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Oklahoma Catholic high school sued for $75M over alleged sex abuse 

Photo illustration. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 19, 2022 / 19:28 pm (CNA).

Ten current and former students, along with six parents or guardians, are suing a Catholic high school in Oklahoma — a school that they allege “fostered and allowed a rape culture” and “tolerated sexual harrassment and assault” by male students, teachers, and coaches for more than 10 years, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit, filed May 16 in Oklahoma County District Court, lists Mount St. Mary Catholic High School in Oklahoma City as a defendant. It also lists those who have authority over the school: the board of trustees, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, and the Sisters of Mercy.

The suit accuses three school leaders, who have since resigned, of playing a central role in the “commission of the assault and harassment” and covering it up: former principal Talita DeNegri, assistant principal Wendy Faires, and guidance counselor Mallory Tecmire.

“Despite being on actual and constructive notice of hundreds of incidents of sexual assault and harrassment … MSM [Mount St. Mary’s] did not take reasonable steps to report or stop the rampant rape culture and ongoing sexual abuse that lay just beneath the surface,” the lawsuit reads. “Rather, MSM shamed women and girls who reported, including the Student Plaintiffs and other victims, and allowed men and boys to continue harassing and assaulting women and girls, including the Student Plaintiffs.”

The lawsuit alleges a breach of contract, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, discrimination on the basis of sex and hostile educational environment harassment, public nuisance, and slander. Plaintiffs are seeking more than $75 million in damages.

One male student who attended the high school from 2017 to 2022 — identified as “X.R.” — is accused in the complaint of raping or assaulting numerous women, including three of the plaintiffs. One woman accused him of groping and kissing her while she was driving, the complaint states, while another said he assaulted her in a dark classroom.

Mount St. Mary leaders learned of these incidents, the lawsuit alleges, but did nothing about X.R. until news media reported on sexual abuse allegations at the school. X.R. has been or will be criminally charged, the lawsuit claims.

In response to the lawsuit, Mount St. Mary’s shared a statement with CNA from the school’s incoming principal, Laura Cain. 

“I have been made aware of the lawsuit but am unable to comment on pending legal situations,” Cain, who will serve as principal beginning on July 1, said. “What I can speak to is the confidence I have in the direction of Mount St. Mary Catholic High School. As an alumna and former parent, I know the pain our school's community has faced over the last six months. We must ensure that we maintain a compassionate environment where students can grow and excel. Our future provides an opportunity to not only educate, but to improve.”

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Sisters of Mercy did not respond with comment by time of publication.

When the archdiocese learned of the allegations last year, the staff contacted police, said Page Hauser, the archdiocese’s safe environment coordinator, the Associated Press reported. 

“They also worked with the governing board at the school to hire an independent investigator to look into the allegations, resulting in the resignation of three staff members,” Hauser said in a statement Wednesday.

'Br. Martin,' self-described monk with large Twitter following, says he won't heed bishop's warning

Martin Navarro, a layman and founder of the group the Oblates of St. Augustine, is refusing to obey his bishop's demands that he no longer fundraise, identify himself as "brother," dress in a habit, and construct a chapel in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. / Screenshot from YouTube video

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 19, 2022 / 18:40 pm (CNA).

A social media-savvy layman, who uses the title “Brother” and wears a habit, will not obey his bishop’s orders to cease presenting himself as a religious brother or member of a religious community. 

Nor will Martin Navarro  — whose “Br. Martin” Twitter account has more than 11,000 followers — acquiesce to Bishop James Johnston’s demands to stop fundraising in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and cease building an unauthorized chapel. 

“We're following the rules, we're following the guidelines, as well as being honest as who we are and what our intentions are,” Navarro said in a YouTube video posted May 17.

As to his practice of wearing a habit, he said, “it’s a free country, so to speak; you can wear whatever you want.”

Navarro, 31, has asked Johnston to formally recognize a Traditional Latin Mass religious group Navarro started called the Oblates of St. Augustine. 

Johnston denied the request. He also ordered the group to cease operating in the diocese.

The bishop issued the demands in a letter dated May 6 addressed to Navarro. Navarro made the letter public in the same YouTube video from May 17.

“I have not given nor will give approval or permission to explore, found, or establish the community about which you have previously inquired,” Johnston stated in the letter.

“I further direct that you do not use the religious title of ‘Brother Martin’ at any time nor dress in a religious habit, since in justice and truth, your canonical status is not one of membership within a religious community, such continued usage is both disingenuous and dishonest,” he added.

Bishop James Johnston of Kansas City-St. Joseph. CNA
Bishop James Johnston of Kansas City-St. Joseph. CNA

Johnston reiterated his demands “in order to emphasize the seriousness of my warning and prohibitions” at the end of the letter.

“I reiterate what I have made eminently clear above: do not call yourself ‘Brother,’ do not continue to present yourself within the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in any manner or means, including by wearing a religious habit, as a Brother or as a member of a religious community, do not ask for any funds or alms within the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph whether in person or on the Internet or other social media formats, and do not utilize an unapproved chapel within the Diocese of Kansas City St. Joseph,” he stated.

“Your request of me regarding your proposed formation of Oblates of Saint Augustine is, therefore, denied.”

Church law at issue

Navarro told CNA on May 18 that he will not comply with Johnston's orders.

