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US bishops' pro-life novena to begin next week

null / Courtesy of the USCCB's Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities

Washington D.C., Jan 14, 2022 / 16:01 pm (CNA).

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “9 Days for Life”, as the bishops once again encourage everyone to pray for an end to abortion.

“This pro-life novena is an opportunity for recollection and reparation in observation of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade—the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal throughout the United States,” said a Jan. 12 statement from the USCCB. 

The novena begins Jan. 19 and is sponsored by the conference’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities. The first 9 Days for Life novena was prayed in 2013, in observance of the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. In the decision, the justices found that a woman had a legal right to an abortion throughout the entirety of her pregnancy. 

Each day, participants in the novena will pray for a specific intention related to ending abortion, and will be provided with “a reflection, educational information, and suggested daily actions.” 

Jan. 22 is the USCCB’s annual “Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children.” That date marks the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in the case Roe v. Wade, and is a day of penance in the dioceses of the United States.

Those seeking to participate in the novena can sign up for text or email reminders at 9daysforlife.com. Participants are encouraged to use the hashtag #9DaysForLife if they post about the novena on social media.

Here's the latest update on the attack on the Our Lady of Fatima statue in D.C.

Surveillance footage shows a man hammering at the Our Lady of Fatima statue located outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 5, 2021. / Screenshot taken from Metropolitan Police Department video

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 14, 2022 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

A marble statute of Our Lady of Fatima outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., suffered "irreparable damage" at the hands of a still unidentified assailant and will be replaced, a basilica spokesperson has told CNA.

Police now know the identity of a "suspect" sought in connection with the Dec. 5 attack, the spokesperson said, referring further questions about the investigation to the Metropolitan Police Department.

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police Department confirmed that a "person of interest" has been identified but said police are not releasing any further information at this time. No arrests have been reported.

In another development, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, has announced that a public rosary in "response to the recent vandalism of a statue of Our Lady of Fatima" will take place at the basilica on Sunday, Jan. 16 in observance of Religious Freedom Day.

“I encourage all Catholics to participate in this event, as we pray that all religious communities would be free to worship without fear and to continue to bless this great country," Dolan said in a statement released Friday.

The rosary will be held at 1:30 p.m. EST, and will be live streamed.

“Religious art instructs and inspires. It reminds us that we live most fully when we direct our lives toward our Creator and our neighbors,” Dolan said. “On the other hand, the defacement of such public symbols of the sacred degrades our life together and harms the common good.”

Police have shared surveillance footage that shows a man wearing a mask approaching the Marian statue located outside the basilica. The man steps up to the statue, withdraws a mallet or hammer-like tool, and appears to strike at the statue's hands. He climbs back down only to step up again and repeatedly whack at the statute's face, sending pieces of marble flying. 

The basilica spokesperson told CNA the cost of the Carrara marble statue's replacement is “to be determined.” No decision has been made yet about when or how the existing statue will be removed and disposed of, the spokesperson said.

The statue is valued at $250,000, according to a police report obtained by CNA. The case is not being treated as a hate crime, police have said.

A joyful, faithful 'warrior': Catholic philosopher, author Alice von Hildebrand dies at 98

Dr. Alice von Hildebrand / Dr. Alice von Hildebrand

Denver Newsroom, Jan 14, 2022 / 13:17 pm (CNA).

Catholic philosopher and longtime professor Alice von Hildebrand died Jan. 14 at the age of 98.

“With sadness suffused by joy, I write to share that our beloved friend and sister Alice von Hildebrand went home to the Lord at 12:25am this morning. She died peacefully at home after a brief illness,” wrote Hildebrand Project Founder and President John Henry Crosby in a Jan. 14 death announcement. 

“Those who knew Lily often heard her say that the wick of her candle was growing ever shorter. In fact, she yearned for death — to see the face of Our Lord, to be reunited at last with her husband Dietrich, her parents, her dearest friend Madeleine Stebbins — with the peace that only true innocence and profound faith can grant.” 

Von Hildebrand was born Alice Jourdain in Belgium in 1923. She fled Europe during World War II, arriving in New York City in 1940. Soon after, she met renowned personalist philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand. She recalled being immediately impressed by Dietrich’s dedication to truth and wisdom. 

"The moment he opened his mouth, I knew that it was what I was looking for: the perfume of the supernatural, the radiant beauty of truth, the unity of all values: truth, beauty, and goodness," von Hildebrand wrote in her 2014 autobiography, “Memoirs of a Happy Failure.” 

She was a philosophy student of Dietrich’s for several years before the pair were married in 1959. 

Von Hildebrand spent the majority of her career teaching philosophy at Hunter College in New York City, beginning in 1947. Though she described the secular college as radically anti-Catholic, von Hildebrand was well-liked among her students and even inspired several of them to conversion. 

“In secular universities, the word 'objective truth' triggers panic,” she wrote in her autobiography. "God said, 'I know you do not belong there,' as my colleagues repeated time and again. 'But, I have work for you to do, and you cannot do it on your own. I will help you.'"

In 1984, von Hildebrand retired from Hunter College after 37 years and she was awarded the college’s Presidential Award for excellence in teaching. 

Von Hildebrand published several books during her lifetime including “The Privilege of Being a Woman” and “The Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand.” She also wrote countless articles and essays and helped launch the Hildebrand Project to promote her late husband’s work.  

She was a frequent contributor to Catholic News Agency and made more than eighty appearances on CNA's parent company the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN).  

“We are grateful for the many contributions she made to Catholic thought and for the many programs she made for EWTN over the years,” said EWTN Chaplain Father Joseph Wolfe. “May she enjoy her eternal reward and the joy of being reunited with her dear husband Dietrich, whom she so admired.” 

