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Catholic priest guillotined by Nazis is beatified in Poland

The beatification of Fr. Jan Macha in Katowice, Poland, Nov. 20, 2021. / Screenshot from Katedra Katowice YouTube channel.

Katowice, Poland, Nov 20, 2021 / 04:05 am (CNA).

A Catholic priest guillotined by the Nazis in 1942 was declared blessed on Saturday.

Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, presided at the beatification of Fr. Jan Macha at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Katowice, southwest Poland, on Nov. 20.

EpiskopatNews via Flickr.
EpiskopatNews via Flickr.

Preaching at the live-streamed Mass, the Italian cardinal said: “The witness of Jan Franciszek Macha, now blessed, to the Lord Jesus is a truly heroic page of faith and charity in the history of this Church in Upper Silesia.”

“He too died, just like the grain of wheat: he was killed by a Nazi system full of hatred for those who were sowing good, in order to show the people of today that earthly dominion is passing away, while the Kingdom of Christ — which, as its supreme law, has the commandment of charity — endures.”

EpiskopatNews via Flickr.
EpiskopatNews via Flickr.

Jan Franciszek (John Francis) Macha, known as Hanik, was born on Jan. 18, 1914, in Chorzów Stary, a village in the southern Polish province of Silesia. He had two sisters and a brother.

In 1934, he entered the Silesian Theological Seminary. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Katowice on June 25, 1939, just three months before Nazi Germany invaded Poland.

After a two-month substitution in his home parish, he was appointed to the parish church of St. Joseph in Ruda Śląska, a city near Katowice.

Fr. Jan Macha (1914-1942).
Fr. Jan Macha (1914-1942).

During the occupation, he offered aid to families who lost members in the fighting. He was a member of an underground group, codenamed Konwalia (Lily of the Valley), that helped those in need. He also published the underground newspaper Świt (Dawn).

In his homily, which was read out in Polish, Semeraro said: “While the violence and abuses of war raged in Poland and throughout the world, he understood that only faith and charity make it possible to recognize the inalienable dignity of each person, created in the image and likeness of God.”

“From the earliest days of his priesthood, he placed himself at the service of his neighbor, setting out on the road of heroic realization of love, the road that would later lead him to the sacrifice of his life.”

“He took care of many families touched by the nightmare of war. No suffering left him indifferent: wherever someone was arrested, deported, or shot, he brought comfort and material support. And he paid no attention to differences of nationality, religious denomination, or social level.”

The Gestapo, the secret police of Nazi Germany, arrested Macha on Sept. 5, 1941, at a train station in Katowice. They found a list of people that he and his associates had helped, as well as other documents showing that they had collected money and given it to people in need.

After humiliating interrogations, Macha was sentenced to death by beheading at a brief hearing in Katowice on July 17, 1942.

He was executed by guillotine at a prison in Katowice at 12:15 a.m. on Dec. 3, 1942, despite his mother’s efforts to secure a pardon.

He was 28 years old when he died and had served only 1,257 days as a priest. His body was never recovered and is believed to have been incinerated at Auschwitz concentration camp.

EpiskopatNews via Flickr.
EpiskopatNews via Flickr.

Macha’s sainthood cause opened in 2013. After the diocesan stage was completed in 2015, the cause was sent to Rome. Pope Francis issued a decree on Nov. 29, 2019, recognizing Macha as a martyr, killed “in odium fidei” (in hatred of the faith.)

The beatification was originally scheduled for Oct. 17, 2020, but was postponed due to the pandemic.

Macha is one of thousands of Catholic clergy killed during the Nazi German occupation of Poland from 1939 to 1945. Around a fifth of Poland’s 10,000 diocesan priests perished.

The Nazis killed 868 Polish Catholic clergy at Dachau concentration camp, once described as “the largest priest cemetery in the world.”

EpiskopatNews via Flickr.
EpiskopatNews via Flickr.

The beatification Mass was celebrated in Latin and Polish. After the singing of the Kyrie, Archbishop Wiktor Skworc of Katowice formally asked Pope Francis to inscribe Macha among the Church’s blesseds, submitting the request to Semeraro, the papal delegate.

Macha’s biography was read out by Fr. Damian Bednarski, the postulator of his cause. Afterward, a letter in which the pope inscribed Macha among the blesseds was read.

Semeraro proclaimed the beatification formula in Latin and an image of Macha was unveiled.

Members of the new blessed’s family brought his relics to the chancel. The relics consisted of Macha’s last letter to his parents and siblings before his execution, a rosary he had made, and a blood-stained handkerchief.

EpiskopatNews via Flickr.
EpiskopatNews via Flickr.

