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

Sisters of Life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pregnancy is not a disease,” she emphasized. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pope Francis thanks charismatic Catholics and evangelicals for offering ‘sign of fraternity’

Pope Francis sends a video message to the Italian Charismatic Consultation, May 15, 2021. / Screenshot: Vatican News YouTube channel.

CNA Staff, May 15, 2021 / 04:25 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Saturday thanked charismatic Catholics and evangelicals in Italy for offering a “sign of fraternity.”

In a video message to a May 15 online meeting organized by the Italian Charismatic Consultation, the pope praised the group’s commitment to ecumenism.

“I join you and participate spiritually in this meeting, in this gathering of yours. I pray with you, I pray for you and I ask you to pray for me too. Brothers and sisters, thank you very much for doing this, this sign of fraternity,” he said in the message to participants.

The Italian Charismatic Consultation was founded by leaders of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Italy and several Italian evangelical churches.

It began with a 1992 meeting in Bari, a southern Italian port city, between members of the Catholic Comunità di Gesù (Community of Jesus) and the Evangelical Church of the Reconciliation in Caserta.

Pope Francis visited the evangelical church in 2014, giving a 30-minute off-the-cuff address. The pope first met the church’s pastor, Giovanni Traettino, in 2006, when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina.

The pope has offered encouragement to charismatic Catholics throughout his pontificate. In 2017, he addressed around 50,000 members of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement during an ecumenical prayer vigil at Rome’s Circus Maximus.

The pope told participants in Saturday’s virtual meeting: “I would like to be closer to you, to be with you, at least with a video message. Thank you very much for this work that you have been doing for years -- for years! -- since the celebration in 1992 in Bari, every year.”

“And the meeting you are holding today is on the theme of fraternity: it is a meeting of fraternal dialogue. The guide will be the Word of the Lord: ‘Go to my brethren and say to them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

“Jesus sends us to proclaim that He is with us, He is before the Father, He accompanies us; and as Christians, without exposing the divisions that still exist but that do not prevent us from working together, walking together, and washing each other’s feet: let us remember Bari. To serve together. Brotherhood.”

Medjugorje to host global rosary marathon for end to pandemic

A statue of Our Lady in Medjugorje, Bosnia and Herzegovina. / Gnuckx via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

CNA Staff, May 15, 2021 / 02:33 am (CNA).

Medjugorje’s shrine of Our Lady Queen of Peace will lead the global rosary marathon for an end to the coronavirus pandemic on Saturday.

Catholics gathering on May 15 in the town where six local children saw alleged apparitions of the Virgin Mary starting in 1981 will offer the rosary “for all migrants.”

The shrine in southwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina is the 15th of 30 Catholic shrines across the world to lead the rosary during the month-long initiative launched by Pope Francis.

The rosary will take place at 6 p.m. local time, followed by Mass, and will be live-streamed on the Vatican News YouTube channel.

Pope Francis approved Catholic pilgrimages to Medjugorje in May 2019, but he has not issued a formal judgment on the authenticity of the alleged apparitions.

The reputed apparitions began on June 24, 1981, when six children in Medjugorje, a town that was then part of communist Yugoslavia, began to experience phenomena which they reported to be apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

According to the alleged seers, the apparitions contained a message of peace for the world, a call to conversion, prayer, and fasting, as well as certain secrets surrounding events to be fulfilled in the future.

The purported apparitions at the site have been a source of both controversy and conversion, with many flocking to the town for pilgrimage and prayer, with some people claiming to have experienced miracles and others concluding that the visions are not authentic.

In January 2014, a Vatican commission ended a nearly four-year-long investigation into the doctrinal and disciplinary aspects of the Medjugorje apparitions and submitted a document to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Pope Francis visited Bosnia and Herzegovina in June 2015 but declined to stop in Medjugorje during his trip. During his return flight to Rome, he indicated that the process of investigation was nearly complete.

