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UPDATE: NYC professor who vandalized student pro-life display is fired

Shellyne Rodriguez vandalized a pro-life display on May 2 that was sponsored by Students for Life of America. / YouTube/Students For Life May 18, 2023, YouTube/Whitney Museum of American Art Feb 28, 2018

Boston, Mass., May 23, 2023 / 14:29 pm (CNA).

A professor at Hunter College in New York City who vandalized a pro-life display on May 2 that was sponsored by Students for Life of America has been fired.

The new development comes the same day that the New York Post reported that the same professor, Shellyne Rodriguez, chased one of the outlet’s reporters with a machete after he tried to ask her questions outside of her Bronx apartment.

Rodriguez, who was an adjunct assistant professor and a member of the public university’s studio art faculty, is shown in a video insulting a group of pro-life students with expletives, while criticizing their display.

“You’re not educating s*. This is f**** propaganda,” she said to the students.

Rodriguez can be seen flipping a case holding fetal models and pushing informational cards off the table. The incident was caught on video and can be seen below. 

The professor used several profanities in communicating her anger to the students. 

“What are you going to do, like, anti-trans next?” she asked. “Is that what you’re going to do next?”

“I mean, no. We are talking about abortion,” a male student responds. 

“This is bull****. This is violent,” she responded. “You’re triggering my students.”

“I’m sorry about that,” the same student responded.

“No you’re not because you can’t even have a f****** baby,” she said. “So you don’t even know what that is.”

She continued: “You don’t even know what this is. Get this s* the f out of here. F this s*.”

In a statement to CNA Tuesday, Vince DiMiceli, a spokesperson for the college, said “Hunter College strongly condemns the unacceptable actions of Shellyne Rodriguez, and has taken immediate action.”

“Rodriguez has been relieved of her duties at Hunter College effective immediately, and will not be returning to teach at the school,” DiMiceli said.

A spokesperson for the college told Fox News Digital that an investigation into Rodriguez’s actions has been opened and that the school is “taking this matter very seriously.”

The spokesperson told Fox News Digital that an investigation into Rodriguez’s actions has been opened and that the school is “taking this matter very seriously.”

Hunter College is part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system and has an enrollment of 16,550 undergraduate students and 6,368 graduate students, 61% of whom are from New York City.

“This is clearly unacceptable behavior for a professional in any field, but particularly stunning for someone who is meant to educate students in a professional and unbiased manner,” Students For Life of America regional coordinator Taylor McGee said in an article from her organization.

“Professionals in a workplace have no business berating students for any reason, especially for peacefully engaging in dialogue. Free speech is essential for the growth and development of society, and we’ve seen throughout history the detrimental effect of suppressing free speech,” she added.

The New York Post reported that Rodriguez threatened one of its reporters who went to her Bronx apartment Tuesday to ask her questions.

When reporter Reuven Fenton knocked on the door and identified himself, Rodriguez shouted “Get the f–k away from my door, or I’m gonna chop you up with this machete!”

Rodriguez opened the door holding a machete and “alarmingly put the blade to the reporter’s neck,” the Post reported.

The outlet posted photos of the woman holding the machete to Fenton’s neck.

“Get the f* away from my door! Get the f* away from my door!” she said. She then went back into her apartment and slammed the door, the outlet reported.

Fenton and an accompanying photographer left the building, and Rodriguez chased after them while “armed,” the Post reported.

“If I see you on this block one more f****** time, you’re gonna …,” Rodriguez said while still “wielding” the machete, the outlet reported.

“Get the f* off the block! Get the f* out of here, yo!”

Rodriguez “briefly chased” the photographer to his car. She then approached the reporter and kicked him in the shins before returning to her apartment building, the outlet reported.

Conjoined twins born, baptized, and confirmed before passing

Nicole and Austin LeBlanc, a Catholic couple in Michigan, who welcomed their baby girls and will lay them to rest. / Photo courtesy of Nicole and Austin LeBlanc

Denver Newsroom, May 23, 2023 / 14:10 pm (CNA).

The story of Nicole and Austin LeBlanc, a Catholic couple from Michigan, has captured many hearts. CNA first shared their moving testimony on April 27 after the couple spoke with EWTN News Nightly about their journey after finding out they were expecting conjoined twins.

Rachel Clare and Maria Therese shared one heart and other major organs. The doctors immediately deemed the pregnancy high-risk and suggested termination. However, Nicole said she knew she was carrying two special little girls.

Rachel Clare and Maria Therese LeBlanc were born alive and were baptized and confirmed before taking their last breaths. Photo courtesy of Nicole and Austin LeBlanc
Rachel Clare and Maria Therese LeBlanc were born alive and were baptized and confirmed before taking their last breaths. Photo courtesy of Nicole and Austin LeBlanc

Originally scheduled for a cesarean section in early June, doctors decided to move the surgery because their growth, along with their heart, began to slow down. The LeBlancs met their babies on May 16 at 32 weeks’ gestation.

Rachel Clare and Maria Therese were born alive and immediately baptized and confirmed.

In an Instagram post, Nicole wrote: “They lived for about an hour until they took their last breaths. My girls were loved and held until their final moments and all that they knew their entire lives was love from Austin and I.”

