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Doctors, hospitals, fight 'transgender mandate' in federal court

Washington D.C., Mar 4, 2021 / 09:32 am (CNA).- Doctors can’t be forced to perform gender-transition surgeries against their conscientious beliefs, argued attorneys for doctors and hospitals on Wednesday before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Fifth Circuit judges heard oral arguments on Wednesday in Franciscan Alliance v. Cochran, the case of the federal “transgender mandate.” The mandate dates back to 2016, when the Obama administration interpreted a provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to require procedures—such as gender-transitioning and abortions—to be available upon request.

The 2016 mandate did not include conscience exemptions, thus forcing almost all doctors and hospitals around the country to provide gender-transitioning procedures upon the referral of a mental health professional—regardless of their moral or professional opposition to doing so.

“Religious liberty law protects doctors from having to violate their conscience in order to perform these highly-controversial procedures that they believe harm the patients they are performed on,” said Joe Davis, legal counsel at Becket, in an interview with CNA on Wednesday.

Sec. 1557 of the ACA prohibits discrimination in health care on a number of cases including race, sex, and disability. The Obama administration interpreted “sex” discrimination to include termination of pregnancy and gender identity—thus forbidding denial of abortions and gender-transitioning.

The mandate is attached to federal Medicare and Medicaid funds—which almost every doctor receives, Davis explained. The mandate also could be enforced by private lawsuits against doctors who won’t provide the requested procedures, he said.

After the 2016 mandate, more than 19,000 healthcare professionals, nine states, and several religious organizations filed two lawsuits. Two federal courts in December, 2016, placed an injunction on the mandate.

Two more federal district court judges ruled against the mandate in 2019 and 2020. The doctors and hospitals before the Fifth Circuit on Wednesday were seeking permanent relief from the mandate, Davis said.

The Trump administration issued a new rule protecting doctors who opposed the transgender mandate last summer, but a federal court put an injunction on that action.

President Biden, meanwhile, stated his administration will interpret federal anti-discrimination laws to also cover gender identity discrimination—thus taking the Obama administration’s stance and signaling that they could re-impose the full transgender mandate.

On Wednesday, judges asked attorneys for HHS if they could ensure doctors wouldn’t be forced against their beliefs to provide the procedures.

“HHS couldn’t answer the question, they couldn’t give that assurance,” Davis said. “That’s exactly what they are seeking to do, and that’s why we need protection from the courts.”

The Fifth Circuit, he added, “seemed dissatisfied” with HHS’ answer and “generally seemed to understand the principle that religious liberty is so important, that a violation of religious freedom should result in lasting protection in those cases.”

There is not a consensus within the medical community on gender-transition surgeries, Davis noted.

The mandate "is also a shocking move given the science, in which many doctors disagree for entirely medical reasons about the efficacy of performing these procedures, especially on children, who often desist from gender dysphoria on their own without medical interventions,” Davis said.

Cardinal Grech to Irish bishops: ‘A synodal process promises an ecclesial springtime’

CNA Staff, Mar 4, 2021 / 08:30 am (CNA).- Cardinal Mario Grech told Irish bishops that embarking on a “synodal process” could lead to an “ecclesial springtime.”

In an address published on the Irish bishops’ conference website on March 4, the Secretary General of Synod of Bishops said that it was “more than understandable” that the bishops might worry about whether embarking on a “synodal process” was “the right decision.”

He said: “But keep in mind the assurance given to us by the Holy Father: ‘it is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium.’ A synodal process promises an ecclesial springtime -- a rebirth of an authentic Church.” 

The Maltese cardinal gave the address -- entitled “Towards a Synodal Irish Church” -- on Feb. 3. Sr. Nathalie Becquart, one of two new under-secretaries of the Synod of Bishops, also took part in the meeting.

The Tablet, a British Catholic weekly, reported on March 1 that a committee of six Irish bishops had begun working on plans for a national synod and received advice from Grech.

An Irish national synod would add to a growing number of similar initiatives.

