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60TH ANNIVERSARY ST. SABINA CATHOLIC CHURCH 1957-2017

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Is it a sin for Catholics to not vote in elections?

null / Credit: roibu/Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, May 30, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The year 2024 is considered the biggest election year in history, with more than 60 countries — representing almost half of the world’s population — holding elections. This historical moment raises the question for Catholics: Is it a sin not to vote?

To provide some insight into this question, ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, spoke with Fray Nelson Medina, a Dominican priest who holds a doctorate in fundamental theology from the Milltown Institute in Dublin, and Father Mario Arroyo, who holds a doctorate in philosophy from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome.

Elections and ‘the common good’

Medina stressed that “the general criterion for the Christian is always that his action (or decision not to act) leads to, or favors, or at least does not hinder, achieving the common good.”

“In countries where voting is mandatory, it seems that abstaining from voting is incurring, at least nominally, in a crime; it is difficult to see how this could be ordered for the common good,” he noted, adding that “for the same reason, we exclude from this analysis people who, out of laziness or not to bother, abstain from voting. There is clearly no correct moral motivation there.”

The Dominican theologian said that “where it is not obligatory to vote, and once laziness or simple convenience has been excluded, it is clear that the only purpose that could be valid for abstaining from voting is to protest that the election process itself is corrupt (due to evident fraud or inevitable fraud), or to reject all candidates due to their ineptitude or low moral quality.”

“The question that follows is obvious: What effect is foreseeable from such a decision?” he pointed out.

Where there is “certitude that the process is corrupted,” local legislation might consider invalidating the elections in the case of massive numbers of people abstaining from voting and if it is “foreseeable” that this can be achieved, then Medina considers that “it would be right not to vote.”

“If, on the other hand, this possibility is unrealistic, refraining from voting simply means giving up one’s own voice and possible contribution to public dialogue, which does not seem ethically correct,” he noted.

Poor-quality candidates 

Regarding the idea of ​​“not voting out of a desire to protest the poor quality of all the candidates,” the Dominican priest made “a distinction”: “If there is a possibility that one of the candidates, if he were to win, would change the rules of the game, for example, by establishing a new version of the constitution that perpetuates him in power, then it seems preferable to vote for the ‘lesser evil,’ given that a victory for such a candidate would eliminate the possibility of real change in the visible future.”

“On the other hand, if the candidates are all terrible but there is no obvious risk of a change in the rules of the game, it can still be said that there are alternatives that would make such a protest more visible, for example, turning in a blank ballot or even achieving a significant number of disqualified votes.”

For Medina, except in the case in which massive abstention seems possible and could invalidate the election, all other scenarios show a preferable course of action in which it is better to vote.

“Therefore, except in the aforementioned case, abstaining from voting seems like an act that is not the best option, so it surely involves some form of sin, although it is very possibly just a venial sin,” Medina said.

‘Is God asking me to vote or not?’

Regarding whether deciding not to vote could be a sin, Arroyo preferred to present a “positive perspective”: “Is God asking me to vote or not? Does it please God that I vote? Does voting serve me and my society? Can voting be seen as a way of practicing social charity?”

However, the priest recognized that “raising the question of sin serves as a reasonable frame of reference, functioning analogously to the boundaries of a football field that delimit the playing field.”

Reflecting on the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Arroyo pointed out that “it is the duty of the Catholic to participate in public life to the extent of his possibilities, such that limiting oneself to just voting is already restricting one’s participation.”

Although voting is not spoken of “in terms of sin or not,” the priest said, “it is understood, however, that irresponsibility and, if applicable, laziness and disinterest, causing one to not vote, can be in themselves a sin, usually not serious.”

In No. 2239 of the catechism, Arroyo notes, it states: “It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity.”

In this regard, he pointed out, “we could say that fulfilling our civic obligations is a duty of gratitude and charity toward the society that has helped us grow.”

“The most direct reference to the subject is found in No. 2240 of the catechism: ‘Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country,’” he added.

“Let’s say that [the catechism] places exercising the right to vote on the same level as the payment of taxes — a duty of justice. Once again it omits speaking in terms of sin or non-sin, but it speaks of a moral requirement. It doesn’t specify whether this obligation is serious or not. By not doing so, it is assumed to be not serious,” he noted.

The Fourth Commandment and abstaining from voting

“Translating this formulation into the terms of ‘sin or not sin,’” Arroyo continued, “it can be stated that not voting is a minor sin. Since it is not expressly stated that it is a serious obligation, it cannot be deduced from the text that the offense is serious.”

