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Canadian police ask for public’s help in identifying man who set fire at cathedral 

Photos of the man who allegedly set a fire at St. Mary's Cathedral and charged at two staff members on May 19, 2023. / Calgary Police Department

Boston, Mass., May 26, 2023 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

Local police in Canada are asking for the public’s assistance in identifying a man who allegedly set a fire and assaulted two men at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Calgary, located in the western province of Alberta.

Police responded early in the morning to reports of a “deliberately set fire” at the cathedral on May 19, the Calgary Police Department said in a May 25 statement.

Two staff members at the cathedral heard a “commotion” outside and opened the back door to see what it was, the statement said. When they opened the door, a man “aggressively charged at them,” according to police. 

The two staff members, both men, closed the doors before the man could reach them, police said. The man continued to attempt to enter the church, the statement said. 

Law enforcement was called and the Calgary Fire Department put out the fire when it arrived.

According to police, a description of the man says he is between 35 and 45 years old and bald. The man is about 6 feet tall and 180 pounds, police said. The police department’s Hate Crime Prevention Team is investigating for “hate motivation,” police said.

The cathedral referred CNA to the Diocese of Calgary for comment.

Cristina Marcil, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Calgary told CNA Friday that the diocese is aware of the incident and is cooperating with law enforcement to support the investigation.

Tips can be submitted to police by calling 403-266-1234. Anonymous tips can be submitted by calling 1-800-222-8477 and going online at

Morticians mystified by Sister Wilhelmina’s body: ‘Something special going on there’

A young man touches a religious statue to the body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, OSB, on May 18, 2023, at the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles monastery in Gower, Missouri. / Used with permission.

CNA Newsroom, May 26, 2023 / 13:45 pm (CNA).

Expert morticians are scratching their heads at the recently exhumed body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, a Benedictine nun who died in 2019 and now appears to be in an unexpected state of preservation.

The reactions come a week after the abbess and sisters of the community that she founded, the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, unearthed the 95-year-old African American religious sister’s simple wooden coffin on May 18 from the cemetery on the monastery grounds in rural Gower, Missouri, to relocate her remains to a final resting place inside their chapel.

The local ordinary, Bishop Vann Johnston of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, visited the monastery Monday to see Sister Wilhelmina’s remains. Johnston issued a statement the same day, saying that a “thorough investigation” was needed to answer “important questions” raised by the state of her body.

Jack Klein, owner of Hixson-Klein Funeral Home in Gower, Missouri, who said he was present at Sister Wilhelmina’s burial and issued her death certificate, confirmed for CNA that the religious sister’s body was not embalmed and that the wood coffin was not placed into any outer burial container. 

Klein said he “can’t understand” how Sister Wilhelmina’s un-embalmed body is in the state it’s currently in, four years after her burial.

David Hess, program coordinator and associate professor in the mortuary science department at Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake City, expressed similar surprise.

“If the body was not embalmed, and it was still intact after four years, that one kind of throws me,” he told CNA. “I would have expected the body to be decomposed, maybe not all the way down to bone, but at least severely decomposed.” 

Sister Wilhelmina’s body, which has been on display in the open air for pilgrims to visit, is reported to have no foul odor in recent days, as would be the case, morticians say, with a body that has undergone decomposition for four years.

One pilgrim, Peggy Tynan of Denver, even told CNA that while praying over Sister Wilhelmina’s body on May 24, she smelt a “sweet and flowery aroma,” which was so powerful she could taste it. A journalist from EWTN’s ACI Group who visited the body last weekend also noticed no odor of decomposition.

“It’s kind of strange, if the body was not embalmed, that there would be no odor,” Hess said.

A pilgrim venerates the apparently incorrupt body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, OSB, on May 20, 2023. Lancaster was recently exhumed in Gower, Missouri. Credit: Kelsey Wicks/CNA
A pilgrim venerates the apparently incorrupt body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, OSB, on May 20, 2023. Lancaster was recently exhumed in Gower, Missouri. Credit: Kelsey Wicks/CNA

There has been no official determination that Sister Wilhelmina’s remains are incorrupt, nor is there any cause underway for her canonization, a formal process in the Catholic Church that can take many years. Her fellow sisters plan to hold a procession on Monday on the monastery grounds and then place Sister Wilhelmina’s body under a glass case to accommodate the many pilgrims coming to the property.

An open question is if and how the foundress’ remains will be scientifically analyzed. A diocesan spokeswoman, Ashlie Hand, told CNA on Wednesday that the diocese isn’t aware of any specific Church guidelines for how to conduct such an investigation.

