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Catholic school in Michigan sues over mask mandate for elementary children

CNA Staff, Oct 30, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- A Catholic elementary school in Michigan is suing the state’s health department over a mandate that masks be worn continually during the school day, calling the requirement unnecessary, and harmful to its younger students.

Resurrection School in Lansing, along with two parents of children at the school, are suing Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon and several other public officials over an Oct. 9 mandate that students wear masks at school all day, even if their desks are spaced six feet apart in the classroom.

“In accordance with the teachings of the Catholic faith, Resurrection School believes that every human has dignity and is made in God’s image and likeness. Unfortunately, a mask shields our humanity. And because God created us in His image, we are masking that image,” the lawsuit, filed Oct. 22 in the Western District Court of Michigan, reads.

“Wearing a mask conveys the message that the wearer has surrendered his or her freedom to the government...a mask has become a symbol. And because a mask has become a political symbol, the wearing of a mask is a form of symbolic speech,” the plaintiffs argued.

“Consequently, via the mask mandates, Defendants are compelling Plaintiffs to engage in a form of expression and to convey a message with which they disagree.”

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has issued nearly 200 executive orders since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Her order mandating masks in the classroom for elementary school students, announced Sept. 25, was set to go into effect Oct. 5.

The state Supreme Court invalidated all of Whitmer’s executive orders Oct. 12, but the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services subsequently revived some, including the elementary school mask mandate, as emergency epidemic orders.

Father Steven Mattson, pastor of the parish church to which the school belongs, and principal Jacob Allstot, sent a letter Oct. 27 to school parents explaining the rationale for the lawsuit.

Resurrection has taken steps to space students’ desks six feet apart in the classroom and is taking measures to disinfect common areas and install UV lights and filtration systems in each room.

The school leaders argued that data from the state shows that young children are unlikely to carry and contract the virus. Mattson and Allstot noted that Michigan has documented 5,816 cases of COVID-19 associated with a school population, only 151 of which arose from preschools and elementary schools.

Resurrection serves students aged kindergarten through eighth grade. As of Oct. 20, Mattson and Allstot wrote, approximately 98% of documented COVID-19 cases associated with a school outbreak in Michigan occurred in children aged sixth grade through college.

Mattson and Allstot related the story of an anonymous kindergartener at Resurrection, who is shy and has a speech impediment. “Wearing a facial covering exacerbates her struggles with speech,” they said.

Students have been back at Resurrection School since August, and the school has not had any cases of coronavirus among students or staff since reopening, the letter reads.

The school has clarified that they are only "contesting masks for younger children when socially distanced in their own classrooms," and not for teachers, older students, or younger students when they are in mixed groups, Fox News reported.

Under an earlier executive order by Whitmer, elementary students didn’t have to wear masks while seated in class, only during transition periods. Whitmer’s later order and the MDHHS order made it mandatory for students to wear masks at all times while learning.

According to state data, no elementary schools in Michigan have experienced an outbreak of coronavirus with more than 10 people infected.

Amid protests, Polish president backs abortion for fatal fetal abnormalities

CNA Staff, Oct 30, 2020 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- Facing protests across the country after a court ruling prohibiting abortion for fetal abnormalities, the Polish president said Friday he would propose a bill permitting abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality.

Andrzej Duda said Oct. 30 he would introduce a bill to allow abortion “when prenatal tests or other medical indications show a high probability that the child will be stillborn or have an incurable disease or defect that will lead to the death of the child inevitably and directly, regardless of the therapeutic measures used,” Reuters reported.

Protests across Poland began after the constitutional court ruled Oct. 22 that a law permitting abortion for fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional. The Polish constitution says that the state "shall ensure the legal protection of the life of every human being".

The court was asked to examine the law last year by a group of 119 MPs belonging to the ruling Law and Justice party, as well as two smaller parties.

About 1,000 abortions are legally procured in the country annually, the vast majority of them on the basis of fetal abnormality.

Abortion will continue to remain legal in cases of rape, incest, and risk to the mother’s life.

Duda initially welcomed the court ruling, telling the Warsaw daily Dziennik Gazeta Prawna Oct. 23 “that abortion for so-called eugenic reasons should not be allowed in Poland. I believed and believe that every child has a right to life.”

The AP reported Oct. 29 that Duda had told RMF FM that abortion should be prohibited for non-fatal fetal conditions such as Down syndrome, but permitted for fatal abnormalities: “it cannot be that the law requires this kind of heroism from a woman.”

He said: “I believe that there should be a regulation which, in case of lethal defects, will unequivocally guarantee the rights on the side of the woman.”

Protesters have been blocking roads and bridges, and disrupting churches, across Poland. A mass protest is occurring Friday evening in Warsaw.

Supporters of abortion rights disrupted Sunday Masses across Poland this weekend. They have also left graffiti on church property, vandalized a statue of St. John Paul II, and chanted slogans at clergy. Roads and bridges have been blocked, and some workers were on strike Oct. 28.

Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski has said 76 people have been detained in connection with protests at churches, and 101 cases are being prosecuted.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has warned the protests will contribute to the spread of the coronavirus. Poland has had more than 299,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, and 4,851 deaths.

Five people have been charged with organizing an illegal protest attended by 850 on Oct. 29 in Police, about 10 miles north of Szczecin.

