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Wisconsin man sentenced to over 7 years in prison for firebombing pro-life organization

Wisconsin Family Action was attacked with two Molotov cocktails in May 2022. / Credit: YouTube/Madison.com

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 15, 2024 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

A man convicted of firebombing a pro-life organization’s office in Madison, Wisconsin, was sentenced to over seven years in federal prison on April 10.

The 29-year-old man, Hridindu Sankar Roychowdhury, pleaded guilty to one charge of attempting to cause damage by means of fire or an explosive for firebombing the Wisconsin Family Action office. The bombing, which he carried out in May 2022, occurred early in the morning when the office was empty and there were no injuries.

Roychowdhury launched his attack just days after an unidentified person leaked a draft of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The firebombing was accompanied by a threat graffitied on the pro-life group’s exterior walls: “If abortions aren’t safe, then you aren’t either.”

“Roychowdhury’s arson was an act of domestic terrorism,” U.S. Attorney Timothy M. O’Shea for the Western District of Wisconsin said in a statement released by the Department of Justice

“Domestic terrorism is cowardly and profoundly undemocratic,” O’Shea added. “It is not speech; it is not an exchange of ideas; instead, it is an attempt to harm or frighten one’s fellow citizens, thus driving Americans apart and weakening the fabric of our democratic society. The U.S. Department of Justice, and this U.S. Attorney’s Office, with our local and federal law enforcement partners, will never flinch from holding domestic terrorists accountable.”

Christine File, the president of Wisconsin Family Action, was disappointed with the sentence. The organization had recommended that Roychowdhury receive 15 years in prison. The charges carried a minimum of five years and a maximum of 20 years in prison.

“The court missed an opportunity to strengthen the protection of constitutional rights like free speech and free exercise, rights that have themselves been under assault in recent years,” File said in a statement. “The defendant’s act of domestic terrorism to threaten our people, our families and friends, our neighbors, and our greater pro-life community is unconscionable. Ultimately, the defendant — and others who attacked pro-life groups they disagree with — attacked our civil society and the constitutional rights foundational to it.”

In addition to his 90-month sentence, Roychowdhury received three years of supervised release and a $32,000 fine. 

“Given the severity of his crime and the charges he pled guilty to, the sentence lacks proportionality,” File said. “However, as we’ve said since the day of the attack, no act or threat of violence or terrorism will deter us from our mission — being a voice for the voiceless.”

Threats to pro-life organizations on the rise

Attacks on pro-life organizations, churches, and pro-life pregnancy centers have seen an uptick since the Supreme Court draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked, according to a CNA tracker. At least 115 organizations, including 38 churches, have been vandalized over the past two years with varying degrees of severity. 

Most of the acts of vandalism have gone unsolved, which has prompted criticism of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation from Catholic groups, pro-life organizations, and Republican lawmakers.

On April 9, CatholicVote sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland that criticized the lack of prosecutions and requested information on how the Justice Department intends to combat these attacks. 

“Catholic churches and individual Catholics have an absolute right to practice their faith and vote their consciences,” Brian Burch, the president of CatholicVote, said in the letter. 

“These attacks against Catholic churches standing for the right to life are textbook examples of voter intimidation and voter suppression,” Burch said. “You have sued multiple states which you allege are engaging in voter suppression … yet you have not devoted a single minute of federal time to addressing the intimidation and suppression of Catholic voters.” 

Garland has claimed that the Justice Department has dedicated full resources to prosecuting these incidents but that most of the actions occur at night, which makes them difficult to solve.

Alternatively, several pro-life activists have faced convictions for blocking access to abortion clinics under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. Some of the activists could face more than a decade in prison.

Catholic priest pepper-sprayed during confessions at Texas cathedral

null / Quisquilia/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 15, 2024 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

A Catholic priest who serves at St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Amarillo, Texas, was pepper-sprayed while hearing confessions last week, according to a statement from the parish. 

The parish said in a statement on Facebook that “someone dealing with mental health issues” sprayed rector Father Tony Neusch with the irritant while he was hearing confessions.

Police are investigating the incident. It’s unclear whether officers have identified a suspect at this time.

“I am okay and do not require medical attention,” Neusch said in the statement.

The cathedral has temporarily suspended its twice-a-week regular confessions, with priests only hearing confessions by appointment for the time being.

Regular confessions will resume after the cathedral installs security cameras in the chapel, according to the statement. 