Ahead of the beatification ceremony, Cardinal Semeraro visited the parish church where Macha was baptized, praying at the baptismal font at St. Mary Magdalene, Chorzów Stary. He also visited a seminary in Katowice preparing men for priestly service in the Silesia region.

EpiskopatNews via Flickr.
EpiskopatNews via Flickr.

Archbishop Skworc released a pastoral letter devoted to Macha in the run-up to the beatification.

“As the community of the Church of Katowice, we gratefully welcome the new blessed as a martyr for merciful love, as a gift of Divine Providence for today and tomorrow, as a call and a reminder of the vocation to holiness,” he said in the Nov. 10 message.

“Fr. Jan Franciszek as a victim of persecution and war makes us aware of its deadly effects. May his tragic death inspire and encourage us to work for the strengthening of peace and reconciliation, especially between Poles and Germans. The fates of these nations met in an exceptionally dramatic way in the death of Fr. Jan.”

EpiskopatNews via Flickr.
EpiskopatNews via Flickr.

Macha wrote a letter hours before his execution asking his family to arrange a “quiet corner in the cemetery, so that from time to time someone would remember me and say the Our Father for me.”

His request was fulfilled in October 1951 when his classmates established a symbolic grave in the old cemetery of St. Mary Magdalene church.

Macha has inspired a show called “Hanik 1257” (referring to the number of days he served as a priest) performed by the theatrical group Teatr Cordis. The group’s members helped to organize a prayer vigil ahead of the beatification, which ended with a musical performance featuring a restored violin that Macha himself used to play.

The priest was also the subject of a 2011 documentary film “Without One Tree, a Forest Will Stay a Forest,” directed by Dagmara Drzazga.

The title comes from a line in a letter Macha wrote to his family shortly before his execution.

“This is my last letter. In four hours, the sentence will be carried out. So when you read this letter, I will no longer be among the living! Stay with God! Forgive me for everything,” he said.

EpiskopatNews via Flickr.
EpiskopatNews via Flickr.

“I am going before the Almighty Judge who will judge me now. I hope that He will accept me. My wish was to work for Him, but it was not given to me. Thank you for everything!”

He continued: “I die with a clear conscience. I have lived a short life, but I believe that I have achieved my goal. Don’t despair! Everything will be all right.”

“Without one tree, the forest will stay a forest. Without one swallow, the spring will come, and without one man, the world will not collapse.”

EpiskopatNews via Flickr.
EpiskopatNews via Flickr.

In his homily, Semeraro described these words as Macha’s “supreme teaching.”

He said: “He testifies that everyone on this earth was created in view of a mission to fulfill.”

“He describes the good as greater than the interests of individuals: aspirations to happiness are authentic if they become the defense of justice, service to the common good, sharing, acceptance, respect, attention to the needs of others.”

“Finally, he invites us to remain with the Lord, to seek him in prayer and interior dialogue, to glorify him in a holy life.”

He added: “From this image of the forest, from which one of the trees has been removed, we understand the Gospel even better: the grain that fell into the ground died, but it can, indeed it must, continue to bear abundant fruit in us today.”

“Jan Franciszek Macha, the new blessed, like a tree cut down at an early age, laid the foundation for the construction of a stable home for future generations, to whom he delivers, with his life sealed with his own blood, a clear message: ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13).”

Lawsuit alleges Jesuit priest committed sex abuse in North Carolina in the 1990s

St. Patrick's Cathedral in the Diocese of Charlotte. / Diocese of Charlotte

Denver Newsroom, Nov 19, 2021 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

A new lawsuit alleges that a long-serving Jesuit priest sexually abused a boy at a Catholic school in Charlotte, North Carolina in the 1990s. 

The priest’s attorney has rejected the charges as “completely false,” while the Society of Jesus and the local diocese said they are cooperating with investigators.

Attorneys representing the plaintiff, identified only as John Doe J.C., filed the lawsuit Nov. 18 in Mecklenburg County. It names as defendants Father Francis Gillespie, S.J., the Diocese of Charlotte, Mecklenburg Area Catholic Schools, and two Jesuit organizations.

Gillespie was ordained in 1972 and is now 79 years old. He was recently serving in the Diocese of Raleigh, but the lawsuit concerns his time as pastor at Our Lady of the Assumption Church and School in the Diocese of Charlotte from 1994 to 2001, the Catholic News Herald reports.

Gillespie was removed from public ministry on Sept. 29 and put under supervision while the Jesuit province assists in the investigation.

The alleged victim, now in his early thirties, was a student at the elementary school. His lawsuit said the abuse took place at the church in the mid- to late-1990s, beginning when he was about eight years old. 

