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Anti-death penalty activists celebrate 200th death row exoneree: ‘Undoubtedly optimistic’

null / Credit: txking/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jul 17, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Opponents of the death penalty in the United States are celebrating a milestone as the country marks the 200th death row exoneree in roughly 50 years and more states continue to abolish capital punishment. 

Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN), which advocates ending capital punishment in the U.S., said in a press release this month that California prisoner Larry Roberts had become “the 200th death row exoneration since 1973.” Roberts had been on death row since 1983 after his fellow prisoners claimed he killed both a prison guard and another inmate. 

CMN Executive Director Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy said in the press release that the 200 exonerations were the result of “the tireless efforts of faithful advocates and committed lawyers.”

Exonerations, according to CMN, are cases involving former death row inmates who have, since 1973, either been acquitted of all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row or had all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row dismissed by the prosecution. It also includes prisoners who have been granted a complete pardon based on evidence of innocence.

“[W]hile we praise God that these lives have been spared, we also remember the many individuals — both innocent and guilty — who did not, and will not receive the same grace, whose lives are discarded by a system determined to throw them away,” she said. 

Murphy told CNA in a phone interview that the hundreds of exonerations are “a significant indicator of the brokenness of the death penalty.”

‘The trends are moving in our favor’

On its website CMN says it plays “a central role in state and federal repeal campaigns, collaborating closely with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, state Catholic conferences, local dioceses, religious communities, and secular abolition groups.”

The group helps spearhead “prayer vigils, press events, webinars, and speaking tours” against the death penalty; it also works at “connecting key players, like Church leaders and abolition movement organizers.”

Asked if the anti-capital punishment movement is optimistic about its efforts, Murphy said: “Undoubtedly.” 

She pointed out that nearly half of all U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia, have abolished the death penalty. 

“The trends are moving in our favor,” she said. “The use of the death penalty is decreasing, as are the people being sentenced to death. The repeals are much more bipartisan than they’ve ever been.” 

“I think Americans are getting less and less tolerant of this practice,” she said. “For all these reasons we’re continually encouraged.”

Among the groups with which CMN has partnered against the death penalty include Witness to Innocence, which works “to empower exonerated death row survivors to be the most powerful and effective voice in the fight to end the death penalty and reform the justice system in the United States.”

Herman Lindsey, the executive director of Witness to Innocence, was sentenced to death in Florida in 2006 for murder. The state Supreme Court subsequently exonerated him in 2009, ruling that Florida “had failed to produce any evidence in this case placing Lindsey at the scene of the crime at the time of the murder.”

Lindsey told CNA in a phone interview that Witness to Innocence offers exonerees — many of whom have trouble finding work — a chance for employment while speaking out against capital punishment. 

“We run a lot of campaigns at one time,” he said. “We’re involved in a lot of cases. We work with each and every state, and with attorneys on the cases.” 

“If it’s a case that’s out there, most likely we’re active in it in some type of way, somehow,” he said. 

Murphy said there are “exciting things on the horizon for Catholics to help us mobilize and speak on this issue more effectively.” 

“We’ve got Oct. 10 coming up, the World Day Against the Death Penalty,” she said. She praised Pope Francis for making it “explicit” that Catholics should work against the death penalty in the upcoming Jubilee Year of 2025.

The death penalty “is at odds with the Christian faith and eliminates all hope of forgiveness and rehabilitation,” Murphy said. “We should be thinking and acting on this issue in the Jubilee Year.”

Both Lindsey and Murphy expressed happiness at the milestone 200th exoneration while lamenting the need for those exonerations at all. 

“It’s a great thing, but it’s a bad thing, that we reached the 200 mark,” Lindsey said. “But the good thing about it is it shows that organizations and attorneys are working hard.”

Murphy, meanwhile, said she was “delighted that there has been success in more cases to get people off of death row.” 

“But at the same time, it’s also sad that so many people have had to go through that, where they’re sentenced to death and then exonerated,” she said. “Can you imagine that?”

Listen to the musicians performing at the National Eucharistic Congress

Matt Maher performs at SiriusXM Studios on Nov. 1, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. / Credit: Jason Kempin/Getty Images for SiriusXM

CNA Staff, Jul 17, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

More than 50,000 people will gather in Indianapolis this week for the National Eucharistic Congress, the culmination of the multiyear National Eucharistic Revival. The goal of the revival has been to “renew the Church by enkindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the holy Eucharist.”

