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Diocesan administrator: Spanish bishop's resignation 'perplexing', but his person must be respected

Bishop Xavier Novell Gomà, Bishop Emeritus of Solsona. / Conferencia Episcopal Española via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Solsona, Spain, Sep 21, 2021 / 14:10 pm (CNA).

The apostolic administrator of Solsona, Bishop Romà Casanova i Casanova of Vic, has addressed in his weekly letter the “anomalous” situation following the resignation of Bishop Xavier Novell Gomà as Bishop of Solsona.

Bishop Casanova said that "perplexity invaded our hearts" upon learning of the resignation of Bishop Novell. 

“To our pain over the loss of the one who courageously and with apostolic zeal led the diocese of Solsona for ten years, was added the avalanche of information” that indicated that “the personal reasons underlying the resignation were romantic. And that made the loss even more painful, because feelings of intense sorrow arose in our hearts,” Bishop Casanova said.

Bishop Casanova said some of the feelings people were experiencing were of "truncated fidelity," "abandoned fatherhood" and "shaken fraternity", because a bishop’s relationship with his diocese is "much more than the cold reality of a captain who makes things go as best as possible."

However, he stressed that "neither the perplexity nor the pain as a result of this resignation and his reasons cannot make us lose respect for his person, who, like everyone else, has his inalienable dignity."

The administrator said that the "media circus" surrounding Bishop Novell’s resignation "turned into a trash heap of information lacking respect for people’s privacy and personal history and that produces suffering in the closest circles, such as the family, and the diocese itself."

Bishop Casanova called for respect and asked the faithful "to flee from vain speculation," and said that “now is the hour of faith and trust in Him. The Lord never abandons his people. To come out of this we have to live out the communion that leads us to fraternity and trusting prayer. We need to hear the voice of the Lord and experience the strength of his hand that does not allow us to perish.”

Bishop Novell, 52, resigned Aug. 23 citing “strictly personal reasons.” The diocese announced that the decision was made freely and in accord with a canon which asks that a bishop “who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause … present his resignation from office.”

Various media broke the news Sept. 5 that Bishop Novell moved to Manresa to live with Silvia Caballol, 38, a psychologist and author of erotic novels with satanic overtones, some of them restricted to those 18 or older. 

Caballol is separated from her husband, and the mother of two. 

Bishop Novell was born in 1969 in Spain’s Lérida province.

He earned a degree in agricultural technical engineering from the University of Lleida, a bachelor's in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1997, and a doctorate in 2004.

He was ordained a priest of the Solsona diocese in 1997, and in 2010 he was consecrated a bishop and appointed ordinary of the same diocese.

As Biden looks to raise refugee cap, Catholics argue he can do more

President-elect Joe Biden addresses a virtual 40th anniversary celebration of Jesuit Refugee Services on Nov. 12, 2020. / Jesuit Refugee Services/Vimeo

Washington D.C., Sep 21, 2021 / 13:01 pm (CNA).

Catholic refugee advocates on Tuesday praised President Joe Biden for pushing to raise the refugee cap in the coming fiscal year, and urged even more refugee admissions.

On Monday, President Biden recommended that the United States double its limit on refugee resettlement in the coming fiscal year, to 125,000 refugees from 62,500. The U.S. bishops’ conference has also pushed for an increase in the refugee cap to 125,000.

"The number announced today is a step in the right direction and signals the President's commitment to return to our nation's moral leadership and track record of welcoming refugees,” said Joan Rosenhauer, executive director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA in a statement on Tuesday.

"However, we would have hoped that this number was higher,” Rosenhauer said, pointing to the recent refugee crisis in Afghanistan and arguing for a total cap of 200,000. Saying the United States “has a moral and legal duty” to help refugees, she noted that “[t]he Afghan refugee crisis only made the need to increase this number more pressing.”

Bill O’Keefe, executive vice president for mission and mobilization at Catholic Relief Services (CRS), told CNA on Tuesday that he welcomed Biden's announcement.

“It is very good to see the United States increase its welcoming of these very vulnerable people fleeing conflict, and CRS sees in so many parts of the world – Afghanistan is top of mind – how innocent people get caught in situations of violence, and need to flee for safety,” O'Keefe said.

“The Church calls us to welcome the stranger, and this year, more than in recent years I can remember, we need to do that."

Each year, the President makes a report to Congress recommending a limit on the number of refugees the United States will accept in the coming fiscal year.

