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Sen. Tuberville ends pro-life blockade for hundreds of military appointments

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, speaks to members of the press at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 15, 2023 in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 5, 2023 / 21:02 pm (CNA).

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, will allow hundreds of military appointments to get through the Senate as he ends his 10-month-long pro-life blockade that sought to force the Pentagon to change its abortion policies.

The senator began blocking military appointments that need Senate confirmation in February by refusing to allow them to pass via unanimous consent. The blockade was a protest against a Department of Defense policy that provides paid leave and reimbursement for travel expenses for service members who seek to obtain an abortion. It also covers travel costs for dependents and spouses.

Although the policy is still in place, Tuberville announced on Tuesday that he would end his blockade for most appointments — the backlog has grown to more than 400. He said he would only maintain his blockade against a handful of very senior positions. 

“I’m not going to hold the promotions of these people any longer,” Tuberville told reporters, according to CBS News. “We just released them —  about 440 of them. Everybody but 10 or 11 four-stars.”

The military appointments are normally a routine process approved in large blocs by unanimous consent of the Senate. Without unanimous consent, the Senate would have needed to vote on each appointment individually. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, chose to only bring a handful of appointment votes up individually, declining to bypass the blockade of most appointments.

Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America, thanked Tuberville for maintaining the blockade for 10 months in a post on X, which was reposted by the senator.

“We’re proud of the stand that [Tuberville] took on behalf of the preborn,” Hawkins said. “Every day he stood firm was a message sent to Washington that the lives of America’s preborn are worth defending, even if Joe Biden and his Pentagon don’t think so.”

Federal law prohibits Department of Defense funds from being “used to perform abortions except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or in a case in which the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.”

Even though the law does not expressly prohibit funds for travel expenses or paid leave to obtain an abortion, some Republican lawmakers have argued that such policies violate the statute. Republicans have introduced bills that would expressly prohibit agencies from using funds in this way, but those efforts have been blocked in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Mexican lawmakers urged to oppose bill criminalizing ‘conversion therapy’

null / Credit: Image of Freepik

ACI Prensa Staff, Dec 5, 2023 / 18:40 pm (CNA).

More than 170 civil society organizations, led by the National Front for the Family and the Citizens’ Initiative for Life and Family, are calling on the political parties represented in the federal Chamber of Deputies (lower house) in Mexico to oppose a bill that seeks to “criminalize” so-called “conversion therapy” for persons with unwanted same-sex attraction.

In a letter addressed to the presidents and coordinators of the political parties that have a presence in the Chamber of Deputies, the organizations denounced the attempt to criminalize any person “for proposing any therapy, support, accompaniment, guide, or orientation; by creating new crimes against ‘gender confusion.’”

The proposal, which seeks to amend the Federal Penal Code and the General Law on Health, calls for significant penalties, including prison sentences and fines that could exceed 207,000 Mexican pesos (about $11,800) for those who offer or perform such therapy.

According to the bill, so-called “conversion therapy” would be classified as “crimes against people’s sexual orientation or gender identity” and would penalize any person who “performs, imparts, applies, forces, or finances any type of of treatment, therapy, service, or practice that hinders, restricts, impedes, undermines, nullifies, or suppresses the sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression of a person.”

The bill also states that the parents or guardians of people “who engage in the penalized conduct will be subject to being sanctioned with a reprimand or warning at the discretion of the judge.”

The pro-family civil society organizations expressed their concern about the “ambiguity” in the wording of the initiative, pointing out that terms such as “any practice” and expressions such as “hinder, restrict, impede, undermine, annul, or suppress” are “extremely subjective and ambiguous,” which could lead to indiscriminate interpretations.

“With a simple complaint from someone who subjectively believes that their sexual orientation, identity, or gender expression is being ‘hindered, restricted, impeded, undermined, nullified, or suppressed,’” any citizen could get two to 24 years in prison, the organizations warned.

If the bill is passed, they pointed out, “Mexico would be turned into the country with the least respect for fundamental freedoms, since a regime of terror would be installed contrary to health care workers’ [freedom to]  exercise their profession, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and academic freedom.”

The bill is expected to be discussed during an ordinary session Dec. 5.

What is ‘conversion therapy’?

