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UPDATE: Washington pro-life activists sentenced to years in prison under FACE Act

Pro-life activist Lauren Handy listens during a news conference on the five fetuses found inside the home where she and other anti-abortion activists were living on Capitol Hill at a news conference at the Hyatt Regency on April 5, 2022, in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Washington D.C., May 14, 2024 / 13:22 pm (CNA).

Two pro-life activists were sentenced to years in prison in a Washington, D.C., district court today for their involvement in a “rescue” at a local abortion clinic. 

Lauren Handy, 30, was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison for organizing the rescue. John Hinshaw, 69, was sentenced to a year and nine months.

Attorneys from the Thomas More Society who are representing Handy said they will appeal her conviction. 

This comes nearly nine months after Handy, Hinshaw, and seven other pro-life activists were convicted on felony charges of conspiracy against rights and violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act for their involvement in an October 2020 rescue at the Washington Surgi-Clinic run by Dr. Cesare Santangelo. Both Handy and Hinshaw were immediately incarcerated and have been in prison since their conviction.

The sentences were ordered by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who chided Handy for prioritizing her activism above the “needs” of women, according to local news outlet WUSA9

“Neither you nor any of the other co-conspirators showed any compassion, empathy, toward those two women needing medical care,” Kollar-Kotelly said. “Your views took precedence over, frankly, their human needs.”

According to a previous DOJ statement, the activists involved in the rescue used “physical obstruction to injure, intimidate, and interfere with the clinic’s employees and a patient because they were providing or obtaining reproductive health services.”

The DOJ also said the activists “forcefully entered the clinic and set about blockading two clinic doors using their bodies, furniture, chains, and ropes.”

Handy is best known as one of the activists who in 2022 discovered the remains of five late-term aborted babies, known as “the D.C. five,” outside the Washington Surgi-Clinic.

Handy’s group, the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU), claims that some of these babies bore signs that they were killed in partial-birth abortions, which is illegal under federal law. Despite requests by multiple members of Congress, the office of the D.C. medical examiner has refused to allow any independent investigation into the babies’ deaths. 

Steve Crampton, an attorney with the Thomas More Society, responded to the ruling by saying that “Ms. Handy’s 57-month sentence is a miscarriage of justice, plain and simple.” 

“As I’ve gotten to know Ms. Handy, I’ve seen up close her unwavering passion for pro-life advocacy and resolute dedication to nonviolence,” he went on. “But this fight is far from over, and we eagerly look forward to appealing for Ms. Handy and her co-defendants’ freedom, so that the FACE Act can never again be weaponized by the Department of Justice against its ideological opponents.”

In a statement released shortly before her sentencing, Handy said: “I am at peace with myself and my future. I will go into court with my head held high and heart open.”

“Yes, this time has been challenging, but I refuse to be jaded. Why? Because life goes on... even in jail,” she said. “So I might as well continue to love and cry and scream and dance. That is joy. The feeling of being fully alive without shame. Which is something no court can take from me.” 

The eight other activists — John Hinshaw, William Goodman, Herb Geraghty, Jonathan Darnel, Jean Marshall, Joan Bell, Heather Idoni, and Paulette Harlow — are set to receive their sentences over the next few days.

Signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, the FACE Act prohibits obstructing access to or destruction of abortion clinics, pregnancy centers, or church property. The law has been criticized by several lawmakers for being unevenly applied against pro-lifers.

This story was updated at 5:59 p.m. ET to include the information on John Hinshaw’s sentencing.

Chiefs’ Harrison Butker chides Catholic leaders in Benedictine College commencement address 

Kansas City Chiefs’ placekicker Harrison Butker speaks to college graduates in his commencement address at Benedictine College on Saturday, May 11, 2024. / Credit: Benedictine College

CNA Staff, May 14, 2024 / 11:38 am (CNA).

Kansas City Chiefs’ placekicker Harrison Butker offered some pointed criticism of Catholic bishops and priests along with advice to college graduates in his commencement address at Benedictine College on Saturday.

Catholic bishops should be more like St. Damien of Molokai and less concerned about what civil and cultural leaders think about them, the three-time Super Bowl winner and outspoken Catholic said. 

St. Damien (1840–1889), a missionary priest from Belgium, spent nearly 16 years ministering to lepers in Hawaii before dying of their disease. 

“His heroism is looked at today as something set apart and unique when ideally it should not be unique at all,” Butker told the graduates at the Catholic liberal arts college in Atchison, Kansas, on May 11, the day after St. Damien’s feast day. “For as a father loves his child, so a shepherd should love his spiritual children, too. That goes even more so for our bishops, these men who are present-day apostles.” 

He said bishops are rightly “not politicians but shepherds,” but that they have given up their influence by not leading properly. 

“Our bishops once had adoring crowds of people kissing their rings and taking in their every word, but now relegate themselves to a position of inconsequential existence. Now, when a bishop of a diocese or the bishops’ conference as a whole puts out an important document on this matter or that, nobody even takes a moment to read it, let alone follow it,” Butker said. 

“No. Today, our shepherds are far more concerned with keeping the doors open to the chancery than they are with saying the difficult stuff out loud. It seems that the only time you hear from your bishops is when it’s time for the annual appeal, whereas we need our bishops to be vocal about the teachings of the Church, setting aside their own personal comfort and embracing their cross,” he said.

He also criticized President Joe Biden and other Catholic leaders. 

“Bad policies and poor leadership have negatively impacted major life issues. Things like abortion, IVF, surrogacy, euthanasia, as well as a growing support for degenerate cultural values in media all stem from the pervasiveness of disorder,” Butker said

Kansas City Chiefs’ placekicker Harrison Butker speaks to college graduates in his commencement address at Benedictine College on Saturday, May 11, 2024. Credit: Benedictine College
Kansas City Chiefs’ placekicker Harrison Butker speaks to college graduates in his commencement address at Benedictine College on Saturday, May 11, 2024. Credit: Benedictine College

He noted that Biden made the sign of the cross during a rally in Florida on April 23 in favor of legal abortion while an abortion supporter was criticizing Florida’s law banning abortions after six weeks.

