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Pro-life roundup: Louisiana passes abortion fraud bill, California invites abortionists from Arizona

A pro-abortion activist displays abortion pills as she counter-protests during an anti-abortion demonstration on March 25, 2023, in New York City. / Credit: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, May 24, 2024 / 17:48 pm (CNA).

Here’s a look at major abortion-related developments that took place in the states this week. 

Louisiana passes bill to make abortion coercion a crime

In the wake of the case of a pregnant Texas woman being poisoned with an abortion drug, Louisiana is taking steps to criminalize “abortion fraud” and defining abortion drugs mifepristone or misoprostol as controlled substances.

When Catherine Herring told her husband Mason she was pregnant, he spiked her drink with abortion drugs. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail and 10 years on probation. Their daughter, Josephine, survived his multiple attempts to poison her, though she has developmental issues as a result and was born 10 weeks early.

A Louisiana native, Herring testified in support of the Louisiana law while Herring’s brother, Sen. Thomas Pressly, introduced the bill.

Louisiana SB 276 was established “to create the crime of coerced criminal abortion by means of fraud,” establishing penalties of five to 10 years in prison or $10,000 to $75,000 fines for those who give a pregnant woman abortion drugs without her knowledge or consent.

The bill contains harsher penalties when the unborn child is more than 3 months old given that the nonconsensual use of an abortion drug can “substantially increases the pregnant woman’s risk of death or serious bodily harm” and carries the penalty of either 10 to 20 years in prison or a fine between $50,000 and $100,000, or both. 

“We are proud of Sen. Pressly’s outstanding defense of SB 276, which will protect women like his sister for decades to come,” Sarah Zagorski, the communications director for Louisiana Right to Life, said in a May 23 statement, adding: “The intention of SB 276 is to stop the abortion industry from profiting off of abuse and trafficking of vulnerable women through their flagrantly illegal distribution of pills.”

The Louisiana Senate passed the law on Tuesday and it is expected to be signed by the governor. The bill would still allow pregnant women to abort their unborn children through the medication but would prevent anyone who does not have a prescription from obtaining the drug.

Louisiana Right to Life noted that its statement was issued “in response to the onslaught of misinformation” about the bill and noted that no female senators voted against the bill. 

“From my experience in northeast Louisiana, medications such as mifepristone and misoprostol are recklessly available online and on the street without a prescription or a physician’s exam,” Dr. Amber Shemwell, a Louisiana OB-GYN, said in the Louisiana Right to Life press release.

“Without proper physician screening for ectopic and molar pregnancies, these medications have the potential to be dangerous,” she continued. “For these reasons, I support categorizing both of these medications as controlled substances. Physicians commonly use controlled substances, and I’m confident that my care for women will not be harmed by this legislation, even as it applies to the appropriate use of misoprostol in my practice.”

Louisiana protects unborn children from abortion in all stages except for cases where the life of the mother is threatened or the baby is discovered to have a lethal fetal anomaly.

California allows traveling abortionists from Arizona 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law on Thursday that allows Arizona abortionists to come to California to perform abortions until the repeal of a pro-life Arizona law goes into effect later this year.

An Arizona Supreme Court repealed the 1864 law protecting unborn babies at all stages of life except for those conceived by incest or rape. The 1864 law came into effect in the wake of Roe v. Wade’s overturn, and though it was repealed, the repeal won’t go into effect until September.

The California law, SB 233, which immediately went into effect, allows any licensed Arizona abortionists to come to California to offer abortions until Nov. 30 of this year. In a May 23 press release, Newsom said the state of California “stands ready to protect reproductive freedom.”

“Together, we will continue to work to ensure that all who are forced to leave their home state to access abortion care can get the services they need and deserve in California,” CEO Jodi Hicks of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California added in the release.

“Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Legislature’s Democrat supermajority have found yet another devilishly clever way to promote the abortion industry,” California Right to Life Director Mary Rose Short told CNA in an email. 

“Based on the fact that Arizona law may protect the right to life of all unborn children for a few weeks’ duration, they passed SB 233 as an urgency bill, encouraging the fiction that pregnancy is a deadly disease that strikes without warning,” she added. 

“Not content with the executions of over 100,000 of our state’s baby boys and girls every year, California Democrats want to facilitate the deaths of Arizona children as well,” she concluded.

Myanmar conflict: a state of unprecedented turmoil and suffering, Cardinal Bo says

Cardinal Bo during his interview with ACI Prensa and EWTN News. / Credit: ACI Prensa/EWTN News

ACI Prensa Staff, May 24, 2024 / 17:18 pm (CNA).

