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‘Cannabis Studies’ program at St. Joseph’s University a ‘scandal,’ theologian says

null / SJU undergraduate admissions via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Boston, Mass., Mar 10, 2023 / 09:45 am (CNA).

The Jesuit Catholic St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia is now offering four certificates in “cannabis studies,” and one theologian is arguing that the degree program causes scandal. 

“The definition of scandal is action that leads another to sin, and the promotion of a certificate in Cannabis Studies will do exactly this, encouraging the further normalization of cannabis use, with a damaging impact on the health of body and soul,” Jared Staudt, a professor of systematic theology at the Augustine Institute, told CNA Thursday.

Those who enroll in the Philadelphia-based university’s new program will work toward one of four different marijuana certificates: Cannabis Compliance and Risk Management, Healthcare and Medicine, Business of Cannabis, or Cannabis Agriculture and Horticulture.

“For anyone considering a career in cannabis or hemp, specialist knowledge is the key to unlocking the industry’s most exciting opportunities,” the school’s website says. 

“The cannabis landscape is complex, ever-changing, and unique. This certificate will provide you with a clear understanding of the cannabis industry, how it got there, and where it’s going,” it says.

The school is offering three separate eight-week online courses for each certificate. 

A sample of the course offerings for the Business of Cannabis certificate includes: a course called Cannabis 101: History and Practice Across Industries, The Business of Cannabis I: Seed to Sale, and The Business of Cannabis II: Scaling Operations.

The website says the courses feature “expert instruction and interaction from top executives and entrepreneurs, board-certified doctors and lawyers, advanced professionals in engineering and agriculture, and policymakers.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the use of drugs, “except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense.” Pope Francis spoke out against the legalization of “recreational drugs” at the 2014 International Drug Enforcement Conference.

“Attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called ‘recreational drugs,’ are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects,” the Holy Father said.

Staudt said: “I do not believe it is appropriate for a Catholic university to offer a Cannabis Studies certificate, because the Church teaches that the use of drugs constitutes a sin against the Fifth Commandment.”

“The impairment of mental functioning strikes at the very heart of our humanity and capacity for free, rational action. I know that many people argue that cannabis use is therapeutic for pain, although this has not been established medically at this point, and there are numerous studies that cast doubt on its effectiveness in treating pain at all,” he said.

CNA reached out to the university for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.

In Pennsylvania, medical marijuana was legalized in 2016. Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor Josh Shapiro has supported the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. In his most recent budget proposal, he included a hypothetical tax income, which showed legalized marijuana would bring in $16 million for the government in the first year, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

On the federal level, marijuana remains illegal for both recreational and medical reasons.

Staudt said that he thinks offering the degree is immoral because “it participates in the use of a harmful substance for either recreational or questionable medical purposes.”

“Financially there are difficulties because cannabis is still illegal under federal law, and there is still much illegal activity in the distribution of cannabis,” he added.

United Nations equates Sandinista Nicaragua with Nazism

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega speaks to supporters during a rally in Managua, on Sept. 5, 2018. / Inti Ocon/AFP via Getty Images)

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Mar 10, 2023 / 04:52 am (CNA).

Amid ongoing reports of oppression of the Catholic Church and the Nicaraguan people under the regime of President Daniel Ortega, concerns grow about worsening persecution.

The U.N. is among those concerned, likening Nicaragua’s Sandinista government to Nazi Germany.

“The use of the justice system against political opponents, as in Nicaragua, is exactly what the Nazi regime did,” said Jan Michael Simon, according to The Río Times. His comments were also reported in other news outlets, including The New York Times. Simon chairs the U.N.’s Human Rights Group on Nicaragua, which was established in 2018 to report on the ongoing repression of political dissidents and the Catholic Church. 

According to the report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo and their government have held their people “hostage” while committing “widespread and systematic human rights violations that amount to crimes against humanity.”

Ortega and wife Murillo acted “in a joint and coordinated manner” during protests between April and September 2018,” Simon said, adding: “They have been weaponizing the justice system, weaponizing the legislative function, weaponizing the executive function of the State against the population.”

Among the regime’s targets, Bishop Rolando Álvarez, one of the strongest critics of the regime, was stripped of his citizenship and sentenced on Feb. 9 to 26 years in prison after refusing exile as commanded by Ortega. In addition, more than 200 of his compatriots were released from prison and forcibly exiled to the United States. The Sandinistas have begun expropriating their properties, according to Voice of America. Some were stripped of their citizenship.

Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, an attorney and media fellow at the Institute for Human Ecology Institute at the Catholic University of America, has written extensively about human rights challenges in Nicaragua and elsewhere in Latin America. Picciotti-Bayer is also the director of the Conscience Project and the mother of 10 children. 