“Our own nation is led by a man who publicly and proudly proclaims his Catholic faith, but at the same time is delusional enough to make the sign of the cross during a pro-abortion rally. He has been so vocal in his support for the murder of innocent babies that I’m sure to many people it appears that you can be both Catholic and pro-choice,” Butker said. 

“He is not alone,” he added. “From the man behind the COVID lockdowns to the people pushing dangerous gender ideologies onto the youth of America, they all have a glaring thing in common. They are Catholic. This is an important reminder that being Catholic alone doesn’t cut it.” 

Butker, 28, kicked the game-tying field goal for the Kansas City Chiefs late in the fourth quarter in Super Bowl LVIII this past February, a year after kicking the game-winning field goal late in the Super Bowl in February 2023.

A practicing Catholic who attends the Latin Mass, Butker is married and has two children. 

In May 2023, he drew attention with his commencement address at his alma mater, Georgia Tech, during which he advised graduates to avoid being “alone and devoid of purpose” and to combat loneliness, anxiety, and depression with what he called “one controversial antidote that I believe will have a lasting impact for generations to come: Get married and start a family.” 

Benedictine is a Catholic school in northeastern Kansas associated with the Benedictine religious order that has been endorsed by The Cardinal Newman Society as “a faithful Catholic college.” The school has about 2,100 undergraduates. 

Butker’s approximately 20-minute speech at Benedictine had little of the light banter and motivational encouragement typically found at graduation ceremonies, a point he noted. 

“I know that my message today had a little less fluff than is expected for these speeches, but I believe that this audience and this venue is the best place to speak openly and honestly about who we are and where we all want to go, which is heaven,” Butker said. 

To be faithful, he said, Catholics must address publicly hot-button cultural issues. 

“These are the sorts of things we are told in polite society to not bring up. You know, the difficult and unpleasant things. But if we are going to be men and women for this time in history, we need to stop pretending that the church of nice is a winning proposition,” he said. “We must always speak and act in charity, but never mistake charity for cowardice.” 

Butker said closing the churches during the coronavirus shutdowns of 2020 is an example of bishops shirking their responsibility. 

“As we saw during the pandemic, too many bishops were not leaders at all. They were motivated by fear, fear of being sued, fear of being removed, fear of being disliked. They showed by their actions, intentional or unintentional, that the sacraments don’t actually matter,” Butker said. “Because of this, countless people died alone, without access to the sacraments, and it’s a tragedy we must never forget.” 

Butker did not name any particular Catholic clerics. But along with bishops he also criticized priests. 

“There is not enough time today for me to list all the stories of priests and bishops misleading their flocks, but none of us can blame ignorance anymore and just blindly proclaim that ‘That’s what Father said,’” Butker said. “Because sadly, many priests we are looking to for leadership are the same ones who prioritize their hobbies or even photos with their dogs and matching outfits for the parish directory.”

“Focusing on my vocation while praying and fasting for these men will do more for the Church than me complaining about her leaders,” Butker said.

To all the graduates, he recommended that they evangelize wherever they go.

“Never be afraid to profess the one holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church, for this is the Church that Jesus Christ established, through which we receive sanctifying grace,” Butker said.

Germany now a ‘mission country,’ Bishop Bätzing says amid declining Catholic numbers

Bishop Georg Bätzing addresses journalists on Sept. 28, 2023. / Credit: Martin Rothweiler/EWTN Germany

CNA Newsroom, May 14, 2024 / 09:32 am (CNA).

The German Bishops’ Conference president has called Germany — a nation whose very history is entangled with the Catholic Church — a “mission country.”

In an interview with the Society of the Divine Word’s German-language magazine, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg said: “We live in a missionary country when we realize that less than half of Germany’s citizens still belong to the Christian denominations.”

According to CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, Bätzing said evangelization had been a central theme “since [Pope] John Paul II and also for [Pope] Francis.”

The German prelate continued: “But the other half are not simply faithless or don’t ask any questions, and in this respect, I believe we need to do much more.” 

“We should get in touch with these people, talk to them without being intrusive. These times of a mission with a negative tone are over, but speaking and answering questions about the hope that fills us, as the letter to the Hebrews says, is part of Christianity.”

Bätzing has led the Diocese of Limburg since 2016 and the German Bishops’ Conference since 2020. In 2016, more than 630,000 Catholics resided in Limburg. By 2022, this number had dropped to fewer than 540,000. 

The Catholic population in Germany, a nation of about 83 million people, has significantly decreased.

In 2020, there were approximately 22.19 million Catholics. However, by 2022, this number had dropped to about 20.94 million.

Researchers paint a stark picture of the future: In 2019, a project of scientists at the University of Freiburg predicted that the number of Christians paying church tax in Germany would halve by 2060.

Three years later, in 2022, more than half a million baptized Catholics left the Church, figures released by the German Bishops’ Conference confirmed. 

At the time, Bätzing stated on his diocese’s website that the “alarming” figures underscored the need for continued “cultural change” and the implementation of the German Synodal Way resolutions.

However, the German Synodal Way, which has advocated for significant changes to traditional Church teachings since 2019, has not stemmed the dramatic decline in Catholic numbers. 

A 2021 report by CNA Deutsch noted that 1 in 3 Catholics in Germany were considering leaving the Church. The reasons for leaving varied, with older people citing the Church’s handling of the abuse crisis and younger people pointing to the obligation of paying church tax, according to one earlier study.

The German Bishops’ Conference currently stipulates that leaving the Church results in automatic excommunication, a regulation that has sparked controversy among theologians and canon lawyers.

