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Court says Maryland parents have no right to opt out of LGBTQ curriculum

Parental and religious freedom rights advocates, including a group of Muslim parents, on June 6, 2023, protest a Maryland school system policy that removes parents’ authority to opt their children out of homosexual and transgender coursework. / Credit: The Religious Freedom Institute

CNA Staff, May 16, 2024 / 12:49 pm (CNA).

A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that parents in Maryland have no right to be informed when their children are being instructed with LGBTQ materials or to opt their children out of that instruction. 

The legal advocacy group Becket Law, which is representing the parents challenging the Montgomery County Board of Education, said on Wednesday that the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling.

The firms said the ruling means that parents of children enrolled at Montgomery County Public Schools “have no right to be notified or opt their kids out of” materials that teach transgenderism and other sexual ideologies.

Becket, which specializes in religious freedom cases, said the parents had objected to their children being exposed to books that included materials that “champion pride parades, gender transitioning, and pronoun preferences for children.” 

Other books reportedly asked children to locate words such as “underwear” and “leather,” and to explore topics such as “nonbinary” identities, in which individuals believe themselves to be neither male nor female. 

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland had originally ruled against the parents in August of last year, arguing in part that the parents “are not pressured into violating their religious beliefs in order to obtain the benefits of a public education.”

The appeals court on Wednesday similarly held, in a divided 2-1 ruling, that the plaintiffs “have not shown a cognizable burden” to the free exercise of their religion. 

There is “no evidence at present that the board’s decision not to permit opt-outs compels the parents or their children to change their religious beliefs or conduct, either at school or elsewhere,” the court argued. 

The plaintiffs did not provide evidence that they have “been asked to affirm views contrary to their views on gender or sexuality, to disavow views on these matters that their religion espouses, or otherwise affirmatively act in violation of their religious belief,” the ruling said. 

Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a statement after the ruling that the court “told thousands of Maryland parents they have no say in what their children are taught in public schools.” 

“That runs contrary to the First Amendment, Maryland law, the school board’s own policies, and basic human decency,” Baxter argued. 

“Parents should have the right to receive notice and opt their children out of classroom material that violates their faith,” he said. 

Becket will appeal the ruling, Baxter said.

The controversy has united a broad coalition of primarily Muslim, Catholic, and Ethiopian Orthodox Christian parents against the county board of education’s policy. 

Last August, ahead of the district court’s ruling, dozens of parents from various religious faiths rallied outside the Montgomery County federal courthouse in support of the plaintiffs. 

William Haun, senior counsel at Becket, told CNA at the time that “the point of this lawsuit is to restore the ability to give parents notice and opt out.” The school board originally scrapped the opt-out option in March 2023.

“The school board just took [the opt out] away without any public explanation,” Haun said. “The First Amendment protects against arbitrary power, and it protects the right of parents to direct their children’s religious upbringing.”

Lawmakers renew calls to repeal the FACE Act

PAAU activists hold a rally outside Washington Surgi-Clinic in Washington, D.C., May 4, 2022. / Credit: Katie Yoder/CNA

Washington D.C., May 16, 2024 / 12:19 pm (CNA).

As seven pro-lifers were sentenced to years in prison for their efforts to rescue unborn babies from a Washington, D.C., abortion clinic, several lawmakers renewed their calls to repeal the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. 

Lawmakers are claiming that the FACE Act, which was used to convict and sentence the pro-life activists, is being abused by the Biden Department of Justice to target and punish pro-lifers. 

Here is what’s going on in the pro-life fight this week. 

‘Biden’s two-tiered justice system’ 

After pro-life activist Lauren Handy and several other pro-lifers were sentenced to years in prison this week under the FACE Act, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, called for the measure to be repealed, saying: “It’s time to pull the plug on Biden’s two-tiered justice system.” 

Signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, the FACE Act prohibits obstructing access to or destruction of abortion clinics, pregnancy centers, or church property. The law has been criticized by several lawmakers for being unevenly applied against pro-life activists.

Roy urged House and Senate Republicans to advance a bill he co-sponsored with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, that would repeal the FACE Act. 

“Today’s outrageous 57-month sentence for a progressive pro-life activist is a stark reminder: Biden’s DOJ is fully weaponized against pro-life American citizens, and they are using the FACE Act to do it,” Roy said.

Meanwhile, Lee said that “unequal enforcement of the law is a violation of the law, and men and women who try to expose the horrors of abortion are being unjustly persecuted for their motivations.” 

