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Seal of Confession under attack? Delaware, Vermont bills draw Catholic criticism

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Denver, Colo., Mar 9, 2023 / 09:30 am (CNA).

Two state legislatures are considering ending any legal protections for a priest who learns about sexual abuse in the confessional. In response, Catholic leaders warned that the laws are unconstitutional, put priests in legal jeopardy, and endanger confidentiality with penitents.

Delaware’s House Bill 74 is among the proposals to end clergy protections in mandatory sexual abuse reporting laws.

“This act abrogates the privilege between priest and penitent in a sacramental confession relating to child abuse and neglect,” says the bill summary on the Delaware General Assembly’s website. “It requires priests to report child abuse and neglect or to give or accept evidence in a judicial proceeding relating to child abuse or neglect.”

The legislation prompted criticism from the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington.

“The sacrament of confession and its seal of confession is a fundamental aspect of the Church’s sacramental theology and practice. It is nonnegotiable,” the Wilmington Diocese said March 6. “No Catholic priest or bishop would ever break the seal of confession under any circumstances.”

“The Diocese of Wilmington considers the protection of the vulnerable to be one of the most important aims of public policy,” the diocese continued. “However, this legislation would not advance that vital objective.”

The requirement would be practically “nearly impossible to meet” for Catholic clergy because almost all sacramental confessions are anonymous.

“It would be a clear violation of the First Amendment for the government to interfere in this most sacred and ancient practice of our faith,” said the diocese, which voiced concerns about infringement on the rights of other faith communities.

Catholic canon law characterizes the seal of sacramental confession as “inviolable.” It says it is “absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.”

Breaking this seal incurs an automatic excommunication that only the pope can pardon, the Wilmington Diocese said. Delaware law already requires priests to be mandatory reporters of suspected abuse, and internal diocese policy requires priests to report suspected child abuse to civil authorities.

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, VT. Courtesy photograph.
Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, VT. Courtesy photograph.

In Vermont, Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 3 to oppose Bill S. 16. The bill would fully eliminate clergy’s protection from the mandatory abuse reporting law if reporting abuse would violate a privilege or disclose confidential communication.

According to Coyne, the legislation “crosses a constitutionally protected element of our religious faith: the right to worship as we see fit.”

“There is no question that protecting children is essential and criminals must be held accountable for their crimes. But disregarding fundamental religious rights is unnecessary,” he said.

The exemption to the current law is “very narrow,” according to Coyne. No office conversations or counseling sessions are privileged. He characterized confession as “a moment of worship in which the penitent seeks God’s mercy.”

Coyne said all clergy and lay employees of the Burlington Diocese are mandatory reporters. Anyone who works for the diocese or diocesan parishes must have a criminal background check and safe environment training to recognize signs of child abuse.

“The priest has a sacred duty to maintain the secrecy of sacramental confession,” he said. “The sacramental seal of confession is the worldwide law of the Catholic Church, not just the diocese. No bishop has the authority to change this.”

“Requiring clergy to report child abuse learned during a penitential communication would infringe upon our First Amendment rights,” said the bishop. “Not just the rights of myself and the clergy but the rights of all of the Catholics in the state of Vermont and the rights of any other faith community that has that kind of a privileged penitential communication.”

From ancient times confessions could not be shared with anyone else even if it was to the advantage of the Church or the priest, according to Coyne.

“Today, the president of the United States could go to confession to a priest and the priest would not have to worry about being subpoenaed by Congress to expose what was said,” Coyne said.

Persons at the confessional do have to be truly penitent and seek to change their lives, the bishop added. Clergy could encourage the penitent to go to the authorities if a crime has been committed, but this is the penitent’s duty.

Other states are considering similar legislation.

In Kansas, State Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, introduced S.B. 87, which would require ordained ministers in the state to report suspected physical, sexual, or emotional abuse and neglect of children. Failure to report would mean a misdemeanor charge.

Though his 2019 bill on the same topic contained an exemption for the penitential privilege, his 2023 legislation does not exempt penitential communications, the Topeka-Capital Journal reported in January.

Chuck Weber, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, told CNA he knows of no plans to have a hearing on the bill.

“The Kansas Catholic Conference has long supported the measure, only with a penitential privilege protection clause,” he said.

Kansas priests are already “trained and complying with the responsibility to report instances of abuse and/or neglect,” Weber said.

Holland told the Topeka-Capital Journal he was concerned the exemption would be “a back door to not reporting” that would discourage law enforcement investigations. Exempting confessions would be “the easy way out.”

“If we have a religious organization where this is a pervasive problem, my concern is that then the exemption becomes basically standard operating procedure where if something happens, run and go confess it, and now when the investigators come it’s like, ‘We don’t know, we’re not obligated to share that information,’” he said.

The Washington state Legislature had two bills concerning mandatory child abuse reporting by clergy. The Senate version, S.B. 5280, preserved the clergy-penitent privilege, while the House of Representative version, H.B. 1098, did not. The Senate unanimously passed its version of the bill on Wednesday and sent it to the House for approval. The House version was technically a viable bill but Wednesday was its last chance to pass the House, Adrienne Joyce, director of policy and communications, told CNA March 8.

