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Cardinal Gregory recalls time when Black Catholics could not study in U.S. seminaries

Cardinal Wilton Gregory speaks at an interview in Rome on April 11, 2024. / Credit: “EWTN News Nightly” screen shot

Rome Newsroom, Apr 18, 2024 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

As the Catholic Church’s first African American cardinal was honored at a U.S. seminary in Rome, he recalled the legacy of faith and perseverance of Black Catholics in America, including at a time when they were not accepted by U.S. seminaries. 

Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, received this year’s Rector’s Award at an April 11 banquet at the Pontifical North American College, where seminarians from across 99 dioceses in the U.S. live while studying for the priesthood in Rome.

In an interview with CNA before the award ceremony, Gregory pointed out that in the 19th century, African Americans who had a vocation to the priesthood were sent to study in Rome and then to serve as missionaries in Africa because at the time they were not allowed to enter U.S. seminaries.

“Being in Rome reminds me also that Rome is the place that provided a seminary education and formation for Augustus Tolton, the first African American priest to serve openly in the United States,” Gregory said.

Tolton “came to Rome because Rome … was willing to take him on as a seminarian when no other seminary in the United States would accept that.”

Venerable Augustus Tolton, a former slave turned Catholic priest, is now on the path to sainthood in the Catholic Church. He studied in Rome near the Spanish Steps at the Pontifical Urban University, run by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, from 1880 to 1886, when he was ordained in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran.

Tolton offered his first Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on April 25, 1886. One hundred and thirty-four years later, Pope Francis made Gregory the first African American cardinal in a ceremony in the same basilica in 2020. 

“I know that the honor that was given to me by Pope Francis rested solidly on the faith of African American Catholics,” Gregory told CNA.

“Even in times when we weren’t respected, or understood, or honored, we remained faithful.”

“And the fact that I can enjoy the office, knowing that it rests on the quality of goodness, faith, and charity of the African American community, humbles me deeply,” the cardinal said with tears in his eyes.

Gregory has led the Archdiocese of Washington since 2019. He said that navigating a U.S. presidential election year as the archbishop requires prudence.

“We’re living in a very divisive moment, both in our political life in the United States, but sometimes also … in our Church,” he said.

“In the United States, we’re struggling with trying to be one people —  one people with a common purpose, a common future. And sometimes the rhetoric gets to be so hostile and so vitriolic that it causes us to step back and say, ‘Is this really the nation that is the land of the free and the home of the brave?’”

The cardinal, who will be in Rome for the month leading up to the U.S. election as a delegate in the Synod on Synodality, said that his task is “difficult, but not impossible.”

“As the archbishop of Washington, I have to focus on the fact that in spite of all of the differences that are at play, I have wonderful people in my archdiocese. And people have great generosity and devotion to the country and to the Church.”

Gregory recently made headlines for calling President Joe Biden a “cafeteria Catholic” in an Easter interview on “Face the Nation,” explaining that Biden “picks and chooses dimensions of the faith to highlight while ignoring or even contradicting other parts.”

While he did not receive a response from the White House to the comments, the cardinal said that “the overwhelming response was positive” from the Catholics in his archdiocese.

“I respect the president. I believe that he is a sincere man of faith, I really do believe that. I would just ask that he would somehow find a way to better allow his personal religious convictions to engage in the public forum,” Gregory said.

The cardinal pointed to the Vatican’s recent declaration on human dignity, Dignitas Infinita, as “a wonderful summation of the Church’s moral teaching.”

Gregory said that he hopes that the Eucharistic revival in the U.S. will lead American Catholics to “draw closer together as a family of faith around the altar that Christ sets for us.”

“The emphasis on the Real Presence also should generate the next question: If Christ is really present and I receive him in the Eucharist, what does that demand of me?” he said.

“His Eucharistic presence is a gift of unquestionable importance. But it’s also a challenge that those of us who dine with him must live like him and have the same values that he expressed in the Gospels as his legacy of faith and love.”

Tennessee names first English-language Bible translation in U.S. as official state book

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee speaks during the signing of the ELVIS Act to Protect Voice & Likeness in Age of AI event at Robert’s Western World on March 21, 2024, in Nashville, Tennessee. / Credit: Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Human Artistry Campaign

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 18, 2024 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

The first English-language translation of the Bible in the United States will become an “official state book” in Tennessee on July 1.

Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, signed a bill on Tuesday that names the Aitken Bible and nine other texts as official state books in the Tennessee Blue Book (an official manual on the state government). This is the first time Tennessee has formally recognized any official state books.

The Bible translation was published by Philadelphia printer Robert Aitken in 1782 and received an official endorsement from Congress. The American Revolution, which began in 1776, halted trade with Great Britain and cut off the supply of Bibles, which prompted Aitken to publish an English-language Bible in the country, according to the legislation.

Aitken’s translation received its official endorsement from the Congress of the Confederation in 1782, which was the American legislative body that preceded the establishment of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The 18th-century resolution states that the lawmakers “highly approve the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aitken, as subservient to the interest of religion, as well as the interest of the progress of arts in this country.” It further states that the lawmakers “recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States.”

The translation, which is a version of the Protestant King James Version of the Bible, is not approved by the Vatican for Catholics. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops lists approved translations of the Bible on its website.

Tennessee’s legislation that names the Aitken Bible as an official state book notes that the state is home to “the largest publisher of authentic reproductions of the Aitken Bible,” which is the Aitken Bible Historical Foundation. It adds that Tennessee is home to “three of the five privately owned original first American Bibles remaining in the world today.”

The legislation received strong support from Republicans in the Tennessee House and Senate, who hold strong supermajorities in both chambers. The bill faced opposition from most Democrats but received one Democratic vote in the House.

Some of the other historic books designated as official state books in this legislation included President George Washington’s “Farewell Address” and “Democracy in America” by Alexis de Tocqueville. The bill also recognized the 1977 book “Roots” by Alex Haley, which discusses slavery in the United States, and the 2016 book “Coat of Many Colors” by the Tennessee-born country singer Dolly Parton.

Tennessee lawmakers also passed a bill that would recognize November as “Christian Heritage Month.” The legislation was sent to Lee, but the governor has not yet taken any action on it.

Michigan priest resigns amid dispute over school appearance by ‘openly gay’ author 

Credit: Unsplash. / null

CNA Staff, Apr 18, 2024 / 12:45 pm (CNA).

A priest at a Michigan parish has resigned his post following a controversy over an “openly gay” author’s appearance at the parish parochial school’s pre-kindergarten class.

Father Thomas Held has resigned from the pastorship at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Beal City “effective immediately,” Diocese of Saginaw Bishop Robert Gruss said in a statement on Tuesday.

The parish and Held himself have been at the center of controversy since last month after area author Dominic Thrasher made an appearance at the parish’s school to read one of his children’s books, which are based on his family’s dogs. 

Thrasher has identified himself as “openly gay.” About a week after he visited the school, the church’s Facebook page was updated with a message from Held in which he wrote that “a guest who does not represent the values of our Catholic faith read to our pre-k children” as part of a schoolwide reading program. 

“To my knowledge, the book and any related conversation [were] appropriate for our students. A St. Joseph teacher was present in the room at all times,” the priest wrote. 

In the post, Held said he was “unaware” that Thrasher had been invited. 

“As your pastor, I will see to it that a new vetting police is put in place in order to minimize anything of the sort from happening again in the future,” he wrote. 

Backlash erupted following the message, with protesters demonstrating against Held and local businesses calling for his removal. A Facebook group demanding his dismissal grew to hundreds of participants, while critics urged residents to write to the diocese with complaints about the priest. 

On Tuesday, Gruss said that the controversy led Held to “come to the decision that it would be impossible for him to bring unity to the parish.”

The bishop in his statement criticized what he said was uncharitable “disunity” on display amid the controversy.

“The division, lack of charity, and the wounds caused by the division in the St. Joseph the Worker Parish community has brought deep sadness to the Lord Jesus, especially when we are living in the light of the Resurrection we celebrated on Easter Sunday,” Gruss wrote in his statement. 

“Jesus weeps when he sees division and disunity in the body of Christ, his Church. It is not his desire nor his will,” the prelate said. “The Gospel of Jesus calls all of us to be a healing presence in the community in which we live and worship.”

