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Pope Francis: Marriage is a lifelong union between a man and woman

Pope Francis greets a married couple at a Wednesday General Audience. / Daniel Ibáñez

Rome Newsroom, Jan 27, 2023 / 11:40 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Friday reiterated the Church’s perennial teaching on marriage as a lifelong union between a man and a woman.

“Today I would like to share with you some reflections on marriage, because there is a strong need in the Church and in the world to rediscover the meaning and value of the conjugal union between a man and a woman on which the family is founded,” the pope said Jan. 27 in the Vatican’s apostolic palace.

“Indeed,” he added, “a certainly not minor aspect of the crisis affecting so many families is the practical ignorance, personal and collective, about marriage.”

Pope Francis spoke about marriage during a meeting with the lawyers, auditors, and collaborators of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota for the inauguration of the judicial year.

Pope Francis spoke about marriage during a meeting with the lawyers, auditors, and collaborators of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota for the inauguration of the judicial year on Jan. 27, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis spoke about marriage during a meeting with the lawyers, auditors, and collaborators of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota for the inauguration of the judicial year on Jan. 27, 2023. Vatican Media

The Roman Rota is one of three courts within the Holy See and is akin to a court of appeals or court of “last instance.” It is also where marriage nullity cases are judged.

Quoting from his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, Pope Francis underlined that marriage “is a reality with its own precise essence, not ‘a mere form of affective gratification that can be constituted in any way and modified according to each person's sensitivity.’”

One may ask, he said, how it is possible for men and women, with all the limitations and fragility of human beings, to commit to “a union that is faithful and forever and from which a new family is born?”

Confronted with this question, and with the crises facing many families today, the Church needs to renew awareness in the gift of grace received through a sacramental marriage, he said.

The gift received in the sacrament of matrimony, he said, is “an irrevocable gift, a source of grace which we can always count on.”

Pope Francis also emphasized, quoting the constitution Gaudium et spes, that “God himself is the author of marriage.”

“And this can be understood to refer to every single conjugal union,” he added.

The pope told the tribunal that the Church needs “to rediscover the permanent reality of marriage as a bond.”

Pope Francis spoke about marriage during a meeting with the lawyers, auditors, and collaborators of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota for the inauguration of the judicial year on Jan. 27, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis spoke about marriage during a meeting with the lawyers, auditors, and collaborators of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota for the inauguration of the judicial year on Jan. 27, 2023. Vatican Media

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a lifelong partnership. When a Church tribunal issues a declaration of nullity of a marriage, it means that the marriage never existed.

The word “bond,” Francis noted, “is sometimes looked upon with suspicion, as if it were an external imposition, a burden, a ‘tether’ in opposition to the authenticity and freedom of love.”

“If, on the other hand, the bond is understood precisely as a bond of love, then it is revealed as the core of marriage, as a divine gift that is the source of true freedom and which guards married life,” he said.

Japanese government to investigate forced sterilization of intellectually disabled people

null / Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., Jan 27, 2023 / 11:10 am (CNA).

Japan’s health minister announced Jan. 20 that the government is launching an investigation into reports that a Japanese social service agency has been recommending sterilization to disabled people for years.

According to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, at least eight couples have undergone sterilization at the behest of Asunaro Social Welfare Service Corp., which runs a group care facility on the island of Hokkaido for people with intellectual disabilities. 

Local authorities uncovered this week that the social welfare corporation had been recommending that couples living on its premises who hoped to live together or marry get sterilized by way of therapies such as vasectomies for men and birth control rings for women. 

The corporation had been doing so for over two decades, the authorities found; the corporation has insisted that it only recommended the sterilizations and never forced them on any of the residents. 

Katsunobu Kato, Japan’s minister of health, labor, and welfare, issued a notice last week asking local authorities to immediately notify the ministry if they learn of an organization making sterilization a condition for people with disabilities to use its services. The notice was made public Jan. 23. 

Kato also announced that his ministry is planning to conduct research, starting in fiscal year 2023, into the marriages, pregnancies, childbirths, and child-rearing of people with disabilities to understand their realities better, Asahi Shimbun reported. 

