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In-person Mass attendance dips following pandemic, study suggests

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St. Louis, Mo., Mar 30, 2023 / 09:00 am (CNA).

The results of a new study from the Pew Research Center show that in-person Mass attendance among Catholics has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, and only about 4 in 10 U.S. Catholics say they attend Mass in person as often as they did before the pandemic. A quarter of all Catholics say they now attend less often.

The self-reported Mass attendance numbers in the Pew study combine those Catholics who say they attend in person, virtually, or both. The drop in in-person attendance is accompanied by a 14% rise in the number of Catholics who say they attend Mass more frequently online now than they did before the pandemic. The Pew researchers suggest that participation in Mass among U.S. Catholics remained relatively stable throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but only if virtual attendance is taken into account. 

The Catholic Church teaches that Catholics are obliged to go to Mass every Sunday, “unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor” (or bishop). 

When virtually every U.S. diocese shuttered churches during the COVID-19 pandemic, many bishops issued dispensations from Catholics’ Sunday Mass obligation, leading to a rise in virtual worship for many. Bishops began lifting those dispensations later in 2020, with a few bishops holding out until 2022 before lifting the dispensation and inviting Catholics back to Mass in person. 

The Pew researchers concluded that “the vast majority of respondents showed no change in their self-reported general level of religious service attendance over this period” — while treating in-person and virtual attendance as being equal. 

“While most Americans did not report significant changes in their religious service attendance over the course of the pandemic, the share who now indicate they are attending less often than they did before the initial COVID-19 outbreak shuttered many in-person services is slightly larger than the share who say they are going more often,” Pew reported. 

“Most Americans either say they attend in person at about the same rate as before the COVID-19 outbreak (31%) or that they did not attend religious services before the pandemic and still do not (42%).”

Other findings from the Pew study included:

  • 84% of Catholics said in 2022 that they attend Mass at the same rate they did in 2019, whether in-person or online. Pew arrived at this figure by surveying the same individuals in 2019 and 2022. (For the adult population overall, that rate was 87%.) Six percent said they attend more often than in 2019, and 9% said they attend less often.

  • 38% of Catholics said they attend in-person religious services “about as often” as before the pandemic, 24% less often, and 9% more often. This is compared with 31% of adults overall who said they attend in-person religious services “about as often” as before the pandemic, 20% less often, and 7% more. 

  • Protestants, especially Black Protestants, reported a larger increase in participation in virtual worship than Catholics. Twenty-six percent of Protestants overall said in 2022 that they attend virtually more often than before the pandemic, as did 35% of Black Protestants. 

  • Throughout most of the pandemic, about 6 in 10 Americans have not taken part in religious services in any way, including roughly 7 in 10 adults under 30 and about 9 in 10 religiously unaffiliated adults. 

The present research comes following another recent survey released in January by the American Enterprise Institute, which concluded that ​​the percentage of Americans who attend religious services is now “significantly lower” than before the COVID-19 pandemic. As of spring 2022, according to that survey, 33% of Americans said they never attend religious services, up from 25% before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in March 2020. Religious affiliation, though, is largely unchanged, according to that survey.

The Pew study, which was done in November 2022, used a sample of 11,377 people in total, 2,207 of whom were Catholic. The margin of error was ±1.5 percentage points overall and ±3.4 percentage points for the Catholics.

The full results can be read here. 

Arrest made in firebombing of pro-life organization thanks to DNA found on burrito

Wisconsin Family Action was attacked with two Molotov cocktails in May 2022. / YouTube/Madison.com

Boston, Mass., Mar 29, 2023 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

A Wisconsin man was arrested and charged with violating federal law in connection with the May 2022 firebombing of a pro-life organization’s Madison office. The case was solved thanks to DNA evidence taken from a half-eaten burrito out of a trash can, the Department of Justice said.

Hridindu Sankar Roychowdhury, 29, was arrested in Boston on Tuesday, just before getting on a flight to Guatemala City, according to the DOJ. He was charged with one count of attempting to cause damage by means of fire or an explosive. If convicted, he could be sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Almost a month before Roychowdhury’s arrest, law enforcement began scouting him out as a possible suspect. After watching Roychowdhury throw away a fast food bag into the trash on May 1, 2022, law enforcement retrieved the bag, which was filled with “a quarter portion of a partially eaten burrito wrapped in waxed paper,” and other food items, the complaint said.

