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Catholic priests survey finds lower morale, 'conservative shift' among U.S. clergy

Priest collar / / null

Denver Newsroom, Nov 29, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

First in a series of articles examining the 2021 Survey of American Catholic Priests (SACP) findings.

A new survey released this month suggests a more “pessimistic” view of the Catholic Church among U.S. priests today as compared to 2002, as well as an increasing perception of “more theologically conservative or orthodox” young priests as compared to their older counterparts. 

A Nov. 1 report summarized findings from the 2021 Survey of American Catholic Priests (SACP), which comprised 54 questions posed to 1,036 Catholic priests in the United States. 

“If the major story of the SACP had to be summarized briefly it would be noticeable conservative shifts among U.S. priests over the last two decades coupled with a turn toward pessimism about the current state and trajectory of the Catholic Church in America,” write the report’s three researchers.  

When asked about politics, the priests surveyed were significantly more likely to describe themselves as “conservative” as compared to respondents in 2002, the researchers say. 

In addition, the percentage of priest respondents overall who view younger priests as “much more conservative” than older priests increased from 29% in 2002 to 44% in the new survey.

To track changes in answers over time, the survey reused questions from a 2002 poll of Catholic priests conducted by the Los Angeles Times, and also a few questions from a survey of priests from 1970. 

The priests were contacted in late 2020 via two unconnected email lists, one provided by the Official Catholic Directory and one provided by an unidentified “Catholic NGO.” Despite the small sample size, the authors say the results they garnered from the two email lists are “reassuringly similar,” both to each other, and to the 2002 results. 

The researchers analyzed the data they collected, classifying each priest by his self-described political persuasion. They also classified the priests into “cohorts” based on their ordination year. 

Brad Vermurlen, the survey’s co-author and a sociologist with the University of Texas at Austin, wrote in an article announcing the study that researchers observed a “relatively conservative cohort of priests ordained prior to 1960” followed by “more permissive or liberal men ordained to the priesthood in the 1960s and 70s.”

“After the permissive cohorts, there is a steady move toward more conservative views with each successive cohort. Catholic priests ordained since the year 2000 tend to be the most conservative,” Vermurlen wrote. 

Priests in the more recent survey were, on average, less in favor of female deacons, less in favor of ordaining women as priests, and less favorable toward the idea of married priests compared to the 2002 survey, the researchers write. 

Morale

While priests today are slightly less likely to leave the priesthood than they were in 2002, “life satisfaction” for priests is lower overall, the researchers write, down from 72.1% of priests in 2002 saying they were “very satisfied” with their life as a priest, to 62% saying the same in 2021.

“Over the same time that priests became more conservative in multiple ways, their perceptions of the current state of the Catholic Church in America took a pessimistic turn, now with a majority of priests saying things in the Church are ‘not so good’ — and this holds true across the political spectrum,” the researchers, two of whom work at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote. 

Orthodoxy

The researchers’ measure of “orthodoxy” was a theological question: whether the priests surveyed believe faith in Jesus Christ to be the “sole path to salvation.” 

The Catholic Church teaches in Paragraph 846 of the Catechism that “all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body,” and notes that Jesus Himself “explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism.” 

However, in the next Catechism paragraph, the Church affirms that those who “through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.” Nevertheless, “the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men."

Priests in 2021 were, overall, slightly more likely to affirm belief that faith in Jesus Christ is the “sole path to salvation” than priests in 2002, but stark differences emerged among the different political persuasions. 

Among priests who self-identified as “very liberal,” nearly 40% “disagreed strongly” with the assertion that the sole path to salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ. On the other end of the spectrum, among “very conservative” priests, 82% said they “agreed strongly.”

Morality

To assess opinions on morality among the priests, the researchers laid out six activities that the Church teaches to be sinful, and asked whether the surveyed priests also consider them sinful. These activities were: nonmarital sex; abortion; birth control use in married couples; homosexual behavior; suicide to relieve suffering, and masturbation.

The researchers concluded that priests in 2021 were more likely than their 2002 counterparts to say each of those six activities to be sinful. 

Assessment of Pope Francis

The researchers also asked about the priests’ approval of Pope Francis. They found that priests ordained in more recent years are less likely to approve of how Pope Francis is handling his duties.

“In the latest cohort of priests, ordained in 2010 or later, only 20.0 percent ‘approve strongly’ of Pope Francis and nearly half (49.8 percent) disapprove, whether ‘somewhat’ or ‘strongly,’” the researchers found. 