The Catholic Church in Germany embarked in December 2019 on a “Synodal Path”: a process bringing together lay people and bishops to discuss four major topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.

In January, Pope Francis encouraged the Italian Church to hold its own national synod. 

The Australian Church, meanwhile, is planning to hold the first plenary council since 1937 in October.

In his speech, Grech said that the Irish bishops were “gearing up to take on a missionary attitude and help the Church in Ireland to go out and reach the fringes of humanity.”

“Some may get startled when they learn that the bishops in Ireland are in a missionary mood because traditionally your nation was one of the world’s most deeply and most stable Catholic countries,” the 64-year-old cardinal observed. 

“But as the Holy Father acknowledges, ‘Christendom no longer exists.’”

Grech said it was clear that “a new evangelization or a re-evangelization” was necessary throughout the Western world.

The cardinal recalled that Bishop Paul Dempsey, who was appointed bishop of Achonry in January 2020, had asked at a previous meeting how Catholicism could thrive in Ireland “considering that the Church’s reputation has been shattered by scandals, and that the majority of interlocutors, although baptized, fall outside the Catholic mainstream model -- divorced remarried, non-practicing Catholics etc.”

He said that “the synodal way” was one answer to the challenges facing the Church. 

“If the church wants to become a missionary church, then it has to be a synodal Church, for synodality is not just a methodological choice, but the mode of being of a church which wants to go out in mission,” he said. 

“Indeed, synodality is not only a ‘methodos’ but an ‘odos,’ not only a method but a way towards a re-thinking of the Church’s role in contemporary society. Indeed, synodality is at the way towards a Church which is in a permanent state of a mission.”

He outlined the characteristics of “synodality” -- the topic of the next assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome in October 2022 -- saying that while the Synod is “essentially an episcopal body,” it should also strive to “give voice to the entire People of God.”

“Now, if this process of wide participation is fundamental for the Synod of Bishops, a fortiori it is an indispensable element for other synodal processes which go beyond the strict synodal structure,” he said.

He suggested that this would require “an ecclesiological conversion.”

“To be implemented at all levels of the Church, synodality needs ‘leaders’ capable of leading and accompanying synodal processes. Synodality cannot be fostered and implemented without the service of those who exercise authority,” he said.

“But this requires this new style of leadership inspired by Pope Francis’s primacy of ‘listening,’ which can be characterized as collaborative leadership; no longer vertical and clerical but more horizontal and cooperative. A servant leadership that is a way of exercising authority conceived as a service of freedom.”

Addressing the bishops’ potential reservations about launching a “synodal process,” Grech commented: “The moment we embark on a synodal process, we will open the way for Jesus to visit us. It is a Kairos. The fact that the people of God (and here I am referring to all the baptized, bishops and clergy included) are still not spiritually and theologically equipped to engage in a synodal process should not dishearten you.” 

He concluded his address by assuring the bishops of his willingness “to help and accompany you in this timely synodal experience.”

He said: “If in your esteemed judgment you surmise that at any stage of this journey my humble presence as Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops will offer you a beam of comfort, I will do every effort to comply.”

Shroud of Turin to go on virtual display for Holy Saturday

Rome Newsroom, Mar 4, 2021 / 03:00 am (CNA).- For the second time, the Shroud of Turin will be exposed for veneration on social media and websites on Holy Saturday, the archbishop of Turin has announced.

The Shroud, which bears the image of a crucified man and has been venerated for centuries as Christ’s burial cloth, will be displayed via live stream on April 3.

“The Shroud is a reality that concerns everyone. The Shroud image that Turin has preserved for almost five centuries testifies to pain and death, but also to resurrection and eternal life,” Turin’s Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia said in his March 3 announcement.

“In front of the Shroud we can exclaim with our hearts turned to the Lord: ‘your love is forever.’”

Nosiglia will also preside over a liturgy on Holy Saturday, which will be live-streamed from the chapel of the Turin cathedral, where the Shroud is kept in a climate-controlled vault. Young adults from Turin will present reflections on the theme of hope.

