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‘Irena’s Vow’: The true story of a Polish Catholic nurse who hid Jews during the Holocaust

Sophie Nélisse portrays Irena Gut Opdyke in the new film "Irena's Vow." / Credit: Quiver Distribution

CNA Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

A new film depicting the incredible true story of Irena Gut Opdyke, a Polish Catholic nurse who risked her own life to hide Jews persecuted by Nazi Germany during World War II, debuts in theaters across the country April 15-16. 

“Irena’s Vow” is told through the eyes of strong-willed 19-year-old Irena Gut. When Gut is promoted to be the housekeeper in the home of a highly respected Nazi officer after learning that the Jewish ghetto is about to be liquidated, she makes it her mission to help the Jewish workers.

Gut decides to shelter them in the safest place she can think of — the basement of the German major’s house. Over the next two years, she uses her creativity and quick thinking to keep her friends safe until she is able to help them escape. 

Actress Sophie Nélisse portrays Gut in the film. She and Jeannie Smith, Irena’s real-life daughter, spoke to CNA about what they hope viewers will take away from the film and what it’s like for Smith to share and watch her mother’s story on the big screen.

Sophie Nélisse portrays Irena Gut Opdyke in new film "Irena's Vow." Credit: Quiver Distribution
Sophie Nélisse portrays Irena Gut Opdyke in new film "Irena's Vow." Credit: Quiver Distribution

“I immediately fell in love with Irena’s story because I felt it was just so relevant to this day, and I think there’s so much to learn from her story and a tale that brings a lot of hope, I find, despite all the horrific events,” Nélisse said. 

As a Catholic, Smith shared that her mother’s faith “100% played a role” in the work she did to save the lives of Jews. 

“She was raised that people mattered and that the differences in people did not matter,” she said. “They were all human beings and part of one human family and stood under God created by him.”

Smith added that Gut had “childlike trust.”

“[God] would open a path and she would walk in it and then it was up to him to take care of her, and her job was just to do what she was supposed to do — to follow. She kept that her whole life. It just was part of her. It wasn’t even something she had to think about,” Smith said.

Gut had no intention of ever sharing her story when she came to the United States, Smith explained. It wasn’t until she crossed paths with a “Holocaust denier” that she opened up about her experience. 

“She was faced with a Holocaust denier, over the phone, a young man who was just doing a report in school about the propaganda of it all,” Smith recalled. “That’s when she realized that if she didn’t start talking, history could easily repeat itself.”

From then on, her mother slowly began talking, but it was evident to Smith “how hard it was for her, especially that first time, and I stayed away from the subject.” 

“It wasn’t until I went with her to a school — I was almost 20, [and] I took her to a school so she could talk to kids — that I not only heard her story but saw the saw amazing reaction … and I thought, ‘Man, this story is powerful.’”

Gut received several recognitions for the work she did to protect Jews during the Holocaust, including being honored as a Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli Holocaust Commission. This title is given to non-Jews who risked their lives to help Jewish people during WWII. She also received a Medal of Honor in a ceremony at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, and her story is part of a permanent exhibit in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., among other recognitions.

One that particularly meant a lot to Gut was the papal blessing she received in 1995 from Pope John Paul II for her sacrifice. Smith explained that her mother had a very painful experience when she went to confession, after enduring sexual abuse and being forced to have sexual relations with the German major.

Unable to confess to her usual priest one day, Gut went to a young priest who Smith said was “more anti-Semitic and told her she didn’t have a part in the Catholic Church, which broke her heart.”

“So [there was] this papal blessing where Pope John Paul II, the Polish pope, sent a delegation from the Vatican, and we had a ceremony in a Jewish synagogue in Irvine, California,” she said. “So the mixture was amazing, and it was just coming home for her. It meant a lot.”

Nélisse pointed out that Irena Gut’s life can inspire everyone. 

“I think we as individuals think that we can’t really make a difference or that we’re too small to really have an impact, and I think that she’s the perfect example that — I mean, she obviously did heroic things — [but] by doing tiny things that seem so simple, it could be smiling to someone or helping them with a bag or complimenting them, it does have a ripple effect,” Nélisse said.