While outgoing President Obama had set the refugee cap at 110,000 for the 2017 fiscal year, President Donald Trump several months later lowered it to 50,000 for that year; the United States still resettled more than 53,000 refugees during that fiscal year. Trump progressively lowered the refugee cap during his presidency, setting it at just 15,000 refugees for the 2021 fiscal year.

Biden in May acted to raise the refugee admissions cap for the 2021 fiscal year to 62,500. However, he admitted that the goal of 62,500 admissions would not be achievable by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The United States has only resettled a fraction of that number, as of Aug. 31; only 7,637 refugees had been admitted at that point in the 2021 fiscal year, according to U.S. State Department data.

“We’re in a moment of history when displaced people need our help more than ever. More than 80 million people have been forced to flee their homes, the highest levels in recent history,” Rosenhauer said on Monday. “Far less than 1% have successfully resettled in the United States so far this fiscal year.”

“Raising the number to 200,000 would have allowed for the accommodation of a significantly higher total number of refugees from Afghanistan and around the world,” she said.

As the last U.S. military forces left Afghanistan in August, thousands of Afghan civilians were still reportedly seeking to evacuate as the Taliban took control of the country.  

The Biden administration says it will prioritize resettlement of certain classes of refugees, including those from Central America, those identifying as LGBTQI+, “at-risk Uyghurs,” Hong Kong refugees, and Burmese dissidents and Rohingyas. In addition, the administration says it will expand access to the refugee admissions program “for Afghans at risk due to their affiliation with the United States.”

The chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) also praised Biden’s announcement on Tuesday.

USCIRF vice chair Nury Turkel called on the administration “to expand its P-2 designation granting access to the refugee program for certain Afghan nationals to include members of religious groups at extreme risk of persecution by the Taliban."

In November 2020, Biden had promised to increase the refugee cap to 125,000 for the 2022 fiscal year, in remarks to the 40th anniversary celebration of Jesuit Refugee Services. However, several months into his administration, he had not taken executive action to do so for the 2021 fiscal year.

In April, the White House said that the refugee cap would remain at 15,000, before reversing that stance on the same day that it was widely reported. The executive director of the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) migration committee had told CNA on April 14 that he was “absolutely” disappointed with refugee admissions, which had at that point “effectively been halted."

This article was updated on Sept. 21 with comment from Catholic Relief Services.

Fire damages historic Catholic church in Ukraine

Fire damage at the Church of St. Nicholas in Kyiv, Ukraine. / Courtesy photo.

Kyiv, Ukraine, Sep 21, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

A fire has severely damaged a historic Catholic church in Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv.

The fire broke out at the Gothic-style Church of St. Nicholas during an organ music rehearsal on Sept. 3, destroying the organ, charring the interior, and sending a chandelier crashing to the ground.

Courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo.

St. Nicholas is the second-oldest Latin Rite Catholic church in Kyiv (also known as Kiev) after the Co-Cathedral of St. Alexander.

Consecrated in 1909, the church served members of the local Polish Catholic community before communist officials closed it in 1938.

Soviet authorities removed the altar, installing a large organ and converting the church into a concert hall.

Courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo.

Ukraine is a country of 44 million people bordering Belarus, Russia, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland.

Around two-thirds of the population are Orthodox Christians. The second-largest Christian community is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the biggest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome. Latin Rite Catholics constitute a small minority.

Ukraine declared independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ever since, the local Catholic community has campaigned for the return of the church, which is overseen by the local municipality’s culture department.

Courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo.

The authorities argued that the church could not be returned as the organ was too large and could not be placed elsewhere.

Catholics were permitted to celebrate Mass in the church, but it remained a concert hall and the community was obliged to rent the building.

According to the parish’s website, Pope John Paul II visited the church on June 25, 2001, during his pastoral visit to Ukraine.

The Kyiv Post reported on Sept. 4 that police were still investigating the cause of the fire.

Following the organ’s destruction in the fire, Catholics say there is no reason for the church not to be returned. But they report that the government and Ministry of Culture have so far ignored their renewed entreaties.

The authorities are believed to want to restore St. Nicholas as a concert hall.

Priests are continuing to celebrate daily Masses for the parish community. But they are offered in the open air and the weather is getting colder following the end of summer.

Courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo.

The Masses are celebrated by Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Local superior Fr. Pavlo Vyshkovkyy, O.M.I., told CNA: “We appeal to Catholics around the world to support us in prayer and to make our situation known to others who might be of help in returning God’s house to the faithful of Kyiv.”

Mexican Supreme Court invalidates medical conscientious objection law

null / Syda Productions via www.shutterstock.com.

Mexico City, Mexico, Sep 21, 2021 / 11:25 am (CNA).