“It is extremely important to implement appropriate support based on the wishes of persons with disabilities, including marriage, childbirth, and child-rearing,” Kato said.

According to UCA News, a Catholic news site focusing on Asia, Japan’s care homes for disabled people do not have provisions for child care and are designed for couples only, and do not address the needs of people under 18 years old.

Japan, for nearly half a century, had eugenics laws on the books that led to thousands of people with disabilities being sterilized. The laws took effect in 1948 and were not repealed until the 1990s. A Japanese district court just this week ordered settlements to be paid to a man and a woman who were both sterilized decades ago under the laws. 

In July 2016, an attacker entered a care home in Japan for persons with mental disabilities in Sagamihara, some 20 miles northwest of Yokohama, and stabbed 19 people to death. The dead ranged in age from 19 to 70, and another 25 people were wounded. 

Shortly after that attack, 26-year-old Satoshi Uematsu, a former employee of the care center, turned himself in to local police and was arrested. Uematsu had written a letter to Japan’s Parliament in February advocating for euthanasia of persons with disabilities, saying it would be better if they were euthanized and “disappeared.”

Japanese government to investigate forced sterilization of intellectually disabled people

null / Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., Jan 27, 2023 / 11:10 am (CNA).

Japan’s health minister announced Jan. 20 that the government is launching an investigation into reports that a Japanese social service agency has been recommending sterilization to disabled people for years.

According to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, at least eight couples have undergone sterilization at the behest of Asunaro Social Welfare Service Corp., which runs a group care facility on the island of Hokkaido for people with intellectual disabilities. 

Local authorities uncovered this week that the social welfare corporation had been recommending that couples living on its premises who hoped to live together or marry get sterilized by way of therapies such as vasectomies for men and birth control rings for women. 

The corporation had been doing so for over two decades, the authorities found; the corporation has insisted that it only recommended the sterilizations and never forced them on any of the residents. 

Katsunobu Kato, Japan’s minister of health, labor, and welfare, issued a notice last week asking local authorities to immediately notify the ministry if they learn of an organization making sterilization a condition for people with disabilities to use its services. The notice was made public Jan. 23. 

Kato also announced that his ministry is planning to conduct research, starting in fiscal year 2023, into the marriages, pregnancies, childbirths, and child-rearing of people with disabilities to understand their realities better, Asahi Shimbun reported. 

“It is extremely important to implement appropriate support based on the wishes of persons with disabilities, including marriage, childbirth, and child-rearing,” Kato said.

According to UCA News, a Catholic news site focusing on Asia, Japan’s care homes for disabled people do not have provisions for child care and are designed for couples only, and do not address the needs of people under 18 years old.

Japan, for nearly half a century, had eugenics laws on the books that led to thousands of people with disabilities being sterilized. The laws took effect in 1948 and were not repealed until the 1990s. A Japanese district court just this week ordered settlements to be paid to a man and a woman who were both sterilized decades ago under the laws. 

In July 2016, an attacker entered a care home in Japan for persons with mental disabilities in Sagamihara, some 20 miles northwest of Yokohama, and stabbed 19 people to death. The dead ranged in age from 19 to 70, and another 25 people were wounded. 

Shortly after that attack, 26-year-old Satoshi Uematsu, a former employee of the care center, turned himself in to local police and was arrested. Uematsu had written a letter to Japan’s Parliament in February advocating for euthanasia of persons with disabilities, saying it would be better if they were euthanized and “disappeared.”

Woman arrested at Fargo cathedral for smashing ‘Christ in Death’ statue

The statue, called “Christ in Death,” portrays Jesus’ corpse laying on a burial shroud with a crown of thorns laid alongside his lower legs. / Paul Braun/Diocese of Fargo

Denver, Colo., Jan 27, 2023 / 08:08 am (CNA).

A woman was arrested after allegedly causing serious damage to a statue of Jesus at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo, North Dakota, on Monday evening, possibly while she was under the influence of drugs.

“We were saddened to see the damage done to a very old statue at our cathedral, and we hope the person responsible gets the help they need,” Paul Braun, communications director for the Diocese of Fargo, told CNA Jan. 26. “We are praying for that person as well.”

