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‘Social emergency’ of low fertility may be driven partly by pesticides, study shows

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CNA Staff, Dec 7, 2023 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

In addition to social and cultural trends affecting marriage and birth rates, new findings from a meta-analysis released last month found “evidence of an association” between exposure to some insecticides and “lower sperm concentration in adults” — a sign that commonly-used industrial chemicals may be helping to propel the plunging rates of fertility.

Last year, Pope Francis described the ongoing collapse of fertility in Western countries as a “social emergency” and a sign of “new poverty,” with the Holy Father arguing that the “beauty of a family full of children” is “in danger of becoming a utopia, a dream difficult to realize.”

Fertility in the U.S. and in other developed Western countries has been trending downward for decades.

A review out of the University of Pennsylvania last year noted that the U.S. fertility rate at the time was 1.7 births per female, which is “below the replacement rate of 2.1 that is required for the U.S. population not to shrink without increases in immigration.”

The U.S. Census Bureau said last month that the U.S. population will peak later this century before experiencing a decline by 2100, with that decline driven in part by low fertility rates.

The bureau noted at the time that “immigration is projected to become the largest contributor to population growth,” with low fertility helping to drive a “natural decrease” in population.

The low numbers come even as Americans are increasingly of the view that families should be having more children.

Pesticides possibly driving down male fertility

A major study, prepared by a group of U.S.- and Italy-based researchers and published last month in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, pointed to “contemporary use insecticides” as a possible driver of dropping fertility. 

A “comprehensive investigation” of nearly two dozen studies “found sufficient evidence of an association between higher organophosphate and N-methyl carbamates insecticide exposure and lower sperm concentration in adults,” the researchers said. 

The “strength of evidence warrants reducing exposure to OP and NMC insecticides now to prevent continued male reproductive harm,” the scientists said. 

“To our knowledge, this investigation is the most comprehensive systematic review on this topic to date,” they wrote, arguing that the data indicate a “clear association” between “higher adult OP and NMC insecticide exposure and lower sperm concentration.”

Melissa Perry, the dean of the George Mason University College of Public Health and one of the co-authors of the pesticide study, told the Guardian last month that a reduction in pesticide usage is necessary to ensure that couples are not left incapable of conceiving.

“The message is we need to reduce insecticide exposure in order to ensure men who are planning a family or want to conceive children are able to do that without interference,” she said. 

Are these pesticides ‘immoral’? 

Phil Cerroni, an associate ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, said Catholic ethics dictate both positive and negative moral duties, including that we are bound to “protect our physical and functional integrity” and that we “shouldn’t do anything that directly suppresses or impedes physical or functional integrity.”

“Similarly, we need to protect workers,” he said. “We shouldn’t do anything that directly places them in any harm. I think the question there becomes, with the use of these pesticides, is it a direct harm or indirect harm?”

Cerroni said the issue is likely one of a “double effect.” 

On the one hand, he said, a “high-pesticide method of agriculture” offers a “basic good for the world’s population” — arguably a more abundant food supply. Yet the potential harm to workers, he said, could outweigh that benefit. 

“The question would be, is there proportionality?” he said. “As a general rule, you can’t achieve a small or moderate good through a means that also causes a great evil.”

“I think the proportionality hinges on whether it’s immediately morally problematic,” he said of the potential effects of pesticides. “If this is the only reasonable means of producing enough food to provide for people’s basic goods or basic needs, then it’s not immoral,” he said, adding that “we still have a moral duty to try to develop processes and techniques that don’t have these bad effects, that aren’t harmful to workers, and that don’t cause harm, either to workers or the people who are eating it,” he added.

Infertility’s effect on marriage ‘profound’

Mary-Rose Verret, who along with her husband, Ryan, founded the marriage renewal and preparation initiative called Witness to Love, said there are “definitely more couples struggling to conceive.” 

“A lot of times it has to do with the fact that people are getting married a lot later,” she said. “A lot of them have never heard of the Church’s teaching on this topic. If you’ve been on contraceptives since 12, and now you’re 27 and you want to get married, you can’t just flip a switch and expect everything to go back to normal.”

Verret said extended contraception use by women can mask a whole host of fertility problems in addition to those potentially stemming from pesticide use.

“It’s not just pesticides,” she said. “It’s the one-size-fits-all system where contraceptives are the only thing being thrown at anyone with any cycle issues. Instead of looking at hormones, or thyroids, or doing blood work, they’re not getting that treated.”

The Verrets’ ministry has a fertility awareness course for Church leaders, she said. “Unfortunately, right now, there’s not much being done in that area,” she said. 

Ann Koshute, the co-founder of the Catholic infertility ministry Springs in the Desert, said that the effect of infertility on marriage is “profound,” including spiritual and emotional impacts.

“Since we founded Springs in 2019, the CDC stats on infertility have been adjusted upward, from 1 in 8 couples to now 1 in 5,” she said.

“The conversation about infertility and pregnancy loss, thanks at least in part to social media, seems to be coming more into the open, which means that more people are comfortable sharing about their experiences.”

Though medical experts are able to assist Catholics struggling with infertility, Koshute said, “the medical implications of infertility are only the tip of the iceberg.”

“While it is important for couples to strive to be healthy — not only to increase their likelihood of conceiving, but just in general — it is also imperative that the underlying grief, feelings of isolation and abandonment, and spiritual difficulties that result from infertility be addressed,” she said.

