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Minnesota Catholic Conference highlights Church's role in public square

The Cathedral of Saint Paul in Saint Paul, Minn. / bhathaway / Shutterstock.

St. Paul, Minn., May 12, 2021 / 18:19 pm (CNA).

As Minnesota’s legislature prepares to finish its legislative session for the year, the state Catholic conference has noted a recent meeting of the state’s bishops with executive and legislative leaders.

“All year, Minnesota Catholic Conference staff help facilitate contacts between individual bishops and legislators, and each spring, all the bishops meet together with state leaders to share their policy concerns. On April 14, Minnesota’s bishops and diocesan administrators met with Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and legislative leaders,” read a May 11 commentary at The Catholic Spirit, the publication of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

The state legislature’s session, which began in January, will end May 17.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference said that the bishops this year “focused on stopping the legalization of assisted suicide by promoting better care for the sick and vulnerable populations, the creation of provisional driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, creating more educational options for low-income families, expanding existing nonpublic pupil aid programs, and their opposition to the creation of a recreational marijuana industry.”

“They also highlighted the shared goal of protecting people from COVID-19 while also respecting the ability of people of faith to gather for worship.”

In May 2020, the governor issued an order allowing for the resumption of limited public worship gatherings, days after the bishops of the state said they would allow public Masses to resume in defiance of previous guidelines.

The bishops maintained that the original guidelines were unfairly restrictive toward religious services, as businesses and other entities in the state were slowly being allowed to reopen with safety protocols in place to help guard against the coronavirus.

The state Cathoolic conference said that the bishops’ conversation with government leaders “are a good lesson in faithful citizenship. The bishops always thank leaders for their willingness to step forward and make significant sacrifices to serve all Minnesotans, and they invite public officials to share their priorities and find areas of common ground upon which they can build the common good.”

The conference described this year’s conversations as constructive, saying that “even when there were points of disagreement, there was civil dialogue and a recognition that these are difficult issues with a myriad of considerations.”

It said that both legislators and laity should remember that “sometimes a specific policy goal of the Church might align more with one party or political program than another. But the Church’s advocacy is principled, not partisan, thereby allowing Catholics to work collaboratively across the political spectrum.”

“:More important, the policy advocacy of our bishops is an expression of their pastoral care for all people in the community, especially the poor and vulnerable. After all, they are shepherds of all the souls in their diocese, not just Catholics, and are entrusted to work for their well-being. Advocating for good policies offers a credible witness to the Gospel … Through the work of principled advocacy, Catholics help others come to know the Church as a home for people to know, love and serve the Lord.”

The conference concluded that “to help people know Christ Jesus and obtain their salvation: That is the fundamental ‘why’ behind the Church’s participation in the public square.”

Helena priest Father Stu to be portrayed in film starring Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson

Fr. Stuart Long. Credit: Diocese of Helena.

Helena, Mont., May 12, 2021 / 17:03 pm (CNA).

Father Stuart Long, who was a priest of the Diocese of Helena, is set to be the main character in a motion picture starring Mark Wahlberg as the priest himself and Mel Gibson as the priest’s father. The film is currently in production, with the release date yet to be announced. 

Father Stu, as he was affectionately known, pursued careers in boxing, acting, teaching, and museum management before discerning the priesthood.

“He was intense in his worldly life and he was intense in his priesthood,” said Dan Bartleson, communication services director for the Diocese of Helena. “His priestly ministry to the diocese here was transformative.” 

Wahlberg originally started working on the film in 2016, two years after Father Stu died at the age of 50. The movie was put on hold for a couple years until Wahlberg was able to secure Rosalind Ross as scriptwriter. While the exact details of the script have not been shared, the filmmakers assured the diocese and Bill Long, father of Father Stu, that the film will “do honor” to the late priest. 

“It’s based on a true story,” said Father Bart Tolleson, a priest of the Diocese of Helena and a longtime friend of Father Stu. “It certainly will take liberties with the story, but it will get interest in his life, and that alone is a good thing. It’s a great story.” 

Father Stu attended Carroll College, a Catholic university, but wasn’t Catholic at the time. He remembers being required to attend Mass as part of football game preparation, according to an interview with The Montana Catholic in 2010. In the same interview, he shared that he would often argue with the teachers, interrupt class, and ask ignorant questions that didn’t relate to the content.

“His conversion is phenomenal, from being an agnostic trouble maker to having a mystical encounter with God,” Father Tolleson said. “Then, he decided to become a priest.” 

An avid athlete, Father Stu played football for Carroll College, and later, pursued boxing, winning the Montana Golden Gloves championship in 1985. Faced with reconstructive jaw surgery after a fight, Father Stu gave up boxing and moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. Though he had some success with commercials and work as an extra in the movies, it was not the career he imagined.

While acting, he worked at a nightclub that was a comedy club and a bar. Finished with acting, he traded in the nightlife to work for the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, where he eventually became the manager for seven years. He would ride his motorcycle, an artifact of his acting days, to and from the museum.

