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Some pro-life lawmakers urge new approach amid electoral results

Voting booths on Election Day. / Credit: vesperstock/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 28, 2023 / 16:40 pm (CNA).

Amid electoral struggles since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, some pro-life lawmakers are considering changing how they approach the issue of abortion — but many of them are still divided on what the best strategy is.

This November, the pro-life movement suffered a string of losses in an election cycle that was heavily focused on abortion policy: They lost a referendum fight in Ohio by a 13-point margin, Kentucky voters opted for a pro-abortion Democrat in the gubernatorial race by a 5-point margin, and Democrats narrowly defeated Republicans to control both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly.

Some pro-life lawmakers are trying to moderate their position on abortion in response to these results, but others are doubling down on their pro-life stances. 

A moderate shift on abortion for some politicians

“We can’t save lives if we can’t win elections,” Rep. Nancy Mace, R-South Carolina, told CNA. 

“If pro-life Republicans want to actually save lives, they have to learn to read the room,” Mace said. “We need to listen to women. Roe’s repeal changed the playing field and the conversation, and too many are stuck in the policies and arguments of the past.”

Mace, who has urged Republicans to moderate their positions on abortion, has criticized pro-life bills that do not include exceptions for rape and incest and bills that establish reporting requirements for rape victims who seek an abortion. She testified against a near-total abortion ban in South Carolina because of the lack of exceptions in the initial proposal.

“We need to talk about commonsense abortion restrictions, but the conversation doesn’t end there,” Mace added. “We need to discuss access to prenatal care, adoption services, counseling for women considering abortion, and other resources like my bill to establish, which gives women access to information that encourages them to choose life.”

Similar electoral concerns are also being expressed within the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Maryland, who co-chairs the caucus, told CNA that Republicans should shift their focus away from federal policies and “stop talking about any kind of regulation at the federal level and [instead] leave it to see what states do.” 

Harris, who is Catholic, said that most voters are more concerned about “the economy,” “personal security,” and “international issues” than they are about abortion right now and that Republicans should not “make [abortion] a focus” on the campaign trail. He said: “There is a middle ground and I think we should seek the middle ground,” arguing that most Americans “don’t believe that abortion should be legal throughout pregnancy, especially through the third trimester.”

“We’re not for complete bans on abortion,” Harris added. “We’re for reasonable regulation, consistent with the majority of Americans.”

Harris, as Mace did, noted that pro-life lawmakers need to emphasize that the movement is “not only for the babies but for the women as well.” He also referenced the work of pro-life pregnancy centers, saying that many women in a crisis pregnancy “need help and they don’t always need abortion.”

This approach has also permeated the Republican presidential primary battle, with former President Donald Trump sidestepping many abortion-related questions and refusing to commit to a ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Trump is the current frontrunner by a large margin. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis initially dodged the question as well but ultimately said he would support a 15-week ban. Former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has said she would also support the ban but has emphasized that it would not be her focus and is unlikely to pass. Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy has said he would not sign a 15-week ban and said it is a state issue. 

Other pro-life lawmakers intend to double down

Despite the concerns from some of his colleagues, Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, told CNA that the pro-life position is “not only the right issue, but it’s also a winning issue,” urging other Republicans to “in no way be discouraged” and instead “redouble our efforts.” 

“[The] Dobbs [ruling] empowered the federal government, as well as state governments, to defend life,” Smith, who is Catholic, said in rejecting the notion that this should only be handled at the state level. 

Smith said Republicans should “robustly call out the Democrats,” adding that “all but one voted for abortion until birth twice” and said that any pro-life lawmaker who “thinks that they should talk about something else … like inflation” should recognize “that doesn’t work.”

“That’s the absolute false lesson to learn,” Smith said. 

Smith argued that Americans “aren’t as pro-abortion as the pollsters suggest” and accused Democrats of supporting “taxpayers paying for abortion until birth,” which he called “extreme and outrageous.” 

Regarding the recent electoral losses, he said: “The problem is that they have distorted so well” and that “lying and deception sometimes has its moment of victory.”

“Our advertisements need to become much more focused and need to hold these extremists to account,” Smith added.

Where Smith did align with his colleagues in some regard was in a new approach to messaging the pro-life position, saying the pro-life lawmakers need to “underscore how pro-woman we are” and that this “needs to be conveyed with compassion.” But, he added, “don’t do that in lieu of defending your position.”

The changing electoral climate for pro-life Democrats

Republicans were not the only party to suffer electoral defeats for their pro-life stances. The last self-identifying pro-life Democrat in the Virginia General Assembly, Sen. Joe Morrissey, was ousted during his Democratic primary by a whopping 40-point margin in a campaign that was heavily focused on abortion.

