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Catholic abbey and Baptist university exchange land ‘to build up the kingdom’

In exchange for the transfer of the 74-acre Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) Green Campus — formerly St. Gregory’s University — to St. Gregory’s Abbey, OBU will receive two parcels of land for future development totaling 134 acres in Shawnee, just east of Oklahoma City. The abbey and the university announced the news on June 7, 2024.  / Courtesy: St. Gregory’s Abbey

CNA Staff, Jun 21, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

In a unique sign of ecumenicism, a Catholic abbey and a Baptist university are exchanging property so the abbey can receive historically significant land that once was home to the abbey’s university.

In exchange for the transfer of the 74-acre Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) Green Campus — formerly St. Gregory’s University — to St. Gregory’s Abbey, OBU will receive two parcels of land for future development totaling 134 acres in Shawnee, just east of Oklahoma City. The abbey and the university announced the news on June 7.

The abbey shared the announcement in a press release on June 7, the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, stating that the “entirety” of the former campus of St. Gregory University “once again is dedicated to the life and ministries of the monks of St. Gregory’s Abbey!”

The announcement also coincides with the 147th anniversary of “the beginning of the liturgical life of our community.”

Founded in 1875, St. Gregory’s University first began as a high school, then a college in the 1990s, and finally a university in the early 2000s. But when it closed in 2017 after the university filed for bankruptcy, it came into the ownership of OBU.

“Over the last two years, we have been in quiet conversations with the leadership of Oklahoma Baptist University as to how we might work together for the betterment of our complementary missions,” the statement read.

“Through these conversations, we discerned a path by which the abbey could exchange part of our undeveloped pastureland for the grounds and facilities that for some 120 years had served the legacy and ministries of our monastic community,” it read.

“We prayerfully considered both the opportunities and the risks that such an exchange could present and now are thrilled that the exchange has taken place,” the announcement continued. 

“The monastic community is thrilled that our historic grounds and facilities once again are available for the benefit of our mission and ministries,” Abbot Lawrence Stasyszen said in a June 7 press release.

“We were pleased that these facilities dedicated to the kingdom of God were entrusted to our brothers and sisters in Christ at OBU after the closure of St. Gregory’s University,” he noted. “Now they come back to the abbey but will continue to be accessible to the needs of OBU.” 

The abbot noted that this reflects the brotherly bond beyond between the two groups. 

“As we read in Proverbs 17:17, the bonds of Christian brothers are strengthened in times of adversity,” Stasyszen continued. “Whether it be through the closure of St. Gregory’s University or the ongoing aftermath of the 2023 tornado, our relationship has grown stronger in challenging times for the good of our institutions and of the broader community.” 

Heath Thomas, president of OBU, said in the release that the lands received from the abbey will help their community “for years to come.” 

“While we are honored to have stewarded this gift for the past several years, we are thrilled that the historic heritage of the Green Campus will go back to the abbey. It is fitting and right,” he noted. 

“Our trustees voted unanimously for this land exchange and we are both excited and hopeful as we look towards the future opportunities that will result for OBU,” said Eric Costanzo, chair of the OBU board of trustees.

“We are grateful to President Thomas and the leadership of OBU for working with us in such a positive way so that the complementary missions of OBU and the abbey can continue to flourish and be of benefit to our many constituents,” the abbot continued.

“We look forward to continuing our positive relationship with OBU to build up the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ Our Lord,” he noted. 

“Our work now begins in earnest as we seek to restore these historic grounds and facilities to their former splendor and even improve them to welcome many others to share in our life and service to the kingdom of God!” the abbey press release concluded.

National Eucharistic Pilgrimage marches through extreme heat to bring Jesus to the people

Cows in Nebraska watch as the Eucharistic Jesus passes by. / Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

CNA Staff, Jun 20, 2024 / 16:45 pm (CNA).

Amid a brutal heat wave in the Midwest and Northeast this week, the pilgrims on each of the four legs of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage have all passed what is roughly the halfway point on their journeys to Indianapolis. 

The four pilgrimage groups — currently in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Alabama, and Nebraska — will converge in Indianapolis on July 16 in time for the National Eucharistic Congress from July 17–21. A cohort of 30 young men and women have committed to walking the entirety of the routes, encouraging people to join along the way as they process with the Eucharistic Jesus. The processions have attracted thousands of participants in many areas. 

“We have definitely spent a lot of this week in the heat, in the mid-90s,” said Marina Frattaroli, one of the pilgrims on the eastern Seton Route, at a Wednesday press conference. Much of the eastern U.S. is baking in unseasonably warm spring weather, with Pittsburgh under an excessive heat warning until Saturday evening. 

“On Monday, I believe that we walked 15, 16 miles in the mid-90s. And so the team definitely is feeling the heat wave … it’s another opportunity to bring out those big prayer intentions, as we unite ourselves in Christ,” she said.

