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Court hears pro-life challenge to German municipality’s prayer vigil ban

Pavica Vojnović, who has led pro-life vigils in Pforzheim, southwest Germany. / ADF International.

CNA Staff, May 13, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).

A German court began Wednesday to hear a challenge to a municipality’s decision to ban a prayer vigil in front of a pre-abortion advisory center.

The hearing started on May 12 in Pforzheim, southwest Germany. The plaintiff is Pavica Vojnović, who led the prayer vigils, organized by the group 40 Days for Life, outside the Pro Familia advice center in the city.

Pro Familia is a member association of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

In 2019, the local municipality, in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, denied the prayer group permission to hold vigils near the center.

Twice a year, around 20 people had gathered to pray for 40 days for women facing abortion and their unborn children. Vigil participants did not prevent anybody from entering the building or block the pavement in the surrounding area.

When the advisory center asked police to monitor the activists, they found no violations. But the center’s management asked that the vigil be moved some distance away or banned altogether.

Vojnović’s legal challenge is supported by the group ADF International, which believes that the ruling violates the freedom of speech, assembly, and religion.

Felix Böllmann, legal counsel for ADF International, told CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, that for several years the municipality had not considered the prayer vigils’ proximity to the center a problem.

He said: “Even the city’s legal department initially took the position -- as evidenced by internal correspondence -- that this should be allowed. Only after massive intervention by the abortion organization and after ‘no-protest zones’ were even installed around abortion counseling centers in the state of Hesse, did the city of Pforzheim impose this requirement.”

“The proceedings are about establishing the illegality of this requirement and securing the right to freedom of assembly and expression, and the free exercise of religion.”

He added: “Freedom of opinion and belief enjoys strong protection in Germany under the Basic Law and the European Convention on Human Rights.”

“Freedom must be exercised, and we would like to expressly encourage this. And that is what Ms. Vojnović and the members of the 40 Days for Life group are doing. We are expecting that the administrative court will help her right to prevail.”

Speaking earlier this year, Vojnović said: “I want to be there to pray, not for myself, but for the vulnerable women contemplating abortion, and for their unborn children.”

“This topic really touches my heart, as I know the pain of losing a child. Our society must offer better solutions to mothers in difficult situations. Every life is valuable and deserves protection. Surely a simple prayer for the vulnerable cannot be banned?”

David Bereit founded 40 Days for Life in 2004 as a local pro-life advocacy group in Bryan-College Station, Texas. The group has grown into an international organization, holding Christian campaigns of prayer and activism to end abortion.

Over the course of 40 days, participants hold a 24/7 prayer vigil outside of a single abortion facility in the community. The organization also engages in community outreach, through partnerships with churches and door-to-door petitions.

Bereit was received into the Catholic Church in 2018.

The court in Pforzheim is expected to give its judgment on Friday.

Cardinal at Fatima shrine: World needs ‘spiritual restart’ after pandemic

Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça celebrates Mass at Fatima, Portugal, May 13, 2021. / Courtesy of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.

CNA Staff, May 13, 2021 / 04:30 am (CNA).

A cardinal celebrating Mass at Portugal’s Fatima shrine on Thursday said that the world needs a “spiritual restart” as well as economic reconstruction after the pandemic.

Preaching on the May 13 feast of Our Lady of Fatima, Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça, archivist and librarian of the Holy Roman Church, said that a global financial recovery required an accompanying spiritual revival.

He said: “At this present crossroads of history, we cannot allow the revival of hope to coincide solely with the concern for the material expression of life. There is, no doubt, an urgent need to supply food, and this demanding task, which is essentially one of economic reconstruction, must unite and mobilize our societies.”

/ Courtesy of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.
/ Courtesy of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.

“But our societies also need a spiritual restart. We do not live without bread, but we cannot live only on bread. The deepest moments of crisis have always been overcome by infusing a new soul, proposing paths of interior transformation and spiritual reconstruction of our common life. This was the message of Fatima, in that distant year 1917, as the world was plunged into the first chemical war in history and one of the deadliest.”

The 55-year-old Portuguese cardinal was preaching at a Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima on the anniversary of the day in 1917 that three shepherd children -- Lucia dos Santos, Francisco, and Jacinta Marto -- saw the first apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Addressing a reduced number of pilgrims due to coronavirus restrictions, the cardinal said: “What did the Virgin ask to humanity, through the little shepherds? Prayer, penance, and conversion, that is, concrete means of interior reconstruction.”

As he preached, priests and pilgrims sat socially distanced inside marked-out circles and in long rows as a breeze blew across the shrine.

Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça preaches at Mass in Fatima, Portugal, May 13, 2021. / Screenshot: Fatima shrine’s live stream.
Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça preaches at Mass in Fatima, Portugal, May 13, 2021. / Screenshot: Fatima shrine’s live stream.

With the wind tugging at his vestments, the cardinal noted that Thursday marked the 40th anniversary of the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square.

A year after the incident, on May 13, 1982, the Polish pope traveled to Portugal to thank Our Lady of Fatima for saving his life.

