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Native American Catholics focus of Knights of Columbus documentary

Black Elk, daughter Lucy Black Elk and wife Anna Brings White. Public Domain.

Hartford, Conn., May 17, 2021 / 19:01 pm (CNA).

The historical and contemporary witness of Native American Catholics are the subject of a Knights of Columbus-produced documentary set for broadcast in upcoming weeks.


“It is impossible to fully understand what it means to be a Catholic in North America without a sincere appreciation for the Catholic tradition among so many native tribes,” the Knights of Columbus website said. “Few people realize that Indigenous communities throughout the continent were sincerely practicing their faith centuries before the founding of the United States.”


The Catholic fraternal organization characterized the documentary as offering “a missing piece to the greater story of Catholicism in America.” It combines the history of Native American Catholics and their continuing contributions, with commentary from present-day Native Americans and other Catholic leaders.


Among those who speak in the documentary is Deacon Andrew Orosco, who on his father’s side is descended from the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians of the Ipai clan of Kumeyaay. Their traditional lands are in what is now the San Diego area.


“Christ reveals himself through the beauty of each and every one of our cultures,” said Orosco, a Catholic deacon of the San Diego diocese. “We are vibrant. We are alive. We are still here. And our voices need to be heard.”


The documentary, “Enduring Faith: The Story of Native American Catholicism,” will air on ABC TV affiliates as part of a partnership with the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission. Broadcasts first began in some localities on May 16 and will generally air on Sundays.


A trailer and broadcast schedule are available at the Knights of Columbus website.


“The history and deeply ingrained traditions of Native American Catholics demonstrate how Christ reveals himself through the uniqueness of every culture,” Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly said May 13. “Our hope is that this film will inspire a greater appreciation of the faithful witness of Native American Catholics.”


Father Henry Sands, executive director of the Black and Indian Mission Office, is another commentator for the documentary. Sands, a priest of the Detroit archdiocese, belongs to three tribes: Ojibway, Odawa, and Potawatomi. He is a member of the Little Traverse Bay Band of the Odawa Indians in Michigan. His organization, the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, was founded in 1874 to serve Native American Catholics and to act as their advocate with the federal government.


“We know that there is a lot of negative history in the interaction between the native people and the peoples who came from Europe,” he said. “At the same time, one of the positive things that took place is that the gospel did come to the people of the Americas. The gospel of Jesus Christ has been thriving among native peoples since it was first brought here.”


The Knights of Columbus said they aim for the documentary to “inspire in viewers a deeper appreciation for the spiritual and cultural gifts of Native American Catholics, a greater awareness of the wrongs inflicted upon them by the unjust policies of the British and American governments, and a sense of hope at how Native American Catholics continue to live out their faith in fully enculturated ways today.”


The documentary covers history like the 1531 apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego, an Aztec native. The miraculous Marian image which appeared on his tilma portrays the Virgin Mary as an indigenous woman wearing native dress. The apparition and image led to the mass conversions of many Native American communities to Catholic Christianity.


Then there is the story of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, who was born in 1656 in a Mohawk village in part of the Iroquois confederacy, the area that is now upstate New York and southern Canada. She converted to Catholicism at age 19 and sought to live a life of holiness and virtue, despite obstacles and opposition within her tribe. She died at age 24. She was canonized by Benedict XVI in 2012, the first Native American to be declared a saint.


Nicholas Black Elk, a convert to Catholic Christianity, was born sometime between 1858 and 1866. He was a prominent Lakota medicine man who was present at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 and wounded at the Wounded Knee Massacre. He joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, which toured Europe, including a performance before Queen Victoria.


He became a catechist in 1907, chosen for his enthusiasm and his excellent memory for learning Scripture and Church teaching. His work brought over 400 people into the Catholic Church. He was one of the signatories of the cause of canonization for St. Kateri Tekakwitha. He died Aug. 19, 1950 in Pine Ridge, S.D.


“Our faith is deep. Our faith is long-standing. And that story needs to be told, if you’re going to tell the story of Catholicism in the Americas,” said Patrick Mason, Supreme Secretary of the Knights of Columbus and a member of the Osage Nation. “But more importantly, that faith needs to be shared, and people need to know that we are here, and we’re here to share our faith with you.”


Carl Anderson, past Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, discussed the need to learn from Native Americans. He said there is “a need for reconciliation with Native Americans” and this need is “often hidden from many Americans by the fact that so many native communities are isolated.”


“We need to get to know each other better,” he said.


