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Catholicism makes a comeback in London

The exhibition on "Spain and the Hispanic World" features an opulent vision of the Flight into Egypt by an unknown 18th-century Peruvian artist. The work is from the Hispanic Society of America. / Photo by Lucien de Guise

London, England, Mar 4, 2023 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Like the proverbial big red London bus, you wait a long time for a Catholic-interest exhibition and two arrive at the same time. Today, half of London’s four major museums are focusing on Catholic culture, and both exhibitions are novel for their venues. 

The Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition “Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance,” open through June 11, is the first U.K. exhibition to focus on this 14th-century pioneer of the Italian Renaissance. The exhibition title might credit only Donatello, but numerous contemporaries and followers are also on view. 

The other exhibition, “Spain and the Hispanic World,” at the Royal Academy of the Arts through April 10, explores the art of Spain and its former colonies in the New World — all courtesy of the Hispanic Society of America. Based in New York, this is the greatest repository that exists of Spanish culture across continents.

Donatello’s sacred art

The Victoria and Albert Museum is more inclined to offbeat blockbusters such as “A Brief History of Underwear” (2017) and “Fashioning Masculinities” (2022). Tackling Renaissance sculpture is unusual despite the enthusiasm shown by the founders, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Victoria never went to Rome but was a frequent visitor to Florence. Life-copies of the city’s two most famous statues of David — by Donatello and Michelangelo — were made during her reign. Although Donatello’s sculpture was one of the very few he created that might not have met Victorian standards of modesty, the royal couple was more open-minded than most at the time.

The 19th-century copy of Donatello’s bronze David (circa 1440) is on view at the London show, having been moved from the other side of the museum. The last time the original left Florence was in 1930, accompanied by Benito Mussolini on a publicity mission to the Royal Academy. The Victoria and Albert Museum has instead secured Donatello’s fully clothed version of David (1408), in marble. It is the first work that greets visitors to the show. Created when Donatello was only 22 years old, its carefully composed naturalism sets the scene for the sculptures he made later in his long life. 

Taking center stage, after the marble David, is a life-size bronze crucifix by Donatello himself, lent by a church, not a museum. This is part of what makes the exhibition so remarkable. Many of the works would look more appropriate back in their original sacred setting. Most have long since been acquired by museums. Carved forms are something that Catholics are still accustomed to seeing at Mass, unlike Renaissance paintings that once served a pious purpose but for generations have been lining the walls of public galleries. In the case of the Donatello crucifix, it’s displayed between two sculptures in a composition that suggests a reworking of the Calvary spectacle. Taking the place of Dismas and the Impenitent Thief are bronze statues of a bishop and St. George.

Among the works of art featured at the exhibition on Donatello is something rarely seen at any art exhibition — a silver reliquary of St. Donatus by Brugnone from the Museo Cristiano, Cividale del Friuli. Photo by Lucien de Guise
Among the works of art featured at the exhibition on Donatello is something rarely seen at any art exhibition — a silver reliquary of St. Donatus by Brugnone from the Museo Cristiano, Cividale del Friuli. Photo by Lucien de Guise

Seeing 150 works by Donatello and his contemporaries should remind any visitor that for around a thousand years the only European art that mattered was religious. Most of the works at this exhibition are decidedly Catholic. The Madonna and Child clearly had special meaning for artists of the Renaissance. Donatello made them more human and, at a technical level, mastered the art of perspective in shallow-relief carving.

The tender side of Catholic art is seen in Donatello's Pazzi Madonna (from Staatliche Museen Berlin), which is also an early exercise in perspective. Photo by Lucien de Guise
The tender side of Catholic art is seen in Donatello's Pazzi Madonna (from Staatliche Museen Berlin), which is also an early exercise in perspective. Photo by Lucien de Guise

Images of Christ and the Virgin Mary are backed up by an abundance of saints. In their day, if you didn’t see them at church or home, they stood proudly in town squares or served a protective purpose in niches above the dangerous streets of old Europe. Viewers no longer see the context. Renaissance devotional imagery has become art removed from purpose, unlike the figures from classical antiquity that Donatello and others revived. These were fun and playful, without ever serving a sacred purpose.

Old World meets New

For “Spain and the Hispanic World,” the curators have shown the full extent of Spanish art. More than 2,000 years of this history was before the birth of Christ. As Christian art began to emerge in the early centuries A.D., the exhibition looks toward the Arab conquest of Spain. This soon became a hybrid of Christian and Muslim art. From the time of the Reconquest, Spanish rulers made a concerted effort to promote Catholicism. These works of profound power and mysticism are at the heart of the exhibition. There are secular interludes, however, such as the ever-popular Francisco Goya. This was a devout believer frequently disappointed by the actions of the Church and clergy. There are none of his anticlerical works on show here. Nor are there any by the artists who make up the other half of the exhibition. 

The exhibition on "Spain and the Hispanic World" features an opulent vision of the Flight into Egypt by an unknown 18th-century Peruvian artist. The work is from the Hispanic Society of America. Photo by Lucien de Guise
The exhibition on "Spain and the Hispanic World" features an opulent vision of the Flight into Egypt by an unknown 18th-century Peruvian artist. The work is from the Hispanic Society of America. Photo by Lucien de Guise

Wherever the Spanish and Portuguese colonizers went, they were followed by missionaries. The Hispanic World section of this show gives visitors the untarnished glory of Catholic art adapted to a new audience. There is charm, ingenuity, and an absence of disparagement of Catholic input. The Jesuits and other orders are, for a change, given credit for encouraging creative activity while trying to shield the indigenous populations from the excesses of the conquistadors and their successors. The spirit of the Robert De Niro/Jeremy Irons classic “The Mission” hovers gently over the Church in the New World. The secular colonizers are the villains here, depicted in maps, portraits, and other paintings that show their ambition, usually at the expense of the conquered peoples.

