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Activist group projects pro-choice messages on Washington basilica on eve of March for Life

Twitter post by Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco on Jan. 20, 2022, reacting to an activist group's projection of pro-choice messages on the facade of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. / Screen shot of Twitter post

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 20, 2022 / 23:16 pm (CNA).

Pro-life Catholic leaders reacted with shock and disgust at an activist group's projection of pro-choice messages on the fascade of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Thursday night in Washington, D.C., on the eve of the annual March for Life.

The group Catholics for Choice took responsibility for the images, which were beamed from a median across the street from the basilica while a prayer vigil to end abortion was going on inside.

In large letters visible blocks from the basilica, the messages read “PRO CHOICE CATHOLICS YOU ARE NOT ALONE,” “1 IN 4 ABORTION PATIENTS IS CATHOLIC,” and “PRO CHOICE CATHOLICS.”

Other slogans included the words “STOP STIGMATIZING” and “START LISTENING” on the church. The words were projected on both the 329-foot bell tower and upper facade of the church above the front entrance.

Ashley Wilson, director of communications and strategy for Catholics for Choice, tweeted an explanation of the group’s protest. 

“I know that my faith teaches Catholics to honor personal conscience,” she wrote. “And yet, the Catholic hierarchy seeks to polarize pro-choice Catholics and villainize people who make the moral choice to have abortions.”

“I am tired of feeling shame and stigma for being a pro-choice Catholic,” Wilson added. “And I’m not here for people to judge my own personal relationship with God.”

At 6:42 p.m. EST Catholics for Choice tweeted “FACT: 68% of Catholics want #RoeVWade to remain the law of the land. The #MarchForLife & @usccb want folks to think they speak for Catholics, but nothing could be further from the truth.”

The images were first reported on Twitter at 6:31 p.m. EST by reporter Jack Jenkins of Religious News Service. Widely shared on social media, the images drew some support but also sharp denunciations.

"The attempted desecration is enormous. Diabolical," Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco tweeted. "Mother Mary, pray for them, now and at the hour of death. Amen."

"Just when you thought @Catholic4Choice couldn’t sink any lower. The group inside is praying for babies and mothers—and for the group outside to repent and believe the Gospel," tweeted Ryan T. Anderson, president of the Ethics & Public Policy Center.

"The President of the United States is the most prominent Catholic in America.  He must condemn this immediately," tweeted CatholicVote.org. "His implicit defiance of Catholic social teaching on life has fueled this division in our church that activists are now exploiting."

Others were incredulous at the images they saw of the basilica.

"If this is real it is an atrocity. Support of murder projected on the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception???" tweeted Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Texas. "I pray that it is a fake photo photoshopped for evil purposes. If it is real it is horrible & even faking it is evil."

The provocative action by Catholics for Choice underscores a rise in hostility toward this year's March for Life, when many pro-life Americans are hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. A decision in the Mississippi case Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization is expected in June.

On Saturday, a group called NYC for Abortion Rights plans to hold a rally titled "F--- the March for Life" outside St. Patrick's Cathedral in Midtown Manhattan. "Come picket and MAKE SOME NOISE with us!! We're disrupting the Catholic Church's anti-abortion bull--- on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision,” the group tweeted Wednesday.

“MEANWHILE, we're going to commemorate by disrupting their bull---- as much as we can, at the symbol of the Catholic Church's grotesque power in NY. Come speak out, sing, play, and show the antis that abortion isn't going away, and we aren't either,” the tweet says. 

Vigil Mass for Life: 'Every human being, at every stage of life, should be treated with respect'

The Vigil Mass for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., Jan. 21, 2015. / Addie Mena / CNA.

Washington D.C., Jan 20, 2022 / 19:26 pm (CNA).

Catholics must work to promote a culture of life and work to support mothers, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore said in his homily at the Opening Mass at the Prayer Vigil for Life on Thursday. 

“As we celebrate this pro-life vigil Mass, we are deeply conscious that the Supreme Court is weighing Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization,” said Lori, the lead celebrant at the annual Mass on the eve of the March for Life in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20. 

Lori is the newly-installed chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities. 

“This case gives the High Court an opportunity to undo the grave injustice it did in 1973, when in Roe v. Wade it was decided that a whole class of human beings, namely, the unborn, are outside the protection of the law, and thus ‘non-persons,’” he said.  

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization concerns the legality of Mississippi’s law banning abortion after the 15th week of a pregnancy. If the Supreme Court upholds the law, it will be the first pre-viability prohibition on abortion since Roe v. Wade found a legal right to an abortion throughout the entirety of a pregnancy. 

Should the court overturn Roe, Lori explained, states would be permitted to write their own laws on the legality of abortion. 

“If legal protection is accompanied by more care for mothers and children, then it will be more and more clear to more and more of our fellow citizens that choosing life does not hinder happiness and does not burden society,” he said. 

“On the contrary, choosing life creates a society that looks to the future with hope, a society where a woman is never forced to choose between her future and her unborn child,” said Lori. 

