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UK author of transgender study: U.S. groups are ‘misleading the public’ 

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 14, 2024 / 16:22 pm (CNA).

An English pediatrician who led a comprehensive review of the safety and efficacy of prescribing transgender drugs to children is warning that health associations in the United States may be misleading the public.

In an interview with the New York Times published on Monday, Dr. Hilary Cass warned there is no comprehensive evidence to support the routine prescription of transgender drugs to minors with gender dysphoria. 

Cass published the independent “Cass Review,” commissioned by the National Health Service in England, which prompted England and Scotland to halt the prescription of transgender drugs to minors until more research is conducted.

As England, Scotland, and other European countries scale back their use of transgender drugs for minors, most doctors’ associations and health associations in the U.S. continue to endorse these medical interventions. In more than half of the states in the United States, it is still legal to prescribe transgender drugs to children and to perform transgender surgeries on them.

“What some organizations are doing is doubling down on saying the evidence is good,” Cass said in the interview. “And I think that’s where you’re misleading the public. You need to be honest about the strength of the evidence and say what you’re going to do to improve it.”

Speaking specifically about the American Academy of Pediatrics — which is the largest pediatric association in the country — Cass said the group “does massive good for children worldwide” but also “is fearful of making any moves that might jeopardize trans health care right now.”

She added: “I wonder whether, if they weren’t feeling under such political duress, they would be able to be more nuanced, to say that multiple truths exist in this space — that there are children who are going to need medical treatment, and that there are other children who are going to resolve their distress in different ways.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics announced it would undertake a “systematic review” of its guidelines in August 2023 but also reaffirmed its support for “gender-affirming care” for children, which includes the prescription of transgender drugs. The organization did not respond to CNA’s request for comment.

“I respectfully disagree with them on holding on to a position that is now demonstrated to be out of date by multiple systematic reviews,” Cass said in her New York Times interview. 

Cass noted that her comprehensive review of studies related to the prescription of transgender drugs for minors found that “the evidence is very weak compared to many other areas of pediatric practice.”

“We have to stop just seeing these young people through the lens of their gender and see them as whole people and address the much broader range of challenges that they have, sometimes with their mental health, sometimes with undiagnosed neurodiversity,” Cass added. “It’s really about helping them to thrive, not just saying ‘How do we address the gender?’ in isolation.”

Mary Rice Hasson, the director of the Person and Identity Project at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told CNA: “Cass’ rigorous evidence reviews, four years in the making, confirmed what Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Norway — all early adopters of medical ‘gender transitions’ in minors — discovered.” 

“There’s no good evidence to support the use of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones in identity-distressed kids,” Hasson said. “They need psychotherapy and holistic treatment — not the ‘fast-track’ to lifelong hormones and repeat surgeries.”

Hasson said: “The arrogance and deceit of the U.S. gender industry is shocking [because] they insist there’s nothing new in the Cass Review, which makes me wonder if they’ve even read it.” However, she said, “more likely, they are digging in their heels at the behest of trans activists and ideologically-driven funders.”

“It’s no secret that LGBTQ lobby groups have put tremendous pressure on U.S. health care to support ‘LGBTQ inclusion,’ particularly ‘transgender’ demands for body modification,” Hasson added.

In addition to the Cass Review — which was published in April — a series of other studies that were published this year call into question the efficacy of prescribing transgender drugs for and offering transgender surgeries to children.

For example, a Mayo Clinic study from April found that puberty-blocking drugs may cause irreversible damage to testicular cells in young boys. A study out of the Netherlands that was published in February found that most children who have transgender inclinations will outgrow those feelings. A third study out of Finland found that transgender surgeries for minors do not reduce suicides in children and young adults who struggle with their gender identity.

Justice Alito to Franciscan graduates: ‘Go out boldly and change the world’

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito speaks to graduates at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, on May 11, 2024. / Credit: Franciscan University

CNA Newsroom, May 14, 2024 / 14:22 pm (CNA).

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito challenged graduates at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, on Saturday to embrace vital life lessons about courage and personal values that he said can be found in the U.S. Constitution.

“The framers foresaw that troublous times would arise when rulers and people would become restive and the principles of constitutional liberty would be in peril unless established by irreparable law,” Alito said at the May 11 commencement.

“The Constitution of the United States applies to all classes of men at all times and under all circumstances,” he emphasized. “This same fundamental idea that there are certain principles that we cannot compromise without paying a fearsome price applies to our personal lives.” 

Speaking on campus at Finnegan Field, Alito urged the 896 graduating seniors — the largest graduating class at Franciscan in the private Catholic school’s 78-year history — to “go out boldly and change the world.” 

Alito stressed the importance of knowing one’s values.

“We can make the effort to keep in mind what is fundamental and what is permanent in our lives … that is absolutely critical,” he said.

“There are certain moral principles that are true and immutable. These principles of right and wrong are not relative or circumstantial. They are not of our making, and it is not within our power to change them even though at times we might find that convenient.”

Alito — a stalwart conservative of the U.S. Supreme Court known for authoring the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which struck down Roe v. Wade — spoke at length about the law in his address, jokingly saying: “If you invite a lawyer to give a graduation speech you’re going to hear about the law.”

