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91-year-old ex-priest indicted in New Orleans for alleged rape of boy in 1970s

null / Credit: Jack_the_sparow/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 11, 2023 / 12:40 pm (CNA).

A retired 91-year-old New Orleans priest who was removed from ministry in 2018 was indicted Thursday afternoon on felony charges related to allegations that he raped an underage teenage boy in the 1970s.

Lawrence Hecker was indicted on charges of aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping, an aggravated crime against nature, and theft by an Orleans Parish Special Grand Jury. The sex abuse crimes are alleged to have occurred between Jan. 1, 1975, and Dec. 31, 1976, according to the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office.

“The physical, emotional, and mental harm from sexual abuse lasts a lifetime,” District Attorney Jason Williams said in a statement.

“Many survivors have felt hopeless and irreparably harmed by the acts Lawrence Hecker committed against them,” Williams continued. “The innocence and youth stolen from multiple children, who revered and respected Hecker as a protector, cannot be regained. The traumatic effects of those events from years ago are no doubt reawakened by this process and the dozens of media reports that led up to this point.”

Williams added that the district attorney’s office hopes “to achieve truth and accountability” that can “assist in a restoration of those lives and a sense of closure.”

The Archdiocese of New Orleans told CNA that Hecker was included on the list of clergy removed from ministry for abuse of a minor in 2018. On May 1, 2020, the archdiocese announced plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after being named as a defendant in a number of clergy sexual abuse lawsuits.

The Guardian reported in June that in 1999, Hecker admitted to sexual misconduct with seven teenage boys between 1966 and 1979 but was allowed to remain in ministry until his retirement in March 2002. The report noted that he was sent to a psychiatric treatment facility that diagnosed him with pedophilia after his confession but was not removed from ministry. 

“I had thought I had buried this part of my life and would only think about it to remind myself not to have anything like this happen again,” Hecker’s 1999 confession read in part, according to The Guardian. “I have made it a point not to be alone with anyone under 18, and if possible not to be alone with anyone — and certainly not to hold anyone, except for a ‘holy hug.’”

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests applauded the district attorney’s office for its efforts to indict Hecker. The statement said that “children are always safer when their abusers are behind bars” and criticized the leadership of the Archdiocese of New Orleans during Hecker’s time as a priest.

“We also hope that all of the survivors of Father Hecker’s crimes feel a sense of justice and relief that law enforcement is finally taking action,” the statement read. “Three New Orleans archbishops ([Philip] Hannan, [Francis] Schulte, and [Alfred] Hughes) shielded this clergyman from the authorities. We say shame on them!”

An archdiocesan statement stated that the archdiocese reported Hecker to law enforcement several times since 2002.

“The Archdiocese of New Orleans reported Lawrence Hecker to law enforcement authorities in different jurisdictions multiple times since 2002,” the statement read. “We have fully cooperated and will continue to cooperate with any law enforcement investigation into Lawrence Hecker.”

The former priest was ordained in 1958 and was assigned to 13 parishes in Louisiana before he retired in 2002. Out of the 13 parishes, 11 were under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Hecker turned himself in to police on Friday and was booked on the charges.

Vatican investigating Swiss bishops’ handling of sex abuse cases

The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Lungern, Switzerland / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 11, 2023 / 10:00 am (CNA).

The Swiss Bishops’ Conference on Sunday revealed an ongoing Vatican-ordered investigation into the handling of sexual abuse allegations by Church officials, with the inquiry expected to run until at least the end of the year.

The conference said in a statement on Monday that allegations had been made in May of this year “against several emeriti and acting members of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference” as well as against “other clerics in their handling of sexual abuse cases.”

Swiss Church authorities forwarded the allegations to the Dicastery for Bishops in Rome. Several weeks later the dicastery “ordered a preliminary canonical investigation into the matter,” appointing Swiss Diocese of Chur Bishop Joseph Bonnemain to lead the inquiry.

Bonnemain previously handled similar investigations in Switzerland for more than 30 years, the conference said. His investigation “is underway and is expected to be completed by the end of the year.”

The primary purpose of the investigation, the announcement said, is “the accusations of covering up cases of abuse.” The criminal allegations of sexual abuse, the statement said, are handled by secular authorities and have been reported to them. 

The conference said it was “unable to provide further details” due to the ongoing nature of the inquiry. 

The bishops noted that the “preliminary” investigation is meant to determine “whether there is sufficient evidence to initiate ecclesiastical criminal or disciplinary proceedings.” The results of the initial inquiry are then forwarded to the dicastery, which will determine how to proceed.

Bonnemain told that he would “have liked to have rejected the order from Rome” due to his being “not well.”

“I have promised for the sake of the victims and justice,” the bishop said. “Now I have to do it and check the accusations."

The Associated Press, meanwhile, said it spoke to Father Nicolas Betticher, a priest at the parish of Bruder Klaus in Bern, who said he wrote the May letter that ultimately launched the inquiry. 

Betticher told the AP that he had been motivated by urging from Pope Francis for clergy to proactively report allegations of abuse if they were aware of them. The priest criticized Church authorities for what he said were “mistakes” made in the past in dealing with such allegations. 

“Today, we can no longer afford to simply say, ‘Ah yes, I know, but I didn’t do it quite right, but we’ll do better next time,’” Betticher told the news wire. “That’s over.”

Swiss Catholic authorities in 2021 approved an independent study of abuse by Church authorities in the country, with the study reportedly set to be released on Tuesday. 

Catholic ‘cult’ in California: What do we know?

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St. Louis, Mo., Sep 11, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Earlier this month, reports emerged in a California news outlet about alleged sexual abuse that purportedly took place at a commune run by a Catholic pro-life organization, Catholics United for Life.

The allegations come from three biological sisters who say they were abused at various points by men within the organization, which was founded as a Third Order Dominican Catholic community and eventually settled in rural California in the 1970s.

