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Meet the Vatican scientist helping NASA on a historic space mission

Brother Robert Macke, a Jesuit and astronomer at the Vatican Observatory, works in his office at the Vatican Observatory. / Credit: Photo courtesy of Brother Robert Macke

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 28, 2023 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

Brother Robert Macke, known to many of his colleagues as “Brother Bob,” is a Jesuit astronomer at the Vatican Observatory and one of the world’s foremost experts in the study of meteorites. So, when Dr. Andy Ryan, one of the leads for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, needed help constructing a device to study some of the oldest asteroid material in the solar system, he naturally turned to Macke.

The NASA mission required a custom-built “pycnometer” to measure the density and porosity of asteroid material taken from deep space. The device had to fit very specific restrictions to avoid contaminating the samples. Companies selling off-the-shelf pycnometers didn’t fit NASA’s specifications — only Macke was able to make the exact device the OSIRIS-REx mission needed.

Now, Macke’s device will be used to closely study the asteroid material and hopefully answer some of NASA’s biggest questions about the origins of the solar system.

What is the OSIRIS-REx mission? 

OSIRIS-REx, which is short for the “Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer,” is the first U.S. mission in history to deliver asteroid samples to Earth.

After seven years in space and collecting 8.8 ounces of surface material from the asteroid “Bennu” 200 million miles away, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft landed back on Earth on Sunday, Sept. 24.

The samples, which NASA says date back to the earliest days of the solar system, were taken to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where they will be permanently housed and studied.

NASA believes the sample taken by OSIRIS-REx will help answer questions about both the nature of asteroids and the origins of life in the solar system.

According to the NASA project’s website, the Bennu asteroid “is a remnant from the tumultuous formation of the solar system” and unlike any rocks found on Earth, “Bennu’s rocks offer us insight into our own history — a time about 4.5 billion years ago when Earth was first forming.” 

How a religious brother helped NASA

According to Macke, Ryan wasn’t originally intending to ask him to join the mission, but after they began to talk, he realized Macke was the perfect candidate to lead the construction of the pycnometer.

“He contacted me because I have extensive experience with the measurement techniques involved, having applied them to a few thousand meteorites and other specimens from collections in several cities in the USA and elsewhere,” Macke told CNA. “At first he was just looking for advice, but as we talked more about it, eventually he asked me to join the team and to direct the construction of the device.” 

Brother Robert Macke, a Jesuit and astronomer at the Vatican Observatory, works in his office at the Vatican Observatory. Credit: Photo courtesy of Brother Robert Macke
Brother Robert Macke, a Jesuit and astronomer at the Vatican Observatory, works in his office at the Vatican Observatory. Credit: Photo courtesy of Brother Robert Macke

According to Macke, the process of constructing the device took over two years. His team’s efforts were complicated by the fact that the pycnometer had to be completely free of anything that might contaminate the specimens.

Now that the asteroid sample has returned to Earth, Macke’s pycnometer will be a crucial tool to unlock the secrets being held by Bennu hundreds of millions of miles away. 

“We have successfully built the device, but my task is not finished,” Macke said. “The next step is to use the device to measure the densities of these specimens. This process will be spread over several weeks, and perhaps months. I cannot declare complete success for my part of the project until it is finished.” 

Artist's concept of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collecting a sample from the asteroid Bennu. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona
Artist's concept of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collecting a sample from the asteroid Bennu. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

The study begins

Macke will be helping study the samples in Houston when it comes time to use his device.

“The OSIRIS-REx mission is a massive collaboration of scientists and engineers spanning numerous institutions and several countries,” Macke told CNA. “It is a real honor to be included among their number.”

Macke noted that he is “particularly excited” to be “helping to contribute to the wealth of knowledge that we will develop from the specimens brought back to the Earth from the asteroid Bennu.”

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft launches aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket, Sept. 8, 2016. Credit: United Launch Alliance
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft launches aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket, Sept. 8, 2016. Credit: United Launch Alliance

Though Macke said that he is honored to be on the NASA team studying Bennu, Brother Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory, told CNA that Macke is the perfect man for the job. 

“Bob is the best in the world at making these measurements, having traveled across the U.S. and Europe to measure meteorite collections — and lunar samples — in this way,” Consolmagno said.   

“I am delighted that a member of the Vatican Observatory is a member of the science team studying the samples from asteroid Bennu,” Consolmagno went on, “but it’s not surprising.” 

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is towed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center before launch on Aug. 29, 2016. Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is towed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center before launch on Aug. 29, 2016. Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

What is the Vatican Observatory? 

The Vatican Observatory, which has locations in Rome’s Castel Gandolfo and Arizona, is the official astronomical and scientific research arm of the Vatican. 