Utah proposals to remove exemptions for confessions to clergy failed to advance in the most recent legislative session, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Newman Guide expands to include K-12 and more in ‘faithful Catholic’ school guide

Classroom in a Catholic school. / Wuttichai jantarak/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Mar 9, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).

The Cardinal Newman Society, which publishes a yearly guide on the most faithfully Catholic colleges in the U.S., has announced a massive new expansion coming this April to help parents and students find the most authentically Catholic schools at all grades and levels.

“Faithful Catholic education is critical for the souls of our young people … not just [in] the college years,” Kelly Salomon, vice president of Newman Guide Programs, told CNA. “Every Catholic child should receive a Catholic education.” 

Starting this April, the Cardinal Newman Society’s “Newman Guide” will include a comprehensive listing of not only colleges but also the country’s most faithful Catholic K–12 schools, home-school programs, and graduate programs.   

“Today, we often lament the crisis of belief in society and even among baptized Catholics, but it is rarely a rejection of God — it is a crisis of education,” Salomon said. “Too many Catholic schools mirror public schools in their curriculum, policies, and personnel. At the same time, public/secular schools and colleges have become hostile to the faith.” 

The result? A 2019 Pew survey revealed that only 31% of Catholics believe in a basic tenet of their faith — that the body and blood of Christ are truly, really, and substantially present in the Eucharist. 

The numbers are even lower for Catholics under 40, with only about 1 in 4 — 26% — believing in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. 

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate reported in January that just 17% of American Catholics attend Mass weekly or more, down from 24% in 2019.

As some Catholic schools secularize, many schools, both Catholic and public, have embraced stances on gender, marriage, and the sanctity of life that are antithetical to Catholic belief and teaching. 

This education crisis, Salomon claimed, has resulted in many of the serious problems facing the Church in America today. 

“This is a failure of proper formation and teaching,” Salomon said. “But there is good news: There is an exciting renewal in truly faithful Catholic education that is happening today.”

“Parochial schools are returning to their roots and embracing strong Catholic identity. Parents across the country are starting up independent, faithful Catholic schools. And there’s been an explosion in Catholic home schooling, especially during the pandemic,” she said.

According to the Cardinal Newman Society, enrollment in faithful Catholic colleges included in the Newman Guide has increased by more than 10%, despite overall college enrollment declining. 

Now, the Cardinal Newman Society’s expansion will connect Catholic parents and students with the most faithful education programs that fit their needs. 

How does the Newman Guide determine which schools to include on its list? Salomon explained that the Newman Society studies a set of standards that cover each aspect of Catholic education, including academics, admissions, and even athletics.

“These standards are derived from guidance provided by Church councils, popes, Vatican congregations, bishop conferences, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and other Church documents,” she said.

By connecting parents and students with the faithful and vibrant Catholic schools and programs, the Newman Society hopes to spread the teachings of the faith.

“Faithful Catholic education is also critical for the future of the Church,” Salomon said. “Leaders in pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-religious-freedom efforts are being formed at faithful Catholic colleges.”

According to Salomon, more than 75,000 families already use the Newman Guide every year to find Catholic colleges. 

Colleges included in the Newman Guide span all parts of the country, from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., to Thomas Aquinas College in California, Ave Maria University in Florida, and the University of Mary in North Dakota. 

Though Salomon explained the expansion will be an ongoing process, she said the first cohort of recognized Newman Guide schools and programs will be announced this April. 

St. Frances of Rome: She found a path to sainthood in marriage and motherhood

Inside St. Frances of Rome Church 8 in Rome, Italy on March 9, 2016. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Rome, Italy, Mar 9, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

St. Francesca Romana, also known as St. Frances of Rome, is frequently called the “most Roman of the saints,” and is the co-patron of the city. She serves as a model for holiness in her vocation as wife and mother, and for her service to the poor of the city through the lay order she founded, the Oblates of Mary.

Born in Rome in 1384 to a noble family, Francesca was determined to dedicate her life to God as a nun at the age of 11. However, her father forbid it and arranged for her to be married to a young man named Lorenzo, who was also from a wealthy family.

Though she initially refused the marriage, Francesca eventually agreed after speaking with her confessor, who urged her to pursue the will of God rather than her own.

She married Lorenzo at the age of 13 but soon became ill due to the stress of her new, lavish lifestyle. Preferring to do penance instead of entertaining and holding banquets, Francesca was on the verge of death when she decided to submit herself to the will of God once again.

After an immediate recovery, Francesca eventually became close with her sister-in-law Vannozza, who also desired to dedicate her life to God. However, despite their wish to consecrate themselves to the Lord, the two decided that their obligations to the family came first.

Together they assumed all the responsibilities of their rank but also committed to a strong spiritual life, attending Mass together, visiting prisons, and serving in hospitals.

Shortly after Francesca’s three children were born, a flood brought disease and famine to Rome. In response to the desperation of the city, Francesca and Vannezza went out together and distributed corn, wine, oil, and clothing to the poor.