On the return flight from a visit to the Marian shrine of Fatima in May 2017, the pope spoke about the final document of the Medjugorje commission, sometimes referred to as the “Ruini report,” after the head of the commission, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, calling it “very, very good,” and noting a distinction between the first Marian apparitions at Medjugorje and the later ones.

“The first apparitions, which were to children, the report more or less says that these need to continue being studied,” he said, but as for “presumed current apparitions, the report has its doubts,” the pope said.

The pope launched the prayer marathon on May 1, when he led the rosary in St. Peter’s Basilica. The initiative will end on May 31 with a rosary in the Vatican Gardens.

The first shrine to lead the rosary was Walsingham in England, followed by the shrine of Jesus the Savior and Mother Mary in Elele, Nigeria, on May 2, the shrine of Jasna Góra in Poland on May 3, and the Basilica of the Annunication in Nazareth, Israel, on May 4.

Pope Francis sent a message last August to an annual youth meeting in Medjugorje.

“The great example of the Church that is young in the heart, ready to follow Christ with new freshness and fidelity, always remains the Virgin Mary,” the pope said.

“The power of Her ‘Yes’ and Her ‘Let it be unto me’ which she said before the angel, delights us at all times. Her ‘Yes’ means to participate and take risks, without any guarantee except knowing that she is the bearer of the promise. Her ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord’ (Luke 1:38), the most beautiful example that tells us what happens when a man, in his freedom, surrenders himself into God’s hands.”

“Let this example inspire you and be your guideline!”

UK bill would fine universities for failing to protect free speech

Karim von Orelli via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

London, England, May 14, 2021 / 18:01 pm (CNA).

A proposed law in the UK aiming to bolster the protection of free speech could impose fines on universities if they fail to protect freedom of speech for students, staff, and visiting speakers.

Among the bill’s provisions is one that would allow visiting speakers, academics, and students to seek compensation if they suffer loss because their free speech rights are not protected, the BBC reported

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech Bill), proposed May 11, also seeks to protect the “academic freedom” of university staff, so that they will not be at risk of being fired for putting forth controversial ideas. 

The bill would also apply to student unions in addition to universities. 

The Office for Students, the UK government’s watchdog on universities, would have the power to impose fines on universities and student unions that violate the new freedom of speech rules. The bill would also mandate the appointment of a “free speech champion” to the Office for Students. 

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, who introduced the bill, told the BBC that "to be able to express ourselves freely and take part in rigorous debate" is a basic human right.

"Our legal system allows us to articulate views which others may disagree with as long as they don't meet the threshold of hate speech or inciting violence - this must be defended, nowhere more so than within our world-renowned universities,” he said. 

The bill is in the process of a second reading in the House of Commons before moving to the committee stage. 

Universities UK, an advocacy group, criticized the proposed measure, saying it could engender “unnecessary bureaucracy.” 

In March 2018 a joint committee on human rights of the UK parliament noted troubling barriers to free speech at the nation's universities, writing: “Whilst the original intention behind safe space policies may have been to ensure that minority or vulnerable groups can feel secure, in practice the concept of safe spaces has proved problematic, often marginalising the views of minority groups.”

“Minority groups or individuals holding unpopular opinions which are within the law should not be shut down nor be subject to undue additional scrutiny by student unions or universities,” the committee continued.

It added that “unless it is clearly understood that those exercising their rights to free speech within the law will not be shut down, there will be no incentive for their opponents to engage them in the debate and challenge needed to bring mutual understanding and maybe even to change attitudes.”

Later in 2018, student associations at both the University of Aberdeen and the University of Glasgow, both in Scotland, blocked pro-life student groups from affiliating, limiting their access to funds and venues.

The Aberdeen Life Ethics Society was eventually granted affiliation by the Aberdeen student association, in May 2019, after Ales filed a lawsuit “alleging unlawful discrimination against the society and the violation of rights protected by UK law”, under the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998.

