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Sisters of Life: 'You are irreplaceable', just like the child in the womb

Sisters of Life.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 15, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

The members of an order of religious sisters are dedicating their lives to sharing the message that every person, from the moment of conception, is infinitely loved.

The Sisters of Life recently spoke with EWTN host Montse Alvarado in remembrance of Mother’s Day. Sr. Magdalene Teresa Mercy stressed the joy of life and discussed spiritual motherhood during EWTN News In Depth May 7.

Alvarado introduced the order as one that helps to choose life by “providing shelter, supplies, and counsel” in six U.S. locations. She spoke with Sr. Magdalene Teresa, who serves as a local superior and mission coordinator for the Sisters of Life at a crisis pregnancy mission at St. Andrew’s Center in lower Manhattan. 

The Sisters of Life, the sister said, embrace “spiritual maternity.” 

“Motherhood really is a foundational piece of our charism,” which is “to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life,” she explained. Motherhood is the “floor or the ground that we walk on.”

John Cardinal O’Connor founded the Sisters of Life in New York in 1991. The community of Catholic religious women profess four vows: poverty, chastity, and obedience, and “to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.”

They dedicate their lives to offering support and resources to pregnant women and mothers, hosting retreats, evangelizing, practicing outreach to college students, and helping women who suffer after abortion, among other things.

At St. Andrew’s, the sisters receive women who are “just really wondering what to do.”

“They’re in the throes of the decision about abortion or choosing life,” she urged. “And for us, it’s such a joy to just invite them to see everything a little different.”

She revealed one of the questions they ask pregnant women to help them discern.

“We’ll say, ‘If everything were different – if you had this dream and that dream and all the things that you hoped for – if it were different, if it were this, what would you do?”

According to Sr. Magdalene Teresa, these women give the same response: “Of course I would give life to my child, if I had all these resources.”

“That’s our biggest thing,” she said, “is to make their dreams come true because nothing should stand in the way of them achieving everything they want.”

“Pregnancy is not a disease,” she emphasized. 

Sr. Magdalene Teresa agreed that material resources can be an obstacle to choosing life. But she said that the biggest challenge is “the spiritual and the lack of hope and the sense of basically not knowing” motherhood, including from their own mother.

“For me, that’s a big desire, is to provide that gift of maternity in our mission,” she responded.

The sisters do little things to lead to a “bigger place” – a place where women know, “I can rest in my maternity” and “rest in joy of being with my children.” One of those little things is offering women a cooking class to make dishes with chicken.

At other locations, like their Sacred Heart convent in midtown Manhattan, they house and live side-by-side with pregnant women in need. 

“The beauty of our charism,” she said, “it does speak to the heart.”

The sisters’ “basic message,” she said, is, “You are made in the image and likeness of God. You are unrepeatable and irreplaceable. And because you’re unrepeatable and irreplaceable, the child in the womb is.”

“You’re so loved by God,” she added. “You’re loved into being. If you were somehow not loved, you would cease to exist.” 

The sisters dedicate their lives to both speaking and acting on that message. They’re not alone either, with over 20,000 volunteers to help them.

Among the problems that concern Sr. Magdalene Teresa is the pressures that push women toward abortion, including diagnosis via prenatal testing.

While prenatal testing is becoming more accurate, she stressed that “sometimes God does something in the womb that is unbelievable.”

“I’ve had so many times where there’s this amazing test that says the baby’s going to have this really hard, very difficult anomaly.” she said. She remembered a time when “everybody was praying” for a baby with a prenatal diagnosis. He ended up being just “fine, he was huge.” 

“If we reverence life, even in the medical world, it would lead to great gifts,” she concluded. “There’s a great need to share the joy of life, even if it’s an hour long.”

One of the things that drive people to abortion is fear, she said. But the sisters counter that with love and “also some courage.”

“We walk with women,” she said. “That’s one of our big works, is to send coworkers or ourselves to the appointments with the women just to back them up.” 

She also looked to what the future might bring for the sisters.

“I personally am on a rampage to ask for there to be a Catholic birthing center hospital in every diocese,” she hinted. “That could be a great mission for an order.”

She ended with a message to women: to “lay our trust in the Lord, lay our trust in Our Lady.”

“She does want to be that anchor in a stormy sea that we’re in at this time and she does want to share – shine that light on where to go next,” she said.  “I also think she has her mantle around us and we often just don’t notice it, but we’re wrapped in it.”

The Blessed Virgin Mary is also a “great model for maternity”, she said.