Mexico's Supreme Court on Monday invalidated an article of the General Health Law that broadly provided for medical personnel's conscientious objection to participating in treatments, such as abortion.

“The law did not establish the guidelines and limits necessary for conscientious objection to be exercised without jeopardizing the human rights of other persons, especially the right to health,” the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation announced Sept. 20.

The law, adopted in 2018, did not allow medical professionals to invoke conscientious objection "when the life of the patient is put at risk or it is a medical emergency."

Marcial Padilla, director of the prolife platform ConParticipación, commented that “instead of adopting conscientious objection in its entirety,” in its ruling the Supreme Court "puts it in suspense, saying that it does not like how it is formulated, because it prevents the realization of abortion, according to the terms that they wish."

The court is expected to discuss Sept. 21 clear guidelines for the exercise of conscientious objection and whether they will exhort or order the Congress of the Union to use a specific text in legislating on the topic.

Discussion of conscientious objection at the Supreme Court began Sept. 13. It recognized a right to conscientious objection, while adding that this does not restrict the right to health.

In recent weeks the Supreme Court has also invalidated several articles that protected life from conception in the penal code of the state of Coahuila, and parts of the Sinaloa state constitution protecting life from conception. The rulings are expected to have wide-ranging effects throughout Mexico.

Elective abortion has been legal up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in Mexico City and the states of Hidalgo, Oaxaca, and Veracruz. In general, abortion is illegal in the rest of the country, but in most cases there are exceptions for rape and the life of the mother. The penalties and scope of the laws vary from state to state.

A group of 30 medical associations in Mexico had on Sept. 15 defended conscientious objection. Their statement expressed “rejection of legislative resolutions and their consequential actions from now on that could violate our human rights in the practice of our professions."

"For healthcare professionals, the long established freedom, with a scientific basis and adherence to the ethical codes that govern good practices, should always be an absolute and unlimited right in its exercise," they stated.

Therefore, “conscientious objection may be required when there is a disagreement between scientific, legal and ethical principles to perform professional procedures and activities, which would allow them to excuse themselves from directly practicing or participating in any program, activity, treatment or research that contravenes their personal convictions, principles, values or their religious beliefs.”

In their statement on conscientious objection, the various medical groups affirm that making use of this right “is a legitimate action in the face of serious and fundamental issues, since it defends their dignity and freedom as long as the reasons given are serious, sincere, well-founded and do not endanger people’s life or physical well being.”

"The State must guarantee to physicians as persons that they are, the protection of their fundamental rights, in a manner analogous to the protection of the rights that patients deserve due to gender, orientation or sexual preference" they stressed.

"Today the associations of medical professionals have become a vulnerable group with the effort to restrict their freedom and autonomous decision-making through unilateral criteria, by trying to eliminate their right to conscientious objection," they warned.

The professional organizations noted that this occurs "only because of social pressure or demands every time that other adequate options are ignored to resolve these disagreements, through the adoption of other adequate, viable and satisfactory options for the exercise of the fundamental rights of both parties."

The Mexican medical associations also emphasized that conscientious objection is a fundamental human right recognized in various national and international documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"The doctor is a professional of science and conscience, who cannot be reduced to a mere instrument of the will of the patient, since like the patient, he is a free and responsible person, with a unique collection of values that regulate his life,” they pointed out.

They also lamented that "the unawareness of society and the authorities of the rights of doctors negatively and disproportionately affects their fundamental rights."

For the medical associations, “considering the right to conscientious objection in matters of health to be unconstitutional is disproportionate and erroneous since the State omits its responsibility to guarantee to doctors as an essential component of society, the human right to the protection of their mental and emotional health, preventing the highest possible enjoyment of physical and especially mental health.”

“From the well grounded reasons laid out above, it is clear that it is our right to demand respect from the authorities for professional autonomy in decision-making, an absolute guarantee in the exercise of freedom, reason and conscience so that the human rights of all parties involved are protected” they said.”

Finally, they stated that “the federations, associations and boards of medicine as the sole and legitimate representatives of the medical profession, will always continue to be vigilant over the good practice of medicine, so that it is carried out, without external pressure, meeting even the least significant of the requirements of quality and ethics.”

Justice Department asks Supreme Court to uphold legal abortion  

null / Claudette Jerez/CNA

Washington D.C., Sep 21, 2021 / 10:15 am (CNA).

The Justice Department on Monday asked the Supreme Court to uphold Roe v. Wade, the court’s 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

The court on Monday had announced that oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a major abortion case, will be held on Dec. 1. The case involves a challenge to Mississippi’s restrictions on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The state of Mississippi, in defending its law, has asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its Roe ruling altogether.