And the national public prosecutor has said protest organizers will be charged with “causing an epidemiological threat”.

Internationally, protests have been held outside Polish embassies, ranging from tens gathered in Rome, to more than a thousand in Stockholm.

The permanent council of the Polish bishops’ conference said Oct. 28 that the Church makes a “constant call for protection, including legal protection, of the life of every human being, including the unborn.”

“The commandment of love imposes on us an important duty of caring, helping, and giving mothers and families who receive and raise sick children the protection they need,” the bishops reflected. “We thank all communities and institutions that have been doing this for years, and we appeal to parishes, Catholic movements, and other church organizations to undertake specific initiatives to meet those who need and will need both individual and institutional help.”

“The Church will always stand for life and support initiatives that protect it,” they added.

The bishops spoke of their “great pain” at “the escalation of social tension and aggression” during the protests.

“The vulgar language used by some of the protesters, the destruction of social property, the devastation of churches, the profanation of sacred places, or prevention of the liturgy there are also disturbing.”

“We call on everyone to engage in meaningful social dialogue, to express their views without resorting to violence, and to respect the dignity of every human being,” they said.

The bishops commented that “we ask politicians and all participants of the social debate, at this dramatic time, to thoroughly analyze the causes of the situation and look for ways out, in the spirit of truth and for the common good, without instrumentalizing matters regarding the faith and the Church.”

The bishops thanked the pastors and laity “who are courageously defending their churches,” as well as the security services. “The Church wants to remain open to all people, regardless of their social and political affiliation,” they noted.

Reflecting on the impositions due to the coronavirus pandemic, they appealed for “solidarity and compliance with the sanitary safety regulations.”

“We also ask all believers to fast, to give alms, and to pray for social peace, with the intention of protecting life, putting an end to the ongoing crisis, and ending the developing pandemic,” they concluded.

Pope Francis says more action coming in fight against Vatican corruption

Rome Newsroom, Oct 30, 2020 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis has said more changes are on the horizon as the Vatican continues to combat financial corruption inside its walls, but he is cautious about success.

Speaking to Italian news agency AdnKronos this week, Pope Francis said corruption is a deep, recurrent problem in the history of the Church, which he is trying to counter with “small, but concrete steps.”

“Unfortunately, corruption is a cyclical story, it repeats itself, then someone comes along to clean and tidy up, but then it starts again waiting for someone else to come and put an end to this degeneration,” he said in the interview, published Oct. 30.

“I know I have to do it, I was called to do it, then the Lord will say if I did well or if I did wrong. Honestly, I’m not very optimistic,” he smiled.

Pope Francis said “there are no particular strategies” to how the Vatican is fighting corruption. “The tactic is banal, simple, to go forward and to not stop. You have to take small but concrete steps.”

He pointed to changes made over the last five years, stating that more changes will be made “very soon.”

“We went to dig into finances, we have new leaders at the IOR, in short, I had to change many things and many will change very soon,” he said.

The interview came as the Vatican City tribunal is reportedly investigating various financial scandals and allegations connected to the former curial official Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

Becciu’s lawyers deny he has been contacted by Vatican authorities.

On Sept. 24, Becciu was asked by Pope Francis to resign from his Vatican job and from the rights of cardinals following reports alleging that he used millions of euros of Vatican charity funds in speculative and risky investments, including loans for projects owned and operated by Becciu’s brothers.

Becciu, who was formerly number two at the Secretariat of State, has also been at the center of a scandal involving the controversial purchase of a London building. He was also reportedly behind the hiring and paying of an Italian woman accused of misusing Vatican funds intended for humanitarian work for extravagant personal purchases.    

Becciu has been accused of using Cecilia Marogna, a self-styled security consultant, to build “off-books” intelligence networks.

In the Oct. 30 interview, Pope Francis responded to a question about recent criticism he has received, including the renewal of the Vatican-China deal and his apparent approval of the legalization of same-sex civil unions in a recently-released documentary.  

The pope said he wouldn’t be telling the truth if he said criticism does not bother him.

Nobody likes criticism given in bad faith, he added. “With equal conviction, however, I say that criticism can be constructive, and then I take it all because criticism leads me to examine myself, to make an examination of conscience, to ask myself if I was wrong, where and why I was wrong, if I did well, if I did wrong, if I could do better.”

Irish bishops petition government to lift ban on religious gatherings

Rome Newsroom, Oct 30, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- Irish bishops met with the prime minister this week to petition the government to lift the current coronavirus restrictions on public worship as soon as possible.

“We have been doing everything possible to keep our church buildings safe, and there is no evidence that the church buildings and church worship have actually been a source of contagion or spreading the infection, so I have to say that I was disappointed and I said that to the Taoiseach,” Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh said in a radio interview Oct. 30, after the meeting.

Public worship has been suspended in the Republic of Ireland since Oct. 7 due to an Irish government decree that placed the entire country under “Level 3” restrictions as a result of an increase in coronavirus cases. It is the second time that public Masses in Ireland have been suspended this year.

Archbishop Martin, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam, Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly of Cashel and Emly, and Bishop Dermot Farrell of Ossory met with Taoiseach Micheál Martin Oct. 28 to express their “great desire to return to worship as soon as possible.”

