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‘This is how we experienced a year of war in Ukraine’

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, on Dec. 9, 2022 / Oleksandr Sawranskij / Major Archbishopric of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

Rome Newsroom, Feb 24, 2023 / 09:30 am (CNA).

What does it mean to be a Christian in times of war? This is the existential question to which Christians in Ukraine seek an answer while they grapple with the devastating consequences of Russia’s now year-old invasion.

In the view of Ukrainian Catholic Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the Church does not give “sufficient answers” to such questions, because, he says, modern warfare “is worse, it is different, it is much more destructive” than than the distant conflicts around which the Church built its social teaching.

Shevchuk spoke on Feb. 20 in a meeting with some journalists, mainly from the Catholic media, while President Joe Biden was visiting Ukraine. The major archbishop recalled the challenges faced in the past year and discussed the need for a proportionate defense, among other topics.

Since the beginning of the war, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has been sending out short video messages every day. These reflections amount to mini treatises on social doctrine, addressing even such tricky topics as forgiving the enemy and reconciliation.

“Now,” Shevchuk said, “an existential question arises for us Christians in Ukraine: How can we be Christians in times of peace, and what [does it mean] to be Christians in times of war? And above all, what does it mean to be a bishop in times of war and modern warfare?”

Shevchuk explained that for years he has taught social and moral theology in Catholic seminaries and universities and is well aware of the developments in Catholic social theology on war and peace. Still, he argued, “we see that we cannot find answers that can be exact guides and clear for the new circumstances.”

He characterized the present battle as a “piecemeal third world war, which today is called a hybrid war.”

“It is a war that is not only fought with conventional weapons. Even the economy becomes a weapon; the same grain that Ukraine today tries to export to the world becomes a weapon,” he noted.

Such a war, he said, calls for “a profound study of this issue on a scientific level, so that the magisterium of the Church can give adequate answers.”

After a year of the war, Shevchuk says his emotions are pulled in two opposite directions.

On the one hand he has “a feeling of joy and gratitude to the Lord because we were able to survive and serve our people all that we could and knew how. And I am grateful for the immense universal solidarity we have experienced.”

On the other hand, there is a “feeling of helplessness for not having been able to prevent this war, the ghosts of which were already visible at the end of 2021,” he said.

“I have tried to raise awareness of many institutions, including the Holy See, about this danger. Still, unfortunately, neither the mechanisms of international law, diplomatic tools, nor even the tool of dialogue have been able to prevent this tragedy.”

The ongoing war is “blind, absurd, sacrilegious,” Shevchuk said, adding that “it is precisely in the face of the use of blind violence that the world proves impotent.”

The question of weapons also needs to be addressed, he said.

Referring to the moral principle of proportionate defense, Shevchuk emphasized that Ukraine’s ability to defend itself “is not yet proportionate to Russia’s ability to attack us.” For this reason, he argued, “the shipping of arms to improve the quality of defense is considered morally acceptable.”

Having avoided an even worse human tragedy thanks to an outpouring of food shipments and other forms of international humanitarian aid, the pastoral plan of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is now focused on “treating wounds,” Shevchuk said, because “we have all been wounded, and those who are under bombardment at least once in their life experience a wound that remains for a long time.”

Regarding peace plans, “they say that a compromise must be made, but when I hear talk about territories, I shiver with pain,” Shevchuk said.

“For us, it is not a question of territories, but of people. We must free not the territories but the people, our faithful,” he said. “In the occupied territories, there is sometimes not even a Catholic priest. I want to remember the Redemptorist Fathers of Bergyansk, Father Ivan and Father Bohdan, who were subjected to daily torture for a hundred days. No negotiation, no diplomacy, no instrument of dialogue has been able to ease their pains.”

Despite the hardships and the war, people try to return to their homes. “During the encirclement of Kyiv,” the major archbishop said, “800,000 out of 4 million inhabitants remained there. Today the capital has about one and a half million inhabitants. Some say that around 5 million Ukrainians who have left the country have returned, but the figures cannot be defined. It is a continuous flow.”

People return for economic reasons and psychological reasons because “if you move from your city, you are afraid that something will happen to your home,” he said.

War also has catastrophic consequences for children, Shevchuk emphasized. On a positive note, he spoke about the opening of a kindergarten for 120 children in the parish of Ivano Frantivsk. “While the Russians destroy, we were able to build,” he said.

Finally, he made an appeal. “Do not leave us alone, do not abandon us. At the beginning of the war, everyone abandoned us, and all the diplomatic representations fled from Kyiv, except for the Holy See and Poland,” he said.

“But now everyone is back. And truly, now we feel that we are not forgotten,” he added. “We want to build a free country and a democratic country.”

Conservative Anglican leaders reject archbishop of Canterbury over same-sex union blessings

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby addresses General Synod delegates during the debate on gay marriage at The Church House on Feb. 8, 2023, in London. / Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images

St. Louis, Mo., Feb 23, 2023 / 10:12 am (CNA).

A group of religious leaders representing a significant portion of the world’s Anglicans voted this week to reject the leadership of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby after the Church of England’s governing body in early February voted to bless same-sex couples.

The Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA), composed of 14 of the 25 Anglican provinces in areas such as Africa and Oceania, issued a statement Feb. 20 accusing the Church of England, of which Welby is senior bishop, of breaking communion with the provinces who remain faithful to a biblical view of marriage as being between one man and one woman.

The GSFA leaders say Welby, by overseeing the incorporation into the Anglican liturgy of blessings of same-sex unions, has thus forfeited his position as “first among equals” leader of the global Anglican Communion. 

“Given this action by the Church of England’s General Synod, we believe it is no longer possible to continue in the way the Communion is. We do not accept the view that we can still ‘walk together’ with the revisionist provinces,” the GSFA’s Feb. 20 statement continues. 

“With the Church of England and the archbishop of Canterbury forfeiting their leadership role of the global Communion, GSFA primates [head archbishops of each province] will expeditiously meet, consult, and work with other orthodox primates in the Anglican Church across the nations to reset the Communion on its biblical foundation,” the group said. 

Since the formation of the Anglican Communion in 1867 — which is composed of 42 Anglican churches throughout the world — the archbishop of Canterbury has been considered the global communion’s spiritual and moral leader, though he has no binding authority. 

Welby and Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell announced Feb. 9 that the Church of England will “publicly, unreservedly, and joyfully welcome same-sex couples in church.” This comes after the General Synod of the Church of England, made up of bishops, clergy, and laity, voted 250-181 to approve the offering of blessings to same-sex couples in civil marriages, while leaving unchanged the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

Following the vote, the GSFA said it “deeply regrets” the decision, charging that it “goes against the overwhelming mind of the Anglican Communion.” It was skeptical of the claim that the Anglican doctrine on marriage had not changed, citing the principle that “Anglican liturgy expresses its doctrine.”

The GSFA, which was established in 1994, claims to represent a large majority of the world’s Anglicans — as much as 75%, or about 64 million Anglicans. The GSFA is chaired by Archbishop Justin Badi, primate of South Sudan. 

A spokesperson for Lambeth Palace told the BBC that it “fully appreciates” the GSFA’s stance but added the “deep disagreements” among Anglicans over sexuality and marriage are long-standing and that reforms in one province do not affect rules in the others.

Though debates over same-sex marriage have existed in Anglicanism for decades, the Anglican Communion was significantly fractured in 2003 when the U.S.-based Episcopal Church voted to ordain as a bishop V. Gene Robinson, a gay man in a same-sex relationship.

Church of England leaders met with other members of the Anglican communion last summer at the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference, in which the hierarchy discussed questions related to sexuality and same-sex marriage. Welby concluded at the time that the majority of the clergy affirms the teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman, though some members disagreed.

Some Catholic leaders, especially in Western Europe, have also pushed for the blessing of same-sex couples. With the assent of Pope Francis, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in March 2021 ruled that the Catholic Church does not have the power to bless same-sex unions. Though the congregation recognized the “sincere desire to welcome and accompany homosexual persons,” it explained that God “does not and cannot bless sin.”

It could soon be a crime to gather outside of abortion facilities in Scotland, even for prayer

Students gather at a 40 Days for Life vigil outside a Glasgow abortion facility. / 40 Days for Life Glasgow

Denver, Colo., Feb 23, 2023 / 09:40 am (CNA).

The pro-life advocates gathering near abortion facilities in Scotland insist they are trying to help women, not intimidate them, while their critics seek to pass legislation for a “buffer zone” in which such peaceful demonstrations are banned.

“We’re not there to hit people over the head with a Bible. We’re there to pray and offer help if somebody wants the help, if they come up to us,” Robert Colquhoun, director of international campaigns for 40 Days for Life, told Sky News.

“We have graceful conversations with passers-by. We’re simply standing there praying, and it’s been a very fruitful vigil,” he said.

A gathering of the 40 Days for Life campaign will take place near Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow from Feb. 22 through April 2. Similar vigils first began in Texas in 2007 and have taken place in Glasgow for eight years.

Such gatherings could soon be illegal. Member of Scottish Parliament Gillian Mackay, the Scottish Greens health spokesperson, is among the sponsors of a bill to create a zone of 150 meters, about 492 feet, in which abortion protests are banned.

Mackay said that the 40 Days for Life gathering will be “a 40-day gauntlet of harassment,” according to Sky News.

“It is utterly unacceptable and has no place in a modern and progressive Scotland,” she said.

“These protests are a disgraceful attempt to intimidate people out of accessing health care,” Mackay said. “Some of the protesters carry very graphic banners and other protests have seen loudspeakers and megaphones.”

However, a 40 Days for Life briefing packet for Glasgow city councilors rejects claims that its gatherings at the hospital display “graphic images of abortion.”

“Only signs such as ‘Pregnant? We care. We will help you’ are held up at [Queen Elizabeth University Hospital] and the image of a six-month baby in the womb is displayed at the Royal Infirmary as you would find in any pregnancy magazine,” said the briefing, a copy of which Colquhoun sent to CNA.

Some critics of the gatherings objected to pro-life advocates’ display of any images of unborn babies in the womb, BBC News reported in September 2022.

