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20 attorneys general warn CVS, Walgreens against abortion pills in their states

null / Ken Wolter/Shutterstock and Ceri Breeze/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 2, 2023 / 14:25 pm (CNA).

As CVS and Walgreens continue to seek federal approval to sell an abortion drug, 20 attorneys general whose states restrict abortion warned the pharmacy chains against fulfilling mail orders within their states. 

Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the sale of mifepristone through pharmacies if the companies receive FDA certification. The drug can be used to abort a preborn child up to 10 weeks of gestation, according to the FDA; however, the World Health Organization has stated it can be used up to 12 weeks of gestation. Walgreens and CVS are both seeking certification to sell the drug but have not yet received approval or begun to sell it.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, several states enacted abortion laws that outright ban abortion in most cases or impose a cutoff earlier than 10 weeks. In these states, the bans often apply to surgical abortion and abortion-inducing drugs. Some states also specifically ban the sale of abortion-inducing drugs through the mail. After CVS and Walgreens expressed their intent to distribute the abortion drug through mail orders, a coalition of 20 attorneys general sent letters to the companies, warning them they cannot sell the drug in their states. 

“As attorney general, it is my responsibility to enforce the laws as written, and that includes enforcing the very laws that protect Missouri’s women and unborn children,” Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, who led the coalition, said in a statement. “My office is doing everything in its power to inform these companies of the law, with the promise that we will use every tool at our disposal to uphold the law if broken.”

The letter states that companies must “keep apprised not only of federal law but also of the laws of the various states.” It adds that these laws reflect a commitment to “protect the lives and dignity of children” and women.

Explaining their concern, the state officials cite research published in 2015 that found that abortion-inducing drugs are nearly six times more likely to cause complications for women than surgical abortions. They also note that abortions performed away from medical professionals carry an added risk. 

In the letter, the attorneys general also caution that mail orders of abortion-inducing drugs “invite the horror of an increase in coerced abortions” because there is no medical oversight and “a person can obtain an abortion pill quite easily and then coerce a woman into taking it.” The attorneys general also expressed the opinion that mailing abortion drugs violates federal law, which is contrary to a Department of Justice opinion issued earlier this year. 

A spokesman for Walgreens told CNA that the company is aware that it may be unable to provide the drug in every location. 

“We are not dispensing mifepristone at this time,” a Walgreens spokesman said. “We intend to become a certified pharmacy under the program; however, we fully understand that we may not be able to dispense mifepristone in all locations if we are certified under the program.”

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

Some pro-life groups praised the attorneys general for defending preborn children against the abortion drug within their respective states.

“Ohio Right to Life is thankful for Attorney General Dave Yost and the 19 other attorneys general who united to not only uphold and protect our state laws but also federal law,” Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis said in a statement. 

“This is what true pro-life leadership looks like, and we are proud to stand behind them,” Gonidakis added.

“Not only is the lackadaisical distribution of mifepristone via the mail illegal per federal law, but it is also extremely dangerous for women,” he said. “We have stated since the very beginning that this FDA approval is nothing short of anti-women and prioritizes a political agenda over medical safety. It is time for the Biden administration to prioritize the health and safety of women and children.”

The Utah-based Sutherland Institute, which promotes religious freedom and family values, also approved of the attorneys general’s actions. Bill Duncan, a religious freedom policy fellow with the institute, told CNA that the letter is an “appropriate exercise of their responsibility.” 

Duncan said Utah’s Legislature passed a bill to prohibit abortions in most circumstances, but the law is currently facing a legal challenge from Planned Parenthood, which he said is claiming “that the Utah Constitution contains an unwritten right to abortion.”

“It seems likely the court will recognize that there is nothing in the Utah Constitution that would preclude the state from enforcing its law,” he said. 

“If these companies provide drugs used to end the lives of unborn children, they would be in violation of the law,” Duncan added. “Each attorney general has responsibility to enforce the laws of the state as well as to prevent violations. This letter is a welcome example of state officials discharging that responsibility.”

In addition to the attorneys general of Missouri, Ohio, and Utah, the other states whose attorneys general signed the letter were Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and West Virginia.

Bishop Barron says Minnesota’s new abortion law is ‘the worst kind of barbarism’

Bishop Robert Barron spoke out against Minnesota's new abortion law after it passed Jan. 31, 2023. / Credit: Bishop Robert Barron/YouTube

Boston, Mass., Feb 2, 2023 / 12:45 pm (CNA).

Winona-Rochester Bishop Robert Barron called a newly passed Minnesota abortion bill that enshrines abortion rights into law “the worst kind of barbarism.”