The cardinal said: “Thirty-nine years ago, Pope St. John Paul II presided at this Eucharist ‘to thank Divine Providence in this place which the Mother of God seems to have chosen in a particular way’ that his life had been spared in the attack in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. And John Paul II’s appeal is that one should recognize in Fatima the preparation of a new spiritual time.”

Referring to Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Fratelli tutti, the cardinal said that post-pandemic reconstruction would require a profound sense of fraternity.

He said: “The world, exhausted by this pandemic that is still going on, and which requires each one of us to be vigilant and responsible, is not only hungry and thirsty for normality: it needs new visions, other grammars, it needs us to take the risk to have dreams.”

“Especially to the young people, and to the young Portuguese who are preparing to welcome the World Youth Day in 2023, I want to say from Fatima: instead of being afraid, have dreams. Discover that God is the ally of your most beautiful dreams. Dare to dream of a better world. Feel that the future depends on the quality and consistency of your dreams.”

/ Courtesy of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.
/ Courtesy of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.

He continued: “And finally, I turn to you, dear pilgrims. And I want to tell you that I feel not only close to all of you, but truly consider myself one of you. The message of Fatima, seen from the outside, seems formatted and austere. And many, only seeing the surface of the shrine, see only the dramatic expression of so many tears, demands, and promises. But the pilgrims to Fatima experience that it is much more than that.”

Referring to the Gospel reading for the Mass, John 19:25-27, which was proclaimed in several languages, he said: “What we experience is that we come here restless, empty, divided, irreconcilable or thirsty, that we come here precipitously like the Prodigal Son, and that Mary fulfills in us -- with what mercy, with what unforgettable sweetness -- the command of love that she received from Jesus: ‘Woman, here is your son,’ ‘here are your children.’”

/ Courtesy of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.
/ Courtesy of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.

In 2020, the annual May 13 celebrations at the Fatima shrine took place for the first time without the physical presence of pilgrims due to COVID-19 restrictions.

ACI Digital, CNA’s Portuguese-language news partner, reported that this year’s international anniversary pilgrimage at Fatima began on Wednesday evening with the rosary and a candlelit procession as the statue of Our Lady of Fatima was carried from the Chapel of the Apparitions to the outdoor Prayer Area.

Cardinal José Tolentino Mendonça presides at the evening celebration of the international pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal, May 12, 2021. / Courtesy of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.
Cardinal José Tolentino Mendonça presides at the evening celebration of the international pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal, May 12, 2021. / Courtesy of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.

Mendonça, a poet and theologian who received the red hat in 2019, then presided over a Celebration of the Word in the presence of around 7,500 pilgrims.

On Thursday evening, the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima will host the global prayer marathon for the end of the pandemic. The rosary, which will be offered for all prisoners, will be live streamed at 5 p.m. local time on the shrine’s website and the Vatican News YouTube channel.

Concluding his homily, Mendonça said: “We pilgrims always come to Fatima empty-handed. But from Fatima, we carry, awake within us, a dream. Fatima teaches us how to illuminate a world which is in darkness. Be it the small world of our heart, be it the heart of the vast world.”

“Thank you, My Lady, for making this place a lever of our humanity. A laboratory without doors or walls, always open to hope! In you, we praise the Lord who redeems us from every weakness.”

‘I was in shock’: Polish cardinal recalls assassination attempt on St. John Paul II 40 years on

Pope John Paul II collapses after being shot on May 13, 1981, in St. Peter’s Square. / Audycje Radiowe/YouTube.

CNA Staff, May 13, 2021 / 03:05 am (CNA).

A cardinal has recalled the moment that St. John Paul II was shot in St. Peter’s Square 40 years on from the attempted assassination.

The Polish pope collapsed into the arms of the then Msgr. Stanisław Dziwisz when he was struck by four bullets on May 13, 1981.

“Holding the slumping and heavily bleeding Holy Father, I was in shock; but I knew we had to act to save his life,” recalled Cardinal Dziwisz on the 40th anniversary of the incident.

“St. John Paul II, despite the pain, remained calm, entrusted himself to God and Mary, and already on the way to the hospital, losing consciousness, said to me that he forgives the assassin.”

The pope was standing in a Jeep greeting a crowd of around 10,000 people when would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Ağca shot him at close range using a 9mm Browning Hi-Power semi-automatic pistol.

Bleeding profusely, John Paul II was rushed to hospital with two bullets lodged in his lower intestine. The other two bullets struck his left index finger and right arm.

Dziwisz, the pope’s longtime personal secretary, said he believed that John Paul II was targeted because of his outspoken defense of human rights.

“The assassination attempt against John Paul II was the consequence of his steadfast demand for the respect of human rights, especially in the context of enslavement by totalitarianism,” he said.

“At that time, such a pope was inconvenient for many.”

Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, pictured in Kraków, Poland, March 4, 2016.  /  Mazur/
Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, pictured in Kraków, Poland, March 4, 2016. / Mazur/

John Paul II, born Karol Wojtyła, survived the Nazi occupation of Poland and helped to lead the Church’s resistance to the oppressive communist regime that followed.