Though the modern observatory was founded in 1891, it has roots going back to 1582. Today, the Vatican Observatory is run by a community of Jesuit priests and brothers and is dedicated to advancing the scientific understanding of the universe. 

According to Macke, the Vatican Observatory has been involved in “countless collaborations with institutions around the world” and occasionally, as in this case, it is involved in NASA missions as well. 

“I think it is safe to say that opportunities will arise to continue building useful collaborations with the whole scientific community,” Macke said. 

“The motto of the Vatican Observatory, given to us by Pope Pius XI in the 1930s,” Macke said, “is ‘Deum Creatorem Venite Adoremus,’ or ‘Come Let Us Adore God the Creator.’”

Many believe that faith and science contradict each other. Catholic scientists at the Vatican Observatory disagree. 

“By studying and learning about this great universe that is part of God’s creation, we can grow in appreciation of the Creator himself,” Macke said. “In short, for us, doing science is a form of worship. We do the same science as everybody else and work right alongside the others contributing to the sum total of human knowledge, but what motivates our work is fundamentally adoration of God the Creator.”

During GOP debate DeSantis says he would support 15-week national abortion ban

Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis delivers remarks during the FOX Business Republican Primary Debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Sept. 27, 2023, in Simi Valley, California. / Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 28, 2023 / 13:32 pm (CNA).

Conspicuously absent from the second Republican presidential primary debate this week: much talk on abortion politics and policy. 

After occupying a sizable portion of the first debate in August, the issue was only discussed for brief minutes near the end of Wednesday’s event, wedged in between discussions on the size of the federal government and the GOP’s challenges with Latino voters. 

Only Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were given the chance to speak on abortion — with DeSantis offering a vocal defense of pro-life beliefs before confirming that he would support a national 15-week ban on the procedure. 

Responding to a question from moderator Dana Perino as to how he might “win over independent pro-choice voters,” DeSantis cited his landslide reelection victory in Florida in 2022 after he signed a 15-week abortion ban in that state. 

“We won the greatest Republican victory in a governor’s race in the history of the state, over 1.5 million votes,” he said. He claimed the major victory came about “because we were leading with purpose and conviction.” 

DeSantis criticized remarks earlier this year from former President Donald Trump, who said Republican intractability on abortion was responsible for the GOP’s underperformance in the 2022 midterms. 

“It was the ‘abortion issue,’ poorly handled by many Republicans, especially those that firmly insisted on no exceptions, even in the case of rape, incest, or life of the mother, that lost large numbers of voters,” Trump wrote on Truth Social in January.

DeSantis on Wednesday night disputed this assertion. “I reject this idea that pro-lifers are to blame for midterm defeats,” DeSantis said. “I think there’s other reasons for that.”

The GOP governor said he and his wife, Casey, had earlier in the day visited the graves of former President Ronald Reagan and former First Lady Nancy Reagan. That memorial site features a quote from Reagan in which the Republican president asserted that there is “purpose and worth to each and every life.”

“We’re better off when everybody counts, and I think we should stand for what we believe in,” DeSantis said Wednesday night. 

“I think we should hold the Democrats accountable for their extremism, supporting abortion all the way up until the moment of birth,” he added. “That is infanticide and that is wrong.”

Directly after those remarks, DeSantis confirmed that if elected president he would seek a 15-week nationwide ban on abortion.

When asked by fellow primary contender Sen. Tim Scott if he would support that federal policy, DeSantis — in a hurried moment filled with crosstalk — responded: “Yes, I will.”

DeSantis’ campaign later confirmed to the Daily Signal that he had indeed affirmed his support for a 15-week ban. 

The governor earlier this year signed a six-week abortion ban in Florida, an even stricter policy than that which he signed last year.

Just a few contenders for the GOP nomination have come out in support of a federal 15-week ban. DeSantis had previously refused to say if he’d support that policy; Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, and former Vice President Mike Pence have all previously voiced support for such a ban. 

Trump has dodged the question of a federal ban as he ramps up his 2024 campaign. Speaking to NBC News’ Kristen Welker earlier this month, he said that “from a legal standpoint,” it’s “probably better” if abortion is only regulated at the state level. “But I can live with it either way,” he said.

“Something is going to happen,” he told Welker. “It’s going to be a number of weeks. Something is going to happen where both sides are going to be able to come together.” The former president further described DeSantis’ six-week ban in Florida as “a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.”

DeSantis’ campaign did not immediately respond to a query on Thursday morning. 

Aside from DeSantis, Christie was the only other contender to speak at length about abortion. 

The longtime Republican noted that he had repeatedly vetoed Planned Parenthood funding while governor of New Jersey, though he also said that he “believe[s] in states’ rights,” arguing that Republicans “fought hard against Roe v. Wade for decades to say that states should make these decisions.”

