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Art as a leap of faith: Kansas artist quits job to paint murals to revitalize parish

A digital commission from 2023 by Mattie Karr. The digital painting is based on Zechariah 2:5, "For I will be unto her a wall of fire round about and will be the glory in the midst of her." The image symbolizes that anyone who is baptized is anointed priest, prophet, and king, with a robe symbolizing priest, sandals for prophet, and a ring and crown for king. The pose recalls someone taking a "blind step of faith." / Courtesy: Mattie Karr

CNA Staff, Feb 22, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

An artist in Kansas is revitalizing her parish by painting two 15-foot-tall triptychs of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the presentation of Jesus with parishioners as the subjects. 

Mattie Karr’s three-paneled recently-completed murals will be installed at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Kansas City, Kansas.

Karr studied illustration at the University of Kansas but left behind her dreams of filmmaking to move into a more secure corporate role after school. But when Father Anthony Oulette, pastor of Holy Name, discovered Karr was an artist, he told her about his idea for the parish.

“He took me to the church and was like well, I have this idea; I have tons of ideas to renovate the church,” Karr recalled. “And he told me on the left side there would be Pentecost and St. Michael at the top and Mary in the middle, and then on the right side would be St. Joseph presenting Jesus at the Temple with Gabriel at the top. He wanted them to mimic the beautiful stained-glass windows that we have.”

Karr accepted the mural commission in 2020, and in September 2022, she left her full-time job and launched her career in sacred art, beginning with the Holy Name commission. Oulette organized fundraising and built the panels for the art in his garage.

The two triptychs of Pentecost and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Mattie Karr at Holy Name Parish in Kansas City, Kansas. Credit: Photo courtesy of Mattie Karr
The two triptychs of Pentecost and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Mattie Karr at Holy Name Parish in Kansas City, Kansas. Credit: Photo courtesy of Mattie Karr

“I remember leading up to it, this voice in my head, like ‘what if God’s not even real.’ It was crazy,” she said. “I love Jesus so much and I know that he is real, but there was really this temptation of like, you’re gonna base your entire life and your entire career and your safety, security, money off of this person who you think is alive and is real — like what if God’s not even real?” 

But the leap of faith slowly began to prove itself. 

When Karr needed visual references for the figures in the art, she and Oulette decided to ask parishioners to volunteer. They both had the same parishioner in mind for Mary: Leticia DeCaigny.

When Karr was taking photos of the parishioners in costume for reference, she found out there was a deeper connection for DeCaigny.

DeCaigny and her husband lost their 8-year-old son after his five-year battle with cancer. 

“She was like, ‘We lost our son to cancer about 10 years ago, so I know what it’s like to walk with the suffering son. I feel very close to Mary and this is a confirmation that she sees me and that she’s with me,’” Karr recalled DeCaigny saying. “She came with her husband; her husband’s in it too as a disciple … and he was just in tears, and it was very moving.”

This affected Karr’s view of the project. 

“This project really is not mine: that’ what I felt like in my heart,” she recalled. “I’m participating in this, I’m painting it, and gathering models, but this is so much bigger than me. Because there’s no way I could have known that, I just chose her because I liked her hair. I didn’t know that her story was really linked to Mary. And so that was a huge gift I think for her, but also for me.”

“It’s not just a piece of art,” she continued, “but it’s really something to impact the people who are going to be involved in it and the people who are going to see it, for hopefully many many years.”

A digital commission from 2023 by Mattie Karr. The digital painting is based on Zechariah 2:5, "For I will be unto her a wall of fire round about and will be the glory in the midst of her." The image symbolizes that anyone who is baptized is anointed priest prophet and king, with a robe symbolizing priest, sandals for prophet, and a ring and crown for king. The pose recalls someone taking a "blind step of faith." Credit: Courtesy of Mattie Karr
A digital commission from 2023 by Mattie Karr. The digital painting is based on Zechariah 2:5, "For I will be unto her a wall of fire round about and will be the glory in the midst of her." The image symbolizes that anyone who is baptized is anointed priest prophet and king, with a robe symbolizing priest, sandals for prophet, and a ring and crown for king. The pose recalls someone taking a "blind step of faith." Credit: Courtesy of Mattie Karr

The scenes Oulette chose mean something special to the parish, Karr explained. 

“The Lord has such unique things to say to all of us,” she said. “My parish, for instance, is very Holy Spirit-driven. I don’t know if I’d call it a charismatic parish per se, but we love the Holy Spirit, and so having a scene of Pentecost is really important for our parish. And then our name is Holy Name of Jesus, and so the other [triptych] is the scene of Jesus the day of his circumcision, which is when he would receive his holy name.”

Karr’s depiction of the presentation of Jesus features Joseph holding Jesus before a priest, when he was presented with his holy name, with Joseph’s ancestors gathered in the background, holding candles. The archangel Gabriel looks upon the scene from above, holding a lantern over the blue, candlelit scene.

“And so these paintings, they could be replicated in another parish, but I don’t know if they would have the same effect,” she said. “The Holy Spirit has something so unique for each community, for each person, because he knows us so well.”

The Pentecost and Holy Name triptychs are scheduled to be installed at Holy Name by Easter or Pentecost, Karr said, noting that much of the work is volunteer-based. 

