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Spanish bishop open to mediation regarding non-Opus Dei priest as rector of Opus Dei shrine

Procession at the Sanctuary of Torreciudad in Spain. / Credit: Torreciudad Sanctuary

ACI Prensa Staff, Sep 12, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Bishop Ángel Pérez Pueyo of Barbastro Monzón, Spain, recently made a statement regarding the differences he has with Opus Dei concerning his appointment of a non-Opus Dei priest as rector of the Opus Dei Torreciudad shrine in Spain.

“We are open to the competent ecclesiastical authority resolving the situation if they are really not satisfied with the arguments presented,” Pérez said in a letter titled “Aunque Duela” (“even though it hurts”) published Sept. 10 in the diocesan newsletter.

Pérez said he has waited for things to calm down before making a statement about the Torreciudad shrine, although the diocese already responded to the situation less than two weeks ago.

The bishop pointed out that “despite the media brouhaha, which has tried to confront us and muddy the situation,” at the diocese “we have always tried to reach out to the prelature.”

Pérez assured that his intention has been to “promote ecclesial communion” and “adjust reality to current canonical legislation” with his July appointment, for the first time in its history, of a non-Opus Dei priest as rector of the prelature’s Torreciudad shrine.

This decision was received by the prelature “with surprise” since according to the statement it released at the time, “it’s not up to the bishop to make this appointment as it is a church of the prelature.”

Pérez expressed his support for “forming mixed teams” with the presence of “diocesan priests and the respective religious institutions” to “crystallize the desired convergence.”

The bishop thus stated that he is in favor of a possible ecclesial mediation.

Pérez concluded the letter stating: “I have great peace for having proceeded with honesty, transparency, courage, and evangelical spirit. Ask the Lord to continue enlightening me to carry out his will even if it hurts.”

Sources at the Opus Dei prelature consulted about the content of the letter by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, said they have “nothing to add, nor to clarify nor to comment” and that they are still waiting for the diocese to study the proposal that they sent regarding Torreciudad.

The Diocese of Barbastro-Monzón has announced that Pérez will preside next Saturday at the Marian Day of the Family in Torreciudad, an annual event that is usually attended by thousands of pilgrims, especially members of the prelature.

The controversy over the Torreciudad shrine takes place at a time when significant steps have been taken by the Holy See to modify the canonical nature of personal prelatures.

These changes were made through the decrees Praedicate Evangelium in March 2022, Ad Charisma Tuendum in July 2022, and Pope Francis’ motu proprio published Aug. 8 that modifies the canons relating to personal prelatures.

In a recent report published by the Spanish newspaper El País, the prelate of Opus Dei, Monsignor Fernando Ocáriz, pointed out that “Opus Dei does not wish to be an exception” and that its specificity “rests in the charism or spirit, more than in its legal trappings. At its core is the universal call to holiness through work and the ordinary realities of life.”

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

Michigan township can’t ban Catholic group’s Stations of the Cross, court rules

Part of the planned Stations of the Cross prayer trail in Genoa Township, Michigan. / American Freedom Law Center

Denver, Colo., Sep 12, 2023 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

A federal appeals court panel has unanimously ruled in favor of a Catholic group that said a local government in Michigan violated federal religious freedom law when it blocked the use of the group’s 40-acre property for a Stations of the Cross trail.

“Now this 40-acre rural property can be used again for religious worship and religious expression. We’re obviously very pleased by that,” Robert Muise, senior counsel and co-founder of the American Freedom Law Center, told CNA Sept. 12. 

“When you’re not being allowed to use your land for religious worship to display religious symbols, that obviously impacts the right to religious freedom,” he said.

Muise was on the legal team representing the plaintiff in the case, Catholic Healthcare International (CHI). The Missouri-based group promotes Christian health care modeled on the example of the 20th-century Italian St. Pio of Pietrelcina, better know as Padre Pio.

In 2020 the organization received a 40-acre wooded parcel in Genoa Township in southeast Michigan as a gift from the Diocese of Lansing. CHI planned to create a prayer trail with Stations of the Cross, a Catholic devotion that meditates on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, as well as an altar and mural placed in an outdoor grotto formed by the property’s trees.

Genoa Township said the prayer path project was the equivalent of a church building and required a special use permit, the Associated Press reported. The Catholic group protested the initial demand for a permit and proceeded to construct religious displays. It also spent thousands of dollars to submit plans for an actual church building, a eucharistic adoration chapel already part of its long-term plans for the site. This too was rejected on grounds that the plan violated zoning restrictions and other rules for property use, including traffic and noise rules.

