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Updated: 49 min 37 sec ago

'Sister strike' gets her own baseball card

Mon, 04/08/2019 - 14:15

Chicago, Ill., Apr 8, 2019 / 12:15 pm (CNA).- A religious sister can expect that if she is faithful to her vows, fervent in prayer, and zealous in following Jesus, her face might someday wind up on the front of a holy card.

But few religious sisters expect ever to find themselves on a baseball card.

Sister Mary Jo Sobiek, OP, though? She’ll premiere on a Topps baseball card this summer.

The sister, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, caught attention from baseball scouts and casual fans last year, when she threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Chicago White Sox game last August.

The sister bounced the ball off her bicep before delivering a strike straight over the plate.

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Sobiek, a teacher at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, Illinois, didn’t expect her pitch to go viral. But it did. Video clips got millions of views, made ESPN’s Sportscenter highlight reel, and were featured in national media.

The sister is no stranger to a baseball diamond. She played shortstop on the softball team at Cathedral Catholic High School in St. Could, Minnesota, and continued playing softball at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth.

“Growing up, I was naturally gifted as an athlete — that was my God-given gift,” Sobiek told the Duluth News Tribune last year.

“To be a good athlete, you have to be strong in body, mind, and spirit,” Sobiek told Runner's World.

“There will be times that you’ll lose, and you have to know how to prepare your mind for those failures. Striving towards sainthood requires the same level of discipline, humility, and stick-to-it-ness.”

After Sobiek's pitch, Topps decided to place her on a baseball card in their Allen and Ginter series, which features baseball players along celebrities.

“We wanted to feature her on the set because she is a huge sports fan, a lifelong baseball fan,” Susan Lulgjuraj told Chicago’s WBEZ.
“And when we saw her throw that first pitch last year, it kind of clicked. We said, ‘How cool would it be to feature Sister [Mary] Jo on a card?’” she added.

Sobiek, 49, earned $1,000 for appearing on the card, which she intends to donate for a scholarship fund in her name at Marian Catholic High School.

Though her baseball card debut is complete, Sister Sobiek fans and memorabilia collectors will be waiting, most likely a while, for the release of that holy card.

Holy See tells UN a 'right to abortion' defies moral, legal standards

Mon, 04/08/2019 - 14:01

New York City, N.Y., Apr 8, 2019 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- The Holy See’s representative to the United Nations told the UN Commission on Population and Development that insistence upon a “right to abortion” at their annual spring meeting detracts from the commission’s efforts to address the real needs to mothers and children.

After UN representatives from European countries called for “speeding up progress” toward “universal access to sexual and reproductive services, including safe and legal abortion,” Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See's Permanent Observer to the UN, spoke out.

“To formulate and position population issues, however, in terms of individual ‘sexual and reproductive rights’ is to change the focus from that which should be the proper concern of governments and international agencies,” Auza said April 3.

“Suggesting that reproductive health includes a right to abortion explicitly violates the language of the ICPD, defies moral and legal standards within domestic legislations and divides efforts to address the real needs of mothers and children, especially those yet unborn,” the archbishop continued.

The Vatican representative also called for action to be taken when migrants are exploited, for “responsible consumption” of the world’s resources, and reaffirmation that the family is the fundamental unit of society.

Auza said that many of the questions involving the transmission of life cannot be adequately dealt with unless in relation to the good of the family.

“Governments and society ought to promote social policies that have the family as their principal object, assisting it by providing adequate resources and efficient means of support, both for bringing up children and looking after the elderly, to strengthen relations between generations and avoid distancing the elderly from the family unit,” he said.

Planned Parenthood’s Director of Advocacy María Antonieta Alcalde also participated in the UN Commission on Population and Developement’s 52nd session April 1-5.

“Every year, millions of women and girls are forced to continue their pregnancies due to a lack of access to safe and legal abortion,” Alcalde told the UN Commission April 3.

Alcalde called for “comprehensive sexuality education; access to sexual and reproductive health services; access to safe and legal abortion; and civil society participation” to be included in the commission’s program of action.

The UN population commission concluded its fifty-second session reaffirming their commitment to the “programme of action” adopted at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo 25 years ago.

Saint Pope John Paul II wrote a letter to the Secretary General of the Cairo conference in 1994 stating that he was gravely concerned about the draft final document of the population and development conference. He noted that there was already a “tendency to promote an internationally recognized right to access to abortion on demand, without any restriction, with no regard to the rights of the unborn.”

“The vision of sexuality which inspires the document is individualistic,” St. John Paul II said.

The pope asked the Secretary General, “What future do we propose to adolescents if we leave them, in their immaturity, to follow their instincts without taking into consideration the interpersonal and moral implications of their sexual behaviour? Do we not have an obligation to open their eyes to the damage and suffering to which morally irresponsible sexual behaviour can lead them? Is it not our task to challenge them with a demanding ethic which fully respects their dignity and which leads them to that self-control which is needed in order to face the many demands of life?”

“Political or ideological considerations cannot be, by themselves, the basis on which essential decisions for the future of our society are founded. What is at stake here is the very future of humanity,” St. John Paul II said.

Franciscan University president resigns

Mon, 04/08/2019 - 09:50

Steubenville, Ohio, Apr 8, 2019 / 07:50 am (CNA).- Fr. Sean Sheridan, TOR, has resigned as president of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. Fr. Sheridan informed the university’s trustees of his decision during a regular meeting of the board on Friday.

The unexpected decision comes almost exactly six years since his appointment to the role in April 2013. Although he informed the university board of trustees of his decision on April 5, he has agreed to remain in the post until a successor is found.

Fr. Sheridan said in a statement that he had made the decision “after a great deal of prayer.”

“Any university president would readily admit that all the days are long; many are great days, and some are difficult. Being a Franciscan Friar has taught me to recognize that all those long days—the great days, and even the difficult days—are blessed days and all the more so when I am among my Franciscan Family.”

“Franciscan University is a special and immensely spiritual place, and it was a blessing to serve in our mission to educate, evangelize, and send forth joyful disciples of Jesus Christ. This is and always will be a University dedicated to providing an education that is rigorous and demanding, vibrant and truly orthodox with an unwavering commitment to Catholic faith and tradition,” Sheridan said.

The university’s board of trustees released a statement April 8, in which they thanked Sheridan for his years of service to Franciscan University.

“We are thankful for Father Sheridan’s years of leadership and dedication throughout which he continued the Franciscan University tradition of exceptional education grounded in a passionately Catholic faith that enables our alumni to evangelize and transform the culture,” said Father Malachi Van Tassell, TOR, chairman of the Board of Trustees.

While the decision came as a surprise to the board and the wider university community, friends of Sheridan noted that the timing appeared well chosen.

“Fr. Sheridan certainly wants what’s best for Franciscan,” one friend of Sheridan told CNA, “and waiting until the board met towards the end of the academic year was timed to cause minimal disruption to the community.”

The same friend noted that Sheridan is “a gentleman and devoted to the school – he made it clear he would stay in place until his successor arrives and there is a smooth handover.”

“This was his decision and he made it on his own terms. There’s a great deal of surprise, but he certainly isn’t walking out on the school.”

The statement released by Franciscan University said the board of trustees expects to have a new leader in place by the start of the next academic year.

Sheridan’s resignation comes after the university has faced questions about its handling of historical sexual harassment cases, and its manner of addressing sexual assault claims made by students. In September 2018, Sheridan ordered the removal of a plaque commemorating a friar and former campus minister accused of assaulting young women, in addition to a review of campus policies related to sexual assault and harassment.

But Sheridan has also faced a different sort of criticism from some faculty members and internet-based groups and blogs, who have questioned his commitment to ensuring a faithfully Catholic approach to university education.

Much of the criticism stems from an incident in January, in which a professor used a text with inflammatory passages – termed blasphemous and obscene by critics – for an advanced reading course. At the time, Sheridan said that while the text was “scandalous and extremely offensive” he did not believe the professor who assigned it had any “malicious” intent, though he did replace him as the head of the English department.

In a letter apologizing to those disturbed by the text’s use, Sheridan highlighted the importance of forming students “to do battle against the blasphemy and heresy rife in our culture today.”

“Is anyone here perfect?” Sheridan later asked in a Jan. 14 homily. “No. Do people here make mistakes? Yes. But our particular Franciscan charism is rooted in ongoing conversion. That we resolve to continue to do better every day.”

Sheridan, a theologian and canon lawyer, is a published expert on Ex corde ecclesiae, the 1990 apostolic constitution of St. John Paul II on Catholic universities. Under Sheridan, Franciscan University hosted a series of symposia to mark the constitution’s twenty-fifth anniversary.

A friend of Sheridan told CNA that the aggressive and personal vitriol leveled against him by some blogs had taken a toll.

“Fr. Sean decided he needed a change in the light of all the criticism of him and the university,” he said. “He found the coverage to be pretty distasteful, and it was clearly taking a toll on him personally, and on the university community.”

One professor at Franciscan told CNA that the communion among the university’s faculty had suffered under the sustained criticism.

“Fr. Sheridan really couldn’t be a better example of humble leadership, devoted to the faith and the community here.”

“I wonder if this decision isn’t a final example of that humility,” the faculty member said, while describing it as a “devastating decision” nonetheless.

The professor praised Sheridan’s commitment to strengthening the Catholic identity and academic rigor of the university.

Friends of Sheridan also note that in 2018 Franciscan University enrolled its largest ever freshman class, and registered a balanced annual budget – both stated aims of the university administration.

