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Trenton Catholic Charities apologizes for sponsoring ‘beyond the gender binary’ book reading

View of downtown Trenton, New Jersey. / Credit: Wikimedia Commons

CNA Staff, Jun 25, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Trenton issued an apology for co-sponsoring a children’s “story time” session this month with a book encouraging kids to move “beyond the gender binary.”

“We are very sorry for the confusion and hurt this may have caused. We are currently reviewing what led to our agency’s participation in the book reading. It is important to note that this event took place without the knowledge of or approval by [Trenton] Bishop David M. O’Connell, CM,” Hollis Painting, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton, told CNA.

The book “My Shadow Is Purple” is written by Scott Stuart, a children’s author who, on his website, claims to be “a leading voice on fully accepting and empowering our children, exactly as they are.”

The book reading occurred at the Hamilton Township public library on June 17 and took place in the “children’s room.”

Scott Chianese, the library’s director, told the Daily Wire that Catholic Charities contacted the library to host the book reading and that it was the first event the charity hosted at the library.

A “local” Catholic parent identified only as “Tom” told the outlet that he was shocked by the reading of the book. 

“We seriously question how this sponsorship is anything other than a sad example of secularized virtue signaling,” he told the outlet. “I would also like the Diocese of Trenton to explain how moving children ‘beyond the gender binary’ will move them closer to God?”

Boy in a dress

The rhyme-scheme picture book features a young boy who says his “shadow” is different from his father’s “blue” and his mother’s “pink” shadow.

“My Dad has a shadow that’s blue as a berry, and my Mom’s is as pink as a blossoming cherry. There’s only those choices, a 2 or a 1. But mine is quite different, it’s both and it’s none,” the book says.

Toward the end of the book, the boy gets invited to his school’s dance and he shows up wearing a dress. “I’m ready to rock and I’m feeling cute,” the boy says.

When he gets to the dance, the boy feels that he can’t join the “pink” or the “blue” shadows and is upset that his teacher is making him choose one side. 

“If I cannot be purple, then I cannot stay,” he said. “I’ll leave and go home, I quietly say.”

Then the boy meets other students at the dance who have different-color shadows like he does.

One student says to the boy: “There’s more than two colors our shadows can be. I was too scared before but blue is not me. I know from outside, blue fits like a glove, but my shadow’s yellow, which to me feels like love.”

The apology

In Catholic Charities’ statement to CNA, Painting said: “Our purpose, rooted in our Catholic faith, is to restore dignity and independence to individuals and families in need, particularly the poor and vulnerable.”

“We achieve this through service, advocacy, and community building. For over three decades, we have worked with the New Jersey Department of Children and Families to provide resources to victims of child abuse,” she said.

Painting said that Catholic Charities was chosen for a state grant to provide and sponsor “youth mental wellness and bullying, suicide, and substance-abuse prevention initiatives.”

“On June 17, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton participated in a book reading at a public library as part of this grant program. We understand that, during this event, a book was read that addressed a gender-related topic,” she said.

“While this is a vitally important state program — and one which Catholic Charities is uniquely qualified to execute — our contract clearly states that we will not administer or host any content that may go against the teachings of the Catholic Church or its values; for any such topic, the curriculum is to be delivered by another community-based mental health organization,” Painting said.

Painting called the contract “an important boundary” and added that “we are working to determine how those lines were blurred during this event.”

“We are deeply committed to serving the community and remain focused on helping those in need while ensuring all future activities align with Catholic values and teachings,” she said.

Groups ramp up election spending on anniversary of overturning of Roe v. Wade

null / Credit: Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 24, 2024 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

With Monday marking the second anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, several leading pro-abortion groups have announced plans to collectively spend over $100 million on efforts to advance “abortion rights” across America.

Meanwhile, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America (SBA), one of the nation’s top pro-life groups, plans to spend $92 million this election year. 

Pro-abortion coalition to spend $100 million

A coalition of nine pro-abortion groups calling itself “Abortion Access Now” announced on Monday a campaign to spend $100 million for pro-abortion efforts over the next decade.

The $100 million will be used over the next 10 years on lobbying efforts, grassroots organizing, public education, and communications campaigns to establish a federal right to abortion and to “expand abortion access and coverage,” the group said in a statement Monday.

“We envision a future where abortion … is not only legal but also accessible, affordable, and free from stigma or fear,” the campaign said in a June 24 statement.

Regina Moss, president and CEO of one of the coalition’s member groups, In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, said that two years without Roe v. Wade has exposed “the fact that Roe has never been enough to secure full reproductive autonomy for our communities.”

“We are determined,” she went on, “to continue highlighting the importance of making our voices heard at the polls in a post-Roe world and advocating for policies that go beyond Roe to ensure that we can all make our own decisions about if, when, and how to grow our families in safe, healthy environments.”

In addition to these groups, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) marked the second anniversary of Roe’s overturning by releasing a slew of ads targeting Republicans for their pro-life positions.

Focus on 2024 elections

In the short term, Planned Parenthood Votes, the political arm of the world’s largest abortion organization, announced it would be devoting $40 million to digital, TV, mail, and phone advertising in favor of abortion ballot initiatives and pro-abortion candidates up and down the ballot this election year.

The abortion giant will be targeting eight states: Arizona, Georgia, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

According to a statement from Planned Parenthood Votes, local affiliated organizations will also be devoting resources to running “robust electoral campaigns” in California, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio.

In the statement, Planned Parenthood Votes executive director Jenny Lawson said that “for politicians like Donald Trump who oppose abortion … the end goal has always been full control of our bodies and our medical decisions.”

