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Missouri Christian church wins settlement over coronavirus restrictions on worship

null / Photo Spirit/Shutterstock

Kansas City, Mo., Oct 20, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

A Kansas City-area Baptist megachurch has reached a $150,000 settlement with the county over coronavirus restrictions, with the church claiming that the county treated them more harshly than secular institutions when it came to COVID protocols. 

Abundant Life Baptist Church, which has locations in Lee’s Summit and Blue Springs, Missouri, filed a lawsuit against Jackson County over a year ago, arguing, as places of worship in other states have, that the county’s coronavirus restrictions treated places of worship more harshly than secular institutions such as retail stores. 

Under the terms of the settlement, Jackson County vowed that in exchange for the church dropping the lawsuit, it would ensure that future enforcement measures would not impose stricter requirements on religious organizations than their secular counterparts, the Christian Post reported. 

Jackson is one of Missouri’s largest counties by population, and Abundant Life claims that some 4,500 people generally attend their services. 

When the church filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri during May 2020, the county’s coronavirus restrictions limited church services to no more than 10 people, while stores, restaurants and bars did not have numerical limitations, but rather percentage-based limits, generally 10-25% of capacity.

The church argued that the rules went against both the First Amendment and the Missouri Constitution. 

“If Abundant Life were to engage in retail sales, or served food and liquor as a bar, rather than religious worship at its Lee’s Summit location, Jackson County’s Phase I plan would allow 474 people in the building at a time while meeting or exceeding the CDC’s guidelines,” the lawsuit claims. 

Dan Tarwater, one of the six county legislators who approved the settlement with the church, told the Kansas City Star that they believed they were “going to lose” the case unless they approved the settlement. Equal halves of the settlement will be paid by the county and by University Health, formerly known as Truman Medical Centers, which operates the county health department. 

The Supreme Court had ruled in late November 2020 that New York state restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic constituted a violation of the First Amendment's protection of free religious exercise. After the ruling the Bishop of Brooklyn, whose diocese was a plaintiff in the suit, said that religious worship should be considered an essential during the coronavirus pandemic.

The state's restrictions at the time forbade the attendance of more than 10 people at religious services in state designated "red zones”, and 25 people in "orange zones."

"Not only is there no evidence that the applicants have contributed to the spread of COVID–19 but there are many other less restrictive rules that could be adopted to minimize the risk to those attending religious services. Among other things, the maximum attendance at a religious service could be tied to the size of the church or synagogue," the court wrote.

"...even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty," the decision concluded.

During February 2021 an unsigned order from the U.S. Supreme Court said that the total ban on indoor worship, which was in effect for most of California at the time, is unconstitutional. At most, the state may limit indoor capacity to 25% of normal, the court said, citing its November ruling in the Brooklyn case. 

The Washington D.C. archdiocese appealed to a district judge in late 2020 over rules that limited houses of worship to 25% capacity, up to a maximum of 250 people inside, regardless of their official capacity. This included the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest church in North America, which has a total capacity of around 6,000 people for its upper church.

A subsequent March 2021 court order allowed houses of worship in D.C. to admit as many people inside as they can, in line with other public health regulations such as social-distancing. 

In April 2021, the Supreme Court ruled that California’s coronavirus restrictions on home-based religious gatherings like Bible studies, worship and prayer meetings were more strict than the constitution allows. Citing an appeals court decision in a different case, the unsigned majority’s court order said the state cannot “assume the worst when people go to worship but assume the best when people go to work.”

The court majority found that comparable secular activities treated “more favorably than at-home religious exercise” under California rules included private suites at sporting events and concerts as well as indoor restaurant dining, where more than three households were allowed to gather.

Two priests in Lincoln diocese reassigned with restrictions, following review of alleged misconduct

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska in St. Peter's Square, a day before the canonization Mass of St. John Henry Newman, Oct. 12, 2019. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Washington D.C., Oct 20, 2021 / 16:09 pm (CNA).

Two priests in the Diocese of Lincoln are being reassigned to ministry with restrictions, following diocesan review of accusations of sexual misconduct. Neither priest was charged with a crime.

Fr. Scott Courtney, suspended from active ministry in September 2018 over accusations of having sexual relations with an adult woman, has now been assigned to minister to prisons, nursing homes, and retirement homes, as well as providing administrative assistance to the chancery, starting in January 2022. 