The Eucharist makes its way through Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Credit: Juliana Lamb
The Eucharist makes its way through Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Credit: Juliana Lamb

Frattaroli mentioned that despite the heat, the pilgrims have been able to act as “ambassadors” several times and explain the purpose of the processions to non-Catholic onlookers. 

“There has always been a crowd with us. And even Monday, over 15 miles … there were well over 100 people, even at the smallest, and probably closer to 200 in the crowd at all times. So people are coming out, and people are even enduring the hard days together,” she said. 

Marian Route pilgrim Matthew Heidenreich told about a boat procession the group took on Shawano Lake in Wisconsin and a walk to nearby Camp Tekakwitha, where a large number of kids at the summer camp greeted the pilgrims. On Sunday, the group visited the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion near Green Bay, the site of the only approved Marian apparition in the United States. 

The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage continues from the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion near Green Bay, Wisconsin, the site of the only approved Marian apparition in the United States. Credit: Emma Follett
The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage continues from the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion near Green Bay, Wisconsin, the site of the only approved Marian apparition in the United States. Credit: Emma Follett

Heidenreich said it has been a blessing to engage in service projects for the poor during the pilgrimage as well. The Marian group will soon reach Milwaukee, where dozens of events are planned. 

As told by Serra Route pilgrim Jaella Mac Au, a procession at a lake in Nebraska included an unexpected surprise — one of the vans that occasionally carries the Eucharist and the pilgrims got stuck in some sand. 

“We were just like, oh, my gosh, like, what are we gonna do, Lord? ... We asked for the prayers of St. Anthony, and praise God, our van got out. And it was just such a beautiful team bonding moment where we were digging out the van and pushing together, and it was just so beautiful to also include Our Lord in it.”

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln carries the Eucharist through Nebraska. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Bishop James Conley of Lincoln carries the Eucharist through Nebraska. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

On the southern Juan Diego Route, which began in Texas, the pilgrims endured extreme heat near the start of the route but have found respite at a retreat the last few days at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama.  

As in past weeks, the pilgrims praised the hospitality of the people they encountered on the route and said they have been well-fed with local food at almost every stage. 

Mac Au said her favorite food so far has been tacos and other Hispanic food provided to them when they went through Sacramento, while Frattaroli praised the authentic Italian food they were given while passing through Brooklyn. 

Catholics throughout the U.S. are encouraged to register to join the pilgrims in walking short sections of the pilgrimages and joining in numerous other special events put on by their local dioceses. To read ongoing coverage about the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage and National Eucharistic Congress, visit the National Catholic Register.

San Diego Catholic Charities struggles with security risks after accusation of ‘smuggling’

Asylum seekers wait in line to be processed by the Border Patrol at a makeshift camp near the U.S.-Mexico border east of Jacumba, San Diego County, California, Jan. 2, 2024. / Credit: GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, Jun 20, 2024 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

A California Catholic charity has been struggling for weeks to deal with ongoing security risks amid claims that the organization is illegally sheltering and trafficking migrants.

Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego CEO Vino Pajanor told CNA that the ongoing chaos, which includes protests and harassing messages, has been a shock even to workers who have served at the organization for decades.

“They have never seen something like this,” he said.

The difficulties began earlier this year after activist-journalist James O’Keefe reported on what he described as an “illegal immigrant compound” at a Ramada Suites in San Diego. In the video, O’Keefe suggests the facility is involved in the trafficking of illegal immigrants. 

At one point O’Keefe’s team identifies what it claims is a list of “people who run the facility,” which included workers listed with the San Diego Catholic Charities. O’Keefe also posted an organizational chart of the charity group on X.

The New York Times reported on June 2 that Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego began experiencing protests and harassing calls after O’Keefe’s allegations. Pajanor, meanwhile, told CNA this week that the organization is still dealing with those threats. 

“More of [O’Keefe’s] followers” have been demonstrating, he said, “thinking that we are harboring undocumented ‘illegal’ individuals, and that we are smuggling kids and trafficking kids.”

“Protesters have come to our buildings,” he said. “Over the weekend they protested in front of our migrant shelter, blocking our driveway for about an hour, until the local police came by.”

There is no truth, Pajanor said, to the suggestion that the charity is participating in a smuggling scheme. 

“None at all,” he said. “None at all.”

O’Keefe did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Spokeswoman for Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego Kimberly Ortiz told CNA that the charity has “a lease with the hotel and CCDSD does the day-to-day management of the shelter operations.” 

“The hotel management does the janitorial, upkeep, and maintenance of the hotel,” she said. 

‘Exactly what Jesus calls us to do’

For years, San Diego Catholic Charities has offered immigrant services in the Diocese of San Diego. The charity group’s main headquarters is fewer than two dozen miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. 

On its website Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego says it aspires to be “the premier nonprofit provider of immigration services in San Diego and Imperial Counties.” It offers immigrants help with applications and other services with the aim to “enable eligible immigrants to obtain legal immigrant or citizenship status.”