It will be the second time that the Shroud of Turin has been exhibited over the internet after it was displayed amid the coronavirus pandemic and Italy’s national lockdown on Holy Saturday 2020.

But this time will be different, according to Nosiglia. “It is not the simple repetition of the one celebrated in 2020,” he said, because at the time the pandemic was still new and not yet understood, while today we are “aware of the difficulties to be faced and the commitments that we can take.”

A public display of the Shroud was supposed to take place from Dec. 28, 2020, to Jan. 1, 2021, during the 43rd international meeting of the Taizé Community, but both events had to be postponed due to the coronavirus restrictions.

“The exposition of the Shroud was proposed by the Turin Church to all young people, and we hope to be able to conduct it because the path is an opportunity to show [we are] ‘fratelli tutti’ [all brothers],” Nosiglia said.

The Shroud has gone on public display four times since the year 2000. 

The last time it was presented to the public was in 2015. Pope Francis prayed before the relic during a visit to Turin on June 21 that year. Afterward, he described it as an icon of Christ’s love. 

“The Shroud,” the pope said, “attracts people to the face and tortured body of Jesus and, at the same time, urges us on toward every person who is suffering and unjustly persecuted.” 

Leading German Catholic bishop cautions priests against intercommunion

CNA Staff, Mar 3, 2021 / 08:30 am (CNA).- A leading German Catholic bishop has cautioned priests against intercommunion with Protestants during an ecumenical event in May. 

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg said in a March 1 letter to clergy that they should only give Holy Communion to non-Catholic individuals if they requested it after examining their consciences.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that Bätzing issued the letter ahead of the third Ecumenical Church Congress in Frankfurt on May 13-16.

In the four-page letter, the president of the German bishops’ conference told priests that there could be “no general, inter-denominational reception of the Eucharist” or “new forms of Eucharistic celebration.”

He wrote: “The prerequisite for a worthy reception of the Eucharistic gifts, for both Catholics and non-Catholics, is the examination of one’s conscience.” 

“As pastors, we respect the decision of conscience when someone receives Holy Communion after serious examination and in accordance with the Catholic faith.”

He issued the letter amid debate over a controversial proposal for a “Eucharistic meal fellowship” between Catholics and Protestants in Germany.

The proposal was made by the Ecumenical Study Group of Protestant and Catholic Theologians (known by its German initials, ÖAK) in a 2019 document entitled “Together at the Lord’s Table.”

The ÖAK adopted the text under the co-chairmanship of Bätzing and the retired Lutheran Bishop Martin Hein. 

The study group, founded in 1946, is independent of both the German Catholic bishops’ conference and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), an organization representing 20 Protestant groups. But the ÖAK informs both bodies about its deliberations.

The ÖAK document raised concerns at the Vatican, prompting an intervention by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in September 2020.

In a four-page critique and a letter to Bätzing, the doctrinal congregation emphasized that significant differences in understanding of the Eucharist and ministry remained between Protestants and Catholics.

“The doctrinal differences are still so important that they currently rule out reciprocal participation in the Lord’s Supper and the Eucharist,” it said.

“The document cannot therefore serve as a guide for an individual decision of conscience about approaching the Eucharist.” 

The CDF cautioned against any steps towards intercommunion between Catholics and members of the EKD.

Following the Vatican intervention, Bätzing reaffirmed his view that intercommunion with Protestants should be possible.

The 59-year-old bishop, who succeeded Cardinal Reinhard Marx as president of the German bishops’ conference on March 3, 2020, discussed his stance on the issue with journalists last week.

Asked how he would respond if a Protestant came to him seeking the Eucharist, he told reporters: “I have no problems with it and I see myself in line with papal documents.”

He added that this was already a “practice” in Germany “every Sunday” and that priests in his Diocese of Limburg would not face negative consequences if a case were reported to him.

