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After pro-life loss in Ohio, Columbus bishop announces several initiatives to promote life

Columbus Bishop Earl Fernandes at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops plenary meeting in Baltimore in November 2023. / Credit: Joe Bukuras/CNA

CNA Staff, Dec 8, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Following last month’s referendum in Ohio that enshrined a right to abortion in its constitution, Columbus Bishop Earl Fernandes announced several pro-life and spiritual initiatives that the prelate hopes will make abortion “unthinkable.”

The amendment to the constitution, for which a majority of Ohioans voted on Nov. 7, guarantees that “every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” including, but not limited to, abortion.

“Outside the realm of politics, the true victory will come by winning hearts through our unconditional and relentless love for women and their children,” Fernandes said in a Dec. 7 letter to the faithful published in the diocesan newspaper. 

Fernandes encouraged Catholics to “a deeper life of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.”

In the letter, he encouraged clergy to “make a serious commitment” to offering an hour of Eucharistic adoration in parishes either on the first Friday of each month or the day before in reparation for “sins against human life and dignity.” The bishop urged adorers to pray “for the building of a civilization of love.”

Additionally, he encouraged the faithful to “resume the traditional practice” of abstinence from meat on Fridays, noting that there is already an obligation for Catholics to abstain from meat or replace it with some other penance every Friday of the year.

Fernandes said that abstinence from meat is a “form of Christian asceticism.”

“We can be intentional in our abstinence and penitential practices, mindful of unborn children, their mothers and fathers, and the men and women in the trenches working to support them,” he added.

Fernandes said that “what is demanded is not the external rule but a conversion of our mindset and our culture with the hope that we will be more mindful of the child in the womb.”

He noted that the bishops of England and Wales resumed the practice of abstinence from meat on Fridays in 2011 and it proved beneficial to both individuals’ health and the environment.

“If we abstained from meat on Fridays, we could also raise awareness of our need to care for our ‘common home,’” he said, a likely reference to Pope Francis’ letter on the environment, Laudato Si’, in which the Holy Father expressed a desire to “dialogue with all people about our common home.”

Fernandes added that almsgiving “could be tied” to abstinence from meat.

He said the need to support pro-life pregnancy centers “has never been greater” and that support for these institutions “demonstrates our commitment to the good of human life and the care of the least of our brothers and sisters.”

Another initiative Fernandes announced is the establishment of a new “Respect Life Office,” which will be dedicated to building a culture of life “in a sustainable and lasting way” and will include offering conferences for pro-life leaders and those working in health care. 

The diocese already has a Respect Life program that sponsors pro-life spiritual initiatives and holds an annual Diocesan Respect Life Conference. However, that program falls under the diocese’s Office for Social Concerns.

Fernandes also announced a summit of “Respect Life leaders” next year who will come together in collaboration and to determine present needs for diocesan response.

“The Church must also listen to women, particularly those who have experienced the pain of abortion and who need healing,” he said. “Beginning an apostolate like Project Rachel for healing and reconciliation can help remind people of the pope’s call for us to be a Church of mercy.”

Project Rachel is a Catholic ministry that ministers to women after abortion. The ministry provides sacramental and pastoral support, referrals to mental health professionals, and support groups, among other resources. 

He also said the diocese’s evangelization office “will seek out means to proclaim boldly the entirety of the Gospel message,” which includes “the Gospel of life.”

The Office of Catholic Schools, too, will continue its role in building a culture of life by promoting the integration of “the truths of our faith into all content areas,” he said.

“For example, in science classes, our students will come to a greater appreciation for the gift of human life at conception and the development of life as a gift in the image and likeness of God,” he said.

Finally, Fernandes said the diocese will organize a pilgrimage to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., in January that will engage young people with pro-life events and “form them as missionaries.”

He said students from “all” of the Catholic high schools in the diocese will participate. 

“God has called us to be a people of life,” Fernandes said, adding that building a culture of life will take “time and patience.”