“My prayers and concern go out to all the members of St. Joseph the Worker Catholic community, that Christ’s peace may be a uniting force for a greater good,” the bishop added. 

Visiting priests will oversee Mass at the Beal City parish until a permanent pastor can be appointed, the bishop said.

In the weeks since the controversy began, Thrasher himself has expressed anger over the priest’s decision to post the statement, telling local media that the priest’s remarks had “made me out like I’m some predator or convict coming in to read to these children.” 

Thrasher did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday morning. Following Held’s resignation, meanwhile, he told a local news station that “a battle has been won, but the war is not over.”

The Saginaw Diocese is located in the central part of the state. Beal City is about 60 miles northeast of Grand Rapids. 

St. Joseph Parish dates back to the 1880s and was originally called St. Philomena. The school serves preschool through sixth graders.

House Republicans call for NCAA ban on biological men in women’s sports

null / Credit: Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 18, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

A group of 17 House Republican lawmakers, led by Rep. Claudia Tenney from New York, is urging the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to prohibit biological men from participating in women’s sports.

Under current NCAA rules, biological male athletes who self-identify as women can participate in women-only sports competitions if they take testosterone suppressants and bring down their testosterone levels to the maximum allowed for a specific sport. The athletes must provide documentation several times per year to show their testosterone levels.

The lawmakers penned a letter to NCAA President Charlie Baker that asks him to limit participation in women-only sports to biological women. They sent the letter to Baker about a week after a smaller college athletics association — the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) — unanimously voted to restrict most women’s sports to biological women and forbade biological males from participating in such competitions.

“We must protect the opportunity for women and girls to compete and succeed in athletics fairly,” Tenney said in a statement.

“While I applaud the NAIA’s recent decision to ban biological men from women’s sports, I am deeply disturbed that the NCAA is ignoring the facts and failing to do the same,” Tenney added. “Women fought hard to earn the critical protections of Title IX, and we must continue to protect these opportunities for generations to come. I am dedicated to defending the future of women’s sports and providing a level playing field for all female athletes.”

The letter praises the NAIA decision, stating it “appropriately recognizes the natural advantages that biological men have in certain athletic competitions.” It asks Baker “to reconsider [the NCAA’s] current policy that allows biological males to deprive women of a fair opportunity to compete and achieve athletic success.” 

“All women in NCAA-affiliated schools should not fear having their athletic accomplishments minimized by biological males, as happened in the 2022 NCAA 500-yard freestyle event, with Lia Thomas, a biological man, taking the championship over Emma Weyant,” the lawmakers wrote. “This cannot be allowed to ever happen again. The NCAA must follow the NAIA’s lead and prohibit biological males from competing in women’s sports.”

In the letter, the lawmakers cite a 2022 study that found that biological men have certain physical advantages over biological women, even after taking testosterone suppressants. The study, titled “Transwoman Elite Athletes: Their Extra Percentage Relative to Female Physiology,” noted that many anatomical sex differences that are driven by testosterone are not reversible. 

“The NCAA’s current transgender policy fails to take these scientific facts into consideration,” the lawmakers said.

The NAIA is the governing body for about 250 colleges and universities. The NCAA represents more than 1,100 colleges and universities, which includes dozens of Catholic institutions. The NCAA rules do not require Catholic institutions to permit biological men on the women’s teams; however, they may be forced to compete against colleges and universities that include biological men on their teams. 

About two dozen states have passed legislation to restrict women’s and girls’ sports to only biological women and girls in recent years. Still, more than half of the states in the country allow biological men who identify as women to participate in women’s sports.

Arizona lawmakers vote to retain law protecting life at conception

null / Credit: Jill Sauve/Unsplash

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 17, 2024 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Arizona House Republicans blocked two attempts on Wednesday to repeal an 1864 law protecting life at conception.

In a near party-line 30-30 vote on Wednesday, House Democrats failed to gain a majority of votes to suspend the Legislature’s rules to fast-track a so-called “abortion ban repeal” bill that would have overturned the 1864 pro-life law

Dormant since being invalidated by Roe v. Wade in 1973, the 1864 law protects all unborn life from conception and imposes prison time for those who “provide, supply, or administer” an abortion. 

This temporarily stalls ongoing efforts to repeal the law, which is set to go into effect in the next 37 days.