In June 2019, Pope Francis addressed a 28-page letter to German Catholics, urging them to focus on evangelization amid a “growing erosion and deterioration of faith.” He warned against relying solely on internal strengths, stating: “Every time an ecclesial community has tried to get out of its problems alone, relying solely on its own strengths, methods, and intelligence, it has ended up multiplying and nurturing the evils it wanted to overcome.”

The Synodal Way initially struggled to embrace this call. In September 2021, a motion to emphasize evangelization was narrowly passed but was initially rejected due to misinterpreting abstention votes. Bätzing later confirmed the proposal had been accepted, acknowledging the procedural error.

One year later, in September 2022, Bätzing said the shortest definition of religion was “interruption” and that some forms of continuity people seek from religion are “frankly suspect.”

Chicago priest apologizes for same-sex blessing, saying it violated Church norms

null / Credit: Reshetnikov_art/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, May 14, 2024 / 07:48 am (CNA).

A priest in Chicago has apologized for the controversial way in which he blessed a same-sex couple in April, calling it a “very poor decision” that violated Catholic Church’s new guidelines.

In a statement dated May 8, Father Joseph Williams, the pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish near downtown Chicago, offered an apology in which the priest said he “regrets the language of the blessing and the use of vestments and the church itself, which he now recognizes were a violation of the norms approved by the Church.”

The priest blessed a same-sex couple in the city parish in April. In a video of the event posted to social media, Williams — wearing priestly vestments — can be seen asking the couple if they “freely recommit yourselves to love each other as holy spouses and to live in peace and harmony together forever.” The two women respond, “I do.”

Williams in the video asks God to “increase and consecrate the love” the two women have for each other, stating that the “rings that they have exchanged are the sign of their fidelity and commitment.” 

The priest had initially suggested that the Vatican’s December 2023 document Fiducia Supplicans allows the type of blessing he administered in April. That document said that Catholic priests can bless same-sex couples as an expression of pastoral closeness without condoning their sexual relations and without making the blessing seem like a wedding. 

The way in which he conducted the blessing “came about due to my attempt to provide for them a meaningful moment of God’s grace,” the pastor said in the statement.

“I wanted to do it well,” he said. “A week or so after the fact, I viewed the video. I immediately realized that I had made a very poor decision in the words and visuals captured on the video.”

The controversy “has been a valuable learning experience” for the priest, the statement said. 

“I am deeply sorry for any confusion and/or anger that this has caused, particularly for the people of God,” Williams said. 

The statement was issued by the Congregation of the Mission, also called the Vincentians, who administer the downtown Chicago parish. 

The Archdiocese of Chicago did not immediately respond to an emailed query on Tuesday morning.

Fiducia Supplicans generated global controversy after it was announced on Dec. 18, with bishops around the world either declaring their support for it or stating their intention not to implement it. 

The Vatican declaration, which also applies to Catholics civilly remarried without having received an annulment as well as to couples in other “irregular situations,” underscored that such blessings cannot be offered in a way that would cause any confusion about the nature of marriage.

“The Church’s doctrine on this point remains firm,” the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith said when the document was released.

Mary, Mother of Persecuted Christians gains a shrine in Wyoming

Bishop Robert Pipta of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, celebrates a Divine Liturgy on Saturday, May 11, 2024, at the Byzantine chapel at Wyoming Catholic College, on the occasion of the installation and blessing of the new shrine. / Credit: Julian Kwasniewski/Wyoming Catholic College

Ann Arbor, Michigan, May 14, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Bishop Robert Pipta of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, dedicated a shrine and an icon on Saturday, May 11, at Wyoming Catholic College directed to prayer specifically for persecuted Christians. 

In a response to CNA, Pipta wrote of the event: “To be reminded that the Theotokos continues her motherly care for persecuted Christians throughout the world is of great value to the Catholic faithful in our communities.”

Pipta celebrated a Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine chapel at the college and was accompanied by its chaplain, Father David Anderson; Father Benedict Kiely; students; and faculty. 

Bishop Robert Pipta blesses the icon of the Virgin Mary of Persecuted Christians at Wyoming Catholic College on May 11, 2024. Credit: Julian Kwasniewski/Wyoming Catholic College
Bishop Robert Pipta blesses the icon of the Virgin Mary of Persecuted Christians at Wyoming Catholic College on May 11, 2024. Credit: Julian Kwasniewski/Wyoming Catholic College

Pipta blessed the chapel and an icon of the Virgin Mary of Persecuted Christians, which was painted by Syrian Melkite Greek Catholic Sister Souraya of the Basilian order, who resides in Lebanon. The icon is inscribed “Mother of the Persecuted” in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. This is the fifth such chapel in the world, with a sixth to be dedicated next year in Spokane, Washington, at the request of Bishop Thomas Daly.

In an interview with CNA, Kiely said there are two reasons why Christians should take note of the dedication of the chapel and icon.

“The first and most important is that St. Paul, when he was Saul, was on the way to Damascus, he was knocked from his horse by Jesus,” he said. “To Saul’s question came Jesus’ answer, which should be one of the most important things in a Christian’s life. It was when Saul asked, ‘Who are you Lord?’ Jesus said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.’ He didn’t say ‘You are persecuting my church.’ He said, ‘You are persecuting me.’ Anywhere in the world where a Christian is persecuted, it is Christ himself being persecuted. If that isn’t a priority in the so-called free West, then we have a problem.”

Kiely, 60, is a native of England and a priest of the Anglican Ordinariate who founded Nasarean.org, a charity based in Vermont that seeks to provide support to persecuted Christians.

With funds provided by the charity, Kiely said that Christians living in Iraq, for example, have been given the means to start small businesses to support their families. According to Kiely, the shrines are intended to assure persecuted Christians that their co-religionists in the West do care about them. The shrines, he said, offer opportunities to pray for the deliverance of Christians and encourage giving aid.