The priest allegedly asked him to be an assistant altar server and the boy would leave class early to assist the priest at the Thursday morning weekly Mass for students. The priest allegedly began to abuse him sexually in the sacristy, where the abuse continued regularly until the boy finished elementary school.

The lawsuit alleges “severe physical and emotional damages” including depression, anxiety, mood swings, shame and substance abuse.

One attorney for the alleged victim, Richard Serbin of Allegheny, Pennsylvania, told the Charlotte Observer that he reported the abuse allegations to Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte and a Jesuit leader on Sept. 21, 2021. 

Serbin said his client was, as a child, “fearful to report his abuse and forced to carry this burden alone.”

The lawsuit charges negligence, negligent hiring, retention and supervision, breach of fiduciary duty, constructive fraud and sexual assault and battery. It was allowed under a North Carolina law creating a special legal window for victims of sexual assault of any age to sue their alleged abuses.

Gillespie’s attorney, James Wyatt, called the allegations “completely false.” Wyatt said his firm planned to file counterclaims against J.C.

“The allegations are completely inconsistent with the life he has led and his devoted service to the ministry,” Wyatt said. “He is highly respected and loved by the parishioners he has served who are rallying around him and steadfastly supporting him.

Gillespie served in North Carolina’s Diocese of Raleigh from 2002-2008, then moved to the Diocese of Charleston in South Carolina. In January 2021 he moved back to the Raleigh diocese. In August the Jesuits named him as administrator at St. Mary Catholic Church in Laurinburg, North Carolina. 

The Charlotte diocese reported the alleged abuse to local police and social services on Sept. 28. The allegation was announced at Masses the weekend of Oct 2-3 and in messages to families of schoolchildren.

The diocese said an independent review of its personnel files and other records found no records of any allegations against the priest.

“The Charlotte diocese has zero tolerance for child sexual abuse, and anyone who has been the victim of abuse is encouraged to seek help and report to law enforcement authorities,” the diocese said in October as reported by the Catholic News Herald.

An officer with the public information office of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said the criminal investigation has now been categorized as “exceptionally cleared – victim chose not to prosecute,” the Charlotte Observer reports.

At the time of the alleged abuse, Gillespie was a priest of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. In 2020 that province merged with the Jesuits’ USA Northeast Provinces to form the USA East Province, based in New York.

The USA East Province of the Society of Jesus said in a statement that it “takes seriously any allegation of misconduct in ministry.” The province said it is cooperating with law enforcement and the Diocese of Charlotte “to conduct a thorough investigation that will include examination by an outside review board.”

“The Jesuits remain committed to the highest standards in our conduct of ministry. We encourage anyone who suspects abuse by any clergy or employee of the province to contact local civil authorities and/or the province office,” the province continued. “We continue to pray for the victims of sexual abuse and for those working with us to protect those we serve.”

In the late 80s and early 90s Gillespie served as director of research and executive director at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a research institute on Catholic issues that affiliated with Georgetown University in 1989.

Catholic University says it wasn't aware student health plan covered abortion

The Catholic University of America, June 1, 2018. / BumbleDee/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 19, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

The Catholic University of America has acknowledged that its student health care plan has included coverage for certain abortion services for the past three years, a provision the school says it will discontinue after the policy was brought to light by a recent news report.

The College Fix, a new site that features the work of student journalists, reported Nov. 9 that the university's student health care plan provided by Aetna covers abortion “when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or if it places the woman’s life in serious danger.”

The news outlet has written a series of stories about student health care plans at a number of Catholic higher-education institutions that cover abortion services, sterilization surgeries, contraception, and even sex change surgeries, all in contradiction to the explicit teachings of the Catholic Church.

In response to The College Fix’s latest report, Karna Lozoya, spokesperson for The Catholic University of America, issued the following statement to CNA:

“The Catholic University of America is committed to defending life at every stage, and we work hard to live out that commitment in all aspects of University operations. For our student and staff health plans, we have always excluded abortion from coverage.

 “A few years ago our health insurance provider for our student health plan (Aetna) made a blanket change to their plans to add limited exceptions to the abortion exclusion —in the case of rape, incest, and if the life of the mother is in danger. Unfortunately, we failed to catch the modification. The change was not intentional on our part. Our health insurance plan for staff never included these exceptions.

“As a result of our direct communications with Aetna, they have removed all exceptions to the comprehensive exclusion of abortion coverage from our student health plan, and we have removed the plan from our website. An amended plan will be available soon, and it will be explicit that abortion is excluded from coverage. The Catholic University of America apologizes for the error.”

Lozoya added that Aetna reported that there were no abortion claims paid under the plan.

