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Christian aid group requests prayers for kidnapped missionaries in Haiti

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de l’Assomption in Cap-Haitien, Haiti / Rotorhead 30A Productions/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Oct 19, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

The gang responsible for the kidnapping of 17 missionaries in Haiti is demanding a $17 million ransom for their safe release, as the organization behind their trip is requesting prayers for their safety.

“Many people, including CAM management and Haitian and U.S. authorities, are working diligently to bring our loved ones home safely,” said an update posted on the Christian Aid Ministries website on Tuesday, Oct, 19. Christian Aid Ministries is the Ohio-based organization that organized the trip. 

“Today, we again commit our workers to God’s care,” said the statement, which added that the adults who were kidnapped are between the ages of 18 to 48, and that the kidnapped children range in age from eight months to 15 years. 

“Pray that our workers could respond to hatred with Jesus’ love, overcome the spirit of fear with faith, and face violence with a genuine desire to bless their oppressors,” they said. 

The kidnapped missionaries include six women, six men, and five children. All but one are U.S. citizens; the other is a citizen of Canada. 

Per CNN and the Associated Press, the kidnappers, who are part of the gang 400 Mawozo, have been in contact with Christian Aid Ministries. They first made their ransom demand on Saturday, the same day as the kidnapping. 

Haiti’s Justice Minister Liszt Quitel told news outlets that the Haitian police, as well as the FBI, are providing assistance with the negotiations and with the group of missionaries. The FBI has not spoken to the kidnappers directly, however, but they are on the ground in Haiti. 

The missionaries were based in the town of Titanyen, and were returning from building an orphanage in Fond Parisien at the time of their kidnapping. 

In addition to requesting prayers for the kidnapped, Christian Aid Ministries is asking for people to pray for the civil authorities who are working on rescuing the group. 

“This group of workers has been committed to minister throughout poverty-stricken Haiti. Their heart-felt desire is to share the love of Jesus,” they said. “Before the kidnapping, their work throughout Haiti included supporting thousands of needy school children, distributing Bibles and Christian literature, supplying medicines for numerous clinics, teaching Haitian pastors, and providing food for the elderly and vulnerable.”

“In recent months, they were actively involved in coordinating a rebuilding project for those who lost their homes in the August 2021 earthquake,” said Tuesday’s statement. “When kidnapped, the group was returning from a visit to an orphanage that receives support from Christian Aid Ministries.”

The 400 Mawozo gang responsible for the most recent kidnapping is the same criminal gang behind the kidnapping of Catholic priests and religious in April. All of those kidnapped in April were released within several weeks; ransom was paid for just two of the kidnapped priests, according to Quitel. 

The website of Christian Aid Ministries states that it serves as a “channel for Amish, Mennonite, and other conservative Anabaptist groups and individuals” to provide aid to those in need around the world. 

It supports aid and anti-poverty efforts in countries such as Haiti and Kazakhstan, but also promotes billboard evangelism in the United States and advertises assistance for any conscientious objectors in the event of a U.S military draft.

Catholic congressman charged with lying to federal investigators; denies accusations

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) / Office of Rep. Jeff Fortenberry

Washington D.C., Oct 19, 2021 / 15:20 pm (CNA).

Catholic congressman Jeff Fortenberry on Tuesday was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of making false statements to federal investigators. 

The Twitter account for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California announced Oct. 19 the indictment charges. Fortenberry is charged with one count of “scheming to falsify and conceal material facts,” and two counts of “making false statements to federal investigators looking into illegal contributions to his 2016 campaign,” the account stated.

In an unlisted video on a YouTube page in his name, Fortenberry explained on Monday that he was visited at his home by FBI agents “about two and a half years ago” regarding contributions illegally made to his campaign by a foreign national. The contributions had been made “about five and a half years ago,” he said.

“They were FBI agents from California. I let them in my house, I answered their questions. Later, we went back and answered further questions,” Fortenberry recounted of his meetings. “I told them what I knew and what I understood.”

“They’ve accused me of lying to them, and are charging me with this,” he added.

He denied having lied to the FBI agents. “I did not lie to them, I told them what I knew,” he said. “We’re shocked. We’re stunned. I feel so personally betrayed. We thought we were trying to help. And so now we’ll have to fight.”

Under federal law, making false statements to federal investigators carries with it a sentence of up to five years in prison.

Fortenberry’s campaign office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNA on Tuesday afternoon.

Fortenberry is currently serving his ninth term in the U.S. House. A Catholic and a Republican, he has been outspoken on pro-life issues and on persecution of Middle Eastern Christians.

