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Medical expert debunks false claims of Planned Parenthood about abortion in El Salvador 

Credit: Syda Productions/Shutterstock. / null

San Salvador, El Salvador, May 16, 2022 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

A Salvadoran medical expert has debunked the false claims about abortion in El Salvador made by a former journalist now working for Planned Parenthood. 

In a statement to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language sister news agency, Dr. José Miguel Fortín-Magaña Leiva, a psychiatrist and former Director General of the Dr. Roberto Masferrer Institute of Forensic Medicine of El Salvador, said that Kate Smith, a former CBS News reporter who a few weeks ago became Planned Parenthood’s new senior director of news content, “is at best absolutely mistaken when she claims that in El Salvador women are imprisoned and harassed for induced abortions.”

"But even worse," he continued, Smith is wrong in stating "that those who have suffered a miscarriage are also prosecuted and imprisoned by an infamous law."

Abortion in El Salvador is completely prohibited, and the country’s constitution recognizes "every human being as a human person from the moment of conception."

The Penal Code of El Salvador establishes a prison sentences from 2 to 8 years for anyone who undergoes or performs an abortion in the country.

Kate Smith assumed the management position at Planned Parenthood in April after working for more than three years at CBS News.

The job change came two years after a National Review article called Kate Smith the "CBS News Ambassador for Planned Parenthood."

In a recent interview with CNN, Smith referred to a documentary she made for CBS News in 2020 about El Salvador to predict what the United States would look like if Roe v. Wade were overturned, which a draft majority opinion leaked weeks ago suggests will happen.

Planned Parenthood's director of news content said last Friday that "when we went to El Salvador, what we saw is that all those things that these doctors and politicians had warned us about were happening in real time on the ground."

In her report for CBS News, Smith said that since 1998 more than 140 women have been accused of having abortions and ended up in prison with sentences of up to 35 years.

"They wake up and they're shackled to the hospital bed and there was a police officer there investigating them," she said.

“Doctors told me when they are looking at a patient, there is no way for them to tell the difference between an induced abortion and a spontaneous miscarriage,” Smith reported.

For the new Planned Parenthood director, “all of these things that we say might happen if abortion gets banned, if abortion becomes illegal, they do happen.”

However, for Fortín-Magaña "the only logical explanation" for what Smith says "is that what she said is a lie for the propaganda purposes of the organization she works for today."

“As former director of the Institute of Forensic Medicine and as a doctor, I can assure you that the foregoing is totally false,” he said, pointing out that as short as the sentences are that are given in abortion cases, “it can be for community service instead; and therefore there’s not a single case of women imprisoned for that reason.”

The Institute of Forensic Medicine is an organ of the Salvadoran judicial system that, as the doctor explains on his website, "contributes technically and scientifically to the administration of justice."

The psychiatrist stressed that these are "different" cases than those of women who "committed aggravated homicide" and "murdered their child, once it had been born by the natural process."

The crimes in question, he pointed out, were committed "by suffocation, strangulation, striking with a rock, drowning, or simply abandonment."

Fortín-Magaña lamented that "El Salvador is a country full of problems and violence, where the law is often applied unfairly, especially in favor of groups with political power."

"But it would be absolutely unfair to say that what Ms. Smith says is true, because it’s not," the medical expert said.

“She’s promoting an industry that exploits women”

For Julia Regina de Cardenal, president of the Yes to Life Foundation in El Salvador, “it’s not surprising that a pro-abortion activist lies to try to convince you that she’s defending women when in reality she is promoting an industry that exploits pregnant women in dire straits that need support, not violence and death.”

The Salvadoran pro-life leader stressed that in reality "in El Salvador there’s not a single woman imprisoned for induced abortion, because women found guilty are sentenced to community service."

"The women she says are supposedly imprisoned for 'miscarriages’ and ‘obstetrical problems’ were actually convicted of aggravated homicide of their newborn babies,” de Cardenal said.

“Forensic evidence shows that the full term babies were strangled, stabbed, struck with a rock, had their necks broken, suffocated in septic tanks or inside plastic bags, etc. None of these cases have to do with abortions much less miscarriages. They were infanticides,” she stated.

The Yes to Life Foundation president pointed out that "these women are being released because they were pardoned, not for lack of evidence" and that "maternal mortality has been drastically reduced in El Salvador since the legislation in El Salvador was changed in favor of life.”

“Saying that Salvadoran ‘doctors’ told her that patients died because they couldn’t get an abortion is the same argument used by abortion promoters around the world,” she said.

“Blatantly lying”

Sara Larín, founder of the Life El Salvador platform, said that "Smith is blatantly lying" when she "asserts that there are 140 Salvadoran women accused of abortion."

"According to official statistics from the Office of Access to Public Information of the Attorney General's Office, from 2013 to date there are no women serving jail time for the crime of abortion."

"This is so because the penalties for abortion are minor and community service can be performed instead," she said.

“Smith is actually talking about 140 women sentenced to 30 years in prison because it’s the minimum sentence given for crimes of aggravated homicide,” she said.

Larín noted the case of “María de los Ángeles Portillo, who murdered her daughter by suffocating her with a sock; or the recent case of Evelyn Sánchez, who stabbed her newborn baby in the chest.”

Larín said that “a serious journalist would ask to read all the evidence for the sentences and would find that none of these cases were miscarriages. However, Smith confined herself to speaking for pro-abortion organizations in El Salvador that receive funding from Planned Parenthood.”