The Oblates of St. Augustine community he leads is based in Weston, Missouri, a small town about a 40-minute drive north of Kansas City. It’s unclear how many men are in the group. Speaking to CNA, Navarro would only say that since founding the Oblates in 2020, “I’ve never been alone.”

The Oblates’ website describes the group as a “community of Traditional Roman Catholic men, faithful to the Traditional Roman Rite, the Holy Rule of St. Augustine, and the traditional formulations of the Catholic religion.” The group says it is devoted to the Traditional Latin Mass and breviary.

Navarro said the group is currently living on property leased to them by Mike Parrott, the host of a YouTube channel called Restoring the Faith Media. The group’s chapel in a converted garage already is under construction on the property, and nearing completion. Navarro told CNA the group has raised more than $161,000 for the monastery project. A separate funding drive accepts donations for the group members' living expenses.

Navarro’s “Br. Martin” Twitter account often tweets comments concerning an ongoing dispute between Parrot and the Church Militant media outlet which began over Parrot’s fundraising efforts on behalf of Father James Jackson, a priest of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter who is facing federal child pornography charges in Rhode Island.

In his letter, Johnston cited several canons, as well as Pope Francis’ 2020 motu proprio Authenticum charismatis, to support his authority over the group’s activities in his diocese.

Johnston warned that “failure to observe these provisions … could result in further disciplinary actions. Accordingly, this letter itself stands as due canonical warning of the same.”

Navarro, for his part, says Johnston is misinterpreting church law, and using it “to intimidate us from praying.”

Asked to respond to Navarro’s intention to defy Johnston, Ashlie Hand, communications director for the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, issued a statement to CNA Thursday night.

“Bishop Johnston has communicated appropriate guidance and next steps with Mr. Navarro regarding his request to establish the Oblates of St. Augustine in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph," Hand said. "Bishop Johnston intends any further communication to be private."

US bishops welcome Biden administration's easing of Cuba sanctions

Demonstrations in Havana against the government of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana, July 11, 2021. / Domitille P/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, May 19, 2022 / 13:10 pm (CNA).

The U.S. bishops’ chairman on international justice and peace on Thursday lauded the government’s decision to ease sanctions on Cuba. 

“We commend the Administration’s renewed interest in restarting U.S. engagement with Cuba. Recognizing that points of contention remain between our two countries, Cuba’s punitive isolation has not produced the economic and social change that the United States has sought to effect,” Bishop David Malloy of Rockford said May 19.

The Biden administration announced earlier this week that caps on family remittances sent to Cuba will be lifted, gifts to non-family members will be allowed, family reunification programs will be restarted, and travel to the island will be be more readily available.               

“The expansion of travel opportunities for U.S. citizens, as well as the lifting of onerous remittance limitations, will strengthen familial, economic, and social ties between our countries. Cuba’s developing civil society and private sector depend on the leadership provided by active U.S. civil society engagement in Cuba,” Malloy commented.

“The U.S. bishops, including the Cuban-American bishops, in conjunction with the Holy See and the bishops of Cuba, continue to stress the vital importance of bilateral engagement and mutually beneficial trade relations between the United States and Cuba as the key to transformative change on the island,” he said.

Official relations between the U.S. and Cuba were severed shortly after communist rule on the island was established in 1959, and the U.S. imposed an an embargo on travel and trade.

The Obama administration began making small changes to these policies in 2009, and restored diplomatic relations, but many of the changes were reversed under the administration of Donald Trump.

Protests took place across Cuba in July 2021 over concerns about inflation, shortages of food and medicine, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Some protesters were beaten, and thousands were arrested. Many demonstrators remain imprisoned.

Several U.S. lawmakers have opposed the easing of sanctions announced by the Biden administration.

“The Biden White House is rewarding the Western Hemisphere’s longest ruling communist dictatorship with high level talks, easing sanctions, increased travel, and access to U.S. financial institutions,” read a May 16 joint statement from Senator Marco Rubio and four other senators, who were joined by five House members. “Appeasing Cuba’s murderous regime … undercuts America’s support for Cuba’s democratic opposition.”

PHOTOS: Madrid launches holy year in honor of St Isidore the Farmer

Opening Mass for Archdiocese of Madrid’s Holy Year of St. Isidore on May 15, 2022. / Archdiocese of Madrid/Ignacio Arregui

Madrid, Spain, May 19, 2022 / 11:15 am (CNA).

Madrid has kicked off a holy year in honor of the 400th anniversary of the canonization of its patron saint, St. Isidore the Farmer.

During the jubilee year, which will last until May 15, 2023, pilgrims can receive a plenary indulgence by praying at the tomb of the 12th-century saint in the Spanish capital.

Cardinal Carlos Osoro Sierra, the archbishop of Madrid, launched the holy year with a Mass at the saint’s tomb on May 15.

“I thank Pope Francis for having granted us this year of grace for Madrid,” he wrote in his letter announcing the jubilee.

“I am sure that it will bring us many blessings and at the same time have effects on all continents, since we have a universal saint, with chapels, shrines, and fraternities all over the world.”

St. Isidore is buried together with his wife, Blessed Maria de la Cabeza, in the Collegiate Church of San Isidro in central Madrid.

Spaniards celebrated the feast of the patron saint of Madrid during a three-day holiday weekend in the capital city with a procession, music, and dancing in the Plaza Mayor.

Many dressed up in Madrid’s traditional clothing, known as “traje de chulapo(a)” in Spanish, which includes wearing a red carnation.

