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'The Eucharist is only in this Church'- How one 2019 convert found, and embraced, the Catholic Church

Washington D.C., May 23, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Elise Amez-Droz’s journey to the Catholic Church began in a place well known for religious fervor, but not exactly known for Catholicism: Salt Lake City, Utah.

While at a conference in Salt Lake City, Amez-Droz, 24, met someone who was converting to Catholicism, which surprised her, she said. A native of Switzerland, Amez-Droz said the only Catholics she knew in her home country were not very devout.

“I was shocked that, clearly, he loved Christ, and I could see it,” she said. “But it just puzzled me that he was joining what I thought was a dead faith.”

Amez-Droz was raised an Evangelical Christian, and said that in her youth she had no thoughts of leaving her childhood faith.

But in gradute school, she struggled.

“I started really wondering about the purpose of life. It was a really rough time for me," said Amez-Droz. She started to feel as though her life was suddenly without purpose, she said.

In Salt Lake City, she decided to join her new friend for Mass - the first Catholic Mass she had ever attended.

“My first thought was 'well, it's not as heretical as I thought it was [going to be],’” she said.

She kept in touch with her friend, and asked him questions about converting and why he was becoming Catholic. After she moved to Washington, DC, she made many Catholic friends, and noticed “how good all these people were,” and that they practiced virtue, “without having an incentive to do it.”

She initially found their virtue “annoying,” and was “really struggling” with how nice her new friends seemed to be.

Still, she decided to learn more about the Catholic faith. In 2018, she entered RCIA. But before committing to an RCIA program, she checked out RCIA at several different parishes in the Washington, DC area.

“I was like, ‘this is a long process. I’m signing up for something that’s going to last seven, eight months,’” she said, describing her relatively unusual approach to RCIA.

“I wanted to make sure I could connect well with the leader of it and that I was going to be learning the true doctrine of the Church,” she added.

After a few weeks, she narrowed it down to two parishes, before deciding on St. Peter’s in Washington, DC. She said she was intrigued by the Dominican friars who taught RCIA at the parish.

Amez-Droz also appreciated the approach the parish took to RCIA, which was to include past participants who had already been received into the Church.

"I knew every Tuesday night that there would be a group of people who were going to be there every time," said Amez-Droz. "That really made a big difference for me, because it showed me that people were still learning and they wanted to do that journey with us."

Still, even though she had put in that much effort to find the right RCIA fit, Amez-Droz still was not entirely sold on entering the Church until just a few months before Easter Vigil.

She told CNA that she was convinced after a period of intense study and reading.

“It became more clear to me that I could never go back to my Protestant faith, just having read too much history,” she said. She also was particularly taken by Augustine’s “Confessions,” and she was intrigued by “The Benedict Option.”

“I thought [The Benedict Option] was really interesting. I think it really warmed me up to tradition, considering what community life looks like,” she said. Another huge influence on her conversion was Christopher West’s “Theology of the Body For Beginners.”

“That theology made so much sense,” she said. “I was like, this is one of the most compelling things I’ve ever heard, and it’s from a pope. So that’s what made me think.”

One of the biggest ideological hurdles for Amez-Droz was accepting the authority of the Church. Once she did, however, it was relatively smooth sailing from there.

"As a convert, it comes down to 'do I accept the authority of the Church?' If I do, then everything else is true,” she said, and one must embrace the Church’s teachings.

Amez-Droz chose St. Therese of Lisieux as her confirmation saint, after first learning about her at a retreat.

She told CNA that she appreciated that St. Therese “emphasizes being great by being small,” and that she admired her humility. She also found it interesting that St. Therese died at age 24, the same age Amez-Droz would be when she entered the Church.

Additionally, Amez-Droz spoke French as her first language, the same as St. Therese.

The Eucharist was another major factor for Amez-Droz, and was the reason she decided to stick with Catholicism even amid the “summer of scandal” that plagued the Church.

She also said that she appreciated that the Catholics she knew were open and willing to discuss the scandals, particularly those concerning former Archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick.

"It helped me understand how Catholics were taking it,” said Amez-Droz. “It's true that every time I would hear 'but where else would we go? The Eucharist is only in this Church,’ and I thought that was true."

She explained that the scandals themselves did not impact her decision to join the Church, but did help her discern where to attend RCIA.