Debate on the House floor was tense just before the vote as Democrats called the pro-life law “abhorrent” and “archaic.” 

Democratic Rep. Alma Hernandez bashed Republicans, saying that “the fact that we will not even entertain a motion to allow those who have been raped or pregnant by incest to be able to have an abortion is extremely, extremely disappointing.” 

Republican Rep. Ben Toma, meanwhile, said: “I understand that we have deeply held beliefs [about abortion], and I would ask everyone in this chamber to respect the fact that some of us believe that abortion is in fact the murder of children.” 

Abortion is currently legal in Arizona until the 15th week of pregnancy. If the 1864 law takes effect, however, all abortion will be illegal, except in cases in which the mother’s life is in danger. 

Outrage from abortion advocates erupted last week when the Arizona Supreme Court issued an April 9 ruling that cleared the way for the law to go back into effect. The court ruled that since the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Roe in the 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson decision, there were no legal reasons to keep the law from being enforced.

Planned Parenthood is continuing abortions in Arizona for the time being. The abortion organization holds that a separate ruling by the Maricopa County Superior Court keeps the 1864 law from being enforced until 45 days after the high court’s ruling. 

After the state Supreme Court’s ruling, Democrats in the Arizona House moved quickly to repeal the law, demanding a vote on the measure on April 10. That attempt was also blocked by Republicans. After their efforts to repeal the law were blocked, Democrats began shouting “shame” and “blood on your hands” at their Republican colleagues on the House floor.

This comes as Arizona will likely be one of several states considering an abortion-until-birth amendment on the ballot this November. If passed, the amendment would enshrine a “right” to abortion in the state constitution, strike down virtually all of Arizona’s pro-life protections, and legalize abortion until viability and through all nine months of pregnancy for physical or mental health reasons.

The group advocating for the amendment, Arizona for Abortion Access PAC, has surpassed the required number of signatures and already filed language with the state to include the proposal on the November ballot.

The Arizona secretary of state’s office has yet to verify the signatures, which must happen before the initiative will officially be on the ballot.

The Arizona Catholic Conference, which consists of the state’s four bishops, has spoken out against the ballot initiative, saying that it would “remove most safeguards for girls and women” and “allow for painful late-term abortions of viable preborn babies.” 

“We do not believe that this extreme initiative is what Arizona wants or needs, and we continue to pray that it does not succeed,” the Arizona bishops said in a statement published April 9.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, 11,530 babies were killed through abortion in Arizona in 2022. 

Caitlin Clark’s former coach says she ‘tries to maximize her God-given talents’

Caitlin Clark attended Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines, Iowa, where she was coached by Kristin Meyer, who joined “EWTN News Nightly” host Tracy Sabol on April 16, 2024, to share what it has been like for her to watch Clark become a basketball phenom. / Credit: “EWTN News Nightly” screen shot

CNA Staff, Apr 17, 2024 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Caitlin Clark, a guard for the Iowa Hawkeyes, was selected as the No. 1 draft pick by the Indiana Fever in the 2024 Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) draft on April 15. 

The record-breaking face of women’s college basketball ended her collegiate career with 3,951 points — the most in men’s and women’s Division I history — and was a two-time national player of the year among a multitude of other impressive achievements and recognitions.

Raised in a Catholic household, Clark attended Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines, Iowa, where she was coached by Kristin Meyer.

Meyer joined “EWTN News Nightly” host Tracy Sabol on April 16 to share what it has been like for her to watch Clark become a basketball phenom. 

“I always expected her to be successful in college,” Meyer said. “She is a tremendous basketball player, and we saw that throughout her high school years. So, I’m not all that surprised to see the success that she’s had.”

Meyer added that the community in West Des Moines and at Dowling Catholic are not only proud of her accomplishments but also about “how she carries herself as a person.”

“She’s a great leader, a great teammate, and she’s really making a positive impact on not just the sports world, but I think [on] the world in general,” Meyer said.

Meyer explained that Clark’s mother, Anne, along with her aunts and uncles on her mother’s side all attended Dowling Catholic. Clark’s grandfather was also a football coach and teacher at the school. 

“The main reason that her family was involved in Dowling Catholic was because of the faith component, and so Caitlin was always going to go to Dowling Catholic, and she really enjoyed her four years here,” she recalled. 

