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Michigan attorney general releases third report on alleged diocesan abuse

The Cathedral of St. Augustine in Kalamazoo, Michigan. / Credit: rossograph via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 13:38 pm (CNA).

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has released the third of seven reports on alleged sexual abuse in dioceses throughout the state. 

The report details “allegations of abuse that took place in the Diocese of Kalamazoo,” one of seven in the state of Michigan. Previous reports focused on the Dioceses of Gaylord and Marquette.

As with the prior reports, the Kalamazoo investigation details abuse allegations that stretch back decades. The review includes allegations of misconduct “by priests who are current or former clergy for the Diocese of Kalamazoo that occurred in the diocese from Jan. 1, 1950, to the present.”

The Diocese of Kalamazoo was previously part of the Diocese of Grand Rapids; it did not become its own named diocese until 1971.

The diocese “agreed to provide reports of abuse to the Department of Attorney General,” Nessel’s office said, describing diocesan participation in the investigation as “instrumental.”

Though the report contains “detailed descriptions of allegations of sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct,” Nessel’s office noted that “criminal prosecution of many of these allegations is barred by the statute of limitations or because the accused priest is deceased.” 

“For too long, sexual assault and abuse have been surrounded by silence,” the attorney general said in the release.

“This investigation aims to shatter that silence, empowering survivors to speak their truth. My department is committed to ensuring that every case of sexual abuse and assault is thoroughly reviewed and investigated in an effort to pursue justice for victims.”

Some of the allegations contained in the report date to the 1970s and 1980s, though others occurred as recently as 2017. The allegations include alleged abuse perpetrated against minors as well as inappropriate behavior and conduct toward adults. 

The attorney general’s office said its wide-reaching report of the seven Michigan dioceses has included to date a review of “more than 1.5 million [paper] documents” and more than 3.5 million digital documents; the office has also “issued criminal charges in 11 cases throughout the entire state and secured convictions in nine cases.”

Two of those 11 cases originated from allegations in the Kalamazoo Diocese, Nessel’s office noted, including the prosecution and imprisonment of Father Brian Stanley, who pleaded guilty to “immobilizing a teenage boy by wrapping him tightly in plastic wrap and using masking tape as additional binding to cover the child’s eyes and mouth” as part of a school punishment. 

Stanley was sentenced to 60 days in prison and five years of probation. 

In a statement on Wednesday following the release of the report, Kalamazoo Bishop Edward Lohse said past abuse in the diocese is “an historical reality.” 

“It is tragic, appalling, and inexcusable. No one knows this better than you who are the victim- survivors of that abuse,” the bishop said. 

“You were entrusted to our care, and we failed to protect you,” the bishop said. “There is no other way to put it. For that failure, I am deeply sorry.”

The prelate said the diocese “continue[s] to strengthen our efforts to protect children and youth and to educate people to recognize signs of behavior that put youth at risk.”

Lohse said the diocese would unveil updated youth protection policies later this summer.

Vatican reinstates Carmelite nun after bishop’s dismissal in Texas over affair with priest

The Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, Texas. / Credit: Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity Discalced Carmelite Nuns

CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 13:04 pm (CNA).

The Holy See has reinstated a Carmelite mother superior nearly a year after the bishop of Fort Worth, Texas, dismissed her after alleged inappropriate conduct with a priest. 

Bishop Michael Olson issued a decree on June 1, 2023, dismissing Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach from religious life following a nearly six-week-long investigation into the affair. 

Gerlach had previously served as the prioress of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington. Olson said at the time of the dismissal that the investigation had found her “guilty of having violated the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue and her vow of chastity with a priest from outside the Diocese of Fort Worth.”

In a statement on Wednesday, Olson said that the Vatican’s Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life “informed me that it overturned the decree dismissing Mother Teresa Agnes” from the Arlington monastery. 

“Although the dicastery acknowledged that Mother Teresa Agnes admitted to misconduct against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue,” Olson wrote, “they reasoned in part that her admission did not establish that the misconduct was ‘perpetrated by the exertion of force or violence.’” 

The Code of Canon Law (No. 1395) stipulates that a cleric who commits a sin against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue using “force, threats, or abuse of his authority” can suffer significant penalties, up to and including dismissal. 

“Additionally, the dicastery reasoned in part that her admission of misconduct did not establish abuse of her ecclesiastical authority of prioress, since she ‘possessed no real or even imagined authority’ over her accomplice, a priest of the Diocese of Raleigh, since he was not ‘subject to Mother Teresa Agnes’ authority as prioress,’” Olson said. 

In its decree, the dicastery also said that the mother superior was “not afforded the full 15 days allotted to respond fully to the canonical warnings” regarding her disobedience of the bishop.