In January 2020, a 24-year-old student at the University of Nottingham was blocked from entering her program’s hospital placement phase, after the university learned of her pro-life beliefs and her leadership in a pro-life student group.

In mid-2020, complaints were made that a pro-life event held by the Aberdeen Life Ethics Society violated a 'safe space policy', but an investigation has resulted in no action being taken against the pro-life group.

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

Funeral Mass in Nigeria / Aid to the Church in Need

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After decades, Northern Ireland inquest recognizes victims of Ballymurphy Massacre

Relatives of those killed during the Ballymurphy massacre demonstrate in Dublin, Ireland, Jan. 30, 2014. Credit: Sinn Féin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Belfast, Northern Ireland, May 14, 2021 / 16:01 pm (CNA).

A Catholic priest, a mother of eight, and at least seven other civilians were wrongly killed by British soldiers in Northern Ireland in a three-day 1971 incident known as the Ballymurphy Massacre, a new inquiry has ruled. The official finding places the incident as a possible forerunner to Bloody Sunday, another massacre of Catholic demonstrators by British paratroopers.


“All of the deceased were entirely innocent of any wrongdoing on the day in question,” said Judge Siobhan Keegan, a Northern Irish high court judge who is the presiding coroner investigating the case, Reuters reports.


Brandon Lewis, the British government’s minister for Northern Ireland, acknowledged the victims’ innocence and said he would carefully consider the findings. The victims’ grief has been “compounded by the long and difficult process of waiting for answers for so many years,” he said.


The Aug. 9-11, 1971 deaths came in the Ballymurphy neighborhood of west Belfast during The Troubles. There was unrest and disorder in the streets of the Catholic neighborhood after the introduction of internment without trial of hundreds of people from Catholic and nationalist backgrounds who were allegedly members of the Irish Republican Army. The internment was introduced by the unionist Northern Ireland government and drew criticism for many reasons, including its reliance on false intelligence about those interned.


In the first fatal incident, soldiers shot and killed Father Mullan at the age of 38. He was waving a white object as a truce sign while helping another man, 19-year-old Francis Quinn, who also died. The inquiry found the priest was shot twice in the back in a “clearly disproportionate” use of force.


“Our brother was killed by the British Army and then they lied about it to cover up their injustice,” the priest’s brother Patsy Mullan said at a news conference. “After 50 years the truth we always knew has finally been told.”


Joan Connolly, 44, was the only woman killed. The coroner’s report could not answer whether a delay in giving her medical treatment contributed to her death. After her death, soldiers claimed she had been an IRA gunman.


“Her name has been cleared. We have got justice after 50 years. My daddy died a broken man,” one of Connolly’s daughters, also named Joan, told The Guardian.


Other victims were Daniel Teggart, 44, Noel Phillips, 19, Joseph Murphy, 41, Edward Doherty, 31, Joseph Corr, 43, and John Laverty, 20.


John Teggart, one victim’s son, objected that there has never been a criminal investigation. “No one should be above the law,” he said.


Lawyers for the accused British soldiers said the troops perceived themselves to be under threat. The British army had claimed the soldiers of the Parachute Regiment had been shooting at terrorists. They claimed in their defense that the dead were either gunmen or civilians caught in the crossfire, the Irish Times reports.


Keegan, the coroner, said the soldiers faced a difficult environment and had come under fire from gunmen during some incidents, but still faulted their response.


“Even if there were gunmen in that area, the use of force was clearly disproportionate given the number of civilians around, the fact that Father Mullan was waving a white item and the fact that soldiers were in a protected position, shooting from long range,” the report said, acknowledging that gunmen in the area also “clearly put civilians at risk of danger and potential death.”


In the case of one the alleged victims, John James McKerr, there was not enough evidence to prove that the army was responsible for his death. Keegan said it was “shocking” that there was no proper investigation into his killing.


Keegan’s inquest began in November 2018 after decades of advocacy from victims’ families and their supporters. It was a fact-finding effort and not a criminal trial. There are questions about the identity of the soldiers who shot many of the victims, and no one has been charged or convicted in the killings.