However, Meyer admitted that Clark was not vocal in high school about her dream to become a professional basketball player. 

“She didn’t really talk about it a lot, but her skill set definitely made me think that it was possible,” Meyer said. “She’s always been one who’s focused on the here and now. So I think she had those long-term goals, but she just wanted to everyday maximize her potential and her time and her efforts. And so she just focused on getting better every single day.”

The high school coach pointed out that “Caitlin is a type of person [for whom] it’s always been important ... to maximize her God-given talents and to share those with the world.”

Meyer continued: “She knows that some of her gifts from God are not only her athleticism but [also] her ability to entertain. So I think she really just tries to maximize those gifts and share those with the world through the sport of basketball.”

The segment of Meyer’s interview on “EWTN News Nightly” can be viewed below.

Catholic and Anglican nuns defend religious freedom in New York’s highest court

Anglican nuns from Sisterhood of Saint Mary (photographed with bishops from the Anglican Church of North America's Diocese of the Living Word) are among those suing the state of New York for requiring that they cover abortion in their health plans. / Credit: Photo courtesy of Becket Law

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 17, 2024 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

A coalition of Christian groups — including Catholic nuns, Anglican nuns, Catholic dioceses, and other faith-based ministries — defended their religious freedom rights to abstain from covering abortions in their health care plans in front of New York’s highest court on Tuesday.

The New York State Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in a lawsuit that challenges a New York Department of Financial Services regulation that could require the organizations to cover “medically necessary” abortions. Although the law includes a narrow religious exemption, the strict criteria needed to qualify for the exemption could prevent many faith-based organizations from being approved.

Even though the New York State Court of Appeals previously upheld the regulation, the United States Supreme Court asked that the court reconsider its ruling in light of the new religious freedom precedent set in 2021.

Noel Francisco, the lawyer representing the religious groups, told the seven-judge panel that the regulation would force these groups to violate their religious beliefs. He said the narrow religious exemption allows some faith-based groups to abstain from funding abortion but that others fail to qualify, which effectively lets the state “pick religious winners and losers.”

Per the state regulation, a faith-based organization would only qualify for the exemption if it primarily employs people who share in its religious tenets and primarily serves people who share in its religious tenets. Effectively, charitable faith-based organizations that provide services to people regardless of their faith are unable to qualify.

In his oral arguments, Francisco argued that the law is not generally applicable because it does not treat all religious groups equally and prevents some faith-based groups from qualifying for an exemption based on its narrow criteria. Under the strict rules, he noted that the ministry of St. Teresa of Calcutta, widely known as Mother Teresa, would not even be able to qualify for a religious exemption under such rules.

“Under this law, the state would have the discretion to deny a religious employer exemption to Mother Teresa and the sisters of Calcutta because, the last time I checked, the poor people of Calcutta were not predominantly Catholic,” Francisco told the judges. “This is a regime that is contrary to the Supreme Court precedent from root to branch.”

The judges challenged Assistant Solicitor General Laura Etlinger, who represented the state agency that promulgated the regulation, during oral arguments. One of the primary concerns expressed by the judges was that the regulation would force faith-based ministries to either provide abortion coverage or drastically curtail their religious mission to conform themselves to the exemption criteria.

In her oral arguments, Etlinger claimed the state drew “a reasonable line” when setting the criteria for an exemption. She further argued that ruling against the state would “discourage the state from providing accommodations” and the result would be “restrictions on free exercise rather than promoting free exercise.”

Etlinger told the judges that there is “deference [given] to the requesting objector” when an organization applies for the exemption and noted the organizations suing the state “have never sought an exemption.”

In a rebuttal, Francisco countered that his clients did not apply for an exemption because they provide services to people regardless of faith and clearly did not meet the criteria set in the state regulation.

The United States Supreme Court requested that the New York State Court of Appeals reconsider the case in light of the religious freedom victory in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that Philadelphia could not discriminate against faith-based adoption services that refuse to facilitate adoptions for homosexual couples.