He pointed to the Constitution as more than a document, seeing it as a pure expression of the energy and spirit of the nation.

“Our Constitution has survived and flourished because it was designed to accommodate change. We are a nation of change. When Alexis de Tocqueville toured the United States in the 1840s he marveled at the restlessness of Americans. And since Tocqueville’s day, Americans have never stopped racing towards the future,” he said.

Alito tasked the graduating class with taking away two specific lessons from what the Constitution teaches every American.

“The first,” he said, “is respect for reason and civil discourse. Our legal system is built on the premise that it is possible for fair and open-minded people to solve their problems by reasoning together by a process of rational and respectful argumentation. I hope you will take that approach in your lives.”

The second lesson, he continued, is to pay deference to tradition and past wisdom. Specifically, Alito told students that their pasts can help ground them as they move through life and that friends who truly know the real you prevent you from giving way to the vices of pride and arrogance.

Alito took inspiration for his speech from a few different sources including comedian Rodney Dangerfield and St. John Henry Newman. Quoting Dangerfield from the movie “Back to School,” Alito bluntly told students: “It’s rough out there,” alluding to the adversity they will face as they move forward through life.

Citing St. John Henry Newman, the 19th-century English churchman who wrote and lectured extensively on the need for universities to provide “a comprehensive view of truth in all its branches,” Alito praised Franciscan as one of the “very few colleges” today that “live up to that ideal.”

UPDATE: Washington pro-life activists sentenced to years in prison under FACE Act

Pro-life activist Lauren Handy 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 14, 2024 / 13:22 pm (CNA).

Two pro-life activists were sentenced to years in prison in a Washington, D.C., district court today for their involvement in a “rescue” at a local abortion clinic. 

Lauren Handy, 30, was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison for organizing the rescue. John Hinshaw, 69, was sentenced to a year and nine months.

Attorneys from the Thomas More Society who are representing Handy said they will appeal her conviction. 

This comes nearly nine months after Handy, Hinshaw, and seven 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. Both Handy and Hinshaw were immediately incarcerated and have been in prison since their conviction.

The sentences were ordered by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who chided Handy for prioritizing her activism above the “needs” of women, according to local news outlet WUSA9

“Neither you nor any of the other co-conspirators showed any compassion, empathy, toward those two women needing medical care,” Kollar-Kotelly said. “Your views took precedence over, frankly, their human needs.”

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.”

Handy is best known as one of the activists who in 2022 discovered the remains of five late-term aborted babies, known as “the D.C. five,” outside the Washington Surgi-Clinic.

Handy’s group, the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU), claims that some of these babies bore signs that they were killed in partial-birth abortions, which is illegal under federal law. Despite requests by multiple members of Congress, the office of the D.C. medical examiner has refused to allow any independent investigation into the babies’ deaths. 

Steve Crampton, an attorney with the Thomas More Society, responded to the ruling by saying that “Ms. Handy’s 57-month sentence is a miscarriage of justice, plain and simple.” 

“As I’ve gotten to know Ms. Handy, I’ve seen up close her unwavering passion for pro-life advocacy and resolute dedication to nonviolence,” he went on. “But this fight is far from over, and we eagerly look forward to appealing for Ms. Handy and her co-defendants’ freedom, so that the FACE Act can never again be weaponized by the Department of Justice against its ideological opponents.”

In a statement released shortly before her sentencing, Handy said: “I am at peace with myself and my future. I will go into court with my head held high and heart open.”

“Yes, this time has been challenging, but I refuse to be jaded. Why? Because life goes on... even in jail,” she said. “So I might as well continue to love and cry and scream and dance. That is joy. The feeling of being fully alive without shame. Which is something no court can take from me.” 

The eight other activists — John Hinshaw, William Goodman, Herb Geraghty, Jonathan Darnel, Jean Marshall, Joan Bell, Heather Idoni, and Paulette Harlow — are set to receive their sentences over the next few days.

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-lifers.

This story was updated at 5:59 p.m. ET to include the information on John Hinshaw’s sentencing.

Chiefs’ Harrison Butker chides Catholic leaders in Benedictine College commencement address 

Kansas City Chiefs’ placekicker Harrison Butker speaks to college graduates in his commencement address at Benedictine College on Saturday, May 11, 2024. / Credit: Benedictine College

CNA Staff, May 14, 2024 / 11:38 am (CNA).

Kansas City Chiefs’ placekicker Harrison Butker offered some pointed criticism of Catholic bishops and priests along with advice to college graduates in his commencement address at Benedictine College on Saturday.

Catholic bishops should be more like St. Damien of Molokai and less concerned about what civil and cultural leaders think about them, the three-time Super Bowl winner and outspoken Catholic said. 

St. Damien (1840–1889), a missionary priest from Belgium, spent nearly 16 years ministering to lepers in Hawaii before dying of their disease. 

“His heroism is looked at today as something set apart and unique when ideally it should not be unique at all,” Butker told the graduates at the Catholic liberal arts college in Atchison, Kansas, on May 11, the day after St. Damien’s feast day. “For as a father loves his child, so a shepherd should love his spiritual children, too. That goes even more so for our bishops, these men who are present-day apostles.” 