Smith added that she has heard from kids who were thinking about taking their lives by suicide, but one day someone sat with them at lunch and that changed their minds. She hopes that her mother’s story reminds people that “we are all able to do amazing things.”

“People will call my mom a hero or somebody who’s special, and she wouldn’t have liked that and I don’t either, because you label somebody that way and it gives them permission to do things that you can’t, [but] the bottom line is we are all able to do amazing things,” she said.

Former porn actress embraces Catholic faith after trip to Italy that changed her life

Bree Solstad, a young woman who previously produced and acted in the pornography industry, is among the adult converts who entered the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil this year on March 30, 2024. / Credit: Miss B Converted in X

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

Bree Solstad, a young woman who previously produced and acted in the pornography industry, is among the adult converts who entered the Catholic Church this Easter, leaving behind her life of “countless sins” and embracing the Catholic faith.

Solstad told ChurchPop that prior to her conversion, she led a life full of promiscuity and self-obsession, which spiked when a “recruiter” reached out to her.

“I was drinking more heavily and started a blog about my hedonistic behavior. The blog caught the attention of a successful sex worker, who reached out to me and essentially recruited me,” she said. “She showed me how to get set up and introduced me to some important people in the industry who could help me make as much money as possible. I had no moral compass and was all about myself anyway.”

Solstad, who now goes by Miss B Converted on X and presents herself as “a repentant sinner who converted to Christ; former porn actress and producer,” announced on Jan. 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, her decision to “quit sex work. To repent of my countless sins. To give up my life of sin, wealth, vice, and vain self-obsession.”

She shared with her followers that her decision came after a trip to Rome and Assisi in Italy, where touched by the beauty of the art she saw in the churches she visited and the theology it represented, she experienced “what can only be described as a life-altering conversion.”

“This is a humbling experience and one that I know may be mocked or questioned by many. I am giving up all my income and turning my life over to Christ. I am leaving behind my life of rampant sin, vice, pride, debauchery, vanity, and lies to — with God’s grace — live a life of truth, beauty, obedience to God’s divine will, virtue, and humility,” she wrote on X. 

Solstad, who had an account on various pornographic content platforms, said that she had been preparing for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) for some time and that she planned to be confirmed and receive her first Communion during the Easter Vigil this Holy Week. She made her first confession on Spy Wednesday.

“Thank you, Jesus,” she prayed on X, “for not giving up on such a wretched sinner. Thank you Blessed Mary, Mother of God, for your immense love and consolation.”

The young convert added that “God’s forgiveness and mercy is real. If someone as broken and sinful as me can be redeemed and converted, there is no doubt anyone reading this can also be saved by his divine mercy.”

The Virgin Mary and St. Clare of Assisi

Solstad was baptized as a Lutheran when she was 8 years old and considered herself at least “nominally Christian,” she explained April 5 to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner.

However, during college she lived a life of “drunkenness, drugs, and promiscuity.” Experiencing a tragedy in her life, she prayed hard but, she said, “I felt like God had turned his back on me and so I did the same to him,” Solstad commented to ChurchPop.

In 2023 she traveled to Italy, where she always noticed the crucifixes in the churches she visited. However in Sorrento, she said, “I noticed the Virgin Mary on street corners all over the place. All of a sudden, I felt like Mary was calling me in the strangest way. Each time I entered a church, I felt compelled to seek her out.”

At Assisi, she said, “I was impressed by St. Francis, but I was moved to tears by St. Clare. I knelt by her tomb and again asked for assistance. I felt like St. Clare was actually present with me and that she was going to take all the pain and anxiety from me and somehow give it to God,” Solstad told ACI Prensa.

After that experience and returning home, “I quickly realized that I didn’t like what my life was like,” she said. “I hated my job. I felt disgusting and guilty for the work I had been doing for a decade. I couldn’t stop thinking of all the things that I had done and all the lives I negatively affected through pornography. I felt grotesque.”