“I tell a lot of women who are open to hearing, she wants to teach us how to be moms,” Sr. Magdalene Teresa concluded. “She loves sharing all her secrets.”

‘This thing’s going to blow up on us’: The religious extremism fueling violence in Nigeria

Funeral Mass in Nigeria / Aid to the Church in Need

Washington D.C., May 14, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Escalating bloodshed in Nigeria is fueled in part by religious extremism – and the United States must recognize this in order to achieve peace, says the former U.S. religious freedom ambassador.

“This thing’s going to blow up on us, as we would say, ‘bigger than Dallas,’ if we don’t get into there and really start taking this seriously at this point,” Sam Brownback, former Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, told CNA on Wednesday of violence in Nigeria.

Due to the scope of violence against civilians in Nigeria, the State Department in December designated Nigeria a “country of particular concern (CPC)” for the first time ever—a listing reserved for the countries with the worst records on religious freedom, such as China, Iran, and North Korea.

In addition, the agency’s annual religious freedom report published on Wednesday cited numerous terror attacks on civilians in Nigeria in the past year in the country’s northeast, including attacks on churches and mosques.

“Terrorist groups including Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) attacked population centers and religious targets,” the report noted, targeting “the local civilian population, including churches and mosques.”

In the country’s north central region, a long-standing conflict “between predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen and predominantly Christian farmers” continued in 2020, the State Department said.

The report cited “[s]ome religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)” who said “this conflict had religious undertones.”

“Some domestic and international Christian groups stated that Muslim Fulani herdsman were targeting Christian farmers because of their religion. Local Muslim and herder organizations said unaffiliated Fulani were the targets of Christian revenge killings,” the report said.

Brownback said the references to the religious nature of the terror attacks and killings is a positive sign that the U.S. diplomatic corps is beginning to acknowledge the role of religion in Nigeria.

“Radical terrorist Muslim groups” such as Boko Haram and ISIS-WA are moving into the Sahel region in an attempt to create an Islamic caliphate, he said. They are calling on local Muslims to kill their Christian neighbors, “and they are saying this from a theological basis,” Brownback said.

He disputed characterizations of violence as primarily disputes over land or water, or ethnic or “rural-urban” conflicts.

U.S. diplomats have long called the conflicts “[a]nything but ‘Muslim-Christian’,” Brownback said. Religion, he added, “is not the only issue, but it’s a key issue.”

Members of the Islamic State “are winning the hearts and minds of the villagers that are killing people,” he said of terrorists using religion to promote civilian violence. “We’re being attacked theologically, and we don’t respond there.”

“But that’s the most powerful thing in most peoples’ lives in the world, is what they believe. And we won’t respond there. And we’re getting killed by a force that we should be able to subdue,” he said.

The United States, he said, must work with faith leaders in the region to promote peace through religious leaders.

“We need to do something that we are nervous about doing, but that we have to do,” he said. “We need to go to Muslim leaders and Christian leaders who are for peace, and say ‘we’ve got to have you out at the front of the discussion saying that our faith does not support the use of religion to kill other people as a way of proselytizing.”

The country was rocked by violence in 2020. The Bishop of Gboko, in the center of Nigeria, told a U.S. congressional commission in December that “[t]he mass slaughter of Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, by every standard, meets the criteria for a calculated genocide from the definition of the Genocide Convention.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, noted that Fulanis have been driven into the country’s Middle Belt by desertification caused by climate change; they have also been targeted for counter-reprisals, he said.

Nevertheless, “[t]he largest, dominant driver of conflict in the Middle Belt region is committed by Fulani extremists, who appear driven in large part by ethno-religious chauvinism, against mostly Christian farmers – though I do note that elsewhere Shia Muslims are also victims, and that intra-Sunni conflicts also exist within the Muslim community as well,” Smith said.

Nigerian Catholic clergy and seminarians have been targeted for kidnappings and attacks this year.

In February of 2020, an 18 year-old Nigerian seminarian was kidnapped and killed by gunmen. One year later, the local Bishop of Sokoto lamented that the spate of kidnappings had gotten “progressively worse.”

“The harvest of death has gotten richer, more and more people are dying,” Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto said in February.

In March, gunmen attacking a church in Benue State killed a priest and at least six others. Just days before, another Nigerian priest in the diocese of Warri was released after a week-long kidnapping by gunmen.

In February, Pope Francis prayed for 317 schoolgirls who were abducted from their school in Jangebe.