“But because it is a moral requirement, a duty, it is understood that not fulfilling it is a minor offense against the virtue of justice and against the Fourth Commandment of the law of God,” which is addressed in No. 2240 of the catechism.

In conclusion, Arroyo said that not voting “is a venial sin, against justice, the Fourth Commandment, social charity, and, if applicable, a sin of laziness, apathy, and irresponsibility.”

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

The ‘Gen Z’ flip: Why young women are leaving religion — and how to bring them back

For the first time in decades, young men are more likely to stay in the church, while young women are leaving, according to a recent U.S. study. / Credit: Shutterstock/MDV Edwards

CNA Staff, May 30, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

For the past 20 years, men have left religion at higher rates than women; but for the first time in decades, young men are more likely to stay with it, while young women are leaving, according to a recent study.

For the past three generations — baby boomers, Generation X, and millennials — men when surveyed were more likely to have left religion than women.

Now, the opposite is true — Generation Z women are more likely to disaffiliate than men, at 54% to 46%, respectively, according to an April survey by the Survey Center on American Life and American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

Why they leave

Researchers point to influences such as church teaching on controversial issues. Fifty-four percent of young women are pro-choice, according to a 2022 General Social Survey, and when it comes to the LGBTQ divide, 31% of Gen Z women identify as LGBTQ compared with 15% of Gen Z men. 

Young women in general are simply becoming more liberal and progressive, while the newest generation of Catholic priests are markedly more conservative. Meanwhile, secular media such as the Associated Press is observing a traditional renewal in the Catholic Church among young people. What can be made of these trends?

Daniel Cox, who headed the survey, believes that the flip has to do with political issues such as abortion.

“My own view is that the growing political liberalism among young women, and the rising salience of abortion after the Supreme Court Dobbs decision, is largely responsible for this shift,” Cox told CNA in an email.

While 57% of boomers who left their religion were men, only 43% were women. The pattern in men and women continued in Generation X (55% and 45% respectively) and again in the millennial generation (53% and 47%). But Generation Z has flipped the pattern, as only 46% of those who left their formative religion were men, while 54% were women.

Noelle Mering, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and author of “Awake, Not Woke,” speculates that the generational shift might be rooted in how popular political ideologies that are “detached” from “what human beings are” are affecting the core of what it means to be a woman.

“We are more bodily — in our capacity to bear and nurture life, and we are more vulnerable in our embodiment,” Mering told CNA in an email. “Ideology tells us that our bodies can be anything — but that just means that our bodies mean nothing.”

While popular pro-abortion rhetoric pronounces “my body, my choice,” the Catholic perspective continues to affirm the dignity of human life at all stages.

Young women are also more likely to identify as feminists, with nearly two-thirds of Gen Z women (ages 18-29) saying they believe that churches do not treat men and women equally, the survey found. Millennial women also tend to agree with this (about 64% of women ages 30-49).

How they return 

But Gen Z is also the loneliest generation, according to a Pew survey — and they’re not turning to their local churches to find community.

Americans who are affiliated with a religion are more likely to feel close to others than non-religiously affiliated Americans by a wide margin (73% to 51%), according to a May study from Pew Research. 

Mering suggests “the apostolate of friendship, hospitality” for bringing Gen Z women back. Mering co-authored the series “Theology of Home” about how women can live out their vocations at any stage of life through bringing beauty into the home. 

“That is one of the main goals of ‘Theology of Home’: To show — not just tell — what a true Christian anthropology of embodiment looks like,” she continued. “The popular imagination is filled with dominant pop culture distortions. Catholics should be pushing back on that by putting out media that reflects our true nature.” 

There is one area of society where the Catholic Church is seeing large numbers of conversions: Vibrant, traditional parishes seem to draw in both young men and young women.

Young people on college campuses such as Texas A&M and Hillsdale College are flocking to the Church, as the National Catholic Register, CNA’s sister news partner, reported in April. 

Rebuilding community may also be a key to bringing the least religious generation back to church.

Political scientist and statistician Ryan Burge, co-author of “The Great Dechurching” with Michael Graham and Jim Davis, found in his research that disaffiliated people would go back to church if their friends were there.

“We fielded a series of three surveys to find out why people left and what would get them back in the door,” he told CNA in an email. “Friends scored near the top of the list for every type of dechurched group… Theological reasons often scored very low.”

The apostolate of friendship and hospitality may not only be a compassionate response to the loneliness crisis but might also bring people closer to religion. 

“We might not be able to get our friends to church, but we can get them to our kitchen table for coffee or dinner,” Mering noted.

