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Italy’s prime minister backs stricter ban on surrogacy: How Europe differs from U.S. on issue

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is seen on the set of the TV show “Porta a Porta” at Rai Studios, on April 4, 2024, in Rome, Italy. / Credit: Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 16, 2024 / 17:05 pm (CNA).

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is urging Parliament to adopt a stricter prohibition on surrogacy — a practice that has been illegal in the country for two decades and can already result in jail time and financial penalties.

Speaking at a conference in Rome, Meloni called surrogacy “inhuman” and referred to it as “uterus renting.” She encouraged the Italian Senate to pass legislation that would make it a crime for Italians to procure surrogate parenting abroad — a proposal that has already passed the parliament’s lower chamber. Under current law, surrogacy is only illegal when done within the country’s borders.

“No one can convince me that it is an act of freedom to rent one’s womb,” Meloni said at the conference, according to NBC News.

“No one can convince me that it is an act of love to consider children as an over-the-counter product in a supermarket,” Meloni added. “I still consider the practice of uterus renting to be inhuman; I support the proposed law making it a universal crime.”

The messaging against surrogacy promoted by Meloni, who is a Catholic, is in line with the arguments recently made by the Vatican regarding the Church’s opposition to surrogacy. 

In a document published by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith on April 8, the Vatican body argues that the practice of surrogacy violates both “the dignity of the child” and “the dignity of the woman.”

“The woman is detached from the child growing in her and becomes a mere means subservient to the arbitrary gain or desire of others,” the document reads. “This contrasts in every way with the fundamental dignity of every human being and with each person’s right to be recognized always individually and never as an instrument for another.”

How the United States differs from Europe on surrogacy 

In the United States, both paid and unpaid surrogacy are legal in almost every state. Although the legal specifics vary from state to state, only two states expressly prohibit paid surrogacy: Nebraska and Louisiana. Unpaid surrogacy in those states is still legal in certain cases.

Michigan had prohibited paid surrogacy until earlier this month when Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation to legalize and regulate paid surrogacy. This reversed a 36-year-old prohibition on the practice.

The country’s liberalized approach to surrogacy differs vastly from most European countries, the majority of which either prohibit surrogacy altogether or allow only unpaid surrogacy. 

In Italy, for example, both paid surrogacy and unpaid surrogacy are illegal. Other European countries that ban all forms of surrogacy include Spain, Germany, France, Finland, Norway, Austria, and Switzerland, among others.

Numerous countries in Europe allow unpaid surrogacy in some cases but always prohibit paid surrogacy. This includes the United Kingdom, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Greece. 

Only a handful of countries in Europe allow paid surrogacy, such as Ukraine and Russia. A few countries, such as Ireland, do not have specific laws that either prohibit paid surrogacy or permit it.

Biden administration to mandate employers grant leave for workers to obtain abortions

null / Credit: Vitalii Vodolazskyi/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 16, 2024 / 16:22 pm (CNA).

The Biden administration’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is set to change federal regulations regarding pregnant workers’ fairness to mandate employers make “reasonable accommodations,” including granting leave, for workers to obtain abortions.

The new rule, which is set to take effect 60 days from its publication on April 19, is part of the commission’s efforts to implement the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), according to a final EEOC rule change announcement.

The final rule expands the scope of accommodations that employers must make for “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” to also include workers’ decisions about “having or choosing not to have an abortion.”

The rule applies to all public and private employers with 15 or more workers and is contingent on the accommodations not presenting an “undue hardship on the operation of the business of the covered entity.” 

The commission said the rule change is part of its effort to “carry out the law” in accordance with the PWFA, which was passed in 2022.

The 19th, a pro-abortion nonprofit, celebrated the rule change, saying that, “at a minimum,” it means employers must provide unpaid time off for abortion.

After first announcing the planned change in the Federal Register in August 2023, the commission allowed 60 days for public comment. During that time the commission received 54,000 comments against the inclusion of abortion and 40,000 in support.

Despite the 54,000 comments against it, the EEOC said it would move forward with the rule change. The commission said that though it “recognizes these are sincere, deeply held convictions and are often part of an individual’s religious beliefs,” it believes that the decision to include abortion is “consistent with the plain language of the statute, congressional intent, and federal courts’ interpretation of the statutory text.”

“The commission agrees with comments expressing support for inclusion of abortion in the proposed definition of ‘pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions’ for which a qualified employee could receive an accommodation, absent undue hardship,” the EEOC said.