Though it reversed the decision dismissing Gerlach from her role at the monastery, the dicastery “upheld the decisions I made last year” regarding the larger investigation, Olson said on Wednesday. 

“All decisions were made for the good of Mother Teresa Agnes and the Arlington Carmel and its sisters,” Olson said on Wednesday, “in accordance with my obligation under canon law and the rule and constitutions of the Arlington Carmelites as the local bishop.”

The dispute between the Carmelite nuns and Olson has grown increasingly bitter over the last year. During the investigation, Olson banned the monastery from celebrating daily Mass and blocked access to regular confessions.

At the time he accused the nuns of hindering his investigation into the monastery after they filed a lawsuit against him. The Vatican subsequently appointed the bishop as the pontifical commissary in the dispute, confirming his authority over the nuns in his diocese. 

In April of this year the Vatican declared that the Association of Christ the King in the United States would oversee the “government, discipline, studies, goods, rights, and privileges” of the Arlington monastery. That decision ended the bishop’s role as the pontifical commissary. 

Several days later the nuns filed a request for a restraining order against Olson and the parties tasked with overseeing the monastery. 

Before filing for the restraining order, the nuns had indicated their intent to defy the Vatican’s decree regarding oversight of the monastery, labeling it “a hostile takeover that we cannot in conscience accept.” The nuns subsequently dropped the request for the restraining order

On Wednesday Olson said the association’s oversight would “ensure that all the nuns within the monastery can be heard, rightly cared for, and nurtured in their religious life in full communion with the Catholic Church.” 

“As their bishop, I stand ready to pastorally assist the nuns of the Arlington Carmel,” he said.

Matthew Bobo, the lawyer representing the nuns, said that Gerlach would continue to stay at the monastery following the decision. 

“She never left the monastery as she was awaiting the recourse from the Vatican,” he told CNA, “which was obviously returned in her favor.”

Biden administration launches reporting tool for health law at center of abortion dispute

The Biden administration holds that the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) can be used to require emergency room doctors to perform abortions. / Credit: Wikimedia Commons

CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 11:17 am (CNA).

The Biden administration this week launched an online tool designed to allow patients to report violations of a federal health law, one that the White House says requires emergency room doctors to perform abortions in some cases. 

At the center of the dispute is the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA). That law, which was passed in 1986, dictates to Medicare-participating hospitals that “all patients receive an appropriate medical screening examination, stabilizing treatment, and transfer, if necessary,” regardless of ability to pay.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said in July 2022, shortly after the Supreme Court repealed Roe v. Wade, that under EMTALA an emergency room doctor “must provide” abortions to pregnant women if it is determined that abortion constitutes a “stabilizing treatment” under the federal law. 

A federal appeals court in January rejected the Biden administration’s argument that the law can be used to require emergency room doctors to perform abortions. The Biden administration has appealed the January ruling at the Supreme Court. 

The U.S. Supreme Court in April, meanwhile, heard arguments in a dispute in which the federal government also challenged an Idaho pro-life law on EMTALA grounds. 

On Tuesday, meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced an online tool “to allow individuals to more easily file an Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act complaint.”

Though the announcement does not mention abortion, the release said the tool is “part of the Biden-Harris administration’s comprehensive plan to educate the public and promote patient access to the emergency medical care to which they are entitled under federal law.”

“If an individual believes their EMTALA rights have been violated, it is important that they can easily file a complaint,” CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in the announcement. 

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, specifically praised the tool as “incredibly important” for women in the post-Roe v. Wade United States.

“The Biden administration has fought at every turn to ensure women receive emergency health care in all circumstances, but make no mistake, these protections and so many others could very well disappear under a second Trump administration,” Murray said. 

She argued that “Donald Trump and his allies will try to ban abortion care any way they can, putting millions of women’s lives at risk.”

Katie Glenn Daniel, the state policy director at Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told CNA that the new online tool “seems like a tool that should be used for good” because it makes it easier for people who are wronged “to file a complaint.”

EMTALA, Daniel noted, is a law “requiring that if you show up to a hospital with a medical emergency, that they can’t turn you away due to [an inability] to pay.” If a woman is pregnant, she added, “that protection extends to her and her unborn child.”

Although Daniel said EMTALA is “a life-affirming law,” she added that people need to view this announcement with skepticism, based on the Biden administration’s efforts to expand abortion through the president’s interpretation of the law.

“It’s so clear that they see EMTALA as a tool to try to back end abortion in pro-life states,” Daniel said. “It’s something we have to look at with a critical eye.”

If the Supreme Court were to rule in the administration’s favor, Daniel warned, “it basically opens the door to [Biden] rewriting all kinds of laws.”