He said bishops are rightly “not politicians but shepherds,” but that they have given up their influence by not leading properly. 

“Our bishops once had adoring crowds of people kissing their rings and taking in their every word, but now relegate themselves to a position of inconsequential existence. Now, when a bishop of a diocese or the bishops’ conference as a whole puts out an important document on this matter or that, nobody even takes a moment to read it, let alone follow it,” Butker said. 

“No. Today, our shepherds are far more concerned with keeping the doors open to the chancery than they are with saying the difficult stuff out loud. It seems that the only time you hear from your bishops is when it’s time for the annual appeal, whereas we need our bishops to be vocal about the teachings of the Church, setting aside their own personal comfort and embracing their cross,” he said.

He also criticized President Joe Biden and other Catholic leaders. 

“Bad policies and poor leadership have negatively impacted major life issues. Things like abortion, IVF, surrogacy, euthanasia, as well as a growing support for degenerate cultural values in media all stem from the pervasiveness of disorder,” Butker said

Kansas City Chiefs’ placekicker Harrison Butker speaks to college graduates in his commencement address at Benedictine College on Saturday, May 11, 2024. Credit: Benedictine College
Kansas City Chiefs’ placekicker Harrison Butker speaks to college graduates in his commencement address at Benedictine College on Saturday, May 11, 2024. Credit: Benedictine College

He noted that Biden made the sign of the cross during a rally in Florida on April 23 in favor of legal abortion while an abortion supporter was criticizing Florida’s law banning abortions after six weeks.

“Our own nation is led by a man who publicly and proudly proclaims his Catholic faith, but at the same time is delusional enough to make the sign of the cross during a pro-abortion rally. He has been so vocal in his support for the murder of innocent babies that I’m sure to many people it appears that you can be both Catholic and pro-choice,” Butker said. 

“He is not alone,” he added. “From the man behind the COVID lockdowns to the people pushing dangerous gender ideologies onto the youth of America, they all have a glaring thing in common. They are Catholic. This is an important reminder that being Catholic alone doesn’t cut it.” 

Butker, 28, kicked the game-tying field goal for the Kansas City Chiefs late in the fourth quarter in Super Bowl LVIII this past February, a year after kicking the game-winning field goal late in the Super Bowl in February 2023.

A practicing Catholic who attends the Latin Mass, Butker is married and has two children. 

In May 2023, he drew attention with his commencement address at his alma mater, Georgia Tech, during which he advised graduates to avoid being “alone and devoid of purpose” and to combat loneliness, anxiety, and depression with what he called “one controversial antidote that I believe will have a lasting impact for generations to come: Get married and start a family.” 

Benedictine is a Catholic school in northeastern Kansas associated with the Benedictine religious order that has been endorsed by The Cardinal Newman Society as “a faithful Catholic college.” The school has about 2,100 undergraduates. 

Butker’s approximately 20-minute speech at Benedictine had little of the light banter and motivational encouragement typically found at graduation ceremonies, a point he noted. 

“I know that my message today had a little less fluff than is expected for these speeches, but I believe that this audience and this venue is the best place to speak openly and honestly about who we are and where we all want to go, which is heaven,” Butker said. 

To be faithful, he said, Catholics must address publicly hot-button cultural issues. 

“These are the sorts of things we are told in polite society to not bring up. You know, the difficult and unpleasant things. But if we are going to be men and women for this time in history, we need to stop pretending that the church of nice is a winning proposition,” he said. “We must always speak and act in charity, but never mistake charity for cowardice.” 

Butker said closing the churches during the coronavirus shutdowns of 2020 is an example of bishops shirking their responsibility. 

“As we saw during the pandemic, too many bishops were not leaders at all. They were motivated by fear, fear of being sued, fear of being removed, fear of being disliked. They showed by their actions, intentional or unintentional, that the sacraments don’t actually matter,” Butker said. “Because of this, countless people died alone, without access to the sacraments, and it’s a tragedy we must never forget.” 

Butker did not name any particular Catholic clerics. But along with bishops he also criticized priests. 

“There is not enough time today for me to list all the stories of priests and bishops misleading their flocks, but none of us can blame ignorance anymore and just blindly proclaim that ‘That’s what Father said,’” Butker said. “Because sadly, many priests we are looking to for leadership are the same ones who prioritize their hobbies or even photos with their dogs and matching outfits for the parish directory.”

“Focusing on my vocation while praying and fasting for these men will do more for the Church than me complaining about her leaders,” Butker said.

To all the graduates, he recommended that they evangelize wherever they go.

“Never be afraid to profess the one holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church, for this is the Church that Jesus Christ established, through which we receive sanctifying grace,” Butker said.

Chicago priest apologizes for same-sex blessing, saying it violated Church norms

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CNA Staff, May 14, 2024 / 07:48 am (CNA).

A priest in Chicago has apologized for the controversial way in which he blessed a same-sex couple in April, calling it a “very poor decision” that violated Catholic Church’s new guidelines.

