Browsing News Entries

The unlikely hero of India: St. Francis Xavier 

A 17th-century Japanese depiction of St. Francis Xavier, from the Kobe City Museum collection. / Public Domain.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 3, 2022 / 04:00 am (CNA).

How far would you go to serve God? 

Would you be willing to travel to the ends of the earth, with nothing but the guarantee of hardship, deprivation, and persecution? 

Today’s feast celebrates the life of St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of missionaries and missions, who led an unlikely life of adventure and heroism, full of unexpected twists and turns, taking the faith to the ends of the earth. 

Born in 1506 to a noble Navarrese-Basque family, Francis grew up in a land wracked with war. Wedged between the growing imperial powers of Castile-Aragon (Spain) and France, Navarre seldom knew peace during Francis’ childhood. 

As a member of the nobility, Francis was expected to lead a warrior’s life along with his father and brothers. 

But at the age of 10, Francis’ life took its first dramatic and tragic turn. His father died, his homeland Kingdom of Navarre was defeated by Spain, his brothers were imprisoned, and his childhood home, the Castle of the House of Javier (Xavier), was almost entirely destroyed. 

With his family disgraced and nearly wiped out, Francis’ prospects for a bright future were looking dim. But God still had incredible plans for young Francis. 

Hoping to rebuild the family’s legacy, Francis was sent in 1525 to the center of European theology and studies, the University of Paris.

In Paris, Francis quickly made a name for himself. Handsome with a keen intellect and an agile athlete with a particular gift for pole vaulting, the last thing on young Francis’ mind was a life of humble service to God and the Church. 

Yet Francis’ life took a second dramatic turn after he met a fellow Basque noble, Ignatius of Loyola. Headstrong and stubborn, Francis was initially repelled by Ignatius’ ideas of radical devotion to God. But Ignatius would remind him of Jesus’ words in the Bible: “For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

Inspired by Ignatius’ piety and fervor, Francis finally decided to dedicate his life to the service of God. In 1534, along with Ignatius and five others, Francis took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in a chapel at Montmartre in France.

Receiving Holy Orders alongside Ignatius in 1537, Francis had intended to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But war in the region had made such a journey impossible. Once again, God was about to unexpectedly and radically alter the course of Francis’ life.

Pope Leo III asked the newly founded Jesuits to send missionaries to the Portuguese colonies in India. Though he was originally not supposed to go, one of the Jesuits assigned to the mission fell ill, and Francis volunteered in his place. Through that courageous act of trust, God would use Francis to transform the entire Asian continent.

Francis set out for India in 1541, on his 35th birthday. Traveling by sea at this time was extremely uncomfortable, and those who dared to do so risked disease with no guarantee of ever successfully arriving at their destination. Francis had to sail all the way around Africa, past the Cape of Good Hope, almost to the very bottom of the globe, just to cross the Indian Ocean and arrive in Goa, a province in India.

Upon arriving in India in 1542, Francis immediately faced countless challenges in bringing the word of God to the people of this new and strange region. For seven years Francis preached in the streets and public squares, laboring tirelessly across India and the Asian Pacific islands, contending with persecution from warlords and at times even from the Portuguese authorities meant to help him. 

After converting tens of thousands and planting the seeds of a renewed and lasting Christian Church in India, Francis began to hear stories about an enchanting island nation known as “Japan.” Francis’ heart was set ablaze with the desire to bring the Gospel to Japan. After he had ensured the faithful in India would be properly cared for, Francis set sail for the mysterious new land, becoming the first to bring the Christian faith to Japan, on the complete opposite side of the world from his home in Navarre. He was truly going to the ends of the earth in service of God. 

In Japan, Francis and his companions traveled far and wide, often on foot and with almost no resources. Crisscrossing the nation, he built up a vibrant Christian community over 6,000 miles from Rome. 

Francis would later hear of the even more mysterious and closely guarded nation of China and here, too, he decided to bring the word of God. But before he could find a way into China’s heartland, Francis got sick and died in 1552, while on the Chinese Shangchuan Island. 

Now considered one of the greatest of all the Church’s missionaries, St. Francis Xavier proved that one life lived in complete trust in God can transform an entire continent and the whole world. 

