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Pro-life groups must 'wake up' in support of pro-life Democrats, former congressman says

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) testifies before a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 20, 2007 / Alex Wong/Getty Images

Washington D.C., Oct 20, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

Pro-life Americans must do more to support embattled pro-life Democrats, said a Catholic former Democratic congressman.

Dan Lipinski is a Catholic eight-term congressman from Illinois who was ousted in a 2020 primary challenge by pro-abortion Marie Newman. He told CNA this week that support from pro-life groups in his primary fight was no match for an avalanche of pro-abortion spending against him.

“I was happy to see some support from pro-life groups, but the amount of money that came in from the other side certainly dwarfed anything that came in, support-wise, from pro-life groups,” Lipinski told CNA in an interview.

Pro-abortion political groups such as the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), Planned Parenthood Votes, and WOMEN VOTE! all predictably teamed up against Lipinski in the primary race, highlighting his pro-life voting record.

These groups “have a lot of power within the Democratic Party,” he noted. “I was one vote out of 435 in the U.S. House, and the pro-choice groups found that I was so important to spend easily over $5 million against me to get rid of me,” he said, “because they didn't want even one pro-life voice in the party, and they saw a danger in that.” 

“I think that the pro-life groups need to wake up and do more to support pro-life Democrats," he said.

Lipinski was recognized as one of the last consistently pro-life Democrats in the House before he was defeated in 2020. He told CNA that pro-life Democrats still exist in state legislatures, and that he knows pro-life candidates who are running for the U.S. Congress as Democrats. Lipinski himself is reportedly considering a rematch with Rep. Marie Newman (D-Ill.), according to a Crain’s Chicago Business report from last week.

CNA spoke with Lipinski about the current political situation, including how Catholics ought to approach politics, the possibility of a post-Roe America, and threat of increased taxpayer funding of abortion.

Not only pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood opposed Lipinski on the life issue in 2020, but also groups focused on other issues such as education, labor, and the environment.

Just weeks before the primary election in 2020, SEIU and the Illinois Federation of Teachers joined Planned Parenthood Votes, NARAL, and other groups to invest $1.4 million in direct mail and digital media campaigns highlighting Lipinski’s opposition to abortion.

Lipinski had a 91% lifetime rating with the pro-environment League of Conservation Voters, yet he said the group supported Newman because of his own pro-life record.

“And because I'm pro-life, they not only endorsed my opponent, but they spent some money sending mailers out to Democratic voters in the district for her,” he said.

“These groups are becoming very intertwined,” he said of various issue groups uniting in support of pro-abortion candidates. “Look, these groups aren't really honest sometimes in what they really do care about."

Although Lipinski’s race with Newman focused on the abortion issue, Newman also attacked him for not supporting policies championed by progressive activists, such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. Lipinski had previously opposed the Equality Act, a pro-LGBT bill opposed by the U.S. bishops’ conference, before he voted for a version of it in 2019. Newman, who has a child identifying as transgender, had attacked Lipinski for his previous opposition to the legislation.

In an April 2021 interview with EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, Lipinski called on Catholic public officials – including President Joe Biden – to “be different. We shouldn’t just be Democrats, Republicans, and follow the party line.”

This applies to Catholic and pro-life voters, too, he told CNA. He warned of the trap of “sectarian partisanship,” where voters choose a political party and take all the policy positions supported by that party – whether or not they have fully considered them.

“And this is really dangerous for Catholics, because Catholics don't fit neatly into either [political] side,” he said.

"It's a problem for the Catholic Church right now, this divide," he said, noting that political divisions among Catholics intensified after the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

“We can't demonize others, we cannot view others as evil. That goes against everything that Jesus taught us,” he said.

Many pro-life groups support Republicans, arguing that they are “the pro-life party,” he noted.

“I understand that, that general feeling, but I think it's important to be able to look out for the pro-life Democratic candidates and support them, and understand the importance of having pro-life voices in the Democratic Party.”

A current priority of pro-abortion groups is the repeal of the Hyde amendment and similar policies, which prohibit federal funding of abortion in a number of programs including Medicaid. Appropriations bills that passed the House this summer excluded the Hyde amendment, and a bill introduced Monday in a Senate committee also excluded the policy.

“The Hyde amendment is an acknowledgement that even people who consider themselves to be pro-choice, many of them have a problem with abortion,” Lipinski said of bans on taxpayer-funded abortion.

Pro-abortion groups “just want to get rid of that idea," he said, pointing to the development of the Democratic Party platforms as an example. While the 1996, 2000, and 2004 platforms called for abortion to be “rare” or “more rare,” the platforms subsequently dropped that language. The 2016 and 2020 platforms called for taxpayer-funded abortion.

