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The USCCB meeting starts today: 5 items the bishops will consider

A bishop's pectoral cross. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Denver Newsroom, Jun 16, 2021 / 13:12 pm (CNA).

From June 16-18, 2021, the bishops of the United States will gather for their annual spring meeting, held virtually this year, to debate and vote on several action items. Here is an introduction to the five most important items on the agenda.

 1. Plans for a Eucharistic Revival

While the possibility of a document on the Eucharist has grabbed headlines for months, the most significant move of the bishops may be their bold plans for a national Eucharistic Revival. The multi-year plan involves partnership with ministries across the nation and culminates in a national Eucharistic Congress in 2024. Given its impact on the lives of everyday Catholics, this initiative may be the most important action item approved at the meeting.

2. Vote on whether to draft a document on the Eucharist

Likely to garner the most attention is the vote on whether to begin drafting a teaching document on the Eucharist. The discussion about this document has received growing attention since the November election, though the bishops’ interest in questions related to eucharistic coherence and belief in the real presence date back to 2004.

Contrary to reports among activist groups and some media outlets, the vote is not a referendum on whether President Joe Biden, a Catholic whose public positions on abortion, euthanasia, transgenderism, and the death penalty contradict Church teaching, but on the creation of a document to catechize American Catholics.  

An outline of the document obtained by CNA shows that the three-part document will focus on the mystery of the real presence and its reality as a sacrifice that heals; the sacramental celebration of the Eucharist, its beauty and ability to unify and forge an identity among the faithful as a people of God; and the moral and missionary transformation that occurs after partaking in the Eucharist, with a subsection on Eucharistic consistency and the problem of serious sin.

That subsection has overshadowed the bishops’ evangelistic attempt to catechize the faithful on the central mystery of the faith—a mystery that Pew Research shows more than 2/3 of Catholics do not believe.

 3. Vote to advance the cause of two servants of God

The vote to advance the cause of canonization for a diocesan priest named Joseph Verbis Lafluer and Benedictine Brother Marinus LaRue may give greater recognition of two heroically virtuous men to the Church. Both men have military backgrounds and incredible stories.

Father Lafluer, a Louisiana native, was a military chaplain and prisoner of war who died sacrificing his life to help others out of the hull of a Japanese warship he and hundreds of other POWS were trapped in. When American forces unknowingly torpedoed the ship carrying their compatriots, Lafluer stayed behind to help his fellow men out of the hull. Prior to his death, he spent 2 ½ years under starving conditions in a camp in the Philippines where his generosity with rations and charity in such extreme conditions moved around 200 men to convert to Catholicism, including men who did nothing other than see his example.

Leonard LaRue, a Merchant Marine captain, was responsible for the execution of a courageous rescue operation during the Korean War. After traveling to Korea on a weapons transport ship whose capacity held 50-60 men, he saw thousands of Koreans on the shore attempting to flee communist powers. Grasping the eternal significance of the people before him, LaRue gave orders that nearly all weapons and cargo be dispatched and filled his ship with some 14,005 refugees. After winning accolades for his heroic and decisive action, LaRue decided to dedicate his life to God as a religious, joining the Benedictines as Brother Marinus and living the rest of his life in humility, obscurity, and penance.

 4. Votes on evangelization efforts for various groups and updates on cultural diversity

A vote to approve a “National Pastoral Framework for Marriage and Family Life Ministry in the United States: Called to the Joy of Love;” a vote to develop a formal statement and comprehensive vision on Native American/Alaska Native ministry; and a vote to create a national pastoral framework on youth and young adults are action items at the spring meeting.

Friday afternoon will also see presentations on the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) study on pastoral care for migrants, refugees and travelers as well as an overview of the June 1-2, 2021 meeting on immigration matters held at Mundelein Seminary.

5. Approval of New Liturgical Texts

While the full new translation of the Breviary will most likely not be completed until 2024, the bishops will be voting on translations and insertions that will impact the prayers of Liturgy of the Hours. They will also be voting on a new book for the Order of Penance, and formally ratifying readings and prayers for the newly instituted feast of Mary, Mother of the Church.

The bishops conference meeting will begin with public remarks from the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, as well as a presidential address by Archbishop José Gomez, current USCCB president. The public sessions of the meetings will be livestreamed on the USCCB website.

Kendrick Castillo’s killer convicted of murder

Kendrick Castillo and his father, John Castillo / Courtesy: Knights of Columbus #4844 via Facebook

Washington D.C., Jun 16, 2021 / 11:30 am (CNA).

The man who shot and killed Kendrick Castillo was convicted of murder in Colorado's Douglas County District Court on Tuesday, and could face life in prison without parole. 

Castillo was an 18 year-old Catholic who died on May 7, 2019 while trying to disarm a shooter at STEM School Highlands Ranch in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado. He was the only person killed in the attack at the school; eight others were injured.

Devon Erickson, 20 years old and one of the two school shooters, was convicted of more than 40 charges - including three counts of first-degree murder - on Tuesday, June 15. He was also charged with 31 counts of attempted murder, as well as arson, theft, criminal mischief, burglary, reckless endangerment, and possessing a weapon on school grounds. 

The jury deliberated for four and a half hours before returning a guilty verdict. According to Courthouse News, Erickson faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole. He will be formally sentenced on September 17.

The other shooter at the Highlands Ranch attack, Alec McKinney, pleaded guilty in February 2020 and was sentenced to life in prison. McKinney was 16 years old at the time of the shooting, and could be eligible for parole in approximately 20 years. 