“I know what a cult is, and it was definitely a cult,” Margo, the oldest sister, told NBC Bay Area. 

The sisters, who are identified only by their first names in media reports, said the commune where they grew up, which at least at one point housed “dozens,” was dedicated to families wishing to home-school their children and travel from city to city to engage in pro-life activism. 

The commune was founded by what the sisters describe as a “group of hippies” in the small town of Coarsegold, California, about 40 minutes from the south entrance of Yosemite National Park.

The town is located within the Diocese of Fresno; the diocese declined CNA’s request for comment on whether the group is or has been affiliated with the Church.

Two of the three sisters filed lawsuits in 2022 alleging they were sexually molested or assaulted by different men in the community, including “past and present leaders.” CNA reached out to one of the alleged victims seeking copies of the lawsuits but did not receive a reply. 

Allegations brought by the sisters in the lawsuits allegedly include “forced relationships with older men, separation from their families outside of the commune, being stripped of personal control, and enduring physical and sexual abuse,” the NBC report stated. The sisters also claimed to have witnessed leaders “beating gay men in front of us” in what they described as a form of “conversion therapy.”

The lawsuits name as an alleged abuser the group’s longtime former leader, Hal Barton. Barton died in 2011 and his wife declined to comment when asked by NBC. 

The sisters said certain male leaders’ conduct constituted “grooming” and “culminated in repeated sexual assault and abuse.” They told NBC Bay Area that seeing a recent photo of Catholics United for Life’s current leader at a youth conference spurred them to go public with their stories. 

Two of the sisters said they left the commune decades ago; the third said she left with her family in 2019. Despite everything, at least one of the sisters, Jane, said she still considers herself a Catholic.

“[Catholics United for Life] needs to disband as an entity,” Ruth told NBC Bay Area. 

“The Catholic Church should demand that they do, and they should pay us recompense and reparations for the abuse that we experienced for years.”

NBC’s news story about the suits was shared on social media by the law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates, which has positioned itself as a premier filer of sex abuse lawsuits against religious entities. It was not immediately clear whether attorneys for the Minnesota-based Anderson & Associates filed the lawsuits in question.

What is Catholics United for Life?

Catholics United for Life (CUFL) is a ministry of the St. Martin de Porres Lay Dominican Community, which is part of the Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic’s Eastern Province. Reached by phone, a representative of New Hope Publications, the Dominican community’s main ministry, agreed to pass CNA’s comment request to the appropriate person, but the call was not returned by press time. 

According to the group’s website, CUFL’s main objective is to “support the Catholic Church in its mission to restore the moral principles of the natural law and divine revelation, focusing in a special way on the right to life for all human persons and on the integral part that sexual morality plays in life issues.” CUFL has 13 affiliate groups throughout the United States that offer alternatives to abortion and provide educational services, the website says. 

CUFL’s most recent tax filing, from 2021, shows that the organization is headquartered in New Hope, Kentucky, a small town about an hour south of Louisville and 20 minutes south of Bardstown. The group took in about $74,000 in contributions that year, the filings show. 

CUFL puts on an annual youth conference called Ignite Your Torch. The website for the conference says that it is a “high school Catholic youth conference in which ‘on fire’ young priests and religious seek to ignite the faith of teens through engaging talks, small-group discussions, and workshops as well as personal interaction at recreation, meals, and just hanging out.”

Ignite Your Torch is “eucharistic-centered, devoted to our Blessed Mother, catechetical in nature, and teaches youth practical ways to build up the culture of life,” the website states. The conference is “an opportunity to make new friendships in Christ, to receive the sacraments, to meet and talk to young priests and religious, and to worship, pray, learn, and recreate together.”

banner currently displaying on the Ignite Your Torch website states that “because of circumstances beyond our control,” the conference, originally scheduled for July, had been canceled and that “anyone who already paid their registration fees will be fully refunded.” (The banner has appeared on the website since at least March, long before NBC Bay Area’s story was published.)

Catholics United for Life is not to be confused with Americans United for Life, a national pro-life organization based in Washington, D.C.

The Archdiocese of Louisville listed Catholics United for Life in its official directory as recently as June; the listing has since been removed. The Archdiocese of Louisville did not respond to CNA’s request for further information.

‘God was with us on the stairwell’: A hero of 9/11 finds his vocation

Deacon Paul Carris, prior to his ordination as a deacon for the Archdiocese of Newark, with Judith Toppin, whom he helped down a stairwell at the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, saving her life. / Credit: Archdiocese of Newark

Boston, Mass., Sep 11, 2023 / 05:00 am (CNA).

Paul Carris had started a new job working in the North Tower of the World Trade Center on the 71st floor in July 2001. 

Two months later, on the morning of Sept. 11, Carris had just hung up the phone with his manager when a commercial airliner hijacked by al-Qaida terrorists crashed into his building, taking out the 93rd to 99th floors.

Carris survived the trial of that day — and would later be honored for leading a colleague with severe health issues down the 71 flights of stairs to safety before the tower collapsed.

That woman, Judith Toppin, recalling that day, referred to Carris as an “angel.” 

But Carris didn’t feel like an angel. In fact, he came to realize after the attacks that despite his lifelong Catholic upbringing, he hadn’t had a real relationship with God. 

The trial of that day, and in the years that followed, uncovered a trial of faith for Carris.

But this trial became a blessing for Carris, as it pushed him to discover the beauty of the Catholic faith, the fruit of a relationship with God, and a call to ordained ministry as a deacon in the Catholic Church.

‘Stay calm, and get up’

When the plane hit the North Tower there was a “huge rumbling” sound and the building “tilted” and “wobbled” in place, Carris, 68, told CNA. 

He recalled seeing flames, debris, and other objects flying past the windows. 

“And that’s when everybody was like, ‘Okay, what the heck just happened?’”

Carris and other members of the staff working at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that day thought that a small plane may have hit the building. 

