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7 things to know about Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s likely new Catholic prime minister

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Fratelli d'Italia (Brothers of Italy), speaks at a press conference at the party electoral headquarters overnight on Sept. 26, 2022. in Rome. Italy’s national elections on Sept. 25 saw voters poised to elect Meloni, a Catholic mother, as the country's first female prime minister. / Photo by Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

Washington D.C., Sep 26, 2022 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Italy’s national elections on Sept. 25 ended with Giorgia Meloni, a Catholic mother, poised to become the country's first female prime minister. 

In the snap elections — called after former prime minister Mario Draghi’s unity government collapsed due to economic and military tensions — Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party captured the most votes at around 26%, skyrocketing from a roughly 4% share four years ago. 

Before and amid her party’s electoral victory, Meloni’s views have been described in the media as “far-right” and even as “fascist.” Here’s what you need to know about her:

She’s not the prime minister yet

It’s worth noting that although Meloni’s party garnered the most votes in the recent election, it’s not yet certain that she will be Italy’s prime minister. 

It is up to Italian President Sergio Mattarella to nominate someone from the winning coalition as prime minister, a process that could take several weeks. The nominee is likely to be Meloni, who will then be tasked with assembling a majority in Parliament. Brothers of Italy was the leading party in a center-right coalition that now must form an alliance to govern. 

Meloni comes from a working-class Roman background. She worked various jobs, including as a waitress and as a nanny, before becoming a full-time politician. In 2008, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi appointed her the country’s minister for youth, the youngest person to be appointed to that position. 

She made her faith a major part of her campaign

Meloni has described herself in speeches as a Christian and has publicly expressed her admiration for Pope St. John Paul II. She keeps a photo of John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta on her desk and has expressed a desire to meet Pope Francis in person — a virtual certainty when and if she becomes prime minister. 

“I am a woman, I am a mother, I am Italian, I am a Christian, and you can’t take that away from me,” Meloni said in a speech in 2019. 

Meloni — who was raised by a single mother in Rome — now has a daughter with her partner Andrea Giambruno, though the two have never married. 

She supports several pro-life and pro-family policies

In a speech to the Vox party in Spain earlier this year, Meloni summarized her pro-life and pro-family platform: “Yes to natural families, no to the LGBT lobby, yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology, yes to the culture of life, no to the abyss of death.”

In Italy, abortion is legal through the first 90 days of pregnancy, with exceptions after that point for fetal anomalies and risks to the mother’s life. Access to legal abortions is limited, however, due to widespread opposition from Italian doctors — 68.4% as of 2017, according to the Italian Ministry of Health — who oppose performing abortions due to conscience objections. 

Meloni has not said she will attempt to change Italy’s abortion laws. She has, however, proposed pro-life and family policies to encourage motherhood, including free child-care services. She has cited Italy’s extremely low birth rate as a problem.

“I want our families to have children,” she said in a speech to supporters in Milan earlier this month. 

She has committed to opposing LGBTQ policies and gender ideology  

Meloni has made her views against same-sex unions widely known, referring to LGBTQ content as “woke ideology” and promising to continue opposing policies allowing homosexual couples to adopt or have children through surrogacy. 

Italy has legalized same-sex civil unions but it does not afford them the same legal protections as it does marriages. Surrogacy and in vitro fertilization (IVF) are banned for same-sex couples, for example, who must travel outside the country for such procedures. Meloni proposed an amendment in 2018 to extend the surrogacy ban to same-sex couples who seek it abroad, which was not approved.

The amendment called surrogacy an “example of the commercialization of the female body and of the very children who are born through such practices, who are treated like commodities.”

Meloni said earlier this year that her opposition to such policies is not because she is “homophobic” but that she believes every child has the right to have a mother and a father for “stability.” 

She cited her personal experience growing up in a single-parent home, saying, “I lived [in] a family condition that [made] me see this.”

Meloni is strongly against illegal immigration

Meloni has made it clear that she opposes the practice of migrants sailing from places such as North Africa to the Italian shore. In August, Meloni posted a video on social media saying she would introduce a naval blockade to patrol the Mediterranean and return migrants to their countries of origin, NPR reported. 

Meloni’s anti-immigration stance puts her somewhat at odds with Pope Francis, who has frequently spoken about the need to welcome migrants and refugees. 

Meloni is a Eurosceptic, and supports Ukraine in its war with Russia 

Meloni has been critical of the European Union (EU), saying her first priority is to defend Italy’s national interests.

"We want a different Italian attitude on the international stage, for example in dealing with the European Commission,” Meloni said in an interview with Reuters this month on her party’s Eurosceptic views.

Still, Meloni has taken pains to assure world leaders that Italy would not leave the EU. 

“This does not mean that we want to destroy Europe, that we want to leave Europe, that we want to do crazy things,” she said. “It simply means explaining that the defense of the national interest is important to us as it is for the French and for the Germans.”

Since Russia’s invasion in February, Meloni has come out as a strong defender of Ukraine, promising to continue supplying arms to the country.