When Francesca’s father-in-law attempted to stop them by selling all of their extra supplies, the two women went out to beg instead in order to give to the poor. Francesca even combed through the straw in their loft to find extra kernels of corn. After she left, her husband arrived and found the previously empty granary completely full.

When war broke out in Rome in the late 1300s, Francesca’s husband, Lorenzo, was seriously wounded, their house was destroyed, and their eldest son was kidnapped. Her two younger children died shortly after with the outbreak of the plague.

However, instead of despairing, Francesca turned their ruined house into a makeshift hospital and a shelter for the homeless.

In return for taking the lives of her children, God gave Francesca the special grace of being able to see her guardian angel, who served as her companion and spiritual guide.

Eventually both Lorenzo and their eldest son returned home. Once she nursed her husband back to health and with his blessing, Frances founded a lay order of women called the Oblates of Mary, who share the Benedictine spirituality.

Although the women still lived in the world, they pledged themselves to God and to the service of the poor.

When Lorenzo died, Francesca went to live in a house for the widowed members of the community. She served as superior for four years until her death in 1440.

The religious house Francesca founded is still present in Rome today. While the basilica containing her remains is open all year, the house is only open to the public once a year on her March 9 feast, allowing visitors to see two rooms filled with historic frescoes, one of which was her former cell.

Although she’s not very well known outside of Rome, St. Francesca Romana has been lauded as a woman whose charity and service to the poor rival those of the modern-day St. Teresa of Calcutta.

St. Frances of Rome is “a saint loved because she was, in 1400, like we consider Mother Teresa of Calcutta today,” Italian priest Father Teodoro Muti told CNA.

“She was the saint of the poor and of the needy,” he said, noting that although she belonged to a rich and noble family, the saint spent much of her free time in the hospital caring for the sick.

And she didn’t just care for the infirmities of the body “but also to the infirmities of the spirit; she united the two things: the care of the body and of the spirit.”

Muti is a monk with the order of Our Lady of Mount Olivet, also called the Olivetans, who operate the Basilica of Santa Francesca Romana, where St. Francesca Romana’s remains have been buried since her death in 1440.

Father Muti said Francesca is widely considered “the saint of mercy” in Rome because “she practiced all of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.”

The priest noted that while there are many saints buried in Rome, not many of them are locals. Because of this she is considered “the saint of the city,” and devotion to her is so strong that even today many young girls are named after her.

Each year thousands of pilgrims and locals leave letters, cards, and photos at her tomb in the basilica, which consists of a glass case containing her skeleton with a veil on her head.

Muti said that in addition to celebrating Mass and offering various prayers throughout the day, Francesca’s feast is also marked with the blessing of cars near the coliseum.

The blessing is rooted in the fact that Francesca’s guardian angel would accompany her on her nightly rounds in the city.

Although it was dangerous at the time, “the angel always protected her from any harm,” Muti said, explaining that it is for this reason Pope Pius XI proclaimed her patron of motorists, which prompted what has become the annual Roman tradition of blessing cars on her feast day.

This story originally appeared on CNA on March 20, 2016, and was updated March 8, 2023.

EWTN News and Franciscan University to host journalism conference on ‘post-truth world’

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Washington D.C., Mar 8, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

“Journalism does not come so much by choosing a profession as by launching oneself on a mission,” Pope Francis said in a 2021 address to journalists. “Your mission is to explain the world, to make it less obscure, to make those who live in it less afraid of it and look at others with greater awareness, and also with more confidence.”

This weekend, March 10–11, EWTN News and Franciscan University of Steubenville are partnering to host a conference titled “Journalism in a Post-Truth World,” focusing on the mission of Catholics in the journalistic and media industries.

Registration is open to the general public for in-person and livestream attendance. To register click here

The conference, which will be held at Washington, D.C.’s Museum of the Bible, aims to confront the challenges facing Catholics in the journalistic world in a society that is increasingly antagonistic toward Christianity, Catholicism, and even truth itself.

“Journalism today requires a commitment to the truth and the highest journalistic principles, even though that commitment brings ridicule and attacks by many in legacy media and other journalists more interested in advocacy and ideology than truth and fact,” the conference website states. 

“There is no question that we live in a post-truth era, a time when objective facts are less important in shaping public opinion than emotions or feelings,” said Michael Warsaw, chief executive officer of EWTN. “And the field of journalism is both on the front lines of this new phenomenon and also an active participant in its spread across modern culture.”

The conference will feature talks and panels with notable speakers representing a wide array of viewpoints in the Catholic media world, including Franciscan University president Father Dave Pivonka, National Review editor Kathryn Jean Lopez, Fox News correspondent Lauren Green, The Daily Signal senior reporter Mary Margaret Olohan, and many more.

Among the topics to be discussed by the panels are “Bias in Journalism,” “Social Media and Its Role in Modern Journalism,” “Covering the Catholic Church,” and “Free Speech and Global Journalism.”

