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Historic New York church with link to John Paul II struggles to stay open

The nave of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. / Credit: Michael Shriver/

CNA Staff, Apr 21, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

A historic Polish Catholic church in Buffalo, New York — one with a unique connection to St. John Paul II — is facing tens of thousands of dollars in bills that threaten to close the nearly-century-old structure.

Father Czeslaw Krysa, SLD, the parochial vicar of St. Casimir, said the Buffalo Diocese has given the church a deadline of August to pay its outstanding accounts. Among those is $55,000 in annual insurance costs, up recently from $32,000.

Joe Martone, a spokesman for the Buffalo Diocese, said that the diocesan vicar for renewal and development, Father Bryan Zielenieski, “communicated in February to the pastor of the family of parishes [of which] St. Casimir is a member that the church had entered a one-year evaluation period to determine its financial viability.”

“Our diocese is in a family of parishes model, and the families are currently evaluating all aspects of parish life including financial sustainability,” Martone said.

The Buffalo Diocese in 2020 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as part of compensation for victims of clergy sex abuse. The diocese in March announced the sale of its headquarters in downtown Buffalo after nearly 40 years at that location. 

The exterior of St. Casimir church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/
The exterior of St. Casimir church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/

Supporters of St. Casimir recently launched a GoFundMe effort to preserve the historic church and its worship community. Krysa said the church itself has “been in the black for nine out of the last 12 years,” in part because it is entirely volunteer-run. The church is also in the process of selling its social center, formerly the parish school, located several blocks away.

Krysa, who was first introduced to the church as a seminarian years ago, said St. Casimir operates “more like a shrine” than a traditional parish. 

“We have a core group that runs the place and worships each Sunday,” he said. “And then we have what we call ‘event liturgies,’ which draw people like they were coming to a shrine.”

“These are liturgies that are not available at other parishes in the diocese,” he said.

‘An exquisite example of old Byzantine architecture’

The cornerstone of Buffalo’s St. Casimir Catholic Church was laid in 1927 and the structure was completed in 1929. It has stood for nearly 100 years, displaying what one local architecture critic calls “an exquisite example of old Byzantine architecture” reminiscent of the world-famous Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

The cornerstone of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Chuck LaChiusa
The cornerstone of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Chuck LaChiusa

The church’s richly adorned exterior includes multiple cupolas, a towering 65-foot dome, and a large rose window on a facade set off by eight stone millions. Visible on the facade is a terra cotta mural depicting Christ the King, St. Casimir, St. Stanislaus, and St. Hyacinth.

The dome of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Chuck LaChiusa
The dome of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Chuck LaChiusa

The interior of the church, meanwhile, includes murals by Marion Rzeznik, a Polish native born in 1899. Among its architectural features are a fully preserved ambo including the original abat-voix, a barrel-vaulted and coffered ceiling, statuary lining both sides of the pews, and the original ad orientem high altar over which is a rendering of the coronation of Mary, the Mother of God. 

Interior details and confessionals of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/
Interior details and confessionals of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/

Krysa told CNA that the church offers Masses that employ the “five senses” — sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell.  

“During every single worship, liturgy, or devotion, all the five senses are engaged in praising and experiencing God,” the priest said.

The altar of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/
The altar of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/

“Our main mission is to continue our heritage, which is an ethnic Roman Catholic heritage,” the priest added. He explained that though the church started out as a Polish parish, “we’re diversifying.”

St. Casimir was first made an oratory in 2009 before receiving its present free-standing designation in 2011, Krysa said.The free-standing designation means that the church “is canonically aligned with the diocese,” Martone told CNA. “Other churches in New York are separately incorporated. So, St. Casimir is a free-standing church under the administrative jurisdiction of the diocese.”

The nave of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/
The nave of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/

Hosting the future Pope John Paul II

The church’s Polish roots became known around the country in 1976 when St. Casimir was paid a visit by then-Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyła. The prelate in two years’ time would go on to be elected Pope John Paul II.

Wojtyła was visiting the United States as part of that year’s International Eucharistic Congress; during his visit he traveled across the country, stopping in Buffalo to visit the city’s large population of Polish immigrants. 

“He was awestruck about this church. He loved it,” David Grzybek, a lifelong member of the parish, told the Buffalo News last month.