“We also believe it’s important to give our clergy the tools they need to accompany couples carrying this cross, so we have developed specific resources to help them,” she added.

Religious sisters sue Smith & Wesson for ‘facilitating’ mass shootings

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 7, 2023 / 15:05 pm (CNA).

Four congregations of Catholic religious sisters filed a lawsuit against the gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson on Tuesday, accusing the company of participating in illegal marketing tactics that they said attract a “dangerous category of consumers” and facilitate “an unrelenting and growing stream of killings.”

The suit was filed in district court in Clark County, Nevada, and demands a trial by jury regarding the sisters’ accusations.  

The four congregations — the Adrian Dominican Sisters; Sisters of Bon Secours USA; Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia; and Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus & Mary, U.S.-Ontario Province — filed their lawsuit as Smith & Wesson stockholders.

The sisters said in a joint Dec. 5 statement that their goal is to stop Smith & Wesson from manufacturing and selling any more AR-15 rifles, which as they point out have been used in several recent mass shootings.

“These rifles have no purpose other than mass murder,” the sisters said. “By design, they inflict the greatest number of casualties with maximum bodily harm in the shortest amount of time.”

The sisters collectively own 1,000 shares in Smith & Wesson, according to The Wall Street Journal. Though a small percentage of the company’s total shares, this amount gives the congregations the right to file legal action.

The suit, called a “derivative complaint,” was filed against the Smith & Wesson board and executive officers. Neither the complaint nor the sisters’ statement said how long the sisters have been shareholders of the weapons-manufacturing company. Their attorney Jeffrey Norton also declined to say.

Their suit, however, does state that they have been investors “at all relevant times” to their complaint.

The sisters said that Smith & Wesson’s leadership is violating its fiduciary duties by “prioritizing short-term profit over long-term risk.”

“The company is intent on marketing and selling AR-15 rifles in whatever manner results in the most sales — even if the marketing is illegal and attracts a dangerous category of buyers, facilitates an unrelenting and growing stream of killings, and causes the company to face an ever-increasing and substantial likelihood of liability that threatens its long-term existence,” the sisters said in their statement.

In their suit, the sisters call on Smith & Wesson to return to being “a successful beacon of responsible gun ownership” by stopping all manufacturing and selling of AR-15s, which they call “military-grade, mass-killing assault weapons.”

Smith & Wesson is an American firearms manufacturer founded in 1852. It currently operates out of Nevada and Tennessee. The company makes and sells a wide array of firearms, including ArmaLite-type rifles, commonly referred to as “AR-15s,” which it has been selling since 2006.  

AR-15s are semi-automatic rifles that are legal for ownership by civilians in most U.S. states.

The sisters claim that Smith & Wesson AR-15s have “been used by numerous perpetrators of highly publicized mass shootings” since 2012 and that “it was Smith & Wesson’s targeted marketing practices that ensured that its AR-15 rifles would be purchased and used by emotionally troubled young men through advertisements designed to take advantage of young men’s impulsive behavior and lack of self-control.”

The congregations argue in their suit that Smith & Wesson’s marketing techniques violate a 2000 agreement the company made with the federal government to not market in such a way as to appeal to juveniles or criminals.

“The company’s executives and board members have since chosen to flagrantly ignore the safe marketing practices … and instead focus on the continued targeting of young consumers, eschewing any effort to mitigate the potential harm to the company caused by such practices,” the sisters assert.

Further, the suit alleges that the Smith & Wesson’s board and executives “intentionally fail to take any steps to prevent or curb Smith & Wesson’s continued marketing and sale of the company’s AR-15 rifles in those jurisdictions [that ban the sale of AR-15s].”

Mark Smith, the president and CEO of Smith & Wesson, told CNA in a statement that Smith & Wesson “is proud to empower law-abiding American citizens with the ability to defend themselves and their families from harm.”

“This frivolous lawsuit is simply another instance in their long history of attempting to hijack and abuse the shareholder advocacy process to harm our reputation and company,” he said, adding that “this activist group is not interested in the best interests of the company or its stockholders.”

Norton, the sisters’ attorney, said in a Dec. 5 statement that the congregations of sisters “have long sought corporate responsibility” through “their shareholder activism,” which is the practice of buying stock in a company expressly to use that share to try to change how the organization is run.

This is not the first time this group of sisters has sued a company through shareholder activism. The sisters have also filed similar lawsuits against Hyatt Hotels and General Electric in the past, according to reporting by The Wall Street Journal.

All four congregations are also part of a group called the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, which has net assets in the low millions and, according to its website, is a “coalition of faith- and values-based investors who view shareholder engagement with corporations as a powerful catalyst for change.”

Pope Francis accepts resignation of head of Syro-Malabar Church, Cardinal Alencherry

Cardinal George Alencherry preaches at St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica, Ernakulam, India, on Palm Sunday 2021. / Credit: Esthappanos Bar Geevarghese via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

CNA Staff, Dec 7, 2023 / 14:35 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis on Thursday accepted the resignation of Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alencherry of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, based in India, commending the prelate’s faithfulness after decades of leadership in that Church.

At the same time, the Holy Father addressed an ongoing bitter dispute in the archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly, directing the faithful there to accept the decision of Church leaders to institute a uniform liturgy. 

