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Federal same-sex marriage bill still needs religious freedom fixes, bishops say

U.S. Capitol, Senate side, public domain. / null

Denver, Colo., Nov 23, 2022 / 17:47 pm (CNA).

A federal bill to recognize same-sex unions as marriages lacks sufficient religious freedom protections and will undermine the truth about marriage, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said Wednesday.

“The Respect for Marriage Act’s rejection of timeless truths about marriage is evident on its face and in its purpose. It would also betray our country’s commitment to the fundamental right of religious liberty,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester said in a Nov. 23 letter to members of Congress.

Dolan heads the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, while Barron heads the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth.

“This bill is needless and harmful and must be voted down,” the bishops’ letter said. “At the same time, Congress, and our nation as a whole, must resolve to foster a culture where every individual, as a child of God, is treated with respect and compassion.”

The Respect for Marriage Act advanced last week in a key U.S. Senate vote of 62-37, with some Republican support. If the bill becomes law, it would federally recognize same-sex marriage and require states to recognize any marriage contracted in other states. It would also provide legal protections for interracial marriages.

The act would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton that defined marriage federally as the union of a man and a woman and permitted states not to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states. That law is not in effect under the 2013 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges, which required states to recognize same-sex unions as marriages.

Backers of a bipartisan religious freedom amendment to the bill say their amendment ensures that nonprofit religious organizations would not be required to provide services, facilities, or goods for the celebration of a same-sex marriage, and protects religious liberty and conscience protections available under the Constitution and federal law, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The amendment, backers say, would ensure that churches, universities, and other nonprofit religious organizations would not lose tax-exempt status or other benefits for refusing to recognize same-sex marriages and would not be required to provide services for the celebration of any marriage.

However, the U.S. bishops questioned these claims.

“Unfortunately, a number of religious groups and senators are asserting that the amended text of (the Respect for Marriage Act) sufficiently protects religious freedom,” Dolan and Barron continued. “From the perspective of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, whose bishops’ ministries comprise the largest non-governmental provider of social services in the United States, the provisions of the act that relate to religious liberty are insufficient. If passed, the amended act will put the ministries of the Catholic Church, people of faith, and other Americans who uphold a traditional meaning of marriage at greater risk of government discrimination.”

In an analysis accompanying the bishops’ letter, the U.S. bishops’ conference said the bill “will be used to argue that the government has a compelling interest in forcing religious organizations and individuals to treat same-sex civil marriages as valid.” This will allow lawsuits to revisit current precedent based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and other relevant law.

“(R)eligious objectors are likelier to be denied exemptions,” the analysis said. If the Respect for Marriage Act becomes law, it could affect employment decisions, employee spousal benefits, eligibility for grants or contracts, accreditation, and tax exemptions.

Faith-based foster care and adoption agencies, housing providers, and social services agencies that serve immigrants could all be affected. Faith-based groups that help provide foster care to unaccompanied refugee children could be shut out of working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Religious organizations could be forced to hire and retain staff who publicly repudiate the organizations’ beliefs about marriage,” the analysis said.

Wedding vendors could be forced to participate in same-sex weddings. The IRS could revoke the tax exemptions of religious organizations with traditional beliefs about marriage. Government agencies could exclude religious schools from eligibility for public benefits and programs, including scholarships and school vouchers. Further, government agencies could exclude religious organizations from access to or use of public facilities.

According to the analysis, only the stronger religious freedom amendment proposed by Utah Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Lee has “comprehensive, affirmative and enforceable protections,” but this amendment has not been added to the bill. Lee’s amendment would prohibit the federal government from discriminating against anyone who holds a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is a union between one man and one woman or is a union between two individuals.

The U.S. bishops noted that the bill is being considered in the wake of a deadly mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, a gay nightclub, where five were killed.

Opposition to the act, Dolan and Barron said, “by no means condones any hostility toward anyone who experiences same-sex attraction.”

“Catholic teaching on marriage is inseparable from Catholic teaching on the inherent dignity and worth of every human being,” they said. “To attack one is to attack the other. Congress must have the courage to defend both.”

Emails raise questions about Philadelphia children’s hospital transgender surgeries on minors

Exterior of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. / Shutterstock

Boston, Mass., Nov 23, 2022 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

In a 2017 email, a doctor at the transgender clinic at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia said she was not aware of any medical studies at the time that supported the irreversible surgeries the clinic had been performing on minors, public records show.

The statement is contained in internal emails, obtained by a private citizen through a public documents request, between Dr. Nadia Dowshen — co-director of the Gender and Sexuality Development Clinic at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — and Dr. Rachel Levine. At the time Levine, a biological male who identifies as a transgender female, was Pennsylvania’s physician general. Today Levine serves as assistant secretary for health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Critics of so-called “gender-affirming” surgeries and treatments for young people with gender dysphoria were outraged by the disclosure, which one leading pediatrician says suggests that these procedures amount to “a giant experiment on children” that lack a clear understanding on the part of health care professionals and their young patients of the risks and long-term consequences involved.