Wojtyła stayed two days at the parish. The bedroom in which he stayed has since been preserved as a memorial to the historic pope, its spartan interior remaining identical in appearance to when the cardinal slept there nearly 50 years ago. The room is used by the faithful for prayers, Krysa told CNA.

New film ‘Unsung Hero’ emphasizes the ‘power of family’

After David Smallbone’s successful music company collapses in their home country of Australia, he moves his family to Nashville, Tennessee, in the hopes of a brighter future in the movie "Unsung Hero." / Credit: Lionsgate

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

St. Teresa of Calcutta once said: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”

Her words appear at the end of the new movie “Unsung Hero,” which tells the true story of the Smallbone family, widely recognized in the music industry for brothers Luke and Joel Smallbone of the Grammy-award-winning Christian band For King and Country, and their sister Rebecca, better known as singer-songwriter Rebecca St. James. 

After David Smallbone’s successful music company collapses in their home country of Australia, he moves his family to Nashville, Tennessee, in the hopes of a brighter future. With nothing but the clothes in their suitcases and an empty house waiting for them in Nashville, David, his pregnant wife, Helen, and their six children embark on a journey of faith to rebuild their lives.

The film, which will be released in theaters on April 26, depicts how a mother’s faith can stand firm against all odds and inspire her husband and children to do the same. Helen teaches her family how to turn to the Lord in prayer for all their needs and, in time, to begin to see God answer. 

The real-life Smallbone family. Credit: Smallbone Management
The real-life Smallbone family. Credit: Smallbone Management

Luke Smallbone spoke to CNA in an interview about the inspiration behind the movie, the importance of family — especially in today’s society where the family is under attack — and what he hopes people will take away from the film. 

Smallbone explained that he and his brother have shared their family’s story at concerts and have been told several times that they should write a book but instead thought of making a movie. 

“You don’t ever think you’re living a movie when you’re living it. This is just my childhood. We weren’t trying to do anything special. We were just a family that had a great love for each other, a great love for Jesus, prayed for things, saw things take place,” Smallbone, a producer of the film, said.

He pointed out that “the heartbeat behind the movie actually really is this — I believe in the power of family, I think family is more powerful today than ever in the history of the world yet we don’t value it like we should.”

“Mother Teresa says, ‘If you want to change the world, go home and love your family,’ and I think that’s actually really the blueprint behind the film,” he added. 

The major theme running throughout the movie is the importance of family. James Smallbone, David’s father (Luke and Joel’s grandfather), says in the film: “Your family isn’t in the way, they are the way.” 

The real-life Smallbone family outside their home in Nashville, Tennessee. Credit: Smallbone Management
The real-life Smallbone family outside their home in Nashville, Tennessee. Credit: Smallbone Management

Smallbone discussed this theme and how in reading the Bible, you get the “framework of family.”

“One thing I found amazing about when you read the Bible — thinking of today’s day and age where we put so much trust and faith in governments, in some cases our governments, though it’s challenging at times, for the most part do a relatively good job of giving us freedom, they protect us,” he shared. “But you don’t ever find the framework of government in the Bible, but you do get the framework of family in the Bible.”

“So what that tells me is God’s true intent for people is to belong and have healthy families … So for me, when I read Scripture it tells me that I should take family incredibly seriously,” he said.

The musician added that he has often heard that if you want your children to be raised learning how to follow Jesus, “they have to see evidence of Jesus in your home, in your family, not in your government, not in your schools, not in all the other things, it starts in your family.”

“I don’t want to fail Jesus. I want to be a great husband. And I don’t want to fail my family,” he emphasized. “If I can do those three things well, man, that’s the most satisfying life I think I can live.”

Despite losing everything in Australia, uprooting her family to a new country while expecting another child, and having to rebuild from ground zero, Helen Smallbone’s faith was firm. The movie portrays how she taught her family the importance of prayer, even creating a prayer wall — two file folders with the word “please” written on one and “thank you” written on the other —for family members to post their prayers. 

When asked about his mother’s faith, Smallbone said: “She taught me right from wrong, she taught me fear of God, she taught me how to forgive. My mom did all the invisible things that have all the power.”

In the movie there is a scene where Helen runs to her room and begins to scream into a pillow after receiving bad news. Smallbone shared that this was added into the script to make her appear more “relatable”; however, the incident wasn’t entirely true.