The township then forced CHI to remove any religious displays from its property. It also banned organized gatherings at the property due to an expired driveway permit.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on Monday sided with CHI and granted an injunction barring Genoa Township from obstructing CHI’s religious displays.

U.S. Circuit Judge Raymond Kethledge, writing the panel decision, ruled that the township’s use of zoning laws imposed a “substantial burden” on the Catholic group’s religious freedom and likely violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which provides strong religious exercise protections for land.

“Catholic Healthcare’s expectation that it could use the property for a prayer campus at the time it acquired the property was not unreasonable,” Kethledge’s decision said.

CHI’s first permit application cost over $30,000 to submit and its second application cost $8,000, but both applications were rejected.

In its ruling, the appellate panel ordered a lower court to ensure that banned symbols and displays can be restored before Sept. 23, when CHI plans to host an event at the site.

Kethledge agreed that CHI had suffered “substantial delay, uncertainty, and expense” because of how the township applied zoning ordinances. The judge also rebuked the township’s effort to categorize the proposed use as a “church” and to subject the Catholic group to the “onerous review process” required for a permit to build a church.

“The Stations of the Cross are structurally akin to large birdhouses, and the altar and mural were indeed set on the ground,” the judge wrote. He added that the ordinary meaning of the word “church” is a structure in which people gather to worship.

He compared the religious displays to nearby public parks’ workout stations and a public park’s lion-themed children’s reading trail similar in format to the Stations of the Cross.

Muise, the attorney representing CHI, noted the ban on organized gatherings at the property. He told CNA that it is “unheard of” to bar this.

“That meant no religious worship on the property,” he said.

“It’s important that we be able to use our property, our private property, for religious worship,” Muise said. “And the fact that the township battled us this long and hard for three years just for this fundamental right to religious worship is pretty disheartening. It took three years to get there, but we’re at least happy that we’re at the point where we’re at.”

The attorney said CHI will continue its ongoing lawsuit against Genoa Township over plans to build a small 95-seat eucharistic adoration chapel that the township has rejected.

Missouri transgender clinic halts treatment for minors as new law goes into effect

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St. Louis, Mo., Sep 12, 2023 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

A controversial clinic at Washington University in St. Louis (WashU) said it will cease the prescription of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones to minors for purposes of gender transition following the Aug. 28 implementation of a new state law barring the practice for new minor patients. 

The Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Childrens Hospital said it made the decision due to an “unacceptable level of liability,” according to a statement. Patients who are currently receiving blockers and hormones will be referred to other providers for these services, the clinic said.

The clinic, open since 2017, said it will continue to offer other services, including “education and mental health support for all patients, and medical care for patients over the age of 18.”

“We are disheartened to have to take this step. However, Missouri’s newly enacted law regarding transgender care has created a new legal claim for patients who received these medications as minors,” the clinic said. 

“This legal claim creates unsustainable liability for health care professionals and makes it untenable for us to continue to provide comprehensive transgender care for minor patients without subjecting the university and our providers to an unacceptable level of liability.”

The new law, signed by Republican Gov. Mike Parson on June 7, bars puberty blockers and hormone therapy for minors who weren’t receiving care prior to Aug. 28 but exempts patients who were receiving medications before the law took effect, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Sept. 11. The law includes a minimum liability of $500,000 with a judgment that would be three times the amount of damages assessed.

The law expires on Aug. 28, 2027, and also prohibits transgender adults from access to transgender health care under Medicaid, and bars “gender-affirming” surgery for prisoners and inmates.

The Sept. 11 announcement makes WashU the second major hospital in Missouri to shut down the practice of gender transition for minors following an Aug. 28 announcement from the University of Missouri Health Care, based in Columbia. MU Health Care similarly cited “significant legal liability for prescribing or administering cross-sex hormones or puberty-blockings drugs to existing minor patients.”

Doctors at the WashU clinic have been accused of prescribing puberty-blocking drugs to minors without parental consent, a charge the clinic has denied. In a Feb. 9 blog post, a former case worker at the clinic, Jamie Reed, said she left in November 2022 because the hospital was, in her view, “permanently harming the vulnerable patients in our care.” 