The sacred art of the Hispanic Empires is full of splendor, power, and pain. At this exhibition there are none of those Spanish-inspired crucifixes that surpass the reality of Christ’s death with Kensington gore galore. The only crucifixes on display are from the Old World, in monochromatic precious metal. Paintings are another matter. Whether from Spain or the Spanish empire, they are intense and deeply spiritual. Strangely, there are no painted images of the crucifixion. Instead, the subject matter ranges from the sorrowful austerity of St. Peter of Alcantara and St. Theresa (Bolivia, 1720s) to the Immaculate Conception, with Mary surrounded by a profusion of cherubic angels (Mexico, 1640). In Spain, El Greco’s tortuous figures from the late 16th century are continued 300 years later in a painting by Ignacio Zuloaga showing a group of penitents carrying an image of Christ so vivid and severe it seems to have just been taken down from a cross. 

The ascetically spiritual side of Spain is seen in "The Penitent St. Jerome" by El Greco, circa 1600. A less ascetic cardinal's galero is visible behind the saint. The work is on loan from the Hispanic Society of America. Photo by Lucien de Guise
The ascetically spiritual side of Spain is seen in "The Penitent St. Jerome" by El Greco, circa 1600. A less ascetic cardinal's galero is visible behind the saint. The work is on loan from the Hispanic Society of America. Photo by Lucien de Guise

There is an absence of depictions of what might be the most reproduced Christian image of all: Our Lady of Guadalupe. The original is not, of course, by any human hand. The Aztec convert Juan Diego was given the divinely decorated cloak by the Virgin Mary herself in 1531. Within the textile are symbols of pre-Christian belief, not least the crescent moon under Our Lady’s feet — thought to represent the triumph of light and goodness over the old Aztec god of darkness.

Both the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Academy provide reminders that Catholicism was a religion committed to visual stimulation, especially for those who couldn’t read. Whether it was Roman antiquity or pre-Conquest Latin America, the universal Church was pragmatic enough not to cancel everything from the pagan past. 

Portuguese bishops announce steps to end sexual abuse in the Church

Left to right: Bishop Virgílio Antunes, Portuguese Episcopal Conference vice president; Bishop José Ornelas, conference president; and Father Manuel Barbosa, conference spokesman, during a press conference on March 3, 2023, which was held to discuss steps being taken to halt sexual abuse within the country's Catholic Church. / Courtesy of 7 Margens

Fatima, Portugal, Mar 3, 2023 / 18:10 pm (CNA).

The bishops of Portugal on Friday began taking concrete steps to respond to a damning investigative report last month that estimated well over 4,000 children have been victims of sexual abuse within the country’s Catholic Church since the 1950s.

Meeting in a plenary assembly in Fátima, the Portuguese Episcopal Conference announced the creation of all-lay diocesan commissions and a memorial to victims that will be unveiled during World Youth Day, taking place in Lisbon Aug. 1–6, among other measures.

“We reiterate our deep gratitude to all the victims who have given their testimony over the last year. Without you, it would not have been possible to reach today. Thank you,” said Father Manuel Barbosa, a spokesman for the bishops’ conference.

“We also want to leave a word of courage to all the victims who still harbor the pain in the depths of their hearts,” he added, announcing that a “specific group” will be created, which will follow the model of the independent commission. In addition, the diocesan commissions that had already been created will now be “made up only of competent laypeople in the most diverse areas of activity, with the possibility of having an ecclesiastical assistant,” the bishops decided.

Another initiative announced was the creation of a memorial for victims of abuse. After World Youth Day, the memorial will be moved to a location outside the conference’s headquarters.

Barbosa also reiterated the request for forgiveness directed at “all victims of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Portugal,” adding that “this request will be made public in April,” in Fátima, during the bishops’ next assembly.

The bishops pledged to provide “spiritual, psychological, and psychiatric monitoring” to all victims and that it will have “zero tolerance towards all abusers and towards those who, in some way, concealed the abuses practiced within the Catholic Church.”

More investigation needed

Many of the priests and other alleged perpetrators of abuse identified in the independent commission’s final report, issued Feb. 13, have long since died.

But on Friday, the commission, which was authorized by the bishops’ conference, provided the bishops with the names of still-active priests who have been accused. Those allegations still must be investigated, the bishops stressed.

“I cannot remove someone from the ministry just because someone accused him,” explained Bishop José Ornelas, president of the conference.

“We only have names, it is very difficult. To move forward, it is clear that we need to have data, and this list that we receive only has names,” he said, adding that “if there are other documents that reach us to, first, identify who the possible abuser is and what he did wrong, we will take appropriate action.”

The bishop of Leiria-Fátima also emphasized that the Portuguese Church is not “at the end of a process” but rather “moving from the page of the report to concrete action.”

On Thursday, the Portuguese Church signed a protocol with the Portuguese Association for Victim Support outlining steps to ensure “zero tolerance” for abuse during World Youth Day.

The protocol aims to provide employees and volunteers of the event with special training in the prevention of victim support so that they can act in the face of possible occurrences during the event in Lisbon and the dioceses hosting participants.

