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Archbishop offers condolences to those mourning after Philadelphia fire

Archbishop Nelson Perez of Philadelphia. Courtesy photo. / null

Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 5, 2022 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

Following a fire in a Philadelphia apartment building that killed at least 13 on Wednesday, the city's archbishop offered condolences and prayed for those who died.

“In the name of the people of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, I extend my deep condolences to all those in mourning. Please join me in praying fervently for the happy repose of the those who have died, for the speedy recovery of those who were injured, and in gratitude for the fire, police, and medical personnel responding to this tragedy,” Archbishop Nelson Perez said Jan. 5.

“May the Lord wrap his loving mantle of mercy around them all.”

The fire occurred at a public housing block owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority. There are believed to have been 26 people in the building when the fire started around 6 am. Seven children are known to be among the dead.

A public housing official said the building was inspected in May, and that smoke detectors were then working.

'Hail Full of Grace!': Colorado resident pens reflection after losing home in Marshall Fire

A Mary statue stands amid the remains of the Greany home in Louisville, Colo., following the Marshall Fire. / Kat and Tom Greany via Archdiocese of Denver.

Denver, Colo., Jan 5, 2022 / 11:14 am (CNA).

On Dec. 30, a fast-moving wildfire destroyed approximately 1,000 homes and structures in Louisville, Superior and unincorporated Boulder County. Among those who lost their homes are Kat and Tom Greany of Louisville. When the couple returned to what was left of their home, they found their statue of Mary still standing. Tom Greany wrote the following reflection on what they have been through the last few days, and how their faith in God has remained strong despite everything they have lost.

Hail Full of Grace!

When we arrived at our home, it was completely destroyed. All but five of 55 homes in our neighborhood were. Those that were not were completely unscathed. Very strange. Across the street, a similar picture. To the south, the same. All three neighborhoods gone.

When we climbed down into the smoldering rubble of what had been our home, almost nothing was recognizable. A few pots and pans. Twisted steel I-beams, disconnected from the foundation, had fallen onto the ash. On our front porch we could see the crumbled concrete of the foundation, bricks strewn about. And the beautiful designer front doors themselves melted into a twisted ball. But Mary remained. Covered by black soot on the right half of the statue’s body, she was unscathed. Bricks appeared to have fallen all around her — some probably even hit her. But she didn’t even fall over. At her feet, beneath the debris, are many heart-shaped stones that Kat and I have collected on our many hikes. Reminding us that we have consecrated our lives to Jesus through Mary. And that her Sacred Heart and His will protect and sustain us through anything.

The statue is a symbol. Amid the smoldering ruins that hours earlier had been an inferno, Mary remained. As she will in our lives. Interceding for us through the darkest of times, praying for us to Jesus Christ, her son, Our Lord and Savior. It stings to look at this — our home and all of its contents were lost. The Christmas giving we had celebrated with our sons up in smoke along with everything else they and we owned. The entire neighborhood gone in less than a day.

We did not think for a moment that we would lose our home. On the far side of the Davidson Mesa, away from prairie grass. How would the fire reach our home? Large lots with manicured lawns and little ground cover to burn. How would the fire ignite it? So when the fire department told us to leave we took almost nothing. A safe with important documents and our laptop computers was all we took. Not even a change of clothes or a toothbrush.

Seeing this when we returned was shocking, horrifying. Awareness of the loss stings mightily. But we can only feel the loss as pain because of the extraordinary magnitude of the gifts we had been given in our lives. How richly blessed are we!

God did not torch our homes to teach us a lesson. But through the loss of the home, He gave us an opportunity to experience His comfort through the intercession of His mother. Our mother. Mary. We had just completed a major renovation to the home nine months earlier. It was our dream home. But all of this is temporal. We cannot take it with us. We were blessed to be together, safely away; and to get our cars safely out. And no one can take the faith that is rooted deeply within us, fed by signs such as this that the Holy Family is not only with us; they’re looking out for us. They love us and they care. They pray for us. And they pray for the world in these dark times we live in.

I had asked for only one thing for Christmas: That The Lord would make my family holy. Maybe that starts with stripping away our possessions and becoming fully reliant on him. “If you want to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Mt 19:21)

Hail Full of Grace! The Lord is with you.

This reflection was first published by Denver Catholic Jan. 3, and is reprinted at Catholic News Agency with permission.

NYT report fuels concerns that many abortions are based on false test results

Prenatal blood tests for genetic conditions have become an enormous unregulated industry generating billions of dollars in revenue each year. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 4, 2022 / 16:21 pm (CNA).

Pro-life leaders say they are deeply disturbed by a recent New York Times investigation that found some prenatal blood tests have alarmingly high false positive results for genetic disorders that frequently result in the abortion of unborn children.

Pregnant women have been misled to believe “that a few vials of their blood, drawn in the first trimester, can allow companies to detect serious developmental problems in the DNA of the fetus with remarkable accuracy,” the Times reported on Jan. 1.

Yet the "grave predictions" that some of the most commonly used newer tests make "are usually wrong," the Times found.

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, told CNA that the findings underscore the need to provide expectant parents with greater support to prepare for the health problems their children potentially might have.

Instead, such children are "disproportionately targeted for abortion," she said.

“Parents who receive such a prognosis while their baby is in utero should be given the medical and other supports necessary to allow them to cherish the gift of life, but most often they are not supported in this way,” Mancini said.

“That prenatal tests are consistently erroneous adds an even deeper level of tragedy to the wrongful pressure on parents to abort,” she said. “In the end, every life is a gift and deserves protection — regardless of disability.” 

The Times interviewed researchers and combined studies “to produce the best estimates available of how well the five most common microdeletion tests perform”: DiGeorge syndrome, 1p36 deletion, Cri-du-chat syndrome, Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, and Prader-Willi and Angelman syndromes.

The tests’ positive results are wrong around 85% of the time, the Times found. Yet a positive test result can amount to a death sentence for an unborn child. 

Prenatal testing for conditions such as Down syndrome has been commonplace for decades. In some countries, upwards of 95% of babies who are diagnosed with Down syndrome in utero are aborted. 

“It’s horrific that prenatal tests are used to ‘justify’ abortion,” pro-life leader Lila Rose of Live Action reacted on Twitter. “Every child, regardless of their health, deserves a chance at life and to be loved.”