Commonly understood, “conversion therapy” encompasses both a series of psychological and scientific practices as well as religious methods that come, for the most part, from the American Protestant world and are based on evangelical anthropology, which is very different from Catholic anthropology.

However, the LGBT community often uses the term “conversion therapy” to denigrate and criminalize any form of help, even psychological, for people with same-sex attraction.

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

Boy walks 7 miles on muddy roads to receive confirmation, gets a blessing from the pope

Maximiliano Pavillaux walks in the mud to reach the parish for confirmation on Nov. 11, 2023. / The child receives the recognition of Pope Francis from Bishop Mauricio Landra, the auxiliary bishop of Mercedes-Luján, Argentina. / Credit: Photo courtesy of the Pavillaux family

ACI Prensa Staff, Dec 5, 2023 / 18:20 pm (CNA).

An Argentine boy recently made the special effort to walk 11 kilometers (about seven miles) on muddy roads to receive the sacrament of confirmation, and the news reached Pope Francis, who sent him a blessing.

Maximiliano Pavillaux, 11, has been living along with his parents and four siblings in the rural area around Suipacha, a small town in Buenos Aires province, since December 2022.

Throughout the year, the boy has been preparing to receive the sacrament of confirmation, which was scheduled for Nov. 11.

To help him prepare, week after week, his catechist, Eva, sent the study materials to his house. However, as the date for the sacrament approached, worsening weather conditions threatened his being confirmed.

The night before confirmation, and in the midst of incessant rain, Carola and Rolando, Maximiliano’s parents, began to worry because the family vehicles were not going to be able to make it to town on the muddy country roads, and the tractor they use to work the fields had broken down that same week.

There was an alternative, but the parents thought the child wouldn’t accept it: walk seven miles in the mud. However, to their surprise, Maxi said yes.

The boy and his parents left at 7 a.m. so they could reach the church in time for the ceremony that would begin at 10:30 a.m.

“Our boots sank in the mud, we slid,” Maximiliano recalled, speaking with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. On the way, the father joked with the little boy: “When you grow up, you’re going to have a good story to tell.” But they didn’t expect his story to reach so many people.

Upon arriving at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Suipacha, Eva, his catechist, was waiting for him in tears: “She was very happy,” the newly confirmed said.

The priest who offered the Mass mentioned the little boy’s feat as an example to follow, and many came up later to congratulate him.

After the ceremony, “we came away relieved. I was ‘on cloud nine’ all week," the boy’s mother confessed. “We didn’t regret anything, we were happy.”

But the impact did not end there. In recent days, Maximiliano’s story reached the ears of Pope Francis, who sent him his apostolic blessing and a gift from Rome.

The framed apostolic blessing and the gifts of the Holy Father were given to Maxi at last Sunday’s Mass, which was celebrated by Bishop Mauricio Landra, the auxiliary bishop of Mercedes-Luján, who made a special trip to Suipacha to place the recognition from the pope in the boy’s hands.

“I can’t stop crying,” Maxi’s mother told ACI Prensa, highlighting the warmth of the Suipacha community, which came to visit her son and also brought him gifts. “It’s a paradise,” she said.

The protagonist of the story shared with ACI Prensa that “everyone was very happy,” even his rural school classmates, who were “impressed.”

To other children who are preparing to receive the sacrament of confirmation, Maximilian reminded them “that Jesus awaits you and will always be with you, just as he will be with me.”

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

Mexican exorcist warns against ‘vampires’ that can draw you away from God during Advent

null / Credit: Josh Applegate/Unsplash

ACI Prensa Staff, Dec 5, 2023 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Father Eduardo Hayen, an exorcist of the Mexican Diocese of Ciudad Juárez, offered a reflection for the first week of Advent, warning about the “vampires” that can draw people away from God, such as alcohol, sexual vices, and addiction to social media.

Hayen, director of the weekly publication Presencia, explained the process in a post on X on Dec. 3, the first Sunday of Advent, titled “Beware of Vampires.”

Advent in the Catholic Church is the time of spiritual preparation for the birth of the baby Jesus. This year, Advent began on Sunday, Dec. 3, and will conclude on Sunday, Dec. 24, Christmas Eve.