This type of partnership, unprecedented in the history of World Youth Day, implements “the best possible practices” to prevent abuse and violence and ensure that “victims are never forgotten,” said Bishop Américo Aguiar, auxiliary bishop of Lisbon and president of the WYD Lisbon 2023 Foundation.

‘We know that he’s in heaven’: Thousands gather for funeral of Bishop David O’Connell in Los Angeles

Archbishop José H. Gomez places the Book of Gospels and a cross on the coffin of Bishop David O'Connell before leading a procession at Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, in downtown Los Angeles on March 3, 2023. / Photo by Jay L. Clendenin-Pool/Getty Images

CNA Newsroom, Mar 3, 2023 / 16:56 pm (CNA).

Thousands gathered Friday for the funeral of slain Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell, who was remembered as “a friend of Jesus Christ” and the poor.

Archbishop José Gomez presided over the funeral Mass, held at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. Speaking briefly at the conclusion of the liturgy, Gomez said “Bishop Dave,” as O’Connell was affectionately known, would be sorely missed, but “we know that he’s in heaven.” 

“From there he’s going to continue to intercede for us,” Gomez said, “as he has done his whole life.”

O’Connell, 69, a popular Irish-born priest who worked on myriad social causes in South L.A. for the past 45 years, died Feb. 18 after being shot multiple times in his Hacienda Heights home, according to District Attorney George Gascón. Carlos Medina, the husband of O’Connell’s housekeeper, has admitted to murdering the bishop, Gascón said in a Feb. 22 press conference.

One of O’Connell’s closest friends, Monsignor Jarlath “Jay” Cunnane, gave the homily at Friday’s Mass.

“We’re heartbroken with you,” he said, speaking to O’Connell’s relatives sitting in the packed cathedral. “But thank you and your parents and those who’ve gone before you for giving us the blessing of him.”

Monsignor Jarlath (Jay) Cunnane speaks at the funeral Mass of Bishop David O'Connell at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles on March 3, 2023. Credit: YouTube/olaCathedral
Monsignor Jarlath (Jay) Cunnane speaks at the funeral Mass of Bishop David O'Connell at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles on March 3, 2023. Credit: YouTube/olaCathedral

Earlier this week, both Pope Francis and President Joe Biden issued condolences to O’Connell’s family and all those grieving his death.

The Holy Father’s message, which was first shared with attendees at a memorial Mass for O’Connell on Wednesday, was shared again at the beginning of Mass Friday.

“To those gathered for the Mass of Christian burial and to all who mourn Bishop O’Connell’s loss in the sure hope of the resurrection, the Holy Father cordially imparts his blessing as a pledge of peace and consolation in the Lord,” Gomez said, reading the statement, which was signed by Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

Following the reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Cunnane described O’Connell as “David, the friend of Jesus Christ; David, the friend of the poor.”

Said Cunnane: “I can’t imagine having walked that road without David at my side. I’m sure I would have got lost. I would have gone astray.” He said that O’Connell “was good at friendship” and was his “Anam Cara,” Gaelic for “soul friend.”

“He was a friend of souls. David did soul work. He spoke to the soul. He healed souls. He brought peace to souls,” Cunnane said, adding that “more than anything else … Bishop Dave was a friend of Jesus Christ and of Mary our Blessed Mother.”

Cunnane spoke about O’Connell’s devotion to the rosary and the Blessed Mother and mentioned his strong prayer life in recent years. 

“For Dave life was, and especially in the recent years, life was prayer. Life was in the presence of Christ, and that is what he shared. Yes, he helped the poor. Yes, he fought for justice. But most of all, what he wanted to share was that encounter with Jesus Christ,” he said.

Cunnane added that he has battled sickness over the past number of years, which has hospitalized him. He said that O’Connell faithfully visited him in the hospital every day.  

“I think I hear the Lord say to you, ‘My friend David O’Connell, come, blessed of my Father, enter the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of creation,’” Cunnane concluded.

‘The rock of the family’

David O’Connell, Bishop O’Connell's nephew, offered remarks about his uncle before the Mass concluded.

“Uncle Dave was an inspiration for us throughout our whole lives and he will remain to be so,” O’Connell said.

“He taught us that if you have the capacity to help someone, you should do it. I can hear him so clearly in my mind saying, ‘Ah, it’s no problem I can do it.’ All he wanted to do was make things easier for everyone else and he never asked for a single thing in return, ever.”

Bishop David O'Connell's nephew, David O'Connell, speaks at the bishop's funeral Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles on March 3, 2023. Credit: YouTube/olaCathedral
Bishop David O'Connell's nephew, David O'Connell, speaks at the bishop's funeral Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles on March 3, 2023. Credit: YouTube/olaCathedral

O’Connell said that his uncle would consistently offer his prayers for his nieces and nephews as they encountered challenges in their lives. 

“He never ended a phone call without telling me how proud he was of me,” O’Connell said, fighting back tears.

“He was really the rock of the family, the one we went to for advice, and for support. We are all heartbroken,” he said.

O’Connell said that a new opportunity presents itself following his uncle’s death. 

“We now all have the opportunity to pick up where he left off and carry the example that he set. Help those that you can help. Lend an ear and listen to people. Respect each other. Be considerate and give others the benefit of the doubt. Have patience, and give everyone a chance. Make sure that those who are closest to you know that you love them and that you are proud of them,” he said.

“Uncle Dave, we all love you so much. I am so sorry that you will not be here for all the things that are to come in our lives, at least not in person,” he said. “Until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.”