The Archdiocese of Madrid has many plans for the jubilee and has set up a resource webpage to keep pilgrims informed of special events being held in the saint’s honor throughout the year.

On May 21, St. Isidore’s tomb will be opened and his body exposed for veneration until May 29. There will also be processions with his body through the streets of Madrid on May 27 and May 28.

St. Isidore was canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1622, together with St. Francis Xavier, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Philip Neri, and St. Teresa of Avila.

Originally the canonization had been planned for St. Isidore alone, until the Vatican decided to add in the other four blesseds.

Isidore was a poor, humble farmer born in Madrid around 1070. Together with his wife, he pursued holiness through prayer, laboring in the fields, and sharing his possessions with the poor.

Despite the demands of working as a peasant farmer, Isidore prioritized prayer and daily Mass.

Today he is the patron saint of laborers and farmers, in addition to Madrid. Because of his canonization in the 17th century, devotion to St. Isidore quickly spread to many of Spain’s colonies in Latin America.

In his homily for the opening Mass for the holy year, Osoro described St. Isidore as “a husband and father … who knew how to imbue dignity in human work and who knew how to contemplate the face of the Lord.”

According to a decree from the Apostolic Penitentiary, pilgrims can obtain a plenary indulgence only during the holy year by praying at the tomb of St. Isidore in Madrid under the usual conditions of making a sacramental confession, receiving Holy Communion, and praying for the intentions of the pope.

The elderly and the sick who are unable to leave their homes can also obtain the indulgence by uniting themselves spiritually to the jubilee celebration, praying before a sacred image, and offering up their sufferings to God.

The Vatican has also granted the parish Church of St. Isidore the Farmer in Mexico City’s Reforma neighborhood the opportunity for pilgrims to obtain a plenary indulgence during the holy year until May 2023, according to ACI Prensa.

Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, archbishop emeritus of Mexico, opened a Holy Door at the parish on May 15.

“We hope for a renewal of faith and a conversion to the Lord, in the practice of a simple and daily life as St. Isidore teaches us to live faith and Christian charity,” Father Hugo Valdemar, the parish priest said.

Pope Francis joined by Bono for launch of international educational movement

Pope Francis meets Bono at the launch of the Scholas Occurrentes International Educational Movement at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome, May 19, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Rome Newsroom, May 19, 2022 / 09:54 am (CNA).

Pope Francis formally launched an international educational movement on Thursday in the presence of U2 singer Bono.

The pope inaugurated the Scholas Occurrentes International Educational Movement on May 19 during a meeting with young people at Rome’s Pontifical Urban University.

The 85-year-old pope sat in a wheelchair as he watched student presentations, before engaging in a question-and-answer session.

Bono asked Pope Francis about the role of women and girls in tackling the climate crisis. The pope replied by pointing out that people speak of “Mother Earth,” not “Father Earth,” and indicating that women played a leading role.

Scholas Occurrentes grew out of the Escuela de Vecinos (“Neighborhood School”) and Escuelas Hermanas (“Sister Schools”) programs, developed by the future Pope Francis when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The organization was established as a pontifical foundation in 2015, charged with supporting poor and underserved communities around the world through education.

The pope signed a decree known as a chirograph on March 19 establishing the pontifical foundation as a private association of the faithful of an international character.

“Taking into account that the Pontifical Foundation Scholas Occurrentes today continues to expand its beneficial action and to structure itself as a community of communities and an educational movement of international character, it requires a new juridical form in keeping with this new reality,” said the decree, released by the Vatican on May 17.

‘I felt I completely lost my soul’: Ex-military nurse battling addiction finds solace at Lourdes

Richard Johnson, left, and his brother Djay attend the 8th annual Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage on May 10-16, 2022. / Solène Tadié.

Lourdes, France, May 19, 2022 / 09:10 am (CNA).

In 2001, Richard Johnson suffered a major knee injury during an operation in Kosovo. The military nurse was given strong painkillers, which led him into an addiction that gradually dragged him into the abyss.

He spent the next 14 years in growing isolation and despair. When his family — practicing Catholics with a proud tradition of military service — lost all influence over him, they resolved to support him by prayer, from a distance.

“My family grieved me as I was basically gone,” Richard, 47, told CNA during the May 10-16 Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage. “I spent years in darkness, with no thought, no emotion. I felt I completely lost my soul, while my mom was praying the rosary continuously.”

He is aware, with hindsight, that it is thanks to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary that he emerged into the light.

In 2014, he experienced a psychotic break in which he lost all contact with reality. It took four years for him to come through it.

“One night, in 2018, in a totally sudden way, I heard the first thought in my mind in four years,” he recalled. “And I know now that all was connected. At that point, I felt what I would describe as a flood of grace. I felt at peace, started to feel emotions again, my soul was coming back.”

That night, Richard felt compelled to pray, even though he had cut himself off from his childhood faith as a teenager after his parents’ divorce, some 20 years earlier. A week later, a strong will to pray the rosary arose in him.

“I asked a Catholic friend I had in the Army to help me pray as I had forgotten everything,” he said. “Then I started reconnecting with people, with my faith and Scripture, and I became a completely new person. I felt a special draw to Our Lady and to Lourdes.”

This new path of faith led him back to his older brother, Djay, to whom he was close in his youth, before his addiction put an end to their relationship.

