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Father James Jackson pleads guilty in child pornography case

Father James Jackson, FSSP, delivers the homily at the funeral Mass for slain Boulder police officer Eric Talley on March 29, 2021, at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Colorado / Screenshot of FSSP YouTube video

Providence, R.I., Jun 8, 2023 / 16:50 pm (CNA).

Traditional Latin Mass priest Father James Jackson pleaded guilty to a federal child pornography charge Thursday and now must wait to find out how long he might spend in prison.

In a plea agreement he signed ahead of his scheduled June 20 trial, Jackson, 68, a priest of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), admitted to a single charge of receipt of child pornography. U.S. District Court Judge William Smith, sitting in Providence, Rhode Island, set a sentencing date of Sept. 11.

Prosecutors will seek the mandatory minimum of five years in prison and will move to dismiss a second count of possession of child pornography, Jim Rosenberg, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, told CNA. Each charge carried a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

The priest must still face pending criminal charges related to a child pornography investigation in Kansas, authorities there have said.

Jackson, then just three months into his assignment as pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Providence, was arrested on Oct. 30, 2021, after an investigation by a state computer crimes task force. Jackson previously served at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Littleton, Colorado.

According to an affidavit, investigators obtained a warrant to search his rectory in Providence where they found large amounts of child sex abuse material stored on an external hard drive in an office near Jackson’s bedroom.

Jackson’s order issued a statement Thursday following his guilty plea. 

“The North American Province of the Fraternity of St. Peter is aware that on June 8, 2023, Fr. James Jackson entered a guilty plea in exchange for a reduced sentence. The Fraternity of St. Peter pledges to cooperate with civil and ecclesiastical authorities in this case,” the statement said.

“Fr. Jackson has not had faculties to function publicly as a priest since his arrest in October 2021. Until Fr. Jackson was arrested, the Fraternity of St. Peter was not aware of anything in his words or behavior that could give rise to suspicion concerning such actions,” the statement said. “Crimes of this type are execrable, and Catholics should pray for the victims of pornography and work to put an end to its industry.”

Jackson appeared in court June 8 wearing a light brown prison outfit over a brown long-sleeve shirt. He wore glasses and had a white beard. One of Jackson’s supporters was present in the courtroom.

During the hearing, Jackson listened quietly as Assistant U.S. Attorney John McAdams presented the government’s case against him, describing in detail several videos of child pornography that were in the priest’s possession.

When questioned by the judge if he had heard and agreed with the facts presented, he responded, “Yes, your honor.”

Asked how he wished to plead to the charge, Jackson responded, “Guilty, your honor.”

Jackson’s supporters rallied around the priest after his arrest, contributing tens of thousands of dollars for his defense.

Kansas charges pending

The Kansas investigation of Jackson, conducted by a local police department in Overland Park, began sometime after he was allowed to return to the midwestern state to live with a relative while waiting for the federal charges to be adjudicated.

Officer John Lacy, a spokesman for the Overland Park Police Department, told CNA in May that Jackson would be charged with a crime once the charges in Rhode Island were adjudicated. He said that an investigation was ongoing but he would not elaborate on the nature of the charge.

Lacy said that the state charge would be brought by the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office in Olathe, Kansas.

In response to the Kansas investigation, Jackson’s federal probation officer issued a petition to the U.S. District Court in Providence alleging that the priest broke the conditions of his pretrial release that allowed him to live in Leawood, Kansas, with his sister.

U.S. marshals arrested Jackson in Kansas in July 2022 and brought him back to the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island.

At an Oct. 3 hearing in U.S. District Court in Providence, Jackson admitted that the government could prove that he violated the condition of his pretrial release prohibiting him from “possessing any materials including videos, magazines, photographs, computer-generated depictions, or any other forms that depict sexually explicit conduct involving children,” Rosenberg, the U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman, told CNA.

Jackson also admitted that the government could prove that he violated the condition prohibiting him from having access to more than one internet-connected device, the spokesman said.

“To be very clear — he did NOT admit that he committed the new crime, only that the government could establish probable cause that he did,” Rosenberg emphasized in an email to CNA.

Fort Worth Diocese releases photos allegedly showing drug use at Carmelite monastery

An Arlington, Texas, police car. / Credit: WFFA News 8 Dallas/Screen shot

Washington D.C., Jun 8, 2023 / 16:32 pm (CNA).

Charges and countercharges of illegal activity have further escalated a bitter public dispute between the Diocese of Fort Worth and a monastery of Carmelite nuns in Arlington, Texas.

In the latest salvo in what has become a protracted legal and public relations battle was launched by the diocese on Wednesday when it released a pair of photographs that purportedly show cannabis and marijuana products inside the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity.

Diocesan spokesman Pat Svacina said in Wednesday’s release that the diocese “is in communication” with the Arlington Police Department regarding “serious concerns it has regarding the use of marijuana and edibles at the monastery.” 

The monastery’s attorney, Matthew Bobo, denied the allegations related to drug use, calling them “absolutely ridiculous” and “without merit.”

The Diocese of Fort Worth on June 7, 2023, released photographs that purportedly show cannabis and marijuana products inside the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, Texas. Credit: Diocese of Fort Worth
The Diocese of Fort Worth on June 7, 2023, released photographs that purportedly show cannabis and marijuana products inside the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, Texas. Credit: Diocese of Fort Worth

The dispute between the monastery and the diocese began in April when Olson launched a canonical investigation into an alleged sexual affair between the monastery’s prioress, Reverend Mother Teresa Gerlach, and an unnamed priest from outside the diocese. 

The diocese called the alleged misconduct “grave” but has not publicized the exact nature of the affair. On June 1 the bishop issued a decree dismissing Gerlach from religious life.

Following the diocese’s investigation, the monastery filed a civil lawsuit on May 3 seeking $1 million in damages. The nuns further challenged Olson’s authority to conduct the investigation, arguing they were subject only to the Vatican. 

The monastery is alleging that Olson and diocesan officials abused their power and engaged in criminal behavior during their investigation. 