McKinney was born female and was undergoing gender-transitioning procedures at the time of the shooting. According to court documents reported by NBCNews.com, McKinney “wanted the kids at the school to experience bad things, have to suffer from trauma like he has had to in his life.”

Lawyers for Erickson claimed that their client was manipulated by McKinney, who they said organized and filmed the shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch. The two students, who attended the school, entered the building on May 7, 2019, carrying guns in guitar cases. They opened fire in two locations. 

According to McKinney, the original plan was to kill everyone in the classroom. After doing this, Erickson would then kill McKinney, and say that McKinney was responsible for all the other deaths. 

Castillo, who was the only person killed in the attack, tackled Erickson after he pulled out a gun in his classroom. Erickson shot Castillo in the chest, killing him. Castillo’s other classmates managed to subdue Erickson before he could shoot anyone else. 

Kendrick’s father, John Castillo, said that the verdict was “justice” for his son, and that he was “sure Kendrick was looking down on us today.” 

“I never thought I’d be fighting for justice for a crime that should never have happened,” said John Castillo. 

John Castillo is a member of his local Knights of Columbus council. After Kendrick’s death, the Knights of Columbus honored him with the Caritas Medal at the 137th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus in August 2019. The convention also unanimously granted him full membership in the organization, posthumously.

The Caritas Medal is the second-highest award in the Knights of Columbus, and is given to those “who most profoundly embrace our order’s principles of charity in their service and their sacrifice for others.”

Liturgical translations: What the U.S. bishops will be voting on this week

Archbishop Leonard Paul Blair of Hartford, chair of the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Washington D.C., Jun 16, 2021 / 10:30 am (CNA).

This week, the U.S. bishops will vote on proposed translations for prayers in the Liturgy of the Hours, a new book for the Order of Penance, and readings and prayers for the new feast of Mary, Mother of the Church.

“The fact that the bishops have these action items is a sign that we’re trying to continue to move forward, and continue to encourage a good celebration of the sacred liturgy,” said Fr. Andrew Menke, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Divine Worship, in an interview with CNA on Tuesday.

“Sometimes it’s not as glamorous as certain things,” he said of the ongoing process of updating liturgical texts in the vernacular, “but it’s part of the Church’s prayer, and the bishops have the desire to continue to improve that and continue to encourage people to understand it better and participate better, and to make it part of their lives and their spiritual lives.”

At their annual spring general assembly this week, the U.S. bishops will meet virtually, deliberating and voting on various action items including approving liturgical translations, approving of two causes of canonization, and approving a pastoral statement on marriage ministry. The bishops will also vote to authorize the drafting of a statement on Native American ministry and a teaching document on the Eucharist, and to authorize the development of a pastoral framework for youth and young adult ministry.

Regarding liturgical texts, the bishops will vote on three action items: readings and prayers for a Mass honoring Mary, Mother of the Church, intercessions and concluding prayers for the breviary, and an updated translation for the Order of Penance.

Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford, chair of the U.S. bishops’ committee on divine worship, will present the proposed changes on Wednesday, and the bishops will vote to approve the texts on Thursday.

Pope St. Paul VI proclaimed Mary “Mother of the Church” during the Second Vatican Council. In 2018, Pope Francis announced that the Church would celebrate the feast of Mary, Mother of the Church on the first Monday after Pentecost. The new texts for the feast could potentially be available online next year, following approval.

The breviary translations that the bishops will consider this week feature updated prayers and intercessions. They are part of a much larger process of translating liturgical texts, one which has been ongoing for 10 years and which could result in a new breviary by the year 2024.

When the breviary was translated into the vernacular following the Second Vatican Council, “those translations were done fairly quickly,” and the translators were given “flexibility,” Fr. Menke explained. “And that means that you find a lot of paraphrases, or somewhat loose translations.”

“There’s been a sentiment for many years that the translations that were made right after the [Second Vatican] Council needed to be revisited, and there has been a lot of discussion about the nature of those translations, whether they should be more literal or a more dynamic equivalency,” Archbishop Blair stated.

Following the year 2000, the Holy See, in the instruction Liturgiam Authenticam and the motu proprio Magnum Principium, “instructed the bishops’ conferences of the world that their liturgical translations needed to be more precise and follow the Latin more closely,” Fr. Menke said.

The long translation process in the United States “has been a very successful effort. And we’re nearing the end of it with all the translations, especially as we bring the Divine Office to a conclusion,” Archbishop Blair said.  

The bishops this week will also consider a revised translation for the Order of Penance.

“Sometimes priests are surprised that there’s a liturgical book for penance,” Fr. Menke said.

“The book is mostly useful when a parish wants to have a penance service,” he explained, such as hosting advertised evenings of confession during the penitential seasons of Advent or Lent. Such a parish ceremony could feature readings that are provided in the book, along with a short homily and announcements to penitents, he said.

The book also includes a chapter on the need for general absolution – “which ought to be quite rare, I would think,” Fr. Menke said.

A slight adjustment will be made to the prayer of absolution for every confession, but it will be a “change of just a word or two,” Archbishop Blair said.

Wealthy donors pour millions into anti-religious freedom efforts, as Catholic adoption agency ruling looms

Zack McCarthy via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Denver Newsroom, Jun 16, 2021 / 03:01 am (CNA).

Grant listings from wealthy philanthropies and strategic political donor networks show that millions of dollars continue to pour into advocacy groups and other NGOs opposed to broad religious freedom protections. 