Solstad soon looked for a priest and spoke with him and his secretary, who told her “God loves you,” words that were like “a waterfall of light” and made her long “to be someone better. I wanted to be clean, I wanted to be happy and a great example of God’s love.”

While in RCIA, she said, she had to overcome some anti-Catholic prejudice she inherited from the Lutheran background, but she diligently researched everything “and I always came to the realization that what the Catholic Church was teaching was true.”

“I have honestly fallen in love with the Catholic Church,” she continued,  “There is such richness in the faith. The Holy Trinity, the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Mary the Mother of God, all the inspiring, heroic, and beautiful saints, the sacraments, the history, the tradition, everything! But what has touched me the most is the Eucharist … something so surprising for me with Jesus physically present.”

Entry into Catholic Church, first Communion

On April 3, Solstad shared on her social media some photos of her first Communion at the Easter Vigil on March 30.

“These five seconds will forever be emblazoned in my heart, mind, and soul. This is the best moment of my life,” the young woman wrote. 

“My life has changed for the better so much during these past several months, but it pales in comparison to how much this moment of receiving my first Eucharist permanently transformed me,” she recounted.

“I will never be the same again and I thank God for this undeniable fact. I am so in love with you, Jesus. Never allow me to move even one inch from your most Sacred Heart,” she wrote.

Solstad concluded her post with the first part of the Magnificat, the prayer the Virgin Mary exclaimed when she was pregnant with Jesus and met her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist.

“My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation,” she wrote, quoting Mary’s response to Elizabeth as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. 

Solstad’s sole source of income now is from her religious goods store, which can be found here.

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

El Paso bishop criticizes Texas border efforts, laments ‘anti-immigrant’ rhetoric

Bishop Mark Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso speaks at the “Responding to Changing Realities at the U.S. Border and Beyond" conference, hosted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic University of America on April 11, 2024. / Credit: Photo courtesy of The Catholic University of America

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 12, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Bishop Mark Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso criticized a Texas law that increases the state’s role in deterring illegal immigration to the United States and denounced “anti-immigrant” rhetoric that he said is rising in the country’s two major political parties.

Seitz, who chairs the Committee on Migration of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), commented on the Lone Star State’s new law during an immigration conference jointly hosted by the Catholic University of America and the USCCB. The April 11 event was titled “Responding to Changing Realities at the U.S. Border and Beyond.”

SB 4, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed in December 2023, makes illegal border crossing a state crime and allows state police to arrest people who enter the United States illegally through Texas. U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has sued the state over the law based on allegations that it usurps the federal government’s authority to enforce laws related to immigration. 

“We’re concerned that this leads to profiling — racial profiling as well,” Seitz said. “It puts fear into every immigrant no matter what their immigration status may be.”

The bishop questioned the constitutionality of the law and how it could be effective without the cooperation of Mexican authorities. He further argued that the law threatens the right to seek asylum by denying the “opportunity to be processed … to see if their claims to asylum are legitimate or not.” 

“[We] hope and pray the courts will not cave to the political pressure,” Seitz said.

During his discussion at the conference, the bishop was critical of “anti-immigrant” rhetoric and approaches to policy, which he said now exists in “both parties.” He claimed the media has “misrepresented” the situation at the border, which he said has also stoked anti-immigrant sentiment.

“You’re not going to see chaos [at the border],” Seitz said. “You’re going to see lots of fences and wires and things like that.”

The bishop, who works with migrants and hosts a shelter on his property in the diocese, spoke positively of the individuals with whom he has interacted. 

“I meet these people every day,” Seitz said. “They’re some of the most peaceful, patient family-oriented people I’ve ever met.”

Speaking to CNA following his remarks at the conference, Seitz said the Catholic Church provides a “beautiful balance” for ensuring the dignity of migrants is respected and that countries can maintain their borders. 

“The Church says nations have a right to a border and they have a right and a responsibility to control their border,” the bishop explained. “So we don’t have a problem with that.” 