“Do you remember ‘Dracula’ and the novels about vampires? They are fictional beings that suck people’s blood while they sleep. Victims must be in a deep sleep to be attacked by these creatures of the underworld. A vampire first injects a sleep-inducing substance into the victim to keep him asleep and meanwhile sucks his blood,” the priest explained as he began his meditation.

In the same way, the exorcist continued, “in the spiritual life our vampires are our bad habits, especially vices. They enter our lives slowly, like a narcotic; when we are asleep, they begin to suck our plasma, little by little. We start losing energy, strength, motivation, will, courage, enthusiasm, attitude.”

“We can even be living with good habits,” he pointed out, “such as going to church, but only out of habit, without any inner life that motivates us. The conscience falls into a deep sleep and nothing awakens it. We can even lose our sense of good and evil. We stop having pangs of conscience and thus we die spiritually.”

“I believe that all of us, at some point in our lives, have been victims of vampires: alcohol, drugs, the idolatry of money, sexual vices, morally prohibited relationships, addiction to social media, pride and arrogance, the vice of working like a dog, seriously neglecting the family,” he continued.

Given this reality, the Mexican priest asked: “What vampire has injected me with his poison and is consuming my blood?”

The ‘repellent’ to the attacks of the devil during Advent

Hayen explained that “Jesus frees you from the vampire: If we fall asleep, the monster will approach to sink his fangs to our necks. We then need to be awake so that it doesn’t get close. Christ is the only one who can keep us attentive, vigilant. ‘Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come’ (Mk 13:33).”

“The word of God is the repellent to the attacks of the enemy. That is why on this first Sunday of Advent Jesus says: ‘Watch!’ He tells us this because of the immense love he has for us, and he doesn’t want us to go astray.”

The exorcist then urged listening “more attentively to the divine Word in this time of Advent, and let us keep our souls awake in prayer.”

“We don’t know when the Master of the house will come to ask us to give an account — that will be at the moment of our death, whose date we do not know,” the priest explained, “but what we are sure of is that the one with the long fangs will remain far away, at a good distance.” 

To conclude, the Mexican exorcist encouraged his readers to open up “our house to salvation: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me’ (Rv 3:20).”

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

Maryland parents argue for right to opt children out of LGBT curriculum in appeals court

Parents protest the Montgomery County School Board's policy blocking them from opting out their children from pro-homosexual and transgender materials. / Credit: Photo courtesy of Becket

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 5, 2023 / 15:18 pm (CNA).

Attorneys for a group of over 300 primarily Catholic, Muslim, and Ethiopian Orthodox parents from Montgomery County, Maryland, argued in federal court today that the parents should be allowed to opt their children out of school reading materials promoting homosexuality and transgenderism.

According to an attorney representing the parents, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, expedited the case and scheduled the hearing promptly, signaling that a ruling in the case, Mahmoud v. McKnight, is a priority.

“Schools have no business pushing instruction on gender and sexuality without even notifying parents,” said attorney Eric Baxter from the law firm Becket in a Dec. 5 statement.  

The parents sued the Montgomery County Board of Education on May 24 after it changed its parental notification and opt-out policies.

Under the new rule, which the board adopted on May 1, the school district will not notify parents about reading materials that portray or promote homosexuality, transgenderism, and other aspects of gender ideology and will no longer allow parents to opt out of such coursework.

“Parental involvement is crucial for children, especially in elementary school,” Baxter said. “The court should restore notice and opt-outs so parents can parent and kids can be kids.”

William Haun, a senior counsel at Becket and co-counsel in the Montgomery County parents’ case, told CNA that the appeals court seemed open to the parents’ arguments and that he is hopeful the court will restore their right to opt out.

Haun said that the parents are merely advocating for “the same opt-outs that the school board was giving parents all of last school year without incident.”

Though there have been protests and significant pushback against the school board’s rule change, a federal district judge ruled against the parents on Aug. 24, allowing the policy to go into effect at the beginning of the fall 2023 semester.

“What we have are parents who are being forced to decide, ‘Do I have to withdraw my children from public school or on pain of criminal penalties have my children be taught things that violate their religious beliefs?’” Haun said.

“The most troubling thing the parents told us is that they can’t even get a straight answer from their teachers about whether these books will ever be read or when they’ve been read,” he said.