The funding comes as the Supreme Court is set to decide whether local anti-discrimination ordinances can effectively close Catholic adoption agencies, and as Congress considers a far-reaching LGBT anti-discrimination bill.

 

A CNA review of grant listings shows some of the funding behind various groups that depict religious freedom protections as harmful or too broad when they conflict with LGBT causes or abortion and contraception access. Both the grant makers and grant recipients tend to depict religious exemptions as too broad or even discriminatory and “harmful.”

 

Some of this funding appears to target the Fulton v. City of Philadelphia case, set to be decided this June at the U.S. Supreme Court.

 

The Massachusetts-based Proteus Fund’s Rights, Faith and Democracy Collaborative, launched in 2017, is a central hub for funding for those who say religious freedom conflicts with their vision of reproductive health or LGBT causes. Since 2018, the collaborative has given $3.8 million in grants to advance a narrow understanding of religious freedom, mainly for groups in Georgia, Minnesota, and New Mexico.

 

“We believe that protecting the democratic rights and ensuring the health and well-being of women and LGBTQ people requires a shift in the way that the public and policymakers understand religious liberty and the delicate but critical balance between it and many other equally important rights that protect against discrimination,” the collaborative said on the Proteus Fund website

 

One part of this donor network is the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, a San Francisco-based family foundation with some $460 million in assets. Since 2016, the Haas Jr. Fund has given a total of $900,000 to the Proteus Fund collaborative, including two grants of $150,000 in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

 

As CNA reported in 2018, the Haas Jr. Fund committed some $500,000 to groups involved in advocacy and public relations campaigns related to the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case. The court ruled 7-2 in favor of a Christian baker who declined to bake a same-sex wedding cake on religious grounds and faced a discrimination complaint. The decision did not address broad constitutional questions, but said some Colorado civil rights commissioners showed “a clear and impermissible hostility” towards his beliefs.

 

Fulton v. City of Philadelphia could be another pivotal decision. The case concerns the city of Philadelphia’s 2018 decision to notify Catholic Social Services in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that its policy not to place foster care children with same-sex couples was discriminatory. The city stopped contracting with the agency services. The Catholic agency has worked with foster children since it was founded in 1917.

 

In 2020 the Haas Jr. Fund gave a $195,000 grant to the Movement Advancement Project for the stated purpose of both “messaging research to promote voting by Black Californians” and “to address issues presented in the Fulton v. Philadelphia Supreme Court case.”

 

The Movement Advancement Project is a strategic communications and development LGBT advocacy organization founded by the influential Colorado millionaire Tim Gill, whose Gill Foundation is also an important donor for LGBT causes.

 

In August 2020, the Movement Advancement Project published a report on Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. Ineke Mushovic, executive director of the Movement Advancement Project, said in an announcement for the report, “if taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies can pick and choose parents and families based on the agency’s religious beliefs—rather than whether or not children are placed in qualified, loving homes—it puts children at risk.” 

 

“Nearly every religiously affiliated social service agency that receives government funding—such as job training programs, emergency shelters, and more—might claim a right to discriminate,” the report claimed, contending this could be used to deny people “essential government services.”

 

Partners in the report included Children's Rights, a group with roots in the ACLU; the LGBT advocacy group Family Equality; the Lambda Legal LGBT legal group; the National Center on Adoption and Permanency; the North American Council on Adoptable Children; and Voice for Adoption.

 

For Catholics, this case could be pivotal for decades to come. In a November 2020 essay for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Archbishop Nelson Perez of Philadelphia said that the city’s intransigence was excluding Catholics from living out a vocation of service, and leaving the most vulnerable children without a loving home.

 

“Essentially, we are being told that the Catholic Church must leave its faith at the door if it wants to serve those in need,” he said. “But our faith compels us to do this work, and we have a right to conduct ourselves according to the tenets of our faith.”

 

Before the controversy, Catholic Social Services was serving about 120 foster children in about 100 homes at any one time. It certifies married couples and single people for foster care, but does not certify cohabiting unmarried couples and considers same-sex couples to be unmarried.

 

Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch, two women who have fostered more than 40 children and who partnered with Catholic Social Services, brought the case against the city that is currently before the Supreme Court.

 

Anti-religious freedom advocacy at the state level is also traceable through grant listings. Since 2018, the Proteus Fund anti-religious freedom collaborative has spread $1.6 million across several Georgia groups including the Equality Foundation of Georgia, Sister Song, Atlanta Jobs with Justice and Alternate Roots / Women Engaged.

 

New Mexico also appears to be a target. Since 2018, about $1.5 million went from the Proteus Fund collaborative to groups in the state: spread the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, the Center for Civic Policy, the ACLU of New Mexico Foundation, Bold Futures New Mexico, and Young Women United.

 

In Minnesota, since 2019 some $800,000 went to the groups Jewish Community Action, Gender Justice, OutFront Minnesota Community Services, and TakeAction Minnesota Education Fund.

 

The grant listings on the Proteus Fund website indicate groundwork for action in other states. A $5,000 grant to Gender Justice includes Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota.

 

Four $5,000 grants to Colorado-based groups in 2018 also targeted religious exemptions. These groups are the pro-abortion group Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, the LGBT advocacy group One Colorado Education Fund, and Soul 2 Soul.

 

In 2018, CNA reported that the Proteus collaborative was funding groups in Florida and Texas.