Solène Tadié.
Solène Tadié.

Djay, 51, a retired Army staff sergeant, accompanied Richard on the Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage, co-sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA.

Each year, around a hundred soldiers “in need” are selected from across the country by the leadership of Warriors to Lourdes, which covers the trip’s expenses. More than 175 active-duty personnel and veterans took part in this year’s pilgrimage, led by Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio.

Participants in the Warriors to Lourdes program are offered a daily English-speaking Mass and “faith and fellowship” sessions. They can also join in activities related to the International Military Pilgrimage, which took place this year on May 13-15 and brought together around 10,300 pilgrims from 42 countries.

Djay told CNA: “During the high of Richard’s drug addiction, I couldn’t help him as when one is addicted, one doesn’t listen to anyone. So I spent a lot of time with God, preparing for his arrival to come back home.”

Djay decided to write spiritual stories to encourage all those who, like his brother, are struggling with addiction and depression. His unshakeable faith allowed him to accompany his brother on his spiritual journey as he began to recover.

Although they lived far away from each other, their relationship was strengthened through long, regular phone conversations about God and their interior lives.

“We had spent over 20 years away from each other, but our conversations picked up as if we never parted ways, we were so excited to talk,” Richard remembered.

He noted that their bond had reached new heights during their pilgrimage to Lourdes, which, he said, marked the culmination of a three-year spiritual journey.

For Richard, the Knights of Columbus’ decision to select him and his brother — who also suffers from significant health problems — for the pilgrimage to Lourdes is also a matter of providence.

Solène Tadié.
Solène Tadié.

In 2021, a month after he consecrated himself to the Virgin Mary, Richard experienced serious health issues that confined him to a hospital for several weeks.

“Although I was very ill, I knew Our Lady would intercede again,” he said. “One day, a priest counseling me at the hospital told me about the Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage. He encouraged me to apply, and everything fell into place.”

Richard now approaches life with unprecedented serenity and gratitude. He came to Lourdes, the city where the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous, with the desire to discover how best to use his past experience to serve God. He is now convinced that sharing his testimony, especially through writing, will help many people, especially as the opioid crisis continues to take its toll in the United States.

“Me and my brother want to share what we’ve been through and tell people that no matter how far down one is, how dark it is, there is hope, because God still cares,” Richard said.

“I was there, I experienced that and God took me from where I was.”

He added: “This trip to Lourdes brought me a profound healing and my heart is in a state of complete thanksgiving.”

“I’m being emotional just being here. Every time I receive Holy Communion here, I want to weep. Same with the anointing of the sick.”

“It’s been such an awakening for my soul, and I’ve become a truly new person in Christ.”

George Weigel on what the Vatican can learn from JPII’s diplomacy with Russia

St. John Paul II (1920-2005). / Itto Ogami via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0).

Rome, Italy, May 19, 2022 / 06:23 am (CNA).

John Paul II began his pontificate with the words “Be not afraid” — a phrase that the Polish pope’s biographer believes can be applied to Vatican diplomacy with Russia and China today.

George Weigel, author of the bestselling biography “Witness to Hope,” spoke in Rome on May 18, the 102nd anniversary of St. John Paul II’s birth.

John Paul II had a “determination to speak the truth no matter what … to describe situations accurately, and to call tyrannical regimes to conversion,” Weigel told CNA.

“I think that the antiphon ‘Be not afraid’ was embodied in this determination to speak truth to power, as he did at the United Nations in 1979 [and] to call communist regimes to honor the commitments they had made to human rights, especially religious freedom.”

On John Paul II’s birthday, Weigel delivered a lecture at the Angelicum, the pontifical university in Rome where the future pope studied from 1946 to 1948.

In his speech, Weigel outlined key lessons from “the statecraft of a saint,” in particular with regard to the Holy See’s diplomatic relationships with authoritarian regimes.

George Weigel at the Angelicum in Rome, May 18, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
George Weigel at the Angelicum in Rome, May 18, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

“As a keen student of the human condition, he understood that bad actors behave badly because of who they are, what they espouse, and what they seek, not because of anything ‘we’ did to ‘them,’” Weigel said.

“Thus he could focus on the issues at hand — religious freedom and other basic human rights in the communist world.”

At a time when Pope Francis has faced criticism in some quarters for not condemning President Vladimir Putin by name and for not publicly addressing human rights violations in China, Weigel said that the Vatican ought to realize that “appeasement of communist regimes never works.”

Weigel argued that the Vatican’s pursuit of Ostpolitik, a diplomatic strategy championed by Cardinal Agostino Casaroli in the 1970s that avoided public condemnation of communism’s human rights breaches for the sake of reaching diplomatic agreements, failed to achieve its goal of guaranteeing “the Church’s freedom to live its sacramental life by its own standards.”

“This unwillingness to grasp the lessons of the failures of the 1970s continues today. And it has seriously diminished the moral authority of the Vatican and the Catholic Church in world arenas,” he commented.

Weigel said that the Holy See had revived Casaroli’s Ostpolitik approach in its dialogue with the governments of Syria, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, China, and now Russia.

“Most recently, the return of the Casaroli approach has led to a sense of abandonment among Ukrainian Catholics, who recognize and lament the chimerical character of the stated intention of Vatican diplomacy to position itself as a broker between Ukraine and Russia,” he said.