He underlined that one should not “simply invite everyone.” But while a general invitation to receive the Eucharist was not permitted, he said it was important to show “respect for the personal decision of conscience of the individual” seeking Communion.

“I do not deny Holy Communion to a Protestant if he asks for it,” he said.

In the letter to his priests, Bätzing said that the ÖAK text represented a “valuable opening” that he did not want “to endanger under any circumstances.”

“Therefore, I strongly expect and emphasize that what I have said above will be observed in the Eucharistic celebrations,” he wrote.

Investigator: There could be 10,000 abuse victims in French Catholic Church since 1950

Rome Newsroom, Mar 3, 2021 / 07:30 am (CNA).- The head of an independent commission said on Tuesday that there could be at least 10,000 victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in France since 1950.

Jean-Marc Sauvé, president of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE), said that the body’s previous suggestion in June 2020 of 3,000 victims was an underestimate.

“It’s possible that the figure is at least 10,000,” he said at a press conference on March 2.

CIASE, set up by the Catholic Church in France in 2018, said its investigation has so far received 6,500 testimonies concerning at least 3,000 individual victims.

Its final report is due to be released in early fall 2021.

The French bishops’ conference is funding the commission’s investigation, but members are not paid and their work is not directed by the bishops.

In the press conference, Sauvé said that the investigation is intended to answer several questions, including: “What is the order of magnitude? The number of victims and perpetrators? What percentage of priests are perpetrators of attacks? What do the abuses committed in the Church represent for society?”

The commission received testimonies from June 2019 through October 2020, during which time it identified approximately 3,000 victims, but Sauvé said this “certainly does not take account of the totality.”

Given the voluntary nature of the commission’s request for reports, Sauvé said “the big question which arises for us: what percentage of victims did it touch? Is it 25%? 10%, 5% or less?”

Sauvé said that most of the events reported to CIASE took place in the 1950s and 1960s, and the abuse primarily happened in schools, followed by catechism classes, and youth movements or summer camps.

Thirty percent of the victims who contacted the commission are over 70 years old and 50% are between 50 and 69 years old.

CIASE is looking not only at clerical sexual abuse of minors but also clerical abuse of vulnerable adults. Of the abuse accounts received, however, 87% were committed against minors.

Among young adult victims, 33% were members of religious communities or seminarians at the time of the attack, Sauvé said.

Sauvé added that “we can say with a high degree of certainty that within the Catholic Church, the abuses mainly concerned men and not women, unlike society.”

French bishops took part in an extraordinary plenary assembly on Feb. 22-24 reflecting on abuse within the Church. 

A press statement on Feb. 24 said that the meeting, held via video conference, would help the bishops to prepare for their spring plenary assembly, on March 23-26, “whose goal will be to commit the Church in France for several years to a viable mechanism to lead it out of the crisis of sexual assault and abuse of power.”

In March 2019, Pope Francis issued a set of canonical norms to strengthen existing laws on sexual abuse for the Vatican City State and Roman Curia.

Among these norms, the pope expanded the Church’s definition of a “vulnerable adult” from someone who “habitually lacks the use of reason,” to include anyone “in an infirm state, of physical or mental deficiency, or deprivation of personal freedom, that in fact, even occasionally, limits their capacity to intend or to want or in any way to resist the offense.” 

Sauvé declined to provide an update on the last figures that an estimated 1,500 clergy and Church officials are believed to have perpetrated the abuse.

The independent commission was announced by French bishops in November 2018, as they held their plenary assembly in Lourdes.

Pope Francis sent a message to the bishops during their meeting. According to Vatican News, Francis urged the bishops to continue to have “zero tolerance” against clerical sexual abuse while not forgetting “to recognize and support the humble fidelity lived in daily life, with the grace of God, by so many priests, men and women religious, consecrated and lay faithful.”

The pope also asked them to listen to victims and their stories.

Pope Francis: World could face a new ‘great flood’

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2021 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis said in a new book released on Tuesday that the world could face a catastrophe like the Great Flood if human beings fail to address climate change.

