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Minnesota bishops decry bill that would make abortion a right

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Washington D.C., Jan 26, 2023 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The Catholic bishops of Minnesota urged lawmakers to vote down a bill that would codify the right to abortion, proposing instead a slate of pro-family measures that they say will reduce demand for abortions.  

Minnesota’s H.F. 1, which has a companion bill in the state Senate, passed the House Jan. 19 by a narrow 69-65 vote. Abortion already is available in Minnesota throughout pregnancy for most reasons. The present bill — known as the Protect Reproductive Options Act — would codify into law a constitutional right to “reproductive freedom,” ensuring the right to abortion in Minnesota up to birth for any reason.  

Separate bills under consideration in Minnesota would remove parental notification requirements for minors procuring abortions as well as remove state protections for babies born alive after an abortion.

The midwestern state’s Catholic bishops lamented the haste with which the bills were being advanced and implored lawmakers to “pause” and consider the broader implications. 

“When contemplating policy on any issue, we must consider all those who will be affected. In this case, that includes the mother, father, and most especially, the unborn child whose life is being taken,” Minnesota’s bishops said in a Jan. 26 statement. 

“In a post-Dobbs world in which states that allow abortion have the responsibility to both regulate the practice and protect nascent human life, we should be working to find common ground on the challenges before us in Minnesota. We stand firm that every child should be welcomed in life and protected by law.”

The bishops’ concerns about H.F. 1/S.F. 1 go beyond abortion, however. They warned that an enshrining of “reproductive freedom” in the state could open the door to additional unintended consequences, including the ability of minor children to undergo sex-transition therapies and sterilization without parental consent. Also of concern is the potential infringement on the conscience and religious liberty rights of individual and institutional medical providers who do not wish to provide these treatments, the bishops said.

The Catholic leaders offered suggestions for legislative priorities that they said would help to offer support to mothers in need, reducing the demand for abortion. They noted that the Minnesota Catholic Conference has compiled a set of pro-family policy proposals at a dedicated website under the banner of a project called Families First. 

Summarizing their proposals, “this support means, among other things, policies that fund: nutritional aid for expectant mothers; health care coverage during and after pregnancy for both mother and child; child care assistance; and adequate housing. Enacting reasonable paid family and caregiver leave laws would help people retain work and care for their newborns. Reconsidering whether our adoption policies are unreasonably burdened by excessive costs or barriers to participation is also an imperative,” the bishops said. 

“We also contend that there is a social duty to remove unnecessary barriers to contracting marriage, having children, and being able to raise them well. By raising the family to the top of our state’s policy priorities, we can help restore the family to its proper position as the foundational building block of society where children best flourish.”

Minnesota is the latest U.S. state to make moves in its legislature to enshrine a right to abortion, though other states are considering new laws. In Maine, Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, has signaled support for a bill to allow late-term abortions at any time in pregnancy with a doctor’s approval. 

Other states have already passed far-reaching abortion laws in recent years. Notably Colorado, which already allowed abortion up to birth, passed a law in April 2022 that excluded any and all rights to unborn children, allowing abortion for any reason — including reasons of disability, sex, and race — up until birth.

Minnesota’s H.F. 1 has not yet been voted on in the state Senate.

Five things to know about the violence racking Peru

Riot policemen clash with demonstrators during a protest in Lima on Jan. 24, 2023. / Photo by ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Newsroom, Jan 26, 2023 / 10:45 am (CNA).

Violent protests have been taking place for more than a month in different regions of Peru and have claimed at least 54 lives due to clashes with law enforcement. 

The Peruvian bishops have condemned the violence and called on the authorities to find solutions to the crisis. On Jan. 22, Pope Francis called for dialogue and respect for human rights.

The following are five key points to understand the ongoing social and political crisis in Peru.

1. When did the protests start in Peru?

The violent demonstrations began after the arrest of former president Pedro Castillo, a communist, who failed in his Dec. 7, 2022, attempt to carry out a coup by dissolving Congress and ruling by decree. Protests have included roadblocks, attempts to take over airports, attacks on police facilities, and even a mob burning a policeman alive.

The violence has intensified in recent days, amid the call to “take Lima” on Jan. 19, which mobilized thousands of protesters from various regions of the country to converge on the Peruvian capital.

These demonstrations are the most recent point in a political crisis in Peru resulting in six presidents in the last seven years, three of them removed from office by Congress amid accusations of corruption: Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Martín Vizcarra, and now Pedro Castillo.

2. Who is Pedro Castillo?

Pedro Castillo, a member of Peru Libre, an openly Marxist and Leninist party, is a school teacher who came to power in April 2021 after winning the presidential election in the second round against Keiko Fujimori, daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori.