In an amicus brief filed at the Supreme Court on Monday, the Justice Department argued that the state is seeking to overturn nearly 50 years of court rulings that upheld legal abortion, and asked the court to maintain its previous abortion rulings.  

“Petitioners insist that a woman’s decision whether to carry a pregnancy to term—perhaps the most intensely personal and life-altering choice a person can make—should enjoy no more protection than workaday social and economic matters that trigger rational-basis review,” the Justice Department stated in its brief.

“If the Court considers that new argument, it should decline to disturb Roe’s central holding—just as it did a generation ago,” the brief stated.

Mississippi’s law, the Gestational Age Act, restricts abortions after 15 weeks but includes exceptions for when the mother’s life or “major bodily function” is at stake, or if the unborn child has a condition “incompatible with life outside the womb.”

Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s only abortion clinic, sued over the law, and is represented in court by the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The Supreme Court in May agreed to take up the case, after lower courts ruled against the law and the state of Mississippi appealed. The court is considering only one legal question in the case, “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortion are unconstitutional.”

The court’s decision to take up the case was seen as significant, as it had previously refused to consider appeals in favor of other state pro-life laws restricting abortions after 20 weeks, 12 weeks, and as early as six weeks.

On Sept. 1, the court also declined a challenge to Texas’ law restricting most abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat. By rejecting the legal challenge, the court allowed the law – which is enforced by private civil lawsuits and not by the state – to remain effective. In response, President Joe Biden promised a “whole-of-government” effort to maintain abortion in Texas.

In its Supreme Court brief on Monday, the Justice Department invoked the legal principle of stare decisis to urge the court to respect and uphold its previous abortion rulings. The court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey upheld Roe, the brief noted.

“And the passage of another three decades means that every American woman of reproductive age has grown up against the backdrop of the right secured by Roe and Casey, which has become even more deeply woven into the Nation’s social fabric,” the Justice Department argued.

“Roe and Casey were and are correct. They recognize that forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy against her will is a profound intrusion on her autonomy, her bodily integrity, and her equal standing in society,” the brief stated.

Although the Supreme Court upheld its Roe ruling in the Casey decision, the state of Mississippi has argued that the court should reconsider those two rulings altogether.

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch in July argued that those decisions established “a special-rules regime for abortion jurisprudence that has left these cases out of step with other Court decisions and neutral principles of law applied by the Court.”

“As a result, state legislatures, and the people they represent, have lacked clarity in passing laws to protect legitimate public interests, and artificial guideposts have stunted important public debate on how we, as a society, care for the dignity of women and their children,” Fitch said in the state’s brief at the court.

“It is time for the Court to set this right and return this political debate to the political branches of government,” she wrote. 

Pope Francis to Slovakian Jesuits: ‘Some people wanted me to die’ amid health problems

Pope Francis addresses an ecumenical meeting at the apostolic nunciature in Bratislava, Slovakia, Sept. 12, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Sep 21, 2021 / 05:20 am (CNA).

In a private meeting with Jesuits in Slovakia on Sept. 12, Pope Francis said that there were people who wanted him to die after he underwent colon surgery in July.

During the encounter, a Jesuit priest asked the pope how he was doing, to which he replied: “Still alive, even though some people wanted me to die.”

“I know there were even meetings between prelates who thought the pope’s condition was more serious than the official version. They were preparing for the conclave,” he added. “Patience! Thank God, I’m all right.”

Pope Francis answered questions from fellow Jesuits at a closed-door meeting in Slovakia’s capital city, Bratislava, during his Sept. 12-15 visit to the country.

The trip was his first since being hospitalized on July 4 for an operation to relieve severe stricture of the colon caused by diverticulitis. The three-hour surgery included a left hemicolectomy, the removal of one side of the colon.

After the operation, false rumors began to circulate on social media and in online posts that Pope Francis might soon resign, based in part on other unsubstantiated claims that the pope was possibly suffering from a “degenerative” and “chronic” disease.

The text of the pope’s private Sept. 12 meeting with Jesuits in Slovakia was published by the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica on Sept. 21.

During the encounter, one priest spoke with Pope Francis about tension in the Catholic Church in Slovakia, saying that some people saw Francis as “heterodox,” while others “idealize you.”

“We Jesuits try to overcome this division,” he said, asking: “How do you deal with people who look at you with suspicion?”

Pope Francis noted that “there is, for example, a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope.”