“The Biden administration is using the FACE Act to give pro-life activists and senior citizens lengthy prison terms for nonviolent offenses and protests — all while turning a blind eye to the violence, arson, and riots conducted on behalf of ‘approved’ leftist causes,” Lee told the Daily Signal. 

Martin Cannon, an attorney with the Thomas More Society, which represented Handy, told CNA that the Biden DOJ’s “overreach” through the FACE Act will likely “galvanize the pro-life world” and motivate lawmakers to repeal the measure.

Handy received an almost-five-year sentence for being the organizer of the Washington demonstration. In addition to Handy, six other pro-lifers — John Hinshaw, 69, William Goodman, 54, Herb Geraghty, 27, Jonathan Darnel, 42, Jean Marshall, 74, and Joan Bell, 76 — also received FACE Act sentences ranging from 10 months to over two years. 

Arizona Supreme Court blocks law protecting life

The Supreme Court of Arizona on Monday issued a 90-day block on enforcement of the state’s law protecting life at conception. 

This comes after Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs signed a bill to repeal the pro-life measure on May 2. Though the repeal bill was signed into law it will not take effect until 90 days after the Arizona legislative session ends. 

Dormant since being invalidated by Roe v. Wade in 1973, the pro-life law was originally passed in 1864. The measure protects all unborn life from conception and imposes prison time for those who “provide, supply, or administer” an abortion. 

On April 8, the Arizona high court ruled that since the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Roe in the 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson decision, there were no legal reasons to keep the law from being enforced.

A new constitutional amendment guaranteeing a right to abortion will likely be on the ballot in Arizona this November.

Telehealth abortions now account for 1 in 5 abortions

A new “We Count Report” by the Society of Family Planning found that telehealth abortions accounted for nearly 1 in 5 U.S. abortions toward the end of 2023. 

A telehealth abortion is a chemical abortion administered remotely through an online appointment. 

With an average of 17,000 telehealth abortions per month October through December, the study found that this type of abortion represented 18% of all abortions in October 2023, 19% in November, and 19% in December.

According to the Society of Family Planning, there were an average of 5,800 telehealth abortions per month in states with laws protecting unborn babies at all stages or starting at six weeks. The Society of Family Planning said that the abortions were enabled by abortion “shield laws” protecting providers from prosecution for providing chemical abortion in states where it is prohibited or restricted. 

This follows another Guttmacher Institute report finding that chemical abortions now account for 63% of all U.S. abortions. 

Louisiana may declare abortion pills ‘controlled dangerous substances’ 

The Louisiana House advanced a bill to increase criminal penalties for forcing or coercing women to take abortion pills. The House also added an amendment to declare abortion pills mifepristone and misoprostol “controlled dangerous substances” under the state’s Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Law. 

The bill has already been passed by the state Senate and is set for debate on the House floor on May 20. 

Louisiana protects unborn life at all stages of pregnancy through laws banning surgical and chemical abortion. Louisiana allows exceptions for abortion in cases when the mother’s life or health is at risk and when the unborn child is not expected to survive the pregnancy. 

Hallow Summit strives to ‘facilitate an encounter with the Lord’

Attendees at the first Hallow Summit in 2022. / Credit: Hallow

CNA Staff, May 16, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

The popular Catholic prayer and meditation app Hallow recently announced its third annual Hallow Summit, which brings the platform’s digital community together for an in-person encounter with the Lord.

This year’s summit will take place Aug. 2–4 at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. Attendees will take part in prayer and worship, Mass, Eucharistic adoration, confession, and listen to Q&As and talks from speakers including Jeff Cavins, Dr. Scott Hahn, Matt and Cameron Fradd, Chika Anyanwu, Jonathan Roumie, and more. 

Attendees at the first Hallow Summit in 2022. Credit: Hallow
Attendees at the first Hallow Summit in 2022. Credit: Hallow

Bryan Enriquez, head of customer operations and founding team member of Hallow, told CNA in an interview that the first Hallow Summit, which took place in 2022, was launched as a test. 

“Up until that point, we had just focused on the digital experience of the Hallow app,” he said. “We had no idea if that would translate into an ability for us to host a high quality in-person experience.”

He noted that upon his own reflection, he realized that “some of my most powerful spiritual experiences had happened at retreats or conferences,” adding: “There is something special about a ‘mountaintop’ experience that jolts you out of your routine and creates an opportunity to draw closer to God with a new way of seeing the world.”

