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Religious freedom objections to mandatory health care coverage part of broader lawsuit

null / Gorodenkoff via Shutterstock.

Denver Newsroom, Aug 11, 2022 / 13:39 pm (CNA).

Religious freedom violations are among the claims of a federal lawsuit challenging mandatory “preventive care” coverage in employee health plans. But the lawsuit’s other challenges to federal rule-making could have far-reaching consequences.

Though the Texas-based plaintiffs echo previous challengers in objecting to abortifacient contraceptives as mandatory “preventive care,” they also object to mandatory no-cost coverage of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a drug regimen intended to reduce the risk of HIV infection; STD tests and STD counseling; and drug use counseling.

“The government cannot possibly show that forcing private insurers to provide PrEP drugs, the HPV vaccine, and screenings and behavioral counseling for STDs and drug use free of charge is a policy of such overriding importance that it can trump religious-freedom objections,” said the lawsuit in Kelley v. Becerra.

The lawsuit was filed in 2020, but argued only last month before U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor.

John A. Di Camillo, an ethicist and director of personal consultations with the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that the objections raise valid moral questions.

“It certainly is an important moral consideration to know whether or not funding this kind of drug or this kind of procedure may actually incentivize or encourage or enable your employees to engage in immoral behaviors,” he said Aug. 9.

Alleged religious freedom violations constitute one of the eight claims made in the lawsuit. This claim charges violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires that the federal government may not “substantially burden” the free exercise of religion, unless there is a “compelling government interest” in doing so, and it is carried out in the “least-restrictive” manner possible.

A narrow court ruling on the issue of religious freedom could avoid a broader ruling about administrative law. A broad court ruling, however, could eliminate all requirements that insurers provide preventive care coverage at no cost, Bloomberg Law reported in April.

The lawsuit describes one plaintiff, orthodontist John Kelley of Tarrant County, Texas, as a Christian with religious objections to purchasing some health plans that subsidize abortifacient contraception or PrEP drugs that “encourage homosexual behavior and intravenous drug use.” He does not need or want health insurance that covers Truvada or PrEP drugs “because neither he nor any of his family members is engaged in behavior that transmits HIV.” He has no desire for contraceptive coverage “because his wife is past her child-bearing years.”

The other plaintiffs are Kelley Orthodontics, Joel Starnes, and Braidwood Management, Inc. Some plaintiffs, like Braidwood owner Steven F. Hotze, also object to mandatory coverage of STD screenings and counseling for those engaged in non-marital sexual behavior.

The plaintiffs claim a grounds for class action because the mandates still limit their options for health insurance that excludes or limits coverage as they desire.

Di Camillo, who has worked on ethics reviews of Catholic health insurance programs, told CNA that self-insured plans mean the employer is “actually directly paying out of pocket for the medical expenses.” This is in contrast to standard insurance programs where a large outside company pays for expenses.

“There's a more direct relationship, and so there's a heightened level of moral concern or responsibility for the employer in those situations,” he said.

Other claims in the lawsuit involve aspects of administrative law known as the non-delegation doctrine, which requires Congress to provide agencies with sufficient principles, policy, and standards to guide their action. The Supreme Court has not sided with claims of excessive delegation since two cases in 1935. The lawsuit charges that Congress wrongly delegated the definition of “preventive care” to regulators under the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had ruled that mandatory preventive care in employee health plans must include contraception, including drugs that can cause abortion. It did not provide exemptions for those with objections to the coverage. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled against this mandate in favor of Hobby Lobby, a closely-held company whose Christian owners had a religious objection to abortifacients. In 2020, the high court ruled in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who objected to providing contraceptive coverage in their employee health plans.

If the Kelley v. Becerra case results in a broad ruling against the regulatory mandates, it would eliminate mandatory no-cost coverage of cancer screenings, vaccines, counseling for alcohol abuse, diet counseling for those at risk of chronic disease, and other preventive services, National Public Radio reports.  The American Medical Association has led a coalition of more than 60 medical organizations in warning against a broad ruling.

Di Camillo considered the ethical questions involved in health care plan coverage and employers’ moral objections.

“We don't want to be forcing a company to have to subsidize all of the consequences of immoral behaviors,” he said. “On the other hand, we can take the approach of a Christian mercy that sees we’re all sinners and sometimes people make bad decisions.”

“Certainly, in a Catholic perspective, we often look not to just whether something is tied to immoral behavior, but whether there are grounds for helping an individual in need, even if that need arises from immoral choices,” he said.

There are questions about whether the exclusions in the case would mean no coverage for those at risk of disease, such as a dependent minor, or no coverage for an employee at risk of disease because of an adulterous spouse.

There are also questions about whether a moral objection is too rigorous, but Di Camillo cautioned that objections should be taken seriously.

“I think there is a tendency to quickly assume someone else is misapplying or misunderstanding (ethics), (but) sometimes we ourselves may be the ones who are misapplying or misunderstanding.” 

Di Camillo emphasized that employers do have a duty to make clear to prospective and current employees any conscientious objection exclusions in their health coverage so that “this is not sprung on them as a surprise.”