Bishop Paprocki, Archbishop Naumann speak out in support of Traditional Latin Mass goers in their dioceses

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, speaks with EWTN's Raymond Arroyo on "The World Over with Raymond Arroyo" on March 2, 2023. / EWTN screenshot

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Mar 3, 2023 / 15:40 pm (CNA).

In the wake of new restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass, two American bishops spoke with EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo Thursday about how their dioceses have responded.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, both defended the Traditional Latin Mass communities within their dioceses during their interviews on “The World Over with Raymond Arroyo” March 2. 

Pope Francis issued a motu proprio titled Traditionis custodes on July 16, 2021, which put heavy restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass. The order directed bishops to designate locations for the Traditional Latin Mass but stated none of the locations should be within parish churches. Because a lot of dioceses already had thriving Latin Mass communities within parishes, some bishops offered dispensations, which allowed those Masses to continue as before.

Cardinal Arthur Roche, the prefect for the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, issued a rescript on Feb. 21, which is a formal clarification from the Vatican. It stated that such dispensations are reserved to the Holy See and ordered bishops who had issued those dispensations to “inform the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which will evaluate the individual cases.”

Paprocki said during the interview that he questions “the wisdom” of the rescript and suggested that it “seems to contradict what Pope Francis himself said when he issued the motu proprio,” which Paprocki interpreted to say that bishops had discretion to decide how to implement the restrictions “on a case by case basis” within their dioceses.

In addition, Paprocki questioned the legal basis for not allowing the dispensations already granted by bishops to remain in effect.

“I would argue Canon 9 says that laws in the Church are not retroactive, so any dispensations that have already been given remain in effect,” Paprocki said. “But I would also recognize the validity of this new rescript and the restriction that is being placed upon diocesan bishops.”

Paprocki added that these judgments are best made by the bishop based on the principle of subsidiarity, which maintains that “decisions should be made at a local level” unless there’s an overriding reason.

“I’ve yet to see what that reason would be” in the case of these dispensations, Paprocki said.

Instead, he said, “you’ve got a prefect in Rome basically making decisions about what’s happening in the local diocese and the local parishes.”

When the motu proprio was originally issued, the Diocese of Springfield had two parish churches that offered the Latin Mass. Paprocki noted that one of the parishes has a priest from the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), which was given a dispensation from the Vatican. The bishop designated the other church as a non-parish church. 

“My predecessor merged two parishes together, but he kept the two churches open,” Paprocki told Arroyo. “And so when the Holy Father, in his motu proprio Traditionis custodes, said that you can’t have the Traditional Latin Mass at a parochial church, I simply designated one of those churches as non-parochial. And so therefore, we’re in compliance with that decree.”

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, speaks to EWTN Pro-Life Weekly on July 21, 2022. Screenshot from EWTN Pro-Life Weekly
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, speaks to EWTN Pro-Life Weekly on July 21, 2022. Screenshot from EWTN Pro-Life Weekly

Archbishop Naumann noted that the Archdiocese of Kansas City has not been greatly affected by the Vatican’s orders because there are two Traditional Latin Mass communities operated by FSSP, which has a dispensation from the Vatican.

“I would say the people in those communities, I find them to be very sincere,” Naumann said. “And they love the Lord, they love the Church, they love the Eucharist. I think what the pope was trying initially to correct is, there was an attitude, I think, amongst some, that there was a superiority [of] the Tridentine Mass, to the Novus Ordo, and I think that was an error. But I don’t think that’s how most people in those communities see things. And I think they’re confused by the limitations that are being put upon even bishops in making pastoral judgments.”

You can watch Arroyo’s full interview with Bishop Paprocki and Archbishop Naumann here.

Decline in vocations to the priesthood is worse where priests serve larger flocks, report says

null / Vatican Media

Denver, Colo., Mar 3, 2023 / 13:25 pm (CNA).

The decline in the number of priests, seminarians, and new vocations to the priesthood in the United States appears to be more pronounced in parishes where priests serve more parishioners, according to a report commissioned by the organization Vocation Ministry.

Vocation Ministry aims to train and encourage priests, educators, and the Catholic laity to support and expand vocations programs in parishes and schools. It has held over 135 workshops in more than 50 dioceses.

The study found that there are fewer new vocations in large dioceses where priests do not have a chance to get to know their parishioners and encourage budding vocations. The report’s authors point out that their findings should be taken into account when considering merging Catholic parishes.

Aging clergy aren’t being replaced

The organization’s newly released 40-page report, “Creating a Culture of Vocations,” provides an analysis of vocations trends and makes recommendations on how to improve the ability of parishes and dioceses to foster vocations to the priesthood.

From 2014 to 2021, the report finds, there was a 9% decrease in active diocesan priests, a 14% decrease in active religious priests, a 22% decline in the number of seminarians, and a 24% decline in total priestly ordinations per year.

Only 30 of 175 dioceses ordained an average number of priests at or above replacement level over the five years from 2016 to 2021, according to the report. Dioceses in which the retirement of many priests is imminent may need to ordain two, three, or more priests to replace retiring or dying clergy.

Smaller parishes tied to more vocations

The Vocation Ministry report separated dioceses by population into four tiers, numbered from 1 to 4. Tier 1 dioceses had more than 750,000 Catholics; tier 2 dioceses had 350,000 to 750,000 Catholics; tier 3 dioceses had 100,000 to 350,000 Catholics; and tier 4 dioceses had fewer than 100,000 Catholics.

The tier 4 dioceses with a small Catholic population had the largest ratio of priests to parishioners — and also the best vocation rate. The dioceses with the largest Catholic populations fared the worst, with the lowest ratio of priests to parishioners and the worst vocation rate.