The Supreme Court has not yet issued a ruling in the Idaho dispute. Last month, Joshua Turner, a lawyer representing Idaho before the high court, said the state law permits an abortion when the life of the mother is threatened, which is based on “the doctor’s good-faith medical judgment.”

In contrast, U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, who provided the legal arguments on behalf of the DOJ, said Idaho’s law conflicts with the text of EMTALA.

In view of the case, the Catholic Health Association has expressed its concern that “the highly polarized and politicized nature of abortion conflates necessary medical interventions with elective procedures.” 

The association went on to note that “Catholic hospitals do not offer elective abortions. However, in tragic situations when a mother suffers from an urgent, life-threatening condition during pregnancy, Catholic health clinicians do provide medically indicated treatment, even if it poses a threat to the unborn or may result in the unintended death of the child.”

Archaeological discovery sheds light on Christian pilgrimages to Holy Land 1,500 years ago

Israel Antiquities Authority excavation in Rahat (aerial view), May 2024. / Credit: Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority

Jerusalem, May 23, 2024 / 10:31 am (CNA).

Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority have discovered a Byzantine-period church in the northern Negev desert with wall art displaying ships. The surprise findings were announced in a press release issued by the authority on May 23.

The discovery was made in the south of the Bedouin city of Rahat, where the Israel Antiquities Authority has been conducting excavations for several years in the context of a city expansion project. The excavated site tells the story of settlement in the northern Negev desert at the end of the Byzantine period and in the beginning of the early Islamic period.

Israel Antiquities Authority excavation in Rahat (aerial view). Credit: Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority
Israel Antiquities Authority excavation in Rahat (aerial view). Credit: Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority

According to the excavators, “these intriguing drawings may have been left by Christian pilgrims arriving by ship to the Gaza port; their first inland stop was this Rahat church, continuing from here to other sites throughout the country.”

This site, in fact, lies only a half-day’s walk from the ancient port of Gaza, and the church is located along an ancient Roman road that led from the coast to Beer Sheva, the Negev’s main city.

Archaeologist Daria Eladjem points to a ship drawing in the excavation, May 2024. Credit: Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority
Archaeologist Daria Eladjem points to a ship drawing in the excavation, May 2024. Credit: Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority

According to the excavation directors — Dr. Oren Shmueli, Dr. Elena Kogan-Zehavi, and Dr. Noé David Michael on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, together with Professor Deborah Cvikel of the University of Haifa’s Department of Maritime Civilizations — it is reasonable to think that Christian pilgrims traveled this road to reach the Christian holy places in Jerusalem and Bethlehem and the monasteries in the Negev hills and in the Sinai.

“It is reasonable that their first stop after alighting from the ships in Gaza port was this very church revealed in our excavations south of Rahat,” the scholars said.

The ships drawn on the rock “are a greeting from Christian pilgrims arriving by ship to Gaza port,” the excavation directors said. “Pilgrims [who] visited the church left their personal mark in the form of ship drawings on its walls. The ship is indeed an old Christian symbol, but in this case, apparently, it is a true graphical depiction of real ships in which the pilgrims traveled to the Holy Land.”

The excavation of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Rahat, May 2024. Credit: Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority
The excavation of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Rahat, May 2024. Credit: Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority

Cvikel described one of the drawings: “One of the ships is depicted as a line drawing, but yet it may be discerned that its bow is slightly pointed and that there are oars on both sides of the vessel. This may be an aerial depiction of the ship, though it seems the artist was attempting a three-dimensional drawing. It may be that the lines below it portray the path beaten by the oars through the water.”

“Ships or crosses left by visiting Christian pilgrims as witness to their visit are also found in Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulcher Church,” she added, highlighting a common practice of the pilgrims at that time.

The reference is probably to the famous ship of the “Domine Ivimus,” the only image of a vessel found at the Holy Sepulcher (while the crosses are countless). It’s a charcoal drawing, dating between the second and fourth centuries, found on a stone used in a very ancient wall located in the foundation area of the basilica, in the part that is owned by the Armenians.

“This surprising and intriguing find of ship drawings in a northern Negev Byzantine-period church opens a window for us to the world of Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land 1,500 years ago,” Israel Antiquities Authority Director Eli Escusido said. “It also provides firsthand evidence about the ships they traveled in and the maritime world of that time.”

Carlo Acutis to be first millennial saint: Pope Francis recognizes miracle for canonization

Carlo Acutis. / carloacutis.com

Rome Newsroom, May 23, 2024 / 06:22 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has recognized a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Carlo Acutis, paving the way for him to become the first millennial saint.

The Italian computer-coding teenager who died of cancer in 2006 is known for his great devotion to the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

The recognition of the second miracle attributed to Acutis’ intercession makes it possible that Acutis could be canonized during the Catholic Church’s 2025 Jubilee Year.