Alejandro Bermudez, executive director of Catholic News Agency and ACI Prensa, called von Hildebrand an “exemplary, happy warrior” for the Church.

“She not only made more than 80 appearances on EWTN, but left probably her most important body of essays in the set of articles she wrote exclusively for CNA,” Bermudez said. You can read her work for CNA here.

In a 2014 interview with CNA, von Hildebrand reflected that her life looked radically different than the one she expected. 

"God has chosen the pattern of my life - totally different from what I had imagined. I feel like the female Habakkuk brought into the lion's den," she said. 

"When I look back on my life, the words that come to my mind from my heart are: misericodias domini in aeternum cantabo," citing Latin words from the Psalms which translate to "I will sing the mercies of the Lord forever."

Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced. 

Alleged vandal faces hate crime charge after major damage to Denver's Catholic cathedral

Vandalism on a door of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Colo., Oct. 10, 2021. / Photo courtesy of Fr. Samuel Morehead.

Denver, Colo., Jan 13, 2022 / 17:31 pm (CNA).

A 26-year-old woman has turned herself in on two charges related to some $10,000 in vandalism damage to Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

Madeline Ann Cramer faces one charge of criminal mischief and another of a bias-motivated crime in connection with an Oct. 10 incident, the Denver District Attorney’s Office said Jan. 13. Both the cathedral building itself and nearby statues were “spray painted with numerous specific messages consistent with anti-Christian bias,” said District Attorney Beth McCann. 

Cramer had fled to Oregon but turned herself in to law enforcement Jan. 12. According to social media video posts, she says she was baptized a Catholic but now identifies as a satanist and opposes Catholic stands against abortion. 

News photos of the vandalism showed slogans such as “Satan Lives Here,” “White Supremacists,” and “Child Rapists, LOL”, as well as swastikas, written in bright red spray paint on the outside of the cathedral building, sidewalks, and on the base of a statue of St. John Paul II. The pope had visited the cathedral during 1993 World Youth Day.

The graffiti was cleaned off with the help of parishioners and other volunteers.

Father Sam Morehead, rector of the cathedral, said Oct. 11 that the assailant seemed to have some “deep personal wounds and grievances” against God and the Church.

In an Oct. 2 video, Cramer said she was raised Catholic and baptized at the Littleton, Colo. St. Francis Cabrini Catholic Church. However, for her, “the Catholic Church never felt right.”

She said she had recently visited the St. Frances Cabrini church webpage “and saw that they are actively supporting anti-abortion (sic) throughout the country.” 

Cramer charged that the Church “hate(s) women, you want to control women, you want to silence women.” She closed the video saying: “So stop just be honest you're not filled with love for God, for the baby, for the woman. You're filled with hate and you know it and we know it.”

Deacon Chet Ubowski at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church told CNA that Cramer is the woman who approached the altar during Mass at the church Oct. 10, just hours after she had vandalized the cathedral. During her interaction with the celebrant, she claimed to be a satanist.

Ubowski said that none of the current staff knew her or had any recollection of her, adding, “we all have her in our prayers.”

Cramer’s next appearance in court is scheduled for Feb. 14.

She has a prior conviction on a charge of obstructing police. In 2020, she was sentenced to a year of probation and 48 hours of community service. 

Denver’s Catholic cathedral had also sustained costly damage in mid-2020 amid racially charged protests against police brutality related to the murder of Minnesota man George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. At the time, the church building and rectory were spray painted with slogans referencing sex abusers or declaring "God is dead" and "There is no God." There were also anti-police, anarchist, and anti-religion phrases and symbols. 

The cathedral houses the earthly remains of Servant of God Julia Greeley, a former slave who converted to Catholicism and was known for her charity to Denver’s poor and her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. 

Archdiocese of Denver spokesman Mark Haas told CNA last year that since February 2020, at least 25 parishes or ministry locations in northern Colorado are known to have been the target of vandalism, property destruction, or theft.

In a November 2021 essay in the Washington Post, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver lamented the vandalism, arson and other destruction that has targeted Catholic property. He highlighted the Oct. 10 incident at the cathedral and noted that other religions saw their own property vandalized.

“As Catholics, we recognize that this is a spiritual crisis,” Aquila said. “We pray for the end to such horrifying attacks and for God’s love to drive out the hate in the perpetrators, regardless of who they have targeted. Yet as Americans, we also clearly see a cultural crisis. People of goodwill, whether religious or not, must condemn and confront the societal trends that encourage attacks on houses of worship — trends that extend far beyond religion.”

Citing abortion views, DC restaurant boots pro-life group

null / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 13, 2022 / 14:24 pm (CNA).

Saying it “stands firmly” in support of legalized abortion, a Washington, D.C. restaurant has canceled a pro-life group’s booking for its annual “March for Life Breakfast.”

The group, Democrats for Life of America, scheduled the event at the K Street location of Busboys and Poets, a restaurant-bookstore chain, to coincide with the 49th annual March for Life on Jan. 21.

“When our team learned the fundraising nature of the event in question, the decision was made to cancel it and refund all deposits to the event organizer,” a spokeswoman for Busboys and Poets told CNA.

The chain “stands firmly on the belief that women have the right to make their own reproductive health decisions,” she said.

“While we welcome conversations from individuals expressing different viewpoints and pride ourselves on being a venue for respectful conversations between diverse groups, we are also a safe space,” the spokeswoman continued. “As such, we cannot knowingly accept events designed to fund an agenda which our community members believe to be trampling on the rights of others.” 

The event guidelines the chain lists on its website do not mention restrictions on events due to their nature or content.

The chain notified Democrats for Life of the cancellation on Jan. 11.