U.S. bishops’ synod synthesis reveals desire for greater unity, evangelization

Pope Francis among the delegates of the Synod on Synodality held in October 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

CNA Staff, May 29, 2024 / 17:23 pm (CNA).

A synthesis of feedback received from 35,000 U.S. Catholics as part of the ongoing Synod on Synodality reveals that amid political and theological polarization, many lay Catholics desire unity, both among themselves and among the clergy.

In addition, participants in synodal listening sessions acknowledged that the synodal process has unearthed tensions in the Church, in which some said they “were challenged by the Church’s “indecisiveness,” by “lack of reverence,” and by the perception that the Church is “changing the traditional methods.”

But other participants also expressed concern that some people, including those who identify as LGBT, “feel hurt by the Church and are not willing to come back.”  

“This document reflects the sense that there exists among Catholics in the United States a deep desire to rebuild and strengthen our communion as the body of Christ,” Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) doctrine committee, wrote in the report’s introduction. 

“Rebuilding trust where it is frayed involves practicing the humanly graceful art of listening to each other and speaking together. The more we do this, the more we realize that it is the Lord who never fails us. He responds to us and knows well how to accomplish his will through the communion of his imperfect and often wounded servants.”

Pope Francis initiated the Synod on Synodality in October 2021, kicking off a multiyear worldwide Church effort to engage in listening sessions with Catholics. The faithful were asked to submit feedback to their local dioceses on the question “What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together’?” 

The first monthlong session of the Synod on Synodality concluded at the Vatican on Oct. 29, 2023, with the finalization of a 42-page synthesis report. The October 2024 session is expected to produce a final report, which will be presented to Pope Francis for his consideration in issuing any related teaching.

During the interim period between the 2023 and 2024 synod sessions at the Vatican, U.S. dioceses were encouraged to hold two to three listening sessions during Lent and submit a three- to five-page document to the U.S. synod team. Seventy-six percent of U.S. dioceses and eparchies submitted syntheses based on more than 1,000 listening sessions and the contributions of over 35,000 participants.

The USCCB had asked that the dioceses focus on two “guiding questions”:

  1. Where have I seen or experienced successes — and distresses — within the Church’s structure(s)/organization/leadership/life that encourage or hinder the mission?

  2. How can the structures and organization of the Church help all the baptized to respond to the call to proclaim the Gospel and to live as a community of love and mercy in Christ?

The National Synthesis document for the “interim stage” follows the previous September 2022 release of a national synthesis for the synod’s diocesan phase, which saw about 700,000 people participate, out of 66.8 million Catholics in the country. 

‘Our Church might be a little messy’

As synthesized in the May 28 report, many of the reports from the listening sessions expressed a wish for an “increased focus on formation for evangelization … a need for stronger catechesis and formation, focusing specifically on programs for evangelization, Catholic social teaching, and the role of the family.”

Also emphasized was the importance of clerical and lay Catholics working together. “It is important for laypeople to rely on their pastors and help their pastors, and it is important for pastors to rely on their laypeople.”

Participants noted that parishes with “numerous small faith communities, Bible studies, and prayer groups prove most successful in welcoming and integrating people from diverse backgrounds” in a manner “beyond superficial welcoming.” The role of Catholic schools in evangelizing the community was also widely recognized. 

Many participants said they were thankful for the witness of those who serve as priests, religious, and consecrated men and women as well as those who are discerning their vocations, but they are also concerned about “the lack of vocations and the need for vocation awareness, encouragement to discern vocations, and formation of discernment communities.”

Participants also expressed hope for priests to be united, something the bishops expressed hope for as well. “Division in the priesthood will bring division in the Church,” one participant commented. 

At the same time, “some are very worried about how the Church responds to LGBTQ and other marginalized people … others want to stand firm in the Church’s teaching and not shy away from the truth.” It was expressed by many participants, the report says, that “leadership in the Church needs to be clear about our truth; confusion is leading to frustration and division among the faithful.”

“If we don’t talk about difficult topics, we can become like a dysfunctional family,” another participant said. 

Many parts of the Church, including some of her long-established institutions, have “become complacent, even ossified … some are afraid of change and tired of doing new things, they are content with doing things the way it has always been done before,” participants said. 

Several participants expressed appreciation for Church institutions that operate with more “nimbleness,” which they said allow these institutions and structures to remain mission-oriented, operating “more from a ministerial perspective rather than … as a business.” 

Numerous reports from the listening sessions, the report says, cited instances of communication, “both from the hierarchy and from secular and Catholic media, which reflect and perpetuate division within the universal Church and send conflicting messages of what it means to be Catholic.”

