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Fired over transgender pronoun mandate, Virginia teacher appeals to state supreme court

Peter Vlaming / Alliance Defending Freedom

Washington D.C., Sep 3, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

A Virginia teacher fired for not using the “preferred pronoun” of a self-identified transgender student has appealed his case to the state supreme court.

Peter Vlaming, who taught French in Virginia’s West Point school district for seven years, was suspended and subsequently fired in 2018 for not using a male pronoun to refer to a female student who identified as a transgender male. Vlaming claimed he could not do for religious reasons.

He sued the district in September 2019, but the Circuit Court for the County of King William court dismissed his case. Vlaming on Friday appealed to the state supreme court, which had recently ruled in favor of another teacher outspoken against a local transgender policy.

“Peter has every right to fight this unlawful decision by the school board, and we will be defending him every step of the way,” said Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) – which represents Vlaming. Langhofer also directs ADF’s Center for Academic Freedom.

After one of Vlaming’s female students began to identify as a male at the end of the 2017-18 school year, the student’s parent requested that Vlaming use the student’s preferred name and pronoun in the fall 2018 semester.

He used the student’s preferred name, but declined to use the student’s preferred pronoun out of conscience, ADF said. The superintendent ordered him to use the student’s preferred male pronoun anyway, and Vlaming in 2018 was fired for refusing to comply.

“Peter went above and beyond to treat this student with respect, including using the student’s preferred masculine name and avoiding pronoun usage in the student’s presence,” Langhofer said. “This was never about anything Peter said—or didn’t say—it is about a school demanding total conformity in utter disregard of Peter’s efforts and his freedoms under Virginia law.”

Vlaming sued the school board in 2019 for allegedly violating his rights under state law.

If forced to comply with the school board’s policy, Vlaming would have to “communicate that gender identity, rather than biological reality, fundamentally shapes and defines who we are as humans, that our sex can change, and that a woman who identifies as a man really is a man,” his complaint states.

According to the defendants – the school board, superintendent, and school principal –Vlaming defied “repeated requests from the student and his parent and repeated directives, verbal and written, by his superiors” to refer to the student with male pronouns.

“Additionally, the Plaintiff continued to use female pronouns to refer to the student – both in the student’s presence and in the presence of other students who reported the behavior to the student,” according to a 2019 court document filed by the defendants in federal court.

In a meeting with the student, Vlaming allegedly said he was “mourning the girl” the student “used to be.”

In another case, Virginia’s Supreme Court on Aug. 30 ruled in favor of Byron “Tanner” Cross, a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School in the Loudoun County Public School District.

Cross had been suspended in May, after he spoke out against the district’s proposed “preferred pronoun” policy. The court on Monday ruled that he should be reinstated to his position.

Contradicting past statements, Biden says he doesn’t believe life begins at conception

Joe Biden / lev radin/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 3, 2021 / 12:01 pm (CNA).

President Joe Biden (D) said on Friday, Sept. 3, that he does not believe life begins at conception - contradicting his previous statements on when life begins.

Biden answered a reporter’s question on abortion on Friday, after addressing the August jobs numbers at the White House. “I respect those who believe life begins at the moment of conception,” Biden said. “I don’t agree, but I respect that. I’m not going to impose that on people.” 

Biden’s declaration that he does not believe life begins at conception is contrary to what he has stated in the past. 

At the 2012 vice presidential debate against Republican nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), Biden stated plainly that he believed life began at conception. 

"Life begins at conception, that's the Church's judgment. I accept it in my personal life," he said. "But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the congressman.”

Biden said at the time that he does “not believe that we have a right to tell other people that, women, that they can't control their body. It's a decision between them and their doctor, in my view, and the Supreme Court. I'm not going to interfere with that.”

In a September 2008 interview, shortly before he was elected vice president, Biden said that he was “prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2270 states, “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.”

On Friday afternoon, Bishop Donald Hying of Madison responded to Biden's comments on Twitter, "People always claimed that President Biden was personally opposed to abortion."

"Today, we’ve all learned the painful and disturbing truth," he said.