The documentary is part of the Knights of Columbus’ Native Solidarity Initiative, announced in 2019. The initiative began as a partnership between the Catholic organization, the Diocese of Gallup, and the Gallup-based Southwest Indian Foundation to build a shrine to St. Kateri Tekakwitha in the southwest U.S.


The Knights of Columbus noted their outreach to native and indigenous communities in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Hawaii during the coronavirus epidemic. The organization is collaborating with the Black and Indian Mission Office and the native-run Life is Sacred nonprofit.


The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men’s fraternal organization, has over 2 million members in over 16,000 councils worldwide.

Dioceses begin easing masking, social distancing restrictions 

lev radin/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 17, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Some Catholic dioceses have begun updating their COVID protocols for public Masses, as federal public health officials have introduced new guidance. 

The new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), issued on May 13, states that fully vaccinated people “can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.” 

The guidance specifies that a person is considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after receiving a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or two weeks after receiving the second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. 

On the same day the CDC published its new guidance, the Catholic Conference of Ohio announced that it would lift its general dispensation from the Sunday obligation on the weekend of June 5. 

Catholics are obligated to attend Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, except for grave reasons. Bishops throughout the United States granted general dispensations from the obligation during the pandemic, but some dioceses began lifting the dispensation beginning in August 2020.

People who have significant risk factors or are ill will still be exempt from the obligation to attend Sunday mass, the Ohio Catholic Conference clarified.  

“The obligation to attend Mass on Sunday and Holy Days is not something God asks of us out of his own necessity to be worshipped, but rather a gift to the faithful for their spiritual well-being, eternal salvation and formation in our relationship with God and one another,” the state’s bishops wrote in a joint letter

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati will also lift its own mask mandate at churches as of June 2, the day the state of Ohio’s updated mask guidance goes into effect. Other dioceses in the state indicated they would likewise follow the state’s mask recommendations.  

Meanwhile, the Diocese of Pittsburgh announced last week that as of May 31 it would no longer require masks for the fully vaccinated, in accordance with Pennsylvania state guidance. The diocese added that to accommodate people who are not yet vaccinated, it would encourage churches to have a section where masks and social distancing are maintained.  

Bishop David Zubik said in a statement that “as we have seen at several points throughout this pandemic, health guidance and directives can change rapidly.” 

“I continue to express my gratitude for the flexibility of the faithful, and the hard work of our clergy and their parish teams in implementing the changing directives into our parishes,” Bishop Zubik said. “Our loving Lord has seen us through our masks and is here with and for us during this next transition.”

The Diocese of Charlotte, citing state guidance from North Carolina, also announced on May 14 that it would ease its COVID protocols, lifting “mask and social distancing requirements in most circumstances, effective immediately.” 

The diocese will also reinstate its general obligation to attend mass as of Sunday, May 23, with exceptions remaining in place for the ill or vulnerable. The diocese additionally specified that it will not reinstate the Sign of Peace at this time.

Charleston diocese 'extremely disappointed' with law recommencing executions

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Charleston, South Carolina / Bill Kennedy/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 17, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

South Carolina on Monday became the fourth state to officially sanction the use of the firing squad as a method of execution.

Gov. Henry McMaster (R) signed into law a bill allowing the state to execute death row inmates by electrocution or firing squad, if the drugs used for lethal injection are not available. Previously, lethal injection was the default method of execution in South Carolina. 

The South Carolina legislature passed the bill earlier this month, sending it to McMaster’s desk. 

The Diocese of Charleston, the state’s only Catholic diocese, told CNA it was “extremely disappointed” with the bill, as it effectively allows executions to resume in the Palmetto State after 10 years. 

“Every person is created in the likeness of God; their lives should be protected from the time of conception until natural death,” Maria Aselage, spokesperson for the diocese, said in a statement. 

Aselage called for an abolition of the death penalty in the state, instead of “find[ing] new ways to execute our brothers and sisters, including by firing squad.” 

Executions in South Carolina had been effectively paused for a decade, due to a lack of availability of the drug cocktail used in lethal injections. Countries which produce the drugs used in executions refuse to sell them to states for this purpose; as a result, many states in recent years have seen their supply either expire or run out. 

If inmates selected lethal injection as their method of execution, the state previously could not use an alternative method if the necessary drugs were not available. Under the new law, lethal injection can only be used if the drugs are available.

South Carolina’s last execution took place on May 6, 2011. There are presently 37 people on death row in the state, including three inmates who have exhausted the appeals process. These three prisoners are likely to be executed in the coming months. 

Since the mid-1990s, most executions in South Carolina have been carried out by lethal injection.  

Of the three other states that permit the use of the firing squad as a method of execution, only one - Utah - has actually used it. 

