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U.S. bishops urge public to petition Biden administration over rule denying funds to pregnancy centers

Credit: Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock / null

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 1, 2023 / 13:45 pm (CNA).

The U.S. bishops are urging the public to petition the Biden administration to revise a proposal that the bishops say would “unfairly cut off” federal assistance money from going to pregnancy resource centers. 

In a statement published Thursday, the bishops called on Catholics to join them in urging the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to refrain from restricting Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding available to pregnancy centers.

In a rule change posted to the federal register in October, the Biden administration argued that some states have been using TANF funds “to pay for activities with, at best, tenuous connections to any TANF purpose.”

One of TANF’s purposes, the government said, is to “prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies.”

Organizations such as “crisis pregnancy centers” or “pregnancy resource centers” sometimes receive funding for that purpose, the government said. But if those initiatives only offer pregnancy counseling to women “after they become pregnant,” then TANF funds for that outreach “likely do not meet” the federal government’s standards.

The bishops’ statement this week said that the proposal “would strengthen TANF in multiple ways, making sure it gets to the people who need it most.” However, “this same proposal could also unfairly cut off TANF funds from pregnancy help centers.”

The prelates, through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of the General Counsel, argued in a petition to HHS that pregnancy centers “may provide information or counseling about chastity or natural family planning, to help prevent future out-of-wedlock pregnancies.”

The bishops asked the faithful to join them “in telling HHS to strengthen TANF without taking away support from the good work of pregnancy help centers.”

Public comments may be submitted to the HHS here. Comments must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 1.

A study published in 2021 by the pro-abortion group the Women’s Law Project said that “at least” 10 states send some TANF funding to pregnancy help centers.

In a statement last month, Arlington Bishop Michael Burbidge — the chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities — called the work of pregnancy help centers a “lifesaving ministry” standing in “radical solidarity” with pregnant and parenting mothers and families.

Burbidge said that “when women in challenging circumstances do not know where else to turn, the loving staff and volunteers at pregnancy help centers embrace them with empathy and service.”

Pregnancy help centers “provide a spectrum of care, resources, and material goods to support new mothers,” Burbidge said, including diapers and layettes, babysitting and career services, referrals for housing and food assistance, and personal mentorship and support, as well as medical services, including ultrasounds and prenatal and postnatal care.

“Often, there is nowhere else a mother in need can go for this kind of comprehensive assistance,” the bishop said. 

“The practical, loving service that pregnancy help centers offer extends far beyond the birth of the child, with relationships between mothers and help centers continuing for years.”

Other groups, such as the pro-life organization Human Coalition, have also condemned the Biden administration’s rule change.

Chelsey Youman, national director of Public Policy at Human Coalition, said in a Friday statement that pregnancy centers create a “giant safety net of care and assistance for women in need” and that the Biden administration’s policy change is “cutting this lifeline in the name of abortion.”

Youman also said that “stripping funding from these centers would hurt vulnerable women” and “undermine healthy families.”

“By attempting to remove pregnancy centers from funding, this discriminatory proposal callously blocks pregnant women in need from resources when they need it most,” Youman claimed. “The administration completely disregards the fact that these centers meet program goals by providing aid to needy families, promoting job preparation and marriage, and encouraging two-parent families.”

America’s Catholics weigh in on Pope Francis’ climate change priorities

null / L'Osservatore Romano.

CNA Staff, Dec 1, 2023 / 12:41 pm (CNA).

A defining theme of Pope Francis’ papacy has been his urging of humanity to better care for the natural environment, which he has done most prominently in his landmark 2015 encyclical Laudato Si and numerous subsequent writings and speeches.

The pope’s emphasis on this topic — especially his foray into climate science via his recent encyclical Laudate Deum — has variously drawn both praise and consternation from Catholics in the United States, about half of whom do not share Pope Francis’ views on climate change, according to surveys.

In Laudate Deum, which was released in October as a continuation to Laudato Si’, Francis wrote that the effects of climate change “are here and increasingly evident,” warning of “immensely grave consequences for everyone” if drastic efforts are not made to reduce emissions. In the face of this, the Holy Father criticized those who “have chosen to deride [the] facts” about climate science, stating bluntly that it is “no longer possible to doubt the human — ‘anthropic’ — origin of climate change.”

The pope in the encyclical laid out his belief that there must be a “necessary transition towards clean energy sources, such as wind and solar energy, and the abandonment of fossil fuels.” This follows a call from Pope Francis in 2021 to the global community calling for the world to “achieve net zero carbon emissions as soon as possible.”

He further lamented what he called “certain dismissive and scarcely reasonable opinions [on climate change] that I encounter, even within the Catholic Church.”