Christie said that the Republican candidate for president cannot be pro-life “just [for] the nine months in the womb.” He cited the need for widespread drug addiction treatment in the U.S. 

“If you’re pro-life you’ve got to be pro-life for the entire life,” he said.

Indianapolis Colts owner donates $5 million to Catholic Charities to honor cousin, a nun

Jim Irsay, a billionaire businessman who grew up in the Chicago area, praised his cousin Sister Joyce Dura’s service to others during her time as a religious sister. / Credit: 317football|Wikipedia|CC BY-SA 4.0

CNA Staff, Sep 28, 2023 / 11:41 am (CNA).

Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts football team, announced this week that he is donating $5 million to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago in honor of his late cousin, Sister Joyce Dura. 

Irsay, a billionaire businessman who grew up in the Chicago area, praised his cousin’s service to others during her time as a religious sister. 

“Sister Joyce spent a half-century giving back to others, so with this gift I only hope to emulate my dear cousin’s spirit, grace, and her commitment to our communities,” Irsay said as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times. 

Catholic Charities Chicago is the official charitable arm of the Church in the country’s third-largest city, which is home to more than 2 million Catholics. The organization said it serves more than 350,000 free meals each year to people in need.

“We are delighted and honored by the Irsay family’s generosity to us,” Sally Blount, Catholic Charities Chicago president and CEO, said in a Sept. 26 statement.

“Jim and his family’s compassion for those we accompany and serve combined with their vision for honoring his cousin, Sister Joyce Dura, and her life’s mission — it’s all quite extraordinary.”

Sister Joyce, a member of the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, entered the convent in 1965 and devoted the next nearly 50 years to her religious life. Sister Joyce served at several medical centers in Illinois in a variety of roles including nursing, social service, and pastoral care. She died in 2014 at age 71, the Sun-Times reported. 

Catholic Charities said in light of the gift, the organization’s five-night-a-week supper program at its headquarters in the River North district of Chicago will be known as the “Sister Joyce Dura, OSF, Supper Program” through 2033. 

Irsay, who has struggled with mental health and addiction over the years and now runs a foundation to support mental health, was raised Catholic and declared when accepting the AFC Championship trophy on behalf of the Colts in 2007: “As the humble leader of this organization, we’re giving all the glory to God right now.” 

The coach of the Colts that year — who led the team to a Super Bowl win — was Tony Dungy, an outspoken Christian and pro-life activist. After winning the game, the team’s late Catholic chaplain remembered the team gathering in the locker room and ending the day with prayer. Though the chaplain normally led the prayers, Dungy offered to conclude it “because of his deep faith.”

Republicans seek to overturn Biden transgender rule they say would cut school lunches

U.S. Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. / Credit: Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 28, 2023 / 11:05 am (CNA).

Republican lawmakers are working to overturn a federal rule they say would punish schools that don’t follow the White House’s guidance on transgender protections by cutting funding for school meals. 

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) updated its anti-discrimination rules last year to prohibit discrimination based on a person’s transgender status. The new rule will apply to the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services and provide an avenue for transgender students to file discrimination complaints with the agency.

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, and Rep. Scott Franklin, R-Florida, filed resolutions in their respective legislative chambers to overturn this rule. Per the Congressional Review Act, Congress has the authority to eliminate the new rule if both chambers pass a resolution asserting congressional disapproval.

Marshall, Franklin, and other Republican lawmakers co-sponsoring the resolutions have warned that the rule could cause schools to lose federal funding for lunch programs for impoverished students in schools that separate sports, bathrooms, and locker rooms based on biological sex, regardless of the student’s self-proclaimed transgender identity.

“In Joe Biden’s America, public schools must support Democrats’ radical transgender movement or they’re at risk of losing substantial funding,” Marshall said in a statement his office provided to CNA. “This president is relentless in forcing his misaligned values on the American people and children.”

“We must stop this policy dead in its tracks to protect access to school lunches for students across the country and send a clear message to this administration: stop weaponizing the federal government in your pursuit of indoctrinating children,” Marshall added. “The USDA has NO authority to require biological boys to be given access to girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms, nor do they have the power to allow biological boys to compete against biological girls in girls’ sports.”

In a statement provided by his office to CNA, Franklin accused President Joe Biden’s administration of using “school lunch as leverage in a political game to intimidate school systems into adopting their woke agenda.”

“We’ve worked hard in Florida to kick progressive culture wars out of the classroom and keep parents in charge,” Franklin said. “We don’t co-parent with the federal government. The USDA does not have the authority to impose LGBTQ ideology and dangerous social experiments like shared bathrooms and locker rooms on local schools. I thank my colleagues for joining me to hold the Biden administration accountable for this abuse of power.”