In a statement dated May 8, Father Joseph Williams, the pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish near downtown Chicago, offered an apology in which the priest said he “regrets the language of the blessing and the use of vestments and the church itself, which he now recognizes were a violation of the norms approved by the Church.”

The priest blessed a same-sex couple in the city parish in April. In a video of the event posted to social media, Williams — wearing priestly vestments — can be seen asking the couple if they “freely recommit yourselves to love each other as holy spouses and to live in peace and harmony together forever.” The two women respond, “I do.”

Williams in the video asks God to “increase and consecrate the love” the two women have for each other, stating that the “rings that they have exchanged are the sign of their fidelity and commitment.” 

The priest had initially suggested that the Vatican’s December 2023 document Fiducia Supplicans allows the type of blessing he administered in April. That document said that Catholic priests can bless same-sex couples as an expression of pastoral closeness without condoning their sexual relations and without making the blessing seem like a wedding. 

The way in which he conducted the blessing “came about due to my attempt to provide for them a meaningful moment of God’s grace,” the pastor said in the statement.

“I wanted to do it well,” he said. “A week or so after the fact, I viewed the video. I immediately realized that I had made a very poor decision in the words and visuals captured on the video.”

The controversy “has been a valuable learning experience” for the priest, the statement said. 

“I am deeply sorry for any confusion and/or anger that this has caused, particularly for the people of God,” Williams said. 

The statement was issued by the Congregation of the Mission, also called the Vincentians, who administer the downtown Chicago parish. 

The Archdiocese of Chicago did not immediately respond to an emailed query on Tuesday morning.

Fiducia Supplicans generated global controversy after it was announced on Dec. 18, with bishops around the world either declaring their support for it or stating their intention not to implement it. 

The Vatican declaration, which also applies to Catholics civilly remarried without having received an annulment as well as to couples in other “irregular situations,” underscored that such blessings cannot be offered in a way that would cause any confusion about the nature of marriage.

“The Church’s doctrine on this point remains firm,” the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith said when the document was released.

Mary, Mother of Persecuted Christians gains a shrine in Wyoming

Bishop Robert Pipta of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, celebrates a Divine Liturgy on Saturday, May 11, 2024, at the Byzantine chapel at Wyoming Catholic College, on the occasion of the installation and blessing of the new shrine. / Credit: Julian Kwasniewski/Wyoming Catholic College

Ann Arbor, Michigan, May 14, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Bishop Robert Pipta of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, dedicated a shrine and an icon on Saturday, May 11, at Wyoming Catholic College directed to prayer specifically for persecuted Christians. 

In a response to CNA, Pipta wrote of the event: “To be reminded that the Theotokos continues her motherly care for persecuted Christians throughout the world is of great value to the Catholic faithful in our communities.”

Pipta celebrated a Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine chapel at the college and was accompanied by its chaplain, Father David Anderson; Father Benedict Kiely; students; and faculty. 

Bishop Robert Pipta blesses the icon of the Virgin Mary of Persecuted Christians at Wyoming Catholic College on May 11, 2024. Credit: Julian Kwasniewski/Wyoming Catholic College
Bishop Robert Pipta blesses the icon of the Virgin Mary of Persecuted Christians at Wyoming Catholic College on May 11, 2024. Credit: Julian Kwasniewski/Wyoming Catholic College

Pipta blessed the chapel and an icon of the Virgin Mary of Persecuted Christians, which was painted by Syrian Melkite Greek Catholic Sister Souraya of the Basilian order, who resides in Lebanon. The icon is inscribed “Mother of the Persecuted” in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. This is the fifth such chapel in the world, with a sixth to be dedicated next year in Spokane, Washington, at the request of Bishop Thomas Daly.

In an interview with CNA, Kiely said there are two reasons why Christians should take note of the dedication of the chapel and icon.

“The first and most important is that St. Paul, when he was Saul, was on the way to Damascus, he was knocked from his horse by Jesus,” he said. “To Saul’s question came Jesus’ answer, which should be one of the most important things in a Christian’s life. It was when Saul asked, ‘Who are you Lord?’ Jesus said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.’ He didn’t say ‘You are persecuting my church.’ He said, ‘You are persecuting me.’ Anywhere in the world where a Christian is persecuted, it is Christ himself being persecuted. If that isn’t a priority in the so-called free West, then we have a problem.”

Kiely, 60, is a native of England and a priest of the Anglican Ordinariate who founded Nasarean.org, a charity based in Vermont that seeks to provide support to persecuted Christians.

With funds provided by the charity, Kiely said that Christians living in Iraq, for example, have been given the means to start small businesses to support their families. According to Kiely, the shrines are intended to assure persecuted Christians that their co-religionists in the West do care about them. The shrines, he said, offer opportunities to pray for the deliverance of Christians and encourage giving aid.

“As Christians, we believe that prayer is not the last resort but the first resort. I’ve been to Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere nine times in recent years. The very first thing that people ask me to do is pray for them and ask Christians to pray for them. They don’t ask first for aid but for prayer. A place specifically dedicated to pray for them is responding to those two things: that it is Jesus who is being persecuted and that they have asked for prayer,” Kiely told CNA.