When a manager rushed in and told everyone to evacuate the building, Carris, 46 at the time, headed for the stairwell.

But that’s when he saw Judith Toppin, a woman in his division who had severe health problems. She couldn’t get up from her chair as she attempted to slow her heart rate so her defibrillator would not shock her, as it already had.

He remembers seeing a few people surrounding Toppin, 51 at the time, trying to help and went over to her. He told the others to evacuate while he would take care of her. So they did. 

In her recollection of the events of that tragic day, Toppin wrote: “It was only then that I looked up into the face of a 6-foot, slender, young man whom I’d never met and what the man said to me was, ‘Stay calm, and get up, we are going to walk out of this building together.’”

Toppin wrote that she had “a bad heart, bad lungs, swollen heavy legs, and the speed of a snail at best.”

Nevertheless, she found the strength to get up and start walking. Carris led her into the stairwell, placed his right hand under her left arm, and the two began the long descent together amid the smell of jet fuel that “permeated the air.”

They stopped to rest on each floor and let others pass because they were taking up the space “railing to railing.”

Carris said that most people don’t realize that people remained calm in the stairwell, adding: “Everybody was helping each other. There was no panic.” People offered Toppin water and firemen who were rushing up the stairwell stopped to offer her an airmask. 

They still were not aware of what had happened to the building.

Carris’ only focus was to get Toppin down one step at a time. 

“I’ve been asked, ‘What made you stop [to help Toppin]?’” he said, adding, “I guess the Holy Spirit guided me there.”

Finally, when they were about 30 floors from the bottom, a “hurricane”-like wind came up in a blast and hit them. 

They would find out later that that wind was the force from the collapse of the second of the Twin Towers.

Soon authorities moved them to another less-congested stairwell. The smell of jet fuel became stronger and they realized “things were not good,” Carris said.

After a grueling hour and a half, with some help at certain points, they finally reached the lobby and saw that it was destroyed.

But they hadn’t escaped the danger yet.

After passing through an obstacle blocking the door, Carris took Toppin, who was heavily leaning on him, up Vesey Street toward the Hudson River and described the surroundings as “just gray.”

The two turned a corner just before the North Tower collapsed, which he described as black smoke and debris coming “like a train.” It missed them by “seconds,” he said. 

On that day, 2,752 people were killed in New York City. Another 184 were killed in the attack at the Pentagon, outside Washington, D.C., and 40 died outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 

‘Life-changing’ event

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, Carris began experiencing issues of anger and rage, the brunt of which was taken out on his family. 

Some of that rage was triggered by Toppin’s article in which she called Carris an “angel” sent from God. 

“She was describing me as a perfect human being who did all the right things, and it made me reflect on my own life, thinking, well, I haven’t been the perfect human being doing all the right things in my life,” he said.

But the real root of his anger was still unknown to him. 

He went to his parish priest, who recommended he see another priest, Father Jim Kelly, OFM, who runs a psychology practice. 

Carris’ sessions with Kelly, which went on for nine months, pushed him out of his comfort zone.

He describes it as a “battle.”

Then in the fall of 2002, his parish priest suggested Carris attend a Cursillo weekend, offered by a lay-led movement that offers retreats for a deeper encounter with Christ.

The weekend was filled with silence, a series of talks, the sacraments, and deep prayer. It was on the retreat that the root of Carris’ problems came to a head.

He realized he had been Catholic his whole life but could not remember ever experiencing a relationship with God. 

Carris called it a “life-changing” event. It was so effective that Father Kelly told Carris that he no longer needed to see him for therapy anymore.

“It just opened up a thirst for me to want to learn more about my faith. I had never really read religious books or spiritual books,” he said. 

He soon found himself stopping in at Catholic bookstores in the city and feeling drawn to certain titles. 

One of his first books was the autobiography of St. Teresa of Ávila. Carris then began praying more and took a class run by the archdiocese on Christian ministry run by a religious sister. 

“Something in my chest was like, ‘What’s going on?’ She just said things that lit me up inside and wanted me to learn more,” he said.

He began diving deeper into reflecting on the Mass and volunteering with different ministries.

Eventually, Carris said, the diaconate “was almost a natural progression.”

Deacon Paul Carris (left) serves at Mass next to Cardinal Joseph Tobin of the Archdiocese of Newark. Credit: Archdiocese of Newark
Deacon Paul Carris (left) serves at Mass next to Cardinal Joseph Tobin of the Archdiocese of Newark. Credit: Archdiocese of Newark

His wife, Carroll, to whom he has now been married for over 40 years, was very supportive of his pursuit of the diaconate. He was ordained in May 2011 for the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey.

His favorite part of serving as a deacon is counseling couples engaged to be married. 

Carris and Toppin (who died in 2021 at age 72) remained good friends following the events of 9/11.

She even attended his ordination day. When she died, he assisted with a memorial service for her. 

Carris said he has already “processed” the events of that day and can now talk about them but still needs to take some silent time after offering interviews. 

His heart breaks for those who died that day.

“It was a blessing what happened to me. And that is so difficult to say in an environment where people suffered such tragedy,” he said.

Looking back, he knows that “God was with us on that stairwell that day.”

Ulma family beatified on a ‘day of joy’ in Poland

A portrait of the Ulma family was unveiled at their beatification Mass on Sept. 10, 2023, in Markowa, Poland. / Credit: Polish Bishops Conference

Markowa, Poland, Sep 10, 2023 / 09:51 am (CNA).

On a “day of joy” in Poland, the Catholic Church on Sunday for the first time beatified an entire family at once: Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma and their seven children, who were martyred during World War II for sheltering two Jewish families from the Nazis.

“It would be misleading if the day of the beatification of the Ulma family served only to bring back to memory the terror of the atrocities perpetrated by their executioners, on whom, by the way, the judgment of history already weighs heavily,” Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, said Sept. 10 in his homily at a beatification Mass attended by some 30,000 people in the family’s village of Markowa in southeastern Poland.