For Catholics, said Lori, justice is a matter of reason, not faith. 

“And reason tells us that every human being, at every stage of life, should be treated with respect, protected, and cared for,” he added. 

If the Supreme Court does move to overturn Roe, Lori implored Catholics to be a “clear and united voice” saying that “our society and laws can and must protect and care for women and their children.”

Lori said it was a “matter of fundamental justice” legally to protect the unborn, as well as to “redouble our efforts to accompany women and couples who are facing unexpected or difficult pregnancies, offering them loving and compassionate care.” 

During his 45 years of priesthood, Lori said he has met with many women and men who were considering abortion. 

“Almost without exception, these women and couples were deeply conflicted,” he said. “Most experienced a very deep and real anguish.” 

He said that for many of these people, “it seemed their only option was to have an abortion, but deep within, they knew it was a tragic choice with lasting consequences.” 

“What is needed so badly in all such situations is a witness to love and to life,” said Lori. 

That witness, he said, is provided through the work of pro-life ministries. 

The archbishop praised these ministries, singling out the USCCB’s “Walking with Moms in Need,” the Sisters of Life, pregnancy centers, and Project Rachel. Project Rachel assists women and men who are post-abortive and seeking spiritual healing and renewal. 

“In all these ways and more, the Church seeks to bring light, healing, and hope, thus witnessing to the beauty of life, and ‘building a culture of life,’ one mother and child at a time,” he said.

Lori then spoke to those attending the Mass, telling them to “go forth from this Mass with renewed resolve to reach out to a family member, a neighbor, or a fellow parishioner, to encourage them to join in this great cause for life,” and to “reach out in a personal way to help a mother and a child in need.” 

“This is our time to create a new culture of life in America,” he said.  

The opening Mass at the Prayer Vigil for Life was celebrated in the Great Upper Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, were among the dozens of bishops and priests present. 

While the Mass was being said, the dissenting group Catholics for Choice projected messages supportive of abortion rights on the basilica’s bell tower.

The Prayer Vigil for Life concludes at 8:00 a.m. on Jan. 21, with a closing Mass. That Mass will be celebrated by O’Malley.

Popular Marian icon in Rome gets conservation check-up

The Salus Populi Romani was checked by Vatican art restorers Jan. 20, 2022. / Holy See Press Office

Rome, Italy, Jan 20, 2022 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

Art restorers from the Vatican Museums checked the conservation of an important Byzantine Marian icon in Rome on Thursday.

The image of Our Lady Salus Populi Romani — Protection of the Roman People — was found still to be in “excellent condition,” according to a Jan. 20 statement.

The icon, which has been revered by the people of Rome for centuries, underwent a months-long restoration in 2017.

In January 2018, the image of Mary and the Child Jesus was returned to the Pauline (also called Borghese) Chapel of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. It is now kept inside an air-conditioned display case to ensure its continued conservation.

According to a statement from the basilica, after a short prayer, the image was taken down from its niche on Thursday morning and moved to a nearby hall where it was checked by Vatican technicians.

“Thus, amid general satisfaction, shortly after the ‘Angelus’ the Salus Populi Romani returned to display in ‘its’ Pauline Chapel,” the basilica stated.

The icon of Salus Populi Romani, which tradition says was painted by St. Luke, has long been considered a symbol of the city of Rome and its people. It has also been beloved by many popes, including Pope Francis, who has a strong devotion to the image.

He visits the icon before and after every international trip to ask for the Virgin Mary’s intercession and to pray in thanksgiving for her protection.

During Italy’s first wave of the coronavirus in March 2020, Pope Francis also stopped to pray before the image while making a brief pilgrimage for an end to the pandemic.  

The pope prayed silently before the icon for about 20 minutes on March 15, 2020. A few days prior, on March 11, he had sent a video message asking for Mary’s protection under the title of Salus Populi Romani.

“Under Your protection we seek refuge, Holy Mother of God. Do not despise the entreaties of us who are in trial, and free us from every danger, glorious and blessed Virgin,” Francis prayed via video.

“You, Protectress of the Roman People, you know what we need and we are sure that you will provide so that, as in Cana of Galilee, joy and celebration may return after this trying moment,” he said.

The icon was also carried in procession through Rome by St. Gregory I in 593 for an end to the plague.

The Marian image was returned to the basilica after a major cleaning and restoration on Jan. 28, 2018, the Feast of the Translation of the Miraculous Image of Our Lady Salus Populi Romani.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the occasion, and in his homily, he recalled that Mary’s mantle “is always open to receive us and gather us.”

“The Christian East reminds us of this, where many celebrate the Protection of the Mother of God, who in a beautiful icon is depicted with her mantle sheltering her sons and daughters and covering the whole world,” he said.

“Where our Mother is at home, the devil does not enter in. Where our Mother is present, turmoil does not prevail, fear does not conquer,” he continued. “Which of us does not need this, which of us is not sometimes distressed or anxious?”