Meloni has also taken a hardline stance against China and called on Italian athletes to boycott Beijing in the 2008 Olympics.

She has rejected the “fascist” and “far-right” labels often attributed to her 

Meloni has been branded as “far-right” and “fascist” by media outlets, pro-abortion and LGBTQ activists, and world leaders — a label she has rejected. 

“Everything that defines us is now an enemy for those who would no longer like us to have an identity,” Meloni said in a widely shared speech on Sept. 26. “Like it or not … we will defend God, country, and family.” 

In an interview with Reuters last month, she dismissed any suggestion that her party was nostalgic for the fascist era and distanced herself from comments she made in 1996, as a teenager, which some critics took as a praising Benito Mussolini. 

Meloni has received a warm welcome from other conservative European leaders, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who shares her traditional family views and immigration policy.

A handful of Catholic leaders and others voice support for Cardinal Zen as his trial begins

null / Screenshot from livestream of Mass

Washington D.C., Sep 26, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

As Cardinal Joseph Zen begins his trial in Hong Kong, a number of Catholic leaders and human rights activists have come out with statements of support for the 90-year-old bishop emeritus.

Zen and five others are charged with failing to register properly a fund that provided legal aid to pro-democracy protesters. An outspoken critic of Beijing’s communist regime, Zen served as a trustee of the "612 Humanitarian Relief Fund" that helped pay legal and medical bills for protesters arrested and hurt during the 2019 demonstrations in Hong Kong.

These are the Catholic leaders, scholars, and human rights activists who have publicly expressed their solidarity with Zen as his trial commences:

Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, wrote in support of Zen in Avvenire Sept. 23.

“Cardinal Zen is a 'man of God'; at times intemperate, but submissive to the love of Christ, who wanted him to be his priest, deeply in love, like Don Bosco, with youth,” wrote Filoni.

He concluded his statement, which he called “a testimony to the truth,” by saying: “Cardinal Zen is not to be condemned. Hong Kong, China and the Church have a devoted son in him, not to be ashamed of.”

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence made an appeal for prayers on Twitter on Sept. 19 as Zen’s trial was scheduled to begin (it was postponed because the judge contracted COVID-19):

“Today be sure to remember our brother in faith, 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen who is on trial in China, and also the Church in China which is regularly attacked and restricted by the government. And pray for Christians everywhere who are being persecuted for their faith,” he wrote

Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler wrote on Sept. 18:

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco shared his prayer for Zen on Twitter on Sept. 26:

Bishop Athanasius Schneider, an auxiliary bishop of Maria Santissima in Astana, offered his prayers on Twitter Sept. 26:

On Sept. 1, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, shared his disappointment that Zen was not present at the meeting of the College of Cardinals in August.

“Perhaps the Church should be freer and less bound to power-based, worldly logic, consequently freer to intervene and, if necessary, to criticize those politicians who end up suppressing human rights. In this case, I wonder why not criticize Beijing,” Mueller said.

“Zen is a symbol and he was arrested on a pretext, he did nothing, he is an influential, courageous, and much-feared figure by the government,” he said. “He is over 80 years old and we have left him all alone.”

Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, president of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC), offered his support shortly after Zen’s arrest in May:

In a statement, he wrote, “My brother Cardinal, His Eminence Joseph Zen, was arrested and faces charges simply because he served as a trustee of a fund which provided legal aid to activists facing court cases. In any system where the rule of law exists, providing assistance to help people facing prosecution meet their legal fees is a proper and accepted right. How can it be a crime to help accused persons have legal defense and representation?”

Words of support and criticism of communist Beijing came from scholars, human rights activists and those who have fought for religious freedom around the world. 

Father Benedict Kiely, founder of shared his assessment of Zen’s trial with CNA:  

“I would say that Cardinal Zen joins a long list of ‘white martyrs’ — those who suffer for the Faith. Often, like Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty in Hungary, they are abandoned by the Church which should be defending them. Cardinal Zen is a fighter for freedom and religious liberty - and a great inspiration for all those who work for religious freedom. I fear the Church in Hong Kong, like in mainland China, is facing a time of deeper struggle and persecution.” 

Human rights advocate David Alton, Baron Alton of Liverpool, posted on Twitter on Sept. 26: 

“As Cardinal Zen, Margaret Ng and others stand trial in Hong Kong recall how the CCP arrested and imprisoned Shanghai’s Bishop Kung same old CCP same old kangaroo courts, hatred of dissent. And the same courage in response.”

Benedict Rogers, the founder of Hong Kong Watch, wrote on Twitter Sept. 26:

And Paul Marshall, the director of the Religious Freedom Institute’s South and Southeast Asia Action Team, told CNA that Zen’s trial confirms that Beijing is cracking down on dissent:

"The prosecution and trial of ninety-year-old Cardinal Zen for peacefully raising funds shows the extreme lengths to which the Chinese government will go to crush any vestiges of dissent and free religion in Hong Kong or the mainland. It further undercuts China's 1997 promise of ‘one country, two systems’ when Hong Kong was returned to its rule and shows the Government cannot be trusted to keep its agreements."