“God designed them so beautifully in my womb and it was an absolute honor and privilege to carry them for as long as I could. Their lives have touched so many and the support my family has received has been nothing short of incredible,” she continued.

When the young mother learned of the news she took to social media to share her journey with others. She decided to share their story as an example of love and hope.

The couple shared that it was a test of faith, but through it all they relied on praying the rosary together daily. 

“We get together every night and we pray the rosary. That’s one of the biggest things … and just knowing that God has a plan for everything and there’s always a purpose for everything,” Austin said in the interview with EWTN News Nightly.

Several saints and biblical figures also impacted the couples’ faith and inspired the names they chose for their twin girls.

“We definitely want to have our babies be gifts to our Blessed Mother so, Maria, the Latin name for Mary,” Nicole explained. “And I’ve always had a special connection with the Old Testament story of Rachel so, Maria Therese and Rachel Clare.”

Throughout her pregnancy, Nicole received an outpouring of prayers and support from Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

In a tweet, Nicole wrote that her baby girls are “now enjoying the splendors of the beatific vision.”

LA Archdiocese: Dodgers’ decision to honor drag queen nuns disparages real religious sisters

A member of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at a 2019 event in San Francisco. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 23, 2023 / 13:53 pm (CNA).

Responding to the news that the Los Angeles Dodgers will honor a self-described “leading-edge order of queer and trans nuns” with a long history of obscenely satirizing the Catholic faith, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is calling for “all Catholics and people of goodwill to stand against bigotry and hate in any form.” 

“The decision to honor a group that clearly mocks the Catholic faith and makes light of the sincere and holy vocations of our women religious who are an integral part of our Church is what has caused disappointment, concern, anger, and dismay from our Catholic community,” the archdiocese said in a statement Tuesday.

“The ministries and vocations of our religious women should be honored and celebrated through genuine acts of appreciation, reverence, and respect for their sacred vows, and for all the good works of our nuns and sisters in service of the mission of the Catholic Church,” the statement continued.

“The Archdiocese stands against any actions that would disparage and diminish our Christian faith and those who dedicate their lives to Christ,” the statement said. “Let us also show our care and respect for our women religious by sending a message of support to their communities through phone calls, letters, and posts on their social channels, supporting vocations by donating to their orders, and/or making donations in their name to the programs they support,” the archdiocese said. “Let us show the world how much our women religious mean to us and our Church.”

After sharp criticism from Catholic advocacy groups and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, the Major League Baseball team at first backed down from its plans to honor the L.A. Chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence with a Community Hero Award at a June 16 LGBTQ+ Pride Night game against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium. Less than a week later, however, the Dodgers on Monday reversed course again, issuing an apology and a new invitation to participate in the event, which the Sisters accepted.

In response, CatholicVote, a Catholic advocacy group that publicly condemned the initial invitation, vowed to launch a “barrage” of advertising against the team across Los Angeles and in game broadcasts.

“This is a slap in the face of every Catholic,” CatholicVote President Brian Burch said in a statement. “We’re raising $1 million as fast as we can, and we will pummel this decision in advertising that the Dodgers can’t ignore.”

“Every advertiser, every season ticket holder, every charity, every fan must speak out against the Dodgers’ decision to promote anti-Catholic hate,” Burch added. “Why does ‘pride’ have to include honoring the most grotesque and scandalous anti-Catholic perverts?”

The Dodgers’ decision also drew the ire of San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone. “Our Catholic sisters devote themselves to serving others selflessly. Decent people would not mock & blaspheme them,” he tweeted Tuesday. “So we now know what gods the Dodger admin worships. Open desecration & anti-Catholicism is not disqualifying. Disappointing but not surprising. Gird your loins.”

Also on Tuesday, the Catholic League released a report citing examples of the Sisters’ anti-Catholic insults going back to 1979.

The list includes an “exorcism” and a “Condom Savior Mass” in 1987; a mock Mass in 1994 that featured “holy communion wafers and tequila”; a “Midnight Confessional Contest” held in a San Diego gay bar that gave prizes to those with the “hottest confessions”; and the group’s annual “Hunky Jesus” contest held every Easter Sunday.

“Our next step is to persuade Catholics in the Los Angeles area not to attend Pride Night on June 16,” Catholic League President Bill Donohue said in a statement Tuesday. “By boycotting this event, we can send a message to the Dodgers, and to Major League Baseball, that anti-Catholic bigotry is unacceptable.”

CNA requested comment from the Sisters’ L.A. chapter group through its website but did not receive a response before publication.

MiraVia maternity home brings hope and life to pregnant students in North Carolina

Ashley Banks and her son Jakori (left) and Janyla (right) at MiraVia on Dec. 12, 2019. / Courtesy of MiraVia

Washington D.C., May 23, 2023 / 13:34 pm (CNA).

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of reports by EWTN News detailing what U.S. Catholic colleges and universities do to support young mothers and students facing unexpected pregnancies. To see the full series, click here.

In 2019, Ashley Banks, from Hickory, North Carolina, was in her early 20s, destitute, and expecting her second child.

“There was no doubt in my mind, I thought I was going to get an abortion,” Banks told CNA. “I wasn’t really established as an adult; I didn’t have a steady job or anything like that. So, in my brain, my automatic thought was; ‘How am I going to take care of two children when I can’t even take care of myself and one?’”