The Supreme Court this fall will hear arguments in a major abortion case that legal experts say could result in the repeal of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

Pro-life advocates must prepare for a society where Roe is overturned, Lipinski emphasized, as “there's going to be a lot more work for people who are pro-life for them to do, and we need to be preparing for that right now.”

Cardinal Dolan outlines 7 ‘non-negotiables’ for the Synod on Synodality

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

New York City, N.Y., Oct 19, 2021 / 17:09 pm (CNA).

In an effort to explain Pope Francis’ vision for the Synod on Synodality for his flock, Cardinal Timothy Dolan's homily Sunday offered seven “non-negotiables” that Jesus intended for the Church.

The Synod on Synodality, initiated by Pope Francis earlier this month, is a two-year, worldwide undertaking during which Catholics will be encouraged to submit feedback to their local dioceses.

A synod is a meeting of bishops gathered to discuss a topic of theological or pastoral significance, in order to prepare a document of advice or counsel to the pope.

“[Pope Francis] wants us to join him in praying, listening, discerning, examining ourselves personally, and the Church communally, to see if we’re truly on the path Jesus has set for His beloved bride, His mystical body, the Church,” Dolan said.

“He has reminded us of certain clear essentials intended by Jesus, constant, although, at times, we admit, clouded and dimmed, in the Church’s amazing 2,000-year drama. Here are some of those non-negotiables.” Dolan went on to outline the following points:

  1. Dolan said that “the energy and direction driving the Church comes from the Holy Spirit, not ourselves.”

  2. "While in the world, we are not of the world, and thus our guiding principles come from the Gospel, revelation, and the patrimony of the Church’s settled teaching," he said.

  3. Dolan said “that the principles of the innate dignity of every human person and the inherent sacredness of all human life are the towering moral lighthouses on our path.”

  4. Dolan said that "our journey through this life back to our true and eternal home of heaven is most effectively accomplished precisely as a journey as we walk with and accompany each other, with Jesus as our guide, His Mother and the saints, and we sinners at each other’s side.”

  5. "On this journey we pay special attention to those at the side of the road, especially those who are sick, weak, poor, or unable to keep up with us,” he said.

  6. "Our wealth only comes from faith, trust, prayer, the sacraments, and His grace," he said.

  7. Finally, Dolan said that "mercy, love, invitation, humility, joy, selfless generous service, and good example are our only tools, never harshness, condemnation, or pride.”

Dolan said he sees these seven “non-negotiables” as “synodality in a nutshell.”

He said that throughout its history, the Church has “expanded and developed its style of organization and authority.”

After comparing and contrasting the different sufferings and triumphs the Church has experienced throughout its history, Dolan said that “now the successor of Saint Peter as bishop of Rome and pastor of the Church Universal, Pope Francis, has asked us all to commence an examination of conscience on how we as a Church are living up to the model of the Church given us by Jesus.”

“We are loyal Catholics,” Dolan added. “The Holy Father has asked us to help him keep the Church always under the direction Jesus, our good shepherd, intends.”

The concept of "synodality" has been a topic of frequent discussion by Pope Francis, particularly during the previous ordinary Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith, and vocational discernment in October 2018.

Synodality, as defined by the International Theological Commission in 2018, is "the action of the Spirit in the communion of the Body of Christ and in the missionary journey of the People of God."

The term is generally understood to represent a process of discernment, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, involving bishops, priests, religious, and lay Catholics, each according to the gifts and charisms of their vocation.

Pope Francis told the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's theological commission in November 2019 that synodality will be key for the Church in the future.

The Vatican announced in May that the Synod on Synodality would open with a diocesan phase lasting from October 2021 to April 2022.

A second, continental phase will take place from September 2022 to March 2023. The third, universal phase will begin with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, dedicated to the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” at the Vatican in October 2023.

Dolan shared his homily on Monday after noting that "many have asked about the “'synod process’ initiated by Pope Francis.”

The Cardinal acknowledged in his homily that he himself has questions. “I don’t know if I completely understand [Synodality]," Dolan said, adding that "the Holy Father is honest in admitting that neither does he have the full comprehension, which is precisely why he has summoned us to this endeavor.”

Christian aid group requests prayers for kidnapped missionaries in Haiti

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de l’Assomption in Cap-Haitien, Haiti / Rotorhead 30A Productions/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Oct 19, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

The gang responsible for the kidnapping of 17 missionaries in Haiti is demanding a $17 million ransom for their safe release, as the organization behind their trip is requesting prayers for their safety.

“Many people, including CAM management and Haitian and U.S. authorities, are working diligently to bring our loved ones home safely,” said an update posted on the Christian Aid Ministries website on Tuesday, Oct, 19. Christian Aid Ministries is the Ohio-based organization that organized the trip. 