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln said in an Oct. 8 statement that the reassignment was made after a hearing from the ministerial conduct board. Courtney had undergone “a professional evaluation and a period of personal renewal,” he said. 

Another priest, Fr. Thomas Dunavan, is being tasked with providing administrative assistance to the chancery and helping retired priests, as of Nov. 8, 2021. In March 2019, shortly after he was ordained a priest, Dunavan faced an accusation of sexual misconduct that dated back 20 years. He was placed on administrative leave following the allegations.

“After commissioning an independent investigation, consultation with the Holy See, and hearing from the ministerial conduct board, restrictions have been imposed on Father Dunavan’s public ministry,” Bishop Conley said in a separate statement on Oct. 8. 

According to the state’s criminal justice website, neither priest was charged with a crime, the Lincoln Journal-Star reported.

A third priest in the diocese has recently retired after pleading no contest to serving alcohol to a 19-year-old male. 

Fr. Charles Townsend resigned his pastorate at St. Peter church in Lincoln in August 2018, and in May 2019 was found guilty of providing alcohol to a minor; he pleaded no contest to the charge. The Journal-Star reported that the 19-year-old was an altar server. The diocese says it investigated the matter and forwarded its findings to the Holy See.

Townsend was sentenced to 30 days in jail and 18 months probation. The Lincoln diocese said that while his relationship with the then-19-year-old was inappropriate, it was not sexual in nature. 

In July, the diocese announced that it imposed restrictions on his public ministry and that he was a retired priest. 

“The Congregation for the Clergy, after its independent examination of the matter, determined that no perpetual penalty could be imposed on Fr. Townsend,” Conley stated on July 23.

After Catholic football coach was fired for refusing COVID-19 vaccine, lawyer alleges anti-religious animus

Former Washington State University head football coach Nick Rolovich / Washington State University

Washington D.C., Oct 20, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

The former Washington State University football coach, a Catholic, intends to sue the school after he was refused a religious exemption to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate and was subsequently fired for not getting vaccinated.

Nick Rolovich had previously announced in July that he would not be receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, but would follow state guidance. As head football coach at a state university, Rolovich was subject to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. 

He requested a religious exemption from the vaccine requirement, but the university denied this request and he was subsequently fired on Oct. 18, along with four assistant coaches who were unvaccinated.

His lawyer, Brain Fahling, said on Wednesday that Rolovich will be taking legal action against the university, and called it "a tragic and damning commentary on our culture" that Rolovich "has been derided, demonized, and ultimately fired from his job, merely for being devout in his Catholic faith.”

Fahling called the firing “unjust and unlawful,” in his statement published by KXLY.

“It came after Coach Rolovich’s request for a religious exemption from the vaccine was denied by the University. The institution also indicated that even if the exemption had been granted, no accommodation would have been made. As a result, Coach Rolovich will be taking legal action against Washington State University, and all parties responsible for his illegal termination,” he said. 

Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced the vaccine mandate on Aug. 18, requiring employees in K-12 schools, most early childhood learning centers, and institutions of higher education to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Although the mandate allowed for religious exemptions, Rolovich applied for an exemption but did not receive one by the deadline of Monday, Oct. 18.

Per Washington state’s Office of Financial Management, 1,887 state employees had either left their jobs or been fired as of Oct. 18 due to the mandate. This figure is nearly identical to the number of accommodations - 1,927 - granted by the state. 

A total of 89.4% of the state’s roughly 63,000 employees have been vaccinated, and an additional 4.6% are “pending action, which includes being in the process of being vaccinated, pending retirement, pending accommodation or separation.”

Fahling said that the university’s athletic director Pat Chun had Rolovich escorted off campus following his termination, and forbade Rolovich from going into his office or speaking to the football team. 

Fahling accused Chun of having “animus towards Coach Rolovich’s sincerely held religious beliefs,” and said that the extent of his “dishonesty” would be revealed in the coming lawsuit. Fahling did not state when the suit would be filed. 

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith both have acknowledged ethical concerns with the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use, due to their use of cell lines derived from an elective abortion. However, the Vatican congregation called the vaccines’ connection to the evil of abortion “remote,” and said their use is “morally licit” due to the “grave danger” of the pandemic.