Seitz said, however, that the answer cannot be “to close off the possibility of a legitimate flow across the border.” 

“People have a right to migrate when there is a need,” the bishop added. 

Other speakers at the conference echoed similar concerns about policy and rhetoric. 

Father David Hollenbach, a Jesuit priest and research professor at Georgetown University, cited messages in Scripture about welcoming strangers and argued that the United States has a moral obligation to assist migrants and refugees because the country has the capacity to help in a way that poorer countries do not. 

“These people are created in the image and likeness of God,” Hollenbach said during a panel discussion. 

Another speaker, Sister Sharlet Ann Wagner, executive director of the Newcomer Network at the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., branch of Catholic Charities USA, said during a panel discussion that politicians are “using immigrants as political footballs.” 

Although Wagner acknowledged that some local communities have “unanticipated costs” when dealing with the influx of migrants, she said most are of prime working age and desire to work. 

“This is an investment that will pay off,” Wagner said.

Although the conference focused mostly on an obligation to assist migrants in coming to the country, some Catholics have expressed a more cautious approach to the influx of people who have entered the country between official ports of entry.

Chad Pecknold, a professor of systematic theology at the Catholic University of America, who was not a part of the conference, told CNA that the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas on immigration provide “a sound and reasonable guide for these discussions.” 

Referencing Aquinas in the Summa Theologiae,” Pecknold recalled that the doctor of the Church “teaches that while hospitality should be offered to the wayfarer passing through, political communities must ensure that those ‘entering to remain’ demonstrate a commitment to the customs, language, religion, and mores of their commonweal.” 

“Every human being having dignity does not immediately and obviously supersede the sovereignty of nations,” Pecknold added. “Statesmen have a sacred duty to safeguard the political common good of their country, and this will sometimes mean restricting who can legally enter and remain in their countries,” he noted.

New film about writer Flannery O’Connor shows ‘God can deliver his grace in any way’

Maya Hawke as American writer Flannery O'Connor in the 2024 film "Wildcat." / Credit: Oscilloscope Laboratories

CNA Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

A new film depicting the life of American writer Flannery O’Connor, whose work reflected her Catholic faith and frequently examined questions of faith, morality, and suffering, will be released in theaters on May 3. 

"Wildcat" follows O’Connor as she struggles with a lupus diagnosis at age 24, the same disease that took her father’s life, and dives into an exploration of beliefs. Actress Maya Hawke portrays O’Connor, and her father, Ethan Hawke, directed, co-wrote, and produced the film.

The inspiration for the movie came from Maya Hawke, who created a monologue from entries in O’Connor’s “Prayer Journal” for an audition for Juilliard, to which she was accepted. After performing her monologue for her family, they were blown away. She said that ever since, she’s had a personal connection with O’Connor and eventually asked her father to help her make the movie.

Executive producer Eric Groth, a Catholic and the CEO of Renovo Media Group and president of ODB Films, told CNA in an interview that he was drawn to the movie because “we [his company] really love to bring beautiful, good, and true stories front and center and that certainly focus on things of a Catholic nature.”

“I hadn’t read a lot of Flannery, I had read a little bit, but I was very intrigued by her and who she was and how important she was in the 20th century as an author,” he added. “And I was very fascinated by the fact that there hadn’t been a lot of things produced about her or her stories.”

However, what attracted him the most to the film was the “family element.” 

“I love that Ethan and Maya were doing something as a father and daughter and even Ethan’s wife, Ryan, was one of our lead producers and all of Ethan’s other kids found their way into the film as well,” Groth said.

Groth pointed out that he believes this story is important to tell today because “the culture can really learn from her.”

“I think she had a really great ability to converge all her faith with what she was living out in her day,” he explained.

The producer shared that in his eyes, O’Connor “kind of flips grace on its head. We kind of put God in a box and think if God is going to deliver grace it’s going to come through this really nice channel … I think Flannery says, ‘Look, God can deliver his grace in any way, any time, any fashion.’”

He continued: “People need to know that God is there, God is present, and we can look and see that God’s grace comes from all different things.”