In a decree on May 23, Pope Francis approved the miraculous healing of a 21-year-old girl from Costa Rica named Valeria Valverde who was near death after seriously injuring her head in a bicycle accident while studying in Florence in 2022.

After the girl underwent an emergency craniotomy to reduce intracranial pressure, the family was told that her situation was very critical and that she could die at any moment, according to the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints.

Six days after the accident, Valeria’s mother went on a pilgrimage to Assisi to pray for the healing of her daughter at the tomb of Blessed Carlo Acutis, leaving a written note.

On that same day, Valeria began to breathe on her own and on the following day she recovered the use of her upper limbs and partly recovered her speech.

Valeria was discharged from the intensive care unit 10 days after her mother’s pilgrimage and underwent further tests that showed that the hemorrhagic right temporal cortical contusion in her brain had completely disappeared.

Contrary to medical predictions, Valeria spent only one week in physical therapy and on Sept. 2, 2022, two months after her accident, she went on a pilgrimage to Carlo Acutis’ tomb in Assisi with her mother to celebrate her complete healing.

The first millennial saint

Born in 1991, Acutis is the first millennial to be beatified by the Catholic Church.

Shortly after his first Communion at the age of 7, Carlo told his mother: “To always be united to Jesus: This is my life plan.” To accomplish this, Carlo sought to attend daily Mass as often as possible at the parish church across the street from his elementary school in Milan.

Carlo called the Eucharist “my highway to heaven,” and he did all in his power to make this presence known. His witness inspired his own parents to return to practicing the Catholic faith and his Hindu au pair to convert and be baptized.

Carlo was a tech-savvy kid who loved computers, animals, and video games. His spiritual director has recalled that Carlo was convinced that the evidence of Eucharistic miracles could be persuasive in helping people to realize that Jesus is present at every Mass.

Over the course of two and a half years, Carlo worked with his family to put together an exhibition on Eucharistic miracles that premiered in 2005 during the Year of the Eucharist proclaimed by Pope John Paul II and has since gone on to be displayed at thousands of parishes on five continents.

Many of Carlo’s classmates, friends, and family members have testified how he brought them closer to God. Carlo was a very open person and was not shy to speak with his classmates and anyone he met about the things that he loved: the Mass, the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and heaven.

He is remembered for saying: “People who place themselves before the sun get a tan; people who place themselves before the Eucharist become saints.”

Carlo died at the age of 15 in 2006 shortly after being diagnosed with leukemia. Before he died, Carlo told his mother: “I offer all of my suffering to the Lord for the pope and for the Church in order not to go to purgatory but to go straight to heaven.”

Thousands of people visited Carlo’s tomb in Assisi following his beatification in the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi on Oct. 10, 2020.

Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi, who is currently in Rome for a meeting of the Italian bishops’ conference, welcomed the news that Acutis will be canonized.

“The Church in Assisi is in celebration,” he said. “I plan to arrive in Assisi this evening to thank the Lord in a Eucharistic celebration. But as of now I join the faithful who are in the shrine for a prayer of praise.”

“May the Lord continue his work through the witness of Blessed Carlo. May he obtain for us from the Lord the grace to love him as he loved him, especially in the holy Eucharist.”

Courtney Mares is the author of the book “Blessed Carlo Acutis: A Saint in Sneakers.”

Analysis shows number of nonreligious Americans stabilizing after prior surge

null / Credit: Thoranin Nokyoo/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 23, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

From the early 1990s through the 2010s, the number of Americans who identified as atheist, agnostic, and nonaffiliated saw a major surge — but that number appears to be stabilizing, according to an analysis published on May 20

Ryan Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University and a Baptist pastor, published an analysis of religious demographic data from the annual Cooperative Election Study, comparing 2023 numbers with previous years. He found that in the past five years — from 2019 through 2023 — the number of Americans who do not identify with a particular religion has been relatively stable.

In 2019, the analysis notes, the percentage of Americans who identified as nonreligious was at 35%. By 2023, the percentage only increased by one percentage point — to 36%. Over those five years, the percentage of nonreligious Americans fluctuated between 34% and 36% — without any major surge or reduction.

“It’s slowed down considerably,” Burge told CNA.

The stabilization shows a halt — or at least a pause — in previous trends, which showed a rise in Americans identifying themselves as atheist, agnostic, or no particular religion. The first major surge occurred in the 1990s, which continued into the 2010s.

The growth in this demographic slowed down between 2013 and 2018, increasing by only two percentage points in that time frame, from 30% to 32%. In 2019, it saw another surge to 35% but has remained relatively stable since then, only increasing by one more percentage point by 2023.

“We can definitely say there’s been a pause [in the growth of nonreligious Americans],” Joe Heschmeyer, a staff apologist at Catholic Answers, told CNA. “We can much less reliably predict what the future holds.”