“I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the Church does not deserve them. They are the work of the devil,” he said.

The pope added that there were also clerics who had made “nasty comments about me.”

“I sometimes lose patience, especially when they make judgments without entering into a real dialogue. I can’t do anything there. However, I go on without entering their world of ideas and fantasies. I don’t want to enter it and that’s why I prefer to preach, preach...” he said.

“Some people accuse me of not talking about holiness," he continued. “They say I always talk about social issues and that I’m a communist. Yet I wrote an entire apostolic exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et exsultate.”

The pope went on to address his recent restrictions on the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, which were made in the July 16 motu proprio Traditionis custodes.

“Now I hope that with the decision to stop the automatism of the ancient rite we can return to the true intentions of Benedict XVI and John Paul II,” he said. “From now on, those who want to celebrate with the Vetus Ordo [Traditional Latin Mass] must ask permission from Rome as is done with biritualism.”

Biritualism is the temporary or permanent privilege of a priest to celebrate the liturgy and administer the sacraments in more than one rite, such as the Latin Rite and one of the Eastern rites.

Pope Francis described reports that some young priests had asked for permission to offer the Traditional Latin Mass from their bishop a month after ordination as “a phenomenon that indicates that we are going backward.”

In an earlier part of the meeting, Francis had lamented an “ideology of going backward,” which he said was not a universal problem in the Church, but affected some countries.

“The temptation to go backward. We are suffering this today in the Church,” he said.

Francis recounted an anecdote told to him by a cardinal about two of his newly ordained priests who asked for permission to study Latin to be able to celebrate the Mass well.

According to the pope, the cardinal responded “with a sense of humor,” telling the priests: “But there are many Hispanics in the diocese! Study Spanish to be able to preach. Then, when you have studied Spanish, come back to me and I’ll tell you how many Vietnamese there are in the diocese, and I’ll ask you to study Vietnamese. Then, when you have learned Vietnamese, I will give you permission to study Latin.”

The cardinal made the priests “‘land,’ he made them return to earth,” the pope commented.

“I go ahead, not because I want to start a revolution,” Pope Francis said. “I do what I feel I must do. It takes a lot of patience, prayer and a lot of charity.”

This report was updated at 5:45 a.m. MDT to include the pope’s comments on the Traditional Latin Mass.

Pope Francis to theologians: See ‘contemporary challenges in light of the Wisdom of the Cross’

Pope Francis adores the crucifix during the Good Friday liturgy at St. Peter's Basilica April 2, 2021. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Sep 21, 2021 / 04:10 am (CNA).

Pope Francis urged theologians gathering in Rome on Tuesday to promote “a renewed understanding of contemporary challenges in light of the Wisdom of the Cross.”

In a message to participants in an international theological congress, the pope said he hoped that the meeting would contribute to the evangelization of the 21st-century world.

He said: “It is my hope that by promoting fruitful theological, cultural, and pastoral interactions, this initiative will contribute to a renewed understanding of contemporary challenges in light of the Wisdom of the Cross, in order to foster evangelization faithful to God’s design and attentive to humanity.”

The pope’s message, dated July 1 but released Sept. 21, was addressed to Fr. Joachim Rego, C.P., superior general of the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ (Passionists).

The congress, dedicated to “The Wisdom of the Cross in a Pluralistic World” and taking place at the Pontifical Lateran University on Sept. 21-24, is part of a Jubilee year marking the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Passionist order.

“Contemplating the Crucified One, we see every human dimension embraced by God’s mercy. His kenotic [self-emptying] and compassionate love touches, through the Cross, the four cardinal points and reaches the extremes of our human condition, joining in a mysterious way the vertical relationship with God and the horizontal relationship with humanity, in a fraternal union that the death of Jesus has definitively made universal,” the pope said.

“The immense saving power unleashed by the weakness of the Cross reveals to theology the importance of an approach that knows how to combine the loftiness of reason with the humility of the heart.”

“Before the Crucified One, theology is also invited to address the most fragile and concrete conditions of men and women and to set aside polemical methods and agendas, joyfully sharing the labor of study, and confidently seeking the precious seeds that the Word scatters amidst the jagged and sometimes contradictory plurality of cultures.”

He continued: “The Cross of the Lord, a source of salvation for people of every place and every time, is therefore vibrant and effective also and above all at a crossroads, such as the contemporary one, characterized by rapid and complex changes.”

The pope sent a message to the Passionists in November 2020 as they prepared to launch the Jubilee year celebrating the foundation of the order by St. Paul of the Cross in Italy in 1720.