The last person in the United States to be executed by firing squad was convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner, in 2010.

Gardner, who was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, said that the firing squad was consistent with his “Mormon heritage” and his beliefs in “blood atonement.”  

After investigation, priest who presided at Biden inaugural Mass resigns as Santa Clara U president

Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif. Credit: Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz/Shutterstock.

San Jose, Calif., May 17, 2021 / 15:19 pm (CNA).

Santa Clara University president Father Kevin O’Brien, S.J., engaged in questionable behavior at informal dinners with Jesuit graduate students, the local Jesuit province has ruled, leading to O’Brien’s announcement that he will resign as president of the California Jesuit university. He has entered an outpatient program to address personal issues including alcohol use and stress.


O’Brien has been president of the San Jose-area university since 2019. He presided over the Jan. 20 Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington D.C. which President Joe Biden attended the day before his inauguration. The priest has reportedly known the Biden family for at least 15 years, dating back to when O’Brien served at Georgetown University. O’Brien previously presided at a Mass for Biden and his family in both 2009 and 2013, when Biden was sworn in as vice president, the San Jose Mercury News reported. 


John M. Sobrato, the chairman of the board of trustees for Santa Clara university, said in a May 12 announcement that an independent investigation conducted on behalf of the USA West Province of the Society of Jesus found that O’Brien “engaged in behaviors, consisting primarily of conversations, during a series of informal dinners with Jesuit graduate students that were inconsistent with established Jesuit protocols and boundaries.”


“The province also advised the board that alcohol was involved and that no inappropriate behavior was found in any settings outside of these dinners,” Sobrato said. “The board of trustees takes this situation very seriously and fully supports those who came forward to provide their accounts.”


Sobrato said O’Brien notified the trustees of his intention to resign on May 9 and the board accepted his resignation May 10. The board will immediately begin the process to search for his successor, Sobrato said.


In a May 12 letter to the university community, O’Brien said that in early March his Jesuit provincial, Father Scott Santarosa, had voiced concerns to him “about my well-being.”


“These concerns were based on accounts of my behavior over the past year in certain social settings with adults that did not meet the highest standards of decorum expected of me as a Jesuit,” he said. “The province investigated these concerns, and based on the results of that review, Father Santarosa asked me to enter a therapeutic program to address related personal issues, including my use of alcohol and stress management.”


O’Brien said he wrote his letter with “a heavy heart but clear mind.” He said he fully cooperated with the province’s investigation process.


“In April, I entered an outpatient or nonresidential treatment program, which many Jesuits over the years have found helpful in living a full, healthy life of service,” the priest added. “In my case, the program is expected to take four to six months.”


“It is important to have friends in your life, as I do now, who can speak honestly when they are concerned about you,” O’Brien’s letter said. “Equally important, no matter the success or positions you achieve in life, everyone needs help at times, and it is okay to ask for help when you need it, and to allow others to care for you.”


On March 15 Sobrato had announced unspecified allegations that O’Brien “exhibited behaviors in adult settings, consisting primarily of conversations, which may be inconsistent with established Jesuit protocols and boundaries.” Sobrato asked any witnesses of inappropriate behavior to contact the Jesuits’ provincial office.


In his May letter to the university community, O’Brien said his extended absence would not serve the university well as the coronavirus pandemic ends. His resignation would allow the university board to begin the search for a successor, he said. He would not know whether or how he can return until the conclusion of the treatment program, he added.


While Father Santarosa, the Jesuit provincial, expects that O’Brien will be able to return to priestly ministry, it will not be as president, said O’Brien.


“As together we addressed challenges during the pandemic and in our movements to greater racial justice, I have loved my service here, primarily because of the people,” he said. “Thank you for your company and your support, especially when the days and decisions were hard. I trust that God will use my labor here for good, even when I fell short of my or your expectations.”


The university trustees have named Lisa Kloppenberg as acting president. She was named interim university provost in June 2019 and has served as university provost and vice president for academic affairs since February 2020. Previously, she served as dean of the Santa Clara University School of Law and as dean and professor of law at the University of Dayton School of Law in Ohio.


O’Brien praised Kloppenberg’s “exceptional and visionary leadership” and praised the leadership of the university cabinet, its deans, and other leaders.


“Know that my days begin with prayers for Santa Clara and its mission which endures with the grace of God and the goodness of so many,” he said.


O’Brien was reportedly popular and well-liked as SCU’s president. He was a frequent contributor to MSNBC, CNN, and the Washington Post on Church-related issues.

He was a lawyer before he was ordained a priest. He served as dean of Santa Clara University’s Jesuit School of Theology before being named president.


