Browsing News Entries

Highlights from the Supreme Court's oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health

Groups gathered outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday, Dec. 1, ahead of oral arguments in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health. / Katie Yoder

Washington D.C., Dec 1, 2021 / 07:15 am (CNA).

This post will be continuously updated.

As the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, activists both opposed and in favor of abortion rights gathered outside the court in the early morning hours on Wednesday, Dec. 1.

CNA is outside the court and will be providing on-the-ground updates. (All times EST.)


11:55 a.m. The Supreme Court adjourns.


11:54 a.m. In his closing rebuttal, Stewart compared Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health to Brown v. Board of Education.

"In closing, I would say that in the dissent of Plessy v. Ferguson, Justice Harlan emphasized that there is no caste system here; and the humblest in our country is the peer of the most powerful. Our Constitution neither knows nor tolerate distinctions on the basis of race," he said.

"It took 58 years for this court to recognize the truth of those realities in a decision. And that was the greatest decision that this court ever reached. We're we're running on 50 years of Roe. It is an egregiously wrong decision that has inflicted tremendous damage on our country, and will continue to do so and take innumerable human lives," until it is overruled.


11:48 a.m. Prelogar states that she does not think "there's any line that could be more principled than viability."

"I think the factors the court would have to think about are what is most consistent with precedent, what would be clear and workable, and what would preserve the essential components of the liberty interest," she said. "Viability checks all of those boxes, and has the advantage as well as being a rule of law for 50 years."


11:45 a.m. Scenes outside the Supreme Court


11:33 a.m. "Shout Your Abortion" shares a video of women allegedly taking Mifepristone, the first drug in a two-drug abortion regimen, to cheers in front of the Supreme Court.

Mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone from reaching the unborn child, and is used to terminate pregnancies under 10 weeks gestation.


11:26 a.m. U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar begins her arguments in support of Jackson Women's Health.


11:25 a.m. Rikelman has ended her arguments.


11:20 a.m. Justice Brett Kavanaugh notes that "when you really dig into it, history tells a somewhat different story" regarding stare decisis.

"I think that is sometimes assumed if you think about some of the most important cases, the most consequential cases in this court's history, there's a string of them where the cases overruled precedent," said Kavanaugh, singling out Brown v. Board of Education, Lawrence v. Texas, and Miranda v. Arizona as examples.


11:15 a.m. Alito questions Rikelman about the historical precedent in Roe/Casey. He asked if states had recognized abortion at the time of the 14th Amendment--there were none, said Rikelman, but says there was "common law."

Rikelman could not provide a case recognizing abortion as a right.


11:06 a.m. Alito calls the viability line "arbitrary," and says that it does not make sense.

"If a woman wants to be free of the burdens of pregnancy, that interest does not disappear the moment the viability line is crossed," said Alito. "The fetus has an interest in having life, and that doesn't change."


10:56 a.m. Justice Amy Coney Barrett questions Rikelman about "safe haven" laws, which permit a woman to terminate parental rights by placing the child for adoption shortly after they are born.

Rikelman notes that this case is not just about parenthood, and says pregnancy is potentially dangerous.


10:53 a.m. Chief Justice John Roberts asked Rikelman if a 15-week line could be more workable as a legal standard than viability.

"It seems to me that (viability) doesn't have anything to do with choice," said Roberts. "If it really is an issue about choice, why is 15 weeks not enough time?"

Rickelman said it would not, as enacting a pre-viability line would result in states moving to ban abortions earlier and earlier in a pregnancy.


10:46 a.m. Julie Rikelman, senior director of the Center for Reproductive rights, begins her arguments before the court.

"Casey and Roe were correct," she says. She added that there is an “an especially high bar here” as the Supreme Court rejected “every possible reason” for overturning Roe when it decided Casey.

"Mississippi's ban on abortion two months before viability is flatly unconstitutional under decades of precedent, " said Rikelman. "Mississippi asks for the court to dismantle this precedent and allow states to force women to remain pregnant and give birth against their will."


10:31 a.m. Justice Samuel Alito questions Stewart regarding the idea that being pro-life is a religious view only, and asks if any secular bioethicists believe life exists prior to viability.

"It's not tied to a religious view," says Stewart, who said that there are a host of secular people who have differing views on when life begins.


10:12 a.m. Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan are pressing Stewart on the issue of stare decisis.

Here's a breakdown about why this legal concept is so pivotal in the Dobbs case.


10:03 a.m.
Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey "have no basis in the Constitution," said Stewart. "They have no home in our history or traditions. They've damaged the democratic process. They poison the law. They've choked off compromise for 50 years."

Stewart said those cases have "kept this court at the center of a political battle that it can never resolve."

"Nowhere else does this court recognize a right to end a human life," he said.


10 a.m. Oral arguments will be starting momentarily. Video is not available, but an audio recording is provided by C-SPAN. Listen live here.


9:50 a.m. Arguments are set to begin in 10 minutes, and are scheduled to last 70 minutes. Normally, reporters and members of the public would be permitted to observe arguments, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has put a stop to this practice.

Scott G. Stewart, the solicitor general of Mississippi, will have 35 minutes to represent the state.

For Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Julie Rikelman, litigation director of the Center for Reproductive Rights, will have 20 minutes. U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar will also have 15 minutes to argue in support of Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

The crowd outside the court continues to swell as the "Empower Women, Promote Life" rally goes on.