“The Archbishops emphasised that they are fully supportive of the Public Health messages but highlighted that the coming together in prayer and worship, especially for Mass and the Sacraments, is fundamental to Christian tradition and a source of nourishment for the life and well-being of whole communities,” according to a statement from the Irish bishops’ conference.

In the meeting, the bishops also stressed the “mammoth effort that has been made by priests and volunteers at parish level to ensure that gatherings in Church are as safe as possible,” as well as the “importance of gathering for worship as a source of consolation and hope at Christmas time.”

“We were hopeful when we left,” Martin said in an interview with LMFM Radio Oct. 30. “I’m hopeful that the Taoiseach will now bring our message to the cabinet … and the further health authorities.”

The Irish government has yet to announce any changes to the coronavirus restrictions, which are currently at “Level 5”.

Bishops in France also met with their prime minister on the eve of France’s second lockdown to discuss security measures regarding the coronavirus as well as the attack on Notre-Dame de Nice.

Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort of Rhiems, president of the French bishops’ conference, and Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris met with Prime Minister Jean Castex in Paris Oct. 29.

Arcbhishop Moulins-Beaufort had written to French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this week requesting that public worship be allowed to continue during France’s lockdown and that Catholics would be allowed to visit cemeteries for All Souls’ Day.

The bishop also requested that the French government allow Catholic chaplaincies in hospitals, nursing homes, and prisons to continue to take place during the lockdown.

Other French bishops spoke out on social media. Bishop Marc Aillet of Bayonne wrote on Twitter Oct. 28: “It seems to me that freedom of worship is at stake, especially since schools remain open.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="fr" dir="ltr">Le Président n’a rien dit sur les lieux de culte, mais Mgr de Moulins Beaufort lui a écrit hier pour lui demander qu’en cas de confinement, les célébrations cultuelles demeurent. Il en va, me semble-t-il, de la liberté de culte, d’autant que les écoles restent ouvertes.</p>&mdash; Mgr Marc Aillet (@MgrMAillet) <a href="">October 28, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

France’s lockdown went into effect Oct. 30 and will last until at least Dec. 1. Under the current restrictions, people are not permitted to go 1 kilometer beyond their homes, except for essential work or medical reasons. All non-essential businesses, including restaurants, are closed, but schools will remain open.

La Croix has reported that the French Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin specified in a video conference with religious leaders Oct. 28 that churches will be allowed to remain open, however all religious ceremonies throughout the country, including public Masses, weddings, and funerals will be suspended from Nov. 2 until at least Dec. 1.

The French bishops’ conference and local dioceses have not made any official announcements, except to clarify that All Saints’ Day Masses will be allowed to take place.

Europe is currently experiencing a second wave of coronavirus cases which has led Italy and Spain to impose curfews and Germany to close all bars and restaurants for one month.

More than 1 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 in France, where 35,823 people have died after contracting the coronavirus, according to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Following the Oct. 29 terrorist attack at Notre-Dame de Nice, a spokesperson for the French Bishops' Conference, Vincent Neymon, argued for the importance of France’s churches to remain open for Christians.

“To close the churches would be to bend one’s knee in the face of this threat which seeks to sow anxiety among our compatriots,” Neymon said in a radio interview with RTL.

Philadelphia archbishop offers prayers, calls for peace after days of unrest

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 30, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Archbishop Nelson Perez of Philadelphia has offered prayers for the family of a man recently killed in a police shooting, and decried the violence which has broken out across the city following the incident. 

“In recent days, emotions have again flared and spilled into the streets in the City of Philadelphia as people collectively struggle with the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Walter Wallace, Jr.,” said Perez in a statement provided to CNA on Friday, October 30. 

“I express my deepest and prayerful condolences to Mr. Wallace’s family, loved ones, and all of those seeking to cope with a variety of complex feelings at this time.” 

Wallace, a Black man, was shot and killed by police on October 26. At the time of his death, his family said he was experiencing a “psychological episode,” prompting his family to call for an ambulance. He was shot after police say he advanced towards them while carrying a knife. 

“Like many Philadelphians I have been watching the news with growing anxiety and sadness as civil unrest ensued again in our beloved City,” said Perez. 

“We must not allow the negative and destructive actions of a few to distract from issues and questions that need to be addressed. Violence in any form has no place in our hearts and deepens wounds rather than heals them,” he added. 

Since Wallace’s death, there have been incidents of violence and looting throughout the city of Philadelphia. Two men were arrested and charged with several felonies on Thursday after they were discovered with a van full of explosives. 

At least 11 ATMs have been stolen, and as of Thursday, more than 200 people have been arrested. At least 40 of those arrests were for burglary related to widespread looting on Wednesday night. 

The National Guard was brought into Philadelphia earlier this week, and the city was placed under a 9 p.m. curfew on Wednesday night. 

“May God bring peace to the City of Philadelphia,” said Perez. “May He fill our hearts with goodness so that we might see the Lord in all of our brothers and sisters and treat one another with charity, dignity, and respect.”

Biden touts ‘inspiration’ of Catholic faith, despite abortion and religious freedom positions

CNA Staff, Oct 30, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Democratic nominee for president Joe Biden said this week that his Catholic faith motivates his political career and underpins his plan for governing, but did not mention his support for abortion, his plan to end religious freedom protections for nuns, or his support for expansive new transgender laws, all of which have drawn criticism from U.S. bishops. 