"I don't expect the Church to be perfect going forward, either. Ultimately, it didn't really affect my decision,” she said.

“I think the biggest impact it had for me was choosing an RCIA, because I wanted to make sure the priest wasn't involved with scandals himself."

Amez-Droz received the Eucharist for the first time on April 21, 2019 at the Easter Vigil.

She almost immediately broke down in tears.

She explained to CNA that she had spent the day with her best friend, and watched “The Passion of the Christ.” The movie, she said, made her feel as though she was “totally not worthy” of receiving communion.

“At the Easter Vigil, I was really happy and I was super-excited to get confirmed, but when it came to communion, it was like ‘this is what it's all about,’” she said.

“I was just overwhelmed that I could share in God’s very person in such a close way, even though I’m totally unworthy,” she said.
 
While she has only been a confirmed Catholic for a few weeks, Amez-Droz told CNA that she feels entirely supported by her parish, and that she is fond of the structure provided by Mass, and the requirement that Catholics attend Mass each Sunday.

“There’s so many ways that Christ exposes himself to you in life. It’s not like you finding him, it’s like ‘this is part of your schedule,”” she said.

“It’s making me a lot closer to God.”

 

This story is part of "The New Catholics Project," a CNA series profiling new converts to the Catholic faith. Look for additional profiles to come.

 

'Abortion saves lives'? Catholic doctor responds to NYT op-ed

New York City, N.Y., May 22, 2019 / 04:51 pm (CNA).- Following an op-ed in the New York Times claiming that all pregnancies are life-threatening, a Catholic doctor emphasized that pregnancy is a natural and healthy condition, and that complications which may arise can be treated without abortion.

“[Pregnancy] is not a serious health risk to the vast majority of women in this country. And unless these women have some underlying medical problems to begin with, most pregnancies are perfectly normal by any means,” said Dr. Mary Jo O’Sullivan, a high-risk obstetrician and Professor Emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Miami.

“There are pregnancies that are complicated by diabetes, hypertension, previous Caesarean sections, some of those things that he mentioned. But they are uncommon, and with good medical care there is no reason why a woman who is desirous of continuing her pregnancy cannot do so,” she told CNA.

In an op-ed published Tuesday in the New York Times, a Colorado-based late-term abortion doctor argued that because women are more likely to die in childbirth than from complications related to an abortion, “pregnancy is dangerous; abortion can be lifesaving.”

“Pregnancy is a life-threatening condition. Women die from being pregnant. We have known that for thousands of years,” abortion doctor Warren Hern wrote May 21.

Hern wrote the piece in response to recent developments related to abortion in Alabama, where the governor recently signed a near-total abortion ban into law. In Alabama last year, nearly six out of every 100,000 white women who gave birth died as a result of their pregnancy. Among black women, it was 27.6, he said.

Hern claimed from this data that a ban on abortion would disproportionately harm black women, citing data suggesting an abortion procedure is much less risky than giving birth. He offered a list of potential complications that can result from pregnancy, as well as risk factors that can make pregnancy, in his view, especially dangerous.

O’Sullivan argued, however, that the op-ed was “bombastic” and employed scare tactics. She reiterated that although any pregnancy carries some risk, it is not a “serious” threat to a woman’s health, especially in the United States. The United States has a higher maternal death rate than Europe, for example, but maternal deaths are still very rare, even in rural areas.

“She doesn't have a 50/50 chance of dying, unless she has some very serious cardiac problems. So I really think that this is scare tactics to prevent women from getting pregnant at all.”

O’Sullivan acknowledged that maternal death rates are higher in black women, especially those of lower socioeconomic status. She pointed out that these women also have a higher risk of hypertension, obesity, diabetes, poor nutrition, and previous Caesarean sections, all of which are risk factors for maternal death.

Better medical care to address these issues is what is needed, she said, especially for women who are at risk for conditions like hypertension, who should seek medical care earlier rather than later in their pregnancy.

For the United States overall, the maternal mortality ratio was 20.7 in 2018, meaning that about 20 mothers die for every 100,000 live births. The rate of death for mothers in Sierra Leone, with the highest maternal mortality ratio in the world, is seventy times that.

In his piece, Hern argued, “Pregnancy itself poses a ‘serious health risk’ — including the risk of dying and losing all bodily functions.” He said that “A woman’s life and health are at risk from the moment that a pregnancy exists in her body, whether she wants to be pregnant or not.”

