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U.S. military disavows presentation that described National Right to Life as ‘terrorist group’ 

null / Credit: Bumble Dee/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jul 12, 2024 / 12:55 pm (CNA).

A U.S. military base has disavowed a presentation in which the major pro-life group National Right to Life was implied to be a “terrorist” organization. 

A photo circulating on social media this week purported to show a PowerPoint slide as part of a presentation delivered at Fort Liberty in North Carolina. Fort Liberty, formally known as Fort Bragg, is one of the largest military installations in the world with over 50,000 military personnel.

The slide purported to list “terrorist groups”; among the listed organizations was National Right to Life (NRLC), a nearly 60-year-old anti-abortion group that helped launch the modern U.S. pro-life movement.

The presentation drew sharp criticism for its equation of a major pro-life group with “terrorism.” 

In a statement Thursday, NRLC President Carol Tobias described the slide as “deeply offensive to pro-life Americans across the nation.”

“In our over 50-year history, National Right to Life has always, consistently, and unequivocally, condemned violence against anyone,” Tobias said. 

In a Facebook post on Thursday afternoon, Fort Liberty said it had “[come] to our attention that an anti-terrorism slide was posted on social media.”

“After conducting a commander’s inquiry, we determined that the slides presented on social media were not vetted by the appropriate approval authorities and do not reflect the views of the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Liberty, the U.S. Army, or the Department of Defense,” the post said. 

“The slides were developed by a local garrison employee to train soldiers manning access control points at Fort Liberty,” the statement continued.

“These slides will no longer be used, and all future training products will be reviewed to ensure they align with the current DoD anti-terrorism guidance.”

The presentation also drew criticism from Congress, where Indiana Rep. Jim Banks told media that the slide was “a national outrage.”

“Even if this slide deck was unapproved, it still exposes the Biden Pentagon for creating a politicized environment where far-left wack jobs feel they can get away with teaching our troops that conservative Americans are their adversary and legitimate military targets,” Banks said. “We are in dangerous territory.”

The military under the Biden administration has over the course of several years moved to liberalize abortion regulations in the U.S. Armed Forces. 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in March said it was making permanent a policy to provide abortions in certain circumstances to service members even in states where abortion is illegal. 

In 2022, meanwhile, the Department of Defense moved to create an allowance to pay for service members to travel to obtain abortions

The department said at the time that the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade earlier in the year were “[interfering] with our ability to recruit, retain, and maintain the readiness of a highly qualified force.”

Analysis: NATO summit highlights divergent views on European defense, future

Heads of state pose for a group photo during the NATO 75th anniversary celebratory event at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium on July 9, 2024, in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

CNA Newsroom, Jul 12, 2024 / 12:10 pm (CNA).

As the heads of leading nations gathered in Washington, D.C., this week to mark the 75th anniversary of the world’s most powerful military alliance, the unfolding scenes and commentaries — from concern over the U.S. presidential election to the war in Ukraine to claims that “Europe’s oldest band,” the Catholic Habsburg Empire, was making a comeback — were unexpected.

The NATO summit, held July 10–11, was meant to be a secular celebration of the alliance’s enduring strength — and answer, as Owen Jensen reported for EWTN News, U.S. President Joe Biden’s question: “What is next?”

While concerned with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the summit brought into sharp relief the tension that lies at the heart of this question between strategic military considerations and ethical concerns — as well as the need for political leadership that can shoulder these tensions across party-political and ideological divides.

Pope Francis has repeatedly called for such leadership. In 2021, he declared venerable the French statesman Robert Schuman, known as a key “founding father” of the European Union. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, never tired of reminding Catholics that Christianity created the European identity.

However, Catholic perspectives diverge on Europe’s ability to defend itself — a key question for NATO members meeting in D.C. this week.

Pope Francis has appointed a special emissary to assist with peace efforts. He also has consistently spoken out against nuclear weapons, stating in a June 2022 message that “the use of nuclear weapons, as well as their mere possession, is immoral.”

This stance contrasts with the views of some European politicians, such as former German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. The Catholic aristocrat recently advocated for a comprehensive European protective shield, including nuclear deterrence.

In an interview with Herder Korrespondenz, Guttenberg said: “We need European and German armed forces that are capable — embedded in NATO — of effectively defending against attacks from outside or deterring them in the first place. If necessary, even without the USA.” 

He added: “Any concept must include, in addition to conventional equipment for air, sea, and land, first-class cyber capabilities, state-of-the-art missile defense shields, space presence, and — unfortunately — also sufficient nuclear deterrence potential.”

While the alliance made concrete commitments in the case of Ukraine, including a pledge of 40 billion euros (about $43.6 billion) in security assistance over the next year, the specter of political instability haunted the gathering.