“He himself came from Poland, a country that experienced the atrocities of Nazism and communism in the 20th century. He understood perfectly well the harm caused by the totalitarian violence used by authorities against individual citizens and whole societies,” the 82-year-old cardinal said.

“This is why he was steadfast in demanding that the rights and dignity of every human being be respected. He paid a high price for it, but the assassination attempt did not interrupt his mission.”

The shooting took place on May 13, the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima and the anniversary of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s first appearance to the three shepherd children at Cova da Iria in Portugal in 1917.

A plaque marks the spot in St. Peter's Square where St. John Paul II was shot on May 13, 1981. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
A plaque marks the spot in St. Peter's Square where St. John Paul II was shot on May 13, 1981. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

John Paul II credited Our Lady of Fatima with saving his life, saying that “one hand pulled the trigger, another guided the bullet.”

On the first anniversary of the assassination attempt, John Paul II made a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima to thank Mary for saving his life.

The day before, May 12, 1982, Spanish priest Juan María Fernández y Krohn stabbed the pope with a bayonet at Fatima before being detained by security.

Polish Catholics will mark the 40th anniversary of the attack in St. Peter’s Square with a Mass at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima in Polanica-Zdrój Sokołówka, southwest Poland, at 5 p.m. local time. The Mass will be live-streamed by EWTN Poland.

Archbishop Stanislaw Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference, said: “We will be there together to give thanks, through the hands of Mary, for the miracle of the Holy Father’s survival and for all the graces that the Lord God has sent us through the person of our great and holy compatriot."

Dziwisz noted that after John Paul II recovered from the 1981 attempt on his life, he continued to pursue his mission with courage, traveling all over the world and meeting countless people.

The pope publicly forgave Ağca days after the shooting. In 1983, he visited the Turkish gunman at Rome’s Rebibbia Prison.

“He repeatedly said that his life was saved thanks to Mary. He visited the assassin in prison and spoke with him for a while,” Dziwisz reflected.

“The pope’s enemies did not succeed in stopping him with violence; he had a mission entrusted by God, which he continued to the end.”

Minnesota Catholic Conference highlights Church's role in public square

The Cathedral of Saint Paul in Saint Paul, Minn. / bhathaway / Shutterstock.

St. Paul, Minn., May 12, 2021 / 18:19 pm (CNA).

As Minnesota’s legislature prepares to finish its legislative session for the year, the state Catholic conference has noted a recent meeting of the state’s bishops with executive and legislative leaders.

“All year, Minnesota Catholic Conference staff help facilitate contacts between individual bishops and legislators, and each spring, all the bishops meet together with state leaders to share their policy concerns. On April 14, Minnesota’s bishops and diocesan administrators met with Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and legislative leaders,” read a May 11 commentary at The Catholic Spirit, the publication of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

The state legislature’s session, which began in January, will end May 17.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference said that the bishops this year “focused on stopping the legalization of assisted suicide by promoting better care for the sick and vulnerable populations, the creation of provisional driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, creating more educational options for low-income families, expanding existing nonpublic pupil aid programs, and their opposition to the creation of a recreational marijuana industry.”

“They also highlighted the shared goal of protecting people from COVID-19 while also respecting the ability of people of faith to gather for worship.”

In May 2020, the governor issued an order allowing for the resumption of limited public worship gatherings, days after the bishops of the state said they would allow public Masses to resume in defiance of previous guidelines.

The bishops maintained that the original guidelines were unfairly restrictive toward religious services, as businesses and other entities in the state were slowly being allowed to reopen with safety protocols in place to help guard against the coronavirus.

The state Cathoolic conference said that the bishops’ conversation with government leaders “are a good lesson in faithful citizenship. The bishops always thank leaders for their willingness to step forward and make significant sacrifices to serve all Minnesotans, and they invite public officials to share their priorities and find areas of common ground upon which they can build the common good.”

The conference described this year’s conversations as constructive, saying that “even when there were points of disagreement, there was civil dialogue and a recognition that these are difficult issues with a myriad of considerations.”

It said that both legislators and laity should remember that “sometimes a specific policy goal of the Church might align more with one party or political program than another. But the Church’s advocacy is principled, not partisan, thereby allowing Catholics to work collaboratively across the political spectrum.”

“:More important, the policy advocacy of our bishops is an expression of their pastoral care for all people in the community, especially the poor and vulnerable. After all, they are shepherds of all the souls in their diocese, not just Catholics, and are entrusted to work for their well-being. Advocating for good policies offers a credible witness to the Gospel … Through the work of principled advocacy, Catholics help others come to know the Church as a home for people to know, love and serve the Lord.”

The conference concluded that “to help people know Christ Jesus and obtain their salvation: That is the fundamental ‘why’ behind the Church’s participation in the public square.”

Helena priest Father Stu to be portrayed in film starring Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson

Fr. Stuart Long. Credit: Diocese of Helena.

Helena, Mont., May 12, 2021 / 17:03 pm (CNA).