In December 2023, on the feast of St. Stephen Protomartyr — the first martyr recorded in the Acts of the Apostles — Pope Francis observed: “Today, 2,000 years later, unfortunately we see that the persecution continues.”

Kiely said in the interview: “If enough people were praying for persecuted Christians, they might find freedom and peace.” In the past, Kiely has suggested that the current synodal process has not sufficiently focused on the issue. 

According to the Open Doors World Watch List, 317 million Christians face persecution and discrimination. One in seven Christians are persecuted worldwide, one in five Christians are persecuted in Africa, while two out of five Christians are persecuted in Asia, according to the group. Apart from the Middle East, which has been ravaged by war and groups such as ISIS, countries such as Pakistan, Nigeria, and China are of special concern.

This icon of the Virgin Mary of Persecuted Christians was painted by Syrian Melkite Greek Catholic Sister Souraya, who resides in Lebanon. The icon is inscribed “Mother of the Persecuted” in Aramaic. Credit: Father Benedict Kiely
This icon of the Virgin Mary of Persecuted Christians was painted by Syrian Melkite Greek Catholic Sister Souraya, who resides in Lebanon. The icon is inscribed “Mother of the Persecuted” in Aramaic. Credit: Father Benedict Kiely

“I only install an icon in a diocese where the bishop will bless it,” Kiely said. This is to signal the importance of prayers for the persecuted. The installation of the icon at Wyoming Catholic College was forwarded by Anderson, a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest at the college, and approved by Pipta.

“This is the first dedication of the icon in a college, and it is especially important because young people, the students, will pray for the persecuted,” Kiely said.

The first shrine of the Blessed Mother dedicated in 2017 to persecuted Christians was at St. Michael Parish in New York City. This was followed by another shrine in London and in Worcester, Massachusetts. The most recent installation was at a Syriac Catholic parish in Stockholm. The dedication in Massachusetts was accompanied by the world premiere of the “Mass for Persecuted Christians” by Catholic composer Paul Jernberg.

Why do so many Catholics use contraception? Experts weigh in

null / Credit: Goodluz/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, May 14, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Recent data from the federally administered National Survey of Family Growth shows large majorities of Catholics report using at least one form of artificial contraception — with over 90% having used condoms and more than 60% having used the hormonal birth control pill. 

Experts say this is “a crisis of catechesis within the Church” and one that requires both a compassionate response and a firm application of Catholic sexual ethics. 

The Catholic Church for centuries has taught that all forms of artificial birth control are illicit and forbidden to married couples. This teaching was formalized in 1968 by St. Paul VI, who in his encyclical Humanae Vitae declared that “any action … specifically intended to prevent procreation” was “absolutely excluded” as a lawful means of regulating the number of children in a Catholic marriage. 

Though Church teaching on the matter continues to be unambiguous, large numbers of Catholics have reported high usages of artificial contraception over the years. A 2011 Guttmacher study, for instance, found that “​​among women who are currently at risk of unintended pregnancy,” fully 87% of Catholics “use a method other than natural family planning.”

John Grabowski, a professor of moral theology and ethics at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that the data around Catholic contraception usage have been “known for some time.”  

“I think that this points to a crisis of catechesis within the Church,” he said. “Whatever we are currently doing to form people in the faith is not working well because this data shows that they are being catechized by the gospel of the sexual revolution rather than the Gospel proclaimed by the Church.”

Grabowski argued that Catholics who use artificial contraception “don’t realize that in choosing to contracept they are bringing something toxic into their marriages.” 

“In some cases, the contraceptives they use are physically toxic such as oral contraception, which has a whole range of negative health effects [both] physically and psychologically on women,” he said. 

“In some cases they are actually not genuinely contraceptive but actually work as abortifacients (such as some versions of the IUD),” he continued. 

“In almost every case, fertility is treated as a disease rather than a gift and a healthy function of the human body.”

The “gift” of one’s fertility has long been a part of Catholic sexual ethics; in Humanae Vitae St. Paul VI stressed the need to “experience the gift of married love while respecting the laws of conception.”

The “sexual faculties,” the pope wrote, are “concerned by their very nature with the generation of life, of which God is the source.”

Instead of artificial contraception, the Church promotes natural family planning (NFP) for both avoiding and achieving pregnancy. NFP methods, which are all based on the natural signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle, can include the use of fertility monitoring devices and apps. NFP respects both the unitive and procreative meaning of sex within marriage.

Gregory Popcak, the founder of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, which helps Catholics align their marriages and their lives with the Catholic faith, told CNA that there “isn’t a lot of quality research on NFP.” 

“According to the available data, the NFP usage rate among Catholics tends to be fairly consistently about 2%-3%,” he said.  

“That said, I believe there may be a small bounce in NFP usage because of the use of sophisticated apps that make NFP easier and (potentially) more effective to use,” he noted. 

Popcak argued that the Church’s teachings on birth control were “more front-and-center” under prior popes but that it has gone “largely silent” under Pope Francis. 

He argued that marriage advocates and Church leaders need to “recenter the conversation about NFP and stop making it about whether people are following the rules or not.” 