With only two weeks until her unborn baby girl was due, Banks was given 30 days to vacate her home. Her car had already been repossessed, and she had nowhere to go and no money.

It was in this state of desperation that a friend told Banks about a maternity home called MiraVia next to the campus of a small Catholic school named Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, North Carolina.

With no options left, Banks decided to try it out.

Once she set foot inside MiraVia, Banks told CNA, she felt welcome immediately. After deciding to live at MiraVia, her life was never the same.

MiraVia (which means “miraculous way”) provided Banks with a private suite, complete with a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchenette. They helped her enroll in classes at Belmont Abbey, enabled her to get a job on campus, and, most importantly, empowered her to welcome her baby girl into the world.

Though she had initially been set on abortion, Banks said that it was her 1-year-old boy who convinced her to choose life for her daughter, who is just 15 months younger.

“Looking at my son … changed my mind about aborting my baby girl,” Banks said. “Seeing him grow, seeing his little personality and just thinking of what she could be.”

Though it was her son who convinced her to not abort, it was MiraVia that gave her a safe environment to begin raising her children.

Since its opening in 2013, MiraVia has been changing the lives of women like Banks from all over the United States.

MiraVia’s executive director, Debbie Capen, told CNA that their work is to help women avoid falling into the lie that having a child is the end of their dreams.

Capen feels especially called to this mission because she suffered an abortion while in college.

“I was away from my faith at the time, and I bought into the whole narrative out there that a child will ‘ruin your life’ or that you can’t achieve your goals,” Capen said. “What MiraVia provides is the answer to that. Once people see it, it alleviates so many of those fears and misperceptions.”  

Since opening, the MiraVia maternity home has given more than 60 pregnant and parenting students a refuge, helping them choose life and provide for their children in a safe and loving environment.

The land the home is on was originally donated by the Benedictine monks who founded Belmont Abbey College. Today, MiraVia continues to work closely with Belmont Abbey.  

According to Capen, students regularly volunteer to help with the cleaning, gardening, and at the donation center.

At times, entire Belmont Abbey sports teams have come to help with tasks such as re-mulching the grounds.

Capen recalled one semester in which a Belmont Abbey professor even assigned volunteering at MiraVia as a homework assignment. Belmont Abbey students also serve as staff in child care and in the kitchen.

A 10,000-square-foot facility, MiraVia can accommodate 15 mothers and their babies at a time. Each mother and her children receive three meals a day and a private suite to live in.

But rather than just giving a handout, MiraVia is dedicated to helping mothers and children achieve long-term success. With this goal in mind, the home provides free child care to allow mothers to attend classes or work.

During their stay, which can last the duration of their pregnancy and until two years after their baby is born, MiraVia provides mothers with regular counseling, helping them establish and follow through on short- and long-term goals.

All the mothers at MiraVia are university-level students, with 20% being enrolled at Belmont Abbey College and 80% at various other colleges in the region.  

“We are targeting a demographic that hardly anyone else is,” Capen explained.

According to Capen, though there are several maternity homes in the Charlotte area, MiraVia is the only one specifically devoted to helping pregnant and parenting college students and serving their particular needs.

As a Catholic charity, MiraVia seeks to serve these college mothers both physically and spiritually. The home has a permanent 24/7 eucharistic chapel available to the women and staff and offers regular Mass, confession, and spiritual guidance.

Though Capen says the staff is respectful of other faiths, they “encourage all our moms to have a spiritual life.”

To better serve mothers’ and children’s material needs, MiraVia even expanded to open an outreach center in downtown Charlotte, which has helped even more women with pregnancy and baby materials such as cribs, car seats, strollers, and diapers as well as life-skills classes and more.

Women who go to the outreach center can join peer support groups and participate in monthly classes designed to help them prepare for raising a child.

Ashley Banks and Jakori with MiraVia volunteer Sr. Mary Jacinta of the Daughters of the Virgin Mary, Feb. 14, 2020. Courtesy of MiraVia
Ashley Banks and Jakori with MiraVia volunteer Sr. Mary Jacinta of the Daughters of the Virgin Mary, Feb. 14, 2020. Courtesy of MiraVia

“College campuses are ground zero for the culture wars,” Capen said, adding that what MiraVia is working to do is to “change the culture overall at colleges.”

“Colleges talk about being inclusive, but they certainly don’t feel inclusive to pregnant and parenting students a lot of times,” Capen said. “So, I think that while we are serving individuals, and each mother and each baby that we serve is the measure of our success, I think overall what we hope to do is to impact the culture.”

Besides providing a safe refuge, Banks shared that MiraVia helped her to grow her relationship with God and changed her perspective on the value of life.

“I am now against abortion because there are other options even if you decide to have the baby,” Banks said.

If confronted by someone considering abortion today, Banks said that she would simply sit and talk with them, listening and sharing her story.

“I believe this is part of my testimony,” Banks said. “I don’t mind allowing people to know what I went through because there is a way to get through even the toughest times when you feel like there isn’t a way.”

When it comes to her faith, Banks, who is Christian but not Catholic, said she never felt “forced into Catholicism.” Nevertheless, she did regularly attend Sunday Masses while she lived at MiraVia.

The eucharistic chapel also played a significant role in her faith life and even helped her to introduce her children to God.