“One day, I was riding home after work, and I got hit by a car, and I smashed into a car in the next lane with my head,” Father Stu shared in the 2010 interview. “The witnesses told the sheriffs and reporters that I was rolling down the road and another car ran over the top of me. And here I am.” 

The accident proved pivotal in Father Stu’s conversion, leading him to have what he called a “religious experience” while in the hospital. Upon returning home and discussing marriage with his then-girlfriend, he entered RCIA. On the day he was baptized, he knew he was going to become a priest, he shared in the 2010 interview.

He discerned entering a religious order in New York, but ultimately decided to become a secular priest, for the Diocese of Helena. In 2003, he entered Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon. 

During seminary, Father Stu had hip surgery wherein a fist-size tumor was discovered. He was diagnosed with inclusion body myositis, an inflammatory condition in the muscles for which there is no cure. His body was already slowing down when he was ordained to the priesthood in December 2007. 

“That cross of his disease was the most powerful way to serve people,” said Father Tolleson. “He was tireless in his service and the Lord gave him many beautiful gifts, of counsel, of providing the sacraments. He was fearless even though he was limited.” 

The extent to which the Wahlberg film will cover the priesthood of Father Stu remains unknown, but it will be a “stepping stone to knowing who Father Stuart Long was,” said Father Tolleson.

“If Hollywood wants to tell part of Father Stu’s story, we think that’s a positive,” said Bartleson. “If that creates some energy around his life, then we would see that as a blessing, a part of something that is already going on here.” 

The film, titled “Stu” in some reports and “Father Stu” in others, is being financed in part by Wahlberg himself.

HHS Secretary: 'There is no law' against 'partial-birth abortion'

Xavier Becerra, HHS Secretary / vasilis asvestas/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 12, 2021 / 16:19 pm (CNA).

The Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Wednesday would not acknowledge an existing federal ban on “partial-birth abortion.”

During a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health, Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) asked HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra if he agreed that partial-birth abortion is illegal.  

Becerra answered that “[t]here is no medical term like ‘partial-birth abortion’,” and that “[t]here is no law that deals specifically with the term ‘partial-birth abortion’.”

In 2003, Congress passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush. The law amended the federal criminal code to outlaw partial-birth abortion, defining it as a procedure where a baby is partially delivered until either the baby’s head or trunk is outside the mother’s body, and the doctor acts to kill the baby. An exception was made for cases where the mother's life is in danger.

As then-congressman from California, Becerra voted against the law. Abortionist Leroy Carhart sued to prevent the 2003 ban from going into effect. In 2007, the Supreme Court upheld the ban in a 5-4 decision in Gonzales v. Carhart.

Later in the hearing, Rep. John Joyce, M.D. (R-Pa.) noted that 18 U.S. Code § 1531 “is literally titled ‘partial-birth abortions prohibited’.” The statute, he said, “very clearly defines” the “inhumane procedure.”

Becerra maintained that “partial-birth abortion” is “not a medically-recognized term.” He recommended calling the procedure “dilation-and-extraction,” and defended its use to “protect” the health of mothers as a late-term abortion procedure.

“Perhaps, if you were to talk about what you probably know as ‘dilation-and-extraction’ – which is a procedure used by OB-GYNs like my wife – to care for a woman who is having a difficult pregnancy where there’s a chance that the fetus will not survive, then we could talk about that,” he said.

Partial-birth abortion is also referred to as "Dilation and Extraction" (D&X). It is used in late-term abortions for women in their second and third trimesters.

Under the procedure, a baby is partially delivered – except for the head – at which point the abortionist jams scissors into the baby’s skull and uses a suction catheter to suck out the baby’s brains.

Becerra, a Catholic, added that he was not primarily questioning the use of the term “partial-birth abortion,” but was rather emphasizing “what the rights are to the woman under our statutes and under our precedents to provide her with reproductive care that she is entitled to.”

He defended late-term abortions by arguing they are done to protect the health of the mother.

“Under the law, a physician or any provider of health care” must obey the law, he said, “and right now, what our law says – and it’s pretty settled – is that a woman is entitled to reproductive rights.”

“And as my wife would tell you as a OB-GYN, is that the dilation-and-extraction procedure that is often used with late-stage abortions with women, it’s to protect the health and life of that woman,” he said.

One pro-life leader criticized Becerra for denying a law’s existence as a top administration official.

“Now the top health official in America, Becerra outright denies the existence of a law banning partial-birth abortion since 2003,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, stated on Wednesday.

During his confirmation hearings, Xavier Becerra dodged questions about his stance on partial-birth abortion – when an unborn child is partially delivered and then killed – deflecting with repeated claims that he would ‘follow the law’ as head of HHS,” Dannenfelser said.

In his confirmation hearings, Becerra would not say why he opposed the 2003 partial-birth abortion ban as a congressman, only stating that he would work to find “common ground” with those he disagreed with on abortion.

