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Feature News | Wednesday, April 19, 2023

News briefs from across the country and around the world

Papal academy launches study center to evaluate Marian apparitions

ROME (CNS) | The Pontifical International Marian Academy has created a commission to study and monitor cases of alleged Marian apparitions and other mystical phenomena. The new "observatory" or monitoring body was officially inaugurated at the academy in Rome, April 15, 2023, and will study cases that have not yet received an official Church pronouncement regarding their authenticity. Its purpose is "to provide concrete support to the study, authentication and correct disclosure of such events, always in harmony with Church teaching, relevant authorities and applicable norms of the Holy See," Franciscan Father Stefano Cecchin, president of the Marian academy, said April 13. It will specialize in cases such as alleged Marian apparitions, "weeping" statues of Mary, private revelations and stigmata. "It is important to provide clarity because often presumed messages generate confusion, spread anxiety-inducing apocalyptic scenarios or even accusations against the pope and the Church," he said in a written press release. "How could Mary, mother of the Church, undermine (the Church's) integrity or sow fear and conflict, she who is mother of mercy and queen of peace?" he asked.


Children working in agriculture face grueling labor with little legal protection, speakers say

RALEIGH, N.C. (OSV News) | In March, advocates for children's and farmworkers' rights discussed the realities of hundreds of thousands of children working in the agricultural industry, whose grueling work rarely violates child labor laws. "There are an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 child farmworkers in the U.S.," said Julie Taylor, executive director of the Raleigh-based National Farm Worker Ministry (NFWM). She added that because some of the pay for this work is irregular, it is difficult to measure exactly how many children are participating in the difficult work of planting, harvesting, processing and packaging the food people eat every day. A faith-based organization committed to social, economic and racial justice for farmworkers, NFWM hosted, along with the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), a March 28, 2023, seminar to discuss the "landscape of child labor in agriculture." Taylor explained that today the federal minimum age for full-time work in agriculture is 12 years old, as long as children have their parent's permission and continue to attend school. In the agricultural sector, young people can do work classified as "hazardous" at age 16, as opposed to 18 as in other industries. "There is a serious lack of legal protection for them," Taylor said. She added that several states "do not have any limits in the amount of hours children work" and that some allow children under 16 to work seven days a week in agriculture.


U.S. bishops call on Catholics to support measure in Congress over transgender athletes in female sports

WASHINGTON (OSV News) | The U.S. bishops are calling on Catholics to contact their representatives and senators in Congress and urge them to vote for a bill that would protect women and girls' opportunities in sports by requiring federally funded female sports programs "to be reserved for biological females." The proposed Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act, introduced in the U.S. House and Senate, "would promote fairness and safety for women and girls by ensuring female athletes can compete on a safe and level playing field with other females," the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in an April 14, 2023, alert on the vote, which is expected during the week of April 17. The bill is "consistent" with the Catholic Church's "clear teaching on the equality of men and women and the truth that we are created male and female," the USCCB said. "Youth who experience gender identity discordance should be able to participate in sports, and any harassment against these young people is unequivocally wrong," it said, adding that by passing the measure, S. 613/HR 734, "Congress would not deny such youth the ability to play sports, but would simply be protecting women and girls and preserving their hard-won opportunities." The companion bills would make it a federal crime under Title IX for anyone who receives federal funds and operates, sponsors, or facilitates athletic programs to allow biological males to compete in athletic programs that are designated for women or girls.


Arizona bishops praise governor's veto of 'problematic' gun legislation

PHOENIX (OSV News) | Arizona's Catholic bishops praised the state's Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs for vetoing gun legislation they called "problematic" and not authentic solutions for the "root causes of gun violence." Hobbs on April 17, 2023, vetoed two bills approved by the state's legislature. The first would have allowed parents with a concealed weapons permit to bring their guns onto a school campus and would have required schools to host firearms safety training for students in grades six through 12. The second bill would have legalized silencers, devices attached to a gun's muzzle that reduce the loud noise of gunshots. In a letter accompanying her veto, Hobbs wrote, "Mandatory firearm safety training in schools is not the solution to gun violence prevention." Hobbs said she will "continue fighting for public safety measures that protect our schools and Arizona families from senseless acts of gun violence." The bishops of the Arizona Catholic Conference, Phoenix Bishop John P. Dolan and Phoenix Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares, Tucson Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger, and James S. Wall of Gallup, New Mexico (whose diocese includes part of Arizona) in a joint statement praised Hobbs' veto. "These proposals are not solutions to the root causes of gun violence which, unfortunately, continue to grow rapidly in our society," they said. The bishops said more needed to be done to promote the value of human life in the culture and sufficiently address mental health.