In light of the new encyclical — which extensively cites the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — Pope Francis was invited to speak at this week’s United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP28. Though the 86-year-old pope was forced to cancel his trip due to health issues, the Vatican has indicated that he aims to participate in COP28 this weekend in some fashion. It announced today that Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin will represent the pope at the conference. 

While various Catholic groups have welcomed the pope’s latest encyclical, some Catholics have reacted with persistent doubts, questioning whether the pope’s policy prescriptions would actually produce the desired effects. 

How do Americans feel about climate change?

According to a major survey conducted by Yale University, 72% of Americans believed in 2021 — the latest available data year — that “global warming is happening,” and 57% believe that global warming is caused by human activity. 

More recent polling from the Pew Research Center, conducted in June, similarly suggests that two-thirds of U.S. adults overall say the country should prioritize developing renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, over the expansion of the production of oil, coal, and natural gas. That same survey found that just 3 in 10 adults (31%) say the U.S. should completely phase out oil, coal, and natural gas. The Yale study found that 77% of U.S. adults support at least the funding of research into renewable energy sources.

Broken down by party affiliation, Pew found that a large majority of Democratic and Democratic-leaning independents — 90% — favor alternative energy sources, while just under half, 42%, of Republicans and Republican-leaning adults think the same. Within the Republican cohort, however, 67% of Republicans under age 30 prioritize the development of alternative energy sources, compared with the 75% of Republicans ages 65 and older who prioritize the expansion of oil, coal, and natural gas.

In terms of the expansion of alternative energy sources, two-thirds of Americans think the federal government should encourage domestic production of wind and solar power, Pew reported. Just 7% say the government should discourage this, while 26% think it should neither encourage nor discourage it.

How do America’s Catholics feel about climate change?

Surveys suggest that Catholics in the United States are slightly more likely than the U.S. population as a whole to be skeptical of climate change, despite the pope’s emphatic words in 2015 and since. 

separate Pew study suggests that 44% of U.S. Catholics say the Earth is warming mostly due to human activity, a view in line with Pope Francis’ stance. About 3 in 10 (29%) said the Earth is warming mostly due to natural patterns, while 13% said they believe there is no solid evidence the planet is getting warmer.

According to the same study, 71% of Hispanic Catholics see climate change as an extremely or very serious problem, compared with 49% of white, non-Hispanic Catholics. (There were not enough Black or Asian Catholics in the 2022 survey to analyze separately, Pew said.)

One 2015 study from Yale did suggest that soon after Laudato Si’ was released, U.S. Catholics were overall more likely to believe in climate change than before. That same study found no change, however, in the number of Americans overall who believe human activity is causing global warming. 

Pope Francis’ climate priorities

Beyond his groundbreaking writings, Pope Francis has taken many actions during his pontificate to make his own — admittedly small — country, Vatican City, more sustainable, including the recent announcement of a large order of electric vehicles, construction of its own network of charging stations, a reforestation program, and the continued importation of energy coming exclusively from renewable sources. 

Francis has often lamented what he sees as a tepid response from developed countries in implementing measures to curb climate change. In Laudate Deum, he urged that new multinational agreements on climate change — speaking in this case specifically about the COP28 conference — be “drastic, intense, and count on the commitment of all,” stating that “a broad change in the irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model would have a significant long-term impact.” 

The pope lamented what he sees as the fact that when new projects related to green energy are proposed, the potential for economic growth, employment, and human promotion are thought of first rather than moral considerations such as the effects on the world’s poorest. 

“It is often heard also that efforts to mitigate climate change by reducing the use of fossil fuels and developing cleaner energy sources will lead to a reduction in the number of jobs,” the pope noted.

“What is happening is that millions of people are losing their jobs due to different effects of climate change: rising sea levels, droughts, and other phenomena affecting the planet have left many people adrift. Conversely, the transition to renewable forms of energy, properly managed, as well as efforts to adapt to the damage caused by climate change, are capable of generating countless jobs in different sectors.”

‘Leave God’s creation better than we found it’

Dr. Kevin Roberts, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation think tank, told CNA that he has noticed a theme of frustration and confusion among many Catholics regarding the Holy Father’s emphasis on climate change. 

A self-described outdoorsman and former president of Wyoming Catholic College, Roberts spoke highly to CNA of certain aspects of Laudato Si’, particularly the pope’s insights into what he called “human ecology,” which refers to the acceptance of each person’s human body as a vital part of “accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home.”

Dr. Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation. Courtesy of Heritage Foundation.
Dr. Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation. Courtesy of Heritage Foundation.

“I like to think [Pope Francis] personally wrote that, because I could see him saying that,” Roberts said of the passage, which appears in paragraph 155 of the encyclical. Roberts said he even makes a point to meditate on that “beautiful and moving” passage during a retreat that he does annually. 