Phoenix bishop defends speaking out on Communion: ‘The care of souls is our first concern’

Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix celebrates Mass at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome on Feb. 12, 2020 / CNA

Washington D.C., May 14, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The Bishop of Phoenix said on Thursday that he is protecting the Eucharist, not “politicizing” it, by teaching that Catholic politicians cannot support abortion and receive Communion.

In an interview by EWTN Pro-Life Weekly that aired on Thursday, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix was asked to respond to claims that speaking out about pro-abortion Catholic politicians was “politicizing” the Eucharist.

“That’s not my intention at all. The Eucharist is the great treasure of the Church. And if it’s not being respected – if people don’t appreciate what this great treasure is – we need to help them understand that,” Bishop Olmsted told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly.

“The Second Vatican Council said that abortion is an unspeakable evil. If that’s true, how could someone who supports that, who requires others to pay for abortions – how could that not be a very serious sin and an obstacle for being ready to receive Christ appropriately in Holy Communion?” he asked.

Bishop Olmsted said it is his “duty” as a bishop to speak out on the matter.

“I think we bishops have a duty to speak as pastors. We’re not politicians, we’re pastors,” he said. “And that means the care of souls is our first concern, both the good of souls and anything that could be a scandal to them or could mislead them about what’s true and good and beautiful.”

Communion for pro-abortion politicians is once again a topic of discussion, as both President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are Catholics who support taxpayer-funded abortion. The Code of Canon Law 915 states that Catholics “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

The U.S. bishops conference was expected to discuss “Eucharistic coherence” this year, covering the matter of Communion for pro-abortion Catholic politicians but framing the discussion within the broader context of general worthiness to receive Communion among Catholics.

Bishop Olmsted issued a statement on May 6 on Catholic politicians who support permissive legislation on abortion.

Olmsted was supporting a pastoral letter by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, which clarified that Catholics cooperating with abortion should not receive Communion. Archbishop Cordileone begged Catholic politicians in particular to not support laws making abortion more available, as they would be formally cooperating in the evil of abortion.

“Woe to us bishops if we do not speak clearly about the grave evil of abortion, and the consequences of any Catholic who participates in the act or publicly supports it by word or action,” Bishop Olmsted stated on May 6.

On Thursday, he said that all Catholics, not just politicians, should “rediscover” the “gift” of the Eucharist, including by receiving it worthily and not being conscious of having committed a serious sin since their last confession.

Olmsted says this teaching applies to all Catholics – not just public figures who cooperate in the evil of abortion by supporting permissive abortion laws.

“We don’t want to single out any one group,” he said. “Especially as we come out of this time of COVID, we need to rediscover and have a much deeper awe and wonder at the mystery of the Real Presence of Christ with us.”

Last week, the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, sent a letter to Archbishop Jose Gomez on the matter of Communion and Catholic politicians who support permissive legislation on grave evils.

Cardinal Ladaria instructed the U.S. bishops, before issuing any “national policy” on Communion, to first have a “serene” dialogue among themselves and ensure unity on the Church’s teachings against pro-abortion laws.

Then the bishops should dialogue with Catholic politicians who support policies contrary to Church teaching. After that, the Vatican said, bishops could determine the next course of action to teach on the Eucharist – while respecting the rights of local ordinaries, framing the discussion within the larger context of general worthiness to receive Communion, and avoiding the appearance of narrowing the Church’s focus to only one or two issues such as abortion.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a Catholic who is pro-abortion, said on Thursday she was “pleased” at the document which she claimed “basically said ‘don’t be divisive on the subject’.”

Bishop Olmsted refuted notions that the Vatican document instructed the bishops to not speak out on Catholic politicians supporting pro-abortion policies.

“As I read the statement, it doesn’t say that at all,” he said. “It encourages us, as we certainly desire to do, to be listening to one another as bishops and conversing with one another, and also listening and being in conversation with those who are not following the Church’s teaching.”

“That’s part of how fraternal correction, or correction from a bishop to one of the laity, should take place, I think,” he said.

Abortion is of “preeminent” concern to the U.S. bishops’ conference, he said. “And it’s something that’s also stated very clearly by Pope Francis, when we visited him in Rome,” he added.

Public figures are in a position to protect innocent lives, including the unborn, he emphasized.

“And the least, the most vulnerable, the most innocent, is the unborn child,” he said.

Calls mount for Chicago-area religious orders to publish lists of members credibly accused of abuse

Credit: Unsplash.

Chicago, Ill., May 14, 2021 / 10:29 am (CNA).

Recent reporting from the Chicago Sun-Times has highlighted several religious orders active in Chicago that have not yet released lists of members credibly accused of sexual abuse, despite the archbishop’s request that they do so.