Lawson said that Planned Parenthood “is fighting for a future with full reproductive freedom for all — no matter who you are, where you live, and how much money you make.”

“With abortion banned or restricted in 21 states and escalating attacks on birth control and IVF access, all the freedoms we’ve fought for are on the line this year,” she added.  

Planned Parenthood’s $40 million adds to the more than $25 million that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) vowed in June to spend on state and national pro-abortion efforts this election cycle.

ACLU’s efforts will include digital and mail ads, paid media, and support for abortion ballot measures.

According to a June 5 statement, the ACLU will concentrate its campaign on 14 states: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

What is the pro-life movement doing?

Kelsey Pritchard, director of state public affairs at SBA, told CNA that her group is dedicating $92 million to voter contact election efforts this year.

SBA’s election efforts will use similar methods as those of Planned Parenthood and the ACLU but with the aim of “stop[ping] Joe Biden and the Democrats from banning states from having pro-life laws and mandating all-trimester abortion in every state across the country.”

This is the largest voter contact initiative in SBA’s history. Pritchard said the campaign will reach 10 million voters, focusing on eight key battleground states that she believes “will determine the outcome of the 2024 election.”

These states are Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Montana, and Georgia.

Since Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022, the pro-life movement has suffered several crushing defeats with sweeping abortion constitutional amendments passing in states like Ohio, Michigan, and California.

Pritchard, however, believes the problem primarily stems from messaging and inadequate spending rather than from voters’ not supporting the pro-life position.

“Pro-abortion activists’ No. 1 tactic is to spread misinformation on pregnant women’s ability to receive emergency care under pro-life laws because they know they will lose if they campaign on enshrining late-term abortion,” she said, adding that “the abortion industry can afford to pour millions into these races because they will see a [return on investment] when they can increase their profits at the expense of babies’ lives.”

Pritchard called on Republican leaders to be more vocal about challenging what she called “Big Abortion’s narrative” and to “inform voters how these amendments enshrine late-term abortion, jeopardize women’s health, and end parental rights.” 

Texas investigates Children’s Hospital over alleged secret sex changes on minors

Texas Children's Hospital. / Credit: Zereshk|Wikipedia|CC BY-SA 3.0

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 24, 2024 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has launched an investigation into allegations that illegal sex-change procedures are being performed on minors at Texas Children’s Hospital. 

The probe follows news reports based on documents a whistleblower shared with City Journal. The outlet reported that Texas Children’s doctor Eithan Haim shared information showing that the hospital system had “secretly continued to perform transgender medical interventions … on minor children” despite it being illegal in Texas. 

Haim has since been indicted for allegedly breaking federal law by violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) while obtaining and disclosing the private health information of Texas Children’s pediatric patients. If found guilty, Haim faces up to 10 years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine.

A representative for Paxton’s office confirmed with CNA on Friday that Texas Children’s is currently being investigated. The hospital system, which is the largest children’s system in the U.S., is being investigated for potential Medicaid fraud in its sex-change program, according to National Review.

In addition to Haim, Texas Children’s nurse Vanessa Sivadge shared with City Journal information indicating that the hospital was “stealing” from the government by billing sex-change procedures on minors to Medicaid, which is illegal in Texas.

Brian Harrison, a Republican in the state Legislature, has also called on the Texas House to hold hearings on the potential Medicaid fraud by Texas Children’s and into the federal government’s actions in attempting to “silence” the whistleblowers.

In a Wednesday statement, Harrison called the administration’s actions “absolutely outrageous” and an attempt to protect “abusive and illegal practices.”

“The Texas House of Representatives must not sit idly by and allow this federal overreach to occur,” he continued.

Headquartered in Houston, Texas Children’s is the largest children’s hospital system in the U.S. The hospital announced in 2022 that it would be ceasing sex-change “therapies” and procedures, citing concerns that these practices were potentially illegal under Texas law.

This followed the publication of a directive by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Paxton that transgender procedures on minors could be considered “child abuse” in Texas. In 2023, Texas passed a law that explicitly bans sex-change procedures on children.

At least three doctors associated with Texas Children’s — Richard Roberts, David Paul, and Kristy Rialon — had continued to perform “gender-affirming” procedures on children throughout 2022 and 2023, according to whistleblower evidence published by Christopher Rufo of the Manhattan Institute. Rufo claimed that Rialon had been performing surgeries on minors ranging in age from 15 to as young as 1.

Sivadge, the nurse at Texas Children’s, further alleged that the hospital was potentially billing transgender procedures on children to Medicaid.

U.S. bishops applaud Supreme Court ruling on domestic violence gun law

Christian Defense Coalition Director Rev. Patrick Mahoney holds a sign that reads "Abusers Should NOT Own Guns!" outside the Supreme Court on June 21, 2024, in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Andrew Harnik/Getty Images

CNA Staff, Jun 24, 2024 / 12:38 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has praised a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gun regulation, saying it will help protect victims of domestic violence by forbidding suspected abusers from owning guns.

The court last week ruled in United States v. Rahimi that “when an individual has been found by a court to pose a credible threat to the physical safety of another, that individual may be temporarily disarmed” without violating the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which allows for broad firearm ownership.

In a statement on Saturday, Archbishop Borys Gudziak — the chairman of the bishops’ Committee for Domestic Justice and Human Development — said “the common good demands that society protect vulnerable women and children from domestic violence.”

“[R]easonable restrictions on gun possession to ensure their safety do not violate the Constitution,” Gudziak, the metropolitan archbishop of Philadelphia of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, said in the statement. 

