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Pornography producer sentenced to 20 years for sex trafficking

structuresxx/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jun 15, 2021 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

One of the pornographers in the production company GirlsDoPorn was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Monday for sex trafficking.

Andre Garcia, a producer for the pornography website GirlsDoPorn, was charged with “Sex Trafficing by Force, Fraud and Coercion” in 2019 along with Michael James Pratt and Matthew Isaac Wolfe. The three operated the companies “GirlsDoPorn” and “GirlsDoToys,” and produced pornographic films. 

On Monday, Garcia was handed down a 20-year sentence for trafficking by federal district court Judge Janis Lynn Sammartino.

Advocates for sex trafficking survivors applauded the sentencing on Tuesday.

“We commend Judge Sammartino for listening to the GirlsDoPorn survivors who courageously spoke at the sentencing hearing and accordingly sentenced Garcia to twenty years in prison – seven years longer than the prosecutors suggested,” Dani Pinter, senior legal counsel for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, told CNA on Tuesday. 

“The entire pornography industry – which is built on abuse, exploitation, and coercion – is hereby put on notice that exploitation will not stand,” Pinter said.

In addition to the trafficking charge for Garcia, Pratt, and Wolfe, the three - together with a woman named Valorie Moser who worked as a bookkeeper for GirlsDoPorn, and a cameraman named Theodore Wilfred Gyi - were all charged with “Conspiracy to Commit Sex Trafficking by Force, Fraud and Coercion.” That charge carried a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine. Pratt was also charged with production of child pornography and sex trafficking of a minor

The group was accused of placing ads for “modeling jobs” that would pay $5,000. In fact, the jobs were for parts in pornographic films. The complaint alleged that Pratt, Wolfe, Garcia, and Moser told the women they could remain anonymous and that their videos would not be shared online. The charges allege that this was not true, and that the videos were made exclusively for the internet. 

The complaint alleges that instead of being given a modeling job, women were “pressured” into signing documents without a chance to read them thoroughly, and were threatened with legal action or “outing” if they did not “perform” in a video. Other alleged victims say they were not allowed to leave the location of a shoot until the filming was complete. They say their families and friends viewed their videos online, which resulted in their harassment and estrangement from their families.

Moser and Gyi both pleaded guilty to conspiracy and are awaiting sentencing. Wolfe is awaiting trial, and Pratt, who is a native of New Zealand, remains a fugitive. The FBI is offering a reward for his capture.

Financial records show that the two websites earned more than $17 million for Pratt and Wolfe. The videos were posted on the website Pornhub and were monetized.

In December 2020, 40 women who were trafficked by GirlsDoPorn sued Pornhub, alleging that the website not only kept their porn videos online but continued promoting them even after it was revealed that they were being abused.

“It’s important to note that Pornhub posted the illicit videos on its ‘verified accounts’ platform, which the company asserts is somehow ‘safer.’ Pornhub’s refusal to pull down the videos despite repeated demands to do so by the women belies  the absurd pretense of safety,” said Benjamin Bull, general counsel for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, in December. 

“Pornhub is a predator that continued to victimize these women even after they had obtained a multi-million dollar judgement against Girls Do Porn for trafficking them. As Pornhub’s actions show, there has been a practical merger between the illicit sex trafficking business and the online pornography industry. They are now virtually inseparable,” said Bull.

Fargo dad follows his son, a priest, to Holy Orders as a deacon

Father Eric Seitz says Mass, with his father, Deacon Ben Seitz, assisting as deacon. Courtesy photo.

Fargo, N.D., Jun 15, 2021 / 18:01 pm (CNA).

Eric Seitz was ordained to the priesthood August 8, 2020 for the Diocese of Fargo. Two months later, his father Ben was ordained to the diaconate. 

Father Seitz, now parochial vicar at St. John the Evangelist parish in Wahpeton, North Dakota, told CNA that his father had been considering the diaconate for many years before it finally came to fruition. 

Father Eric said although he entered holy orders before his father did, it was his father’s holy example that helped nurture his faith to the point of discerning the priesthood. 

“Just looking at things from my perspective, really his example as a Christian man was what made my faith gave room for my faith to grow, and helped me to learn about how serious [faith] is, in an age when so many people pass it off,” he commented. 