The Catholic University of America was founded in 1889 by the U.S. Catholic bishops, with a charter from Pope Leo XIII, to be the national university of the Catholic Church in America.

This story was updated on Nov. 22 with additional information.

Pray for and promote peace, Milwaukee archbishop says after Kyle Rittenhouse verdict

Kyle Rittenhouse waits for the jury to enter the room to continue testifying during his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse on November 10, 2021 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse is accused of shooting three demonstrators, killing two of them, during a night of unrest that erupted in Kenosha after a police officer shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back while being arrested in August 2020. Rittenhouse, from Antioch, Illinois, was 17 at the time of the shooting and armed with an assault rifle. He faces counts of felony homicide and felony attempted homicide. / Photo by Sean Krajacic-Pool/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 19, 2021 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee is encouraging people to pray for and promote peace following the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse on Friday, Nov. 19.

“During times like these with severe division among people and the potential for social unrest, it is important for us to remember Jesus’ commandment to Love One Another,” said Listecki, in a statement provided to CNA on Friday. 

“As Americans, we rely upon the rule of law and our justice system, which ensures the rights of all our citizens,” he said. “We need to remember that every individual is made in the image and likeness of God, and therefore we need to follow the two great commandments -- love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.” 

Doing this, said Listecki, serves to “recognize the human dignity in every person” and promotes respect and love for one another. 

Rittenhouse, 18, was found “not guilty” on five charges, including two counts of first-degree reckless homicide and one count of attempted first-degree intentional homicide.

A sixth charge, possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18, was dismissed on Monday, Nov. 15, after his attorneys argued that his rifle was not short-barrelled and therefore did not fall under the law. 

On Aug. 25, 2020, Rittenhouse shot and killed two men and injured a third during the riots and unrest in the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time, was in Kenosha purportedly to protect a business and to provide medical aid. He lived in nearby Antioch, Illinois, although his father and other members of his family lived in Kenosha. 

Rittenhouse’s lawyers claimed that their client was acting in self defense. During the trial, Gaige Grosskreutz, who was shot and injured by Rittenhouse, admitted that he was shot after he had pointed his own firearm at him. 

Additional video footage from that evening bolstered Rittenhouse’s claims of self defense. 

The unrest in late August 2020 was sparked by the Aug. 23, 2020 police shooting of a 29-year-old Black man named Jacob Blake. Blake was left partially paralyzed and the officer was not charged. 

The protests lasted for four days, causing an estimated $52 million in property damage. 

English and Welsh bishops urge Catholics to renew commitment to Sunday Mass

A post-plenary press conference at the London headquarters of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Nov. 19, 2021. / Mazur/

London, England, Nov 19, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

The bishops of England and Wales urged Catholics on Friday to renew their commitment to Sunday Mass, but acknowledged that the pandemic still posed obstacles to regular church attendance.

In a statement approved at their fall plenary assembly in the northern English city of Leeds, the bishops appeared to stop short of restoring the Sunday obligation, which was removed when the pandemic broke out in March 2020.

“The pandemic is clearly not over. The risk of infection is still present. For some, there is legitimate fear in gathering together,” they said.

“As your bishops, we recognize that these prevailing circumstances suggest that not everyone is yet in the position to fulfill the absolute duty to attend freely Sunday Mass.”

The Sunday obligation is one of the Precepts of the Church that all Catholics are required to fulfill. Deliberate failure to observe the obligation is considered a mortal sin requiring confession.

The bishops had expressed hope in July that Sunday obligation could be restored by the First Sunday of Advent, which falls on Nov. 28.

“It is hoped that it will be possible for all Catholics in England and Wales to fulfill this most important Church precept, that of the Sunday obligation, by the First Sunday in Advent 2021,” they wrote.

But with days to go before the start of Advent, Europe is seeing a surge in coronavirus cases, with Austria becoming the first European country to re-impose a nationwide lockdown since spring.

While the situation in the U.K. is currently less severe, the country of 67 million people has recorded more than 9.7 million COVID-19 infections and almost 144,000 related deaths as of Nov. 19, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

The bishops of England and Wales asked parishes in April to reach out to people who have discovered Catholicism for the first time amid the pandemic.

In a message entitled “The Day of the Lord,” they urged Catholic communities to pay special attention to the group they called the “COVID curious,” who had encountered the Church online during the pandemic.

In their latest message, the English and Welsh bishops stressed the importance of honoring Sunday.

“We now encourage all Catholics to look again at the patterns which they have formed in recent months with regard to going to Mass on Sundays,” they said.

“This would include consideration and reflection about what we might do on Sundays, such as sports or shopping, or other leisure and social activities.”

