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Pope Francis: The Gospel is universal

Pope Francis addresses pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square for his Wednesday general audience on Nov. 15, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Nov 22, 2023 / 10:06 am (CNA).

During his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, Pope Francis highlighted the universal nature of the Church’s mission to proclaim the Gospel, arguing that it is a call for everyone and that no one is excluded. 

The Holy Father’s Nov. 22 catechesis was a continuation of last week’s lesson where he focused on the joy in proclaiming the Gospel, noting that without joy there is no credible witness to the Gospel message. 

The pope on Wednesday quoted his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), stressing that Christians “have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone.” 

“Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet,” the pope said, quoting the exhortation.

“It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction,’” he quoted further.

“Brothers, sisters, let us feel that we are at the service of the universal destination of the Gospel, and let us distinguish ourselves for our capacity to come out of ourselves, to overcome every limit,” the pope said.

“Christians meet on the parvis more than in the sacristy, and go ‘to the streets and lanes of the city,’” the pope said. “They must be open and expansive, ‘extrovert,’ and this character of theirs comes from Jesus, who makes his presence in the world a continuous journey, aimed at reaching out to everyone, even learning from some of his encounters.”

The pope also spoke about the role discernment plays in this process, noting that “the Bible shows us that when God calls a person and makes a pact with some of them, the criterion is always this: Elect someone to reach many others.”

But Francis warned against the temptation to conflate the notion of being the elected with having a sense of superiority. 

“Perhaps the greatest temptation is to consider the call received as a privilege. Please no, the call is not a privilege, ever. We cannot say that we are privileged compared to others, no. The call is for a service. And God chooses one to love everyone, to reach everyone,” the pope instructed. 

In speaking about the universality of the mission of the Church, the pope went on to warn that the Church is universal both in its mission and in its very structure. He argued that we must “prevent the temptation to identify Christianity with a culture, with an ethnicity, with a system.” 

“Thus, however, it loses its truly Catholic nature, that is, for all, universal: It is not a small group of first-class elect. Let us not forget: God chooses someone to love everyone. This horizon of universality. The Gospel is not just for me, it is for everyone, let’s not forget that.” 

At the end of the general audience, during his personal address to Italian pilgrims, the pope repeated his request for prayers for those who are suffering as a result of the ongoing wars in Ukraine and Palestine.

“Let us not forget to persevere in prayer for those who suffer from wars in many parts of the world, especially for the dear people of Ukraine, the tormented Ukraine, and of Israel and Palestine.”

The pope also announced that prior to the morning’s general audience, he had received two delegations from the Holy Land. One was a delegation from Palestine, composed of family members of Palestinian prisoners being held in Israel; the other was made up of the relatives of the Israeli hostages taken by Hamas at the onset of the Israel-Hamas war in early October.

“They suffer a lot and I heard how they both suffer: Wars do this, but here we have gone beyond wars, this is not waging war, this is terrorism,” the pope said.

“Please, let’s move forward for peace, pray for peace, pray a lot for peace. May the Lord put his hand there, may the Lord help us to solve the problems and not move forward with the passions that ultimately kill everyone. We pray for the Palestinian people, we pray for the Israeli people, for peace to come.”

On assassination anniversary, Catholics reflect on JFK’s faith and life

President John F. Kennedy, Mrs. Kennedy, daughter Caroline and son John John arriving for mass at St. Stephen the Martyr Catholic Church in Middleburg, Virginia, on Nov. 10, 1963. / Credit: Diocese of Arlington

CNA Staff, Nov 22, 2023 / 05:00 am (CNA).

Nov. 22, 1963, was a day of mourning for the United States as President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Now, 60 years later, Catholics continue to look back at his life and legacy and the role his faith played in his presidency.

On that fateful day, Barbara Perry, currently a professor of presidential studies at the University of Virginia, was in second grade at St. Albert Catholic School in Louisville, Kentucky. She recalled working on an art project when her teacher shared the news.

“All of a sudden, I looked up, the teacher had turned toward us and said, ‘The president’s been shot. Please line up, we’re going to church to pray for him,’” Perry said in an interview with “EWTN News In Depth.”

Born in 1917, Kennedy grew up during an era when anti-Catholic prejudice was pervasive in the United States. It was in 1928 that the country’s first major party Catholic presidential nominee, four-term New York Gov. Al Smith, ran for president.

Perry explained: “He was vanquished in a landslide by Herbert Hoover because he was Catholic. They [people] were afraid of having a Catholic president because they said the pope would run the country.”

As a youngster, Kennedy served as an altar boy at St. Aidan’s in Brookline, Massachusetts, where his mother, Rose, attended daily Mass. The family matriarch had a great impact on the young boy’s faith, leading her children in prayer before every meal and quizzing them on Gospel readings. 