New pro-life movie streaming in theaters this week

Ultrasound image. / Courtesy of Matter of Life

Boston, Mass., May 16, 2022 / 17:18 pm (CNA).

A new pro-life movie that explores the case for life and the repercussions of abortion is airing May 16 and 17 in select theaters around the U.S. 

“We stand at a critical point in history where the legality of abortion is being challenged in the highest courts,” the documentary’s description says. “More than ever, it is important for everyone to know where they stand on abortion and why.”

The movie, “The Matter of Life,” is using the distributor Fathom Events, the same distributor for “The Chosen” Christmas special and the Eucharist film, “ALIVE: Who is there?” The Christian distributor Revelation Media has partnered in distributing and marketing the film, as well.

The more than 750 theater locations and movie times can be found on Fathom Events’ website. Although it is only in theaters for two days, Tracy Robinson, the film's director, told CNA that if enough tickets are sold, the film’s showing could be extended.

However, if the film’s showing is not extended, individuals can still see it by registering on this website to screen the film in their schools or churches for 30 days only after the movie's showing in theaters. Licensing, streaming, and DVD will be available at a later date that is still not determined. You can watch the movie's trailer below.

The documentary “compels us to understand the pro-life case and form our own individual beliefs based on more than what is said in the media,” the description of the movie says.

According to the producers, the film also includes expert testimony as viewers “learn about the history, philosophy, morality, and impact of abortion.” The movie includes powerful testimony from women and former abortion clinic workers, “historians, religious workers, pro-life atheists,” and others are also included, the description says.

Speakers featured in the movie include: Dr. Anthony Levatino, a former abortionist and OBGYN; Stephanie Gray Conners, a pro-life speaker; Romona Treviño, a former manager at Planned Parenthood; Kristan Hawkins, president at Students for Life; Diane Ferraro, CEO at Save the Storks; Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of Americans United For Life; Angela Franks professor of theology at St. John's Seminary in Boston; Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, CEO of New Wave Feminists; Scott Klusendorf, president of Life Training Institute, and many more.

“The Matter of Life stresses entering this conversation with understanding, love, and support,” the description says. “Doing so is critical to saving the lives of the unborn and to care for the women who carry them.”

The film, which had a budget of $200,000, was directed by Robinson, a 34-year-old woman who used to be a “pro-choice Christian,” the film’s website says.

Robinson, who has a background in video production for documentaries, told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly's Prudence Robertson in an May 14 interview that she had been making videos for pregnancy resource centers in 2016 but “was in the mushy middle” on the topic of abortion. She was working in the center because she appreciated the work it was doing for women, Robinson said. You can watch the full interview below.

Robinson, of San Diego, said that her friends at the clinic invited her to a presentation on the topic of abortion at a church in 2016. The topic of the presentation was the case against abortion, she said. 

“In less than two hours the message just clarified for me the true humanity of the unborn child, from the moment of conception and the whole reality of what abortion does really struck me,” Robinson said. 

She continued, “and so I immediately felt compelled to make a documentary because I knew there were so many people in my shoes — young adults, who had never heard the message before clearly.”

Robinson said that she was motivated to research more about how society came to widely accept abortion while learning about the “amazing multi-faceted pro-life movement and so I wanted to take others on this journey with me. 

Robinson told Robertson that the film will eventually be coming to streaming and DVD, but she did not say when. 

Christian leaders condemn Israeli police violence at Palestinian journalist's funeral

Violence erupts between Israeli security forces and Palestinian mourners carrying the coffin of slain Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh out of a hospital, before being transported to a church and then her resting place, in Jerusalem, on May 13, 2022. / Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

Denver Newsroom, May 16, 2022 / 16:13 pm (CNA).

Christian leaders of the Holy Land on Monday condemned recent violence at the funeral of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, saying the “tragic episode” has “deeply wounded” the Christian community. 

Abu Akleh was a Melkite Greek Catholic and a Palestinian American who was killed while covering an Israeli raid on a refugee camp in the West Bank May 11. The BBC reported that during her funeral procession on May 13, Abu Akleh’s coffin “almost fell” as police waded into the crowd brandishing batons and using stun grenades. Israeli police say they moved in on the crowds after apparently being hit with stones. 

Abu Akleh, who wrote for the Qatar-based news site Al Jazeera, was covering a raid on the Jenin Camp by Israeli security forces last week when she was struck in the head by a live bullet. She was wearing a blue flak jacket bearing the word “press” in large letters. In the same incident, Al Jazeera producer Ali Samoudi was shot and wounded.

The journalist’s killing has been widely condemned, and Israeli and Palestinian authorities have traded blame for her shooting death, the BBC reported. 

The Christian leaders called the police’ actions at the funeral, which took place in the parking compound of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Jerusalem, a “violent intrusion.” 

“The Police stormed into a Christian health institute, disrespecting the Church, disrespecting the health institute, disrespecting the memory of the deceased and forcing the pallbearers almost to drop the coffin,” they said

“Israeli Police's invasion and disproportionate use of force, attacking mourners, striking them with batons, using smoke grenades, shooting rubber bullets, frightening the hospital's patients, is a severe violation of international norms and regulations, including the fundamental human right of freedom of religion, which must be observed also in a public space.”

The leaders who signed the statement include the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and the bishops and the faithful of the Christian Churches in the Holy Land. 

