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9 key things the U.S. bishops did at their fall meeting in Baltimore

The U.S. bishops met in Baltimore for their annual fall general assembly on Nov. 14-17, 2022. / Katie Yoder/CNA

Baltimore, Md., Nov 18, 2022 / 13:35 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Catholic bishops are headed back to their dioceses after gathering in Baltimore this week for their annual fall meeting.

Here’s a summary of key actions taken at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) fall plenary assembly:

1. They elected Archbishop Timothy Broglio as president.

Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, was elected president of the USCCB for a three-year term, succeeding Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles. Broglio, 70, brings to the job diplomatic experience, having served the Vatican in Ivory Coast, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and in Rome from 1990 to 2001. As archbishop for the Military Services, USA, since 2008, he defended the religious freedom of service men and women when he called for a religious exemption for the COVID vaccine mandate and raised concerns about religious freedom issues involved in allowing homosexuals to serve in the military.

2. Baltimore’s Archbishop William Lori was elected vice president.

The newly elected vice president, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, is a strong advocate for the unborn. In his role with the bishops’ pro-life committee, Lori has spoken out repeatedly in favor of assistance for pregnant women and against the Biden administration’s proposals to expand the availability of abortion. He has been a vocal proponent of the bishops’ 2020 initiative Walking with Moms in Need to help struggling pregnant women, mothers, and babies.

Lori has served as supreme chaplain of the Knights of Columbus since 2005 and joined the Knights last month on a trip to Poland and Ukraine to distribute aid. At 71, he will not be eligible to be president when Broglio’s term expires three years from now, as the bylaws of the conference say the president needs to be no older than 75 by the end of his term. This is the second consecutive time that the bishops have opted to install a vice president who can’t be considered an heir apparent to the presidency. Lori succeeds Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, 74, who was elected vice president in 2019.

3. In a moving farewell address, Archbishop José Gomez called for bishops to be missionaries in a secular culture that is searching for meaning.

In a stirring speech, the outgoing president of the USCCB, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, told the assembled bishops that a secularized society has lost its way but is experiencing a “spiritual awakening” and a desire for meaning. He called on all Catholics to evangelize and bishops in particular to share their personal encounters with Jesus in the Eucharist as part of the upcoming eucharistic revival. “The Church exists to evangelize,” Gómez said. “There is no other reason for the Church. To be a Christian is to be a missionary disciple.” His complete address can be read here.

4. The bishops decided to begin rewriting their Catholic voting guide after the 2024 election.

The bishops voted to postpone embarking on a full revision of “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a sort of voting guide for Catholics, until after the 2024 election.The “teaching document” asserts abortion should be “the preeminent” political issue for Catholics. In deciding to leave the document as it is, while adding a new introduction and supplemental inserts, the bishops effectively decided to reaffirm its opposition to pro-abortion policies in the political realm. The additional materials, however, could introduce new language, Archbishop Paul Coakley, head of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said.

“Whether it’s a world war raging in Ukraine, people’s questioning of our democratic system, or whatever it might be, we need to help provide some kind of guidance in any number of issues,” he said. “We’ll try to discern what we can offer to people and help them apply teaching in a way that’s meaningful to them.”

5. The bishops showed their support for Ukraine.

The bishops gave a standing ovation after an impassioned speech on the war against Russia by Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop Borys Gudziak. Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego, who was named to the College of Cardinals by Pope Francis in May, urged the USCCB to stand by Ukraine. Referring to the possibility that a Republican majority in the House of Representatives might back out of the nation’s commitment to the war effort in Ukraine, McElroy called on the bishops to act with haste to ensure continued U.S. military aid. In his speech Gudziak thanked the bishops and U.S. Catholics for their continued monetary support for humanitarian aid.

6. The bishops elected a steadfast defender of life to the pro-life committee.

The election of Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, a staunch defender of life, as head of the USCCB’s pro-life committee is another signal that the bishops’ resolve in the defense of the unborn has not weakened despite the failure of pro-life measures in the midterm elections.

7. The bishops cut the budget for the three-day Eucharistic Congress.

Plans for the Eucharistic Revival and Eucharistic Congress were unveiled along with an announcement that the cost of the three-day event would be reduced from $28 million to $14 million with the help of donors and sponsors. Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of Crookston, Minnesota, who is leading the eucharistic revival initiative — an effort to revive an understanding and a love for Jesus in the Eucharist among Catholics — said 80,000 people are expected to make a pilgrimage to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, where the congress will take place starting July 17, 2024. Pilgrims will depart from four different locations, he said: one in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas; in the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, at the site of the tomb of Blessed Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus; in San Francisco at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption; and a fourth site in Crookston.

8. The bishops approved a prayer book for laypeople ministering to the sick.

The bishops voted to move forward with the creation of a new prayer book for laypeople who work among the sick. Father Andrew Menke, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Divine Worship, told CNA that he hopes the potential new prayer book will be helpful for laypeople who want to minister to the sick. “A pastor can put this book into the hands of the folks who help him in visiting the nursing homes, hospitals, and places where there isn’t a priest-chaplain every day, but there might be a layperson there,” Menke said.

9. The bishops voted to advance the causes for sainthood for three American women.

The U.S. bishops decided to advance on the local level the causes of beatification and canonization for Servants of God Cora Louise Evans, a mother and Catholic convert considered to be a mystic; Michelle Duppong, a young campus missionary who struggled with cancer; and Mother Margaret Mary Healy-Murphy, a religious sister who ministered to the poor and to the African American community.

