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Religious freedom objections to mandatory health care coverage part of broader lawsuit

null / Gorodenkoff via Shutterstock.

Denver Newsroom, Aug 11, 2022 / 13:39 pm (CNA).

Religious freedom violations are among the claims of a federal lawsuit challenging mandatory “preventive care” coverage in employee health plans. But the lawsuit’s other challenges to federal rule-making could have far-reaching consequences.

Though the Texas-based plaintiffs echo previous challengers in objecting to abortifacient contraceptives as mandatory “preventive care,” they also object to mandatory no-cost coverage of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a drug regimen intended to reduce the risk of HIV infection; STD tests and STD counseling; and drug use counseling.

“The government cannot possibly show that forcing private insurers to provide PrEP drugs, the HPV vaccine, and screenings and behavioral counseling for STDs and drug use free of charge is a policy of such overriding importance that it can trump religious-freedom objections,” said the lawsuit in Kelley v. Becerra.

The lawsuit was filed in 2020, but argued only last month before U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor.

John A. Di Camillo, an ethicist and director of personal consultations with the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that the objections raise valid moral questions.

“It certainly is an important moral consideration to know whether or not funding this kind of drug or this kind of procedure may actually incentivize or encourage or enable your employees to engage in immoral behaviors,” he said Aug. 9.

Alleged religious freedom violations constitute one of the eight claims made in the lawsuit. This claim charges violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires that the federal government may not “substantially burden” the free exercise of religion, unless there is a “compelling government interest” in doing so, and it is carried out in the “least-restrictive” manner possible.

A narrow court ruling on the issue of religious freedom could avoid a broader ruling about administrative law. A broad court ruling, however, could eliminate all requirements that insurers provide preventive care coverage at no cost, Bloomberg Law reported in April.

The lawsuit describes one plaintiff, orthodontist John Kelley of Tarrant County, Texas, as a Christian with religious objections to purchasing some health plans that subsidize abortifacient contraception or PrEP drugs that “encourage homosexual behavior and intravenous drug use.” He does not need or want health insurance that covers Truvada or PrEP drugs “because neither he nor any of his family members is engaged in behavior that transmits HIV.” He has no desire for contraceptive coverage “because his wife is past her child-bearing years.”

The other plaintiffs are Kelley Orthodontics, Joel Starnes, and Braidwood Management, Inc. Some plaintiffs, like Braidwood owner Steven F. Hotze, also object to mandatory coverage of STD screenings and counseling for those engaged in non-marital sexual behavior.

The plaintiffs claim a grounds for class action because the mandates still limit their options for health insurance that excludes or limits coverage as they desire.

Di Camillo, who has worked on ethics reviews of Catholic health insurance programs, told CNA that self-insured plans mean the employer is “actually directly paying out of pocket for the medical expenses.” This is in contrast to standard insurance programs where a large outside company pays for expenses.

“There's a more direct relationship, and so there's a heightened level of moral concern or responsibility for the employer in those situations,” he said.

Other claims in the lawsuit involve aspects of administrative law known as the non-delegation doctrine, which requires Congress to provide agencies with sufficient principles, policy, and standards to guide their action. The Supreme Court has not sided with claims of excessive delegation since two cases in 1935. The lawsuit charges that Congress wrongly delegated the definition of “preventive care” to regulators under the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had ruled that mandatory preventive care in employee health plans must include contraception, including drugs that can cause abortion. It did not provide exemptions for those with objections to the coverage. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled against this mandate in favor of Hobby Lobby, a closely-held company whose Christian owners had a religious objection to abortifacients. In 2020, the high court ruled in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who objected to providing contraceptive coverage in their employee health plans.

If the Kelley v. Becerra case results in a broad ruling against the regulatory mandates, it would eliminate mandatory no-cost coverage of cancer screenings, vaccines, counseling for alcohol abuse, diet counseling for those at risk of chronic disease, and other preventive services, National Public Radio reports.  The American Medical Association has led a coalition of more than 60 medical organizations in warning against a broad ruling.

Di Camillo considered the ethical questions involved in health care plan coverage and employers’ moral objections.

“We don't want to be forcing a company to have to subsidize all of the consequences of immoral behaviors,” he said. “On the other hand, we can take the approach of a Christian mercy that sees we’re all sinners and sometimes people make bad decisions.”

“Certainly, in a Catholic perspective, we often look not to just whether something is tied to immoral behavior, but whether there are grounds for helping an individual in need, even if that need arises from immoral choices,” he said.

There are questions about whether the exclusions in the case would mean no coverage for those at risk of disease, such as a dependent minor, or no coverage for an employee at risk of disease because of an adulterous spouse.

There are also questions about whether a moral objection is too rigorous, but Di Camillo cautioned that objections should be taken seriously.

“I think there is a tendency to quickly assume someone else is misapplying or misunderstanding (ethics), (but) sometimes we ourselves may be the ones who are misapplying or misunderstanding.” 