“I am sorry for any inconvenience this may cause, but the safety of our confessors and those waiting to receive the sacrament needs to be preserved,” Neusch said in the statement.

The priest declined comment when reached by CNA on Monday.

The Amarillo Police Department, meanwhile, did not immediately provide the police report to CNA and declined to comment on the incident.

Baltimore Archdiocese announces major restructuring that will merge dozens of parishes

St. Vincent de Paul Church, the oldest Catholic parish church in continuous use in Baltimore, which was dedicated in 1841, is among the churches slated for closure. / Credit: Smash the Iron Cage|Wikimedia|CC BY-SA 4.0

CNA Staff, Apr 15, 2024 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has announced the details of its major parish merger plan, one that will merge 61 parishes in the episcopate’s titular city into 21 parishes. 

The archdiocese said on its website on Sunday that its Seek the City to Come initiative “has entered its public comment phase,” with the plan set to address “investment and ministries, the realignment of parish communities designed to offer a strong sense of belonging for all, and the merging of parish campuses.”

The plan, detailed on the archdiocese’s website, would reduce the total number of “worship sites” in the area from 59 to 26. 

The final plan will be announced in June, the archdiocese says, although “no changes will be immediate,” with the mergers taking place “with consultation and over time.”

Parishes in the city have faced sustained challenges in recent years, the archdiocese said, including “deferred maintenance, low Mass attendance, and multiple unmet opportunities to better serve the needs of the broader community.”

The diocese has “known for a long time that we could not continue to ignore the decline in Mass attendance and increased resources required to keep our physical plants in good condition,” the plan says, necessitating the local Church to “realign and consolidate our efforts and resources.”

Decisions on how to dispose of the decommissioned parishes will be made at a later date. After those decisions are made, “all churches will be available for sacraments that include baptisms, weddings, and funerals,” the archdiocese said. 

Among the proposed closures is St. Vincent de Paul Church in downtown Baltimore. Dedicated in 1841, it is the oldest continuously operated church in the city and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also facing closure is the historic Corpus Christi Parish, which was consecrated in 1891 in the city’s Bolton Hill neighborhood.

The archdiocese in September of last year declared bankruptcy after warning it might do so in response to a looming wave of sex-abuse-related lawsuits. The bankruptcy process will “involve several steps over the next two to three years,” Archbishop William Lori said at the time. 

This week the archdiocese noted that the restructuring of the city parishes “began long before” the Chapter 11 filing in September. 

“Seek the City is a ground-up solution being developed based on the Church’s decades-long need for creating a sustainable Catholic presence in Baltimore City and commitment to reinvest in vibrant and effective ministries,” the archdiocese said. 

The archdiocese said it would hold two public comment sessions on the proposal later this month. 

Lori in the announcement said the plan will “help the Church in Baltimore minister to our neighbors and respond to the needs of the city for the centuries to come as we have since 1789.”

“Together, we must design a plan that confronts decades of disinvestment and population loss in the city and brings the Eucharistic vision to life through mission and ministry,” the prelate said. 

Knights of Columbus pledge $100,000 for families of Baltimore bridge collapse victims

Baltimore workers and relatives attend a press conference to honor families and victims of the March 26 collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge after it was struck by the container ship Dali, in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 29, 2024. / Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, Apr 15, 2024 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

The Knights of Columbus recently pledged a six-figure donation toward a Church-sponsored relief fund for families of workers killed in the collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge.

The fraternal organization said on its website that its board of directors “voted during a recent meeting to contribute $100,000 to a relief fund run by the Archdiocese of Baltimore for families who lost loved ones and livelihoods” in the collapse of that bridge. 

The bridge, which first opened in 1977, was largely destroyed last month after a container ship struck it in the early morning hours of March 26. Six construction workers lost their lives in the collapse, while several other individuals were injured. 

Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly noted in the announcement that the founder of the Knights, Blessed Michael McGivney, created the organization in 1882 “to support widows and orphans.” 

“So it was only natural that, upon learning of the death of six road workers — husbands and fathers from the Catholic Hispanic community — we were moved to join with the Church in Baltimore in providing aid to their widows and orphans,” Kelly said. 

The Catholic Review, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, said that the relief fund — which was established by the archdiocese and is being administered at the parish level — has received about $70,000 in addition to the Knights’ donation. Another related fund has received $25,000 in donations. 

The deceased bridge workers, who hailed from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, had been filling potholes on the bridge at the time of the disaster. 