Pro-abortion Democrats won a narrow majority in both chambers of the General Assembly, which will prevent Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin from passing new restrictions on abortion. The governor and many legislative Republicans ran on supporting a 15-week limit. 

“[My pro-life views] cost me my position, but you know what, I stuck to my values and my principles and I’m good with it,” Morrissey, who is Catholic, told CNA.

Morrissey was the only Democratic lawmaker in the General Assembly to support legislation that would have prohibited most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Lashrecse Aird, who defeated Morrissey in the primary, focused much of her campaign on abortion.

“If you’re not all in 100% pro-abortion as a Democrat, you’re going to be persona non grata in the party,” Morrissey warned, adding the party now embraces “abortion up until the point of delivery.”

Despite the results, Morrissey said pro-life Democrats should “stick to your values [and] stick to your core beliefs” but added that most will not do so because they “will get primaried” and be “out of a job.” The senator said he would consider running as an independent in a future race.

Morrissey also suggested the pro-life movement change its messaging strategy, arguing that “you can’t have the word ban in your message” and that the promotion of a 15-week limit on abortion should be phrased as being “in favor of abortion up to 15 weeks” rather than using the word “ban.”

Abortion is likely to remain a focus in national and statewide elections over the next few years as lawmakers continue to debate the country’s future on abortion-related issues in a post-Roe country. Nearly a dozen abortion-related referendums could appear on statewide ballots next year. 

When an Oregon town told a church to limit its meals to the homeless the DOJ stepped in

Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Nov 28, 2023 / 15:55 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) this month signaled its support for an Oregon Episcopal church in a legal dispute over a homeless meals program that the church has run for years. 

St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Brookings, Oregon, has for years regularly provided meals for homeless people in the area up to six days per week, but the city in 2021 ordered that it could only do so up to two days per week. 

The church subsequently sued the city over the order. This week, the Department of Justice filed a statement in support of the church.

The DOJ said in a press release that the city’s new ordinance might run afoul of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). That law, according to the DOJ, “protect[s] individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws.”

The department noted that St. Timothy’s has been providing “meal service up to four days per week, and as many as six days per week,” for needy individuals in its community. 

The city, however, recently enacted an ordinance “that prohibits the church from serving free meals to persons in need more than two days per week, subject to a discretionary permit,” the DOJ said. 

In its statement of interest, filed in federal district court, the DOJ noted that the city’s new permitting system — which was enacted after neighbor complaints of the activity at the church — “effectively requires St. Timothy’s to significantly reduce the number of days it serves meals to persons in need,” which the parishioners argue “compels them to violate their religious beliefs to feed those in need” when the need exists. 

RLUIPA forbids land use regulations that impose a “substantial burden” on religious entities. The city said the ordinance did not run afoul of RLUIPA and its imposition did not “substantially burden” the church’s meals program. The DOJ said in its press release that it was disputing the city’s claim. 

“Specifically, [the DOJ] asserts that RLUIPA’s protections apply in this context, that St. Timothy’s provision of meals to people in need is protected religious exercise, and that the city’s attempt to restrict St. Timothy’s meal service may have substantially burdened the church’s religious exercise by forcing it to violate its beliefs in order to comply with local land use laws,” the DOJ said.

The city “makes virtually no attempt to show that its meals restriction is ‘narrowly tailored’ or that it employed the least restrictive means of burdening St. Timothy’s religious exercise,” the department said in its filing. 

The DOJ in its filing “respectfully request[ed] that the court … deny the city’s motion” in the case.

On its website, St. Timothy’s says its soup kitchen and outreach clinic offer “hot meals four days a week,” “showers during our office hours,” and “laundry vouchers,” among other services.

Rev. Bernie Lindley, the pastor at St. Timothy’s, told local news station KGW8 that the meals program “isn’t like a hobby for us. This is a deeply held religious belief.” 

“This we believe fervently, that we need to feed people, that what we do for the people who are on the margins is what we do for Christ himself,” Lindley said. “And so this isn’t something we take lightly.” 

“This is something that is a cornerstone to who we are as Christians,” he continued. “This is how we understand our relationship to Christ, so there is no doubt that this is how we practice our religion.” 

Catholic actor Jonathan Roumie partners with child sponsorship charity for special milestone 

Catholic actor Jonathan Roumie during a visit to Unbound's headquarters in November 2023. / Credit: Danika Wolf/Unbound

CNA Staff, Nov 28, 2023 / 15:25 pm (CNA).

The Catholic child sponsorship charity Unbound announced Tuesday that Jonathan Roumie, the actor who portrays Jesus in “The Chosen” TV series, has partnered with them to sponsor their 1 millionth child currently living in poverty. 

