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U.S. House passes bill to combat forced organ harvesting

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Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2023 / 15:10 pm (CNA).

On Monday night the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would impose sanctions and penalties on individuals involved in the forced harvesting of human organs.

The bill, authored by Catholic Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, and called the Stop Forced Organ Harvesting Act of 2023, had nearly unanimous support, passing in a 412-2 vote. It will now advance to the Senate.

Under this law, any person determined by the president to be funding, sponsoring, or in any way facilitating the forced harvesting of organs could face sanctions as well as civil and criminal penalties.

Individuals determined to be involved with the forced organ harvesting industry could face civil penalties of up to $250,000 and criminal penalties of $1 million and up to 20 years in prison.

Additionally, individuals involved in the organ harvesting scheme could face sanctions blocking them from entering the U.S. and prohibiting them from engaging in transactions in property or interests in property within the country.

According to Smith, the secretive forced organ harvesting industry preys on minority communities throughout the world, with victims being abducted or imprisoned only for their organs to be removed for harvesting.

In some instances, the victims have been reported to still be alive during the harvesting procedure.

This forced organ harvesting industry is said to be especially prevalent in China under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

“These crimes against humanity are unimaginable,” Smith said during debate on the House floor on Monday. “Every year, under General Secretary Xi Jinping and his Chinese Communist Party, between 60,000 to 100,000 young victims — average age 28 — are murdered in cold blood to steal their internal organs.”

China’s Falun Gong and Uyghur communities, Smith explained, are especially targeted by the CCP for forced organ harvesting. 

“Elderly high-ranking Chinese Communist Party officials have received replacement organs from the very people they despise like the Falun Gong and the Uyghurs,” Smith said. 

“We must act decisively,” Smith continued. “State-sponsored forced organ harvesting is big business for Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party and shows absolutely no sign of abating. Which is why we and the rest of the world need to step up.”  

Police: Shooter at Nashville Christian school was former student, had ‘manifesto’

A woman prays at a makeshift memorial for victims outside the Covenant School building at the Covenant Presbyterian Church on March 28, 2023, following the March 27, 2023, shooting at the school in Nashville, Tennessee. / Credit: Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2023 / 14:50 pm (CNA).

A person who killed six people at a private Presbyterian Christian school in Nashville before being fatally shot by police wrote a manifesto that contained a map of the school and potential entry points, but a motive for the crime has yet to be determined, according to police.

Police confirmed the shooter was 28-year-old Audrey Hale, who was a biological female who identified as transgender and had previously attended Covenant School as a child. Police Chief John Drake said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon that the police do not believe the individual victims had been specifically targeted and that they are still not sure of the exact motive.

When asked whether Covenant School had been targeted for its Christian beliefs or whether there was any significance to the date of the attack, Drake said that is still unclear.

“I can’t confirm either,” Drake said. “I’m not sure [whether it is because] we’re approaching a holy period at Easter and all of that. I can’t confirm any of that. [We] do not know why she targeted that particular church. We do know she was a student at that church at one point but unsure right now if that was the reason why.”

Regarding the manifesto, Drake said there was “quite a bit of writing to it,” but only confirmed that “there was a map of the school” and “a drawing of how potentially she would enter.” He said the manifesto contained writings about other locations, but that he has “not read the whole entire manifesto” and that police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are still working on it.

Drake said that Hale legally purchased seven weapons and brought three of them to Covenant School on the day of the attack. He added that “she was under doctors’ care for an emotional disorder” and that her parents did not believe she should have owned guns and did not know she owned any at the time of the shooting.

Metropolitan Nashville Police Department officers shot Hale in a gunfight at about 10:24 a.m., but not before the shooter took the lives of three 9-year-old students and three adult staff members. The school, which serves about 200 students, provides education from preschool through sixth grade. All six victims were pronounced dead on arrival after being transported to the hospital.

The police were informed of the shooting at about 10:13 a.m. and engaged and killed the suspect by about 10:24 p.m., according to Drake. He said when the officers arrived, “the suspect was in an upper level” and “police cars were hit by gunfire.”

“As officers were approaching the building, there was gunfire going on,” Drake said. “They went in, they went through door by door, [which is how] we clear buildings. They heard gunfire and immediately ran to that and then took care of this horrible situation.”

Drake said he was impressed by the officers’ response but added that there is always room to improve.

“I was really impressed that with all that was going on, the danger that somebody had took control and said ‘let’s go, let’s go, let’s go’ and went in and took care and just tried to end this situation,” Drake said.

“We look at every single incident we have and if there’s a way to get better,” and “you always want to get there in two or three minutes, so there’s a lot of things that could have happened,” he added.

Mourners held a vigil at Belmont United Methodist Church Monday night to pray for the victims of the shooting, and others visited Covenant Presbyterian Church to lay flowers and pray. Bishop Mark Spalding of the Catholic Diocese of Nashville held a special Mass at the Cathedral of the Incarnation to pray for and remember the victims.