9:02 a.m. This is Marion, from Mississippi. She told CNA that she remembers Roe v. Wade, and says that her generation allowed it to happen. That’s why, she said, her generation must also work to reverse it.

The Supreme Court first heard arguments in Roe v. Wade on Dec. 13, 1971, almost exactly 50 years ago. The case was then re-argued in front of the court on Oct. 11, 1972, and the court announced their decision in the case on Jan. 22, 1973.


8:33 a.m. Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch said today is a "new chapter in American history, leaving behind the false premise that abortion levels and the playing field for women."


8:00 a.m.: It's a chilly 36 degrees, but people have assembled in front of the Supreme Court. A fence serves as a physical barrier between the two opposing groups.

Mike Pence calls on Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade

Former US Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Nov. 30, 2021. / Screenshot taken from Susan B. Anthony List livestream

Washington D.C., Nov 30, 2021 / 17:06 pm (CNA).

Former vice president Mike Pence is calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. 

“I came here today to speak about right and wrong, to say life is a human right, and urge the Supreme Court of the United States to choose life,” he said at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. 

Pence delivered his remarks in anticipation of the oral arguments in the Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Dec. 1. The case involves a Mississippi law restricting most abortions after 15 weeks, and challenges two landmark decisions: Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld Roe in 1992.

“As we stand here today, we may well be on the verge of an era when the Supreme Court sends Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history where it belongs,” Pence said. 

A nonprofit organization founded by Pence, Advancing American Freedom, filed an amicus brief together with other organizations urging the court to overturn Roe and Casey.

“We are asking the court, in no uncertain terms, to make history,” Pence said at the Nov. 30 event. “We are asking the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn Roe v. Wade and restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law.”

He emphasized what he called the “truth about abortion.”

“Since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, the heartbreaking consequences of the Roe decision cannot be overstated,” he said. “More than 62 million unborn children in the United States have been aborted.”

Their lives mattered, he urged.

“In the 48 years since the court’s ruling, unborn children have been relegated into a caste of second-class citizens, devoid of the most basic human rights,” he said. “Precious babies have lived outside the protection of the law, and at the mercy of a culture that devalues them and an abortion industry that profits from their suffering.”

Pence also highlighted the women wounded by abortion, including those facing regret after their abortions. He hoped that Roe v. Wade would be overturned, and declared that “Americans are ready for an end to the judicial tyranny of Roe v. Wade.”

“When the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade — and I believe with all my heart that day will come either now or in the near future — it will not come as a surprise to anyone,” he said. “It will simply be the culmination of a 50-year journey whose course and destination has been driven by the will of the American people.”

He called for prayers for the justices.

“I urge my fellow Americans to cherish life, to pray, tomorrow and every day between now and next spring for the justices on our Supreme Court to have the courage to seize this moment for life and join us as we humbly ask our new conservative majority on the Supreme Court of the United States,” he said, to “Overturn Roe v. Wade and give America a new beginning for life.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, introduced Pence as a “longtime friend and pro-life leader” whose “tireless advocacy personally and at nearly every level of public service has been indispensable in getting us to this pivotal moment.”

“There’s no question that because of heroes like Mike Pence, and specifically because of Mike Pence, we are standing here today,” she said. 

“Without Trump and Pence, we would not be sitting here right now,” she told CNA of the previous administration, which appointed three Supreme Court justices. 

She also credited Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for refusing to move forward with the confirmation of Merrick Garland as a Supreme Court justice in 2016, during the Obama administration.

Like Pence, Dannenfelser expressed hope for the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“It makes a lot of sense, given that four justices agreed to answer only one question — if any pre-viability abortion limit is constitutional,” she said of the question posed by the Dobbs case. 

The Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case asks “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional,” or whether states can ban abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb. 

In Roe v. Wade, the court ruled that states could not ban abortion before viability, which the court determined to be 24 to 28 weeks into pregnancy. Nearly 20 years later, the court upheld Roe in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The 1992 ruling said that while states could regulate pre-viability abortions, they could not enforce an “undue burden,” defined by the court as “a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.”

Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, the subject of the Dobbs case, bans abortion weeks before the point of viability.

“To set themselves up with that question to only just go back to Roe v. Wade seems rather unlikely,” Dannenfelser told CNA. “The question in my mind is, what would it be? What would it look like?” 

“The stakes are nothing less than the lives of millions of little boys and girls waiting to be born and the welfare of their mothers,” she said during her introductory remarks.

New Loyola Marymount alumni petition targets use of preferred pronouns

Alumni of Loyola Marymount University have launched a petition drive calling for the Los Angeles-area Catholic school to stop encouraging students to use preferred pronouns tied to their gender identity. / Shutterstock

Boston, Mass., Nov 30, 2021 / 14:05 pm (CNA).

After learning that students at Loyola Marymount University allegedly were required to include their preferred pronouns on assignments and are given the option to change their name and gender identity, an alumni-led group is petitioning the Los Angeles-area Catholic school to stop its “institutional commitment to gender ideology."

The petition partly stems from an email that a professor, Christopher Miller, allegedly sent to students on Sept. 9. The content of the email was posted on Twitter Nov. 12 by Libs of Tik Tok, a popular conservative Twitter account.

Loyola Marymount's website identifies Miller as Bhagwan Mallinath Assistant Professor of Jainism and Yoga Studies. Jainism is an ancient Indian religion.