“I want to share with you my anger, my frustration over this terrible law that was just signed by the governor in Minnesota — the most really extreme abortion law that’s on the books in the wake of the Roe v. Wade reversal,” Barron said in a Jan. 31 video on social media following Democratic Gov. Tim Walz’s signing of the bill on Tuesday.

The bill, titled the Protect Reproductive Options (PRO) Act, enshrines a constitutional right to “reproductive freedom,” ensuring the right to abortion in Minnesota up to birth for any reason, as well as the right to contraception and sterilization.

“Basically, it eliminates any kind of parental notifications so a 12-year-old child can get an abortion without even telling her parents about it,” Barron said. 

“But the worst thing,” he added, “is it basically permits abortion all the way through pregnancy up to the very end. And indeed, indeed if a child somehow survives a botched abortion, the law now prohibits an attempt to save that child’s life.”

Protection for abortion in the state had preexisted the new law because the state’s Supreme Court ruled in the 1995 decision Doe v. Gomez that a woman had a constitutional right to abortion. Several restrictions to abortion in the state have also been ruled unconstitutional in the courts in prior years, the AP reported. Sponsors of the bill supported it because they wanted abortion protections in law, despite the political leaning of future appointed justices, the AP reported.

Pro-life advocates fiercely opposed the bill, as it gained national attention and underwent several hours of debate in the state Senate. The pro-life advocacy organization Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America called the legislation “the most extreme bill in the country.” 

Barron said that “I don’t know why this is really debated anymore in our country, but this strikes me as just the worst kind of barbarism. And in the name of, I don’t know, subjectivity, and freedom, and choice and all this, we’re accepting this kind of brutality.”

Barron’s condemnation of the law echoes that of the Minnesota bishops who raised their voices against it before its passage. 

The states’ bishops wrote in a Jan. 26 statement: “To assert such unlimited autonomy is to usurp a prerogative that belongs to God alone. Authorizing a general license to make and take life at our whim will unleash a host of social and spiritual consequences with which we as a community will have to reckon.”

In his video, Barron added: “What strikes me is this: If a child is born and now a day old, or two days old and resting peacefully in his bassinet and someone broke into the house and with a knife killed the child and dismembered him, well, the whole country would rise up in righteous indignation.”

“But yet, that same thing can happen with complete impunity as the child is in his mother’s womb about to be born. Again, I just think this is so beyond the pale and that we’ve so lost our way on this issue,” he said.

He acknowledged that there was no possibility of blocking the now-enacted legislation, but said that “we can certainly keep raising our voices in protest.”

“We can keep praying for an end to this barbaric regime in our country,” he said.

Religious freedom ‘under assault’ across the world, leaders testify at summit

Former assistant secretary of state Robert Destro discusses the need for religious freedom. Pictured from left, Imam Talib Shareef of the Nation’s Mosque; Destro; and Cole Durham of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University Law School. Peter Pinedo/CNA / Peter Pinedo/CNA

Washington D.C., Feb 2, 2023 / 10:50 am (CNA).

“Tragically, religious freedom for many is increasingly under assault around the world,” Rep. Michael McCaul said to kick off the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit, which took place in Washington, D.C., this week. 

Faith leaders from across the world — including Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and others — gathered at the summit to address the ongoing persecution against people of faith, which has been increasing in many nations and has resulted in the deaths of millions.

McCaul, a Republican congressman from Texas and a Catholic, invoked the teachings of both Pope Francis and St. John Paul II in upholding religious freedom as the “cornerstone” of human rights. 

Some leaders at the summit, including Naomi Kikoler of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, cautioned that the persecution of people of faith in some countries already amounts to genocide and could lead to genocide in others if immediate action is not taken.

“We know from studying the Holocaust that genocide and related crimes against humanity, persecution, is never spontaneous,” Kikoler said. “There’s a wide range of early warning signs, and if detected and their causes are addressed, it could be possible to prevent catastrophic loss of life.” 

Where is persecution occurring? 

“The right to practice one’s religion of choice is so frequently violated by governments all over the world,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, a Catholic Democrat from Massachusetts, while speaking at the summit. “The Uyghurs and Tibetans by China, Muslims and Sikhs in India, Coptic Christians in Egypt … Shia Muslims in Sunni-governed countries, Catholics in Nicaragua, Jews in France, I could go on and on and on, the list is way too long.” 

“As a practicing Catholic myself I know how important and personal the right to freedom of religion is,” McGovern added.