A forensic biologist swabbed DNA from the burrito and the bag and found that it was a match with the DNA from the crime scene. 

The Wisconsin Family Action office was damaged in an early morning arson attack on May 8, 2022, in which the perpetrator also left behind pro-abortion graffiti. The attack came just days after the news outlet Politico published a leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court, indicating that justices were poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case that legalized abortion nationwide.

Wisconsin Family Action was just one of the first of many pro-life organizations to experience vandalism and intimidation tactics following the leak.

To date, 34 Catholic churches, 60 pregnancy centers, one maternity home, three political organizations, six billboards, one political figure, and one memorial have been targeted in pro-abortion attacks following the Supreme Court leak in May 2022.

As part of the Mother’s Day attack, the words “If abortions aren’t safe, then you aren’t either,” were spray-painted outside the building. Variations of that same pro-abortion threat have been left at several other pregnancy centers across the nation.

According to the complaint, police found two mason jars inside the building on the day of the attack near a disposable lighter. The lid and “screw top” of one were burned black. The other mason jar was intact and filled with flammable fluid.

The complaint said that DNA from three different individuals was found on evidence from the crime scene.

The Department of Justice did not respond to inquiries as to whether Roychowdhury acted alone in the crime in time for publication.

Roychowdhury, an engineer at a Madison biotech company, holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, according to his LinkedIn profile.

“Violence is never an acceptable way for anyone to express their views or their disagreement,” Robert R. Wells, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, said in the DOJ’s press release. 

“Today’s arrest demonstrates the FBI’s commitment to vigorously pursue those responsible for this dangerous attack and others across the country and to hold them accountable for their criminal actions.”

The FBI has come under fire in the past year for its low arrest rate for attacks on pro-life pregnancy institutions. Only three arrests have been made out of the 60 attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers.

Additionally, many pro-lifers and federal lawmakers have argued that the Biden administration’s Department of Justice has been targeting pro-lifers in aggressive and disproportionate use of the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act toward those who defend life.

The FACE Act prohibits “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.”

On Jan. 30, pro-life activist Mark Houck was found not guilty in federal court after the government tried to prove that he violated the FACE Act while sidewalk counseling with his then 12-year-old son.

Merrick Garland, who heads the Department of Justice, testified to lawmakers in March that there is no bias in the department and that more pro-lifers have been charged under the FACE Act because they are more easily caught violating the law. 

“There are many more prosecutions with respect to the blocking of the abortion centers, but that is generally because those actions are taken with photography at the time, during the daylight, and seeing the person who did it is quite easy,” Garland said.

“Those who are attacking the pregnancy resource centers, which is a horrid thing to do, are doing this at night in the dark. We have put full resources on this. We have put rewards out for this,” he added.

Report finds 28 credible child sex abuse claims of Georgia priests in last 70 years

Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta. / Credit: JJonahJackalope, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Mar 29, 2023 / 11:40 am (CNA).

A new report says that 28 Catholic priests have faced credible child sex abuse allegations while serving in Georgia since the 1940s. However, there are no ongoing or active allegations that can be criminally pursued because either the alleged perpetrator is deceased or the statute of limitations has passed.

“The report contains detailed descriptions of allegations of sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct, including grooming and misuse of authority, against minors and adults,” the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, which issued the March 20 report, wrote in a news release.

According to the report, there were 13 credible accusations within the Archdiocese of Atlanta, seven of which were archdiocesan priests and six of which were in a religious order or affiliated with another diocese. The report cited another 15 credible allegations in the Diocese of Savannah, seven of which were diocesan priests and eight of which were affiliated with a religious order.

The two dioceses cover the entirety of Georgia.

According to the report, certain historical policies and actions by Church personnel “enabled sexual abuse of minors” and “prevented the discovery and investigation of these acts by public or civil authorities.” The report found some instances in which Church officials relocated priests after they were accused of sexually abusing children. At times, the reported noted, this was done “without providing notice to officials in the new parish, diocese, or archdiocese of the prior accusations of sexual abuse of children.”

However, the report added that the Diocese of Savannah began to take these allegations more seriously in the late 1980s and that the Archdiocese of Atlanta also approached these issues more seriously in the 1990s. The report notes that, based on records going back to 2002, both dioceses have been notifying the proper authorities when allegations occur. It added they both “cooperated fully in this file review, responded readily, and made records available as requested.”

Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer of Atlanta said in a statement that the archdiocese will not allow abusers to have access to its communities.