Given that about 70% of priests say their parish priest was the most influential on their vocation and did the most to cultivate their call to the priesthood, the report argues, more priests per parishioner tends to mean more vocations.

“I was most surprised that we were able to find such strong correlations between how many parishioners each active priest serves and ordinations,” Rhonda Gruenewald, founder of the Houston, Texas-based nonprofit Vocation Ministry, told CNA Feb. 27. “We actually found the proof to what many suspected: If a priest is placed in a position where he serves 3,000 families, it is difficult for him to build relationships and make time to invite men to discern the priesthood and mentor them.”

“Of course this makes sense, but now we can objectively show that dioceses that have priests serving a high number of parishioners have fewer ordinations,” she said.

For Gruenewald, this means consolidation of parishes can accelerate a shortage in vocations, as priests are forced to serve more parishioners.

The report draws upon seminarian and ordination data from the Official Catholic Directory, starting in 2015, and verifies these numbers with vocations directors. Its analysis draws from interviews with priests, vocations directors, and seminarians.

The Vocation Ministry report emphasizes another key data point about prospective priests: About 75% of newly ordained priests said their call to the priesthood first came before age 18.

“This is when they are in catechism class, the parochial school, youth choir, serving at the altar, and receiving the sacraments,” Gruenewald said. She emphasized the need to support young people in discerning a vocation whenever they hear it.

“This should be a wake-up call for bishops, priests, and laity. They do not have to accept this decline,” Gruenewald told CNA. “We have seen the number of seminarians increase dramatically when dioceses are intentional about engaging their priests and laity for vocations.”

Fostering vocations: a way forward

The Vocation Ministry report makes recommendations for bishops, vocations offices, and all Catholic laity.

Grunewald told CNA the Vocation Ministry organization has helped improve vocation numbers, especially in the dioceses of Peoria, Illinois; Ogdensburg, New York; Stockton, California; and Lansing, Michigan.

The report offers a few concrete suggestions:

  • It questions the rapid turnover rate among dioceses’ vocations directors, who hold that role on average for only three years.

  • It suggests that the “sharpest, most capable priests” should not necessarily be assigned to large parishes, where they can become exhausted and less able to foster vocations.

  • Families should participate in a parish-based vocations ministry, while religious education programs for children and teens should cultivate “hearts for Christ.” Young men must receive “a consistent and encouraging message” about vocation discernment, the report says.

  • Priests should be healthy, holy, and focused, taking the fostering of vocations seriously “throughout parish life.” With the help of other Catholics, they should avoid the dangers of being overworked and make time to focus on sources of vocations in young adult ministries, altar service, and other areas.

  • Bishops, the report recommends, should be holy, inspirational, and trusted by their priests and seminarians.

Among the report’s sources is the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), based at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Father Thomas Gaunt, SJ, executive director at CARA, told CNA he agreed with the report’s focus on the importance of a relationship with a priest and of parish activities to encourage and foster vocations.

“I think that’s well-grounded and very important. Vocations are inspired by relationships,” Gaunt said.

He cited a saying popular among Jesuits: “We don’t have Jesuits who are inspired to become a Jesuit because of the president of the school. But we have a lot who were inspired by their English teacher.”

However, he questioned some of the report’s methodology. He voiced “some concern” about the usefulness of the population statistics in the report, given the mobility of Catholics.

“Where there’s a growing population doesn’t necessarily indicate that the Church is any more successful. It just means there are more jobs. Or if there’s a diminishing population, it’s not that the Church is less successful. There are fewer economic opportunities,” Gaunt said.

The bishops and pastors of the Northeast and Midwest face “a very different set of daily issues” than those in the South and West, he said. The former are “maintaining huge facilities where there’s not as big of a Catholic population” while the latter face a situation of such growth that “no matter how many more parking spaces you build, you still have people who can’t get into church.”

“Those are big factors that go on that really impact the measure they use. In these items, take it with a grain of salt. They’re not trying to address those impacts,” he said.

Republicans introduce ‘Bill of Rights’ to give parents a voice in education of their children

Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Republican House members introduce the "Parents Bill of Rights" Thursday. / Speaker Kevin McCarthyYouTube channel

Washington D.C., Mar 3, 2023 / 11:15 am (CNA).

Republican lawmakers introduced a resolution to establish a “Parents Bill of Rights” this week, which is meant to bolster parental rights in the public education system with a new set of federal standards for schools. 

The resolution, which has 73 Republican co-sponsors, would make parents active participants in the education of their children. According to a news release sent out by the primary sponsor, Rep. Julia Letlow, R-Louisiana, the resolution is based on five principles: parents should have a right to know what their children are being taught, to be heard, to see the school budget and spending, to protect their child’s privacy, and to keep their children safe. 

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California, held a press conference Thursday with lawmakers, parents, and children to promote the resolution. He said remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic helped shed light on problems with the education system and the difficulties parents face when trying to make their voices heard.

“The pandemic was so difficult for our entire nation,” McCarthy said. “But the one thing that came out of it, we started seeing what was taught in our schools. We were seeing what they were reading. That’s something we should have every day, but then we had to fight to find it out and then when we fought to make our voice, we were attacked. No longer will that take place.”

Letlow said many parents became “disheartened with what we were viewing” during the pandemic and that some parents “were turned away and some of us even labeled ‘domestic terrorist’” when “we voiced our displeasure.” She cited those problems as the impetus for introducing the resolution. 