The hospital, which has served patients of all religions since the 1950s under the care of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, served as the starting point for Abu Akleh’s funeral procession. The coffin was supposed to be transported in a hearse. Israeli police claim that the walking procession was “unplanned” and unwanted by the victim’s family, and that they intervened to take the coffin back from “rioters.” 

Abu Akleh’s brother Anton said the family had given the funeral arrangements to the police, the AP reported. He said: “We wanted to put the coffin in the car. We were going to the car when they attacked us.”

The Christian leaders wrote in their statement that “The St. Joseph Hospital has always proudly been a place of encounter and healing for all, regardless of their religious or cultural belonging, and it intends to continue to be so.” 

“What happened last Friday deeply wounded not only the Christian community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, owner of the Hospital, and all the hospital staff, but also all peoples who in that place have found and still find peace and hospitality.”

Abu Akleh’s funeral Liturgy was held at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Annunciation, the seat of the Melkite Greek Patriarchal Dependent Territory of Jerusalem.

Palestinian mourners wave national flags as they carry the casket of slain Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh inside the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Annunciation, before her burial in Jerusalem, on May 13, 2022. - Abu Akleh, who was shot dead on May 11, 2022 while covering a raid in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, was among Arab media's most prominent figures and widely hailed for her bravery and professionalism. Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP via Getty Images
Palestinian mourners wave national flags as they carry the casket of slain Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh inside the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Annunciation, before her burial in Jerusalem, on May 13, 2022. - Abu Akleh, who was shot dead on May 11, 2022 while covering a raid in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, was among Arab media's most prominent figures and widely hailed for her bravery and professionalism. Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP via Getty Images

On May 12, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem called “for a thorough and urgent investigation of all the circumstances of [Abu Akleh’s] killing and for bringing those responsible to justice.”

“This blatant tragedy brings back to human conscience the need to find a just solution to the Palestinian conflict, which refuses to enter oblivion although 74 years have passed since the Nakba,” the patriarchate said.

The AP reported that Bellingcat, a Dutch-based investigative journalism group, “found that while gunmen and Israeli soldiers were both in the area, the evidence supported witness accounts that Israeli fire killed Abu Akleh.”

The incident at the funeral comes at a time of particularly high tension between Israel and Palestine after several violent incidents in recent months, the BBC notes. 

Pope Francis has frequently asked Catholics around the world to pray for peace in the Middle East.

Legal scrutiny delays Northern Ireland limits on pro-life outreach at abortion clinics

Photographee.eu/Shutterstock.

Denver Newsroom, May 16, 2022 / 14:39 pm (CNA).

The Attorney General for Northern Ireland, Brenda King, has asked the U.K. Supreme Court to rule whether a ban on “influencing” women or protesting abortion outside abortion clinics is within the competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The court must determine whether the bill is “a proportionate interference with the rights of those who wish to express opposition to abortion services in Northern Ireland,” the attorney general office’s said in a May 9 statement. The statement noted that the bill “does not provide for a defense of reasonable excuse.”

The Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill makes it a criminal offense for pro-lifers to engage in “influencing” women inside “safe access zones” around premises offering abortions. It bars protests against abortion in these zones, obstruction of access to abortion clinics, or directly arguing with or harassing people who may be entering the clinics.

Under Northern Ireland law, the attorney general may ask for a ruling on a bill to settle legal questions in a way that avoids lengthy litigation.

“One of the grounds on which a bill may be found to be outside the competence of the Assembly is if it is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights,” the attorney general’s office said.

The bill was passed at its final stage on March 24, but the legal question means delays before it can take effect.

Pro-life groups were critical of Members of the Legislative Assembly who had backed the bill.

“Former MLA Claire Bailey was very keen to fast-track her bill and ensure that there was as little scrutiny as possible,” Catherine Robinson, spokesperson for Right To Life UK, said May 13.  “It is no wonder that it has been stalled by the attorney general. Hopefully the Supreme Court in the U.K. will judge that Stormont did not have the legislative competence to omit a defense of ‘reasonable excuse’. This draconian legislation will be marginally less bad if it retains this defense.”

Right to Life UK said the bill effectively criminalizes offers of assistance and prayer within 150 meters, about 492 feet, of abortion clinics and hospitals. It characterized the “safe access zones” as “censorship zones” instead.

Several critics and backers of the bill, including bill sponsor former Green Party MLA Clare Bailey, had backed adding “reasonable excuse” as a possible defense for those accused of breaking the law. However, Sinn Fein, the Alliance Party, and the Social Democratic and Labour Party voted against such an addition.

Regardless of the outcome, Bailey said, the bill is in her view “a ground-breaking piece of legislation, the first of its kind anywhere in the U.K. and Ireland.”

“The bill is needed to end the deliberate campaign of harassment and intimidation facing women trying to access healthcare across Northern Ireland,” she said, according to BBC News.

Right To Life UK previously said a public consultation on the bill showed that it was supported by only 13 out of 6,412 respondents.

Other public critics included Alina Dulgheriu, a woman who 11 years ago was abandoned and pregnant. She said she was outside an abortion clinic when a volunteer approached her and offered her the help she needed to feel able to choose life for her unborn daughter.

“That bill, designed to prevent us from hearing about offers of support to continue our pregnancies, will shut down options open to women who find themselves in crisis,” Dulgheriu said in March.