Is the Church getting better or worse?

The priests were asked about their opinion of the Catholic Church’s “trajectory”— whether the Church is getting better, staying the same, or getting worse. 

The researchers noted that priests who assessed the Church as “not so good” spanned the political spectrum, and speculated that the apparent pessimism seems to be a “period effect,” meaning “there is something about the early 2020s distinctly different from 2002 generating these changes.”

The researchers speculate that one reason for the increased pessimism among priests might be “the spiritual and moral lives of the Catholic laity.” The researchers claim that just 22% of priests reported that “most” of the laity they encounter are living out the Church’s teachings on moral issues such as those relating to sexuality, a decrease from 30% in 2002.

They also cited a “challenging, ‘post-Christian’” society and the fallout from the sexual abuse crisis as likely drivers of lower morale. 

Report: Pope Francis could bring 50 migrants from Cyprus to Italy

Pope Francis greets a migrant at a welcoming hub near Cesena, Italy on Oct. 1, 2017. / L'Osservatore Romano.

Vatican City, Nov 29, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis could reportedly help to bring up to 50 migrants to Italy as part of his trip to Cyprus and Greece this week.

Cypriot government spokesman Marios Pelekanos said that the Vatican wanted to arrange the transfer of migrants currently in Cyprus to Rome, Reuters reported on Nov. 26.

“This is a tangible expression of solidarity by the head of the Roman Catholic Church to people in need, affirming that the Vatican recognizes the problem that the Republic of Cyprus faces today because of the increased migratory flows and the need for a fair distribution among EU member states,” Pelekanos said, according to Reuters.

Pope Francis will depart for the Mediterranean island of Cyprus this Thursday for a five-day visit that will also take him to Greece. The trip is expected to highlight the plight of migrants seeking to enter Europe, mainly from the Middle East and Africa.

The last time that Pope Francis visited Greece, in 2016, he brought three Syrian refugee families from the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos back with him to Rome.

Among the refugees relocated with the pope’s help was Majid Alshakarji, who escaped the Syrian civil war at the age of 15.

Five years later, Alshakarji is now studying at a university in Rome to become a dentist and volunteers with the Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio, helping to welcome new refugees to Italy.

“We have been allowed to have a new life in a new country … It is a beautiful experience,” he told CNA in 2020.

Sant’Egidio helped to organize the arrival of 70 Syrian refugees in Rome on Nov. 29.

The refugees, who had been living in refugee camps in Lebanon, came to Italy through the humanitarian corridors promoted by the Catholic movement in coordination with the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy and the Italian government.

Pope Francis has repeatedly urged governments not to “lose sight of the human face of migration.”

Most recently, in a message on Nov. 29 marking the 70th anniversary of the International Organization for Migration, the pope decried the “double standard” that places economic interests over “the needs and dignity of the human person.”

“On the one hand, in the markets of upper-middle-income countries, migrant labor is in high demand and welcomed as a way to compensate for the lack of it. On the other, migrants are generally rejected and subject to resentful attitudes by many of their host communities,” he said.

“This tendency was particularly evident during the COVID-19 lockdowns, when many of the ‘essential’ workers were migrants, but they were not granted the benefits of the COVID-19 economic aid programs or even access to basic health care and immunization,” the pope added.

The pope’s message to the U.N. organization was read by Cardinal Pietro Parolin in a video message.

Pope Francis underlined that “we must never forget that these are not statistics, but real people whose lives are at stake.”

“Rooted in its centuries-long experience, the Catholic Church and its institutions will continue their mission of welcoming, protecting, promoting, and integrating people on the move,” he said.

The meanings and traditions of Advent

Kara Monroe via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Denver Newsroom, Nov 29, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

Advent is a time of preparation. We prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ, and welcome his presence into our lives. 

During a time of Christmas shopping, holiday parties, and family gatherings, it can be hard to find the time to prepare properly for this faith-filled season. However, the Catholic Church has a rich history of traditions to help keep our minds focused on the true meaning of the season.

In an interview with EWTN News In Depth, Father Patrick Mary Briscoe, O.P., host of the Godsplaining podcast, discussed the history of Advent and how it began in the fourth century. 

“It was originally a kind of time of preparation for people that were preparing for baptism,” he said. “The feast of the epiphany was a great day in the old calendar, it used to be alighted with the feast of the baptism of the Lord.”

Since it was a time of preparation for those soon-to-be baptized, Fr. Patrick pointed out that “It had more of a feel of Lent to it.” 

