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Little Sisters of the Poor to close Denver nursing home after 105 years

Little Sisters of the Poor. Courtesy of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. / null

Denver, Colo., Aug 5, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

After years of service to the elderly in the Archdiocese of Denver, the Little Sisters of the Poor announced this week their intention to withdraw from a nursing home they have operated for more than a century, citing the need to dedicate resources to other projects. 

The Mullen Home complex, located in Denver’s West Highland neighborhood, received its first residents in 1918 after the sisters moved in the year prior. The home includes private rooms for assisted living, apartments for the elderly, a library, and a chapel. It was expanded and renovated between 1975 and 1980. 

The order’s leader in Denver said the decision to close the home had come about following a “lengthy period of prayer, much consultation and much study.”

“As part of a strategic plan aimed at strengthening our ministry and the quality of our religious and community life, we Little Sisters have recognized the need to withdraw from a certain number of Homes in the United States, while at the same time dedicating our resources to much needed upgrades and reconstruction projects in others,” Mother Julie Horseman said in an emailed statement Aug. 3. 

“While it is always difficult for the Little Sisters to withdraw from any of our Homes, know that our immediate concern is for our Residents and Staff members. We will be working with all of them in the coming weeks and months, assisting with this difficult transition.”

According to the Archdiocese of Denver, the land on which the nursing home sits was given to the Little Sisters by John K. Mullen and his wife Catherine in 1917. Mullen was a Denver-based Irish-American entrepreneur and philanthropist who supported many Catholic causes in Denver and elsewhere.

The deed by which Mullen transferred the land to the religious order had a provision whereby the land and buildings would be transferred to the Archdiocese of Denver if the Little Sisters ceased operating the nursing home. The archdiocese is “studying its new purpose with prayerful consideration,” the Little Sisters said. 

“Their intention is to use it to further the mission of the Church and preserve our legacy in the Denver area,” Mother Horseman said. 

The Little Sisters of the Poor began in France in 1839, when the order’s founder, Saint Jeanne Jugan, offered her bed to an elderly woman who was blind and lying paralyzed in the cold. Today, the order serves in 30 countries, with 27 homes in the United States. Because the sisters care for the low-income elderly, they trust in God for financial support. Sources of income such as Medicaid and pensions from the residents generally only cover about half of their expenses, so they beg for the remainder. 

Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver thanked the Little Sisters for their more than 100 years of ministry in the city, adding that the archdiocese is “still in the process of determining the next steps for the property.” 

“I want to offer my heartfelt and sincere gratitude for their work. Whenever I would visit Mullen Home as a priest and later as a bishop, I was always edified by their witness to the Catholic faith and their living out of the corporal works of mercy. Their compassionate care for the elderly provided a witness to Jesus Christ and his love for the poor and the sick,” Aquila said. 

The nearest Little Sisters-run nursing homes to Denver after the Mullen Home closes will be in Gallup, New Mexico and Kansas City, Missouri. 

Visa, Mastercard pause ad buys with Pornhub following controversy

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 5, 2022 / 16:37 pm (CNA).

On Thursday, Visa and Mastercard temporarily suspended ad purchases with Pornhub and its parent company, MindGeek, after the latest court ruling in a child pornography lawsuit. 

The action follows a court ruling last week that denied Visa’s request to be removed from the case, which alleged that the company was complicit in a child pornography crime involving a 13-year old girl. 

The ruling determined that “Visa knew that MindGeek’s websites were teeming with monetized child porn,” but continued to process financial transactions that MindGeek profited off of from “sex trafficking” and distributing explicit content involving children. 

In an Aug. 4 statement addressing the news, Visa’s CEO Alfred F. Kelley Jr. declared that the company “strongly disagree[d]” with the court’s decision and was “confident” in its position. 

“In our view, our company’s role, policies, and practices have been mischaracterized,” Kelley wrote, adding that the allegations were “repugnant and stand in direct contradiction to Visa’s values and purpose.”

Kelley later added that Visa does not make any “moral judgments” on legal purchases made by consumers and that Visa can only be used to purchase content on sites that feature “adult professional actors in legal adult entertainment.”   

