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Exiles describe Nicaragua regime’s ‘unholy war against the Catholic Church’ at congressional hearing
Posted on 03/24/2023 01:14 AM (CNA Daily News - US)
Washington D.C., Mar 23, 2023 / 17:14 pm (CNA).
Recently released political prisoners and human rights activists testified before members of Congress Wednesday about the ongoing persecution in Nicaragua, which one witness called an “unholy war against the Catholic Church.”
In recent years, the Nicaraguan government under Daniel Ortega has detained, imprisoned, and likely tortured numerous Catholic leaders, targeting at least one bishop and several priests.
In addition, the Ortega regime has repressed Catholic radio and television stations and driven Catholic religious orders, including the Missionaries of Charity, from the country.
Among those to testify March 22 was Juan Sebastian Chamorro, a former presidential candidate opposed to the Ortega regime who detailed his arrest and imprisonment.
“I was kidnapped by the police from my house the night of June 8, 2021. I was captured in front of my wife and my daughter … My family did not know anything about me until I was able to see my sister … almost three months after my arrest,” he said.
“Today, as the result of this authoritarian project in Nicaragua, there is no law, there is no media, and there are no civil rights.”
Other witnesses included Bianca Jagger, a Nicaraguan human rights activist and former actress, and Felix Maradiaga, a Nicaraguan scholar and activist who is another recently freed political prisoner. It was Jagger who called the repression an “unholy war against the Catholic Church and civil society in Nicaragua.”
Dozens of other Nicaraguan exiles attended the hearing, held at the Rayburn Office Building on Capitol Hill before members of two House subcommittees: the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere and the Subcommittee on Global Health, Human Rights, and International Organizations. The latter body is chaired by Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey.
“Under President Ortega, Nicaragua has become a pariah dictatorship, in league with other human rights abusers like Cuba. Russia, Iran, North Korea, and the People’s Republic of China,” Smith said in his opening statements.
According to Chamorro, “the repression against the Catholic Church in Nicaragua is unprecedented in the history of Latin America … After putting all opposition in jail, repressing all forms of protest, the dictator had to deal with the last standing voice defending freedom, defending peace, and defending human dignity.”
“Ortega had to silence the voice of the Church in order to impose his own voice of hate and violence,” Chamorro added.
On Feb. 10, the Ortega regime struck at the heart of Nicaraguan Catholicism by sentencing one of the country’s foremost leaders, Bishop Rolando Álvarez Lagos, to 26 years and four months in prison for being a “traitor to the homeland.”
Pope Francis condemned Alvarez’s arrest, likening Ortega’s regime to Nazi Germany.
Last week the Vatican’s diplomatic headquarters in Nicaragua was forced to close and its last remaining diplomat, the chargé d’affaires (ambassador), left the country, officially cutting diplomatic ties with the Church in what is a deeply Catholic country. A little more than a year ago, Ortega expelled the Vatican’s apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag.
“Alvarez is in prison because he was the only voice left free to preach an undeniable truth, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Maradiaga said during his Wednesday testimony.
Members of Congress, including Smith; Rep. Maria Salazar, R-Florida; and Rep. French Hill, R-Arkansas, followed the testimony by focusing their questions to witnesses on the reasons beyond Ortega’s repression and how the U.S. can best respond to the Ortega regime’s oppression.
Salazar asked why Ortega has targeted the Catholic Church in particular.
“This guy is a tyrant. This guy is willing to bet anything to do anything to push his plan … and he knows that the Catholic Church is the only institution in his way,” Maradiaga answered.
“The message of the leaders of the Catholic Church was very powerful,” Chamorro said. “They defended with a strong voice and Ortega didn’t appreciate that; he doesn’t like criticism.”
Smith told CNA after the hearing that he “learned a lot” from the testimony, and he criticized what he called a lack of response from the Biden administration.
“Not enough is being done. I wish somebody would ask Biden … ‘You say what a great Catholic you are, what about Bishop Alvarez?’” Smith said.
“Why aren’t we doing something with the [U.N.] Human Rights Council? Bring an action against Nicaragua right now, do it,” he continued. “Charles Taylor, the president of Liberia, has got 50 years for his crimes against humanity. It can be done. It takes a commitment and purpose, and it’s lacking.”
Priest stripped of faculty to hear confessions after he advocated violating that sacrament in sex abuse cases
Posted on 03/24/2023 00:00 AM (CNA Daily News - US)
Boston, Mass., Mar 23, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).
Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee has stripped one of his priests of the faculty to hear confessions following the clergyman’s public support for civil laws mandating that priests break the seal of confession for sins of sexual abuse.
“I have informed Father James Connell that effective immediately he is to cease all such erroneous communications that distort the teachings of the Church about the confessional seal,” Listeicki wrote in a March 22 statement.
“I have also immediately removed the canonical faculties of Father Connell to validly celebrate the sacrament of confession and to offer absolution, here in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and thereby also in the Catholic Church around the world.”
Connell, a retired priest in the archdiocese and former vice chancellor, made comments March 13 in delawareonline.com advocating for a Delaware state bill that mandates priests break the seal of confession for penitents who confess sins of child sexual abuse.
Connell wrote that “no institution in our society, not even a recognized religion, has a significant advantage over governments’ compelling interest and responsibility to protect its children from harm by abuse or neglect.”
“Thus, no valid freedom of religion argument rooted in the absence of truth can provide a moral justification for sheltering perpetrators of abuse or neglect of children from their deserved punishment, while also endangering potential victims,” he continued.
This isn’t the first time Connell, a canon lawyer, has spoken publicly on the issue. In 2018, he appealed to Pope Francis in an online article to “release from the seal of confession” all information regarding child or vulnerable adult sexual abuse so authorities can be notified.
The seal of confession “is not a matter of divine law,” he said in that piece.
In the Code of Canon Law, Canon 983 says that “the sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.”
In 2019, he filed a lawsuit in a U.S. district court against Wisconsin and nine other states arguing that exemptions for the clergy from being mandatory reporters in cases when sexual abuse became known to them under the sacramental seal are unconstitutional.