“Violence in any form is sinful, and the bishops have stated as clearly and strongly as we can that violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified,” the prelate said. 

“We welcome today’s opinion in upholding safeguards for women and children against gun violence. Properly understood, the Constitution does not require that a victim of domestic violence should fear for her life.”

The Supreme Court “has affirmed the government’s ability to protect victims of abuse,” the archbishop said. 

The USCCB had filed an amicus brief in the case in support of the government. In their August 2023 filing the bishops had argued that “the right to bear arms is not an unqualified license that must leave vulnerable family members to live in fear.”

“Abused victims are precisely the people whom a just government is tasked with protecting,” the bishops said. “The Second Amendment does not stand as a barrier to their safety.”

The court’s ruling was near unanimous; Justice Clarence Thomas was the only dissenter from the court’s ruling. The conservative judge argued that the court and the government could not “point to a single historical law revoking a citizen’s Second Amendment right based on possible interpersonal violence.”

“[I]n the interest of ensuring the government can regulate one subset of society, today’s decision puts at risk the Second Amendment rights of many more,” the justice said.

This is not the only gun-related decision from the high court this year. 

Last month the Supreme Court struck down a Trump-era federal rule that banned “bump stocks,” with the court arguing that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives had overstepped its authority in banning the rapid-fire gun accessories. 

Trump Distancers?

Trump Distancers?

Recent months brought two developments that could (and should) give influential voices within conservative Catholicism the opportunity to distance themselves from Donald Trump as the Republican party’s candidate for president.

The first was Trump’s statement in April that he would not support a nationwide abortion ban, thus putting him at odds with, among others, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has continued to characterize abortion as the “pre-eminent” issue for voters. The second was Trump’s felony conviction, in May, on thirty-four counts of falsifying business records in relation to paying off porn star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election. (His sentencing is set for July 11, just days before the Republican convention in Milwaukee.)

Indeed, there are already signs of that distancing. While Trump-supporting Evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress remain firm in their backing, Catholic voices on the Right appear to be seeking a different dynamic. Though there’s been criticism about the alleged political motives behind Trump’s criminal trial and conviction, Catholic conservatives don’t seem to be quite as enthusiastic about him or his movement as their white Evangelical counterparts. In a recent First Things podcast, Sohrab Ahmari—though calling the New York trial politically motivated—talked about the need “to forge a new American center.” In a May 14 article in First Things, Jonathon Van Maren wrote that “it would be shortsighted to dismiss the pro-choice rhetoric of Donald Trump and other MAGA figures as mere electioneering.... There are indications that the Trump campaign now sees pro-lifers as a political inconvenience.” In April, Carl Trueman characterized Trump as “a candidate for the presidency who treats Christians as nothing more than promising marks for his hucksterism.” These seem a departure from the manifesto “against the dead consensus” that First Things published in March 2019. (“We embrace the new nationalism insofar as it stands against the utopian ideal of a borderless world that, in practice, leads to universal tyranny. Whatever else might be said about it, the Trump phenomenon has opened up space in which to pose these questions anew. We will guard that space jealously.”)

Trump’s amorality has always been evident, but now that he has dropped the pretenses that were necessary in appealing to religious voters in 2016 and 2020, it seems to have some conservative Catholics recalculating their relationship to him. It isn’t explicitly an anti-Trump or “never Trump” response. It’s more like a purposeful “non-Trump” posture. Disavowing Trump and Trumpism now is perhaps a way to avoid being associated with the developments of recent months, or of being seen as complicit with what a second Trump term could bring. It may also be a way to get positioned for a possible post-Trump era. Either way, it could accelerate recent ideological shifts among right-of-center Catholics and neo-Catholic intellectuals looking for a new collective cultural and theological identity.

There is a historical precedent. Near the end of World War II, some twenty years after its endorsement of Mussolini in the 1920s, the Vatican understood that its deal with the devil was endangering the moral and institutional survival of the Catholic Church (it was even putting the personal safety of Pius XII at risk, given the Allied bombings of occupied Rome and the real risk of the pope being kidnapped by the Nazis). The years after World War II saw the creation—with the blessing of the Vatican—of Europe’s centrist Christian-Democratic parties. There’s also the example of the 1970s: sensing the corruption that was creeping into those Christian-Democratic parties, some European Catholic post–Vatican II political movements declared a “religious option” that reframed the relationship between Catholic identity and political action. That meant greater autonomy for the Catholic laity from the party that religious voters were supposed to support; the Church (the Vatican and bishops) then also pulled back on political messaging and rhetoric to voters during the campaigns.

Of course, a Catholic party has never been in the cards for the United States, and it’s even less likely now, given the diminishing role of religion and religious institutions. But there is still something to take from this example. Perhaps, for instance, conservative Catholics will embark on a new path when it comes to politics—not electorally, but in how they position themselves vis-à-vis Trump and the GOP.  Unsurprisingly, the USCCB did not acknowledge the evolving political climate at its June meeting in Louisville, making no mention of how its declaration of abortion as the “pre-eminent” issue for voters will be affected. The emphasis for now seems to be on the National Eucharistic Revival, which is in part a response to the Vatican’s rebuke in 2021 over attempts to deny communion to President Biden and Nancy Pelosi. But in a welcome statement a few days after the meeting, Archbishop Borys Gudziak, chairman of the USCCB Committee for Domestic Justice and Human Development, urged all Christians and people of good will to avoid political violence and instead pursue peace through dialogue and justice: “People in public office are receiving more death threats than ever before, some of which turn into physical attacks. About half of Americans expect there will be violence in response to future presidential elections results.”