Two of those religious orders told CNA that they are in the process of compiling lists, and are considering how to make them public in a manner that respects both victims and clerics who have died.

Blase Cardinal Cupich of Chicago in 2018 requested that religious orders active in his local Church release lists of members credibly accused of sexual abuse.

While a religious order needs permission from a local bishop to engage in public ministry, an order’s members are governed by its religious superior. Nevertheless, the Sun-Times notes that the adjacent dioceses of Joliet and Rockford list on their websites religious clerics who are credibly accused of abuse and who are or were active in those dioceses.

In February, a Chicago archdiocesan spokesman told WTTW News: “We have been in discussions with religious orders about how their members, under their jurisdiction and control, who are credibly accused, are to be publicly listed,” adding that they anticipate the matter will be resolved “soon.”

Some orders active in the Chicago archdiocese, such as the Carmelites, have made lists of members credibly accused of abuse public. Others active in the archdiocese, such as the Augustinians and the Passionists, have not.

Father Donald Goergen, OP, Provincial Vicar for the Dominican Province of St. Albert the Great, told CNA that while the province has not yet published a list of members who have been credibly accused, “we have never made a decision not to publish such a list.”

“We have been working for some time on the process in order that we might make the best decisions possible,” Fr. Goergen said in an email to CNA.

Father Anthony Pizzo, Prior Provincial of the Augustinian Province of Our Mother of Good Counsel, told CNA in a statement that the province is “undergoing a process to ascertain whether to publish a public list.”

“The process to yield the public names must be reliable and fair to all involved, including those Augustinians who may now be dead and to those survivors of abuse who seek to maintain their peace,” Father Pizzo said.

“What must be made clear is that all living Augustinians with established allegations of abuse are not in public ministry and are subject to rigorous safety plans.”

The Missionaries of the Divine Word, which is based in Chicago, say they are in the process of compiling a list, while the Passionists told the Sun-Times they are “considering” publishing a list. The Passionists did not respond to CNA’s requests for further information.

The Archdiocese of Chicago also did not respond to CNA’s requests for information on this matter.

Texas passes ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban

Texas state capitol building / f11photo/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 14, 2021 / 09:15 am (CNA).

States continued a nationwide trend of enacting pro-life laws in 2021, with the Texas legislature passing a “heartbeat” bill this week, and Montana enacting funding restrictions on abortion providers.

The Texas state Senate on Thursday passed a ban on abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy. The measure now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) desk, where he is expected to sign it.

SB 8, introduced by state senators Bryan Hughes and Paul Bettencourt, passed the state senate by a vote of 18-12 on Thursday. The bill includes an exception for a medical emergency, but not for cases of rape and incest, according to the Texas Tribune. It would be enforced through private lawsuits and not government action.

The Texas Catholic Conference supported the legislation. A May 3 message from executive director Jennifer Allmon encouraged Catholics in the state to contact their legislators in support of the bill.

While other states, such as South Carolina, have passed similar “heartbeat” abortion bans, pro-abortion groups have challenged the laws in courts. A federal district court judge in March blocked South Carolina’s law from going into effect.

State legislatures around the country have introduced or enacted a slew of pro-life legislation in 2021. According to an April 30 report of the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, 536 pro-life bills had been introduced in 46 states by the end of April, with 61 new pro-life laws.

Montana’s governor Greg Gianforte (R) on Thursday signed a pro-life funding bill introduced by state Rep. Amy Regier. The measure prioritizes public health care funding for clinics that do not provide abortions; it also clarifies that taxpayer dollars cannot fund abortion-related services.

Under the federal Title X family planning program, federal grants cannot fund elective abortions. However, the Biden administration is seeking to loosen regulations of funding abortion providers, with the aim of once again directing Title X funding to clinics that refer for abortions or are co-located with abortion clinics.

“Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to subsidize the dangerous work of abortionists,” Denise Burke, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, stated on Thursday on Montana’s bill.

The legislation ensures “that Title X family planning funding and other healthcare funding streams are kept ‘separate and distinct from abortion-related activities,’” she said.

Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, withdrew from the federal Title X program in 2019 over the Trump administration’s Protect Life Rule; the organization received an estimated $60 million in annual funding under the program.

The 2019 rule sought to separate Title X funding from abortion-related services, by prohibiting funding of clinics referring for abortions or clinics that also provide abortions. Once the Biden administration rolls back these restrictions as expected, Planned Parenthood is expected to benefit from Title X funding once again.