“I added a new syllabus to Brightspace and the one major change we all need to take note of is that all are required to include their gender pronouns next to their name in their blog posts,” the alleged email reads. “I will count this toward your grade when I check for your name each time I grade the blogs.” Brightspace is a software platform for online teaching.

“Our own LMU Provost links this article in his own signature after he identifies his pronouns,” Miller allegedly wrote. “For those who are not aware of why this is important please take a few minutes to read this article.”

The linked article, addressing the importance of respecting one’s personal choice of pronouns, appears on a website called MyPronouns.org. 

“Using someone’s correct personal pronouns is a way to respect them and create an inclusive environment, just as using a person’s name can be a way to respect them,” the article states.

“Just as it can be offensive or even harassing to make up a nickname for someone and call them that nickname against their will, it can be offensive or harassing to guess at someone’s pronouns and refer to them using those pronouns if that is not how that person wants to be known,” the article continues. “Or, worse, actively choosing to ignore the pronouns someone has stated that they go by could imply the oppressive notion that intersex, transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people do not or should not exist.”

The petition calls on Loyola Marymount to stop promoting gender ideology and to renew its "institutional commitment to Roman Catholicism." The group behind the effort is called RenewLMU, which describes itself as “an alliance of students, alumni, faculty, donors, and other LMU supporters who seek to strengthen LMU’s Catholic mission and identity.”

“I was a student at LMU, and I would never have wanted a professor to try to force me to do something against my Catholic faith,” Anne Rosen, a 1985 Loyola Marymount graduate who wrote the petition, told CNA.

“This professor's actions contradict the Catholic faith because they both presuppose and reinforce what Pope Francis calls ‘gender ideology,’" she added.

RenewLMU has another petition underway calling for the university to re-install a statue of St. Junípero Serra on the school's Westchester campus. The university said in a statement to CNA that it removed the statue of the Franciscan missionary for repairs in the summer of 2020 and has since formed a task force to "invite feedback from the community and to develop recommendations on future plans." Those deliberations are still underway, the statement said.

The petition regarding preferred pronouns and gender identity includes a screenshot of what purports to be an email insignia from the dean of the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts, Robbin D. Crabtree, which includes her pronouns and a link labeled “why they matter.” 

The email signature block allegedly belonging to Robbin Crabtree, daean of Loyola Marymount University's Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts, includes a reference to preferred pronouns and a link labeled “why they matter.”. Courtesy of RenewLMU
The email signature block allegedly belonging to Robbin Crabtree, daean of Loyola Marymount University's Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts, includes a reference to preferred pronouns and a link labeled “why they matter.”. Courtesy of RenewLMU

CNA emailed Miller and the university's media office seeking comment but did not receive a response prior to publication. CNA was unable to reach Crabtree or Thomas Poon, Loyola Marymount's executive vice president and provost, for comment.

Another catalyst for Rosen’s petition is Loyola Marymount's “Chosen Name Project.” The project encourages students to choose a name, preferred gender, and pronoun identity, which all can be changed on a student’s personal information page on a school system called “PROWL,” a self-service portal for students.

A chosen name is “simply a name that a person uses in their daily life that is different than the name appearing on their legal records,” according to the university website. Transgender and “gender non-conforming” members of the college, students who use a nickname, and international students are some examples of students who “are most likely to benefit from” using a “chosen name,” according to the website.

The “Chosen Name Project” also includes a video put out by campus ministry staff that encourages students to reflect on their name. Among the questions the video poses is, “Can this name of mine represent my mission in life? Or do I need another name to give me clarity of mission to this world?”

At odds with Pope's teaching

The petition on RenewLMU.com reads: “Forcing students to declare their pronouns violates the promotion of justice because it violates the right of free speech. The right of free speech, which LMU says it protects, includes the right to remain silent, the right not to say something that you do not want to say. Compelled speech is not free speech.”

The petition says that forcing students to declare their pronouns also violates students' privacy. 

“Some students may want to remain private about their gender identity,” the petition says. “It is invasive and inappropriate for a professor to force his students to publicly declare their sexual orientation or their gender identity.”

The “service of faith” is also being violated, the petition says, because forcing students to declare their preferred pronouns signals endorsement of what Pope Francis has called "gender ideology.”

“The Pope teaches that the human body, as male or female, is part of the good gift of God’s creation. Any university whose mission statement includes the service of faith should protect students of faith from being forced to act against their faith,” the petition says.

Pope Francis has denounced gender ideology several times during his pontificate. In one instance, in an address to Polish bishops in July 2016, the pope stated that “in Europe, America, Latin America, Africa, and in some countries of Asia, there are genuine forms of ideological colonization taking place. And one of these — I will call it clearly by its name — is [the ideology of] ‘gender.’

"Today, children — children! — are taught in school that everyone can choose his or her sex. Why are they teaching this? Because the books are provided by the persons and institutions that give you money," the pope continued. "These forms of ideological colonization are also supported by influential countries. And this is terrible!”

The petition states that “we believe, as the Catholic Church believes, that all human beings deserve to be respected by everyone and protected against unjust discrimination,” and adds that “we should love all human beings, including every person with gender dysphoria.”

The petition continues: “Protecting people does not mean forcing other people to act contrary to their faith or their consciences. And loving all people does not mean speaking or acting contrary to the truth. As St. Edith Stein taught, ‘Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. And do not accept anything as love which lacks truth.’”

The petition had collected 248 signatures as of Tuesday morning, Nov. 30, RenewLMU said.