Picciotti-Bayer applauded Bishop Álvarez and fellow Nicaraguan bishops for calling on priests and religious to stand firm in the face of the Sandinistas. “While Bishop Álvarez is cut off from his people, the Church continues to be a voice not only for him and his people but also to rally global opinion about what is happening,” she said. The U.N. and the State Department have both called for the bishop’s release from prison.

“The U.N. is calling out Ortega for his brutality and hoping Ortega and the Sandinistas will disappear. But what I worry about is that they will up their game and that the oppression will become something we’ve not seen since Nazi Germany, as far as the attempt to silence any opposition,” Picciotti-Bayer said while pointing out that the Sandinistas receive arms and economic assistance from communist China and Venezuela.

Response of the Pope and U.S. Bishops

U.S. Catholic bishops and Pope Francis have added to the chorus of condemnations of the repression taking place in Nicaragua and the treatment of Bishop Álvarez.

“His sentencing marks yet another escalated human rights violation in the ongoing ordeal the Catholic Church faces in Nicaragua,” Archbishop Timothy Broglio, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement. And during his Feb. 12 Angelus address to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis prayed for Álvarez and the 222 Nicaraguans deported to the U.S. “and for all those who suffer in the beloved nation of Nicaragua.”

While the Sandinista government has increased its persecution of its people, according to the U.S. government, in fiscal year 2022, 163,876 Nicaraguans were encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border: the largest number ever and eclipsing the numbers of Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans encountered. This represented a steep increase over FY 2021 (50,722) and an exponential increase from FY 2020 (only 3,164).

“They don’t have any other choice. These Nicaraguans are not leaving just because of economic concerns, but because [of] their autonomy and safety and the safety of their children,” said Picciotti-Bayer. “That should concern the U.S. because it is never good that people have to leave their homeland because of oppression; but it also [is] putting a strain on our country and a politically charged immigration system,” 

But she underscored the humanitarian aspect.

“Catholics are called to have a greater concern for our brothers and sisters, whether they’re believers or just brothers and sisters on this earth. Paying attention to the shift towards these more totalitarian and authoritarian regimes in the Americas: If there isn’t an unequivocal response by the global community and the U.S. to stop Ortega, other countries with similar leaders may feel that they behave similarly with no repercussions,” said Picciotti-Bayer.

“The tide has turned on Ortega as the United States is making this known,” Picciotti-Bayer said about Ortega’s deportation of his fellow citizens. 

Wyoming advances a new abortion ban to replace blocked ‘trigger law’

A sonogram picture of a fetus in the second trimester of a woman's pregnancy / Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., Mar 9, 2023 / 14:02 pm (CNA).

Lawmakers in Wyoming have sent a new abortion ban to the governor’s desk to be signed into law, in an attempt to end abortions in the western state after a previous abortion ban, which first came into effect last summer, was blocked in court.  

House Bill 152, known as the “Life is a Human Right Act,” includes language clarifying that abortion is not healthcare but rather the “intentional termination of the life of an unborn baby,” which is a human and should therefore have the rights of a human. 

“It is within the authority of the state of Wyoming to determine reasonable and necessary restrictions upon abortion, including its prohibition,” the act reads. 

"The legislature, in the exercise of its constitutional duties and powers, has a fundamental duty to provide equal protection for all human lives, including unborn babies from conception.”

The legislation bans abortion throughout pregnancy but carves out specific exceptions to allow doctors to perform abortions to preserve the life or health of the mother, in cases of rape or incest, or in the case of a diagnosed lethal fetal anomaly. The act also clarifies that care for women suffering from an ectopic pregnancy, as well as procedures to care for a woman following a miscarriage, are not considered abortions and will not be affected by the law. 

The act would make the performing of an illegal abortion a felony punishable by a fine of up to $20,000, imprisonment for not more than five years, or both. In addition, a doctor performing an abortion could lose their license. The act provides no penalty for the woman seeking an abortion. 

The Wyoming House approved the bill on a 46-16 vote on Feb. 8. The Senate approved it March 1 with 25 voting for the bill, five voting against it and one legislator absent, the Cody Enterprise newspaper reported. 

Wyoming has a “trigger law” in place that banned all abortions, with a few exceptions, upon the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which took place last June. On July 21, 2022, Attorney General Bridget Hill informed Gov. Mark Gordon that the trigger law will be fully authorized, allowing it to come into effect. That law also had exceptions for rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger.

A few Wyoming lawmakers expressed concerns that the new law is very similar to the trigger law, which got blocked last year. 

On July 27, 2022, a Wyoming court put a temporary hold on the enactment of the trigger law. The law is now blocked indefinitely while legal challenges play out in court after Teton County District Court Judge Melissa Owens approved a new preliminary injunction Aug. 11. 