The statue, called “Christ in Death,” portrays Jesus’ corpse laying on a burial shroud with a crown of thorns laid alongside his lower legs. Photos provided to CNA show damage to the statue’s head and feet and damage to one hand, as well as damage to the crown of thorns and the base of the statue.

A woman was arrested for allegedly causing serious damage to a statue of Jesus at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo, North Dakota, on Jan. 23, 2023. Paul Braun/Diocese of Fargo
A woman was arrested for allegedly causing serious damage to a statue of Jesus at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo, North Dakota, on Jan. 23, 2023. Paul Braun/Diocese of Fargo

Fargo police officers said they saw 35-year-old Brittany Marie Reynolds leaving the cathedral at about 6:24 p.m. They detained her after she allegedly attempted to flee. She was not wearing a shirt, a bra, or shoes. She was unable to answer basic questions and appeared to be under the influence of drugs, the Fargo newspaper The Forum reported, citing court documents.

Police entered the cathedral and found that a large statue of Jesus had been smashed on the floor. Church surveillance footage reportedly shows the half-dressed Reynolds in the church. She flipped over a potted plant before destroying the statue.

Reynolds was arrested and served a warrant for allegedly acting aggressively toward hospital staff.

A woman was arrested after allegedly damaging a statue of Jesus inside St. Mary's Cathedral in Fargo, North Dakota, on Jan. 23, 2023. Paul Braun/Diocese of Fargo
A woman was arrested after allegedly damaging a statue of Jesus inside St. Mary's Cathedral in Fargo, North Dakota, on Jan. 23, 2023. Paul Braun/Diocese of Fargo

Monsignor Joseph Goering told police he did not know the monetary value of the statue. Officers said a similar statue they found online was appraised at $11,500.

“We were saddened to see the damage done to a very old statue at our cathedral, and we hope the person responsible gets the help they need,” Paul Braun, communications director for the Diocese of Fargo, told CNA Jan. 26, 2023. Paul Braun/Diocese of Fargo
“We were saddened to see the damage done to a very old statue at our cathedral, and we hope the person responsible gets the help they need,” Paul Braun, communications director for the Diocese of Fargo, told CNA Jan. 26, 2023. Paul Braun/Diocese of Fargo

Braun told CNA an expert in art restoration is examining the damaged statue to determine whether it should be repaired or replaced.

Reynolds faces a felony charge of criminal mischief, which could result in a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, The Forum reported.

There have been previous incidents of vandalism at the cathedral and other area churches. In April 2021, a statue of Jesus in front of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo was defaced with black paint on its face. An unknown person removed the paint several days later. In 2018, a statue of the Virgin Mary was decapitated at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in south Fargo.

Woman arrested at Fargo cathedral for smashing ‘Christ in Death’ statue

The statue, called “Christ in Death,” portrays Jesus’ corpse laying on a burial shroud with a crown of thorns laid alongside his lower legs. / Paul Braun/Diocese of Fargo

Denver, Colo., Jan 27, 2023 / 08:08 am (CNA).

A woman was arrested after allegedly causing serious damage to a statue of Jesus at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo, North Dakota, on Monday evening, possibly while she was under the influence of drugs.

“We were saddened to see the damage done to a very old statue at our cathedral, and we hope the person responsible gets the help they need,” Paul Braun, communications director for the Diocese of Fargo, told CNA Jan. 26. “We are praying for that person as well.”

The statue, called “Christ in Death,” portrays Jesus’ corpse laying on a burial shroud with a crown of thorns laid alongside his lower legs. Photos provided to CNA show damage to the statue’s head and feet and damage to one hand, as well as damage to the crown of thorns and the base of the statue.

A woman was arrested for allegedly causing serious damage to a statue of Jesus at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo, North Dakota, on Jan. 23, 2023. Paul Braun/Diocese of Fargo
A woman was arrested for allegedly causing serious damage to a statue of Jesus at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo, North Dakota, on Jan. 23, 2023. Paul Braun/Diocese of Fargo

Fargo police officers said they saw 35-year-old Brittany Marie Reynolds leaving the cathedral at about 6:24 p.m. They detained her after she allegedly attempted to flee. She was not wearing a shirt, a bra, or shoes. She was unable to answer basic questions and appeared to be under the influence of drugs, the Fargo newspaper The Forum reported, citing court documents.

