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Florida priest charged for biting arm of woman he says was desecrating Eucharist

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CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 18:21 pm (CNA).

A priest in Florida bit the forearm of a woman he says was desecrating the Eucharist in a Communion line at church this past Sunday and has now been charged with one count of battery.

Father Fidel Rodriguez, 66, admitted to police that he bit the woman but said he did so only after she reached into the ciborium and tried to grab a host from it, damaging other hosts as she did so.

“The only defense that I found to defend something that for us, for all of us, is sacred, was biting her. I have recognized that I bite her. I’m not denying that,” Rodriguez told police, according to body camera video obtained by CNA.

“I recognize that I bite her, as a defense, and as defending myself and defending the sacrament,” he said in English with a Spanish accent.

The woman told police the priest denied her Communion after she refused to answer his questions about whether she had been to confession recently.

“I just wanted a cookie. That’s all,” the woman told police, according to body camera video.

Firefighters treated the arm of the woman at the police station. She refused to go to a hospital, according to police video.

Police in St. Cloud, Florida, have charged Rodriguez with one count of battery stemming from the incident, which occurred during the noon Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Church.

St. Cloud is a city of about 65,000 located about 21 miles south of Orlando.

First Communion leads to scenes

The woman told police she went to the 10 a.m. Mass on Sunday, May 19, with her same-sex partner because it was the woman’s niece’s first Communion.

The parish’s video of the 10 a.m. Mass shows an interaction between the priest and the woman, who neither presents her hands to receive the host nor opens her mouth to receive on her tongue. The priest and the woman speak for about 45 seconds, holding up the Communion line, though their conversation can’t be heard over the music and singing.

The woman later told police she suspected the priest wouldn’t give her Communion because of the way she was dressed and because of her sexual orientation.

“I believe that his excuse was that I wasn’t super-holy, in his eyes,” the woman, who was wearing a white shirt and pants, told police.

But the priest told police sexual orientation had nothing to do with it.

When the woman didn’t hold her hands out one on top of the other or open her mouth and didn’t say “Amen” after he said “body of Christ,” he said, he knew she didn’t know what she was doing.

He said he asked her when the last time she received Communion was, and that she said it was many years ago. He said he asked her if she had gone to confession, and she replied, “I don’t need to explain you that.”

He said he told her that he has the authority to ask her that question and that he could not give her Communion, but he could give her a blessing instead, which he said he did.

Second Mass

The woman and her partner then went to the noon Mass in Spanish, which Rodriguez celebrated, and the woman again went to him to receive Communion.

He told police he asked her if she had gone to confession in between Masses.

According to him, she replied: “No, I don’t need to explain to you, I don’t need to give an explanation, you don’t have authority, you don’t need to judge me.”

To which he says he said: “I’m not judging you, I’m asking you only, did you confess after the other Mass [to] received the Communion now? Because if you did not confess, I can’t give you the Communion.”

“And she grabbed all the hosts in the hands, because she wants to receive for herself. She is not permitted. And she break all the hosts, spreading them,” the priest said.

The priest said he was worried that she would spill the hosts on the floor.

The Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Jesus, whom Catholics worship as God. The Church also teaches that to receive Communion a person must be a Catholic in a state of grace, meaning not being mindful of having committed a serious sin without getting absolution from a priest in confession.

The woman told police that during the second Mass the priest “forced it in my mouth,” which she didn’t want.

“He wouldn’t give me a cookie. I don’t know if it was how I’m dressed. You know, what it is that I like,” the woman said. “He said basically I needed to do confession and do all of this, I need to go to Mass every Sunday or whatever. And I said, ‘That doesn’t matter. I’ve done everything I needed to do as a kid. I’m just here to accept the bread.’ And he wouldn’t give it to me.”

“And I’m not gonna front. I tried to just grab another cookie, and that when he grabbed my hand and he just bit me,” the woman said.

Video of the incident published by WFTV Channel 9 in Orlando shows the woman’s hand in the ciborium, which is the bowl that holds Communion wafers, while the priest holds onto it with both hands. It also shows the priest moving his head down toward the woman’s right arm but does not show the actual bite.

The Diocese of Orlando released a statement Thursday supporting the priest’s efforts to defend the Eucharist while not endorsing the bite.

The statement notes that during the noon Mass the priest offered the woman Communion on the tongue.

“At that point, the woman forcefully placed her hand in the vessel and grabbed some sacred Communion hosts, crushing them. Having only one hand free, Father Rodriguez struggled to restrain the woman as she refused to let go of the hosts. When the woman pushed him and reacting to a perceived act of aggression, Father Rodriguez bit her hand so she would let go of the hosts she grabbed. The woman was immediately asked to leave,” the diocese said in a written statement.

“It should be noted Father Rodriguez had no prior knowledge of the woman’s background. Further, while the Diocese of Orlando does not condone physical altercations such as this, in good faith, Father Rodriguez was simply attempting to prevent an act of desecration of the holy Communion, which, as a priest, Father Rodriguez is bound by duty to protect,” the diocese said.