The history of Catholics in America is itself marked by the fight for religious freedom, said Robert Destro, a senior fellow with the Religious Freedom Institute. A former assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Destro is now a professor of law at the Catholic University of America.

“People forget, American Catholics were among our own nation’s leaders in fighting for religious freedom,” Destro told CNA.

Destro pointed out that even Catholics in the U.S. have had to contend with religious persecution in the past.

One example: the anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia in the 1840s. “They blew open the wall of the church with a cannon and they set it on fire,” Destro said. “Thank God we’re not seeing that today [in America], but we are seeing attacks on churches. So, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” 

“If you are open about your faith,” Destro said, very often “they kill you.” 

Though Catholics in America don’t face widespread violent persecution, Catholics are being killed, persecuted, and arrested by the thousands in other countries such as Nicaragua, China, and Nigeria.

According to religious freedom watchdog Open Doors International, 5,014 Christians were killed in 2022 in Nigeria alone. 

Just earlier this month a Nigerian Catholic priest, Father Isaac Achi, was burned to death in his rectory by armed bandits. 

“Ours is a huge task, freedom for the soul and respect for each other,” said Ambassador Sam Brownback at the summit. “We are gathered and fighting here for the abused and beaten, even killed religious minorities that even now are huddled in secret places yearning with all their heart to worship God as they believe they should. And is that too much to ask? It is not.”

Smithsonian staff kick out Catholic students for wearing pro-life hats

Twelve students from Our Lady of the Rosary School in Greenville, South Carolina, and their chaperones wore blue pro-life stocking caps that said “Rosary Pro-Life” to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum after they attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20, 2023. / Credit: WYFF4 News screen shot

Denver, Colo., Feb 2, 2023 / 07:51 am (CNA).

A group of Catholic students was wrongly kicked out of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum because museum staff reacted with hostility to their matching blue pro-life hats, their supporters say.

Twelve students from Our Lady of the Rosary School in Greenville, South Carolina, and their chaperones had attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. They wore blue pro-life stocking caps that said “Rosary Pro-Life.”

After the rally, they visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, famous for its exhibits of the original 1903 Wright Flyer and the Apollo 11 Command Module.

Though other visitors wore various kinds of hats, according to attorney Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, the students were treated differently. Sekulow said the students “were accosted several times and told they would be forced to leave unless they removed their pro-life hats.”

“The museum staff mocked the students, called them expletives, and made comments that the museum was a ‘neutral zone’ where they could not express such statements,” Sekulow said in a Jan. 27 statement. “The employee who ultimately forced the students to leave the museum was rubbing his hands together in glee as they exited the building.”

He characterized the treatment of the students as “blatant discrimination” and noted that the Smithsonian is a federal entity.

At least two students are being represented by the American Center for Law and Justice.

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum said it has already made changes after the incident.

“Asking visitors to remove hats and clothing is not in keeping with our policy or protocols,” Alison Wood, the museum’s deputy director of communications, told Fox News. “We provided immediate training to prevent a re-occurrence of this kind of incident, and have determined steps to ensure this does not happen again.”

CNA sought comment from the museum but did not receive a response by publication.

Sekulow said legal action could be on the horizon.

“We are preparing to bring legal action to defend the constitutional rights of these children,” he said. “No one, especially kids, should have to fear being kicked out of a national museum by government officials simply for wearing a Christian pro-life hat.”

“This was a clear-cut First Amendment violation, not only of their freedom of speech but of religion as well,” Sekulow continued. “The federal government simply cannot ban speech with which it or its employees disagree.”

The Catholic Diocese of Charleston responded to the incident in a statement to the Greenville NBC affiliate KYFF4 News.

“Thousands of Catholic students attend the March for Life every year and we support their right to stand for life,” the diocese said.

Head of U.S. bishops’ conference contradicts Biden’s claims about taxpayer-funded abortions

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio leads the Archdiocese for the Military Services. / EWTN News In Depth

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 18:40 pm (CNA).

President Joe Biden is wrong on taxpayer funding of abortion and wrong on Pope Francis’ view of it, the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference said Wednesday.

The president suggested Tuesday that neither the pope nor all Catholic bishops oppose public funding for abortion in the United States.

Biden, a Catholic who supports legal and publicly funded abortion, made that assertion in a brief exchange with EWTN’s White House correspondent, Owen Jensen, on the White House lawn. CNA is a news outlet of EWTN News.

You can watch the exchange in the video at the end of this story.

“Catholic bishops are demanding that federal tax dollars not fund abortion,” Jensen shouted over the sound of the rotor blades of the president’s helicopter.

