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Judge throws out Missouri lawsuit that challenged abortion ban on religious grounds

A bridge over the Mississippi River near St. Louis. / Credit: Checubus/Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., Jun 18, 2024 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

A pro-abortion lawsuit filed by a number of religious leaders in Missouri was thrown out after a judge ruled that the state’s pro-life laws do not infringe on Missourians’ freedom of religion.

In a June 14 order, the Missouri District Court for the 22nd Judicial Circuit ruled that the references to “Almighty God” in the statutes are similar to references found in the Missouri Constitution, which in turn are similar to sentiments expressed in the Declaration of Independence.

A coalition of more than a dozen Missouri religious leaders, including Jews, Christians, and Unitarian Universalists, filed the lawsuit in 2023, alleging that Missouri’s near-total abortion ban, which passed in 2019 and took effect after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, violates their religious freedom by invoking God as the creator of human life. 

Missouri law currently protects all unborn babies from abortion unless the mother’s life is at risk. 

The religious leaders had argued that Missouri’s abortion laws, which acknowledge “Almighty God [as] the author of life” and also state that life begins at conception, violate the state constitution and the U.S. Constitution.

The Jewish leaders who joined the lawsuit, in particular, argued that Judaism does not recognize unborn children as being alive until after birth.

In the June 14 ruling, Judge Jason Sengheiser also ruled that the outside of the preamble to the law, the rest of Missouri’s abortion law language does not contain any explicit religious language, with the judge finding that the state’s recognition that life begins at conception is not “only a religious belief” but a “medical and scientific” determination.

Jamie Morris, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC), said in a statement to CNA that the group is “pleased that common sense prevailed and the lawsuit was dismissed.”

“The statement ‘life begins at conception’ is a scientific reality, not a religious belief. As a broader point, many lawmakers rely on their faith in making all types of policy decisions, including those related to welfare, immigration, and the death penalty,” Morris said.

“Legislators should not be required to leave their faith at the Capitol door,” he said.

In a June 14 statement, the legal team representing the faith leaders said they “respectfully disagree with the court’s decision.”

“Missouri’s abortion ban is a direct attack on the separation of church and state, religious freedom, and reproductive freedom,” the statement said.

“Missouri lawmakers made clear that they were imposing their personal religious beliefs on all Missourians when they enacted these laws. We remain committed to restoring abortion access in Missouri.”

Like numerous other states, Missouri is facing the prospect of a vote on a ballot initiative this November that, if passed, would erode the state’s protections for unborn children.

The MCC is encouraging all Catholics to pray that the state’s abortion laws remain in place.

Federal court shields U.S. bishops from abortion mandate as lawsuit plays out

null / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jun 18, 2024 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

A federal court on Monday protected the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) from a new federal abortion rule as litigation over the directive plays out in court. 

The USCCB will not be “forced to support employee abortions against their religious beliefs” while a federal lawsuit works its way through the courts, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty said in a Monday press release.

The bishops, along with several other Catholic plaintiffs including the Catholic University of America, filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration last month over regulations that would require that employers accommodate women for workplace limitations that arise from “having or choosing not to have an abortion.”

The new regulations issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) were related to the implementation of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). The pregnancy law itself does not mention abortion.

The regulation also includes a prohibition on interference with the accommodations; it further forbids retaliation against a person who uses the accommodations.

The Monday ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana found that the EEOC “exceeded its statutory authority to implement the PWFA” and in doing so “both unlawfully expropriated the authority of Congress and encroached upon the sovereignty” of the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs were granted a preliminary injunction “until final judgment is entered” in the case, the ruling said.

District Judge David Joseph said in the decision that the PWFA was not originally passed to include abortion accommodations.

“If Congress had intended to mandate that employers accommodate elective abortions under the PWFA, it would have spoken clearly when enacting the statute, particularly given the enormous social, religious, and political importance of the abortion issue in our nation at this time,” the judge said.

The federal government “failed to include a broad religious exception” in the abortion mandate, Joseph wrote. The bishops, the ruling said, “demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on their claims of statutory and constitutional overreach.”

The USCCB praised the decision on Tuesday. 

“We have said from the start that abortion has no place in the pro-life, pro-woman Pregnant Workers Fairness Act,” spokeswoman Chieko Noguchi said. 

“We’re grateful the court has agreed and look forward to full and permanent respect for our rights and this law’s noble purpose,” she added. 

Becket senior counsel Laura Wolk Slavis, meanwhile, said in the legal group’s press release on Monday that the pro-abortion mandate from the government was “unacceptable and unlawful.”

“This ruling is an important step in ensuring that American workplaces can be free to continue serving their communities consistent with their beliefs,” she said.

Catholic pilgrims at Pittsburgh processions evangelize about Christ and the Eucharist

Hundreds of Catholics participate in Eucharistic procession in the Brookline neighborhood of Pittsburgh. / Credit: Tyler Arnold/CNA

Pittsburgh, Pa., Jun 18, 2024 / 15:15 pm (CNA).

As hundreds of Catholic pilgrims processed through the streets of Pittsburgh as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, some of the faithful saw the procession as an opportunity to evangelize about Jesus Christ and the Catholic doctrine that he is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.

Pilgrims on the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, traveling across the United States, spent four days last week in Pittsburgh, beginning on June 13. 

The city’s rich Catholic heritage — about one-third of the residents are Catholic — made it an essential stop on the pilgrimage, which is part of the U.S. Catholic Church’s National Eucharistic Revival initiative.