On Thursday, he said that “dilation-and-extraction” is a term commonly used in medicine, while “partial-birth abortion” is not.

“I think most medical practitioners will tell you they understand what a dilation-and-extraction procedure is. I doubt that most of them could give you a medical definition of what partial-birth abortion is,” he said.

In response, Rep. Joyce said, “As a physician myself Mr. Secretary, I think I clearly understand what a partial-birth abortion is.”

Other members reacted to Becerra’s answer on Wednesday.

“If he won’t uphold the law on partial birth abortion, how do we expect him to uphold the Hyde amendment or protect conscience rights?” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) tweeted.

“It’s absolutely horrifying that the top health official in the nation doesn’t even know the laws he swore to uphold and protect. @SecBeccerra this is absolutely the law of the land,” Lankford said.

On Wednesday, Becerra also repeated his claim that he “never sued any nuns” while attorney general of California. He first made the claim during his confirmation hearings, when he was grilled over the 2020 Supreme Court case of the Little Sisters of the Poor which pitted the sisters against Becerra.

While Becerra did not technically file a lawsuit directly against the sisters, he sued the federal government to take away the sisters’ religious exemption to the HHS contraceptive mandate. That action prompted the sisters to return to court to defend against threats to their religious freedom.

Becerra, in his testimony on Wednesday, praised increased funding in the 2022 fiscal year budget for the Title X family planning program. His agency is currently in the process of repealing pro-life funding restrictions in the program, with the aim of eventually allowing pro-abortion groups to once again receive Title X funding.

“The budget increases funding for Title X family planning programs to improve access to vital reproductive and preventive health services, and to advance gender equity,” he said.

Madison bishop prays for pro-abortion Catholic politicians

Diocese of Madison

Washington D.C., May 12, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

A second U.S. bishop last week publicly supported the Archbishop of San Francisco’s challenge to Catholic politicians who are pro-abortion.

“We pray for those leaders who pursue government policies and laws which seek to further entrench abortion rights and other assaults on innocent human life,” Bishop Donald Hying of Madison stated on May 7. “St. John Paul II opined, ‘A nation that kills its own children has no future’.”

Bishop Hying recommended a May 1 pastoral letter of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, “Before I Formed You in the Womb, I Knew You.” The letter outlines the Church’s teachings on worthiness to receive Holy Communion, and the necessity for Catholics to assent to the Church’s teachings, especially on the life issue.

In the letter, Archbishop Cordileone said that Catholics who cooperate with the “evil” of abortion – including pro-abortion politicians – should not present themselves for Communion. The Church has long taught that formal cooperation and immediate material cooperation with grave evil, such as the evil of abortion, precludes one from receiving Holy Communion.

“It is fundamentally a question of integrity: to receive the Blessed Sacrament in the Catholic liturgy is to espouse publicly the faith and moral teachings of the Catholic Church, and to desire to live accordingly,” he wrote.

He included a section on pro-abortion Catholic politicians. “You are in a position to do something concrete and decisive to stop the killing,” he said. “Please stop the killing. And please stop pretending that advocating for or practicing a grave moral evil – one that snuffs out an innocent human life, one that denies a fundamental human right – is somehow compatible with the Catholic faith. It is not. Please return home to the fullness of your Catholic faith.”

Hying called the letter a “timely reflection on the moral evil of abortion, the need to challenge political leaders who are pro-abortion — especially those who profess Catholicism — and the linkage between the Eucharist and communion with the Church in her doctrinal and moral teaching.”

“I encourage you to read and pray over this pastoral letter,” he told Catholics in his diocese.

Hying was the second U.S. bishop last week to publicly support Cordileone’s letter. Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix on May 6 called the letter “a powerful defense of the Church’s teaching on the dignity of all human life.”

In his statement on May 7, Bishop Hying recalled how he came to be involved with the pro-life movement, emphasizing the importance of the pro-life cause.

“As a young priest, I encountered many people, men and women both, who were profoundly wounded by abortion,” he said. “Their painful experiences led me to get involved in the pro-life movement, as I came to realize in a deeper way the personal and societal effects of abortion.”

The previous day, Bishop Olmsted exhorted bishops to speak out clearly against cooperation in abortion.  

“Woe to us bishops if we do not speak clearly about the grave evil of abortion, and the consequences of any Catholic who participates in the act or publicly supports it by word or action,” Bishop Olmsted said, calling silence on the issue “a false patience and pastoral concern.”

“Such ‘patience’ is false because it is bereft of love and truth, and thus unmasks rather a deadly apathy towards one who professes the Catholic faith but whose public embrace of abortion puts his or her eternal soul at risk of damnation, and risks dragging untold numbers into hell by their example,” he said. 

Archbishop Cordileone issued his letter as the U.S. bishops are expected to address the topic of “Eucharistic coherence” this year, either at their spring meeting in June or at their fall meeting in November.

The bishops reportedly planned to discuss the broader teaching of Catholics’ worthiness to receive Holy Communion, not limiting their discussion only to Communion for pro-abortion Catholic politicians.