When asked about the importance of art, Karr shared about the intimate effect beauty can have. 

“[Art] really helps draw people out of despair and depression,” Karr said. “I’ll be the first one to tell you that beauty has drawn me out of my own depression.”

Karr recalls a moment when she was painting the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. 

“Even with this triptych, I was painting little baby Jesus at a time that I was not doing very well, and just looking in his eyes and looking at his face, it was like he was communicating with me, like I was having this conversation with him,” she said. “And it just broke through in a way that I can’t really explain.” 

Catholic mural artist Mattie Karr at work. The Kansas-based artist quit her job to revitalize her parish by painting two 15-foot-tall triptychs of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the presentation of Jesus with parishioners as the subjects. Credit: Courtesy of Mattie Karr
Catholic mural artist Mattie Karr at work. The Kansas-based artist quit her job to revitalize her parish by painting two 15-foot-tall triptychs of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the presentation of Jesus with parishioners as the subjects. Credit: Courtesy of Mattie Karr

When asked about her own faith journey, Karr shared the role of beauty and art in it. 

“I always wanted to go on an adventure for God,” Karr said. “This was something that was really a desire of mine from a young age. I remember reading ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ as a family, and my dad explaining how Aslan was like God and Jesus, and how there are all these analogies. I think deep down I just knew that if I said yes to God I’d be on a wonderful adventure just like Narnia.”

"Defenses Down" commission by Mattie Karr, oil on canvas, 2023. Credit: Mattie Karr
"Defenses Down" commission by Mattie Karr, oil on canvas, 2023. Credit: Mattie Karr

“And obviously life is difficult,” she continued. “It wasn’t always this adventure and I got into some pretty dark moments … in college, [I] had some pretty dark depression. But God, he rescued me in real, personal, and deep ways through those moments of depression.” 

After an experience of someone praying over her, Karr said that her work in healing ministries and art helped strengthen her faith. 

“I call it my tomb year. There was a summer, in 2018, that I was just dead; I just felt depressed and I hated God and I didn’t understand — and he seemed far from me,” she said. “I wasn’t living this adventure that I thought I would, I just felt embarrassed all the time and insecure and I didn’t think that anyone really loved me even though they said they did — just depression, really. And he came through in a really powerful way through somebody praying over me.”

Through that experience, Karr became more involved in healing ministries and says that since then she “really [has known] that Jesus is really good, and he loves me, and he wants to be in every part of my life.”

“But I think that has really played a role in my art, too, because I think that art can have a really important role in healing; because our wounds are so dark and ugly and we often times think that we are dark and ugly, and so we mask up and try to create these false identities and these false selves to make us feel better,” she said. “But beauty has this way of just shining a light through that and being vulnerable and getting to the heart of the issue.”

Our Lady Undoer of Knots commission. Painting by Mattie Karr. Credit: Mattie Karr
Our Lady Undoer of Knots commission. Painting by Mattie Karr. Credit: Mattie Karr

Karr says it’s important that churches are different from other buildings. 

“I don’t want my church to look just like another retreat hall or a school or something. I want it to look different because church is different; because Mass is different; Mass is supernatural,” she continued. “We’re communing with God; we’re receiving God into our bodies, so it should look different.”

“The Catholic Church used to be the leader in the arts and I don’t think we’re the leader in the arts anymore,” she said. “People are creating beautiful art in Hollywood and in video games. And our churches … we’re just lacking so much, is what I can see. And so if we’re going to be Catholic artists we need to be excellent. We need to strive for excellence.”

“If you want your space to be beautiful, you need to invest in it,” Karr said. 

“We need art in our churches to draw people up higher and to recognize when you come into church, it’s different than any other place that you’re going to be,” she said. 

Art is now Karr’s full-time job. She takes commissions for churches and individuals, sells prints on her website, and does live wedding paintings. Karr shares project updates for the Holy Name triptychs on her social media.

Catholic mural artist Mattie Karr at work. The Kansas-based artist quit her job to revitalize her parish by painting two 15-foot-tall triptychs of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the presentation of Jesus with parishioners as the subjects. Courtesy of Mattie Karr
Catholic mural artist Mattie Karr at work. The Kansas-based artist quit her job to revitalize her parish by painting two 15-foot-tall triptychs of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the presentation of Jesus with parishioners as the subjects. Courtesy of Mattie Karr

Texas attorney general targets Catholic nonprofit, alleges it facilitates illegal immigration

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at a news conference in Washington, D.C., on May 12, 2021. / Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 21, 2024 / 21:15 pm (CNA).

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is trying to shut down a Catholic nonprofit organization in El Paso based on allegations that the group may be facilitating illegal immigration, harboring immigrants who entered the country illegally, and engaging in human smuggling. 

Paxton filed a lawsuit against the nonprofit Annunciation House, which has operated in the state for nearly 50 years. The lawsuit asks the District Court of El Paso County to revoke the organization’s nonprofit registration, which would prohibit it from continuing to operate in Texas.

“The chaos at the southern border has created an environment where [nongovernmental organizations] funded with taxpayer money from the Biden administration facilitate astonishing horrors including human smuggling,” Paxton said in a statement. “While the federal government perpetuates the lawlessness destroying this country, my office works day-in and day-out to hold these organizations responsible for worsening illegal immigration.”