As part of the celebrations, participants will take part in large-scale Revival Sessions, the capstone of each day of the congress. These sessions, held in Lucas Oil Stadium, will feature dynamic speakers as well as praise and worship. The different tracks of the congress, which feature speakers and workshops that are tailored for Catholics of various walks of life, will also include musical performances.

Meet and preview the music of just a few of the talented musicians who will perform at the Congress. The full list of musicians can be found on the “Speakers” page of the Congress website.

Saturday worship leader: Matt Maher

Matt Maher, a Canadian musician best known for his contemporary worship hits such as “Lord I Need You” and “Your Grace Is Enough,” will lead a massive worship session in Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday, July 20.

The Grammy Award-nominated Catholic musician recently told “EWTN News in Depth” that Eucharistic adoration has “been part of my journey of faith, I think, in a very unique way.”

“I’ve witnessed that so many times throughout the years — people of all ages coming to a deeper awareness of God’s love for them in their life, but I think in a specific way, God’s love for them in the Eucharist,” Maher said.

“[And] if we could be more available to the grace present in it, and allow it to transform our lives, it should spill out into society … the biggest thing that I’m excited about is just knowing the seeds that God is going to plant that night and how hopefully it will spill out into all our smaller parishes and communities.”

Revival Sessions: Dave and Lauren Moore

Other than Saturday evening, the music for each of the massive Revival Sessions will be provided by Dave and Lauren Moore.

The Moores are Catholic musicians from Texas who co-founded the Catholic Music Initiative, a nonprofit apostolate that aims to create beautiful and singable music for Mass. They say their work strives to build a bridge between contemporary and traditional. Dave is a singer-songwriter, producer, and liturgist, while Lauren is vocalist in a variety of styles, recently focusing on sacred chant.

‘Cultivate’ sessions

Steve Angrisano and Francesca LaRosa will provide music for the “Cultivate” sessions, which are geared toward families.

Angrisano is a well-known Catholic composer, presenter, and music minister. In addition to leading worship for many Catholic events, especially youth events, he has composed music for Oregon Catholic Press for the past 25 years.

Joining him is LaRosa, an Indianapolis-based Catholic composer best known for her settings of the Psalms and prayers set to music. She told CNA in 2020 that she is a “firm believer that music can offer healing and music can give comfort, and that music can lead us back to God.”

‘Empower’ sessions

The Empower sessions are “for anyone who wants practical tools to become a ‘Eucharistic missionary’ evangelizing their community and taking on a deeper role in spreading the Gospel to those around them.”

Josh Blakesley, a musician from Houston, is one of the music leaders for these sessions. Blakesley has led music for 20-plus years at various events, churches, festivals, and conferences including Steubenville Conferences.

Joining also is The Vigil Project, a collective of musicians formed in 2016 with a common mission to make Catholic music for Catholic prayer. TVP says it maintains a seasonal touring schedule between producing new music and film projects.

‘Encuentro’ sessions

The Encuentro sessions are designed for all those Spanish-speakers who desire a more profound faith and comprehension of Jesus and the holy Eucharist.

Nico Cabrera, a bilingual worship leader born and raised in Colombia, has traveled the world teaching and leading worship. In 2019 he played on the main stage in World Youth Day Panama.

Kairy Márquez, a Latina worship leader who was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New York City, now lives in a suburb of Atlanta. She has recorded two Spanish worship albums and has traveled to many Latin American and European countries to share the Gospel and lead people to encounter and adore Jesus in the Eucharist.

‘Encounter’ sessions

Sarah Kroger, a well-known Catholic singer and songwriter, will provide music for the Encounter sessions, which are designed for “everyone who desires a deeper renewal of their faith, a richer understanding of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and clarity on what the next step in their faith journey will be after the National Eucharistic Congress.”

Dave and Lauren Moore will also be providing music for the Encounter sessions.

‘Awaken’ sessions

The Awaken sessions are designed for high school youth — incoming freshmen through just-graduated seniors.

Andrew Laubacher, who goes by “ALOB,” is a revert to the Catholic faith who returned after attending a Steubenville Youth Conference. He is on the road full time, traveling and evangelizing around the world.

Joining for the Awaken sessions is Ricky Vazquez, a bilingual worship leader and songwriter and recording artist of Puerto Rican descent. Vazquez is a part of the worship collective called “Village Lights,” which was nominated for a GMA Dove Award. He is also a part of Anchor Hymns, a collective of artists writing new hymns for the Church.