“The primary purpose of the breakfast is to get together as a group with some of our fellow Whole Life Democrats (donors, supporters, and candidates we've endorsed) before we rally on the streets and fight for the rights of children in the womb,” Jess Meeth, DFLA’s national communications director, told CNA, referring to the group’s commitment to being pro-life for the “whole” of human life, at every stage.

According to a DFLA press release, Busboys and Poets said the cancellation came because its guests “reached out about the nature and tenor of the event.” Meeth told CNA that she was not sure how the restaurant's guests found out about the private event or who they were.

Busboys and Poets’ decision came after Kristen Day, executive director of DFLA, spoke with a restaurant manager.

“The Catering Director mentioned to me that Planned Parenthood holds events at the venue which I did not think was relevant to the conversation,” Day said, according to the press release. “Clearly, Busboys and Poets caved to pressure instead of abiding by the contract we signed.”

Meeth said that DFLA is currently searching for another venue. She said that Americans — regardless of their political party or position on abortion — should pay attention to the cancellation.

“Pro-life Americans should absolutely care about this cancellation, regardless of their political party,” she told CNA. “Abortion is a humans right issue that can’t be confined to one political party. We need bipartisan support and bipartisan efforts from conservatives, liberals, and everyone in between.”

“Americans as a whole should care about this cancellation as well,” she continued. “We as Americans want a country that's rooted in inclusivity and diversity. Inclusivity and diversity cannot be achieved if we shun and shut out individuals or groups because of political backgrounds, beliefs, and ideals.”

Democrats For Life of America was founded in 1999 and is dedicated to educating Democrats on pro-life policies, promoting a pro-life plank in the Democratic Party platform, and supporting legislation that fosters respect for all human life. 

Supreme Court halts Biden vaccine-or-test policy for businesses, allows mandate for health care workers

President Joe Biden announces the vaccine mandate at the White House on Sept. 9, 2021 / The White House

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 13, 2022 / 13:20 pm (CNA).

The Supreme Court has blocked President Joe Biden's sweeping vaccine-or-test mandate businesses, while allowing a new federal rule to go forward that requires millions of U.S. health care workers to be fully vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19.

The court decided 6 to 3, with the conservative justices voting in the majority, to issue a stay halting the implementation of the vaccine-or-test mandate for businesses with 100 or more employers, which would have taken full effect on Feb. 9.

The decision allowing the health care vaccination requirement to go forward was 5 to 4, with conservatives Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the court's three liberal justices in the majority.

Biden reacted to the split decisions in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.

"Today’s decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the requirement for health care workers will save lives: the lives of patients who seek care in medical facilities, as well as the lives of doctors, nurses, and others who work there. It will cover 10.4 million health care workers at 76,000 medical facilities. We will enforce it," Biden said.

"At the same time, I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law," the statement continued. "This emergency standard allowed employers to require vaccinations or to permit workers to refuse to be vaccinated, so long as they were tested once a week and wore a mask at work: a very modest burden."

A question of who decides

At issue in the federal rule for businesses was whether the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 gave the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) the authority to impose the vaccine-or-test mandate. The act directs OSHA to issue emergency rules when it determines that a rule is “necessary” to protect employees from a “grave danger” from exposure to “physically harmful” “agents” or “new hazards.”

"Administrative agencies are creatures of statute. They accordingly possess only the authority that Congress has provided. The Secretary has ordered 84 million Americans to either obtain a COVID–19 vaccine or undergo weekly medical testing at their own expense," the decision states.

"This is no 'everyday exercise of federal power.' ... It is instead a significant encroachment into the lives — and health — of a vast number of employees," the decision states.

"The question, then, is whether the Act plainly authorizes the Secretary’s mandate. It does not. The Act empowers the Secretary to set workplace safety standards, not broad public health measures."

Under OSHA's mandate, employers that fail to comply would face fines up to $13,653 for a standard violation, and up to $136,532 for a "willful" one.

The plaintiffs in the vaccine-or-test mandate case, the National Federation of Independent Business and the state of Ohio, argued that the requirements were too broad and would cause a mass exodus of employees.

In their dissent, liberal justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor said the urgency of the pandemic justified the government's policy.

"When we are wise, we know enough to defer on matters like this one. When we are wise, we know not to displace the judgment of experts, acting within the sphere Congress marked out and under Presidential control, to deal with emergency conditions," the dissent states. "Today, we are not wise."

Rule for health care workers stands

The health care worker vaccination mandate applies to an estimated 17 million people working at some 76,000 government-funded health care facilities. The vaccination requirement is set to take effect on Jan. 27, according to a Dec. 28 memo from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The Biden administration said the authority for the health care worker mandate comes from the Social Social Security Act, which authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to “make and publish such rules and regulations” that “may be necessary to the efficient administration” of Medicare and Medicaid programs.

"The challenges posed by a global pandemic do not allow a federal agency to exercise power that Congress has not conferred upon it," the majority decision in the health care worker case states. "At the same time such unprecedented circumstances provide no grounds for limiting the exercise of authorities the agency has long been recognized to have."

Conservative justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito each wrote dissents.

"If Congress had wanted to grant CMS authority to impose a nationwide vaccine mandate, and consequently alter the state-federal balance, it would have said so clearly. It did not," Thomas states.

"These cases are not about the efficacy or importance of COVID-19 vaccines," he continued. "They are only about whether CMS has the statutory authority to force health care workers, by coercing their employers, to undergo a medical procedure they do not want and cannot undo."

The court has already allowed state vaccination mandates for health care workers in Maine and New York to take effect, despite the absence of religious exemptions.