“My heart breaks with news of the school shooting at the Covenant School this morning,” Bishop Spalding said in a statement. “Let us pray for the victims, their families, and the Covenant Presbyterian community.”

Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church issued a statement on Facebook to notify its members that one of the children killed in the attack, Hallie Scruggs, was the granddaughter of two of its parishioners.

“Our Lady of the Lake is deeply united in prayer with the Covenant Presbyterian community,” the statement read. “Please continue to pray for the victims and their families and that God brings them a peace only he can provide.”

This is a developing story.

Latin America celebrates Day of the Unborn Child with pro-life marches in several countries

Thousands participated in the March for Life in Lima, Peru, on Saturday, March 25, 2023. / Credit: David Lizarzaburo/March for Life

ACI Prensa Staff, Mar 28, 2023 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

March 25, the solemnity of the Annunciation and the Incarnation of Christ in the womb of the Virgin Mary, is celebrated as the Day of the Unborn Child in Latin America, and large pro-life marches were held in Argentina, Ecuador, and Peru.


According to local organizers, 20,000 people turned out for the march in Buenos Aires alone. In addition, marches were held in the cities of Salta, Tucumán, Bahía Blanca, Corrientes, Mar de Plata, Córdoba, and Santiago del Estero.

Ana Belén Marmora, an Argentine pro-life leader, explained to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, that “the march is one day of the year in which all of us who defend life from conception take to the streets to demonstrate for it.”

The March for Life in Argentina on March 25, 2023. Credit: March for Argentine Life
The March for Life in Argentina on March 25, 2023. Credit: March for Argentine Life

“It’s important because if we really want to repeal the disastrous law on abortion, now more than ever we have to make it clearly seen that this is not over and that no one here is giving up,” she stressed.

On Dec. 30, 2020, the Argentine legislature passed a law pushed by President Alberto Fernández that legalized abortion on demand in the country for up to 14 weeks of pregnancy.

Marmora told ACI Prensa that the march also aims to defend “all the doctors and health professionals who today are pressured to perform abortions and whose conscientious objection is not respected.”

She said the march serves to alert the Legislature to the “grave error” it made in legalizing abortion and pointed to the case of María Del Valle, the first woman to die “from supposedly safe, free, and legal abortion.”


The same day, thousands of people took to the streets in the Ecuadorian cities of Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca to defend the right to life of the unborn child.

President Alfredo Palacios González established the Day of the Unborn Child in the country by decree 1441, which recognizes that the conceived person is a child.

The June 1, 2006, decree states that the conceived child must be guaranteed “the right to life, expressly recognizing the baby as a living human being and a legal person who cannot be discriminated against due to his/her unborn condition.”

March for life in Ecuador on March 25, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of Estela Zea
March for life in Ecuador on March 25, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of Estela Zea

Estela Zea, spokesperson for the Yes to Life movement, told ACI Prensa that she hopes these marches will reinforce “the Christian commitment of all Catholics who value, respect, and promote life, family, and freedom.”

The very large Voice of the Unborn bell featured in the march is owned by the Yes to Life movement and the bishop emeritus of Daule, Giovanni Piccioli. The bell was blessed by Pope Francis in October 2021 and sent to Ecuador “to wake up people’s conscience,” Zea said.

The archbishop of Guayaquil, Luis Cabrera, offered a Mass on Feb. 12, 2022, to receive the Voice of the Unborn bell, which arrived in Ecuador in the midst of the debate on a bill on legalizing abortion in cases of rape.

“We are not gods to decide who lives and who dies,” Cabrera said on that occasion.

The ‘Voice of the Unborn’ bell arrives at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in 2022. Family News Service.
The ‘Voice of the Unborn’ bell arrives at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in 2022. Family News Service.

In his talk at one of the marches, the bishop of Santa Elena and head of the Family and Life program of the Ecuadorian Bishops’ Conference, Iván Minda, encouraged the faithful to be the salt and light of the world.

The prelate urged the faithful that “with your life, witness, and prayer, be the salt and light” as the Lord has taught and “be leaven in the dough and positive change in society and in the time in which we find ourselves.”

In Guayaquil, Nelson Martinez, president of “I Educate My Children,” read a manifesto stating that “Ecuadorians will continue to demonstrate until the lives of unborn children continue to be recognized, respected, and protected from conception; the right of conscientious objection of doctors is guaranteed and all gender politics are excluded.”

“We are on the alert and vigilant before every attempt to violate the law and the constitution that our authorities, especially the Constitutional Court, aim to impose in our country,” he said.


Thousands turned out in a festive and peaceful atmosphere for the March for Life in Lima, Peru, the country’s capital. The march had been suspended for various reasons since 2018.

