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New Holy Land virtual Advent pilgrimage hopes to fill ‘holy sites with peace’

Altar of the Child Jesus and the relic of the manger in the Church of Saint Catherine (Basilica of the Nativity) in Bethlehem. / Credit: Magdala Center

CNA Staff, Dec 2, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The Magdala Tourist Center, located in the biblical town of Magdala on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, announced a virtual pilgrimage due to the conflict in the Holy Land, which is preventing pilgrims from visiting in person this Advent and Christmas season.

The “Star of Wonder Advent Pilgrimage of Peace” will start on Sunday, Dec. 3, and continue throughout the Advent season. Each Sunday, a video will be released from a holy site and will discuss its biblical meaning and include daily reflections.

Holy sites in the virtual pilgrimage will include Magdala, the hometown of Mary Magdalene; Nazareth; Ein Karem, the place of the Visitation and birth of John the Baptist; Bat Sahour; and Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.

The grotto where Jesus was born inside of the Basilica of the Nativity. Credit: Magdala Center
The grotto where Jesus was born inside of the Basilica of the Nativity. Credit: Magdala Center

Kathleen Nichols, the director of Magdala’s English media team who leads in-person and virtual pilgrimages, told CNA in an interview that the virtual pilgrimage was “inspired by the conflict here in the Holy Land.”

Nichols and her small team went into the Palestinian Territories to film in the now-empty sites connected with Christ’s birth. Their hope is that virtual pilgrims can fill these places with prayers for peace from all over the world.

“People cannot come in person, and everyone wants to help by praying for peace,” she said. “And so I wanted to fill the holy sites with peace.”

“We hope people can fill the holy sites, especially the site of the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, with prayer for peace,” she added.

Kathleen Nichols inside of the Basilica of the Annunciation. Credit: Magdala Center
Kathleen Nichols inside of the Basilica of the Annunciation. Credit: Magdala Center

The Magdala Tourist Center, which began construction in 2009, is made up of an archaeological park, guest house, and worship center. As construction began, workers who were digging the foundation of the guest house discovered a first-century synagogue. Inside that synagogue, they also found the Magdala Stone, a discovery many archaeologists consider the most significant archaeological find in the past 50 years.

Other attractions include buildings considered mansions of wealthy merchants from Magdala, a marketplace, and four “mikvaot,” which were ritual baths. Additionally, the Duc In Altum, which gets its name from Luke 5:4 where Jesus instructs Simon Peter to “launch into the deep” or “put out into deep water,” serves as a place of prayer and worship for Christians of all denominations.

First-century cave located next to the Grotto of the Annunciation in Nazareth (Grotto of Mary's "neighbors"). Credit: Magdala Center
First-century cave located next to the Grotto of the Annunciation in Nazareth (Grotto of Mary's "neighbors"). Credit: Magdala Center

While pilgrims are canceling their planned trips to the Holy Land, Nichols hopes the virtual pilgrimage will help participants “fully understand what true peace is by encountering the Prince of Peace” and that “they [will] be encouraged to return soon to the Holy Land once the conflict is resolved."

“And especially support the many people so affected by the conflict,” she added.

Pope Francis to COP28: Environmental destruction is ‘an offense against God’

Pope Francis at his general audience on Nov. 22, 2023. / Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Dec 2, 2023 / 06:45 am (CNA).

Pope Francis called the destruction of the environment “an offense against God” in a message given to the participants in the U.N. climate summit on Saturday.

The keynote address that the pope had intended to give in person at the COP28 conference was distributed to the attendees in Dubai, where Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin read a shortened version of the pope’s speech to the assembly on Dec. 2.

Pope Francis, who turns 87 in two weeks, canceled his scheduled trip to the United Arab Emirates days before the climate summit at the request of his doctors after coming down with a flu infection that left him with breathing difficulties and acute bronchitis.

“Sadly, I am unable to be present with you, as I had greatly desired,” the pope said in his message to COP28.

“Even so … I am with you because the destruction of the environment is an offense against God, a sin that is not only personal but also structural, one that greatly endangers all human beings, especially the most vulnerable in our midst, and threatens to unleash a conflict between generations.”

Pope Francis would have been the first pope to attend the U.N.’s climate change conference, known as the “Conference of the Parties” (COP), which has been held annually since 1995.

Care for creation has been an important theme in Francis’ pontificate. The pope has said that he decided to write his 2015 environmental encyclical Laudato Si’ ahead of the COP21 summit in Paris and recently published a new apostolic exhortation titled Laudate Deum (“Praise God”), called climate change “one of the principal challenges facing society and the global community.”

In his message to the COP28 conference, the pope underlined the need for “multilateralism” to establish “global and effective rules” to fight climate change.

“Climate change signals the need for political change. Let us emerge from the narrowness of self-interest and nationalism; these are approaches belonging to the past,” he said.

The pope called it “disturbing” that “global warming has been accompanied by a general cooling of multilateralism, a growing lack of trust within the international community.”

“How much energy is humanity wasting on numerous wars … conflicts that will not solve problems but only increase them!” he added.

Pope Francis described environmental protections as part of “a culture of life” and underlined that attempts to shift blame for climate change onto the poor or high birth rates “must be firmly dispelled.”

“Births are not a problem, but a resource: They are not opposed to life, but for life, whereas certain ideological and utilitarian models now being imposed with a velvet glove on families and peoples constitute real forms of colonization,” he said.

“Let us join in embracing an alternative vision: this will help to bring about an ecological conversion, for ‘there are no lasting changes without cultural changes’ (Laudate Deum, 70),” the pope added.

“In this regard, I would assure you of the commitment and support of the Catholic Church, which is deeply engaged in the work of education and of encouraging participation by all, as well as in promoting sound lifestyles, since all are responsible and the contribution of each is fundamental.”

During the COP28 summit in Dubai, Cardinal Parolin will also preside over the inauguration of an interfaith pavilion at the climate conference on Dec. 3 alongside Spanish Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, an expert on Islam and current prefect of the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue.

The faith pavilion, hosted by the Muslim Council of Elders, will serve as a hub for faith-based engagement on climate issues and as the venue for more than 65 sessions with religious figures, scientists, and political leaders at the conference.

Christmas 2023: Handmade gifts from Catholic monasteries

A religious sister from the Monastery of Bethlehem in Livingston Manor, New York, hand-paints a pitcher. / Credit: Monastery of Bethlehem

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 2, 2023 / 06:00 am (CNA).