Steady decline of U.S. Latinos identifying as Catholics sounds alarm to 'shift gears'

WASHINGTON (OSV News) | The percentage of Hispanic adults identifying as Catholic declined from 67% in 2010 to 43% in 2022, according to a Pew Research Center study released April 13, 2023. At the same time, U.S. Latinos who identify as religiously unaffiliated (describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or "nothing in particular") increased from 10% in 2010 to 30% in 2022. Hosffman Ospino, a Boston College professor with years of experience examining the role of Hispanic Catholics in the future of the Catholic Church in the U.S, said that this decline has been "in the works" for decades and that younger generations of Latinos are less likely to identify as Catholic, mirroring trends across other ethnicities. Despite the 24% decline over the last decade, Catholics remain the largest religious group among Latinos in the United States, the Pew report said. Latinos also remain about "twice as likely as U.S. adults overall to identify as Catholic." The Pew study also indicated that about half (49%) of U.S. Latinos ages 18 to 29 identified as religiously unaffiliated, while 30% identify as Catholic and 15% identify as Protestant. These steady shifts could have wide-ranging implications in the future as Hispanic Catholics make up close to 45% of all Catholics in the country. About 60% of all Catholics younger than 18 are Hispanic. "Let's keep investing in the immigrant Hispanic community, but also redouble the energy and resources bringing the Gospel among those who are U.S.-born and try to retain them. Otherwise, we will lose them," Ospino said.


Leading Catholic lawmaker calls on Defense secretary to back military archbishop in Walter Reed dispute

WASHINGTON (OSV News) | A leading Catholic lawmaker and religious freedom advocate has called on the Biden administration to support the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services in a dispute over a long-running Catholic pastoral care contract that a leading U.S. military medical center awarded to a secular defense contractor. Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, issued an April 4, 2023, "cease and desist" order to Holy Name College Friary, a community of Franciscan priests and brothers in Silver Spring, Maryland, who have served service members and veterans at Walter Reed for nearly two decades. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., wrote in an April 14 letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, that the Franciscan priests and brothers "have a strong record of providing pastoral care to military patients and veterans at Walter Reed" and were barred "from providing any form of religious services" right before the holiest week of the year for Christians. Smith said it showed "questionable judgment" that a Catholic pastoral care contract would be awarded to "a for-profit company best suited to provide industrial services instead of a Catholic religious institution with a strong record of providing pastoral services," Smith said. Smith noted his concerns for the First Amendment religious freedom rights of U.S. Catholics. A spokesperson for Walter Reed told OSV News the "current pastoral care contract is under review to ensure it adequately supports the religious needs of our patients and beneficiaries."


'Keyboard warriors' don't evangelize, pope says, they just argue

VATICAN CITY (CNS) | Sharing the Gospel requires literally "going out," witnessing to the joy of faith in person and not just sitting at home, being "keyboard warriors" who argue with others online, Pope Francis said. "One does not proclaim the Gospel standing still, locked in an office, at one's desk or at one's computer, arguing like 'keyboard warriors' and replacing the creativity of proclamation with copy-and-paste ideas taken from here and there," the pope said April 12, 2023, during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square. Holding the audience during the Octave of Easter, with tens of thousands of daffodils and tulips still decorating the square, the pope continued his series of audience talks about "evangelical zeal," looking at how that differs from pretending to share the Gospel while really just seeking attention or pushing one's own ideas. At the end of the audience, before leading prayers for peace in Ukraine, Pope Francis noted that April 11 was the 60th anniversary of St. John XXIII's encyclical, "Pacem in Terris" ("Peace on Earth"). The encyclical, he said, offered humanity "a glimpse of serenity in the midst of dark clouds" of high tension between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The document, published in 1963, is as relevant as ever, Pope Francis said, reading one line as an example: "Relations between states, as between individuals, must be regulated not by armed force, but in accordance with the principles of right reason: the principles, that is, of truth, justice and vigorous and sincere co-operation."