That lawsuit was dismissed by the judge one day after it was filed.
Connell is a vocal advocate for victims of clerical sexual abuse. Following the August 2022 death of Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who covered up priestly sexual abuse and paid hush money to a former adult seminarian with whom he had a sexual relationship, Connell publicly called for clergy in the archdiocese to boycott the funeral.
Connell himself was accused in 2009 of covering up a sexual abuse case when he worked in the chancery, a claim that both he and the archdiocese denied.
In his recent column, Connell wrote that “all people in Delaware should support the proposed HB 74 that would repeal the Delaware clergy-penitent privilege statute.”
Listecki said that Connell’s comments on the confessional seal are “gravely contrary” to Church teaching and that the Church “firmly declares that the sacramental seal of confession is always, and in every circumstance without exception, completely inviolable.”
“The false assertions of Father James Connell have caused understandable and widespread unrest among the people of God, causing them to question if the privacy of the confessional can now be violated, by him or any other Catholic priest,” he said.
CNA reached out to Connell for comment but received no response by time of publication.
Sandra Peterson, the archdiocese’s communications director, referred CNA to Listecki’s statement and added that she is unaware of any intervention against Connell for his prior comments against the seal of confession in the two years she has been working for the archdiocese.
Archbishop Gomez to lead 6-mile eucharistic procession through Los Angeles
Posted on 03/23/2023 23:30 PM (CNA Daily News - US)
St. Louis, Mo., Mar 23, 2023 / 15:30 pm (CNA).
Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles will lead a six-mile eucharistic procession on Saturday through the city as part of the National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year initiative of the U.S. bishops to renew Catholics’ devotion to Christ in the holy Eucharist.
The March 25 procession will go from a historic Los Angeles mission church, three miles down a main road to another parish, and back.
The day will begin with Mass at 8:30 a.m. PT at the historic Mission San Gabriel, which held its first Mass in more than two years last September after suffering severe damage in an arson attack in mid-2020. Following the Mass, the procession will begin at 9:30. The faithful are invited to walk along with the procession after signing up online.
The route will take the Eucharist through downtown Los Angeles to St. Luke the Evangelist Church before returning to Mission San Gabriel for Benediction. The total route is about 6.5 miles, according to the archdiocese.
A eucharistic procession serves as a way to honor God by professing Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist in a public way. A priest carries a monstrance containing the Eucharist, and traditionally at least three altar servers — one carrying a cross, flanked by two others holding candles — lead the crowd of participants. Traditionally, the monstrance containing the Eucharist will be carried under a small canopy. The canopy serves as a reminder of the “tent of the presence” in which the Israelites of the Old Testament transported the bread of the presence — the prefigurement of the Eucharist — and also serves as a focal point for the procession.
The Los Angeles procession is part of the national revival’s Year of Diocesan Renewal, which kicked off last June with more than 100 eucharistic processions in dioceses across the country. During this stage of the revival, each U.S. diocese is invited to offer events to promote and inspire understanding of the Eucharist. The revival was launched, in part, in response to a 2019 Pew Research study that suggested that only about one-third of U.S. Catholics believe the Church’s teaching that the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
A subsequent Year of Parish Revival launches on the solemnity of Corpus Christi on June 8. The bishops have said they want to encourage “grassroots creativity” and embrace diverse eucharistic traditions to help parishes foster a greater love for the Eucharist among their members. Parish-level initiatives could include offering teaching Masses and small-group formation, the leader of the initiative, Bishop Andrew Cozzens of Crookston, Minnesota, has said.
The revival is set to culminate with the National Eucharistic Congress to be held in Indianapolis from July 17-21, 2024. More than 100,000 Catholics are expected to attend in person, with more joining remotely, to celebrate the Eucharist.
Human composting, alkaline hydrolysis disrespect the human body, U.S. Catholic bishops say
Posted on 03/23/2023 22:50 PM (CNA Daily News - US)
St. Louis, Mo., Mar 23, 2023 / 14:50 pm (CNA).
The U.S. bishops’ doctrine committee on Thursday issued a statement reiterating the Church’s preference for burial of the deceased and stating that newer methods — namely alkaline hydrolysis and human composting — do not show respect for the human body.
“In recent years, newer methods and technologies for disposition of the bodies of the deceased have been developed and presented as alternatives to both traditional burial and cremation. A number of these newer methods and technologies pose serious problems in that they fail to manifest the respect for last remains that Catholic faith requires,” the bishops wrote March 23.
“Unfortunately, the two most prominent newer methods for disposition of bodily remains that are proposed as alternatives to burial and cremation, alkaline hydrolysis and human composting, fail to meet this criterion.”
The Catholic Church teaches that one day, at the final resurrection, the souls of the dead will be reunited with their bodies. Catholics are “obliged to respect our bodily existence throughout our lives and to respect the bodies of the deceased when their earthly lives have come to an end. The way that we treat the bodies of our beloved dead must always bear witness to our faith in and our hope for what God has promised us,” the bishops wrote.
Noting the upcoming celebration of Easter, when Christians celebrate Christ’s bodily resurrection, the bishops reiterated that “the Church has always taught that we must respect the bodies of the deceased.” Thus, a traditional burial is “considered by the Church to be the most appropriate way of manifesting reverence and respect for the body of the deceased because it ‘honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit,’ and clearly expresses our faith and hope in the resurrection of the body.”
The process of human composting — also known as natural organic reduction — is a relatively new phenomenon in the U.S. and has been legalized in a handful of states, most recently California. When a body is composted, it is placed in a reusable container where microbes and bacteria decompose it into soil over the course of 30-45 days. Alkaline hydrolysis is a process whereby a human body is broken down in a tank of chemicals at high pressure and heat, resulting in a few bone fragments and a large quantity of wastewater.
Although the practices of cremation, human composting, and alkaline hydrolysis all involve the acceleration of the decomposition of the body, the latter two do not allow for all parts of the body to be “gathered together and reserved for disposition,” the bishops noted.