O’Sullivan expressed doubt that the statistics Hern quotes were entirely accurate.

“There are still issues with proper recording of maternal deaths,” she said. “We're getting better, but we're very poor at that in the United States. And also, what we call a 'maternal death' might be a different definition than other countries may use. So we have to be careful with that too.”

In addition, the statistics Hern used to demonstrate the “safety” of abortion procedures did not include adequate follow-ups on the women it studied, she added, meaning there may have been deaths or complications later on that the study missed.

O'Sullivan pointed out that throughout her medical career, she has aided women through many difficult pregnancies, and had never once had to perform an abortion.

“Abortion is not absolutely indicated under any circumstances,” she said.

There are occasions, she clarified, when a lifesaving procedure for a mother may indirectly result in a child’s death, but this is not the same as an abortion. An example, she said, could be the situation of a severe hemorrhage in a mother’s placenta, known as Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC).

“In that case, we have to deliver the placenta,” she explained.

“The secondary thing that's going to happen is that that baby is not going to survive...the intent is not to kill the baby, but the intention is to remove the placenta. So in that case, yes, if you do not deliver her, [the mother] could well die.”

Even a situation like DIC is extremely rare, she reiterated.

“The most important thing is that pregnancy is generally followed by a very good, healthy outcome for both mother and baby,” she concluded. “And with good medical care, even better.”

Users who left comments on the New York Times website argued that all successful abortion procedures, even if they may be “safer” for the mother, result in the death of the unborn child.

“Every child has a right to life. Every child,” O’Sullivan said.

These Franciscan University alumni expect 'great things' from new president

Steubenville, Ohio, May 22, 2019 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- Franciscan University of Steubenville announced Wednesday the appointment of Fr. David Pivonka, TOR, as the university’s seventh president. Several prominent Catholic alumni of Franciscan said Pinvonka’s appointment is positive news for the university.

Pivonka is the first alumnus of Franciscan University to be named to its top post. The priest, who graduated from the school in 1989, will begin presidential duties immediately and be formally installed in a ceremony later this year. He has served previously as a vice president at the university, and in other administrative and teaching roles.

Curtis Martin is a 1993 master’s graduate of the university, and was given an honorary doctorate by the university at its commencement ceremony this month.

Martin is the founder of national campus ministry apostolate FOCUS. He told CNA that Pivonka’s appointment is “great news for Franciscan University!”

“In each of my encounters with Fr. Dave, I have been impressed by his commitment to Christ and the new evangelization. He is the perfect choice to keep Franciscan University as the leading force for equipping young leaders for a lifetime of dynamic, Christ-centered renewal.”

Lay evangelist Chris Stefanick, founder of Real Life Catholic, is also a graduate of the university.

Stefanick said he expects “great things” from Pivonka’s leadership.

“Franciscan University has remained the hub for dynamically orthodox Catholicism under the two presidents since Fr. Mike [Scanlan]. That said, get ready for a renewal like the university hasn’t seen since Fr. Mike took the helm in 1974.”

Stefanick referred to the renewal of Catholic identity the university experienced under the leadership of Fr. Michael Scanlan, TOR. Scanlan led the university from 1974 to 2000. When he took the helm, the school was a failing regional college on the verge of financial collapse. By the time Scanlan retired, the university had gained a global reputation for “dynamically orthodox” Catholicism, and for graduates reaching leadership roles across the Catholic Church.

Dr. Timothy Gray, president of the Augustine Institute, a Colorado-based graduate school offering degrees in theology, is one such graduate.

Gray told CNA that “Fr Pivonka brings tremendous faith and passion to the leadership of Franciscan University and he will continue its amazing service to the Church in the new evangelization. I can think of no one better to continue Franciscan’s spiritual leadership than Fr David Pivonka. This is good news indeed!”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry earned a master’s degree in theology from Franciscan University in 1996. Fortenberry told CNA that Pivonka is “faithful, sacrificial, and approachable.”

“America has been devastated by corruption and loss of once-great Catholic institutions— Franciscan must remain strong in a world screaming for meaning,” Fortenberry added.

National Catholic Register editor-in-chief Jeanette DeMelo is a 1998 graduate of the university, and received an honorary doctorate from the school in 2018.