That portion of Laudato Si’ notwithstanding, Roberts said he strongly believes that it detracts from other important issues, such as direct ministry to the poor, when Pope Francis elevates care for God’s natural creation as “seemingly more important than other issues to us as Catholics.” He also said he disagrees with Pope Francis’ policy prescriptions, such as a complete phasing out of fossil fuels, contained in Laudate Deum

“We of course want to pray for him. We’re open to the teaching that he is providing. But we also have to remember as Catholics that sometimes popes are wrong. And on this issue, it is a prudential matter. It is not a matter of morality, particularly when he’s getting into the scientific policy recommendations,” Roberts said. 

Roberts said the Heritage Foundation’s research and advocacy has focused not on high-level, multinational agreements and conferences to tackle the issues posed by climate change but rather on smaller-scale, more community-based efforts. He said this policy position is, in part, due to the historical deference such multinational conglomerates of nations have given to China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases overall. 

He said agreements within the U.S. itself, with businesses and all levels of government working together, have produced the best results so far when it comes to improving the environment. He also pointed to examples of constructive action that don’t involve billions of dollars, such as families making the choice to spend more time outdoors or engaging in local activities that contribute to environmental conservation and community life, such as anti-litter campaigns and community gardening. The overarching goal, he said, should be to “leave God’s creation better than we found it.”

Roberts — who said he personally believes humans likely have “very little effect” on the climate — said he was discouraged to read other portions of Laudato Si’, as well as Laudate Deum, that to him read as though they had come “straight out of the U.N.” Despite his criticisms, Roberts urged his fellow Catholics to continue to pray for the Holy Father and to listen to the pope’s moral insights. 

“I just think that the proposed solutions are actually more anti-human and worse than the purported effects of climate change,” he added.  

‘A far more complex issue’

Greg Sindelar, a Catholic who serves as CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a conservative think tank that studies the energy industry, similarly expressed concerns to CNA about the potential impact of certain climate change mitigation policies on human flourishing. 

Like Roberts, Sindelar spoke highly of certain aspects of the pope’s message while expressing reservations about some of the U.N.-esque solutions proposed in Laudate Deum

“I think the pope is right about our duty as Catholics to be stewards and to care for the environment. But I think what we have to understand — what we have to balance this with — is that it cannot come at the expense of depriving people of affordable and reliable energy,” Sindelar said in an interview with CNA. 

“There’s ways to be environmentally friendly without sacrificing the access that we all need to reliable and affordable energy.”

Greg Sindelar is CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a think tank in America's leading energy-producing state. Courtesy of Texas Public Policy Foundation
Greg Sindelar is CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a think tank in America's leading energy-producing state. Courtesy of Texas Public Policy Foundation

Sindelar said TPPF primarily promotes cheap, reliable access to energy as a means of promoting human flourishing. The free-market-focused group is skeptical of top-down governmental intervention, both in the form of regulation and incentives or disincentives in certain areas of the energy sector.

When asked what he thinks his fellow Catholics largely think about the issue, Sindelar said many of the Catholics he hears from express the view that government policies and interventions rarely produce effective solutions and could potentially hinder access to energy for those in need.

“I think it’s a far more complex issue than just saying we need to cut emissions, and we need to transfer away from fossil fuels, and all these other things. What we need to do is figure out and ensure ways that we are providing affordable and reliable electricity to all citizens of the world,” he reiterated. 

“When the pope speaks, when the Vatican speaks, it carries a lot of weight with Catholics around the world, [and] not just with Catholics … and I totally agree with him that we need to be thinking about the most marginalized and the poorest amongst us,” Sindelar continued. 

“[But] by going down these policy prescription paths that he’s recommending, we’re actually going to reduce their ability to have access to that,” he asserted. 

Sindelar, while disagreeing with Pope Francis’ call for an “abandonment of fossil fuels,” said he appreciates the fact that Pope Francis has spoken out about the issue of care for creation and has initiated so much public discussion.

“I think there is room for differing views and opinions on the right ways to do that,” he said.

Effective mitigation efforts 

Susan Varlamoff, a retired biologist and parishioner at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in the Atlanta area, is among those Catholics who are committed to Pope Francis’ call to care for creation and to mitigate the effects of climate change. To that end, Varlamoff in 2016 created a peer-reviewed action plan for the Archdiocese of Atlanta to help Catholics put the principles contained in Laudato Si’ into action, mainly through smaller, more personal actions that people can take to reduce their energy usage. 

Retired biologist Susan Varlamoff. Photo courtesy of Susan Varlamoff
Retired biologist Susan Varlamoff. Photo courtesy of Susan Varlamoff

The Atlanta Archdiocese’s efforts have since garnered recognition and praise, Varlamoff said, with at least 35 archdioceses now involved in an inter-diocesan network formed to exchange sustainability ideas based on the latest version of the plan from Atlanta. 