Weigel underlined that “St. John Paul II always insisted, correctly, that he was neither diplomat nor politician. He was, rather, a pastor, who in exercising his pastoral responsibilities had things to say to the world of political power.”

“Time and again, in venue after venue, John Paul II lifted up the first freedom, religious freedom … Because of that papal megaphone, the resistance Church behind the Iron Curtain knew it had a champion; those in the West committed to supporting the resistance Church in central and eastern Europe were inspired to intensify their efforts; and all the while, the Soviet rationale for its ‘social model’ was being systematically undercut in the order of ideas,” he said.

John Paul II also listened to and honored the persecuted Church, which Weigel said had an important effect on the Holy See’s diplomatic action in world politics at the time.

He added that this lesson could be put into practice today by listening to the voices of those living under the rise of an assertive China or facing the lethal threat posed by jihadism to Christian communities in Africa.

“Lifting up the witness of the living martyr-confessors publicly and persistently might also afford them a measure of protection, while helping to sustain islands of civil society essential to future progress toward justice and peace in Cuba, China, the Middle East, and Africa,” he said.

Weigel also shared a story of how John Paul II rejected a proposal from the communist authorities in Poland in the mid-1980s to open a national dialogue on the country’s future with the Church acting as an interlocutor.

The decision was based on John Paul II’s ecclesiology that “the Church could not be a partisan political actor because that contradicted the Eucharistic character of the Church” and that, while “the Church formed the people who formed the civil society and the political institutions that did the work of politics, the Church as such was not a political agent, although the Church obviously had a voice in civil society.”

John Paul II’s witness, in this case, offers a lesson that “the cause of freedom, and the cause of the Church, are best served when statesmen and churchmen think long-term and do not bracket or minimize core principles for what can seem immediate advantage,” he said.

This lesson, in particular, “should also raise cautions about the Holy See’s evident push for full diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.”

“In the present circumstances, any such deal would require the Vatican to sever its diplomatic exchange with the Republic of China on Taiwan — the first Chinese democracy in history. What signal would such a deal, at such a price, send about the Catholic Church’s vision of China’s future?” he asked.

“What signal would it send about the Church’s concern for the hard-pressed and often-persecuted elements of civil society that exist in China today and are pressing for a non-authoritarian and open future?”

In pursuing diplomatic strategies that require the pope and the Vatican to avoid public condemnation of human rights violations, the Holy See risks “losing its moral authority,” he said.

“Vatican concessions … have been made to a regime whose totalitarian character has been underscored by its stated determination to ‘Sinicize’ all religions, thus subordinating them to the party-state; by its internal handling of the COVID-19 pandemic — which it likely caused and certainly exacerbated; by its systematic violation of treaty-guaranteed civil liberties in Hong Kong; and by its genocide of the Muslim Uyghurs,” Weigel said.

“I think this is a very sad situation, particularly with respect to China. The tepid response to the arrest of Cardinal Zen leads to the deterioration of the moral authority of the Holy See,” he told CNA.

For sexual abuse victims in Santa Fe archdiocese, $122 million settlement a 'next step'

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe, N.M. / Nagel Photography/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, May 18, 2022 / 16:42 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe has agreed on a $121.5 million bankruptcy settlement to provide compensation for hundreds of sexual abuse victims, the archdiocese announced Tuesday.

“The Church takes very seriously its responsibility to see the survivors of sexual abuse are justly compensated for the suffering they have endured,” Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe said May 17. “It is our hope that this settlement is the next step in the healing process of those who have been harmed.”

The alleged sexual abuse victims involved in the settlement number more than 370, and some incidents of abuse date back more than 60 years, KOB 4 News reports. When the archdiocese first filed for bankruptcy in November 2018, it faced only 35 to 40 active claims.

“We in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe never cease to keep those who have been harmed by sexual abuse our first priority. We must keep our children safe; it is a responsibility we all share,” Wester said.

“It is our sincere hope that all parties will see the wisdom of the settlement and help bring the bankruptcy case to a conclusion for the good of the survivors of sexual abuse, the good of the Church, and Catholics throughout the archdiocese,” he said.

There were a total of six mediation efforts before the settlement was reached. The bankruptcy plan of the archdiocese’s Chapter 11 reorganization will be filed with the bankruptcy court.

Settlement funds will not pay for the archdiocese’s attorney fees and other expenses, which will be paid from separate funds.

The settlement will be funded by the archdiocese, its parishes, other Catholic entities, and the insurance carriers of the archdiocese. Parishes have collectively agreed to contribute “significant amounts” to help fund the settlement plan.

“These contributions will also help relieve them of potential individual financial burdens from any current or future lawsuits,” the archdiocese said. “Other parties have also agreed to contribute in return for the same protections.”

According to the archdiocese, the settlement includes “many critical non-monetary actions,” including the creation of an archive documenting sex abuse, prayer services, and meetings with victims of sexual abuse.

“The archdiocese hopes that these and other positive steps will help to bring healing to survivors of sexual abuse and the larger community,” its statement said.

One alleged abuse victim, identified only as Ana, told KOB 4 News she was sexually abused for all of seventh grade and part of eighth grade.

“It’s just all very traumatic,” she said of her abuse. “I don’t know that there would ever be an amount that would make that better or worth it because I can’t speak for anybody but myself. I would have done anything to not have survived that, and just have had a regular middle school experience.”

She said she has gone through years of legal mediation and has had to revisit her trauma in legal proceedings. In her view, this needed to happen so that she and other abuse survivors could move on.