Roumie, a devout Catholic, was cast as Jesus in the Christian-produced hit TV series “The Chosen” in 2019. He has since gone on to headline the 2023 March for Life and has partnered with the popular Catholic prayer app Hallow on numerous occasions, among other projects. 

During a November visit to Unbound’s headquarters, Roumie had a virtual visit with a 6-year-old girl from Rwanda who Unbound says is the 1 millionth child to enter their program. Roumie first began sponsoring with Unbound in 2019, financially supporting and writing letters to a child in Tanzania. 

Jonathan Roumie virtually meets his new sponsored friend, a 6-year-old girl from Rwanda, during his visit to the Unbound global headquarters in Kansas City, Kansas. Credit: Danika Wolf/Unbound
Jonathan Roumie virtually meets his new sponsored friend, a 6-year-old girl from Rwanda, during his visit to the Unbound global headquarters in Kansas City, Kansas. Credit: Danika Wolf/Unbound

“Sponsoring a child is a direct expression of faith,” Roumie said.

“When you have the chance to participate in their life and, to an extent, be able to alleviate some of their suffering, it answers the call to bear one another’s burdens and serve each other through love. I’m excited to spread the word about the good work Unbound is doing and encourage more people to participate in a program that helps so many people around the world.”

"The Chosen" actor Jonathan Roumie meets Pope Francis (right) at the Vatican on Aug. 11, 2021. Vatican Media/CNA
"The Chosen" actor Jonathan Roumie meets Pope Francis (right) at the Vatican on Aug. 11, 2021. Vatican Media/CNA

Based in Kansas, Unbound was founded in 1981 by Catholics as an agency focused on putting resources directly in the hands of the world’s poor. Formerly the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA), the agency today uses a network of thousands of sponsors to deliver personalized support to children, elders, and their families living in poverty in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. 

Dan Pearson, Unbound’s chief international program officer, told CNA in an interview that Unbound’s work is rooted in the Gospel call to view each person living in poverty as “infinitely important,” with inherent dignity and worth, and connecting them with people willing to help, many of whom are people of faith. He said he has seen the connections that Unbound fosters make real changes in the lives of the poor but also in the lives of their sponsors. 

People who sign up with Unbound commit to supporting their “sponsored friend” — a child or elderly person living in poverty — with a donation of roughly $40 a month. More than 90% of the money donated goes directly into a bank account that is in the name of the sponsored child and, usually, his or her mother.

The funds can then be variously used to improve the child’s living conditions — such as providing better food and nutrition or enabling the child to attend school — with the goal of ultimately lifting the child out of poverty entirely.

“What you’re doing is you’re investing in the goals that that family has set for themselves. When a family enters the program, they identify their short-term and long-term goals. And as they check off those short-term goals, they set new ones to walk out of poverty,” Pearson explained. 

“You’re accompanying them, and you’re investing in the plan that [the] mother has for her children,” he continued. 

“The mother, she knows what her family needs and she can use that money effectively. She’s already nurturing and growing her family on just a few dollars a day, so she knows how to use a small amount of money very effectively for the betterment of that family.”

Unbound also facilitates letter writing and the exchange of photographs between sponsors and their sponsored friends in an effort to build personal connection. 

Pearson said when Unbound discovered recently that Roumie was already a sponsor and was passionate about their mission, “it seemed like just a natural partnership to explore.” He said he hopes that more Catholics will consider sponsoring with Unbound, as the organization says it currently has 20,000 children and elderly people awaiting sponsorship.

“We’re just very excited about working with Jonathan, and at this time of year, it is the giving season when people tend to give to organizations that are here to serve,” Pearson continued.

“And we feel like Unbound has something special to offer because it’s not just helping someone who’s in need but also connecting on a human level. And we often miss that.”

Here are Pope Francis’ liturgies for Christmas 2023 at the Vatican

Christmas Mass in St. Peter's Basilica Dec. 24, 2022. / Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Nov 28, 2023 / 09:03 am (CNA).

As the preparatory season of Advent draws near, the Vatican has published the schedule of Pope Francis’ liturgies for Christmas 2023 through the Jan. 7 feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

Most of the liturgies will take place in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Following his custom in recent years, Pope Francis will preside over a Christmas Eve “Mass at Night” at 7:30 p.m. in the basilica.

On Christmas Day, he will deliver the traditional “urbi et orbi” (“to the city and the world”) blessing from the central balcony on the front of St. Peter’s Basilica. This blessing is given only on Christmas and Easter or on other exceptional occasions and includes the pope’s wishes for peace in the world.

For the vigil of the Jan. 1 solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the pope will preside over first vespers, also known as evening prayer. The prayer service will also include the singing of the “Te Deum,” a Latin hymn of thanksgiving from the early Church.