Bishop Johnston is "definitely working on it and trying to find a careful process, a careful approach, that’s well thought through,” she said.

Hand said as many as 1,000 pilgrims reportedly visited the monastery on Wednesday. The diocese has been advising the sisters about how best to handle the influx of visitors, she said.

“The condition of the remains of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster has understandably generated widespread interest and raised important questions. At the same time, it is important to protect the integrity of the mortal remains of Sister Wilhelmina to allow for a thorough investigation,” Johnston said in his statement.

“I invite all the faithful to continue praying during this time of investigation for God’s will in the lives of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles; for all women religious; and all the baptized in our common vocation to holiness, with hope and trust in the Lord.”

No explanation yet

According to the sisters, at some point after the burial Sister Wilhelmina’s coffin sustained a crack down the middle that let in moisture and dirt. Her body was discovered to be covered in what the sisters described as a layer of mold after being exhumed.

CNA asked Hess and another expert about the possibility that the body might have been preserved through a chemical process called “grave wax.”

“Grave wax” is an uncommonly seen but natural phenomenon that encases a corpse or parts of a body in a shell of soap-like fatty tissue, called adipocere, which slows or stops the normal decomposition process, which can preserve the human remains for many years — even centuries.

Two so-called “soap mummies” — dubbed “Soap Lady” and “Soap Man” — were exhumed in 1875 during digging for the foundation of a train depot in downtown Philadelphia decades after they died.

“This unusual preservation occurred because water seeped into the casket and brought alkaline soil with it, turning the fats in his body to soap through a type of hydrolysis known as saponification,” according to the Smithsonian Institution, which has kept the man’s remains in climate-controlled storage in the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The woman’s remains are on exhibit in Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum.

Hess said that grave wax typically only materializes in different parts of the body, but he said it could cover the entire body. He added that grave wax will break down over time.

Hess said that he “highly” doubts that grave wax could have preserved Sister Wilhelmina’s body to appear the way it currently does and without any foul odor, “unless she was in a highly alkaline environment.”

Mortician Barry Lease, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science, told CNA that a soil analysis testing the pH, or point hydrogen, of the environment, would reveal whether Sister Wilhelmina’s former burial grounds are highly alkaline. According to the Mütter Museum, “Adipocere formation is not common, but it may form in alkaline, warm, airless environments, such as the one in which the Soap Lady was buried.”

Lease said that it’s difficult to project where the body would be in the decomposition process if it was covered in adipocere but added that the body’s decomposition “should be further than that,” referring to a photo of the body taken by CNA on May 20.

“You shouldn’t be recognizing her with just a little bit of mold on her face,” Lease said.

“An unembalmed body in the ground for four years should have some odor coming off of it that would be noticeable,” he added.

“If you’re telling me that this woman went into the ground unembalmed in a wooden box with no outer container in the ground and it was not sub-zero up in Alaska, I’m telling you, I’m going to start a devotion to this sister, because something special is going on there,” Lease, a practicing Catholic, told CNA.

Editor's note: This story was updated on May 28 after diocesan spokesman said she was mistaken when she told CNA that Bishop Vann Johnston had "been in touch with someone in Rome" about the condition of Sister Wilhelmina's body.

Cordileone on Serra statue case: Prosecutor signaled attacks against Catholics go unpunished

A statue of St. Junipero Serra, which was defaced and torn down by protesters Oct. 12, 2020, at Mission San Rafael Arcangel in San Rafael, California. Courtesy photo.

Denver, Colo., May 26, 2023 / 13:15 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco said Thursday that prosecutors’ decision to reduce the charge against activists who destroyed a parish’s statue of a saint from felony to misdemeanor sends the signal that attacks against the Catholic Church can continue with impunity.

“It is clear to me that this course of action would not have been taken with anyone else. In fact, if the same kind of offense had been committed against another religious congregation or group, it would almost certainly have been prosecuted as a hate crime,” Cordileone said.

Cordileone’s statement follows a decision by the the Marin County District Attorney’s Office to reduce charges against five protesters who, on Oct. 12, 2020, defaced and tore down the statue of St. Junipero Serra on the grounds of Mission San Rafael Arcángel, the present-day home of St. Rafael Church in San Rafael, California.

“There have been more than 100 attacks on Catholic Church property across the nation, including in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, one of which was someone firing a bullet into our cathedral. Anti-Catholicism has a long and ugly history in this country.”

“Now, with this decision, the Marin County district attorney has given the signal that attacks on Catholic houses of worship and sacred objects may continue without serious legal consequence,” the archbishop said.