The USDA has consistently rejected the claim that the new rule would threaten school lunch funding based on these policies and has insisted that the rule simply ensures that students do not face discrimination based on their gender identity in their efforts to access lunch assistance.

“Some have incorrectly suggested that there is a link between this update and state laws unrelated to FNS programs, such as those dealing with gender identity and sports participation,” Stacy Dean, the deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services at the USDA, said in a September 2022 statement

“That is not accurate — this update is specific to the federal nutrition assistance programs,” Dean added. “Others have suggested that this could result in loss of program funding. However, this action is about ensuring everyone has access to our programs, not reducing funding. When processing complaints, our goal is always to reach voluntary compliance. We strive to resolve issues by working directly with program operators and aim to ensure all program participants can continue to be fed.”

Could this affect Catholic schools?

Nonpublic schools that are affiliated with a particular religion, such as Catholic schools, are not subject to the USDA’s implementation of the anti-discrimination policies if the rule conflicts with the religious tenets of the school.

Catholic and other religious schools will not be required to submit a written request for an exemption but are allowed to request a formal USDA recognition if they choose to, according to guidance issued by the USDA. 

At second GOP debate, candidates spar over economy, immigration, crime

Republican presidential candidates (L-R), North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina), and former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence participate in the Fox Business Republican Primary Debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Sept. 27, 2023, in Simi Valley, California. / Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 27, 2023 / 23:58 pm (CNA).

Republican presidential hopefuls on Wednesday night sparred for the second time on the debate stage, arguing over the economy, immigration, and other issues key to the looming presidential contest.

The six candidates — former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former Vice President Mike Pence, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott — appeared at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. 

The politicians over two hours traded jabs and touted their records as they labored to distinguish themselves in what is still a crowded GOP primary field. 

Absent again was former President Donald Trump, who has skipped both of the Republican debates held so far, claiming his commanding front-runner status gives him little motivation to appear on stage with his rivals. National polls show DeSantis a distant second.

In contrast to the contentious first debate, Wednesday’s discussion at times seemed to wander across topics as moderators from Fox News and Univision struggled to retain control of the conversation.

Notably missing from much of the discourse were questions on abortion, though DeSantis delivered a highlight late in the debate in defense of pro-life politics, telling the California crowd: “We are better off when everyone counts.”   

Most of the evening was given to policy questions. Asked about the ongoing economic turmoil in the U.S. — including high inflation that continues to drive consumer prices upward — the presidential hopefuls repeatedly blamed the Biden administration for those ills. 

“I really believe what’s driving [these crises] is that Bidenomics has failed,” Pence said, criticizing White House subsidies of green energy technologies and projects. 

Burgum echoed those accusations. “We’re subsidizing the automakers, and subsidizing the cars … and particularly we’re subsidizing electrical vehicles,” he said. Electric vehicles, he argued, depend too much on batteries produced by Chinese supply lines, giving the Chinese Communist Party too much economic power over the U.S. 

The candidates were asked about President Joe Biden’s appearance Tuesday on the picket lines of striking auto workers. Biden is the first sitting U.S. president to have appeared on a strike line.

Pivoting briefly to the immigration crisis at the U.S. border, Scott declared: “Joe Biden should not be on the picket line, he should be on our southern border.” 

Ramaswamy, meanwhile, urged strikers to “go picket in front of the White House” due to what he claimed was the Biden administration’s exacerbation of the country’s economic difficulties. 

Illegal immigration, crime

The candidates were pressed on the ongoing border crisis, which has seen record numbers of illegal immigrants entering the U.S. in recent years. 

“Our laws are being broken every day at the southern border,” Christie said, vowing to send the National Guard to help secure the border states. 

Ramaswamy declared his desire to scrap the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment birthright citizenship clause, which grants citizenship to children born in the U.S. even if their parents entered the country illegally.

“I favor ending birthright citizenship for the kids of illegal immigrants in this country,” he said. Claiming to have “actually read the 14th Amendment,” Ravaswamay said that “the kid of an illegal migrant who broke the law to come here” should not qualify as an American. 

“If you come here illegally,” Scott similarly argued, “you are not [under the jurisdiction of the U.S.].”

The moderators pressed candidates on their response to crime surges in many American cities.

“We can’t be successful as a country if people aren’t even safe to live in places like Los Angeles or San Francisco,” DeSantis said. He said he and his wife met three people in California who had recently been mugged in the streets. He urged support for American police. “In Florida, we back the blue,” he said. 

Haley offered similar support for the police. “You take care of those who take care of you. We have to start taking care of law enforcement,” she said. Citing insufficiently strict criminal policies, she argued: “We have to start prosecuting according to the law.”