But in a statement to CNA, Levine said there was “nothing unusual” about the email exchange and maintained that the “medical validity” of these procedures has been “affirmed.”

In one of the emails, Levine asked Dowshen and another co-director of the Gender & Sexuality Development Clinic, Dr. Linda Hawkins, about what Levine called “gender confirmation surgery” for “young people under 18 years of age,” which Levine said could include “top surgery for trans young men and top and bottom surgery for trans young women.”

“Top” and “bottom” surgery are the common parlance among transgender supporters for major, irreversible surgical changes to make a person appear to be a different sex. These include the removal of women’s breasts and the removal and reconstruction of male sexual organs.

Rachel Levine, then a nominee for assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 25, 2021. Caroline Brehman/AFP via Getty Images
Rachel Levine, then a nominee for assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 25, 2021. Caroline Brehman/AFP via Getty Images

“Is there any literature to support this protocol?” Levine asked in the May 4, 2017, email. “Please let me know if you have any references.”

The same day, Dowshen responded and wrote: “Hi Rachel, I’m not aware of existing literature but it is certainly happening. I think we’ve had more than 10 patients who have had chest surgery under 18 (as young as 15) and 1 bottom surgery (17).”

Dowshen said she was currently working with colleagues to “get some pre-post data for top surgeries for youth under 18” and suggested that a research assistant could do a literature search to make sure they were “not missing anything,” to which Levine agreed.

“A lot of our youth are being denied coverage for top surgery if under 18,” Dowshen said.

In a statement to CNA Wednesday, Levine downplayed the significance of the email exchange.

“As physician general of the state of Pennsylvania, I worked to remain aware of the latest science in a number of health areas. This allowed me to offer policy recommendations to the governor, to offer strong managerial oversight on behalf of the people of Pennsylvania, and to coordinate effectively with my peers,” Levine said.

“My question about the existing literature on surgeries for minors was asked in the same spirit as many of the other questions I asked in that role — that of making sure I was aware of the latest and most relevant data on an issue of public interest,” Levine said.

“There was nothing unusual about that exchange, and in the years since it occurred, the medical validity of gender affirming care has only been reaffirmed and strengthened,” Levine said. “It is important to note the standards of care for patients include psychological and medical evaluations and, if necessary, treatment and support for the young person and their family. Children who have not yet started puberty do not receive medical treatment — at that age, care focuses on counseling and being mindful of the needs of the young person, their family, and their school.”

CNA also contacted Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for comment but did not receive a response.

‘A giant experiment on children’

Dr. Quentin Van Meter, president of the American College of Pediatricians — an organization of pediatricians that advocates for children’s health and well-being — criticized the email exchange. He told CNA that it is wrong for any doctor to be doing experimental surgeries when there are no long-term studies to support them.

Van Meter said the result of the doctors doing experimental sex-change surgeries on minors is that “the lives of what will be tens of thousands of children are ruined.”

He said that there are no long-term studies in existence to support sex-change surgeries, whether that be for minors or adults.

“This is a giant experiment on children,” he said. “Medicine cannot be practiced that way.”

Van Meter also took issue with Levine’s response to CNA. 

Van Meter said Levine is wrong about transgender surgeries being “affirmed” by science, saying that “it’s actually been torn to shreds by science.”

“It’s the most embarrassing, non-scientific facade in a very scientific environment,” he said.

The original publicizer of the emails, Twitter user Megan Brock, told CNA she gained access to the emails through a Pennsylvania Right to Know Law public document request.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) is the latest hospital to come under fire after media exposés have shown that gender transition surgeries on minors have been taking place at medical institutions across the nation.

In August, Boston Children’s Hospital took heavy criticism when news broke that it was offering gender transition treatments and surgeries for kids. The hospital has since updated its website and says that only 18-year-olds qualify for “phalloplasty or metoidioplasty and for vaginoplasty surgeries.”

The website still says that the hospital will perform “chest surgery” on 15-year-olds.

In October, Vanderbilt University Medical Hospital paused gender transition surgeries on children after an investigation into the hospital was called for by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee. Vanderbilt’s surgeries on minors — and the lucrative nature of its transgender surgeries in general — were originally exposed by Matt Walsh, an internet host for The Daily Wire.

Catholic publisher pulls book on princess saints after illustrator says it was her idea

An illustration by Fabiola Garza (left) and the cover of Ascension Press' book, "Catholic Princess Saint Stories, Volume I." / Images courtesy of Fabiola Garza and Ascension Press

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 22, 2022 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

A major Catholic publishing house is pulling a book on Catholic princess saints days after an illustrator took to social media saying that the company had published the book based on her ideas and illustrations. 

Ascension, a publisher of Catholic books and digital media, including Father Mike Schmitz’s “Bible in a Year” podcast, emailed a statement to CNA Tuesday announcing that it would no longer be selling the book, “Catholic Princess Saint Stories, Volume I,” which was released earlier this month.