Writing in The Christian Post Thursday, an essay from Biden, “The greatest commandment has guided my politics,” discussed the former vice president’s coping with family bereavement, his concept of public service, and his plans for serving as president. 

“These abiding principles – loving God and loving others – are at the very foundation of my faith,” said Biden. He wrote that throughout his 47 years in politics, “these values have kept me grounded in what matters most,” and are “the cornerstone upon which our family is built.”

Biden has made his Catholic faith a part of his campaign messaging in recent weeks, as the candidate tries to reach Catholic voters in swing states, whose votes could be crucial for either candidate in close states. 

Biden wrote Thursday that his “Catholic faith drilled into me a core truth – that every person on earth is equal in rights and dignity, because we are all beloved children of God.” 

“We are all created ‘imago Dei’ – beautifully, uniquely, in the image of God, with inherent worth,” said Biden.  

While he wrote that all people are created in the image of God, Biden did not discuss how this statement of belief relates to his support for abortion up to the point of birth, and for increased federal funding for abortion, both explicit platform commitments of his campaign.

The U.S. bishops have said that ending legal protection for abortion is the “preeminent priority” in politics because of the gravity of abortion. Pope Francis has argued that legal protection for the unborn is a necessary predicate to a just society, compared abortion doctors to hitmen, and the practice of abortion to Nazi-style eugenics.

The former vice president said that “as a country, we are facing numerous crises, including threats to the very idea of imago Dei,” and calling the election part of “a battle for the soul of the nation.” 

Biden added that he has been influenced by “faith leaders, organizations, and communities devoted to being our brother’s and sister’s keepers and working to ensure opportunity for all” throughout his career. 

“People of faith have been at the forefront of many of our country’s most important achievements for justice, equality, and peace,” he said. He added that he is “committed to partnering with congregations, faith-based organizations, and faith leaders,” to help them assist their communities.

Biden has said repeatedly that he would repeal religious freedom exemptions to the so-called contraceptive mandate, which had granted relief to Catholic organizations, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, who were compelled under the order to provide contraceptive and abortifacient drugs for their employees. 

Earlier this year, Biden called a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the sisters’ protections “disappointing” and promised to revoke their exemption once elected. 

On the same day the article in the Christian Post was published, Biden also reiterated his support for the Equality Act, which would create broad anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and “gender identity.” 

In March, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said that “the Act’s definitions alone would remove women and girls from protected legal existence.” 

The bishops also warned that the Equality Act would harm free speech, conscience, and exercise of religion. It would require that homeless shelters place biological men with vulnerable women and adoption agencies place children with same-sex couples, even if this violates their beliefs and the birth mother’s wishes. 

The act would also require health professionals to provide “gender transition” treatments and surgeries in violation of their medical and ethical judgments, the bishops said.

As part of the legislation, the Equality Act would exempt itself and its enforcement from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a move that the bishops called “unprecedented.”

Biden has promised to see the Equality Act passed in the first 100 days of his administration.

‘Let Michael be the miracle’ - The baby healed through Fr. McGivney’s prayers

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 30, 2020 / 10:20 am (CNA).- Fr. Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, will be beatified Oct. 31. This is the story of the miracle attributed to his prayers.

Catholics have a whole host of saints to choose from in times of trouble or anguish. There’s St. Rita, patroness of the impossible, St. Dymphna, the patroness of anxiety, and when all else fails, there’s always the patron of lost causes himself, St. Jude.

But when the Schachle family of Dickson, Tennessee, needed a saint - and a miracle - they went a different route.

When Michelle Schachle found out that her 13th child not only had Down syndrome, but fetal hydrops--an uncommon, typically fatal condition where fluid builds up around the vital organs of an unborn child--she and her husband appealed to Fr. Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, for help.

The unborn Schachle was given “no hope” - the combination of fetal hydrops and Down syndrome meant that he had no chance of survival.

“The doctor that ran the neonatal high risk clinic at Vanderbilt University told us that she had been doing this for 30 years and she had never seen a child survive the diagnosis,” Daniel, the baby’s father, told CNA. Michelle had already had one stillborn child, and she was overcome with fear at the thought that would happen again.

Asking Fr. McGivney for his intercession was a no-brainer for the Schachle family. Daniel works for the Knights of Columbus and had previously been Grand Knight of his local council. The Schachles even dubbed their homeschool the “Fr. McGivney Academy.”

“We’ve worn out his prayer card over the years,” said Daniel. When it came time to invoke some spiritual help during a crisis, there was no question about what they would do next.

“We knew that (Fr. McGivney) looked out over our family, and we looked to him a lot and asked him to pray for us, anyways. So it was more of a natural, I would say, flow,” said Daniel. Michelle concurred, telling CNA that McGivney had answered prayers “many times” for their family.

When they prayed for their unborn baby, Fr. McGivney came through again - in a big way. With hundreds of people praying for McGivney’s intervention for her child, and following a quick pilgrimage to Fatima with the Knights of Columbus, Michelle’s next ultrasound showed no sign of fetal hydrops.

Her doctor that day, initially unaware that her patient was the woman she had heard about - the woman with the terminally ill baby - began to discuss what they would do when the baby was born. Michelle was confused by that development.