“No, they are not all doing that,” was the president’s retort. “Nor is the pope doing that.”

On Wednesday, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), released a statement contradicting Biden’s comments.

“As we are taught by Jesus, human life is sacred. God calls us to defend and nurture life from the moment a new human being is conceived. The Catholic Church has been clear and consistent in this teaching,” Broglio said. “The Catholic bishops of the United States are united in our commitment to life and will continue to work as one body in Christ to make abortion unthinkable.”

Broglio, who is archbishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, also said public funding of abortion undermines the religious freedom of Catholics.

“Taxpayer funding of abortion would force people of good conscience to participate in this grave evil against their will,” he said.

“It would contradict our right to live in accord with the tenets of our faith. Our nation is better than that,” he continued. “I pray that we will protect every child no matter his or her age, and open our hearts to respond to mothers in need with love and support rather than the violence of abortion.”

Broglio noted that Pope Francis has repeatedly condemned abortion, at one point using a graphic image to do it. In October 2018, during a Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square, the pope likened using an abortion provider to hiring a hitman.

The president’s remarks came five days after the chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities endorsed a bill in Congress that seeks to permanently ban federal funding of abortion.

“The government should never fund the destruction of innocent preborn children. Rather, Congress can better serve the common good by prioritizing policies that comprehensively assist women, children, and families in need in ways that will not only encourage childbirth but make it easier to welcome and raise a new child,” wrote Bishop Michael Burbidge, pro-life committee chairman and bishop of the Diocese of Arlington in northern Virginia, in a letter dated Jan. 27.

Cardinal Dolan criticizes Biden administration for trying to force employers to cover contraception

Cardinal Timothy Dolan attends Columbus Day parade in New York City. / lev radin / Shutterstock

CNA Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

The Biden administration’s proposal to force employers to offer contraception in their health insurance plans even if they have moral objections to it is “disheartening,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan said Wednesday.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a proposed rule that would leave in place the current exemption for religious employers but take away the exemption based purely on moral grounds.

Dolan, reacting two days later, said the Trump-era rule issued in 2018 “provided appropriately clear and robust protections for the exercise of religious beliefs and moral convictions, free from government punishment,” but that the Biden administration’s new proposal wrongly removes at least some of those protections.

“While we are pleased that the proposed regulations appear, at this early stage of review, to retain the bulk of the existing religious exemption, their elimination of protections for moral convictions is disheartening,” said Dolan, the archbishop of New York and chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, in a written statement.

“It is past time for HHS to leave well enough alone in this regard,” Dolan said.

A spokesman for Health and Human Services could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

The dispute is over regulations connected to the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, commonly known as Obamacare.

When the law came into effect, the Obama administration sought to force employers to cover the full cost of contraception for their employees through their health insurance plans. Various religious organizations and companies filed suit, leading to a patchwork of court decisions exempting some from the requirement and not exempting others.

The Trump administration’s 2018 rule included carve-outs for religious employers and employers with moral objections to contraception.

Biden officials say women need free contraception.

“Access to contraception is an essential component of women’s health care in part because contraception is effective at reducing unintended pregnancy. Without health insurance or other health coverage for or access to contraception at no cost, contraception can be prohibitively expensive, and the cost may deter individuals from obtaining needed care,” says a written statement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an agency within the federal Department of Health and Human Services, on Monday.

Contraception has “a heightened importance” now and making it free is “a national imperative,” say Biden administration officials, because women in some states can’t get abortions. Some states have made abortion illegal since June 2022, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that abortion is not a federal constitutional right.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that artificial contraception is immoral because it thwarts what the Church says are the main purposes of sexual intercourse: procreation and the unity of a man and woman in a lifelong commitment to each other. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls contraception “intrinsically evil.”

Cardinal Dolan rejected the Biden administration’s abortion-policy argument in his statement Wednesday.

“The proper reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs is not, as the proposed regulations claim, to make it free for women to sterilize themselves, but rather to relieve the burdens that our laws and culture place both on mothers and those who may become mothers,” Dolan said.

Biden officials want to get rid of the moral exemption and also provide a way for women who work for exempt employers to get contraception free of charge.

The Biden administration’s proposed new rule would create what it calls “an individual contraceptive arrangement” that would allow employees of exempt organizations to get contraception free of charge without their employer paying for it.

The federal government charges health insurers a user fee. (In 2023, it’s 2.75% of premiums for the Federally Facilitated Marketplace and 2.25% of premiums for a State-Based Marketplace using the federal platform.)