Fabiola Garza, the illustrator who is at odds with Ascension, posted on social media that she had spent months talking with the publisher about plans for a book on princess saints. When those talks did not lead to a contract, she decided to shop her idea around, and eventually signed a contract with Word on Fire to publish a book on princess saints. 

Garza, who works as an illustrator for the Disney Design Group in Orlando, Florida, published an account of her dealings with Ascension on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter following the publication of the publisher’s book on princess saints.

PLEASE SHARE Hold Ascension accountable,” Garza wrote. “MY EXPERIENCE WITH ASCENSION HAS BEEN THE MOST AWFUL OF MY CAREER. I like many artists cannot afford a lawyer, and my hope is that by making this known no other Catholic creative will have to go through this,” she wrote.

In her social media post, Garza said that in 2019 she was approached by an editor at Ascension about a book on saints who were princesses.

“Ascension contacted me because he heard me speaking on Leah Darrow’s Podcast about my idea to do a PRINCESS SAINTS BOOK," she wrote, adding that she signed a mutual non-disclosure agreement with the publisher.

"In the end, I decided not to sign with ASCENSION,” she wrote in the social media post.

In its statement, Ascension said it had decided to pull the book after Garza went public with her story.

“An illustrator Ascension worked with several years ago recently posted on social media about her experience working with us. We strongly disagree with the allegations in her post and we are confident that our approach was consistent with the law and industry standards,” the statement said. 

“Nevertheless, as a leader in Catholic publishing, Ascension aspires to hold itself to a higher standard and we will therefore be voluntarily discontinuing sales of the book in question,” the statement said.

'Different creative visions'

In its statement Ascension said that after Garza told the publisher that she had decided not to work with the company it went ahead with plans to come out with a book about princess saints by a different author and illustrator. Ascension maintains that the book it published was different from the one it had discussed with Garza.

Over the eight months Ascension had discussed the project Garza had provided one illustration of St. Joan of Arc, and when it went with a new illustrator, it chose different saints to highlight, Ascension said.

“As we each had different creative visions for the project, we continued our vision with a new illustrator. We chose different saints for our book alongside a different storytelling style and different illustrations,” Ascension said.

“For background on the project, we provided the new illustrator with the single image of St. Joan of Arc that Fabiola had shared publicly. Our new illustrator went on to create illustrations for 80 pages of stories about St. Margaret of Scotland, St. Bathild of France, and St. Jadwiga of Poland,” read the statement.

Garza posted photos of her illustration of St. Joan of Arc alongside an illustration from Ascension’s book, noting the similarities between the two. Both illustrations feature blue ribbons and banners surrounding the drawings of the saints.

In its statement, Ascension denied any wrongdoing but said it regretted showing the new illustrator Garza’s original drawing.

“Any similarities between Fabiola’s St. Joan of Arc drawing and our illustrator’s depiction of St. Margaret of Scotland (such as a banner, ribbons, a crown, and a blue garment) are incidental and common in portraits of princesses in works by other artists,” the company said.

“Nevertheless, we understand and respect that Fabiola is deeply invested in her artwork, and we acknowledge that a better course of action would have been to use other public sources rather than her drawing as a reference for our illustrator."

Garza posted emails she had exchanged with Ascension. In their correspondence, she says that on Oct. 7, 2020, she decided to discontinue talks on the book because no contract had been signed.  

Garza wrote to Ascension explaining her reason for looking for another publisher. 

She said she had asked for “some details on contract and compensation before I continued to work.” She said she was told “that we hadn’t got to the contract stage because we didn’t yet have a complete sample chapter.” She said she was told that the firm was “contemplating bringing in another author entirely, who I would have no ability to vet, interview, or apparently control in any way.”

In an email to CNA, Ascension said that it never signed a contract in part because Garza “wanted to be both the author and illustrator.”

“This creative difference was one of the key reasons that Fabiola and Ascension never signed a contract together,” Ascension said in its statement.

Garza told CNA that she decided to break off talks with the publisher because she began to get nervous when no contract was proposed.

After emailing Ascension earlier this month to express her disappointment that it had published a book on princess saints, the publishing house offered to compensate her for the time spent on the project.

Garza then took to social media because, she told CNA, she could not afford to get legal help. She explained that she felt that by going public she could help other “Catholic creatives” facing similar situations.

“So many people have emailed me with similar stories, and nobody has ever talked about it publicly. I could see that I’m in a position to do this, and perhaps I owe it to the community to start a conversation on it,” she said. “But if everything has always been treated in a very hush hush way, I was like, 'There's never going to be any change.'”

Upon being informed by CNA that Ascension had pulled its book, Garza said she was relieved.

“Oh, my gosh, I'm gonna cry,” she said after reading Ascension’s statement. “I know that it's not a direct apology. I mean, it's corporate speak, you know. I understand that they have to protect themselves as much as possible. I would have loved a direct apology,” she said. 

“But even the fact that because of people helping this is able to happen without having to go to court is amazing, because that sounded awful. Yeah, that sounded awful,” Garza said. Later, Garza thanked Ascension for pulling the book.

Her book with Word on Fire is written but still being edited and won’t be published for over a year, adding that she works full-time.