“Today, we again commit our workers to God’s care,” said the statement, which added that the adults who were kidnapped are between the ages of 18 to 48, and that the kidnapped children range in age from eight months to 15 years. 

“Pray that our workers could respond to hatred with Jesus’ love, overcome the spirit of fear with faith, and face violence with a genuine desire to bless their oppressors,” they said. 

The kidnapped missionaries include six women, six men, and five children. All but one are U.S. citizens; the other is a citizen of Canada. 

Per CNN and the Associated Press, the kidnappers, who are part of the gang 400 Mawozo, have been in contact with Christian Aid Ministries. They first made their ransom demand on Saturday, the same day as the kidnapping. 

Haiti’s Justice Minister Liszt Quitel told news outlets that the Haitian police, as well as the FBI, are providing assistance with the negotiations and with the group of missionaries. The FBI has not spoken to the kidnappers directly, however, but they are on the ground in Haiti. 

The missionaries were based in the town of Titanyen, and were returning from building an orphanage in Fond Parisien at the time of their kidnapping. 

In addition to requesting prayers for the kidnapped, Christian Aid Ministries is asking for people to pray for the civil authorities who are working on rescuing the group. 

“This group of workers has been committed to minister throughout poverty-stricken Haiti. Their heart-felt desire is to share the love of Jesus,” they said. “Before the kidnapping, their work throughout Haiti included supporting thousands of needy school children, distributing Bibles and Christian literature, supplying medicines for numerous clinics, teaching Haitian pastors, and providing food for the elderly and vulnerable.”

“In recent months, they were actively involved in coordinating a rebuilding project for those who lost their homes in the August 2021 earthquake,” said Tuesday’s statement. “When kidnapped, the group was returning from a visit to an orphanage that receives support from Christian Aid Ministries.”

The 400 Mawozo gang responsible for the most recent kidnapping is the same criminal gang behind the kidnapping of Catholic priests and religious in April. All of those kidnapped in April were released within several weeks; ransom was paid for just two of the kidnapped priests, according to Quitel. 

The website of Christian Aid Ministries states that it serves as a “channel for Amish, Mennonite, and other conservative Anabaptist groups and individuals” to provide aid to those in need around the world. 

It supports aid and anti-poverty efforts in countries such as Haiti and Kazakhstan, but also promotes billboard evangelism in the United States and advertises assistance for any conscientious objectors in the event of a U.S military draft.

Catholic congressman charged with lying to federal investigators; denies accusations

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) / Office of Rep. Jeff Fortenberry

Washington D.C., Oct 19, 2021 / 15:20 pm (CNA).

Catholic congressman Jeff Fortenberry on Tuesday was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of making false statements to federal investigators. 

The Twitter account for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California announced Oct. 19 the indictment charges. Fortenberry is charged with one count of “scheming to falsify and conceal material facts,” and two counts of “making false statements to federal investigators looking into illegal contributions to his 2016 campaign,” the account stated.

In an unlisted video on a YouTube page in his name, Fortenberry explained on Monday that he was visited at his home by FBI agents “about two and a half years ago” regarding contributions illegally made to his campaign by a foreign national. The contributions had been made “about five and a half years ago,” he said.

“They were FBI agents from California. I let them in my house, I answered their questions. Later, we went back and answered further questions,” Fortenberry recounted of his meetings. “I told them what I knew and what I understood.”

“They’ve accused me of lying to them, and are charging me with this,” he added.

He denied having lied to the FBI agents. “I did not lie to them, I told them what I knew,” he said. “We’re shocked. We’re stunned. I feel so personally betrayed. We thought we were trying to help. And so now we’ll have to fight.”

Under federal law, making false statements to federal investigators carries with it a sentence of up to five years in prison.

Fortenberry’s campaign office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNA on Tuesday afternoon.

Fortenberry is currently serving his ninth term in the U.S. House. A Catholic and a Republican, he has been outspoken on pro-life issues and on persecution of Middle Eastern Christians.

Earlier in October, Axios reported that a fundraising webpage had been created for Fortenberry’s legal defense fund. A spokesperson for Fortenberry’s office told Axios that the matter had to do with illegal contributions to his campaign orchestrated by a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire, Gilbert Chagoury.

Over the course of three election cycles, Chagoury made a number of illegal contributions to four federal campaigns, according to the website OpenSecrets.

As a foreign national, he is prohibited from contributing to U.S. elections, but he used U.S. citizens as conduits for his money to reach campaigns and political groups, including Fortenberry’s campaign, as well as those of congressional candidates Lee Terry and Darrell Issa, and the Romney 2012 presidential campaign.