In light of the decision on the mandate for businesses, some states may adopt the same or similar requirements as the ones laid out in the OSHA policy, as Illinois has done already.

A surge in new cases

The court's decisions come almost two years since the first reported COVID-19 case in the United States, on Jan. 21, 2020. Since then the U.S. has reported 63,203,443 cases, and 844,562 deaths, according to data reported by Johns Hopkins University.

Meanwhile, the unpredictable course of the virus continues to bedevil health experts. To date, 63% of the U.S. population, and 72% of those 12 and over, are fully vaccinated, and more than a third of Americans have received booster shots on top of their vaccinations, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.)

Yet despite widespread vaccinations, and other government measures aimed at slowing the virus' spread, there have been millions of new cases in recent weeks attributed to the latest Omicron variant. The rapid transmission of Omicron, even among the fully vaccinated, raised fresh questions about the effectiveness of the government's vaccination requirements.

Millions of Americans, including many Catholics, remain opposed to vaccination for a variety of reasons. These include concerns about possible side effects and long-term harm from the vaccines, opposition to government coercion, and conscientious objections related to the use of cell lines derived from the fetal tissue of aborted babies that were used in the development or testing of the vaccines.

Pope Francis and the Vatican have strongly advocated for vaccination, but not always in a consistent manner.

In its note supporting the licit use of the vaccines, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has emphasized that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.”

Pope Francis, however, said in a television broadcast last year, on Jan. 10, 2021, that vaccination is a moral obligation.

"There is a suicidal denialism that I would not know how to explain but today people must take the vaccine," Pope Francis said at the time.

He used similar language in his annual address to diplomats on Jan. 10 of this year, though the Vatican's English translation of his remarks quotes the pope as saying, "Health care is a moral obligation," not vaccination, as was widely reported.

In a statement, Louis Brown, executive director of the Christ Medicus Foundation, a Catholic nonprofit organization that advocates for religious freedom and "Christ-centered" health care, applauded the court's decision in the business mandate case but said the health care worker decision sets a "dangerous precedent."

"The federal government’s health care worker vaccine mandate is a slap in the face to the countless medical professionals who risked their lives to care for patients during the pandemic but have been or are now being fired because of their decision not to get vaccinated," said Brown, a former acting deputy director of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"The attempts of the federal government and some municipal governments to mandate medical interventions, particularly those interventions that are comparatively new, is a grave violation of the human and civil rights and human dignity of millions of Americans," the statement continued. "Our country, the American people, and particularly our heroic medical professionals deserve better than the decision of the Supreme Court today."

Editor's note: This story was updated on Jan. 14 to include comments from the Christ Medicus Foundation.

Former priest withdraws pleas over child sex abuse after judge's rejection of sentencing agreement

null / FreeBirdPhotos / Shutterstock.

Detroit, Mich., Jan 12, 2022 / 16:39 pm (CNA).

Gary Berthiaume, a former priest, withdrew his guilty pleas after being sentenced to spend up to 15 years in prison on charges he sexually abused at least three boys. 

Oakland County Circuit Judge Daniel O’Brien rejected his earlier sentencing agreement after learning the details of Berthiaume’s crimes. O’Brien found the one year and one day sentence offered by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office to be inappropriately short after hearing victim impact statements. 

O’Brien sentenced Berthiaume, 80, to spend the next 20 months to 15 years in prison on Jan. 11. 

On Nov. 21, 2021, Berthiaume entered pleas of “guilty” and “no contest” to two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct and to one count of gross indecency, respectively. 

In Michigan, a defendant may enter a “Killebrew plea,” which is essentially a conditional guilty plea in exchange for a lighter sentence. This plea can be withdrawn if the judge sentences the defendant to a harsher sentence than what was agreed upon. 

After hearing victim impact statements, O’Brien decided that Berthiaume deserved more than 366 days in prison. Berthiaume, as per the terms of the Killebrew agreement, then withdrew his pleas. 

Before his guilty pleas were withdrawn, Berthiaume had admitted to molesting two teenage boys in the rectory of his parish in Farmington, Michigan, in 1976 and 1977. He said that he knew the two boys and “coerced” them into abuse. 

Berthiaume pled no contest to accusations that he had sexually molested the teenage brother of one of his other victims at a sauna house in the early ‘70s. He said that he did not remember the event, but admitted that it “may have happened.”

The former priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, who was ordained in 1968, was dismissed from the clerical state in 2007. He had previously been convicted of the abuse of two minors in 1978. 

After Berthiaume served a six-month jail sentence, he was then transferred to the Diocese of Cleveland. While serving in the Diocese of Cleveland, Berthiaume allegedly abused at least one additional minor, and was sued in a civil suit in 1983 by an alleged victim from the Archdiocese of Detroit. 

In 1987, he was transferred to the Diocese of Joliet, where he worked at a retreat house and as a hospital chaplain. In 1999, he was once again sued by an alleged victim dating from the 1980s. 

He was removed from ministry by the Cleveland diocese in 2002.

Berthiaume was arrested in September 2020 for the abuse of one of the boys in Farmington. In June 2021, he was additionally charged with the abuse of another boy in Farmington and the count of gross indecency. 

In court, prior to withdrawing his plea, Berthiaume said that he had been abused by a priest while he was a seminarian and he “should probably never have been ordained.” 

“I was sick from what happened to me,” he said. “The victim became the victimizer.” Berthiaume added that he wished he were dead and that he prays for the healing of the boys he victimized. 

Assistant Attorney General Danielle Russo read victim impact statements to the court. In one, a man described what he called a “pay to play” situation, and said that Berthiaume gave with gifts, took him on camping trips, and to professional sporting events. Berthiaume, said the alleged victim, would specifically choose him as an altar boy for Masses where he knew the families would give him money. 