Britney Spears clarifies she asked for a Catholic church wedding: ‘I don’t like being called a liar’

Singer Britney Spears attends the MTV Bash at the Hollywood Palladium on June 28, 2003 in Hollywood, California. / Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 10, 2022 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

American pop star Britney Spears said that she asked to get married in a Catholic church in California, pushing back against claims that she never contacted the parish.

“There was a lot of backlash saying I never asked to get married at the church I pictured,” the 40-year-old wrote in an Instagram post Tuesday. “[I]t’s not a big deal, but I don’t like being called a liar when their church says I never asked !!!”

Her comments came after she reportedly said in a previous Instagram post that she wanted to celebrate her wedding at St. Monica Catholic Church in Santa Monica, near Los Angeles.

At the time, she wrote: “when I wanted to get married there they said I had to be catholic and go through TEST!!! Isn't church supposed to be open to all???”

Later that day, entertainment site TMZ reported that a church representative said there was no record of Spears requesting to be married there. 

Spears ended up celebrating her wedding with actor Sam Asghari at their home in the Los Angeles area in June. 

In her post Tuesday, she shared that she hired a high-profile wedding planner who has organized weddings for celebrities such as Madonna.

“[A]nd yes my first request was to get married in that church pictured,” she said of a photo she previously shared of St. Monica.

“I was told 6 weeks later … I could not get married there !!!” she added. “During the 2 years of Covid, I also wanted to go there … I was told no due to the pandemic.”

Along with her comments on Tuesday, she posted a photo of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

Father Matthew P. Schneider, L.C., who teaches theology at Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, North Carolina, previously outlined for CNA four main requirements for a wedding to take place in a Catholic church.

Either the bride or groom must be Catholic and free from any impediments, such as marriage to another person. Both the bride and groom must “intend what the Church does,” including recognizing marriage as something permanent, exclusive, and open to life. 

They must also plan to raise their children Catholic.

Schneider also told CNA is it unclear whether Spears is Catholic. He said that, to be married in a Catholic church, she would need annulments for her two previous marriages.

Catholic schools’ free lunch funds jeopardized by Biden LGBT rule change

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 10, 2022 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Catholic school leaders need to be aware that their schools could be cut off from the federal government's free and subsidized lunch program if their policies don't comply with the Biden administration's revised rules against LGBTQ discrimination, experts warn.

Earlier this year the administration re-interpreted Title IX's federal ban on sex discrimination to include “sexual orientation or gender identity.” Religious freedom and free speech advocates warn that the proposed rule change could be used to enforce mandates on hiring, bathrooms, using preferred pronouns, and dress codes. 

The broadened definition now also applies to the National School Lunch Program, a federally funded meal assistance program administered by the Department of Agriculture that provides subsidized or free lunches to more than 30 million public and private school students from low-income households.

That change promises to put pressure on religious schools not aligned with the Biden administration’s LGBTQ agenda, especially those serving low-income populations that rely heavily on the federal funds.

Fifty-two percent of U.S. Catholic schools participate in the federal lunch program, said Sister Dale McDonald, vice president of public policy at the National Catholic Educational Association, which represents nearly 150,000 educators serving 1.6 million students in Catholic schools, universities, and religious education programs.

One private school, Grant Park Christian Academy in Tampa, Florida, managed to secure a religious exemption last week from the state's agriculture department — but the school had to file a lawsuit first to get it.

And Grant Park Christian’s religious exemption “was the only one approved by the federal and state government,” said Erica Steinmiller-Perdomo, legal counsel with the nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the school in court.

“Other religious schools are not protected and will need to seek their own religious exemption in writing," she told CNA.

"There is no telling how long it will take for the government to respond to them without a pending lawsuit," she added, "and they have no idea if they need to comply with the unlawful mandates in the meantime.”

Until then, the lawyer stressed, “All schools will continue to be injured by the Biden administration’s overreach in redefining Title IX without going through the proper processes."

Catholic schools 'need to be ready'

The Tampa private school filed a lawsuit in July against Biden and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried after Fried threatened to cut off the school's lunch money. 

On Friday — just over a week after the lawsuit was filed — Fried informed the academy that the school’s application for a religious exemption would be approved, restoring the funds.

Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, a nonprofit organization that promotes and defends Catholic education, warned that although the lawsuit was a win for one school, religious schools that participate in the lunch program should be warned. 

“The fact remains that a religious school was forced to sue the government to protect its constitutional rights, and every Catholic school needs to be ready to do the same,” Reilly told CNA. 

“This was blatant bullying by the Biden administration to advance its radical agenda," he added.

"Moreover, they exploited the fact that many schools, including Catholic schools, felt compelled during the COVID pandemic to greatly expand their participation in the federal school lunch program," Reilly said. "You try to help needy families using federal money, and your religious freedom is endangered."

Several archdioceses contacted by CNA Wednesday did not respond for comment prior to publication time.

In a statement to CNA, the Archdiocese of New York said that it was "studying the applicability of the USDA’s Title IX regulations, and their potential impact on our Catholic schools.”