In an interview with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon in Myanmar, said there is an “unprecedented state of turmoil and suffering, which seems to have no end” in the country resulting from a coup d’état at the beginning of 2021 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The conflict has already left more than 100 places of worship bombed or damaged, the cardinal said, and the violence has spread in many areas of the territory.

In addition, he said that almost 3 million people have been displaced and are in urgent need of assistance, which has been arriving little by little thanks to the work of the Catholic Church and other nongovernmental organizations such as Religions for Peace

Religious freedom under threat

Although Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, the constitution guarantees religious freedom. However, Bo pointed out a worrying reality: “The last decade saw the emergence of fundamentalist forces that targeted minority religions.”

The situation has been exacerbated by recent political unrest affecting people of all faiths who are suffering the consequences of an expanding civil war. “Peace is the common prayer of all the religions,” the cardinal emphasized.

The conflict has left a devastating mark on the country’s religious infrastructure, especially in the Sagaing region and the Diocese of Loikaw, the archbishop reported.

“The attack on places of worship has forced many congregations to abandon their churches, a significant blow to predominantly Christian communities such as Kachin,” he lamented.

Furthermore, armed ethnic groups, which do not officially represent any religion, are often mistakenly associated with their particular faith, which quickly leads to attacks against places of worship.

How is the Catholic Church surviving?

“Summer has brought unbearable heat and water is scarce. The Church has suffered but continues to be a source of healing, especially through the priests and religious and social work,” Bo related.

The prelate also said that Catholic churches have taken in numerous internally displaced people throughout the country.

“The needs are enormous and food security is an urgent need for our people,” he emphasized.

The cardinal, who is also president of the Myanmar Bishops’ Conference, said many religious communities have lost homes, monasteries, and churches due to the violence.

In November 2018, Pope Francis visited the country. According to the archbishop of Yangon, during his visit the pope gave “several messages of love and peace, but unfortunately it didn’t register.” Despite everything, the pontiff, the cardinal added, brought a message of peace between religions and their leaders.

In the face of so much violence, the cardinal made a universal call to bring about peace in Myanmar:  “We call on all parties to seek a path of peace. At the beginning of the war, the Church tried to bring together all parties to work for consensus. Recently, the avenues for peace seem to be limited, but the Church continues to reach out to all stakeholders in the hope of bringing peace.”

United Nations warns: ‘Never-ending nightmare’ in Myanmar

In early March, the United Nations (U.N.) expressed its profound concern about the situation in Myanmar, describing the crisis as a “never-ending nightmare” that has inflicted unbearable levels of suffering and cruelty on its population.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk reported in May that the military regime has caused thousands of deaths, including airstrikes in towns and cities, and has arbitrarily detained more than 20,000 opponents, including 3,909 women. 

Additionally, the U.N. Security Council in April called for an immediate end to violence, the release of arbitrarily detained prisoners, and improved humanitarian access. 

Finally, the U.N. also reported that the humanitarian emergency will worsen this year, with 18.6 million people needing assistance in 2024, a figure 19 times higher than that recorded in February 2021.

The coup d’état in Myanmar

In early 2021, the Asian country’s armed forces (known as Tatmadaw) seized control of the government, alleging election fraud in the general elections of Nov. 8, 2020, in which the National League for Democracy (NLD) party of Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1991, won a landslide victory.

However, these claims of fraud were not supported by independent observers and are seen by many as an excuse for the military to regain control of the country. 

Although Myanmar moved to civilian rule in 2011, the country’s constitution — enacted by the military in 2008 — ensures that the military retains significant control over the government, including control of important ministries and a quarter of the seats in Parliament. 

The NLD’s overwhelming victory in 2020 increased the Tatmadaw’s concern about the loss of its political and economic influence. The combination of these circumstances, among several other factors, led the military to overthrow the democratically elected government, arrest Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD leaders, and declare a state of emergency, promising new elections, which have not yet materialized.

Consequently, the coup d’état triggered widespread resistance, mass protests, and an escalation of armed conflicts across the country, thrusting Myanmar into its current, unprecedented humanitarian and human rights crisis.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

What would a road trip with Jesus and Mary be like? These young Catholics are finding out

Small white vans dubbed "monstrance mobiles" are being used for the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage. They are just big enough for some of the "perpetual pilgrims" and a pedestal upon which Christ in the monstrance can be placed. / Credit: Jonathan Liedl/CNA

Houston, Texas, May 24, 2024 / 16:44 pm (CNA).