“It just created a really good environment to show them whenever you’re trying to establish a relationship with him this is how we do it, this is how we go to him, and this is how we pray,” she said.

Banks now has graduated from Belmont Abbey with an associate degree. She works at a temp service where she helps other people get jobs and lives with her two children in a three-bedroom apartment.

“They brought us in, helped me out, not just with the children or with housing but they also helped me to get my education, they helped me to work,” Banks said. “MiraVia is amazing; there isn’t one bad thing you could ever say about MiraVia.”

But for Banks, along with many mothers like her, MiraVia did more than just provide a temporary shelter.

The way Banks describes it is that MiraVia helped her to “grow up,” to be capable of supporting not only herself but also her two children.

“I always tell people that MiraVia really saved my life,” Banks said. “[Without MiraVia] me and my children would have been on the streets. MiraVia was just like an open door for me, they accepted me, they didn’t judge me, they loved me, they loved my children like their own.”

Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch blasts COVID lockdowns, closing of churches

United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch poses for an official portrait at the East Conference Room of the Supreme Court building on Oct. 7, 2022, in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Washington D.C., May 23, 2023 / 12:57 pm (CNA).

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch blasted the COVID-19 emergency orders and lockdowns, calling them possibly “the greatest intrusions on civil liberties in the peacetime history of this country,” in a rare personal statement issued May 18.

Gorsuch, a Trump nominee, issued his statement in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Arizona v. Mayorkas to deny certain states’ appeal to continue Title 42 restrictions on immigration, a decision with which he agreed.

In his statement, Gorsuch criticized states’ efforts to extend Title 42 despite the COVID emergency officially ending this month.

“I do not discount the States’ concerns about what is happening at the border, but the current border crisis is not a COVID crisis,” Gorsuch said, adding that the court’s December 2022 decision to extend Title 42 was a “serious misstep” because it prolonged “an emergency decree designed for one crisis in order to address an entirely different one.”

Extending Title 42, Gorsuch argued, made the Supreme Court complicit in a major “disruption” begun during the COVID pandemic in “how our laws are made and our freedoms observed.”

Unfettered, and sometimes even assisted by legislative and judicial authorities, both local and executive leaders across the country struck at Americans’ fundamental freedoms, Gorsuch said.

“Executive officials across the country issued emergency decrees on a breathtaking scale,” Gorsuch wrote. “Governors and local leaders imposed lockdown orders forcing people to remain in their homes. They shuttered businesses and schools, public and private. They closed churches even as they allowed casinos and other favored businesses to carry on. They threatened violators not just with civil penalties but with criminal sanctions, too.”

Gorsuch also decried how authorities seemed to target churches during the pandemic, saying that “they surveilled church parking lots, recorded license plates, and issued notices warning that attendance at even outdoor services satisfying all state social-distancing and hygiene requirements could amount to criminal conduct.”

Federal executive authorities also violated Americans’ fundamental freedoms, Gorsuch said.

“They used a workplace-safety agency to issue a vaccination mandate for most working Americans. They threatened to fire noncompliant employees and warned that service members who refused to vaccinate might face dishonorable discharge and confinement. Along the way, it seems federal officials may have pressured social-media companies to suppress information about pandemic policies with which they disagreed,” Gorsuch wrote.  

Gorsuch cited as an example Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, in which a Catholic diocese sued then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for targeting communities of faith by imposing especially strict rules on attendance.

At the time, Cuomo stated: “We know religious institutions have been a problem. We know mass gatherings are the super-spreader events. We know there have been mass gatherings going on in concert with religious institutions in these communities for weeks.” 

In cases such as these, Gorsuch said, public authorities “forced individuals to fight for their freedoms in court.”

Gorsuch then appeared to call on Congress and state legislatures to “reexamine the proper scope of emergency executive powers.”

“While executive officials issued new emergency decrees at a furious pace, state legislatures and Congress — the bodies normally responsible for adopting our laws — too often fell silent,” Gorsuch wrote.

The judicial system, too, shares some of the blame, according to Gorsuch.

“Courts bound to protect our liberties addressed a few — but hardly all — of the intrusions upon them. In some cases, like this one, courts even allowed themselves to be used to perpetuate emergency public-health decrees for collateral purposes.”

“Many lessons can be learned from this chapter in our history, and hopefully serious efforts will be made to study it. One lesson might be this: Fear and the desire for safety are powerful forces,” Gorsuch suggested.

“The concentration of power in the hands of so few may be efficient and sometimes popular. But it does not tend toward sound government,” Gorsuch cautioned. “However wise one person or his advisors may be, that is no substitute for the wisdom of the whole of the American people that can be tapped in the legislative process.”

“Decisions produced by those who indulge no criticism are rarely as good as those produced after robust and uncensored debate,” Gorsuch said.

Though he admitted that “decisive executive action is sometimes necessary and appropriate,” Gorsuch warned that “if emergency decrees promise to solve some problems, they threaten to generate others, and rule by indefinite emergency edict risks leaving all of us with a shell of a democracy and civil liberties just as hollow.”

Survey: Fewer Americans confident about God’s existence, but many still pray

null / Champion studio via

Denver, Colo., May 23, 2023 / 10:30 am (CNA).