Father Stuart Long, who was a priest of the Diocese of Helena, is set to be the main character in a motion picture starring Mark Wahlberg as the priest himself and Mel Gibson as the priest’s father. The film is currently in production, with the release date yet to be announced. 

Father Stu, as he was affectionately known, pursued careers in boxing, acting, teaching, and museum management before discerning the priesthood.

“He was intense in his worldly life and he was intense in his priesthood,” said Dan Bartleson, communication services director for the Diocese of Helena. “His priestly ministry to the diocese here was transformative.” 

Wahlberg originally started working on the film in 2016, two years after Father Stu died at the age of 50. The movie was put on hold for a couple years until Wahlberg was able to secure Rosalind Ross as scriptwriter. While the exact details of the script have not been shared, the filmmakers assured the diocese and Bill Long, father of Father Stu, that the film will “do honor” to the late priest. 

“It’s based on a true story,” said Father Bart Tolleson, a priest of the Diocese of Helena and a longtime friend of Father Stu. “It certainly will take liberties with the story, but it will get interest in his life, and that alone is a good thing. It’s a great story.” 

Father Stu attended Carroll College, a Catholic university, but wasn’t Catholic at the time. He remembers being required to attend Mass as part of football game preparation, according to an interview with The Montana Catholic in 2010. In the same interview, he shared that he would often argue with the teachers, interrupt class, and ask ignorant questions that didn’t relate to the content.

“His conversion is phenomenal, from being an agnostic trouble maker to having a mystical encounter with God,” Father Tolleson said. “Then, he decided to become a priest.” 

An avid athlete, Father Stu played football for Carroll College, and later, pursued boxing, winning the Montana Golden Gloves championship in 1985. Faced with reconstructive jaw surgery after a fight, Father Stu gave up boxing and moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. Though he had some success with commercials and work as an extra in the movies, it was not the career he imagined.

While acting, he worked at a nightclub that was a comedy club and a bar. Finished with acting, he traded in the nightlife to work for the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, where he eventually became the manager for seven years. He would ride his motorcycle, an artifact of his acting days, to and from the museum.

“One day, I was riding home after work, and I got hit by a car, and I smashed into a car in the next lane with my head,” Father Stu shared in the 2010 interview. “The witnesses told the sheriffs and reporters that I was rolling down the road and another car ran over the top of me. And here I am.” 

The accident proved pivotal in Father Stu’s conversion, leading him to have what he called a “religious experience” while in the hospital. Upon returning home and discussing marriage with his then-girlfriend, he entered RCIA. On the day he was baptized, he knew he was going to become a priest, he shared in the 2010 interview.

He discerned entering a religious order in New York, but ultimately decided to become a secular priest, for the Diocese of Helena. In 2003, he entered Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon. 

During seminary, Father Stu had hip surgery wherein a fist-size tumor was discovered. He was diagnosed with inclusion body myositis, an inflammatory condition in the muscles for which there is no cure. His body was already slowing down when he was ordained to the priesthood in December 2007. 

“That cross of his disease was the most powerful way to serve people,” said Father Tolleson. “He was tireless in his service and the Lord gave him many beautiful gifts, of counsel, of providing the sacraments. He was fearless even though he was limited.” 

The extent to which the Wahlberg film will cover the priesthood of Father Stu remains unknown, but it will be a “stepping stone to knowing who Father Stuart Long was,” said Father Tolleson.

“If Hollywood wants to tell part of Father Stu’s story, we think that’s a positive,” said Bartleson. “If that creates some energy around his life, then we would see that as a blessing, a part of something that is already going on here.” 

The film, titled “Stu” in some reports and “Father Stu” in others, is being financed in part by Wahlberg himself.

HHS Secretary: 'There is no law' against 'partial-birth abortion'

Xavier Becerra, HHS Secretary / vasilis asvestas/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 12, 2021 / 16:19 pm (CNA).

The Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Wednesday would not acknowledge an existing federal ban on “partial-birth abortion.”

During a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health, Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) asked HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra if he agreed that partial-birth abortion is illegal.  

Becerra answered that “[t]here is no medical term like ‘partial-birth abortion’,” and that “[t]here is no law that deals specifically with the term ‘partial-birth abortion’.”

In 2003, Congress passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush. The law amended the federal criminal code to outlaw partial-birth abortion, defining it as a procedure where a baby is partially delivered until either the baby’s head or trunk is outside the mother’s body, and the doctor acts to kill the baby. An exception was made for cases where the mother's life is in danger.

As then-congressman from California, Becerra voted against the law. Abortionist Leroy Carhart sued to prevent the 2003 ban from going into effect. In 2007, the Supreme Court upheld the ban in a 5-4 decision in Gonzales v. Carhart.

Later in the hearing, Rep. John Joyce, M.D. (R-Pa.) noted that 18 U.S. Code § 1531 “is literally titled ‘partial-birth abortions prohibited’.” The statute, he said, “very clearly defines” the “inhumane procedure.”

Becerra maintained that “partial-birth abortion” is “not a medically-recognized term.” He recommended calling the procedure “dilation-and-extraction,” and defended its use to “protect” the health of mothers as a late-term abortion procedure.