“There was a kind of rigor again, looking forward to the coming mysteries that were celebrated by the sacraments,” he said.

Jumping forward to the present day, the meaning of Advent is different. It now focuses on the birth of Jesus, and families place an Advent wreath in their home. The Catholic Church also uses different colors to represent the season. 

“That deep purple that you see in Advent, that very rich color, is the color of repentance,” Fr. Patrick explained. “It reminds us of the sober and somber character of the season and tells us that we should be preparing not just our homes, not just our surroundings, but our souls.” 

The Advent season is not one entirely characterized by somberness, however. Gaudete Sunday represents the midway point of the Advent season and is a Sunday of rejoicing. On Gaudete Sunday, which is the third Sunday of Advent, a rose colored candle is illuminated.  

“Christmas and the Advent season, I think, are so different from Lent principally because they have this note of hope,” Fr. Patrick said. “Advent is a season ultimately of light and we see that in the candles of the Advent wreath.”

While many think primarily of the outward signs of Advent, this time of year is deeply rooted in the inward preparation we are called to as we draw closer to the birth of Jesus. 

During the interview, Fr. Patrick recalled a homily given by Saint Bernard Clairvaux, which is read by the Church in the liturgy of the hours. In the homily, the saint describes three comings of Christ. 

“Christ came once as a child in Bethlehem, and the Lord Jesus is going to come again to judge the living and the dead, so this is the second principle meaning of Advent,” he said. “But, the third coming of Christ is that Christ is coming into our hearts.”

“The spirit of Advent, then, is to be ready each Christmas to receive Christ in my life, in the here and now, in a new and deeper way,” he said.

The leader of Afghanistan’s Catholic community longs to return to the country

Fr. Giovanni Scalese, head of the Mission Sui Iuris of Afghanistan, celebrates Palm Sunday Mass in 2019. / Courtesy photo.

Rome, Italy, Nov 29, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Following the Taliban takeover, there is no longer a Catholic community to speak of in Afghanistan. But Fr. Giovanni Scalese’s eyes are set on the future, not the recent past.

The Italian priest who has led the Mission Sui Iuris of Afghanistan since 2014 is hopeful that the country will eventually return to a “normal situation” in which foreign personnel can return and live the faith “without limitations.”

He underlines that Catholics “are not interested in who is in government: we just need no obstacles to the exercise of religious freedom.”

Scalese, a member of the Barnabites, took over the Afghanistan mission from Fr. Giuseppe Moretti, who had led it since it was established by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

Moretti was also a Barnabite because the mission in Afghanistan has been entrusted to the religious order also known as the Clerics Regular of St. Paul since 1933.

This mission, which extends to the whole of the country, is based at a single location: the Our Lady of Divine Providence Chapel, the Italian embassy’s chapel in the capital, Kabul.

Back in 1919, Italy had asked Afghanistan’s ruler, Amanullah Khan, to build a Catholic place of worship. He agreed as he wanted to express his gratitude to the Italian government for being the first to recognize the country’s independence that year.

Today, the chapel is empty as Scalese returned to Italy after the Taliban took power. Arriving in Rome on Aug. 25, he brought with him a number of Missionaries of Charity and 14 disabled children cared for by the sisters.

In an email interview with CNA, Scalese outlined the situation in Afghanistan and shared his hope for a future in which everyone can exercise freedom of expression.

He said: “I hope that, as soon as possible, we can return to a situation of normality — which means peace, stability, security — and that, therefore, foreign personnel can return to the country and can also live their faith without limitations. We do not care who is in government: it is enough that no obstacles are placed to religious freedom.”

Reflecting on his role in Afghanistan, Scalese said that he could be described as a missionary “only in an analogical way.” This is because his ministry was limited to the spiritual assistance of Catholics, the vast majority of whom were foreigners, while “any form of evangelization is excluded a priori” in Afghanistan.

The very term “mission” is considered highly sensitive in the country, though the priest noted that “no one ever had a problem when that term was used for NATO military missions or the humanitarian missions of the United Nations.”

He said that proselytism “was excluded from the very beginning,” but initially “the pastoral activity of foreigners could take place without restriction.”

But the coronavirus pandemic had a heavy impact on the local Catholic community as the Italian embassy’s chapel was forced to close when the embassy itself entered lockdown.

“In the last seven years, it had become increasingly difficult for me to leave the Italian embassy and for the faithful to leave their respective compounds (diplomatic representations and humanitarian and international organizations) and enter the green zone and the embassy,” he said.