More clergy accused of child sexual abuse in California as important deadline nears

null / Shutterstock

Boston, Mass., Dec 2, 2022 / 17:15 pm (CNA).

As California’s three-year window to file child sex abuse lawsuits past the statute of limitations nears its conclusion, 66 Catholic clergy and religious have been named in 116 lawsuits in Alameda County, which covers the area between San Francisco and San Jose.

Additionally, 14 of the clergy members and religious identified in the lawsuits are named for the first time, the law firm of Jeff Anderson & Associates announced Nov. 28. 

The law firm said that the 116 lawsuits may be a small percentage of the total number of suits filed under the California Child Victims Act, which was passed in 2019.

The legislation allowed a three-year period in which victims of child sex abuse could come forward with claims that would have expired under the previous statute of limitations. The window began Jan. 1, 2020, and will expire in less than a month. The bill was signed by Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The legislation allows one to file a civil lawsuit for child sexual abuse up to the age of 40, or within five years from the date that the plaintiff “discovers or reasonably should have discovered that psychological injury or illness occurring” after the age of 18 was caused by the abuse.

Previously, claims had to be filed by age 26, or within three years of discovering damages from the abuse. Dec. 31 is the last day to file a lawsuit before the window closes.

“The California Child Victims Act has helped hundreds of survivors seek justice and healing,” attorney Jeff Anderson said in a statement. “This law is a major advancement in the child protection movement, and we applaud all of the survivors who have come forward. But time is running out. Survivors must act before the Dec. 31 deadline.”

Andy Rivas, the then executive director of the California Catholic Conference of Bishops, said at the the time the law, known as AB 218, passed that the Church viewed it as a “step forward."

“Ultimately, our hope is that all victim-survivors of childhood sexual abuse in all institutional settings will be able to have their pain and suffering addressed and resolved and so our prayers are that AB 218 will be a step forward in that direction,” Rivas said.

“The Catholic Church has confronted this issue of child sexual abuse for more than two decades now,” he said. “It is a legacy of shame for all of us in the Church, and we are aware that nothing can undo the violence done to victim-survivors or restore the innocence and trust that was taken from them.”

According to the law firm, the lawsuits allege that the abuse occurred within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Archdiocese of San Francisco, the Diocese of Fresno, the Diocese of Monterey, the Diocese of Oakland, the Diocese of Sacramento, the Diocese of San Jose, and the Diocese of Santa Rosa.

Brother Salvatore Billante and Father Stephen Kiesle were accused most frequently, according to the law firm. Billante was accused at least 11 times and Kiesle was accused at least nine times, the law firm said. Billante’s alleged abuse took place at locations in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Kiesle’s alleged abuse took place at locations in the Diocese of Oakland.

Fourteen of the allegations named clergy members for the first time. Their names, reported by the law firm, are Father James Corley, Father Sidney Hall, Father John A. Lynch, Father John Francis Scanlon, Father William Dodson, Father Henry Hall, Sister M. Rosella McConnell, Father Joseph Watt, Father Elwood Geary, Father Domingos S. Jacque, Brother U Benedict Reams, Father Robert Gemmet, Father Robert H. Lewis, and Father Christian Sandholdt.

It’s unclear whether the 66 accused clergy and religious are living or deceased, and where they are living, the law firm said. The names of the 66 accused clergy and religious can be seen here.

“The vast majority of claims against these individuals have not been fully evaluated in a civil or criminal court,” the law firm said. 

“The allegations should not be considered proven or substantiated in a court of law. All individuals should be considered innocent until proven guilty.”

Several other states, such as New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, Arizona, Montana, Hawaii, Vermont, and North Carolina have also passed legislation opening windows for lawsuits past the statute of limitations. 

Vermont to allow religious schools to use state assistance after settling lawsuit

null / Stephen Kiers/Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., Dec 2, 2022 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

Religious private schools in Vermont will now be allowed to make use of a state tuition assistance program that previously excluded them, after the state settled two lawsuits on the matter Nov. 30.

Vermont’s Town Tuition Program provides tuition benefits for students who live in towns without public schools, and it previously allowed payments to secular private schools but not religious ones. As part of the settlements, state and local government officials agreed that Vermont’s exclusion of religious private schools from the program is unconstitutional and unenforceable.