But Patrina Mosley, a women and children’s policy advisor, points out the hypocrisy of such a statement. 

“[Visa] acknowledge[s] that sex trafficking, sexual exploitation, and child sexual abuse are illegal, then goes on to say ‘we do not make moral judgments on legal purchase made by consumers,’” she wrote in an email to CNA. 

“Visa and Mastercard knew exactly what type of business they were getting into when they allowed payments for ads to be processed on Pornhub. It is only after being sued have they relented, further toppling one of the world's largest exploitation sites.”

Mosley, who has over a decade of experience in combatting sexual exploitation, referenced the fact that 16 states in the U.S. have already declared pornography a public health hazard. 

But it’s not enough, she added: “The only way to help prevent exploitation is to make pornography illegal.”

How to comment on Biden rule forcing doctors to perform transition surgeries, abortions

null / Darko Stojanovic via Pixabay (CC0).

Washington D.C., Aug 5, 2022 / 16:36 pm (CNA).

The Biden administration’s proposed rule that would force doctors and hospitals to provide gender transition procedures and abortions went live Wednesday, beginning the 60-day comment period during which members of the public can voice their objections before it becomes the law of the land. 

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule was published in the Federal Register yesterday. Outside groups and individuals have until October 3, 2022, to submit comments that may be considered in the rule-making process. 

The rule would revise the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to add “sexual orientation and gender identity” and “reproductive health care services” including “pregnancy termination" to existing “protections against discrimination on the basis of sex.” 

The action would reverse Trump-era conscience protections for medical professionals. It would also expand the Obama-era version of the rule to include abortion. 

Catholic medical organizations have already stated they will submit comments opposing the rule’s mandate, but a former HHS official is encouraging citizens to speak out too.

Arina Grossu, former senior communications advisor in the Office for Civil Rights at HHS, wrote in an email to CNA that “It is critical for individuals and organizations to express their unique voice through the public comment process while there still is time.

“If you care deeply about protecting conscience rights and the integrity of health care, this is your chance to speak up,” she added.

Grossu, a fellow with the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism, recommends a guide from the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) that explains how concerned citizens can submit impactful comments on rules. 

“Comments are the public’s last best chance to influence agency rules that will bind or affect them with the force of law,” the resource emphasizes. 

The guide emphasizes that it is important for commenters to submit individual, unique arguments for how the rule would negatively impact them or their organizations. Including relevant expertise and citing personal stories or examples is also helpful.

How to submit comments 

To submit comments online, individuals can navigate to where the rule is posted in the Federal Register and click “Submit a Formal Comment” in the top right-hand of the page. 

An online form with required fields will pop up, asking commenters to submit their comments and specify whether they are an individual, group, or prefer to remain anonymous. 

There is also an option to leave an email address to receive confirmation of one’s submission along with a tracking number, or attach additional documentation to support a comment.

Catholic medical organizations to comment 

Catholic Healthcare Leadership Alliance (CHCLA) released a statement Thursday morning saying it would be adding its comment in opposition to the rule. 

Dr. Steven White, president of CHCLA, called the proposed regulation a “terrible affront” to the rights of doctors who practice in line with their consciences. 

“Catholic hospitals and Catholic health care professionals are bound to follow the long-standing tradition of the healing ministry of Jesus Christ and His Church,” he said in the statement, which includes “providing life-affirming care from conception to natural death and upholding the dignity of the human person made in the image of God as male and female.”

You can submit your comments on the rule here

U.S. bishops urge support for mothers and babies after Biden abortion executive order

null / Credit: Unsplash

Denver Newsroom, Aug 5, 2022 / 11:42 am (CNA).

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, the U.S. bishops’pro-life chair, on Friday called on President Joe Biden to increase support and care for mothers and children.

The Aug. 5 message was in response to an executive order from the president that facilitates abortion by allow states to use Medicaid to pay for abortion services for women traveling from other states.

“I continue to call on the President and all our elected officials to increase support and care to mothers and babies, rather than facilitate the destruction of defenseless, voiceless human beings,” Lori said.