“That is the most superficial way we can have the conversation,” he said. “We have to proclaim the notion that marriage, along with all the other sacraments, is meant to be an instrument of healing. Matrimony is key to God’s plan for healing the generative nature of the human person.”

“We particularly don’t know — on our own — how to love another person the way God wants us to,” he said. “Matrimony exists to heal the damage sin does to our ability to love rightly — especially through our bodies.”

Birth control has ‘a long history’

Theresa Notare, the assistant director for the Natural Family Planning Program at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, acknowledged that contraception itself is nothing new. 

“The whole idea of birth control, of family planning, has a long history of tapping into what people think is good, what they think they need and want, not only for themselves but for their children,” she said. 

Notare pointed out that contraception has been practiced on a wide scale for centuries and for a variety of reasons. In many cases it was driven by the belief that parents “should be able to take care of the children they have” and not overtax potentially scarce family resources. 

The Church has regularly acknowledged the potential necessity of delaying childbearing for such reasons. St. John Paul II said in 1992 that husbands and wives are “deeply affected by social and economic circumstances” and that “conditions of poverty” can “cause a couple to be unprepared for the gift of new life.”

Though Church teaching has for years allowed for NFP in such cases, Notare said that our current technological zeitgeist has created “an impatience for anything that takes slow change.” 

Periodic abstinence as dictated by NFP “means you have to change your sexual behavior; that takes discipline,” she said. 

“People in the West, especially Americans, we just hate that sort of thing,” she said. “Why bother when you could pop a pill, open up a package, use a device?”

Notare argued that the laity “have not generally heard the Church’s good message on sex.” 

“For years they heard ‘guilt’ and didn’t hear the positive side of teachings,” she said. Once Humanae Vitae was promulgated, meanwhile, “too many priests had stopped speaking on the birth control issue.” 

“In that void, the culture imposed itself,” she said. “The majority of Catholics, at this point in time, are victims of the culture. They don’t know it. They’re absolutely ignorant of it.”

What can the Church do? 

Church leaders and lay advocates have for years been working to counteract the huge Catholic uptake in contraception. The U.S. bishops promote natural family planning through a variety of means, for instance, such as its directory of NFP instructors, while groups like the Couple to Couple League offer classes and resources for engaged and married couples. 

Grabowski said the Church needs to use its evangelization resources to better educate Catholics on Catholic sexual ethics. 

“As the Church in the U.S. is trying to better form people in the Catholic belief of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist in this Eucharistic revival, we need a similar kind of effort to better form people in a Catholic vision of the human person and sexuality,” he said.

Notare suggested that the faithful should look to Humanae Vitae as a good start. “The language is easy. It’s so beautifully laid out, talking about the nature of married love and the gift of procreation,” she said. “I would encourage people to read that. It’s very clear.”

Popcak, meanwhile, acknowledged “the real challenges that NFP brings out in a relationship.”

The Church “needs to be providing actual pastoral support and guidance for couples” who are using it, he said. 

“We need to help couples understand that the challenges that NFP forces to the surface are the very problems that God is asking them to work through so that they can have healthier, happier, and holier relationships,” he said. 

Catholic couples who struggle with NFP and aren’t assisted by their spiritual leaders can often just give up on the practice altogether, he said, leading to widespread claims that natural family planning simply doesn’t work. 

“Frankly, that’s always been the case, but it’s particularly true now,” Popcak said. “Catholic couples deserve better.”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. retracts ‘full-term abortion’ support, backs viability limit

Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. visits “Fox & Friends” at Fox News Channel Studios on April 2, 2024, in New York City. / Credit: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 13, 2024 / 15:31 pm (CNA).

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is walking back his recent statement of support for “full-term abortion” on demand and conceding to some restrictions on abortion once a fetus reaches viability, which occurs around 23 to 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The Catholic Democrat-turned-independent embraced the legality of on-demand “full-term abortion” in an appearance on “The Sage Steele Show” last Wednesday. The candidate told Steele — who is a Catholic — that abortion should be legal “even if it’s full term.” He said that he does not think “it’s ever OK” to abort a full-term child but that “nobody sets out to do that and there are always some kind of extenuating circumstances that would make a mother make that kind of choice.” 

After facing backlash from numerous pro-life organizations and eliciting confusion within his own campaign, Kennedy walked back that position. 

In a post on X late Friday night — just two days after his comments — Kennedy said he “would allow appropriate restrictions on abortion in the final months of pregnancy” and highlighted that even the now-defunct Roe v. Wade ruling allowed for such rules.

“Abortion has been a notoriously divisive issue in America, but actually I see an emerging consensus — abortion should be legal up until a certain number of weeks and restricted thereafter,” Kennedy said.

The presidential candidate wrote in his post that he trusts “women’s maternal instincts” and said he is “leery of inserting the government into abortion” because of instances such as the unborn child having “some fatal condition that ensures it will survive just hours or days after birth in intense suffering.” In those situations, he asked, “can we, should we, legislate such painful decisions and take them away from the mother?” 

