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Pope Francis hopes new ministry of catechist will ‘awaken this vocation’

Pope Francis greets Archbishop Rino Fisichella in the Vatican's Clementine Hall, Sept. 17, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2021 / 07:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Friday that he instituted the new ministry of catechist with the hope that it would help to “awaken this vocation.”

Addressing participants in a meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization on Sept. 17, the pope referred to his decision to formally institute the new lay ministry in May.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

He said: “We must insist on indicating the heart of catechesis: the risen Jesus Christ loves you and never abandons you! We can never tire or feel we are being repetitive about this first proclamation in the various stages of the catechetical process.”

“This is why I instituted the ministry of catechist. They are preparing the rite for the, I quote, ‘creation’ of catechists. So that the Christian community may feel the need to awaken this vocation and to experience the service of some men and women who, living the celebration of the Eucharist, may feel more vividly the passion to transmit the faith as evangelizers.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope established the new ministry through the apostolic letter Antiquum ministerium (“Ancient ministry”) on May 11.

While catechists have served the Church since New Testament times, an instituted ministry is a type of formal, vocational service within the Catholic Church.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The newly instituted ministry of catechist is for lay people who have a particular call to serve the Catholic Church as a teacher of the faith.

In the apostolic letter, the pope said that the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments would “soon publish” the Rite of Institution of the new ministry.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

In his address, the pope noted that last Sunday he celebrated the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, Hungary.

He said that catechesis “can be effective in the work of evangelization if it keeps its gaze fixed on the Eucharistic mystery.”

“We cannot forget that the privileged place of catechesis is precisely the Eucharistic celebration, where brothers and sisters come together to discover ever more the different forms of God's presence in their lives,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Speaking in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall to Catholics responsible for catechesis in Europe, the pope fondly recalled the two catechists who prepared him for First Communion.

“I felt a great respect, even a feeling of thanksgiving, without making it explicit, but it felt like veneration,” he said.

“Why? Because they were the women who had prepared me for my First Communion, together with a nun. I want to tell you about this experience because it was a beautiful thing for me to accompany them to the end of their lives, both of them. And also the nun who prepared me for the liturgical part of Communion: she died, and I was there, with her, accompanying her. There is a closeness, a very important bond with catechists…”

Referring to the Directory for Catechesis, released in June 2020, he said that catechesis should not be understood as “an abstract communication of theoretical knowledge to be memorized as like mathematical or chemical formulas.”

“It is rather the mystagogical experience of those who learn to encounter their brothers and sisters where they live and work, because they themselves have met Christ, who has called them to become missionary disciples,” he said.

He then referred to his address on Monday in St. Martin’s Cathedral, Bratislava, in which he encouraged Slovakian Catholics to draw inspiration from Sts. Cyril and Methodius, who translated the Bible into the Slavonic language.

He told catechists in Rome: “They beat new paths, invented new languages, new ‘alphabets,’ to transmit the Gospel, for the inculturation of the faith.”

“This requires knowing how to listen to the people, to listen to the peoples to whom one is proclaiming: listening to their culture, their history; listening not superficially, already thinking of the pre-packaged answers we carry in our briefcase, no! To truly listen, and to compare those cultures, those languages, even and above all the unspoken, the unexpressed, with the Word of God, with Jesus Christ, the living Gospel.”

“And I repeat the question: is this not the most urgent task of the Church among the peoples of Europe? The great Christian tradition of the continent must not become a historical relic, otherwise, it is no longer ‘tradition.’”

He continued: “Tradition is either alive or it is not. And catechesis is tradition, it is trador [in Latin], to hand down, but as living tradition, from heart to heart, from mind to mind, from life to life. Therefore: passionate and creative, with the impetus of the Holy Spirit.”

“I used the word ‘pre-packaged’ for language, but I fear catechists whose heart, attitude, and face are ‘pre-packaged.’ No. Either the catechist is free, or he or she is not a catechist. The catechist lets herself or himself be struck by the reality he or she finds, and transmits the Gospel with great creativity, or is not a catechist. Think about this well.”

Polish Catholic leader expresses ‘deep pain and sadness’ as report on charismatic priest faults Dominicans

A press conference launching a report by a commision of experts on the activities of Polish Dominican priest Paweł M., Sept. 15, 2021. / Screenshot from the Katolicka Agencja Informacyjna YouTube channel.

Warsaw, Poland, Sep 17, 2021 / 05:35 am (CNA).