“It will encounter resistance; nevertheless, we cannot abandon unborn children and their mothers. Law may refuse to recognize the dignity and right to life of the child in the womb, but we cannot be indifferent to the reality,” he said.

“When Mary visited Elizabeth, the child in her womb recognized the presence of the Savior and leaped for joy,” he said. “The Church wishes to acknowledge and defend the rights of the unborn child while accompanying mothers in their time of need and during what should be a joyful time of their lives. May we rise to meet our responsibility, grateful for the gift of life we have received.”

Notre Dame Cathedral expected to reopen one year from today

French President Emmanuel Macron, flanked by president of the public establishment "Rebuilding Notre-Dame de Paris" Philippe Jost (right) and and Archbishop of Paris Laurent Ulrich (left), visits the nave of the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral during its reconstruction on Dec. 8, 2023. / Credit: SARAH MEYSSONNIER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, Dec 8, 2023 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

One year from today, France’s Notre Dame Cathedral is expected to reopen after a fire in 2019 nearly destroyed the famous landmark. 

French President Emmanuel Macron, accompanied by Paris’ Archbishop Laurent Ulrich, visited the newly built spire on Friday, Dec. 8, and pledged that the reconstruction would be completed on schedule.

“Deadlines will be met. It is a formidable image of hope and of a France that has rebuilt itself,” Macron said. “This is an important and emotional moment.”

Speaking to restoration workers, he added: “We have seen this seemingly impossible project move forward.”

The historic spire, which stood 315 feet tall, crashed through the centuries-old roof in the devastating fire that broke out on April 15, 2019. After several years, the spire once again made its reappearance in the skyline last month.

The spire was not part of the original design of the cathedral. It was added during a restoration in the 19th century by architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. Since the fire, the spire has been rebuilt identical to the original and its cross was mounted on Wednesday, Dec. 6. A new rooster will follow soon.

Nearly 500 workers are on site daily working to complete the reconstruction. Beginning in early 2024, they will start waterproofing the oak with lead. The cathedral’s furnishings, statues, and artwork, as well as the organ, which was taken out for a complete restoration, will be brought back in throughout the year. 

Macron also announced a contest for artists to design six new stained-glass windows for the nave’s south side chapels.

While renovation work on the exterior will continue for several more years, it is expected that Notre Dame will be able to welcome religious services and visitors on Dec. 8, 2024.

Pope Francis appoints three new auxiliary bishops for Philadelphia Archdiocese

Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishops-elect Keith Chylinski (left), Efren Esmilla, and Christopher Cooke. / Credit: Sarah Webb/Archdiocese of Philadelphia

CNA Staff, Dec 8, 2023 / 13:59 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis on Friday appointed three new auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, joining Archbishop Nelson Perez and current Auxiliary Bishop John McIntyre there.

The Vatican announced Dec. 8 that Fathers ​​Keith Chylinski, Christopher Cooke, and Efren Esmilla would be installed to serve the archdiocese’s approximately 1.5 million Catholics. The archdiocese lost two auxiliary bishops — Bishop Michael Fitzgerald to retirement and Bishop Timothy Senior to reappointment — during 2023. 

Father ​​Keith Chylinski

Father Keith Chylinski, a native of Schenectady, New York, attended Temple University and St. Charles Borromeo Seminary; he further received a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Divine Mercy University in Sterling, Virginia.

Ordained to the priesthood in the Philadelphia Archdiocese in 2007, he previously served as parochial vicar of St. Anselm’s in the city and since 2022 has served as the rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. 

The seminary’s website states that he has taught courses in pastoral psychology while there and was previously the director of counseling services. He has also served as an instructor for the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha, Nebraska.

Father Christopher Cooke

Born in the Philadelphia suburb of Meadowbrook, Father Christopher Cooke received degrees from the University of Delaware and St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, the latter from which he earned both a master of divinity and a master of theology degree.