Sponsored by Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams (R-Cody) — the lawmaker who sponsored the state’s trigger law — the Life is a Human Right Act is currently awaiting the signature of Republican Gov. Mark Gordon. Gordon signed Wyoming’s trigger law into effect last year, saying he did so because he believes that the decision to regulate abortions should be left to the states. Gordon has signed other pro-life legislation during his tenure, including a bill requiring any physician performing an abortion to “take medically appropriate and reasonable steps to preserve the life and health of an infant born alive.”

As of December 2022, Wyoming has only one abortion clinic in the state, a private clinic located in Jackson. 

If the new law comes into effect, Wyoming will be the 12th state to successfully ban abortion. Several other states’ complete bans are blocked in court. 

Seal of Confession under attack? Delaware, Vermont bills draw Catholic criticism

null / AS photo studio/Shutterstock.

Denver, Colo., Mar 9, 2023 / 09:30 am (CNA).

Two state legislatures are considering ending any legal protections for a priest who learns about sexual abuse in the confessional. In response, Catholic leaders warned that the laws are unconstitutional, put priests in legal jeopardy, and endanger confidentiality with penitents.

Delaware’s House Bill 74 is among the proposals to end clergy protections in mandatory sexual abuse reporting laws.

“This act abrogates the privilege between priest and penitent in a sacramental confession relating to child abuse and neglect,” says the bill summary on the Delaware General Assembly’s website. “It requires priests to report child abuse and neglect or to give or accept evidence in a judicial proceeding relating to child abuse or neglect.”

The legislation prompted criticism from the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington.

“The sacrament of confession and its seal of confession is a fundamental aspect of the Church’s sacramental theology and practice. It is nonnegotiable,” the Wilmington Diocese said March 6. “No Catholic priest or bishop would ever break the seal of confession under any circumstances.”

“The Diocese of Wilmington considers the protection of the vulnerable to be one of the most important aims of public policy,” the diocese continued. “However, this legislation would not advance that vital objective.”

The requirement would be practically “nearly impossible to meet” for Catholic clergy because almost all sacramental confessions are anonymous.

“It would be a clear violation of the First Amendment for the government to interfere in this most sacred and ancient practice of our faith,” said the diocese, which voiced concerns about infringement on the rights of other faith communities.

Catholic canon law characterizes the seal of sacramental confession as “inviolable.” It says it is “absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.”

Breaking this seal incurs an automatic excommunication that only the pope can pardon, the Wilmington Diocese said. Delaware law already requires priests to be mandatory reporters of suspected abuse, and internal diocese policy requires priests to report suspected child abuse to civil authorities.

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, VT. Courtesy photograph.
Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, VT. Courtesy photograph.

In Vermont, Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 3 to oppose Bill S. 16. The bill would fully eliminate clergy’s protection from the mandatory abuse reporting law if reporting abuse would violate a privilege or disclose confidential communication.

According to Coyne, the legislation “crosses a constitutionally protected element of our religious faith: the right to worship as we see fit.”

“There is no question that protecting children is essential and criminals must be held accountable for their crimes. But disregarding fundamental religious rights is unnecessary,” he said.

The exemption to the current law is “very narrow,” according to Coyne. No office conversations or counseling sessions are privileged. He characterized confession as “a moment of worship in which the penitent seeks God’s mercy.”

Coyne said all clergy and lay employees of the Burlington Diocese are mandatory reporters. Anyone who works for the diocese or diocesan parishes must have a criminal background check and safe environment training to recognize signs of child abuse.

“The priest has a sacred duty to maintain the secrecy of sacramental confession,” he said. “The sacramental seal of confession is the worldwide law of the Catholic Church, not just the diocese. No bishop has the authority to change this.”

“Requiring clergy to report child abuse learned during a penitential communication would infringe upon our First Amendment rights,” said the bishop. “Not just the rights of myself and the clergy but the rights of all of the Catholics in the state of Vermont and the rights of any other faith community that has that kind of a privileged penitential communication.”

From ancient times confessions could not be shared with anyone else even if it was to the advantage of the Church or the priest, according to Coyne.

“Today, the president of the United States could go to confession to a priest and the priest would not have to worry about being subpoenaed by Congress to expose what was said,” Coyne said.

Persons at the confessional do have to be truly penitent and seek to change their lives, the bishop added. Clergy could encourage the penitent to go to the authorities if a crime has been committed, but this is the penitent’s duty.

Other states are considering similar legislation.

In Kansas, State Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, introduced S.B. 87, which would require ordained ministers in the state to report suspected physical, sexual, or emotional abuse and neglect of children. Failure to report would mean a misdemeanor charge.

Though his 2019 bill on the same topic contained an exemption for the penitential privilege, his 2023 legislation does not exempt penitential communications, the Topeka-Capital Journal reported in January.

Chuck Weber, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, told CNA he knows of no plans to have a hearing on the bill.