“There is nothing distinguishably left of the body to be placed in a casket or an urn and laid to rest in a sacred place where Christian faithful can visit for prayer and remembrance,” the bishops said.
The Catholic Church as a whole does not have an official teaching on the composting of human bodies but has weighed in many times over the years on the practice of cremation. While strongly discouraged, cremation can be permissible under certain restrictions; notably, the remains are not to be scattered and must be kept in a sacred place out of reverence for the Church’s teaching on the eventual resurrection of the body.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s October 2016 instruction Ad Resurgendum Cum Christo states that while cremation “is not prohibited,” the Church “continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased, because this shows a greater esteem towards the deceased.”
In that same document, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarified that a person’s ashes are not to be scattered nor kept in the home or preserved in mementos or jewelry but instead must be “laid to rest in a sacred place,” such as in a cemetery or church. As the document explains, “by burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity.”
California legalized the practice of human composting in 2022, and it is set to become available in the state by 2027. Ahead of the legalization, the California Catholic Conference said the use of a body composting method originally developed for farm animals creates an “unfortunate spiritual, emotional, and psychological distancing from the deceased.” In addition, executive director Kathleen Domingo said, the process “reduces the human body to simply a disposable commodity.”
Bishops in states such as Texas, Missouri, and New York have expressed opposition in recent years to the legalization of alkaline hydrolysis.
Local Chinese authorities order parents at school to sign pledge renouncing their faith
Posted on 03/23/2023 22:08 PM (CNA Daily News - US)
Washington D.C., Mar 23, 2023 / 14:08 pm (CNA).
In another crackdown on religious freedom, local authorities in an eastern Chinese city ordered parents of kindergarteners to sign a pledge that affirms they are not religious.
Guardians of children at schools in Wenzhou, a city in the Zhejiang province, were asked to sign a “pledge form of commitment for family not to hold a religious belief,” according to the human rights group China Aid.
The pledge states that the parents affirm they “do not hold a religious belief, do not participate in any religious activities, and do not propagate and disseminate religion in any locations.” It also makes them affirm “exemplary observance of the [Chinese Communist] Party discipline and the country’s laws and regulations [and to] never join any Falun Gong and other cult organizations.”
Falun Gong, a religious movement founded in China in the 1990s, is openly critical of the Chinese Communist Party.
The order came from Chinese Communist Party officials in the Longwan district of the city of Wenzhou, according to ChinaAid. The nonprofit is a Christian human-rights organization that received the Democracy Award from the National Endowment for Democracy for its commitment to religious freedom in China in 2019.
The district is home to about 750,000, people. Christians represent about 10% of the city’s population and have grown in number over the past decade. This is much higher than the national average, which is less than 1% Christian.
One preschool teacher anonymously said the local authorities had never gone this far before, ChinaAid reported.
“In the past, the higher-level education department made it compulsory for kindergartens not to be superstitious and not to participate in cult organizations but did not mandate kindergarten children’s families not to believe in religion or participate in any religious activities,” the teacher said.
The Chinese constitution states that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief” but limits religious practices to “normal religious activities,” according to the U.S. Department of State. The Chinese government recognizes five religions, which it calls “patriotic religious associations”: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism. However, the city and the nation as a whole have repeatedly been accused of violating the rights of those who practice these religions as well.
In Wenzhou, Christians have faced persecution in several ways. The city banned children from attending religious services and engaging in religious activities in 2017. The following year, the city forbade teachers, hospital workers, and other city employees from holding religious beliefs.
The Vatican signed a deal with the Chinese Communist Party in 2018, but much of the deal has remained secret. The deal was meant to unify the underground Catholic Church with the more public Catholic Church in China by allowing the Chinese Communist Party to play a larger role in the appointment of bishops. This ultimately led to crackdowns on Catholics in the underground churches, which resulted in priests, bishops, and even cardinals being detained or arrested.
One of the fiercest critics of the Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown on Catholics is Cardinal Joseph Zen, who was arrested for helping operate the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund to help Hong Kong citizens who protested the Chinese Communist Party. In a 2020 interview with WION, Zen said the Vatican’s deal with China only emboldened the Chinese Communist Party to crack down harder.
“We have only the moral strength to resist peacefully against the persecution,” Zen said. “It’s [important] for us to keep our faith, not to surrender our faith; we can even sacrifice the sacraments — when you are arrested you cannot keep the sacraments but your faith is in your hearts to help you but you cannot deny your faith.”
What to know about contraceptives, breast cancer risk, and ‘informed choice’
Posted on 03/23/2023 21:48 PM (CNA Daily News - US)
Denver Newsroom, Mar 23, 2023 / 13:48 pm (CNA).
Some forms of contraceptive use have “a significant increase in risk of breast cancer,” a new study says, and one fertility specialist believes that women deserve to know the risks — and the alternatives.
“If it increases risk, women simply need to be informed of this. They need to be able to make an informed choice,” Dr. Marguerite Duane, MD, a family physician who specializes in women’s health and restorative and reproductive medicine, told CNA.
“Without birth control, their risk is lower. It is lower, and that is a fact,” she said. Some women may choose to take that risk, while other women with risk factors like a family history of breast cancer may choose not to.
Duane is an adjunct associate professor at both Georgetown University and Duquesne University School of Medicine. She is also executive director of the Fertility Appreciation Collaborative to Teach the Science, a group of physicians, health care professionals, and educators who provide information on natural or fertility awareness-based methods of family planning.
She responded to news coverage of a study published in the PLOS Medicine journal by Oxford researchers. The study shows a 20% to 30% relative risk for breast cancer associated with progestogen-only contraceptives, according to CNN. The study drew on data from almost 10,000 U.K. women who were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer over a 21-year period and from more than 18,000 women who were not diagnosed with breast cancer.
Progestogens, also known as progestin, are synthetic hormone drugs that mimic progesterone, a natural hormone vital for menstruation and pregnancy. Progestogen-only contraceptives are provided in various ways: an implant, a hormonal intrauterine device, a contraceptive injection, or the “minipill.”
