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Rep. Chris Smith highlights bipartisan bill on National Human Trafficking Awareness Day

Man bound hand and foot, vicitim of human trafficking. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 11, 2022 / 18:07 pm (CNA).

In recognition of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day on Jan. 11, a New Jersey congressman is calling on the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a bipartisan piece of legislation intended to combat what his office calls “modern-day slavery.”

“Human traffickers have benefitted from a culture of denial and a lack of awareness throughout our communities,” U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) said in a Jan. 11 press release. “Education and awareness programs — especially and including those provided by local grassroots organizations — are the victim’s best friend and the trafficker’s worst nightmare and go a long way toward preventing this heinous crime in the first place.”

That is why he and U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) authored the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2021 (H.R. 5150)­­­, first introduced in September.

According to Smith, the act would provide “approximately $1.6 billion over five years to strengthen and expand education, awareness and other critical programs that protect victims, prosecute perpetrators and prevent trafficking.”

At the time of its introduction, the legislation named after abolitionist Frederick Douglass was already endorsed by 17 anti-trafficking organizations and coalitions, Essence magazine reported. Ken Morris, the great-great-great-grandson of Douglass, spoke at the initial press conference and coordinated with lawmakers. 

“I have the great privilege of being descended from one of America’s best-known abolitionists,” Morris, who serves as president of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, said, Essence reported. “But I didn’t inherit an understanding of contemporary forms of slavery. That’s why our knowledge of these crimes — and the institutional support to stop them — must continue to expand. This bill will do that.”

Smith has sponsored anti-human legislation trafficking in the past, such as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. This newer piece of legislation proposes to continue and add to the 2000 law.

“We cannot let our guard down,” Smith added in his press release. “We must continue to do everything we can to stop predators from harming the most vulnerable and innocent among us.”

The U.S. Department of State defines human trafficking as a “crime of exploitation” where “traffickers profit at the expense of their victims by compelling them to perform labor or to engage in commercial sex in every region of the United States and around the world.” It cites an “estimated 24.9 million victims worldwide at any given time.”

In an effort to fight human trafficking, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops hosts an Anti-Trafficking Program to “educate on the scourge of human trafficking as an offense against fundamental dignity of the human person, to advocate for an end to modern day slavery, to provide training and technical assistance on this issue, and to support survivors through community based services.”

According to the USCCB, “an estimated 17,000 vulnerable men, women and children are trafficked across our borders and then forced into slavery” every year.

“Some people are trafficked for prostitution, pornography, and other forms of sexual exploitation. Some are trafficked for forced labor in agriculture, sweat shops, and domestic servitude,” the USCCB says. “In both cases the person who is enslaved is treated as an object for another's benefit. The person's God-given human dignity is either ignored or forgotten.”

Mother Angelica Museum receives Communion rail from her home parish

Mother Angelica. Photo courtesy EWTN.

Youngstown, Ohio, Jan 11, 2022 / 17:29 pm (CNA).

The original communion rail from Mother Angelica’s baptismal parish has been donated to the Mother Angelica Museum in Canton, Ohio. 

Two pieces of what is believed to be the original communion rail from St. Anthony’s parish were donated last summer to the museum. 

Previously, the pieces of the rail were at an Italian restaurant in neighboring Perry Township. They were moved there with permission from the parish after the communion rail was removed during a renovation in the 1970s. 

Barbara Gaskell, who owns the Mother Angelica Museum, learned that the restaurant had repurposed part of the communion rail last summer. She was put into contact with Dr. Robin Capaldi Ford-Rigsby, whose parents owned the restaurant, and inquired about the rails. Ford-Rigbsy’s late father was a parishioner at St. Anthony’s, and knew Mother Angelica.

"She was so nice; she got back to me the next day," Gaskell told The Repository, a newspaper in Canton. "I told her what we were doing and she was delighted. They let us take the front two pieces. Her husband even helped us remove it."

Additionally, Ford-Rigsby donated two lights that formerly hung in the sanctuary at St. Anthony’s to the museum. 

Ford-Rigsby told The Repository that her parents would be “thrilled and proud” to have been able to make a donation to the museum’s collection. 

"When Barbara contacted me, it was such a cool completion of the circle," said Ford-Rigsby. "So many blessings were said at that railing."

The Mother Angelica Museum, which is free to enter, is located at the St. Raphael Center & Bookstore in Canton. It opened in 2020. 

The museum has photos, letters, and other mementos from Mother Angelica’s life, including a statue of the Virgin Mary from her home altar, a “St. Peter” fishing lure that was sold to raise money for the nascent EWTN, and recording equipment. 

In addition to the museum, Gaskell also operates a “Mother Angelica Tour”, which takes attendees to locations in Canton. St. Anthony’s is a stop on the tour.  

Born Rita Rizzo, the young Mother Angelica attended Mass at St. Anthony’s as a child. At the time, the parish was predominated by Italian emigrants. After experiencing a miraculous healing following a visit from now-Servant of God Rhoda Wise, Mother Angelica prayed a novena to St. Therese of Lisieux while discerning religious life.