Fujimori, who governed Peru between 1990 and 2000 and is considered a right-wing politician, was sentenced for various crimes, including corruption, embezzlement, and command responsibility for two massacres of civilians in the Barrios Altos neighborhood of Lima in 1991 and at La Canuta University on the outskirts of Lima in 1992.

During the election campaign, Pedro Castillo and other members of Peru Libre were accused of ties to the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist terrorist group Shining Path, responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the country in the 1980s and 1990s.

Since he took office, accusations of corruption have accumulated against Castillo, his family, and his entourage. The day he attempted to carry out a coup, the Peruvian Congress was scheduled to discuss the possibility of impeaching him due to moral incapacity, which they did that same day.

Castillo was arrested by the Peruvian National Police when he was on his way to the Mexican embassy in Lima to request political asylum. Following the constitutional order of succession to the presidency, Castillo was replaced by his vice president, Dina Boluarte, also of Peru Libre, who was sworn in on Dec. 7, 2022.

3. Who are the protesters?

There is no specific group that claims to be organizing the protests, but protesters include student groups, indigenous communities, and radical leftist organizations from various parts of the country.

According to the official ANDINA news agency, Gen. Óscar Arriola, official spokesman for the Peruvian National Police and head of the Criminal Investigation Directorate, said Jan. 13 that members of the terrorist group Shining Path were among the protesters.

“We’re not maintaining that in the protests everyone is a terrorist, but the population, which is exercising its legitimate right to protest, should know that at its side they have people linked to the Shining Path,” he warned.

In a recent statement, Archbishop Javier del Río Alba of Arequipa, one of the southern regions of the country hardest hit by the violent demonstrations, said that “under these circumstances it would not make sense to deny that Peru is a country in conflict and to affirm that the convulsion that we are experiencing is the work of only a small radical group. That group exists, but it finds in the most marginalized population the breeding ground to incite violence.”

The public National University of San Marcos, on whose campus space was given to groups that came to the capital to participate in “taking Lima" to camp, reported that on the night of Jan. 20 a group of protesters beat and expelled security guards from the university and stole security equipment.

According to a Jan. 20 report from the ombudsman’s office, at least 44 civilians have died in clashes, while another nine died “due to traffic accidents and incidents related to the blockade.”

4. What are the protesters asking for?

The demands of the protesters are diverse, but three main ones can be grouped together: the dissolution of Congress, holding a Constituent Assembly to change the 1993 Political Constitution of Peru that is rejected by sectors of the radical left, and the resignation of Dina Boluarte, whom many of the protesters consider to have carried out a coup by following the constitutional order of succession to the presidency and replacing Pedro Castillo.

5. What has the Catholic Church said in the face of the growing violence in Peru?

In the most recent of its repeated calls for an end to the violence and for dialogue, the Catholic Church in Peru offered to “mediate” between the protesters and the Peruvian authorities.

“The death of more than 50 Peruvian brothers is a deep wound in the heart of our people as well as the suffering of all the injured, civilians, and police officers,” the Peruvian bishops said.

On Jan. 22, Pope Francis said: “I join the Peruvian bishops in saying: No to violence, wherever it comes from! No more deaths!”

“I invite you to pray so that the acts of violence in Peru end. Violence extinguishes the hope of a just solution to the problems,” the Holy Father appealed.

The Office of the President of Peru expressed in a Twitter post its gratitude “to His Holiness Pope Francis for keeping Peru in his prayers.”

“That is also our path: the cessation of all acts of violence and dialogue between brothers of the same nation,” the government of Dina Boluarte said.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Pro-life college students to protest ‘life-ending’ abortion drugs at Walgreens, CVS 

Anna Lulis from Moneta, Virginia, (left) who works for the pro-life group Students for Life of America, stands beside an abortion rights demonstrator outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on June 24, 2022, after the court's decision in the Dobbs abortion case was announced. / Katie Yoder/CNA

Denver, Colo., Jan 26, 2023 / 10:12 am (CNA).

With the Biden administration’s expansion of abortion pill distribution to neighborhood pharmacies, pro-life college students and other anti-abortion advocates are organizing campaigns against CVS, Walgreens, and other companies that have announced that they will dispense the drugs. 

“Our purpose of having these protests is so that we can let ‘Big Pharma’ companies know that it’s absolutely unacceptable to offer abortion at our neighborhood drug stores,” Caroline Wharton, Students for Life of America press strategist and staff writer, told CNA Jan. 24.