Details on additional musicians are available here.

From cancer to healing: A pilgrim’s journey to the National Eucharistic Congress

Christina Wheatley, a cancer survivor, in front of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Indianapolis, where a welcome Mass was held July 16, 2024, to kick off the National Eucharistic Congress. / Credit: Zelda Caldwell/CNA

Indianapolis, Ind., Jul 16, 2024 / 17:50 pm (CNA).

“We are being sent forth on mission to make Christ known to others and to be Christ to others,” Christina Wheatley of Jeffersonsville, Indiana, told CNA on the eve of the National Eucharistic Congress this week.

Wheatley was among the first pilgrims to arrive in Indianapolis for the five-day event, which kicked off Tuesday with a welcoming Mass and Eucharistic adoration at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in downtown Indianapolis.

Throughout the day, cars and vans dropped off groups of religious sisters and pilgrims of all ages in front of the church ahead of the culminating event of the National Eucharistic Revival, the U.S. bishops’ initiative to inspire an understanding and love for Jesus in the Eucharist.

Following the Mass, pilgrims continued to trickle into the historic church across the street from the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium to spend some time with Jesus in the Eucharist.

The first pilgrims arrive on July 16, 2024, at the Indiana Convention Center for the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis. Credit: Zelda Caldwell/CNA
The first pilgrims arrive on July 16, 2024, at the Indiana Convention Center for the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis. Credit: Zelda Caldwell/CNA

Wheatley, one of the 50,000-some pilgrims expected to attend the congress taking place from July 17–21 told CNA her personal story of how she found healing through the Eucharist.

A cancer survivor, Wheatley said she was eager to meet others attending the event, to share how the Eucharist brought her real healing after her diagnosis — to “talk one-on-one, to hear their story and share my story wherever possible.”

During the COVID pandemic Wheatley, who is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion at St. John Paul II Catholic Church in Sellersburg, Indiana, told CNA she received permission from her parish priest to continue to go from house to house distributing Communion to those who couldn’t come to Mass.

But then she received the news from her doctor that she had colon cancer.

Despite her disease and compromised immune system, Wheatley continued to make her rounds, visiting the homes of her fellow parishioners to allow them to receive Communion.

“I thought, ‘Why not?’” she said. “I wanted to be Christ to someone who couldn’t be there at Mass.”

Receiving the Eucharist during her treatment, she said, brought her healing. “It’s something that you have to experience to understand.” 

And then, despite a bad prognosis, Wheatley had CT scans taken. Three days after her surgery to remove a tumor in her colon, she said, the pathologist told her that he had some “good news” that one “doesn’t hear too often.”

“There is no sign of cancer,” he said. 

And while the scans initially showed that the cancer had spread to her lungs, subsequent tests showed that whatever was on her lungs hadn’t grown. The radiologist, Wheatley said, told her: “So we’re going to call them scars.”

Wheatley said she is in Indianapolis to share what receiving the Eucharist means to her.

“I gained my strength and courage to get through my cancer,“ she said.

Republicans demand answers after leaked Army briefing labels pro-lifers ‘terrorists’

A participant in the OneLife rally in Los Angeles on Jan. 23, 2016. / Credit: Courtesy of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 16, 2024 / 17:20 pm (CNA).

More than 100 Senate and House Republicans are demanding answers after a leaked photo of an Army briefing at Fort Liberty, North Carolina, showed a slide labeling pro-life activity and groups as potential terrorist threats.

“The American people deserve to be assured that these slides truly do not reflect the Army’s views, that a full investigation will be conducted, and that any offending employees will be properly held accountable. Finally, we must be assured that similar materials are not being utilized at other installations across the Army,” said one letter, signed by 87 Senate and House Republicans.

Another letter, issued by members of the House Armed Services Committee, which is tasked with oversight of the Department of Defense, demanded answers from Army Secretary Christine Wormuth by July 25.

“It is crucial that our military maintains political neutrality and respect for diverse viewpoints within the bounds of the law. Regardless of any base commanders’ concern for protests from potential groups, the idea that such protected constitutional activities by lawful organizations qualifies them as terrorists is absurd,” the letter said.

What did the slide say?

The slide was being used to train the installation’s security personnel as recently as last week. It specifically labeled two pro-life organizations, National Right to Life and Operation Rescue, as terrorist groups.

A photograph of the slide was leaked to social media last week and is said to have been in use at Fort Liberty, formerly Fort Bragg, which is one of the largest military installations in the world and home of the U.S. Army’s Airborne and Special Operations Forces.