The vaccines, however, are not “a moral obligation,” the congregation stated, and those refusing the vaccines out of “conscience” must take alternative actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, whose diocesan territory includes Washington State University, has said that Catholics may receive the COVID-19 vaccines available for use despite their “remote” connections to abortion. 

In a Jan. 29, 2021 letter to the diocese concerning vaccines, Daly wrote, “We may accept these vaccines for the morally proportionate reasons in this circumstance, such as the preservation of health, lives, and livelihoods.” 

Daly said that while “individuals are morally free to decline the vaccine,” they “should remain attentive and responsive to ways that they can contribute to the common good in this time of pandemic.” 

Daly has also acknowledged the conscience rights of Catholics to refuse COVID-19 vaccines, but has dissuaded priests from signing documents affirming their conscience exemptions. 

Synod on Synodality a learning opportunity for Catholic Church, Archbishop Gomez says

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles at the USCCB's fall meeting in Baltimore, Md., Nov. 11, 2019. / Christine Rousselle/CNA

Denver Newsroom, Oct 20, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The upcoming gatherings of Catholics for a synodal process are important opportunities for outreach, support, and communication, according to Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

“The Holy Father has called for the local churches to hold inclusive consultations with the People of God as part of the synod,” Gomez said Oct. 20. “We face a challenge after over a year of being physically distanced within our communities because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This synod is an opportunity to meet the immense and important request of the Holy Father to engage in dialogue to better understand our call to holiness and feel the responsibility to participate in the life of the Church.”

A synod is a meeting of bishops that aims to discuss a topic of theological or pastoral significance, in order to prepare a document of advice or counsel to the pope.

“Outreach, communication, support, and encouragement are vital in order to be missionary disciples,” Gomez continued. “As is with the nature of the synod, I hope we will learn as we ‘journey together,’ and I pray that the process will enrich and guide the future path of both the local Church as well as the universal Church over the course of the next two years, and beyond.”

The Synod on Synodality, opened by Pope Francis earlier this month, is a two-year, worldwide undertaking during which Catholics will be encouraged to submit feedback to their dioceses.

Synodality is generally understood to represent a process of discernment, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, involving clerics, religious, and lay Catholics, each according to the gifts and charisms of their vocation.

Father Michael Fuller, interim general secretary for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is leading efforts to share synod-related information with U.S. bishops, the bishops’ conference said.

The U.S. bishops’ conference’s diocesan liaison is Richard Coll, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development.

“I welcome the opportunity to be a resource to the diocesan representatives as they engage with their local faithful in this most important phase of the synod,” Coll said.

The bishops’ conference is providing tools and tips for local diocesan synod efforts, as well as sharing the preparatory documents prepared in Rome by the Synod of Bishops.

The U.S. bishops’ conference website will provide highlights from the local-level synod and aim to incorporate synodal experiences into its resources.

The opening phase of the global synod process is a diocesan phase expected to last until April 2022. The Vatican has asked all dioceses to participate, hold consultations, and collect feedback on specific questions laid out in synod documents.

In Sept. 18 remarks, Pope Francis said the synod is “not about gathering opinions, no … it is about listening to the Holy Spirit.” At an Oct. 10 Mass, the pope stressed the importance of using the synod to encounter God and one another. He said he hoped the acts of encountering, listening, and discerning would characterize the synodal path.

One objective of the synod on synodality, according to the preparatory document, is to examine “how responsibility and power are lived in the Church as well as the structures by which they are managed, bringing to light and trying to convert prejudices and distorted practices that are not rooted in the Gospel.”

The Vatican documents ask a “fundamental question” for dioceses and bishops to consider: “A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, ‘journeys together.’ How is this ‘journeying together’ happening today in your local Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together’?”

A second, continental-level phase of the synod will take place from September 2022 to March 2023. The third, universal phase will begin with the Sixteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, dedicated to the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” at the Vatican in October 2023.

Pro-life groups must 'wake up' in support of pro-life Democrats, former congressman says

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) testifies before a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 20, 2007 / Alex Wong/Getty Images

Washington D.C., Oct 20, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

Pro-life Americans must do more to support embattled pro-life Democrats, said a Catholic former Democratic congressman.

Dan Lipinski is a Catholic eight-term congressman from Illinois who was ousted in a 2020 primary challenge by pro-abortion Marie Newman. He told CNA this week that support from pro-life groups in his primary fight was no match for an avalanche of pro-abortion spending against him.