Last week the Sacred Heart of Jesus-Sagrado Corazón de Jesús Parish in the city’s Highlandtown neighborhood hosted a large prayer service in honor of the deceased workers, the Catholic Review reported.

Archbishop William Lori told the newspaper that the local Church has demonstrated a “beautiful” display of both material and spiritual help to the families of the deceased workers. 

“It’s the accompaniment because these wives and moms and children have lost their husbands and fathers in the most tragic way, and we just have to surround them with love,” Lori said.

9 facts about Catholics in the U.S., according to Pew research

null / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Apr 15, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

The Pew Research Center released a new fact sheet Friday that contains nine demographic and statistical facts about the Catholic population in the United States, based on the center’s numerous surveys. 

Here are Pew’s nine facts about Catholics in the United States.

  1. Twenty percent of American adults identify as Catholics — a stable number for the past 10 years. 

Out of 262 million adults in the U.S., about 52 million would say they’re Catholic, Pew reports. In 2007, 24% of U.S. adults said they were Catholic. 

  1. A third of all U.S. Catholics are Hispanic. 

The Catholic population is 57% white, 33% Hispanic, 4% Asian, and 2% Black, while 3% are of another race, Pew reported.

  1. Catholics tend to be older than Americans overall, but Hispanic Catholics trend younger. 

While more than half of U.S. Catholic adults overall are aged 50 or older, Hispanic Catholics break that mold. Fewer than half of Hispanic Catholics (43%) are 50 and older, and just 14% of Hispanic Catholics are ages 65 and older, versus 38% of white Catholics.

  1. Roughly 3 in 10 U.S. Catholics (29%) live in the South, while 26% live in the Northeast, 24% in the West and 21% in the Midwest.

Data cited by Pew, and other data previously covered by CNA, show that Catholicism is growing fastest in the South and West, even as it declines in the Midwest and the historically Catholic Northeast. 

The racial and ethnic profile of the Catholic population varies considerably by region, Pew notes. For example, in the Midwest, 80% of Catholics are white and 17% are Hispanic. In the Northeast, 72% of Catholics are white and 19% are Hispanic.

In the South, 49% are white and 40% are Hispanic. And in the West, there are more Hispanic Catholics than white Catholics (55% vs. 30%), Pew says. 

  1. About a third of U.S. Catholics (32%) have a bachelor’s degree.

Another 28% have some college experience but not a bachelor’s degree, and 40% have a high school education or less — a distribution similar to that of the general adult population.

  1. Just 3 in 10 U.S. Catholics (28%) say they attend Mass weekly or more often.

Pew compared this figure with the share of Protestants who attend weekly services, which they say is 40%. 

Larger shares of Catholics say they pray daily (52%) and say religion is very important in their life (46%), Pew says. Overall, 20% of U.S. Catholics say they attend Mass weekly and pray daily and consider religion very important in their life.

By contrast, 10% of self-identified Catholics say they attend Mass a few times a year or less often, pray seldom or never, and consider religion “not too” or “not at all” important in their life.

  1. About half of Catholic registered voters (52%) identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, while 44% affiliate with the Democratic Party.

Other data has shown that the “Catholic electorate” is fairly evenly divided between the Republican and Democratic parties, while also suggesting that a substantial number of Catholics don’t identify with a party at all. 

  1. About 6 in 10 U.S. Catholics say abortion should be legal, in contrast to the Church’s teaching. 

This includes 39% who say it should be legal in most cases and 22% who say it should be legal in all cases, Pew says. 

A key factor, Pew says, is that Catholics’ opinions about abortion tend to align more with their political leanings than with the teachings of their Church. Among Catholic Democrats, 78% say abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Among Catholic Republicans, 43% say this.

  1. Three-quarters of Catholics in the U.S. view Pope Francis favorably, though that figure has dipped by 8% since 2021. 

Francis’ approval rating among U.S. Catholics reached 90% in Pew’s 2015 survey. By September 2018 — at a time when the entire Church was reeling from fresh scandals related to sexual abuse — the pope’s approval rating stood at just 72%, the lowest of his papacy. It had ticked back up to 83% three years later, before its latest dip to 75% in February of this year.

Pope Francis’ late predecessor Benedict XVI initially had a low approval rating of 67% among U.S. Catholics upon taking office in 2005. By 2008, however, his approval rating had reached 83%, and he closed out his papacy at 74%, in 2013.

Neither Benedict nor Francis has yet achieved the lofty heights set by the saintly Pope John Paul II, who in 1990 and 1996 garnered approval from 93% of U.S. Catholics, according to Pew’s data.