Chagoury paid $1.8 million to resolve allegations that he “provided approximately $180,000 to individuals in the United States” to contribute to four campaigns, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Central District of California reported in March 2021.

According to the attorney’s office, Chagoury was assisted by Toufic Joseph Baaklini in making the illegal contributions. 

In a signed deferred prosecution agreement, Baaklini in March 2021 “admitted to giving $30,000 in cash provided by Chagoury to an individual at a restaurant in Los Angeles who, along with others, later made campaign contributions to the 2016 campaign of a U.S. congressman,” the attorney’s office stated. The Omaha World-Herald reported that Baaklini acted as a conduit for $30,000 in Chagoury’s donations to Fortenberry’s campaign in 2016.

According to Justice Department documents, Baaklini provided the $30,000 in Chagoury’s cash to an individual at a Los Angeles restaurant in January 2016; the individual hosted a fundraiser for “Federal Candidate D,” and at the event, recruited other individuals to make contributions to the candidate’s campaign in February 2016, totaling $30,200.

Baaklini talked to the candidate in February 2016, according to the Justice Department documents, where the candidate asked if “anything was wrong” with the fundraiser. After Baaklini replied “no,” the candidate said that “it all came from the same family.”

Chagoury was a major donor to the Clinton Foundation and helped finance the inaugural summit of In Defense of Christians in September 2014, according to the Washington Free Beacon. He was denied entry into the United States in 2016 by the State Department, reportedly for his ties to Hezbollah, which is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States.

“To be accused of this is extremely painful, and we are suffering greatly. We will fight these charges,” Fortenberry said, asking for prayers.

“Hopefully this all ends happily, for the sake of justice, for the sake of my own integrity, and for the sake of the American system. This is wrong at so many levels,” he said. 

Planned Parenthood whistleblower turned Hispanic pro-life leader details clinic corruption, intimidation

Hispanic pro-life advocate Mayra Rodriguez speaks to a crowd of over 300,000 during Mexico’s “March for Women and Life,” on Oct. 3 2021. / David Ramos/CNA

Denver Newsroom, Oct 19, 2021 / 00:00 am (CNA).

Mayra Rodríguez worked for Planned Parenthood for 17 years and was in charge of three clinics.

In 2016, the abortion provider recognized her as employee of the year.

Shortly thereafter she would become one of the most outspoken pro-life advocates in the Hispanic community.

During her tenure with Planned Parenthood, Rodríguez said she witnessed falsified abortion records, serious complications from abortions, and experienced intimidation based upon false accusations threatening her immigration status after Rodríguez indicated she would report a doctor at the clinic she directed who botched an abortion on a 19-year-old girl and then falsified the report.

In an exclusive interview with CNA’s sister news agency, ACI Prensa, Rodríguez recalled that the doctor "was referring to the head of a 14-week-old baby as if it was garbage, as if it were gauze or any instrument he was using."

The doctor had left the baby's head inside the womb after performing the abortion and then placed an intrauterine contraceptive device inside the girl before he discovered his mistake.

In the end, the Planned Parenthood worker "did not want to document it, and falsified the record," causing the now pro-life leader to challenge the doctor’s actions with her supervisor.

“[N]o more, I’m not going with this anymore,” she recalled saying, warning the supervisor that she would report the doctor.

Planned Parenthood responded by instead accusing Rodríguez of having narcotics in her office and pressured authorities to deport her from the United States.

"What followed was that they fired me," she recalled.

After years of legal battles, Mayra Rodríguez prevailed in 2019 in her wrongful termination lawsuit against Planned Parenthood and was awarded $3 million.

With her experience working in the shadow of the largest abortion company in the world, Rodríguez warns that while those who profit from these practices say that “it is easy, it is the best solution, when in reality it brings many [harmful] consequences" to women.

“Actually, abortion does not guarantee absolutely anything. No, it leaves (women) destroyed for life, and with scars on the uterus. And perhaps they do not lose their lives, but they do lose many more things, such as peace, emotional and mental health. Psychologically they are undone," she said.

"That is not something that the pro-life movement invented or that some psychologists invent, it is the reality of women who have aborted and who today are sorry," she said.

Originally, Rodríguez was hired in a clinic that did not perform abortions, a fact she used to justify her line of work. And Planned Parenthood did not care that she was in the United States on a tourist visa rather than a work visa.

Faced with the possibility of refusing to work in a place that directly performed abortions "they told me, 'If you don't accept the abortion clinic, very soon we will close the clinic that you have in north Phoenix and we do not guarantee that there will be work for you.’”

Eventually, however, when she was pushed to a clinic that did perform abortions, she said, she began to see that complications were not reported correctly, if at all.

"I began to see abortionists falsifying the records of what was happening in the room," she added.