The fact is that there is no moral, intellectual, and theological center of gravity anymore, in either our political or our ecclesial system. Many Catholics seem to be reconsidering their relationship with the pivotal figure of the last three election cycles. This is especially true for those who clearly do not identify with or support Joe Biden and the Democratic party. Trump’s continued grip on the GOP is more and more of a problem for conservative religious leaders who have realized that any hope of domesticating or “baptizing” him is futile.

With the way the campaign is unfolding, and with the very real prospect of a second Trump presidency, Catholic conservatism may not have a natural party affiliation in the United States. The transformation of the GOP under Trump makes it a bad fit, and the Democrats are clearly not an option. The feeling of political homelessness may only add to the sense of cultural displacement in a country that continues to grow more secular. Perhaps the perceived risk of moral contamination from Trumpism will prompt a new focus on theology and doctrine—a “religious option” that functions as an off-ramp from the focus on politics. That might lead to an alternative (not a mirror-like opposition) to the predominance of identity politics and social-justice theological sensibilities on the Catholic Left. It remains to be seen how post-Trump Catholic conservatism will view the relationship between church and state, especially if, as some believe, integralism has waned since 2016 and 2020. But it is scarcely conceivable that it will follow the example of centrist, anti-Fascist political Catholicism in Italy, which accepted and contributed to a non-hostile, collaborative, and Church-friendly regime of laïcité.

None of this is likely to change American politics at large. But it might change the intra-ecclesial conversation, fostering new input and insights from the Right. As to the Left: it will be interesting to see what happens as the generation of Catholic Democrats symbolized by Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and John Kerry passes. In a political system that is ideologically centrifugal and tends to push away from the center, the reactions to a second Trump presidency might have a paradoxically stabilizing effect on American Catholicism. In any case, preparations for a post-Trump era should begin now, because the call to political violence and damage to the credibility of the Christian faith done in his name will continue, whatever the result of the next presidential election.

Massimo Faggioli

Stubborn Faith

Stubborn Faith

How do people keep their faith, when it seems as if their faith has turned against them? How can they follow a faith whose leaders believe them to be sinners? Most decide to turn away, knowing they will lead a life with one less source of judgment or criticism. Then there are the stubborn ones who stay. Count me among them.

My Catholic education taught me that God created all of us in his image and likeness and that I should treat others the way I would like to be treated. I have lived my faith according to the Church’s teachings and practiced my faith consistently, even through devastating circumstances: my sister’s death after only six months on Earth, as well as the death of my father, a police officer, in the line of duty. Even through difficult times like those, I continued to believe and trust that God had a plan, even if I could not see it yet.

I have always been grateful for and receptive to what the Church teaches. But recently, some of the leaders of my faith have tried to condemn me for something I have no control over: whom I love. I was fired from my job teaching at a Catholic elementary school because I am gay. The same Church that told me God loves me and made me in his image has taken away my livelihood because of this uncontrollable aspect of myself.

My roots in Maria Regina School in Seaford, New York, run deep. My father attended Maria Regina. I attended from kindergarten to eighth grade, and the education I received there solidified my foundation in the Catholic Church. I went to high school at St. John the Baptist in West Islip, and then Manhattan College—fourteen years of Catholic education in total—and all along, I stayed connected with Maria Regina as an altar server, Eucharistic minister, and director of the school’s annual musical production. A few years after my father’s death, my family, friends, and I created a memorial scholarship to honor him. Every year, we put together a pancake breakfast to raise the scholarship funds to help an eighth-grade boy and girl from Maria Regina attend a Catholic high school. The winners were determined by an essay contest that focused on what a hero meant to them. I also worked as a substitute teacher at Maria Regina when I was pursuing a master’s degree.

After I graduated, I got a job working for Nassau County in the Office of Crime Victim Advocate, helping connect victims to counseling and other services. I had a good job, good health care. But I left it when the principal at Maria Regina called to tell me there was an opening for a third-grade teacher. As I was considering the position, family and friends raised a concern: “If you go to a Catholic school, they do have grounds to fire you if they find out you’re gay.”

At Maria Regina, there was no need to “find out” that I’m gay. I had continued to volunteer in the school and parish. They knew me and my story, and they knew that I had come out after high school. When I took the job, I agreed to the diocese’s stipulation that I wasn’t to discuss my sexual orientation in the classroom and I would have to make any social-media posts private. I didn’t post much on social media anyway, and I didn’t think my sexual orientation needed to be discussed in a third-grade classroom.

So I began teaching third-graders at the school where I learned to be a Catholic. I developed a teaching style that the kids seemed to enjoy, based on my love of Disney characters. But my approach to the students was not childish; I didn’t talk down to them and I took their concerns seriously. I remembered the support system that Maria Regina had provided me in eighth grade when my father died, and I wanted to provide a support system for my kids when they needed it.

But things fell apart in November 2023. Someone had sent a photo from social media of me and my boyfriend kissing to the diocese. Whoever sent it knew the situation well: they knew that the principal and the pastor would support me, or at least wouldn’t see it as grounds for firing. So they went right to the bishop’s office, and the bishop’s office began an investigation.

I learned later that the diocesan education department called an emergency meeting with my pastor and my principal to discuss the situation. At that meeting, someone from the diocese raised the subject of firing. My principal said, “You can’t be serious.” The diocese was unable to view any of my social-media accounts because I had made them private, so they searched through my boyfriend’s accounts, where they found a video in which my boyfriend and I were kissing. They deemed this inappropriate.