DeMelo told CNA that “I have no doubt that Fr. Dave understands what makes Franciscan unique. He experienced it himself as a student and, in a way ever since then, has carried that experience to others through his pastoral ministry.”

“I remember Fr. Dave from my days as a student, when he had recently returned from his graduate studies and became a faculty member. Students loved him. He is energetic, vibrant and a convincing preacher much like Fr. Mike [Scanlan] was.”

Pivonka “will build well on the foundation built by his predecessors, especially the recent work of [outgoing president] Fr. Sean [Sheridan], who has led at a time of intense growth as well as pivotal moment in the wider culture,” DeMelo added.

Alumni of the university are not the only ones to praise Pivonka’s appointment.

The Diocese of Steubenville told CNA that Bishop Jeffrey Montforton sent a letter to Pivonka, congratulating the priest on his new role.

“I look forward to our collaboration along the lines of Franciscan University these coming years. I also look forward to our ministerial relationship and sharing our Lord Jesus Christ with our brothers and sisters throughout the region,” Montforton wrote.

“I have every confidence you will be a great blessing to everyone at Franciscan, a university I hold in high regard.”

 

'Lust is a monster': Gay porn star quits industry, joins fight against porn

Salt Lake City, Utah, May 22, 2019 / 03:35 pm (CNA).- An actor who has been featured in dozens of homosexual pornographic films has announced his exit from the industry and his entrance into the anti-porn movement.

Markie More, a porn star of six years, disclosed on Monday that he is now working with Fight the New Drug - an organization that educates about the dangers of pornography addiction.

“I’ve decided that I’m officially done with the adult industry,” said More on Twitter.

“If you’re wondering, I’ve quit because I can no longer promote lustful and deviant behavior. Lust is a monster, and the more you feed it, the hungrier it becomes,” he added.

The 26-year-old’s former employer, Next Door Studios, still has some already-created pornographic content that may be released in the future, but More says he is not looking back as he exits the industry.

He said he is not out to spread hate but to show an accurate depiction of how pornography harms people.

“I’ve witnessed porn destroy numerous people, friendships, relationships, families, etc. It does far more harm than good for people,” he tweeted on May 18.

QueerTY reported that More’s resignation comes five months after he accused the vice president of production at Next Door Studios, Rocco Fallon, of making violent threats. Porn Star Paul Canon said he left for similar reasons.

According to Towle Road, More had previously decided to exit the industry in 2017, but later changed his mind, stating that the porn industry had helped him in self-discovery.

However, recently on Twitter, he said his actions in the porn industry were not always a true representation of himself.

“Unfortunately, telling people you fantasize real love isn’t something a studio wants you to say. So, instead I told lies, not even good ones either. I sincerely apologize for misleading you. I will only speak truths from this point forward,” he said.

More said he is now recovering from spending the last six years in the porn industry. In his Twitter bio, he directed those suffering from porn addiction to a link for Fight the New Drug.

Founded by Clay Olsen and Jason Carroll, Fight the New Drug has released numerous reports on the correlation between pornography addiction and various negative effects, including increases in violence toward women, distorted sexual tastes, and damaged relationships.

The group describes itself as “a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts, and personal accounts.”

Biden backs federal abortion protections 'if necessary'

Washington D.C., May 22, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Joe Biden would support federal laws protecting abortion rights, “should it become necessary.” The former vice president is the current frontrunner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination often references his Catholic faith in political speeches, publicly making the sign of the cross as a punch-line to jokes and displaying a rosary worn on his wrist.

Biden’s position was announced by campaign staff on May 21 in response to questions from the Associated Press. His staff further clarified that he would support immediate efforts to enshrine the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade in Federal law.

The announcement marks the latest evolution in Biden’s views on abortion policy over a 50-year career in politics. Earlier on Tuesday he released a video criticizing recent state-level pro-life laws as “pernicious” and “wrong.”

Shortly after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision found a legal right to an abortion throughout a pregnancy, Biden said in a profile interview with the magazine “Washingtonian” that he did not agree with the court’s conclusion.

“But when it comes to issues like abortion, amnesty, and acid, I’m about as liberal as your grandmother,” said Biden. “I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion. I think it went too far. I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.”

By 2007, his last year in the Senate prior to becoming vice president, Biden had been given a zero rating by the National Right to Life Committee. The last time Biden received a score above zero from the National Right to Life Committee was in 2003-2004.