Health care, education

At times the candidates seemed to struggle to stay on topic, to the apparent exasperation of the debate’s moderators. 

Asked if the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — would remain as federal health care policy, Pence briefly pursued a tangent about mass shootings, leading moderator Dana Perino to humorously ask: “So does that mean Obamacare is here to stay?” 

Pence subsequently vowed to return “all Obamacare funding” to U.S. states.

(L-R) Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, and former Vice President Mike Pence speak at the same time during the second Republican presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, on Sept. 27, 2023. Credit: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images
(L-R) Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, and former Vice President Mike Pence speak at the same time during the second Republican presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, on Sept. 27, 2023. Credit: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

DeSantis, meanwhile, blamed high health care costs in part on the overall economic outlook. “Everything has gotten more expensive. We’ve got to address the underlying problem,” he said. 

Haley vowed to radically transform the U.S. health care system, promising to “break” the current health care paradigm and “make it all transparent.” She also proposed to address current tort law governing medical lawsuits. 

Circling back to his earlier criticism of electric vehicles, Burgum said: “We talk about, ‘Why do we have the most expensive health care in the world?’ It’s because the federal government got involved the same way they did with EVs.”

“Every time the federal government gets involved … things get more expensive and less competitive,” he claimed.

On education, Christie was asked about scoring gaps in New Jersey between minority and white students. “You have to address all students,” he said, arguing that charter schools and school choice policies in New Jersey helped close those gaps. “It can be done when you give people choice,” he said.

Ramaswamy, meanwhile, was pressed about whether parents should have the right to know how their children “identify” at school, an apparent reference to transgender-identifying youth. “Parents have the right to know,” he said, calling transgenderism “a mental health disorder.” 

Names of accused in Maryland AG’s sex abuse report on Baltimore Archdiocese are released

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore. / Credit: Kevin Jones/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 27, 2023 / 18:10 pm (CNA).

The Maryland attorney general’s office on Tuesday released an unredacted report on child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore that names most of the individuals accused. 

The report outlines a four-year investigation that alleges more than 600 children were abused by 156 people, most of whom have died. The allegations span a period beginning in the 1940s through 2002.

The report was originally issued in April but 46 names were redacted, per an order by Baltimore City Circuit Court. Seven names remain redacted, including five “senior members of the archdiocese,” who were among the Church leadership that the report said helped “cover up” the abuse.

Response from the Archdiocese of Baltimore

In a statement to CNA, the Archdiocese of Baltimore said the report is a “sad and deeply painful history tied to the tremendous harm caused to innocent children and young people by some ministers of the Church.”

The statement called for prayers for all survivors of abuse, especially child sexual abuse. The archdiocese has offered its full cooperation and support throughout the entirety of the legal process, the statement said. 

“At the same time, we believed that those named in the report had a right to be heard as a fundamental matter of fairness,” the statement said. 

“In today’s culture where hasty and errant conclusions are sometimes quickly formed, the mere inclusion of one’s name in a report such as this can wrongly and forever equate anyone named, no matter how innocuously, with those who committed the evilest acts,” the statement continued.

Quoting a court opinion that ordered the release of the names in the attorney general’s report, the statement said: “The fact that an individual’s name was redacted was a function of Maryland law regarding grand jury documents; it was in no way a finding by the court that any of these people engaged in any improper conduct.”  

The statement continued that the court also stated: “While the anger and pain of the victims and their families is entirely justified, an undifferentiated fury aimed at the Church and all of the people in the report is not. Some of the people in the report were simply making difficult decisions under difficult circumstances.” 

The archdiocese said it will continue to respect the legal process and the court’s decisions related to the report. Additionally, the statement said the archdiocese didn’t oppose the report’s release, citing its “longstanding policy” of releasing the names of its personnel who were credibly accused of child sex abuse. 

The archdiocese released its own list of priests and brothers accused of child sexual abuse in 2002.

The list was updated in 2019 to include priests or brothers who were accused after their deaths if more than one allegation had been brought to the archdiocese, if the allegation could be corroborated, or if the priest or brother was named publicly elsewhere.

The statement from the archdiocese said that no one with credible allegations of child sexual abuse is in ministry today, adding that Church policy “continues to forever bar from all ministry anyone who would harm a child.”

The court ruled in August that the identities of all but three of those named in the report be released to the public in September. But more than three names remain redacted because of the appeals.

Some names remain redacted because of appeals that were made to the court, the attorney general’s office said on Tuesday. A further unredacted version of the report may be released pending the outcome of the appeals, the office said. 

Statute of limitations to expire

The newly released report comes as Maryland’s statute of limitations ends on Oct. 1, following a bill that Maryland Gov. Wes Moore signed in April allowing lawsuits to be filed at any point alleging misconduct.

