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Texas attorney general targets Catholic nonprofit, alleges it facilitates illegal immigration

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at a news conference in Washington, D.C., on May 12, 2021. / Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 21, 2024 / 21:15 pm (CNA).

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is trying to shut down a Catholic nonprofit organization in El Paso based on allegations that the group may be facilitating illegal immigration, harboring immigrants who entered the country illegally, and engaging in human smuggling. 

Paxton filed a lawsuit against the nonprofit Annunciation House, which has operated in the state for nearly 50 years. The lawsuit asks the District Court of El Paso County to revoke the organization’s nonprofit registration, which would prohibit it from continuing to operate in Texas.

“The chaos at the southern border has created an environment where [nongovernmental organizations] funded with taxpayer money from the Biden administration facilitate astonishing horrors including human smuggling,” Paxton said in a statement. “While the federal government perpetuates the lawlessness destroying this country, my office works day-in and day-out to hold these organizations responsible for worsening illegal immigration.”

In response to the lawsuit, Annunciation House issued a statement that called Paxton’s actions “illegal, immoral, and anti-faith” and his allegations “unfounded.” According to the statement, the organization has “provided hospitality to hundreds of thousands of refugees for over [46] years” and that if its activities are illegal, “so too is the work of our local hospitals, schools, and food banks.”

“Annunciation House has kept hundreds of thousands of refugees coming through our city off the streets and [has] given them food,” the statement read. “The work helps serve our local businesses, our city, and immigration officials to keep people off the streets and give them a shelter while they come through our community.”

The attorney general’s office first approached Annunciation House on Feb. 7 of this year with concerns that it may be facilitating illegal immigration. Paxton’s office ordered the nonprofit to immediately turn over various documents and records to examine whether it is engaged in illegal activities. 

Annunciation House’s lawyers requested 30 days to respond, but the attorney general’s office refused. Rather, Paxton’s office informed the organization that if it did not provide the requested documents by Feb. 8, which was the following day, that it would “be in noncompliance.”

Annunciation House quickly filed a lawsuit against the attorney general’s office on Feb. 8, which argues that the demand violates the nonprofit’s right to due process. In its public statement, Annunciation House stated that it wants the court to decide which documents the attorney general’s office is legally entitled to receive. 

“There is nothing illegal about asking a court to decide a person’s rights,” the statement read. “The [attorney general’s office] has now made explicit that its real goal is not records but to shut down the organization. It has stated that it considers it a crime for a Catholic organization to provide shelter to refugees.”

A spokesperson for Annunciation House declined to speak about the lawsuit when reached by CNA but said the organization will hold a news conference on Friday, Feb. 23.

When contacted by CNA about Annunciation House’s response to the legal action, the attorney general’s office referred back to Paxton’s original statement.

Cardinal Dolan on St. Patrick’s funeral: ‘We don’t do FBI checks on people who want to be buried’

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. / Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

CNA Staff, Feb 21, 2024 / 18:05 pm (CNA).

Priests at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City were surprised by the “irreverence and disrespect” that occurred during a funeral for a transgender activist last week, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said in his first public comments on it. 

“We didn’t know the background. We don’t do FBI checks on people who want to be buried,” Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said during his podcast Tuesday. 

He said cathedral staff try to be welcoming when someone requests a funeral.

“All they know is somebody called and said, ‘Our dear friend died. We’d love to have the funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It would be a great source of consolation. She’s a Catholic. It would be a great source of consolation for us, her family and friends.’ And of course, the priest at the cathedral said, ‘Come on in. You’re more than welcome,’” Dolan said. 

The priests at St. Patrick’s made a decision at the beginning of the service not to celebrate a funeral Mass but to conduct a funeral service with no Mass instead. 

It was the right thing to do given the situation, the cardinal said. 

“I applaud our priests who made a quick decision that, ‘Uh-oh, with behavior like this, we can’t do a Mass. We’ll do the Liturgy of the Word, which is the readings, and the sermon, and the prayers of petition, and the Our Father, and then we’ll stop it. The Mass is not going to go on,’” Dolan said. “Bravo for our cathedral people, who knew nothing about this that was coming up.” 

Meanwhile, though, supporters of the deceased are demanding an apology from the Archdiocese of New York for what they described as “cutting short” the Feb. 15 funeral service of Cecilia Gentili, 52, a male who identified as a woman who died Feb. 6. Supporters of Gentili also want an apology for what they called “the painfully dismissive and exclusionary language” used in a statement released by the pastor of the cathedral after the funeral. 

“The current narrative from St. Patrick’s Cathedral leadership that they were manipulated by funeral organizers of the identity of Ms. Gentili is simply not true,” an organization called Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society said in a written statement. “Funeral organizers advised cathedral staff to look up Cecilia Gentili, her work, and the community she served. To now place responsibility on the funeral organizers to have affirmatively disclosed the gender identity of their loved one is imposing a burden upon the mourners that would not be expected of a non-transgender person.”

However, the New York Times reported that the funeral’s organizer did not disclose to the cathedral that Gentili, who died Feb. 6 at age 52, was a biological man who identified as a woman.

“I kept it under wraps,” Ceyeye Doroshow, the service’s organizer, told the outlet.

The organization also suggested that cathedral staff violated the Catholic Church’s law. 