“We put that in the script because there were people that were like, ‘Hey man, she’s actually just not relatable. Who can go through that much struggle and not have a moment of breakdown?’” he shared. “Well, the truth is my mom never did that. My dad, yes … but my mom never did.”

“I’m telling you, if you want to change the world, do the invisible things very very well and it will be incredibly impactful … At the end of the day, that’s what my mom did well.”

"Unsung Hero" tells the true story of the Smallbone family, who are widely recognized in the music industry for brothers Luke and Joel Smallbone of the Grammy-award-winning Christian band For King and Country, and their sister Rebecca, better known as singer-songwriter Rebecca St. James. Lionsgate
"Unsung Hero" tells the true story of the Smallbone family, who are widely recognized in the music industry for brothers Luke and Joel Smallbone of the Grammy-award-winning Christian band For King and Country, and their sister Rebecca, better known as singer-songwriter Rebecca St. James. Lionsgate

As for what he hopes people will take away from this movie, Smallbone hopes that particularly fathers will “go back and they’ll say ‘I want to be a better dad.’”

“I hope that mothers see that all of the unseen things they do matter, they’re changing the next generation, and God sees those things,” he added. 

He hopes children will “dream big dreams” and that the “things that are happening to you as a young child are incredibly powerful and incredibly important and you can go and do extraordinary things.”

“There doesn’t have to be a cap onto what you can achieve, and what you can do,” he said. “Not that it’s for achievement’s sake, but because God chooses to do miracles through people like you and me, and he uses his people to do a lot of those miracles and it starts young.”

Catholic entrepreneur launches business startup program for teenagers

Students participating in the CEDE workshop for St. John's College High School gather for a group photo at the basilica at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in November 2022. / Credit: Photo courtesy of CUA

CNA Staff, Apr 20, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

When Luke Burgis moved to Silicon Valley to start a business, he never expected he would become a seminarian and then go on to launch entrepreneurship programs for Catholic students. 

Burgis had attended NYU, worked on Wall Street, started several businesses in Silicon Valley, and moved to Las Vegas before deciding he wanted more meaning in his life. With the encouragement of a friend, he rekindled his Catholic faith. After five years in seminary, he ultimately discerned he would not become a priest, but he still found himself in need of deeper meaning in his work.

So he founded Catholic Entrepreneurship and Design Experience (CEDE, pronounced “seed”) in 2020 to help students across the country connect their working lives with their faith. 

Four years later, CEDE is a thriving organization based at Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C., with programs and educational materials across the world. Burgis is the entrepreneur-in-residence and assistant clinical professor of business at CUA. He has developed educational materials shared with Catholic schools and home-school communities in addition to teaching business classes at CUA. 

“I didn’t understand how I could actually live out my values and be a Catholic in the business world that I was in, even after I’d had that reconversion experience,” Burgis said when asked what inspired him to found CEDE.

“But I knew that there was some gap that we had to close in Catholic education between the theoretical or the principles of Catholic social teaching and the way that it actually plays out on the ground, if you’re trying to start something,” he explained. “We launched CEDE to try to reintegrate these disciplines.”

This year, Burgis is launching a new project for CEDE — a summer entrepreneurship program for high school students. The 10-week virtual Startup Venture Challenge will teach high schoolers how to start a business. 

“CEDE introduces students to basic principles of entrepreneurship within the context of Catholic social teaching and helps them understand that ultimately they are the entrepreneurs of their own lives, whether they ever start a business or not,” Burgis said.

“We’re trying to train young Catholics to think more like an entrepreneur, which means finding creative ways to solve problems or to see solutions where other people only see problems,” he said. “We think that that’s really important for all Catholics, period, and that if we had a more entrepreneurial Church, we would have a more adaptive and creative Church.”

Luke Burgis speaks at a CEDE Workshop in November 2022. Credit: Photo courtesy of CUA
Luke Burgis speaks at a CEDE Workshop in November 2022. Credit: Photo courtesy of CUA

But being a “Catholic entrepreneur” isn’t necessarily about starting a business, Burgis noted. 

“Our goal here is not really to create more business owners,” he explained. “Our goal is to help more young Catholics in Catholic schools be equipped and confident to go out into the world, whatever their vocation is.” 

Burgis wanted to connect what he learned about business with Catholic teaching. 