Earlier in October, Axios reported that a fundraising webpage had been created for Fortenberry’s legal defense fund. A spokesperson for Fortenberry’s office told Axios that the matter had to do with illegal contributions to his campaign orchestrated by a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire, Gilbert Chagoury.

Over the course of three election cycles, Chagoury made a number of illegal contributions to four federal campaigns, according to the website OpenSecrets.

As a foreign national, he is prohibited from contributing to U.S. elections, but he used U.S. citizens as conduits for his money to reach campaigns and political groups, including Fortenberry’s campaign, as well as those of congressional candidates Lee Terry and Darrell Issa, and the Romney 2012 presidential campaign.

Chagoury paid $1.8 million to resolve allegations that he “provided approximately $180,000 to individuals in the United States” to contribute to four campaigns, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Central District of California reported in March 2021.

According to the attorney’s office, Chagoury was assisted by Toufic Joseph Baaklini in making the illegal contributions. 

In a signed deferred prosecution agreement, Baaklini in March 2021 “admitted to giving $30,000 in cash provided by Chagoury to an individual at a restaurant in Los Angeles who, along with others, later made campaign contributions to the 2016 campaign of a U.S. congressman,” the attorney’s office stated. The Omaha World-Herald reported that Baaklini acted as a conduit for $30,000 in Chagoury’s donations to Fortenberry’s campaign in 2016.

According to Justice Department documents, Baaklini provided the $30,000 in Chagoury’s cash to an individual at a Los Angeles restaurant in January 2016; the individual hosted a fundraiser for “Federal Candidate D,” and at the event, recruited other individuals to make contributions to the candidate’s campaign in February 2016, totaling $30,200.

Baaklini talked to the candidate in February 2016, according to the Justice Department documents, where the candidate asked if “anything was wrong” with the fundraiser. After Baaklini replied “no,” the candidate said that “it all came from the same family.”

Chagoury was a major donor to the Clinton Foundation and helped finance the inaugural summit of In Defense of Christians in September 2014, according to the Washington Free Beacon. He was denied entry into the United States in 2016 by the State Department, reportedly for his ties to Hezbollah, which is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States.

“To be accused of this is extremely painful, and we are suffering greatly. We will fight these charges,” Fortenberry said, asking for prayers.

“Hopefully this all ends happily, for the sake of justice, for the sake of my own integrity, and for the sake of the American system. This is wrong at so many levels,” he said. 

Planned Parenthood whistleblower turned Hispanic pro-life leader details clinic corruption, intimidation

Hispanic pro-life advocate Mayra Rodriguez speaks to a crowd of over 300,000 during Mexico’s “March for Women and Life,” on Oct. 3 2021. / David Ramos/CNA

Denver Newsroom, Oct 19, 2021 / 00:00 am (CNA).

Mayra Rodríguez worked for Planned Parenthood for 17 years and was in charge of three clinics.

In 2016, the abortion provider recognized her as employee of the year.

Shortly thereafter she would become one of the most outspoken pro-life advocates in the Hispanic community.

During her tenure with Planned Parenthood, Rodríguez said she witnessed falsified abortion records, serious complications from abortions, and experienced intimidation based upon false accusations threatening her immigration status after Rodríguez indicated she would report a doctor at the clinic she directed who botched an abortion on a 19-year-old girl and then falsified the report.

In an exclusive interview with CNA’s sister news agency, ACI Prensa, Rodríguez recalled that the doctor "was referring to the head of a 14-week-old baby as if it was garbage, as if it were gauze or any instrument he was using."

The doctor had left the baby's head inside the womb after performing the abortion and then placed an intrauterine contraceptive device inside the girl before he discovered his mistake.

In the end, the Planned Parenthood worker "did not want to document it, and falsified the record," causing the now pro-life leader to challenge the doctor’s actions with her supervisor.

“[N]o more, I’m not going with this anymore,” she recalled saying, warning the supervisor that she would report the doctor.

Planned Parenthood responded by instead accusing Rodríguez of having narcotics in her office and pressured authorities to deport her from the United States.

"What followed was that they fired me," she recalled.

After years of legal battles, Mayra Rodríguez prevailed in 2019 in her wrongful termination lawsuit against Planned Parenthood and was awarded $3 million.

With her experience working in the shadow of the largest abortion company in the world, Rodríguez warns that while those who profit from these practices say that “it is easy, it is the best solution, when in reality it brings many [harmful] consequences" to women.

“Actually, abortion does not guarantee absolutely anything. No, it leaves (women) destroyed for life, and with scars on the uterus. And perhaps they do not lose their lives, but they do lose many more things, such as peace, emotional and mental health. Psychologically they are undone," she said.