Bishop Deeley presides at outdoor prayer service for unclaimed remains in South Portland

Bishop Robert Deeley leads a committal of unclaimed cremated remains at the Old Cemetery at Calvary in South Portland, Maine, Nov. 22, 2021. / Diocese of Portland

Portland, Maine, Nov 30, 2021 / 14:01 pm (CNA).

In view of the tombstones and damp terrain of the large and rolling Old Cemetery at Calvary, a small crowd stood reverently as Bishop Robert Deeley prayed over the unclaimed and cremated remains of ten people.

“May God grant them a merciful judgement, deliverance from death, and pardon of sin,” said Bishop Deeley. “May they rejoice forever in the presence of the eternal King and in the company of all the saints.”

Bishop Deeley then sprinkled holy water on the remains, which sat next to the All Souls burial plot, part of a special outdoor prayer service on Monday, November 22.

The rite of final commendation and committal of cremated remains is an act of mercy that serves as a reminder of the sacredness of the human person. In committing the body to its resting place, the community expresses the hope that, with all those who have gone before marked with the sign of faith, the deceased awaits the glory of the Resurrection. The rite of committal is an expression of the communion that exists between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven.

“We commend to Almighty God our brothers and sisters, and we commit their earthly remains to their resting place, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” the bishop prayed during the Prayer of Committal. “The Lord bless them and keep them.”

The remains on Monday came from area funeral homes.

“The diocese offers at no charge, to all funeral homes and to anyone who is considering scattering, the dignified committal of cremated remains at Calvary,” said Jessica Letendre, director of cemeteries for the Diocese of Portland.

“There are different reasons for remains to be unclaimed, including no family or the cost,” said Kenneth Greenleaf of Maine Catholic Cemeteries. “Bishop Deeley being at this service sends a powerful message that we have a bishop who is a leader that takes care of the poor and those in need.”

Respecting and taking care of families and the faithful departed is a central mission of Maine Catholic Cemeteries, one it proudly and humbly completes each day.

“We’re serving these families today. There are ten families here that don’t have anybody,” said Greenleaf. “We’re here serving them to make sure they are not forgotten.”

Joining the bishop on Monday was Monsignor Marc Caron, Deacon Mark Tuttle, and Sister Rita-Mae Bissonnette.

Fittingly, the service was held in November, a month in which Catholics are encouraged to pray for deceased loved ones and recall that they enjoy communion with each other on earth and with those who have preceded them in death.

Those in attendance at the service on Monday remained mindful of the persons, men and women, represented by the remains as they were commended to God in the hope of eternal peace.

“Burial in a Catholic cemetery recognizes baptismal commitment and gives witness, even in death, to our belief in the Resurrection,” said Letendre. “It was an honor to have Bishop Deeley preside over our outdoor prayer service on Monday afternoon, highlighting the great importance of respecting and revering all remains.”

One of the Corporal Works of Mercy is “bury the dead,” the act of which offers the opportunity to grieve and show others support during difficult times. Through prayer and action during these times, we show our respect for life, which is always a gift from God, and comfort to those who mourn.

“In gathering to bury the dead today, we are reminded of the humanity of those who we gather to bury, the way they shared the world in which we all live, and the charity they shared with others,” the bishop said during the service. “This is an act of mercy.”

This article was first published by the Diocese of Portland, and is reprinted with permission.

7 things to know about the Dobbs abortion case now before the Supreme Court

Pro-life and pro-abortion advocates outside of the Supreme Court during oral arguments in the case Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, March 2, 2016. / Catholic News Agency

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 30, 2021 / 02:00 am (CNA).

Part of a continuing series examining the U.S. Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a direct challenge to the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion throughout the United States.

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a historic case on Dec. 1 that directly challenges Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. Here’s what you need to know:

1. What is the case about?

The case, known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, involves a 2018 Mississippi law restricting most abortions after 15 weeks. “Dobbs” stands for Thomas E. Dobbs, who serves as the state health officer of the Mississippi State Department of Health. Jackson Women’s Health Organization provides abortion in Jackson, Mississippi, and is the only abortion clinic in that state.

The case centers on the question of “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional,” or whether states can ban abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb. The case challenges two landmark abortion cases that Mississippi calls “egregiously wrong”: Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

2. Why does the case challenge Roe and Casey?

In Roe v. Wade, the court ruled that states could not ban abortion before viability, which the court determined to be 24 to 28 weeks into pregnancy. Nearly 20 years later, the court upheld Roe in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The 1992 ruling said that while states could regulate pre-viability abortions, they could not enforce an “undue burden,” defined by the court as “a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.”

Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, the subject of the Dobbs case, bans abortion weeks before the point of viability.

“Under the Constitution, may a State prohibit elective abortions before viability? Yes,” Mississippi argues in its brief. “Why? Because nothing in constitutional text, structure, history, or tradition supports a right to abortion.”

3. What time are the arguments?

The oral arguments are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 1, and will last for 70 minutes. 

4. Who will argue the case before the court?

Three people will speak before the justices. Scott G. Stewart, the solicitor general of Mississippi, will have 35 minutes to represent the state. For Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Julie Rikelman, litigation director of the Center for Reproductive Rights, will have 20 minutes. U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar will also have 15 minutes to argue in support of Jackson Women’s Health Organization.  