Father Matthew Schneider, LC, who identifies as autistic, tweeted to his nearly 60,000 followers that “Prenatal testing often leads to abortion for disabled babies.”

“This is the ‘Throwaway culture’ in action,” said Schneider, who went on to ask when our culture will "respect the lives of the unborn & disabled.”

Pro-life leaders: Down tests also unreliable

The Times report made only passing reference to prenatal blood tests for Down syndrome, the most common chromosomal condition diagnosed in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Times said screenings for Down syndrome "work well, according to experts."

The newspaper's investigation instead focused on more recently developed tests for less common disorders that it said fuel a lucrative but unregulated prenatal testing industry that generates billions in revenue each year.

Some of the companies that share in this windfall misleadingly tout their tests as "reliable" and "highly accurate," the Times found. One company advertised “total confidence in every result” on its prenatal testing website but said nothing about how often false positives can occur, the Times noted.

"Some of the companies offer tests without publishing any data on how well they perform, or point to numbers for their best screenings while leaving out weaker ones," the report said. "Others base their claims on studies in which only one or two pregnancies actually had the condition in question."

While the Times report does not delve deeper into screening for Down syndrome, pro-life advocates stressed that those tests, too, can be unreliable.

“The New York Times is bringing attention to a serious problem, but their reporting could have gone even further,” Dr. Tara Sander Lee, senior fellow and director of life sciences at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of Susan B. Anthony List, told CNA.

“One out of every two U.S. babies who test ‘positive’ for Down syndrome in prenatal screenings are aborted, yet the false positive rate is over 50% when screening pregnant women at low risk. The false positive rates are even worse for some of the less common conditions," she said.

“More than a dozen states now prohibit discrimination against unborn babies based on these unreliable prenatal screenings,” Lee added. “A significant number of healthy babies without any risk for disease are being aborted, and a significant number of differently-abled babies are being denied the opportunity to enrich our communities due to this modern-day form of eugenics.” 

The American Association for Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists also expressed deep concerns about the Times’ report.

“Noninvasive screening tests for genetic disorders have high rates of false positives, especially for rare conditions,” the group told CNA in a statement. 

“Even for common conditions, such as Down syndrome, the false positive rate can be as high as nearly 20%," the statement said, citing data from a 2016 review of clinical studies contained in a report by the London-based Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

"Not only does this lead to unnecessary stress on families and possibly unnecessary medical procedures, but it also all too often leads to a choice to end the lives of these preborn children through abortion," the statement said.

“All human beings, including those with disabilities, are valuable,” the group added.

“It is a travesty that women and families are making life-altering decisions based on misleading information and that children with disabilities are deemed unworthy of life," the statement said “Our patients — both born and preborn  — deserve excellent healthcare and this must include full disclosure of the accuracy of genetic screening tests.”

Federal judge issues injunction over military COVID vaccine mandate

null / Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Jan 4, 2022 / 16:05 pm (CNA).

A federal judge on Monday issued a preliminary injunction against the Biden administration and the Department of Defense over their apparent refusal to grant several Christian Navy SEALS religious accommodations to a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued the injunction, which prevents the Department of Defense from taking “any adverse action” against the plaintiffs in the case because of requests for religious accommodation, on Jan. 3.

In August 2021, the Pentagon announced that all service members would have to be vaccinated against COVID-19. In advance of that announcement, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services said that receiving one of the COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States was morally permissible, and that a vaccine mandate “seems prudent” and would be “very similar” to mandates already enforced in the military.

First Liberty Institute, a Christian legal group, say they filed a federal lawsuit and motion for preliminary injunction on behalf of “dozens” of U.S. Navy SEALs and other Naval Special Warfare personnel, who represent Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant Christianity. 

First Liberty says the religious objections that the plaintiffs raised fell into four categories: opposition to abortion and the use of aborted fetal cell lines in development of the vaccine; belief that modifying one’s body is an afront to the creator; direct, divine instruction not to receive the vaccine; and opposition to injecting trace amounts of animal cells into one’s body.

Most of the requests made have been denied, O’Connor wrote in his ruling, and some of the plaintiffs report mistreatment as a result of asking for a religious exemption. 

O’Connor notes that the Navy has granted exemptions for non-religious reasons, such as allergies to vaccines. 

“The Navy provides a religious accommodation process, but by all accounts, it is theater,” the judge wrote. “The Navy has not granted a religious exemption to any vaccine in recent memory. It merely rubber stamps each denial. The Navy servicemembers in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect. The COVID-19 pandemic provides the government no license to abrogate those freedoms. There is no COVID-19 exception to the First Amendment. There is no military exclusion from our Constitution.”

Archbishop Broglio has encouraged Catholics to follow the guidance of the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, both of whom have stated that it is morally permissible to receive the COVID-19 vaccinations currently available in the United States, even ones with a remote connection to aborted fetal tissue. 

Archbishop Timothy Broglio has also said that service members should not be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine against their consciences. 

“The denial of religious accommodations, or punitive or adverse personnel actions taken against those who raise earnest, conscience-based objections, would be contrary to federal law and morally reprehensible,” Broglio said in October. 

Catholic bishops across the country have issued varying guidance for Catholics wishing to seek conscientious objections to COVID-19 mandates. A few have expressed explicit support for Catholics wishing to seek exemptions; some have said that Catholics may seek exemptions, but must make the case for their own conscience without the involvement of clergy; and some have stated that Catholic teaching lacks a basis to reject vaccination mandates.  

The National Catholic Bioethics Center, a think tank that provides guidance on human dignity in health care and medical research, has been vocal about its opposition to mandatory immunization for COVID-19. While acknowledging that reception of COVID-19 vaccines is morally permissible, the center has maintained support for the rights of Catholics to refuse the vaccines because of conscience-based concerns.

His fellow Democrats want him to resign because he's pro-life, but Aaron Oliver won't budge

Aaron Oliver thinks it's possible to be pro-life and a loyal Democrat. But party leaders want him to resign. / Courtesy of Aaron Oliver

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 2, 2022 / 07:30 am (CNA).

His fellow Democrats call him a traitor (and worse) and the leaders of his party have pressured him to resign.