“Drastic changes have happened within the Church in the last 20 years,” Hartmayer said. “We have worked hard to better understand and prevent abuse from ever happening again. We will not waver from the zero-tolerance policy currently in place.”

Bishop Stephen Parkes of the Diocese of Savannah said in a statement that the report “represents a voluntary effort on the part of the Catholic Church in Georgia to be transparent about the past and to hope for continued healing for survivors of abuse.”

“The sexual abuse crisis has been a blight on the Church and a source of profound suffering,” Parkes added. “While the sins of the past cannot be overlooked — and indeed must be acknowledged — I assure you that the Church of today is firmly committed to the safety and protection of children.”

Notable cases

The allegations against priests include numerous accusations of molestation through fondling and other means, and some allegations of sodomy. Then-Father Wayland Brown of the Diocese of Savannah, who was relieved of assignments in 1988 and dismissed from the clerical state in 2004, for example, was accused of oral sodomy and attempted penetration of young boys. Then-Father Stanley Dominic Idziak of the Society of Catholic Apostolate in the Archdiocese of Atlanta faced numerous accusations of child sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated between 1982 and 1988, including acts of sodomy performed on a 12-year-old boy.

One of the more egregious allegations of abuse surrounded accusations against then-Father Leonard Francis Xavier Mayhew, who was dismissed from the clerical state in 1968 and died in 2012. The priest was accused of sexually abusing underage boys from 1962 through 1968. According to the report, Mayhew allegedly told the boys he wanted to initiate them into a club of altar boys and then asked them to engage in sexually abusive initiation activities, which often included slapping the boys’ stomachs until they became red. In other instances with these boys, he is accused of forcing them to remove all of their clothing, touching them sexually, and even pricking a boy with pins.

“Most of the claims against these individuals have not been fully evaluated in a civil or criminal court,” the news release from the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia stated.

“Consequently, unless otherwise indicated, all the allegations should be considered just allegations and should not be considered proven or substantiated in a court of law,” the statement continued. “In all the situations contained in this report either the criminal statute of limitations had expired, the accused was deceased, the allegations had been reported to the proper authorities, or the accused had been prosecuted by the appropriate jurisdiction.”

In addition to those allegations, the report also detailed credible allegations against priests who were credibly accused of sexually abusing minors while assigned to dioceses outside of Georgia, but at some point, also served in Georgia. This included 17 priests who had been in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and two priests who had been in the Diocese of Savannah, but none of those priests faced accusations while in Georgia. The report also includes allegations against 29 priests and laypeople in the two dioceses that could not be credibly verified.

The report noted that its intent is to raise awareness of child sex abuse and provide information to the public and healing to the victims.

“While many of the victims cannot obtain justice through criminal prosecution or civil compensation,” the report states, “this report exposes the offending priests, describes their conduct and the actions of those who concealed their abusive acts, providing them with some measure of vindication and transparency.”

Shia LaBeouf stars in ‘Padre Pio’ film to be released June 2

Shia LaBeouf and Brother Alexander Rodriguez, a real Franciscan friar who makes an appearance in the film, are close friends in real life. / Br. Alexander Rodriguez

Boston, Mass., Mar 29, 2023 / 10:00 am (CNA).

A new movie about St. Padre Pio, starring Catholic convert Shia LaBeouf will be available for public viewing in theaters and streaming, beginning June 2. 

The movie will be released and distributed in North America by Gravitas Ventures, according to deadline.com.

One of the most popular Catholic saints of the 20th century, St. Pio of Pietrelcina, commonly known as Padre Pio, was a Capuchin Franciscan friar, priest, and mystic.

Shia LaBeouf plays the role of Padre Pio in the new film about the saint coming in June 2023. Gravitas Ventures
Shia LaBeouf plays the role of Padre Pio in the new film about the saint coming in June 2023. Gravitas Ventures

Padre Pio is mostly known for his deep wisdom about prayer and peace; his stigmata; miraculous reports of his bilocation; being physically attacked by the devil, and mastering the spiritual life.

The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September 2022 and played again at the Mammoth Film Festival in early March 2023. 

LaBeouf, who plays the role of Padre Pio, spent four months living with Capuchin friars while preparing for the film. 

The film features a subplot about the rise of fascism in Italy, AP reported, focusing on the 1920 massacre of 14 people in the village of San Giovanni Rotondo near the monastery where Padre Pio lived.