“I was happy to see some support from pro-life groups, but the amount of money that came in from the other side certainly dwarfed anything that came in, support-wise, from pro-life groups,” Lipinski told CNA in an interview.

Pro-abortion political groups such as the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), Planned Parenthood Votes, and WOMEN VOTE! all predictably teamed up against Lipinski in the primary race, highlighting his pro-life voting record.

These groups “have a lot of power within the Democratic Party,” he noted. “I was one vote out of 435 in the U.S. House, and the pro-choice groups found that I was so important to spend easily over $5 million against me to get rid of me,” he said, “because they didn't want even one pro-life voice in the party, and they saw a danger in that.” 

“I think that the pro-life groups need to wake up and do more to support pro-life Democrats," he said.

Lipinski was recognized as one of the last consistently pro-life Democrats in the House before he was defeated in 2020. He told CNA that pro-life Democrats still exist in state legislatures, and that he knows pro-life candidates who are running for the U.S. Congress as Democrats. Lipinski himself is reportedly considering a rematch with Rep. Marie Newman (D-Ill.), according to a Crain’s Chicago Business report from last week.

CNA spoke with Lipinski about the current political situation, including how Catholics ought to approach politics, the possibility of a post-Roe America, and threat of increased taxpayer funding of abortion.

Not only pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood opposed Lipinski on the life issue in 2020, but also groups focused on other issues such as education, labor, and the environment.

Just weeks before the primary election in 2020, SEIU and the Illinois Federation of Teachers joined Planned Parenthood Votes, NARAL, and other groups to invest $1.4 million in direct mail and digital media campaigns highlighting Lipinski’s opposition to abortion.

Lipinski had a 91% lifetime rating with the pro-environment League of Conservation Voters, yet he said the group supported Newman because of his own pro-life record.

“And because I'm pro-life, they not only endorsed my opponent, but they spent some money sending mailers out to Democratic voters in the district for her,” he said.

“These groups are becoming very intertwined,” he said of various issue groups uniting in support of pro-abortion candidates. “Look, these groups aren't really honest sometimes in what they really do care about."

Although Lipinski’s race with Newman focused on the abortion issue, Newman also attacked him for not supporting policies championed by progressive activists, such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. Lipinski had previously opposed the Equality Act, a pro-LGBT bill opposed by the U.S. bishops’ conference, before he voted for a version of it in 2019. Newman, who has a child identifying as transgender, had attacked Lipinski for his previous opposition to the legislation.

In an April 2021 interview with EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, Lipinski called on Catholic public officials – including President Joe Biden – to “be different. We shouldn’t just be Democrats, Republicans, and follow the party line.”

This applies to Catholic and pro-life voters, too, he told CNA. He warned of the trap of “sectarian partisanship,” where voters choose a political party and take all the policy positions supported by that party – whether or not they have fully considered them.

“And this is really dangerous for Catholics, because Catholics don't fit neatly into either [political] side,” he said.

"It's a problem for the Catholic Church right now, this divide," he said, noting that political divisions among Catholics intensified after the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

“We can't demonize others, we cannot view others as evil. That goes against everything that Jesus taught us,” he said.

Many pro-life groups support Republicans, arguing that they are “the pro-life party,” he noted.

“I understand that, that general feeling, but I think it's important to be able to look out for the pro-life Democratic candidates and support them, and understand the importance of having pro-life voices in the Democratic Party.”

A current priority of pro-abortion groups is the repeal of the Hyde amendment and similar policies, which prohibit federal funding of abortion in a number of programs including Medicaid. Appropriations bills that passed the House this summer excluded the Hyde amendment, and a bill introduced Monday in a Senate committee also excluded the policy.

“The Hyde amendment is an acknowledgement that even people who consider themselves to be pro-choice, many of them have a problem with abortion,” Lipinski said of bans on taxpayer-funded abortion.

Pro-abortion groups “just want to get rid of that idea," he said, pointing to the development of the Democratic Party platforms as an example. While the 1996, 2000, and 2004 platforms called for abortion to be “rare” or “more rare,” the platforms subsequently dropped that language. The 2016 and 2020 platforms called for taxpayer-funded abortion.

