Browsing News Entries

In Netflix special, Chris Rock likens abortion to hiring a hitman, echoing Pope Francis

Chris Rock performing in 2017 / Andy Witchger|Wikipedia|CC BY 2.0

Washington D.C., Mar 6, 2023 / 12:20 pm (CNA).

Award-winning comedian Chris Rock compared paying for an abortion to hiring a hitman during a new Netflix special, echoing rhetoric used by Pope Francis, who has made that comparison in the past.

During his March 4 special, “Chris Rock: Selective Outrage,” the comedian, who is known for courting controversy, turned to an issue that most celebrities won’t touch: abortion.

“There’s a part of me that’s pro-life,” he said, before using humor to remind the audience that abortion “is killing a baby.” 

“I believe women should have the right to kill babies,” Rock said. “That’s right, I’m on your side. I believe you should have the right to kill as many babies as you want. Kill them all, I don’t give a [expletive]. But let’s not get it twisted, it is killing a baby.”

Rock further compared the process of obtaining an abortion to the process of obtaining a hitman.

“Whenever I pay for an abortion, I request a dead baby,” Rock said. “Sometimes I call up a doctor like a hitman: ‘Is it done?’”

Rock reassured the audience that “I am absolutely pro-choice” because “I want my daughters to live in a world where they have complete control of their bodies.” 

He then showed in no uncertain terms that abortion means taking the life of a human being. 

“I think women should have the right to kill a baby until he’s 4 years old,” Rock said. “I think you should be able to kill a baby until you get that first report card.”

The comparison between getting an abortion and hiring a hitman is one that Pope Francis has used on more than one occasion to criticize abortion. 

“Is it right to take a human life to solve a problem?” Pope Francis rhetorically asked an audience in St. Peter’s Square on Oct. 10, 2018. “It’s like hiring a hitman. Violence and the rejection of life are born from fear.” 

Pope Francis used the analogy again in an interview with Reuters on July 2, 2022. 

“I ask: ‘Is it licit, is it right, to eliminate a human life to resolve a problem?’” the pontiff said. “It’s a human life — that’s science. The moral question is whether it is right to take a human life to solve a problem. Indeed, is it right to hire a hitman to solve a problem?”

Abortion became a more contentious issue in American politics after the Supreme Court in June 2022 ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that states could enact laws that restrict or outlaw abortion. About a dozen states have banned abortion in most cases, four states added more restrictions to abortion, and some states are in ongoing legal battles over abortion policy. 

McCarrick denies sex abuse charges in telephone interview

Theodore McCarrick. / US Institute of Peace CC BY NC 2.0

Boston, Mass., Mar 6, 2023 / 10:45 am (CNA).

For the first time since criminal court proceedings began against him, former cardinal Theodore McCarrick spoke publicly about allegations that he sexually abused a teenager at a wedding ceremony in the 1970s in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

In an interview with, McCarrick said the alleged victim’s testimony was “not true.” The telephone conversation took place one day after McCarrick filed a motion claiming he is unfit to stand trial due to dementia.

The alleged victim in the case against McCarrick was also identified by for the first time as James Grein, a 64-year-old former New Jersey resident. Grein went public in 2018 to the New York Times, which referred to him only by his first name, with allegations that the now-laicized clergyman had serially sexually abused him beginning when he was 11.

McCarrick, laicized by Pope Francis in 2019, held one of the highest offices in the Catholic Church and has been accused of sexually abusing minors and seminarians. 

Despite these accusations of sexual misconduct, the charges in Massachusetts, to which McCarrick has pleaded not guilty, are the first criminal proceedings against him.

“Do you remember James Grein?” the reporter asked McCarrick on a 10-minute phone call Feb. 28. 

“Yes. I remember him,” McCarrick responded to the reporter. Speaking of the allegations against him, McCarrick said, “It is not true.” 

“The things he said about me are not true,” he added. “If you want more information about it, you can talk to my lawyers.”

The outlet reported that it attempted to reach McCarrick by phone several times before he returned the call. McCarrick told the outlet that he was currently in Missouri and that he was “feeling well, considering that I am 92 years old. It’s not like I’m 40 or 50 anymore.”

McCarrick declined to discuss the criminal case against him but answered questions about Grein “politely,” the outlet reported.

“I don’t want to speak of these things,” McCarrick said. “You can speak to my lawyer.”

Before getting off the phone, McCarrick told the outlet, “I hope you will not do a snow job on me.” 

Grein told the outlet that McCarrick was a close friend of his family and would attend their gatherings. McCarrick was given the nickname “Uncle Ted,” he said.

“He sexually and spiritually abused me,” Grein said. He said that McCarrick had abused him in his home, hotels, and during confession. 

On Feb. 27, McCarrick filed a motion in Dedham District Court in Massachusetts claiming he is “legally incompetent” to stand trial for sex abuse charges, citing “significant, worsening, and irreversible dementia.”

The court filing cited a neurological exam of McCarrick conducted by Dr. David Schretlen, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Schretlen’s report, which is unavailable to the public, concluded that McCarrick has a “severe cognitive disorder” and “everyday functional disability” that classifies as dementia and is most likely due to Alzheimer’s disease, the court filing says.