 

Tracing the donors to the Proteus Fund’s Rights, Faith and Democracy Collaborative helps map the patronage network of religious freedom opponents. Other funding partners of the collaborative, previously listed on the Proteus Fund website, have included the Alki Fund of the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Gill Foundation, the Groundswell Fund, the Irving Harris Foundation, the Moriah Fund, and anonymous donors, 

 

The Arcus Foundation has given $1.1 million to the collaborative since 2018.

 

In its other work, the foundation made a $100,000 grant to Faith in Public Life in 2019 “to help change the narrative about the role of faith in American politics.” It further described the group: “As one of the only national religious organizing networks publicly supporting LGBTQ equality, it brings its expertise to the effort of defeating discriminatory religious exemption policies in targeted states.” On July 2, 2020, the Arcus Foundation said Faith in Public Life’s advocacy was “key to blocking discriminatory policies based on ‘religious exemption’ in Georgia.”

 

Besides targeting religious freedom, the Arcus Foundation has helped fund pro-LGBT factions in various ecclesial communities, including some groups that helped split the global Anglican Communion and the Methodist Church. The foundation has also funded Dignity USA, a dissenting Catholic group, to support the Equally Blessed Coalition Project’s advocacy for what it describes as “LGBTQ acceptance and for an end to harmful religious exemption policies within Catholic communities.” 

 

The founder and main funder of the Arcus Foundation is Jon Stryker, a billionaire heir to the Stryker medical manufacturer fortune. In March 2021 the ACLU announced that it received the largest LGBT-focused grant in its history, $15 million, from Stryker and his same-sex spouse Slobodan Randjelovic. The organization renamed its LGBTQ & HIV Project for the two men.

 

Since 2018, the Overbrook Foundation, a family foundation with links to the prominent Altschul investment banker family of New York, has given over $525,000 to the Proteus Fund anti-religious freedom collaborative. In a grant separate from its Proteus Fund support, the foundation has given Lambda Legal a three-year grant totaling $180,000 to combat “overly broad” religious exemptions.

 

The Haas Jr. Fund’s patronage extends beyond the Proteus Fund. Since 2017 it has given about $140,000 in grants to the Columbia University Law School’s Law, Rights, and Religion Project, formerly known as the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project, “to help shape public debates around the importance of safeguarding religious liberties and other fundamental rights.” The project says its mission aims to ensure that the right to free exercise of religion as a right that “must be balanced against other liberty and equality rights where they are in conflict.” The Arcus Foundation and the Ford Foundation have been major funders of this project.

 

Further, the Haas Jr. Fund and other donors have given scores of five- and six-figure grants to groups for the purposes of securing “LGBT equality” or opposing “anti-LGBT discrimination” at the federal and state levels. Though these grants are not explicitly earmarked for religious freedom projects, many grantees echo claims that religious freedom claims or religious exemptions should not limit anti-discrimination law.

 

Among the largest of the Haas Jr. Fund grantees is the Freedom for All Americans Education Fund, which has received over $3.4 million since 2017, including a $1.25 million two-year grant in 2020. The Gill Foundation’s annual reports indicate it gave $800k to Freedom for All Americans in 2019 and $1.125 million in 2018.

 

The Freedom for All Americans Education Fund backs educational, organizing and advocacy strategies for LGBT anti-discrimination causes and is the companion to the 501c4 lobbying group Freedom for All Americans. According to its website, Freedom for All Americans seeks strong federal LGBT anti-discrimination laws “without allowing overly broad and harmful religious exemptions that will encourage employers, business owners or others to choose to disregard those protections.”

 

These laws would include the proposed Equality Act, which would recognize sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes while stripping religious freedom protections.

 

In a Feb. 23 letter to Congress, leaders with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops warned that the act would enact policy “dismissing sexual difference and falsely presenting ‘gender’ as only a social construct.” What’s more, it would “punish” religious groups opposed to these beliefs.

 

They warned that the bill could force church halls to “host functions that violate their beliefs.” Women would have to share shelters, sports, and locker rooms with males identifying as transgender females. Religious adoption agencies would have to match children with same-sex couples or possibly face closure.

 

Previously the Proteus Fund hosted the Civil Marriage Collaborative, which worked to recognize same-sex unions as marriages. The collaborative closed in 2015 after spending more than $153 million over 11 years on various U.S. groups, projects, and campaigns.

Pornography producer sentenced to 20 years for sex trafficking

structuresxx/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jun 15, 2021 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

One of the pornographers in the production company GirlsDoPorn was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Monday for sex trafficking.

Andre Garcia, a producer for the pornography website GirlsDoPorn, was charged with “Sex Trafficing by Force, Fraud and Coercion” in 2019 along with Michael James Pratt and Matthew Isaac Wolfe. The three operated the companies “GirlsDoPorn” and “GirlsDoToys,” and produced pornographic films. 

On Monday, Garcia was handed down a 20-year sentence for trafficking by federal district court Judge Janis Lynn Sammartino.

Advocates for sex trafficking survivors applauded the sentencing on Tuesday.

“We commend Judge Sammartino for listening to the GirlsDoPorn survivors who courageously spoke at the sentencing hearing and accordingly sentenced Garcia to twenty years in prison – seven years longer than the prosecutors suggested,” Dani Pinter, senior legal counsel for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, told CNA on Tuesday. 

“The entire pornography industry – which is built on abuse, exploitation, and coercion – is hereby put on notice that exploitation will not stand,” Pinter said.