“Instead,” the cardinal continued, “we want today to be a day of joy, because the page of the Gospel written on paper has become for us a lived reality, which shines brightly in the Christian witness of the Ulma couple and in the martyrdom of the new Blesseds.”

Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, on Sept. 10, 2023, in Markowa, in southeastern Poland, at the beatification Mass for the Ulma family, who were executed for sheltering Jews during World War II. Credit: Polish Bishops Conference
Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, on Sept. 10, 2023, in Markowa, in southeastern Poland, at the beatification Mass for the Ulma family, who were executed for sheltering Jews during World War II. Credit: Polish Bishops Conference

Operation “Reinhardt,” a program aimed at murdering all of the Jews in Germany-occupied Poland, began to be implemented in the Ulma family’s area of Poland in late July and early August 1942.

The Nazis began to deport the roughly 120 Jews in the Markowa area to a labor camp and extermination camp. Approximately 54 Jews in hiding were found and shot on Dec. 14, 1942. An additional 29 Jews continued to hide in Markowa, including the eight who found refuge with the Ulma family.

Early on March 24, 1944, a Nazi patrol surrounded the home of Józef and Wiktoria Ulma on the outskirts of Markowa. They discovered the Jewish people hiding on the Ulma farm and executed them.

The Nazi police then killed 31-year-old Wiktoria, who was pregnant and in premature labor, and 44-year-old Józef outside their home.

An additional order sealed the fate of the remaining family members: “Kill the children, too.”

Stanisława, 7; Barbara, 6; Władysław, 5; Franciszek, almost 4; Antoni, 2; and Maria, 1, were executed.

The family grave of the Ulma family is pictured in Markowa, Poland, on Sept. 10, 2023, during the beatification of the Ulma family. Credit: Bartosz Siedlik/AFP via Getty Images
The family grave of the Ulma family is pictured in Markowa, Poland, on Sept. 10, 2023, during the beatification of the Ulma family. Credit: Bartosz Siedlik/AFP via Getty Images

The seventh Ulma child to die was the couple’s unnamed son, who was in the process of being born. The boy had been incorrectly described in some news reports as the first unborn child to be beatified, a key detail that the Vatican recently clarified. Though there was no time to baptize the child, what transpired instead was what the Church calls a “baptism of blood.”

In his reflections on Sunday, Cardinal Semeraro also made a point to honor the memory of the Ulmas’ Jewish friends who also were killed that day.

Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, at the beatification Mass for the Ulma family in Markowa, Poland, on Sept. 10, 2023. Credit: Polish Bishops Conference
Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, at the beatification Mass for the Ulma family in Markowa, Poland, on Sept. 10, 2023. Credit: Polish Bishops Conference

“Today, together with the new Blesseds, we also want to remember their names," he said. They were: Saul Goldman with his sons Baruch, Mechel, Joachim, and Mojżesz, as well as Gołda Grünfeld and her sister Lea Didner, together with her young daughter Reszla. Among those at the beatification ceremony Sunday was Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich.

Beatification in the Catholic Church is one step before canonization, when a person recognized for special holiness is officially declared to be a saint. Those beatified receive the title “Blessed” and may receive public veneration at the local or regional level, usually restricted to those dioceses or religious institutes closely associated with the person’s life.

Graduate school hopes new education program will help with ‘renewal’ of Catholic schooling

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 10, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

A western U.S. Catholic institution is debuting an education degree program meant to train up teachers and administrators in what one official says is the “embrace of more traditional forms” of Catholic education. 

The Augustine Institute in Denver says on its website that the organization exists to serve “the formation of Catholics for the new evangelization” by “equip[ping] Catholics intellectually, spiritually, and pastorally to renew the Church and transform the world for Christ.”

The institute, founded in 2005 as a Catholic graduate theology school, currently hosts a little over 300 students. It hopes to add several hundred to its newly formed MA in Catholic Education program, which is debuting with a “soft launch” in October.

Christopher Blum, the institute’s provost as well as a professor of philosophy and theology, told CNA the program is meant to serve as “a contribution to the ongoing renewal of Catholic schools.”

Many Catholic schools across the country are increasingly turning to “classical” forms of education, which focuses on liberal arts such as grammar, rhetoric, geometry, astronomy, and other historically celebrated forms of learning. Catholic schools who adopt this model of curriculum do so with an emphasis on Catholic teaching, scriptural study, and abstract yet well-studied concepts such as truth, goodness, and beauty.

A growing number of Catholic institutions have been adopting this style of education: The Diocese of Marquette, Michigan, for instance, became in 2020 “the first [diocese] in the nation to fully move all of its schools to a classical Catholic curriculum.” Schools in Colorado, Washington state, Kentucky, and numerous other states have moved toward this model in recent years as well.

Blum said the new Augustine Institute program was founded with “an explicit commitment to the new evangelization and the embrace of more traditional forms of education.” He said though that style of pedagogy is most often referred to as “classical,” the more accurate descriptor is “Catholic liberal education.”

The program is “grounded in Scripture and Catholic doctrine,” Blum said; it “offers pedagogical training from a Catholic and classical perspective” and allows students to specialize according to their own area of teaching, with concentrations in grammar school, classical pedagogy, humanities, science and math, and catechetics.

Tim Gray, president of the Augustine Institute, told CNA there was considerable interest in the program prior to its development.

“Bishops were asking us: Hey, can you provide us with something more focused on education? It’s a huge need,” he said.

 Gray said they already have a sizable class signed up for the inaugural program. 

“It’s a mix [of students],” he said. “We’ve got pastors who say, ‘I’m starting, or just started, a classical education school, or we’re renewing our Catholic school and we want to get our faculty on this.’ We have a lot of schools that want to send their teachers as cohorts. We’ve also heard from individuals.” 