“Perhaps, if you were to talk about what you probably know as ‘dilation-and-extraction’ – which is a procedure used by OB-GYNs like my wife – to care for a woman who is having a difficult pregnancy where there’s a chance that the fetus will not survive, then we could talk about that,” he said.

Partial-birth abortion is also referred to as "Dilation and Extraction" (D&X). It is used in late-term abortions for women in their second and third trimesters.

Under the procedure, a baby is partially delivered – except for the head – at which point the abortionist jams scissors into the baby’s skull and uses a suction catheter to suck out the baby’s brains.

Becerra, a Catholic, added that he was not primarily questioning the use of the term “partial-birth abortion,” but was rather emphasizing “what the rights are to the woman under our statutes and under our precedents to provide her with reproductive care that she is entitled to.”

He defended late-term abortions by arguing they are done to protect the health of the mother.

“Under the law, a physician or any provider of health care” must obey the law, he said, “and right now, what our law says – and it’s pretty settled – is that a woman is entitled to reproductive rights.”

“And as my wife would tell you as a OB-GYN, is that the dilation-and-extraction procedure that is often used with late-stage abortions with women, it’s to protect the health and life of that woman,” he said.

One pro-life leader criticized Becerra for denying a law’s existence as a top administration official.

“Now the top health official in America, Becerra outright denies the existence of a law banning partial-birth abortion since 2003,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, stated on Wednesday.

During his confirmation hearings, Xavier Becerra dodged questions about his stance on partial-birth abortion – when an unborn child is partially delivered and then killed – deflecting with repeated claims that he would ‘follow the law’ as head of HHS,” Dannenfelser said.

In his confirmation hearings, Becerra would not say why he opposed the 2003 partial-birth abortion ban as a congressman, only stating that he would work to find “common ground” with those he disagreed with on abortion.

On Thursday, he said that “dilation-and-extraction” is a term commonly used in medicine, while “partial-birth abortion” is not.

“I think most medical practitioners will tell you they understand what a dilation-and-extraction procedure is. I doubt that most of them could give you a medical definition of what partial-birth abortion is,” he said.

In response, Rep. Joyce said, “As a physician myself Mr. Secretary, I think I clearly understand what a partial-birth abortion is.”

Other members reacted to Becerra’s answer on Wednesday.

“If he won’t uphold the law on partial birth abortion, how do we expect him to uphold the Hyde amendment or protect conscience rights?” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) tweeted.

“It’s absolutely horrifying that the top health official in the nation doesn’t even know the laws he swore to uphold and protect. @SecBeccerra this is absolutely the law of the land,” Lankford said.

On Wednesday, Becerra also repeated his claim that he “never sued any nuns” while attorney general of California. He first made the claim during his confirmation hearings, when he was grilled over the 2020 Supreme Court case of the Little Sisters of the Poor which pitted the sisters against Becerra.

While Becerra did not technically file a lawsuit directly against the sisters, he sued the federal government to take away the sisters’ religious exemption to the HHS contraceptive mandate. That action prompted the sisters to return to court to defend against threats to their religious freedom.

Becerra, in his testimony on Wednesday, praised increased funding in the 2022 fiscal year budget for the Title X family planning program. His agency is currently in the process of repealing pro-life funding restrictions in the program, with the aim of eventually allowing pro-abortion groups to once again receive Title X funding.

“The budget increases funding for Title X family planning programs to improve access to vital reproductive and preventive health services, and to advance gender equity,” he said.

Madison bishop prays for pro-abortion Catholic politicians

Diocese of Madison

Washington D.C., May 12, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

A second U.S. bishop last week publicly supported the Archbishop of San Francisco’s challenge to Catholic politicians who are pro-abortion.

“We pray for those leaders who pursue government policies and laws which seek to further entrench abortion rights and other assaults on innocent human life,” Bishop Donald Hying of Madison stated on May 7. “St. John Paul II opined, ‘A nation that kills its own children has no future’.”

Bishop Hying recommended a May 1 pastoral letter of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, “Before I Formed You in the Womb, I Knew You.” The letter outlines the Church’s teachings on worthiness to receive Holy Communion, and the necessity for Catholics to assent to the Church’s teachings, especially on the life issue.

In the letter, Archbishop Cordileone said that Catholics who cooperate with the “evil” of abortion – including pro-abortion politicians – should not present themselves for Communion. The Church has long taught that formal cooperation and immediate material cooperation with grave evil, such as the evil of abortion, precludes one from receiving Holy Communion.

“It is fundamentally a question of integrity: to receive the Blessed Sacrament in the Catholic liturgy is to espouse publicly the faith and moral teachings of the Catholic Church, and to desire to live accordingly,” he wrote.

He included a section on pro-abortion Catholic politicians. “You are in a position to do something concrete and decisive to stop the killing,” he said. “Please stop the killing. And please stop pretending that advocating for or practicing a grave moral evil – one that snuffs out an innocent human life, one that denies a fundamental human right – is somehow compatible with the Catholic faith. It is not. Please return home to the fullness of your Catholic faith.”