Students for Life is asking pro-life advocates to join its planned protests and advocacy actions directed at companies that have announced their intention to distribute the abortion drug mifepristone. The pro-life organization has almost 1,300 student groups on high school and college campuses, according to its website.

On Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, Students for Life will hold its kickoff protest “Cancel Abortion Cartels” at Walgreens’ corporate headquarters in Deerfield, Illinois. It has called for a National Day of Protest at local pharmacies on March 4. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Jan. 3 announced it would allow any patient with a prescription to obtain mifepristone from her local retail pharmacy. Both CVS and Walgreens have said they will pursue a certification process to provide the drugs, and Rite Aid has said it will dispense the drugs at a limited number of pharmacies and through the mail.

The protests, Wharton said, aim “to let these CEOs know that they need to go back on this decision. They do not need to certify this program with the FDA and they should not be distributing these life-ending drugs.”

“I don’t want to go into a drugstore and be able to buy my chewing gum and my tights and then get a pill that ends a life. It’s just not acceptable,” Wharton told CNA.

The drug mifepristone works by cutting off nutrients necessary for a fetus to continue developing. It is paired with another drug called misoprostol, which is taken 24 hours or more later to trigger uterine contractions to expel the baby’s dead body. The drug is FDA-approved for abortions up to 10 weeks into gestation. It already accounts for more than half of all abortions in the U.S.

CNA sought comment from Walgreens, which repeated its intentions to distribute abortion pills.

“We intend to become a certified pharmacy under the program,” a spokesperson said Jan. 24. “We are working through the registration, necessary training of our pharmacists, as well as evaluating our pharmacy network in terms of where we normally dispense products that have extra FDA requirements and will dispense these consistent with federal and state laws.”

CVS did not respond to a request for comment.

Students for Life will “absolutely oppose” all pharmacies dispensing the abortion pill, Wharton said.  The arrival of the abortion pill at the neighborhood pharmacy “changes the battlelines for the pro-life movement,” Wharton said.

While prayers and sidewalk counseling outside abortion facilities have been a continual practice, plans to distribute the abortion pill through neighborhood pharmacies “changes the way that we’re able to work.”

“Abortion is very harmful for a community overall, so bringing it into all communities like that, I think, is very detrimental,” she said.

Students for Life is organizing letter-writing campaigns and an effort to send Valentine’s Day cards to CEOs to ask them to “urge them to stop making our pharmacies abortion facilities and distributing deadly chemical abortion pills,” its website said.

40 Days for Life, a longtime organizer of peaceful prayer and pro-life outreach campaigns at abortion clinics, will encourage protests at pharmacies during its upcoming Feb. 22-April 2 campaign.

“CVS and Walgreens have replaced Planned Parenthood as the most significant abortion chains in the Western Hemisphere,” Shawn Carney, president and CEO of 40 Days for Life, told CNA Jan. 24. “With 18,000 locations between the two, and now Rite Aid joining in, we have given the hundreds of 40 Days for Life campaign leaders not currently leading a campaign the opportunity to do so outside a pharmacy.”

Last week on its website, 40 Days for Life said the CVS and Walgreens decisions are “turning their stores into abortion facilities.” The organization invited people who don’t have an abortion facility nearby to apply on its website to lead a protest in front of pharmacies that have said they will dispense abortion pills.

Leading these campaigns can “save lives through your witness and abortion pill reversal,” empower pro-life pharmacists, educate the community about the dangers of chemical abortion to women and babies, and “send a message to pharmacy executives that dealing in death is not a good business decision.”

“A dedicated abortion facility is still our first priority, but we have lost campaigns for the best reason — their abortion facility has gone out of business,” Carney told CNA. “Those locations — and many more in rural America — will now be focusing on abortion dispensing pharmacies. The complications of these dangerous abortion drugs (which often result in ER visits or follow-up appointments) and the employee conscience rights issues hitting CVS and Walgreens right now will be a legal headache for pharmacies.”

Until this month, FDA policy only allowed certified doctors, clinics, and some mail-order pharmacies to dispense mifepristone.

Critics of the drug include the Charlotte Lozier Institute, a pro-life think tank. Its July 2022 fact sheet on risks and complications of chemical abortion said that abortion pills are four times riskier than surgical abortions. The need for follow-up care can range from 3% to 10% of women when the drug is taken early in pregnancy and up to 39% of women if accidentally taken late in pregnancy, when surgery could be required.

Women could be put at risk by a lack of ultrasound tests to confirm the age and the position of the unborn child, especially if there is an ectopic pregnancy. A lack of blood test requirements could affect Rh-negative women, who need special treatment to avoid serious risks to future pregnancies.