Canon law dictates that bishops must submit their resignations to the pope at age 75. Alencherry turned 78 this year. In his letter on Thursday, Francis told Alencherry he “decided to accept your resignation as a sign of your openness and docility to the Holy Spirit.”

Last year, Francis noted, was Alencherry’s “50th anniversary of priestly ordination and 25th anniversary as a bishop.”

“Now that you have reached two significant jubilees and accomplished the pastoral objectives set for the flock entrusted to your care, I consider your resignation not as the conclusion but the fulfillment of your service,” the Holy Father told the prelate. 

The Vatican said Curia Bishop H.E. Sebastian Vaniyapurackal, titular bishop of Troina, would serve as the interim administrator of the Syro-Malabar Church until the election of the new major archbishop. 

The Vatican on Thursday said Francis had also accepted the resignation of Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, apostolic administrator of the archeparchy since July of last year. Archbishop Thazhath remains metropolitan archbishop of Trichur of the Syro-Malabars.

Bosco Puthur, bishop emeritus of the Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Melbourne of the Syro-Malabars (Australia), will serve in that role “sede vacante et ad nutum Sanctae Sedis,” the Holy See said. 

In addition to the letter, on Thursday the Holy Father sent a video message addressed to “brothers and sisters of the Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly” in which the pope confronted a long-standing liturgical dispute in the Syro-Malabar Church in India. 

The Syro-Malabar Church is one of the 23 autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome. The Eucharistic liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church, known as the Holy Qurbana, has been the subject of a long, complex dispute over which direction the priest should face when celebrating the liturgy. 

Protests against the adoption of a uniform liturgy have included a hunger strike by priests and the burning of effigies of cardinals.

Francis has intervened in the dispute several times, including last year when he asked opponents of the uniform liturgy to take the “difficult and painful step” of accepting the change. In August he appointed Slovak Archbishop-Bishop Cyril Vasil’ to help resolve the ongoing disagreement. 

In his message on Thursday, he urged the faithful of the archeparchy to “recompose this rupture.” 

“It is your Church, it is our Church,” Francis wrote. “Restore communion, remain in the Catholic Church!”

Francis said in the message that Vasil’ had asked the people of the archeparchy to “put an end to the struggle, put an end to the opposition and sometimes the violence.”

“Do you not see that in this way the Church comes to a standstill and so many good initiatives can no longer be exercised in the service of God’s holy people, in the service of the sanctification of God’s people?” the pope said. 

The Synod of Bishops of the Eastern Catholic Church based in India approved the introduction of a uniform liturgy in 2021

In his video message, Francis said: “See to it that by Christmas 2023 your archdiocese humbly and faithfully agrees to catch up with the rest of your Church, respecting all the directions of your synod.”

Praying for God’s blessing on the faithful, the pope said: “Let the Eucharist be the model of your unity. Do not shatter the body of Christ that is the Church, lest you eat and drink your condemnation.”

Data shows most states moving away from use of the death penalty

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CNA Staff, Dec 7, 2023 / 14:05 pm (CNA).

New data indicates that a majority of U.S. states are shifting away from imposing the death penalty on prisoners, with few states this year ordering death sentences and even fewer carrying executions out.

Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN), a group that works “to end the use of the death penalty” around the United States, said in a press release this month that data from the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) showed “a majority of states (29) have now either abolished capital punishment or paused executions by executive action.”

The DPIC’s 2023 annual report revealed that five states executed people this year, while seven states sentenced people to death. A total of 24 people were executed this year, while 21 were sentenced to death.

DPIC data show that executions in the U.S. rose sharply after the Supreme Court in 1976 reinstated the death penalty in the United States. They peaked in 1999 with nearly 100 executions and have been on a mostly unbroken downward trajectory since then, though 2023’s two dozen executions were up from 18 the year before.

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, the executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, said in the group’s press release that it was “encouraging that we saw most states growing more and more reluctant to engage with the death penalty this year.”

“It’s not lost on the American public that capital punishment is too flawed and risky, too arbitrary and unfair, too cruel and dehumanizing to justify pursuing executions,” she said.

In its report, the DPIC said that 2023 was the ninth consecutive year with fewer than 30 people executed and fewer than 50 people sentenced to death.

The group also noted that this year, for the first time, Gallup found more Americans (50%) believe the death penalty is applied unfairly than believe it is applied fairly (47%).

Several U.S. states carried out executions this year despite pleas from activists. In October, Texas executed Jedidiah Murphy, who had been sentenced to death for the shooting of 80-year-old Bertie Lee Cunningham in October 2000.

CMN argued prior to Murphy’s execution that capital punishment is “rooted in revenge rather than repair.” 

That same month Florida executed convicted double murderer Michael Zack III over the 1996 killings of two women.

The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops had urged Gov. Ron DeSantis to commute Zack’s sentence, arguing that the execution would “only further fuel the growing societal disrespect for the dignity of human life.”

Last week Bishop Joe Vasquez of the Diocese of Austin, Texas, celebrated Mass at the prison housing Texas’ seven female death row inmates, five of whom have converted to Catholicism during their time awaiting execution. 

“You belong to the Church just as much as anybody else. The walls may separate us, but the walls can never keep Christ down,” Vasquez said to the women during the Mass. 