Pajanor said the organization began operating migrant shelters in April 2021 amid a surge of illegal immigration to the U.S. “We’ve always been open about what we’re doing,” he said. 

The organization shared material with CNA showing that it has assisted more than 245,000 individuals since the shelters opened — many from Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil. About 25% have been children.

“Every one of these individuals are processed by [the U.S. Border Patrol],” Pajanor said. “Every one of them has a notice to appear in a court of law. Once they get that notice, Border Patrol releases them to us.” 

“When they come to Catholic Charities, every one of them has a document,” he said. “They’re all documented individuals in the United States. Not a single one is undocumented.” 

“There’s nothing illegal about what Catholic Charities is doing,” he said. “What we are doing is a humanitarian service.”

The CEO said the group has been forced to deal with a logistical headache of security in the months since O’Keefe made his allegations. 

“It made us add more security,” he said, saying the process involves both “unnecessary costs and unnecessary fear for our team members and clients and guests coming to our location.”

“This has cost us unnecessary work and unnecessary expenses while we’re taking care of the people coming to ask us for help,” he said.

Pajanor said the security process is a “constant pain.”

“Every time that a sporadic group wants to protest, we have to add security,” he said. “Either we add security ahead of time or we add it afterwards until it dies down.”

Amid successive years of record illegal immigration, San Diego has lately been at the center of illegal border crossings. U.S. government data show that the city’s border enforcement has encountered more than 220,000 illegal immigrants fiscal year-to-date, seconded only by Tucson. 

Pajanor argued that the immigrant facilities run by the San Diego charity group are addressing both a humanitarian crisis and the local civic emergency of rising homeless populations. 

“We’re preventing them from being homeless in the streets,” he said. “If we’re not involved with Border Patrol to bring them to migrant shelters, those hundreds of individuals every day would end up on the streets of San Diego and add to the homeless population.”

The CEO expressed disappointment over the negative response to its migrant work. 

“Matthew 25 calls us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, and visit prisoners,” he said. “That’s our faith and that’s our belief. And we are doing exactly what Jesus calls us to do.”

“We are here to serve the community,” he said. “Why are they targeting us?”

U.S. bishops issue plea for nonviolence ahead of elections

Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. / Credit: Matt Cashore/Notre Dame de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 20, 2024 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

A leading U.S. bishop issued a statement Wednesday urging Christians “and people of goodwill” to abstain from political violence and resolve differences through dialogue and the voting process.

In the statement titled “‘Pursue What Leads to Peace’: A Christian Response to Rising Threats of Political and Ideological Violence,” Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia warned that violent behavior is “seen by many as an acceptable means for carrying out political or ideological disputes.”

Gudziak, who serves as chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) committee on domestic justice and human development, wrote:

“We pray and urge all Christians and people of goodwill: Abstain from political violence of any kind! Instead, ‘pursue what leads to peace and building up one another’ (Rom 14:19) through dialogue, seeking justice.”

Describing the political climate today, Gudziak wrote that “political speech is often full of insults, fear, anger, and anxiety. Sadly, racism, religious discrimination, and xenophobia are on the rise. People in public office are receiving more death threats than ever before, some of which turn into physical attacks.”

The document references an Axios poll from earlier this year, which showed that 49% of Americans expect there will be violence in response to the results of future presidential elections.

He called on Christians to address others “with the God-given human dignity” of each person when engaging in political discussions.

“It is hypocritical for a Christian to ‘bless the Lord and Father,’” the document continues, “and then turn around and ‘curse human beings who are made in the likeness and image of God’ (Jas 3:9).”

“Between violence and indifference, persistent and humble dialogue is the necessary path to peace,” the statement said.

The statement’s release comes during a tense presidential election year, fewer than five months until the rematch between President Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

“Let us pray, then, that by turning away from violence, away from anger, away from demeaning others who are made in the likeness and image of God, we may work for peace through dialogue and justice,” the statement concludes.

“We pray with trust and thanksgiving that the Lord will bless our country, including our political process, and that ‘the tender mercy of our God’ will ‘guide our feet into the path of peace’ (Lk 1:78-79).”

Colorado baker returns to court after activist sues over ‘gender transition’ cake

Cake artist Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. / Credit: Alliance Defending Freedom

Denver, Colo., Jun 20, 2024 / 12:08 pm (CNA).

A Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, is back in court defending what he sees as his right not to bake a cake celebrating a gender transition on the grounds that doing so would interfere with his religious beliefs. 

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who was sued for refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. 

On Tuesday the Colorado Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in Phillips’ appeal of a lower court’s ruling that found he had discriminated against the individual who had sued him for refusing to make a pink birthday cake with blue frosting.