Police entered the cathedral and found that a large statue of Jesus had been smashed on the floor. Church surveillance footage reportedly shows the half-dressed Reynolds in the church. She flipped over a potted plant before destroying the statue.

Reynolds was arrested and served a warrant for allegedly acting aggressively toward hospital staff.

A woman was arrested after allegedly damaging a statue of Jesus inside St. Mary's Cathedral in Fargo, North Dakota, on Jan. 23, 2023. Paul Braun/Diocese of Fargo
A woman was arrested after allegedly damaging a statue of Jesus inside St. Mary's Cathedral in Fargo, North Dakota, on Jan. 23, 2023. Paul Braun/Diocese of Fargo

Monsignor Joseph Goering told police he did not know the monetary value of the statue. Officers said a similar statue they found online was appraised at $11,500.

“We were saddened to see the damage done to a very old statue at our cathedral, and we hope the person responsible gets the help they need,” Paul Braun, communications director for the Diocese of Fargo, told CNA Jan. 26, 2023. Paul Braun/Diocese of Fargo
“We were saddened to see the damage done to a very old statue at our cathedral, and we hope the person responsible gets the help they need,” Paul Braun, communications director for the Diocese of Fargo, told CNA Jan. 26, 2023. Paul Braun/Diocese of Fargo

Braun told CNA an expert in art restoration is examining the damaged statue to determine whether it should be repaired or replaced.

Reynolds faces a felony charge of criminal mischief, which could result in a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, The Forum reported.

There have been previous incidents of vandalism at the cathedral and other area churches. In April 2021, a statue of Jesus in front of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo was defaced with black paint on its face. An unknown person removed the paint several days later. In 2018, a statue of the Virgin Mary was decapitated at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in south Fargo.

Religious Freedom Institute honors Tom Farr, champion of those persecuted for their faith

The Religious Freedom Institute honored outgoing president Tom Farr, who will be succeeded by Eric Patterson, on Jan. 24, 2023. / Religious Freedom Institute

Washington D.C., Jan 27, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI), one of the world’s leading religious liberty organizations, announced on Tuesday the retirement of Tom Farr as president and the appointment of his successor, Eric Patterson.

As one of RFI’s founding members, Farr has served as president since 2016. Patterson has served as RFI’s executive vice president since 2019. 

Other leaders in the religious freedom world responded to the announcement with praise for Farr’s work and enthusiasm for Patterson’s appointment. 

“The work of RFI is so critical right now, maybe more than ever. Tom Farr’s leadership and vision have been exemplary, and I can’t think of anyone better to lead it into this next chapter than Eric Patterson,” said John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. 

RFI fights for freedom of religion in what Farr has called a world “experiencing a growing global crisis of religious freedom.”

RFI’s work ranges from fighting oppressive blasphemy laws that target Christians in majority-Muslim countries such as Pakistan to advising government agencies in the U.S. and abroad to educating students, professors, and administrators about the importance of freedom of religion.

As president, Farr called attention to this crisis, saying in 2019 that “violent religious persecution, severe government restrictions, and rising social hostilities challenge religious freedom in every region of the world.”

As president of RFI, Farr has spearheaded the organization’s research, education, and activism so that it has become a global leader in advocating for religious liberty.

The organization’s research has been used by the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, and beyond to help shape policies that promote greater freedom of religion.

Based in Washington, D.C., RFI leadership, including Farr, testify regularly before Congress on behalf of policies to increase religious freedom across the globe.

“I’ve written two religious freedom laws in the last couple of years, and in both of those bills, who did I turn to? RFI leadership. It was that expertise that they bring that is unparalleled,” said New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith.

“There has been no greater friend to those persecuted for their faith around the globe than Tom Farr,” Smith said. “Tom has testified numerous times before Congress and always came prepared with timely and actionable suggestions, which soon found their way into legislation.”