Reed claimed her former clinic put numerous minors on puberty blockers and other drugs, “regularly refers minors for gender transition surgery,” and performed at least one double mastectomy on a minor at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. The clinic claimed, Reed said, that a gender “transition” would make it less likely that the patient would commit suicide and appeared eager to suggest gender transition as the response for almost any mental health issue that patients presented.

After Reed went public with her allegations, WashU said in a statement that it was “alarmed” by what was alleged.

“We are taking this matter very seriously and have already begun the process of looking into the situation to ascertain the facts,” that statement read.

The offices of Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey and Sen. Josh Hawley both announced investigations into the clinic’s practices earlier this year after the allegations surfaced.

Bailey on Feb. 10 directed a letter to Trish Lollo, president of St. Louis Children’s Hospital, and Andrew Martin, chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis, urging the institutions to place a moratorium on prescribing puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones to new patients at the Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital until the completion of the investigations. The clinic refused to do so, saying a moratorium would “deny critical, standards-based care to current and new patients.”

The clinic’s practices also prompted a lengthy investigative piece by the New York Times, which described the clinic as “buckling under an unrelenting surge in demand” and corroborated a number of Reed’s allegations while being unable to corroborate others. 

Bailey applauded the clinic’s Sept. 11 announcement, calling it in an X post a “big win for Missouri’s kids and a step in the right direction to properly addressing gender dysphoria and taking woke ideology out of health care.”

The Republican Hawley also praised the decision in a Sept. 11 post on X, saying: “Good news for parents and children and basic common sense — but we still need answers about what happened at WashU and why university officials won’t cooperate with investigators.”

A Feb. 14 statement from Washington University said the university is “committed to providing lifesaving, evidence-based care that aligns with the standards set by the American Academy of Pediatrics [AAP].” AAP’s standards, as well as those of the U.S.-based Endocrine Society and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, have come under scrutiny recently for failing to cite compelling evidence for their claims. 

An article from the British Medical Journal criticized AAP’s guidance on pediatric gender dysphoria, which was drafted primarily by a single doctor, Jason Rafferty, and released in 2018. The document, which recommends against pediatric transgender surgery except on a “case-by-case basis,” has been described by its author as a “policy statement … not meant to be a protocol or guidelines in and of themselves.” The AAP told the British Medical Journal that all its policy statements are reviewed after five years and so a “revision is underway,” based on its experts’ own “robust evidence review.”

Several other countries, such as Britain, Finland, Sweden, and the Netherlands, have begun in recent years to restrict the use of puberty blockers for minors, citing insufficient evidence of their efficacy outweighed by evidence of harm. In addition, Finland and Sweden reserve transgender surgery for adults.

New Mexico bishop defends governor’s controversial gun ban

null / St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office|Wikimedia|CC BY-SA 4.0

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 12, 2023 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

Archbishop John Wester of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in a Monday statement defended the New Mexico governor’s recent controversial executive order banning the carrying of guns in the state’s most populated county.

“I believe Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is correct to point out the crisis we are experiencing in Albuquerque and the County of Bernalillo,” Wester said, adding that “the number of gun deaths we witness here is deplorable and tragic. I hope we can come together in New Mexico to address this issue.” 

“In my view, the governor has been consistent in addressing gun safety through legislation and is not now attacking the Second Amendment,” Wester went on. “She knows the law. Rather, I believe she is trying to get us to solve what has become a crisis in our state.” 

“I do not see the governor’s call to action and discernment as a threat to the Constitution,” Wester said. “The focus should be on the sanctity of human life. That is the point.” 

The order, issued by Lujan Grisham on Sept. 7, temporarily suspends the right of citizens to bear arms in public in Bernalillo County, home to New Mexico’s largest city, Albuquerque.

Lujan Grisham issued the order following the deaths by shootings of several Albuquerque children in recent months. The order suspended the carrying of guns by citizens for 30 days and was given on the grounds that gun violence in the state constitutes a “public health emergency.”

The public health order issued by Patrick Allen, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health, in conjunction with the governor’s office stated that “no person, other than a law enforcement officer or licensed security officer, shall possess a firearm … either openly or concealed, within cities or counties averaging 1,000 or more violent crimes per 100,000 residents per year.”

In his official statement, the public health secretary said that “temporary firearm restrictions, drug monitoring, and other public safety measures are necessary to address the current public health emergencies.”

The measure stirred immediate controversy in the state and across the nation.

New Mexico citizens have held several protests in the streets of Albuquerque in which they openly carried pistols and various types of rifles.