A young John F. Kennedy. JFK Library Foundation
A young John F. Kennedy. JFK Library Foundation

It was Kennedy’s father, Joseph, who would stoke his political ambitions. 

After serving in combat in the U.S. Navy during World War II, starting in the late 1940s Kennedy was elected to the United States Congress, first as a representative and then as a senator.

Cognizant of deep anti-Catholic fears leading up to the 1960 election, two months before Election Day Kennedy delivered a critical speech before a group of Protestant pastors in Houston. There Kennedy declared his belief “in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” He added that his Catholic faith would not influence his presidency.

“I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic,” Kennedy said. “I do not speak for my Church on public matters and the Church does not speak for me.”

On Jan. 20, 1961, following Mass at Holy Trinity Church near his home in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., Kennedy delivered his famous inaugural address as president. For the first time, a Catholic moved into the White House.

A mixed blessing for the Catholic Church

Dr. Matthew Wilson, a Catholic, political science professor, and director of the Center for Faith and Learning at Southern Methodist University, called the JFK presidency a mixed blessing for the Catholic Church in America. 

“It came with a price because it showed that a Catholic could be accepted if he was willing to leave a significant part of his faith at the door,” he said in an interview with “EWTN News In Depth.”

“Separation of church and state does not mean the marginalization or the sidelining of our deepest values that are derived from our religious faith,” Wilson explained.

Wilson pointed out that since Kennedy, a pattern has emerged where both Democrat and Republican politicians in the U.S. often misuse or sacrifice their faith convictions for political purposes. “Time and time again, they choose party over church. They choose party values over religious values.” 

However, for Kennedy the separation of his personal and public life evidently went deeper than just politics.

“He was an incorrigible womanizer and cheated many times on his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy,” Perry said. “So yes, he led a promiscuous life in his personal life.”

Despite this, Perry pointed out that Kennedy continued to keep an unmistakably Catholic spiritual routine.

Nightly prayers and sacrament of reconciliation

“President Kennedy, throughout his presidency and throughout his life, went to Mass religiously, every Sunday,” she explained. “Yes, he probably had some questions about his faith, but she [Jacqueline] said every night he was down on his knees saying his prayers.” Mrs. Kennedy also said her husband went to confession sometimes.

For weekend getaways, the Kennedys would spend time in the countryside, near Middleburg, Virginia. In the early 1960s, St. Stephen Martyr Catholic Church in Middleburg was completed with the president in mind. On Nov. 10, 1963, JFK attended his last Mass at St. Stephen’s.

The next Sunday, Nov. 17, Kennedy attended Mass at St. Ann Catholic Church in West Palm Beach, Florida. Kennedy’s Requiem Mass was held on Nov. 25 at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington. An engraving on the floor of the cathedral marks the spot where the casket rested, prior to the president’s remains being removed to Arlington National Cemetery “in expectation of a heavenly resurrection.”

Monsignor John Enzler is a Catholic priest in Washington. Screenshot from EWTN News In Depth
Monsignor John Enzler is a Catholic priest in Washington. Screenshot from EWTN News In Depth

Monsignor John Enzler, a Catholic priest in Washington, was in high school when Kennedy was assassinated. As he reflects on the life of Kennedy now, he sees it as a cautionary tale for all politicians, on both sides of the aisle, who proclaim the Christian faith yet reject it in aspects of either their personal or public life.

“Sin is like a cancer. When you fall into a sin, it begins to eat away at your very being,” he told “EWTN News In Depth” in an interview. Enzler added the true tragedy would be to not accept God’s forgiveness and reform our lives.

He shared: “The tragedy would be to lose your soul. To say ‘I’m not being able to enter God’s kingdom because of my actions, because of my decisions, because of my rejection of what in conscience I know is right.”

How a Cincinnati parish became home to the first church dedicated to ‘Christ the King’

Our Lord Christ the King parish in Cincinnati, Ohio, was the first in the world to have a church with that name. An earlier church building gained that distinction in 1926. This is a photo of the current church, built in the 1950s. / Courtesy of Amber Dawson

Denver Newsroom, Nov 22, 2023 / 04:00 am (CNA).

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, celebrated this year on Nov. 25, is also referred to as the feast of Christ the King, Christ the King Sunday, and Reign of Christ Sunday.

Although the concept of Jesus Christ as King is as old as the Gospels, the feast is fairly recent in the Roman Catholic calendar. It was introduced in the Western liturgical calendar in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, via the encyclical Quas Primas.

Surprisingly, the first parish in the world to be consecrated in honor of Our Lord Christ the King was established by Pope Pius XI not in Europe but in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1926. 