5. How can Americans hear or read the arguments? 

The Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. is temporarily closed to the public due to COVID-19, but Americans can still listen in. The high court provides an audio livestream of all oral arguments on its website. Following the event, its website also offers an audio recording and same-day transcript of the arguments. C-SPAN also livestreams the audio of Supreme Court arguments on its website and on its YouTube channel. CNA will provide updates on the arguments as they occur.

6. Who will be outside the Supreme Court during the arguments?

In support of abortion, the Women’s March will march to the Supreme Court at 2:15 p.m. The Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Abortion Access Coalition will gather outside at 7:30 a.m. NARAL Pro-Choice America will arrive at the same time.

A pro-life rally called “Empower Women Promote Life” will begin at 8 a.m. outside of the Supreme Court. Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch recently released the speaker list, which includes a slew of pro-life women of diverse backgrounds and numerous politicians.

7. What happens after the oral arguments are completed?

What happens next is that America waits. Nothing will be decided on Dec. 1. The Supreme Court generally releases decisions in high-profile cases, such as this one, in June. So there will be plenty of time between now and then to parse the questions that the various justices will pose during the oral arguments, looking for hints of how this or that justice might vote.

Whatever the court ultimately decides, the consequences for the country will be enormous.

If Roe and Casey are overturned, abortion law would be left up to each individual state. The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive research organization once associated with Planned Parenthood, predicts that 26 states would certainly or likely ban abortion.

If the Mississippi law is struck down, and Roe and Casey are affirmed, it would be a devastating setback for the pro-life movement, which has pinned its long-term legal strategy on someday having a conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court, as is the case today.

Live updates:



Phil Saviano, survivor of clerical abuse featured in 'Spotlight,' dies at 69

Clerical sexual abuse survivor Phil Saviano at the premiere of "Spotlight" in 2015. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 29, 2021 / 14:48 pm (CNA).

Phil Saviano, a survivor of clerical sexual abuse whose story was featured in the 2015 film “Spotlight” died on Sunday, Nov. 28, at the age of 69. 

Saviano wrote in a Facebook post on Oct. 23 that doctors had informed him that they had exhausted all possible treatment options for his gallbladder cancer. He moved in with his brother, Jim Saviano, at his house in Douglas, Mass., and began hospice care. 

His death was announced in another Facebook post shortly after 3 p.m. on Sunday.

In December 1992, Saviano came across a news article in The Boston Globe saying that a priest named Father David Holley had been arrested for the sexual abuse of boys at a church in New Mexico during the 1970s. 

Saviano told People Magazine in 2015 that discovering that article was a “big life-changing moment.”  

“I was very much surprised and just stunned,” he told the magazine. “It was just sort of a one shot, fairly short story in the Globe, not even in the front section, I could’ve easily missed it. But I didn’t.”

Starting as an 11-year-old child at St. Denis Catholic Church  in Douglas, Saviano was molested for one and a half years by Holley. Speaking in a video with the Daily Mail, he said that Holley was unlike other priests, and had the ability to speak on the level of an adolescent boy. Saviano said that  Holley “took an interest in me” and initially had him do odd jobs around the rectory and parish after CCD class. 

“I remembered feeling lucky that this priest, who was so revered and respected in the community, was paying attention to me,” said Saviano to the Daily Mail. The funny stories shared by the priest quickly became sexual in nature, and which then progressed to assault. 

Motivated by the news report, Saviano came forward with the story of his abuse in 1992. At the time, having been diagnosed with AIDS, he did not think he had much longer to live. He figured that by coming forward with his story, he had nothing to lose. 

After filing a civil suit, Saviano was given access to Holley’s record. It was then he learned that there were “seven priests in four states” who were aware that the priest was a child-molesting pedophile. 

“I knew that the bishops were in on the cover up,” he said to the Daily Mail. “I settled my case without signing a confidentiality agreement, which gave me the ability to talk about this.” 

Holley died in prison in 2008, 15 years into a 275-year sentence for the sexual assault of eight boys in New Mexico. 

After settling with the diocese in 1995, Saviano attempted to contact The Boston Globe three years later with his story. He was initially rebuffed, but years later, the paper once again took an interest in his case. In January 2002, The Boston Globe published the first of its “Spotlight” team investigations into abuse by Catholic priests and subsequent cover-up. 

Cardinal Bernard Law, the then-archbishop of Boston, resigned in the wake of the scandal. 

Saviano was portrayed in the Academy Award-winning movie “Spotlight” by Neal Huff. Saviano and Huff became friends throughout the course of filming, and Saviano advised writers on the screenplay. 

Actor Neal Huff (left) and Phil Saviano attend the "Spotlight" New York premiere at Ziegfeld Theatre on October 27, 2015 in New York City. Shutterstock
Actor Neal Huff (left) and Phil Saviano attend the "Spotlight" New York premiere at Ziegfeld Theatre on October 27, 2015 in New York City. Shutterstock

In 1997, he founded the New England chapter of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP.) 

In a statement released by SNAP, the organization said it was “heartbroken” at Saviano’s death, and praised him as someone who “played an integral part in exposing sexual assaults against children by Roman Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Boston.” 

“There are not enough words to describe this terrible loss for both our movement and the world,” said SNAP. 

“Anyone who met Phil immediately recognized his gentleness and humility. He was a kind soul who helped provide a listening ear and shoulder to cry on as the founder of the New England SNAP chapter,” said the organization. “He embraced the principles of seeking truth and justice as the means to bring about healing for survivors at a time when the scandal was still in its infancy.”