“When the communication of the Church is not clear and consistent, it becomes an obstacle to the mission,” the participants said. 

The report noted that the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass seems to be “a focal point of broader debates about tradition, modernity, and the best ways to nurture faith across the diverse spectrum of Catholic belief and practice,” with a participant adding that “young people want to find new expressions [of faith] and to be accepted when we do.”

The report says that they heard from many people, including those who identify as LGBT or who are divorced and remarried, who “feel hurt by the Church and are not willing to come back.” 

In addition, “there needs to be more opportunities for women to hold leadership roles within parishes, dioceses, schools, and organizations.”

“It was noted by many that the faithful “should not be embarrassed about recognizing that our Church might be a little messy — it’s better not to pretend that we are the perfect institution but that we belong to the perfect and one, true faith,” Flores wrote in the report’s conclusion. 

The Vatican will hold the final meeting of the synod in October of this year. After the October assembly, the synod will produce a final report, which will be submitted to Pope Francis.

Nuncio in Kenya: Church in Europe is losing ‘its inner compass’

Archbishop Hubertus van Megen celebrates the episcopal consecration of Father John Kiplimo Lelei as auxiliary bishop of Kenya’s Diocese of Eldoret on May 25, 2024. / Credit: Diocese of Eldoret, Kenya

ACI Africa, May 29, 2024 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The Church in Africa, which for many years was considered a missionary territory, has evolved and is growing “stronger” compared with the Church in Europe, which seems to have “weakened,” according to the representative of the Holy Father in Kenya.

Archbishop Hubertus van Megen, who was preaching during the episcopal consecration of Father John Kiplimo Lelei as auxiliary bishop of Kenya’s Diocese of Eldoret, highlighted some of the weaknesses of the Church in Europe, which he said reflect an orientation toward secularism.

Van Megen cited the president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conference of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo of the Archdiocese of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, on the progress of the Church in Africa.

“As the archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Ambongo said some months ago, ‘The Church in Africa has always been considered a daughter of the Church in Europe. However now, with good reason, one can call them sisterly Churches.’ The Church in Europe is weakened, the Church in Africa ever stronger,” he said during the May 25 celebration at Mother of Apostles Seminary Grounds in Eldoret.

The Dutch-born Vatican diplomat added: “The teachings of Western society on abortion, euthanasia, [and] gender theory are clear symptoms of a society that has lost its inner compass and is helplessly floating on the tempestuous sea of human desires, shaken and weakened in every respect.”

“It is evident for everybody to see how the West, a secular society, has lost its vigor and is ever more self-absorbed,” he further said, adding that Western society has shifted “from being a light for the nations” to putting “its lamp under the bushel, its light ever dimmer.”

Van Megen underscored the relevance of the Gospel message to contemporary society.

Jesus’ teachings on holiness and perfection “are not a dream,” he said. “The teachings of Christ are indispensable; they are the only acceptable measure for all human beings, like the compass is the only reliable and indispensable instrument for a captain, finding his way through the dark and tumultuous seas.”

Turning to the bishop-elect, van Megen said: “The bishop is in many ways that captain who sails the ship of the Church through the choppy waters of our times.”

“Dear Father John, you will be criticized in many ways, and people will try to destroy you for the simple reason that you are upholding the teachings of Christ,” he told Lelei.

To contemporary society, the Vatican diplomat said, “the teachings of the Church are a scandal, a stumbling block.”

Yet in “applying the teachings of Christ in our lives we come to understand our shortcomings and sins,” he stated.

“On the rock of Christ our pride is crushed, our vanity revealed. People find that hard to accept,” he continued. “People speak a lot about humility but very few people are able to live it. The teachings of Christ are for many a stumbling block instead of a light for the nations.”

The Nairobi-based Vatican diplomat, who has also been representing the Holy Father in South Sudan, highlighted the need to seek God’s mercy as important and implored: “Let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”

“Dear John, in dealing with the sheep, think of your own history, a history of holiness but also a history of temptation, like Christ himself. However, Christ was without sin, while none of us can claim to throw the first stone,” he said.

In dealing with the people of God under his pastoral care, van Megen told the bishop-elect to “keep in mind your own need for mercy, and recall how Christ has been merciful with you over the years.”

“Recall your own sinfulness, so as to show mercy with the sheep who run away from the flock. Bind their wounds and carry them on your shoulders,” he told Lelei. “Listen to Christ, the Supreme Shepherd who said: Learn from me, I am meek and humble of heart.” 