“The 225 worshippers who attended Our Lord Christ the King’s first Mass on December 5, 1926, embodied the essence of what it means to be ‘church.’ With neither bricks nor mortar to call their own, this gathering of believers placed their faith in Providence and celebrated early liturgies in humble surroundings,” reads an account posted on the parish’s website. “There was no electricity for the first Eucharist, so the room was illuminated by headlights beamed from parked cars. Pastor Father Edward J. Quinn, a former World War I chaplain, used his Army Mass kit.”

The current church, built in the 1950s, was designed by famed church architect Edward J. Schulte in what is known as a Brutalist style.

Our Lord Christ the King Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1926, an earlier church building became the first church in the world to bear the name Our Lord Christ the King. Photo courtesy of P.J. Daley
Our Lord Christ the King Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1926, an earlier church building became the first church in the world to bear the name Our Lord Christ the King. Photo courtesy of P.J. Daley

Despite the fact that the first parish ever to be dedicated to Christ the King was in the United States, some American clergy originally had difficulty explaining the new solemnity in the context of American Protestant patriotism, which frowned upon kings and kingdoms as opposed to democracy as the most perfect form of government.

A key passage from Quas Primas provided Catholic preachers with a helpful synopsis. “This kingdom (of Christ) is spiritual and is concerned with spiritual things ….The gospels present this kingdom as one which men prepare to enter by penance and cannot actually enter except by faith and by baptism, which, though an external rite, signifies and produces an interior regeneration. This kingdom is opposed to none other than to that of Satan and to the power of darkness. It demands of its subjects a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly things, and a spirit of gentleness. They must hunger and thirst after justice, and more than this, they must deny themselves and carry the cross.”

Pope Pius XI established the feast to be celebrated on the last Sunday of October, so that it would always take place before the celebration of the solemnity of All Saints. But in the new liturgical calendar of 1970, its Roman rite observance was moved to the last Sunday of Ordinary Time. Therefore, the earliest date on which it can occur is Nov. 20 and the latest is Nov. 26.

This article was originally published on Nov 20, 2022.

Catholic Distance University renamed Catholic International University, plans expansion

null / Credit: PureSolution/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 21, 2023 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Catholic Distance University, which offers fully online theology degrees, is changing its name in January to Catholic International University as it plans to offer more degree options and expand further into Latin America and Italy.

The name change is meant “to adjust to the new technologies and the reality of our university that is going international,” Maria Sophia Aguirre, the president of the university, told CNA.

Aguirre said the university already has some international students but that it will begin to offer more programs in Spanish and its first program in Italian in its efforts to grow in both Latin America and Italy. It will also expand its degree options to offer degrees related to artificial intelligence, education, and economics over the next five years.

Catholic Distance University is fully accredited by the Association of Theological Schools and the Higher Learning Commission. The university is based in Charles Town, West Virginia, and was initially established by the Diocese of Arlington in 1983 when the state was included in its jurisdiction. It began offering degrees online in 2000. It has fewer than 1,000 students.

The university currently offers two master’s degrees in English: an M.A. in theology and an M.A. in theology and educational ministry. It also offers a theology bachelor’s degree in English, an associate’s degree in liberal arts in English, and an associate’s degree in theology in Spanish.

In its first expansion beginning next year, the university will offer a new degree that focuses on artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and big data design and a new master’s program in Catholic liberal arts education. In the first year, this will only be offered in English, but by the following year, the university plans to offer both programs in Spanish as well.

Aguirre spoke about the university’s entrance into tech-related degrees at its 2023 gala.

“These cutting-edge technical areas might strike you as a strange fit for CDU, but they are actually wonderful opportunities,” Aguirre said. “There is a great need to prepare people capable of engaging in new technologies while being firmly rooted in a sound Christian anthropology and a solid intellectual and spiritual formation. Scientists who are working in these fields clearly see the need for a university such as ours to fill this void, and they are excited about collaborating with us as CDU strives to meet this need.”

The university will also add a new master’s in ecclesial administration and management, which Aguirre said is thanks to a “generous investor.” This will be offered in multiple languages.

“The new degrees will help our students widen their impact by preparing them to take leadership roles in fields that are in great need of recuperating the meaning of the human person, of social life, and of culture,” Aguirre said.

In addition to the new programs, the university is planning to create a new center for research dissemination.

“We will seek to reach a wider audience, thematically and geographically, with our unique online model,” Aguirre said. “We will expand so as to meet a demand in high-growing markets that thirst for what CDU has to offer. If we don’t seize the moment now, it will be gone.”

Over 100 members of Congress urge Supreme Court to revoke abortion pill approval  

U.S. Capitol viewed through the columns of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 21, 2023 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

Over 100 members of Congress are urging the Supreme Court to stop more than half of U.S. abortions by ordering the FDA to revoke its abortion pill approval. 

The lawmakers are arguing that the FDA’s approval process for the abortion drug had many “irregularities” and the decision to approve them has “endangered women and girls.”