These contraceptives differ from the most popular contraceptive, a combined oral contraceptive pill that includes estrogen.
The researchers used data from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink and combined these results with previous research on contraceptives, CNN reported. They estimated “absolute excess risks,” which means “the additional number of women who would be expected to develop breast cancer in those who used oral contraceptives compared to those who did not,” according to the March 21 news release from Oxford Population Health’s Cancer Epidemiology Unit.
They reported “a significant increase in risk of breast cancer” regardless of which contraceptive drug was used.
In high-income countries, five years of use of combined or progestogen-only contraceptives has a 15-year “excess risk” of breast cancer dependent on age, according to researchers. They estimated that for women ages 16 to 20, this excess risk means 8 in 100,000 contraceptive users will develop breast cancer, while for women aged 35 to 39 it is 265 per 100,000 users.
“This, I think, further supports the argument that there are risks associated with hormonal birth control,” Duane told CNA. “Cancer is just one of the risks. There is also a significant risk of blood clots that can lead to stroke and heart attack in women. And I will tell you, I have personally met families who have buried their daughters due to the side effects of hormonal birth control, who felt anger and frustration that they were never informed.”
Any evaluation of the elevated relative risk of breast cancer should be based on each woman’s “baseline risk,” according to Duane.
“I do not have a family history of breast cancer. So I have a lower baseline risk. I also breastfed my children for nearly 10 years. Breastfeeding is a known factor that reduces a woman's risk,” she said. “For example, I might have a risk of breast cancer of 1%, whereas a person who has a strong family history and who also smokes, which is a known risk factor for breast cancer, might have a 10% risk of breast cancer.”
A 30% risk increase for Duane might mean a risk of breast cancer rising from 1% to 1.3%, whereas another woman could see a risk increase from 10% to 13%.
While birth control proponents will argue that contraceptives are safer than pregnancy, Duane said that just because someone is not on birth control does not mean that she will be pregnant. Duane herself has been pregnant for 36 months out of 30 years in which she has not used birth control.
Kirstin Pirie, a researcher at the University of Oxford, was the lead author of the progestogen-only contraceptive study. She told CNN that excess risks must be seen in light of the “well-established benefits” of contraceptive use for women of reproductive age, including birth control and hormone regulation.
Duane objected to this description.
“Pregnancy is not a disease, and the purpose of birth control is to prevent pregnancy. So hormonal birth control is synthetic steroid hormones that are given to healthy women to essentially create a diseased state, to make them infertile,” she said. “It does not regulate hormones; to be very clear, it suppresses normal hormone production.”
“The World Health Organization [WHO] recognizes hormonal birth control, specifically combination hormonal birth control, as a class one carcinogen. It is in the same category of cancer risk as tobacco, and asbestos,” she said. “And yet, it is considered a preventive health service that should be provided for free, again, to prevent pregnancy, which itself is not a disease.”
WHO’s International Association for Research of Cancer on its website lists estrogen-progestogen oral contraceptives as among 122 carcinogenic agents. It also notes “convincing evidence” that the drug has a “a protective effect against cancer in the endometrium and ovary.”
“Natural methods of family planning or fertility awareness-based methods can be used and can be used very effectively with effectiveness rates comparable to hormonal birth control. I think that’s really important,” Duane said. “The World Health Organization recognizes fertility awareness-based methods as the only form of family planning with no medical side effects.”
Catholic ethics rejects the use of contraceptives.
John F. Brehany, executive vice president of the National Catholic Bioethics Council, warned that Catholics should not adopt a “contraceptive mentality.”
“We should understand and respect the fertility of our bodies through the lens of faith — knowing that we are part of a created order designed by the God of love and life,” Brehany told CNA. “Life and sex are best approached within God’s plan (and using medicine and technology consistent with that plan), not as a series of risk mitigation calculations.”
New Orleans Auxiliary Bishop Cheri dies at 71 after lengthy illness
Posted on 03/23/2023 00:00 AM (CNA Daily News - US)
New Orleans, La., Mar 22, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).
Bishop Fernand (Ferd) Joseph Cheri III, OFM, a New Orleans native who had served since 2015 as auxiliary bishop of New Orleans, died March 21 at Chateau de Notre Dame in New Orleans following a lengthy illness.
Cheri, 71, served most recently as administrator of St. Peter Claver Parish in New Orleans until kidney and heart problems forced him to step away from active ministry. He was born with one kidney and had been on dialysis three days a week for several months.
“He has been called home to the Lord,” Archbishop Gregory Aymond said in a message to priests, religious, and laity of the archdiocese. “We mourn his death and thank God for his life and ministry.”
The archbishop said Cheri started his vocational journey in the Archdiocese of New Orleans “as a seminarian, as a priest, and as a pastor” and had directed a “very dedicated ministry.”
“And then, he heard God’s call to join the Franciscans and was a valued member of the Franciscan community,” Aymond said. “We were delighted to receive him back into the Archdiocese of New Orleans as auxiliary bishop in 2015, and I have enjoyed working with him in sharing episcopal ministry and shepherding God’s people.”
Lengthy medical setbacks
Cheri was hospitalized after attending the national Lyke Conference for Black Catholics last June, and he began dialysis several months later and was dealing with a serious heart condition.
“We saw him not only as a vocal advocate for African-American Catholics and advocating for our needs but also as a shepherd to the world,” said Dr. Ansel Augustine, director of the archdiocesan Office of Black Catholic Ministries. “When you think of bishops being shepherds, you see someone who cares about people, one on one. When you talked to him, you felt like you were the only person in the world that mattered even though he might have had 8 million other things going on. But Bishop Cheri’s charism — and maybe it’s the Franciscan thing of hospitality — was something you felt with him. I think that’s why so many people loved him.”
Cheri, who was ordained to the episcopacy on March 23, 2015, at St. Louis Cathedral, was one of seven active African-American bishops in the U.S.