The statement continues: 

“The full video and the police report show the woman initiated physical contact and acted inappropriately. The priest was trying to protect the holy Communion from this sacrilegious act.

“In the Catholic tradition, the Eucharist is considered ‘the source and summit’ of worship and faith. The act of participation in holy Communion therefore calls for a proper understanding, reverence, and devotion. It is not something a person can arbitrarily demand and is certainly not a mere ‘cookie’ as the complainant called it.”

A police spokesman told CNA on Thursday that the state attorney’s office will determine the next steps in the case.

Rodriguez did not respond to a request from CNA for comment.

Federal government backs down, allows Virginia Knights to hold annual Memorial Day Mass 

A Virginia council of the Knights of Columbus will be permitted to hold its annual Memorial Day Mass on Monday, May 27, 2024, in a federal cemetery after the National Park Service (NPS) backed down and allowed the group to hold the observance. / Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 14:38 pm (CNA).

A Virginia council of the Knights of Columbus will be permitted to hold its annual Memorial Day Mass in a federal cemetery after the National Park Service (NPS) backed down and allowed the group to hold the observance.

Knights of Columbus Petersburg Council 694 had filed a temporary restraining order against NPS after the park service forbade the council from holding its annual Memorial Day Mass at Poplar Grove National Cemetery.

First Liberty Institute, which represented the Knights in the dispute, said in a press release this week that the fraternal organization has “held the service at the park every year since at least the 1960s.”

The filing, made in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, said NPS decided in 2023 that the annual Mass, held at the cemetery within Petersburg National Battlefield, “would henceforth be categorized as a prohibited ‘demonstration’ under NPS regulations because it is a ‘religious service.’”

Yet on Thursday afternoon, First Liberty Institute said in a press release that the Knights would be permitted to hold the Mass on Monday as planned.

NPS “has granted a permit … allowing the Knights’ annual Memorial Day Mass service” on Monday, the organization said.

“We are grateful to the NPS for allowing the Knights to hold their service this Memorial Day,” John Moran, a partner with the law firm McGuireWoods, said in the statement. 

Roger Byron, a senior counsel at First Liberty, said that the Knights “are thrilled that they will be able to exercise their religious beliefs and keep this honorable tradition alive.”  

“We appreciate the tremendous support of Gov. [Glenn] Youngkin and Attorney General [Jason] Miyares in this case,” Byron said. 

Park service officials had earlier said the Knights could hold the Mass “outside the cemetery on a patch of grass near the parking lot,” which the Knights’ filing said was “unreasonable, unnecessary, and unconstitutional.”

The Knights said the park service was “misapplying its own regulations” and “unlawfully infringing on the Knights’ First Amendment rights.” The filing said the federal government was also violating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a 1993-era law that places strict rules on how the government may infringe on a person’s religious liberty. 

Officials with the National Park Service also did not respond to a query on the suit on Thursday. 

Byron had said earlier this week that the park service was “way out of line.”  

“This is the kind of unlawful discrimination and censorship RFRA and the First Amendment were enacted to prevent,” Byron said.

Number of Catholic parishes in Baltimore’s core will be halved, archdiocese says 

St. Vincent de Paul Church, the oldest Catholic parish church in continuous use in Baltimore, which was dedicated in 1841, is among the churches slated for closure. / Credit: Smash the Iron Cage|Wikimedia|CC BY-SA 4.0

CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 14:08 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of Baltimore announced this week that more than half of the parishes in Baltimore’s historic city core will close or merge as part of a major pastoral planning process.

The final plans, announced May 22, will see 61 parishes at 59 worship sites in Baltimore City and some nearby areas of Baltimore County reduced to 23 parishes at 30 worship sites.

“These decisions, while difficult, are made with an eye toward a future goal of hope," Archbishop William Lori said in a video message, saying the plan was put together, “guided by the Holy Spirit,” with an eye to helping the parishes prioritize announcing the Gospel and helping neighbors in need.

The many Catholic churches in Baltimore City were built to serve “a surging population that’s now lost hundreds of thousands of people,” the archdiocese says on the website for the initiative. From a high of 1 million people in the 1950s, the population in the city stands at fewer than 570,000 people.

According to the archdiocesan publication Catholic Review, the 61 current parishes serve approximately 5,000 Catholics — about 1% of the Catholics in the archdiocese, served by 44% of the archdiocese’ current parishes.

Lori said the mergers will enable the remaining parishes to “focus on mission and ministry, as opposed to leaking roofs, crumbling walls, and failing electrical and plumbing systems.”

After first announcing the intentions for the plan in 2022, this past April the archdiocese revealed the details of the consolidation plan, saying the initiative had “entered its public comment phase.” Several public fora held by the archdiocese on the plan drew “more than 6,000 voices in prayerful listening,” and Lori said their feedback helped to shape the final plans.  

“We have known for a long time that we could not continue to ignore the decline in Mass attendance and increased resources required to keep up with building and property maintenance,” the archdiocese said.