Seventeen senators and 92 representatives, led by Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Mississippi, and Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, signed onto an amicus brief written by Americans United for Life and sent it to the Supreme Court on Nov. 15.

The lawmakers argued in their brief that the Supreme Court should invalidate the FDA’s 2000 approval of the abortion drug mifepristone, the pill that now accounts for over half of all U.S. abortions. This would be a ruling in favor of the pro-life groups in the ongoing abortion case Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. Food and Drug Administration (AHM v. FDA).

The case revolves around mifepristone, a widely used drug that is primarily manufactured by Danco Laboratories. It works by cutting off the flow of nutrients necessary for an unborn baby to continue growing, essentially starving the child to death in the womb. A second drug, misoprostol, is then typically ingested to induce contractions that expel the dead unborn child.

In their brief, the lawmakers argue that in approving mifepristone in 2000 the FDA “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” and violated several federal laws including the Administrative Procedure Act; Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act; and Pediatric Research Equity Act.

The brief also states that the FDA “misclassified pregnancy as a ‘life-threatening illness’” and erroneously claimed that chemical abortions provide a meaningful therapeutic benefit.

Finally, the brief says that the FDA “subverted its obligations” to ensure new drugs are safe and effective, most especially for pediatric use and use by young patients.

“As pro-life elected representatives, Amici [signees] are committed to protecting women and girls from the harms of the abortion industry,” the brief reads. “By approving and then deregulating chemical abortion drugs, the FDA failed to follow Congress’ statutorily prescribed drug approval process and subverted Congress’ critical public policy interests in upholding patient welfare.” 

What has happened so far?

The most recent ruling in AHM v. FDA was made by the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which in August invalidated the FDA’s post-2016 rule changes to mifepristone.

The Fifth Circuit said in its ruling that the FDA failed to “consider the cumulative effect of removing several important safeguards” and “to gather evidence that affirmatively showed that mifepristone could be used safely without being prescribed and dispensed in person.”

This means that pre-2016 restrictions on abortion drugs such as a ban on mailing them or administering via telemedicine, without an in-person doctor’s visit, will be reimposed.

Despite the appellate court ruling, the abortion pill is still available under the post-2016 rules as the lawsuit awaits action from the U.S. Supreme Court. This is because of an April decision by the Supreme Court to keep mifepristone available under the post-2016 regulations for the duration of the litigation process. 

In September, the Biden administration, through the Department of Justice, appealed the Fifth Circuit’s ruling to the Supreme Court. The administration argued in its appeal that the Fifth Circuit failed to demonstrate the FDA’s scientific and research errors and that the ruling has “especially disruptive implications for the pharmaceutical industry and those who depend upon the drugs it supplies.”

Danco Laboratories also filed an appeal to the Supreme Court.

In October, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the law firm representing the pro-life groups in this case, filed what’s called a “conditional cross-petition.” In its petition, ADF argued that if the Supreme Court takes up the Biden administration and Danco’s appeals, they should invalidate the FDA’s 2000 mifepristone approval as well as its post-2016 changes.

According to ADF’s petition, the FDA “disregarded law, science, and safety in pursuit of a political end” and the “Fifth Circuit erred in rejecting the challenges to FDA’s approvals of chemical abortions.”

The amicus brief sent by the members of Congress is in support of ADF’s conditional cross-petition.

The lawmakers’ brief states that “since the FDA’s lawless approval of mifepristone subverts patient safeguards and contravenes federal laws, Amici urge the court to grant Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine’s conditional cross-petition if the court grants the Food and Drug Administration and/or Danco’s petitions for a writ of certiorari.”

One of the signees, Rep. Mark Green, a Tennessee Republican and a doctor, said in a Nov. 16 statement: “To this day, we still have no idea how mifepristone affects adolescent girls because the FDA didn’t bother to run trials. Coupled with the Biden administration’s policy allowing mifepristone by mail, this makes for a dangerous situation for women.” 

“I urge the Supreme Court to consider this case carefully,” Green said. “Abortion is wrong, period, but this chemical abortion drug has a greater risk for women’s health than even surgical abortions. I am appalled at the FDA for putting politics before its mission — protecting Americans.” 

The Supreme Court has not yet signaled whether or not it will take up the Biden administration or Danco’s appeals. 

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also signed onto the amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to revoke the FDA’s 2000 abortion pill approval, according to a statement by Pfluger. Other organizations that have also signed onto the brief according to Pfluger include CatholicVote, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, March for Life, Students for Life of America, National Right to Life, and Live Action.

After losses, pro-life movement sees need to adjust strategy for 2024 referendums

Credit: Stephen Velsaso via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0), filter added

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 21, 2023 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

With nearly a dozen abortion-related referendums possible on state ballots in 2024, the pro-life movement is looking to adjust its strategy after suffering a string of referendum losses, including November’s 13-point defeat in Ohio.