He was ordained a priest in the Philadelphia Archdiocese in 2006 and joined the St. Charles Borromeo faculty in 2013, where he currently serves as the dean of men for the Theology Seminary as well as on the theology formation team.

He previously served as the administrator of St. Francis of Assisi in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and as the parochial vicar at St. Martin of Tours in Philadelphia. Prior to becoming a priest he worked in chemical manufacturing design and support.

Father Efren V. Esmilla

A native of Nagcarlan, Laguna, Philippines, in the Diocese of San Pablo, Father Efren Esmilla attended San Beda College in Manila before emigrating to the United States. He obtained a master of divinity degree from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in Philadelphia in 1993. 

He previously served as parochial vicar at St. John Chrysostom in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, and at the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Philadelphia. He also held the position of assistant director of pastoral formation at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

Since 2021 he has served as pastor of St. James in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. The parish’s website says that Esmilla “has also served as chaplain to the Filipino Apostolate” as well as “spiritual director to the Legion of Mary.”

Bishop Strickland was advised to leave Tyler Diocese but can still say Mass there

Bishop Joseph Strickland. / Credit: Courtesy of the Diocese of Tyler

National Catholic Register, Dec 8, 2023 / 10:17 am (CNA).

Retired Bishop Joseph Strickland has been advised to leave his former Diocese of Tyler, Texas, but has not been told he can’t say Mass publicly there, he told the National Catholic Register, CNA’s EWTN News partner.

“I have received no such instruction,” Strickland said by text Thursday night, responding to a report that he has been barred from saying Mass in the diocese. 

Pope Francis removed Strickland, a critic of the pope, as head of the Diocese of Tyler in East Texas almost four weeks ago, on Nov. 11. The pope named Bishop Joe Vasquez, the bishop of nearby Austin, the temporary administrator of the Diocese of Tyler until a new bishop is appointed.

“Bishop Vasquez said it might be a good idea for me to leave the diocese; it was a suggestion,” Strickland told the Register.

Strickland, who is on retreat, referred further questions to Vasquez, saying: “He’s the one in charge.”

The Register contacted spokesmen for the Diocese of Tyler on Thursday night and for the Diocese of Austin early Friday, but as of this writing had not heard back. This story will be updated if the Register receives further comment.

On Thursday afternoon, LifeSite News reported that Strickland “has been barred from saying Mass in the Diocese of Tyler, Texas,” citing an unnamed source as saying that diocesan employees were told during a recent staff meeting “that while Strickland cannot offer Mass in the diocese, he may do so elsewhere.”

Strickland has frequently criticized Pope Francis, which many observers believe led to his ouster. He also delayed in implementing the pope’s restrictions on the Latin Mass.

In May, Strickland made a public statement saying he believes Pope Francis is the rightful pope, but adding: “… I reject his program of undermining the deposit of faith. Follow Jesus.”

In late June, the Vatican sent two other bishops to the Diocese of Tyler to investigate Strickland’s tenure there.

About four and a half months later, Strickland was removed, without public explanation. His current status is retired bishop without assignment, though at 65 he is 10 years younger than the canonical age for retiring.

Senior Vatican contributor Edward Pentin contributed to this story.

Texas judge’s ruling that woman can have abortion leaves hospitals liable to prosecution

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton warned Texas hospitals that despite a Dec. 7, 2023, court ruling that a woman could have a legal abortion, hospitals involved may be persecuted for violating the state's law. / Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 7, 2023 / 17:50 pm (CNA).

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton warned three Houston-based hospitals that they are not immune from civil or criminal liability for violating the state’s abortion laws despite a court order that purports to allow a woman to receive an abortion.

Travis County District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble issued a temporary restraining order Thursday morning that prevents the state from taking legal action against an abortionist who intends to perform an abortion on a woman whose unborn child has a low likelihood of survival after birth. The order expires on Dec. 21, but a hearing to make the restraining order permanent is set for Dec. 20.