“The Kansas Catholic Conference has long supported the measure, only with a penitential privilege protection clause,” he said.

Kansas priests are already “trained and complying with the responsibility to report instances of abuse and/or neglect,” Weber said.

Holland told the Topeka-Capital Journal he was concerned the exemption would be “a back door to not reporting” that would discourage law enforcement investigations. Exempting confessions would be “the easy way out.”

“If we have a religious organization where this is a pervasive problem, my concern is that then the exemption becomes basically standard operating procedure where if something happens, run and go confess it, and now when the investigators come it’s like, ‘We don’t know, we’re not obligated to share that information,’” he said.

The Washington state Legislature had two bills concerning mandatory child abuse reporting by clergy. The Senate version, S.B. 5280, preserved the clergy-penitent privilege, while the House of Representative version, H.B. 1098, did not. The Senate unanimously passed its version of the bill on Wednesday and sent it to the House for approval. The House version was technically a viable bill but Wednesday was its last chance to pass the House, Adrienne Joyce, director of policy and communications, told CNA March 8.

Utah proposals to remove exemptions for confessions to clergy failed to advance in the most recent legislative session, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Newman Guide expands to include K-12 and more in ‘faithful Catholic’ school guide

Classroom in a Catholic school. / Wuttichai jantarak/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Mar 9, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).

The Cardinal Newman Society, which publishes a yearly guide on the most faithfully Catholic colleges in the U.S., has announced a massive new expansion coming this April to help parents and students find the most authentically Catholic schools at all grades and levels.

“Faithful Catholic education is critical for the souls of our young people … not just [in] the college years,” Kelly Salomon, vice president of Newman Guide Programs, told CNA. “Every Catholic child should receive a Catholic education.” 

Starting this April, the Cardinal Newman Society’s “Newman Guide” will include a comprehensive listing of not only colleges but also the country’s most faithful Catholic K–12 schools, home-school programs, and graduate programs.   

“Today, we often lament the crisis of belief in society and even among baptized Catholics, but it is rarely a rejection of God — it is a crisis of education,” Salomon said. “Too many Catholic schools mirror public schools in their curriculum, policies, and personnel. At the same time, public/secular schools and colleges have become hostile to the faith.” 

The result? A 2019 Pew survey revealed that only 31% of Catholics believe in a basic tenet of their faith — that the body and blood of Christ are truly, really, and substantially present in the Eucharist. 

The numbers are even lower for Catholics under 40, with only about 1 in 4 — 26% — believing in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. 

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate reported in January that just 17% of American Catholics attend Mass weekly or more, down from 24% in 2019.

As some Catholic schools secularize, many schools, both Catholic and public, have embraced stances on gender, marriage, and the sanctity of life that are antithetical to Catholic belief and teaching. 

This education crisis, Salomon claimed, has resulted in many of the serious problems facing the Church in America today. 

“This is a failure of proper formation and teaching,” Salomon said. “But there is good news: There is an exciting renewal in truly faithful Catholic education that is happening today.”

“Parochial schools are returning to their roots and embracing strong Catholic identity. Parents across the country are starting up independent, faithful Catholic schools. And there’s been an explosion in Catholic home schooling, especially during the pandemic,” she said.

According to the Cardinal Newman Society, enrollment in faithful Catholic colleges included in the Newman Guide has increased by more than 10%, despite overall college enrollment declining. 

Now, the Cardinal Newman Society’s expansion will connect Catholic parents and students with the most faithful education programs that fit their needs. 

How does the Newman Guide determine which schools to include on its list? Salomon explained that the Newman Society studies a set of standards that cover each aspect of Catholic education, including academics, admissions, and even athletics.

“These standards are derived from guidance provided by Church councils, popes, Vatican congregations, bishop conferences, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and other Church documents,” she said.

By connecting parents and students with the faithful and vibrant Catholic schools and programs, the Newman Society hopes to spread the teachings of the faith.

“Faithful Catholic education is also critical for the future of the Church,” Salomon said. “Leaders in pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-religious-freedom efforts are being formed at faithful Catholic colleges.”

According to Salomon, more than 75,000 families already use the Newman Guide every year to find Catholic colleges. 

Colleges included in the Newman Guide span all parts of the country, from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., to Thomas Aquinas College in California, Ave Maria University in Florida, and the University of Mary in North Dakota. 

Though Salomon explained the expansion will be an ongoing process, she said the first cohort of recognized Newman Guide schools and programs will be announced this April. 

EWTN News and Franciscan University to host journalism conference on ‘post-truth world’

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Washington D.C., Mar 8, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

“Journalism does not come so much by choosing a profession as by launching oneself on a mission,” Pope Francis said in a 2021 address to journalists. “Your mission is to explain the world, to make it less obscure, to make those who live in it less afraid of it and look at others with greater awareness, and also with more confidence.”