“How often our heart is a stormy sea, where the waves of our problems pile up and the winds of our troubles do not stop blowing,” he said. “Mary is our secure ark in the midst of the flood. It will not be ideas or technology that will give us comfort or hope, but our Mother’s face, her hands that caress our life, her mantle that gives us shelter. Let us learn how to find refuge, going each day to our Mother.”

Poll finds American majority want Roe v Wade to go

Thomas Andreas/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jan 20, 2022 / 18:29 pm (CNA).

More than 60% of Americans disagree with the central holding of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, according to a new Knights of Columbus/Marist Poll survey.

The poll, released two days before the Jan. 22 anniversary of Roe v. Wade, found that 44% say that the Supreme Court should leave abortion up to ea​​ch individual state and 17% say the court should make abortion illegal.

The Supreme Court will decide later this year Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which challenges Roe v. Wade and asks “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional,” or whether states can ban abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb.

While 55% of respondents identified as “pro-choice” and 40% called themselves “pro-life,” only 17% agreed that “abortion should be available to a woman any time she wants one during her entire pregnancy.” This number stayed low regardless of political affiliation. Only 31% of Democrats, 1% of Republicans, and 19% of independents said a woman should be able to obtain an abortion at any time.

In other words, 83% of Americans want some kind of limit on abortion.

“I think what is really an important takeaway is that opinion itself on abortion, although in the political realm is always discussed as complex and complicated, it is very clear in terms of public opinion,” Marist Poll Director Barbara Carvalho said during a press call. 

For the past 14 years, the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, has partnered with Marist Poll to survey Americans’ attitudes on abortion. This latest survey of 1,004 adults was conducted Jan. 4—9.

Both Carvalho and Timothy Saccoccia, vice president of public policy for the Knights of Columbus, pointed to the survey results regarding gestational limits when CNA asked what they found most surprising.

Here, Americans answered “at which point should abortions for other reasons be limited” if abortion remains legal including for cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of a mother.  42% said “the point at which a fetus can feel pain,” 36% said “the point at which a fetus can live outside the womb” (or the point of viability), 11% volunteered responses, and another 11% responded “unsure.”

“Anytime we see kind of double digits on a question where there is — where we have so many possibilities of a response, that suggests that people aren’t necessarily on one side or the other, but they are weighing what this actually means,” Carvalho explained. “I think that’s a very interesting number given that viability has been something that has been in part of this process for such a very, very long time.”

Regarding the threshold of fetal pain or viability, she added, “I think that that probably is one of the questions that the data would be most against the conventional wisdom that we have seen both in Congress and in the debate of this issue.”

Saccoccia also told CNA that “Any time we ask a new question, I think we’re always interested to see what the result is going to be.”

He pointed to the question regarding medical abortion. The survey found that 63% of Americans oppose or strongly oppose new federal rules that allow sending prescription drugs that induce an abortion through the mail instead of getting them in-person from a specially certified health provider. 

This comes after the Food and Drug Administration lifted restrictions on mifepristone, a drug approved for use in medical abortions, in December.

“That was an interesting tidbit of information to learn,” Saccoccia said, “especially as that conversation is really starting up and as people are talking about it more, especially in light of potential changes that could come following any decision in the Dobbs case.”

At another point, he said of Dobbs: “I think as the Supreme Court considers the case . . . the American people are paying attention and have opinions there that would seem to indicate an opportunity to reconsider and an opportunity to view these more nuanced opinions in law and in jurisprudence.”

The survey findings broke down the numbers by political affiliation and by Americans’ position on abortion. The survey also found that 54% of Americans oppose or strongly oppose the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for abortion and 73% oppose or strongly oppose using tax dollars to fund abortion services in other countries.

The survey addressed religious objections to abortion, particularly in health care. 71% of respondents said doctors, nurses, or other health care professionals who have religious objections to abortion should not be legally required to perform abortions. 54% of them think that organizations who have religious objections to abortion should not be legally required to provide insurance coverage for abortions.

Instead of separating the well-being of a mother and an unborn child, 81% of Americans believe laws can protect both mother and baby.

As president of pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, Marjorie Dannenfelser welcomed the results.

“Life is winning in hearts and minds across America,” she said in a statement. “For almost 50 years the Supreme Court has tied the hands of elected leaders nationwide as they strive to protect the unborn and their mothers, even from late-term abortions that inflict excruciating pain on children in the womb. Now, that right may finally be restored and the will of the people reflected in the law.”

Joe Donnelly confirmed as US ambassador to the Holy See

Joe Donnelly, official portrait, 2013. / United States Senate Historical Office

Washington D.C., Jan 20, 2022 / 17:18 pm (CNA).

In a voice vote on Thursday the U.S. Senate confirmed Joe Donnelly as ambassador to the Holy See. The former senator for Indiana was nominated for the post by president Joe Biden in October 2021. 