“I would say just his vocation as a Christian man was what helped me to discern my vocation.”

Father Eric serves as parochial vicar to Father Dale Lagodinski in the rural town of Wahpeton. Deacon Ben currently serves at Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church in Fargo, about 50 miles north. 

Growing up in an Air Force family, Father Eric said the family moved around frequently, but the tug he felt toward the priesthood followed him as he attended a Catholic school in each city where the Seitzes settled. 

In seventh grade during a penance service, he said the idea of becoming a priest flitted into his mind as he contemplated what his future might hold. 

“As I was going through the rest of middle school and into high school, I kept on hearing from different people that they thought they could see me as a priest,” he recalled. 

“So by the time I got to the end of my junior year of high school, I realized I had to start making some decisions. I went on a discernment retreat, which was really helpful, and was talking with my pastor and the vocation director and my parents and all of that.”

He decided to go to seminary straight out of high school. He struggled somewhat at first with his own decision, saying that in addition to a call to the priesthood, he also had a desire to get married. 

“And as I was going through seminary, I started noticing within myself that the priesthood wasn't just something that God wanted for me, but it was something that I wanted to do as well. This wasn't being imposed on me; it was my heart's desire to go through with this,” he said. 

Father Eric said he remembers his father Ben talking about wanting to join the diaconate when Eric was only in fourth grade, but he remembers having to wait for “God’s timing” to be right. Ben was unable to join the diaconate until after he had settled down and left the military, since the military archdiocese does not offer a diaconate program, Eric said. Ben ultimately earned a master’s degree in theology, and his final formation took five years. 

Father Eric said his mother, a convert to the faith, is very supportive of her son’s and husband’s vocations, and will sometimes call him to request he pray particular Mass intentions. 

In terms of advice for those still discerning their vocation, Father Eric has simple advice. 

“Stay calm and talk to somebody who is wise that you can trust,” he said.

Bishops must address Biden's policies that contradict Church teaching, theologians say

President Biden reveals his rosary beads during a March 1, 2021 virtual meeting with Mexico’s President López Obrador / The White House/YouTube

Washington D.C., Jun 15, 2021 / 15:35 pm (CNA).

President Joe Biden has advanced policies contrary to Church teaching on life, marriage, and sexuality – and bishops have a duty to address this contradiction, theologians said this week.

Regarding the legitimacy of political opinions in a democracy, “Catholics are free to have these various opinions – as long as they don’t counter moral law, natural law, and faith,” Monsignor Charles Mangan of the Diocese of Sioux Falls told CNA on Tuesday.

“Authentic freedom,” he added, does not mean that Catholic voters and politicians can hold any opinion they want. Rather, it means “we are free in Christ, and we see the Church’s teaching as not a burden, but as something that frees us to embrace what is true,” he added.

He stressed the need for a well-formed conscience. “Conscience does not fall out of the sky. It has to be informed. It has to be taught. It has to be nurtured and matured,” he said.

Speaking with CNA ahead of the U.S. bishops’ virtual meeting which begins on Wednesday, Dr. Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at the Catholic University of America, said the bishops must be clear about where Biden’s administration runs afoul of Church teaching.

“It’s actually not Biden on trial right now, but the bishops,” Pecknold said. He noted that “Biden is almost a perfect pro-abort politician, and yet he claims to be a devout Catholic. The bishops must make a clear statement about precisely that contradiction.”

Biden, who is just the second Catholic president in U.S. history, has pushed for taxpayer-funded abortion while his administration seeks to deregulate the abortion pill regimen and fund international pro-abortion groups.

On the 48th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris issued a statement supporting Roe and stating their intent to codify it in law.

Days later, Biden on January 28 announced a series of executive actions that enabled funding of international pro-abortion groups and supported abortion as an international right.

Biden repealed the Mexico City Policy, an executive policy that bars U.S. funding of foreign NGOs that provide or promote abortions. His administration withdrew from the Geneva Consensus Declaration, a joint statement of the United States and 31 other countries saying there is no international right to abortion.