Haun shared the story of one impacted family, the Morrisons, whose 10-year-old daughter has Down syndrome and attention deficit disorder. Even in her specialized courses, the Morrisons’ daughter has had pro-homosexual and transgender materials read to her, which Haun said has been “deeply confusing to her.”

Despite the ruling in August, Haun said the appeals court appeared open to the parents’ arguments and asked “many questions about the amount of discretion that the board has and its policies, the fact that the board allowed opt-outs through all of last year, and then also with regard to the age of the children.” 

According to Haun, homosexual and transgender “pride” storybooks are being read to children in the Montgomery County school district as early as pre-K, to children who are 3 and 4 years old.

“When the board has the discretion to accommodate [religious requests] but refuses to do so, that triggers rigorous judicial review under the free exercise clause, and the board simply has no good response to that rigorous review,” Haun said.

Though this case primarily concerns parents and children in Montgomery County, Maryland, Haun said he believes it also has “tremendous national import.”

“If this is allowed to persist,” he said, “it’s going to send a message nationwide that that long-standing partnership between parents and public schools can be changed in favor of cutting the parents out to pursue an ideological agenda.”

As it stands currently, Haun said that 47 states still require either opt-outs or opt-ins whenever sexuality and gender family issues are being taught to children.

“That is a national consensus that is long-standing in our country,” Haun explained. “Montgomery County goes even further and allows for religious opt-outs to all manner of curriculum: Valentine’s Day, Halloween parties, any kind of reading assignment that offends your religious beliefs. You can work with them to come up with an alternative, but only for these books, for these books only, you won’t even be told when they’re read, and you can’t get an opt-out.”

Haun told CNA that the fact that the 4th Circuit Court expedited the hearing in this case indicates that the judges “see the need for an immediate ruling” and that he expects a ruling in the next couple of months.

Notre Dame board elects Father Robert A. Dowd as new university president

Notre Dame President-elect Father Robert Dowd succeeds Father John I. Jenkins, who is stepping down after 19 years. / Credit: Matt Cashore, University of Notre Dame

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 5, 2023 / 14:17 pm (CNA).

The board of trustees of the University of Notre Dame elected as the university’s new president Father Robert A. Dowd, a Congregation of Holy Cross priest and associate professor of political science who serves as a current vice president.

Dowd, who is also an associate provost for interdisciplinary initiatives and a religious superior of the Holy Cross community at Notre Dame, will assume his new leadership role at the conclusion of the 2023-2024 academic year. He will replace the current president, Father John I. Jenkins, who is stepping down after 19 years.

“I am deeply humbled and honored by the board’s decision,” Dowd said in a statement on Monday, Dec. 4, after the election. 

“We can all be grateful for Father Jenkins’ selfless and courageous leadership for almost two decades,” Dowd continued. “Working together with others, his efforts have positioned the university extremely well in every way. We will build on those efforts. Informed by our Catholic mission, we will work together so that Notre Dame is an ever-greater engine of insight, innovation, and impact, addressing society’s greatest challenges and helping young people to realize their potential for good.”

The incoming president, a 1987 Notre Dame graduate, began working in the university’s campus ministry in 1994 after taking his final vows in the Congregation of Holy Cross, according to a university news release. He earned a master of arts degree in African studies from UCLA in 1998 and received a doctorate in political science in 2003. Since 2004, he has been a member of the political science faculty at Notre Dame with a specialization in comparative politics with a focus on researching how Christian and Islamic communities affect support for democratic institutions.

“We are thrilled that Father Dowd will be Notre Dame’s next leader,” Jack Brennan, the chair of Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees, said in a statement. “His character and intellect, along with his broad academic and administrative experience and his deep commitment to Notre Dame, make him an ideal person to lead the university into the future.”

Dowd also founded the university’s Ford Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies. According to the university news release, the program establishes research partnerships in the Global South and is informed by Catholic social teaching. 

Current Notre Dame President Jenkins congratulated Dowd after the board elected him as the next president. 

“I thank and congratulate our Board of Trustees on selecting Father Dowd as Notre Dame’s next president,” Jenkins said in a statement. “An accomplished scholar, a dedicated teacher and an experienced administrator, Father Bob [Dowd] is also a faithful and generous priest. He will lead the university to being even more powerfully a force for good in the world.”