“I’m grateful to EWTN News for collaborating with us on this timely and important conference,” Pivonka said. “I’m confident it will give participants renewed hope and many practical tools to prosper in an often hostile, biased media landscape.”

Polish bishops: New allegation that JPII covered up sex abuse based on reports from communist secret police

Pope John Paul II in 1996. / Vatican Media

Washington D.C., Mar 8, 2023 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

The Polish Bishops’ Conference says that “further archival research” is needed to fairly assess a new allegation, based on communist secret police records, that St. John Paul II covered up child sexual abuse by a priest while serving as the archbishop of Krakow, Poland, prior to becoming pope. 

The allegation was included in a documentary broadcast March 6 on Polish television channel TVN24.

The same TV report also cited two other instances where St. John Paul II, then Archbishop Karol Wojtyla, allegedly relocated Father Eugeniusz Surgent and Father Jozef Loranc to new parishes despite being aware that they had been accused of sexually abusing minors. However, those allegations, first made by a Dutch journalist on Dec. 2 of last year, were quickly refuted later that month by a pair of investigative journalists, the Polish bishops noted in a statement released March 7.

The journalists, Tomasz Krzyżak and Piotr Litka, found that St. John Paul II did not cover up any abuse and consistently acted against such cases during his time as archbishop of Krakow from 1964 to 1978.

The two reporters countered the claim that Wojtyla covered up the sexual abuse by Surgent, noting that the priest was from the Diocese of Lubaczów rather than the Archdiocese of Krakow. They said Wojtyla made several decisions regarding Surgent “within his competencies” but ultimately left “the final word on possible sanctioning of the priest to his ordinary, the bishop of Lubaczów.”

In the case of Loranc, the two reporters stated that Wojtyla removed the priest from the parish, suspended him, and then forced him to live in a monastery where the civil authorities ultimately arrested him. When he was released from prison, he was again allowed to celebrate Mass but was not allowed to return to the “canonical mission of catechesis of children and youth” or the ministry of the confessional, according to the investigation.

“Two of the cases presented … had already been known to the public for several months thanks to the journalistic work of editors Tomasz Krzyżak and Piotr Litka, which was based mainly on an analysis of the files of state criminal proceedings available in the archives of the Institute of National Remembrance,” Father Adam Zak and Father Piotr Studnicki said in a joint statement on behalf of the Polish Bishops’ Conference. “The findings have already been widely reported.”

Zak is the coordinator of the Polish Bishops’ Conference for the Protection of Minors and Studnicki is the director of the Office of the Delegate of the Polish Bishops’ Conference for the Protection of Children and Youth.

A third allegation, which is an alleged cover-up of sexual abuse allegedly committed by Father Boleslaw Saduś, is a new claim that was not addressed in prior reporting. The documentary alleges that Wojtyla knew Saduś was accused of sexually abusing young boys but recommended him to a diocese in Austria without noting this information.

However, this third case “was presented not on the basis of a prosecutorial or judicial investigation but on the files of the security services of the People’s Republic of Poland,” the Polish Bishops’ Conference statement noted. “On the basis of the sources presented in the film, it is impossible to determine the qualification of the acts attributed to Father Saduś.”

The Security Service was the secret police and counter-espionage agency for the atheistic communist government that ruled Poland and sought to subvert and control the Catholic Church in the country.

Zak and Studnicki also noted that there is “much greater social awareness of the consequences of sexual abuse” today and that the Church has “developed procedures and ways to respond and help.” 

“To all those who were harmed in this way by the clergy years ago and still bear the consequences of the evil experienced, we as the Church provide acceptance, listening, and support,” the priests continued. “For details, visit Whereas, determining the role and a fair assessment of the decisions and actions of the Ordinary of the Archdiocese of Krakow Karol Wojtyła, as well as a fair explanation of the allegations against Cardinal Adam Sapieha, requires further archival research.”

Oklahoma voters reject marijuana legalization

null / OpenRangeStock/Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., Mar 8, 2023 / 13:45 pm (CNA).

Oklahomans on Tuesday night overwhelmingly voted down a measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana, which the Catholic bishops of the state had urged voters to reject because of the physical and spiritual harms of drug use.

State Question 820, which would have legalized the consumption of marijuana for adults 21 and over, was put before Oklahoma voters in a special election March 7. The final tally was 62% no to 38.3% yes, with a turnout of about 25% of registered voters, the Associated Press reported.

The vote continues a recent trend of conservative-led states rejecting marijuana ballot measures, despite analyst predictions that marijuana legalization has, for the past decade or so, largely been a winning issue no matter what state it is introduced in. At the midterm elections in November 2022, voters in Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota rejected measures put before them to legalize recreational pot while Missouri and Maryland approved theirs. Catholic bishops in all of those states had urged voters to reject marijuana legalization.

Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level but has been legalized for recreational use in 21 states and the District of Columbia.

Supporters of State Question 820 had argued that the state would benefit financially from a likely influx of Texans from the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex who would travel to Oklahoma to avail themselves of legal marijuana. Oklahoma already has, since 2018, one of the most liberal medical marijuana programs in the country, with roughly 10% of the state’s adult population having a medical license, the AP reported.

The Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, representing Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City and Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa, strongly urged voters to reject the measure, citing the well-documented harms to society, children, and the family associated with the proliferation of marijuana.

“As a result of our current lax marijuana laws, Oklahoma is now the largest exporter of illegal marijuana in the country,” the conference wrote in a March 1 post on social media.

“We can’t let our children grow up in a state where marijuana is commonplace. Use of the drug is harmful to developing adolescent brains and is associated with an increased risk for depression, suicide, and psychosis. Chronic marijuana use is associated with cognitive impairment, degenerated academic performance, and short- and long-term memory deficits.”

The marijuana measure in Oklahoma proved contentious. Law enforcement groups as well as numerous state lawmakers, including Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, announced their opposition to the measure, citing in part a rise in crime associated with the illegal growing and shipping of marijuana out of Oklahoma. In addition, instances of accidental marijuana poisoning of children in Oklahoma have risen sharply since the state legalized it for medical use.

What does the Catholic Church teach about marijuana?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the use of drugs apart from strictly therapeutic reasons is a “grave offense” (No. 2291). Paragraph 2211 of the catechism also states that the political community has a duty to protect the security and health of families, especially with respect to drugs.

Pope Francis has spoken out against even the partial legalization of so-called “soft drugs.”

“Let me state this in the clearest terms possible: The problem of drug use is not solved with drugs!” the pope said in a 2014 address to the International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome.

“Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise … Attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called ‘recreational drugs’ are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects. … Here I would reaffirm what I have stated on another occasion: No to every type of drug use. It is as simple as that. No to any kind of drug use.”

In November 2016, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences held a meeting at the Vatican with international experts, led and inspired by Pope Francis and Queen Silvia of Sweden, to discuss the worldwide drug epidemic and provide recommendations.

“The international epidemic is led by a globalized network of criminals and legal business interests, with children and youth as their primary targets,” the conference’s final statement reads.

The statement recommended the rejection of “drug legalization for recreational purposes as a hopeless, mindless strategy that would consign more people, especially the disadvantaged, youth, the poor, and the mentally ill, to misery or even death while compromising civil society, social stability, equality, and the law.” It also called for authorities to “educate the public with up-to-date scientific information on how drugs affect the brain, body, and behavior, to clarify why legalization of marijuana and other drugs for recreational use is poor public policy, poor public health policy, and poor legal policy.”

St. John Paul II spoke against the legalization of drugs in a 1997 address to a colloquium on chemical dependency.

“Some are of the opinion that the production and sale of certain drugs should be legalized. Certain authorities are prepared to do nothing, seeking merely to limit drug consumption by trying to control its effects. Consequently, in school the use of certain drugs is becoming common; this is encouraged by talk that tries to minimize the dangers, especially by distinguishing between soft and hard drugs, which leads to proposals for liberalizing the use of certain substances,” the saint noted.

“This distinction disregards and downplays the risks inherent in taking any toxic product, especially behavioral dependency, which is based on the psychic structures themselves, the blurring of conscience, and the loss of one’s will and freedom, whatever the drug.”

Beyond the spiritual effects, ample scientific evidence exists on the physical risks of using marijuana, especially for the developing brains of young people. Reports from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) have found that marijuana impairs short-term memory and judgment and distorts perception, meaning it can impair performance in school or at work and make it dangerous to drive.

Marijuana also affects brain systems that are still maturing through young adulthood, NIDA said, so regular use by teens may have negative and long-lasting effects on their cognitive development. Marijuana use is also associated with an increased risk of alcohol use disorders, nicotine dependence, marijuana use disorder, and other drug use disorders, NIDA found. Research has also shown that pregnant women who use marijuana have a 2.3 times greater risk of stillbirth.

Colorado, which was one of the first states to legalize recreational weed in 2012, has seen demonstrably higher rates of teen marijuana usage, traffic accidents, homelessness, and drug-related violence since legalization.

10 things to know from the latest survey on the Catholic Church today

More than 100,000 people attended the papal Mass in Juba, according to local authorities. / Elias Turk/EWTN

Washington D.C., Mar 8, 2023 / 12:15 pm (CNA).

On March 3 the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano reported the latest statistics about the global Catholic Church.

The Vatican’s reporting is based on data gathered at the end of 2021.

Here are the most important takeaways for you to know about the state of the Catholic Church today.

  1. The total number of Catholics has increased.

The total number of Catholics across the world reached 1.378 billion, increasing 1.3% from the previous year. Though notably, this increase does not match the world’s total population increase of 1.6%.

  1. The total number of priests continues to decrease.

The number of diocesan and religious order priests declined globally by 0.57% to 407,872. Religious order priests saw a larger decrease of 1.1%, while diocesan priests decreased by 0.32%.

  1. The number of seminarians also continues its steady decline.

According to the Vatican, the number of seminarians has been decreasing since 2013. The latest report shows the number of seminarians across the globe decreased by 1.8% to 109,895. The sharpest declines were in North America and Europe, where the number of seminarians decreased by 5.8% on both continents.