“This review, and the decisions which arise from it, fall to every Catholic and we trust this will be done with honesty, motivated by a real love for the Lord whom we encounter in the Mass.”

House passes Build Back Better; bishops raise religious liberty, abortion objections

null / lazyllama/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 19, 2021 / 12:08 pm (CNA).

The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed the Build Back Better Act on Nov. 19, voting 220-213 to approve nearly $2 trillion in domestic spending for a host of ambitious new social programs, including universal pre-kindergarten, increased child care subsidies, and initiatives aimed at shifting the country away from fossil fuels.

The morning vote was almost entirely along party lines. Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME) was the lone Democrat to break with his party and vote “no” on the bill. The legislation still needs to be passed in the U.S. Senate.

In a statement released by the White House, President Joe Biden (D) hailed the bill as transformative legislation that would "create jobs, reduce costs, make our country more competitive, and give working people and the middle class a fighting chance.”

Further, Biden said the bill would get “Americans back to work by providing child care and care for seniors,” and would cut taxes on the middle class. 

The bill, along with the infrastructure law, is “the most significant investment in our fight against the climate crisis,” Biden added.

Earlier this week, on Nov. 15, Biden a signed a more than $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan into law. Approximately half of that new funding is earmarked for transportation, broadband Internet, and utility upgrades.

Getting the Build Back Better Act through Congress has been a far more difficult challenge for his administration, however. Catholic and pro-life organizations have warned that the contents of the bill could undermine protections for religious freedom and the unborn.

“[House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and her allies are sneakily working to force Americans to be complicit in abortion on demand up to birth every which way they can,” Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement following the passage of the bill. 

“Today [Pelosi] even touted the fact that the popular bipartisan Hyde and Helms amendments, which stop taxpayer funding of abortion both at home and overseas, are simply ‘not in the bill,’” she said.

The Hyde and Helms amendments restrict the use of taxpayer funds for elective abortions in the U.S. and abroad, respectively. They have been included as riders in budgetary bills since the 1970s. 

Prior to Friday’s vote, in a Nov. 3 letter to members of Congress, six bishop chairmen of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) expressed support for the legislation's broad goal of fostering the "common good," especially those elements of the bill that seek to “support the poor and vulnerable and strengthen the social safety net.”

Specifically, the bishops pointed to “an extension to the recent expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit; provisions to support families such as a permanent refundable Child Tax Credit, childcare resources, in-home care for family members, and a strengthening of child nutrition programs; an expansion of SSI to residents of U.S. territories; affordable housing provisions; and important environmental provisions, especially climate and energy programs critical to achieving emissions reductions targets." 

At the same time, the bishops' letter expressed grave concerns about other key provisions of the Build Back Better Act.

“Specifically, while expanded access to early child care and pre-k would be beneficial for many working families, we are concerned that the current provisions to do so — in a departure from the approach in existing federal programs — explicitly make providers recipients of federal financial assistance and attach new and troubling compliance obligations,” the letter said.

“This will effectively exclude many faith-based providers from participation (or in some already existing state-based programs, continued participation), thereby severely limiting options for families, and suppressing a mixed delivery system," the letter stated.

The letter also called the provisions for direct government funding of abortion in the bill “completely unacceptable,” and urged Congress to restore those long standing restrictions.

“We have been consistent in our position and reiterate that it would be a calamity if the important and life-affirming provisions in this bill were accompanied by provisions facilitating and funding the destruction of unborn human life,” the bishops’ letter stated.

“No proposal to support individuals needing affordable health care coverage should compel Americans to pay for the destruction of human life through their tax dollars.”

In an interview with EWTN's Raymond Arroyo Thursday, pro-life leader U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who voted against the bill, called it "the most pro-abortion piece of legislation that I've seen in years."

"It is overwhelmingly filled with money for abortion," Smith said. "There is spigot after spigot after spigot that will fund abortion on demand."

Smith drew fire from his party and former president Donald Trump for being one of 13 House Republicans to vote for the infrastructure bill on Nov. 6. You can watch his full interview in the video below.

In a statement Louis Brown, executive director of the Christ Medicus Foundation, a Catholic health care and religious freedom advocacy organization, echoed the bishops' objections to the restrictions on religious child care providers, and said the bill’s failure to include the Hyde Amendment “gravely harms babies in the womb.”

“Congress should seek changes in the social safety net without harming life and without undermining the ability of religious institutions to participate in the human service needs of our nation,” Brown said. 

The bill now goes to the Senate, which is evenly split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. In a late September interview with National Review, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a moderate Democrat, predicted the bill would be “dead on arrival” if the Hyde Amendment was not included.