Hying called the letter a “timely reflection on the moral evil of abortion, the need to challenge political leaders who are pro-abortion — especially those who profess Catholicism — and the linkage between the Eucharist and communion with the Church in her doctrinal and moral teaching.”

“I encourage you to read and pray over this pastoral letter,” he told Catholics in his diocese.

Hying was the second U.S. bishop last week to publicly support Cordileone’s letter. Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix on May 6 called the letter “a powerful defense of the Church’s teaching on the dignity of all human life.”

In his statement on May 7, Bishop Hying recalled how he came to be involved with the pro-life movement, emphasizing the importance of the pro-life cause.

“As a young priest, I encountered many people, men and women both, who were profoundly wounded by abortion,” he said. “Their painful experiences led me to get involved in the pro-life movement, as I came to realize in a deeper way the personal and societal effects of abortion.”

The previous day, Bishop Olmsted exhorted bishops to speak out clearly against cooperation in abortion.  

“Woe to us bishops if we do not speak clearly about the grave evil of abortion, and the consequences of any Catholic who participates in the act or publicly supports it by word or action,” Bishop Olmsted said, calling silence on the issue “a false patience and pastoral concern.”

“Such ‘patience’ is false because it is bereft of love and truth, and thus unmasks rather a deadly apathy towards one who professes the Catholic faith but whose public embrace of abortion puts his or her eternal soul at risk of damnation, and risks dragging untold numbers into hell by their example,” he said. 

Archbishop Cordileone issued his letter as the U.S. bishops are expected to address the topic of “Eucharistic coherence” this year, either at their spring meeting in June or at their fall meeting in November.

The bishops reportedly planned to discuss the broader teaching of Catholics’ worthiness to receive Holy Communion, not limiting their discussion only to Communion for pro-abortion Catholic politicians.

President Joe Biden is only the second Catholic president in U.S. history, but has taken policy positions at odds with Church teaching on serious issues, such as abortion, marriage, and religious freedom. He has pushed for taxpayer-funded abortion and supports the Equality Act, a bill which the U.S. bishops’ conference has warned would “punish” religious groups opposed to the redefinition of marriage and transgenderism.

After Biden’s election to the presidency in November 2020, the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) convened a working group on his presidency. USCCB president Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles noted the “unique” circumstances of Biden’s faith and his problematic policy positions as reasons behind the formation of the working group.

One of the conclusions of the working group – which met twice and made two main recommendations –was the need for a teaching document on the Eucharist. Such a document should instruct the faithful about worthy reception of Holy Communion, the group said, as well as about the responsibility of Catholic public officials to uphold the Church’s teachings in public life.

Officials who contradict the Church’s fundamental teachings, and who do so despite a pastor’s warnings, should not present themselves for Communion, the working group said.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently sent a letter to Archbishop Gomez, calling for “serene” dialogue among the bishops when considering how to proceed on the matter of Communion for public officials who contradict the Church’s teachings.

Any “national policy” on Communion should only “help the bishops to maintain unity,” and, the Vatican added, could “become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger Church in the United States.” So that such a policy would not produce discord, the bishops must “dialogue” among themselves and then with “Catholic pro-choice politicians within their jurisdictions.”

The bishops should first dialogue among themselves “to preserve the unity of the episcopal conference in the face of disagreements over this controversial topic,” the Vatican said, and to “agree as a Conference that support of pro-choice legislation is not compatible with Catholic teaching.”

Then local ordinaries “would reach out to and engage in dialogue with Catholic politicians within their jurisdictions who adopt a pro-choice position regarding abortion legislation, euthanasia, or other moral evils, as a means of understanding the nature of their positions and their comprehension of Catholic teaching,” stated CDF prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria.

 “If it [the U.S. bishops’ conference] then decided to formulate a national policy on worthiness for communion, such a statement would need to express a true consensus of the bishops on the matter, while observing the prerequisite that any provisions of the Conference in this area would respect the rights of individual Ordinaries in their dioceses and the prerogatives of the Holy See,” the CDF stated.

Cardinal Ladaria added that “any statement of the Conference regarding Catholic political leaders would best be framed within the broad context of worthiness for the reception of Holy Communion on the part of all the faithful, rather than only one category of Catholic, reflecting their obligation to conform their lives to the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ as they prepare to receive the sacrament.”

He said that “it would be misleading if such a statement were to give the impression that abortion and euthanasia alone constitute the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest level of accountability on the part of Catholics.”

Some bishops have spoken out against denying Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians.

“I do not see how depriving the president or other political leaders the Eucharist, based on their public policy stance, can be interpreted in our society as anything other than a weaponization of the Eucharist and an effort not to convince people by argument, and by dialogue and reason, but rather, to pummel them into submission on the issue [of abortion],” said Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego at a February online panel.

Sunday Mass obligation to resume in Connecticut's dioceses

Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Bridgeport

Hartford, Conn., May 12, 2021 / 14:07 pm (CNA).

The Latin rite bishops in Connecticut announced Monday that in each of their dioceses the general obligation to assist at Mass on Sundays and holy days will resume May 23.