‘Shame, remorse, sympathy’: Maryland AG seeks to release major report on sexual abuse

The Baltimore Basilica / Public domain

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 18, 2022 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

The Maryland attorney general’s office is seeking to release a major report chronicling information about Catholic clerics accused or prosecuted for sexual abuse in the state, following a four-year investigation drawing on hundreds of thousands of documents subpoenaed from the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said his office had compiled the information given by the archdiocese, along with information gathered from interviews, into a 456-page report that claims to identify more than 600 victims. It is currently unclear whether the report will lead to any new criminal charges.

In a 35-page legal motion dated Nov. 17, Frosh asked permission from a judge to release the documents provided by the archdiocese, which were given in response to a January 2019 subpoena from a grand jury. The documents provided by the archdiocese, which number in the hundreds of thousands, pertain to “the last 80 years relating to allegations of sexual abuse and the response by the archdiocese to these allegations.”

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore apologized to victims of abuse in a letter released Thursday and reiterated the archdiocese’s current zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse.

“Upon reading today’s motion, we feel renewed shame, deep remorse, and heartfelt sympathy, most especially to those who suffered from the actions of representatives of the very Church entrusted with their spiritual and physical well-being,” Lori said in a Nov. 17 statement.

“The information contained in the motion will no doubt be a source of renewed pain for many, most especially those harmed by representatives of the Church, for the lay faithful of our archdiocese, as well as for many good priests, deacons, and religious,” Lori said.

“Ever-aware of the pain endured by survivors of child sexual abuse, I once again offer my sincere apologies to the victim-survivors who were harmed by a minister of the Church and who were harmed by those who failed to protect them, who failed to respond to them with care and compassion and who failed to hold abusers accountable for their sinful and criminal behavior,” Lori added.

Frosh says the report names 115 priests who were prosecuted for sexual abuse and/or identified publicly by the archdiocese as having been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse. It also includes an additional 43 priests — 30 of whom are deceased, and the identities of the rest redacted — accused of sexual abuse “but not identified publicly by the archdiocese,” for a total of 158 names.

The archdiocese’s own online list of credibly accused clergy includes 152 names, including many priests from other dioceses or religious orders and 17 religious brothers who served in or had a connection to the archdiocese, the Catholic Review reported. The list was last updated in June.

Frosh, who is retiring in January, said the final report chronicles such instances as one parish that was assigned 11 allegedly abusive priests in a 40-year timespan. He noted that while the archdiocese “reported a large number of allegations to police, especially in later years, for decades it worked to ensure that perpetrators would not face justice.”

The motion to release the report came on the final day of the U.S. bishops’ annual fall meeting in Baltimore, during which Lori was elected vice president of the national conference.

Addressing the apparent discrepancy between the number of priests named in the attorney general’s report and the number of credibly accused priests listed by the archdiocese, Lori said that the archdiocesan list does not include the names of priests or brothers who died before a single accusation of child abuse was received, unless the allegation could be corroborated by a third party or unless a second allegation was made against the same deceased cleric.

In 1993 the Archdiocese of Baltimore created an independent review board, which today is primarily made up of laypeople, to investigate allegations of abuse, and the 2002 reforms known as the Dallas Charter created national norms for responding to sexual abuse.

Lori said the archdiocese has long cooperated with law enforcement, reporting all allegations of child sexual abuse. Under Maryland law, any person who has reason to believe a child has been subjected to abuse must report the suspected abuse to civil authorities, even if the potential victim is now over 18 years old and even in cases where the alleged perpetrator is deceased, the Catholic Review reported.

Lori said they have sought to be open and transparent about abuse allegations they have received.

“We know horrifyingly well the enormity of the grievous harm caused to individuals, families, and entire communities from our past experience of publicly naming the 152 priests and brothers we believe have abused children,” Lori said.

The release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report in 2018 — which claimed to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 300 credibly accused priests as well as efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations — spurred numerous investigations of dioceses in the U.S. and around the world.

Most recently, Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel in late October released a report compiling allegations of sexual abuse directed at priests in the Diocese of Marquette, stretching back to the 1940s. Nessel pledged that the Marquette report, which does not represent an investigation into the credibility of the allegations it chronicles, will be the first of seven from her office on sexual abuse allegations against priests in each of Michigan’s Catholic dioceses.

U.S. bishops say religious freedom protections in same-sex marriage bill are ‘insufficient’

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the USCCB religious liberty committee / Catholic News Agency

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 17, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Following the advancement of a bill yesterday in the U.S. Senate to federally recognize same-sex marriages, the nation’s Catholic bishops reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on marriage. They also “expressed concerns that the legislation could lead to discrimination against individuals who hold to a traditional view of marriage.”

“The Catholic Church will always uphold the unique meaning of marriage as a lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, said in a Nov. 17 statement. 

“In doing so, we are joined by millions of what the Obergefell Court called ‘reasonable and sincere’ Americans — both religious and secular — who share this time-honored understanding of the truth and beauty of marriage,” Dolan continued, referencing the 2015 Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. 

The Senate voted 62-37 Wednesday to advance the bill, which still needs a final vote to make it out of the Senate before final approval in the House of Representatives and then President Joe Biden’s signature. 

The Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA), if ultimately signed into law by Biden, would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton that defined marriage federally as the union of a man and a woman, and permitted states not to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states. DOMA already was effectively nullified by the 2013 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges.

The present bill would not require any state to allow same-sex couples to marry but would require states to recognize any and all marriages — regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin” — contracted in other states.

A bipartisan amendment to the bill pertaining to religious freedom ensures that nonprofit religious organizations would not be required to provide services, facilities, or goods for the celebration of a same-sex marriage, and protects religious liberty and conscience protections available under the Constitution and federal law, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, CBS News reported. It also makes clear the bill does not authorize the federal government to recognize polygamous marriage. 

Finally, the amendment adds language ensuring that churches, universities, and other nonprofit religious organizations would not lose tax-exempt status or other benefits for refusing to recognize same-sex marriages and would not be required to provide services for the celebration of any marriage, the New York Times reported. 

Dolan said the bill opens people such as faith-based adoption and foster care providers, religious employers seeking to maintain their faith identity, and faith-based housing agencies to potential discrimination since it does not provide for individual conscience protections for those who hold to a traditional view of marriage. 

“The bill is a bad deal for the many courageous Americans of faith and no faith who continue to believe and uphold the truth about marriage in the public square today,” Dolan wrote.

“The Act does not strike a balance that appropriately respects our nation’s commitment to the fundamental right of religious liberty,” he continued. “Senators supporting the Act must reverse course and consider the consequences of passing an unnecessary law that fails to provide affirmative protections for the many Americans who hold this view of marriage as both true and foundational to the common good.” 

The U.S. bishops had urged senators in July to oppose the RFMA, citing the importance of stable marriages for the well-being of children and society and expressing concerns about the bill’s effect on the religious freedom of those who hold to a traditional definition of marriage. 

“People who experience same-sex attraction should be treated with the same respect and compassion as anyone, on account of their human dignity, and never be subject to unjust discrimination,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the bishops’ committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, wrote in a letter to senators.

“It was never discrimination, however, to simply maintain that an inherent aspect of the definition of marriage itself is the complementarity between the two sexes,” he argued. “Marriage as a lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman, and open to new life, is not just a religious ideal — it is, on the whole, what is best for society in a concrete sense, especially for children.”

Organizers of National Eucharistic Congress announce pilgrimage plans, major budget cut

Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, one of the venues for the 2024 National Eucharistic Congress. / Shutterstock

Baltimore, Md., Nov 17, 2022 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

Organizers of the 2024 National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis have announced plans for a major pilgrimage to the event — and a big budget cut. 

The Congress, which is the culmination of the National Eucharistic Revival — a three-year initiative by the U.S. bishops to inspire Eucharist belief — is expected to draw some 80,000 people and have a “World Youth Day feel,” Bishop Andrew Cozzens of Crookston, Minnesota, told reporters at a briefing Wednesday in Baltimore.

When the initiative was approved a year ago, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA — who now is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — raised concerns about the eucharistic congress’ $28 million budget.

“I think this is a wonderful proposal. I’m a little concerned, though, and I’ve mentioned this to you once before, the $28 million price tag on this gathering, I think, might appear to be a bit scandalous, if you think about all of the things that the Church needs and asks money for,” Broglio said at the time.

At the bishops’ fall assembly this year, which concluded in Baltimore on Thursday, Cozzens, who chairs the bishops’ eucharistic revival advisory group, said that “originally one of the great concerns for all of us was the cost, and we’ve been able to make significant inroads in getting the cost down.”

Cande de Leon, the revival’s chief advancement officer, said organizers “look[ed] at how can we be as efficient as possible but still put on a world-class national eucharistic congress that will really entice people, to bring people to want to come together in solidarity.”

“So, I’m happy to report that cost has almost been cut in half,” he said. 

He said that a “big part” of the cut is attributed to the revival’s choice to recruit experienced people who are “in-house” and have a “missionary spirit.”

Despite the budget cut, the congress itself isn’t being scaled down, a staff member working on the initiative told CNA. 

Some attending the event will be arriving on a pilgrimage to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, where the congress will take place starting July 17, 2024.

“We’re really modeling this on the road to Emmaus, walking with Jesus towards the experience of the breaking the bread that happens in Mass,” Cozzens said. 

Pilgrims will depart from four different locations, he said: one in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas; in the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, at the site of the tomb of Blessed Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus; in San Francisco at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption; and a fourth site in Crookston.

Plans for how pilgrims will travel — whether that be by bus, car, foot, or some combination — have not been finalized yet.

Popular Protestant YouTube host announces decision to convert to Catholicism

Cameron Bertuzzi, a popular Protestant YouTube host, announced online on Nov. 17, 2022, that he is in the process of converting to Catholicism. / YouTube screenshot

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 17, 2022 / 14:45 pm (CNA).

Cameron Bertuzzi, a popular Protestant YouTube host, announced Thursday online that he is in the process of converting to Catholicism. 

“So, the big announcement is that on Sept. 20, 2022, I decided to become Catholic. I’m currently in an RCIA program and will be confirmed this coming Easter,” Bertuzzi said in a YouTube video

His conversion “came at the tail end of a deep study into the evidence for and against the papacy,” he said. 

“As a Protestant, I went into the study with an open mind. Ultimately, I told myself that I would follow the evidence wherever it leads, even if that conclusion is uncomfortable for me or for my family,” Bertuzzi said. 