In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, Cheri led a peaceful march of 250 from the archdiocesan chancery building to Notre Dame Seminary. The prayer service was called “Requiem for the Black Children of God.”
“Enough is enough,” he said from the steps of the seminary, where he did his theological studies. “This scene drains our spirits and clouds the union of the human family.
“As toxic as the crossroads of life are these days, will we have the courage and wisdom to stay vigilant amidst … the gross violence and abuse by law enforcement? This is not a time for the faint of heart but for the courageous.”
In a 2018 address honoring New Orleans’ tricentennial, Cheri traced the history of the Black Catholic Church in New Orleans and praised the Sisters of the Holy Family, founded in 1842 by Venerable Henriette Delille, a free woman of color; the Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver; the Office of Black Catholic Ministries; and the Institute of Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana, founded in 1980 to explore Scripture and Church teachings from both “a righteous Black consciousness and an authentic Catholic tradition.”
“These individuals and moments challenged the Catholic community of the Archdiocese of New Orleans to not only change the narrative of the Church but [also] to affirm that we share common journeys together,” Cheri said. “We were called to rise above the Code Noir and Jim Crow laws of our times that supported the politics of fear and anger and the foundation of racism in the South.”
Music tied to his faith life
A lifelong singer, he loved to break into song during a homily or whenever the mood struck. When he was just 3 years old, his mother, Gladys, recalled little Ferd, the first boy among her seven children, belting out a tune in their house on St. Anthony Street in New Orleans.
In a 2015 interview before his ordination, Cheri spoke about how he reveled in the gift of music and his vocation.
“The experience of becoming a bishop — and how people are reacting to it — I feel like I sang a solo that became the community’s prayer,” he told the Clarion Herald.
Cheri was named the 11th auxiliary bishop of New Orleans on Jan. 12, 2015. Until he received the phone call from the papal nuncio, the self-effacing Franciscan priest was directing campus ministry at Quincy University, a 1,300-student school run by the Franciscans in rural Illinois, about 135 miles northwest of St. Louis.
Cheri’s life story was one of amazing grace.
His father, Fernand Joseph Cheri Jr., was an Army veteran whose full-time job was delivering mail. He worked extra jobs to keep the children fed and in Catholic school uniforms. After finishing his regular mail route at 3 p.m., Cheri would drive to St. Mary’s Academy to do evening maintenance work. Later, he even helped build classroom buildings at the school.
Gladys Cheri, who squeezed every nickel out of her husband’s salary, somehow made it all work. Gladys also worked for many years cooking for the Sisters of the Holy Family who staffed St. Mary’s Academy.
“It was quite interesting,” Bishop Cheri said. “My dad would always say, ‘Y’all are breaking me!’ That was his favorite mantra. Of course, that never stopped us from saying we needed money. Somehow, we made it. When I think about living in a house with one bathroom for nine people, that’s amazing.”
At Epiphany Church, the Cheri family arrived like ducks, walking single file and taking up an entire pew. Young Ferd was too impatient and undisciplined to learn the piano from choir director James Freeman, but the young singer always could carry a tune.
“He tried to get me to sing solos at church,” Cheri recalled. “I got up one day and I was so nervous and shaking that my voice quivered so badly. No one came to my rescue. I had to bear that cross alone.”
In the 1960s, when the archdiocese was making efforts to desegregate its churches and the Cheris had moved into St. Leo the Great Parish, Archbishop Joseph Rummel, working through the Epiphany pastor, asked them to attend Mass at the previously all-white St. Leo the Great.
Even though they were leaving behind all their church friends at Epiphany, Bishop Cheri’s parents respected the archbishop’s wishes.
“They did that to integrate the church,” Cheri said. “We were just going to do it. I don’t think there was any conversation about it.”
That experience, as mysterious as it was, was an important signpost of what it meant to grow up both black and Catholic in New Orleans. As a member of Epiphany — which was staffed by Josephite priests — Cheri grew up in a protective cocoon where there was a sense of “really strong community.”
“We were protected from a lot of the racism in the country and even in the city,” he said.
Even after his family began attending St. Leo the Great Church, Ferd continued attending Epiphany School, and he began thinking about the priesthood.
St. John Prep
He chose to attend St. John Prep, then a school for young men considering the priesthood. Cheri played fullback on the Chargers’ football team and sang in the glee club. While there, he met two other religious women — Marianite Sister Judy Gomila and Sister of the Holy Family Marie Bernadette — who worked in the Ninth Ward with the needy in St. Philip the Apostle Parish, which encompassed the Desire Housing Development.
“They were always showing us what we needed to do,” Cheri said. “They encouraged us by saying, ‘You can do this. You can do that.’ Sister Judy and Sister Bernadette were a great team.”
“Some people called us salt and pepper,” said Sister Judy, who is white. “I will remember his wonderful voice and his gift of music. He could sing even when he was sad.”
When Cheri went on to St. Joseph Seminary College in Covington, there were about 15 Black seminarians studying for dioceses across Louisiana.
There were difficult challenges. Sometimes it was an insensitive, racially charged remark by a professor that left him wondering if he truly would be able to persevere in his vocation. But every time something traumatic occurred, Cheri said, someone came into his life to help reassure him and save his vocation.
Many of those “father figures” were members of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, whom he had met during summer conferences. They became sounding boards whenever things got rough. He mentioned Father Thomas Glasgow, a New Orleans priest.
“There were a number of Black priests in the clergy caucus who were supportive of me,” Cheri said. “To hear some of those guys tell their stories about how they survived and stayed in the seminary, I felt like what I was going through, as difficult as it was, was nothing compared to what they went through.”
By the time he got to Notre Dame Seminary to begin his theology studies, Cheri felt compelled to learn everything he could about ministering to all people. He took a mission trip to Jamaica, and his role was to help run a catechetical program at an orphanage.
He was selected in the summer of 1976 to serve as a chaplain at California State Prison in Vacaville, a medical prison with 2,300 inmates. On his first day, he went for lunch and turned around with his tray only to see only one spot left at a table for six — and the other five men sitting at the table were inmates.