What has Aaron “A.J.” Oliver, the Democratic municipal chairman in his New Jersey hometown, done to deserve such scorn?

He’s pro-life.

Never mind that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and other prominent Democratic leaders have professed tolerance for pro-life Democrats.

Or that Oliver, an Episcopal priest and New Jersey Army National Guard chaplain, says he's a faithful Democrat soldier in every other respect.

“I'm a loyal Democrat, a lifetime Democrat,” he told CNA. “Many of us think that there’s not an inconsistency with being pro-life and a Democrat. We think the party should be the open tent that it claims to be.”

The flaps of the tent appear to be drawn tight in New Jersey when it comes to abortion, however, Oliver has found, even though Pelosi and other Democratic leaders insist there’s no litmus test on abortion. Pelosi famously cited her own “devout Catholic family” in 2017 as the reason for her openness to Democrats who don’t share her staunch support of abortion rights.

“Most of those people — my family, extended family — are not pro-choice,” she said. “You think I’m kicking them out of the Democratic Party?”

Democratic leaders in the Garden State have taken a different approach with Oliver.

A party ‘betrayal’?

The 41-year-old Morristown resident was elected to a two-year term in June as chairman of the New Jersey suburb’s municipal Democratic committee, an unpaid position. The committee's chief role is to recruit and support strong Democratic candidates, Oliver said.

Until very recently, party leaders saw Oliver as that kind of candidate, having initially supported his run in 2021 for the Morris County Board of Commissioners, a GOP stronghold for many years.

His ultimately unsuccessful bid ran into trouble after a video surfaced of him at an event sponsored by Democrats for Life of America (DFLA), an organization that opposes abortion and promotes pro-life Democratic candidates. A public interest group called NJ11th for Change swiftly retracted its endorsement less than a week before the Nov. 2 election.

“Given the revelation that Oliver’s position is far removed from what most of us would consider ‘pro-woman’ or ‘feminist,’ we feel strongly that continuing to endorse this candidate would be a betrayal of our members’ values, which are and have always been overwhelmingly pro-choice,” the group’s co-executive directors said at the time.

In December, the Morris County Democratic Committee called on Oliver to resign his municipal post. The county organization said it was its “duty to choose representatives and party leaders who will support, protect and expand equitable and quality access to reproductive rights in New Jersey and help make that a reality for every American.” More recently, the committee Oliver chairs issued a "no confidence" vote against him.

But Oliver is standing firm. He says party leaders were aware of his pro-life views prior to his run for commissioner and still thought he'd be good candidate, "especially since the county government doesn't vote on legislation involving abortion," he added. Yet now they want him out as Morristown chairman.

“I don’t think that’s a sufficient reason to resign, I really don’t,” he said. 

“And to be honest with you, many of us are sick and tired of being bullied and marginalized for a matter of conscience like this, for defending a consistent life ethic … and we don’t want to take it anymore.”

Embracing a 'Whole Life' approach

Oliver's story illustrates not only the hardened abortion stance of the Democratic Party but also the diversity of the pro-life movement.

Oliver, who is gay and a staunch Democrat, witnessed that heterogeneity himself when he attended a Democrats for Life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1 during oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. Among those advocating for the unborn that day were secularists, atheists, feminists, and members of the LGBTQ community.

"It's not just religious people that are pro-life," Oliver said. "I think that the pro-life movement is growing. It's diverse in a lot of ways, I mean ethnically, politically, as far as age, religion. I was happy to see that."

Nor is the pro-life movement strictly focused on abortion, he added. Democrats for Life's own "Whole Life" philosophy embraces a range of issues, he noted.

"We talk about issues like euthanasia, and capital punishment, and protecting women — providing real choice for them when it comes to pregnancy support (and) reducing the maternity mortality rate," he said. "And our (DFLA) movement is actually led by women, so the false dichotomy, (that) it's a men versus women thing, I think is kind of a false narrative."

Extreme NJ bill a ‘turning point’

Faith and service have been running themes in Oliver’s life.

Raised in a Methodist family, he says his brother and several other relatives served in the military. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, he enlisted in the New Jersey Army National Guard in 2003, joining an infantry unit. Meanwhile, his spiritual journey led him to join the Orthodox Church, and after discerning a vocation, he became an Orthodox priest and a U.S. Army chaplain.

The journey wasn't over. He left the Orthodox Church and was accepted as an Episcopal priest in 2012. A couple of years later he went on active duty with the Army for five years, spending some of that time overseas. He rejoined the National Guard as a chaplain and captain in 2020.

He says his pro-life position evolved over time.

“I certainly haven’t reached this point overnight,” Oliver told CNA. “I’ve always had pro-life inklings … I’ve always wanted to look out for the vulnerable and the marginalized. And I started to see unborn children as being vulnerable and marginalized, and I started asking more questions, like, ‘Why aren't we standing up for them and supporting them?’”

Those questions ultimately led him to Democrats for Life of America, which states on its website that "every human being is worthy of dignity and respect, from fertilization to natural death."

But Oliver says the real turning point for him politically was Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s effort to pass the New Jersey Reproductive Freedom Act.

Crafted as a hedge against the possible decision in the Dobbs case that would overturn the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, the legislation would codify an unrestricted right to abortion up to the moment of birth, while removing the state’s longstanding conscience protection for medical professionals who object to abortion.

Additionally, the act authorizes non-physicians to perform certain abortions, and requires insurers to cover abortions with no out-of-pocket costs. It also mandates an annual allocation of state taxpayer funds to Planned Parenthood.

“Those provisions terrified me, honestly,” Oliver said. “I started talking to DFLA and we started a movement to protest it, which I think was pretty effective.” After enough Democrats were persuaded the legislation was too extreme, the legislation stalled in the state's legislature last year, though Murphy, a Catholic, is pushing to get it passed in 2022.

Oliver said the extreme nature of the legislation “galvanized” his thinking on the abortion issue.

“At first I was kind of afraid to talk about it, because I don’t want to be accused of being anti-woman or not being sensitive to people who have to make that difficult decision,” he said. “But then I realized that … this is the civil rights issue of our time.”