Groth hopes that viewers will “walk away with a tremendous appreciation” for the 20th-century Gothic-style writer.

“She saw the messiness of the world, and that messiness — God is in the midst of it, that God enters into it and that our lives are messy,” he said. “I want people to walk away seeing somebody who saw that and understood it. I want them to walk away seeing a young woman who suffered terribly from a disease that ultimately took her life, but that she pressed on.”

He added that he hopes the audience will see that “we’re called to seek that relationship with God and it’s going to be difficult at times, but also that we can be victorious and that we can look to see how God’s going to deliver grace to us in all kinds of ways.”

Watch the trailer for “Wildcat” below.

Abortion amendment disqualified from Maine 2024 election ballot

The Maine State House in Augusta. / Credit: Wangkun Jia/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 11, 2024 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

A proposed constitutional amendment allowing abortion until birth in Maine was disqualified from the November ballot this week after it failed to gain enough votes in the state Legislature.

Though the amendment proposal received a majority of votes this week — 75-65 in the House and 20-13 in the Senate — it failed to reach the required two-thirds supermajority in either body to be added to the ballot.

If it had reached the required supermajority, the “Protect Personal Reproductive Autonomy” amendment proposal would have been included in Maine voters’ November ballot. 

Maine citizens would have been asked to vote yes or no on the question: “Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to declare that every person has a right to personal reproductive autonomy?"

If passed by voters, the amendment would have altered the state constitution to declare that Maine “may not deny or infringe on the right to personal reproductive autonomy,” unless the denial or infringement “is justified by a compelling state interest” and “is accomplished using the means that least denies or infringes” on that “right.”

The amendment would have further expanded abortion in what is already one of the most permissive states in the union. Abortion is currently legal in Maine until viability; it is further permitted after viability if deemed necessary by a physician.

According to the Maine Division of Public Health Systems’ most recent data, there were 2,225 abortions in the state in 2022, up from 1,915 in 2021.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Portland, Maine, told CNA that the diocese is “grateful” that the required two-thirds of the Legislature “did not cooperate with this attack on the dignity of human life.”

In a strongly worded condemnation of the amendment issued earlier this year, Bishop Robert Deeley of Portland called it “immoral and unnecessary.”

“This is a political attempt to distract from the heinous law passed last June that eliminated any restrictions for abortion,” Deeley said. “A change to the constitution to promote abortion on demand will affect unborn children who cannot speak for themselves but will suffer the ultimate price.”

Daniel Schmid, an attorney for the national religious liberty law firm Liberty Counsel, told CNA that the measure’s defeat is a “positive step forward for Maine because they’re fairly progressive in their abortion laws.”

“I think it’s always a good day when an amendment is defeated that would have otherwise legalized abortion at all stages,” he said.

Schmid argued that the Maine amendment was particularly deceptive in its wording.

“You’re asking, ‘Do you support a woman’s autonomy?’ A lot of people support that type of language, not knowing that, oh yeah, that means that they can kill a child right before birth,” he said.

Schmid said that the amendment would have meant that “any regulation that was ever put forward that concerned abortion would have had to satisfy the most demanding test known to constitutional law.”

“If you’re in that test, the law rarely passes,” he said. “So that basically was setting up an impossible hurdle for even reasonable regulations of the practice of abortion in Maine.”

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, five states — California, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Vermont — have passed constitutional amendments enshrining abortion into state law. 

Three states, meanwhile — New York, Maryland, and Florida — have finalized abortion-until-birth amendments that will be included in this November’s ballot. Ten more states could add similar amendment proposals to their ballot as well.

Schmid called the proposed amendments across the country “a fatal threat to unborn children in all of the states.”

“The proponents of these [amendments], they’re clever in trying to hide their intent in the language, but the effect of all of these amendments is essentially to legalize unrestricted abortion at will, and they ought to be honest about that,” he said. 

“Most states require that your ballot initiative not be deceptive, that it not try to confuse voters, that it tell them what it’s doing. Most of them do not, and they’re dumping millions of dollars into these initiatives to try to deceive the people into voting for them, not knowing that what they’re voting for is unrestricted, unrestrained abortion at will.”