“As Christians, we believe that prayer is not the last resort but the first resort. I’ve been to Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere nine times in recent years. The very first thing that people ask me to do is pray for them and ask Christians to pray for them. They don’t ask first for aid but for prayer. A place specifically dedicated to pray for them is responding to those two things: that it is Jesus who is being persecuted and that they have asked for prayer,” Kiely told CNA.

In December 2023, on the feast of St. Stephen Protomartyr — the first martyr recorded in the Acts of the Apostles — Pope Francis observed: “Today, 2,000 years later, unfortunately we see that the persecution continues.”

Kiely said in the interview: “If enough people were praying for persecuted Christians, they might find freedom and peace.” In the past, Kiely has suggested that the current synodal process has not sufficiently focused on the issue. 

According to the Open Doors World Watch List, 317 million Christians face persecution and discrimination. One in seven Christians are persecuted worldwide, one in five Christians are persecuted in Africa, while two out of five Christians are persecuted in Asia, according to the group. Apart from the Middle East, which has been ravaged by war and groups such as ISIS, countries such as Pakistan, Nigeria, and China are of special concern.

This icon of the Virgin Mary of Persecuted Christians was painted by Syrian Melkite Greek Catholic Sister Souraya, who resides in Lebanon. The icon is inscribed “Mother of the Persecuted” in Aramaic. Credit: Father Benedict Kiely
This icon of the Virgin Mary of Persecuted Christians was painted by Syrian Melkite Greek Catholic Sister Souraya, who resides in Lebanon. The icon is inscribed “Mother of the Persecuted” in Aramaic. Credit: Father Benedict Kiely

“I only install an icon in a diocese where the bishop will bless it,” Kiely said. This is to signal the importance of prayers for the persecuted. The installation of the icon at Wyoming Catholic College was forwarded by Anderson, a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest at the college, and approved by Pipta.

“This is the first dedication of the icon in a college, and it is especially important because young people, the students, will pray for the persecuted,” Kiely said.

The first shrine of the Blessed Mother dedicated in 2017 to persecuted Christians was at St. Michael Parish in New York City. This was followed by another shrine in London and in Worcester, Massachusetts. The most recent installation was at a Syriac Catholic parish in Stockholm. The dedication in Massachusetts was accompanied by the world premiere of the “Mass for Persecuted Christians” by Catholic composer Paul Jernberg.

Why do so many Catholics use contraception? Experts weigh in

null / Credit: Goodluz/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, May 14, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Recent data from the federally administered National Survey of Family Growth shows large majorities of Catholics report using at least one form of artificial contraception — with over 90% having used condoms and more than 60% having used the hormonal birth control pill. 

Experts say this is “a crisis of catechesis within the Church” and one that requires both a compassionate response and a firm application of Catholic sexual ethics. 

The Catholic Church for centuries has taught that all forms of artificial birth control are illicit and forbidden to married couples. This teaching was formalized in 1968 by St. Paul VI, who in his encyclical Humanae Vitae declared that “any action … specifically intended to prevent procreation” was “absolutely excluded” as a lawful means of regulating the number of children in a Catholic marriage. 

Though Church teaching on the matter continues to be unambiguous, large numbers of Catholics have reported high usages of artificial contraception over the years. A 2011 Guttmacher study, for instance, found that “​​among women who are currently at risk of unintended pregnancy,” fully 87% of Catholics “use a method other than natural family planning.”

John Grabowski, a professor of moral theology and ethics at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that the data around Catholic contraception usage have been “known for some time.”  

“I think that this points to a crisis of catechesis within the Church,” he said. “Whatever we are currently doing to form people in the faith is not working well because this data shows that they are being catechized by the gospel of the sexual revolution rather than the Gospel proclaimed by the Church.”

Grabowski argued that Catholics who use artificial contraception “don’t realize that in choosing to contracept they are bringing something toxic into their marriages.” 

“In some cases, the contraceptives they use are physically toxic such as oral contraception, which has a whole range of negative health effects [both] physically and psychologically on women,” he said. 

“In some cases they are actually not genuinely contraceptive but actually work as abortifacients (such as some versions of the IUD),” he continued. 

“In almost every case, fertility is treated as a disease rather than a gift and a healthy function of the human body.”

The “gift” of one’s fertility has long been a part of Catholic sexual ethics; in Humanae Vitae St. Paul VI stressed the need to “experience the gift of married love while respecting the laws of conception.”

The “sexual faculties,” the pope wrote, are “concerned by their very nature with the generation of life, of which God is the source.”

Instead of artificial contraception, the Church promotes natural family planning (NFP) for both avoiding and achieving pregnancy. NFP methods, which are all based on the natural signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle, can include the use of fertility monitoring devices and apps. NFP respects both the unitive and procreative meaning of sex within marriage.

Gregory Popcak, the founder of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, which helps Catholics align their marriages and their lives with the Catholic faith, told CNA that there “isn’t a lot of quality research on NFP.” 

“According to the available data, the NFP usage rate among Catholics tends to be fairly consistently about 2%-3%,” he said.  

“That said, I believe there may be a small bounce in NFP usage because of the use of sophisticated apps that make NFP easier and (potentially) more effective to use,” he noted. 

Popcak argued that the Church’s teachings on birth control were “more front-and-center” under prior popes but that it has gone “largely silent” under Pope Francis. 

He argued that marriage advocates and Church leaders need to “recenter the conversation about NFP and stop making it about whether people are following the rules or not.” 

“That is the most superficial way we can have the conversation,” he said. “We have to proclaim the notion that marriage, along with all the other sacraments, is meant to be an instrument of healing. Matrimony is key to God’s plan for healing the generative nature of the human person.”