The Jubilee year, whose theme is “Renewing our mission: gratitude prophecy, and hope,” began on Nov. 22, 2020, and will end on Jan. 1, 2022.

“Do not tire of accentuating your commitment to the needs of humanity,” the pope said in his message to the order, dated Oct. 15.

“This missionary calling is directed above all towards the crucified of our age -- the poor, the weak, the oppressed, and those discarded by many forms of injustice.”

Addressing participants in the four-day theological congress, the pope said that the gathering corresponded to the desire of St. Paul of the Cross “to ensure that the Paschal Mystery, the center of the Christian faith and the charism of the Passionist religious family, is proclaimed and disseminated in response to divine Charity, and that it addresses the expectations and hopes of the world.”

The religious freedom cases the Supreme Court could hear – and refuse – this fall

Religious sisters show their support for the Little Sisters of the Poor outside the Supreme Court, where oral arguments were heard on March 23, 2016 in the Zubik v. Burwell case against the HHS Mandate. / Catholic News Agency

Washington D.C., Sep 20, 2021 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

In addition to a major abortion case, the Supreme Court this fall will consider cases on vocal prayer at executions and state tuition assistance for religious schools, and could decide take up other religious freedom cases.

Although the court usually decides death penalty cases on the “emergency docket” - reserved for urgent petitions outside the formal appeals process - the court will hear arguments in the case of a Texas death row inmate this term on its “merits” docket. The court recently halted the execution of Texas death row inmate John Henry Ramirez in order to consider his case; Ramirez is requesting his pastor be allowed to lay hands on him and pray out loud as he is executed by the state.

Current policy of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice allows Ramirez’s pastor to be present with him in the execution chamber, but without physical contact or audible prayer as he is dying.

Prisoners ought to have the time-honored practice of clergy visitation and prayer at their time of execution, said Mark Rienzi, president of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, on a call with reporters last week. Becket filed an amicus brief at the Supreme Court in support of Ramirez’s case.

At a “bare minimum,” Rienzi said, the state ought to let an inmate have prayer and comfort of clergy as he is being executed.

The Supreme Court will also hear arguments in Carson v. Makin, involving Maine’s policy barring public tuition assistance for religious schools.

For Maine students who do not have a local public school, the state provides tuition assistance for them to attend another school of their choice. They may not, however, use the assistance for attending a “sectarian” school. The case before the court involves a challenge to the state’s policy, pushing for the state assistance to be allowed for religious schools as well.

The Supreme Court justices have “repeatedly” come together in defense of religious freedom in such cases, Rienzi said.

Perhaps the most notable Supreme Court case this fall is Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, regarding Mississippi’s law restricting most abortions after 15 weeks. The court is considering the question of whether all state bans on pre-viability abortions are illegal.

Although Becket is not representing the plaintiffs or defendants in the case, it filed an amicus brief at the court explaining the impact of legal abortion on religious organizations.

When the court previously struck down state bans and regulations of abortion, those rulings “amped up the [abortion] controversy beyond what it may have been otherwise,” Rienzi argued, and supplanted the political process of settling differences on abortion at the state level.

As a result, numerous “proxy” fights have ensued in the courts, he said, with states or federal administrations forcing employers – including religious employers – to provide coverage of abortions or abortifacients in employee health plans. Becket is asking the court to consider the effects of its abortion rulings on religious groups who are facing such abortion mandates.

The Supreme Court’s upcoming fall term might be notable not only for the religious freedom cases on the docket, but also for the pending cases the court might accept or refuse in the coming days.

The Catholic dioceses of Albany and Ogdensburg, as well as other Catholic and Christian ministries, have appealed to the Supreme Court for relief from New York state’s 2017 abortion coverage mandate. The state had required employers to provide abortion coverage in health insurance for employees, but the plaintiffs argue that they “can’t in good conscience” buy an insurance policy for someone else covering the killing of a child, Rienzi said.

While the state crafted a religious exemption for some employers, “it’s an awfully stingy and, I think, illegally stingy” exemption, Rienzi said. Only religious employers which employ and serve members of the same creed could be eligible for an exemption.

“They drafted a religious exemption that Jesus Christ himself would fail,” Rienzi said. “It prefers a very, very narrow subset of religious groups.” The Supreme Court will decide later this month whether or not it will hear the case of Diocese of Albany v. Lacewell.

In another case, the California-based Dignity Catholic health system was sued for refusing to provide a sex-change operation. The court could soon decide whether it will take up the case this term, Rienzi said.

There are several other religious freedom cases where “cert petitions” have been filed, or requests for the court to take up a particular case.