Influential German Catholic lay group elects new leader

Irme Stetter-Karp, the new president of the Central Committee of German Catholics. /

Berlin, Germany, Nov 19, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

An influential German Catholic lay organization chose its new leader on Friday.

Members of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) elected Irme Stetter-Karp as their new president on Nov. 19 by 149 votes out of 190 at a plenary assembly in the German capital, Berlin.

The 65-year-old succeeds Thomas Sternberg, 69, who chose not to stand again after six years in the post.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that in her speech seeking the role, Stetter-Karp said that wanted to work “passionately” for solidarity in society and changes in the Church that had already been proposed “50 years ago.”

“Reforms are indispensable and overdue. If they succeed, we will at least have the chance to rebuild lost trust,” she said.

She added that she stood for a “diaconal Church, the recognition of human rights, and the recognition of diversity.”

Stetter-Karp is expected to play a critical role in the conclusion of Germany’s contentious “Synodal Way.”

The Synodal Way is a multi-year process bringing together bishops and lay people to discuss four main topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.

The ‘Synodal Way’ began on Dec. 1, 2019. Rudolf Gehrig/CNA Deutsch.
The ‘Synodal Way’ began on Dec. 1, 2019. Rudolf Gehrig/CNA Deutsch.

The process was launched jointly by the ZdK and the German bishops’ conference in December 2019 and is expected to end in 2023.

The synodal assembly, the supreme decision-making body of the Synodal Way, consists of 230 members, including the German bishops, 69 members of the Zdk, and representatives of other parts of the Church in Germany.

Stetter-Karp has taken part in the synodal forum dedicated to “Life in succeeding relationships — Living Love in Sexuality and Partnership.”

In her new role, she is likely to work closely with Beate Gilles, who was elected as the first female general secretary of the German bishops’ conference in February, succeeding the long-serving Fr. Hans Langendörfer, S.J.

Born in Ellwangen, southwest Germany, Stetter-Karp trained as a social worker and educator. The married mother of two led the Caritas department of the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart before her retirement in September 2020.

Her predecessor, Thomas Sternberg, maintained a high profile following his election in 2015, serving as one of the most prominent faces of the Synodal Way, alongside bishops’ conference president Bishop Georg Bätzing.

In March this year, Sternberg criticized the Vatican’s rejection of same-sex blessings.

In May, he controversially received communion during a service at a Protestant church during a major ecumenical event.

Thomas Sternberg, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), speaks at a ‘Synodal Way’ press conference. Rudolf Gehrig/CNA Deutsch.
Thomas Sternberg, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), speaks at a ‘Synodal Way’ press conference. Rudolf Gehrig/CNA Deutsch.

Bätzing congratulated Sternberg’s successor on Nov. 19, expressing gratitude for “the good and fruitful relations” between the ZdK and the bishops’ conference.

“We are going through one of the deepest crises of the Church in Germany, but we are not discouraged,” he wrote.

“That is precisely what the Synodal Way wants: to contribute to the renewal of the Church out of the Gospel, in order to contribute to a new credibility and trust.”

The ZdK traces its roots to 1848, when Charles, Prince of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg, founded the Catholic Society of Germany. The society was renamed the Central Committee of German Catholics in 1952.

Denver archbishop, writing in Washington Post, decries vandalism of Catholic property

Vandalism on a door of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Colo., Oct. 10, 2021. / Photo courtesy of Fr. Samuel Morehead.

Denver Newsroom, Nov 19, 2021 / 11:30 am (CNA).

Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver this week decried the recent substantial and well-documented rise in vandalism and arson against Catholic property in the United States, calling the targeted destruction “horrifying.”

Writing Nov. 18 in the Washington Post, Aquila noted that the U.S. bishops have logged at least 100 instances of vandalism, arson and destruction of Catholic property nationwide since May 2020.

Incidents include graffiti sprayed on church walls, Catholic statues beheaded or smashed, gravestones desecrated with swastikas, and arson. Many more incidents have likely not been widely reported, he said. 

Aquila highlighted, in particular, a graffiti incident at Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception last month, which saw a lone woman— a supporter of abortion rights— spray-paint slogans such as “Satan Lives Here,” “White Supremacists,” and “Child Rapists, LOL” on the historic building’s exterior. 

“You would likely have to go back to the early 20th or late 19th centuries, when an influx of Catholic immigrants challenged a mostly Protestant culture, to find so much public antagonism toward the Catholic Church,” Aquila wrote. 