“[At NYU] I just learned: ‘Here’s what profit is. Profit is good. Pursue it,’” he recalled. “Most of my classmates simply wanted to make as much money as they could.”

“When I left seminary, I realized that there was a real disintegration or gap between what I had learned at my Catholic schools … and what things actually look like in practice when you’re actually out there in the world trying to do things,” he explained. 

CEDE’s model of education is about “experiential learning,” “creative problem-solving,” and independence and “differs” from the rules-based form of education many American students are accustomed to, Burgis said. 

“That’s much of what being an entrepreneur feels like,” he said of the model. “You’re not given a roadmap, you’re not told what to do, you have to figure things out, and you have to make decisions and take responsibility for those decisions.”

Burgis said it will feel like “a challenge.”

“You’re being challenged, being given this mission,” he said. “We want to empower the students to accomplish that mission by working together and finding creative ways to solve problems on their own without being told how to do it. We actually want to make them a little uncomfortable.”

Students don’t need to have business ideas to join, as the first three weeks will be spent building up an idea. The full schedule involves a discernment stage, launching, testing, and then a resources and community stage.

“We want them to feel what it feels like to have a fire ignited within themselves, to exercise their own creativity, to take ownership of it, to take total responsibility, and to be proud of that, and to be able to serve others through their gifts and talents,” Burgis said. 

The program runs from June 10 to Aug. 12 and is fully virtual and amenable to the students’ work schedules. The cost is $250, with scholarships available. Applications are open for teenagers ages 14–18. 

Vatican: Nuns who feuded with Texas bishop will be governed by monastery association

Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, and Rev. Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach of the Most Holy Trinity Monastery in Arlington, Texas. / Credit: Diocese of Fort Worth; Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity Discalced Carmelite Nuns

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 19, 2024 / 18:40 pm (CNA).

A Carmelite monastery that has engaged in a yearlong feud with Diocese of Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson will be governed by a religious association of monasteries going forward — but must normalize relations with the bishop, per a Vatican order.

The Association of Christ the King in the United States of America will oversee the “government, discipline, studies, goods, rights, and privileges” of the Arlington-based Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity. This decision ends the bishop’s role as the pontifical commissary, which had previously given him governing authority over the monastery. 

“It is my prayer that the Arlington Carmel will now have the internal leadership needed to save the monastery and enable it to flourish once again, in unity with the Catholic Church,” Olson said in a statement.

A feud between the monastery and the bishop began in late April of last year when the bishop launched an investigation into the Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach. She was ultimately dismissed from religious life for alleged sexual misconduct with a priest over the phone and through video chats.

The monastery filed a civil lawsuit against the bishop and the diocese for conduct related to the investigation, which was eventually dismissed by a judge. The bishop imposed harsh penalties on the monastery, which led to the nuns issuing a statement that appeared to reject his authority in governing the monastery.

In the Vatican’s letter to the monastery about the transfer of governing authority, the Church has ordered the nuns to “withdraw and rescind your declaration” challenging the bishop’s authority and “regularize your relationship with the bishop of Fort Worth and the local Church.” The letter also added that the bishop still retains canonical authority over the monastery. 

The Vatican’s letter to Olson thanked the bishop for his “heroic and thankless service to the local church and the Carmel of Arlington as pontifical commissary” and noted the “hardship and unwarranted public attention” brought to the diocese over the past year. 

“We are fully aware that the health and longevity of this monastic community was always your goal, throughout the ordeals of the last year,” the letter read.

The Vatican decree, which entrusted the monastery to the Association of Christ the King, went into effect on Thursday, April 18. With this order, the association’s president, Mother Marie of the Incarnation, is now the lawful superior of the monastery. 

“With the entrustment of monastery to the Association of Christ the King, you are instructed to cooperate fully with the president of the association,” the Vatican informed the nuns.

Olson said in his statement that he “will work closely with [Mother Marie], providing counsel, resources, and support as needed.” The bishop added that, per his responsibility under canon law and the rules of the Carmelite order, “I will oversee at the appropriate time the election of new leadership of the Arlington Carmel.”

“I ask the faithful of the Diocese of Fort Worth and all people of goodwill to continue to pray with me for the Catholic Church in North Texas, in particular the Arlington Carmelites, as we persevere together in service to Christ through ministry to our community,” Olson said.

