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

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

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

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

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

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

Why they leave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How they return 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Our Church might be a little messy’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diocese of Buffalo to merge a third of its parishes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

null / cgstock/Shutterstock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A major organ build in Virginia highlights the ‘multidisciplinary’ art of church organ-making

The new gallery organ sits under construction at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond, Virginia. / Credit: Alexa Edlund

CNA Staff, May 29, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

“Much longer than any of us.” That’s how long Anne Kenny-Urban says the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart’s newly installed organ will last. 

Kenny-Urban, a board member of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart Foundation in the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, is part of the huge team of administrators and advocates that have spent nearly a decade planning and executing the replacement of the cathedral’s more-than-century-old gallery organ. The instrument was installed shortly after the cathedral was completed in 1906. Built by the John Brown Company of Wilmington, Delaware, it was reportedly the largest in the country at the time. 

Over the course of nearly 120 years, it received countless repairs, renovations, and upgrades in order to keep it running, including a complete rebuild in 1940 and a major renovation in the early 1990s. 

The original gallery organ at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond, Virginia, 1931. Credit: Courtesy of the Diocese of Richmond
The original gallery organ at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond, Virginia, 1931. Credit: Courtesy of the Diocese of Richmond

The departure of the cathedral’s longtime organist in 2015 led to an intensive search to fill that position. Over the course of that process, it became evident that the original organ had reached the end of its lifespan.

The church’s search for a new organ eventually led it to the Montreal firm of Juget-Sinclair, whose build of the new cathedral instrument is its largest project to date.

‘Every sort of trade imaginable’

Alex Ross, a sounder and organ builder with the organ company, told CNA that Juget-Sinclair’s organ-building process is highly “multidisciplinary.” The company was founded in 1994 by Denis Juget.

“In the beginning, it was mostly what we call ‘practice organs,’” Ross said. “So organs the size of, say, a China cabinet that organists can use at home to practice on.”

The fabricator “gradually worked up a reputation” via word of mouth. “And then eventually the first church organ was signed, and then another one, and then another one,” Ross said.

Considerable experience is necessary for a project the size of the cathedral’s new organ, Ross said.

“For a cathedral organ project like this, you wouldn’t want to hire a brand-new organ-builder who just set out under his own name and who’d only built a couple small organs,” he said.

Workers install the new gallery organ at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond, Virginia, May 2024. Credit: Michael Mickle
Workers install the new gallery organ at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond, Virginia, May 2024. Credit: Michael Mickle

“You want proof that a company is able to produce a large instrument like this. And so gradually our organs got bigger and bigger and bigger as more clients and more churches started putting their trust in us.”

“To date, this is the biggest organ that we’ve built,” Ross said. 

The organ itself is titled Opus 55 — the 55th organ the company has fabricated. The shop has also placed organs in Catholic and other Christian churches — in Wisconsin, New York, Texas, Vancouver, Florida, and numerous other locations, including as far away as Hong Kong. 

Some organ builders outsource much of the countless materials that go into making an organ, Ross said, but Juget-Sinclair does virtually all of its work in house. 

“In our philosophy, we try to build as much of the organ as we can ourselves,” he said. “So that means a lot of woodworking, it means tinsmithing to make the metal pipes. There’s ironwork, there’s welding, there’s electronics, there’s leatherwork. Just all kinds of different disciplines all packed into one.”

An organ the size of the cathedral’s has far more working parts than are visible from the outside, Ross said. 

“You see the part that you’re meant to see, but behind that there’s thousands and thousands of pipes,” he said. “The longest pipe is about 31 feet long, and it actually plays below the range of human hearing, so we can only hear the harmonics inside the sound, but you feel the fundamentals.”

Thousands of pipes line the interior of the new gallery organ at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond, Virginia, May 2024. Credit: Alexa Edlund
Thousands of pipes line the interior of the new gallery organ at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond, Virginia, May 2024. Credit: Alexa Edlund

“And the smallest pipe … from the mouth to the top of the pipe, is only a quarter-inch long,” he said. “It’s high enough that most people past the age of 50 might not be able to hear it anymore.”

The cathedral’s new organ ultimately utilizes over 4,300 pipes. Each one of those must be meticulously checked to ensure it works perfectly in the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart itself.