Only about half of Americans now say they are certain that God exists, and though regular religious attendance has declined, many Americans say they still pray several times a day.

A snapshot of American religiosity comes from NORC at the University of Chicago, which released the 2022 data from the General Social Survey (GSS) on May 15. The survey is considered one of the top sources of data on Americans’ opinions.

“The past three years were a period of great trial and change for the United States. Understanding how these times affected Americans’ thoughts, beliefs, and opinions is critical to understanding social change,” René Bautista, director of the GSS, said May 15.

The survey of U.S. adult residents was conducted through in-person interviews, self-administered internet surveys, and phone interviews. The GSS codebook, an accompanying document on the survey methods, says changes to the survey methodology during the COVID-19 pandemic could result in apparent changes in opinion, attitudes, and behaviors in 2021 and 2022 compared with results from previous years.

Do you believe in God?

Among the many views surveyed included the question of Americans’ confidence in the existence of God.

About 50% of Americans said that they “know God exists and have no doubts.” That number has not changed since 2021. This response peaked at 65% in 1993 and fell to 60% in 2008. Another 16% told the GSS that they “believe in God but have doubts,” down slightly from its 1988 peak of 19%. Another 14% said that they believe in “some higher power.”

About 6% said they believe in God “sometimes,” while about 7% responded “don’t know and no way to find out.” Though given the option “don’t know,” zero percent chose this option.

About 7% said they do not believe in God, unchanged from 2021. Nonbelief in God hovered around 2%-3% for decades until 2014, when it began to increase.

Are you religious?

On the topic of self-identified religiosity, 14% told the GSS they were “very religious,” 32% identified as “moderately religious,” and 25% as “slightly religious.” The “moderately religious” showed the largest decline, down from 38% in 2018 and 41% in 2010.

There is an upward trend in respondents who identify as “not religious.” In 2022, 29% chose this response, down slightly from the 2021 peak of 32%. Before 2012, fewer than 20% of respondents had ever chosen this answer.

How often do you attend religious services?

Religious attendance figures appear to reflect this nonreligious trend. Among GSS respondents, 34% said they never attended religious services, a new high. This figure first hit 30% in 2018 and 20% in 1998 after hovering at about 15% for decades.

As many as 11% of respondents said they attended religious services less than once a year, 13% said they attended once a year, and 10% attended several times a year. Only 4% said they attended once a month, 5% attended two or three times a month, and 4% attended “nearly every week.”

About 13% attended religious services weekly, a slight increase over 2021 respondents but a decline from 18% in 2018. GSS respondents have never reported weekly attendance over 30%, though this figure peaked at 29% in 1972, the first year GSS asked this question.

About 5% of respondents attended religious services more than once a week. This response last peaked at 9% in 1993 and has never exceeded 9% since 1972.

How often do you pray?

Self-reported prayer was more popular than self-reported church attendance. According to the GSS, 28% of respondents said they pray several times a day, down slightly from a 2004 peak at 31%. Another 20% said they pray once a day, an increase from 16% in 2021 but down from 28% in 2018, where the figure had held steady for decades.

Another 13% said they prayed several times a week, while 6% prayed once a week. The numbers of those who rarely or never pray are near a historic high: 34% said they prayed “less than once a week or never,” a decline from the 2021 peak at 38%.

Are you spiritual?

The GSS also inquired whether respondents identified as spiritual. Among respondents, 26% identified as “very spiritual,” 32% identified as “somewhat spiritual,” 26% identified as “slightly spiritual,” and 15% identified as “not spiritual.” The nonspiritual have trended slightly upward in recent years, while the “somewhat spiritual” respondent numbers have declined.

Do you have confidence in organized religion?

Confidence in organized religion has also dropped significantly. Confidence peaked in 1974 when 45% of GSS respondents voiced “a great deal of confidence” in organized religion. In 2022, only 15% did, about the same as the all-time low in 2021.

About 49% of respondents voiced “only some” confidence in organized religion, the first time under 50% since 2000. Another 33% of respondents voiced “hardly any confidence” in organized religion, comparable with 2021 and still above the previous peak, 30% in 1989. In 1975, only 11% of Americans responded this way.

The 2022 data for the GSS is based on 3,544 completed surveys from May 4 to Dec. 20 as well as 601 additional completed surveys for an oversample of Black, Hispanic, and Asian respondents from the NORC AmeriSpeak Panel.

Pope Francis appoints Pennsylvania priest to lead Diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan

Bishop-elect Edward M. Lohse, 61, will be installed in the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan, on July 25, 2023. / Diocese of Kalamazoo

Rome Newsroom, May 23, 2023 / 04:50 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Tuesday appointed Erie, Pennsylvania, priest Monsignor Edward M. Lohse to lead the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Lohse, 61, succeeds Bishop Paul J. Bradley, 77, whose resignation was accepted by Pope Francis on May 23.

Bradley will continue to serve as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Kalamazoo until Lohse’s ordination in St. Augustine Cathedral on July 25, according to the diocese.

The Diocese of Kalamazoo, which comprises nine counties in southwest Michigan, has 59 parishes, 21 Catholic schools, and almost 80,000 Catholics.

Bishop-elect Lohse has been vicar general and moderator of the curia for the Diocese of Erie since 2017.