The court filing says that although McCarrick “remains intelligent and articulate,” he is unable to stand trial because his dementia prevents him from “meaningfully consulting with counsel and effectively participating in his own defense.”

The state of Massachusetts told CNA that it wants an opportunity to examine McCarrick’s competency to stand trial.

Exclusive: Harrison Butker’s advice on how to be a saint

Harrison Butker and Cardinal Raymond Burke after Butker broke the Kansas City Chiefs’s field-goal record in week of the 2022-2023 season. / Austin Quick

Boston, Mass., Mar 5, 2023 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Super Bowl-winning Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker is a champion on the field and in the spiritual life, where he says he wants nothing less than to become a saint. 

“If we want to be saints, we have to die to ourselves,” Butker told CNA in an interview Wednesday.  

During his team’s stunning Feb. 12 Super Bowl victory against the Philadelphia Eagles, players were slipping all over the field, leading many to change their cleats during the competition. Butker experienced a slip himself, but of a different sort.

Butker’s scapular made a timely appearance as it slipped out of his jersey while more than 100 million fans across the globe watched him line up for a 27-yard field goal attempt with 11 seconds left on the clock in a tie game. 

“I think that was our Blessed Mother asking for the spotlight to be shown on her and reminding me that all the glory goes to God and to her,” Butker said. That kick sailed through the goal posts, clinching the game for the Chiefs.

The scapular, which is made up of two pieces of brown wool and is worn hanging across one’s chest and back, is a sacramental from the Carmelite tradition that anyone can wear as a sign of their consecration to Mary.

It wasn’t until the 2022-2023 season that Butker began wearing his scapular 24/7, after realizing he needed to take a leap of faith and entrust himself to Mary at all times through the devotion.

Picking it up in college, Butker’s scapular has sparked conversations about his Catholic faith within the Chiefs’ locker room, with some players asking: “What is that brown necklace you’re wearing?”

Butker said he’s had “some really good conversations” in the locker room and his scapular has given him opportunities to witness to the power of devotion to Mary and the Catholic faith.

He said it’s important for Catholics to be open about their faith in their jobs even if it makes them appear “weird” or “different.”

“We can’t be ashamed of our faith because, if we are Catholic, we know of all the fruits that Our Lord has given to us. And if we hoard those fruits, and we don’t open up those fruits to those that are around us, especially in the workplace, where God wants us to evangelize, then I think we’re doing a disservice to Our Lord. And we’re not being charitable with our time in sharing the Gospel with those around us,” he said.

Arguably the best-known Catholic who is active in the National Football League, it’s clear that Butker takes his faith very seriously, but many may be surprised to learn that this Super Bowl winning season was his biggest trial of faith yet. 

“I’ve been around a 90% field goal kicker my entire career,” Butker said, adding that this season “I was missing a lot of kicks. So it was the first time I felt like a lot of people had a lot of negative things to say about me.” 

Additionally, in the first game of the season — on the same slippery field at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, where he would eventually kick the game-winning field goal in the Super Bowl — Butker took a fall on a kickoff and suffered a devastating ankle sprain, sidelining him for weeks.

If Butker were to have it his own way, he’d stay healthy and have every ball he kicks go through the uprights. 

“But I always say God’s will is better than my own will.”

God certainly had a plan for Butker, and that plan involved the prayers of a member of the College of Cardinals watching the game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.

Not knowing if his sprained ankle would be healed in time to play, Butker invited Cardinal Raymond Burke, archbishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, who is a friend and role model of his, to a home game against the Buffalo Bills. 

Crediting God’s providence, Butker returned to the field that same week. He then broke both a personal and a Chiefs’ record by kicking an 62-yard field goal, something he attributes in part to Burke's prayers. 

Burke congratulated Butker after the game and explained why he wanted the cardinal there that night. 

“The holiness of this man and the amount of virtue that he has, and the amount of insight into the spiritual life is unbelievable. And I want to take advantage of as many opportunities as I get to be around him, because I want people around me that are going to push me to be a saint to be better,” he said.

Butker told CNA he is being “intentional” with who he spends time with. 

“And at the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves, is this person pushing us to be a saint and to be closer to God?” If the answer is “no,” Butker said, then the friendship doesn’t have to be cut off, but it’s important to find other friends who will “push us to grow.”

“Iron sharpens iron,” he added.

Butker’s field goal percentage in the 2022-2023 season fell to 75%, much lower than what he consistently hits each season as one of the best kickers in the league. In fact, he said that this season presented him with “the most suffering” and “the most adversity” that he’s had to face. He said he’s thankful for it because it pushed him to rely on God and grow in humility.

“When you are suffering, how do you get through it? You can only get through it by relying on that foundation, which is Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament,” he said.

“So it’s funny, this was the most suffering, the most adversity I’ve faced, but I am also the most thankful. And I’m just excited for what God has in store for my life,” he said.

‘Abortion doula’ at Notre Dame speaker series adds to Catholic concern

The campus of the University of Notre Dame. / Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., Mar 4, 2023 / 11:43 am (CNA).