Entire families, young people, the elderly, children, pro-life groups, schools, and ecclesiastical movements participated in the heavily attended march.

At the end point of the march, a stage was set up featuring musicians and speakers. Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Adriano Tomasi of Lima recalled how the pro-life event began and highlighted its importance.

“We believe in the God of life, in the God of the family. Now as an older person I come to defend our lives, so that laws that exclude us are not made, because life is immeasurable, life is a gift from God,” the prelate told the attendees, according to a news brief from the March for Life.

Thousands participated in the March for Life in Lima, Peru, on Saturday, March 25, 2023. Credit: David Lizarzaburo/March for Life
Thousands participated in the March for Life in Lima, Peru, on Saturday, March 25, 2023. Credit: David Lizarzaburo/March for Life

Carol Maraví, executive director of the March for Life, reminded participants that “defending life is the noblest cause.”

“The marches began in 2002 and we will continue to defend life. See you next year,” she added.

Speaking to Radio Programs of Peru, Maraví stressed that this year's march also was intended to be an expression of solidarity with all those affected by the heavy rains and floods that hit the country, leaving thousands of victims and claiming the lives of at least 50 people.

Juan Carlos Puertas, secretary of the Values, Family, and Life Association, encouraged the marchers to continue participating in pro-life initiatives and to defend the right to life since different countries have passed laws violating that right.

At the event, congress members Rosangela Barbaràn and Alejandro Muñante as well as Lima city council members Giuliana Calambrogio and Leo de Paz signed a banner as a symbol of their commitment to defend life.

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

Religion, patriotism, and having children diminish in importance for Americans: WSJ poll

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St. Louis, Mo., Mar 28, 2023 / 13:45 pm (CNA).

A new poll of U.S. residents suggests that certain values such as religiosity and having children have receded in importance over the past 25 years, while people’s opinion of the importance of money increased during the same period. 

When asked about certain values and whether they consider them to be “very important,” 39% said “religion” was very important to them. By contrast, in 1998, 62% of respondents to the same question said religion was very important to them. 

The poll, released March 27, was conducted earlier this month by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago and funded by the Wall Street Journal. 

Faith was one of several indicators of more traditional values that the survey showed are less important to Americans than they were 25 years ago. The 2023 survey found that these values are less important than in 2019, the last time the survey was done. 

Among the findings:

  • Only 30% of 2023 respondents overall said having children was very important to them, compared with 59% in 1998 and 43% in 2019. 

  • In another notable drop, 38% in 2023 said “patriotism” is very important, compared with 70% in 1998 and 61% in 2019. 

  • Only 43% said marriage is very important (this question was not on the 2019 and 1998 surveys). 

  • The only value that increased in importance in respondents’ minds from 1998 to 2023 was money, which increased from 31% to 43% over the time period. 

“Aside from money, all age groups, including seniors, attached far less importance to these priorities and values than when pollsters asked about them in 1998 and 2019. But younger Americans in particular place low importance on these values, many of which were central to the lives of their parents,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

In the 2023 poll, just 19% of the respondents overall said they attend religious services once a week or more. Some 31% of younger respondents said that religion was very important to them, compared with 55% among seniors, the Journal reported. 

Broken down by self-described political persuasion, 53% of Republicans and 27% of Democrats said religion is “very important” to them, and 38% of Republicans and 26% of Democrats said having children is very important to them.

Bill McInturff, a pollster who worked on a previous WSJ survey, told the paper that “these differences are so dramatic, it paints a new and surprising portrait of a changing America’’ and surmised that “perhaps the toll of our political division, COVID, and the lowest economic confidence in decades is having a startling effect on our core values.”

Other findings

  • The pollsters asked respondents if they are confident or not confident that life for their children’s generation will be better than it has been for them. Seventy-eight percent said they do not feel confident, while 21% said they do. 

  • Only 27% of those surveyed said that “community involvement” was very important to them. That’s a dramatic decrease from 2019, when 62% said it was very important. In 1998, 47% rated it as very important.

  • “Hard work” is less important today that it used to be: 67% said it was very important, compared with 89% in 2019 and 83% in 1998.

The pollsters also asked respondents several questions about current issues that did not appear on the previous surveys. For example, respondents were asked for their opinions on transgender athletes.

Fifty-six percent of respondents said transgender athletes should play on teams matching their biological sex, 17% said they should be able to play on sports teams that match their gender identity, and 25% were unsure. 

The Journal-NORC survey polled 1,019 people from March 1–13. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.The full results of the 2023 WSJ poll can be found here.  The results of the NBC/Wall Street Journal polls taken in 2019 and 1998 can be found here.