Biden was asked by a reporter to speak to women in Texas, following the state’s pro-life law going into effect on Wednesday. The law bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can be as early as the sixth week of a pregnancy. It allows for people to report illegal abortions, and is enforced through private lawsuits.

Biden was asked what, if anything, his administration could do to “protect abortion rights on a federal level.” 

The president said that he has been and will continue to be “a strong supporter of Roe v. Wade,” the 1973 Supreme Court ruling which legalized abortion nationwide. 

Biden said that the Texas law “sort of creates a vigilante system” which rewards people who report illegal abortions. 

“I know this sounds ridiculous, almost un-American, what we’re talking about,” he said. 

While the president said that he “respected the views” of people “who don’t support Roe v. Wade,” he emphasized that he did not agree with them. He said that he had asked the Department of Justice to investigate if anything could be done to prevent “independent actions of individuals” enforcing the Texas Heartbeat Act.

“I don’t know enough to give you an answer yet,” Biden told the reporter. “I’ve asked for that to be checked.”

On Wednesday evening, the Supreme Court declined a petition to block the Texas law in a 5-4 decision. The court did not rule on the law itself, but rather refused to grant a stay that would block the law from going into effect. 

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett all ruled to deny the abortion providers’ petition to block the law. Chief Justice John Roberts, as well as Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor, all dissented from the decision.

The following day, Biden directed his administration to examine “what steps the Federal Government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions.”

This article was updated on Sept. 3 with Bishop Hying's tweet.

Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick makes first court appearance, pleads not guilty

Theodore McCarrick arrives at Dedham District Court on Friday morning, Sept. 3 for his 9 a.m. arraignment / Andrew Bukuras/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 3, 2021 / 07:48 am (CNA).

Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick pleaded ‘not guilty’ on Friday to several charges of sexual assault, while appearing for the first time in a Massachusetts court.

McCarrick, 91, has been charged with three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over the age of 14, incidents which allegedly took place in the 1970s. Each of the three criminal charges carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. 

He appeared for his arraignment on Friday in Dedham District Court, accompanied by his attorney Katherine Zimmerl, of the firm Coburn & Greenbaum. The court entered a "not guilty" plea on his behalf. McCarrick’s next court date is Oct. 28, and his bail was set at $5,000.

Under conditions stated by Judge Michael J. Pomarole, McCarrick is not allowed to leave the United States and must surrender his passport. He may not have contact with anyone under the age of 18.

Once a high-ranking and influential U.S. prelate with an impressive international resume, McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018 following a past allegation of sex abuse against a teenager that the New York archdiocese deemed credible. In February 2019, Pope Francis laicized McCarrick after a canonical investigation found him guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.” 

“Today’s arraignment provides hope for many clergy sex abuse victims and survivors that justice will prevail, truth will be told and children will be kept safe,” said Mitchell Garabedian, attorney for the alleged victim of McCarrick, after the arraignment on Friday.

“My client, a courageous clergy sexual abuse survivor, is strong and is ready to face Cardinal McCarrick in court and proceed throughout the entire trial,” Garabedian said. “This day for my client is very emotional. He’s been waiting for this day for decades. And he is just riding an emotional roller coaster right now.”

After reporters asked if his client would speak with the press, Garabedian replied, “no not at this time.”

McCarrick’s criminal charges stem from a series of sexual assaults alleged to have taken place on June 8, 1974 at Wellesley College. According to court documents, McCarrick assaulted the alleged victim at the wedding reception of his brother. The alleged victim was 16 at the time.

It is unknown where McCarrick will be staying until his next day in court. The original criminal complaint listed McCarrick's address as a location in Dittmer, Missouri, which is the site of the Vianney Renewal Center. 

The center is a treatment facility run by the Servants of the Paraclete, which, according to its website, provides "a safe and supportive environment for the rehabilitation and reconciliation of priests and religious brothers." The Servants of the Paraclete have long operated centers for the treatment of priests and religious.

Sept. 3 marks the first time the disgraced ex-prelate has stepped foot in criminal court since accusations of long-standing sexual misconduct first came to light three years ago.