Kansas woman arrested after allegedly striking pro-life teen ‘with fists’ to the head

Students for Life Action volunteer Grace Hartsock / Courtesy of Students for Life

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 10, 2022 / 05:00 am (CNA).

Grace Hartsock was knocking on doors to encourage Kansas citizens to vote for a pro-life amendment when, she says, she was attacked.

The 18-year-old from Austin, Texas — a rising freshman at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas — walked away from one house after encountering a woman who opposed the amendment. That is when she heard “yelling and cursing” coming from inside, she told CNA.

“As I was walking back towards the street, the woman’s adult daughter came out of the house, still yelling, and started following me,” Hatsock recalled of the July 31 incident in Leawood, Kansas. “She pushed me with both hands, and hit me with her fists.”

Students for Life Action, the pro-life group with which Hartsock was canvassing, claimed in a blog post that the woman “shoved Hartsock in the chest with both hands and began violently hitting her in the head with closed fists.” 

When Hartsock reached the end of the driveway, she said the woman threw a dinner roll at her and continued to follow her as she yelled “I hope you get raped” and “I hope you get run over by a car.”

Students for Life later shared a 5-second clip that it said showed the woman who assaulted Hartsock. In the video, a woman shouts “f*** you” as she sticks her middle finger in the air. Another woman, in the background, instructs her to “stop it!”

The audio also captures the panting of the person holding the camera.

Capt. Brad Robbins at the Leawood Police Department confirmed that an 18-year-old female contacted them about the incident on July 31 just after 2 p.m.

“She stated that an hour earlier she had been going door-to-door representing Students for Life,” he told CNA in a statement. “At one address in the 11200 block of Granada Lane the victim was advised they did not wish to discuss the issue. As she was walking away from the address, she was yelled at and then struck by a female resident.”

As part of the police investigation, Robbins said that a 37-year-old suspect was arrested and charged in Leawood Municipal Court with misdemeanor battery and released.

“While an arrest has been made, it is still consider[ed] an open investigation and we will not be releasing any additional details of the event,” he said.

Robbins said that the victim was not visibly injured.

While Hartsock had a headache after being hit in the head, the local emergency room confirmed that she suffered from no serious injuries, she said. She added that, at the time, she also felt “nervous and shaken up.”

She shared what she would tell her alleged attacker, if she had the opportunity.

“I would tell her that rather than being ‘pro-woman’ as the pro-abortion movement claims to be, she is showing the world with her actions just how anti-woman she really is,” she said. “This is the hypocrisy of the pro-abortion side. Rather than being pro-woman, they condone violence against pro-life women just because we disagree with their narrative.”

Rather than being discouraged, Hartsock said that the incident left her even more motiviated in her pro-life advocacy, adding that “we as pro-lifers need to be more courageous than ever in not backing down and standing up to defend the vulnerable women and children in our communities.”

A Catholic, she said the faith and science support her pro-life position.

“While I am a faithful Catholic, and the Catholic Church teaches that all human life is made in the image and likeness of God,” she said, “I am pro-life because science shows that life begins at conception, where a unique human being comes into existence.”

Hartsock’s alleged attack is not an isolated one, according to Autumn Schimmer, the project manager at Students for Life of America.

“I was punched outside of the Supreme Court in September of 2020 while protesting a NARAL rally that was being held opposing the nomination of Justice Barrett to the Supreme Court,” she told CNA of a protest held by a pro-abortion group. 

She called violent attacks on pro-life advocates a “growing concern,” from the recent attacks at pregnancy centers to threats targeting Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins. 

“What happened to Grace in Kansas is unfortunately becoming more common in a post-Roe America,” Schimmer said, referring to the 1973 Supreme Court decision that previously legalized abortion nationwide. “Pro-life advocates should be aware of the violent acts pro-abortion supports are willing to carry out, without being fully deterred from advocating for the preborn and their mothers.”

Will Biden's Inflation Reduction Act work? Here's what cash-strapped families need to know

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Washington D.C., Aug 10, 2022 / 03:00 am (CNA).

President Joe Biden is poised to sign the $485 billion Inflation Reduction Act into law later this week, promising Americans relief from the rising cost of food and other necessities.

But the massive spending bill is drawing criticism from Republicans and even some Democrats who predict it will do little to stem record levels of inflation.

Soaring prices for everything from groceries to gasoline promise to be a major campaign issue for both parties heading into November’s midterm elections. Forty percent of Americans in a recent poll listed inflation as the No. 1 priority they want the government to address. The annual inflation rate jumped to 9.1% in June, a record 40-year high. 

Catholic families are among those feeling the squeeze. Nearly 90% of Catholics say they have had their finances significantly impacted by inflation, yet a majority (57%) say they do not have much or any confidence that Biden will be able to significantly curb inflation over the coming year, according to an EWTN/RealClear Opinion Research poll released in July.

Here’s a breakdown of what Catholic families worried about the rising cost of living need to know about the government’s plans to address the problem. 

Will the Inflation Reduction Act work?

From the Biden administration’s point of view, the bill would reduce inflation by investing about $485 billion into policy measures aimed at driving economic growth through tax breaks and spending on climate, energy, and healthcare.