The Diocese of Burlington, which includes the entire state and serves some 2,300 students at 13 schools, was party to both lawsuits, as were several private-school families.

“We are glad that our schools will finally be included along with the other private and public schools as a choice for students that do not have a school in their town,” Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington said in a statement to CNA.

The lawsuits were filed by attorneys for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Christian legal group. Thomas McCormick, a longtime Vermont lawyer who works with the ADF Attorney Network, is serving as local counsel on behalf of the families and the Diocese of Burlington.

On Wednesday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont entered a stipulated judgment enforcing the settlement agreement. Under the settlements, the plaintiff families who requested tuition but were wrongly denied by their school districts will be reimbursed for the tuition they paid out of pocket, ADF stated. The school districts will reimburse the plaintiff families directly; other families will have the opportunity to request reimbursement from the school districts. The state of Vermont and the school districts will also pay the families’ attorney fees, ADF said.

Vermont’s school choice program dates to 1869. The state has barred religious schools from the program since 1999, following a state Supreme Court ruling that held that public funds may not be used to "support any place of worship” under Vermont’s constitution. The lawsuits against the state were filed more than two decades later, in 2020.

The settlements in the present cases come in light of a landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in June in the case Carson v. Makin. In that decision, the court ruled 6-3 that Maine’s policy barring students in a student-aid program from using their aid to attend “sectarian” schools violates the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.

In that decision, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that having chosen to fund private schools through its aid program, Maine cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious. The state “pays tuition for certain students at private schools — so long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion. A state’s antiestablishment interest does not justify enactments that exclude some members of the community from an otherwise generally available public benefit because of their religious exercise.”

Other recent cases before the Supreme Court have led to favorable results for advocates of school choice. In its June 2020 decision Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the court struck down as a violation of the free exercise clause a state scholarship program that excluded religious schools. And in 2017, the court found in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer that a church-owned playground can be eligible for a public benefit program.

Meet Lorie Smith, the Christian artist with a Supreme Court free speech case

Lorie Smith, owner and founder of 303 Creative / Credit: Alliance Defending Freedom

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 2, 2022 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

Ever since she was a young girl, Lorie Smith has loved weddings. Now, as an artist with her own studio, she says she wants to help others celebrate their big day. But she feels like she can’t — because she is a Christian who believes that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in her case303 Creative LLC v. Elenis — on Monday, Dec. 5.

The 38-year-old graphic artist and website designer from the Denver metro area is challenging Colorado’s anti-discrimination law that she says would compel her to use her artistic talents, or speech, to create messages celebrating same-sex weddings. At the same time, Colorado argues that the case is one about discrimination: If someone sells a product in the public sphere, he or she has to sell it to all people.

For her part, Smith stressed that she creates for everyone with her company, 303 Creative.

“I serve everyone, including those who identify as LGBT,” she told CNA. “I love to custom create and will work with anyone — there are simply some messages I can’t create regardless of who asks me.”

Her case, she said, is about freedom of speech for all artists.

“I want the LGBT graphic designer to be free to create consistent with her beliefs, and the Democrat speechwriter and the atheist photographer,” she said. “A win in my case is truly a win for all Americans.”

Represented by faith-based legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Smith is challenging Colorado officials, including Aubrey Elenis, the director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division. The case centers on the question of “whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.”

Right now, Smith said that she is compelled.

“After I started my own design studio, I wanted to expand my portfolio to custom create art and websites to tell stories about weddings, but Colorado made it clear I wasn’t welcome in that space,” she said. “Colorado officials are censoring my speech and forcing me to speak messages about marriage that are inconsistent with my beliefs — the core of who I am.”

She added: “Not wanting to be punished for saying what I believe, I had no choice but to challenge this unjust law.”

Smith is optimistic that the Supreme Court justices will agree with her.

“I love to design art — every word I write, every graphic I design, and every website I craft expresses a unique and custom message,” she said. “I’m hopeful that the Supreme Court will ensure that the government can’t force myself or anyone to say something they don’t believe.”