The previous statute of limitations prevented lawsuits until victims reached the age of 38.

Several dioceses have declared bankruptcy following similar legislation enacted in the states they are located in. 

A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said it is prevented from commenting due to court order. 

The 463-page report from the attorney general’s office is not a criminal charging document but a statement of alleged facts for informational purposes.

Those whose names were originally redacted in the report had the chance to appeal the court’s order, which many did during two hearings in July, according to the memorandum opinion and order issued by the court Aug. 16.

“These names are being released because the key to understanding the report is understanding that this did not happen because of anything ‘the archdiocese’ did or did not do. It happened because of the choices made by specific individuals at specific times,” Judge Robert Taylor wrote in the court’s opinion.

“There is a strong public policy interest in bringing these choices and actions into public view. The interest is not in putting anyone in jail, at this point; the events at issue occurred so long ago that this does not seem plausible,” Taylor wrote.

“But there is an interest in exposing what happened, to help ensure that it does not happen again. There is an interest in exposing how it happened, so that the public in general and public policy makers in particular can decide what, if any, actions need to be taken to prevent similar occurrences in the archdiocese and other institutions accustomed to a culture of respect, deference, hierarchy, and the lack of accountability that is often a part of such institutions,” he wrote.

Canadian bishops address protection of minors and vulnerable adults at meeting

The 2023 Plenary Assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) is being held Sept. 25-28, 2023, outside of Toronto, Ontario. / Credit: CCCB/CECC

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 27, 2023 / 13:05 pm (CNA).

On the second day of the 2023 Plenary Assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), a bishops’ committee provided recommendations on diocesan policies that are focused on protecting minors and vulnerable adults to all the bishops in attendance. 

The Standing Committee for Responsible Ministry and the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Persons has studied the issue of “vulnerable persons” over the past year, looking at how to define vulnerability, how to reduce risks, and what behaviors should be encouraged on the part of those in ministry, according to the CCCB. 

During a Tuesday news conference, Richard Fréchette, who serves on the committee, said “many dioceses already have a code of conduct for priests” but that much of the previous work had been solely focused on protecting minors. He said the committee presented a code of conduct template that incorporated protections on all vulnerable persons, noting the “importance of having that as part of the code of conduct.”

Archbishop Paul-André Durocher of the Archdiocese of Gatineau, who also serves on the committee, said the protections for vulnerable persons are meant to prevent people from “using positions of authority to impose themselves and demand various kinds of [sexual] favors … of people who are under their care.” 

The archbishop said the committee was motivated, in part, by the “Me Too” movement, which he said showed this problem in the sports world, the artistic world, the media world, “and unfortunately the Church world, also.” 

Durocher added that all of the Canadian bishops engaged in a study session that looked into three case studies and provided recommendations on how to address these issues if they arise. 

Fréchette noted that the committee discussed a variety of issues related to conduct, such as harassment, violence, sexual conduct, information technology, and financial issues. 

The bishops began their annual four-day meeting on Monday, and it comes to a close on Thursday. They have gathered in King City, Ontario, just outside of Toronto. 

On the first day, the bishops prepared for the Synod on Synodality, which begins in Rome in about a week. Four Canadian bishops and four Canadian non-bishop participants will take part in the global synod. They also discussed humanitarian efforts in Honduras. 

The bishops also plan to address the growing practice of euthanasia in Canada and the recent expansion of eligibility to include those suffering from mental health conditions. They plan to discuss the importance of promoting palliative care rather than euthanasia.

California governor signs bills that would penalize schools that refuse to teach LGBT content

null / Credit: Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 27, 2023 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed legislation that would reduce funding to schools that restrict LGBT content from their classrooms.

The bill would centralize state authority over school curricula by fining schools that restrict books that cover homosexuality and gender ideology. Some school boards have done so out of concerns that the content is too sexually explicit for young children.

This is just one of 10 bills focused on homosexuality and transgenderism that Newsom signed this week.

The new law, which took effect immediately upon the governor’s signature, grants the state superintendent the authority to reduce a school’s funding if it does not provide “sufficient textbooks or instructional materials” in line with the state’s standards for diversity and inclusion, which includes books available in the school’s library.

Under this law, the state superintendent will also have the authority to purchase textbooks for students within a school district and recoup the costs from the school if it refuses to provide textbooks in line with the state’s diversity and inclusion standards.

The bill was signed amid a feud between the state and the Temecula Valley Unified School District, which rejected a controversial state-approved social studies textbook over its inclusion of pro-homosexual and pro-transgender themes. Newsom criticized the school district when he signed the bill.