During his 34 years as a Catholic priest, he has been a parish priest, high school chaplain, vocations director, chancellor, official in the Vatican’s Dicastery for Clergy, director of the child protection office, and an adjunct faculty member at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

Lohse, the sixth of a family of seven children, grew up in Pennsylvania. After earning a bachelor of arts degree in history, he entered the seminary. He was ordained a priest in April 1989.

The bishop-elect also has a license and doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

“The task ahead is a daunting one, but none of us walks the path of faith alone,” Lohse said in a May 23 press release.

“I know that I will need to count on the prayers of Bishop Bradley, the priests, religious, and laity of the diocese, and I pledge my prayers for them in return,” he said. “Together, we will go forward to proclaim Christ and to meet him in the hearts of all God’s people in the Diocese of Kalamazoo.”

LA Dodgers reverse course, will honor anti-Catholic drag group at Pride Night game

A member of The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence marches with LGBTQ+ activists during the Los Angeles LGBT Center's "Drag March LA: The March on Santa Monica Boulevard," in West Hollywood, California, on Easter Sunday April 9, 2023. / Allison Dinner/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 23, 2023 / 00:01 am (CNA).

Catholic leaders reacted with disgust Monday night after the Los Angeles Dodgers re-invited the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to be an honoree at the team’s LGBTQ+ Pride Night game on June 16 despite the drag group’s mockery of the Catholic faith. 

“When did mocking Catholic nuns become America’s pastime?“ the Catholic advocacy group CatholicVote tweeted. 

“Shamefully, (but not surprisingly) the @dodgers have been bullied into apologizing to & ‘re-inviting’ a group of anti-Catholic bigots,” tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, who wrote a letter to Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert Manfred protesting the Dodgers’ original invitation. “Today our great country is controlled by socio-political ruling elites who don’t just tolerate anti-Christian bigotry, they encourage [it].,”

Major League Baseball announced on May 4 that the Dodgers planned to honor the Los Angeles chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a gay and transgender advocacy group known for its provocative Catholic-themed satire, but the team reversed course on May 17 after complaints from Catholic leaders and advocacy groups.

“Given the strong feelings of people who have been offended by the sisters’ inclusion in our evening, and in an effort not to distract from the great benefits that we have seen over the years of Pride Night, we are deciding to remove them from this year’s group of honorees,” the Dodgers said at the time.

The team’s first reversal drew fierce criticism from LGBTQ advocates, civil rights groups, and L.A. political leaders, leading the team to reconsider its decision. In a Facebook post, the Sisters said their “abbess” and a board member of the group met Monday morning with the Dodgers president and part-owner Stan Kasten and LGBTQ+ community representatives and elected officials.

“A full apology and explanation was given to us by the Dodgers staff which we accept,” the group said. “We believe the apology is sincere because the Dodgers have worked for 10 years with our community and ... they have asked us to continue an ongoing relationship with them.”  

Later in the day, the Dodgers announced that they had re-invited the group to join other honorees at the team’s Pride Night game against the San Francisco Giants.

“The Dodgers would like to offer our sincerest apologies to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, members of the LGBTQ+ community and their friends and families,” the Dodgers said in a statement. “We have asked the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to take their place on the field at our 10th annual LGBTQ+ Pride Night.” 

Reacting to the news, CatholicVote tweeted: “Simon and Garfunkel said it well. We’ve lost our way: ‘Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio. Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.’”

Massachusetts panel says child abuse laws should protect transgender kids from parents

null / Todd Ruth on Unsplash.

Washington D.C., May 22, 2023 / 15:15 pm (CNA).

A Massachusetts government agency is asking lawmakers to review the state’s child abuse laws to ensure they apply to parents who won’t let their children transition from one gender to another.

The Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth cited a purported rise in transphobia as a reason to amend the state’s child abuse laws. The commission is an official state agency that provides recommendations to lawmakers. 

“With the significant rise in public transphobia across the state, the commission has serious concerns about the well-being of trans and gender expansive youth in the home, and advises that the state examine current laws around child abuse and welfare to ensure that the unique situations faced by LGBTQ youth are being addressed,” the commission wrote in an annual report and recommendations for the 2024 fiscal year. 

“In particular, the commission recommends that the state examine the possibility of codifying gender-affirming child welfare protections in state law to better support youth and families,” the report continued. 

The commission did not respond to a request for comment about what such a law would look like, but the transgender care children can legally receive in Massachusetts includes therapy, puberty-blocking drugs, hormone treatments, and even surgical operations to alter genitalia, breasts, and testicles.

It’s unclear whether a change to state law would require parents to let their children be subject to all or just some of these procedures.

“We should be concerned when state officials force their hand on parents in how they raise their own children,” Alliance Defending Freedom Director of the Center for Parental Rights Kate Anderson told CNA.

“Parents have a right and responsibility to direct the upbringing, care, and education of their children — a right that includes being informed of their children’s struggles with sensitive topics like sex and gender and to help their children according to their own convictions,” Anderson added. 

“This trend happening across the country, especially within schools, should draw alarm to all parents because parents, not government officials, should be the ones walking with their kids through these challenges. Parents know their children better than any school official ever could, and they want what is best for their children,” she said.

The commission’s recommendations are part of a growing effort to remove parents from the conversation about whether their children should be socially or medically transitioned into another gender. 