For unique Christmas gifts that celebrate your Catholic faith there are many monasteries and religious communities that offer handmade gifts for sale online. 

Buying presents from religious brothers and sisters has the added advantage of lending support to these communities, many of whom depend on a successful Christmas shopping season to continue their lives of prayer and service.

Here’s a guide to some of CNA staff members’ favorite gifts to give and receive.

Hand-painted china

The contemplative Sisters of the Monastery of Bethlehem in Livingston Manor, New York, support themselves by hand-painting chinaware. The exquisite, intricately-designed pieces make lovely Christmas gifts, and the china is dishwasher- and microwave-safe. 

The sisters belong to the monastic Family of Bethlehem, of the Assumption of the Virgin and of Saint Bruno, which was founded in 1950 when Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin, which states that Mary was elevated, body and soul, from earth into heaven. They create their beautiful chinaware in prayerful solitude. Plates, serving bowls, and platters from $31 and up make lovely gifts. Hand-painted porcelain egg cups for $23.97 are also available through EWTN’s Religious Catalog. 

Some of the hand-painted gifts available for purchase from the Monastery of Bethlehem in Livingston Manor,  New York. Credit: Monastery of Bethlehem
Some of the hand-painted gifts available for purchase from the Monastery of Bethlehem in Livingston Manor, New York. Credit: Monastery of Bethlehem

Wine from the first papal vineyard

The Benedictine monks and nuns of the Abbeys of Le Barroux, a vineyard established by Pope Clement V in 1309 in the Rhône Valley of France, now have a U.S. distributor for their Via Caritas wine. The wine is made in cooperation with local vineyards, and the proceeds help support these winemaking families. The monks’ award-winning wines are available to purchase for $21.99 and up.

EWTN’s Colm Flynn visited the vineyard and witnessed the winemaking process firsthand in this video.

The Benedictine monks and nuns of the Abbeys of Le Barroux run a vineyard established by Pope Clement V in 1309 in the Rhône Valley of France. Credit: Screenshot "EWTN News In Depth"
The Benedictine monks and nuns of the Abbeys of Le Barroux run a vineyard established by Pope Clement V in 1309 in the Rhône Valley of France. Credit: Screenshot "EWTN News In Depth"

Soap and candles

The nuns from the Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey, live a life of prayer through Eucharistic adoration and dedication to the rosary. To support this way of life they create handmade candles and skin-care products, which they sell at their Cloister Shoppe. Create your own Christmas gift bag of two bars of soap, a hand cream, a jar candle, a face moisturizer, and a handmade rosary made from olive wood beads from the Holy Land for $50. 

Throw in a pair of Bayberry Christmas Eve Tapers for $18 to give your holiday table a festive glow. 

Dominican nuns at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey, make soap and candles that they sell at their Cloister Shoppe. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Dominican nuns at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey, make soap and candles that they sell at their Cloister Shoppe. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

Handmade friar’s rosary (supplies limited)

The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal handcraft these extra-large wooden rosaries (like the friars use), which are offered for sale through Spirit Juice Studios for $30. The friars live in community, carrying out their mission of evangelization and serving the poor in the tradition of St. Francis. 

Check out their weekly Poco a Poco podcast here, where Father Innocent, Father Angelus, and Father Mark-Mary break open the Gospel and offer “practical spirituality” for all pilgrims.

This extra-large rosary is made by a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. Credit: Spirit Juice Studios
This extra-large rosary is made by a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. Credit: Spirit Juice Studios


These fruitcakes are not the sort that get regifted. The monks of New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California, offer a fruitcake soaked in brandy and aged for three months. It “has converted many a fruitcake ‘atheist,’” according to its creators. Order a one-pound fruitcake for $26.98.

The Monks of the Abbey of Gethsemani in New Haven, Kentucky, offer a 20-ounce Kentucky Bourbon Fruitcake along with a jar of Trappist Apricot-Pineapple preserves and a jar of Trappist Quince Jelly, which make a lovely Christmas gift for $32.75.

The monks of New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California, are known for their brandy-soaked fruitcake, made with a 50-year-old recipe. Credit: New Camaldoli Hermitage
The monks of New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California, are known for their brandy-soaked fruitcake, made with a 50-year-old recipe. Credit: New Camaldoli Hermitage


The monks of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, make their famous fudge with premium chocolate and real butter. Try a 12-ounce gift box for $15. And for a taste of Georgia, try their Southern Touch fudge, “made with real peach morsels, pecans, and a touch of peach brandy.”

Chocolates by Monastery Candy.
Chocolates by Monastery Candy.


The Capuchin Poor Clare nuns make their famous butter cookies from their monastery in Denver. The “Clarisas” come in a beautiful gift box featuring an image of St. Clare and sell for $18 for a 1.5-pound box.

A box of handmade Clarisas' Cookies. Credit: Francesca Pollio Fenton/CNA
A box of handmade Clarisas' Cookies. Credit: Francesca Pollio Fenton/CNA


The contemplative nuns of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa, are known for their delicious caramels, which they make by hand in order to support their way of life. A 9-ounce box of sea salt chocolate-covered caramels sells for $15.55.


The Wyoming Carmelites of Mystic Monk Coffee hand-roast their beans in small batches to support their community. The website CoffeeReview.com ranks their coffee among the highest of the coffees it reviews. A 12-ounce bag of their most popular flavor, Jingle Bell Java, sells for $13.95

Since they began their coffee business in 2007, the monks have been able to live out the Carmelites’ vocation of “hidden prayer and union with God for the sake of everyone throughout the Church and the world.”

Hot sauce

The monks at Subiaco Abbey in Arkansas make a tangy hot sauce from the habanero peppers grown in the monastery’s gardens. Benedictine Father Richard Walz began making his “Monk Sauce” while he was stationed in Belize, Central America. In 2003, he brought back some seeds from the peppers he grew there and created a tangy sauce made from the chilies along with onions, garlic, carrots, vinegar, salt, and “a few prayers thrown in for good measure.” 

How spicy is it? According to the abbey’s website, their Monk Sauce has a 250,000 Scoville Unit rating, while Tabasco’s habanero sauce earned a mere 7,000 Scoville Unit rating. Available in green, red, and smoked, the 5-ounce bottles sell for $11 each.

Witnesses testify to torture by Nicaraguan dictatorship at hearing on imprisoned Catholic bishop 

Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, Nicaragua. / Credit: Alliance Defending Freedom International

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 1, 2023 / 18:20 pm (CNA).