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be one of the apostles and journey, eat, joke, and live out your daily life beside Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary? 

Or perhaps you may have wondered about a more modern question: What would it be like to go on a road trip with Jesus in the car?

These questions are being answered for 23 young “perpetual pilgrims” as they embark on trips that will collectively span the entire contiguous United States as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage.

After crossing the country with the Eucharistic Christ, these young Catholics will culminate their journeys in Indianapolis for the first U.S. National Eucharistic Congress in 83 years.

On their journey, the pilgrims are scheduled to meet thousands of people and cross mountains, deserts, and some of America’s greatest landmarks. But with all these grand and historic events happening, it is in small, ordinary moments in the van with the Eucharistic Jesus that the pilgrims are finding some of their greatest joy.

Already being dubbed by some as “monstrance mobiles,” the pilgrims are traveling portions of the journey in small white vans, which are just big enough for them and a pedestal upon which Christ in the monstrance can be placed.

As if traveling the country with the real presence of Jesus in the car was not incredible enough already, the seven perpetual pilgrims on the southern Juan Diego Route are getting an added bonus: his Blessed Mother.

Beside the monstrance is an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, crafted in Mexico and gifted to the pilgrimage by the Mexican Diocese of Matamoros. The image will be carried by the pilgrims right behind the Eucharist in every procession they lead from south Texas to Indiana.

Framed in gold and portraying the serene beauty of the Virgin Mary as she appeared to St. Juan Diego on Tepeyac in 1531, the image is a unique contribution to the pilgrimage.

An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, crafted in Mexico and gifted to the pilgrimage by the Mexican Diocese of Matamoros, is being carried along with the Eucharist as the Juan Diego Route processes from south Texas to Indiana. Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA
An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, crafted in Mexico and gifted to the pilgrimage by the Mexican Diocese of Matamoros, is being carried along with the Eucharist as the Juan Diego Route processes from south Texas to Indiana. Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA

Joshua Velasquez, an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame and one of the Juan Diego pilgrims, told CNA that the image represents the special friendship between the Dioceses of Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros. And with Our Lady of Guadalupe being made the patroness of the entire national pilgrimage, the image also represents the close ties of faith between the Church in Mexico and the U.S.

“It’s really a blessing that we get to carry her image with us,” he said.

According to Velasquez, the way the image of Our Lady is positioned in the van appears “as if she’s looking directly towards the tabernacle, towards her Son, reminding us to look towards him always.” 

But what is it really like to travel with Jesus in the car? 

Velasquez called it “a very modern privilege.” 

“There’s often moments where you can’t help but be drawn into prayer because of how amazing and how unique this experience is, to not only walk with God but drive with God.”

But does one feel like they must be quiet and contemplative all the time?

“Practically speaking,” Velasquez said he has found that “it’s both an invitation to prayer but also a really unique way to live out life in a similar way to how the apostles would have lived with Jesus.” 

Joshua Velasquez, an undergraduate student at the University of Notre Dame and one of 23 "perpetual pilgrims" deployed as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, asked for Catholics across the country to pray that each person who sees them processing by, whether in big cities, small towns, or the countryside, will be moved. Credit: Peter Pinedo / CNA
Joshua Velasquez, an undergraduate student at the University of Notre Dame and one of 23 "perpetual pilgrims" deployed as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, asked for Catholics across the country to pray that each person who sees them processing by, whether in big cities, small towns, or the countryside, will be moved. Credit: Peter Pinedo / CNA

“They were in the presence of our Lord and Savior, our God, but were having fellowship with him,” he explained. “Being able to sit in a van with Our Lord is very much a reminder of the fellowship that we have with him.”

Though a unique privilege, Velasquez hopes that many more throughout the country will be inspired by the pilgrimage to share in the same closeness with Christ.

He asked for Catholics across the country to pray that each person who sees them processing by, whether in big cities, small towns, or the countryside, will be moved. He hopes that like how St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was converted to the faith by a passing Eucharistic procession, people across the country will be moved by their encounter with the love of God.

“Us perpetual pilgrims get to be with Our Lord for two months. But as we go on the pilgrimage and as we pass through these places, people spend maybe a day or two, an hour, a second even,  as we’re walking by on the streets,” he said. “I just pray that the next St. Elizabeth to answer, that the next saints, will have that moment of encounter with Our Lord as we walk with him.”