In one case of Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, a high school football coach in Washington state was fired for silently taking a knee and praying after games. He has appealed his case to the Supreme Court for a second time.

In the case of Seattle Union Gospel Mission, a faith-based homeless ministry is arguing it should be able to hire only employees of faith; the ministry faces a lawsuit from a man claiming the mission refused to hire him upon hearing he was in a same-sex relationship.

After a years-long court battle, the Little Sisters of the Poor gained relief from a federal contraceptive mandate when the Supreme Court upheld the sisters’ religious exemption to the mandate in 2020. That case, however, could be reignited if the Biden administration acts to remove the sisters’ religious exemption to the mandate.

“The case that never ends,” Rienzi quipped of the Little Sisters’ case, which is currently on hold in California and Pennsylvania. The Biden administration has asked judges for more time to act, but has not revealed any actions it might take.

“I think it’s pretty clear that the Biden administration has no place to go,” Rienzi said.  The Obama administration – which first issued the mandate – “was never able to win this in court,” he said.

“The law has actually improved on religious liberty since then. I don’t think there’s actually a path for the Biden admin to revive the contraceptive mandate successfully,” he said.

Local artists add beauty to Los Angeles exhibit ‘250 Years of Mission’ to celebrate Jubilee Year

Lalo Garcia's painting of Saint Junípero Serra is featured in the '250 Years of Mission' exhibit. / Lalo Garcia.

Los Angeles, Calif., Sep 20, 2021 / 15:34 pm (CNA).

On September 11, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles began a Jubilee Year, Forward in Mission, to mark 250 years since the opening of the region’s first church, Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, founded in 1771 by Saint Junípero Serra. An exhibit titled 250 Years of Mission will be on display at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels through Sept. 10, 2022, to tell the story of the Catholic faith in the region.   

“The Church has left such an indelible mark on our culture here from street names, the city names, and everything in between, to our radical charity in the community,” said Father Parker Sandoval, Vice Chancellor for Ministerial Services for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. “We thought it was very important to put forward to everyone for free, in an accessible space, a display of beauty and an opportunity to learn the richness of our history.” 

Local artists Aurelio G. D. Mendoza, Lalo Garcia, and John Nava are featured in the exhibit, which spans four galleries inside the cathedral. The galleries include historical documents and artifacts; colonial art from Spain and Mexico; Native American religious art; and the contributions of Mendoza, Garcia, and Nava. 

“Historically, here in Southern California, the missions are extremely important, not only as a tourist attraction, but as the seed of Catholicism,” said Garcia, whose oil painting of Saint Junípero Serra is in the exhibit. “I hope that you get a feel of Southern California, who we are, the buildings that we have here in the Camino Real, feel proud of the heritage as Californianos, and see the good things that he [St. Junípero Serra] did.” 

Garcia’s painting, which was commissioned by Archbishop José Gomez in honor of the canonization of Saint Junípero Serra in 2015, measures 30-by-40-inches and has a halo made of 24-karat gold leaf. He hopes his works become an “instrument for historians, priests, seminarians, teachers, anybody who acquires the piece, so that they can actually talk about it,” he said.

“I spend a lot of time reading, meditating, and thinking about the piece that I am going to create,” said Garcia, who came to the United States from Mexico when he was 13 years old. “It gives me more responsibility to create this type of art when I have seen people praying in front of an image that I have painted. I want the piece to be worthy of the space it’s going to take.” 

Two large oil paintings by Aurelio G. D. Mendoza (1901-1996) are also included in the exhibit. The two pieces are part of a trilogy called El Camino Real, which aim to depict both conversion of the Indigenous people and the construction of missions in California. In the first piece, which measures six-feet tall by five-feet wide, Mendoza painted Saint Junípero Serra pointing ahead, “signaling the way to follow,” said his granddaughter Lucy Mendoza. 

Mendoza’s second painting in the exhibit, titled Mision San Diego de Alcala, is five feet tall by eight-and-a-half feet wide. It shows Saint Junípero Serra with Father Sanchez, the architect of the San Diego mission, among both the Indigenous people and the Spanish soldiers.

“He took great care in making sure the Indigenous were portrayed with such beauty and grace,” said Lucy Mendoza.

Both pieces were completed in approximately 1976, when Mendoza was 75 years old. 

“You want people to feel a sense of pride in the history of California—and I know there's been some pain, there's been some controversy—but I also feel that there's so much good also,” said Lucy Mendoza. “My abuelito always said that so much can be learned through art.” 