Cardinal Arinze explains why Belgian bishops can’t bless same-sex couples

Cardinal Francis Arinze. / Padre Mimmo Spatuzzi via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Denver Newsroom, Sep 26, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The Belgian bishops’ introduction of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples has drawn rebuke from Cardinal Francis Arinze, the former head of the Vatican’s liturgy office. 

The cardinal said Belgium’s bishops have taken an erroneous and pastorally flawed approach.

“Human beings have no power to change the order established by God the Creator,” Arinze said in a Sept. 24 message included in the email newsletter of Vatican journalist Robert Moynihan.

“Even if the aim is to be pastorally helpful to homosexual couples, this is an error on the part of the bishops,” Arinze said.

The Nigerian-born cardinal, now 89 years old, served as the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship from 2002 to 2008. Even in retirement, the cardinal has responded to the Belgian Catholic bishops’ open defiance of the Vatican and Catholic teaching.

On Sept. 20 Belgium’s bishops announced the introduction of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples in their dioceses. The bishops of Flanders also published a liturgy for the celebration of homosexual unions for the Flemish-speaking parts of the bilingual country.

Arinze criticized the bishops’ statement, citing its title “Being pastorally close to homosexual persons: for a welcoming Church that excludes no one.”

The cardinal said their approach is not pastoral and ignores Catholic teaching.

“Holy Scripture presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,” he said, adding that Church tradition, as represented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”

“While persons with homosexual inclination are to be respected and not unjustly discriminated against, they, like every Christian and indeed every human being, are called to chastity,” Arinze said. He cited Christ’s words in Matthew 5:8: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

He also cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s teaching that homosexual persons are “called to chastity.”

“By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection,” says the Catechism, as quoted by Arinze.

The cardinal also referred to a recent statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Catholic Church’s doctrinal watchdog, though he did not go into detail.

The CDF addressed the question on March 15, 2021. The congregation said that the Church does not have the power to bless same-sex relationships. The Vatican statement was issued with the approval of Pope Francis.

The CDF statement made clear that blessings can be given “to individual persons with homosexual inclinations, who manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching.”

“(T)he Church recalls that God Himself never ceases to bless each of His pilgrim children in this world, because for Him ‘we are more important to God than all of the sins that we can commit,’” the congregation said. “But he does not and cannot bless sin: he blesses sinful man, so that he may recognize that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him. He in fact ‘takes us as we are, but never leaves us as we are.’”

The CDF statement came amid an effort in the Church in Germany to push for blessings of same-sex unions. The statement sparked protests and open defiance in the German-speaking Catholic world. German priests and pastoral workers also openly defied the Vatican and conducted blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.

LGBT advocates who believe Catholic teaching can and should change are active in the U.S.

In 2015, the American dissenting Catholic groups Dignity USA and New Ways Ministry called for the blessings of same-sex unions as marriages within the Church.

Amid outcry, FBI disputes account of raid at pro-life Catholic family’s home

An FBI agent stands outside the Houck residence in Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 23, 2022. Mark Houck was arrested that day and charged with assaulting a Planned Parenthood escort outside an Philadelphia abortion clinic on Oct. 13, 2021. / Courtesy of the Houck family

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 26, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

The FBI is disputing published accounts of a “SWAT” raid on a pro-life Catholic family’s home in Pennsylvania last week.

The alleged circumstances of the Sept. 23 arrest of Mark Houck, a 48-year-old father of seven, have led to a public outcry about what many view as an unnecessarily aggressive show of force.

Houck’s wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, told CNA that a large contingent of federal law enforcement officials arrived early that morning outside the family’s home in Kintnersville in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

“A SWAT team of about 25 came to my house with about 15 vehicles and started pounding on our door,” she said.

“They said they were going to break in if he didn’t open it. And then they had about five guns pointed at my husband, myself, and basically at my kids,” she added.

On Monday the FBI disputed her account.

“There are inaccurate claims being made regarding the arrest of Mark Houck,” the FBI’s Philadelphia office said in a statement.

“No SWAT Team or SWAT operators were involved. FBI agents knocked on Mr. Houck’s front door, identified themselves as FBI agents, and asked him to exit the residence. He did so and was taken into custody without incident pursuant to an indictment,” the statement continued.

An FBI spokesman declined to answer CNA’s questions about the number of law enforcement personnel at the scene and whether any drew their weapons and pointed them at the family.

“Extensive planning takes place prior to the service of any federal warrant. The FBI then employs the personnel and tactics deemed necessary to effect a safe arrest or search,” the statement said.

“While it’s the FBI’s standard practice not to discuss such operational specifics, we can say that the number of personnel and vehicles widely reported as being on scene Friday is an overstatement, and the tactics used by FBI personnel were professional, in line with standard practices, and intended to ensure the safety of everyone present in and outside the residence,” the statement concluded.

Brian Middleton, who has acted as the Houck family’s spokesperson, responded to the FBI’s statement.