“We need to get better at combating the lies of the abortion industry,” said Stephen Billy, the vice president of state affairs at Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which led the canvassing efforts against the Issue 1 abortion referendum in Ohio.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, every pro-life ballot referendum that has landed on a statewide ballot has failed. Alternatively, all statewide ballot initiatives to expand abortion rights have passed. 

In two states — New York and Maryland — pro-abortion ballot referendums are scheduled to appear on the 2024 ballot. In another nine states, both pro-life and pro-abortion groups are in the process of getting abortion-related referendums on the ballot for the 2024 elections. 

Pro-life groups: Don’t abandon the fight

Following the defeat in Ohio, SBA Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser sent out a memo saying the Republican Party has not invested enough in the fight against pro-abortion ballot measures.”

The memo said “many in the media and in the consulting class will claim that the election outcome means the [Republican Party] must completely abandon the pro-life fight in order to win in 2024 and beyond,” but that this is “a lazy analysis that ignores the facts on the ground.”

“[Republicans] must align [themselves] with the national consensus that already exists, which is limiting late-term abortion when the child can feel excruciating pain,” it continued. “Consensus protections for the unborn must also be paired with compassion and resources for women.”

Rather than backtracking on abortion, Dannenfelser said Republicans should embrace their pro-life values.

Dannenfelser said the party should ask supporters to ensure financial contributions keep pace with pro-abortion donors and change the focus of its rhetoric to portray the pro-life movement supporting and being compassionate toward women and the pro-abortion movement lacking compassion and pushing abortion on women.

Billy said the pro-life movement needs to work on better refuting the national media and newspapers, which have been deceiving voters about what the movement supports. He said there is “a lot of energy” and “a lot of effort” going into 2024. 

“After a disappointing night [in Ohio], I think there’s a lot of reason to be optimistic,” Billy added.

Stephen Krason, chair of political science at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and the director of its Human Life Studies Minor Program, was somewhat critical of the failed ballot efforts from pro-life organizations, telling CNA there is a need to “engage in an education effort” at a “renewed, maybe unprecedented [level].” 

The movement and Republican leaders, according to Krason, need to make a case against abortion, which defines human life as starting at the moment of conception, in a way “that will reach all realms of the population.”

“You have to confront and you have to educate, and you can’t be afraid to confront the opposition,” Krason said.

What do the polls show?

Some analysts, however, believe the pro-life movement’s shortcomings have more to do with public opinion being against them than it does with the debates over strategy. 

“The pro-life forces will have difficulty going forward,” Karlyn Bowman, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who analyzes polls, told CNA. 

Bowman sees a disconnect between the pro-life referendum effort in Ohio and what the voters prioritize, which is “the power of choice [and] being able to choose.” She argued that the polling related to abortion, similar to that of COVID-19 vaccine mandates and laws related to smoking, showed support for “the power of personal choice and people wanting their personal choices respected,” which is a “powerful part of what we regularly would see in surveys.”

For the referendums that ultimately make it on the ballot in 2024, Bowman said she does not expect different results “apart from very conservative states,” noting that many of the pro-life losses happened in Republican-dominated states such as Kansas, Kentucky, and Montana. 

Where will abortion be on the ballot in 2024?

Referendums in Maryland and New York, two Democratic strongholds, will be on the Nov. 5 ballots in 2024. Both referendums would establish new rights in their state constitutions that guarantee a right to abortion.

In six states, there are proposed pro-abortion ballot referendums for the 2024 election, which have yet to be certified: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Nevada, and South Dakota. In four states, there are proposed pro-life ballot referendums for the election, which have not yet been certified: Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania.

Bowman said “maybe a handful” of these proposals will make it on the 2024 ballots because it “isn’t that easy [to get referendums certified in many] states,” adding that “I don’t know whether all of these will qualify.”

What happened in other states? 

About two weeks ago, voters in Ohio approved a referendum that enshrined a new right to “reproductive freedom,” including “abortion,” in the state constitution with 56.6% of people supporting the measure and only 43.4% of people opposing it. In an off-year election that brought out more than 3.8 million voters, the pro-life opposition to the amendment fell more than half of a million votes short of where it needed to be.

In the 2022 elections, proposed referendums backed by the pro-life movement failed in all three states where they were considered: Kansas, Kentucky, and Montana, all of which are normally Republican strongholds.

The proposals in Kentucky and Kansas would have clarified that the states’ constitutions did not protect a right to an abortion. The election was close in Kentucky, failing by less than a five-point margin, but worse in Kansas, failing by about an 18-point margin. The proposal in Montana, which would have given legal personhood to a child born alive after a failed abortion, failed by a little more than a five-point margin.

In Michigan, a Democratic-leaning swing state, voters passed a constitutional amendment via referendum to enshrine a right to abortion in the state constitution. This passed by a margin of 14 points — a slightly larger margin than Ohio’s proposal. Similar abortion referendums passed in two strong Democratic states, Vermont and California, by much larger margins. 