This year, Dec. 31 will also mark the first anniversary of the death of Pope Benedict XVI at the age of 95.

On Jan. 1, 2024, Pope Francis will preside over a Mass at 10 a.m. for the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The first day of the year is also commemorated as the World Day of Peace.

For the solemnity of Epiphany, which is observed in Italy and the Vatican on Jan. 6, Francis will again preside at a Mass at 10 a.m. 

And on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Jan. 7, Pope Francis will preside at a Mass in the Sistine Chapel, where he will also baptize the babies of several Vatican employees.

Among other pre-Christmas festivities, the Vatican will also unveil its Nativity scene and light its Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square on Dec. 9, one day after the Dec. 8 solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, when Pope Francis will mark the feast day by honoring the Virgin Mary with a prayer near the Spanish Steps.

Here are 14 Catholic organizations to support this GivingTuesday

Outside a homeless shelter. / Credit: Adrian Fallace via Flickr CC BY NC ND 2.0

CNA Staff, Nov 28, 2023 / 04:00 am (CNA).

GivingTuesday, annually held on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, is a “global generosity movement unleashing the power of radical generosity.” First created in 2012, GivingTuesday is a day that encourages people around the world to do something good for others — whether donating to a worthy cause or simply helping your neighbors take out their garbage.

In honor of GivingTuesday, we’ve compiled a list of Catholic organizations that are making a difference globally or in their local communities.

Pro-life support

St. Gianna’s Place in Londonderry, New Hampshire, is a transitional home for women facing unplanned pregnancies and their children. In addition to providing women with shelter, St. Gianna’s place offers women job and life skills training, parenting skills, and spiritual, emotional, and social support.

Gabriel’s Retreat Ministries helps women “find love and support when expecting the unexpected.” Retreats offered by this ministry are available for pregnant or new moms, up to one year postpartum, at no cost and are designed to nurture their faith as daughters of God and find joy in motherhood. The retreats, which take place across the state of Missouri, are also open to women facing an unexpected maternal or fetal diagnosis.

Vocational support

The formation of priests is an essential part of the life and growth of the Church, as well as ensuring Catholics around the world can have access to the sacraments. The St. John Paul II Seminary in Washington, D.C., works to prepare young men for entrance into major seminary and eventual ordination into the priesthood. Similarly, the Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminaries bring men from all over the world, inspired by the Neocatechumenal Way, to prepare for life as a missionary priest. There are 101 Redemptoris Mater seminaries throughout the world and six in the U.S.: Newark, New Jersey; Denver; Washington, D.C.; Boston; Dallas; and Miami.

You may also consider visiting your archdiocesan website to see if there are any special collections for your local seminary. 

Support the elderly

St. Agnes Home is a senior care facility run by the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus in Kirkwood, Missouri. The assisted living facility offers 24-hour nursing oversight, care from certified nurse aides, access to physical therapy, and group outings, among several others. However, what sets St. Agnes Home apart from the rest is the spiritual aspect. Daily Mass is celebrated along with weekly Eucharistic adoration, rosaries, and other spiritual activities. 

Housing support

For men suffering from addiction, the Assisi Bridge House in Houma, Louisiana, is a residential halfway house that gives these men the opportunity to live in a community setting in which they make a commitment to change their lives. Each individual is given a care plan tailored to their personal needs, and family participation is highly encouraged. The rehabilitation program also includes aspects of spirituality and church attendance. 

Support for the disabled

Camp I Am Special in Fruit Cove, Florida, fosters and celebrates the lives of children, teenagers, and adults with disabilities by hosting in-person camps that give these individuals the opportunity to grow in independence. The programming at the camp allows them to take risks, stretch their abilities, and enjoy the company of others.

Several dioceses also have their own foundations individuals can donate to supporting those with disabilities. For example, in the Diocese of Wichita, the Holy Family Special Needs Foundation works to foster the human, intellectual, and spiritual growth of people with disabilities through education, activities, and services.

International aid

If you are looking to help those suffering in the Middle East, there are several organizations accepting donations in order to help with critical relief. Catholic Relief Services is working to provide families with assistance in the Holy Land and Palestine. In addition to bringing aid to those in the Holy Land, Aid to the Church in Need and Caritas International are working to help those suffering in other parts of the world such as Ukraine, Syria, Turkey, Africa, and Morocco. 


Catholic media organizations such as Word on Fire and Ascension work to provide Catholic content to the faithful and help them encounter Christ through digital and print media.

EWTN is looking for 1,000 new monthly donors to proclaim the Eternal Word worldwide. Consider becoming a monthly donor to help provide programming that is faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church. (Editor’s note: EWTN is the parent company of Catholic News Agency.)