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila says Mass for the Transitional Deacon Ordination in 2020. Archdiocese of Denver, photography: A&D Creative LLC
Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila says Mass for the Transitional Deacon Ordination in 2020. Archdiocese of Denver, photography: A&D Creative LLC

“As Catholics, we recognize that this is a spiritual crisis. We pray for the end to such horrifying attacks and for God’s love to drive out the hate in the perpetrators, regardless of who they have targeted. Yet as Americans, we also clearly see a cultural crisis. People of goodwill, whether religious or not, must condemn and confront the societal trends that encourage attacks on houses of worship — trends that extend far beyond religion.”

Since February 2020 in the Archdiocese of Denver alone, at least 25 parishes or ministry locations are known to have been the target of vandalism, property destruction, or theft.

Aquila pointed out that Catholics have not been the only religious group targeted in recent months. African American Protestant churches, Buddhist temples, Muslim mosques, Jewish synagogues and cemeteries, and temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have all suffered attacks of various kinds in the past year and a half. 

Overall, hate crimes, which include religiously motivated attacks, will likely set a 20-year record in 2021, Aquila noted. 

A desecrated statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Holy Family Parish in Citrus Heights, California. .  Courtesy photo.
A desecrated statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Holy Family Parish in Citrus Heights, California. . Courtesy photo.

“Respectful conversation has given way to spiteful confrontation,” he observed, “Where once people strove for change through the force of intellectual, moral and well-considered arguments, the go-to approach for many is now brute force. It often takes the form of violence or vandalism.”

Aquila wrote that where aggression is a widely accepted reaction to a difference of opinion, “Democracy cannot survive.”

“Everyone has a role in lifting America out of this crisis. Regardless of our individual beliefs, we must regain respect for the dignity of the human person,” Aquila concluded. 

Caritas Poland leader: We’ll help those in need for as long as Belarus border crisis lasts

Fr. Marcin Iżycki, director of Caritas Poland, speaks during a press conference on the Belarus border crisis. / Caritas Poland.

Podlipki, Poland, Nov 19, 2021 / 05:30 am (CNA).

The director of Caritas Poland said on Thursday that the charity will continue to help those in need for as long as the Belarus border crisis lasts.

Speaking at a press conference in Podlipki, northeastern Poland, on Nov. 18, Fr. Marcin Iżycki stressed that the charity was also attentive to the needs of the local community near Poland’s eastern border.

“As long as the crisis lasts, we will be with all those in need. In our Caritas activities we try to remember all groups affected by the crisis: migrants and refugees, the inhabitants of these areas, and the services,” he said.

The priest was speaking amid an ongoing standoff between Poland and Belarus over the presence of thousands of mainly Middle Eastern migrants along the two countries’ roughly 250-mile border.

The Polish government, the European Union, and NATO have accused Belarus of helping the migrants to gather at the frontier and enter Poland, an EU member state since 2004. The Belarusian government, led by President Alexander Lukashenko, denies the claim.

Polish officials argue that Belarus, a landlocked Eastern European country, is fomenting the crisis in response to sanctions imposed by the EU after Lukashenko declared victory in a disputed presidential election in August 2020.

The border crisis has also affected Latvia and Lithuania, both EU member states neighboring Belarus.

Caritas Poland.
Caritas Poland.

Poland has fortified its border and repelled groups seeking to force their way across with tear gas and water cannons.

But the BBC reported on Friday that there were signs of a de-escalation in the crisis, with migrants abandoning a camp at Bruzgi, a border village in Belarus, for accommodation in a local warehouse. It also said that more than 400 Iraqis returned home from Belarus on a Nov. 18 flight organized by the Iraqi government.

Iżycki told journalists: “There is no contradiction in helping the needy and respecting the work of those who defend the security of our border and our country.”

The Catholic Church in Belarus has also actively supported migrants at the border. The Church’s website reported on Nov. 18 that representatives of Caritas Belarus had distributed food and warm clothing as temperatures plunged.

The head of Caritas Poland, the country’s largest charitable organization, noted that this Sunday Catholic churches across the country will hold a collection in aid of migrants and refugees.

He also recalled that Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference, recently condemned “the use of human tragedies by the Belarusian side to conduct actions against Poland’s sovereignty.”

“For this reason, I would like to repeat once again that those affected by this evil need our solidarity,” Gądecki commented.

Iżycki noted that Caritas Poland operates centers for new arrivals across Poland. The number of people placed in the centers has recently tripled, he said.

Fr. Cordian Szwarc, a Franciscan friar and deputy director of Caritas Poland, praised the response of Catholic parishes near the border.

“We have been here for two weeks now, and we see that the people who form these parishes are good people ... simple, good people who have learned from their grandparents what is good and what is bad.”

Fr. Cordian Szwarc. Caritas Poland.
Fr. Cordian Szwarc. Caritas Poland.

He added that whenever local residents encountered migrants asking for food, drink, or clothes, they helped them.