  1. The number of women religious decreased.

The total number of women religious in the world decreased by 1.7%, down to 608,958.

  1. There is a huge imbalance of priests to lay faithful in the Americas.

While North and South America claim 48% of the world’s Catholics, the two continents only have 29% of the world’s priests.

The average ratio of priests to lay faithful across the world is 3,373 Catholics for every priest. In the Americas, there are 5,534 lay Catholics for every priest. In comparison, the ratio of priests to lay faithful in Europe is 1,784 per priest.

  1. The total number of bishops decreased slightly.

The number of bishops across the globe decreased slightly from 5,363 to 5,340. The global average ratio is 76 priests per bishop.

  1. The number of permanent deacons increased.

The number of permanent deacons increased by 1.1% to 49,176, with the majority being in the Americas.

  1. Brazil has the highest number of Catholics of any nation in the world.

With 180 million faithful, Brazil has the greatest number of Catholics of any nation in the world.

  1. The Church is growing quickly in Africa.  

Despite continued violent persecution in countries such as Nigeria, the largest percentage increase of Catholics in the world was in Africa, with an increase of 3.1%.

  1. Africa breaks the trend by showing an increase in seminarians and religious brothers.

Africa also saw the only increase in seminarians and religious brothers across the globe. The number of seminarians in Africa increased by 0.6%. The number of religious brothers in Africa increased by 2.2%.

40 Days for Life in Spain tells volunteers to film or record their prayer time outside abortion clinics

40 Days for Life volunteers pray at the gates of an abortion in Castellón, Spain. / Credit: 40 days for Life

ACI Prensa Staff, Mar 8, 2023 / 07:28 am (CNA).

The 40 Days for Life campaign in Spain has advised volunteers to film or record their entire prayer time due to avoid charges of harassment from abortion clinics. Volunteers sign up with the prayer movement to take a specific time slot to be at a designated abortion facility and pray.

Spain’s 40 Days for Life held a meeting chaired by its national coordinator, Nayeli Rodríguez, and with their lawyers, the organization's 2022 guidelines on how to continue to pray in light of a crackdown on pro-life activity.

The guidelines are a series of instructions for those praying near abortion clinics to do so without giving the clinic employers and workers, pro-abortion media outlets, or the police cause to file a complaint for “harassment” of women intending to abort.

In April 2022, the socialist-communist ruling coalition in Spain amended the criminal code to establish a prison sentence “from three months to one year or community service of 31 to 80 days” for curtailing the freedom of mothers going to an abortion business by harassing them.

Specifically, the penal code refers to whoever “in order to hinder the exercise of the right to voluntary termination of pregnancy, harasses a woman through annoying, offensive, intimidating, or coercive acts that undermine her freedom.”

After the meeting, the national coordinator released several audio messages via WhatsApp insisting on the importance of volunteers recording their prayer time in order to deal with accusations of harassment or any unforeseen event.

“Please, it’s essential that as soon as you arrive at your prayer station you turn on the mobile phone’s camera” and keep it going “during the entire prayer time,” Rodríguez requested.

The national coordinator stressed in her message that it’s necessary to record what happens because “there are many circumstances that one cannot foresee and when they happen there is no time to turn on the mobile phone.”

“So please, whether it’s a video or just an audio recorder, record the entire time slot you are praying,” Rodríguez emphasized.

At the same time, the coordinator told volunteers what to do if police officers ask for identification.

“Please, every time the police come and ask for your ID, and even more so if they ask for your mobile number, ask what they are going to do with that information, why are they asking you for that information. You can refuse to give them the mobile number,” she concluded.

Cities with special difficulties

The pro-life organization described the meeting as “normal” and said the Lenten campaign is “calmer than the previous one.”

However, one volunteer saw it as an “emergency” meeting, as explained to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, because in some cities they are experiencing difficulties.

The hottest spot last week was in Castellón, where the owners of the abortion business have repeatedly reported 40 Days for Life participants to police.

Despite the fact that the volunteers have respected the law’s regulations at all times, the National Police even went so far as to remove those present on one occasion.

The controversy, which has been fueled at the local level by abortion supporters, has led to 40 Days for Life in Castellón experiencing a remarkable growth in volunteers.

Prohibited from praying aloud

In Malaga, a National Police officer allegedly insisted that the volunteers take away their signs and leave.

“The police came one of the days and told the volunteers that either they remove everything or they would be arrested, that what they were doing was illegal,” 40 Days for Life told ACI Prensa.

The presence of the local coordinator, who insisted to the officers that the gathering was legal, managed to avoid their being taken away. However, every day a patrol goes by the place and takes down the IDs of those present.

On another occasion, when five volunteers were meditating on the rosary, “they were told they couldn’t pray out loud,” 40 Days for Life sources said.

“They weren’t shouting it out either, they were praying with a normal tone of voice to hear each other. The group continued there praying in an even lower tone,” the same sources said.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Steubenville bishop bans Latin Mass at Franciscan University, effective immediately

A Traditional Latin Mass. / Andrew Gardner via Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0).