In domestic abortion policy, Biden moved to allow for federal funding of elective abortions by introducing his budget request for the 2022 fiscal year without the Hyde amendment. That policy, enacted in law since 1976 as a rider to budget bills, prohibited federal funding of most elective abortions in Medicaid.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also deregulated the abortion pill regimen, allowing for it to be prescribed and dispensed remotely during the pandemic instead of in-person, as previously required. Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services, has expressed interest in making that rule-change permanent.

Biden’s administration is also moving to allow funding of domestic abortion providers or pro-abortion groups through the Title X program.

While the program was set up in 1970 with express prohibitions against funding of abortion as a method of family planning, the Clinton administration required recipients to provide abortion referrals and counseling upon request.

That 2000 policy stood in place until the Trump administration in 2019 prohibited recipients from referring for abortions or being co-located with abortion clinics, in an attempt to separate taxpayer funding from abortion-related services altogether. Planned Parenthood in 2019 announced it was withdrawing from the program rather than complying with the new requirements.

The Department of Health and Human Services in April proposed to restore the Clinton-era rules for the program, once again allowing abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood to participate.

Biden’s administration has also lifted a moratorium on federally-funded research using fetal tissue derived from elective abortions. The Trump administration in 2019 halted such research at federal facilities, and required other federally-funded research proposals at non-government facilities to undergo review by a federal ethics advisory board. In April, HHS lifted the moratorium and removed the requirement for review by the ethics advisory board.

Meanwhile, Biden has expressed support for LGBT and transgender issues, and his administration has worked to require accommodation for these causes – despite religious or conscientious objections.

On his first day in office on January 20, Biden issued a sweeping executive order redefining sex discrimination. He stated his administration’s policy to uphold sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal civil rights law, extending to them the same protections as race in public accommodations.

“Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports,” Biden stated. 

Biden’s administration began implementing the order in a number of areas, including housing, education, and health care.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has said that male students identifying as transgender females have a right to compete in women’s athletics based on their gender identity.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has weakened protections for women’s shelters, withdrawing a proposed rule that would have allowed them to accept only women clients instead of biological males identifying as transgender females. A Missouri Christian college also sued the administration over its interpretation of sex discrimination, saying that their policy of sex-specific dormitory housing would be at risk.

In May, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a notice that legal experts warned would require doctors and hospitals to provide gender-transition procedures.

A coalition of Catholic doctors and hospitals had already sued the government over the Obama administration’s 2016 transgender mandate. While a federal district court granted some plaintiffs permanent injunctive relief from the mandate, the Biden administration fought to appeal that case to a higher court.

In foreign policy, U.S. embassies have also been permitted to display the LGBT Pride flag during “Pride season.”

Biden also supports the Equality Act, sweeping legislation that would require acknowledgment of sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops warned that the bill would “punish” objecting religious groups, and could require church halls to host pro-LGBT events, or women’s locker rooms and shelters to accept biological males.

“The big picture is that America seems only capable of electing Gallicans, Catholic presidents who don’t actually believe they should follow the Church’s teaching but should just follow their own national preferences,” Pecknold said.

“And president Biden has proved himself to be someone who not only doesn’t agree with Church teaching,” he said, “but advances and promotes” policies that contradict Church teaching.

“And he does it in an obstinate refusal of any correction from any bishop, including the pope,” he said.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a doctrinal note in 2002 on participation of Catholics in political life. The document stressed the need for Catholics to adhere to Church teaching, especially on grave issues such as abortion and euthanasia.

Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the CDF, cited the note in his letter to the U.S. bishops in May on the matter of Communion for Catholic public officials who support permissive legislation on grave evils.

Monsignor Mangan quoted from the 2002 document on the importance of Catholics upholding the Church’s teaching on life. The 2002 document had a lot to do with “the participation of the laity in terms of voting,” he said.

Democracy “succeeds only to the extent that it is based on a correct understanding of the human person,” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated. “Catholic involvement in political life cannot compromise on this principle, for otherwise the witness of the Christian faith in the world, as well as the unity and interior coherence of the faithful, would be non-existent.”

“That word ‘coherence’ is used here,” Monsignor Mangan said, alluding to the recent statements by bishops on “Eucharistic coherence.” The term is “speaking about the unity and interior coherence of the faithful,” he said.