“Some [students] are just getting out of undergraduate, maybe it’s a teacher who wants deeper formation,” Gray said.

He estimated that the program will draw in “a couple hundred students in three years.” 

The ongoing school choice movement, Gray suggested, will generate considerable need for more teachers in Catholic schools.

“A lot of these voucher programs in red states — that is going to bring in a wealth of students and money for Catholic schools,” he said. “So they need to train people up.”

In places where school choice has been expanded, Catholic schools have frequently benefitted. 

In Iowa, Sioux City Bishop R. Walker Nickless said earlier this year that a major school choice program there would “help parents keep their child in the Catholic school of their choice and assist us in enhancing quality education.”

The Florida nonprofit Step Up for Students, meanwhile, reported last month that choice programs there were helping to drive Catholic enrollment, with “the number of students using state-funded school choice scholarships to attend Florida Catholic schools [having] tripled over the past decade.”

Blum noted that the MA program is “not a conventional education program” and “does not prepare students for state licensure in any of the 50 U.S. states.” However, it will “welcome students who are preparing for a career as teachers,” he said.

The program, meanwhile, has high entrance requirements, including at least a 3.25 GPA, a “demonstrable ability to read and synthesize insights into thoughtful written work and expression,” and a “commitment to evangelization and the renewal of education.”

The other key requirement for aspiring applicants: a “strong Catholic identity.”

Theology of the Body Parent School equips parents to teach truth about human sexuality

null / Credit: Deemerwha studio/Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., Sep 10, 2023 / 06:00 am (CNA).

A new curriculum is helping Catholic parents rediscover their role as the primary educators of their children. The Theology of the Body (TOB) Parent School equips parents to teach their children what is good and true about human sexuality at an age-appropriate pace.

The school was founded in 2020 by a group of parents from Portland, Oregon, and its curriculum is based on St. John Paul II’s “theology of the body,” a body of teaching about what it means to be male and female.

The TOB Parent School sends monthly magazines that help Catholic families learn about the dignity of life from conception to natural death.

Lindsay Caron, founder of the TOB Parent School, spoke with “EWTN Pro-Life Weekly” recently about what inspired her to start the school.

After seeing that there were not any programs to help busy parents at home, Caron explained that she “saw a need and we gathered like-minded people to start creating magazines to meet that need.”

“We know that parents are the primary educator, and that’s the way that it was always meant to be, and in the past probably 50 years that role has slowly been stripped away of parents,” she added.

The TOB Parent School tries to “put that tool right in their hand” by making it easy for parents to walk through the magazines with their child without needing a degree in theology or having a complete understanding of TOB.

“I think that the problem is educating about sexuality only in adolescence and those young years because we want to still protect their natural innocence,” Caron said. 

“So, if instead you come at it from the whole truth of personhood like John Paul II did and you educate them on the dignity of the human person from conception and everything that that entails, sexuality is just a part of that and then it falls in naturally and it doesn’t have to be overemphasized.”

Magazines from the TOB Parent School have been sold in 45 states, which Caron explained has been thanks to word-of-mouth. She added that this year they will be offering new cycles. Currently, the A cycle is available. They hope to have the B and C cycles ready by the end of the year.

Watch the entire interview with Caron on “EWTN Pro-Life Weekly” below.

American professor who founded school in Artsakh says Christians there are starving

Students on the first day of school in September 2021 at the Antonia Arslan Armenian-Italian Hamalir in Stepanakert, Artsakh. The school was “established in order to help the Artsakhtsi strengthen and rebuild” and offers a variety of courses, programs, and educational opportunities. / Photo courtesy of Siobhan Nash-Marshall

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 9, 2023 / 06:00 am (CNA).

At the time of this writing, more than 120,000 Christian Armenians are currently trapped — without food, gas, or medicine — behind a blockade of the Nagorno-Karabakh region maintained by the Muslim-majority nation of Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan and Armenia have been fighting over the enclave since 1988. Experts say Armenians seek to retain their hold on this autonomous region they call “Artsakh” while Azerbaijan wants to expel the Armenian Christian population to solidify its power in the region. Meanwhile, the situation grows more desperate for the people there as the days pass.

While not Armenian herself, Siobhan Nash-Marshall has been working in Artsakh for almost 10 years. A professor of philosophy at Manhattanville College in New York, Nash-Marshall is a prolific author and writer and founded the Christians in Need Foundation (CINF) in 2011 to assist the people of Artsakh. She recently spoke to CNA about her work for Armenian Christians in Artsakh, the current situation, and how Catholics and people of goodwill can help. 

Siobhan Nash-Marshall, founder of Christians in Need Foundation, which serves Armenian Christians in Artsakh, also called the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Photo courtesy of Siobhan Nash-Marshall
Siobhan Nash-Marshall, founder of Christians in Need Foundation, which serves Armenian Christians in Artsakh, also called the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Photo courtesy of Siobhan Nash-Marshall

Zoe Romanowsky/CNA: Tell me a little bit about the Christian community in Artsakh. How many Catholics are there and what is the Christian community like right now?

Siobhan Nash-Marshall: Catholics are a very small minority in Armenia. And there’s a simple reason for that: Armenia never made it to the Council of Chalcedon — in part because they were being invaded for the umpteenth time. Some Armenians became Catholic during the Crusades, and Pope Leo XIII set up a Pontifical Armenian College for them in Rome. But that’s basically the history of Catholics there. 

Armenia itself is the first Christian nation. Their official conversion date as a nation is 301, beating the Edict of Milan and Constantine.

St. Jude Thaddeus and St. Bartholomew were the apostles who went to Armenia. Whenever you see an icon or image of St. Jude, he’s always holding an image in his hands, and many think it’s one of the sacred images we have of Jesus — you know, the shroud or the Manoppello image. We know that the shroud was in Edessa for a long time, and Edessa was an Armenian city at that time, called Urfa. 