Catholic bishops sue Biden administration over abortion provisions in pregnant workers law

null / Credit: sergign/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 24, 2024 / 16:08 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other Catholic institutions filed a lawsuit against President Joe Biden’s administration over new rules that could require them to provide workplace accommodations for women who seek abortions.

The lawsuit challenges regulations issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) related to the implementation of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The Catholic University of America (CUA) and two Catholic dioceses joined the USCCB in the lawsuit.

Although the law itself does not mention abortion, the regulations would require that employers accommodate women for workplace limitations that arise from “having or choosing not to have an abortion.”

The law requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations to women who develop workplace limitations from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The EEOC rules consider “having or choosing not to have an abortion” as one of the related medical conditions covered under the legislation.

The law itself also includes a prohibition on interference with the accommodations or retaliation against a person who uses the accommodations.

The bishops express concern in their lawsuit that the EEOC’s inclusion of abortion could jeopardize pro-life speech from certain employers, as it could be seen as retaliation. 

Religious employers are subject to the rules, but the EEOC will consider requests for religious exemptions to certain aspects of the rules on a case-by-case basis. 

The bishops, who are represented by the legal advocacy group Becket Law, argue in the lawsuit that the EEOC’s inclusion of abortion accommodations must be declared invalid because it is “contrary to the [law’s] plain text and purpose.” 

“Intentionally ending a pregnancy is opposed to both pregnancy and childbirth, and is not a related medical condition to either,” the lawsuit states. 

It further argues that the religious exemption is insufficient because addressing those requests on a case-by-case basis would ensure “religious defendants could never know ahead of time if they would face liability for exercising their rights.”

“The end result stacks the decks against religious employers: In EEOC’s view, the agency could normally be sure that it would have a compelling interest sufficient to override religious defenses,” the lawsuit adds.

The lawsuit also states that the EEOC’s inclusion of abortion goes against legislative intent. It cites several lawmakers who supported the legislation saying that the EEOC could not interpret the law to mandate accommodations for abortions. One lawmaker cited is Sen. Bob Casey Jr., a Democrat from Pennsylvania, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill.

“Under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, the [EEOC] could not — could not — issue any regulation that requires abortion leave, nor does the act permit the EEOC to require employers to provide abortions in violation of state law,” Casey said on the Senate floor in December 2022. 

Laura Wolk Slavis, one of the lawyers representing the bishops, told CNA that the law “does not mention abortion at all.” She said it is intended to ensure employers provide accommodations “related to a woman being able to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy childbirth.” 

“This law was meant to be a very simple, uncontroversial law that all Americans can and should support,” Slavis added.

The EEOC’s regulations, she said, is an attempt to “hijack that law and turn it into something fundamentally different.”

Slavis also said the EEOC’s decision to address religious exemptions on a case-by-case basis means the bishops and all religious employers are “forced to comply right now” and do not know whether they will receive exemptions when requested. She said the EEOC “interpreted that exemption so narrowly that it means nothing.”

CUA President Peter Kilpatrick said in a statement that the university provides accommodations for pregnant workers but that the abortion accommodation requirement conflicts with the university’s mission.

“The Catholic University of America community remains steadfast in our commitments to upholding the sanctity of life and supporting women and pregnant mothers in the workplace,” Kilpatrick said.

“We firmly reject any suggestion of tension between those two core commitments. We can — and we do — support women as they grow their families, and we believe it is possible to do so wholeheartedly while also supporting the dignity of life at all stages. Our mission to cultivate a culture of love, respect, and compassion demands nothing less.”

When reached for comment, the EEOC referred CNA to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ did not respond to a request for comment.

Tell Them What God Did

My college friend Bill Tobias has served as a missionary on a Pacific island for many years. He tells the story about a young man who left his hometown to seek his fortune. But a friend took him to church where He heard the good news Jesus offers, and he trusted Christ as his Savior.

The young man wanted to take the gospel to his people and looked for a missionary to reach his people who were “steeped in sorcery.” But the missionary told him to simply “go tell them what God did for you.” And that’s what he did. Several people in his hometown received Jesus, but the biggest breakthrough came when the town’s witch doctor realized that Christ was the “way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). After he put his faith in Jesus, he told the whole town about Him. Within four years, the witness of one young man had led to the establishment of seven churches in the region.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul sets forth a clear plan for introducing the gospel to those who don’t yet know Christ—and it aligns with what that missionary told the young believer in Jesus. We are to be “Christ’s ambassadors”—His representatives “as though God [is] making his appeal through us” (5:20). Every believer has a unique story to tell of how Jesus made them a “new creation . . . who reconciled” them to God (vv. 17–18). Let’s tell others what He’s done for us.