Republican presidential candidates debate parental rights, sex changes for kids

Republican presidential candidates (left to right) former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Vivek Ramaswamy participate in the NewsNation Republican Presidential Primary Debate at the University of Alabama Moody Music Hall on Dec. 6, 2023, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. / Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 7, 2023 / 13:20 pm (CNA).

Republican presidential candidates on Wednesday night traded jabs and argued about parental rights, sex changes for children, and a number of other issues in a primary debate marked by several heated moments.  

Four candidates took the stage in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in the debate hosted by NewsNation: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

The GOP frontrunner, former president Donald Trump, opted to skip the debate and hold a private fundraiser instead. 

Addressing the topic of transgender surgeries performed on children, each of the candidates agreed that minors should not receive such surgeries, though they differed on how the federal government should approach the issue. 

“Republicans believe in less government,” Christie said, not “more government involvement in people’s lives.”

“This is not something I favor,” Christie said of the surgeries. “I think it’s a very, very dangerous thing to do, but that’s my opinion as a parent … and I get to make the decisions about my children, not anybody else.” 

“[A]s a parent, you do not have the right to abuse your kids,” DeSantis said in response, which drew cheers from the crowd. “This is cutting off their genitals. This is mutilating these minors. These are irreversible procedures.” 

DeSantis noted that as governor of Florida, he signed legislation to ban transgender operations on minors. He also criticized Haley’s record on transgender issues, noting that she opposed a bill that would have prohibited males from entering female bathrooms while she was governor of South Carolina.

In response, Haley said the transgender issue has “exploded” over the past decade and that the debate was different in South Carolina when she was governor from 2011-2017. 

“When I was governor, 10 years ago, when the bathroom situation came up, we had maybe a handful of kids that were dealing with an issue,” she said. “And I said we don’t need to bring government into this, but boys go into boys’ bathrooms, girls go into girls’ bathrooms, and if anyone else has an issue they use a private bathroom.”

Ramaswamy argued that the federal government should compel states to set the minimum age for transgender surgery to 18 years old by tying the mandate to federal funds. He referenced former President Ronald Reagan’s use of this strategy to require states to raise the minimum drinking age to 21 by tying the mandate to highway funding.

“We can do the same thing when it comes to banning genital mutilation or chemical castration [for children],” Ramaswamy said, adding that transgenderism is “a mental health disorder.”

There were several heated moments in Wednesday’s debate, mostly involving foreign policy disputes between Ramaswamy and the other candidates. Ramaswamy, who is often critical of the United States’ involvement in foreign conflicts, challenged Haley to name the Ukrainian provinces that she wants the United States to help defend. 

“She has no idea what the hell the names of those provinces are that she wants to send our sons and daughters and our troops and our military equipment to go fight in,” Ramaswamy argued.

Christie, who favors U.S. backing of Ukraine’s military initiatives, stepped in to support Haley and had a tense exchange with Ramaswamy. 

“This is the fourth debate that you would be voted in the first 20 minutes as the most obnoxious blowhard in America, so shut up for a little while,” Christie said when Ramaswamy began to interrupt him. He accused Ramaswamy of “insult[ing] Nikki Haley’s basic intelligence, not her positions.” 

Ramaswamy responded by saying that Christie similarly does not know which Ukrainian provinces he wants the United States to defend.

“Chris, your version of foreign policy experience was closing a bridge from New Jersey to New York,” Ramaswamy said. “So do everybody a favor — just walk yourself off that stage, enjoy a nice meal, and get the hell out of this race.”

Later in the debate, Ramaswamy accused Haley of being corrupt and held up a notepad with the phrase “Nikki = corrupt” on it. When given the option to respond, Haley declined.

At one point Ramaswamy was asked about remarks he made in September that appeared to criticize Haley’s decision for most of her life to go by “Nikki” rather than her given first name “Nimarata.” Haley’s parents are both Sikhs.

DeSantis and Christie are Catholic, while Ramaswamy is Hindu and Haley is Methodist.

“Are you questioning Nikki Haley’s Christian convictions?” moderator Eliana Johnson asked Ramaswamy. 

“I don’t question her faith, but I question her authenticity,” Ramaswamy responded, going on to criticize Haley for what he said was her use of “identity politics” in her campaign.

Given a chance to rebut Ramaswamy’s remarks, Haley said: “It’s not worth my time to respond to him.”

Most primary polls show Trump leading his opponents by nearly 50 points. The former president is polling about 60% with DeSantis polling at less than 15% and Haley polling around 10%. Ramaswamy is polling around 5% and Christie is polling around 2.5%.

Pope Francis reads speeches unassisted for the first time in nearly two weeks

Pope Francis greets members of Italy's National Association of St. Paul on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2023 / 11:16 am (CNA).

Pope Francis had seven meetings Thursday morning where he read out three speeches unassisted for the first time in nearly two weeks.

The pope, who has been recovering from a bout of bronchitis, said that he was feeling “much better” on Wednesday but opted to have an aide read his general audience catechesis, explaining to the crowd that he still had difficulties if he “talks too much.”

The following day, the pope seemed to show improvement in this respect as well by reading out his speeches during his meetings on Dec. 7 with members of the Focolare Movement, Italy’s National Association of St. Paul, and new ambassadors to the Holy See. 

Pope Francis could be seen reading the speeches in videos released by Vatican Media, one day after the Italian news aggregator site “Il Sismografo” published a commentary saying the pope’s “health condition does not look good,” citing the pope’s decision not to read his speeches aloud.