Biden received a 75% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America during his last year in the Senate, having received perfect 100% ratings from the organization in 2001, 2004, 2005, and 2006.

Previously, Biden had been in favor of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits taxpayer funding of abortions in the United States. In 1994, he reassured one of his constituents in a letter that he was guided by the principle that “those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them,” and that he had voted more than 50 times against the federal funding of abortions.

Twelve years ago, in his 2007 book “Promises to Keep,” he described his position on abortion as “middle-of-the-road,” and he reiterated his opposition to both federal funding of abortions and partial-birth abortions.

On May 4, he was asked by a volunteer with the American Civil Liberties Union if he supported “abolishing” Hyde, and he quickly answered “Yes.”

In the 2012 vice presidential debate against Rep. Paul Ryan, Biden described himself as agreeing with the Church’s view on abortion but that he “refuse(s) to impose that on others, unlike my friend here,” referring to Ryan.

“I do not believe we have a right to tell women that they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor,” Biden said.

Pivonka appointed Franciscan University president

Steubenville, Ohio, May 22, 2019 / 09:58 am (CNA).- Franciscan University of Steubenville announced that Fr. David Pivonka, TOR, has been appointed the university’s seventh president.

“It’s both humbling and an honor to be chosen to lead Franciscan University of Steubenville,” Pivonka said in a May 22 statement.

“Over 30 years ago, I first arrived at Franciscan as an undergrad and received an outstanding education as well as life-changing spiritual formation as part of a dynamic, Catholic intellectual and faith community,” he added.

Pivonka will assume presidential duties immediately, and be formally installed as president at a date not yet determined.

A 1989 graduate of the university, the priest has a long affiliation with the school. He served in 1998 and 1999 as assistant to Fr. Michael Scanlan, and is closely associated with Scanlan’s tenure at the university.  

Scanlan is the long-time university president who is credited with imbuing a failing regional college with a sense of “dynamic orthodoxy,” introducing the charismatic renewal to its campus, stabilizing the college financially, and attracting faculty and students from across the country.

Pivonka played a key role in one of Scanlan’s major initiatives: the university's “household” system. Households, small single-gender, dorm-based faith communities, were among the aspects of university life Scanlan introduced in order to support the faith formation of students. Pivonka served as director of household support from 1996 to 1998.

The priest has also served as director of the university’s well-known youth conferences, a professor of theology, director of the school’s Austria program, and as vice president for mission and planning from 2003 to 2005.

In recent years, the priest has led Franciscan Pathways, an evangelistic initiative of his Francscan province, focused on conversion, spiritual formation, and the Holy Spirit in the lives of Catholics. In that role, he produced “The Wild Goose” video series on the Holy Spirit, as well as other documentaries and pastoral videos.

Pivonka “brings a unique array of perspective, experience, and qualifications to this role. His work as a nationally known preacher and evangelist combined with prior senior-level administrative experience at Franciscan will serve the University well,” the university’s board chairman, Fr. Malachi Van Tassell, TOR, said in a March 22 statement.

In addition to an undergraduate degree from Franciscan University, Pivonka has an MA in theology from Washington Theological Union, a doctorate in education from the Graduate Theological Foundation.

The priest’s appointment follows the tenure of Fr. Sean Sheridan, TOR, who announced last month that he would resign after nearly six years in the role.

David DeWolf, vice chair of the university’s board of trustees, said that after Sheridan’s resignation, the university board searched for “ a president who was led by the Holy Spirit, a champion for dynamic orthodoxy, and an exceptionally strong executive who understands and values the unique culture and demands of academia and the importance of strong collaboration between the president and the faculty.”

“After significant prayer and a robust interview process, it quickly became clear that Father Dave Pivonka possesses all of these qualities,” DeWolf said.

Pivonka takes the reins after the university has faced questions about the handling of historical sexual harassment cases, and its manner of addressing sexual assault claims made by students. Scanlan, in particular, has been criticized for his apparent response to allegations of sexual misconduct made against a fellow Franciscan priest.

In his last year as president, Sheridan also faced criticism from some faculty members and internet-based groups and blogs, who questioned his commitment to ensuring a faithfully Catholic approach to university education, especially following a January incident in which a professor was found to have used a text with inflammatory passages – termed "blasphemous" and "obscene" by critics – for an advanced reading course.