"That is not something that the pro-life movement invented or that some psychologists invent, it is the reality of women who have aborted and who today are sorry," she said.

Originally, Rodríguez was hired in a clinic that did not perform abortions, a fact she used to justify her line of work. And Planned Parenthood did not care that she was in the United States on a tourist visa rather than a work visa.

Faced with the possibility of refusing to work in a place that directly performed abortions "they told me, 'If you don't accept the abortion clinic, very soon we will close the clinic that you have in north Phoenix and we do not guarantee that there will be work for you.’”

Eventually, however, when she was pushed to a clinic that did perform abortions, she said, she began to see that complications were not reported correctly, if at all.

"I began to see abortionists falsifying the records of what was happening in the room," she added.

"I began to see that it was a business," she said, and that "abortion was what mattered to them and abortion was their priority."

This realization, when combined with the pressures she experienced as a whistleblower, lead her to rethink the abortion industry and what abortion does to women.

“[W]e see all these women who said, 'My life was going to be better, I did want it [the baby] but my life was going to be better.' And at the end of the day they realize that their life is not better, and they regret having done it.”

Rodríguez, a Mexican national, said she is hopeful that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, can be overturned by the upcoming Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case pertaining to Mississippi's ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy because legal abortion “has never been good for Hispanic women."

The former Planned Parenthood Employee of the Year noted, "once you give women a true option, they will choose not to have an abortion."

Senate committee proposes rollback of pro-life policies

Aug. 17 rally in support of the Hyde amendment in Raleigh, North Carolina / Erin Paré/Twitter

Washington D.C., Oct 18, 2021 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

A Senate committee introduced nine budget bills on Monday that would roll back several pro-life policies, allowing for domestic funding of abortions and funding of international pro-abortion groups.

As part of the appropriations process for the 2022 fiscal year, the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday released nine bills allocating funding to various federal agencies and programs. The proposals exclude or permanently repeal several pro-life policies, including the Hyde amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortions in Medicaid.

The amendment, first passed in 1976, has to be attached to appropriations bills each year to become law. Democratic leaders, including President Joe Biden, have targeted the policy for repeal this year, and House in July passed appropriations bills without the policy included.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), seen as a key swing vote in the chamber, stated on Monday that he would not support relevant appropriations bills unless the Hyde amendment was included.

“As I have said numerous times before, I will not vote for legislation that does not include the Hyde Amendment and I fully expect the final spending bill to include that language,” Manchin stated in a press release on Monday.

The policy was excluded from the appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies. The Weldon amendment, which blocks funding of state governments that discriminate against people or groups opposed to abortion, was also not included in the bill.

The two amendments “for too long have interfered with millions of peoples’ ability to exercise their constitutional right to abortion,” stated Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee.

According to appropriations committee vice chairman Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the bills released on Monday targeted other pro-life policies as well; the appropriations bill for the State Department and Foreign Operations permanently repeals the “Mexico City Policy,” which bars funding of international pro-abortion groups.

The Health and Human Services appropriations bill also requires that clinics receiving Title X family planning funding provide abortion drugs, abortion counseling, and abortion referrals. Recently, the Biden administration updated the requirements of the Title X program to allow recipients to provide abortion referrals, but the administration does not require clinics to provide them.

“Democrat senators are marching in lockstep with Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and the radical abortion lobby over the will of the American people and the lives of the vulnerable. Not only do they want to expand abortion on demand here at home, but they also want to make the United States the number one exporter of abortions overseas,” stated Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List.

Pro-abortion groups on Monday applauded the proposed removal of the pro-life policies.

The Twitter account for Planned Parenthood Action called the bills “historic,” stating, “It's VERY exciting (a historic shift!) to see bills that end many abortion coverage bans and prioritize funding for family planning/sexual and reproductive health care programs and programs that address the maternal health crisis.”

How the Chinese Communist Party sees organized religion

null / Jonathan_Densford/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Oct 18, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

The Chinese Communist Party is targeting organized religion as a threat – even seeking to “change” or “transform” it into a loyal party apparatus, a panel of foreign policy experts said on Monday.

The party, which “historically managed religion” in China, is now taking a much harsher approach and “trying to change it or destroy it,” said Nury Turkel, vice-chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, at a panel event of the Hudson Institute on Monday. Turkel, a Uyghur-American human rights advocate, was born in a re-education camp in China.