This latest case began in 2017 when Autumn Scardina, a “transgender” attorney, asked Phillips to make a cake to celebrate Scardina’s “transition.” Scardina later requested the cake shop make a custom cake of Satan smoking marijuana, to “correct the errors of [Phillips’] thinking.”

After both a trial court and an appeals court ruled against him, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) appealed on behalf of Phillips.

“Jack serves everyone at Masterpiece Cakeshop, including those who identify as LGBT,” ADF Legal Counsel Jake Warner told CNA in a statement. “Whether he creates a custom cake always depends on what the cake will express, not who requests it.” 

“For over a decade, government officials and activists have misused state law to threaten and punish Jack because they disagree with him,” he continued. 

“Yesterday, we asked the Colorado Supreme Court to affirm free speech is for everyone and to ensure that the government cannot force Jack to create a custom cake expressing a message that violates his beliefs,” he said of the oral arguments in the Colorado Supreme Court.

The case is related to a recent Supreme Court decision to affirm a graphic designer’s religious freedom, Warner noted. 

“We also argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in 303 Creative v. Elenis reaffirmed that Colorado can’t force artists to express a message inconsistent with their beliefs,” he added. 

Phillips opened Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, in 1993 and runs the shop with his wife, Debi. Both prioritize their faith as Christians and don’t make cakes that go against their consciences. Phillips has noted in the past that he won’t make cakes for messages he disagrees with including Halloween, divorces, or any cakes with disparaging messages. 

“We hope the Colorado Supreme Court will protect free speech for all and finally bring justice for Jack,” Warner said.

The ethics of IVF: Where Catholics and Baptists can agree

null / Credit: Tati9/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jun 20, 2024 / 11:15 am (CNA).

Last week, the Southern Baptist Convention, which represents the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., voted to approve a resolution laying out the ethical implications of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and calling on Baptists to “only utilize infertility treatments and reproductive technologies in ways consistent with the dignity of the human embryo.”

The resolution, which is a statement of belief and is nonbinding, follows a landmark ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court in February that found that frozen human embryos are children under state law. The resolution represents the first official statement on IVF from the SBC — which claims nearly 13 million members — despite prominent SBC leaders and ethicists criticizing the use of IVF for years. 

The SBC resolution garnered national attention when it passed last week, in part because it now means that the two largest single Christian denominations in the United States — Catholics and Southern Baptists — have both officially explicated teachings specifically against IVF, despite the procedure remaining popular among members of both faiths. Overall, roughly 2% of all children in the U.S. are conceived through IVF. 

What does the Baptist faith teach about the use of IVF, and how does this compare with the teaching of the Catholic Church? Here’s what you need to know. 

First, the Catholic view

While the Catholic Church encourages certain fertility treatments for couples struggling to have children, the use of IVF is contrary to Catholic teachings. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2377) states that IVF is “morally unacceptable.”

In the IVF process, the sperm and egg are joined in a lab environment and the live embryo is later implanted into a uterus to continue developing until birth. Prior to this, a drug is administered to the woman to induce the release of multiple eggs in one cycle, while the man’s sperm is retrieved through masturbation. 

Ultimately, IVF involves the use of artificial means to achieve pregnancy outside of sex between a husband and wife, or “the marital act” — a disassociation that the Church teaches is contrary to the dignity of both parents and children. 

In addition, almost half of the human embryos — millions — created through IVF are “discarded” during the process whereby embryos are selected for implantation, according to the Center for Genetics and SocietyMillions more are being kept frozen in laboratories across the country, where they are often stored indefinitely, discarded after a while, accidentally destroyed, or intentionally destroyed in embryonic scientific research

For these and other reasons, the Church has judged the process of IVF, similar to surrogacy, to be incompatible with the Church’s understanding of the sanctity of every life from the moment of conception. 

What do Baptists believe about IVF?

Like many Protestants, Baptists believe in the Bible as “a perfect treasure of divine instruction.” According to a 2000 statement of faith from the SBC, Christians “should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death.” 

The SBC has released over 20 resolutions affirming the pro-life view that life begins at the moment of conception. Still, similar to several other major Protestant denominations, the SBC lacked a clear teaching on the morality of IVF. 

The June 12 resolution calls on Southern Baptists to pray for couples who experience infertility, promote adoption, and ask the government to restrict actions that violate the sanctity of human life. And, specifically for couples experiencing infertility, the resolution asks them to consider reproductive technologies that are ethical.

Despite this action, many Baptist individuals have expressed support for IVF, especially since the resolution passed. Because Baptist congregations are autonomous and the Baptist faith lacks a central, infallible teaching authority — such as the pope — Baptist Christians are free to assess the issue of IVF for themselves and decide accordingly. 

But just because the SBC as a body has not explicitly taught against IVF until now doesn’t mean prominent Baptist leaders and ethicists have not been critical of the practice. In particular, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the SBC has released detailed ethical analyses of IVF, with the commission variously concluding that it is “opposed to the willful destruction or even donating to scientific experimentation of non-implanted human embryos wantonly created in the typical IVF process.”