In the wake of the Dobbs Supreme Court decision overturning the pro-abortion rights Roe v. Wade ruling, several bodies at the University of Notre Dame are hosting an event series dedicated to “reproductive justice.” The series has attracted criticism for its decidedly pro-abortion slant: an “abortion doula” with a tattoo of abortion equipment is one of the speakers at its next event.

Critics say the series conflicts with university policy requiring the presentation of Catholic teaching at such events.

“We have a series that so far has been dedicated to opposing the Dobbs decision and promoting the pro-choice position, as opposed to the Catholic position, at one of the leading Catholic universities in the country,” William H. Dempsey, a Notre Dame alumnus and president of the Sycamore Trust, told CNA March 3.

“There have been no panelists who have explained the Catholic Church’s position on abortion and responded to what’s been said by the opponents of Church teaching,” he said.

Sycamore Trust is a group of Notre Dame alumni and supporters concerned about Catholic identity at the university. The group claims more than 18,000 subscribers to its distribution list.

The series at the university, titled “Reproductive Justice: Scholarship for Solidarity and Social Change,” is sponsored by the University of Notre Dame’s gender studies program and the university’s Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values. Several other bodies within the university and several external groups also provide support.

The latest event, “Trans Care + Abortion Care: Intersections and Questions,” is scheduled to be held on Zoom on March 20. It aims to address “the intersections between trans care and abortion care” followed by questions and answers with the audience, according to the website of the university’s Gender Studies Program.

One speaker is Ash Williams, described as “a Black trans abortion doula, public intellectual, and abolitionist community organizer.” Williams is based in North Carolina but is a decriminalizing abortion resident at Project Nia, a Chicago-based advocacy group that favors “restorative and transformative justice” instead of criminal incarceration.

National Public Radio profiled Williams in an October 2022 report. As an abortion doula, the report said, Williams “provides physical, emotional, or financial help to people seeking to end a pregnancy.”

Williams, who identifies as a transgender man, has had two surgical abortions and has a forearm tattoo of a tool used in the abortion procedure known as a manual vacuum aspiration, National Public Radio reported. Williams praised the abortion procedure, saying “it’s one and done. It’s quick.”

Another speaker at the upcoming Notre Dame event is Jules Gill-Peterson, a history professor at Johns Hopkins University who has argued that “transgender children” are not a new phenomenon.

The reproductive justice series’ previous events included two in-person panels on the end of Roe v. Wade in fall 2022. On Feb. 17, the series presented a virtual panel on the topic “Reproductive Health Disparities and Injustice.”

The series receives support from multiple other programs and academic bodies, including Notre Dame’s departments of American studies, anthropology, English, film, television and theater, history, political science, and sociology. The neighboring St. Mary College’s Department of Gender and Women Studies and the Indiana University-South Bend Women’s and Gender Studies Program are also supporters, as is the South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center.

CNA sought comment from the University of Notre Dame, its Department of Gender Studies, and the Reilly Center but did not receive a response by publication.

According to Dempsey, the failure to express the Catholic position on abortion is “contrary to the policy of the university” set out in the Common Proposal of Chairs of the College of Arts and Letters and then university president Father John I. Jenkins, CSC. The 2006 agreement places on academic departments and their chairs the responsibility to provide a forum for multiple viewpoints and, where relevant, “appropriate balance” to present Catholic views.

“When a panelist or panelists expresses views contrary to important Catholic Church teaching, the obligation of the sponsoring department is to ensure that the Catholic Church’s position is presented,” Dempsey said. “That has not been done.”

He deemed it “an empty gesture” to claim the reproductive justice panels are balanced by other pro-life events on campus. For Dempsey, this failure to follow policy means that the sponsors support the expression of positions contrary to Church teaching. It means “that an important component of the university is itself opposed to Catholic Church teaching.”

“The Dobbs decision has opened a severe fault line at the University of Notre Dame, as I expect it has in Catholic institutions across the country,” Dempsey told CNA. Though a “significant” number of Notre Dame faculty oppose Church teaching, that was largely irrelevant under Roe v. Wade. For Dempsey, the newly open divisions “undermine the Catholic identity of the university,” a situation that would be prevented if the university required departments to follow the terms of the Common Proposal.

“The Church’s position on abortion is that it is the highest order of evil to take the lives of innocent human beings,” he emphasized. “As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has said, this is the preeminent issue in American public life today.”

He supported the exploration and even expression of views contrary to Catholicism on campus, “provided that the position of the Catholic Church is given equal treatment, so to speak.”

The university was the focus of major controversy among Catholics when it hosted the strongly pro-abortion rights President Barack Obama as a speaker for its May 2009 commencement ceremonies. Following the controversy, the university launched multiple pro-life initiatives.

Ken Hallenius, communications specialist at the university’s De Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture, told CNA the center does not comment on events sponsored by other university departments.

Hallenius said the center has sponsored “multiple pro-life events, lectures, panel discussions, and conferences” in the last year. Its upcoming events include the Notre Dame Vita Institute, an intellectual formation program for pro-life leaders, to be held on campus June 11–16. On April 29, it will present the Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal to Princeton law professor Robert P. George.

