman Traditions

The celebration of the visitation of the Magi – whom the Bible describes as learned wise men from the East – has developed its own distinct traditions throughout the Roman Church.

As part of the liturgy of the Epiphany, it is traditional to proclaim the date of Easter and other moveable feast days to the faithful – formally reminding the Church of the importance of Easter and the resurrection to both the liturgical year and to the faith.

Other cultural traditions have also arisen around the feast. Dr. Matthew Bunson, EWTN Senior Contributor, told CNA about the “rich cultural traditions” in Spain, France, Ireland and elsewhere that form an integral part of the Christmas season for those cultures.

In Italy, La Befana brings sweets and presents to children not on Christmas, but on Epiphany. Children in many parts of Latin America, the Philippines, Portugal, and Spain also receive their presents on “Three Kings Day.”

Meanwhile, in Ireland, Catholics celebrate “Women's Christmas” – where women rest from housework and cleaning and celebrate together with a special meal. Epiphany in Poland is marked by taking chalk – along with gold, incense and amber – to be blessed at Mass. Back at home, families will inscribe the first part of the year, followed by the letters, “K+M+B+” and then the last numbers of the year on top of every door in the house.

The letters, Bunson explained, stand for the names traditionally given to the wise men – Casper, Melchior and Balthazar – as well as for the Latin phrase “Christus mansionem benedicat,” or, “Christ, bless this house.”

In nearly every part of the world, Catholics celebrate Epiphany with a Kings Cake: a sweet cake that sometimes contains an object like a figurine or a lone nut. In some locations lucky recipient of this prize either gets special treatment for the day, or they must then hold a party at the close of the traditional Epiphany season on Feb. 2.

These celebrations, Bunson said, point to the family-centered nature of the feast day and of its original celebration with the Holy Family. The traditions also point to what is known – and what is still mysterious – about the Magi, who were the first gentiles to encounter Christ. While the Bible remains silent about the wise men’s actual names, as well as how many of them there were, we do know that they were clever, wealthy, and most importantly, brave.

“They were willing to take the risk in order to go searching for the truth, in what they discerned was a monumental event,” he said, adding that the Magi can still be a powerful example.

Lastly, Bunson pointed to the gifts the wise men brought – frankincense, myrrh and gold – as gifts that point not only to Christ’s divinity and his revelation to the Magi as the King of Kings, but also to his crucifixion. In giving herbs traditionally used for burial, these gifts, he said, bring a theological “shadow, a sense of anticipation of what is to come.”

Revelation of God

Fr. Hezekias Carnazzo explained to CNA the significance of the feast of the Theophany – and of Christ’s Baptism more broadly – within the Eastern Catholic churches.

“In our Christian understanding in the East, we are looking at creation through the eyes of God, not so much through the eyes of Man,” Fr. Carnazzo said.  

In the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, he continued, there is special divine significance.

With this feast day, the pastor explained, “God has come to reclaim us for himself.” Because of original sin, he continued, humanity has inherited “a human nature which has been dislocated from its source of life.”

Sin also effected parts of creation such as water have also been separated from their purpose and connection to God’s plan for life, Fr. Carrazzo said, because its original purpose is not just to sustain our bodies, but our souls as well.  

“With the fall, however, it has been dislocated from its source of life, it is under the dominion of death- it doesn’t have eternal life anymore. So God comes to take it to himself.”

“What Jesus did was to take our human nature and do with it what we could not do – which is, to walk it out of death, and that’s exactly what He did with His baptism.” As it is so linked to the destruction of death and reclaiming of life, the Feast of Theophany is also very closely linked to the Crucifixion – an attribute that is reflected in Eastern iconography of both events as well.

The feast of the Theophany celebrates not only Christ’s conquering of sin through baptism, but also God’s revelation of Christ as his Son and the beginning of Christ’s ministry. “The baptism of the Lord, just like the Nativity, is not just a historical event: it’s a revelation,” Fr. Carrazzo said.

To mark the day, Eastern Catholics begin celebrations with Divine Liturgy at the Church, which includes a blessing of the waters in the baptistry. After the water is blessed, the faithful drink the water, and bring bottles of water to bring back to their homes for use and not only physical but spiritual healing, he explained. Many parishes hold feasts after Liturgy is over. In many Middle Eastern cultures, people also fry and eat awamat – dough that is fried until it floats, and then is covered in honey.

During the Theophany season, priests also try to visit each home in the parish to bless the house with Holy Water that was blessed at Theophany. Fr. Carrazzo invited all Roman Catholics to come and become familiar, “to be part of a family” and join in celebrating Eastern Catholic traditions.


This article was originally published on CNA Jan. 6, 2017.

Caggiano condemns anti-Semitic graffiti at Bridgeport cathedral

Sat, 01/05/2019 - 20:22

Bridgeport, Conn., Jan 5, 2019 / 06:22 pm (CNA).- The Bishop of Bridgeport condemned anti-Semitism Saturday, after a swastika was found painted on the doors of Bridgeport’s cathedral.

“I am appalled and outraged by this act of vandalism against the Mother Church of our Diocese and this brazen and disgusting display of anti-Semitism which is morally abhorrent and an affront to our Catholic faith,” Bishop Frank Caggiano said in a statement Jan. 5.

“To use a clearly anti-Semitic symbol is participating in unspeakable evil.”

The swastika was found painted on the doors of St. Augustine’s Cathedral on the morning of Jan. 4. Caggiano said that because he is on retreat, he had only learned of the vandalism Saturday afternoon.

Bridgeport police have not yet named a suspect in the crime, Caggiano said.

Anti-Semitic incidents are reported to be on the rise in the U.S. and internationally. The number of anti-Semitic incidents rose 57 percent in 2017, the Anti-Defamation League reported. In October, 11 people were killed in a Pittsburgh synagogue by a man who said he “wanted all Jews to die.”

A recent survey of Jewish people living in the European Union found that over a quarter of respondents had been the victims of anti-Jewish harassment in 2017 or 2018.

“It is deeply distressing to see such a display of hatred at a time when we need to strengthen our efforts to come together as a community in mutual respect and support,” Caggiano said.

“My thoughts and prayers are with our Jewish brothers and sisters in the city of Bridgeport and beyond. We stand with you and condemn every form of anti-Semitism, racism, and bigotry wherever it may be found.”