Santa Clara University, established in 1851, counts current California Governor Gavin Newsom and former Governor Jerry Brown among its alumni. 


In 2013, Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University changed their employee health care plans to remove elective abortion coverage. The change prompted significant protests from some faculty, while Planned Parenthood and others lobbied California officials to block the effort.


After California mandated abortion coverage in health plans, the universities complied, despite Catholic teaching against cooperation with the provision of abortion.


The Obama administration rejected claims that the state mandate violated the Weldon Amendment, which bars federal funds to state or local governments if they discriminate against healthcare entities, including health insurance plans, that decline to pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions. However, in early 2020 federal officials appeared more favorable to Weldon Amendment objections.

After Supreme Court takes up abortion case, White House signals support for Roe v. Wade

Orhan Cam/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 17, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The White House on Monday made statements in favor of legal abortion and the Equality Act.

Earlier on Monday, the Supreme Court had agreed to consider a challenge to Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Asked about the court’s decision to take up the case, White House press secretary Jen Psaki would not specifically comment on the decision, but offered a general defense of legal abortion.

“Over the last four years, critical rights – like the right to health care, the right to choose – have been under withering and extreme attack, including through draconian state laws,” Psaki said at Monday’s White House press briefing.

President Biden, she said, “is committed to codifying Roe,” the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. While campaigning for president in 2020, Biden – a Catholic – supported the codification of Roe in law and called for taxpayer-funded abortion.

“And the president and the vice president are committed to ensuring that every American has access to health care, including reproductive health care, regardless of their income, zip code, race, health insurance status, or immigration status,” Psaki stated.

The White House also called on Congress to pass the Equality Act, in a statement for May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

“I continue to urge Congress to pass the Equality Act, which would confirm critical civil rights protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity for all Americans,” Biden stated.

The Equality Act would institute broad civil rights protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, while specifically overriding religious freedom claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Legal experts have warned that the act could impede religious freedom on a number of fronts – mandating, for example, that business owners serve a same-sex wedding ceremony contrary to their religious beliefs. Faith-based women’s shelters could be forced to house biological men identifying as transgender women, under the legislation. Church halls could be forced to host events with messages that contradict the teachings of their faith.

“We continue to implement my executive orders to advance equality and equity,” Biden stated. In one of his first acts in office, Biden signed an executive order interpreting federal laws against sex discrimination to also include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Everyone is entitled to dignity and equality, no matter who they are, whom they love, or how they identify — and we will continue to engage with allies and partners to advance the human rights of LGBTQI+ people here at home and in all corners of the world,” Biden stated on May 17.

Pelosi's archbishop hopes for ‘progress’ in dialogue on ‘most serious matter’ of her abortion support

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco / CNA stock

Washington D.C., May 17, 2021 / 11:59 am (CNA).

The Archbishop of San Francisco on Monday responded to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who said last week she was “pleased” with a recent Vatican statement on Communion.

Pelosi, who is Catholic and pro-abortion, had claimed that a May 7 Vatican letter to U.S. bishops instructed the bishops not to be “divisive” on the matter of Communion for pro-abortion politicians.

On Monday, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco – Pelosi’s home diocese – said that the Vatican actually supported “dialogue” between bishops and pro-abortion Catholic politicians “to help them understand the grave evil they are helping to perpetrate and accompany them to a change of heart.”

The Vatican also acknowledged the possibility of denying politicians Holy Communion if they persist in their cooperation with legal abortion, Cordileone said. The Church’s code of canon law paragraph 915 states that Catholics “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

“I’m happy to know that Speaker Pelosi said she is pleased with the letter,” Archbishop Cordileone said of the Vatican’s letter. “Speaker Pelosi’s positive reaction to Cardinal Ladaria’s letter, then, raises hope that progress can be made in this most serious matter.”

He emphasized that legal abortion in the United States has resulted in 66 million babies “murdered in their mothers’ wombs.”

“This is not a matter about which one can use judgment.  It is a fact,” he said on Monday. “If we look around us and see what is happening in our society today, we will see that this fact once again demonstrates that violence begets violence.”

The archbishop in January said, regarding Pelosi’s support for legal abortion, “No Catholic in good conscience can favor abortion.”

The Vatican letter which Pelosi cited was authored by the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – Cardinal Luis Ladaria – and directed to the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles.

Gomez had previously written the congregation, informing it that the U.S. bishops would be considering the situation of Catholics in public office who support permissive laws on abortion, euthanasia, or other evils.