A Polish Catholic archbishop expressed “deep pain and sadness” this week following the publication of a report concluding that the Dominican Order failed to support victims of a charismatic priest.

In a Sept. 15 statement, Archbishop Wojciech Polak thanked the victims for coming forward and contributing to the 261-page report on the actions of the priest, identified only as Paweł M.

The report, released on Wednesday, found that the priest, regarded by young people as a “charismatic guru,” created sect-like groups while engaging in physical and sexual abuse.

Polak, the Primate of Poland and the Polish bishops’ conference delegate for the protection of children and youth, said: “First of all, I would like to express my closeness, sympathy, and support to the wounded people who, although they were adults, were defenseless against psychological manipulation based on pseudo-theology, as well as against physical violence and sexual abuse on the part of the friar.”

“Unfortunately, they were also harmed by the lack of understanding and support from the order’s authorities. We all owe these people a debt of gratitude and respect for their courage and determination in exposing the evil they experienced and the consequences of it that they still face today.”

The priest, Paweł M., was placed in pre-trial detention in March and is subject to a canonical trial.

Fr. Paweł Kozacki, Prior Provincial of the Dominican Province of Poland, asked an independent commission of experts that month to investigate the actions of Paweł M. and the Dominican Order’s response.

In a Sept. 15 statement, Poland’s Dominican province said that the report “reveals -- in a fuller form than known so far -- the enormity of the evil committed by Paweł M.”

“We sincerely apologize for all this evil, for which we ourselves are horrified and for which we are responsible in various ways. First of all, to those who have suffered the most direct and painful harm, but also to all those who have been affected by it and whose faith is thus put to the test,” it said.

“We are ready to make reparation for the wrong that has been done, we want to seek with determination to repair the damage and the mistakes, and above all we want to continue to serve you, realizing -- as never before -- that we are not worthy to do so.”

“Therefore, we dare to ask you to pray for all those who have been wronged. We also ask you to pray for us, Dominicans -- for conversion and for us to be able to fulfill our vocation and serve you, the Church, and God better, more responsibly, wisely, and zealously.”

The Catholic Church in Poland is undergoing a reckoning on clerical abuse.

It announced in June that it had received 368 allegations of clerical abuse in the past two and a half years.

The claims relate to abuse reportedly committed by 292 priests and religious between 1958 and 2020. The allegations were made between July 1, 2018, and Dec. 31, 2020.

Since November 2020, the Vatican has disciplined a string of mainly retired Polish bishops after investigations under Pope Francis’ 2019 motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi.

Polak thanked those involved in the work of the commission, which was led by Tomasz Terlikowski, a journalist and philosopher.

The archbishop said: “I know what a tremendous amount of work they did and how taxing it was for them. I have no doubt that they did it out of genuine concern for those who were wronged and genuine love for the Church.”

“I am also close to the Dominican friars and those they minister to. I appreciate the courage and humility to stand in the truth that hurts and shames, but also cleanses and enables healing.”

“All of us in the Church must draw conclusions from the work of the commission, and especially take to heart its recommendations, in order to stand unequivocally on the side of the disadvantaged and effectively protect the weakest.”

He added: “I pray for all of us who are wounded and aggravated by this evil, that we may emerge from this trial strengthened, trusting that Jesus is with us in this painful experience.”

Pope Francis tells elderly priests: ‘Aging is a privilege’

Pope Francis visits the elderly priest-residents of Casa San Gaetano in Rome, June 17, 2016. / L'Osservatore Romano.

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis told elderly priests from northern Italy that aging is a privilege because they have the chance to suffer like Jesus Christ.

“You are experiencing a season, old age, which is not a disease but a privilege,” he said in a Sept. 16 letter to priests from the Lombardy region.

“And even those of you who are sick live, we can say, a privilege: that of resembling Jesus who suffers, carrying the cross just like Him,” he added.

Pope Francis sent the letter as elderly priests and the bishops of the Lombardy region met for a day of prayer and community at the shrine of Santa Maria del Fonte in Caravaggio, 25 miles east of Milan.

The day began with Mass offered for the repose of the souls of the 92 Lombardy priests who died as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The Mass was followed by a shared lunch.

“Think of Simeon and Anna: just when they are elderly, the Gospel enters fully into their lives and, taking Jesus in their arms, they announce to everyone the revolution of tenderness,” the pope wrote in his letter.