Regarding the authority of a local ordinary in his diocese, Mangan emphasized the duty of a bishop “to teach, to proclaim, to sanctify, and to safeguard.”

“Safeguarding has a place. To safeguard the faith, to safeguard the dignity of human life, and the reverence due to the sacraments, I think that has a real definite place,” he said.

Biden administration seeks death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber 

Mother and daughter at an April 21, 2013 candlelight vigil for those injured and killed at the Boston Marathon bombings / Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Washington D.C., Jun 15, 2021 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

The Justice Department recently asked the Supreme Court to reinstate a death sentence for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for his role in the Boston Marathon bombings.

Tsarnaev’s death sentence had been handed down by federal jury a lower court, and the Justice Department is asking the Supreme Court to reinstate it, the Boston Globe reported Tuesday. The high court is scheduled to consider the death penalty for Tsarnaev in the fall, having granted certiorari to an appeal of a federal court ruling that vacated his death sentence.

While the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations have now all pushed for the federal death penalty for Tsarnaev, the Boston archdiocese has instead called for life in prison without parole.

“The pain and suffering caused to the victims of the bombing and to their loved ones is as clear and real today as it was nearly eight years ago,” the archdiocese told CNA in May. “As we have previously stated, Catholic teaching does not support the taking of life as a means of achieving justice.”

As a candidate for president, Biden called for the elimination of the death penalty.  

Tsarnaev was convicted on four murder charges in 2015 for his role in the Boston Marathon bombings, which took place on April 15, 2013. The attack, committed alongside his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, killed three people and injured hundreds. 

Tsarnaev’s death sentence was overturned last year by the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found the district court judge wrongly omitted evidence of Tamerlan committing a triple murder in 2011, and did not properly ensure the jury was free of bias amid near-constant media coverage of the case, the Globe reported. The First Circuit ruling sentenced Tsarnaev to life in prison without parole.

In the brief filed at the Supreme Court, lawyers for the Department of Justice argued Tsarnaev’s role in the attack necessitated the original death sentence he was given, which they said should be reinstated.

The lawyers argued that a jury “carefully considered” each of Tsarnaev’s crimes and found that “capital punishment was warranted for the horrors that he personally inflicted,” noting that one of his victims was a child. 

“That determination by 12 conscientious jurors deserves respect and reinstatement by this Court,” the brief stated. 

Biden, the second baptized Catholic to hold the office of president of the United States, is publicly opposed to the death penalty. His campaign said he would work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and take steps to incentivize states to follow suit. 

A spokesperson for the White House did not immediately respond to CNA’s request for comment. 

The U.S. bishops’ conference opposed the Trump administration’s decision to resume federal executions after a 17-year moratorium. The conference said in an August 2020 statement that “the Church’s opposition to the death penalty is clear.”

“Remembering the Lord’s call for mercy, we renew our plea: stop these executions!” the bishops said at the time. 

In August of last year, after then-President Donald Trump expressed support for executing Tsarnaev, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston told CNA that “Catholic teaching does not support the taking of life as a means of achieving justice.” 

In May, the archdiocese stated that “the incomprehensible suffering of so many caused by this heinous crime should appropriately be met with a sentence of imprisonment for life with no possibility of parole.”

Cardinal Cupich: A world without nuclear weapons is ‘not some utopian dream’ 

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Washington D.C., Jun 15, 2021 / 11:08 am (CNA).

Ahead of important international meetings this week, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago urged President Joe Biden and other world leaders to work for “a world without nuclear weapons” as a “moral necessity.” 

Cardinal Cupich wrote an op-ed published in The Hill on June 11, before Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to meet on June 16 in Geneva. American and Russian diplomats are expected to begin negotiations on eventually replacing the 2010 New START nuclear arms control treaty, according to Politico. The two nations each control around 6,000 nuclear weapons each - about 90% of the world's total stockpile.

Cupich wrote that at Thursday’s summit between Biden and Putin, “top on the agenda should be establishing a climate in which the Review Conference can succeed in reducing the nuclear threat.” He argued that the moment “could not be more urgent.” 