First-year seminarians will unplug from technology starting in fall at Detroit seminary

Seminarians chat as they walk along the promenade in front of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. Starting in the fall semester of 2024, first-year seminarians at Sacred Heart and seminaries across the country will undertake a "propaedeutic" year focused on personal, spiritual, and relationship growth, limiting the use of technology while spending more time in prayer and communion with others. / Credit: Photos by Marek Dziekonski | Special to Detroit Catholic

Detroit, Mich., Apr 14, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Starting in the fall, seminarians at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit are going to have more prayer time and less screen time.

The sixth edition of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Program of Priestly Formation, or PPF, which began to be implemented last year in seminaries across the country, mandates a “propaedeutic” (pro-pih-DOO-tic) year for all men first entering into seminary.

Following this guidance, Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit will implement a year of preparation for first-year seminarians starting in the fall of 2024, when men discerning the priesthood will focus on personal and spiritual growth, and less on academic work.

A key feature of the propaedeutic year — “propaedeutic” meaning preparatory or preliminary — will be limited screen and device time and more time dedicated to forming a sense of collegiality among seminarians, helping them to develop a spiritual life rooted in prayer as they discern the vocation to which God is calling them, said Father Stephen Pullis, director of graduate pastoral formation at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, who will lead the propaedeutic year program at the seminary. 

“We started it in a small phase this year for those who came out of high school, but for next year, it will go into effect for all new seminarians,” Pullis told Detroit Catholic. “It’s a new year at the beginning that focuses more on human and spiritual formation. It has fewer classes, a different rhythm of life to help them adjust to growing in their human formation and growing spiritually as well.”

The first year of seminary formation will be about becoming accustomed to seminary life, forming good prayer habits and growing in virtue and friendship with fellow seminarians and with God, Pullis said. To achieve this, seminarians will be asked to limit the time they spend with technology, including smartphone usage, to be more present in their surroundings. 

The propaedeutic year has been installed in other seminaries around the country and has yielded positive results for seminarians who appreciate the time to unplug from the outside world and reconnect with the people and community in front of them, Father Stephen Pullis said. Credit: Photos by Marek Dziekonski | Special to Detroit Catholic
The propaedeutic year has been installed in other seminaries around the country and has yielded positive results for seminarians who appreciate the time to unplug from the outside world and reconnect with the people and community in front of them, Father Stephen Pullis said. Credit: Photos by Marek Dziekonski | Special to Detroit Catholic

The change of schedule comes after recommendations from the Holy See on what seminarian formation needs to encompass to form priests centered in prayer, Pullis said.

“One of the challenges men coming into the seminary often have is they used to be very busy,” Pullis said. “We are used to a life on devices, social media, email, lots of noise, and that can be a difficult adjustment to listening to the Lord’s voice.”

The propaedeutic year doesn’t replace anything in seminary formation, meaning overall priestly formation will take an extra year, but it shouldn’t cause extra burdens. The goal isn’t to shun technology, Pullis said, but to place technology and worldly needs in their rightful place.

“It’s about forming the habits of a man whom the people of God can turn to as a priest,” Pullis explained. “These include habits around the use of technology, the use of free time and relating to each other in good, healthy ways, especially in a world with such an emphasis on technology where it has gone from being a tool to something that dominates us.”

Exact rules and technology limitations for first-year seminarians in the propaedeutic year are still being worked out, but the overall goal is to help men better hear God’s voice as they get used to life in the seminary.

“We look at seminary as someone would look at dating or engagement before marriage,” Pullis said. “It’s a time to say, ‘Is this where God is calling me to be?’ Of course, any man who has decided to enter the seminary has already prayed, but our relationship with the Lord will still need to continue and grow.”

Pope Benedict XVI declared priests need to become experts in the spiritual life, Pullis pointed out. But to do that, a man first needs to make his life quieter to more easily hear the Lord’s voice. 

“The challenges for a man who enters seminary this year are different than when I entered seminary,” Pullis said. “A lot of it is technology and anxiety and the speed of things in the world. Some of that is good — it puts us in contact with people we wouldn’t know otherwise. But so much of that can be a distraction or a temptation to trust in ourselves over the Lord. The propaedeutic year, while a mouthful of a word to say, is especially needed for men entering seminary out of the world now.”

The propaedeutic year has been installed in other seminaries around the country and has yielded positive results for seminarians who appreciate the time to unplug from the outside world and reconnect with the people and community in front of them, Pullis said.