At a congressional hearing on Thursday, members of Congress and human rights activists urged Nicaragua dictator Daniel Ortega to immediately release imprisoned Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who they said is being mistreated and possibly tortured.

The hearing, which was held by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations and chaired by New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith, was titled “An Urgent Appeal to Let Bishop Álvarez Go.”

Among the witnesses testifying were several Nicaraguan exiles who had undergone or witnessed the inhumane treatment of political prisoners by the Ortega regime. 

Mike Finnan, a representative for Smith, told CNA that the identities of these witnesses were kept secret “for their safety and the safety of their families.”

Smith said during the hearing that Álvarez, the 56-year-old bishop of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, “is an innocent man enduring unspeakable suffering.” 

The regime, run by Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, has been targeting the Catholic Church in the country. Smith said that “bishops and priests as well as worshippers have been harassed and detained” and that the international community “can no longer turn a blind eye to what is happening to the people of Nicaragua, including and especially to people of faith.”

Álvarez, a beloved bishop in Nicaragua and a critic of the Ortega-Murillo regime’s human rights violations, was arrested by Nicaraguan authorities on Aug. 19, 2022. After refusing to go into exile he was convicted of treason on Feb. 10 and sentenced to over 26 years in prison.

For most of the time since then, Álvarez has been kept in Nicaragua’s Modelo prison, which is known for its particularly cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners, according to testimony given by Nicaraguan witnesses on Thursday.

A former prisoner of the Ortega-Murillo regime was among those who testified during Thursday’s hearing. The witness, who was exiled to the U.S. and arrived in the country in February, testified that while he was in prison he was mistreated by authorities and underwent more than 30 interrogations in which “they blackmailed me and threatened the lives of my relatives.”

“They wanted me to declare that the bishop was a member of an organization that wanted to promote a coup d’état against Daniel Ortega and that he received money from the U.S. government and the European Union,” the witness said.

Another witness who testified during the hearing, a parent of a Nicaraguan political prisoner, shared how on a visit to Modelo prison, she found young prisoners tortured and maimed and kept in poor, unsanitary conditions.

“There were some young men, maybe 15, 16 years old, you could see the tortures they had been subjected to,” the witness said. “I remember that one of them lifted up his pants and showed me his calf, it had been burned with acid; he could not bend the fingers of his hands due to the tortures.”

In response to demands for proof that Álvarez is still alive, the Nicaraguan dictatorship’s Ministry of the Interior released new video and images of the bishop on Tuesday.

In a Nov. 28 press release, the Ministry of the Interior stated that the video and photos show that “the conditions of [Álvarez’s] confinement are preferential and that the regimen of doctor’s appointments is strictly complied with as well as family visits, the sending and receiving of packages, contrary to what slanderous campaigns try to make you believe.”

According to Smith, however, the video of Álvarez released this week by the government of Nicaragua “raises serious questions and concerns about his well-being.”

Smith told CNA on Friday that he is going to continue pressuring the Ortega regime to release the bishop and cease its persecutions through increased sanctions. 

He said that the video reminded him of a visit he made to a communist gulag under the Soviet Union in which prison officials tried to convince him that the detainees were well-fed and happy by staging food and forcing them to smile. 

Though the video shows seemingly comfortable chairs and couches and food on a table, he said that witnesses who survived imprisonment by the Nicaraguan government informed him that “none of that’s real.”

“It’s all one big fat façade of disinformation because they live a horrible, horrible life in prison and with beatings and other kinds of maltreatment,” Smith said. 

“He has lost weight; is he ill?” Smith asked during the hearing. “Is he being provided proper nutrition and basic medical care? We have no idea what is going on day to day.”

Throughout his captivity, Smith said, Álvarez has shown incredible courage and fortitude.

“I am in awe of his courage, faithfulness, and kindness,” Smith said. “And I know so many others in Congress, House, Senate, Democrat, Republican, people in the White House, we’re in awe of his goodness and his extraordinary strength. Bishop Álvarez deserves to be respected and revered and free, not persecuted and incarcerated.”

“We’re really going to keep ratcheting up the pressure,” Smith went on. “I’ve been asking to go and visit with him in prison to ascertain for myself and anyone who goes with me, his welfare, his whereabouts … and the biggest hope would be to walk out with him as a released prisoner.” 

What are other groups saying?

The Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF), also joined in the push for the Nicaraguan dictatorship to release Álvarez this week.

Kristina Hjelkrem, an ADF Latin America legal counsel, said in a Thursday statement that the group was “grateful to the subcommittee for raising the critical issue of religious persecution in Nicaragua and for hosting this vital congressional hearing.”

“Bishop Álvarez has been harassed and unjustly imprisoned by the Nicaraguan government for simply fulfilling his duties as a Catholic bishop,” Hjelkrem went on. “No person should be punished or prosecuted for expressing their faith.”

Deborah Ullmer, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean for the National Democratic Institute, also testified at the hearing. She said Álvarez “has become the courageous face of resistance in Nicaragua.”

Ullmer said Álvarez’s imprisonment violates several international human rights laws and agreements and suggested several actions the U.S. could take to pressure the regime to release the bishop.

Among her suggestions, she said the U.S. should impose stricter sanctions on Nicaraguan officials and Nicaragua’s central bank. She also said that the U.S. should work more closely with friendly Latin American countries “to advance high-level regional dialogue toward a democratic transition.”

“The Ortega-Murillo regime continues to dismantle democratic institutions, erase the rule of law and fundamental freedoms, and consolidate its dictatorial power,” Ullmer said. “It is essential to call out the ongoing crimes against humanity and violations of fundamental human rights endured by Nicaraguans, including Bishop Álvarez.”

Denver archbishop: Why I wrote a pastoral letter on marijuana

Marijuana leaves. / Credit: Armando Olivo Martín del Campo CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

ACI Prensa Staff, Dec 1, 2023 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

In a Nov. 28  interview with “What We Need Now,” the Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver explained what motivated him to write a pastoral letter on the dangers of using recreational marijuana and drugs and proposed some principles to deal with this reality, which he himself has witnessed since the legalization of cannabis in Colorado in 2012.

In the interview posted on Substack, the archbishop warned that the legalization and cultural acceptance of drugs has been “devastating” for society and explained why he decided to write his Nov. 10 pastoral letter, “That They May Have Life.”

“I felt a need to speak about the devastating effects witnessed firsthand, especially since many states have followed Colorado’s lead. The legalization of marijuana and cultural acceptance of drug use has been disastrous to our society, and there are limited Catholic resources about it,” Aquila said.