Francis said that the sick and elderly priests were not merely an object of assistance, but also active protagonists in their communities.

“You are the bearers of dreams, dreams full of memory and therefore very important for the younger generations precisely because your dreams are the root,” he wrote.

“From you comes the sap to flourish in the Christian life and in ministry,” he commented.

The 84-year-old pope, who underwent colon surgery in July, also said that communities caring for sick and elderly priests are “well rooted in Jesus,” and closed his letter by asking for prayers.

“Please, pray for me who is a little old and a little, but not too much, sick!” he said. “May the Lord bless you and Our Lady keep you.”

The Sept. 16 gathering of priests and bishops took place at the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fonte, a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Caravaggio in the province of Bergamo, one of the areas in Italy worst affected by the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Caravaggio was built on the site of a 15th-century Marian apparition.

The Blessed Virgin Mary reportedly appeared to a young peasant girl, Giannetta Varoli, in a hay field outside the town of Caravaggio on May 26, 1432.

In her message, the Virgin urged penance for sin, including fasting on Fridays. The apparition is also called Our Lady of the Fountain because a spring of water appeared under the stone where the Virgin stood, and on which she left an imprint of her feet.

That same year, the first small shrine was built at the site. More than 100 years later, in 1575, St. Charles Borromeo, then the archbishop of Milan, hired an architect to begin the long process of expanding the shrine into what it looks like today.

Weekly COVID-19 testing a 'good' alternative to vaccine mandate, bioethicist says

null / zstock/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

As the Biden administration prepares to require COVID-19 vaccinations at many workplaces, a Catholic bioethicist urged the administration to keep an alternative to vaccinations in place – weekly testing.

Last Thursday, President Joe Biden announced that his administration would require employers with 100 or more employees to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations, or ensure weekly negative COVID-19 tests. The emergency rule is being developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Labor Department.

Dr. Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, said the alternative of weekly COVID-19 testing is “good” for people who are opposed to receiving COVID-19 vaccines out of conscience.

“We hope that will definitely be there,” he said, “that individuals could have the choice of getting weekly testing as opposed to the vaccine.”

“Because that, I think, is a very appropriate way to achieve the same end without having anyone’s conscience being coerced or violated.”

Catholics are more vaccinated against COVID-19 than any other religious group, according to a new Pew Research Center report. However, some Catholics have expressed reservations or opposition to receiving COVID-19 vaccines because of their connection to abortion.

The three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States all have a connection to aborted fetal tissue. They use cell lines derived from fetal tissue that was obtained from babies believed to have been aborted in the 1970s, although only one of the vaccines – produced by Johnson & Johnson – used the controversial cell lines both in testing and production. The other two vaccines, produced by Pfizer and Moderna, used the cell lines in some tests.

The Vatican’s Congrgation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a note in December 2020 stating that use of COVID-19 vaccines with connections to the cell lines is morally permissible, if no ethical option is available.

“The moral duty to avoid such passive material cooperation” with the abortions “is not obligatory,” the Vatican said, “if there is a grave danger, such as the otherwise uncontainable spread of a serious pathological agent--in this case, the pandemic spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19.”

The congregation went on to state that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.” For those refusing the vaccines out of conscience, however, they must take other steps to prevent transmitting the virus, the Vatican said.

Weekly COVID-19 testing, Meaney said, helps further this stated goal of the unvaccinated taking steps to stop the spread of the virus. Testing, he maintained, “shouldn’t be overly burdensome,” pointing to Biden’s promise last week to expand the availability of low-cost testing.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center has opposed COVID-19 vaccine mandates without exemptions for conscience.

A “major concern,” Meaney said, is any vaccination requirement with a “strong sanction” to it, such as the loss of one’s job for failing to comply.

Mandates “tend to come with a great deal of pressure, and unless they do include exemptions or alternatives, then they can be coercing peoples’ consciences, which is a bad thing to do, from a Catholic perspective,” he told CNA.

Biden’s order last week also required federal executive branch employees and federal contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19.  

“Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated, even though the vaccine is safe, effective, and free,” Biden said in remarks at the White House on Sept. 8.

“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” he said. “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us,” he said to unvaccinated Americans.

Meaney said that such rhetoric toward the unvaccinated is counter-productive, as it “lends itself to scapegoating or shaming individuals.”

“What we would hope” is for people to be more serene and charitable towards others, he said.