Questions about Biden’s capacity to lead following recent public gaffes and the possibility of Donald Trump’s return to the White House in 2025 created one undercurrent of uncertainty.

As EWTN News reported, Biden’s performance at the summit was closely scrutinized.

The recent European Parliament elections, held just weeks before the NATO summit, saw significant gains for parties across the continent. These results have potential implications for NATO, as some of these parties — both on the left and the right — advocate for more isolationist policies and question the value of multilateral institutions.

Politico magazine reported on Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s efforts to form a new group in the European Parliament called “Patriots for Europe.”

The article drew parallels between this nascent alliance and the historical Habsburg Empire, noting the inclusion of parties from several former Habsburg territories.

Eduard Habsburg-Lothringen, Hungary’s ambassador to the Holy See, humorously dismissed the polemical comparison. The staunchly Catholic diplomat, a descendant of the actual Habsburg dynasty, jokingly said on X that the “Habsburg/Hungary master plan” had been “foiled again!”

While more provocative than substantive, the magazine’s descriptions are telling: They point to the complex interplay of history, nationalism, and geopolitics shaping Europe’s future as much as pointing to the existential questions challenging a Western alliance.

Irrespective of who the next U.S. president will be, the potential emergence of new political blocs within Europe, not to mention new governments in the U.K. and France, could challenge the consensus-driven approach that has long characterized NATO decision-making.

As the Washington summit concluded, these questions remained largely unresolved. However, a pragmatic answer came in the commentary on threats to the alliance, according to NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg’s official summit statement: “We face a more dangerous world, with Moscow and Beijing drawing closer, and autocracy on the rise. In these uncertain times, our alliance is more important than ever.”

Pro-life roundup: Arkansas abortion amendment disqualified

Abortion supporters celebrate as petitions for the abortion amendment arrive at the Arkansas Capitol Building on July 5, 2024. On Wednesday, July 10, Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston rejected a pro-abortion group’s request to add a far-reaching abortion amendment proposal to the November 2024 ballot. / Credit: Courtesy of Family Council in Arkansas

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 11, 2024 / 17:25 pm (CNA).

Here’s a roundup of abortion-related developments that took place in the U.S. this week. 

Arkansas disqualifies abortion amendment

Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston rejected a pro-abortion group’s request to add a far-reaching abortion amendment proposal to the November ballot because the group did not follow the proper procedure when submitting signatures.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders commented that the development showed that “the far-left pro-abortion crowd in Arkansas” are “both immoral and incompetent.”

Thurston notified Arkansans for Limited Government, the group behind the proposal, in a letter sent on Wednesday.

The group claimed to have gathered over 100,000 signatures — well over the 90,700 required to add an amendment proposal to the ballot. Thurston, however, said the group failed to identify its paid canvassers or to indicate that the canvassers had followed state law regarding gathering signatures.

Additionally, Thurston said that after subtracting the signatures invalidly obtained by paid canvassers the group only had 87,382 signatures, more than 3,000 short of the minimum required signatures.

“The first part of our review is to ensure that the sponsor has complied with all statutory requirements for submitting a petition. Because you failed at this first step, it is my duty to reject your submission,” Thurston wrote.

Arkansans for Limited Government has denied that it failed to meet the requirements and said it “will fight this ridiculous disqualification attempt with everything we have.” 

Currently, Arkansas protects unborn life beginning at conception, only allowing abortion in cases in which the mother’s life is in danger.

If successfully passed by Arkansas voters, the abortion amendment would mandate that the state not “prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict” abortion before 18 weeks of pregnancy. The amendment would further prohibit the state from restricting abortion at all stages in cases of rape, incest, fetal anomaly, or health of the mother.

Republicans block effort to enshrine Roe v. Wade

Senate Republicans blocked a bill titled the Reproductive Freedom for Women Act that would have expressed support for enshrining Roe v. Wade into federal law.

The record vote on Wednesday was 49 in favor and 44 against, meaning the measure fell well short of the 67-vote supermajority required for passage. All but two Republicans — Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Maine Sen. Susan Collins — voted against it.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who brought the measure to a vote, was vocal about the vote, claiming: “Senate Republicans told every woman in America: ‘Your body. Our choice’” and that “once again stood with the MAGA extremist anti-freedom agenda.”

Trump calls North Dakota pro-life law ‘an issue’

As speculation swirls about Donald Trump’s new vice president pick, the former president criticized North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum for signing a “heartbeat” law that protects unborn life past six weeks of pregnancy.

Speaking on Fox News Radio on Wednesday, Trump emphasized his belief that abortion is a “states issue” but went on to say that Burgum signing a six-week abortion ban is “a little bit of an issue.”