Episcopal bishops oppose Catholic music group’s use of New York seminary

The Chapel of the Good Shepherd is home to the General Theological Seminary in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Apr 17, 2024 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

Episcopal bishops in New York state are vocally opposing a Catholic music group’s usage of a seminary facility in New York City, citing concerns over the purported position of the group’s founders on LGBT issues.

Episcopal News Service (ENS), the official news wire of the Episcopal Church, reported this month that the seven bishops who serve the Episcopal dioceses of New York and Long Island “are publicly opposing the potential long-term lease of General Theological Seminary’s property and facilities” to the School of Sacred Music (SSM).

SSM is “grounded in the Roman Catholic tradition,” the institute says on its website. It offers “support, development, and inspiration to all who value sacred music,” including through a professional choir.

The school “engage[s] and inspire[s] students and professional church musicians, members of the clergy, congregations, faith communities, and all interested members of the public,” it says. 

Since late 2023 the Catholic institution has been using the Episcopal seminary’s Chapel of the Good Shepherd in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. The music school meets twice weekly there for vespers. 

ENS reported this month that the seminary is considering a “long-term lease” with the Catholic organization, one that would see the School of Sacred Music undertaking renovations of the Episcopal campus and paying the seminary an annual rent. 

In their letter, the Episcopal bishops said they were “concerned by the lack of full acceptance of the LGBTQ stance” of the founders of SSM, as well as “the lack of transparency in its funding.” 

“We recognize the difficult financial situation … with the General Seminary campus,” the bishops wrote. “We are also making difficult decisions about the future use of sacred spaces. It’s important to make decisions that align with our mission and values. Human dignity is not negotiable.”

It was not immediately clear what the bishops in their letter meant by the “lack of full acceptance of the LGBTQ stance” of the school’s founders. Spokespersons for the New York and Long Island Episcopal dioceses did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday. 

Though SSM lists relatively little information about its structure or organization on its website, the Episcopal news wire reported that the group is a subsidiary of the Ithuriel Fund, a “major donor” of which is Colin Moran, the president of the Institute on Religion and Public Life. That institute is the publisher of the Catholic magazine First Things. 

ENS reported that “some of the articles published by First Things” under “Moran’s leadership” advocate “particularly conservative views toward human sexuality,” such as a recent article arguing that Christians should not attend gay wedding ceremonies. 

Moran could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. 

In a statement last month, meanwhile, the seminary’s president, Ian Markham, suggested the proposed lease with the Catholic group was necessary for the Episcopal institution to remain solvent. 

The seminary “faces significant revenue and cash flow challenges,” he wrote. “In fiscal year 2023, GTS’ operating expenses were $7 million, against an annual income of $4.3 million. The seminary has no funding source for any emergency capital expenditure, or deferred maintenance, which is estimated to be tens of millions of dollars.”

The seminary’s board “gave its unanimous backing to enter into negotiations with SSM at its November meeting and for these negotiations to continue at its recent February meeting,” he wrote. 

“Any agreement it reaches with the SSM will be consistent with the seminary’s mission and respect GTS’ core commitment to inclusivity,” Markham said in the statement. 

On Wednesday, meanwhile, seminary spokeswoman Nicky Burridge told CNA that “nothing has changed” regarding the plan for the Catholic group to use the property in both the short term and the future.

“[N]egotiations continue with SSM; meanwhile, SSM continues to have a short-term rental agreement to use parts of the Close, such as the Chapel of the Good Shepherd,” she said.

New York prosecutor, Brooklyn Diocese reach agreement over sex abuse mishandling

New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks to the media on May 26, 2022, in New York City. / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Apr 17, 2024 / 12:45 pm (CNA).

New York Attorney General Letitia James has announced that the Diocese of Brooklyn has agreed to “significant action” to address shortcomings in how it handles sexual abuse complaints. 

The diocese “knew about this pervasive problem” for years, James said upon making the announcement, but “did not adequately address allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct,” leading the organization to fail to “consistently comply with its own policies and procedures for responding to sexual abuse.”

In 2018, James’ office launched an investigation into the diocese. Among the failures highlighted by the investigation include an instance in which the diocese for more than a decade neglected to inform parishioners after a priest admitted to sexually abusing minors. 

In another case, the diocese “repeatedly transferred [a] priest from parish to parish” in order to avoid complaints of inappropriate conduct. 