The Jan. 20 vote made Donnelly the twelfth U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See.

Donnelly “is a person of deep Catholic faith and commitment to public service, and I am confident that he will serve in this important new role with vision and integrity,” Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C, president of the University of Notre Dame, commented. Donnelly received degrees from the university, and later taught there. 

“It comes as no surprise that there was broad bipartisan support for his confirmation, as he has proven throughout his career that he is committed to building relationships and working across divisions,” Fr. Jenkins continued.

A Catholic, Donnelly received both an undergraduate and a law degree from Notre Dame. 

He served in the U.S. Senate from 2013 to 2019.

He had represented Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District from 2007 to 2013, during which time he voted against funding embryonic stem cell research and was a strong foe of abortion funding in the Affordable Care Act. He was one of the last House Democratic holdouts who abandoned their opposition and voted for the bill on its final passage in 2010, as President Obama promised the bill would not fund abortion. The U.S. bishops’ conference remained opposed to the law, in large part due to concerns about its funding of abortion coverage.

In the Senate he reversed his position against federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions.

Donnelly has recently been a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld law firm in Washington, D.C. He has served as chairman of the board at the New York-based Soufan Center, a non-profit think tank whose work on global security and foreign policy focuses on counter-terrorism, violent extremism, and armed conflict.

He is an advisor to multiple corporations, and the White House noted that his honors include the U.S. Navy Distinguished Service Medal.

While in Congress, Donnelly was known as a pro-labor, pro-life moderate Democrat, who changed his position on marriage. In 2013 he announced his support for redefining marriage, saying it was “the right thing to do,” as Politico reported.

He supported some pro-life policies over the years, including restrictions on abortions after 20 weeks and banning taxpayer-funded abortion.

Pro-life groups were split on Donnelly in his failed 2018 re-election campaign. Democrats for Life of America supported his re-election, but Susan B. Anthony List opposed his candidacy, saying he “claims to be pro-life, but he has a history of betrayal on important pro-life votes.” His vote against confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court surfaced as a topic in his re-election effort, along with the issue of abortion, which his opponent Mike Braun repeatedly raised in a 2018 debate.

Callista Gingrich served as ambassador to the Holy See under president Donald Trump. Since Biden’s inauguration, Patrick Connell has been serving as chargé d'affaires ad interim at the U.S. embassy to the Holy See.

Coalition to protect, advance Catholic health care launches

Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center (second from left), speaks during a press conference Jan. 20, 2023 in Washington, D.C. announcing the formation of the Catholic Health Care Leadership Alliance. With him in the photo are other members of the alliance's board of directors: Dr. Steven White of the Catholic Medical Association (far left), Douglas G. Wilson, Jr., CEO of the Catholic Benefits Association (third from left), and Louis Brown, executive director of the Christ Medicus Foundation. / Shannon Mullen/CNA

Washington D.C., Jan 20, 2022 / 16:38 pm (CNA).

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, and the leaders of five Catholic medical or professional associations on Thursday founded the Catholic Health Care Leadership Alliance, meant to support the reception and provision of health care in accord with Church teaching.

“This Alliance brings together the best minds in medicine, law, business, and theology. I look forward to working with CHCLA and my brother Bishops to guide and support CHCLA in this important work that will not only bring faithful medicine to our people, but bring our people to a deeper relationship with God,” Conley, chair of the group's episcopal advisory board, said in a statement.

He added that it will “serve as a reliable and trustworthy resource for bishops to turn for assistance, information, and support; so that bishops can properly and more effectively exercise their pastoral office in overseeing health care ministry in their diocese. They will be better equipped to help facilitate an atmosphere of mutual understanding, fruitful collaboration, and ecclesial communion with the health care leaders in their dioceses.”

The alliance's inaugural event was held at the Washington, D.C., campus of Hillsdale College, a liberal arts college founded by Free Will Baptists but which has now has no affiliation with an ecclesial group.

The alliance's board is composed of representatives of the Catholic Medical Association, the National Catholic Bioethics Center, the Catholic Benefits Association, the Catholic Bar Association, and Christ Medicus Foundation.

Franciscan Health, a healthcare system operating in Indiana and Illinois, is the alliance's first system member.

Sister Jane Marie Klein, O.S.F., chair of the board of Franciscan Health, commented that “Our sacred obligation to attest to and uphold the moral teachings of the Church concerning the sanctity of life throughout its natural progression from conception until natural death is being challenged by those who wish to secularize all health care providers. CHCLA is being formed to be a beacon of light and truth, an organization that will defend the right of faith-based providers to deliver care in concert with their religious beliefs.”

“A disproportionate number of people in our country, the poor and the elderly, the marginalized, and those without a voice struggle to receive adequate care. CHCLA wants to be their advocate. Franciscan Alliance is proud to be a part of an advocacy forum that defends both the dignity of all persons and religious freedom,” she added.