Although the temporary restraining order blocks the state from enforcing its abortion laws while it is in effect, Paxton warned that the state can enforce the law against the abortionist and the hospitals with which she is affiliated once it expires. 

In a letter, Paxton said the temporary restraining order “will expire long before the statute of limitations for violating Texas’ abortion laws expire,” which would allow the state to enforce its laws if a permanent restraining order does not hold up in court. 

“Your hospital may be liable for negligently credentialing the physician and failing to exercise appropriate professional judgment, among other potential regulatory and civil violations, if you permit [the doctor] to perform an unlawful abortion,” Paxton wrote. 

Paxton’s letter states that the court order will not shield the doctor, the hospital, or anyone else from civil or criminal liabilities, which could include first-degree felony prosecutions and fines of at least $100,000 for each violation. It adds that the order would also not prevent legal action brought by private citizens or the enforcement of Texas’ pre-Roe laws by a district or county attorney. 

The court order claims that the woman who is seeking an abortion qualifies for the medical exemption in Texas law, stating that her “life, health, and fertility are currently at serious risk” if she continues with the pregnancy. 

The order states that the doctor “reviewed [the woman’s] medical records and believes in good faith, exercising her best medical judgment, that [an] … abortion is medically recommended … and that the medical exception to Texas’ abortion bans and laws permit an abortion in [her] circumstances.”

However, Paxton said in his letter that the court’s reasoning is not based on “the legal standard” necessary to allow a medical exception for an abortion, which requires “reasonable medical judgment and a life-threatening physical condition.” He said the order fails to identify a specific life-threatening medical condition and does not explain “how the unidentified condition places [the woman] at risk of death or poses a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function unless the abortion is performed or induced.”

“The temporary ruling fails to show that [the doctor] meets all of the elements necessary to fall within an exception to Texas’ abortion laws,” Paxton said. “[The judge] is not medically qualified to make this determination and it should not be relied upon. A [temporary restraining order] is no substitute for a medical judgment.”

Texas prohibits most abortions in almost all circumstances, except when the life of the mother is at risk or the physical health of the mother is seriously threatened. The woman who is seeking an abortion is about 20 weeks pregnant with her third child. The unborn child was diagnosed with trisomy 18. Only about 5%-10% of babies born with this condition will live past their first birthday.

Congress drops amendment banning military spending on abortion and sex change surgeries  

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memorandum in 2022 announcing that the department would provide paid leave and reimbursement for travel expenses for service members who seek to obtain an abortion. / Credit: U.S. Secretary of Defense|Wikipedia|CC

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 7, 2023 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

The House and Senate reached a compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Thursday in which they dropped House amendments banning military spending on abortion and sex change surgeries.

draft of the compromise version, released by the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday, revealed the House backed off from both the abortion and transgender amendments that were passed in July.

The abortion amendment, which was filed by Texas Republican Rep. Ronny Jackson, would have mandated that the U.S. military stop its program of granting service members paid leave and paying for travel expenses to obtain abortions. The amendment banning military spending on transgender hormonal treatments and surgeries was filed by Montana Republican Rep. Matthew Rosendale. Both passed in narrow, near party-line votes.

The NDAA is an annual “must-pass” spending package that sets the military’s budget for the next year. While the package has typically passed in bipartisan votes in previous years, several controversial military policies, including the abortion and transgender surgery spending, have made the NDAA’s passage a more hotly debated topic.

Both the House and Senate passed their versions of the package in July, before the two chambers’ armed services committees met to reconcile the differences with a compromise bill.

The compromise version of this year’s NDAA funds the military at nearly $900 billion. The package must now be approved by both bodies of Congress and then signed by President Joe Biden.

The decision to drop the pro-life amendment from the NDAA comes as a blow to pro-life efforts to stop the military’s use of tax dollars to facilitate abortion. This comes just shortly after Sen. Tommy Tuberville, an Alabama Republican, ended his 10-month-long blockade on military promotions that sought to force the Pentagon to change its abortion policies.