“After 50 years of the genocide of Roe, we’re not going to start it all over again at the state level,” he continued. “The pro-life community needs to be vocal about that and needs to stand up and say no, people won’t tolerate this.”

A full breakdown of where abortion is on the ballot this election year can be seen here.

California bishop praises district attorney for seeking to change death sentences

Bishop Oscar Cantú of San Jose, California. / Credit: Rendon Photography & Fine Art/Courtesy of Archdiocese of San Antonio

CNA Staff, Apr 11, 2024 / 14:50 pm (CNA).

Bishop Oscar Cantú of San Jose recently praised a California district attorney for seeking to convert the death sentences of more than a dozen prisoners to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Jeff Rosen, the district attorney for Santa Clara County, announced last week that he had made a filing in state superior court to resentence 15 condemned men, saying he has “lost faith in capital punishment as a fair and effective crime deterrent.” 

The prosecutor added that he views capital punishment as an “antiquated, racially biased, error-prone system that deters nothing and costs us millions of public dollars and our integrity as a community that cherishes justice.”

Rosen pointed to the California law that took effect at the beginning of 2019 and allows district attorneys to resentence a person if they determine the sentence no longer serves justice.

“Judges and juries of the people should decide where an inmate dies. God should decide when,” Rosen said, while acknowledging the “horrible” crimes committed by the inmates.

In an April 4 statement, Cantú, whose diocese includes Santa Clara County, praised Rosen’s “prophetic and principled decision.”

“Catholic social teaching urges us to recognize the dignity of every human being, especially the most vulnerable,” Cantú said. 

“In alignment with these teachings, the Church advocates for a consistent ethic of life, encompassing the unborn, the poor, the migrant, the sick, and those in the criminal justice system.”

“DA Rosen’s decision aligns with these values, challenging us to seek alternatives to the death penalty that respect human life and dignity, promote rehabilitation, and foster a safer and more compassionate society,” the bishop said. “It is a call to move away from punitive justice towards restorative justice that heals and rebuilds lives.”

California technically has more prisoners on death row than any other state, but the state’s death penalty has been under moratorium since 2019 and has not been applied since 2006. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, reflecting an update promulgated by Pope Francis in 2018, describes the death penalty as “inadmissible” and an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” (No. 2267). 

The change reflects a development of Catholic doctrine in recent years. St. John Paul II, calling the death penalty “cruel and unnecessary,” encouraged Christians to be “unconditionally pro-life” and said that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.

The Vatican’s top doctrinal office’s new declaration on the theme of human dignity, released Monday, reiterated that the death penalty “violates the inalienable dignity of every person, regardless of the circumstances.”

Puberty blockers may cause irreversible harm to young boys, Mayo Clinic study finds

A Mayo Clinic study published in late March 2024 found that boys who take puberty blockers may suffer “irreversible” harm. / Credit: Nephron|Wikimedia|CC BY-SA 3.0

CNA Staff, Apr 11, 2024 / 13:35 pm (CNA).

When parents seek medical help for their gender-confused children, they are assured that puberty blockers are “reversible” treatment that pauses puberty, offering the “chance to explore gender identity.” 

But a Mayo Clinic study published in late March found that boys who take puberty blockers may suffer “irreversible” harm.

The study, published on a website hosted by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Minnesota, found that adolescent boys who take puberty blockers may experience fertility problems and atrophied testes.

Eleven Mayo Clinic scientists based in Rochester, Minnesota, studied the effect of puberty blockers on testicular cells. The researchers discovered “unprecedented” evidence “revealing detrimental pediatric testicular sex gland responses to [puberty blockers].” 

While the Mayo Clinic website currently claims that puberty blockers simply “pause” puberty and “don’t cause permanent physical changes,” this recent study is just one of many that have sounded the alarm about the various harms of puberty blockers. In 2022, one study gained national attention after it found that putting children on puberty blockers causes irreversible harm to bone density

The March study suggested that “abnormalities” from the data “raise a potential concern regarding the complete ‘reversibility’ and reproductive fitness of [spermatogonial stem cells]” for youth taking puberty blockers. 