“It’s fascinating to see what everybody is doing, and it’s basically based on their talents and imaginations,” Varlamoff said, noting that a large number of young people have gotten involved with their efforts. 

As a scientist, Varlamoff told CNA it is clear to her that Pope Francis knows what he’s talking about when he lays out the dangers posed by inaction in the face of climate change. 

“He understands the science, and he’s deeply concerned … he’s got remarkable influence as a moral leader,” she said. 

“Part of what our religion asks us to do is to care for one another. We have to care for creation if we’re going to care for one another, because the earth is our natural resource system, our life support, and we cannot care for one another if we don’t have that life support.”

Responding to criticisms about the financial costs associated with certain green initiatives, Varlamoff noted that small-scale sustainable actions can actually save money. She offered the example of parishes in the Atlanta area that have drastically reduced their electric bills by installing solar panels. 

“[But,] it’s not just about saving money. It’s also about reducing fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions, and protecting the natural resources for future generations,” she said. 

Moreover, Varlamoff said, the moral imperative to improve the natural environment for future generations is worth the investment. “When [Catholics] give money, for example, for a social justice issue like Walking with Moms in Need or special needs, the payback is improving lives. We’re improving the environment here,” she emphasized. 

Indi Gregory remembered as ‘true warrior’ at funeral

Indi Gregory. / Credit: Christian Concern

CNA Staff, Dec 1, 2023 / 11:55 am (CNA).

The funeral for Indi Gregory, the 8-month-old baby who lost her life last month after an end-of-life legal battle, was held at Nottingham Cathedral in England on Friday, Dec. 1, at 10:15 a.m. local time.

More than 100 people attended the service led by Bishop Patrick McKinney of Nottingham. Ahead of the service, Indi’s white coffin, adorned with white and pink flowers, was carried through the streets in a horse-drawn carriage. Behind the carriage, a procession of eight Rolls-Royce cars transported her family to the funeral. Indi’s parents, Dean Gregory and Claire Staniforth, placed her favorite musical lamb toy inside her coffin with her body.

Canon Paul Newman read a tribute on behalf of Dean Gregory in which he called his daughter a “true warrior.”

“I honestly and truly feel, deep in my heart, that Indi was not only beautiful, strong, and unique. I just knew, from the start, she was very special,” he said. “Nonetheless, I could never have imagined the sort of journey we and Indi would have to go through to fight for her life.”

“She didn’t only have to battle against her health problems, she had to battle against a system that makes it almost impossible to win. Yet, it was her weakest point, her health problems, that distinguished Indi as a true warrior.”

Gregory pointed out that Indi had much to overcome, including “seizures, two operations, sepsis, e-coli, including other infections, that even another child would struggle to beat.”

“But Indi’s determination to fight for a chance of life really inspired me,” he added.

“The strength she had for an 8-month-old child was incredible. And this is one of the reasons I would have done anything for Indi to have the chance to live, which was denied her.”

Gregory and Staniforth promised to make sure Indi’s life is “remembered forever.”

“I have now reached the conclusion that this was indeed Indi’s destiny … but now this chapter of Indi’s destiny is over,” the tribute read. “Her legacy, however, has only just begun. I wanted to make sure Indi would be remembered forever and she will live on in our hearts and through our voices.”

An Italian delegation made up of the Italian government’s minister for families, Eugenia Roccella, and minister for disabilities, Alessandra Locatelli; former Italian senator and lawyer Simone Pillon; and Jacopo Coghe, vice president of Pro Vita e Famiglia, was also in attendance.

The Italian government offered to pay for the funeral after trying to have Indi cared for at the Vatican’s Bambino Gesù Pediatric Hospital.

During the service, a book featuring thousands of tributes from Italy was given to Indi’s parents.

“We wish to express the Church’s care and closeness to her grieving family at this difficult time,” read a statement from the bishop of Nottingham and the cathedral dean, Canon Malachy Brett. “As a Church we will continue to contribute to wider discussions on questions of when treatment becomes disproportionate to any possible benefit, the duty of the continuation of basic care, and the rights of parents,” they added.

“Over the coming week, and especially on Friday, we hope you will understand that our sole concern will be supporting Indi’s family as they prepare to lay her to rest. May baby Indi rest in peace, and may all who loved her find consolation in the days ahead,” the statement concluded.

In a papal telegram, Pope Francis expressed his “condolences” and “spiritual closeness” to Indi’s parents as they mourn the loss of their child.