Washington D.C., Mar 7, 2023 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Students, faculty, staff, and others who attend the Traditional Latin Mass at Franciscan University will need to venture off campus to worship in the more ancient form of the Mass following their bishop’s decision to ban the campus’ monthly celebration.

Bishop Jeffrey Monforton of the Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio, ordered an immediate end to the Latin Mass on Franciscan University’s campus.

“The Diocese of Steubenville is seeking to meet the pastoral needs of the faithful in accord with the norms, including the recent rescript, issued by the Holy See,” a spokesman for the diocese told CNA.

“The Mass at Franciscan has been [canceled],” the spokesperson said. “The bishop is seeking a dispensation for the Mass at St. Peter’s, where the weekly Latin Mass has been held for years.”

The Latin Mass will still be offered weekly at St. Peter’s Church in Steubenville, which is a parish church about a mile from campus. The parish offers the Latin Mass weekly, which includes a High Mass usually once per month, on the first Sunday. Even though the campus’ Latin Mass is canceled, the Latin Mass at St. Peter will be allowed to continue while the bishop seeks a formal dispensation from the Vatican for that church.

Although the diocese claims the decision is related to an order issued by the Vatican, the Vatican order only appears to put new restrictions on Latin Masses offered in parish churches and does not appear to force bishops to restrict the Latin Mass in non-parish churches or chapels, such as the chapel used by students at Franciscan University to celebrate the Latin Mass. It’s unclear how the Vatican order is related to the bishop’s new rules.

University tried to save the Latin Mass

The bishop made this decision despite the university’s efforts to retain its ability to offer the Latin Mass. However, the university is currently working to provide shuttles to St. Peter’s Church once per month for students who wish to attend.

“While I would prefer to continue offering the option of a Traditional Latin Mass on campus, I am grateful our students still have relatively convenient access with St. Peter’s Church so close by,” Father Dave Pivonka, the president of Franciscan University, wrote in an email sent to students, staff, and faculty at the university on Monday.

Pivonka said in his email that he had spoken with the bishop in an effort to keep a Latin Mass on campus.

“I spoke with [Bishop Monforton] multiple times hoping we could work out a way to continue offering the Traditional Latin Mass at Franciscan University for the many students, faculty, and staff with a special love for this ancient form of the sacred liturgy,” Pivonka wrote in the email. “Bishop Monforton remains convinced, however, that this decision is best for our diocese in light of Pope Francis’ 2021 motu proprio Traditionis custodes.”

Pivonka told students, faculty, and staff that he reached out to the Latin Mass club on campus, Juventutem-Franciscan, on March 2 to discuss the bishop’s decision. He said he wanted to “let our students know of the care and concern for them felt by all the friars.” He said he was “extremely edified by this gathering and the time we shared together” and that “everyone there committed to continue to pray for peace as well as for Bishop Monforton and everyone involved.”

The university has not issued an official statement.

Thomas Crowe, who volunteers to train altar servers for the Traditional Latin Mass at the university, told CNA that, when the Vatican order came out, he initially believed “there shouldn’t be any effect of the [Traditional Latin Mass] on campus.” Crowe is not an employee of the university, nor is he a spokesperson on behalf of the university.

The order in question is a Feb. 21 rescript, which is a formal clarification from the Vatican, issued by Cardinal Arthur Roche, who serves as the prefect for the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

The rescript clarified Pope Francis’ motu proprio Traditionis custodes, which the pope issued on July 16, 2021. In Traditionis custodes, the pontiff ordered bishops to designate one or more locations for the celebration of the Latin Mass but stipulated that those locations not be in parish churches.

Because many parishes already had thriving Latin Mass communities, numerous bishops offered dispensations, which allowed those parishes to continue offering the Latin Mass. The recent rescript, however, clarified that all dispensations require Vatican approval and ordered bishops who had already offered dispensations to inform the dicastery, which will evaluate each dispensation on an individual basis.

A popular Mass on campus

Crowe told CNA that the campus Latin Mass has been very popular, with “easily 250 [people] at each of them this semester.” He said “the chapel’s been packed and it’s mostly students.” He added that “the university was always supportive” and would “make sure we had what we needed, make sure we had time for practice” when training altar servers for the Latin Mass.

“The opportunity for the students, especially students who had never attended the [Traditional Latin Mass] previously, the opportunity was tremendous,” Crowe said.

However, Crowe said it is “unfortunate the bishop was in the situation he was in,” adding, “it’s tragic that the Vatican thinks they need to [restrict the Latin Mass].” He said if the bishop felt he needed to choose one over the other, “choosing St. Peter’s made sense.”

With the inability to offer their own dispensations, some bishops have sought other workarounds to safeguard the celebration of the Latin Mass within their respective dioceses.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, for example, redesignated a parish church as a non-parish church so it would be exempt from the order. Bishop Robert Barron of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, designated a new chapel for Latin Mass celebrations, which is not located within a parish church.