Christian school sues Vermont after ban from sports league over transgender policy

Mid Vermont Christian School is suing the state over a ban from athletic competitions due to the school's transgender policy. / Credit: Mid Vermont Christian School

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 27, 2023 / 16:45 pm (CNA).

A Christian school based in Vermont filed a lawsuit against state officials after the school was banned from participating in the state’s sports leagues and a tuition program because of its policies related to transgender athletes.

The lawsuit, filed by Mid Vermont Christian School, a K–12 school in the town of Quechee, argues that the ban is a violation of the school’s First Amendment rights. It asks the court to readmit the school into the sports league and allow the school to participate in the tuition program.

Mid Vermont Christian School was banned from participating in the sports league earlier this year after its girls basketball team refused to participate in a playoff game against Long Trail School because the team’s roster included a biological male who identifies as a girl. Mid Vermont Christian chose to forfeit the game due to concerns about fairness and safety.

“The biological male on Long Trail’s team is taller than any girl on Mid Vermont Christian’s team,” the lawsuit states. “Available video of the biological male playing basketball, which showed the athlete repeatedly blocking girls’ shots, throwing elbows, and knocking girls down further underscored Mid Vermont Christian’s concerns.”

In response, the Vermont Principals’ Association expelled Mid Vermont Christian from sports participation, claiming that the school’s decision to forfeit the game violates the VPA’s policies related to gender identity, which bans “discrimination based on a student’s actual or perceived sex and gender.”

“Mid Vermont Christian school is ineligible to participate in VPA activities going forward,” the expulsion letter read.

Vermont’s Agency of Education subsequently refused to recognize Mid Vermont Christian School as an approved independent school, which prevented the school from participating in the state’s Town Tuitioning Program. The lawsuit argues that the school meets all requirements to access the program except for its refusal to adhere to the state’s nondiscrimination policies related to sexual orientation and gender identity, which the school says violates its religious beliefs.

“Vermont has an infamous record of discriminating against religious schools and families, whether it be withholding generally available public funding or denying them membership in the state’s sports league because they hold religious beliefs that differ from the state’s preferred views,” Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Ryan Tucker, who is representing the school in the lawsuit, said in a statement.

“The state’s unlawful exclusion of Mid Vermont Christian from participating in the tuition program and athletic association is the latest example of state officials trampling on constitutionally protected rights,” added Tucker, who serves as the director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries. “And egregiously, Vermont continues its blatant discrimination against religious schools despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Carson v. Makin that the government cannot exclude families from public benefits just because they choose religious education for their children.”

The lawsuit argues that the state agencies’ actions violate the First Amendment on several grounds, which include the school’s freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of association. It also claims that the actions constitute unconstitutional retaliation and violate the 14th Amendment’s implied right of parents to control the upbringing of their children, based on prior Supreme Court precedent.

Two families whose children are enrolled in the school also joined the lawsuit, claiming that they and their children have been negatively impacted by the state’s actions, which they say violate the Constitution.

“The students who choose to attend Mid Vermont Christian are currently losing out on valuable tuition reimbursement and being excluded from playing competitive sports and participating in academic competitions … whom we represent in this case,” ADF legal counsel Jake Reed said in a statement. “Vermont, through its education agency and sports association, has engaged in unconstitutional discrimination by requiring a Christian school and its students to surrender their religious beliefs and practices in order to receive public funds and compete in sports.”

Neither the Agency of Education nor the Vermont Principals’ Association responded to a request for comment from CNA.

Jewish, Muslim groups call for religious liberty protections in Catholic school lawsuit

The Hall of Justice building in downtown Lansing is home to the Supreme Court of Michigan. / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Nov 27, 2023 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

A Jewish group and an Islamic advocacy team have weighed in on a Catholic school’s challenge of a Michigan anti-discrimination law, calling for religious liberty protections to be upheld by the appeals court hearing the case.

In July 2022 the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that sexual orientation and gender identity were protected categories under a 1976 Michigan anti-discrimination statute, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish and its school, Sacred Heart Academy, in Grand Rapids, filed a lawsuit last December arguing that the new interpretation of the law would require schools to impose strict policies and practices enforcing non-Catholic views of sexual orientation and gender identity. They also argued the law would ban catechesis about marriage and the sexes and force the school and parish to hire staff who “lead lives in direct opposition to the Catholic faith.”

A district court tossed out the lawsuit earlier this year, stating the school lacked standing to bring the challenge. The attorney general’s office has not yet issued any legal warnings or brought any complaints to the school under the court’s reinterpretation of state law. 