“To achieve the Church we envision, one where parishioners are welcomed, engaged, and constantly growing in faith, and one strengthened by our varied ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds, we must realign and consolidate our efforts and resources. Our failure to do so would be shortsighted and render us to be poor stewards of the time, talent, and material gifts with which God has blessed us.”

According to the Catholic Review, the new configurations and mergers will be complete for most parishes by the first Sunday of Advent 2024, Dec. 1. For others, it could be the first Sunday of Lent 2025, and for some even later. 

Numerous other large dioceses including Chicago, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Cincinnati, and smaller ones such as Peoria, Illinois, have in recent years announced reorganization plans to greatly reduce their number of parishes. 

Baltimore was the first Catholic diocese in the United States, having been established as such in 1789 and elevated to an archdiocese in 1808. The territory of the Diocese of Baltimore originally included the entire fledgling U.S., and it remained the only archdiocese in the country until 1846.

Last fall, Lori announced that the Archdiocese of Baltimore would declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a result of hundreds of abuse claims against it in recent decades. Lori insisted in his recent video message that the mergers are not related to the bankruptcy and that proceeds from any building sales will remain in the parish, as supported by canon and civil law.

Michigan attorney general releases third report on alleged diocesan abuse

The Cathedral of St. Augustine in Kalamazoo, Michigan. / Credit: rossograph via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 13:38 pm (CNA).

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has released the third of seven reports on alleged sexual abuse in dioceses throughout the state. 

The report details “allegations of abuse that took place in the Diocese of Kalamazoo,” one of seven in the state of Michigan. Previous reports focused on the Dioceses of Gaylord and Marquette.

As with the prior reports, the Kalamazoo investigation details abuse allegations that stretch back decades. The review includes allegations of misconduct “by priests who are current or former clergy for the Diocese of Kalamazoo that occurred in the diocese from Jan. 1, 1950, to the present.”

The Diocese of Kalamazoo was previously part of the Diocese of Grand Rapids; it did not become its own named diocese until 1971.

The diocese “agreed to provide reports of abuse to the Department of Attorney General,” Nessel’s office said, describing diocesan participation in the investigation as “instrumental.”

Though the report contains “detailed descriptions of allegations of sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct,” Nessel’s office noted that “criminal prosecution of many of these allegations is barred by the statute of limitations or because the accused priest is deceased.” 

“For too long, sexual assault and abuse have been surrounded by silence,” the attorney general said in the release.

“This investigation aims to shatter that silence, empowering survivors to speak their truth. My department is committed to ensuring that every case of sexual abuse and assault is thoroughly reviewed and investigated in an effort to pursue justice for victims.”

Some of the allegations contained in the report date to the 1970s and 1980s, though others occurred as recently as 2017. The allegations include alleged abuse perpetrated against minors as well as inappropriate behavior and conduct toward adults. 

The attorney general’s office said its wide-reaching report of the seven Michigan dioceses has included to date a review of “more than 1.5 million [paper] documents” and more than 3.5 million digital documents; the office has also “issued criminal charges in 11 cases throughout the entire state and secured convictions in nine cases.”

Two of those 11 cases originated from allegations in the Kalamazoo Diocese, Nessel’s office noted, including the prosecution and imprisonment of Father Brian Stanley, who pleaded guilty to “immobilizing a teenage boy by wrapping him tightly in plastic wrap and using masking tape as additional binding to cover the child’s eyes and mouth” as part of a school punishment. 

Stanley was sentenced to 60 days in prison and five years of probation. 

In a statement on Wednesday following the release of the report, Kalamazoo Bishop Edward Lohse said past abuse in the diocese is “an historical reality.” 

“It is tragic, appalling, and inexcusable. No one knows this better than you who are the victim- survivors of that abuse,” the bishop said. 

“You were entrusted to our care, and we failed to protect you,” the bishop said. “There is no other way to put it. For that failure, I am deeply sorry.”

The prelate said the diocese “continue[s] to strengthen our efforts to protect children and youth and to educate people to recognize signs of behavior that put youth at risk.”

Lohse said the diocese would unveil updated youth protection policies later this summer.

Vatican reinstates Carmelite nun after bishop’s dismissal in Texas over affair with priest

The Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, Texas. / Credit: Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity Discalced Carmelite Nuns

CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 13:04 pm (CNA).

The Holy See has reinstated a Carmelite mother superior nearly a year after the bishop of Fort Worth, Texas, dismissed her after alleged inappropriate conduct with a priest. 

Bishop Michael Olson issued a decree on June 1, 2023, dismissing Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach from religious life following a nearly six-week-long investigation into the affair. 

Gerlach had previously served as the prioress of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington. Olson said at the time of the dismissal that the investigation had found her “guilty of having violated the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue and her vow of chastity with a priest from outside the Diocese of Fort Worth.”

In a statement on Wednesday, Olson said that the Vatican’s Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life “informed me that it overturned the decree dismissing Mother Teresa Agnes” from the Arlington monastery. 