Since Nov. 26, the pope has only offered brief off-the-cuff remarks during many of his audiences, while his longer prepared speeches were either read by an aide or distributed to his guests, as Pope Francis recovered from what he has described as “very acute infectious bronchitis.”

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, also read Francis’ keynote speech to the U.N.’s COP28 climate conference on Dec. 2 after the pope’s trip to the climate summit in Dubai was canceled at the request of his doctors.

In addition to his three speeches on Thursday, Pope Francis had private meetings with the former archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit; Archbishop Yagop Jacques Mourad of Homs, Syria; Archbishop Jan Romeo Pawłowski, the apostolic nuncio to Greece; and Archbishop Nareg Alemezian of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Pope Francis at his audience with Italy's National Association of St. Paul on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis at his audience with Italy's National Association of St. Paul on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media

Pope Francis, who turns 87 this month, is scheduled to preside over a ceremony on Dec. 8 honoring the Virgin Mary in the piazza below Rome’s Spanish Steps and deliver a special Friday Angelus address to mark the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The Vatican has not disclosed whether any special accommodations, including having an aide read his speeches, could be made for the pope during his busy schedule on the Marian feast day.

Pope Francis’ cardinal advisers hear from 2 female professors on women’s role in the Church

Pope Francis at the general audience at the Vatican on Dec. 6, 2023. / Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/EWTN News

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2023 / 10:45 am (CNA).

Pope Francis’ council of cardinal advisers heard testimonies from two female theology professors who spoke about the role of women in the Church.

The Holy See press office said on Dec. 6 that the pope met with his council of advisers for a two-day meeting in Rome, which included discussions of abuse prevention, the Synod on Synodality assembly, and the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and the Holy Land.

“At the center of reflection in this meeting was the theme of women’s role in the Church,” the Vatican said.

Sister Linda Pocher, FMA, and Lucia Vantini, a theology professor in Verona, addressed the council on the topic, along with Father Luca Castiglioni, a fundamental theology professor at the diocesan seminary of Milan. 

Pocher, a member of the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco, is an adjunct professor of Christology and Mariology at the Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences “Auxilium” in Rome.

“The council agreed about the need to listen, even and especially in individual Christian communities, to the feminine aspect of the Church, so that the processes of reflection and decision-making can enjoy the irreplaceable contribution of women,” the Vatican communique said.

The pope’s Council of Cardinals has been discussing the role of women in the Church since February 2022, when the cardinals heard and commented on a report by Pocher on the Marian principle in the Church.

Last week, Pope Francis spoke of the “Marian principle,” which theologians often contrast with the “Petrine principle,” in comments to the International Theological Commission on Nov. 30.

“Balthasar’s thought has brought me so much light,” Francis said. “The Petrine principle and the Marian principle. This can be debated, but the two principles are there. The Marian is more important than the Petrine because the Church is bride, the Church is woman, without being masculine.”

The pope also expressed disappointment that there are only five women among the 28 members of the International Theological Commission, whom he appoints, adding that “women have a capacity for theological reflection that is different to that of us men.”

“The Church is woman. And if we do not know what a woman is, what the theology of a woman is, we will never understand what the Church is,” he said.

“One of the great sins we have had is to ‘masculinize’ the Church. And this is not solved by the ministerial path; that is something else.”

The pope’s group of cardinal advisers — sometimes referred to as the C9 because of its nine members — was established by Pope Francis in 2013 to “assist him in the governance of the universal Church” as well as to revise the text of the 1988 apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus.

Pope Francis added five new members to the council in March: Synod on Synodality organizer Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, Canadian Cardinal Gérald C. Lacroix, Brazilian Cardinal Sérgio da Rocha, Spanish Cardinal Juan José Omella Omella, and Cardinal Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, the president of the Governorate of Vatican City State.

U.S. Cardinal Seán O’Malley, Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Congolese Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin also took part in the Dec. 4–5 meeting at the Casa Santa Marta, the pope’s residence.

During the meeting, O’Malley “outlined several hypothetical arrangements about the organization of assemblies of bishops’ conferences five years after the February 2019 Meeting on the Prevention of Child Abuse and Vulnerable Persons, which were then discussed and evaluated with council members,” according to the Holy See Press Office.

The next meeting of the Council of Cardinals is scheduled for February.

Why protesters in 50 Spanish cities are praying the rosary this Friday

Spanish protesters show their rosaries in Spain in protest against the action of the police on Nov. 28, 2023. / Credit: Nicolás de Cárdenas/ACI Prensa

ACI Prensa Staff, Dec 7, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

On Dec. 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception — the patroness of Spain — hundreds of Spaniards will gather to pray the rosary in public “for the unity of Spain” in more than 50 cities throughout the country.

Lay Catholics have been gathering in public recently to pray the rosary in response to the political, social, and moral situation in Spain and in resistance to pressure from the government, led by President Pedro Sánchez, to prevent these expressions of faith in the public square.

‘Immoral’ government deals

At the end of October and the beginning of November, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) announced the political deals necessary to remain in power after the general elections of July 23.

The parties that have come together to make these deals possible are broadly characterized as ideologically leftist for the most part, or as holding regional-nationalist or secessionist positions.