“Still reeling from the pain of Cecilia’s loss, community members are asking for an explanation for this decision which seemingly violated Catholic Canon Law governing the denial of funeral [M]asses,” the organization said. “… Ms. Gentili’s service ended an hour earlier than had been scheduled, thus denying her the full funeral Mass that was agreed upon.” 

Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, contacted by CNA on Wednesday said the archdiocese had no immediate comment on the Gentili supporters’ statement. 

Asked by email who decided to replace the funeral Mass with the shorter funeral service, Zwilling said the decision “was made by the priests at the cathedral after witnessing what was taking place.” 

A video of the service posted online last week shows that shortly after the procession down the aisle, the presider, Father Edward Dougherty, looking out into the crowd, said with a laugh: “Well, welcome to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Except on Easter Sunday, we don’t really have a crowd that is this well turned out, you know?” 

After a short delay, the crowd responded with more than 40 seconds of clapping, standing, and cheering, with occasional chants of “Cecilia.” 

During the ovation, the video shows, a priest dressed in black approached Dougherty and told him, “No Eucharist,” eventually followed with the words “a funeral service, no Mass.” 

Outburst at funeral

As CNA reported last week, the prayers of the faithful during the service included a call for “Cecilia’s community” to “have access to life-affirming health care” — an apparent reference to gender transitioning — to raucous applause. 

Two of the three eulogies were critical of Catholic teaching on human sexuality. The organizer of the funeral, Doroshow, a male who identifies as a woman, who wore a purple dress, said Gentili “worked so hard to make sure girls like me, boys like you are safe, are grounded, got health care, that sex workers are free.” A standing ovation followed the “sex workers” reference. 

A man who delivered a third eulogy used a Spanish word for “whore” several times. Another man lauded the deceased as “This whore, this great whore, St. Cecilia, mother of all whores.” Raucous applause and a standing ovation followed. 

On Tuesday, Cardinal Dolan addressed the Gentili funeral about five minutes into his podcast after discussing a few other topics, including the recent shooting at the Super Bowl parade in Kansas City. Dolan mentioned that he had received “a note of solidarity” from Harrison Butker, the Kansas Chiefs kicker, about what Dolan described as “the irreverence and disrespect” of the crowd at the funeral, and the “very irreverent and disrespectful” eulogies. 

The cardinal asked the cathedral staff to celebrate a Mass of reparation after the funeral service, which the pastor, Father Enrique Salvo, said last week was done. 

“In a way, it’s redundant,” Dolan said Tuesday. “Because every Mass, every Mass is the renewal of the infinitely powerful act of reparation that Jesus did on the cross, correct? He’s the one that made reparation. We can’t do much. All we can do is unite with him on his cross in his sacred act of reparation. There is a bit of an arrow in the quiver of the Church’s treasury of prayer that if a particularly sacrilegious or scandalous act has occurred in a church, it would be good to offer a Mass in particular reparation for that act of irreverence. So we did that.” 

Salvo released a written statement Feb. 17, two days after the funeral, acknowledging what he called “outrage over the scandalous behavior” during Gentili’s funeral. 

“The cathedral only knew that family and friends were requesting a funeral Mass for a Catholic, and had no idea our welcome and prayer would be degraded in such a sacrilegious and deceptive way,” Salvo said in the statement. 

Some mainstream media news stories last week hailed the funeral as a shift in the Catholic Church’s approach to gender identity. Dolan expressed frustration Tuesday with criticism by some Catholics of the cathedral staff and his archdiocese. 

“We have a lot of misunderstanding. Why in the world our people out there still believe what the secular press reports is beyond me,” Dolan said. 

Later, he added: “Our policy at the cathedral is to be as open and welcoming of anybody who wants to be buried from here. And we had absolutely no idea about this. But why people still think the cathedral purposely did that? Well, a lot of people always want to believe the worst. And they don’t like us any more than the protesters did, in the cathedral. But who knows.” 

Two of Father Rupnik’s alleged victims speak publicly for the first time

Lawyer Laura Sgro, left, sits with Gloria Branciani, center, and Marjiam Kovač, during a press conference in Rome on Feb. 21, 2024. Branciani and Kovač allege that they were subjected to spiritual, psychological and sexual abuse by famous mosaic artist Father Marko Rupnik. / Credit: Matthew Santucci/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Feb 21, 2024 / 17:43 pm (CNA).

Two alleged abuse victims of mosaic artist Father Marko Rupnik spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday, detailing the tactics the former Jesuit allegedly used to manipulate them.

Italian Gloria Branciani and Slovenian-born Marjiam Kovač, former sisters of the now-dissolved Loyola Community in Slovenia, shared their stories at a crowded press conference in the Rome offices of the trade union for Italian journalists.

They were joined by their high-profile lawyer, Laura Sgrò, who has represented clients in the VatiLeaks scandal as well as the family of Emanuela Orlandi, an Italian girl who disappeared under mysterious circumstances decades ago.

Branciani, 59, reflected on how her introduction into the community was propelled by a desire to grow her spiritual life but wound up being subjected to spiritual, psychological, and physical abuse, which amounted to “the total loss of my identity.” 

Detailing the dynamics of Rupnik’s alleged manipulation, Branciani recounted how this multifaceted abuse reflected a deeper and more intimate “abuse of conscience” and was a total violation of the deep intimacy of her spiritual life.