“And so I just looked at her and I said, ‘Doctor, I was told there was no hope’,” she told CNA. She said learning her son would likely survive his birth sent her into “a lot of shock” and that the rest of that day was a blur.

One thing Michelle clearly remembers, however, is being asked by her doctor what she would name her baby. Until that day, she and her husband had planned to name the baby Benedict, and had been referring to him as “Baby Ben.” But when she heard that her child had been healed, Michelle knew he had to be named Michael, in honor of McGivney.

“I just remember weeping and saying, ‘His name is Michael,’” said Michelle. “And we never called him Ben after that.”

On May 27, 2020, Pope Francis confirmed what the Schachles already knew: they had witnessed a miracle. After extensive medical examination, the unexplained healing of Michael was decreed a miracle that arose through the intercession of Fr. McGivney.

As a result of that miracle, McGivney will be beatified, and referred to as Bl. Michael McGivney.

The Schachles told CNA it had crossed their minds that their prayer could lead to the miracle needed to advance Fr. McGivney’s cause for canonization, but that was not their specific goal in asking for his intercession.

“I remember praying the whole, the entire trip (to Fatima), ‘let Michael be the miracle,’ but like in my heart of hearts, that meant he would live,” Michelle explained to CNA. “And I never thought beyond him living...I only wanted him to live.”

Daniel told CNA that he remembered thinking, “There's gotta be a baby (who) survives this at some point. Why can't it be ours?” along with “You know, Fr. McGivney needs a miracle. Why can't it be Michael?”

During the investigation into Michael’s healing from fetal hydrops, the Schachles were repeatedly asked why they did not pray for Michael’s healing from Down syndrome as well. They explained that they viewed a child with Down syndrome as a “blessing” to their family, and that they were only concerned about him being born alive.

Despite the miraculous healing from fetal hydrops, the rest of Michelle’s pregnancy did not go entirely according to plan. She delivered her son in an emergency cesarean section after just 31 weeks gestation. Michael weighed only 3 pounds 4 ounces, and spent the first 10 weeks and one day of his life in the hospital.

Michael was born on May 15, 2015. They call him Mikey.

Even with Michael’s early arrival into the world, the hand of providence - and Fr. McGivney - was at work with the Schachle family.

Michael’s birthday, May 15, is the anniversary of the chartering of the first Knights of Columbus council. Michelle and McGivney have the same birthday. Both Michael and McGivney were born into families of 13 children - McGivney was the eldest, and Michael the youngest.

Michael was born with a heart defect commonly found in children with Down syndrome, and had heart surgery at just seven weeks old. He had another brush with death at six months old, when he came down with a respiratory illness that landed him in the hospital for six weeks.

But today, Michael is a happy and active five-year-old. He has no conditions related to his prematurity or fetal hydrops, and, by his family's account, he's thriving.

His parents told CNA that while their youngest “definitely knows he is special” and “knows that he is the king of the world,” he is not yet aware about the miraculous circumstances surrounding his birth. They say that Michael has strengthened their prayer lives, and has made a “big impression” on his doctors.

“There were times where (the doctors) were like, ‘We don't know what's going to happen and he's going to make it or not,’” Michelle said to CNA. “And I'm like, ‘I don't think you understand, God has big plans for this child.’” 

“When God shows up like that, it changes everything,” she said.

This report was first published in June, 2020.


Congressman urges vigilance on anniversary of anti-trafficking law

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 30, 2020 / 09:40 am (CNA).- Two decades after the enactment of a landmark anti-trafficking law, the threat has evolved during the current pandemic—and so too, must the response, says the congressman who wrote the law.

“We’ve got to make sure that there’s a continued prioritization of all the law enforcement—from the cop on the beat, to the prosecutors, to the U.S. attorneys—to make this a priority,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), author of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, in an interview with CNA.

Smith is also the special representative on human trafficking issues to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, an international body of legislators from 57 member states that promotes security through dialogue.

During the new coronavirus pandemic, he warned, children are more vulnerable than before to being trafficked, and survivors are at greater risk of being re-trafficked.

“In talking to the NGOs, the Catholic Church, others, they know that there has been a very serious increase—and law enforcement backs this up as well—in grooming of children online,” Smith said.

With children at home more often during lockdowns or partial lockdowns, predators try to contact them online. “That becomes a process of exploitation that ends with rape and other kinds of heinous activity,” Smith said.

“These people who do it know how to manipulate the mind of a child.”

Also as a result of the pandemic, trafficking survivors may have less access to the help they need if the operations of NGOs and charities are restricted because of public health orders, or a lack of donations. Shelters or employment programs might not be available. Jobs that once helped victims get back on their feet may not exist in the current economic climate.

“They’re very susceptible for being re-trafficked,” Smith said of survivors.

Smith authored the TVPA, which was signed into law 20 years ago on Oct. 28. Although the Mann Act had prohibited prostitution and unlawful sexual behavior across state or country borders, there were “no prosecutions whatsoever” for human trafficking at the time before the TVPA, Smith said.

The public was also not fully aware of the scope of the problem. Smith recalled talking to U.S. attorneys about trafficking, but they would think he was referring to drug trafficking.  