Regarding the current perspective that there are “recreational” drugs, as some maintain, the prelate pointed out: “Understanding that we are persons created for loving communion, we can judge that drugs are only an apparent good. They are bad for us since they hinder our ability to know and to love.”

“Drugs diminish our self-possession by harming the very faculties that make us human: They inhibit our use of reason, weaken our will’s orientation toward the good, and train our emotions to expect quick relief from artificial pleasure,” he warned.

Two principles

The archbishop of Denver noted that the Scriptures teach that “we are made in the image of God. And, as if this isn’t enough, we are invited to eternal union with him.”

“We can sum up the two foundational principles that explain why recreational drugs are immoral,” the prelate continued.

“1) Since the human person is of such value, it is wrong to use any substance that is harmful to human life. 2) Anything that diminishes man’s use of reason and will assails his dignity as a human person and is therefore harmful.”

Aquila also noted that “drugs assault the human person by negatively affecting him on physical, intellectual, psychological, social, and moral levels.”

Regarding the belief that marijuana is not harmful, the archbishop commented that in Colorado they have “witnessed a spike in addiction, with marijuana use disorder more than doubling in a span of less than 20 years. This is not surprising since Coloradans’ cannabis use has increased dramatically since legalization [in 2012].”

“More people using marijuana inevitably means more addiction,” he pointed out.

A response from a faith perspective

The archbishop of Denver said that at the “heart of drug use” two themes are usually found: “a crisis of values and a privation of relational connection that make the person open or susceptible to drug use.”

“While drugs offer fleeting pleasure,” Aquila explained, “Jesus wants to give us a fullness of love, joy, and peace that remains constant through life’s peaks and valleys. Rather than reaching for chemicals when we are feeling weary and burdened, Jesus invites us to turn to him, who promises rest and abundance.”

To conclude, he noted that “the most important thing we can do as Christians in response to a drug culture is to proclaim the Gospel.”

“It is through the love, mercy, meaning, and hope found in Christ that people will be deterred from drug use or inspired to break free of its influence,” Aquila stressed.

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

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a swing vote on abortion, dies   

President Ronald Reagan and his Supreme Court justice nominee Sandra Day O'Connor on July 15, 1981. / Public Domain

CNA Newsroom, Dec 1, 2023 / 17:40 pm (CNA).

Former U.S. Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a swing vote who became a key part of the court’s longtime abortion-supporting majority, died Friday. She was 93 and had been suffering from dementia for several years. 

Born Sandra Day in El Paso, Texas, in 1930, she grew up on a ranch in eastern Arizona. She was baptized an Episcopalian and later attended Episcopal churches as an adult. 

She went to Stanford and Stanford Law School at a time when few women did either. As an undergraduate, she dated future Supreme Court colleague William Rehnquist and turned down an offer of marriage from him. Instead, she married another fellow law school student, John O’Connor. 

As a female lawyer during the 1950s, she initially had trouble getting work but eventually joined a prosecutor’s office. She took five years off from practicing law after the birth of the second of her three children to tend to them. 

In 1965 she joined the office of the Arizona attorney general, a Republican, after campaigning the year before for the Republican nominee for president, Barry Goldwater, a fellow Arizonan. In 1969 the governor appointed her to fill a vacancy in the Arizona Senate, where she rose to become majority leader. She left in 1974 for a state judgeship, eventually rising to the Arizona Court of Appeals, which is the second-highest court in the state. 

O’Connor and abortion 

President Ronald Reagan nominated O’Connor to the U.S. Supreme Court in July 1981, fulfilling a campaign promise to name the first woman to the nation’s highest court. 

Reagan was unaware at the time of her selection that O’Connor as a Republican state senator in the 1970s supported abortion, according to conservative columnist Robert Novak’s 2007 autobiography “The Prince of Darkness.” When social conservatives erupted over the announcement, Reagan asked his attorney general to check on complaints about her. 

The task went to a young aide, who called O’Connor and reported in a memo that she said she could not recall how she had voted on a 1970 bill seeking to legalize abortion in the state — even though she was a co-sponsor of it. (Before the Internet, it wasn’t easy to check such information.) 

She also told the aide — Kenneth Starr, who later served as independent counsel investigating President Bill Clinton during the 1990s — that she “had never had any disputes or controversies” with the leader of the pro-life movement in Arizona, according to a memo Starr wrote. But the pro-life leader told Novak a couple of days later that she had frequently clashed with O’Connor, calling her “one of the most powerful pro-abortionists in the Senate.” 

Even so, O’Connor’s nomination went forward and sailed through the U.S. Senate. 

Once she joined the court, O’Connor’s position on abortion wasn’t immediately clear. In 1986, she voted with the minority in a 5-4 ruling that struck down a Pennsylvania law that required abortion providers to inform a woman seeking an abortion about fetal development and about “detrimental physical and psychological effects” and “particular medical risks” of an abortion. 

O’Connor in her dissent called the court’s abortion decisions to that time “a major distortion in the Court’s constitutional jurisprudence” and said the majority’s decision in the case before it, Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “makes it painfully clear that no legal rule or doctrine is safe from ad hoc nullification by this Court when an occasion for its application arises in a case involving state regulation of abortion.” 

But her most memorable abortion vote came in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which she joined the 5-4 majority in upholding what the court called the “essential holding” of Roe v. Wade that abortion is a “fundamental right” before a fetus is capable of living outside the womb. 

In Casey, O’Connor co-wrote the plurality opinion that continued a federal right to abortion for another 30 years. 

‘Loosen up, Sandy’

O’Connor was a key player in other landmark decisions as well. 

In 1986, she joined the majority in the 5-4 decision Bowers v. Hardwick, which upheld as constitutional a state statute in Georgia that criminalized sodomy. (The court overturned that ruling in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas; O’Connor joined the 6-3 majority, though she made a distinction between the two cases because Texas’ law banned sodomy only between two members of the same sex, while Georgia’s statute banned sodomy generally.) 

In 2003, O’Connor wrote the majority opinion in the 5-4 decision Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld affirmative action based on race in public university admissions. (The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Grutter decision in June 2023 in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard.) 

In 2005, she sided with the 5-4 majority in McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union that found that displays of the Ten Commandments at two state courthouses in Kentucky violated the Constitution. 

She is perhaps better remembered, though, for what happened during a social occasion several years after she joined the court. 