Overall, the attorney general’s report on the inquiry cited nearly a dozen “clergy case histories” in which the diocese failed in various ways to investigate or address abuse claims against priests. 

Among the terms to which the diocese agreed include the installation of an “independent, secular monitor,” one who will both oversee the diocese’s compliance with its abuse reporting procedures and who will also “issue an annual report” on its handling of sex abuse claims. 

The diocese will also strengthen its current abuse reporting and monitoring policies, create new safety offices and committees, and hire a “Clergy Monitor” with “law enforcement or counseling experience” who will “develop and oversee abuse prevention plans for priests who have been accused of sexual abuse.”

The diocese “has made a commitment to implementing holistic reforms that will ensure every report of sexual abuse or misconduct is handled quickly and transparently,” James said in the press release.

“New Yorkers deserve to trust their faith leaders, and my office will continue to support the diocese’s efforts to rebuild that trust with their community.”

Brooklyn Bishop Robert Brennan said in a statement on Tuesday that the agreement “concludes a difficult period in the life of the Church.”

“While the Church should have been a sanctuary, I am deeply sorry that it was a place of trauma for the victims of clergy sexual abuse,” said Brennan, who was installed as the eighth bishop of Brooklyn in November 2021.

“I pray God’s healing power will sustain them. Today, we move forward with the strongest policies in place for the protection of children and adults.”

In addition to its updated reporting and monitoring policies, the Brooklyn Diocese will in the future also “publicly announce any decisions to remove priests or other clergy members from active ministry” by “issuing a press release and adding the offender’s name to a published list of credibly accused clergy.” 

The bishop in such cases will also inform the parishes at which the accused priest previously served. 

This is not the first New York state diocese with which James’ office has struck an agreement over sex abuse policies. 

In October 2022 the Diocese of Buffalo settled a two-year-old lawsuit with the prosecutor’s office over charges that the diocese covered up sexual abuse cases involving priests. 

That agreement directed the diocese to appoint a child protection policy coordinator whose responsibilities include making sure the diocese abides by its child protection rules. It also required the diocese to submit to an outside audit. 

Additionally, the deal limited the organizational privileges of Bishop Richard Malone and Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz, both of whom faced allegations of covering up sexual abuse in the diocese. 

James on Tuesday noted that investigations into the Archdiocese of New York, as well as into the Dioceses of Albany, Ogdensburg, Rochester, Rockville Centre, and Syracuse, remain ongoing.

Appeals court rules against West Virginia ‘Save Women’s Sports Act’

The Court of Federal Appeals (Lewis F. Powell Courthouse) and the skyline of Richmond, Virginia, from the foot of the Virginia Capitol grounds, Richmond, Virginia. / Credit: Acroterion|Wikipedia|CC BY-SA 3.0

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 16, 2024 / 17:55 pm (CNA).

A federal appeals court has blocked a West Virginia law titled the “Save Women’s Sports Act” that prohibits biological males from competing in female sports in the state.

The 2-1 decision was issued by a panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday. The decision extends an already existing block on the law and sends the case back to a lower court for further consideration.

This is the latest development in B.P.J v. West Virginia State Board of Education, a case in which a 13-year-old child who identifies as a girl is alleging that the West Virginia law violates Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination.

The 13-year-old, who is a biological male named Becky Pepper-Jackson, is being represented by the ACLU of West Virginia. Pepper-Jackson is seeking to compete in a school track and cross country program.

The Fourth Circuit Court said that the lower court, which had upheld the West Virginia law in a January ruling, erred by ruling to allow the law to go into effect.

The law, signed by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice in April 2021, declares that “athletic teams or sports designated for females, women, or girls shall not be open to students of the male sex” because “there are inherent differences between biological males and biological females.”

The law states that allowing biological males in competitive female sports would “displace” female athletes from those spaces.  

The circuit court’s Tuesday ruling said that Pepper-Jackson has demonstrated that if implemented the law “would treat her worse than people to whom she is similarly situated, deprive her of any meaningful athletic opportunities, and do so on the basis of sex.”

Based on this, the panel ruled that the case be “remanded with instructions to enter summary judgment for B.P.J. on her Title IX claims and for further proceedings (including remedial proceedings) consistent with this opinion.”