“It’s a pretty strong ban; I think Doug is great,” Trump said, “but he has taken a very strong stance, or the state has, I don’t know if it’s Doug, but the state has, so it’s an issue.”

Arizona abortion supporters sue state for using term ‘unborn human’

Arizona for Abortion Access, the group behind the effort to add a broad abortion amendment proposal to the November ballot, is suing the state for its use of the term “unborn human being” in a pamphlet to be distributed to voters at the polls.

In its suit, filed in the Arizona Superior Court on Wednesday, the group says that the use of the term “unborn human being” demonstrates impartiality because it is “tinged with partisan coloring,” “frequently used by anti-abortion activists,” and is “rooted in anti-abortion advocacy.”

Instead, Arizona for Abortion Access argued that the word “fetus” would be a “neutral, objective, and medically accurate term” to use in voter materials.  

The Arizona secretary of state’s office is currently verifying the signatures submitted by Arizona for Abortion Access to add the amendment proposal to the ballot. If successful, the amendment would invalidate the state’s law protecting unborn life at 15 weeks as well as most of the state’s pro-life laws.

20,000 attend Mass marking 50th anniversary of the Neocatechumenal Way in U.S.

The Mass was celebrated at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. / Credit: Gregory A. Shemitz, courtesy DeSales Media Group

ACI Prensa Staff, Jul 11, 2024 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

More than 20,000 people participated in a Sunday, July 7, Mass marking the 50th anniversary of the Neocatechumenal Way in the United States. The Eucharist was celebrated by the apostolic nuncio to the U.S., Cardinal Christophe Pierre, and held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

A news brief from the Neocatechumenal Way sent to ACI Prensa, CNA’S Spanish-language news partner, said that the Mass was in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1974 visit to New York by the initiators of this apostolate, Kiko Argüello and Carmen Hernández.

Participating in the Mass were thousands of young people from different parts of the United States who arrived in Brooklyn after having made several days of pilgrimage to shrines and holy places in the country.

“At the end of the liturgy, about 1,000 young men rose up to show they are entering a seminary to begin their preparation for the priesthood; another 1,500 young women stood up to express their desire to give their lives to Christ by entering a convent or as missionaries,” the news brief highlighted.

Although Argüello did not attend the Mass in person, he joined the celebration with a video call from Madrid, Spain.

He recalled how in 1974 he visited several parish priests in New York from a list given to him by the then-archbishop, Cardinal Terence Cooke, and how only the last of the priests he met agreed to start a community of the Neocatechumenal Way.

Pierre’s homily

“On this significant anniversary of the Neocatechumenal Way in the United States, I greet you on behalf of Pope Francis and reaffirm his support and appreciation for the work that the Way does in the service of evangelization,” the prelate said at the beginning of his homily.

Next, the cardinal recalled what the Holy Father told the members of the apostolate in 2018 in Italy: “Your charism is a great gift from God for the Church of our time. Let us thank the Lord for these 50 years.”

After recalling the importance of going out to find “the lost sheep,” the nuncio recalled that “Pope Francis often speaks of opening the doors to people who live in all the situations of moral poverty, to those who have strayed from God, and accompany them back. It is necessary for the Church to open a way back. Is there a way back from addiction, from violence, from despair? God can make a way where it seems impossible.”

“There is a thirst for God that secularization cannot satisfy … This is the mission of the Church: to open the door for sinners to return,” he stressed.

The French cardinal also said that “our failures prepare us for the mission, so that we won’t judge the sins of others: Only those who have experienced the power of grace can show sinners the way back to God.”

Accompanying Pierre at Mass were Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, with Auxiliary Bishops Michael Saporito and Elias Lorenzo; Bishop Robert Brennan of Brooklyn with Auxiliary Bishop James Massa and Bishop Emeritus Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn; and other American bishops, in addition to about 300 priests.

In the United States there are 1,100 communities, in addition to hundreds of families on mission.

There are also nine Redemptoris Mater diocesan seminaries, where 300 seminarians are now preparing for the priesthood and a total of 270 priests have already completed their formation. The seminaries are in Newark, New Jersey; Washington, D.C.; Boston; Denver; Dallas; Brooklyn, New York; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Miami; and Philadelphia.

What is the Neocatechumenal Way?

The Neocatechumenal Way, a July 3 statement notes, was “officially approved by the Holy See in 2008, not as an association or movement, but as a post-baptismal catechumenate, as an instrument to help parishes and dioceses in the work of evangelization.”

The Neocatechumenal Way is present in 135 countries with some 25,000 communities, making a total of more than 1 million members.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Diocese of Toledo to pay $1 million to three priest sex abuse victims

Rosary Cathedral in Toledo, Ohio. / Credit: Susan Montgomery/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jul 11, 2024 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Toledo will pay out a seven-figure sum to three victims of priest sexual abuse after agreeing to a settlement.