Saviano’s funeral will be held Dec. 3 at St. Denis, his childhood parish.

Catholic priests survey finds lower morale, 'conservative shift' among U.S. clergy

Priest collar / / null

Denver Newsroom, Nov 29, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

First in a series of articles examining the 2021 Survey of American Catholic Priests (SACP) findings.

A new survey released this month suggests a more “pessimistic” view of the Catholic Church among U.S. priests today as compared to 2002, as well as an increasing perception of “more theologically conservative or orthodox” young priests as compared to their older counterparts. 

A Nov. 1 report summarized findings from the 2021 Survey of American Catholic Priests (SACP), which comprised 54 questions posed to 1,036 Catholic priests in the United States. 

“If the major story of the SACP had to be summarized briefly it would be noticeable conservative shifts among U.S. priests over the last two decades coupled with a turn toward pessimism about the current state and trajectory of the Catholic Church in America,” write the report’s three researchers.  

When asked about politics, the priests surveyed were significantly more likely to describe themselves as “conservative” as compared to respondents in 2002, the researchers say. 

In addition, the percentage of priest respondents overall who view younger priests as “much more conservative” than older priests increased from 29% in 2002 to 44% in the new survey.

To track changes in answers over time, the survey reused questions from a 2002 poll of Catholic priests conducted by the Los Angeles Times, and also a few questions from a survey of priests from 1970. 

The priests were contacted in late 2020 via two unconnected email lists, one provided by the Official Catholic Directory and one provided by an unidentified “Catholic NGO.” Despite the small sample size, the authors say the results they garnered from the two email lists are “reassuringly similar,” both to each other, and to the 2002 results. 

The researchers analyzed the data they collected, classifying each priest by his self-described political persuasion. They also classified the priests into “cohorts” based on their ordination year. 

Brad Vermurlen, the survey’s co-author and a sociologist with the University of Texas at Austin, wrote in an article announcing the study that researchers observed a “relatively conservative cohort of priests ordained prior to 1960” followed by “more permissive or liberal men ordained to the priesthood in the 1960s and 70s.”

“After the permissive cohorts, there is a steady move toward more conservative views with each successive cohort. Catholic priests ordained since the year 2000 tend to be the most conservative,” Vermurlen wrote. 

Priests in the more recent survey were, on average, less in favor of female deacons, less in favor of ordaining women as priests, and less favorable toward the idea of married priests compared to the 2002 survey, the researchers write. 

Morale

While priests today are slightly less likely to leave the priesthood than they were in 2002, “life satisfaction” for priests is lower overall, the researchers write, down from 72.1% of priests in 2002 saying they were “very satisfied” with their life as a priest, to 62% saying the same in 2021.

“Over the same time that priests became more conservative in multiple ways, their perceptions of the current state of the Catholic Church in America took a pessimistic turn, now with a majority of priests saying things in the Church are ‘not so good’ — and this holds true across the political spectrum,” the researchers, two of whom work at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote. 

Orthodoxy

The researchers’ measure of “orthodoxy” was a theological question: whether the priests surveyed believe faith in Jesus Christ to be the “sole path to salvation.” 

The Catholic Church teaches in Paragraph 846 of the Catechism that “all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body,” and notes that Jesus Himself “explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism.” 

However, in the next Catechism paragraph, the Church affirms that those who “through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.” Nevertheless, “the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men."

Priests in 2021 were, overall, slightly more likely to affirm belief that faith in Jesus Christ is the “sole path to salvation” than priests in 2002, but stark differences emerged among the different political persuasions. 

Among priests who self-identified as “very liberal,” nearly 40% “disagreed strongly” with the assertion that the sole path to salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ. On the other end of the spectrum, among “very conservative” priests, 82% said they “agreed strongly.”

Morality

To assess opinions on morality among the priests, the researchers laid out six activities that the Church teaches to be sinful, and asked whether the surveyed priests also consider them sinful. These activities were: nonmarital sex; abortion; birth control use in married couples; homosexual behavior; suicide to relieve suffering, and masturbation.

The researchers concluded that priests in 2021 were more likely than their 2002 counterparts to say each of those six activities to be sinful. 

Assessment of Pope Francis

The researchers also asked about the priests’ approval of Pope Francis. They found that priests ordained in more recent years are less likely to approve of how Pope Francis is handling his duties.

“In the latest cohort of priests, ordained in 2010 or later, only 20.0 percent ‘approve strongly’ of Pope Francis and nearly half (49.8 percent) disapprove, whether ‘somewhat’ or ‘strongly,’” the researchers found. 

Is the Church getting better or worse?

The priests were asked about their opinion of the Catholic Church’s “trajectory”— whether the Church is getting better, staying the same, or getting worse. 

The researchers noted that priests who assessed the Church as “not so good” spanned the political spectrum, and speculated that the apparent pessimism seems to be a “period effect,” meaning “there is something about the early 2020s distinctly different from 2002 generating these changes.”

The researchers speculate that one reason for the increased pessimism among priests might be “the spiritual and moral lives of the Catholic laity.” The researchers claim that just 22% of priests reported that “most” of the laity they encounter are living out the Church’s teachings on moral issues such as those relating to sexuality, a decrease from 30% in 2002.

They also cited a “challenging, ‘post-Christian’” society and the fallout from the sexual abuse crisis as likely drivers of lower morale. 

The meanings and traditions of Advent

Kara Monroe via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Denver Newsroom, Nov 29, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

Advent is a time of preparation. We prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ, and welcome his presence into our lives. 