Several factors contribute to the initial surge, along with the subsequent stabilization in the percentage of Americans who don’t identify with a particular religion, according to Burge.

Burge noted the fall of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall as two factors contributing to this surge in the United States, because there was “less stigma [around atheism and a lack of religiosity] when we weren’t in the Cold War anymore.” The rise of the internet in the 1990s, he also mentioned, made it easier for skeptics of religion to associate with like-minded people, even if they lived in relatively religious communities.

In this time frame, Burge said “the marginal Christian” began to stop identifying with a particular religion. The current numbers, he said, demonstrate what the United States “really looks like religiously.”

Heschmeyer said there used to be a “default Christianity” in which people who did not strongly believe in the faith still identified with it. But that identity “is basically gone now” and as society has secularized, “they’ve kind of drifted along with that,” he added.

Heschmeyer noted a few factors that led to the surge in Americans no longer identifying with a particular religion. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he said there was an “anxiety” with “people worried about militant Islam.” He noted the rise in new atheism, which claimed the “problem is religion itself” but said as this fear has dissipated, “atheists can’t tap into that the same way.”

Another element noted in Burge’s analysis is the religiosity of various age groups. Although older Americans are more likely to identify with a particular religion than younger Americans, the analysis points out that Generation Z’s religiosity — at this moment — is nearly identical to the religiosity of millennials. This suggests that the growth of nonreligious Americans appears to be stabilizing at a generational level as well. 

“This drastic generational change ended with millennials,” Burge said.

Looking to the future, Burge said the lack of religiosity will probably grow slightly, “largely due to … replacement” as older Americans die. However, he said he expects “less deconversion over the next 10 years.”

Heschmeyer said there is “a real spiritual battle that is ongoing.” While he said the future religious makeup of the country is hard to predict, he noted that there have always been predictions that organized religion would fade away but that “none of those dire predictions came true.”

“The Church is not going anywhere,” Heschmeyer said.

Our Lady of Guadalupe becomes point of contention in Mexican presidential debate

Mexico presidential candidates Claudia Sheinbaum (left) and Xóchitl Gálvez speak after the last presidential debate ahead the presidential election at Centro Cultural Tlatelolco on May 19, 2024, in Mexico City, Mexico. / Credit: Medios y Media/Getty Images

ACI Prensa Staff, May 22, 2024 / 17:03 pm (CNA).

Our Lady of Guadalupe took center stage during the presidential debate in Mexico this week after candidate Xóchitl Gálvez accused her opponent, Claudia Sheinbaum, of “political opportunism” for wearing a skirt with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, “even though you don’t believe in her or in God.”

Gálvez is running for president for the Fuerza y Corazón por México (Strength and Heart for Mexico) coalition — which brings together the political parties National Action Party (PAN), Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) — and Sheinbaum is running for the Sigamos Haciendo Historia (Let’s continue making history) alliance headed by Morena, the political party founded by the current president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Various surveys released in recent weeks in Mexico place Sheinbaum and Gálvez as the two leading candidates in the campaign for president. Trailing behind is Jorge Álvarez Máynez from the Movimiento Ciudadano (Citizens’ Movement). The election will take place on June 2.

During the third presidential debate on May 19, when the topic of “Migration and Foreign Policy” was addressed, Gálvez made reference to a previous meeting that both candidates had at the Vatican with Pope Francis in February.

“We both had a meeting with the pope; did you tell His Holiness how you wore the Virgin of Guadalupe on a skirt, even though you do not believe in her or in God? Did you tell him that you destroyed a church when you were the Tlalpan borough president? You have every right to not believe in God, it’s a personal issue. What you do not have the right to do is use the faith of Mexicans as political opportunism. That’s hypocrisy,” Gálvez charged.

In response, Sheinbaum said Gálvez’s accusations were “an absolute provocation” to which she would not respond.

According to the Infobae portal, on May 5, 2022, Sheinbaum, then head of the Mexico City government, attended a popular celebration held in the Venustiano Carranza sector of the Mexican capital. During the event, she received gifts, including a skirt with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which she later wore during the celebrations in the streets.

As for tearing down a church, this accusation refers to the partial demolition of the Lord of Labor Chapel (a local devotion to Christ as the protector of workers and the unemployed) in the Mexico City sector of Tlalpan on April 29, 2016. Sheinbaum was then president of that neighborhood’s borough when, in what the authorities described as a “mistake,” government workers demolished part of the Catholic church.

What impact does faith have on elections?

Father Hugo Valdemar, who for 15 years was the communications director for the Primatial Archdiocese of Mexico, at the time led by Cardinal Norberto Rivera, spoke with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, about the complex relationship between faith and politics in the context of the Mexican elections.