To the party, any organized religion “is perceived as a threat,” Turkel said, adding that the party is trying to “create a new type of religion.” Panel members noted that Chinese president Xi Jinping called for the “sinicization of religion” in a 2016 speech, warning that his party is actively seeking to change religious practice to promote its socialist interests.

The panel referenced developments such as the mass internment of mainly-Muslim Uyghurs in the country’s northwest province of Xinjiang, as well as allegations of forced organ harvesting of ethnic and religious minorities, including Falun Gong practitioners, Uyghurs, Tibetans, Muslims, and Christians.

The United States and other countries must pay attention to what the Chinese Communist Party is saying about Xinjiang, Turkel emphasized, citing remarks by President Xi Jinping to “show absolutely no mercy” to the Uyghurs. The Xinjiang Communist party secretary Chen Quanguo has given orders to “round up everyone who should be rounded up,” Turkel noted.

According to the U.S. State Department, more than one million Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities have been put in internment camps, while two million others are subject to forced daytime “re-education” training.

While the party is not detaining mass amounts of Christians as it is the Uyghurs, many Christian leaders have been detained without trial for not following the party’s demands, said Nina Shea, senior fellow and director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the retired Bishop of Hong Kong, has compared the erosion of religious freedom to “being put in a little bird cage,” she noted.

Xiaoxu Sean Li, communications director for the Falun Dafa Association, noted the June 2021 statement of 12 United Nations human rights experts that there was “credible evidence” that religious and ethnic minorities in China were targeted for organ harvesting. Medical data of detainees is being collected for a large database that identifies potential donor matches . Detainees are then killed and their organs are harvested and shipped, he said.

Robert Destro, a law professor at The Catholic University of America and former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in the Trump administration, claimed that the party is now carrying out everywhere what it has been doing in Tibet for years. The party has extracted natural resources from the region and set up surveillance systems while stamping out religious practice, he said.

“Basically, they will sell, they will monetize everything from the natural resources to your liver,” he said of the party, “and anything that gets in the way – particularly religion.”

Shea also noted concerns that Catholic leaders could be vulnerable to blackmail or surveillance by the Chinese Communist Party.

“The Vatican has technology that can be easily penetrated, and has been,” she said. In 2020, just months before the Vatican-China deal was renewed, researchers at a U.S.-based cybersecurity company reported that Vatican computer networks and the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong were targeted by Chinese state-sponsored hackers.

Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, laicized in 2019 after the Vatican determined he was guilty of abusing minors and vulnerable adults, traveled to China eight times and stayed in a seminary of the government-sanctioned church. “There is a lot of blackmail potential there,” Shea said.

Panel members also expressed concern over the agreement between the Vatican and China on the ordination of bishops, initially reached in 2018 and renewed for another two-year period in 2020.

Shea mentioned the case of Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu of Mindong/Funing in Fujian Province, who was consecrated under the deal after Bishop Joseph Guo Xijin, of the underground Catholic Church stepped aside. Zhan reportedly led a delegation of 33 priests to participate in a "formation course" at the Central Institute of Socialism, in collaboration with the United Front of Fujian Province, where they listened to presentations on the "sinicization of religion." 

“To carry out the sinicization of religion with determination, we will continue to follow a path that conforms to socialist society," Zhan said in August 2019.

“He really exemplifies the [party’s] model new Christian leader,” Shea said of Zhan.

US Justice Department asks Supreme Court to block Texas heartbeat abortion law

Pro-life and pro-abortion demonstrators at the Supreme Court. / Rena Schild/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Oct 18, 2021 / 12:05 pm (CNA).

The US Department of Justice on Monday asked the Supreme Court to block a Texas pro-life law, in effect since September, which bans abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat and relies on private lawsuits filed by citizens to enforce the ban. 

In an application to the Supreme Court delivered Oct. 18, the Justice Department argued that Texas had circumvented the Supreme Court’s rulings in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The department asked the Supreme Court to vacate a recent ruling by an appeals court, which reinstated the law after a temporary blockage by a lower court. 

The Texas Heartbeat Act, also known as Senate Bill 8, prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected— around six weeks gestation— except in medical emergencies.

“Thus far, S.B. 8 has worked exactly as intended: Except for the few days the preliminary injunction was in place, S.B. 8’s in terrorem effect has made abortion effectively unavailable in Texas after roughly six weeks of pregnancy. Texas has, in short, successfully nullified this Court’s decisions within its borders,” acting Solicitor General Brian Fletcher wrote on behalf of the Justice Department. 

The Justice Department argued that allowing the law to remain in place would “perpetuate the ongoing irreparable injury to the thousands of Texas women who are being denied their constitutional rights. Texas, in contrast, would suffer no cognizable injury from a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of a plainly unconstitutional law.”