Now Patterson, who has worked with the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Military, will lead the organization’s efforts as president. 

“(I) congratulate Eric Patterson as the incoming president,” wrote U.K. member of Parliament Rehman Chishti. “I know his knowledge, commitment, and excellent leadership skills will continue the outstanding work of RFI and address the many challenges people face around the world in being able to practice their faith.”

Though retiring as president, Farr will continue his work promoting religious freedom with RFI in the capacity of president emeritus. 

Religious Freedom Institute honors Tom Farr, champion of those persecuted for their faith

The Religious Freedom Institute honored outgoing president Tom Farr, who will be succeeded by Eric Patterson, on Jan. 24, 2023. / Religious Freedom Institute

Washington D.C., Jan 27, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI), one of the world’s leading religious liberty organizations, announced on Tuesday the retirement of Tom Farr as president and the appointment of his successor, Eric Patterson.

As one of RFI’s founding members, Farr has served as president since 2016. Patterson has served as RFI’s executive vice president since 2019. 

Other leaders in the religious freedom world responded to the announcement with praise for Farr’s work and enthusiasm for Patterson’s appointment. 

“The work of RFI is so critical right now, maybe more than ever. Tom Farr’s leadership and vision have been exemplary, and I can’t think of anyone better to lead it into this next chapter than Eric Patterson,” said John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. 

RFI fights for freedom of religion in what Farr has called a world “experiencing a growing global crisis of religious freedom.”

RFI’s work ranges from fighting oppressive blasphemy laws that target Christians in majority-Muslim countries such as Pakistan to advising government agencies in the U.S. and abroad to educating students, professors, and administrators about the importance of freedom of religion.

As president, Farr called attention to this crisis, saying in 2019 that “violent religious persecution, severe government restrictions, and rising social hostilities challenge religious freedom in every region of the world.”

As president of RFI, Farr has spearheaded the organization’s research, education, and activism so that it has become a global leader in advocating for religious liberty.

The organization’s research has been used by the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, and beyond to help shape policies that promote greater freedom of religion.

Based in Washington, D.C., RFI leadership, including Farr, testify regularly before Congress on behalf of policies to increase religious freedom across the globe.

“I’ve written two religious freedom laws in the last couple of years, and in both of those bills, who did I turn to? RFI leadership. It was that expertise that they bring that is unparalleled,” said New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith.

“There has been no greater friend to those persecuted for their faith around the globe than Tom Farr,” Smith said. “Tom has testified numerous times before Congress and always came prepared with timely and actionable suggestions, which soon found their way into legislation.”

Now Patterson, who has worked with the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Military, will lead the organization’s efforts as president. 

“(I) congratulate Eric Patterson as the incoming president,” wrote U.K. member of Parliament Rehman Chishti. “I know his knowledge, commitment, and excellent leadership skills will continue the outstanding work of RFI and address the many challenges people face around the world in being able to practice their faith.”

Though retiring as president, Farr will continue his work promoting religious freedom with RFI in the capacity of president emeritus. 

Here’s what American Catholics in the pews have done to help relief efforts in Ukraine

Archbishop Broglio blesses Sashko Lenevych, a lieutenant in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. / Ukraine Catholic University

Washington D.C., Jan 27, 2023 / 06:00 am (CNA).

This year’s Ash Wednesday collection, which will be taken at Masses across the U.S. on Feb. 22, will send aid to the Church in war-torn Ukraine and Eastern Europe, where they have helped support Catholics since the fall of communism.

In 2022, the bishops found themselves in the unusual position of having to minister to a Church heavily impacted by a major war in Ukraine.

Bishop Jeffrey Monforton, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) subcommittee on Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe (CCEE), told CNA that the generosity of American Catholics in response to the war was “unprecedented.”

“When the first bombs struck Ukraine nearly a year ago, aid was already coming in from Catholics in the United States through the U.S. bishops’ Collection for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe,” a Tuesday press release by the USCCB and CCEE said.