She alleged that Rupnik used her interest in art and culture “to put pressure on my personality,” which allowed him to affect a change in her “ideas, the way of thinking, the way of behaving, the way of dressing.”

“So with an imposition of his spiritual, theological, and artistic vision, he had an ever greater power over me, an exclusive power,” Branciani said.

In one example, she claimed that while in his art studio, which was also the place where their spiritual direction sessions were held, Rupnik, while painting, was “staring at parts of my body” and afterward performed a sexually suggestive gesture on Branciani, which Rupnik allegedly likened to an act of biblical divine revelation that expressed “the wisdom of the father.”

Father Marko Rupnik. Credit: Screen shot/ACI Prensa
Father Marko Rupnik. Credit: Screen shot/ACI Prensa

Rupnik has been at the center of a nearly six-year-long scandal centered on his alleged abuse of over 20 religious sisters spanning across three decades. After initially deciding in October 2022 not to pursue sanctions against Rupnik because the statute of limitation had expired, the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) reopened the case after Pope Francis lifted the statute of limitations in October 2023. That decision came on the heels of public outcry over the news that Rupnik had been incardinated in a diocese in Slovenia where he could continue his priestly ministry.

On Wednesday, Vatican News reported that the DDF’s investigation was underway and that “it will now be necessary to study the acquired documentation in order to identify which procedures can and should be implemented.”

Rupnik has not commented publicly about the allegations but his collaborator at the Aletti Center — an art and theology school founded by Rupnik in Rome — has said the allegations are unproven.

Marjiam Kovač spoke for only 10 minutes, describing how the ideals of religious life, along with the sisters’ “training and obedience and trust in the people who guided us,” were “exploited for abuses of various kinds, of conscience, of power, spiritual, psychic, physical, and often even sexual.”

According to Kovač, 20 sisters were abused out of a community of 40 women.

For Kovač, the press conference was an opportunity to break the “silence” that victims have faced, which she characterized as “a rubber wall, which bounces off every attempt to cure the unhealthy situation.”

“We are sorry because the institutions, instead of taking inspiration from our experience to review their way of acting, continue to close themselves in silence,” she said.

Following their remarks, Sgrò, their lawyer, said she hoped the example of the two women would encourage other victims to speak out to civil as well as Church authorities.

“And they must not limit themselves from going to ask the bishop or the Mother Superior for help. They must go and report to the state courts, to the state authorities. Go to the police … go to a lawyer, go to the prosecutor’s office, because he who has done that to Gloria must go to prison,” Sgrò said. 

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the organization Bishop Accountability, a Boston-based organization that has tracked clerical abuse in the Catholic Church for the past 20 years, moderated the press conference.

She praised the women’s courage for speaking out publicly against Rupnik, whom she characterized as “a powerful cleric who’s been protected at the highest levels of the Jesuits and the Vatican.”

At one point, Doyle held up a poster with the images of Rupnik alongside Marcial Maciel and former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, declaring that like them, Rupnik is “charismatic … famous, a friend of popes and others in high places … like them, he is a serial predator.”

2024 International Congress of Families to be held in Mexico

Guadalajara Cathedral (Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady), Mexico. / Credit: Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 21, 2024 / 09:00 am (CNA).

With the theme “All Families Can Be Better,” the city of Guadalajara in Jalisco state, Mexico, will host the International Congress of Families (CIFAM) from March 1–3.

CIFAM 2024, an opportunity for meeting, learning, and intersectoral and interreligious collaboration, seeks to unite and equip leaders, organizations, and families to affirm, celebrate, and strengthen the family institution as the natural foundation of society.

The purpose of the event is to give continuity to the experience lived at the XIV World Congress of Families held in Mexico City in 2022.

The president of the congress in Mexico, Fernando Milanés, announced at a Jan. 31 press conference that the event will provide a time for “learning and collaboration to strengthen” the family.

Milanés recognized that families face innumerable challenges and thus CIFAM aims to “equip them so that they can be a source of security and comprehensive health, identity and belonging, planning, and purpose.”

Lupita Venegas, owner of Valora Radio and a spokesperson for the congress, highlighted the importance of addressing the various ailments that affect families, such as infidelity, depression, and domestic violence. She emphasized that CIFAM 2024 represents an opportunity to strengthen families and “change the world one family at a time.”

Karen Ahued, another spokesperson for CIFAM, focused on women and said that the congress will provide an opportunity to “improve our relationships with our children” and to seek “personal reconciliation and heal many wounds that are hard to bear and difficult to accept.”

The event will have four programs: general, youth, adolescents, and children. Among the prominent specialists will be Dr. Catherine L’Ecuyer, a world leader on the impact of technology on education, and the psychologist Isabel Rojas Estapé. International popularizers and specialists in family and education will also be presented, such as Dr. María Calvo and Dr. Rafael Guerrero.

CIFAM 2024 will have renowned speakers from Mexico, including Dr. José Medina Mora, national president of COPARMEX (Employer Confederation of the Mexican Republic); Dr. Julia Borbolla, a specialist in children and adolescents; and Dr. José Antonio Lozano, president of the governing boards of the Pan American University and its business school. The youth program will also include recognized talents and influencers such as Minesweeper and Rorro Echávez.

In addition, the event will feature the Family Expo, a space with more than 120 booths where various institutions will offer programs, activities, products, and services for families. 