“I wanted to create an experience that combined the mountaintop experience with a practical roadmap for how to continue to engage with God after the event was over. Thus, the Hallow Summit was born.”

The theme for this year’s Hallow Summit is “Prayer and Surrender.”

Enriquez shared that the team wants participants to “reflect on the power of surrendering ourselves to the will of God.” 

“This is not easy and in our culture surrender has a negative connotation,” he added. “However, after our Lenten reflection on ‘He Leadeth Me’ by Father Walter Ciszek, we saw that this idea resonates with a lot of people.”

“We want attendees to have an encounter with Christ so that the Lord can reveal what parts of their hearts need his healing. The way to do this is through prayer and meditation. Our job is to provide an atmosphere that is conducive to this.”

He emphasized that the whole point of the summit is to “facilitate an encounter with the Lord.”

“One way we do that is by pairing talks with experiences. We don’t just have keynote addresses where someone talks at you for an hour,” he explained. “Instead, our keynotes combine talking with doing. We pair them with a spiritual exercise such as lectio divina or the examen to emphasize how accessible and powerful these techniques are.”

Alex Jones, CEO and co-founder of Hallow, speaks at the Hallow Summit in 2022. Credit: Hallow
Alex Jones, CEO and co-founder of Hallow, speaks at the Hallow Summit in 2022. Credit: Hallow

While the atmosphere at previous summits has always been joy-filled, Enriquez pointed out that there is also “an energy of Christ-centered fellowship,” which he believes is part of Hallow’s brand.

“We are known for being approachable yet profound, and I think that translates into the experiences we host in person as well,” he expressed. “We don’t water down our content but we don’t want to turn anyone away from experiencing the power of prayer.”

Elderly pro-life activist sentenced to over two years in prison under FACE Act

Pro-life activist Joan Andrews Bell listens during a news conference on the five fetuses found inside the home where she and other anti-abortion activists were living on Capitol Hill at a news conference at the Hyatt Regency on April 5, 2022, in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Washington D.C., May 15, 2024 / 18:40 pm (CNA).

Joan Andrews Bell, a 76-year-old Catholic and pro-life activist, has been sentenced to over two years in prison for her involvement in a “rescue” at a Washington, D.C., abortion clinic. 

In addition to Bell, three other activists — Jean Marshall, 74, Jonathan Darnel, 42, and Herb Geraghty, 27 — were sentenced on Wednesday. Marshall received a 24-month sentence, Darnel was sentenced to 34 months, and Geraghty received 27 months.

The sentences were given by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. 

According to Terrisa Bukovinac, another pro-life activist who has been posting updates from the courtroom, Bell’s family “cried tears of joy that the sentence wasn’t longer,” while Marshall provided a doctor’s note indicating that she needs a hip replacement due to extreme osteoporosis.

The three were charged with felony crimes involving conspiracy against rights and violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, also known as the FACE Act. According to the Department of Justice, the three activists engaged in a conspiracy to create a blockade of an abortion clinic.

This comes nearly nine months after Bell and eight other pro-life activists were convicted on felony charges of conspiracy against rights and violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act for their involvement in an October 2020 rescue at the Washington Surgi-Clinic run by Dr. Cesare Santangelo.

According to a previous DOJ statement, the activists involved in the rescue used “physical obstruction to injure, intimidate, and interfere with the clinic’s employees and a patient because they were providing or obtaining reproductive health services.”

The DOJ also said the activists “forcefully entered the clinic and set about blockading two clinic doors using their bodies, furniture, chains, and ropes.”

On Tuesday three other activists — Lauren Handy, 30, John Hinshaw, 69, and William Goodman, 54 — also received sentences ranging from nearly five years to just under two years for the same demonstration. Handy received the harshest sentence, four years and nine months, for her role as the organizer.

Martin Cannon, an attorney with the Thomas More Society, which represented Handy, told CNA that they will likely be appealing “most if not all” of the sentences. Any appeals in these cases would go to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. 

“Right now, they’re all convicted felons and that’s worth fighting over,” Cannon said. 

Cannon said he is optimistic they will be able to lessen the sentences. He also pointed out that these cases, especially the sentencing of elderly women and men to years in prison, will bring attention to how the FACE Act is being abused to target pro-lifers. 

He said that the pro-life activists are not discouraged, despite their sentences. 

“I think that this overreach by the federal government, the conviction of these people, is …  going to galvanize people,” he said. “It certainly has not discouraged our clients. It is going to galvanize the pro-life world and give it energy.”