In June 2018, McCarrick was removed from ministry following an allegation that he sexually abused a minor in 1974. He resigned from the College of Cardinals on July 28, 2018, becoming the first-ever cardinal to resign due to accusations of sexual abuse. Allegations of serial sexual abuse of minors, seminarians, and priests soon followed, and it was revealed that several dioceses had paid settlements to men who were abused by McCarrick. 

Pope Francis sentenced McCarrick to a life of prayer and penance in 2018, pending the outcome of a canonical process. The canonical process concluded on Feb. 16, 2019, with McCarrick being found guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.” 

He was subsequently dismissed from the clerical state.

McCarrick was ordained a priest in 1958 and was consecrated as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York in 1977. He was named as the first bishop of the newly-created Diocese of Metuchen in 1981. 

In 1986, McCarrick was appointed archbishop of Newark, where he stayed for the next 15 years. He was elevated to the College of Cardinals on February 21, 2001, just under two months after he was installed as the archbishop of Washington. McCarrick retired from active ministry in 2006, at the age of 75. 

An earlier version of this story reported that McCarrick verbally stated his “not guilty” plea. The plea was entered on his behalf.

This story was updated on Sept. 3 with additional information.

Lawsuits bring additional sexual battery allegations against Theodore McCarrick

Theodore McCarrick. / US Institute of Peace (CC BY NC 2.0)

Newark, N.J., Sep 2, 2021 / 18:19 pm (CNA).

Theodore McCarrick, a disgraced former cardinal, is facing criminal charges of sexual abuse of a minor, with his first court date scheduled for Friday. On Monday, a California-based law firm filed two additional lawsuits against McCarrick.

The first of the new lawsuits, brought by an anonymous former employee of the Archdiocese of Newark, alleges that McCarrick “engaged in unpermitted sexual contact” with the employee at Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in 1991. 

The second lawsuit was brought by Fr. Lauro Sedlmayer, who alleges that McCarrick “engaged in unpermitted sexual contact” with him, also in 1991. 

Fr. Sedlmayer, an immigrant from Brazil, alleges that he was invited repeatedly to stay at McCarrick’s beach house, and that he accepted the offer in the summer of 1991. At the beach house, Fr. Sedlmayer alleges, McCarrick sexually assaulted him on at least three occasions. McCarrick was Archbishop of Newark at the time. 

Fr. Sedlmayer filed a lawsuit in 2011 alleging that he told Metuchen’s bishop at the time, Edward Hughes, about McCarrick’s misconduct, and that Bishop Hughes allegedly did not act on the allegations and told Fr. Sedlmayer to “forgive him.” A Metuchen spokeswoman told the Washington Post that the diocese reviewed its files and has no record of a complaint from Fr. Sedlmayer to Bishop Hughes.

Around 2009, Fr. Sedlmayer was himself accused of inappropriate conduct of both a sexual and financial nature, which he denies. He retired in 2018. 

Among other charges, both lawsuits accuse McCarrick of sexual battery and the Newark archdiocese of gross negligence. Fr. Sedlmayer’s lawsuit also accuses McCarrick of fraud and misrepresentation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. 

McCarrick, 91, is currently charged with three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over the age of 14, according to court documents filed July 28 in District Court in Dedham, Mass.

McCarrick is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 3 for his arraignment to answer the charges. Each of the three criminal charges carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Long a powerful and high-profile Catholic leader in the United States with an impressive international resume, McCarrick was dismissed from the clerical state by Pope Francis in 2019, after the Vatican conducted an expedited canonical investigation and found McCarrick guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”

The current charges of abuse of a minor stem from a series of sexual assaults alleged to have taken place on June 8, 1974 during the wedding reception of the alleged victim's brother. McCarrick allegedly sexually assaulted a sixteen-year-old boy outside near some bushes on a college campus and in a small coat room. 

McCarrick was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of New York in 1958, and became auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese in 1977. He became in 1981 Bishop of Metuchen, then Archbishop of Newark in 1986, and in 2001 Archbishop of Washington, whence he retired in 2006.

He became a cardinal in 2001, but resigned from the College of Cardinals after it emerged in June 2018 that he had been credibly accused of sexually assaulting a minor. Allegations of serial sexual abuse of minors, seminarians, and priests soon followed, and McCarrick was dismissed from the clerical state in February 2019.