Di Camillo emphasized that employers do have a duty to make clear to prospective and current employees any conscientious objection exclusions in their health coverage so that “this is not sprung on them as a surprise.”

Majority of German Catholics don't like Church being against abortion, poll finds

The 2021 March for Life in Berlin, Germany. / Rudolf Gehrig/CNA Deutsch.

CNA Newsroom, Aug 11, 2022 / 06:58 am (CNA).

According to a new representative poll, 58% of German Catholics do not like "the fact that the Pope and the Church speak out against abortions." 

The Catholic weekly newspaper Die Tagespost commissioned the survey from the opinion research institute INSA Consulere, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

"Among Lutheran respondents, the opinion picture is even clearer: 67% do not support the position of the pope and the church on the protection of life," the Tagespost reported on Aug. 8. 

The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is a grave evil and is never acceptable at any stage of pregnancy. 

Pope Francis has repeatedly and strongly condemned abortion.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Since the first century, the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.” 

“Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law: You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.”

In July, a leading laywoman and co-president of the German "Synodal Way" demanded a "nationwide provision of abortion" across the European Union's most populous country.

Irme Stetter-Karp, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), acknowledged that abortion should not be considered a "regular medical service," adding, however, that the committee advocated for "ethically responsible action on the part of all those involved."

The Central Committee of German Catholics is the organizer of the controversial "Synodal Way," together with the German Bishops' Conference. As serving president of the lay committee, Stetter-Karp is also co-president of the German process.

In an open letter launched by the initiative “Maria 1.0,” several well-known German signatories criticize Stetter-Karp and call on the president of the German Bishops' Conference to cut ties with her, reported CNA Deutsch on Aug. 11.

Germany currently permits abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, with mandatory counseling at a state-approved center, as well as later abortions in certain circumstances.

The country of 83 million people recorded approximately 100,000 abortions in the pandemic year 2020.

Following the German federal government’s decision in March, the German bishops’ conference published a statement expressing cautious criticism of the government’s plans to lift the ban on abortion advertising.

Spanish shrine where Our Lady of Fatima appeared to Sister Lucía is falling into ruin

Sister Lucia, seer of Fatima (left); detail of the sanctuary of Pontevedra (right) / Photo credits: Facebook, Virgin of Fatima / www.santuariodelasapariciones.org

ACI Prensa Staff, Aug 11, 2022 / 04:00 am (CNA).

The Shrine of the Apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima in Pontevedra, Spain, is in a dilapidated state. The place where Our Lady called for the first Saturday devotion — to make reparation to her Immaculate Heart on the first Saturday of the month for five consecutive months — needs urgent reconstruction work to avoid total ruin. 

“It’s a shame that such a special place is in this state,” said Father Luis Manuel Romero, the delegate of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference for the Shrine of the Apparitions of Pontevedra.

The architects who have planned the restoration project for the shrine said that the wood supporting the roofing has been damaged by fungi and rotting due to humidity and water leaks so “the structure must be changed and waterproofed.”

In addition, in a substructure “the supports on the stone walls are deteriorated,” which is why it “has rained inside the shrine,” the priest lamented.

To address the situation, the Spanish Bishops’ Conference has acquired ownership of the place, which until a year ago was owned by the World Apostolate of Fatima in Spain.

Romero told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister news agency, that it is hoped the first phase of the restoration work “will be completed in October.” This includes the most pressing task, which is “to put the new roof on and to redo the floor in the cell of the apparitions.”

“A chapel will be built larger” than the existing one, he said, which will include the cell where one can venerate the exact place where, on Dec. 10, 1925, the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus appeared to Sister Lucía.

Need for financing

The repair project has an estimated cost of about $900,000, of which only about $200,000 has been collected, an amount that won’t cover even the first phase of the work needed to be done. In addition, another $200,000 must be raised to pay for taxes not foreseen in the first estimate.

According to ACI Prensa, if funding is not obtained for this first phase, the project will be terminated.

Currently, funding is being sought through various foundations as well as public institutions such as the regional government of Galicia, but there is also the support of private benefactors.

The majority of the voluntary contributions are being collected through a crowdfunding website for the shrine in Pontevedra, www.santuariodelasapariciones.org, launched by a group of lay people encouraged by Father Javier Siegrist, the pastor of Holy Christ of Mercy parish in Boadilla del Monte in the Diocese of Getafe, Spain.

How the girl Lucía arrived incognito in Spain

The Fatima message was revealed through various apparitions, most of them in Portugal. But not all of the apparitions occurred there.

First, an angel appeared in Aljustrel, Portugal, three times in 1916. Later, the Virgin visited the seers Francisco, Jacinta, and Lucía in the Cova da Iria and Valinhos between May and October 1917.

It was in the apparition of July 13, 1917, that the children were entrusted with the devotion of reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on the first Saturdays of five consecutive months.

After the death of Francisco in 1919 and Jacinta in 1920, Lucia came under the protection of the bishop. The Virgin had already announced to her that she would survive the death of her cousins “some time longer” to be an instrument of the Lord.