He added that “Even preceding the Dobbs decision, my brother bishops and I have implored the nation to stand with moms in need, and work together to protect and support women and children.”

“Continued promotion of abortion takes lives and irreparably harms vulnerable pregnant mothers, their families, and society,” Lori stated. “It is the wrong direction to take at a moment when we should be working to support women and to build up a culture of life.”

Biden’s Aug. 3 executive order directed Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra to “consider action to advance access to reproductive healthcare services” for women, particularly those who travel out of state to have abortions. It was not clear from the language of the executive order exactly which abortion services would be covered.

Under the Hyde Amendment, the use of federal funding for abortions is prohibited except in the cases of rape, incest, or a “life-endangering physical condition” that places the mother “in danger of death.” 

At an Aug. 3 press briefing White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed that the order “paves the way for Medicaid to pay for abortions for women having to travel out of state” by allowing states to apply for Medicaid waivers.

When asked by a reporter how the administration would accomplish this in light of the Hyde Amendment’s restrictions on federal abortion funding, Jean-Pierre said, “we’re going to leave it to HHS to come up with the details on the specifics on how they’re going to work with states — if a state asks for a waiver — and what that’s going to look like.” 

This is the second executive order the administration has released since the overturning of Roe v. Wade. 

The order, which calls traveling across state lines for abortions a “bedrock right,” also reaffirms a rule the Biden administration proposed last week that would force doctors to provide abortions. 

In addition, the order calls for data collection and research at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to measure accurately “the impact that diminishing access to reproductive health care services has on women’s health.”

Pro-life groups have also criticized the executive order.

Amy Gehrke, Executive Director of Illinois Right to Life, said Aug. 3 that “the women of Illinois and beyond don’t need more ‘help’ obtaining abortions, they need resources that truly give them choices when facing unplanned pregnancies. They need practical resources such as diapers, food, health care, and counseling. We know that over 60 percent of women feel pressured into abortions they don’t really want. They need to know aid is available to help them choose life for their children.”

The executive order, Gehrke said, “is cause to mourn that our president is doing everything he possibly can to degrade women by expanding access to abortion.”

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America called the executive order an illegal effort to “force taxpayers to fund abortion on demand until birth in Democrat-led states.”

Public Masses suspended at Chicago's Shrine of Christ the King

A community Carols and Candles event at the Shrine of Christ the King Sovereign Priest in Chicago, Ill., Dec. 16, 2017. / Marc Monaghan via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Denver Newsroom, Aug 4, 2022 / 17:19 pm (CNA).

A prominent Chicago church that is home to a Traditional Latin Mass religious institute announced the end of all public Masses, as of last Sunday.

“As of August 1, 2022 the celebration of public Masses is suspended,” said a message on the website of the Shrine of Christ the King. 

The shrine, in the Woodlawn neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, forms the U.S. headquarters of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. The institute is a society of apostolic life that celebrates the traditional form of the Roman rite, also known as the Traditional Latin Mass.

Members of the nonprofit community group Save the Shrine told the Chicago Sun-Times they are concerned the changes will endanger the church, a historic landmark.

One member of the group, Jennifer Blackman, attributed the change to a ban from the Chicago Archdiocese under new guidelines for the celebration of the Latin Mass.

Susan Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Chicago, rejected the claim. She said the church sent a July 31 letter to the archdiocese saying it would stop the Masses.

“They chose to discontinue the Masses and sent the archdiocese a letter stating that they would stop offering Mass and other sacraments at the shrine,” Thomas told the Chicago Sun-Times. 

“The shrine had the option to continue Latin Mass under the guidelines and decided not to,” Thomas said. “It is a false statement that we have a citywide Latin Mass ban. That’s simply untrue. Latin Mass is offered in the archdiocese.”

Among the guidelines of the Archdiocese of Chicago are a prohibition of the celebration of Traditional Latin Masses on the first Sunday of every month, Christmas, the Triduum, Easter Sunday, and Pentecost.

While Catholic communities that celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass are present only at a small percentage of Catholic churches, their numbers grew after Pope Benedict XVI announced broad permission for clergy to say the traditional Latin Mass in a 2007 motu proprio. 