The parish and school filed an appealarguing that it was entitled to “pre-enforcement standing” even if the state had not yet moved to enforce the new interpretation.

Last week, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) — a religious freedom legal advocacy group representing the Catholic plaintiffs in the case — revealed that a Jewish group and Muslim advocacy team had filed a brief urging the appeals court to preserve key protections for religious groups regardless of how it otherwise rules in the suit.

The Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty, with the Religious Freedom Institute’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team, filed the brief “in support of neither party,” with the groups stating that they “take no position on which party should prevail in this specific appeal.” 

Rather, the groups said, they wrote “to address one question and one alone: whether the First Amendment protects religious groups’ authority and autonomy to decide which roles and responsibilities should be limited to coreligionists.”

The petitioners sought to “aid the court’s understanding of the coreligionist exemption and to explain the deleterious effect that a limitation or revocation of that right would have on religious groups in general and on minority religious groups in particular.”

The “exemption” in question, the filing said, “[defers] to religious organizations’ own determination of which roles and responsibilities are so tied to the group’s religious mission that they may be filled only by fellow believers.” 

It is a “well-established” principle, they wrote, one that has “been consistently recognized by all three branches of the federal government.”

The brief argued that “regardless of which party prevails in this appeal,” the court should “make clear … the importance of the coreligionist exemption and its protection of the right of religious groups to make religiously-informed decisions” in directing their own institutions.

In a news release, ADF senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy John Bursch said Michigan “is forcing Sacred Heart to make an unconstitutional and unconscionable choice between teaching and practicing the Catholic faith or closing their doors forever.”

“We and the groups that have filed briefs in support of our clients are urging the 6th Circuit to allow their lawsuit to continue so they can take steps toward serving their community without fear of government punishment,” Bursch said.

ADF noted that the Grand Rapids parish was founded more than a century ago by Polish immigrants. 

UPDATE: Indiana Catholic women’s college now accepting men who identify as women

Le Mans Hall at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. / Credit: Stand Still Photo/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Nov 27, 2023 / 15:15 pm (CNA).

Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana — historically a school for undergraduate women — will now be accepting men who identify as women.

The school’s president confirmed the change to students and faculty in an email last week. The college also updated its nondiscrimination policy in June and referenced the new policy there.

The nondiscrimination policy, which was approved by its board of trustees, says that Saint Mary’s “considers admission for undergraduate applicants whose sex is female or who consistently live and identify as women.”

There are 32 individuals listed on the school’s board of trustees, along with one trustee emeritus. The list includes six religious sisters of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, the order that founded the college in the 1840s. Additionally, two priests, one Jesuit and one Congregation of Holy Cross father, also serve on the board.

The policy says that graduate programs are “open to all” and that the school’s admission policies “are informed by Title IV of the Education Amendments of 1972, which allows for single sex admission policies in institutions that have historically served women.”

The school’s mission is to “empower women, through education, at all stages in life,” the school says. “Essential to this mission is fostering a diverse, equitable, and inclusive campus experience.”

In a Nov. 21 email, the college’s president, Katie Conboy, said to students and faculty that the school is “by no means the first Catholic women’s college to adopt a policy with this scope,” the Washington Examiner reported.

She added that admitting men who identify as women “encompasses our commitment to operate as a Catholic women’s college.”

The school is still determining the “practices that will follow from the policy,” the email reportedly said.

Conboy put together a “President’s Task Force for Gender Identity and Expression” earlier this year that will be making recommendations for housing policies, the school’s student paper, The Observer, reported last week.

In a statement on Monday, Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop Kevin Rhoades said he had learned of the policy change last week and that he found it "disappointing that I, as bishop of the diocese in which Saint Mary’s College is located, was not included or consulted on a matter of important Catholic teaching."

"To call itself a 'women’s college' and to admit male students who 'consistently live and identify as women' suggests that the college affirms an ideology of gender that separates sex from gender and claims that sexual identity is based on the subjective experience of the individual," Rhoades said. "This ideology is at odds with Catholic teaching."

"The desire of Saint Mary’s College to show hospitality to people who identify as transgender is not the problem," the bishop said in the statement. "The problem is a Catholic woman’s college embracing a definition of woman that is not Catholic."

The prelate urged the school to "correct its admissions policy in fidelity to the Catholic identity and mission it is charged to protect."

When news broke last week of the policy change, meanwhile, the school received backlash online.

“Just found out my alma mater [Saint Mary’s], an all-women’s Catholic college, will be accepting BIOLOGICAL MEN starting next fall,” one online post on X said. “This decision is blasphemous & a complete rejection of the Church and its teachings on gender and sexuality.”

“[Catholics] we have an issue here!! Don’t allow your child to go to this school!! [Saint Mary’s] Shame on YOU!” another post said.