Many of the changes are meant to make information more accessible to parents. The resolution would require school districts to post curriculum information publicly and compel schools to provide parents with a list of books and other reading material in the school library. 

States would need to make any revisions to academic standards or learning benchmarks public and schools would need to give parents timely notice if gifted and talented programs are to be eliminated. It would also require public disclosure of school district budgets and each school’s budget, which includes revenues and expenditures. 

The resolution would bolster parents’ rights to provide their input on how the public school system is run. It would create new federal requirements for school boards to allow parents to address the board. It also would require teachers to offer parents at least two in-person meetings with them every year. 

Some parents spoke in favor of the legislation during the news conference and cited problems they faced with the schools their children attend.

Neeley McAllister, a mother in Fairfax County, Virginia, who has three daughters in the public school system, spoke in favor of the resolution. She cited problems she faced with the school division, which included her daughter being suspended for refusing to wear a mask after Gov. Glenn Youngkin banned schools from imposing mask mandates and the schools pushing adult themes. 

“Parents in Fairfax County and in school districts across this country now had a front-row seat to what their children were learning in school,” McAllister said of the experience with remote learning during the pandemic. “And in most cases, we were dismayed and appalled at the adult subject matter that was not only on the bookshelves … of taxpayer-funded libraries but also being forced upon them in the classroom. So not only were we finally figuring out what they were actually being taught in schools, but it exposed the complete disdain for parental input.” 

Nicole Solas, a mother from Rhode Island, said she faced threats of legal action because she tried to obtain information about what her kindergartener was being taught. 

“I asked to see the curriculum and my school told me I had to submit a public records request,” Solas said. “The curriculum wasn’t posted online and it wasn’t available in the school district. Then I asked them if they were teaching gender theory and they told me that they don’t call children boys and girls and they imbed the values of gender identity into every classroom, including kindergarten, and they didn’t want to answer any of my questions further. They told me that they would communicate with me only through public records requests and that is the only way I could get my questions answered.” 

After submitting hundreds of public records requests, she said the school board “held a public school board meeting to discuss suing me for submitting the requests that they told me to submit.” Ultimately, she said, “they decided they wouldn’t sue me for asking questions because they never intended on actually suing me; they just wanted to publicly humiliate me in a school board meeting that was a show trial.”

In addition to making information more accessible to parents, the resolution would also establish certain privacy and safety rights for students. Schools would need parental permission to share student data with tech companies and would not be allowed to sell student data for commercial purposes. Schools would also need parental consent before any medical exam takes place. In addition, schools would need to notify parents of violent activity on school grounds and school-sponsored events while maintaining the privacy of the students involved. 

Pontifical university in Spain asks alumni in survey if they are male, female, or ‘other’

null / Credit: Screenshot of Pontifical University of Comillas website

ACI Prensa Staff, Mar 2, 2023 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

The Pontifical University of Comillas in Spain has sent a survey to its former students asking them to specify their “gender” as male, female, or “other,” in contradiction with Christian anthropology.

The alumni department of the Comillas Pontifical University sent out the survey in order to improve its service.

The survey collects information on different aspects such as age, place of residence, degree, employment situation, or areas of interest of Comillas alumni.

The second question asks: “What is your gender?” Three response options are then offered: male, female, or “other.”

The use of this language appears to be a statement contradicting Christian anthropology and the institution’s Identity and Mission Declaration, which says that it is “a university established by the Holy See, whose governance has been entrusted to the Society of Jesus. This reality is essential to our mission and confers on it a specific profile.”

The institution “assumes, with all its consequences, the Christian conception” of the human being. Thus “there can be no university formation that succeeds in being integral and establishes authentic values, if it is not governed by a certain conception of man.”

Pope Francis has affirmed that gender ideology “presents a society without gender differences and voids the anthropological foundation of the family.”

In his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the pope states in section 286 that the biological nature of the human being cannot be evaded. “It is true that we cannot separate the masculine and the feminine from God’s work of creation, which is prior to all our decisions and experiences, and where biological elements exist which are impossible to ignore,” the pope asserted.

In a written request, ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, asked the Pontifical University of Comillas yesterday afternoon local time if it is an official position of the university to accept that there is a plurality of “genders.”

Information has also been requested on whether they consider the “other” category incorrect or inappropriate and if the form in question will be changed.

As of press time, no response had been received from the university.

Comillas University

The Pontifical University of Comillas has its origins in the seminary erected in 1890 by Leo XIII in that town, which is located on Spain’s northern coast.

It was entrusted to the Jesuits and its initial purpose was the formation of candidates for the priesthood from Spanish, Latin American, and Filipino dioceses. The Philippines were under Spanish rule at that time.

In 1904, St. Pius X conferred on the institution the power to grant academic degrees in philosophy, theology, and canon law.

In the late 1960s, the institution was transferred to Madrid, authorized by St. Paul VI. Then their classrooms were also opened to the laity. Since the 1970s, both ecclesiastical and secular courses have been available there.

The Catholic Institute of Arts and Industries, also run by the Jesuits, underwent a similar process. Both institutions merged canonically in 1978. 

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

Michigan priest sentenced to prison for sexual abuse of second-grader

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Denver, Colo., Mar 2, 2023 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

A priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit has been sentenced for the rape of an elementary student at the Catholic school attached to the parish he served as pastor in the mid-2000s.

“We trust the judgment of the court. We pray for everybody involved,” Ned McGrath, director of public affairs at the Archdiocese of Detroit, told CNA March 2. “Our priority in all of these cases is always the victim-survivors.”