The Albuquerque mayor and police chief have signaled that they will not enforce the gun ban and that they will leave it to state authorities to do so.

Shortly following the release of the order, Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen said that though “every lost life is a tragedy, and the well-being of our community is of paramount concern to the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office” the temporary ban “challenges the foundation of our Constitution.”

In a Monday press conference, Sheriff Allen said he believes the order is “unconstitutional” and that “in reference to concealed carry and open carry,” the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department “will not enforce this segment of the order.”

Responding to the criticism, Lujan Grisham said during a Friday press conference that if there is an emergency, “no constitutional right, in my view, is intended to be absolute.”

Despite the county police department’s refusal to enforce the order, Source New Mexico reported that Lujan Grisham is planning to find other ways to enforce her measure.

“The order is being enforced, and citations will be forthcoming from the state police,” Caroline Sweeney, a spokesperson for Lujan Grisham’s office, was reported saying on Monday. 

The office added that they would not be providing additional details “to ensure officer safety.” 

Bishop Wester is the only Catholic prelate to have weighed in on the controversy thus far.

In the past, both the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Pope Francis have advocated for stricter gun control laws. 

Following the deadly 2021 shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Francis said that “it is time to say ‘enough’ to the indiscriminate trafficking of weapons” and called for “all [to] make a commitment so that tragedies like this cannot happen again.”

“I hope to hear more of an outcry over an 11-year-old boy killed by a bullet fired in a road rage incident than over the right to carry a gun,” Wester said in his release. 

The Santa Fe bishop concluded his statement by calling on the faithful in his diocese and across the whole Church “to keep the victims of gun violence in your prayers so that we might take steps to solve the tragedy of gun violence in our society.”

New pro-life group prepares to administer Kansas’ $2 million abortion-alternative program

null / Credit: Unsplash

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 12, 2023 / 11:15 am (CNA).

A recently formed pro-life network is preparing to administer the inaugural $2 million budget of Kansas’ newly created state-backed “Alternatives to Abortion” program. 

The state treasurer’s office said in a press release last week that “a Kansas-based nonprofit has been selected to administer the Alternatives to Abortion program” enacted by the state Legislature earlier in the year.

The Kansas Pregnancy Care Network (KPCN) “was selected from the three eligible bids that were submitted to the Department of Administration,” the office said, noting the group “was the only Kansas-based entity that submitted a qualified bid.”

Tim Huelskamp, the president of the board of directors of KPCN, told CNA the group is “fairly new.”

The subject is somewhat personal for Huelskamp, he admitted: He himself has four adopted children and hopes the program will help more women choose life for their unborn babies. 

He said the program is “a social service with a material component” that helps pregnant women and mothers access food, diapers, counseling, and other nonmedical resources, he said. There is “no medical component” to the program, he added.

As the nucleus of the Alternatives to Abortion program began to form in the Legislature, Huelskamp said, “a number of folks were looking around and asking who was going to run the nonprofit.” 

“I looked around and didn’t see anyone who was going to put in a bid, so we put together a board of directors,” he said. 

The initiative came together very quickly, Huelskamp said.

“Basically, we started in May, had it put together in June, the [request for proposal] came out in July, it closed in August, and the contract was signed and executed last week.”

Huelskamp has been active in pro-life politics for years. He said every member of the group’s board “has a long history of pro-life activism, with pregnancy resource centers [and] legislative efforts.” 

The state will distribute public funding in quarterly installments to KPCN, after which the directors will distribute the money to qualified subcontractors carrying out pro-life work.

“We use a system by which we certify and make sure each of the organizations are pro-life,” he said. “They can’t participate if they’re not pro-life.”

“The most prevalent [services] are counseling, education, and material assistance,” he said. “They’ll provide us reports and invoices based on the amount of hours and minutes they’re providing their clients, and we’ll provide funds that support those efforts.”

Huelskamp said the group expects to have up to 60 subcontractors using the funds to advance the plan’s goals.

He said the program is based heavily on Texas’s Alternatives to Abortion plan; the Kansas program incorporates numerous elements of that plan into its own framework, including confidentiality and conscience protections.

“Plenty of faith-based organizations are concerned about taking government money for fear they can’t share the Gospel; they might be required to adopt policies that are inconsistent with their religious beliefs,” he said.

“But the [program] subcontract says if you provide abortion, you cannot participate. That’s in the language, that helps avoid that problem.”

Texas’ own program was created during the state’s 2006-2007 legislative year. Its budget has expanded to just over $100 million during the last fiscal year, according to the state health and human service department’s most recent filing.