“They’re turning this into a technical conversation about the representation of a woman who on Friday morning was awakened by a bunch of FBI agents armed with automatic weapons, some of them with body armor … pointing automatic weapons at her and her husband when they arrived in front of their children,” Middleton told CNA.

“This is absurd. If they’re not going to tell us the number, what they’re trying to do is make it look as if the Houcks aren’t telling the truth,” he said. “This isn’t a math contest. The issue is excessive force for the crime of maybe pushing another person.”

Middleton noted that publicist Tom Ciesieka will be taking over the role of family spokesman.

Altercation on video

Mark Houck, the founder and co-president of a men’s spiritual formation apostolate called The King’s Men, faces the possibility of 11 years in prison if convicted of violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, more commonly referred to as the FACE Act.

The law carries stiff penalties for those who engage in “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services,” according to the Department of Justice.

A federal indictment accuses Houck of twice assaulting a Planned Parenthood client escort, identified in the document as “B.L.,” outside a Philadelphia abortion clinic on Oct. 23, 2021.

Houck regularly prays the rosary, hands out literature, and “does some sidewalk counseling” outside the clinic, his wife told CNA.

Mark Houck maintains that he pushed the clinic escort away from Houck’s then 12-year-old son because the man was verbally harassing the boy, Middleton told CNA.

The man fell down but was not seriously hurt, Middleton said, requiring only “a Band-Aid on his finger.”

Mark Houck with two of his seven children. Courtesy of the Houck family
Mark Houck with two of his seven children. Courtesy of the Houck family

Middleton said the altercation was captured on camera, though he said Sunday that the Houcks were still trying to locate the video.

Middleton said after local authorities declined to press charges, the escort pressed charges in Philadelphia municipal court, but the case was dismissed when the man repeatedly failed to show up for court dates.

As of Monday afternoon, an online fund drive for the Houck family has raised more than $191,000.

Defended by Thomas More Society

Houck’s arraignment on the charges is scheduled for Tuesday in federal court in Philadelphia. In a press release issued Monday, the Thomas More Society nonprofit legal firm announced it is representing Houck.

The law firm said one-on-one altercations like the one involving Houck do not fall under the federal FACE Act, citing a decision in a similar case Thomas More lawyers won in June 2019 on behalf of a sidewalk counselor.

“This case is being brought solely to intimidate people of faith and pro-life Americans,” Peter Breen, a Thomas More vice president and senior counselor, said in a statement. “Mark Houck is innocent of these lawless charges, and we intend to prove that in court.”

The law firm said it informed the Department of Justice in June that if Houck were charged he would turn himself in voluntarily.

“Rather than accepting Mark Houck’s offer to appear voluntarily, the Biden Department of Justice chose to make an unnecessary show of potentially deadly force, sending 20 heavily armed federal agents to the Houck residence at dawn this past Friday,” Breen said.

“In threatening form, after nearly breaking down the family’s front door, at least five agents pointed guns at Mark’s head and arrested him in front of his wife and seven young children, who were terrified that their husband and father would be shot dead before their eyes.”

Accounts of how Houck was taken into custody have been met with sharp criticism from GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri.

“I want to know from Merrick Garland directly why Biden’s DOJ is arresting Catholic protestors like terrorists — complete with SWAT-style tactics — while letting actual terrorist acts like firebombings go unpunished,” Hawley said in a tweet.

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, wrote a letter to Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a ranking member of the Committee on the Judiciary, imploring him to “get to the bottom of this duplicity.” 

“I am not in a position to judge the veracity of the account offered by the FBI or Houck. But it surely seems that the FBI overreacted in its handling of this matter. Houck had seven children at home as the SWAT team pounded on his door, showing up fully armored, yelling at him to open it,” Donohue wrote.

“This kind of overreaction for a minor infraction of the law is deeply troubling, and it becomes even more troubling when paired with the underreaction by the Department of Justice when the pro-life side is targeted,” the letter said.

Donohue wrote in June to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking him to “immediately deploy the full resources of the Department of Justice to apprehend and prosecute domestic terrorists who have recently attacked Catholic individuals, vandalized Catholic churches, and torched Catholic-operated crisis pregnancy centers.”

“Not only did I not receive a response from the attorney general, there have been no news stories on SWAT teams crashing the homes of abortion-rights terrorists,” Donohue said in the letter to Grassley.

Authorities reach agreement to reopen Catholic chapel at Colombian airport

The Catholic chapel in El Dorado International Airport in Bogotá, Colombia. The airport announced Aug. 26, 2022, that the space would be modified and used as a place “where all religions will be welcome.” / Photo credit: Pexels

Denver Newsroom, Sep 26, 2022 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The Catholic chapel that had been closed at the El Dorado International Airport will reopen after an agreement was reached between Church authorities in Colombia and the administrators of the air terminal, the bishop of Fontibón, Juan Vicente Córdoba, announced Sept. 22.

OPAIN, the management company that operates the airport located in Fontibón, a Bogotá suburb, announced Aug. 26 that the oratory that used to function as a Catholic chapel was going to be converted into a “neutral” place of worship.