Witnesses for the inquest included ballistics experts and over 60 soldiers including former British Army head and chief of the general staff Gen. Sir Mike Jackson. Another witness was former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who is from Ballymurphy. Adams told the inquest that two masked IRA members were in the area during the violence.


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson sent a letter to the families of the victims “to express personally how sorry I am for the terrible hurt that has been caused to you and all of the other families who lost loved ones in Ballymurphy in August 1971,” the Irish Times reports.


However, some family members objected that no mention was made of a massacre or of the Parachute Regiment specifically.


A U.K. government briefing said that the government aimed to “introduce a legacy package that delivers better outcomes for victims, survivors and veterans, focuses on information recovery and reconciliation, and ends the cycle of investigations.”


Lewis apologized for the way in which “investigations after these terrible events were handled, and for the additional pain that the families have had to endure in their fight to clear the names of their loved ones since they began their campaign almost five decades ago.”


He also noted the U.K. government’s efforts for a statute of limitations on Troubles-era prosecutions, saying the past could be addressed by seeking information and providing answers.


“With each passing year, the integrity of evidence and the prospects of prosecution do diminish,” he said.


Mary Kate Quinn, a niece of one of the victims, said the statement from Lewis was an “insult” and “more concerned about laying the groundwork for amnesty legislation.”


“He spoke of answers and reconciliation, but not accountability or justice,” she said, the Irish Times reports.


Lewis’ statements were challenged by various MPs and by leaders in the Irish government.


Simon Coveney, the Republic of Ireland’s foreign minister, said, “Every family bereaved in the conflict must have access to an effective investigation and to a process of justice regardless of the perpetrator.”


On Tuesday Britain announced plans for legislation to strengthen legal protections for former soldiers who served in Northern Ireland—plans opposed by the Irish government.


Prime Minister Micheál Martin told the Irish parliament that the “deep wound” of crimes in Northern Ireland should be addressed under the 2014 Stormont House Agreement and its independent Historical Investigations Unit. The agreement was reached between the British and Irish governments and the major parties of Northern Ireland, according to Reuters.


Tensions over Brexit and claims that pro-British actors in Northern Ireland are being unfairly targeted by law enforcement helped drive Loyalist riots in the region in recent weeks. Demonstrations in support of British soldiers have taken place elsewhere in the U.K.


The Bloody Sunday killings in Derry in 1972 became notorious. In that incident, 28 civilians protesting internment were shot by soldiers of the Parachute Regiment, 13 of them fatally. While an initial government report exonerated the soldiers, a 2010 report rejected the soldiers’ claims they had fired in response to attacks by firebombs or stone throwing. Many of the soldiers lied about their actions, the report found.


The Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish-American Catholic group, has long supported families of the Ballymurphy victims.


Ancient Order of Hibernians national president Daniel O’Connell suggested that a just response to Ballymurphy could have helped limit the extent of the Troubles.


“To the families of the Ballymurphy victims, we salute your strength, faithfulness, and resilience as you fought a fight for justice for your relatives, a justice that should have been theirs as a birthright without the need of a half-century campaign,” said O’Connell, who also questioned plans for an amnesty.


“Morally, the United States cannot ignore human rights violations and the creation of a class above the law by Britain when similar acts have brought condemnation and sanction when perpetrated by an African or Asian state,” he added.


During the internment operation of the 1970s, thousands of people were displaced from their homes. Many fled across the border with Ireland, where the Irish government set up five camps for refugees and their families. Backlash against internment helped strengthen nationalism and the Irish Republican Army. Some 2,000 people would be interned, including about 100 loyalists.  


European Court on Human Rights initially ruled that 14 of the internees were subject to interrogation methods that amounted to torture, a decision it modified on appeal to say the internees faced inhuman and degrading treatment.