Texas’s pregnancy care organization last year utilized “a statewide network of 80 subcontractors with a total of 169 physical locations and 10 mobile units throughout Texas,” according to that report.

The state’s four “A2A service providers” last year offered “counseling, mentoring, educational information, classes, material goods, care coordination, and support services,” the state said.

“We thank the Legislature for stepping up and working alongside the pregnancy resource centers,” he said. 

To the dozens of subcontractors with which his group plans to partner, Huelskamp said: “You’re doing great work; let’s have more of it.” 

“We’re really excited,” he added.

Swiss bishops’ study finds more than 1,000 cases of clergy sexual abuse

Switzerland. / Credit: Nikolai Lehmann (@lehmannnikolai)/Unsplash

CNA Newsroom, Sep 12, 2023 / 10:35 am (CNA).

A comprehensive, yearlong investigation into sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Switzerland released on Tuesday has documented more than 1,000 instances of abuse dating back to the mid-20th century.

The Swiss Bishops’ Conference commissioned the groundbreaking study by the University of Zurich’s Historical Seminar, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner. 

“The findings expose deep-rooted issues that go beyond the actions of individual perpetrators to systemic causes that Church leaders must answer for,” said Bishop Felix Gmür of Basel, president of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference, in an immediate response to the study.

The 136-page report documents 1,002 cases of abuse since the mid-20th century involving 510 accused and 921 victims. The research team cautioned that these figures represent “only the tip of the iceberg,” as numerous archives remain unevaluated.

The study also highlighted a systematic cover-up within the church. “Church criminal law was scarcely enforced for much of the study period. Instead, many cases were deliberately concealed or minimized,” the report stated. It further revealed that Church leaders often transferred accused clerics, sometimes internationally, to evade secular prosecution.

The report summary indicated that 39% of the victims were female, while just under 56% were male. “In almost all cases, the accused were men, and 74% of the evaluated files evidenced sexual abuse of minors,” the report added.

Gmür emphasized the need for future studies to explore “Catholic specifics” that may have contributed to the abuse, such as sexual morality and celibacy. “This guilt cannot simply be erased. It must be confronted, focusing on the Church’s power dynamics and sexual ethics,” he said.

The Swiss Bishops’ Conference pledged to take action. “We will establish and fund independent reporting offices to facilitate the reporting of abuses,” Gmür said, according to CNA Deutsch.

Gmür also stated that all related documents would be preserved indefinitely to prevent further cover-ups.

On Sunday, the Swiss Bishops’ Conference disclosed an ongoing Vatican-led investigation into handling abuse allegations, expected to conclude by the end of the year.

Allegations against several members of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference were forwarded to the Dicastery for Bishops in Rome, which has appointed Bishop Joseph Bonnemain of the Swiss Diocese of Chur to lead the inquiry.

Biden Justice Department asks Supreme Court to overturn restrictions on abortion pill 

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 12, 2023 / 08:45 am (CNA).

President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn an appellate court ruling that ordered the Food and Drug Administration to put up safeguards that would regulate the use of an abortion pill.

The DOJ filed the appeal on Friday to prevent limits on the abortion pill mifepristone. The drug has FDA approval to kill a preborn child up to the 10th week of pregnancy. It is commonly taken with another pill, misoprostol.

Although the pill has been on the market since 2000, an August ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the Food and Drug Administration’s deregulation of mifepristone in 2016 and later years did not follow legally required safety protocols. With this ruling, the court ordered the FDA to return to the rules that were in effect prior to 2016 to ensure the drug is administered safely. 

Under post-2016 rules, doctors are allowed to prescribe the abortion-inducing drug remotely through televisits and women are allowed to receive the drug through the mail. If the appellate court ruling goes into effect, both of these practices would be blocked. Rather, the prescription would require at least one in-person doctor’s visit and the drug would need to be picked up in person.

Danco Laboratories LLC, which distributes the abortion pill mifepristone under the brand name Mifeprex, also petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the appellate court ruling. In a statement, the company accused the courts of imposing restrictions on the drug simply because they do not like it.

“The case presents a serious question: whether courts can disregard constitutional and statutory limits on judicial review of agency action to overrule agency decisions that they dislike,” the statement read. “Danco asks the court to grant review of both the determination that doctors who do not prescribe or want to prescribe Mifeprex have standing and the determination that FDA acted unreasonably in approving the changes in 2016 and 2021 despite the extensive study and other data supporting those decisions.”