“Jesus wants to use you to make me known and loved. He wants to establish devotion to my Immaculate Heart in the world,” Our Lady told her in 1917.

All this remained secret until a few years later.

The bishop arranged for Lucía to study at the Sisters of St. Dorothy school in Porto, Portugal, using the name Dolores to conceal her identity. When she turned 18, she sensed a vocation to the Carmelites, but the nuns convinced her to go to their novitiate in Tuy, near Pontevedra, Spain.

The novitiate of the sisters was in Spain due to the anticlerical laws in force in Portugal at the time.

There the sisters discovered that she didn’t have the school certificate, since taking the exam in Porto would have meant revealing who she was. So they couldn’t admit her to be trained as a teacher.

This is the reason why she was sent to Pontevedra to take care of manual tasks. Lucía’s vocation as a Carmelite nun seemed like a distant dream then. It was in that moment of desolation that the Virgin appeared to her with the Child Jesus.

Apparition in Pontevedra

It was Dec. 10, 1925, and Lucía’s cell was illuminated.

“Our Lady, as if wanting to instill courage in me, gently puts her maternal hand on her right shoulder, showing me at the same time her Immaculate Heart that she holds in her other hand, surrounded by thorns,” the visionary related.

At that moment, the Child Jesus spoke and said, “Have compassion on the heart of your Most Holy Mother, covered with thorns, with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment, and there is no one to make an act of reparation to remove them.”

Next, the Virgin urged Lucía to reveal the devotion of the five first Saturdays that had already been communicated to the visionaries in 1917: “Announce that all those who for five months, on the first Saturdays, go to confession, receive Communion, say five decades of the rosary and keep me company for 15 minutes meditating on the mysteries of the rosary, with the purpose of making reparation to me, I promise to assist them at the hour of death with all the graces necessary for the salvation of their souls.”

Lucía recounted that on Dec. 15, “I hardly even remembered that” and that, while doing her tasks, she met a boy whom she tried to teach the Hail Mary and urged him to go to a nearby chapel to say a short prayer.

Two months later, in February 1926, she met the boy again and asked him if he had asked the Heavenly Mother for Jesus, as she suggested. The boy turned and said, “And have you spread throughout the world what the Heavenly Mother asked you to do?”

Then, at once, Lucía said, the little boy was transformed “into a resplendent Child.”

The Child insisted that the first Saturday devotion be disclosed because “many souls begin them, but few finish them” and only in order to receive the promised graces.

“The souls who make the five first Saturdays with fervor and make reparation to the heart of your Heavenly Mother please me more than those who make 15 but are lukewarm and indifferent,” the Child said. 

Sister Lucía told the Child Jesus that many people find it hard to go to confession on Saturdays and asked if it could be done later. The Child Jesus replied, “Yes. It can even be made later on, provided that the souls are in the state of grace when they receive me on the first Saturday and that they have the intention of making reparation to the Sacred Heart of Mary.”

All this was revealed by Lucía in 1927, after she went to the tabernacle on Dec. 17 to ask how to reveal this devotion if it was part of the secret.

Lucía recounted that Jesus told her in a clear voice: “My daughter, write what they ask of you; and all that the Most Holy Virgin revealed in the apparition in which she spoke of this devotion, write it also.” The rest should remain secret, he said.

The consecration of Russia

The Shrine of the Apparitions of Pontevedra also contains the altar where Lucía witnessed a vision of the Holy Trinity and received the message in which the Virgin requested the consecration of Russia.

This apparition took place in the city of Tuy on June 13, 1929, where the novitiate of the Sisters of St. Dorothy had been.

Both the apparitions of Pontevedra and Tuy are part of those approved by the Catholic Church regarding the message of Fatima.

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

Catholic schools’ free lunch funds jeopardized by Biden LGBT rule change

null / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 10, 2022 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Catholic school leaders need to be aware that their schools could be cut off from the federal government's free and subsidized lunch program if their policies don't comply with the Biden administration's revised rules against LGBTQ discrimination, experts warn.

Earlier this year the administration re-interpreted Title IX's federal ban on sex discrimination to include “sexual orientation or gender identity.” Religious freedom and free speech advocates warn that the proposed rule change could be used to enforce mandates on hiring, bathrooms, using preferred pronouns, and dress codes. 

The broadened definition now also applies to the National School Lunch Program, a federally funded meal assistance program administered by the Department of Agriculture that provides subsidized or free lunches to more than 30 million public and private school students from low-income households.

That change promises to put pressure on religious schools not aligned with the Biden administration’s LGBTQ agenda, especially those serving low-income populations that rely heavily on the federal funds.

Fifty-two percent of U.S. Catholic schools participate in the federal lunch program, said Sister Dale McDonald, vice president of public policy at the National Catholic Educational Association, which represents nearly 150,000 educators serving 1.6 million students in Catholic schools, universities, and religious education programs.