This weekend, March 10–11, EWTN News and Franciscan University of Steubenville are partnering to host a conference titled “Journalism in a Post-Truth World,” focusing on the mission of Catholics in the journalistic and media industries.

Registration is open to the general public for in-person and livestream attendance. To register click here

The conference, which will be held at Washington, D.C.’s Museum of the Bible, aims to confront the challenges facing Catholics in the journalistic world in a society that is increasingly antagonistic toward Christianity, Catholicism, and even truth itself.

“Journalism today requires a commitment to the truth and the highest journalistic principles, even though that commitment brings ridicule and attacks by many in legacy media and other journalists more interested in advocacy and ideology than truth and fact,” the conference website states. 

“There is no question that we live in a post-truth era, a time when objective facts are less important in shaping public opinion than emotions or feelings,” said Michael Warsaw, chief executive officer of EWTN. “And the field of journalism is both on the front lines of this new phenomenon and also an active participant in its spread across modern culture.”

The conference will feature talks and panels with notable speakers representing a wide array of viewpoints in the Catholic media world, including Franciscan University president Father Dave Pivonka, National Review editor Kathryn Jean Lopez, Fox News correspondent Lauren Green, The Daily Signal senior reporter Mary Margaret Olohan, and many more.

Among the topics to be discussed by the panels are “Bias in Journalism,” “Social Media and Its Role in Modern Journalism,” “Covering the Catholic Church,” and “Free Speech and Global Journalism.”

“I’m grateful to EWTN News for collaborating with us on this timely and important conference,” Pivonka said. “I’m confident it will give participants renewed hope and many practical tools to prosper in an often hostile, biased media landscape.”

Oklahoma voters reject marijuana legalization

null / OpenRangeStock/Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., Mar 8, 2023 / 13:45 pm (CNA).

Oklahomans on Tuesday night overwhelmingly voted down a measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana, which the Catholic bishops of the state had urged voters to reject because of the physical and spiritual harms of drug use.

State Question 820, which would have legalized the consumption of marijuana for adults 21 and over, was put before Oklahoma voters in a special election March 7. The final tally was 62% no to 38.3% yes, with a turnout of about 25% of registered voters, the Associated Press reported.

The vote continues a recent trend of conservative-led states rejecting marijuana ballot measures, despite analyst predictions that marijuana legalization has, for the past decade or so, largely been a winning issue no matter what state it is introduced in. At the midterm elections in November 2022, voters in Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota rejected measures put before them to legalize recreational pot while Missouri and Maryland approved theirs. Catholic bishops in all of those states had urged voters to reject marijuana legalization.

Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level but has been legalized for recreational use in 21 states and the District of Columbia.

Supporters of State Question 820 had argued that the state would benefit financially from a likely influx of Texans from the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex who would travel to Oklahoma to avail themselves of legal marijuana. Oklahoma already has, since 2018, one of the most liberal medical marijuana programs in the country, with roughly 10% of the state’s adult population having a medical license, the AP reported.

The Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, representing Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City and Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa, strongly urged voters to reject the measure, citing the well-documented harms to society, children, and the family associated with the proliferation of marijuana.

“As a result of our current lax marijuana laws, Oklahoma is now the largest exporter of illegal marijuana in the country,” the conference wrote in a March 1 post on social media.

“We can’t let our children grow up in a state where marijuana is commonplace. Use of the drug is harmful to developing adolescent brains and is associated with an increased risk for depression, suicide, and psychosis. Chronic marijuana use is associated with cognitive impairment, degenerated academic performance, and short- and long-term memory deficits.”

The marijuana measure in Oklahoma proved contentious. Law enforcement groups as well as numerous state lawmakers, including Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, announced their opposition to the measure, citing in part a rise in crime associated with the illegal growing and shipping of marijuana out of Oklahoma. In addition, instances of accidental marijuana poisoning of children in Oklahoma have risen sharply since the state legalized it for medical use.

What does the Catholic Church teach about marijuana?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the use of drugs apart from strictly therapeutic reasons is a “grave offense” (No. 2291). Paragraph 2211 of the catechism also states that the political community has a duty to protect the security and health of families, especially with respect to drugs.

Pope Francis has spoken out against even the partial legalization of so-called “soft drugs.”

“Let me state this in the clearest terms possible: The problem of drug use is not solved with drugs!” the pope said in a 2014 address to the International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome.

“Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise … Attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called ‘recreational drugs’ are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects. … Here I would reaffirm what I have stated on another occasion: No to every type of drug use. It is as simple as that. No to any kind of drug use.”

In November 2016, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences held a meeting at the Vatican with international experts, led and inspired by Pope Francis and Queen Silvia of Sweden, to discuss the worldwide drug epidemic and provide recommendations.

“The international epidemic is led by a globalized network of criminals and legal business interests, with children and youth as their primary targets,” the conference’s final statement reads.