Researchers found that puberty blockers hurt the development of sperm production and could affect fertility when children grow up. They reported “mild-to-severe sex gland atrophy in puberty blocker-treated children.”

The study, which has not been peer-reviewed yet, looked at testicular samples for 87 patients under the age of 18. The study included 87 children total, with 16 boys who identified as girls and nine of whom took puberty blockers. 

Two of the nine who were taking puberty blockers had abnormal features on their testicles that were observable from a physical examination. 

The Mayo Clinic researchers noted that they began the study in a context where “the consequences” of puberty blockers for “juvenile testicular development and reproductive fitness” are “poorly understood.” 

“To the best of our knowledge, no rigorous study has been reported on extended puberty blockade in pediatric populations and its long-term consequences on reproductive fitness,” the authors noted. 

Yet puberty blockers, originally developed to suppress hormones of minors who began puberty too early, are prescribed to children experiencing gender dysphoria. 

Meanwhile, European countries such as Finland, Holland, Norway, Sweden, and the U.K. have restrictions or bans on puberty blockers for children. England ended puberty blockers for kids just last month. 

“Puberty blockers … are not available to children and young people for gender incongruence or gender dysphoria because there is not enough evidence of safety and clinical effectiveness,” the NHS England website’s section on “treatment” for gender dysphoria read after the update. 

Catholics who participate in Eucharistic Pilgrimage, Congress can receive plenary indulgences

A Massgoer prays at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City before a Eucharistic procession through the streets Oct. 10, 2023. / Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

CNA Staff, Apr 10, 2024 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), announced April 9 the opportunity for Catholics who participate in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage and the National Eucharistic Congress to receive plenary indulgences.

Broglio requested that the Apostolic Penitentiary, the office in charge of granting plenary indulgences within the Roman Curia, grant a plenary indulgence to all those who take part in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage. 

It was also requested that he or another prelate be designated to impart the apostolic blessing with a plenary indulgence to the faithful present at the National Eucharistic Congress, which takes place July 17–21 in Indianapolis.

“It is with gratitude to the Holy Father that we receive his apostolic blessing upon the participants in the National Eucharistic Congress and for the opportunity for Catholics in our country to obtain a plenary indulgence by participating in the events of the Eucharistic Revival,” Broglio said in a statement released by the USCCB. 

He added: “Through the efforts of the revival over the last two years, we have been building up to the pilgrimage and congress that will offer Catholics a chance to experience a profound, personal revival of faith in the Eucharist. Pope Francis continues to encourage and support us as we seek to share Christ’s love with a world that is desperately in need of him.”

A decree issued by the Apostolic Penitentiary and approved by the Holy Father states that the plenary indulgence will be granted to the Christian faithful who participate in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage at any point between May 17 and July 16.

The indulgence will also be granted to the elderly, the infirm, and all those who cannot leave their homes for a grave reason but who participate “in spirit,” uniting their prayers with the pilgrimage.

A second decree issued by the Apostolic Penitentiary and approved by Pope Francis grants Broglio, or any other prelate of episcopal rank assigned by him, the ability to impart a papal blessing with a plenary indulgence to those who participate in the National Eucharistic Congress following the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

The faithful who, “due to reasonable circumstances and with pious intention,” have received the papal blessing through media communications can also obtain a plenary indulgence.

Both indulgences are granted under the usual conditions of confession, receiving the Eucharist, and praying for the intentions of the Holy Father.

The National Eucharistic Congress is a monumental moment for the U.S. bishops’ three-year initiative, the Eucharistic Revival, which began on the feast of Corpus Christi in 2022 and continues through 2025.

New Idaho law aims to protect against forced use of incorrect pronouns, names

null / Photo credit: Kryvosheia Yurii/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Apr 10, 2024 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Republican Gov. Brad Little of Idaho on Monday signed a law designed to protect government employees and students at public schools from being forced to use names and pronouns that violate their sincerely held beliefs. 