In response to the lawsuit, Annunciation House issued a statement that called Paxton’s actions “illegal, immoral, and anti-faith” and his allegations “unfounded.” According to the statement, the organization has “provided hospitality to hundreds of thousands of refugees for over [46] years” and that if its activities are illegal, “so too is the work of our local hospitals, schools, and food banks.”

“Annunciation House has kept hundreds of thousands of refugees coming through our city off the streets and [has] given them food,” the statement read. “The work helps serve our local businesses, our city, and immigration officials to keep people off the streets and give them a shelter while they come through our community.”

The attorney general’s office first approached Annunciation House on Feb. 7 of this year with concerns that it may be facilitating illegal immigration. Paxton’s office ordered the nonprofit to immediately turn over various documents and records to examine whether it is engaged in illegal activities. 

Annunciation House’s lawyers requested 30 days to respond, but the attorney general’s office refused. Rather, Paxton’s office informed the organization that if it did not provide the requested documents by Feb. 8, which was the following day, that it would “be in noncompliance.”

Annunciation House quickly filed a lawsuit against the attorney general’s office on Feb. 8, which argues that the demand violates the nonprofit’s right to due process. In its public statement, Annunciation House stated that it wants the court to decide which documents the attorney general’s office is legally entitled to receive. 

“There is nothing illegal about asking a court to decide a person’s rights,” the statement read. “The [attorney general’s office] has now made explicit that its real goal is not records but to shut down the organization. It has stated that it considers it a crime for a Catholic organization to provide shelter to refugees.”

A spokesperson for Annunciation House declined to speak about the lawsuit when reached by CNA but said the organization will hold a news conference on Friday, Feb. 23.

When contacted by CNA about Annunciation House’s response to the legal action, the attorney general’s office referred back to Paxton’s original statement.

Cardinal Dolan on St. Patrick’s funeral: ‘We don’t do FBI checks on people who want to be buried’

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. / Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

CNA Staff, Feb 21, 2024 / 18:05 pm (CNA).

Priests at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City were surprised by the “irreverence and disrespect” that occurred during a funeral for a transgender activist last week, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said in his first public comments on it. 

“We didn’t know the background. We don’t do FBI checks on people who want to be buried,” Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said during his podcast Tuesday. 

He said cathedral staff try to be welcoming when someone requests a funeral.

“All they know is somebody called and said, ‘Our dear friend died. We’d love to have the funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It would be a great source of consolation. She’s a Catholic. It would be a great source of consolation for us, her family and friends.’ And of course, the priest at the cathedral said, ‘Come on in. You’re more than welcome,’” Dolan said. 

The priests at St. Patrick’s made a decision at the beginning of the service not to celebrate a funeral Mass but to conduct a funeral service with no Mass instead. 

It was the right thing to do given the situation, the cardinal said. 

“I applaud our priests who made a quick decision that, ‘Uh-oh, with behavior like this, we can’t do a Mass. We’ll do the Liturgy of the Word, which is the readings, and the sermon, and the prayers of petition, and the Our Father, and then we’ll stop it. The Mass is not going to go on,’” Dolan said. “Bravo for our cathedral people, who knew nothing about this that was coming up.” 

Meanwhile, though, supporters of the deceased are demanding an apology from the Archdiocese of New York for what they described as “cutting short” the Feb. 15 funeral service of Cecilia Gentili, 52, a male who identified as a woman who died Feb. 6. Supporters of Gentili also want an apology for what they called “the painfully dismissive and exclusionary language” used in a statement released by the pastor of the cathedral after the funeral. 

“The current narrative from St. Patrick’s Cathedral leadership that they were manipulated by funeral organizers of the identity of Ms. Gentili is simply not true,” an organization called Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society said in a written statement. “Funeral organizers advised cathedral staff to look up Cecilia Gentili, her work, and the community she served. To now place responsibility on the funeral organizers to have affirmatively disclosed the gender identity of their loved one is imposing a burden upon the mourners that would not be expected of a non-transgender person.”

However, the New York Times reported that the funeral’s organizer did not disclose to the cathedral that Gentili, who died Feb. 6 at age 52, was a biological man who identified as a woman.

“I kept it under wraps,” Ceyeye Doroshow, the service’s organizer, told the outlet.

The organization also suggested that cathedral staff violated the Catholic Church’s law. 

“Still reeling from the pain of Cecilia’s loss, community members are asking for an explanation for this decision which seemingly violated Catholic Canon Law governing the denial of funeral [M]asses,” the organization said. “… Ms. Gentili’s service ended an hour earlier than had been scheduled, thus denying her the full funeral Mass that was agreed upon.” 

Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, contacted by CNA on Wednesday said the archdiocese had no immediate comment on the Gentili supporters’ statement. 

Asked by email who decided to replace the funeral Mass with the shorter funeral service, Zwilling said the decision “was made by the priests at the cathedral after witnessing what was taking place.” 

A video of the service posted online last week shows that shortly after the procession down the aisle, the presider, Father Edward Dougherty, looking out into the crowd, said with a laugh: “Well, welcome to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Except on Easter Sunday, we don’t really have a crowd that is this well turned out, you know?” 