Most of the boys Berthiaume targeted were from financially insecure families, said the victim impact statement. 

One alleged victim called Berthiaume “a demon who disguised himself as a man of God.” 

Berthiaume remains out on bond as he awaits his next day in court. As he has withdrawn his guilty pleas, he may now be charged with two additional counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct and another count of gross indecency. 

Those charges had previously been dismissed as part of the original plea agreement.

Francis X. Maier: Catholic journalists called to report the truth with 'a consuming passion for excellence'

Catholic journalists are called to report the truth with "a consuming passion for excellence," veteran journalist and scholar Francis X. Maier says. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 12, 2022 / 15:08 pm (CNA).

Editor’s note: Francis X. Maier is the 2020-22 senior research associate at Notre Dame’s Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government, and a senior fellow in Catholic studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The following is the text of a speech he delivered via videoconference to the staff of EWTN News on Jan. 12, 2022. A portion of this text appeared previously in The Catholic Thing and is used with permission.

Books have been written — some of them good — about our current shift from a print-based culture to more image-based media and their consequences. But until we’re all telepaths, and probably even then, we’ll still use words. 

Language has power. Words matter. They can express beauty and truth. Or they can lie and mislead by disguising a person’s real agenda. This is why we’re uneasy when we hear words like equity, tolerance, diversity, and inclusion used so compulsively today. They often have a political subtext that’s not entirely innocent. And we can say the same about the word “insurrection.” Last year’s January 6 Capitol riot was stupid and ugly and destructive. But it was not — contrary to Speaker Pelosi — an “insurrection.” The Paris Commune of 1871 was an insurrection. The Capitol turmoil of 2021 was a riot.

So again, words matter. And I want to begin our discussion tonight with a few thoughts on two very similar words: loyalty and fidelity. In everyday speech we use these words interchangeably. And that makes sense, because their meanings are closely related. But they’re not quite the same. Their etymologies differ. 

Loyalty has its origin, through Old French, in the Latin words lex and legalitas. In modern French, lex and legalitas become the word loi meaning law, which informs the French word for loyalty, loyauté. Fidelity has its roots in the Latin words fidere, meaning to trust, and fides, meaning faith. The goddess Fides was one of the earliest Roman divinities. She was the guardian of good faith, trust, and honesty — especially in marriage.

My point is simply this. Loyalty often suggests a relationship of contract. In a contract, we agree on a mutually useful arrangement. If you do this, I will do that, and we’ll both benefit. And as long as we both honor the agreed-upon terms, in the agreed ways, for the agreed amount of time, the contract endures. Fidelity is a different creature. Fidelity suggests a relationship of covenant. Contracts have sunset and escape clauses. Covenants don’t. Both words imply duty, but not quite the same kind. 

I’m loyal to my country and my employer. They have a rightful claim on my time, attention, and service. But their claim is limited. It’s also subject to change. I’m faithful to my wife. Her claim on my life is permanent. It’s also a blank check. And so is my claim on her. This is why the word “fidelity” has a gravity — an intimate, flesh and blood resonance — that loyalty sometimes lacks. Fidelity demands everything from us: all we’ve got, and the very best we’ve got, all the time, despite whatever surprises or new conditions develop in the relationship. 

Covenant is the nature of our relationship with God and his Church. It’s a relationship first of love, and only second as a matter of obligation. And therefore it calls us to the virtue we know as fidelity. Every Christian vocation involves the same substance of covenantal love, each in its own way. When the early Jesuits gave their lives to missionary service ad majorem Dei gloriam — “For the greater glory of God” — it was an expression of love, a free gift of themselves, the whole self, regardless of the cost. 

That’s exactly the spirit each of us should bring to the vocation of journalism, and especially Catholic journalism — a love for truth, and a love for the Truth. Which means a zeal for communicating Jesus Christ and his Church to the world, and doing it with a consuming passion for excellence.

From time to time, a young person asks me whether and how to become a Catholic journalist. I always give the same answer: There’s good news and bad news. Being German-Irish and melancholic by nature, I give the bad news first:

1. The Catholic audience is shrinking. This impacts material resources.

2. Many of those folks who remain are aging out or not well formed in the sacramental imagination and intellectual substance of the Church. 

3. Mainstream media are hostile; they not only change what we think but how we think. 

4. Government is increasingly unfriendly.

5. Our economy and political system simultaneously encourage self-absorption and dependency; the ironic result is a widespread a sense of isolation and powerlessness.

6. Church leadership, with various exceptions, is weak. American Catholics have operated on the wrong premises for 50+ years: Assimilation has led to authentic Catholic life being digested by secular culture, and now to being eliminated from influence like waste in an organic system. We’re not simply post Protestant but post Calvinist. America has Calvinist roots, and as the Yale historian Carlos Eire argues in Reformations: Calvinism cauterized the supernatural imagination (eliminating purgatory, the communion of saints, sacraments, relics) and radically reoriented religion to the concerns and material results of this world. In so doing, it unwittingly set the stage — a kind of halfway house — for secularization and unbelief.

7. The result of all of the above is an atmosphere of conflict and decline resulting in acedia. Beauty, peace, hope, joy: These are often absent from the Church and her religious life — which can then make the God-question seem sclerotic and irrelevant.

Now here’s the good news:

1. Much of the bad news is actually good news in the same way that cold showers are unpleasant but effective medicine for drunks. The humbling of the American Catholic experience is good because its fruit has been inadequate. U.S. Catholic life has produced plenty of outstanding men, women, and achievements, including saints, but also — at least in the past seven decades — quite a few frauds, fellow travelers, and cowards. 