Abel Ferrara, who had made a documentary about Padre Pio before working on the movie the film’s director, told AP he felt that the intersection between the saint’s spiritual battles and the political bloodshed at San Giovanni Rotondo made sense as a scope for the film.

“I thought the confluence between the massacre and his stigmata both happening in the same place at the same time … I mean how could you not make a movie about that?” he told the AP. 

Ferrara told AP that Church officials and Capuchin friars were supportive of the film project despite his having produced pornography and extremely violent films early in his career. 

“Given the list of films I’d made you’d be wondering,” Ferrara said.

“It’s just that these cats have got that optimistic take,” Ferrara said of the Church. “Don’t judge someone on their worst moment.”

LaBeouf made headlines in August after he revealed in an 80-minute-long interview with Bishop Robert Barron of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, and Word on Fire, that his on-screen portrayal of Padre Pio led him to a love of the Catholic faith

“I start feeling a physical effect from it,” he said of going to Communion. “I start feeling a reprieve, and it starts feeling, like, regenerative, and [I] start enjoying it to such a degree I don’t want to miss it, ever.”

LaBeouf, 36, says he was agnostic before finding God. More about his conversion, his devotion to the rosary, and the Traditional Latin Mass can be read here.

You can watch a trailer for the film below.

U.S. House passes bill to combat forced organ harvesting

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Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2023 / 15:10 pm (CNA).

On Monday night the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would impose sanctions and penalties on individuals involved in the forced harvesting of human organs.

The bill, authored by Catholic Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, and called the Stop Forced Organ Harvesting Act of 2023, had nearly unanimous support, passing in a 412-2 vote. It will now advance to the Senate.

Under this law, any person determined by the president to be funding, sponsoring, or in any way facilitating the forced harvesting of organs could face sanctions as well as civil and criminal penalties.

Individuals determined to be involved with the forced organ harvesting industry could face civil penalties of up to $250,000 and criminal penalties of $1 million and up to 20 years in prison.

Additionally, individuals involved in the organ harvesting scheme could face sanctions blocking them from entering the U.S. and prohibiting them from engaging in transactions in property or interests in property within the country.

According to Smith, the secretive forced organ harvesting industry preys on minority communities throughout the world, with victims being abducted or imprisoned only for their organs to be removed for harvesting.

In some instances, the victims have been reported to still be alive during the harvesting procedure.

This forced organ harvesting industry is said to be especially prevalent in China under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

“These crimes against humanity are unimaginable,” Smith said during debate on the House floor on Monday. “Every year, under General Secretary Xi Jinping and his Chinese Communist Party, between 60,000 to 100,000 young victims — average age 28 — are murdered in cold blood to steal their internal organs.”

China’s Falun Gong and Uyghur communities, Smith explained, are especially targeted by the CCP for forced organ harvesting. 

“Elderly high-ranking Chinese Communist Party officials have received replacement organs from the very people they despise like the Falun Gong and the Uyghurs,” Smith said. 

“We must act decisively,” Smith continued. “State-sponsored forced organ harvesting is big business for Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party and shows absolutely no sign of abating. Which is why we and the rest of the world need to step up.”  

Police: Shooter at Nashville Christian school was former student, had ‘manifesto’

A woman prays at a makeshift memorial for victims outside the Covenant School building at the Covenant Presbyterian Church on March 28, 2023, following the March 27, 2023, shooting at the school in Nashville, Tennessee. / Credit: Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2023 / 14:50 pm (CNA).

A person who killed six people at a private Presbyterian Christian school in Nashville before being fatally shot by police wrote a manifesto that contained a map of the school and potential entry points, but a motive for the crime has yet to be determined, according to police.

Police confirmed the shooter was 28-year-old Audrey Hale, who was a biological female who identified as transgender and had previously attended Covenant School as a child. Police Chief John Drake said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon that the police do not believe the individual victims had been specifically targeted and that they are still not sure of the exact motive.

When asked whether Covenant School had been targeted for its Christian beliefs or whether there was any significance to the date of the attack, Drake said that is still unclear.

“I can’t confirm either,” Drake said. “I’m not sure [whether it is because] we’re approaching a holy period at Easter and all of that. I can’t confirm any of that. [We] do not know why she targeted that particular church. We do know she was a student at that church at one point but unsure right now if that was the reason why.”