After a short delay, the crowd responded with more than 40 seconds of clapping, standing, and cheering, with occasional chants of “Cecilia.” 

During the ovation, the video shows, a priest dressed in black approached Dougherty and told him, “No Eucharist,” eventually followed with the words “a funeral service, no Mass.” 

Outburst at funeral

As CNA reported last week, the prayers of the faithful during the service included a call for “Cecilia’s community” to “have access to life-affirming health care” — an apparent reference to gender transitioning — to raucous applause. 

Two of the three eulogies were critical of Catholic teaching on human sexuality. The organizer of the funeral, Doroshow, a male who identifies as a woman, who wore a purple dress, said Gentili “worked so hard to make sure girls like me, boys like you are safe, are grounded, got health care, that sex workers are free.” A standing ovation followed the “sex workers” reference. 

A man who delivered a third eulogy used a Spanish word for “whore” several times. Another man lauded the deceased as “This whore, this great whore, St. Cecilia, mother of all whores.” Raucous applause and a standing ovation followed. 

On Tuesday, Cardinal Dolan addressed the Gentili funeral about five minutes into his podcast after discussing a few other topics, including the recent shooting at the Super Bowl parade in Kansas City. Dolan mentioned that he had received “a note of solidarity” from Harrison Butker, the Kansas Chiefs kicker, about what Dolan described as “the irreverence and disrespect” of the crowd at the funeral, and the “very irreverent and disrespectful” eulogies. 

The cardinal asked the cathedral staff to celebrate a Mass of reparation after the funeral service, which the pastor, Father Enrique Salvo, said last week was done. 

“In a way, it’s redundant,” Dolan said Tuesday. “Because every Mass, every Mass is the renewal of the infinitely powerful act of reparation that Jesus did on the cross, correct? He’s the one that made reparation. We can’t do much. All we can do is unite with him on his cross in his sacred act of reparation. There is a bit of an arrow in the quiver of the Church’s treasury of prayer that if a particularly sacrilegious or scandalous act has occurred in a church, it would be good to offer a Mass in particular reparation for that act of irreverence. So we did that.” 

Salvo released a written statement Feb. 17, two days after the funeral, acknowledging what he called “outrage over the scandalous behavior” during Gentili’s funeral. 

“The cathedral only knew that family and friends were requesting a funeral Mass for a Catholic, and had no idea our welcome and prayer would be degraded in such a sacrilegious and deceptive way,” Salvo said in the statement. 

Some mainstream media news stories last week hailed the funeral as a shift in the Catholic Church’s approach to gender identity. Dolan expressed frustration Tuesday with criticism by some Catholics of the cathedral staff and his archdiocese. 

“We have a lot of misunderstanding. Why in the world our people out there still believe what the secular press reports is beyond me,” Dolan said. 

Later, he added: “Our policy at the cathedral is to be as open and welcoming of anybody who wants to be buried from here. And we had absolutely no idea about this. But why people still think the cathedral purposely did that? Well, a lot of people always want to believe the worst. And they don’t like us any more than the protesters did, in the cathedral. But who knows.” 

Over 100 relics of Christ, Holy Family, saints to be displayed at New Jersey parish

The Titulus Crucis, the title panel of the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified. Written in Latin and Greek, it says "Jesus the Nazarene King of the Jews." / Daniel Ibanez

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 21, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

An exhibit that includes more than 100 relics of Jesus Christ, the Holy Family, and numerous saints will be exhibited at a parish in northern New Jersey on Saturday, Feb. 24, from noon to 7 p.m.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Oratory in Montclair, New Jersey, will host the exhibit at its Capozzelli Hall on 94 Pine Street. The parish is located in the Archdiocese of Newark, about 20 miles west of New York City.

“I think it’s going to be an experience for people — especially for an exhibit this large,” Joe Santoro, the regional delegate to the United States for the International Crusade for Holy Relics (ICHR), told CNA.

Santoro is supplying the relics for the exhibit, which he obtained personally through his work to preserve these holy objects. He said his preservation of the relics is “saving them from places where they’re not going to be honored in the appropriate way.”

The exhibit includes a handful of relics from the passion of Jesus Christ: a small splinter of the cross, a piece of the crown of thorns, a piece of Christ’s tomb, and a piece of the column on which Christ was whipped before his crucifixion. It also includes relics from the Nativity, such as a piece of the Blessed Mother’s veil, a piece of Christ’s crib, and parts of the bones of the three Wise Men.

Other relics include a piece of skin and blood from St. Padre Pio’s stigmata, a piece of St. John Paul II’s hair, and the scarf of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (the first American saint). The exhibit will also include relics from the evangelists, the apostles, and other saints and martyrs.

The relics will be displayed in three sections: one for relics related to the Passion, one for the Nativity, and one for all of the other relics.

“It is a privilege and a joy to host a relics exhibit of this magnitude,” Father Giandomenico Flora, the rector at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Oratory, told CNA. 

“Some of them date back to biblical times and others are relics of saints of our time,” Flora said. “To have such an exhibition of relics is a blessing for the church [and for] people who will attend the event because it gives the opportunity to pray and to ask for particular graces.” 