Other Baptist leaders such as Russell Moore, Karen Swallow Prior, and Albert Mohler, president of the flagship Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, Kentucky, have written and spoken extensively against the use of IVF for years. Mohler’s criticisms, in part, include the fact that IVF can be used by LGBT couples. 

In an op-ed published following the SBC resolution, Mohler admitted that “evangelical Christians have been late to get serious on this issue.”

“Far too many Christians say they believe in the sanctity and dignity of human life at every stage, from fertilization to natural death, but when the issue turns to the massive ethical issues related to IVF, many evangelicals, including far too many Southern Baptists, have refused to connect the dots,” Mohler wrote. 

“The SBC gains nothing politically by speaking up for human embryos. We speak up because we truly believe that human life is sacred from the moment of fertilization,” the respected theologian continued. 

Mohler authored the June 12 SBC resolution along with SBTS professor Andrew Walker. In a June 13 statement on social media, Walker noted that “Southern Baptists can no longer remain silent or on the fence about IVF.”

“Protestants, I fear, have unwittingly acquiesced, with the greatest of intentions, to an industry that promises life by also tampering with it. Given what is happening in the culture, now is as good a time as ever to speak with biblical clarity,” he continued. 

“Human embryos are human beings who bear God’s image at all stages of their development. We believe this consistently, or we do not. Everyone who is reading this was once an embryo themselves. Though you and I are no longer in the embryonic stage of our existence, who we are today is not substantively different than who we were then. Our nature is all the same,” Walker said. 

“The bottom line is this: If we believe it is wrong to kill unborn life in the womb, we should extend that logic to understand that creating excess embryos and freezing them outside the womb is also wrong.”

What should Catholics make of the Baptists’ resolution?

Andrew Kubick, a Catholic bioethicist with the Religious Freedom Institute and the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that he welcomes the SBC’s resolution, saying it affirms numerous truths that Catholics and Baptists hold in common as Christians. These include the belief that every human being bears God’s image, has intrinsic dignity, and possesses inherent rights, and also that children are a gift from God.

“These truths are expressly taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but they are also expressed in the Bible and accessible through reason so that our brothers and sisters outside of the Church can understand and live according to the moral order established by God,” Kubick said. 

While the Catholic Church’s moral analysis of IVF “goes much deeper,” he said, it is commendable that the South Baptist’s resolution identifies some immoral elements of IVF.

However, there are a few ambiguities in the resolution that ought to be clarified, Kubick noted. First, he said, the immoral elements of IVF were enumerated, yet IVF was never outright condemned. Rather, he said, it falls to the prudential considerations of the married couple. 

In addition, the SBC resolution encourages couples who are infertile to consider embryo adoption in order to “rescue” these children who are in danger of death. Embryo adoption is a practice that the Catholic Church has not definitively addressed, but the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith has expressed serious moral reservations about it.  

“While embryo adoption sought as a treatment for infertility is explicitly condemned by the Catholic Church, (see Dignitas Personae, No. 19), Catholic theologians and ethicists who are faithful to the magisterium are split on whether such a rescue operation is morally permitted,” he noted.

Can generous family policies help boost fertility rates?

null / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jun 20, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Advocates and policymakers have for years argued that extending family benefits — such as paid leave, job guarantees, and cash payouts for new babies — could help reverse the steep declines in fertility rates observed in recent decades in most of the developed world. 

The data, meanwhile, paint a less optimistic picture, though there are signs that some policies could play a role in convincing families to have more children. 

Government leaders in numerous countries have been struggling in recent years to address falling birth rates. In South Korea, for instance — where the birth rate has cratered to less than one birth per woman — the Seoul metropolitan government will next year begin offering housing subsidies to newlywed couples, in part so husbands and wives might have more children. 

Some private companies in South Korea, meanwhile, have begun offering generous baby bonuses to employees.

In Taiwan, which has a similarly grim birth rate, the government has grown desperate enough to begin hosting its own singles mixers in the hopes of encouraging men and women to marry and have children. 

The Japanese government, meanwhile, has vowed to take on the country’s perilously low birth rate, with the Tokyo government launching its own dating app and the national government considering expanding both child allowances and parental leave.

European countries are trying to institute their own policies and incentives to boost birth rates. 

Italy is offering “baby bonuses” to couples, doling out a monthly allowance for the first year of a new baby’s life.

In France earlier this year, President Emmanuel Macron proposed free fertility checks for 25-year-old women. The government is also looking to expand its parental leave policy.

And the Greek government has raised its own baby allowance in a bid to fight the country’s low fertility.

‘It takes a rather large amount of money’

Beyond special measures that specifically target falling fertility rates, many countries have offered generous family policies for decades. Sweden, for example, began offering parental leave benefits in the 1970s, while Germany has offered various forms of paid leave for nearly as long. 