“May you then be pleasing to God by your gentleness and purity of heart, presenting a fragrant offering to the Father, through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen,” he implored in reference to the prayer of ordination.

Born in August 1958 in the Diocese of Eldoret, Lelei was ordained a priest for the same diocese in October 1985 after completing his philosophical and theological studies from St. Augustine’s Mabanga Senior Seminary in Kenya’s Bungoma Diocese and St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary in the Archdiocese of Nairobi, respectively.

At the time of his episcopal appointment, the newly consecrated bishop was serving as the vicar general of the Eldoret Diocese.

Erected in June 1953 as the Prefecture Apostolic of Eldoret, the 3,600-square-mile episcopal see was elevated to a diocese in October 1959.

The Kenyan diocese, which is part of the ecclesiastical province of Kisumu, has a population of 892,000 Catholics representing 35.8% of the total population in the episcopal see, according to 2021 statistics.

This story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, and has been adapted by CNA.

A new player in post-secondary Catholic education: San Damiano College for the Trades

San Damiano College for the Trades, which is currently accepting applications for its inaugural class in the fall of 2025, is geared toward young men and will be located on the former Springfield, Illinois, campus of the Franciscan Brothers of the Holy Cross. / Credit: San Damiano College for the Trades

Ann Arbor, Michigan, May 29, 2024 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

The founding of San Damiano College for the Trades responds to a call from Springfield, Illinois, Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki to set a new path for Catholic education in the diocese and broader United States.

The new college, which is currently accepting applications for its inaugural class in the fall of 2025, is geared toward young men and will be located on the former Springfield, Illinois, campus of the Franciscan Brothers of the Holy Cross, who operated the St. James Trade School there from 1928 to 1972.

According to a press release from San Damiano, the Norbertine order of priests and brothers, which have a priory on campus, will serve as chaplains and program development guides. 

The project has support from various labor unions, which will pay all costs for apprenticeships. The college anticipates having an initial class of 75 students. Students in apprenticeships earn wages that will defray the costs of instruction.

In an interview with CNA, the college’s founding president, Kent J. Lasnoski, said that the college’s name reflects the Franciscan heritage of the historic campus. Lasnoski holds a doctorate in theology and previously taught moral theology and philosophy at Wyoming Catholic College, where he also served as dean of students.

Asked how he would pitch San Damiano to the parents of prospective students, Lasnoski said: “You have a son graduating high school. I assume that what you care most about for him is that he lives a life that is fruitful and holy and integrative. You have two options before you to help him toward that goal. You could send him to a standard four-year university, or send him to a different kind of model.”

“We’re offering an authentic Catholic formation, training in the Great Books, which prepare people for any career and exposure to trades, and then choose a trade that can pay them, come out of college without debt, and with a useful degree,” Lasnoski said. 

The formation includes the traditional trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, combined with technical instruction and on-the-job training. The college proposes to form the character of male students and prepare them to “bring dignity, purpose, and attentive craftsmanship to their work.”

Trades offered for the inaugural class include carpentry, electrical, roofing, arborist, and ecclesial restoration. In the future, the college anticipates adding additional tracks in plumbing and HVAC and masonry as well as welding and fabrication. 

San Damiano is part of a resurgence of Catholic trade schools nationally. Among them are Harmel Academy in Michigan and Santiago Trade School in California.

“The main thing we do at the college is formation in character, intellect, and spirit. What we offer in technical training is introductory. After their foundations year, the students get technical instruction from a union or nonunion contractor who is offering an apprenticeship,” Lasnoski said. An advantage for the students is that they are paid during their apprenticeship and thus have little to no debt upon joining the workforce.

Lasnoski said that San Damiano, unlike other trade programs, will offer an associate's degree. “The only other college offering a degree in the trade school space is the College of St. Joseph the Worker, which offers a bachelor's degree,” he said.

“What also makes us different is the spiritual discernment program. We have the Norbertines on campus with their Corpus Christi priory, and we share a life with them. While other programs have good chaplains, we have this life of the Norbertines that is going to make this college unique,” Lasnoski noted. An area of special interest for San Damiano is the construction and restoration of Catholic churches.

Lasnoski acknowledged that secular trade schools and community colleges do offer excellent training, but he said San Damiano offers students a difference.

“It is one thing to have some exposure and a credential in a skill, but it’s another to be a man of character, hard work, and integrity,” he emphasized.

Diocese of Buffalo to merge a third of its parishes

The dome of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York / Credit: Chuck LaChiusa

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 29, 2024 / 14:25 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Buffalo announced it will be merging over a third of its 160 parishes, calling the move an effort to “reinvigorate the Catholic faith in western New York.”