Wharton said that easier access to the pills can make it easier for abusive men to conceal pregnancy and abuse.

“It’s going to make it easier for abusers in the community to buy these pills,” she objected. “It’s going to make it easier for a woman in a situation where she’s vulnerable to get an abortion, and she has nobody counseling her.”

Retired bishop calls on fellow bishops, pro-lifers to stay focused on culture of life

Bishop Michael Pfeifer was Bishop of San Angelo, Texas, from 1985 to 2013. / Courtesy photo.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 26, 2023 / 09:00 am (CNA).

An emeritus Texas bishop is calling on his fellow Catholic bishops — and all pro-life people — to focus on creating a culture of life following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“2023 is the first full year without Roe v. Wade, but thousands of precious babies are still being killed by abortion,” Bishop Michael D. Pfeifer, OMI, bishop emeritus of San Angelo, wrote in a January pastoral statement marking 50 years since the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling that previously legalized abortion nationwide.

He cautioned: “The abortion lobby is spending many millions of dollars, including your taxpayer dollars, on a comprehensive strategy to expand abortion even more this year.”

Pfeifer, who served as bishop of San Angelo from 1985 to 2013, stressed that the Church and all pro-life people still “have much work to do in promoting pro-life messages to its own members and society at large.”

Citing Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, the vice president of the U.S. Catholic bishops, Pfeifer pointed to the “many efforts at a presidential and many at a congressional level to use power to facilitate abortion.”

His comments come after President Joe Biden, a Catholic, issued a statement in support of abortion to commemorate the anniversary of the now-obsolete Roe v. Wade decision.

Biden, Pfeifer said, “needs to remember there are no abortion rights in the Constitution nor in the Commandments of God.”

In his statement, Pfeifer called on the bishops to remain unified on the pro-life issue.

“Our clear teaching has the goal of addressing the sacredness of all human life at all stages of life, and to use all the means we have guided by the Holy Spirit to overcome attacks on life and to promote and protect the life of every human being from the very beginning, and to ensure that pregnant and parenting mothers are fully supported in the care of their children before and after birth,” he said.

“This must be our strong, clear message for all pro-lifers and with political leaders at all levels,” he added. “We bishops need to be more proactive in leading these pro-life efforts and especially with our president and other elected officials.”

Pfeifer also condemned government funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, and increased access to abortion drugs. At the same time, he commended pro-life legislation, such the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act that recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Pfeifer wrote that the pro-life movement has the “God-given tools” to end abortion and build a culture of life while noting the need for the involvement of the entire community, including young people.

He outlined specific actions, such as more weekly pro-life Masses, adoration, fasting, and prayer, including, praying in front of Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics.

Pfeifer also highlighted the importance of winning hearts and minds and building a life-affirming society where abortion becomes unthinkable.

“It is urgent that we also take more courageous and unified action as bishops to encourage members of Congress and our president to pass legislation that advances the health, safety and flourishing of women, children, and families,” he wrote, “and we strongly encourage the passage of bills that support and fund families, such as the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and support for child tax credit, paid family leave, pregnancy resource centers, child care, housing and nutrition, maternal and child health, adoption, healthy relations, for environmental protections and inclusion of immigrant families in social programs.”

The government’s “most sacred duty,” he wrote, “is to safeguard the lives of all Americans beginning with the most vulnerable and weakest, the unborn child.”

Pfeifer identified the threat of abortion and protecting the unborn as the “preeminient life issue.”

“This brutal daily killing of these precious sacred images of God should cause all pro-lifers, especially bishops, to fall on our knees in prayerful repentance and reparation, pleading for God’s forgiveness and mercy as we humbly admit before the Lord that we could have and should do much more to prevent the massive daily destruction of tiny, precious human lives,” he wrote.

“God created the human person in the divine image and likeness as the pinnacle of all creation,” he concluded. “Each of us including the unborn share in the image of God’s glory. Human life as a gift from God is sacred and inviolable.”

Sts. Timothy and Titus

Sts. Timothy and Titus

Feast date: Jan 26

On Jan. 26, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the liturgical memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus, close companions of the Apostle Paul and bishops of the Catholic Church in its earliest days.

Both men received letters from St. Paul, which are included in the New Testament.
 
Pope Benedict XVI discussed these early bishops during a general audience on Dec. 13, 2006, noting “their readiness to take on various offices” in “far from easy” circumstances. Both saints, the Pope said, “teach us to serve the Gospel with generosity, realizing that this also entails a service to the Church herself.”
 