“It’ll just make the situation worse, if people start venting their anger and trying to punish people who have different views, then these kinds of things tend to escalate,” he said.

“And it certainly doesn’t contribute to good civil harmony, and even within families – disputes, et cetera – there needs to be a lot of healing and understanding and charity, rather than kind of giving way to anger or frustration.”

NY governor vows to help Texas women have abortions in her state

Aug. 11, 2021: Then-Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul addresses people of New York at the state capitol building in Albany / lev radin/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

New York Governor Kathy Hochul on Wednesday said that she will help Texas women come to her state for abortions. 

A Texas law went into effect on Sept. 1 that prohibited most abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can be as early as six weeks into pregnancy. It is enforced through private civil lawsuits. 

Hochul - a Catholic who became governor on Aug. 24 following the resignation of Andrew Cuomo - on Thursday said that her state is reviewing options to help Texas women come to to New York for abortions.

“For women in Texas, they need to know: we will help you find a way to New York and we are right now looking intensely to find what resources we can bring to the table to help you have safe transport here and let you know there are providers who will assist you in this time of your need,” Hochul said in a Sept. 15 interview with MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell. 

“You are not alone,” Hochul said to women in Texas. “Your sisters and brothers, enlightened brothers, in the state of New York will help you in any way we can.”

A spokesperson for Hochul’s office was not immediately available for comment on Thursday, regarding the question of whether public funds would be used for transporting women from Texas to New York for abortions.

Hochul’s comments come shortly after her announcement on Sept. 13 that she would roll out a new aggressive agenda to maintain abortion in New York state.

Her administration plans to create of a “Patient Bill of Rights” including information on abortion providers, legal rights, and “abortion care.” In addition, the state’s health department will consult with a group of “experts” from pro-abortion groups to create a “guidance document on the provision of abortion care in New York State.”

Those “experts” include members of the pro-abortion groups Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, National Abortion Federation, the National Institute for Reproductive Health, and American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists.

The state health department will also work to increase remote access to chemical abortions via telehealth.

"Abortion access is safe in New York - the rights of those who are seeking abortion services will always be protected here," Hochul said. "To the women of Texas, I want to say I am with you. Lady Liberty is here to welcome you with open arms."

Hochul also sent a letter to Facebook on Sept. 13 urging it to crack down on abortion “misinformation.” 

She requested “information on any and all existing efforts to combat misinformation regarding abortion laws, procedures, and their ability,” and urged Facebook to “take additional action to curb the spread of this misinformation.”

“The truth is that abortion is a safe, common medical procedure,” Hochul’s letter stated. “One in four women will undergo an abortion in her lifetime. I am proud that New York is leading the fight to ensure that every woman and birthing person has access to abortion care.”

Hochul took over as governor of New York after the resignation of Andrew Cuomo, who was repeatedly accused of sexual harassment of current and former employees. 

In 2019, Cuomo signed the an abortion law, the Reproductive Health Act, that eliminated restrictions on abortion until the moment of birth in cases deemed necessary for the mother’s "life and health." He ordered New York landmarks to be lit up in pink lights, the official color of Planned Parenthood, to mark the signing. 

According to Hochul’s Sept. 13 announcement, the state health department will help clarify “the full scope of individual provider discretion under the Reproductive Health Act, and the definition of the term ‘commencement of pregnancy’ as it relates to abortion care.”

Theodore McCarrick faces new sex abuse lawsuit in New Jersey

Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick arrives at Massachusetts' Dedham District Courthouse for his arraignment, Sept. 3, 2021. / Andrew Bukuras/CNA

Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2021 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

Three sex abuse lawsuits, including one naming disgraced former archbishop Theodore McCarrick as the alleged abuser, were filed on Thursday, Sept. 16 in a New Jersey court. All three lawsuits also named the Diocese of Metuchen as a defendant.

Jeff Anderson, a prominent attorney who represents sex abuse victims, brought the lawsuits. In an online press conference on Thursday, Anderson called on the Metuchen diocese to release additional information on accusations against current and former clergy. 

“We challenge you to account and take responsibility for each of these cases, and also challenge you to come clean with the full truth,” Anderson said.  “[We] invite you, implore you, to release more names and information that have been kept secret by the Diocese of Metuchen for too long.”

A spokesman for the diocese told CNA on Thursday afternoon that two of the lawsuits involved clergy who were not ordained for the diocese, adding that the diocese would not have access to their personal records or outcomes of investigations against them.