Danco’s statement insisted that the company is “confident in the safety and effectiveness of Mifeprex” and that “the FDA actions at issue were well supported by extensive safety and effectiveness data from clinical trials and decades worth of real-world experience in millions of patients.”

In its ruling, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the “FDA failed to address several important concerns about whether the drug would be safe for the women who use it” when it eliminated the safeguards. 

“[The FDA] failed to consider the cumulative effect of removing several important safeguards at the same time,” the court found. “It failed to consider whether those ‘major’ and ‘interrelated’ changes might alter the risk profile, such that the agency should continue to mandate reporting of nonfatal adverse events. And it failed to gather evidence that affirmatively showed that mifepristone could be used safely without being prescribed and dispensed in person.”

Despite the appellate court ruling, the abortion pill is still available under the post-2016 rules as the lawsuit awaits action from the U.S. Supreme Court. In April, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that mifepristone would remain available under the post-2016 regulations for the duration of the litigation process. 

The Supreme Court can decide to allow the appellate court’s ruling to go into effect or take up the appeal itself.

“Mifeprex will continue to be available under the current FDA-approved conditions, which include use in pregnancy up to 10 weeks’ gestation, with prescribing after in-person or telehealth examination and dispensing by certified health care professionals, brick-and-mortar pharmacies, or mail-order pharmacies,” the Danco statement read. 

Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, a pro-life organization, sued the FDA over its initial approval of mifepristone in 2000 and the subsequent deregulation of the pill in 2016 and later, claiming that the agency failed to follow proper safety protocols.

The appellate court rejected the argument that the 2000 approval of the drug violated federal law but agreed with the argument that the 2016 deregulation and subsequent deregulation failed to follow proper safety protocol. 

Swiss bishop reprimands clergy after viral video of woman ‘concelebrating’ Mass

The Swiss bishops' call for adherence to Catholic "rules" followed an internet controversy over an August 2022 video of a laywoman who seemed to concelebrate Mass with priests. / Katholisches Medienzentrum YouTube screenshot

Denver, Colo., Sep 11, 2023 / 14:45 pm (CNA).

A viral video showing two priests celebrating Mass with a Swiss laywoman at the altar has resulted in a formal reprimand of the pastors by Bishop Joseph Bonnemain of Chur, Switzerland, but there will not be a canonical proceeding.

“Careful investigation of the matter has shown that there were no serious liturgical violations in this service, the assessment of which would be reserved for the Vatican Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith,” said a Sept. 8 joint statement whose signatories included Bonnemain. “Therefore, no criminal proceedings are required under canon law.”

“However, important liturgical regulations that are binding for the entire Church were ignored in this service,” the statement added. “The bishop therefore cannot avoid issuing a formal reprimand to the pastors involved in this regard.”

The joint statement came from the Diocese of Chur, St. Martin Catholic Parish, the pastors and clergy involved in the controversy, and Monika Schmid.

The August 2022 Mass in the Diocese of Chur marked the retirement of Schmid, a longtime de facto parish administrator. Video of the Mass depicted Schmid as she appeared to concelebrate the Eucharist with the priests. 

Schmid stood at the altar in ordinary dress with two priests beside her. She extended her arms and pronounced with them the words of the Consecration and an extensively revised version of the Eucharistic Prayer.

The joint statement noted that the farewell service received broad media coverage.

Following controversy over the video, Schmid denied her actions constituted an attempt to concelebrate Mass or to be provocative. She acknowledged that as a woman she can’t validly celebrate the Eucharist as ordained Catholic priests do. 

Canon 907 of the Catholic Church’s canon law bars Catholic deacons and Catholic laity from offering the Eucharistic Prayer and from performing actions “proper to the celebrating priest.”

The joint statement discussed the bishop’s response.

“On Aug. 15, 2023, Bishop Joseph Maria Bonnemain issued the appropriate warning to the five affected people during detailed personal discussions in the expectation that these mistakes will not be repeated in the future,” the statement said.

At the same time, the statement from the diocese said Bonnemain “expressed his confidence in all the pastors involved and thanks them for their committed pastoral work for the good of the people.”

In the wake of the controversial video, Bonnemain joined Bishops Felix Gmür of Basel and Markus Büchel of Sankt Gallen in writing a Jan. 5 letter to people active in pastoral care in their dioceses, as CNA previously reported

Only ordained priests may preside at Mass, and the liturgy should not be “a testing ground for personal projects,” said the three bishops, whose dioceses are the predominantly German-speaking dioceses of Switzerland.