Scarlett Johansson: Deepfake pornographers prey on the vulnerable

Sat, 01/05/2019 - 14:00

Denver, Colo., Jan 5, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- In a 25-year film career, Scarlett Johansson has portrayed a cartoon mermaid princess, a comic book superhero, an Indian python, and a punk-rock porcupine. She has not portrayed a porn star. Nevertheless, her image has been digitally-generated in dozens of “deepfake” pornographic videos, which have been viewed more than 1 million times.

The actress said recently there is no way to fight back, and that online pornographers prey on the vulnerable for profit.

“The Internet is just another place where sex sells and vulnerable people are preyed upon,” Johansson told the Washington Post Dec. 30.

“Nothing can stop someone from cutting and pasting my image or anyone else’s onto a different body and making it look as eerily realistic as desired.”

Johansson has been the victim of digital technology that digitally replaces the faces of pornographic actors with those of celebrities, creating synthetic but convincing videos in which the digitally imposed person appears to be engaging in pornographic sexual acts.

One program, FakeApp, is freely available to download and does not require programming skills; it can be used by anyone with the kind of computer capable of running detailed video games.

“The fact is that trying to protect yourself from the internet and its depravity is basically a lost cause, for the most part,” Johannson told the Washington Post.

“Vulnerable people like women, children and seniors must take extra care to protect their identities and personal content,” she added.

The actress said that while Google has recently developed policies allowing anyone to request that false pornographic depictions of themselves be blocked from search results, deepfake pornography can still be found.

“There are basically no rules on the internet because it is an abyss that remains virtually lawless, withstanding US policies which, again, only apply here,” she said.

FakeApp’s creator has said that he hopes his face-swapping technology will become more easily accessible and useable.

“Eventually, I want to improve it to the point where prospective users can simply select a video on their computer, download a neural network correlated to a certain face from a publicly available library, and swap the video with a different face with the press of one button,” the app’s creator told Motherboard in 2018.

Matt Fradd, author of “The Porn Myth” and host of the podcast “Love People Use Things,” told CNA last year that the app could invade celebrities’ privacy and inflict harm upon their reputation.

“It will get to the point where we’re not really sure if Jennifer Aniston just did a porn film, or whoever the celebrity is, or if this is one of the AI things. So we are dragging people’s reputation through the mud and we are humiliating them,” Fradd told CNA.

“If they can do that with celebrities they can do that with your sister or with your mom if they wanted to.”

Rudolph Bush, director of journalism at the University of Dallas, told CNA in 2018 that deepfake technology could also be used for dangerous political manipulation.

“It’s very likely to happen, I think, and the consequences could be serious,” Bush told CNA. “Depending on who is targeted by this, depending on how ripe that target is to be manipulated, it could be very damaging.”

Bush said deepfakes could sow widespread social and institutional confusion.

“As these things become more sophisticated, particularly if they’re used by state actors or groups with a high level of understanding of what it takes to manipulate a society or a group, then we’ll see whether we can parse what’s real or not real,” he said.

For Johannson, who called deepfake pornography demeaning, fighting back is not a simple matter.

“it’s a useless pursuit, legally, mostly because the internet is a vast wormhole of darkness that eats itself. There are far more disturbing things on the dark web than this, sadly.”

Fradd told CNA that Catholics should respond to any kind of pornography with the wisdom of the Church.

“Wojtyla says the human person is a good to which the only proper and adequate attitude is love, but when we consume pornography we are always engaging in something contrary to love, namely use.”



Commentary: A few books for 2019

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 18:47

Denver, Colo., Jan 4, 2019 / 04:47 pm (CNA).- It’s probably a little late for retrospectives, but if you’re planning your 2019 reading list, here are six great novels and memoirs I read in 2018.

I am not including on this list my perennial favorites, but I am not limiting myself to books published in 2018 either. Rather, these are six books that gripped my heart and imagination last year, and might do the same for you.


The Devil’s Advocate” Morris West, 1959.

Father Blaise Meredith is an English priest, a canon lawyer, and official in the Sacred Congregation of Rites, the predecessor to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Father Meredith is precise, meticulous, intelligent, and disconnected: lacking living relationships, and the experience of love. His life is ordered, peaceful, and gray. When he discovers he is dying, his Vatican superiors send him to investigate the cause for canonization of a complicated figure from a complicated place, a man who was executed by Communist partisans in Calabria at the end of World War II. In Calabria, he discovers more about faith, hope, and love than he ever would have expected.  

Lincoln in the Bardo” George Saunders, 2017

George Saunders is weird, and so is his fiction. A lapsed Catholic and a practicing Buddhist, the impact of a Catholic education and a Catholic worldview is never entirely absent from his work, which explores questions of spirituality, morality, and relationships from new approaches and perspectives.

"Lincoln in the Bardo" is the story of the afterlife of Abraham Lincoln’s deceased son, Willie. While at times upsetting for some readers, the book is funny, tragic, and, in its own way, offers beautiful insights on living and dying well.  

The Book of Aron” Jim Shepard, 2015.

Aron is a poor, Polish, Jewish boy who endures the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, where his family lives in a tenement flat. His world is miserable before the Nazis arrive, and it falls apart as they force Warsaw’s Jews into ever-worsening conditions. When he can no longer survive by his own wits, he discovers what it is to be loved, by Janusz Korczak, director of a Warsaw orphanage. While Aron, Korczak, and everyone they know march toward an inevitable evil, that love endures, as a powerful counter-witness of hope.


The Last Homily: Conversations with Fr. Arne Panula” Mary Eberstadt, 2018

“How great,” wrote St. Francis de Sales, “is a good priest.” Fr. Arne Panula was a good priest: holy, humble, cultured, and human. It takes a writer as skilled as Mary Eberstadt to capture the beauty of a good and holy priest preparing for a good and holy death. In this book, she has done exactly that. Do not miss the prophetic witness of Fr. Panula, captured in the prophetic prose of Eberstadt.