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

Over 100 relics of Christ, Holy Family, saints to be displayed at New Jersey parish

The Titulus Crucis, the title panel of the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified. Written in Latin and Greek, it says "Jesus the Nazarene King of the Jews." / Daniel Ibanez

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 21, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

An exhibit that includes more than 100 relics of Jesus Christ, the Holy Family, and numerous saints will be exhibited at a parish in northern New Jersey on Saturday, Feb. 24, from noon to 7 p.m.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Oratory in Montclair, New Jersey, will host the exhibit at its Capozzelli Hall on 94 Pine Street. The parish is located in the Archdiocese of Newark, about 20 miles west of New York City.

“I think it’s going to be an experience for people — especially for an exhibit this large,” Joe Santoro, the regional delegate to the United States for the International Crusade for Holy Relics (ICHR), told CNA.

Santoro is supplying the relics for the exhibit, which he obtained personally through his work to preserve these holy objects. He said his preservation of the relics is “saving them from places where they’re not going to be honored in the appropriate way.”

The exhibit includes a handful of relics from the passion of Jesus Christ: a small splinter of the cross, a piece of the crown of thorns, a piece of Christ’s tomb, and a piece of the column on which Christ was whipped before his crucifixion. It also includes relics from the Nativity, such as a piece of the Blessed Mother’s veil, a piece of Christ’s crib, and parts of the bones of the three Wise Men.

Other relics include a piece of skin and blood from St. Padre Pio’s stigmata, a piece of St. John Paul II’s hair, and the scarf of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (the first American saint). The exhibit will also include relics from the evangelists, the apostles, and other saints and martyrs.

The relics will be displayed in three sections: one for relics related to the Passion, one for the Nativity, and one for all of the other relics.

“It is a privilege and a joy to host a relics exhibit of this magnitude,” Father Giandomenico Flora, the rector at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Oratory, told CNA. 

“Some of them date back to biblical times and others are relics of saints of our time,” Flora said. “To have such an exhibition of relics is a blessing for the church [and for] people who will attend the event because it gives the opportunity to pray and to ask for particular graces.” 

Santoro said the relics can help the faithful become closer to God and help them meditate on the Passion of Christ near the beginning of Lent. “People are drawn to them,” he said.

“A relic doesn’t contain any magical power or anything like that,” Santoro added. “The people have to bring their faith and God performs these miracles through these great men and women.” 

The Catholic Church has three classifications for relics. A first-class relic is any part of a saint’s body, such as hair, blood, or bones, or objects directly associated with Christ, such as a piece of the cross, a piece of the tomb, or a piece of his crib. A second-class relic is any item that was used by a saint during his or her life. A third-class relic is an item that touches a first-class relic.

Although this exhibition is a one-off event, Santoro told CNA that he hopes there can be a tour in the near future. He said this weekend is “the kickoff to see how it goes.”

Pro-life advocates fight against euthanasia expansions across Canada, Australia

null / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Feb 21, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Pro-life advocates around the world are working to counteract continued efforts by euthanasia activists to pass and expand laws allowing doctors to help kill their patients. 

Euthanasia made global headlines this month when former Dutch Prime Minister Dries van Agt and his wife, Eugenie, chose to have themselves euthanized, both at the age of 93. The couple, who had been married for over 60 years, “died hand in hand,” the Dutch Rights Forum said. 

The Netherlands has among the most permissive euthanasia laws in the world, allowing boys and girls as young as 12 to end their own lives if certain conditions are met. Several other European countries — including Portugal, Spain, and Belgium — have also instituted liberal euthanasia regimes. 

In Canada, meanwhile, euthanasia and assisted suicide have been legal for nearly a decade after the government began permitting it in 2016. The Trudeau administration this month postponed until 2027 plans to expand the assisted suicide program to include those suffering from mental illness after a parliamentary report said the country’s health system is “not ready.”

Jack Fonseca, the director of political operations for the Campaign Life Coalition, told CNA that his group is planning a “major protest” at the Canadian Parliament for later this month, one that will “send the message to the prime minister and all elected lawmakers that a three-year delay in expanding euthanasia is not good enough.” 

“We want the government to completely and permanently abandon its plans to allow doctors to kill mentally ill patients and those who are depressed,” Fonseca said.

Fonseca said that Pierre Poilievre, a member of Parliament and the leader of Canada’s Conservative Party, has vowed to repeal the country’s Bill C-7 if he is elected prime minister next year. That law when enacted in 2021 permitted the pending assisted suicide expansion.

“I think every pro-life group in the country will now turn to holding Mr. Poilievre to his promise,” Fonseca said. “This is especially true since Trudeau’s Liberal regime is tanking in the polls, and it seems inevitable that Conservatives will take power in 2025.”

“Poilievre’s Conservative Party is expected to win the next election with a massive majority,” he said. “So, the pro-life movement is going to use every avenue we can to continually remind Poilievre, and his Conservative caucus, that he must immediately repeal Bill C-7 during his first term, within the first 100 days of his administration.”

In Australia, all six of the country’s states currently allow assisted suicide, or “voluntary assisted dying” (VAD). The Victoria state government is currently undergoing a five-year review of its own assisted suicide program, which it first implemented in 2019. 

That review is merely operational and is not recommending any expansions of the program as it currently stands. But Jasmine Yuen, the Victorian state director of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), told CNA that she wouldn’t “rule out future legislative changes.” 