“We particularly don’t know — on our own — how to love another person the way God wants us to,” he said. “Matrimony exists to heal the damage sin does to our ability to love rightly — especially through our bodies.”

Birth control has ‘a long history’

Theresa Notare, the assistant director for the Natural Family Planning Program at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, acknowledged that contraception itself is nothing new. 

“The whole idea of birth control, of family planning, has a long history of tapping into what people think is good, what they think they need and want, not only for themselves but for their children,” she said. 

Notare pointed out that contraception has been practiced on a wide scale for centuries and for a variety of reasons. In many cases it was driven by the belief that parents “should be able to take care of the children they have” and not overtax potentially scarce family resources. 

The Church has regularly acknowledged the potential necessity of delaying childbearing for such reasons. St. John Paul II said in 1992 that husbands and wives are “deeply affected by social and economic circumstances” and that “conditions of poverty” can “cause a couple to be unprepared for the gift of new life.”

Though Church teaching has for years allowed for NFP in such cases, Notare said that our current technological zeitgeist has created “an impatience for anything that takes slow change.” 

Periodic abstinence as dictated by NFP “means you have to change your sexual behavior; that takes discipline,” she said. 

“People in the West, especially Americans, we just hate that sort of thing,” she said. “Why bother when you could pop a pill, open up a package, use a device?”

Notare argued that the laity “have not generally heard the Church’s good message on sex.” 

“For years they heard ‘guilt’ and didn’t hear the positive side of teachings,” she said. Once Humanae Vitae was promulgated, meanwhile, “too many priests had stopped speaking on the birth control issue.” 

“In that void, the culture imposed itself,” she said. “The majority of Catholics, at this point in time, are victims of the culture. They don’t know it. They’re absolutely ignorant of it.”

What can the Church do? 

Church leaders and lay advocates have for years been working to counteract the huge Catholic uptake in contraception. The U.S. bishops promote natural family planning through a variety of means, for instance, such as its directory of NFP instructors, while groups like the Couple to Couple League offer classes and resources for engaged and married couples. 

Grabowski said the Church needs to use its evangelization resources to better educate Catholics on Catholic sexual ethics. 

“As the Church in the U.S. is trying to better form people in the Catholic belief of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist in this Eucharistic revival, we need a similar kind of effort to better form people in a Catholic vision of the human person and sexuality,” he said.

Notare suggested that the faithful should look to Humanae Vitae as a good start. “The language is easy. It’s so beautifully laid out, talking about the nature of married love and the gift of procreation,” she said. “I would encourage people to read that. It’s very clear.”

Popcak, meanwhile, acknowledged “the real challenges that NFP brings out in a relationship.”

The Church “needs to be providing actual pastoral support and guidance for couples” who are using it, he said. 

“We need to help couples understand that the challenges that NFP forces to the surface are the very problems that God is asking them to work through so that they can have healthier, happier, and holier relationships,” he said. 

Catholic couples who struggle with NFP and aren’t assisted by their spiritual leaders can often just give up on the practice altogether, he said, leading to widespread claims that natural family planning simply doesn’t work. 

“Frankly, that’s always been the case, but it’s particularly true now,” Popcak said. “Catholic couples deserve better.”

Virgin Mary today asks same she asked of little shepherds 107 years ago, cardinal says

Candlelight procession at Fátima, Portugal on May 12, 2024. / Credit: Screenshot/EWTN

ACI Digital, May 13, 2024 / 16:18 pm (CNA).

During the May 13 Mass that he offered on the feast day of Our Lady of Fátima at the shrine dedicated to her in Portugal, Cardinal Juan José Omella said the Virgin Mary asks of us today the same that she asked of the three visionaries 107 years ago, in 1917. 

The prelate is archbishop of Barcelona and former president of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference.

“What does Mary tell us today? The same thing she says in the Gospel, the same thing — prayer and sacrifice — she said to the little shepherds Francisco and Jacinta, 107 years ago, here in the Cova de Iría,” the cardinal said.

The archbishop also stressed that as Christians we must not lose “the virtue of prayer, of heart-to-heart dialogue with the Lord, personally and communally,” offering prayers such as the rosary and the Lord’s Prayer, “praying for the world, for the salvation of us all.”

“The second thing that Our Lady has asked of us and asks us today is to pray for peace” in a world racked by war in places like “Ukraine, Russia, the Holy Land, Africa, the Americas, Asia. How many countries need and appeal for peace!”

Omella also prayed for unity and fraternity in the Church because “a Church divided, some against others, is not close to the pope, to Jesus Christ, to all brothers. If we are not united, we will not be able to help and forgive each other, we will not evangelize.”

The archbishop of Barcelona noted on X on May 13 that “about 100,000 people are gathered today on the esplanade of this shrine” and that “a similar number of Ukrainian and Russian brothers have lost their lives because of the war. We pray for peace in Ukraine and for all the deceased so that, their sins forgiven, they may attain the glory of life in heaven with God and their brothers.”

“Happy feast day of the Virgin of Fátima!” he concluded. 

Attendance at the shrine 

According to the Fátima Shrine, on the evening of Sunday, May 12, about 250,000 pilgrims participated in the prayers and the traditional candlelight procession.

There were 186 groups of international pilgrims from 34 countries.

The rector of the Fátima Shrine, Father Carlos Cabecinhas, said at a May 12 press conference that there was an increase of 26.5% in pilgrims compared with 2023. In the first four months of the year, a total of 1,023,680 pilgrims participated in 304 events at the Cova da Iría.

Besides Portugal, the 10 countries from which the largest number of pilgrims came were Spain, Poland, Italy, the United States, Brazil, South Korea, the Philippines, Mexico, Croatia, and Ukraine.

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

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. retracts ‘full-term abortion’ support, backs viability limit

Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. visits “Fox & Friends” at Fox News Channel Studios on April 2, 2024, in New York City. / Credit: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 13, 2024 / 15:31 pm (CNA).