Cardinal Hollerich: There’s ‘space to expand’ Church teaching on all-male priesthood

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, SJ, speaking at a press conference in the Vatican on Aug. 26, 2022. / Vatican News YouTube Channel

Rome Newsroom, Mar 28, 2023 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, SJ, the archbishop of Luxembourg and a key leader of the Synod on Synodality, said the Catholic Church’s teaching on a male-only priesthood is not infallible and a future pope could allow women priests.

The cardinal, 64, addressed the topic of the ordination of women, homosexuality, women in the Church, obedience to the pope, and the German “Synodal Way” in an interview with Glas Koncila, a Croatian Catholic weekly, published March 27.

“Pope Francis does not want the ordination of women, and I am completely obedient to that. But people continue to discuss it,” Hollerich said.

The cardinal questioned the infallibility of papal documents such as St. John Paul II’s Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, which affirmed the Church’s perennial teaching that only men may be ordained to Holy Orders.

“It is the Holy Father who has to decide” whether women can be priests, Hollerich said.

The cardinal added that “with time” a pope could go against what John Paul II wrote in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, saying he is “not sure you could call it” infallible.

“It surely is a true teaching for its time, and we cannot just push it aside. But I think that there might be some space to expand the teaching — to see which of the arguments of Pope John Paull II could be developed,” he said.

“But for the moment, if Pope Francis tells me it is not an option, it is not an option.”

John Paul II stated in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: “Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church ... in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful” (No. 4).

Pope Francis has upheld John Paul II’s teaching on a male-only priesthood at multiple points in his pontificate.

“On the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the final word is clear, it was said by St. John Paul II and this remains,” Pope Francis told journalists in 2016.

In a 2018 interview with Reuters, on women priests Francis said: “John Paul II was clear and closed the door, and I will not go back on this. It was something serious, not something capricious. It cannot be done.”

In the Croatian weekly interview, Hollerich said he does not promote women’s ordination, but he supports giving women more pastoral responsibility.

“And if we achieve that, then we can perhaps see if there still is a desire among women for ordination,” he said, noting that such a change would need the consent of the Orthodox Church, since “we could never do that if it would jeopardize our fraternity with the Orthodox or if it would polarize the unity of our Church.”

Last week Hollerich was succeeded as president of the European bishops’ commission (COMECE), a post he held since 2018. On March 7, Pope Francis appointed Hollerich to his council of cardinal advisers.

In the interview, the cardinal was asked if his appointment was a sign of Pope Francis’ trust in him during a time when many Catholics find it difficult to trust the pope.

Hollerich said: “It is very difficult to be Catholic without obedience to the pope. Some very conservative people always preached obedience to the pope — as long as the pope said the things they wanted to hear. The pope says things that are difficult for me, too, but I see them as a chance for conversion, for becoming a more faithful and happier Christian.”

The Luxembourger cardinal also commented on homosexuality, saying: “When Church teaching was made, the term homosexuality did not even exist.”

He claimed that in the time when St. Paul was writing about the impermissibility of sodomy, “people had no idea that there might be men and women attracted to the same sex” and “sodomy was seen as something merely orgiastic at the time, typical of married people who entertained slaves for personal lust.”

“But how can you condemn people who cannot love except the same sex? For some of them it is possible to be chaste, but calling others to chastity seems like speaking Egyptian to them,” he said.

Hollerich added that people can only be held to moral conduct bearable “in their world.”

“If we ask impossible things of them, we will put them off. If we say everything they do is intrinsically wrong, it is like saying their life has no value,” he said. “Many young people came to me as a father and spoke to me about being homosexual. And what does a father do? Does he throw them out or embrace them unconditionally?”

The cardinal also said he finds “the part of the teaching calling homosexuality ‘intrinsically disordered’ a bit dubious.”

“Still, we have to accept all the people and make them feel the love of God. If they feel it, I am sure it will change something in their heart,” he added.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that homosexuality “has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures.” It goes on to say that “basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law” (No. 2357).

Hollerich also was asked to comment on the idea that there is an “effeminate” spirituality in the Church and that it might be to blame for a decade-long decline in vocations to the priesthood.

The cardinal said: “Boys and men disappear in every system that disregards differences in psychology.”

“Looking at the Church, if most of our catechists are women, they will catechize in a feminine way, which will estrange some of the boys. If it is too soft, they will not like it. We have disregarded these differences, and in that sense, have become very feminized,” he said.

‘For love of the pope’: Latin Mass supporters post billboards near Vatican

A group of Traditional Latin Mass supporters in Italy posted signs as part of a billboard campaign in a neighborhood near the Vatican on March 28, 2023. / Credit: Daniel Ibañez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Mar 28, 2023 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

A group of Traditional Latin Mass supporters in Italy has sponsored a billboard campaign in a neighborhood near the Vatican.

The campaign includes about a dozen billboards in four different designs. They were put up March 28 and will stay in place for 15 days, according to its organizers.