The bill’s significant health policy changes include expanding Obamacare, providing free vaccines for seniors, and allowing Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drug prices.

The act also designates $124 billion to the Internal Revenue Service for beefed up tax enforcement. Senate Democrats say the move will ensure that “wealthy millionaires and billionaires” pay their fair share. Republicans disagree, with the House Freedom Caucus saying in a statement that the proposal would create “an army of 87,000 new enforcement agents" targeting Americans.

In a statement Sunday, Biden said that the bill will “lower the cost of prescription drugs, health insurance, and everyday energy costs, and reduce the deficit while making the wealthiest corporations finally pay their fair share.”

Biden emphasized that “[the bill] pays for all this by establishing a minimum corporate tax so that our richest corporations start to pay their fair share,” adding, “It does not raise taxes on those making under $400,000 a year — not one cent.”

Biden’s economic strategy centers on large spending packages and “offers government investments and incentives for domestic output, along with social support to bring more people into the labor market — while reducing environmental damage,” Bloomberg reported.

President Joe Biden gestures as he delivers remarks on the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 in the State Dining Room of the White House on July 28, 2022 in Washington, D.C. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
President Joe Biden gestures as he delivers remarks on the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 in the State Dining Room of the White House on July 28, 2022 in Washington, D.C. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

But skeptics are speaking out about the bill’s projected flaws.

One of the bill’s more vocal critics is Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who referred to the legislation Saturday as “the so-called Inflation Reduction Act” in a speech on the Senate floor. Citing analyses by the Congressional Budget Office and other economic organizations, Sanders predicted that the bill “will, in fact, have a minimal impact on inflation.”

The Penn Wharton Budget Model — which Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia often relies on when assessing legislation — has predicted that the bill’s impact on inflation is “statistically indistinguishable from zero.” 

The analysis estimated that the bill would actually “slightly increase inflation until 2024 and decrease inflation thereafter … thereby indicating low confidence that the legislation will have any impact on inflation.”

However, Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, supports the bill, saying it will add a small amount of growth and “lean against inflation over the next decade.”

“It is more than paid for with tax hikes on large corporations and the well-to-do,” he added. 

Moody’s says the bill “will modestly reduce inflation over the 10-year budget horizon,” becoming “more meaningful later in the decade.” 

Many American families, however, want inflation relief now, not incremental decreases over time.  

Controversial climate change costs

The 755-page bill also includes a proposed $369 billion in climate change provisions designed to shift Americans to green energy and propel the U.S. to being a global leader on climate change.

In a statement Sunday, Biden championed the bill as “the largest investment ever in combating the existential crisis of climate change.” 

Among the climate provisions are $3 billion for “environmental and climate justice” programs, $250 million for making federal buildings green, incentives for Americans to buy electric vehicles, and a methane emissions tax.

Yet some economists and other groups warn these measures could hurt those already facing pressure on their pocketbooks.

A recent report by CatholicVote, a non-profit advocacy group run by Catholic laity, says the poor will be negatively impacted the most.

Green energy measures have large up-front costs, which could lead to “increased utility bills for the lower-middle and lower-income families who still rely on these sources for heating, cooling, lighting, and refrigeration,” the report explained. 

Michael Stojsavljevich, a managing partner at the economic advisory firm Geostratix and former Department of Labor official, told CNA that the bill is “inefficient” and will lead to more burdens on families.

“It does not do anything to address the underlying causes of inflation, which are supply-chain based and spending-based. We’re spending more money and chasing fewer goods,” he said.

Stojsavljevich says that the bill instead “shifts the focus to pursuing green energy policies" and goods that the average American can't afford or is unlikely to buy.

In a letter to Congress, the American Gas Association estimated that the bill’s methane tax would increase energy prices up to 17% for the average family and would impose “major new costs” in the form of higher bills for families and small businesses who use natural gas. 

“These outcomes are inconsistent with President Biden’s commitment to pay for reconciliation without imposing new taxes on lower-income Americans,” the industry group wrote in the letter, emphasizing that the bill would harm lower-income Americans the most. 

Vatican enlists influencers to get young, disenchanted Catholics to answer Synod survey

null / Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Aug 9, 2022 / 16:34 pm (CNA).

Last fall, Catholics around the world began gathering in church basements and school gyms to, in the words of Pope Francis, “look others in the eye and listen to what they have to say.” These listening sessions were the first phase of the two-year-long Synod on Synodality that will end in 2023 when the bishops meet to chew over what they’ve learned.

Now that parishes have recorded testimony from the faithful and compiled it in official reports, the Vatican is sending the message that they want to hear from those they may have missed – young or inactive Catholics who failed to show up at the parish meetings.

Jimmy Akin, a Catholic apologist and a host of the popular radio call-in show Catholic Answers Live, is one of several lay Catholic “influencers” the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications asked to reach out to those unaccounted-for Catholics. 

Akin’s radio audience includes many non-Catholics, agnostics and atheists who try to trip him up with challenges to the faith. He answers respectfully, using logical arguments to defend the teachings of the Church, reminding his listeners that as a convert, he too faced similar obstacles before deciding to become a Catholic.