“There is a very different reaction to a person who asks for help with their hand out and a very different reaction when you see several thousand people gathered at the border and presented in this way,” he said, noting that locals were concerned about their safety.

Caritas Poland has set up “Tents of Hope,” which collect food, clothing, and blankets, in seven parishes in the local Archdiocese of Białystok.

Fr. Jerzy Sęczek, director of Caritas in Białystok archdiocese, said that the organization had cooperated with Poland’s Border Guard since the start of the crisis.

Caritas Poland.
Caritas Poland.

He said that the officers, who are often members of local parishes, collected basic necessities from their churches and gave them directly to migrants at the border.

Washington florist who declined to serve same-sex wedding will pay settlement, retire

Barronelle Stutzman, a Christian and florist from Washington state who was sued after declining to create flower arrangements for a same-sex marriage. / Alliance Defending Freedom

Denver Newsroom, Nov 18, 2021 / 20:05 pm (CNA).

A Christian florist who was sued after declining to create flower arrangements for a same-sex wedding ceremony and subsequently spent eight years in court will pay a small settlement and retire, rather than seek another U.S. Supreme Court hearing.

“I am willing to turn the legal struggle for freedom over to others. At age 77, it’s time to retire,” Barronelle Stutzman, who owns Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, said Nov. 18. 

“I’ve never had to compromise my conscience or go against my faith. I’ve met so many, many kind and wonderful people, who’ve generously offered me their prayers and encouragement and support.”

In 2013, the florist declined to make flower arrangements for the same-sex wedding of long-time customer and friend Rob Ingersoll and his partner Curt Freed. She said that as a Christian, she believed such a union would violate her faith, and she could not make a floral arrangement for a same-sex wedding. Stutzman referred Ingersoll to several nearby florists.

“I’d always been happy to sell him bouquets of flowers,” Stutzman said in her Nov. 18 letter. Celebrating his marriage to another man, she said, “was a line I could not cross, even for friendship.”

“I am a Christian, and I believe the Bible to be the Word of God. That Word makes it clear that God loves all people so much that He sent His Son to die in their place,” she said. “And it also teaches that He designed marriage to be only the union of one man and one woman. I could not take the artistic talents God Himself gave me and use them to contradict and dishonor His Word.”

Although Ingersoll did not file a complaint with the state, he and Freed later sued Stutzman through the American Civil Liberties Union. The attorney general of Washington state brought a discrimination complaint against her.

Stutzman, represented by attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group, fought the legal complaints. Her attorneys feared that the ACLU lawsuit could force her to pay potentially ruinous attorneys’ fees.

Under the settlement, she will withdraw the pending petition for a rehearing at the U.S. Supreme Court. She will pay $5,000 to Ingersoll and Freed.

“This settlement is an end to a lengthy court case, not a change in or surrender of Barronelle’s beliefs,” Kristen Waggoner, general counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, said Nov. 18. 

“Over the last eight years, Barronelle stood for the First Amendment freedoms of all Americans, even those who disagree with her about a deeply personal and important issue like marriage. And in so doing, she’s inspired millions of others in their own public and personal battles to live their faith without government interference.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit issued their own statement.

“We are glad the Washington Supreme Court rulings will stay in place to ensure that same-sex couples are protected from discrimination and should be served by businesses like anyone else,” Ingersoll and Reed said, according to CNN. “It was painful to be turned away and we are thankful that this long journey for us is finally over.”

They said they would donate the $5,000 to a local LGBT advocacy and support group.

In 2017, the Washington Supreme Court had upheld a lower court's ruling against Stutzman. In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the ruling and sent the case back to the state supreme court, ruling that Stutzman's case should be reconsidered in light of the Court's Masterpiece Cakeshop decision.

In that decision, the court decided that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission showed a constitutionally unacceptable hostility toward religion in ruling that Masterpiece Cakeshop baker Jack Phillips violated anti-discrimination law for declining to make a cake for a same-sex wedding on the basis of his Christian beliefs.

In June of 2019, the Washington Supreme Court again ruled against Stutzman saying the lower courts had not acted with impermissible hostility towards her religious beliefs. In the view of her attorneys, the state supreme court issued largely the same decision that it had previously, despite the U.S. Supreme Court's order to reconsider the case in light of a new decision.

In September 2019, Stutzman’s attorneys asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her case a second time. They argued that the state court effectively excused religious hostility by a state executive official. The attorneys said the Supreme Court “should reaffirm that the Free Exercise Clause binds all state actors, not only adjudicators.”

In July 2021, the Supreme Court declined to hear her case, over the objections of Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. Her attorneys had filed a petition to rehear the case, which is to be withdrawn under the settlement.