The son of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father, Timothy came from Lystra in present-day Turkey. His mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, are known to have joined the Church, and Timothy himself is described as a student of Sacred Scripture from his youth.

After St. Paul’s visit to Timothy’s home region of Lycaonia, around the year 51, the young man joined the apostle and accompanied him in his travels. After religious strife forced Paul to leave the city of Berea, Timothy remained to help the local church. Paul later sent him to Thessalonica to help the Church during a period of persecution.
 
The two met up again in Corinth, and Timothy eventually journeyed to Macedonia on Paul’s behalf. Problems in the Corinthian Church brought Timothy back for a time, after which he joined Paul and accompanied the apostle in subsequent travels.

Like Paul, Timothy endured a period of imprisonment in the course of his missionary work. His release is mentioned in the New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews.
 
Around the year 64, Timothy became the first bishop of the Church of Ephesus. During that same year, he received the first of two surviving letters from St. Paul. The second, written the next year, urges Timothy to visit St. Paul in Rome, where he was imprisoned before his martyrdom.

Ancient sources state that St. Timothy followed his mentor in dying as a martyr for the faith. In the year 93, during his leadership of the Church in Ephesus, he took a stand against the worship of idols and was consequently killed by a mob. The pagan festival he was protesting was held Jan. 22, and this date was preserved as St. Timothy’s memorial in the Christian East.
 
In contrast with Timothy’s partial Jewish descent and early Biblical studies, St. Titus – who was born into a pagan family – is said to have studied Greek philosophy and poetry in his early years. But he pursued a life of virtue, and purportedly had a prophetic dream that caused him to begin reading the Hebrew Scriptures.
 
According to tradition, Titus journeyed to Jerusalem and witnessed the preaching of Christ during the Lord’s ministry on earth. Only later, however – after the conversion of St. Paul and the beginning of his ministry – did Titus receive baptism from the apostle, who called the pagan convert his “true child in our common faith.”
 
St. Paul was not only Titus’ spiritual father, but also depended on his convert as an assistant and interpreter. Titus accompanied Paul to the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem during the year 51, and was later sent to the Corinthian Church on two occasions. After the end of Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, the apostle ordained Titus as the Bishop of Crete.
 
Paul sent his only surviving letter to Titus around the year 64, giving instructions in pastoral ministry to his disciple as he prepared to meet up with him in the Greek city of Nicopolis. Titus evangelized the region of Dalmatia in modern Croatia before returning to Crete.
 
Titus is credited with leading the Church of Crete well into his 90s, overturning paganism and promoting the faith through his prayers and preaching. Unlike St. Timothy, St. Titus was not martyred, but died peacefully in old age.

Bishop remembers slain journalists in Mexico on feast day of their patron saint

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CNA Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

On the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists, Bishop Francisco Javier Acero, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Mexico, remembered and asked for prayers for the members of the media who have been murdered in Mexico and for their families.

According to the National Human Rights Commission of Mexico, between 2000 and 2018, a total of 134 journalists were murdered and 20 have been forcibly disappeared.

The Mexican Bishops’ Conference stated in a video calling for a day of prayer for the victims on Jan. 15 that in the last 10 years “at least 80 journalists have been murdered in Mexico for practicing their profession despite pressure from civil society and international organizations.” 

In a video released by the Archdiocese of Mexico, Acero said that “in Mexico, defending the truth costs your life.”

“We’re not talking about Middle Eastern countries, no, no, we’re talking about our real Mexico. Defending the truth costs your life,” he stressed.

In 2022, 11 journalists were murdered in Mexico. In a report published in early December 2022, the international organization Reporters Without Borders considered the country to be the most dangerous place to practice journalism in the world, worse than Ukraine, Haiti, Syria, Yemen, and Brazil.

In his video message, a segment of the Jan. 23 live broadcast of “The Voice of the Bishop” program, Acero asked that before turning in for the night, “we pray an Our Father for all the journalists who defend human rights but especially for the families of these 11 journalists who gave up their lives to defend the truth.”

Given the prevalence of organized crime, common criminality, and corruption among politicians it is hard to say who is behind the killings.

Bishop Acero, originally from Spain, came to Mexico 20 years ago and is a naturalized Mexican citizen.

Pope Francis named him an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Mexico in November 2022.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Two Florida residents indicted for vandalizing pro-life pregnancy centers

A pro-life pregnancy center in Hollywood, Florida, was defaced with pro-abortion graffiti over Memorial Day Weekend 2022. / Courtesy of Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

The Department of Justice on Tuesday indicted two suspects accused of vandalizing three pro-life pregnancy centers in Florida in June 2022 in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. 