While Smith considers her creative skills a gift to glorify God, she revealed that she was not always a Christian.

“My faith journey began after I lost my uncle, who was like a father to me, to a tragic accident,” she said. “I couldn’t understand why bad things could happen to good people, so I set out on a journey to try to disprove the existence of God.”

Instead, she said, she found God.

“I attended church regularly to equip my arsenal of evidence against him,” she said. “But God had other plans, and it was through this process that he brought me to faith, and that changed my entire life. Now, everything I do or say and how I love other people, I do for his glory.”

According to Smith, her case has only drawn her closer to God.

“As I’ve navigated the highs and lows of the past six years of litigation, including death threats, hate mail, and even having my home address posted on social media, I have grown much in my faith,” she said.

“I know that my stand for free speech is for everyone, regardless of who they are or how they identify,” she added. “I know my stand will protect even those who disagree with me or who say uncharitable things about me. I know the freedom of speech is worthy of protecting and I want all Americans — and the next generation — to be able to enjoy this incredible freedom.”

She concluded: “My faith has inspired me to continue to stand for this important truth.”

Lorie Smith, owner and founder of 303 Creative. Credit: Alliance Defending Freedom
Lorie Smith, owner and founder of 303 Creative. Credit: Alliance Defending Freedom

Jake Warner, senior counsel for ADF, explained how Smith’s art translates into speech.

“She creates words, pictures, and graphics. And all of those things are what the Supreme Court calls ‘pure speech’ because they express a message,” he said, adding that Colorado has conceded the same about Smith’s work.

Rather than having one product to sell to all, Smith’s creations are tailored to her every client, he said. Every website or graphic is custom-made, with different names, pictures, and details.

This is not the first time ADF has represented a Coloradan Christian artist at the Supreme Court. In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled on a case brought by Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, after he refused to create a cake for a same-sex wedding. With that case, Warner said the court ruled that Colorado had discriminated against Phillips and that his free exercise rights were violated.

“It didn’t reach the free speech issue raised in that case, which is the one that the 303 case, or that Lorie Smith’s case, raises now,” he said. “Can the government force an artist to express a message that goes against their deeply-held beliefs?”

Exorcist says porn addiction ‘an opening to the demonic,’ despite German priest’s controversial denials

Monsignor Stephen Rossetti has gained thousands of followers on social media after sharing the wisdom he has gained as an exorcist on online platforms. / Monsignor Stephen Rossetti

Boston, Mass., Dec 1, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, an exorcist for the Archdiocese of Washington, said that a porn addiction puts one in grave spiritual danger, words that starkly contrast with those of a German priest who recently contradicted Pope Francis by saying that connecting porn to the demonic is a “spiritual exaggeration.”

“A pornography addiction, like any serious sin, is an opening to the demonic,” Rossetti told CNA in an email interview Wednesday. 

“It is never a good thing to exploit people as sexual objects, which the porn industry does,” he added. “A porn habit can be an open door to escalating sexual dysfunction."

Rossetti, 71, has spent 30 years working as a licensed psychologist. A priest of the Diocese of Syracuse, he has been an exorcist for the Archdiocese of Washington for over 15 years. He is the founder and president of the St. Michael Center for Spiritual Renewal, a ministry that specializes in healing for those in need of deliverance, which operates out of the archdiocese.

The exorcist’s clarity on the dangers of pornography echoes Pope Francis’ recent warning to seminarians studying in Rome. 

“Dear brothers, be careful of this. The pure heart, the heart that receives Jesus every day, cannot receive this pornographic information,” the Holy Father said to hundreds of seminarians Oct. 24.

“And if from your cell phone you can delete this, delete it, so you won’t have temptation at hand. And if you can’t delete it, protect yourself properly so you don’t have access to this. I tell you, it weakens the soul,” he said.

“The devil enters from there. It weakens the priestly heart,” the pope said repeatedly to the men.

Following Pope Francis’ comments, a German priest, Father Hermann Backhaus, in an interview with Katolisch.de — the news outlet of the Catholic Church in Germany — said that connecting porn to the demonic is a “spiritual exaggeration.”

In the interview, Backhaus also warned against “the somewhat dirty connotation” that is attributed to the term “pornographic.”