Santoro said the relics can help the faithful become closer to God and help them meditate on the Passion of Christ near the beginning of Lent. “People are drawn to them,” he said.

“A relic doesn’t contain any magical power or anything like that,” Santoro added. “The people have to bring their faith and God performs these miracles through these great men and women.” 

The Catholic Church has three classifications for relics. A first-class relic is any part of a saint’s body, such as hair, blood, or bones, or objects directly associated with Christ, such as a piece of the cross, a piece of the tomb, or a piece of his crib. A second-class relic is any item that was used by a saint during his or her life. A third-class relic is an item that touches a first-class relic.

Although this exhibition is a one-off event, Santoro told CNA that he hopes there can be a tour in the near future. He said this weekend is “the kickoff to see how it goes.”

Pro-life scholars challenge study that claims abortion pills are ‘safe’ and ‘effective’

A pro-abortion activist displays abortion pills as she counter-protests during an anti-abortion demonstration on March 25, 2023, in New York City. / Credit: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Newsroom, Feb 20, 2024 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Several pro-life scholars are pushing back on a recently published study that claims abortion pills are “safe” and “effective” when prescribed without an in-person meeting and distributed through the mail.

The referenced study, which was published by pro-abortion academics in the peer-reviewed medical journal Nature Medicine, claimed that telehealth chemical abortion “is effective, safe, and comparable to published rates of in-person medication abortion care.” The study evaluated risks and potential complications related to the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol.

According to the study, nearly 98% of chemical abortions procured via telehealth effectively aborted the preborn child. The study also claimed there was a very low likelihood of “serious abortion-related adverse events.” 

About 1.3% of women required visits to the emergency department after their chemical abortion, 0.16% needed treatment for ectopic pregnancies, and 0.25% required more serious treatment for adverse events, such as blood transfusions or abdominal surgery.

The study relied on self-reported responses to a survey. Only 74% of the outcomes were known, which means that the outcomes for more than one-fourth of the survey respondents were not included in the study.

Pro-life scholars have questioned the veracity of the findings, noting that it relies on self-reported survey results rather than actual concrete data and fails to account for the results for approximately one-quarter of the women surveyed.

“Once again, the abortion industry is relying on patchwork, piecemeal survey data to conclude that abortion drugs are ‘safe and effective,’ but there are key gaps in the study that should call into question this conclusion,” Tessa Longbons Cox, a senior research associate at the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, told CNA. 

“With a 74% follow-up rate, we don’t know what happened to a quarter of the women in the study,” Cox added. “We know that the women who feel the most negative reactions following their abortions are least likely to participate in follow-ups, and FDA data shows that women who have been harmed by abortion frequently end up seeking care from another doctor. Those missing voices are a crucial piece to the clinical puzzle as we can’t assume that those women had a positive outcome.”

In a statement to CNA, Dr. Ingrid Skop, the director of medical affairs at the Charlotte Lozier Institute and a board-certified OB/GYN, also questioned the researchers’ definition of a “serious adverse event.” 

Skop says she has treated women who, after receiving a chemical abortion, have required emergency surgery to remove the child’s tissue or placenta. Others have bled heavily for six to eight weeks but did not require a blood transfusion, and still others have contracted an intrauterine infection that required medical care and could lead to future infertility. 

“According to these authors, my patients’ experiences would not qualify as a ‘serious adverse event,’” Skop said. “It’s extraordinary to see these serious complications dismissed and considered not worthy of discussion when I know these women felt otherwise.” 

Michael New, a professor of social research at the Catholic University of America, told CNA: “We really have no idea what happened to [about] 25% of the people” and that women who have health complications are “less likely to respond to a follow-up.” 

He pointed to studies that have shown that chemical abortions have “complication rates [that are] four times higher than surgical abortions.” The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has also pointed to these studies when voicing its opposition to chemical abortion pills. 

In addition to health complications, New warned that the deregulation of chemical abortion pills could have other adverse consequences, such as an abuser or romantic partner obtaining these pills to coerce an abortion by drugging a girl or woman who he does not want to go through with a pregnancy. 

New added that “these are not unbiased researchers,” pointing to the academics’ ties to the pro-abortion movement. He said “there’s a lot of bias and I think it’s getting worse in the field of public health.”

The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of mifepristone to kill a preborn child up to 10 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy. The drug accomplishes this by blocking the hormone progesterone, which cuts off the child’s supply of oxygen and nutrients. Misoprostol is taken between 24 to 48 hours after mifepristone to induce contractions meant to expel the child’s body from the mother, essentially inducing labor.

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear a lawsuit that challenges the FDA’s approval of mifepristone and subsequent deregulation, which currently allows the drug to be prescribed without an in-person doctor’s visit as well as be delivered through the mail.

Catholic prison ministry makes good use of large donation of Bible study materials

null / Credit: OFFSTOCK/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Feb 20, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Jerry Trzeciak leads a lot of Catholic retreats. But the participants aren’t your typical parishioners, and they live in a place where not many people have the courage to go. 

For the past several years, Trzeciak has worked with the Texas Department of Corrections as a volunteer chaplain in the Jim Ferguson Unit, located in Midway, Texas, which has a maximum capacity of over 2,000 men and mainly houses those who are violent and gang-affiliated.