The indictment against the two Floridians, 27-year-old Caleb Freestone and 23-year-old Amber Smith-Stewart, accuses them of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which is also known as the FACE Act. The indictment alleges that their actions amount to a conspiracy to prevent the employees from providing services. They could face up to 12 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and up to $350,000 in fines.

Pro-life pregnancy centers, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, provide free services and resources to pregnant women, including alternatives to abortion.

LifeChoice Pregnancy Center, a pro-life pregnancy center based in Winter Haven, was spray-painted with several threatening messages including “YOUR TIME IS UP!!,” “WE’RE COMING for U,” “if abortions aren’t safe than niether [sic] are you,” and “We are everywhere.” The facility was unavailable for comment by the time of publication. Two other facilities were allegedly targeted: one in Hollywood and one in Hialeah.

The indictment alleges that the messages were threats of force to intimidate and interfere with the employees at the facilities because of the reproductive health services they provide. It alleges that the two Floridians intentionally damaged and destroyed the facility’s property because of the reproductive health services they provide. Both of those actions violate the FACE Act.

The act became law in the 1990s to establish special protections for reproductive health centers, including pro-life facilities and abortion facilities. It established certain federal penalties for threatening, damaging, and obstructing conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with a person’s right to obtain or provide reproductive care.

According to the DOJ, the FBI Tampa Field Office carried out the investigation with help from the Miami Police Department. 

Some pro-life activists were grateful for the indictment but expressed frustration about the length of time it took to indict the suspects and the lack of arrests in other attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers throughout the country.  

The indictments represent the first suspects known to have been arrested in attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers since a rash of incidents of vandalism began in 2022.

Lynda Bell, the president of Florida Right to Life, told CNA that she is pleased with the indictment. 

“It took way too long … and I know there’s way more out there [who] need to be arrested,” Bell said. 

CNA has independently tracked and confirmed nearly 60 attacks nationwide on pro-life pregnancy centers since May 2022. This includes a significant number of threatening messages through vandalism and several fires. One pro-life center in Wisconsin was firebombed. The organization also claimed that the attacks are underreported because the pro-life centers are trying to protect their clients.

Bell said those who are attacking pro-life centers should be brought to justice and expressed a concern that the attacks “have not been a priority” for the DOJ. Even though the firebombing of the Wisconsin pro-life pregnancy center took place in May, she said there have not yet been any arrests.  

“That’s unheard of with the technology our [law enforcement] has,” Bell added.  

On Jan. 11, the House of Representatives passed a resolution that condemned the recent attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers. The resolution, introduced by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana), passed the chamber 222-209, with most Republicans supporting the measure and most Democrats opposing it.  

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, issued a statement expressing dissatisfaction with the DOJ for targeting pro-life Americans.

“These charges are good first steps, but the fight for equal justice is far from over,” the statement read. 

“With a new House GOP majority positioned to exercise its oversight powers, we are finally beginning to see some accountability. Yet the Justice Department continues to target the people of states that protect unborn children and their mothers. Congressional Democrats had the opportunity to condemn the violence and all but three refused, and again we have had to call on the White House to stop vilifying pro-life Americans. The pro-life movement is keeping a watchful eye on this administration and we will not be silent in the face of violence and intimidation.” 

Today, Pennsylvania resident and pro-life advocate Mark Houck appeared in court, where he faces federal charges for allegedly violating the FACE Act. The charges stem from an incident that took place during a protest at an abortion clinic. Houck was arrested a year later by the FBI in a raid of his home as his family looked on.

Pro-life leader and Catholic father of 7 Mark Houck goes to trial: an emotional first day

Mark Houck and his wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, prior to entering the federal court house in Philadelphia on Jan. 25, 2023. / Credit: Thomas More Society/Vimeo

Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 25, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The prosecution and defense gave fiery opening statements this morning in the federal government’s case against pro-life advocate and Catholic father of seven Mark Houck as his family, seated behind him, reacted in what was an emotional first day of the trial.

The trial, held in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, comes about four months after Houck was arrested at his home in front of his terrified wife and children by federal agents last September, following a federal indictment alleging that he violated the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. 

The FACE Act prohibits “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.” 

Prosecutor Ashley Martin of the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania alleged in her opening statement that Houck was the aggressor and instigator in an incident involving an abortion clinic escort more than one year ago.

The allegations relate to an incident that occurred at a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Philadelphia on Oct. 13, 2021. The federal indictment alleges that Houck twice shoved a clinic patient escort during a verbal altercation while a then 72-year-old man, Bruce Love, was attempting to lead clients inside the clinic.