“From Temecula to Tallahassee, fringe ideologues across the country are attempting to whitewash history and ban books from schools,” Newsom said in a statement. “With this new law, we’re cementing California’s role as the true freedom state: a place where families — not political fanatics — have the freedom to decide what’s right for them.”

State Superintendent Tony Thurmond also spoke positively of the new law and indicated his intent to use his new authority.

“This law will serve as a model for the nation that California recognizes and understands the moment we are in — and while some want to roll back the clock on progress, we are doubling down on forward motion,” Thurmond said. “Rather than limiting access to education and flat out banning books like other states, we are embracing and expanding opportunities for knowledge and education, because that’s the California way.”

Other LGBT bills signed by Newsom

Newsom signed the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, which expresses legislative intent to require teachers and other certificated employees of schools to receive training on meeting the needs of “LGBTQ+ pupils.” It also expresses an intent to specify a timeline for cultural competency training.

The governor also signed legislation to require that K-12 public schools provide all-gender restrooms by 2026. Another bill requires that business license applicants affirm that single-user toilets will be labeled as all-gender restrooms.

Another K-12-focused bill instructs the superintendent of public instruction to convene an “advisory task force to identify the statewide needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and plus (LGBTQ+) pupils and to make recommendations to assist in implementing supportive policies and initiatives to address LGBTQ+ pupil education, education, and well-being.”

Newsom signed another education-focused bill focused on higher education. It will require that public institutions of higher education update records to reflect a person’s self-proclaimed gender identity and name. It requires that campus systems be capable of affirming the person’s preferred name and gender.

Another bill signed by Newsom requires that courts keep information confidential when a person younger than 18 files a petition for a change of gender or sex identifier and limits access to the records.

Explosion kills 68 Armenian refugees as thousands flee Nagorno-Karabakh

Refugees wait next to a line of vehicles near the border town of Kornidzor, Armenia, arriving from Nagorno-Karabakh, on Sept. 26, 2023. / Credit: ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 26, 2023 / 18:30 pm (CNA).

As thousands of ethnic Armenians flee the Nagorno-Karabakh region following a violent takeover by Azerbaijan, a fuel depot exploded Monday night killing at least 68 refugees and injuring hundreds.

Officials representing the people of Nagorno-Karabakh confirmed the casualties in a Facebook statement, adding that the fate of 105 Nagorno-Karabakh refugees is still unknown.

The explosion occurred just off a highway leading away from Stepanakert, where tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians have taken to the road to flee to Armenia proper. 

Local news source the Nagorno Karabakh Observer reported the explosion blew up a 50-ton underground fuel tank. 

Following a short but intense military offensive by Azerbaijan on Sept. 19, ethnic Armenians, who until last week claimed self-sovereignty under the auspices of the Republic of Artsakh, are in a panic to escape Azeri rule. 

The Azeri assault, which they labeled “antiterror measures,” came after a nine-month blockade that cut off all outside food, medicine, and supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh. 

Though the Azeri president Ilham Aliyev has said he wishes to integrate the ethnic Armenians, human rights experts have warned he intends to ethnically cleanse the region. Some advocates, such as Eric Hacopian, who has been on the ground in Nagorno-Karabakh, accused the Azeris of pursuing “genocide” against the Armenian people in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Since last week a mass exodus of ethnic Armenians fleeing their ancestral homeland in Nagorno-Karabakh has begun.

Hacopian said that he expects “95% to 99%” of the 120,000 ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh to flee the region.

The Armenian government reported on Tuesday that already 28,120 “forcibly displaced persons” from Nagorno-Karabakh have crossed into Armenia.

Footage published by the Nagorno Karabakh Observer on Tuesday showed what appears to be a miles-long line of cars attempting to escape the region for Armenia.

“The normal travel time of two hours [is] now taking 20 or more,” the Nagorno Karabakh Observer reported Tuesday, adding that “kids [are] the hardest hit, with little food after months of blockade.”

According to the Nagorno Karabakh Observer, “cars are literally halted, as vehicles [are] checked one-by-one by Azeri officials.”

White House responds 

Adrienne Watson, a White House National Security Council spokesperson, responded to the explosion in a Tuesday statement. 

“We are saddened by the news that at least 68 people have been killed and hundreds injured in an explosion at a fuel depot in Nagorno-Karabakh and express deep sympathy to the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh and to all of those suffering,” Watson said. “We urge continued humanitarian access to Nagorno-Karabakh for all those in need.” 

Watson pointed out that Samantha Power, chief administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is currently on the ground in Armenia and announced the U.S. would be sending “additional humanitarian assistance,” including hygiene kits, blankets, and clothing, “to address the needs of those affected or displaced by violence in Nagorno-Karabakh.” 