Pope Francis, however, allowed local bishops to limit significantly celebrations of the traditional Latin Mass in his 2021 motu proprio Traditionis custodes. Various dioceses’ implementations of the new policy have caused serious concern among some Catholic congregations dedicated to the traditional Latin Mass.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago announced his new directive implementing Traditionis custodes in December 2021. Under the directive, which took effect on Jan. 25, 2022, Cupich curtailed the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass and other sacraments that use liturgical books that predate Vatican II. Priests, deacons, and ordained ministers who wish to use the Old Rite must submit their requests to the cardinal in writing and agree to abide by the new norms.

CNA sought comment from the Christ the King shrine and the archdiocese but did not receive a response by publication.

In October 2015 the shrine suffered a devastating fire that collapsed much of its roof and its choir loft. The church windows and much of the interior furnishings were destroyed, though no one was injured. The tabernacle and an 18th-century statue of the Infant of Prague were rescued from the blaze.

The shrine church was built in 1927 as St. Clara Church and later renamed for St. Gelasius. 

After the fire, the Chicago Archdiocese secured a demolition permit but deeded the church site to the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest after an outpouring of financial support for its reconstruction.

Parishioners and the Coalition to Save the Shrine raised more than $3 million to rebuild the church.

Shortly after the fire, Mike Medina, then-president of the Woodlawn Residents Association, said that “From organizing block clean-up days and hosting meetings with city and civic leaders, to promoting local businesses and teaching hockey to neighborhood youth, the Shrine of Christ the King has been a tireless advocate for Woodlawn and serves our neighborhood with a giving and gracious heart. We stand together with the Shrine!”

The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest was founded in the west coast Central African country of Gabon in 1990. Its members are known as canons and wear blue choir dress to signify the community’s consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Its motherhouse and international seminary are located in Gricigliano, Italy, in the Archdiocese of Florence.

“Recognizing the importance of a deep harmony between faith, liturgy, life, and the power of beauty in attracting the human senses to the things above, an integral part of the Institute's charism is the use of the traditional Latin Liturgy of 1962 for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the other sacraments,” the institute says on its international website.

It describes the “essential elements” of its spirituality as “great care for a solemn liturgy, complete fidelity to the doctrine of the Church and the Holy Father, and awareness of the central role of Grace, especially Charity.”

Another Chicago-based religious community that celebrates the Traditional Latin Mass, the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, has modified its practices under the Chicago archbishop’s new rules.

Kansas abortion vote: Why did the pro-life amendment fail?

A poll worker helps a voter cast their ballot in the Kansas Primary Election at Merriam Christian Church on August 02, 2022 in Merriam, Kansas. / Kyle Rivas/Getty Images.

Washington D.C., Aug 4, 2022 / 16:18 pm (CNA).

The reason a pro-life amendment — known as the “Value Them Both” amendment — recently failed in Kansas boils down to misinformation and messaging, according to a Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America spokeswoman.

“I think ultimately it came down to chaos, confusion, and lies ruling the day,” Mallory Carroll, the vice president of communications for the national pro-life organization, told CNA. “The pro-abortion movement was very successful at claiming that this vote was going to be a vote to stop all abortion in Kansas and put women’s lives at risk.”

The referendum represented the first major statewide vote on abortion following the overturning of Roe v. Wade. With over 95% of ballots counted as of Thursday afternoon, Kansas voters rejected the pro-life amendment by about 59% to 41% during their state’s primary election.

The amendment, if approved, would have reversed the Kansas Supreme Court’s 2019 ruling that the state’s constitution protects a woman’s right to abortion. The ruling threatens existing Kansas laws, including a general ban on abortion 22 weeks or later into pregnancy. 

Currently, state lawmakers are, in most cases, prohibited from passing any type of abortion restriction. The amendment would have enabled state lawmakers to pass legislation to regulate or restrict abortion.

Ahead of the vote, SBA Pro-Life America invested $1.4 million in a Kansas voter education campaign which included digital ads, TV, radio, and mail as well as visits to more than 250,000 Kansas homes.