The Diocese of Fontibón, which served the chapel, was forced to remove all liturgical furnishings and symbols and vacate the premises.

Representatives of the Catholic Church as well as politicians and civil society leaders criticized the decision. Catholics opposing the move organized a march to the airport and the recitation of the rosary outside the closed chapel to demand it be reopened.

At the time, Córdoba pointed out in a video that the diocese had an agreement with OPAIN to operate the chapel until 2037. The bishop  disclosed that it was closed after the Government Secretariat of the Bogotá Mayor’s Office requested and notified OPAIN “to get the Catholic Church out of there and apportion it to all religions.”

Now, almost a month later, Córdoba confirmed that the Catholic oratory will remain there and that a place will be opened for other religions.

The agreement was reached after a meeting between the president of the board of directors of OPAIN, Mauricio Ossa, and his work team, and Córdoba and the president of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Luis José Rueda of Bogotá.

In his statement, the bishop of Fontibón said that “after calmly, openly, clearly, and humbly analyzing everything related to the topic of the Catholic Oratory of El Dorado Airport, we reached a very good agreement for the glory of God and the good of the citizens.”

“After hearing from each other the necessary clarifications,” OPAIN decided to continue to lease free of charge to the Diocese of Fontibón “the El Dorado Airport Catholic Oratory and the Air Bridge Oratory,” the prelate explained.

Córdoba also announced that an interreligious room will be built for other creeds. The prelate expressed his gratitude for the solidarity of Catholics and non-Catholics.

The Catholic chapel will open in the next few days, as the place is currently undergoing renovations.

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

Bishop Pfeifer asks Supreme Court to recognize ‘personhood’ of the unborn

U.S. Supreme Court building / Steven Frame/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 26, 2022 / 12:45 pm (CNA).

An emeritus Texas bishop is asking the Supreme Court to explicitly affirm the personhood of the unborn child in the womb.

“While the Supreme Court should be praised for overturning Roe v. Wade, it did not go far enough,” Bishop Michael D. Pfeifer, OMI, bishop emeritus of San Angelo, said of the court’s decision that leaves abortion up to the states. “Now as a follow-up to this pro-life decision, the Supreme Court must recognize explicitly fetal personhood.”

In a September statement, Pfeifer called on the court to recognize the personhood of the unborn under the 14th Amendment to ensure that no state will “deprive any person of life, liberty, [or] property without due process of the law.”

“Affirming the fetal personhood is totally in accord with medical science, which over and over in recent years recognizes that there is a new human being in the act of conception — which has always been our biblical belief,” he wrote. “Hence as we move into the future after Roe v. Wade, governments and courts at a national and state level must respect and protect the tiny unborn person made in God’s very image and must never be deprived of life and liberty.”

Pfeifer, who served as Bishop of San Angelo from 1985 to 2013, criticized the “negative forces at a presidential and congressional level” proposing bills and policies “to approve the terrible killing of the unborn through abortion.”

Earlier this year, Pfeifer called on his fellow bishops to hold President Joe Biden accountable and take action against pro-abortion policy in favor of pro-life measures that support women and the unborn. More specifically, in April he encouraged the bishops to respond after Biden’s proposed 2023 budget removed pro-life protections.

Pfeifer’s latest statement came ahead of Respect Life Month, which the U.S. bishops celebrate in October. Pfeifer told CNA that Catholics and pro-life Americans with their children, family members, and friends “have countless opportunities, especially in the pro-life month of October, to show respect for the sacred personhood of each one, especially for the unborn, whose moms might be considering an abortion.”

“They do this by the kindness they show one another, especially for a pregnant mom,” he said. “They can do this by praying together, taking time to share with one another about needs, and by reaching out with loving hearts and caring helpful hands, especially for those who struggle and feel left out.”

In his statement, he likewise encouraged the pro-life movement to take action — and promote personhood.

“Now is the time for all pro-lifers, led by the bishops and leaders in government and civil positions, to strongly and clearly preach and protect this fundamental life issue of the sacredness of the personhood beginning with the unborn,” he said.

If the personhood of the unborn is recognized, he added, that could make way for a nationwide abortion ban.

At the same time, Pfeifer called on the faithful to pray to the Holy Spirit and encourage all pro-lifers — beginning with the bishops — to show more concern for women struggling with pregnancy problems.

“Pope Francis stresses the closeness, compassion, and tenderness we must have for all pregnant women and those considering an abortion decision and offer them spiritual, human, health, and financial means to assist them with their many needs and to encourage them to save their babies,” he said. “And we must work with our elected officials to provide the proper aid to cover the cost of the birth, and the early and ongoing care and education of their children.”

“God created the human person in the divine image and likeness as the pinnacle of all creation,” he concluded. “Each of us, including the unborn, share in the image of God’s glory. Human life as a gift from God is sacred and inviolable.”

Election 2022: Abortion appears on ballot in 5 states this November

null / roibu / Shutterstock.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 26, 2022 / 11:40 am (CNA).