His Protestant friends were “very confident” that his study would only confirm his Protestant faith, “but they were wrong,” he said.

“What I found was that the evidence strongly suggests that the papacy is true,” he said.

Bertuzzi, whose Capturing Christianity YouTube channel has just short of 150,000 subscribers, said that he will be speaking about the details of his conversion on other channels, not his own.  

Matt Fradd, popular Catholic YouTube host of the channel Pints with Aquinas, “got so excited about this news, as you can imagine, he decided to pay to fly me out to the Vatican, the one in Rome, to detail my journey on his channel,” Bertuzzi shared.

“So, if you’re interested in my reasons for conversion, the impact this decision has had on me and my family, and all the rest, then join Matt Fradd and I live on Pints with Aquinas from the Vatican tomorrow,” meaning Friday, Nov. 18. 

That video can be seen using this link.

Cameron Bertuzzi asked Bishop Robert Barron of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester if he should become Catholic in a video posted Sept. 25, 2020. YouTube Screenshot.
Cameron Bertuzzi asked Bishop Robert Barron of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester if he should become Catholic in a video posted Sept. 25, 2020. YouTube Screenshot.

Bertuzzi has hosted a multitude of well-known Christians and Catholics on his channel. Among them are Catholic apologists Trent Horn and Jimmy Akin of the apostolate Catholic Answers; Bishop Robert Barron of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester; theologian and professor Scott Hahn; Fradd; and Father Vincent Lampert, an exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Videos with Barron and Lampert both gained hundreds of thousands of views respectively.

Bertuzzi’s channel can be seen here

Detroit TV personality Chuck Gaidica’s ‘breaking news’: he’s returned to the Church

Longtime Channel 4 (WDIV-TV in Detroit) personality Chuck Gaidica speaks Oct. 27, 2022, at St. Stephen Church, part of Holy Trinity Parish in Port Huron, Michigan, about his recent reconversion to the Catholic faith of his youth. Gaidica, who spent many years as a nondenominational pastor in Detroit after his news days, said he was urged to return to the Church eight years ago by a woman at St. Stephen. / Photo by Daniel Meloy | Detroit Catholic

Detroit, Mich., Nov 17, 2022 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

Chuck Gaidica has been in the TV business for more than 40 years, telling the stories of Detroiters as a well-known figure in the community.

But on a blustery fall evening at Holy Trinity Parish in Port Huron, Michigan, about 60 miles northeast of Detroit, the award-winning newsman reported on a story on which he has the ultimate scoop: his return to the Catholic Church. 

“Tonight, I want to be honest with you, I want to be blunt with you, and hope I can be really encouraging,” Gaidica said Oct. 27. “Because, to borrow a phrase from the TV news business, ‘I have breaking news, but first, these messages.’”

Gaidica’s talk, “Taking the Long Way Home,” was part of a relaunched speaker series at St. Stephen Church, part of Holy Trinity Parish, that recently resumed after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It was the second time he’d spoken at St. Stephen, Gaidica said. He’d also been invited to speak in 2014, as the faith leader of a different denomination.

Gaidica, who grew up Catholic and later became a nondenominational pastor in Detroit during his television career, which included more than 30 years as an anchor and meteorologist on Channel 4 (WDIV-TV) in Detroit, acknowledged he didn’t expect to be back — especially not under these circumstances.

“I assumed the only time I would speak to this group in this place, in this parish, was eight years ago,” Gaidica said. “Then God, and a woman from this parish — or someone who was visiting that night — had a different plan, and that’s part of my story.”

Gaidica recalled telling the story about how he grew up on the northwest side of Chicago in a flat with three generations of his family.

After a successful career in TV news, he left full-time reporting to pursue a master’s degree in ministry and leadership and became the pastor of a large, nondenominational church in Novi, Michigan. He was invited to St. Stephen as part of the parish’s lecture series to discuss his faith journey and was enjoying coffee and cooking in the church when a woman approached him.

“The evening was over, I’d done my talk and answered some questions,” Gaidica said. “I was standing over by some people when this lady walked out, an older lady, older than me. She walked up, and as I extended my hand, she took my hand, grabbed my forearm and looked at me and said, ‘You have to come back to the Church.’”

Chuck Gaidica greets parishioners at St. Stephen Church in Port Huron, Michigan, following his talk Oct. 27, 2022. Photo by Daniel Meloy | Detroit Catholic
Chuck Gaidica greets parishioners at St. Stephen Church in Port Huron, Michigan, following his talk Oct. 27, 2022. Photo by Daniel Meloy | Detroit Catholic

The woman left before Gaidica could come up with a response. Intrigued, Gaidica later reached out to the parish to try to find her but could only remember “a woman who was wearing a coat,” he said. The parish had no idea who she was. 

“Her fingerprints, which means this place’s fingerprints, are on my spiritual journey, and that’s why I’ve come back,” Gaidica said. “And I know so many people along the way, including the Hale family, who have prayed for me, because goodness knows I could use the prayer.”

“So now, breaking news, I have returned to the Catholic Church,” Gaidica said to an applauding audience.

Gaidica said the mysterious woman planted a seed in his mind about returning to his childhood faith. His conversion meant leaving the church where he was pastor and explaining his decision to his wife, his family, friends, and the congregation. But as he began to research, he couldn’t shake the thought.