Sheridan apologized to those disturbed by the text’s use, and highlighted the importance of forming students “to do battle against the blasphemy and heresy rife in our culture today.”

Pivonka said May 22 that he is eager to being his new appointment.

“A lot has changed in our culture in the last 30 years, but Franciscan University continues its mission to provide a superior education in a vibrant faith community where students and parents alike can be confident in their choice of Franciscan University.”

States sue over HHS' stronger conscience protections for doctors, nurses

Washington D.C., May 22, 2019 / 09:55 am (CNA).- An array of states and cities filed a lawsuit Tuesday against a new Department of Health and Human Services rule allowing medical professionals to refuse to take part in procedures because of religious or conscientious objections.

The suit filed May 21 in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York claims the conscience provision illegally favors healthcare workers over patients.

The HHS rule, announced May 2 and published May 21 in the Federal Register, strengthens a series of laws intended to protect the conscience rights of doctors and nurses. It is due to take effect two months from its publication in the Federal Register.

Under the rule, medical providers may opt out of direct participation, as well as having to refer patients to other providers who will perform procedures to which they object, such as abortion and sterilization.

Roger Severino, director of the HHS' new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, has said the rule “ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the health care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life.”

“Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in healthcare, it’s the law,” he stated. “Finally, laws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law.”

Abortion activists have said that the new rule will severely curtail access to such procedures in rural and other communities.

New York is leading the suit against the new rule; its co-plaintiffs are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin, as well as the District of Columbia, Chicago, New York City, and Cook County, Ill.

The plaintiffs say the rule would force some healthcare facilities to hire more staff in case there are too many conscientious objectors to provide requested procedures.

California filed a separate lawsuit against the rule, saying it “impedes access to basic care” and “encourages discrimination against vulnerable patients.”

San Francisco also filed a suit against the rule earlier this month.

The text of the rule acknowledges that several submissions were made during consultation regarding the possible limitation on access to abortion and sterilization in some communities, saying these submissions proved the inadequacy of previous conscience protections.

“The Department observed that it was contradictory to argue, as many commenters did, both that the rule would decrease access to care and that the thenā€current conscience protections for providers were sufficient,” the rule reads.

“If the Department’s new rule would decrease access to care because of an increase in providers’ exercise of conscientious objections, it would seem that the statutory protections that existed before the regulation did not result in providers fully exercising their consciences as protected by law.”

'If you want to be happy for the rest of your life' - Study finds women of faith most satisfied in marriage

Denver, Colo., May 22, 2019 / 12:00 am (CNA).- A new study examining the correlation between religion and marital happiness found that women who are part of a highly religious, traditional couple are most likely to report being happy in marriage, as well as sexually satisfied in their relationship.

In addition, a woman in a highly religious couple was most likely to report that she and her spouse share responsibility for important household decisions, rather than one spouse making all the family’s decisions.  

The study of families in 11 countries, conducted by the Institute for Family Studies, found that “highly religious couples in heterosexual relationships” enjoy happier marriages and more sexual satisfaction than less religious, mixed, or secular couples.

At the same time, however, religious couples are not any less likely to experience domestic violence than are less religious or secular couples, the study found.

“In many respects, this report indicates that faith is a force for good in contemporary family life in the Americas, Europe, and Oceania,” the authors, made up of a mix of sociologists, professors and researchers, wrote. Many of the religious respondents to the survey cited family prayer as an important factor in a flourishing family.

“Men and women who share an active religious faith, for instance, enjoy higher levels of relationship quality and sexual satisfaction compared to their peers in secular or less/mixed religious relationships. They also have more children and are more likely to marry. At the same time, we do not find that faith protects women from domestic violence in married and cohabiting relationships.”

The 11 countries studied were Argentina, Australia, Chile, Canada, Colombia, France, Ireland, Mexico, Peru, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and the study drew on data from the World Values Survey (WVS) and the Global Family and Gender Survey (GFGS). Authors included those affiliated with Brigham Young University and Pew Research Center.

The authors focused on four outcomes regarding marriage: relationship quality, fertility, domestic violence, and infidelity. They note that many societies are experiencing a general turning away from “traditional” family life as fewer people marry and have children, and more people cohabitate or wait to marry later than in the past.