Michigan bishop apologizes for calling President Biden ‘stupid’

Bishop Robert D. Gruss. CNA file photo. / null

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 19, 2024 / 18:20 pm (CNA).

Bishop Robert Gruss of Saginaw, Michigan, issued an apology on Friday for having referred to President Joe Biden as “stupid” during a talk earlier in the month.

Gruss had made the comment in a talk on April 5 titled “Forgiveness as the Heart of Christianity.” During the address the prelate remarked that he “[doesn’t] have any anger toward the president. I feel sorry for him.”

“I’m not angry at him, he’s just stupid,” the bishop said, arguing that he didn’t use the word in “a derogatory way.”

“It’s stupidity in the sense of he doesn’t know until he does things,” the bishop said.

On Friday the diocese provided CNA with a statement from Gruss in which he argued that his remarks “were taken out of context.”

“I was speaking in the context of forgiving the president and any people in government who offend us by their words and actions — that we cannot harbor resentment toward them because in doing so, it would be sinful,” Gruss said.

“We must forgive them if we are to be free,” he said.

“I used the word ‘stupid’ in reference to President Biden, recognizing that it was poor judgment in my choice of words,” Gruss said. “It was not meant to be disparaging, and I apologize.”

“I will continue to pray for the president and all political leaders, that they may seek and be guided by the Spirit of Truth,” he said. “I encourage people of all faiths and goodwill to pray for our great nation.”

The bishop noted that “you can find the whole talk online to understand what was really said.”

The Saginaw Diocese, one of seven in Michigan, is located in the central part of the state.

Biden DOJ report: ‘No malicious intent’ behind leaked FBI memo targeting traditional Catholics

Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz speaks during a Senate Judiciary hearing on Capitol Hill on Sept. 15, 2021, in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

CNA Staff, Apr 19, 2024 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

The Department of Justice released a report to Congress on Thursday that concluded that the analysts who created an internal memo linking traditionalist Catholics to violent extremists “failed to adhere to FBI standards” but showed no evidence of “malicious intent.”

Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s 10-page report found no evidence that anyone ordered either of the unidentified analysts who authored the memo to find a link between racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVE’s) and members of any religion or political affiliation. The report concluded there was no “underlying policy direction” indicating a link.

“We also found no evidence that Analyst 1 or 2 took investigative steps beyond searching FBI and other databases to obtain information for the [memo],” the report said.

The since-retracted leaked memo, dated Jan. 23, 2023, originated from the bureau’s Richmond office. It claimed that racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists will likely become more interested in “radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology” within the next 12 to 24 months “in the run-up to the next general election cycle.”

The U.S. bishops, along with many Catholic leaders, condemned the memo after it was leaked to the press. Additionally, lawmakers, some of whom have accused the FBI of targeting traditionalist Catholics, have demanded answers from the Department of Justice as to how, why, and through whom the document came to be.

The report, which Horowitz said included only a “limited review” due to time constraints given by Congress, focused on the work of two unnamed analysts who were the main authors behind the memo titled: “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities.”

Both analysts denied targeting anyone for practicing their faith, with one of them saying suggestions that his motivations included anti-Catholic bias are “patently false.”

“Analyst 1 also stated that a close reading of the [memo] would show that it was intended to focus entirely on the threat posed by RMVEs and to promote outreach to the Catholic Church, in part to protect that community from potentially violent actors. Analyst 2 similarly stated the intent behind the [memo] was to try to protect these houses of worship by sensitizing them to a potential threat to their congregations,” the report said.

Another major concern raised by critics of the leaked memo was the Richmond field office’s use of biased sourcing, such as the nonprofit activist organization Southern Poverty Law Center, and its designation of nine “Radical Traditional Catholicism” organizations as “hate groups.”

The inspector general asked both analysts about its sourcing and both “acknowledged that there were concerns about perceived bias on the part of those organizations and sources,” the report said.

“However, both analysts said that the intended audience (FBI Richmond executive management) would understand those concerns without the need for commentary and would weigh the information accordingly,” the report said.

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley told CNA Friday that he appreciated the inspector general’s work under a tight deadline.

“However, the report leaves questions unanswered that I and many of my colleagues have been asking of the FBI for over a year. The most important part of this report is what’s not in it, rather than what is,” he said.