Regarding the manifesto, Drake said there was “quite a bit of writing to it,” but only confirmed that “there was a map of the school” and “a drawing of how potentially she would enter.” He said the manifesto contained writings about other locations, but that he has “not read the whole entire manifesto” and that police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are still working on it.

Drake said that Hale legally purchased seven weapons and brought three of them to Covenant School on the day of the attack. He added that “she was under doctors’ care for an emotional disorder” and that her parents did not believe she should have owned guns and did not know she owned any at the time of the shooting.

Metropolitan Nashville Police Department officers shot Hale in a gunfight at about 10:24 a.m., but not before the shooter took the lives of three 9-year-old students and three adult staff members. The school, which serves about 200 students, provides education from preschool through sixth grade. All six victims were pronounced dead on arrival after being transported to the hospital.

The police were informed of the shooting at about 10:13 a.m. and engaged and killed the suspect by about 10:24 a.m., according to Drake. He said when the officers arrived, “the suspect was in an upper level” and “police cars were hit by gunfire.”

“As officers were approaching the building, there was gunfire going on,” Drake said. “They went in, they went through door by door, [which is how] we clear buildings. They heard gunfire and immediately ran to that and then took care of this horrible situation.”

Drake said he was impressed by the officers’ response but added that there is always room to improve.

“I was really impressed that with all that was going on, the danger that somebody had took control and said ‘let’s go, let’s go, let’s go’ and went in and took care and just tried to end this situation,” Drake said.

“We look at every single incident we have and if there’s a way to get better,” and “you always want to get there in two or three minutes, so there’s a lot of things that could have happened,” he added.

Mourners held a vigil at Belmont United Methodist Church Monday night to pray for the victims of the shooting, and others visited Covenant Presbyterian Church to lay flowers and pray. Bishop Mark Spalding of the Catholic Diocese of Nashville held a special Mass at the Cathedral of the Incarnation to pray for and remember the victims.

“My heart breaks with news of the school shooting at the Covenant School this morning,” Bishop Spalding said in a statement. “Let us pray for the victims, their families, and the Covenant Presbyterian community.”

Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church issued a statement on Facebook to notify its members that one of the children killed in the attack, Hallie Scruggs, was the granddaughter of two of its parishioners.

“Our Lady of the Lake is deeply united in prayer with the Covenant Presbyterian community,” the statement read. “Please continue to pray for the victims and their families and that God brings them a peace only he can provide.”

This is a developing story.

Religion, patriotism, and having children diminish in importance for Americans: WSJ poll

null / Public Domain

St. Louis, Mo., Mar 28, 2023 / 13:45 pm (CNA).

A new poll of U.S. residents suggests that certain values such as religiosity and having children have receded in importance over the past 25 years, while people’s opinion of the importance of money increased during the same period. 

When asked about certain values and whether they consider them to be “very important,” 39% said “religion” was very important to them. By contrast, in 1998, 62% of respondents to the same question said religion was very important to them. 

The poll, released March 27, was conducted earlier this month by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago and funded by the Wall Street Journal. 

Faith was one of several indicators of more traditional values that the survey showed are less important to Americans than they were 25 years ago. The 2023 survey found that these values are less important than in 2019, the last time the survey was done. 

Among the findings:

  • Only 30% of 2023 respondents overall said having children was very important to them, compared with 59% in 1998 and 43% in 2019. 

  • In another notable drop, 38% in 2023 said “patriotism” is very important, compared with 70% in 1998 and 61% in 2019. 

  • Only 43% said marriage is very important (this question was not on the 2019 and 1998 surveys). 

  • The only value that increased in importance in respondents’ minds from 1998 to 2023 was money, which increased from 31% to 43% over the time period. 

“Aside from money, all age groups, including seniors, attached far less importance to these priorities and values than when pollsters asked about them in 1998 and 2019. But younger Americans in particular place low importance on these values, many of which were central to the lives of their parents,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

In the 2023 poll, just 19% of the respondents overall said they attend religious services once a week or more. Some 31% of younger respondents said that religion was very important to them, compared with 55% among seniors, the Journal reported. 

Broken down by self-described political persuasion, 53% of Republicans and 27% of Democrats said religion is “very important” to them, and 38% of Republicans and 26% of Democrats said having children is very important to them.

Bill McInturff, a pollster who worked on a previous WSJ survey, told the paper that “these differences are so dramatic, it paints a new and surprising portrait of a changing America’’ and surmised that “perhaps the toll of our political division, COVID, and the lowest economic confidence in decades is having a startling effect on our core values.”