Dr. Steven White, president of the alliance, said that “to uphold the truth of the Catholic faith in the practice of medicine there is an urgent need for a clear, strong, and united voice to promote and defend medical care practiced in harmony with the mind of Christ and the long-standing tradition of His Church.”

A pulmonologist and director of respiratory Care at Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Florida, White called the coalescing of the alliance's member organizations "an inspiration of the Holy Spirit" that comes at a time when Catholic health care is facing an "existential threat."

"It's so necessary that we come together, as I like to refer to it, as the Body of Christ," White said. "We can't stay in our silos any longer."

Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, said the alliance's formation comes a "providential time when ethical challenges in health care are growing, and it gives a voice to many organizations and individuals who strongly support Catholic values in health care, by having an alliance of national organizations to represent them."

The founding president of the Catholic Bar Association, Joshua M. McCaig, said it is hoped that “this Alliance, and the expertise brought by its members in the areas of medicine, law, policy, advocacy, education, and bioethics, will serve as a unique resource to health care providers, patients, the Church, and our country. It is imperative that the dignity of those called to serve the sick is protected and defended so they may practice their profession in accordance with their conscience, their faith and their beliefs, as well as for patients who seek out providers who share the faith and expect treatment options consistent with their beliefs and values.”

Douglas G. Wilson, CEO of the Catholic Benefits Association, spoke Thursday about the recent disclosure in a federal lawsuit, reported by the National Catholic Register in November, that the U.S. Department of Health (HHS) is developing sweeping new regulations that would require U.S. health care providers to provide abortion and gender-transition services, without any religious exemptions.

Such extreme regulations, said Louis Brown, executive director of the Christ Medicus Foundation, a Catholic health sharing network, "would in effect make Catholic health care illegal in the United States."

Brown said the fight to preserve religious exemptions for faith-based health providers to offer "pro-life care" promises to become "the biggest pro-life battle" in the nation.

More information about the alliance is available on its website, catholichealthalliance.org.

Copyright and the Catechism of the Catholic Church make for some legal surprises 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church / Carl Bunderson/CNA

Denver Newsroom, Jan 20, 2022 / 16:19 pm (CNA).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church was released in 1992 after years of development. It has helped generations of Catholics to deepen their understanding of their Christian faith.

But those who want to use the Catechism text for internet projects have to deepen their understanding of something else: U.S. copyright law and the requirements of the Catechism’s U.S. copyright holder, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Matthew Warner, founder of the Texas-based church communications software company FlockNote, once faced a cease-and-desist letter from USCCB attorneys for a daily free email that sent excerpts from the Catechism to those who subscribed. Though he eventually secured the necessary legal permissions for this project, he wonders if there’s a better way.

“I don’t think they should be hesitant at all to give permission to everyone,” Warner told CNA. “These essential documents of the Church should be freely licensed to anyone who wants to promote their usage in any way. There are ways to do that where the USCCB still retains the legal right to protect the integrity of the texts.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. bishops’ conference, however, says there are good reasons for the paperwork.

“Each year, the USCCB receives hundreds of requests for commercial and other uses of the Catechism in the United States,” Chieko Noguchi, director of public affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA.

“Each request is reviewed in light of our contractual obligations to the Holy See, due respect for copyright law, and other considerations,” Noguchi said. “We are required to ensure an accurate use of the Catechism in a manner that respects intellectual property for the license granted to us by the Holy See. The Catechism plays an important role in the faith formation of Catholics, and we look forward to continuing to find ways to make it more accessible.”

Warner’s company ran afoul of copyright restrictions on a project involving the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In response to Benedict XVI’s 2012 Year of Faith exhortation to Catholics asking them to read the catechism, Flocknote launched a “Catechism in a Year” email at no charge to subscribers.

“You get one email per day with a little bit of the Catechism,” Warner recounted. “365 days later you’ve read the whole thing.”

“We had over 100,000 people sign up, and it very quickly became the largest group in history to study the Catechism together,” he said. “We’ve had over 300,000 (users) participate since and it is still going. It’s been phenomenal.”

The project’s initial use of the Catechism prompted a reaction from the bishops’ conference that Warner didn’t expect.

“(P)art way through that first year the USCCB had their lawyers send us a cease and desist letter to shut it down,” he said. “I told them what a tragic idea that was and even offered to give the whole thing to them. They simply asked again for us to shut it down. It was very sad for me.”

The Flocknote project eventually pivoted to using texts like YouCat, the 2011 Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as the 2005 Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The latter is also a USCCB publication.

“Luckily, we were able to work with Ignatius Press to get permission to use the YouCat as a substitute, and were able to finish the year,” Warner said. “A few years later we were able to get permission from the USCCB to use the Compendium of the Catechism, which has been a really good fit for a daily email.”

Though Noguchi did not discuss particular requests to use the Catechism text, she explained there are legal constraints on the USCCB.

“Unfortunately, not every request can be granted,” she said. “Other considerations, such as honoring the exclusive contract granted for the original mass-market paperback and gift editions must be considered. We make every reasonable attempt to work with publishers. At times, it has been necessary to notify groups of copyright infringements, but we will not comment further on negotiations between the USCCB and those seeking permissions.”