On Twitter Monday, Akin invited his 21,800-plus followers to participate in the Synod by filling out a survey. 

“The Vatican is doing an online survey to be submitted to the Synod of Bishops. They are interested in hearing from a wide range of people who may or may not be active Catholics. You can share your views here. The deadline is August 15,” he posted.

The survey, which he links to his website, asks respondents questions about their faith, how often they go to Mass, and whether they have had a personal encounter with God. 

Other questions, concerning attitudes towards the Church, provoked a negative reaction from some who took issue with the phrasing of the multiple choice answers.

One survey question, for example, asks, “Which of these attributes best define the Church?”

Survey takers are asked to select three adjectives from the following list: “supportive,” “selfish,” “authoritarian”, “participative,” “innovative,” “outdated,” “close,” and “distant.”

Another question, asking why people leave the Church, didn’t include enough options, some Twitter users suggested:

One Twitter user wrote, in response to Akin’s post, “I’m sorry Jimmy but this survey is rubbish, it is very clear that the one who made it is out of touch with the real challenges facing the Church nowadays (lack of reverence, suppression of tradition, relativism, religious indifferentism, going with the Zeitgeist etc. etc.).”

 

While the overwhelming majority of comments to Akin’s post were negative, there was some praise for the Vatican’s efforts:

Akin told CNA he wasn’t surprised at the reaction to the survey.

“Many people are suspicious of the upcoming Synod on Synodality, and that itself would generate concerns. Also, from filling out the questionnaire myself, it was clear that whoever composed the questions and answers was not thinking from the perspective of many active, engaged, orthodox Catholics,” he said.

“I expected that there would be individuals who saw the questionnaire as slanted towards a particular set of viewpoints and answers,” Akin added.

On the whole, he thinks it is worth completing the questionnaire.

“My view is that if the Vatican asks for your opinions, it is better to cooperate and give them, even if the instrument is imperfect. Having your voice heard is better than not having it heard at all,” Akin said.

Akin added that he was glad to help when asked.

"I recognize that the Holy See is a place with people who have many different views, and nobody except the pope has the final say on a thing. But I believe in being helpful and constructive when asked, so I was happy to help the Dicastery for Communications," he said.

The Vatican, he said, was also aware that Akin’s audience and that of the other influencers is not representative of active Catholics.

“Someone at the Vatican clearly understood that they would not be getting the views of people who don't go to Mass from the diocesan surveys. They made a point to us that participants do not need to be active Catholics to share their views. They want to hear from people of goodwill who are willing to engage with the Church in some form, even if some do not presently practice the Faith,” he said.

The Vatican’s communications office conducted a similar campaign in France and in Spain, employing “priest influencers” to reach out to young people who failed to attend the parish Synod meetings.

"Following the synod, from which young people were largely absent, the dicastery met with a group of Spanish influencers," Father Gaspard Craplet told the French Catholic website La Croix.

"They said that the digital world should be consulted and submitted the question to the pope, who replied that we should go for it," he said.

Craplet told La Croix that the dicastery contacted him and other priests who have a following on social media and asked them to pass along the survey. 

"Unlike a parish, influencers reach people who follow them freely, like sheep choosing their shepherd," he said.

The survey distributed in Spain sparked backlash because a possible gender identification was reportedly listed as “I do not know.”

That part of the survey was said to have been amended to read, “Don’t want to respond,” the answer that was subsequently adopted by the American version of the survey distributed by Akin.

The Synod on Synodality was announced in March 2020. It is focused on discernment with the whole people of God, journeying together, and listening to one another.

It began with a diocesan phase, in which each bishop has been asked to undertake a consultation process with his local Church. The results of these consultations are to be sent to the Vatican by Aug. 15.

This will be followed by a continental phase, from September until March 2023. It will conclude with a Synod of Bishops held at the Vatican in October 2023.

Lightning strike causes major fire damage to historic Illinois Catholic church

Firefighters work to put out a roof fire at historic St. James Catholic Church, in Rockford, Illinois, on Aug. 8, 2022. The Diocese of Rockford said a lightning strike was a possible cause. / Screenshot of Rockford Diocese video

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 9, 2022 / 15:10 pm (CNA).

A lightning strike caused a roof fire Monday that severely damaged a historic Catholic church in Rockford, Illinois, and left three firefighters injured, authorities said.

The Rockford Fire Department determined that lightning set the roof on fire at Saint James Catholic Church, Mike Rotolo, the department's fire prevention coordinator, told CNA Tuesday. The damage to the church may exceed $3 million, he said.

The city's building department posted a yellow sign with the message “Condemned: Do Not Enter” outside the church Monday, Rotolo said. This means that the building is not safe to use in its current condition, he said.

The church is located outside the Chicago metropolitan area in the far northern part of the state. The church was first blessed in 1853, according to the parish’s website.

In a statement, the Diocese of Rockford said the fire broke out before 7 a.m. on Aug. 8. The diocese posted a video on its Facebook page showing firefighters responding to the blaze.