"I began to see that it was a business," she said, and that "abortion was what mattered to them and abortion was their priority."

This realization, when combined with the pressures she experienced as a whistleblower, lead her to rethink the abortion industry and what abortion does to women.

“[W]e see all these women who said, 'My life was going to be better, I did want it [the baby] but my life was going to be better.' And at the end of the day they realize that their life is not better, and they regret having done it.”

Rodríguez, a Mexican national, said she is hopeful that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, can be overturned by the upcoming Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case pertaining to Mississippi's ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy because legal abortion “has never been good for Hispanic women."

The former Planned Parenthood Employee of the Year noted, "once you give women a true option, they will choose not to have an abortion."

Senate committee proposes rollback of pro-life policies

Aug. 17 rally in support of the Hyde amendment in Raleigh, North Carolina / Erin Paré/Twitter

Washington D.C., Oct 18, 2021 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

A Senate committee introduced nine budget bills on Monday that would roll back several pro-life policies, allowing for domestic funding of abortions and funding of international pro-abortion groups.

As part of the appropriations process for the 2022 fiscal year, the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday released nine bills allocating funding to various federal agencies and programs. The proposals exclude or permanently repeal several pro-life policies, including the Hyde amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortions in Medicaid.

The amendment, first passed in 1976, has to be attached to appropriations bills each year to become law. Democratic leaders, including President Joe Biden, have targeted the policy for repeal this year, and House in July passed appropriations bills without the policy included.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), seen as a key swing vote in the chamber, stated on Monday that he would not support relevant appropriations bills unless the Hyde amendment was included.

“As I have said numerous times before, I will not vote for legislation that does not include the Hyde Amendment and I fully expect the final spending bill to include that language,” Manchin stated in a press release on Monday.

The policy was excluded from the appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies. The Weldon amendment, which blocks funding of state governments that discriminate against people or groups opposed to abortion, was also not included in the bill.

The two amendments “for too long have interfered with millions of peoples’ ability to exercise their constitutional right to abortion,” stated Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee.

According to appropriations committee vice chairman Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the bills released on Monday targeted other pro-life policies as well; the appropriations bill for the State Department and Foreign Operations permanently repeals the “Mexico City Policy,” which bars funding of international pro-abortion groups.

The Health and Human Services appropriations bill also requires that clinics receiving Title X family planning funding provide abortion drugs, abortion counseling, and abortion referrals. Recently, the Biden administration updated the requirements of the Title X program to allow recipients to provide abortion referrals, but the administration does not require clinics to provide them.

“Democrat senators are marching in lockstep with Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and the radical abortion lobby over the will of the American people and the lives of the vulnerable. Not only do they want to expand abortion on demand here at home, but they also want to make the United States the number one exporter of abortions overseas,” stated Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List.

Pro-abortion groups on Monday applauded the proposed removal of the pro-life policies.

The Twitter account for Planned Parenthood Action called the bills “historic,” stating, “It's VERY exciting (a historic shift!) to see bills that end many abortion coverage bans and prioritize funding for family planning/sexual and reproductive health care programs and programs that address the maternal health crisis.”

How the Chinese Communist Party sees organized religion

null / Jonathan_Densford/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Oct 18, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

The Chinese Communist Party is targeting organized religion as a threat – even seeking to “change” or “transform” it into a loyal party apparatus, a panel of foreign policy experts said on Monday.

The party, which “historically managed religion” in China, is now taking a much harsher approach and “trying to change it or destroy it,” said Nury Turkel, vice-chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, at a panel event of the Hudson Institute on Monday. Turkel, a Uyghur-American human rights advocate, was born in a re-education camp in China.

To the party, any organized religion “is perceived as a threat,” Turkel said, adding that the party is trying to “create a new type of religion.” Panel members noted that Chinese president Xi Jinping called for the “sinicization of religion” in a 2016 speech, warning that his party is actively seeking to change religious practice to promote its socialist interests.

The panel referenced developments such as the mass internment of mainly-Muslim Uyghurs in the country’s northwest province of Xinjiang, as well as allegations of forced organ harvesting of ethnic and religious minorities, including Falun Gong practitioners, Uyghurs, Tibetans, Muslims, and Christians.

The United States and other countries must pay attention to what the Chinese Communist Party is saying about Xinjiang, Turkel emphasized, citing remarks by President Xi Jinping to “show absolutely no mercy” to the Uyghurs. The Xinjiang Communist party secretary Chen Quanguo has given orders to “round up everyone who should be rounded up,” Turkel noted.

According to the U.S. State Department, more than one million Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities have been put in internment camps, while two million others are subject to forced daytime “re-education” training.