The first lawsuit filed named McCarrick, who served as the first bishop of the diocese from 1981 until 1986, as the abuser in question. According to the lawsuit, McCarrick engaged in “unpermitted sexual contact” with the plaintiff while he was bishop of Metuchen from approximately 1982 to 1985. The plaintiff was between the ages of 19 and 22 during that period.

McCarrick’s attorney Barry Coburn declined to comment on the lawsuit on Thursday. 

McCarrick, 91, on July 28 was criminally charged in a Massachusetts court with three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over the age of 14. The incidents allegedly took place with a 16-year-old male in the 1970s. McCarrick appeared for his arraignment on Sept. 3 in Massachusetts’ Dedham District Court, and pleaded “not guilty” to the charges. His next court date is Oct. 28.

He was once an influential and high-ranking figure in the Catholic Church, before numerous accusations against him were made public in 2018, alleging past sexual misconduct with children and seminarians. McCarrick was laicized in February 2019, after a Vatican canonical investigation found him guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”

The second lawsuit filed on Thursday named Fr. John Butler, a laicized priest who died in 2016, as the alleged abuser of a minor. Butler, who was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Richmond, served in numerous dioceses throughout his career including in Metuchen. 

According to the lawsuit, Butler abused a minor between the ages of 9 to 12, from approximately 1995 to 1998. The plaintiff was attending St. John Vianney school in Colonia, New Jersey at the time, where Fr. Butler was employed.

Butler was removed from public ministry in 2002 and was laicized shortly thereafter. He is not on the list of credibly-accused priests from the Diocese of Metuchen, but does appear on the list of accused priests from the Diocese of Richmond, his home diocese. 

The third lawsuit names Br. Regis Moccia, S.C. of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, who similarly does not appear on the list of credibly-accused priests from the Diocese of Metuchen. Moccia is accused of abusing a young teen at St. Joseph’s High School in Metuchen, in 1981 and 1982. He died in 2000. 

Moccia was first accused of abuse in a September 2020 lawsuit; Anderson claimed that this suit inspired another alleged victim of his to come forward. 

“It’s also notable that Moccia is not on the list [of credibly-accused clergy] released by the Diocese of Metuchen, even though that suit has been brought by us naming him as an offender of children at St. Joseph’s high school in Metuchen, earlier,” Anderson said on Thursday.  

Anderson called on the Diocese of Metuchen to release additional names of credibly accused clergy, and claimed that there are at least 15 additional names that have not yet been released.

In a statement to CNA on Thursday afternoon, a spokesman for the Metuchen diocese promised prayer for abuse survivors, and said that neither Fr. Butler nor Brother Regis were ordained priests of the diocese.

“First and foremost, we hold in prayer all survivors of abuse, among them those survivors who have courageously come forward to bring their past abuse to light,” said Anthony P. Kearns III, Esq., spokesman and chancellor for the diocese.

Regarding the case of Fr. Butler, he was ordained for the Richmond diocese “and is listed accordingly on their list of credibly accused clergy,” Kearns said. Brother Regis was a member of a religious order and not a diocesan priest, he said.

“In both cases, the diocese would not have access to any personnel records nor the outcomes of any investigations that would have resulted from allegations against them,” Kearns said.

“The Diocese of Metuchen has taken more aggressive steps forward since the adoption of the abuse prevention policies in 2002 and was recently found compliant with all audited Articles within the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People for the audit period of July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2021,” he said.

New Jersey in 2019 relaxed the statute of limitations in sex abuse cases, allowing for new lawsuits in old cases of child sex abuse and sex abuse of adults. The two-year window for such lawsuits to be filed expires Nov. 30.

Anderson has filed other civil sex abuse lawsuits naming McCarrick. In July, he filed a civil lawsuit in a New Jersey court accusing McCarrick of sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy in 1986.

In July 2020, Anderson filed a lawsuit alleging that McCarrick had sexually abused a boy and aided his abuse by several other priests in the early 1980s, characterizing McCarrick as leading a "sex ring."

Anderson has sued many Catholic dioceses and religious orders over the years. While some say he has been an effective advocate for sex abuse victims, critics say he has sensationalized and embellished claims in order to attract media attention to litigation, and that he is a self-promoter.

According to the lawsuit naming McCarrick, the plaintiff’s family resided in the Archdiocese of New York and had contact with McCarrick while he was a representative of the archdiocese. McCarrick was a priest secretary to Cardinal Terrence Cooke of New York beginning in 1971, and served as auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese from 1977 until 1981, when he was made bishop of Metuchen.