Backhaus claimed that “there are positive effects of explicit sexuality in relation to the couple” such as “making their love life become more alive.”

He added that for celibate people, “the consumption of explicit sexual representations can have a relieving effect, it can’t be denied.”

He said that “the clergy, religious, and other people at the service of the Church generally have experience with pornography.”

He disagrees with the pope regarding his assessment that “the devil enters through there” and added that “associating the devil with pornography is a very strong statement.”

In contrast, Rossetti cautioned against the use of pornography for any reason.

“A pornography addiction can destroy marriages. A porn addiction can distort a person’s sexuality,” he told CNA.

“A pornography addiction not only seriously harms the user, it supports a billion-dollar industry that exploits people, especially women and children,” he added.

Former parish employee identified as second victim of Louisiana double homicide

Ruth Prats offers a reflection on her relationship with Father Otis Young before Mass in June 2022. / Screenshot of YouTube video

Boston, Mass., Dec 1, 2022 / 15:32 pm (CNA).

The second victim in a Louisiana double homicide that also claimed the life of a local Catholic priest, Father Otis Young, has been identified. 

Ruth Prats, a 73-year-old former staff member who worked for Young when he was pastor at St. Peter Catholic Church in Covington, was identified as the second victim, St. Tammany Parish Coroner Dr. Charles Preston announced Thursday in a press conference.

Young’s death, which was confirmed Tuesday, was caused by “sharp- and blunt-force trauma,” the coroner’s office said. 

The homicides both occurred either Sunday night or Monday morning, the coroner’s office said. It was reported that both Young and Prats were reported missing on Sunday. 

The two bodies were found together “burned beyond recognition” less than a mile away from the church, according to police. The bodies were found in a back alley behind a glass store in downtown Covington, according to Sergeant James Hartman, a spokesman for the Covington Police Department. 

On Monday evening, police announced that they had taken a suspect, 49-year-old Antonio Donde Tyson of Covington, into custody.

Tyson was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree kidnapping, two counts of obstruction of justice, one count of resisting an officer, and one count of illegal possession of stolen things. 

Fox8live.com reported that Tyson was released from prison in August after serving part of a sentence he received in 1993. The outlet reported that he was serving time for charges of forcible rape and home invasion. 

There is no evidence that suggests that the suspect and the victims knew each other, Hartman said.

The St. Tammany Parish district attorney’s office said law enforcement is still investigating the matter. 

The office offered this statement: “All capital cases submitted to our office undergo a thorough review process before a decision is made regarding the pursuit of the death penalty. That review process begins once law enforcement officially tenders the case to our office by submitting a complete report of its investigation of the alleged offense.”

New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond released a statement Wednesday offering prayers for both Young and Ruth Prats. At the time of the statement, Prats was not revealed as the second victim of the double homicide. She was, however, still listed as a missing person.

“The horror of the events that have unfolded here in Covington is beyond shocking. The pain, sadness, and disbelief that something like this could happen will stay with us, but particularly those who are most directly affected, for a very long time,” Aymond said in the statement. His full statement can be read here.

‘You taught us how to carry our crosses’

Young retired as a priest in July. Before his retirement, Prats offered a personal reflection on Young before a Mass for Young at St. Peter Catholic Church in June. The reflection can be watched in this YouTube video posted by the church. 

Addressing Young, Prats said: “It was an absolute gift to work with you as your pastoral associate for eight of the 10 years you were here at St. Peter parish.”

Prats reminisced over the wonderful renovations and improvements that Young brought to the church. She even reflected on Young’s joyful sense of humor. 

Prats said that “the greatest legacy” that Young would leave the parish is his example in showing the parishioners how to suffer. 

“You taught us how to carry our crosses,” Prats said. During her speech, she mentioned that she felt called to volunteer in a caretaking role for Young as his health declined, which led her to leave her role as a church staff member.

She described her time taking care of Young as “the most humble service” and said she was grateful.

In her speech, Prats mentioned a “sacred moment” when a glimpse of Young’s inner prayer life was revealed to the parish. The moment was when Young shared a prayer he prays before Mass to some young children making their first holy Communion. 