While the party is not detaining mass amounts of Christians as it is the Uyghurs, many Christian leaders have been detained without trial for not following the party’s demands, said Nina Shea, senior fellow and director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the retired Bishop of Hong Kong, has compared the erosion of religious freedom to “being put in a little bird cage,” she noted.

Xiaoxu Sean Li, communications director for the Falun Dafa Association, noted the June 2021 statement of 12 United Nations human rights experts that there was “credible evidence” that religious and ethnic minorities in China were targeted for organ harvesting. Medical data of detainees is being collected for a large database that identifies potential donor matches . Detainees are then killed and their organs are harvested and shipped, he said.

Robert Destro, a law professor at The Catholic University of America and former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in the Trump administration, claimed that the party is now carrying out everywhere what it has been doing in Tibet for years. The party has extracted natural resources from the region and set up surveillance systems while stamping out religious practice, he said.

“Basically, they will sell, they will monetize everything from the natural resources to your liver,” he said of the party, “and anything that gets in the way – particularly religion.”

Shea also noted concerns that Catholic leaders could be vulnerable to blackmail or surveillance by the Chinese Communist Party.

“The Vatican has technology that can be easily penetrated, and has been,” she said. In 2020, just months before the Vatican-China deal was renewed, researchers at a U.S.-based cybersecurity company reported that Vatican computer networks and the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong were targeted by Chinese state-sponsored hackers.

Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, laicized in 2019 after the Vatican determined he was guilty of abusing minors and vulnerable adults, traveled to China eight times and stayed in a seminary of the government-sanctioned church. “There is a lot of blackmail potential there,” Shea said.

Panel members also expressed concern over the agreement between the Vatican and China on the ordination of bishops, initially reached in 2018 and renewed for another two-year period in 2020.

Shea mentioned the case of Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu of Mindong/Funing in Fujian Province, who was consecrated under the deal after Bishop Joseph Guo Xijin, of the underground Catholic Church stepped aside. Zhan reportedly led a delegation of 33 priests to participate in a "formation course" at the Central Institute of Socialism, in collaboration with the United Front of Fujian Province, where they listened to presentations on the "sinicization of religion." 

“To carry out the sinicization of religion with determination, we will continue to follow a path that conforms to socialist society," Zhan said in August 2019.

“He really exemplifies the [party’s] model new Christian leader,” Shea said of Zhan.

US Justice Department asks Supreme Court to block Texas heartbeat abortion law

Pro-life and pro-abortion demonstrators at the Supreme Court. / Rena Schild/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Oct 18, 2021 / 12:05 pm (CNA).

The US Department of Justice on Monday asked the Supreme Court to block a Texas pro-life law, in effect since September, which bans abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat and relies on private lawsuits filed by citizens to enforce the ban. 

In an application to the Supreme Court delivered Oct. 18, the Justice Department argued that Texas had circumvented the Supreme Court’s rulings in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The department asked the Supreme Court to vacate a recent ruling by an appeals court, which reinstated the law after a temporary blockage by a lower court. 

The Texas Heartbeat Act, also known as Senate Bill 8, prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected— around six weeks gestation— except in medical emergencies.

“Thus far, S.B. 8 has worked exactly as intended: Except for the few days the preliminary injunction was in place, S.B. 8’s in terrorem effect has made abortion effectively unavailable in Texas after roughly six weeks of pregnancy. Texas has, in short, successfully nullified this Court’s decisions within its borders,” acting Solicitor General Brian Fletcher wrote on behalf of the Justice Department. 

The Justice Department argued that allowing the law to remain in place would “perpetuate the ongoing irreparable injury to the thousands of Texas women who are being denied their constitutional rights. Texas, in contrast, would suffer no cognizable injury from a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of a plainly unconstitutional law.”

The law allows for awards of at least $10,000 for successful lawsuits, which can be filed by people in or outside Texas, against those who perform or aid illegal abortions. Women seeking abortions cannot be sued under the law, which first took effect Sept. 1.

An Oct. 6 ruling from a federal district judge had barred Texas from actions such as awarding damages to successful lawsuits or enforcing judgements in such cases. A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then temporarily reversed that decision Oct. 8.

In early September the Supreme Court declined to block the law in a 5-4 decision. It said opponents of the law had raised “serious questions” about its constitutionality but the abortion providers challenging the law had not shown they were challenging the proper defendants.

President Joe Biden, a Catholic, has called the law “an unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights” and promised a “whole-of-government” effort to maintain abortion access in Texas.

He directed federal agencies, including the Justice Department, to review what actions could be taken “to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions as protected by Roe.”

Pro-life leaders have pointed out that the Texas state legislature recently increased public benefits for low-income mothers, expanding Medicaid coverage for new mothers and $100 million in annual funding for the Alternatives to Abortion program.