From Fire, By Water: My Journey to the Catholic Faith” Sohrab Ahmari, 2019

The story of an Iranian immigrant, who discovered in America first nihilism, then communism, and then eventually the Lord. Ahmari’s memoir took me to places I have never been, and gave me a fresh look at people and places that seemed very familiar. Most especially, Ahmari’s book explored a restless human heart, searching and seeking, until, quite unexpectedly, coming to rest in the Lord.


With God in Russia” Fr. Walter J Ciszek, SJ, 1964.

As a young priest, Fr. Walter Ciszek wanted to preach the Gospel behind the Iron Curtain. He spent more than a decade in Soviet labor camps, preaching and witnessing to the Gospel in extraordinary ways. His story is the story of the Lord’s Providence, and one man’s fidelity to Christ.

I asked CNA reporters and editors to suggest the best books they read in 2018. Here are some of their suggestions, in no particular order:

“The Other Francis: Everything they did not tell you about the pope” Deborah Lubov, 2018
“Life and Love: Opening Your Heart to God’s Design” Terry Polakovic, 2018
“Why Liberalism Failed,” Patrick Deneen, 2018
“By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed,” Edward Feser, 2017
“A Canticle for Leibowitz” Walter Miller Jr., 1984
“The Magnolia Story” Chip and Joanna Gaines, 2016
“In Sinu Jesu”  A Benedictine Priest, 2016
“Crossing to Safety” Wallace Stegner, 2002
“Gilead” Marilynne Robinson, 2006
"Building the Benedict Option: A Guide to Gathering Two or Three Together in His Name" Leah Libresco, 2018
“A Call to a Deeper Love: The Family Correspondence of the Parents of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus” Louis and Zelie Martin
“Hillbilly Elegy” J.D. Vance, 2016
“My Squirrel Days,” Ellie Kemper, 2018
“The Buried Giant” Kazuo Ishiguro, 2016
Every Sacred Sunday Mass Journal
“I'll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer” Michelle McNamara, 2018
“The Power of Silence”  Cardinal Robert Sarah, 2017
“Deaconesses: An Historical Study” Aime G Mortimort, 1986
“The Idea of a University” John Henry Cardinal Newman, 1852
“Don Quixote” Miguel de Cervantes, 1605


'Heaven is all that matters' FOCUS founder tells conference

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 18:30

Indianapolis, Ind., Jan 4, 2019 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) founder Curtis Martin encouraged members to recall the real purpose of their lives while speaking at the organization’s annual conference.


“Eternal life is all that matters,” Martin told a packed conference hall on Thursday, the opening day of SEEK2019 Conference in Indianapolis.


In a keynote speech, Martin reminded the crowd that their primary focus in life is to seek heaven, and to live out their mission here on earth, rather than becoming embroiled in day-to-day cares and materialistic goals.


“This is why you’re here, nothing else matters,” said Martin, joking that in heaven, no one will care that a person owned an expensive car.


The five-day event marks the 20th anniversary of the first FOCUS Conference. Martin noted that in two decades the event had grown from 20 students from Benedictine College to include more than 17,000 attendees, with thousands more watching online.


Despite the success and growth of the event, Martin insisted that “not much has changed” since that first conference, and that there was still an urgent need for Christian leaders in the world.


“The message is still ‘Christ is the key, and you’re the answer,’” he said. “The world is still waiting for Christ-like leaders to better shape society.”  


These leaders need to have both moral authority and spiritual gravity, Martin said, giving an example of Mother Teresa confronting a pro-abortion politician about their stance during a Mass. Mother Teresa had moral authority, Martin said, which meant that her concerns and advice were taken seriously by others.


“There’s two types of people in this world: there’s thermometers, and there’s thermostats,” he told the conference hall. “When you walk into a room, does the room impact you, or do you impact the room?”


Christ-like leaders must be “thermostats,” he explained, especially in a world where current culture tells people that their lives have no meaning or purpose, and that their existence is the result of “random chaos.”


In this culture, Martin said, Christians are called to announce that Christ “loved [each person] into existence” and that each of them will be “loved for eternity.”


“The world says you’re nothing, Christ says you’re almost everything.” He advised the crowd to “pursue truth so that you can live in love forever,” rather than pursuing earthly desires which left human nature wounded by sin.


God, Martin said, created human beings to do “amazing” works, and not to live in a kind of virtual reality or video game. It is important he told attendees, to go into the world, to take risks in order to live a full life as designed by Christ, with the eventual goal of making it to heaven.


Catholics were not made for the “pleasures” of this world, he explained, but instead they were made for and by Christ. They are called to find out their purpose in this world, in order to find “everlasting happiness.”


FOCUS was founded in 1998 and seeks to evangelize college students. FOCUS missionaries are currently present on more than 130 campuses throughout the United States and Europe.

Conversion or reform: What will the bishops choose in 2019?

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 14:00

Washington D.C., Jan 4, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- This week the U.S. bishops gathered at Mundelein Seminary in the Archdiocese of Chicago for a weeklong retreat, held at the urging of Pope Francis. Under the guidance of the preacher to the papal household, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, they will spend a week “pausing in prayer” to “reflect on the signs of the times.”


Although recent scandals loom large over the meeting, the pope has asked the bishops to focus on their own conversion, before further discussion about new systems or structures to address the sexual abuse crisis.


In a letter sent to the American bishops ahead of their retreat, Pope Francis underscored that the recent crisis has “severely undercut and diminished” the Church’s credibility.  Only response grounded in unity and communion, the pope wrote, has the power to restore the Church’s authority and authenticity.


The pope warned the bishops to avoid temptations to seek either the “relative calm resulting from compromise, or from a democratic vote where some emerge as ‘winners’ and others not.”


These temptations remain strong. One of the great frustrations for many of them during the Baltimore assembly was what they saw as a missed opportunity to produce “a solution,” in whatever form.


Whatever model bishops supported in November: the proposed lay-led national commission or the so-called metropolitan model, at least some seemed to be looking for a silver bullet, a powerful “fix” that would restore confidence now and prevent scandals from repeating.


Many American Catholics, too, seemed to expect a cure-all structural reform, and are now hoping that at the global summit on abuse in February, Rome will produce the reforms the U.S. Church could not.


But expectations that there can be one practical solution to solve the crisis are likely to prove false hopes. It has become obvious to most observers that no new policy, structure, or process can answer or prevent what is essentially a crisis of sin.