“It takes mature, creative teamwork to achieve that kind of success, and that is what will be hard to replace,” one close friend of Sheridan said.

The same friend noted that Sheridan’s religious community will be holding elections in July.

“Fr. Sean is a young man who can teach, preach, and lead with holiness and humility – that’s a rare combination. I am sure that an order with world-wide reach will soon find a new role for him.”

Sheridan himself said he feels “called to continue my service to the Catholic Church in another capacity to be determined in consultation with our TOR minister provincial.”

“The sincerity and seriousness Franciscan students have for the faith will continue to inspire me, and I am especially thankful for the ministry and witness of the friars. In my years in higher education, as student, faculty member, and researcher of Ex corde Ecclesiae and the Code of Canon Law, I have not encountered members of a university community so committed to pursuing their beliefs.”

“I leave Franciscan a better teacher and catechist and appreciative of the time to grow in this area of my ministry.”

The last Irish priest in Wyoming

Sat, 04/06/2019 - 06:00

Cheyenne, Wyo., Apr 6, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- “I am the last F.B.I.: foreign-born Irish,” Father Tom Sheridan, a retired priest of the Cheyenne diocese, told CNA.

Sheridan speaks with an Irish accent mixed with the slow drawl of a longtime Wyoming resident. The rural state is the least populated in the country. Its 570,000 residents, spread across the state, would reach a density of less than six people per square mile.

The 80-year-old priest is himself from rural Ireland, five miles outside Cavan town in County Cavan. He grew up just miles from the border with Northern Ireland, during the decades in which Ireland became self-governing and independent. He attended Cavan’s St. Patrick’s College, as did some 12 of the Irish priests who served in Wyoming.

Sheridan remembered from his childhood two priests who served in Wyoming but would return home to Ireland to visit.

“They’d come home when I was young, and take out a jug of whiskey and take my dad fishing,” the priest recounted.

“Needless to say, they didn’t catch any fish,” he quipped. “They were great men.”

About 34 Irish or Irish-born priests from different parts of Ireland have served in Wyoming. Three of them were Sheridan’s cousins.

Among these many priests, Fr. John Brady was uncle to Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh, according to Sheridan.

“He was called the bard. He used to recite poetry,” he said.

Sheridan set up a memorial for these priests outside St. Patrick’s Church in Laramie, where he now lives in retirement. The memorial, in the style of a Celtic Cross, was blessed by Bishop Steven Biegler of Cheyenne in 2017.

“I could have been a priest in Ireland, but I didn’t want to be,” said Sheridan, the second oldest of eleven children who was ordained in 1964. “In those days there were plenty and plenty of priests.”

By contrast, the U.S. was “a long ways away, and there was no phone in those days, and you’d only come home once in three, four, five, many years.”

He arrived in Rawlins, Wyoming in September 1964. Among his first memories was fishing in the Platte River. Homesickness was a problem in his first year. He recounted a Christmastime visit to the grocery store.

“They were playing music: ‘I’ll be Home for Christmas’,” he said. “And it hit me. And I stood there crying.”

“It was quite a change. The first three or four years was quite an adjustment,” Sheridan added. He found Wyoming different from Ireland in things like “the distance, and the weather, and the size of the ranches, and all of that.”

“The people, though, are friendly. They have that in common with Ireland,” he said. “I think Irish priests fit in pretty good. Towns are small.”

Wyoming’s culture of hunting and fishing, and its strong dependence on farming and ranching, also made it easier for Sheridan to fit in.

“It was an easier adjustment,” he said. “Some of my classmates went down to Alabama, places like that, it was more of an adjustment because you had an Anglo-Black thing. I grew up with a Protestant-Catholic thing and the Irish border.”

One bishop has compared the spread-out parishes of Wyoming to the geographic area of many Irish dioceses: in Wyoming, each parish might be 100 miles from the next.

Such great spaces played a role in Sheridan’s ministry.

“I used to drive 90,000 miles a year,” he said. “I spent 21 of those years on Interstate 80. Now it’s not as dangerous, but I had a lot of angels looking out for me.”

The priest’s mother visited him in Casper in the 1980s. She liked old Western movies, so they visited the Murphy Ranch outside of town.

“She asked ‘Mr. Murphy, did the cattlemen shoot the sheepmen’?” Sheridan recounted.

“They did,” Murphy said, in Sheridan’s retelling, citing the Johnson County War of the late 1800s. “Not very many, but there were a few shot.”

“She went back home and she shook them up because they used to say it was all a myth, all that ‘Western stuff’,” Sheridan said.

Looking back on his life, the priest was grateful.

“I’m thankful to God for the gift of my priesthood in Wyoming: the people I served and worked with and shared a life with me, and the priests and the bishops, of course.”

“I wouldn’t change it for nothing,” he said. “I was blessed. Blessed in many ways, with all the driving.”

He stressed his love for the people of Wyoming, especially the youth.

“We had a great youth program. we used to go to youth conventions every two years. We met and by the time we got wherever we were going we were all a family. Things like that.”

There were other attractions, too.

“Fishing and golfing, you could always get on a golf course. It was never too crowded,” he said.

Another Irish-born priest, Monsignor James O’Neill, passed away in Casper on March 18, the day after St. Patrick’s Day, at the age of 89. He had graduated from St. John’s Seminary in Waterford, Ireland and was ordained a priest in June 1954. He had arrived in Wyoming two months later with three or four other priests, Sheridan told the Wyoming radio station K2 Radio.

“It would have been considered, what we can say, ‘English-speaking mission country’,” he said.

Msgr. O’Neill had served as pastor of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Cheyenne. For 17 years, he celebrated a weekly televised Mass broadcast to central Wyoming, western Nebraska and northern Colorado. He won an award from the Catholic Extension Society for this work, Rev. Michael Carr said.

Sheridan estimated O’Neill’s audience at about 10,000 people, about half of whom were non-Catholic.

Father Thomas C. Fahey, another Irish-born priest who long served in Wyoming, passed away in Huntington, Indiana on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. Born in Co. Galway in 1919, he had served as a priest in Wyoming from 1947, the year of his ordination in Carlow, Ireland, through his retirement in 1990. Fahey would have turned 100 years old this Dec. 6.

Sheridan reflected on the changes in his homeland.

“There’s no priests coming from Ireland anymore,” he said. “Probably when I came in the 50s and 60s, those were peak times, but they started going down in the 90s.“It’s a sad state really,” he added, noting that only one priest had been ordained for his home diocese in 15 years.

For Sheridan, the contemporary Irish are “suffering from the progressive, socialist condition” which St. John Paul II warned about.

Compared to Wyoming, there was also a lack of lay participation in Ireland.

“One of the blessings here was that lay people got involved with the Church. They had to, here, said Sheridan.

In his view, Irish society had a Church and government that were strongly united and the Church didn’t really let the laity take up their role.

“That explains part of it in Ireland for sure. And back East too, to some extent, New York, and those areas, because they had plenty of priests.”

“Not out here. There never were really enough priests. All depending on immigrants,” he said.

Sheridan’s 2015 book, “A Moment in Ministry,” includes a chapter on Wyoming’s Irish priests.


US bishops, CRS urge administration to grant Venezuelans protected status

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 19:01

Washington D.C., Apr 5, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- Catholic leaders issued a letter Thursday to United States government officials asking for a temporary legal status for thousands Venezuelan nationals who would otherwise risk returning to a hazardous crisis.   

The April 4 letter asks of the Secretaries of Homeland Security and State that Venezuela be designated for temporary protected status for 18 months.

TPS allows people who are unable to return safely to their home countries because of armed conflict, other violence, natural disasters, or other extraordinary conditions to remain in the United States while the situation in their home country resolves. It protects them from deportation and grants them permission to work.

The letter was signed by Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, chairman to the USCCB Committee on Migration, and by Sean Callahan, president of Catholic Relief Services.

“Given the unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, its nationals cannot safely be returned home at this time,” the letter read.

According to the letter, an estimated 150,000 Venezuelans would qualify for TPS.

Since Nicolas Maduro became president of Venezuela in 2013, the country has been marred by violence and social upheaval. Under the socialist government, the country has seen severe shortages and hyperinflation, and an estimated 3 million have emigrated.

“Our nation has the legal ability, as well as the moral responsibility, to provide Venezuelans in the U.S. with temporary protection,” wrote Callahan and Bishop Vasquez.

“As you well know, while stability in Venezuela hasbeen tenuous since 2015, it is continuing to deteriorate at an alarming rate,” they added. To evidence this claim, they noted that the State Department issued a Level 4 “Do Not Travel” advisory for Venezuela last month, shortly after it withdrew its diplomatic personnel from the country.

In issuing the travel advisory, the State Department “explained that in addition to violent political demonstrations and shortages in basic necessities (food, water electricity, and medical care), the country suffers from high rates of violent crime, such as homicide,armed robbery, and kidnapping.”

Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo himself suggested that the Organization of American States should be concerned with the crisis in Venezuela (along with those in Cuba and Nicaragua), rather than with lobbying for abortion.

The Catholic leaders noted that “distressing conditions discussed above show that such a designation would be appropriate and could be made either on the grounds that: (1) Venezuela is suffering from 'ongoing armed conflict within the state' and, consequently, return of nationals to the country would 'pose a serious threat to their personal safety,' or (2) that it isfacing 'extraordinary and temporary conditions' that prevent nationals 'from returning to the state in safety,'” making note of the conditions required for TPS under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Callahan and Vasquez said that “providing a TPS designation for Venezuela is also a moral, compassionate and needed response.”