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is walking back his recent statement of support for “full-term abortion” on demand and conceding to some restrictions on abortion once a fetus reaches viability, which occurs around 23 to 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The Catholic Democrat-turned-independent embraced the legality of on-demand “full-term abortion” in an appearance on “The Sage Steele Show” last Wednesday. The candidate told Steele — who is a Catholic — that abortion should be legal “even if it’s full term.” He said that he does not think “it’s ever OK” to abort a full-term child but that “nobody sets out to do that and there are always some kind of extenuating circumstances that would make a mother make that kind of choice.” 

After facing backlash from numerous pro-life organizations and eliciting confusion within his own campaign, Kennedy walked back that position. 

In a post on X late Friday night — just two days after his comments — Kennedy said he “would allow appropriate restrictions on abortion in the final months of pregnancy” and highlighted that even the now-defunct Roe v. Wade ruling allowed for such rules.

“Abortion has been a notoriously divisive issue in America, but actually I see an emerging consensus — abortion should be legal up until a certain number of weeks and restricted thereafter,” Kennedy said.

The presidential candidate wrote in his post that he trusts “women’s maternal instincts” and said he is “leery of inserting the government into abortion” because of instances such as the unborn child having “some fatal condition that ensures it will survive just hours or days after birth in intense suffering.” In those situations, he asked, “can we, should we, legislate such painful decisions and take them away from the mother?” 

“I had been assuming that virtually all late-term abortions were such cases, but I’ve learned that my assumption was wrong,” Kennedy continued. “Sometimes, women abort healthy, viable late-term fetuses. These cases of purely ‘elective’ late-term abortion are very upsetting. Once the baby is viable outside the womb, it should have rights and it deserves society’s protection.” 

Kennedy said in his statement that he “learned this because I was willing to listen — to my family, advisers, supporters, and others who shared their perspectives” and added that he promised to “continue to listen and incorporate what I learn into my decisions.”

The presidential hopeful added that he supports “the emerging consensus that abortion should be unrestricted up until a certain point” and that he believes “that point should be when the baby is viable outside the womb.”

Kennedy then referred back to previous statements he has made on abortion, claiming that “the biggest reason [women obtain abortions] according to studies is affordability.” He plugged his “More Choices, More Life” abortion reduction plan, which would seek to address affordability with government-subsidized child care so “abortion isn’t their only choice.”

In a statement to CNA last week, a Kennedy spokesperson said that the independent candidate also supports legislation to codify the abortion standards set in Roe v. Wade. This would make abortion legal nationwide and prevent states from implementing legal protections for unborn life in earlier stages of pregnancy. In an interview with EWTN last month, Kennedy said he opposes states being allowed to control their own abortion policies.

Pro-life groups react to Kennedy’s policy change

Following Kennedy’s shift on full-term abortion, Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told CNA that Kennedy “has taken a variety of positions on abortion throughout his campaign.” 

“Most late-term abortions in the U.S. involve healthy moms and healthy babies, as even the abortion industry admits,” Dannenfelser added. “We’re one of only eight countries, alongside China and Vietnam, that allow abortion on demand with no national protections for unborn babies at any point in pregnancy.”

However, Dannenfelser said, “even Kennedy’s latest shift of no protections until a baby can survive outside the womb — well past the point when the child can feel pain — still leaves America as a global human rights outlier.” She encouraged legal protections for unborn children at the federal level at 15 weeks of pregnancy. 

National Right to Life President Carol Tobias told CNA that it appears Kennedy realized the unpopularity of on-demand abortion up until the point of birth.

“Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said the abortion decision should be up to the woman, even if that meant an abortion at any time up to birth,” Tobias said.

“He, obviously, received so much pushback that he again changed [his] position, moving it back to sometime around viability,” Tobias added. “Kennedy realized that the American public at large does not accept abortion for any reason throughout pregnancy. [President] Joe Biden is now the only candidate supporting that radical position.”

How Kennedy compares with Biden and Trump

Biden has backed efforts to codify the abortion standards previously held in Roe v. Wade. The language of the text would legalize abortion nationwide until the point of viability — however, it would not set a clear week-based limit but instead allow the unborn child’s viability to be determined by the woman’s treating physician, who may be the abortionist.

Kennedy did not say whether he would support a specific week-based limit to prevent late-term abortions or whether he would support the same language. 

Biden also supports repealing budget language that prevents federal agencies from directly funding abortion.

Former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said in April that he would not sign a national abortion ban if Congress sent one to him. Rather, he supports states making their own laws regarding abortion. 

“Many states will be different,” Trump said in April. “Many will have a different number of weeks, or some will have more conservative [policies] than others, and that’s what they will be.”

After the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, more than 20 states passed pro-life laws that imposed stricter limits on abortion than were permitted under the now-defunct ruling.

9 things to know and share about Fátima

Monument of the Guardian Angel of Portugal apparition to the three little shepherd children of Fatima. / Daniel Ibanez / CNA.

National Catholic Register, May 13, 2024 / 14:09 pm (CNA).

May 13 is the optional memorial of Our Lady of Fátima, arguably the most prominent approved apparition of the 20th century. It became famous the world over, particularly for its three-part “secret.”

Here are nine things to know about this Marian apparition.

1) What happened at Fátima, Portugal?

A young shepherd girl, Lucia dos Santos, said she experienced supernatural visitations as early as 1915, two years before the famous appearances of Our Lady of Fátima.

In 1917, she and two of her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, were working as shepherds tending their families’ flocks. On May 13, 1917, the three children saw an apparition of a lady from heaven. She told them, among other things, that she would return once a month for six months.

At her third appearance, on July 13, Lucia was shown the secret of Fátima. She reportedly turned pale and cried out with fear, calling Our Lady by name. There was a thunderclap, and the vision ended.