The law allows for awards of at least $10,000 for successful lawsuits, which can be filed by people in or outside Texas, against those who perform or aid illegal abortions. Women seeking abortions cannot be sued under the law, which first took effect Sept. 1.

An Oct. 6 ruling from a federal district judge had barred Texas from actions such as awarding damages to successful lawsuits or enforcing judgements in such cases. A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then temporarily reversed that decision Oct. 8.

In early September the Supreme Court declined to block the law in a 5-4 decision. It said opponents of the law had raised “serious questions” about its constitutionality but the abortion providers challenging the law had not shown they were challenging the proper defendants.

President Joe Biden, a Catholic, has called the law “an unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights” and promised a “whole-of-government” effort to maintain abortion access in Texas.

He directed federal agencies, including the Justice Department, to review what actions could be taken “to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions as protected by Roe.”

Pro-life leaders have pointed out that the Texas state legislature recently increased public benefits for low-income mothers, expanding Medicaid coverage for new mothers and $100 million in annual funding for the Alternatives to Abortion program.

In late September, two non-Texas residents sued a Texas abortion doctor who announced he had performed an abortion in violation of the new law. A Texas pro-life group criticized those lawsuits, however, calling them “imprudent” and “self-serving," since neither were filed for pro-life reasons. 

It is unclear how many lawsuits have been filed under the Texas law.

According to the Justice Department, “Texans with sufficient means have traveled hundreds of miles to obtain abortions in other States -- often making multiple trips to comply with those States’ abortion laws...As the district court found, the influx of patients from Texas has overwhelmed providers in Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, and as far away as Nevada.”

Los Angeles renames Father Junipero Serra Park, despite Catholic praise for sainted missionary

Photograph of a bronze statue of Saint Father Junipero Serra in the Gardens of the Carmel Mission Basilica in Carmel, California / Terry Huntingdon Tydings/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Oct 16, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

While Catholic leaders have made strong defenses of St. Junipero Serra after a wave of vandalism and crime targeted Catholic statues and churches last year, political leaders in California continue to remove markers of the missionary whom Pope Francis canonized as the first Hispanic American saint. 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Oct. 11 that the city would no longer call the park across from Union Station by its informal name, Father Junipero Serra Park. A statue of Serra had been in the park from the 1930s until 2020, when protesters toppled it amid racial tensions and claims the saint, who died in 1784, was involved in injustices of the Spanish colonial period. The park will be called La Plaza Park until a new name is adopted. 

The park is walking distance from La Placita, the Church of Our Lady Queen of Angels, the city’s oldest Catholic church, which has elements dating back at least to 1814. Serra did not have personal links to the key landmark

“We all share the same mission, the mission that brought St. Junípero Serra to California — to share the good news of God’s love and to witness to his love through our actions!” Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles had said on Twitter Oct. 15, showing a historic drawing portraying friars baptizing an indigenous baby.

In a Sept. 12 essay, Gomez joined San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone to criticize the “outrageous claim” about Serra and the mission system he founded. 

“As leaders of the state’s two largest Catholic communities, we serve thousands of native Californians who trace their faith to ancestors who helped build the missions,” they said. “We understand the bitter history of native exploitation. But history can be complicated and facts matter.”

They said Serra was a “complex character” who “defended indigenous people’s humanity, decried the abuse of indigenous women, and argued against imposing the death penalty on natives who had burned down a mission and murdered one of his friends.” 

Even though aged and infirm, Serra had traveled 2,000 miles to Mexico City “to demand that authorities adopt a native bill of rights he had written,” they said.

Mayor Garcetti announced the change to honor Indigenous Peoples Day.

“Los Angeles is a city of belonging that takes responsibility for the mistakes we’ve made in the past,” he said in an Oct. 11 statement. “Our indigenous brothers and sisters deserve justice and today we take a step toward delivering both greater cultural sensitivity and spaces for Angelenos to gather and perform their traditional ceremonies.”

“This is not about tearing down or erecting statues. This is about telling the complicated truth of history,” he said, according to KABC News.

Garcetti spoke at an event with members of indigenous Californians from the Gabrielino/Tongva and Fernandeño Tataviam tribes.

“The buildings that are here were built on the slave labor of native inhabitants. And we’re sorry,” Garcetti continued. “We’re sorry as a city for all the things that were done as a Spanish city, a Mexico city, an American city to erase the peoples whose land this is and always will be.”

Garcetti said the city plans to issue a formal apology, give Native Americans priority access to the park, and work to determine what lands should be given to them.