The priest explained that although “the element of faith is not a determining factor in the outcome of an election,” he noted that “it’s a sensitive issue, which can have negative effects on the candidates.”

“Public opinion does not approve of the Church intervening in politics and even less so in partisan politics, and the institutional Church is very careful not to cause division among the faithful due to partisan preferences,” Valdemar explained.

The priest attributed the “deep rupture between the people’s faith and political participation” to the religious persecution experienced in Mexico during the 1920s, which, in his words, turned the subject “into a real taboo.”

Conflicts between the Catholic Church and the Mexican state date back to the second half of the 19th century, but tensions reached a critical point with the promulgation of the 1917 Constitution, which was markedly anticlerical.

This constitution paved the way for the religious persecution that took place in Mexico in the 1920s under the regime of President Plutarco Elías Calles, which in turn sparked the Cristero War, with Catholics in various parts of the country taking up arms to defend themselves from government persecution. The conflict produced martyrs such as St. José Sánchez del Río, Jesuit Blessed Miguel Pro, Blessed Anacleto González, and St. Cristóbal Magallanes and Companions, among many more.

Although the Cristero War ended in mid-1929, the persecution lasted several more years. It would not be until 1992 that Mexico’s constitution was reformed and the Law on Religious Associations and Public Worship was promulgated, which recognizes the legal status of the Catholic Church in the country.

The Mexican constitution allows Mexican priests to vote but prohibits ministers of worship from “proselytizing for or against any candidate, party, or political association.”

Given this situation, Valdemar pointed out that “active and partisan” participation in politics is the responsibility of the laity and that it is through “formed laypeople” that “a positive influence can develop for politics that are more ethical and, why not, with Christian values.”

The Mexican priest said the country’s bishops “call for being aware of [the duty to] vote and participate. Likewise, the episcopate provides guidance from a moral perspective on values that are inalienable, such as the family, life from conception to its natural end, religious freedom, the right of parents to educate their children, and the common good, etc.”

“I think that in the dioceses that have organized workshops there can in fact be an influence on the vote,” he noted, although he lamented that “unfortunately there are few dioceses that have worked on” such initiatives.

Given the current political situation, Valdemar thinks that “the Church has failed miserably in the search for and formation of laypeople who will fight to make politics more decent, now so degraded and corrupted, and the formation of Catholic leaders who will make possible the integration of the social doctrine of the Church in public life.”

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

Archbishop Lori completes court-ordered ‘listening sessions’ with sexual abuse victims

"I was deeply moved by their very powerful testimony,” Archbishop William Lori said following a second bankruptcy court-ordered listening session with sexual abuse victims on May 20, 2024. / Credit: Matthew Balan

Baltimore, Md., May 22, 2024 / 16:21 pm (CNA).

Baltimore Archbishop William Lori has completed the second of two federal bankruptcy court-ordered “listening sessions” with alleged victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests and religious of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

The eight men and women who testified during the May 20 hearing gave disturbing accounts of their experiences, which allegedly occurred between the 1950s and the 1980s. The archdiocese had previously agreed to the sessions, the first of which took place with six claimants on April 8.

Last fall, Lori announced that the Archdiocese of Baltimore would declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a result of hundreds of abuse claims against it in recent decades.

Judge Michelle Harner emphasized that the hearing was a “listening session” and that the testimonies would not be evidentiary in nature. Lori and Auxiliary Bishop Adam Parker sat in the courtroom during the two-hour hearing.

Two of the eight claimants were students at St. Peter Claver Parish and School in West Baltimore. The first to testify was 12 when she said she started being stalked by a priest. She said she was ultimately raped by the cleric after numerous instances of lewd behavior. Her mother pulled her out of the parochial school. She said she later attempted suicide, which led to a monthslong stay in a state mental hospital.

Both former students of St. Peter Claver School disclosed that the abuse led to many years of alcohol and drug addiction. The second former student from that parish said she started doing drugs at age 13 after she was abused. Her mother worked for many years at the rectory. She said she was reluctant to hold her mother’s funeral at the parish due to the alleged sex crimes.

All eight detailed the lifelong impact of the abuse — ranging from not being able to trust others, post-traumatic stress disorder, and long periods of addiction. The second claimant, who attended Archbishop Curley High School in the 1980s, detailed how a religious brother introduced him to pornography during a visit to the school’s friary. The alleged victim had trouble forming relationships after his abuse, which he said ultimately led to a divorce in adulthood.

Later in the hearing, two other adult survivors disclosed that their siblings were also abused. The last claimant to testify said she and her twin sister were groomed by a priest at St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish in Baltimore, which adjoined their childhood home. The cleric befriended their family and would regularly visit the residence. Despite the abuse, the female claimant emphasized that she still believed in God: “I don’t blame God. I love God.”