Dowd will serve as Notre Dame’s 18th president. The university was founded in 1842 by a Congregation of Holy Cross priest. Every president since its founding has been a Congregation of Holy Cross priest.

Parish priest in Nigeria abducted while answering sick call

Nigerian priest Father Kingsley Eze was kidnapped Nov. 30, 2023, traveling to a sick call. / Credit: Catholic Diocese of Okigwe

ACI Africa, Dec 5, 2023 / 13:06 pm (CNA).

A priest from the Diocese of Okigwe in Nigeria was kidnapped Nov. 30 while traveling to administer the sacrament of the anointing of the sick to a parishioner.

The diocese announced Dec. 1 that Father Kingsley Eze, who serves as the parish priest of St. Michael’s Umuekebi Catholic Church in Nigeria’s Imo state, was kidnapped at approximately 8 p.m. that evening and his whereabouts are unknown.

In a statement sent to ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, the chancellor of the diocese, Father Princewill Iwuanyanwu, confirmed the kidnapping and asked for prayers for the safe release of Eze.

“We solicit your fervent prayers that he may come back to us safe and sound,” Iwuanyanwu said.

Agenzia Fides, the information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies, gathered witness accounts of the kidnapping, indicating that gunmen attacked the priest, known locally as “Father Ichie,” along with another person, Uchenna Newman, as they got out of their car at an intersection to do some shopping during a stop while responding to a sick call. 

The bandits are said to have first robbed the street vendors, shooting indiscriminately and wounding a passerby, and then forced the priest and his companion to follow them.

St. Michael’s Parish serves parts of Imo state in southern Nigeria, which has been the center of massive attacks that mostly target Christians.

Earlier, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) shared with ACI Africa a report indicating that from January 2021 to May of this year, security forces and “allied militias” killed 900 unarmed citizens, wounded 700, and arrested 3,500 people, most of them innocent Christians in Imo state.

The report compiled in May also indicates that 1,400 people were extorted and 300 others forced to disappear, meaning they were likely abducted and their whereabouts are unknown.

Additionally, 1,200 civilian houses were burned down across the Nigerian state, displacing approximately 30,000 people.

The Intersociety report further indicates that attacks across Imo state also forced 500,000 citizens “in active age brackets” to flee from the state and had sought refuge in neighboring urban residences located in Umuahia, Owerri, Port Harcourt, Aba, Enugu, Onitsha, and Nnewi.

In the report, Intersociety petitioned for the prosecution of more than 30 top government officials in Nigeria for killings of Christians in the West African country’s state.

Among those Intersociety brought to the International Criminal Court in The Hague was Gov. Hope Uzodinma and other government officials of Imo state whom the research entity has directly linked to the killings and mass displacements of Christians in the state.

This story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, and has been adapted by CNA.

Canonization cause advances for ‘God’s architect,’ Antoni Gaudí

The Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona, Spain, designed by architect Antoni Gaudí, whose cause for beatification is being considered by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints. / Credit: Public domain; r.nagy/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 5, 2023 / 11:21 am (CNA).

The beatification cause for Antoni Gaudí, the Catalan architect known as “God’s architect” and designer of the Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona, Spain, just completed an important step on the path to officially declaring him a saint in the Catholic Church. 

Gaudí’s cause for beatification has been transferred from a civil association to an ecclesial association and has entered its “final process,” according to the Archdiocese of Barcelona. This means that he may soon be elevated to the status of “venerable,” the precursor to the status of blessed and saint.

The Archdiocese of Barcelona has submitted what is known as the “positio super vita, virtutibus, et fama sanctitatis” (position on the life, virtues, and reputation of holiness), which it said is the fundamental argument in favor of Gaudí’s beatification. The positio was sent to the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, the archdiocese revealed in a Dec. 4 statement

According to the archdiocese, this puts the cause in its “final process towards beatification.”

The dicastery will now decide whether to further advance the cause of the Catalan architect who is currently considered a “servant of God.”

If the dicastery approves, it will present the positio to the pope, who would then authorize its publication, allowing Gaudí to be called “venerable.”