The message, signed by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, read: “Entrusting Indi into the tender and loving hands of our Heavenly Father, His Holiness joins those gathered for her funeral in thanking Almighty God for the gift of her all-too-short life.”

“He likewise prays that the Lord Jesus, who said to his disciples, ‘Let the little children come to me… for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs’ (Mt 19:14), will grant abiding comfort, strength, and peace to you all,” the letter concluded.

Indi, born in February and baptized in September, suffered from a rare degenerative mitochondrial disease. She had been receiving life-sustaining treatment on a ventilator at the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, England.

England’s high court ruled that it was in the child’s “best interests” to be taken off life support against her parents’ wishes. Indi’s parents repeatedly appealed in U.K. courts to be able to take their baby to Rome for treatment but lost their legal battle, with the second-highest court in the U.K. ruling on Nov. 10 that her life support be removed “immediately.”

Indi died in her mother’s arms in hospice on Nov. 13. 

Pope Francis sends condolences to family of Indi Gregory at British baby’s funeral

Baby Indi Gregory was baptized on Sept. 22, 2023. Despite not being religious, Dean Gregory, her father, expressed that his time in court fighting for his daughter’s life felt like he had been “dragged to hell.” The experience moved him to decide to have his daughter baptized. / Credit: Christian Concern

CNA Staff, Dec 1, 2023 / 11:35 am (CNA).

Pope Francis sent his condolences on Friday to the family of Indi Gregory, the British baby who died last month after U.K. courts ordered her life support removed. 

The 8-month-old baby died in her mother’s arms in a hospice on Nov. 13, having suffered from a rare degenerative mitochondrial disease over the course of her short life. England’s high court had ruled that it was in the child’s “best interests” to be taken off life support against her parents’ wishes.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said in a telegram addressed to Bishop Patrick McKinney of Nottingham on Friday that the Holy Father “was saddened to learn of the death of little Indi Gregory.”

The pope “sends condolences and the assurance of his spiritual closeness to her parents, Dean and Claire, and to all who mourn the loss of this precious child of God,” the telegram said. 

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said on its website that the Friday message was read aloud at baby Indi’s funeral. The Vatican had said in November that Francis was praying for the baby amid the life support dispute. 

“Entrusting Indi into the tender and loving hands of our Heavenly Father, His Holiness joins those gathered for her funeral in thanking Almighty God for the gift of her all-too-short life,” the Friday telegram said. 

Quoting the Gospel of Matthew, the Vatican said Francis “likewise prays that the Lord Jesus, who said to his disciples, ‘Let the little children come to me… for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs’ will grant abiding comfort, strength, and peace to you all.”

The decision to remove baby Indi from life support was the culmination of a bitter back-and-forth between her parents and the British courts. British Justice Robert Peel originally ruled in early November, following an “urgent online hearing,” that her life support be discontinued. 

The family appealed the decision, but a panel of judges subsequently ruled that the life support removal continue.  

At one point the Vatican’s pediatric hospital, Bambino Gesù, offered to treat the 8-month-old baby, with the Italian government electing to grant her Italian citizenship and to cover the cost of her medical treatment.

Dean Gregory said the fight over his daughter’s life left him feeling as if he’d been “dragged to hell” and ultimately influenced his decision to have the girl baptized.

In unique governors’ debate, DeSantis and Newsom bicker, trade criticism

Florida governor and Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis (left) and California Gov. Gavin Newsom appear on screen from the press room during a debate held by Fox News in Alpharetta, Georgia, on Nov. 30, 2023. / Credit: CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, Dec 1, 2023 / 11:10 am (CNA).

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday sparred at a unique political debate in Georgia, with the 2024 GOP primary candidate and the Democratic governor trading jabs and criticizing each other’s records over the course of 90 minutes.

The event, held in Alpharetta and billed as “The Great Red vs. Blue State Debate,” was broadcast on Fox News and moderated by network host Sean Hannity, who opened the discussion by saying it would focus on “things that impact [Americans] every single day.”

The matchup — between DeSantis, the distant-second-place Republican primary candidate, and Newsom, who is not running for the presidency in 2024 — was a notable enough spectacle in American politics that even Newsom remarked on it, asking rhetorically at the outset of the event: “What are we actually doing here?” 

The Democrat answered himself by saying he was on the stage to “tell the truth about the Biden-Harris record” and make a “point of contrast” between Democrats and Republicans, including DeSantis. 

The two politicians would spend much of the next hour and a half bickering with each other, accusing each other of lying and ruining their respective states.

Abortion, education, taxes

The debate took the form of topics proposed by Hannity, who struggled many times to keep the candidates from lapsing into shouting matches. 

On abortion, Hannity at one point asked Newsom if there should be “any restrictions on the issue of abortion,” including later in pregnancy. Newsom, who has been an outspoken proponent of abortion, skated around the question several times, eventually stating: “It should be up to the mother and her doctor and her conscience.” 

