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Tennessee priest indicted on additional sex crime charges

Father Juan Carlos Garcia-Mendoza is being held in jail in Williamson County, Tennessee, on $2 million bond, the police said. He had previously served at St. Philip Catholic Church in the town of Franklin. / Credit: Courtesy of the Franklin Police Department

CNA Staff, Jun 21, 2024 / 15:55 pm (CNA).

A priest in Tennessee already facing multiple sexual abuse charges has been served with two additional battery charges this month, police have revealed. 

A grand jury earlier this month returned a superseding indictment against Father Juan Carlos Garcia-Mendoza, charging him with two additional counts of sexual battery, according to a press release from the Franklin, Tennessee, Police Department. 

In February, Garcia was indicted on eight other charges, including continuous abuse of a child, aggravated sexual battery, four counts of sexual battery by an authority figure, and two counts of sexual battery.

The priest is being held in jail in Williamson County, Tennessee, on $2 million bond, the police said. He had previously served at St. Philip Catholic Church in the town of Franklin.

The Diocese of Nashville had said in a press release in January that it first learned of accusations against Garcia in November 2023 when “a teen in the parish had made a report of improper touching” involving the priest. 

The diocese made a report to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services; it also contracted with a former FBI agent to oversee the diocesan investigation into the claims.

A spokesman for the diocese told CNA on Friday that Garcia had been removed from active ministry in November after the first report was made regarding the priest. 

Earlier reports had suggested the diocese delayed for several weeks in removing the priest from active ministry; the spokesman denied those reports. 

Garcia was ordained in 2020 and served at several parishes in the Nashville Diocese before his indictment. 

EWTN earns multiple accolades at 2024 Gabriel Awards

The first season of the EWTN series “James the Less” received the Best Video award at the 2024 Gabriel Awards presentation on June 20, 2024, in Atlanta. / Credit: Ken Oliver-Méndez/CNA

Atlanta, Ga., Jun 21, 2024 / 14:55 pm (CNA).

The 58th annual Gabriel Awards saw EWTN, the world’s largest Catholic media organization, win five awards in multiple categories in recognition of “outstanding artistic achievement in a television or radio program or series that entertains and enriches with a true vision of humanity and true vision of life.”

Sponsored by the Catholic Media Association, this year’s awards took place on June 20 within the context of the association’s annual conference in Atlanta. EWTN News President and COO Montse Alvarado and National Catholic Register Editor-in-Chief Shannon Mullen accepted the awards for Best Feature Film, Best Video, Best Television Special Event Coverage, Best Single News Story, and Best Short Documentary on behalf of their colleagues.

Winning first place for Best Single News Story, “EWTN News in Depth” anchor Catherine Hadro took the top spot for her story on the life of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, foundress of the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, whose body was exhumed in May 2023 in an unexpected state of preservation.

EWTN News in Depth anchor Catherine Hadro took the top spot for her story on the life of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, foundress of the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles. Credit: Ken Oliver-Méndez/CNA
EWTN News in Depth anchor Catherine Hadro took the top spot for her story on the life of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, foundress of the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles. Credit: Ken Oliver-Méndez/CNA

Winning along with Hadro for the report were EWTN News editor Andrew Spangenberg and videographer Craig Campbell.

Taking top honors for Best Television Special Event Coverage was EWTN’s 2023 World Youth Day coverage, led by EWTN News correspondent Colm Flynn along with Eleonora Vescovini and Father Mark Mary, MFVA. EWTN Vice President of Programming and Production Peter Gagnon was also among the network’s award winners for his role as executive producer of the network’s coverage of the event.

Meanwhile, Season 1 of EWTN’s innovative series “James the Less” received the prestigious Best Video award. EWTN Director of Studio Operations Stephen Beaumont worked with EWTN producers Michael Masny and Greg Hendrick to develop the scripts for the five-part romantic comedy.

Speaking of the series, whose second season is currently in production, Beaumont told CNA: “The narratives provide an opportunity to attract people who might not otherwise watch Catholic programs. Our hope is that Catholics and non-Catholics alike will find the show entertaining and that atheists will gain insight into what Catholics believe.”

The global Catholic network, the parent company of CNA, also took first place in the feature film category for “Faith of Our Fathers,” a riveting original film about a Catholic priest defending the faith against the 19th-century English penal laws and the determination of the Irish community to protect him in the face of unrelenting persecution. EWTN President Doug Keck in his capacity as executive producer of the film received the award, along with fellow executive producer Aidan Gallagher, director Campbell Miller, and producer John Elson.