In the 1960s, Catholics in Northern Ireland began to push strongly for civil rights, voting rights, police reform, and an end to discrimination. Tensions turned violent in 1968 and lasted through the 1998 Good Friday agreement.


Some 3,600 people died in the conflict known as The Troubles, with combatants including Irish nationalist militants, pro-British unionist paramilitaries and the British military. The nationalist-unionist divide was largely along religious lines, with the nationalists overwhelmingly Catholic and the unionists heavily Protestant.

Phoenix bishop defends speaking out on Communion: ‘The care of souls is our first concern’

Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix celebrates Mass at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome on Feb. 12, 2020 / CNA

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

The Bishop of Phoenix said on Thursday that he is protecting the Eucharist, not “politicizing” it, by teaching that Catholic politicians cannot support abortion and receive Communion.

In an interview by EWTN Pro-Life Weekly that aired on Thursday, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix was asked to respond to claims that speaking out about pro-abortion Catholic politicians was “politicizing” the Eucharist.

“That’s not my intention at all. The Eucharist is the great treasure of the Church. And if it’s not being respected – if people don’t appreciate what this great treasure is – we need to help them understand that,” Bishop Olmsted told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly.

“The Second Vatican Council said that abortion is an unspeakable evil. If that’s true, how could someone who supports that, who requires others to pay for abortions – how could that not be a very serious sin and an obstacle for being ready to receive Christ appropriately in Holy Communion?” he asked.

Bishop Olmsted said it is his “duty” as a bishop to speak out on the matter.

“I think we bishops have a duty to speak as pastors. We’re not politicians, we’re pastors,” he said. “And that means the care of souls is our first concern, both the good of souls and anything that could be a scandal to them or could mislead them about what’s true and good and beautiful.”

Communion for pro-abortion politicians is once again a topic of discussion, as both President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are Catholics who support taxpayer-funded abortion. The Code of Canon Law 915 states that Catholics “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

The U.S. bishops conference was expected to discuss “Eucharistic coherence” this year, covering the matter of Communion for pro-abortion Catholic politicians but framing the discussion within the broader context of general worthiness to receive Communion among Catholics.

Bishop Olmsted issued a statement on May 6 on Catholic politicians who support permissive legislation on abortion.

Olmsted was supporting a pastoral letter by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, which clarified that Catholics cooperating with abortion should not receive Communion. Archbishop Cordileone begged Catholic politicians in particular to not support laws making abortion more available, as they would be formally cooperating in the evil of abortion.

“Woe to us bishops if we do not speak clearly about the grave evil of abortion, and the consequences of any Catholic who participates in the act or publicly supports it by word or action,” Bishop Olmsted stated on May 6.

On Thursday, he said that all Catholics, not just politicians, should “rediscover” the “gift” of the Eucharist, including by receiving it worthily and not being conscious of having committed a serious sin since their last confession.

Olmsted says this teaching applies to all Catholics – not just public figures who cooperate in the evil of abortion by supporting permissive abortion laws.

“We don’t want to single out any one group,” he said. “Especially as we come out of this time of COVID, we need to rediscover and have a much deeper awe and wonder at the mystery of the Real Presence of Christ with us.”

Last week, the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, sent a letter to Archbishop Jose Gomez on the matter of Communion and Catholic politicians who support permissive legislation on grave evils.

Cardinal Ladaria instructed the U.S. bishops, before issuing any “national policy” on Communion, to first have a “serene” dialogue among themselves and ensure unity on the Church’s teachings against pro-abortion laws.

Then the bishops should dialogue with Catholic politicians who support policies contrary to Church teaching. After that, the Vatican said, bishops could determine the next course of action to teach on the Eucharist – while respecting the rights of local ordinaries, framing the discussion within the larger context of general worthiness to receive Communion, and avoiding the appearance of narrowing the Church’s focus to only one or two issues such as abortion.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a Catholic who is pro-abortion, said on Thursday she was “pleased” at the document which she claimed “basically said ‘don’t be divisive on the subject’.”