The payout will go to victims of disgraced priest Michael Zacharias, who was convicted on five counts of sex trafficking by a federal jury in Ohio last May. His crimes, committed between 1999 and 2020, involved three victims, two of whom were minors when Zacharias began abusing them.

Konrad Kircher, a Cincinnati-area attorney who represented the victims, told CNA on Thursday that he was pleased with the results, which he called “a success” for his clients.

“My clients were the three victims who testified in Zacharias’ case,” he said via phone. “When the criminal trial was over, I contacted the Diocese of Toledo and asked them to consider compensating my clients for what they had been through, otherwise I would proceed with a lawsuit.”

The diocese responded by establishing an “Independent Healing and Reconciliation Program” for the three victims, Kircher said. “Those have been done around the country for large pools of clients,” he noted.

The compensation amount was ultimately decided following recommendations from two judges were were appointed as independent administrators of the process.

“The two judges were compassionate, thorough, and analytical,” he said. “They interviewed my clients about the abuse; it was a very cathartic experience [for the victims].”

Kircher declined to comment on the payout amount, though the Toledo Blade this week reported that the amount was “just over $1 million” for the three victims.

Toledo diocesan spokeswoman Kelly Donaghy, meanwhile, declined to comment on the matter. 

“The Diocese of Toledo will not comment on any outreach work or activities related to any abuse victims as their privacy and healing is of the utmost priority to us,” she told CNA via email on Thursday. 

Zacharias was sentenced to life in prison in November. He had faced a minimum of 15 years behind bars.

The convicted sex offender was subsequently laicized by Pope Francis in March of this year after a request from the Toledo Diocese. The dismissal from the clerical state removed the priest’s ability to licitly execute the functions of the priesthood, except in the extreme situation of encountering someone who is in immediate danger of death.

Zacharias reportedly began grooming some of his underage victims while still a seminarian at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Toledo, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said last year. 

The ex-priest “used his affiliation and position of authority to groom the boys and grow close with their families,” the DOJ last year, “before ultimately coercing the victims into engaging in commercial sex acts and manipulating the opioid addictions they developed.”

Asked if the Toledo Diocese was planning to extend the reconciliation program to any other priest abuse victims, Kircher said he was “hopeful.”

“I don’t know what their intentions are,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, it was a success. I hope they extend that success to other victims.”

Missouri priest pleads guilty to $300,000 theft from parish 

St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Wardsville, Missouri. / Credit: Diocese of Jefferson City

CNA Staff, Jul 11, 2024 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

A priest in Missouri pleaded guilty this week to stealing $300,000 from a church at which he was pastor for nearly a decade.

Father Ignazio Medina admitted to “transporting stolen property across state lines” after a federal investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri said in a press release this week.

Medina was pastor at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Wardsville, Missouri, from 2013 to 2021. Officials discovered “financial irregularities” at the parish in 2018, after which was discovered “a bank account that was not previously reported” on parish financial documents.

The priest began including the account in annual parish reports, and by 2020 it contained nearly $360,000.

The pastor was transferred to a new parish in 2021, the attorney’s office said, after which “it was discovered that he had emptied that bank account.” Medina had sent a $100,000 check to a sister in Tucson, Arizona, and had written a $200,000 check for himself.

Medina “claimed the bank account was funded by donations that were not intended for the parish itself but rather were intended for his own discretionary use,” according to the prosecutor’s office.

Parishioners contradicted that claim, arguing that their donations to the parish “were intended for parish purposes, not for Medina’s own discretionary use” and that they “never had any conversations with Medina authorizing a different use of the funds.”

The priest further alleged that he was “refunding donations” from the account and that his sister in Tucson “was one of the donors.” The sister, however, told investigators that she had not donated any money and that the $100,000 check was to care for her mother.

The priest faces up to 10 years in prison, the prosecutor’s office said.

In addition to the criminal conviction, Medina faces Church sanctions over the financial malfeasance as well as a separate violation involving sexual solicitation.

The Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri, announced last year that Medina had been found guilty of “abuse of ecclesiastical power” stemming from the financial mismanagement. The priest had made “full restitution of the missing funds,” the diocese said at the time, and had also been ordered to pay more than $25,000 to cover diocesan audit and legal fees.

In January of this year, meanwhile, Medina was found guilty of sexual solicitation of an adult during confession and was permanently barred from holding any office in the Church or hearing confessions.

He is also barred from celebrating Mass without the express permission of the bishop.

“I want to be clear that sexual solicitation during confession is a sacrilege, a crime in our Church, and a grave form of abuse; it cannot be tolerated,” Jefferson City Bishop W. Shawn McKnight said at the time.