In late September, two non-Texas residents sued a Texas abortion doctor who announced he had performed an abortion in violation of the new law. A Texas pro-life group criticized those lawsuits, however, calling them “imprudent” and “self-serving," since neither were filed for pro-life reasons. 

It is unclear how many lawsuits have been filed under the Texas law.

According to the Justice Department, “Texans with sufficient means have traveled hundreds of miles to obtain abortions in other States -- often making multiple trips to comply with those States’ abortion laws...As the district court found, the influx of patients from Texas has overwhelmed providers in Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, and as far away as Nevada.”

Los Angeles renames Father Junipero Serra Park, despite Catholic praise for sainted missionary

Photograph of a bronze statue of Saint Father Junipero Serra in the Gardens of the Carmel Mission Basilica in Carmel, California / Terry Huntingdon Tydings/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Oct 16, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

While Catholic leaders have made strong defenses of St. Junipero Serra after a wave of vandalism and crime targeted Catholic statues and churches last year, political leaders in California continue to remove markers of the missionary whom Pope Francis canonized as the first Hispanic American saint. 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Oct. 11 that the city would no longer call the park across from Union Station by its informal name, Father Junipero Serra Park. A statue of Serra had been in the park from the 1930s until 2020, when protesters toppled it amid racial tensions and claims the saint, who died in 1784, was involved in injustices of the Spanish colonial period. The park will be called La Plaza Park until a new name is adopted. 

The park is walking distance from La Placita, the Church of Our Lady Queen of Angels, the city’s oldest Catholic church, which has elements dating back at least to 1814. Serra did not have personal links to the key landmark

“We all share the same mission, the mission that brought St. Junípero Serra to California — to share the good news of God’s love and to witness to his love through our actions!” Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles had said on Twitter Oct. 15, showing a historic drawing portraying friars baptizing an indigenous baby.

In a Sept. 12 essay, Gomez joined San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone to criticize the “outrageous claim” about Serra and the mission system he founded. 

“As leaders of the state’s two largest Catholic communities, we serve thousands of native Californians who trace their faith to ancestors who helped build the missions,” they said. “We understand the bitter history of native exploitation. But history can be complicated and facts matter.”

They said Serra was a “complex character” who “defended indigenous people’s humanity, decried the abuse of indigenous women, and argued against imposing the death penalty on natives who had burned down a mission and murdered one of his friends.” 

Even though aged and infirm, Serra had traveled 2,000 miles to Mexico City “to demand that authorities adopt a native bill of rights he had written,” they said.

Mayor Garcetti announced the change to honor Indigenous Peoples Day.

“Los Angeles is a city of belonging that takes responsibility for the mistakes we’ve made in the past,” he said in an Oct. 11 statement. “Our indigenous brothers and sisters deserve justice and today we take a step toward delivering both greater cultural sensitivity and spaces for Angelenos to gather and perform their traditional ceremonies.”

“This is not about tearing down or erecting statues. This is about telling the complicated truth of history,” he said, according to KABC News.

Garcetti spoke at an event with members of indigenous Californians from the Gabrielino/Tongva and Fernandeño Tataviam tribes.

“The buildings that are here were built on the slave labor of native inhabitants. And we’re sorry,” Garcetti continued. “We’re sorry as a city for all the things that were done as a Spanish city, a Mexico city, an American city to erase the peoples whose land this is and always will be.”

Garcetti said the city plans to issue a formal apology, give Native Americans priority access to the park, and work to determine what lands should be given to them.

The Los Angeles mayor’s Civic Memory Working Group released an April 2021 report on engagement with the past. It does not mention Serra or Catholicism specifically. It acknowledges the “history of erasure of the Indigenous people of Los Angeles,” endorses statements of apology or reconciliation, and recommends “clear practices to ameliorate and/or decolonize the practices of erasure and exclusion.”

Also speaking last Monday was Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, a member of the Oklahoma-based Wyandotte Nation, a federally recognized tribe. O’Farrell’s remarks were explicitly critical of Serra.

“Places like Serra Park, named after Junipero Serra who in this region led local subjugation and conversion efforts on behalf of the Catholic Church, are a powerful symbol of past wrongs," O’Farrell said, according to KABC News.

Archbishops Gomez and Salvatore explicitly criticized a California bill’s claim that Serra oversaw a mission system that included “enslavement of both adults and children, mutilation, genocide, and assault on women.”

“While there is much to criticize from this period, no serious historian has ever made such outrageous claims about Serra or the mission system, the network of 21 communities that Franciscans established along the California coast to evangelize native people,” they said in their essay, contending lawmakers base their claims on a single tendentious source, a book by journalist Elias Castillo.

CNA sought comment from the Los Angeles archdiocese but did not receive a response by deadline.