Does ChatGPT get Catholics? Check out this Jesuit/Dominican rap battle

null / Credit: CHUAN CHUAN/Shutterstock

Boston, Mass., Mar 4, 2023 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Who would win a rap battle between a Dominican and a Jesuit? Let’s see:

“We’re the ones who educated the world’s best,

From Georgetown to Harvard, we’re the top notch, blessed,

Our scholars and theologians, they’re second to none,

Our mission, to serve others, with a passion that can’t be undone,” the Jesuit says.

The Dominican responds:

“Hold up, hold up, you may have brains and wit,

But you can’t deny, we’re the ones who bring the Holy Spirit,

St. Dominic founded our order, we’ve been preaching for centuries,

You may be fancy, but we’re the real heavyweight entries.”

To the dismay of many Catholic rap fans, this was not a real battle between the orders. These verses were generated by the new online artificial intelligence (AI) program ChatGPT.

The online artificial intelligence model is designed to simulate human conversation and is “programmed to learn from vast amounts of text data,” it told CNA. ChatGPT caught national attention after its November 2022 launch and has since been the subject of debate on the ethics and power of artificial intelligence while boasting more than 600 million page visits since its debut, according to Similar Web.

When asked by CNA for three adjectives to describe its capabilities, it said it’s “informative,” “conversational,” and “learning.” So, we dug a little deeper into ChatGPT’s Catholic arsenal.

CNA asked ChatGPT to tell us a Catholic joke. It took a few tries before realizing we had to ask for a “clean” Catholic joke. Here’s what it said.

“One Sunday morning, a priest was giving a sermon on the importance of forgiveness. He asked his congregation, ‘How many of you have forgiven your enemies?’ Everyone in the congregation raised their hand, except for one elderly woman in the front row. The priest was surprised and asked the woman, ‘You mean you haven’t forgiven your enemies?’

“The woman replied, ‘I don't have any enemies, Father.’ The priest was taken aback and said, ‘That’s very unusual. How old are you?’ ‘I’m 98 years old,’ the woman replied.

“The priest was amazed and said, ‘98 years old and you don’t have any enemies? That’s incredible! Tell me, what’s your secret?’ The woman leaned forward and whispered, ‘I’ve outlived all of them.’”

Finally, CNA asked ChatGPT to come up with a schedule for a parent who has kids and who works eight-hours a day but would like to follow Pope Francis’ advice on prayer.

ChatGPT responded with a rather helpful, very specific schedule:

5:30 a.m. — Wake up and spend 15 minutes in personal prayer and reflection.

6 a.m. — Get ready for the day and help kids get ready for school.

7 a.m. — Eat breakfast with the family and read a short passage from the Bible or other spiritual text.

7:30 a.m. — Commute to work.

8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Work an eight-hour shift.

5:30 p.m. — Commute back home and spend time with family.

6 p.m. — Have dinner with the family and talk about the day.

7 p.m. — Spend 30 minutes in family prayer or reflection, including a short prayer and reflection on a shared spiritual text.

7:30 p.m. — Help kids with homework and spend quality time with the family.

8:30 p.m. — Spend 15-30 minutes in personal prayer or meditation before going to bed.

9 p.m. — Go to bed.

“Of course, this schedule can be adjusted to fit each family’s needs and preferences. The important thing is to make time for prayer and reflection each day, as Pope Francis encourages us to do,” ChatGPT said.

ChatGPT left CNA with some encouragement from St. Paul, in Romans 8: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

‘We know that he’s in heaven’: Thousands gather for funeral of Bishop David O’Connell in Los Angeles

Archbishop José H. Gomez places the Book of Gospels and a cross on the coffin of Bishop David O'Connell before leading a procession at Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, in downtown Los Angeles on March 3, 2023. / Photo by Jay L. Clendenin-Pool/Getty Images

CNA Newsroom, Mar 3, 2023 / 16:56 pm (CNA).

Thousands gathered Friday for the funeral of slain Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell, who was remembered as “a friend of Jesus Christ” and the poor.

Archbishop José Gomez presided over the funeral Mass, held at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. Speaking briefly at the conclusion of the liturgy, Gomez said “Bishop Dave,” as O’Connell was affectionately known, would be sorely missed, but “we know that he’s in heaven.” 

“From there he’s going to continue to intercede for us,” Gomez said, “as he has done his whole life.”

O’Connell, 69, a popular Irish-born priest who worked on myriad social causes in South L.A. for the past 45 years, died Feb. 18 after being shot multiple times in his Hacienda Heights home, according to District Attorney George Gascón. Carlos Medina, the husband of O’Connell’s housekeeper, has admitted to murdering the bishop, Gascón said in a Feb. 22 press conference.

One of O’Connell’s closest friends, Monsignor Jarlath “Jay” Cunnane, gave the homily at Friday’s Mass.

“We’re heartbroken with you,” he said, speaking to O’Connell’s relatives sitting in the packed cathedral. “But thank you and your parents and those who’ve gone before you for giving us the blessing of him.”

Monsignor Jarlath (Jay) Cunnane speaks at the funeral Mass of Bishop David O'Connell at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles on March 3, 2023. Credit: YouTube/olaCathedral
Monsignor Jarlath (Jay) Cunnane speaks at the funeral Mass of Bishop David O'Connell at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles on March 3, 2023. Credit: YouTube/olaCathedral

Earlier this week, both Pope Francis and President Joe Biden issued condolences to O’Connell’s family and all those grieving his death.