Where the money went in 2022

Though the USCCB has not yet issued a full report for 2022, Jennifer Healy, director of the CCEE, told CNA that $8.5 million was raised for the Church in central and eastern Europe in 2022.

This enabled the bishops to send over $3 million (36% of the money raised) to fund projects in Ukraine and the surrounding nations to care for refugees impacted by the violence.

According to the Tuesday press release, in the first few months of the war, the bishops expedited nearly 50 emergency grants to churches and Catholic groups in Eastern Europe to help relieve the suffering Ukrainian people. 

As Russian tanks rolled through the Ukrainian countryside and bombs leveled whole city blocks at a time, funds from the CCEE were providing vital humanitarian relief in the form of food, clothing, shelters, medical, and other basic needs, such as generators, heat pumps, and vehicles to transport aid and refugees. 

One grant funded by the collection even provided the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church satellite communications so it could coordinate efforts to give shelter, first aid, food, and spiritual ministry to Ukrainians caught in the conflict. 

American Catholic support of Ukraine 

Monforton, who has been able to travel to Eastern Europe to meet and minister to Ukrainian refugees, said that they were filled with gratitude for the support of the American faithful. 

“You can see the fear and the anxiety in the eyes of all those who are refugees,” Monforton said. “At the same time they took a moment of their time to thank us … what is evident in their lives is the solidarity of others, including us here in the United States.” 

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, president of the USCCB, personally visited Ukraine at the end of December 2022 in an official visit to Church leaders ministering to Ukraine’s soldiers and suffering civilians. 

Taras Dobko, senior vice rector at the Ukrainian Catholic University, told CNA that Broglio’s visit to the war-torn country was perceived as a show of solidarity “on behalf of all American Catholics.” 

“We, Ukrainians, felt embraced through this visit with hope that the good will prevail and the suffering of our nation will not be in vain,” Dobko said. 

“Whenever peace reigns again — God willing, soon — and the time for rebuilding arrives,” Healy said, “the USCCB fund will continue to support the Church and be a strong partner in that massive effort.” 

U.S. Catholics have been helping for decades

The Ash Wednesday collection has sent more than $200 million to the Church in 28 nations in central and eastern Europe since 1991, according to Healy.

Bishop Monforton told CNA that the collection funds projects to restore the Catholic faith in the nations that suffered anti-Catholic subjugation under the former Soviet Union.

Under communism, Monforton said, religion was actively persecuted, and atheism was propagated as the law of the land. 

In Albania, one of the nations the collection supports, Monforton explained that anyone who so much as expressed belief in Christianity would be killed. 

The collection funds the rebuilding of churches, schools, and ministries to help the faithful in nations from Estonia to Albania, where decades of suppression under communist rule continue to negatively impact the culture and Church. 

Where the money went in 2021

The most recent full CCEE report available is from 2021. The 2021 report issued by the USCCB said that the Eastern European fund raised nearly $6.5 million. 

The largest portion of those funds (31.27%) was used to rebuild 79 places for Catholics to worship, teach, and carry out social ministry. 

The next largest portion (14.5%) supported 74 evangelization efforts in eastern and central Europe. 

The remaining portions of the fund were used for scholarships, Catholic education, support for seminaries, social aid, and some was used for administrative costs. 

Here’s what American Catholics in the pews have done to help relief efforts in Ukraine

Archbishop Broglio blesses Sashko Lenevych, a lieutenant in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. / Ukraine Catholic University

Washington D.C., Jan 27, 2023 / 06:00 am (CNA).

This year’s Ash Wednesday collection, which will be taken at Masses across the U.S. on Feb. 22, will send aid to the Church in war-torn Ukraine and Eastern Europe, where they have helped support Catholics since the fall of communism.

In 2022, the bishops found themselves in the unusual position of having to minister to a Church heavily impacted by a major war in Ukraine.

Bishop Jeffrey Monforton, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) subcommittee on Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe (CCEE), told CNA that the generosity of American Catholics in response to the war was “unprecedented.”

“When the first bombs struck Ukraine nearly a year ago, aid was already coming in from Catholics in the United States through the U.S. bishops’ Collection for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe,” a Tuesday press release by the USCCB and CCEE said.