“Since 2020, we have supported the provision of food, water, emergency medical care, and evacuations, and family reunifications for conflict-affected communities in Nagorno-Karabakh and the region,” Watson went on. “The United States will continue to support those affected by the ongoing crisis as 28,000 people have crossed into Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh.”

What is going on? 

Both former Soviet territories, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh for decades. With the backing of Turkey, Azerbaijan asserted its military dominance over Armenia in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, which ended in November 2020.

Though Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, the region is almost entirely made up of ethnic Armenian Christians.

After the Azeri assault last week, the ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh agreed on Sept. 20 to a cease-fire that resulted in the dismantling of their military and self-governance.

Some experts believe that Armenia itself is in danger of invasion by Azerbaijan and its ally Turkey in the near future. 

Hacopian said he believes an invasion of Armenia is “quite likely.” 

Lone Michigan Democrat holds up ‘extreme’ pro-abortion bill

Rep. Karen Whitsett, D-Michigan, speaks at a meeting at the White House in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 2020. / Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, Sep 26, 2023 / 17:45 pm (CNA).

A Democratic state representative in Michigan, Karen Whitsett, has said she will not support a slate of pro-abortion bills being pushed by governor and fellow Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, citing her constituents’ wishes and her own support for the state’s 24-hour abortion waiting period. 

Whitsett, who explained to CNA she was a survivor of rape who had an abortion, said she supports the idea of a waiting period for abortions to ensure that women are not being forced to abort their children. 

“I don’t see anything wrong with being asked if you are being coerced into a termination,” she said, explaining why she plans to vote against that provision. 

Since her announcement that she would not support the abortion bills, a coalition of pro-abortion groups have launched a campaign criticizing Whitsett, led by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, a group that characterized Whitsett’s stance a “betrayal.”

Currently in Michigan, abortion is available up until birth, with a waiting period. In November 2022, Michiganders voted to explicitly make abortion a “right” in their state constitution.

A package of 11 bills collectively dubbed the “Reproductive Health Act,” House Bills 4949-59, would put into state law the constitutional language enshrining abortion access and repeal several regulations lawmakers say are in conflict with that access, the Detroit News reported. 

Among the regulations being repealed is the state’s abortion waiting period, a prohibition on partial-birth abortions, a requirement that women seeking an abortion be screened to determine whether they have been coerced to do so, and state requirements to dispose of fetal remains safely and humanely.

Another provision in the bills would repeal Michigan building code regulations that require clinics providing more than 120 surgical abortions a year to be licensed as freestanding surgical outpatient facilities, with mandates related to hallway widths, ceiling heights, and HVAC standards, the Detroit News said. 

The bill package would also require Medicaid to cover abortions for Medicaid recipients. Michigan law currently prohibits the use of Medicaid funding for elective abortions — only covering those related to rape, incest, or the life of the mother — and mandate that private health plans require a rider with an added premium for abortion coverage. 

Whitsett told CNA that although she considers herself pro-choice, she has heard from many of her constituents in Detroit that they do not support the use of Medicaid funds to pay for abortions, and that she intends to continue “voting the way of the people who elected me.” 

Whitsett said the negotiations related to the abortion bills have “gone 100 miles an hour” and reiterated that although she is a supporter of abortion, “What we’re currently voting on, I have a problem with.” The divided nature of the Michigan House means all 56 Democrats are required to vote in lockstep to approve controversial legislation, unless any Republicans cross the aisle.

The Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC), which advocates for policy in the state, called Whitsett’s refusal to advance the bills a “[sign] of hope that movement on the RHA is slowing down.” 

“The bills that emerged from committee are likely the most extreme policies passed in the recent history of the Legislature due to their blatant prioritization of the abortion industry over women’s health and safety,” said Rebecca Mastee, policy advocate for the MCC, in a recent statement.

“The Reproductive Health Act would advance an unregulated abortion environment in Michigan, prioritizing the financial, political, and business interests of the abortion industry over the health and safety of women in this state.” 

Whitsett said that as of Monday afternoon, her Democratic colleagues in the House have not contacted her seeking her views on the bills.

“To be attacked because I’m not a rubber stamp for the Democratic Party makes zero sense to me,” she told CNA. 

At least 17 other states already allow the use of Medicaid funds to pay for elective abortions, despite a federal policy known as the Hyde Amendment prohibiting the use of federal tax dollars to pay for elective abortions. Hyde does not restrict states’ ability to use state tax dollars to pay for abortion, meaning states that want to pay for abortions through their Medicaid program can do so out of their own coffers and not be reimbursed by the federal government.

An analysis by the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency found that the proposed Medicaid provision would increase Michigan’s Medicaid costs by $2 million to $6 million, as “a greater percentage of abortions in this state would be paid for with state funds, rather than nonstate resources.”