The Supreme Court this fall will hear arguments in a major abortion case that legal experts say could result in the repeal of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

Pro-life advocates must prepare for a society where Roe is overturned, Lipinski emphasized, as “there's going to be a lot more work for people who are pro-life for them to do, and we need to be preparing for that right now.”

Cardinal Dolan outlines 7 ‘non-negotiables’ for the Synod on Synodality

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

New York City, N.Y., Oct 19, 2021 / 17:09 pm (CNA).

In an effort to explain Pope Francis’ vision for the Synod on Synodality for his flock, Cardinal Timothy Dolan's homily Sunday offered seven “non-negotiables” that Jesus intended for the Church.

The Synod on Synodality, initiated by Pope Francis earlier this month, is a two-year, worldwide undertaking during which Catholics will be encouraged to submit feedback to their local dioceses.

A synod is a meeting of bishops gathered to discuss a topic of theological or pastoral significance, in order to prepare a document of advice or counsel to the pope.

“[Pope Francis] wants us to join him in praying, listening, discerning, examining ourselves personally, and the Church communally, to see if we’re truly on the path Jesus has set for His beloved bride, His mystical body, the Church,” Dolan said.

“He has reminded us of certain clear essentials intended by Jesus, constant, although, at times, we admit, clouded and dimmed, in the Church’s amazing 2,000-year drama. Here are some of those non-negotiables.” Dolan went on to outline the following points:

  1. Dolan said that “the energy and direction driving the Church comes from the Holy Spirit, not ourselves.”

  2. "While in the world, we are not of the world, and thus our guiding principles come from the Gospel, revelation, and the patrimony of the Church’s settled teaching," he said.

  3. Dolan said “that the principles of the innate dignity of every human person and the inherent sacredness of all human life are the towering moral lighthouses on our path.”

  4. Dolan said that "our journey through this life back to our true and eternal home of heaven is most effectively accomplished precisely as a journey as we walk with and accompany each other, with Jesus as our guide, His Mother and the saints, and we sinners at each other’s side.”

  5. "On this journey we pay special attention to those at the side of the road, especially those who are sick, weak, poor, or unable to keep up with us,” he said.

  6. "Our wealth only comes from faith, trust, prayer, the sacraments, and His grace," he said.

  7. Finally, Dolan said that "mercy, love, invitation, humility, joy, selfless generous service, and good example are our only tools, never harshness, condemnation, or pride.”

Dolan said he sees these seven “non-negotiables” as “synodality in a nutshell.”

He said that throughout its history, the Church has “expanded and developed its style of organization and authority.”

After comparing and contrasting the different sufferings and triumphs the Church has experienced throughout its history, Dolan said that “now the successor of Saint Peter as bishop of Rome and pastor of the Church Universal, Pope Francis, has asked us all to commence an examination of conscience on how we as a Church are living up to the model of the Church given us by Jesus.”

“We are loyal Catholics,” Dolan added. “The Holy Father has asked us to help him keep the Church always under the direction Jesus, our good shepherd, intends.”

The concept of "synodality" has been a topic of frequent discussion by Pope Francis, particularly during the previous ordinary Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith, and vocational discernment in October 2018.

Synodality, as defined by the International Theological Commission in 2018, is "the action of the Spirit in the communion of the Body of Christ and in the missionary journey of the People of God."

The term is generally understood to represent a process of discernment, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, involving bishops, priests, religious, and lay Catholics, each according to the gifts and charisms of their vocation.

Pope Francis told the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's theological commission in November 2019 that synodality will be key for the Church in the future.

The Vatican announced in May that the Synod on Synodality would open with a diocesan phase lasting from October 2021 to April 2022.

A second, continental phase will take place from September 2022 to March 2023. The third, universal phase will begin with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, dedicated to the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” at the Vatican in October 2023.

Dolan shared his homily on Monday after noting that "many have asked about the “'synod process’ initiated by Pope Francis.”

The Cardinal acknowledged in his homily that he himself has questions. “I don’t know if I completely understand [Synodality]," Dolan said, adding that "the Holy Father is honest in admitting that neither does he have the full comprehension, which is precisely why he has summoned us to this endeavor.”