According to Prats, the prayer is: “Lord, grant me the grace to celebrate this Mass as if it was my first Mass, as if it was my last Mass, and as if it was my only Mass.”

“May Father Otis’ personal prayer become our prayer today at this Mass and from this day forward when we celebrate Mass,” she said.

“May we pass this prayer down to generations and to all who enter our doors here at St. Peter’s,” she said. “It will be in that prayer, his private prayer, that we will remember, Father Otis, that you walked in our midst as our pastor here at St. Peter’s and you touched our lives profoundly.”

Indiana AG files legal complaint against abortion doctor who performed a minor’s abortion

null / Unsplash.

St. Louis, Mo., Dec 1, 2022 / 15:15 pm (CNA).

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita has asked the state’s medical licensing board to discipline an abortion doctor, Caitlin Bernard, who in June performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim who traveled from Ohio to Indiana. 

“Based on the physician’s own testimony under oath, she violated federal and Indiana law related to patient privacy and the reporting of child abuse,” the Republican AG said in a Nov. 30 statement.

Bernard, who already was known for her pro-abortion activism in Indiana, drew worldwide media attention to herself when she disclosed to the Indianapolis Star details about the abortion she performed on the child in late June, whom she did not name. Ohio has a “heartbeat” abortion law in place, which took effect after the June 24 overturning of Roe v. Wade, whereas Indiana at the time allowed abortions until 22 weeks’ gestation. 

Rokita contended that “simply concealing the patient’s name falls far short of her legal and ethical duties here.”

“Dr. Bernard violated the law, her patient’s trust, and the standards for the medical profession when she disclosed her patient’s abuse, medical issues, and medical treatment to a reporter at an abortion rights rally to further her political agenda,” Rokita said. 

Rokita said Bernard also “failed to immediately report” the abuse and rape of a child to Indiana authorities, as required under Indiana law. Bernard, through her attorneys, has stated that she reported the minor’s abortion to the relevant state agencies before the legally mandated deadline to do so, which in Indiana’s case is three days. Rokita contends, though, that a child abuse report should have been made to Indiana authorities within four hours so that the state could ensure the child was not being returned to an unsafe situation in Ohio. 

“As the Office of the Attorney General, it is our duty to ensure that doctors meet the standard of care. In our opinion, Dr. Bernard fell short in this situation,” Rokita concluded. 

“Now, it is up to the Medical Licensing Board to determine whether there are consequences for violating a patient’s privacy rights and the obligation to immediately report child abuse to Indiana authorities.”

Bernard testified last week that she had confirmed that child abuse authorities in Ohio were actively investigating the case before the girl arrived in Indiana for the abortion, and her attorneys contend that that satisfies the requirements of Indiana law, Law&Crime reported. 

Since the abortion, a 27-year-old Ohio man has been charged with raping the girl. 

Arson at Colorado pregnancy center still unsolved; FBI offers major reward for leads

Spray-painted graffiti outside Life Choices, a pro-life pregnancy center in Longmont, Colorado. / Courtesy of Longmont Public Safety

Denver, Colo., Dec 1, 2022 / 14:40 pm (CNA).

The FBI is offering a $17,500 reward for credible leads in the arson of a a pro-life pregnancy center in northern Colorado that is still under investigation after five months.

Longmont Police Chief Jeff Satur told a Wednesday press conference that investigators have few leads, the Denver Gazette reported. Investigators are again asking for aid from anyone with local video from the time of the crime, this time from a wider area. They are also analyzing the handwriting of the vandals’ graffiti messages. One message was in cursive while the other was not.

“I believe there were probably two people there,” Satur said, noting that handwriting can be recognizable. “At some point we’re going to get the right lead.”

The fire took place early Saturday morning on June 25 and drew a response from Longmont Public Safety at 3:17 a.m.

The Life Choices pregnancy center in Longmont sustained fire and heavy smoke damage. The front of the building also was defaced with pro-abortion slogans, including “Bans Off Our Bodies.” The threatening phrase “If abortions aren’t safe neither are you,” was written in cursive with black spray paint.

The suspected arson took place in the wake of the June 24 U.S. Supreme Court decision Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned the pro-abortion cases Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey and returned the question of legal abortion to the states.