The statement recommended the rejection of “drug legalization for recreational purposes as a hopeless, mindless strategy that would consign more people, especially the disadvantaged, youth, the poor, and the mentally ill, to misery or even death while compromising civil society, social stability, equality, and the law.” It also called for authorities to “educate the public with up-to-date scientific information on how drugs affect the brain, body, and behavior, to clarify why legalization of marijuana and other drugs for recreational use is poor public policy, poor public health policy, and poor legal policy.”

St. John Paul II spoke against the legalization of drugs in a 1997 address to a colloquium on chemical dependency.

“Some are of the opinion that the production and sale of certain drugs should be legalized. Certain authorities are prepared to do nothing, seeking merely to limit drug consumption by trying to control its effects. Consequently, in school the use of certain drugs is becoming common; this is encouraged by talk that tries to minimize the dangers, especially by distinguishing between soft and hard drugs, which leads to proposals for liberalizing the use of certain substances,” the saint noted.

“This distinction disregards and downplays the risks inherent in taking any toxic product, especially behavioral dependency, which is based on the psychic structures themselves, the blurring of conscience, and the loss of one’s will and freedom, whatever the drug.”

Beyond the spiritual effects, ample scientific evidence exists on the physical risks of using marijuana, especially for the developing brains of young people. Reports from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) have found that marijuana impairs short-term memory and judgment and distorts perception, meaning it can impair performance in school or at work and make it dangerous to drive.

Marijuana also affects brain systems that are still maturing through young adulthood, NIDA said, so regular use by teens may have negative and long-lasting effects on their cognitive development. Marijuana use is also associated with an increased risk of alcohol use disorders, nicotine dependence, marijuana use disorder, and other drug use disorders, NIDA found. Research has also shown that pregnant women who use marijuana have a 2.3 times greater risk of stillbirth.

Colorado, which was one of the first states to legalize recreational weed in 2012, has seen demonstrably higher rates of teen marijuana usage, traffic accidents, homelessness, and drug-related violence since legalization.

10 things to know from the latest survey on the Catholic Church today

More than 100,000 people attended the papal Mass in Juba, according to local authorities. / Elias Turk/EWTN

Washington D.C., Mar 8, 2023 / 12:15 pm (CNA).

On March 3 the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano reported the latest statistics about the global Catholic Church.

The Vatican’s reporting is based on data gathered at the end of 2021.

Here are the most important takeaways for you to know about the state of the Catholic Church today.

  1. The total number of Catholics has increased.

The total number of Catholics across the world reached 1.378 billion, increasing 1.3% from the previous year. Though notably, this increase does not match the world’s total population increase of 1.6%.

  1. The total number of priests continues to decrease.

The number of diocesan and religious order priests declined globally by 0.57% to 407,872. Religious order priests saw a larger decrease of 1.1%, while diocesan priests decreased by 0.32%.

  1. The number of seminarians also continues its steady decline.

According to the Vatican, the number of seminarians has been decreasing since 2013. The latest report shows the number of seminarians across the globe decreased by 1.8% to 109,895. The sharpest declines were in North America and Europe, where the number of seminarians decreased by 5.8% on both continents.

  1. The number of women religious decreased.

The total number of women religious in the world decreased by 1.7%, down to 608,958.

  1. There is a huge imbalance of priests to lay faithful in the Americas.

While North and South America claim 48% of the world’s Catholics, the two continents only have 29% of the world’s priests.

The average ratio of priests to lay faithful across the world is 3,373 Catholics for every priest. In the Americas, there are 5,534 lay Catholics for every priest. In comparison, the ratio of priests to lay faithful in Europe is 1,784 per priest.

  1. The total number of bishops decreased slightly.

The number of bishops across the globe decreased slightly from 5,363 to 5,340. The global average ratio is 76 priests per bishop.

  1. The number of permanent deacons increased.

The number of permanent deacons increased by 1.1% to 49,176, with the majority being in the Americas.

  1. Brazil has the highest number of Catholics of any nation in the world.

With 180 million faithful, Brazil has the greatest number of Catholics of any nation in the world.

  1. The Church is growing quickly in Africa.  

Despite continued violent persecution in countries such as Nigeria, the largest percentage increase of Catholics in the world was in Africa, with an increase of 3.1%.

  1. Africa breaks the trend by showing an increase in seminarians and religious brothers.

Africa also saw the only increase in seminarians and religious brothers across the globe. The number of seminarians in Africa increased by 0.6%. The number of religious brothers in Africa increased by 2.2%.

Steubenville bishop bans Latin Mass at Franciscan University, effective immediately

A Traditional Latin Mass. / Andrew Gardner via Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0).

Washington D.C., Mar 7, 2023 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Students, faculty, staff, and others who attend the Traditional Latin Mass at Franciscan University will need to venture off campus to worship in the more ancient form of the Mass following their bishop’s decision to ban the campus’ monthly celebration.