As we had agreed from the start, I had made all my social-media accounts private, and I didn’t think that they could really hold me accountable for something that somebody else posted. But the day after Christmas, when I was still planning lessons for the rest of the school year, the pastor asked me to come into his office the following morning. I thought it was going to be a slap on the wrist; I knew that both the principal and the pastor were advocating for me.

The next morning, I found out that my pastor had been instructed to read me a letter from the diocesan human-resources office. The text came from the diocese, but it was on parish letterhead. It said that the social-media posts that they had found “violate our policy on what a Catholic school teacher must be in both their words and actions.” It concluded, “The decision to terminate your employment was based on these serious policy violations and the negative impact your public actions have had on our reputation and workplace/student environment.”

The diocese had strong-armed my pastor into firing me but didn’t have the nerve to tell me themselves. As we were leaving the meeting, my pastor broke down in tears. “You have no idea how hard we fought for you,” he said.

There were many more tears to come. The parents of my students reached out to me to offer support and express their sadness at the news. They organized a rally of about one hundred people outside St. Agnes Cathedral to voice their displeasure at the bishop’s decision. I cried during the final performance of Maria Regina’s musical when one of the directors presented me with a rose and gave a speech that led to a standing ovation. My third graders gathered around me and I gave them a big hug—I knew this would probably be the last time I would see them at the school.

As I said, I’m one of the stubborn ones. This abrupt change in my life has not cost me my faith. I still go to Mass every Sunday, though usually at a neighboring parish, Our Lady of Lourdes. I’m sad that it is difficult for me to go back to Maria Regina for Mass. This is true even though it was not my pastor or my principal who fired me, but the diocese. When they look at me, they don’t see a teacher who loves his job and whose students look up to him, but a disgusting sinner who needed to be removed. No matter what the human beings who run the Church might say, God made me this way.

I would like to ask Bishop John O. Barres why he feels I should not be allowed back in a diocesan classroom. I would like to know why I was only made aware of this after the decision had already been finalized. Why was a teacher who had never had any prior incidents fired on his first “offense”? Why did the diocese not reach out to me and address their concerns? If they had, I would have taken down any problematic posts or addressed the issue and continued my vocation as a Catholic educator, as I promised the diocese I would do when they hired me.

For now, I’m looking for work in public schools and seeing where it leads. But at the end of the day, I’m still a Catholic, and I still want to teach in Catholic school. I just want my job back. I want to be back in my classroom with my kids. As I told my students at an emotional Mass after the firing, God did not do this to me. I do not want my story to be a reason why anyone would turn their back on our faith. I only hope that one day all will be welcome in the Church that I have always loved.

Michael Califano

On two-year anniversary of Dobbs, pro-life activists remember the historic day

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, celebrates outside of the Supreme Court after the overturn of Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022. / Credit: Students for Life of America/Kevin Feliciano

CNA Staff, Jun 24, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

It was slightly past 10 a.m. on June 24, 2022, a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. Hundreds were gathered outside the Supreme Court of the United States waiting for what the justices would decide in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, which would overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. 

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, delivered the decision to the crowd from the steps of the Supreme Court: “The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion.”

Immediately following her words, tears of joy were shed by one side of the crowd while the other was filled with disappointment. 

Savanna Deretich, federal government affairs coordinator for Students for Life of America, was at the Supreme Court on that historic day and told CNA she experienced the “purest joy” and for the first time knew “what it meant to actually just weep because you were so happy.”

Savanna Deretich, federal government affairs coordinator for Students for Life of America, celebrates the overturn on Roe v. Wade outside of the Supreme Court on June 24, 2022. Credit: Students for Life of America/Kevin Feliciano
Savanna Deretich, federal government affairs coordinator for Students for Life of America, celebrates the overturn on Roe v. Wade outside of the Supreme Court on June 24, 2022. Credit: Students for Life of America/Kevin Feliciano

Deretich, who at the time of the overturning was the state government affairs coordinator for Students for Life, was already in D.C. with other staff and roughly 200 of the group’s top student leaders for their annual National Leadership Collective. On the day the decision was made, knowing it would most likely happen then, the entire group spent part of their day at the Supreme Court before going back to their training.

“When the decision happened it was one of the best experiences of our lives because we had about 200 students flood the court with their ‘I’m the pro-life generation’ signs [and] ‘I’m part of the post-Roe generation,’” she said. “So, it was an honor to be with Students for Life as well as all of our top student leaders to be there for that moment.”

Despite the extreme heat and being “drenched in our own sweat,” Deretich said that “we were so happy I don’t think any of us really cared or realized how hot it was.”

The 25-year-old grew up in a Christian, home-schooling household where she was taught from a young age about the sanctity of life. When she was in high school she did an internship with her local pro-life organization, but it wasn’t until infanticide was legalized in New York in 2018 while she was in college that her passion for the life cause was truly ignited. 

“I remember looking at my phone and seeing the recording of New York legislators cheering in joy that they passed an infanticide bill and immediately — I’ve never felt this feeling before — but this burning fire ignited in my heart and I knew … in that moment I had to protect life in law. That was going to be my life’s mission,” she recalled. 