No one was inside the church during the time of the fire and the pastor safely removed the Holy Eucharist from the building, the diocese said.

Three firefighters responding to the scene suffered non-life-threatening injuries, the fire department said in a tweet.

“Bishop David Malloy extends his profound gratitude to all the first responders, the vigilant neighbors, and all those around the diocese who have offered prayers during this extremely sad and unfortunate event,” the diocese’s statement said.

“Prayers are also being offered for those three courageous firefighters reported to have sustained injuries while fighting this fire,” the statement added.

Reacting to pontifical academy, theologian says teaching of Humanae vitae can't change

St. Paul VI / public domain

Denver, Colo., Aug 8, 2022 / 19:01 pm (CNA).

The teaching of Humanae vitae on contraception is an instance of the ordinary and universal magisterium, and as such is irreformable, a moral theologian has said in response to a statement from the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Father Thomas Petri, O.P., president of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., noted that even critics of the teaching on contraception have “acknowledged that this was always the Church’s teaching” and that nowhere in the Church’s teaching has there been permissiveness, of any form, of contraception.

“This suggests that this has always been the teaching of the Church, so it's part of the ordinary, universal magisterium,” Petri said. “So even if it's the case that any particular encyclical” such as Humanae vitae “is not infallible, the teaching that it presents is in fact irreformable, because it's part of the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church.”

In Humanae vitae, his 1968 encyclical on the regulation of birth, St. Paul VI wrote that “any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation — whether as an end or as a means” is “excluded,” as an unlawful means of birth control.

The Pontifical Academy

The Pontifical Academy for Life, an institution associated with the Holy See but which is not itself a magisterial body, hosted a 2021 seminar on ethics in which a participant discussed “the possible legitimacy of contraception in certain cases.”

A synthesis of the seminar was recently published by the Vatican Publishing House, which has given rise to questions about whether the Church’s teaching on birth control is reformable.

The Pontifical Academy for Life has defended the discussion it hosted of the permissibility of contraception, tweeting Aug. 5 that “History records by Abp. [Ferdinando] Lambruschini confirmed that Paul VI said him directly that HV were not under infallibility.”

Then in an Aug. 8 statement, the academy wrote that “many people on Twitter seem to believe that Humanae Vitae is an infallible and irreformable pronouncement against contraception.”

It noted that “when the moral theologian of the Pontifical Lateran University Msgr. Ferdinando Lambruschini presented Humanae Vitae in a press conference … he stated under the mandate of Paul VI — that the encylical Humanae Vitae is not to be considered part of the infallible pronouncements. Lambruschini stressed that Humanae Vitae did not express a definitive truth of faith granted by ‘infallibilitas in docendo.’”

The statement added that as Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyła asked Paul VI to define Humanae vitae’s teaching as infallible. “Pope Paul VI did not do it and neither did Pope John Paul II during 26 years of his pontificate," the academy's statement said.

Father Petri’s response

Petri noted that St. John Paul II had confirmed Humanae vitae’s teaching as part of the ordinary and universal magisterium. 

“In Veritatis splendor — which the Pontifical Academy does not note — in Veritatis splendor John Paul II does say that contraception is an intrinsically evil act, so there can be no reason or purpose for contraception. Benedict XVI gave several speeches in which he spoke about contraception, and it can't be changed. What was true yesterday is true today.”

While there can be “legitimate discussions of how to present it or how to help people understand it, or how to help people who are in difficult situations, whether medically or even because of moral pressure,” the teaching itself is not a topic for debate, explained Petri, author of "Aquinas and the Theology of the Body" (Catholic University of America Press, 2016).

“There could be a real discussion about how to do that, but there can't be any sort of rollback of the teaching, because it's what’s always been taught, and that's how Catholic theology, and Catholic doctrine, works.”

“These things aren't really meant to be argued over Twitter,” he reflected. “It's not the forum to sort of put these things out there.”

Petri added that “It's not helpful to simply focus on infallibility and what is named infallible in an extraordinary way. The First Vatican Council, when it spoke about papal infallibility, was very clear that it was supposed to be an extraordinary act.”

Petri compared an infallible statement to an ecumenical council. He described it as “a very extraordinary act, and which usually only happens when the matter at issue, whether it's a doctrinal matter or a moral matter, has become so entirely embroiled in conflict … that it requires such an extraordinary act as a pope or a council declaring something infallibly.”

“That's not normally how Church teaching works — that's why the ordinary magisterium is important.”

When a pope does not intend to teach infallibly, “that doesn't mean we're supposed to ignore what he's teaching, or to act like his opinion is just one opinion among many," Petri said.

“Even if he's not intending to proclaim something infallible, especially when he's teaching things that popes have been teaching for centuries, it has a certain weight to it.” 

While one might disagree with how things are expressed, “that doesn't mean that what he's teaching is up for grabs," Petri said.

“All the more so when you're talking about a teaching which multiple popes have repeated over multiple decades. And in the case of contraception we could say centuries," he said.

"You simply can't say, ‘Well, Humanae vitae wasn’t declared infallible, Paul VI didn’t declare it infallible, therefore because it’s not infallible, it’s up for grabs.' This is not a binary.” 