McCarrick’s public disgrace in 2018 and dismissal from the clerical state a year later shocked Catholics in the United States and around the world, and triggered an international crisis of credibility for the Church’s hierarchy, leading to Pope Francis calling a meeting of the world’s bishops in 2019 to address problems of sexual abuse and accountability in the Church.

Traditional Latin Masses to end in some Houston parishes but continue in others, Cardinal DiNardo says

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo at the USCCB autumn General Assembly in Baltimore, Nov. 12, 2018. / CNS photo/Bob Roller

Houston, Texas, Sep 2, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

Several parishes may continue to celebrate Traditional Latin Masses in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, but several others must cease, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo has said in his implementation of Pope Francis' motu proprio Traditionis custodes.

Cardinal DiNardo’s Sept. 1 letter to the clergy and lay faithful of the archdiocese emphasized the need for reverence, fidelity, and unity in the liturgy, while warning against the dangers of letting personality and personal preference dominate celebrations of the Mass.

“The liturgy is not only the gathering point into unity of all that is scattered, but also the summons home to the Father through the action of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in that gathering, thus creating harmony from among diverse and even occasionally discordant voices,” he said. “There grace is given to all the members of the liturgical assembly to go forth and to sanctify the world in which they live.”

“The clergy and those being formed for holy orders should cultivate a love for the liturgy which manifests itself in a fidelity to the liturgical rubrics, decorum, sound preaching, and a sense of reverent confidence when celebrating the liturgy,” the cardinal said. “This holds true for the celebration of all the sacraments, as well as sacramentals.”

“We should take care that our personalities and individual preferences do not dominate our manner of liturgical celebration,” he continued.

The cardinal’s letter considered all the parishes where the Traditional Latin Mass continued to be celebrated. Its directives take effect Sept. 30.

Only Annunciation parish and Regina Caeli parish may celebrate the traditional Latin Mass on Sundays and Days of Holy Obligation. Any Catholics in the archdiocese who wish to celebrate wedding Masses, baptisms, and other sacraments in the more ancient use should direct their requests to the clergy at Regina Caeli.

The Church of the Annunciation, founded in 1869, is the oldest church in Houston. The downtown church’s website numbers its parishioners at over 400 households. For more than 40 years, the parish has celebrated both the Roman Missal of 1962, published under St. John XXIII, and the Roman Missal of 1972, published under St. Paul VI.

“In light of this longstanding custom at Annunciation Parish, there will be no change to the celebration of Mass according to the Roman Missal of 1962 at that parish,” said the cardinal.

Regina Caeli parish is an apostolate of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. The parish’s website said its number of parishioners more than doubled during the pandemic restrictions of 2020, in part because longtime attendees had never officially registered and Mass was temporarily limited only to registered parishioners with reservations. The parish’s main church is not yet built, though it is continuing to build facilities on 40 acres of land in northwest Houston currently used for its temporary chapel.

In 2013 the cardinal had established Regina Caeli parish “to give pastoral and sacramental care to the faithful who are accustomed to the celebration of Mass according to the Roman Missal of 1962,” he said. This is a non-territorial parish and so is “the proper parish of any Catholic within Galveston-Houston who desires the frequent celebration of Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal.” There will be no change to its celebration of Mass or its sacraments.

The cardinal’s letter implemented Pope Francis’ July 16 motu proprio, which placed restrictions on Masses which use the 1962 Roman Missal. These liturgies are sometimes known as the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, the Tridentine Mass, or the Traditional Latin Mass.

The move made sweeping changes to the practices allowed by his predecessor Benedict XVI’s 2007 apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, which acknowledged the right of all priests of the Roman rite to say Mass using the Roman Missal of 1962.

Pope Francis, in a letter to the world’s bishops, said he felt compelled to act because, he said, the use of the 1962 Missal was “often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Second Vatican Council itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the ‘true Church’.”

Cardinal DiNardo’s letter did not comment on any spirit of rejection in local parishes. However, he said, “Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI hoped that allowing more freedom for priests to celebrate the Tridentine Form of the Mass would bring about greater unity and concord in the Church, and a mutual respect of the two forms of the Roman Rite. Pope Francis has written that such unity has not taken place.”