“I need peace,” she told KOB 4 News. “I need closure, and I need to know that in some way, that it’s been settled.”

The archdiocese said it “remains vigilant” and has maintained a “zero tolerance” policy towards sex abuse for over 25 years. It follows the child protection procedures of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, including background checks for prospective employees and “regular and frequent” safe environment training for every employee and volunteer.

“This is to provide a safe environment for the young people in the Catholic community,” the archdiocese said.

In 2021, the archdiocese aimed to sell off over 700 properties to help pay off settlements. Most properties were small vacant lots, fields, or grazing land donated to the archdiocese by families.

In August 2020, the archdiocese listed the vacant St. Francis Cathedral School in downtown Santa Fe for $3.6 million. It sold for $4.75 million in June 2021 to former golf pro Racquel Huslig, who is now a real estate developer, The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported last year.

Last year’s annual report by the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection, covering the time period from July 2019 through June 2020, found that there were under two dozen recent cases of abuse reported, only about 25% of which had been substantiated so far. At the same time, over 4,200 new allegations of historic abuse were reported, concerning victims who are now legal adults and incidents years or decades ago.

Statistical graphs of the dates of reported abuse incidents continued to show a bell curve that peaks in the 1970s. The report said that since 2014, total costs to U.S. dioceses related to responding to sexual abuse claims, including settlements and attorneys’ fees, were close to $312 million.

TikTok lifts ban on Ruth Sent Us. Here's what we know about this anti-Catholic group

Pamela Smith dressed as characters of "The Handmaids Tale" walks with a noose around her neck as she joins pro-choice protesters gather in large numbers in front of the federal building to defend abortion rights in San Francisco on May 3, 2022. / Nick Otto/AFP via Getty Images

Denver Newsroom, May 18, 2022 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

TikTok's "permanent" ban on the anti-Catholic, pro-abortion group Ruth Sent Us didn't last very long.

The activist group in recent weeks has made headlines for coordinating protests outside the homes of U.S. Supreme Court justices, rallying demonstrators to disrupt Catholic Masses on Mother’s Day, and threatening to burn the Eucharist.

On May 14 the group’s main account was “permanently banned" from TikTok "due to multiple violations of terms of service,” according to a message on the social media platform.

But two days later, Ruth Sent Us announced that the ban was lifted.

“GREAT NEWS: our TikTok @ruthsent which was ‘permanently banned’ due to mass reporting is back up due to mass appeals! There’s more of us than them. Take that, haters!” the group tweeted. TikTok has yet to explain the ban, or its rapid reversal.

Unlike NARAL Pro-Choice America, Women’s March, and other better-known, well-funded abortion rights groups, Ruth Sent Us has no publicly known leaders, spokespersons, or financial backers. Its low-budget website, RuthSent.Us, is little more than a bare-bones homepage with a handful of links.

Yet the group’s inflammatory rhetoric and provocative, theatrical tactics have thrust it into the forefront of the media’s coverage of the furor surrounding a possible overturning of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion throughout the U.S.

And the Catholic Church is one of its prime targets.

On Feb. 27 — months before the May 2 leak of a draft opinion that suggested Supreme Court justices were poised to overturn Roe — Ruth Sent Us took responsibility for disrupting Mass at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in San Francisco. Demonstrators wore hooded red gowns inspired by the television series “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Similarly dressed demonstrators disrupted Mass on Mother's Day, May 8, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, but Ruth Sent Us has not taken responsibility for that incident. 

The group contends that the Supreme Court is “extremist” and should be held accountable “using a diversity of tactics.” It demands that pro-abortion rights Catholics, including President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, engage in further activism or legislation to preserve legal abortion. On its social media, the group frequently rails against Catholicism and “Christian Fascism.” Some of its coalition partners also embrace “anti-fascism” and protests outside of churches.

Here’s a closer look behind the group.

Who is Ruth Sent Us?

“Ruth Sent Us” has a social media presence on TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram. The group promotes protests of political figures, judges and organizations, including churches, which oppose legal abortion or the Roe v. Wade decision.

The group is part of a coalition of like-minded pro-abortion rights groups that aims to rally protests in support of Roe and other pro-abortion rights precedents which mandate legal abortion nationwide.

Its webpage RuthSent.Us lists no identifying information about its leadership. While it lists an email address, the group has no mailing address. Instead, it refers visitors to a pro-abortion rights action called “Strike for Choice,” set for May 8-15. Ruth Sent Us is one of 12 groups backing this action.

There are no indications whether Ruth Sent Us is a registered business or a registered non-profit or whether it has an official fiscal sponsor.

What else do we know?

A WhoIs webpage registration shows that the Ruth Sent Us website was set up in November 2020 and has a Palo Alto, California-based post office box. The RuthSent.Us web domain name is registered to an individual named Sam Spiegel.

Spiegel’s Twitter profile mentions direct democracy mass mobilization strategy “to jam media with vigil and protest stories.” His Twitter page links to Vigil for Democracy, a self-described “mass mobilizing” group whose Twitter account shares Ruth Sent Us tweets to its 5,000 or so followers.

People protest in reaction to the leak of the US Supreme Court draft abortion ruling on May 3, 2022 in New York. Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images
People protest in reaction to the leak of the US Supreme Court draft abortion ruling on May 3, 2022 in New York. Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images

The Vigil for Democracy is presently an LLC with a Phoenix, Arizona mailing address, but business records show it once had the same California post office box as Ruth Sent Us.