In addition to the trafficking charge for Garcia, Pratt, and Wolfe, the three - together with a woman named Valorie Moser who worked as a bookkeeper for GirlsDoPorn, and a cameraman named Theodore Wilfred Gyi - were all charged with “Conspiracy to Commit Sex Trafficking by Force, Fraud and Coercion.” That charge carried a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine. Pratt was also charged with production of child pornography and sex trafficking of a minor

The group was accused of placing ads for “modeling jobs” that would pay $5,000. In fact, the jobs were for parts in pornographic films. The complaint alleged that Pratt, Wolfe, Garcia, and Moser told the women they could remain anonymous and that their videos would not be shared online. The charges allege that this was not true, and that the videos were made exclusively for the internet. 

The complaint alleges that instead of being given a modeling job, women were “pressured” into signing documents without a chance to read them thoroughly, and were threatened with legal action or “outing” if they did not “perform” in a video. Other alleged victims say they were not allowed to leave the location of a shoot until the filming was complete. They say their families and friends viewed their videos online, which resulted in their harassment and estrangement from their families.

Moser and Gyi both pleaded guilty to conspiracy and are awaiting sentencing. Wolfe is awaiting trial, and Pratt, who is a native of New Zealand, remains a fugitive. The FBI is offering a reward for his capture.

Financial records show that the two websites earned more than $17 million for Pratt and Wolfe. The videos were posted on the website Pornhub and were monetized.

In December 2020, 40 women who were trafficked by GirlsDoPorn sued Pornhub, alleging that the website not only kept their porn videos online but continued promoting them even after it was revealed that they were being abused.

“It’s important to note that Pornhub posted the illicit videos on its ‘verified accounts’ platform, which the company asserts is somehow ‘safer.’ Pornhub’s refusal to pull down the videos despite repeated demands to do so by the women belies  the absurd pretense of safety,” said Benjamin Bull, general counsel for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, in December. 

“Pornhub is a predator that continued to victimize these women even after they had obtained a multi-million dollar judgement against Girls Do Porn for trafficking them. As Pornhub’s actions show, there has been a practical merger between the illicit sex trafficking business and the online pornography industry. They are now virtually inseparable,” said Bull.

Fargo dad follows his son, a priest, to Holy Orders as a deacon

Father Eric Seitz says Mass, with his father, Deacon Ben Seitz, assisting as deacon. Courtesy photo.

Fargo, N.D., Jun 15, 2021 / 18:01 pm (CNA).

Eric Seitz was ordained to the priesthood August 8, 2020 for the Diocese of Fargo. Two months later, his father Ben was ordained to the diaconate. 

Father Seitz, now parochial vicar at St. John the Evangelist parish in Wahpeton, North Dakota, told CNA that his father had been considering the diaconate for many years before it finally came to fruition. 

Father Eric said although he entered holy orders before his father did, it was his father’s holy example that helped nurture his faith to the point of discerning the priesthood. 

“Just looking at things from my perspective, really his example as a Christian man was what made my faith gave room for my faith to grow, and helped me to learn about how serious [faith] is, in an age when so many people pass it off,” he commented. 

“I would say just his vocation as a Christian man was what helped me to discern my vocation.”

Father Eric serves as parochial vicar to Father Dale Lagodinski in the rural town of Wahpeton. Deacon Ben currently serves at Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church in Fargo, about 50 miles north. 

Growing up in an Air Force family, Father Eric said the family moved around frequently, but the tug he felt toward the priesthood followed him as he attended a Catholic school in each city where the Seitzes settled. 

In seventh grade during a penance service, he said the idea of becoming a priest flitted into his mind as he contemplated what his future might hold. 

“As I was going through the rest of middle school and into high school, I kept on hearing from different people that they thought they could see me as a priest,” he recalled. 

“So by the time I got to the end of my junior year of high school, I realized I had to start making some decisions. I went on a discernment retreat, which was really helpful, and was talking with my pastor and the vocation director and my parents and all of that.”

He decided to go to seminary straight out of high school. He struggled somewhat at first with his own decision, saying that in addition to a call to the priesthood, he also had a desire to get married. 

“And as I was going through seminary, I started noticing within myself that the priesthood wasn't just something that God wanted for me, but it was something that I wanted to do as well. This wasn't being imposed on me; it was my heart's desire to go through with this,” he said. 

Father Eric said he remembers his father Ben talking about wanting to join the diaconate when Eric was only in fourth grade, but he remembers having to wait for “God’s timing” to be right. Ben was unable to join the diaconate until after he had settled down and left the military, since the military archdiocese does not offer a diaconate program, Eric said. Ben ultimately earned a master’s degree in theology, and his final formation took five years. 

Father Eric said his mother, a convert to the faith, is very supportive of her son’s and husband’s vocations, and will sometimes call him to request he pray particular Mass intentions. 

In terms of advice for those still discerning their vocation, Father Eric has simple advice. 

“Stay calm and talk to somebody who is wise that you can trust,” he said.

Bishops must address Biden's policies that contradict Church teaching, theologians say

President Biden reveals his rosary beads during a March 1, 2021 virtual meeting with Mexico’s President López Obrador / The White House/YouTube

Washington D.C., Jun 15, 2021 / 15:35 pm (CNA).

President Joe Biden has advanced policies contrary to Church teaching on life, marriage, and sexuality – and bishops have a duty to address this contradiction, theologians said this week.

Regarding the legitimacy of political opinions in a democracy, “Catholics are free to have these various opinions – as long as they don’t counter moral law, natural law, and faith,” Monsignor Charles Mangan of the Diocese of Sioux Falls told CNA on Tuesday.