2. As the business guru Peter Drucker liked to say: Every success bears the seeds of failure because it so easily engenders overconfidence. But the inverse is also true. Every failure bears the seeds of success if we learn the right lessons from failing. One lesson we might profitably consider is this: We need to love the best virtues of our country, but we don’t ultimately fit here. Our home and final fidelity lie elsewhere.

3. Our current circumstances are difficult, but they’re hardly a shock. They were predicted with astonishing accuracy by Joseph Ratzinger more than half a century ago. The Church of the foreseeable future will be smaller. But she will also be more vigorous, pure, and authentic, and ready to grow again when the delusions and false premises of our culture result in its failure. Faith has fertility, and therefore a future. Unbelief — or rather the self-deception of unbelief, which really means a belief in the wrong things, since we all believe in something — is a sterile womb and a dead future.

4. Conflict is not always bad; some of it is holy and good. It produces clarity; clarity reveals truth; and the truth makes us free. Not comfortable, but free. It forces us to choose where we place our loyalty and to face who and what we really are.

5. Scripture wasn’t kidding: Where evil abounds, grace and goodness abound more. Thousands of good people are doing extraordinary things that secular culture ignores. A core Catholic audience persists that’s thirsty for good writing, clear thinking, true information, and encouragement. Renewal begins there. It’s happened a hundred times before in the history of the Church. And it will happen again in God’s time. But he works through the courage and talent of people exactly like you and me.

As for the why and how of the Catholic journalist … 

Regarding the why: All of us have a hunger to understand the meaning of our lives. The Catholic faith is true in its explanation of reality, and thus satisfying on a visceral level. American liberal culture is based on the fiction that we can create and recreate ourselves; that freedom demands the rejection of binding moral frameworks and obligating universal truths. But most people – for very good reasons — can’t handle the impossible task of creating and sustaining their own meaning. This creates anxiety. Which then requires anesthetics. Which then creates a culture of dependence and slavery. The Catholic faith is a message of liberation, hope and meaning; a realistic message because it accounts for human sin and provides a means of redemption and reconciliation. Communicating that message is holy and healing work.

Regarding the how: Christianity is relational. It has doctrines, structures, and approved practices. And these are important. But they’re also secondary because Christian faith is not an “ideology.” It’s a daily relationship with Jesus Christ, and most people meet Jesus Christ through his presence in the lives of other people. Some persons do think their way into the Church through intellectual conversion — e.g., Edith Stein, among others — but most people have an encounter with God through the example or witness of another person. And that experience of goodness or love changes the way they see the world. 

This is why stories are often more powerful than arguments. People love stories; we learn as we’re informed or entertained. And this is the meat of good writing, both fiction and non-fiction. Good journalism is an exercise in non-fiction. It involves the full, fair, meticulous, and truthful transmission of facts, even when we don’t like those facts; even when the facts are ugly and humiliate us. But how we recognize those facts, understand them, and explain their meaning is shaped, in large part, by what we already believe. 

St. Augustine’s great line — crede ut intelligas, “believe, so that you may understand”— applies to an atheist like Richard Dawkins just us much as to any pope. Mr. Dawkins is a believer, whether he admits it or not. His particular version of a church is the cult of scientism. And scientism is not science. Science is a set of tools and a method of acquiring certain kinds — not all kinds, but certain kinds — of knowledge. Scientism is something quite different. It’s a body of belief with imperial, and fundamentally dishonest, pretensions. Real science can’t disprove the existence of God any more than philosophy or theology can prove it. 

My point is this: There are non-theists, and anti-theists, but there are no non-believers. Every journalist in a CNN, Fox, or Washington Post newsroom assumes certain premises about life that can’t finally be proven. We all do it; it’s a natural human behavior. This involves an act of faith, even if we choose to disguise it or call it something else. We then build a rational understanding of the world based on that foundation of belief. And that foundation then shapes how we think and act. If we’re journalists, it influences how we report and what we report. Some beliefs support an architecture of dignity, life, and hope. And others, no matter how appealing or progressive they might seem, ultimately don’t. 

Christian belief is the foundation for a life that means something beyond the cramped little creature we call the self. This is why Catholic art, music, and literature have such enduring and formative power. It’s also why every Catholic journalist should have a strong grasp of Catholic history and literature. Things like Hubert Jedin’s brilliant history of the Council of Trent. Or Georges Bernanos’ great essay, “Sermon of an Agnostic on the Feast of St. Therese.” Or Graham Greene’s superb short story, “The Hint of An Explanation.” Or Tolkien’s wonderful little novella, "Leaf by Niggle." None of these different texts counts as journalism. But they feed the Catholic memory and imagination. They nourish a spirit and a mental framework that help us make sense of the world in our own work of reporting and editing. 

Read. Read. Read with a critical eye. But read everything — Catholic and not Catholic. Some of the deepest influences on my own adult thought haven’t been Christian or even religious, but I’ve read them through a Catholic lens learned from others and then refined on my own. Read for technique (Ernest Hemingway; Neil Postman; even gifted lunatics like Terry Southern). Read for content (Ratzinger, Wojtyla, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Josef Pieper, Eric Voegelin, Leszek Kolakowski, Christopher Lasch, Roger Scruton, Pierre Manent, George Parkin Grant). 

By the way, if you haven’t read Josef Pieper’s little book Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power, do it now. Do it this week. It’s an essential text. He describes the political manipulation of words as “the degeneration of language into an instrument of rape.”

Compare journalistic styles and editing strengths: NY Times vs. LA Times vs. Wall Street Journal. Study what gets reported, and how. Study where it gets reported in the body of a publication or website, and with what kind of headline. And notice what gets omitted. An experienced editor can lie without ever speaking a word, just by deleting certain details in a story. A veteran reporter can tell the truth, the whole truth, just by including some relevant context.