“[FBI] Director [Christopher] Wray has failed to sufficiently explain why he described the memo to Congress as a ‘single product’ when there were two — one internal to Richmond, and one the FBI planned to elevate to the whole bureau nationwide,” he said.

“The FBI has also failed to explain why it ordered the permanent deletion of files related to the memo or why it continues to use biased sources like the Southern Poverty Law Center. The FBI owes the Senate many more answers regarding this appalling case,” he said.

CNA reached out to the bureau for comment but did not immediately receive a response by time of publication. 

In a statement to the New York Times on Thursday, the bureau said that its account of the events agreed with the inspector general’s report.

“The FBI has said numerous times that the intelligence product did not meet our exacting standards and was quickly removed from FBI systems,” it said. “We also have said there was no intent or actions taken to investigate Catholics or anyone based on religion.”

U.S. bishops on new federal rule: Employers should not be forced to facilitate abortions

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, was tabbed as the next chair of the Committee for Religious Liberty on Nov. 16, 2022, in Baltimore. / Credit: Shannon Mullen/CNA

CNA Staff, Apr 19, 2024 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on Friday criticized a new rule from the Biden administration that will force employers to offer leave for employees seeking abortion. 

The Biden administration’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) this week issued a change to federal regulations regarding pregnant workers’ fairness, one that mandates employers make “reasonable accommodations,” including granting leave, for workers to obtain abortions.

The new rule, which is set to take effect 60 days from its publication on Friday, is part of the commission’s efforts to implement the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), according to a final EEOC rule change announcement.

Responding to the new rule on Friday, Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, Bishop Kevin Rhoades said in a statement that “no employer should be forced to participate in an employee’s decision to end the life of their child.”

“The bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, as written, is a pro-life law that protects the security and physical health of pregnant mothers and their preborn children,” Rhoades, the chairman of the USCCB’s Committee for Religious Liberty, said in the statement.

“It is indefensible for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to twist the law in a way that violates the consciences of pro-life employers by making them facilitate abortions,” the prelate argued. 

The USCCB had last year submitted comments on the proposed rule in which the bishops, along with the Catholic University of America, argued that the PWFA “does not require the provision of any benefit for purposes of facilitating an abortion.” 

“The intent of the PWFA is to require accommodations for ‘pregnancy,’ ‘childbirth,’ and
‘related medical conditions’ — in other words, to assist pregnant workers and workers giving birth to a child by providing accommodations that would permit them to continue to remain both gainfully employed and healthily pregnant,” the bishops and the school argued in the comments. 

“Abortion is neither pregnancy nor childbirth,” they argued. “And it is not ‘related’ to pregnancy or childbirth as those terms are used in the PWFA because it intentionally ends pregnancy and prevents childbirth.”

The USCCB had previously supported the PWFA when it was being considered by Congress, despite some concerns at the time that the bill could be used to force employers to pay for abortion expenses.

The new rule applies to all public and private employers with 15 or more workers and is contingent on the accommodations not presenting an “undue hardship on the operation of the business of the covered entity,” the government says.

Catholic Charities denies its purchase of airfare for migrants was misuse of federal funds

Groups of migrants wait outside the Migrant Resource Center to receive food from San Antonio Catholic Charities on Sept. 19, 2022, in San Antonio, Texas. / Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 19, 2024 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Antonio is denying recent accusations that it misused federal taxpayer funds by paying for migrants’ airfare.

This comes after two South Texas members of Congress, Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, and Rep. Monica de la Cruz, a Republican, accused the San Antonio Catholic relief group of an inappropriate use of funds made available to it by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Jose Antonio Fernandez, CEO of Catholic Charities San Antonio, confirmed to CNA that the group did indeed help migrants with air travel from San Antonio to other locations in the United States, but he claimed that this was a licit use of funds under FEMA’s rules.

Cuellar said in an interview with Border Report that the nonprofit group’s practice of buying airfare for migrants has made San Antonio a destination for many migrants looking to travel to other parts of the U.S. He said that funding he helped secure for Catholic Charities of San Antonio was intended for humanitarian relief, not to purchase airfare for migrants.

“From the very beginning I said it would only be used for food and shelter, maybe transportation inside a city but not to be sending them [across the country],” Cuellar said. “The family or somebody should pay for that, not the taxpayer.”  