Yet both of those countries are nevertheless posting birth rates well below “replacement rate,” or the rate necessary to keep a population stable. Below the replacement rate, a country’s population will inevitably decline.

Essentially every country in Western Europe is recording sub-replacement fertility rates, as are the U.S., Canada, and many Asian countries.

Lyman Stone, a research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told CNA in an interview that there have been numerous studies in recent years on the effectiveness of family policies in boosting the fertility rate. 

“In general, these policies work,” he said. 

Stone pointed out that there are “nuances” to the data. “It takes a rather large amount of money,” he acknowledged. But “not an implausible amount,” he said.

He noted that a family policy’s effect on fertility depends on the policy itself. Some policies merely guarantee a parent’s job will be held for a period of time after a baby’s birth; others offer straight cash payouts for a new baby.

“What the research suggests is that job guarantees have probably no effect on fertility, and possibly in some contexts have a negative effect on fertility,” he said. 

“Job guarantees might convince currently employed people to have a bit more babies than they otherwise have; they may also convince people who might have stayed home to have another baby to return to the workforce. Job lock doesn’t seem to do very much.”

“However, the compensation side does,” he said. “When you increase the wage replacement rate for maternity leave programs, you get more babies.” 

“Money works,” he said. “Job guarantees probably don’t have a big effect.”

Stone pointed to a 2017 study from Anna Raute, an economics professor at Queen Mary University London, one that examined a “major maternity leave benefit reform” in Germany that “considerably increase[d] the financial incentives for higher-educated and higher-earning women to have a child.”

Raute in her study found “an up to 22% increase in the fertility of tertiary educated versus low educated women” stemming from the new policy. 

Stone said the overall picture of the data is straightforward. “If you put more money into families, you get more babies,” he argued. 

‘You need to solve it for 18 years’

Not all experts are as confident about the data, however. Catherine Pakaluk, an associate professor of social research and economic thought at the Catholic University of America, said the field doesn’t have “enormous experimental data on paid leave and maternity leave policies,” mainly because “they’re hard to implement at a really huge macro level.”

But “if you survey leading economists and demographers around the world, the bulk of the evidence is that it doesn’t work,” she argued. 

The source of the stubborn problem, she said, lies within “the collision between career and family” that occurred throughout the 20th century as more and more women went to work. Pakaluk described this phenomenon as “an enormous inflection point.”

“That is the source of low birth rates,” she argued. 

“The goal of a good maternity leave program is to keep women attached to their jobs,” she pointed out. “They have the baby, they stay home, then they can return to their jobs.” 

But “is keeping women attached to their jobs longer — past the birth of their child — likely to solve the problem that arose in the first place with the tension? What we’re trying to do is, in a sense, more of that which got us the problem in the first place.”

“It sounds a little weird,” she said, “but the point of maternity leave is to give women a break right after a baby comes. Well, you’re resolving the tension for just six weeks. Okay, double it. You’ve solved it for 12 weeks.” 

“You need to solve it for 18 years,” she said bluntly. 

Indeed, there are signs that the fertility crisis goes beyond concerns of financial stability. In one recent survey, a majority of Americans who don’t want children cited “maintaining personal independence” as a motivating factor. 

Large percentages, meanwhile, also cited politics, work-life balance, and “safety concerns” in addition to financial constraints.

Pakaluk, who has eight children, says couples “have to figure out a 20-year solution for how you’re going to make work and family work together.”

“Once that conflict has been settled, in that context, a generous maternity leave can be a really great benefit or blessing,” she pointed out.

“For people on the margin, who haven’t got the 20-year thing solved, I don’t see how it’s likely to incentivize people to solve a 20-year plan,” she said. 

Stone, meanwhile, said that even when they do work, family policies should not be seen as a panacea for low fertility rates. He shared with CNA a survey he co-authored on the effects of various family policies on fertility, one that found mixed results across various countries.

The effects of those policies, the survey noted, are “sufficiently irregular that they are likely contingent on the wider realm of social norms and political structures in which the policy is implemented.” 

“Family leave probably helps boost fertility in contexts where it is part of a wider pro-family policy regime, complementing, supporting, and enabling voluntary family choices,” the review said. 

“But implementing family leave on its own, or in a context where parents primarily want to make bigger investments per child rather than having more children, may have little impact on fertility.”

Stone told CNA that “all these different family policies have a different role.”

“None of them is a silver bullet,” he said. “They’re part of the types of things that societies would need to do if they wanted to get fertility rates meaningfully elevated.”

New York court puts pro-abortion amendment back on November ballot

Pro-abortion activists gather in front of pro-life advocates outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic in downtown Manhattan on Feb. 3, 2024, in New York City. / Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

CNA Staff, Jun 19, 2024 / 17:45 pm (CNA).

A New York court ruled in favor of putting a proposed amendment to enshrine a right to abortion in the state constitution back on the Nov. 5 ballot, but Republicans plan to take the fight to appeal.