Some bishops, such as Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, had already appealed to the Vatican prior to Cardinal Roche issuing the rescript. In that diocese, the bishop received a temporary two-year dispensation for three parishes but also designated five other options that are not within parish churches. In a few dioceses, some bishops just banned Latin Masses within parish churches entirely, such as Cardinal Wilton Gregory of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

UK Parliament makes it illegal to pray near abortion facilities

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce / ADF UK

Denver, Colo., Mar 7, 2023 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

Britain’s House of Commons approved legislation Tuesday to create “buffer zones” around abortion facilities that would prohibit a wide range of behavior, including silent prayer.

An amendment to exempt prayer and consensual conversation was voted down by lawmakers, who added the buffer zones to the Public Order Bill.

The final vote came the day after a pro-life woman was arrested in Birmingham for the second time for praying silently in an alleged violation of a local buffer zone law.

Opponents of the legislation decried the bill’s passage as a strike against individual liberty in the United Kingdom.

“Today’s vote marks a watershed moment for fundamental rights and freedoms in our country,” Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for the ADF UK legal group, said March 7.

“Parliament had an opportunity to reject the criminalization of free thought, which is an absolute right, and embrace individual liberty for all. Instead, Parliament chose to endorse censorship and criminalize peaceful activities such as silent prayer and consensual conversation.”

“Today it’s abortion. Tomorrow it could be another contested matter of political debate,” Igunnubole said. “The principle remains that the government should never be able to punish anyone for prayer, let alone silent prayer, and peaceful and consensual conversation.”

The bill would create a buffer zone of 150 meters, about 492 feet, outside abortion facilities in England and Wales. It bars intimidation, harassment, or interference toward those seeking or providing abortions. Violation would be punished with a fine, a change from a previously proposed penalty that called for a prison sentence. However, the fine is potentially unlimited.

The law’s broad provision bars any act that has the effect of “influencing any person’s decision to access, provide, or facilitate the provision of abortion services.”

Alithea Williams, public policy manager for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, warned that the buffer zone law “means that ordinary citizens will be branded criminals and subject to crippling financial penalties for witnessing peacefully and offering help to women in need.”

She characterized the presence of pro-life advocates near abortion facilities as “a real lifeline for women.”

“Many children are alive today because their mother received help and support from a compassionate pro-life person outside a clinic,” Williams said. “Many women feel pressured or coerced into having an abortion, and pro-life vigils give them options. Now their choices have been taken away.”

Lawmakers voted against Conservative MP Andrew Lewer’s amendment to specifically exempt silent prayer and consensual conversation in the zones, dubbed “censorship zones” by critics. The amendment failed by a vote of 116 to 299.

“It is very disappointing that MPs have rejected even this modest amendment, which was trying to ensure that thought crime was not enshrined in U.K. law,” Williams said. She said the vote proves that MPs “approve of arresting people even for silent prayer.”

“They heard the outrageous example of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce being arrested for silently praying in Birmingham and decided this needed to happen nationwide,” she said.

Lewer criticized the bill in a March 5 opinion essay for the U.K. newspaper The Sunday Express, warning that the country is introducing “thought crime” into the U.K. He warned that such zones could easily be expanded to other forms of protests and gatherings.

A 2018 government review, he noted, found that the zones would be “disproportionate” and unnecessary because almost all activity was peaceful, harassment was rare, and any criminality was covered by existing law. The prosecution of peaceful bystanders would mean fewer police resources for addressing violent crime, he added.

Several localities have already implemented protection orders creating a buffer zone around abortion clinics. Adam Smith-Connor was fined for praying outside an abortion facility under a protection order in Bournemouth in November 2022.

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, co-director of March for Life UK, and Archdiocese of Birmingham priest Father Sean Gough were acquitted in February of all charges against them after they were accused of breaking a Birmingham council protection order for praying in front of an abortion clinic. The charges concerned separate incidents.

The day before the vote, Vaughan-Spruce was again arrested for praying outside the same abortion facility.

“Only three weeks ago, it was made clear by the court that my silent prayers were not a crime. And yet, again, I have been arrested and treated as a criminal for having the exact same thoughts in my head, in the same location,” she said in a statement Monday.

“The ambiguity of laws that limit free expression and thought — even in peaceful, consensual conversation or in silent, internal prayer — leads to abject confusion, to the detriment of important fundamental rights. Nobody should be criminalized for their thoughts,” read the statement.

Six officers attended her arrest. A video of part of the encounter between Vaughan-Spruce and officers was posted to Twitter by ADF UK.

An officer asked her to step away and outside the exclusion zone, to which she responded: “But I’m not protesting, I’m not engaged in any of the activities prohibited.”

“But you’ve said you’re engaging in prayer, which is the offense,” the officer said.

“Silent prayer,” she responded.

“No, but you were still engaging in prayer. It is an offense,” he continued.

“I disagree,” she said.

“So you would rather be arrested and taken away than stand outside the exclusion zone, is that what you’re saying?” the officer asked.

“I am not committing an offense, I’m not intimidating or harassing, and I’m not protesting,” she said in the video excerpt.