Earlier in the hearing, the sixth claimant noted that his abuser had also established a close relationship with his family. He said the cleric abused him for five years and even followed him on assignment from his parish to his high school.

Following the hearing, Paul Zdunek, who chairs the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, a group of seven individuals who organized to represent all of the hundreds of claimants against the archdiocese, spoke with the press outside the courtroom. He stated that the archdiocese is “saying the right things. We hope they do the right things.”

Lori and Parker decided to not speak to the press gathered outside the courtroom. However, the archbishop did give an impromptu reaction to some journalists who approached him, saying: “I was deeply moved by their very powerful testimony.”

Later, the archbishop released a more detailed statement in which he said: “Hearing these stories renews our collective determination to guard against this evil and do all we can to protect those entrusted to our care.”

“The Church’s strong child-protection policies in place today cannot remove the life-altering pain victim-survivors have endured,” he noted. “While nothing could reverse the harm suffered, it is my sincere prayer that survivors can find healing through this process and solace in our joint commitment toward the safety of children."

Cuba’s government shuts down priest’s peaceful protest

Father Alberto Reyes has emerged as a critical voice against the extreme poverty and repressive actions of Cuba's police state. / Credit: Rachel Diez/EWTN Noticias

ACI Prensa Staff, May 22, 2024 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

Last week, Cuban priest Father Alberto Reyes started a peaceful protest over the situation in the country: ringing the bells of his parish as a sign of mourning every night there was no electricity. 

The priest of the Archdiocese of Camagüey had announced his plan on May 17 in his column called “He Estado Pensando” (“I Have Been Thinking”), which he posts periodically on Facebook to reflect on the reality of life in Cuba.

In his post, Reyes had encouraged Cubans to stop collaborating with the regime by taking actions such as not attending its political meetings or joining the rapid-response brigades — used to repress opponents — among other measures.

Instead, he invited his compatriots to “speak based on the truth, publicly and from what is evident, from the reality that cannot be denied, without lying, without justifying the unjustifiable. And pray, so that the freedom with which God created us makes headway in our land.”

“I, in fact, have thought of a way, and it’s this: From now on, every night that we do not have electricity, I will ring the church bells 30 times, with the slow ringing of funeral processions, with the ringing that announces death and mourning: the agonizing death of our freedom and our rights, the suffocation and collapse of our lives,” wrote Reyes, pastor of the parish in Esmeralda.

However, after two nights, the priest was ordered to stop his peaceful protest.

On Facebook Cuban layman Osvaldo Gallardo, who currently lives in the United States and maintains contact with Reyes, indicated that the archbishop of Camagüey, Wilfredo Pino, told the priest to stop his initiative.

“Behind this ban, without a doubt,” Gallardo said, “is Caridad Diego Bello and her Office of Religious Affairs at the service of the PCC [Cuban Communist Party].” 

Citing sources close to the Church, the Cuban media outlet 14ymedio indicated that Pino’s request was “clear” and “for the good of the Church and Father Alberto.”

According to the news outlet, “pressure from the PCC Religious Affairs Office, headed by Caridad Diego, are constant, but in the last three years, after the demonstrations of July 11, 2021, they have intensified, especially with the prohibition of processions and celebrations in numerous churches for fear of new protests.”

The Office of Religious Affairs of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba “manages the different aspects of religious life” in the country, as noted in the 2023 Religious Freedom Report of Aid to the Church in Need.

In this regard, in his Dec. 14, 2022, column, Reyes said that this office is “in charge of controlling the practice of the faith, of supervising each movement of the Church, and of insistently calling the bishops and superiors when what a priest or religious says or does bothers them, to try to make them the ones who ‘bring that priest or religious to heel’ while those really behind it are left with clean hands.”

In December 2020, ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, learned of one example of the pressure exerted by the PCC office when it ordered a parish in Camagüey not to hold Christmas parades, arguing that it was to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, despite the fact that other activities in the province had not been restricted.

Reyes in danger

Speaking with ACI Prensa, Gallardo asked Christians to pray for the personal safety of Reyes. “According to my opinion and judgment, he is in danger because it’s difficult to be a prophet in Cuba, … where he may or may not find support in the people around him, even within the Church itself,” he said.

Gallardo noted that for years the pastor of the Esmeralda parish has “raised his voice” in support of all the Cuban people “to denounce, to raise awareness about the reality” of the country. There is no religious freedom in Cuba, there is no freedom in Cuba, in any way,” he added.

“Cuba suffers and the Catholic Church in Cuba suffers the repression of a regime that ignores all the demands of the people or for freedom,” he stressed.

Gallardo thus reiterated his request for believers and people of goodwill to pray “for Father Alberto, because I believe that his personal safety and his freedom may be in danger at this time.”