“Over the past two years then, due to the pandemic, many faithful returned to their countries. The embassy was subjected to a strict lockdown, so for several months I was forced to celebrate alone.”

He went on: “Only from October 2020 were the Sisters readmitted for the Sunday liturgy. The other few faithful who remained had the opportunity to participate in the Eucharist only at Christmas and Easter.”

The Taliban’s arrival created even more complications, though at first there was some hope that the status quo would be maintained.

“Once the Taliban took power, they asked foreign NGOs to stay,” Scalese recalled, but many decided to leave or operate only through local staff.

He noted that three Catholic groups — the Jesuit Refugee Service, the Missionaries of Charity, and Pro Bambini di Kabul (“For the Children of Kabul”) — left the country “for prudential reasons.”

Fr. Giovanni Scalese (back row second from right) with religious. Courtesy photo.
Fr. Giovanni Scalese (back row second from right) with religious. Courtesy photo.

Scalese, who is continuing to monitor the situation in Afghanistan, said that “if the conditions were to be met for a resumption of activities, I think no one would hold back.”

He explained that “until now for religious personnel, the only possibility of carrying out activity in Afghanistan was to be registered as social workers, within a non-governmental organization recognized by the government.” Their work was well regarded.

The Italian priest observed that the United Nations and the European Union want to reopen their offices in Afghanistan to distribute aid.

"Personally, I believe that it is inevitable that this will happen in agreement with those in power today,” he said. “I don’t think there is any point in marginalizing internationally — or worse, demonizing — the current government. If you want to help the Afghan people, you need to be willing to work with anyone, regardless of the ideological differences that may divide us.”

He added: “My position has always been clear: I would not have left the country while even a single sheep was left of my little flock. Then when the pastoral staff of the mission preferred to go for prudential reasons, there was no longer any reason for me to stay.”

Scalese saw the departure as inevitable also because, with the embassy closed and local collaborators evacuated, “it was rather complicated to stay in place without being able to count on any support.”

It remains unclear when he will be able to return to Afghanistan.

“Any decision regarding a possible return — by me or a successor — is the responsibility of the Holy See,” he said.

“However, I know that the Secretariat of State is following the situation closely so that a decision can be made when the time comes.”

Catholic bishop ‘shocked and saddened’ by Jersey vote for assisted suicide ‘in principle’

Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth, England, pictured on May 21, 2015. / Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.

Portsmouth, England, Nov 29, 2021 / 05:30 am (CNA).

A Catholic bishop has said that he was “shocked and saddened” by a vote on the Channel Island of Jersey to approve assisted suicide “in principle.”

Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth, England, expressed his dismay after the States Assembly, the island’s parliament, backed an assisted suicide proposition by 36 votes to 10, with three absences, on Nov. 25.

“I was shocked and saddened by the results of yesterday’s vote on euthanasia and assisted suicide in Jersey,” he said.

“It demonstrates a woeful lack of interest in protecting the most vulnerable people in our society.”

Jersey is an island with an estimated population of 107,800 people near the coast of northwestern France. The British crown dependency is not part of the United Kingdom and has it own government and legal system.

If the island changes its laws, Jersey will be the first place in the British Isles to allow assisted suicide.

The proposition would permit an adult island resident with a “voluntary, clear, settled, and informed wish to end his or her own life” to seek assisted suicide.

They must have been diagnosed with a terminal illness “expected to result in unbearable suffering that cannot be alleviated” and judged to have less than six months to live, or an incurable physical medical condition resulting in “unbearable suffering that cannot be alleviated.”

Egan, who is based in Portsmouth, southern England, but oversees the Catholic Church in the Channel Islands, said that if the proposition became law it would “change fundamentally the role of doctors and medical staff.”

“However, this is only the first step in the process of legalizing ‘assisted suicide’; as such, we will continue to scrutinize and challenge any proposed legislation in the months ahead,” he said.

In 2018, the legislature of Guernsey, another Channel Island, rejected an assisted suicide proposal, drawing praise from Bishop Egan.

In March this year, Jersey formed a citizens’ jury, made up of 23 randomly selected applicants, to determine whether assisted suicide should be allowed on the island.

Ultimately, 18 out of the 23 of the jurors agreed that assisted suicide should be permitted.

Jersey’s Council of Ministers will now draft legislation to be discussed by the States Assembly by the end of 2022. A vote on a draft law could take place in 2023.