President Joe Biden is only the second Catholic president in U.S. history, but has taken policy positions at odds with Church teaching on serious issues, such as abortion, marriage, and religious freedom. He has pushed for taxpayer-funded abortion and supports the Equality Act, a bill which the U.S. bishops’ conference has warned would “punish” religious groups opposed to the redefinition of marriage and transgenderism.

After Biden’s election to the presidency in November 2020, the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) convened a working group on his presidency. USCCB president Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles noted the “unique” circumstances of Biden’s faith and his problematic policy positions as reasons behind the formation of the working group.

One of the conclusions of the working group – which met twice and made two main recommendations –was the need for a teaching document on the Eucharist. Such a document should instruct the faithful about worthy reception of Holy Communion, the group said, as well as about the responsibility of Catholic public officials to uphold the Church’s teachings in public life.

Officials who contradict the Church’s fundamental teachings, and who do so despite a pastor’s warnings, should not present themselves for Communion, the working group said.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently sent a letter to Archbishop Gomez, calling for “serene” dialogue among the bishops when considering how to proceed on the matter of Communion for public officials who contradict the Church’s teachings.

Any “national policy” on Communion should only “help the bishops to maintain unity,” and, the Vatican added, could “become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger Church in the United States.” So that such a policy would not produce discord, the bishops must “dialogue” among themselves and then with “Catholic pro-choice politicians within their jurisdictions.”

The bishops should first dialogue among themselves “to preserve the unity of the episcopal conference in the face of disagreements over this controversial topic,” the Vatican said, and to “agree as a Conference that support of pro-choice legislation is not compatible with Catholic teaching.”

Then local ordinaries “would reach out to and engage in dialogue with Catholic politicians within their jurisdictions who adopt a pro-choice position regarding abortion legislation, euthanasia, or other moral evils, as a means of understanding the nature of their positions and their comprehension of Catholic teaching,” stated CDF prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria.

 “If it [the U.S. bishops’ conference] then decided to formulate a national policy on worthiness for communion, such a statement would need to express a true consensus of the bishops on the matter, while observing the prerequisite that any provisions of the Conference in this area would respect the rights of individual Ordinaries in their dioceses and the prerogatives of the Holy See,” the CDF stated.

Cardinal Ladaria added that “any statement of the Conference regarding Catholic political leaders would best be framed within the broad context of worthiness for the reception of Holy Communion on the part of all the faithful, rather than only one category of Catholic, reflecting their obligation to conform their lives to the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ as they prepare to receive the sacrament.”

He said that “it would be misleading if such a statement were to give the impression that abortion and euthanasia alone constitute the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest level of accountability on the part of Catholics.”

Some bishops have spoken out against denying Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians.

“I do not see how depriving the president or other political leaders the Eucharist, based on their public policy stance, can be interpreted in our society as anything other than a weaponization of the Eucharist and an effort not to convince people by argument, and by dialogue and reason, but rather, to pummel them into submission on the issue [of abortion],” said Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego at a February online panel.

Sunday Mass obligation to resume in Connecticut's dioceses

Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Bridgeport

Hartford, Conn., May 12, 2021 / 14:07 pm (CNA).

The Latin rite bishops in Connecticut announced Monday that in each of their dioceses the general obligation to assist at Mass on Sundays and holy days will resume May 23.

The May 10 letter was signed by the ordinaries of the Archdiocese of Hartford and the Dioceses of Bridgeport and Norwich, as well as the auxiliary bishop of Hartford.

“With confidence in the Lord’s grace and protection, we have decided to end the general dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation in person in each of our respective dioceses effective Saturday, May 22, 2021,” the bishops wrote in their May 10 letter.

They said, “we believe the time has come to review the importance that full participation at Mass has for the spiritual life of all believers and offer a heartfelt appeal for all Catholics to return to the Sunday celebration of Mass.”

The bishops’ decision cited the increase in vaccinated people, decreased hospitalizations around the state, and the stripping of many indoor restrictions on public gatherings as reasons to end the dispensation.

The letter said that the original intent behind the dispensation was to protect human life, “especially the frailest and most vulnerable in our midst from becoming infected by a disease which many doctors were unsure how best to combat.”

The bishops thanked their communities for their cooperation in observing the safety protocols “that resulted in no significant viral spread of Covid-19 at any celebration of Mass in our dioceses.”

The encounters with Christ at Mass, they said, “offer us a deeply personal opportunity for spiritual nourishment. By receiving Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist, the Lord’s grace strengthens the daily life we share with him through our personal prayer and works of charity. Holy Communion is the celestial food that enlightens our minds, gives comfort to our hearts, and strengthens our wills to live the Church’s mission in word, deeds and manner of life.”

“While Christian discipleship involves a deeply personal relationship with the Lord, it is never a wholly private one. At our baptism, each of us received the Spirit of adoption, transforming us into Temples of the Holy Spirit and members of the one Mystical Body of Christ. The pursuit of holiness in our personal lives requires that we come together as a community of faith so that the Lord can bless, unite, and strengthen our shared hopes, dreams, challenges, and sufferings in service to Him,” they said, explaining the need to assist at Mass.