Hundreds gather for a prayerful vigil outside of a Glasgow abortion facility. 40 Days for Life Glasgow
Hundreds gather for a prayerful vigil outside of a Glasgow abortion facility. 40 Days for Life Glasgow

Another defender of 40 Days for Life gatherings is Michael Robinson, executive director of public affairs and legal services for the U.K.-based Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

“Those who turn up near to the locations where abortions are carried out, to offer prayer and help, do so with the greatest compassion and sensitivity,” he told CNA Feb. 22.

“I know the hospital in Glasgow very well and for anyone to suggest that the location where people stand to pray could in any way invade someone’s privacy or intimidate anyone is completely preposterous. The vigil in Glasgow is many hundreds of yards from any entrance to the buildings, and they cannot even see who is entering the hospital building from where they are positioned.”

The 40 Days for Life briefing said its Glasgow groups do not call those entering or leaving the hospital “murderers,” nor do they harass or shout abusive names at women. They do not create noise disturbances, stand on hospital grounds, or block hospital access. They also do not approach members of the public, patients, or hospital staff and only engage if approached first.

“Sometimes the group has encountered abuse, in which case they remain silent,” the briefing said. The groups can provide contact cards to those seeking an alternative to abortion and support for mothers and babies including baby items, clothing, and diapers.

“Those present are compelled to conduct themselves peacefully and respectfully and have to sign a Statement of Peace,” the briefing said. “Members would be invited to leave the vigil if they were not willing to comply with this statement in every respect.”

The briefing cited testimony from a woman known by the pseudonym “Natasha.” She was in the treatment room for an abortion and decided not to proceed, despite the abortion doctor’s anger. She met pro-life advocates outside and took some leaflets from them.

“So when things got really hard and I needed someone to talk to, I called and start[ed] talking to a lady called Aileen,” she said. “After all this I was able to have my bouncing baby boy. So cute, hairy, and gorgeous, so blessed to have him. Can’t stop looking at him.”

Mackay’s bill to ban pro-life gatherings near abortion facilities has backing from the Scottish government, the British Medical Association (Scotland), and the Royal College of GPs, Sky News reported.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had pledged to support the buffer zone legislation, but Sturgeon resigned from office last week and the Scottish National Party will soon vote on her replacement.

Lucy Grieve, co-founder of the group Back Off Scotland, which supports the buffer zone, said Sturgeon’s resignation set back expectations the legislation would pass soon. Her group is now seeking support from the candidates running for first minister.

“We believe the issue is apolitical but comments made by candidates in recent days have been quite shocking and raise the concern of potential backpedaling on what has been previously discussed,” Grieve told the news site Glasgow Live.

Grace Browne, communications director at the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, told CNA the proposed buffer zones would be “a major blow to freedom of speech.”

“The protection in international human rights law around freedom of speech, assembly, and expression is robust — and to dismantle these would be an incomprehensible overreach of power,” she said.

“If pro-abortion campaigners are truly worried about reaffirming women’s choices, they would not be trying to remove the chance to receive help to continue a pregnancy,” Browne added. “That would be truly anti-women.”

“Pro-life vigils exist to offer support to vulnerable women,” she said, stressing the need for positive support for pregnant women, especially those who are economically deprived.

“To not be present near abortion facilities would mean abandoning those women. For women who feel coerced or pressured into an abortion, pro-life vigils can be the last opportunity to provide alternative choices,” Browne continued. “The heartbreaking reality is that many women are pressured or coerced in some way into an abortion decision. The pressure to have an abortion can come from friends, family, partners, or employers.”

Robinson said that the vigils “offer a last glimmer of support for women who need somewhere else to turn when they have otherwise been made to feel abortion is their only option.”

“It is troubling that when it comes to pro-life issues, basic human rights are to be trampled on,” he said. “The intolerant ideologues pushing for buffer zones seem only to support freedoms for those who agree with them. The efforts in this instance are clearly aimed at removing people’s right to assembly. That is completely at odds with basic civil liberties and is completely neglectful of women who want an alternative to abortion.”

The U.K. Parliament in Westminster is considering similar legislation for England and Wales and localities in England have passed buffer zone legislation. Several people have faced legal charges for praying near an abortion clinic in a buffer zone in violation of local law.

Ukrainian Catholics to livestream Stations of the Cross from bomb shelter on Friday

null / Lucia Ballester/CNA.

Rome Newsroom, Feb 22, 2023 / 09:35 am (CNA).

Ukrainian Catholics will livestream prayers of the Stations of the Cross on Friday from a bomb shelter in Kyiv on the anniversary of the full-scale Russian invasion of their country.

The online prayer event on the first Friday of Lent at 8 p.m. Kyiv time (1p.m. EST) will tell the personal stories of victims of war as they relate to Christ’s passion.

For Ukrainians, the year of war, destruction, and loss has been a continuous Way of the Cross for 365 days, according to Father Vyacheslav Grynevych.

“Every day has become a station of the holy cross,” he said.