The training material also implied that opposition to Roe v. Wade and pro-life advocacy such as sidewalk counseling, demonstrations, and crisis pregnancy center counseling also constitute terrorist activity. The slide further suggested that vehicles with “Choose Life” license plates, which are approved in 34 states and the District of Columbia, are also indicative of a terrorist threat.

In a Facebook post on Thursday, Fort Liberty disavowed the slide and said that the training material was “not vetted by the appropriate authorities” and did not reflect the views of the Army or Defense Department.

The installation said that the slides had been developed by a “local garrison employee” and promised that said material “will no longer be used.”

Republicans demand answers

The letter from the House Armed Services Committee members urged Army leadership to “immediately” issue a correction to all service members who received the briefing, discipline those responsible for the briefing, and implement new rules ensuring officials do not make such claims in the Army’s name in the future.

Critically, the letter demands the Army disclose how long the material had been used and to confirm whether any other training materials labeling pro-lifers as terrorists have or are being used on any other installations.

“Training the installation gate guards to ensure that servicemembers and their families who have pro-life license plates should be considered suspicious and possible terroristic threats to the installation, is not only absurd but dangerous,” the letter said. “Young soldiers trained to treat certain state-issued license plates as a terrorist threat heightens the risk that they will be involved in a needlessly confrontational situation with otherwise permissible drivers accessing Fort Liberty. Disturbingly, it also requires soldiers at the gate to profile conservatives for their political leanings.”

An effort to vilify pro-life people

Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, told CNA that she was shocked to see the military training slides labeling her group a terrorist organization.

“We don’t do violence,” she said.

Tobias believes the slides are indicative of a wider atmosphere created by the Biden administration to “vilify pro-life people as anti-women bigots.”  

Though her group’s logo was on the slide, Tobias thinks that it is pregnancy resource centers that are the primary targets of pro-abortion ire from both the government and nongovernment forces.

She pointed out the string of attacks against pro-life pregnancy centers that has been ongoing since the overturn of Roe v. Wade in 2022 as well as government efforts, such as in a state-sanctioned program to dissuade people from going to pregnancy resource centers in Massachusetts.

“They are trying to marginalize pro-life people, pro-life activities as un-American,” she said.

Take down his art or not: Who is alleged serial abuser Father Marko Rupnik?

Father Marko Rupnik, SJ. / Credit: Vatican News/Screenshot

ACI Prensa Staff, Jul 16, 2024 / 16:50 pm (CNA).

Father Marko Ivan Rupnik is a former Jesuit priest whose artwork decorates Catholic churches, chapels, and shrines around the world, including the Redemptoris Mater chapel in the Vatican and the major seminary of Rome. He is accused of having committed serious sexual, spiritual, and psychological abuse of women for decades and his case is currently being investigated by the Vatican.

Rupnik’s career

Rupnik, 69, was born in 1954 in Zadlog, Slovenia. During his youth he studied at the School of Fine Arts in Rome and at the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he earned a doctorate with a thesis on the theological significance of modern art in the light of Russian theology.

In the 1980s in his native country with the nun Ivanka Hosta he founded the Loyola Community, where he allegedly abused nuns.

He is also the founder of the Centro Aletti spiritual art workshop in Rome, from where many of the accusations of abuse have also come.

Six years since the first allegations

According to a timeline released by the Society of Jesus, the first accusations against Rupnik were received in October 2018 for giving absolution in confession to an accomplice in a sin against the Sixth Commandment.

In May of the following year, the investigation led by the Society of Jesus considered the accusations credible and a file was sent to the Congregation — now the Dicastery — for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which launched a criminal administrative process.

In May 2020, the Vatican confirmed the facts and declared Rupnik to be in a state of “latae sententiae” (automatic) excommunication. The excommunication lasted only two weeks, as it was lifted by a CDF decree that same month.

In June 2021, new accusations came in regarding Rupnik and some members of the Loyola Community, so the Society of Jesus established a preliminary investigation and imposed restrictions on the priest.

The CDF stated in October 2022 that the statute of limitations had expired and that no trial could proceed despite the Jesuits urging the Vatican to begin criminal proceedings.

However, in December 2022, the case was in the news again after the appearance of new alleged victims of Rupnik in Rome, this time related to the Aletti Center.

In his capacity as Vatican commissioner for the Loyola Community, dissolved in December 2023, the now assistant for consecrated life of the Holy Father, Bishop Daniele Libanori, confirmed the veracity of the abuse against the nuns of which Rupnik is accused.