Carroll called the advertising from pro-abortion activists “incredibly deceptive and ultimately successful.”

“A lot of people worked really hard, we contacted a lot of voters, but the message that the pro-abortion movement was pushing, that this was going to lead to women literally dying, was more effective and salient,” Carroll said. “It really raises the stakes for upcoming elections and underscores how important it is that, both as a pro-life movement and individual pro-life candidates, need to be really clear about what it is that we stand for.”

That includes, she said, “that we are supporting protections for unborn children and women, and that we're not advocating for the criminalization of women or anything that's going to put moms in jeopardy.”

After the amendment’s failure, Carroll refused to be discouraged and looked to the future instead.

“We just won a 50-year-long battle to ensure that Americans could use the democratic process to make their voices heard and as disappointing as this decision was in Kansas, it is the people using the tools left to us by our founders and we must carry on,” she said, referring to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. “This is just the first of many opportunities that voters are going to have to make their voices heard on the life issue.”

She added: “We have to stay engaged and keep up the spirit of perseverance that has gotten us through these last five decades under Roe.” 

The vote has broad implications that extend past Kansas’ borders. It could indicate how other states will vote on abortion after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization — which overturned Roe and left abortion policy up to the states — and suggest where Americans stand on abortion ahead of the midterm elections in November.

Carroll said that the vote’s impact on the midterm elections “really depends on what pro-life candidates take away from this.”

“Our sincere hope is that pro-life candidates will remember the responsibility that they have to go on offense to explain to voters what they believe and to define their political opponents on this issue,” she said. “Otherwise they will be defined by the pro-abortion people.”

Life is a winning issue, she stressed.

“Life is always morally right, it still is politically smart, it just requires action on the part of candidates,” she said. 

Carroll expressed concern about one area: the overall idea that there could be more ballot initiatives. 

This is because, she said, this “hasn't been historically an area that the pro-life movement has focused on” as a way to effect change.

“We haven't spent a ton of time working on ballot initiatives, so if this is an area where the pro-abortion movement thinks now that they can win, we could see more of them,” she said, “and we're going to have to up our game and ability to engage in these types of races.”

Britney Spears’ wedding: Who can get married in a Catholic church?

Britney Spears (L) and Sam Asghari arrive at the premiere of Sony Pictures' "Once Upon A Time ... In Hollywood" at the Chinese Theatre on July 22, 2019 in Hollywood, California. The couple wed in June 2022. / Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 4, 2022 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

American pop star Britney Spears is expressing frustration after reportedly being unable to get married at a Catholic church. But there are four main requirements to have a Catholic church wedding, a priest tells CNA.

In a since-deleted Instagram post, Spears reportedly shared a photo Wednesday of another couple’s wedding inside St. Monica Catholic Church in Santa Monica, near Los Angeles.

“This is where I originally wanted to get married during COVID!!!! I wanted to go every Sunday,” she wrote, commenting on the church’s beauty. “[T]hey said it was temporarily shut down due to COVID!!!! Then 2 years later when I wanted to get married there they said I had to be catholic and go through TEST!!! Isn't church supposed to be open to all???”

A church representative later told TMZ that there was no record of Spears requesting to be married there. Her post came after she celebrated her wedding with actor Sam Asghari in June.

In response to Spears’ story, Father Matthew P. Schneider, LC, who teaches theology at Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, North Carolina, outlined four main requirements for a wedding to take place in a Catholic church.

Either the bride or groom must be Catholic and free from any impediments, such as marriage to another person. Both the bride and groom must “intend what the Church does,” including recognizing marriage as something permanent, exclusive, and open to life. 

They must also plan to raise their children Catholic.

Schneider stressed that the Catholic Church welcomes all, even with these requirements. 

“The Catholic Church is open to all, but for many to have a wedding in a Catholic church requires becoming Catholic & agreeing to Catholic teaching,” he tweeted. “Many other religions would be similar: for example, I doubt a synagogue would hold a wedding if neither spouse was Jewish.”

He spoke more specifically with CNA about Spears’ faith.