While Spain has a national government, the country is also governed by a decentralized system of regional governments known as “autonomous communities,” some of which have separatist tendencies to form their own nation such as Basque Country and Catalonia.

Among the parties in the political coalition government Sánchez has put together are EH Bildu — the political heirs of the terrorist Basque Marxist separatist group ETA, which claimed the lives of more than 800 people over 40 years — and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia) and Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), which promoted the secessionist coup d’état in Catalonia carried out in 2017.

The deals reached include an amnesty law that would free from prison the Catalan secessionist leaders convicted of sedition and which would also leave unpunished the crimes related to that challenge to Spain’s constitutional order and territorial unity that have yet to be judged in court. 

Some bishops, speaking as individual citizens — such as Jesús Sanz Montes of the Diocese of Oviedo — described these deals as “immoral” and charged that “those who committed serious and violent crimes against coexistence [the territorial unity of Spain], destroying the rule of law, are determining the future of a people with their bargaining chip.”

The Spanish Bishops’ Conference also recently expressed its concern about the social and political crisis that is being experienced in the country in a message titled “Encounter and Harmony Are Still Possible.”

Rosary for Spain joins citizen protests

On Nov. 3, when the agreement that included amnesty for the convicted secessionist leaders in Catalonia was already considered a done deal, protests began to take place near the national headquarters of the PSOE on Ferraz Street in Madrid, which were repressed by the National Police.

A little more than a week later, on Nov. 12, some laypeople began to pray the rosary outside the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a few meters from the site of the protests. 

Thus, for two weeks, punctually at 7:30 p.m., the rosary was prayed without problems or incidents. When the rosary was over, some people on their own initiative joined the nearby citizen demonstrations against the government.

Rosary for Spain banned

The Organic Law that regulates the fundamental right of assembly provides that notice of public events must normally be given to the Government Delegation 10 days in advance. However, the law also provides for at least 24 hours notice to be given for urgent circumstances.

All events to pray the rosary in public during the two weeks prior to Monday, Nov. 27, had been communicated to the Government Delegation, which opted for administrative silence. This means that if there is no response from the administration, it is understood that nothing prevents holding the event.

But on Nov. 27, the Government Delegation gave the order to prevent the recitation of the rosary. At the usual time, numerous officers from the Police Intervention Units (UIP), or riot police, showed up in front of the church where the rosary was being prayed.

According to witnesses, the participants were told by the police that they could not proceed with the prayer, but the faithful continued praying the rosary anyway. The event organizer, José Andrés Calderón, was asked to show his ID and a woman was arrested.

That same night, Calderón announced another decision by the Government Delegation that banned the rosary rallies scheduled for Nov. 28, 29, and 30.

Rosaries in front of the police

The news about the ban announced Nov. 27 meant that at the event on Nov. 28 there was a somewhat more tense atmosphere than usual. Thus, hundreds of people gathered at the site in defiance of the government ban.

The prayer passed without incident until at its conclusion, when those in charge of the large contingent of police that was present went to speak with Calderón to inform him that they were going to fine him as the organizer of the event.

A rumor spread among the participants that Calderón was going to be arrested, so many people crowded around the young man and the National Police officers, defending the right to freely pray the rosary in public.

While the riot police put on their protective gear in preparation for the possible use of force, those who had come to pray held out their rosaries and formed a solid front facing off with the police, who retreated several meters along Marqués de Urquijo Street, perpendicular to Ferraz Street, where the PSOE headquarters is located.

After about 10 minutes of growing tension, with the participants shouting “Freedom!” and “Go away!” at the police, they decided on their own initiative to move over to adjacent Ferraz Street, where the anti-government protests first began, to continue showing their rejection of the deals made by President Sánchez after the July elections.

Rosary for the unity of Spain

In protest against the prohibitions imposed by the Government Delegation in Madrid, on Nov. 28 the call to hold a national rosary for the unity of Spain on Dec. 8 began to circulate among those present.

The initiative invited people, in a generic way, to gather to pray in front of the cathedral or main church of each town or city on the feast day of the patroness of Spain, the Immaculate Conception, “in communion with the rosary of Ferraz.”

On Nov. 29, despite the prohibition, the faithful gathered again for prayer. On that occasion, there were no moments of tension with law enforcement officers even though that morning, the Provincial Court of Madrid in response to an appeal filed by Calderón had upheld the decision of the Government Delegation.

Rosary for Spain in 50 cities

By Dec. 1, the nationwide call for a rosary on Dec. 8 had already been confirmed for 15 cities, and just five days later, 50 rallies spread throughout Spain were confirmed — and even one in Miami as well.

The promoters of the rosary rallies have also published a manifesto to be read on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception in all the places where this initiative is supported with the hashtag #RosarioPorEspaña on social media.

The manifesto

On Dec. 5, the “Manifesto of the Rosary for Spain” was released, which will be read at all prayer sites. It states that “the Spanish nation is at a crossroads” and that it is threatened by “its progressive balkanization, the takeover of Parliament by anti-Spanish forces, the destruction of the middle class, and the lack of a true national project.”

The manifesto stresses that Spain “suffers, above all, from a moral and spiritual bankruptcy” because “false secular religions” have corrupted “the deepest roots of the Spanish people.”