The children again saw the Virgin on Sept. 13.

In the sixth and final appearance, on Oct. 13, a dramatic outward sign was given to those gathered to witness the event. After the clouds of a rainstorm parted, numerous witnesses — some as far as 40 miles away — reported seeing the sun dance, spin, and send out colored rays of light.

2) What happened after the main apparitions?

As World War I raged across Europe, an epidemic of Spanish flu swept the globe. It erupted in America and was spread by soldiers being sent to distant lands. This epidemic killed an estimated 20 million people.

Among them were Francisco and Jacinta, who contracted the illness in 1918 and died in 1919 and 1920, respectively. Lucia entered the convent.

On June 13, 1929, at the convent chapel in Tuy, Spain, Lucia had another mystical experience in which she saw the Trinity and the Blessed Virgin. Mary told her:

“The moment has come in which God asks the Holy Father in union with all the bishops of the world to make the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, promising to save it by this means” (S. Zimdars-Schwartz, “Encountering Mary,” 197).

On Oct. 13, 1930, the bishop of Leiria (now Leiria-Fátima) proclaimed the apparitions at Fátima authentic and worthy of assent.

3) How was the “secret” of Fátima written down?

Between 1935 and 1941, on the orders of her superiors, Sister Lucia wrote four memoirs of the Fátima events. In the third of these, she recorded the first two parts of the secret, explaining that there was a third part she was not yet permitted by heaven to reveal. 

In the “Fourth Memoir,” she added a sentence to the end of the second part of the secret:

“In Portugal, the dogma of the faith will always be preserved, etc.”

This sentence has been the basis for much speculation that the third part of the secret concerned a great apostasy. 

Sister Lucia also noted that in writing the secret in the “Fourth Memoir”:

“With the exception of that part of the secret which I am not permitted to reveal at present, I shall say everything. I shall not knowingly omit anything, though I suppose I may forget just a few small details of minor importance.”

Upon the publication of the “Third and Fourth Memoirs,” the world became aware of the secret of Fátima and its three parts, including Our Lady’s request that Russia be consecrated (entrusted) to her Immaculate Heart by the pope and the bishops of the world.

On Oct. 31, 1942, Pius XII consecrated not only Russia but also the whole world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. What was missing, though, was the involvement of the world’s bishops.

In 1943, the bishop of Leiria ordered Sister Lucia to put the third secret of Fátima in writing. She did not feel at liberty to do so until 1944. It was then placed in a wax-sealed envelope on which Sister Lucia wrote that it should not be opened until 1960.

4) What happened to the “third secret” afterward?

The secret remained with the bishop of Leiria until 1957, when it was requested (along with photocopies of Sister Lucia’s other writings) by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. According to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone the secret was read by both Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI (see “The Message of Fátima[MF], “Introduction”).

“John Paul II, for his part, asked for the envelope containing the third part of the ‘secret’ following the assassination attempt on 13 May 1981” (ibid.).

He read it sometime between July 18 and Aug. 11.

It is significant that John Paul II did not read the secret until after the assassination attempt was made on his life. He notes in “Crossing the Threshold of Hope” (1994):

“And thus we come to May 13, 1981, when I was wounded by gunshots fired in St. Peter’s Square. At first, I did not pay attention to the fact that the assassination attempt had occurred on the exact anniversary of the day Mary appeared to the three children at Fátima in Portugal and spoke to them the words that now, at the end of this century, seem to be close to their fulfillment” (221).

After reading the secret, the Holy Father realized the connection between the assassination attempt and Fátima. He has since consistently attributed his survival of the gunshot wound to the intercession of Our Lady of Fátima.

“It was a mother’s hand that guided the bullet’s path,” he said, “and in his throes the pope halted at the threshold of death” (“Meditation from the Policlinico Gemelli to the Italian Bishops,” May 13, 1994).

5) Did John Paul II consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary?

As had Pius XII, John Paul II decided to consecrate not only Russia but also the entire world to her Immaculate Heart. After he read the third part of the secret, he decided to journey to Fátima on May 13, 1982, and there performed the Act of Entrustment.

This act, however, did not appear to satisfy the requested consecration, and so, “on 25 March 1984 in St. Peter’s Square, while recalling the fiat uttered by Mary at the Annunciation, the Holy Father, in spiritual union with the bishops of the world, who had been ‘convoked’ beforehand, entrusted all men and women and all peoples to the Immaculate Heart of Mary” (Bertone, MF).

“Sister Lucia personally confirmed that this solemn and universal act of consecration corresponded to what Our Lady wished (‘Yes it has been done just as Our Lady asked, on 25 March 1984’: Letter of 8 November 1989). Hence any further discussion or request is without basis” (Bertone, MF).

6) Is Fátima related to the fall of Russian communism?

After it became public that there was a secret of Fátima and that it mentioned Russia, many pondered Fátima in the light of Russian communism.

1917 was a year of turmoil for Russia. Besides fighting in World War I, the country experienced two civil wars known as the February Revolution and the October Revolution. The former led to the creation of a provisional government that proved unstable. On Oct. 24–25, less than two weeks after the final appearance of Our Lady of Fátima, the second revolution resulted in the creation of the Soviet government.

In the ensuing years, Russia expanded its sphere of influence, exporting communist ideology and revolution to other lands and martyring Christians wherever it spread. Once Pope John Paul II’s 1984 consecration took place, first the Soviet bloc and then the USSR itself crumbled from a variety of social, political, and economic factors.

As the pope himself noted:

“And what are we to say of the three children from Fatima who suddenly, on the eve of the outbreak of the October Revolution, heard: ‘Russia will convert’ and ‘In the end, my [Immaculate] Heart will triumph’ ... ? They could not have invented those predictions. They did not know enough about history or geography, much less the social movements and ideological developments. And nevertheless it happened just as they had said” (CTH, 131; emphasis in original).