“Nuclear weapons pose an existential threat to all life on Earth,” Cupich wrote. “Working toward a world without nuclear weapons, in which vigorous international monitoring and enforcement mechanisms verify compliance, is not some utopian dream. It is, rather, a practical and moral necessity.”

The United States and Russia, as the two countries controlling most of the world's nuclear weapons, “have unique responsibilities in taking the lead to eliminate the nuclear threat,” he said.  

The New START nuclear arms control treaty was set to expire in February before the Biden administration agreed to extend it for another five years. The United States and Russia are expected to discuss what will replace the treaty in 2026. The 2010 agreement limited the number of strategically-deployed nuclear warheads for each country and allowed 18 annual on-site inspections of nuclear facilities by the other country.

Other bishops - including Pope Francis - have advocated for a world without nuclear weapons.

Earlier this year, the Catholic bishops of Hiroshima and Nagasaki applauded the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, while expressing regret that more countries - including their own - did not sign it. 

“As Catholic bishops and Japanese citizens of the A-bombed cities, we share Pope Francis’ confidence that a world free of nuclear weapons is possible and necessary ‘to protect all life,’” Archbishop Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki and Bishop Mitsuru Shirahama of Hiroshima wrote in a joint statement on Jan. 22.

The UN treaty - which went into effect in January - marked the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty in more than twenty years. It was signed by 86 states, including the Holy See. But the world’s main nuclear powers - including the United States - did not ratify the treaty. 

During a 2019 visit to the site of the 1945 atomic bomb detonation over Nagasaki, Pope Francis said, “This place makes us deeply aware of the pain and horror that we human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another.”

“Peace and international stability,” Pope Francis said, “are incompatible with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation.”

Poll: Regular Mass attendees say politicians who oppose Church teaching on grave matters ‘create confusion’

CNA stock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 15, 2021 / 06:05 am (CNA).

A poll by a Catholic advocacy group released on Tuesday found that, among Catholics who attend Mass regularly, the vast majority say that Catholic politicians who take policy positions contrary to Church teaching "create confusion" among the faithful. 

The poll, conducted by CRC Research on behalf of the advocacy group CatholicVote, found that 83% of Catholics who regularly attend Mass say public officials with stated positions contrary to Church teaching “create confusion and disunity.” Nearly three-quarters, 74%, of regular Mass-goers say that these officials should not present themselves for Communion.

The poll was conducted from June 1-8, 2021, and surveyed 600 respondents. Respondents were nearly evenly split along party lines, with 49% saying they supported former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, compared to 51% who supported President Joe Biden.

Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote, said in a statement on Tuesday that “Catholic politicians who advocate for policies considered ‘gravely immoral’ create confusion and discord among believers.” 

“Catholics’ concern about the flouting of Catholic social teaching by public leaders is less about politics and more about the integrity of the faith, along with reverence and respect due the Holy Eucharist,” Burch said. 

“This polling data should bolster the confidence of Catholic bishops as they prepare to discuss how to recover an understanding of the beauty and richness of the sacrament – among all Catholics. The data is very clear: Bishops have an obligation to act,” he stated. 

On Wednesday, the U.S. bishops will meet virtually at their annual spring general assembly. On Thursday, they are scheduled to deliberate and vote on whether to begin drafting a teaching document on the Eucharist. 

Although the deliberations are expected to include the topic of worthiness to receive Communion - including for pro-abortion Catholic politicians - the vote itself will simply focus on whether to begin drafting the document on the Eucharist. 

The document, a proposed outline of which CNA obtained several weeks ago, provides a comprehensive overview of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist. It covers topics such as the Real Presence, Sunday as a holy day, Mass as sacrifice, the importance of the works of mercy, and “Eucharistic consistency” - worthiness to receive Communion. 

“The document will include the theological foundation for the Church’s discipline concerning the reception of Holy Communion and a special call for those Catholics who are cultural, political, or parochial leaders to witness to the faith,” the USCCB doctrine committee stated in the draft document proposal.

In the poll, 72% of respondents said the bishops “should discuss” admission to Communion “for Catholic public officials who promote grave moral evils.”

Among Catholics who attend Mass regularly, 88% “believe it is important for Catholic bishops to teach and lead others in matters of the faith,” CatholicVote reported. Meanwhile, 82% “believe public officials who identify as Catholic but openly advocate for policies hostile to Church teaching are hypocritical.”