Update: Texas dioceses targeted by scammer impersonating Catholic priest

Photos of a man claiming to be a priest named "Father Martin" who attempted to infiltrate several parishes around Texas in October 2023. / Credit: Office of Security and Emergency Management at the Diocese of Dallas

CNA Staff, Nov 21, 2023 / 14:45 pm (CNA).

A man calling himself “Father Martin” attempted to infiltrate several Texas parishes last month and reportedly succeeded in stealing several hundred dollars from one Houston parish, with the scam prompting a security warning from one of the state’s dioceses. 

On Oct. 25, a person who identified himself as a visiting priest named “Father Martin” showed up at six different parishes in the Diocese of Dallas, according to diocesan spokeswoman Katy Kiser.

“He raised suspicion to our parish staff because we follow a Safe Environment protocol, which requires priests from outside our diocese to come with a suitability letter, but also we work often enough with priests from other dioceses to understand that this didn’t seem legitimate, so these encounters were reported to our Office of Security and Emergency Management at the diocese,” Kiser told CNA. 

The diocesan security office subsequently reported “Father Martin” to local law enforcement because the encounter “seemed suspicious to our parish staff.” Kiser said the Dallas Police Department has “no active investigation” into the matter, however, because the diocese reported no losses, and thus police determined that “no crime was committed.”

“Father Martin” succeeded in accessing one private area of a Dallas parish, Kiser said, but she said it was determined “he wasn’t able to gain access to money or valuables” because of locked doors. 

In response to the incident, the Dallas Diocese issued a security bulletin that included photos of the fake priest along with a photo and description of his car, a gray Volkswagen Touareg. It also states that another known alias of the man is “Father Guillermo.”

“The Office of Security and Emergency Management is currently working with local, state, and federal law enforcement partners regarding this matter,” the bulletin read. “During the course of the investigation, we have determined this individual has active warrants issued for his arrest for theft and burglary offenses he has committed across several states.”

The Dallas security office encouraged people not to attempt to detain the man if they come in contact with him but rather to contact the police and the diocesan Office of Security and Emergency Management.

Two days later, on Oct. 27, “Father Martin” reportedly stole $500 from a priest’s wallet at the rectory of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Houston, a Houston Police Department spokeswoman told the New York Times. Houston is about a 3.5-hour drive south of Dallas. 

“He claimed he was a visiting priest from Chicago and that he had been staying in the rectory and left his keys in one of the rooms,” the police spokeswoman told the Times. 

A Houston Police Department spokesman confirmed the details reported in the Times to CNA and also added that the man was spotted getting into a car after stealing the money and driving away. 

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston did not respond to a request for further information.

The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, which advocates policy on behalf of all of the state’s bishops, declined to comment to CNA, saying it was “not in the scope of TCCB to respond to inquiries on this.”

The scammer appears to have been active in California, and possibly in Oregon, before making his way to Texas.

In a March 29 memo obtained by CNA, Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto warned his pastors about the man, saying he had been captured on video rifling through cabinets and drawers in a rectory office in the neighboring Diocese of Santa Rosa. Soto reported that the man had subsequently shown up at parishes in his diocese, including in downtown Sacramento, where he was allowed into a parish office.

The memo stated that witnesses described the scammer as “very convincing,” dressed professionally but without a clerical collar. It warned that parish staff “should never allow anyone who is not recognized as an authorized person to have unescorted access to a private parish of any parish building.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) subsequently sent a security alert April 12 warning all the U.S. bishops about the man, noting he had been active in Oregon and California.

Priest-impersonation scams are not new. Catholic dioceses in the U.S. have had to step in and clarify fake priests’ statuses several times in recent years. Just last month, the Diocese of Stockton, California, issued a warning about a pair of imposters posing as Catholic clergymen in the city of Modesto and charging high fees for blessings and sacraments.

In one unusual case reported this summer, a California restaurant allegedly enlisted a person to impersonate a priest with the goal of tricking employees into confessing their “sins” against their employer. The local Catholic Diocese of Sacramento clarified that the man has no link to the Church. 

The bizarre nature of the case prompted the U.S. Department of Labor to get involved, with the agency on June 12 calling the use of the fake priest “among the most shameless” corrupt actions employers have used against employees in the U.S.

This story was updated on Nov. 21, at 6:10 p.m. with additional information about the priest impersonator.

Oklahoma sues Biden administration in dispute over abortion, federal family planning funds

Credit: JHVEPhoto/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Nov 21, 2023 / 11:04 am (CNA).

Oklahoma this month filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) claiming the Biden administration suspended “millions of dollars” in federal funding over the state’s refusal to provide referrals for abortion in family planning services. 