“I believe VAD advocates will make good use of this review to push through some agendas,” she said, “and the government will use the feedbacks to justify future changes or expansion that could include telehealth services and removing the gag clause to allow doctors to recommend VAD to patients.”

“All pro-life groups, including ACL in Victoria and all states and territories, will be working against any expansion [including] the inclusion of children and other illnesses into the scheme,” Yuen said. 

Other states in Australia permit doctors to initiate conversations about assisted suicide, Yuen noted, though the country’s federal euthanasia law imposes some barriers to the practice.

“It’s a matter of years that we’ll go further down the slippery slope,” she said, “but the pro-life groups will push back as much as we can for the sanctity of life.”

Paul Osborne, a spokesman for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, noted that “one of the most pressing issues at the moment in Australia is the push to allow doctors to undertake euthanasia-related consultations online and over the phone.”

“The Church says this is abhorrent,” Osborne said, “and the Australian government at this stage agrees that it is a bridge too far.”

Osborne pointed to a document released by the bishops’ conference there last year on the topic of euthanasia. “To Witness and to Accompany with Christian Hope” is meant as “a service to those who are called to attend to the spiritual and pastoral needs of patients who access or seek to access services that are designed to terminate a person’s life,” the manual says.

The letter instructed that priests administering sacraments to potentially suicidal individuals must endeavor to steer them away from that choice by explaining how the practice is “not consistent with respect for God’s gift of life.”

“If a patient is resolved upon a course of action, such as euthanasia, which is so clearly and gravely in conflict with the teaching and life of the Church, then — even if the patient believes they are choosing rightly — the patient should nonetheless recognize, or be helped to recognize, that it would not be right for him or her to receive the sacraments,” the bishops wrote in the manual. 

Dr. Moira McQueen, the executive director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, told CNA this month that the country’s euthanasia law “would have to be revoked” to halt the mental illness expansion there, an outcome she called “highly unlikely.”

Daniel Zekveld, a policy analyst for the Canadian Association for Reformed Political Action, said in a statement to CNA that the group has been opposed to the country’s suicide program expansion since 2021 via its Care Not Kill campaign.

“Like many Canadians, medical professionals, and other organizations, Care Not Kill has emphasized the importance of suicide prevention instead of suicide assistance,” he said. “Expanding euthanasia to those with mental illness encourages a culture of neglect and devalues the lives of those who are suffering.”

Care Not Kill has conducted extensive outreach to that end, Zekveld said, including a campaign that distributed 200,000 flyers. The group has also encouraged political engagement and has submitted briefs to the government commission studying the expansion. 

“These efforts will continue until the government puts a stop to the expansion of euthanasia for those with mental illness,” he said. “With another delay scheduled, we now have three additional years to advocate for caring for, not killing, those with mental illness.”

Fonseca, meanwhile, said the Campaign Life Coalition recently helped pass a policy resolution at the National Convention of the Conservative Party of Canada, one meant to further strengthen the party’s stance against euthanasia there. 

“We oppose MAID [medical assistance in dying] for people living with disabilities or mental illness seeking to die based on poverty, homelessness, or inability to receive medical treatment,” the policy said. “Euthanasia must not be an abandonment of people living with genuine needs.”

‘We are not going anywhere’: Knights of Columbus vow to keep up aid to Ukraine

Supreme Knight Patrick E. Kelly, center, and Ukraine State Deputy Youriy Maletskiy give out Easter care packages to Ukrainian refugees in Rava-Ruska, Poland, in April 2022. / Photo credit: Photo by Andrii Gorb, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 21, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Two years since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, the Knights of Columbus are vowing to continue their efforts to deliver material and spiritual aid to suffering and displaced Ukrainians.

So far, the Knights have raised a record $22 million and delivered 7.7 million pounds of supplies to victims of the ongoing war.

Szymon Czyszek, one of the Knights of Columbus’ head relief organizers in Eastern Europe, spoke with CNA to give an update on the Knights’ relief efforts as the Russia-Ukraine war hits its two-year mark. He said that though many across the world have started to become desensitized to the war, innocent Ukrainian civilians continue to suffer under constant bombardment and lack of basic resources.

The Knights of Columbus first announced their plans to help Ukraine just days after the invasion began. With thousands of members of the Knights of Columbus and their families directly in harm’s way, Czyszek said that the Knights felt they had no choice but to help. Now, he said, the need is as great as ever. With many Ukrainian men being killed in the conflict — casualty estimates range from the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands — Czyszek said the country’s many widows and orphans are the most vulnerable.

“The founding mission of the Knights of Columbus was to care for the vulnerable,” Czyszek explained. “Especially to care for the widows and orphans.”

Supreme Knight Patrick E. Kelly gives gifts to children in Lviv, Ukraine, in December 2022. Photo credit: Photo by Andrii Gorb, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus
Supreme Knight Patrick E. Kelly gives gifts to children in Lviv, Ukraine, in December 2022. Photo credit: Photo by Andrii Gorb, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus

“So, we may be far away from New Haven [Connecticut], but we are very close to Father [Michael] McGivney in the work that we are doing,” he continued. “With every care package that we bring, every piece of clothing or medicine, we really want to show people suffering, people of Ukraine, that God has not abandoned them, that God is still present, and that we can be like hands of mercy of Our Lord.”