The Sunday and holy day obligation to attend Mass “is the Church’s expression of the deep, personal desire that burns in our hearts to come into the presence of the Lord whom we love, who gave His life for our salvation so that we may receive Him as food for our life’s journey unto eternal glory. For who among us does not want to spend time with someone we deeply love,” they asked.

“It must be our deep love for Christ that invites us to seek Him in person and by attending Mass, to welcome Him intimately into our lives as food for the journey of life.”

Legitimate reasons for being prevented from returning to Mass include, they said, “suffering from serious pre-existing conditions that may make a person more susceptible to falling ill from COVID-19; being ill and homebound or being a caregiver in close contact with someone who is; having tested positive for any contagious disease, including COVID-19; or being in quarantine due to exposure to any contagion or residing with someone who is quarantined.”

“For anyone facing these circumstances, please remember that the Lord will never invite you to do something that poses a danger to oneself or others,” the bishops of Connecticut wrote.

The bishops called for prayer that Christ, “in his great mercy, will deepen our appreciation, love and participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”

Former Michigan school teacher donates $1.1 million to local Catholic schools

Wuttichai jantarak/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 12, 2021 / 08:30 am (CNA).

A former Catholic school teacher in Michigan donated $1.1 million to create an endowment for local Catholic schools, the Jackson Catholic Schools district announced on May 6. 

Donna Ambs, a 1958 graduate of St. Mary Star of the Sea grade school in Jackson, Michigan and longtime teacher for Jackson Catholic Schools, made the donation, the district announced. The district is comprised of four Jackson-area Catholic schools: Lumen Christi Catholic School, St. Mary Star of the Sea Elementary, St. John the Evangelist Elementary, and Queen of the Miraculous Medal Elementary.

“This is a very clear message to our students, teachers, parents and the Jackson Catholic community that Catholic education is important and here to stay in the Jackson community,” Tim Dewitt, executive director of Jackson Catholic Schools, told CNA.

Dewitt told CNA that Ambs’ donation will have a direct impact on the district’s teaching staff, supporting efforts to retain and recruit teachers.  

“The fund will be invested in the Catholic Foundation as an endowment.  Once a year there will be a determined amount of distribution that will then be allocated to all schools to help underwrite teacher salaries,” said Dewitt. 

Ambs was part of the the founding group of teachers at Lumen Christi High school in Summit Township, when it opened in 1968, the district said. She retired from teaching in 1997.

“As a former Jackson Catholic School teacher, Donna was happy to give back to the very place that helped enrich her life for so many years,” Lumen Christi Catholic School said in a May 6 press release.

“She believed the role of teacher was one of the noblest and most relevant professions in the world, and that it is vital that institutions like Jackson Catholic School be a welcome place for educators to build their careers and influence young lives,” the press release said. 

“This endowed gift will go on in perpetuity to ensure we have the very best Catholic teachers,” he said.

In March, the school district received another gift of $1 million as part of the school’s Illuminate the Future Capital fundraising Campaign. The campaign has a goal of raising $7 million for operational improvements.

The school system has secured $5.5 million in pledges, Dewitt told CNA.

Maine Catholic schools to observe Fatima anniversary

Oct. 13, 2017: Statue of Our Lady of Fatima at the Via Conciliazione in Rome, Italy on the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparition. / CNA

Washington D.C., May 12, 2021 / 06:05 am (CNA).

Children at Maine’s Catholic schools will participate in a series of Marian devotions on Thursday, to honor the Blessed Mother on the anniversary of the Fatima apparition.

School children at six Maine Catholic elementary and middle schools will be praying the rosary and participating in a “May Crowning” ceremony, among other Marian devotions. The children will pray for Mary’s intercession and the protection of the world. The month of May is traditionally dedicated to the Virgin Mary. 

“The events fall on the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, during which we celebrate Christ's bodily ascension into heaven in the presence of his apostles,” said a press release from the Diocese of Portland. 

“Because Christ ascended, we, as members of the Body of Christ, also look forward to ascending into heaven after our bodily resurrection. On the solemnity, we are also reminded of our evangelizing mission. Before Christ ascends, he gives his disciples final instructions, telling them to await the arrival of the Holy Spirit and then ‘go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature’,” the diocese said. 

Although in some U.S. dioceses the solemnity has been transferred from its traditional date - 10 days before Pentecost - to the following Sunday, other provinces have maintained observance of Ascension Thursday. The Portland diocese, which includes the entire state of Maine, is part of the ecclesiastical province of Boston which observes Ascension Thursday.

In addition to the Solemnity of the Ascension, May 13 also marks the optional memorial of Our Lady of Fatima. On May 13, 1917, Mary appeared for the first time to a group of three Portuguese children in Fatima, Portugal. Over a series of six months, the Blessed Mother appeared to the children in the same location on the 13th of the month - except for when the children were briefly kidnapped by local authorities on August 13, after which Mary privately appeared to them several days later. 