It furthermore notes that “the state has usurped the ‘auctoritas’ (authority) that the Church historically had” and that there is a twofold religious persecution: one “violent” and another “that is more invisible and dangerous” and that enters “into areas in which a ruler, unless he is a tyrant, could never meddle.”

The manifesto also underscores that “the line that separates the just form of government from the tyrannical has been crossed for a long time” in Spain and, understanding that “religion is the greatest enemy of every tyrant,” declares that “the Catholic has the duty to bear witness to their faith in all areas.”

The manifesto concludes by emphasizing that the national rosary for Spain is being held “with the purpose of worshipping God and venerating his immaculate mother. We pray for the intercession and help of the Virgin Mary to avoid the territorial and spiritual dismemberment of Spain. God is with us!”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

FBI director grilled after release of new report on targeting of Catholics

Christopher Wray at his confirmation hearing on July 12, 2017. / Credit: Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Image

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 6, 2023 / 17:35 pm (CNA).

Sen. Josh Hawley engaged in a tense exchange with FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday after the release of the report that found the agency’s investigation into traditional Catholics may be more expansive than FBI officials have claimed.

“Now we know that, in fact, FBI agents did approach a priest and a choir director to ask them to inform on parishioners,” Hawley told Wray during a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Dec. 5. 

The hearing followed the unveiling on Monday of the House Judiciary Committee’s report detailing the results of a monthslong investigation into a leaked internal FBI memo that discussed investigating Catholics as potential domestic terrorists. 

“Good heavens, director, this is one of the most outrageous targetings — you have mobilized your division, the most powerful law enforcement division in the world, against traditionalist Catholics … and you just told us you have not fired a single person,” Hawley said during the exchange. 

Wray argued with Hawley, saying that he was conflating two distinct things: the memo that the Richmond FBI office has since rescinded and a separate investigation into a man who was amassing molotov cocktails and making threats. In regard to the memo that targeted Catholics, Wray said employees have been admonished and their salaries may be affected.

“We do not and will not conduct investigations based on anybody’s exercise of their constitutionally protected religious [expression],” Wray claimed.

“You have done so and your memo explicitly asks for it,” Hawley retorted.

The new report delved deeper into the FBI’s efforts to investigate traditionalist Catholics and the now-retracted Richmond FBI memo that alleged a link between so-called “radical traditionalist Catholics” and “the far-right white nationalist movement.” The memo suggested “trip wire or source development” within parishes that offer the Traditional Latin Mass and within online communities.

The report found that the internal memo was made available to other FBI field offices, that the FBI may still be looking into the supposed link mentioned in the memo, and that agents interviewed a priest and a choir director affiliated with the Society of St. Pius X in late 2022 — although the FBI claims these interviews were part of a separate investigation and had no relation to the memo.

“The memorandum was spread throughout the FBI, which is contrary to previous assertions that the memorandum was limited to the Richmond Field Office,” the report found, noting that it “was published on an FBI-wide system.”

Although FBI officials have argued that this problem was isolated to one field office, the report found that “the FBI had plans for an external, FBI-wide product based on the Richmond memorandum.” In spite of Wray’s retraction and disavowal of the memo, the report also found that “the FBI may still be attempting to fashion information from the Richmond memorandum into an external-facing document.”

The report cites a private interview the committee held with Special Agent in Charge of the Richmond Field Office Stanley Meador, which revealed that discussions about a broader document are ongoing. 

“I know internally there have been some discussions … throughout the months of a desire to still try and get this information out somehow, but … I’ve not seen anything as a result of that,” Meador said, according to the report. 

When asked to clarify, Meador said he was referring to the “general subject” of the supposed connection between so-called radical traditionalist Catholics and racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.

The investigation also references information disclosed by a whistleblower about FBI agents interviewing a priest and a choir director at a church associated with the Society of St. Pius X in Richmond. The SSPX holds a canonically irregular status with the Catholic Church due to its founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, consecrating bishops without papal approval. 

“The interviews appear to have occurred in November and December 2022 — the same time the analysts started drafting the memorandum,” the report states. “This information, which the FBI has refused to disclose, confirms that the FBI directly communicated with Catholic clergy and staff about parishioners practicing their faith.”

In a statement to CNA on Tuesday, the FBI disputed the report’s claim, saying that the priest and choir director were interviewed “by FBI Richmond during an investigation of an individual threatening violence who has since been arrested [and] … the interviews were not conducted for the domain perspective as characterized by the report.” 

“Any characterization that the FBI is targeting Catholics is false,” the statement read. “We have stated repeatedly that the intelligence product prepared by one FBI field office did not meet the exacting standards of the FBI and was quickly removed from FBI systems. An internal review conducted by the FBI found no malicious intent to target Catholics or members of any other religious faith and did not identify any investigative steps taken as a result of the product.”

The committee, however, said in its report that the bureau “continues to resist several of the committee’s requests for transparency and answers.”

The report said that the FBI “must take decisive action to rebuild public trust,” noting that the Richmond office hasn’t issued a public apology nor removed any employees involved in the creation of the memo.

Refugees of ethnic clash in India find open arms in majority-Christian state

Father Caleb Laldawngsanga leads refugees from violence-torn Manipur in the praying of a rosary. / Credit: Anto Akkara

Aizawl, India, Dec 6, 2023 / 17:05 pm (CNA).

Thousands of ethnic Kuki Christians are still struggling to restart life after being displaced following the bloody ethnic conflict in Manipur state in northeast India that took place in early May.