Monastery says police are investigating diocese

Hours before the diocese released the photos to the press, the monastery’s attorney announced the Arlington Police Department and the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office have launched a criminal investigation of the actions taken against the Carmelite Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity by the diocese and Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson.

Svacina, in his press statement, denied that anyone with the diocese engaged in criminal activity during their investigation of the monastery, calling the accusation an “attempt to embarrass Bishop Olson and undermine his authority.”

According to Svacina, Bobo’s press release announcing the police investigation is “yet another transparent attempt to spread baseless and outrageous accusations regarding Bishop Olson’s legitimate investigation.” 

Meanwhile, Bobo said the criminal investigation of Olson “continues unabated.” 

Tim Ciesco, a spokesman for the Arlington Police Department, confirmed with CNA that the department has launched an investigation of Olson at the monastery’s behest. 

In response to allegations raised in a letter received on May 31, the Arlington Police “launched an investigation to determine whether any criminal offenses have occurred, which is standard anytime a criminal complaint is made,” Ciesco said. 

Ciesco added that “detectives are in the early stages of the investigation.”

Diocese releases photos to the press 

Svacina said the images purporting to show drug use in the monastery, which he said were obtained by the diocese “within the last few weeks,” were taken by “a confidential informant within the monastery.”

The metadata for an image labeled “Monasery Photo 1” indicates that it was taken at 12:59 p.m. on Feb. 17 by an iPhone 12 Pro Max. Metadate from the second photo indicates the image was created on June 8.

“The photograph speaks for itself and raises serious questions that the bishop is tirelessly working to address with law enforcement and in private in accordance with canonical norms and within his authority as bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth and as Pontifical Commissary,” Svacina said.

The Diocese of Fort Worth on June 7, 2023, released photographs that purportedly show cannabis and marijuana products inside the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, Texas. Credit: Diocese of Fort Worth
The Diocese of Fort Worth on June 7, 2023, released photographs that purportedly show cannabis and marijuana products inside the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, Texas. Credit: Diocese of Fort Worth

Svacina added that the bishop is in contact with the Arlington police about the monastery regarding “other issues that the diocese will address at another time and in a proper forum.” Bobo called the images “a juvenile, low-level public relations stunt by the diocese to attempt to misdirect the attention from the real issues that Bishop Olson faces with the ongoing criminal investigation.” 

He called them “anonymously-sourced photos that could have easily been staged and doctored by anyone, and from anywhere.” 

Allegations of abuse of power

Gerlach, 43, has been a nun at Holy Trinity Monastery for 25 years and is currently suffering from serious medical issues that have confined her to a wheelchair, according to her attorney.

The monastery’s civil lawsuit against the diocese accuses the bishop of forcing Gerlach to turn over her computer, iPad, and cell phone, as well as the monastery’s private correspondence, documents, medical records, and donor lists.   

On May 31 the Vatican’s Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life appointed Olson the “pontifical commissary,” making him the pope’s representative in the matter. The following day Olson issued a decree dismissing Gerlach from religious life. 

Bobo, the monastery’s attorney, told CNA that Gerlach plans to appeal the bishop’s decision to dismiss her.

Court documents obtained by CNA show that the monastery is accusing Olson and the diocese of theft, defamation, and “abusing their power, inflicting moral violence and psychological distress” on the nuns.

The civil hearing is set for June 23. 

Though the diocese says that Gerlach admitted to the misconduct and concluded that she is guilty, Bobo said the prioress was under the influence of pain medication related to a surgery when she is alleged to have admitted to the affair and “has not admitted to any grave misconduct.”

Catholic bishop condemns abortion curriculum in Northern Ireland’s schools

Pro-life protesters outsider the Belfast High Court as Northern Ireland abortion laws were being challenged in Belfast, U.K., Oct. 3, 2019. / meandering images/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jun 8, 2023 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

A Catholic bishop in Northern Ireland condemned new regulations in the country that will require schools to discuss abortion access in the classroom.

Bishop Donal McKeown of the Diocese of Derry, which covers parts of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, said in an interview with BBC Radio that promoting abortion in schools amounts to the government’s endorsement of a particular ideology that many might find objectionable. 

“I don’t think you need to impose a duty on schools, that come from a range of different backgrounds, an obligation to provide information as if abortion and that whole area is somehow or other a value-free thing,” McKeown said during the interview.

“This is a new ideology that says: ‘This is the right way to do it, that we must worship on the altar of human rights and everything else must be sacrificed in the service of that.’”

The new regulations were handed down by Northern Ireland Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris. They require that information about abortion access and the legal right to abortion in the country be part of the “relationship and sexuality education” curriculum in post-primary education, which deals with children aged 11 and older.

In a statement, Heaton-Harris said the new regulations mirror the approach taken in England “about the prevention of early pregnancy and access to abortion.” 

The regulations require that post-primary schools “make age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, a compulsory component of curriculum for adolescents, covering prevention of early pregnancy and access to abortion in Northern Ireland, and monitor its implementation.”

McKeown said the new rules “impose a particular worldview on the education of children in Northern Ireland” and could cause schools to be penalized if they refuse to adhere to the new abortion education requirements. 

“I am really concerned this seems to be a decision by the secretary of state that will impose a particular way of approaching the issue on all schools,” McKeown said.

CNA reached out to the Diocese of Derry for further comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication. 

The Department of Education must issue guidance by Jan. 1, 2024, on the content and the delivery of the new regulations, and every Board of Governors and principal of a grant-aided school must adhere to the guidance. It also requires the Department of Education to provide a report on the implementation by Sept. 1, 2026, regarding its implementation.

Heaton-Harris noted in his statement that parents will still have the right to opt their children out of these classes, which he said follows the approach of England and Scotland. 

“I recognize the sensitivity of this topic and that some parents may wish to teach their child about sex education themselves, or make alternative arrangements for sex education to be provided in line with their religious or other beliefs,” his statement read. “In recognition of this, the regulations also place a duty on the Department of Education to introduce a mechanism to ensure that a pupil may be withdrawn from education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, or elements of that education, at the request of a parent.”