Other findings

  • The pollsters asked respondents if they are confident or not confident that life for their children’s generation will be better than it has been for them. Seventy-eight percent said they do not feel confident, while 21% said they do. 

  • Only 27% of those surveyed said that “community involvement” was very important to them. That’s a dramatic decrease from 2019, when 62% said it was very important. In 1998, 47% rated it as very important.

  • “Hard work” is less important today that it used to be: 67% said it was very important, compared with 89% in 2019 and 83% in 1998.

The pollsters also asked respondents several questions about current issues that did not appear on the previous surveys. For example, respondents were asked for their opinions on transgender athletes.

Fifty-six percent of respondents said transgender athletes should play on teams matching their biological sex, 17% said they should be able to play on sports teams that match their gender identity, and 25% were unsure. 

The Journal-NORC survey polled 1,019 people from March 1–13. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.The full results of the 2023 WSJ poll can be found here.  The results of the NBC/Wall Street Journal polls taken in 2019 and 1998 can be found here.

Colorado proposes radically expanding abortion access in the state — again

Colorado State Capitol. / f11photo / Shutterstock.

Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2023 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The Colorado state Senate last week passed a three-bill “Safe Access to Protected Health Care” package that would radically expand abortion access in the state.

The package now advances to the state House, which is likely to hold a vote on it this week. Given that Colorado has a Democratic majority in its House and a Democrat governor, the bills seem likely to become law.

These measures would further expand abortion in Colorado, a state that already has some of the most pro-abortion laws in the U.S.

If enacted, the three bills would mandate employers fully cover abortions until birth, ban treatments to reverse the abortion pill, greatly restrict crisis pregnancy centers from advertising, and more.

Crisis pregnancy centers, which typically offer pregnant women and families free resources and baby materials, are specifically targeted in the new abortion package. The bill covering crisis pregnancy centers calls them “anti-abortion centers” and says they are “the ground-level presence of a well-coordinated anti-choice movement.”

“False advertising relating to the provision of abortion or emergency contraceptive services, or referrals for those services” is strictly prohibited, but it is not clear as to what exactly constitutes “false advertising.” 

The Safe Access to Protected Health Care package further builds on the Reproductive Health Equity Act (RHEA), enacted last April, that codified abortion into the state constitution and expanded access to the point of birth.

The RHEA explicitly states that unborn babies at any stage of development do not have rights in Colorado, saying, “a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent or derivative rights under the laws of this state.” 

Though a state constitutional amendment bans tax dollars from being used to pay for abortions, Brittany Vessely, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, which opposes the package, told CNA that the new laws being proposed would essentially create a workaround.

“If enacted, [this bill] would circumvent Colorado’s prohibition against public funding of abortion in the Colorado Constitution by requiring large employer insurance plans to provide coverage for the total cost of an abortion and requiring individual [and] small-group plans to provide abortion coverage,” Vessely said. “Insurance funding does contain public funding — it is ridiculous to assume premiums mean it’s private funding, but this is the argument from bill sponsors.” 

“Even though the 2022 Reproductive Health Equity Act (RHEA) already made Colorado one of the most extreme pro-abortion states in the country, pro-abortion lawmakers are still pushing for more abortion access,” Vessely said. 

The Colorado Catholic Conference is the public policy outreach arm of the bishops of Colorado. 

“We are engaging [and] mobilizing the parishes and lobbying hard against these bills and for amendments that make them moderately better for Coloradans,” Vessely said. 

The Colorado Catholic Conference is also partnering with state pro-life groups and crisis pregnancy centers to organize efforts to counter the state’s increasingly pro-abortion political landscape. 

Vessely said they will be holding a pro-life rally on April 4, when they will announce their partnership with the National March for Life to put on the inaugural Colorado March for Life in 2024.

“Now that Roe and Casey are overturned, the question of pre-viability abortion has returned to the states. For some state[s] that means a culture of life will flourish. For other progressive-dominated states such as Colorado, that means laws will be introduced that go far beyond Roe and incite a culture of death,” Vessely said. 

“But as Lincoln famously argued regarding another violation of human rights in the 19th century [slavery], our nation cannot stand ‘half pro-abortion and half pro-life,’ it must become one or the other,” she said.

“We know justice will prevail — we just don’t want more babies to be murdered by abortion in the meantime, so as Catholics we are called to advocate for life at all levels of government and in society,”Vessely said. 