Philly archbishop to head Catholic Relief Services board of directors

Archbishop Nelson Perez speaks about the heroic virtues of Father Bill Atkinson, O.S.A., and the work performed to prepare the formal documents related to his cause for beatification and canonization. / Sarah Webb

Denver, Colo., Nov 22, 2022 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

Philadelphia’s Archbishop Nelson Pérez will serve as the next chairman of the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) board of directors, heading up the U.S. bishops’ international relief agency that serves 193 million people in 116 countries.

“For more than 75 years, CRS has been a beacon of hope for poor and vulnerable families around the world,” Pérez said in a statement Tuesday. “Its humanitarian aid initiatives are often the difference between life and death for those facing poverty, famine, war, and epidemics.”

The three-year appointment is one of the first official acts of Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services, USA, who was elected president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) at its fall assembly last week.

Broglio chose the Philadelphia archbishop for this role “because of his commitment to the agency’s mission,” Chieko Noguchi, a spokesperson for the USCCB, told CNA Nov. 22.

CRS was founded in 1943 and will mark its 80th anniversary next year. Together with more than 1,700 partners, it works in emergency response, agriculture, capacity-building, education, health care, justice and peacebuilding, microfinance, and water and sanitation. According to the agency’s fact sheet for fiscal year 2021, the agency had about $1 billion in annual revenue, 93% of which it dedicated to programs.

Pérez, 61, has served as archbishop of Philadelphia since February 2020. Born in Miami to Cuban exiles, he was ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 1989 and spent his time as a priest with a particular focus on Hispanic ministry. In 2012 Pope Benedict XVI named him an auxiliary bishop for New York’s Diocese of Rockville Centre, and Pope Francis named him bishop of Cleveland in 2017.

“We are thrilled to welcome Archbishop Pérez as the chairman of our board of directors,” Sean Callahan, president and CEO of CRS, said in a statement. “I look forward to working with him as we address some of the most pressing issues CRS has faced, including the global food crisis and the impact of climate change on people living in poverty.”

Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, the outgoing CRS board of directors chairman, praised Pérez as “a man of deep conviction about the need to protect the dignity of all of our brothers and sisters, particularly the most vulnerable among us.”

Pérez said he was “deeply grateful” to Caggiano.

“His work to promote and defend human life while fostering a more just and peaceful world is truly commendable/ I look forward to building on his efforts,” the archbishop said.

“In addition, I thank Archbishop Broglio for his confidence in my ability to provide counsel and serve the best interests of the poor and vulnerable,” he continued. “I am excited to collaborate with the other members of the CRS board whose hearts are on fire for Jesus and serve as his missionary disciples.”

“I ask for your prayers as I embrace this new role in service to the broader Church,” he said.

The U.S. bishops at their annual meeting elected three episcopal board members. Atlanta’s Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., will serve his first term, while Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso and Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock will both return to serve a second term.

On Jan. 1, Matthew M. McKenna of Bronxville, New York, will join the CRS board. McKenna is a resident executive at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. In that role, he launched an initiative to study the role of private-sector investment in rural economic development.

Archbishop Broglio will be leaving his role as chairman of CRS’ Overseas Operation Committee. Board member Stephen Walsh will also leave after six years on the CRS board.

While CRS is overseen by the USCCB, it is part of the Caritas Internationalis confederation of 162 Catholic relief agencies based around the world. The confederation is overseen by the Vatican and headquartered on Vatican territory in Rome.

On Tuesday Pope Francis removed the entire leadership of Caritas Internationalis, including its president, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle. The pope appointed an administrator to improve the organization’s management. An independent review reportedly found deficiencies in Caritas Internationalis’ “management and procedures” and these were “seriously prejudicing team spirit and staff morale.”

Disgraced Louisiana priest pleads guilty to filming pornographic material on parish altar

Father Travis Clark after his Sept. 30, 2020, arrest. / St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 22, 2022 / 15:40 pm (CNA).

Travis Clark, the disgraced priest of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, pled guilty Monday to a felony count of obscenity for his actions in filming pornographic material with two hired women atop the altar of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Pearl River, Louisiana. 

Clark admitted his guilt as part of a plea deal in the state district court in Covington, Louisiana.

Clark received a suspended three-year prison sentence, three years supervised probation and a $1,000 fine, reported

In a statement Tuesday, the Archdiocese of New Orleans said it will now take the necessary steps to remove Clark from the priesthood.

“Now that the criminal proceedings involving Travis Clark have concluded, the Archdiocese of New Orleans will move forward with the process to have him formally laicized. The necessary information will be sent to the Vatican where in consultation with Vatican officials, the Holy Father will make the final determination on Clark’s laicization," the statement said.

On Sept. 30, 2020, Clark was arrested, along with the two women involved. A bystander called the police after seeing the lewd actions occurring while passing by the church windows. When authorities arrived at the scene, they removed Clark, the two women, multiple articles of sexual paraphernalia as well as lights and recording devices. 