TPS would ensure that Venezuelans resident in the US “are not returned to dangerous and life-threatening situations7and give them an opportunity to live with dignity, work lawfully, andprovide for their families’ well-being until they can safely return home,” they added.

The Trump administration has for the most part been hesitant to extend existing TPS designations.

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security extended TPS for El Salvador, Haiti, Sudan, and Nicaragua to January 2020 only as the result of a federal court order. The administration had perviously determined this status was no longer merited, and it was set to lapse.

Another lawsuit is seeking to extend TPS for Honduras and Nepal.

Appeals court upholds Kentucky ultrasound abortion law

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 18:32

Lexington, Ky., Apr 5, 2019 / 04:32 pm (CNA).- A federal appeals court has upheld a Kentucky law requiring that abortion doctors show ultrasound images of the baby to the mother, describe the images on the screen, and play the sound of the fetus’ heartbeat.

The Catholic bishops of Kentucky praised the ruling in an April 4 statement.

“Given the devastating effect that abortion has on both the unborn child and often the mother who later regrets the abortion, it is vitally important that women have all of the information they need to make a decision that is as fully informed as possible,” they said.

“The statute in question was passed to ensure women have access to unbiased and medically sound information about abortion procedures and the unborn child in the womb before making an irreversible decision to have an abortion. The court held that this is a legitimate interest of the Commonwealth and that a doctor does not have a right to withhold such information.”

House Bill 2, also known as the “The Ultrasound Informed Consent Act,” originally passed in 2017, but had been blocked by a lower court ruling that found the requirements it placed on doctors violated their First Amendment rights.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued its ruling Thursday and struck down the District Court’s decision.

The majority found that House Bill 2 “provides truthful, non-misleading, and relevant information aimed at informing a patient about her decision to abort unborn life,” and requiring disclosure of that kind of information is “part of the state’s reasonable regulation of medical practice.”

“The information conveyed by an ultrasound image, its description, and the audible beating fetal heart gives a patient greater knowledge of the unborn life inside her,” Circuit Judge John Bush wrote in the majority opinion.

“This also inherently provides the patient with more knowledge about the effect of an abortion procedure: it shows her what, or whom, she is consenting to terminate,” he continued.

“That this information might persuade a woman to change her mind does not render it suspect under the First Amendment. It just means that it is pertinent to her decision-making.”

Though the doctor is required to display images of the ultrasound and simultaneously describe the image to the patient, the patient is not required to look at the image or listen to the description. The doctor must also play the sound of the fetal heartbeat for the patient but may turn off the volume at the patient’s request.

Doctors who fail to comply with the new regulations could face a $250,000 fine and be referred to Kentucky’s medical licensing board.

Circuit Judge Bernice Bouie Donald dissented from the majority opinion, arguing that the information required under HB 2 has “no basis in the practice of medicine” and “does not permit physician discretion,” and it would, in her view, “require physicians to harm their patients with ‘no medical purpose.’”

In their statement, the Kentucky bishops voiced gratitude for the ruling.

“[W]e also reiterate our appreciation to Kentucky policy makers for making the protection of children and women in vulnerable situations a top priority,” they said. “We look forward to continuing to work with our elected officials to ensure access to information and also to necessary protections in the workplace, health care, education, and all that Kentuckians need to thrive and achieve their God-given potential.”

The Kentucky legislature passed two pro-life bills last month which are already facing legal challenges from abortion groups. The pair of bills would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected and for discriminatory reasons such as the race or sex of the child.

District Judge David Hale temporarily blocked the “heartbeat” law in March, saying it may be unconstitutional.

Emails show Planned Parenthood behind California rule to make churches pay for abortions

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 17:01

Sacramento, Calif., Apr 5, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A 2014 California rule forcing religious groups, including churches, to cover elective abortions for employees was the result of direct pressure from Planned Parenthood, internal emails have shown.
On April 4, three churches filed a notice of appeal against the measure, which they contend violates basic religious freedom and conscience protections. In support of the appeal, attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the churches, submitted internal emails between Planned Parenthood employees and state Department of Health and Human Services.
“The government shouldn’t be forcing churches to pay for abortion, and it is shameful and inappropriate that the government did so in this case at the bidding of Planned Parenthood,” said ADF Legal Counsel Jeremiah Galus in a statement.
The emails show lobbyists from Planned Parenthood insisting that agency rules be changed to force religious groups – specifically naming Catholic universities – to provide coverage for elective abortions.
Galus said, “California officials are required to follow the law and legal precedent, not the dictates of groups that have an axe to grind against religious organizations that don’t share their views on abortion. We are asking the 9th Circuit to strike down this obviously unconstitutional mandate.”
Under the rules in force in March 2014, Loyola Marymount University employees were obliged to take out third-party coverage for abortion and Santa Clara University intended to bring in a similar arrangement, an email from Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California’s chief legal counsel said.
The email was addressed to staff at California HHS and asked for “another meeting” to discuss the matter.
A subsequent email between a Planned Parenthood legislative advocate and an HHS staff member recorded a March 13, 2014 meeting with Donna Campbell, Deputy Secretary for the Office of Legislative Affairs at HHS.  
The emails notes the meeting was to “explore whether there is a regulatory/administrative fix” to prevent religious groups opting out of covering elective abortions, “or if legislation is needed.” If the rules could not be tightened, the email says, Planned Parenthood had drafted legislation which it would arrange sponsorship for.
In a March 17, 2014, email to Campbell, the Planned Parenthood legislative advocate said that “while we would prefer to see [the exceptions for employers not to fund elective abortions] resolved without legislation,” the abortion provider was “concerned” that HHS would not make the necessary changes.
The email then offers a trade: Planned Parenthood would not have new legislation introduced provided the state administration offered certain guarantees, including an undertaking to rescind already-approved healthcare plans which did not meet with Planned Parenthood approval.
“Simply saying that [employer] healthcare plans only need to cover ‘medically necessary’ abortions has been the source of the issue and [this] does not solve the problem,” the email warns.
In late April, Planned Parenthood emailed Campbell to “check in on HHS and [the California Department for Managed Health Care] progress, including where you are in the timeline to find a solution in 4-6 weeks?”
In an email dated the next day, Campbell responded to thank them for “checking in” on her progress.
“We are still working with DMHC on the legal and practical issues related to the ‘updated’ interpretation, if you will.” Campbell then promised a “more thorough progress report for [Planned Parenthood] in mid-May.”
In August, 2014, California’s Department of Managed Health Care ruled that all healthcare plans must cover elective abortions.
Alliance Defending Freedom, the Life Legal Defense Foundation and the Catholic Bishops of California filed several federal legal complaints against the rule, citing the 2005 Weldon Amendment which denies federal funds to state or local governments if they discriminate against institutional or individual healthcare entities that decline to pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.
The amendment defines healthcare entities as individual physicians or health care professionals, a hospital, “a health insurance plan, or any other kind of health care facility, organization or plan.”
In June, 2016, the Obama Administration rejected the complaints. The Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it “found no violation of the Weldon Amendment and is closing this matter without further action.”

Analysis: In DC, Archbishop Gregory's promise of honesty will define him

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Apr 5, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Wilton Gregory told Washington Catholics Thursday that “the only way I can serve this local archdiocese is by telling you the truth.”

Gregory will be installed as Washington’s archbishop in May, likely bringing to an end the acute crisis the Archdiocese of Washington has faced in recent months, amid pervasive questions about the integrity, and especially the honesty, of its outgoing leader, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

Wuerl came under fire after revelations emerged last June regarding the sexual misconduct of his own predecessor, Theodore McCarrick, and after his record as the former Bishop of Pittsburgh was scrutinized in the July report of a Pennsylvania grand jury examining clerical sexual abuse and institutional response.

The cardinal, it should be made clear, has not himself been accused of any act of sexual misconduct. But he has been criticized for seeming to insufficiently address problems or untenable situations in his dioceses, and the cardinal has faced relentless questions about what he knew and did, at various times in his dealings with McCarrick. This criticism became particularly acute after CNA reported that Wuerl had knowledge of allegations against McCarrick for more than a decade before they came to light, though he had seemed to deny them.

When Gregory was introduced to Washington Catholics April 4, he seemed acutely aware of those criticisms.  

“I will always tell you the truth as I understand it” Gregory promised his new flock.

Gregory has now set the stake by which his tenure as Washington’s archbishop will be measured. By his own account, he will be the archbishop of transparency.

And questions will certainly be waiting for him.

Catholics in the U.S., among them the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, have been looking for answers on McCarrick since June, and once Gregory takes the reins from Wuerl, they will turn to him for those answers.

Gregory is likely to face questions about McCarrick’s influence on the Archdiocese of Washington, about his financial administration, his relationship with the Vatican, with priests, seminarians, and religious orders, and his relationship with Wuerl, his predecessor.

The nature of McCarrick’s apparent “prohibition” from living in a seminary, and the veracity of other admonishments and exhortations alleged by Archbishop Carlo Vigano has not yet been disclosed. The nature of the relationship between McCarrick and the Institute of the Incarnate Word, at whose seminary he lived for years, has not yet been clarified. The influence of McCarrick’s apparent generosity in Rome has not yet been unpacked, nor has the source of his financial largesse been explained. Gregory will, doubtlessly, be asked about these things.