Earlier this month, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, signed legislation that would take authority away from parents with regard to gender transition procedures. The new law allows shelters to withhold information from parents if a child runs away to access such procedures. 

Shelters will be allowed to notify the state’s child services department instead of notifying parents. 

In some states, the public school system also keeps information away from parents concerning a child’s purported transgender identity.

The California Department of Education’s guidelines for school districts states that “disclosing that a student is transgender [to parents, other students, or members of the public] without the student’s permission may violate California’s anti-discrimination law by increasing the student’s vulnerability to harassment and may violate the student’s right to privacy.” 

This led some districts, such as the Escondido Union School District, to adopt policies that prevent teachers from telling parents about their child’s purported transgender identity. Two middle school teachers sued the district over the policy. 

There have also been unsuccessful efforts in some states to remove parental authority in these matters. 

In 2020, Virginia Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Dale City, introduced legislation that would have expanded the commonwealth’s child abuse laws to include a parent who inflicts “mental injury on the basis of the child’s gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Although the Virginia bill did not clearly define what would constitute a “mental injury,” many opponents cautioned that the broad language could potentially punish parents who refuse to use a preferred pronoun or recognize a preferred gender identity. Although Guzman said that was not her intention, the bill failed to make it out of committee and she chose not to reintroduce it. 

Alternatively, nearly 20 states have passed legislation that prohibits doctors from performing sex change procedures on children. 

A miracle in Missouri? Body of Benedictine Sisters’ foundress thought to be incorrupt

A pilgrim venerates the incorrupt body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, OSB, on May 20, 2023. Lancaster was recently exhumed in Gower, Missouri. / Credit: Kelsey Wicks/CNA

Gower, Missouri, May 22, 2023 / 10:15 am (CNA).

Hundreds of pilgrims have descended on a Benedictine monastery for religious sisters in rural Missouri in recent days after news began to spread on social media last week that the recently exhumed remains of the contemplative order’s African American foundress appear to be incorrupt, four years after her death and burial in a simple wooden coffin.

Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, OSB, founded the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles — best known for their chart-topping Gregorian chant and classic Catholic hymn albums — in 1995 at the age of 70, leaving the Oblate Sisters of Providence, her community of over 50 years, to do so.

Known for her devotion to the Traditional Latin Mass and her faithfulness to Benedictine contemplation and the Liturgy of the Hours, she died at age 95 on May 29, 2019, on the vigil of the solemnity of the Ascension.

Roughly four years later, on the solemnity of the Ascension in the Latin rite, the abbess and sisters decided to move her body to a final resting place inside their monastery chapel, a long-standing custom for founders and foundresses.

Expecting to find bones, the Benedictine Sisters instead unearthed a coffin with an apparently intact body, even though the body was not embalmed and the wooden coffin had a crack down the middle that let in moisture and dirt for an unknown length of time during those four years.

“We think she is the first African American woman to be found incorrupt,” the current abbess of the community, Mother Cecilia, OSB, told EWTN’s ACI Group on Saturday. As the head of the monastery, it was her role to examine what was in the coffin first.

The body was covered in a layer of mold that had grown due to the high levels of condensation within the cracked coffin. Despite the dampness, little of her body and nothing of her habit disintegrated during the four years.

The shock was instant for the community who had gathered to exhume her.

“I thought I saw a completely full, intact foot and I said, ‘I didn’t just see that,’” the abbess said. “So I looked again more carefully.”

After she looked again, she screamed aloud, “I see her foot!” and the community, she said, “just cheered.”

“I mean there was just this sense that the Lord was doing this,” she said. “Right now we need hope. We need it. Our Lord knows that. And she was such a testament to hope. And faith. And trust.”

The Catholic Church has a long-standing tradition of so-called “incorruptible saints,” more than a hundred of whom have been beatified or canonized. The saints are called incorruptible because years after their death parts of or even the entirety of their bodies are immune to the natural process of decay. Even with modern embalming techniques, bodies are subject to natural processes of decomposition.

According to Catholic tradition, incorruptible saints give witness to the truth of the resurrection of the body and the life that is to come. The lack of decay is also seen as a sign of holiness: a life of grace lived so closely to Christ that sin with its corruption does not proceed in typical fashion but is miraculously held at bay.

‘A beautiful sign’

Rumors of a flood cracking open the grave and the sisters’ examining the coffin by flashlight in the middle of the night are highly exaggerated, the abbess told the ACI Group.

“I had to have the flashlight because you can’t really see in a dark crack even with the sunshine. I thought I saw a foot, but I just paused because, you know, it’s not every day you look into a coffin,” she recounted. “So there’s kind of a sense of a little bit of hesitation — what am I going to see?”

Mindful of the crack and the dirt in the coffin, the sisters carefully removed the body. The skeletal remains should have weighed about 20 pounds. Instead, the sisters were lifting what they estimated to be a body weighing “between 80-90 pounds,” the abbess said.

Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster's former grave at the monastery for the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, in Gower, Missouri. Credit: Kelsey Wicks/CNA
Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster's former grave at the monastery for the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, in Gower, Missouri. Credit: Kelsey Wicks/CNA

The sisters have since produced a fact sheet to answer questions about the exhumation.