The Holy Father’s message, which was first shared with attendees at a memorial Mass for O’Connell on Wednesday, was shared again at the beginning of Mass Friday.

“To those gathered for the Mass of Christian burial and to all who mourn Bishop O’Connell’s loss in the sure hope of the resurrection, the Holy Father cordially imparts his blessing as a pledge of peace and consolation in the Lord,” Gomez said, reading the statement, which was signed by Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

Following the reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Cunnane described O’Connell as “David, the friend of Jesus Christ; David, the friend of the poor.”

Said Cunnane: “I can’t imagine having walked that road without David at my side. I’m sure I would have got lost. I would have gone astray.” He said that O’Connell “was good at friendship” and was his “Anam Cara,” Gaelic for “soul friend.”

“He was a friend of souls. David did soul work. He spoke to the soul. He healed souls. He brought peace to souls,” Cunnane said, adding that “more than anything else … Bishop Dave was a friend of Jesus Christ and of Mary our Blessed Mother.”

Cunnane spoke about O’Connell’s devotion to the rosary and the Blessed Mother and mentioned his strong prayer life in recent years. 

“For Dave life was, and especially in the recent years, life was prayer. Life was in the presence of Christ, and that is what he shared. Yes, he helped the poor. Yes, he fought for justice. But most of all, what he wanted to share was that encounter with Jesus Christ,” he said.

Cunnane added that he has battled sickness over the past number of years, which has hospitalized him. He said that O’Connell faithfully visited him in the hospital every day.  

“I think I hear the Lord say to you, ‘My friend David O’Connell, come, blessed of my Father, enter the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of creation,’” Cunnane concluded.

‘The rock of the family’

David O’Connell, Bishop O’Connell's nephew, offered remarks about his uncle before the Mass concluded.

“Uncle Dave was an inspiration for us throughout our whole lives and he will remain to be so,” O’Connell said.

“He taught us that if you have the capacity to help someone, you should do it. I can hear him so clearly in my mind saying, ‘Ah, it’s no problem I can do it.’ All he wanted to do was make things easier for everyone else and he never asked for a single thing in return, ever.”

Bishop David O'Connell's nephew, David O'Connell, speaks at the bishop's funeral Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles on March 3, 2023. Credit: YouTube/olaCathedral
Bishop David O'Connell's nephew, David O'Connell, speaks at the bishop's funeral Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles on March 3, 2023. Credit: YouTube/olaCathedral

O’Connell said that his uncle would consistently offer his prayers for his nieces and nephews as they encountered challenges in their lives. 

“He never ended a phone call without telling me how proud he was of me,” O’Connell said, fighting back tears.

“He was really the rock of the family, the one we went to for advice, and for support. We are all heartbroken,” he said.

O’Connell said that a new opportunity presents itself following his uncle’s death. 

“We now all have the opportunity to pick up where he left off and carry the example that he set. Help those that you can help. Lend an ear and listen to people. Respect each other. Be considerate and give others the benefit of the doubt. Have patience, and give everyone a chance. Make sure that those who are closest to you know that you love them and that you are proud of them,” he said.

“Uncle Dave, we all love you so much. I am so sorry that you will not be here for all the things that are to come in our lives, at least not in person,” he said. “Until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.”

Bishop Paprocki, Archbishop Naumann speak out in support of Traditional Latin Mass goers in their dioceses

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, speaks with EWTN's Raymond Arroyo on "The World Over with Raymond Arroyo" on March 2, 2023. / EWTN screenshot

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Mar 3, 2023 / 15:40 pm (CNA).

In the wake of new restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass, two American bishops spoke with EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo Thursday about how their dioceses have responded.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, both defended the Traditional Latin Mass communities within their dioceses during their interviews on “The World Over with Raymond Arroyo” March 2. 

Pope Francis issued a motu proprio titled Traditionis custodes on July 16, 2021, which put heavy restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass. The order directed bishops to designate locations for the Traditional Latin Mass but stated none of the locations should be within parish churches. Because a lot of dioceses already had thriving Latin Mass communities within parishes, some bishops offered dispensations, which allowed those Masses to continue as before.

Cardinal Arthur Roche, the prefect for the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, issued a rescript on Feb. 21, which is a formal clarification from the Vatican. It stated that such dispensations are reserved to the Holy See and ordered bishops who had issued those dispensations to “inform the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which will evaluate the individual cases.”

Paprocki said during the interview that he questions “the wisdom” of the rescript and suggested that it “seems to contradict what Pope Francis himself said when he issued the motu proprio,” which Paprocki interpreted to say that bishops had discretion to decide how to implement the restrictions “on a case by case basis” within their dioceses.

In addition, Paprocki questioned the legal basis for not allowing the dispensations already granted by bishops to remain in effect.

“I would argue Canon 9 says that laws in the Church are not retroactive, so any dispensations that have already been given remain in effect,” Paprocki said. “But I would also recognize the validity of this new rescript and the restriction that is being placed upon diocesan bishops.”

Paprocki added that these judgments are best made by the bishop based on the principle of subsidiarity, which maintains that “decisions should be made at a local level” unless there’s an overriding reason.