One private school, Grant Park Christian Academy in Tampa, Florida, managed to secure a religious exemption last week from the state's agriculture department — but the school had to file a lawsuit first to get it.

And Grant Park Christian’s religious exemption “was the only one approved by the federal and state government,” said Erica Steinmiller-Perdomo, legal counsel with the nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the school in court.

“Other religious schools are not protected and will need to seek their own religious exemption in writing," she told CNA.

"There is no telling how long it will take for the government to respond to them without a pending lawsuit," she added, "and they have no idea if they need to comply with the unlawful mandates in the meantime.”

Until then, the lawyer stressed, “All schools will continue to be injured by the Biden administration’s overreach in redefining Title IX without going through the proper processes."

Catholic schools 'need to be ready'

The Tampa private school filed a lawsuit in July against Biden and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried after Fried threatened to cut off the school's lunch money. 

On Friday — just over a week after the lawsuit was filed — Fried informed the academy that the school’s application for a religious exemption would be approved, restoring the funds.

Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, a nonprofit organization that promotes and defends Catholic education, warned that although the lawsuit was a win for one school, religious schools that participate in the lunch program should be warned. 

“The fact remains that a religious school was forced to sue the government to protect its constitutional rights, and every Catholic school needs to be ready to do the same,” Reilly told CNA. 

“This was blatant bullying by the Biden administration to advance its radical agenda," he added.

"Moreover, they exploited the fact that many schools, including Catholic schools, felt compelled during the COVID pandemic to greatly expand their participation in the federal school lunch program," Reilly said. "You try to help needy families using federal money, and your religious freedom is endangered."

Several archdioceses contacted by CNA Wednesday did not respond for comment prior to publication time.

In a statement to CNA, the Archdiocese of New York said that it was "studying the applicability of the USDA’s Title IX regulations, and their potential impact on our Catholic schools.”

Britney Spears clarifies she asked for a Catholic church wedding: ‘I don’t like being called a liar’

Singer Britney Spears attends the MTV Bash at the Hollywood Palladium on June 28, 2003 in Hollywood, California. / Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 10, 2022 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

American pop star Britney Spears said that she asked to get married in a Catholic church in California, pushing back against claims that she never contacted the parish.

“There was a lot of backlash saying I never asked to get married at the church I pictured,” the 40-year-old wrote in an Instagram post Tuesday. “[I]t’s not a big deal, but I don’t like being called a liar when their church says I never asked !!!”

Her comments came after she reportedly said in a previous Instagram post that she wanted to celebrate her wedding at St. Monica Catholic Church in Santa Monica, near Los Angeles.

At the time, she wrote: “when I wanted to get married there they said I had to be catholic and go through TEST!!! Isn't church supposed to be open to all???”

Later that day, entertainment site TMZ reported that a church representative said there was no record of Spears requesting to be married there. 

Spears ended up celebrating her wedding with actor Sam Asghari at their home in the Los Angeles area in June. 

In her post Tuesday, she shared that she hired a high-profile wedding planner who has organized weddings for celebrities such as Madonna.

“[A]nd yes my first request was to get married in that church pictured,” she said of a photo she previously shared of St. Monica.

“I was told 6 weeks later … I could not get married there !!!” she added. “During the 2 years of Covid, I also wanted to go there … I was told no due to the pandemic.”

Along with her comments on Tuesday, she posted a photo of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

Father Matthew P. Schneider, L.C., who teaches theology at Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, North Carolina, previously outlined for CNA four main requirements for a wedding to take place in a Catholic church.

Either the bride or groom must be Catholic and free from any impediments, such as marriage to another person. Both the bride and groom must “intend what the Church does,” including recognizing marriage as something permanent, exclusive, and open to life. 

They must also plan to raise their children Catholic.

Schneider also told CNA is it unclear whether Spears is Catholic. He said that, to be married in a Catholic church, she would need annulments for her two previous marriages.

Bishops of Mexico stand in solidarity with Nicaragua ‘at a time of profound suffering’

Bishop Rolando José Álvarez of the Diocese of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, was placed under house arrest by the police of Daniel Ortega's regime in early August 2022. / Photo credit: Diocese of Matagalpa

Denver Newsroom, Aug 10, 2022 / 17:12 pm (CNA).

The Mexican Bishops’ Conference expressed its solidarity with the Church in Nicaragua, whose freedom of speech and religion is under attack by the dictatorship of President Daniel Ortega.

“At this time of profound suffering, the bishops of Mexico wish to convey to you our fervent prayer, closeness, and support, imploring the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, the much-longed-for peace, justice, and harmonious coexistence of your people,” the conference said in an Aug. 8 statement.

The recent wave of repression against the Nicaraguan Church began Aug. 1, when the Ortega dictatorship ordered the closure of eight Catholic radio stations in the Diocese of Matagalpa.

Later, the bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando José Álvarez, was placed under house arrest and threatened with prison for allegedly trying to “organize violent groups” to destabilize the government.