GetReligion points out 'ghosts' in religion reporting among mainstream media

Denver Newsroom, May 14, 2021 / 03:01 am (CNA).

The news-checking website GetReligion.org is in its 18th year of looking for “ghosts” in mainstream media. The “ghosts,” as co-founder and current editor Terry Mattingly calls them, are holes in news coverage that exist either because the media does not want to cover the religious aspect of a story or because the reporters are unaware that a religious component is present. 

“The goal was to openly advocate for an old style, liberal approach to journalism where you are striving for accuracy and striving to let people on both sides of controversial issues have their voices heard in a way that is accurate and shows them respect,” Mattingly said. 

GetReligion was founded in 2004. Mattingly and fellow co-founder Douglas LeBlanc set out to dissect news coverage and brought with them a number of experienced religion writers, including Richard Ostling, Ira Rifkin, Julia Dean and Bobby Ross. Together, they hoped to shed light on the inconsistencies in religion reporting or religion bias in the news.

In one such case, then-columnist Mollie Ziggler Hemmingway was credited with shedding light on the lack of coverage of the Kermit Gosnell mass murder trial. Hemmingway’s post argued that the media ignored and downplayed the trial because it involved the subject of abortion. 

“We’ve never managed to have in many cases, fair, accurate, balanced coverage of issues related to abortion,” Mattingly said. “GetReligion was created to defend on topics of religion coverage.”

Mattingly said they rarely criticize a reporter by name because the mistake, or “ghost”, might have been written in—or removed—by an editor. They also, he said, look for the positives in media coverage of religion, and are open to corrections should they commit an error in their columns.

GetReligion.org sees high traffic and engagement on Catholic news stories in particular, which led to Mattingly’s hiring of a dedicated Catholic columnist. Current Catholic columnist, Clemente Lisi is an affiliate assistant professor at The King’s College in New York City and blogs twice per month about the coverage of Catholic news in mainstream media. 

“Of all religions, Catholicism gets the most attention, which keeps us busy on the website too,” said Lisi, who joined GetReligion in 2019. “In American culture there is a mystique around Catholicism, whether that comes from the movies or the past, there’s this idea that the Church is this gigantic institution. It’s constantly something people are interested in reading about or engaging with. 

Lisi’s post about the coverage of church vandalism in France in the wake of the fire at Notre-Dame de Paris in 2019 remains one of the highest trafficked posts on GetReligion.com. The story of the fire, he said, got very little-to-no attention in the news media as it was actively burning in Paris. When it was covered, he said, it was as if Notre-Dame were a museum rather than a place of worship. 

“A lot of times I think the mainstream press doesn’t really delve into it [the Church] because it would require a lot more reporting or a lot more interviewing of people within the church who could give them context,” Lisi said.

Mainstream media, Lisi said, is really only interested in covering the Church well when there is a new pope because having a new pope is like a political election, where there is a lot of pageantry. Papal election coverage, he said, is mostly positive, wherein other day-to-day coverage of the Church can be clouded by the sex abuse scandal.

“The impetus often is that it has to be negative, or the impetus is that the people who are saying something against the Church are the ‘good guys’ and the Church is the ‘bad guy,’” Lisi said. “We see that with a lot of issues, cultural issues that come up.” 

“We see that now with Joe Biden being president, being Catholic,” Lisi said. “You see a lot of politicization of the Church, where everything in the Church is seen through a political lens—which isn’t the way the people in the Church see the Church. The Church is apolitical.”

GetReligion.org was hosted on the website Patheos for some of its history, but is back on its own domain as of August 2014. The project continues to have a specific focus on media literacy, with the goal of helping people find, consume, and understand media in a balanced way. 

“We as journalists need to be more transparent in the way we get our news and the way newsgathering happens,” Lisi said. “My contribution to GetReligion is to give people an idea of what conversations happen in newsrooms, how stories come about, and oftentimes, why stories are unfair or why they are framed a certain way.” 

Ultimately, GetRelgion.org argues for a traditional American model of the press, where both sides are given an equal chance to tell their side of the issue at hand.

“More and more Americans, both left and right, are living in what scholars call ‘information silos,’” said Mattingly, who sees a specific need for GetReligion.org in today’s media landscape. “They are getting their information from narrower and narrower sources.”

“How do you do journalism without any sense of agreement that we’re going to try to be tolerant and live with people who have opposing views?” he said.

Catholic author says new book on tradition asks widely-ignored questions

Penguin Random House

Washington D.C., May 13, 2021 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

A Catholic author says his new book on the “wisdom of tradition” is meant to be an antidote to a false notion of human freedom. 