Biden is only the second baptized Catholic to hold the office of president of the United States. He frequently discusses the influence of his Catholic faith, but ran on a pro-abortion policy platform that called for taxpayer-funded abortion. 

He recently submitted a budget request to Congress that did not include the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortions in Medicaid. Biden’s budget request was the first since President Clinton’s in 1993 to not include Hyde Amendment provisions. The amendment has been passed into law each year since 1976 as a rider to budget bills. In 1993, an amended version of Hyde was eventually included in appropriations bills and signed into law.

The CatholicVote poll also found that 91% of Catholics who regularly attend Mass are eager to do so again as Churches re-open from COVID closures or restrictions. 

The issue of distributing Communion to Catholic politicians who support permissive legislation on grave evils such as abortion and euthanasia has come under newfound debate recently. Individual bishops have been speaking out in recent months about admission to Communion. 

In May, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois said that the issue “has taken on heightened urgency with the election of President Biden, a Catholic who promotes the evils of abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgenderism.”

According to canons 915 and 916 of the Code of Canon Law, he said, “a person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or to receive the Body of the Lord’ and that those ‘who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion’.”

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco wrote in a May 1 pastoral letter that any Catholic cooperating with the evil of abortion should refrain from receiving the Eucharist - especially Catholic public officials who advocate for abortion. “You are in a position to do something concrete and decisive to stop the killing,” he wrote, addressing those politicians. “Please stop the killing.”

In an April 14 column on Eucharistic coherence, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver wrote that “the Eucharist is a gift, not an entitlement, and the sanctity of that gift is only diminished by unworthy reception. Because of the public scandal caused, this is especially true in the case of public officials who persistently govern in violation of the natural law, particularly the pre-eminent issues of abortion and euthanasia, the taking of innocent life, as well as other actions that fail to uphold the church's teaching regarding the dignity of life.”

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, in a Feb. 1 online forum, spoke against denying Communion to pro-abortion politicians. 

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

Wisconsin Catholic school victorious in reopening case

GUNDAM_Ai/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jun 14, 2021 / 17:10 pm (CNA).

The Wisconsin state supreme court ruled in favor of a Catholic school last week in its case against a local prohibition on in-person learning during the pandemic.

“It's a big win and people should be rejoicing nationally because of the use of the state constitution to provide additional protection to the religious education of children,” one of the appellate attorneys in the case, Erick Kaardal, told CNA. 

The case of St. Ambrose Academy against executives of Dane County, Wisconsin, was officially decided on June 11. 

Citing dangers of the pandemic, county public health official Janel Heinrich issued an emergency order last August which prohibited in-person learning at all county schools grades 3 to 12. 

St. Ambrose Academy announced last August that it and other Catholic schools were seeking the immediate revocation of the emergency order, “citing harm to ‘parents, children, and schools across the County.’” They cited “freedom of conscience” clauses in the state constitution to make their case. 

St. Ambrose said it had worked with county health officials to produce a 35-page plan to reopen safely that fall, before the order was issued.

The court initially issued a preliminary injunction in September 2020, temporarily stopping the county from enforcing the order. The court’s official ruling was delivered on Friday, in a 5-3 decision in favor of the schools.

In the majority opinion,Justice Rebecca Grassl Bradley ruled that “local health officers do not have the statutory power to close schools,” and said that the prohibition on in-person education “infringes the Petitioners' fundamental right to the free exercise of religion.”

Kaardal, special counsel at the Thomas More Society, told CNA on Monday that Heinrich's policy was disappointing for many reasons, but emphasized the exemption of certain grade levels. “The University of Wisconsin-Madison could continue to meet in-person if it wanted to,” he said. “So, it seemed that the policy didn't make sense at a lot of levels.”

Kardaal said the “big message for Catholic schools across the country” is that the U.S. constitution and the state constitutions protect their right to exist and to operate according to their religious tradition. 

“We need to be resourceful as Catholics to make sure to use the courts to protect ourselves when the government overreaches and tries to close down, modify, alter, or change our Catholic schools,” he told CNA.