DeSantis, meanwhile, argued against abortion, saying: “I believe in a culture of life. I think we’re better off when everybody counts, when everybody has an opportunity to do well.” Both candidates are Catholic.

On education, Newsom criticized DeSantis for having signed Florida’s parental rights in education bill, a law that in part forbids teachers from discussing sexuality topics with very young children. 

Newsom alleged that DeSantis has been “using education as a sword for [his] cultural purge,” including what Newsom alleged was a “banning binge” by the Florida governor. 

“The role of the school is to educate kids, not to indoctrinate kids,” DeSantis argued. It’s inappropriate to instruct young children on gender ideology, he said. “It’s also important to respect parental rights to know what curriculum is being used in the classroom. And everything should be age-appropriate,” he said. 

The two governors further sparred over a host of topics related to their respective states, including crime rates, taxes, and other political matters. At one point the conversation delved into what Hannity alleged was President Joe Biden’s “significant cognitive decline.”

“He should not be running. He is not up to the job,” DeSantis said of the president. 

“I will take Joe Biden at 100 versus Ron DeSantis any day of the week at any age,” Newsom fired back.

In what was arguably the only moment of bipartisan unity of the evening, the Democrat and Republican both had sharp words of criticism for the terrorist group Hamas, which launched an attack on Israel on Oct. 7 that led to the present Israel-Hamas war. 

“This is a fight between good and evil. Hamas is a terrorist organization. They need to be eliminated,” Newsom said.

Hamas wants a “second Holocaust,” DeSantis said, arguing that the group wants to “destroy Israel and wipe every Jew off the map.”

DeSantis has throughout the early 2024 race remained the only GOP candidate to remotely approach former President Donald Trump in popularity in the primary polls, though even he has lagged very far behind Trump for most of the year, polling at an average of 12% to Trump’s 60% by the last week of November.

Newsom is not running for president in 2024, though commentators have viewed his continued national prominence as a sign of his likely candidacy in 2028 or beyond.

The Democrat has rebuffed suggestions that he has been positioning himself as an emergency candidate in 2024 in case Biden drops out. On Thursday night he confirmed again that he is not running when asked directly by Hannity.

Newsom easily won reelection in California in 2022, with DeSantis similarly coasting to victory in Florida the same year.

Cardinal Parolin will represent Pope Francis at climate conference

Cardinal Pietro Parolin. / Claude Truong-Ngoc via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Rome Newsroom, Dec 1, 2023 / 09:00 am (CNA).

The Holy See’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin will head the Vatican’s delegation to the COP28 climate conference in place of Pope Francis, who continues to recover from an acute bronchial infection. 

“I can confirm that the cardinal secretary of state, Pietro Parolin, will preside over the Delegation of the Holy See already present in Dubai on the occasion of COP28 to bring, on Saturday, Dec. 2, the contribution that the Holy Father would have liked to make,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement released Friday. 

The conference began on Thursday and will conclude Dec. 12.

In the days leading up the announcement, Parolin hinted that he would be going to the conference, telling journalists gathered at the lower chamber of the Italian Parliament: “I have usually participated in all of them, starting with the COP in Paris and all the COPs, so I think I will go this time, too, but obviously shortening my stay.” 

“There is the delegation that stays for the whole two weeks of the works; I would only participate in the first part of the works,” Parolin said. 

The Vatican announced on Tuesday that it was canceling the 86-year-old pontiff’s trip to Dubai at the behest of his doctors. The pope has been struggling since last week with both a mild flu and lingering symptoms from that illness.

Francis said Thursday that he was still struggling with an acute bronchial infection stemming from the flu infection. The Vatican subsequently reported that the pope’s condition was improving, though he was still on an intravenous antibiotic treatment. 

“As you see, I am alive. The doctor didn’t let me go to Dubai. The reason is that it is very hot there, and you go from the heat to the air conditioning,” Pope Francis informed participants in a health ethics seminar at the Vatican on Nov. 30.

Pope Francis shared his hopes for the conference in a Thursday post on X.

“May participants in #COP28 be strategists who focus on the common good and the future of their children, rather than the vested interests of certain countries or businesses. May they demonstrate the nobility of politics and not its shame,” he said.

The Conference of the Parties is an annual climate change summit of the United Nations, held since 1995, that brings together states and nonstate actors in order to discuss meeting current benchmarks in the reduction of carbon emissions and to spearhead initiatives.

The participants include the countries that are signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). One of the major achievements of the COP was the ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement during COP21 in 2015.

Parolin will deliver the remarks originally prepared for the pope on Saturday. The following day, he will preside over the inauguration of an interfaith pavilion alongside Spanish Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, an expert on Islam and current prefect of the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue. 