There will also likely be questions about Wuerl, his relationship with McCarrick and with the apostolic nuncio, and about whether there were other issues in the Archdiocese of Washington that have not been addressed with transparency, and according to proper procedure.

When McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals, Gregory issued a powerful and candid statement.

“I am personally disheartened because in 2002 I stood before the body of bishops and the people of God as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and made assurances in my own name and that of the Church in the United States that this crisis of faith and leadership was over and would not be repeated,” Gregory wrote.

“I never knew or suspected the hidden side of a man whose admired public persona concealed that of a violator of foundational Christian morality and of young people who trusted him. Like any individual who discovers far too late that a friend has a history of moral misconduct, I now stand dumbfounded that I was so unaware and naïve. I know that many other bishops feel the same.”

“Our people are disappointed with bishops in general who seemingly cannot or will not act decisively to heal this festering wound. They are perplexed and sickened that the Holy See may well have dismissed multiple warning signs that should have halted Theodore McCarrick and others earlier in their careers,” he added.

“I pray that this moment, and these days, weeks, and months ahead, will be an opportunity for light to break through the darkness, and for darkness to be exposed to the light. I pray that all victims and survivors of sexual abuse will come forward and receive the help, support, and healing they need. And I pray that our Church and our leadership will be renewed and transformed by the light of Christ and have the courage to take the necessary next steps.”

In file cabinets soon to be under his control, are likely some of the answers that Gregory, and other bishops, and many other Catholics have been hoping to find. Gregory has promised to tell the truth about what he knows. He has conceded that he might not always know the answers, but said that when he does, he will share them.

Making good on his word may not always prove easy for Washington's new archbishop. But Archbishop Gregory likely knows that if he is going to restore trust among his priests, his people, and among Catholics hopeful about his leadership, the promise of honesty will be one he has to keep.


Catholic University students vote to block porn

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 16:20

Washington D.C., Apr 5, 2019 / 02:20 pm (CNA).- Students at The Catholic University of America have asked the administration to ban the top 200 pornography websites from its internet system.


The call came in a petition and resolution passed by the university’s Student Government Association and signed by its student body president on Monday, April 1.


The “Resolution for a Pornography Free Campus Network,”  was sponsored by student Sen. Gerard McNair-Lewis, a junior at the University. It states that the Student Government Association Senate “hereby requests that the University take an outward stance on the use of pornography by prohibiting access to the top 200 pornography sites through the campus network.”


“This allows the University to remove itself as a means in accessing such material.”


The resolution was passed by a vote of 13 to 12, and signed by SGA President Jimmy Harrington. Student vice president, Weston Kirby, cast the tie-breaking vote.

In a statement issued after he signed the resolution, Harrington said that he did not think that Catholic University of America students had any inherent right to access pornography on the school’s internet.


“I am signing the Resolution not from purely religious or Catholic grounds, but because The Catholic University of America can and should exercise its rights to prohibit the use of pornography on the campus network,” said Harrington.


One of the resolution’s co-sponsors, Alexandra Kilgore, told CNA that she was surprised to learn action had not already been taken.


“I was honestly shocked to learn that such a ban wasn't already in place. Even my public high school blocked inappropriate content on its wi-fi, so I knew The Catholic University of America could do better,” she said.


“As a woman, I thought it was important to be a cosponsor to bring to light that pornography is not just a men's issue. Not only does the industry exploit and prey upon primarily women and girls, but females can struggle with addiction and consumption just as much as males.”


Kilgore described the resolution as a positive expression of corporate concern among the student body, not a condemnation.


“Our resolution is not intended to shame anyone or to make pornography addiction more isolating than it already is. Rather, it demonstrates the Student Government Association's commitment to the well-being of the student body and the University's continued demonstration of the teachings of the Catholic Church.”


Harrington rejected the idea that blocking pornography amounted to censorship or a violation of personal freedoms, saying “it is a regulation that the national University of the Catholic Church or any private institution ought to enact.”


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

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


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


Harrington pointed out in his statement that many secular organizations ban pornography from their networks, not only out of moral concerns, but also becasue such websites often contain viruses and other malware that can damage machines.


“If a secular company can block these sites from their networks and computers, then I am even more convinced that The Catholic University of America ought to be able to and should regulate these sites on its own network,” said Harrington.


Cornelius Deep, a member of the student Senate and one of the co-sponsors of the resolution, told CNA that the student body reaction to his resolution was not what he had expected.


“Surprisingly, the majority of people I have come across have thanked me for standing with this bill,” Deep said. Others have told him that while they were initially against the resolution, they changed their minds after attending the Senate meeting and hearing arguments against pornography.


Deep told CNA that he believes that most men his age recognize that pornography is bad, but continue to consume it due to its addictive nature. Still, he believes that what he and his fellow senators are doing is an important step.


“It is important to be the change you want to see in the world and if we want to see pornography, the intrinsic evil of degrading human beings, be eliminated than we must be the ones to start the change,” said Deep.


The resolution also enacted a clause requesting that the school provide additional pastoral services through its Counseling Center and Campus Ministry offering assistance to those who exposed to pornography.


Kilgore told CNA that many services were already available to students, and that these had a real value.


“Campus Ministry offers spiritual direction and/or aid in finding a spiritual director off campus, if that's the student's preference,” Kilgore said.


“The University Counseling Center also provides 45 free therapy appointments to students and unlimited group therapy appointments if the student would prefer to take a secular route. Just yesterday, Campus Ministry hosted Matt Fradd to speak about the myths surrounding pornography and to offer resources to students struggling [with addiction.”


While the resolution has been voted on and signed, it is technically non-binding and there is no guarantee its goals will ever come into fruition.


University administrators, though, told CNA that they are grateful with the steps taken by the students on this particular issue and will consider the ban in the future.


“It is difficult to ignore the firm stance against pornography made by our student body,” Karna Loyoza, spokesperson for The Catholic University of America, told CNA.


When the university last considered banning porn from the network, they found it would have been both expensive and ineffective. Now, due to advances in technology, it is now more affordable to implement this kind of filter, said Loyoza.


While students may work around a firewall and continue to access porn, “the student resolution made a convincing argument that banning porn on the University network sends the right message to the student body.”


“No decision has been made on the ban, but the University is grateful to the SGA for bringing to our attention their desire that we ban pornography on the University network,” said Loyoza.

‘No backdoors, no end-runs’: Pompeo vows total end to foreign aid for abortion

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 15:30

Washington D.C., Apr 5, 2019 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- Mike Pompeo has said the Trump administration is doing its “level best” to prevent foreign aid dollars reaching organizations that perform abortions, and was looking to close “loopholes” in the current system.


The Secretary of State made the promise during an interview with EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, broadcast April 4.



Pompeo announced last month that the Trump administration would implement the Global Protect Life Policy, also known as the Mexico City Policy, “to the broadest extent possible.” The policy bars taxpayer funds from going to nongovernmental organizations abroad that perform abortions.


“We will enforce a strict prohibition on backdoor funding schemes and end-runs around our policy,” Pompeo told reporters on March 26. “American taxpayer dollars will not be used to underwrite abortions.”


In an interview with Catherine Hadro, Pompeo said that President Donald Trump had made clear to him that protecting the unborn “is an important part of what this administration is working to do.”


Part of that work, Pompeo said, is working to ensure that taxpayer funds aren’t used to support nongovernmental organizations that perform “abortion or abortion-related services.”


“We want to do everything we can to make sure that that does not happen,” he said, adding that the strengthened policy will close “loopholes” that allowed nongovernmental organizations to circumvent the policy.



U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to @EWTNProLife tonight with more details about his recent pro-life announcement from the State Department.

— Catherine Hadro (@CatSzeltner) April 4, 2019  


Pompeo also said last month that the administration will fully enforce the Siljander Amendment, a federal law that prohibits the use of taxpayer funds—including foreign assistance—for lobbying either for or against abortion overseas.


Pompeo said that unsparing enforcement of this existing law would be “a substantial step.”


“We want to make sure that everything we do in the way that we contract, in the way we communicate, every organization to which United States taxpayers provide funds understands their obligation, their duty to ensure that there’s not the promotion of abortion anywhere in the world,” he said.


Pompeo disputed claims by Dr. Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood, that the policy will “censor” doctors abroad.


“We know the First Amendment here in the United States,” Pompeo said. “We’re doing nothing to deny anyone the ability to speak about a subject that they deem important and indeed even if they disagree with this administration’s views. What we’re simply saying is that the American money, American policy is going to push back. We’re going to do our level best to ensure that the least amongst us, the unborn, aren’t—with U.S. taxpayer dollars—aborted.”


Asked what Trump has said about protecting life overseas, Pompeo replied, “he’s made it clear: that’s the mission.”


Kate Scanlon is a producer of EWTN Pro-Life Weekly

After Supreme Court ruling, Texas bans all chaplains from execution rooms

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 02:17

Austin, Texas, Apr 5, 2019 / 12:17 am (CNA).- The state of Texas has banned all prison chaplains from its execution chamber, following a Supreme Court decision that halted the execution of a Buddist man who was denied the presence of his chaplain.

Patrick Murphy, a Buddhist, had been scheduled to die this Thursday. Murphy requested access to a Buddhist minister a month before his scheduled execution, and his request was denied because the minister was not a state employee. The prison system only allowed clerics employed by the state to enter the execution chamber. Currently, the state only employs Christian and Muslim clerics.

Seven Supreme Court justices agreed that Murphy’s rights had been violated and that his execution should be stayed. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch did not join the majority opinion.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the Court’s newest member, authored a concurring opinion on why the Texas Department of Criminal Justice had violated Murphy’s rights.