Everything you need to know about the devotion to the Sacred Heart

An image of the Sacred Heart in the Church of the Jesu, in Rome. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 16, 2021 / 10:20 am (CNA).

June 19, is the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But what does that mean? 

Why are Catholics spending time venerating the heart of Jesus?

“Devoting ourselves to the Sacred Heart is one of the easiest, fastest, and most pleasant ways to grow in holiness,” Fr. Ambrose Dobrozsi, a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, told CNA.

“Many saints have done many things to grow close to Jesus Christ, but no way is more sure and more pleasing to Him than to consecrate ourselves to his Sacred Heart through the Immaculate Heart of his Mother,” he added.

Where does devotion to the Sacred Heart come from?

The story behind the modern iteration of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, however, begins on December 27, 1673 at a monastery belonging to the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary (Visitandines) in eastern France.

There, a nun named Sr. Margaret Mary Alacoque began experiencing visions of the Sacred Heart.

Those visions continued for 18 months.

During her visions, Sr. Margaret Mary learned ways to venerate the Sacred Heart of Christ.

These devotions including the concept of a holy hour on Thursdays, the creation of the Feast of the Sacred Heart after Corpus Christi, and the reception of the Eucharist on the first Friday of every month.

As with many mystics, many people were skeptical of Sr. Margaret Mary’s claims of visions. Her confessor, the then-Fr. Claude La Colombière, S.J., (now St. Claude La Colombière, S.J.) believed her, and eventually the mother superior of her community began to believe as well.

The first Feast of the Sacred Heart was celebrated privately at the monastery in 1686.

Sr. Margaret Mary died in 1690, and was canonized by Pope Benedict XV on May 13, 1920.

Initially, the Vatican was hesitant to declare a Feast of the Sacred Heart, but did allow the Visitandines to celebrate a Mass special to this day. As the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus spread throughout France, the Vatican granted the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to France in 1765.

In 1856, after much lobbying by French bishops on behalf of the Feast of the Sacred Heart, Pope Pius IX designated the Friday following the Feast of Corpus Christi as the Feast of the Sacred Heart for the entire Latin rite Church.

On May 25, 1899, Pope Leo XIII promulgated the encyclical Annum sacrum, which consecrated the entire world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This encyclical was written after a nun, Sr. Mary of the Sacred Heart, sent two letters to the pope requesting that he consecrate the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Sr. Mary of the Sacred Heart wrote the letters, she said, after Jesus made the request to her. Pope Leo XIII called this encyclical and the subsequent consecration the “great act” of his papacy.

“Finally, there is one motive which We are unwilling to pass over in silence, personal to Ourselves it is true, but still good and weighty, which moves Us to undertake this celebration. God, the author of every good, not long ago preserved Our life by curing Us of a dangerous disease,” wrote Leo XIII.

“We now wish, by this increase of the honor paid to the Sacred Heart, that the memory of this great mercy should be brought prominently forward, and Our gratitude be publicly acknowledged.”

But why consecrate the world--or anyone--to the Sacred Heart of Jesus? What does that mean?

Pope Leo XIII described the act of consecration as one that will “establish or draw tighter the bonds which naturally connect public affairs with God,” which was especially needed for the world at the turn of the century.  
“While many see religion as unnecessary in a world with more and more technology and resources, swearing allegiance and consecrating ourselves to Christ the King in his Sacred Heart shows that humanity still needs and longs for a compassionate and all-powerful God,” Dobrozsi, the Cincinnati priest, told CNA.

“In a society where some live in decadence and prideful luxury while others are destitute, the burning love of Christ’s Sacred Heart reminds us that the fires of his mercy are also fires of justice. And when the culture, and so many of us, feel hopeless that we could ever change after falling to sins of the flesh, the Heart of our Lord beats with powerful love, eternally declaring that true charity has triumphed over sin and death,” he added. 

These are the promises the Sacred Heart of Jesus made to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque:

1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life.
2. I will give peace in their families.
3. I will console them in all their troubles.
4. I will be their refuge in life and especially in death.
5. I will abundantly bless all their undertakings.
6. Sinners shall find in my Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
7. Tepid souls shall become fervent.
8. Fervent souls shall rise speedily to great perfection.
9. I will bless those places wherein the image of
My Sacred Heart shall be exposed and venerated.
10. I will give to priests the power to touch the most hardened hearts.
11. Persons who propagate this devotion shall
have their names eternally written in my Heart.
12. In the excess of the mercy of my Heart, I promise you that my all powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the First Fridays, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance: they will not die in my displeasure, nor without receiving the sacraments; and my Heart will be their secure refuge in that last hour.

This article was originally published on CNA on June 19, 2020.