This is the first time that there will be a faith pavilion at the conference. Hosted by the Muslim Council of Elders, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the COP28 presidency, and an array of other faith-based partners, the venue will feature more than 65 sessions for “religious and other civil society representatives, Indigenous peoples, scientists, youth, and political leaders,” according to the pavilion’s website.

This is Pope Francis’ prayer intention for the month of December

Pope Francis meets on April 29, 2023, with children and adults who are visually impaired and have other disabilities at a Catholic institute in Budapest, Hungary, dedicated to Blessed László Batthyány-Strattmann. / Credit: Vatican Media

Denver Newsroom, Dec 1, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis’ prayer intention for the month of December is for people with disabilities.

“People with disabilities are among the most fragile among us,” Pope Francis said in a video released Nov. 28. 

“Some of them suffer rejection, rooted in either ignorance or prejudice, which then
marginalizes them,” he added.

The Holy Father urged civil institutions to “support their projects through access to education, employment, and places where they can express their creativity.”

“Programs and initiatives are needed that promote their inclusion. Above all else, big hearts are needed who want to accompany.”

The pope encouraged individuals to change “our mentality a little” and open “ourselves to the abilities and talents of these people who are differently abled, both in society as well as in the life of the Church.”

“And so, creating a completely accessible parish does not only mean eliminating physical barriers,” he said. “It also assumes that we stop talking about ‘them’ and start talking about ‘us.’”

He concluded with a prayer: “Let us pray that people with disabilities may be at the center of attention in society, and that institutions offer inclusion programs that enhance their active participation.”

Pope Francis’ prayer video is promoted by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, which raises awareness of monthly papal prayer intentions.

Constant thefts in churches plague Mexican archdiocese

The Cathedral of San Luis Potosí in Mexico. / Credit: Saher via Wiki Commons

ACI Prensa Staff, Nov 30, 2023 / 18:40 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of San Luis Potosí expressed its concern about the constant wave of thefts that is plaguing churches in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí.

Father Tomás Cruz Perales, spokesman for the Archdiocese of San Luis Potosí, said in a statement to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, that although thefts from churches are a constant, most of them have so far been insignificant, primarily thieves looking for money in the poor box.

“It’s a situation that we’re going through, but it’s very identified with people seeking to satisfy needs, perhaps related to [drugs and alcohol], or who live from day to day,” Cruz commented. He also lamented that in some cases, when confronted, the offenders “have even attacked the sacristans.”

However, he noted that on a couple of occasions more serious sacrileges have been committed where sacred objects have been destroyed. In a particularly serious incident at St. Philip of Jesus Church located on the outskirts, eight chalices and six ciboriums with gilded relief (and adorned with) precious stones, patens, microphones, wiring, and video cameras were stolen.

“Even the altar wine was [desecrated]. That day there was a true sacrilege, especially because the consecrated hosts were left on the ground,” the priest added.

Although thefts from churches “are a constant,” Cruz noted that insecurity goes beyond simply stealing money from poor boxes: “It’s a situation that we experience throughout the country, unfortunately,” he noted, alluding to the widespread problem of thefts from homes, businesses, and on the streets.

The spokesman said that most churches, particularly in the state capital, have taken security measures, “such as the installation of cameras and alarms, especially when the churches have already been closed.”

He also thanked the local authorities for the measures implemented so far but called on the population to remain alert in the face of growing insecurity.

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

Opus Dei priest dies from heart attack while preaching at retreat

Father Fadi Sarraf, 51, was a recently ordained Opus Dei priest. / Credit: Photo courtesy of Opus Dei

CNA Staff, Nov 30, 2023 / 18:20 pm (CNA).

Father Fadi Sarraf, a recently ordained priest of Opus Dei, reportedly died of a heart attack while preaching at a facility near Montreal, Canada, where the personal prelature often holds retreats.

“Please pray for the repose of the soul of Fr. Fadi Sarraf, 51, who passed away today suddenly of an apparent heart attack while preaching a retreat at the Manoir de Beaujeu. May he rest in peace,” Opus Dei’s information office in Canada said on X Tuesday.

Prior to being a priest, Sarraf, an immigrant from Damascus, Syria, was an engineer in Canada. He came to that country at 17 years old, according to a June 2021 article on Opus Dei’s website.

German Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who was the personal secretary of the late Pope Benedict XVI, ordained Sarraf in Rome along with 26 other members of Opus Dei on May 22, 2021.

Sarraf, who joined Opus Dei in 1990, first encountered the personal prelature in 1989 when one of his classmates at McGill University in Montreal invited him to visit the Riverview Study Centre, a formation center for young men run by Opus Dei.