“It is not clear from public information what Britney Spears' canonical status is,” he said, referring to her status with the Catholic Church. “She was baptized a Baptist; then in 2021 she stated she was Catholic, but now she says she can't get married in a Catholic church because she is not Catholic.”

In 2021, Spears announced in a since-deleted Instagram post that she is Catholic and attends Mass. Spears has repeatedly posted prayers, including the Hail Mary, on social media. Her Instagram bio reminds people to “Pray Every Day.” 

While Spears was raised Baptist, several of her family members are practicing Catholics, including her mother, Lynne Spears, her sister, Jamie Lynn, and her nieces, Maddie Aldridge and Ivey Joan Watson, CNA previously reported.

“Is she a catechumen, formally received into the Catholic Church, or still a Baptist with some interest in Catholicism?” Schneider asked.

He also referenced Spears’ two previous marriages, adding that, “to be married in a Catholic church, she would need to get annulments on those."

Rep. Jackie Walorski, killed in car accident, leaves behind pro-life legacy 

Then-Indiana Congressional candidate Jackie Walorski speaks during the Republican National Convention on Aug, 28, 2012, in Tampa, Florida. / Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 4, 2022 / 12:02 pm (CNA).

The tragic death of Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski and her two staff members, Emma Thomson and Zachery Potts, in a car accident Wednesday afternoon has left many in the nation’s capital mourning the loss of the Indiana congresswoman, known for her kindness and service to her country. 

But to pro-life leaders, Walorski leaves behind a legacy of devotion to the unborn, evident in both her record as a lawmaker and personal efforts to help the most vulnerable. 

Pro-life groups including Live Action, Students for Life of America, and Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America issued statements paying tribute to Walorski’s fight against abortion. Indiana Rep. Jim Banks remembered Walorski as “a devout Christian [and] passionate advocate for life.” 

“Jackie [was] selfless, humble, and compassionate,” he wrote on Twitter, “a dear friend and one of the greatest public servants I’ve ever known.” 

Walorski had a strong pro-life voting record, receiving an A+ rating from Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. She consistently opposed Democrat attempts to spend federal money on abortions both at home and abroad and sought to protect the conscience rights of health care providers.

Notably, Walorski advocated on behalf of dignity for victims of abortion. She was well-known for introducing The Dignity for Aborted Children Act (HR 620) with Banks in 2019 to require the dignified and proper burial of aborted children, following the horrific discovery of over 2,200 aborted baby remains on the property of notorious Indiana abortionist Ulrich Klopfer. 

“Our society cannot tolerate such callous disregard for the sanctity of human life,” Walorski said in a statement introducing the bill, “It is critical that we pass this bill to protect the dignity of abortion victims by ensuring their remains are treated with the respect they deserve.”

Walorski visited a pro-life pregnancy center called Bella Vita in Knox, Indiana, on Aug. 2, the day before she died.

Walorski represented Indiana's 2nd congressional district from 2013 until the time of her death. In this session of Congress, Walorski co-sponsored pro-life legislation including the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2021, and the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act.

She also served on the House Committee on Ways and Means and was the ranking member for both the Subcommittee on Worker and Family Support and House Ethics Committee. 

Walorski, who was born and raised in South Bend, Indiana, worked in journalism, and served as a missionary to impoverished children in Romania before beginning her political career. 

Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, released a statement on Thursday. “We mourn the loss of our good friend, Congresswoman Jackie Walorski, who was indefatigable in standing up for the most vulnerable among us,” he wrote. “The passion, courage, and love she brought to her work on behalf of unborn babies and their mothers set an example that will not be forgotten.” 

Nashville Dominican Sisters support Hillbilly Thomists on country music’s most famous stage

The Hillbilly Thomists perform on Aug. 1, 2022, at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. The bluegrass band, made up of Dominican friars, was the opening act of a concert hosted by the Knights of Columbus in conjunction with the fraternal order's annual convention. / Courtesy of Matthew Barrick/Knights of Columbus

Nashville, Tenn., Aug 4, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The famous Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee, has hosted stars such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, and many more.

But it wasn’t until Aug. 1 that a band of wisecracking, bluegrass-playing, Spirit-filled Dominican friars had played the legendary venue.