The unanimous appellate court decision on June 18 reverses a lower court ruling that would have taken the proposal off of state ballots.

Although the lower court had ruled that the state did not follow the proper procedure when approving the ballot language, the appellate court found that the lawmakers who challenged the procedure had done so after the statute of limitations had passed. For this reason, the appellate court dismissed the complaint entirely.

Republican opponents of the ballot measure intend to appeal the appellate ruling to New York’s highest court, according to the Associated Press.

“We continue to believe the Legislature violated the constitution when it adopted the proposal,” said David Laska, a party spokesperson, according to the AP report. “We will fight this proposal in the courts and, if necessary, at the ballot box.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James praised the appellate court ruling for allowing the proposal back on the ballot. 

“Today’s decision to put the Equal Rights Amendment back on the ballot in November is a huge victory in our efforts to protect our basic rights and freedoms,” James said in a statement.

“The ERA was advanced to protect access to abortion care, enshrine this basic right in our constitution, and protect people from discrimination,” James added. “We will continue to do everything in our power to protect these rights and ensure everyone can live safely and freely in the great State of New York.”

Although the proposed “Equal Rights” amendment does not use the word “abortion,” it would establish broad rights to “reproductive health care” by prohibiting any discrimination based on “pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes, and reproductive health care and autonomy.”

The text would also prohibit discrimination based on a person’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

Constitutional amendments to establish abortion rights will also appear on the ballots in other states on Nov. 5, including Colorado and Florida.

Arizona governor vetoes bill requiring insurance companies to cover trans ‘detransitions’

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs sits in the audience prior to President Joe Biden's remarks at the Tempe Center for the Arts on Sept 28, 2023, in Tempe, Arizona. / Credit: Rebecca Noble/Getty Images

CNA Staff, Jun 19, 2024 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs this week vetoed a bill that would have required insurance companies to cover “detransitioning” procedures for transgender-identifying individuals who had undergone sex-change surgeries.

The Democratic governor vetoed state Senate Bill 1511 after it passed both houses of the state Legislature. The measure would have stipulated that health insurance plans that offer “coverage for gender transition procedures” may not “deny coverage for gender detransition procedures.”

It would have also required that physicians who perform gender transition procedures “must agree to provide or pay for the performance of gender detransition procedures.”

“Detransitioners,” or transgender-identified individuals who have ceased trying to make their bodies resemble those of the opposite sex, have been getting increased attention in the media in recent years. 

Oftentimes such people have been on cross-sex hormones for years, resulting in significant or irreversible changes to their bodies; in other cases, they have undergone irreversible surgeries. Extensive medical work can be required to attempt to return their bodies to normal function. 

In a “veto letter” provided to CNA by the governor’s office on Wednesday, Hobbs said the measure was “unnecessary and would create a privacy risk for patients.”

On its website, the Arizona State Senate Republican Caucus said Hobbs in her veto of the bill was “aiding doctors and insurance companies taking advantage of a vulnerable population.”

State Sen. Janae Shamp, who sponsored the bill, argued on Tuesday that doctors “must be prepared to undo the damage” of gender transition procedures “as much as possible.”

Insurance companies should also pay for such reparative procedures, she said.

“Shame on Gov. Hobbs for sending a message that the institutions tasked with protecting their health and well-being have turned their backs on them,” Shamp said on the state senate GOP’s website.

Advocates say detransitioners demonstrate why doctors and health officials should proceed cautiously with transgender procedures, especially given that many of those procedures cannot be easily reversed, if at all. 

Some formerly transgender-identified individuals, such as young adult Chloe Cole, have spoken out strongly against what they say is a too-permissive medical culture that rushes into “gender-affirming” models of care.

In the Netherlands earlier this year, a study found that nearly two-thirds of children who had wished that they belonged to the opposite sex as adolescents ultimately became comfortable with their biological sex in early adulthood.

In an interview with the New York Times last month, meanwhile, English pediatrician Hilary Cass warned there is no comprehensive evidence to support the routine prescription of transgender drugs to minors with gender dysphoria. 

The doctor earlier this year published the independent “Cass Review,” commissioned by the National Health Service in England, which prompted England and Scotland to halt the prescription of transgender drugs to minors until more research is conducted.

Shamp, the Arizona senator, this week pointed to Chloe Cole as an example of the perils of transgender medicine.

Cole was “given puberty blockers and underwent a double mastectomy” at a young age and now struggles with “the severe damage left behind,” the senator said.

“It’s unfathomable that we consider mutilating an undeveloped child’s body as ‘health care,’” Shamp said, “but what’s even more horrifying is the fact that we deny them access to care when they go on to suffer the mental and physical consequences.”