Heaton-Harris also said that instruction about abortion should be provided to children “in a factual way that does not advocate, or oppose, a particular view on the moral and ethical considerations of abortion or contraception.”

Northern Ireland expanded access to abortion in 2019. Abortion is legal up to 12 weeks’ gestation without the need to provide a reason. It is legal up to 24 weeks of pregnancy with some conditions but allows women to cite a potential risk to their mental health as a justification in those later stages of pregnancy.

Muslim-led parents’ group protests LGBT curriculum mandate in Maryland school system

Parental and religious freedom rights advocates, including a group of Muslim parents, on June 6, 2023, protest a Maryland school system policy that removes parents’ authority to opt their children out of homosexual and transgender coursework. / Credit: The Religious Freedom Institute

Washington D.C., Jun 8, 2023 / 09:30 am (CNA).

A group of Muslim parents joined parental and religious freedom rights advocates Tuesday to protest a Maryland school system’s new policy that removes the parents’ authority to opt their children out of coursework that promotes homosexuality and transgenderism.

The June 6 protest at the Montgomery County public school district’s headquarters was led by a group called Family Rights for Religious Freedom. About 50 parents and activists carried signs that read “family rights” and “restore the opt-out” while chanting slogans such as “protect our children” and “religious freedom now.”

Maryland law requires that school districts allow parents to opt out of coursework that deals with “family life and human sexuality.” However, the school district decided in March that it does not consider reading materials that discuss subjects related to homosexuality, transgenderism, and other aspects of gender ideology to be a part of “family life and human sexuality instruction.” 

For this reason, beginning on May 1, the school district no longer notifies parents of such material in the coursework and will not allow them to opt out.

“We don’t want to be put aside as basically irrelevant,” Wael Elkoshairi, who leads Family Rights for Religious Freedom, told CNA.

The school district has approved several books that discuss subjects related to homosexuality and transgenderism for students as young as 3 or 4 years old. This includes a book called “Pride Puppy!”, which seeks to teach children the alphabet through a story about a homosexual pride parade and introduces them to words like “drag queen,” “leather,” and “zipper.” It also introduces them to Marsha B. Johnson, who was a drag queen, a gay rights activist, and, temporarily, a prostitute. 

Elkoshairi told CNA that he had opted his daughter out of this type of coursework in the past, but the current policy will no longer allow him to do that. His daughter is in second grade.

“We were always afforded the right to opt out,” Elkoshairi said.

Elkoshairi emphasized that the rally was not anti-LGBT and that they did not protest the school district for introducing these books. He said their only request is to “allow us to opt out because the state of Maryland has that provision in it.”

“We’re not anti-LGBT, but we are pro-family rights [and] we are pro-religious freedom,” Elkoshairi added.

Family Rights for Religious Freedom began primarily with Muslim parents, but Elkoshairi said a lot of Christian groups have reached out to them and they are growing their coalition membership.

Lindsey Smith, a member of Moms for Liberty Montgomery County, which also took part in the event, told CNA that her organization teamed up with other parents “to rally with parents who are standing up for parental and religious rights to opt out of sexual orientation curriculum being used in English literature classes and social studies in pre-K and up.”

“So far the BOE has stated multiple times that they are standing firm in their decision to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion and not honor their own religious policy giving the rights to the parent to opt out of any sexual orientation teaching,” Smith added. “We will continue to empower parents and stand beside like-minded organizations making known that we do not co-parent with the government but that we are the parents and advocates for our children, not any educational governmental agency.”

Parental and religious freedom rights advocates, including a group of Muslim parents, on June 6, 2023, protest a Maryland school system policy that removes parents’ authority to opt their children out of homosexual and transgender coursework. Credit: The Religious Freedom Institute
Parental and religious freedom rights advocates, including a group of Muslim parents, on June 6, 2023, protest a Maryland school system policy that removes parents’ authority to opt their children out of homosexual and transgender coursework. Credit: The Religious Freedom Institute

Montgomery County is located within the greater Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and is home to the largest public school district in the state of Maryland, with more than 160,000 students enrolled.

Some of the protesters testified about the policy at the school board meeting held at the site.

“Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right that protects the conscience of all people,” a former MCPS student who did not provide her full name testified to the board.

“Religion is not just private worship,” she continued. “It involves public expression on social and moral issues. … The issue of gender and sexuality are influenced by our faith and we should not be caricatured as intolerant and our faith to be subversive because it doesn’t align with your beliefs. Intolerance of the faith community threatens to erode support for religious freedom, therefore eroding the benefits it provides for everyone: religious and nonreligious.”

Becket Law, a legal nonprofit that defends religious liberty, filed a federal lawsuit on May 24 to demand the state Board of Education and the county Board of Education respect the parents’ right to opt out from this coursework, which they argue is required by state law and the First Amendment of the Constitution. 

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Muslim, Catholic, and Orthodox Christian parents. 

“The law already provides the right of parents to opt out,” Eric Baxter, senior counsel for Becket Law, told CNA. 

Baxter said the state law “applies generally to all instruction on family life and human sexuality” and is not limited to only health classes discussing sexual education. 

“All we’re asking is to restore the opt-outs,” he said.

“This is an issue that crosses political lines [and] it crosses religious lines,” Baxter said. 

Congress must act against online child exploitation, U.S. bishops say

null / Shutterstock.

Denver, Colo., Jun 8, 2023 / 08:50 am (CNA).

Congress must act to help prevent the exposure of children to online pornography and to combat online exploitation and abuse of children and other vulnerable people, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said Wednesday.

“Online child exploitation threatens the safety and well-being of our young people and destroys families and communities,” four leading bishops of the USCCB said in a June 7 letter to members of Congress. “The ability of a child to grow into adulthood in peace and security is both a human right and a demand of the common good: The dignity of the human person requires protections for our young people so that they may flourish as they mature.”

Signers of the letter were Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph, who chairs the USCCB’s Committee on Protection of Children and Young People; Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia, who chairs the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Auxiliary Bishop Robert P. Reed of Boston, who chairs the Committee on Communications; and Bishop Robert E. Barron of Winona-Rochester, chair of the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth.