In his letter, Francis called administrative reforms “necessary yet insufficient” as they “ultimately risk reducing everything to an organizational problem.” The pope called the bishops to recognize their “sinfulness and limitations” and to preach to each other the need for conversion.


The pope’s diagnosis seems to be rooted in the evidence of recent months.


The current crisis is really better understood as a web of intersecting crises. The sexual abuse of minors is rightly seen as the most scandalous among them, but it has festered – as the pope has observed – among other illnesses in the body of the Church.


Clericalism, sexual permissiveness, moral indifference, and administrative negligence are themselves serious problems that require answers of their own.


But, if recent history is any guide, those answers are unlikely to come from any canonical or structural reform, however dramatic or well-intended.


As Cardinal Blase Cupich noted in November, there have been structures and commitments of various kinds in place in since 2002. The Statement of Episcopal Commitment was designed to ensure Church law was always followed when allegations were made, no matter who was being accused. And in 2016, Pope Francis issued the motu proprio Come una madre amorivole, which established – or was meant to – an entirely new canonical procedure for investigating and triying allegations against a bishop.


But even with those those policies and promises, Church officials have not seemed to consider themselves bound to any uniform procedure for handling allegations against bishops. Meanwhile, Francis has withdrawn the reforms of Come una madre before they were ever tested.


Many are now realizing that the problems facing the Church have never been the result of a lack of procedures. Instead, attention is beginning to shift to an enduring lack of will in the Church to employ its policies consistently and with rigor.


Absent a moral commitment to see them applied unsparingly, no reform measures – however systematic – can prevent the worst from happening.


As a case in point: last month it emerged that the Archdiocese of New York, which has some of the clearest, best-established abuse policies of any U.S. diocese, left a priest in ministry even after its own independent commission offered compensation to several of his alleged victims.


As recently as last month, the office of clergy personnel issued a letter of good standing stating “without qualification” that no accusation had ever been made against him; this despite an ongoing investigation by the archdiocese’s own review board.


The failures in New York were not caused by a lack of policies and procedures. Instead, they appear to have been truly human failures.


This may be the reason the pope appears skeptical that another policy or structure could yield different results, at any level of the Church, without personal conversion by the people charged with implementing them.


In August of last year, at the height of the Church’s summer of scandal, the USCCB’s own lay-led National Review Board agreed, issuing a statement that ruled out further structural reforms as a solution.


“The evil of the crimes that have been perpetrated reaching into the highest levels of the hierarchy will not be stemmed simply by the creation of new committees, policies, or procedures,” the review board wrote.


“What needs to happen is a genuine change in the Church's culture, specifically among the bishops themselves. This evil has resulted from a loss of moral leadership and an abuse of power that led to a culture of silence that enabled these incidents to occur.”


Moral leadership, as the pope has told the U.S. bishops in no uncertain terms, cannot be effected by a vote. It requires a personal conversion in the face of failure and sin. Real change will require a totally new mindset among bishops, and the Curia.


The 19th century British Prime Minister George Canning ridiculed what he called “the idle supposition that it is the harness and not the horses that draw the carriage.”


“Men are everything,” Canning said, “measures comparatively nothing.”


Pope Francis echoed this sentiment in his letter to the bishops, warning them that the Church’s lost credibility “cannot be regained by issuing stern decrees or by simply creating new committees or improving flow charts.”


Instead, the pope wrote, the Church will only regain her credibility by “acknowledging its sinfulness and limitation” while at the same time “preaching the need for conversion.”


After the scandals of 2002, many bishops and officials treated the new measures and standards as a hardship to be endured, rather than a new reality of ecclesiastical life to be internalized. The “cultural change” called for by the national review board and the pope may prove to be the only means of breaking what has begun to resemble a cycle of scandal.


By warning the American bishops against measures aimed at recovering their reputations rather than amending their ways, the pope may have set the bar by which his own February summit will be measured. In his letter, Francis has called for a “shared project that is at once broad, unassuming, sober, and transparent.” Such a project, it seems, would bear little resemblance to past attempts to respond to the sexual abuse crisis.


As the bishops pray in Mundelein and the pope’s advisers prepare for February’s meeting in Rome, many Catholics begin 2019 wondering if a hierarchy beset by scandal can truly convert, or merely reform – again.

New House passes spending bill with pro-abortion rider

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 11:30

Washington D.C., Jan 4, 2019 / 09:30 am (CNA).- In the first day of the new congressional session, the House of Representatives passed a spending bill that includes a provision to repeal a pro-life policy. The bill was one of two appropriations bills passed on Thursday in an attempt to end the partial government shutdown.


The bill, which would resume funding for the federal government, includes language that would repeal the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy, which prevents non-governmental organizations from receiving U.S. health assistance funds if they either promote or provide abortions.


Pro-life congressmen and campaigners spoke out against the rider which would overturn the policy.


In a floor speech, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) criticized newly-elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for it inclusion in the bill, saying it would “eviscerate” the pro-life protection.


“Madam Speaker, if reopening the government is the goal, if ending the shutdown is the goal, why does this appropriations package contain a brand-new poison pill rider, Section 71, that overturns a major, comprehensive, current-day pro-life policy?” asked Smith.


Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser condemned the move, saying that it showed the real priorities of the new House majority leadership.  


“While many lawmakers are focused on getting the government funded and running, Nancy Pelosi did not waste a moment trying to force American taxpayers to prop up the abortion industry. Her first act as Speaker leaves no doubt about House Democrats’ senseless priorities for the next two years,” said Dannenfelser.


Smith praised the policy as one that “establishes pro-child safeguards that are benign and humane conditions” that seek to protect “innocent children who might otherwise die from chemical poisoning or by dismemberment.”


“For years, pro-abortion organizations have used U.S. taxpayer funds to weaken, undermine or reverse pro-life laws in other nations, and destroy precious lives of these children,” he said.


Smith also accused Pelosi of inconsistency, noting that earlier in the day she had “admonished [the House] to protect God’s creation.”


“These unborn children are God’s creation. They cry out for our protection,” Smith stated.


Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the House Minority Whip, accused the House Democrats of attempting to “Sneak a provision into their funding bill that allows taxpayer dollars to fund abortions in foreign countries.”