McCarrick later served as Archbishop of the Archdioceses of Newark and Washington, and played an influential role in the global Catholic Church. He helped craft the U.S. Church’s response to revelations of widespread clergy sex abuse in 2002. He also made numerous international trips for peacebuilding and ecumenical causes, and was known as an effective fundraiser.

In June 2018, the Archdiocese of New York revealed that a decades-old allegation of sex abuse against McCarrick was “credible.” News reports subsequently detailed more allegations of McCarrick’s alleged sexual misconduct with children and seminarians. According to a July 2018 New York Times report, Metuchen was one of the dioceses to have reached a settlement with a former priest, regarding allegations of abuse against McCarrick committed while the priest was a seminarian.

McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018, and was laicized in February 2019. He is the first U.S. Catholic cardinal to be criminally charged with sex abuse.

The Vatican in November 2020 released a report of more than 450 pages on the “institutional knowledge and decision-making” regarding McCarrick and his clerical career.

This article was updated on Sept. 16 with a statement from the Metuchen diocese.

Catholics the most vaccinated religious group for COVID-19, new study shows

null / Ball Lunla/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Sep 16, 2021 / 12:36 pm (CNA).

Catholics are the religious group most vaccinated against COVID-19 in the United States, according to a new national survey by the Pew Research Center. 

The survey of 10,349 U.S. adults found that 82% of self-identified Catholics had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 75% of religiously unaffiliated adults and 73% of White Protestants. Hispanic Catholics were slightly more likely than White Catholics to have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.  

Of the major religious groups in the United States, White evangelical Protestants had the lowest vaccination rate, with only 57% saying they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Pew Research Center.
Pew Research Center.

The Pew Research Center conducted the survey from Aug. 23-29, more than a year and a half into the pandemic. 

The figures come as U.S. Catholic bishops continue to issue policies regarding vaccine exemptions for religious reasons. Some, including Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, have upheld the rights of Catholics to decline COVID-19 vaccines out of conscience, while also encouraging Catholics to get vaccinated. Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, meanwhile, said “[t]here is no religious exemption for Catholics to being vaccinated,” and required all diocesan employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment.

Some Catholics have raised concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines’ remote connection to aborted fetal tissue, using cell lines derived from fetal tissue of babies believed to have been aborted in the 1970s. 

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has said that all three vaccines approved for use in the United States are “morally acceptable” for use because of their remote connection with abortion, but if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines should be chosen over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna were tested using the controversial cell lines, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was both produced and tested using the cell lines.

Pew’s survey also found that 73% of Americans aged 18 or older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The survey found lower vaccination rates among younger adults, as well as among those with lower family incomes and those living in rural areas. Black adults are now about as likely as White adults to say they have received a vaccine, according to the survey. 

Democrats were more likely to have received a vaccine than Republicans, with 86% of Democrats and left-leaning Independents having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 60% of Republicans. 

About half of vaccinated Americans surveyed said that there is too much pressure to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and 88% of unvaccinated Americans answered the same. 

About half of those vaccinated Americans who were surveyed reported difficulty in making sense of information about COVID-19 vaccines. They said they still worried about possible serious health risks from the vaccine. About half of surveyed adults said that the worst of the pandemic is yet to come.

Federal judicial nominee grilled over 1990s religious freedom case

Hon. Beth Robinson, associate justice on the Vermont Supreme Court, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 14, 2021 / Senate Judiciary Committee/live stream

Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2021 / 10:15 am (CNA).

Multiple senators accused a judicial nominee of being hostile to religious freedom during her confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 14.

Beth Robinson, nominated by President Joe Biden to be a judge on the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, was grilled by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Wednesday. They asked her about her representing a woman who sued a Vermont Catholic-owned print shop in the 1990s for not printing business cards of a pro-abortion group.

The print shop, Regal Art Press in St. Alban’s, Vermont, was owned by two practicing Catholics, the Bakers. Robinson’s client, Linda Paquette, sought to order membership cards for the now-inactive organization Vermont Catholics for Choice. The Bakers refused the order, saying that they did not believe Catholics could be in favor of abortion, and Paquette sued, saying that her rights were violated. 

In a legal brief supporting Paquette in state courts, Robinson referred to the Baker family’s pro-life beliefs as “invidious” and “pernicious.”  