The final visit, October 13, has come to be known as the “Miracle of the Sun,” or “the day the sun danced.” Around 70,000 people traveled to the location of Mary’s apparitions, and various accounts reported supernatural phenomena where the sun appeared to spin, twirl, and veer toward earth before returning to its place in the sky. 

The two youngest Fatima visionaries, siblings Francisco and Jacinta Marto, were canonized on May 13, 2017. The other visionary, their cousin Lucia dos Santos, died in 2005 and has since been declared a servant of God. 

Biden administration reconsiders abortion pill regulations


Washington D.C., May 11, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Pro-abortion groups last week praised the Biden administration for reconsidering federal safety regulations of the abortion pill regimen.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) on Friday said it was “thrilled” that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was reviewing restrictions on the regimen that have been in place since the year 2000. The FDA has long required the abortion pill regimen to be dispensed in-person in a health clinic setting, but pro-abortion groups have recently pushed for the pill to be prescribed remotely and dispensed through the mail.

In its statement on Twitter, ACOG supported the FDA’s “evidence-based review” of the “burdensome” and “unnecessary” regulations.

“We are confident that due to the FDA's commitment to regulatory decision-making that reflects science and patient-centered care, the needless restrictions on #mifepristone will soon end and patients will have less restrictive access to medication abortion & miscarriage care,” ACOG stated on Twitter.

The American Civil Liberties Union called the review “long overdue, but a major move forward.” The group, on behalf of ACOG and other pro-abortion groups, sued the Trump administration last year for leaving the abortion pill regulations in place during the pandemic.

Since it approved the abortion pill regimen in 2000, the FDA has listed the protocol on its “REMS” list, reserved for higher-risk procedures. Under the classification, the abortion pill regimen must be prescribed by a certified health provider and dispensed in-person in a health clinic setting.

The regimen involves women taking mifepristone, which blocks nutrients to the unborn child, up until 70 days gestation. That is followed by a dose of misoprostol 24 to 48 hours later, which expels the deceased unborn child.

A federal judge last year sided with the pro-abortion groups, blocking the FDA’s in-person dispensing requirements during the pandemic. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately sided with the Trump administration, allowing them to continue with their restrictions on chemical abortions.

In April, the acting FDA commissioner said that the agency would allow for remote dispensing of the abortion pill during the pandemic by not enforcing its regulations.

Now, however, the agency is reviewing its regulations with the prospect of altering them beyond the pandemic.

On Friday, both the Biden administration and groups challenging the FDA regulations jointly filed for a stay on the case until Dec. 1, due to the FDA’s ongoing review of its regulations.

“The Parties jointly seek a stay of this matter in light of Defendant U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (‘FDA’) current review of the risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (‘REMS’) at issue in this case,” the motion stated.

The parties cited the FDA’s recent “review of the in-person dispensing requirement” for the abortion pill regimen “in the context of the COVID-19 public health emergency.” The motion noted that “the outcome of FDA’s review of the REMS could have a material effect on the issues before this Court.”

The new Secretary of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra, has said he not only supports lifting the regulations during the pandemic, but added at his confirmation hearing that he favors increased use of telemedicine, in response to a question about the abortion pill regimen.

Calif. bill targets university healthcare links to Catholic hospitals, demands further moral compromise


Denver Newsroom, May 11, 2021 / 17:08 pm (CNA).

A bill threatens to ban University of California health systems from partnering with institutions that follow Catholic ethics, prompting concern ideological motives on abortion and LGBT issues will damage longtime partnerships and limit medical care access.


An organization of Catholic hospitals has defended its efforts to adhere to Catholic ethics, but also defend the partnership on the ground that they or their network hospitals provide some procedures related to gender transitioning and have won recognition from major LGBT groups.


“Currently there are many, many, many, contracts with the University of California and Catholic healthcare,” Edward Dolejsi, interim executive director of the California Catholic Conference, told CNA. “Primarily because we provide services in a variety of underserved communities, and the University of California wants access to those communities and wants to train their physicians in those communities.”


Dolejsi said Catholic institutions are “proud” to partner with the university system.


“But as always if you’re working at one of our facilities, we follow the (Catholic bishops’) ethical and religious directives,” he said. “We do not allow abortions, elective sterilizations, transgender surgeries etc. in those healthcare facilities.”


The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives, last revised in 2018, aim to ensure ethical treatment at Catholic hospitals.


However, prospective state legislation called the Equitable and Inclusive University of California Healthcare Act would require the University of California health system to renegotiate agreements with Catholic hospitals. The hospitals would be forced to allow its staff to provide all care they deem medically necessary or to end its links to the state university medical system. The proposal, numbered Senate Bill 379, is under consideration in the California Senate.


A spokesman for bill sponsor Sen. Scott Weiner, D-San Francisco, told an LGBT California publication that partnering with institutions like Catholic ones violates California standards.