The legislation was introduced by the Green Party and had the backing of Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party, the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP. It drew opposition from the Democratic Unionist Party and the Traditional Unionist Voice.

Legal abortion was significantly expanded in the region under the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020. The law allows elective abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy; abortions up to 24 weeks in cases of risk to the mother’s physical or mental health; and abortion without time limit in cases of severe fetal impairment or fetal abnormality.

The abortion expansion was passed by the U.K. Parliament during a period in which the Northern Ireland Assembly had been suspended due to power sharing disagreements between the two leading parties, the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein. These parties, respectively, split along pro-U.K. unionist and pro-Irish nationalist lines.

Previously, abortion was legally permitted in the region only if the mother’s life was at risk or if there was risk of long-term or permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health.

The region’s Catholic bishops had decried the abortion expansion as “an unjust law” imposed “without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.”

Read Carl Anderson's commencement address at Thomas Aquinas College

Carl Anderson, former Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome, March 17, 2022. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Los Angeles, Calif., May 16, 2022 / 13:25 pm (CNA).

In his address to the graduates of Thomas Aquinas College on Saturday, Carl Anderson, former head of the Knights of Columbus, urged that they take up the task of the Catholic intellectual life.

"In addition to what the Lord may be calling you to do—for example, a vocation to the priesthood or religious life or to marriage and family life—you now have the opportunity to continue a life of learning in a special Catholic way," Anderson said May 14 at the commencement ceremony of the college's Santa Paula, California, campus.

The vocation of the Catholic intellectual life leads "to a unity of the love of learning with the love of God" and the "responsibility of serving divine truth through a life of Christian witness," he said.

During the commencement exercises, Anderson received the Saint Thomas Aquinas Medallion in recognition of his "unceasing efforts to protect the lives of the unborn ... and his leadership of the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization, the Knights of Columbus.”

Find below the full text of Anderson's commencement address, Take Up the Vocation of the Catholic Intellectual Life:

I am most grateful for the invitation to be with you today.  Fifty years ago, my wife and I were like you: graduating after having completed a “great books” program at our university.  Although our experience was in many ways different than your experience, we have always felt close to Thomas Aquinas College and so, we are very glad to be with you especially this year as you celebrate your fiftieth anniversary. I have had a varied career in government, academia, business, charity and civil society.  During all that time, no educational experience has served me better than has that multi-year study of those great books. Time and again I have turned to them for wisdom and insight—and most importantly to better understand the significance of current events.  

Let no one tell you that your college experience here was not relevant. Throughout my life I have found such education to be the most relevant.  The world will tell you that what is most important in your life is what you “have.” But you know that what is most important is who you “are.”  Because wherever you go and whatever you do, the most important value proposition you can bring to any situation is you.  Of course, technical and professional skills are important.  But what is more important is your judgment, your wisdom, your compassion, and your integrity.  

Advances in artificial intelligence will continue to make great improvements in the work environment.  But artificial intelligence will never replace what is in your heart and soul.

We commonly refer to studies such as that at TAC as a great books program, but here it is more than that.  I think of it as an encounter with the genius of the West. That genius has taken many forms in many different disciplines and its diversity is like nothing else in the world. We may look at this from many different perspectives. But in a fundamental sense, it is the working out through history of the meeting of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome.  As you know well, this development reached a profound unity in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.  Even more fundamentally, we may see this in the context of salvation history as the encounter of this genius with the reality of the Incarnation. As you know, this process continues. With the help of an outstanding faculty, you have been part of it. Your achievement now sets you apart from virtually every other college graduate in America.

Thomas Aquinas College has been a great gift to you made possible by the sacrifice of your families, the dedication of the faculty, and the vision of those who built and now sustain this beautiful campus and academic program.  Yet the value of any gift also depends on how it is received. You have not only embraced this gift, but you have worked hard to develop it. Today, we are justly proud of all you have achieved.  

Now, as you graduate, with this gift comes a great task. This task is one that you have already begun.  It is what I would call the vocation of the Catholic intellectual life.  In addition to what the Lord may be calling you to do—for example, a vocation to the priesthood or religious life or to marriage and family life—you now have the opportunity to continue a life of learning in a special Catholic way.  

We often speak of our Church as a pilgrim church. This idea reflects the reality that our life of Catholic faith is not something we possess, but rather is something towards which we continually strive—and not only on our own but as part of a community.  We are all on a life’s journey and for some of us an intellectual pilgrimage is an important part of that journey. You are here today because during the past four years you have made a serious commitment to the scholarly life—a life of intellectual curiosity, critical thinking and discipline.  It is to be hoped that this work has not exhausted your wonder at the world which the Lord has given us and the human drama that has been our history in it.  The intellectual life is very much part of the identity of many who have taken up the religious life, as we see in the Dominicans and the Benedictines.  Their communities embody a Catholic culture of learning. Their legacy is part of the great patrimony of our Church.  Yet, there is no reason why lay men and women should not also embrace a life of learning and create a culture of learning. 

You have been given an opportunity that few other Catholics in the world have been given. You have begun an intellectual pilgrimage grounded in some of the greatest works of Christianity—the classic texts of our Faith—with a unique scholarly community. Today should mark a continuation, not an ending, of this chapter in your life. 