EEOC Commissioner Kalpana Kotagal said the change is consistent with the PWFA and “advances the promise that pregnant and postpartum workers should not have to choose between their health and a paycheck.”

The PWFA was supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) when it was being considered by Congress, despite some concerns at the time that the bill could be used to force employers to pay for abortion expenses.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky expressed such concerns, with a spokesperson telling CNA at the time that “the bill could force religious employers to provide accommodations that arise from an abortion, which could violate the free exercise of their religious beliefs.”

One of the comments submitted to the EEOC against the inclusion of abortion was a 20-page joint statement issued by the USCCB and the Catholic University of America.

Signed by three USCCB attorneys and Catholic University President Peter Kilpatrick, the statement said the rule change presents dangers to human life, religious liberty, and free speech.

“In passing the PWFA,” the statement said, “Congress had no intention to create conscience problems for employers.”

“Although the USCCB and Catholic University share the goals of better supporting pregnant women and mothers in the workplace, we are deeply concerned about the EEOC’s insertion of a right to abortion-related accommodations into a legal regime where it has no place,” the joint statement said.

The commission claimed that concerns about employers’ religious objections were unwarranted because, it noted, “nothing in the PWFA shall be construed ‘by regulation or otherwise, to require an employer-sponsored health plan to pay for or cover any particular item, procedure, or treatment.’”

Pro-life Democrats champion government aid to pregnancy resource centers in Louisiana

Louisiana legislators are sponsoring legislation to support women in crisis pregnancies by setting aside millions in funding for pregnancy resource centers and other social services. / Credit: Jeffrey Schwartz|Wikipedia|CC BY 2.0

CNA Staff, Apr 16, 2024 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

Louisiana legislators are advancing a measure to support women in crisis pregnancies by setting aside millions in funding for pregnancy resource centers and other social services, as part of a bill approved by the Louisiana Senate last month. 

Republican Rep. Jack McFarland and Democratic Sen. Katrina Jackson-Andrews are co-sponsors of the legislation, which puts money set aside for Alternatives to Abortion toward the new Louisiana Pregnancy and Baby Initiative.

The program would increase the total spending on the Alternatives to Abortion program from $1 million this cycle to between $3 million and $5 million, beginning on July 1, the start of the next fiscal year. 

“This bill will ensure that pregnancy and adoption centers that have operated for years in this state receive appropriate funding to help fathers, mothers, and their babies in various areas,” Jackson-Andrews told CNA. “As a pro-life Legislature we must strengthen our commitment to offer aid during pregnancy and after the birth of the child.”

According to the bill, SB 278, the initiative will “act as a statewide social service program to enhance and increase resources that promote childbirth instead of abortion for women facing unplanned pregnancies and to offer a full range of services, including pregnancy support.”

“Currently, Louisiana lags behind other pro-life states in its support for the amazing resources that support moms before and after the birth of their child,” McFarland told CNA in an email. “Together with Sen. Jackson-Andrews and my colleagues, I look forward to enhancing the support for moms and babies through the Louisiana Pregnancy and Baby Initiative.”

“My pro-life convictions compel me to protect the innocent unborn baby and assist mothers in need,” he noted.

The Louisiana Senate passed the bill 34-3 on March 26, and it’s expected to pass in the House. 

The initiative would include parenting classes and baby supplies such as diapers and cribs. It would also provide counseling and care coordination for mothers, referrals, and even classes on budgeting, job training, and stress management. These resources would be available to program participants for up to three years after the child’s birth. 

The program services will not only be accessible for a pregnant mother; it’s meant to serve the biological father of an unborn child or even an adoptive parent of a young child (age 3 or younger).

Currently, abortion is only legal in Louisiana if the life of the mother is at risk, or if the child is diagnosed with a disability in utero or could be stillborn. 

Jackson-Andrews, a pro-life Democrat who spoke at the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., in 2016, is the primary author of the bill. 

She championed an amendment in 2020 that prevented Louisiana from enshrining a “right to abortion” in its state constitution and banned public funding of abortion. The Louisiana Pregnancy and Baby Initiative would be managed by a general contractor who would subcontract with existing nonprofit pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, maternity homes, and social service organizations “that promote childbirth instead of abortion,” the bill noted. 

The money would also go toward marketing expenses so that mothers in need would be aware of the services, McFarland and Jackson-Andrews explained in the bill. 