“Not only was her body in a remarkable preserved condition, her crown and bouquet of flowers were dried in place; the profession candle with the ribbon, her crucifix, and rosary were all intact,” the sisters reported.

“Even more remarkable was the complete preservation of her holy habit, made from natural fibers, for which she fought so vigorously throughout her religious life. They synthetic veil was perfectly intact, while the lining of the coffin, made of similar material, was completely deteriorated and gone.”

Abbess Cecilia stressed that the preservation of the habit is a large part of what she sees as miraculous, because the habit is “a beautiful sign that this life is not all there is.”

“People see us and it’s like ‘Oh, she’s a sister, oh she’s wearing that because she’s giving her life, she believes in God. Maybe I should think about God,’” she said, noting that the habit is “a sign of the things to come, of the supernatural and of our last end: heaven, hell, purgatory.”

“This is not possible,” she said of the incorruptible sister’s body. “God is real. He protected that body and that habit to enkindle our faith, to rekindle it, to bring people back to the faith.”

What comes next?

“You can’t Google ‘what do you do with an incorrupt body?’” Abbess Cecilia said, “so we started with the basics, just cleaning her with hot water because clinging to her face was basically a mask of thick mold.”

This process as well as exposure to the air caused the body to lose some but not all of its volume, and as a result a darkening of the skin also took place.

For the time being, the sisters have crafted a wax mask for Sister Wilhelmina’s face. One of her eyes — both were found to still exist, along with eyelashes and eyebrows — was sunken in by the weight of the dirt within the casket. The sisters also coated her hands with wax.

The body will be laid out in the sisters’ chapel until May 29, when the sisters plan a rosary procession. After the procession, Sister Wilhelmina’s body will be encased in glass” near the altar of St. Joseph in the chapel in order to “welcome her growing number of devotees,” according to the sisters’ fact sheet.

Catholic pilgrims already arriving

Since text messages and social media posts began to circulate last week with pictures of the incorrupt body, hundreds of pilgrims have already journeyed to visit the incorrupt sister, sometimes from hours away in Kentucky, Illinois, or closer nearby in Missouri, to pray in front of the body and to get to know better this woman whom many feel had a deep holiness.

“It was beautiful,” said Mary Lou Enna, 86, a pilgrim who came with her son and his wife from nearby Kansas City, a roughly 45-minute drive away. “At first, it was just a little unreal. But then as I just gazed at her, tears started coming and I just knew it was for real and very, very meaningful.” 

“I know this happens a lot in Europe through the Church,” she said, “but it was just something I wanted to be at.”

Royce Hood hosts a Catholic radio show in Illinois. He and his wife, Elise, packed their six children in the car from Peoria to come and see what was happening. “I feel like people are like, ‘Wow, we need this right now,’” he said.

“There’s so much chaos and darkness in the world. I think God is giving us little graces to remind us of what is to come and what’s waiting for us.”

“We love our faith,” Elise Hood added. “It just seemed unreal to come and see and be with and touch a sister who is incorruptible. What a blessing to have this opportunity and for our kids to see and witness this, too.”

Ava Hood, 9, said she was amazed. Her brother Augustine agreed.

“They knelt for a long time and just prayed,” said their mother, who added: “It’s still giving me chills. Everything we practice in our daily faith life we can come here and just feel it and see it.” 

The sight was no less amazing to Rick Enna, another pilgrim from Kansas City.

“It was miraculous to see her body in perfect condition after her body was in a grave for close to four years,” remarked Enna, 61.

“In a world right now that’s really struggling with so many false gods, we are seeing glimpses of evidence that God is there,” he said. “Those of us who are faithful don’t need evidence, but when we see evidence, then we know it.”

He added: “You don’t see this very often.” 

Tanya Schultz and her daughter pray at the body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster on May 20, 2023. Credit: Photo courtesy of Joe and Tanya Schultz
Tanya Schultz and her daughter pray at the body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster on May 20, 2023. Credit: Photo courtesy of Joe and Tanya Schultz

Joe and Tanya Schultz and their children drove eight and a half hours from Louisville, Kentucky, in a caravan with relatives from Springfield, Missouri, to pray before Sister Wilhelmina’s body.

“It’s a great miracle,” said Tanya Schultz, who was touching rosaries and scapulars and the hand of her toddler to the body.

“It’s believable and unbelievable at the same time,” added Joe Schultz upon viewing the body.

“Her being a traditional nun in this time when it is persecuted, we wanted to be present for that and ask for her intercession in the Church since she probably has some great intercessory powers for us, our family, our vocation.”

Through the eyes of her Catholic faith, the abbess sees in the preservation of Sister Wilhelmina’s body that same message. “Heaven is real. The resurrection is real. Especially during these times in the Church and in the world,” she said.

“Have hope,” she implored. “God is still there. He still hears our prayers. He still listens. He still loves us.”

While the Church has not ruled Sister Wilhelmina’s case to be miraculous and the case has not yet been ruled an incorruptible — nor has a cause for the foundress’ canonization been sanctioned — both the sisters of her community and the visitors drawn to the monastery agree that something out of the ordinary course of nature is happening in Gower, Missouri.

“Have faith,” Abbess Cecilia concluded. “Life does not end when we take our last breath: It begins.”

“And this is the kind of miracle that reminds us of that.”