In 1985, O’Connor went to a black-tie event in Washington where she was seated near John Riggins, a Washington Redskins star running back, who had drunk “a few beers” and two double scotches before knocking over and spilling four bottles of wine on the table. 

O’Connor had previously said she had to leave early and was in the process of doing so when Riggins, trying to get her to stay, piped up: “Loosen up, Sandy baby.” 

He then passed out. 

O’Connor got a kick out of it and got big laughs when she made a reference to it at the beginning of a speech a few days later. 


O’Connor retired from the court in January 2006 at age 75 to spend time with her husband, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease around the early 1990s. (He died in 2009.) 

O’Connor was replaced by Samuel Alito, who has since become one of the most conservative justices and who wrote the majority decision in Jackson Women’s Health Center v. Dobbs, which last year overturned Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. 

2023 Ratzinger Prize reflects on theological legacy of late Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Francis meets with Father Federico Lombardi, president of the Ratzinger Foundation and Vatican spokesman during Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate (left), and the 2023 Ratzinger Prize recipients Father Pablo Blanco Sarto (center) and Professor Francesc Torralba (right) at the Vatican on Nov. 30, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Dec 1, 2023 / 15:20 pm (CNA).

The Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation awarded its annual Ratzinger Prize this week to two Spaniards, the theologian Father Pablo Blanco Sarto and the philosopher Professor Francesc Torralba, the first time the award was held since the passing of the late pontiff last December.

The award ceremony took place in the frescoed state hall of the Sala Regia of the Apostolic Palace on the evening of Nov. 30 and discussed the legacy of Pope Benedict’s rich theological works, focusing specifically on the theme of dialogue between faith and reason, one of the major concerns of his pontificate.

“The legacy of Pope Benedict XVI is alive and will continue to bear important fruits to the path of the Church,” Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said at the event.

Father Federico Lombardi, president of the Ratzinger Foundation and Vatican spokesman during Benedict’s pontificate, opened the event reflecting on Benedict’s deep contribution to the understating of the relationship between faith and reason.

“Joseph Ratzinger never wanted to build his own system of thought or establish his own school but taught us to seek the truth with the power of reason and the light of faith, always keeping reason ‘open,’ in dialogue between people, disciplines, and the great religious traditions,” Lombardi said.

The pope “was well aware of the possibilities and risks of humanity’s journey, as well as of the Church’s mission for its salvation. He leads us to enter with humility and courage at the deepest level to find and rediscover points of reference and solid and inalienable communities,” Lombardi continued.

Ratzinger Prize recipient Father Pablo Blanco Sarto speaks at the award ceremony on Nov. 30, 2023, in the state hall of the Sala Regia of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. Credit: Elizabeth Alva/EWTN
Ratzinger Prize recipient Father Pablo Blanco Sarto speaks at the award ceremony on Nov. 30, 2023, in the state hall of the Sala Regia of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. Credit: Elizabeth Alva/EWTN

The Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation, established in 2007, aims at “the promotion of theology in the spirit of Joseph Ratzinger.” There have been a total of 28 recipients of the award — usually two recipients per year — since it was first bestowed in 2011.

The recipients this week were introduced by Cardinals Gianfranco Ravasi and Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, with each reflecting on their work on Benedict’s theology.

“Ratzinger defined Christianity as the religion of the words but also the religion of ‘agape’ and, therefore, both are key,” Torralba said in an interview with EWTN. “We have to introduce rationality in our public life because it is very marked by emotionalism and sometimes by fanaticism and fundamentalism, but on the other hand, the world needs agape and agape is donation, it is gratuitous love.”

The morning of the award ceremony, the recipients celebrated Mass in the Vatican Grotto, where they then prayed before the tombs of St. Peter and of Pope Benedict XVI. They were then received by Pope Francis in a private audience.

The award ceremony of the Ratzinger Prize was preceded by a conference held at the Pontifical Gregorian University on Nov. 29 titled “Benedict XVI’s Legacy: Unfinished Debates on Faith, Culture, and Politics,” which featured a range of speakers and scholars, both from Italy and the United States.

The event was co-sponsored by the foundation as well as the University of Notre Dame’s De Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture.

Ratzinger Prize recipient Professor Francesc Torralba speaks at the award ceremony on Nov. 30, 2023, in the state hall of the Sala Regia of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. Credit: Elizabeth Alva/EWTN
Ratzinger Prize recipient Professor Francesc Torralba speaks at the award ceremony on Nov. 30, 2023, in the state hall of the Sala Regia of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. Credit: Elizabeth Alva/EWTN

For Father Roberto Regoli, professor of history at the Pontifical Gregorian University, the conference was an opportunity to evaluate the legacy of the late pope on both the present moment and for posterity, with Regoli describing Benedict’s pontificate as one not of “restoration” but rather characterized by ecclesial reforms and “consolidation” and of “dialogue.”

“One of the characteristic elements of Benedict XVI’s pontificate was that of an intellectual opening and a meeting with exponents of other cultural and religious traditions,” Regoli said.

“This attitude allowed for various cultural repositioning by those with whom he established a dialogue,” he said. “This dialogue responded to a frequent preoccupation that ‘a civilization cannot survive without a great religion to sustain and animate it.’ But the pope’s motivation for dialogue is much more profound, because it is primarily a pastoral concern.”

“Benedict XVI’s legacy is thus simple and full of faith; it is the vision of a beautiful Church that is the work of God and not of man,” Regoli continued.

“His heritage is this radical faith in God. It is an aspect of no little importance in a tired and self-destructive era which exalts man but, in the end, it continuously humiliates him. Benedict XVI chose both faith in God and in man. He chose the harmony between faith and reason. This is his heritage.”

Hard-living Irish musician Shane MacGowan received last rites before he died, family says 

Shane MacGowan on June 16, 2016, in London, England / Credit: Dave Benett/Getty Images

CNA Newsroom, Dec 1, 2023 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

Irish songwriter and former Pogues lead singer Shane MacGowan received last rites before he died Thursday, his family said. 

“Prayers and the last rites were read during his passing,” the family said in a written statement Nov. 30. 

MacGowan, 65, is best known as the co-author of the 1987 Christmas mega-hit “Fairytale of New York,” which still enters the charts each December, more than 35 years after its initial release. 

He was also the frontman and founder of the Pogues, a London band that fused Irish traditional music and punk rock, along with occasional forays into other genres. 

MacGowan was raised a Catholic and often used Catholic imagery in his songs, though he did not practice the faith for most of his adult life, which included decades of heavy drug and alcohol use and frequent infidelity. 