“Authentic freedom,” he added, does not mean that Catholic voters and politicians can hold any opinion they want. Rather, it means “we are free in Christ, and we see the Church’s teaching as not a burden, but as something that frees us to embrace what is true,” he added.

He stressed the need for a well-formed conscience. “Conscience does not fall out of the sky. It has to be informed. It has to be taught. It has to be nurtured and matured,” he said.

Speaking with CNA ahead of the U.S. bishops’ virtual meeting which begins on Wednesday, Dr. Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at the Catholic University of America, said the bishops must be clear about where Biden’s administration runs afoul of Church teaching.

“It’s actually not Biden on trial right now, but the bishops,” Pecknold said. He noted that “Biden is almost a perfect pro-abort politician, and yet he claims to be a devout Catholic. The bishops must make a clear statement about precisely that contradiction.”

Biden, who is just the second Catholic president in U.S. history, has pushed for taxpayer-funded abortion while his administration seeks to deregulate the abortion pill regimen and fund international pro-abortion groups.

On the 48th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris issued a statement supporting Roe and stating their intent to codify it in law.

Days later, Biden on January 28 announced a series of executive actions that enabled funding of international pro-abortion groups and supported abortion as an international right.

Biden repealed the Mexico City Policy, an executive policy that bars U.S. funding of foreign NGOs that provide or promote abortions. His administration withdrew from the Geneva Consensus Declaration, a joint statement of the United States and 31 other countries saying there is no international right to abortion.

In domestic abortion policy, Biden moved to allow for federal funding of elective abortions by introducing his budget request for the 2022 fiscal year without the Hyde amendment. That policy, enacted in law since 1976 as a rider to budget bills, prohibited federal funding of most elective abortions in Medicaid.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also deregulated the abortion pill regimen, allowing for it to be prescribed and dispensed remotely during the pandemic instead of in-person, as previously required. Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services, has expressed interest in making that rule-change permanent.

Biden’s administration is also moving to allow funding of domestic abortion providers or pro-abortion groups through the Title X program.

While the program was set up in 1970 with express prohibitions against funding of abortion as a method of family planning, the Clinton administration required recipients to provide abortion referrals and counseling upon request.

That 2000 policy stood in place until the Trump administration in 2019 prohibited recipients from referring for abortions or being co-located with abortion clinics, in an attempt to separate taxpayer funding from abortion-related services altogether. Planned Parenthood in 2019 announced it was withdrawing from the program rather than complying with the new requirements.

The Department of Health and Human Services in April proposed to restore the Clinton-era rules for the program, once again allowing abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood to participate.

Biden’s administration has also lifted a moratorium on federally-funded research using fetal tissue derived from elective abortions. The Trump administration in 2019 halted such research at federal facilities, and required other federally-funded research proposals at non-government facilities to undergo review by a federal ethics advisory board. In April, HHS lifted the moratorium and removed the requirement for review by the ethics advisory board.

Meanwhile, Biden has expressed support for LGBT and transgender issues, and his administration has worked to require accommodation for these causes – despite religious or conscientious objections.

On his first day in office on January 20, Biden issued a sweeping executive order redefining sex discrimination. He stated his administration’s policy to uphold sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal civil rights law, extending to them the same protections as race in public accommodations.

“Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports,” Biden stated. 

Biden’s administration began implementing the order in a number of areas, including housing, education, and health care.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has said that male students identifying as transgender females have a right to compete in women’s athletics based on their gender identity.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has weakened protections for women’s shelters, withdrawing a proposed rule that would have allowed them to accept only women clients instead of biological males identifying as transgender females. A Missouri Christian college also sued the administration over its interpretation of sex discrimination, saying that their policy of sex-specific dormitory housing would be at risk.

In May, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a notice that legal experts warned would require doctors and hospitals to provide gender-transition procedures.

A coalition of Catholic doctors and hospitals had already sued the government over the Obama administration’s 2016 transgender mandate. While a federal district court granted some plaintiffs permanent injunctive relief from the mandate, the Biden administration fought to appeal that case to a higher court.

In foreign policy, U.S. embassies have also been permitted to display the LGBT Pride flag during “Pride season.”

Biden also supports the Equality Act, sweeping legislation that would require acknowledgment of sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops warned that the bill would “punish” objecting religious groups, and could require church halls to host pro-LGBT events, or women’s locker rooms and shelters to accept biological males.

“The big picture is that America seems only capable of electing Gallicans, Catholic presidents who don’t actually believe they should follow the Church’s teaching but should just follow their own national preferences,” Pecknold said.

“And president Biden has proved himself to be someone who not only doesn’t agree with Church teaching,” he said, “but advances and promotes” policies that contradict Church teaching.

“And he does it in an obstinate refusal of any correction from any bishop, including the pope,” he said.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a doctrinal note in 2002 on participation of Catholics in political life. The document stressed the need for Catholics to adhere to Church teaching, especially on grave issues such as abortion and euthanasia.

Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the CDF, cited the note in his letter to the U.S. bishops in May on the matter of Communion for Catholic public officials who support permissive legislation on grave evils.

Monsignor Mangan quoted from the 2002 document on the importance of Catholics upholding the Church’s teaching on life. The 2002 document had a lot to do with “the participation of the laity in terms of voting,” he said.

Democracy “succeeds only to the extent that it is based on a correct understanding of the human person,” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated. “Catholic involvement in political life cannot compromise on this principle, for otherwise the witness of the Christian faith in the world, as well as the unity and interior coherence of the faithful, would be non-existent.”