“I really enjoyed the different activities that they had, the conferences, the times of prayer in the chapel and especially the study weekends and the hikes,” he said.

Sarraf described leaving his homeland for Canada as “not easy” but said that “by overcoming my fear of the unknown I learned that beauty and goodness can express themselves in different ways.”

“This led me to be curious about discovering it in everyone I meet and in every situation,” he said.

After graduating as a mechanical engineer, Sarraf earned his master’s in business administration at Laval University in Quebec City. 

Following his graduate degree, he became the director of Ernescliff College, a student residence run by Opus Dei that offers Christian formation on the University of Toronto campus.

Sarraf also worked part time leading a formation program at Northmount, a Catholic boys’ elementary school in Toronto.

Moving to Montreal in 1997, Sarraf then worked for the Foundation for Culture and Education as a project manager and fundraiser. The foundation is an institute for the formation of men and women in Canada.

Able to communicate in five languages, Sarraf said that his goal in life was “to do God’s will in whichever way it manifested itself.”

“In the early years that meant doing different projects, taking care of different apostolic activities and construction projects for facilities that would be used for Opus Dei’s apostolates,” he said.

“Over the last four or five years there was more focus on preparing for the priesthood, even though I continued with many of the tasks I had before,” he added.

Sarraf said his decision to become a priest became “crystallized” in 2017, and he moved to Spain to pursue a master’s degree in theology at the University of Navarre.

He then pursued his doctorate in spiritual theology in Rome in 2020. 

“The decision to become a priest is in continuation with my decision to serve God in Opus Dei. Obviously I will serve God in a different way because you change your profession: as a priest you become a priest 100%, so you leave behind your other activities. During the years that I have been in Opus Dei, God has been preparing me for this transition,” he said at the time.

Sarraf said that “to serve others is the primary goal of the priest, to bring them closer to God, to help them discover God’s love in their daily life.”

“Ever since I announced that I was going to be ordained a priest, many people have been writing to me asking me for prayers, assuring me of their prayers too. I actually keep a list of the different requests so that I don’t forget anyone,” he said.

“My primary intention is that more people in the world discover God’s love for them, and that all of us being ordained together be precisely that instrument of God’s love, a bridge between man and God, to help people discover peace and love in their lives,” he said.

Sarraf said that a priest is supposed to help “everyone,” not just Catholics or Christians.

“It’s the example we see of Our Lord in the Gospel. Even though his main mission was to the Jews, he was open to everyone, and the message of the priest, the Christian message, is not only for a few but for everyone,” he said.

“The priest should welcome everyone and try to bring anyone he comes in touch with to discover God’s love and how he or she can correspond to that love,” he added.

NET Ministries launches outreach to U.S. Hispanic youth

YDisciple is a streaming project aimed at providing training resources for adults and teaching materials for youth. It announced in November 2023 it is partnering with the Juan Diego Network to adapt the YDisciple project to the Spanish language and the needs of Latino culture. / Credit: Screenshot of YDisciple

ACI Prensa Staff, Nov 30, 2023 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

In an effort to better serve young people, NET Ministries is collaborating with the Juan Diego Network through its founder, José Manuel De Urquidi, to adapt the YDisciple project to the Spanish language and the needs of Latino culture.

Based in Minnesota and with a national outreach, NET’s mission and vision is “to challenge young Catholics, through relational ministry, to follow Christ and embrace a life of community in the Church in this new Apostolic Age, engaging 1 million young Catholics with the good news through well-formed missionary leaders,” its website explains. 

YDisciple is a streaming project aimed at providing training resources for adults and teaching materials for youth, focused on the creation of small groups that encourage discussions and reflections on faith. Its resource library includes videos, guides for participants and leaders, and resources for parents.

According to a Pew Research study, 60% of Catholics under the age of 18 in the United States are Hispanic.

Annie Grandell, director of YDisciple, explained that in the project, “we are not limiting ourselves to a simple translation, we are ‘transliterating.’ That is, we are working closely with the Juan Diego Network, an organization passionate about involving all the young people of our Church.”

“Not only have they translated the videos, but they have adapted them so that they resonate authentically with the Hispanic community,” she pointed out.

Juan Diego Network is a leading Catholic podcast producer and intercultural marketing and communications agency with a clear focus: evangelize, form, and entertain the Latino community in today’s world.

On Sept. 14, two series, “Dios es” and “La invitación” (“God Is” and “The Invitation”), were launched on YDisciple.tv. The first is a collection of videos based on questions asked by today’s youth.

“La invitación” is a four-part series for small-group study that invites young people to reflect on important questions such as: What does it mean to follow Jesus? What is the Gospel? Why do I need community?

The Spanish collection with these new releases and other introductory videos is available here.

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