Finally, the network’s short documentary “Alive in Christ — The Eucharistic Martyrs” also took top spot in its category. The documentary brings to life the account of the first Christians and their courageous struggle to live their faith in the midst of persecution. Once again, Keck received the award in his capacity as the documentary’s executive producer, along with fellow executive producers Elson and David Sipoš, who was also the director.

In addition, EWTN News anchor Hadro also won the Best Podcast — Single Episode award for her role as co-host and producer of the “Purposeful Lab” podcast “Is Extraterrestrial Life Compatible with Christianity?” produced by the Magis Center and co-host Dr. Daniel Kuebler.

The Catholic Media Association notes that “the Gabriel Awards have been a beacon of inspiration since their inception in 1965, encouraging media professionals to create works that serve, enrich, challenge, and uplift audiences.”

Commenting on the wins for the network, EWTN Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board Michael Warsaw said “this year’s Gabriel Awards are particularly meaningful to EWTN as our submissions reflected the broad range of productions the team is committed to bringing our audience— from an online digital series aimed at young audiences to the deeply meaningful story of determination of our Irish forefathers, to our wall-to-wall coverage of World Youth Day.”

Warsaw added: “We’re grateful to the Catholic Media Association board and the award selection committee for their recognition and support of the team’s hard work and are honored to stand alongside the other nominees and winners that seek to share the truth of our faith with the world through media.” 

For her part, EWTN News President and COO Alvarado observed that “the recognition of the ‘EWTN News In Depth’ team’s coverage of the life of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster is especially significant as Catherine Hadro takes on the role of host of the program this week. We’re all grateful for the recognition from our peers in the Catholic media space and applaud the other nominees and winners for their submissions.”

Democrats move to repeal federal law that forbids abortion materials in U.S. mail

U.S. Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Newsroom, Jun 21, 2024 / 11:30 am (CNA).

Democrats worried that a new Trump administration may use a 150-year-old federal law to stop abortion pills from being sent through the mail have announced an attempt to repeal it.

Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minnesota, said in a Thursday press release on her website that she had introduced a bill to repeal the Comstock Act, a law she claimed “Republicans and anti-choice extremists want to misuse to ban abortion nationwide.”

Passed in 1873, the Comstock Act bans in part the usage of the U.S. Postal Service to send any materials that can facilitate or cause abortions.

The portions of the Comstock Act banning the mailing of abortion-causing items have not been enforced for decades, at least since 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared a right to abortion under the federal constitution in Roe v. Wade.

Yet the question came up again after the court overturned Roe in June 2022 and declared that there is no federal constitutional right to abortion, sending abortion law back to legislatures and state referendums.

Smith in her announcement on Thursday said the Comstock rule is “a 150-year-old zombie law,” one that’s “long been relegated to the dustbin of history.”

“Now that Trump has overturned Roe, a future Republican administration could try to misapply this 150-year-old Comstock law to deny American women their rights, even in states where abortion rights are protected by state law,” she alleged. 

The senator said it was “too dangerous to leave this law on the books.” Multiple other Democrats signaled their support for the bill on Thursday. 

The federal Food and Drug Administration began allowing abortion pills to be sent through the mail on a temporary basis in April 2021, not long after President Joe Biden took office. The agency made the approval permanent in December 2021.

The Biden Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel said in December 2022 that mailing abortion pills does not violate federal law “where the sender lacks the intent that the recipient of the drugs will use them unlawfully.”

Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, decried attempts to repeal the Comstock Act’s references to abortion-causing items.

“It’s quite astounding. Democrats in Congress must wake up every day wondering what else they can do to make it easier to end the lives of unborn children,” Tobias told CNA by text.

“These are the same people trying to shut down pregnancy centers, trying to block pregnancy centers from online search engines, and vilifying the abortion pill reversal process,” Tobias said. “This latest effort is one more attempt not to help women and babies but instead an effort to make it easier to kill preborn babies.”

“It’s sad that the Democratic Party has become the party that pushes death for the most innocent and vulnerable among us.”

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, meanwhile, said the Comstock Act repeal isn’t likely to gain traction in Congress this year, given that Republicans control the U.S. House of Representatives and Democrats control the Senate, both by a narrow majority.

“The bill is unlikely to go anywhere given the makeup of the House and Senate,” a spokesman for the organization told CNA by email.

“Instead of fearmongering about how a law may be applied, Democrats should be ensuring that the FDA is actually protecting women’s health with proper safety standards for abortion drugs.”

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?

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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.”