The cathedral in Managua was vandalized Aug. 6, cutting off electricity to it and other buildings on the grounds. From Aug. 1 through Aug. 4, riot police prevented Father Uriel Vallejos and a group of faithful from leaving the rectory of Jesus of the Divine Mercy parish in the town of Sébaco after the police forced their way into the parish to shut down the Catholic radio station that operated on the premises. Vallejos is the radio station’s director.

On Aug. 6, unidentified vandals stole the main switch to the cathedral’s electrical control system, leaving the cathedral and surrounding grounds without power.

“We express our solidarity with the bishops’ conference of Nicaragua for the deplorable events that they have been enduring and that have caused suffering and global outrage due to the suppression of individual guarantees, particularly their fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion,” the statement said.

The Mexican bishops also lamented “that in communities, families, consecrated life, priests, laity, children, and young people suffer from conditions that create fear, take away tranquility, and steal peace.”

“They even experience difficulty in worshiping, praying, and announcing the Gospel,” they added.

“As an ecclesial family, we join in raising awareness so that, in the face of these situations that cry out to God for social justice, there be added attitudes of dialogue and encounters that seek a healthy coexistence,” they continued.

At the end of their message, the bishops of Mexico implored “the Blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, Empress of America, her maternal intercession to find paths of dialogue that lead to respect and peace.”

Other Latin American bishops stand in solidarity

The Guatemalan Bishops’ Conference issued a statement Aug. 8 to express “its closeness, support, and solidarity,” especially to the priests deprived of their liberty and to Bishop Álvarez.

“Freedom of speech is part of the rights of man. Our love and support extends to all Nicaraguan Catholics to whom we recall the promise made by our Savior: ‘I will be with you all days until the end of the world,’” the message said.

The Bolivian Bishops’ Conference published a statement Aug. 5 assuring that it “is closely following … with deep pain the situation that the Church and the Nicaraguan people are suffering.”

“We want to express our most sincere solidarity and closeness in this difficult moment that you are going through. We ask you not to give up the effort to build a dialogue that is capable of achieving unity and peace in [the] land of Nicaragua. For this, you have our prayers for you, for the people you serve, and for the political authorities,” the conference stated.

The same day, the Costa Rican Bishops’ Conference lifted up “a prayer for peace to come and [that] paths of dialogue can be opened in search of the well-being of all the inhabitants of the sister country” of Nicaragua.

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

Indian cardinal denies cover-up to shield bishop charged with fathering a child

Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay speaks at a Vatican press conference, Oct. 22, 2015. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 10, 2022 / 15:47 pm (CNA).

Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias adamantly denied allegations that he attempted to arrange for a fake paternity test for a scandal-plagued bishop accused of secretly fathering a child, among other charges.

In a video statement posted on the Archdiocese of Bombay’s YouTube channel Sunday, Gracias said that a 2020 recording of a telephone conversation with Bishop Kannikass Antony William of Mysore had been “mischievously edited” to give the impression that the cardinal had tried to cover up the scandal.

The recording in question, originally posted by the website Church Militant, had been circulating on social media among Indian Catholics, according to various news accounts.

In the video, Gracias said that he was “distressed” to learn of the rumors, which he said he “categorically, emphatically and totally” denied.

He said that an unedited version of the recorded conversation would show that he was attempting to arrange for a paternity test in a reputable Catholic hospital.

“I did have a conversation with Bishop William in August 2020. During the conversation I urged Bishop William that it was advisable for him to undergo a paternity test. I impressed upon him that several people I know have been disturbed [by] the rumors going around the church and that the best way to end the controversy was to take this test,” he said.

“At no time did I suggest that we can control the outcome of the test,” said Gracias.

Gracias was appointed archbishop of Bombay by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, and made a cardinal in 2007. Pope Francis appointed him to the Council of Cardinals in 2013.

In 2021 a Vatican investigation was launched into charges of misconduct by William, the bishop accused of fathering a child. The investigation, which has thus far not resulted in any actions from the Vatican, was prompted by a 2019 letter to Pope Francis from 37 priests from William’s diocese. In the letter the priests called for the bishop's removal, citing charges of sexual misconduct and the misappropriation of Church funds.

William was later accused of arranging for the immediate transfer of the 37 to remote villages.

In 2020, former Bombay judge Micheal Saldanha sent a letter to Gracias accusing William of “letting loose a virtual reign of terror” in the Diocese of Mysore, the Deccan Herald reported.  

Saldanha charged that the bishop was responsible for the deaths of four priests, in “two murders, one hanging, and one so-called accident.”

In 2021, a group of 113 people, including 22 priests, calling themselves the Save Mysore Diocese Action Committee, wrote to Cardinal Luis Tagle, prefect of Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, to demand that William step down as bishop.

What is the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life?

null / Vatican Media.

Rome Newsroom, Aug 10, 2022 / 09:47 am (CNA).

A controversy over a book and statements made on Twitter has recently drawn increased attention to the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life.