Savannah Dudzik (center) outside of the Supreme Court with two other pro-lifers on the day Roe v. Wade was overturned on June 24, 2022. Credit: Photo courtesy of Savannah Dudzik
Savannah Dudzik (center) outside of the Supreme Court with two other pro-lifers on the day Roe v. Wade was overturned on June 24, 2022. Credit: Photo courtesy of Savannah Dudzik

Another pro-lifer who jumped on the first plane to D.C. when she heard the news was Savannah Dudzik, an events representative with Live Action. At the time she was working for a few pro-life organizations and heard the news while on a Zoom call and immediately started “to cry with joy,” she told CNA in an interview. 

“I got off the Zoom call, and the first person I called was my dad. My dad has been involved in the pro-life movement his whole life as well,” Dudzik recalled. “I told him that I really just wanted to be there, at the Supreme Court, for this historic day. His advice was to book the first flight out of Tampa, so that’s what I did!”

She arrived at the Supreme Court in the afternoon and stayed until dark — celebrating with other pro-lifers.

“There was an overwhelming joy on the pro-life side: Our prayers had been answered! People who had been fighting for this their whole lives were there with tears in their eyes, and all the young people had a renewed vigor,” she said.

Dudzik returned to the Supreme Court the following day for the celebration rally where she said the atmosphere had “an air of sobriety.”

“The ecstatic feeling had worn off a bit and we realized that now this would be a tough issue fought at the federal level and state by state. The fight had only just begun.”

After the overturn of Roe, Dudzik began working with the pro-life organization Live Action, where she attends events across the country spreading the pro-life message and educating people on the truth about abortion. She also became a wife and mother to a baby girl, whom, she said, has given her more motivation to do pro-life work.

“From the second I saw the positive pregnancy test, working in the pro-life movement has become even more personal and close to my heart,” the 22-year-old shared. “Standing in front of the Supreme Court this year after the National March for Life and realizing that in D.C. I could easily kill my 23-week-old baby legally, it brought me to tears.”

She added: “Then, when my little baby girl was born, my vigor for spreading the message of a culture of life grew even more. Children are the greatest blessing — now I know this firsthand. My baby isn’t inhibiting me at all, squashing my dreams, or making my life miserable: She’s actually propelling me to do more to raise awareness and spread a culture of life.”

Savannah Dudzik sits in the airport holding a newspaper sharing the news that Roe v. Wade had been overturned on June 24, 2022. Credit: Photo courtesy of Savannah Dudzik
Savannah Dudzik sits in the airport holding a newspaper sharing the news that Roe v. Wade had been overturned on June 24, 2022. Credit: Photo courtesy of Savannah Dudzik

As for Deretich, soon after the overturn of Roe she took on a new role with Students for Life of America, becoming the government affairs coordinator at the federal level. 

Her main focus now consists of “making sure that even the very pro-life senators and Congress members know that the fight is not over because a lot of them wash their hands like, ‘We’re done now. Roe is overturned,’” she explained, adding: “We still have to talk about it. We still have to take actions on it and the fight is not over. It’s not just a state issue.”

Both Deretich and Dudzik agree there have been many wins since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, including 14 states enacting laws that ban abortion and offer full protection of human life. However, they said there is still much work to be done, in particular this November when several states — including Florida, Colorado, and South Dakota — will be voting on ballot initiatives regarding abortion.

You can find more information regarding state laws on abortion and ballot initiatives here

U.S. bishops commemorate 2nd anniversary of Dobbs ruling

The scene outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., after the court released its decision in the Dobbs abortion case on June 24, 2022. Pro-abortion demonstrators gradually made up a decided majority of the crowd as the day wore on. / Credit: Katie Yoder/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 24, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

The chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ pro-life committee has released a statement commemorating the second anniversary of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, as chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, reflected on the challenges faced by the pro-life movement since the historic decision.

“On June 24, 2024, we celebrate the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, ending the tragic reign of Roe v. Wade,” he said.

“It is a day for thanksgiving to God for answering our prayers and blessing the many years of hard work. This anniversary calls us to reflect on where we have been and where we are going,” Burbidge said.

He then noted recent defeats and upcoming challenges in the fight to protect life in the womb.

“Kansas, Michigan, and Ohio drastically expanded access to abortion,” he said. 

“This fall, as many as 10 additional states will have abortion referenda on their ballots, allowing voters to enshrine ‘abortion rights’ and override existing pro-life safeguards,” Burbidge noted.

Burbidge urged Catholics “to engage their elected officials on all issues endangering life.”

Burbidge then went on to reflect on the power of the Eucharist to transform the current culture, stating that he “cannot help but think the Holy Spirit has inspired our National Eucharistic Revival for such a time as this. Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist has the power to transform our own hearts and the heart of our culture.”

Amid these reflections, Burbidge acknowledged the ongoing commitment of various advocacy groups that assist women facing unexpected and difficult pregnancies. Initiatives such as Walking with Moms in Need exemplify the Church’s dedication to providing comprehensive “material, emotional, and spiritual support,” he said.

Furthermore, Burbidge recognized efforts such as Project Rachel and Respect Life Prayer and Action, which offer assistance to individuals affected by abortion and encourage proactive engagement in legislative processes.

“Jesus tells us: I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly’ (Jn 10:10),” Burbidge said. “I pray we will be united in our efforts to protect God’s gift of life, in every stage and circumstance.”

This year, a unique convergence of historical milestones not only brings attention to the second anniversary of the Dobbs ruling but also the first National Eucharistic Congress of its kind in more than 80 years.

In recognizing this, Burbidge concluded his statement by inspiring all to “draw strength from our communion in the body and blood of Christ our savior” during this significant time.