The Hillbilly Thomists claimed that historic distinction with a rousing, humorous performance as the opening act of a concert hosted by the Knights of Columbus, whose annual convention was held Aug. 1-4 at the nearby Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center.

The friars’ show was made all the more special by the presence of dozens of their religious sisters, from the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia in Nashville, who clapped, sang, and laughed along with the band.

“It was a little bit unfair having a home crowd,” joked Father Joseph Martin Hagan, the band’s drummer. 

One of the sisters present, Sister Anne Catherine Burleigh, told CNA after the performance that the friars rose to the challenge of playing on such a prestigious stage.

“We know a lot of our brothers and they’re wonderful priests, and it’s fun to see them bring out their study of theology in this very fun way,” she said.

The band’s name explained

Proceeds from the band’s album sales, donations, and merchandise sales support the formation of friars at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., where the Hillbilly Thomists first came together.

“We’re Catholic priests who play Americana music. We started doing it in-house as a way that the family tries to relax. Really it’s a form of recreation, storytelling … it’s fun,” band member Father Timothy Danaher told CNA in an interview backstage before the show.

Members of the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia enjoying a performance of The Hillbilly Thomists at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville on Aug. 1, 2022. Joe Bukuras/CNA
Members of the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia enjoying a performance of The Hillbilly Thomists at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville on Aug. 1, 2022. Joe Bukuras/CNA

The band drew inspiration for its name from a letter written by Catholic novelist Flannery O’Connor. “Everyone who’s read Wise Blood thinks I’m a hillbilly nihilist, whereas ... I’m a hillbilly Thomist,” she wrote, referring to her love of St. Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican.

“So, we, too, are lovers of St. Thomas Aquinas," Father Peter Gautsch, one of the band’s founding members, recently told the National Catholic Register, "and given her sort of Southern sensibilities, [and] the Southern character of some of our music, being from the bluegrass country tradition … it seemed a perfect name for our group."

The band’s third album, “Holy Ghost Power,” came out in July. The title track captures the humor and evangelistic themes the friars’ fans love so much. A sample verse:

You got to tear down the wall and read Saint Paul

Burn like fire after the fall

You got to change things up if you've heard the word

You've got to die inside and serve the bird

“It was such a joy to hear them be able to share the fruits of their contemplation with everyone who's ready to receive it,” Dominican Sister Josemaria Pence told CNA after the band’s six-song set.

“They've given their life to the Lord and it's a joyful life,” she said. “So it's wonderful to see the joy that they can share with other people."

Post-Roe ‘confusion’ helped defeat Kansas pro-life amendment

Supporters of the Vote Yes to a Constitutional Amendment on Abortion remove signs along 135th Street on Aug. 1, 2022, in Olathe, Kansas. / Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

Denver, Colo., Aug 3, 2022 / 17:22 pm (CNA).

The defeat of a proposed pro-life amendment in Kansas is in large part due to confusion and fear-mongering in the wake of the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade, one leading supporter on the ground has said.

Chuck Weber, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, said the Dobbs decision just six weeks before the amendment vote “really changed the trajectory of the abortion legal landscape.”

“That energized the abortion industry beyond I think anyone’s anticipation,” he told CNA Aug. 3.

“Not to overstate the significance of the Dobbs decision,” he said. “I think it’s a watershed moment in American history and right now, the first chapter does not look good. But we're not giving up.”

With over 95% of ballots counted as of Wednesday afternoon, Kansas voters defeated the Value Them Both amendment by about 59% to 41% in the Aug. 2 referendum.

The proposed amendment would have allowed restrictions on abortion to the extent allowed by the U.S. Constitution. It was a response to a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision that ruled that a woman has a right to an abortion under the state constitution. The ruling bars legislators from passing abortion restrictions. It also threatens existing Kansas laws, including a ban on abortion 22 weeks or later into pregnancy.

“While the outcome is not what we hoped, our movement and campaign have proven our resolve and commitment,” the Value Them Both campaign said in a statement. “We will not abandon women and babies.”

“This outcome is a temporary setback, and our dedicated fight to value women and babies is far from over,” it added, thanking supporters across the state.