During a time of Christmas shopping, holiday parties, and family gatherings, it can be hard to find the time to prepare properly for this faith-filled season. However, the Catholic Church has a rich history of traditions to help keep our minds focused on the true meaning of the season.

In an interview with EWTN News In Depth, Father Patrick Mary Briscoe, O.P., host of the Godsplaining podcast, discussed the history of Advent and how it began in the fourth century. 

“It was originally a kind of time of preparation for people that were preparing for baptism,” he said. “The feast of the epiphany was a great day in the old calendar, it used to be alighted with the feast of the baptism of the Lord.”

Since it was a time of preparation for those soon-to-be baptized, Fr. Patrick pointed out that “It had more of a feel of Lent to it.” 

“There was a kind of rigor again, looking forward to the coming mysteries that were celebrated by the sacraments,” he said.

Jumping forward to the present day, the meaning of Advent is different. It now focuses on the birth of Jesus, and families place an Advent wreath in their home. The Catholic Church also uses different colors to represent the season. 

“That deep purple that you see in Advent, that very rich color, is the color of repentance,” Fr. Patrick explained. “It reminds us of the sober and somber character of the season and tells us that we should be preparing not just our homes, not just our surroundings, but our souls.” 

The Advent season is not one entirely characterized by somberness, however. Gaudete Sunday represents the midway point of the Advent season and is a Sunday of rejoicing. On Gaudete Sunday, which is the third Sunday of Advent, a rose colored candle is illuminated.  

“Christmas and the Advent season, I think, are so different from Lent principally because they have this note of hope,” Fr. Patrick said. “Advent is a season ultimately of light and we see that in the candles of the Advent wreath.”

While many think primarily of the outward signs of Advent, this time of year is deeply rooted in the inward preparation we are called to as we draw closer to the birth of Jesus. 

During the interview, Fr. Patrick recalled a homily given by Saint Bernard Clairvaux, which is read by the Church in the liturgy of the hours. In the homily, the saint describes three comings of Christ. 

“Christ came once as a child in Bethlehem, and the Lord Jesus is going to come again to judge the living and the dead, so this is the second principle meaning of Advent,” he said. “But, the third coming of Christ is that Christ is coming into our hearts.”

“The spirit of Advent, then, is to be ready each Christmas to receive Christ in my life, in the here and now, in a new and deeper way,” he said.

What makes Dobbs the best, and possibly last, chance to overturn Roe? 

The exterior of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 28, 2021 / 00:00 am (CNA).

Part of a continuing series examining the U.S. Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a direct challenge to the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion throughout the United States.

After nearly a half century of legal abortion throughout the United States, that precedent could fall  — or stand  — through one critical case now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet what makes it possibly the most significant abortion case in decades?

The Supreme Court on Dec. 1 will hear arguments in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, concerning Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks. The court will take up the question of whether all bans on pre-viability abortions are unconstitutional.

Legal experts say the case presents an ideal opportunity for the Supreme Court to reconsider previous rulings that upheld legal abortion nationwide.

The 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, Roe v. Wade, said that states could not ban abortion before the “viability” of the fetus — the point at which unborn child can survive outside the womb, determined by the court to be around 24 to 28 weeks into pregnancy.

Nearly 20 years later, the court upheld that ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, saying that states could regulate pre-viability abortions but could not pose an “undue burden” in doing so.

Mississippi’s law bans most abortions after 15 weeks — well before the point of “viability” as established in Roe and upheld in Casey.

“The Dobbs case presents a square challenge to Roe v. Wade,” said Michael Stokes Paulsen, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, in an email interview with CNA.

“So, Mississippi's law forbids abortions that Roe and Casey say must be permitted,” Paulsen said. “There's no way around the conflict between the Mississippi law and the court's precedents on abortion. One or the other has to go!”

Steve Aden, chief legal officer and general legal counsel for Americans United for Life, agreed that Roe itself is at the heart of the Dobbs case. 

“It is a tremendous historical opportunity for the court to review Roe, and finally throw it on the ash heap of history,” Aden told CNA.

While Mississippi’s law directly challenges Roe and Casey, those rulings themselves were already vulnerable and ripe for reconsideration, said O. Carter Snead, a law professor and director of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame.

Both Snead and Aden helped author separate amicus briefs at the Supreme Court in favor of Mississippi’s law. They both explained to CNA why they think Roe and Casey were so poorly decided.

“Defenders of Roe and Casey hardly ever argue on the substance of those cases’ reasoning,” Snead said. Rather, defenders of those cases appeal to the legal doctrine of stare decisis which “invites the court  — although it does not require it  — to consider the practical consequences of undoing the prior precedent,” he said.

Justice Harry Blackmun, who authored the majority opinion in Roe, grounded the “right” to abortion in the “right to privacy.” He considered it an “unenumerated” right, Snead said, one not listed in the Constitution but nevertheless believed by some to be a right that “we basically discover through our own reflection.”

According to Snead, Blackmun traced the “right to privacy” to the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, which says that no state can “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

However, at the time the amendment was added to the Constitution in 1868, “nobody thought that that [clause] prevented states from protecting unborn children. Nobody thought that,” Snead said. Abortion was outlawed in 30 states at the time, and the remaining states followed common law which also did not allow for abortion, Snead said.