How principals and Partnership Schools are keeping historic inner-city Catholic schools alive 

Archbishop Lyke students in the school library in 2022. / Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools

CNA Staff, Jun 23, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

When historic Catholic schools started closing across the nation, an organization that manages Catholic schools in low-income communities stepped in.

With four schools in Cleveland and seven in New York City, Partnership Schools is helping to manage, support, and fund schools in need while providing scholarships for students to be able to attend their local Catholic schools. 

Initially launched as a fundraising organization, Partnership Schools shifted to a management and operations organization in 2013 to better amplify its impact, making it academically, operationally, and financially responsible for each school it partners with while the schools remain owned by their local dioceses. The group provides curricula, offers professional development for teachers, fundraises, and manages things such as payroll.  

The Partnership Schools model enables dioceses to retain ownership of the schools while the organization takes full responsibility for them.

St. Thomas Aquinas students on the playground in Cleveland in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools
St. Thomas Aquinas students on the playground in Cleveland in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools

St. Thomas Aquinas: a 125-year legacy 

When a Catholic school that had been in operation more than 100 years needed help staying open, it decided to work with Partnership Schools. But first, it had to get the pope’s permission. 

St. Thomas Aquinas School in Cleveland started by serving Irish and German immigrants in 1899. Scheduled to close in 2020, the school was able to stay open by working with Partnership Schools. Now, nearly 125 years since its founding, St. Thomas is thriving and serves students in the local community. 

“For about the last 60 years or so, we have been serving a predominantly Black community, and that still is the case now,” principal Rachael Dengler told CNA in a Zoom interview. “We have 250 students currently enrolled. One hundred percent of them are Black. Actually, zero percent of them are Catholic, but many come from a strong Christian faith and live in the neighborhood, so this is a community school to them.”

Though no Catholic students attend St. Thomas Aquinas, the school fosters community, teaches the faith, and finds commonalities with its largely Protestant students and families.

“When our beliefs and our values are so aligned, it’s not difficult to find a common ground in Christ,” Dengler explained.

“We are surrounded by Cleveland public schools, and so [parents] certainly have their options that aren’t Catholic,” she said. “But I think when parents see an education that’s driven in values and driven in beliefs that are aligned with how they were raised themselves or how they want their children to be raised, I think it really does become a pretty simple decision.”

Unlike most parochial Catholic schools, St. Thomas is no longer affiliated with a local parish and is now under the local bishop. Because he was reassigned before he could officially approve of St. Thomas joining Partnership Schools, then-Bishop Nelson Perez (now archbishop of Philadelphia) needed Pope Francis’ permission to get the program running.

“The pope ended up approving of this collaboration, which was a really different turn,” Dengler recalled. “Then, two weeks later, every school in the nation shut down for COVID, and that was in the midst of becoming a Partnership school. That was also the same year I was hired to be the principal.”

Despite the added challenges, the school’s enrollment increased by about 40% in the last four years since St. Thomas first partnered with Partnership Schools in 2020. 

“We wouldn’t be celebrating our 125th year if it weren’t for being a part of the network,” she explained. 

Dengler said she’s worked with students whose grandparents and parents have attended the school. 

“It’s a beautiful thing to feel like you’re a part of a family in a community that’s been there far longer than you have and will certainly outlast any individual’s time there,” she said. 

Rachael Denglar at St. Thomas Aquinas in Cleveland in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools
Rachael Denglar at St. Thomas Aquinas in Cleveland in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools

Though the school has changed over the generations, it has maintained its Catholic identity, especially by keeping its chapel accessible, Dengler explained.

“Because there is no parish, because there are challenges to the creation of community in the neighborhood, it is the school that is intentionally emotionally creating a sense of community,” she said.

“[Families] may not be Catholic, but they love being a part of a Catholic school, and they love and are proud of sharing where they go to school,” Dengler said. “And I think it’s because of the values that we uphold and the love that we have for them, regardless of whatever faith that they practice.”

St. Athanasius students at a play area at St. Athanasius in the South Bronx, New York City, in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools
St. Athanasius students at a play area at St. Athanasius in the South Bronx, New York City, in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools

111 years in the Bronx

After 11 years of managing the seven New York Catholic schools in the Partnership Schools organization, the Archdiocese of New York will resume management of them, a spokeswoman for Partnership Schools told CNA on Tuesday.   

Beth Blaufuss, Partnership School vice president for strategic initiatives, said that though they are sad to say goodbye to the schools, they were only ever “stewards.”

St. Athanasius School in the South Bronx is one of the schools that Partnership Schools has helped preserve for the past 11 years. It opened in 1913 and has centered the local community for 111 years, including when it was suffering from rampant arson by landlords in the 1970s.

Jessica Aybar, current principal of St. Athanasius in the South Bronx, said community has been a key part of the school both now and in the troubled past.

“At that time, the school was obviously still standing but serving a population that was really traumatized,” she explained. “It was a very normal occurrence for kids to come to school in their pajamas because their apartment building burned down the night before.”

“At the height of the Bronx’s burning era, the school went from having 16 classrooms to having nine,” she continued. “So in terms of enrollment, it was pretty much demolished.”

Jessica Aybar, principal of St. Athanasius in the South Bronx, New York City, in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools
Jessica Aybar, principal of St. Athanasius in the South Bronx, New York City, in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools

Decades later, the school reached 280 students in 2012. Then, while under Partnership Schools, St. Athanasius nearly doubled, reaching 440 students. 

“There is a ton of growth in terms of enrollment. I would say a rebirth, a renaissance, of Catholic schools in our neighborhood due to the Partnership support,” Aybar explained.