“It is unacceptable to subject patients to discriminatory and harmful restrictions on the types of care they can receive, including reproductive and LGBTQ-inclusive care,” the spokesman said. “California law recognizes reproductive healthcare, including abortion, as basic healthcare. California state law restricts public health entities from preferring one pregnancy outcome over another, and prohibits discrimination against transgender patients seeking gender-affirming care. Despite existing law, people in California are still being denied these very critical healthcare services.”


Co-sponsors of the legislation include the ACLU of California, NARAL Pro-Choice California, and Equality California.


Dolejsi said the controversy is “primary ideological.” Passage of the bill would end up limiting medical access for many Californians, particularly the poor and struggling. It would also limit physicians’ abilities to practice or train.


“That’s always the challenge here: do you want to provide services and resources in a quality way for all the people of California or do you want to expand an ideology?” Dolejsi asked. He suggested that Catholic health care  systems are “probably one of the larger providers of medical services in California.”


“It’s going to be interesting to see how it moves forward,” he said, adding that legislators are “trying to require us to allow physicians to do whatever they wish to do within our facilities.”


In February Weiner’s office said the university system’s agreements “explicitly prevent (University of California) doctors and students from providing reproductive and LGBTQ inclusive care, including: contraception, sterilization, abortion, gender-affirming care, and urgent care, such as treatment for miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy.”


In a May 3 letter to Sen. Anthony Portantino, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Alliance of Catholic Health Care made its case against the bill. Critics of Catholic healthcare have made allegations with “numerous inaccuracies,” the alliance letter said. It stressed that Catholic hospitals’ services are “provided to all, without discrimination.” Resident physicians trained at Catholic hospitals are not arbitrarily assigned, but choose their training.


“Catholic hospitals agree to uphold Catholic values, and therefore we do not provide elective abortion or procedures for the primary purpose of sterilization such as tubal ligations, hysterectomies (when no pathology is present), vasectomies and in-vitro fertilization (the latter two services are not typically performed in hospitals regardless of religious affiliation). Catholic hospitals do not limit availability of emergency or medically-necessary pregnancy care,” the letter said.


The alliance said Catholic hospitals “provide the standard of care for women with pregnancy complications, miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies.” They always provide “urgent and emergent care”  to the mother, “even if it results in the foreseen, but unintended, death of the fetus.”


“Our health facilities provide compassionate and comprehensive care to victims of sexual assault, including the provision of emergency contraception,” the alliance said, adding, “More than 10 Catholic-affiliated facilities are designated as the comprehensive rape treatment center or are the sexual assault response team.


Catholic ethics forbid direct abortion and direct sterilization. The U.S. bishops’ ethical and religious directives allow medication to sex assault victims to prevent conception if there is no evidence conception has already taken place. The directives add: “it is not permissible, however, to initiate or to recommend treatments that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum.”


The Catholic alliance letter described intra-uterine devices, which prevent implantation, as a “multi-purpose device.” If the appropriate care for a patient is “elective sterilizations,’ the letter said, “we expect the physician to ensure that care is provided in a facility that provides that service.”


The alliance’s health systems include 51 acute care hospitals, nearly 15% of all hospitals and 16% of hospital beds in California. Affiliations with the University of California health system are “essential to ensuring and expanding access to quality health care services across our State – especially so for underserved communities,” the alliance’s letter said. University of California Health has estimated the bill would cost millions of dollars in lost revenue currently generated through partnership agreements.


In some parts of California, University of California health care is reliant on its Catholic partners.


The alliance said its health systems played an important role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing “scarce front-line medical, bed-capacity, PPE, testing and vaccine resources.”


The alliance letter added that its hospitals offer primary, specialty, and urgent care for LGBTQ persons. It added: “specifically for transgender patients, we provide hormone therapy, breast augmentation or reduction, and facial feminization or masculinization”


CNA asked the Alliance of Catholic Health Care why its hospitals provided transgender-specific drugs and procedures. Lori Capello Dangberg, vice president at the alliance, told CNA May 10 that “numerous states in which Catholic hospitals operate have statutes that prohibit discrimination against patients on the basis of sex and gender identity, among other things.”


“Should the hospitals decline to provide a service to one protected class of people that they can morally provide to another class of people, they will be in violation of these statutes. Such a practice cannot be defended on the basis of religious freedom, as the courts will hold that it’s first and foremost a matter of discrimination against a protected class of people.”


Dangberg did not address the question of legislation, but there are concerns that proposals like the federal Equality Act and other decisions advocated by the Biden Administration could further mandate the provision of drugs and procedures which violate Catholic ethics while also stripping religious freedom protections. While Catholic institutions have some protections under existing federal rules and laws such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, California has fewer religious protections at the state level.


The letter to the Senate appropriations committee chairman also mentions non-Catholic hospitals under the Alliance for Catholic Health Care umbrella that provide specialty transgender care.