Grynevych told CNA that he personally gave Pope Francis a copy of the station meditations in a private audience at the Vatican this week and asked him to read them and pray along.

“The Holy Father said, ‘Yes, I will read this. I will pray.’ And for me it felt that we opened our hearts before the pope,” he said.

Grynevych is the executive director of Caritas-Spes, a Catholic charity part of the Caritas Internationalis network that has provided food, shelter, protection, and health and psychological support to 3 million people in Ukraine in the past year.

The Ukrainian staff of Caritas-Spes have written meditations that tell their personal experiences of the war as well as the stories of the people they serve to unite their sufferings to Jesus. The meditations will be read in English. Between stations, volunteers will sing Ukrainian Lenten hymns.

While working to provide humanitarian aid within a war zone, Grynevych said he has personally found strength in prayer by reflecting on how Jesus continued moving forward after falling three times during the Way of the Cross.

“Yes, we are tired. Yes, we have many pains inside of us, but we have to continue because we cannot leave the field of social service and spiritual support. No, we have to continue because it is our mission … to continue to show the face of a merciful God in a time of war,” he said.

Grynevych said that his team decided that Stations of the Cross “will be held in a bomb shelter because many times for us the bomb shelter has been for us a church … a place where we can speak to God.”

“We will have electricity prepared because many times we don’t have electricity [in the shelters],” he added.

Caritas-Spes, operated by Ukraine’s Latin rite Catholic Church, is one of two organizations affiliated with Caritas Internationalis in Ukraine. The other, Caritas Ukraine, is overseen by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, to which the majority of Ukrainian Catholics belong.

The Stations of the Cross will also be streamed live from Kyiv at 8 p.m. (1 p.m. EST/10 a.m. PST) on the Caritas Internationalis YouTube Channel on Feb. 24.

Four women opt out of German Synodal Way, saying it ‘departs from the universal Church’

From left: Katharina Westerhorstmann, Dorothea Schmidt, Marianne Schlosser, and Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz. / Credit: Screenshot/YouTube /K-TV // courtesy photo // EWTN // Diocese of Münster

CNA Newsroom, Feb 22, 2023 / 08:30 am (CNA).

Ahead of the German Synodal Way’s final meeting next month, four prominent participants — all of them women — officially announced they were quitting the controversial process on Wednesday.

The theology professors Katharina Westerhorstmann and Marianne Schlosser — together with philosopher Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz and journalist Dorothea Schmidt — raised fundamental objections about the direction and the conduct of the German event on Feb. 22, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

The Synodal Way was “casting doubt on central Catholic doctrines and beliefs,” the women said in a statement published by the newspaper Welt. They also accused organizers of ignoring the Vatican’s repeated warnings and interventions.

What is more, the departing delegates — three of whom are university professors, and two are Ratzinger Prize winners — accused the process organizers of using pressure tactics not commensurate with synodality.

In response to a request for comment from CNA Deutsch, the communication directors of the Synodal Way, Britta Baas and Matthias Kopp, offered a brief statement on Wednesday: “The presidium of the Synodal Way has noted the decision with regret.”

In December of last year, however, a key architect of the German process freely admitted that the Synodal Way was designed to create “pressure” on the Church to change Catholic teaching.

Thomas Sternberg, former president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), said the controversial process from the outset wanted to achieve changes to the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, the ordination of women, and other topics.

The German Synodal Way is scheduled to conclude with a final meeting in Frankfurt from March 9–11. 

While delegates have voted for several controversial demands — including the ordination of women priests — previous meetings have also led to tumultuous scenes, making it clear that not all participants agree with the organizers’ agenda.

However, the four women on Feb. 22 said they could no longer in good conscience participate in a process that was “more and more” separating the Church in Germany from the universal Church.

“The resolutions of the past three years have not only called into question essential foundations of Catholic theology, anthropology as well as Church practice, but have reformulated and in some cases completely redefined them,” the women said.

“We cannot and will not share responsibility for that.”

‘Fixation on ordination’ of women?

The 2018 Ratzinger Prize winner Marianne Schlosser has previously raised concerns, identifying a “fixation on ordination” of women at the process.

A professor of theology at the University of Vienna, Pope Francis appointed Schlosser as a member of the International Theological Commission in 2014. She was also appointed a member of the study commission investigating the female diaconate in 2016.

In an interview with CNA Deutsch last year, Schlosser pointed to several problems with the process, in particular, demands for the ordination of women to the priesthood.

She warned that the sacrament of holy orders could not just be conflated with hierarchical positions of power.

Vatican concerns ‘not forwarded’

In their Wednesday “departure note,” Westerhorstmann, Gerl-Falkovitz, Schmidt, and Schlosser also said the Vatican’s concern about introducing a permanent synodal council in Germany “has not been forwarded to the members of the synodal assembly nor otherwise brought directly to their attention.” 

Pope Francis and other Church leaders have expressed serious concerns about the idea. Such a body would function “as a consultative and decision-making body on essential developments in the Church and society,” according to a Synodal Way proposal.

More importantly, it would “make fundamental decisions of supra-diocesan significance on pastoral planning, questions of the future, and budgetary matters of the Church that are not decided at the diocesan level.”