Buffalo Bishop Michael Fisher said in a May 28 video statement that 34% of its parishes — about 55 parishes — will be merged in a process of “rightsizing and reshaping.”

Determinations about which parishes are being shut down will be made between Aug. 15 and Sept. 1.

According to Fisher, the mergers are necessitated by a shortage of priests, declining Mass attendance, aging congregations, and financial difficulties brought on by clergy abuse lawsuits.

A fact sheet available on the diocesan website says that nearly half — 49% — of parishes in the diocese have seen a decline in registered households, while 60% of parishioners are over the age of 60. Sacraments are also down in the diocese with a 24% decrease in Catholic marriages in the diocese and 52% of parishes performing only one baptism a month.  

Additionally, only 12% of the parishes in the diocese initiated new Catholics into the Church this Easter.

“The Catholic Church in western New York is not the same as it was 50 years ago, not 20 years, not even 10 years ago,” Fisher said.

Though calling the planned mergers “difficult changes,” Fisher said the changes will “allow limited resources to be directed to the greatest needs in our community.”

The changes are part of the diocese’s “Road to Renewal” initiative that began in 2019 and has involved extensive discussions between diocesan officials and parishioners, and the establishment of “parish families,” or groupings of several parishes.  

The Diocese of Buffalo has been experiencing financial issues for several years. In 2020, the diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to help pay compensation for victims of clergy sex abuse. In March, it announced the sale of its headquarters in downtown Buffalo after nearly 40 years at that location. 

St. Casimir, a historic Polish parish in Buffalo, is one of the parishes in the diocese with significant financial problems. The parish is renowned for its beautiful Byzantine architecture and elaborate decoration. In 1976 the parish hosted St. John Paul II, then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, for two days. The future pope and saint is said to have loved the parish and been “awestruck” by its beauty. Despite its rich architecture and history, the parish is now facing tens of thousands of dollars in bills that it is struggling to pay.

The diocese’s website states that it will determine which parishes to merge based on data about the numbers of registered households, contributions, and sacraments being administered as well as geographic considerations.

The diocese said that “the reorganization, along with the Renewal [initiative] will help us to continue the mission of the Diocese of Buffalo and its parish families, to share the good news of Jesus Christ as robustly as possible, and to continue to be responsible stewards of our available resources, including people.”

There are approximately 557,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Buffalo, which spans 6,500 square miles of northwestern New York and includes the cities of Buffalo, Niagara, and several others.

New York attorney general sued for ‘targeting’ pro-life pregnancy centers 

New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks to the media on May 26, 2022, in New York City. / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, May 29, 2024 / 13:55 pm (CNA).

The nonprofit law firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and others are suing New York Attorney General Letitia James for allegedly “using her power to censor pro-life pregnancy centers” because they promote abortion pill reversal, according to a Tuesday press release.  

The naturally occurring hormone progesterone can be used to combat the abortifacient effect of the first abortion pill. James sued 11 faith-based, pro-life pregnancy help centers earlier this month alleging that the centers promoted misleading statements about abortion pill reversal.

ADF filed the suit along with The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) on behalf of two nonprofit pro-life pregnancy centers. 

“New York is intentionally denying women the freedom to continue their pregnancies by censoring those who promote it. They are forcing women to follow through with an abortion — even if they don’t want to,” said Thomas Glessner, president and founder of NIFLA, in a statement shared with CNA. 

“How does it even remotely make sense to trust women with their medical decisions if you are actively trying to hide scientifically-based information from them?” he continued. “It makes no sense, nor is it legal.”

The abortion pill is a two-step procedure in which a pregnant woman first ingests the drug mifepristone, which cuts off the unborn baby’s supply of the hormone progesterone, leading to the baby’s death.

The woman then takes a second drug, misoprostol, which causes the uterus to contract, eventually expelling the baby’s body.

Abortion pill reversal works by administering progesterone in high doses after a woman has ingested mifepristone; the hormone is meant to counteract the effects of the abortive drug. Several surveys have found evidence that the drug can be effective at halting a medicated abortion. 

“Many women regret their abortions, and some seek to stop the effects of chemical abortion drugs before taking the second drug in the abortion drug process,” ADF legal counsel Gabriella McIntyre said in the press release. “Taking supplemental progesterone at that time can often save their baby’s life.”

“The New York attorney general, however, is doing everything she can to deny women the freedom to make that choice,” McIntyre continued in her statement. “Women should have the option to reconsider going through with an abortion, and the pro-life pregnancy centers we represent in this case truthfully inform them about that choice.” 