Yet he told an interviewer that he often prayed to Jesus, Mary, St. Martin, St. Francis, and his dead relatives who he thought were in heaven. 

“His anxiety around loss and death, including almost certainly his own, was presented as one of the reasons behind his strong Irish Catholic faith,” wrote his biographer, Richard Balls, in his 2021 book “A Furious Devotion: The Life of Shane MacGowan.” 

Irish Catholic identity 

Born and raised in England to Irish parents, as a boy Shane visited Ireland often, staying with his extended family in a stone cottage in County Tipperary for as long as six weeks at a time. The arrival of Shane and his parents and sister would cause a stir, and his aunts would get emotional to the point of crying. 

“When they came to leave, the tears would flow all over again and holy water would be sprinkled over them to keep them safe,” his biographer wrote. 

The Ireland side of the family was steeped in Catholicism. They had collies named Peter and Paul. As a lad, Shane used to walk to daily Mass with his aunt Nora as she prayed the rosary on the way. His aunt would also tune in at 6 p.m. every night to the broadcast of the Angelus on RTE, the national television network. 

MacGowan was fascinated by the Catholic Church. 

“I might have become a priest if I hadn’t been a singer,” MacGowan told his biographer. 

Drugs, alcohol, violence 

As a teenager, MacGowan got into drugs, particularly LSD, which affected his grip on reality and led him at 17 to a six-month stay at a psychiatric hospital. His loving but permissive parents did little to stop his drug use. 

For most of the rest of his life, MacGowan drank large amounts of whatever alcohol happened to be near and consumed large amounts of illicit substances, including heroin. His famously self-destructive behavior led the author of a humorous 2000 book about Irish culture to call it “Is Shane MacGowan Still Alive?”

Even while almost constantly inebriated, he pumped out songs, which drew praise from fans and well-known musicians for their sound, imagery, detail, candor, comedy, and connection. 

In his lyrics he often drew on his difficult life, which included illness, inebriation, street beatings, and, as a young man, dabbling in male prostitution. 

His friends found him good company but also maddening, with sudden mood swings. 

“I can be tender. But there’s a lot of psychotic hatred coming out of me as well,” he told an interviewer. 


MacGowan’s faith wasn’t doctrinaire. He explored Eastern religions and philosophies, and he called himself a “free-thinking Catholic.” 

But he felt a strong connection to the Church. 

“The Sacred Heart of Jesus and a statue of Mary holding Jesus have pride of place on the mantelpiece of his flat in Dublin to this day and he wears a crucifix around his neck,” his biographer wrote in 2021. 

MacGowan’s songs explored degradation and violence, but often with humor and a hint of redemption. 

“Lorca’s Novena,” for instance, on the 1990 Pogues album “Hell’s Ditch,” includes a gruesome murder but also a suggestion of resurrection, linked to women in a nearby chapel praying “Mother of all our joys / Mother of all our sorrows / Intercede with him tonight / For all of our tomorrows.” 

MacGowan had been in declining health for years. A 2015 fall fractured his pelvis and left him wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. The time in the hospital helped him stop using heroin, but he continued to drink alcohol. 

In 2018 he married his longtime on-again/off-again girlfriend Victoria Mary Clarke, who took care of him in his declining years. 

He spent most of the last four months of his life in a hospital. 

Clarke, MacGowan’s younger sister Siobhan, and their father (in his 90s) were at MacGowan’s side when he died at a hospital in Dublin, according to the family’s written statement. 

The term “last rites” can include confession and Eucharist, but it is more frequently used to describe the final of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, which the Church used to call “extreme unction” but now refers to as “anointing of the sick.” A priest anoints the forehead and hands of a “seriously ill” person with blessed oil and prays for grace and mercy for the person, adding: “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.” 

The sacrament is meant to offer “strengthening, peace, and courage” to the sick person, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which quotes the Council of Trent as saying: “If he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” 

U.S. bishops urge public to petition Biden administration over rule denying funds to pregnancy centers

Credit: Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock / null

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 1, 2023 / 13:45 pm (CNA).

The U.S. bishops are urging the public to petition the Biden administration to revise a proposal that the bishops say would “unfairly cut off” federal assistance money from going to pregnancy resource centers. 

In a statement published Thursday, the bishops called on Catholics to join them in urging the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to refrain from restricting Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding available to pregnancy centers.

In a rule change posted to the federal register in October, the Biden administration argued that some states have been using TANF funds “to pay for activities with, at best, tenuous connections to any TANF purpose.”

One of TANF’s purposes, the government said, is to “prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies.”

Organizations such as “crisis pregnancy centers” or “pregnancy resource centers” sometimes receive funding for that purpose, the government said. But if those initiatives only offer pregnancy counseling to women “after they become pregnant,” then TANF funds for that outreach “likely do not meet” the federal government’s standards.

The bishops’ statement this week said that the proposal “would strengthen TANF in multiple ways, making sure it gets to the people who need it most.” However, “this same proposal could also unfairly cut off TANF funds from pregnancy help centers.”

The prelates, through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of the General Counsel, argued in a petition to HHS that pregnancy centers “may provide information or counseling about chastity or natural family planning, to help prevent future out-of-wedlock pregnancies.”

The bishops asked the faithful to join them “in telling HHS to strengthen TANF without taking away support from the good work of pregnancy help centers.”

Public comments may be submitted to the HHS here. Comments must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 1.

A study published in 2021 by the pro-abortion group the Women’s Law Project said that “at least” 10 states send some TANF funding to pregnancy help centers.

In a statement last month, Arlington Bishop Michael Burbidge — the chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities — called the work of pregnancy help centers a “lifesaving ministry” standing in “radical solidarity” with pregnant and parenting mothers and families.

Burbidge said that “when women in challenging circumstances do not know where else to turn, the loving staff and volunteers at pregnancy help centers embrace them with empathy and service.”

Pregnancy help centers “provide a spectrum of care, resources, and material goods to support new mothers,” Burbidge said, including diapers and layettes, babysitting and career services, referrals for housing and food assistance, and personal mentorship and support, as well as medical services, including ultrasounds and prenatal and postnatal care.

“Often, there is nowhere else a mother in need can go for this kind of comprehensive assistance,” the bishop said. 

“The practical, loving service that pregnancy help centers offer extends far beyond the birth of the child, with relationships between mothers and help centers continuing for years.”