In such cases, the proposed rule would allow providers of contraception to apply for an “adjustment” of the user fee based on the costs of providing the products and services, “which would likely be reimbursed and ultimately incurred by the federal government.”

Dolan said the bishops’ conference plans to file comments on the proposed rule with HHS.

The proposed rule is not currently in effect. A 60-day comment period on it begins with its publication in the Federal Register, which is scheduled to occur Thursday, Feb. 2. That gives members of the public until early April to comment on it.

Written comments can be submitted by U.S. mail or online at the following website: https://www.regulations.gov.

Acquitted pro-life activist Mark Houck reveals details of ‘reckless’ FBI raid; will press charges

After being acquitted of federal charges by a jury in Philadelphia on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, Mark Houck embraces and kisses his wife, Ryan-Marie Houck. Also with Houck are his son Mark Houck Jr., 14, and his daughter, Ava Houck, 12. / Joe Bukuras/CNA

Boston, Mass., Feb 1, 2023 / 13:31 pm (CNA).

Mark Houck, the pro-life father of seven who was acquitted Monday in federal court of charges of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, said he is planning to sue the FBI and other authorities following his ordeal.

On a Jan. 31 episode of the podcast “War Room,” the host, Steve Bannon, asked Houck: “Do you intend to press charges for prosecutorial abuse? And are you going to press charges against the FBI agents and the state troopers?”

“We most definitely will and we will be seeking counsel on that,” Houck responded.

Houck was arrested Sept. 23, 2022, following a federal indictment alleging two violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, commonly referred to as the FACE Act.

The FACE Act prohibits “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.”

At the time of the arrest, Houck’s wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, told CNA that “a SWAT team of about 25 came to my house with about 15 vehicles and started pounding on our door.” She added: “They said they were going to break in if he didn’t open it. And then they had about five guns pointed at my husband, myself, and basically at my kids.”

The allegations in the case were related to two incidents that took place on Oct. 13, 2021, at a Philadelphia abortion clinic, where Houck has been a longtime pro-life sidewalk counselor. The federal indictment alleged that Houck twice shoved an abortion clinic escort, Bruce Love, once when Love was attempting to escort clients and again during a verbal altercation with Love in front of the clinic.

The prosecution argued that Houck pushed Love because he was trying to interfere with his provision of reproductive health services. Houck said he pushed Love because he was just trying to protect his 12-year-old son who was being harassed by Love. A 12-person jury unanimously found Houck not guilty of both counts of violating the FACE Act on Monday.

After news of his acquittal broke, several supporters of Houck called for legal action against the Justice Department.

Until Monday, Houck himself had not made any public statements on the nature of his arrest, but he went into more detail on the podcast. 

‘I have seven babies in here’

Houck said that a local criminal complaint against him in Philadelphia Municipal Court “went nowhere” and added that he was soon notified that he was the target of a grand jury investigation.

He said his lawyers at the time said that they would peacefully bring Houck in for questioning from authorities if needed.

“The next thing I know, I had 20-plus federal agents and state troopers banging on my door at 6:45 in the morning on Sept. 23, Friday morning,” he said.

Houck said he was awake, but his wife and kids were asleep. He said the FBI “repeatedly” rang the doorbell and banged on the door saying “open up.’”

Houck said that the authorities did not identify themselves while banging on the door.

He described the FBI’s tactics as “recklessness” and an “act of terror.”

Houck asked if the authorities would identify themselves before he opened the door, which they did. 

“To which I replied, ‘Okay, I’m gonna open the door. Stay calm. I have seven babies in here,’ which were stirring at the time, but I didn’t know they were awake,” he said.

Houck said he opened the door and showed them his hands. 

“As I opened the door, I could not believe the circus scene that I saw,” he said.

There were “at least 10, 15 marked and unmarked units right in front of me. Surrounding the side of my house, I have 100 yards to the street, cars lined all the way up to the street, long guns pointed at me, heavily armored vests, ballistic helmets, ballistic shields, a battering ram,” he said.

He said his daughter “took note” of an FBI agent in the back of the house, and there were at least five federal agents on his porch “with M-16s pointed at me and now my wife as she entered the opening of the door.”

“I opened the door and I said, ‘What are you doing here?’”

“They said, ‘You know why we’re here,’” Houck said.

“And then I said, ‘Oh, I know why you’re here. You’re here because I rescue babies,’” he said.

Houck said that he looked at all of the agents and said, “You wouldn’t be here if the Trump administration was in the White House.”

He said that the agents did not respond but just looked at him. 