Meanwhile, the Safe Access to Protected Health Care package’s sponsors say that the bills will help more women, from both Colorado and states that have banned abortion, to access the procedure. 

“Abortion is legal in Colorado, but legality does not equal accessibility,” one of the bill sponsors, Democratic state Rep. Elisabeth Epps, said in a March 9 press conference. “Our lower-income communities and Coloradans of color face larger barriers and a disproportionate lack of access to protected health care.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is likely to sign the Safe Access to Protected Health Care package given that he has supported previous abortion legislation. 

In July 2022, Polis signed an executive order giving legal protection to abortionists who perform abortions on women from states where the procedure is illegal. 

Besides Democrats, who hold majorities in both houses of the Legislature, the abortion package has the backing of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, the ACLU of Colorado, and the Cobalt Abortion Fund, all of which hold significant influence in Colorado politics. 

With many states restricting or banning abortion after the overturn of Roe v. Wade, Colorado is the closest abortion access point for 1.2 million women, according to Cobalt.

Bishops to Biden administration: Keep in place federal rules to protect college religious groups

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Denver, Colo., Mar 28, 2023 / 11:30 am (CNA).

Religious student groups on many college and university campuses will lose key federal protections for their ability to organize on campus and set their own standards for leaders if the Biden administration’s proposed rule change is finalized, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has said.

The existing rules are “commonsense protection for faith-based student organizations that have faced discrimination on many public college campuses for nearly four decades,” the general counsel’s office of the U.S. bishops’ conference said in March 23 comments submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.

“By protecting students of all faiths, the existing regulations ensure that students of all religious faiths will be welcome on public college campuses, thereby enhancing authentic religious diversity on those campuses,” the bishops’ letter said. To rescind the rules would tell religious student groups “that they are not welcome on public campuses.”

The Biden administration seeks to rescind the “equal campus access” provisions of the Trump administration’s 2020 Religious Liberty and Free Inquiry Rule.

The 2020 rule has two sets of provisions: one for public institutions that directly receive grants and one that governs states and subgrantees that are public institutions. The rule bars denying religious groups at these public institutions “any right, benefit, or privilege” that other student groups receive, including facility access, student group funding, and official institutional recognition, because of “the religious student organization’s beliefs, practices, policies, speech, membership standards, or leadership standards, which are informed by sincerely held religious beliefs.”

“Thriving religious student organizations benefit not just those who choose to participate in their activities but their campus communities as a whole,” the bishops said in support of the current rule. “Religious student organizations offer spiritual nourishment, emotional encouragement, and friendship to all at a time when university communities are still recovering from the physical, emotional, and spiritual toll that the pandemic wrought.”

COVID-19 restrictions on in-person meetings made students struggle to keep their organizations going, and the current rules are “particularly critical” to their efforts to rebuild, the bishops said. Religious involvement has a relationship with improved ability to cope with stress, less depression, suicide, anxiety, and substance abuse, the letter said.

The Biden administration’s Feb. 21 proposal to rescind the rule said it is “not necessary to protect the First Amendment right to free speech and free exercise of religion.” It is “unduly burdensome” for the Department of Education to investigate alleged violations. The rule has “created confusion” among higher education institutions, some of which say the rule would require them to “allow religious student groups to discriminate against vulnerable and marginalized students.” This requirement, according to the rule proposal, would “go beyond what the First Amendment mandates.”

The bishops’ Office of Legal Counsel said the Biden administration’s proposal ignores concerns that the enforcement of “neutral, generally applicable” nondiscrimination law and policy do not always yield a “just result” and might not survive Supreme Court scrutiny.

Litigation is not an adequate solution for student groups, many of which lack funds for legal representation. Many student members will graduate by the time their rights are vindicated, and there will be a “chilling effect” given “the absence of clear, regulatory protections.”

Preserving the current rule means “students of all faiths will remain free to establish and maintain communities defined by shared religious commitments on their public college campuses,” the bishops’ letter said.

A March 2023 briefing from the Christian Legal Society lists dozens of incidents in which federally funded colleges or universities threatened to exclude student religious groups because of their rules that leaders must agree with their beliefs.

In one significant 2018 incident, almost 40 recognized student groups at the University of Iowa, including InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, were de-registered due to their religious leadership standards. While InterVarsity allows all students to participate as members, it requires leaders to embrace its Christian mission. Other groups expelled from campus for similar reasons included the Latter-day Saint Student Association, the Sikh Awareness Club, and the Chinese Student Christian Fellowship.