“I’m not a theologian. I’m not a philosopher,” author Sohrab Ahmari said at a May 11 event featuring his book at the Catholic Information Center in Washington D.C.  

“But I can pose as a journalist questions that I think have been ignored by our contemporary cultural, social, and political arrangements,” he added. 

Ahmari is the op-ed editor at the New York Post, and author of the new book “The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos.” He is an Iranian-born journalist who converted to Catholicism after living in the United States for more than two decades. His conversion memoir, “From Fire, by Water,” was published in 2016.

At his May 11 presentation, Ahmari said he wrote his book as a response to the world’s false idea of finding freedom through maximizing individual autonomy. He said it presents a dozen questions, and poses answers through exploring the writings of great thinkers.

Ahmari said that around one-third of the thinkers cited in the book are Catholic. “But there are also Protestant thinkers like C.S. Lewis, Confucius is there, and some surprising ones like Andrea Dorkin, the radical feminist,” he said.

In his talk, Ahmari referenced the life of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest in the early 20th century who was arrested by the occupying Nazi regime and taken to Auschwitz concentration camp. He offered his life voluntarily in replacement for another man sentenced to death.

Ahmari noted Kolbe’s religious and philosophical formation that allowed him to live a fulfilling life. He said he wanted to pass on a similar ideological formation for his son to develop Kolbe’s virtues.

Ahmari said he wrote the book for his four year-old son as an “act of posterity,” because he is worried about the possibility of his son living a life without moral purpose. 

Another section of his book explores the question, “What is freedom for?”  Ahmari said that section deals with Russian exile Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s controversial 1978 commencement address at Harvard University, “A World Split Apart.”

Solzhenitsyn had won the Nobel Prize in Literature after spending eight years in Soviet labor camps for speaking out against dictator Joseph Stalin. Ahmari said that when Solzhenitsyn appeared at Harvard, he was expected to praise the United States. Instead, the Russian offered pointed criticisms of the U.S. legal system, media, and culture.

According to Ahmari, Solzhenitsyn criticized a culture of legalism in the West, which he defined as one that allows and encourages individuals to pursue their own selfish ends up to the limit of the law. 

“He saw an abusive Western media,” Ahmari said, “whose overriding concern wasn’t in serving the truth or readers, but their own agendas.”

“Solzhenitsyn saw a West where the clamor of intellectual fashion shut out the true intellects, where shallow public opinion swallowed true excellence,” he said.

In his address, Solzhenitsyn said, “Should I be asked whether I propose the West, such as it is today, as a model for my country today, I would frankly have to answer negatively.” This was the “most shocking” statement he made, Ahmari said.

Ahmari said his goal in the chapter is to show Americans that they should not take their liberties for granted because Solzhenitsyn, a man who had experience in the Soviet labor camp system, could see Americans falling into bondage albeit under different circumstances.

The book has drawn praise from many, including Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. 

Rhode Island statue of Jesus vandalized

Joe Bukuras/CNA

Washington D.C., May 13, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

A statue of Jesus was vandalized this past weekend at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Narragansett, Rhode Island.

“It’s kind of like a sucker punch,” Fr. Marcel Taillon, pastor of St. Thomas More, told CNA. “People are in shock. They just can’t understand why somebody would do that.”

The act of vandalism is believed to have occurred on the night of May 8-9, according to Fr. Taillon and Narragansett Police. The hand of the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was broken off. Fr. Taillon said he discovered the broken hand on a Sunday afternoon walk when he was praying. 

Taillon told CNA he wanted the mystery of the perpetrator to be solved. “I just hope they can come forward so we can honestly have a chat and not press charges,” he said. 

The parish plans to restore the hand of the statue in the near future, Fr. Taillon told CNA.

Parishioner Bob Martin told CNA the vandalism was “very sad.” 

“It’s very typical of what's happening in this world today-disrespect for Christians and the Catholic religion,” Martin said. 

The vandalism of the statue comes a week after another Sacred Heart of Jesus statue in Waltham, Massachusetts - just over an hour away from Narragansett - was vandalised. The hands of both statues were attacked. 

Other acts of vandalism have taken place at churches around the country in recent months.

In April, the face of a statue of Christ at Saint Mary’s Cathedral in the Fargo diocese was painted black. On April 21, a man used a sledgehammer to damage a mural of Our Lady Guadalupe at St. Elisabeth Catholic Church in Van Nuys, California. On March 13, the sidewalk outside Saint Joseph’s Parish on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. was vandalized with what appeared to be satanic graffiti.