The Senate went on to confirm 425 military promotions that same day, leaving only 11 of the military’s highest-ranking promotions, four-star generals, on hold, according to reporting by NBC News.

Though vowing to continue fighting the military’s abortion policy, Tuberville announced on Tuesday that he would be ending his blockade that had held up hundreds of high-ranking military promotions.

In accordance with a memorandum sent by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in October 2022, the Department of Defense has been providing paid leave and reimbursement for travel expenses for service members who seek to obtain an abortion. It also covers travel costs for dependents and spouses.

Tuberville and several other Republican lawmakers have argued that the Defense Department’s policy violates federal laws such as the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal tax dollar spending on abortion. 

“This policy is illegal,” Tuberville said on the Senate floor on Wednesday. “Yesterday I announced that I would change my tactics and let the promotions go through … I’m not going to stop fighting for these things and I’m not going to stop fighting for the American people.”

Wisconsin court rules that pro-life law doesn’t apply to abortion

A sonogram picture in the second trimester of a woman’s pregnancy. / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Dec 7, 2023 / 16:45 pm (CNA).

A Wisconsin circuit court judge has affirmed her earlier ruling that an 1840s law protecting unborn children does not outlaw abortion.

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Diane Schlipper wrote in her Dec. 5 ruling that the 1849 law “does not apply to consensual abortions but to feticide.”

The statute in question says that “any person, other than the mother, who intentionally destroys the life of an unborn child is guilty of a Class H felony.” After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the law was reactivated but has since been enmeshed in legal challenges.

“The court declares Wis. Stat. § 940.04 does not prohibit abortions,” Schlipper wrote.

The abortion giant Planned Parenthood announced that it would be resuming operations at one of its clinics in the eastern city of Sheboygan because of the ruling.

After a pause in operations after the fall of Roe, Planned Parenthood had resumed abortions at its Milwaukee and Madison locations in September following Schlipper’s July ruling that the statute “does not prohibit a consensual medical abortion.”

Heather Weininger, executive director at Wisconsin Right to Life, denounced the ruling, calling it “disappointing for all Wisconsinites.”

“A law that was enforced before the flawed decision of Roe is now one that pro-choice activists on the court are willing to use as a tool for their cause,” she said. “Instead of providing true support for women and families in this post-Dobbs landscape, they are putting lives on the line.”

The defendant in the case, Sheboygan County District Attorney Joel Urmanski, said he plans to appeal the court’s decision. 

Following the overturning of Roe last year, Urmanski told a local outlet that he would prosecute illegal abortions under the law, which triggered the lawsuit against him and others. 

“If there is a violation, we will enforce the law,” he said at the time. “It’s a law that’s on the books through legislative action. You are seeing other states passing laws or enforcing laws to address this issue. If there’s a higher court that says there’s a problem with the statute, then we’ll follow that.”

In a statement shared with CNA on Thursday, Urmanski said: “As I have previously stated, I believe that, properly interpreted, the statute at issue prohibits performing abortions (including consensual abortions) unless the exception for abortions necessary to save the life of the mother applies.”

Urmanski said he would comply with the Dane County Circuit Court’s ruling unless the decision is stayed or reversed.

“To be clear, I disagree with and intend to appeal the decision. In my view, the statute plainly applies to abortions and, while it may be that the citizens of the state of Wisconsin would be better served by a different statute, I do not believe it is my job or the role of the courts to make that determination. It is an issue for the Legislature and the governor to resolve,” he said.

‘Social emergency’ of low fertility may be driven partly by pesticides, study shows

null / Chinnapong / Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Dec 7, 2023 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

In addition to social and cultural trends affecting marriage and birth rates, new findings from a meta-analysis released last month found “evidence of an association” between exposure to some insecticides and “lower sperm concentration in adults” — a sign that commonly-used industrial chemicals may be helping to propel the plunging rates of fertility.