Catholic Church responds to mental health crisis across the U.S. and globally

“Woman of the Well” paintings by Glenda Stevens are being distributed to each of the 15 deaneries in the Diocese of Phoenix. / Credit: Brett Meister/Diocese of Phoenix

CNA Staff, May 15, 2024 / 18:20 pm (CNA).

The percentage of U.S. adults diagnosed with depression has risen almost 10% since 2015, reaching 29% according to a 2023 Gallup poll, and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that almost half of U.S. teens report experiencing persistent sadness and hopelessness. The Catholic Church is responding.

Following a 2023 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops initiative, Catholics across the country have been working in their local communities to address the mental health crisis. 

In the Archdiocese of Washington, Auxiliary Bishop Evelio Menjivar offered a May 11 Mass for people with mental health challenges.

“Those living with a mental illness should never bear these burdens alone, nor should their families who struggle heroically to assist their loved ones,” the bishop said at the Mass in Landover Hills, Maryland, according to a report by the Catholic Standard.

“We Christians must encounter them, accompany them, comfort them, include them, and help bear their burdens in solidarity with them, offering our understanding, prayers, and tangible, ongoing support,” he noted. 

In Emmitsburg, Maryland, the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is hosting a Mental Wellness Retreat under the patronage of St. Dymphna, whose feast day is May 30. (Traditionally, the feast day of the young saint who is patron of the abused and mentally ill was May 15.)

Participants in the Mental Wellness Retreat at the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, listen to a reflection at the shrine’s basilica. Credit: Seton Shrine
Participants in the Mental Wellness Retreat at the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland, listen to a reflection at the shrine’s basilica. Credit: Seton Shrine

“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

Out west, St. Patrick Catholic Community Parish in Scottsdale, Arizona, is hosting a mental health fair May 18–19 in honor of the feast of St. Dymphna.

The Diocese of Phoenix’s Office of Mental Health Ministry will attend the fair, according to The Catholic Sun. At the fair, the St. Patrick community will bless a “Woman of the Well” painting by Glenda Stevens and display it in their “House of Mercy” building. The diocese hopes to use the biblical image of the well where Jesus met the Samaritan woman as a designated place of encounter to gather and grow together. 

Parishes in 15 different deaneries each received a “Woman of the Well” painting for their mental health ministry space known as “The Well,” according to a spokesperson for the Diocese of Phoenix.

Bishop John Dolan of the Diocese of Phoenix presents a “Woman of the Well” painting by Glenda Stevens to Father Israel Boadi. Dolan is the chaplain of the Association of Catholic Mental Health  Ministers. Credit: Brett Meister/Diocese of Phoenix
Bishop John Dolan of the Diocese of Phoenix presents a “Woman of the Well” painting by Glenda Stevens to Father Israel Boadi. Dolan is the chaplain of the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers. Credit: Brett Meister/Diocese of Phoenix

“The Well is adesignated space or room at a parish or school that is a safe space, a place of encounter for those experiencing challenges to gather and share their experiences and grow their relationship with God: a place for support groups, educational workshops, and opportunity for accompaniment,” explained Brett Meister, director of communications for the diocese.

The Diocese of Phoenix also recently offered its second annual “Green Mass” on May 5 honoring and praying for professionals, caregivers, and clergy who serve people with mental health concerns. The Mass brought social workers, pastoral caregivers, and counselors together at Sts. Simon and Jude Cathedral, where volunteers handed out green ribbons to represent growth and new beginnings, as well as St. Dymphna prayer cards, according to The Catholic Sun

Global outreach

Ministering to people who suffer with mental illness and those who live and care for them spans not just the U.S. but also places like the Vatican, South Africa, and India.

The India chapter of the Catholic Association of Mental Health Ministers (CMHM) organized its first ever National Mental Health conference at Nirjhari Conference Center, Carmelaram in Bengaluru, Karnataka, from April 5–6. 

More than 250 participants from all over India attended the Catholic Association of Mental Health Ministers’ first mental health conference in India at the Nirjhari conference center at Carmelaram in Bengaluru, Karnataka, April 5–6, 2024. Credit: Photo courtesy of CMHM
More than 250 participants from all over India attended the Catholic Association of Mental Health Ministers’ first mental health conference in India at the Nirjhari conference center at Carmelaram in Bengaluru, Karnataka, April 5–6, 2024. Credit: Photo courtesy of CMHM

The CMHM India worked with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India’s health care commission to host the retreat, which highlighted the state of mental health in India, the role of the Church in mental health ministry, and the difference between spiritual and mental health. 