She then entered a monastery in Canton before departing for Alabama, where she would eventually found EWTN. 

Gaskell admired Mother Angelica for her candor and wit.

"She was just real," Gaskell said. "She'd just flat-out say it. She was funny. She had a good sense of timing. I don't think a lot scared her. She had a lot of chutzpah. She was like somebody's Italian grandmother.”

Ballot initiative to enshrine abortion rights is 'sad' and 'harmful', Michigan bishops say

null / roibu / Shutterstock.

Lansing, Mich., Jan 11, 2022 / 16:16 pm (CNA).

Abortion advocacy groups in Michigan have launched a ballot initiative to override a state abortion ban— which is currently unenforced— by way of a constitutional amendment. The state’s Catholic Conference said the effort shows the power of the abortion industry in influencing state policy. 

“More than anything, women considering an abortion deserve support, love, and compassion. For decades, abortion has been touted as the only option, harmless and easy, yet we know this is a lie. Abortion hurts women,” Rebecca Mastee, Policy Advocate for the Michigan Catholic Conference, said Jan. 7.

“Today’s news that some are looking to enshrine abortion in the state constitution is a sad commentary on the outsized and harmful role the abortion industry plays in our politics and our society. We look forward to standing with women through a potential statewide ballot campaign to promote a culture of life and good health for both moms and unborn children.”

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan are two of the organizations sponsoring the ballot drive. Organizers of the ballot initiative need about 425,000 valid voter signatures to put it before the electorate in November, the AP reports. 

According to another group involved with the campaign, Michigan Advance, the ballot measure would amend Michigan’s constitution explicitly to affirm Michiganders’ right to “make and carry out decisions relating to pregnancy, including abortion, birth control, prenatal care and childbirth.” 

Michigan is one of several states with an abortion law on the books which is currently unenforceable due to Roe v. Wade. A 1931 Michigan state law makes it a felony for anyone to provide an abortion unless "necessary to preserve the life of such woman." 

Michigan is not the only state where efforts to enshrine abortion rights into state law are underway. In Vermont, a similar ballot measure has been in the works and will likely appear on the November ballot.  

New Jersey lawmakers passed a bill on Jan. 10 which codifies a “fundamental right to reproductive autonomy, which includes the right to contraception, the right to terminate a pregnancy, and the right to carry a pregnancy to term.” That bill is awaiting the New Jersey governor’s signature. 

Michigan recorded nearly 30,000 abortions performed in 2020, the most in the state since 1996, but still 40% fewer than the peak of 49,000 in 1987, the Detroit Free Press reported. 

Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer has called on the Republican-led state legislature to repeal the abortion ban. 

In late September 2021, Whitmer line-item vetoed from the state budget about $16 million worth of funding for alternatives to abortion, drawing consternation from the state’s Catholic conference. 

“Governor Whitmer’s vetoes amplify the disappointing reality of this administration that the abortion industry is more important than vulnerable mothers and their unborn children,” David Maluchnik, Vice President for Communications at the Michigan Catholic Conference, said at the time.

The provisions vetoed included $10 million to develop “factual educational information materials on adoption as an alternative to abortion”; $1.5 million for pregnancy resource centers; $1 million for pregnant and parenting services at colleges and universities; and $50,000 for the health department to inform the public that it does not use taxpayer dollars to fund any elective abortion.

After pro-abortion rights essay draws ire, Jesuit high school retracts student magazine issue

null / Unsplash.

Denver, Colo., Jan 11, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Leadership at a Denver-area Catholic high school retracted an entire issue of a quarterly student magazine after a student’s “deeply troubling” pro-abortion rights essay drew criticism and concern from several parents and the local archbishop.

The student essayist seemed to argue that the unborn child is not a human life and explicitly compared the fetus in the early stages of development to a “common tulip.”

In response, the Jesuit school’s leadership said the essay published without proper guidance. In addition, two faculty advisors for the newspaper no longer work at the school.

“An opinion piece that presented a stance on abortion clearly in opposition to Catholic Church teaching was included in the winter issue of the student-produced magazine that we found both deeply troubling and unacceptable,” Regis Jesuit High School president David Card said in a Jan. 10 statement to CNA.

“First, we want to be clear that as a Catholic, Jesuit institution we believe that life begins at the moment of conception. In this instance, we failed our students in providing proper guidance in how to consider matters involving our firmly held beliefs, especially those upholding the dignity of human life,” Card said. “While we believe in providing an avenue for student expression, we are taking steps now to consider the magazine’s editorial process to ensure its compatibility with and responsibility in representing the mission of Regis Jesuit.”

Card’s statement largely repeated the Dec. 17 letter he and principal Jimmy Tricco published online in place of the electronic version of the quarterly student magazine Elevate’s winter issue.