Each billboard features a quotation in support of the Latin Mass from either Pope Benedict XVI, St. John Paul II, or Pope Pius V.

Across the top, the billboards say: “For love of the pope. For the peace and unity of the Church. For the liberty of the Traditional Latin Mass.”

A QR code on the billboards takes readers to an article about the Latin Mass from the website

A group of Traditional Latin Mass supporters in Italy posted signs as part of a billboard campaign in a neighborhood near the Vatican on March 28, 2023. Credit: Daniel Ibañez/CNA
A group of Traditional Latin Mass supporters in Italy posted signs as part of a billboard campaign in a neighborhood near the Vatican on March 28, 2023. Credit: Daniel Ibañez/CNA

The billboard campaign follows recent restrictions to the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass as laid out in Pope Francis’ 2021 apostolic letter Traditionis Custodes and other Vatican documents.

Members of the organizing committee are participating in the campaign in a personal capacity, according to a press release. They come from various Catholic groups and blogs, including Messa in Latino, the St. Michael the Archangel Association, and the National Committee on Summorum Pontificum.

The organizers of the campaign “wished to make public their profound attachment to the traditional Mass at a time when its extinction seems to be planned,” the press release stated.

“They do so out of love for the pope, so that he might be paternally opened to understanding those liturgical peripheries that no longer feel welcome in the Church because they find in the traditional liturgy the full and complete expression of the entire Catholic faith.”

“In the Church of our day,” it continued, “in which listening, welcoming, and inclusion inspire all pastoral action and there is a desire to build ecclesial communion ‘with a synodal method,’ this group of ordinary faithful, young families, and fervent priests has the confident hope that its voice will not be stifled but welcomed, listened to, and taken into due consideration.”

“Those who go to the ‘Latin Mass’ are not second-class believers, nor are they deviants to be re-educated or a burden to be gotten rid of,” the press release said.

One of the two billboard designs featuring Benedict XVI includes a quote from the late pope’s 2007 apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, which acknowledged the right of priests to offer Mass in Latin according to the 1962 Roman Missal.

The other displays a quote from Benedict’s accompanying letter to bishops: “What earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred and great for us, too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.”

The quote from Summorum Pontificum comes from article 1: “The Roman Missal promulgated by St. Pius V and revised by Blessed John XXIII is nonetheless to be considered an extraordinary expression of the same lex orandi of the Church and duly honored for its venerable and ancient usage.”

St. John Paul II’s quote is taken from his 2001 message to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments: “In the Roman Missal, called the Missal of St. Pius V, as in several Eastern liturgies, there are beautiful prayers with which the priest expresses the deepest sense of humility and reverence before the holy mysteries: They reveal the very substance of any liturgy.”

The fourth billboard design quotes Pius V’s 1570 apostolic constitution Quo Primum Tempore, which promulgated the then-new Roman Missal: “We decree and we declare that the present letters at no time shall be revoked or diminished, but always stable and valid, they shall persevere in their effect.”

An essay from organizers explained the reason for the billboards.

“This campaign is inspired by the love that all Catholics bear for the pope and wishes to be an expression of it,” it said.

“Love of the pope is not a servile love but a filial love,” it continued, lamenting the dominance of a “cloyingly excessive” servile love of the pope in some Church circles today.

“Like all pious children, those who live their Catholic faith to the rhythm of the traditional liturgy intensely desire that those in the Church who are their fathers show them affection, understanding, closeness, and give them trust, that is, have genuine pastoral care,” it said.

The essay also claimed that “the calm acceptance of the traditional liturgy as fully Catholic, as it is and has never ceased to be, is inextricably linked to the peace and unity of the Church.”

Colorado proposes radically expanding abortion access in the state — again

Colorado State Capitol. / f11photo / Shutterstock.

Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2023 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The Colorado state Senate last week passed a three-bill “Safe Access to Protected Health Care” package that would radically expand abortion access in the state.

The package now advances to the state House, which is likely to hold a vote on it this week. Given that Colorado has a Democratic majority in its House and a Democrat governor, the bills seem likely to become law.

These measures would further expand abortion in Colorado, a state that already has some of the most pro-abortion laws in the U.S.

If enacted, the three bills would mandate employers fully cover abortions until birth, ban treatments to reverse the abortion pill, greatly restrict crisis pregnancy centers from advertising, and more.

Crisis pregnancy centers, which typically offer pregnant women and families free resources and baby materials, are specifically targeted in the new abortion package. The bill covering crisis pregnancy centers calls them “anti-abortion centers” and says they are “the ground-level presence of a well-coordinated anti-choice movement.”

“False advertising relating to the provision of abortion or emergency contraceptive services, or referrals for those services” is strictly prohibited, but it is not clear as to what exactly constitutes “false advertising.” 