The state said in the lawsuit that HHS “overreached by unlawfully suspending and terminating millions of dollars of Title X grant funding” to the state. 

That funding “has been terminated solely because Oklahoma will not commit to providing referrals for abortion,” the lawsuit claims. 

Title X is a Nixon-era federal family planning program. It was enacted in 1970 and distributes federal grants to community clinics and health departments in order to provide contraception services and other family planning and health services. Federal law forbids Title X funding from being used to directly procure abortions. 

Oklahoma’s lawsuit says the state has “administered the Title X family planning program in Oklahoma for more than 40 years,” using the grants to “disperse funds through 68 county health departments, who provide critical public health services to rural and urban Oklahoma communities.”

In May of this year, the lawsuit says, HHS pulled Title X funding from the state after having accused it of being “in violation of Title X and out of compliance with the terms and conditions” of the grant, specifically because the state health department “no longer offered pregnant clients the opportunity to be provided information and counseling about abortion/pregnancy termination.”

The state had in 2022 been warned of the requirement to include abortion referrals in its Title X coverage. Oklahoma attempted to “find an agreeable solution with the Health Department that would allow the Health Department to continue receiving Title X funds while complying with Oklahoma law prohibiting abortions,” the lawsuit said. 

The state was “unable to find a solution allowing compliance with the regulation and Oklahoma law,” the suit said. The White House ultimately redistributed the Title X funds, including to an out-of-state provider. 

The lawsuit is similar to one filed last month by Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, who sued the White House in response to its decision to redirect millions of dollars of Title X funding toward Planned Parenthood in the state.

In both cases, the states have been caught in between back-and-forth policy decisions from the Trump and Biden administrations, with both presidents having issued orders to modify Title X policy relating to abortion. 

In 2019, the Trump administration issued a rule “prohibiting referral for abortion as a method of family planning,” directing that Title X recipients were “not required to choose between participating in the program and violating their own consciences by providing abortion counseling and referral.”

In 2021 the Biden administration reversed that rule. Oklahoma’s lawsuit says the White House now requires that Title X recipients offer pregnant women “the opportunity to be provided information and counseling regarding ... [p]regnancy termination.”

“The federal government’s sole justification for disrupting decades of health services and determining that an out-of-state entity in Missouri was in the best position to provide necessary health services to citizens in the state of Oklahoma is that the Health Department refuses to approve of referrals for abortions,” the suit states.

In a press release on Monday, State Attorney General Gentner Drummond said the Biden administration “is intent on punishing Oklahoma because we do not share its liberal philosophy.” 

“It is patently discriminatory to deny Oklahoma these critical funds, particularly when federal law makes it clear that Title X cannot be used for abortion,” he said. 

“I will continue to fight against federal overreach in all forms,” he added. 

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District Of Oklahoma.

World leaders seek to restore original meaning of Universal Declaration of Human Rights

More than 200 world leaders at the U.N. headquarters in New York on Nov. 18, 2023, signed the “New York Commitment,” which seeks to restore the original meaning of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the occasion the 75th anniversary of its proclamation. / Credit: Political Network for Values

ACI Prensa Staff, Nov 20, 2023 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

The fifth Transatlantic Summit organized by The Political Network for Values (PNfV) last week brought together more than 200 leaders from 40 countries around the world who signed the “New York Commitment,” which seeks to restore the original meaning of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on the occasion the 75th anniversary of its proclamation.

The “New York Commitment,” according to an article posted Nov. 18 on the PNfV’s website, “gives visibility to a broad consensus that exists on all continents regarding the need to affirm the dignity of the person and fundamental values, especially, life, the family, and freedoms.” 

“We are here to bring forth, in its original sense, the agreement of 1948. We must return to the human person and, from there, ensure his fundamental rights. It is precisely here, at the United Nations, that our voice needs to be heard. We assert the timeless and transcendent principles that inspired the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” José Antonio Kast, former presidential candidate in Chile and president of the PNfV, said at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

“It is precisely here, at the United Nations, that our voice needs to be heard. We assert the timeless and transcendent principles that inspired the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” he added.

The leaders from around the world committed to working “to establish environments favorable to the formation and stability of the family; to protect children, both before and after birth; and to respect the freedom of parents and legal guardians to provide the religious and moral education of their children in accordance with their own convictions.”

They also pledged to “promote respect for the various religious and ethical values, cultural backgrounds, and philosophical convictions of the peoples of the world, as well as the sovereignty of states in matters that are within their internal jurisdiction.”

Margarita de la Pisa, a member of the European Parliament, pointed out that these rights, far from being “regressive,” are the basis of true human development. “Defending life, for example, means a political commitment to prosperity,” she stressed.

Hafid El-Hachimi, official of the Independent Standing Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, stated that “families are the fundamental unit for the sustainable, cultural, and economic development of society, so seeking redefinitions of the family means compromising the future.”