That letter retracted the issue in its entirety. In discussing the beginning of life at conception, Card and Tricco said: “We believe that protection of life at this stage represents the foundational requirement of respecting the dignity of human life at every stage. We are fully invested in disseminating and defending this and all Church teaching in all that we do.”

The student essay “The Battle for Out [sic] Bodies” contained factual errors, including the claim that Congress, not the U.S. Supreme Court, legalized abortion in the early 1970s. The essay claimed the unborn child before the sixth week of pregnancy has “the same mental capacity and cell organism complexity as a common tulip.”

“The basic human right of choice is at risk due to the lack of trust and faith towards abortion clinics and procedures,” said the author.

“Some say that having an abortion is a form of murder, but there is a difference between a baby and a fetus,” said the essay. “A baby is a living human, whereas a fetus is an organism inside of a woman’s womb that grows during pregnancy until it becomes a baby.”

To make abortion illegal would encourage “illegal and unsafe” abortions, and risk even more lives instead of saving them, the essay said.

“Even though it may be frowned upon in many communities, it is a procedure that many women go through,” the essay continued. The author advocated access to contraception, sex education, and family planning services “instead of changing the laws and creating a pseudo-religious government to rule over women.”

“Religious beliefs of other people should never interfere with a person’s choice,” the essay said.

Regis Jesuit High School, in the eastern Denver suburb of Aurora, offers single-sex instruction in both a boy’s and a girl’s divisions, with almost 1,700 students combined. About 1 in 3 students receive need-based financial aid, though tuition is over $19,000 per year.

The Archdiocese of Denver provided to CNA a Dec. 23 letter from Archbishop Samuel Aquila about the controversy.

Aquila said many families reached out to him to voice their “deep concerns” about the essay. He said he was “deeply troubled” that an essay advocating a position “in direct contradiction to the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life” was allowed to be published in a Catholic school.

He described abortion and euthanasia as “the preeminent issues for the Catholic Church today.” Aquila cited Pope Francis’ own description of abortion as “an absolute evil.” He added that it is his duty as Archbishop of Denver to ensure that Catholic institutions in the archdiocese are faithful to Church teachings.

“I am grateful that the leadership of Regis Jesuit High School promptly retracted the article and addressed this situation recognizing the failure that took place in allowing this article to be published,” he said.

Aquila welcomed the high school leadership’s commitment to defending Church teaching. He said he deeply desires to support this and has asked his staff to help them ensure there is “deeply faithful Catholic formation” for all students, faculty, and staff.

“Catholic schools exist to be sanctuaries of education where students can come to encounter Jesus, be transformed by a relationship with him, grow in wisdom and virtue, and discover their call for their lives as young men and women created in God’s image and likeness,” the archbishop said.

It is “vital” to understand this mission for Christians “in a time where moral relativism has consumed our society and culture, and where to proclaim truth is considered oppressive and bigoted.”

“Knowing truth leads to true freedom and human flourishing because it leads to Jesus, he who rescues us and gives us the fullness of abundant life,” Aquila said.

According to the archbishop, Catholic schools “must be fully pro-life institutions” and need to defend the sanctity of human life and to form students to help free them from “the culture of death that pervades our world today.”

“As such, faculty and staff of Catholic schools must be pro-life,” he said. Faithful Catholic schools need to be led by faithful educators “in love with Jesus Christ and his Church”, who witness to the truth of the Gospel.

Both faculty advisors for the Regis Jesuit publication confirmed to the Aurora-based newspaper Sentinel Colorado that they no longer work at the school.

One of the advisors, Nicole Arduini, told the Denver Post she was let go after the column was published.

“I am saddened about the situation,” she said. “I enjoyed teaching student journalism and am proud to have worked with an amazing group of young journalists.”

The school’s student editorial policies say that advisors will not act as censor or determine media content, the Denver Post reports.

“Rather, the advisers will teach journalistic skills and guide the students in making sound legal and ethical decisions,” said the policies. “School officials, administration or faculty and staff, likewise, shall not practice prior review or to censor any student media, with the exception of material deemed to be legally obscene, libelous, substantially and materially disruptive.”

The high school is a separate institution from Regis University, but both are affiliated with the Society of Jesus.

Regis University was the focus of controversy in November 2018 after the Jesuit institution hosted a drag show performed by students that purported to support transgender students. University officials had sent emails to faculty suggesting they attend the drag show, assign books by “queer, and especially transgender” authors to their students and add a preferred gender pronouns policy to their classroom syllabus.

Archbishop Aquila publicly objected that this guidance was not in conformity with the Catholic faith but rather was an example of “ideological colonization” repeatedly decried by Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope.

March for Life speakers include Father Mike Schmitz, actor Kirk Cameron

2020 March for Life, Washington, D.C., Jan. 24, 2020 / Peter Zelasko/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 11, 2022 / 11:48 am (CNA).

The March for Life Education and Defense Fund announced the speaker lineup for the upcoming 49th annual March for Life on Jan. 21.