Working with a Catholic lay group called Kolbe Prison Ministries (KPM), Trzeciak and his fellow volunteers are admitted to the prisons to lead three-day retreats for the inmates, usually about 66 at a time. The volunteers share their faith in talks, pray with the incarcerated men or women, and give them opportunities to attend Mass or Communion services. After the face-to-face retreat ends, the volunteers are able to provide the inmates with follow-up education, including Bible studies and OCIA (formerly RCIA).

KPM’s work with the inmates — bolstered in recent years by a large donation of study materials from Ascension, a Pennsylvania-based Catholic publisher — has changed lives, Trzeciak says. 

“The retreat is always received positively, and it’s amazing to see not only the growth of the ministry but the growth and the witnessing to the way the Holy Spirit works,” said Trzeciak, a retired sales and marketing professional and a parishioner at St. Anthony of Padua Parish near Houston. 

“Without a doubt, we hear this cliche, but I just can’t tell you how much God rewards those who do the corporal works of mercy, and in particular those folks who do prison ministry, because Jesus knows it’s difficult. It’s not easy to go in there, right? It’s not for everybody. And when you extend yourself, when you put those fears aside, when you put self aside for what God wants, he just rewards you constantly. It’s just a constant blessing, a gift.”

Jerry Trzeciak, a Catholic prison ministry volunteer from Texas. Credit: Photo courtesy of Jerry Trzeciak
Jerry Trzeciak, a Catholic prison ministry volunteer from Texas. Credit: Photo courtesy of Jerry Trzeciak

Security measures in the prison mean the likelihood of any harm coming to a prison ministry volunteer are very low. But needless to say, the idea of entering a maximum security prison at all — let alone with the intention of sharing Jesus with the inmates — can be intimidating and takes some getting used to. The key, Trzeciak said, is to as much as possible come in with a nonjudgmental, loving attitude. 

“Generally speaking, folks don’t have a positive image of prison inmates,” he commented to CNA. 

“The majority of the prisons that we go into are high security, maximum security units. And for many folks, until they’ve gone in once or twice or three times, they can be a little uncomfortable.”

Perhaps in part because it is such a challenging call, Catholic prison ministries across the United States have struggled for years to attract volunteers and, with often meager financial resources, provide the materials needed to ignite or nurture the faith of men and women in prison after the volunteers leave. 

But that changed — at least in Texas — in March 2022, when Catholic publisher Ascension connected with KPM to coordinate a donation of $338,000 worth of Bible study materials related to Ascension’s flagship Bible study, “The Bible Timeline: The Story of Salvation,” a 24-session program presented by Jeff Cavins. Ascension is known, among other things, for producing Father Mike Schmitz’s “Bible in a Year” podcast. 

Thanks to the blockbuster donation, Kolbe says it now has nearly 400 inmates participating in “Bible Timeline” Bible studies at facilities across Texas and other states. Trzeciak said they had been using the “Bible Timeline” before the donation and that he has seen the course foster “amazing” growth in the faith of incarcerated men and women. He said the inmates are often interested in talking about forgiveness — both for others and for themselves. 

“It’s just amazing to see the growth in the men and women due to the ‘Bible Timeline’ courses,” he said.

Ascension, in a press release, added that inmates have reported to them that they “feel much more confident and able to respond to questions about the Catholic faith and practice from fellow inmates of other faiths.”

The retreats given by KPM are not exclusive to Catholic inmates; any inmate is welcome to attend, though Trzeciak said Catholic inmates are generally the most enthusiastic to participate. Some inmates come for the free food but stay for the content. 

“From our standpoint, if it’s the food that brings them in, praise God, because again, by the end of that day three, the Lord has worked his miracles,” Trzeciak commented. 

“It’s closed to no one, open to everybody. And I believe that, in its own way, just really builds a faith-based community in the institution by making it more inclusive, as opposed to exclusive.”

Education initiative seeks to bolster Catholic schools with ‘treasury’ of Church’s tradition

null / Mehdi Kasumov/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Feb 20, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

A K–12 education initiative out of the Catholic University of America (CUA) seeks to bolster what its director calls “the distinctive excellence of Catholic education” by offering school accreditation and fostering professional development of Catholic school leadership around the country. 

The Institute for the Transformation of Catholic Education (ITCE) was founded at CUA in October 2021 following several years of consultation and exploration of how the university might contribute more to Catholic education in the United States. 

Daryl Hagan, the director of ITCE, told CNA that one consultant suggested that CUA “found an institute that would coordinate the delivery of a variety of programs and services aimed at strengthening leadership and instruction in Catholic schools.” 

The institute would do so by “utilizing the diversity of expertise found across the departments and units of the university,” Hagan said. 

CUA is home to several hundred full-time and part-time academic staff. The university says on its website that the school “served as the center of Catholic education in the United States throughout the first half of the 20th century.”

Hagan told CNA the institute “advances the distinctive excellence of Catholic education as a gift for each person and for society.”

It accomplishes this in part through “school accreditation, teacher and leader degree and professional development programs, and research,” Hagan said. 