The Society of Jesus expelled Rupnik in June 2023, and the Diocese of Koper, Slovenia, incardinated him in August 2023.

In October 2023, Pope Francis lifted the statute of limitations on the case and ordered that the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith begin a judicial process, after detecting “serious problems in the way the case was handled.”

In February, two alleged victims of Rupnik made their first public appearance and shared their heartrending testimony at a press conference in Rome.

Although expelled from the Jesuits, Rupnik continues to appear as a Jesuit and Vatican consultant in the 2024 Pontifical Yearbook.

World-famous artist

Rupnik has created numerous religious works of art around the world and is especially known for his easily recognizable mosaics.

In 1996, St. John Paul II entrusted him with the renovation of the mosaic in the Redemptoris Mater chapel in the apostolic palace in the Vatican.

Three years later, the “Pilgrim Pope” presided over the rite of dedication of the chapel, where Rupnik and his team had restored the Wall of the Incarnation, the Wall of the Ascension and Pentecost, and the Wall of the Parousia.

In February 2011, Rupnik’s Aletti Center renovated the main chapel inside the building of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference in Madrid.

Also in the Spanish capital, the Slovenian priest decorated the main sacristy, the chapter house, and the Blessed Sacrament chapel in the Almudena Cathedral.

In addition, the priest artist did the art for the main altar wall of the shrine to the Holy Trinity in Fátima, Portugal, located in front of the site of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary, and his work is also found at the Lourdes shrine in France.

In Italy, Rupnik designed the ramp and crypt of the lower Church of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, in San Giovanni Rotondo, where thousands of Catholic faithful come to venerate Padre Pio.

He also decorated the chapel of the Pontifical Major Roman Seminary in Italy with his famous mosaics; the Manresa Cave shrine in Spain, where the artist painted 90 faces of biblical figures; the Church of Our Lady of the Southern Cross in Australia; the Aparecida Shrine in Brazil; and the Knights of Columbus’ Holy Family Chapel in New Haven, Connecticut.

Rupnik was the author of the logo of the Jubilee of Mercy convened by Pope Francis on Dec. 8, 2015, and was also commissioned to create the official image for the 10th World Meeting of Families that took place in Rome from June 22–26, 2022.

Should Rupnik’s artworks be removed or not?

Earlier this month, the bishop of Lourdes, France, Jean-Marc Micas, stated that the Rupnik mosaics should be removed, but he refrained from making a final decision on their fate in the face of “strong opposition.”

Cardinal Seán O'Malley, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and a member of the C9 council of cardinals that advises Pope Francis, asked in a letter that “pastoral prudence would prevent displaying artwork in a way that could imply either exoneration or a subtle defense” of those of accused of abuse. 

The cardinal’s letter appeared a week after the prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication, Paolo Ruffini, defended the use of his art.

Ruffini noted that there is no official verdict yet and that “anticipating a decision is something that, in our opinion, is not good.” Furthermore, he asserted that “removing, erasing, destroying art has never been a good choice.”

At the same time, the lawyer for the alleged victims, Laura Sgrò, called for the removal of the mosaics in a letter written on behalf of five complainants and addressed to the bishops.

The Knights of Columbus announced July 10 that it will cover the Rupnik mosaics located in the two chapels of the National Shrine of St. John Paul II in Washington, D.C., and in the chapel in the Knights’ headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut.

Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly told EWTN News that his work will be covered at least until the Vatican’s formal investigation is completed.

This story was first published in December 2023 and has been updated by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

‘Letter from the Americas’ urges Pope Francis to stop Latin Mass bans

Elevation of the chalice at a Traditional Latin Mass. / Credit: Wikimedia JoeJ10/CC BY-SA 4.0

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 16, 2024 / 16:20 pm (CNA).

As worries mount over a possible ban against the Traditional Latin Mass, prominent Catholic and non-Catholic artists, activists, and leaders have come together in a letter to urge Pope Francis to refrain from any further restrictions against the extraordinary form of the Mass.

Published on Monday and titled “An Open Letter from the Americas to Pope Francis,” the letter calls the Latin Mass a “magnificent achievement of civilization” and “part of the common cultural heritage of humanity.”

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who vocally supported a similar letter advocating for the Latin Mass published last week in the U.K., has endorsed the letter from the Americas, sharing it on his social media account.