Some people thought the issue of sex trafficking to be just a “vice,” without considering the abuses inflicted upon women and children. There was a “very antagonistic view toward prostitutes and prostitution,” Smith said, “not realizing, I believe, that so many of those women are coerced into that profession.”

His law not only beefed up prosecution of traffickers—establishing punitive sentences up to life imprisonment, and asset confiscation—but effected a “sea change” in how trafficking victims were treated under the law, he said.

Under the TVPA, minors with at least one commercial sex act were considered sex trafficking victims and could not be prosecuted. If “force, fraud, or coercion” against an adult were established in a trafficking case, those adult victims could not be prosecuted either.

Furthermore, the law had a comprehensive approach to fighting trafficking. It both punished perpetrators, and set up what Smith calls a “whole-of-government” strategy including funding protection for victims, and prevention programs.

It reauthorized the Violence Against Woman Act, for instance, and doubled funding under the law for women’s shelters, rehab programs, and housing and other initiatives for battered and abused women. It set up a national hotline for victims to report and get connected to help, and created a whole new asylum category, the “T Visa,” for trafficking survivors to come to the U.S. temporarily.

With trafficking occurring across international borders, the TVPA established an office at the State Department for monitoring other countries’ records on fighting trafficking, and holding them accountable.

In the 20 years since the law’s enactment, there have been thousands of trafficking prosecutions—including some recent notable ones.

Charges made in 2019 against investment banker Jeffrey Epstein were under Smith’s TVPA. “Smallville” actress Allison Mack and NXIVM’s Keith Raniere were charged under the TVPA for running a sex trafficking ring.

“We could always do better, no doubt about it,” Smith said of increasing prosecutions, “but the key is a serious and sustained effort to, wherever there is a pimp that’s cruelly mistreating a woman, we go after him. And we stop him. And we put him behind bars for a very, very long periods of time.”

On Oct. 27, Raniere was sentenced to 120 years in prison for sex trafficking and racketeering.

The next day, deputy attorney general Jeffrey Rosen looked back on the enactment of the TVPA on its 20th anniversary.

“It is important to look back at the coordinated efforts that produced the TVPA,” he said, “a collaboration of survivors, civil society advocates from faith-based groups and across the political spectrum, and policymakers.”

That collaboration, Smith told CNA, was critical in the fight against trafficking the past two decades. Federal agencies have come together with leaders of faith communities and NGOs, and local and state prosecutors and law enforcement “to all get on the same page for combatting this.”

“That approach, I think, still is a good one,” he said.

Italian 'security consultant' freed from jail until Vatican extradition request decided

Rome Newsroom, Oct 30, 2020 / 07:18 am (CNA).- An Italian woman under investigation by Vatican authorities for suspected embezzlement was released from a jail in Milan on Friday, as she awaits a decision on the Vatican’s extradition request.

A Milan court of appeal decided Oct. 30 to release Cecilia Marogna, 39, from Milan’s San Vittore jail on condition that she daily register her presence to local police, according to Il Fatto Quotidiano.

A self-described geopolitical analyst and security consultant, Marogna has been in custody following her arrest Oct. 13 on an international warrant issued by the Vatican through Interpol.

Vatican prosecutors requested Marogna’s extradition to the city state, which she has appealed. The appeal process is expected to take as long as a month.

The native Sardinian has been accused of misappropriating Vatican funds from payments of more than 500,000 euros she received from the Secretariat of State through her Slovenia-registered company in 2018 and 2019.

The accusation is that funds intended for humanitarian purposes were used for personal expenses, including stays at luxury hotels and purchases of designer label handbags.

Prosecutors deemed Marogna a flight risk, asking her to be kept in police custody, but her appeal for release was accepted by a Milan court of appeals Oct. 30.

Marogna has said she worked for the Holy See’s Secretariat of State as a security consultant and strategist, and she acknowledged receiving hundreds of thousands of euros from the Vatican, stating that the money all went to her Vatican consultancy work and her salary.

Expensive gifts “were used to create cooperative relationships,” she said.

It has been reported that these payments were made under the direction of the former sostituto of the Secretariat of State, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who has been accused of using Marogna to build “off-books” intelligence networks.

Becciu has also been reported to be under Vatican investigation for his connection to Marogna’s case, but lawyers for the cardinal denied the report in a statement Oct. 28, stating that Becciu has not been contacted by Vatican authorities.

“In the interest of His Eminence the Cardinal, the defense attorneys once again reiterate that their client has not received any communication from the competent authority,” said lawyers Fabio Viglione and Agostinangelo Marras.

‘Go fix those problems’: Why four Catholics are willing to serve in local public office 

Denver Newsroom, Oct 30, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).-  

For 26 years, Kimberly Hahn homeschooled her six children. But once her youngest reached high school, he said he did not want to be home without peers and lonely.

And so, just two weeks before the homeschool year would have started, Kimberly and her husband Scott found themselves driving their last child to a Catholic boarding school in Pennsylvania.

“When we dropped him off and got home, I said to my husband: ‘Two weeks earlier I thought I was schooling for the year...what do I do now?’”

“And all he said was, ‘Maybe it's time for politics?’”

The Catholic faith of newly-confirmed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett has been under intense scrutiny in the weeks leading up to her nomination, and even in years prior. In 2017, during her nomination hearing for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Barrett was told by Senator Dianne Feinstein that “the dogma lives loudly” within her, “and that’s of concern.”