The bishops’ letter alluded to Catholic failures to protect children from sexual abuse by clergy in the U.S., failures that have only been brought to light in the last two decades.

“As pastors, we have seen the destructive effects of the reprehensible offenses of child exploitation firsthand,” they said. “And as leaders of an institution that, for many years, failed to meet its responsibility to protect all children, we know all too well the consequences of a culture that fails to give adequate attention to the problem of child sexual exploitation.”

The bishops voiced concern that research indicates social media use can negatively affect young people’s mental health. They stressed the need for young people to have the opportunity to “mature to adulthood in safety and security” and to avoid pornography.

“Being exposed to pornography can be traumatic for children and youth,” the bishops said. “Seeing it steals their innocence and gives them a distorted image of sexuality, relationships, and men and women, which may then affect their behavior, including addiction to pornography. Because children lack mature understanding of appropriate behavior, pornography makes them more susceptible to victimization by sexual abuse and maltreatment.”

A majority of young people have viewed pornography, accidentally or intentionally, by the age of 13.

The bishops did not comment on any particular legislation. However, the REPORT Act passed the Senate Judicial Committee on June 1. The legislation would require websites and social media platforms to report crimes that violate federal trafficking and enticement of children laws. It would increase fines for companies that knowingly and wilfully fail to report child sexual abuse material (CSAM), according to a June 1 statement from the office of U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia.

The bishops’ letter called for safeguards to ensure that pornography “causes minimum harm.” Such safeguards include prosecution of those who coerce others to produce pornographic materials and giving victims the power to remove unlawfully created pornography from internet platforms.

The bishops lamented that children and young people are coerced into the production of pornography, which is “illegal, abusive, and a form of human trafficking because of a child’s inability to consent.”

Despite parents’ efforts, the bishops said, the internet can be a dangerous place for children. 

There is an “immediate need for effective safeguards” to prevent children from accessing inappropriate content. Legislation should help parents protect their children online and ensure they have “the tools necessary to monitor their children’s online activity.”

The bishops’ letter noted the dangers of abuse, extortion, and blackmail online. This includes the coercion of sexual favors or money accompanied by threats to release sexual images or money.

“Legislation should ensure that social media platforms do not permit abuse by predators or undermine the rights of parents to protect their children from harm,” they said.

Researchers have sought to determine whether and to what extent popular social media sites help spread illegal pornography and CSAM.

Instagram, owned by Facebook’s parent company Meta, has many user accounts that seek to purchase sexual content depicting underage persons. Investigators and researchers with the Wall Street Journal, Stanford University, and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst analyzed these accounts and how Instagram treats them.

They found sexually explicit hashtags and pornographic accounts purporting to be run by children or minors themselves. Some Instagram accounts appear to allow other users to commission custom works of illegal pornography or to meet children in person. The social media platform algorithm appears to promote the accounts through recommendation systems that identify shared interests among users, researchers and investigators found.

“Child exploitation is a horrific crime,” the company said, according to the Wall Street Journal. “We’re continuously investigating ways to actively defend against this behavior.”

Promoting underage sexual content violates both Meta policy and federal law. Meta said it has an internal task force dedicated to policing this content. In the past two years, it said, it has removed 27 networks for distributors of pedophilic material and has blocked thousands of hashtags that sexualize children. The company is also seeking to prevent algorithms and recommendation systems from helping to connect adults with possible interests in CSAM.

Alex Stamos, who was chief security officer at Meta through 2018 and is now head of the Stanford Internet Observatory, told the Wall Street Journal that a sustained effort is needed to combat the material.

“That a team of three academics with limited access could find such a huge network should set off alarms at Meta,” he said, voicing hope that the company reinvests in human investigators.

Other researchers at the Stanford Internet Observatory, based on their analysis of 100,000 Twitter posts from March to May, have reported that the social media platform appears to have failed to block dozens of known images of child pornography, despite the availability of screening software, databases, and other best practices to combat CSAM.

Office of Gov. Ron DeSantis confirms sending migrants to Catholic Charities in California

Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento, California. / Credit: Randy Miramontez/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 8, 2023 / 07:50 am (CNA).

Officials in Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration confirmed Tuesday that they were responsible for sending 16 migrants from the southern border to the Diocese of Sacramento’s Catholic Charities headquarters in California.

The South American migrants were flown to California from the Texas border and dropped off at the Catholic Charities headquarters last Friday, June 2. 

The Florida officials also claimed responsibility for a second plane carrying 20 migrants that arrived in Sacramento a few days later. 

The Florida Division of Emergency Management said in a statement to Fox News that the migrants’ travels to California were “voluntary.”

According to the statement, the migrants were sent to the California Catholic Charities to receive care because it is a federally funded charity in a sanctuary city.

“From left-leaning mayors in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, Colorado, the relocation of those illegally crossing the United States border is not new. But suddenly, when Florida sends illegal aliens to a sanctuary city, it’s false imprisonment and kidnapping,” the spokesperson told Fox. 

The relocation of these migrants to California caused a significant uproar.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced his administration would be opening a kidnapping investigation of those responsible.

In response to the Florida officials’ admission, Newsom told Politico that “all this does is reinforce the cruelty of this act and the manipulative nature of the act and the stunt that this is — the shameful nature of it.” 

“We are very serious about pursuing action if the facts dictate it. And Mr. DeSantis should know that,” Newsom said.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a statement Saturday saying: “While we continue to collect evidence, I want to say this very clearly: State-sanctioned kidnapping is not a public policy choice, it is immoral and disgusting.”

Katie Valenzuela, a Sacramento city councilmember, called the migrants’ relocation a “monstrous act of cruelty.” 

This comes as border states like Texas have faced record surges of illegal migrants under the Biden administration, with more than 2.76 million crossing last year alone.

Border residents have expressed concern and even dismay to CNA that the situation in border communities is becoming untenable.

“It’s going to impact the city greatly, and also those coming over,” one El Paso resident named Rosario Reynolds told CNA in May. “I don’t think the city is prepared to receive them. Yes, there are shelters in place, there are different federal, local, and state help in place, but it’s not enough.”