In the wake of the arrest, Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans called Clark’s behavior “obscene,” “deplorable,” and “demonic.” Aymond ordered the burning and replacement of the desecrated altar. 

The two women arrested with Clark pled guilty in July to misdemeanor counts of institutional vandalism. Both received two years probation. One of the women refers to herself as “Satanatrix” and had posted on social media the day before that she planned to “defile a house of God.” 

Though the desecrated altar had to be destroyed, the New Orleans Archdiocese released a statement at the time saying that “there was no desecrating of the Blessed Sacrament” and that no other sacred vessels were known to be involved. 

Do we know enough about puberty blockers? No, according to N.Y. Times report

null / Juanje Garrido/Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., Nov 22, 2022 / 11:30 am (CNA).

The use of puberty blockers on self-identified transgender children and teens has drawn scrutiny in a recent New York Times article, and other commentators echo its concerns that the treatments lack strong evidential grounding and may even be harmful.

“Many physicians and scientists have serious concerns about the use of puberty blockers for the treatment of gender dysphoric youth but are afraid to voice these concerns due to the politicization of this area of medical practice,” Dr. Paul W. Hruz, an associate professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, told CNA on Nov. 16.

“There is an urgent need for higher-quality scientific investigation of relative risks versus purported benefit of the use of puberty blockers to alleviate suffering in people who experience sex-discordant gender identity,” Hruz added. “It is likely that many children with gender dysphoria who are given puberty blockers are unaware of the potential harms and lack of solid evidence for the long-term safety and efficacy of this intervention.”

Hruz spoke in response to the Nov. 14 New York Times article headlined “They paused puberty, but is there a cost?” The article reported that the use of the drugs is usually framed as a safe, reversible option but questioned whether this is accurate. Puberty blockers are used before a final decision on whether to pursue more medical procedures that purportedly result in gender transition. Despite being in use for 30 years in various countries, there are “varying protocols, little documentation of outcomes, and no government approval of the drugs for that use, including by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” the Times said.

The drugs have become more commonly prescribed as the number of self-identified transgender adolescents has increased. The Williams Institute, an LGBT research center at the University of California-Los Angeles law school, estimated in June that as many as 300,000 young people in the U.S. aged 13 to 17 identify as transgender, double its previous estimate in 2017. Another phenomenon is a growing group of youths who identify as nonbinary and do not want to mature into either sex.

Drugs prescribed as early as age 8

When Dutch doctors first pioneered the use of the drugs, they warned of “false positives” in which patients medically transition but later cease to identify as transgender. These cases also are not tracked, though many practitioners think the case numbers are small, the Times reported.

The puberty-blocking drugs do seem to help address some patients’ gender dysphoria, the perception that one’s birth sex does not match one’s perceived gender identity.

The drugs are prescribed as early as age 8 so that self-identified transgender patients can begin hormones at age 12 or 13. However, puberty can help clarify self-perceived gender, and patients could be making life-altering choices prematurely.

The best-known puberty blocker, Lupron, is produced by the Illinois-based company AbbVie. Lupron and similar drugs act by suppressing estrogen and testosterone, which can affect the bones, brain, and other body parts of young people. The drugs are not FDA-approved for use on transgender-identifying children and teens, and there is evidence of potential harm, the Times reported.

Among those who have used the drugs, bone strength analysis finds that their bone growth does not fully rebound. They could face more risk of debilitating bone fractures at earlier ages, in their 50s instead of their 60s. Patients who already have weak bones could face immediate harm. The problem is particularly severe for those who try to transition from male to female.

Some researchers and doctors voiced concern that puberty blockers’ interference with hormonal development could disrupt mental growth and brain development in areas such as critical thinking, sophisticated self-reflection, social skills, and problem-solving skills.

“Current clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of gender dysphoria are based upon low-quality evidence,” Hruz told CNA. “Contrary to assertions that there is a consensus among medical professionals regarding the best approach to caring for children who experience sex-discordant gender identity, there is a growing realization that many who have received gender-affirming medical interventions continue to suffer from depression, anxiety, and other psychological morbidities.”

“Several European countries (including Sweden, Finland, and the United Kingdom) have recognized the poor quality of scientific evidence for the affirmation-only approach to treating sex-discordant gender identity,” he added. “These countries have acknowledged that this approach remains experimental. With the current evidence, they have moved to a much more cautious approach that involves primarily efforts focused on psychological support.”

“The United States has thus far failed to acknowledge these serious concerns,” Hruz noted.

The practice in the U.S. has become especially politically polarized. Some critics portray gender transitions of minors as inherently lacking informed consent, while others see it as child abuse or even mutilation. There are some efforts to proscribe these procedures by law.

Some fringe actors have allegedly made threats against institutions that carry out these procedures. The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Children’s Hospital Association in an October letter asked U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate “attacks” allegedly “rooted in an intentional campaign of disinformation, where a few high-profile users on social media share false and misleading information targeting individual physicians and hospitals, resulting in a rapid escalation of threats, harassment, and disruption of care across multiple jurisdictions.”