Among the signatories are Dana Gioia, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, who organized the letter through the Benedict XVI Institute; Frank La Rocca, composer, “Mass of the Americas”; David Conte, chair and professor of composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music; Larry Chapp, theologian and founder of Dorothy Day Workers Farm; Eduardo Verástegui, film producer and actor; Nina Shea, international religious freedom advocate; and Andrew Sullivan, writer and author.  

The authors of the letter respectfully ask that “no further restrictions be placed on the Traditional Latin Mass so that it may be preserved for the good of the Catholic Church and of the world.”

What is the Latin Mass and what is going on? 

The Latin Mass, also known as the Mass offered using the 1962 Roman Missal, was codified following the Council of Trent in the 16th century and is believed to have ancient origins.

Though the Vatican has not issued a comprehensive ban on the Latin liturgy, the Holy See has in recent years significantly restricted its use. In July 2021, Francis issued the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes that placed restrictions on Latin Masses.

The authors acknowledge the sacredness of the novus ordo (post-Vatican II) Mass and are careful to distance themselves from Latin Mass supporters who have been antagonistic toward Francis. The Catholic signees further explicitly pledge their continued “filial loyalty” to the pope.

However, in the letter they strive to make their case: “To deprive the next generation of artists of this source of mystery, beauty, and contemplation of the sacred seems shortsighted,” they argue.

“We come to you with the humility and obedience but also the confidence of children, telling a loving father of our spiritual needs,” the authors wrote. “All of us, believers and nonbelievers alike, recognize that this ancient liturgy, which inspired the work of Palestrina, Bach, and Beethoven and generations of great artists, is a magnificent achievement of civilization and part of the common cultural heritage of humanity. It is medicine for the soul, one antidote to the gross materialism of the postmodern age.”

‘Beauty evangelizes’

In a July 8 commentary piece in the National Catholic Register, CNA’s sister news partner, Cordileone said that the beauty of the Latin Mass is an important part of the Church’s ministry in a “de-Christianized age that is becoming increasingly inhospitable to any traditional sense of religion.”

He pointed to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council on the importance of reading the signs of the times, saying that “one sign staring at us right now in large block letters is: Beauty evangelizes.” 

“We live in an age when we need to leverage the power of beauty to touch minds, hearts, and souls, for beauty has the quality of an inescapably real experience, one that is not subject to argument ... In an age of anxiety and unreason, beauty is thus a largely untapped resource for reaching people, especially young people, with the Gospel message of hope,” Cordileone wrote.

In a statement to CNA, Shea explained her decision to sign the letter, emphasizing that the Latin Mass is “part of our cultural heritage.”

Shea mentioned that one of her most memorable experiences with the Latin Mass was attending a liturgy celebrated by Chinese Cardinal Ignatius Kung shortly after his release from 33 years of communist imprisonment.

“He did not speak English, but we were able to unite in our prayers through our shared ancient liturgical language and in a way that was not unfamiliar to me,” she explained.  

“I don’t often go to Latin Masses, but I have appreciated its beauty and the thought that my ancestors worshipped that way for centuries,” Shea said. “I think we Catholics should learn about and preserve our core ancient traditions passed down through the ages. Nothing is more central to that tradition than liturgical practice.”

Catholic counselors sue Michigan over therapy restrictions for trans-identifying kids

Michigan State Capitol Building in Lansing, Michigan. / Credit: John McLenaghan/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jul 16, 2024 / 15:50 pm (CNA).

Catholic counselors filed a federal lawsuit on Friday against Michigan’s broad ban on so-called “conversion therapy” for minors, saying the law limits their ability to counsel children struggling with their gender identity. 

The Michigan law, HB 4616, directs that mental health professionals “shall not engage in conversion therapy with a minor.” The lawsuit, filed in U.S. district court, argues that the rule “forces counselors to ‘affirm’ children in the belief that they were born in the wrong body.”

Catholic counselor Emily McJones and several local Catholic Charities affiliates argue in the suit that the law, passed in July of last year, “harms vulnerable children.”

“This is a lawsuit about helping children who experience distress over their biological sex,” the 33-page complaint of Catholic Charities v. Whitmer argues.

“I opened Little Flower to offer those who come through my doors compassionate therapy that helps them live whole, integrated lives,” McJones, a licensed therapist and owner of the Lansing-based Little Flower Counseling, said in a July 12 press release from the religious liberty law firm Becket, which is representing the plaintiffs.