Martin referred to Houck as a “6-foot-tall, 200-pound, muscular” man who was shouting at Love and assaulted him, alleging that Houck took two hands, placed them on Love’s chest and shoved him to the ground in one incident.

She said that video evidence, which has no sound, corroborates her claim. She did not say what Houck was shouting about. The one-minute video of the incident, which was shown Wednesday in court, shows Houck pushing Love to the ground after Love approaches Houck.

Martin alleged that another altercation between the men occurred first, in which Houck was attempting to talk to two women and elbowed Love after the abortion clinic escort allegedly told the women that they didn’t have to talk to Houck.

That allegation could not be corroborated by video evidence because the footage was apparently not saved by Planned Parenthood, according to Faiz Malik, vice president of people and culture for Planned Parenthood Keystone, who was one of the prosecution’s witnesses who appeared in court. Malik oversees security at the clinic where the incident occurred.

Martin said to the jury that this case is “not about pro-choice, it’s not about pro-life, it’s not about activism, it’s not about politics.”

“Politics just doesn’t come into the equation here,” she added. 

Following the prosecution’s argument, one of Houck’s daughters could be seen crying in the arms of her mother. The room was filled with supporters for Houck, several of whom could be seen praying the rosary.

The defense argued that the charges against Houck should never have made it to federal court. 

Defense attorney Brian McMonagle of the law firm McMonagle, Perri, McHugh, Mischak & Davis, said in his opening statement that “we’re not in state court here.”

“This is not a state court prosecution for assault,” he said, adding that “they made a federal case out of a shove.” 

In order to fit the criteria laid out in the FACE Act, McMonagle told the jury that the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Houck used force, intentionally injured or attempted to injure Love, and that he did it because Love was providing reproductive health services.

“They’ve got to prove motive,” he said.

McMonagle said that Houck “pushed Love because he refused to stop degrading him in front of his son and refused to leave them alone.” He said that Houck intentionally positioned himself a distance away from the entrance to the clinic while sidewalk counseling with his then 12-year-old son, Mark Jr.

Referring to the first incident, McMonagle said that Love approached Houck from behind while Houck was speaking with a woman who left Planned Parenthood and blocked him “like he’s setting a pick in a basketball game.”

He said that Houck shouted at Love, asked him what he was doing, and then returned to the street corner to pray. McMonagle said that Love left Planned Parenthood a short while after and approached Houck and his son. According to McMonagle, Love harassed them, saying things to the boy such as “You’re dad’s a bad guy” and “Your dad doesn’t like women.”

He said Houck told Love several times to return to the clinic and stop harassing his son. He then said that Love began to speak to Houck’s son again after walking away briefly. There is a video of the altercation, but again, there is no sound. The video shows both Love approaching Houck’s location on the street corner and Houck pushing him to the ground. 

McMonagle maintained that Houck’s push was to defend his son and that “Houck’s intentions were not to injure anybody.”

“His motive that day was pure and simple. His hope was that he might be able to touch one heart that day, so he could save a second heart,” he said of Houck’s sidewalk ministry work.

As part of Houck’s Catholic apostolate “The King’s Men,” he does sidewalk counseling for women who are considering abortion.

Two of the prosecution’s witnesses took the stand on Wednesday: Malik and Dayle Steinberg, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Much of the questioning of the witnesses focused on the responsibilities of Planned Parenthood clinic escorts and whether Love had violated any of the company’s clinic escort policies.

Steinberg said she didn’t have an opinion on whether Love broke any policies, however, Love was removed from being a volunteer at the clinic temporarily, according to Malik. He said he asked Love to refrain from volunteering at the clinic until all litigation with Houck had concluded.

Malik said that Planned Parenthood has a “nonengagement” policy that directs the volunteer escorts to steer clear of and refrain from speaking to or engaging with protestors who may be in the vicinity surrounding the clinic.

Malik also affirmed that he told Love that he needed to stop engaging with protesters. It’s unclear if that was before or after the incident.

The trial will resume at 9:30 a.m. Thursday morning.

Pope Francis decries German Synodal Way as ‘neither helpful nor serious’

Cardinal Reinhard Marx and fellow bishops from Germany meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Nov. 17, 2022 / Vatican Media

CNA Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 15:41 pm (CNA).

In an interview published Wednesday, Pope Francis decried the German Synodal Way as elitist, unhelpful, and running the risk of bringing ideological harm to Church processes.

“The German experience does not help,” the pontiff told Associated Press when asked about the controversial process, explaining that dialogue should involve “all the people of God.”