Other groups, such as the pro-life organization Human Coalition, have also condemned the Biden administration’s rule change.

Chelsey Youman, national director of Public Policy at Human Coalition, said in a Friday statement that pregnancy centers create a “giant safety net of care and assistance for women in need” and that the Biden administration’s policy change is “cutting this lifeline in the name of abortion.”

Youman also said that “stripping funding from these centers would hurt vulnerable women” and “undermine healthy families.”

“By attempting to remove pregnancy centers from funding, this discriminatory proposal callously blocks pregnant women in need from resources when they need it most,” Youman claimed. “The administration completely disregards the fact that these centers meet program goals by providing aid to needy families, promoting job preparation and marriage, and encouraging two-parent families.”

America’s Catholics weigh in on Pope Francis’ climate change priorities

null / L'Osservatore Romano.

CNA Staff, Dec 1, 2023 / 12:41 pm (CNA).

A defining theme of Pope Francis’ papacy has been his urging of humanity to better care for the natural environment, which he has done most prominently in his landmark 2015 encyclical Laudato Si and numerous subsequent writings and speeches.

The pope’s emphasis on this topic — especially his foray into climate science via his recent encyclical Laudate Deum — has variously drawn both praise and consternation from Catholics in the United States, about half of whom do not share Pope Francis’ views on climate change, according to surveys.

In Laudate Deum, which was released in October as a continuation to Laudato Si’, Francis wrote that the effects of climate change “are here and increasingly evident,” warning of “immensely grave consequences for everyone” if drastic efforts are not made to reduce emissions. In the face of this, the Holy Father criticized those who “have chosen to deride [the] facts” about climate science, stating bluntly that it is “no longer possible to doubt the human — ‘anthropic’ — origin of climate change.”

The pope in the encyclical laid out his belief that there must be a “necessary transition towards clean energy sources, such as wind and solar energy, and the abandonment of fossil fuels.” This follows a call from Pope Francis in 2021 to the global community calling for the world to “achieve net zero carbon emissions as soon as possible.”

He further lamented what he called “certain dismissive and scarcely reasonable opinions [on climate change] that I encounter, even within the Catholic Church.”

In light of the new encyclical — which extensively cites the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — Pope Francis was invited to speak at this week’s United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP28. Though the 86-year-old pope was forced to cancel his trip due to health issues, the Vatican has indicated that he aims to participate in COP28 this weekend in some fashion. It announced today that Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin will represent the pope at the conference. 

While various Catholic groups have welcomed the pope’s latest encyclical, some Catholics have reacted with persistent doubts, questioning whether the pope’s policy prescriptions would actually produce the desired effects. 

How do Americans feel about climate change?

According to a major survey conducted by Yale University, 72% of Americans believed in 2021 — the latest available data year — that “global warming is happening,” and 57% believe that global warming is caused by human activity. 

More recent polling from the Pew Research Center, conducted in June, similarly suggests that two-thirds of U.S. adults overall say the country should prioritize developing renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, over the expansion of the production of oil, coal, and natural gas. That same survey found that just 3 in 10 adults (31%) say the U.S. should completely phase out oil, coal, and natural gas. The Yale study found that 77% of U.S. adults support at least the funding of research into renewable energy sources.

Broken down by party affiliation, Pew found that a large majority of Democratic and Democratic-leaning independents — 90% — favor alternative energy sources, while just under half, 42%, of Republicans and Republican-leaning adults think the same. Within the Republican cohort, however, 67% of Republicans under age 30 prioritize the development of alternative energy sources, compared with the 75% of Republicans ages 65 and older who prioritize the expansion of oil, coal, and natural gas.

In terms of the expansion of alternative energy sources, two-thirds of Americans think the federal government should encourage domestic production of wind and solar power, Pew reported. Just 7% say the government should discourage this, while 26% think it should neither encourage nor discourage it.

How do America’s Catholics feel about climate change?

Surveys suggest that Catholics in the United States are slightly more likely than the U.S. population as a whole to be skeptical of climate change, despite the pope’s emphatic words in 2015 and since. 

separate Pew study suggests that 44% of U.S. Catholics say the Earth is warming mostly due to human activity, a view in line with Pope Francis’ stance. About 3 in 10 (29%) said the Earth is warming mostly due to natural patterns, while 13% said they believe there is no solid evidence the planet is getting warmer.

According to the same study, 71% of Hispanic Catholics see climate change as an extremely or very serious problem, compared with 49% of white, non-Hispanic Catholics. (There were not enough Black or Asian Catholics in the 2022 survey to analyze separately, Pew said.)

One 2015 study from Yale did suggest that soon after Laudato Si’ was released, U.S. Catholics were overall more likely to believe in climate change than before. That same study found no change, however, in the number of Americans overall who believe human activity is causing global warming. 

Pope Francis’ climate priorities

Beyond his groundbreaking writings, Pope Francis has taken many actions during his pontificate to make his own — admittedly small — country, Vatican City, more sustainable, including the recent announcement of a large order of electric vehicles, construction of its own network of charging stations, a reforestation program, and the continued importation of energy coming exclusively from renewable sources. 

Francis has often lamented what he sees as a tepid response from developed countries in implementing measures to curb climate change. In Laudate Deum, he urged that new multinational agreements on climate change — speaking in this case specifically about the COP28 conference — be “drastic, intense, and count on the commitment of all,” stating that “a broad change in the irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model would have a significant long-term impact.” 

The pope lamented what he sees as the fact that when new projects related to green energy are proposed, the potential for economic growth, employment, and human promotion are thought of first rather than moral considerations such as the effects on the world’s poorest. 

“It is often heard also that efforts to mitigate climate change by reducing the use of fossil fuels and developing cleaner energy sources will lead to a reduction in the number of jobs,” the pope noted.

“What is happening is that millions of people are losing their jobs due to different effects of climate change: rising sea levels, droughts, and other phenomena affecting the planet have left many people adrift. Conversely, the transition to renewable forms of energy, properly managed, as well as efforts to adapt to the damage caused by climate change, are capable of generating countless jobs in different sectors.”

‘Leave God’s creation better than we found it’

Dr. Kevin Roberts, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation think tank, told CNA that he has noticed a theme of frustration and confusion among many Catholics regarding the Holy Father’s emphasis on climate change. 

A self-described outdoorsman and former president of Wyoming Catholic College, Roberts spoke highly to CNA of certain aspects of Laudato Si’, particularly the pope’s insights into what he called “human ecology,” which refers to the acceptance of each person’s human body as a vital part of “accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home.”