A similar point was made in a 2019 article by Augusto Sarmiento.

Sarmiento wrote about the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1990 instruction on the ecclesial vocation of the theologian, which discusses various levels of magisterial statements. The article appeared in “Dizionario su Sesso, Amore e Fecondità,” edited by Father José Noriega and René and Isabelle Ecochard.

A professor at the Univerisity of Pamplona, Sarmiento noted that “the pope, with Humanae vitae, did not will to propose an extraordinary teaching of the Magisterium ex cathedra.”

To support this, he quoted from Lambruschini’s comments at the press conference presenting the encyclical: “However, it is always an authentic pronouncement, especially since it is part of the continuity of the ecclesiastical magisterium.” 

Sarmiento wrote: “On the nature of the authority with which the norm of Humanae vitae is proclaimed, there is no doubt that it is part of the ordinary, universal magisterium,” and that the encyclical “is a teaching of the ordinary universal Magisterium of the Pope and of the bishops that must be considered definitive.”

Humanae vitae and its precedents

In Humanae vitae St. Paul VI taught that “sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive” is thereby “intrinsically wrong.”

The pope discussed artificial birth control in the context of defining and analyzing marital love and responsible parenthood.

“The Church … in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life,” St. Paul VI wrote, adding that this doctrine has been “often expounded by the magisterium of the Church.”

He presented his statements as a reply, given “by virtue of the mandate entrusted to Us by Christ,” to questions on the moral doctrine of marriage.

St. Paul VI referred especially to the teaching of Gaudium et spes, the Second Vatican Council’s pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world. 

Gaudium et spes stated that spouses “must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and should be submissive toward the Church's teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the Gospel … Thus, trusting in divine Providence and refining the spirit of sacrifice, married Christians glorify the Creator and strive toward fulfillment in Christ when with a generous human and Christian sense of responsibility they acquit themselves of the duty to procreate.”

This statement, in turn, referred in a footnote to Casti connubii, Pius XI’s 1930 encyclical on Christian marriage, which proclaimed “any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.”

In that encyclical Pius XI referred to “frustrating the marriage act” as a “criminal abuse," and said that “those who in exercising [the conjugal act] deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.”

Casti connubii also states that “Holy Writ bears witness that the Divine Majesty regards with greatest detestation this horrible crime,” and cites St. Augustine’s interpretation of Scripture as such.

The present day

Pope Francis was asked about a re-evaluation of the Church’s doctrine on contraception, or whether the use of contraceptives may be considered, on his July 29 flight from Canada to Rome.

The pope responded that “dogma, morality, is always on a path of development, but always developing in the same direction.” He cited St. Vincent of Lerins as saying “that true doctrine, in order to move forward, to develop, must not be still, it develops … it is consolidated over time, it expands and consolidates, and becomes always more solid, but always progressing. That is why the duty of theologians is research, theological reflection. You cannot do theology with a ‘no’ in front. Then it is up to the Magisterium to say, ‘No, you’ve gone too far, come back.' But theological development must be open, that’s what theologians are for. And the Magisterium must help to understand the limits.”

He referred to the acts of the Pontifical Academy for Life’s seminar, saying, “those who participated in this congress did their duty, because they have sought to move forward in doctrine, but in an ecclesial sense, not outside of it, as I said with that rule of Saint Vincent of Lérins. Then the Magisterium will say, ‘yes, it is good’ or ‘it is not good.'”

Mónica López Barahona, a board member of the academy, told ACI Prensa last month that “It’s not true that the Church or the Magisterium have changed their moral criteria regarding some questions of bioethics; not even that the Vatican has begun a process of reviewing these issues.”

López stressed that "the book is not an official declaration of the Pontifical Academy for Life on these issues" and that it does not represent "the moral criteria of all its members,” adding that “some were disconcerted when they saw the news about the publication of the book and the seminar, about which they knew nothing until that moment."

Drive-by gunshots target Denver-area Catholic church

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Adams County, Colorado, sustained thousands of dollars in estimated damage from a pair of drive-by shootings Aug. 6 and Aug. 8, 2022. / Courtesy of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church

Denver, Colo., Aug 8, 2022 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

A gunman shot at a Denver-area Catholic church in separate early morning incidents Saturday and Monday. No one was hurt, but one estimate suggests the gunshots caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage.

Parish staff stressed the need to pray for the perpetrator and emphasized that they are taking the utmost security precautions.

“We are praying for the conversion of whoever did this,” Deacon Derrick Johnson of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church told CNA Aug 8. “If there’s any opportunity to speak to that person, we’d be happy to speak with them and have a dialogue.”

Johnson spoke after two separate rounds of gunshots hit the parish church in unincorporated Adams County just north of Denver. The Adams County Sheriff's Office is handling the investigation.

“In the early morning of Aug. 6 and 8 there were two separate incidents of shootings that hit the front doors at Assumption Parish,” Johnson recounted.

Security footage of the first incident, the deacon said, appears to show “a single motorcyclist shooting what we believe to be a pistol as he drove by.”