Last month, in response to warnings from Rome about taking such a step, the president of the German bishops’ conference suggested he would pursue a “fallback option.”

In their statement, the four signatories on Wednesday said they saw “the need for a profound renewal of the Church, which also has structural relevance.”

“At the same time, we are convinced that there is a renewal worthy of the name only in the preservation of the ecclesial communion across space and time — and not by rupturing from it.”

So far, no bishops have opted out of the controversial process. In 2020, Auxiliary Bishop Dominikus Schwaderlapp of Cologne renounced his participation in the synodal forum on sexual morality.

Murdered Bishop David O’Connell mourned in his native Ireland

Bishop David O'Connell. / Credit: KTLA screenshot

St. Louis, Mo., Feb 21, 2023 / 10:40 am (CNA).

David O’Connell, an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles who was shot and killed over the weekend, is being mourned in his home country of Ireland.

O’Connell was born in 1953 in County Cork, on Ireland’s southern coast. He was baptized at Sacred Heart Church in the village of Glounthaune, where he later served as an altar boy. Sacred Heart was also where he celebrated his first Mass following his ordination in 1979, RTÉ reported. 

Father Tom Hayes, a priest of the local Diocese of Cork and Ross, said his entire parish — about an hour’s drive from O’Connell’s — is talking about the tragic killing. O’Connell maintained close ties to Cork, returning at least once a year, most recently last summer, Hayes said. 

“[His murder] is a front-page story here in Ireland since it happened, and it’s on the television and radio news, and so it’s getting quite a lot of news attention,” Hayes told CNA. 

“So almost everybody has heard about it. And, yeah, people are shocked. I met one young woman today, and her issue was that she just couldn’t understand how one human being could take up a gun in close proximity to somebody else and kill them. But that’s kind of a reflection of maybe the difference in cultures as well, because in Ireland, we don’t have gun violence for the most part.”

Appointed a bishop in 2015, O’Connell ministered to immigrants, the poor, and victims of gang violence for 45 years in the South Los Angeles area. O’Connell was 69 when a deacon found him dead in his home Saturday in Hacienda Heights with at least one gunshot wound to the chest. A suspect has been arrested and on Monday was identified as 65-year-old Carlos Medina, the husband of O’Connell’s housekeeper. The investigation is ongoing. 

Father Damian O’Mahony, co-pastor of O’Connell’s home parish of Sacred Heart, told CNA that “Bishop Dave never forgot his native home here in Cork,” describing him as “a proud Corkman, and he always let people know.”

“Naturally, those parishioners who knew Bishop Dave and those who know his family here in the parish were very shocked and upset and there was an air of disbelief,” O’Mahony told CNA. 

“A Memorial Mass will be held in the Sacred Heart Glounthaune at a later date where those in his native parish will gather to pray for, remember, and celebrate the life of a good man who was taken so tragically and so cruelly from this life. It will also be an opportunity to show our continued support for his family as they come to terms with the loss of someone much loved and who will be missed dearly.”

At the regularly scheduled Mass on Feb. 20, O’Mahony noted that O’Connell has several surviving family members in County Cork, including a brother. 

“We also pray for and remember his family at this time in the parish … his many, many friends in this time of heartbreak, shock, tears, sadness, and sorrow and all here in the parish who would have known him as well,” O’Mahony said, as reported by RTÉ

The local bishop of O’Connell’s home diocese also spoke out in remembrance of the murdered bishop, urging prayers for him and for his family. 

“Since his ordination in 1979 Bishop David has served as a priest in Los Angeles but has always maintained his connection with family and friends here in Cork, where has been a regular visitor. We pray that the Lord will console Bishop David’s many friends in Cork and throughout Ireland,” Bishop Fintan Gavin of Cork and Ross said in a Feb. 19 statement. 

“We will pray for Bishop David at Mass throughout the Diocese of Cork and Ross in the coming days, asking the Lord to comfort his family, his colleagues, and all the bereaved. Bishop David worked tirelessly for peace and harmony in communities; may he now rest in the peace of the Lord.”

O’Connell was ordained during an era when many of the young men from Ireland becoming priests were sent abroad as missionaries, Hayes noted. For his part, O’Connell decided to come to the United States due in part to meeting fellow Irishman Cardinal Timothy Manning, who was then the archbishop of Los Angeles.

“In that providential conversation, the cardinal convinced him that Los Angeles was where he should go. So then he went and trained for the priesthood here in Ireland. The college that he trained at in Dublin is called All Hallows College, and the vast majority of seminarians who studied in that college studied to serve in dioceses in other countries,” Hayes said. 

Many priests of a similar age to O’Connell came from Ireland to the United States and continue to minister throughout the country, he said. Beyond his visits back to Ireland, O’Connell was a very faithful supporter of his home diocese’s missions to Peru and Ecuador. Hayes said O’Connell would always warmly welcome Irish missionary priests to his parishes in the U.S., allowing them to preach and fundraise for their mission. 

Hayes said his parishioners remain shocked that a person who made such a positive effort in his community could be the victim of such a crime. 