The pope made the remark in a new book-length interview with the Italian priest Fr. Marco Pozza published on March 2.

In “Of Vices and Virtues” (“Dei vizi e delle virtù”), published in Italian by Rizzoli, the two men discussed the account of the Great Flood in the Book of Genesis. 

According to an excerpt from the book in the newspaper Corriere delle Sera, the pope said: “A great flood, perhaps due to a rise in temperature and the melting of glaciers: that is what will happen if we continue on the same path.”

In the book, the priest and the pope reflect on the seven virtues and vices, inspired by the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. The chapel contains 14 monochrome images by the 14th-century artist Giotto which personify the virtues and vices. 

On the north wall are the vices: foolishness, inconstancy, wrath, injustice, infidelity, envy, and desperation. On the south wall are the virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude, faith, charity, and hope.

The pope’s comments about the flood came during a discussion of God’s wrath, which he said was directed against evil emanating from satan.

“The wrath of God seeks to bring justice and to ‘cleanse.’ The Flood is the result of God’s wrath, according to the Bible,” he said.

He noted that experts regarded the flood as a mythical story. He stressed that he did not wish to be misquoted as saying that the Bible is a myth, but suggested that myth was a form of knowledge.

“The flood is a historical account, archaeologists say, because they found evidence of a flood in their excavations,” he said.

After referring to a possible new great flood, he said: “God unleashed his wrath, but he saw a righteous man, took him and saved him.” 

“The story of Noah shows that the wrath of God is also a saving one.”

Pozza, a chaplain at a prison in the northern Italian city of Padua, has conducted three previous interviews with Pope Francis, dedicated to the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Creed, which were aired on Italian television and published as books.

The 41-year-old priest, who often appears casually dressed, is considered a rising star in the Italian media. Early in his priestly life, he gained the nickname “Fr. Spritz,” after a popular Italian wine-based cocktail, because of his custom of holding discussions with young people in bars over drinks.

Pozza first came to the pope’s attention in 2016, when he brought a group of inmates to visit Francis at his residence, the Casa Santa Marta, on the Jubilee of Prisoners in the Year of Mercy. 

He helped to compile the meditations for last year’s papal Stations of the Cross, held in a deserted St. Peter’s Square on Good Friday.

In the new book, the pope also discussed the relationship between faith and doubt. He argued that although the devil sowed doubts, an honest reckoning with doubt could lead to spiritual growth.

According to Vatican News, he said: “The thought of being abandoned by God is an experience of faith which many saints have experienced, along with many people today who feel abandoned by God, but do not lose faith. They take care to watch over the gift: ‘Right now I feel nothing, but I guard the gift of faith.’” 

“The Christian who has never gone through these states of mind lacks something, because it means that they have settled for less. Crises of faith are not failures against faith. On the contrary, they reveal the need and desire to enter more fully into the depths of the mystery of God. A faith without these trials leads me to doubt that it is true faith.”

Activists found not guilty of offending religious feelings in Poland’s ‘rainbow halo’ trial

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).- A judge on Tuesday found three activists who distributed images depicting Poland’s Black Madonna icon with a rainbow halo not guilty of offending religious feelings.

Three women -- Elżbieta Podleśna, Anna Prus, and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar -- went on trial in Płock, central Poland, on Jan. 13 accused of offending religious feelings, a crime punishable by up to two years in prison.

The Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported on March 2 that the judge concluded that the activists did not intend to offend religious sensibilities or to insult the venerated image of the Virgin Mary.

The judge reportedly added that their actions were aimed at protecting people facing discrimination.

During the first hearing in January, a crowd of mainly young people gathered outside the courtroom, chanting slogans such as “A secular, not Catholic Poland” and “The rainbow does not offend.” 

Local media said that at one point the chanting was so loud that it was difficult for the hearing to proceed. Following testimonies from the first witnesses, the trial was adjourned.