Before the activists attacked the statue, members of the Coast Miwok tribe held a planned hourlong protest to mark Indigenous People’s Day. Numerous statues of the saint were vandalized or destroyed in 2020, most of them in California, amid civil unrest in the wake of the Minneapolis murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer.

Dean Hoaglin, chair of the Coast Miwok Tribal Council of Marin, who was not charged in the vandalism, characterized the statue as “a continued reminder of the impact of colonization and genocide of our people,” Fox2 News reported at the time the statue was destroyed. 

A reduction in charges

In November 2020 the Marin County District Attorney’s Office filed felony vandalism charges against the five defendants, who now range in age from 25 to 40. 

On May 25, the district attorney’s office announced the case has been “resolved through an innovative restorative justice solution.” The felony charges were reduced to misdemeanors. 

The defendants must pay monetary restitution to the church to repair or replace the statues, complete 50 hours of volunteer work, apologize in writing, and participate in a community forum with “a credible historian who will give stakeholders a chance to have a meaningful dialogue about the issue.” They must also stay off church property.

“It is the district attorney’s office’s goal to achieve a fair result on all cases, and I strongly believe justice was served on this one,” District Attorney Lori E. Frugoli said Thursday. 

“While this issue has raised emotions because of the sensitivities around religion, community boundaries, and historic inequities, the fact is that a resolution through accountability has been reached through restorative justice and that is a victory for this community.”

A defense of St. Junipero Serra

Cordileone, in a May 24 letter to Frugoli’s office, said he has tried to “show goodwill and a desire to pursue a peaceful but honest resolution of this ugly affair.”

“I readily acknowledge, and have done so numerous times, that horrible atrocities have been perpetrated against the indigenous people of California,” he said. “While an honest reading of the historical record would clear Junipero Serra of perpetrating such atrocities — indeed, he gave his life to defending the native people of our land — the actual historical record is beside the point.”

Critics of Junipero Serra claim that he and his missions were responsible for a host of atrocities against native peoples. The claim has drawn strong objections from Catholics who say this is inaccurate and misrepresents Serra.

“Junípero Serra spent his life caring for and defending the indigenous people of California to the point of heroic virtue. Indian and Spaniard alike mourned when he died,” Cordileone said in September 2021 after the California governor approved the removal of a Serra statue from state capitol grounds. “We would do well to imitate his virtues. We ignore history to our peril.”

Pope Francis canonized Junipero Serra during his 2015 visit to the U.S. He said the saint “sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it.”

Amid the civil unrest of 2020 in which vandals tore down many statues, there was a massive four-alarm fire at the church at Mission San Gabriel near Los Angeles, which was founded by St. Junipero Serra in 1771. The alleged arsonist, whose trial is still pending, was known at the mission and had a history of conflicts with mission staff.

Do you understand the significance of this, and how it makes us feel?’ 

Cordileone strongly criticized the district attorney’s justification for the reduced misdemeanor charges on the grounds that the perpetrators had shown “active participation” in a “restorative justice process.”

“This point is, a felony crime was committed: The law does not allow people to trespass onto private property and destroy it, all the more so when the private property is a house of worship and the property being destroyed has sacred value to the members of the congregation,” the archbishop said.

Cordileone said he wanted a just punishment for the crime but did not want the defendants to go to prison. 

“I have asked that the vandals publicly repudiate their crime and acknowledge the harm they have inflicted on us. Acknowledging wrongdoing is the first step in restorative justice. A simple ‘I’m sorry’ falls pitifully short of reparation for the harm that was done,” he said.

He lamented that San Rafael Police Department officers stood by and watched the vandals commit the crime when the parish had an agreement with the department that the police would intervene if the protesters trespassed onto parish property. Cordileone wondered whether the officers stood by based on orders from their superiors.

“Do you understand the significance of this, and how it makes us feel?” Cordileone asked the district attorney. “Who gave the order to the police officers not to do their sworn duty, for which they put their lives on the line every day? Why has there been no investigation? Why has the person responsible for this injustice not been held accountable?”

Though the district attorney’s office indicated that the resolution to the case followed a “thorough case review” by prosecutors and “a long discussion” among church and community members, Cordileone’s letter indicated the archdiocese was not part of this discussion.

“The archdiocese was shut out of the conversation, and the mediator was treating the perpetrators as if they were the victims,” the archbishop said. He called this “a direct insult to the victims of this crime and only rubs the salt more deeply into our wounds.”

The archbishop cited Americans’ “growing mistrust” in government institutions.

“They perceive, and for good reason, that government officials do not have their best interests at heart but instead make decisions based on what is politically advantageous to them. I regret that when the Marin County District Attorney’s Office had the opportunity to rebuild trust, you instead further undermined it.”