Though the Church’s canonization process is lengthy and Gaudí’s cause has been open for decades, CNA reported in 2015 that Pope Francis expressed a desire to move the cause forward. In a 2015 meeting with the Association for the Beatification of Antoni Gaudí, Francis called Gaudí “a great mystic,” according to a CNA interview with Jose Manuel Almuzara, head of the association.

The group of primarily lay Catholics first began investigating the possibility of Gaudí’s sainthood in 1992. The cause for his canonization was then officially opened by the Vatican in 2003.

Cardinal Juan José Omella of Barcelona on Dec. 4 further signaled the archdiocese’s support for Gaudí’s canonization cause by transferring the case to a canonical association that will handle the cause from now on. The canonical association consists of Omella as well as several priests and lay faithful.

Gaudí, who died in 1926 at the age of 73, was a modernist and naturalist architect best known for the massive Sagrada Familia Basilica that towers over the city of Barcelona.

Though designed by Gaudí, the church has been under construction for more than 100 years. Its multitude of towering spires and unique architecture have made it one of the most renowned churches in the world.

The church is an active basilica and was dedicated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, 128 years after construction first began. During the dedication, Benedict said that by uniting nature, sacred Scripture, and the liturgy, Gaudí “brilliantly helped to build our human consciousness, anchored in the world yet open to God, enlightened and sanctified by Christ.”

Gaudí is also known for a wide array of truly unconventional but impressive works, including buildings, palaces, and monuments.

Though not known as a practicing Catholic in his earlier years, Gaudí is said to have had a conversion of heart after he began working on the Sagrada Familia. As the work on the basilica progressed, Gaudí became known for his fasting, asceticism, and devotion to God.

In the decades after starting his work on the Sagrada Familia, Gaudí increasingly devoted himself to prayer and the sacraments along with his work on the basilica.

He was on the way to his daily confession when he was hit by a tram, the accident that resulted in his death three days later.

Nora Heimann, a professor of art history at The Catholic University of America, told CNA that Gaudí’s canonization would bring many architects and artists joy to see one of the most renowned architects included in the canon of saints. 

She likened Gaudí to other renowned Catholic artists throughout history such as Michelangelo and Vincent van Gogh, whose faith journeys were complex but whose work was deeply inspired by their Christianity nonetheless. 

“These are artists that are really deeply informed by their faith, and the act of creation becomes an expression in certain ways of their spiritual journey,” Heimann said. “Their life’s work as artists is a part of their faith journey. That’s really a part of what they’re working out, is where is God in the world? Where is God in our lives? Where is the transcendent?”

According to Heimann, Gaudí’s works evidence his search for God. For all who view his works, they bring out the longing for beauty and transcendence, she said.

“Faith doesn’t lie flat on the page. It gets up and moves,” Heimann continued. “God is the best artist of all, and I think artists like Gaudí that look to nature to find that beauty and then try and capture that beauty themselves in a completely innovative way. Even if you’re not religious, you feel a kind of sense of transcendence.”

Austin bishop celebrates special Mass in Texas prison for female death row inmates

Bishop Joe Vasquez of the Diocese of Austin celebrates Mass in the Mountain View Unit prison in Gatesville, Texas, which houses the state's female death row, on Dec. 1, 2023. / Credit: Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition/TDCJ Communications

CNA Staff, Dec 5, 2023 / 10:41 am (CNA).

Bishop Joe Vasquez of the Diocese of Austin celebrated Mass on Friday at the prison housing Texas’ seven female death row inmates, five of whom have converted to Catholicism during their time awaiting execution. 

The Mass, which took place at the Mountain View Unit prison in Gatesville, Texas, was part of a three-day conference on prison ministry put on by the Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition (CPMC), a group that began as a project of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains

In his homily before the women in the prison, preaching on Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, Vasquez reflected on the son’s betrayal of his father’s love, his repentance, and the unexpected, overwhelming forgiveness and celebration of the son by his father. 

Bishop Joe Vasquez (center) of the Diocese of Austin celebrates Mass in the Mountain View Unit prison in Gatesville, Texas, which houses the state's female death row, on Dec. 1, 2023. Credit: Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition/TDCJ Communications
Bishop Joe Vasquez (center) of the Diocese of Austin celebrates Mass in the Mountain View Unit prison in Gatesville, Texas, which houses the state's female death row, on Dec. 1, 2023. Credit: Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition/TDCJ Communications

He emphasized the mercy of God in calling sinners back into his family, no matter what they may have done in the past. 