The ITCE does work in six states, eight archdioceses, and nearly 300 Catholic schools, serving just under 100,000 students.

Among its offerings is Lumen Accreditation, a certification program that ITCE says presents “a framework of guiding principles for K–12 Catholic schools” that helps schools “align their community more fully to the example and teaching of Christ.”

Rob Bridges, the president of Cathedral High School in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, told CNA that the school was “very happy to partner with ITCE, as our mission aligns wonderfully with theirs.” 

“[W]e are part of the pilot group for the program and would definitely recommend them to any Catholic school interested in enhancing their focus on their mission,” Bridges said. “We used their material to lead a beginning-of-the-year all-educator retreat and also for our board of directors retreat in November.”

ITCE also offers Catholic educators a program called Insight, which it describes as “the first social and emotional learning professional development program for K-12 Catholic school educators.”

First developed in the 1960s, social-emotional learning (SEL) places emphasis on social and emotional skills in the classroom. ITCE’s curriculum uses its 10-part program to discuss pointedly Catholic topics such as “forgiveness, justice, and mercy” and answer questions such as “Who is the human person?” 

Jeff Kummer, who serves as president of St. John Paul the Great Catholic High School in the Archdiocese of Denver, said it was “paramount” for the school to “select a mission-aligned accrediting partner.”

“Our Catholic identity permeates all aspects of school life — from curriculum development to hiring and retention practices to back-office processes,” Kummer said. 

“Based on our experience with the team at ITCE, we are confident that Lumen Accreditation will not simply tolerate our Catholic principles but will support them and allow them to guide the entire accreditation process,” he said.  

“The result will be a Catholic high school poised to meet high expectations in curricular, pedagogical, and organizational areas but most importantly to achieve the spiritual and evangelistic goals at JPG as well.” 

“We feel blessed and grateful to be a part of the inaugural Lumen cohort, which is the fruit of much prayer and discernment on the part of both our organizations!” he added.

Hagan said the ITCE is funded through benefactors. The initiative, he said, has thus far “served hundreds of Catholic educators through conference presentations, a webinar, retreats, and tailored professional development programs for Catholic dioceses and schools.”

“We foster a vision of education and formation that is rooted in Christ, draws from the great treasury of the Church’s tradition, and aims at the full flourishing of the human person in wisdom, virtue, and holiness,” he said.

Alabama Supreme Court rules that frozen embryos are children under state law

null / Credit: Sora Shimazaki/Pexels

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 20, 2024 / 06:31 am (CNA).

The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that frozen human embryos constitute children under state statute, a decision that could have wide-reaching effects on in vitro fertilization and other medical concerns there.

The nine-judge court said in the 8-1 ruling that the state's "Wrongful Death of a Minor Act" is "sweeping and unqualified," and that its provisions extend to children "regardless of their location."

"It applies to all children, born and unborn, without limitation," the ruling said. "It is not the role of this Court to craft a new limitation based on our own view of what is or is not wise public policy."

The court said that assessment was "especially true where, as here, the People of [Alabama] have adopted a Constitutional amendment directly aimed at stopping courts from excluding 'unborn life' from legal protection."

Alabama voters in 2018 approved a state constitutional amendment affirming "the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children," while in 2019 the state enacted a near-total ban on abortions, one that went fully into effect with the repeal of Roe v. Wade in 2022.

The state high court's ruling came following a lawsuit brought by several parents whose frozen embryos had been accidentally destroyed at a fertility clinic. The plaintiffs had argued that the destruction fell under the state's Wrongful Death of a Minor Act.

In the decision the justices cited, in part, the Bible, including passages from Genesis affirming the sanctity of human life, as well as commentary from Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin.

The justices in their ruling said the phrase "minor child" means "the same thing in the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act as it does in everyday parlance: 'an unborn or recently born' individual member of the human species, from fertilization until the age of majority."

"Nothing about the Act narrows that definition to unborn children who are physically 'in utero'," the justices said. "Instead, the Act provides a cause of action for the death of any 'minor child,' without exception or limitation."

Texas priest arrested over allegation of sexual misconduct with minor

Father Fernando Gonzalez, / Credit: Cameron County Sheriff’s Department

CNA Staff, Feb 19, 2024 / 14:51 pm (CNA).

A priest in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, has been arrested after being accused of sexual misconduct with a minor victim. 

Brownsville Bishop Daniel Flores said in a statement last week that diocesan officials had “received an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor by Father Fernando Gonzalez.”

Flores had received the report in early February from the diocesan victim’s assistance coordinator. The following day he “removed [Gonzalez] from active ministry” and “prohibited him from exercising any priestly ministry anywhere.” 

“The individual who came forward, who is now an adult, spoke to the Diocesan Victim’s Assistance Coordinator and was advised to report the allegation to the police,” the bishop said. “The investigation is in the hands of law enforcement and is ongoing. The diocese will fully cooperate with the investigation.”

Law enforcement reportedly arrested the priest last week. The Cameron County Sheriff’s Department lists Gonzalez as arrested on charges of sexual abuse of a child and “trafficking of persons.” His total bond appeared to be set at $600,000. 

The Cameron County District Attorney’s office told local media that as part of his bond conditions Gonzalez “must install an ankle monitor before release, surrender his passport, and not leave Cameron County” while the case is pending.