“We will make our voices heard,” said Cordileone, who held an exorcism and offered prayers after the parish’s Junipero Serra statue was torn down.

History of the Mission San Rafael

The San Rafael parish website includes both English and Spanish sections. Its Spanish-speaking community includes people from Mexican, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran backgrounds. Hispanics make up about half of its parishioners. 

Though Serra himself did not found Mission San Rafael, it owes its existence to Serra’s legacy, as he founded the first nine missions in what would become California. The mission was founded in December 1817. 

According to the parish, the mission was named for the angel of healing and was founded as a hospital for neophyte Native American Christians. It also became an active farm and ranch worked by the Miwok Indians and helped convert 1,873 Native Americans. It served as a mission for only 17 years when the newly independent Mexican government decided to end the mission system and sell the lands to pro-independence Mexican citizens.

The mission fell into ruins. A new parish church was built near the old chapel ruins in 1861 and a replica of the mission chapel was built in 1949.

Unsolved murder of Cardinal Posadas is ‘an open wound,’ Mexican bishops say

Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo. / Credit: Archdiocese of Guadalajara

ACI Prensa Staff, May 26, 2023 / 12:15 pm (CNA).

On the 30th anniversary of the murder of Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo, the Mexican Bishops’ Conference recalled the “open wound” left by the unsolved crime.

Posadas was archbishop of Guadalajara from 1987–1993.

In a May 24 statement, the Mexican bishops recalled that the cardinal “was the victim of an act of unjustifiable violence that left an open wound in our hearts and in the history of our country.”

Posadas was shot to death on May 24, 1993, in the parking lot of the Guadalajara International Airport in the Mexican state of Jalisco. While some posit that he was killed in the crossfire during a confrontation between drug cartels, the authorities have not resolved the case.

However, Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, who succeeded Posadas as the archbishop of Guadalajara in 1994, has a different version of the story.

In a 2016 Facebook video, Sandoval, then archbishop emeritus, declared the murder was “a crime by the state, perpetrated by the Federal Judicial Police, that is, by the PGR police.”

Sandoval even named Rodolfo León Aragón, then director of the PGR, as the person in charge of the murder, who in turn most probably got his orders from then-Attorney General Jorge Carpizo, whose death in 2012 was “somewhat suspicious” and ended the investigation.

The Attorney General’s Office (PGR) at the time operated under the executive branch of the government and was in charge of investigating federal crimes. In 2018, it was replaced by what is now the Attorney General’s Office of the Republic, which is completely independent of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

In the 2016 video, Sandoval indicated that a possible motive for the killing was Posadas’ allegations of a link between the authorities and organized crime, as well as his work in favor of the constitutional reforms of 1992, which recognized the legal personality of the Catholic Church in Mexico.

In their May 24 statement, the bishops of Mexico remembered Posadas as “a man of unwavering faith and a courageous voice who stood up for Christian values and tirelessly fought for justice and peace in Mexico.”

“We remember his life and sacrifice with gratitude and admiration,” the bishops said. They recognized that “his commitment to those most in need inspires us to follow his example of love, service, and forgiveness.”

At the end of their message, the Mexican bishops encouraged that the “legacy” of Posadas “would be a guide for our lives and a constant call for unity and solidarity among all Mexicans.”

The Archdiocese of Guadalajara said on its Facebook page that the faithful of this city “continue to pray for his eternal rest” and also “that [Posadas’] murder be cleared up and that we may soon obtain justice and forgiveness.”

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

Ciborium stolen and Eucharist desecrated in chapel in Nicaragua

A tabernacle was desecrated May 24, 2023, at St. Ann Parish in the town of Nindirí in Nicaragua. / Credit: Facebook of the Chapel of Our Lady of Fatima

ACI Prensa Staff, May 26, 2023 / 11:00 am (CNA).

During the early hours of May 24, unidentified persons desecrated the chapel of Our Lady of Fatima in the small settlement of Campuzano, situated roughly halfway between Managua and Masaya in Nicaragua.

In a statement, St. Ann Parish, located in the town of Nindirí to which the desecrated chapel belongs, reported that “the sacrilegious act consisted of forcing open the secured door and removing the tabernacle from the chapel, forcing open the tabernacle to steal the ciborium, outraging the Consecrated Species.”

The Hosts, according to the parish, “were abandoned in a property near the chapel.”

The parish held an act of reparation yesterday afternoon followed by the celebration of Holy Mass.

On the chapel’s Facebook page, along with the photos of the destruction, it reads: “They can desecrate our churches, break our images, but our faith always remains in Jesus Christ who made heaven and earth. All hail to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.”