The case concerned an incident in April 2019, when the three women placed posters and stickers of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa with rainbow halos on Mary and the Child Jesus on locations around Płock.

The activists said that they attached the images to walls and around the city’s St. Dominic’s Church in response to a display inside the church which listed “LGBT” and “gender” -- the Polish term for gender ideology -- as sins. 

Elżbieta Podleśna, a psychotherapist and activist, told the court on Jan. 13 that she regarded the display as “homophobic” and believed it could encourage the stigmatization of “people of non-heteronormative sexual orientation and gender identity.”

She was arrested in May 2019 at her home in Warsaw and taken to Płock for questioning. A court later determined that her detention was unjustified and awarded her damages of around $2,000.

The three women faced trial under Article 196 of the country’s penal code, which says that “Whoever offends the religious feelings of other persons by publicly insulting an object of religious worship, or a place designated for public religious ceremonies, is liable to pay a fine, have his or her liberty limited, or be deprived of his or her liberty for a period of up to two years.”

Karolina Pawłowska, director of the Ordo Iuris International Law Center in Warsaw, told CNA in January that she was confident that the trial had a sound basis in Polish law. 

“The image that is the subject of this case -- which depicts the Mother of God and Baby Jesus with the halos replaced with colors that are commonly associated with LGBT movements -- I think it’s one of the cases that fulfills all premises of profanation, which is defined in the Polish criminal code in Article 196,” she said.

Pawłowska pointed out that the “Rainbow Madonna” image was recently displayed during mass protests after the country’s constitutional court ruled that a law permitting abortion for fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional.

“Right now in Poland, we can see that this image is quite popular, especially among, for example, protesters that were using it during protests against the judgment of the Polish constitutional tribunal which banned eugenic abortion,” she said.

“And I think this image is very, very offensive to many, many people. And this is why it should not be promoted.” quoted Podleśna as saying that the prosecutor’s office was likely to appeal against the verdict.

Meet Don Alberto, Italy’s new YouTube sensation

Rome, Italy, Mar 2, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Fr. Alberto Ravagnani didn’t set out to make a viral video. He was just trying to find a way to stay connected to the kids who attend his parish’s youth ministries after Italy went into lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.

The 27-year-old priest had never edited a video before and he rarely posted on social media.

“It was an experiment. I wanted to make something nice and useful to fill these two weeks -- what I thought the time of closure would be -- but the closure was extended,” Ravagnani told CNA in an interview.

The priest’s first YouTube video, uploaded on March 14, 2020, and titled “Praying in the time of coronavirus,” quickly rose in views as it was shared across social media and messaging apps.

His second, about how “10 minutes of silence can change your day,” was uploaded the following day and has been viewed more than 50,000 times.

Seeing that the videos were reaching people, he decided to continue.

“I didn’t expect all of this. Also because it wasn’t the objective, I wasn’t trying to get a lot of views,” he explained.

But when it happened, the priest said that he realized it could be a way to communicate with young people in a creative way -- and he had fun making them.

All of Ravagnani’s videos -- to date 46 -- have gained tens of thousands of views (several have hundreds of thousands). They touch on topics as diverse as the existence of God, video games, happiness, and why to pray the rosary

In the videos, Don Alberto (as he’s known in Italy) speaks quickly and has an engaging energy, which is coupled with fast-paced editing. And he does not deploy euphemisms, using language familiar to today’s adolescents and teens in each of his frenetic videos.

For example, a seven-minute video on pornography, uploaded to YouTube in October 2020, is his most-watched, with more than 396,000 views.

“In fact, with the passing of time, I realized that it had opened a path, social media too, to speak about the Gospel, and to reach many people. Many people who, probably, in our usual activities, we don’t encounter,” Ravagnani said. 

Success on YouTube propelled the new priest to Italian stardom, with profiles in major Catholic and secular newspapers and, most recently, an interview spot on the newest talk show on the state-owned television Rai.