According to a separate Tuesday statement from DeSantis’ office, Florida officials have made contact with over 5,800 undocumented migrants while assisting Texas officials at the southern border. 

DeSantis is one of several Republican governors who have sent aid in the form of resources and law enforcement officials to the Texas border in response to a May call for assistance from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

In his letter to governors, Abbott said: “The flood of illegal border activity invited by the Biden administration flows directly across the southern border into Texas communities, but this crisis does not stop in our state. Emboldened Mexican drug cartels and other transnational criminal enterprises profit off this chaos, smuggling people and dangerous drugs like fentanyl into communities nationwide.”

Brutal attack does not keep two Baltimore pro-life advocates from their work

Less than a week after being violently attack outside of a Baltimore Planned Parenthood on May 26, 2023, Dick Schafer, 80, returned to the abortion facility to continue his pro-life work. / Credit: Eric Stocklin/CNA

Baltimore, Md., Jun 7, 2023 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

Less than a week after a violent attack against two elderly pro-life activists outside of a Baltimore Planned Parenthood, both men returned to the abortion facility to continue their work as sidewalk counselors promoting life.

The two senior citizens were brutally assaulted in front of the clinic on May 26 by an assailant who remains at large. The unidentified suspect attacked two elderly men after engaging in a “debate” with one of the pro-life activists about abortion.

Dick Schafer, 80, who was knocked to the ground and kicked, left the scene, bleeding from his head, with cuts, scrapes, and body aches.

The second man, 73-year-old Mark Crosby, who was badly beaten and kicked, was taken to the hospital in an ambulance and treated for external and internal bleeding that will require multiple surgeries.

Despite the severity of the attack, both men were not deterred from returning to the Planned Parenthood clinic on Tuesday, May 30, the next day the facility was open. Schafer and other members of the pro-life community were also there on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

“I’m not well,” Crosby told CNA. “But I’m better off than a baby that’s been butchered.”

Schafer, whose injuries were less severe, said he didn’t think twice about returning.

“I think [Crosby] might have taken a few more blows that I might have gotten,” he said. “After Mark [Crosby] did that, I had no choice but to go down there again.”

“It’s not for everybody, but I like being there, that’s for sure,” Schafer said.

Less than a week after being violently attack outside of a Baltimore Planned Parenthood on May 26, 2023, Dick Schafer, 80, returned to the abortion facility to continue his pro-life work. Credit: Eric Stocklin/CNA
Less than a week after being violently attack outside of a Baltimore Planned Parenthood on May 26, 2023, Dick Schafer, 80, returned to the abortion facility to continue his pro-life work. Credit: Eric Stocklin/CNA

‘The last line of hope’

Schafer provides sidewalk counseling, in which he engages with men and women who are walking into an abortion facility. He hands out literature, tries to converse with them about choosing life, and directs them to resources that can help them with the pregnancy.

“I talk to people going in there and I offer some help,” Schafer said. “I ask them to choose life.”

The Planned Parenthood facility is in downtown Baltimore on North Howard Street, across from several vacant buildings and a day care center. Next door to the abortion facility is a pregnancy resource center called Options, which provides women with non-abortive pregnancy services as an alternative to Planned Parenthood’s services.

Last Friday, Planned Parenthood had one security guard and four volunteer escorts stationed at the door of the clinic. That morning at least five pro-life activists were trying to engage men and women who walked toward the facility. One of the men also handed pamphlets to people who were stopped at red lights in their cars. A sixth man paced the sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood while praying the rosary.

Brenda Bicksey, who was there to assist with the pro-life activists’ efforts on Friday with her young daughter, told CNA she comes to the clinic to show parents there are alternatives to abortion.

Bicksey said she wants to “let these parents know there’s help and they don’t have to murder their baby” and to “help find them whatever they need.”

“We’re sort of the last line of hope,” she said.

The Planned Parenthood escorts, wearing rainbow-colored vests with the words “CLINIC ESCORT” on them, were observed trying to prevent Schafer and other pro-life sidewalk counselors from talking to anyone who planned to enter the facility. They also tried to stop the activists from handing out pamphlets about alternatives to abortion.

In one instance, an escort forced himself in between a counselor and a woman who was walking toward the facility and physically boxed him out while trying to prevent her from receiving a pamphlet.

“Don’t take anything from them,” the escort implored the woman. “Those are protesters.”

Some of the literature included information about the number of Black babies killed by abortions in the United States, the emotional and physical risks of having an abortion, stories about mothers who chose to keep their babies after contemplating abortion, and information about resources that could help them through their pregnancy. One of the pamphlets geared toward men asks the father of the unborn child to step up and encourage the mother to choose life.

Most of the people entering the abortion facility refused to engage with the sidewalk counselors; one woman just shouted “bye” multiple times as she walked past them and entered the Planned Parenthood clinic.

Less than a week after being violently attack outside of a Baltimore Planned Parenthood on May 26, 2023, Dick Schafer, 80, returned to the abortion facility to continue his pro-life work. “It’s not for everybody, but I like being there, that’s for sure,” Schafer said. Credit: Eric Stocklin/CNA
Less than a week after being violently attack outside of a Baltimore Planned Parenthood on May 26, 2023, Dick Schafer, 80, returned to the abortion facility to continue his pro-life work. “It’s not for everybody, but I like being there, that’s for sure,” Schafer said. Credit: Eric Stocklin/CNA

Crosby, the activist who was more severely injured, told CNA that he takes a different approach than that of sidewalk counselors.

“I always have my rosary in my hand,” he told CNA, adding that he sprinkles blessed salt and holy water outside the clinic’s entrance. He prepares baggies with rosaries, prayer cards, and a prayer book, which he said he offers to those he encounters at the clinic.

“I don’t counsel people,” Crosby said. “I’m not a protestor. … I walk around in front of Planned Parenthood. I’m usually out in the street and I pray the rosary, and I don’t counsel people unless they come over to me.”

Crosby said he is “not forcing anything on anyone.”

The May 26 attack

On the morning of the May 26 attack, Schafer and Crosby were engaged in their normal routine outside of the Baltimore Planned Parenthood abortion facility. Schafer was counseling people near the building and Crosby was out in the street.