He noted that celebrations of the traditional Latin Mass have begun more recently at St. Theresa Parish in Sugar Land, St. Bartholomew Parish in Katy, and Prince of Peace Parish in northwest Houston.

“Although a number of the faithful are drawn to these Masses, these liturgical celebrations are not longstanding customs in those parishes,” he said. The traditional Latin Mass may now be celebrated at St. Theresa and St. Bartholomew only “twice a month, on weekdays.”

The cardinal abrogated the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass at Houston’s Prince of Peace Parish. He directed the faithful who desire the older form of the Mass to Regina Caeli Parish, noting that it is about nine miles away and celebrates this Mass five times every Sunday.

The cardinal gave additional instructions for all liturgies. Any ritual actions, gestures and prayers not prescribed by the Roman Missal should not be included in celebrations of the Mass, he said.

“The rubrics of the Roman Missal of 1962 are not to be added to the celebration of Mass according to the current edition of the Roman Missal of 1970,” he said. “Likewise, anything unbecoming or foreign to the celebration of the Mass as it is prescribed in the Roman Missal is to be avoided.”

“Private devotions or acts of popular piety are praiseworthy and help to deepen one's love for Almighty God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints,” the cardinal continued. “However, private devotions by their nature are to be kept separate from the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy.”

Any acts of popular piety or private devotion may be carried out after the end of Mass, he said.

He encouraged the review of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and its rubrics, including those regarding preaching.

“The scriptures and prayers of the day are the source material of liturgical preaching,” he said. “Priests and deacons should try to be clear and succinct in their preaching, and homilies should be short. We are to draw out the spiritual meaning of the appointed texts in light of the particular mysteries being celebrated, and with an appreciation of the needs of the faithful gathered for the Eucharist.”

The Galveston-Houston archdiocese is the fifth-largest in the U.S. by population, with over 1.7 million Catholics in its territory. It has 146 parishes and its people “pray and celebrate in over 14 languages,” the archdiocese website says.

Theodore McCarrick's court hearing is today: What to expect

Theodore McCarrick before his dismissal from the clerical state. / Copyright Mazur_catholicchurch.org.uk

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 2, 2021 / 16:35 pm (CNA).

Disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick is expected to appear in a Massachusetts court on Friday morning for his arraignment.

It will be a historic moment, as McCarrick, 91, is the first current or former U.S. cardinal to be criminally charged with sex abuse. It will also mark the first time McCarrick has appeared in public since 2018, when accusations of longstanding sexual misconduct by him first came to light.

On July 29, McCarrick was charged with three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over the age of 14, in Dedham District Court in Massachusetts. The charges stemmed from an incident in 1974 when he allegedly sexually assaulted a 16 year-old male.

McCarrick had already been living at a then-undisclosed location since early 2020, and before that, a private residence at a Capuchin friary in rural Kansas. He was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by Pope Francis in July 2018, after the New York archdiocese deemed sex abuse accusations against him to be credible.

Despite the significance of his charges, Friday’s court appearance will likely be a brief affair, an introduction to a lengthier trial process.

At an arraignment, the defendant is present in a court room as charges are read in the case. The defendant then has the opportunity to plead guilty, not guilty, or “no contest” to the charges. If a defendant pleads “no contest,” it is not a guilty plea, but does signal a willingness to accept whatever sentencing a court will issue in the case.

The judge then determines whether the defendant should be in prison or released on bail until a trial begins. The judge and may set conditions for the defendant to meet in order to avoid jail time before a trial. A date for a pre-trial conference will be determined.  

McCarrick was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of New York in 1958, and became its auxiliary bishop in 1977. He became in 1981 Bishop of Metuchen, then Archbishop of Newark in 1986, and then in 2001 Archbishop of Washington, whence he retired in 2006. He became a cardinal in 2001.

McCarrick resigned from the college of cardinals in 2018, following public allegations of abuse and harassment of minors and vulnerable adults. He was dismissed from the clerical state by Pope Francis in February 2019.

McCarrick was dismissed from the clerical state after the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith conducted an expedited canonical investigation and found him guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”

Although he already faced several civil lawsuits in New Jersey and New York courts, McCarrick was only criminally charged this year due to the state statutes of limitations in sex abuse cases. Allegations of abuse and misconduct against him date back decades.