Last year, Pope Francis described the ongoing collapse of fertility in Western countries as a “social emergency” and a sign of “new poverty,” with the Holy Father arguing that the “beauty of a family full of children” is “in danger of becoming a utopia, a dream difficult to realize.”

Fertility in the U.S. and in other developed Western countries has been trending downward for decades.

A review out of the University of Pennsylvania last year noted that the U.S. fertility rate at the time was 1.7 births per female, which is “below the replacement rate of 2.1 that is required for the U.S. population not to shrink without increases in immigration.”

The U.S. Census Bureau said last month that the U.S. population will peak later this century before experiencing a decline by 2100, with that decline driven in part by low fertility rates.

The bureau noted at the time that “immigration is projected to become the largest contributor to population growth,” with low fertility helping to drive a “natural decrease” in population.

The low numbers come even as Americans are increasingly of the view that families should be having more children.

Pesticides possibly driving down male fertility

A major study, prepared by a group of U.S.- and Italy-based researchers and published last month in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, pointed to “contemporary use insecticides” as a possible driver of dropping fertility. 

A “comprehensive investigation” of nearly two dozen studies “found sufficient evidence of an association between higher organophosphate and N-methyl carbamates insecticide exposure and lower sperm concentration in adults,” the researchers said. 

The “strength of evidence warrants reducing exposure to OP and NMC insecticides now to prevent continued male reproductive harm,” the scientists said. 

“To our knowledge, this investigation is the most comprehensive systematic review on this topic to date,” they wrote, arguing that the data indicate a “clear association” between “higher adult OP and NMC insecticide exposure and lower sperm concentration.”

Melissa Perry, the dean of the George Mason University College of Public Health and one of the co-authors of the pesticide study, told the Guardian last month that a reduction in pesticide usage is necessary to ensure that couples are not left incapable of conceiving.

“The message is we need to reduce insecticide exposure in order to ensure men who are planning a family or want to conceive children are able to do that without interference,” she said. 

Are these pesticides ‘immoral’? 

Phil Cerroni, an associate ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, said Catholic ethics dictate both positive and negative moral duties, including that we are bound to “protect our physical and functional integrity” and that we “shouldn’t do anything that directly suppresses or impedes physical or functional integrity.”

“Similarly, we need to protect workers,” he said. “We shouldn’t do anything that directly places them in any harm. I think the question there becomes, with the use of these pesticides, is it a direct harm or indirect harm?”

Cerroni said the issue is likely one of a “double effect.” 

On the one hand, he said, a “high-pesticide method of agriculture” offers a “basic good for the world’s population” — arguably a more abundant food supply. Yet the potential harm to workers, he said, could outweigh that benefit. 

“The question would be, is there proportionality?” he said. “As a general rule, you can’t achieve a small or moderate good through a means that also causes a great evil.”

“I think the proportionality hinges on whether it’s immediately morally problematic,” he said of the potential effects of pesticides. “If this is the only reasonable means of producing enough food to provide for people’s basic goods or basic needs, then it’s not immoral,” he said, adding that “we still have a moral duty to try to develop processes and techniques that don’t have these bad effects, that aren’t harmful to workers, and that don’t cause harm, either to workers or the people who are eating it,” he added.

Infertility’s effect on marriage ‘profound’

Mary-Rose Verret, who along with her husband, Ryan, founded the marriage renewal and preparation initiative called Witness to Love, said there are “definitely more couples struggling to conceive.” 

“A lot of times it has to do with the fact that people are getting married a lot later,” she said. “A lot of them have never heard of the Church’s teaching on this topic. If you’ve been on contraceptives since 12, and now you’re 27 and you want to get married, you can’t just flip a switch and expect everything to go back to normal.”

Verret said extended contraception use by women can mask a whole host of fertility problems in addition to those potentially stemming from pesticide use.