More than 250 attendees, including priests, religious sisters, and medical professionals gathered for the event, and speakers included Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore; Bishop Thomas Tharayil, the ecclesiastical adviser of CMHM India; and Deacon Ed Shoener, co-founder and president of CMHM.

Deacon Ed Shoener, president and co-founder of the Catholic Association of Mental Health Ministers (CMHM), lights a candle for the inaugural ceremony of India’s first CMHM conference April 5–6, 2024. Credit: Photo courtesy of CMHM
Deacon Ed Shoener, president and co-founder of the Catholic Association of Mental Health Ministers (CMHM), lights a candle for the inaugural ceremony of India’s first CMHM conference April 5–6, 2024. Credit: Photo courtesy of CMHM

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

“The conference in India demonstrates the worldwide need for mental health ministry,” Shoener told CNA in an email.

In January, Shoener attended a Vatican mental health conference, the first of its kind. Mental health ministers from around the world, including Moldova, India, and South Africa, gathered with Vatican officials to discuss pastoral care and accompaniment.

“Regardless of cultural differences, mental illness impacts every community, and Christ wants his Church to be there to accompany people without fear or stigma,” Shoener noted.

This story was updated on May 16, 2024, at 12:22 p.m. ET with the information on the Diocese of Phoenix’s “The Well.”

Supreme Court denies pregnancy center appeal to keep donor information private

A dedication ceremony for the ultrasound machine donated by the Knights of Columbus to the First Choice Women's Resource Center in New Brunswick, N.J. / Credit: Knights of Columbus

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 15, 2024 / 15:26 pm (CNA).

The Supreme Court has denied a New Jersey pro-life pregnancy center’s appeal to keep its donor list and other correspondence private. 

This comes after New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin, a Democrat, subpoenaed First Choice Women’s Resource Centers in November 2023 for “possible violations” against the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act relating to the group’s handling of patient data and statements about abortion pill reversal. 

Through the subpoena, Platkin ordered First Choice to turn over much of its internal communications as well as communications with patients and donors, some of which would reveal donors’ private information. 

Shortly before issuing the subpoena, Platkin signed onto a letter in which he and 15 other attorneys general accused pro-life pregnancy centers of spreading “harmful” misinformation about reproductive health care. The letter also accused pregnancy centers of using “deceptive tactics to lure in patients.”

First Choice is a Christian ministry that operates five pregnancy resource centers in New Jersey that offer pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, venereal disease screenings and treatment, and counseling. 

Represented by the law firm Alliance Defending Freedom, First Choice countersued in December 2023 to block Platkin’s subpoena. The ministry claimed that the subpoena violates its rights under the First and 14th Amendments and that it was being “selectively and unlawfully” targeted because of its pro-life views.

“AG Platkin never cited any complaint or other substantive evidence of wrongdoing to justify his demands but has launched an exploratory probe into the lawful activities, constitutionally protected speech, religious observance, constitutionally protected associations, and nonpublic internal communications and records of a nonprofit organization that holds a view with which he disagrees as a matter of public policy,” First Choice wrote in its countersuit.

First Choice’s request to block the subpoena has since been dismissed by a New Jersey circuit judge, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and now the Supreme Court. 

Vatican halts some parish closures in St. Louis following appeals

Stained-glass window at the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis. / Credit: Ella Manthey/Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., May 15, 2024 / 14:47 pm (CNA).

Two St. Louis parishes that appealed to the Vatican after Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski ordered them to merge last year have had their appeals upheld by the Holy See, reversing the archbishop’s prior decision.

As part of the archdiocese’s major pastoral planning initiative dubbed “All Things New,” Rozanski announced a year ago that the number of parishes would be reduced by nearly 50 by way of parish mergers and closures.

Under canon law, a diocesan bishop has the authority to alter parishes, but only for a just reason specific to each parish. Concern for souls must be the principal motivation for modifying a parish.

Amid the All Things New process, a number of parishes announced their intention to send appeals to the Vatican, putting aspects of the mergers planned for the parishes on hold until the Dicastery for the Clergy’s rulings. 

After studying the acts of the case for St. Angela Merici Parish in Florissant, Missouri, the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Clergy did not find just cause for the parish to be combined to form a single parish with St. Norbert and Holy Name of Jesus parishes, the archdiocese said in a May 14 statement. The dicastery was therefore unable to sustain Rozanski’s decree. 