“The big ‘why’ is, ‘Why did I come back to the Catholic Church?’ And the intriguing part of that question is summed up best, I think, by a quote from G.K. Chesterton,” Gaidica said. “Why I am Catholic is that there are 10,000 reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.”

Gaidica’s TV career has taken him all over the world and allowed him to do some incredible things, including flying with the Blue Angels and becoming a scuba-certified diver and an instrument-graded pilot. But all those things came later in his life, Gaidica said, including his decision to return to the Catholic Church at age 64.

“I am here tonight for two reasons: to say thank you,” Gaidica said. “The second is to encourage. There is a lot going on in the world right now that is crazy. There is a lot going on in the Church that is crazy. So be encouraged. Those looking for a place to find peace in a very anxious world should know about the Catholic Church. They should be encouraged. The world is filled with anxiety. Others who have fallen away from the faith, and have given up, should be encouraged. It is never too late.”

Besides the chance encounter with a woman who encouraged him to come back to the Church, Chuck Gaidica quotes G.K. Chesterton when asked why he returned to the Catholic faith: “Why I am Catholic is that there are 10,000 reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true,” he said. Photo by Daniel Meloy | Detroit Catholic
Besides the chance encounter with a woman who encouraged him to come back to the Church, Chuck Gaidica quotes G.K. Chesterton when asked why he returned to the Catholic faith: “Why I am Catholic is that there are 10,000 reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true,” he said. Photo by Daniel Meloy | Detroit Catholic

Gaidica recalled when, during his childhood, his family stopped attending Mass. After the death of his uncle, whom Gaidica described as his best friend and affectionately called “Unc,” Gaidica said he had given up on the Church.

“I look back and think, ‘Did I fix my gaze on the wrong thing?’” Gaidica said. “Was I looking for an excuse not to come back? Looking back on it now, I wish my dad had the gusto in that part of my young life, as he did later in life, to attend church, to get involved in parish life, because that would have helped me.”

“And for those of us who fix our gaze on the wrong things instead of what is true and beautiful and art-filled and real in the Catholic Church,” Gaidica said, “I urge you to take your concerns to the foot of the cross. Take them to Jesus.”

Gaidica said his faith journey became a wrestling match with God. He found solace in Protestant churches, bouncing from denomination to denomination. He never considered returning to the Catholic Church — especially after the revelations of the 2002 sexual abuse scandals in Boston and elsewhere. 

Several years ago, Gaidica recalled driving in his car listening to a news report about the scandals, when he said aloud, “God, how can I ever come back to this Church?” 

“And an answer came back to my head,” Gaidica said. “I did not hear a voice. I didn’t see a flash of lightning. I didn’t see a talking donkey walk up my driveway; I heard nothing. But the message came right back into my head: ‘Why not? The Church never left you.’ I had to pull my car over because the answer was true. The Church has been, is, and will always remain. It is always here. I pictured God standing with his arms saying, ‘Come on; I knew you were coming. Come on.’”

Chuck Gaidica said he jumped at the chance to tell his reconversion testimony at St. Stephen, where his newfound faith was jump-started eight years ago. Photo by Daniel Meloy | Detroit Catholic
Chuck Gaidica said he jumped at the chance to tell his reconversion testimony at St. Stephen, where his newfound faith was jump-started eight years ago. Photo by Daniel Meloy | Detroit Catholic

Despite living in Northville, Michigan, today, Gaidica said he jumped at the chance to tell his re-conversion story in Port Huron, where a chance encounter eight years ago with a still-unidentified woman changed his life.

“He was encouraged to come back to the Catholic Church when he was here the last time, so he actually reached out to us and asked if he could come back,” Karen Clor, coordinator of adult faith formation at Holy Trinity Parish in Port Huron, told Detroit Catholic. “Because whoever said to him, ‘Come back to the Church,’ was here, so he came back to say thanks.” 

Clor said Gaidica was an appropriate person to relaunch Holy Trinity’s distinguished speaker series.

“I think he listens to the Lord, and that is inspiring to me,” Clor said. “So many times, we run through life and we don’t stop to discern what it is God wants for us. That is the inspiring part for me: Chuck stops and listens to the Lord and then acts.”

Gaidica took questions after his talk, including one from an audience member who asked what it was like breaking the news to his nondenominational church that he was rejoining the Catholic faith, and another who asked what makes him hopeful for the Church’s future.

“I think God didn’t need me back; he wanted me back,” Gaidica said. “He wants you back. All he wants for us is to be back and be all in, to be part of this rescue mission that is the greatest story ever told. So I’m encouraged. And if the Church — with Truth with a capital ‘T,’ with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — are all there, then they’ve got my back. I’m encouraged, and I hope you are, too.”

This story was originally published at Detroit Catholic, the news site of the Archdiocese of Detroit, and is reprinted here with permission.

Lay Catholic hospital chaplains look forward to newly-translated book of prayers for the sick

null / bymandesigns/Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 17, 2022 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The U.S. bishops on Wednesday voted to move forward with the creation of a new prayer book for laypeople who work among the sick.

Since the book still needs the approval of the Vatican, it might be a year or two before it hits the shelves. But several lay chaplains whom CNA spoke to are already expressing interest.