But devout Catholic politicians exist at all levels of government, not just at the Supreme Court or in Congress.

CNA spoke with four Catholic politicians at the state or local level about why they chose to run, and how their faith has influenced their political careers. 

Politics was a long-time interest of Hahn’s, one that was first piqued when she was 12 and served as an honorary page to her grandmother, who was a state representative in the state of Washington.

“I saw my grandmother in action. It was very inspiring,” she said. Hahn, a Catholic, is now serving her fifth year and second term as Councilwoman at Large for the city of Steubenville, Ohio, which her family has called home for 30 years. Hahn is the only council member elected by the city, while the other six members are elected by their ward.

“When it comes to Steubenville, I feel like there's only so many times you can say, ‘Well, why doesn't somebody do something about X, Y, or Z?’ Then I realized if I ran for council, I could do something about that.”

Steubenville is a small, rustbelt city with a population of roughly 18,000, located 33 miles south of Pittsburgh on the banks of the Ohio River. The city is home to Franciscan University of Steubenville, which tends to draw many faithful Catholic students. Hahn said she is hoping her work on the city council will convince more faithful Catholic families to stay in Steubenville.

“I really want to help build up our community in very practical ways, so that more faith filled people want to move there and build up the community of faith,” she said.

And to do that, she added, “you need good housing, you need good roads, you need reasonable bills for water and sewer. You need a good police force. You need an active firefighting force, an ambulance service, good schools so that everybody has the option. Public, Catholic, Christian, homeschooling - all of those are great options in Steubenville.”

The hours a Steubenville city council member puts in during any given week vary incredibly - Hahn said she works anywhere between 10-50 hours per week, depending on what is happening in the city. She gets $100 a week as a stipend; it is not otherwise a paid position.

The flexibility suits Hahn, who is also an author, speaker, podcaster, mother to six and grandmother to 19.

As she spoke with CNA, she was on her way to help care for one of her newborn grandchildren. In a way, she said, she sees her role as a councilwoman as an extension of her motherhood.

“It's all about public service. It is not about fame and it's not about money,” she said.

“Really, for me, it's an extension of my motherhood, not in the sense of coddling, not in the sense of taking people's responsibility on myself, but in how I communicate the love of Christ in a practical way by helping people with their water bills and their sewer bills and having their streets be cleaner and that kind of thing.”

During her campaign, she knocked on 7,000 doors. She talked to everyone she could across the aisle. “And some people said ‘Well, I’m a lifelong Democrat.’ And I said, ‘That's okay, because if I get elected, I'm still going to represent you. What are your concerns?’”

One of the primary functions of a city council is to manage the city’s finances.

“Two years ago, for the first time in probably more than 20 years, we balanced the budget in the black,” Hahn said. They balanced in the black last year as well, and seem to be on track to do so this year, “even with all the COVID stress.”

“I love it,” she said of serving on the city council. “I find all of it fascinating. I really do. Reading about cathodic systems, about how often you should paint the inside of your water towers and what it takes to clean a digester or a plant - I actually find all of it fascinating.”

Kevin Duffy is a Catholic husband, father and freelance writer running for reelection for a second four-year term as a trustee of the Williamstown Township in Williamstown, Michigan.

“We're the legislative arm of the townships. We don't have day-to-day responsibilities, in terms of operation of township government, but we serve as a voice for constituents and a representative of the constituents. It's like a smaller version of state legislature or Congress,” he told CNA.

The duties of a township trustee are not too time-consuming, he said.  “It's one or two meetings a month, depending on what time of year it is,” he said. Sometimes it’s more, like during budget review. He receives a yearly stipend of about $5,000 for the position.

Before he ran for a township position, Duffy served in an appointed position on his county Parks and Recreation commission.

After an upbringing that “wasn’t great,” Duffy said he wanted to live a life of fulfillment and purpose for himself and for his family. His job pays the bills, he said, but he finds meaning and purpose in life outside of work - in spending time with his wife and children, in service to the Church, and in serving his community.

“It was...a desire to have an impact in my community. Your local government structure, like your school board or your city council, or in my case, our township board, has more of an impact on what happens in your everyday life than anything that happens beyond that,” he said.

A stark example of that in American life right now has been how each state has responded differently to the coronavirus pandemic, he noted.

“The decisions of our state government have a huge impact, at least here in Michigan, on how our everyday life is during this pandemic.”

Duffy said he is proud that as a township trustee, he helped bring back bus services to Northeast Ingham County.

“(O)ur local public transportation authority decided to cut service to those of us here (in) Northeast Ingham County,” he said.

“But there were people that did depend on it. There were folks that needed that to get downtown for jobs, or they needed that to get to their doctor's appointments or whatever it may be,” he said.

“So, I wrote an op-ed and submitted to the Lansing State Journal and it got published.”

Within four or five months, transportation authorities had restored at least some of the bus services to the area.

“That was something I was proud of,” he said. “That was the one spot where I was able to help out a little bit.”

When it comes to Catholics being involved in civic life, Duffy said he would point them to Pope St. John Paul II’s oft-repeated phrase, “Be not afraid.”

“It can be a little scary, but we have a responsibility, and we as Catholics understand the idea of the common good, the need to serve everybody,” he said.