Among the speakers at the rally proceeding the march will be actor Kirk Cameron, “Duck Dynasty” star Lisa Robertson, podcast host Father Mike Schmitz, and two members of Congress, along with other pro-life advocates. 

“We are delighted to welcome these incredible speakers to the March for Life,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life Education and Defense Fund, in a press release published Jan. 11.  

“Americans everywhere know that unborn children deserve equal rights and protection under the law,” she said.

“We expect this year's March for Life to be historic with even higher levels of enthusiasm from participants. We are hopeful that, with Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization before the Supreme Court, 2022 will bring us much closer to building the culture of life we have all marched for since Roe v. Wade was tragically imposed on our nation nearly 50 years ago.”

The pre-march rally is set to begin at noon on the National Mall. The March for Life will begin immediately after the rally concludes. 

The theme of this year’s march is “Equality Begins in the Womb,” which organizers say “highlights how true equality is only possible if we recognize that children in the womb also deserve protection.”

Leading the March for Life will be students from Christendom College, a Catholic college in Front Royal, Virginia, and students from Immanuel Lutheran High School in Alexandria, Virginia.

His Eminence, Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, Orthodox Church in the US, will be leading the opening prayer at the rally. Cissie Graham Lynch, of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, is set to deliver the rally’s closing prayer. 

Matthew West, a Christian recording artist, will be performing a pre-rally concert. 

After the coronavirus pandemic moved the 2021 March for Life online, with extremely limited in-person attendance, organizers vowed that the 2022 March for Life would “proceed as planned” despite the city’s new vaccine mandate and high case rates. 

Washington, D.C. will be implementing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on Jan. 15, six days before the march. As the March for Life is outside, proof of vaccination will not be required, although participants will be required to wear masks except for when eating or drinking. 

Everyone over the age of 12 who is going to the Rose Dinner, which occurs after the March for Life, will have to show proof of vaccination (or provide a negative test along with a religious or medical exemption from the vaccine) as the event is indoors.

More information about this march is available on the March for Life website.

Synod snafu: The USCCB tweet Catholic Twitter can't stop talking about

Synod on Synodality logo / Courtesy USCCB

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 11, 2022 / 10:43 am (CNA).

The U.S. bishops took to Twitter Monday seeking feedback on the upcoming Synod on Synodality. And hoo, boy, they got it.

The 11 a.m. tweet from the Twitter account of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops backfired in a big way, triggering hundreds of negative comments from people who took umbrage at what they saw as the USCCB's awkward embrace of corporate buzzwords.

Within hours it became "the tweet that Catholic Twitter can't stop talking about," as one commentator phrased it. By Tuesday morning, the USCCB had shut down comments from anyone it doesn't follow or mention by name.

"Here are seven attitudes we can all adopt as we continue our synodal journey together. Which one inspires you the most? Let us know in the comments below," the USCCB tweeted. The attitudes listed are: innovative outlook, inclusivity, open-mindedness, listening, accompaniment, and co-responsibility.

Most chose option 8: biting sarcasm.

"If you truly are being held captive in the HR Department, blink twice, we will send in a rescue team," wrote one of the first people to respond.

"If I wanted corporate speak I'd go to my job on Sundays," another person said.

"Sounds like something that comes out of the Calm app, not Catholicism. Thanks, I will skip," wrote another.

"Who wrote this spiritual guidance, Nabisco Corp?" someone wanted to know.

"Is this entire synod being run by human resources interns?" another wrote.

"We're not a Fortune 500 company, we are literally the body of Christ."

And on, and on, it went. You get the idea.

No one said gathering constructive input from the world's 1 billion Catholics was going to be easy. And with a name like "the Synod on Synodality," even the best minds on Madison Avenue are going to have their work cut out for them.

Still, this clearly was not the sort of dialogue the USCCB had in mind. A USCCB spokesperson did not immediately respond Tuesday morning to an email seeking comment about the tweet.

The Synod of Synodality is a global, two-year consultative process of "listening and dialogue" that began in October 2021. The opening of the process is a diocesan phase expected to last until August 2022. The Vatican has asked all dioceses to participate, hold consultations, and collect feedback on specific questions laid out in synod documents.

A synod is a meeting of bishops that aims to discuss a topic of theological or pastoral significance, in order to prepare a document of advice or counsel to the pope. At the end of the current process, a synod of bishops is scheduled to take place in Rome in October 2023 to produce a final document.

An infographic showing the timeline for the synod on synodality. Vatican Media.
An infographic showing the timeline for the synod on synodality. Vatican Media.

"Pope Francis invites the entire Church to reflect on a theme that is decisive for its life and mission: 'It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium,'" the USCCB says on its website.

"This journey, which follows in the wake of the Church’s 'renewal' proposed by the Second Vatican Council, is both a gift and a task: by journeying together and reflecting together on the journey that has been made, the Church will be able to learn through Her experience which processes can help Her to live communion, to achieve participation, to open Herself to mission."