Build your vocabulary but commit to simplicity. Be ruthless editing your own material. Burn George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language” into your brain. And for sanity’s sake: Stay away from Twitter. At least until you learn how to think and express yourself like a human adult. Twitter fuels conflict. It breeds imprudence and stupid, venomous commentary. We’re already drowning in both.

Finally, and maybe most demandingly: Try to assume the best in others. Critique issues and behaviors, not persons. The spoken word can often be ignored or forgotten. 

The written word is forever.

I’ll close with just a few personal thoughts. 

For 32 years, starting when I was a young and very green editor, I had four small frames on my office wall. Each frame held a quotation; one from Solzhenitsyn, another from Léon Bloy, another from François Mauriac. I read them every morning when I arrived, during the day between tasks, and every night before leaving for home. They were the pillars that supported my day. 

The fourth and final frame on my wall held some words from that great Chinese theologian whose regime has been so politely reconsidered in the last couple of years by the Holy See: Mao Zedong. Mao was a murderous thug, not a saint. Nobody’s perfect. But as a strategist, he had few peers. And for Christians with a very long tradition of spiritual warfare, his words deserve some thought: “Weapons are an important factor in war, but not the decisive factor; it is people, not things, that are decisive.”

On that at least, Mao was exactly right: People, not things, are decisive. 

We influence the course of the world through our impact on other people. I edited the National Catholic Register for 15 years. I loved the job. It remains one of the great satisfactions of my life. And it was fantastic fun, because nothing in human experience — no issue in science, technology, education, politics, war and peace, religion, or the economy — is alien to the Catholic faith. The Church doesn’t have the answer to every problem. But she does have the wisdom, experience, and moral vocabulary to guide us in finding the answer that best serves both God and human dignity. 

Whatever the Register accomplished, though — and I think we managed to do some wonderful things — flowed from the passion and excellence of its staff and contributors. The real joy of those Register years was the people I worked with — helping them grow, learning from them, watching them succeed, and building friendships that have lasted three and four decades. 

When times are tough for the Church, as they are now, it’s easy to doubt the mission and effectiveness of Catholic journalism. But that’s a mistake. And C.S. Lewis tells us why. Lewis said that all nations and civilizations, no matter how great they are, sooner or later die. But the human soul — every human soul — is immortal, and therefore infinitely precious. When we help to save one soul, we help to save the world.

When I edited the Register, our weekly circulation averaged, in the early years, around 50,000. Maybe 25,000 people each week opened the paper. Maybe 10,000 browsed a few articles. Maybe 5,000 actually read and considered the content. Maybe as few as 500 had their mind enriched, or their heart touched, or their day redeemed in some serious way by what we published. But that’s 500 persons who would carry what they read into eternity with them. And that’s pretty good results for a week’s labor.

Never doubt the importance of your work. The vocation of a Catholic journalist is to tell the truth; to bring hope; and to sustain faith. The Church and her people — and through them, the world — urgently need all three. 

So we arrive at two final thoughts.

The philosopher Leszek Kolakowski began his adult life as a Marxist intellectual in Communist Poland and ended as an admirer of John Paul II at the University of Chicago in the United States. He was never a Christian, but over time he became more and more sympathetic to the importance of religious faith. He once said that, “When a culture loses its sacred sense, it loses all sense” and thus it ends up, inevitably, in “disastrous despair.” He added that “[Today’s] utopian faith in man’s self-inventive capabilities, the utopian hope of unlimited perfection, may be the most efficient instrument of suicide human culture has ever invented.”

J.R.R. Tolkien would agree. We live in an age of men with mechanical minds and clockwork hearts; an age, in Tolkien’s view, “of improved means to deteriorated ends.” 

“The Gospels,” wrote Tolkien, “contain a fairy story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy stories.” But this story, he said, this one unexpected, undeserved, spectacular story, is neither a fable nor a legend. It has flesh and blood, hunger and thirst, happiness, and suffering; it really happened; it entered the everyday, material world. “The Birth of Christ,” Tolkien wrote, “is the eucatastrophe” — the great and jubilant ending — “of Man’s history … This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the ‘inner consistency of reality.'” This story, said Tolkien, “is supreme, and it is true.”

And that story, I’d suggest, is worth giving our talents, our passions, and our lives to — as believers, and as journalists.

The Final Dispatch of Father Hudgins, a Lansing priest who died in a road accident

Fr. David Hudgins, a priest of the Diocese of Lansing who died in a car accident Jan. 3, 2022. / Diocese of Lansing

Lansing, Mich., Jan 12, 2022 / 14:41 pm (CNA).

Father David Hudgins, a priest of the Diocese of Lansing, penned an article for publication in his parish bulletin shortly before his death in a road accident on Jan. 3.

Father Hudgins was pastor of Saint Joseph Shrine in Brooklyn, Michigan, and Judicial Vicar of the Lansing diocese.

His Requiem Mass was said Jan. 8, and his body was buried at Saint Joseph Shrine Cemetery.

Father Hudgins' article for the shrine's bulletin for the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord is reproduced below, with the permission of the Diocese of Lansing.

The Baptism of the Lord and our Baptism: Do You Know Who You Are? by Father David Hudgins

You have been given this grace, a gloriously incomprehensible gift of God beyond all human merit: adoption into the family of God...the Church. You have been configured to Christ's death and resurrection. You have put on Christ and been renewed in the Holy Spirit. God has given you the grace of justification, gifts of faith, hope and love, and the spiritual power to act with virtue.