“Although the dicastery acknowledged that Mother Teresa Agnes admitted to misconduct against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue,” Olson wrote, “they reasoned in part that her admission did not establish that the misconduct was ‘perpetrated by the exertion of force or violence.’” 

The Code of Canon Law (No. 1395) stipulates that a cleric who commits a sin against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue using “force, threats, or abuse of his authority” can suffer significant penalties, up to and including dismissal. 

“Additionally, the dicastery reasoned in part that her admission of misconduct did not establish abuse of her ecclesiastical authority of prioress, since she ‘possessed no real or even imagined authority’ over her accomplice, a priest of the Diocese of Raleigh, since he was not ‘subject to Mother Teresa Agnes’ authority as prioress,’” Olson said. 

In its decree, the dicastery also said that the mother superior was “not afforded the full 15 days allotted to respond fully to the canonical warnings” regarding her disobedience of the bishop.

Though it reversed the decision dismissing Gerlach from her role at the monastery, the dicastery “upheld the decisions I made last year” regarding the larger investigation, Olson said on Wednesday. 

“All decisions were made for the good of Mother Teresa Agnes and the Arlington Carmel and its sisters,” Olson said on Wednesday, “in accordance with my obligation under canon law and the rule and constitutions of the Arlington Carmelites as the local bishop.”

The dispute between the Carmelite nuns and Olson has grown increasingly bitter over the last year. During the investigation, Olson banned the monastery from celebrating daily Mass and blocked access to regular confessions.

At the time he accused the nuns of hindering his investigation into the monastery after they filed a lawsuit against him. The Vatican subsequently appointed the bishop as the pontifical commissary in the dispute, confirming his authority over the nuns in his diocese. 

In April of this year the Vatican declared that the Association of Christ the King in the United States would oversee the “government, discipline, studies, goods, rights, and privileges” of the Arlington monastery. That decision ended the bishop’s role as the pontifical commissary. 

Several days later the nuns filed a request for a restraining order against Olson and the parties tasked with overseeing the monastery. 

Before filing for the restraining order, the nuns had indicated their intent to defy the Vatican’s decree regarding oversight of the monastery, labeling it “a hostile takeover that we cannot in conscience accept.” The nuns subsequently dropped the request for the restraining order

On Wednesday Olson said the association’s oversight would “ensure that all the nuns within the monastery can be heard, rightly cared for, and nurtured in their religious life in full communion with the Catholic Church.” 

“As their bishop, I stand ready to pastorally assist the nuns of the Arlington Carmel,” he said.

Matthew Bobo, the lawyer representing the nuns, said that Gerlach would continue to stay at the monastery following the decision. 

“She never left the monastery as she was awaiting the recourse from the Vatican,” he told CNA, “which was obviously returned in her favor.”

Biden administration launches reporting tool for health law at center of abortion dispute

The Biden administration holds that the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) can be used to require emergency room doctors to perform abortions. / Credit: Wikimedia Commons

CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 11:17 am (CNA).

The Biden administration this week launched an online tool designed to allow patients to report violations of a federal health law, one that the White House says requires emergency room doctors to perform abortions in some cases. 

At the center of the dispute is the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA). That law, which was passed in 1986, dictates to Medicare-participating hospitals that “all patients receive an appropriate medical screening examination, stabilizing treatment, and transfer, if necessary,” regardless of ability to pay.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said in July 2022, shortly after the Supreme Court repealed Roe v. Wade, that under EMTALA an emergency room doctor “must provide” abortions to pregnant women if it is determined that abortion constitutes a “stabilizing treatment” under the federal law. 

A federal appeals court in January rejected the Biden administration’s argument that the law can be used to require emergency room doctors to perform abortions. The Biden administration has appealed the January ruling at the Supreme Court. 

The U.S. Supreme Court in April, meanwhile, heard arguments in a dispute in which the federal government also challenged an Idaho pro-life law on EMTALA grounds. 

On Tuesday, meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced an online tool “to allow individuals to more easily file an Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act complaint.”

Though the announcement does not mention abortion, the release said the tool is “part of the Biden-Harris administration’s comprehensive plan to educate the public and promote patient access to the emergency medical care to which they are entitled under federal law.”

“If an individual believes their EMTALA rights have been violated, it is important that they can easily file a complaint,” CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in the announcement. 

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, specifically praised the tool as “incredibly important” for women in the post-Roe v. Wade United States.

“The Biden administration has fought at every turn to ensure women receive emergency health care in all circumstances, but make no mistake, these protections and so many others could very well disappear under a second Trump administration,” Murray said. 

She argued that “Donald Trump and his allies will try to ban abortion care any way they can, putting millions of women’s lives at risk.”

Katie Glenn Daniel, the state policy director at Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told CNA that the new online tool “seems like a tool that should be used for good” because it makes it easier for people who are wronged “to file a complaint.”

EMTALA, Daniel noted, is a law “requiring that if you show up to a hospital with a medical emergency, that they can’t turn you away due to [an inability] to pay.” If a woman is pregnant, she added, “that protection extends to her and her unborn child.”