In its early goings, however, many Catholics still haven't heard about the Synod on Synodality, or don't understand what it is, exactly. Other Catholics are suspicious about the process, or already hostile toward it, believing it will serve to amplify voices of dissent and be used in an attempt at changing Church discipline.

All of those attitudes, and more, were reflected in the avalanche of comments to the USCCB's tweet.

The Vatican published a social media toolkit in October to help bishops and others guide the consultative process. The document includes templates for social media posts, a suggested hashtag (#ListeningChurch), and a host of other recommendations. One section is titled, "How to manage eventual negative engagement."

"As you know, in the digital world, many people can make some negative comments on some posts. But as Christians, we have the perfect example (Jesus-Christ) of how to treat each other and to love one another, no matter where they are from," the guidance reads.

"Simply, don’t panic if you receive some negative comments on your social platform and take this opportunity to reflect on what God wants us to answer," it continues. "We should always ground our responses in faith."

To be sure, some of the comments to the USCCB tweet were harsh, and a few people who wanted to talk seriously about accompaniment or listening were quickly drowned out.

But there was humor, too. Several commenters likened the tweet to a parody about "corporatespeak" sung by "Weird Al" Yankovic, called "Mission Statement."

"We must all efficiently operationalize our strategies, invest in world-class technology, and leverage our core competencies, in order to holistically administrate exceptional synergy," is one of the lines.

Not everyone was in a joking mood. (Nor is the USCCB at the moment, one would imagine.) Some people said they were offended, saddened, or embarrassed by the conference's tweet.

"The world is starving for grace and truth and we’re being fed empty platitudes and sentimentality," one person wrote.

"When you replace the traditional BEATITUDES with the modernist ATTITUDES…." reads another tweet.

"I want Jesus," another person wrote.

Two of the more well-known responders tried to strike a more helpful tone.

"If you need 7," author Leah Libresco Sargeant began, before listing the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

"How about you adopt this attitude," actress Patricia Heaton offered. "'Christ shed his blood on the cross to save you, so attend with an attitude of repentance, humility, gratitude, joy and worship. Let your lips be full of praise for your savior Jesus.'"

But even she couldn't resist adding, "Or 'innovative outlook' I guess…"

New Jersey lawmakers pass last-minute expansion of abortion access

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Denver Newsroom, Jan 10, 2022 / 15:23 pm (CNA).

Lawmakers in New Jersey have, on the last day of their legislative session, voted to pass a bill which expands abortion access in the state and codifies “abortion rights.”  

The bill passed by both houses of the New Jersey state legislature the afternoon of Jan. 10 was vigorously opposed by the state’s Catholic conference. The bill now goes to Gov. Phil Murphy for his signature. 

Bill S49/A6260, which was introduced Jan. 6, codifies a “fundamental right to reproductive autonomy, which includes the right to contraception, the right to terminate a pregnancy, and the right to carry a pregnancy to term.” 

A “right to abortion” already existed in New Jersey because of state Supreme Court rulings. Proponents of the bill say the legislation is necessary to protect abortion in the state if Roe v. Wade were overturned. 

New Jersey Right to Life says the wording of the bill would allow abortions up to the point of birth. 

“This will apply to any individual who is present in the state, including non-residents, as well as those who are incarcerated and minor girls in custody or other government programs controlled by the state,” the pro-life group says. 

By superseding all other laws regarding abortion in the state, the bill ​​”seeks to prevent the passage of any new pro-life laws like parental notification, bans on late-term abortion, and even those upheld as constitutionally valid by the U.S. Supreme Court,” New Jersey Right to Life says. 

The act “leaves the door open” for a future bill to allow abortion coverage to be mandated in all health insurance plans, and lacks sufficient conscience protections for healthcare workers who don’t want to perform abortions, the group says. 

The bill passed today follows the New Jersey Reproductive Freedom Act, which did not pass after being introduced in October 2020. 

The Reproductive Freedom Act would have guaranteed a right to abortion under state law and required most private insurers to cover abortion and birth control with no out-of-pocket expenses. It would have removed some restrictions that pro-abortion rights advocates say are medically unnecessary, while allowing physician assistants, certified midwives, and other nurses to administer legal abortions.

The Reproductive Freedom Act was announced in October 2020 by Murphy, a Catholic. Despite that act not passing, New Jersey has since relaxed some abortion restrictions. 

In October 2021, the New Jersey State Board of Medical Examiners unanimously decided to allow advanced practice nurses, physician assistants, certified nurse midwives, and certified midwives to provide first-trimester aspiration abortions. Those changes went into effect Dec. 6.

Previously, abortions in New Jersey had to have been performed by a physician, and any abortion past 14 weeks must have been carried out in a hospital.

Cardinal Cupich booed and heckled by some at Chicago March for Life rally

Cardinal Blase Cupich. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 9, 2022 / 12:25 pm (CNA).