In early February three statues of angels at St. Pius X Church in El Paso, Texas, were toppled over and broken.

In early January, a statue of St. Therese of Lisieux was defaced with an upside-down cross, the word “satan,” and a pentagram, at St. Theresa of the Child Jesus parish in Abbeville, Louisiana.

Catholic Churches and statues throughout the United States were targeted for arson or vandalism throughout 2020 as well. Sometimes, churches were damaged amid mass riots and protests, such as in Kenosha, Wisconsin, while other churches appeared to be the targets of random acts of vandalism.

Pelosi says she’s ‘pleased’ with Vatican letter to U.S. bishops on Communion

Michael Candelori/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 13, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday said she was “pleased” with the Vatican’s recent letter to U.S. bishops on Communion for pro-abortion politicians.

Pelosi, who is Catholic, was asked by EWTN News Nightly correspondent Erik Rosales about the topic of Communion on Thursday.

“I think I can use my own judgment on that,” Pelosi said of receiving Holy Communion.

The Speaker has long supported legal abortion and has advocated for taxpayer-funded abortion by repealing the Hyde Amendment. She has also supported the Equality Act, legislation that the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) has warned would “punish” religious groups opposed to the redefinition of marriage and transgender ideology

Pelosi added that she was “pleased with what the Vatican put out on that subject” of Communion for pro-abortion Catholic politicians, claiming that the Vatican’s statement “basically said ‘don’t be divisive on the subject’.”

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) wrote the head of the U.S. bishops last week regarding admission to Communion.

The bishops’ conference was reportedly planning to consider a statement on the Eucharist this year, either at their spring meeting in June or at their fall meeting in November. They were planning to address the topic of admission to Communion of Catholics in public office who support permissive legislation on intrinsic evils such as abortion or euthanasia.

However, the bishops had planned to frame any statement on Communion within the larger context of general worthiness to receive Holy Communion.

The Vatican’s statement, from Cardinal Luis Ladaria, exhorted the bishops to “serene” dialogue among themselves, to ensure that they “agree as a Conference that support of pro-choice legislation is not compatible with Catholic teaching.” Then the bishops should dialogue with Catholic politicians who support legislation not compatible with Church teaching.

After this, Ladaria said, the bishops should consider the next step. If they decided to issue “a national policy on worthiness for communion,” they would need to do so as a unified conference, respecting the rights of local ordinaries, and framing their statement “within the broad context of worthiness for the reception of Holy Communion on the part of all the faithful, rather than only one category of Catholic.”

They should also should not appear to say that “abortion and euthanasia alone constitute the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest level of accountability on the part of Catholics,” Ladaria continued.

The matter of Communion for pro-abortion politicians has resurfaced recently. President Joe Biden, a Catholic, supports taxpayer-funded abortion, as does Pelosi.

In January, Pelosi criticized pro-life voters on a podcast with former U.S. senator Hillary Clinton. Pelosi’s ordinary, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, responded that “No Catholic in good conscience can favor abortion.”

Appearing on EWTN Pro-Life Weekly the following week to discuss his statement to Pelosi, the archbishop was asked about the matter of denying Communion. Catholics, he answered, need to rediscover the Church’s teaching on worthiness to receive Communion in order “[f]or that kind of action [denial of Communion] to make sense to a lot of people.”

Regarding denial of Holy Communion, Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law states that Catholics who are “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

In a 2004 memo to U.S. bishops, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote that a Catholic politician who is “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws” is engaging in “formal cooperation” in grave sin, cooperation that is “manifest.”

These Catholics should not present themselves for Communion, and if they persist in their errors despite the admonition of their pastor, they must be denied Communion, he wrote. 

'You don’t negotiate with evil': Former ambassador hopes Vatican reconsiders deal with China

Former Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. / Andrew Harnik via Getty Images

Washington D.C., May 13, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

The former U.S. religious freedom ambassador hopes that a new report documenting abuses by the Chinese Communist Party will prompt the Vatican to rethink its agreement with China on the ordination of bishops.

“We really pressed the Vatican not to enter in to extending their agreement with the Chinese government on the appointment of bishops, and I hope they would look at this report and say ‘this is not a regime we should be negotiating with’,” Sam Brownback, who served as U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom from 2018 to 2021, told CNA on Wednesday.

Brownback spoke with CNA on the release of the U.S. State Department’s annual report on international religious freedom. The former religious freedom ambassador said he hoped the section on China’s persecution of religion would reach the attention of the Vatican.

“The moral authority of the Vatican is significant,” he added. “You don't negotiate with evil. You kick it out.”