“That word ‘coherence’ is used here,” Monsignor Mangan said, alluding to the recent statements by bishops on “Eucharistic coherence.” The term is “speaking about the unity and interior coherence of the faithful,” he said.

Regarding the authority of a local ordinary in his diocese, Mangan emphasized the duty of a bishop “to teach, to proclaim, to sanctify, and to safeguard.”

“Safeguarding has a place. To safeguard the faith, to safeguard the dignity of human life, and the reverence due to the sacraments, I think that has a real definite place,” he said.

Biden administration seeks death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber 

Mother and daughter at an April 21, 2013 candlelight vigil for those injured and killed at the Boston Marathon bombings / Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Washington D.C., Jun 15, 2021 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

The Justice Department recently asked the Supreme Court to reinstate a death sentence for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for his role in the Boston Marathon bombings.

Tsarnaev’s death sentence had been handed down by federal jury a lower court, and the Justice Department is asking the Supreme Court to reinstate it, the Boston Globe reported Tuesday. The high court is scheduled to consider the death penalty for Tsarnaev in the fall, having granted certiorari to an appeal of a federal court ruling that vacated his death sentence.

While the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations have now all pushed for the federal death penalty for Tsarnaev, the Boston archdiocese has instead called for life in prison without parole.

“The pain and suffering caused to the victims of the bombing and to their loved ones is as clear and real today as it was nearly eight years ago,” the archdiocese told CNA in May. “As we have previously stated, Catholic teaching does not support the taking of life as a means of achieving justice.”

As a candidate for president, Biden called for the elimination of the death penalty.  

Tsarnaev was convicted on four murder charges in 2015 for his role in the Boston Marathon bombings, which took place on April 15, 2013. The attack, committed alongside his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, killed three people and injured hundreds. 

Tsarnaev’s death sentence was overturned last year by the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found the district court judge wrongly omitted evidence of Tamerlan committing a triple murder in 2011, and did not properly ensure the jury was free of bias amid near-constant media coverage of the case, the Globe reported. The First Circuit ruling sentenced Tsarnaev to life in prison without parole.

In the brief filed at the Supreme Court, lawyers for the Department of Justice argued Tsarnaev’s role in the attack necessitated the original death sentence he was given, which they said should be reinstated.

The lawyers argued that a jury “carefully considered” each of Tsarnaev’s crimes and found that “capital punishment was warranted for the horrors that he personally inflicted,” noting that one of his victims was a child. 

“That determination by 12 conscientious jurors deserves respect and reinstatement by this Court,” the brief stated. 

Biden, the second baptized Catholic to hold the office of president of the United States, is publicly opposed to the death penalty. His campaign said he would work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and take steps to incentivize states to follow suit. 

A spokesperson for the White House did not immediately respond to CNA’s request for comment. 

The U.S. bishops’ conference opposed the Trump administration’s decision to resume federal executions after a 17-year moratorium. The conference said in an August 2020 statement that “the Church’s opposition to the death penalty is clear.”

“Remembering the Lord’s call for mercy, we renew our plea: stop these executions!” the bishops said at the time. 

In August of last year, after then-President Donald Trump expressed support for executing Tsarnaev, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston told CNA that “Catholic teaching does not support the taking of life as a means of achieving justice.” 

In May, the archdiocese stated that “the incomprehensible suffering of so many caused by this heinous crime should appropriately be met with a sentence of imprisonment for life with no possibility of parole.”

Cardinal Cupich: A world without nuclear weapons is ‘not some utopian dream’ 

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Washington D.C., Jun 15, 2021 / 11:08 am (CNA).

Ahead of important international meetings this week, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago urged President Joe Biden and other world leaders to work for “a world without nuclear weapons” as a “moral necessity.” 

Cardinal Cupich wrote an op-ed published in The Hill on June 11, before Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to meet on June 16 in Geneva. American and Russian diplomats are expected to begin negotiations on eventually replacing the 2010 New START nuclear arms control treaty, according to Politico. The two nations each control around 6,000 nuclear weapons each - about 90% of the world's total stockpile.

Cupich wrote that at Thursday’s summit between Biden and Putin, “top on the agenda should be establishing a climate in which the Review Conference can succeed in reducing the nuclear threat.” He argued that the moment “could not be more urgent.” 

“Nuclear weapons pose an existential threat to all life on Earth,” Cupich wrote. “Working toward a world without nuclear weapons, in which vigorous international monitoring and enforcement mechanisms verify compliance, is not some utopian dream. It is, rather, a practical and moral necessity.”

The United States and Russia, as the two countries controlling most of the world's nuclear weapons, “have unique responsibilities in taking the lead to eliminate the nuclear threat,” he said.  

The New START nuclear arms control treaty was set to expire in February before the Biden administration agreed to extend it for another five years. The United States and Russia are expected to discuss what will replace the treaty in 2026. The 2010 agreement limited the number of strategically-deployed nuclear warheads for each country and allowed 18 annual on-site inspections of nuclear facilities by the other country.

Other bishops - including Pope Francis - have advocated for a world without nuclear weapons.

Earlier this year, the Catholic bishops of Hiroshima and Nagasaki applauded the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, while expressing regret that more countries - including their own - did not sign it. 

“As Catholic bishops and Japanese citizens of the A-bombed cities, we share Pope Francis’ confidence that a world free of nuclear weapons is possible and necessary ‘to protect all life,’” Archbishop Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki and Bishop Mitsuru Shirahama of Hiroshima wrote in a joint statement on Jan. 22.