An otherwise peaceful March for Life event in Chicago on Saturday turned contentious when some in the crowd booed and heckled Cardinal Blase Cupich during his speech at a rally at Federal Plaza.

Caitlin Bootsma, a spokeswoman for March for Life Chicago, said the behavior was limited to a small portion of the crowd.

"There was some disturbance in the front of the crowd by a small number of individuals," she told CNA.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Cupich was escorted by security personnel away from the rally, but Bootsma said it was not because of the rough reception the cardinal received.

"The Cardinal’s plan was already to leave after his speech," she said. "Security accompanied him out as they have in previous years and also did for some other speakers."

Approximately one minute into his speech, Cupich, who wore a mask at the outdoor rally, elicited a ripple of boos when he shared words of support for those he saw in the crowd wearing masks.

"You know, we come here in these days of the pandemic when life is threatened. And I'm so glad that I see many of you wearing masks. I hope that you continue to look for ways in which we can end this pandemic by promoting life. It's really important to do that," Cupich said.

Hearing boos and shouting from some in the crowd, Cupich then added: "Now I know you people, there are some in the crowd here who don't respect the unborn, and that's too bad. But let me speak. Let me speak." You can watch Cupich's remarks in the March for Life Chicago live stream video, beginning at the 43:53 mark.

The booing and heckling subsided momentarily, but grew louder toward the end of Cupich's remarks. Some in the crowd could be heard shouting statements about "Biden" and one man yelled, "Tell the USCCB!"

"Now, these people won't let me talk because they're not here to respect the unborn. They're not here to respect you," Cupich responded.

Cupich was criticized by some in the pro-life movement last year for leading an effort to head off a direct confrontation between the United States Conference of Bishops and President Joe Biden, who as the country's second Catholic president has pursued policies at odds with official Church teaching against abortion and same-sex marriage.

A year ago Cupich took to Twitter to issue a scathing criticism of what he called an "ill-considered" statement the USCCB released on the day of Biden's inauguration that called abortion "a direct attack on life that also wounds the woman and undermines the family."

Cupich flew to Rome to meet with Pope Francis 10 days later, in a move some observers saw as an attempt to enlist the Vatican's help in steering the USCCB away from adopting a policy of denying communion to Biden and other politicians who actively promote legalized abortion. The U.S. bishops in November voted 222 to 8, with three abstentions, in favor of releasing a new teaching document that calls for Eucharistic renewal in the Church. The document does not mention Biden or any other politicians by name.

In his remarks on the March for Life rally on Jan. 8, Cupich referred to the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court will reverse the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide when it rules on the Mississippi abortion case Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization later this year.

"We have many reasons to be hopeful that the legal protections for the child in the womb, which we have advocated for decades, will soon become a reality," Cupich said.

"But as we've heard already today, that's really not our only goal," he said. "We march today for respect for all human life. That's the goal that we need to pursue." Cupich later pointed to the need to defend the elderly, the sick, immigrants, and those living in poverty, among others, against a mindset that treats human life as if it were "disposable."

March for Life Chicago is considered the largest pro-life event in the Midwest. This year's event drew thousands of pro-life marchers as well as a smaller counter-demonstration.

Editor's note: This story was corrected to state that the rally was held on Saturday, Jan. 8. The story was updated on Jan. 9 at 9:40 p.m. ET to add comments from a spokeswoman for March for Life Chicago that only a "small number" of people in the crowd shouted and booed during Cardinal Cupich's remarks.

Conservative Supreme Court justices question basis for Biden COVID-19 vaccine policies

CDC vaccination card / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 7, 2022 / 16:34 pm (CNA).

Conservative Supreme Court justices appeared skeptical during oral arguments Friday challenging two Biden administration COVID-19 mandates meant to prod millions of additional Americans to be vaccinated against the virus.

Hanging in the balance are the working lives of a large swath of the U.S. population. One of the government’s mandates — requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to require their workers to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing for COVID-19 — would apply to more than 84 million Americans.

Another 17 million people would be impacted by a vaccination requirement for health care workers at some 76,000 government-funded health care facilities, according to the Biden administration.

The new rules for businesses are set to go into effect Jan. 10, when unvaccinated employees would be required to wear masks on the job. The vaccinate-or-test provision would kick in on Feb. 9.

During more than 3½ hours of oral arguments in a pair of legal challenges on Jan. 7, the discussion focused not on the vaccines themselves, or the rationale or effectiveness of mandatory vaccinations, but on whether the federal government has the legal authority to issue the orders.

“It’s not that judges are supposed to decide some question of public health, it’s about regulating the rules of the system to ensure that the appropriate party does,” conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch said. 

At issue are a pair of federal statutes the Biden administration has invoked to impose the mandates. 

Where businesses are concerned, it points to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which directs the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (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.”

The health care worker mandate is based on the Social Security Act, and 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.