Oliver says some of his fellow Democrats have privately told them that they share his pro-life views, but they're too afraid to buck the party. At the same time, Oliver says it disturbs him to hear some abortion rights proponents talk about the issue in a way that “goes beyond pro-choice to pro-abortion” and equates abortion with routine health care.

“I’m even starting to hear people say, ‘Yes, the fetus is a (human) life, but abortion is still OK,’” he said.

Taking the high road

Oliver and the DFLA have their work cut out for them staving off the abortion legislation in New Jersey indefinitely. In addition to pressing for the act to be passed, Murphy found a way around the legislature when political appointees sitting on the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners agreed to allow nurses and midwives to perform first-trimester abortions, effective Dec. 6.

Kristen Day, DFLA’s executive director, calls Oliver a role model for pro-life Democrats, in the tradition of former Illinois congressman Dan Lipinski.

“I just have such respect for him, because when they went after him before, right before the election, he took the high road. He never called anybody names, he never got angry. He just laid out his case why he would be a good candidate, and all the things that he has done to support Democrats in New Jersey,” Day said of Oliver.

“So I think what they’re doing to him now is just really terrible. I mean, the names they’re calling him, the emails that they're sending. It’s just not what the Democratic Party, (which) prides itself on diversity and inclusion, should be doing to someone who really cares about the party and wants to elect Democrats and who cares about feeding the poor, cares about … affordable health care and child care. I mean, he’s fighting for all of that. In addition, he wants to support pregnant moms and the right to parent,” Day said.

“New Jersey's abortion numbers are an embarrassment,” Day added, referring to data from the Guttmacher Institute that place the state’s abortion rate among the highest in the U.S. “We should be doing more as a party to lower the abortion rate in New Jersey and provide women with real choice. And because he’s doing that, they're trying to kick him out of the party.”

Oliver, who spent six weeks guarding the U.S. Capitol with his National Guard unit after the civil unrest on Jan. 6, isn’t sure what’s next for him, politically. Asked if he is considering switching to the Republican Party, Oliver said he would prefer to remain a Democrat, though his party isn't making it easy for him.

In the meantime, he says his faith is helping him weather the adversity he faces now.

“My faith tells me that life begins at conception," Oliver said. "So my Christian beliefs certainly inform my position on the issue. But they also allow me to hold firm on it, as well.

"They allow me to still advocate for life, even amidst all the criticism, and even hatred," he said.

Want to know the history behind the Feast of the Epiphany?

null / nito/Shutterstock.

Washington D.C., Jan 1, 2022 / 13:01 pm (CNA).

While the hustle and bustle of Christmas ends for many people on Dec. 26, throughout Christian history Christmas lasts for twelve days – all the way until Jan. 6.

This feast marking the end of Christmas is called “Epiphany.”

In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, Epiphany celebrates the revelation that Jesus was the Son of God. It focuses primarily on this revelation to the Three Wise Men, but also in his baptism in the Jordan and at the wedding at Cana.

In the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church, Theophany – as Epiphany is known in the East – commemorates the manifestation of Jesus' divinity at his Baptism in the River Jordan.

While the traditional date for the feast is Jan. 6, in the United States the celebration of Epiphany is moved to the Sunday between Jan. 2 and Jan. 8.

However, the meaning of the feast goes deeper than just the bringing of presents or the end of Christmas, says Fr. Hezekias Carnazzo, a Melkite Catholic priest and founding executive director of the Virginia-based Institute of Catholic Culture.

“You can't understand the Nativity without Theophany; or you can’t understand Nativity without Epiphany.” The revelation of Christ as the Son of God – both as an infant and at his baptism – illuminate the mysteries of the Christmas season, he said.

“Our human nature is blinded because of sin and we’re unable to see as God sees,” he told CNA. “God reveals to us the revelation of what’s going on.”

Origins of Epiphany

While the Western celebration of Epiphany (which comes from Greek, meaning “revelation from above”), and the Eastern celebration of Theophany (meaning “revelation of God”), have developed their own traditions and liturgical significances, these feasts share more than the same day.

“The Feast of Epiphany, or the Feast of Theophany, is a very, very early feast,” said Fr. Carnazzo. “It predates the celebration of Christmas on the 25th.”

In the early Church, Christians, particularly those in the East, celebrated the advent of Christ on Jan. 6 by commemorating Nativity, Visitation of the Magi, Baptism of Christ and the Wedding of Cana all in one feast of the Epiphany. By the fourth century, both Christmas and Epiphany had been set as separate feasts in some dioceses. At the Council of Tours in 567, the Church set both Christmas day and Epiphany as feast days on the Dec. 25 and Jan. 6, respectively, and named the twelve days between the feasts as the Christmas season.

Over time, the Western Church separated the remaining feasts into their own celebrations, leaving the celebration of the Epiphany to commemorate primarily the Visitation of the Magi to see the newborn Christ on Jan. 6. Meanwhile, the Eastern Churches' celebration of Theophany celebrates Christ’s baptism and is one of the holiest feast days of the liturgical calendar.

Roman Traditions

The celebration of the visitation of the Magi – whom the Bible describes as learned wise men from the East – has developed its own distinct traditions throughout the Roman Church.

As part of the liturgy of the Epiphany, it is traditional to proclaim the date of Easter and other moveable feast days to the faithful – formally reminding the Church of the importance of Easter and the resurrection to both the liturgical year and to the faith.

Other cultural traditions have also arisen around the feast. Dr. Matthew Bunson, EWTN Senior Contributor, told CNA about the “rich cultural traditions” in Spain, France, Ireland and elsewhere that form an integral part of the Christmas season for those cultures.

In Italy, La Befana brings sweets and presents to children not on Christmas, but on Epiphany. Children in many parts of Latin America, the Philippines, Portugal, and Spain also receive their presents on “Three Kings Day.”

Meanwhile, in Ireland, Catholics celebrate “Women's Christmas” – where women rest from housework and cleaning and celebrate together with a special meal. Epiphany in Poland is marked by taking chalk – along with gold, incense and amber – to be blessed at Mass. Back at home, families will inscribe the first part of the year, followed by the letters, “K+M+B+” and then the last numbers of the year on top of every door in the house.

The letters, Bunson explained, stand for the names traditionally given to the wise men – Casper, Melchior and Balthazar – as well as for the Latin phrase “Christus mansionem benedicat,” or, “Christ, bless this house.”