“I’ve yet to see what that reason would be” in the case of these dispensations, Paprocki said.

Instead, he said, “you’ve got a prefect in Rome basically making decisions about what’s happening in the local diocese and the local parishes.”

When the motu proprio was originally issued, the Diocese of Springfield had two parish churches that offered the Latin Mass. Paprocki noted that one of the parishes has a priest from the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), which was given a dispensation from the Vatican. The bishop designated the other church as a non-parish church. 

“My predecessor merged two parishes together, but he kept the two churches open,” Paprocki told Arroyo. “And so when the Holy Father, in his motu proprio Traditionis custodes, said that you can’t have the Traditional Latin Mass at a parochial church, I simply designated one of those churches as non-parochial. And so therefore, we’re in compliance with that decree.”

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, speaks to EWTN Pro-Life Weekly on July 21, 2022. Screenshot from EWTN Pro-Life Weekly
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, speaks to EWTN Pro-Life Weekly on July 21, 2022. Screenshot from EWTN Pro-Life Weekly

Archbishop Naumann noted that the Archdiocese of Kansas City has not been greatly affected by the Vatican’s orders because there are two Traditional Latin Mass communities operated by FSSP, which has a dispensation from the Vatican.

“I would say the people in those communities, I find them to be very sincere,” Naumann said. “And they love the Lord, they love the Church, they love the Eucharist. I think what the pope was trying initially to correct is, there was an attitude, I think, amongst some, that there was a superiority [of] the Tridentine Mass, to the Novus Ordo, and I think that was an error. But I don’t think that’s how most people in those communities see things. And I think they’re confused by the limitations that are being put upon even bishops in making pastoral judgments.”

You can watch Arroyo’s full interview with Bishop Paprocki and Archbishop Naumann here.

Decline in vocations to the priesthood is worse where priests serve larger flocks, report says

null / Vatican Media

Denver, Colo., Mar 3, 2023 / 13:25 pm (CNA).

The decline in the number of priests, seminarians, and new vocations to the priesthood in the United States appears to be more pronounced in parishes where priests serve more parishioners, according to a report commissioned by the organization Vocation Ministry.

Vocation Ministry aims to train and encourage priests, educators, and the Catholic laity to support and expand vocations programs in parishes and schools. It has held over 135 workshops in more than 50 dioceses.

The study found that there are fewer new vocations in large dioceses where priests do not have a chance to get to know their parishioners and encourage budding vocations. The report’s authors point out that their findings should be taken into account when considering merging Catholic parishes.

Aging clergy aren’t being replaced

The organization’s newly released 40-page report, “Creating a Culture of Vocations,” provides an analysis of vocations trends and makes recommendations on how to improve the ability of parishes and dioceses to foster vocations to the priesthood.

From 2014 to 2021, the report finds, there was a 9% decrease in active diocesan priests, a 14% decrease in active religious priests, a 22% decline in the number of seminarians, and a 24% decline in total priestly ordinations per year.

Only 30 of 175 dioceses ordained an average number of priests at or above replacement level over the five years from 2016 to 2021, according to the report. Dioceses in which the retirement of many priests is imminent may need to ordain two, three, or more priests to replace retiring or dying clergy.

Smaller parishes tied to more vocations

The Vocation Ministry report separated dioceses by population into four tiers, numbered from 1 to 4. Tier 1 dioceses had more than 750,000 Catholics; tier 2 dioceses had 350,000 to 750,000 Catholics; tier 3 dioceses had 100,000 to 350,000 Catholics; and tier 4 dioceses had fewer than 100,000 Catholics.

The tier 4 dioceses with a small Catholic population had the largest ratio of priests to parishioners — and also the best vocation rate. The dioceses with the largest Catholic populations fared the worst, with the lowest ratio of priests to parishioners and the worst vocation rate.

Given that about 70% of priests say their parish priest was the most influential on their vocation and did the most to cultivate their call to the priesthood, the report argues, more priests per parishioner tends to mean more vocations.

“I was most surprised that we were able to find such strong correlations between how many parishioners each active priest serves and ordinations,” Rhonda Gruenewald, founder of the Houston, Texas-based nonprofit Vocation Ministry, told CNA Feb. 27. “We actually found the proof to what many suspected: If a priest is placed in a position where he serves 3,000 families, it is difficult for him to build relationships and make time to invite men to discern the priesthood and mentor them.”

“Of course this makes sense, but now we can objectively show that dioceses that have priests serving a high number of parishioners have fewer ordinations,” she said.

For Gruenewald, this means consolidation of parishes can accelerate a shortage in vocations, as priests are forced to serve more parishioners.

The report draws upon seminarian and ordination data from the Official Catholic Directory, starting in 2015, and verifies these numbers with vocations directors. Its analysis draws from interviews with priests, vocations directors, and seminarians.

The Vocation Ministry report emphasizes another key data point about prospective priests: About 75% of newly ordained priests said their call to the priesthood first came before age 18.

“This is when they are in catechism class, the parochial school, youth choir, serving at the altar, and receiving the sacraments,” Gruenewald said. She emphasized the need to support young people in discerning a vocation whenever they hear it.