Writing on Twitter, Scalise also called the legislation a “sham bill.”


The House spending bill is identical to one approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in June, 2018, though that bill was never considered by the full Senate.


Despite the bill’s passage by the House, it is unlikely to become law. The Republican Senate Majority leadership indicated Thursday that they will not be considering either of the bills passed by the Democratic-controlled House.


Dannenfelser also expressed her hopes that the bill’s provisions would not come into effect.


“We are confident that as the fight over funding the government continues, the pro-life Senate majority and the President will not stand for any attempt to undermine this administration’s pro-life policies,” she said.


The Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy was brought in by President Trump in 2017. It is an expanded version of the Mexico City Policy which applied to NGOs receiving global family planning assistance funds from the United States.


Since it was first implemented by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, the Mexico City Policy has regularly been rescinded Democratic presidents and then re-instituted by Republican presidents when they take office.


The Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the taxpayer funding of abortions in the United States, is not impacted by this legislation.

Was this Michigan grandfather on a mission from God?

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 05:34

Marquette, Mich., Jan 4, 2019 / 03:34 am (CNA).- Irving “Francis” Houle was a Michigan father of five known for his holy life. He appeared to bear the stigmata, a physical manifestation of the wounds of Jesus Christ, and said he experienced the Passion and visions of Jesus and Mary.

Now the Diocese of Marquette is asking whether he was a saint.

For Gale Houle, his wife of more than 60 years, he was also her husband.

“Irving is my saint, and this is well deserved,” she said, speaking to the U.P. Catholic newspaper about the inquiry into his canonization.

“He was a husband and father and a grandfather. I love him with all my heart,” she continued, “But some days he just wasn’t there!”

In November 2018, Bishop John Doerfler of Marquette, Michigan opened the cause of canonization for Servant of God Irving C. Houle, who passed away Jan. 3, 2009 at the age of 83.

Houle believed he first saw Jesus when he was a young child, but didn’t recognize him at the time. He suffered near-fatal injuries in a fall from a horse, and his doctor said he was too weak for surgery.

A nun in the family encouraged prayers for him, and the next morning new X-rays showed no evidence of severe injuries. Young Irving told his mother a man in white robes and upraised hand had been standing by his crib in the night, and a bishop told his parents this figure must have been Jesus, the National Catholic Register’s Joseph Pronechen said in a blog post.

Houle graduated from high school in 1944. He served in the U.S. Army for two years in Europe and the Middle East, then worked at a shoe store and a Montgomery Ward department store before becoming a cleaning supplies salesman. He then served as a plant manager for a machinery manufacturer.

He and his family were parishioners at St. Joseph and St. Patrick Church in Escabana, a city of over 12,000 on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In addition to his five children, he had seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“He was a joker,” his wife Gail said. “He was a little tease; he was a lot of fun. The kids miss him terribly.”

Irving Houle said he received his mission in visions from Jesus and Mary: to suffer the Passion every night to save sinners and to bring people back to confession and to the Eucharist.

He began a healing ministry, often in churches after Mass. He would pray and place his hands on people’s heads. His travels took him across Michigan, to South Dakota and, one time, to Fatima. He never took payment for the healings.

Though the healings were often spiritual, rather than physical in nature, some people reported immediate physical cures as well.

He prayed over one wheelchair-bound woman, a cancer patient given only four months to live. Five months later she came to him, walking, reporting that she was free of cancer. An eight-year-old boy suffering leukemia also reported healing after his prayers.

Witnesses, including his wife Gail, said Houle first received the stigmata in 1993, at the age of 67.

“I didn’t notice any real changes in him before it happened,” she said.

On Holy Thursday of that year, he felt sick and went home to lay on the couch after Adoration at the parish church.

“That night, he said his hands hurt,” Gail said. “I looked but there was nothing. I asked him if his arms hurt too, but he said no. Later, he said his head hurt.”

On Good Friday, he stayed home, an unusual action for the devout churchgoer. This continued through Easter.

“After Easter, he had red spots the size of dimes on his hands. He said they hurt, but didn’t want to discuss it.”

Deacon Terry Saunders told the U.P. Catholic he saw Howe immediately after Easter when the layman brought Holy Communion to him.

“He told me of the pain in his hands and when the marks appeared. He was nervous about it,” Saunders said. “Over time, I saw his hands swell, like they’d do if you were hit with something. His hands split open, and after that, he had open wounds sometimes as big as a quarter or half dollar. He wore bandages on the back of his hands for the rest of his life, and bands like sweatbands around them if he was bleeding.”

Gail said they struggled in dealing with the stigmata.

Doctors, priests, bishops and cardinals had examined his wounds, but they did not know what was happening.

Houle said he suffered the Passion and had visions every night, with the pain beginning at 12:30 a.m. and lasting 35 minutes. He would then have visions until 2:30 or 3 a.m., he told Father Robert J. Fox in an interview.

His wife Gail never witnessed this part of her husband’s life, though several people including his brother did. She believed that her habit of falling asleep quickly was God’s way of shielding her.

In one May 1993 vision, the Virgin Mary told him: “My beloved Son: I come to you this night to tell you how much your prayers and suffering have meant to my Son and me. Your suffering has been long, my child. You have pleased my Son and me. We will be close to you. The graces have been given to you. Satan is trying to cause confusion among you. But I tell you, he will not succeed…”

Houle said he would feel intense pain, at times feeling as if he were being torn apart. During this time God would show him who and what he was suffering for, like civil wars, abortion, homelessness, murders, and abused women and children.

He saw the people for whom he suffered, but not their names. He would say “it usually goes back to the sins of the flesh,” according to the National Catholic Register blog post.

Saunders said that all of Houle’s suffering was “for the conversion of sinners.”

Bishop Doerfler has appointed Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, a priest from Rome, as postulator of Houle’s cause. Ambrosi is involved in overseeing other canonization causes, including that of the American archbishop and television personality Ven. Fulton J. Sheen.

At its June meeting, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will review the cause of Houle’s canonization and give its opinion on whether it should move forward. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints will then review the case to determine if he led a life of heroic virtue. Should the congregation and the Pope approve, he will then be given the title “venerable.”

He could be beatified following sufficient proof of one miracle, and canonized upon sufficient proof of another miracle.