In 2019, U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose ruled that the University of Iowa’s anti-discrimination policy was unevenly applied against another Christian club, Business Leaders in Christ, which the university de-recognized in 2017. In March 2021, a federal appeals court ruled that the University of Iowa officials who wrongly de-recognized the Christian student group can be held personally liable for their unconstitutional actions.

The secularist group Americans United for Separation of Church and State is among the groups backing the Biden administration’s proposed rule change. The group’s Feb. 21 statement said the existing rule “forced universities to fund discrimination by religious student groups.”

The USCCB’s Office of Government Relations, writing in a March 24 advocacy update, said that permanent statutory protections are needed. To this end, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty chairman, has co-signed a March 13 letter to several members of Congress backing the language in the proposed Equal Campus Access Act of 2023.

The letter, co-signed by many Catholic leaders, other Christian leaders, and several Jewish leaders, said the proposed legislation will “provide critical protection for faith-based student organizations of all religious traditions.”

The letter affirmed “the freedom of all students to meet on their public college campuses based upon their shared religious beliefs” and their ability “to choose leaders who affirmatively support the distinctive religious messages and missions of their various groups.”

Joining Cardinal Dolan were Catholic co-signers including leaders of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, the Catholic Campus Ministry Association, the Catholic Medical Association, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, and the Michigan Catholic Conference.

Arrest made in vandalism of New York pregnancy center

null / ArtOlympic / Shutterstock.

Boston, Mass., Mar 28, 2023 / 08:13 am (CNA).

An arrest has been made in the March 16 act of vandalism committed at a pro-life pregnancy center in Amherst, New York, the same clinic that was seriously damaged in an arson attack in June 2022.

Although perpetrators of last year’s act of vandalism at CompassCare Pregnancy Services still haven’t been brought to justice, 39-year-old Hannah Kamke has been arrested in connection with the recent crime. The word “liars” was spray-painted in red capital letters across the center’s sign at its 1230 Eggert Rd. location.

Kamke is being charged with one count of criminal mischief in the third degree, which is a Class E felony, and holds a maximum penalty of up to four years’ imprisonment.

The Saturday arrest of Kamke is only the third reported arrest in any of the at least 60 attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers across the country since May 2022. The first two arrests came in January against two Floridians. 

There have been dozens of acts of vandalism targeting pro-life pregnancy centers across the nation since reports in May 2022 that Roe v. Wade would be struck down by the Supreme Court. That ruling returned the authority to regulate abortion to the states. 

According to local police, the FBI assisted in the investigation of the incident of vandalism at CompassCare. CNA asked the FBI’s Buffalo office if it is planning to press charges of its own but did not receive a response by time of publication.

For his part, the CEO of the clinic, Jim Harden, said that the crime is a violation of the federal law, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. 

Commonly referred to as the FACE Act, the federal law prohibits “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.”

“Both the vandalism and firebombing fit the definition of a violation of the FACE Act,” a March 25 press release from the clinic said. Harden is considering suing Kamke under the auspices of the FACE Act, the release also said. 

“This arrest represents an indictment on the FBI and the hundreds of other local law enforcement agencies that have allowed the FBI to usurp their investigative duty. The FBI has less evidence for the March 16 vandalism than they do for the June 7 firebombing, yet they somehow were able to identify a suspect and make an arrest within days,” Harden said in the press release.

“We’ve been saying all along that the FBI possesses this kind of forensic power but has chosen not to employ it on behalf of pro-life people when victimized by pro-abortion Maoist Antifa,” Harden added.

Harden isn’t alone in his criticism of the FBI. Many pro-lifers and federal lawmakers have voiced their opinions arguing that the Biden administration’s Department of Justice has been targeting pro-lifers in aggressive and disproportionate use of the FACE Act toward those who defend life.

Merrick Garland, who heads the Department of Justice, testified to lawmakers in March that there is no bias in the department and that more pro-lifers have been charged under the FACE Act because they are more easily caught violating the law. 

“There are many more prosecutions with respect to the blocking of the abortion centers, but that is generally because those actions are taken with photography at the time, during the daylight, and seeing the person who did it is quite easy,” Garland said.

“Those who are attacking the pregnancy resource centers, which is a horrid thing to do, are doing this at night in the dark. We have put full resources on this. We have put rewards out for this,” he added.