The May 10 letter was signed by the ordinaries of the Archdiocese of Hartford and the Dioceses of Bridgeport and Norwich, as well as the auxiliary bishop of Hartford.

“With confidence in the Lord’s grace and protection, we have decided to end the general dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation in person in each of our respective dioceses effective Saturday, May 22, 2021,” the bishops wrote in their May 10 letter.

They said, “we believe the time has come to review the importance that full participation at Mass has for the spiritual life of all believers and offer a heartfelt appeal for all Catholics to return to the Sunday celebration of Mass.”

The bishops’ decision cited the increase in vaccinated people, decreased hospitalizations around the state, and the stripping of many indoor restrictions on public gatherings as reasons to end the dispensation.

The letter said that the original intent behind the dispensation was to protect human life, “especially the frailest and most vulnerable in our midst from becoming infected by a disease which many doctors were unsure how best to combat.”

The bishops thanked their communities for their cooperation in observing the safety protocols “that resulted in no significant viral spread of Covid-19 at any celebration of Mass in our dioceses.”

The encounters with Christ at Mass, they said, “offer us a deeply personal opportunity for spiritual nourishment. By receiving Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist, the Lord’s grace strengthens the daily life we share with him through our personal prayer and works of charity. Holy Communion is the celestial food that enlightens our minds, gives comfort to our hearts, and strengthens our wills to live the Church’s mission in word, deeds and manner of life.”

“While Christian discipleship involves a deeply personal relationship with the Lord, it is never a wholly private one. At our baptism, each of us received the Spirit of adoption, transforming us into Temples of the Holy Spirit and members of the one Mystical Body of Christ. The pursuit of holiness in our personal lives requires that we come together as a community of faith so that the Lord can bless, unite, and strengthen our shared hopes, dreams, challenges, and sufferings in service to Him,” they said, explaining the need to assist at Mass.

The Sunday and holy day obligation to attend Mass “is the Church’s expression of the deep, personal desire that burns in our hearts to come into the presence of the Lord whom we love, who gave His life for our salvation so that we may receive Him as food for our life’s journey unto eternal glory. For who among us does not want to spend time with someone we deeply love,” they asked.

“It must be our deep love for Christ that invites us to seek Him in person and by attending Mass, to welcome Him intimately into our lives as food for the journey of life.”

Legitimate reasons for being prevented from returning to Mass include, they said, “suffering from serious pre-existing conditions that may make a person more susceptible to falling ill from COVID-19; being ill and homebound or being a caregiver in close contact with someone who is; having tested positive for any contagious disease, including COVID-19; or being in quarantine due to exposure to any contagion or residing with someone who is quarantined.”

“For anyone facing these circumstances, please remember that the Lord will never invite you to do something that poses a danger to oneself or others,” the bishops of Connecticut wrote.

The bishops called for prayer that Christ, “in his great mercy, will deepen our appreciation, love and participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”

Argentine parish where Eucharistic miracles occurred receives relic of Bl Carlo Acutis

Bl. Carlo Acutis /

Buenos Aires, Argentina, May 12, 2021 / 13:50 pm (CNA).

On the 29th anniversary of the first Eucharistic miracle that took place in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires’ Santa María parish, the community received a first class relic of Blessed Carlo Acutis.

Three Eucharistic miracles have taken place in this parish, in May 1992, July 1994, and August 1996. The history and investigation of these events are included in the Eucharistic Miracles of the World exhibition designed and created by Bl. Carlo Acutis.

The relic was received at a May 8 Mass.

The pastor of Santa María, Fr. Alberto Sorace, said, "it’s no small thing that this Eucharistic sign happened on the feast day of the Virgin of Luján”.

“We are in a time of tremendous grace” because despite the pandemic and the difficulties “the faith remains firm,” individually and as a community.

And “not because of our merits, God entrusted us with this sign that becomes a task, a challenge,” Fr. Sorace said. 

“As confirmation of this journey travelled, the Lord gives us the presence of the blessed” as “a companion on the journey”, so he can “help in this transmission, in this narration of the events that occurred. A verbal narrative that is transmitted with fidelity,” but “that also has to be translated not only into a sign, but also into deeds.”

The pastor thanked the laity who arranged for the relic to come to the parish and gave each of them a third class relic of Blessed Acutis.

On the feast of the Assumption in 1996, a host fell to the ground during the distribution of Communion and was placed in a container with water to dissolve. Ten days later it had transformed into blood.

An analysis conducted by Professor Ricardo Castañón Gómez revealed the presence of human DNA and blood.

In 2000, tissue expert Dr. Robert Lawrence found that the samples had human skin and white blood cells. After further studies had been performed by additional experts, in 2003 Lawrence concluded that the tissue was that of an inflamed heart, which means that "the person to whom it belonged must have suffered a lot."

In 2005, Castañón Gómez asked another expert, Professor Frederick Zugibe of Colombia University, to investigate. The scientist identified the tissue as coming from the left ventricle, and determined it to be living tissue that came from a suffering person.