“You belong to the Church just as much as anybody else. The walls may separate us, but the walls can never keep Christ down,” Vasquez said to the women. 

“There’s a lot of things we can’t do for you, but we can be present, we can accompany. We want to keep on bringing the message of hope.”

Karen Clifton, CPMC’s executive coordinator, told CNA that the group’s goal is to provide a baseline of formation for Catholics wanting to minister to the incarcerated, responding to a lack of resources to train Catholics to do prison ministry in many dioceses across the country.

Clifton had previously ministered to several of the women on Texas death row — many of whom have been there for decades — back in the 1990s. Over the course of those decades, she said, five of the women converted to Catholicism, thanks in large part to the efforts of Deacon Ronnie Lastovica, the Diocese of Austin’s pastoral care coordinator for the region where the prison is located. 

In addition, Clifton said, six of the current prisoners are lay oblates with the Sisters of Mary Morning Star, a Catholic order of nuns located near Waco that has made ministry to the women on death row part of their mission as religious sisters. Clifton said all six of those women have committed to praying for the same intentions as the sisters, viewing their incarcerated state as something akin to a “monastic life.” 

Clifton said she believes at least two of the women on death row would “almost certainly” join the order officially as nuns if they were released.

“​​I’ve seen the transformation of these women, having met them in the ’90s and then seeing them now. These are prayerful women … their prayer life is so deep. Just being in the units and seeing the transformation … they’re participating in [the nuns’] charism and in their prayer,” Clifton said.

In his homily, Vasquez further reflected on the importance of Catholics practicing the corporal works of mercy.

“This ministry of being with prisoners and accompanying them is so important. It’s one of the essential things … Christ is going to ask on the last day, ‘Were you there? Did you visit me?’ That’s what we’re going to be judged on,” he concluded.

“He didn’t even say how many times you’ve gone to church, how many times did we pray. How did you take care of the other person? Did you give some water to the thirsty? Did you clothe the naked? Did you visit the sick? Did you come and visit those in prison?’” he said.

Texas has carried out nearly 600 state executions and six federal executions since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. According to the same group, Texas has executed more women — six — than any other. 

None of the women on Texas’ death row currently have scheduled execution dates

Mexican bishop: thief who stole Eucharist is excommunicated

null / Credit: Carlos Perez via Cathopic

ACI Prensa Staff, Dec 4, 2023 / 18:40 pm (CNA).

The bishop of Saltillo in the Mexican border state of Coahuila, Hilario González García, has announced the automatic excommunication (“latae sententiae”) of the one or more thieves who broke into a Catholic church and stole and desecrated the Eucharist.

The incident occurred the morning of Nov. 25 at Sacred Heart of Jesus chapel, part of Our Lady of Schoenstatt Parish located on the outskirts of the city.

“As the front door was forced open, and also the tabernacle, the ciborium with the Blessed Sacrament was wrongfully stolen,” read the statement signed by González.

The prelate declared the act as “a violation of the sacred place [the chapel] and a sacrilege against the sacred Eucharistic species, therefore, whoever perpetrated it, if he is Catholic, has committed a crime against the sacraments.”

“For the very serious offense committed against Our Lord,” González invited all the faithful to join in prayer, “performing acts of reparation and promoting love for Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.” For now, he explained, Mass will not be possible until reparation is made for the offense.

Canon 1211 of the Code of Canon Law establishes: “Sacred places are violated by gravely injurious actions done in them with scandal to the faithful, actions which, in the judgment of the local ordinary, are so grave and contrary to the holiness of the place that it is not permitted to carry on worship in them until the damage is repaired by a penitential rite according to the norm of the liturgical books.”

Given the situation, the bishop invited the faithful, and particularly the parish priests, “to take great care for the security of sacred places.” He asked the people in the surrounding area that “if anyone finds the sacred hosts or the ciborium, he should inform Our Lady of Schohnstatt Parish.”

González also reported that whoever broke into the chapel also took two folding tables and a speaker.

In response to an inquiry by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, the diocesan communications office ruled out that it was an act against the faith and described it as an act of vandalism and theft.

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