Dr. Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation. Courtesy of Heritage Foundation.
Dr. Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation. Courtesy of Heritage Foundation.

“I like to think [Pope Francis] personally wrote that, because I could see him saying that,” Roberts said of the passage, which appears in paragraph 155 of the encyclical. Roberts said he even makes a point to meditate on that “beautiful and moving” passage during a retreat that he does annually. 

That portion of Laudato Si’ notwithstanding, Roberts said he strongly believes that it detracts from other important issues, such as direct ministry to the poor, when Pope Francis elevates care for God’s natural creation as “seemingly more important than other issues to us as Catholics.” He also said he disagrees with Pope Francis’ policy prescriptions, such as a complete phasing out of fossil fuels, contained in Laudate Deum

“We of course want to pray for him. We’re open to the teaching that he is providing. But we also have to remember as Catholics that sometimes popes are wrong. And on this issue, it is a prudential matter. It is not a matter of morality, particularly when he’s getting into the scientific policy recommendations,” Roberts said. 

Roberts said the Heritage Foundation’s research and advocacy has focused not on high-level, multinational agreements and conferences to tackle the issues posed by climate change but rather on smaller-scale, more community-based efforts. He said this policy position is, in part, due to the historical deference such multinational conglomerates of nations have given to China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases overall. 

He said agreements within the U.S. itself, with businesses and all levels of government working together, have produced the best results so far when it comes to improving the environment. He also pointed to examples of constructive action that don’t involve billions of dollars, such as families making the choice to spend more time outdoors or engaging in local activities that contribute to environmental conservation and community life, such as anti-litter campaigns and community gardening. The overarching goal, he said, should be to “leave God’s creation better than we found it.”

Roberts — who said he personally believes humans likely have “very little effect” on the climate — said he was discouraged to read other portions of Laudato Si’, as well as Laudate Deum, that to him read as though they had come “straight out of the U.N.” Despite his criticisms, Roberts urged his fellow Catholics to continue to pray for the Holy Father and to listen to the pope’s moral insights. 

“I just think that the proposed solutions are actually more anti-human and worse than the purported effects of climate change,” he added.  

‘A far more complex issue’

Greg Sindelar, a Catholic who serves as CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a conservative think tank that studies the energy industry, similarly expressed concerns to CNA about the potential impact of certain climate change mitigation policies on human flourishing. 

Like Roberts, Sindelar spoke highly of certain aspects of the pope’s message while expressing reservations about some of the U.N.-esque solutions proposed in Laudate Deum

“I think the pope is right about our duty as Catholics to be stewards and to care for the environment. But I think what we have to understand — what we have to balance this with — is that it cannot come at the expense of depriving people of affordable and reliable energy,” Sindelar said in an interview with CNA. 

“There’s ways to be environmentally friendly without sacrificing the access that we all need to reliable and affordable energy.”

Greg Sindelar is CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a think tank in America's leading energy-producing state. Courtesy of Texas Public Policy Foundation
Greg Sindelar is CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a think tank in America's leading energy-producing state. Courtesy of Texas Public Policy Foundation

Sindelar said TPPF primarily promotes cheap, reliable access to energy as a means of promoting human flourishing. The free-market-focused group is skeptical of top-down governmental intervention, both in the form of regulation and incentives or disincentives in certain areas of the energy sector.

When asked what he thinks his fellow Catholics largely think about the issue, Sindelar said many of the Catholics he hears from express the view that government policies and interventions rarely produce effective solutions and could potentially hinder access to energy for those in need.

“I think it’s a far more complex issue than just saying we need to cut emissions, and we need to transfer away from fossil fuels, and all these other things. What we need to do is figure out and ensure ways that we are providing affordable and reliable electricity to all citizens of the world,” he reiterated. 

“When the pope speaks, when the Vatican speaks, it carries a lot of weight with Catholics around the world, [and] not just with Catholics … and I totally agree with him that we need to be thinking about the most marginalized and the poorest amongst us,” Sindelar continued. 

“[But] by going down these policy prescription paths that he’s recommending, we’re actually going to reduce their ability to have access to that,” he asserted. 

Sindelar, while disagreeing with Pope Francis’ call for an “abandonment of fossil fuels,” said he appreciates the fact that Pope Francis has spoken out about the issue of care for creation and has initiated so much public discussion.

“I think there is room for differing views and opinions on the right ways to do that,” he said.

Effective mitigation efforts 

Susan Varlamoff, a retired biologist and parishioner at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in the Atlanta area, is among those Catholics who are committed to Pope Francis’ call to care for creation and to mitigate the effects of climate change. To that end, Varlamoff in 2016 created a peer-reviewed action plan for the Archdiocese of Atlanta to help Catholics put the principles contained in Laudato Si’ into action, mainly through smaller, more personal actions that people can take to reduce their energy usage. 

Retired biologist Susan Varlamoff. Photo courtesy of Susan Varlamoff
Retired biologist Susan Varlamoff. Photo courtesy of Susan Varlamoff

The Atlanta Archdiocese’s efforts have since garnered recognition and praise, Varlamoff said, with at least 35 archdioceses now involved in an inter-diocesan network formed to exchange sustainability ideas based on the latest version of the plan from Atlanta. 

“It’s fascinating to see what everybody is doing, and it’s basically based on their talents and imaginations,” Varlamoff said, noting that a large number of young people have gotten involved with their efforts. 

As a scientist, Varlamoff told CNA it is clear to her that Pope Francis knows what he’s talking about when he lays out the dangers posed by inaction in the face of climate change. 

“He understands the science, and he’s deeply concerned … he’s got remarkable influence as a moral leader,” she said. 

“Part of what our religion asks us to do is to care for one another. We have to care for creation if we’re going to care for one another, because the earth is our natural resource system, our life support, and we cannot care for one another if we don’t have that life support.”

Responding to criticisms about the financial costs associated with certain green initiatives, Varlamoff noted that small-scale sustainable actions can actually save money. She offered the example of parishes in the Atlanta area that have drastically reduced their electric bills by installing solar panels. 

“[But,] it’s not just about saving money. It’s also about reducing fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions, and protecting the natural resources for future generations,” she said. 

Moreover, Varlamoff said, the moral imperative to improve the natural environment for future generations is worth the investment. “When [Catholics] give money, for example, for a social justice issue like Walking with Moms in Need or special needs, the payback is improving lives. We’re improving the environment here,” she emphasized.