In late June, the academy's official Twitter account began promoting a Vatican-published book synthesizing a 2021 seminar on ethics, in which a participant discussed "the possible legitimacy of contraception in certain cases."

The pontifical academy said in an Aug. 8 press release that the seminar discussed "all the issues related to the ethics of life … including contraception and sexual matrimonial morality." Euthanasia was also a topic of the seminar.

Some of the promotional posts for the seminar and subsequent book received pushback in media reports and from Catholic Twitter users who said they presented wrong or confusing information about the Church's teachings.

The academy's Twitter account called the negative responses "insults and out-of-control criticism" by "fake accounts." On Aug. 10, several of the Tweets had been deleted.

A screenshot of a press release shared on Aug. 8, 2022, via a now-deleted Tweet from the Pontifical Academy for Life.
A screenshot of a press release shared on Aug. 8, 2022, via a now-deleted Tweet from the Pontifical Academy for Life.

A member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Spanish-based bioethicist Elena Postigo, distanced herself from the book, which is titled "Theological Ethics of Life: Scripture, Tradition, Practical Challenges."

"The book is not an official statement but the seminar records in which 20 people made their personal statements. Many members didn't know about it and are astonished," Postigo shared on Twitter.

What exactly is the institution which started this controversy?

The beginnings

The Pontifical Academy for Life is one of several academic and cultural institutions which bring together experts in their fields to discuss issues of relevance to the Church and the world.

St. Pope John Paul II founded the Pontifical Academy for Life in February 1994.

In the document establishing the academy, the motu proprio Vitae Mysterium, he wrote that the institute has "the specific task to study and provide information and training about the principal problems of law and biomedicine pertaining to the promotion and protection of life, especially in the direct relationship they have with Christian morality and the directives of the Church's Magisterium."

Venerable Jérôme Lejeune, a French pediatrician and geneticist who opposed the use of prenatal testing for the purposes of carrying out elective abortions, was the academy's first president, though he died from lung cancer in April 1994, just a few weeks after its founding.

Before his death, however, Lejeune managed to draft the academy's first bylaws and a declaration to be signed by members of the academy stating that "before God and men we bear witness that for us every human being is a person" and that "from the moment the embryo is formed until death it is the same human being which grows to maturity and dies."

The 2016 changes 

Pope Francis approved new statutes for the Pontifical Academy for Life in 2016, the first significant reform of the institution since its beginning. The statutes are due to expire at the end of this year, after going into effect on Jan. 1, 2017, for five years.

The use of the declaration of pro-life belief drafted by Lejeune was dropped in the new statutes, and membership in the academy was changed from a lifetime term to a renewable five-year term.

The statutes also say members, or academicians, appointed by the pope, can be of any religion, though they should "promote and defend the principles regarding the value of life and dignity of the human person, interpreted in a way that conforms to the Magisterium of the Church."

An academician can have his or her membership revoked, the statutes say, "in the case of a public and deliberate action or statement manifestly contrary to said principles, or seriously offensive to the dignity and credibility of the Catholic Church and the Academy itself."

The structure

The academy is headed by president Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, who Pope Francis appointed in August 2016. Paglia had been president of the Pontifical Council for the Family before it was merged into the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life.

Under the president, there is the chancellor, Monsignor Renzo Pegoraro, and a board of directors called the governing council.

With the 2016 reforms, most of the 139 previous academicians' terms were ended, and new members appointed.

Academicians of the Pontifical Academy for Life can be clergy, religious, or laity and are chosen from among the top experts in law and bioethics issues around the world.

Members are categorized in one of four ways: Ordinary members and honorary members are chosen by the pope. In contrast, corresponding members and young researchers are selected by the academy's president and governing council.

There are currently 51 ordinary members and two honorary members, according to the Vatican's 2022 Pontifical Yearbook. Corresponding members appear to be around 90 in number, while there are about 13 young researchers who must be under 35 years old to qualify.

Most members were appointed in the summer of 2017.

Carl A. Anderson, the former Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, is among the academy's ordinary members after being reappointed in 2017 along with 27 other former members.

Other Americans in the academy include Kathleen M. Foley, a neurologist and secretary of the board of directors of Physicians for Human Rights; John M. Haas, president emeritus of the National Catholic Bioethics Center; and Ignatius John Keown, a professor of Christian ethics at Georgetown University.

Cardinal Willem Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht, Netherlands, and Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, Australia, are also ordinary members based on their bioethics backgrounds.

Recent controversies 

Some 2017 appointments to the academy garnered criticism, in particular, that of Nigel Biggar, an Anglican theologian, who has previously supported legalized abortion up to 18 weeks and expressed qualified support for euthanasia.

A few other members, including Father Maurizio Chiodi, have also expressed a belief in the morality of contraceptive use in marriage, which the Catholic Church considers a grave sin.

The changes to the statutes of the Pontifical Academy for Life, the appointment of Archbishop Paglia as president, and the nomination of some non-Catholic members were also the subject of disagreement among some Catholics.