“But now Michigan officials are threatening to strip my license because I provide therapy rooted in my faith and the best available scientific evidence,” McJones said.

McJones joined the Catholic Church in 2017 and began her practice in 2020. Named for St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who is known as “the Little Flower,” her practice offers “psychotherapy from an authentically Catholic perspective,” according to her website.

Her practice is open to anyone. Her website states that she “will never violate my faith in my practice” and will “never push my faith” on clients.

HB 4616 allows only what state statute calls “acceptance, support, or understanding” from counselors discussing gender transitions with their clients, requiring that a counselor “does not seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” 

Those in violation of the law could lose their license or be fined up to $250,000.

Michigan is one of 22 other states that have restrictions against so-called “conversion therapy.” A Christian marriage and family counselor’s lawsuit against a Washington state ban on “conversion therapy” reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2023, but the court declined to hear it. 

“Michigan’s attempt to gag compassionate, professional counselors is contrary to the Constitution, sound evidence, and common sense,” Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in the group’s press release.

“The Constitution doesn’t let the government dictate what people can and can’t say — especially when the government is cutting off vulnerable children and families from counseling they desperately want to receive,” he noted.

The suit argues that HB 4616 violates due process because “it employs vague, undefined terms that invite arbitrary and selective enforcement” as well as violating rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.

“Worse, HB 4616 harms vulnerable children by depriving them of the compassionate counseling they so desperately need,” the lawsuit read.

“Instead of allowing counselors to help children explore the underlying factors that may be contributing to their distress, and to help them accept and embrace their biological sex, HB 4616 forces counselors to ‘affirm’ children in the belief that they were born in the wrong body and help them undergo permanent, life-altering medical procedures that many will come to regret.”

The Catholic Church affirms biological sex as a gift from God. A recent document from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dignitas Infinita, noted: “Any sex-change intervention, as a rule, risks threatening the unique dignity the person has received from the moment of conception.”

The lawsuit requests a preliminary and permanent injunction against the enforcement of HB 4616. A hearing is expected later this year.

Appeals court refuses to reinstate Oklahoma federal grants in abortion referral dispute

null / Credit: Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jul 16, 2024 / 15:20 pm (CNA).

A federal appeals court this week refused to reinstate federal family planning grants to Oklahoma after the state refused to provide abortion referrals in its family planning services. 

The state in November filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) after the Biden administration suspended “millions of dollars” in Title X federal family planning funding. 

Oklahoma said in the lawsuit that HHS “overreached by unlawfully suspending and terminating millions of dollars of Title X grant funding” to the state after it would “not commit to providing referrals for abortion” in its own family planning programs.

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

A U.S. district court had earlier rejected the state’s request for an injunction against HHS. In a decision on Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision, agreeing that “the combination of Title X and the HHS requirements” doesn’t violate the spending power of Congress, and that the state “acted voluntarily and knowingly when accepting HHS’ conditions” regarding the federal funding. 

Citing the lower court’s ruling, the appeals court said in part that the “act of sharing the call-in number” wouldn’t constitute “a referral for pregnant women to get abortions.” 

In a dissent to the Monday ruling, Judge Richard Federico argued that Oklahoma was entitled to the injunction due in part to the “irreparable harm” the state will suffer from the loss of about $4.5 million in Title X funds.

“The termination of the financial grant is actual, irreparable harm that will occur before the district court rules on the merits of the case, warranting relief,” Federico wrote.

In a statement on Tuesday, Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond told CNA he was “disappointed by the ruling.” 

“As the dissent rightly points out, ‘rather than complying with its statutory obligations,’ the federal government stripped millions in funding from the Oklahoma Health Department because it refused to refer women for abortions,” Drummond said. 

“Moreover, the dissent wrote, this ‘violation of’ federal law ‘reduces access to health care for those who need it most,’” the prosecutor added. 

“We will appeal the court’s decision,” he said. 

The dispute is part of a larger back-and-forth series of abortion regulations issued first by the Trump administration and then the Biden administration. 

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

In 2021 the Biden administration reversed that rule. Oklahoma’s lawsuit last year said the White House now requires that Title X recipients offer pregnant women “the opportunity to be provided information and counseling regarding” abortion.

Top Catholic app reportedly removed from app store in China

This photo taken on Jan. 15, 2024, shows a Chinese flag fluttering below a cross on a Christian church in Pingtan in China’s southeast Fujian province. / Credit: GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, Jul 16, 2024 / 14:50 pm (CNA).