“We're not called to be Republicans. We're not called to be Democrats. We're not called to be Libertarian. We're called to be Christian, and we're called to be servants of our fellow man, and to perpetuate the common good. I think that's something that we need to get back to.”

Carlos Santamaria is a lifelong Catholic who is running for a state senate position for California's 3rd district.

Santamaria had previously served as the vice chair for the Napa County Republican Party, but he said he felt called to do more after attending a leadership conference in Jerusalem last November.

“I spent over a week in the Holy City. And if that isn’t life changing, I don’t know what is,” he told CNA.

He decided to run for state senate, “especially when I came back and I found there were seven Democrats (in the state legislature) that were running unopposed.”

“I just wanted to represent my district. It was a calling. And I see so many anti-religious, anti-Catholic, anti-life (politicians),” he said, that he wanted to help bring about change.

One particular area of focus for Santamaria’s campaign is helping the homeless population. He plans “to use workforce development and career technical education to provide lifelong jobs and permanent housing” to people experiencing homelessness, and “to reintroduce these individuals into society before they go off the cliff into extreme, episodic homelessness, or chronic homelessness,” he said. 

He also wants to bolster small businesses, particularly those that are experiencing significant losses due to coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions.

“The current unnecessary Lock Down of our economy and small businesses has devastated many businesses and the lives of families in California,” Santamaria’s website says. “We need leadership that understands and supports small business rather than destroy them.”

Santamaria said he is strongly pro-life and pro-family, and that he plans on standing up for those issues, should he be elected.

“God put me here for a reason. If I can't express my feelings about life and about the sanctity and the value of life, then I'm not using my talents and this platform the way I should,” he said.

Senator Susan Wagle has been president of the Kansas State Senate for the past eight years, and she was the first woman to hold the post. She has served in positions in both the state house and senate for the past 30 years.

A Catholic convert, Wagle joined the Catholic Church the same year she was first elected to the Kansas House - in 1991.

Wagle said she had been a teacher and a business owner who had not considered running for political office, but both her business colleagues and her husband kept telling her that she would make a great legislator.

There were important issues at the time, Wagle said, including rapidly increasing property taxes. She said she actually tried to convince other people she knew to run for office at the time, but nobody wanted to sacrifice the time.

The thing that kept Wagle up at night was not property taxes, but the late-term abortion clinic in her hometown of Wichita.

“When I'd lay my head down on that pillow at night, I could actually hear those babies cry from the Tiller clinic down the street,” she said.

“I could just hear the slaughter down the street in my mind, and I thought, ‘that has to stop.’”

George Tiller was the abortion doctor at the clinic, and it was one of the only clinics in the world at the time that was performing third trimester, post-viability abortions.

Wagle said she had unwittingly walked into the clinic years prior, earlier in her marriage when she thought she was pregnant. The clinic advertised free pregnancy tests, and these were the days before over-the-counter tests.

As she waited for her test results, she was counseled to get an abortion. Wagle said she noticed a world map on the wall that had yellow pins all over it. When she asked what the pins were for, she was told that they represented the women from all over the world that the clinic had come to the clinic.

“And as years later, I learned that the reason people were traveling here from around the world was because other countries didn't allow third trimester abortion,” Wagle said.

Wagle was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives in 1991. By 1997, Wagle had helped to pass the Women’s Right to Know Act, which was the first law regulating abortion in the state.

“I carried it. We had a pro-choice house and pro-choice Senate. So I was able to advocate that we need informed consent for a late term abortion, that women should be informed about fetal development, about the procedure. And so I passed the first pro-life bill in the state of Kansas,” she said.

“And since then, we've passed more regulations. But when I went into the legislature, the money from the abortion industry financed most of the legislators. So it was a challenge.”

Looking back on her years of service, Wagle said she believes it was a calling from God, and that she has learned much about how to get along with many different people of all backgrounds.

“I've learned our faith is based on our relationship with God, and then we bring it to those who surround us,” she said.

“I've learned how to work with people who are very different than me, who have different experiences, different perspectives. And you learn how to be very relational and very kind and very optimistic about the founding principles that we’re based on and combined with the faith that we are a people created by God,” she said.

“And there's no better founding documents in all the world that have allowed the progress and the development of the human spirit than America,” she added.

Wagle, like Justice Barrett, is the mother of seven children - four of her own, and three of her husbands from a previous marriage. She said she sees Barrett as a woman of faith who is living up to her full potential.

“Amy is reaching her full potential. She's a mom, she's adopted children, she's pursued a career, and she has made it very clear that she will interpret the law and not write new laws. And she's the perfect advocate and voice for this moment in history,” she said, “...and we've seen where her faith is not a conflict, but that her faith makes her a very strong, successful woman.”

Wagle said she continuously relied on her own faith throughout her time in office. She said while she set aside specific times for prayer, she would also pray silently during meetings or legislative sessions. Prayers like “Lord, I need you right now” or “Please speak through me” or “Please help me to articulate this thought.”

“It was a constant reaching out for assistance,” she said.

Wagle encouraged Catholics who feel called to serve in public office to pursue that path, if they see changes that need to be made and if the right doors are being opened.

“Don't hide from public office. We need people who have our values in public office as our advocates. So I would say pursue the path and listen to that still, small voice that says, ‘Go fix those problems.’”