Cruz described the brief as containing “strong and even incendiary language” regarding the Bakers’ Catholic faith, and said that she had a “marked hostility” towards religious liberty. 

“How might a litigant in the Second Circuit have any confidence that as a judge you would actually follow the law, and in particular, honor the religious liberty protections in the Constitution,” asked Cruz. 

Robinson explained to Cruz that the case was 30 years ago, during her first year of law practice in the state of Vermont. Her client, she said, claimed that she had been discriminated against as a Catholic who was in favor of abortion rights.

“In particular, she had asked to print cards for Vermont Catholics for Free Choice,” said Robinson. “Her contention was that the Bakers said ‘we won’t print these cards because we don’t think Catholics can be for choice.’ She brought a claim for discrimination on the basis of creed.” 

Robinson acknowledged that Paquette would not have had a case had the Bakers refused to print the cards because of their opposition to abortion, and not because of their religious beliefs. 

Cruz pressed Robinson further, asking her if she was effectively arguing that the Vermont Supreme Court should have been able to rule on how the Baker family decided to interpret their faith. 

“‘We’re going to force you to say that the Catholic Church is pro-abortion, even if you don’t believe it is.’ Is that right?” asked Cruz, paraphrasing the hypothetical argument. 

The case pre-existed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, federal 1993 law that required the government to pass a legal standard when substantially burdening a person’s religious freedom. Cruz reminded Robinson that the act was passed to fill gaps in the legal precedent she cited. 

Missouri senator Hawley raised similar concerns, telling Robinson that he was “troubled by your history of compelling individuals to express pro-abortion viewpoints against their religious convictions,” and that he had “profound concerns” about her nomination.

Hawley noted that in the 30 years since the case was filed, the Supreme Court has stood on the side of religious liberty in similar cases. He asked Robinson if she would acknowledge that “today your client would not have the right to compel other individuals to speak in a way that she favors,” and if she would “stand by” the brief.

Robinson said that she did not remember all of the words in the brief as it had been 30 years. 

The Papal Foundation provides $800K in scholarships for studies in Rome

Cupola of St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City / CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 16, 2021 / 09:34 am (CNA).

The Papal Foundation has awarded nearly $800,000 in scholarships to 96 priests, brothers, sisters, and lay faithful as part of the Saint John Paul II Scholarship Program.

The scholarships will enable the recipients to study at 16 universities in Rome. The recipients hail from five continents.

“We are committed to Saint John Paul II’s vision to prepare Catholic leaders and educators for service,” said Eustace Mita, president of The Papal Foundation Board of Trustees, in a published statement. “We aim to ensure those called to build up the Church all over the world are trained and prepared to lead in their own dioceses.”

Since the Saint John Paul II Scholarship Program launched in 2000, it has provided nearly $13 million in scholarships to over 1,600 recipients. Recipients, known as Saeman Scholars in honor of major donors John and Carol Saeman, are from disadvantaged countries. The aim of the program is to provide recipients an opportunity to study in Rome, after which they will return to their home dioceses and continue to educate others in a manner faithful to the Magisterium of the Church.

David Savage, who became executive director of the Papal Foundation July 12, 2021. The Papal Foundation
David Savage, who became executive director of the Papal Foundation July 12, 2021. The Papal Foundation

David Savage, the executive director of The Papal Foundation, said that the chance to “play a role in the formation of leaders in the Catholic Church is a blessing.”

“Saint John Paul II will always be remembered for the lessons in leadership he personified, which is one reason we at The Papal Foundation are honored to carry forward his vision of training scholars to effectively lead in their communities,” he said in a published statement.

Father Julius Madaki, a priest from the Archdiocese of Kaduna in Nigeria, is one of these leaders. Madaki defended his doctoral thesis in July, after being given a scholarship from The Papal Foundation to study in Rome.

“Words alone cannot express the sentiments of gratitude and appreciation in me,” he said in a published statement. “Studying under the auspices of The Papal Foundation has influenced my life in no small way. I promise to make you proud, be of service to the Church, and keep you always in my prayers. Rest assured that your commitment to spreading the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth will never go unrewarded.”

The Papal Foundation was founded in 1988 in response to calls “for a unique, sustainable way to support the Holy Father and his witness in the world.”

According to its website, the mission of The Papal Foundation is to “serve the Holy Father and the Roman Catholic Church” by means of “gathering in a corporal and cooperative collaboration of laity, clergy and hierarchy within the Church, in witness to one another of our faith, and drawing strength from the witness of the Holy Father.”