Northern Colorado Crime Stoppers has offered a reward of $2,500 for information related to the case. The FBI’s offered reward is an additional $17,500. The FBI will take tips through its website or its tip line 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324).

Life Choices on its website describes itself as “a Christ-centered ministry providing education, support, healing, and limited medical services for sexual life choices.” Its offerings include free pregnancy tests, clothes, and baby supplies.

Since the arson attack, the organization appears to be doing well.

Holly Hooten, director of client services at Life Choices, told the Denver Gazette “it’s only been great since the vandalism occurred.”

“In the end it was like God brought everyone out of the woodwork to pray for us and support the work here,” she said.

Satur said the FBI has done “heavy lifting” on the investigation through search warrants, subpoenas, and court orders.

Catholic churches, crisis pregnancy centers, and other pro-life groups have been on heightened alert about possible attacks by militant pro-abortion activists angered by the Supreme Court’s abortion decision.

Backlash began soon after the court’s draft decision was leaked in early May.

As of Sept. 22, CNA had recorded attacks on 33 churches, 55 pregnancy centers, three political organizations, and one maternity home since early May where the public evidence points to a pro-abortion motive. The crimes include vulgar graffiti, property damage, threats, theft, and even arson.

Some of the reported vandalism incidents appear to be copycat attacks. Several of the graffiti incidents featured the threatening phrase “If abortions aren’t safe, neither are you,” which reports indicate first appeared on a pro-life pregnancy center in Wisconsin in early May.

FBI Director Christopher Wray, in remarks to a Nov. 15 hearing of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee, reaffirmed the bureau’s commitment to investigating crimes against pro-life groups and churches. Wray reported that since the Dobbs decision, pro-life organizations have faced about 70% of abortion-related threats. About 20 FBI field offices and joint terrorism task forces are investigating these crimes.

“My view — plainly expressed to all of our people, including in the context of abortion-related violence — is that I don’t care what side of the issue you’re on, you don’t get to engage in violence, and we are equal-opportunity when it comes to that,” Wray said.

‘Gravely disappointed’: U.S. bishops respond to passage of the same-sex marriage act

null / Ivan Galashchuk via www.shutterstock.com.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 1, 2022 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

Today the U.S. bishops responded to the U.S. Senate’s passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, saying society “has lost sight of the purpose of marriage.”

Bishop Robert Barron, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, strongly condemned the bill’s passage.

“We are gravely disappointed that the misnamed Respect for Marriage Act passed the Senate and continue to call for its rejection,” Barron wrote.

The Respect for Marriage Act passed the Senate Tuesday, redefining marriage to include unions between homosexual couples and mandating that all states must recognize homosexual marriages. The bill passed with bipartisan support, with 12 Republicans voting in favor. As passed by the Senate, the bill enshrines into law and expands the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized homosexual marriage across the nation.

Barron wrote that “decades of social and legal developments have torn sexuality, childbearing, and marriage from each other in the public consciousness.” In his statement, Barron called to mind Pope Francis’ 2016 address in which he said, “We can hardly stop advocating marriage simply to avoid countering contemporary sensibilities … We would be depriving the world of values that we can and must offer.”

Barron stated that Christians must share the truth of marriage as “a lifelong and exclusive union, a complete and mutual gift of the husband and wife to each other for their good and for the procreation and education of children, [and] is essential to the common good.”

In addition to contributing to the “diminishment of the sacredness and integrity of marriage in our society,” the act’s passage threatens religious freedom in the U.S., the statement said.

“This bill fails to include clear, comprehensive, and affirmative conscience protections for religious organizations and individuals who uphold the sanctity of traditional marriage,” Barron wrote.

Having passed the Senate, the Respect for Marriage Act will return to the U.S. House of Representatives for a vote on the amendments added by the Senate.

The U.S. bishops stated in a November letter to Congress that the bill’s amendments do not sufficiently protect those with religious objections.

“The amended Act will put the ministries of the Catholic Church, people of faith, and other Americans who uphold a traditional meaning of marriage at greater risk of government discrimination,” the letter stated.