“A lot of the people as well, and they’re also just shocked at the loss of what we see as somebody who was contributing very significantly to the life of his diocese and to the people that he was ministering to. And to have his life cut short is just such a shame,” Hayes said. 

He said that if anything at all good can come from O’Connell’s murder, it would be a wider recognition of the peacemaking work he did for so many years in Los Angeles. 

“It may inspire others to pick up some of the issues that he was advocating for — justice for the people on the margins of society — and to create a world of peace and fairness where people don’t have to be violent to one another. I think if that message gets amplified both in Ireland and in L.A., then that in itself would be a blessing.”

Watchdog raises concerns after arson attacks on German, French churches

Auxiliary Bishop Ansgar Puff in the devastated Kreuzerhöhungskirche in Wissen, Germany, Feb. 15, 2023. / Credit: Archdiocese of Cologne 

CNA Newsroom, Feb 21, 2023 / 07:48 am (CNA).

Following a devastating arson attack on a historic church in Germany — and several prior incidents in Paris, France — a European watchdog has raised concerns over hate crimes targeting Christian churches on the continent.

The 1,000-year-old Church of the Elevation of the Cross in Wissen, a community in the Westerwald region, was severely damaged by an arson attack on Feb. 10, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner. 

The parish priest in charge, Father Martin Kürten, described the attack as “arson directed with fearsome single-mindedness,” targeting the historic high altar and causing damage estimated to run to several million euros.

The attack also devastated the morale of the local community and left a deep “void,” the priest said. “What is scary is the single-mindedness and brutality with which the attacker proceeded,” he said.

The destroyed high altar of the historic Church of the Elevation of the Cross in Wissen, Germany, February 2023. Credit: Screenshot / SWR
The destroyed high altar of the historic Church of the Elevation of the Cross in Wissen, Germany, February 2023. Credit: Screenshot / SWR

German Police have arrested a 39-year-old man in connection with the attack, but authorities say his motives remain unclear, CNA Deutsch reported.

“How would you feel if you heard that your parish or the church you go to will have to suspend the service due to an arson and vandalism attack?” asked Madeleine Enzlberger, executive director of the Observatory for the Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians (OIDAC).

“Surely multiple questions come to mind like ‘Why would someone do this?’” Enzlberger added.

Auxiliary Bishop Ansgar Puff visited the church on Feb. 16, CNA Deutsch reported. “I share the grief of the people of Wissen,” he said.

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne announced he would visit the church on the first Sunday of Lent.

Attacks on churches in Paris

As the Vienna-based Observatory also noted, several churches in the French capital were attacked a few weeks earlier, according to French media reports. 

Arson attacks were carried out against several churches between Jan. 17 and 25, according to the newspaper Le Parisien. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the attacks. 

The Church of Notre-Dame-de-Fatima, located on boulevard Sérurier in Paris, was hit twice, on Jan. 17 and Jan. 22. According to a source close to the investigation, Le Parisien reported, the door of the building was sprayed with a flammable liquid. A fire was then started, using newspapers. The fire did not spread inside the building. 

Shocked local politicians assured “priests and parishioners” of their solidarity, France3 reported.  

A third attack, carried out Jan. 18, targeted the Church of Saint-Martin-des-Champs. Emmanuel Grégoire, first deputy mayor of Paris, said it was difficult to know if it was a single perpetrator. Noting the “antireligious context,” he announced improvements to security measures. French authorities are investigating.

Spain passes transgender law allowing minors treatment without parental consent

null / Ink Drop/Shutterstock

CNA Newsroom, Feb 17, 2023 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

After its passage in the Senate, Spain’s lower house passed the Law for the Real and Effective Equality of Trans Persons and for the Guarantee of LGTBI Rights, which will allow transgender genital surgery and hormonal treatments from the age of 16 without parental consent.

Known simply as the Trans Law, it was pushed by the socialist-communist ruling coalition with the backing of LGTBI pressure groups (lesbians, gays, transsexuals, bisexuals, and intersex). The law passed the Congress of Deputies despite opposition from advisory bodies during the legislative process.

Both the Council of State and the General Council of the Judiciary strongly opposed some of the provisions of the law, especially with regard to the lack of protection for minors.

Prior to the passage of this national law, autonomous regional governments had passed laws on these matters beginning in 2009.

Change of sex in the civil registry upon request

The Trans Law passed yesterday establishes the possibility of changing one’s name and sex in the civil registry at the request of the person from the age of 16.

Between the ages of 14 and 16, this change requires the consent of the parents or legal guardians. In case of discrepancies, a judge may intervene.

To make these changes on the national ID card, children between 12 and 14 years of age must have judicial authorization.

Before the age of 12, the civil registry cannot be changed, although the law stipulates that minors must be treated in their various environments in accordance with their expressed sexual identity.

In any case, the need to present a medical or psychological report that supports the consistency of a self-perception divergent from the natural state of each individual has been eliminated.

Until now, it was also necessary to verify that the person had been taking hormones for a significant period of time to block normal sexual development.

The process to make a change in the civil registry can take a maximum of four months and can be reversed when six months have passed since the request was made.