The web registration for the Ruth Sent Us protest group uses the same email as Vigil for Democracy.

The costumed protesters’ web page embedded a Google map of “extremist justices” created by the Vigil for Democracy group to list the streets on which several Supreme Court justices lived. The map was later removed by Google for possible terms of service violations.

What do we know about the Vigil for Democracy group?

Snowden Bishop, radio show host and editor-in-chief at a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based cannabis business magazine, identifies herself as the principal for the Vigil for Democracy and another group, Just Resisting, on her public LinkedIn page. In these roles, she said, “she promotes pro-democracy initiatives and continues to pursue projects aligned with her personal mission to create a better world, one word at a time.” She claims expertise in journalism, marketing, content creation, and political strategy/activism.

In a May 10 phone-call, Bishop told CNA that the Vigil for Democracy group supports “activism of all kinds” but it is not directly in charge of the Ruth Sent Us group.

Bishop did not respond to a follow-up email by deadline. CNA sought comment from Ruth Sent Us and from the email listed on the RuthSent.Us web domain registration but did not receive a response by deadline.

Why “Ruth Sent Us”? Why costumed protesters?

“Ruth Sent Us” was a slogan used in the wake of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a strong backer of abortion rights. A periodical search indicates that the phrase was first reported in a September 2020 protest outside then-Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home, when the Senate was proceeding with the confirmation of Justice Amy Comey Barrett.

Pro-abortion rights women’s marches used the phrase in October of that year. One year later, the Women’s March of South Florida used “Ruth Sent Us” as the theme for its October 2021 protests.

While costumed protests have taken place for years, the Ruth Sent Us group did not appear in mainstream news media reports until early May 2022. It made the news for two reasons: It posted a map of the streets where U.S. Supreme Court justices lived, and it linked its previous church disruption to other activists’ calls for pro-abortion rights protests on Mother’s Day.

The protesters’ costumes take inspiration from a television series based on Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The pro-feminist dystopian novel portrays life under a bizarre and tyrannical variant of Christianity that forces young women to bear children for older couples. In the novel, the sect also proscribes Catholicism and executes Catholic priests.

What is this Strike for Choice? Why Mother’s Day protests?

The Ruth Sent Us group backs a May 8-15 protest called Strike for Choice. Its social media call for Mother’s Day protests at churches was not originally part of this action, since the relevant TikTok video was posted on April 27.

In a May 3 tweet, the group posted the video and sought to link their efforts to a call for a Mother’s Day Strike. That separate call to action was other pro-abortion rights activists’ response to the leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion that appears set to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The Strike for Choice website calls for protests of Whole Foods and AT&T. This protest aims to pressure the Texas-based Whole Foods to speak out against the recent Texas abortion law and to pressure AT&T over its campaign contributions to legislators who passed the law.

A sign-up form for the strikes seeks participants in various ways of protest, including as both unpaid and paid protesters.

What do we know about Ruth Sent Us allies?

The Strike for Choice website lists 12 groups in its coalition. The best known of these is Code Pink, a women’s activist anti-war group that dates back to 2002. It had been founded to protest the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The Vigil for Democracy group is the fiscal host of a fundraiser for the Strike for Choice at the Open Collective fundraising site. As of May 10, the group had raised under $1,400. Some 15 individuals had contributed at least $58 each to support a “striker.” It is unclear whether the money for Strike for Choice participants includes Ruth Sent Us demonstrators.

Refuse Fascism and its project Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights are two more backers of the Strike for Choice.

On its Twitter page, Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights said it protested outside St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in New York City on Mother’s Day because “it’s a symbol for the enslavement of women.” It said “Christian fascist lunatics” on the Supreme Court aim to overturn Roe v. Wade, adding “only the people can stop this.”

The protest, which did not disrupt church services but did block a pro-life walk to an area abortion clinic, drew dozens of people to the historic Catholic church.

What does Ruth Sent Us think of Catholicism?

A TikTok video of the group’s Feb. 27 disruption at San Francisco’s Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption gives us an idea.

“For 2,000 years the Catholic Church has been an institution for the enslavement of women,” one costumed disruptor shouted at the front of the cathedral. This first disruption video, titled “take it to the oppressors,” drew about 234,000 views on TikTok.

On its social media Ruth Sent Us has polemicized against Catholicism and even threatened to burn the Eucharist.

It also objects to a Catholic majority on the Supreme Court.

“Seven of nine Justices on our Supreme Court are Catholic. That’s 78% of Justices, compared to 23% in the population. WHY?!” the group said in its Feb. 27 TikTok post.

Neil Gorsuch reportedly was raised Catholic. Sonia Sotomayor is expected to be a safe vote to preserve Roe v. Wade.

What does Ruth Sent Us say about itself?

On Twitter May 15, the group invoked anti-segregation sit-in protests of the civil rights movement, saying “Extremist Catholic and Evangelical Churches and Judges are 'lunch counters' of today,” using a hashtag to ask “What would Martin Luther King do”?

It contends that protests backed by Planned Parenthood and NARAL are “massive rallies” that are “easy with social media” but ineffective. Ruth Sent Us contended that “direct action” and intentional crossing of “societal red lines” is a more effective path. Its comments sometimes praise peaceful action but also declare the need to make its foes uncomfortable.