The Safe Access to Protected Health Care package further builds on the Reproductive Health Equity Act (RHEA), enacted last April, that codified abortion into the state constitution and expanded access to the point of birth.

The RHEA explicitly states that unborn babies at any stage of development do not have rights in Colorado, saying, “a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent or derivative rights under the laws of this state.” 

Though a state constitutional amendment bans tax dollars from being used to pay for abortions, Brittany Vessely, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, which opposes the package, told CNA that the new laws being proposed would essentially create a workaround.

“If enacted, [this bill] would circumvent Colorado’s prohibition against public funding of abortion in the Colorado Constitution by requiring large employer insurance plans to provide coverage for the total cost of an abortion and requiring individual [and] small-group plans to provide abortion coverage,” Vessely said. “Insurance funding does contain public funding — it is ridiculous to assume premiums mean it’s private funding, but this is the argument from bill sponsors.” 

“Even though the 2022 Reproductive Health Equity Act (RHEA) already made Colorado one of the most extreme pro-abortion states in the country, pro-abortion lawmakers are still pushing for more abortion access,” Vessely said. 

The Colorado Catholic Conference is the public policy outreach arm of the bishops of Colorado. 

“We are engaging [and] mobilizing the parishes and lobbying hard against these bills and for amendments that make them moderately better for Coloradans,” Vessely said. 

The Colorado Catholic Conference is also partnering with state pro-life groups and crisis pregnancy centers to organize efforts to counter the state’s increasingly pro-abortion political landscape. 

Vessely said they will be holding a pro-life rally on April 4, when they will announce their partnership with the National March for Life to put on the inaugural Colorado March for Life in 2024.

“Now that Roe and Casey are overturned, the question of pre-viability abortion has returned to the states. For some state[s] that means a culture of life will flourish. For other progressive-dominated states such as Colorado, that means laws will be introduced that go far beyond Roe and incite a culture of death,” Vessely said. 

“But as Lincoln famously argued regarding another violation of human rights in the 19th century [slavery], our nation cannot stand ‘half pro-abortion and half pro-life,’ it must become one or the other,” she said.

“We know justice will prevail — we just don’t want more babies to be murdered by abortion in the meantime, so as Catholics we are called to advocate for life at all levels of government and in society,”Vessely said. 

Meanwhile, the Safe Access to Protected Health Care package’s sponsors say that the bills will help more women, from both Colorado and states that have banned abortion, to access the procedure. 

“Abortion is legal in Colorado, but legality does not equal accessibility,” one of the bill sponsors, Democratic state Rep. Elisabeth Epps, said in a March 9 press conference. “Our lower-income communities and Coloradans of color face larger barriers and a disproportionate lack of access to protected health care.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is likely to sign the Safe Access to Protected Health Care package given that he has supported previous abortion legislation. 

In July 2022, Polis signed an executive order giving legal protection to abortionists who perform abortions on women from states where the procedure is illegal. 

Besides Democrats, who hold majorities in both houses of the Legislature, the abortion package has the backing of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, the ACLU of Colorado, and the Cobalt Abortion Fund, all of which hold significant influence in Colorado politics. 

With many states restricting or banning abortion after the overturn of Roe v. Wade, Colorado is the closest abortion access point for 1.2 million women, according to Cobalt.

Bishops to Biden administration: Keep in place federal rules to protect college religious groups

null / Credit: NaruFoto/Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., Mar 28, 2023 / 11:30 am (CNA).

Religious student groups on many college and university campuses will lose key federal protections for their ability to organize on campus and set their own standards for leaders if the Biden administration’s proposed rule change is finalized, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has said.

The existing rules are “commonsense protection for faith-based student organizations that have faced discrimination on many public college campuses for nearly four decades,” the general counsel’s office of the U.S. bishops’ conference said in March 23 comments submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.

“By protecting students of all faiths, the existing regulations ensure that students of all religious faiths will be welcome on public college campuses, thereby enhancing authentic religious diversity on those campuses,” the bishops’ letter said. To rescind the rules would tell religious student groups “that they are not welcome on public campuses.”

The Biden administration seeks to rescind the “equal campus access” provisions of the Trump administration’s 2020 Religious Liberty and Free Inquiry Rule.

The 2020 rule has two sets of provisions: one for public institutions that directly receive grants and one that governs states and subgrantees that are public institutions. The rule bars denying religious groups at these public institutions “any right, benefit, or privilege” that other student groups receive, including facility access, student group funding, and official institutional recognition, because of “the religious student organization’s beliefs, practices, policies, speech, membership standards, or leadership standards, which are informed by sincerely held religious beliefs.”

“Thriving religious student organizations benefit not just those who choose to participate in their activities but their campus communities as a whole,” the bishops said in support of the current rule. “Religious student organizations offer spiritual nourishment, emotional encouragement, and friendship to all at a time when university communities are still recovering from the physical, emotional, and spiritual toll that the pandemic wrought.”