In 2005, Father Robert J. Fox published a book about Houle under the title “A Man Called Francis,” calling him “Francis” to protect his identity.

Father Fox was an observer of Houle’s sufferings and estimated that Houle prayed over 200,000 people. The priest founded the Fatima Family Apostolate and retired near the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama. In 2003, he hosted Houle on his EWTN radio show “Reclaiming Your Children for the Catholic Faith.”

The Irving C. “Francis” Houle Association has been formed to promote Houle’s canonization cause and to help raise funds for expenses, including for the work of Ambrosi and others. It currently has between 100 and 150 members.

Bishop Doerfler named Deacon Terry Saunders as its president and moderator.

Cardinal Dolan urges aid for abuse victims 'no matter who their abuser was'

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 21:01

New York City, N.Y., Jan 3, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York wrote in a recent an op-ed that while he fully supports victims of sexual abuse, proposed legal reforms in the state should be crafted so as support all victims, whether their abuser was part of a public or private institution.

“I believe it is important to strengthen the Child Victims Act to ensure that all victim-survivors are the center of this much-needed legislation,” Dolan wrote in the New York Daily News Dec. 31.

The Child Victims Act is a proposed measure that would give survivors until age 50 to report sexual abuse as a minor. Under current state law, alleged survivors of abuse cannot file a claim after they turn 23.

The New York legislature is now under Democratic control, and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said passing this bill is one of his priorities for the coming year.

“The emphasis must be on helping [victims] heal, not breaking government, educational, health, welfare, or religious organizations and institutions,” Dolan wrote.

The New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the bishops of New York, has been working with lawmakers and advocating for a complete elimination of the statute of limitations for sexual abuse of minors.

However, Dolan reportedly in March personally asked Cuomo to remove a provision in the Child Victims Act that would allow a one-year “lookback” window of opportunity for victims of any age to bring their alleged abusers to court, according to WNYC.

He contended that the temporary window lifting the statute of limitations would be “toxic” and “very strangling.” Such a window means “the only organization targeted is the Catholic Church,” he said, according to the Buffalo NPR news station WBFO.

The bill has also faced opposition from Orthodox Jewish community leaders, the Boy Scouts of America, and insurance companies, who fear financial hardship from the lawsuits.

Manhattan Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a co-sponsor of the Child Victims Act, told NBC News that she believes "Cardinal Dolan knows well that the true path to justice for adult survivors lies in the lookback window, in addition to extending the criminal and civil statute of limitations."

Dolan did not explicitly address the lookback window in his op-ed.

“Right now, we, along with many others, want to work with...all interested parties to achieve a balanced, fair reform that provides a sense of resolution to all victims, no matter who their abuser was — a government worker, a public school teacher, a counselor, a health care professional, a coach, a foster parent, and, yes, a member of the clergy, no matter how long ago,” Dolan wrote.

“The Archdiocese of New York and four other state dioceses have instituted the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, with over $200 million in compensation paid to more than 1,000 individuals, with some cases reaching back over 60 years,” he wrote.

Dolan noted that all eight of New York state’s Catholic diocese have implemented resolution and compensation programs for victims of abuse as minors. He offered his own archdiocese’ model, implemented in 2016, as a guide for the rest of the state.

Their “survivor-centered” approach, he asserted, works well for several reasons: it avoids costly litigation that could also cause further pain to survivors; it “insures fair and reasonable compensation,” and guards against the possibility of bankrupting “public and private organizations, including churches, that provide essential services in education, charity and health care.”

Dolan acknowledged that healing from trauma is a long and often impossible process. In addition to “spiritual, emotional and therapeutic support” offered by the Church for victims of abuse from all kinds of organizations, monetary compensation can also serve as “a tangible acknowledgement of the harm done” to victims and help them heal considerably.

“Our Church’s own experience in abandoning the rigid statute of limitations, although financially expensive, was morally necessary in order to help promote healing and justice for those who deserve it,” he wrote.

New Congress is more than one-third Catholic

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 18:10

Washington D.C., Jan 3, 2019 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- The 116th Congress was gavelled into session on January 3, bringing almost 100 new lawmakers into office, and with Catholics making up nearly 30 percent of the congressional freshman class.


Catholics account for 28 of the 96 new members of Congress, including newly-elected Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN), the only Catholic freshman in the Senate.


In total, there are 163 Catholics sitting in either the Senate or House of Representatives, a drop of five from the 115th Congress, but still more than 30 percent of the legislature.


According to figures from Pew Research, the new session sees an end to what had previously been a near even split of Catholic members between the parties in the House of Representatives, with 86 Catholic Democrats now serving alongside 55 Republicans.


Among the newcomers in the House is Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN), who represents Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District. Stauber a former professional hockey player, police officer, and city councilman, is the second Catholic to win the seat in seven decades.


Stauber, a married father of four, campaigned as a defender of life from “conception until natural death” and promised to “always be a strong and constant voice for the right to life.”


Another notable Catholic in Congress is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who now represents New York’s 14th Congressional District, covering parts of the Bronx and Queens. This November, Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress at the age of 29.


Widely expected to become a leading voice for the progressive wing of the new Democratic House majority, Ocasio-Cortez won a surprise primary victory over Democrat incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley, a result considered to be one of the biggest upsets of the 2018 election.


In June, the day after her primary win, Ocasio-Cortez published an op-ed in America magazine about how her Catholic faith has inspired her to work on criminal justice reform.


Catholic education also played a role in shaping many members of the new Congress. According to the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, one out of 10 members of Congress graduated from a Jesuit institution, including 12 Senators and 43 members of the House of Representatives.


Of the 12 Jesuit schools with alumni currently in Congress, Georgetown University has the highest number of graduates with 28. Boston College and Fordham University each have six alumni serving on Capitol Hill.


The 116th Congress is also one of the most religiously diverse in U.S. history, with the first two Muslim women elected to the House, which has already moved to change procedural rules so that Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) can wear her Muslim hijab on the House floor.

Seven Christians detained several days in Laos

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 17:19

Savannakhet, Laos, Jan 3, 2019 / 03:19 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Seven Christians in a Laotian village were arrested and detained for several days for holding a church service deemed illegal.