Where the money went in 2022

Though the USCCB has not yet issued a full report for 2022, Jennifer Healy, director of the CCEE, told CNA that $8.5 million was raised for the Church in central and eastern Europe in 2022.

This enabled the bishops to send over $3 million (36% of the money raised) to fund projects in Ukraine and the surrounding nations to care for refugees impacted by the violence.

According to the Tuesday press release, in the first few months of the war, the bishops expedited nearly 50 emergency grants to churches and Catholic groups in Eastern Europe to help relieve the suffering Ukrainian people. 

As Russian tanks rolled through the Ukrainian countryside and bombs leveled whole city blocks at a time, funds from the CCEE were providing vital humanitarian relief in the form of food, clothing, shelters, medical, and other basic needs, such as generators, heat pumps, and vehicles to transport aid and refugees. 

One grant funded by the collection even provided the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church satellite communications so it could coordinate efforts to give shelter, first aid, food, and spiritual ministry to Ukrainians caught in the conflict. 

American Catholic support of Ukraine 

Monforton, who has been able to travel to Eastern Europe to meet and minister to Ukrainian refugees, said that they were filled with gratitude for the support of the American faithful. 

“You can see the fear and the anxiety in the eyes of all those who are refugees,” Monforton said. “At the same time they took a moment of their time to thank us … what is evident in their lives is the solidarity of others, including us here in the United States.” 

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, president of the USCCB, personally visited Ukraine at the end of December 2022 in an official visit to Church leaders ministering to Ukraine’s soldiers and suffering civilians. 

Taras Dobko, senior vice rector at the Ukrainian Catholic University, told CNA that Broglio’s visit to the war-torn country was perceived as a show of solidarity “on behalf of all American Catholics.” 

“We, Ukrainians, felt embraced through this visit with hope that the good will prevail and the suffering of our nation will not be in vain,” Dobko said. 

“Whenever peace reigns again — God willing, soon — and the time for rebuilding arrives,” Healy said, “the USCCB fund will continue to support the Church and be a strong partner in that massive effort.” 

U.S. Catholics have been helping for decades

The Ash Wednesday collection has sent more than $200 million to the Church in 28 nations in central and eastern Europe since 1991, according to Healy.

Bishop Monforton told CNA that the collection funds projects to restore the Catholic faith in the nations that suffered anti-Catholic subjugation under the former Soviet Union.

Under communism, Monforton said, religion was actively persecuted, and atheism was propagated as the law of the land. 

In Albania, one of the nations the collection supports, Monforton explained that anyone who so much as expressed belief in Christianity would be killed. 

The collection funds the rebuilding of churches, schools, and ministries to help the faithful in nations from Estonia to Albania, where decades of suppression under communist rule continue to negatively impact the culture and Church. 

Where the money went in 2021

The most recent full CCEE report available is from 2021. The 2021 report issued by the USCCB said that the Eastern European fund raised nearly $6.5 million. 

The largest portion of those funds (31.27%) was used to rebuild 79 places for Catholics to worship, teach, and carry out social ministry. 

The next largest portion (14.5%) supported 74 evangelization efforts in eastern and central Europe. 

The remaining portions of the fund were used for scholarships, Catholic education, support for seminaries, social aid, and some was used for administrative costs. 

Prosecution rests case in Mark Houck trial, defense motions to dismiss the case

The Houck family / Photo credit: Thomas More Society

Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 26, 2023 / 17:45 pm (CNA).

On the second day of witness testimony in the trial of Mark Houck, a pro-life father of seven charged with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, defense lawyers argued that the federal case against their client be dismissed.

Eastern District of Pennsylvania Judge Gerald Pappert himself raised that possibility, asking the prosecution at one point whether the federal law didn’t “seem to be stretched a little thin here?” 

Before the court adjourned to consider dismissal, arguments from the prosecution and defense focused on two questions. 

First, did Houck, a longtime sidewalk counselor outside of the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia, shove a volunteer clinic escort because he was trying to interfere with that escort’s provision of reproductive health services?

And second, did the clinic escort, 73-year-old Bruce Love — who was 72 at the time — instigate Houck to push him by harassing Houck’s son? 