Christian aid group requests prayers for kidnapped missionaries in Haiti

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de l’Assomption in Cap-Haitien, Haiti / Rotorhead 30A Productions/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Oct 19, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

The gang responsible for the kidnapping of 17 missionaries in Haiti is demanding a $17 million ransom for their safe release, as the organization behind their trip is requesting prayers for their safety.

“Many people, including CAM management and Haitian and U.S. authorities, are working diligently to bring our loved ones home safely,” said an update posted on the Christian Aid Ministries website on Tuesday, Oct, 19. Christian Aid Ministries is the Ohio-based organization that organized the trip. 

“Today, we again commit our workers to God’s care,” said the statement, which added that the adults who were kidnapped are between the ages of 18 to 48, and that the kidnapped children range in age from eight months to 15 years. 

“Pray that our workers could respond to hatred with Jesus’ love, overcome the spirit of fear with faith, and face violence with a genuine desire to bless their oppressors,” they said. 

The kidnapped missionaries include six women, six men, and five children. All but one are U.S. citizens; the other is a citizen of Canada. 

Per CNN and the Associated Press, the kidnappers, who are part of the gang 400 Mawozo, have been in contact with Christian Aid Ministries. They first made their ransom demand on Saturday, the same day as the kidnapping. 

Haiti’s Justice Minister Liszt Quitel told news outlets that the Haitian police, as well as the FBI, are providing assistance with the negotiations and with the group of missionaries. The FBI has not spoken to the kidnappers directly, however, but they are on the ground in Haiti. 

The missionaries were based in the town of Titanyen, and were returning from building an orphanage in Fond Parisien at the time of their kidnapping. 

In addition to requesting prayers for the kidnapped, Christian Aid Ministries is asking for people to pray for the civil authorities who are working on rescuing the group. 

“This group of workers has been committed to minister throughout poverty-stricken Haiti. Their heart-felt desire is to share the love of Jesus,” they said. “Before the kidnapping, their work throughout Haiti included supporting thousands of needy school children, distributing Bibles and Christian literature, supplying medicines for numerous clinics, teaching Haitian pastors, and providing food for the elderly and vulnerable.”

“In recent months, they were actively involved in coordinating a rebuilding project for those who lost their homes in the August 2021 earthquake,” said Tuesday’s statement. “When kidnapped, the group was returning from a visit to an orphanage that receives support from Christian Aid Ministries.”

The 400 Mawozo gang responsible for the most recent kidnapping is the same criminal gang behind the kidnapping of Catholic priests and religious in April. All of those kidnapped in April were released within several weeks; ransom was paid for just two of the kidnapped priests, according to Quitel. 

The website of Christian Aid Ministries states that it serves as a “channel for Amish, Mennonite, and other conservative Anabaptist groups and individuals” to provide aid to those in need around the world. 

It supports aid and anti-poverty efforts in countries such as Haiti and Kazakhstan, but also promotes billboard evangelism in the United States and advertises assistance for any conscientious objectors in the event of a U.S military draft.

Catholic congressman charged with lying to federal investigators; denies accusations

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) / Office of Rep. Jeff Fortenberry

Washington D.C., Oct 19, 2021 / 15:20 pm (CNA).

Catholic congressman Jeff Fortenberry on Tuesday was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of making false statements to federal investigators. 

The Twitter account for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California announced Oct. 19 the indictment charges. Fortenberry is charged with one count of “scheming to falsify and conceal material facts,” and two counts of “making false statements to federal investigators looking into illegal contributions to his 2016 campaign,” the account stated.

In an unlisted video on a YouTube page in his name, Fortenberry explained on Monday that he was visited at his home by FBI agents “about two and a half years ago” regarding contributions illegally made to his campaign by a foreign national. The contributions had been made “about five and a half years ago,” he said.

“They were FBI agents from California. I let them in my house, I answered their questions. Later, we went back and answered further questions,” Fortenberry recounted of his meetings. “I told them what I knew and what I understood.”

“They’ve accused me of lying to them, and are charging me with this,” he added.

He denied having lied to the FBI agents. “I did not lie to them, I told them what I knew,” he said. “We’re shocked. We’re stunned. I feel so personally betrayed. We thought we were trying to help. And so now we’ll have to fight.”

Under federal law, making false statements to federal investigators carries with it a sentence of up to five years in prison.

Fortenberry’s campaign office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNA on Tuesday afternoon.