Although Daniel said EMTALA is “a life-affirming law,” she added that people need to view this announcement with skepticism, based on the Biden administration’s efforts to expand abortion through the president’s interpretation of the law.

“It’s so clear that they see EMTALA as a tool to try to back end abortion in pro-life states,” Daniel said. “It’s something we have to look at with a critical eye.”

If the Supreme Court were to rule in the administration’s favor, Daniel warned, “it basically opens the door to [Biden] rewriting all kinds of laws.”

The Supreme Court has not yet issued a ruling in the Idaho dispute. Last month, Joshua Turner, a lawyer representing Idaho before the high court, said the state law permits an abortion when the life of the mother is threatened, which is based on “the doctor’s good-faith medical judgment.”

In contrast, U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, who provided the legal arguments on behalf of the DOJ, said Idaho’s law conflicts with the text of EMTALA.

In view of the case, the Catholic Health Association has expressed its concern that “the highly polarized and politicized nature of abortion conflates necessary medical interventions with elective procedures.” 

The association went on to note that “Catholic hospitals do not offer elective abortions. However, in tragic situations when a mother suffers from an urgent, life-threatening condition during pregnancy, Catholic health clinicians do provide medically indicated treatment, even if it poses a threat to the unborn or may result in the unintended death of the child.”

Analysis shows number of nonreligious Americans stabilizing after prior surge

null / Credit: Thoranin Nokyoo/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 23, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

From the early 1990s through the 2010s, the number of Americans who identified as atheist, agnostic, and nonaffiliated saw a major surge — but that number appears to be stabilizing, according to an analysis published on May 20

Ryan Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University and a Baptist pastor, published an analysis of religious demographic data from the annual Cooperative Election Study, comparing 2023 numbers with previous years. He found that in the past five years — from 2019 through 2023 — the number of Americans who do not identify with a particular religion has been relatively stable.

In 2019, the analysis notes, the percentage of Americans who identified as nonreligious was at 35%. By 2023, the percentage only increased by one percentage point — to 36%. Over those five years, the percentage of nonreligious Americans fluctuated between 34% and 36% — without any major surge or reduction.

“It’s slowed down considerably,” Burge told CNA.

The stabilization shows a halt — or at least a pause — in previous trends, which showed a rise in Americans identifying themselves as atheist, agnostic, or no particular religion. The first major surge occurred in the 1990s, which continued into the 2010s.

The growth in this demographic slowed down between 2013 and 2018, increasing by only two percentage points in that time frame, from 30% to 32%. In 2019, it saw another surge to 35% but has remained relatively stable since then, only increasing by one more percentage point by 2023.

“We can definitely say there’s been a pause [in the growth of nonreligious Americans],” Joe Heschmeyer, a staff apologist at Catholic Answers, told CNA. “We can much less reliably predict what the future holds.”

Several factors contribute to the initial surge, along with the subsequent stabilization in the percentage of Americans who don’t identify with a particular religion, according to Burge.

Burge noted the fall of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall as two factors contributing to this surge in the United States, because there was “less stigma [around atheism and a lack of religiosity] when we weren’t in the Cold War anymore.” The rise of the internet in the 1990s, he also mentioned, made it easier for skeptics of religion to associate with like-minded people, even if they lived in relatively religious communities.

In this time frame, Burge said “the marginal Christian” began to stop identifying with a particular religion. The current numbers, he said, demonstrate what the United States “really looks like religiously.”

Heschmeyer said there used to be a “default Christianity” in which people who did not strongly believe in the faith still identified with it. But that identity “is basically gone now” and as society has secularized, “they’ve kind of drifted along with that,” he added.

Heschmeyer noted a few factors that led to the surge in Americans no longer identifying with a particular religion. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he said there was an “anxiety” with “people worried about militant Islam.” He noted the rise in new atheism, which claimed the “problem is religion itself” but said as this fear has dissipated, “atheists can’t tap into that the same way.”

Another element noted in Burge’s analysis is the religiosity of various age groups. Although older Americans are more likely to identify with a particular religion than younger Americans, the analysis points out that Generation Z’s religiosity — at this moment — is nearly identical to the religiosity of millennials. This suggests that the growth of nonreligious Americans appears to be stabilizing at a generational level as well. 

“This drastic generational change ended with millennials,” Burge said.

Looking to the future, Burge said the lack of religiosity will probably grow slightly, “largely due to … replacement” as older Americans die. However, he said he expects “less deconversion over the next 10 years.”

Heschmeyer said there is “a real spiritual battle that is ongoing.” While he said the future religious makeup of the country is hard to predict, he noted that there have always been predictions that organized religion would fade away but that “none of those dire predictions came true.”

“The Church is not going anywhere,” Heschmeyer said.

Archbishop Lori completes court-ordered ‘listening sessions’ with sexual abuse victims

"I was deeply moved by their very powerful testimony,” Archbishop William Lori said following a second bankruptcy court-ordered listening session with sexual abuse victims on May 20, 2024. / Credit: Matthew Balan

Baltimore, Md., May 22, 2024 / 16:21 pm (CNA).