The 86-year-old pontiff contrasted the German event, which is not a synod, with the universal Church’s recently extended Synod on Synodality.

Francis said on Tuesday that the global synod’s aim was to “help this more elitist (German) path so that it does not end badly in some way, but so is also integrated into the Church.”

While Pope Francis did not delve into details of the demands made in Germany, he plainly described the Synodal Way as perilous.

“Here the danger is that something very, very ideological trickles in. When ideology gets involved in church processes, the Holy Spirit goes home, because ideology overcomes the Holy Spirit,” he said in the wide-ranging interview that also included remarks about the Church’s stance on homosexuality, the loss of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI — and his health.

Since its launch by Cardinal Reinhard Marx in 2019, the German Synodal Way has courted controversy

Participants have voted in favor of draft documents calling for the priestly ordination of women, same-sex blessings, and changes to Church teaching on homosexual acts, prompting accusations of heresy and fears of schism.

Concerns have been publicly raised by Church leaders from Poland, the Nordic countries, and around the world.

Fears of a “dirty schism” from Germany have increased over the past few months, as organizers of the Synodal Way in November refused a moratorium on the process suggested by the Vatican.

In his interview published Wednesday, Pope Francis insisted: “Always try to unite.”

Just two days earlier, on Monday, the latest Vatican intervention against the Synodal Way revealed that even participants in the process are anything but united: Five German bishops, it was reported, had asked Rome to clarify concerns over a synodal council.

Participants of the German Synodal Way in September 2022 voted to create such a controlling body that would permanently oversee the Church in Germany.

The Vatican stated in a letter published Jan. 23 that the Germans are not authorized to install a permanent synodal council to oversee the Church in Germany. The missive was formally approved by Pope Francis.

Despite all these interventions, the Synodal Way — “Synodaler Weg” in German, sometimes translated as the Synodal Path — is currently still expected to continue as planned by its organizers. The next (and so far final) synodal assembly is scheduled to take place in Frankfurt in March.

Japanese prime minister vows to take action on declining birthrate

null / Unsplash.

St. Louis, Mo., Jan 25, 2023 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida recently warned that Japan’s birthrate — one of the lowest in the world — is not sustainable and that the ongoing population decline in the country poses an urgent risk to Japanese society. 

“Japan is standing on the verge of whether we can continue to function as a society,” Kishida said in Monday’s speech before the newly opened session of Parliament. 

Kishida, a conservative leader who took office in 2021, said he intends to launch a new government agency in April to support children and families. Kishida said he wants the government to double its spending on child-related programs.

“Focusing attention on policies regarding children and child-rearing is an issue that cannot wait and cannot be postponed,” he said, as reported by The Guardian.

Japan, a nation of 125 million people, has the world’s second-highest proportion of people aged 65 and over, according to World Bank data. The only country with a higher proportion of elderly people is Monaco, a tiny city-state. Japan also has an extremely high life expectancy and has struggled as a nation to care for its growing elderly population. 

The prime minister noted that only 800,000 births were recorded in the country last year, a low figure that Japan was previously not projected to reach until 2030. It’s also the lowest figure recorded since Japan began compiling statistics on births in 1899.

According to Asia News, a Catholic news site, Kishida has endorsed direct economic support to families with dependent children, the strengthening of child care services, and the reform of Japanese working habits to allow working parents a better work-life balance. 

Specific proposals to address the demographic crisis are being drawn up by a task force led by Masanobu Ogura, the government minister in charge of implementing them. The members plan to come up with measures by the end of March so they can be included in the economic and fiscal policy document that is published every year in June, Asia News reported. 

The archbishop of Tokyo, Isao Kikuchi, spoke with CNA in late 2019 about Japan’s “birth rate crisis.” He said the ongoing collapse in the national population has already negatively affected all sectors of Japanese society.

“Population decline due to the low birth rate and the aging population is not just a problem for the Church but a problem for the entire Japanese society,” Kikuchi said. 

While couples in Japan are financially rewarded, to an extent, for creating larger families, Kikuchi said at the time that the government has been unable to give young Japanese a sufficient push to make them comfortable with the traditional idea of family-making.

He also said Japan’s ruthless working culture, combined with a heavy expectation on children to be busy with extracurriculars, can impede the practice of faith in Japanese households. 

“In addition, such a collapse in the traditional Japanese family system has caused marriages to break down, with single mothers raising their children in poverty,” the archbishop said.

Japan is not the only Asian country facing a demographic crisis — China, the world’s most populous nation, registered a population decline in 2022 for the first time in nearly six decades.