“I had been assuming that virtually all late-term abortions were such cases, but I’ve learned that my assumption was wrong,” Kennedy continued. “Sometimes, women abort healthy, viable late-term fetuses. These cases of purely ‘elective’ late-term abortion are very upsetting. Once the baby is viable outside the womb, it should have rights and it deserves society’s protection.” 

Kennedy said in his statement that he “learned this because I was willing to listen — to my family, advisers, supporters, and others who shared their perspectives” and added that he promised to “continue to listen and incorporate what I learn into my decisions.”

The presidential hopeful added that he supports “the emerging consensus that abortion should be unrestricted up until a certain point” and that he believes “that point should be when the baby is viable outside the womb.”

Kennedy then referred back to previous statements he has made on abortion, claiming that “the biggest reason [women obtain abortions] according to studies is affordability.” He plugged his “More Choices, More Life” abortion reduction plan, which would seek to address affordability with government-subsidized child care so “abortion isn’t their only choice.”

In a statement to CNA last week, a Kennedy spokesperson said that the independent candidate also supports legislation to codify the abortion standards set in Roe v. Wade. This would make abortion legal nationwide and prevent states from implementing legal protections for unborn life in earlier stages of pregnancy. In an interview with EWTN last month, Kennedy said he opposes states being allowed to control their own abortion policies.

Pro-life groups react to Kennedy’s policy change

Following Kennedy’s shift on full-term abortion, Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told CNA that Kennedy “has taken a variety of positions on abortion throughout his campaign.” 

“Most late-term abortions in the U.S. involve healthy moms and healthy babies, as even the abortion industry admits,” Dannenfelser added. “We’re one of only eight countries, alongside China and Vietnam, that allow abortion on demand with no national protections for unborn babies at any point in pregnancy.”

However, Dannenfelser said, “even Kennedy’s latest shift of no protections until a baby can survive outside the womb — well past the point when the child can feel pain — still leaves America as a global human rights outlier.” She encouraged legal protections for unborn children at the federal level at 15 weeks of pregnancy. 

National Right to Life President Carol Tobias told CNA that it appears Kennedy realized the unpopularity of on-demand abortion up until the point of birth.

“Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said the abortion decision should be up to the woman, even if that meant an abortion at any time up to birth,” Tobias said.

“He, obviously, received so much pushback that he again changed [his] position, moving it back to sometime around viability,” Tobias added. “Kennedy realized that the American public at large does not accept abortion for any reason throughout pregnancy. [President] Joe Biden is now the only candidate supporting that radical position.”

How Kennedy compares with Biden and Trump

Biden has backed efforts to codify the abortion standards previously held in Roe v. Wade. The language of the text would legalize abortion nationwide until the point of viability — however, it would not set a clear week-based limit but instead allow the unborn child’s viability to be determined by the woman’s treating physician, who may be the abortionist.

Kennedy did not say whether he would support a specific week-based limit to prevent late-term abortions or whether he would support the same language. 

Biden also supports repealing budget language that prevents federal agencies from directly funding abortion.

Former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said in April that he would not sign a national abortion ban if Congress sent one to him. Rather, he supports states making their own laws regarding abortion. 

“Many states will be different,” Trump said in April. “Many will have a different number of weeks, or some will have more conservative [policies] than others, and that’s what they will be.”

After the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, more than 20 states passed pro-life laws that imposed stricter limits on abortion than were permitted under the now-defunct ruling.

Pastor urges faithful to pray for vandal who defaced church: ‘That’s being a Christian’

Father Timothy Furlow speaks from the ambo at St. Patrick’s Church in Portland, Oregon. / Credit: St. Patrick’s Church in Portland, Oregon

CNA Staff, May 13, 2024 / 11:16 am (CNA).

A pastor in Portland, Oregon, recently urged his parish to pray for a vandal who defaced the church building with vulgar graffiti, arguing that the controversy gets to the “core message” of the Gospel itself. 

A vandal tagged St. Patrick’s Church in Portland with several graffiti in April that read “[expletive] you, my body my choice,” a popular slogan for the pro-abortion movement. 

In his homily the morning the graffiti was discovered, the parish’s pastor, Father Timothy Furlow, told parishioners that he deliberately left the vulgar message visible for the faithful to see on their way to Mass. 

“I wanted you to see it,” he said. “Somebody said, ‘Oh, we got to cover this up.’ And then I’m like, nope. I want them to see that.” 

“And the reason is because it fits kind of perfectly with what the core message of the Gospel is,” he continued. “The core message here is pretty simple: We can’t do anything good apart from God. Not a thing. We can’t pull a good thing off. It’s just absolutely impossible.”

The pastor indicated the perpetrator is a known vandal around Portland. Furlow said he himself has felt a desire to see the criminal “get his comeuppance.”

“But the other part of me, the part of my heart that the Holy Spirit is working in — that I let him work in — thinks what I really want is for him to be an usher,” he said. 

“I want him to come to my door and say, ‘I have no idea what’s going on. I have never experienced anything like this in my life. But somehow in the core of my being, I know that God is real and Jesus is God.’”

The pastor said he hopes that the vandal would follow that impulse “all the way through OCIA and the sacraments of initiation, into the door that he once cursed and spray-painted.”