This desecration adds to the more than 500 attacks that the Catholic Church has suffered in the last five years under the dictatorship of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, which have been compiled by the lawyer and researcher Martha Patricia Molina.

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

Pope Francis appoints ‘bishop of the peripheries’ as successor in Buenos Aires

Bishop Jorge Ignacio García Cuerva succeeds Cardinal Mario Poli as archbishop of Buenos Aires. / YouTube/Diócesis Río Gallegos - Argentina

Vatican City, May 26, 2023 / 10:05 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Friday accepted the resignation of Cardinal Mario Aurelio Poli as the archbishop of Buenos Aires and appointed his successor.

Poli, who turned 75 in November, has led the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Buenos Aires since April 2013. He was appointed just two weeks after the election of then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to the papacy.

Diocesan bishops are required to submit a letter of resignation to the pope on their 75th birthday.

Poli’s successor will be 55-year-old Bishop Jorge Ignacio García Cuerva of Río Gallegos, a diocese in Santa Cruz Province in the southern part of Argentina.

García Cuerva, who has led the Diocese of Río Gallegos since the beginning of 2019, has a reputation for being a “bishop of the peripheries,” largely for his time spent serving in Argentina’s prisons and poorest neighborhoods.

As a priest, García Cuerva was a prison chaplain in the province of Buenos Aires and both the diocesan and regional delegates for prison ministry. He has also written about the conditions in prisons in Argentina and the problem of overcrowding.

He was also a member of the Argentinian bishops’ commission on drug dependence and vice president of the charity Cáritas San Isidro. 

García Cuerva has a civil law degree and a licentiate in canon law.

In 2021, Pope Francis named García Cuerva a member of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Bishops. “I want to contribute to the model of bishop that Francis asks of us: a poor bishop for the poor,” he told the Argentine Catholic Information Agency at the time.

The archbishop-elect was born in Río Gallegos but has lived in several cities in Argentina.

He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of San Isidro in 1997. Just over 20 years later, in 2017, he was named an auxiliary bishop of Lomas de Zamora.

The appointment of a priest from the slums to be an auxiliary bishop was considered unprecedented at the time.

Media reports said García Cuerva was inspired by the legacy of Father Carlos Mugica, an Argentine “slum priest” and member of the Movement of Priests for the Third World, who was assassinated by the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance in 1974.

Do your tax dollars pay for abortion? It depends on where you live

Planned Parenthood hosts a rally for funding abortion for Medicaid recipients on the state capitol's steps in January. / YouTube/Uprise RI

Washington D.C., May 26, 2023 / 09:10 am (CNA).

Last Thursday Rhode Island Gov. Daniel McKee signed a bill extending abortion coverage to Medicaid and health insurance plans used by state workers.

Rhode Island joins 16 other states funding abortion through Medicaid, despite a federal policy known as the Hyde Amendment prohibiting the use of tax dollars to pay for abortion.

Because Medicaid is jointly funded by the state and federal government, tax dollar funding for abortion through Medicaid is severely restricted in most states.

So, how can Rhode Island and these 16 other states get away with having their taxpayers subsidize abortion?

Here’s what you need to know.

What is the Hyde Amendment? 

First passed in 1976, the Hyde Amendment — named for Illinois Rep. Henry Hyde, who introduced it — is a budget policy that restricts federal tax dollars from being used for abortions.

For years the amendment enjoyed bipartisan support, with Democratic senators such as Joe Biden advocating its usage in the Senate.

Because the amendment has never been made permanent law, Congress chooses whether to include Hyde each year when passing the annual budget package.

This makes Hyde particularly vulnerable to Democratic efforts in Congress and the White House to simply drop it out of the budget. Despite this Hyde has successfully passed and been attached to every annual federal budget package since 1976.

As at least half of Medicaid funding comes from the federal government, according to a Medicaid overview recently published by the Congressional Research Service; most states do not cover abortion in their Medicaid plans.

So, how can states use tax dollars to pay for abortion? 

Robert Destro, former assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, told CNA that “the short answer is that Hyde does not govern what states do with their own money.” 

According to Destro, it’s essentially a question of state vs. federal tax dollars. 

Since 1976 Hyde restrictions have kept federal tax dollars from being used to pay for abortions.

Hyde does not, however, restrict states’ ability to use state tax dollars to pay for abortion. So, while federal funding cannot be used for abortion, state funding can.

Rhode Island’s new bill amended state law to include abortion in its Medicaid provisions. The state claims it will only use state funds to pay for abortion, thus not violating the Hyde Amendment.

“California and New York have been doing this for a long time,” Destro explained, adding that “what Rhode Island is doing is nothing new.” 

Though it may appear that states are using a legal loophole to work around Hyde, Michael New, senior associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, told CNA that “there is no loophole.”

Normally, the federal government reimburses states for a percentage of their Medicaid expenditures at a rate called the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage.

States that want to pay for abortions through their Medicaid program could do so out of their own coffers and simply just not be reimbursed by the federal government.

While clarifying that “the federal government does not provide reimbursements or matching funds for elective abortions paid for by state Medicaid programs,” New explained that “states have always been free to use their own tax dollars to cover abortions through their own respective Medicaid programs.” 

According to a list compiled by the abortion research organization the Guttmacher Institute in March, other states covering abortion in their Medicaid plans are California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Minnesota, Illinois, New York, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, New Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii.

This means that if you live in any of these states your tax dollars are being used to pay for abortion.

Though New said that there has been some litigation in some states to challenge the constitutionality or legality of covering abortion in a state Medicaid program, he is not aware of any current efforts challenging the practice.

“In 2017 Gov. Bruce Rauner of Illinois signed legislation requiring the state Medicaid program to cover elective abortion. The Thomas More Society, a pro-life nonprofit, subsequently sued, arguing that legislation failed to go through the proper budget process. The lawsuit was unsuccessful,” New said. 

Impact of including abortion in Medicaid

Proponents of Medicaid funding for abortion have argued that it is a necessary step to ensure abortion access for impoverished communities.

Rhode Island’s new law claims that “restrictions on abortion coverage have a disproportionate impact on low-income residents, immigrants, people of color, and young people who are already disadvantaged in their access to the resources, information, and services necessary to prevent an unintended pregnancy or to carry a healthy pregnancy to term.”

The bill concludes that “the purpose of this legislation is to promote equity in access to reproductive health care.”

Yet, pro-lifers like Dr. Ingrid Skop, an OB-GYN and vice president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, argue that Medicaid funding for abortion amounts to “eugenic action.”

“Rather than provide the emotional, relationship, material, and financial support that women in crisis need to allow them to give birth to their children,” Skop said, “apparently, many states would prefer to rid themselves of the children of impoverished women before birth.” 

Illinois clergy sex abuse report: How bishops protected accused priests

Father Frederick Lenczycki (left) admitted to abusing more than 30 children in three states; Bishop Joseph Imesch of the Diocese of Joliet had recommended him for a transfer without disclosing allegations against the priest. / Credit: Illinois Department of Corrections; Diocese of Joliet

Washington D.C., May 26, 2023 / 07:50 am (CNA).

The Illinois attorney general’s “Report on Catholic Clergy Child Sex Abuse in Illinois,” released Tuesday, found nearly 2,000 substantiated claims of child sex abuse from 541 Catholic clerics over 70 years and alleged numerous examples of intentional cover-ups and inadequate responses from bishops. 

“Decades of Catholic leadership decisions and policies have allowed known child sex abusers to hide, often in plain sight,” Attorney General Kwame Raoul said in a statement. 

The report showed examples of bishops and archbishops transferring accused child abusers to other parishes or other dioceses while failing to make the public aware of allegations against them. 

It also shows examples of accused priests being disciplined and put back into ministry only to be accused of repeating their actions elsewhere. 

What follows are just a few examples of the many such cases revealed in the report.

A bishop who transferred abusers

Bishop Joseph Imesch of the Diocese of Joliet is named in the report for having “engaged in a pattern of keeping cleric abusers in circulation in the diocese without restriction.” 

Imesch, who served as bishop of Joliet from 1979 to 2006, testified in 2005 that he kept priests in ministry even though he knew they had credible allegations made against them. He died in 2015 at the age of 84.

Father Frederick Lenczycki is one of the priests Imesch is accused of covering for. Ordained in 1972, Lenczycki was accused of molesting at least nine altar boys in the 1980s.

The priest then sent letters to Imesch, in which he admitted to “sexually act[ing] out” and “abuse [of] people.” 

The bishop sent him to a Church-run treatment facility in California and then recommended him for an assignment in San Francisco without disclosing the sex abuse. He then moved to a parish in Missouri.

Lenczycki eventually admitted to abusing 30 children in all three states. He was not removed from ministry until 2002. In 2004 he pleaded guilty to sexually abusing three children in Illinois, and in 2019 he pleaded guilty to two counts of sodomy on children in Missouri. 

An abusive priest protected by three bishops

In the Diocese of Belleville, Father Raymond Kownacki was transferred between dioceses after he was accused of sexually abusing minors and forcing a girl to have an abortion. 

The girl, named Gina, met the priest when she was 16 years old and alleges that he raped her and then convinced her parents to let her live with him as a housekeeper. During this time, the report states she became pregnant and he forced her to have an abortion against her wishes. The report also says he admitted to her that he abused other minors.

The report notes that Gina informed Bishop Albert Zuroweste of the abuse in 1973 but that the bishop transferred Kownacki to another parish in April of the same year. The bishop praised the priest’s “knowledge, piety, prudence, experience, and general character” while recommending him for the transfer. 

After Kownacki faced credible accusations at his new parish, the newly ordained Bishop John Wurm transferred him to yet another parish, where he was accused of abusing more children. 

In August 1984, Kownacki was placed on sick leave after facing allegations of sexually abusing minors. Less than a year later, the newly ordained Bishop James Keleher transferred him to a new parish where he was again accused of sexually abusing minors. This was the third bishop to transfer him after sexual abuse allegations. He was eventually removed from ministry in 1995 under Bishop Wilton Gregory’s leadership but was never convicted of any crimes.

Eight parish assignments in 15 years

Another example in the Diocese of Springfield shows that one priest, Father Walter Weerts, had eight parish assignments in fewer than 15 years under the leadership of Bishop William O’Connor. 

In 1962, during his second assignment, the parents of a young boy alleged the priest had wrestled with their son nude. Eight other families made similar allegations about the priest’s interactions with their children by the end of the following week. The bishop did not take any action and the priest allegedly abused at least 22 boys. 

Chicago’s ‘treat and return to ministry’ policy

The report also scrutinized the Archdiocese of Chicago’s official policy on handling these cases from 1960 until 1992. The policy, known as the therapeutic model, required priests to undergo psychiatric evaluation and treatment if necessary. Then, it would return them to ministry if the diocese believed they had been properly treated. 

According to the report, at least 32 priests were accused of sexually abusing children during this period. Despite the treatment efforts, at least 19 of them were accused of sexually abusing more children afterward. This is a recidivism rate of nearly 60%. 

These are only a few of the many accounts provided in the report. 

‘All too common’ 

Melanie Sakoda, survivor support coordinator at Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) told CNA that the abuse and cover-ups described in the report are “all too familiar” and “all too common.” 

“They’re going all around to different parts of the country,” Sakoda said. “That’s what’s disturbing.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops unanimously approved the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002, which adopted a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse and ordered systematic changes. 

Dioceses named in the attorney general’s report released statements to express sadness, apologize for past actions, and highlight reforms that have taken place in recent years.

“The changes our diocese enacted have proven to be effective as we are not aware of a single incident of sexual abuse of a minor by clergy alleged to have occurred in this diocese in nearly 20 years,” Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield said in a statement. 

Similarly, Bishop Ronal Hicks of Joliet said: “Currently, no cleric with a substantiated allegation against him is in active ministry in our diocese.”

Sakoda told CNA that there needs to be “personal consequences” for bishops who cover up sex abuse and some “should be criminally prosecuted.” At this stage, she said she believes the problem is “still persisting.” 

“People who are in the pews need to be aware of this,” Sakoda added. 

Sakoda encouraged people who are victims of abuse or know of abuse to “go straight to law enforcement.” She said reports should go to the attorney general’s office, the district attorney, or the police. 

Some victims are afraid to report sexual abuse, but “there are people who will believe you and support you,” she said.

“If you’re a survivor and haven’t come forward, don’t suffer alone and in silence,” Sakoda said. 

Pope Francis has a fever, Vatican spokesman confirms

Pope Francis at the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Square on May 24, 2023. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, May 26, 2023 / 07:07 am (CNA).

Pope Francis canceled meetings on Friday morning due to a fever, a Vatican spokesman confirmed.

Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office, told CNA that “due to a feverish condition, Pope Francis did not receive [anyone] in audience this morning.”

Later in the day, journalists spoke to Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's Secretary of State, who spoke briefly about the pope's condition.

"The pope was tired. He had a very, very busy day yesterday," Parolin said, according to the French-language media outlet La Presse. "They were telling me last night that he met with a lot of people, and in the context of this meeting with Scholas Occurrentes, he wanted to greet them all, and probably at some point the stamina fails."

As of Friday afternoon, the pope does not have any public appointments scheduled for May 27, according to the Vatican calendar. He is currently scheduled to say Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the solemnity of Pentecost on May 28, followed by the recitation of the Regina Caeli antiphon.

Pope Francis, 86, was hospitalized for four days at the end of March for a lung infection.

During his return flight from a three-day trip to Budapest, Hungary, a month later the pope said his “body responded well to the treatment. Thank God.”

This week Pope Francis had both public and closed-door meetings with Italian bishops for their 77th general assembly. He also led his weekly Wednesday morning audience with the public.

On Thursday, May 25, Francis met with a group of religious sisters, with bishops and lay delegates of the synodal journey in Italy, and with participants in a congress hosted by Scholas Occurentes.

Also on May 25, Pope Francis gave an exclusive interview in Spanish to Telemundo News.

St. Philip Neri, the ‘Apostle of Rome,’ is an example of Christian charity and zeal

St. Philip Neri in levitation, fresco by unknown (1600 ca.) from Vallicella rooms of the saint, Chiesa Nuova, Rome. / Credit: Francesco Cantone/Shutterstock

Rome, Italy, May 26, 2023 / 01:00 am (CNA).

On the via Appia Antica, beyond the Aurelian walls, sits the ancient basilica of San Sebastiano fuori le Mura. It is one of the most important churches in Rome, not only because it is one of the seven pilgrimage churches of Rome, but also because it is where the remains of Sts. Peter and Paul were taken (it was known as “Basilica Apostolorum” before it was dedicated to St. Sebastian) during the Christian persecution. 

It is also here, deep in the catacombs that lie beneath the extant basilica, where St. Philip Neri had his spiritual epiphany on the eve of Pentecost in 1544. It is here where the beloved Second Apostle of Rome committed himself to a life of charity.

Early life, arrival in Rome, and the catacombs

Born in 1515 to a wealthy Florentine family, the young Filippo Neri was brought up with a classical education by the Dominicans of the Monastery of San Marco. While displaying great promise, intelligence, and business acumen he ultimately rejected his familial inheritance to follow a spiritual vocation of service. After a brief sojourn in San Germano, he arrived in Rome in 1534, which unknown to him at the time would be his final destination.

Upon his arrival, he witnessed an ecclesiastical climate that was characterized by corruption, vice, and decadence. However, it was in the Catacombs of San Sebastiano (St. Sebastian) where Neri spent hours in quiet contemplation and intense prayer. 

There was perhaps no better place. After all, the silence of the catacombs (the burial site of Christians who died for their faith, among them once the remains of Sts. Peter and Paul, as well as St. Sebastian) provided a stark contrast to the squalor and vice of the streets above.

The catacombs, in a sense, were representative of the evolution of the Church’s life in Rome — persecution and dominance, faith and apostasy, splendor and squalor. Neri’s spiritual exercises stood at the intersection between the ancient and the old — a return to the earliest traditions of the paleo-Christian age, for it was this martyr’s unwavering faith, persistence, and death that paved the way for a Christian Rome.

It is fitting, then, that his spiritual epiphany happened there at Pentecost. Asking God for the gift of the Holy Spirit, it came down as a great ball of fire, entering through his mouth and settling into his heart (this experience was so intense it caused an enlarged heart and lifelong palpitations when engaging in his spiritual exercises). It is (just as it was for the Lord’s disciples in the upper room) representative of spiritual zeal — the burning fire of God’s love that animated both the apostles and, later, Neri, to go out and evangelize.

The founding of the Archconfraternity of the Most Holy Trinity

In 1540, Neri, while he was still a layman — it wasn’t until 1551, at the age of 36, that he was ordained a priest — established the Confraternita della Santissima Trinità (the Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity), given canonical status by Pope Paul III.

It was in the jubilee of 1550 that Neri invoked what is now an archconfraternity to care for the many pilgrims who traveled from afar, especially those who were the most needy. 

The archconfraternity is still active today in the Church of Santissima Trinita dei Pellegrini (built in 1614 over the site of an older church dedicated to St. Benedict), a personal parish of the Fraternity of St. Peter (an Ecclesia Dei community dedicated to the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass). Through their numerous activities for Rome’s poor, they continue to embody Neri’s example by providing a living example of faith and charity.

A model of contemporary Christian life

This year St. Philip Neri’s feast day (May 26) falls on the Friday before Pentecost. He holds a special place in the city of Rome’s heritage and made an indelible mark upon the spiritual life of the city and the universal Church through his founding of the Congregation of Oratorians, his popularization of the 40-hour devotion, and the Roman pilgrimage of the Seven Churches. Underscoring all of his deeds was love and charity.

In 2015, the Church celebrated the fifth centenary of Neri’s birth. On this occasion Pope Francis remarked: “St. Philip Neri also remains a luminous model of the Church’s ongoing mission in the world. The perspective of his approach to neighbor in witnessing to all to the love and mercy of the Lord can serve as a valuable example to bishops, priests, consecrated people, and lay faithful.”