COVID-19 restrictions on in-person meetings made students struggle to keep their organizations going, and the current rules are “particularly critical” to their efforts to rebuild, the bishops said. Religious involvement has a relationship with improved ability to cope with stress, less depression, suicide, anxiety, and substance abuse, the letter said.

The Biden administration’s Feb. 21 proposal to rescind the rule said it is “not necessary to protect the First Amendment right to free speech and free exercise of religion.” It is “unduly burdensome” for the Department of Education to investigate alleged violations. The rule has “created confusion” among higher education institutions, some of which say the rule would require them to “allow religious student groups to discriminate against vulnerable and marginalized students.” This requirement, according to the rule proposal, would “go beyond what the First Amendment mandates.”

The bishops’ Office of Legal Counsel said the Biden administration’s proposal ignores concerns that the enforcement of “neutral, generally applicable” nondiscrimination law and policy do not always yield a “just result” and might not survive Supreme Court scrutiny.

Litigation is not an adequate solution for student groups, many of which lack funds for legal representation. Many student members will graduate by the time their rights are vindicated, and there will be a “chilling effect” given “the absence of clear, regulatory protections.”

Preserving the current rule means “students of all faiths will remain free to establish and maintain communities defined by shared religious commitments on their public college campuses,” the bishops’ letter said.

A March 2023 briefing from the Christian Legal Society lists dozens of incidents in which federally funded colleges or universities threatened to exclude student religious groups because of their rules that leaders must agree with their beliefs.

In one significant 2018 incident, almost 40 recognized student groups at the University of Iowa, including InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, were de-registered due to their religious leadership standards. While InterVarsity allows all students to participate as members, it requires leaders to embrace its Christian mission. Other groups expelled from campus for similar reasons included the Latter-day Saint Student Association, the Sikh Awareness Club, and the Chinese Student Christian Fellowship.

In 2019, U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose ruled that the University of Iowa’s anti-discrimination policy was unevenly applied against another Christian club, Business Leaders in Christ, which the university de-recognized in 2017. In March 2021, a federal appeals court ruled that the University of Iowa officials who wrongly de-recognized the Christian student group can be held personally liable for their unconstitutional actions.

The secularist group Americans United for Separation of Church and State is among the groups backing the Biden administration’s proposed rule change. The group’s Feb. 21 statement said the existing rule “forced universities to fund discrimination by religious student groups.”

The USCCB’s Office of Government Relations, writing in a March 24 advocacy update, said that permanent statutory protections are needed. To this end, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty chairman, has co-signed a March 13 letter to several members of Congress backing the language in the proposed Equal Campus Access Act of 2023.

The letter, co-signed by many Catholic leaders, other Christian leaders, and several Jewish leaders, said the proposed legislation will “provide critical protection for faith-based student organizations of all religious traditions.”

The letter affirmed “the freedom of all students to meet on their public college campuses based upon their shared religious beliefs” and their ability “to choose leaders who affirmatively support the distinctive religious messages and missions of their various groups.”

Joining Cardinal Dolan were Catholic co-signers including leaders of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, the Catholic Campus Ministry Association, the Catholic Medical Association, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, and the Michigan Catholic Conference.

Nicaraguans respond to ‘staged’ prison interview with Bishop Álvarez

Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, Nicaragua. / Credit: Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua (CC BY-SA 4.0)

ACI Prensa Staff, Mar 28, 2023 / 09:15 am (CNA).

The auxiliary bishop of Managua, Silvio Báez, who lives in exile in the United States, called the Daniel Ortega dictatorship’s staging this weekend of a prison interview with Bishop Rolando Álvarez “repugnant and cynical.”

Álvarez was sentenced to 26 years and four months in prison on Feb. 10 as a “traitor to the homeland.”

El 19 Digital, a news outlet supportive of the dictatorship, released over the weekend photos and a video of Álvarez, the bishop of Matagalpa, who was visited by a brother and sister on March 25 in the prison known as La Modelo.

In the images, the bishop is wearing his blue prisoner uniform in a clean room surrounded by white curtains and is seen eating with his siblings Vilma and Manuel Antonio at a round table.

In the room there are also three blue armchairs with a coffee table and several potted plants.

“I was very happy to see the photos of my brother, Bishop Rolando. I thank God he’s alive! The scenography of the dictatorship was repugnant and cynical and does not expunge its crime,” Báez tweeted. 

“The power of the prayer of the people and international pressure have been revealed. Release him now!” the prelate added.

In October 2022, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights published a report that cited a number of human rights violations committed in that prison, such as overcrowding of prisoners, lack of medical care, prison staff assaulting inmates, detention of visiting relatives, and food mixed with detergent.