“Faith may buffer against this post-familial turn, both by attaching particular meaning and importance to family life and by offering norms and networks that foster family solidarity,” the authors wrote in the introduction.  

“But these questions are also important given that religion may be a force for ill—legitimating gender inequality or violence in the family—a concern that has taken on particular salience in light of recent headlines about religion, domestic violence, and child sexual abuse.”

Relationship satisfaction

The researchers defined “relationship quality” in terms of several factors, including a couple’s reported overall satisfaction, how important they view the relationship in their life, their satisfaction with their sex lives, and whether or not important household decisions are decided jointly or by just one of the partners.

In the sample used, 19% of couples reported never attending religious services, 60% attended only minimally, and 21% attended regularly.

Both women and men in “highly religious” couples— i.e. regular attendees— reported significantly greater satisfaction in their relationship than did both the other groups, with liberal, secular couples running a close second.

The difference was especially notable for women: women in “highly religious” relationships were  about 50% more likely to report that they are “strongly satisfied” with their sexual relationship than their secular and less religious counterparts.

“For women, then, there is J-Curve in relationship quality, with secular progressive women doing comparatively well, women in the middle doing less well,and highly religious women reporting the highest quality relationships,” the authors wrote.

“Among men, highly religious traditional men were found to be significantly higher in relationship quality than men in shared secular progressive and less religious progressive relationships.”

In addition, women in highly religious couples were most likely to report that she and her spouse practice joint decision-making in their relationship.

The researchers assigned a “relationship quality” score in order to compare different religious affiliations in their sample, with a higher score representing greater overall satisfaction. Catholic couples sampled reported an overall score of 15.83, which is equal to the score reported by Muslims and slightly higher than the score for nonreligious couples.

Protestants and Latter-Day Saints lead the table with scores of 16.36 and 17.24, respectively.

“In listening to the happiest secular progressive wives and their religiously conservative counterparts, we noticed something they share in common: devoted family men,” the authors wrote in a New York Times op-ed accompanying the release of the study.

“Both feminism and faith give family men a clear code: They are supposed to play a big role in their kids’ lives. Devoted dads are de rigueur in these two communities. And it shows: Both culturally progressive and religiously conservative fathers report high levels of paternal engagement.”

Relationship to domestic violence

The study found that “women in highly religious couples are neither more nor less likely to be victims of IPV [Intimate Partner Violence], and men in highly religious couples are neither more nor less likely to be perpetrators of IPV.”

Domestic violence— including hysical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and controlling behaviors— is neither more nor less prevalent among religious couples than among nonreligious ones, they concluded. Infidelity was highest among men in mixed or less religious couples than any other, however.

“Although women in less/mixed religious couples have a 26% probability of ever having been the victim of violence in their relationship, compared to a 21% probability for women in highly religious couples, and a 23% probability for women in shared secular couples, none of these differences are statistically significant,” the authors note.

Religion’s and fertility

In terms of fertility, the study found that people aged 18-49, who “attend religious services regularly have 0.27 more children than those who never, or practically never, attend,” and thus  “those with egalitarian gender role attitudes are less likely to be married and have slightly fewer children.”

The authors also examine a theory, which they say is common among academics in their field, that a shift in many societies toward greater gender equality, which often takes the form of married women continuing to seek work outside the home, may actually help to raise the fertility rate back to replacement levels in countries where it is especially low.

“In modern societies where women typically have high demands in the public (paid work) sphere of their lives, support from partners is necessary to make bearing two children commonplace,” the authors explained.

“Today, this support often comes in the form of a father involved at home with his family. If women commonly carry a “second shift” of work after they get home from paid work, they are more likely to retreat from childbearing than if they have a supportive partner on the home front...it is men’s sharing of the second shift—their involvement at home—that is expected to support replacement fertility.”

In contrast to this theory, however, the authors’ research demonstrated that those who hold egalitarian gender role attitudes have far fewer children than people of faith.

“Individuals who support workplace equality, those who embraced a progressive gender role ideology, actually had significantly fewer children than those who supported favoring men when jobs were scarce,” they noted.

Even in areas such as Europe where fertility rates are low, across the board people of faith have more children than their secular counterparts, they found.

“Across low-fertility countries in the Americas, Europe, East Asia, and Oceania, highly religious people are not decreasing in number, and neither are their more traditional gender role attitudes impeding their fertility,” the authors concluded in that chapter.