Kavanaugh said that that allowing only Christian and Muslim ministers to be present with death row inmates in the execution chamber was discriminatory, suggesting that a more just resolution would be that no chaplains be permitted in the execution chamber and instead they be allowed to sit in the viewing area.

To avoid discrimination, Kavanaugh said, the Texas prison system should either allow chaplains of all faiths into the execution chamber or else not allow any chaplains at all.

New execution procedures signed April 2 say that chaplains and ministers may “observe the execution only from the witness rooms.” Currently, friends and family of the murder victims and prisoners, as well as media, are allowed to watch executions through a glass window in small viewing rooms adjacent to the death chamber, the Texas Tribune reports.

State employed chaplains will still be made available in the viewing room if the prisoner desires.

The state’s decision to ban all chaplains from the execution chamber comes two months after the Supreme Court denied an Alabama Muslim man’s request to have his imam present at his execution, citing the last-minute nature of his request.

Murphy, together with six other inmates known collectively as the ‘Texas 7,’ was present at the scene of a 2000 robbery in Irving, TX during which members of the group killed an off-duty police officer.

All members of the 7, except one who took his own life, were sentenced to death for the officer’s murder, as Texas law permits capital punishment for those who were involved in the act of a capital crime.

The Texas Catholic Conference last week applauded the Supreme Court’s decision to stay Murphy’s execution, saying, “Our country was founded on the rights of each individual to exercise his faith, regardless of whether in prison or in a church.”

Tenn. House passes bill to protect religious liberty of adoption agencies

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 18:01

Nashville, Tenn., Apr 4, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- As other US states have defunded adoption agencies that won't place children with same-sex couples, the Tennessee House on Monday passed a bill meant to ensure these agencies' religious freedom.

HB 836 was passed in the lower house of the state legislature April 1 by a 67-22 vote.

The bill would grant legal protections to adoption organizations which uphold marriage as a union between a man and woman and provides its services accordingly.

It is sponsored by Rep. Tim Rudd and five other Republicans.

The bill now faces the GOP-controlled Senate. Governor Bill Lee, also a Republican, has not yet given his position on the bill.  

The measure protects religious agencies from being subjected to lawsuits for not placing children with same-sex couples. It also states that the department of children’s services cannot withhold a license from agencies that do so.

“No private licensed child-placing agency shall be required to perform, assist, counsel, recommend, consent to, refer, or participate in any placement of a child for foster care or adoption when the proposed placement would violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies,” the bill states.

Although religious adoption agencies in Tennessee have not been prevented from acting out of their moral convictions, the bill comes at a time when Catholic agencies in other states have been shut down or denied access to funding.  

Rudd said the bill is comparable to cautionary steps taken by Kansas and Oklahoma, who passed similar laws last year.

“We’re doing the same as nine other states have done,” said Rudd of Murfreesboro, according to the AP. “Throughout the country, these faith-based organizations have been sued to the point they’re being driven out of business due to costs.”

Critics of the bill have said the legislation would be used to permit LGBT discrimination. According to the AP, Democratic Rep. John Clemmons questioned the practicality of religious agencies turning away same-sex couples.

“We have children across this state looking for loving homes, why are we doing anything to prohibit a loving family or a couple from being able to care of a child and take it in and provide for it, why?” said Clemmons.

Laws barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or barring state funding from adoption agencies considered discriminatory have shut down Catholic adoption agencies in Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and Illinois, among others.

Last month, it was announced that Michigan state funds would be barred from adoption agencies for the same reason. It followed a settlement headed by the ACLU and same-sex couples against two Christian adoption agencies. The lawsuit ruled that non-discrimination provisions must be enforced within state contracts.

SCOTUS won't hear Planned Parenthood investigators' First Amendment claims

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 17:01

Washington D.C., Apr 4, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit against a pro-life group that conducted undercover investigations into possible lawbreaking in the abortion industry may proceed, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal seeking to dismiss a lawsuit.

But David Daleiden, project lead at the Center for Medical Progress, was defiant.

“The biggest losers from today’s decision are Planned Parenthood who now must go to trial on fabricated claims with zero facts, while their own leaders continue to incriminate and perjure themselves in video-taped depositions on a daily basis,” Daleiden charged in an April 1 post on Twitter.

The lawsuit, filed in 2016, charges that the Center for Medical Progress violated federal and state laws against conspiracy, wire and mail fraud, surreptitious recording, and trespassing. It charges that the group violated California law by gaining access to its facilities through fraud, and it claims the group lied to the IRS and the state of California to secure tax-exempt status.

The Center for Medical Progress has argued that the lawsuit violated California laws barring strategic legal action that aims to silence individuals or groups, known as “anti-SLAPP” laws, the political news website The Hill reports. The appeal to the Supreme Court had argued that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals failed to defend First Amendment protections.

Two members of the center face criminal charges in California.

Steve Vladeck, a University of Texas School of Law professor and Supreme Court analyst for CNN, said the Ninth Circuit had held that Planned Parenthood’s claims were strong enough to allow its lawsuit to proceed.

“By leaving that ruling intact, the justices today stayed out, at least for now, of a messy dispute over alleged mischaracterizations of Planned Parenthood’s abortion-related activities,” Vladeck told CNN.

In a Nov. 27 statement on the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Center for Medical Progress characterized Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit as “retaliation.”

“Planned Parenthood got caught selling baby parts from abortions and remains under federal investigation–so they have relentlessly attacked the whistleblower instead of coming clean and reforming,” Daleiden said at the time.

Beginning in 2015, the Center for Medical Progress released a series of undercover videos allegedly demonstrating the illegal sale of body parts and fetal tissue from aborted babies.

The released videos appeared to show various Planned Parenthood and StemExpress executives discussing, often callously, their practices for obtaining and selling fetal body parts. Daleiden alleged that Planned Parenthood was profiting from these sales, which is illegal under federal law.

Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the U.S., has said it abides by all relevant laws and has charged that the videos were deceptively edited. It faced a congressional investigation into the allegations related to the videos.

However, the deep political strength of Planned Parenthood appears to have blunted some of the impact of the investigations. Soon after the Center for Medical Progress videos were released, Planned Parenthood’s lobbying arm, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, launched an emergency response campaign, with initial costs projected at $7 to $8 million in partnership with allies and funders such as the Open Society Foundations, the Hewlett Foundation, and the Democracy Alliance.

“(T)he release of these videos and the related attacks were severe and without warning,” said a 2015 internal document from the Open Society Foundations, apparently acquired in a security breach and later acquired by and posted to the website “Countering this offensive requires an enormous amount of resources and staff time, which is the intent of the opposition.”

The Center for Medical Progress has had to face several lawsuits seeking to halt the release of the videos. Legal charges against two of its members were dropped in Texas.

However, illegal sale of fetal tissue from aborted babies proved costly for two California bioscience companies, who reached a deal with the Orange County district attorney office.

DV Biologics and its sister company DaVinci Biosciences acquired fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood and other sources. Sales brought in more than $1.5 million from 2013 to 2015, the Orange County Register reported.

They admitted fault, ceased California operations and met the terms of a legal settlement close to $7.8 million in value for violating state and federal laws against the purchase or sale of fetal tissue.

Prosecutors began their investigation in 2015 after the Center for Medical Progress filed a complaint.

Gregory promises DC Catholics 'I will always tell you the truth'

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 13:40

Washington D.C., Apr 4, 2019 / 11:40 am (CNA).- Archbishop Wilton Gregory made an uncompromising commitment to transparency during his introduction to the faithful of Washington, DC, at a press conference Thursday.


"First of all, I believe that the only way I can serve this local archdiocese is by telling you the truth,” said Gregory at his formal introduction as the next Archbishop of Washington on April 4.


Gregory’s appointment, which was first reported by CNA last week, was officially announced by the Vatican on Thursday.


The new archbishop pledged to be transparent and open in all matters, even when that means that he may admit that sometimes he is not entirely sure of something.


"Transparency includes sharing what you do know, and it also acknowledges that ‘that's not something that I'm sure of’ or ‘I simply don't know,’" he said. But, Gregory noted, “I will always tell you the truth as I understand it.”


Greogry’s pledge comes as the archdiocese is still reeling from the recent laicization of its former leader, Theodore McCarrick. McCarrick was removed from the clerical state in February after being found guilty of numerous grave offenses, including the sexual abuse of minors and adults. McCarrick led the archdiocese from 2000 until 2006.


McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018 after allegations of sexual abuse of minors became public. Since then, it was revealed that multiple dioceses had paid settlements to men alleging sexual misconduct by McCarrick while they were studying in seminaries.


None of McCarrick’s abuse allegations date from his time in Washington.


The revelations about McCarrick’s conduct prompted questions about what his successor in Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, knew about the allegations and what, if anything, he did in response. Over the last months of his tenure in Washington, following CNA reports that he first heard allegations against McCarrick in 2004, Wuerl subsequently had to clarify what he knew, when he knew it, and when he, apparently, forgot it.


Wuerl’s resignation was accepted by the Vatican in October 2018. Since then, he has served as the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese. He was present Thursday at the press conference, and introduced Gregory as someone with exemplary pastoral abilities, intellectual gifts, and leadership skills.


In response to a question from the Washington Post, Gregory praised Wuerl, but also acknowledged that his predecessor had made mistakes, for which he has atoned.