Knights of Columbus to cover Rupnik art in DC and Connecticut

Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly speaks with EWTN News President and COO Montse Alvarado on Thursday, July 11, 2024, regarding the organization's decision to cover mosaics by the accused abuser Father Marko Rupnik in chapels in Washington, D.C., and Connecticut. / Credit: EWTN News

Rome Newsroom, Jul 11, 2024 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The Knights of Columbus announced Thursday it will cover mosaics by the accused abuser Father Marko Rupnik in Washington, D.C., and Connecticut, a dramatic move that represents the strongest public stand yet by a major Catholic organization regarding the former Jesuit’s embattled art.

The 2.1-million-member lay Catholic fraternal order said July 11 it would use fabric to cover the floor-to-ceiling mosaics in the two chapels of the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington and in the chapel at the Knights’ headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut — at least until the completion of a formal Vatican investigation into the Slovenian priest’s alleged abuse.

Patrick Kelly, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, told EWTN News Thursday the opaque material would be installed “very soon” but gave no firm timetable. The Knights said in a statement released Thursday afternoon that the artwork may later be more permanently hidden with a plaster covering after the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith issues its ruling on Rupnik.

The decision by the Knights to cover the sprawling works, which envelop both spaces, was made at the end of a comprehensive, confidential review process that included consultations with sexual abuse victims and those who minister to them, art historians, pilgrims to the shrine, bishops, and moral theologians.

“The Knights of Columbus have decided to cover these mosaics because our first concern must be for victims of sexual abuse, who have already suffered immensely in the Church, and who may be further injured by the ongoing display of the mosaics at the shrine,” Kelly said in the statement.

“While opinions varied among those consulted,” he said, “there was a strong consensus to prioritize the needs of victims, especially because the allegations are current, unresolved, and horrific.”

Kelly reiterated that point in his interview with EWTN News.

“Our decision process really came down to multiple factors. But the No. 1 factor was compassion for victims,” Kelly said. “We needed to prioritize victims over anything, any material thing. So that was our primary consideration.”

The first segment of Kelly’s interview with EWTN News will air on “EWTN News Nightly” Thursday at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. ET. Additional comments will air on “EWTN News In Depth” on Friday at 8 p.m. ET.

Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly speaks with EWTN News President and COO Montse Alvarado on Thursday, July 11, 2024, regarding the organization's decision to cover mosaics by the accused abuser Father Marko Rupnik in chapels in Washington, D.C., and Connecticut. Credit: EWTN News
Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly speaks with EWTN News President and COO Montse Alvarado on Thursday, July 11, 2024, regarding the organization's decision to cover mosaics by the accused abuser Father Marko Rupnik in chapels in Washington, D.C., and Connecticut. Credit: EWTN News

Once a renowned artist Rupnik, whose mosaics are featured in hundreds of Catholic shrines, churches, and chapels around the world, was expelled from the Jesuits in June 2023.

His expulsion followed a long review of what the society called “highly credible” accusations of serial spiritual, psychological, and sexual abuse of as many as 30 religious sisters by the priest spanning decades. Some women allege Rupnik’s abuse sometimes happened as part of the process of creating his art at the Centro Aletti, an art school he founded in Rome.

The Vatican announced in late October 2023 that Pope Francis had waived the statute of limitations in the Rupnik case, allowing the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith to do a canonical investigation into the abuse allegations.

There has been no further communication from the Vatican about the inquiry, and it is unclear whether Rupnik may still be living in Rome despite having been given priestly faculties in a diocese of his home country of Slovenia last year.

Growing public outcry

What to do with Rupnik’s once widely-praised works, colorful mosaics characterized by grand, flowing figures and large eyes, has proven to be a divisive question in the wake of the numerous allegations against him, which first came to public attention in December 2022.

While some want to await Vatican judgment before dismantling and replacing Rupnik’s works, much of it made in collaboration with other artists of the Centro Aletti — a Rupnik-founded art school and theological center in Rome — the public outcry for the removal of his art has intensified.

The Knights also announced several immediate changes that would be enacted at the shrine in solidarity with abuse victims, including providing educational materials about the mosaics, making clear that their display during the consultation process “was not intended to ignore, deny, or diminish the allegations of abuse.”

Every Mass at the St. John Paul II National Shrine will now also include a prayer of the faithful for victims of sexual abuse, and saints with connections to abuse victims, such as St. Josephine Bakhita, will be specially commemorated.

The group said it became aware of the allegations against Rupnik in December 2022 — and noted that the artist, while under investigation, remains a priest in good standing in the Diocese of Koper, Slovenia. 