A seminarian spends time in prayer in the chapel of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. Withdrawing from the world to focus on prayer and relationship with God and others isn't a new concept, Father Stephen Pullis said, but in a world dominated by technology, building healthy habits will contribute to forming better priests. Credit: Photos by Marek Dziekonski | Special to Detroit Catholic
A seminarian spends time in prayer in the chapel of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. Withdrawing from the world to focus on prayer and relationship with God and others isn't a new concept, Father Stephen Pullis said, but in a world dominated by technology, building healthy habits will contribute to forming better priests. Credit: Photos by Marek Dziekonski | Special to Detroit Catholic

Withdrawing from the public to go and pray in private is a practice that’s been around since the Old Testament. The Church has always seen a wisdom in decompressing in order to better discern the word of God.

Still, seminarians going through the propaedeutic year aren’t going to become monks or hermits; they’ll still live in community, visit family and their home parish, but it will allow them to break from the constant stream of tagging, sharing, retweeting, and reposting, Pullis said.

“I’ve seen both in potential seminarians and young people in general and in my own life, the way social media can lead to tremendous unrest and a sense of measuring myself against what other people are doing; it can lead to an idea that my life has to be perfect. It’s an ‘Instagram-ification’ of my life that shows the coolest vacation, the most exotic food, that I’m having the best time of my life, and of course that doesn’t correspond to reality,” Pullis said. “But it also becomes a real distraction from where God has put me.”

Unlike a book or a movie, with a beginning, middle, and end, one can always refresh social media, creating a generation that is constantly checking one’s notifications.

“It creates an appetite that doesn’t have a finite end and doesn’t fulfill us,” Pullis explained. “You see that on the scientific side, how it can change our brains, it makes us less attentive to the people who are in front of us.”

Pullis added that first-year seminarians will find plenty of opportunities to fill that social media void: pursuing hobbies such as movies and sports, having conversations, or even scheduling the increasingly rare downtime people crave in the 21st century: just being for the sake of being.

For the faithful in the pews, having priests more attuned to the present can only be a good thing, Pullis said.

“The Church asks, ‘How can we help the people of God have the best priests possible?’ Because we live in the world, that’s going to depend on the gifts and challenges of the world. What are the potential pitfalls?” he said. “The Church wants you and your family to have the best priests possible.”

This article was first published in Detroit Catholic and is reprinted here with permission.

‘Christ wants to be with us’: how Catholic ministries are responding to the mental health crisis

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CNA Staff, Apr 13, 2024 / 07:30 am (CNA).

In October 2023, the U.S. bishops announced the launch of a mental health initiative to address the high rates of anxiety and depression, especially in youth. In recent years, Catholic organizations and ministries throughout the nation have been dedicating more resources to address the mental health crisis.

The percentage of U.S. adults diagnosed with depression has risen almost 10% since 2015, reaching 29% according to a 2023 Gallup poll. A higher percentage of teenagers — 7% more since 2019 — report persistent sadness and hopelessness, according to the Center for Disease Control data, which found that almost half of U.S. teens report experiencing these feelings. 

A number of events and projects focused on mental health and healing have been launched by Catholic groups and institutions this spring. 

Making mental health ministry ‘available in every Catholic parish’

The Catholic Association of Mental Health Ministers (CMHM) will host its second conference at the end this month for mental health ministry leaders in the U.S. “to network and support each other and share ideas, because this is a very new ministry within the Church,” said Deacon Ed Shoener, the organization’s president.

Shoener helped found CMHM to build mental health ministries in the Catholic Church in 2019 soon after his daughter, Katie, who struggled with bipolar disorder, died by suicide in 2016. 

Shoener has traveled around the world educating Catholics on how to build mental health ministries in their local church communities. 

“Our hope is that someday, mental health ministry [would] be available in every Catholic parish,” he told CNA in a phone call. “When someone is struck with a mental health challenge or a mental illness, the first place that everyone realizes they can go, where they’ll find understanding and compassion and support, is the Catholic Church.”

Shoener noted that the Church can offer “spiritual support” while also “encourage[ing] people” to get professional help, just like with physical illnesses.  

The upcoming conference “Building a Culture of Community: Equipping Leaders for Mental Health Ministry,” set to take place April 25–27 in Mundelein, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago, is already sold out. Those interested may attend virtually. 

Shoener noted that the interest reflects the need. 

“There’s definitely a need in the Church. There’s no doubt about that,” Shoener noted. “Any place you go, literally, any place you go in the world, there is need and interest in this ministry.”