In nearly every part of the world, Catholics celebrate Epiphany with a Kings Cake: a sweet cake that sometimes contains an object like a figurine or a lone nut. In some locations lucky recipient of this prize either gets special treatment for the day, or they must then hold a party at the close of the traditional Epiphany season on Feb. 2.

These celebrations, Bunson said, point to the family-centered nature of the feast day and of its original celebration with the Holy Family. The traditions also point to what is known – and what is still mysterious – about the Magi, who were the first gentiles to encounter Christ. While the Bible remains silent about the wise men’s actual names, as well as how many of them there were, we do know that they were clever, wealthy, and most importantly, brave.

“They were willing to take the risk in order to go searching for the truth, in what they discerned was a monumental event,” he said, adding that the Magi can still be a powerful example.

Lastly, Bunson pointed to the gifts the wise men brought – frankincense, myrrh and gold – as gifts that point not only to Christ’s divinity and his revelation to the Magi as the King of Kings, but also to his crucifixion. In giving herbs traditionally used for burial, these gifts, he said, bring a theological “shadow, a sense of anticipation of what is to come.”

Revelation of God

Fr. Hezekias Carnazzo explained to CNA the significance of the feast of the Theophany – and of Christ’s Baptism more broadly – within the Eastern Catholic churches.

“In our Christian understanding in the East, we are looking at creation through the eyes of God, not so much through the eyes of Man,” Fr. Carnazzo said.  

In the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, he continued, there is special divine significance.

With this feast day, the pastor explained, “God has come to reclaim us for himself.” Because of original sin, he continued, humanity has inherited “a human nature which has been dislocated from its source of life.”

Sin also effected parts of creation such as water have also been separated from their purpose and connection to God’s plan for life, Fr. Carrazzo said, because its original purpose is not just to sustain our bodies, but our souls as well.  

“With the fall, however, it has been dislocated from its source of life, it is under the dominion of death- it doesn’t have eternal life anymore. So God comes to take it to himself.”

“What Jesus did was to take our human nature and do with it what we could not do – which is, to walk it out of death, and that’s exactly what He did with His baptism.” As it is so linked to the destruction of death and reclaiming of life, the Feast of Theophany is also very closely linked to the Crucifixion – an attribute that is reflected in Eastern iconography of both events as well.

The feast of the Theophany celebrates not only Christ’s conquering of sin through baptism, but also God’s revelation of Christ as his Son and the beginning of Christ’s ministry. “The baptism of the Lord, just like the Nativity, is not just a historical event: it’s a revelation,” Fr. Carrazzo said.

To mark the day, Eastern Catholics begin celebrations with Divine Liturgy at the Church, which includes a blessing of the waters in the baptistry. After the water is blessed, the faithful drink the water, and bring bottles of water to bring back to their homes for use and not only physical but spiritual healing, he explained. Many parishes hold feasts after Liturgy is over. In many Middle Eastern cultures, people also fry and eat awamat – dough that is fried until it floats, and then is covered in honey.

During the Theophany season, priests also try to visit each home in the parish to bless the house with Holy Water that was blessed at Theophany. Fr. Carrazzo invited all Roman Catholics to come and become familiar, “to be part of a family” and join in celebrating Eastern Catholic traditions.

This article was originally published on CNA Jan. 6, 2017.

Can mapping the global Catholic Church help to heal the earth? One scientist aims to find out

Molly Burhans presents one of her maps to Pope Francis and Cardinal Peter Turkson at the Vatican during summer 2018. / Vatican Media

Denver Newsroom, Jan 1, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

When Molly Burhans met with Pope Francis in 2018, she presented him with a map. 

The Catholic Church is one of the largest non-governmental owners of land in the entire world— by one estimate, the Church owns some 177 million acres. That land includes parish churches, cathedrals, hospitals, monasteries, convents, farms, schools, forests...even a few dubiously-purchased apartment buildings.

But a lot of that land isn’t serving the Church’s mission. A lot of it is underutilized, being used for some purpose that’s not ideal, or harming the environment; or, it’s simply gathering dust.

Burhans says one of the biggest reasons for this is that many dioceses and parishes don’t have information at their fingertips about what property they own, let alone plans for what to do with it. 

This is one of the reasons that for the past several years, Burhans has been developing interactive electronic maps of the global Catholic Church, with the goal of making the Church more sustainable, and more effective at Her mission. 

“I see so much potential”

Burhans says she learned about the power of land early in her life, growing up in Buffalo, New York— a city largely in decline with an abundance of unused space, but a lot of potential, she says. 

“I saw that property could change people, transform people and transform communities,” Burhans said. 

Burhans committed to her Catholic faith when she was a young adult, and at one point, she even considered religious life. It was while staying at a convent during her discernment process that Burhans saw firsthand the problems, and opportunities, that the Church’s vast land ownership could bring. The convent in question owned a lot of land— vast lawns, forests, buildings— too much really to care for it all in the best way possible. 

“I see so much potential. I see that their forest could actually, with a good management plan, could help support them financially,” Burhans recalled. 

Burhans didn’t ultimately join the convent, but the lessons she learned about land management stuck with her, and she wanted to help. 

While in graduate school at the Conway School in Massachusetts, Burhans figured out how to create an interactive map of over 30,000 land parcels in Portland, Maine, with the goal of protecting urban pollinator habitats. The experience of working on that project got her gears going. 

“Wow, we could do this with Catholic property,” she realized. “If I can do this with 30,000 individual parcels, why don't I do this with a whole diocese’s properties, you know, or a whole religious order?”

Burhans got a pretty fortunate break when the founders of a mapping software company, Esri, offered to give her access to their most sophisticated software package for free to help her start her Catholic mapping project. 

Still, at the beginning— in fact, for the first several years— Burhans wasn’t in a position to charge for her services. She did everything pro bono. 

Burhans began cold-calling dioceses, offering to map all the properties they owned. Most dioceses she contacted— if they agreed at all— had their property records stored in a dusty box in a basement somewhere, so getting them all in order was a lot of work. 

GoodLands’ work in this regard was groundbreaking— surprisingly so. Burhans quickly found that even seemingly simple online maps simply weren’t available, such as a map showing the precise boundaries of each diocese and the diocese’ name. 