Father Joseph “Jack” Baker, 61, was sentenced to three to 15 years in prison on March 1 in Wayne County’s 3rd Circuit Court in Detroit. In October 2022 he was convicted of first-degree criminal conduct–sexual penetration with a person under age 13.

Baker’s attorney said he planned to appeal the verdict, Fox News reported.

The charge dated back to 2004, when the victim was a second-grader at St. Mary Catholic School in Wayne, Michigan, and Baker was pastor of St. Mary Catholic Parish. According to the victim’s account, he was sent to the church sacristy during an after-school religious program to retrieve a book. He said the priest put him over a table and raped him.

The victim, now in his mid-20s, told his parents about the assault in 2019. The archdiocese received a report of the allegation and forwarded it to the Michigan Attorney General’s Office in June 2019, CBS News Detroit reported.

McGrath told CNA that the archdiocese’s response to the complaint is consistent with its actions for more than 20 years.

“We don’t review any complaints when they first come in. We pass them on immediately,” he said.

A key piece of evidence was a recording and transcript of the 2019 call the victim’s father made with the priest, the Troy, Michigan-based paper The Oakland Press reported. The prosecution said the recording proved the priest admitted to the allegation and apologized, while the defense questioned that interpretation.

Defense witnesses included six former teachers and staff at the parish school who said the alleged victim would never have been sent to the sacristy and would not have taken part in after-school religious education because this was offered to non-students of the parish school, and the victim attended the parish school. The victim said he took part in the program for first Communion preparation to make up for school absences.

Both the priest and the victim took the stand to testify. Baker repeatedly denied the allegation during the trial.

When the verdict was announced Oct. 13, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit said he had followed the proceedings “closely” and was “aware of the wounds experienced by all involved.”

“May they receive the healing power of Christ in prayer,” the archbishop said.

On June 20, 2019, the archdiocese announced that it had received the allegation against Baker and reported it “immediately” to the Michigan attorney general’s office. The archdiocese restricted Baker, then 57 years old, from all public ministry and started a canonical process against him.

McGrath told CNA the canonical process has not yet begun against Baker, pending the outcome of further legal action in Michigan court. He also noted Church efforts to improve child protection.

“Starting, probably in 2002 with the Dallas Charter, our archdiocese, like most dioceses around the country, started training people in child protection,” he said. “We look at it now, 20 years later, at the huge numbers we have trained. It was a big job but it has done its job.”

The Archdiocese of Detroit’s child protection website says the archdiocese has had “a robust safe environment program” since 2002 to help people identify situations where a child could be vulnerable to sexual abuse. The program trains clergy, employees, and volunteers on how to prevent and report the sexual abuse of minors.

Baker, the priest now convicted of rape, studied at Michigan Technological University. He was ordained a priest in 1993 after studies at the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

He served as associate pastor at several parishes and was a campus minister for Wayne State Medical School Campus Ministry from 1996-1997 before serving as pastor of St. Mary Parish from 1997-2008. He then served as pastor of St. Perpetua Parish in Waterford through 2019.

Allegations of recent abuse by Catholic clergy number about two dozen or fewer per year, according to reports from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection.

However, there are many more new allegations of historic abuse from victims who are now adults. Statistical graphs of the dates of reported abuse incidents continue to show a bell curve: abuse by clergy peaked in the 1970s, then declined significantly in recent decades.

Holy Communion from the chalice reintroduced in the UK: What about the U.S.?

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Washington D.C., Mar 2, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The bishops of England and Wales announced this week that the distribution of holy Communion from the chalice during Mass will resume starting Holy Thursday.

The U.K. bishops’ announcement comes after COVID-19 transmission concerns caused a three-year hiatus in the use of the chalice to distribute Communion.

Auxiliary Bishop John Sherrington of the Archdiocese of Westminster explained in a letter to priests that the resumption of Communion through the chalice on Holy Thursday allows pastors a period to educate the faithful on the importance of Communion in both forms.  

“The period leading up to Holy Thursday presents an opportunity for appropriate catechesis of the faithful regarding the significance of the reception of holy Communion under either or both species,” Sherrington wrote. 

“Important teaching, such as the totality of the body, blood, soul, and divinity of the Lord is received in either or both species, the personal disposition of those receiving holy Communion, and the reverence offered to the Blessed Sacrament should be included,” he wrote.

The bishops’ announcement has been met with enthusiasm in the U.K. 

“I understood and supported the temporary withdrawal of the chalice on health grounds, but it still felt like a loss,” said Father Philip Dyer-Perry, a parish priest at the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Staines, England. “There is so much richness in understanding the Eucharist not only as food but also as drink.”

So, what about the U.S.? 

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has not taken a position on the question but is leaving it up to individual bishops and dioceses. 

Father Andrew Menke, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Divine Worship, told CNA that “distribution of Communion is always governed by the local bishop.” 

“One of the downsides of the USCCB is that we’re just so big and it’s such a large geographic territory with such different circumstances,” Menke said. “In a smaller conference like England and Wales, it’s not so difficult for the bishops to all get together to decide on a uniform policy. In the U.S. that is just not a feasible way for our bishops to operate.”

Menke was not able to say how many dioceses continue to restrict the distribution of Communion to just the body of Christ. However, he said that many, if not most, dioceses have begun allowing pastors to decide. 

Just this Sunday, the Diocese of El Paso, led by Bishop Mark Seitz, began allowing parishes to distribute Communion in both species. 