The Los Angeles mayor’s Civic Memory Working Group released an April 2021 report on engagement with the past. It does not mention Serra or Catholicism specifically. It acknowledges the “history of erasure of the Indigenous people of Los Angeles,” endorses statements of apology or reconciliation, and recommends “clear practices to ameliorate and/or decolonize the practices of erasure and exclusion.”

Also speaking last Monday was Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, a member of the Oklahoma-based Wyandotte Nation, a federally recognized tribe. O’Farrell’s remarks were explicitly critical of Serra.

“Places like Serra Park, named after Junipero Serra who in this region led local subjugation and conversion efforts on behalf of the Catholic Church, are a powerful symbol of past wrongs," O’Farrell said, according to KABC News.

Archbishops Gomez and Salvatore explicitly criticized a California bill’s claim that Serra oversaw a mission system that included “enslavement of both adults and children, mutilation, genocide, and assault on women.”

“While there is much to criticize from this period, no serious historian has ever made such outrageous claims about Serra or the mission system, the network of 21 communities that Franciscans established along the California coast to evangelize native people,” they said in their essay, contending lawmakers base their claims on a single tendentious source, a book by journalist Elias Castillo.

CNA sought comment from the Los Angeles archdiocese but did not receive a response by deadline.

Everything you need to know about the devotion to the Sacred Heart

An image of the Sacred Heart in the Church of the Jesu, in Rome. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 16, 2021 / 10:20 am (CNA).

June 19, is the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But what does that mean? 

Why are Catholics spending time venerating the heart of Jesus?

“Devoting ourselves to the Sacred Heart is one of the easiest, fastest, and most pleasant ways to grow in holiness,” Fr. Ambrose Dobrozsi, a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, told CNA.

“Many saints have done many things to grow close to Jesus Christ, but no way is more sure and more pleasing to Him than to consecrate ourselves to his Sacred Heart through the Immaculate Heart of his Mother,” he added.

Where does devotion to the Sacred Heart come from?

The story behind the modern iteration of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, however, begins on December 27, 1673 at a monastery belonging to the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary (Visitandines) in eastern France.

There, a nun named Sr. Margaret Mary Alacoque began experiencing visions of the Sacred Heart.

Those visions continued for 18 months.

During her visions, Sr. Margaret Mary learned ways to venerate the Sacred Heart of Christ.

These devotions including the concept of a holy hour on Thursdays, the creation of the Feast of the Sacred Heart after Corpus Christi, and the reception of the Eucharist on the first Friday of every month.

As with many mystics, many people were skeptical of Sr. Margaret Mary’s claims of visions. Her confessor, the then-Fr. Claude La Colombière, S.J., (now St. Claude La Colombière, S.J.) believed her, and eventually the mother superior of her community began to believe as well.

The first Feast of the Sacred Heart was celebrated privately at the monastery in 1686.

Sr. Margaret Mary died in 1690, and was canonized by Pope Benedict XV on May 13, 1920.

Initially, the Vatican was hesitant to declare a Feast of the Sacred Heart, but did allow the Visitandines to celebrate a Mass special to this day. As the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus spread throughout France, the Vatican granted the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to France in 1765.

In 1856, after much lobbying by French bishops on behalf of the Feast of the Sacred Heart, Pope Pius IX designated the Friday following the Feast of Corpus Christi as the Feast of the Sacred Heart for the entire Latin rite Church.

On May 25, 1899, Pope Leo XIII promulgated the encyclical Annum sacrum, which consecrated the entire world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This encyclical was written after a nun, Sr. Mary of the Sacred Heart, sent two letters to the pope requesting that he consecrate the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Sr. Mary of the Sacred Heart wrote the letters, she said, after Jesus made the request to her. Pope Leo XIII called this encyclical and the subsequent consecration the “great act” of his papacy.

“Finally, there is one motive which We are unwilling to pass over in silence, personal to Ourselves it is true, but still good and weighty, which moves Us to undertake this celebration. God, the author of every good, not long ago preserved Our life by curing Us of a dangerous disease,” wrote Leo XIII.

“We now wish, by this increase of the honor paid to the Sacred Heart, that the memory of this great mercy should be brought prominently forward, and Our gratitude be publicly acknowledged.”

But why consecrate the world--or anyone--to the Sacred Heart of Jesus? What does that mean?

Pope Leo XIII described the act of consecration as one that will “establish or draw tighter the bonds which naturally connect public affairs with God,” which was especially needed for the world at the turn of the century.  
 