Burhans had sought out the advice of CARA, a Catholic research group based at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., to see if perhaps they had a digital map of all the U.S. dioceses. All they could offer her, she says, was a PDF that showed all the dioceses of the United States. Nothing interactive, and nothing global. 

“There was no global map of anything except for this one on was made in Photoshop, pretty much, by a kid who was 16 and had pretty much painted it on. So that was the only global map of the church,” she said, adding that she later hired that “kid” as a paid intern. 

By this point, Burhans had assembled a team of cartographers ready to create these maps that she sought. But still, she had her doubts. Surely the Vatican already had a mapping project like this, and maybe they had a good reason not to make the maps public. She didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, or worse, step on Pope Francis’ toes. 

“I didn't want to go ahead with this project first, if the Vatican had it internally; second, if the Vatican had it internally and had good reason that I might not know for not releasing it publicly,” she said. 

Turns out, she says...the Vatican didn’t have it. Burhans would have to make the maps herself— and she did. 

Why maps?

Today, several years on, along with a team of nearly 3,000 cartographers, Burhans and GoodLands have managed to map almost every single piece of Church-owned property in the United States. 

They haven’t made that particular map publicly available, but many of their other maps, containing a wealth of data, are available to view and download on the GoodLands website

The beauty of mapping out everything the Church owns, Burhans says, is that it allows for better-informed decisions about what to do with the Church’s vast land holdings. It allows the Church’s leaders to better use what they have to further the Church’s mission, she says. 

Many dioceses across the country are finding themselves with little choice but to sell off their buildings or land, as their coffers begin to run dry amid declining donations, church attendance, and increasingly, abuse lawsuits. 

The data that GoodLands has collected is useful for much more than selling property, however. They’ve gathered a lot of information related to environmental concerns— properties at risk of flooding due to climate change, sea level rises, fire risk, etc. 

There’s also a three-dimensional map of Boston with all the buildings and topography included throughout the diocese, mapped with NOAA-based data about sea level rise. They’ve also mapped properties most at risk for earthquakes in Los Angeles. 

What’s next?

Burhans met with Pope Francis in 2018, and showed him one of her maps that she had created showing the percentage of Catholics in each diocese of the world. The pope was intrigued; soon after the meeting, he invited her to create a new institute of the Vatican dedicated to map-making, on a six-month trial basis. 

If created, this would likely be the first female-founded department at the Vatican. But, ultimately, Burhans turned down that initial offer because it didn’t include any funding. She’s currently working on a proposal for a cartography institute— which she envisions as a “sister institute” to the Vatican observatory— that will, ideally, receive funding from the Vatican. 

Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down those plans. But it hasn’t stopped Burhans from garnering more than a half-dozen awards from various organizations, most recently the Sierra Club. Burhans said GoodLands isn’t accepting new clients at the moment, partly because they’ve been inundated with so many requests from dioceses and other Catholic organizations. 

Burhans speaks passionately about her hopes that her maps will provoke change in the Church, but she also says she has yet to see her maps move people in the way she hoped. Could a fully-fledged cartography institute at the Vatican change that? It remains to be seen, but Burhans is ready and willing to give it a try. 

“A map is worth a million words...This will transform the operations of the Catholic church. I have little doubt,” she said. 

A version of this story appeared on Episode 115 of the CNA Newsroom podcast. Click here to listen to the episode.

Archbishop Aquila opens parishes, launches emergency fund for victims of Colorado wildfires

Smoke from the 2021 Boulder County fire over Superior, Colo., Dec. 30, 2021. / Tristantech via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Denver, Colo., Dec 31, 2021 / 14:06 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver announced on Friday the establishment of an emergency fund to assist victims of the most destructive fires in Colorado’s history.

Local Catholic parishes have been opened to receive displaced families.

“The wildfires that suddenly started yesterday and spread through more than 6,000 acres of the northwest metro Denver towns of Superior and Louisville have shocked everyone. Hundreds of people, including parishioners of St. Louis, Sacred Heart of Mary and Immaculate Conception have lost their homes and need our support,” the archbishop said in a Dec. 31 statement.

“To those affected by these fires, know that Joseph and Mary had to flee with Jesus, shortly after he was born. The Holy Family is close to you and knows the anguish and loss you are feeling. You are in my prayers and the prayers of our faithful throughout the archdiocese,” he added. 

Archbishop Aquila also announced that he has asked “our parishes and entities to help in whatever ways they can, including hosting those who are displaced, opening food pantries and engaging Knights of Columbus councils for volunteers.”

“As we approach the Sunday liturgy this weekend, I am also asking that all Catholics in the archdiocese pray during the Prayers of the Faithful for all who have been impacted and to consider giving to a special collection that will be taken during Masses on the weekend of January 8-9.” 

Donations from the collection will be put into a special fund that will be distributed through parishes in the affected region. 

“Thanks to the generosity of the faithful to this year’s Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal, the archdiocese will be contributing $250,000 to the fund,” Aquila wrote. 

“While it is still too soon to understand the full scope of the impact, we do know that at least two of our parishes have had to evacuate – St. Louis in Louisville and Sacred Heart of Mary in Boulder. Fortunately, neither of them has burned down.” 

This is the link to donate to the Archdiocese's special fund.

The fire started northwest of Denver when a power line fell and made contact with the ground in the early afternoon of Dec 30. Winds of over 100 miles an hour and an extreme drought in the region created the conditions for a ravaging fire that, according to early Friday reports, has destroyed nearly 1,000 homes and become the most destructive in Colorado's history.

The fire affected mostly the suburban corridor between Denver and Boulder, an area that has seen the longest snowless winter on record.

By noon Friday, there were no reports of deaths or serious injuries, thanks to early evacuations.

“We are especially grateful that it appears no one has died in this fire, which is a testament to the quick action taken by our first responders to the fire and the threat to life and property,” Archbishop Aquila wrote. 

“May God continue to protect the first responders fighting the fires and comfort all who have been affected by them.”

 Local authorities are expected to provide an update on the fire later Friday, but in the early afternoon, the fires had mostly subsided as winds have slowed down and Colorado’s Front Range prepares for the first major snow of the season.