Diego López Marina contributed to this article.

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

Pontifical Academy for Life is betraying its founder, JPII biographer George Weigel says

George Weigel at the Angelicum in Rome, May 18, 2022. / Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

ACI Prensa Staff, May 22, 2024 / 15:05 pm (CNA).

George Weigel, biographer of St. John Paul II, lamented that the Pontifical Academy for Life betrayed Dr. Jérôme Lejeune, its founding president, with a book that dissents from the pontiff’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life).

Weigel made the charge last week in his talk titled “St. John Paul II and Jérôme Lejeune: Two Lives at the Service of Life,” given as part of the second International Conference on Bioethics in Rome from May 17–18 in the Eternal City.

“For decades, the academy and the John Paul II Institute did creative, innovative work in developing a Catholic moral theology and pastoral practice capable of meeting the challenge of 21st-century assaults on the dignity and sanctity of life — and did so in ways that called the various expressions of the culture of death to conversion,” the author and theologian noted.

“Yet now,” Weigel continued, ”the academy has published a book with the ironic title ‘La Gioia della Vita,’ (‘The Joy of Life’) authored by theologians who can only be described honestly as dissenting from the authoritative teaching of Evangelium Vitae.”

“That book not only weakens the Catholic case for a culture of life that rejects the grave crimes against life identified by Evangelium Vitae. It does so in terms of an anti-biblical and anti-metaphysical anthropology that would have been completely foreign, indeed abhorrent, to both Jérôme Lejeune and John Paul II,” he pointed out.

In his presentation, Weigel further charged that “as the Pontifical Academy for Life betrays its founding president, Dr. Lejeune, by publishing and promoting such an ill-informed and poorly-argued book, so does the reconstituted John Paul II Institute, now largely bereft of students, betray the intention of the saint and scholar who founded it, and who called Catholic moral theology to a renewal that would not surrender to the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, but rather convert it to right reason, true compassion, and the noble exercise of freedom.”

“And that is why we must hope that the deconstruction of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and the Family, a painful process that can be observed over the past decade, is halted, and then reversed, in the years ahead,” emphasized the eminent scholar of the life of St. John Paul II.

‘The Joy of Life’

On Feb. 9, the Vatican Publishing House published ”La Gioia della Vita” (”The Joy of Life”), whose prologue was written by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who sparked controversy for his statements about euthanasia in April 2023. The text contains “reflections on the challenges of contemporary theological ethics” by authors such as the priests Carlo Casalone and Maurizio Chiodi.

According to a March article in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, the book, “without revolutionizing Catholic doctrine, nevertheless outlines important openings on controversial topics such as contraception, medically assisted procreation, and assisted suicide.”

In January 2022, Casalone, a Jesuit priest, member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and professor of moral theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, argued that the euthanasia bill in Italy was not contrary to the common good, a claim that was rejected by 60 pro-life organizations.

In August of that year, the academy published an interview with another of its members, Chiodi, who noted that Catholic teaching condemning contraceptives is open to “theological debate within the Church, even with the possibility of dissent.”

Another controversial book 

In a September 2022 open letter, nine international experts pointed out alleged serious errors disseminated in the Pontifical Academy for Life book titled Theological Ethics of Life: Scripture, Tradition, and Practical Challenges,” which promotes changing the teaching of the Catholic Church on the use of contraceptives.

Going back more than half a decade, a series of substantial changes has been made to the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family as well as to its statutes.

The changes, some of its former directors lamented in 2019, not only alienated the students but also are “a danger to maintaining the heritage” of the Polish saint.

Another consequence of the new statutes was “the drastic reduction of moral theology,” they lamented.

Who was Jérôme Lejeune?

Jérôme Lejeune (1926–1994) was the French doctor who discovered in 1958 the trisomy of chromosome pair 21, responsible for Down syndrome.

The discovery was published in the journal Nature in 1959. Since then Lejeune dedicated all his efforts to defending these children against attempts to exploit his discovery to justify the abortion of children with this condition.

This position meant that his candidacy for the 1970 Nobel Prize in Medicine was unsuccessful, despite the significance of his discovery.

Lejeune was the founding president of the Pontifical Academy for Life and his work contributed to the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. He is now in the process of beatification.

In his presentation, Weigel explained that the truths for the defense of life from conception to natural death do not need the gift of faith to be understood and “are not truths accessible to Catholics only.” 

“That is why the ongoing work of the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation is so important,” he stressed in reference to the institution that promotes the principles of the famous French geneticist.

To conclude, Weigel expressed his hope that “Jérôme Lejeune’s heroic virtues will be officially recognized by the Church, so that he may join his friend, John Paul II, among the ranks of the beatified and canonized.”

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