While retaining their statuses as three separate parish communities, St. Angela Merici, St. Norbert, and Holy Name of Jesus parishes will all remain under the pastoral guidance of Father Peter Faimega, the archdiocese continued.

In addition, the Dicastery for the Clergy did not find just cause for St. Martin of Tours Parish in Lemay, Missouri, to be subsumed by St. Mark Parish, the archdiocese said.

The same day, the archdiocese announced that another appeal brought by St. Roch Parish in St. Louis had resulted in Rozanski’s decree being upheld. St. Roch was to be subsumed by Christ the King Parish, effective Aug. 1, 2023, and this month its school is set to close. 

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of St. Louis. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA
Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of St. Louis. Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

Before announcing the changes in May 2023, the archdiocese held 350 listening sessions, with at least one in each of the 178 current parishes. It also considered feedback from 70,000 Catholics in the archdiocese who participated in a survey. Feedback was also solicited from 18,000 school parents, staff, teachers, donors, and community partners. The archdiocese also held focus groups and talked with civil and business leaders.

Rozanski had originally declined to revoke any of the 83 decrees he made regarding the final plans, leaving the parishes with recourse only to the Vatican. However, he did suspend his decree regarding St. Angela Merici and St. Martin of Tours prior to the decisions from the dicastery, so “no additional changes will be necessary,” the archdiocese said. 

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the dicastery earlier this year overturned the closure decree for St. Richard Parish near Creve Coeur, Missouri, while also denying an appeal from the closed Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Ferguson. At least 11 parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis still have outstanding appeals regarding closings or mergers, the archdiocese has noted. 

The archdiocese has previously said that the widespread reassignment of 158 archdiocesan priests, which was announced along with the various mergers, will proceed as planned. 

The St. Louis parishes’ appeals to the Vatican are not unprecedented in the United States. In dioceses such as Cleveland, Buffalo, New York, Boston, and Springfield, Massachusetts, parishioners have issued appeals to the Dicastery for the Clergy to save their parishes after their bishops ordered them closed.

Catholics in Chicago work to preserve historic century-old parish

Outer details of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Chicago. / Credit: Eric Allix Rogers

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

Catholics and city preservationists in Chicago are scrambling to try to preserve a historic parish on the city’s North Side, one that has survived a century of the city’s development including being fully moved to a new location after it was first built. 

Our Lady of Lourdes Parish will hold its final Mass on Sunday, May 19, before the parish merges with nearby St. Mary of the Lake. The consolidation is part of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s ongoing “Renew My Church” initiative that has closed and merged dozens of parishes in order to address shrinking budgets and priest shortages. 

The archdiocese announced the Lourdes parish merger in 2021. Katerina Garcia, the president of the Our Lady of Lourdes Church Preservation Society, told “EWTN News Nightly” anchor Tracy Sabol this week that parishioners at the parish dispute the archdiocese’s reasons for closing the church, particularly the claim that Mass attendance had dropped steadily there. 

“We disagree with that statement because before the merge, Our Lady of Lourdes Church had the highest attendance compared to [other nearby churches],” Garcia told Sabol. 

“They decreased the Masses that we had. So of course that’s going to decrease attendance,” she argued.

Even as the parish’s final Mass looms, Garcia said efforts are underway to save the parish, possibly by purchasing it from the archdiocese. She noted the parish’s remarkable history, including its wholesale move from one side of the street to the other. 

The parish was “literally across the street on the east side of Ashland Avenue,” she told Sabol. “And Daniel Burnham, who was a prominent architect and urban developer in Chicago, wanted to widen the [city streets].” 

“In order for them to widen Ashland Avenue, they had to move the church literally across the street,” she said. “They had 150 men and horses, and they put the 10,000-ton church on top of 400 rails and 3,000 rollers and literally moved it across the street, inching it.”

A view of the parish's historic move in 1929. Our Lady of Lourdes Preservation Society
A view of the parish's historic move in 1929. Our Lady of Lourdes Preservation Society

Once the building was moved to its new location, builders “rotated it 90 degrees” and then “cut the church in half and added a 30-foot insert,” increasing capacity by roughly 50%.

“Back then, 1929, that’s such a very … I can’t even think of the word. It’s just an engineering feat,” Garcia said. 

‘It’s facing an uncertain future’

On its website, the Our Lady of Lourdes Preservation Society says its goal is to “preserve Our Lady of Lourdes Church as a historical landmark, reopen and revive it as a holy shrine.”