Furlow reminded the assembly of Jesus’ command to “pray for those who persecute you.”

“Christianity and Catholicism [is] utterly unlike anything else on the earth because it runs directly contrary to the logic of the world, the flesh, and the devil,” he said. 

The pastor then asked the parish to take a minute to “sincerely pray for that guy and every single person like him in Portland, Oregon, that’s hurting with a broken heart and is turning to the darkness to try to fix it rather than the Lord who is healing himself.” 

“Pray that he’d actually be able to receive that grace and that one day he would be welcoming you at the door to Mass,” he said. 

“That’s being a Christian. That’s truly living our supernatural Catholic faith.”

Biden administration tightening asylum system to stop national security threats 

The new rule authorizes border agents to screen asylum seekers for “national security, criminal, or other public safety concern[s]” at the “earliest stage possible.” Those flagged as potential threats to the U.S. and its citizens can be denied entry into the U.S. immediately. / Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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

As communities on the U.S. southern border continue to face a record surge of migrants, the Biden administration has proposed a new rule meant to stop people who pose national security threats from remaining in the country.

The Biden administration said the rule, which is set to be entered into the Federal Register today, will “enhance operational flexibility” and help the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “more swiftly remove certain noncitizens who are barred from asylum.”

“The proposed rule we have published today is yet another step in our ongoing efforts to ensure the safety of the American public by more quickly identifying and removing those individuals who present a security risk and have no legal basis to remain here,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.

What does the rule do? 

The rule authorizes border agents to screen asylum seekers for “national security, criminal, or other public safety concern[s]” at the “earliest stage possible.” Those flagged as potential threats to the U.S. and its citizens can be denied entry into the U.S. immediately. 

By screening asylum seekers for national security concerns when they first enter, the rule would enable border agents to remove threats from the country immediately rather than waiting months or even years later as is often the case under the current rules. 

Notably, the rule states that it “would not require” agents to conduct the screenings but instead only authorizes them to use their “discretion” when processing asylum requests. 

This comes as there has been an unprecedented surge in migrants crossing the southern border and applying for asylum under the Biden administration. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statistics, border agents encountered a record high of close to 2.5 million migrants at the border in the 2023 fiscal year. With well over 1.3 million encounters already in fiscal year 2024, the number of migrants crossing the border this year is on track to exceed the number in 2023. 

The Biden administration admits the rule will likely not reduce the migrant surge in a significant way and that “the population to which this rule will apply is likely to be relatively small.” However, the administration claims that the rule will allow them “to quickly screen out” non-meritorious asylum claims and promote greater national security by removing those who present a threat or concern.

DHS is allowing 30 days for the public to submit comments after which point the administration will consider making changes before allowing the rule to take effect.

U.S. bishops emphasize due process

Chieko Noguchi, a spokesperson for the U.S. bishops, told CNA that the conference is “reviewing the proposed rule carefully.” 

She pointed out that the U.S. bishops have “reiterated several times in recent months that ensuring due process for noncitizens remains an important component of this.” 

“Church teaching clearly acknowledges the right of countries to maintain their borders and regulate immigration, consistent with the common good. That same teaching also recognizes the right of those fleeing persecution and other conditions to seek protection,” Noguchi said. 

“The bishops remain committed to supporting policies that respect the sanctity of human life wherever it may be found, to include both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.” 

Some Catholic leaders, meanwhile, have spoken out against the proposed rule more strongly. 

Jesús de la Torre, a research fellow at the Catholic aid group the Hope Border Institute, said that if implemented as is, the rule “would undermine due process, send potential refugees back to danger, and do nothing to address humanitarian needs at the border.” 

According to Torre, “this new rule does nothing but increase the pain and confusion exerted against people seeking safety at the U.S.-Mexico border.” 

“Currently, many people are having fear screenings in CBP detention, in rushed and often not private procedures, without accessing counsel, and not knowing what they are going through,” he explained. “Adding another bar to an already cruel, faulty process may send more bona fide asylum seekers into danger.” 

‘This rule does nothing’ 

Andrew Arthur, a former immigration judge and resident fellow in law and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, told CNA that the rule essentially re-implements a version of a Trump-era policy that was reversed in the early days of the Biden administration. 

Though he believes the rule is “partially a political document” meant to show the administration is concerned about the border, Arthur also expressed concern that the rule “suggests” there is an imminent national security threat to the U.S. 

“It doesn’t make any sense for the current administration to do this, because they’d already made the determination that they weren’t going to do it unless there is a serious national security or law enforcement threat that they are concerned about,” he said.

Selene Rodriguez, a native of South Texas and policy leader on border security and immigration at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, told CNA that “this rule does nothing” and is essentially political theater on the part of the Biden administration.

She described the current conditions at the border as a narco culture in which drug cartels are in control. Among those most affected, she said, are the people already living in border communities.

“This border crisis has raged on for four years now,” she said. “When you pull members of any of these communities together, the stories are merging, the experiences are merging, the feelings of those experiences are merging. Whether you talk to Republicans or Democrats, at the end of the day, they’re like, ‘We just want our home back.’”