“We have shown that people of faith contribute toward sustainable fertility in modern low-fertility societies.”

 

Florida Catholic Conference asks governor to halt execution of serial killer

Tallahassee, Fla., May 21, 2019 / 05:38 pm (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Florida are calling on the state’s governor to spare the life of Bobby Joe Long, a convicted serial killer who is scheduled to be executed on Thursday.

“Although [Long] caused much harm, society has been safe from his aggressive acts in the decades of his incarceration. Without taking his life, society can be protected while he endures the alternative sentence of life without the possibility of parole,” said Michael Sheedy, executive director of the Florida Catholic Conference, in a May 20 letter to Governor Ron DeSantis.

Long has been on death row since 1985 and is scheduled to die by lethal injection on May 23.

He pleaded guilty to killing eight women in and near Tampa Bay during an eight-month span in 1984. He also claimed to have raped dozens of women.

Long’s lawyer has argued that the 65 year old is mentally ill and suffers from epilepsy, which could lead to him having a seizure when the lethal injection drugs are administered. The lawyer said that Long is constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty.

The Florida Supreme Court recently denied Long’s appeal on procedural grounds.

On behalf of the state’s bishops, Sheedy asked the governor to consider commuting the sentence to life without parole.

“Floridians around the state are gathering in prayer for all who have been harmed by Mr. Long’s actions, for him, and for an end to the use of the death penalty. We also pray for you as you consider this request,” he said.

Sheedy acknowledged the heinous nature of Long’s crimes but said that capital punishment will not further public safety.

Since Long was sentenced, Sheedy said, modern medicine has gained a greater understanding of brain trauma and its effects on behavior. He highlighted the history of Long’s brain injuries.

“His attorneys have filed briefs that call attention to the multiple traumas he experienced throughout his life, including the motorcycle accident he suffered in 1974. That incident profoundly affected him and his behaviors. It contributed to his receiving a disability rating from the military, from which he was honorably discharged,” said Sheedy.

Even without these mitigating circumstances, the Florida Catholic Conference would still oppose the death penalty for Long, he said, pointing to a change in the Catehcism of the Catholic Church last year to hold the death penalty as inadmissible.

“The death penalty is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person and denies the possibility of redemption,” Sheedy said.

“Please promote a consistent pro-life ethic in our state. The cycle of violence – to which Mr. Long’s acts have contributed – must end. His execution would only perpetuate it.”

Democratic governor of Louisiana says he will sign heartbeat bill

Baton Rouge, La., May 21, 2019 / 05:05 pm (CNA).- The governor of Louisiana - a Catholic Democrat - says he will sign a bill banning abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, if the legislation arrives on his desk.

“My inclination is to sign it,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards, according to the Monroe News Star.

“It's consistent with my unblemished pro-life record in my years as a legislator and governor,” he said earlier this month.

Last year, Edwards signed a bill to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The governor has cited his Catholic faith as influencing his pro-life beliefs.

The bill still needs approval by the House. If enacted into law, it would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually around six weeks into pregnancy. Similar laws have been passed in several other states this year, including Kentucky, Georgia, Mississippi, and Ohio.

While the national Democratic platform is clear in its support for legal abortion, Edwards said on his monthly radio show that his views align with many members of his party in Louisiana.

“I know that for many in the national party, on the national scene, that's not a good fit. But I will tell you, here in Louisiana, I speak and meet with Democrats who are pro-life every single day,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

Edwards ran for governor on a pro-life platform. In a TV advertisement in 2015, his wife Donna had spoke about her first pregnancy. She said they were pressured to have an abortion by the doctor after they found out their daughter had spina bifida. They couple refused, and their daughter is now married and employed as a school counselor.

“I was 20 weeks pregnant with our first child when the doctor discovered she had Spina Bifida and encouraged me to have an abortion. I was devastated, but John Bel never flinched. He just said ‘No, no we are going to love this baby no matter what’,” said Donna in the video.

Edwards is up for re-election this year. According to the AP, his Republican opponents U.S. Representative Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone have tried to associate him with the abortion advocacy of the national Democratic party.

But the governor rejects that characterization.

“This is not an easy issue to pigeonhole people - or especially me - on, at least, because I don't think the labels really work,” Edwards said.