Ravagnani, ordained in 2018, is assigned to the Parish of St. Michael the Archangel in Busto Arsizio, a town of around 83,000 people just north of Milan. He is responsible for the parish’s large youth oratory, where he also lives. There he works with around a hundred youth from elementary through high school.

Speaking about his vocation as a priest, he told CNA: “In the midst of my faults, my limitations, my weaknesses, I know that where the Lord has planted me, I can bring forth fruit. Already I have seen some fruit. And I realize my life is for doing this.”

“Now I feel very happy, really, because I have found my place in the world,” he said.

But he did not always feel that way. Explaining that he did not grow up in a particularly devout Catholic family, Ravagnani said he was taught the faith in catechism classes, in his parish, and in youth group.

When he was in middle school, he became a catechism leader for younger kids, getting to play games with them and lead them in activities.

“This I liked a lot. I felt really fulfilled,” he said, “because I had the opportunity to do good for others through my talents, my abilities.”

But starting in high school, he “didn’t feel completely happy. There was something wrong.”

Everything changed for him when he was 17 years old and went on a week-long camping trip in the mountains, organized by his parish.

Ravagnani said: “There I am sure I had an experience of God that I had never had before in my life. And I felt really loved by God, and it changed me.”

“At that point, I met God. I began to pray, because before I didn’t have a particularly strong belief. And I decided to enter the seminary.”

Asked about the risks of internet fame for a Catholic priest, Ravagnani said that the temptation to make yourself the center of attention, or to craft a cult of personality, exists as much in the pulpit as on Facebook. 

“There are -- and I know some -- priests who really feel like they are ‘stars,’” Ravagnani noted. But he thinks this stems from a misunderstanding of the priest’s role as a servant of his people.

Flash forward three years into his priesthood, and Ravagnani has 130,000 followers on Instagram and more than 89,000 fans on TikTok. In February, he opened a “room” on Clubhouse where he gives a 25-minute reflection on the Gospel of the day, leaving space for questions from those who join.

He said that his YouTube videos would continue but at a slower pace as he starts yet another new project, one he is really excited about: a show on the live-streaming platform Twitch.

Ravagnani directs and hosts the hour-long episodes of “Doncast,” which he creates with help from around 20 teens.

In just the first three episodes, the priest has interviewed 16-year-old Federico Gardenghi, who at the age of 12 had already made waves as “the youngest DJ in the world”; Pietro Morello, a 21-year-old pianist who went viral on TikTok in 2020 and has a passion for missionary work; and Federico Patuzzi and his sister Susanna (who has Down syndrome), who have shot to Instagram and TikTok stardom with videos about their relationship as siblings.

After the interviews are streamed, they are also posted to YouTube.

“I guard myself [from the temptations] through the spiritual life and through friends,” Ravagnani said. “In the sense that I try to have people around me who love me, who want what’s good for me, and who keep my feet on the ground.”

On social media, he presents a certain character, he said, but he also lives in a community of people who interact with him every day, and know him and his faults like family members.

The young priest acknowledged that there are obvious limitations to social media.

“Social media platforms, as virtual spaces, miss the actual dimension of relationship: the here and now,” he said. “This is a structural limitation, but social media should not substitute the physical relationship, it should support it.”

“Certainly, it’s clear that there are risks, there are limits, but I think it’s wrong ... to put the risks at the fore and the opportunities in the last place,” he said.

Ravagnani is taking the opportunities and running with them.

“All of this is unpredictable. I never expected it, but the mercy, the providence of God is real,” he said.

And though he himself has embraced the virtual world of the internet, he had some different advice for teens and young adults, saying that “we can discover our vocation the more we throw ourselves into reality.” 

“The more we are attentive to what happens, to the people around us, the more we can hear God’s voice calling us,” he said.

English cardinal welcomes US investigation into garment-making industry

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2021 / 03:05 am (CNA).- An English cardinal on Monday welcomed a U.S. investigation into alleged labor abuses in the garment-making industry in the city of Leicester.