The campaign statement faulted “an onslaught of misinformation from radical left organizations that spent millions of out-of-state dollars to spread lies about the Value Them Both Amendment.”

Catholic dioceses, parishes, and Knights of Columbus councils had collectively given millions of dollars to fund the campaign. State financial records and other reports indicated the Value Them Both Association, which supports the amendment, received close to $6 million by mid-July, while Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, foes of the amendment, took in more than $6.5 million.

Weber, citing observations of opponents’ advertising spending, suggested the final totals would show pro-abortion rights spending with a 2 to 1 advantage.

However, he still saw cause for hope.

“We energized lots of people. We knocked on a half million doors in Kansas. Political consultants across the board would say that that is the single largest grassroots campaign in Kansas history,” Weber told CNA.

“People on their doorsteps were amazed when we were able to have a conversation and say ‘Did you know that there are in Kansas right now an average of at least nine live dismemberment abortions happening every week?’ They were in disbelief, and so I think we've raised the awareness of what is happening,” he said.

Weber, citing his conversations with Catholic bishops and others, said many people still seemed to be processing the end of Roe v. Wade.

“That created an environment of confusion, we believe, that led the country, but also particularly in Kansas, into a narrative that the abortion industry pounced upon: that women were not going to get the authentic reproductive health care that they deserved if the Value Them Both amendment was passed,” he said.

Calling it a “blatant despicable lie,” Weber said he expected it to be corrected by the secular news media.

“But what we found was quite the opposite,” he said. “Not only was the secular news media quiet about that despicable lie. But they actually served as an echo chamber. That turned into a disastrous recipe for us on election night last night.”

The campaign’s efforts to reach out to news media and to brief journalists were often unsuccessful, Weber said, but not for a lack of trying.

“Maybe they simply weren’t willing to listen,” he said. Weber said that several news outlets were present at a Wichita news conference with a dozen doctors who backed the measure, representing over 200 mental and medical professionals who endorsed it. Yet the event never made the news.

The campaign will now try to build on its successes and scrutinize its efforts during the campaign.

“I don't think anybody is going to be harder on the campaign than us ourselves,” Weber said. “We'll try and figure out what we did right and what we did wrong.”

“All of our polling — not just our polling — but other polling showed us definitely within striking distance, if not ahead within the last couple of weeks of the campaign,” he added.

Weber said that Kansas will have an increasingly large role as a destination for abortions, which means parishes and pregnancy crisis centers need to be prepared to provide alternatives to “meet the needs of these women that are going to be bussed in and flown into Kansas for abortions.”

Some, like President Joe Biden, welcomed the defeat of the Kansas measure.

“Kansans used their voices to protect women’s right to choose and access reproductive health care,” he said on Twitter Aug. 2. “It’s an important victory for Kansas, but also for every American who believes that women should be able to make their own health decisions without government interference.”

Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life, responded that the amendment “would have protected women's health and safety by allowing the legislature to pass reasonable health and safety regulations as they do for other procedures.”

“This is no victory. It will make abortion more dangerous for women,” Day said.

Michael New, a sociology professor at the Busch School of Business at the Catholic University of America, reflected on the outcome in an Aug. 3 essay for the website.

New said the outcome was “certainly disappointing,” and he too cited the media coverage after the Dobbs decision as an influence. However, he said that successful pro-life policy changes generally must be “popular, incremental, and difficult to caricature.” The implications of the proposed Kansas amendment were “somewhat unclear” and easy for foes to distort.

Ramesh Ponnuru, a conservative commentator who grew up in Kansas, said on the National Review website blog The Corner that Kansas is “by no means a pro-life state” but also would likely not have adopted “a sweeping abortion-protective constitutional amendment by popular vote.”

Once the state Supreme Court ruled that the constitution had broad abortion protections, it likely made changing this “impossible,” Ponnuru wrote. He suggested pro-life advocates “ought to come back in a few years with another ballot initiative, this one establishing a gestational limit on abortion: at fifteen weeks, for example. There is no reason pro-lifers should take this deeply disappointing vote as the last word anywhere.”