The Catechism’s second edition runs to 924 pages in the English-language paperback edition. This version is available through the USCCB website at a cost of just under $30.

St. John Paul II authored an Aug. 15, 1997 apostolic letter marking the Catechism’s publication. He praised the work as a “genuine, systematic presentation of the faith and of Catholic doctrine” and urged Catholic bishops “to intensify their efforts to disseminate the text more widely.”

The USCCB’s website provides an online version of the Catechism and offers several resources, including a question-and-answer document with 48 sections.

The website also discusses copyright issues and permission for the use of the Catechism.

“The Holy See has given the United States Conference of Catholic (USCCB) specific rights and responsibilities regarding the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” the website says. Written permission is required for all editions of the catechism published or imported for commercial distribution in the U.S. Excerpts from the English, Spanish or French language catechism may be used only in compliance with USCCB guidelines.

Both the USCCB Subcommittee on the Catechism and USCCB Publishing oversee how the Catechism is used. Their goals are to preserve the integrity of the text, to seek its “widest possible distribution,” and to encourage “the proper use of the text” in secondary and derivative works.

Warner questioned whether the USCCB’s approach is in the best interest of the Catholic Church’s mission.

“I think their view of how to ‘control’ or ‘protect’ the texts of the Church is outdated and, in practice, ends up hurting the promotion of these important and essential texts, therefore working against the Church’s mission,” he said, reflecting on the obstacles his company faced.

This put a group like Flocknote “in a tough spot of trying to keep the USCCB, which represents my Church, from looking bad while also hopefully working to bring about positive change,” Warner said. “I do think it’s gradually gotten better and I hope it continues in that direction. We are very grateful they let us use the Compendium and many people have benefited from that. I hope those kinds of partnerships continue.”

Warner had advice for small projects or volunteer groups want to adapt the Catechism for new efforts and new media: “just ask the USCCB and see what they say.”

“Give the USCCB the benefit of the doubt and engage in good faith, even after hitting those initial roadblocks. Keep trying. There are good people working there. Make connections and let’s work together to improve the situation. It’s possible. And we’ll be most productive if we work together on it as brothers and sisters,” he said. “They do give permission sometimes. If they don’t, find out why. Share the answer with your bishop and hopefully we can all work together to make it easier to use and promote these texts.”

Flocknote makes no money from its catechism project, said Warner, who added: “In fact, it costs us lots of money to provide it for free. But we’re fine with that.”

The guidelines for use of the Catechism discuss various ways to include copyright notices and to ensure accuracy in using the text. Printed works, recordings, or other electronic media that use the text do not need to secure USCCB permission, provided the use of the text is fewer than 5,000 words.

If this word limit is exceeded, further permission is required regardless of whether the work is commercial or non-commercial. It is still necessary to secure written permission from the USCCB and a USCCB review of non-commercial works. Commercial use of the Catechism text faces another requirement: they must pay a pro-rated royalty, under Vatican requirements, calculated based on 10% of the list price.

These measures even apply to the educational works of dioceses or entities directly under diocesan control.  

Father Mike Schmitz, the Diocese of Duluth priest who hosts the popular podcast The Bible in a Year from the Catholic publisher Ascension, has said that he had originally hoped to read both the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church over a one-year period. A catechism-in-a-year project is now in the early stages of development, Schmitz told EWTN Nightly News anchor Tracy Sobol in December.

“We wanted to give people a time to be able to finish the Bible podcast before they had this other thing, you know, on their shoulders,” he said, “and so we’re going to start it in 2023, God willing, if we get all the t’s crossed and the i’s dotted.”

CNA contacted Ascension, which declined further comment.

The USCCB website also notes the legal permissions required for use of the New American Bible, whose English edition is copyrighted by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.

Milwaukee archdiocese provides gender theory policy based on biological sex

The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukee. / Credit: Sulfur via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Milwaukee, Wis., Jan 20, 2022 / 15:04 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee this week put forth a policy related to gender theory, which includes the provision that only pronouns corresponding to a person’s biological sex are to be used in parishes, schools, and other Catholic institutions or organizations.

The policy states that “As a general rule, in all interactions and policies, parishes, organizations, and institutions are to recognize only a person’s biological sex,” which it defines as “the sex with which a person is born, regardless of acceptance or perceived identity.”

“Permitting the designation of a preferred pronoun, while often intended as an act of charity, instead promotes an acceptance of the separability of biological sex and ‘gender’ and thus opposes the truth of our sexual unity,” it said.

In the Catechesis section of the policy, the archdiocese lays out the Catholic Church’s teaching on the topic of gender. Humans are created by God as inseparable composites of body and soul, and “Our biological sex, expressed by our body, is a gift from God and is unchangeable,” the document says. 