The bishop said: “The Catholic Church is clear that we can never assist in taking the life of another, even if they request it. Killing people and committing suicide is against God’s law.”

“All human life is a gift to be safeguarded from conception until natural death, and we reiterate our call for continuing investment in high-quality palliative care, in order to preserve the dignity of some of our most vulnerable, at such difficult moments in their lives.”

Immaculate Conception: Pope Francis cancels public act of veneration again due to pandemic

Pope Francis prays before the statue of the Immaculate Conception in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna Dec. 8, 2020. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Nov 29, 2021 / 04:37 am (CNA).

For the second year in a row, Pope Francis has canceled the Roman tradition of a public gathering at the Spanish Steps on Dec. 8 to venerate a statue of the Immaculate Conception due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Holy See press office announced on Nov. 27 that instead of the usual outdoor public ceremony, the pope will instead perform a private act of devotion to Our Lady to avoid the formation of a crowd and the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

The pope will ask the Virgin Mary in prayer “to protect the Romans, the city in which they live, and the sick who need Her maternal protection everywhere in the world,” the statement said.

The announcement came after the Italian government unveiled further COVID-19 restrictions entering into force on Dec. 6.

Under the new restrictions, unvaccinated people in Italy will be unable to dine indoors at restaurants, go to the gym, visit museums and other tourist sites, or attend weddings or other public ceremonies until at least Jan. 15.

Last year, Pope Francis made a surprise visit to pray alone at the Immaculate Conception statue in the Piazza di Spagna at 7 a.m. on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary after the traditional public gathering was canceled.

The pope laid a bouquet of white roses at the base of the nearly 40-foot high column which holds the statue of the Immaculate Conception near the Spanish Steps.

Statue of the Immaculate Conception in Rome's Piazza di Spagna Dec. 8, 2019. .  Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
Statue of the Immaculate Conception in Rome's Piazza di Spagna Dec. 8, 2019. . Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

The statue was dedicated on Dec. 8, 1857, three years after Pope Pius IX promulgated a decree defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

Since 1953, it has been a custom for popes to venerate the statue on the feast day. Pius XII was the first to do so, walking nearly two miles from the Vatican.

Rome’s firefighters are usually in attendance at the prayer, in honor of their role at the 1857 inauguration of the statue. The mayor of Rome and other officials also attend.

In addition to Pope Francis’ surprise visit to the statue last year, the pope also visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major, where he prayed before the icon of Salus Populi Romani, Mary Protection of the Roman People.

The pope also offered Mass in the basilica’s Chapel of Nativity, before returning to the Vatican.

Pope Francis is scheduled to preside over several public liturgies in December, including Mass at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 24 and the Urbi et Orbi blessing in St. Peter’s Square on Dec. 25 at noon.

Pope Francis: Life’s essential ingredient is prayer

Pope Francis speaks during the Angelus prayer. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Nov 28, 2021 / 06:52 am (CNA).

On the first Sunday of Advent, Pope Francis reminded Christians that an essential ingredient for living an alert and joyful life is prayer.

“Be awake, guard your heart,” the pope said in his message before the Angelus Nov. 28. “And let’s add an essential ingredient: the secret to being watchful is prayer.”

“In fact, Jesus says: ‘Keep awake at all times praying’ (Luke 21:36). It is prayer that keeps the lamp of the heart burning. Especially when we feel that enthusiasm is cooling, prayer rekindles it, because it brings us back to God, to the center of things,” he added.

The pope also emphasized that “prayer awakens the soul from sleep and focuses it on what matters, on the end of existence.”

“Even on the busiest days, let’s not neglect prayer,” he urged, recommending an easy prayer to say during Advent: “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”

“Let’s repeat this prayer throughout the day, and the soul will remain alert,” he said.

From a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis delivered his weekly Angelus reflection on the day’s Gospel according to St. Luke, in which Jesus warns his disciples about the end of the world and his second coming.

“The Gospel of today’s liturgy, the first Sunday of Advent, that is, the first Sunday of preparation for Christmas, speaks to us of the coming of the Lord at the end of time,” the pope explained.

“Jesus announces desolating events and tribulations, but precisely at this point he invites us not to be afraid,” Francis continued. “Why? Because will everything be okay? No, but because he will come. Jesus will come back, Jesus will come, he promised it. He says thus: ‘Rise up and lift up your heads, for your deliverance is near.’”

The pope warned people not to become “sleepy Christians,” who let their hearts become lazy and “their spiritual life soften into mediocrity.”