Fortenberry is currently serving his ninth term in the U.S. House. A Catholic and a Republican, he has been outspoken on pro-life issues and on persecution of Middle Eastern Christians.

Earlier in October, Axios reported that a fundraising webpage had been created for Fortenberry’s legal defense fund. A spokesperson for Fortenberry’s office told Axios that the matter had to do with illegal contributions to his campaign orchestrated by a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire, Gilbert Chagoury.

Over the course of three election cycles, Chagoury made a number of illegal contributions to four federal campaigns, according to the website OpenSecrets.

As a foreign national, he is prohibited from contributing to U.S. elections, but he used U.S. citizens as conduits for his money to reach campaigns and political groups, including Fortenberry’s campaign, as well as those of congressional candidates Lee Terry and Darrell Issa, and the Romney 2012 presidential campaign.

Chagoury paid $1.8 million to resolve allegations that he “provided approximately $180,000 to individuals in the United States” to contribute to four campaigns, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Central District of California reported in March 2021.

According to the attorney’s office, Chagoury was assisted by Toufic Joseph Baaklini in making the illegal contributions. 

In a signed deferred prosecution agreement, Baaklini in March 2021 “admitted to giving $30,000 in cash provided by Chagoury to an individual at a restaurant in Los Angeles who, along with others, later made campaign contributions to the 2016 campaign of a U.S. congressman,” the attorney’s office stated. The Omaha World-Herald reported that Baaklini acted as a conduit for $30,000 in Chagoury’s donations to Fortenberry’s campaign in 2016.

According to Justice Department documents, Baaklini provided the $30,000 in Chagoury’s cash to an individual at a Los Angeles restaurant in January 2016; the individual hosted a fundraiser for “Federal Candidate D,” and at the event, recruited other individuals to make contributions to the candidate’s campaign in February 2016, totaling $30,200.

Baaklini talked to the candidate in February 2016, according to the Justice Department documents, where the candidate asked if “anything was wrong” with the fundraiser. After Baaklini replied “no,” the candidate said that “it all came from the same family.”

Chagoury was a major donor to the Clinton Foundation and helped finance the inaugural summit of In Defense of Christians in September 2014, according to the Washington Free Beacon. He was denied entry into the United States in 2016 by the State Department, reportedly for his ties to Hezbollah, which is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States.

“To be accused of this is extremely painful, and we are suffering greatly. We will fight these charges,” Fortenberry said, asking for prayers.

“Hopefully this all ends happily, for the sake of justice, for the sake of my own integrity, and for the sake of the American system. This is wrong at so many levels,” he said. 

Planned Parenthood whistleblower turned Hispanic pro-life leader details clinic corruption, intimidation

Hispanic pro-life advocate Mayra Rodriguez speaks to a crowd of over 300,000 during Mexico’s “March for Women and Life,” on Oct. 3 2021. / David Ramos/CNA

Denver Newsroom, Oct 19, 2021 / 00:00 am (CNA).

Mayra Rodríguez worked for Planned Parenthood for 17 years and was in charge of three clinics.

In 2016, the abortion provider recognized her as employee of the year.

Shortly thereafter she would become one of the most outspoken pro-life advocates in the Hispanic community.

During her tenure with Planned Parenthood, Rodríguez said she witnessed falsified abortion records, serious complications from abortions, and experienced intimidation based upon false accusations threatening her immigration status after Rodríguez indicated she would report a doctor at the clinic she directed who botched an abortion on a 19-year-old girl and then falsified the report.

In an exclusive interview with CNA’s sister news agency, ACI Prensa, Rodríguez recalled that the doctor "was referring to the head of a 14-week-old baby as if it was garbage, as if it were gauze or any instrument he was using."

The doctor had left the baby's head inside the womb after performing the abortion and then placed an intrauterine contraceptive device inside the girl before he discovered his mistake.

In the end, the Planned Parenthood worker "did not want to document it, and falsified the record," causing the now pro-life leader to challenge the doctor’s actions with her supervisor.

“[N]o more, I’m not going with this anymore,” she recalled saying, warning the supervisor that she would report the doctor.

Planned Parenthood responded by instead accusing Rodríguez of having narcotics in her office and pressured authorities to deport her from the United States.

"What followed was that they fired me," she recalled.

After years of legal battles, Mayra Rodríguez prevailed in 2019 in her wrongful termination lawsuit against Planned Parenthood and was awarded $3 million.