‘It had to start with the sound’

The process of “sounding” the organ to ensure it works best with the cathedral’s acoustics is only the tail end of what has been nearly a decade-long process for the church to select and install its new centerpiece instrument. 

It was clear roughly a decade ago that the old organ was on its last legs. “We had an organ concert that was played on the old organ,” Roger Neathawk, a board member of the cathedral foundation, told CNA. “And the guest artist pushed a key down and the key stuck.”

“It was unpredictable,” he said. “You didn’t know whether it was going to work or not.”

Carey Bliley, the chair of the cathedral’s organ committee, said that the “No. 1 consideration for us was probably quality of materials.” 

“With all the problems we’ve had with the old organ and all the work that had been done, we wanted to make sure we had a builder that was going to build something that would last,” Bliley said.

“It had to start with the sound,” Kenny-Urban said of the searching process. “Did you want a crisp, clear sound? Did you want a rounder, more baroque sound? Because that would inform what makers we should talk to.”

A worker inspects the gallery organ at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond, Virginia, May 2024. Credit: Daniel Payne/CNA
A worker inspects the gallery organ at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond, Virginia, May 2024. Credit: Daniel Payne/CNA

The search committee gradually narrowed down possible fabricators until it developed a short list of three. “Then we just went and did site visits to see and hear their instruments,” Bliley said.

Front-and-center for the cathedral was how to responsibly use the considerable amount of money allotted for the organ project.

“It was not so much about what’s going to cost the least,” Bliley said. Rather, the committee was focused on “what’s going to be the best use of the resources that go towards the organ long-term.”

“People are making donations,” Kenny-Urban said. “How do we use these responsibly for something that will last centuries?”

‘The majesty and gentleness of God himself’

Before the organ can last centuries, it must be perfectly fitted to the cathedral’s majestic space and acoustics. That involves not just installing the organ correctly but “sounding” it, or ensuring that its thousands of pipes work correctly and interact with the church’s soaring architecture. 

“We have to go through every single one of those and make small adjustments so that it sounds its best in this particular room,” Ross said. “That process itself is two-and-a-half to three months of work.”

The sounders will work in teams of two to three people, 12 hours a day, six days a week, Ross said.

Stops line the newly installed gallery organ at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond, Virginia, May 2024. Credit: Daniel Payne/CNA
Stops line the newly installed gallery organ at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond, Virginia, May 2024. Credit: Daniel Payne/CNA

Robin Côté, the president of Juget-Sinclair who first started working at the shop in 2002, said the “magic [of organ-making] is in small details.” 

“The artist that is making a portrait of somebody; it could be well done, but it could [also] be really, really impressive,” he told CNA. “You know, the treatment of the light, or small textures on the face.” 

“It’s hard to define exactly what really makes a work of art outstanding,” he said. “So that’s what we are trying to do. We are searching for an idea. We have a musical idea in mind. We are searching for sound, searching for how the instrument reacts to our fingers.”

“We have a vision, but then we have to adapt our vision to the space,” he said of the sounding process. 

Father Tony Marques, the rector of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, told CNA that the organ’s “power, range, and finesse reflect the majesty and gentleness of God himself.” 

“The instrument also mirrors the Church’s response to God, as we praise him with all that he has given us: our longing for beauty and our ingenuity that produces mellifluous sounds,” Marques said.

He pointed to Vatican Council II document Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which states that the pipe organ “is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things.” 

“Significantly,” Marques said, “the case of the new pipe organ resembles the Cathedral’s façade — a reminder that the purpose of the instrument is to enliven the Church’s prayer.”

The new gallery organ sits under the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart's coffered ceiling. Credit: Alexa Edlund
The new gallery organ sits under the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart's coffered ceiling. Credit: Alexa Edlund

Ross stressed the intensive and demanding amount of work that has gone into drafting, constructing, assembling, and fine-tuning the organ. 

“Thirteen people spent two years of their life working full time to build this organ,” he said. “And so there’s a certain sort of attachment that comes with that, at least for me. I sort of see all the instruments that we build as having their own personality.”

Bliley said the basic construction of the organ is “based off of old-world technology that’s still working and playing” centuries after it was first built. The cathedral’s new organ, he said, “should be here for a long time.”

Marques, meanwhile, said the towering majesty of the organ will continually bring people closer to God.