“This decision is rooted in a foundational purpose of the Knights of Columbus, which is to protect families, especially women and children, and those who are vulnerable and voiceless,” Kelly said in the July 11 statement.

The "Redemptor Hominis" chapel of the National Shrine of St John Paul II in Washington, DC, is decorated with mosaics by Father Marko Rupnik. Credit: Lawrence OP|Flickr|CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The "Redemptor Hominis" chapel of the National Shrine of St John Paul II in Washington, DC, is decorated with mosaics by Father Marko Rupnik. Credit: Lawrence OP|Flickr|CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The St. John Paul II National Shrine is a pastoral initiative of the Knights of Columbus, established in 2011, and designated a national shrine by the U.S. Catholic bishops in 2014.

Rupnik’s mosaics were installed at the shrine in 2015. The Holy Family Chapel at the Knights’ headquarters has featured Rupnik’s art since 2005.

Highlighting the John Paul II shrine’s mission of evangelization, the supreme knight said, “the art we sponsor must therefore serve as a stepping stone — not a stumbling block — to faith in Jesus Christ and his Church.”

Rupnik has not made any statements since the allegations came to light.

An eye on Lourdes

The Knights’ move to conceal the mosaics follows just a week after the bishop of Lourdes, France, said that despite his personal feelings that Rupnik’s artwork at the renowned Marian shrine there should be removed, he has decided to wait to make a final decision due to “strong opposition on the part of some.”

After forming a special commission in May 2023, Bishop Jean-Marc Micas of Tarbes announced July 2 that more time was needed “to discern what should be done” about Rupnik’s mosaics at the Marian apparition site, because his belief that they should be torn down “would not be sufficiently understood” and “would add even more division and violence” at this time.

As a “first step,” the French bishop said he had decided the mosaics will no longer be lit up at night during the shrine’s nightly candlelight rosary processions.

In his interview with EWTN News, Kelly said the Lourdes bishop’s intent to make a decision of some kind this spring galvanized the Knights to act at this time.

In his July 11 statement, Kelly thanked the Lourdes bishop for his “thoughtful decision” and said it “both informed and confirmed us in our own decision-making. Shrines are places of healing, prayer, and reconciliation. They should not cause victims further suffering.”

Emphasizing the importance of discernment based on mission and context, the supreme knight said: “Every situation is different. In the United States, Catholics continue to suffer in a unique way from the revelations of sexual abuse and, at times, from the response of the Church. It is clear to us that, as a national shrine, our decision must respect this country’s special need for healing.”

The Knights of Columbus was founded in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1882 by Blessed Michael McGivney, a parish priest. Dedicated to the advancement of the group’s key principles — charity, unity, fraternity, and patriotism — its members in 2022 provided 50 million service hours and nearly $185 million to charitable causes in their communities.

National Catholic Register Editor-in-Chief Shannon Mullen contributed to this story.

‘The Bible in 10 Minutes’ becomes Father Mike Schmitz’s most viral video in first 24 hours

Father Mike Schmitz is the host of "The Bible in a Year" podcast produced by Ascension. / Credit: Photo courtesy of Ascension

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 11, 2024 / 09:33 am (CNA).

Father Mike Schmitz’s The Bible in 10 Minutes” has become the popular Catholic priest’s most viral video yet, garnering over 358,000 views in its first 24 hours. Released on July 9, the video was produced by Ascension and Coronation Media.

“The Bible is amazing, but sometimes confusing and hard to read,” Schmitz begins in the video. “This is because it’s not just one book, but a collection of books written over thousands of years in lots of different styles, all inspired by God and assembled by the Catholic Church into the Bible.”

While acknowledging the difficulties that some may face in attempting to read the Bible, Schmitz speaks of the “narrative throughout the Bible that tells a single story: the story of God’s plan for our salvation.”

“Once we understand that story, we can understand the context of every book of the Bible,” he continues. “So, here’s the story in less than 10 minutes.”

Beginning with the creation of Adam and Eve, Schmitz outlines the Bible’s story of salvation alongside vivid, colorful animations. The video also brings attention to Moses’ flight out of Egypt, David’s rule over Israel, and the passion of Jesus Christ among other key moments.

According to Ascension Press, “The Bible in 10 Minutes” more than doubles Schmitz’s previous record of 160,000 views in one day with his 2023 video review of the film “Sound of Freedom.” As of July 11, two days later, the video has amassed over 598,000 views and 11,000 likes.

Schmitz serves as the chaplain of the University of Minnesota-Duluth as well as the director of the office of youth ministry for the Diocese of Duluth. He first began hosting the “Ascension Presents” YouTube series in 2015 and has since grown in popularity among Catholic audiences for his various podcasts, books, and talks.