“My Alma Mater. I’m disgusted,” another post said.

Patrick Reilly, the president of the Cardinal Newman Society, an organization dedicated to promoting faithful Catholic education, told CNA Monday that Saint Mary’s College “needs to reverse course” on its policy. 

“Catholics, and most especially Catholic educators, need to have the courage to speak the truth about gender and even to suffer for it,” he said. 

“The consequences of false gender identity and bodily mutilation are dire, and we need our bishops and laity to firmly oppose institutions embracing gender ideology, especially schools and colleges that claim to be Catholic,” he continued.

“Saint Mary’s needs to reverse course for the very same reason that presumably led to its misguided policy: compassion for confused students. Embracing false gender identities does students great harm, and a school or college that does so is no less confused and perhaps deliberately false about its Catholic identity.”

Reilly also said that the college is being “disingenuous” in its citing of federal law, “which has strong exemptions for religious education and is subject to the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom.”

“It is almost as if Saint Mary’s wants to publicly acknowledge it is not in fact religious, or at least it has no intention of upholding and teaching Catholic doctrine. Perhaps the college should be forthright in saying so to its bishop and Catholic families,” he said.

In a statement to CNA on Monday, Lisa Knox, a spokeswoman for the college, said that “in today’s environment, we needed to clarify our nondiscrimination policy to be more inclusive.”

“When the college’s board of trustees approved an update to the school’s policy in June, it included a shift in our language about who we will consider for admission as well as about how we will support employees across the continuum of gender expression,” she said.

Knox said that the timing of the decision was “driven by changes” to the College Board’s Common Application, which is an online form that prospective college students can fill out to apply to many different institutions.

Some of those changes in the application include the ability for students to choose “F, M, or X” for one’s legal sex, Knox said. 

She added that the change has “created challenges” for single-sex colleges “that are trying to be inclusive while maintaining their status as women’s or men’s institutions.”

Knox said that the board of trustees “reflected carefully” on its role as a Catholic institution and “what it means to be an inclusive educator of women in society today,” adding that it sought guidance from other female-only Catholic colleges “that had already updated their own policies.”

“We are not on the leading edge for a change of this type,” she said.

Knox said that the board of trustees and college leadership foresaw disagreement that would come from some parents, alumnae, and current students, adding that “many have reached out to express their concerns and others who support the more-inclusive policy have written and called to let the college know.”

“Our leadership will always go back to our founding mission, to respond to the needs of the times. In today’s environment, we needed to clarify our nondiscrimination policy to be more inclusive,” she said.

Saint Mary’s College isn’t the only single-sex Catholic college that has announced it will be accepting individuals of the opposite sex. 

The all-female College of Saint Benedict and the all-male Saint John’s University in Minnesota say on their joint website that they “support every student’s right to self-identification” and are dedicated to “creating spaces that allow women, men, and those who do not identify within the binary,” including “transgender, nonbinary, gender-fluid, and gender-nonconforming individuals.”

The College of Saint Benedict will accept applications from males or females who “consistently live and identify as female, transgender, gender fluid, or nonbinary.”

Saint John’s University, meanwhile, will accept applications from males or females who “consistently live and identify as male, transgender, gender fluid, or nonbinary.”

In March, Pope Francis called gender ideology “one of the most dangerous ideological colonizations.”

“Why is it dangerous? Because it blurs differences and the value of men and women,” he added.

“All humanity is the tension of differences. It is to grow through the tension of differences. The question of gender is diluting the differences and making the world the same, all dull, all alike, and that is contrary to the human vocation,” he said.

This story was updated at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 27 with a statement from Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop Kevin Rhoades.

Papal aide relays Pope Francis’ remarks at Sunday Angelus while pope recovers from flu

Pope Francis and Mons. Paolo Braida during the Sunday Angelus address, Nov. 26 / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Nov 26, 2023 / 07:21 am (CNA).

During this week’s Sunday Angelus, marking the end of the liturgical year and the observance of the solemnity of Christ the King, Pope Francis spoke not from the window of the Apostolic Palace but via livestream from the chapel of his residence Casa Santa Marta. 

On Saturday morning the Holy See Press Office announced that the Holy Father had canceled all of his appointments due to a “mild” flu. He was later admitted to Gemelli Isola Hospital in Rome to undergo precautionary testing, including a CT scan, to test for “pulmonary complications,” which “gave a negative result,” a Holy See press release said. 

During the live transmission on Sunday, the Holy Father lamented that he was too sick to read the Angelus himself. 

“Today I can’t look out the window because I have this lung inflammation problem,” the pope said. 

Reading the address was Monsignor Paolo Braida, a close collaborator of the pope who opened with a reflection on the final judgment of man seen in today’s Gospel. 