“While many see religion as unnecessary in a world with more and more technology and resources, swearing allegiance and consecrating ourselves to Christ the King in his Sacred Heart shows that humanity still needs and longs for a compassionate and all-powerful God,” Dobrozsi, the Cincinnati priest, told CNA.

“In a society where some live in decadence and prideful luxury while others are destitute, the burning love of Christ’s Sacred Heart reminds us that the fires of his mercy are also fires of justice. And when the culture, and so many of us, feel hopeless that we could ever change after falling to sins of the flesh, the Heart of our Lord beats with powerful love, eternally declaring that true charity has triumphed over sin and death,” he added. 

These are the promises the Sacred Heart of Jesus made to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque:

1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life.
2. I will give peace in their families.
3. I will console them in all their troubles.
4. I will be their refuge in life and especially in death.
5. I will abundantly bless all their undertakings.
6. Sinners shall find in my Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
7. Tepid souls shall become fervent.
8. Fervent souls shall rise speedily to great perfection.
9. I will bless those places wherein the image of
My Sacred Heart shall be exposed and venerated.
10. I will give to priests the power to touch the most hardened hearts.
11. Persons who propagate this devotion shall
have their names eternally written in my Heart.
12. In the excess of the mercy of my Heart, I promise you that my all powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the First Fridays, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance: they will not die in my displeasure, nor without receiving the sacraments; and my Heart will be their secure refuge in that last hour.

This article was originally published on CNA on June 19, 2020.

Texas abortion law survives injunction effort; Supreme Court challenge next

The Texas capitol. / f11photo/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Oct 15, 2021 / 18:12 pm (CNA).

A federal appeals court has allowed a heartbeat-based Texas ban on abortion to remain in effect, rejecting the U.S. Department of Justice’s efforts to reinstate an injunction. Biden administration officials have pledged to ask the Supreme Court to reinstate an injunction.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on Oct. 14 ruled 2-1 that the Texas Heartbeat Act, Senate Bill 8, may continue. Their decision follows a temporary ruling last week that overturned an injunction against the law.

Texas’ law, which is designed to be enforced through private lawsuits, prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, around six weeks gestation, except in medical emergencies.

The law allows for awards of at least $10,000 for successful lawsuits against those who perform or “aid and abet” illegal abortions. Women seeking abortions cannot be sued under the law, which first took effect Sept. 1.

The law was designed to avoid judicial review, the Washington Post reports.

Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said Oct. 15 the Justice Department “intends to ask the Supreme Court to vacate the Fifth Circuit’s stay of the preliminary injunction against Texas Senate Bill 8.”

In early September the Supreme Court declined to block the law in a 5-4 decision. It said foes of the law had raised “serious questions” about its constitutionality but the abortion providers challenging the law had not shown they were challenging the proper defendants.

President Joe Biden has called the law “an unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights” and promised a “whole-of-government” effort to maintain abortion access in Texas.

He directed federal agencies, including the Justice Department, to review what actions could be taken “to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions as protected by Roe.”

An Oct. 6 ruling from a federal district judge had barred Texas from actions such as awarding damages to successful lawsuits or enforcing judgements in such cases. A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then temporarily reversed that decision Oct. 8.

In a legal complaint filed in a federal district court Sept. 9, the Justice Department argued the state acted “in open defiance of the Constitution” in restricting “most pre-viability abortions,” and requested a preliminary injunction to block the law.

In late September, two non-Texas residents sued a Texas abortion doctor who announced he had performed an abortion in violation of the new law. A Texas pro-life group criticized those lawsuits, however, calling them “imprudent” and “self-serving,” saying that neither was filed “to save innocent human lives.”

Pro-life leaders in the state estimate that the law has saved more than 4,700 babies from abortion. Some clinics could be forced to close permanently.

Abortions generally halted in Texas after the law took effect, but many women seeking abortions are traveling to nearby states. At least six abortion clinics resumed performing abortions during the period when the law was enjoined.

The Texas state legislature has increased public benefits for low-income mothers, expanding Medicaid coverage for new mothers and securing $100 million in annual funding for the Alternatives to Abortion program.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed into law a ban on the use of abortion-inducing drugs in the state seven weeks into a pregnancy. The measure is set to take effect in December.

Federal judge rules Baltimore cannot block Church Militant rally 

Baltimore, Maryland / Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Oct 15, 2021 / 15:10 pm (CNA).

A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that Baltimore city officials cannot block the parent company of the website Church Militant from holding a rally during a meeting of the U.S. bishops in November. 