The initiative also has a transparency provision to require the nonprofit organization overseeing the program to report what services are offered and how many people are served.

Funds from the initiative cannot go toward performing or referring for abortions, nor toward any organizations that promote abortion. 

In addition to McFarland and Jackson-Andrews, authors of the bill include Democratic Sen. Regina Ashford Barrow, Republican Sen. Adam Bass, and others.

This story was updated at 4:56 p.m. ET on April 16, 2024, with comments from Rep. McFarland and at 10:26 a.m. ET on April 17, 2024, with comments from Sen. Jackson-Andrews.

Catholic sculptor readies monumental Stations of the Cross in Orlando, Florida

Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz told CNA that his monumental Stations of the Cross to be installed on the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe in Orlando, Florida, is the fruit of nearly constant work over the last three years and is expected to draw thousands of visitors once completed this fall. / Credit: Timothy Schmalz

Ann Arbor, Michigan, Apr 16, 2024 / 14:45 pm (CNA).

Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz told CNA that his monumental Stations of the Cross to be installed on the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe in Orlando, Florida, is the fruit of nearly constant work over the last three years and is expected to draw thousands of visitors once completed this fall.

The 2,000-seat shrine is the closest Catholic church to Disney World in Orlando and is already well known for its striking works of sacred art. In addition, the church’s 17-acre tract features a spacious esplanade and rosary garden. 

To all of this will be added a Gospel Garden that will feature massive bronze Stations of the Cross sculpted by Schmalz. Some of the stations are slated to be 30 feet wide and as high as 14 feet tall, weighing thousands of pounds. Inauguration of the project is expected to take place around November, although a precise date has yet to be determined.

“Some of Christ’s parables are embedded in the sculptures. In the foreground of each station is the principal scene, but in the background are the teachings of Jesus as well as symbols,” Schmalz told CNA. “It is an unusual version of the stations in the sense that it is filled with the New Testament. For instance, station 13 has more than 100 saints. It is unlike any other sculpture I have ever created.”

Schmalz explained that the 14 stations will be his most complex sculpture yet, second only to his acclaimed Angels Unawares that is now in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican and at Catholic University of America.

Now that his creative clay sculpting for the project is complete, Schmalz said that casting the final sculptures in bronze remains to be done by a specialized foundry. Initial installation of the bronzes should begin this autumn in Orlando. 

Orlando may be an especially fruitful locale for this work of evangelization, given that more than 58 million people throng each year to Disney World alone. 

Speaking to the importance of visual arts, especially sculpture, Schmalz said that unlike film, “sculpture placed in a city center is like a film running 24/7 year after year. When I do a sculpture, I am conscious of the fact that it is frozen theater being performed and has to be right.” 

“I wanted it to be called the Gospel Garden rather than Stations of the Cross because when speaking of the stations, you are bringing your ideas of what they are. For some, it might be a boring experience. In many churches, the stations were made without much care. I wanted to make stations that are more intense than what is seen on film; so intense, that if you are not Catholic, you would want to become Catholic. You would want to learn more,” Schmalz said. 

In the foreground of each Station is the principal scene, but in the background are the teachings of Jesus as well as symbols, Schmalz explained. Credit: Timothy Schmalz
In the foreground of each Station is the principal scene, but in the background are the teachings of Jesus as well as symbols, Schmalz explained. Credit: Timothy Schmalz

Because so many children come to nearby Disney World, Schmalz also made certain that plenty of children appear in the work and see themselves in it. Saying that a sculpture such as the immense Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, may make viewers disconnected from its theme, he said: “When I started making the stations, I wanted them to be life-size. I wanted people to touch the hands of Jesus who is reaching out after falling with the cross.” 

Reflecting on the challenges faced by artists working on religious themes, he said: “Unless you do something spectacular, it’s going to be invisible. That’s how we are today. We have a society today where the Catholic Church is competing with mainstream culture. We have to be tough and strong. Even though we are dealing with the Gospels, with eternal truths, the execution often falls short.”

“When I was growing up, I heard the famous quote attributed to Michaelangelo that the sculpture is in the stone and the artist’s job is to release it. I believe that in some Platonic sphere or paradise there are great masterpieces, so it’s my job as a sculptor to pull them to earth for people to see,” Schmalz said.

Schmalz recounted that at age 19, he dropped out of a prestigious art school in Canada. “Pope John Paul II spoke of the culture of death. If you really want to see that, go to an art school. It is nihilism on acid.” 