“I know [Wuerl] is a gentleman, he works very hard for the Church, he acknowledges he's made mistakes,” said Gregory.


“That's a sign of the integrity of the man."


Gregory said that if a situation ever arises where he would have to account for a mistake made by Wuerl, he would do that. The archbishop decried a culture of clericalism that resulted in what he called a “circling of the wagons” to protect members of the clergy and prevent accountability by bishops.


“I think this moment has shown the folly of that approach to episcopal governance and episcopal collegiality,” said Gregory.


Gregory also spoke about his time leading the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2001 until 2004, at the beginning of the sexual abuse crisis in the American Church. He said that during his time as president of the USCCB he was able to meet with Pope St. John Paul II, and he informed him about the extent of the crisis in the United States.


“[The Pope] looked at me and says 'are you sure?'," Gregory recounted. "I said 'Holy Father, I am sure, and there is more.'"


It was this experience, Gregory explained, that will set the tone for his time again leading an institution grappling with a serious crisis.


"I walked away from my time as president knowing this one thing: that I told them the truth as best as I could. And that's what I will do with the Archdiocese of Washington.”

Gregory appointment a milestone in the history of African-American Catholics

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 08:13

Washington D.C., Apr 4, 2019 / 06:13 am (CNA).- Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s appointment Thursday as Archbishop of Washington marks a significant moment for the Archdiocese of Washington. It is also a milestone in the history of African-American Catholics in the U.S.

Since the Archdiocese of Washington was established in 1947, every single archbishop to lead the archdiocese has been elevated to the College of Cardinals. If tradition holds, it is increasingly likely that Gregory will become the first-ever African-American cardinal.

Here is a timeline of some milestones in the history of African-American Catholics in the U.S.:

1565: Slaves and free Africans are a part of the foundation of St. Augustine, Florida, and help to build much of the city’s infrastructure.

1829: The first religious order for black women in the U.S., the Oblate Sisters of Providence, is established in Baltimore, Maryland.

1839: Pope Gregory XVI condemns the slave trade in an apotolic letter.

1875: James Augustine Healy, is consecrated the first African-American bishop.
1899: The National Black Catholic Congress is founded.

1909: The Knights of St. Peter Claver, an African-American fraternal order, is founded.

1920: St. Augustine Seminary, the first U.S. seminary for African Americans, is opened.

1962: Archbishop Joseph Rummel of New Orleans threatens the excommunication of those who oppose the desegregation of Catholic schools.

1979: U.S. bishops’ conference issues “Brothers and Sisters to Us,” a pastoral letter on racism.

2001: Bishop Wilton Gregory becomes the first African-American president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

2018: U.S. bishops’ conference issues “Open Wide our Hearts,” a new pastoral letter on racism.

Here are some African-American U.S. Catholic history-makers:

Bishop James Augustine Healy

The first person of African-American descent to be ordained a priest for a U.S. diocese is James Augustine Healy, who was also the first African-American to become a bishop.

Healy, whose mother was a mixed-race slave and whose father was an Irish immigrant, was born in Macon, Georgia in 1830. He is the oldest of 10 siblings, many of whom would also enter religious life.

His brother, Patrick, entered the Jesuit order and became the first man of African-American descent to earn a PhD. He was eventually named the 29th president of Georgetown University. His sister, Eliza, would enter the Congregation of Notre Dame in Montreal and took the name Sr. Mary Magdalen. She became the first African-American woman to be named an abbess after she became superior of the order in 1903.

At the time of Healy’s birth, interracial marriage was not legal in Georgia, and he and his siblings were legally considered slaves. Healy was prohibited from attending school in Georgia, so his father sent him and his siblings to schools in the north. He was the first valedictorian of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA.

After James discerned a call to the priesthood, he was not allowed to study at the Jesuit seminary in Maryland, because Maryland was still a slave state. Instead, he studied in Montreal and eventually Paris, where he was ordained a priest on June 10, 1854.  

At the time Healy was ordained, few in the Church were aware of his race.

Healy was a priest in the Archdiocese of Boston, and in 1875, was appointed the second bishop of the Diocese of Portland, ME. Healy was consecrated a bishop on June 2, 1875.

He led the Portland diocese, which covers the entirety of the state of Maine, during a large influx of Catholic immigrants. Healy established 60 new parishes and over a dozen convents and schools during his time as bishop.

He died suddenly at the age of 70 in 1900.

Due to pervasive racism, Healy’s ethnic background was not public knowledge. Healy, who had a lighter complexion, was usually believed to have been entirely of Irish descent.

Father Augustus Tolton

In 1886, 34 years after James Healy was ordained, Servant of God Augustus Tolton was ordained a priest in Rome.

Tolton, the son of African-American slaves, was born in Missouri in 1854. Tolton is the first African-American priest in the United States whose race was widely known to his contemporaries.

It is not known how Tolton and his family gained their freedom. Some say that Tolton escaped to Illinois along with his mother and siblings during the Civil War. Others say that Tolton and his family were freed when the war began. However it happened, Tolton, along with his mother and siblings, moved to Illinois during the war.

A priest  eventually allowed Augustus to enroll in a Quincy, Illinois parochial school, which was a controversial decision at the time.

Tolton graduated from St. Francis Solanus College, and then attempted to enter seminary. He was rejected from every American seminary he applied to, but eventually graduated from Pontifical Urban University in Rome. Following his ordination, he returned to the United States.

In the United States, Tolton met with resistance from his mostly-white congregations in Quincy. He was eventually moved to the Archdiocese of Chicago, where he helped to found St. Monica, the city’s first black Catholic Church.

Tolton died at the age of 43 in 1897. In 2011, the Vatican began the formal cause for canonization, and in 2012 he was named a “servant of God.” Last month, the Congregation of the Causes of Saints advanced his cause by unanimously agreeing that Tolton led a “virtuous life.” Now, two miracles must be approved and attributed to Tolton before he can be canonized.

If he were to be canonized, Tolton would be the 13th American saint and the first of African-American descent.

Sr. Thea Bowman

Another African-American figure is also being considered for sainthood: Sr. Thea Bowman.

Sr. Thea, whose grandfather was a slave, was born in Mississippi. She converted to Catholicism as a child, and left home at the age of 15 to move to Wisconsin to the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. She was the community’s first-ever black sister.

While Bowman was enrolled at the Catholic University of America, she helped to found the National Black Sisters Conference, and began to speak on racial issues in the church. In 1980, she was involved in the creation of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in New Orleans. She taught there for many years. Xavier University in New Orleans is the only Catholic historically black college or university in the United States.

Two years before her death in 1990, Bowman became the first African-American woman to address the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Catholics were involved in the Civil Rights movement in the United States, both with the support and opposition of their bishops.

A number of religious sisters and priests marched from Selma to Montgomery to protest for voting rights, and black parishioners at Selma’s St. Elizabeth parish housed people who were in town for the march.

Catholic schools desegregated in Alabama in 1964, a year after Gov. George Wallace (D) issued a promise of "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” in his inaugural address. Throughout the country, Catholic schools desegregated faster than their public counterparts.

Gregory’s predecessor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, wrote in his 2017 pastoral letter “The Challenge of Racism Today” that racism of any form is "a denial of human dignity."

"No one is better than another person because of the color of their skin or the place of their birth. What makes us equal before God and what should make us equal in dignity before each other is that we are all sisters and brothers of one another, because we are all children of the same loving God who brought us into being," said Wuerl.

In 2018, the USCCB voted to endorse her cause for canonization at the organization’s November General Assembly. The process is now ongoing.

Also at the 2018 November General Assembly, the bishops voted overwhelmingly to endorse “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love, A Pastoral Letter Against Racism." This letter was the first time the USCCB has collectively spoken out against racism since 1979.

Analysis: Gregory’s road to Washington

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 06:40

Washington D.C., Apr 4, 2019 / 04:40 am (CNA).- The appointment of Archbishop Wilton Gregory to succeed Cardinal Donald Wuerl brings an end to one of the most anticipated and drawn out episcopal appointment processes in recent memory.


Gregory’s arrival in Washington follows months of intense speculation in the United States, with many bishops sharing the frustrations of local clerics and laity at the apparent delay in replacing Wuerl after his resignation was accepted in October.


But the process of selecting the next Archbishop of Washington was no less frustrating for those in Rome charged with making it happen.


Ordinarily, when a bishop resigns, the apostolic nuncio – in this case also resident in Washington – collects and submits a list of possible candidates, drawn from the recommendations of local clergy, nearby bishops, and his own observations.


The outgoing bishop usually sends his own thoughts and recommendations to Rome, where the Congregation for Bishops examines the candidates before, in conjunction with the nuncio, presenting a final list of three names for the pope to consider.


That, at any rate, is how the process has traditionally operated. But the process for replacing Wuerl has been anything other than ‘business as usual.’


Wuerl, along with fellow American Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, is a member of the Congregation for Bishops. Both cardinals have played an active role in the process of considering a long list of names proposed for Washington, travelling to Rome for the Congregation’s regular sessions and weighing in with their own thoughts and suggestions over the past several months.


With Congress and the White House virtually in his backyard, Washington’s archbishop is often expected to play an outspoken role in public debate, while keeping the Church above the political fray.


One of Wuerl’s great strengths as archbishop has been his ability to tread a narrow line: engaging with public affairs without appearing to take partisan political sides.


Finding a successor with the same skill-set was a bedrock concern for Rome.