In Massachusetts, however, he was not a resident, and left the state before the statute of limitations would have expired. Mitchell Garabedian, the attorney representing McCarrick's alleged victim, who is now in his 60s, sent a letter to the Middlesex District Attorney that appeared to set in motion the criminal investigation that resulted in McCarrick’s charges.

The criminal charges stem from a series of sexual assaults alleged to have to have taken place on June 8, 1974 during the wedding reception of the alleged victim's brother at Wellesley College.

After allegedly committing sexual assault, McCarrick instructed the boy to "say three our fathers and a hail Mary or it was one our father and three hail Mary's, so god can redeem you of your sins," according to notes of the alleged victim's interview with authorities included in the court documents.

The criminal complaint listed McCarrick's address as a location in Dittmer, MO, the site of the Vianney Renewal Center. The center is a treatment facility run by the Servants of the Paraclete, which, according to its website, provides "a safe and supportive environment for the rehabilitation and reconciliation of priests and religious brothers." The Servants of the Paraclete have long operated centers for the treatment of priests and religious with problems of sexual or substance abuse.

Each of his three criminal charges carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Psaki rebukes EWTN reporter who asked why Catholic Biden opposes Texas abortion law

Jen Psaki responds to EWTN News Nightly's Owen Jensen question regarding Texas' heartbeat law. / EWTN News Nightly

Washington D.C., Sep 2, 2021 / 15:50 pm (CNA).

President Joe Biden, the second Catholic president in U.S. history, believes that abortion is a “woman’s right,” White House Press Secrentary Jen Psaki said on Thursday. Her comments came in response to a question about Texas’ newly-enacted abortion ban asked by EWTN News Nightly White House Correspondent Owen Jensen.

“I know you've never faced those choices, nor have you ever been pregnant,” Psaki told Jensen, “but for women out there who have faced those choices, this is an incredibly difficult thing.”

Beginning Sept. 1, the “Texas Heartbeat Act” bans abortions statewide after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can happen as early as six weeks into pregnancy. The law also enables citizens to enforce the ban through private lawsuits.

When the Supreme Court rejected an emergency request to block the law in a 5–4 decision, Biden declared a “whole-of-government” response to “ensure” abortion access in the state.

On Sept. 2, Jensen asked Psaki about Biden’s position at a White House press conference.

"Why does the president support abortion when his own Catholic faith teaches abortion is morally wrong?” he wanted to know.

Psaki said that the president believes that abortion is a “woman's right, it's a woman's body, and it's her choice.”

In a follow-up question, Jensen asked, "Who does he believe, then, should look out for the unborn child?"

According to Psaki, Biden “believes that it's up to a woman to make those decisions and up to a woman to make those decisions with her doctor.”

She added, “The president believes their right should be respected."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which summarizes Church teaching, recognizes the inherent dignity and worth of the unborn human person and considers abortion a “crime against human life.” 

“Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception,” the catechism reads. “From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”

‘We'll get through it’: New Orleans pastor looks to rebuild after Ida

Damage at St. Stephen's Catholic School in New Orleans / Monsignor Christopher Nalty

Washington D.C., Sep 2, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

A New Orleans pastor whose parish school was severely damaged in Hurricane Ida is bracing himself for a “big expense,” but hopes classroom life will not be overly disrupted for students this year. 

St. Stephen Catholic School, located in Uptown New Orleans, lost the roof of its gymnasium when Hurricane Ida swept through the area on Aug. 29. 

“At some point during the early part of the storm, the wind got underneath the vinyl material and then just ripped everything off the roof,” Monsignor Christopher Nalty, pastor of St. Stephen’s church and school, told CNA on Thursday. 

The type of roof formerly on the gymnasium “is very prone to getting destroyed,” Nalty explained. And while the full extent of the damage is not yet known, he suspects that the floor of the gymnasium is destroyed as well. He is also waiting to find out how the other wing of the school, with classrooms, fared. 

“We’re going to have to replace the roof,” he said. “That’s what we’re working on now.” 