The “final judgment,” Braida noted, “will be based on charity,” and it is charity that sits at the heart of the solemnity of Christ the King, which was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 with his encyclical Quas Primas

The address focused on those seated next to Jesus enthroned. It is by looking at them that we can outline the different criteria for those who are with a king, highlighting the difference between a spiritual and worldly logic.

For Jesus, “the blessed,” or the “friends” gathered around him, are not the rich and famous, not the people of a high court, as one would expect of a royal entourage, but rather “they are those who have served the weakest people. This is because the Son of Man is a completely different king, who calls the poor ‘brethren,’ who identifies with the hungry, the thirsty, the outsiders, the sick, the imprisoned.” 

In this way Jesus introduces a radically different notion of kingship that does not correspond to worldly logic and associations. Instead, these individuals surrounding Jesus “are those who respond to these forms of poverty with love, with service: not by turning away, but by giving food and drink, clothing, sheltering, visiting; in a word, by being close to those in need.”

In this way, the court of Jesus “the King” who “calls himself the Son of Man” is composed of the community of believers who operate from “compassion, mercy, tenderness.” 

During the address, Braida mentioned the 90th anniversary of the Holodomor, or the Great Ukrainian Famine, the manmade famine that starved millions of Ukrainian people under Soviet rule from 1932–1933. 

“That lacerating wound, instead of healing, is made even more painful by the atrocities of the war that continues to make those dear people suffer. For all the peoples torn apart by conflicts, we continue to pray tirelessly, because prayer is the force of peace that breaks the spiral of hatred, breaks the cycle of revenge, and opens unexpected paths of reconciliation.” 

Braida also noted that a short-term truce had been reached between Israel and Hamas in the war between the two, which saw some of the hostages freed. 

“Let’s pray that everyone will be freed as soon as possible — let’s think of their families! — that more humanitarian aid enters Gaza and that we insist on dialogue: It is the only way, the only way to have peace. Those who don’t want to dialogue, don’t want peace.”

In a prisoner exchange, which was the result of a joint brokerage by Qatar and Egypt, 39 Palestinian prisoners were released by Israel and Hamas released 13 Israelis, the New York Times reported. 

“Our world is threatened by another great danger, the climate one, which puts life on earth at risk, especially future generations. And this is contrary to the plan of God, who created everything for life,” the appeal continued. 

Braida reiterated that Pope Francis would be attending the U.N. COP28 climate conference as previously announced, which will be held in Dubai. The Holy Father is expected to be present at the conference for three days, from Friday, Dec. 1, to Sunday, Dec. 3. 

Catholics can receive a plenary indulgence by praying before a Nativity scene 

null / Alexander Hoffmann / Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Nov 25, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).

This year, Catholics will be able to receive a plenary indulgence from Dec. 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to Feb. 2, 2024, the feast of the Presentation in the Temple of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by praying before a Nativity scene in a Franciscan church.

Earlier this year, on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the faithful gathered at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, to honor the beloved Italian saint and celebrate the 800th anniversary of the approval of the Rule of St. Francis (1223) and the creation of the Nativity scene in Greccio.

As part of the celebration of this Franciscan Centenary, the Conference of the Franciscan Family asked Pope Francis for the approval of this plenary indulgence.

The conference wrote: “In order to promote the spiritual renewal of the faithful and increase the life of grace, we ask that the faithful receive a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions from 8 December 2023, the solemnity of Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to 2 February 2024, feast of the Presentation in the Temple of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by visiting the churches run by Franciscan families throughout the world and stopping in prayer in front of the Nativity scenes set up there.”

The Apostolic Penitentiary welcomed the request, allowing the faithful to receive this indulgence under the usual conditions.

Those who are sick or unable to participate physically can obtain the indulgence by offering their sufferings up to the Lord or by “carrying out practices of piety.”

What is a plenary indulgence?

A plenary indulgence is a grace granted by the Catholic Church through the merits of Jesus Christ, Mary, and all the saints to remove the temporal punishment due to sin. The indulgence cleanses a person of all temporal punishment due to sin. However, it must always be accompanied by a full detachment from sin. 

Conditions to receive a plenary indulgence in all cases:

  1. Detachment from all sin, even venial.

  2. Sacramental confession, holy Communion, and prayer for the intentions of the pope. Sacramental confession and receiving the Eucharist can happen up to about 20 days before or after the act performed to receive a plenary indulgence. 

It is appropriate that Communion and the prayer take place on the same day that the work is completed. One sacramental confession is sufficient for several plenary indulgences. However for each plenary indulgence one wishes to receive, a separate reception of the Eucharist and a separate prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father are required.