“I was scared to death,” Cheri said. “Of course, I was in my clerics, and to all of these guys, I was a Black Catholic priest, and they had never seen one before, nor did they care. I was the smallest person there. I felt like I was sitting with a football team. It was a moment where I had to be myself, but I also had to show a sense of self-assurance, otherwise it would have been damaging. In those 10 weeks, my ministry at Vacaville gave me the courage to go on to be a priest.”
He was ordained to the diaconate in January 1978 at Epiphany Church and then was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Philip Hannan on May 20, 1978, at St. Louis Cathedral.
He was assigned for a year to Our Lady of Lourdes in New Orleans, whose pastor was Bishop Harold Perry, and then went in 1979 to St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Marrero, working under Father Doug Doussan.
Just as he had at Our Lady of Lourdes, Father Cheri developed a strong music ministry, building a 70-member youth choir within three months. Even then, he had to tread carefully because there was a delicate balance between white and Black parishioners, and the youth choir was made up of mostly Black teens.
“We had so many people at church, we had to start another Mass,” Cheri said. “I made sure the leadership of the parish understood what was going to happen and what differences it would make culturally for the Mass.”
Parishioners reacted positively to the new music program.
“One woman got up and said, ‘I have all my young children in the choir and I used to battle with them about going to church,’” Cheri said. “‘Now, they’re battling with me to get me to church.’ That whole experience taught me that we really need to help people see the value of our differences. Sometimes we just don’t see it. We go with how we think things should be, but our view is not the only view.”
After serving from 1985-91 as pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish in New Orleans, Cheri said he began to feel a tug to consider joining a religious community.
“I was toying with the idea because I was living alone and I had some nights when I just wished I could talk to somebody about stuff,” Cheri said. “You can call a friend, but it’s different when you’re eating with somebody and can share your day and what’s going on in your life.”
He began by calling the superiors of several different religious communities with whom he had experience working in New Orleans — the Franciscans, Josephites, Vincentians, Dominicans, and Holy Cross Fathers. Each superior came to New Orleans to meet with him.
“Basically, I chose the Friars because of St. Francis and his idea of service to the poor, the marginalized, the variety of possibilities of working with the homeless people or in prison ministry,” Cheri said. “I felt I wanted to do something other than just parish ministry. The Friars offered that possibility to me. I also knew of a lot of Black Friars who were working around the country. I thought this might be a good fit.”
Cheri spent one year in the Franciscans’ pre-novitiate, which gave him a chance to see what living in community was all about while doing prison ministry in Joliet, Illinois.
He then went for two years of study in the novitiate in Franklin, Indiana, in order to learn more about the ministries and inner workings of the Franciscans’ Province of the Sacred Heart.
He taught and was a campus minister at Hales Franciscan High School in Chicago from 1993-96 and then served from 1996-2002 as pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Nashville, Tennessee, that diocese’s only Black Catholic parish.
From 2002-2008, he helped in a special project of the Friars in East St. Louis, Illinois, living at St. Benedict the Black Friary and working as a guidance counselor and choir director at Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville, Illinois. While at Althoff, Cheri also tried to convince parents to do anything they could to send their children to a Catholic high school.
“It was the best secret in the Diocese of Belleville,” Cheri said. “I wanted to get some of the kids from East St. Louis to go there because the public high school was horrible. The dropout rate in the public high school was terrible. Sixty-seven percent of the freshman class never made it to graduation. You needed an alternative place.”
After spending a year as associate director of campus ministry at Xavier University back home in New Orleans, Cheri served for three and a half years as campus minister at Quincy University.
And then he returned to the city of his birth, where his parents scrimped and saved, worked and worshiped, to make something of their lives. He can hear the music of his birth.
Shall we gather at the river?
“I’ve never left New Orleans,” he said. “It’s always been a part of me.”
The article was originally published on the Clarion Herald website and is republished with permission on CNA.
Biden DOJ sued for allegedly hiding info on attacks of churches, pro-life groups
Posted on 03/22/2023 22:47 PM (CNA Daily News - US)
Washington D.C., Mar 22, 2023 / 14:47 pm (CNA).
A coalition of conservative organizations is taking legal action to obtain documents from the Department of Justice related to the surge in pro-abortion attacks on churches and pro-life pregnancy centers and a lack of prosecution from the agency.
Based on data compiled by CNA, there have been more than 100 attacks on churches and pro-life pregnancy centers since the May 2022 leak of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which overturned the abortion protections guaranteed in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The DOJ has failed to prosecute the perpetrators in nearly all of the attacks.
A lawsuit led by the Heritage Foundation and Advancing American Freedom accuses the DOJ of failing to provide them with documents requested through the Freedom of Information Act. The documents requested include all records and internal DOJ communication related to crimes against pro-life pregnancy centers and churches. The requests also include all communications between the DOJ and the Domestic Policy Council or the Executive Office of the President related to investigations of these crimes.
The lawsuit accuses the DOJ of failing to “promptly review agency records for the purpose of locating and collecting those records” and failing “to conduct searches for responsive records” required by FOIA and DOJ regulations. The lawsuit further claims that the coalition has “exhausted their administrative remedies” in attempting to obtain the documents. It further accuses the DOJ of wrongfully denying their request for a waiver of the FOIA request fees.
“[Attorney General] Merrick Garland and his top officials at DOJ clearly hold us in contempt,” Mike Howell, the director of the Oversight Project, said in a statement provided to CNA. Howell is one of the people suing the DOJ for these documents.
“They refuse to prosecute those who violently attack pro-life organizations simply for existing and who attempt to coerce and intimidate Supreme Court justices into ruling the way the mob desires,” Howell continued. “Meanwhile, they send SWAT teams to the homes of pro-life Americans to arrest and prosecute them on trumped-up, phony charges.”
The lawsuit states that the groups have faced “irreparable harm” because “they are being denied information to which they are statutorily entitled.” The lawsuit asks the court to order the DOJ to conduct searches and provide the documents within 20 days or whatever date the court deems appropriate. It also asks the court to order the DOJ to provide the documents free of charge.