The mission statement continues: “We bring and contribute our faith, our energy and our financial resources, to serve those needs of the Church that are of particular significance to the Holy Father, always with a commitment to walk in union with the Holy Father and the Magisterium of the Church.”

Benedict XVI: Legalization of same-sex marriage is ‘a distortion of conscience’

Pope Benedict XVI on Aug. 28, 2010. / L'Osservatore Romano.

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2021 / 09:15 am (CNA).

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI has said that the legalization of same-sex marriage in many countries is “a distortion of conscience” which has also entered some Catholic circles.

In an introduction to a new anthology of his writings on Europe, Benedict XVI said that “with the legalization of ‘same-sex marriage’ in 16 European countries, the issue of marriage and family has taken on a new dimension that cannot be ignored.”

“We are witnessing a distortion of conscience which has evidently penetrated deeply into sectors of the Catholic people,” the pope emeritus wrote. “This cannot be answered with some small moralism or even with some exegetical reference. The problem goes deeper and therefore must be addressed in fundamental terms.”

The introduction, published in the Italian newspaper Il Foglio on Sept. 16, was written for the Italian book “The Real Europe: Identity and Mission.”

Pope Francis wrote the preface to the book, which compiles texts from Benedict XVI written both before and during his pontificate, which lasted from 2005 to 2013.

In the preface, Francis wrote that “beyond so many words and high-sounding proclamations, today in Europe the very idea of respect for every human life is increasingly lost, starting with the loss of awareness of its sacredness, that is, precisely starting from the obfuscation of the consciousness that we are creatures of God.”

“Benedict XVI is not afraid to denounce, over the years, with great courage and foresight the many manifestations of this dramatic renunciation of the idea of creation, up to the current, final consequences, described in an absolutely clear and convincing way in the introductory text,” Pope Francis said.

In his introduction, Benedict XVI said it was important to observe that the concept of “same-sex marriage” is “in contradiction with all the cultures of humanity that have followed one another up to now, and thus signifies a cultural revolution that is opposed to the whole tradition of humanity until today.”

He pointed out that there is no doubt that different cultures have varying juridical and moral conceptions of marriage and the family, such as the profound differences between polygamy and monogamy.

But he emphasized that the basic community has never questioned the fact that the existence of the human being in its male and female forms is ordered to procreation, “as well as the fact that the community of male and female and openness to the transmission of life determine the essence of what is called marriage.”

“The basic certainty that mankind exists as male and female; that the transmission of life is a task assigned to mankind; that it is the community of male and female that serves this task; and that in this, beyond all differences, marriage essentially consists -- it is an original certainty that has been obvious to humanity up to now,” Benedict said.

The pope emeritus wrote that the fundamental upheaval of this idea was introduced with the invention of the contraceptive pill and the possibility it gave of separating fertility from sexuality.

“This separation means, in fact, that in this way all of the forms of sexuality are equivalent,” he said. “A fundamental criterion no longer exists.”

This new message, according to Benedict, profoundly transformed men and women’s consciences -- first slowly and now more clearly.

From the separation of sexuality from fertility, he continued, comes the inverse: “Fertility, naturally, can be thought of even without sexuality.”

Benedict XVI noted that it therefore seems right to no longer trust the procreation of humans to the “occasional passion of the flesh, but rather to plan and produce the human rationally.”

Thus a human being is no longer “generated and conceived but made,” the retired pontiff underlined, which signifies that a human person is not a gift to be received but “a product planned by our doing.”

He added that if we can plan to make life, it must also be true that we can plan to destroy it, noting that the growing support for assisted suicide and euthanasia as “a planned end to one’s life is an integral part of the trend described.”

The question of same-sex marriage, he continued, is not a question of being “a little more broadminded and open. Rather, the basic question arises: who is man? And with it also the question of whether there is a Creator or if we are not all just manufactured products.”

“This alternative arises: either man is a creature of God, he is the image of God, he is a gift from God, or man is a product that he himself knows how to create,” Benedict XVI wrote.

He said the ecological movement had established that there are limits to nature that we cannot ignore, and, in the same way, a human person possesses a nature that has been given to him “and the violation or denial of it leads to self-destruction.”

“This is also the case with the creation of man as male and female, which is ignored in the hypothesis of ‘same-sex marriage,’” he stressed.