Blackmun, influenced by a “novel” legal theory, disputed that abortion was prohibited under common law, Snead said, calling the argument “completely at odds with the historical record” and saying that it “has been debunked, but nonetheless, constantly repeated.”

The majority opinion in Roe set up a trimester framework for judging state abortion laws. States could not ban or regulate abortion in the first trimester, while they could regulate second trimester abortions but not ban them, according to the ruling. While states could ban third trimester abortions, they had to make exceptions for cases where an “appropriate medical judgment” deemed abortion necessary for the “life or health” of the mother,” Blackmun noted.

This “exception” could be interpreted in a liberal way to allow for many late-term abortions, Snead argued.

“Which means, in effect, that we have the most permissive regime of abortion, almost in the world,” Snead said. The United States is one of just seven countries which allow for legal abortion nationwide after 20 weeks.

Blackmun’s claims in the Roe ruling have not held up over time, Aden argued, including his skepticism over when life begins.

“Roe presumed that abortion would be a decision between a woman and her doctor,” Aden said, but “virtually all” abortions now are performed by doctors who are not a woman’s primary physician.

Roe’s assertion that abortion is safe “relied on eight different authorities, which were not peer-reviewed medical authorities,” Aden said. “In fact, abortion is not safer than childbirth,” he said, especially later in a pregnancy.

If the court declines to overturn the Roe and Casey rulings, however, it might raise questions as to when — if ever — it would reconsider those rulings.

“I would never say this is the last chance to do anything,” Snead said, adding that “no case could be better set up than this one [to repeal Roe.]”

If the court does not repeal Roe, “it won’t be the last opportunity,” Aden said. “This court may, in fact, want to take Roe in bite-sized pieces as it were, and not overturn it in one fell swoop, but in significant incremental decisions.”

For instance, he said the court could simply answer that not all state pre-viability abortion bans are unconstitutional, and send the matter back to the lower courts without having repealed Roe. When the lower courts then consider the lawfulness of various state abortion bans, those cases would probably be appealed to the Supreme Court. Then the court conceivably could repeal Roe in one of those later cases.

In the Dobbs ruling, the court could also set up a new standard recognizing legal abortion, Aden said, adding that this would be unlikely.

“That’s the challenge before the court: Can they find a new standard if they junk the Casey ‘undue burden’ standard? Can they find a new standard that’s understandable, predictable, and applicable across the board?” he asked. “My bet is that they can’t, because they haven’t been able to for the 30 years since Casey, and I don’t think anything will change in Dobbs.”

Snead also said that the possibility of such a novel legal standard would be unlikely.

“To simultaneously uphold the law in Mississippi and retain the court’s authority to be the ultimate arbiter of abortion in America, you’d have to reinvent another false, and untethered-to-the-Constitution, right to abortion,” he said.

“And I don’t think that there is an appetite for that among a majority of the justices.”

Paulsen emphasized that the Dobbs case is the ideal opportunity to overturn Roe.

“There is no way around it. There is no ‘middle solution’ — no ‘compromise’ between right and wrong — that is faithful to the Constitution,” he said. “This is the case. This is the time.” 

Everything you need to know about the Advent wreath

Advent wreath / Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Nov 27, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

During the holidays, nativity scenes and Christmas trees decorate most Catholic homes, but what about Advent wreaths? 

Advent wreaths are traditionally made from evergreen branches and have four candles. The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent—three candles are purple, and one is a rose color. 

The purple represents prayer, penance, and preparation for the coming of Christ. Historically, Advent was known as a “little Lent,” which is why the penitential color of purple is used. During Lent, we prepare for the resurrection of Christ on Easter. Similarly, during Advent, we prepare for the coming of Christ, both on Christmas and at the second coming. 

The rose candle is illuminated on the third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday. At Mass on the third Sunday, the priest will also wear rose colored vestments. Gaudete Sunday is a day for rejoicing and joy as the faithful draw near to the birth of Jesus, and it marks the midpoint of Advent. 

“The progressive lighting of the candles represents the expectation and hope surrounding our Lord’s coming into the world and the anticipation of his second coming to judge the living and the dead,” says the USCCB.

During the Advent season, the faithful will also notice a common theme in the Gospel readings. The readings focus on preparation or “making straight the path of the Lord,” penance, and fasting. All of these things remind us of the importance of preparing our hearts for the Lord and making room for his presence in our lives. 

Did you know?

The Advent wreath originated from a pagan European tradition, which consisted of lighting candles during the winter to ask the sun god to return with his light and warmth.

The first missionaries took advantage of this tradition to evangelize to people and taught them that they should use the Advent wreath as a way of preparing for Christ’s birth, and to celebrate his nativity and beg Jesus to infuse his light in their souls.

The circle of the Advent wreath is a geometric figure that has neither a beginning nor an end. It reminds us that God does not have a beginning or an end either, which reflects his unity and eternity. It is a sign of the unending love that the faithful should show the Lord and their neighbors, which must be constantly renewed and never stop.

The green color of the wreath represents hope and life. The Advent wreath reminds us that Christ is alive among us, and that we must cultivate a life of grace, spiritual growth, and hope during Advent. 

Bless your Advent wreath

The blessing of an Advent wreath takes place on the First Sunday of Advent or on the evening before the First Sunday of Advent.

When the blessing of the Advent wreath is celebrated in the home, it is appropriate that it be blessed by a parent or another member of the family.
To bless your Advent wreath at home, follow our guide, “How to bless your Advent wreath at home.