“These incidents happened after hours,” Johnson said. “We don’t believe they are targeting people. Just targeting the church for whatever reason.”

Photos of the church sent to CNA show damage to the church exterior, including a bullet hole in a window. Doors and doorframes also were damaged. Photos show a broken outer window above a set of double doors, with shattered glass beneath.

“The first morning we discovered three shots, two into the door and one through the stained glass in the door,” Johnson said. “Two of the bullets were recovered and given to the Adams County sheriff.”

“On Monday morning, another bullet impact was discovered, this time above the doors, impacting the protective layer of the stained glass. The projectile was also given to the sheriff’s office,” the deacon added.

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Adams County, Colorado, sustained thousands of dollars in estimated damage from a pair of drive-by shootings Aug. 6 and Aug. 8, 2022. Courtesy Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Adams County, Colorado, sustained thousands of dollars in estimated damage from a pair of drive-by shootings Aug. 6 and Aug. 8, 2022. Courtesy Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church

News of the shooting has not yet become widespread among parishioners, Johnson said, though the first incident took place hours before a wedding.

Johnson wanted parishioners to know that parish staff is committed to their safety.

“We are absolutely conscious of security, between our security team and ensuring that we have adequate camera coverage and lighting in front of the parish. We’ll do our best to make sure that whoever did this is prosecuted,” he told CNA.

Though the bullet fractured one outer window, it did not break through a stained-glass window behind it.

The church’s custom-fit doors were recently completed at a cost of $75,000. The deacon described Assumption as a “very, very old parish.” The parish church was first dedicated in 1912, though the structure has gone through several renovations and expansions incorporating the original building.

Johnson estimated the damage at about $75,000.

The parish church is on the same property as Assumption School, which serves about 130 students in pre-K through eighth grade. The shooting has not affected the school, as the school year has not yet begun.

“Hopefully it’s limited to a late-night incident,” Johnson said. “We will be taking the highest security precautions for the school like we always do.”

Though the parish wants the perpetrator brought to justice, the parish is praying for its attacker.

“We’re praying for whatever is going on in the life of the person who did this,” the deacon said. “The parish is here for them.”

CNA contacted the Adams County Sheriff for comment but did not receive a response by publication time Monday.

Indiana’s broad abortion ban overshadows another pro-family law passed the same day

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb signs bills in Indianapolis, March 10, 2022. / Governor Eric Holcomb via Flickr (public domain)

St. Louis, Mo., Aug 8, 2022 / 17:04 pm (CNA).

The same day last week that Indiana adopted an abortion ban with limited exceptions, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed into law another measure the state’s Catholic conference says has the potential to help families.

Known as SB2, the legislation, which received broad bipartisan support, provides for a tax exemption for an adopted child, cuts the state’s tax on children’s diapers, caps the gas tax, and increases the adoption tax credit, the Indy Star reported.

It also creates a $45 million fund for a variety of family-related programs and initiatives, the Criterion, the newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese, reported.

“The Catholic Church has a history of providing aid, comfort, and support for mothers and families,” said Angela Espada, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference, the Criterion reported.

“It hopes that the allotted $45 million will improve the lives of Hoosiers by supporting adoption, pregnancy planning, the health of pregnant women, postpartum mothers, and infants, along with supporting the needs of families with children less than 4 years old,” she said. “Additionally, there are funds to address the barriers to long-acting reversible contraception.” 

The legislation was overshadowed by the sweeping abortion ban Holcomb signed into law the same day, Aug. 5.

The law represents the first state abortion ban passed in the U.S. following the June 24 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, giving states the authority to regulate abortion.

Set to take effect Sept. 15, Indiana’s law outlaws all abortions with exceptions for abortions performed to preserve the life of the mother, as well as exceptions for instances of rape, incest, or “fatal” fetal anomaly.

The law stipulates that doctors must certify in writing to the hospital or center in which the abortion is to be performed that the abortion is necessary, under their reasonable medical judgment, to preserve the mother’s life or health, or that the unborn baby will not survive because of an anomaly. 

The Indiana Catholic Conference wrote ahead of the final vote that it supports the measure, while also highlighting the bill’s flaws.

“Most importantly, the bill needs stronger enforcement mechanisms and a continued tightening of the language around exceptions,” the Indiana Catholic Conference wrote July 27. On that point, the conference has noted that while direct attacks on unborn human life ought to be prohibited, that need not preclude medical interventions that indirectly result in a loss of unborn life when the intention is to save the life of the mother. 

Any abortion law should, however, convey the equal dignity of the mother and child, the conference said. 

Alexander Mingus, associate director of the Indiana Catholic Conference, said the conference supports the bill under the teachings of St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, which urged support for laws that would limit the harm done by intrinsic moral evils such as abortion if a complete ban is not politically possible.

The new Indiana law came just days after voters in Kansas failed to approve a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the state’s legislature to pass new abortion restrictions. A 2019 Kansas State Supreme Court ruling found that the state’s constitution supports a right to abortion, preventing lawmakers from passing new restrictions on abortion beyond the current 22-week limit.