The complaint centers around a young woman who used information from a New York pro-life pregnancy center to save her daughter’s life. 

“If it wasn’t for the information about Abortion Pill Reversal online, I would have completed the abortion and Myli’anna would not be alive today,” the woman identified as Maranda stated in the lawsuit filed last week.

“We are urging the court to affirm the pregnancy centers’ freedom to tell interested women about this lawful, lifesaving treatment,” McIntyre concluded. 

Bishop Barron: Anti-religion Bill Maher has ‘become an ally’

Bill Maher and Bishop Robert Barron. / Credit: Noam Galai/Getty Images; National Eucharistic Congress

CNA Staff, May 29, 2024 / 13:25 pm (CNA).

Bishop Robert Barron this week said that talk-show host Bill Maher, who has been famously critical of religion, has become an unlikely “ally” amid the ongoing bitter culture wars. 

Barron, the bishop of the Winona-Rochester Diocese in Minnesota and founder of Word on Fire Ministries, wrote in an op-ed at CNN on Tuesday that while for many years Maher was a reliably harsh and unsparing critic of religion, the comedian has of late set his sights on a very different target.

On his HBO talk show, Barron recalled, Maher “would often present the most extreme and simple-minded version of Christianity, and his audience would derisively laugh with him at the poor rubes who still believed such nonsense.”

The comedian’s anti-religious zeal ultimately came to a head in the 2008 film “Religulous,” Barron noted. In that feature-length film, Maher traveled the world, mocking and criticizing numerous religions, including Catholicism.

Maher “annoyed me,” Barron admitted, though he said he came to understand Maher’s beliefs as an outgrowth of what the bishop described as a “childish version of the faith” imparted by a lax mid-century American faith tradition.

Yet in recent years, Barron noted, the comedian has pivoted away from criticism of religion and more toward criticism of the “woke” style of politics that has come to dominate much of American political and social discourse. 

“As he has done so, I have found myself, time and again, nodding my head in agreement,” the prelate wrote. “To my surprise, the nemesis had become an ally.”

The bishop wrote that both he and Maher are opposed to the “all-or-nothing antagonism that is characteristic of wokeism and the brutal cancel culture that follows from it.” 

The “woke consensus is that those we disagree with are not just to be corrected or ignored; they are to be shouted down and silenced,” he said. 

The bishop further pointed to Maher’s recent appearance on conservative Greg Gutfeld’s Fox News talk show. 

The left-wing Maher and right-wing Gutfeld “didn’t insult one another; they didn’t resort to smear tactics,” Barron wrote. Rather, “they presented arguments and, at the close of the program, they were both laughing.”

Maher was demonstrating that intellectual opponents “do not have to demonize one another” and that they can “talk through issues without resorting to violence or personal attack.”

In doing so the comedian “was both striking at the foundation of wokeism and showing, in a truly patriotic spirit, that he still believes in the democratic process,” Barron said.

Maher earlier this month spoke out in response to outrage surrounding Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker’s May 11 commencement speech at Benedictine College; in that speech Butker, a Catholic, spoke about gender ideology, gender roles, homosexuality, abortion, and other hot-button issues.

The comedian on May 17 said critics have painted Butker as “history’s greatest monster” for speaking out in favor of marriage and faith.

“I don’t see what the big crime is. I really don’t,” Maher said.

Barron has in the past sharply criticized Maher over the comedian’s religious criticism, with the prelate describing him in 2014 as “the most annoying anti-religionist on the scene today.”

Maher has likewise in the past been an unsparing critic of religion, calling it a “neurological disorder” that makes “a virtue out of not thinking.”

Diocese of Fresno to file for bankruptcy amid sex abuse claims, bishop says

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CNA Staff, May 29, 2024 / 12:25 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Fresno, California, will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy amid more than 150 child abuse claims filed against it, Bishop Joseph Brennan said this week. 

The diocese “​​will file a petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy with the United States Bankruptcy Court in 2024,” Brennan said in a Tuesday announcement on the diocesan website

“I expect to file that petition in August,” the prelate said. 

Brennan said the bankruptcy filing comes after plaintiffs lodged 154 sex abuse complaints against the diocese. Those filings were made under a California law that temporarily relaxed the statute of limitations on sex abuse claims, allowing alleged victims a three-year window from 2019 to 2022 to file the complaints.

“The reopening of the window has made every diocese in California susceptible to more claims,” Brennan wrote. 

He said the extended window “gives us the opportunity to redouble our efforts in creating a safe environment for everyone in and out of the Church and address real issues in atoning for the sin of clergy abuse against children.”