The bishops acknowledged people’s desire to participate in the liturgy but said the Catholic liturgy has a universal character, and this especially concerns celebrations of the sacraments. They referred to Pope Francis’ June 2022 apostolic letter Desiderio Desideravi. It insists on the quality of liturgies, the careful attention to every aspect of liturgical celebration, and the observance of every rubric.

“Common witness requires common forms and rules. We bishops regularly receive requests and worried reactions: The faithful have a right to religious services that respect the rules and forms of the Church,” they said.

Schmid, the pastoral worker whose retirement Mass sparked the controversy, was critical of the bishops’ letter upon its release in January. She advocated a liturgical celebration that, in her view, “reaches out to people in their daily lives, in their language, and in their understanding of themselves,” the Swiss Catholic internet news portal reported.

New Orleans Archdiocese says parishes will be asked to help pay for clergy abuse settlements

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 11, 2023 / 13:45 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of New Orleans will ask “parishes, schools, and ministries” for monetary contributions in order to protect their assets during the archdiocese’s bankruptcy proceedings, which came about in part because of abuse lawsuits, Archbishop Gregory Aymond announced in a Sept. 8 letter.

The New Orleans Archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2020. At the time, the archdiocese said the filing would “not affect individual church parishes, their schools, schools run by the various religious orders, or ministries of the Church.”

“When we filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in 2020, I was advised by legal counsel that the Chapter 11 proceedings would only impact our administrative offices and not the apostolates —parishes, schools, and ministries — of the Archdiocese of New Orleans,” Aymond wrote in his recent letter.

“Unfortunately, this is no longer the case because of many external factors now facing us including the fact that the law governing the statute of limitations has changed to now permit the filing of past abuse claims in civil court.”

Louisiana followed the example of at least 18 other states before it when it opened, in 2021, a three-year “window” during which survivors of child sexual abuse could file lawsuits against their alleged abuser, even when the statute of limitations would normally impede such lawsuits.

Some states — including Maine and Vermont — have opened “permanent windows” on their statutes of limitations to allow alleged victims to bring claims forward no matter when the alleged abuse occurred.

The opening of Louisiana’s window has led to a total of more than 500 abuse claims filed against the archdiocese with the bankruptcy court, up from around 30 at the time of the bankruptcy filing, Aymond noted. To navigate the new situation, Aymond said the archdiocese is seeking what is known as a “channeling injunction.”

“Simply put, a channeling injunction prevents someone who receives a settlement in bankruptcy from suing one of the apostolates for the same incident and protects them from being sued after the bankruptcy is settled,” Aymond explained. 

“In order to accomplish that, we now know that there must be a contribution from the apostolates.”

Aymond said it is not yet known what that total contribution will be, or what will be asked of each entity.

Marie T. Reilly, a professor of law at Penn State Law at Penn State University, told CNA that channeling injunctions are not an uncommon feature of diocesan bankruptcies in the U.S. and are in fact “pretty typical.” The channeling injunction, she said, will likely require all the archdiocese’s parishes to contribute monetarily, even the many parishes without any clergy accused of abuse. 

The channeling injunction, as its name implies, “channels” all abuse claims, meaning they will all be paid out from a single settlement trust. This trust, from which victims receive their payments, is generally funded by three sources: the archdiocese itself, insurance money, and contributions from parishes and ministries. 

For example, she said, St. Paul and Minneapolis’ bankruptcy proceedings, which took place from 2015–2018, culminated in a large settlement trust that was funded in part by a “substantial contribution” from parishes. A source close to the archdiocese told CNA in 2018 that the settlement amount reached was $210 million. 

Reilly said dioceses across the country have argued that it is a better deal for creditors to accept settlement trusts partially funded by all the dioceses’ parishes, rather than — as some creditors will do — pushing for a complete liquidation of the diocese’ assets. 

In addition to providing information about the channeling injunction, Aymond said the archdiocese is working to “reduce the number of properties owned by the Archdiocese of New Orleans and our apostolates.” 

“Soaring insurance rates and costly maintenance have impacted our ability to maintain appropriately the over 1,400 pieces of property and remain good stewards of our resources. This work will be a very important factor to determining contributions asked of the apostolates as well,” he said. 