HB538, which the Idaho Legislature passed last week, is set to take effect July 1. The new law provides for “a prohibition on any governmental entity in the state of Idaho from compelling any public employee or public school student to communicate preferred personal titles and pronouns that do not correspond with the biological sex of the individual seeking to be referred to by such titles or pronouns.”

“Such prohibition is essential to ensure that the constitutional right to free speech of every person in the state of Idaho is respected,” the bill reads.

Government, public school, and higher education employees “shall not be subject to adverse employment action” for declining to use a person’s preferred pronouns or addressing a person with anything other than his or her legal name. The act also covers students, saying they “shall not be subject to adverse disciplinary action” for declining to use a person’s preferred pronouns or addressing a person by a name other than his or her legal one. 

In terms of enforcement, the act provides for a “private cause of action for injunctive relief, monetary damages, reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, and any other appropriate relief.”

Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group, praised the governor’s actions, saying: “All of society benefits when freedom of speech and conscience flourish.”

“No one should lose their job or face punishment at school for declining to say something they believe is false,” ADF senior counsel Matt Sharp said in a statement.  

“Words and language carry meaning, and when used properly, they tell the truth about reality, feelings, and beliefs. Yet forcing individuals to say things that are untrue — such as inaccurate names, pronouns, and titles — imposes real harm on the speaker. In no world is it acceptable for schools to force good teachers out of a job all for the sake of promoting gender ideology to vulnerable children. Now and always, there are only two sexes — male and female — and denying this basic truth only hurts kids.”

The Idaho bill comes in response to a number of cases throughout the country in recent years of teachers and students facing disciplinary action for expressing Christian beliefs about gender. 

In August 2021, Virginia’s Supreme Court sided with a teacher after he challenged a school district policy requiring teachers to refer to students by their preferred gender pronouns.

And in 2022, Ohio’s Shawnee State University and Nicholas Meriwether agreed to a $400,000 settlement after the professor faced disciplinary action for declining to use the preferred pronouns of a self-identified transgender student. The university denied claims it had violated the professor’s free speech and religious freedom, though the professor’s attorneys claimed victory.

Later that year, a Kansas middle school teacher was awarded a $95,000 settlement with her school district, which had suspended her in an effort to force her to comply with its gender policies, which included a mandate to lie to parents about their children’s gender transitions.

Trump says he will not sign a national abortion ban if reelected

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he arrives at the Atlanta airport on April 10, 2024, in Atlanta. / Credit: Megan Varner/Getty Images

CNA Staff, Apr 10, 2024 / 14:20 pm (CNA).

Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he would not sign a national abortion ban if reelected to the office of the presidency in November. 

The Republican presidential candidate was at an event in Atlanta on Wednesday when a reporter asked him: “Would you sign a national abortion ban if Congress sent it to your desk?” 

“No,” Trump said in response. 

Asked by the reporter: “You wouldn’t sign it?” Trump responded again: “No.”

Trump had minutes earlier indicated that he disagreed with this week’s historic ruling at the Arizona Supreme Court. That court on Monday ruled that state law does not guarantee a right to an abortion and that an 1864 law prohibiting all abortions can take effect later this month.

Asked in Atlanta on Wednesday if that ruling “went too far,” Trump responded: “Yeah they did, and that will be straightened out.”

“I’m sure that the governor and everybody else are going to bring it back into reason and that’ll be taken care of, I think very quickly,” the former president said. 

Trump has been steadily positioning himself as more of a centrist on abortion in recent months. 

On Monday he said in a social media video that “at the end of the day” abortion law in the U.S. is “all about the will of the people” and that “now it’s up to the states to do the right thing.” 

Last September, meanwhile, he called Florida’s six-week abortion ban “a terrible thing” and “a terrible mistake.”

President Joe Biden, on the other hand, last month promised to support a law that would legalize abortion nationwide in response to the repeal of Roe v. Wade two years ago.