In a March 1 statement, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said that a reported probe by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would bring attention to “the extent of forced and exploited labor” in garment factories in England’s East Midlands region.

“Actions such as these can bring pressure on anyone seemingly profiting from exploitation while avoiding all responsibility for it,” said the cardinal, who is president of the Santa Marta Group, an alliance of international police chiefs and Catholic bishops combating human trafficking and modern slavery.

Sky News reported on March 2 that CBP had seen sufficient evidence to launch an inquiry after the campaign group Liberty Shared submitted two petitions in February under Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930.

The Act prohibits the importation of “merchandise mined, produced or manufactured, wholly or in part, in any foreign country by forced or indentured labor.” Such products are “subject to exclusion and/or seizure, and may lead to criminal investigation of the importer(s).”

The first petition, submitted on Feb. 1, concerned apparel products sold by Boohoo PLC, one of the U.K.’s fastest-growing fashion retailers. The second, filed on Feb. 7, related to apparel businesses based in Leicester as a whole, with the exception of two companies, Basic Premier Limited and Ethically Sourced Products Limited.

In July 2020, the Sunday Times newspaper published an exposé on working conditions at a Boohoo supplier in Leicester.  

Boohoo asked lawyer Alison Levitt to conduct an independent review of its Leicester supply chain, which concluded that “allegations of unacceptable working conditions and underpayment of workers are not only well-founded, but are substantially true.”

The company promised to implement Levitt’s recommendations in full.

In a statement reported by Sky News, Boohoo said: “We are confident in the actions that we are taking to ensure that all of our products meet and exceed the CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) criteria on preventing the product of forced labor entering the U.S. (or any of our markets).”

"The Group continues to make excellent progress as it works to implement the Review’s recommendations and improve our supply chain in Leicester.”

Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster, said: “Pope Francis has graphically described profit made from the labor exploitation of any child, woman or man, as ‘blood money’ and the fight against modern slavery requires this kind of international cooperation if it is to register any progress.”

Scotland’s Catholic bishops seek ‘dialogue’ over cap on worshipers when public Masses resume

CNA Staff, Mar 1, 2021 / 07:40 am (CNA).- Scotland’s Catholic bishops said on Monday that they plan to engage in “dialogue” with government officials over a cap on worshipers when public Masses resume in time for Easter.

In a March 1 statement, the bishops welcomed last week’s announcement by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that public worship would be permitted again from early April.

“As Scotland’s Catholic bishops, we welcome the recent announcement by the First Minister foreseeing a return to our churches for the most important celebration of the liturgical year at Easter. We also welcome the recognition of the status of public worship implicit in this decision,” they said.

“The Catholic community recognizes the seriousness of the pandemic and is committed to working with others to avoid the spreading of infection.”

The bishops continued: “At the same time, we anticipate ongoing dialogue with the Scottish Government regarding the requirement of a numerical ‘cap’ on the number of worshipers.”

They argued that numbers should be dictated instead by the size of church buildings.

Public worship was first suspended in Scotland on March 19, 2020. Masses with congregations were permitted again from July 15, but subject to a 50-person limit.

The Scottish government suspended public worship again on Jan. 4 this year. 

The Scottish bishops said at the time that they were “perplexed by the decision,” given that other sectors closed during the country’s first lockdown, such as “construction, manufacturing and elite sports -- have now been left free to continue in operation.”

They also pointed to the U.K. government’s decision not to restrict public worship in England, in recognition of “the essential contribution of public worship to the spiritual welfare of all citizens.”

CNA reported last month that a Catholic priest had challenged the ban on public worship. Fr. Tom White, Dean of the City East St Alphonsus Church in Glasgow, filed a pre-action letter with the Scottish government seeking to lift restrictions.

In their statement, the bishops said: “The opening of churches is a sign that the sacrifices endured so far are bearing fruit and gives us hope and encouragement to persevere. We pray that the Risen Christ, for whom we long during this holy season of Lent, will bless and bring healing to our nation.”