Controversy included disappointment at the removal of French geneticist Lejeune's declaration of fidelity to the pro-life teachings of the Church.

In an interview with the National Catholic Register in 2017, Paglia defended the revised statutes.

"I think [critics] will find that the new Statutes require a stronger commitment on the part of Members to the Church's pro-life teaching than do the old," he said.

"In that context, however," he added, "I also want to point out that the Academy's absolute fidelity to the Church's Magisterium in no way means that we are unable to undertake joint initiatives or enter into dialogue with persons who do not share our Catholic belief and commitment."

Earlier this year, a Jesuit-run Catholic journal came under fire from over 50 organizations for an article supporting legalized assisted suicide written by a Pontifical Academy for Life member.

In his article, Father Carlo Cassone, SJ, a moral theology professor at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, argued that an Italian bill to legalize assisted suicide could be "an acceptable 'imperfect' law."

The academy's chancellor, Father Pegoraro, also appeared to express sympathy for the idea in an interview with French Catholic newspaper La Croix. 

In another Twitter controversy, the Pontifical Academy for Life received over 200 responses, most negative, to a post on Apr. 6, 2021, marking the death of the dissenting theologian Hans Küng.  

The influential and controversial Swiss theologian, who rejected papal infallibility, Catholic teaching on contraception, and the moral impermissibility of assisted suicide, was described on the academy's Twitter as "a great figure in the theology of the last century whose ideas and analyzes (sic) must always make us reflect on the Catholic Church, the Churches, the society, the culture." 

In 2019, a week after Swiss bishops published guidelines stating pastoral caregivers should not be present during a person's death by assisted suicide, Pontifical Academy for Life President Paglia told journalists he would be willing to hold the hand of someone dying from assisted suicide, and that he did not see that as lending implicit support for the practice.

Fabrizio Mastrofini has been the Pontifical Academy for Life's social media manager and press officer since 2017.

Historian: Church did not give ‘carte blanche’ for mistreatment of indigenous in Americas

Painting by Dióscoro Puebla depicting the arrival of Christopher Columbus in America, on Oct. 12, 1492. / null

ACI Prensa Staff, Aug 10, 2022 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Unlike the “doctrine of discovery” allowing the European conquerors to mistreat indigenous people, a historian points out that “the Church didn’t give this carte blanche so that they could do what they wanted to do.”

In a interview with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister news agency, Íñigo Fernández, a historian and professor at the Pan-American University in Mexico City, pointed out that shortly after the discovery of America, “the Church in fact began to set limits and said that with the conquest comes the obligation to evangelize the indigenous.”

In addition, he stressed, the Church played a role in the drafting of the Laws of the Indies, “which establish a series of obligations that the Spanish have with the indigenous.”

However, the Mexican historian pointed out that there are certainly differences between what the Catholic Church enjoined and the “compliance” of the conquerors.

“While it’s true that the Church and the Spanish Crown went hand in hand, political power will always have greater weight,” he said.

For Fernández, it’s important to see historical events in their context, and understand, for example, “what arriving in the Americas represents” for the Europeans.

“The Church in Spain views that the Americas are a ‘reward’ that God gave it,” he said, “because of the whole issue of the Reconquest,” which the Catholic Monarchs of Castile and Aragon, Ferdinand and Isabella, completed in early 1492, nine months before the arrival of Christopher Columbus to American lands.

The Reconquest was a series of military campaigns over the course of centuries waged by Spanish kings to retake the lands conquered by Muslim invaders in the eighth century.

‘One of the biggest mistakes’

For the Mexican historian, “one of the most serious errors” when looking at history today is to see the past with the eyes of the present.

“It’s like being judged for what your parents did,” he said.

Fernández stressed that “what history is about is seeking to be empathetic. And to be empathetic is to understand what happened in the context that it happened.”

The historian stressed that “history does not judge or justify. What history does is explain how things happened and why things happened, and frame them in a certain context.”

“When you don’t do that, it ends up manipulating history sometimes with good intentions and sometimes with bad,” he said.

Pro-Hispanic or pro-indigenous?

For Fernández, “a point that we have not yet resolved in Mexico” is the “very pro-Hispanic or very pro-indigenist views.”

“I think we should start from the present,” he said. “We have to understand that today’s Mexico is indigenous, and it is Spanish, and it is Mexico, too.”

After emphasizing that “Mexicans have a tremendous mingling of cultures,” Fernández pointed out that “the events of the past are not subject, and this is very valid, whether we like them or not.”

“The events of the past are there, and they’re a starting point or a line of continuity to understand what we are today,” he said.

“We have to understand that these two worlds that are going to give rise to Mexico had their points of collision, but that they also have their points of communication,” he said.

The Mexican historian lamented that looking for “that right balance” at this time “is very difficult,” because “today, in global terms, what is sought is to be in confrontation with the past.”