Baltimore Archbishop William Lori has completed the second of two federal bankruptcy court-ordered “listening sessions” with alleged victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests and religious of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

The eight men and women who testified during the May 20 hearing gave disturbing accounts of their experiences, which allegedly occurred between the 1950s and the 1980s. The archdiocese had previously agreed to the sessions, the first of which took place with six claimants on April 8.

Last fall, Lori announced that the Archdiocese of Baltimore would declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a result of hundreds of abuse claims against it in recent decades.

Judge Michelle Harner emphasized that the hearing was a “listening session” and that the testimonies would not be evidentiary in nature. Lori and Auxiliary Bishop Adam Parker sat in the courtroom during the two-hour hearing.

Two of the eight claimants were students at St. Peter Claver Parish and School in West Baltimore. The first to testify was 12 when she said she started being stalked by a priest. She said she was ultimately raped by the cleric after numerous instances of lewd behavior. Her mother pulled her out of the parochial school. She said she later attempted suicide, which led to a monthslong stay in a state mental hospital.

Both former students of St. Peter Claver School disclosed that the abuse led to many years of alcohol and drug addiction. The second former student from that parish said she started doing drugs at age 13 after she was abused. Her mother worked for many years at the rectory. She said she was reluctant to hold her mother’s funeral at the parish due to the alleged sex crimes.

All eight detailed the lifelong impact of the abuse — ranging from not being able to trust others, post-traumatic stress disorder, and long periods of addiction. The second claimant, who attended Archbishop Curley High School in the 1980s, detailed how a religious brother introduced him to pornography during a visit to the school’s friary. The alleged victim had trouble forming relationships after his abuse, which he said ultimately led to a divorce in adulthood.

Later in the hearing, two other adult survivors disclosed that their siblings were also abused. The last claimant to testify said she and her twin sister were groomed by a priest at St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish in Baltimore, which adjoined their childhood home. The cleric befriended their family and would regularly visit the residence. Despite the abuse, the female claimant emphasized that she still believed in God: “I don’t blame God. I love God.”

Earlier in the hearing, the sixth claimant noted that his abuser had also established a close relationship with his family. He said the cleric abused him for five years and even followed him on assignment from his parish to his high school.

Following the hearing, Paul Zdunek, who chairs the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, a group of seven individuals who organized to represent all of the hundreds of claimants against the archdiocese, spoke with the press outside the courtroom. He stated that the archdiocese is “saying the right things. We hope they do the right things.”

Lori and Parker decided to not speak to the press gathered outside the courtroom. However, the archbishop did give an impromptu reaction to some journalists who approached him, saying: “I was deeply moved by their very powerful testimony.”

Later, the archbishop released a more detailed statement in which he said: “Hearing these stories renews our collective determination to guard against this evil and do all we can to protect those entrusted to our care.”

“The Church’s strong child-protection policies in place today cannot remove the life-altering pain victim-survivors have endured,” he noted. “While nothing could reverse the harm suffered, it is my sincere prayer that survivors can find healing through this process and solace in our joint commitment toward the safety of children."

Catholic-run Pennsylvania migrant facility criticized for ‘deplorable’ conditions

"We had to sue the Biden administration to get them to release these documents,” American Accountability Foundation President Thomas Jones told "EWTN News Nightly" anchor Tracy Sabol. “When the documents came out, we [understood] why we had to sue them.” / Credit: "EWTN News Nightly"/Screenshot

CNA Staff, May 22, 2024 / 10:53 am (CNA).

Documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests reveal what a federal government official described as “deplorable” conditions that were found in 2021 at a Catholic-run facility for migrant children in Pennsylvania. 

The emails were obtained via FOIA by the American Accountability Foundation (AAF) and published by CatholicVote last week. They show a U.S. Department of Homeland Security official relaying an April 2021 report from a worker out of Pennsylvania on the Journey of Hope facility in Pittsburgh. 

That facility is run by the Holy Family Institute, a nonprofit group that describes itself as “rooted in the rich tradition of Catholic social teaching and the heritage of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.” It works via contract with the U.S. government to house unaccompanied migrant children.

In the email, dated April 10, 2021, the Pennsylvania worker described the facility as “deplorable.”

“They haven’t cleaned a thing in the time it’s been set up,” the worker reported. “There is [expletive] smeared on the floors. We have begged their admins to have a cleaning service come in but they refuse. Say the 5-year-olds can clean themselves.” 

“Everyone on my floor has lice,” the report continued. ”They treated them then [put] them back in the same dirty sheets.”

“I thought one of the girls was pregnant,” the worker said. “The clinic refused to see her. Kids have 100 fever and aren’t seen by anyone. It’s bad.”

On Tuesday, Thomas Jones, the president of AAF, spoke with “EWTN News Nightly” anchor Tracy Sabol about the exposé. He described the findings as “appalling and shocking.”

Jones told Sabol that AAF has had a “longtime focus” on investigating migrant facilities in the U.S. He said it was “pretty complicated” to obtain the emails that revealed the conditions at the Pittsburgh facility.