German bishops praise constitution on 75th anniversary of post-Nazi era

The Reichstag in Berlin, seat of the German federal Parliament. / Credit: Gregor Samimi/Unsplash (CC0)

CNA Newsroom, May 24, 2024 / 15:34 pm (CNA).

German bishops have lauded their country’s constitution as a beacon of freedom this week as the nation commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Grundgesetz, or Basic Law.

At an ecumenical church service held in Berlin on Thursday, Bishop Michael Gerber, vice president of the German Bishops’ Conference, reflected on the Basic Law’s historical significance and enduring impact, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

“What was formulated 75 years ago considering the terrible catastrophe of National Socialism and the Second World War is today the foundation for the future of our country and — more broadly — our continent,” he said in his sermon.

The Federal Republic of Germany is commemorating the 75th anniversary of enacting its Basic Law on May 23, 1949, over several days. President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has ordered an official state ceremony, and leaders such as President Emmanuel Macron of France are visiting. Citizens are invited to “democracy festivals” in Berlin and other locations.

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, praised the Basic Law as “a great treasure” on the conference website, saying the constitution was “formulated as a counter-draft to a totalitarian system, which is why it rightly names the reference points of all responsibility right at the beginning: God and man. Our liberal democracy stands on the foundation of this responsibility.”

Gerber emphasized the concept of responsibility embedded in the Basic Law. “Our faith is based on trust in God and God’s view of us humans. After 1945, we were given an undeserved new beginning with the opportunity to live in peace and freedom. This new beginning is interpreted as an undeserved gift — as grace.”

The German Basic Law was crafted in the aftermath of the Nazi regime and World War II, serving as a bulwark against tyranny and totalitarianism. It was influenced significantly by Christian values and the Catholic Church, aiming to prevent the recurrence of past atrocities. The constitution’s preamble, “Conscious of their responsibility before God and man,” highlights this commitment to human dignity and ethical governance.

Bishop Heinrich Timmerevers of Dresden-Meissen also underscored the significance of the Basic Law.

“The creators of this constitution had created a firm foundation against the background of our history that unites Christianity and the Enlightenment, faith and reason,” he said, according to CNA Deutsch. “The 75th anniversary of the Basic Law makes me look back with gratitude on this common foundation of our coexistence.”

Timmerevers highlighted the ongoing relevance of the Basic Law in addressing contemporary challenges.

“It is important to think about how the Basic Law can be filled with life. For me as a Christian, this also includes maintaining an awareness of the question of how we are ultimately responsible for our actions.”

The German prelate urged voters to scrutinize party programs through the prism of human dignity and responsibility in a year that marks the constitutional anniversary and critical European elections.

“Who stands up for human dignity and the right to life, and in what way?” he asked. “Is this only granted exclusively to some, or does human dignity apply to everyone?”

International conference on youth ministry wrapping up in Rome

Pilgrims from South Korea wave a flag at the closing Mass of World Youth Day Lisbon with Pope Francis on Aug. 6, 2023. / Credit: Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

ACI Prensa Staff, May 24, 2024 / 14:56 pm (CNA).

Nearly 300 delegates hailing from bishops’ conferences in 110 countries are meeting in Rome to participate in the International Youth Ministry Conference. The conference, which began Thursday, concludes on Saturday.

With the theme “For a Synodal Youth Ministry: New Leadership Styles and Strategies” the event is being held in preparation for the 2027 World Youth Day (WYD), scheduled to take place in Seoul, South Korea.

Organized by the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family, and Life, the conference is also being held in the context of the fifth anniversary of the publication of the postsynodal apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit.

The dicastery is dedicating 2024 to the promotion and dissemination of the exhortation, published after the Synod on Youth in 2018.

Activities include a campaign on the official WYD social media accounts as well as the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the first meeting of young people with the pope (St. John Paul II) in St. Peter’s Square in 1984.

The dicastery said in a statement that these initiatives, together with numerous diocesan events in various parts of the world, “aim to revitalize youth ministry and inspire spiritual reflection among young people based on the guidelines offered by Christus Vivit.”

The International Youth Ministry Conference includes three days of study and reflection on a series of topics such as youth leadership, synodality, formation, and spiritual accompaniment. 