You participate in the divine life of the Blessed Trinity. Who God Is, flows through your veins. You belong to Christ. You are a new creation, a child of God, a partaker of the divine nature, a co-heir with Jesus. You share in the common priestly, prophetic and royal “Christ-life” of all believers. You have been sealed with an indelible character: configuration to Christ. 

This is your seal of eternal life. Only sin can warp God’s masterpiece, and even then He can and will restore you, if you wish. If we keep this covenant until the end, remaining faithful to Jesus, we can hope to see God and share in the resurrection and the life of the world to come. As a member of Christ's Body, your connection to Him and to other Christians runs deeper than culture, gender, race, social status, even blood. The bond of unity you share with other Christians is more profound than any human bond. 

You have been baptized. 

Jesus said, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ (Matthew 28:19) Baptism is an act of Jesus our High Priest through the power of the Holy Spirit by which sons and daughters of Adam become Sons and Daughters of God. 

Thankfully, the sacraments do not rely on human understanding. If we needed perfect understanding for God to work in our lives then He could do nothing with us since all His works are infinite and beyond full human comprehension.

We give good things to our children. Baptism is a divine favor that will transform us for all eternity, therefore we must baptize infants. I was baptized when I was 25 days old. Children don’t have perfect understanding, neither do I. However, Jesus acts in their hearts, in my heart, and in the hearts of us all through this powerful sacrament. Let us give Him thanks and praise for it. 

Very Reverend David Hudgins

Fr. Hudgins' article appeared earlier at the website of the Diocese of Lansing, and is reprinted at Catholic News Agency with permission.

Lawsuit alleges Notre Dame, Georgetown among universities rigging financial aid

The Golden Dome at the University of Notre Dame, one of the 16 colleges named in a lawsuit accusing them of illegally conspiring to reduce financial aid. / Matthew Rice (CC 4.0)

Denver Newsroom, Jan 12, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

The University of Notre Dame and Georgetown University are among 16 elite private universities and colleges facing a federal lawsuit that alleges they illegally conspired to reduce financial aid awards to students, in effect a form of price-fixing.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Chicago Jan. 9, depicted these schools as a “cartel” that fixes prices and acts “not only to reduce the amount of total aid offered by each school, but also to reduce the total amount of aid offered to each prospective student at each defendant school.”

Current federal law requires financial aid decisions by colleges and universities to be need-blind as a condition for their antitrust law exemptions.

Peter McDonough, vice president and general counsel of the higher education public policy advocacy group American Council on Education, told the New York Times he would be “very surprised” if the lawsuit is found to have merit.

He said the defendants are “very antitrust aware and particularly sophisticated.”

“They have good advice provided to them,” he said, comparing the lawsuit to a 1990s Justice Department case filed against Ivy League schools and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That case ended in a favorable ruling for the universities.

The lawsuit charges that the 16 schools still give preference in admission to the children of wealthy donors, make waitlist decisions on the basis of a prospective student’s finances and family wealth, or decide whether to admit applicants for particular programs based on student or family finances.

Five former undergraduates of Vanderbilt, Northwestern and Duke are the first plaintiffs in the case. The firms Roche Freedman, Gilbert Litigators & Counselors, Berger Montague and FeganScott filed the lawsuit in the Northern District of Illinois on their behalf late on Sunday.

The defendants in the lawsuit are some of the most elite schools in the country: Brown, the California Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Emory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern, the University of Pennsylvania, Rice, Vanderbilt, Yale, Notre Dame, and Georgetown.

The two Catholic universities on the list of defendants are the Congregation of Holy Cross-run Notre Dame and the Jesuit-run Georgetown University. They and seven other defendant institutions led the alleged conspiracy by ignoring need-blind admission policies. Instead, they took into account the financial circumstances of prospective students and their families “through policies and practices that favored the wealthy.”

Georgetown declined to comment on the case. CNA sought comment from Notre Dame but did not receive a response by deadline. A Yale spokesperson told the New York Times that the university is compliant with all applicable law.

Brown University spokesperson Brian E. Clark told NBC News that, based on a preliminary review, “the complaint against Brown has no merit and Brown is prepared to mount a strong effort to make this clear.”

The lawsuit claims that perhaps 170,000 students could be eligible plaintiffs, as well as those who helped pay for their college. The alleged financial overcharging totals into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Eligible plaintiffs to join the class action would have attended the schools, or paid for a student’s attendance, in the time period of 2003 in cases where the student would have received some form of financial aid short of full coverage of tuition, room and board.

Under Section 568 of the relevant 1994 federal law, colleges and universities that are need-blind in admission may collaborate with their competitors. This is an exemption from antitrust laws.

The lawsuit contended that the schools’ participation in the 568 Presidents Group, a collective of colleges and universities which stresses the requirement for need-blind college admissions, has instead resulted in collusion that prevents the institutions from competing on the price of tuition.

“While conspiring together on a method for awarding financial aid, which raises net tuition prices, defendants also consider the wealth of applicants and their families in making admissions decisions,” said the lawsuit.

The lawsuit faulted Notre Dame admissions for allegedly following a form of enrollment management model that is legally problematic. It also faulted the school’s partnership with a software company to use data analysis to “shape need-aware admissions decisions.”

In addition, the lawsuit cited various institutions’ admissions staff and executives who discussed the giving potential of prospective students and their families. These leaders also noted the favoritism shown toward the children of high potential donors.

“Georgetown admits a range of students based on their families’ wealth, prestige, and influence,” said the lawsuit. “Some of these students are given ‘extra consideration’ based on their parents’ influence or political power, without any expectation of a financial contribution. On the other hand, some are given “extra consideration” on the basis of their ‘development potential’—namely, the ability of the family to make a financial contribution to the institution, and the likelihood that it will do so.”