U.S. bishops approve plan for youth, young adult ministry

Pilgrims kneel in adoration at a World Youth Day event in Lisbon, Portugal, Aug. 2, 2023. The event was hosted by the U.S. bishops’ conference and featured a talk by Bishop Robert Barron culminating in a eucharistic procession and Holy Hour. / Credit: Claudette Jerez/EWTN News video screen shot

CNA Staff, Jun 19, 2024 / 11:15 am (CNA).

The U.S. bishops approved a new pastoral framework for youth and young adult outreach, titled “Listen, Teach, Send,” following their spring meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, last week. 

The framework was approved on Monday, passing with 188 in favor, four against, and four abstentions, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced in a Tuesday press release

The initial vote was held at the bishops’ spring plenary assembly, but not enough eligible bishops were present to vote and were contacted to cast their votes after, the release noted.

“We’re hoping that ‘Listen, Teach, Send’ can offer new life for these ministries in our local Churches,” Bishop Robert Barron, who is heading the initiative as chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, explained at the USCCB June Plenary Assembly in Louisville, Kentucky. 

Barron noted that it has been 30 years since the “last major moment” for the Church’s work with youth, the World Youth Day gathering in Denver, which was accompanied by the release of two national frameworks on youth and young adults. 

“Since then, frankly, enthusiasm has waned while disaffiliation has risen,” he told the bishops gathered in Louisville. “It’s our fond hope that the ‘Listen, Teach, Send’ framework, combined with the Holy Father’s encouragement in the Synod and Christus Vivit, will be another watershed moment.”

Five years ago, Pope Francis published Christus Vivit, “Christ Is Alive!”, an apostolic exhortation addressed to young people and the “entire people of God” after the Youth Synod. In response to this, the U.S. bishops authorized this framework in 2021.

The framework, “Listen, Teach, Send: National Pastoral Framework for Ministries with Youth and with Young Adults,” follows Jesus’ encounter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus and highlights how he listens to them, reveals Scripture to them, and sends them forth. 

“‘Listen, Teach, Send’ is a summons to the Church to renew her engagement with youth and young adults in imitation of Jesus Christ on the journey to Emmaus,” Barron explained.

“Like the Lord in that familiar story, we’re called deeply to listen to the realities facing young people with pastoral care and compassion; to teach in a new way that shares the light of Christ with young people and brings about a conversion of heart; and, finally, to send youth and young adults forth so they eagerly choose to follow God’s call and their mission to transform the world,” he continued. 

Barron and his department took inspiration from ministries such as the National Dialogue, the Hispanic ministry V National Encuentro, and Journeying Together, as well as other bishops’ insights in drafting the document.  

“What we heard was a strong desire to develop a framework that was streamlined and straightforward, one that could be used not just by pastors and pastoral ministers but also by families and by young people themselves who can evangelize and guide their peers to Christ,” Barron said.

“We heard a desire to name and address issues, including sexuality, mental health, disaffiliation, racial justice, polarization, and the desire of so many young people to transform our society,” he continued. “Most importantly, we heard that we cannot be silent or inactive when it comes to the engagement and accompaniment of youth and young adults.”

The framework highlights mutual listening, mentorship, evangelization, and vocation, noting that formation should take place in the home and through parents, grandparents, and families but can take place in a variety of contexts.

The USCCB will be releasing complementary and supplemental resources this year with concrete ideas for implementing the framework on a local level.

“In this, we encourage ministry leaders and families to establish conditions for mutual listening to take place: where older generations can truly listen to the young and where the young can truly listen to God speaking to them in the Word and the wisdom of the Church,” the document reads.

The document notes that young people “need faith-filled parents and pastoral ministry leaders (and peers) who can lovingly interpret young people’s stories through the lens of faith and foster a conversion of the heart.”

“Too many youth and young adults today lack mentors in their lives, and yet these wisdom figures can do so much to guide a young person along the right path,” it continues. “This experience of accompaniment is something that begins in the family and extends to the teachers, respected adults, Church leaders, and professional connections that a young person encounters as they mature through life.”

The framework explains the importance of conveying the whole Gospel, including what may challenge young people.

“The teachings of Christ are countercultural and transformative: seeking God’s kingdom first above all, loving enemies, living a moral life, and sacrificing one’s own self for the good of others, especially those who are marginalized and forgotten,” the document reads. “It may take time to embrace these truths, and young people should be given loving environments where they can ask questions without judgment and wrestle with difficult issues.”

“As young people are accompanied on a pilgrimage of faith, they need to hear a clear proclamation of the message of salvation, the implications of Gospel living (including the effects of sin), the embrace of God’s mercy, and the unconditional love that Christ offers those who follow him — all inculturated in their lives in a language and style they can understand, appreciate, and appropriate within their own lives,” the document notes.

The document concludes by highlighting that young people have a mission to “go where Christ is calling them,” highlighting the importance of reaching out to the vulnerable and marginalized, embracing the universal call to holiness, and being transformed by Christ through “prayerful openness” while recognizing God’s work in their lives.