In the interview with CNA, Kaardal said that Friday’s decision provides a model for other courts to follow. 

“The Wisconsin supreme court was very resourceful in finding a way to protect Wisconsin religious school students and their parents and protect that decision-making process,” he said.

Kaardal compared the significance of the St. Ambrose Academy case to the case of the Brooklyn diocese against New York state pandemic restrictions. 

The U.S. Supreme Court said last November that New York state restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic were a violation of First Amendment protections of religious exercise. 

“That was one big case,” Kardaal said, referring to the high court’s ruling in favor of the Diocese of Brooklyn. “And I think this is the second big case, out of the Wisconsin supreme court, saying you can't shut down Catholic schools during a pandemic.”

Kaardal told CNA that the Wisconsin case is memorable because “it basically, in a blanket way says during a pandemic you can't close down religious schools - you got to find another way.”

CNA launches daily news podcast made for smart speakers

CNA

Denver Newsroom, Jun 14, 2021 / 16:02 pm (CNA).

Catholic News Agency has launched a new audio news update, designed specifically for smart speakers. 

Catholic News” is a two-minute audio briefing of CNA’s top stories of the day, powered by artificial intelligence. It’s now available every weekday on smart speakers and podcast platforms. 

“This is state-of-the-art stuff,” said Alejandro Bermudez, executive director of Catholic News Agency. 

“Our hope is that this product will help today’s Catholics stay informed about what’s happening at the Vatican, and the Church around the world,” Bermudez said. 

“‘Catholic News’ draws on the expertise, resources, and integrity that readers have come to expect from Catholic News Agency. It provides a brand-new and extremely convenient way to consume CNA’s award-winning reporting,” he said. 

Those wishing to listen can ask a smart speaker - any smart speaker - a special launch phrase. 

For a Google Home speaker, the phrase is “Hey Google, play Catholic News.” For those who own an Alexa device, the phrase is similar, “Alexa, open Catholic News.”

Listeners can also search for “Catholic News” and subscribe on any podcast app. 

“Catholic News” joins the CNA podcast lineup that also includes “CNA Newsroom,” an award-winning weekly news and storytelling podcast that launched in 2018. 

Visit catholicnewsagency.com/smartspeakers for more information. 

First Nation leaders ask Canadian Catholics to skip Mass to protest abuses of Indigenous

Memorial in tribute to 215 Indigenous children at the site of the former Kamloops residential school. / meandering images/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jun 14, 2021 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

First Nation leaders are encouraging Canadian Catholics to skip Mass in response to historic abuses at Catholic-run schools for Indigenous children.

“Something that everybody and every Christian can do is have that show of solidarity and not show up for church on Sunday,” said Felix Thomas, chief of the Kinistin Saulteaux Nation, to Canadian media on Friday, June 11. The Kinistin Saulteaux Nation, a First Nation community, is located northeast of Saskatoon, the largest city in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. 

“If it’s not this Sunday,” said Thomas to Catholics of skipping Mass, “pick a Sunday.” 

Thomas was referring to Pope Francis having not issued a formal apology for the Church’s role in Canada’s residential schools. The remains of 215 Indigenous children were recently discovered in unmarked graves at the site of a former Catholic-run boarding school in Kamloops, British Columbia. 

Canada’s residential school system operated from the 1870s until the last school closed in 1996. First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children were separated from their families and sent to the schools, established by the federal government and run by Catholics and members of Protestant denominations, to force assimilation and strip them of familial and cultural ties.

The Catholic Church, or Catholic religious orders, ran more than two-thirds of these schools. A 2015 report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission claimed that anywhere from 4,100 to 6,000 Indigenous children died at the schools as a result of neglect or abuse.

Thomas hoped that the proposed liturgical boycott would send a message to Church authorities that Catholics in Canada are upset at the Kamloops school findings. 

Since the discovery at Kamloops, there have been demands for Pope Francis to issue a formal apology. In response, Bishop Fred Henry, the retired bishop of Calgary, pointed to previous formal apologies by Canadian bishops over the residential school abuses. Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto also said that a formal papal apology would require a papal trip to Canada, involving significant logistical difficulties. 

Pope Francis, at his Sunday Angelus on June 6, expressed sorrow over the findings at Kamloops and emphasized the need for a “turn away from the colonizing model.”