Bishop Olmsted refuted notions that the Vatican document instructed the bishops to not speak out on Catholic politicians supporting pro-abortion policies.

“As I read the statement, it doesn’t say that at all,” he said. “It encourages us, as we certainly desire to do, to be listening to one another as bishops and conversing with one another, and also listening and being in conversation with those who are not following the Church’s teaching.”

“That’s part of how fraternal correction, or correction from a bishop to one of the laity, should take place, I think,” he said.

Abortion is of “preeminent” concern to the U.S. bishops’ conference, he said. “And it’s something that’s also stated very clearly by Pope Francis, when we visited him in Rome,” he added.

Public figures are in a position to protect innocent lives, including the unborn, he emphasized.

“And the least, the most vulnerable, the most innocent, is the unborn child,” he said.

Calls mount for Chicago-area religious orders to publish lists of members credibly accused of abuse

Credit: Unsplash.

Chicago, Ill., May 14, 2021 / 10:29 am (CNA).

Recent reporting from the Chicago Sun-Times has highlighted several religious orders active in Chicago that have not yet released lists of members credibly accused of sexual abuse, despite the archbishop’s request that they do so.

Two of those religious orders told CNA that they are in the process of compiling lists, and are considering how to make them public in a manner that respects both victims and clerics who have died.

Blase Cardinal Cupich of Chicago in 2018 requested that religious orders active in his local Church release lists of members credibly accused of sexual abuse.

While a religious order needs permission from a local bishop to engage in public ministry, an order’s members are governed by its religious superior. Nevertheless, the Sun-Times notes that the adjacent dioceses of Joliet and Rockford list on their websites religious clerics who are credibly accused of abuse and who are or were active in those dioceses.

In February, a Chicago archdiocesan spokesman told WTTW News: “We have been in discussions with religious orders about how their members, under their jurisdiction and control, who are credibly accused, are to be publicly listed,” adding that they anticipate the matter will be resolved “soon.”

Some orders active in the Chicago archdiocese, such as the Carmelites, have made lists of members credibly accused of abuse public. Others active in the archdiocese, such as the Augustinians and the Passionists, have not.

Father Donald Goergen, OP, Provincial Vicar for the Dominican Province of St. Albert the Great, told CNA that while the province has not yet published a list of members who have been credibly accused, “we have never made a decision not to publish such a list.”

“We have been working for some time on the process in order that we might make the best decisions possible,” Fr. Goergen said in an email to CNA.

Father Anthony Pizzo, Prior Provincial of the Augustinian Province of Our Mother of Good Counsel, told CNA in a statement that the province is “undergoing a process to ascertain whether to publish a public list.”

“The process to yield the public names must be reliable and fair to all involved, including those Augustinians who may now be dead and to those survivors of abuse who seek to maintain their peace,” Father Pizzo said.

“What must be made clear is that all living Augustinians with established allegations of abuse are not in public ministry and are subject to rigorous safety plans.”

The Missionaries of the Divine Word, which is based in Chicago, say they are in the process of compiling a list, while the Passionists told the Sun-Times they are “considering” publishing a list. The Passionists did not respond to CNA’s requests for further information.

The Archdiocese of Chicago also did not respond to CNA’s requests for information on this matter.

Texas passes ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban

Texas state capitol building / f11photo/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 14, 2021 / 09:15 am (CNA).

States continued a nationwide trend of enacting pro-life laws in 2021, with the Texas legislature passing a “heartbeat” bill this week, and Montana enacting funding restrictions on abortion providers.

The Texas state Senate on Thursday passed a ban on abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy. The measure now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) desk, where he is expected to sign it.

SB 8, introduced by state senators Bryan Hughes and Paul Bettencourt, passed the state senate by a vote of 18-12 on Thursday. The bill includes an exception for a medical emergency, but not for cases of rape and incest, according to the Texas Tribune. It would be enforced through private lawsuits and not government action.