Synod's 'messy,' 'joyful' North American phase concludes with call to mission, moves to Rome

WASHINGTON (OSV News) | The final document of the latest phase of the 2021-2024 Synod on Synodality was released April 12, 2023, capturing a process of dialogue and discernment that two participants described to OSV News as "messy," joyful and unifying — like the synod itself. "It's amazing what comes about when ... you invoke the Holy Spirit in the conversation," said Julia McStravog, a theologian and co-coordinator for the North American team for the continental phase of the synod. "The synodal approach provoked a genuine appreciation and joyfulness on the part of the people of God to be able to engage in conversation, even if they were talking about difficult issues," said team co-coordinator Richard Coll, who also serves as executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development. Three key themes emerged from the continental phase of the synod: the implications of baptism, communion with Christ and one another, and missionary discipleship as a living out of the baptismal calling. Participants noted the need to reach out to marginalized groups, including women, youth, divorced and civilly remarried Catholics who have not received annulments, persons with disabilities, and those in the LGBTQ+ community. The wounds of the clerical and residential school abuse scandals also remain raw, and broader trends of social polarization also threaten church unity. Yet Coll and McStravog stressed to OSV News the need for both hope and humility as the synod moves into its next phase. "We don't have all the answers, and none of this is pre-packaged," said Coll. "You have to trust that the Spirit will be there to guide us despite the messiness — or maybe because of it."


Florida immigration bill criminalizing transporting undocumented immigrants has religious liberty implications, faith leaders say

TALLAHASSEE (OSV News) | A bill in Florida that supporters say would crack down on illegal immigration in the Sunshine State has prompted concerns from some faith leaders that it could criminalize some ministries that serve the state's migrant population. The legislation comes as Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to soon launch a bid for the Republican nomination in 2024. The Florida legislature is considering a package of wide-reaching immigration measures that would seek to curb illegal immigration in the state. Part of that package, Senate Bill 1718, would make it a felony to shelter or transport immigrants without legal status into or within Florida, among other measures like prohibitions on hiring them or requiring hospitals to ask patients for their immigration status. The bill is seen as likely to pass the Florida legislature, where Republican supermajorities control both chambers. DeSantis has backed the legislation. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about concerns with the bill among faith communities in the state. Catholics and other faith communities in Florida have raised concerns that the bill could jeopardize some of their ministries, including rides to church services or to ministries that serve the vulnerable without regard to immigration status, such as soup kitchens and accommodations in homeless shelters. Michele Taylor, associate director for communications for the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, told OSV News that, "While supporters of the bill are rightly concerned about inaction on immigration policy at the federal level, the bill creates great harm by prohibiting activities that benefit society and aid vulnerable members of our communities." She added, "It essentially criminalizes the Christian call to charity and service."


Catholic governor calls on Louisiana lawmakers to abolish the death penalty as 'a pro-life state'

BATON ROUGE, La. (OSV News) | Gov. John Bel Edwards, D-La., called for an end to the death penalty in Louisiana during his State of the State address on Monday, April 10, 2023. "For the first time, I'm calling on the legislature to end the death penalty," said Bel Edwards, who is term-limited and cannot seek re-election to a third consecutive term in the governor's mansion. Bel Edwards, a pro-life Catholic Democrat, told lawmakers that while he was "on the topic of being a pro-life state," he wanted them to "look at the death penalty in Louisiana in 2023 with fresh eyes and an open mind." Asked about Bel Edwards' call to end the death penalty in Louisiana, Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, a group that opposes capital punishment, told OSV News that "we applaud Governor Edwards for calling upon Louisiana's legislature to stop perpetuating a culture of death and finally abolish the death penalty." "His public appeal is an important reminder that governors have an influential role to play in stopping executions and urging death penalty repeals in their states," Vaillancourt Murphy said.


New horror movie on exorcism is 'story of hope,' says Jesuit producer

VATICAN CITY (CNS) | The Jesuit priest who helped produce "The Pope's Exorcist" said horror movie fans will be in for "a fun ride" with the new film that stars Russell Crowe. Jesuit Father Edward J. Siebert, founder and president of Loyola Productions, told Catholic News Service that the film "relies upon familiar biblical, literary and cinematic images to personify the lure of evil against the power of good." "Any story that ends with the enemy's defeat is ultimately a story of hope. And if you are a fan of horror films, this is a fun ride," he said in an email response to questions April 13. 2023. Father Siebert, who is also rector of the Jesuit community at Loyola Marymount University and teaches at its School of Film and Television in Los Angeles, served as an executive producer for the film, released in theaters across the United States April 14. The movie, billed as a "supernatural horror thriller," was inspired by the life and ministry of the late Pauline Father Gabriele Amorth, a longtime and well-known exorcist for the Diocese of Rome who performed tens of thousands of exorcisms until his death in 2016 at the age of 91.

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