The group, formed in 2021 after the merger announcement, wrote on Facebook that it is “going full force to make sure [the property] is preserved as a historical landmark,” with group members aiming to “bring it back to its old glory with a new order in charge.”

Ward Miller, the executive director of the nonprofit Preservation Chicago, said his group has been working to get the building designated as a Chicago landmark. 

The group has highlighted the building’s historical qualities in the past. The parish was “modeled in the Spanish Renaissance-style architecture to resemble a church in Valladolid, Spain,” Preservation Chicago says. Among its many notable features includes a “faithful replica of the grotto in Lourdes, France,” which years ago was made a “perpetual adoration site” and remains ”the area’s only chapel open 24/7 for worship.”

The structure is “facing an uncertain future,” Miller told CNA on Wednesday. “We don’t know if it’s facing a demolition threat or not.”

The building is rated “orange” in the city’s Historic Resources Survey, Miller pointed out, which indicates that it “possesses potentially significant architectural or historical features.”

The Archdiocese of Chicago did not respond to a query on Wednesday regarding the status of the church building and what will become of it after the final Mass this week. 

The parish school, meanwhile — which closed in 2004 — has already been sold, with plans to turn the structure into apartments. 

Garcia told Block Club Chicago earlier this year that she attended the school and that her children were baptized in the parish.

The parish “just has a lot of memories,” she told the outlet. “I actually made the calligraphy on the sign by the grotto entrance, so there are parts of the church I was involved in. There’s so much history there for me and my family.” 

“Every part of that church is important to me,” she said. 

Catholic bishops warn of polarization in Church, urge more dialogue 

Gloria Purvis, Cardinal Robert McElroy, Bishop Daniel Flores, and Bishop Robert Barron discuss polarization in the Catholic Church during a panel discussion hosted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities USA, Glenmary Home Missioners, and the Jesuit Conference on May 14, 2024. / Credit: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Live Stream YouTube channel

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 15, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Three Catholic bishops warned of a growing ideological polarization within the Church and the need for civil dialogue among those with disagreements during a livestreamed panel discussion on Tuesday afternoon.

“Politics is almost a religion and sometimes it’s a sport, [but] it’s not supposed to be either,” Bishop Daniel Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, said during the discussion. 

“It’s supposed to be a civil conversation … to seek what is good and make the priority how to achieve it and how to avoid what is evil,” Flores said. “And I think if we could stay focused on that, we can kind of tone down the caricature and the rhetoric that seeks to dehumanize people.”

The panel discussion included Flores, Cardinal Robert McElroy of the Diocese of San Diego, and Bishop Robert Barron of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota. It was moderated by Gloria Purvis, the host of “The Gloria Purvis Podcast” at America Magazine, and co-sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Catholic Charities USA, Glenmary Home Missioners, and the Jesuit Conference.

The panel discussion was part of the USCCB’s “Civilize It” initiative, which is meant to foster civility in important ideological debates. As part of the initiative, the bishops ask Catholics to sign a pledge to affirm the dignity of every human person — including those with different ideological beliefs — and to work with others in pursuit of the common good.

According to the panelists, American society and the Church have grown more polarized when it comes to ideological differences — and debates about those differences have become less civil.

Barron, who founded the Catholic media organization Word on Fire, said disagreements within the Church are nothing new, but the way people approach those disagreements has changed: “What’s broken down is the love that makes real dialogue possible.”

“It’s a tribalism that’s lost the sense of love in dialogue,” Barron said.

The bishop warned that people are more focused on winning arguments and being loyal to an ideological identity than on love. He said these problems are very noticeable in discussions on the internet and encouraged people to ask whether “this comment [is] an act of love” before saying anything. 

“Is it born of love?” Barron said people should ask themselves. “Is it born of a desire to will the good of the other? If it’s not, there’s like a thousand better things to be doing than sending that statement.”

McElroy said too much dialogue today “is meant to be confrontational” to the point at which people “can’t enter into a genuine dialogue.” 

“People are coming toward each other in the life of the Church looking first at that label: What are you? Where do you stand in the war-like culture politics of our country?” the cardinal said.

People focus on this “rather than [on] what unites us: where do we stand in terms of our identity as Catholics and with a Christological outlook,” he added. 

McElroy also built on the concerns Barron highlighted regarding dialogue on the internet.

“When you’re writing the Tweet, imagine Jesus is there with you and when you think through that question ‘should I do this?’” McElroy said. 