Prior to the charges the priest had served as pastor of St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Brownsville. As of Monday Gonzalez had been removed from the parish website’s list of parish staff.

“I am deeply saddened and ask you to join me as I pray for the individual who came forward and the family, and all the parties affected, including parishioners and the clergy across our diocese who tend to their faithful with fidelity and compassion,” Flores said in his statement.

Archbishop Vigneron rallies Catholics to engage in a spiritual ‘campaign’ this Lent

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron imposes ashes during Ash Wednesday Mass on Feb. 14, 2024, at St. Aloysius Parish in downtown Detroit. Archbishop Vigneron encouraged Catholics to think of this Lenten season as a military campaign proclaiming the kingdom of Christ. / Credit: Valaurian Waller/Detroit Catholic

Detroit, Mich., Feb 19, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron issued a spiritual call to arms to Detroit’s Catholics this Lenten season, explaining how by accepting ashes, they have engaged in a 40-day campaign to overcome sin.

The archbishop gave his traditional preaching during the midday Ash Wednesday Mass on Feb. 14 at St. Aloysius Parish, a few blocks from Detroit’s Campus Martius Park, home of the Michigan Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument.

Reflecting on the martial language featured in the collect of the Mass — “Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint” — Vigneron invited the faithful to think of Lent beyond the usual reference of 40 days in the desert or as a spiritual retreat.

“Maybe as you were thinking this morning about beginning Lent and taking the ashes of repentance, you didn’t realize you were enlisting in a military campaign,” Vigneron said. “But that is one way the Church has for us to think about what we are doing over the next 40 days.”

Lent is a very personal journey, the archbishop said, but is a journey one makes with the catechumens who will be entering the Church at Easter and the entire faithful, who will be renewing their baptismal vows and their identity as Jesus’ disciples. 

The Lenten season is compromised of three main pillars: prayer, fasting and almsgiving, all of which help us strive to be better followers of Christ, Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron said. Credit: Valaurian Waller/Detroit Catholic
The Lenten season is compromised of three main pillars: prayer, fasting and almsgiving, all of which help us strive to be better followers of Christ, Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron said. Credit: Valaurian Waller/Detroit Catholic

It is a communal campaign centered on three core tenets prescribed in the Scriptures: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. But the archbishop challenged the congregation to think “outside the box” of what Lent can be.

“This is a way for the Church to think about Lent as a military campaign, so that we can have some new energy,” Vigneron said. “I’m in my 76th year, so from the age of reason, about 70 of these I’ve done. But this might be a fresh perspective for all of us to think about how Lent is a kind of military campaign that we are enlisting in today by taking up the ashes.”

By choosing to come to church on Ash Wednesday and accepting the ashes placed upon one’s forehead, people are deciding to “re-up” in the campaign to be ambassadors for Christ, to live for something beyond one’s pleasure and self-satisfaction, he said.

“The Holy Spirit brought you here today, inspired you to leave your pew and come forward and let the ashes be imposed on you,” Vigneron said. “You want to be a soldier, a warrior in the great war led by our captain, Jesus Christ. The war [is] against sin. The war [is] to establish the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of holiness, the kingdom of charity.”

Father Mario Amore of St. Aloysius Parish greets parishioners after Mass. Archbishop Allen Vigneron challenged Catholics gathered on Ash Wednesday to consider how God is calling them to engage in a great campaign to win back the world for Christ. Credit: Valaurian Waller/Detroit Catholic
Father Mario Amore of St. Aloysius Parish greets parishioners after Mass. Archbishop Allen Vigneron challenged Catholics gathered on Ash Wednesday to consider how God is calling them to engage in a great campaign to win back the world for Christ. Credit: Valaurian Waller/Detroit Catholic

The faithful were handed information about the Lenten campaign and ways to get involved and grow in holiness, including the Archdiocese of Detroit’s I AM HERE Lenten Challenge, featuring daily trivia questions on what’s happening during Mass, powered by the Hallow app.

Vigneron said even if a person hasn’t figured out what he or she wants to do for Lent, it’s not too late to reflect and hear what God is calling them to take on during this holy season.

But he did point to a key resource that will power them along the journey: the Eucharist.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron said the Eucharist serves as the faithful's "ration" during this Lenten campaign. Credit: Valaurian Waller/Detroit Catholic
Archbishop Allen Vigneron said the Eucharist serves as the faithful's "ration" during this Lenten campaign. Credit: Valaurian Waller/Detroit Catholic

“During this year of Eucharistic revival, realize the Eucharist is our ration for us as soldiers in this great struggle,” Vigneron said. “This is the most important struggle anyone can be engaged with in life: the struggle to be a saint, the struggle to be God’s daughter, to be God’s son, the struggle to be the person that God created me to be, that he wants me to be by the power of the grace of baptism.”

And even as it seems this battle is just beginning this Lenten season, Vigneron assured the congregation of its outcome.

“I promise you victory,” Vigneron said. “I promise you we have won. That is what Easter means. Yes, we engage in the struggle, but we know how the war ends. It ends in Christ’s victory.”

This article was originally published at Detroit Catholic and is reprinted here with permission.