Today, our Church needs more of us to take up the special task of defending the truths of our Faith.  Certainly, at the institutional level there are offices in the Church such as that of bishop and theologian as well as academic faculties that have responsibility for safeguarding and communicating the truths of our Faith.  But there is no reason why a new generation of lay men and women who do not hold such positions 

should not also take up this task and in their own way share in this mission. Some might even say the times demand it. 

I would suggest that you look closely at the scholar for whom this institution is named. St. Thomas Aquinas is rightly celebrated as the outstanding model of the Catholic intellectual life.  He truly embodies this vocation, which is to say, a life caught up in the love of learning and the desire for God.  He lived a life of uncompromising and dispassionate discipline in the search for truth.  And he complemented that discipline with a serene confidence, humility and charity in its application. He showed us that the Catholic intellectual has a sacred call, and in response to it he or she must practice the virtues of the Catholic life—and especially those at the center of this life—the virtues of charity and humility. It is a vocation that we could say begins with these words of St. Thomas: “All that is true, by whomsoever it has been said, has its origin in the Holy Spirit.” (Omne veru, a quocumque dicitur, a Spiritu Sancto est.)

Thus, we begin in a spirit of humility both as to what we may learn from others as well as what we may ourselves contribute. The Catholic intellectual does not stand alone. Rather he or she is always a member of a community that extends through time—a community that is entrusted with understanding and preserving a great inheritance. It is an inheritance which arises from the very heart of the Church and, like the mission of the Church itself, is intended to bring the reality of the Incarnation ever more deeply into the life of the intellect and thus into the life of the believer.  During your studies the greatest book you have opened is you—and it is in this book that the Lord has been writing during your time here.  No study program, no matter how great, can substitute for what he has written in your heart.  St. Thomas lived in an age when reading and study were closely associated with prayer. A familiar adage of the time was: “You should apply yourself to prayer or to reading: at times you speak with God, at times he speaks with you.”  

The vocation of the Catholic intellectual life goes beyond learning the Christian classics.  It is not about seeking knowledge for the sake of knowledge or for the sake of power.  Instead, it is about entrusting oneself to the Spirit of truth. I have suggested this is a vocation that proceeds from the inseparable connection between the love of learning and the desire for God.  But ultimately this vocation moves us beyond this to a unity of the love of learning with the love of God.  It sets our spirit in the one direction that Pope John Paul II told us is the only direction for our intellect, will and heart and that direction is toward Christ.  Thus, a disciplined life of prayer as well as that of reading Sacred Scripture are irreplaceable elements of an authentic Catholic intellectual life.  Here as well St. Thomas Aquinas serves as our sure guide to the sum and summit of the Catholic intellectual life. There is a story told about him that as his death was approaching, he heard the Lord say: “You have spoken well of Me Thomas, what reward would you like?” To which he replied, “Nothing but Yourself, Lord.”   

It has been said that not every age is as good as every other, but there is one age that for us surpasses them all and that one is our own. I need not tell you the challenges which our society presents to those who would faithfully follow Jesus Christ. Some of the most painful examples of those challenges are here in California where agents of the cancel culture have defaced our churches and torn down statues of saints such as Junipero Serra.  Contemporary culture challenges every believer.  But few are better prepared to respond to these challenges than are you. Because in order to defend a culture from those who would cancel it, you must first know it. And few know the achievement of Western genius and the culture which it has produced better than you. Culture is a shorthand way of speaking about what we mean by the way of life of a people: their ideas, their aspirations, their spiritual values, and what they have sacrificed over generations to achieve and why they have done so.  Those who take up the vocation of the Catholic intellectual life have a special responsibility in this regard.

The Thomistic scholar, Etienne Gilson often recounted his experience as a soldier in the French army during the First World War and especially the time a dying French soldier begged him to hear his confession.  Because of such experiences, Gilson could easily have joined those who, disillusioned after the Great War, became members of the so-called “Lost Generation.”  Instead, Gilson and other Catholic philosophers went in a different direction.  They took up the challenge presented by Pope Leo XIII in Aeterni Patris.  They agreed with this great pope on the importance of St. Thomas Aquinas, and they led a rebirth in Thomistic studies.  Undoubtedly at the time, some questioned the relevance of their attention to medieval philosophy. Yet, as we know, no work could have been more relevant to the crisis of the West than the recovery of the great intellectual genius and spirituality of our Catholic Faith. 

These scholars lived in an intellectual culture which since the Enlightenment had put the God of Christianity on trial, and which had found his church guilty of a long list of falsehoods.  Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, the geniuses of the French Enlightenment, positioned their attack on Christianity as a debate between reason and superstition.  They were astute enough in championing the Age of Reason to avoid directly confronting the sublime genius of Christian reason found in the work of the Angelic Doctor.  Their strategy was effective, if cowardly—simply ignore the work of St. Thomas Aquinas and move on.  But their Age of Reason was only a half-way point.  By relying upon an intelligible universe and a rational Creator, the Age of Reason ended up pointing the Nineteenth Century in one of two directions: once again toward the rational faith of Christianity, or alternatively toward the new anti-faith of atheism. 

Pope Leo XIII saw the choice more clearly than most and he sought to build a new confidence in Christian philosophy.  First, by emphasizing the importance of St. Thomas in Aeterni Patris (1879) and then by showing the relevance of such reasoning in finding solutions to the social crises of the day in his great economic encyclical, Rerum Novarum (1891).  