His “The Bible in a Year” podcast has especially received much acclaim and attention, drawing a total of 660 million downloads as of 2023. Consisting of 365 episodes, the podcast features commentary, prayer, and reflections as Schmitz walks the listener through the entirety of the Bible. 

“God wants to illuminate your life with this story and lead you to a relationship with him page by page,” he says in the video. 

Beginning Jan. 15, EWTN Radio began airing Schmitz’s “Bible in a Year” and “Catechism in a Year” podcasts. 

‘Worst platform I’ve ever seen’: Conservatives slam Republicans for softening pro-life stance

“Beyond Dobbs” panelists at the 2024 National Conservatism Conference on July 10, 2024, in Washington, D.C., included, left to right: Emma Waters, senior research associate at The Heritage Foundation; Mary Margaret Olohan, author and journalist at The Daily Signal; Tom McClusky, conservative policy strategist; Chad Pecknold, professor of systematic theology at The Catholic University of America; and Katy Talento, CEO of AllBetter Health. / Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 11, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Top conservatives at a “Beyond Dobbs” panel discussion at the 2024 National Conservatism Conference expressed anger over the Republican Party’s softening of its pro-life stance ahead of this November’s election, with one calling the GOP’s new platform the “worst platform I’ve ever seen.”

Organized Wednesday in Washington, D.C., by the Edmund Burke Foundation in partnership with over a dozen other major U.S. conservative think tanks, the conference’s panel on the subject focused on the political landscape in the post-Roe v. Wade era.

Several panelists, including a former Trump administration official, severely criticized the 2024 GOP platform, which was approved by the Republican National Convention’s platform committee on Monday.

What’s going on with Republicans and abortion?

Since Roe’s overturn in 2022 the pro-life movement has struggled to achieve any significant policy wins at the polls, leading some Republicans to believe abortion is a losing issue.

This belief appeared to be reflected in the GOP’s new platform, which removed a long-standing “right to life” plank and any call for a national law protecting unborn life.

Tom McClusky, a veteran operative in the pro-life movement, led the charge in slamming Republicans for backing away from the life issue.

“The RNC platform, I’m sorry, it is the worst platform I’ve ever seen,” McClusky said. “The platform, to me, has always been a promissory note. This is what the Republican Party stands for, this is the ideals that we strive for, and we’ve lost that now.”

He pointed to the Biden administration’s actions to promote abortion, saying it has “proven” that abortion cannot “just go back to the states.”

“Look at everything that he [Biden] has done,” he said. “They’ve turned our veterans’ hospitals into abortuaries. They’ve turned our military into abortion travel services. They’ve taken the Department of Justice and gone after people who stand up for life.”

“That is not something the states can stop,” he added. “That is only something the federal government can do.”

‘Quietly transforming every agency into Planned Parenthood’

Katy Talento, another panelist and former Trump administration Domestic Policy Council adviser, also criticized Republicans for backing away from the national abortion debate.

According to Talento, the Biden administration has been “quietly transforming every [government] agency into Planned Parenthood.”

Leaving the status quo regarding abortion, Talento claimed, would greatly advantage the abortion industry and result in more deaths of not only unborn babies but also pregnant women.

“I would strongly urge any hand-wringing politician worried about suburban women to read the FDA label before advocating for [abortion] pill-pushing on demand. The next woman bleeding out in the fetal position could be their daughter or their granddaughter,” Talento warned.

“It appears that there is little courage or appetite among our national leaders to try to protect unborn Americans with new federal laws,” she added. However, she emphasized, “there are too many radical policies implemented by Team Biden throughout many agencies to let any new president or cabinet secretary off the hook.”

Promoting marriage and families

Various panelists also suggested strategies to push back against abortion and reverse the ongoing decline in births.

Emma Waters, a senior research associate at The Heritage Foundation, said promoting a culture conducive to life involves all aspects of society, government, and religion.

Government policy, Waters said, must include not only on materially supporting mothers but also on promoting stable marriages and families.

“All policy must be pro-family policy,” she said. “We don’t need a separate policy group focused on family policy, we need those who are working in foreign policy, those who are in education, those who are in welfare and beyond, asking themselves, ‘Does this policy that I’m putting forward help support and encourage the family?’”

“To solve the fertility crisis,” she continued, “we can’t simply focus on creating more children. We must focus on creating more healthy marriages between married men and women. That’s where we’re going to find our solution.”

As marriage rates continue to plunge, how can the Church get more people to the altar?

null / Credit: Ivan Galashchuk/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jul 11, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

The Catholic Church needs to be focused at the parish level to drive up plunging marriage rates among the faithful, experts say, as low marriage rates in the Church mirror the collapse of matrimony in wider society. 