In-person classes in the Archdiocese of New Orleans are suspended until after Labor Day, due to the effects of the hurricane. Many areas of the archdiocese still do not have power. 

Local media reported on the significant damage at the school. 

“Take a look at this. It looks like the roof came off of the school building,” said Travers Mackel, a reporter and anchor at WDSU News in a video surveying the area. “This is by far the worst damage that we’ve seen right here.” 

Mackel said that most of the destruction in the surrounding area was to vegetation, and that only St. Stephen Catholic School seemed to have suffered significant property damage. 

Pieces of the school’s roof were strewn into nearby trees and in the street. The church building, located next to the school, was largely spared, although part of the steeple was damaged. 

Nalty told CNA that he hopes to replace the gym roof with one made out of slatted steel. He said that many Gulf Coast churches have opted to replace their roofs with similar styles after they sustained storm damage.

“I said to [a contractor] ‘That’s what I want on the school,’” Nalty said. “‘Cause I don’t want to fix this again, you know?”

The cost of the repairs is not yet clear, but Nalty told CNA that he does not think it will be cheap. The archdiocese’s insurance policy charges a 3% deductible for any damage done by a named storm, such as Hurricane Ida. 

“So 3% of the value of the whole building is the deductible,” he said. “For instance, for my school, my church, I think it's valued at $15 million. So that means I have a $450,000 deductible before any insurance kicks in.”

For Nalty, the school and its students hold a very special place in his heart, and he hopes that they will be able to return to the school before too long. 

“I do a lot of different things in the archdiocese. I teach at the seminary. I've got three churches. Quite possibly, the most important thing I do is the school,” he said, blinking back tears. 

The school was founded in 1852, and serves students from age two through seventh grade. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, St. Stephen Catholic School became a “central school” that took in students whose schools were destroyed. 

“Now our school is about 98% African-American and they are from the poorest demographic of the city,” said Nalty. “My principal is a rockstar and these kids are all on scholarship.”

The school is “such a family,” said Nalty. Students are brought to campus early for breakfast, and stay afterwards for aftercare. For the last four years, every graduate has been admitted into a Catholic high school in New Orleans, with a scholarship. 

“They go to school in this family community. We have Mass every Friday,” he said. “The kids are actively engaged. They know their faith.” 

The opportunities provided to St. Stephen’s students “means the trajectory of their lives has been changed.” 

“Their chances are exponentially different from their neighbors that go to the public schools,” said Nalty. “It's an incredibly important ministry to me. I just love these kids. They're just, [the storm damage is] just hard.”

“But anyway, you know, well… We'll get through it.” 

Anyone wishing to support the rebuilding effort can do so here.

Springfield bishop won't deny Mass to mask-less Catholics

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield / Diocese of Springfield in Illinois

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 2, 2021 / 14:04 pm (CNA).

The bishop of Springfield in Illinois is requesting that parishioners wear masks to Mass in compliance with a recent state public health order, but will not require COVID-19 vaccinations.

While noting that “our parishes are asked to follow the new mask mandate in indoor public places,” Bishop Thomas Paprocki added that “no one is to be excluded from attending Mass for not wearing a face covering.” He made the announcement in an Aug. 30 message to his diocese on state mask and vaccine mandates. 

“The obligation to attend Holy Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation is paramount since eternal life is the most important consideration,” he said, emphasizing against turning people away from Mass for not wearing masks.

The bishop also noted that “some people may be excused from attending Mass for not wearing a face covering for medical reasons.”

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) on Aug. 30 issued an indoor mask mandate for all people ages two and older, who are “able to medically tolerate a face covering.” He also required health care workers, college students, and school teachers and staff to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Paprocki on Monday said that the parishes in his diocese “will also continue other safety measures” to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The mask mandate, he said, would not apply to priests, deacons, and lectors while they are celebrating Mass, as “the sanctuary of the church is not a public place.” 

Regarding reception of COVID-19 vaccines, the bishop stressed that “[v]accine participation must be voluntary and cannot be forced.” He is not requiring diocesan employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, nor is he requiring attendees at Mass to have proof of vaccination.