But by this time the philosophical turn toward atheism was well underway. The new attack on Christianity was no longer presented as a confrontation between reason and superstition.  Instead, Christianity was said to have created something far more sinister—it had created an entirely false consciousness in the mind of the believer. The fathers of modern atheism: Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, each in their own way sought to dismantle what they said was the false consciousness of Christianity.  Whether in the areas of history and economics, freedom and autonomy or psychoanalysis and science, they sought to “wake up” society with a new narrative of reality. The problem for them was not that people have wrong ideas that must be corrected, but that people have an entirely wrong way of looking at reality that must be replaced. That is what they really mean when they describe Christianity as “the opium of the people,” or as “a slave religion” or as a “neurosis.” And it is precisely this false consciousness that prevents society from obtaining economic justice, personal autonomy and individual happiness.

You may judge for yourself the extent to which this thinking has seeped into the ground water of America’s culture. But to the extent that it has, more of our fellow citizens live as though God does not exist.  They live their lives in a closed-in materialist world—a world with no transcendent horizon.  While much here is new, one thing hasn’t changed. Being newly “woke” means feeling no need to climb the heights of Christian philosophy with St. Thomas Aquinas since that philosophy has meaning only within the false consciousness of the Christian.

It seems to me we have once again a problem like that described by Plato in his allegory of the cave.  But this time with a modern twist.  We have people locked in the cave of a materialist world unable or unwilling to turn to the light. They see only the shadows of a secular culture passing in front of them and they call it reality.  And this reality is increasingly one of indifference, isolation and despair.  How then are we to encourage people to escape their cave, to turn and face the light?  Our problem is even more difficult than Plato’s.  In The Republic, Plato is in dialogue with people for whom the soul, the good, the true, the right and the beautiful have meaning.  His readers contemplate an intelligible world with truths that can be discovered by human reason.  Not so today.  Many of those around us do not share these ideas.  Nor do they have confidence in the intelligibility of the world and in the reliability of human reason.  

So, what is to be done? How are we to encourage people to turn away from the shadows of doubt and suspicion and to step out into the light of Christian faith?  St. John Paul II spoke directly to this problem throughout his pontificate.  Listen to what he writes in his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis: “The Church’s fundamental function in every age and particularly in ours is to direct man’s gaze, to point the awareness and experience of the whole of humanity towards the mystery of God, to help all men to be familiar with the profundity of the Redemption taking place in Christ.”  It seems to me that “to direct man’s gaze” to the redemption taking place now in the world is to supplement the reasoning of philosophy and theology with the experience of God acting in the lives of believers.  It is to point to the way in which redemption is happening today in the concrete reality of our lives as Christians.  In other words, what it means to us that Christ is our Redeemer. As St. Peter advises us, “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts (and) Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:15).  

The witness of redemption is the great drama of Christianity in every age.  In this sense we may even say that every age is a Christian age.  This is true because in every age the Lord is alive and acting through the lives of his followers and therefore every age is an age of Christian witness.  Your age will be so because of your witness.  Here the Catholic intellectual finds his or her greatest responsibility—the responsibility of serving divine truth through a life of Christian witness.  St. John Paul II tells us: “Being responsible for that truth also means loving it and seeking the most exact understanding of it, in order to bring it closer to ourselves and all its saving power, its splendor and its profundity.”

Etienne Gilson once said of St. Thomas Aquinas that “Wisdom, to him, was not philosophy; it was not even theology; in its only perfect form, wisdom was Christ.”  If you commit your lives to seeking this Wisdom, as did St. Thomas, then you will be those witnesses that our time requires and that the Lord is calling you to be.

‘This is going to be a long haul’: Ukraine’s Caritas groups help almost 1.5 million people as war rages on

Tetiana Stawnychy, president of Caritas Ukraine, speaks at a press conference in Rome, May 16, 2022. / Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.

Rome, Italy, May 16, 2022 / 12:05 pm (CNA).

The two branches of Caritas in Ukraine have helped almost 1.5 million people since Russia’s full-scale invasion. But the aid they have offered so far is “just the beginning,” according to Tetiana Stawnychy, president of Caritas Ukraine.

Speaking at a live-streamed press conference in Rome on May 16, Stawnychy said: “We’re still responding to these initial lines of people from areas where there’s heavy fighting, and there’s that need for an initial response.”

“In some centers, we’re already settling down, people are settling down, and we’re having to already go a little bit deeper. But it’s only the beginning.”

“And I wanted to point that out, because this is going to be a long haul, a long road, and we hope for the accompaniment to continue.”

Caritas Ukraine, which offers humanitarian assistance through the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, oversees an office in the Russian-occupied city of Mariupol where seven people were killed under Russian tank fire.

The country’s other Caritas organization is Caritas-Spes, the charitable mission of Ukraine’s Latin Rite bishops.

Both groups belong to the international network overseen by Caritas Internationalis, a Vatican-based umbrella body.

Caritas Internationalis said on May 16 that the two organizations in Ukraine had combined to help “nearly 1.5 million people who have been displaced following the escalation of the violence and unrest within the country.”

Caritas groups are also active in neighboring countries, where more than six million Ukrainians have fled since Feb. 24.

In Poland, which has welcomed over three million Ukrainian refugees, Caritas’ diocesan network has delivered over 1.5 million meals to more than 500,000 people.

Father Vyacheslav Grynevych, secretary general of Caritas-Spes Ukraine, speaks at a press conference in Rome, May 16, 2022. Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.
Father Vyacheslav Grynevych, secretary general of Caritas-Spes Ukraine, speaks at a press conference in Rome, May 16, 2022. Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.