‘It’s not a matter of heroes and villains’

The professor at the Pan-American University pointed out that it’s important to see that the protagonists of the conquest of the Americas “are people: with the good, with the bad, with the imperfections, and with noble and ignoble ideas.”

“We are all human beings, and as human beings we are capable of the noblest things at some point, and also the villainous. No one is exempt from that,” he observed.

Neither Cortés, who conquered Mexico for Spain, nor Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec emperor, “were perfect, nor were they that hero for some and this villain for others,” he stressed.

Fernandez lamented that “we are still half at odds with the past in Mexico,” discussing “about the conquest and whether it was good or bad.”

“Let’s take it all in. We can reflect on it, but it has already happened, the conquest took place, independence took place, the revolution took place,” he said.

“You can’t judge your life today or the current environment or others by things that happened in the past,” he stressed.

For the Mexican historian, “we have to point to the present and to the future, and have a healthy relationship with our past.”

“And kind of forgive ourselves a little bit and say: this is what it has been. It marks me, yes, but it doesn't condition me,” he added.

“The past is as it is, period, but it doesn’t make me better or worse,” he stated.

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

Kansas woman arrested after allegedly striking pro-life teen ‘with fists’ to the head

Students for Life Action volunteer Grace Hartsock / Courtesy of Students for Life

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 10, 2022 / 05:00 am (CNA).

Grace Hartsock was knocking on doors to encourage Kansas citizens to vote for a pro-life amendment when, she says, she was attacked.

The 18-year-old from Austin, Texas — a rising freshman at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas — walked away from one house after encountering a woman who opposed the amendment. That is when she heard “yelling and cursing” coming from inside, she told CNA.

“As I was walking back towards the street, the woman’s adult daughter came out of the house, still yelling, and started following me,” Hatsock recalled of the July 31 incident in Leawood, Kansas. “She pushed me with both hands, and hit me with her fists.”

Students for Life Action, the pro-life group with which Hartsock was canvassing, claimed in a blog post that the woman “shoved Hartsock in the chest with both hands and began violently hitting her in the head with closed fists.” 

When Hartsock reached the end of the driveway, she said the woman threw a dinner roll at her and continued to follow her as she yelled “I hope you get raped” and “I hope you get run over by a car.”

Students for Life later shared a 5-second clip that it said showed the woman who assaulted Hartsock. In the video, a woman shouts “f*** you” as she sticks her middle finger in the air. Another woman, in the background, instructs her to “stop it!”

The audio also captures the panting of the person holding the camera.

Capt. Brad Robbins at the Leawood Police Department confirmed that an 18-year-old female contacted them about the incident on July 31 just after 2 p.m.

“She stated that an hour earlier she had been going door-to-door representing Students for Life,” he told CNA in a statement. “At one address in the 11200 block of Granada Lane the victim was advised they did not wish to discuss the issue. As she was walking away from the address, she was yelled at and then struck by a female resident.”

As part of the police investigation, Robbins said that a 37-year-old suspect was arrested and charged in Leawood Municipal Court with misdemeanor battery and released.

“While an arrest has been made, it is still consider[ed] an open investigation and we will not be releasing any additional details of the event,” he said.

Robbins said that the victim was not visibly injured.

While Hartsock had a headache after being hit in the head, the local emergency room confirmed that she suffered from no serious injuries, she said. She added that, at the time, she also felt “nervous and shaken up.”

She shared what she would tell her alleged attacker, if she had the opportunity.

“I would tell her that rather than being ‘pro-woman’ as the pro-abortion movement claims to be, she is showing the world with her actions just how anti-woman she really is,” she said. “This is the hypocrisy of the pro-abortion side. Rather than being pro-woman, they condone violence against pro-life women just because we disagree with their narrative.”

Rather than being discouraged, Hartsock said that the incident left her even more motiviated in her pro-life advocacy, adding that “we as pro-lifers need to be more courageous than ever in not backing down and standing up to defend the vulnerable women and children in our communities.”

A Catholic, she said the faith and science support her pro-life position.

“While I am a faithful Catholic, and the Catholic Church teaches that all human life is made in the image and likeness of God,” she said, “I am pro-life because science shows that life begins at conception, where a unique human being comes into existence.”

Hartsock’s alleged attack is not an isolated one, according to Autumn Schimmer, the project manager at Students for Life of America.

“I was punched outside of the Supreme Court in September of 2020 while protesting a NARAL rally that was being held opposing the nomination of Justice Barrett to the Supreme Court,” she told CNA of a protest held by a pro-abortion group. 

She called violent attacks on pro-life advocates a “growing concern,” from the recent attacks at pregnancy centers to threats targeting Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins. 

“What happened to Grace in Kansas is unfortunately becoming more common in a post-Roe America,” Schimmer said, referring to the 1973 Supreme Court decision that previously legalized abortion nationwide. “Pro-life advocates should be aware of the violent acts pro-abortion supports are willing to carry out, without being fully deterred from advocating for the preborn and their mothers.”