Americans in five states will vote on abortion and the life issue in November. Three states — California, Michigan, and Vermont — are proposing constitutional amendments to advance abortion. At the same time, citizens in Kentucky and Montana are voting on pro-life measures.

The ballot initiatives follow the Supreme Court’s June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade and leaves abortion up to the states. They also come after the pro-life “Value Them Both” amendment recently failed in Kansas.

“I think the challenge of a ballot initiative is just getting your message out there when there’s so many other messages,” Katie Glenn, state policy director at SBA Pro-Life America, told CNA. “It’s all coming down to this one moment and capturing attention to get voters out there.”

“What we’ve really learned from Kansas was that the other side is willing to spend millions of dollars to lie and to really try to scare people into something that is not the reality of — certainly abortion law in Kansas — but of any state,” she added.

For pro-life candidates also on the ballot, she said, this means that they should talk about their position rather than letting their opponents define it.

“It should be the easiest thing in the world to say ‘I support women, I support babies, I support families,’” she said.

Americans will make their decision on those candidates — and these five ballot initiatives — on Nov. 8.

California: Proposition 1

Proposition 1 would amend California’s constitution to explicitly protect abortion.

It reads: “The state shall not deny or interfere with an individual’s reproductive freedom in their most intimate decisions, which includes their fundamental right to choose to have an abortion and their fundamental right to choose or refuse contraceptives.”

California currently allows abortion for any reason before viability, when a baby can survive outside the womb — generally considered to begin around 24 weeks of pregnancy. After viability, California allows abortion when a woman’s life or health is threatened.

The California Catholic Conference encourages pro-life voters to say “no” to Prop. 1.

“Proposition 1 is a worst-case scenario for abortion in California,” the group warns. “It is an expensive and misleading ballot measure that allows unlimited late-term abortions — for any reason, at any time, even moments before birth, paid for by tax dollars.”

A campaign for the amendment led by pro-abortion groups, called Yes on Proposition 1, argues that Proposition 1 would “ensure that, in California, people continue to have the power to control their own bodies and personal decisions.”

Kentucky: Amendment 2

Kentucky citizens will vote on Amendment 2 — a pro-life amendment — in November.

It reads: “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

As a state, Kentucky currently prohibits abortion with exceptions for saving a woman’s life or preventing serious risk to her physical health.

The Yes for Life alliance, which includes the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, asks pro-life citizens to vote yes. The group says that the amendment’s language “will prevent state judges from asserting their own preferences over the will of legislators and the voters.”

Opposing the amendment, the Protect Kentucky Access coalition claims that the amendment would “pave the way for the state to ban abortion in all cases.”

Michigan: Proposal 3

Michigan’s proposed constitutional amendment, Proposal 3, would advance abortion.

The wording of the measure has been a source of controversy. On the ballot, the amendment is called a “proposal to amend the state constitution to establish new individual right to reproductive freedom, including right to make all decisions about pregnancy and abortion; allow state to regulate abortion in some cases; and forbid prosecution of individuals exercising established right.”

The amendment would “Establish new individual right to reproductive freedom, including right to make and carry out all decisions about pregnancy, such as prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion, miscarriage management, and infertility; Allow state to regulate abortion after fetal viability, but not prohibit if medically needed to protect a patient’s life or physical or mental health; Forbid state discrimination in enforcement of this right; prohibit prosecution of an individual, or a person helping a pregnant individual, for exercising rights established by this amendment; Invalidate state laws conflicting with this amendment.”

In Michigan, women can obtain abortions for any reason before viability. After viability, abortion is permitted to save the woman’s life.

The Citizens to Support MI Women and Children coalition, which includes the Michigan Catholic Conference, advises pro-life voters to vote no on the amendment. The group says it would “radically distort Michigan’s Constitution to create a new unlimited right to abortion.”

“This poorly-worded amendment would repeal dozens of state laws, including our state’s ban on tax-funded abortions, the partial-birth abortion ban, and fundamentally alter the parent-child relationship by preventing parents from having input on their children’s health,” the group says.

The coalition criticized the amendment’s wording last month, saying state officials should strike it from the Nov. 8 ballot.

In support of the amendment, Reproductive Freedom for All argues that, “in addition to ensuring access to a broad range of reproductive health care, this amendment would make sure no one goes to prison for providing safe medical care.”

Montana: Legislative Referendum 131 (LR-131)

Voters in Montana will consider Legislative Referendum 131, which says it will protect babies who are born alive after attempted abortions.

It reads: “An act adopting the born-alive infant protection act; providing that infants born alive, including infants born alive after an abortion, are legal persons; requiring health care providers to take necessary actions to preserve the life of a born-alive infant; providing a penalty; providing that the proposed act be submitted to the qualified electors of Montana; and providing an effective date.”

Montana law allows abortion before viability. Abortion is also permitted after viability to save a woman’s life or prevent serious risk to her physical health.

SBA Pro-Life America’s Glenn said that she personally found the ballot initiative in Montana — a state she said has been getting progressively more pro-life — the most interesting.

“I think that one’s different than the other four, which are all very much time-gestational bans, in that this is not a pro-life/pro-choice issue,” she said. “This is about providing lifesaving care to a child who’s already been born.”