The UN treaty - which went into effect in January - marked the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty in more than twenty years. It was signed by 86 states, including the Holy See. But the world’s main nuclear powers - including the United States - did not ratify the treaty. 

During a 2019 visit to the site of the 1945 atomic bomb detonation over Nagasaki, Pope Francis said, “This place makes us deeply aware of the pain and horror that we human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another.”

“Peace and international stability,” Pope Francis said, “are incompatible with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation.”

Poll: Regular Mass attendees say politicians who oppose Church teaching on grave matters ‘create confusion’

CNA stock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 15, 2021 / 06:05 am (CNA).

A poll by a Catholic advocacy group released on Tuesday found that, among Catholics who attend Mass regularly, the vast majority say that Catholic politicians who take policy positions contrary to Church teaching "create confusion" among the faithful. 

The poll, conducted by CRC Research on behalf of the advocacy group CatholicVote, found that 83% of Catholics who regularly attend Mass say public officials with stated positions contrary to Church teaching “create confusion and disunity.” Nearly three-quarters, 74%, of regular Mass-goers say that these officials should not present themselves for Communion.

The poll was conducted from June 1-8, 2021, and surveyed 600 respondents. Respondents were nearly evenly split along party lines, with 49% saying they supported former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, compared to 51% who supported President Joe Biden.

Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote, said in a statement on Tuesday that “Catholic politicians who advocate for policies considered ‘gravely immoral’ create confusion and discord among believers.” 

“Catholics’ concern about the flouting of Catholic social teaching by public leaders is less about politics and more about the integrity of the faith, along with reverence and respect due the Holy Eucharist,” Burch said. 

“This polling data should bolster the confidence of Catholic bishops as they prepare to discuss how to recover an understanding of the beauty and richness of the sacrament – among all Catholics. The data is very clear: Bishops have an obligation to act,” he stated. 

On Wednesday, the U.S. bishops will meet virtually at their annual spring general assembly. On Thursday, they are scheduled to deliberate and vote on whether to begin drafting a teaching document on the Eucharist. 

Although the deliberations are expected to include the topic of worthiness to receive Communion - including for pro-abortion Catholic politicians - the vote itself will simply focus on whether to begin drafting the document on the Eucharist. 

The document, a proposed outline of which CNA obtained several weeks ago, provides a comprehensive overview of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist. It covers topics such as the Real Presence, Sunday as a holy day, Mass as sacrifice, the importance of the works of mercy, and “Eucharistic consistency” - worthiness to receive Communion. 

“The document will include the theological foundation for the Church’s discipline concerning the reception of Holy Communion and a special call for those Catholics who are cultural, political, or parochial leaders to witness to the faith,” the USCCB doctrine committee stated in the draft document proposal.

In the poll, 72% of respondents said the bishops “should discuss” admission to Communion “for Catholic public officials who promote grave moral evils.”

Among Catholics who attend Mass regularly, 88% “believe it is important for Catholic bishops to teach and lead others in matters of the faith,” CatholicVote reported. Meanwhile, 82% “believe public officials who identify as Catholic but openly advocate for policies hostile to Church teaching are hypocritical.”

Biden is only the second baptized Catholic to hold the office of president of the United States. He frequently discusses the influence of his Catholic faith, but ran on a pro-abortion policy platform that called for taxpayer-funded abortion. 

He recently submitted a budget request to Congress that did not include the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortions in Medicaid. Biden’s budget request was the first since President Clinton’s in 1993 to not include Hyde Amendment provisions. The amendment has been passed into law each year since 1976 as a rider to budget bills. In 1993, an amended version of Hyde was eventually included in appropriations bills and signed into law.

The CatholicVote poll also found that 91% of Catholics who regularly attend Mass are eager to do so again as Churches re-open from COVID closures or restrictions. 

The issue of distributing Communion to Catholic politicians who support permissive legislation on grave evils such as abortion and euthanasia has come under newfound debate recently. Individual bishops have been speaking out in recent months about admission to Communion. 

In May, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois said that the issue “has taken on heightened urgency with the election of President Biden, a Catholic who promotes the evils of abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgenderism.”

According to canons 915 and 916 of the Code of Canon Law, he said, “a person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or to receive the Body of the Lord’ and that those ‘who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion’.”

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco wrote in a May 1 pastoral letter that any Catholic cooperating with the evil of abortion should refrain from receiving the Eucharist - especially Catholic public officials who advocate for abortion. “You are in a position to do something concrete and decisive to stop the killing,” he wrote, addressing those politicians. “Please stop the killing.”

In an April 14 column on Eucharistic coherence, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver wrote that “the Eucharist is a gift, not an entitlement, and the sanctity of that gift is only diminished by unworthy reception. Because of the public scandal caused, this is especially true in the case of public officials who persistently govern in violation of the natural law, particularly the pre-eminent issues of abortion and euthanasia, the taking of innocent life, as well as other actions that fail to uphold the church's teaching regarding the dignity of life.”

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, in a Feb. 1 online forum, spoke against denying Communion to pro-abortion politicians. 

“I do not see how depriving the president or other political leaders the Eucharist, based on their public policy stance, can be interpreted in our society as anything other than a weaponization of the Eucharist and an effort not to convince people by argument, and by dialogue and reason, but rather, to pummel them into submission on the issue [of abortion],” he said.