For its part, the Biden administration has promoted gender transition treatments as a civil right. Its proposed Department of Health and Human Services rule would force hospitals and doctors to perform purported gender transitions or be charged with discrimination based on sex or gender identity.

Louis Brown, Jr., executive director of the nonprofit Christ Medicus Foundation, told CNA that the New York Times article is an “important moment” in the debate over whether federal or state governments or medical associations can coerce these procedures or make them a part of standard care.

“The New York Times article illustrates that the Biden administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have no business mandating transgender procedures, especially in light of growing medical concerns and tragic patient stories about puberty blockers causing damage to the physical health and well-being of young persons,” said Brown, whose organization’s mission includes advocacy of religious freedom in medicine.

“This article underscores what has been true all along: opposition to transgender procedures is not based on animosity or bigotry but rather on sincere love and compassion for the health of patients who deserve truly medically sound and ethically based care,” he said.

FDA should limit access to ‘dangerous’ chemical abortion drugs, doctors argue in lawsuit

null / ivanko80/Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 22, 2022 / 10:00 am (CNA).

A group of doctors and medical organizations, including the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, argue in a federal lawsuit that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “chose politics over science” when, over two decades ago, it approved the two-drug regimen collectively known as the abortion pill.

The Nov. 18 lawsuit, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Amarillo Division. Attorneys for Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Pediatricians, the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, and doctors Shaun Jester, Regina Frost-Clark, Tyler Johnson, and George Delgado.

In the more than 100-page lawsuit, the doctors argue that the FDA fast-tracked the approval of the abortion pill by classifying pregnancy as an “illness” and falsely asserting that abortion drugs provide a “meaningful therapeutic benefit” over surgical abortions, neither of which is the case, they say. They also note that the FDA has not performed studies on the effects of abortion drugs on minor girls.

The plaintiffs hope to persuade the federal court to issue a preliminary and permanent injunction ordering the FDA to withdraw mifepristone and misoprostol as FDA-approved chemical abortion drugs. Among other serious concerns, the plaintiffs present evidence that women and girls who take chemical abortion drugs experience significantly more complications than those who have surgical abortions.

“[T]he FDA never studied the safety of the drugs under the labeled conditions of use despite being required to do so by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA),” the lawsuit asserts.

“The agency also ignored the potential impacts of the hormone-blocking regimen on the developing bodies of adolescent girls in violation of the Pediatric Research and Equity Act (PREA). And the FDA disregarded the substantial evidence that chemical abortion drugs cause more complications than even surgical abortions.”

The plaintiffs also pointed to the fact that the FDA has progressively rolled back safeguards on the abortion pill; for example, the FDA in 2016 extended the permissible gestational age of the baby to be killed in the abortion from seven to 10 weeks, increasing — as studies have demonstrated — the risk of complications for the mother.

And more recently, the FDA lifted certain restrictions on mifepristone distribution in December 2021, authorizing doctors to prescribe the drugs online and mail the pills, allowing pregnant women to perform early abortions without leaving their homes.

The FDA declined comment, saying in a statement, "The FDA does not comment on possible, pending or ongoing litigation."

The FDA first approved mifepristone, which is paired with another drug called misoprostol, for earlier abortions in 2000. This type of abortion is currently approved by the FDA for use up to 10 weeks’ gestation. Mifepristone is designed to block progesterone, the hormone that sustains pregnancy, effectively starving the baby. The second pill in the abortion pill regimen, misoprostol, induces labor.

This type of abortion now accounts for more than half of all abortions in the U.S., according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive research organization once associated with Planned Parenthood.

Abortion supporters have pointed to medical abortions as a kind of workaround or backup plan for women to access abortion as states restrict abortion, especially after the Supreme Court in June overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Abortion doctors from outside of states that have restricted abortion — even from as far away as Europe — have been sending abortion pills to women in defiance of the states’ pro-life laws.

In early November, the FDA warned about the dangers of health professionals prescribing abortion drugs to women before they are pregnant, citing the potential for major complications.

Divine Mercy shrine at Catholic parish in Wisconsin defaced with graffiti

Photo illustration. / Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 22, 2022 / 06:00 am (CNA).

A Catholic parish in southern Wisconsin suffered a graffiti attack overnight on Sunday that saw a large tiled display of the Divine Mercy image defaced with green spray-painted letters. 

Run by the Stockbridge, Massachusetts-based Marian Fathers, St. Peter Parish is located in Kenosha, on Lake Michigan north of Chicago near the Illinois border. A photo shared on social media by Father Donald Calloway shows green spray-painted graffiti on one of the exterior granite shrines near the entrance to the church.

Deacon Terrance Maack, the parish’s administrative assistant, told CNA that the incident occurred between 7 and 8 p.m. on the evening of Sunday, Nov. 20, possibly during the 7 p.m. Mass. The church, which is located on a well-lit street, does not have security cameras. 

The shrine will need to be professionally cleaned with help from insurance money, he said. The spray paint won’t seep into the marble itself, he said, but the Divine Mercy image is made up of tiles, so the grout between the tiles will need to be professionally cleaned, Maack said. 