“It is clear that President Biden’s politicized Department of Justice is fearful of igniting the wrath of the far left and abortion extremists,” J. Marc Wheat, who serves as general counsel for Advancing American Freedom, said in a statement provided to CNA. The organization is part of the coalition suing the DOJ.
“The American people have a right to know why those who burned and vandalized pregnancy centers have not been held accountable for their violence against traditional conservatives and pro-life groups,” Wheat added.
Despite the allegations in the lawsuit, the DOJ has claimed it has lived up to its legal obligations in how it has handled the FOIA requests. As mentioned in the lawsuit, the Federal Bureau of Investigation responded to the request but closed it because it did not “contain enough descriptive information to permit a search of our records.”
The DOJ has also stated that its Office of Information Policy informed the coalition that the searches could take longer than 30 days and provided contact information for a FOIA public liaison to assist with the request. The DOJ has further noted that the DOJ provided them with contact information for the Office of Government Information Services, which it has argued is consistent with the legal requirements for an agency if it cannot produce the documents within 30 days.
In January of this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution that condemned the attacks on churches and pro-life pregnancy centers. However, the condemnation was mostly partisan: All 219 House Republicans voted in favor of the resolution, but only three Democrats voted for it.
Some Republican lawmakers have accused Garland and the DOJ of selective enforcement of the law, claiming that they aggressively enforce laws that protect abortion facilities but neglect to enforce laws that protect pro-life pregnancy centers. In October, Rep. Jim Jordan, who now chairs the House Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, launched an investigation into allegations that the DOJ has harshly enforced laws against pro-life activists but has failed to enforce them against pro-abortion activists who have attacked churches and pro-life pregnancy centers.
Notre Dame ‘abortion doula’ talk was unworthy of Catholic university, local bishop laments
Posted on 03/22/2023 16:06 PM (CNA Daily News - US)
CNA Newsroom, Mar 22, 2023 / 08:06 am (CNA).
The University of Notre Dame’s local bishop has strongly criticized the Catholic university for hosting a “reproductive justice” talk featuring abortion doula Ash Williams, who described abortion as “a type of birth.”
According to a National Public Radio profile, Williams’ role as an abortion doula is to provide “physical, emotional, or financial help to people seeking to end a pregnancy.” In remarks during the event on March 20, Williams, who identifies as a trans man, explicitly rejected the idea that the number of abortions should be reduced.
“Not surprisingly, inviting an abortion doula to provide an unrebutted case for abortion has prompted a great deal of concern and criticism around the country and in our diocese,” Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend said in his March 21 column for the diocesan newspaper Today’s Catholic. “I share these concerns and consider the decision to feature such a speaker on campus to be both intellectually unserious and unworthy of a great Catholic research university.”
Rhoades objected that the event sponsors provided an abortion facilitator “a platform for unanswered pro-abortion activism.” The lecture series, he said, “appears to be an explicit act of dissent from Notre Dame’s admirable institutional commitment to promoting a culture of life that embraces and affirms the intrinsic equal dignity of the unborn, pregnant mothers, and families.”
The series, titled “Reproductive Justice: Scholarship for Solidarity and Social Change,” is sponsored by the University of Notre Dame’s gender studies program and the university’s Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values. Several other bodies within the university and several external groups also provide support.
The series’ most recent event, “Trans Care + Abortion Care: Intersections and Questions,” was held on Zoom on March 20 and drew an audience of about 105 viewers. According to the website of the university’s Gender Studies Program, the event aimed to address “the intersections between trans care and abortion care.”
During the event, Jules Gill-Peterson, a history professor at Johns Hopkins University and self-identified trans woman, offered reflections and asked questions of Williams, described as “a Black trans abortion doula, public intellectual, and abolitionist community organizer.” Williams is based in North Carolina but is a decriminalizing abortion resident at Project Nia, a Chicago-based advocacy group that favors “restorative and transformative justice” instead of criminal incarceration.
“For the last five years, Ash has been vigorously fighting to expand abortion access by funding abortions and by training other people to become abortion doulas,” Pam Butler, associate director of Notre Dame’s gender studies department, said in the introduction to the event.
Williams’ remarks depicted abortion and birth as a false binary, as some gender activists view male and female as a false binary.
“For me, abortion is a type of birth,” Williams said. “Abortion and birth could be binary, but I believe that it is a binary worth busting just like man and woman.” This contrasted with how others might see gender transition, abortion, and birth as “processes.”
“Not every person who has an abortion experiences grief or loss, but for the people who do, sometimes, societally, we say, ‘Well, that’s what they deserve,’” Williams said, contending that this is rooted in the “disenfranchisement of the choice to have an abortion.”
The first mention of Catholicism at the Notre Dame event came more than an hour into the discussion when Williams recommended the pro-abortion counseling group Faith Aloud.
“It’s actually a resource that I use for Catholic people, for Baptists, for Buddhists, for all types of people who are religious [and] who want to have an abortion. They can talk to a priest, a bishop, a reverend, a minister, a shaman, they can talk to whoever they need to talk to to get a pro-choice answer from them,” said Williams, who added: “A lot of my job looks like connecting people to resources.”
CNA sought comment from Faith Aloud and its parent organization All Options to confirm the involvement of Catholic clergy but did not receive a response by publication. The faith-based counseling program offers “compassionate and nonjudgmental support from trained clergy and religious counselors,” according to the All Options website. Faith Aloud’s trained counselors include “clergy and religious counselors from a variety of faiths: Roman Catholic, Jewish, Unitarian-Universalist, Protestant Christian, and Buddhist.”
The Faith Aloud website recommends resources such as the website of Catholics for Choice, a pro-abortion front organization whose claim to be Catholic has been repeatedly rejected by the Catholic bishops. It also links to a purported Catholic priest’s blessing for someone about to have an abortion. The authorship of the blessing is credited to Rev. Chris Tessone of the “Independent Catholic Movement,” not in communion with Rome. The blessing is hosted on the website of the Reproductive Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
One audience question at the Notre Dame event came from a student, a self-described pro-life Catholic and prison/police abolitionist who thinks abortions can be reduced through comprehensive sex education, accessible contraception, and through “real financial and community support for pregnant women and parents.”