Speaking at the press conference, Father Vyacheslav Grynevych, the secretary general of Caritas-Spes, underlined that the war’s effects will be felt for many years to come.

He said: “It’s difficult to imagine the end of the war… The picture of war will remain with us our whole life. But I know that there is medicine — the medicine of the Church — the medicine of love, of hope, and it is our vocation as a Caritas family to share this with people close to us.”

The Pallottine priest, who has used social media to raise awareness of the plight of civilians under bombardment, said that he spoke with Pope Francis for around 30 minutes on May 15.

“It is important to see that people would like to hear you, would like to know your experience,” he said.

He added: “We share also information with the pope that at this moment, our bishops, our priests, they are volunteers of Caritas. We all are Caritas. In our churches, we have magazines of humanitarian aid, and we told that we have good cooperation, we have unity, and the pope said: ‘It is what I want.’”

“Yes, it was very beautiful. It is the face of our Church. And I think that many times Pope Francis uses these words about the ‘Chiesa in uscita,’ the Church goes forward. And I think it’s our experience, our reality now.”

Cardinal Stafford urges a rediscovery of the Liturgy of the Hours

Cardinal James Francis Stafford, Major Penitentiary Emeritus of the Apostolic Penitentiary, in December 2021. / Sandra Miley

Denver, Colo., May 16, 2022 / 11:00 am (CNA).

What does it mean to pray “ceaselessly”?

For Cardinal James Francis Stafford, Major Penitentiary Emeritus of the Apostolic Penitentiary, the answer to that question is the key to an “unspeakable joy.”

“We have to rediscover the fruits of the Holy Spirit. One of those fruits is joy,” Stafford said.  “And that is the joy of being children of God.”

Stafford is set to deliver a free online lecture on the Liturgy of the Hours on May 21. 

The Liturgy of the Hours, also referred to as the Divine Office or breviary, has been a fixture of Catholic prayer for centuries. Clerics and religious pray the full Liturgy of the Hours every day, and Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the liturgy, encouraged the laity to recite it as well. Sacrosanctum Concilium also said pastors “should see to it that the chief hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts.”

Stafford described the Liturgy of the Hours to CNA as “the prayer book of the Church,” saying praying it can help Catholics avoid making “idols” out of daily tasks and routines, and instead making time for God throughout the day. 

How difficult it is, he reflected, to “move from the idols of each hour, and to give worship to the only One that is worthy of us.” Stafford said in his view, a renewed understanding of the meaning of time is necessary, so that “we don't make idols of what we're doing in time.”

“I'm so engaged in the course of a day in my daily activities…not just engaged, but I'm committed to it. I'm kind of overwhelmed by it. They almost become idols for me. In fact they do become idols,” Stafford said. 

“So, the Liturgy of the Hours is a call, for me at least, to give priority to numero uno — to God the Father through Jesus.” 

Stafford noted that in the course of the day, “we are urged sursum corda, to lift up our hearts” to God, repeatedly. He encouraged families, in particular, to learn how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and to do so together. 

“The Liturgy of the Hours is central to the spiritual life of the family...for the already baptized, it engages them in the gift that the Church gives them,” Stafford said. 

You can RSVP for Stafford’s livestreamed lecture on the Liturgy of the Hours, presented by the Lay Division at Denver's St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and set to begin at 10 am Mountain Time on May 21, here

Benedict XVI: 95th birthday wishes from around world ‘made me very happy’

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, pictured in summer 2017. / EWTN/Paul Badde.

Vatican City, May 16, 2022 / 10:40 am (CNA).

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI has said that receiving congratulatory messages from around the world on his 95th birthday made him “very happy.”

The retired German pope received almost 3,000 greetings in 24 languages via the website benedictusXVI.org, CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported.

On the website of the Tagespost Foundation, originally launched by Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus thanked well-wishers.

He said: “On the occasion of my 95th birthday, I received a great number of messages from around the world wishing me a happy birthday. These many expressions of devotion and solidarity have made me very happy. In my gratitude, I feel united with everyone in prayer.“

The messages were mainly written in German, English, Italian, and Polish.

Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the private secretary of the pope emeritus, showed Benedict XVI the messages on a tablet at his residence, the Vatican’s Mater Ecclesiae Monastery.

“The pope emeritus has asked me to express his heartfelt gratitude to everyone who wished him a happy birthday on the website benedictusXVI.org,“ Gänswein said.

“He was filled with great joy and deeply touched by the many warm and affectionate messages that were sent to him there.“

The retired pope’s birthday fell this year on Holy Saturday, as it did when he was born on April 16, 1927, in Marktl am Inn, a small Bavarian town not far from Austria.

Looking back to his birth in his memoir, he wrote: “The fact that the birthday was the last day of Holy Week and the eve of Easter was always noted in the family history, because it was connected with the fact that I was baptized right on the morning of my birthday with the water that had just been consecrated in the ‘Easter Vigil’ celebrated at that time in the morning. To be the first baptized with the new water was considered a significant providential event.”

He continued: “The fact that my life was thus immersed in the Paschal Mystery from the beginning in this way has always filled me with gratitude, for this could only be a sign of blessing.”