Sex change for minors

Regarding the processes of surgical simulation of genital organs, the law enjoins the general precaution that it is not available to children under 12 years of age, but there is an exception to this principle in the event that “medical indications require otherwise in order to protect the person’s health.”

For children between 12 and 16 years old, the law establishes that a sufficient degree of maturity must be ascertained. After that age, parental consent is not required.

Other measures

The Trans Law prohibits any form of professional or informal counseling, even at the request of the interested party, which involves reversing the process of changing one’s natural sex.

It also facilitates the access of LGTBI people to assisted reproduction treatments and allows the filiation of children to a lesbian couple without their having to have a civil marriage.

The law also introduces the condition of being a “sexile,” in reference to cases where LGTBI people leave their place of residence due to social discrimination.

Feminists divided 

The legislative process has divided the feminist groups. This division even led to scuttling the first attempt to pass this law in 2021.

Some feminists criticized the possibility that men accused of crimes against women could declare themselves female to obtain legal and even prison benefits.

Concerns have also been raised that men could enter women’s sports competitions claiming to be women, creating unequal conditions given the natural constitution of men compared with women.

Church criticism

Various bishops have spoken out in recent months against the provisions of the Trans Law.

Last December, the bishop of Orihuela-Alicante, José Ignacio Munilla, spoke ironically about the the law, saying: “Weren't we scientists? How is it possible that we now override genetics completely? To hell with the fascist chromosomes! The chromosomes are not going to tell me what I am,” he said.

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

Spain passes new abortion law even more permissive than one upheld by Constitutional Court

The minister of equality of Spain, Irene Montero, in the Congress of Deputies. / Credit: Parliamentary Channel

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 17, 2023 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

Spain’s Congress of Deputies on Thursday passed a new abortion law following its approval with amendments in the Senate. The law’s provisions are even more harmful than those of the law passed in 2010 that was recently upheld by the Constitutional Court.

The ruling was suspected of partiality because at least four out of 11 of the justices likely should have recused themselves, which would have left the court without the quorum to decide the case.

The new law aims to reverse the ongoing trend whereby abortion is performed in private clinics due to widespread conscientious objection by health care professionals in the state health system.

To try to counter this, the new law imposes an obligatory public registry of conscientious objectors.

The law also obliges pharmacists to dispense the morning-after pill, which limits the right of druggists to object.

Information and reflection

On the other hand, the obligation to provide complete information on the procedure, the risks involved, and the help and alternatives available for the woman who chooses not to abort is eliminated.

Similarly, the three-day waiting period for reflection that was previously in force was done away with.

On this issue, it is worth noting that the People’s Party supported an amendment in the Senate to block the proposal for greater information to be provided to the woman seeking an abortion, which the VOX political party backed in the Castilla y León autonomous regional government, a move that sparked a major controversy in recent weeks.

In January, Castilla y León announced that it will offer pregnant women who want to abort the opportunity to listen to their baby’s heartbeat, have a 4D ultrasound, and receive psychological care.

The VOX proposal also included a subsequent period of temporary disability following abortion.

The national government responded by issuing a statement saying it would use all means provided by the legal system to protect women’s freedom to abort as established by current law.

The new law passed by Spain’s Congress establishes, as did the 2010 law, that 16- and 17-year-old minors can abort without their parents’ knowledge. The People’s Party had promised to repeal the 2010 law but when it had an absolute majority in Congress the only action it took was to amend the law to allow this parental bypass.

The new law also says that women with disabilities will not need the consent of their legal guardians.

The recently approved law also determines that having had an abortion is to be removed from the woman’s clinical history after five years.

Contraception, sex education, and surrogacy

Under the law, the distribution of barrier contraceptive methods will be increased in institutes, prisons, and social services centers.

At the same time, according to the national government, the law provides for the promotion of research on male contraception for the sake of “the co-responsibility of men.”

In addition, the morning-after pill will be available free of charge in outpatient clinics and in the new “public centers for specialized care in sexual and reproductive rights.”

Another of the law’s provisions is obligatory sex education based on gender ideology in all educational levels, promoting the use of contraceptives, sexual promiscuity, and same-sex relationships between people beginning in early childhood.

The law classifies as “forms of reproductive violence” forced pregnancy, abortion, sterilization, and contraception as well as surrogate motherhood.

‘The end of abortion is in our prayers’

ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, asked Spanish pro-life organizations for their assessment of the new abortion law.

The Spanish branch of 40 Days for Life considers the new law to be “a death sentence for Spain” and that “the institutions that look after the good of citizens have failed us.”

The organization charged that “those who have taken a pro-life position have looked the other way for more than 13 years.” In a veiled reference to the People’s Party, 40 Days for Life pointed out that now “they applaud the law that takes away the right to life of so many innocents.”

The pro-life prayer movement criticized the decrease in information available to women at risk of abortion and pointed out that “to choose freely is to have all the available information accessible to each woman who is considering an abortion.”

The organization pointed out that abortion is a procedure “in which the life of the mother is also in danger” and that “continuing with a pregnancy despite the difficulties is possible.”