With her experience working in the shadow of the largest abortion company in the world, Rodríguez warns that while those who profit from these practices say that “it is easy, it is the best solution, when in reality it brings many [harmful] consequences" to women.

“Actually, abortion does not guarantee absolutely anything. No, it leaves (women) destroyed for life, and with scars on the uterus. And perhaps they do not lose their lives, but they do lose many more things, such as peace, emotional and mental health. Psychologically they are undone," she said.

"That is not something that the pro-life movement invented or that some psychologists invent, it is the reality of women who have aborted and who today are sorry," she said.

Originally, Rodríguez was hired in a clinic that did not perform abortions, a fact she used to justify her line of work. And Planned Parenthood did not care that she was in the United States on a tourist visa rather than a work visa.

Faced with the possibility of refusing to work in a place that directly performed abortions "they told me, 'If you don't accept the abortion clinic, very soon we will close the clinic that you have in north Phoenix and we do not guarantee that there will be work for you.’”

Eventually, however, when she was pushed to a clinic that did perform abortions, she said, she began to see that complications were not reported correctly, if at all.

"I began to see abortionists falsifying the records of what was happening in the room," she added.

"I began to see that it was a business," she said, and that "abortion was what mattered to them and abortion was their priority."

This realization, when combined with the pressures she experienced as a whistleblower, lead her to rethink the abortion industry and what abortion does to women.

“[W]e see all these women who said, 'My life was going to be better, I did want it [the baby] but my life was going to be better.' And at the end of the day they realize that their life is not better, and they regret having done it.”

Rodríguez, a Mexican national, said she is hopeful that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, can be overturned by the upcoming Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case pertaining to Mississippi's ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy because legal abortion “has never been good for Hispanic women."

The former Planned Parenthood Employee of the Year noted, "once you give women a true option, they will choose not to have an abortion."

Senate committee proposes rollback of pro-life policies

Aug. 17 rally in support of the Hyde amendment in Raleigh, North Carolina / Erin Paré/Twitter

Washington D.C., Oct 18, 2021 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

A Senate committee introduced nine budget bills on Monday that would roll back several pro-life policies, allowing for domestic funding of abortions and funding of international pro-abortion groups.

As part of the appropriations process for the 2022 fiscal year, the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday released nine bills allocating funding to various federal agencies and programs. The proposals exclude or permanently repeal several pro-life policies, including the Hyde amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortions in Medicaid.

The amendment, first passed in 1976, has to be attached to appropriations bills each year to become law. Democratic leaders, including President Joe Biden, have targeted the policy for repeal this year, and House in July passed appropriations bills without the policy included.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), seen as a key swing vote in the chamber, stated on Monday that he would not support relevant appropriations bills unless the Hyde amendment was included.

“As I have said numerous times before, I will not vote for legislation that does not include the Hyde Amendment and I fully expect the final spending bill to include that language,” Manchin stated in a press release on Monday.

The policy was excluded from the appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies. The Weldon amendment, which blocks funding of state governments that discriminate against people or groups opposed to abortion, was also not included in the bill.

The two amendments “for too long have interfered with millions of peoples’ ability to exercise their constitutional right to abortion,” stated Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee.

According to appropriations committee vice chairman Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the bills released on Monday targeted other pro-life policies as well; the appropriations bill for the State Department and Foreign Operations permanently repeals the “Mexico City Policy,” which bars funding of international pro-abortion groups.

The Health and Human Services appropriations bill also requires that clinics receiving Title X family planning funding provide abortion drugs, abortion counseling, and abortion referrals. Recently, the Biden administration updated the requirements of the Title X program to allow recipients to provide abortion referrals, but the administration does not require clinics to provide them.

“Democrat senators are marching in lockstep with Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and the radical abortion lobby over the will of the American people and the lives of the vulnerable. Not only do they want to expand abortion on demand here at home, but they also want to make the United States the number one exporter of abortions overseas,” stated Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List.

Pro-abortion groups on Monday applauded the proposed removal of the pro-life policies.

The Twitter account for Planned Parenthood Action called the bills “historic,” stating, “It's VERY exciting (a historic shift!) to see bills that end many abortion coverage bans and prioritize funding for family planning/sexual and reproductive health care programs and programs that address the maternal health crisis.”