The November letter, penned jointly by Barron and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York, posited that “the bill will be used to argue that the government has a compelling interest in forcing religious organizations and individuals to treat same-sex civil marriages as valid.”

While stating that “we affirm our respect for the dignity of all engaged in this debate,” Barron reaffirmed the U.S. bishops’ continued opposition to the Respect for Marriage Act.

Jihadists seeking to build ‘transcontinental caliphate,’ says report

null / Oleg Zabielin via www.shutterstock.com.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 1, 2022 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Islamist terrorist groups are unleashing a new wave of violence and persecution to build a “transnational caliphate” stretching from west Africa to the Pacific, according to a new report on religious persecution. 

The report, released earlier this month by the international Catholic pastoral aid organization Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), found that as a result of increased jihadist activity, persecution of Christians along the equator has skyrocketed in recent years.

ACN’s report, “Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians Oppressed for their Faith, 2020-2022,” found that the equatorial regions of Africa and the Pacific have been particularly affected. Christians and other minority religions in these regions face violent persecution and in many cases the choice to “convert or die” at the hands of radical Islamist groups, some of which are affiliated with ISIS and Al-Qaeda. 

According to ACN, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost and millions displaced as 14 African nations have been subjected to jihadist campaigns, with the situation in 12 of these nations being particularly dire. “With the growing Islamist radicalization, Christians tend increasingly to become a specific target for the terrorists,” ACN states.

The African region has been prone to sporadic and disorganized violence in the past, yet this new rise in jihadism is different, according to ACN. The radical Islamist groups not only are extending a jihad across the continent but are increasingly organizing and coordinating their efforts. ACN has found that “the threat from militant Islamist groups in Africa is not monolithic but comprises a constantly shifting mix of roughly two dozen groups actively operating — and increasingly cooperating — in 14 countries.”

Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and Mozambique have all been subjected to radical Islamist terror campaigns intent on forcing their extreme version of Islam on the local populations.

With millions fleeing the impacted regions, grievous human rights violations abound. In many cases, men and boys are kidnapped and forced to join the extremists’ ranks or face beheadings. Meanwhile, women and children fleeing the violence have themselves been subjected to rape and forced servitude.

ACN’s report posits that the international community’s response to this crisis in Africa has been thus far insufficient to render proper aid to the suffering population. In some nations, such as Burkina Faso, hundreds of thousands have been displaced yet “more than 60 percent of the territory was not accessible to humanitarian aid workers” as of the end of 2020, according to ACN. 

ACN’s report states that “the multinational military missions deployed in West Africa have not been successful.” This is further evidenced in that the “Islamic State has declared six so-called ‘provinces of the caliphate’ in Africa.” 

In the Pacific, governments have either failed to quell or been complicit in the rise of jihadist movements within their nations, according to ACN. In its 2021 report on religious freedom in the world, ACN states that the threat to Christians and non-Muslims from groups identifying as part of the transcontinental caliphate, though on a smaller scale than in Africa, is very real and deadly.

The report also details incidents in which local authorities in Indonesia have cooperated with jihadist forces to close down Christian churches and places of worship for other minority religions. In 2017, an Indonesian radical Islamic group known as the Front for the Defense of Islam spearheaded a movement to oust the Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, and even imprison him for two years on “blasphemy” charges.

The Maldives, a small nation south of India, is “in the grip of both state-imposed Islamic orthodoxy and non-state Islamist extremism,” according to ACN. Violent jihadism has been on the rise in the Maldives to which the government has in many ways cooperated, banning the expression of any other religion than Sunni Islam.

Even in the majority Catholic nation of the Philippines, ACN reports that jihadist groups including Abu Sayyaf (the so-called East Asia Province of the Islamic State) have unleashed a new wave of religiously motivated violence on non-Muslims. Since its founding, Abu Sayyaf has been responsible for bombings, kidnappings, and executions. Abu Sayyaf’s violence appears to have increased in recent years with new attacks on a hospital, a Catholic church, and a Filipino military camp. In 2019, the group claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Catholic church during Sunday mass that killed 21 of the faithful and injured many more.

ACN releases a biennial report, based on firsthand testimony from local sources, on the state of religious freedom across the globe. Visit the organization's website to download the complete report.