A wonderful piece of Armenian oral history, written down by their oldest historian Moses of Chorene (or “Movses Chorenatsi” as the Armenians call him), is a story that goes like this: The king of Armenia at that time was not very well. His name was Apgar and he had quite a few Jews living in Edessa at that time. He heard about Jesus and wrote a letter saying, “My sources tell me that you’re doing all these amazing things so you’ve either got to be God, or the Son of God. And my sources also tell me that you’re in great danger and that they want to kill you down there. So why don’t you come up to my town? It’s not a big one, but it’s big enough for both of us.”

This story is in their chronicles from the fourth century and it kind of fits with the history because when they did all that testing on the shroud years ago, they found that it was in Edessa for many centuries. 

Why is this history important for understanding Armenians?

Their identity is completely grounded in faith… “I’m Armenian therefore I’m a Christian.” Their history is bound up with their identity. 

Most Americans know very little about Armenia and Azerbaijan, including the enclave of Artsakh. Why should we be paying attention to this area of the world right now?

The Armenian genocide in 1915 was probably the most successful genocide in the 20th century — it not only killed three-quarters of the population, it changed all the names of the cities and destroyed all the churches. So it de-Christianized the lands in that part of Armenia (the west), which was under the Ottoman Empire.

The part of Armenia that was under the Russians — because the Russians had conquered it — wasn’t subject to genocide. It came under Soviet power, and Stalin and Lenin decided that in order to get Turkey on their side, they would give two parts of it to Turkey. They also decided they would give two parts of Armenia to Azerbaijan. One of those parts was Artsakh. So what you have is the Soviets brokering these lands in order to get allegiances. They knew full well that the Turks and the Azeris hated the Armenians.

When Stalin gave Artsakh to Azerbaijan in 1923, Artsakh immediately asked to become an oblast (an autonomous province with its own government). So diplomatically it was never technically a part of Azerbaijan because it was an autonomous region within the borders.

What happened over the 20th century was that Azerbaijan took the other autonomous Armenian province called Nakhichevan and literally wiped it clean of Armenians. Not by killing them directly — mostly by making their lives impossible there so they went to live in Armenia. But they also destroyed all the churches and have dug up the foundations of all of the churches. That’s particularly egregious because we can usually tell from satellite imagery or other things what was on a piece of land in its history… But if you dig up the foundations, you can no longer see the history on the land.

About 20 years ago, Azerbaijan destroyed about 10,000 Armenian stone crosses. Whenever Armenians have an important memorial event or something, they stick up stone crosses — they dot the Armenian landscape. They were UNESCO-protected, and we have footage of Azeris destroying and crushing them.

So there is this deep hatred between the Azeris and the Armenians. And we know full well why this is and what the fate of those Armenians in Artsakh would be in Azeri hands.

What’s particularly important for me, personally, and as a Catholic, a Christian, is that what they have on their land is really the patrimony of all Christians. One of them is a monastery called Dadivank — Dadi’s monastery. Dadi was a disciple of St. Jude Thaddeus, so the roots of that monastery date back to the first century. It is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. And we’ll lose all that.

There’s something about being Catholic that very much has to do with the concrete — we want to touch things. We know that the history is real and we can touch it. So we’re losing a part of our history there. It belongs to everyone and they are the guardians of it. And they know that. So [if we allow Artsakh to be destroyed] we’ll lose a piece of our own history, a piece of our own world.

Tell me about your own connection to Artsakh and how you got involved there.

I was one of those strange Americans who was raised knowing about the Armenian genocide. I always knew that they’re “the martyr nation of Christianity” — that’s what John Paul II called them. 

That said, my godmother is half-Armenian and half-Italian. Her name is Antonia Arslan and she is an extraordinary person, as well as famous. She’s an extraordinary writer and was a university professor. She and I were invited to inaugurate the genocide memorial in Artsakh in 2015 and that was my first trip. I’ve been back seven or eight times and I love the place because it really is beautiful and feels holy.

I’d been trying with my foundation to help Christians there. When you look at the graphics of the Middle East, it’s horrifying because the Christian presence, since the beginning of the 20th century, is being erased.

Right before the Armenian genocide — which didn’t only hit the Armenians, by the way — modern-day Turkey was roughly about 25% Christian. After World War I, it was down to less than 1%. It was systematic. And again during the Syrian war, the war in Iraq… the people who were hit the worst in this region were the Christians. Everyone knows this so I’m not saying anything that’s controversial. But I wanted to help them.

The first day of classes in September 2021 at the Antonia Arslan Armenian-Italian Hamalir in Artsakh. The school currently serves over 600 students in a variety of courses, programs, and educational opportunities. Photo courtesy of Siobhan Nash-Marshall
The first day of classes in September 2021 at the Antonia Arslan Armenian-Italian Hamalir in Artsakh. The school currently serves over 600 students in a variety of courses, programs, and educational opportunities. Photo courtesy of Siobhan Nash-Marshall

Initially, I tried to get students scholarships and have them come to study with me at the college, but it wasn’t possible because the State Department at that time — we’re talking 2010, 2011 — didn’t want Middle Eastern Christians coming to this country. When you have potential students already accepted and crossing war zones to get to an American consulate and then they find out their visa has been denied for reasons unknown to anyone… it’s tragic. 

So I decided to turn the equation around — we’ll go there. And when I went to Artsakh, they said, “We love this; how many people can you send?” So I sent my graduates there to teach English, logic, ethics… And then what happened was the war broke out in 2020. By then I had many friends there so I knew exactly what was going on because they would call me.

Your foundation started a school there — can you share more about it?

After the war — we’re talking November 2020 — friends contacted me and asked if the foundation could build a school there. And I said yes. My idea was to get Italian artisans to Artsakh to teach the beauty of Italian craftsmanship. So we sent carpenters and $40,000 worth of equipment for carpentry. I also sent tailors there — one was a master tailor for Valentino. And they had these beautiful classes and it was wonderful to see.