“Unfortunately, we had to sue the Biden administration to get them to release these documents,” he said. “And I think when the documents came out, we [understood] why we had to sue them.”

“The conditions just weren’t just unclean,” Jones noted. “The whistleblower was recording things like there was fecal matter smeared across the wall, children had lice, toilets were overflowing. And what happened was kind of the bureaucratic finger-pointing instead of somebody doing the simple, humane thing to pick up a mop and clean this mess up.”

Jones said the group has not yet corroborated the claims from the government employee, but they decided that the report “needs to be on the street right away.” He added that it is “really incumbent upon the Department of Health and Human Services to do a full-scale audit with the assistance of the Department of Justice to make sure all of these facilities are up to standards, that this isn’t happening anywhere else.”

Reached via email on Tuesday, the Holy Family Institute did not comment on the allegations of the conditions at the facility. “Please direct your questions to the Federal Office of the Administration for Children and Families,” the institute said. That federal office did not respond to a similar query.

Abortion on the ballot: Which states will be voting in 2024

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CNA Staff, May 22, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The 2024 elections are less than six months away. While all eyes are on the presidential matchup, there are also numerous efforts by abortion activists to enshrine abortion rights in state codes and constitutions.

Nearly a dozen states are considering such measures ahead of the November elections. The efforts come after the 2022 repeal of Roe v. Wade, which returned to the states the power to legislate on abortion, resulting in nearly half of states enacting strong protections for babies in the womb.

CNA is tracking efforts by both pro-abortion and pro-life supporters to put abortion-related votes on the November 2024 ballot. See below for the latest updates on ballot measures around the country.

Arizona

The political action committee Arizona for Abortion Access said in April that it had gathered more than 500,000 signatures to see its pro-abortion constitutional amendment put before voters in November. The threshold for the activists was about 383,000 and the deadline for signatures is July 3.

The proposed amendment would allow late-term abortions up to “fetal viability” — about 22-24 weeks — or later in pregnancy if a doctor deems it necessary for a woman to end the life of her child. The secretary of state’s office will still need to verify the signatures before the initiative can appear on the ballot.

Abortion is currently restricted in Arizona until the 15th week of pregnancy.

The state has been the focus of pro-abortion and pro-life activists throughout 2024 due to fights over an 1860s-era abortion ban still on the books in the state. Democrats and some breakaway Republicans succeeded in repealing the law at the beginning of May. 

Arkansas 

The pro-abortion group Arkansans for Limited Government has proposed ballot language to the attorney general that could result in a vote on abortion in November.

The originally proposed state constitutional amendment, an initial draft of which was rejected by the state attorney general in November, would forbid the state from restricting “access to abortion within 18 weeks of conception, or later in pregnancy in cases of rape, incest, [and] in the event of a fatal fetal anomaly.” 

Arkansans for Limited Government did not respond to a query asking if they had secured enough signatures to put the amendment before voters in November. The group was still calling for signatures on its Facebook page last week; nearly 100,000 signatures must be gathered for the proposal to reach the ballot.

David Cox, the assistant director of the Little Rock-based Family Council, told CNA last year that “if passed, the amendment’s language would effectively erase decades of good, pro-life laws” in the state.

In Arkansas, abortion is illegal in nearly all cases except if a doctor determines that one is necessary to save the mother’s life.

Colorado

Advocates on both sides of the abortion debate in Colorado circulated dueling ballot proposals for 2024. For either amendment to reach the ballot, proponents needed to gather more than 124,000 signatures.

The pro-life initiative, which would have been added to the state statutory code, would stipulate that a living human child “must not be intentionally dismembered, mutilated, poisoned, scalded, starved, stabbed, given toxic injections known to cause death, left to die of the elements for lack of warmth or nutrition,” or otherwise killed. 

It failed to gather enough signatures before its April 18 deadline.

The pro-abortion measure, meanwhile, would affirm state laws that are already in place that allow abortion through all nine months of pregnancy. 

Its language would amend the state constitution to say that the government “shall not deny, impede, or discriminate against the exercise of the right to abortion, including prohibiting health insurance coverage for abortion.” 

The Colorado Secretary of State’s office said last week that the measure had secured enough signatures to qualify for the 2024 ballot.

Abortion is presently legal at all stages of pregnancy in Colorado, one of only a handful of states that allow abortion at any time.

Florida

The pro-abortion group Floridians Protecting Freedom successfully gathered enough signatures to place its Right to Abortion Initiative constitutional amendment on the November ballot.

The proposed language of the measure would add a right to abortion before the point of “viability” to the state’s constitution if 60% of voters approve. It would also allow for abortions later in pregnancy if a woman’s doctor deems it necessary to end the life of her child. 

The Florida attorney general in October 2023 had asked the state Supreme Court to block the effort, arguing that the initiative “does not satisfy the legal requirements for ballot placement.”

The court’s justices ruled in April that the measure could appear on the ballot. 