The Chapter 11 filing “will allow us to address the substantial number of claims brought forth by victims collectively, and it will allow us to address those claims honestly, compassionately, and equitably,” the bishop wrote. 

The bankruptcy will ensure that “all victims are compensated fairly and funds are not depleted by the first few cases addressed,” Brennan said. It will also allow diocesan schools, parishes, and other organizations to continue operating. 

The diocese “will pay for the claims from funds that are available to be used for such purposes,” the diocese said on its website. There is also “some insurance to cover abuse that occurred in past decades.” 

Fresno joins several other California dioceses in filing for bankruptcy over sex abuse claims. The Dioceses of SacramentoSanta Rosa, Oakland, and Stockton have all filed for bankruptcy in recent years. The Archdiocese of San Francisco also filed for bankruptcy last year.

All told, more than two dozen U.S. dioceses have filed for bankruptcy to address sex abuse claims in recent years. Many have already completed those proceedings and have exited Chapter 11. 

Brennan on Tuesday told the diocese that his heart “truly breaks” when he hears “how many lives were affected by clergy sexual abuse.” 

“I imagine many of you are dismayed by the news of our serious financial situation, but I ask you to let go of your distress and turn your hearts towards the victims of abuse,” he said. 

Pope Francis opens new catechetical cycle on Holy Spirt’s role in salvation

Pope Francis greets pilgrims as he arrives at his general audience on Wednesday, May 29, 2024, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, May 29, 2024 / 09:22 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Wednesday opened a new catechetical series during his weekly general audience, focusing on the theme of creation across history and the role of the Holy Spirit in the story of salvation. 

Titled “The Spirit and the Bride: The Holy Spirit Guides God’s People Toward Jesus Our Hope,” the new cycle will unfold across three main themes: the Old Testament, the New Testament, and “the time of the Church.” 

“The Spirit of God, who in the beginning transformed chaos into cosmos, is at work to bring about this transformation in every person,” the pope said during the general audience held May 29 in St. Peter’s Square.

Pope Francis blesses a toddler during his general audience on Wednesday, May 29,  2024, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis blesses a toddler during his general audience on Wednesday, May 29, 2024, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

The first part of the series will begin with an overview of creation according to the Old Testament, but it will not be “biblical archaeology.” The pope explained that it will instead focus on how the promise given in the Old Testament “has been fully realized in Christ.”

“It will be like following the path of the sun from dawn to noon,” he added. 

Quoting from the first two verses from the Book of Genesis, Francis observed that “the Spirit of God appears to us here as the mysterious power that moves the world from its initial formless, deserted, and gloomy state to its ordered and harmonious state.” 

Pope Francis greets a newly married couple during his general audience on Wednesday, May 29,  2024, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis greets a newly married couple during his general audience on Wednesday, May 29, 2024, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

Referencing the division between the “confused” and the “beautiful and ordered,” Pope Francis observed that it is God who “makes the world pass from chaos to the cosmos.” 

The pope underscored the Holy Spirit’s role in creation and as a protagonist in the story of salvation by pointing to the Psalms and the New Testament. 

“The Apostle Paul introduces a new element into this relationship between the Holy Spirit and creation,” the pope said. “He speaks of a universe that ‘groans and suffers as in labor pains.’”

Pope Francis prays during his general audience on Wednesday, May 29,  2024, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis prays during his general audience on Wednesday, May 29, 2024, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

The pope emphasized that St. Paul understands the “cause of the suffering of creation in the corruption and sin of humanity,” which has alienated man from God and is a theme still present today. 

“We see the havoc that humanity has wrought and continues to wreak upon creation, especially that part of it that has greater capacity to exploit its resources,” the pope said.

The pope built upon this reflection by noting that there is both an internal as well as an external “chaos” inherent in man. 

Pope Francis greets young people during his general audience on Wednesday, May 29,  2024, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis greets young people during his general audience on Wednesday, May 29, 2024, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

“Around us we can say that there is external chaos, social chaos, political chaos,” the pope said. “We think of wars, we think of many boys and girls who don’t have anything to eat, of many social injustices — this is external chaos.” 

At the end of the general audience Pope Francis renewed his regular appeal for peace and spoke for a moment on his emotional encounter with Ukrainian children last Saturday. 

“The other day I received boys and girls who suffered burns and lost their legs in the war,” the pope recalled in a somber tone. 

“War is always cruel. These boys and girls must start walking, moving with artificial arms ... they have lost their smile. It’s very bad, very sad when a child loses his smile. We pray for Ukrainian children.”