“How can I explain to my pro-life friends and family that abortion bans and criminalization make everyone less safe?” the student asked.
Williams called this a “great question,” but added: “The first thing that I want to say is that this idea about reducing the amount of abortions, I just want to push back on that a little. Abortion is, for some, a form of contraception. That shouldn’t be limited, because we would never say ‘Oh, we should limit that birth control. We should limit people’s access to condoms.’ It may be that abortion isn’t something that should be limited for the same reasons that condoms and other forms of contraception shouldn’t be limited.”
“Before abortion was criminalized, pregnancy is criminalized, right?” Williams added, contending that abortion bans “target mostly brown people and Black people.” People who “really need access” to abortion are “bearing the brunt of the criminalization aspect.”
Gill-Peterson suggested Williams took a position distinct from the “mainstream feminist position” of leaders and groups such as Betty Friedan and the National Organization of Women, classifying them as disproportionately middle-class and white. Gill-Peterson suggested it can be hard to see that the fates of “trans care and abortion care” are “entwined.”
Williams suggested that “transphobia” was to blame for this, adding: “I often come up against these fissures, these ruptures, as if I’m not allowed to talk about trans care and abortion care at the same time, and my Black trans abortion.” Instead, Williams advocated a trans-centered reproductive justice movement that, for example, would not need to rewrite its PowerPoint presentations to be gender-inclusive. This movement is Black, “anti-state,” decolonial, and abolitionist toward the police and prison systems.
The speaker also referred by name to a Georgia group that funds abortions.
“I want to end this by saying fund abortion, support people,” Williams said at the close of the event. “You don’t have to be an abortion doula to help someone to affirm someone’s decision to give them good information about an abortion, and then to emotionally be there for them.”
Criticism of ‘activist propaganda’
Bishop Rhoades’ reflection cited reports that Williams has a left forearm tattoo of a tool used for manual vacuum aspiration — a type of abortion procedure.
He criticized the event as “simply a conduit for activist propaganda that is not merely wrong, but squarely contrary to principles of basic human equality, justice, dignity, and nonviolence that the Catholic Church, Notre Dame, and many others (including non-Catholics) have affirmed for millennia.”
The bishop said the gender studies department and the Reilly Center’s sponsorship was “a grave mistake in judgment that creates scandal.”
“It is particularly troubling that Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns — whose mission involves ‘justice education’ — would support an event promoting the injustice of abortion and a series antithetical to the social doctrine of the Church,” he said.
Butler, in her introduction to the event, said the series “invites the Notre Dame community to zoom out from the issue of abortion and from intractable pro-choice versus pro-life debates to the wider frame of reproductive justice.” For Butler, this includes topics like “Black and Latina maternal mortality, adoption and tribal sovereignty, criminalization of pregnancy, miscarriage and abortion care work, and the value of human interdependence.”
She cited the Atlanta-based activist group SisterSong’s definition of reproductive justice as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.”
“University of Notre Dame policy calls for balance when sensitive but important topics such as abortion are discussed on campus,” Butler noted. She said organizers would provide “a list of a few of the many events held on campus that reflect the university’s position on questions related to abortion” as well as resources or citations from the discussion.
An email sent to registrants more than 24 hours after the event included two documents. The first provided links to SisterSong, FaithAloud, a 43-page “Reproductive Justice Briefing Book,” the Guttmacher Institute’s tracker on abortion legislation, and a website tracking transgender-related legislation. The second document listed various pro-life events at the University of Notre Dame, including events from last fall, as well as links to Notre Dame Right to Life, the Notre Dame Office of Life and Human Dignity, the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture, the Women and Children First Initiative, and O. Carter Snead’s book “What It Means to Be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics.”
New Wyoming law restricts girls’ sports to biological girls
Posted on 03/21/2023 23:00 PM (CNA Daily News - US)
Washington D.C., Mar 21, 2023 / 15:00 pm (CNA).
Beginning on July 1, only biological girls will be allowed to participate in seventh- through 12th-grade girls’ athletic competitions in Wyoming, per a new law adopted in the state.
The legislation requires schools that participate in interscholastic sports competitions to clearly designate programs as male, female, or coed. Those designations will be based on a student’s biological sex, even if the student identifies as a different gender. The law defines sex as “the biological, physical condition of being male or female, determined by an individual’s genetics and anatomy at birth.”
When the legislation goes into effect, biological male students who identify as girls will not be allowed to participate in female-designated athletic competitions. Biological males will only be allowed to participate in male-designated or coed athletics. Biological girls will not have the same restrictions put on them and will be able to participate in any athletic competition.
“A student of the male sex shall not compete, and a public school shall not allow a student of the male sex to compete, in an athletic activity or team designated for students of the female sex,” the legislation reads.
The bill overwhelmingly passed both chambers of the Legislature, which are heavily controlled by Republicans. The bill passed the House 51-10 and the Senate 27-3. All five House Democrats and five House Republicans opposed the bill. Both Senate Democrats and one Senate Republican also opposed the bill.
Although Republican Gov. Mark Gordon allowed the legislation to become law, he did so without signing the bill. Despite objecting to the bill, the Legislature would have likely had the votes to override a veto if the governor had decided to go against it.
In a letter to Secretary of State Chuck Gray, the governor said he believed the bill was “well-meaning as a way to protect the integrity and fairness of women’s sports,” but thought it would have been better handled on a case-by-case basis because of how seldom this affects athletics in the state.
“With only four known transgender students competing in school athletics out of 91,000 students total, this seems to call for individualized considerations, where families, students, teams, and others can thoughtfully address specific circumstances rather than such a punitive, ostracizing broad-brush approach,” Gordon said in the letter.
Wyoming will be the 19th state to restrict female athletics competitions to only biologically female athletes.