However, those who fled to neighboring Mizoram are grateful for the welcome they have received in the majority-Christian state.

“Unlike thousands of others [refugees from Manipur], we are lucky. We have got government accommodation, the Church is helping us, and our children have been admitted in [the] government school,” said John Thangvanglian, a catechist at St. Joseph’s Parish of Sugnu in Manipur.

“On hearing about the comfortable situation, seven more families have contacted me and [will be] reaching here soon,” Thangvanglian told CNA Nov. 25 from Aizawl.

Manipur, located east of Bangladesh and at the border with Myanmar, is home to 3.3 million people. For decades, members of Meitei, Kuki, and Naga tribes have fought over land and religious differences. 

Beginning in May, a protracted violent clash between the majority Meiteis, most of whom are Hindus, and the minority Kukis left nearly 200 dead. Over 60,000 Kuki refugees along with 10,000 Meiteis were driven out from Kuki strongholds.

The government of the Christian majority state of Mizoram extended a helping hand to more than 12,000 Christian refugees from Manipur, housing scattered families in cities such as Aizawl in newly built apartments.

“We are happy and relaxed here. There is a lot of public support and concern for us,” pointed out Thangvanglian, who had led dozens of Kuki Catholics to reach Aizawl over three days of arduous mountain travel from Sugnu when their township came under attack from Meitei militants in May.

This correspondent in mid-September visited Kuki Catholic refugees from Sugnu sheltered at the newly built apartments that the Mizoram government had constructed for housing the poor.

“When armed forces were unable to keep the Meitei militants away, many of us took shelter in army camps and moved out of Sungu with their escort. Not a single Christian is left there. The church, convent, school, and all our properties have been looted and torched. We are lucky to get away alive,” Thangvanglian said.

“At least 6,000 Kukis [all Christians], including over 1,000 Catholics, have been driven out of Sugnu. We don’t know if or when we can return,” James Thangboi, another Catholic from Sugnu, told CNA.

The plundering of once bustling Sugnu township — which now looks like a war zone — has been brought to light in the documentary “Manipur: Cry of the Oppressed.” The film highlights the devastation, marked by arson and anarchy, suffered by Catholic targets across Manipur.

“We are grateful to God [that] we are safe here,” Mercy Tungdian, who now lives with her three small children in a government apartment shared with her family members, told CNA.

“They have become a new vibrant community for us,” said Father Caleb Laldawngsanga, who led this correspondent to the refugee center and says Mass every Sunday for the four dozen Catholic refugees at the complex in one of the corridors.

On Sept. 16, the Catholic refugees were thrilled when Bishop Stephen Rotluanga of Aizawl joined them in their evening rosary.

When they finished the rosary, Rotluanga went to comfort them standing in front of the statue of Mary kept on the table in the corridor of the apartment complex.

“Suffering is a part of Christian life. I can feel your pain losing your houses and all possessions. I have gone through the same experience in my childhood,” recalled the 71-year-old bishop, who heads the 30,000-strong Catholic Church in Mizoram, home to 1.2 million people, nearly 90% of them Christian.

“I remember my house and everything going up in flames in a forest fire in our native village [Sakawrtuichhun] when I was a small child. My father’s desperate attempt to save it did not work and we had to move to Aizawl as homeless people.” 

“So, I had good schooling, joined the seminary, became a priest and bishop. If that fire had not happened, my life would have a different story. So, don’t worry. Your suffering will turn out for good. Trust in God,” Rotluanga told the homeless refugees.

On Sept. 16, 2023, the Catholic refugees were thrilled when Bishop Stephen Rotluanga of Aizawl joined them in their evening rosary. Credit: Anto Akkara
On Sept. 16, 2023, the Catholic refugees were thrilled when Bishop Stephen Rotluanga of Aizawl joined them in their evening rosary. Credit: Anto Akkara

Unlike the Catholic refugees from Sugnu, 59-year-old Francis Thanghminglian, a government teacher from Singngat village in Manipur, is leading a quiet life in the safety of a rented house away from the bustling Aizawl city.

“When our village was attacked, we took shelter in the army camp. After a week, the army escorted us to the [Imphal] airport and we reached here safely,” recounted Thanghminglian, whose son Samuel was ordained a priest in 2021 for the Imphal Archdiocese.

“Though our younger son Stephen [a Jesuit theology student] was assaulted by [Meitei] goons [while on a pastoral visit to families from the Jesuit house] on May 3, we thank God that the injury was not serious. He is now continuing theological studies in Pune. We have nothing now. God will enable us to carry this burden. There is God’s plan behind all these,” added the father of six sons and grandfather of two grandchildren.

Lala Songate, a Baptist who led a comfortable life running a furniture showroom in the city of Imphal, had to flee with his entire family from his native Langoi village as Meitei mobs targeted Kukis.

“Though we have lost everything, I thank God for keeping my entire family safe. Two youths of our village were killed while they were fleeing. We rushed to the army camp for safety,” Songate recounted regarding the safe escape of his entire family — his wife, three sons, two daughters-in-law, and three grandchildren.

“They [the army] escorted us to the airport and we flew to Aizawl by May 6 and stayed with friends. Soon [the Mizoram] government arranged this accommodation for us,” Lala said, describing his family’s exodus to safety in government apartments at Edenthar.