In his letter, Cardinal Ladaria said that before issuing any “national policy” on Communion, the bishops must first undertake a “serene” dialogue among themselves to ensure unity on the Church’s teaching that Catholics cannot support pro-abortion laws.

Then, the bishops must dialogue with Catholic politicians who support such laws, to understand their positions “and their comprehension of Catholic teaching,” Cardinal Ladaria said.

After that, the bishops must discern the way forward to address the matter, he said.

If the bishops issued a “national policy” on Communion, he said that such a policy would need to reflect the consensus of the conference, uphold the rights of local ordinaries, and be situated in the broader context of worthiness to receive Holy Communion among all Catholics. In addition, it must not give the appearance of framing abortion and euthanasia as the only grave evils, the Vatican said.

Cardinal Ladaria had cited a 2004 letter from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratizinger to then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the head of the U.S. bishops, as a reference the U.S. bishops could use on the matter of Communion. He wrote that as it was a “private” communication, “insofar, therefore, as these principles are not published by the Conference, they may be of assistance in the preparation of the draft of your document.”

In his 2004 memo, Ratzinger applied canon law to the situation of Catholic politicians who are “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws.” Such officials, Ratzinger said, were engaged in “manifest” and “formal cooperation” in grave sin.

He instructed that pastors meet with them and make clear their break with Church teaching, informing them that they should not receive Communion. If these officials persist in their advocacy, then “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.”

Ladaria also instructed that the 2004 letter should be read in light of the congregation’s 2002 note on Catholic participation in politics and the importance of safeguarding the rights of ordinaries.

Archbishop Cordileone said that the Vatican instructed that dialogue take place between bishops and public officials.

“In his letter, Ratzinger confirmed that consistently advocating for abortion and euthanasia constitutes formal cooperation in grave sin, and that bishops must dialogue with Catholics prominent in public life who do so in order to help them understand the grave evil they are helping to perpetrate and accompany them to a change of heart,” Cordileone said.

The 2004 letter, he added, said that “if these dialogues prove to be fruitless, then, out of respect for the Catholic belief of what it means to receive Holy Communion, the bishop must declare that the individual is not be admitted to Communion.”

Individual bishops have recently spoken out about admission to Communion.  

Last week, Pelosi said “I think I can use my own judgment” when asked by EWTN News Nightly correspondent Erik Rosales about receiving Holy Communion.

Pelosi has long supported legal abortion and has advocated for taxpayer-funded abortion by repealing the Hyde Amendment. She has also supported the Equality Act, legislation that the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) has warned would “punish” religious groups opposed to the redefinition of marriage and transgender ideology.

She added that she was “pleased with what the Vatican put out on that subject” of Communion for pro-abortion Catholic politicians, claiming that the Vatican’s statement “basically said ‘don’t be divisive on the subject’.”

In October 2019, Joe Biden was denied Communion at a parish in the Diocese of Charleston while he was campaigning for president. A diocesan policy stated that “Catholic public officials who consistently support abortion on demand are cooperating with evil in a public manner. By supporting pro-abortion legislation they participate in manifest grave sin, a condition which excludes them from admission to Holy Communion as long as they persist in the pro-abortion stance.”

Crucifixion display vandalized at New York church

The toppled crucifix display at St. Athanasius / Desales Media

Washington D.C., May 17, 2021 / 11:15 am (CNA).

A crucifixion display at a church in the Brooklyn diocese was vandalized last week in what is being investigated as a possible hate crime.

“This was truly an act of hatred and today is the saddest day of my twenty years here at this parish,” Monsignor David Cassato, pastor of St. Athanasius parish in Brooklyn, New York, said in a May 14 diocesan press release. The vandalism occurred at St. Athanasius, which is located in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. 

According to the diocese, a crucifix installed outside the church in 2010 was toppled over and lay face-down on the ground. Msgr. Cassato discovered the vandalism on the morning of May 14; the display had been installed in memory of his mother. 

An American flag outside the parish rectory was also burned, according to the parish.

“I went over and spoke to the students in the school about what happened, telling them that hate never wins.” Cassato said in the press release. “We are, and must be, a community that continues to share the message of Easter, that which is of love, hope, and forgiveness.”

The parish plans to have the crucifix display repaired and reinstalled.

St. Athanasius parish sent a public message to the perpetrator on their Facebook page: “We forgive you and we are praying for you!” The parish held a prayer vigil on May 15 in response to the incident, claiming that hundreds attended. The diocese has asked anyone with information on the incident to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS (8477).

Other acts of vandalism have taken place at churches around the country in recent months.