Schafer told CNA he was having “a little chat” that was “kind of cordial” with an advocate for abortion who had expressed disagreements with his pro-life views.

“We had two or three back and forths,” he said before he told the man that he needed to get back to work.

When Schafer turned away from the man, he bent down to replenish some of the material he was handing out. At this moment, the man struck him. Schafer initially thought he was hit by the train that runs parallel to the road.

“As I’m leaning over: ‘Boom!’” Schafer said. “I thought the train hit me. I thought ‘I never felt anything like that.’”

Witnesses saw Schafer lying on the ground unconscious, but he said he did not immediately realize he had been knocked out.

“I thought I instantly hit the sidewalk with my back and I [looked] up and it was sunny and blue skies and I kind of thought a little bit about what just happened,” he told CNA. “I got up and I noticed that the back of my right hand was bleeding a little bit.”

Crosby said when he was out in the street, just before the attack, the man had pointed at him and told him, “You stay out in the street.” He said he saw the man hand his drink to a Planned Parenthood escort right before he attacked Schafer.

“This person gets in a football rushing position and now Dick’s got his back to him, [he] hits him hard up into the plate glass [and then] he went through this big huge planter,” Crosby said. “Dick hits the ground [and] the guy kicks him.”

Crosby rushed over to help Schafer, but the man then turned on Crosby.

“This guy grabs my chain around my neck with crosses and medals,” Crosby said.

“[Then] he hits me in the face, I hit the ground, [and] he kicks me,” Crosby added.

Crosby lost consciousness for a brief period but eventually got back up and was “staggering around the sidewalk” until he walked into Options, the pregnancy health center next door, to sit down and wait for an ambulance to arrive.

After the man kicked Crosby in the head, the man left the scene. He was not apprehended by police, and the Baltimore County Police Department is still searching for him. Metro Crime Stoppers released a photo of the accused man on Wednesday and is offering a $2,000 reward. They are asking anyone with information to call Metro Crime Stoppers at 866-7LOCKUP. 

“So within a minute, this guy does all that destruction and he’s out of there,” Crosby said.

“If they’re killing babies, well, what’s the big deal [to them] about beating up an old man?” John Roswell, who runs Baltimore Sidewalk Advocates for Life and arrived shortly after the attack, told CNA.

“It wasn’t a fight,” Roswell added. “Nobody in our group had their dukes up.”

Roswell said the investigating officer spent about two hours on the scene. He told CNA he wasn’t optimistic that the Baltimore County Police would put in the effort to find the attacker, saying “they don’t want to make Planned Parenthood look bad.”

A sample of the items 80-year-old Dick Schafer hands out in front of the Planned Parenthood facility in Baltimore. Credit: Eric Stocklin/CNA
A sample of the items 80-year-old Dick Schafer hands out in front of the Planned Parenthood facility in Baltimore. Credit: Eric Stocklin/CNA

Crosby told CNA he had a “severe concussion” and two fractured fingers that probably need surgery. He said he lost sight in one of his eyes, which is bleeding internally, and will likely require surgery. He added that “my knees are killing me” and “my head is still pounding right now.”

Schafer was not taken to the hospital but instead decided to drive home. At first, he planned “to go to a rosary and then Mass and Communion,” which he does daily after spending the morning at Planned Parenthood. However, on his drive, he said, “I touch my head and I look and my head’s bloody.”

Schafer decided to visit a doctor to get cleaned up and checked out but still has aches and pains. He said that Crosby’s intervention may have saved him from being injured worse.

Opposition from Planned Parenthood escorts

Several pro-life activists outside of the Baltimore Planned Parenthood told CNA that the escorts and pro-abortion advocates entering the facility or simply passing by are often hostile to the pro-life activists.

“We are threatened on a very regular basis,” Roswell told CNA.

In one instance, Roswell said a man tried to hit him with his car after Roswell convinced the woman he was with to go into the pregnancy resource center rather than abort her child at the Planned Parenthood clinic.

Because of the frequent threats, Roswell began to carry pepper spray for self-defense purposes. He said he’s never needed to use it, but once pulled it out when a man shoved him and “[pulled] out a pipe wrench.”

In that instance, Roswell said the Planned Parenthood escorts “hustled [the man] out of there.”

Roswell said the escorts “create this atmosphere that emboldens people” and “they stand there and smirk if somebody’s threatening us.” He also said the police have mostly been unhelpful and, in one instance, encouraged him to walk away from the person when he called to report a threat.

“If I walk away from here every time there’s a threat, I wouldn’t be here,” Roswell said.

Crosby said that the escorts also become physical, stating that one of them “tries to get in our way and knock us down because we’re seniors.”

Bicksey, who was at the clinic on Friday, also said threats happen “all the time here” and that she has “been pushed around.”

“We need more hands on deck here. We need Christians here,” Bicksey said. “We need church leaders. … We need more people.”

Schafer recounted that people “threaten to kill me” at times, but “I always have a smile on my face.”

Legal fight ahead

Given the brutality of the attack, Crosby and Schafer are pursuing legal action and are being represented by American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative nonprofit legal team.

“This is horrific, and we’re appalled that it happened,” Olivia Summers, senior litigation counsel for ACLJ, told CNA.

“There’s been an escalating violence against the pro-life community … since Dobbs,” Summers added.

Summers said the ACLJ is still in the fact-gathering stage and is in contact with the police about finding out who the man responsible is.

She said the ACLJ is looking into tort claims and civil claims as well as determining whether the assailant violated any federal laws, such as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. She added that ACLJ is also trying to find out whether the man is “known to anybody [or] had any connection to Planned Parenthood.”

“[We need to] take a stand and make sure people know this isn’t going to be tolerated,” Summers said.

‘What Is A Woman?’ just passed 177 million views on Twitter. Why did it go viral?

The one-year-old “What Is A Woman?” documentary by The Daily Wire's Matt Walsh has amassed more than 177 million views in less than a week on Twitter. / Credit: Matt Walsh/YouTube

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 7, 2023 / 13:45 pm (CNA).