“We are proud to offer the only specialty transgender care center in San Francisco, the Gender Institute at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital,” the letter said. The institute has been established “to deliver compassionate, high-quality, affordable health services to transgender patients and their families.”


The letter noted that St. Mary’s Medical Center in Long Beach is the first in the Dignity Health System to be recognized with health equity leader status by the Human Rights Campaign, an influential LGBT advocacy group.


The Human Rights Campaign has been effective at recruiting major companies to advocate for compliance to LGBT policies and political demands, including for a federal Equality Act stripped of religious freedom protections. It has asked the Biden administration to create accreditation regulations of religious schools that would enforce the recognition of same-sex unions as marriages and other LGBT causes.


In 2014, the campaign launched a lobbying effort linked with the Catholic Church’s Synod on the Family, targeting leading Catholic bishops it said have been “most outspoken in their rejection of LGBT Catholics, their civil rights, and their rightful place in the Church.”


Another proposed California bill, S.B. 642, purports to defend medical staff’s clinical judgement from hospital administration’s “non-clinical” standards, including ethical standards, that hinder a doctor from providing a particular medical treatment. Such treatment could include legal abortion and legal assisted suicide. The legislation would significantly impact the ability for Catholic hospitals to require staff to follow Catholic ethical directives.


“Catholic healthcare is fighting on two fronts here in California,” Dolejsi told CNA.

Joe Bukuras contributed to this report.

Biden will not address Notre Dame commencement, was invited by the university

University of Notre Dame / CNA

Washington D.C., May 11, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

In a break with recent tradition, President Joe Biden will not be delivering the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame this year - although he was invited by the university to do so.

On Tuesday, the university announced that its May 23 commencement speaker will be Jimmy Dunne, a finance executive and trustee of the university. During the last three presidential administrations, U.S. presidents or vice presidents have addressed the university's commencement in their first year in office, but that trend will not continue in 2021. 

Although a university spokesman told CNA that, as a policy, “we do not discuss who may or may not have been approached to address our graduates,” sources from the White House confirmed to CNA that Biden had indeed been invited by the university but could not attend due to scheduling. 

The White House expressed its hope that Biden would appear at a future commencement ceremony of the university, during his first term. 

U.S. presidents have customarily been invited to address graduates at Notre Dame’s commencement ceremonies. Both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama addressed the university’s commencement in their first year in office, while other presidents have appeared later on in their presidential terms. 

In 2017, Vice President Mike Pence - a Catholic who now identifies as simply a “Christian” - addressed Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony. The university would not say if it invited President Trump to speak. 

“Neither President Trump nor President Clinton, we understand, was invited,” stated an open letter to Fr. Jenkins asking him not to invite Biden. The letter, signed by more than 4,300 “members of the Notre Dame community,” cited Biden’s “pro-abortion and anti-religious liberty agenda” as reasons not to invite him to address the commencement.

A university spokesman said on Tuesday, “While Notre Dame has had more presidents serve as commencement speakers than any university other than the military academies, we have not always hosted a president in his first year in office--or at all."

Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush each addressed Notre Dame’s commencement in their last year in office, Brown noted. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter each addressed the commencement in their first year in office. President Gerald Ford did speak on campus, but the event was an academic convocation on St. Patrick’s day.

Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump did not address Notre Dame’s commencement at all. 

Obama’s address in 2009 drew controversy due to his ardent support of legal abortion. Bishop Thomas Olmstead of Phoenix sent a letter to Notre Dame’s president Fr. John Jenkins, CSC, saying that the invitation of Obama to speak and receive an honorary law degree at Notre Dame’s commencement is a violation of the USCCB’s 2004 statement “Catholics in Political Life.”

Bishop John M. D’Arcy, who served as the bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend until his retirement in November 2009, issued a statement at the time that Jenkins gave a “flawed justification” for the university’s commencement invitation to President Obama, and should have consulted with his bishop before extending the invitation. 

Biden is just the second Catholic president in U.S. history. While he has mentioned his faith on the campaign trail and has attended Sunday Mass while in office, he has supported taxpayer-funded abortion and pushed for the passage of the Equality Act in defiance of the U.S. bishops’ conference. 

His administration has begun rolling back restrictions on public funding of abortion providers, and is fighting in court to keep a mandate in place that doctors provide gender-transition surgeries upon referral, regardless of their medical or conscientious beliefs.

While Biden will not be speaking at Notre Dame’s commencement this year, he has spoken at the university in the past. 

In 2016, Biden appeared at the Notre Dame commencement with former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio); the two were given the Laetare Medal, the highest honor given by the school. 

“By honoring Biden, Notre Dame would make a bad situation worse,” the open letter in protest of Biden's invite stated.

“The University would be seen as little troubled by Biden’s actions, the voice of a more ‘progressive’ Catholic Church. Catholics – including especially Catholic politicians — and others who share Biden’s views would be confirmed in their ruinous error while others would be newly led astray,” the letter stated.

This article was updated on May 12.