“This grand instrument will almost touch the cathedral’s ceiling,” he said, “lifting minds and hearts upward, to heaven.”

New report shows fewer abuse claims brought against U.S. Catholic clerics

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks at the USCCB fall plenary assembly Nov. 14, 2023. / Credit: USCCB video

CNA Staff, May 28, 2024 / 18:15 pm (CNA).

A new report from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) shows that across the country from mid-2022 to mid-2023, just over 1,300 clerical abuse allegations came to light, while payouts to victims reached $284 million — tens of millions more than the prior year. 

This figure is down from 2,704 allegations brought the prior year, the report states, while some 4,434 allegations were brought in 2019.

Of those allegations, dioceses and eparchies deemed 229 of them credible; 71% of those allegations concerned incidents that occurred or began in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The total number of new allegations from victims who were currently minors in the studied year remained similar to the prior year, at 17.

“These numbers are not just numbers. The statistics are the many stories and accounts of the betrayal of trust and the lifelong journey towards recovery,” Archbishop Timothy Broglio, president of the USCCB, wrote in the report’s introduction. 

“I am most grateful to victim survivors for reporting the abuse they suffered, for holding all of us accountable, and for allowing us to journey alongside you.”

The 2024 report, released May 27, was produced in collaboration with an accounting firm by the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People, a lay advisory body to the bishops established in 2002 on the protection of children and youth. 

The report covers a period between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023. All 196 Catholic dioceses and eparchies participated in data collection for the audit, but not all 196 dioceses and eparchies participated in an on-site audit, the report noted. Nevertheless, the report cited a “very high percentage of clergy, educators, seminarians, and employees who receive training in the area of child safety and abuse prevention, along with equally high numbers of those participating in background checks.”

“No other institution can readily provide and publish the body of knowledge and statistics as the Catholic Church does. The abuse crisis in the Catholic Church is a part of a larger societal problem of abuse,” Broglio continued. 

“What are we learning as a Church because of the abuse crisis? By acknowledging wrongdoing and communicating remorse and sorrow, the Church is taking ownership of her failure to protect. We are emphasizing the core value of relationships and encounters. We are putting in place steps and measures for safe environments and following up on near misses. The child or vulnerable person is at the center of these conversations.”

The figures

The number of clerics accused of sexual abuse of a minor during the audit period totaled 842. Of this total, 548 were diocesan priests, 122 belonged to a religious order, 34 were incardinated elsewhere, and 51 were deacons. Of the identified clerics, 45% had been accused in previous audit periods. Since 2019, the majority — two-thirds — of abuse allegations have been made known to a diocese, eparchy, or religious community through an attorney.

Out of the 1,308 allegations identified in this report, 17 involved people who were minors when they brought the allegations — four males, 11 females, and two were unknown due to a lack of detailed information. 

Taking a broader view, the report says that looking at all abuse allegations received in the U.S. from 2004 to 2023, 55% of all the credible allegations occurred or began before 1975, 41% occurred or began between 1975 and 1999, and 4% began or occurred since 2000.

Of those allegations, three were substantiated, seven were categorized as investigation ongoing, four were unsubstantiated, two were categorized as unable to be proven, and one was categorized as other, the report says. There were 44 allegations of abuse of minors brought in 2021, only four of which were substantiated. 

Of those accused, the report says, nine in 10 (91%) of them are deceased, already removed from ministry, already laicized, or missing. A further 5% of those identified during 2023 were permanently removed from ministry during that time; a handful were temporarily removed from ministry pending investigation of the allegations. None were returned to ministry or remain in active ministry pending the investigation, the report says. 

Forty-nine percent of alleged offenses occurred or began before 1975, 42% between 1975 and 1999, and 9% after 2000. Among the 228 victims where their gender was known, three-quarters were male.

Separately, the report identified 113 credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor committed by religious order priests, brothers, and deacons, made by 111 persons against 69 individuals. The alleged victims in this case were 80% male; only 63% of religious institutes provided information for the report, however.  

Similar to diocesan clergy, a high percentage, 91%, of accused religious are deceased, already removed from ministry, already laicized, or missing.