St. Michael’s Media, Inc., the parent company of Church Militant, had planned a “Bishops: Enough is Enough” prayer rally to coincide with the fall meeting of the U.S. bishops’ conference in Baltimore, which is scheduled for Nov. 15-18. The rally had been scheduled for Nov. 16, at the city-owned MECU Pavilion. 

On Aug. 5, the company managing the venue informed St. Michael’s that it could not host the rally, by order of the city. The city cited safety concerns, and city officials later argued in court that they moved to cancel the event due to controversial speakers and the event’s planned size. They warned of possible “disruption and violence” that could result from the rally.

Among the advertised speakers at the rally were Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopolous. Both speakers have attracted significant controversy and protests at past speaking events.

In her Oct. 12 opinion, federal district Judge Ellen L. Hollander found that the city had “presented somewhat shifting justifications for its actions, with little evidence to show that the decision was premised on these justifications” in blocking the request for a rally permit. Hollander granted a preliminary injunction against the actions by city officials.

In a complaint filed on Sept. 13, St. Michael’s Media claimed the event cancellation happened without warning, and said that there was months of communication with the venue without incident. 

As part of its argument that the event posed a security risk, the city cited a Church Militant broadcast where host Michael Voris had referred to those who “stormed” the U.S. Capitol on January 6 as “patriots.”

Hollander said the decision to cancel the rally was made based on the “anticipated reaction” of a crowd. “The City never accuses St. Michael’s of actual involvement in the events of January 6, 2021. Rather, it is critical of plaintiff for its coverage and support of the occurrence,” she said. 

“The City cannot conjure up hypothetical hecklers and then grant them veto power," she wrote.

The city appealed the ruling to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday.  

Cal Harris, a spokesperson for Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (D), said, “The proposed rally is slated to take place on Baltimore City property, and we have a responsibility to protect our property and fellow citizens.”

Church Militant held a similar rally at the MECU Pavilion during the 2018 USCCB fall general assembly. There were no incidents of violence.  

St. Michael’s Media is a 501(c)(3) in the state of Michigan. The nonprofit operates the website Church Militant. Church Militant, which is run by Michael Voris, is a website that has been the subject of criticism from some bishops. 

In 2011 the Archdiocese of Detroit announced that Voris was not authorized to use the word "Catholic" in reference to his media project "Real Catholic TV." 

In a Sept. 23 memorandum in court, city officials cited previous statements of rally speakers Bannon and Yiannopoulos to make their case that the rally posed a security risk. Bannon had previously said on a podcast that he would “put the heads” of Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI director Christopher Wray “on pikes. Right. I’d put them at the two corners of the White House as a warning to federal bureaucrats.”

Regarding Yiannopoulos, the city noted he had previously “incit[ed] racist and misogynistic abuse of an African American celebrity,” called for “gunning journalists down,” and addressed rallies that coincided with riots and disruption. Yiannopoulos has said that his comment about shooting journalists, made in a text to a reporter, was a taunt of reporters and not an incitement to violence. 

He also had “a history of making comments advocating for pedophilia,” the city argued. Yiannopoulos was disinvited from the event CPAC in 2017, following reports of previous comments he had made suggesting that consensual sexual relationships between teenagers and adults could be beneficial. He responded at the time that he did not support pedophilia, and was “not referring to prepubescent boys” in his comments. He has said he is a survivor of child sex abuse.

In Yiannopoulos’ testimony in the case, Hollander wrote that he “called the City’s accusation of pedophilia ‘revolting’ and ‘grotesque.’”

“Although he acknowledged his history of ‘biting commentary,’ which is sometimes quite ‘caustic,’ he maintains that he is not the provocateur that he once was,” Hollander wrote of Yiannopoulos. “Moreover, he expressly condemned the use of violence,” she added.

Regarding his role at the Nov. 16 event, Yiannopoulos testified that he would function “primarily” as “emcee,” Hollander noted.

“He recounted that he was ‘raped’ by a priest, and he wants to speak about his experience to help others confront their abusers and the enablers,” Hollander noted. “He stated that the Catholic bishops are not his ‘enemy,’ but he views some of them as ‘very lost’ and ‘failing in their pastoral duties,’ and he believes they deserve to be held ‘to account.’”

“The First Amendment to the Constitution is at the heart of this case,” she stated. The city “acted on an ad hoc basis” in canceling the event, “without any standards,” Hollander said. Thus, St. Michael’s “is likely to succeed on its claim that the City’s conduct was not viewpoint-neutral.”

Regarding the city’s arguments of a security concern, she noted, “There are, no doubt, true emergencies in the life of a city, when officials must act immediately to protect life and property.”

“But, the matter at hand does not constitute an emergency,” she wrote.