The allegations in the case relate to two incidents that occurred at the abortion clinic on Oct. 13, 2021. The federal indictment alleges that Houck twice shoved Love, once when Love was attempting to escort clients and again during a verbal altercation with Love in front of the clinic.

The FACE Act prohibits “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.” 

The jury was shown a video of the latter of the two incidents that shows Love approaching Houck and his son as they were standing on the sidewalk outside the Planned Parenthood clinic. It then shows Love heading back toward the clinic while Houck points at the entrance of the building. Love then turns back one more time to approach Houck as he was making his way back to the street corner. Houck can then be seen turning and pushing Love, who then falls to the ground.

The defense argued Thursday that Love was saying degrading things to Houck’s son during the exchange, an accusation that Love denies.

Love said on the witness stand Thursday that he approached Houck twice that day to fulfill his responsibilities as a clinic escort and guide women if they wanted an escort. Part of his responsibilities, he said, is to tell the women that they don’t have to talk to “protesters” if they don’t want to. There are no women seen with Houck on the video evidence that shows the second incident. There is no video of the first incident. 

During the prosecution’s questioning of Love, Love consistently denied saying anything to Houck’s son on the day of the incident.

Love told the prosecutor that the only thing he said to Houck on the day of the incident was “Is that a threat?” Love claims that he asked the question after Houck allegedly threatened to push Love in the street.

One of the prosecutors, Sanjay Patel from the Department of Justice’s civil rights division, criminal section, in Washington, D.C., said at the conclusion of the day that Love’s testimony alleging Houck had called Love a “murderer” and a “baby killer” proves that Houck pushed Love to interfere with his provision of reproductive health services.

It was never specified when over the past several years Houck allegedly said those comments. 

Defense attorney Brian McMonagle of the law firm McMonagle, Perri, McHugh, Mischak & Davis questioned Love on the witness stand.

McMonagle asked Love: “Do you remember saying [to Houck], ‘Why don’t you go home and masturbate?’”

“How about ‘hey a**hole?’” he asked.  

He also asked Love if he remembered saying to Houck’s son, “Do you see how your dad is hurting women?” 

“‘Your dad doesn’t care about women.’ Do you remember saying that?” he asked.

“‘I want nothing to do with your religion,’” McMonagle quoted Love as allegedly saying.

McMonagle then asked Father Jim Hutchins, chaplain for Houck’s sidewalk counseling apostolate, The King’s Men, to stand up. 

“Remember calling him a f**** ahole?” McMonagle asked Love, referring to Hutchins.

Love answered in the negative to all of the accusations. 

Hutchins told CNA at the courthouse that Love is “lying through his teeth.” 

The three witnesses who testified during the day said they saw Houck push down Love and that there was an argument or shouting happening.

One of the witnesses who was questioned, 31-year-old Steven Jeronimo, said that he didn’t remember exactly what Houck yelled but that he “did hear a mention of a kid.”

Ellen Weiss, 71, another witness whose first day as a clinic escort was on the day of the incident, also said Houck was “saying something about his son.”

Another witness, 39-year-old Tristan Dhan, said on the witness stand that he saw Houck, identified as the man who pushed Love, walking down the street with his son after the push. 

When Love was asked by the defense if Houck shouted at him to “stay away from my son,” Love said that he didn’t recall those words, but that Houck might have said that.

At the end of the day, the defense asked the judge to dismiss the case, arguing that Houck was defending his son from harassment and that Love was the instigator. 

Referencing the FACE Act, McMonagle said: “To give [Love] the cover of this statue is a disgrace.”  

In a back and forth with the prosecuting attorney following the defense’s motion, Judge Pappert asked, “Doesn’t that statute [FACE] seem to be stretched a little thin here?” 

The attorney, Patel, said FACE is not being stretched thin because the government has provided a case meeting every element of the act.

The judge said he would consider both arguments. The case could be dismissed as early as tomorrow, pending the judge’s decision. 

McMonagle concluded by saying that the government’s case is “absurd.”  

“That’s why you don’t see cases like this,” he added.