Ryan-Marie Houck asked if they had a warrant for his arrest, Houck said, adding that the FBI responded, “We’re taking him with or without a warrant.”

Ryan-Marie told CNA at the time of the arrest that she was handed the warrant after she asked for it.

Houck said that when he was arrested, his children were screaming, he had on flip-flops, a pair of shorts, a T-shirt, and was not wearing underwear.

Houck said that the agents did not let him put on underwear, brush his teeth, or put deodorant on. They did allow him to take his rosary, he said.

“It was reckless that day,” Houck said. “I’m so surprised that someone wasn’t shot or I wasn’t shot.”

“[If] my kids picked up one of our airsoft guns that they play around with they easily could have been shot,” he said, adding that this was “extremely reckless behavior on the part of the federal government.”

In September 2022, the FBI issued a statement disputing details in the reports of Houck’s arrest. 

“There are inaccurate claims being made regarding the arrest of Mark Houck,” the FBI’s Philadelphia office said in a statement.

“No SWAT Team or SWAT operators were involved. FBI agents knocked on Mr. Houck’s front door, identified themselves as FBI agents, and asked him to exit the residence. He did so and was taken into custody without incident pursuant to an indictment,” the statement continued.

At the time, an FBI spokesman declined to answer CNA’s questions about the number of law enforcement personnel at the scene and whether any drew their weapons and pointed them at the family.

“Extensive planning takes place prior to the service of any federal warrant. The FBI then employs the personnel and tactics deemed necessary to effect a safe arrest or search,” the statement said.

“While it’s the FBI’s standard practice not to discuss such operational specifics, we can say that the number of personnel and vehicles widely reported as being on scene Friday is an overstatement, and the tactics used by FBI personnel were professional, in line with standard practices, and intended to ensure the safety of everyone present in and outside the residence,” the statement concluded.

Close to the cross of Christ

Houck said that he was shackled at the waist and feet once he arrived at “the federal building.”

Houck said that his detainment was “the most intimate prayer experience” of his life, adding that he was “at the foot of Calvary” and was at peace. He said he felt so close to the cross of Christ that he could “take the splinters off that cross.”

Houck also said that the FBI “manipulated” him and his wife into giving them information that he didn’t want to give them.

He said that he was then in the custody of the U.S. Marshals and said that he was still chained in “a pure act of humiliation,” adding that they treated him like he was “a convicted felon” and “like no other person has ever treated” him.

Houck told Bannon that prior to the trial, the government offered him a plea deal: If he would plead guilty, he would walk away with virtually no punishment but “a slap on the wrist.”

He said his wife told him: “You’re not allowed home if you take that plea.”

“I was not going to take that plea. But I just wanted your audience to know that that’s how highly the government thought of this case,” he said. “And I knew the importance of allowing this case to set precedent for the pro-life movement, to have case law on the books.”

Biggest papal Masses ever: How does today’s Mass in the DRC compare?

Millions gather in Manila for Pope Francis' closing Mass on Jan. 18, 2015. / Alan Holdren/CNA.

St. Louis, Mo., Feb 1, 2023 / 12:23 pm (CNA).

More than 1 million people attended Pope Francis’ Mass celebrated on an airfield in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday morning, according to local authorities. The papal Mass, celebrated in French, was filled with joy and dancing. 

Papal Masses, especially in the last 50 years or so, have attracted crowds of millions — many of them at World Youth Days, the massive gatherings of young people that began in 1987 and take place every few years. 

Here’s an inexhaustive ranking of some of the biggest papal Masses:

Pope Francis, Manila, 2015: 6-7 million

Millions gather in Manila for Pope Francis' closing Mass on Jan. 18, 2015. .  Alan Holdren/CNA.
Millions gather in Manila for Pope Francis' closing Mass on Jan. 18, 2015. . Alan Holdren/CNA.

Residents of the historically Catholic Philippines made a tremendous showing at the final Mass of Pope Francis’ 2015 trip to the Philippines. By official estimates, between 6 and 7 million people packed into Rizal Park in Manila at the final public event during his Jan. 15–19 trip to the country. 

The Mass is thought to be the largest papal event in history. 

Pope John Paul II, Manila, 1995: 5 million

Pope John Paul II with Manila Archbishop Cardinal Jaime Sin  addressing the crowd attending the closing Mass of the 10th World Youth Day in Manila. Ryansean071|Wikipedia|CC BY-SA 4.0
Pope John Paul II with Manila Archbishop Cardinal Jaime Sin addressing the crowd attending the closing Mass of the 10th World Youth Day in Manila. Ryansean071|Wikipedia|CC BY-SA 4.0

An estimated 5 million people turned out for Mass celebrated by the future saint, who was the most traveled pope ever and possibly the most-seen person in history. The attendance numbers set a record that would take years to be broken. 