In Florida, abortion is currently illegal after six weeks of pregnancy with limited exceptions. 

Maryland

The proposed Maryland Right to Reproductive Freedom Amendment would cement an abortion “right” in the state’s constitution and make it impossible for pro-life laws to be enacted. The amendment was added to the ballot by the state Legislature after passing by a supermajority vote (60%). It will ultimately be decided by the state’s voters on Nov. 5.

Maryland state laws on abortion were extreme even before Roe v. Wade was overturned on June 24, 2022. In April of that year, the Legislature allotted $3.5 million per year for “abortion care” training there.

The Maryland Board of Public Works, meanwhile, in June of this year approved nearly $1.3 million in emergency spending to pay for a stockpile of two abortion drugs in response to a lawsuit that could take one of the drugs off the market.

Maryland currently places no gestational limits on abortion. Parental notice is required for a minor to have an abortion.

Missouri

The pro-abortion group Missourians for Constitutional Freedom announced in May that it had turned in more than 380,000 signatures to place its pro-abortion initiative on the November ballot. The measure, if passed, would amend the state constitution to establish a broad right to abortion.

A countermeasure, one that would have seen abortion legalized in the state, had been proposed by the Missouri Women & Family Research Fund. That group, which was launched by longtime Republican staffer Jamie Corley, argued on its website that the state should provide “reasonable exceptions for abortion care, protection for birth control, and immunity for mothers and doctors against criminal prosecution.” 

To that end the group submitted multiple proposed constitutional amendments to the state in August. Yet the group suspended its campaign in February, with Corley stating that the dual pro-abortion campaigns could “create confusion and potentially split the vote.”

Abortion is illegal in Missouri with narrow exceptions for the mother’s life and/or health.

Montana

In April, the Montana Supreme Court said pro-abortion activists there could gather signatures to put a pro-abortion state constitutional amendment on the November ballot. 

The measure, if passed, would “amend the Montana Constitution to expressly provide a right to make and carry out decisions about one’s own pregnancy, including the right to abortion.”

Activists need to gather more than 60,000 signatures by June 21 to place the measure on the ballot.

Nebraska

The pro-abortion group Protect Our Rights filed language with the secretary of state that could see abortion on the ballot in November. More than 87,000 signatures must be gathered for the proposal to reach the ballot. 

The measure, if approved, would “amend the Nebraska Constitution to provide all persons the fundamental right to abortion without interference from the state or its political subdivisions until fetal viability.” 

Backers of that measure did not clarify to CNA if they’ve reached enough signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot. The deadline is July 5.

A proposed pro-life amendment, meanwhile, would amend the state constitution to outlaw abortion “in the second and third trimesters” except in cases of medical emergencies or when the baby is the product of rape or incest. Advocates with that amendment similarly did not respond when asked if they had secured enough signatures.

The state earlier this year limited abortion to 12 weeks into pregnancy

Nevada

The pro-abortion coalition group Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom said in April of this year that it had reached “more than 50%” of its goal of collecting enough signatures to put a state constitutional amendment on the November ballot. Supporters of the initiative need 102,000 valid signatures by June 26 to qualify for the ballot.

The measure would affirm current extreme laws on abortion and add to the state constitution a “fundamental right to abortion” up to the point of “fetal viability.” It would also allow for abortions later in pregnancy if a woman’s doctor deems it necessary to end the life of her child. 

The group has already met the threshold necessary to place the measure on the ballot, but an activist told local media that abortion advocates “want to make sure all of our data is absolutely correct” and are thus collecting double the number of signatures required. The pro-abortion group did not respond to a query from CNA asking whether it had met its signature goal since April. 

Earlier this year Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo, a Republican, signed into law a measure to protect abortionists who violate abortion laws in other states and prevent health care licensing boards from disqualifying a person due to his or her participation in providing abortions.

Abortion is legal up until about 24 weeks of pregnancy in the state, or even later in pregnancy if the life of the mother is at risk. 

New York

In New York, lawmakers initially succeeded in getting a proposed amendment on the 2024 ballot. It would have added a so-called “right” to abortion to the state constitution in the form of an equal rights amendment. 

The amendment was added to the ballot by the state Legislature after passing by a majority vote in both chambers in two consecutive legislative sessions, as required by law. The proposal stipulated in part that state residents “shall [not] be denied equal rights under the laws [of the state]” on the basis of “pregnancy.” 

But a state Supreme Court judge ruled in May that the measure could not appear on the ballot in November because the state did not follow the proper procedure in adding it. The state has vowed to appeal the decision. 

Abortion is legal in New York through “viability,” though it is largely available after viability as well, given exceptions for the mother’s “mental health.” 

South Dakota

The South Dakota secretary of state confirmed in May that a pro-abortion amendment would appear before voters on the November 2024 ballot. 

The measure would establish “a constitutional right to an abortion” and allow the fatal procedure through all nine months of pregnancy. Signature-gathering was spearheaded by the pro-abortion group Dakotans for Health. 

Abortion is illegal in South Dakota barring exceptions to save the mother’s life.