Aymond concluded by stating that he remains committed to ensuring the majority of the settlement trust is paid with the assets of the Archdiocese of New Orleans — including real estate sales — and its insurers. 

“Through these efforts and by the grace of God, we will emerge better prepared for the future and be an even stronger Catholic family,” the 73-year-old Aymond concluded. 

“In closing, please know that I pray for you, the faithful of our Archdiocese of New Orleans, every day. Again, I ask for your prayers for our clergy, religious, lay staff, and those who are working to support us during this challenging time. I humbly ask too for prayers for me as we together ask the Holy Spirit to guide this process to a just conclusion.”

More than two dozen U.S. dioceses, including two in U.S. overseas territories, have entered into bankruptcy proceedings, the vast majority in the past decade. Many dioceses have cited the high cost of settling abuse claims as a major factor in the decision to declare bankruptcy. 

Reilly said that in several of the 24 U.S. states and three territories that have temporarily “revived” the statute of limitations on claims of abuse, multiple Catholic dioceses have been forced to declare bankruptcy amid a mounting number of new abuse claims brought to light during the statute of limitations “revival windows.”

In New York, which opened a two-year window for old abuse claims to be filed in August 2019, six of the state’s eight dioceses have declared bankruptcy, all since 2019.

Hall of Famer Tony Dungy corrects ‘SportsCenter’: Coco Gauff ‘was praying’

Coco Gauff at Wimbledon in 2019. / Carine06|Wikimedia|CC BY-SA 2.0

Boston, Mass., Sep 11, 2023 / 13:10 pm (CNA).

After 19-year-old Coco Gauff won her first Grand Slam title at the women’s tennis championship in the U.S. Open on Saturday, she dropped to her knees, put her elbows on the bench, clasped her hands, and brought them to her forehead with her eyes closed. 

To many watching it was clear that the first American teenager to win the major since Serena Williams won in 1999 had paused her celebration to pray to God.

That’s why many online, including Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Dungy, took issue with the way ESPN’s “SportsCenter” described Gauff’s actions following the match. 

“@CocoGauff took a moment to soak it all in after winning her first Grand Slam title,” SportsCenter wrote on X along with a video of her praying.

“I hate to break this to you SportsCenter but Coco Gauff was not ‘soaking it all in’ at this moment. She was praying,” Dungy, an NFL analyst and outspoken Christian, tweeted in response to “SportsCenter.”

“She has been very open about her Christian faith in the past. It seems pretty obvious what she is doing here,” he added.

Dozens of comments on the post echoed the same sentiments. 

“Praying seems more likely,” one user said.

“That’s not ‘soak it all in,’ that was a thanksgiving prayer to God,” another user said

“Here’s a #protip for journalists everywhere, both sports and news: It’s OK to publicly acknowledge that people pray. There is nothing wrong with prayer; you won’t offend anyone by merely describing the facts as you observe them. You might even try it yourself sometime,” another user said.

Dungy was right. Gauff has been very outspoken about her faith in the past. 

When asked about the role faith has played in her tennis career at her award ceremony, she said “It’s been so important” and that she’s “so blessed.”

Commenting again on her post-match prayer, Gauff said in a Monday interview on NBC’s “Today” show: “I was just saying thank you and I understood like all the tough times were just to make that moment even sweeter. I think if it came easy, I wouldn’t feel as appreciative as I did in that moment.”

After beating Maria Sakkari of Greece for the championship in the Mubadala Citi DC Open in August, Gauff said in a video posted by The Tennis Letter: “I want to thank my Father God for this. After losing first round Wimbledon it was a tough situation. A lot of prayer, a lot of support from my church family. So thank you to him and those who support me.”

Following her win in the final of the 2023 Cincinnati Masters in the same month, Gauff thanked her “Lord and savior Jesus Christ” at the trophy ceremony, according to Tennis Infinity.

Gauff, who bested 25-year-old Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, fell on the ground in tears after winning her first Grand Slam title. 

The moment Gauff won the U.S. Open can be seen below.

On the men’s side of the U.S. Open, Serbian Novak Djokovic, whom some are hailing as the greatest men’s player of all time, won his 24th major championship, the most of any male player ever.

Djokovic, 36, is an Orthodox Christian who often dons a wooden cross around his neck and has been seen blessing himself during matches.

Outspoken about his faith in Christ, Djokovic said in a Monday interview with “CBS Mornings” that he was thinking “God is great” after his victory in the U.S. Open.

The moment Djokovic won can be seen here: