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Citing abortion views, DC restaurant boots pro-life group

null / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 13, 2022 / 14:24 pm (CNA).

Saying it “stands firmly” in support of legalized abortion, a Washington, D.C. restaurant has canceled a pro-life group’s booking for its annual “March for Life Breakfast.”

The group, Democrats for Life of America, scheduled the event at the K Street location of Busboys and Poets, a restaurant-bookstore chain, to coincide with the 49th annual March for Life on Jan. 21.

“When our team learned the fundraising nature of the event in question, the decision was made to cancel it and refund all deposits to the event organizer,” a spokeswoman for Busboys and Poets told CNA.

The chain “stands firmly on the belief that women have the right to make their own reproductive health decisions,” she said.

“While we welcome conversations from individuals expressing different viewpoints and pride ourselves on being a venue for respectful conversations between diverse groups, we are also a safe space,” the spokeswoman continued. “As such, we cannot knowingly accept events designed to fund an agenda which our community members believe to be trampling on the rights of others.” 

The event guidelines the chain lists on its website do not mention restrictions on events due to their nature or content.

The chain notified Democrats for Life of the cancellation on Jan. 11.

“The primary purpose of the breakfast is to get together as a group with some of our fellow Whole Life Democrats (donors, supporters, and candidates we've endorsed) before we rally on the streets and fight for the rights of children in the womb,” Jess Meeth, DFLA’s national communications director, told CNA, referring to the group’s commitment to being pro-life for the “whole” of human life, at every stage.

According to a DFLA press release, Busboys and Poets said the cancellation came because its guests “reached out about the nature and tenor of the event.” Meeth told CNA that she was not sure how the restaurant's guests found out about the private event or who they were.

Busboys and Poets’ decision came after Kristen Day, executive director of DFLA, spoke with a restaurant manager.

“The Catering Director mentioned to me that Planned Parenthood holds events at the venue which I did not think was relevant to the conversation,” Day said, according to the press release. “Clearly, Busboys and Poets caved to pressure instead of abiding by the contract we signed.”

Meeth said that DFLA is currently searching for another venue. She said that Americans — regardless of their political party or position on abortion — should pay attention to the cancellation.

“Pro-life Americans should absolutely care about this cancellation, regardless of their political party,” she told CNA. “Abortion is a humans right issue that can’t be confined to one political party. We need bipartisan support and bipartisan efforts from conservatives, liberals, and everyone in between.”

“Americans as a whole should care about this cancellation as well,” she continued. “We as Americans want a country that's rooted in inclusivity and diversity. Inclusivity and diversity cannot be achieved if we shun and shut out individuals or groups because of political backgrounds, beliefs, and ideals.”

Democrats For Life of America was founded in 1999 and is dedicated to educating Democrats on pro-life policies, promoting a pro-life plank in the Democratic Party platform, and supporting legislation that fosters respect for all human life. 

Supreme Court halts Biden vaccine-or-test policy for businesses, allows mandate for health care workers

President Joe Biden announces the vaccine mandate at the White House on Sept. 9, 2021 / The White House

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 13, 2022 / 13:20 pm (CNA).

The Supreme Court has blocked President Joe Biden's sweeping vaccine-or-test mandate businesses, while allowing a new federal rule to go forward that requires millions of U.S. health care workers to be fully vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19.

The court decided 6 to 3, with the conservative justices voting in the majority, to issue a stay halting the implementation of the vaccine-or-test mandate for businesses with 100 or more employers, which would have taken full effect on Feb. 9.

The decision allowing the health care vaccination requirement to go forward was 5 to 4, with conservatives Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the court's three liberal justices in the majority.

Biden reacted to the split decisions in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.

"Today’s decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the requirement for health care workers will save lives: the lives of patients who seek care in medical facilities, as well as the lives of doctors, nurses, and others who work there. It will cover 10.4 million health care workers at 76,000 medical facilities. We will enforce it," Biden said.

"At the same time, I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law," the statement continued. "This emergency standard allowed employers to require vaccinations or to permit workers to refuse to be vaccinated, so long as they were tested once a week and wore a mask at work: a very modest burden."

A question of who decides

At issue in the federal rule for businesses was whether the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 gave the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) the authority to impose the vaccine-or-test mandate. The act directs OSHA to issue emergency rules when it determines that a rule is “necessary” to protect employees from a “grave danger” from exposure to “physically harmful” “agents” or “new hazards.”

"Administrative agencies are creatures of statute. They accordingly possess only the authority that Congress has provided. The Secretary has ordered 84 million Americans to either obtain a COVID–19 vaccine or undergo weekly medical testing at their own expense," the decision states.

"This is no 'everyday exercise of federal power.' ... It is instead a significant encroachment into the lives — and health — of a vast number of employees," the decision states.

"The question, then, is whether the Act plainly authorizes the Secretary’s mandate. It does not. The Act empowers the Secretary to set workplace safety standards, not broad public health measures."

Under OSHA's mandate, employers that fail to comply would face fines up to $13,653 for a standard violation, and up to $136,532 for a "willful" one.

The plaintiffs in the vaccine-or-test mandate case, the National Federation of Independent Business and the state of Ohio, argued that the requirements were too broad and would cause a mass exodus of employees.

In their dissent, liberal justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor said the urgency of the pandemic justified the government's policy.

"When we are wise, we know enough to defer on matters like this one. When we are wise, we know not to displace the judgment of experts, acting within the sphere Congress marked out and under Presidential control, to deal with emergency conditions," the dissent states. "Today, we are not wise."

Rule for health care workers stands

The health care worker vaccination mandate applies to an estimated 17 million people working at some 76,000 government-funded health care facilities. The vaccination requirement is set to take effect on Jan. 27, according to a Dec. 28 memo from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The Biden administration said the authority for the health care worker mandate comes from the Social Social Security Act, which authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to “make and publish such rules and regulations” that “may be necessary to the efficient administration” of Medicare and Medicaid programs.

"The challenges posed by a global pandemic do not allow a federal agency to exercise power that Congress has not conferred upon it," the majority decision in the health care worker case states. "At the same time such unprecedented circumstances provide no grounds for limiting the exercise of authorities the agency has long been recognized to have."

Conservative justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito each wrote dissents.

"If Congress had wanted to grant CMS authority to impose a nationwide vaccine mandate, and consequently alter the state-federal balance, it would have said so clearly. It did not," Thomas states.

"These cases are not about the efficacy or importance of COVID-19 vaccines," he continued. "They are only about whether CMS has the statutory authority to force health care workers, by coercing their employers, to undergo a medical procedure they do not want and cannot undo."

The court has already allowed state vaccination mandates for health care workers in Maine and New York to take effect, despite the absence of religious exemptions.

In light of the decision on the mandate for businesses, some states may adopt the same or similar requirements as the ones laid out in the OSHA policy, as Illinois has done already.

A surge in new cases

The court's decisions come almost two years since the first reported COVID-19 case in the United States, on Jan. 21, 2020. Since then the U.S. has reported 63,203,443 cases, and 844,562 deaths, according to data reported by Johns Hopkins University.

Meanwhile, the unpredictable course of the virus continues to bedevil health experts. To date, 63% of the U.S. population, and 72% of those 12 and over, are fully vaccinated, and more than a third of Americans have received booster shots on top of their vaccinations, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.)

Yet despite widespread vaccinations, and other government measures aimed at slowing the virus' spread, there have been millions of new cases in recent weeks attributed to the latest Omicron variant. The rapid transmission of Omicron, even among the fully vaccinated, raised fresh questions about the effectiveness of the government's vaccination requirements.

Millions of Americans, including many Catholics, remain opposed to vaccination for a variety of reasons. These include concerns about possible side effects and long-term harm from the vaccines, opposition to government coercion, and conscientious objections related to the use of cell lines derived from the fetal tissue of aborted babies that were used in the development or testing of the vaccines.

Pope Francis and the Vatican have strongly advocated for vaccination, but not always in a consistent manner.

In its note supporting the licit use of the vaccines, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has emphasized that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.”

Pope Francis, however, said in a television broadcast last year, on Jan. 10, 2021, that vaccination is a moral obligation.

"There is a suicidal denialism that I would not know how to explain but today people must take the vaccine," Pope Francis said at the time.

He used similar language in his annual address to diplomats on Jan. 10 of this year, though the Vatican's English translation of his remarks quotes the pope as saying, "Health care is a moral obligation," not vaccination, as was widely reported.

In a statement, Louis Brown, executive director of the Christ Medicus Foundation, a Catholic nonprofit organization that advocates for religious freedom and "Christ-centered" health care, applauded the court's decision in the business mandate case but said the health care worker decision sets a "dangerous precedent."

"The federal government’s health care worker vaccine mandate is a slap in the face to the countless medical professionals who risked their lives to care for patients during the pandemic but have been or are now being fired because of their decision not to get vaccinated," said Brown, a former acting deputy director of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"The attempts of the federal government and some municipal governments to mandate medical interventions, particularly those interventions that are comparatively new, is a grave violation of the human and civil rights and human dignity of millions of Americans," the statement continued. "Our country, the American people, and particularly our heroic medical professionals deserve better than the decision of the Supreme Court today."

Editor's note: This story was updated on Jan. 14 to include comments from the Christ Medicus Foundation.

Vatican unveils motto for 2025 Jubilee Year

Pope Francis opens the Holy Doors at St. Peter's Basilica to begin the Year of Mercy, Dec. 8, 2015. / L'Osservatore Romano.

Vatican City, Jan 13, 2022 / 10:27 am (CNA).

Preparations are already underway in Rome for the 2025 Jubilee, a special year of grace and pilgrimage in the Catholic Church.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella met with Pope Francis this month to discuss the motto for the jubilee. 

In a video published by Vatican News on Jan. 13, Fisichella revealed that the motto approved by the pope “can be summed up in two words: Pilgrims of Hope."

The 2025 Jubilee will be the Church’s first ordinary jubilee since St. John Paul II led The Great Jubilee of 2000. The Jubilee of Mercy opened by Pope Francis in 2015 was an extraordinary jubilee.

Archbishop Fisichella leads the Vatican dicastery entrusted with the event’s organization, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.

“There is so much work to be done,” he said.

The 2025 Jubilee will include the opening of the Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica. Pilgrims who pass through the door – which is only opened during Jubilee years, ordinarily every 25 years or when a pope calls for an extraordinary Jubilee – can receive a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions.

The four major basilicas in Rome all have Holy Doors. During the Extraordinary Jubilee of 2015, Pope Francis also granted cathedral churches around the world permission to establish and open a Holy Door.

Jubilees have biblical roots, as the Mosaic era established jubilee years to be held every 50 years for the freeing of slaves and forgiveness of debts as manifestations of God's mercy.

The practice was re-established in 1300 by Boniface VIII. Pilgrims to Rome were granted a plenary indulgence. Between 1300 and 2000, 29 jubilee years were held in Rome.

“To pass through the Holy Door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them. It is he who seeks us! It is he who comes to encounter us,” Pope Francis said as he opened the jubilee Holy Door on St. Peter’s Basilica on Dec. 8, 2015.

“In passing through the Holy Door, then, may we feel that we ourselves are part of this mystery of love, of tenderness. Let us set aside all fear and dread, for these do not befit men and women who are loved. Instead, let us experience the joy of encountering that grace which transforms all things,” he said.

Pope Francis: There is an urgent need for ‘spiritual fatherhood’ today

Pope Francis celebrates Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta on May 1, 2020, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jan 13, 2022 / 07:35 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has said in a new interview that there is a great need for “spiritual fatherhood” today.

“The faith we have received is always found through a relationship with someone,” the pope said in an interview published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, on Jan. 13.

“There is a great urgency, in this historical moment, for meaningful relationships that we could define as spiritual fatherhood,” he said.

Pope Francis underlined that a “spiritual relationship is one of those relationships that we have to rediscover with renewed effort,” noting that it is distinct from a “psychological or therapeutic” program.

The pope said that at this time in history, many young people have “the inability to make big life decisions” and are “afraid to decide, to choose, to take a risk.”

He added that it is not only up to priests to provide much-needed spiritual accompaniment, but that there are many good lay men and women with valuable experiences to share.

“Christian faith is not something that can be learned from books or by simple reasoning. Instead, it is an existential journey that passes through our relationships. Our experience of faith thus always arises from somebody’s witness,” the pope said.

Pointing to St. Joseph as a model for fatherhood, Pope Francis reflected that Joseph had a remarkable “ability to know how to listen to God speaking to his heart.”

“I am convinced that the fatherly relationship that Joseph had with Jesus influenced his life so much that Jesus’ future preaching is filled with images and references taken precisely from paternal imagery,” the pope said.

“For example, Jesus says that God is Father and this statement cannot leave us indifferent, especially when we think about his personal human experience of fatherhood.”

“This means that Joseph was such a good father that Jesus found in this man’s love and paternity the most beautiful reference he could give to God,” he said.

Pope Francis, who began his pontificate on the feast of St. Joseph in 2013, said that he was always “nurtured a special devotion to St. Joseph” because he “represents what Christian faith should be for each of us, in a beautiful and simple way.”

“I always considered it a kindness from heaven to be able to begin my Petrine Ministry on March 19,” he reflected.

“I think that in some way St. Joseph wanted to tell me that he would continue to help me, to be beside me, and I would be able to continue to think of him as a friend I could turn to, whom I could trust, whom I could ask to intercede and pray for me.”

In November 2021, the pope began a new cycle of catechesis at his Wednesday general audiences dedicated to Jesus’ foster father. He presented the seventh installment in the series on Jan. 12.

The Year of St. Joseph declared by Pope Francis officially came to an end last month. The pope said he hoped that the year helped “many Christians rediscover the profound value of the communion of saints which is not an abstract communion, but a concrete communion that expresses itself in a concrete relationship and has concrete consequences.”

“The time in which we are living is a difficult time, marked by the coronavirus pandemic. Many people are suffering, many families are facing difficulties, many people are hounded by the anxiety of death, of an uncertain future,” he said.

“I felt that precisely in this time that is so difficult, we needed someone who could encourage us, help us, inspire us, in order to understand which is the right way to know how to face these dark moments. Joseph is a bright witness in dark times. This is why it was right to make room for him at this time, in order to find our way again.”

Pope Francis: Synodality is not a ‘search for majority consensus’

Pope Francis meets a delegation of the French Catholic Action movement at the Vatican, Jan. 13, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jan 13, 2022 / 06:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Thursday that synodality is not a “search for majority consensus,” but rather a “style” guided by the Holy Spirit.

The pope made the remark in an address to a delegation of French Catholic Action groups at the Vatican on Jan. 13.

“The Church as a whole is also engaged in a synodal process, and I count on your contribution,” he said.

“Let us remember, in this regard, that synodality is not a simple discussion. It is not an ‘adjective.’ Never ‘adjectivize’ the substantiality of life.”

“Synodality is not even the search for majority consensus, this is done by a parliament, as is done in politics. It is not a plan, a program to be implemented.”

“No. It is a style to be adopted, in which the main protagonist is the Holy Spirit, who expresses himself above all in the Word of God, read, meditated upon, and shared together.”

Pope Francis formally launched a two-year global consultation process, leading to the 2023 synod on synodality, last October.

Members of the French Catholic Action movement are taking part in a Jan. 11-16 pilgrimage to the Vatican to raise awareness of their work, accompanied by Archbishop François Fonlupt of Avignon.

France’s Catholic Action groups include bodies such as Action catholique des enfants, for children, Action catholique ouvrière, focused on workers, and the Mouvement rural de jeunesse chrétienne, for young people living in the countryside.

ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner, reported that the pilgrimage includes not only an audience with the pope, but also meetings with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, as well as other senior curial officials.

The pilgrimage’s theme is “Being apostles today,” the title of a 48-page document describing the groups’ activities.

In his address in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, Pope Francis spoke about “our call to be effective apostles today.”

He drew on the “See-Judge-Act” method formulated by the Belgian Cardinal Joseph Cardijn and incorporated into Catholic social teaching by Pope John XXIII in his 1961 encyclical Mater et Magistra.

“This first stage is fundamental; it consists in stopping to observe the events that shape our lives, what constitutes our history, our family, cultural, and Christian roots,” Pope Francis said.

He went on: “The second stage is judging or, one might say, discerning. It is the moment in which we allow ourselves to be questioned and challenged. The key to this stage is the reference to Sacred Scripture.”

He urged Catholic Action groups to “always leave an important place to the Word of God in the life of your groups,” while giving “space to prayer, interiority, and adoration.”

The pope said that the third stage, acting, was concerned with “God’s initiative.”

“Our role, then, is to support and foster God’s action in our hearts, adapting to the ever-changing reality,” he said.

He noted that Europe had experienced significant cultural changes in recent years.

“The people your movements reach — I am thinking in particular of young people — are not the same as they were a few years ago,” he said.

“Today, especially in Europe, those who frequent Christian movements are more skeptical of institutions, they seek less demanding and more ephemeral relationships. They are more sensitive to affectivity, and therefore more vulnerable, more fragile than previous generations, less rooted in faith, but nevertheless in search of meaning and truth, and no less generous.”

“It is your mission, as Catholic Action, to reach out to them as they are, to make them grow in the love of Christ and their neighbor, and to lead them to a greater concrete commitment, so that they may be protagonists of their lives and the life of the Church, so that the world may change.”

New COVID-19 rules for visitors to Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Jan 13, 2022 / 04:10 am (CNA).

Visitors to the Vatican Museums must show a pass certifying full vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 and wear medical-grade masks under new measures announced on Wednesday.

A decree issued on Jan. 5 by Archbishop Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, president of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State, said that every visitor to the museum must present a Super Green Pass and wear an FFP2 mask, the European equivalent of an N95.

The rules, introduced in light of “the worsening of the emergency health situation,” went into effect on Jan. 10 and are due to expire on Feb. 28.

The ordinance, also signed by Sister Raffaella Petrini, secretary general of the Vatican’s governorate, brings the Vatican City State’s norms into line with those of Italy.

The Italian government passed a decree in December requiring citizens to be either vaccinated or show proof of recovery from COVID-19 to visit museums or other tourist sites.

The new restrictions, which came into force in the country this week, ban citizens without a Super Green Pass from entering restaurants, public transportation, gyms, hotels, theaters, and sports events.

The number of visitors to the Vatican Museums fell by 5.6 million from 2019 to 2020 due to nearly five months of closure amid Italy’s COVID-19 lockdowns.

The loss in ticket sales — a major source of revenue for the Holy See — continued into 2021 as the museums were closed on and off for the first half of the year.

The attraction, which is among the most-visited museums in the world and offers access to the Sistine Chapel, presents a detailed guide to admission rules on its website.

All visitors to the museums must undergo a temperature check, wear an FFP2 mask both indoors and outdoors, and maintain a distance of more than three feet from others.

The Jan. 5 decree applies to everyone working in Vatican City State, the sovereign city-state located within the city of Rome.

The ordinance permits only essential work trips and underlines that governorate staff without a Super Green Pass will be considered unjustifiably absent and their pay suspended. If they remain absent, they will face disciplinary action.

The decree says that exemptions will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin issued a decree on Dec. 23 stating that people seeking to enter the offices of the Roman Curia must provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or evidence of recovery from it.

The decree extends not only to curial officials, but also to “external collaborators” and all other visitors.

Parolin told the National Catholic Register on Jan. 9 that granting an exemption to Vatican employees concerned about the vaccine’s links to cell lines from aborted fetuses “seems not to be justified.”

Italy, one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic’s first wave, has recorded 7,971,068 COVID-19 cases and 139,872 related deaths as of Jan. 13, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Former priest withdraws pleas over child sex abuse after judge's rejection of sentencing agreement

null / FreeBirdPhotos / Shutterstock.

Detroit, Mich., Jan 12, 2022 / 16:39 pm (CNA).

Gary Berthiaume, a former priest, withdrew his guilty pleas after being sentenced to spend up to 15 years in prison on charges he sexually abused at least three boys. 

Oakland County Circuit Judge Daniel O’Brien rejected his earlier sentencing agreement after learning the details of Berthiaume’s crimes. O’Brien found the one year and one day sentence offered by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office to be inappropriately short after hearing victim impact statements. 

O’Brien sentenced Berthiaume, 80, to spend the next 20 months to 15 years in prison on Jan. 11. 

On Nov. 21, 2021, Berthiaume entered pleas of “guilty” and “no contest” to two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct and to one count of gross indecency, respectively. 

In Michigan, a defendant may enter a “Killebrew plea,” which is essentially a conditional guilty plea in exchange for a lighter sentence. This plea can be withdrawn if the judge sentences the defendant to a harsher sentence than what was agreed upon. 

After hearing victim impact statements, O’Brien decided that Berthiaume deserved more than 366 days in prison. Berthiaume, as per the terms of the Killebrew agreement, then withdrew his pleas. 

Before his guilty pleas were withdrawn, Berthiaume had admitted to molesting two teenage boys in the rectory of his parish in Farmington, Michigan, in 1976 and 1977. He said that he knew the two boys and “coerced” them into abuse. 

Berthiaume pled no contest to accusations that he had sexually molested the teenage brother of one of his other victims at a sauna house in the early ‘70s. He said that he did not remember the event, but admitted that it “may have happened.”

The former priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, who was ordained in 1968, was dismissed from the clerical state in 2007. He had previously been convicted of the abuse of two minors in 1978. 

After Berthiaume served a six-month jail sentence, he was then transferred to the Diocese of Cleveland. While serving in the Diocese of Cleveland, Berthiaume allegedly abused at least one additional minor, and was sued in a civil suit in 1983 by an alleged victim from the Archdiocese of Detroit. 

In 1987, he was transferred to the Diocese of Joliet, where he worked at a retreat house and as a hospital chaplain. In 1999, he was once again sued by an alleged victim dating from the 1980s. 

He was removed from ministry by the Cleveland diocese in 2002.

Berthiaume was arrested in September 2020 for the abuse of one of the boys in Farmington. In June 2021, he was additionally charged with the abuse of another boy in Farmington and the count of gross indecency. 

In court, prior to withdrawing his plea, Berthiaume said that he had been abused by a priest while he was a seminarian and he “should probably never have been ordained.” 

“I was sick from what happened to me,” he said. “The victim became the victimizer.” Berthiaume added that he wished he were dead and that he prays for the healing of the boys he victimized. 

Assistant Attorney General Danielle Russo read victim impact statements to the court. In one, a man described what he called a “pay to play” situation, and said that Berthiaume gave with gifts, took him on camping trips, and to professional sporting events. Berthiaume, said the alleged victim, would specifically choose him as an altar boy for Masses where he knew the families would give him money. 

Most of the boys Berthiaume targeted were from financially insecure families, said the victim impact statement. 

One alleged victim called Berthiaume “a demon who disguised himself as a man of God.” 

Berthiaume remains out on bond as he awaits his next day in court. As he has withdrawn his guilty pleas, he may now be charged with two additional counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct and another count of gross indecency. 

Those charges had previously been dismissed as part of the original plea agreement.

Francis X. Maier: Catholic journalists called to report the truth with 'a consuming passion for excellence'

Catholic journalists are called to report the truth with "a consuming passion for excellence," veteran journalist and scholar Francis X. Maier says. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 12, 2022 / 15:08 pm (CNA).

Editor’s note: Francis X. Maier is the 2020-22 senior research associate at Notre Dame’s Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government, and a senior fellow in Catholic studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The following is the text of a speech he delivered via videoconference to the staff of EWTN News on Jan. 12, 2022. A portion of this text appeared previously in The Catholic Thing and is used with permission.

Books have been written — some of them good — about our current shift from a print-based culture to more image-based media and their consequences. But until we’re all telepaths, and probably even then, we’ll still use words. 

Language has power. Words matter. They can express beauty and truth. Or they can lie and mislead by disguising a person’s real agenda. This is why we’re uneasy when we hear words like equity, tolerance, diversity, and inclusion used so compulsively today. They often have a political subtext that’s not entirely innocent. And we can say the same about the word “insurrection.” Last year’s January 6 Capitol riot was stupid and ugly and destructive. But it was not — contrary to Speaker Pelosi — an “insurrection.” The Paris Commune of 1871 was an insurrection. The Capitol turmoil of 2021 was a riot.

So again, words matter. And I want to begin our discussion tonight with a few thoughts on two very similar words: loyalty and fidelity. In everyday speech we use these words interchangeably. And that makes sense, because their meanings are closely related. But they’re not quite the same. Their etymologies differ. 

Loyalty has its origin, through Old French, in the Latin words lex and legalitas. In modern French, lex and legalitas become the word loi meaning law, which informs the French word for loyalty, loyauté. Fidelity has its roots in the Latin words fidere, meaning to trust, and fides, meaning faith. The goddess Fides was one of the earliest Roman divinities. She was the guardian of good faith, trust, and honesty — especially in marriage.

My point is simply this. Loyalty often suggests a relationship of contract. In a contract, we agree on a mutually useful arrangement. If you do this, I will do that, and we’ll both benefit. And as long as we both honor the agreed-upon terms, in the agreed ways, for the agreed amount of time, the contract endures. Fidelity is a different creature. Fidelity suggests a relationship of covenant. Contracts have sunset and escape clauses. Covenants don’t. Both words imply duty, but not quite the same kind. 

I’m loyal to my country and my employer. They have a rightful claim on my time, attention, and service. But their claim is limited. It’s also subject to change. I’m faithful to my wife. Her claim on my life is permanent. It’s also a blank check. And so is my claim on her. This is why the word “fidelity” has a gravity — an intimate, flesh and blood resonance — that loyalty sometimes lacks. Fidelity demands everything from us: all we’ve got, and the very best we’ve got, all the time, despite whatever surprises or new conditions develop in the relationship. 

Covenant is the nature of our relationship with God and his Church. It’s a relationship first of love, and only second as a matter of obligation. And therefore it calls us to the virtue we know as fidelity. Every Christian vocation involves the same substance of covenantal love, each in its own way. When the early Jesuits gave their lives to missionary service ad majorem Dei gloriam — “For the greater glory of God” — it was an expression of love, a free gift of themselves, the whole self, regardless of the cost. 

That’s exactly the spirit each of us should bring to the vocation of journalism, and especially Catholic journalism — a love for truth, and a love for the Truth. Which means a zeal for communicating Jesus Christ and his Church to the world, and doing it with a consuming passion for excellence.

From time to time, a young person asks me whether and how to become a Catholic journalist. I always give the same answer: There’s good news and bad news. Being German-Irish and melancholic by nature, I give the bad news first:

1. The Catholic audience is shrinking. This impacts material resources.

2. Many of those folks who remain are aging out or not well formed in the sacramental imagination and intellectual substance of the Church. 

3. Mainstream media are hostile; they not only change what we think but how we think. 

4. Government is increasingly unfriendly.

5. Our economy and political system simultaneously encourage self-absorption and dependency; the ironic result is a widespread a sense of isolation and powerlessness.

6. Church leadership, with various exceptions, is weak. American Catholics have operated on the wrong premises for 50+ years: Assimilation has led to authentic Catholic life being digested by secular culture, and now to being eliminated from influence like waste in an organic system. We’re not simply post Protestant but post Calvinist. America has Calvinist roots, and as the Yale historian Carlos Eire argues in Reformations: Calvinism cauterized the supernatural imagination (eliminating purgatory, the communion of saints, sacraments, relics) and radically reoriented religion to the concerns and material results of this world. In so doing, it unwittingly set the stage — a kind of halfway house — for secularization and unbelief.

7. The result of all of the above is an atmosphere of conflict and decline resulting in acedia. Beauty, peace, hope, joy: These are often absent from the Church and her religious life — which can then make the God-question seem sclerotic and irrelevant.

Now here’s the good news:

1. Much of the bad news is actually good news in the same way that cold showers are unpleasant but effective medicine for drunks. The humbling of the American Catholic experience is good because its fruit has been inadequate. U.S. Catholic life has produced plenty of outstanding men, women, and achievements, including saints, but also — at least in the past seven decades — quite a few frauds, fellow travelers, and cowards. 

2. As the business guru Peter Drucker liked to say: Every success bears the seeds of failure because it so easily engenders overconfidence. But the inverse is also true. Every failure bears the seeds of success if we learn the right lessons from failing. One lesson we might profitably consider is this: We need to love the best virtues of our country, but we don’t ultimately fit here. Our home and final fidelity lie elsewhere.

3. Our current circumstances are difficult, but they’re hardly a shock. They were predicted with astonishing accuracy by Joseph Ratzinger more than half a century ago. The Church of the foreseeable future will be smaller. But she will also be more vigorous, pure, and authentic, and ready to grow again when the delusions and false premises of our culture result in its failure. Faith has fertility, and therefore a future. Unbelief — or rather the self-deception of unbelief, which really means a belief in the wrong things, since we all believe in something — is a sterile womb and a dead future.

4. Conflict is not always bad; some of it is holy and good. It produces clarity; clarity reveals truth; and the truth makes us free. Not comfortable, but free. It forces us to choose where we place our loyalty and to face who and what we really are.

5. Scripture wasn’t kidding: Where evil abounds, grace and goodness abound more. Thousands of good people are doing extraordinary things that secular culture ignores. A core Catholic audience persists that’s thirsty for good writing, clear thinking, true information, and encouragement. Renewal begins there. It’s happened a hundred times before in the history of the Church. And it will happen again in God’s time. But he works through the courage and talent of people exactly like you and me.

As for the why and how of the Catholic journalist … 

Regarding the why: All of us have a hunger to understand the meaning of our lives. The Catholic faith is true in its explanation of reality, and thus satisfying on a visceral level. American liberal culture is based on the fiction that we can create and recreate ourselves; that freedom demands the rejection of binding moral frameworks and obligating universal truths. But most people – for very good reasons — can’t handle the impossible task of creating and sustaining their own meaning. This creates anxiety. Which then requires anesthetics. Which then creates a culture of dependence and slavery. The Catholic faith is a message of liberation, hope and meaning; a realistic message because it accounts for human sin and provides a means of redemption and reconciliation. Communicating that message is holy and healing work.

Regarding the how: Christianity is relational. It has doctrines, structures, and approved practices. And these are important. But they’re also secondary because Christian faith is not an “ideology.” It’s a daily relationship with Jesus Christ, and most people meet Jesus Christ through his presence in the lives of other people. Some persons do think their way into the Church through intellectual conversion — e.g., Edith Stein, among others — but most people have an encounter with God through the example or witness of another person. And that experience of goodness or love changes the way they see the world. 

This is why stories are often more powerful than arguments. People love stories; we learn as we’re informed or entertained. And this is the meat of good writing, both fiction and non-fiction. Good journalism is an exercise in non-fiction. It involves the full, fair, meticulous, and truthful transmission of facts, even when we don’t like those facts; even when the facts are ugly and humiliate us. But how we recognize those facts, understand them, and explain their meaning is shaped, in large part, by what we already believe. 

St. Augustine’s great line — crede ut intelligas, “believe, so that you may understand”— applies to an atheist like Richard Dawkins just us much as to any pope. Mr. Dawkins is a believer, whether he admits it or not. His particular version of a church is the cult of scientism. And scientism is not science. Science is a set of tools and a method of acquiring certain kinds — not all kinds, but certain kinds — of knowledge. Scientism is something quite different. It’s a body of belief with imperial, and fundamentally dishonest, pretensions. Real science can’t disprove the existence of God any more than philosophy or theology can prove it. 

My point is this: There are non-theists, and anti-theists, but there are no non-believers. Every journalist in a CNN, Fox, or Washington Post newsroom assumes certain premises about life that can’t finally be proven. We all do it; it’s a natural human behavior. This involves an act of faith, even if we choose to disguise it or call it something else. We then build a rational understanding of the world based on that foundation of belief. And that foundation then shapes how we think and act. If we’re journalists, it influences how we report and what we report. Some beliefs support an architecture of dignity, life, and hope. And others, no matter how appealing or progressive they might seem, ultimately don’t. 

Christian belief is the foundation for a life that means something beyond the cramped little creature we call the self. This is why Catholic art, music, and literature have such enduring and formative power. It’s also why every Catholic journalist should have a strong grasp of Catholic history and literature. Things like Hubert Jedin’s brilliant history of the Council of Trent. Or Georges Bernanos’ great essay, “Sermon of an Agnostic on the Feast of St. Therese.” Or Graham Greene’s superb short story, “The Hint of An Explanation.” Or Tolkien’s wonderful little novella, "Leaf by Niggle." None of these different texts counts as journalism. But they feed the Catholic memory and imagination. They nourish a spirit and a mental framework that help us make sense of the world in our own work of reporting and editing. 

Read. Read. Read with a critical eye. But read everything — Catholic and not Catholic. Some of the deepest influences on my own adult thought haven’t been Christian or even religious, but I’ve read them through a Catholic lens learned from others and then refined on my own. Read for technique (Ernest Hemingway; Neil Postman; even gifted lunatics like Terry Southern). Read for content (Ratzinger, Wojtyla, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Josef Pieper, Eric Voegelin, Leszek Kolakowski, Christopher Lasch, Roger Scruton, Pierre Manent, George Parkin Grant). 

By the way, if you haven’t read Josef Pieper’s little book Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power, do it now. Do it this week. It’s an essential text. He describes the political manipulation of words as “the degeneration of language into an instrument of rape.”

Compare journalistic styles and editing strengths: NY Times vs. LA Times vs. Wall Street Journal. Study what gets reported, and how. Study where it gets reported in the body of a publication or website, and with what kind of headline. And notice what gets omitted. An experienced editor can lie without ever speaking a word, just by deleting certain details in a story. A veteran reporter can tell the truth, the whole truth, just by including some relevant context.

Build your vocabulary but commit to simplicity. Be ruthless editing your own material. Burn George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language” into your brain. And for sanity’s sake: Stay away from Twitter. At least until you learn how to think and express yourself like a human adult. Twitter fuels conflict. It breeds imprudence and stupid, venomous commentary. We’re already drowning in both.

Finally, and maybe most demandingly: Try to assume the best in others. Critique issues and behaviors, not persons. The spoken word can often be ignored or forgotten. 

The written word is forever.

I’ll close with just a few personal thoughts. 

For 32 years, starting when I was a young and very green editor, I had four small frames on my office wall. Each frame held a quotation; one from Solzhenitsyn, another from Léon Bloy, another from François Mauriac. I read them every morning when I arrived, during the day between tasks, and every night before leaving for home. They were the pillars that supported my day. 

The fourth and final frame on my wall held some words from that great Chinese theologian whose regime has been so politely reconsidered in the last couple of years by the Holy See: Mao Zedong. Mao was a murderous thug, not a saint. Nobody’s perfect. But as a strategist, he had few peers. And for Christians with a very long tradition of spiritual warfare, his words deserve some thought: “Weapons are an important factor in war, but not the decisive factor; it is people, not things, that are decisive.”

On that at least, Mao was exactly right: People, not things, are decisive. 

We influence the course of the world through our impact on other people. I edited the National Catholic Register for 15 years. I loved the job. It remains one of the great satisfactions of my life. And it was fantastic fun, because nothing in human experience — no issue in science, technology, education, politics, war and peace, religion, or the economy — is alien to the Catholic faith. The Church doesn’t have the answer to every problem. But she does have the wisdom, experience, and moral vocabulary to guide us in finding the answer that best serves both God and human dignity. 

Whatever the Register accomplished, though — and I think we managed to do some wonderful things — flowed from the passion and excellence of its staff and contributors. The real joy of those Register years was the people I worked with — helping them grow, learning from them, watching them succeed, and building friendships that have lasted three and four decades. 

When times are tough for the Church, as they are now, it’s easy to doubt the mission and effectiveness of Catholic journalism. But that’s a mistake. And C.S. Lewis tells us why. Lewis said that all nations and civilizations, no matter how great they are, sooner or later die. But the human soul — every human soul — is immortal, and therefore infinitely precious. When we help to save one soul, we help to save the world.

When I edited the Register, our weekly circulation averaged, in the early years, around 50,000. Maybe 25,000 people each week opened the paper. Maybe 10,000 browsed a few articles. Maybe 5,000 actually read and considered the content. Maybe as few as 500 had their mind enriched, or their heart touched, or their day redeemed in some serious way by what we published. But that’s 500 persons who would carry what they read into eternity with them. And that’s pretty good results for a week’s labor.

Never doubt the importance of your work. The vocation of a Catholic journalist is to tell the truth; to bring hope; and to sustain faith. The Church and her people — and through them, the world — urgently need all three. 

So we arrive at two final thoughts.

The philosopher Leszek Kolakowski began his adult life as a Marxist intellectual in Communist Poland and ended as an admirer of John Paul II at the University of Chicago in the United States. He was never a Christian, but over time he became more and more sympathetic to the importance of religious faith. He once said that, “When a culture loses its sacred sense, it loses all sense” and thus it ends up, inevitably, in “disastrous despair.” He added that “[Today’s] utopian faith in man’s self-inventive capabilities, the utopian hope of unlimited perfection, may be the most efficient instrument of suicide human culture has ever invented.”

J.R.R. Tolkien would agree. We live in an age of men with mechanical minds and clockwork hearts; an age, in Tolkien’s view, “of improved means to deteriorated ends.” 

“The Gospels,” wrote Tolkien, “contain a fairy story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy stories.” But this story, he said, this one unexpected, undeserved, spectacular story, is neither a fable nor a legend. It has flesh and blood, hunger and thirst, happiness, and suffering; it really happened; it entered the everyday, material world. “The Birth of Christ,” Tolkien wrote, “is the eucatastrophe” — the great and jubilant ending — “of Man’s history … This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the ‘inner consistency of reality.'” This story, said Tolkien, “is supreme, and it is true.”

And that story, I’d suggest, is worth giving our talents, our passions, and our lives to — as believers, and as journalists.

The Final Dispatch of Father Hudgins, a Lansing priest who died in a road accident

Fr. David Hudgins, a priest of the Diocese of Lansing who died in a car accident Jan. 3, 2022. / Diocese of Lansing

Lansing, Mich., Jan 12, 2022 / 14:41 pm (CNA).

Father David Hudgins, a priest of the Diocese of Lansing, penned an article for publication in his parish bulletin shortly before his death in a road accident on Jan. 3.

Father Hudgins was pastor of Saint Joseph Shrine in Brooklyn, Michigan, and Judicial Vicar of the Lansing diocese.

His Requiem Mass was said Jan. 8, and his body was buried at Saint Joseph Shrine Cemetery.

Father Hudgins' article for the shrine's bulletin for the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord is reproduced below, with the permission of the Diocese of Lansing.

The Baptism of the Lord and our Baptism: Do You Know Who You Are? by Father David Hudgins

You have been given this grace, a gloriously incomprehensible gift of God beyond all human merit: adoption into the family of God...the Church. You have been configured to Christ's death and resurrection. You have put on Christ and been renewed in the Holy Spirit. God has given you the grace of justification, gifts of faith, hope and love, and the spiritual power to act with virtue.

You participate in the divine life of the Blessed Trinity. Who God Is, flows through your veins. You belong to Christ. You are a new creation, a child of God, a partaker of the divine nature, a co-heir with Jesus. You share in the common priestly, prophetic and royal “Christ-life” of all believers. You have been sealed with an indelible character: configuration to Christ. 

This is your seal of eternal life. Only sin can warp God’s masterpiece, and even then He can and will restore you, if you wish. If we keep this covenant until the end, remaining faithful to Jesus, we can hope to see God and share in the resurrection and the life of the world to come. As a member of Christ's Body, your connection to Him and to other Christians runs deeper than culture, gender, race, social status, even blood. The bond of unity you share with other Christians is more profound than any human bond. 

You have been baptized. 

Jesus said, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ (Matthew 28:19) Baptism is an act of Jesus our High Priest through the power of the Holy Spirit by which sons and daughters of Adam become Sons and Daughters of God. 

Thankfully, the sacraments do not rely on human understanding. If we needed perfect understanding for God to work in our lives then He could do nothing with us since all His works are infinite and beyond full human comprehension.

We give good things to our children. Baptism is a divine favor that will transform us for all eternity, therefore we must baptize infants. I was baptized when I was 25 days old. Children don’t have perfect understanding, neither do I. However, Jesus acts in their hearts, in my heart, and in the hearts of us all through this powerful sacrament. Let us give Him thanks and praise for it. 

Very Reverend David Hudgins

Fr. Hudgins' article appeared earlier at the website of the Diocese of Lansing, and is reprinted at Catholic News Agency with permission.

Rector agrees to delay departure from Rome’s North American College

Father Peter Harman, rector of the North American College seminary in Rome, in a 2017 photo. / Lucia Ballester/CNA

Rome, Italy, Jan 12, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Father Peter Harman has agreed to delay his departure as rector of the Pontifical North American College, the seminary’s board of governors said on Wednesday.

The seminary for U.S. students in Rome announced in October that Harman would complete his six-year term on Jan. 31.

But the board of governors said on Jan. 12 that Harman, a priest of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, would now stay until June 30.

Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland, Maine, the chairman of the board of governors, said: “We are grateful that Fr. Harman has agreed to extend his term through June.”

“He has provided exceptional leadership through these difficult years of the pandemic, and the entire board is thankful that he was willing to continue on in this role while the appointment of the next rector is finalized.”

The Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy is expected to name Harman’s successor in the coming months, in consultation with the board of governors.

Harman was appointed rector for a five-year term that started in February 2016. In July 2020, he was asked to stay on as rector for an additional year to maintain consistent leadership through the coronavirus pandemic.

Pope Francis’ with Fr. Peter Harman, rector of the Pontifical North American College, in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, Sept. 29, 2021. Pablo Esparza/CNA.
Pope Francis’ with Fr. Peter Harman, rector of the Pontifical North American College, in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, Sept. 29, 2021. Pablo Esparza/CNA.

He is the 23rd rector since the college was established in 1859. Past rectors include American Church figures such as Archbishop Martin John O’Connor, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

More than 200 seminarians and graduate priests from the United States and Australia are currently studying at the college.