Rather than clash with his instructors, Schmalz left for schooling on his own but with traditional masterworks as his guide to create Christian art.

“I was the most radical artist in Canada,” he said, “because what I was doing with representing Jesus and the Virgin Mary was the only thing that was not allowed in an art gallery. There they wouldn’t even call it art.”

“Just like the Impressionists of the 1800s, who weren’t accepted in the salons of the day, Christian art is not wanted in today’s salons,” Schmalz noted.

Schmalz came to world attention with his Homeless Jesus statue, which was first installed at Regis College in Toronto in 2013. The bronze depicts a human figure reclining on a park bench, which has been mistaken at times for a living person. Upon close inspection, viewers can see the marks of the crucifixion on its feet. Copies have since been installed in Capernaum, Israel; Fátima, Portugal; as well as many cities, including Detroit and Pope Francis’ native Buenos Aires, Argentina. Schmalz’s works are found in churches, universities, and public places in cities around the world.

Among Schmalz’s other projects, he is also working on making sculptural representations of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’, which laments consumerism, global warming, and environmental degradation. He also has a project in the works depicting the holy Eucharist and Blessed Carlo Acutis, the Italian teen who documented Marian apparitions and Eucharistic miracles.

Schmalz is also the official sculptor for the coming National Eucharistic Congress to be held this July 17–21 in Indianapolis.

Survey: New priests are young and involved in their community 

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CNA Staff, Apr 16, 2024 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

The incoming class of seminarians who will be ordained in 2024 is young and involved in their community, an annual survey released April 15 found.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned the Center for Applied Research (CARA) at Georgetown University for an annual survey. From January to March of this year, CARA surveyed almost 400 seminarians who are scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood in 2024. 

More than 80% of respondents were to be ordained diocesan priests, while almost 20% were from a religious order. The largest group of respondents, 80%, were studying at seminaries in the Midwest.  

The survey found that half of the graduating 2024 seminarians, “ordinands,” will be ordained at 31 years or younger — younger than the recent average. Since 1999, ordinands were on average in their mid-30s, trending slightly younger. 

This year’s ordinands were involved in their local communities growing up. As many as 51% had attended parish youth groups, while 33% were involved in Catholic campus ministry. A significant number (28%) of the ordinands were Boy Scouts, while 24% reported that they had participated in the Knights of Columbus or Knights of Peter Claver.

Involvement in parish ministry was also a key commonality for this year’s ordinands. Surveyors found that 70% of ordinands were altar servers before attending seminary. Another 48% often read at Mass, while 41% distributed Communion as extraordinary ministers. In addition, just over 30% taught as catechists. 

The path to priesthood

Most seminarians first considered the priesthood when they were as young as 16 years old, according to the survey. But the process of affirming that vocation and studying to be a priest takes, on average, 18 years. 

Encouragement helps make a priest, according to the CARA survey. Almost 90% of ordinands said that someone (most often a parish priest, friend, or parishioner) encouraged them to consider becoming priests. 

Discerning the priesthood is not always an easy path, and 45% of ordinands said they were discouraged from considering the priesthood by someone in their life — most often a friend, classmate at school, mother, father, or other family member.

The survey also found that most ordinands had Catholic parents and were baptized Catholic as infants. Eighty-two percent of ordinands reported that both their parents were Catholic when they were children, while 92% of ordinands were baptized Catholic as an infant. Of those who became Catholic later in life, most converted at age 23. 

Catholic education and home schooling were also factors for this year’s ordinands. One in 10 ordinands were home-schooled, while between 32% and 42% of ordinands went to Catholic elementary school, high school, or college. 

Seeing religious vocations in the family also helped seminarians find their vocation, the survey indicated. About 3 in 10 ordinands reported that they had a relative who was a priest or religious. 

Eucharistic adoration was the most popular form of prayer for this year’s graduating seminarians. Seventy-five percent reported regularly attending Eucharistic adoration before entering seminary. The rosary was also important to those discerning vocations: 71% of ordinands said they regularly prayed the rosary before joining seminary. Half said they attended a prayer or Bible group, and 40% said they practiced lectio divina.

The survey also found that 60% of ordinands graduated college or obtained a graduate-level degree before joining the seminary. The most common areas of study were business, liberal arts, philosophy, or engineering. 

This leads to many seminarians — about 1 in 5 — carrying educational debt into the seminary. On average, each ordinand had more than $25,000 in educational debt. 