“This should be a wake-up call for bishops, priests, and laity. They do not have to accept this decline,” Gruenewald told CNA. “We have seen the number of seminarians increase dramatically when dioceses are intentional about engaging their priests and laity for vocations.”

Fostering vocations: a way forward

The Vocation Ministry report makes recommendations for bishops, vocations offices, and all Catholic laity.

Grunewald told CNA the Vocation Ministry organization has helped improve vocation numbers, especially in the dioceses of Peoria, Illinois; Ogdensburg, New York; Stockton, California; and Lansing, Michigan.

The report offers a few concrete suggestions:

  • It questions the rapid turnover rate among dioceses’ vocations directors, who hold that role on average for only three years.

  • It suggests that the “sharpest, most capable priests” should not necessarily be assigned to large parishes, where they can become exhausted and less able to foster vocations.

  • Families should participate in a parish-based vocations ministry, while religious education programs for children and teens should cultivate “hearts for Christ.” Young men must receive “a consistent and encouraging message” about vocation discernment, the report says.

  • Priests should be healthy, holy, and focused, taking the fostering of vocations seriously “throughout parish life.” With the help of other Catholics, they should avoid the dangers of being overworked and make time to focus on sources of vocations in young adult ministries, altar service, and other areas.

  • Bishops, the report recommends, should be holy, inspirational, and trusted by their priests and seminarians.

Among the report’s sources is the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), based at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Father Thomas Gaunt, SJ, executive director at CARA, told CNA he agreed with the report’s focus on the importance of a relationship with a priest and of parish activities to encourage and foster vocations.

“I think that’s well-grounded and very important. Vocations are inspired by relationships,” Gaunt said.

He cited a saying popular among Jesuits: “We don’t have Jesuits who are inspired to become a Jesuit because of the president of the school. But we have a lot who were inspired by their English teacher.”

However, he questioned some of the report’s methodology. He voiced “some concern” about the usefulness of the population statistics in the report, given the mobility of Catholics.

“Where there’s a growing population doesn’t necessarily indicate that the Church is any more successful. It just means there are more jobs. Or if there’s a diminishing population, it’s not that the Church is less successful. There are fewer economic opportunities,” Gaunt said.

The bishops and pastors of the Northeast and Midwest face “a very different set of daily issues” than those in the South and West, he said. The former are “maintaining huge facilities where there’s not as big of a Catholic population” while the latter face a situation of such growth that “no matter how many more parking spaces you build, you still have people who can’t get into church.”

“Those are big factors that go on that really impact the measure they use. In these items, take it with a grain of salt. They’re not trying to address those impacts,” he said.

Republicans introduce ‘Bill of Rights’ to give parents a voice in education of their children

Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Republican House members introduce the "Parents Bill of Rights" Thursday. / Speaker Kevin McCarthyYouTube channel

Washington D.C., Mar 3, 2023 / 11:15 am (CNA).

Republican lawmakers introduced a resolution to establish a “Parents Bill of Rights” this week, which is meant to bolster parental rights in the public education system with a new set of federal standards for schools. 

The resolution, which has 73 Republican co-sponsors, would make parents active participants in the education of their children. According to a news release sent out by the primary sponsor, Rep. Julia Letlow, R-Louisiana, the resolution is based on five principles: parents should have a right to know what their children are being taught, to be heard, to see the school budget and spending, to protect their child’s privacy, and to keep their children safe. 

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California, held a press conference Thursday with lawmakers, parents, and children to promote the resolution. He said remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic helped shed light on problems with the education system and the difficulties parents face when trying to make their voices heard.

“The pandemic was so difficult for our entire nation,” McCarthy said. “But the one thing that came out of it, we started seeing what was taught in our schools. We were seeing what they were reading. That’s something we should have every day, but then we had to fight to find it out and then when we fought to make our voice, we were attacked. No longer will that take place.”

Letlow said many parents became “disheartened with what we were viewing” during the pandemic and that some parents “were turned away and some of us even labeled ‘domestic terrorist’” when “we voiced our displeasure.” She cited those problems as the impetus for introducing the resolution. 

Many of the changes are meant to make information more accessible to parents. The resolution would require school districts to post curriculum information publicly and compel schools to provide parents with a list of books and other reading material in the school library. 

States would need to make any revisions to academic standards or learning benchmarks public and schools would need to give parents timely notice if gifted and talented programs are to be eliminated. It would also require public disclosure of school district budgets and each school’s budget, which includes revenues and expenditures. 

The resolution would bolster parents’ rights to provide their input on how the public school system is run. It would create new federal requirements for school boards to allow parents to address the board. It also would require teachers to offer parents at least two in-person meetings with them every year. 

Some parents spoke in favor of the legislation during the news conference and cited problems they faced with the schools their children attend.

Neeley McAllister, a mother in Fairfax County, Virginia, who has three daughters in the public school system, spoke in favor of the resolution. She cited problems she faced with the school division, which included her daughter being suspended for refusing to wear a mask after Gov. Glenn Youngkin banned schools from imposing mask mandates and the schools pushing adult themes. 

“Parents in Fairfax County and in school districts across this country now had a front-row seat to what their children were learning in school,” McAllister said of the experience with remote learning during the pandemic. “And in most cases, we were dismayed and appalled at the adult subject matter that was not only on the bookshelves … of taxpayer-funded libraries but also being forced upon them in the classroom. So not only were we finally figuring out what they were actually being taught in schools, but it exposed the complete disdain for parental input.” 