A Ukrainian woman carries away a Knights of Columbus care package during a charity distribution event in Lviv, Ukraine, in December 2022. Photo credit: Photo by Tamino Petelinšek, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus
A Ukrainian woman carries away a Knights of Columbus care package during a charity distribution event in Lviv, Ukraine, in December 2022. Photo credit: Photo by Tamino Petelinšek, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus

Waking up to air raid alarms, missiles

Czyszek said Ukrainian men, women, and children in all parts of the country wake up each morning to the “constant” threat of bombings and the reality that “today could be the last day of their life.”

The sound of air raid alarms is also a regular occurrence, Czyszek said.

According to Czyszek, at this point of the war, 70% of all Ukrainians have experienced the loss or serious injury of a family member or close friend.  

“There’s this sense that people are surrounded by this fear and the sense of death,” he explained.

Not even pregnant and new mothers are safe from the violence, he noted, pointing to a bombing of a Ukrainian maternity hospital in Dnipro in December 2023 that killed six.

“While we try to promote pro-life and defense of life, we see hospitals where women want to take care of and welcome their children, these hospitals are being bombed. That’s the reality that you are facing,” he said.

Helping ‘the suffering body of Christ’

So far, Czyszek said that the Knights of Columbus have been able to help 1.6 million war victims throughout the country with food, medicine, help with shelter, and other necessities.

Their primary focus has been to help women and children as well as disabled and elderly people. To the Knights of Columbus, Czyszek said, war victims are the “suffering body of Christ.”

Father John Kalisch, director of chaplains and spiritual development at the Knights of Columbus, blesses a charity convoy in Lancut, Poland, in April 2022. Looking on is Supreme Knight Patrick E. Kelly, center. Photo credit: Photo by Tamino Petelinšek, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus
Father John Kalisch, director of chaplains and spiritual development at the Knights of Columbus, blesses a charity convoy in Lancut, Poland, in April 2022. Looking on is Supreme Knight Patrick E. Kelly, center. Photo credit: Photo by Tamino Petelinšek, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus

In the face of continued attacks, Czyszek said that the most vulnerable, such as the disabled, are often abandoned and forgotten. He described one situation in Ukraine’s northeastern city of Kharkiv in which many disabled civilians had been left in an apartment building without electricity. Unable to escape because of the lack of working elevators, the people had to wait until Knights of Columbus volunteers found them and helped them out of the building.

“Many of them, unfortunately, were just abandoned. Nobody was taking care of them. But our people were there to help them, bring them wheelchairs, mobility, and really just a sense of hope and a reminder that every person has dignity,” he said.

Although material aid is important, Czyszek said that the Knights, with the help of health care professionals, priests, and religious, are also helping Ukrainian soldiers and war victims with “deep spiritual wounds” get psychological and spiritual aid.

Prayer is central to the Knights’ relief efforts in Ukraine. In addition to their many other programs, the Knights of Columbus are building and equipping chapels for wounded victims and refugees and regularly organizing Masses and rosary events in Ukraine.

According to Czyszek, Ukrainian churches have also been a target of Russian attacks in efforts to erase the country’s cultural and religious heritage. These attacks, Czyszek said, are particularly concerning to the Knights of Columbus.

Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Vitaliy Kryvytskyi of Kyiv–Zhytomyr shares these concerns. He told CNA in October 2023 that the Church in Ukraine is facing extermination

“We don’t have to guess what’s at stake, we’ve all lived [through] the times of the Soviet Union,” Kryvytskyi said. “What will happen, if the Russian Federation enters our territories and continues entering our territories, is going to be practically the same thing that was before, during the Soviet Union.”

Czyszek said that “over 100 churches have already been destroyed in Ukraine.” 

He explained that in Ukraine “churches are not just like pieces of art, but these are the places where people’s identity is formed, and that’s the place that also creates this center of community.”

In response to these attacks, Czyszek said, the Knights of Columbus are partnering with other groups to take scans of Ukrainian churches in harm’s way to preserve and rebuild them after the war.

‘We are not going anywhere’

Despite the risks involved in going into an active war zone, Czyszek said that Knights of Columbus volunteers are resolved to help for as long as the suffering continues. The driving force behind their action, he explained, is that they “see in every person in need, Christ.”

“We pray that one day soon a peace, a just peace, will be restored to Ukraine,” he said. “But until that day, we’ll remain united with our brothers in Ukraine, united in prayer, in charity, and determination.”

“As Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly said,” he continued, “‘The Knights of Columbus are there, and we are not going anywhere.’”

St. Peter Damian, the driving force behind the reform of the Church 1,000 years ago

Pilgrims gather in St. Peter's Square for the Angelus on the Solemnity of All Saints, Nov. 1, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 21, 2024 / 04:00 am (CNA).

In times when the truth offends and Christian principles and values seem diluted or relativized, it is worth remembering the great doctor of the Church St. Peter Damian, whom the Church remembers every Feb. 21.

Peter Damian (1007–1072) initially lived as a Benedictine monk but, sensitive to the needs of his time, accepted to be ordained bishop and then a cardinal. He made a very important contribution to the ecclesial renewal of the 11th century, which had its high point in the Gregorian reform.  