Moira Bucciarelli, a lay Catholic chaplain who ministers in Maryland, said she does not often use prayers from a book, preferring to “pray from the heart, spontaneously,” but occasionally she will pray prayers she finds online, she said.

She affirmed that there is a need for the prayer book that the bishops have now decided to create.

“I like the concept of it — having specifically Catholic prayers, perhaps for different occasions, all in one resource. That sounds great to me,” she said. “I would love it if there were more Catholic resources for chaplains.”

Only priests are allowed to perform the sacrament of anointing of the sick, which can be administered whether or not the sick person is in danger of death with the hoped-for effect of physical and spiritual healing. But there are several liturgical books — including the book used for the anointing of the sick — that include material that is specifically designed to be used by laypeople when a priest isn’t available.

Father Andrew Menke, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Divine Worship, told CNA that he hopes the potential new prayer book will be helpful for laypeople who want to minister to the sick.

“A pastor can put this book into the hands of the folks who help him in visiting the nursing homes, hospitals, and places where there isn’t a priest-chaplain every day, but there might be a layperson there,” Menke said.

The compiled prayers are drawn from at least four books that are typically used by priests in their ministry to the sick. The prayers are not “new,” but because the prayer book is part of an ongoing project by the bishops to revise all liturgical translations for accuracy, all the source material for this book has been newly translated from Latin in the past five years or so, Menke said.

There already exists an “unofficial” compilation of such prayers called “A Ritual for Laypersons: Rites for Holy Communion and the Pastoral Care of the Sick and Dying,” published by Liturgical Press in 1993.

Joshua Allee, a lay Catholic chaplain of 16 years who lives in St. Louis, told CNA that he sees the potential new prayer book as a good idea and a potentially useful resource for laypeople ministering to the sick. Allee said oftentimes when praying with a patient, he prays with him or her “from the heart” and often ends with an Our Father or Hail Mary, but only after “reading the room” and determining what the patient and his or her family would be most comfortable with.

He said he also uses the prayers for laypeople contained in “Anointing of the Sick and their Pastoral Care,” a priest-centric volume commonly referred to as the “green book.” When administering holy Communion to a patient, those prayers come straight from the book, he said, and his copy is heavily dog-eared on the relevant pages — though he also has many of the prayers memorized by now after a decade and a half of ministry.

Joshua Allee. Courtesy photo
Joshua Allee. Courtesy photo

A book compiling all the lay prayers would be a useful item to “throw in your satchel” when hustling to an emergency situation, he said, and would also be valuable for younger chaplains who don’t yet have the prayers memorized.

Allee serves as regional vice president of mission integration for SSM Health St. Louis, a Catholic health care system. His job, he says, is to keep alive the Catholic charism of the nuns who founded the hospital system.

He noted that the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” — the document from the U.S. bishops that governs Catholic health care — has an entire section on the pastoral and spiritual responsibilities of Catholic health care institutions to their patients.

These include a mandate to make sacraments such as Communion, reconciliation, the anointing of the sick, and confirmation available to patients who ask for them; there are Catholic priests on call, and Masses are offered at the hospital at least weekly, if not more often. In addition, he said, they keep a Rolodex of Protestant clergy, rabbis, and imams to ensure that they can provide spiritual care to people of all faiths.

“Pastoral care encompasses the full range of spiritual services, including a listening presence; help in dealing with powerlessness, pain, and alienation; and assistance in recognizing and responding to God’s will with greater joy and peace,” the directives read.

‘Overall well-being’

Laura Fetters, who serves at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., taught English and religion at Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington for 35 years before making the pivot to chaplaincy; she will be eligible for board certification in 2023. She said a pivotal moment in her journey toward this career was the death of her father in 2013.

“I paid close attention to the work of the hospice care team and also reflected on the role of the chaplain who came to minister to our family during that hard time. That was probably the first time the seed was planted for chaplaincy work,” Fetters told CNA.

Laura Fetters, a lay Catholic hospital chaplain, in her office in Washington, D.C. Courtesy photo
Laura Fetters, a lay Catholic hospital chaplain, in her office in Washington, D.C. Courtesy photo

She said a day at work for her usually begins with a report about what has gone on during the night — updates on patients, emergencies, deaths. Chaplains are assigned units in the hospital, and Fetters said they make sure that each patient has a chaplain visit as soon as reasonably possible once they have been admitted.

“In general, most people are welcoming. Many are lonely and anxious. Some might also appear curious because they have never been visited by a chaplain before so they wonder if they are going to be “preached to or going to be made uncomfortable,” Fetters noted.

“Others automatically assume that we have been sent because their illness has reached a dire point; in this case we have to alleviate their fears and explain that we visit everyone in the mission of cura personalis — care for the whole person.”

Fetters said she prefers to pray a “personal, extemporaneous” prayer with the patients after conversing with the patients and learning about their families, concerns, and hopes. She said her prayers will include a request for blessings for the doctors and medical team, petitions for peace of mind and comfort for the patient and family members, gratitude for healing if appropriate, and expressions of trust in God’s mercy and compassion.

If the occasion arises to use a book of prayers, Fetters says she uses “A Ritual for Laypersons,” the unofficial — but still useful — prayer compilation mentioned earlier.

In the course of her work, she has come to realize that many patients “feel quite comforted by the presence of a Catholic lay chaplain; we (the patient and I) can create an emotionally safe space together where fears and anxieties can be shared.”