Castañón Gómez concluded that through this miracle “the Lord wanted to show us his myocardium, which is the muscle that gives life to the whole heart, just as the Eucharist does with the Church. And why the left ventricle? Because that's where the purified blood comes from and Jesus is the one who purifies his Church from her sins."

Vatican abuse trial: Witness testimony gives conflicting view of victim, pre-seminary

View of St. Peter`s Basilica from the roof of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross on April 1, 2015. / Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Vatican City, May 12, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

As the trial for alleged abuse inside a Vatican youth seminary continues, witnesses have given different views on the characters of the victim and the accused, and of the institution’s culture.

In a hearing May 12, the Vatican City State’s criminal court heard testimony from five witnesses, four of whom were students at the pre-seminary at the time the alleged abuse took place.

Located inside Vatican City State, the Pius X pre-seminary is a residence for about a dozen boys aged 12 to 18 who serve at papal Masses and other liturgies in St. Peter’s Basilica and are considering the priesthood.

The alleged victim, a 28-year-old identified only as L.G., has testified that beginning when he was 13 years old, while he was a student at the pre-seminary, he was sexually assaulted over a period of six years by a fellow student, the defendant Fr. Gabriele Martinelli.

Martinelli has defended his innocence of the charges, calling the accusations against him “unfounded” and intended to “strike” at the pre-seminary. Martinelli was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Como in 2017.

The pre-seminary’s former rector, 72-year-old Fr. Enrico Radice, is also on trial on charges of impeding investigations into the abuse allegations against Martinelli, which he denies.

In the latest hearing, which began last year, witnesses who knew both the victim and defendant at the time of the alleged abuse testified to not having directly witnessed any abuse, even though several had at times, for periods of up to two years, shared a room with L.G.

One witness, Andrea Garzola, claimed that Martinelli once strongly touched his genitals when a game they were playing devolved into a fight. But he said that he did not think it was a “sexual advance.”

The same witness described Martinelli as being commanding and very close to the rector. He also said that he heard rumors about sexual actions between students and that one student, Kamil Jarzembowski, told him the rumors were about Martinelli.

Jarzembowski, who is from Poland, was the first to go to the media about the accusations against Martinelli, which were initially reported by the Italian investigative news program “Le Iene” in 2017.

Jarzembowski testified to the Vatican court in a March hearing that when he was roommates with L.G., he had heard Martinelli come into the room and perform non-consensual sexual actions with L.G. “tens of times.”

In his pre-trial testimony, Garzola had declared to have been told by Jarzembowski specifically that Martinelli was abusing L.G. But at the trial, Garzola denied the statement, saying: “I do not recognize those words.”

Another witness, who asked to be identified only by his initials because he will soon be ordained a priest, said he was a friend of the alleged victim, who told him he was abused by Martinelli at night.

“I had a friendship with L.G., it seems hard to me to think that he lied to me,” M.B. said.

M.B. testified that L.G. did not seem afraid of Martinelli and that there was conversation between the two of them.

Thomas Compagnoni, who was several years younger than L.G., said that the alleged victim had strongly encouraged him to attend the pre-seminary and that during his time there, he had never heard of any kind of abuse.

Fr. Francesco Vicini, a former student at the pre-seminary and now its vice-rector, was the fifth witness at the hearing.

He said that he shared a room with L.G. and Martinelli for a year, and for two years in total with L.G.

Vicini claimed that L.G. and Martinelli “fought about everything, L.G. was absolutely not afraid of Martinelli, he was not one to remain silent if he did not agree about something he would make himself heard.”

“I take it for granted that Martinelli did nothing, it seems obvious to me that he never needed to ask for clarification on rumors that were circulating in the pre-seminary,” Vicini said.

In pre-trial testimony given in 2018, Vicini had also claimed that L.G. was calm when he started at the youth seminary but that his demeanor changed as the years progressed.

“He had shown great jealousy towards Martinelli, for the role that Gabriele [Martinelli] held,” he said.

“Martinelli has a dominant character, but I respect him,” Vicini added at the time.

At a hearing in February, three different former students of the Pius X pre-seminary had testified that there was an unhealthy culture of ridicule and abuse of power while they were there.

The witnesses also alleged that reports of sexual abuse were ignored or dismissed by authority figures, including the cardinal in charge of St. Peter’s Basilica at the time, Cardinal Angelo Comastri.

At the February hearing, the Pius X pre-seminary was described by the former students as an environment with “psychological pressures,” where it was common to hear “homosexual jokes” and other lewd comments. Martinelli was described as having a “dominant role, very strong,” and a “homosexual demeanor.”

L.G. was described by one witness as “extremely credible,” but a bit delicate because of a difficult family situation.

One witness testified that Martinelli and L.G. seemed to hate each other and never speak, but that Martinelli also gave L.G. and another student special favors, positing that Martinelli was motivated by fear of what they could reveal about him.

The pre-seminary is run by a religious group, the Opera Don Folci, which is overseen by the Diocese of Como in northern Italy.

The next hearing of the abuse trial, which will include testimony from five more witnesses, will take place on June 7.