“I’m convinced the Holy Spirit sees that this is a need of the times and the Church,” he said. “The body of Christ is responding to it.”

Speakers at the conference include the association’s chaplain, Bishop John Dolan of Phoenix, Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, and Charleen Katra, executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability

Deacon Ed Shoener (left) participates in a panel discussion with Charleen Katra, executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, at the Catholic Association of Mental Health Ministers (CMHM) conference in 2022. Credit: Photo courtesy of CMHM
Deacon Ed Shoener (left) participates in a panel discussion with Charleen Katra, executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, at the Catholic Association of Mental Health Ministers (CMHM) conference in 2022. Credit: Photo courtesy of CMHM

Shoener noted that while the “structured” mental health ministry is new, the Church has been dealing with mental health issues since the time of Christ. 

“Jesus understands mental health, mental illness, because he’s human, and it’s been part of the human condition forever,” Shoener said. “Just like he understands physical suffering, he understands mental health and mental illness.”

Shoener noted that he’s visited other nations to discuss mental health issues. He has traveled to Canada, India, Italy, and South Africa to work with leaders and local Catholics on mental health ministry.  

“The stigma or the types of beliefs about mental illness might vary from culture to culture,” he noted. “But the actual occurrence of mental illness as an illness — it doesn’t discriminate based on culture or ethnicity. Everybody’s affected by depression, anxiety, serious mood disorders, schizophrenia.”

“It’s pretty clear to me that the Holy Spirit is moving and guiding this, because Christ wants to be with us in these struggles and these sufferings,” he said of the ministry.

Seeking local leaders

Another event this spring focused on mental health will be held in Maryland. The Archdiocese of Baltimore is hosting a St. Dymphna Mental Wellness Retreat in partnership with Seeds of Hope at the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton on May 15. 

The retreat will include Mass for families as well as breakout sessions on relevant topics. 

“We are hoping to reach people who live with their own mental health challenges and their loved ones,” Melissa Freymann, a clinical mental health therapist who is organizing the retreat in her role as a mental health ministry consultant for the archdiocese, told CNA. 

Freymann said the retreat is “a day of accompaniment and support” as well as a “day to gather” to launch the “next stage” of the Archdiocese of Baltimore Mental Health Initiative. 

“We have a special breakout for those who have lost loved ones to suicide and another for those who want to start a mental health ministry in their parish,” she noted. 

Freymann explained that Catholic mental health ministry “meets people where they are at.” The ministry “is not professional mental health care” but rather “a resource” that “offers hope and support.” 

Yvonne Wenger, an organizer of the retreat and director of public relations for the archdiocese, said that one of the goals for the retreat is to “reach participants who are interested in establishing ministries in their parish communities.” 

Wenger told CNA that some local churches are sending delegates to the retreat who “are interested “in exploring the possibility of establishing a ministry.” 

“We want to help people understand what the ministry could look like,” she explained.

The retreat itself is named for St. Dymphna, the patron saint of mental illness. The choice of location — the Seton Shrine — is equally fitting given Seton’s experience with anxiety and depression.  

A statue of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in the Seton Legacy Garden at the Seton Shrine in Maryland. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Seton Shrine
A statue of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in the Seton Legacy Garden at the Seton Shrine in Maryland. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Seton Shrine

“Based on the review of her writings, there’s been a lot of speculation that it seemed like she dealt with some significant anxieties,” noted Shoener, who is speaking at the retreat. “Certainly, some of her children had their challenges with alcoholism and addiction — she certainly understood mental health conditions and severe grief.” 

“It’s an example with Mother Seton — and many other saints — that mental illness and mental health challenges are by no means an impediment to holiness, to great holiness,” he added, noting how St. Oscar Romero lived with obsessive compulsive disorder, while Blessed Rutilio Grande had schizophrenia.

“God can overcome everything,” Shoener said.

The saints ‘went before us’

The Seton Shrine itself is also growing its mental health ministry through a series of Easter reflections by Catholic writer Paula Huston.

“There’s different lenses [through which] you could look at Elizabeth Seton’s life, and definitely one of them is the struggles and the loss that she experienced and her need to overcome that,” said Rob Judge, executive director of the Seton Shrine, who told CNA that he sees the shrine as “a place of healing.” 

Judge said the shrine staff took inspiration from “the larger Catholic world,” including initiatives by the bishops and others in the Church for anyone who is struggling with mental illness or health.