Although “the Church promotes vaccination as morally acceptable and urges cooperation with public health authorities in promoting the common good,” he said, a person’s health and moral conscience must be respected. He cited the December 2020 note of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which recognized the conscientious refusal to receive a COVID-19 vaccine tested or produced with cell lines derived from elective abortions. 

“While we encourage vaccination, we cannot and will not force vaccination as a condition of employment or the freedom of the faithful to worship in our parishes,” said Paprocki. 

Bishop Paprocki’s declaration stands in contrast to the Archdiocese of Chicago’s recent requirement that all archdiocesan employees, including clergy, receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The Archdiocese of Chicago stated only medical exemptions will be given in such cases.

Although the vaccine will not be mandatory, Paprocki added that it is “imperative” that those who do not get vaccinated “recognize their moral duty to take other measures to protect others from harm.”

“Whether or not one is concerned about personal risks associated with COVID, each person has a moral duty to act responsibly out of concern for his or her neighbor by diligently following other safety measures,” he said. 

His letter also touched on the topic of vaccine exemptions for “sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance.”

Many bishops and archbishops have warned their priests to not sign letters for Catholics who refuse to comply with a vaccine mandate out of conscience.

“Moral objections of conscience should be respected, but should not require a letter from a priest or other clergyman, since the objection is based on the person’s individual personal conscience, not some specific tenet of the Catholic faith,” Paprocki said. 

“It is not even apparent what any such letter from a priest could helpfully say, beyond restating what I have here recounted, which is that the Catholic Church teaches that some persons may have conscientious objections to the taking of the COVID vaccines, and that these conscientious convictions ought to be respected,” said Paprocki. 

Catholics, explained Paprocki, “are not bound to refuse the vaccine as a form of immoral cooperation with abortion.” All three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States have some connection with cell lines derived from elective abortions decades prior. Vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna used the cell lines in testing, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine used the cell lines in production and testing.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that use of COVID-19 vaccines with such ethically problematic connections is morally permissible when no other ethical option is available, due to the gravity of the pandemic.

Paprocki added that “each Catholic must make his or her own decision, in light of each person’s particular situation and moral responsibilities.” 

“The Catholic Church recognizes that some Catholics will be bound in conscience to refuse the vaccine,” he said. 

Biden promises 'whole-of-government' effort to maintain abortion in Texas

President Joe Biden / mccv/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 2, 2021 / 10:15 am (CNA).

President Joe Biden on Thursday announced a “whole-of-government” response to “ensure” abortion access in Texas, after the state’s pro-life law went into effect on Wednesday.

In a Thursday statement, the president – a Catholic – directed his administration to examine “what steps the Federal Government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions.”

On Wednesday, Sept. 1, the “Texas Heartbeat Act” went into effect. The law prohibits abortions in the state after the detection of a fetal heartbeat – which can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy. It can be enforced by private lawsuits. The law went into effect Wednesday, after the Supreme Court had not yet acted on a petition to block it.

Late Wednesday night, the court ultimately rejected the petition to block the law in a 5-4 decision. Biden denounced the decision as “an unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights” to abortion.

Biden said he was directing his White House Gender Policy Council, as well as the White House counsel, “to launch a whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision,” reviewing “what legal tools we have to insulate women and providers from the impact of Texas' bizarre scheme of outsourced enforcement to private parties.”

It is unclear what action the administration would take on implementation of Texas’ law. Vice President Kamala Harris, in her 2020 presidential campaign platform, had promised that her Justice Department would have oversight over all state abortion laws.

A proposed law in Congress, the Women’s Health Protection Act, would grant women a “right “ to an abortion and would override most state abortion regulations. When asked about the proposed law on Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she would have to review the “specifics” of the bill to comment.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court majority ruled that the petitioners in the Texas case .- the abortion providers requesting the “heartbeat” law be blocked – had not made a sufficient case for relief.

“In particular, this order is not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’s law, and in no way limits other procedurally proper challenges to the Texas law, including in Texas state courts,” the court majority ruled.

The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List praised the court decision.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling allows Texas to protect unborn babies with beating hearts while litigation continues,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. “The Texas legislature, acting on the will of the people, debated and passed this law with the very simple goal of protecting unborn children with beating hearts from death in the womb. This is how democracy works.”