In 2018, the Vatican and China reached a provisional agreement on the ordination of bishops. Although the terms of the agreement were never made public, the deal reportedly allowed for episcopal candidates to be selected by the state-sanctioned church – the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) – with the Vatican having the option to approve or veto candidates.

After the agreement, Pope Francis lifted the excommunication of seven bishops illicitly appointed by the CCPA.

While the agreement was reached to unite the Church in China – split between members of the CCPA and underground Catholics – critics have alleged that the process of episcopal appointments is still far too slow, and that persecution of Catholics in the country has not abated.

In 2020, U.S. officials – including Brownback and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – traveled to Rome in an attempt to dissuade the Vatican from renewing the deal. The Vatican and China renewed the agreement for another two years in October 2020.

The State Department report on Wednesday called China a “country of particular concern,” a designation reserved for countries that have “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”

According to the report, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) harassed, detained, and tortured people of faith from both registered and unregistered religious groups in the last year.

Brownback told CNA that, during talks with the Vatican before the Holy See renewed its provisional deal with China in 2020, the Vatican was “coming around” to the recognition of the scope of atrocities being committed by Chinese authorities.

“They were coming around to it. They wanted to see the data,” he said of Vatican officials.

According to the State Department report, religious leaders in China were arrested for streaming unlawful religious services online. Clergy are required to attend indoctrination sessions of the CCP, and sermons and religious texts are monitored and altered. During the COVID pandemic, the government reported continued to close or monitor churches, removing public religious symbols.

In Xinjiang, as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities – predominantly Muslims – have been detained in a system of camps where they have reportedly suffered beatings, indoctrination, forced labor, and torture. Uyghur women have been forcibly sterilized in what is reportedly a mass campaign of reducing the Uyghur birth rate.

Daniel Nadel, of the State Department’s international religious freedom office, said on Wednesday that authorities are working “to basically turn the entire region into an open-air prison” by tracking peoples’ movements.

Regarding the Vatican-China deal, the State Department report noted, “Critics stated the agreement did not alleviate government pressure on Catholic clergy to join the state-sponsored Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA).”

Brownback opined that the Vatican could have made the same mistake that the United States made in opening up trade with China.

“I want to say that they were kind of stuck in the mentality that a bunch of us got into in the U.S. when we first did the permanent most-favored-nation [trade] status with China 20 years ago,” Brownback said. During the 1990s, the China was allowed into the World Trade Organization. The move – which Brownback said he supported at the time as a U.S. senator – was done with the hope that China would become more democratic.

“It didn’t work,” Brownback told CNA. “It didn’t work for us, the West, in our negotiation with China, and I don’t think it’s going to work with the Vatican." 

The religious freedom report, first mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, reviews the state of religious freedom in nearly 200 countries and territories around the world. It also documents actions by civil society and foreign governments on promoting religious freedom or persecuting religious minorities.

On the release of the report on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted that, according to the Pew Research Center, 56 countries have “high” or “severe” restrictions on religious freedom.

He noted that Iran is intimidating and arresting minorities including Jews, Bahais, Zoroastrians, and Christians. Blinken cited “ethnic cleansing” and other atrocities in Burma. Russian authorities have harassed, detained, and seized the property of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Furthermore, anti-Semitism on the rise in the United States and Europe, he warned.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan federal commission that makes recommendations to the State Department, applauded the release of the report on Wednesday.

Commission chair Anurima Bhargava called it “a valuable tool to hold countries accountable for persecution and violence, as well as to support needed change."

The State Department is required by law to list CPCs no later than 180 days after the report.

“We look forward to the timely designations of the world’s worst violators later this year,” said USCIRF vice chair Tony Perkins.

Blinken said that religious freedom “is co-equal with other human rights” – a departure from the previous administration, where an advisory body on human rights called religious freedom “foremost” among human rights.

“Religious freedom is a human right; in fact, it goes to the heart of what it means to be human,” Blinken said, calling it “co-equal with other human rights because human rights are indivisible.”

“Religious freedom can’t be fully realized unless other human rights are respected, and when governments violate their people’s right to believe and worship freely, it jeopardizes all the others,” he said.

Blinken’s comments on religious freedom simply being a part of a “bundle” of human rights were historically the “standard answer” on religious freedom from the United States and Western European countries, Brownback said.

“The human rights project has been in decline the last 20 or 30 years, globally, and I think it’s because of people not addressing the foundational human rights,” Brownback said.

“We’re just saying just get these foundational ones right, and religious freedom is paramount to them because it affects so many people in the world.”