Each topic is discussed based on an introduction by an expert in the field of pastoral care and further explored in exchange groups, following a methodology of spiritual discernment.

Speakers at the event include Gustavo Fabián Cavagnari from Argentina, professor of youth ministry at the Salesian Pontifical University; Father Christopher Ryan, MGL, director of the Areté Center for Missionary Leadership in Australia; and Brenda Noriega, member of the first International Youth Advisory Body with extensive experience in youth faith formation processes. 

The session “From WYD Lisbon 2023 to WYD Seoul 2027” began on the first day of the congress after the introductory greeting by Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family, and Life. The purpose of the session was to reflect and evaluate the significant events of World Youth Day Lisbon 2023.

This event also served as a bridge to the upcoming WYD celebration in Seoul. Cardinal Américo Alves Aguiar, bishop of Setúbal, Portugal, and Archbishop Peter Soon-Taick Chung of Seoul shared their experiences and offered a preview of the expectations and innovations for the next great global youth encounter. 

Another important event that will be presented during the conference will be the Youth Jubilee 2025, scheduled for July 28 to Aug. 3, 2025. On this special occasion, the Holy Father will invite young people from all over the world to Rome, exhorting them to be “pilgrims of hope.”

To discuss the details of this event, Monsignor Rino Fisichella, pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization, was slated to speak and present the initiatives and activities planned for the Youth Jubilee.

The International Conference on Youth Ministry will conclude on May 25 with an audience with the Holy Father in the morning and with an open dialogue with the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, in particular with the undersecretary, Sister Nathalie Becquart.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Australian Mass attendance dropped during pandemic restrictions, but young adults show up

City skyline in Sydney, Australia. / Irina Sokolovskaya/Shutterstock

CNA Newsroom, May 24, 2024 / 13:32 pm (CNA).

A new report by the Catholic Church in Australia shows a drop in Mass attendance in 2021, a year heavily affected by pandemic restrictions. However, the report also highlights an unexpected increase in young adult participation, despite an overall decline by 33% from 2016 to 2021.

Australia’s National Centre for Pastoral Research (NCPR) conducted the 2021 National Count of Attendance, revealing that an average of 417,300 people attended Mass each weekend, down from 623,300 in 2016. 

In 2021, the average number of Catholics at Mass represented just 8.2% of the Catholic population in Australia amid varying COVID-19 restrictions across states.

The report’s authors note that “many parishes are experiencing a new normal due to the irreversible consequences of the global pandemic.”

Rising Mass attendance among youth

Despite the downturn in attendance, the report noted a significant rise in numbers among young adults aged 18–29. This cohort, which had been declining between 2006 and 2016, showed a numerical increase of 4,000 churchgoers between 2016 and 2021, the Catholic Leader noted. 

“The report states that the proportion of attenders aged 18–29 increased from 6.7% in 2016 to 11.8% in 2021,” reflecting a potential shift in engagement among younger Catholics.

“This increase in young adult participation is encouraging and suggests a renewed interest in religious practices among younger generations.”

The demographic breakdown also showed that women made up 56% of Mass attendees in 2021, down slightly from 62% in 2016. Older age groups continued to have a strong presence, with those aged 70 and above accounting for just over a quarter of the attendees.

Regional differences were notable, with the Archdiocese of Sydney and the Diocese of Darwin recording the highest attendance rates at 10.4%, while the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle — just 100 miles to the west of Sydney — had the lowest at 3.7%.

Migrant communities significantly impacted these figures. For instance, the Syro-Malabar Eparchy saw a 90% increase in attendance, indicative of the vibrant and growing immigrant Catholic population in Australia.

“The strong representation of Catholics from non-English-speaking countries has helped stem the overall decline in attendance,” the report highlights.

Australia’s Catholic population, according to the 2021 census, stood at approximately 5.1 million, making up 20% of the total population. 

The Australian report also examined the role of online and broadcast Masses during the pandemic. More than 30,100 households watched the “Mass for You at Home” program on a typical weekend in May 2021. 

Researchers are now hoping to account in future studies for factors outside of a pandemic: “Changes in the demographics of the Catholic population, the presence or absence of immigrants, the attendance patterns of different age groups ... and other issues affecting the overall Catholic population in Australia also play a role.” 

During World Youth Day 2000, Pope Benedict XVI called on Catholics in the great “southern land of the Holy Spirit” to witness the faith: “Our hearts and minds are yearning for a vision of life where love endures, where gifts are shared, where unity is built, where freedom finds meaning in truth, and where identity is found in respectful communion,” the pope said. 