Uproar over Chicago Mass: Did this Christmas Eve liturgy go too far?

Some say the theatrical presentation of the Christmas Eve Mass at St. Sabina Church in Chicago went too far. / Screen shot of St. Sabina YouTube video

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 30, 2021 / 13:28 pm (CNA).

Outraged by a freewheeling Christmas Eve Mass that featured jazz musicians, choreographed dances around the altar, and theatrical lighting effects, some Catholics are calling on Cardinal Blase Cupich to crack down on liturgical abuses in Novus Ordo Masses in the Archdiocese of Chicago, rather than imposing severe restrictions on reverential Traditional Latin Masses.

Father Michael L. Pfleger, a well-known social activist in Chicago, celebrated the Dec. 24 evening Mass, which was live streamed from St. Sabina Church, a predominantly Black parish on the city’s South Side. Pfleger has been the pastor there since 1981.

Many of those upset by the Mass say it crossed the line from worship to entertainment. That view is fueled, in part, by the fact that it is not clear from the nearly 2½ hour video of the service, billed as "Christmas Eve at Sabina," when the liturgy actually begins. There is no apparent greeting, penitential act, or opening prayer, all required Introductory Rites of the Novus Ordo liturgy.

In the video, posted on YouTube, Pfleger does not appear on the altar until after nearly an hour of musical and dance performances. A band plays a mix of religious carols and secular music, including Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” and the Vincent Guaraldi Trio’s “Christmas Time is Here” (best known from the Peanuts Christmas special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”) while colorfully costumed dancers swirl around the altar.

In one of the video’s most jarring segments, prior to Pfleger’s arrival, a woman reads a reflection on racism, gun violence, and other social ills. The woman shouts at some points, while figures near the altar, including some dressed in hooded cloaks that resemble Ku Klux Klan robes, dramatize her words. (You can watch the segment at the 38:00 mark in the video below.)

“‘The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light.’ But have we? We look around and all our eyes can see is destruction and chaos, division, and even death. … Hate is sweeping across the nation in ways like we've never seen before. Racism has become just as natural as the air we breathe.”

Flashing lights and the loud beeping of a heart monitor sound effect add to the bleak litany of evils, which nevertheless ends on a positive note: “Heaven has heard your cry and responded by sending Jesus, the Light of the World, to renew your strength. Emmanuel, God is with you.”

During his homily, Pfleger, wearing a peace sign dangling from a beaded necklace, urges members of the congregation to lift up their illuminated cell phones in the darkened church, as is often done at concerts.

“It’s Christmas. It’s Christmas. Jesus, the Light of the World, is with us,” he says. “Now go turn on the damn light and curse the darkness! Come on, wave your lights! Wave your lights!” (You can watch Pfleger’s homily at the 1:26:00 mark in the video above.)

Lightning rod for controversy

Pfleger, 72, has been a prominent anti-violence and social justice advocate for many years. A Chicago native, he has been outspoken against the epidemic of gun violence in the city’s South Side and oversees a host of active social ministries at St. Sabina’s.

Volunteers from the parish planned to distribute nearly 1,000 meals at homeless shelters in the city on Christmas Day. On Jan. 1 Pfleger will lead a parish “Peace Walk” commemorating the lives lost to gun violence in the area this year and calling for more government action to stop the bloodshed.

Pfleger adopted an 8-year-old boy in 1981 and another son in 1992. In 1997 he became the foster father of another city youth who was killed in a gang shootout in 1998.

The popular priest also has been a lightning rod for controversy.

In 2008, the late Cardinal Francis George asked Pfleger to go on a two-week leave of absence after he publicly mocked then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama’s rival in the Democratic presidential primaries that year.

George suspended Pfleger in 2011 after the priest threatened to leave the priesthood if George reassigned him. The cardinal later accepted Pfleger’s apology and reinstated him as St. Sabina’s pastor.

In 2019, Pfleger ran into more trouble, this time with Cupich, who publicly denounced Pfleger’s decision to invite controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to speak at St. Sabina.

More recently, Pfleger was removed from ministry at St. Sabina on Jan. 5, after a man came forward and alleged that he was abused by Pfleger as a child more than 40 years ago. Two other men, including one who is the brother of the first accuser, later alleged that Pfleger had abused them, also. Pfleger denied the accusations.

Cupich reinstated Pfleger in May, stating that the archdiocese’s review board “has concluded that there is insufficient reason to suspect Father Pfleger is guilty of these allegations.” 

Father Michael L. Pfleger, senior pastor of St. Sabina Church in Chicago, gives his homily during the parish's Christmas Eve Mass on Dec. 24, 2021. Screenshot from St. Sabina YouTube video.
Father Michael L. Pfleger, senior pastor of St. Sabina Church in Chicago, gives his homily during the parish's Christmas Eve Mass on Dec. 24, 2021. Screenshot from St. Sabina YouTube video.

Contacted by CNA, Pfleger declined to answer questions about the Christmas Eve liturgy.

“These are some of the same people that attack Pope Francis and Cardinal Cupich and have ignored the gift and value of Black Catholicism in the Catholic Church, so I am not responding to their attacks,” Pfleger said in an email.

The Archdiocese of Chicago did not respond to a request for comment prior to publication.

Critics cite Latin Mass restrictions

Criticism of the Christmas Eve Mass comes months after similar complaints were raised in response to a pair of controversies in the archdiocese this summer.

In August, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a non-Catholic who is in a same-sex marriage, received Communion from a city police chaplain at a funeral Mass Cupich celebrated for slain police officer Ella French. The chaplain said he made a mistake and publicly apologized.

Just days later, a Chicago pastor said he consulted with Cupich prior to prohibiting the public recitation of the Prayer to St. Michael and the Hail Mary after Masses, claiming the public prayers, which take less than a minute to recite, can distract those wishing to pray privately in the church.

Criticism of St. Sabina’s Christmas Eve Mass gained steam on social media earlier this week, after the archdiocese issued a new policy that sharply curtails the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass and the use of liturgical texts that predate the liturgical reforms of Vatican II for other sacraments.

Under the policy, Masses using the old rite cannot be celebrated on the first Sunday of the month, Christmas, the Triduum, Easter Sunday, and Pentecost Sunday. Additionally, priests cannot celebrate Traditional Latin Masses in parish churches without permission from both the archbishop and the Vatican.