“It’s an issue that touches all of us at different points, either more or less directly,” Judge noted. 

While the series is “applicable to all stages” of life, Huston wrote each installment with “young people” in mind, Judge said. 

“We see a lot that that generation is maybe struggling more than some previous generations and just discovering meaning in life and their way,” he noted. “And certainly [the] culture has many distractions for them.”

“We framed [the series] around the woundedness that we all have, and then through this series of writings, applied Elizabeth’s example to it,” he explained. 

“Many people think of Elizabeth Seton, and they think of founding Catholic schools, and they think of her as a teacher,” Judge said. “They often don’t necessarily think of her as a child who was lonely, or a teenager who felt left out and didn’t know where to turn at times, and a mom who was trying to support her kids and came into the Church and then felt rejection.”

He noted that these feelings of “loneliness and rejection, abandonment, feeling like you don’t control your life, or powerlessness” are “very human experiences.”  

“We’re not alone,” Judge said. “That’s hopefully what we learned through the saints, is that we’re not alone. They went before us.”

Pro-life leader: State-by-state approach to abortion will lead movement to ‘ash heap of history’

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser told EWTN News the pro-life movement is grounded in the dignity of the individual "and has never stopped at a state line." / Credit: Screenshot/EWTN News in Depth

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 13, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

As pro-life politicians try to figure out the most effective way to defend unborn life, a top leader in the movement argues that leaving abortion policies up to the states — rather than pursuing national pro-life policies — will push the movement into the “ash heap of history.” 

“Where is the appropriate battleground for this most important human rights battle of our time?” Marjorie Dannenfelser, a Catholic and CEO of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, rhetorically asked during an interview with “EWTN News In-Depth."

“Only in the states, or is it a matter for our nation?” Dannenfelser continued. “If this movement cedes the territory to the states only and says that your geography is predictive of whether you live or die in our country, then this movement is headed for the ash heap of history, in my opinion.”

Dannenfelser’s comments come just days after presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee and former president Donald Trump announced that states should determine abortion policies. He said abortion policy is “all about the will of the people” and that “now it’s up to the states to do the right thing.”

“Many states will be different,” Trump said April 8 upon announcing his position on the issue. “Many will have a different number of weeks, or some will have more conservative [policies] than others, and that’s what they will be.”

On Wednesday, during a visit to Atlanta, Trump said he would not sign a national abortion ban if Congress sent one to his desk when asked the question by a reporter. 

Trump’s policy approach to abortion puts the former president at odds with Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America and other pro-life activists, who have called on lawmakers to pass a federal law that prohibits abortion at the 15th week of pregnancy, with exceptions in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the life of the mother.

During the interview, Dannenfelser said one can debate whether such a 15-week bill is strong enough, but that the federal government needs to be starting somewhere — and cannot simply defer the issue to states. 

“The most important question on the table is whether the federal government has anything to say,” Dannenfelser added. “Is there anything rooted in our Constitution that points to the value and dignity of every human life, or does it not?”

Despite her disagreements with Trump on how to approach abortion policy, Dannenfelser said she still supports his candidacy to unseat incumbent President Joe Biden. 

“[The Biden] administration, if they have a Senate and a House, would wipe out every single pro-life protection,” Dannenfelser said. “They will eliminate the filibuster. They will do that. So the contrast means, yes, of course, we have to elect [Trump].”

Biden has urged Congress to pass legislation that would codify into law the abortion standards that had been in place under the now-defunct Roe v. Wade decision. Such a law would prohibit states from passing most pro-life policies in addition to overturning the ones currently in place. In his budget proposal, Biden has also requested that Congress eliminate the current ban on taxpayer funding for abortion.

Although Trump has sparred with some pro-life figures over the past year, the former president has taken credit for appointing three of the Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, which allowed states to adopt pro-life laws.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, more than 20 states have passed pro-life laws that put further restrictions on abortion. However, when abortion policies have been put up to a vote via statewide referenda, every pro-life initiative has failed and every pro-abortion initiative has passed — including in Republican-leaning states. This string of electoral defeats has led some pro-life lawmakers to reconsider their approaches to abortion policy.

Police arrest man suspected of robbing Catholic parishes in fake priest scam

Police in California on April 11, 2024, announced the arrest of a man suspected of posing as a priest to gain access to, and rob, several Catholic parishes across the country. / Credit: Diocese of Brooklyn; Riverside County Sheriff

CNA Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

Police in California have announced the arrest of a man suspected of posing as a priest to gain access to, and rob, several Catholic parishes across the country. 