“It’s not just pesticides,” she said. “It’s the one-size-fits-all system where contraceptives are the only thing being thrown at anyone with any cycle issues. Instead of looking at hormones, or thyroids, or doing blood work, they’re not getting that treated.”

The Verrets’ ministry has a fertility awareness course for Church leaders, she said. “Unfortunately, right now, there’s not much being done in that area,” she said. 

Ann Koshute, the co-founder of the Catholic infertility ministry Springs in the Desert, said that the effect of infertility on marriage is “profound,” including spiritual and emotional impacts.

“Since we founded Springs in 2019, the CDC stats on infertility have been adjusted upward, from 1 in 8 couples to now 1 in 5,” she said.

“The conversation about infertility and pregnancy loss, thanks at least in part to social media, seems to be coming more into the open, which means that more people are comfortable sharing about their experiences.”

Though medical experts are able to assist Catholics struggling with infertility, Koshute said, “the medical implications of infertility are only the tip of the iceberg.”

“While it is important for couples to strive to be healthy — not only to increase their likelihood of conceiving, but just in general — it is also imperative that the underlying grief, feelings of isolation and abandonment, and spiritual difficulties that result from infertility be addressed,” she said.

“We also believe it’s important to give our clergy the tools they need to accompany couples carrying this cross, so we have developed specific resources to help them,” she added.

Religious sisters sue Smith & Wesson for ‘facilitating’ mass shootings

null / Credit: Guy J. Sagi/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 7, 2023 / 15:05 pm (CNA).

Four congregations of Catholic religious sisters filed a lawsuit against the gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson on Tuesday, accusing the company of participating in illegal marketing tactics that they said attract a “dangerous category of consumers” and facilitate “an unrelenting and growing stream of killings.”

The suit was filed in district court in Clark County, Nevada, and demands a trial by jury regarding the sisters’ accusations.  

The four congregations — the Adrian Dominican Sisters; Sisters of Bon Secours USA; Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia; and Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus & Mary, U.S.-Ontario Province — filed their lawsuit as Smith & Wesson stockholders.

The sisters said in a joint Dec. 5 statement that their goal is to stop Smith & Wesson from manufacturing and selling any more AR-15 rifles, which as they point out have been used in several recent mass shootings.

“These rifles have no purpose other than mass murder,” the sisters said. “By design, they inflict the greatest number of casualties with maximum bodily harm in the shortest amount of time.”

The sisters collectively own 1,000 shares in Smith & Wesson, according to The Wall Street Journal. Though a small percentage of the company’s total shares, this amount gives the congregations the right to file legal action.

The suit, called a “derivative complaint,” was filed against the Smith & Wesson board and executive officers. Neither the complaint nor the sisters’ statement said how long the sisters have been shareholders of the weapons-manufacturing company. Their attorney Jeffrey Norton also declined to say.

Their suit, however, does state that they have been investors “at all relevant times” to their complaint.

The sisters said that Smith & Wesson’s leadership is violating its fiduciary duties by “prioritizing short-term profit over long-term risk.”

“The company is intent on marketing and selling AR-15 rifles in whatever manner results in the most sales — even if the marketing is illegal and attracts a dangerous category of buyers, facilitates an unrelenting and growing stream of killings, and causes the company to face an ever-increasing and substantial likelihood of liability that threatens its long-term existence,” the sisters said in their statement.

In their suit, the sisters call on Smith & Wesson to return to being “a successful beacon of responsible gun ownership” by stopping all manufacturing and selling of AR-15s, which they call “military-grade, mass-killing assault weapons.”

Smith & Wesson is an American firearms manufacturer founded in 1852. It currently operates out of Nevada and Tennessee. The company makes and sells a wide array of firearms, including ArmaLite-type rifles, commonly referred to as “AR-15s,” which it has been selling since 2006.  

AR-15s are semi-automatic rifles that are legal for ownership by civilians in most U.S. states.