The popular U.S.-based Catholic app Hallow has been removed from the Apple App Store in China for featuring “illegal” content, the app’s founder said Monday. 

Alex Jones, Hallow’s founder, posted on social media Monday afternoon that the app “just got kicked out of the App Store in China.”

“Praying for all the Christians in China,” he added.

Hallow is a prayer app that provides audio-based Catholic devotional content. Since launching in 2018, Hallow says its app has been downloaded over 14 million times “across 150-plus countries.” In February, downloads of Hallow briefly topped the app store, across all categories, for the first time.

Jones told CNA in an email Tuesday that the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) informed him Hallow was “deemed to include content on the app that is illegal in China and so must be removed,” with no further details provided.

He said the number of users of the Catholic app in China was “well into the thousands,” though they don’t have exact numbers. China’s Catholics, according to one study, peaked at 12 million in 2005.

“We will continue to try and serve our brothers and sisters in Christ in China as best we can through our website, web application, social media content, but mostly with our prayers,” Jones said.

He declined to speculate on the timing of the CAC’s action. A major new audio series about the life of St. John Paul II, “Witness to Hope,” launched on Hallow this week and makes mention of the saint’s resistance to communism.

The communist government of China is officially atheist, though a handful of “official” religions are tolerated, including Catholicism. The Church in China is split between the government-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and an “underground” Catholic Church that is persecuted and loyal to Rome.

The Vatican in 2018 signed on to a controversial deal with the Chinese government on the appointment of bishops, which China has repeatedly defied by appointing its own loyalists to episcopal positions.

The Chinese government has long exerted heavy control and surveillance over the internet and social media in the country and also pressures religious believers to conform to the ideology of the Communist Party. Among other things, Chinese law requires that religious education and sites of worship must be officially approved by and registered with the government.

This is not the first time that the CAC has used Chinese cyber law to pressure the removal of religious apps. In 2021, a digital Bible company removed its app from Apple’s app store offerings in China while Apple itself removed a Quran app from its China store, at the request of Chinese officials.

The CAC’s censorship is also not limited to religious apps: In April, the CAC ordered Apple to remove WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram — three of the world’s most popular messaging apps, all of which offer private, encrypted messaging — from the app store, citing national security concerns.

Suspect charged with felony hate crime after beheading statue of Jesus at New York parish

null / Credit: ArtOlympic/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jul 16, 2024 / 14:20 pm (CNA).

A suspect in a vandalism incident at a New York City parish has been charged with a hate crime after beheading a statue of the Christ Child in Queens. 

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said in a press release on her website that Jamshaid Choudhry “has been charged with criminal mischief as a hate crime and other related crimes” in connection with the smashing of the statue at Holy Family Roman Catholic Church in Fresh Meadows on June 30. 

The attack “caused the head of one of the statues, the depiction of a child Jesus, to break off,” Katz’s office said. 

Surveillance footage reportedly showed Choudhry pulling up to the parish in a yellow cab, after which he allegedly ran up to the statue, took off his shoe, and struck the statue multiple times with it, beheading the depiction of Jesus. 

The vandalism reportedly cost the church about $3,000. Choudhry himself was arrested last week. 

“We will not tolerate unprovoked attacks, especially those driven by hate,” Katz said in the statement. “Queens stands as a beacon of diversity and inclusivity, where freedom of religion and expression are celebrated as fundamental pillars of our democracy.” 

“Thanks to my Hate Crimes Bureau and the NYPD’s Hate Crime Task Force, this individual has been apprehended,” she added. 

The suspect faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. 

The New York incident is one of numerous acts of vandalism against Catholic churches and other faith organizations in recent months and years. 

Last month the faith-based crisis pregnancy center Heartbeat of Miami settled with vandals who graffitied its property after the Supreme Court repealed Roe v. Wade in 2022. 

In February, a vandal defaced a statue of the Blessed Mother in a prayer garden on the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. 

In April, a vandal in Portland, Oregon, spray-painted a church there with an expletive and the slogan “my body my choice.” The pastor there urged his parish to pray for the vandal. 

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told EWTN News earlier this year that the various acts of vandalism, as well as other, more violent attacks on parishes, “are not random nor are they the result of a temporary lapse in judgment by perpetrators.” 

The senator criticized the Biden administration for failing to pursue and prosecute these attacks. 

“They can’t find a single person or any of these people that were responsible for these, what is a pretty concerted effort to attack Catholic churches in America,” he said.