De la Cruz, meanwhile, told Border Report that the San Antonio Catholic Charities’ use of funds is “just simply unacceptable.”

“They misused funds and sent these illegal immigrants where their preferred destination was with taxpayers’ hard-earned money,” she said.

Fernandez responded to these allegations by telling CNA that “we have never misused the funding because the funding was given to us to provide transportation.”

According to Fernandez, the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP) FEMA grant given to Catholic Charities of San Antonio “clearly stated that you could provide transportation.” 

“The funds were given to us to provide food, clothing, all these activities, including transportation,” he said.

“It’s not my interpretation, it is a fact; many companies in the U.S. provide transportation because it is allowed,” he said. “If you contact FEMA, they will tell you that, yes, you are actually allowed to provide transportation.”

CNA reached out to FEMA about its regulations but did not immediately receive a response. 

Fernandez clarified that Catholic Charities of San Antonio is not currently paying for migrants’ air travel and has not been doing so since the end of 2023. 

He said that the group stopped purchasing air travel for two reasons: 1) Limited funding necessitated budget cuts, and 2) instead of receiving EFSP FEMA funding the group is now receiving funding under the Shelter and Services Program, which limits transportation spending to 5% of the grant.

He said that under these limitations San Antonio Catholic Charities would not have been able to offer travel services to all who were seeking it.

“It was a huge amount of money spent, I don’t know exactly the amount, but we just couldn’t afford [it],” Fernandez said, adding: “Hopefully people can find a way and we can try to help them.”

This, Fernandez said, has presented its own challenge with more migrants amassing in San Antonio. In 2023 alone, Fernandez said that San Antonio Catholic Charities helped well over 250,000 migrants with food, shelter, and other services.

“Now we’re seeing a lot more people staying in San Antonio because they don’t have the funds to go someplace else,” he said. “We feed them, we clothe them, we provide them with counseling services, with financial assistance to the people staying in San Antonio, legal services, shelter services. We try to provide them with all these wraparound services to help mind, body, and spirit.”

Tony Wen, a representative for Cuellar, declined to comment further on the matter but did clarify that the congressman “never said they were misusing funds” and that particular verbiage was only used by de la Cruz. 

Despite this, Wen said that Cuellar still stands by his comments about the intended use of federal funds.

A proponent of funding for humanitarian relief at the border, Cuellar recently helped advance an appropriations bill that granted San Antonio Catholic Charities and other border relief groups hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds.

Catholic Charities of San Antonio alone received $10,877,226 from the appropriations bill. Ten other Catholic relief groups at or near the southern border also received federal funding from the same appropriations bill, totaling tens of millions of dollars.

Cuellar and several other lawmakers issued a statement after securing the funding in which they praised Catholic Charities of San Antonio and other similar groups as a “lifeline” in the face of the “historic number of people being displaced from Latin America.”

Biden administration redefines sex discrimination in Title IX to include ‘gender identity’

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 19, 2024 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

President Joe Biden’s Department of Education issued new regulations on Friday, April 19, that prohibit discrimination based on a person’s “gender identity.”

The new rules, which will go into effect on Aug. 1, redefine the prohibition on sex discrimination for schools and education programs that receive federal funding — including K-12 schools and colleges and universities. Under the new interpretation of the Title IX protections, those rules now apply to any form of discrimination that is based on a person’s self-purported “gender identity.”

According to the executive summary of the Title IX revision, the changes are meant to “clarify that sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of sex stereotypes, sex characteristics, pregnancy or related conditions, sexual orientation, and gender identity.”

The summary further states that, except in certain situations, education institutions receiving federal funding cannot carry out “different treatment or separation on the basis of sex,” which includes a prohibition on any policy or practice that “prevents a person from participating in an education program or activity consistent with their gender identity.”

The new Title IX rules, however, do not have any direct rules related to transgender athletes in girls’ and women’s sports. About two dozen states have restricted participation in high school and college women’s sports to only biological women. It’s unclear whether these rules would violate the new interpretation of violations based on sex discrimination.

It’s also unclear how these rules would affect state laws that restrict bathroom and locker room access to a person based on his or her biological sex rather than gender identity or whether it would jeopardize free speech in relation to the use of a person’s preferred gender pronouns when those pronouns do not align with the person’s biological sex. The new rules did not clearly explain how the new definition would apply to such situations.

Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Rachel Rouleau expressed concerns that the Biden administration’s new definition of sex discrimination would negatively impact the rights of girls and women in education institutions.

“The Biden administration’s radical redefinition of sex turns back the clock on equal opportunity for women, threatens student safety and privacy, and undermines fairness in women’s sports,” Rouleau said in a statement on Friday. 

“It is a slap in the face to women and girls who have fought long and hard for equal opportunities,” she added. “The administration continues to ignore biological reality, science, and common sense, and women are suffering as a result. The administration’s new regulation will have devastating consequences on the future of women’s sports, student privacy, and parental rights.”

Sarah Parshall Perry, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and former senior counsel at the United States Department of Education, said in a statement that Title IX is being “manipulated” by “gender activists and woke politicos” through these actions. 

“Under the new rule, girls and women will no longer have any sex-separated bathrooms, locker rooms, housing accommodations, or other educational programs,” Perry said. “Women’s sports are likely endangered too. Any education institution, including many private schools that receive even nominal federal funding, will be affected by this rule.”

Perry suggested that federal lawmakers should challenge the department’s actions “by clearly defining men and women” in legislation.

When Congress first added Title IX’s sex discrimination provisions into federal law in the 1970s, the goal was to give girls and women equal access to education. The law itself does not make reference to “gender identity.”

Other changes included in the administration’s rules related to Title IX include the prohibition on discriminating against a girl or a woman based on her being pregnant, her choosing to have an abortion, or her recovery from pregnancy. The revision also changes the process by which sexual assault allegations are handled.

FBI investigating threats against ‘multiple faith communities’ in Pennsylvania

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CNA Staff, Apr 19, 2024 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating what it says have been multiple threats made against houses of worship, religious schools, and other institutions — including Catholic ones — in Pennsylvania. 

Pennsylvania local media had reported on the alleged threats made earlier in the week. An FBI spokesman told CNA on Thursday that the bureau “is aware of a number of threats made against multiple faith communities, houses of worship, and schools in Western Pennsylvania recently.”

Investigators have “no information at this time to indicate a specific and credible threat against any faith community, religious institution, or educational facility,” the bureau said.

Agents “continue to work with our law enforcement and community partners to mitigate any threat investigations when information comes to our attention,” the spokesman said.

Diocese increases security at schools amid threats

Wendell Hissrich, the director of safety and security at the Diocese of Pittsburgh in the western part of the state, told CNA that the diocese has increased security at several area schools in response to the threats. 

Hissrich, who served in the FBI for 25 years and previously worked as the safety director for the city of Pittsburgh, said that earlier in the week a diocesan elementary school had received “two simultaneous emails” that were “concerning in nature” via a contact form on the school’s website. 

“The staff notified the authorities and our officers,” Hissrich said. The diocese recently launched a new security protocol that includes armed officers being placed in diocesan schools.

“When the local authorities arrived, they indicated there was a similar incident at another school — not a Catholic school — south of ours,” Hissrich said. He spoke with the FBI who told him threats had been made “to not only the schools but other houses of worship.”

“We increased our security throughout all our diocesan schools” as a result, Hissrich said. 

The security director praised the diocese’s team of officers, who were hired last year and whom the diocese recently began to place in schools.

“The officers we have are all retired from local law enforcement or state police, with in excess of 20 years experience for each of them,” Hissrich said. “We’re very fortunate to have those officers.”

Hissrich said the threat against the school was “not specific” and ultimately “not credible,” though he said that “this time of year, there’s usually an upswing in threats.” 

“We’re prepared for that and we’re still prepared for it,” he said. 

Jewish institutions have also been targeted by threats this month. The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh said in a statement last week that “several Jewish organizations throughout Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh,” had been “targeted with hoax bomb threats.”

The federation said it had launched a “Virtual Block Watch Program” that would allow citizens to “provide residential or business video surveillance footage to help prevent, deter, and possibly solve crimes.”

Hissrich confirmed that Jewish institutions in the area are being targeted.

“Our Jewish friends are receiving a lot of threats, especially with what’s happening in Israel,” he said.

The FBI, meanwhile, said it urged residents to “remain vigilant and to promptly report any suspicious individuals or activities to law enforcement immediately.”