Pope Francis, Rio de Janeiro, 2013: 3 million

World Youth Day pilgims take part in a flashmob dance at the beginning of the closing Mass June 28, 2013.  Michelle Bauman/CNA
World Youth Day pilgims take part in a flashmob dance at the beginning of the closing Mass June 28, 2013. Michelle Bauman/CNA

Pope Francis’ celebration of the final Mass at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro — his first World Youth Day — set a record as the largest papal event since Manila in 1995. The mayor's office of Rio de Janeiro estimated that 3.2 million people attended the liturgy at the famous Copacabana Beach.

Pope Francis, Krakow, 2013: 1.5-3 million

World Youth Day in Krakow, July 2016.  Jeff Bruno
World Youth Day in Krakow, July 2016. Jeff Bruno

Original estimates were of “at least 1.5 million” attendees at the Mass, based on the number of people at the vigil the night before. Though Polish police did not give an estimate, ​​World Youth Day spokesperson Anna Chmura later told Agence France Presse there were between 2.5 and 3 million people.” 

Pope Francis, Kinshasa, 2023: 1 million

Pope Francis celebrated Mass with around 1 million people in Kinshasa, DRC, on Feb. 1, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis celebrated Mass with around 1 million people in Kinshasa, DRC, on Feb. 1, 2023. Vatican Media

The Mass in Kinshasa, DRC’s capital city, took place on the airfield of the N’Dolo Airport on the second day of the pope’s trip to two countries in central and east Africa.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass in French, the official language of DRC, and Lingala, the Bantu-based creole spoken in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo and by millions of speakers across Central Africa. The pope delivered his homily in Italian with French translations for the Mass, which was celebrated according to the Zaire Use of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

Biden claims the pope and some bishops are open to taxpayer funded abortion

President Joe Biden responds to a question from EWTN's Owen Jensen about the Catholic bishops' position on federal funding of abortion. / EWTN

Washington D.C., Feb 1, 2023 / 11:45 am (CNA).

Despite a clear letter from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) calling for “no taxpayer funding for abortion,” President Joe Biden this week claimed that Pope Francis and some bishops are not in agreement with this policy. 

EWTN White House Correspondent Owen Jensen had a brief exchange with Biden this week in which he began a question by informing the president that “Catholic bishops are demanding that federal tax dollars not fund abortions.” 

Biden responded, saying: “No, they are not all doing that, nor is the pope doing that.”

Despite the president’s claims, he did not cite any bishops who support taxpayer-funded abortions, nor did he expand on his invocation of Pope Francis, who has consistently condemned abortion and even equated it to “hiring a hitman.” 

The exchange occurred after the USCCB’s pro-life committee took a firm stance in support of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act. The legislation would prohibit the use of federal funds for abortion and prohibit federal funds for health care plans that cover abortions. There would be exceptions for rape, incest, and when the mother’s life is in danger.

Although Congress consistently passes annual appropriation bills that include bans on federal agencies funding abortion, there is no law that establishes a permanent ban. This means the policy could change if the language is not included in a certain appropriations bill. This bill would apply the standard to every federal agency permanently. Under the language used in current appropriation bills, federal agencies are still allowed to enroll workers in health care plans that cover abortion, but the premium cannot be subsidized by the agencies. This bill would expand the restrictions by prohibiting the agencies from enrolling workers in plans that cover abortion. 

In the letter sent by USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities’ Chair Bishop Michael Burbidge, the bishop said “abortion is an uncompassionate response to a difficult pregnancy” that “pits a mother in crisis against her preborn child.”

“Protecting taxpayers from being forced to pay for abortion in violation of their conscience is a principle that has enjoyed historically broad support among Americans, regardless of their otherwise passionately divided views on the topic,” Bishop Burbidge said. “It has also been life-saving. …Congress can better serve the common good by prioritizing policies that comprehensively assist women, children, and families in need in ways that will not only encourage childbirth but make it easier to welcome and raise a new child.”

In response to Biden’s claims, Bishop Joseph Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler in Texas accused the president of twisting Pope Francis’s words. 

“Mr. Biden can’t be allowed to twist the words of Pope Francis in this way,” the bishop tweeted. “I implore the Vatican press office to emphatically clarify that Pope Francis rightly calls abortion murder. It is time to denounce Biden’s fake Catholicism.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the Church has affirmed that abortion is evil since the first century and continues to do so. 

“Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception,” the catechism states. “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.”

Republican and Democrat leaders urge Biden to add Nigeria to list of countries violating religious freedom

Altar of St. Francis Xavier Owo Catholic Parish of Ondo Diocese, Nigeria, where dozens were slain in a massacre on June 5, 2022. / Courtesy of ACN

Washington D.C., Feb 1, 2023 / 08:29 am (CNA).

New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith and a group of Republican and Democrat leaders in Congress introduced a resolution Tuesday to urge the State Department to add Nigeria to its annual list of countries that violate religious freedom, known as the Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list. 

The resolution also calls for the appointment of a special envoy to monitor and combat human rights violations in the region.

Co-sponsored by Arkansas Republican Rep. French Hill and Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar, the resolution will signal U.S. commitment to religious freedom across the world, especially in Nigeria.

“Last year alone, 5,014 Christians were killed in Nigeria — accounting for nearly 90% of Christian deaths worldwide as well [as] 90% of Christian kidnappings across the globe,” Smith said in a Tuesday press release. “The Biden administration must act immediately and redesignate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern to mitigate this alarming and growing threat to religious liberty.”

Despite evidence of rampant human rights violations — including massacres, murders, and kidnappings — against Christians and religious minorities in Nigeria, the U.S. State Department under the Biden administration removed Nigeria from its CPC list in 2021 and kept the country off the list again in 2022.

Sponsors of the resolution questioned why the designation was removed.

"In 2020, Nigeria was a Country of Particular Concern (CPC). Despite little having changed in Nigeria’s treatment of religious freedom since then, the Biden Administration continues to leave Nigeria off the CPC list for political gain. This resolution sends an important message to the Biden Administration and the Government of Nigeria that the U.S. Congress sees what is happening there and will continue to speak out against the ongoing violence and the government’s inadequate response," Hill told CNA.

“The Biden administration’s totally unjustified decision to retreat from the noble and necessary fight to protect victims of religious persecution puts even more people in jeopardy,” Smith said.

Sean Nelson of Alliance Defending Freedom International told CNA that the CPC list is “the most powerful tool the U.S. government has to influence the religious freedom situation in other countries.”

Robert Destro, former assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor under the Trump administration, told CNA that the resolution is “the beginning of a coalition-building exercise” to bring attention to and unify Congress in support of persecuted Nigerians.

Hill, who was recently appointed to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced plans to introduce the resolution Tuesday morning at a meeting of advocates for Nigerian religious freedom at the Belmont House, a center for Catholic community on Capitol Hill. Hosted by Aid to the Church in Need, the pontifical foundation supporting persecuted Christians, the meeting brought together religious freedom advocates in Washington, D.C., for the International Religious Freedom Summit.

Father Augustine Deji Dada of the Catholic Diocese of Ondo, Nigeria; Marcela Szymanski, editor of Aid to the church in Need's Religious Freedom Report; and Rep. French Hill at a meeting on Christian persecution in Nigeria held at Belmont House in Washington, D.C. Belmont House
Father Augustine Deji Dada of the Catholic Diocese of Ondo, Nigeria; Marcela Szymanski, editor of Aid to the church in Need's Religious Freedom Report; and Rep. French Hill at a meeting on Christian persecution in Nigeria held at Belmont House in Washington, D.C. Belmont House

Bishop Jude Arogundade of the Diocese of Ondo, Nigeria, participated in the Belmont House meeting via video call. According to Arogundade, the persecution of Christians in Nigeria is a “crime against humanity.”

Arogundade’s diocese suffered a terrorist attack on Pentecost Sunday 2022 in which 50 Catholics attending Mass were killed at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Nigeria’s Owo state. Among the Christians massacred were victims as young as 2 and 3 to as old as 85. 

The situation is dire, Arongundade told the group, citing recent attacks on Christians. 

Earlier this month a Catholic priest, Father Isaac Achi, was burned to death in his rectory by armed bandits. Arogundade said that he “will continue to speak out” but noted that he can only travel in his home country accompanied by armed guards.

The Nigerian bishop told the group that upcoming elections in the country offer Christians some hope. Members of the ruling All Progressives Congress party have ties to terrorists, he said.

Those who “are supposed to make things better, they are the ones involved in attacks here,” he told the group.

Nina Shea, an international human rights lawyer and fellow at the Hudson Institute, told the group that terrorists in Nigeria continue to act with “impunity” and are rarely held accountable for their crimes.