The scale of Mendoza’s pieces, Father Sandoval said, are in themselves impactful. 

“They’re huge, they literally fill walls, and the images just pop,” he said. “Then, knowing that these were painted by people who have a devotion to the saints they are depicting makes them particularly beautiful.”

John Nava, the third local artist included in the exhibit, wove the tapestry for the Mass of Canonization of Saint Junípero Serra in 2015 in Washington, D.C.. Nava’s tapestry is on display in the same chapel as the other artists’ works. 

“It's not simply that they're great artists, but fundamentally they're people of faith,” said Father Sandoval. “That really comes through in the artwork.”

In addition to the local artists, 250 Years of Mission includes religious objects and art from Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, which fell victim to arson in July 2020, as well as materials from the archdiocesan archives. 

The exhibit aims to be both educational and beautiful, said Father Sandoval. 

“We live in a time where we are bombarded by bad news and ugliness on the newsfeed, on the front page, and on the screen,” said Father Sandoval. “That’s why we thought it was really important to accent the beauty of our faith and the history of the church and our mission here.” 

The exhibit is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Since the galleries line the sides of the cathedral, the exhibit is open anytime the cathedral is open to the public. 

“We hope that people not only enjoy the beauty and learn the history, but, above all, feel inspired to build on the legacy of faith that started here 250 years ago,” said Father Sandoval. “This is a summons to revival, to renewal, to refocus on what matters most, which is putting people in contact with Jesus.” 

“We hope we can bring as many people—especially young people—as possible to visit and feel moved to move into mission,” he said. 

‘The most radical abortion bill of all time’: House to vote this week on codifying ‘right’ to abortion

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) / Michael Candelori/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Sep 20, 2021 / 14:49 pm (CNA).

The House this week will vote on a bill that the U.S. bishops’ conference warns would effectively impose abortion on-demand throughout pregnancy.

The Women’s Health Protection Act (H.R. 3755), introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), recognizes the “statutory right” of women to have abortions. It also states the “right” of doctors, certified nurse-midwives, nurse practitioners and doctor’s assistants to perform abortions. It prohibits many limitations on this right, such as state pro-life laws requiring ultrasounds or waiting periods before abortions.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a Catholic, announced the House vote on the bill earlier this month after a Texas law went into effect restricting abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat; a fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks into pregnancy. The Texas law is enforced through private civil lawsuits.

After the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the law on Sept. 1, Pelosi vowed to bring up the Women’s Health Protection Act and “enshrine into law reproductive health care for all women across America.” The bill is scheduled to be voted on this week in the House.

In an action alert, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) calls the legislation “the most radical abortion bill of all time.”

Archbishop Joseph Naumann – chair of the USCCB's pro-life committee – outlined how the bill would expand abortion, in a Sept. 15 letter to members of Congress.

“This deceptively-named, extreme bill would impose abortion on demand nationwide at any stage of pregnancy through federal statute,” Archbishop Naumann wrote. The legislation, he said, would also override state and local pro-life laws such as parental notification and informed consent requirements.

“It would force all Americans to support abortions here and abroad with their tax dollars,” he said, and “would also likely force health care providers and professionals to perform, assist in, and/or refer for abortion against their deeply-held beliefs, as well as force employers and insurers to cover or pay for abortion.”

The bill overrides prohibitions on abortion “pre-viability,” or before the age an unborn child is determined to be likely to survive outside the womb.

However, the bill also allows for late-term abortions when a physician’s “good-faith medical judgment” deems the mother’s life or health at risk from the pregnancy. This, the USCCB argues in a fact-sheet, is not a “meaningful limitation” on late-term abortion and would effectively allow abortions until birth.

The bill would also likely require health care workers to perform abortions, overriding possible conscience exemptions under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the conference argues. For states defending their pro-life laws in court, they would have to meet a form of “strict scrutiny” test – “a heavy burden of proof,” the conference said.

On Monday, the White House stated its support for the legislation.

“In the wake of Texas’ unprecedented attack, it has never been more important to codify this constitutional right and to strengthen health care access for all women, regardless of where they live,” the White House stated.

Former Republican congressman Keith Rothfus stated on Twitter that Pelosi “makes a big deal about being #Catholic. But this week she plans to bring the most pro-#abortion bill ever up for a vote.”

The White House statement comes after President Joe Biden promised a “whole-of-government” effort to maintain abortion in Texas, following implementation of the state’s “heartbeat” law.

On Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a “three-pronged” response to the Texas law, increased funding for emergency contraceptives and “family planning services” in the state.

This article was updated on Sept. 20 with new information.