Fernando Ceniceros, communications director for the Diocese of El Paso, told CNA that the diocese felt it was “the right time” and that the decision was made to help the faithful have “the opportunity to have Communion in full by both species.” 

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, under the leadership of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, resumed Communion through the chalice on Epiphany Sunday, Jan. 8. 

“Cardinal DiNardo asked all parishes to resume their customary pre-pandemic practice of distributing the precious blood to the faithful at holy Communion on Epiphany Sunday,” said Dan Girardot of the archdiocese’s worship office. “While Communion under one kind is not lacking in any way theologically, there is a fullness in the outward expression of the sacred reality of the Eucharist when receiving both the body and blood of Christ.”

Father Nile Gross, director of the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Office of Worship, announced last November that Archbishop Gregory Aymond had removed all restrictions on the distribution of Communion. 

Gross added that the decision marked “an important moment in the life of the archdiocese.” 

“COVID happened and continues to pose serious health threats. However, guided by prayer and the guidance of health officials, Archbishop Aymond has decided it is time to strengthen our liturgical life in this important gesture,” Gross said.

It’s important to note that many dioceses that have lifted COVID-era restrictions on the Communion chalice still leave the ultimate decision to individual pastors and parishes. 

Other dioceses that have returned to the use of the Communion chalice include the Archdioceses of Seattle and Denver and the Dioceses of Youngstown, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Salt Lake City. 

When the Diocese of Colorado Springs resumed Communion with the chalice last fall, Bishop James Golka wrote that while the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Communion under the species of bread alone makes it possible to receive all the fruit of eucharistic grace,” it also says that receiving it in both forms is “more complete.”

He referred to the Catechism: “The sign of communion is more complete when given under both kinds, since in that form the sign of the Eucharistic meal appears more clearly’” (No. 1390), and the third edition of the Roman Missal:

“Holy Communion has a fuller form as a sign when it takes place under both kinds. For in this form the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is more clearly evident and clearer expression is given to the divine will by which the new and eternal Covenant is ratified in the Blood of the Lord, as also the connection between the Eucharistic banquet and the eschatological banquet in the Kingdom of the Father.”

The General Instruction further states that “at the same time the faithful should be instructed to participate more readily in this sacred rite, by which the sign of the Eucharistic banquet is made more fully evident” (GIRM, 281; Norms, 20).

Mississippi passes law to protect minors from transgender procedures

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Washington D.C., Mar 2, 2023 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed legislation that prohibits medical professionals or anyone else from providing gender transition procedures to anyone under the age of 18. The ban includes both surgeries and hormone treatments.

“At the end of the day, there are two positions here,” Reeves said in a statement after signing the legislation. “One tells children that they’re beautiful the way they are. That they can find happiness in their own bodies.”

“The other tells them that they should take drugs and cut themselves up with expensive surgeries in order to find freedom from depression. I know which side I’m on. No child in Mississippi will have these drugs or surgeries pushed upon them,” Reeves said.

The Mississippi American Civil Liberties Union released a statement opposing the new law.

“This law shuts the door on best-practice medical care and puts politics between parents, their children, and their doctors,” a statement from the ACLU of Mississippi read. “But this fight is far from over — we are determined to build a future where Mississippi is a safe place to raise every child.”

The legislation bans any surgery that is designed to alter or remove a healthy physical or anatomical characteristic or feature on a person’s body to make that feature or characteristic resemble the opposite sex unless the person is at least 18 years old.

In addition to banning surgery on reproductive organs, the law prohibits facial surgeries, voice surgeries, hair reconstruction, or any other aesthetic procedure designed to make the child appear as though he or she is the opposite sex.

The prescription of puberty-blocking drugs, which are designed to halt testosterone secretion in boys and halt the production of estrogen and progesterone in girls are also banned when prescribed to assist with gender transition. The law also bans cross-sex hormone therapy for children, a treatment that increases testosterone in girls and estrogen in boys to levels larger than what naturally occurs in children of a given sex or age.

Children born with a medically verifiable sex development disorder are exempt from the law. This includes children whose sex characteristics are irresolvably ambiguous at birth and those who are born with both ovaries and testicular tissue. It includes exceptions for children who are not born with a normal sex chromosome structure.

Under the law, any medical professional who violates the law or assists another person in violating the law will have his or her medical license revoked. Any patient who receives drugs or surgeries as a minor, in violation of the law, can file a lawsuit against the medical professionals involved up to 30 years after the doctor began providing illegal services. The person will be able to seek financial damages.

Jay Richards, the director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Life, Religion, and Family, told CNA that “there are no longer-term studies showing these procedures benefit kids, and plenty of evidence that they don’t.”

“Mississippi was the state that helped bring down Roe v. Wade with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision,” Richards said. “And the state is once again leading the way with its law to restrict the ghoulish practice of gender transition drugs and surgery on minors.”

“Other states should follow Mississippi’s lead in taking both administrative and legislative action to restrict this quackery,” he said.

Matt Sharp, senior counsel and director of the Center for Legislative Advocacy at Alliance Defending Freedom, also commended Mississippi’s action.

“We are grateful that the Mississippi Legislature recognized that children must be protected from harmful, irreversible, and unnecessary pharmaceutical interventions and surgical procedures,” Sharp told CNA. “Mississippi should be commended for doing what all states should do: implementing policy that prioritizes counseling and psychotherapy for children experiencing distress over their biological sex and that stops the injection of political agendas into the health care system.”

The legislation also stops the state’s Medicaid division from funding gender transitions for minors and bans the use of public funds and tax deductions for gender transition procedures and drugs prohibited by state law.