Costs

The report found that dioceses and eparchies that responded to the survey paid out $260,509,528 to victims between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023, a figure 66% higher than that reported for year 2022. In the past decade, only the years 2020 and 2019 respectively saw higher total payout amounts. The 2023 payout figure includes payments for allegations reported in previous years, the report notes. 

Insurance payments covered approximately $38,294,901, or 15%, of the total allegation-related costs paid by dioceses and eparchies. Money from savings, general operating budgets, loans or lines of credit, investments, bankruptcy filings, debt restructuring, property sales, staff reductions, and program or service elimination were also cited by dioceses as means of paying.

(As seen in the map below, numerous U.S. dioceses have declared bankruptcy in recent years amid mounting abuse lawsuits.)

In total, U.S. dioceses, eparchies, and religious communities reported paying out $284,043,825 for costs related to allegations between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023, a 41% increase over last year’s total of $201,973,695.

At the same time, U.S. dioceses, eparchies, and religious communities paid $43,747,179 for child protection efforts between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023. This is a 4% increase from the amount spent on such child protection efforts in the previous reporting year. 

Compared with fiscal year 2022, the amount of payments for attorneys’ fees for fiscal year 2023 was 23% higher. 

Harrison Butker doubles down on commencement speech at Catholic gala

Kansas City Chiefs' kicker Harrison Butker (left) and Kansas City Chiefs' punter Tommy Townsend watch the ball during Super Bowl LVII between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, on Feb. 12, 2023. / Credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 28, 2024 / 17:10 pm (CNA).

Kansas City Chiefs’ kicker Harrison Butker doubled down on his May 11 Benedictine College commencement speech comments during a Catholic home schooling association’s gala in Nashville, Tennessee, on Friday. 

“If it wasn’t clear that the timeless Catholic values are hated by many, it is now,” Butker, a three-time Super Bowl champion and the 2019 NFL scoring leader, said during the May 24 Regina Caeli Academy’s Courage Under Fire Gala.

Butker faced some pushback on social media and from commentators and celebrities for comments about gender ideology, gender roles, homosexuality, abortion, and other hot-button issues during the commencement speech.

Much of the criticism was in response to his warning to female graduates about “diabolical lies told to [them].”

“How many of you are sitting here now about to cross this stage and are thinking about all the promotions and titles you are going to get in your career?” Butker said at the commencement. “Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world, but I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world.”

At the gala Friday evening, Butker acknowledged the backlash, saying “many people expressed a shocking level of hate” after his speech. He said, however, that “as days went on, even those who disagreed with my viewpoints shared their support for my freedom of religion.”

“The more I’ve talked about what I value most, which is my Catholic faith, the more polarizing I have become,” he added. “It’s a decision I’ve consciously made and one I do not regret at all. If we have truth and charity, we should trust in the Lord’s providence and let the Holy Ghost do the rest of the work.”

Butker reflected on the persecution faced by many saints and prophets, such as Daniel who was thrown into a lion’s den. Being “disliked” and “mischaracterized by some,” Butker said, are “not so bad.”

“Our love for Jesus and thus our desire to speak out should never be outweighed by the longing of our fallen nature to be loved by the world,” Butker added. “Glorifying God and not ourselves should always remain our motivation despite any pushback or even support. I lean on those closest to me for guidance, but I can never forget that it is not people, but Jesus Christ, who I am trying to please.”

The 28-year-old kicker, who holds the record for most career field goals in Super Bowl games, encouraged the faithful to be “unapologetic of their Catholic faith and never be afraid to speak out for truth, even when it goes against the loudest voices.”

“If heaven is our goal, we should embrace our cross however large or small it may be, and live our life with joy to be a bold witness for Christ,” Butker said.

Although the secular response to Butker’s speech was mostly negative, the response from Catholic figures has been predominantly positive.

Butker’s bishop, James Johnston of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, told CNA two weeks ago that he supported the athlete’s “right to share his faith and express his opinions — including those that are critical of bishops.” 

President of the Catholic League Bill Donohue said in a statement that the kicker “nailed it” and praised “his courage and his commitment to Catholicism.”

Reactions from within the NFL were mixed. Jonathan Beane, NFL senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer, distanced the league from Butker’s comments, saying “his views are not those of the NFL as an organization.” 

However, Butker received support from Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and from the wife of the team’s owner, Tavia Hunt, and their daughter, Gracie Hunt.