Another tribal leader, David Pratt, said that he does not think that Pope Francis has “gone far enough.” 

Pratt is the vice chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, an organization which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan. In Canada, some Indigenous groups are known as “First Nation.” 

“They have to apologize,” he said of the Church. “I know some people say it’s not important, but we believe it’s really important. There has to be an acknowledgment of the wrongs done by the Catholic Church.”

Pratt told Canadian media that there was “no excuse for (the Church) not accepting their role” in the residential school system. He said the lack of apology from the pope has compounded the pain of survivors of residential schools and their families, particularly since many members of First Nations are Catholics. 

“Many of our people are practising Catholics as well,” said Pratt. “They need to hear the leader of their church recognizing the harms that they’ve done to them,” he added.

Individual bishops in Canada, as well as the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and individual religious orders, have repeatedly apologized for the role played by the Church in operating the schools.

Meanwhile in Vancouver, a church run by the same religious order that formerly operated the Kamloops Indian Residential School - the Oblates of Mary Immaculate - was vandalized on Saturday. 

The phrases “release the records” and “killers” were spray-painted on the door of St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Parish overnight. The parish was founded by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the order that ran the Kamloops residential school from 1893 until 1969. 

Kamloops, the city where the school was located, belonged to the Archdiocese of Vancouver until the Diocese of Kamloops was created in 1945.

Archbishop Michael Miller of Vancouver issued a “statement of commitment” to the First Nations of Canada on June 2, following the discovery of the remains. 

In the statement he expressed his “deep apology and profound condolences to the families and communities that have been devastated by this horrific news,” and pledged full transparency with regards to any archival records of residential schools.

The following day, Bishop Peter Nguyen of Kamloops issued a similar letter, apologizing for the Church’s role, and pledging to develop “a long-term pastoral approach” for reconciliation and healing.

The story of St. Anthony of Padua’s only approved apparition

Shrine of St. Anthony, Radecznica, Poland / EWTN News Nightly

Washington D.C., Jun 14, 2021 / 13:59 pm (CNA).

Catholics may know St. Anthony of Padua as a Franciscan friar, a Doctor of the Church, and the patron saint of lost items - but only one person has ever seen St. Anthony in an approved apparition. 

In 1664, Szymon the weaver - hailing from the little Polish village Radecznica - encountered St. Anthony in an apparition. Among other things, the saint requested the building of a nearby shrine. More than three centuries later, that miraculous shrine still exists, and on St. Anthony’s feast day – June 13 – pilgrims celebrate with a Eucharistic procession.

Although he was born in Lisbon, Portugal in 1195, St. Anthony moved to Padua, Italy, after joining the Franciscan order. Yet his apparition occurred in a third country, Poland. Fr. Teofil Czarniak, provincial minister of the Order of Friars Minor, called the saint’s apparition a “special event.”

Szymon “had a vision of St. Anthony and St. Anthony gave him some messages,” Fr. Czarniak told EWTN News Nightly on June 11. “One of them was the request of constructing a shrine on [a] nearby hill.”

As a result, he added, “one of the promises of St. Anthony was that whoever comes to this place – because he appeared near the water source – whoever will clean his wounds or drink this water with the faith will be given the graces.”

News of the vision spread across Poland and soon builders constructed the Shrine of St. Anthony next to the nearby lake. 

The shrine later captured the Vatican’s attention. In 2015, Pope Francis named it a minor basilica.

“It was the first confirmed apparition of St. Anthony in the world,” Fr. Teofil Czarniak said. “At the moment, today, you can see [the] beautiful shrine” adorned with a picture of St. Anthony, he said. The shrine is filled with colorful religious art and gilded in gold. 

When pilgrims visit the beautiful church, they receive graces “through the intercessions of St. Anthony,” he added. They gather in a special way on the saint’s feast day, when the faithful participate in a Eucharistic procession with a statue of St. Anthony. 

“We invite every pilgrim, everyone who needs help from God through the intercession of St. Anthony – who is a big, big saint in heaven – to come and visit,” Fr. Czarniak concluded. “To come and pray. To come and become one of the pilgrims in this holy place.”