“This is the work of the Holy Spirit! This is the hope held out by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is to bear witness to this reality that you were created anew at baptism and strengthened through the gifts of the Spirit at confirmation. Let this be the message that you bring from Sydney to the world!”

Bishop Conley asks Pope Francis to provide ‘encouragement, clarity, support’ to U.S. bishops

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska. / Credit: Diocese of Lincoln

CNA Staff, May 24, 2024 / 13:02 pm (CNA).

Bishop James Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, on Friday encouraged Pope Francis to “familiarize himself” with the American episcopate before a prospective return to the United States, which Conley said “could be an opportunity for the Holy Father to see the Catholic Church here in a different light.”

In a column first published May 15 and posted to the diocesan website May 24, Conley described his brother bishops as “unquestionably loyal to Pope Francis, which makes his ambiguities and seeming criticisms difficult to understand.”

“In my case, life as a bishop has been a blessing, because my brother U.S. bishops have been overwhelmingly good, committed men. They have very different skills and personalities. All have strengths and weaknesses. None of them is close to perfect. But they’re faithful to the Church and devoted to their people,” Conley wrote.

Pope Francis has in the past said that the Church in the United States is marked by “a climate of closure” and “a very strong reactionary attitude,” which “is organized and shapes the way people belong, even emotionally.”

More recently, when asked about “conservative bishops in the United States,” the pope said a conservative is someone who “clings to something and does not want to see beyond that.”

“It is a suicidal attitude,” the pope said, as reported by “60 Minutes.” “Because one thing is to take tradition into account, to consider situations from the past, but quite another is to be closed up inside a dogmatic box.”

Noting that Pope Francis remains very popular among American Catholics, Conley said Pope Francis’ statements about the Church in the U.S. have “caused resentment among some faithful Catholics” and that his criticisms of the bishops specifically have “perplexed American bishops who, as a body, have a long record of loyalty and generosity to the Holy See.”

It was reported in April by a French newspaper that Pope Francis is reportedly considering returning to the United States in September — which would be his first visit to the U.S. since 2015 — to speak before the United Nations General Assembly. The Vatican has not confirmed the visit. 

Conley wrote: “Before the Holy Father makes his next visit to the United States, I’d ask him to spend a little time familiarizing himself with the real terrain of American Catholic life, because so much of it is hopeful and good despite the many challenges we face.”

Conley noted that before becoming a bishop, he served at the Vatican’s Dicastery for Bishops, the office tasked with evaluating and recommending men for the episcopate, a process he said remains “objective in essence, with plenty of checks and balances along the way.” 

“I’ve been away from Rome now for nearly two decades. I’ve experienced the selection process from its other end. I’ve served as a bishop in the United States for the past 16 years, both as an auxiliary and now as an ordinary, the bishop in charge of a diocese. No matter what a man knows in advance, the ministry of a local bishop is a surprise and a challenge,” Conley continued. 

“Whatever social prestige Catholic bishops once enjoyed is long gone. The clergy abuse crisis buried it. Today the reality can be quite the opposite. But this is not finally a loss, because true Christian leadership is a ‘privilege’ only insofar as it involves service to others in a spirit of humility.”

The men serving as bishops today, Conley said, are “men who know full well that they will suffer” and who are “ready to carry the cross of Christian leadership and have prepared themselves through deep prayer, faithful theological formation, and pastoral experience in the trenches.”

“They need — and they deserve — encouragement, clarity, and support from the man who holds the office of Peter. Pope Francis can provide all three. We should hope and pray that he will do exactly that,” Conley concluded.

Survey: Pro-abortion laws ascendant globally

Pro-abortion activists include the Marea Verde, or Green Wave Movement, a grassroots coalition of protesters who wear green bandanas at events. / Credit: EWTN Pro-Life Weekly/Screenshot

CNA Staff, May 24, 2024 / 12:27 pm (CNA).

The Vatican recently released a staunchly pro-life document, Dignitas Infinita (“Infinite Dignity”), that identifies various threats to human dignity such as abortion, euthanasia, and surrogacy.  

Nonetheless, various nations continue moving in the opposite direction on core life issues. This week, “EWTN Pro-Life Weekly” surveyed the state of abortion policy and related family life issues across several continents. 