The Texas Catholic Conference supported the legislation. A May 3 message from executive director Jennifer Allmon encouraged Catholics in the state to contact their legislators in support of the bill.

While other states, such as South Carolina, have passed similar “heartbeat” abortion bans, pro-abortion groups have challenged the laws in courts. A federal district court judge in March blocked South Carolina’s law from going into effect.

State legislatures around the country have introduced or enacted a slew of pro-life legislation in 2021. According to an April 30 report of the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, 536 pro-life bills had been introduced in 46 states by the end of April, with 61 new pro-life laws.

Montana’s governor Greg Gianforte (R) on Thursday signed a pro-life funding bill introduced by state Rep. Amy Regier. The measure prioritizes public health care funding for clinics that do not provide abortions; it also clarifies that taxpayer dollars cannot fund abortion-related services.

Under the federal Title X family planning program, federal grants cannot fund elective abortions. However, the Biden administration is seeking to loosen regulations of funding abortion providers, with the aim of once again directing Title X funding to clinics that refer for abortions or are co-located with abortion clinics.

“Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to subsidize the dangerous work of abortionists,” Denise Burke, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, stated on Thursday on Montana’s bill.

The legislation ensures “that Title X family planning funding and other healthcare funding streams are kept ‘separate and distinct from abortion-related activities,’” she said.

Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, withdrew from the federal Title X program in 2019 over the Trump administration’s Protect Life Rule; the organization received an estimated $60 million in annual funding under the program.

The 2019 rule sought to separate Title X funding from abortion-related services, by prohibiting funding of clinics referring for abortions or clinics that also provide abortions. Once the Biden administration rolls back these restrictions as expected, Planned Parenthood is expected to benefit from Title X funding once again.

Court upholds German municipality’s pro-life prayer vigil ban

Pavica Vojnović, leader of the pro-life prayer vigils in Pforzheim, Germany. / ADF International.

CNA Staff, May 14, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).

A German court dismissed on Friday a challenge to a municipality’s ban on a prayer vigil in front of a pre-abortion advisory center.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that the Karlsruhe Administrative Court handed down the judgment on May 14.

The challenge was spearheaded by Pavica Vojnović, who led the prayer vigils outside the Pro Familia advice center in Pforzheim, southwest Germany, organized by the group 40 Days for Life.

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

Reacting to the court’s decision, Vojnović said: “Every life is precious and deserves protection. I am saddened that we are prevented from supporting vulnerable women and their unborn children in prayer.”

“It saddens me that the court has dismissed our lawsuit, thus indirectly approving the ban on our silent prayer vigils near the abortion counseling center.”

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

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

Pavica Vojnović takes part in a 40 Days for Life event in Pforzheim, Germany. Credit: ADF International.
Pavica Vojnović takes part in a 40 Days for Life event in Pforzheim, Germany. Credit: ADF International.

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

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

Felix Böllmann, legal counsel for ADF International, a Christian legal group that supported Vojnović’s legal challenge, said: “We regret the court’s decision, which restricts freedom of expression, assembly, and religion.”

“We are still awaiting the reasons for the verdict, but the dismissal of the case obviously fails to recognize that freedom of expression is the foundation of any free and fair democracy. What kind of society denies prayer to women and children in need?”

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

He continued: “The fact that the Pforzheim authorities had banned even silent prayer near the abortion counseling center is not proportionate. Having a belief is a fundamental right, as is the right to express that belief through peaceful assembly or to pray silently in public.”

“Regardless of whether one shares their views in substance or not, there should be agreement that the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, religion, and assembly enjoy the protection of the Basic Law.”

Vojnović added: “Our society needs to provide better support to mothers in difficult situations. This issue touches me deeply because I have accompanied many women through this pain.”

“This is about more than our group in Pforzheim, namely also about whether prayer-free zones are allowed to exist, or whether one is allowed to hold different opinions in public space. That’s why we want to continue.”