“We need to be vigilant so as not to drag the days into routine, so as not to be burdened – says Jesus – by the troubles of life,” he stated.

Francis said the beginning of Advent is a good time to ask ourselves what is weighing down our hearts and burdening our spirits: “What are the mediocrities that paralyze me, the vices, what are the vices that crush me to the ground and prevent me from raising my head?”

We should also ask ourselves if we are attentive or indifferent to the burdens of our brothers and sisters, he added. “These questions are good for us, because they help guard the heart from acedia.”

Acedia, also called sloth, “is a great enemy of the spiritual life,” he said. “Acedia is that laziness that falls, slips into sadness, which takes away the enjoyment of life and the desire to act.”

According to Francis, this negative spirit “nails the soul down in numbness, robbing its joy.”

He said “precisely in the moments when everything seems over, the Lord comes to save us; await him with joy even in the heart of tribulations, in the crises of life and in the dramas of history. Wait for the Lord.”

“Let us pray to Our Lady: may she, who awaited the Lord with a vigilant heart, accompany us on the journey of Advent,” he stated.

After praying the Angelus in Latin, the pope noted the presence in St. Peter’s Square of a fraternal association of migrants and non-migrants with whom he met Nov. 27.

He reflected on how many lives are lost at the borders, and said he was sad to hear about the migrants, including children, who died recently in the English Channel, in the Mediterranean, and at the border of Belarus: “I have so much pain thinking about them.”

Francis also noted that migrants who are forced to return to their home countries sometimes face capture by human traffickers who sell them into slavery.

“To migrants who find themselves in these situations of crisis, I assure you of my prayers, and also of my heart: know that I am always close to you,” the pope stated.

“Pray and act,” he added. “I thank all the institutions of both the Catholic Church and elsewhere, especially the national Caritas and all those who are committed to alleviating their suffering.”

Francis made an appeal to those in a position to help find a solution to the problems which lead to the death and exploitation of immigration and refugees, “so that understanding and dialogue finally prevail over any kind of exploitation and direct the will and efforts towards solutions that respect the humanity of these people.”

“Let us think of migrants, of their suffering, and pray in silence,” he said, pausing for prayer.

Bishops of Puerto Rico express their solidarity with Cuban bishops’ 'desire for freedom'

Fernando Medina/Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Nov 28, 2021 / 00:00 am (CNA).

The Puerto Rican Bishops’ Conference expressed its solidarity with the desire of the Cuban bishops “to be heard, for peace, freedom, sincere dialogue and freedom of speech to address the major problems” confronting the island nation.

"From Puerto Rico we join in their hopes for a Cuba that, in peace and brotherhood, will achieve the desired changes for a more decent and happy life," the Puerto Rican bishops wrote in a statement published earlier this month.

The message of the Puerto Rican bishops was published as a show of support for their Cuban counterparts, who three days before the planned Nov. 15 nationwide demonstrations supported the people’s right to publicly express "their discontentment over the deterioration of the economic and social situation" on the island.

In their Nov. 12 message, the Cuban bishops also pointed out that the solution will not be reached with "impositions, nor by calling for confrontation."

The Cuban bishops implored “that the paths of understanding, reconciliation and peace be paved so that the various proposals on the present and future destiny of Cuba find an area of common sense, tolerance, fraternity and harmony; and a harmonious and civilized dialogue be established in which the best solutions to the challenges that concern them can be found” in a Cuba in great distress.

Recently, activists and priests in various places in Cuba have denounced the persecution, harassment, and the militarization of the streets to prevent the peaceful marches for freedom in Cuba called for Nov. 15.

The protests were also intended to repeat the massive and historic demonstrations of July 11. Thousands of Cubans took to the streets and raised their voices that day for the first time in decades to demand the end of the communist dictatorship established by the late Fidel Castro 62 years ago and today led by his successor Miguel Díaz-Canel.

According to the Center for Incident Reports of the Foundation for Pan-American Democracy (FDP), part of a Florida-based NGO whose mission is to publicize cases of abuse and persecution in Cuba, since Nov. 15, there have been 108 people arrested and 131 under surveillance in various cities on the island.

Given the situation, the bishops of Puerto Rico urged the faithful to also pray for their brother bishops’ desire for "a gesture of clemency" for "the imprisoned" to be fulfilled.

“We echo their call for non-violence and non-confrontation. We pray for all the Cuban people so that, in these moments of so much anguish, upheaval, pain, and material scarcity as well as a lack of rights and freedoms, they know how to embrace the Christian discourse of peace, love and hope in a Provident and attentive God," they wrote.