“To be clear, though,” she continued, “many conversations are also light because patients might want a distraction from the heaviness of their medical situations. Consequently, they talk about their dogs, their gardening, and their grandchildren. Typically, the patient should feel welcome to talk about whatever feels most healing and comfortable for him/her; sometimes a lay chaplain is a perfect fit for those situations.”

The presence of chaplains in a health care facility demonstrates that the mission of the program is a patient’s overall well-being, Fetters said.

“Chaplains minister to help patients access hope and experience compassionate spiritual care during treatment. Studies have indicated that a patient’s access to personal hope can be significant in overall healing and efficacy of medical treatment,” she noted.

Allee, the St. Louis chaplain, said he hopes to get the word out about the “great need” for lay chaplains to the sick. Certified Catholic chaplains are a “diamond in the rough” these days, he said, with by and large more retirements than new people joining the ministry. NACC says the average age of a professional chaplain in the U.S. is 64.

But Allee noted that chaplaincy is a real career and is very much appreciated by the patients he encounters. He said he’s received enough thank-you notes over the years to fill a large file drawer.

“It’s a true apostolate of the Church,” Allee said of lay chaplaincy.

Sharing God's love

Bucciarelli says a big part of her job as the outpatient chaplain at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore is simply making herself available to cancer patients and their caregivers, introducing herself to patients as a “spiritual resource.”

She often prays with patients, and leads retreats and performs blessings for staff. She does her ministry work alongside a Catholic priest as well as several colleagues of other faiths.

Moira Bucciarelli. Johns Hopkins
Moira Bucciarelli. Johns Hopkins

Bucciarelli recently became board-certified as a chaplain with the National Association of Catholic Chaplains, a body that collaborates with the U.S. bishops to train and certify chaplains both clerical and lay. Bucciarelli was able to do a three-month internship to assess whether the role would be a good fit for her.

“Chaplaincy offers women, lay Catholic women, wonderful opportunities for leadership in ministry,” she noted.

And although Johns Hopkins is not a Catholic hospital, Bucciarelli says, “It’s also the first job I've had where I feel like I can bring my whole self, including my faith-filled self, my love of God, into my workplace.”

Bishop Barron reconsecrates cemetery vandalized on Halloween

Bishop Robert Barron at Calvary Cemetery in Rochester, Minnesota, where he led a reconsecration rite on Nov. 11, 2022. / Screenshot from YouTube video

Denver, Colo., Nov 17, 2022 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Bishop Robert Barron of Rochester, Minnesota, has reconsecrated the diocese’s Calvary Cemetery after one or more vandals damaged the grounds with obscene and satanic graffiti.

“Halloween night, this place was desecrated with some really obscene graffiti,” he said ahead of the ceremony Nov. 11. “Even the name of Satan invoked. I found that outrageous.”

Five memorial walls in the cemetery were heavily covered with blue and brown graffiti, the Diocese of Rochester reported. Two grave markers, a statue of Christ, and a cross were covered in graffiti. The cleanup and repair costs could go as high as $8,000.

One or more vandals desecrated a Catholic cemetery in Rochester, Minnesota, on Oct. 31, 2022, Halloween night. Courtesy of Calvary Cemetery
One or more vandals desecrated a Catholic cemetery in Rochester, Minnesota, on Oct. 31, 2022, Halloween night. Courtesy of Calvary Cemetery

Photos of the graffiti show vulgar messages and the words “In Satan we trust.” According to KMT3 News, the vandals have not yet been identified.

Barron’s reconsecration was joined by many Catholic laity and seminarians

“Thanks to the crew here who did a really marvelous job cleaning up,” Barron said at the cemetery. “But I think we need to do some spiritual cleaning as well to restore this place, which is meant to be a place of peace and prayer where we honor those who lie here.”

A video posted to Barron’s YouTube channel Nov. 12 shows him conducting the rite for reconsecrating a profaned cemetery. It included praying the litany of the saints, a reading of Psalm 50, and the sprinkling of holy water across the grounds of the cemetery, especially those places where the deceased were profaned.

He prayed that God “deign to purify and to reconcile this resting place of your pilgrims, who look for a haven in the heavenly kingdom.

“May you finally awaken the bodies of those who are, or will be buried here, by the power and glory of your resurrection, to incorruptible glory.

“Call them forth not to condemnation but to unending happiness,” he said. “We ask this of you who are coming to judge the living and the dead, and the world by fire.”

Barron condemned the vandalism and voiced support for the families affected.

“This vandalism is an affront to not only common decency but to those families who, as a work of mercy, placed the remains of their loved ones in a place where prayers could be offered and their memory could be cherished,” he said in the description of his YouTube video.

U.S. bishops decide to put off rewriting voting guide until after 2024 election

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Baltimore, Md., Nov 16, 2022 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Catholic bishops will postpone writing a full revision of the teaching document on the political responsibility of Catholic voters until after the 2024 election.

The teaching document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” is meant to advise Catholic voters on how to apply Church teaching to the decisions they make in the ballot box. The guide, for example, states that the abortion should be a “preeminent” political issue for Catholics. 

In the introduction to the 2019 document, the bishops wrote: “The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed. At the same time, we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty, and the death penalty.”

Gathered in Baltimore for their annual fall assembly, the bishops voted Wednesday to keep the guidance the same but include a new introduction and “supplemental inserts,” to be ready before the 2024 election. 