“If the Bishop really cares about his faithful,” one commenter on YouTube wrote, “he’d put a stop to this abomination, not the Latin Mass.”

“I’m a former evangelical Protestant, who is now Catholic, and this service reminds me so much of the ones that I once attended as an evangelical Protestant for many years,” another post reads. “I’m both shocked and horrified that this claims to be Catholic, Lord have mercy! No focus on the Blessed Sacrament at all.”

“The Latin Mass? No. This? Yes,” conservative Catholic commentator Taylor Marshall said sarcastically in a Dec. 29 podcast live streamed on YouTube. “It’s not fair.”

Focus should be on the Eucharist

The archdiocese’s new policy on the Traditional Latin Mass comes in response to Pope Francis’ motu proprio Traditiones custodes, released July 16, and a related explanatory document the Vatican published Dec. 18. Together, those documents  place strict curbs on the use of Latin liturgical texts that pre-date Vatican II, which a small minority of Catholics still prefer.

The pope lamented the prevalence of liturgical abuses in a letter accompanying his motu proprio.

“I am saddened by abuses in the celebration of the liturgy on all sides,” he wrote in the letter. “In common with Benedict XVI, I deplore the fact that ‘in many places the prescriptions of the new Missal are not observed in celebration, but indeed come to be interpreted as an authorization for or even a requirement of creativity, which leads to almost unbearable distortions.’”

A leading Catholic liturgist contacted by CNA said he was reminded of the pope’s words while he was viewing the video of St. Sabina’s Christmas Eve Mass.

“Many of the abuses in the celebration of the Mass come from a wrong understanding of the nature and good of the Eucharistic celebration, and particularly from a distorted application of the concept of active participation in the liturgy,” Father Daniel Cardó, Benedict XVI Chair of Liturgical Studies at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, observed in a written commentary he shared with CNA.

“The Second Vatican Council called the Church to promote a ‘full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations.’ (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 14). The irony is that when activities foreign to the liturgical celebrations are inserted in the Mass, actual participation does not grow — most people remain spectators of dances or other cultural expressions, which cannot be performed by everyone,” he continued.

“The dances, songs, speeches, and light effects show a lively celebration of a Christian community, but not the Eucharist as described and celebrated uninterruptedly since the beginnings, as already perceived in the passage of the disciples going to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35) or in the descriptions of St. Justin (mid-second century),” Cardó observed.

“What the Church wants for everyone is participation in the rites themselves, and for this, we have a safe path: the approved rites and rubrics of the liturgical celebrations.”

Cardó stopped short of saying that the St. Sabina liturgy was not a valid Mass, as some have alleged on social media. Pfleger uses the proper words of consecration during the Eucharistic Prayer, he noted.

Instead, Cardó said such liturgies risk overshadowing the Eucharist as the central focus of the Mass.

“When so much novelty and creativity take place in the celebration of the Mass, the community can grow in self-expression and human comfort, but might lose the ‘real presence’ of Jesus Christ, certainly less spectacular than concerts and choreographies, but the awe-inspiring power of God made man, of God becoming present in bread and wine,” he said.

“There is no greater pastoral good for the faithful than simply to allow God to come to his people through the rites of the Church. The relative good of self-expression of a given community can never be equal to the supreme good of receiving Christ himself in the Sacrament,” Cardó continued.

“Bethlehem reminds us that God chooses the simplicity of what’s hidden to the world to become present. In the same way, Jesus comes to the world at Mass through the simplicity of a few words and gestures, given to the apostles and faithfully transmitted by the Church,” he stated. “When creativity leads to abuses and distortions, then we are very far from the liturgical reform intended by the Second Vatican Council.”

CNA correspondent Joe Bukuras contributed to this story.

Arlington priest who oversaw child protection office indicted for sex abuse

null / Lisa F. Young via

Arlington, Va., Dec 30, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Arlington’s former director for the Office of Child Protection, Father Terry Specht, was indicted last week on two charges of sexual abuse. 

A grand jury in Virginia indicted Specht Dec. 20 on one count of aggravated sexual battery of a child under the age of 13 and one count of sexual abuse of a child over whom a custodial or supervisory relationship existed. 

Michael Kelly, Chief of Staff for the office of Virginia’s attorney general, Mark Herring, told CNA that the maximum penalty for the first count is 20 years in prison, and five for the second.

A Dec. 28 press release from the attorney general’s office said that the complainant in the case brought the allegations against Specht in 2019. The diocese said allegations against Specht were brought to it in 2019, which were immediately referred to law enforcement. Specht was out of ministry at the time.

Specht, who is retired in Pennsylvania according to the attorney general’s office, was placed on administrative leave in 2012 after an allegation of sexual assault was brought to the diocese that year. A diocesan review board investigated the allegation, finding it “inconclusive”. The diocese said that law enforcement brought no charges in relation to the allegation.

The diocese says that after he was placed on leave, Specht requested medical retirement due to an illness, which the diocese granted him. Since then, Specht has been out of ministry and will not return. He had served as a priest since 1996.

Specht, 69, had served as the director of the diocese’s Office of Child Protection from 2004 to 2011. The diocese says that Specht’s responsibilities in the role were as a policy administrator and instructor. 

“He never oversaw the investigation of allegations of sexual abuse of a minor nor did he have a role in priestly assignments,” the diocese said.

The diocese stated that after Specht was accused in 2012, a third party investigator was brought in “to review the Office of Child Protection’s policies, staff and procedures to ensure nothing was compromised.”

The diocese said that the investigation “uncovered no issues.”

Specht underwent criminal background checks every five years and completed VIRTUS safe-environment training, per diocesan policy.

“The Diocese of Arlington has a zero-tolerance policy for abuse and continues to be fully committed to training our clergy, staff and volunteers to identify and report suspected instances of abuse,” the local Church said. “No one with a credible accusation of abuse of minors is serving in the Diocese.”

The diocese is cooperating with the attorney general’s office by providing all information related to both the 2012 and 2019 accusations against Specht, it stated.

The state's prosecution of Specht is part of the attorney general’s ongoing investigation into clergy abuse. 

Specht is scheduled to go on trial in October 2022.