Finally, they asked Our Lady of Charity for her intercession and sent a "strong fraternal and supportive embrace."

“Together with you, we pray to Our Lady of Charity who has also made herself known in our homeland due to the devotion of so many dear Cuban brothers and sisters who live in our midst. May she accompany you in your concerns as pastors and intercede for a Cuba, joined together in brotherhood, unified and clothed with true hope,” the Puerto Rican bishops concluded.

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

What makes Dobbs the best, and possibly last, chance to overturn Roe? 

The exterior of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 28, 2021 / 00:00 am (CNA).

Part of a continuing series examining the U.S. Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a direct challenge to the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion throughout the United States.

After nearly a half century of legal abortion throughout the United States, that precedent could fall  — or stand  — through one critical case now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet what makes it possibly the most significant abortion case in decades?

The Supreme Court on Dec. 1 will hear arguments in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, concerning Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks. The court will take up the question of whether all bans on pre-viability abortions are unconstitutional.

Legal experts say the case presents an ideal opportunity for the Supreme Court to reconsider previous rulings that upheld legal abortion nationwide.

The 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, Roe v. Wade, said that states could not ban abortion before the “viability” of the fetus — the point at which unborn child can survive outside the womb, determined by the court to be around 24 to 28 weeks into pregnancy.

Nearly 20 years later, the court upheld that ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, saying that states could regulate pre-viability abortions but could not pose an “undue burden” in doing so.

Mississippi’s law bans most abortions after 15 weeks — well before the point of “viability” as established in Roe and upheld in Casey.

“The Dobbs case presents a square challenge to Roe v. Wade,” said Michael Stokes Paulsen, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, in an email interview with CNA.

“So, Mississippi's law forbids abortions that Roe and Casey say must be permitted,” Paulsen said. “There's no way around the conflict between the Mississippi law and the court's precedents on abortion. One or the other has to go!”

Steve Aden, chief legal officer and general legal counsel for Americans United for Life, agreed that Roe itself is at the heart of the Dobbs case. 

“It is a tremendous historical opportunity for the court to review Roe, and finally throw it on the ash heap of history,” Aden told CNA.

While Mississippi’s law directly challenges Roe and Casey, those rulings themselves were already vulnerable and ripe for reconsideration, said O. Carter Snead, a law professor and director of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame.

Both Snead and Aden helped author separate amicus briefs at the Supreme Court in favor of Mississippi’s law. They both explained to CNA why they think Roe and Casey were so poorly decided.

“Defenders of Roe and Casey hardly ever argue on the substance of those cases’ reasoning,” Snead said. Rather, defenders of those cases appeal to the legal doctrine of stare decisis which “invites the court  — although it does not require it  — to consider the practical consequences of undoing the prior precedent,” he said.

Justice Harry Blackmun, who authored the majority opinion in Roe, grounded the “right” to abortion in the “right to privacy.” He considered it an “unenumerated” right, Snead said, one not listed in the Constitution but nevertheless believed by some to be a right that “we basically discover through our own reflection.”

According to Snead, Blackmun traced the “right to privacy” to the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, which says that no state can “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

However, at the time the amendment was added to the Constitution in 1868, “nobody thought that that [clause] prevented states from protecting unborn children. Nobody thought that,” Snead said. Abortion was outlawed in 30 states at the time, and the remaining states followed common law which also did not allow for abortion, Snead said.

Blackmun, influenced by a “novel” legal theory, disputed that abortion was prohibited under common law, Snead said, calling the argument “completely at odds with the historical record” and saying that it “has been debunked, but nonetheless, constantly repeated.”

The majority opinion in Roe set up a trimester framework for judging state abortion laws. States could not ban or regulate abortion in the first trimester, while they could regulate second trimester abortions but not ban them, according to the ruling. While states could ban third trimester abortions, they had to make exceptions for cases where an “appropriate medical judgment” deemed abortion necessary for the “life or health” of the mother,” Blackmun noted.

This “exception” could be interpreted in a liberal way to allow for many late-term abortions, Snead argued.

“Which means, in effect, that we have the most permissive regime of abortion, almost in the world,” Snead said. The United States is one of just seven countries which allow for legal abortion nationwide after 20 weeks.

Blackmun’s claims in the Roe ruling have not held up over time, Aden argued, including his skepticism over when life begins.

“Roe presumed that abortion would be a decision between a woman and her doctor,” Aden said, but “virtually all” abortions now are performed by doctors who are not a woman’s primary physician.