They were arrested Dec. 29 and released Jan. 2, according to Radio Free Asia, which aims “to provide accurate and timely news and information to Asian countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press.”

The detainees are from Nakanong village in the Phine District of Savannakhet Province. Three of those arrested were church leaders, and the rest were members of the church.

Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom told BosNewsLife that local authorities “demolished the [church’s] stage, cut off the power line, destroyed the sound system, and seized three mobile phones.”

Laos is a communist country of southeast Asia. Its constitution provides citizens the freedom to believe in religion, but religious groups must register with the government. The US State Department's 2017 International Religious Freedom Report said that “freedom of religion tended to decline in the rural areas.”

It added that “government restrictions on registered or unregistered minority religious groups, particularly Protestant groups, remained disproportionately limiting in certain remote regions. Reports continued of authorities, especially in isolated villages, arresting, detaining, and exiling followers of minority religions, particularly Christians.”

Laos is a majority-Buddhist country, and less than two percent of the population is Christian.

The Ministry of Home Affairs must give permission for religious practice, and it can order the cessation of any religious activities or beliefs not in agreement with policies, traditional customs, or laws.

The International Religious Freedom Report also said that the decentralization of Laotian government contributes “to abuses by local officials, some of whom reportedly were unaware of laws and policies protecting religious freedom or unwilling to implement them. Religious groups stated that most, if not all, instances of abuse occurred in remote villages.”

RFA reported that four Christians were detained for a week in November in Savannakhet's Viraboury District for holding services without permission.

Pope calls for unity and conversion in letter to US bishops

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 14:00

Washington D.C., Jan 3, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis has written to the bishops of the United States calling for a “change of mindset” to restore the Church’s credibility and trust among the faithful.


“Clearly a living fabric has come undone, and we, like weavers, are called to repair it,” the pope wrote in a letter to the American bishops, dated Jan 1 and released Thursday by the U.S. bishops’ conference.


This repair process must involve a “change of mindset” by bishops in relation to prayer, power, exercising authority, and handling money, he explained, with the change rooted in an acknowledgment of the “sinfulness and limitations” which necessitate God’s grace.


The letter was sent ahead of the U.S. bishops’ weeklong retreat at Mundelein Seminary, in the Archdiocese of Chicago. The retreat was proposed by the pope in October as an opportunity for them to reflect and pray after a year of scandals which have rocked the Church in the U.S. and worldwide.


Following months of scandals, including the allegations against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, American bishops met in November for their annual general assembly in Baltimore, at which bishops vocally disagreed with one another on the root causes of the crisis facing the Church, and on the best means of addressing it.


Acknowledging that recent abuse scandals have undercut the credibility of the Church in the United States, Pope Francis said that a cover-up mentality “enabled them to fester and cause even greater harm to the network of relationships that today we are called to heal and restore.”


A unified body of bishops, he said, would be helpful in regaining this credibility.


“Credibility will be the fruit of a united body, that, while acknowledging its sinfulness and limitations, is at the same time capable of preaching the need for conversion,” he said.


Francis also condemned what he called a sense of “division and dispersion” among the communion of bishops that has erupted in the wake of abuse allegations. This discord, the pope said, goes beyond the typical disagreements bound to arise among any group of people and comes from “the enemy of human nature” taking advantage of current crises to further divide the Church.


The bishops must take a “renewed and decisive approach to resolving conflicts,” said Francis, as he cautioned against a reliance on structural solutions that would reduce the role of a bishop to “a mere administrative or organizational function” in the “business of evangelization.”


The paramount task facing the American bishops, Francis said, is to create “a shared spirit of discernment” leading to true communion, without giving in to the “relative calm” of a sterile compromise or a vote with winners and losers.


The pope said that the bishops must abandon the “modus operandi of disparaging, discrediting, playing the victim or the scold in our relationships,” and instead should focus their attention on “the gentle breeze that the Gospel alone can offer.” Instead, he said, the bishops should work to avoid “gossip and slander” and promote dialogue, discussion and discernment among one another.


“As a Church we cannot be held hostage by this side or that, but must be attentive always to start from those who are most vulnerable.”


In his letter, Francis expressed regret that he was not able to personally attend the retreat, but that he still wished to “reflect with [the American bishops] on some aspects I consider important,” and to offer encouragement for their “prayer and the steps [they] are taking to combat the ‘culture of abuse’ and to deal with the crisis of credibility.”


The pope warned that while many responses were being considered by the bishops, they must be cautious to avoid those that do not necessarily align with the “flavour” of the Gospel.


“To put it colloquially,” said the pontiff, “we have to be careful that ‘the cure does not become worse than the disease.’”


For this to be accomplished, he said that the bishops must engage in “wisdom, prayer, much listening, and fraternal communion.”

How this Episcopalian’s own book convinced him to become Catholic

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 12:00

Nashville, Tenn., Jan 3, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- An Episcopalian priest set out to write a book on finding and understanding the Gospel’s truth. Now, after he and his family have converted to Catholicism, he says they have found it.

Andrew Petiprin, his wife Amber, and their two children Alex and Aimee were confirmed into the Catholic Church on Jan. 1, at St. Patrick’s Parish in Nashville, the city where they have lived for the last 18 months.

“I am grateful for 16 formative years as an Anglican, and 8 as an Episcopal priest, most recently as Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Tennessee. But I am thrilled that the Lord has called me, my wife, and our children into full communion with Rome,” said Petiprin on Twitter.

Petiprin told CNA that his conversion was heavily influenced by questions raised in the process of writing his book “Truth Matters: Knowing God and Yourself,” which was released last April.

“Even though I was writing about doctrines that applied to different Christians in different traditions, finishing the book was a real emphasis to examine the questions again about whether I should be Catholic.”

The book discussed foundational elements of Christian doctrine: the Trinity, Christology, the Holy Spirit, atonement and salvation. Petiprin said that after the book’s completion, a major question arose – where does the authority come from to verify the truth of these subjects?

“It really forced me back into questions I had been asking myself for a long time, namely, where is truth ultimately to be found?” he said.

“For me, it came back to the papacy, it came back to the Church…The Roman Catholic Church is [the] primitive Church that the doctrine has developed faithfully within over these centuries.”