Bishop Jeffrey Monforton of the Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio, ordered an immediate end to the Latin Mass on Franciscan University’s campus.

“The Diocese of Steubenville is seeking to meet the pastoral needs of the faithful in accord with the norms, including the recent rescript, issued by the Holy See,” a spokesman for the diocese told CNA.

“The Mass at Franciscan has been [canceled],” the spokesperson said. “The bishop is seeking a dispensation for the Mass at St. Peter’s, where the weekly Latin Mass has been held for years.”

The Latin Mass will still be offered weekly at St. Peter’s Church in Steubenville, which is a parish church about a mile from campus. The parish offers the Latin Mass weekly, which includes a High Mass usually once per month, on the first Sunday. Even though the campus’ Latin Mass is canceled, the Latin Mass at St. Peter will be allowed to continue while the bishop seeks a formal dispensation from the Vatican for that church.

Although the diocese claims the decision is related to an order issued by the Vatican, the Vatican order only appears to put new restrictions on Latin Masses offered in parish churches and does not appear to force bishops to restrict the Latin Mass in non-parish churches or chapels, such as the chapel used by students at Franciscan University to celebrate the Latin Mass. It’s unclear how the Vatican order is related to the bishop’s new rules.

University tried to save the Latin Mass

The bishop made this decision despite the university’s efforts to retain its ability to offer the Latin Mass. However, the university is currently working to provide shuttles to St. Peter’s Church once per month for students who wish to attend.

“While I would prefer to continue offering the option of a Traditional Latin Mass on campus, I am grateful our students still have relatively convenient access with St. Peter’s Church so close by,” Father Dave Pivonka, the president of Franciscan University, wrote in an email sent to students, staff, and faculty at the university on Monday.

Pivonka said in his email that he had spoken with the bishop in an effort to keep a Latin Mass on campus.

“I spoke with [Bishop Monforton] multiple times hoping we could work out a way to continue offering the Traditional Latin Mass at Franciscan University for the many students, faculty, and staff with a special love for this ancient form of the sacred liturgy,” Pivonka wrote in the email. “Bishop Monforton remains convinced, however, that this decision is best for our diocese in light of Pope Francis’ 2021 motu proprio Traditionis custodes.”

Pivonka told students, faculty, and staff that he reached out to the Latin Mass club on campus, Juventutem-Franciscan, on March 2 to discuss the bishop’s decision. He said he wanted to “let our students know of the care and concern for them felt by all the friars.” He said he was “extremely edified by this gathering and the time we shared together” and that “everyone there committed to continue to pray for peace as well as for Bishop Monforton and everyone involved.”

The university has not issued an official statement.

Thomas Crowe, who volunteers to train altar servers for the Traditional Latin Mass at the university, told CNA that, when the Vatican order came out, he initially believed “there shouldn’t be any effect of the [Traditional Latin Mass] on campus.” Crowe is not an employee of the university, nor is he a spokesperson on behalf of the university.

The order in question is a Feb. 21 rescript, which is a formal clarification from the Vatican, issued by Cardinal Arthur Roche, who serves as the prefect for the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

The rescript clarified Pope Francis’ motu proprio Traditionis custodes, which the pope issued on July 16, 2021. In Traditionis custodes, the pontiff ordered bishops to designate one or more locations for the celebration of the Latin Mass but stipulated that those locations not be in parish churches.

Because many parishes already had thriving Latin Mass communities, numerous bishops offered dispensations, which allowed those parishes to continue offering the Latin Mass. The recent rescript, however, clarified that all dispensations require Vatican approval and ordered bishops who had already offered dispensations to inform the dicastery, which will evaluate each dispensation on an individual basis.

A popular Mass on campus

Crowe told CNA that the campus Latin Mass has been very popular, with “easily 250 [people] at each of them this semester.” He said “the chapel’s been packed and it’s mostly students.” He added that “the university was always supportive” and would “make sure we had what we needed, make sure we had time for practice” when training altar servers for the Latin Mass.

“The opportunity for the students, especially students who had never attended the [Traditional Latin Mass] previously, the opportunity was tremendous,” Crowe said.

However, Crowe said it is “unfortunate the bishop was in the situation he was in,” adding, “it’s tragic that the Vatican thinks they need to [restrict the Latin Mass].” He said if the bishop felt he needed to choose one over the other, “choosing St. Peter’s made sense.”

With the inability to offer their own dispensations, some bishops have sought other workarounds to safeguard the celebration of the Latin Mass within their respective dioceses.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, for example, redesignated a parish church as a non-parish church so it would be exempt from the order. Bishop Robert Barron of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, designated a new chapel for Latin Mass celebrations, which is not located within a parish church.