The fifth Transatlantic Summit was held in Room 4 of the U.N. on Nov. 16-17 with the theme “Affirming Universal Human Rights — Uniting Cultures for Life, Family, and Freedoms.”

Participants included Erwin Ronquillo, minister of child protection of Ecuador; Raúl Latorre, president of Paraguay’s Chamber of Deputies (representatives); Lucy Akello, Ugandan member of Parliament (MP); Päivi Räsänen, Finnish MP (recently acquitted of hate speech for tweeting a Bible verse on homosexuality); Corina Cano, vice president of the National Assembly of Panama; Germán Blanco, senator from Colombia; Nikolas Ferreira of Brazil; Santiago Santurio, Argentine legislator; and Rafael López Aliaga, the mayor of Lima, Peru (by video).

Also present were Lila Rose, president of Live Action; Valerie Huber, promoter of the Geneva Consensus Declaration and president of the Institute for Women’s Health; Sharon Slater, president of Family Watch International; and Dawn Hawkins, executive director of the International Center on Sexual Exploitation.

Other leaders participating were Neydy Casillas, vice president of international affairs at the Global Center for Human Rights; Ádám Kavecsánszki, president of the Foundation for a Civic Hungary; Austin Ruse, president of C-Fam; Brett Schaefer, Heritage Foundation research fellow; and Peter Torcsi, director of operations at the Center for Fundamental Rights.

The PNfV is an international network of politicians committed to the promotion and defense of life, family, and freedoms.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Texas lawmakers vote to remove school choice provision from funding bill

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CNA Staff, Nov 20, 2023 / 16:56 pm (CNA).

Lawmakers in Texas on Friday voted down a section of a major education bill that would have created a publicly-funded education savings account (ESA) for students wishing to attend private schools, including religiously-affiliated schools. 

The Texas House voted 84-63 Nov. 17 in favor of an amendment to entirely remove a section from H.B. 1 related to school choice. That section would have allowed parents to make use of the equivalent of 75% of the cost of sending the student to public school to instead help pay for the educational institution of their choice. The amendment garnered support from 21 Republicans, most of whom represent rural districts, joined by all the House’s Democrats, KVUE reported. 

With the vote, the future of the 177-page education bill itself is now uncertain. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has said he will veto any education legislation that does not contain school choice vouchers and will continue to call lawmakers back to the state capitol until they pass a school choice bill, KVUE reported.

Catholic bishops in the state have expressed support for earlier efforts in the state Legislature to enact school choice, while public school advocates have argued that the ESA program would divert funds away from needy public schools, especially in rural areas with fewer private school options available.

Abbott, a Catholic, has made the school choice provision a legislative priority, saying in a proclamation earlier this month that he had reached an agreement with Texas House leadership to create a $10,400 per year ESA for participating students.

Jennifer Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops (TCCB), which advocates for policy in the state on behalf of the bishops, said in a statement to CNA that H.B. 1 will now return to committee, making it challenging to pass during the governor’s special session. She noted that this could mean the loss not only of the potential school choice benefits but also other provisions of the bill such as teacher pay raises and school safety upgrades.

The vote against the school choice provision of the bill was disappointing, but “the issue is not over yet,” Allmon said. 

“Gov. Greg Abbott has said he will call a fifth special session for parental choice. We don’t know if that will be between Thanksgiving and Christmas or in January, but whenever there is an opportunity to advocate for parental choice in education, we will be ready to stand up for families who need it most,” Allmon said. 

“While there were several setbacks this past week, with the approaching holiday, we are reminded our faith calls us to gratitude. Today we are giving thanks for the opportunity to do God’s work on behalf of the common good. We are grateful for our bishops, priests, religious, families, and all Catholics who do so much to spread God’s love across Texas. We are grateful for all of you who made calls, sent emails, and came to the Capitol to advocate with us.”

The bill included several eligibility requirements, including a prioritization for low-income disabled students as well as children from households making less than 185% of the federal poverty level — roughly $55,500 for a family of four. Eligible students include those in private schools as well as children who home-school, TCCB says.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that parents have “the first responsibility for the education of their children” (No. 2223). Mothers and fathers, the catechism says, retain the right to both teach their children the morals imparted by the Church and “to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions” (No. 2229).

Early 2023 data from the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), which advocates for policy in the U.S. on behalf of Catholic school students, showed that just 10.5% of Catholic school students nationwide participate in a parental choice program. The push for school choice is gaining momentum, however, with seven states in 2023 alone enacting school choice programs that are available to all students, i.e. “universal.”

Most recently, in September, North Carolina became the 10th U.S. state to enact universal school choice by removing certain barriers to a state program that provides tuition assistance for students attending private schools. In some of those 10 states, such as Arizona and Indiana, nearly all of the state’s Catholic schools take part in school choice programs.