The stories are just so beautiful because once you start something like this, people respond with great generosity. One of the carpenters donated part of the equipment. He said, “This is just too important; we’ve got to get this done.”

So I figured we can help them, and then when the time comes, they can teach us again how to do it.

The foundation supports the school, which has three components — a school, a vocational program, and a summer program. All together it currently serves 612 students from the ages of 4 to 27. It starts from kindergarten and goes all the way up. 

Sewing class at the Antonia Arslan Armenian-Italian Hamalir in Artsakh. The school offers a variety of courses, programs, and educational opportunities. Photo courtesy of Siobhan Nash-Marshall
Sewing class at the Antonia Arslan Armenian-Italian Hamalir in Artsakh. The school offers a variety of courses, programs, and educational opportunities. Photo courtesy of Siobhan Nash-Marshall

Has the school been able to operate since the blockade?

They’re operating all right, but the problem is that they’re starving. And it’s not just that they’re starving, but they have no gas. So that means that the buses can’t function, the cars can’t function, and we can’t get students to school.

So, out of the 612 students, 300 who live in the countryside have told us they can’t make it, they can’t move. We don’t realize how dependent we are, all of us, on gas and electricity. But part of the problem with food is that they need gas to dry the wheat so they can mill it and they don’t have that.

The blockade has prevented everything from getting through? 

That’s exactly right. Since Dec. 12 when it started, Western powers have denounced it, they have said “open the corridor,” but no one has done anything about it.

Why is that do you think?

There are many reasons. The most immediate excuse is that Azerbaijan has Europe by the short hairs because they give them gas. Europe can’t survive without gas. 

And then there’s the Ukraine situation… Russian gas is being sanctioned, but what the Russians have done is pipe it through Azerbaijan. So they’re reportedly selling it; they got around the sanctions.

But this puts Azerbaijan in a very strong position politically — they can threaten Europe to cut off the gas.

The deeper reason, in my view as a Catholic, is that at the end of the day, it’s what you believe in that determines what you think is possible. We all have to give up something at times. And what you believe in is going to determine what you think you can sacrifice. I think there’s a huge crisis of faith in Europe, so they don’t want to sacrifice their comfort. And they could, and we could, too. So the deeper reason no one has done anything is that I think very few people actually believe that their own comfort is something that can be sacrificed. I’m sorry to be cruel, but that’s my opinion.

And it’s not just mine. In the recent hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, the courageous Rep. Chris Smith, (R-New Jersey) publicly asked “whether there is, in our own government, any true will to help.”

So what can be done for the Christians in Artsakh?

First of all, the prince of Liechtenstein has announced that he’s going to help organize an airlift for them. We’re going to do a balloon lift — Latin crosses on every balloon and the CINF logo. We want to show that it’s the Catholics doing this, Western Christians doing this for our brothers. Because if Armenia tries to do this, and they did, they’ll be blocked.

But if Catholics do this, and we take the responsibility for it — and I’m perfectly happy to take the responsibility for it — they can’t stop us. I mean, our numbers help us. There are over a billion Catholics in the world.

Can you tell me more about this plan?

We’re going to send weather balloons — 100 of them — each can lift 10 pounds. So attached to each will be about 10 pounds of flour, food, and medicinals. Granted, that’s not a lot, but it’s something. We’re hoping that if we show it can be done, then others will get the courage to do the same. 

As for the launching spot, that’s one of the things I need to leave in the dark. As for the date, it will be this month — that’s the hope. 

Anything else people can do to help?

They can support CINF to help the people there

Also, if they are willing and able to come help us with our balloons, they should!

They can also contact their representatives and tell them they care about this issue and want to stand with the people of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh).

‘Miracle’ at Catholic school leads cancer survivor to launch pediatric charity foundation

A view of the "miracle" prayer at Manchester Stadium / The Miracle at Manchester Foundation

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 9, 2023 / 05:00 am (CNA).

Few young people can claim to have distinctly felt the healing touch of God or to have survived major bouts of serious cancer. Fewer still can say they’ve launched a foundation meant to help other young cancer survivors as they struggle through their own medical battles. 

Bryce Newman can claim all three. And he’s not yet 25 years old. 

The young California Catholic man’s journey from cancer patient to cancer-free, from high school student to founder of a major charity, was an intensely difficult one, Newman told CNA. He was first diagnosed with cancer at 15 years old, on the cusp of what looked to be a thriving baseball career at a young age.

“I was coming off a good season,” he said. “I got invited to play for Team USA San Diego and we do an annual end-of-summer tournament in various host countries. This time it was Japan.”

“We were about a week away from our plane trip to Japan and I started getting these really bad headaches that caused me to miss a couple of practices, which I never did,” he said. 

Medical scans subsequently revealed Newman was suffering from medulloblastoma, an aggressive and fast-growing form of brain cancer. At the same time he received this diagnosis, he was informed by his doctors that he would be undergoing emergency surgery in six hours. 

His response? “Sew me up. I have a plane to catch. I’ve got to get back on the team with my teammates.” 

Needless to say, Newman did not return to the field. His fight against the brain cancer, meanwhile, was arduous; it involved multiple surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, some of which left him wheelchair-bound. 

‘The Miracle at Manchester’

Students, faculty, and friends of Bryce Newman gathered to pray in Manchester Stadium at Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego for Newman’s healing from brain cancer. Credit: Miracle at Manchester Foundation
Students, faculty, and friends of Bryce Newman gathered to pray in Manchester Stadium at Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego for Newman’s healing from brain cancer. Credit: Miracle at Manchester Foundation

With the prognosis looking poor, doctors advised Newman and his family to seek an experimental treatment in Florida. 

“We got accepted to that trial,” Newman said. “We were packing our bags and someone at our high school called me up and asked if I wanted to meet with any friends.” 