In early May, a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Waltham, Massachusetts was vandalized, with its head and hand cut off. On the weekend of May 8, fingers on a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus were broken off, at St. Thomas More church in Narragansett Rhode Island.

In April, the face of a statue of Christ at Saint Mary’s Cathedral in the Fargo diocese was painted black. On April 21, a man used a sledgehammer to damage a mural of Our Lady Guadalupe at St. Elisabeth Catholic Church in Van Nuys, California. In early February three statues of angels at St. Pius X Church in El Paso, Texas, were toppled over and broken.

In early January, a statue of St. Therese of Lisieux was defaced with an upside-down cross, the word “satan,” and a pentagram, at St. Theresa of the Child Jesus parish in Abbeville, Louisiana.

Catholic Churches and statues throughout the United States were targeted for arson or vandalism throughout 2020 as well.

Supreme Court will consider Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban

Steven Frame/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 17, 2021 / 08:20 am (CNA).

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider a case involving a state 15-week abortion ban.

The court will be taking up the case of Jackson Women’s Health Organization v. Dobbs, involving Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The high court agreed only to consider one question presented in the petition for certiorari, namely, “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional?”

Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, the law in question, was signed into law in 2018 but is not currently in effect. Although it banned most abortions after 15 weeks, it included exceptions for when the mother’s life or major bodily function is in danger, or in cases where the unborn child has a severe abnormality and is not expected to survive outside the womb at full term.

The law would be enforced by revocation of state medical licenses for doctors in violation, and a fine of up to $500 for falsification of medical records about the circumstances of an abortion.

Pro-life leaders praised the court’s decision to take up the case.

“States should be allowed to craft laws that are in line with both public opinion on this issue as well as basic human compassion, instead of the extreme policy that Roe imposed,” Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, stated. Roe v. Wade was the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. The Roe ruling said that states could not ban abortions prior to the “viability” of the unborn child.

“Every human life is valuable, and Mississippi’s law is a commonsense step toward protecting unborn children and their mothers from the harms of late-term abortion,” Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Denise Harle stated on Monday.

“The law protects the life of a baby who can already move around and kick in her mom’s womb—a child who has a heartbeat, can taste what her mom eats, and can experience pain,” she stated. And the law also protects women, since late-term abortions grow increasingly dangerous to the mother’s health.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights sued on behalf of the abortion clinic Jackson Women’s Health Organization. A district court judge ruled against the law in November 2018, and in December 2019, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling.

The state of Mississippi appealed to the Supreme Court in 2020, and the court on Monday agreed to hear the case.

The state’s Catholic dioceses of Jackson and Biloxi have supported the law, in a written friend-of-the-court brief.

They stated that “the state’s interest in protecting unborn children who have the capacity to feel pain is sufficiently compelling to support a limited prohibition on abortion.”

While a challenge to federal regulations of the abortion pill regimen was the first abortion-related case for new Justice Amy Coney Barrett at the Supreme Court, the case against Mississippi’s law is the most significant abortion-related case of her tenure.

Fifth Circuit court Judge Patrick Higginbotham authored the opinion for the Fifth Circuit in 2019, upholding the district court's decision.

“In an unbroken line dating to Roe v. Wade , the Supreme Court’s abortion cases have established (and affirmed, and re-affirmed) a woman’s right to choose an abortion before viability. States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s right, but they may not ban abortions,” he wrote.

“The law at issue is a ban. Thus, we affirm the district court’s invalidation of the law, as well as its discovery rulings and its award of permanent injunctive relief,” he added.

In the state’s petition to the Supreme Court, Mississippi health officer Thomas Dobbs argued that the standard of “viability” – when an unborn child is medically determined to be able to survive outside the mother’s womb – is arbitrary.

The court said in its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that states could not ban abortion pre-viability, and could only regulate it in the second trimester. In 1992, the court ruled in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that states could regulate abortions pre-viability, but could not pose an “undue burden” on women seeking abortion.

 “Thanks to amazing progress in scientific research and medical technology, the concept of ‘viability’ is an ever-moving target as younger children have survived and thrived after preterm birth,” stated ADF senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy John Bursch.

Bursch added that “‘viability’ has never been a legitimate way to determine a developing infant’s dignity or to decide anybody’s legal existence.”

The state of Mississippi also argued that, according to medical expertise, abortions pose greater risks to the health of the mother after 16 weeks of pregnancy, and the unborn child is capable of feeling pain after 15 weeks and possibly even before that time in the pregnancy.

The Jackson Women's Health Clinic is the only remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi.

The Senate pro-life caucus chair Steve Daines (R-Mont.) also approved of the court’s taking up the case on Monday.

“There is no constitutional right to abortion, yet for nearly 50 years since Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, more than 62 million children have been the tragic victims of abortion,” Daines said. “It is long past time for the Supreme Court to right this wrong and I am encouraged to see the Court announce it will take up this case.”

This article was updated with additional information on May 17.

Sisters of Life: 'You are irreplaceable', just like the child in the womb

Sisters of Life.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 15, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

The members of an order of religious sisters are dedicating their lives to sharing the message that every person, from the moment of conception, is infinitely loved.

The Sisters of Life recently spoke with EWTN host Montse Alvarado in remembrance of Mother’s Day. Sr. Magdalene Teresa Mercy stressed the joy of life and discussed spiritual motherhood during EWTN News In Depth May 7.

Alvarado introduced the order as one that helps to choose life by “providing shelter, supplies, and counsel” in six U.S. locations. She spoke with Sr. Magdalene Teresa, who serves as a local superior and mission coordinator for the Sisters of Life at a crisis pregnancy mission at St. Andrew’s Center in lower Manhattan. 

The Sisters of Life, the sister said, embrace “spiritual maternity.” 

“Motherhood really is a foundational piece of our charism,” which is “to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life,” she explained. Motherhood is the “floor or the ground that we walk on.”

John Cardinal O’Connor founded the Sisters of Life in New York in 1991. The community of Catholic religious women profess four vows: poverty, chastity, and obedience, and “to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.”

They dedicate their lives to offering support and resources to pregnant women and mothers, hosting retreats, evangelizing, practicing outreach to college students, and helping women who suffer after abortion, among other things.

At St. Andrew’s, the sisters receive women who are “just really wondering what to do.”

“They’re in the throes of the decision about abortion or choosing life,” she urged. “And for us, it’s such a joy to just invite them to see everything a little different.”

She revealed one of the questions they ask pregnant women to help them discern.

“We’ll say, ‘If everything were different – if you had this dream and that dream and all the things that you hoped for – if it were different, if it were this, what would you do?”

According to Sr. Magdalene Teresa, these women give the same response: “Of course I would give life to my child, if I had all these resources.”

“That’s our biggest thing,” she said, “is to make their dreams come true because nothing should stand in the way of them achieving everything they want.”

“Pregnancy is not a disease,” she emphasized. 

Sr. Magdalene Teresa agreed that material resources can be an obstacle to choosing life. But she said that the biggest challenge is “the spiritual and the lack of hope and the sense of basically not knowing” motherhood, including from their own mother.

“For me, that’s a big desire, is to provide that gift of maternity in our mission,” she responded.

The sisters do little things to lead to a “bigger place” – a place where women know, “I can rest in my maternity” and “rest in joy of being with my children.” One of those little things is offering women a cooking class to make dishes with chicken.

At other locations, like their Sacred Heart convent in midtown Manhattan, they house and live side-by-side with pregnant women in need. 

“The beauty of our charism,” she said, “it does speak to the heart.”

The sisters’ “basic message,” she said, is, “You are made in the image and likeness of God. You are unrepeatable and irreplaceable. And because you’re unrepeatable and irreplaceable, the child in the womb is.”

“You’re so loved by God,” she added. “You’re loved into being. If you were somehow not loved, you would cease to exist.” 

The sisters dedicate their lives to both speaking and acting on that message. They’re not alone either, with over 20,000 volunteers to help them.

Among the problems that concern Sr. Magdalene Teresa is the pressures that push women toward abortion, including diagnosis via prenatal testing.

While prenatal testing is becoming more accurate, she stressed that “sometimes God does something in the womb that is unbelievable.”

“I’ve had so many times where there’s this amazing test that says the baby’s going to have this really hard, very difficult anomaly.” she said. She remembered a time when “everybody was praying” for a baby with a prenatal diagnosis. He ended up being just “fine, he was huge.” 

“If we reverence life, even in the medical world, it would lead to great gifts,” she concluded. “There’s a great need to share the joy of life, even if it’s an hour long.”

One of the things that drive people to abortion is fear, she said. But the sisters counter that with love and “also some courage.”

“We walk with women,” she said. “That’s one of our big works, is to send coworkers or ourselves to the appointments with the women just to back them up.” 

She also looked to what the future might bring for the sisters.

“I personally am on a rampage to ask for there to be a Catholic birthing center hospital in every diocese,” she hinted. “That could be a great mission for an order.”

She ended with a message to women: to “lay our trust in the Lord, lay our trust in Our Lady.”

“She does want to be that anchor in a stormy sea that we’re in at this time and she does want to share – shine that light on where to go next,” she said.  “I also think she has her mantle around us and we often just don’t notice it, but we’re wrapped in it.”