Most seminarians don’t come straight from school, however. Seventy percent reported having full-time work experience before joining the seminary. Very few served in the military, with only 4% reporting having served in the U.S. armed forces. 

About a quarter (23%) of ordinands were foreign-born — down from the average of 28% since 1999. Ordinands not born in the U.S. were most commonly born in Mexico, Vietnam, Colombia, and the Philippines. The survey found that 67% of ordinands were white; almost 20% were Hispanic or Latino; about 10% identified as Asian, Pacific Islander, or Native Hawaiian; and 2% were Black. 

U.S. Supreme Court: Idaho can enforce ban on sex changes for children

"I’m proud to defend Idaho’s law that ensures children are not subjected to these life-altering drugs and procedures," said Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador in reaction to the decision. / Credit: AP Photo/Kyle Green, File

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 15, 2024 / 18:45 pm (CNA).

The United States Supreme Court awarded Idaho emergency relief that will allow the state to enforce its ban on doctors performing sex-change operations on children and providing them with sex-change drugs.

In a 6-3 decision on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that the lower appellate court had gone too far when it blocked Idaho from enforcing the law altogether. The decision, however, does not settle the question of whether the law is constitutional. 

The lower court had blocked the state from enforcing any part of the law in response to a lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of the rules. The lawsuit is still ongoing, but the order had been preventing the law from going into effect while both sides litigated the constitutionality of the law in court.

Per the Supreme Court’s decision, Idaho can broadly enforce the law and is only blocked from enforcing it against the plaintiffs who are named in the lawsuit until the litigation is settled.

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador, a Republican, praised the Supreme Court’s decision in a statement Monday

“I’ve witnessed firsthand the devastating consequences of drugs and procedures used on children with gender dysphoria,” Labrador said. “And it’s a preventable tragedy.” 

“The state has a duty to protect and support all children, and that’s why I’m proud to defend Idaho’s law that ensures children are not subjected to these life-altering drugs and procedures,” the attorney general continued. “Those suffering from gender dysphoria deserve love, support, and medical care rooted in biological reality. Denying the basic truth that boys and girls are biologically different hurts our kids. No one has the right to harm children, and I’m grateful that we, as the state, have the power — and duty — to protect them.”

The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement that noted the constitutionality of the law has not yet been settled but called the ruling “an awful result for transgender youth and their families across the state.”

“Today’s ruling allows the state to shut down the care that thousands of families rely on while sowing further confusion and disruption,” the statement read. “Nonetheless, today’s result only leaves us all the more determined to defeat this law in the courts entirely, making Idaho a safer state to raise every family.”

Nearly half of the states in the country have enacted restrictions on doctor’s performing sex-change operations on children or providing children with drugs to facilitate a gender transition.

Kansas governor vetoes bills to ban sex changes for minors, coerced abortions

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly arrives to address the crowd during her watch party at the Ramada Hotel Downtown Topeka on Nov. 8, 2022, in Topeka, Kansas. / Credit: Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

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

Democratic Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed legislation that would have prevented doctors from performing transgender surgeries and providing gender transition drugs to children. Kelly also vetoed a bill that would criminalize coerced abortions. 

According to the governor, she vetoed the sex change restrictions because she believes they would restrict parental rights. She said she vetoed the ban on coerced abortion because the language was too vague. 

Some Republican lawmakers have already indicated they will try to override the vetoes. The Republicans hold a supermajority in both chambers of the Kansas Legislature, which provides the party with enough votes to override a governor’s veto if most Republican members vote for the override.

Legislation to prohibit sex change operations on minors

The legislation that prohibits transgender drugs and surgery on minors would ban doctors from providing any type of surgical intervention on anyone under 18 that is intended to facilitate a gender transition. It would also prohibit the prescription of puberty blockers, hormone treatments, or any other drug to facilitate the gender transition of a minor. 

Per the legislation, a health care professional in violation of the proposed law would have had his or her license revoked. The health care professional would also have been liable for civil damages if the minor developed any physical, psychological, emotional, or psychological harm from the operations or drugs up to 10 years after the minor turns 18. 

In a statement accompanying her veto, Kelly said the bill “tramples parental rights.”

“This divisive legislation targets a small group of Kansans by placing government mandates on them and dictating to parents how to best raise and care for their children,” the governor said. “I do not believe that is a conservative value, and it’s certainly not a Kansas value.”