Representing the Biden administration’s position in the first case, U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar identified COVID-19 exposure as the “biggest threat to workers in OSHA’s history.”

“The court should reject the argument that the agency is powerless to address that grave danger,” she argued.

Attorney Scott A. Keller, representing the National Federation of Independent Business, criticized OSHA’s “economy-wide one-size-fits-all mandate.” He warned that it would cause “permanent worker displacement rippling through our national economy.” 

“OSHA has never before mandated vaccines or widespread testing, much less across all industries,” he said. “A single federal agency tasked with occupational standards cannot commandeer businesses economy-wide into becoming de facto public health agencies.”

Joining Keller in challenging the business mandate was Ohio Solicitor General Benjamin M. Flowers also criticized OSHA’s one-size-fits-all approach. 

The agency’s “sweeping” rule treats employers the same, he stressed, “regardless of the other steps they’ve taken to protect employees, regardless of the nature of their workplaces, regardless of their employees’ risk factors, and regardless of local conditions that state and local officials are far better positioned to understand and accommodate.”

Skepticism from conservative justices

During the vaccine-or-test case, multiple justices cited the Major Questions Doctrine. The court clarified this judicial concept in 2014, in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, when it stated that it assumes “Congress to speak clearly if it wishes to assign an agency a decision of vast ‘economic and political significance.’”

Under the standard version of the doctrine, “statutory ambiguity on such questions requires a court to reject the agency’s assertion of administrative power and leave the policy question to Congress to resolve in subsequent legislation,” according to an analysis published by the C. Boyden Gray Center for the Study of the Administration State at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School.

“In the non-standard version of the doctrine,” the analysis states, “the statutory ambiguity on major questions empowers courts to resolve the policy dispute by upholding or denying the agency power as the court thinks best."

“If there is an ambiguity, why isn't this a major question that therefore belongs to the people's representatives of the states and in the halls of Congress?" Gorsuch asked Prelogar. "Traditionally states have had the responsibility for overseeing vaccination mandates."

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., another conservative, noted that Congress has had more than 50 years since the passage of the 1970 occupational and safety act to specify that OSHA has the authority to mandate worker vaccinations, yet it never did so.

“This is something that the federal government has never done before, right? Mandated vaccine coverage?” Roberts asked, before also pointing out that “the police power to take such action is more commonly exercised by the states.”

Prelogar argued Congress implicitly provided OSHA to take such a measure if necessary in the language of the original statute. She cited the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic in answer to why the agency has not mandated vaccinations before.

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.

Impassioned comments from liberal justices

While conservative justices focused on the Major Questions Doctrine, liberal justices spoke impassionately at several points on the urgent need for government action to halt the spread of the virus.

“Why isn’t this necessary to abate a grave risk?” Justice Elena Kagan asked Keller, referring to wording in the OSHA statute. “This is a pandemic in which nearly a million people have died. It is by far the greatest public health danger that this country has faced in the last century. More and more people are dying every day. More and more people are getting sick every day. I don’t mean to be dramatic here, I’m just sort of stating facts. And this is the policy that is most geared to stopping all this.”

Liberal justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor also challenged Keller.

“Can you ask us, is that what you’re doing now, to say it’s in the public interest in this situation, to stop this vaccination rule with nearly million people — let me not exaggerate, nearly three-quarters of a million people — new cases every day? I mean, to me, I would find that unbelievable.”

“This is not a vaccine mandate,” Sotomayor said, citing the option to test regularly, pushing back against Keller’s claim that large numbers of workers will quit rather than get vaccinated. “There are costs and deaths and other things countervailing to the fact that there might be 1-3% of workers who leave.”

Vaccine requirements already have been blamed for worker shortages in some industries and parts of the country. Some of the largest U.S. hospital systems have dropped COVID-19 vaccine mandates for staff after a federal judge temporarily halted a Biden administration mandate that health care workers get the shots. This week, Rhode Island’s state-run hospital system and a private nursing home have used workers who have recently tested positive for COVID-19, due to the spike in vaccinations and low staffing.

At the same time, a growing number of other businesses, including Amtrak and General Electric, have suspended vaccine mandates for their employees, citing labor shortages. On Friday, Oregon joined New York, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and other states that have called up the National Guard to help staff hospitals and other health care facilities.

What happens next

At the conclusion of the oral arguments regarding the mandate for health care workers, Breyer weighed the harms. 

“As you heard in the OSHA case at the last minute, on the one hand, if they have to start complying with this, they have to get plans, and the employers are hurt,” he said. “On the other hand, if they don’t start to get those plans ready, people might, well, it looks like a lot of people will get sick and take up hospital beds or worse.”

“Why do we not have to take those things into account, see how the government would balance them, see if that is reasonable, and be very wary at the least of interfering with rules that will, in fact, save people’s lives or hospital beds or from getting the disease,” he added. 

Louisiana Solicitor General Elizabeth Murrill responded that the health-care worker mandate was different from the vaccine-or-test rule.