Maack requested prayers for the perpetrator, noting that Jesus’ Divine Mercy — expressed in the image they defaced — remains available for them. 

The motive for the attack is not clear. The letters spray-painted on the image, “ANKHEEMMAAT,” may refer to the similarly-spelled “Ankhemmaat,” an obscure 4th-century B.C. Egyptian priest. 

The vandalism was promptly reported to the police, Maack said. 

When reached by CNA, Sergeant Jeffery Galley of the Kenosha Police Department said the department did receive the criminal complaint, but they do not yet have any leads in the case. 

Vandalism attacks against Catholic buildings, monuments, and places of worship have continued apace since at least May 2020, when the U.S. bishops began tracking such incidents. Since then, the bishops’ national office says they have tracked at least 172 incidents across 38 states and the District of Columbia. The vandalism incidents include multiple incidents of statues and gravestones defaced, including with swastikas and anti-Catholic language. 

In particular, vandalism attacks with a clear pro-choice or pro-abortion motive have exploded in the months since the leak of a draft decision from the U.S. Supreme Court showing that it would overturn Roe v. Wade. CNA has since recorded attacks on 33 churches, 55 pregnancy centers, three political organizations, and one maternity home since early May where the public evidence points to a pro-abortion motive. The crimes include vulgar graffiti, property damage, threats, theft, and arson.

Albany bishop asking to be laicized isn’t barred from publicly celebrating sacraments, as he claims

Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard of the Diocese of Albany / Screenshot from 2018 YouTube video

Boston, Mass., Nov 21, 2022 / 16:10 pm (CNA).

Bishop Emeritus Howard Hubbard of the Diocese of Albany has asked the Vatican to laicize him, claiming that Church policy prohibits him from publicly exercising his priestly functions while he is under investigation for sexual abuse allegations.

However, the Albany Diocese clarified Monday that Hubbard does retain the freedom to publicly celebrate the sacraments but has voluntarily stopped doing so.

“We would like to correct a point in some reports that said there is a diocesan policy that forbids an accused bishop from sacramental ministry,” the diocese said in a statement.

“A diocesan bishop may regulate, that is, limit, circumscribe, or ban exercise within his diocese of any or all sacramental ministries. Bishop Edward Scharfenberger [the current bishop of Albany] has done so in some cases, but in the case of Bishop Hubbard, it is he alone who voluntarily removed himself from any public celebration of sacraments,” the diocese’s statement said. 

“Our prayers are with Bishop Hubbard for his well-being and with all who accompany him, that all decisions and actions are in accord with God’s plan,” the statement said.

A lawsuit filed in March 2021 alleges that Hubbard molested an 11-year-old boy in 1977. That suit is ongoing. Hubbard maintains his innocence and said he would continue to fight in court to see his name cleared. 

Hubbard wrote about his laicization request in a statement Nov. 18.

“Recently, I asked the Vatican for relief from my obligations as a priest and permission to return to the lay state. In whatever time I have left on this Earth, I hope to be able to serve God and the people of our community as a lay person,” Hubbard wrote. 

“I had hoped that in my retirement I might be able to continue to serve our community as a priest. I am not able to do so, however, because of a church policy that prohibits any priest accused of sexual abuse from functioning publicly as a priest, even if the allegations are false, as they are in my case,” he wrote.

“Despite the impact on me, I still believe this is a sound policy. I implemented it in the Albany Diocese and continue to support it as a necessary means to maintain and restore public confidence in our clergy,” Hubbard continued. “In my particular case, the effect of the policy has been to deprive me of the single greatest joy of my life — serving our community as a Catholic priest in my retirement years.”

Mark Behan, a spokesman for Hubbard who is not connected with the diocese, told CNA Monday that Hubbard did, in fact, voluntarily remove himself from public ministry.

“Bishop Hubbard was referring in his statement to a policy that he implemented in the Albany Diocese when he was bishop. The policy required that a priest accused of sexual abuse of a minor should be removed from active ministry until the matter was resolved,” Behan said.

“Theoretically, he could have ignored the policy. Instead, he chose to impose on himself the same standard he applied to other accused clergy. His decision to abide by the policy denied him the greatest joy in his life — serving as a priest in retirement,” Behan told CNA by email. 

Hubbard, 84, served the Diocese of Albany from 1977 to 2014. He is now retired. 

In July 2021, Hubbard admitted to mishandling sexual abuse allegations against priests while he was bishop, saying that the diocese at one point did not notify law enforcement when allegations were made.

Colorado bishops pray for ‘peace and healing’ after shooting at LGBTQ nightclub

Law enforcement officials continue their investigation into Saturday's shooting at the Club Q nightclub on Nov. 21, 2022, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. On Saturday evening, a 22-year-old gunman allegedly entered the LGBTQ nightclub and opened fire, killing at least five people and injuring 25 others before being stopped by club patrons. / Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Denver, Colo., Nov 21, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Catholic bishops in Colorado have voiced their sympathies and prayers in the wake of a shooting over the weekend that killed five and injured 25 at a Colorado Springs LGBTQ nightclub.