In discussion of the document before the vote, several bishops raised objections to delaying revisions.

Bishop John Stowe, OFM, of Lexington, Kentucky, said revisions were needed in time for the next election to take account of the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 and the division and polarization in the country.

“I think the time [to revise the document] is now,” he said.

Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego echoed his remarks, adding that people are “uneasy” and looking for guidance on how to govern themselves “in a way that divisions and bigotry are not the hallmarks” of our political system.

Bishop Daniel DiNardo from Galveston-Houston, Texas, was one of several bishops who spoke up in favor of delaying revisions to the document.

He noted that it took two or three years to write the original document and that the bishops’ guidance does not necessarily need to reflect recent political events.

“It can’t be today’s news,” he said. “It is supposed to be a teaching document.”

At a later press conference, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City said the proposed supplemental inserts to the document will address “challenges” facing Catholic voters.

“We will be taking a look at what we have put out in the past, what’s still relevant, what needs to be updated” and “will undoubtedly be doing some discerning and what are the things that are on people’s minds that are presenting challenges,” he said.

“Whether it’s a world war raging in Ukraine, people’s questioning of our democratic system, or whatever it might be, we need to help provide some kind of guidance in any number of issues,” he said. “We’ll try to discern what we can offer to people and help them apply teaching in a way that’s meaningful to them.”

Senate advances same-sex marriage bill amid religious freedom concerns

null / Kulniz/Shutterstock.

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 16, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Senate voted 62-37 Wednesday to pass a bill that would federally recognize same-sex marriage and provide legal protections for interracial marriages.

The Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA), if ultimately signed into law by President Joe Biden, would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton that defined marriage federally as the union of a man and a woman, and permitted states not to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states. DOMA was already effectively nullified by the 2013 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges. 

The present bill would not require any state to allow same-sex couples to marry but would require states to recognize any and all marriages — regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin” — contracted in other states.

The bill now returns to the House, which must pass the revised version before clearing it for President Biden’s signature, The New York Times reported. 

In the previous July 19 vote in the House, Democrats in favor of the bill were joined by 74 Republicans. The effort was led by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), who sought to get 10 Republicans to cross the aisle and vote for the bill; 12 ultimately did. 

A bipartisan amendment to the bill pertaining to religious freedom ensures that nonprofit religious organizations would not be required to provide services, facilities, or goods for the celebration of a same-sex marriage, and protects religious liberty and conscience protections available under the Constitution and federal law, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, CBS News reported. It also makes clear the bill does not authorize the federal government to recognize polygamous marriage. 

Finally, the amendment adds language ensuring that churches, universities, and other nonprofit religious organizations would not lose tax-exempt status or other benefits for refusing to recognize same-sex marriages and would not be required to provide services for the celebration of any marriage, the New York Times reported. 

The RFMA represents one of the first legislative responses to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. While the majority opinion in Dobbs said that “this decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right,” Democrats have pointed to Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion suggesting the court should reconsider all “substantive due process” cases, including the 2015 Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage.  

The Catholic bishops of the United States urged Senators in July to oppose the RFMA, citing the importance of stable marriages for the well-being of children and society, and expressing concerns about the bill’s effect on the religious freedom of those who hold to a traditional definition of marriage. 

“It is unfortunate that Congress has not responded with a meaningful effort to help women in need with unexpected or difficult pregnancies. Rather, it is advancing an unnecessary bill to create a statutory right to same-sex civil marriage, which some claim is threatened by Dobbs, even though the Supreme Court’s majority was explicit in its Dobbs holding that the decision had no bearing on the issue,” wrote Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the bishops’ committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, in a letter to senators. 

“People who experience same-sex attraction should be treated with the same respect and compassion as anyone, on account of their human dignity, and never be subject to unjust discrimination. It was never discrimination, however, to simply maintain that an inherent aspect of the definition of marriage itself is the complementarity between the two sexes. Marriage as a lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman, and open to new life, is not just a religious ideal — it is, on the whole, what is best for society in a concrete sense, especially for children.”

Cordileone also noted that states have used laws that redefine marriage “to threaten the conscience and religious freedom of individuals such as wedding vendors, and entities such as foster care and other social service providers, who seek to serve their communities without being punished for their longstanding and well-founded beliefs.”

Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a Catholic who voted against the measure, said in a statement following the vote that the bill as passed puts religious freedom in jeopardy. 

“While the Respect for Marriage Act purports to simply codify the existing right to same-sex marriage, which is not in jeopardy, it goes far beyond that in ways that threaten religious liberty. This legislation would enable activists to sue faith-based groups that provide vital services for our communities in an attempt to force them to abandon their deeply held beliefs about marriage, or close their doors,” Toomey’s statement says. 

“Faith-based adoption agencies, such as Philadelphia’s Catholic adoption agency, have already come under attack for adhering to their faith, even though there are other local adoption agencies that will place children with same-sex couples. This legislation would dramatically increase the risk of litigation designed to put those faith-based organizations out of business,” Toomey said.

Ryan Anderson, a Catholic and president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said in a statement that the bill “pays lip service to religious liberty and conscience rights, but it does not offer any meaningful protections for those rights.”

“It enshrines a false definition of marriage in our law and then tells people they can have their day in court if and when they get sued. That’s not public policy for the common good,” Anderson asserted.