Though he did not reveal the third part of the secret until the year 2000, six years earlier John Paul II hinted at its contents. Immediately after he meditated on the fall of communism in connection with Fátima, he went on to write:

“Perhaps this is also why the pope was called from a ‘faraway country,’ perhaps this is why it was necessary for the assassination attempt to be made in St. Peter’s Square precisely on May 13, 1981, the anniversary of the first apparition at Fátima — so that all could become more transparent and comprehensible, so that the voice of God which speaks in human history through the ‘signs of the times’ could be more easily heard and understood” (CHT, 131-132).

By the year 2000, the Holy Father felt able to reveal the final part of Fátima’s secret, since “the events to which the third part of the ‘secret’ of Fátima refers now seem part of the past” (Sodano, MF, “Announcement”).

The pontiff selected the beatification of Francisco and Jacinta on May 13, 2000, in Portugal as the occasion to announce this fact.

7) What is the essence of Fátima’s three-part “secret?”

Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, pointed out that the key to the apparition of Fátima is its call to repentance and conversion (MF, “Theological Commentary”).

All three parts of the secret serve to motivate the individual to repentance, and they do so in a dramatic way.

8) What is the first part of the secret?

The first part of the secret — the vision of hell — is the most important, for it reveals to individuals the tragic consequences of failure to repent and what awaits them in the invisible world if they are not converted.

9) What is the second part of the secret?

In the second part, Mary says:

“You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.”

Ratzinger explains:

“According to Matthew 5:8, the ‘immaculate heart’ [of Mary] is a heart which, with God’s grace, has come to perfect interior unity and therefore ‘sees God.’ To be ‘devoted’ to the Immaculate Heart of Mary means therefore to embrace this attitude of heart, which makes the fiat — ‘your will be done’ — the defining center of one’s whole life. It might be objected that we should not place a human being between ourselves and Christ. But then we remember that Paul did not hesitate to say to his communities: ‘imitate me’ (1 Corinthians 4:16; Philippians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:7, 9)” (op. cit.).

After explaining the vision of hell, Mary spoke of a war that “will break out during the pontificate of Pius XI.”

This latter war, of course, was World War II, which Sister Lucia reckoned as having been occasioned by the annexation of Austria by Germany during the reign of Pius XI (J. de Marchi, “Temoignages sur les apparitions de Fatima,” 346).

Our Lady also mentioned that this would happen after a night of the “unknown light.” Sister Lucia understood this to refer to Jan. 25, 1938, when Europe was witness to a spectacular nighttime display of light in the sky. In her third memoir she wrote:

“Your Excellency is not unaware that, a few years ago, God manifested that sign, which astronomers chose to call an aurora borealis. ... God made use of this to make me understand that his justice was about to strike the guilty nations.”

Our Lady added:

“If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.”

Much has been made of the statement “Russia will be converted.”

Many people have assumed this meant the Russian people as a whole would become Catholic. But the language of the text does not require this.

The Portuguese word “converterá” doesn’t necessarily mean converted to the Catholic faith. It can mean simply that Russia will stop its warlike behavior, and thus “there will be peace.”

This interpretation seems to be the one understood by John Paul II in a passage cited above from “Crossing the Threshold of Hope.”

This story was first published by the National Catholic Register, CNA’s sister news parter, on May 13, 2020, and has been adapted by CNA.

Pastor urges faithful to pray for vandal who defaced church: ‘That’s being a Christian’

Father Timothy Furlow speaks from the ambo at St. Patrick’s Church in Portland, Oregon. / Credit: St. Patrick’s Church in Portland, Oregon

CNA Staff, May 13, 2024 / 11:16 am (CNA).

A pastor in Portland, Oregon, recently urged his parish to pray for a vandal who defaced the church building with vulgar graffiti, arguing that the controversy gets to the “core message” of the Gospel itself. 

A vandal tagged St. Patrick’s Church in Portland with several graffiti in April that read “[expletive] you, my body my choice,” a popular slogan for the pro-abortion movement. 

In his homily the morning the graffiti was discovered, the parish’s pastor, Father Timothy Furlow, told parishioners that he deliberately left the vulgar message visible for the faithful to see on their way to Mass. 

“I wanted you to see it,” he said. “Somebody said, ‘Oh, we got to cover this up.’ And then I’m like, nope. I want them to see that.” 

“And the reason is because it fits kind of perfectly with what the core message of the Gospel is,” he continued. “The core message here is pretty simple: We can’t do anything good apart from God. Not a thing. We can’t pull a good thing off. It’s just absolutely impossible.”

The pastor indicated the perpetrator is a known vandal around Portland. Furlow said he himself has felt a desire to see the criminal “get his comeuppance.”

“But the other part of me, the part of my heart that the Holy Spirit is working in — that I let him work in — thinks what I really want is for him to be an usher,” he said. 

“I want him to come to my door and say, ‘I have no idea what’s going on. I have never experienced anything like this in my life. But somehow in the core of my being, I know that God is real and Jesus is God.’”

The pastor said he hopes that the vandal would follow that impulse “all the way through OCIA and the sacraments of initiation, into the door that he once cursed and spray-painted.”

Furlow reminded the assembly of Jesus’ command to “pray for those who persecute you.”

“Christianity and Catholicism [is] utterly unlike anything else on the earth because it runs directly contrary to the logic of the world, the flesh, and the devil,” he said. 

The pastor then asked the parish to take a minute to “sincerely pray for that guy and every single person like him in Portland, Oregon, that’s hurting with a broken heart and is turning to the darkness to try to fix it rather than the Lord who is healing himself.” 

“Pray that he’d actually be able to receive that grace and that one day he would be welcoming you at the door to Mass,” he said. 

“That’s being a Christian. That’s truly living our supernatural Catholic faith.”