“A lot of times, families in our neighborhood think they can’t afford a quality Catholic school to attend,” she continued. “Partnership Schools has done so much to change the narrative and to make Catholic education accessible to as many students as possible.”

St. Athanasius is a happy place, and that can be seen in its 100% teacher retention rate this year, Aybar noted. She said there’s a variety of veteran, beginners, and in-the-middle teachers who are “a huge source of stability and community within the school.”

“All of those teachers, together, combined make a really diverse staff that has different strengths, different areas of growth,” she said. “That’s one of the things that I’m really proud of. I think there’s a reason that people stick around, and part of it is because of how much they love the community and how respected that they feel within the community.”

Most people find the school through word of mouth, not through the internet or other sources — a testament, Aybar said, to how special the community is.

A St. Athanasius elementary school student works on a craft in class in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools
A St. Athanasius elementary school student works on a craft in class in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools

Moving forward: NY management returns to the archdiocese 

After an 11-year contract with the New York Archdiocese, Partnership Schools announced on June 18 that the archdiocese will resume management of those Catholic schools.

In a statement to CNA, Partnership Schools said it is celebrating successes of the past decade including a record of $7.7 million in scholarships earned by this year’s New York Partnership graduates alone and a 28% increase in New York schools enrollment since the COVID pandemic began in 2020, as well as doubling achievement scores. 

“When we took on the six original schools that we began to serve, academic performance was unacceptably low,” Blaufuss explained. “For example, 17% of the students met the proficiency standards for the state of New York in math.”

“Flash forward 11 years, we’ve not only increased the number of students who are achieving proficiency — in fact, last year … the percent of partnership eighth graders and graduates scoring proficient on the state test in math was higher than the average for the city as a whole.”

For the future, the network plans to expand its work in Cleveland and beyond. 

An elementary student raises his hand in class at St. Francis School in Cleveland in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools
An elementary student raises his hand in class at St. Francis School in Cleveland in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools

“Impact has grown in this diocese, and we look forward to continuing our partnership to benefit the increasing number of students and families served by our Catholic schools in the heart of the city,” Frank O’Linn, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Cleveland and a Partnership Schools trustee, said this week in a press release shared with CNA. 

Partnership Schools’ current agreement with the diocese will run through 2028 while it investigates options in other dioceses, particularly those with school choice funding already in place, according to the release.

Elementary students in class at Metro Catholic School, another Partnership School in Cleveland, in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools
Elementary students in class at Metro Catholic School, another Partnership School in Cleveland, in 2022. Credit: Leila Sutton/Partnership Schools

“Catholic schools enable students in low-income communities to become excellent students and caring citizens,” the chair of Partnership Schools’ board of trustees, Russ Carson, said in the release. 

March for Life president Mancini urges advocates for unborn to continue fight

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, attends the 50th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20, 2023. / Credit: Katie Yoder/CNA

Washington D.C., Jun 22, 2024 / 09:00 am (CNA).

March for Life President Jeanne Mancini opened the Celebrate Life Conference on Friday with an impassioned speech calling for pro-life advocates to embrace a new season of fighting for the unborn.

At the event held at the Westin Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., Mancini shared her recollection of the moment she first discovered that Roe v. Wade had been overturned.

“I was interviewing on CBS the moment the decision came down, and I’ll never forget how my interviewer was not pro-life,” she shared as the crowd laughed. “She was shocked as I was bustling and so happy, thinking of all of the marchers over the years, the collective millions that have made this moment possible.”

Mancini then became choked up as she recalled the second the news truly sunk in later that same day, stating: “I don’t think in my lifetime I thought Roe would be overturned, and to consider that it was overturned in our lifetime is just unbelievable. It is so easy to forget what a massive victory that was.”

Mancini acknowledged on the eve of the second anniversary of the overturning of Roe v. Wade that the pro-life movement has since faced some setbacks amid a climate of “cultural confusion.”

Calling the enshrinement of abortion “rights” in Michigan and Ohio “tragic,” Mancini urged those attending to keep up the fight for the unborn.

“While we have had some losses, it is not an option for us to abandon this fight. It is absolutely essential for pro-life leaders, for lawmakers and citizens, to educate their neighbors on the harms of these ballot initiatives and what they do,” Mancini continued. “We are in the single-most significant human rights battle of our time, and we’ve got to dig in.”

The March for Life organization has implemented state capital marches in 17 different states since 2019.

Sharing her experience of attending a Mass at the 2023 Michigan March for Life, Mancini repeated the words that Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing, Michigan, shared in his homily: “On a day like today, you want to fight like hell. But you have to fight like heaven… we are called to fight with love at the heart of [the movement].”

She called on audience members to “pray and ask God for what he wants from you in this new season” and to “embrace your given pro-life mission.”

Additionally, Mancini cited a 2023 Charlotte Lozier study that found among women who had had abortions, 60% would have preferred to give birth if they had received either more emotional or financial support.

“I feel like this season is about addressing that 60%,” Mancini shared before emphasizing the importance of promoting pregnancy care centers and maternity homes throughout the country.

In closing, Mancini called on pro-life advocates to “persevere, persevere, persevere.” 

“Dig your heels in as change takes time. We are in this for the long game, so persevere. You were made for such a time as this; now get out there and keep doing it,” she urged.

The Celebrate Life Conference is sponsored by the Pro-Life Women’s Conference, the National Sidewalk Advocacy Center, and Students for Life among other organizations. The event will continue through the weekend with various other keynote speeches, breakout sessions, and the Celebrate Life Rally at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, June 22.