“To fight the theocracy, we believe we must take it to extremist judges and churches,” the group said.

Pro-life groups see double standard

Some pro-life advocates see a double standard in how a group like Ruth Sent Us is treated by TikTok and other social media platforms.

“The social media platform pro-abortion bias cannot be denied,” Caroline Wharton, a staff writer with the pro-life group Students for Life of America, told CNA. “It's very conspicuous that pro-abortion groups are allowed to exercise their freedom of speech, even up to and including violating the law, while pro-life groups like Students for Life of America get arrested for merely chalking public sidewalk.”

In August 2020, police arrested both an employee and a student member of Students for Life for writing the pro-life message “Pre-born Black Lives Matter” on the sidewalk outside a Washington, D.C., Planned Parenthood clinic. 

Link: https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/45384/pro-life-protestors-arrested-for-sidewalk-chalk

“There are double standards on these apps, and every effort is taken to drown out the voices for the vulnerable preborn,” Wharton said.

In late January 2020, the pro-life group LiveAction was banned from TikTok for allegedly violating “multiple community guidelines” and then reinstated quickly. TikTok said the ban was a result of human error by a moderator.

LiveAction was permanently banned from Pinterst in 2019 for alleged misinformation regarding vaccines and “medically inaccurate information and conspiracies that turn individuals and facilities into targets for harassment and violence.”

The group rejected the allegations.

Before LiveAction was banned, former Pinterest employee Eric Cochran, a reputed whistleblower, said that the social media company had classified as a conspiracy theory the reports from investigative journalist and activist David Daleiden, who has explored connections between abortion providers and possible illegal sales of fetal tissue from abortions.

Link: https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/41547/pinterest-suspends-pro-life-groups-account-citing-health-misinformation

TikTok’s terms of service bar any material which is “defamatory,” “hateful” or “inflammatory.” Its terms bar material that is discriminatory on the basis of religion, among other characteristics. The terms of service bar “any material that would constitute, encourage or provide instructions for a criminal offense,” as well as “any material that is deliberately designed to provoke or antagonise people, especially trolling and bullying, or is intended to harass, harm, hurt, scare, distress, embarrass or upset people.”

CNA contacted TikTok for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.

CNA staff writer Katie Yoder contributed to this story.

John Paul II’s mom chose life after her doctor advised an abortion

Karol Wojtyla with his parents. Photo courtesy of the Dicoese of Krakow. / null

Rome Newsroom, May 18, 2022 / 12:01 pm (CNA).

Over one hundred years ago on May 18, Emilia Wojtyla gave birth to her second son, Karol, after a difficult and life-threatening pregnancy. The child would grow up to be St. John Paul II.

In a new book published in Poland, Milena Kindziuk describes how St. John Paul II’s mother was advised to get an abortion.

“She had to choose between her own life and that of the baby she was carrying, but her deep faith did not allow Emilia to choose abortion,” Kindziuk said in an interview with ACI Stampa.

“Deep in her heart she had to be ready to make this sacrifice for the baby she was carrying,” she said.

In her book, “Emilia and Karol Wojtyla. Parents of St. John Paul II,” Kindziuk cites the testimony of a midwife, Tatarowa, and the reports of her two friends, Helena Szczepańska and Maria Kaczorowa, as well as the memories of other Wadowice residents. She said that these showed that Emilia Wojtyla was depressed by the insistence of her first doctor, Dr. Jan Moskała, that she have an abortion.

She said that Emilia and Karol Wojtyla “made a bold decision that, regardless of everything, their conceived baby was to be born. And so they started looking for another doctor.”

They ultimately chose Dr. Samuel Taub, a Jewish doctor from Krakow, who had moved to Wadowice after the First World War.

“Emilia's friends have kept memories of that visit. The doctor confirmed that there was a risk of complications during childbirth, including Emilia's death. However, he did not suggest an abortion,” Kindziuk said.

“Emilia had a bad pregnancy: she spent most of her time lying down and still had less strength than usual,” she said. “In this situation, Dr. Taub recommended the woman to lie down, rest often and feed herself very well.”

On the day of the birth, May 18, 1920, “Emilia lay in her apartment in Kościelna street, in the living room … in the presence of a midwife,” Kindziuk explained.

At the same time Karol Sr. and their 13-year-old son Edmund had gone out around 5 p.m. to participate in the prayer of the Divine Office in the parish church across the street where they sang the Litany of Loreto, she added.

“We know from the messages that Emilia asked the midwife to open the window: she wanted the first sound her son could hear to be a song in honor of Mary. In short, Emilia Wojtyla gave birth to her son, listening to the song of the Litany of Loreto,” she said.

St. John Paul II also told his personal secretary Stanislaw Dziwisz that he was born to the litany in honor of the Mother of God, she said, adding that he was elected pope at the same time of day that he was born.

The sainthood causes of St. John Paul II’s parents were formally opened in Poland in May. Karol, a Polish Army lieutenant, and Emilia, a school teacher, were married in Krakow Feb. 10, 1906. The Catholic couple gave birth to three children: Edmund in 1906; Olga, who died shortly after her birth; and Karol in 1920.

Before she died of a heart attack and liver failure in 1929, Emilia was a staple of faith for the household. At the time of her death, the young Karol Wojtyla was a month away from his ninth birthday.

This article was originally published on CNA on May 18, 2020.