One of the most talked-about potential successors for Wuerl was Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark. An outspoken advocate for migrant and refugee rights, both in New Jersey and previously in Indiana, Tobin is known to be comfortable addressing hot-button issues.


Created a cardinal while still Bishop of Indianapolis, Tobin is also known to have the respect of Pope Francis who - according to multiple sources in the curia, including at the Congregation for Bishops - was personally in favor of his appointment to Washington.


While many speculated that Tobin would be a natural fit in an increasingly polarized Washington, sources say that objections were raised - including by several Congregation members - about how such a move would be perceived in the fallout of the scandals that rocked the Church in the United States last year.


The disgrace of Wuerl’s immediate predecessor, Theodore McCarrick, has made the archdioceses he once led - Washington and Newark - the epicenters of the recent abuse crisis in America.


While the Archdiocese of Newark continues to grapple with its own legacy of scandal from the McCarrick era, some at the Congregation expressed concern that moving Tobin to Washington would be poorly received by local Catholics hoping for a bishop wholly unconnected to the McCarrick scandal.


According to multiple sources in Rome, one of the strongest voices in favor of a “clean break” replacement in Washington was Wuerl himself.


In addition to cautioning against another Newark-Washington move, sources also told CNA that Wuerl expressed deep reservations about other candidates who, though often touted as potential successors to Washington, had some connection to McCarrick or the scandal he created.


While various names were proposed, with Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport known to have been suggested at one point, none were able to achieve both consensus at the Congregation and papal approval.


The eventual consensus that formed around Gregory’s name appears to have been shaped by a number of factors.


As the president of the USCCB between 2001 and 2004, Gregory is no stranger to dealing with the fallout of scandal, having played a leading role in the formation and implementation of the Dallas Charter and USCCB Essential Norms after the last sex abuse crisis.


Together with Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Gregory is part of a special task-force charged by the U.S. bishops with developing new proposals for enhanced episcopal accountability.


A Chicago native, Gregory arrived in Atlanta fourteen years ago, having previously served as Bishop of Belleville and as an auxiliary in his home diocese.


Known to preserve close ties to his hometown, Gregory was at one time considered a likely candidate to follow Cardinal Francis George in Chicago. According to several sources at the Congregation for Bishops, it was George’s eventual successor, Cardinal Cupich, who proved instrumental in cementing Gregory’s nomination.


In addition to his distance from McCarrick’s former dioceses and his experience in responding to abuse scandals, Gregory’s appointment also represents a long-awaited historic moment in the Church in America.


As the first African-American archbishop of an unquestionably top-tier diocese, he will be expected to be made a cardinal in the near future, possibly even before Cardinal Wuerl ages out of eligibility to vote in a papal conclave when he turns 80, more than a year from now.


Gregory himself is 71, and arrives in Washington fewer than four years from the normal retirement age for bishops. While he faces a difficult final task in restoring confidence among the capital’s faithful, his age may have weighed in favor of his appointment, because he comes with a built-in option either to retire at 75 if he does not take to the role, or to continue in office past 75 if he does.


There will be some in Rome and Washington who will greet Gregory warmly, while quietly viewing him as a stop-gap appointment, a compromise after months of curial back-and-forth.


But Gregory could confound such a view, by turning his age to his advantage.


Gregory could, if he so chose, seize the opportunity to be more than a temporary steadying hand. As Archbishop of Washington, likely a cardinal too, his will be one of the loudest voices in the Church in the U.S.


If he so chooses, the new archbishop could write himself into history as the face of transparency and reform in the American hierarchy, especially given the freedom that will come from having to lead his diocese for only a few years’ time.


Alternatively, he could opt to see out his term quietly, restoring a sense of normalcy to a diocese hit hard by scandal.


The saying goes: “beware the old man in a hurry.” It remains to be seen what kind of hurry Gregory will be in, and how urgently and deeply he intends to leave his mark on Washington.

How this priest came to celebrate Mass on the set of ‘Unplanned’

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 02:28

Stillwater, Oklahoma, Apr 4, 2019 / 12:28 am (CNA).- When a film crew arrived in the small college town of Stillwater, Oklahoma last spring, few residents realized exactly what kind of movie the crew was making.

The film, which residents soon learned was called “Redeemed,” was rather vaguely described as being “based on a true story of a woman's journey and God's redeeming love and forgiveness,” according to local media.

The most tightly-controlled and top secret film set in the town, however, offered some clues about the film’s subject matter. The film crew transformed a nondescript building on the edge of downtown into a replica of a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic.

Father Brian O'Brien, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church in Stillwater, told CNA that he noticed some changes in his congregation after the filming of “Redeemed” began.

“I started to notice a few more people at Sunday Mass, just some people I hadn't seen before, and they were there all the time, coming to daily Mass,” he said.

“And so eventually I connected with them, and they told me they were in town for the movie. Some of them were in the movie, some of them were the producers, writers.”

What Fr. O’Brien already knew was that the film known as “Redeemed” was actually “Unplanned,” the true story of former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson, who eventually converted to Catholicism and became a leader in the pro-life movement.

Bishop David Konderla of the Diocese of Tulsa had called O’Brien last March to tell him that “Unplanned” was coming to Stillwater, and personally asked him to give any “spiritual support” that he could.

The filmmakers kept the film’s true subject matter— abortion— under wraps during filming, to allay any potential pro-abortion protests during the film’s production.

Did the people of Stillwater realize it was a pro-life movie?

“There was a general sense that that's what it was. People did not know the full extent,” O’Brien said.

Although not everyone who worked on “Unplanned” was Catholic, O'Brien said he met one day with the group who had been coming to his parish, and they asked him not only if he would like to visit and bless the movie set, but also to celebrate Mass there. He agreed to all of it.

“And so what ended up happening over the course of April and May, spring of 2018, I would go over super early in the morning before they started filming for the day and celebrate Mass on the set,” he said.

“It was early, and the goal was to have Mass before what was typically a 12- or 14- hour filming session.”

He said the other thing he did was a simple blessing of each set every time the film crew moved to different locations around Stillwater.

The directors of “Unplanned” have been open about the fact that several bizarre incidents took place during filming involving cast and crew, including a near-death experience involving the film’s lead actress, Ashley Bratcher.

“What was interesting is that the cast and crew, all throughout filming, reported kind of strange happenings,” O’Brien said.

“The goal was to offer God's blessings upon this project and see if we could prevent some of that.”

Though the time O'Brien spent on-site was not very long, he said he enjoyed sitting on the set while the crew was filming scenes for the movie, and to support two of the film’s co-directors, Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, both Catholics.

“It was on the set where I met lots of the other pastors of other churches, so I think they put out a call to any church that was sympathetic to the pro-life cause and said, 'come,'” O’Brien said.

The broader population, meanwhile, was told little about the movie until later in production.

“We only announced it here to our people at church when they needed extras for what I think is the final scene, kind of an aerial shot of a bunch of people at the park,” the priest said.

“They needed extras for that, so we invited all of our people to go, and a lot of people did.”

Now that “Unplanned” is out in theaters, O’Brien said his parish is doing a lot of promotion for the film. They have already bought out two theaters and expect about 200 people to come to see the movie all together.

Sheryl Lacy, operations manager for St. Francis Xavier Parish, told CNA that she helped to encourage people to come and be extras in the film, even those from communities outside Stillwater.

“It was exciting being able to say it was happening in my hometown, but it was quiet, no one talked about it because not a lot of people knew about it,” she said.

Scottish bishop: Eulogies belong at the funeral reception, not Mass

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 19:43

Motherwell, Scotland, Apr 3, 2019 / 05:43 pm (CNA).- The funeral Mass is an important moment of prayer and faith after the death of a loved one - but it is not the appropriate time for eulogies, which are better suited for the funeral reception, said Bishop Joseph Toal of Motherwell, Scotland.

“The funeral liturgy in the Catholic Church brings great consolation and hope to those who have lost a loved one because we proclaim the Resurrection of the Lord and our hope of eternal life,” Toal said in a letter to priests and deacons.

“Its strength is in the faith of the Church and the words of the liturgy that express that faith. We need to accept therefore that it is what the Church offers us that counts most of all, rather than our own words.”

His April 3 letter on the celebration of funeral liturgies aimed to help clergy and lay faithful in arranging funerals.

“Since the liturgy has its own structure and rhythm, especially the Requiem Mass, it should not be interrupted to add in our extras,” he said. The homily during the funeral Mass is “not a time therefore for anyone else to be getting up to talk about the deceased, whoever they may be.”

The bishop suggested “a few words of tribute could be offered” before a funeral Mass or service begins. “These words though should be written down and shown to the celebrant beforehand and should not be prolonged,” he added.

“Often what families want to hear and share can be offered in a more appropriate and less formal manner at the reception afterwards,” Toal continued. “Those closest to the deceased gather for this part of the funeral and it may well be better to share there their happy memories about the deceased in this setting.”

The Motherwell diocese has 66 parishes in Lanarkshire and parts of Glasgow. As of 2015, it served an estimated 162,000 Catholics, the diocese website reports.

“The important point though is the full celebration of the Catholic funeral rites and our intercession that the deceased’s sins may be forgiven and that they will be worthy to share in eternal life with God,” he said. The homily is just one part of the Mass or funeral service, and its role is “reflecting on the Word of God which has been proclaimed and leading into the celebration of the mysteries in which we place our faith.”

The bishop said that Church instruction for funerals clearly state that the priest or deacon who celebrates the funeral should “preach a homily as on other occasions on the Word of God, emphasizing at a funeral the hope of resurrection in Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“The instruction specifically says the homily should not be a eulogy,” he added. “It is a homily therefore spoken by the priest or deacon.”