“Admittedly — it had not been Easter Sunday, but only Holy Saturday. But the longer I think about it, the more it seems to me to be in keeping with the essence of our human life, which is still waiting for Easter, not yet in full light, but nevertheless confidently moving toward it.”

Among those congratulating Benedict XVI on his 95th birthday was Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt of Görlitz, eastern Germany.

He wrote: “I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you have given to the Church in your writings. I am sure that you have helped many people to find God and to know and love Christ more deeply. May the Lord reward you for this effort one day in His glory!”

BenedictusXVI.org said that the birthday wishes would also be presented to the pope emeritus in a printed and bound volume.

Pope Francis praises courage of 23-year-old lay founder of mission society

A detail from a portrait of Pauline Jaricot (1799-1862). / Photo des Œuvres Pontificales Missionnaires de France via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Vatican City, May 16, 2022 / 09:55 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Monday praised the courage of Pauline Jaricot, the laywoman who founded the Society for the Propagation of the Faith when she was just 23 years old.

Jaricot will be beatified in Lyon, east-central France, on May 22. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, will preside over the ceremony.

The Society for the Propagation of the Faith is the oldest of four Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS), an umbrella group of Catholic missionary societies under the pope’s authority. The first three bodies were granted the title “Pontifical” 100 years ago.

The PMS is holding its general assembly on May 16-23 in Lyon in a year with several significant missionary anniversaries.

“So you are meeting in Lyon because there, 200 years ago, a young woman of 23, Pauline Marie Jaricot, had the courage to found a work to support the missionary activity of the Church,” Pope Francis said in his May 16 message.

“A few years later,” he noted, “she started the ‘Living Rosary,’ an organism devoted to prayer and the sharing of offerings.”

“From a wealthy family, she died in poverty: with her beatification, the Church attests that she knew how to accumulate treasures in heaven,” he said.

Jaricot established the Association of the Propagation of the Faith in 1822 as a way for all Catholics to assist the missions through prayer and small donations.

“Pauline Jaricot liked to say that the Church is missionary by nature and that therefore every baptized person has a mission; indeed, is a mission,” the pope said.

He emphasized that the “evangelizing thrust has never waned in the Church and always remains its fundamental dynamism,” explaining that this was why he gave a “special role” to the new Dicastery for Evangelization in the new apostolic constitution, Praedicate evangelium.

When the constitution comes into full effect on June 5, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization will be merged into the Dicastery for Evangelization, presided over directly by the pope.

Francis pointed out three aspects of the PMS which he said had contributed to the success of the missions over time, together with the action of the Holy Spirit.

“First of all, missionary conversion: the goodness of mission depends on the journey of exit from self, the desire not to center life on self, but on Jesus, on Jesus who came to serve and not to be served,” he said.

“In this sense, Pauline Jaricot saw her existence as a response to God’s compassionate and tender mercy: from her youth she sought identification with her Lord, even through the sufferings she went through, in order to kindle the flame of his love in every man,” he said.

“Therein lies the source of the mission, in the ardor of a faith that is not satisfied and that, through conversion, becomes day by day imitation, in order to channel God’s mercy onto the streets of the world.”

The second aspect, prayer, makes the first aspect possible, the pope said.

“It is not by chance that Pauline placed the Work of the Propagation of the Faith alongside the Living Rosary, as if to reiterate that mission begins with prayer and cannot be accomplished without it,” he said.

“Yes, because it is the Spirit of the Lord that precedes and enables all our good works: the primacy is always of his grace. Otherwise, the mission would become a running in vain.”

The last aspect is charity, Pope Francis said.

“Together with the prayer network, Pauline initiated a collection of offerings on a large scale and in a creative form, accompanying it with information about the missionaries’ lives and activities,” he said.

“The offerings of so many simple people were providential for the history of the missions.”

The year 2022 is also the fourth centenary of the founding of the Congregation de Propaganda Fide, which oversaw the dramatic expansion of the Catholic world following its foundation by Pope Gregory XV. The body is known today as the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

Roe v. Wade: No decision today in Dobbs abortion case

U.S. Capitol viewed through the columns of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. / Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 16, 2022 / 09:46 am (CNA).

The Supreme Court’s first “opinion issuance day” since the leak of a draft opinion suggesting justices will overturn Roe v. Wade came and went Monday without a decision in a closely watched Mississippi abortion case.

The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, remains one of 35 the court still must rule on before its summer recess.

The court announced last week that it would release one or more opinions Monday. It issued two shortly after 10 a.m. EDT: Patel v. Garland, an immigration case, and Federal Election Commission v. Ted Cruz for Senate, which concerns a federal campaign finance law. 

While the court traditionally waits to issue decisions in bigger, more controversial cases like Dobbs until the end of the court’s term in late June or early July, the leak of the draft opinion, written by Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., threw into question that expectation.

In the wake of the bombshell leak, first published by Politico on May 2, abortion activists protested outside of justices’ private homes and attacked Catholic churches and pro-life pregnancy centers. At the same time, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. stressed that the “work of the Court will not be affected in any way” by the leaked draft, which the Supreme Court confirmed is authentic. 

While the draft opinion signals that the court will overturn Roe v. Wade, and send the issue of abortion back to the states, the Supreme Court urged that the document “does not represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member on the issues in the case.”

Pro-life legal experts previously outlined multiple possibilities regarding the timing of the Supreme Court’s decision in the case to CNA.

The next opinion issuance day has not yet been scheduled on the Supreme Court’s calendar.