“They do not have a choice,” she said. “They have to be fired or cannot be hired, and so it handcuffs our providers in a way that is extraordinary and immediate.”

In the end, justices appeared to be split along ideological lines about whether the statutes are sufficient to support the Biden policies. The court could issue a decision in the two cases in a matter of days.

Catholic teaching

The mandates raise a host of difficult questions for faithful Catholic individuals, businesses, and health care providers.

On the one hand, Catholics are the most vaccinated religious group in the country, according to a recent Pew survey, which found that 82% of self-identified Catholics had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Pope Francis has called vaccination an “act of love,” and the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has said it is morally licit to accept the vaccines, which were developed using cell lines derived from fetuses aborted decades ago.

However, neither the pope nor the Vatican has addressed specific scientific and medical concerns that many still-unvaccinated Catholics have about possible serious side effects and the long-term safety of the vaccines. In addition, the CDF has emphasized that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.”

K-State football player plans to enter seminary

Landry Weber, a K-State player who is discerning and intends to enter seminary. / Courtesy photo.

Salina, Kan., Jan 7, 2022 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

There are nearly 500,000 college athletes, and of those, about 2% will embark in a professional sports career. The others will, as the NCAA says, “go pro in something other than sports.” 

Landry Weber, a 23-year-old wide receiver for Kansas State University’s football team, will soon be going “pro” in something very different from the gridiron: he’s entering seminary and hopes eventually to be ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

Weber told CNA that while he initially began feeling a call to the priesthood during his freshman year of college, he “didn’t really want much to do with it.” But as the feelings continued, he reached out to a priest at his college parish, St. Isidore’s. The priest gave him materials to read, and Weber continued to pray, go on retreats, and continued his discernment process. 

While discerning, Weber has maintained a devotion to the Virgin Mary, saying that she’s “been a huge part of my life.” He consecrated himself to Mary twice in college, saying they were “very powerful experiences both times” and that his Marian consecration helped with his discernment journey. 

About eighteen months into his discernment, Weber came to the conclusion that he likely had a vocation to the priesthood. 

“So probably after a year and a half or so of discernment was when I kind of was like, ‘Okay, I think this is something that I’m being called to do,’” he said. However, he decided that he wanted to finish out his college football career before entering seminary. 

Weber’s career ended with a 42-20 victory over Louisiana State University in the Texas Bowl. It was at that game where news of his vocation reached a national stage. 

Sports business analyst and former ESPN writer Darren Rovell tweeted “‘He’ll be entering the priesthood when his college career is finished.’ — Announcer Tom Hart on Kansas State wide receiver Landry Weber. I’ve never heard that line watching a football game before.” *

Unfortunately, Weber suffered a high ankle sprain on his second play of the game, cutting short what he already knew would be his last football game. He told CNA that the injury was a reminder of the bigger picture. 

“(Getting injured) was tough, but it helped me a lot to just acknowledge that I never deserved to play in that game in the first place,” he said. 

During the 2020 season, which was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, Weber said that he experienced a change in his mindset towards football, realizing that “every game and every play that I get is a gift that I don’t deserve.”  

“Every opportunity that I get is a blessing, and I'm just gonna be thankful for every chance I get to play,” he said. “And so that was my attitude this whole entire season.” 

Weber’s parents were “very supportive” about his plans to enter the seminary, as were his teammates at Kansas State. 

“I was a little nervous to share [his seminary plans] with them, but when I did share it they were all very supportive of it and surprised,” he said. His teammates peppered him with questions, mainly about how he would be giving up the possibility of marriage. 

“And so, a lot of questions, but really, a lot of support. I was surprised by how they thought it was a very cool thing that I would do something different,” said Weber. “That's something I would say that I love about the game of football and the guys on a football team;  it's very much a melting pot of guys from all over the country – very diverse, melting pot of guys that come from different backgrounds and different walks of lives, and everyone loves each other for who they are within the team.”

Weber drew parallels between being part of a storied football program to his potential role as a priest. 

“Something cool about football is that when you play college football, you're a part of something that's bigger than you,” he said, adding that people plan vacations and their weekends around Kansas State football. “It’s a ginormous part of their lives and you get to be on the field responsible for playing this game and providing people joy and bringing people together.” 

The idea of becoming a priest and the feeling of entering seminary is a “very similar feeling,” said Weber. 

“I get to be a part of something that’s much bigger than me, and I get to help out in a way that I’m very unworthy of being a part of,” he said. 

And while Weber says the attention to his vocation is “flattering,” he feels “extremely unworthy of that attention.” 

“There are tons of other men saying ‘yes’ to the seminary, being ordained priests,” he said. “My ‘yes’ is no more special than theirs. And so I almost feel bad for the attention that I get, because what they’re doing is incredible.” 

*While Darren Rovell likely hadn’t heard this type of announcement before at a bowl game, there have actually been a handful of former NCAA D1 football players entering seminary in recent years.