Multiple Catholic parishes in both New York and Texas over the last several months reported encountering a man who in some cases identified himself as “Father Martin” and who managed to gain access to private parish areas and steal hundreds of dollars. 

The scammer was most recently reported at several New York-area parishes; at one he succeeded in stealing nearly $1,000.

On Thursday of this week, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in Riverside, California, announced in a media release that they had apprehended the individual suspected of perpetrating those scams. 

The sheriff’s department said that on Wednesday they had located a car matching the description of the vehicle connected to the robberies. 

“The driver of the vehicle, identified as 45-year-old Malin Rostas, a resident of New York, was taken into custody for an outstanding felony warrant out of Pennsylvania for burglary,” the department said.

Local investigators “discovered Rostas was ‘Father Martin’ and had just attempted to burglarize a local church,” the sheriff’s office said. 

Rostas was booked on the outstanding warrant, police said, and he will additionally be charged with the attempted burglary. 

The sheriff’s office “believes there may be additional burglary victims,” they said. Investigation of the case is ongoing. 

In New York last month, the scammer gained access to a Queens parish as well as the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville’s motherhouse on Long Island. He also reportedly attempted the scam at a Brooklyn parish last year.

Last fall, meanwhile, he showed up at six different parishes in the Diocese of Dallas and also managed to steal several hundred dollars from a Houston parish.

Pope Francis’ approval rating remains high in the U.S. but has slipped since 2021

Pope Francis waves to pilgrims in St. Peter's Square gathered for his weekly general audience on April 3, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

CNA Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

new Pew Research study has found that three-quarters of Catholics in the U.S. view Pope Francis favorably, though that figure has dipped 8% since 2021. 

In addition, the Pew report suggests that a majority of Catholics in the U.S. want the Church to change its teaching on a number of key issues, including the all-male priesthood, contraception, and so-called same-sex marriage. But broken down by political affiliation, significant differences in opinion emerge. 

“Regardless of their partisan leanings, most U.S. Catholics regard Francis as an agent of change. Overall, about 7 in 10 say the current pope represents a change in direction for the Church, including 42% who say he represents a major change,” the new April 12 Pew report reads. 

Francis’ approval rating among U.S. Catholics reached 90% in Pew’s 2015 survey. By September 2018 — at a time when the entire Church was reeling from fresh scandals related to sexual abuse — the pope’s approval rating stood at just 72%, the lowest of his papacy. It had ticked back up to 83% three years later, before its latest dip to 75% in February of this year.

Pope Francis’ late predecessor Benedict XVI initially had a low approval rating of 67% among U.S. Catholics upon taking office in 2005. By 2008, however, his approval rating had reached 83%, and he closed out his papacy at 74%, in 2013.

Neither Benedict nor Francis has yet achieved the lofty heights set by the saintly Pope John Paul II, who in 1990 and 1996 garnered approval from 93% of U.S. Catholics, according to Pew’s data.

Broken down by self-described party affiliation, 35% of Catholic Republicans and Republican leaners said they have an “unfavorable” view of Pope Francis, compared with just 7% of Catholic Democrats and Democratic leaners. Catholic Republicans’ views of Pope Francis have gotten more negative over the past decade, while the views of Catholic Democrats have not changed much, Pew says. 

“The partisan gap in views of Pope Francis is now as large as it’s ever been in our surveys,” Pew noted.

“Roughly 9 in 10 Catholics who are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party hold a positive view of him, compared with 63% of Catholics who are Republicans or lean Republican.” 

Pew asked respondents about their opinions on several hot-button issues related to the Church’s teaching and found that the Catholics most likely to be in favor of changing Church teaching largely identify as Democrats or lean Democratic (57%), and many say they seldom or never attend Mass (56%).

In contrast, Catholics who mostly say the Church should not change its teachings are predominantly Republicans or lean Republican (72%), and many say they attend Mass at least once a week (59%).

Of those surveyed, 83% said they favored a change of the Church’s teaching on contraception; 75% said the Church should allow Catholics to take Communion even if they are unmarried and living with a romantic partner; 69% said priests should be allowed to get married; 64% said women should be allowed to become priests; and 54% said the Church should recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples. (These findings are not markedly different from those of a decade ago, Pew says.)

Catholics who attend Mass regularly — once a week or more — are far more inclined than those who go less often to say the Church should take a “traditional or conservative” approach on questions about the priesthood and sexuality, Pew says.