Some bishops, such as Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, had already appealed to the Vatican prior to Cardinal Roche issuing the rescript. In that diocese, the bishop received a temporary two-year dispensation for three parishes but also designated five other options that are not within parish churches. In a few dioceses, some bishops just banned Latin Masses within parish churches entirely, such as Cardinal Wilton Gregory of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

California bishops to visit death row inmates at San Quentin

The lethal injection room at California's San Quentin State Prison. / California Department of Corrections via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Denver, Colo., Mar 7, 2023 / 08:40 am (CNA).

A group of Catholic bishops will visit San Quentin Prison’s death row inmates on Tuesday as inmates await transfer to other facilities in light of California’s moratorium on executions.

The visit is “simply extending a pastoral presence to those whose lives are on the line and on a time clock,” Bishop Oscar Cantú of San Jose told CNA March 6.

Cantú is scheduled to visit the prison with Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, and Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland. The California Catholic Conference organized the March 7 visit.  

In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed a moratorium on executions and ordered the closure of the execution chamber at San Quentin Prison, the Marin County facility near San Francisco that dates back to the 19th century.

The state of California aims to move 671 death row inmates, 21 of whom are women, to high-security units at other prisons, National Public Radio reported in January. Prison officials will approve inmate transfers based on the specific facts about each prisoner. They will make further judgments about whether the inmates may have prison jobs or cellmates, National Public Radio reported.

No prisoners were pardoned or released from prison and California prosecutors can still seek the death penalty.

Cantú said he regularly visits prisoners in his diocese. For him, such visits are “a reminder that we believe in the dignity of every human person from conception until natural death.”

Though the death row inmates have “committed some heinous crimes,” he said, “we recognize that human dignity does not disappear when one commits a crime,” even if sometimes that dignity is “marred and scarred.”

“We know from our theology, our Catholic theology of grace, that God’s grace is available until the moment of death. We’re simply practicing and following up in a very practical way on that theology of grace,” the bishop said.

“It’s not so much what we say. It’s what they say,” Cantú said about the inmates. “We represent the Church. We represent Christ. And what does that mean to them? What do they want to open up about?”

“Is there an element of remorse for crimes that they’ve committed?” he continued. “Do they want to ask for forgiveness, or are they simply hardened and closed off to God’s grace?

The bishops are visiting the prison “simply to be a reminder of God’s presence and of compassion and a reminder that Jesus had interactions with two criminals on the cross: one who derided Jesus, the other who asked for compassion and forgiveness.”

Cantú also had a message for crime victims and their families.

“We’re always here, present for them,” he said. “If any of them would like to visit with us, we are more than available to them. And we do reach out regularly.”

“We offer them our compassion,” Cantú said.

The San Jose bishop noted the work of his diocese’s restorative justice ministry for victims of violent crime and their families. Ministry participants offer Mass for crime victims and gather to pray at the site of crimes, whether the crime is a murder or a traffic death.

After Newsom announced the death penalty moratorium, Archbishop Cordileone issued a statement on behalf of the California Catholic Conference encouraging the governor to “use well the time of the moratorium to promote civil dialogue on alternatives to the death penalty, including giving more needed attention and care to the victims of violence and their families.”

“Capital punishment is not a cure for the suffering and turmoil inflicted by violent crime; the restorative healing of victims and their families to the extent possible is an essential part of justice,” he said.

California’s last execution was on Jan. 17, 2006. The state’s death row, with 671 inmates, is the largest in the country. Its numbers comprise nearly one-quarter of the total number of condemned prisoners in the United States.

After California, Florida has the second-most number of inmates on death row, 300, the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper reported Feb. 27. Texas has fewer than 190 on death row. The state executed three people this year and has five more executions scheduled, including two next week, according to the Texas Tribune.

Newsom has said the death penalty is costly, ineffective, and racially biased in its application. Before Newsom’s moratorium, California had not conducted an execution in over a decade due to a lack of availability of the drugs needed for lethal injection.

“The governor sees a problem with the death penalty,” Cantú told CNA. “I think that’s significant for a former Catholic who kind of thumbs his nose at the Church at times, in public ways. There seems to be a Catholic element here, where the governor is seeming to acknowledge that there is reason to pause the death penalty.”

Cantú summarized Catholic teaching on the death penalty in recent decades. With St. John Paul II there was an “addendum” to Church teaching on the death penalty that “virtually made it impossible to justify the death sentence.”

“Pope Francis just closed the door on it,” Cantú said. “In modern-day society we can protect ourselves from dangerous criminals, so the death penalty becomes unnecessary.”

“I think that society is opening its eyes to this realization. I think there’s hope in that,” the bishop said.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Another 14 states, including California, have not executed a prisoner in at least 10 years.

A November 2022 Gallup survey, however, reported that 55% of U.S. adults support the death penalty for murders.