“To them it was more of a final goodbye,” he noted. 

Upon arriving at Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego, Newman was wheeled down to the school’s Manchester Stadium. There, he found the entire school of students, faculty, and staff waiting for him.

As depicted in a now-famous photograph, the entire assembly prayed over Newman. That was when, he said, he felt a divine effect running through him. 

A view of the "miracle" prayer at Manchester Stadium. The Miracle at Manchester Foundation
A view of the "miracle" prayer at Manchester Stadium. The Miracle at Manchester Foundation

“I felt this warm sensation like when you take clothes out of the drier,” he said. “That was God healing me.”

The family subsequently traveled to Florida, where Newman underwent scans prior to the experimental treatment. 

“When the doctors in San Diego received the results from the Florida scan back, there was no tumor,” he said. “It was gone.”

Foundation, movie arise from ‘miracle’ healing

Following Newman’s astonishing healing, he launched the Miracle at Manchester Foundation, named after the school prayer session that he says resulted in God’s healing his brain tumor. 

The foundation says its mission is to “connect every hospitalized child with their friends, family, and school, enabling them to cope with the separation during long-term treatment for cancer.” The initiative works to distribute iPads to pediatric cancer patients to give them entertainment and stimulation during lengthy hospital stays. 

Bryce Newman poses with a young patient receiving an iPad. The Miracle at Manchester Foundation
Bryce Newman poses with a young patient receiving an iPad. The Miracle at Manchester Foundation

Newman said the idea came after he spent long hours in hospital rooms during his cancer treatments. 

“I was one of the older ones in the hospital at the time,” Newman said. “I noticed how the TV channels there were meant to appeal to the younger patients. They didn’t really have any form of entertainment for older kids.” 

“The other kids that I was with, that I became friends with, they didn’t have any forms of entertainment,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to be kind of given an iPad from my freshman year of high school, where we had to have them. I had a little side entertainment that a lot of other kids didn’t have.”

Bryce Newman with a young cancer patient being gifted an iPad. The Miracle at Manchester Foundation
Bryce Newman with a young cancer patient being gifted an iPad. The Miracle at Manchester Foundation

The foundation on its website says it has already partnered with several hospitals in order to distribute iPads at pediatric oncology wards. It solicits $450 donations in order to facilitate these efforts.

The foundation says it further works at “recruiting local volunteers to help us in our mission to support children” undergoing cancer treatments, including connecting with young patients and organizing celebrity visits for them.

The story’s inspiration has even reached Hollywood, with last year seeing the release of a major motion picture, “Miracle at Manchester,” starring Eddie McClintock and Dean Cain.

Bryce Newman with a young patient. The Miracle at Manchester Foundation
Bryce Newman with a young patient. The Miracle at Manchester Foundation

Richard Newman, Bryce’s father, said the charity has even brought with it its share of laughs. He relayed one story in which a little boy suffering from leukemia had been entertaining himself on his sister’s off-brand tablet when Bryce showed up with a brand-new iPad. 

Upon being given the tablet, the boy asked in surprise: “This is all mine?”

“It sure is, little buddy,” Bryce responded. 

“Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy,” the youngster responded, “mine is bigger than my sister’s!”

“The entire room burst out laughing,” Richard Newman said. 

Bryce Newman with a young iPad recipient. The Miracle at Manchester Foundation
Bryce Newman with a young iPad recipient. The Miracle at Manchester Foundation

In spite of the tremendous amount of work he’s undertaken after surviving cancer, Newman has adopted a humble attitude about his efforts, telling CNA he’s under no illusions about what he’s capable of doing. 

“I’m not going to be the one to end cancer,” he admitted. “But I can help fight the boredom and the isolation that you have while in the hospital.”

‘Gender affirmation’ must be a factor in child custody fights, California Legislature says

The California capitol. / Willem van Bergen (CC BY-SA 2.0).

CNA Staff, Sep 8, 2023 / 15:20 pm (CNA).

California courts’ child custody decisions must consider whether a parent affirms a child’s “gender identity or gender expression,” under a bill the California Legislature approved Friday.

The California Assembly passed Assembly Bill 957 on Friday by a party-line vote of 57-16, with several Democrats not voting, KCRA 3 News reported. The state Senate passed the legislation on Wednesday in a 30-9 vote, with all Republicans voting against the bill. Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to sign the bill by the legal deadline of Oct. 14.

The concept of “gender” has come to mean more than biological sex. It now has connotations of a social role that allows boys to identify or act like girls and vice versa. Gender identity now includes categories such as transgender and nonbinary.

“Affirmation includes a range of actions and will be unique for each child, but in every case must promote the child’s overall health and well-being,” the California bill states.

Affirmation of gender would become one factor among others in granting child custody as part of concerns for a child’s health, safety, and welfare. Other factors include parental abuse and the amount of contact a child has with his or her parents, the Associated Press reported.

Assemblymember Lori Wilson, a Democrat who introduced the bill, said gender affirmation could mean letting a child play with toys associated with his or her gender identity, getting nails painted, or wearing his or her hair at a desired length.

There are no specific requirements regarding purported gender-affirming surgeries, which minors can undergo in California only with parental consent.

California law already bars custody courts from considering a parent, legal guardian, or relative’s sex, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation when determining the best interests of a child.

The California Catholic Conference opposed the bill.

“We strongly support parents affirming the goodness of their children and compassionately caring for children with gender dysphoria,” the conference said in a legislative report on its website. “Our concern is that this bill places a thumb on the scale for custody against loving, protective parents that lacks sufficient data to be warranted.” 

The Catholic conference said the bill “would elevate a loving, protective parent’s non-consent to a child’s social or medical transition to the same level as abuse, violence, or substance use in the eyes of the court for custody disputes and parenting time.” 

“Rather than driving a wedge between children and parents, it is in the best interest of children to promote parental communication and involvement,” its analysis said.