“A person’s ‘gender’ is inseparable from biological sex,” it also notes. “While biological sex and ‘gender’—or the socio-cultural role of sex as well as ‘psychological identity’—can be distinguished, they can never be separated. Should someone experience a tension between biological sex and ‘gender,’ they should know that this interior conflict is not sinful in itself but rather reflects ‘the broader disharmony caused by original sin’ and often results from the residue of social ills and cultural distortions of what constitutes ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity.’”

The document notes that people experiencing “interior conflict” between their biological sex and their psychological identity “should be treated with respect and with charity, and ‘no one should suffer bullying, violence, insults, or unjust discrimination’ based on such experiences.”

"Only by turning to Christ can one acknowledge and accept one’s sexual identity in every aspect—
physical, moral, social, and spiritual —and only through such an acceptance can the human person in
turn experience the freedom promised by Christ," the archdiocese stated.

“Parishes, schools, and other Catholic institutions or organizations should take the necessary precautions, in accord with the policies of this document, to avoid bullying and to protect the integrity of those who may express tension or concerns about their biological sex,” the document reads. 

The policy forbids the use or distribution of any medications for the purpose of gender reassignment.

The policy also says that where a dress code or uniform exists, all persons are to follow the dress code or uniform that accords with their biological sex. It also notes that bathrooms and locker rooms are to be used in accordance with biological sex, and that participation in athletic and extracurricular activities “must be conformed with the biological sex of the participant.”

The Milwaukee document cites Pope Francis writing in Laudato si’: “Learning to accept our body, to care for it, and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology…It is not a healthy attitude which would seek ‘to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.’”

Milwaukee is one of several U.S. dioceses in recent years to issue guidance related to gender theory based on the Congregation for Catholic Education's 2019 document “Male and Female He Created Them”, which says that the Church teaches an essential difference between men and women, ordered in the natural law and essential to the family and human flourishing.

Catholic prep school keeps unvaccinated kids behind plastic barriers at lunch

CDC vaccination card / Shutterstock

Boston, Mass., Jan 20, 2022 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

A group of parents and alumni has called on a top Catholic prep school in Boston to stop treating unvaccinated students as “potential biohazards” by isolating them from vaccinated students at lunch time behind plastic barriers and barring them from participating in sports.

The COVID-19 measures at Boston College High School go beyond those of other Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Boston and public schools in the state. The lunch time policy also contradicts guidance from the U.S. Centers on Disease and Prevention (CDC), which discourages schools from separating students based on their vaccination status.

But the Jesuit-run, all-male prep school, one of the top academic and athletic schools in the state, says the measures are necessary to ensure that students can continue to attend classes in person.

Some 98% of the school's 1,430 students in grades 7 through 12 are vaccinated, said Colleen Carter, the school’s vice president for external relations, which means that only about two dozen or so students are unvaccinated.

Carter told CNA that the clear Plexiglas dividers during lunch are meant “to keep everyone — regardless of vaccination status — as safe as possible.”

Unvaccinated students who violate the policy could be sent home and be subject to a meeting with their parents and a school official, the policy states.

The policy says the rules are consistent with Jesuit values of “relationship and care,” adding that students and adults do best when they are “valued, cared for, and respected.” But not all parents see it that way.

Two dozen parents and alumni signed a petition in October calling on the school’s board of trustees to rescind the policy, arguing that “the social-emotional, physical, and intellectual needs of unvaccinated students at BC High are being wholly denied and neglected.”

“We believe that it is short-sighted and developmentally harmful to create a school environment in which students regard classmates as potential biohazards, and where teachers and staff are emboldened to openly single boys out in service of these excessive separation measures,” the petition states.

“It is our sincere intention and prayer that BC High not join those in history who have acted in morally reprehensible ways under the guise of virtue and in the name of public good,” the petition states.

Parents who signed the petition declined to comment on the record to CNA.

Months after the petition was submitted to the trustees, the policy remains in place.

“We are remarkably proud of the policies and procedures we have put into place to ensure our community remains safe and healthy and that our students continue to have the opportunity to learn in an in-person environment,” Carter told CNA.

In addition to being separated from their vaccinated peers at lunch time, unvaccinated students are barred from participating in any co-curricular activities, which includes sports.

“This policy, which remains in place today, has served us well,” Carter said. “We are not aware of any transmission on campus or among our teams this fall.”

The petition said that lunch segregation and denying unvaccinated students the ability to participate in athletics and extracurricular activities is “a practice without scientific justification.”

The petition says that available vaccines cannot prevent infection or transmission of COVID-19, while noting that “the only person who can benefit from the vaccination is the vaccinated individual. It protects no one else!”

The petition states that the school's policy also conflicts with guidance from the CDC.

"Cohorting people who are fully vaccinated and people who are not fully vaccinated into separate cohorts is not recommended. It is a school’s responsibility to ensure that cohorting is done in an equitable manner that does not perpetuate academic, racial, or other tracking," the CDC states.