Prayer and discernment

Peter Damian was a man of deep prayer and recollection. Precisely because of this, he knew how to distinguish what is essential to attain the perfection of charity. The reformist impulse that characterized him throughout his life sprang from an authentic interior life and from assiduous contact with God and with his own inner self. 

This saint was well aware that in order to follow Christ it is necessary to form and strengthen the soul, particularly the mind. This is how he himself expresses it beautifully: “May hope raise your joy, may charity kindle your fervor. Thus your mind, well satiated, will be able to forget exterior sufferings and will progress in the possession of the goods it contemplates within itself.” 

‘Damiani’

The saint was born in 1007 in Ravenna, Italy. He lost his parents while very young and was left in the care of one of his brothers who did not treat him well. However, to his good fortune, another of his brothers, archpriest of Ravenna, took pity on him and took charge of his education. At his side, Peter felt like a son, which is why he decided to take this brother’s name: “Damiani” (Damian).

As Peter grew up, he showed an increasing inclination to prayer, meditation, and fasting while at the same time being generous with those whom God loved the most — the poor. The saint shared his food with those who were hungry, whom he used to welcome into his home. 

Food of the soul, strength of the mind

Peter Damian’s spiritual journey began with the Benedictines. Enthused by the reform of St. Romuald (951–1027), he became a monk in the monastery of Fonte Avellana. Moved by a very great fervor, Peter devoted himself to the practice of the harshest disciplines and rigors. He wore sackcloth, fed himself with only bread and water, and flagellated himself; however, his body could not endure for long and became noticeably weakened. This forced him to moderate himself.

The monk thus understood that these practices alone do not guarantee virtue and that in most cases being patient can be the best penance; all the more so in the midst of the sorrows of this life, which God allows to teach us.

Reformer of the monastic life

On the death of the abbot of the monastery of Fonte Avellana, Peter took over as prior. His desire to strengthen and improve the life of the monks was concretized in reforms that yielded good results. 

He founded five more communities of Benedictine hermits while encouraging the monks to always seek the spirit of silence, charity, and humility. St. Dominic Loricato and St. John of Lodi, his disciples, are sons of those reforms.

In 1057 Peter Damian was created cardinal and bishop of Ostia, renouncing what pleased him most: his life in silence and solitude. 

His good name became known to all, and he considerably increased the contact he already had with the Roman Curia, and even with the pope. He wrote numerous letters criticizing “simony” — the purchase of spiritual goods as if they were material goods, which included ecclesiastical offices, performance of sacraments, sacramentals, the trade of relics, and promises of prayer.

He wrote the so-called Book of Gomorrah (a title alluding to the Old Testament city of Gomorrah) and spoke out strongly against the impure customs of his time. He also wrote about the duties of clerics and monks, to whom he recommended spiritual discipline rather than prolonged fasting.

The future of the Church

“It is impossible to restore discipline once it has fallen into decay; if we, through negligence, allow the rules to fall into disuse, future generations will not be able to return to the primitive observance. Let us guard against incurring such a fault, and let us faithfully transmit to our successors the legacy of our predecessors,” the saint wrote sharply, concerned about the responsibility we have toward future generations of Christians.

A curious fact about St. Peter Damian: In his spare time, he used to make wooden spoons and other utensils for his brothers in the faith.

The final episode 

Pope Alexander II sent Peter Damian to solve a problem in Ravenna, where the archbishop had declared himself in open rebellion and had incurred excommunication. Unfortunately, the saint arrived after the prelate had died, but such was his example of justice and charity in fraternal correction that the accomplices of the rebel recognized their error, assumed their penance, and reformed their conduct. 

On his way back to Rome, Peter Damian fell ill during his stay in a monastery on the outskirts of Faenza and died there on Feb. 22, 1072. 

Dante Alighieri, author of The Divine Comedy, in the XXI canto of “Paradise,” places St. Peter Damian in the heaven of Saturn, destined for high contemplative spirits. He was declared a doctor of the Church in 1828 by Pope Leo XII.

This article was originally published by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner, and has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Pro-life scholars challenge study that claims abortion pills are ‘safe’ and ‘effective’

A pro-abortion activist displays abortion pills as she counter-protests during an anti-abortion demonstration on March 25, 2023, in New York City. / Credit: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Newsroom, Feb 20, 2024 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Several pro-life scholars are pushing back on a recently published study that claims abortion pills are “safe” and “effective” when prescribed without an in-person meeting and distributed through the mail.

The referenced study, which was published by pro-abortion academics in the peer-reviewed medical journal Nature Medicine, claimed that telehealth chemical abortion “is effective, safe, and comparable to published rates of in-person medication abortion care.” The study evaluated risks and potential complications related to the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol.

According to the study, nearly 98% of chemical abortions procured via telehealth effectively aborted the preborn child. The study also claimed there was a very low likelihood of “serious abortion-related adverse events.” 

About 1.3% of women required visits to the emergency department after their chemical abortion, 0.16% needed treatment for ectopic pregnancies, and 0.25% required more serious treatment for adverse events, such as blood transfusions or abdominal surgery.

The study relied on self-reported responses to a survey. Only 74% of the outcomes were known, which means that the outcomes for more than one-fourth of the survey respondents were not included in the study.

Pro-life scholars have questioned the veracity of the findings, noting that it relies on self-reported survey results rather than actual concrete data and fails to account for the results for approximately one-quarter of the women surveyed.