Similarly, Flores emphasized the need to remember what Christ would do. 

“He would not be unkind, especially to the poor and especially to those who had no standing in the world,” Flores said. “And also he would never commit an injustice in order to promote justice.”

Wyoming sorority sisters sue over admission of biological man

Members of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, biological women’s sports activist Riley Gaines, and lawyers from the Independent Women’s Law Center approach the 10th Circuit Courthouse in Denver on May 14, 2024. / Credit: Photo courtesy of Independent Women’s Forum

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 14, 2024 / 18:11 pm (CNA).

Six members of Kappa Kappa Gamma at the University of Wyoming are suing their sorority for admitting a man who identifies as a woman.

Represented by the Independent Women’s Law Center (IWLC), the sisters argued their case before a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver on Tuesday. 

The women are alleging that the sorority’s decision in fall 2022 to admit a man, Artemis Langford, violated its bylaws, which state that all members be women. The sisters have also said that Langford has harassed them in their sorority house by watching them change, taking photos, and asking “invasive” sexual questions. 

Allie Coghan, a Kappa Kappa Gamma alumna from the class of 2023 and one of the plaintiffs in the suit, told CNA that Langford’s admission into the sorority caused her and her sisters to feel very unsafe in their own home.

“We never used to lock our doors at night. I would sleep with my door open all the time and then all of a sudden it became me locking my door and just hoping that I wouldn’t hear heavy footsteps in the hallway while I’m sleeping because I knew who it would be,” she explained. “All of a sudden it became very uncomfortable to go to the bathroom and shower because you never know who’s going to be sitting there waiting or watching.”

Coghan said that some of her friends in the sorority caught Langford staring at them when coming out of the shower and that there were other instances that made them feel very scared.

“In the sorority house, there are women who have been sexually assaulted in the past, and so that’s why living in a sorority house is so comforting to them,” she explained. “It’s just a safe haven, and they were stripped of that. We were all stripped of it.”

Rather than listening to their fears and negative experiences, Coghan said, the sorority began ostracizing anyone who disapproved of Langford’s admission, labeling them “transphobic” and using “bullying tactics” to pressure them to agree.  

“Sororities are not meant to be political. One of the beautiful things about it is all the diversity that is in there,” she said, adding that “the one thing that holds us all together is that we are all women.”

In August 2023 federal Judge Alan Johnson dismissed the sisters’ lawsuit on the grounds that a woman is clearly defined in the sorority’s bylaws and is thus open to the group’s interpretation. 

The six sisters appealed the decision to the 10th Circuit Court in October, continuing to argue that Kappa Kappa Gamma “subverted their own bylaws and other governing documents and did so in bad faith by changing their membership criteria.” 

On Tuesday the three-judge panel appeared skeptical that they had jurisdiction to rule on the case. The panel pointed out that the lower court’s dismissal left open limited grounds for the sisters to refile their suit. 

May Mailman, an attorney for the sisters, admitted that they could possibly refile the suit but that would still not change the lower court’s decision that Kappa Kappa Gamma can interpret its bylaws to include biological men. 

Natalie McLaughlin, the attorney for Kappa Kappa Gamma, meanwhile maintained that the sorority is entitled to interpret its definition of a woman however it pleases.

A representative for Kappa Kappa Gamma told CNA that it “will continue to vigorously defend against attempts by plaintiffs to use the judicial system to take away a private organization’s fundamental rights and cause lasting damage to individuals and to our membership.”

“Today, Kappa Kappa Gamma defended in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Colorado our right as a private organization to interpret our bylaws and standing rules,” the representative said, adding: “We are confident the federal court will uphold the decisive ruling of a federal judge in Wyoming and bring a swift resolution to this matter.”

Outside the courthouse, the Independent Women’s Forum and several other groups held a “Save Sisterhood” rally in which biological women’s sports activist Riley Gaines and several members of Kappa Kappa Gamma spoke out in support of the sisters’ lawsuit. 

Hannah Holtmeier, a current Kappa Kappa Gamma member and one of the plaintiffs in the case, also spoke at the rally, saying: “I can attest to the toll it takes on young women mentally knowing that at any point I could step out of the bathroom or walk out of the shower to a 6’2’’, 260-pound man is terrifying.” 

“To girls across our great country, and their mothers and fathers, if you think you’re in a situation where this won’t affect you, think again,” she went on. “Odds are if we don’t speak up to at least define women’s spaces, you, your daughter, or any other woman in your life will be affected.”