The one-year-old “What Is a Woman?” documentary has amassed more than 177 million views in less than a week on Twitter. Despite pushback from transgender activists, the documentary has had enormous success since the film was offered on Twitter at the beginning of June. CNA took a look at what the film is about and why it’s amassed so many views recently. 

What is the film about?

The documentary, which stars popular culture and political commentator Matt Walsh and is distributed by The Daily Wire, tackles questions related to the transgender movement, specifically delving into the question posed in the title, “What is a woman?”

Walsh interviews a variety of people, including politicians, doctors, a professor, and a therapist, asking them whether they can explain what a woman is. When met with unclear and nonspecific answers, Walsh presses the question further.

At one point, he asks Dr. Patrick Grzanka, a professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies at the University of Tennessee, to explain the differences between sex and gender. When Walsh presses Grzanka about wanting to know the truth and the reality of whether someone is a man or a woman, the professor expresses that he is uncomfortable. 

“I’m really uncomfortable with that language of like ‘getting to the truth,’” Grzanka said during the interview. “It sounds actually deeply transphobic to me and if you keep probing, we’re going to stop the interview.”

During the documentary, Walsh also speaks with women who have been forced to compete with biologically male athletes who identify as women. This includes women who placed behind their transgender competitors in both swimming and track and field and believe wins and better finishes were taken from them.

Why is the film going viral?

The film is a year old and was initially released by The Daily Wire to its paid subscribers on June 1, 2022. To celebrate the one-year anniversary, The Daily Wire made the film free on Twitter for a limited time, which began on June 1, 2023. 

“What Is A Woman?” has amassed about 177.2 million views on The Daily Wire’s Twitter post since it was released for free. The film has received a lot of publicity and positive feedback from conservatives but a lot of hostility from transgender activists. 

Because the film deals with the highly contentious issue of gender identity and gender ideology, it has gained publicity from both sides of the issue.

The documentary has not received many reviews from movie critics, but it received an 83% approval rating from six movie critics listed on Rotten Tomatoes and an 86% approval rating from more than 10,000 users rating the film. 

“Our film has been banned from most platforms,” Walsh said in a Tweet. “Mainstream movie critics refused to even review it. It’s been blacklisted and suppressed and yet still reached a massive audience. But how many more could we have reached without the deck stacked completely against us? It’s no use lamenting these things.”

How did it survive content moderation on Twitter?

Twitter initially entered into a deal with The Daily Wire to help broadcast the documentary but ultimately backed out of the deal and began suppressing the film as soon as it was posted on the social media platform.

When the documentary initially aired on Twitter, it was given a content warning, which flagged the video as “hate speech” and limited its visibility based on accusations that it was transphobic.

Walsh and other members of The Daily Wire’s team sparred with Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal on Twitter about the restrictions. They also directly appealed to Twitter owner Elon Musk by tweeting at his account.

Musk ultimately intervened and put a stop to the suppression efforts, which included getting rid of the “hate speech” warning. He then tweeted out the documentary, saying “every parent should watch this.” He pinned the tweet for a brief period.

What have Catholics said about it?

Walsh is a practicing Catholic and the film was well received by some Catholic viewers. 

CatholicVote, a Catholic political advocacy group, recommended the film for viewers aged 16 and older and suggested that high school students should discuss it with a trusted adult. 

“The question ‘What is Woman?’ is a hook — to catch a bigger fish, as it were,” Erika Ahern of CatholicVote wrote on June 2, 2022. 

“Yes, it’s one important question that trans ideologues have refused to tackle,” she continued. “(We hear multiple interviewees replying the Walsh with, ‘Why are you asking that question?’) But there are a number of other questions that could be posed. What is a man? What is gender? What is sex? But the central question is much deeper. Fisherman Walsh tackles it even before he lands his first interview: ‘What is truth?’”

Ann Schneible, a freelance journalist writing a review for National Catholic Register, gave the film a B+. She said it is a good starting point for this issue but would not recommend it as a tool for understanding someone with gender dysphoria. 

“While it may not be persuasive to anyone who does not generally agree with Walsh, it may still be a valuable starting point for anyone who wants to delve deeper into an issue that is affecting an increasing number of individuals and families,” Schneible wrote. “From this perspective, I would recommend this film.”

Mary Rice Hasson, the director of the Person and Identity Project at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, tweeted out her support for the film and criticism of the initial restrictions. 

“Matt Walsh’s documentary has had a powerful impact, sharing the truth on an incredibly important issue,” Hasson said.

Oli London, a man who formerly identified as a gender-fluid trans woman but has since detransitioned and converted to Catholicism, also tweeted about the film and the previous censorship. 

“Despite Twitter censoring [Matt Walsh’s] ‘What is a Woman?’ [The Daily Wire’s] documentary this evening and Elon issuing several tweets adding to the confusion he has now tweeted that the censorship will create ‘The Streisand effect,’” London tweeted. “The Streisand effect is an unintended consequence of attempts to hide, remove, or censor information where it instead leads to increased awareness of that information.”

Sachin Jose, a Catholic journalist and social media influencer, encouraged others to step up and discuss this issue. 

“Matt Walsh is one the greatest evangelizers in the West and Catholic Church today,” Jose said on Twitter. “He is able to save the lives of thousands of kids. We need priests, bishops, and laypeople who are not afraid to speak the truth.”

California honors anti-Catholic drag group ‘Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence’ at state capitol

California legislators honored "Sister Roma" of the anti-Catholic activist group "Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence" at the state capitol Monday, June 5, 2023. / California State Assembly official website livestream,

Washington D.C., Jun 7, 2023 / 12:25 pm (CNA).

Michael Williams, who goes by the name “Sister Roma” and is a member of the San Francisco chapter of an anti-Catholic drag group known as the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence,” was honored by the California state Legislature on Monday.

Outside the capitol, hundreds of Catholics and other Christians held a prayer vigil, and several members of the California Republican Caucus walked out of the capitol in protest while Williams was honored. 