Europe elevates support for abortion 

In March, France became the first nation in the world to specifically enshrine abortion as part of the country’s constitution with an abortion amendment passing by a 780-72 vote conducted in the Palace of Versailles.

In April, the European Union (EU) Parliament passed a nonbinding resolution to add abortion and include abortion in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The resolution criticized the doctor’s rights of conscience and specifically called out Poland and Malta for their pro-life laws.

The EU is not the only international body that supports and pushes abortion on a global scale.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee called on the U.S. government to bring its laws in line with the World Health Organization’s 2022 Abortion Care Guidelines, calling the laws human rights violations. These guidelines call for abortion to be available on request with no limits on gestation, without any waiting periods, and without recommendations or parental consent.

The U.N. and World Health Organization, among other organizations, recently launched the Human Reproductive Program, part of which features videos promoting abortion and guiding health care workers around the world to walk clients through the abortion process.

Asia and the Middle East

Abortion is broadly legal in the two of the most populous countries in the world: China and India. Legalized in 1953, China has one of the highest rates of abortion in the world, at 49 abortions for every 1,000 reproductive-aged women, according to the Guttmacher Institute, supported by the nation’s family planning program.

But India has another issue impacting abortion: sex-selective abortion, or aborting a child because she is a girl. According to a 2022 Pew survey, 40% of Indians say sex-selective abortion is acceptable. 

In the interview with EWTN News President and COO Montse Alvarado on “EWTN Pro-Life Weekly,” Rebecca Shah, co-director of the University of Dallas’ program for Indo-American Friendship and Understanding, explained the broad legality of the practice and the alarmingly accepted custom of sex-selective abortion.

In spite of India’s large population — 1.4 billion people — population decline is a “serious issue,” Shah noted. 

“For the first time in India, the total fertility rate has dipped below replacement level of 2.1. We are now at 2,” she noted. “India’s population is slowly declining.”

India enacted the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act in 1971 and has many criteria allowing women to obtain abortions. 

Though many nations have increasingly permissive abortion laws, such as Japan, where abortion was decriminalized in 1948, some countries, such as Singapore, are starting to promote family. Singapore officially decriminalized abortion in 1974 and widely accepts abortion, but currently has a strong pro-family government. 

EWTN News Vice President and Editorial Director Matthew Bunson recently interviewed Cardinal William Goh, the archbishop of Singapore, to talk about ongoing work in the country to encourage family life.

“We are trying to protect the family. We have 11 organizations that deal with family life, so we have to work hard at it,” Goh said. “I won’t say that we are doing extremely well, but because we belong to this Asian culture, that family dimension is always important.”

Goh noted that factors such as affluence, or both parents working, can impact family size, while younger people “are not interested” in having families as it affects their commitments, career, and social time.

While Singapore is below the replacement rate for population growth, the government is stepping in to promote family life.

“The beautiful part is this, the government is working with us all. We have a ministry, we call it a Ministry of Social and Family. This ministry, they try to promote family life,” Goh continued. “The programs that they have are very good programs, so we complement each other. We are grateful that the government also sees the importance of growing the family, strengthening our family, and healing people who are divorced and those from dysfunctioning families.”

In contrast, abortion remains fully illegal in Laos and the Philippines as well as in Iran. Numerous East Asian and Middle Eastern nations have strong limitations on abortion. In Afghanistan, Pakistan, Myanmar, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, and Bhutan, abortion is permitted in cases to save a woman’s life. Some of those countries have exceptions for rape, incest, or the physical and mental health of the mother.

Expansion of abortion in Latin America 

Currently, 12 of Mexico’s 32 states allow abortion, while Argentina made headlines in 2020 after its Congress legalized abortion up to 12 weeks, making it the largest country in Latin America to allow the procedure. 

In 2021, Mexico’s Supreme Court struck down a pro-life law in Coahuila that criminalized abortion. Just two years later, the high court threw out all federal criminal penalties by ruling that national laws prohibiting the procedure were unconstitutional. The ruling requires federal health institutions to offer abortions, but access to the procedure remains restricted through most of Mexico. 

The Marea Verde, or Green Wave Movement, a grassroots coalition of pro-abortion protesters who wear green bandanas, have pushed for more access to abortion. Their bandanas have become a badge for pro-abortion movements across Latin America as well as in the United States. 

However, pro-life Argentinians see a glimmer of hope in their new president, Javier Milei. Since taking the helm of Argentina in December 2023, the controversial leader has expressed a desire to roll back Argentina’s law and even called abortion “aggravated murder.”