Opposing the referendum, Compassion for Montana Families claims that it “​​would introduce extreme penalties for medical providers who, at the family’s request, do not take a dying infant away from its parents in order to perform invasive and even painful medical treatments in tragic circumstances where they have no chance of survival.”

Vermont: Article 22

In Vermont, citizens will vote on the constitutional amendment Article 22, also known as Proposal 5, which promotes abortion.

It reads: “That an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling State interest achieved by the least restrictive means.”

Abortion is legal up until birth in the state.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, which includes the entire state of Vermont, published a piece in its diocesan bulletin warning that the amendment “promises to enshrine unlimited, unregulated abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy in our state’s founding document” and “would permanently block any attempt to protect the unborn — even those who can survive outside the womb.”

Vermont Right to Life Committee urges citizens to vote no.

Led by pro-abortion groups, Vermont for Reproductive Liberty Ballot Committee argues: “We need this amendment because important medical decisions should be guided by a patient’s health and wellbeing, not by a politician’s beliefs.”

Pope Francis names new head of Vatican Dicastery for Culture and Education

Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça celebrates Mass at Fatima, Portugal, May 13, 2021. / Courtesy of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.

Vatican City, Sep 26, 2022 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has appointed a Portuguese cardinal as the head of the newly formed Vatican Dicastery for Culture and Education.

The Vatican announced on Sept. 26 that the pope appointed Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça as the prefect of the dicastery.

Mendonça most recently served as the head of the Vatican library and archives, where he oversaw the digitization of historic manuscripts and created a new space for housing temporary exhibitions.

The 56-year-old cardinal, originally from the Portuguese island of Madeira, is an expert in the relationship between literature and theology, according to the Vatican. He has published poetry as well as academic theological articles.

Mendonça has a licentiate from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and a doctorate in biblical theology from the Catholic University of Portugal, where he went on to teach theology as a professor for 14 years.

Pope Francis selected Mendonça to serve as the main preacher for the Roman Curia’s Lenten retreat in 2018. Five months later, the pope appointed him as chief archivist and librarian of the Vatican Apostolic Library with the dignity of archbishop. He was elevated to the rank of cardinal one year later, in 2019.

Mendonça will serve as the first prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Culture and Education.

The new apostolic constitution Praedicate evangelium merged the Vatican’s former Pontifical Council for Culture and the Congregation for Catholic Education together to form the new dicastery.

Divided into two sections, the Dicastery for Culture and Education works “for the development of human values in people within the horizon of Christian anthropology, contributing to the full realization of Christian discipleship,” according to the constitution.

The dicastery also coordinates the activities of some of the pontifical academies, such as the Pontifical Academy of Archeology and the Pontifical Academy of Theology.

The Vatican’s announcement also stated that Archbishop Angelo Vincenzo Zani, the former secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education from 2012–2022, has been selected by the pope as the new archivist and librarian of the Vatican library.

Zani served within the Vatican’s education congregation since 2002, when Pope John Paul II appointed him as undersecretary, its third-highest official.

Pope Francis has appointed Monsignor Giovanni Cesare Pagazzi as the secretary of the Dicastery for Culture and Education. Pagazzi is a professor at the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences in Rome.

Vatican opens canonical investigation into Australian bishop

Our Lady Queen of Peace Cathedral in Broome, Australia.

CNA Newsroom, Sep 26, 2022 / 07:05 am (CNA).

The Vatican has appointed Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, to oversee an investigation into the former bishop of Broome, Christopher Saunders.

The case is understood to be the first application of “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” in Australia, the norms promulgated by Pope Francis in 2019. 

Saunders stepped aside as bishop of Broome in March 2020 after media reports that Western Australia Police Force had begun an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct.

At the conclusion of its investigation, Western Australia Police confirmed that no charges would be brought against Saunders, prompting critics to call on police to “put up or shut up.”

Saunders later tendered his resignation to Pope Francis, which was accepted in August 2021. 

Saunders has steadfastly denied the allegations, which were made by Aboriginal men from remote communities in the West Kimberley region, according to a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The diocese in Western Australia covers the Kimberley and Pilbara regions of the state — an area bigger than Texas. About 35,000 people live on almost 300,000 square miles, of which just under a third are Catholic. 

The accused, who has served as priest and bishop in the diocese for almost 50 years, will reside outside the diocese during the Church’s investigation, according to a letter published Saturday by the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference that was read at Masses in the Diocese of Broome over the weekend. 

The document, signed by Apostolic Administrator Bishop Michael Morrisey and Archbishop Coleridge, said the Church investigation “could not happen” until the police inquiries ended.

“The Church’s protocols, particularly those enshrined in Pope Francis’ document ‘Vos Estis Lux Mundi,’ mean the outcome of a police investigation does not prevent the Church from conducting its own inquiry,” Coleridge said.

He added that “a team of people who are highly qualified to conduct this investigation in a thorough way” had been appointed.