Catholic marriage rates dropped by about 70% between 1969 and 2019, according to data from Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate

The collapse reflects the broader decline of marriage rates throughout the United States, with a record 25% of 40-year-olds in the U.S. currently having never been married, according to Pew Research data

Experts and marriage advocates have long offered explanations for plummeting marriage rates. Mary Rose Verret, who with her husband, Ryan, founded the marriage renewal and preparation initiative Witness to Love, has argued that young Catholics are “not seeing holy, healthy, happy marriages being lived out,” leaving them without meaningful examples of successful unions.

The Verrets told CNA that the Catholic Church should be considerably more proactive in encouraging marriages. 

“As a Church, we can do a better job talking about marriage from the pulpit,” Mary Rose said. “We need to talk to young people about marriage when they’re younger. We need to sing the benefits of marriage. We should have married couples go to schools and espouse the benefits of marriage.”

Ryan told CNA that such witness is a critical component to bolstering marriages, especially for those who lack those examples in their own lives. “How do you know there’s another way of doing things if you don’t even see it?” he said.

‘An opportunity for conversion’

Pope Francis last year named the Verrets as consultants to the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life, which Mary Rose said would allow them to “serve the sacrament of marriage in a more impactful way.” 

The couple’s Witness to Love program offers a “full-circle” approach to promoting strong marriages in order to counteract collapsing marriage numbers in the U.S. The ministry helps couples “explore the depths of their relationship” by “nurturing qualities that form the foundation of enduring love and commitment.” 

Yet Ryan told CNA this week that “more and more couples these days don’t know someone who’s married.” 

J.P. De Gance, the founder and president of a marriage and relationship ministry called Communio, pointed out that dioceses often invest much more in priestly vocations than matrimonial ones. 

“Every diocese has a vocations director, and that director typically focuses on vocations to priestly ordination,” he told CNA. “When we focus in that area, we’re trying to get men to commit to a celibate life dedicated to Our Lord and to priestly ministry.”

“That’s a harder ask, typically, than marriage,” he pointed out. “... If you compare marital vocations to priestly vocations, ordinations are down 38% since 1970, but Catholic marriages are down north of 70%.” 

That ratio, he said, means that “we’re getting twice as many priestly ordinations per Catholic wedding.” 

He pointed out that historically marriage has been seen as the “foundation” of success, whereas in the modern era it is increasingly seen as a “capstone” to success. 

“Today a lot of parents, even faithful parents, are saying: ‘Don’t think about getting married or even getting serious until after college. Wait until you’re established’,” DeGance noted. “Any time parents say that, you’re advancing a message that causes our kids to delay marriage.”

Parishes have a significant role to play in helping reverse this decline, De Gance said.

“At the parish level, we need to teach the skills of discerning a good Christian relationship and a good Christian spouse,” he said. 

Though not everyone is called to marriage, De Gance said, pastors should stress that it’s “the most common path to grow in holiness.”

“A lot of time parish priests are concerned about preaching in this way,” he said. “They’re afraid of hurting people by talking about this.” 

But “if we fail to preach and teach about it, we’re not going to have any chance to push back against the zeitgeist that’s saying the exact opposite,” he said. 

Mary Rose Verret told CNA that she has observed intense interest from young people about marriage. When she facilitated marriage-focused events while working for the Family Life Office of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, “we’d hit the capacity of the building,” she said.

“It’s not that young people value marriage less,” she said. Rather, “they idealize it, they delay it,” and, further, they “don’t surround themselves with marriageable people.”

Ryan Verret said parishes should help facilitate relationships in which young adults can help each other toward getting married, including introducing single friends who are seeking marriage.

“We’re helping parishes to say: ‘If you want engaged couples to be married in the Church, then there needs to be an opportunity to enrich marriages,’” he said. To get to that point, he noted, young men and women “need to have a reference point for what marriage looks like in society.”

De Gance, meanwhile, said one way parishes can help is to defray the high costs often associated with weddings. The average wedding in the U.S. can run more than $30,000, which is often prohibitive for young people looking to get married.

Parishes often charge money for wedding services, including receptions, and De Gance said they should aim to keep those fees as low as possible.

“Parishes should see marriages and weddings as an opportunity for conversion, not as a way to offset costs for the parish,” he said. “The cost of a wedding is a barrier for a lot of young people. There should be inexpensive ways to leverage the facility so you can host a low-cost wedding reception.”

Part of the danger, De Gance noted, is that many Church leaders have become used to the new paradigm of low marriage rates and young people who don’t want to get married. “There is a general cultural zeitgeist that Catholics and other Christians have imbibed, and we don’t even realize it.”

Yet the crisis, he said, should not be overlooked. “This is the civilizational challenge facing the Church,” he said.