Inside the capitol, Williams received a standing ovation on the assembly floor, and several lawmakers posed for photos with Williams, who was wearing a black gown, heavy white makeup, and a large purple-blue wig. 

California Senate Minority Leader Brian Jones issued a statement calling the decision to honor “Sister Roma” at the capitol a “slap in the face to Catholics who cherish their faith and hold it as a cornerstone of their identity.”

“By inviting a prominent leader of this hateful group, Senate Democrats have shown a blatant disregard for the 10 million Catholic Californians in our state,” Jones said. “Were this group to spread hateful messages about Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or any other religion, Senate Democrats would certainly not extend this invitation.”

A national drag group, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence uses Catholic religious imagery and themes in protests and sexualized performances to raise awareness and money for LGBTQ+ causes. The performers call themselves nuns and regularly use the images of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and women religious.

A member of the drag group since 1987, Williams is an activist, pornography filmmaker, and one of the most well-known Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. 

Williams was honored along with other prominent LGBTQ+ figures and was invited by state Sen. Scott Wiener, who is also a well-known LGBTQ+ activist.

Before Williams was honored, the California Senate Republican Caucus sent a letter to the Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins requesting she retract the invitation to “Sister Roma.” Atkins refused, calling the request a “misguided distraction on the first day of Pride month.”

The California Legislature’s decision to honor the drag queen activist comes amid controversy over the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence being honored by the Los Angeles Dodgers at a Major League Baseball game on June 16. The team’s decision to honor the group has been decried by prominent Catholics and Christians, including Dodgers pitcher Blake Treinen, who said it “disenfranchises a large community and promotes hate of Christians and people of faith.”

Thousands of United Methodist churches break away over LGBTQ+ disagreements

A pro-LGBTQ message on a Methodist church in Nashville, Tennessee. / Glendale United Methodist Church|Flickr

Washington D.C., Jun 6, 2023 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

As the United Methodist Church (UMC) is rocked by disagreement over LGBTQ+ issues, more than 4,000 congregations have officially split from the denomination this year. 

More congregations joined the growing schism this weekend with 60 leaving in Michigan on Saturday and 250 in Kentucky splitting with the UMC on Sunday. 

Jay Therrell, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and a leader in the “disaffiliation” movement, told CNA that “the authority of Scripture and the lordship of Christ” has “deteriorated for many, many years in the United Methodist Church.” 

Today, Therrell said, that problem is “playing out in the issue of human sexuality.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, 4,876 Methodist churches this year have officially completed the process to break away from the UMC, Therrell said.

According to Therrell, many of those churches have gone on to join the more theologically conservative Global Methodist Church, which was founded in 2022 with the help of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and now numbers approximately 2,500 congregations. 

“We absolutely believe that the United Methodist Church is drifting day by day ever more progressive,” Therrell said. “We have bishops all across the globe who are completely violating the Book of Discipline [the primary Methodist book of teachings, similar to the Catholic catechism]. They are allowing all sorts of things to happen that violate various paragraphs, much of it to do with human sexuality.” 

The conflict erupted in full force in 2019 after a special session of the General Conference of the entire UMC debated whether to adopt new rules promoting homosexuality in the church. The propositions were ultimately defeated in a 53% to 46% vote approving a “Traditional Plan” reaffirming the UMC’s stance on traditional marriage and sexuality.

Since 2019, however, the UMC has steered the church toward the left on key social issues such as LGBTQ+ ideology.

Though denying the ordination of homosexual individuals, the UMC’s official website states that “everyone is welcome to worship and actively participate in the life of our churches” and that “laypersons may become members and live out their faith through their local church without respect to sexual orientation or practice.”

The UMC’s website further admits that the denomination’s teaching on homosexuality may be changed in the future. “When the next General Conference convenes (April–May 3, 2024) it will address multiple legislative proposals to alter existing church policies on human sexuality and to divide or restructure the denomination as a result of differences on these and other issues,” the UMC’s website states.

In the United States, the UMC is divided into five “jurisdictions.” Each of these jurisdictions passed similar measures in 2022 stating that “LGBTQIA+ people will be protected, affirmed, and empowered” in the church, according to the AP.

Of the 46 active UMC bishops, two are openly homosexual, despite official UMC policy denying the ordination of LGBTQ+ persons.

Meanwhile, the influence of LGBTQ+ supportive groups has been increasing within the UMC. 

The Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) is a group that, according to its website, is “committed to intersectional justice across and beyond the United Methodist connection” and is “working for the full participation of all LGBTQ+ people throughout the life and leadership of the Church.”

According to a November 2022 RMN statement, conferences of the UMC’s five jurisdictions resulted in “a historic slate of episcopal elections for the Reconciling movement” in which 13 new LGBTQ+ supportive bishops were elected.

“Episcopal elections are important for LGBTQ+ justice because our Church’s moral direction is deeply influenced by the values of the elected bishops and because bishops hold immense power to affect the livelihoods of LGBTQ+ clergy and congregations seeking justice and inclusion,” RMN said. “We celebrate these newly elected justice-seeking bishops who represent more of the whole of humanity and whose wisdom is invaluable in the ongoing co-creation of our Church.”

Besides electing openly homosexual bishops, some members of the UMC clergy have called for official apologies to be made for even challenging their election. 

At the 2022 South Central Jurisdiction Conference, RMN reported that Rev. Katie McKay Simpson, a pastor from Louisiana, “called the jurisdiction to collective confession and apology for challenging the historic election of Bishop Karen Oliveto, the Church’s first out gay bishop.”

To Therrell, the jurisdictions’ adoption of pro-LGBTQ+ resolutions “telegraph where the future of the UMC is.” 

“We think it is highly likely at the General Conference in 2024 that the definition of marriage will change, that the ordination standards will change, and that most of the traditional provisions we’ve passed in recent years will be repealed,” Therrell said. 

As of now, nearly one-quarter of UMC congregations have officially broken away within the last five years.

The departures have only been increasing exponentially. According to UM News, the official news-gathering agency of the UMC, 4,645 churches officially split from the UMC so far this year. That is more than double the number of churches that left in the previous year (2,003) and almost 10 times the number in 2021 (486).