It is also not appropriate to add a final tribute to the deceased before or during the close of the funeral Mass, known as the Final Commendation.

Bishop Toal said it is fitting for the preacher to integrate some details about the deceased person’s life into the homily “so that it is personal and recognizes the family’s wish to recall their loved one in a sensitive way.” This requires some skill and “an effort to find out something about the deceased from their family.”

“Clearly the homilist is not there to give a blow-by-blow account of the deceased’s life but rather to use some of what he knows in a fitting manner through the course of the homily,” he said, adding “whatever is said about the deceased should be accurate and prepared.”

The bishop said the faithful should keep in mind that not all celebrants have the same ability to integrate the personal and the spiritual. He also offered guidance for family participation in the funeral liturgy.

While families sometimes want to do particular tasks during funerals, “it may be better to leave liturgical tasks to those who do them normally in the parish,” Toal said.

Discussing in particular lectors and those who say the prayers of the faithful, the bishop noted, “It is an ordeal for people to come forward to read if they are not used to doing so, or perhaps are not even regular attenders in church.”

He encouraged family members of the deceased person to look to the priest or deacon for guidance, given their responsibility to decide on these roles.


Why aren’t Americans having sex? It’s complicated

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 18:17

Chicago, Ill., Apr 3, 2019 / 04:17 pm (CNA).- A new survey by the University of Chicago has left researchers speculating about why American adults are having less sex than in years past.

Data from the 2018 General Social Survey found that 23% of American adults had not had sex in the past year, an all-time high.

Broken down by age, the survey found that young people were largely driving the decrease in sex. Respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 were more than twice as likely to report not having sex in the past year than were those in their 30s or 40s.

While fewer than 10% of 18-29 year olds reported no sex in 2008, that share had risen to 23% one decade later.

Dr. Jean Twenge, author of “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood,” suggested several factors that may be playing a role in the decline in sexual activity.

She told the Washington Post that fewer people in their 20s have a live-in partner than in past generations. She pointed to declines in labor force participation among young men, which has been tied to a decrease in stable relationships.

Technology may also be a factor, said Twenge, who is a psychology professor at San Diego State University. The rise of social media and streaming video mean there are screens frequently competing for people’s attention, which was not the case in previous generations.

Dr. Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, agreed that “screen culture” is at least partly responsible for the decline in sex among millennials.

“Young Americans are spending lots of time binging on Netflix, playing video games, and traversing social media. These things tend to reduce opportunities for socializing... and having sex in real life,” he told CNA.

He also stressed the importance of marriage in understanding the survey results.

“The sex recession is driven to a large degree by declines in marriage—especially among young adults. Very few married Americans don’t have sex, and quite a few unmarried Americans don’t have sex,” he said.

An article by the Institute for Family Studies last November noted, “Today, there are fewer Americans married, and more Americans single, than at any point in at least the past 140 years.”

A decline in marriage rates is correlated with a decline in the frequency of sexual activity among adults age 25-34, the article said. Unmarried adults in that category are far more likely to say they have had not sex at all in the past year than are their married peers.

Experts have further suggested widespread anxiety and depression, environmental hormone disrupters, and concerns over sexual misconduct in the wake of the #MeToo movement as possible factors in the decline in sexual activity.

The General Social Survey also found a significant gender disparity in results reported by young people. In 2008, the numbers of men and women ages 18-30 who had gone a year without sex both hovered around 10%. In 2018, 18% of women in this age group said they had not had sex in the past year, compared to 28% of men.

In her comments to the Washington Post, Twenge noted that more young men than women are living with their parents.

Pornography could also be playing a role. Pornhub, the most-visited pornography site in the U.S., has seen its daily visits triple from 2012 to 2017.

In a series of studies examining pornography use, “The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers” published by the Witherspoon Institute, researchers found that those who viewed pornography became less satisfied with their sex lives, and that viewing porn just once can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction toward a human partner.

According to a 2012 article in Psychology Today by clinical psychologist Tyger Latham, Psy.D, erectile dysfunction, once considered an issue plaguing old men, is arising more in young men who rely heavily on pornography to become sexually aroused. A study by the Italian Society of Andrology and Sexual Medicine surveyed 28,000 men on their internet porn habits, and found that porn use over time led to a lower sex drive and an eventual inability to become aroused at all.

Pornography could also be contributing to the continuing decline in marriage rates.

Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and a Catholic who has studied religion and sexual behavior, cautioned against assuming that correlation equals causation – but said that pornography use is likely part of a more complex reason for dropping marriage rates.

“We know that both things are occurring, but it's difficult to establish a causal connection,” he told CNA in a 2015 e-mail interview. “A variety of things are contributing to the declining marriage rate.”

“I don't think porn use necessarily causes that, but contributes to it (together with diminished earnings power, diminished confidence, etc.),” he added. “To be sure, porn use doesn't help build confidence in men, something that's pretty necessary (but not sufficient) to be considered marriageable. So I'd say porn use is a suspect here, but connecting the dots is hardly straightforward.”

In a new comments to CNA this week, Regnerus pointed to “the flight from marriage” and satisfaction derived from both social media and pornography as major factors driving the decline in sex.

This situation is aggravated, he said, by “the increasing ‘similarity’ of men and women in the modern marketplace…We're settling for something less than the age-old pursuit of wooing, or being wooed by, our spouse.”

“I doubt that a surge in human happiness is ahead,” he commented.



Virginia March for Life mobilizes new pro-life marchers

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 18:06

Richmond, Va., Apr 3, 2019 / 04:06 pm (CNA).- A crowd of thousands took to the streets of Richmond, Virginia on Wednesday to participate in Virginia’s first statewide March for Life.

Speakers at the rally included March for Life President Jeanne Mancini, Virginia Society for Human Life President Olivia Gans Turner, Victoria Cobb of The Family Foundation, adoption activist and speaker Ryan Bomberger, abortion survivor Melissa Ohden, and Felicia Pricenor, associate director of the Virginia Catholic Conference.

Ohden was born at about 31 weeks of gestation, following her teenage mother’s attempted saline abortion. She told the crowd that her life was saved by a nurse who was “unwilling to just leave me to die” after the abortion failed.

While the National March for Life is officially a bipartisan affair, featuring speakers from both parties, Wednesday’s event also took a partisan tone, as speakers repeatedly criticized Virginia’s Democratic leadership at the pre-march rally on the steps of the state capitol building.

Republican members of the state House of Delegates and Senate appeared during the rally, which featured surprise speeches from State Speaker of the House Del. Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) and State Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Stephen Newman (R).

In November, every member of the state’s House of Delegates and Senate is up for reelection. Virginia has been described as a “test case” to see how abortion will impact elections.

During the pre-march rally, the crowd cheered when speakers criticized Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and efforts by Demcorats to expand abortion laws in the state.

Most of the marchers CNA spoke with were at their first-ever pro-life rally, and nearly all cited their opposition to Northam as for why they decided to march. Police told CNA they estimated the crowd to be about 6,500.

“When Gov. Northam said that he would leave it up to the decision of the doctor and the woman whether or not to save the life of a born child or not--I just thought that was too extreme,” Claudia Powell of Williamsburg told CNA.

Powell said she had never joined a pro-life march before.

In late January, Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) introduced HB 2491, which would remove Virginia’s pro-life safeguards and permit abortion throughout an entire pregnancy. During a committee hearing, Tran admitted that there was nothing in her bill that would prevent an abortion from happening while the mother was in active labor.

Shortly before the bill failed to advance out of committee, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) appeared on a radio program on WTOP and defended the premise of the legislation. Northam, who is a pediatric neurologist, explained that if a baby were to be born alive after an attempted abortion, the baby would be kept comfortable while the doctor and parents decided whether or not to intervene.

These comments sparked a firestorm of controversy, and Northam was condemned by both of Virginia’s Catholic bishops. A spokesperson for Northam clarified that he was only referring to infants who had abnormalities, but did not clarify further.

Several people CNA spoke to on Wednesday said that they had previously been unaware of Northam’s views on abortion prior to his comments in January.

“I figured as a pediatrician, that, you know, he would believe for life. He obviously saw it,” Rachel Campbell from Glen Allen, VA told CNA. Campbell said she had never been to any sort of political rally before, and that she had “absolutely” no idea how the governor felt about abortion.

Angela and Josie Wade, a mother and daughter attending the march, told CNA that even though they had both held pro-life values, they had never attended a march or demonstration before. They, too, cited the “extreme measures” that were considered by the Virginia legislature as for why they came out to march.

“I actually feel a lot of remorse for having not stepped into that battle earlier,” said Angela Wade. She told CNA that she was not aware about Northam’s views on abortion, but also did not vote for him.

Her 12-year-old daughter Josie said that while she had previously read in books that abortion “could be a good thing,” she now thinks that abortion is wrong.

Laura Murphy, who is represented by Del. Tran in the House of Delegates, traveled to Richmond from Fairfax.

“After hearing Gov. Northam’s statement about how he supports infanticide, and listening to Del. Tran try to explain her bill of infanticide, we decided to trek all down on a bus to show we support the pro-life movement,” said Murphy

Murphy believes that Northam helped to motivate the state’s pro-life movement.

“I think we’re mobilized, we’re energized, we’re enthusiastic. We’re gonna change Richmond and make sure there’s no pink lights here like New York,” she said.