On Feb. 22, coinciding with Ash Wednesday, 40 Days for Life begins its spring campaign in 21 cities in Spain.

Nicolás Jouve de la Barreda, the president of the Association of Researchers and Professionals for Life and former member of the Spanish Bioethics Committee, said the passage of the law amounts to “a real work of ‘social engineering’ that has been going on for years to create a state of opinion in favor of something as inhuman as abortion.”

Both this law and the euthanasia law “are deceptive laws, because they hide the truth, are based on falsehoods, and attack principles traditionally maintained by society,” Jouve said.

“For a law to be just,” he noted, “it must be not only necessary — which does not explain the accelerated legislative fever in favor of abortion or euthanasia — but that it also be based on real scientific data and on values and principles of morality that legitimize it.”

Jouve also pointed out that the abortion laws in Spain “go against the Spanish Constitution, whatever the Constitutional Court with its new members may say by stating that the unborn doesn’t have the right to life, even when the unborn child is a constitutionally protected good by Article 15” of the country’s Magna Carta.

“Considering abortion as a woman’s right constitutes a perversion. Denying the right to life of some to affirm the right of others to extinguish it is a grave attack on human dignity,” he concluded.

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

Two UK Catholics acquitted after being charged for praying in front of abortion clinic

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce (center-left) and Father Sean Gough (center-right) celebrate their legal win outside the Birmingham Magistrates Court in Birmingham, England, on Feb. 16, 2023. / Credit: March for Life UK

Boston, Mass., Feb 16, 2023 / 10:00 am (CNA).

Two U.K. Catholics, one of whom is a priest, were acquitted Thursday of all charges against them after they were accused of breaking the law for praying in front of an abortion clinic.

The two were represented by legal counsel from the faith-based law firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF UK) at the Birmingham Magistrates’ Court in Birmingham, about a three-and-a-half-hour drive northwest from London.

Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, said in a Feb. 16 statement that “today’s court case is of great cultural significance. This isn’t 1984, but 2023 — nobody should be criminalized for their thoughts, for their prayers, for peaceful expression on a public street.”

Both Father Sean Gough — a priest of the Archdiocese of Birmingham — and Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, co-director of March for Life UK, were charged with violating a local Public Spaces Protection Order that censors speech in the area around a Birmingham abortion clinic.

A Public Spaces Protection Order is meant to protect others from “antisocial behavior” and “specify an area where activities are taking place that are or are likely to be detrimental to the local community’s quality of life and impose conditions or restrictions on people using that area,” according to the local government’s website.

This specific order gives local authorities the ability to “address” certain activities, including holding prayer vigils, sprinkling holy water or making the sign of the cross as a patient walks by, genuflecting, reciting Scripture, protesting, and physically or verbally interfering with a staff member or patient.

Gough said Feb. 9 that he stood near a closed abortion clinic on Station Road in Birmingham with a sign that said “praying for free speech.” Police officers approached him and at first told him they did not believe he was breaking Birmingham’s Public Spaces Protection Order. 

Officials invited him to an interview at the police station where they questioned him about his actions and criminally charged him with “intimidating service users” of the abortion clinic. He faced a second charge related to an “unborn lives matter” sticker on his parked car.

Vaughan-Spruce was arrested Dec. 6, 2022, in Birmingham outside an abortion facility that was closed at the time.

Video footage of her arrest shows an officer asking her if she was praying, to which she answers: “I might be praying in my head.” You can watch the exchange in the video below.

She was charged Dec. 15 with four counts of breaking Birmingham’s Public Spaces Protection Order around the abortion facility.

The charges against both Gough and Vaughan-Spruce were eventually dropped because of insufficient evidence against them, Elyssa Koren, legal communications director for ADF UK, told CNA Thursday.

However, even though the charges were dropped, the Crown Prosecution Service — which is the government’s prosecutors in England and Wales — still could have reinstated charges if more evidence were to be discovered.

Both Spruce and Gough had the legal right to pursue a formal acquittal in court in a case where the government may be able to reinstate proceedings against them, so they did, Koren said.

“Because of the legal ambiguity that this created, both Isabel Vaughan-Spruce and Father Sean Gough stated their intention to have their charges formally acquitted, which happened today,” Koren told CNA.

“I’m glad I’ve been completely vindicated of any wrongdoing but I should never have been arrested and treated like a criminal simply for silently praying on a public street,” Vaughan-Spruce said on the court steps, according to March for Life UK.

“Everyone has a right to pray in their mind,” Gough said outside the courthouse.

“I’m pleased that I’ve been cleared of all the charges today and have cleared my name. It’s wrong for the authorities to censor parts of the street from prayer, even silent prayer, from peacefully having conversations and sharing information that could be of great help to women who want an alternative choice to abortion,” he said.

“It’s a great moment to celebrate the vindication of Father Sean and Isabel,” Igunnubole, their legal counsel, said. “But our Parliament is considering rolling out censorial legislation, which could lead to more situations where people’s thoughts are on trial. Let’s be clear — if Isabel or Father Sean had stood in the same spot thinking different thoughts, they likely wouldn’t have been arrested.”