Coleridge said with the investigation now underway, it would be improper to make additional comments until the outcome could be announced.

Saunders was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Broome in 1976. He was born in Melbourne. In 1989, he became the diocesan administrator and was consecrated as the bishop of Broome in 1995.


Cardinal Zen stands trial in Hong Kong

Cardinal Joseph Zen, one of Asia's highest-ranking Catholic clerics, arrives at a court for his trial in Hong Kong on Sept. 26, 2022. / Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images

Rome Newsroom, Sep 26, 2022 / 02:40 am (CNA).

Cardinal Joseph Zen and five others stood trial in Hong Kong on Monday for failing to properly register a fund to provide legal aid to pro-democracy protesters. 

The 90-year-old cardinal and retired bishop of Hong Kong arrived at the court in West Kowloon on Sept. 26 using a cane to walk. He was arrested in May along with other democracy activists under Hong Kong’s strict national security law.

In addition to Zen, who has been free on bail since early May, several others have been charged for failing to apply for local society registration for the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund between 2019 and 2021. 

Those accused with Zen are lawyer Margaret Ng, singer-activist Denise Ho, cultural studies scholar Hui Po-keung, activist Sze Ching-wee, and ex-legislator Cyd Ho.

All the defendants have pleaded not guilty. Cyd Ho is already jailed for a different charge. The fund helped pro-democracy protesters pay their legal fees until it dissolved itself in October 2021. 

On the first day of the trial, the prosecution said that the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund had raised a total of $34.4 million and used part of the fund for “political activities and non-charity events” such as donations to protest groups, AFP reported.

The defense argued that this was irrelevant to the charge as to whether the humanitarian fund had registered correctly. The defendants’ lawyers previously said they had the right to associate under Hong Kong’s Basic Law — the legal framework created when Great Britain handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997.

The defendants have not yet been indicted under Hong Kong’s national security law, which broadly criminalizes “sedition” and “collusion with foreign forces,” which would have carried much more severe penalties.

If convicted under the current charge, Zen and the others could face a fine of about $1,200 but no jail time. Zen’s trial, delayed by one week after the presiding judge tested positive for COVID-19, is expected to conclude in November, according to AFP.

Vatican response

The Vatican has remained mostly silent on Zen’s trial apart from issuing a statement after the cardinal’s arrest in May expressing “concern” and that it was “following the development of the situation with extreme attention.”

The cardinal’s trial comes as the Holy See and Beijing are determining the terms of the renewal of an agreement on the appointment of bishops in China. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said in an Italian television interview on Sept. 2 that a delegation of Vatican diplomats has returned from China and that he believes that the agreement will be renewed this fall.

Zen has been one of the most outspoken critics of the Vatican’s agreement with China since it was first signed in 2018, calling it “an incredible betrayal.”

Pope Francis did not directly respond to a question about Zen’s trial during an in-flight press conference on Sept. 15.

He said the Vatican had “chosen the path of dialogue” with China.

Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller has expressed disappointment that the College of Cardinals has not expressed “full solidarity with Zen.”

Following a meeting of nearly 200 Catholic cardinals at the Vatican last month, the prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith told Il Messaggero on Sept. 1: “From the silence of this consistory on the Zen case, I have fears.”

“Perhaps the Church should be freer and less bound to power-based, worldly logic, consequently freer to intervene and, if necessary, to criticize those politicians who end up suppressing human rights. In this case, I wonder why not criticize Beijing,” Mueller said.

“Zen is a symbol and he was arrested on a pretext, he did nothing, he is an influential, courageous, and much feared figure by the government,” he said. “He is over 80 years old and we have left him all alone.”

Cardinal Zen

Zen was born into a Catholic family in Shanghai in 1932 during the years of the Chinese Communist Party insurgency against China’s Nationalist government.

At the age of 16, he fled Shanghai for Hong Kong a year before the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949.

Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, many Catholics were arrested for refusing to comply with government campaigns to eliminate foreign influence and nationalize private schools. China severed diplomatic ties with the Holy See in 1951.

Zen was ordained a Salesian priest in 1961 and later served as the Salesian provincial superior for China, teaching philosophy and theology in seminaries in the country from 1989 to 1996.

Pope John Paul II named him a coadjutor bishop of Hong Kong in 1996, a year before the British handover of the Hong Kong colony to China. Zen became the bishop of the diocese in 2002, a post he held until his retirement in 2009.

As bishop emeritus, Zen has been an outspoken voice as both a strong supporter of democracy and civil liberties in Hong Kong and a fierce critic of the Vatican’s provisional agreement with Chinese authorities signed in 2018.

After Beijing imposed its national security law on Hong Kong in June 2020, Zen told CNA that the Catholics arrested under the new law’s provisions were “simply putting into practice the social teaching of the Church.”

“In this moment, democracy means freedom and human rights, human dignity,” Zen said.

The cardinal offered Mass after his first court appearance in May after his arrest and said in his homily: “Martyrdom is normal in our Church.”

“We may not have to do that, but we may have to bear some pain and steel ourselves for our loyalty to our faith,” the cardinal said.