Nicole Solas, a mother from Rhode Island, said she faced threats of legal action because she tried to obtain information about what her kindergartener was being taught. 

“I asked to see the curriculum and my school told me I had to submit a public records request,” Solas said. “The curriculum wasn’t posted online and it wasn’t available in the school district. Then I asked them if they were teaching gender theory and they told me that they don’t call children boys and girls and they imbed the values of gender identity into every classroom, including kindergarten, and they didn’t want to answer any of my questions further. They told me that they would communicate with me only through public records requests and that is the only way I could get my questions answered.” 

After submitting hundreds of public records requests, she said the school board “held a public school board meeting to discuss suing me for submitting the requests that they told me to submit.” Ultimately, she said, “they decided they wouldn’t sue me for asking questions because they never intended on actually suing me; they just wanted to publicly humiliate me in a school board meeting that was a show trial.”

In addition to making information more accessible to parents, the resolution would also establish certain privacy and safety rights for students. Schools would need parental permission to share student data with tech companies and would not be allowed to sell student data for commercial purposes. Schools would also need parental consent before any medical exam takes place. In addition, schools would need to notify parents of violent activity on school grounds and school-sponsored events while maintaining the privacy of the students involved. 

Michigan priest sentenced to prison for sexual abuse of second-grader

null / Daniel Tadevosyan/Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., Mar 2, 2023 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

A priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit has been sentenced for the rape of an elementary student at the Catholic school attached to the parish he served as pastor in the mid-2000s.

“We trust the judgment of the court. We pray for everybody involved,” Ned McGrath, director of public affairs at the Archdiocese of Detroit, told CNA March 2. “Our priority in all of these cases is always the victim-survivors.”

Father Joseph “Jack” Baker, 61, was sentenced to three to 15 years in prison on March 1 in Wayne County’s 3rd Circuit Court in Detroit. In October 2022 he was convicted of first-degree criminal conduct–sexual penetration with a person under age 13.

Baker’s attorney said he planned to appeal the verdict, Fox News reported.

The charge dated back to 2004, when the victim was a second-grader at St. Mary Catholic School in Wayne, Michigan, and Baker was pastor of St. Mary Catholic Parish. According to the victim’s account, he was sent to the church sacristy during an after-school religious program to retrieve a book. He said the priest put him over a table and raped him.

The victim, now in his mid-20s, told his parents about the assault in 2019. The archdiocese received a report of the allegation and forwarded it to the Michigan Attorney General’s Office in June 2019, CBS News Detroit reported.

McGrath told CNA that the archdiocese’s response to the complaint is consistent with its actions for more than 20 years.

“We don’t review any complaints when they first come in. We pass them on immediately,” he said.

A key piece of evidence was a recording and transcript of the 2019 call the victim’s father made with the priest, the Troy, Michigan-based paper The Oakland Press reported. The prosecution said the recording proved the priest admitted to the allegation and apologized, while the defense questioned that interpretation.

Defense witnesses included six former teachers and staff at the parish school who said the alleged victim would never have been sent to the sacristy and would not have taken part in after-school religious education because this was offered to non-students of the parish school, and the victim attended the parish school. The victim said he took part in the program for first Communion preparation to make up for school absences.

Both the priest and the victim took the stand to testify. Baker repeatedly denied the allegation during the trial.

When the verdict was announced Oct. 13, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit said he had followed the proceedings “closely” and was “aware of the wounds experienced by all involved.”

“May they receive the healing power of Christ in prayer,” the archbishop said.

On June 20, 2019, the archdiocese announced that it had received the allegation against Baker and reported it “immediately” to the Michigan attorney general’s office. The archdiocese restricted Baker, then 57 years old, from all public ministry and started a canonical process against him.

McGrath told CNA the canonical process has not yet begun against Baker, pending the outcome of further legal action in Michigan court. He also noted Church efforts to improve child protection.

“Starting, probably in 2002 with the Dallas Charter, our archdiocese, like most dioceses around the country, started training people in child protection,” he said. “We look at it now, 20 years later, at the huge numbers we have trained. It was a big job but it has done its job.”

The Archdiocese of Detroit’s child protection website says the archdiocese has had “a robust safe environment program” since 2002 to help people identify situations where a child could be vulnerable to sexual abuse. The program trains clergy, employees, and volunteers on how to prevent and report the sexual abuse of minors.

Baker, the priest now convicted of rape, studied at Michigan Technological University. He was ordained a priest in 1993 after studies at the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

He served as associate pastor at several parishes and was a campus minister for Wayne State Medical School Campus Ministry from 1996-1997 before serving as pastor of St. Mary Parish from 1997-2008. He then served as pastor of St. Perpetua Parish in Waterford through 2019.

Allegations of recent abuse by Catholic clergy number about two dozen or fewer per year, according to reports from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection.

However, there are many more new allegations of historic abuse from victims who are now adults. Statistical graphs of the dates of reported abuse incidents continue to show a bell curve: abuse by clergy peaked in the 1970s, then declined significantly in recent decades.