Republican House Speaker Daniel Hawkins criticized the governor’s veto, claiming that the procedures and drugs are experimental and should not be given to children. 

“As we watch other states, nations, and organizations reverse course on these experimental procedures on children, Laura Kelly will most surely find herself on the wrong side of history with her reckless veto of this commonsense protection for Kansas minors,” Hawkins said. 

Legislation to prohibit coercive abortions

The legislation to prohibit coercive abortions would have made it a felony to engage “in coercion” against a woman while knowing she is pregnant “with the intent to compel such woman to obtain an abortion when such woman has expressed her desire to not obtain an abortion.”

According to the proposal, coercion would have included physical restraint, physical threats, financial threats, abuse or threatening abuse of the legal system, and extortion, among other acts.

In her veto message, Kelly said she agreed “that no one should be coerced into undergoing a medical procedure against their will” but argued that “it is already a crime to threaten violence against another individual.”

“I am concerned with the vague language in this bill and its potential to intrude upon private, often difficult, conversations between a person and their family, friends, and health care providers,” the governor said. “This overly broad language risks criminalizing Kansans who are being confided in by their loved ones or simply sharing their expertise as a health care provider.”

Hawkins criticized the governor’s veto and said Republican lawmakers “are ready to override her radical stance” and “protect Kansas women.”

“It’s a sad day for Kansas when the governor’s uncompromising support of abortion won’t even allow her to advocate for trafficking and abuse victims who are coerced into the procedure,” Hawkins said in a statement. “Coercion is wrong, no matter the circumstance, and Laura Kelly’s veto is a step too far for commonsense Kansans.”

Wisconsin man sentenced to over 7 years in prison for firebombing pro-life organization

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 15, 2024 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

A man convicted of firebombing a pro-life organization’s office in Madison, Wisconsin, was sentenced to over seven years in federal prison on April 10.

The 29-year-old man, Hridindu Sankar Roychowdhury, pleaded guilty to one charge of attempting to cause damage by means of fire or an explosive for firebombing the Wisconsin Family Action office. The bombing, which he carried out in May 2022, occurred early in the morning when the office was empty and there were no injuries.

Roychowdhury launched his attack just days after an unidentified person leaked a draft of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The firebombing was accompanied by a threat graffitied on the pro-life group’s exterior walls: “If abortions aren’t safe, then you aren’t either.”

“Roychowdhury’s arson was an act of domestic terrorism,” U.S. Attorney Timothy M. O’Shea for the Western District of Wisconsin said in a statement released by the Department of Justice

“Domestic terrorism is cowardly and profoundly undemocratic,” O’Shea added. “It is not speech; it is not an exchange of ideas; instead, it is an attempt to harm or frighten one’s fellow citizens, thus driving Americans apart and weakening the fabric of our democratic society. The U.S. Department of Justice, and this U.S. Attorney’s Office, with our local and federal law enforcement partners, will never flinch from holding domestic terrorists accountable.”

Christine File, the president of Wisconsin Family Action, was disappointed with the sentence. The organization had recommended that Roychowdhury receive 15 years in prison. The charges carried a minimum of five years and a maximum of 20 years in prison.

“The court missed an opportunity to strengthen the protection of constitutional rights like free speech and free exercise, rights that have themselves been under assault in recent years,” File said in a statement. “The defendant’s act of domestic terrorism to threaten our people, our families and friends, our neighbors, and our greater pro-life community is unconscionable. Ultimately, the defendant — and others who attacked pro-life groups they disagree with — attacked our civil society and the constitutional rights foundational to it.”

In addition to his 90-month sentence, Roychowdhury received three years of supervised release and a $32,000 fine. 

“Given the severity of his crime and the charges he pled guilty to, the sentence lacks proportionality,” File said. “However, as we’ve said since the day of the attack, no act or threat of violence or terrorism will deter us from our mission — being a voice for the voiceless.”

Threats to pro-life organizations on the rise

Attacks on pro-life organizations, churches, and pro-life pregnancy centers have seen an uptick since the Supreme Court draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked, according to a CNA tracker. At least 115 organizations, including 38 churches, have been vandalized over the past two years with varying degrees of severity. 

Most of the acts of vandalism have gone unsolved, which has prompted criticism of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation from Catholic groups, pro-life organizations, and Republican lawmakers.

On April 9, CatholicVote sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland that criticized the lack of prosecutions and requested information on how the Justice Department intends to combat these attacks. 