“Once again, the abortion industry is relying on patchwork, piecemeal survey data to conclude that abortion drugs are ‘safe and effective,’ but there are key gaps in the study that should call into question this conclusion,” Tessa Longbons Cox, a senior research associate at the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, told CNA. 

“With a 74% follow-up rate, we don’t know what happened to a quarter of the women in the study,” Cox added. “We know that the women who feel the most negative reactions following their abortions are least likely to participate in follow-ups, and FDA data shows that women who have been harmed by abortion frequently end up seeking care from another doctor. Those missing voices are a crucial piece to the clinical puzzle as we can’t assume that those women had a positive outcome.”

In a statement to CNA, Dr. Ingrid Skop, the director of medical affairs at the Charlotte Lozier Institute and a board-certified OB/GYN, also questioned the researchers’ definition of a “serious adverse event.” 

Skop says she has treated women who, after receiving a chemical abortion, have required emergency surgery to remove the child’s tissue or placenta. Others have bled heavily for six to eight weeks but did not require a blood transfusion, and still others have contracted an intrauterine infection that required medical care and could lead to future infertility. 

“According to these authors, my patients’ experiences would not qualify as a ‘serious adverse event,’” Skop said. “It’s extraordinary to see these serious complications dismissed and considered not worthy of discussion when I know these women felt otherwise.” 

Michael New, a professor of social research at the Catholic University of America, told CNA: “We really have no idea what happened to [about] 25% of the people” and that women who have health complications are “less likely to respond to a follow-up.” 

He pointed to studies that have shown that chemical abortions have “complication rates [that are] four times higher than surgical abortions.” The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has also pointed to these studies when voicing its opposition to chemical abortion pills. 

In addition to health complications, New warned that the deregulation of chemical abortion pills could have other adverse consequences, such as an abuser or romantic partner obtaining these pills to coerce an abortion by drugging a girl or woman who he does not want to go through with a pregnancy. 

New added that “these are not unbiased researchers,” pointing to the academics’ ties to the pro-abortion movement. He said “there’s a lot of bias and I think it’s getting worse in the field of public health.”

The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of mifepristone to kill a preborn child up to 10 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy. The drug accomplishes this by blocking the hormone progesterone, which cuts off the child’s supply of oxygen and nutrients. Misoprostol is taken between 24 to 48 hours after mifepristone to induce contractions meant to expel the child’s body from the mother, essentially inducing labor.

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear a lawsuit that challenges the FDA’s approval of mifepristone and subsequent deregulation, which currently allows the drug to be prescribed without an in-person doctor’s visit as well as be delivered through the mail.

Haitian bishop in ‘stable’ condition after explosion in Port-au-Prince

Bishop Pierre André Dumas is vice president of the Haitian Bishops' Conference. / Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Rome Newsroom, Feb 20, 2024 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Bishop Pierre-André Dumas of the Diocese of Anse-à-Veau/Miragoâneis and vice president of the Haitian Bishops’ Conference is reportedly in stable condition after being caught in an explosion in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Sunday evening. 

communiqué sent out by the Conference of Catholics Bishops of Haiti on Monday announced that Dumas “was affected yesterday evening by an explosion which reached the house where he is accommodated during his stay in Port-au-Prince.” 

The press release noted that the bishop is “stable” but did not provide additional details on the explosion or the bishop’s condition. 

In a sign of solidarity with the bishop and the Church in Haiti, the Bishops Conference of Mexico (CEM), wrote on X: “We join in prayer and solidarity with the Episcopal Conference of Haiti in the face of the suffering of its people and the incident that affected Monsignor Pierre André Dumas.” 

“We are aware of the difficult situation of violence and insecurity that Haiti is suffering. We admire the strength and firmness of the pastors of the Haitian Church who, despite the terrorist acts they have suffered, do not give up in their evangelizing mission,” the CEM’s full press release continued. 

The bishops of Mexico also expressed that they were united ”in the pain of violence” and would pray “that soon there will be a time of peace, justice, and reconciliation for the people of Haiti. Count on our prayers and our commitment to continue working together as a Church for a future of hope.” 

This is the latest incident to hit the Catholic community in the Caribbean island that has been rocked by gang violence, murder, and political instability. 

Nearly a month ago, six Haitian religious sisters of the St. Anne Congregation were abducted in Port-au-Prince and released on Jan. 25 after a week in captivity. 

In the wake of their release, Dumas said that “this traumatic event has once again put our faith to the test, but it remains unshakable.” 

“We cried out to God. He made us strong in our trials and brought our captives back to freedom,” he continued.

Dumas has been vocal in denouncing the widespread violence and “the formalization of banditry in the country,” warning that without concrete action the situation could deteriorate into civil war. 

The acting prime minister, Ariel Henry, assumed leadership of the government on July 20, 2021, following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse fewer than three weeks earlier.

Henry was faced with a deadline on Feb. 7 to step down from office. However, in a TV address broadcast on the evening of the ultimatum, the de facto Haitian leader said that elections would be held once security in the beleaguered capital was restored, CNN reported

In a report released Monday, a judge in Haiti responsible for investigating Moïse’s assassination indicted Moïse’s widow, Martine Moïse, ex-prime minister Claude Joseph, and the former chief of Haiti’s National Police, Léon Charles, among others, the Associated Press reported.