Petripin had set out to write the book as a project for his parishioners, but his goal for the book have since changed. He said he now hopes that it will lead people to seek out more catholic resources.

“Now, I really hope that people read the book and then they get a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that they begin exploring the Catholic faith.”

“I intend to write a follow up to it called Catholic Truth Matters and explore some particularities of why it’s not enough to be just okay with Christian doctrine but also to see how the practices of the Catholic Church are the place where Gospel is lived out at its fullest.”

Petiprin told ACI Prensa that he was heavily influenced by the death of Saint John Paul II, and more recently, by devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“In 2005 when Pope Saint John Paul II died, I had a very strong feeling that I was connected to him and to the Church and that I would one day be Catholic. It turned out to take more than 13 years,” he said.

“Over the past several months I have begun praying the Rosary and asking for Mary’s prayers. Loving Mary is all about loving Jesus. Her maternal love for me inspires a deeper love for her son, my savior.”

Petiprin said he is “overwhelmed with the welcome I am receiving from Catholics. Their faith is real, and they can’t help but pour out enthusiasm for people like me who have been called to share it with them. I hope in time that I can share that same level of welcome with others coming into the faith.”

While married Anglican ministers who convert to Catholicism are permitted to pursue the priesthood, Petiprin says he has not yet decided if he will seek ordination.  

“I am open to discernment about eventual formation for the Catholic priesthood, but I am eager now to find good employment and live the Catholic faith with my family as a layman.”


Knights of Columbus: Anti-Catholic bigotry is nothing new

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 11:09

New Haven, Conn., Jan 3, 2019 / 09:09 am (CNA).- Catholics can be good US citizens and honest public servants, the head of the Knights of Columbus wrote Thursday in a message to members of the Catholic charitable organization.

“There have been times in our country’s past when uninformed or prejudiced people questions whether Catholics could be good citizens or honest public servants,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson wrote in the letter.

“Sadly, it seems that in some quarters, this prejudice remains.”

Anderson's Jan. 3 letter was occasioned by two senators objecting last month to a federal judicial nominee's membership in the Knights.

Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) asked whether his membership in the Knights of Columbus would prevent Brian C. Buescher from hearing cases “fairly and impartially.” Buescher is an Omaha-based lawyer nominated to sit on the US District Court for the District of Nebraska.

The Supreme Knight noted that Buescher's “fitness for the federal bench” was questioned by Hirono and Harris “precisely because our Order holds firm to the Church’s teachings on the sanctity of life and marriage.”

Anderson said, “Such attacks on the basis of our Catholic faith are hardly new. The Knights of Columbus was formed amid a period of anti-Catholic bigotry.”

From the founding of the Knights of Columbus until the presidential election of John F. Kennedy, “many still held that Catholics were unfit for public office,” he added.

The Knights of Columbus has always adhered to Catholic teaching, Anderson said, adding that “our primary motivation” is Christ's commandment “that we love God completely and our neighbor as ourselves.”

It is this commandment of love that compels the Knights' charitable work, he noted.

“This love also motivates us to stand with the Church on the important issues of life and marriage, precisely because the Church’s teaching reflects and is based on that love. We stand with our Church because we believe that what our faith teaches is consistent with reason, is timeless and transcends the changing sentiments of any particular time or place.”

The Supreme Knight also noted that in his letter to the Knights' 2013 convention, Pope Francis had asked that the organization “bear witness to the authentic nature of marriage and the family, the sanctity and inviolable dignity of human life, and the beauty and truth of human sexuality.”

Anderson pointed out the no religious test clause of Article VI of the US Constitution, and the free exercise clause of the Constitution's First Amendment, saying, “any suggestion that the Order’s adherence to the beliefs of the Catholic Church makes a Brother Knight unfit for public office blatantly violates those constitutional guarantees.”

“Let us continue to express our love of God and neighbor by helping those in need and by standing with our Church, regardless of the popularity of doing so,” Anderson exhorted.

“Let us also remember that, from our founding, we have embodied the truth that a good Catholic is a good citizen who shows civility and dignity even in the face of prejudice.”

Buescher was nominated to serve on the U.S. District Court Nov. 3. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Buescher’s nomination Nov. 28, sending him written questions Dec. 5.

Hirono had asked Buescher if he would end his membership with the Knights of Columbus if confirmed, so as “to avoid any appearance of bias,” saying the organization “has taken a number of extreme positions.”

And Harris described the Knights as “an all-male society”, and asked if Buescher was aware that the Knights of Columbus “opposed a woman’s right to choose” and were against “marriage equality” when he joined.

Harris raised a statement from Anderson saying abortion constituted “the killing of the innocent on a massive scale” and asked Buescher if he agreed with Anderson.

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) noted the nominee’s previously outspoken opposition to abortion and asked, “why should a litigant in your courtroom expect to get a fair hearing from an impartial judge in a case involving abortion rights?”

Buescher ran in the Republican primary for Nebraska attorney general in 2014. During that campaign he described himself as “avidly pro-life” and said opposition to abortion was part of his “moral fabric.”

In his responses to the questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, Buescher said if confirmed as a federal judge, he would follow established rules regarding conflicts of interest, and that he would not seek to advance personal opinions, but would make rulings in accord with the judicial precedents established by the US Supreme Court.

Anderson is not the only voice to raise objections to the senators’ line of questions.

A Jan. 2 Wall Street Journal editorial said that the senators’ “argument against Mr. Buescher fits a distressing pattern. No longer is it necessary to engage the political merits of a position, or—in the case of a judicial nominee—demonstrate he’d use personal views to override the law. Today it is enough to label a nominee’s religion or associations “extreme” and use that to try to banish him from public life.”

The editorial noted another recent instance in which a Catholic faced questions about her faith, mentioning the 2017 confirmation hearing for federal Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett, in which Sen. Dianne Feinstein told Barrett “the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern.” That comment sparked a groundswell of support for Barrett’s nomination.

Last month, a Washington, D.C. chapter of the Knights of Columbus invited Harris and Hirono to join in their charitable activities, including a February Polar Plunge raising money for the Special Olympics. Neither senator has responded to that invitation.

The Knights of Columbus is active in 17 countries. In 2017, some 2 million members carried out more than 75 million hours of volunteer work and raised more than $185 million for charitable purposes.