The sisters claim that Smith & Wesson AR-15s have “been used by numerous perpetrators of highly publicized mass shootings” since 2012 and that “it was Smith & Wesson’s targeted marketing practices that ensured that its AR-15 rifles would be purchased and used by emotionally troubled young men through advertisements designed to take advantage of young men’s impulsive behavior and lack of self-control.”

The congregations argue in their suit that Smith & Wesson’s marketing techniques violate a 2000 agreement the company made with the federal government to not market in such a way as to appeal to juveniles or criminals.

“The company’s executives and board members have since chosen to flagrantly ignore the safe marketing practices … and instead focus on the continued targeting of young consumers, eschewing any effort to mitigate the potential harm to the company caused by such practices,” the sisters assert.

Further, the suit alleges that the Smith & Wesson’s board and executives “intentionally fail to take any steps to prevent or curb Smith & Wesson’s continued marketing and sale of the company’s AR-15 rifles in those jurisdictions [that ban the sale of AR-15s].”

Mark Smith, the president and CEO of Smith & Wesson, told CNA in a statement that Smith & Wesson “is proud to empower law-abiding American citizens with the ability to defend themselves and their families from harm.”

“This frivolous lawsuit is simply another instance in their long history of attempting to hijack and abuse the shareholder advocacy process to harm our reputation and company,” he said, adding that “this activist group is not interested in the best interests of the company or its stockholders.”

Norton, the sisters’ attorney, said in a Dec. 5 statement that the congregations of sisters “have long sought corporate responsibility” through “their shareholder activism,” which is the practice of buying stock in a company expressly to use that share to try to change how the organization is run.

This is not the first time this group of sisters has sued a company through shareholder activism. The sisters have also filed similar lawsuits against Hyatt Hotels and General Electric in the past, according to reporting by The Wall Street Journal.

All four congregations are also part of a group called the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, which has net assets in the low millions and, according to its website, is a “coalition of faith- and values-based investors who view shareholder engagement with corporations as a powerful catalyst for change.”

Data shows most states moving away from use of the death penalty

null / felipe caparros/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Dec 7, 2023 / 14:05 pm (CNA).

New data indicates that a majority of U.S. states are shifting away from imposing the death penalty on prisoners, with few states this year ordering death sentences and even fewer carrying executions out.

Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN), a group that works “to end the use of the death penalty” around the United States, said in a press release this month that data from the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) showed “a majority of states (29) have now either abolished capital punishment or paused executions by executive action.”

The DPIC’s 2023 annual report revealed that five states executed people this year, while seven states sentenced people to death. A total of 24 people were executed this year, while 21 were sentenced to death.

DPIC data show that executions in the U.S. rose sharply after the Supreme Court in 1976 reinstated the death penalty in the United States. They peaked in 1999 with nearly 100 executions and have been on a mostly unbroken downward trajectory since then, though 2023’s two dozen executions were up from 18 the year before.

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, the executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, said in the group’s press release that it was “encouraging that we saw most states growing more and more reluctant to engage with the death penalty this year.”

“It’s not lost on the American public that capital punishment is too flawed and risky, too arbitrary and unfair, too cruel and dehumanizing to justify pursuing executions,” she said.

In its report, the DPIC said that 2023 was the ninth consecutive year with fewer than 30 people executed and fewer than 50 people sentenced to death.

The group also noted that this year, for the first time, Gallup found more Americans (50%) believe the death penalty is applied unfairly than believe it is applied fairly (47%).

Several U.S. states carried out executions this year despite pleas from activists. In October, Texas executed Jedidiah Murphy, who had been sentenced to death for the shooting of 80-year-old Bertie Lee Cunningham in October 2000.

CMN argued prior to Murphy’s execution that capital punishment is “rooted in revenge rather than repair.” 

That same month Florida executed convicted double murderer Michael Zack III over the 1996 killings of two women.

The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops had urged Gov. Ron DeSantis to commute Zack’s sentence, arguing that the execution would “only further fuel the growing societal disrespect for the dignity of human life.”

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

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