Roe’s assertion that abortion is safe “relied on eight different authorities, which were not peer-reviewed medical authorities,” Aden said. “In fact, abortion is not safer than childbirth,” he said, especially later in a pregnancy.

If the court declines to overturn the Roe and Casey rulings, however, it might raise questions as to when — if ever — it would reconsider those rulings.

“I would never say this is the last chance to do anything,” Snead said, adding that “no case could be better set up than this one [to repeal Roe.]”

If the court does not repeal Roe, “it won’t be the last opportunity,” Aden said. “This court may, in fact, want to take Roe in bite-sized pieces as it were, and not overturn it in one fell swoop, but in significant incremental decisions.”

For instance, he said the court could simply answer that not all state pre-viability abortion bans are unconstitutional, and send the matter back to the lower courts without having repealed Roe. When the lower courts then consider the lawfulness of various state abortion bans, those cases would probably be appealed to the Supreme Court. Then the court conceivably could repeal Roe in one of those later cases.

In the Dobbs ruling, the court could also set up a new standard recognizing legal abortion, Aden said, adding that this would be unlikely.

“That’s the challenge before the court: Can they find a new standard if they junk the Casey ‘undue burden’ standard? Can they find a new standard that’s understandable, predictable, and applicable across the board?” he asked. “My bet is that they can’t, because they haven’t been able to for the 30 years since Casey, and I don’t think anything will change in Dobbs.”

Snead also said that the possibility of such a novel legal standard would be unlikely.

“To simultaneously uphold the law in Mississippi and retain the court’s authority to be the ultimate arbiter of abortion in America, you’d have to reinvent another false, and untethered-to-the-Constitution, right to abortion,” he said.

“And I don’t think that there is an appetite for that among a majority of the justices.”

Paulsen emphasized that the Dobbs case is the ideal opportunity to overturn Roe.

“There is no way around it. There is no ‘middle solution’ — no ‘compromise’ between right and wrong — that is faithful to the Constitution,” he said. “This is the case. This is the time.” 

Everything you need to know about the Advent wreath

Advent wreath / Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Nov 27, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

During the holidays, nativity scenes and Christmas trees decorate most Catholic homes, but what about Advent wreaths? 

Advent wreaths are traditionally made from evergreen branches and have four candles. The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent—three candles are purple, and one is a rose color. 

The purple represents prayer, penance, and preparation for the coming of Christ. Historically, Advent was known as a “little Lent,” which is why the penitential color of purple is used. During Lent, we prepare for the resurrection of Christ on Easter. Similarly, during Advent, we prepare for the coming of Christ, both on Christmas and at the second coming. 

The rose candle is illuminated on the third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday. At Mass on the third Sunday, the priest will also wear rose colored vestments. Gaudete Sunday is a day for rejoicing and joy as the faithful draw near to the birth of Jesus, and it marks the midpoint of Advent. 

“The progressive lighting of the candles represents the expectation and hope surrounding our Lord’s coming into the world and the anticipation of his second coming to judge the living and the dead,” says the USCCB.

During the Advent season, the faithful will also notice a common theme in the Gospel readings. The readings focus on preparation or “making straight the path of the Lord,” penance, and fasting. All of these things remind us of the importance of preparing our hearts for the Lord and making room for his presence in our lives. 

Did you know?

The Advent wreath originated from a pagan European tradition, which consisted of lighting candles during the winter to ask the sun god to return with his light and warmth.

The first missionaries took advantage of this tradition to evangelize to people and taught them that they should use the Advent wreath as a way of preparing for Christ’s birth, and to celebrate his nativity and beg Jesus to infuse his light in their souls.

The circle of the Advent wreath is a geometric figure that has neither a beginning nor an end. It reminds us that God does not have a beginning or an end either, which reflects his unity and eternity. It is a sign of the unending love that the faithful should show the Lord and their neighbors, which must be constantly renewed and never stop.

The green color of the wreath represents hope and life. The Advent wreath reminds us that Christ is alive among us, and that we must cultivate a life of grace, spiritual growth, and hope during Advent. 

Bless your Advent wreath

The blessing of an Advent wreath takes place on the First Sunday of Advent or on the evening before the First Sunday of Advent.

When the blessing of the Advent wreath is celebrated in the home, it is appropriate that it be blessed by a parent or another member of the family.
To bless your Advent wreath at home, follow our guide, “How to bless your Advent wreath at home.