Martha Patricia Molina, a Nicaraguan lawyer and researcher, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, that “the regime yielded to social pressure, and obviously everything was staged to put on a show and say that the bishop is not imprisoned but in a vacation spot.”

“Bishop Rolando José is a bishop of peace and good. We have observed a humble bishop, strengthened, serene, and joyful but mistreated in his physical aspect. He demonstrated humility the whole time to show his executioners that he does not repay evil for evil,” said the author of the report “Nicaragua, A Persecuted Church?”

Félix Maradiaga, a former presidential candidate who was deported to the United States in February with more than 200 political prisoners, pointed out on Twitter that “for those of us who know the prisons of the dictatorship, we know that the serene smile of Bishop Álvarez is due to his courage and faith in God.”

“With these images, the dictatorship isn’t fooling anyone! The bishop’s rights are infringed and he has been abducted! We demand his immediate release,” he remarked.

Maradiaga pointed out in a second tweet that “Bishop Álvarez is in prison because he was the only voice left free to preach the truth in Nicaragua: ‘We are created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness’ #Libertad.”

Father Uriel Vallejos, a priest who managed to escape the persecution of the regime in September 2022 and who now lives in exile, charged on Twitter that “the regime presents Bishop Rolando on a stage set up to sell a false image; which does not correspond to the daily treatment of psychological and inhuman torture.”

“His spirit is strong and he shows the dignity of a people humiliated and shamefully treated by the cruel dictatorship,” the priest said.

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

Catholic charity rescues 20 Afghan girls after ISIS attack

The Vulnerable People Project, a Catholic charity based in the United States, is helping 20 teenage Afghan girls build a new life after an ISIS terrorist attack on Sept. 30, 2022, left them seriously injured and in dire need of medical treatment. / Credit: Vulnerable People Project

Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2023 / 09:08 am (CNA).

The Vulnerable People Project (VPP), a Catholic charity based in the United States, is helping 20 teenage Afghan girls build a new life after an ISIS terrorist attack on Sept. 30, 2022, left them seriously injured and in dire need of medical treatment.

The 20 girls were taking a practice university entrance exam at Kaaj Hazara Education Center in Kabul when a suicide bomber hit the school. The bombing killed 53 people, including 46 young students, and many more were wounded. 

“These women were targeted for two reasons: Because they are women pursuing an education [and] because they belong to a heavily persecuted ethnic minority group,” Marilis Pineiro, legislative and diplomatic relations liaison for the VPP, told CNA.

Jason Jones of the Vulnerable People Project, a Catholic charity based in the United States, is helping 20 teenage Afghan girls build a new life after an ISIS terrorist attack on Sept. 30, 2022, left them seriously injured and in dire need of medical treatment. Credit: Vulnerable People Project
Jason Jones of the Vulnerable People Project, a Catholic charity based in the United States, is helping 20 teenage Afghan girls build a new life after an ISIS terrorist attack on Sept. 30, 2022, left them seriously injured and in dire need of medical treatment. Credit: Vulnerable People Project

“The Hazaras have long been persecuted in Afghanistan,” Pineiro said, “and after the Taliban took back over Afghanistan after the botched withdrawal in August 2021, their persecution has immensely increased.”

Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, many girls and women across the country have had to discontinue their education. According to UNESCO, 80% of school-aged Afghan girls and women — 2.5 million people — are currently out of school.

The Hazaras are Shia Muslims in Sunni-majority Afghanistan, and the very fact that these girls were even pursuing higher education made them targets.

Jason Jones, the founder and president of VPP, told EWTN News Nightly Friday that the rescue of the girls provides a bit of hope where there has been much despair.

“The Hazara are a minority in Afghanistan that are facing genocide at the hands of ISIS,” Jones said. “Being able to get these young women the medical help they need, being able to see that they can further their education … this is an exciting moment, it gives hope.” 

The Vulnerable People Project, a Catholic charity based in the United States, is helping 20 teenage Afghan girls build a new life after an ISIS terrorist attack on Sept. 30, 2022, left them seriously injured and in dire need of medical treatment. Credit: Vulnerable People Project
The Vulnerable People Project, a Catholic charity based in the United States, is helping 20 teenage Afghan girls build a new life after an ISIS terrorist attack on Sept. 30, 2022, left them seriously injured and in dire need of medical treatment. Credit: Vulnerable People Project

Now safely in Spain, the girls are being treated at Hospital Ruber Internacional.

Though some need serious operations and have a long road to recovery, the Spanish government has offered the girls visas for resettlement and the VPP has plans to help them afford the university program of their choice.

The VPP is also working on the paperwork to reunite the girls safely with their families in Spain.

As for the other survivors who were not as seriously injured, VPP is working to help them resettle and build their life in another country, which the organization could not disclose.

“They all have very bright futures ahead,” Pineiro said. “We believe that they … [will] contribute greatly back to society in the future.”