“Catholic churches and individual Catholics have an absolute right to practice their faith and vote their consciences,” Brian Burch, the president of CatholicVote, said in the letter. 

“These attacks against Catholic churches standing for the right to life are textbook examples of voter intimidation and voter suppression,” Burch said. “You have sued multiple states which you allege are engaging in voter suppression … yet you have not devoted a single minute of federal time to addressing the intimidation and suppression of Catholic voters.” 

Garland has claimed that the Justice Department has dedicated full resources to prosecuting these incidents but that most of the actions occur at night, which makes them difficult to solve.

Alternatively, several pro-life activists have faced convictions for blocking access to abortion clinics under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. Some of the activists could face more than a decade in prison.

Catholic priest pepper-sprayed during confessions at Texas cathedral

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 15, 2024 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

A Catholic priest who serves at St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Amarillo, Texas, was pepper-sprayed while hearing confessions last week, according to a statement from the parish. 

The parish said in a statement on Facebook that “someone dealing with mental health issues” sprayed rector Father Tony Neusch with the irritant while he was hearing confessions.

Police are investigating the incident. It’s unclear whether officers have identified a suspect at this time.

“I am okay and do not require medical attention,” Neusch said in the statement.

The cathedral has temporarily suspended its twice-a-week regular confessions, with priests only hearing confessions by appointment for the time being.

Regular confessions will resume after the cathedral installs security cameras in the chapel, according to the statement. 

“I am sorry for any inconvenience this may cause, but the safety of our confessors and those waiting to receive the sacrament needs to be preserved,” Neusch said in the statement.

The priest declined comment when reached by CNA on Monday.

The Amarillo Police Department, meanwhile, did not immediately provide the police report to CNA and declined to comment on the incident.

Baltimore Archdiocese announces major restructuring that will merge dozens of parishes

St. Vincent de Paul Church, the oldest Catholic parish church in continuous use in Baltimore, which was dedicated in 1841, is among the churches slated for closure. / Credit: Smash the Iron Cage|Wikimedia|CC BY-SA 4.0

CNA Staff, Apr 15, 2024 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has announced the details of its major parish merger plan, one that will merge 61 parishes in the episcopate’s titular city into 21 parishes. 

The archdiocese said on its website on Sunday that its Seek the City to Come initiative “has entered its public comment phase,” with the plan set to address “investment and ministries, the realignment of parish communities designed to offer a strong sense of belonging for all, and the merging of parish campuses.”

The plan, detailed on the archdiocese’s website, would reduce the total number of “worship sites” in the area from 59 to 26. 

The final plan will be announced in June, the archdiocese says, although “no changes will be immediate,” with the mergers taking place “with consultation and over time.”

Parishes in the city have faced sustained challenges in recent years, the archdiocese said, including “deferred maintenance, low Mass attendance, and multiple unmet opportunities to better serve the needs of the broader community.”

The diocese has “known for a long time that we could not continue to ignore the decline in Mass attendance and increased resources required to keep our physical plants in good condition,” the plan says, necessitating the local Church to “realign and consolidate our efforts and resources.”

Decisions on how to dispose of the decommissioned parishes will be made at a later date. After those decisions are made, “all churches will be available for sacraments that include baptisms, weddings, and funerals,” the archdiocese said. 

Among the proposed closures is St. Vincent de Paul Church in downtown Baltimore. Dedicated in 1841, it is the oldest continuously operated church in the city and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also facing closure is the historic Corpus Christi Parish, which was consecrated in 1891 in the city’s Bolton Hill neighborhood.

The archdiocese in September of last year declared bankruptcy after warning it might do so in response to a looming wave of sex-abuse-related lawsuits. The bankruptcy process will “involve several steps over the next two to three years,” Archbishop William Lori said at the time. 

This week the archdiocese noted that the restructuring of the city parishes “began long before” the Chapter 11 filing in September. 

“Seek the City is a ground-up solution being developed based on the Church’s decades-long need for creating a sustainable Catholic presence in Baltimore City and commitment to reinvest in vibrant and effective ministries,” the archdiocese said. 

The archdiocese said it would hold two public comment sessions on the proposal later this month. 

Lori in the announcement said the plan will “help the Church in Baltimore minister to our neighbors and respond to the needs of the city for the centuries to come as we have since 1789.”

“Together, we must design a plan that confronts decades of disinvestment and population loss in the city and brings the Eucharistic vision to life through mission and ministry,” the prelate said.