“The recent shooting and killing is especially troubling as it appeared to target a specific part of our community,” Bishop James Golka of Colorado Springs said Monday afternoon. “The shooter appeared to target members of the LGBTQ community. Anytime specific members of the population are targeted for violence, we should all be concerned. As Christians and Catholics, we believe in the intrinsic dignity and value of all human life. We commit ourselves to protecting and defending that human life.”

“We extend our deepest sympathies and prayers for the victims, their families, and friends,” he said.

The alleged gunman entered Club Q just before midnight on Saturday and began shooting.

Several people at the club overpowered the gunman and subdued him. He was hospitalized for injuries sustained during the fight.

Two of the dead were bartenders, one of whom was a co-owner of the nightclub.

Police officials named the alleged gunman as 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich. A man of the same name and age was detained by the El Paso County Sherriff’s Office last year after he threatened his mother with homemade bombs, weapons, and ammunition, Colorado Public Radio reported. In that incident, he had a lengthy standoff with sheriff’s deputies, who did not find any explosive devices when the standoff ended.

Authorities have not confirmed they are the same person.

The alleged nightclub shooter was being held on five counts of first-degree murder and five counts of bias-motivated crimes causing bodily injury, the Denver Post reported on Monday. Prosecutors have not officially filed charges, which means the charges could change.

Golka’s Nov. 21 statement noted that Colorado Springs police have investigated at least 34 homicides since the beginning of the year, a 100% increase over last year. He also cited the “disturbing” suicide rate in Colorado, the seventh-highest in the U.S., with El Paso County having the worst suicide rate in the state.

He cited the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ support for stronger gun control restrictions, including universal background checks and limits on the sales of high-capacity magazines. He also emphasized support for those suffering mental health issues and for addressing “the cultural roots of this increased violence, such as a lack of civility and increased polarization.”

He encouraged those in need of support to talk to their priest or church minister or to contact Catholic Charities of Central Colorado.

“Let us pray that all our beloved deceased will know the fullness of life in heaven. Let us pray and work so that through our actions and attitudes, God may bring peace and healing to our world and to our local community,” Golka said. He cited Jesus Christ’s words to the faithful, that they will have trouble in this world, adding “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Colorado Springs is about 70 miles south of Denver. Denver’s Archbishop Samuel Aquila joined the reaction, praying for “the peace of Christ” in the wake of the shooting.

In a Sunday afternoon statement, Aquila said: “I am saddened by this tragic and senseless act in Colorado Springs and pray that those impacted are able to find peace in Christ.”

He cited St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which urged “not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good."

“As we seek to overcome evil with good, we must promote the dignity of every human being created in the image and likeness of God,” he said.

“While the motives remain unclear, what is clear is that evil incidents like this have become far too common in our society,” Aquila said. “The random acts of killing innocent human beings must be condemned by a civil society.”

Criticism of ‘anti-LGBTQ rhetoric,’ Catholic teaching

Club Q was set to host an “all-ages musical drag brunch” on Sunday, according to its Facebook page. Some drag events for children have come under criticism for sexualized displays in front of children or for encouraging them to adopt false or misleading views of sex and gender. They have also become targets of in-person protests and sometimes threats from those who contend the shows are equivalent to sexual grooming.

Even before initial charges were filed against the alleged shooter, some news reports and commentators sought to connect the attack to political opposition to transgenderism and other LGBT causes.

A Denver Post report on Monday appeared to suggest that the Denver Archdiocese’s policy on sexual orientation and gender identity in Catholic schools was part of a trend of “anti-LGBTQ rhetoric” ahead of the nightclub attack. Last week the Denver Post’s editorial board called for Catholic and other schools to be excluded from high school sports associations because of their policies on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Denver Archdiocese policy has been in place since 2019 but drew critical coverage from the Denver Post in a Nov. 7 story. The story highlighted a section advising against the enrollment of students who reject their biological sex, especially if their parents are supportive of the student’s transition. It also considered how to handle students whose parent or parents are in a same-sex relationship.

“Ministry to students who experience same-sex attraction or gender confusion or are diagnosed with gender dysphoria, or to their families, should be carried out with charity and prudence, affirm God’s unconditional love for the person, be faithful to Church teachings, show compassion, and help students integrate their self-understanding with the truth,” the 2019 document said.

State Rep. Leslie Herod, who is running to become mayor of Denver in the 2023 elections, appeared to blame the Catholic school policy in Sunday comments posted to Twitter in response to the Club Q shooting.

“It’s not an accident that such an attack took place at the end of a week when we saw members of the LGBTQ+ community targeted for who they are and who they love,” she said. “From students denied entrance in schools to employees told they could not act on same-sex attraction and must conform to their biological sex, this community — my community, our community — has continued to suffer the ravages of discrimination.”

In response to the Denver Post story earlier this month, the archdiocese said: “We don’t expect everyone to ascribe to a Catholic worldview, but we strongly reject attempts to paint our position as bigoted or unloving.”