Thomas W. Carroll, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Boston, told CNA that the archdiocese’s policy does not require students to be separated at lunch based on vaccination status, nor does it require vaccination for participation in sports or extracurricular activities. However, the archdiocese’s protocols don’t apply to school’s run by religious orders, he added. 

Carroll said he is not aware of any other Catholic school in the archdiocese that has adopted Boston College High School’s approach to mandated vaccines.

Unvaccinated students are allowed to partake in sports in the state of Massachusetts. The Cambridge Public School system, a school system in Greater Boston, also voted for the 2021-2022 school year to exclude unvaccinated students from sports and extracurricular activities. 

The petition maintains the school's policy runs counter to guidance from the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), whose directors include Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley of Boston.

"If any institution mandates COVID-19 vaccination, the NCBC strongly urges robust, transparent, and readily accessible exemptions for medical, religious, and conscience reasons,” according to statement issued by the NCBC on July 2, 2021.

“Catholic institutions, in particular, should respect the decisions of people to decline the use of vaccines dependent on abortion-derived cell lines," the NCBC states.

The petition maintains that the school’s COVID-19 measures have led some parents to vaccinate their students “against their better judgment and, worse, against their conscience.”

“We reject any notion of ‘protection’ for students and staff that trades dignity for discrimination,” the petition states.

It’s official: St. Irenaeus to be declared a Doctor of the Church

St. Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130-202). / Public Domain.

Vatican City, Jan 20, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

St. Irenaeus of Lyon is one step closer to being the first martyr to be declared a Doctor of the Church.

Pope Francis met with the head of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints on Thursday to discuss the conferral of the title on the saint.

During the meeting, Cardinal Marcello Semeraro informed the pope that the plenary session of the cardinals and bishops from the saints’ congregation had found the 2nd-century bishop worthy of the title, according to a Vatican statement Jan. 20.

Pope Francis has already made public his intention to declare Irenaeus a Doctor of the Church with the title “Doctor unitatis,” meaning “Doctor of Unity.”

In a speech to a group of Catholic and Orthodox theologians last October, the pope called St. Irenaeus “a great spiritual and theological bridge between Eastern and Western Christians.”

St. Irenaeus is a bishop and writer revered by both Catholics and Orthodox Christians and known for refuting the heresies of Gnosticism with a defense of both Christ’s humanity and divinity.

While some of St. Irenaeus’ most important writings have survived, the details of his life are not as well preserved. He was born in the Eastern half of the Roman Empire, likely in the coastal city of Smyrna, in what is now Turkey, around the year 140 A.D.

As a young man, he heard the preaching of the early Christian bishop St. Polycarp, who had been personally instructed by the Apostle John. Irenaeus became a priest, serving the Church in the region of Gaul, in what is now France, during a difficult period in the late 170s.

During this time of state persecution and doctrinal controversy, Irenaeus was sent to Rome to provide Pope St. Eleutherius with a letter about the heretical movement known as Montanism.

After returning to Lyon, Irenaeus became the city’s second bishop, following the martyrdom of his predecessor St. Pothinus.

In the course of his work as a pastor and evangelist, the second bishop of Lyon came up against heretical doctrines and movements that insisted that the material world was evil and not part of God’s original plan.

Irenaeus recognized this movement, in all its forms, as a direct attack on the Catholic faith. He rebutted the Gnostic errors in his lengthy book “Against Heresies,” which is still studied today for its historical value and theological insights.

A shorter work, the “Proof of the Apostolic Preaching,” contains Irenaeus’ presentation of the Gospel with a focus on Jesus Christ’s fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Several of his other works are now lost, though a collection of fragments from them has been compiled and translated.

Irenaeus died in Lyon around 202, when Emperor Septimus Severus ordered the martyrdom of Christians.

During Pope Francis’ meeting with Semeraro, the pope also authorized a decree concerning the heroic virtue of three Italians: Archbishop Francesco Saverio Toppi of Pompeii (1925-2007); Mother Maria Teresa DeVincenti, the founder of the Congregation of the Little Workers of the Sacred Heart (1872-1936); and Sister Gabriella Borgarino of the society of the Daughters of Charity (1880-1949).

The U.S. bishops voted in 2019 in favor of having St. Irenaeus named a Doctor of the Church at the request of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the then archbishop of Lyon, and sent their approval to the Vatican for the pope’s consideration.

Pope Francis previously declared St. Gregory of Narek, a 10th-century Armenian monk, a Doctor of the Church in 2015.

Benedict XVI named Sts. John of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen Doctors of the Church in 2012.

Seventeen of the 36 figures declared Doctors of the Church by the Catholic Church lived before the Great Schism of 1054 and are also revered by Orthodox Christians.

“His name, Irenaeus, contains the word ‘peace,’” Pope Francis said on Oct. 7.

“We know that the Lord’s peace is not a ‘negotiated’ peace, the fruit of agreements meant to safeguard interests, but a peace that reconciles, that brings together in unity. That is the peace of Jesus.”