The Blessed Virgin Mary is also a “great model for maternity”, she said.

“I tell a lot of women who are open to hearing, she wants to teach us how to be moms,” Sr. Magdalene Teresa concluded. “She loves sharing all her secrets.”

‘This thing’s going to blow up on us’: The religious extremism fueling violence in Nigeria

Funeral Mass in Nigeria / Aid to the Church in Need

Washington D.C., May 14, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Escalating bloodshed in Nigeria is fueled in part by religious extremism – and the United States must recognize this in order to achieve peace, says the former U.S. religious freedom ambassador.

“This thing’s going to blow up on us, as we would say, ‘bigger than Dallas,’ if we don’t get into there and really start taking this seriously at this point,” Sam Brownback, former Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, told CNA on Wednesday of violence in Nigeria.

Due to the scope of violence against civilians in Nigeria, the State Department in December designated Nigeria a “country of particular concern (CPC)” for the first time ever—a listing reserved for the countries with the worst records on religious freedom, such as China, Iran, and North Korea.

In addition, the agency’s annual religious freedom report published on Wednesday cited numerous terror attacks on civilians in Nigeria in the past year in the country’s northeast, including attacks on churches and mosques.

“Terrorist groups including Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) attacked population centers and religious targets,” the report noted, targeting “the local civilian population, including churches and mosques.”

In the country’s north central region, a long-standing conflict “between predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen and predominantly Christian farmers” continued in 2020, the State Department said.

The report cited “[s]ome religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)” who said “this conflict had religious undertones.”

“Some domestic and international Christian groups stated that Muslim Fulani herdsman were targeting Christian farmers because of their religion. Local Muslim and herder organizations said unaffiliated Fulani were the targets of Christian revenge killings,” the report said.

Brownback said the references to the religious nature of the terror attacks and killings is a positive sign that the U.S. diplomatic corps is beginning to acknowledge the role of religion in Nigeria.

“Radical terrorist Muslim groups” such as Boko Haram and ISIS-WA are moving into the Sahel region in an attempt to create an Islamic caliphate, he said. They are calling on local Muslims to kill their Christian neighbors, “and they are saying this from a theological basis,” Brownback said.

He disputed characterizations of violence as primarily disputes over land or water, or ethnic or “rural-urban” conflicts.

U.S. diplomats have long called the conflicts “[a]nything but ‘Muslim-Christian’,” Brownback said. Religion, he added, “is not the only issue, but it’s a key issue.”

Members of the Islamic State “are winning the hearts and minds of the villagers that are killing people,” he said of terrorists using religion to promote civilian violence. “We’re being attacked theologically, and we don’t respond there.”

“But that’s the most powerful thing in most peoples’ lives in the world, is what they believe. And we won’t respond there. And we’re getting killed by a force that we should be able to subdue,” he said.

The United States, he said, must work with faith leaders in the region to promote peace through religious leaders.

“We need to do something that we are nervous about doing, but that we have to do,” he said. “We need to go to Muslim leaders and Christian leaders who are for peace, and say ‘we’ve got to have you out at the front of the discussion saying that our faith does not support the use of religion to kill other people as a way of proselytizing.”

The country was rocked by violence in 2020. The Bishop of Gboko, in the center of Nigeria, told a U.S. congressional commission in December that “[t]he mass slaughter of Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, by every standard, meets the criteria for a calculated genocide from the definition of the Genocide Convention.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, noted that Fulanis have been driven into the country’s Middle Belt by desertification caused by climate change; they have also been targeted for counter-reprisals, he said.

Nevertheless, “[t]he largest, dominant driver of conflict in the Middle Belt region is committed by Fulani extremists, who appear driven in large part by ethno-religious chauvinism, against mostly Christian farmers – though I do note that elsewhere Shia Muslims are also victims, and that intra-Sunni conflicts also exist within the Muslim community as well,” Smith said.

Nigerian Catholic clergy and seminarians have been targeted for kidnappings and attacks this year.

In February of 2020, an 18 year-old Nigerian seminarian was kidnapped and killed by gunmen. One year later, the local Bishop of Sokoto lamented that the spate of kidnappings had gotten “progressively worse.”

“The harvest of death has gotten richer, more and more people are dying,” Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto said in February.

In March, gunmen attacking a church in Benue State killed a priest and at least six others. Just days before, another Nigerian priest in the diocese of Warri was released after a week-long kidnapping by gunmen.

In February, Pope Francis prayed for 317 schoolgirls who were abducted from their school in Jangebe.