Two Eucharistic processions went through the city’s streets, stopping to celebrate Mass, vespers, and adoration at local parish churches. 

Sue O’Keefe, who lives in the South Hills suburbs of Pittsburgh, told CNA that she has kept an eye on the pilgrimage since its inception and was “super excited they’ve come through Pittsburgh.” She commended “the idea of the [Eucharistic] revival and bringing Jesus to the streets.”

“I’ve been praying that the Spirit moves people to see the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and [to see that] he’s walking with us,” O’Keefe said.

O’Keefe and a few hundred other Catholics joined the pilgrims for their first procession, which went through the Brookline neighborhood of Pittsburgh on Thursday morning. The procession covered a one-mile stretch of the business district, which includes restaurants, bakeries, cafes, and a variety of other businesses. It began at the Resurrection Church of St. Teresa of Kolkata Parish and concluded at the St. Pius Church of St. Teresa of Kolkata Parish.

Dozens of people paused to watch the procession as it passed by — some were seen coming out of the district’s businesses to see what was happening. One woman gazed at the size of the crowd in the procession, looked back at the Eucharist, and made the sign of the cross before moving on.

The procession makes it way through a busy Pittsburgh business district. Credit: Tyler Arnold/CNA
The procession makes it way through a busy Pittsburgh business district. Credit: Tyler Arnold/CNA

A few pilgrims, including Sister Theresa Marie of the Daughters of Mary, approached people who stopped to watch the procession and people who were waiting in their vehicles as the procession crossed the street. She handed them cards that included a QR code, which sent them to the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage’s website to learn more about processions, other events, and Catholic teaching about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. 

“We met a lot of people in the streets,” Sister Theresa told CNA. “... We were able to encounter the people who were wondering what this is.” 

Sister Theresa noted that “most of the people were very positive,” although some declined to take a card. For those who didn’t take one, she said, “We pray for the openness of their heart.”

Pilgrims handed out cards to passersby that included a QR code directing them to the National Eucharistic Revival's website. Credit: National Eucharistic Revival
Pilgrims handed out cards to passersby that included a QR code directing them to the National Eucharistic Revival's website. Credit: National Eucharistic Revival

Mark Palaski, a Pittsburgh resident, told CNA: “So many people were driving by and stopping,” adding that they “showed us respect.” 

Bob O’Mara, a teacher living in Brookline, attended the procession with his wife and seven children, ages 1 through 14. He said the neighborhood was “very ideal” for a procession because “Brookline has a large young Catholic population.” 

Asked why he participated in the procession, O’Mara said: “[Christ is] the king of the universe and he deserves our praise.”

The pilgrims held a bilingual “happy hour” at St. Catherine of Siena Church of St. Teresa of Kolkata Parish later that evening, followed by a reception with testimony from the pilgrims. The following day, at the same parish, the pilgrims celebrated Mass and embarked on another 1.8-mile procession to the St. Michael the Archangel-St. Bernard Church, where adoration was held. 

Catholics kneel before the Eucharist at the Resurrection Church of St. Teresa of Kolkata Parish in Pittsburgh before the start of the procession. Credit: Tyler Arnold/CNA
Catholics kneel before the Eucharist at the Resurrection Church of St. Teresa of Kolkata Parish in Pittsburgh before the start of the procession. Credit: Tyler Arnold/CNA

After adoration, pilgrims prayed the Akathist to the Blessed Virgin Mary, sung by the Ukrainian Catholic Choir. This was followed by Holy Hour with sung vespers and another reception with pilgrim testimonies.

On Saturday, the pilgrims celebrated Mass at St. Mary of Mercy Church of Divine Mercy Parish, and on Sunday at St. Paul Cathedral, they celebrated Mass, which was said by Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik.

The pilgrimage is continuing through western Pennsylvania before traveling across Ohio and eventually heading to Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress.

UPDATE: ‘Jesus Thirsts’ film announces extended release

"Jesus Thirsts: The Miracle of the Eucharist" will be shown in theaters June 18-26, 2024. / Credit: "Jesus Thirsts: The Miracle of the Eucharist"

CNA Staff, Jun 18, 2024 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

Fathom Events announced June 18 that it has decided to give “Jesus Thirsts: The Miracle of the Eucharist” an extended release beyond its planned two-day encore of June 18–19. The film will now be in theaters from June 18–26.

The documentary scored big at the box office, grossing $2,141,273 and landing at the No. 1 spot in per screen average for all three days of its initial release earlier this month. 

According to Fathom Events, the film’s distributor, the movie is Fathom’s highest-grossing documentary of 2024 and is currently in second place among all documentaries released in 2024 so far.

The feature-length documentary by executive producer Deacon Steve Greco and producers Tim Moriarty and James Wahlberg was shown in theaters nationwide June 4–6.

Through dialogue with notable Catholic figures, the documentary takes viewers on a journey to rediscover the transformative power of the Eucharist by exploring the biblical origins of the Eucharist and sharing personal stories from those whose lives have been impacted by the Blessed Sacrament.

“My greatest hope for this film has been and continues to be winning souls for Jesus Christ,” Greco said in a June 7 press release. “I’m incredibly grateful to the moviegoers for showing up! Now, we need to show up again and with others.”

“The last three days have revealed the profound impact of our movie and now we have to get outside of the pew and lead our fallen-away brothers and sisters home,” Wahlberg said in the press release.

He added: “The feedback has been incredible — we have heard about packed theaters, minds and hearts deeply moved, and an urgency to tell others. The surge of posts on social media have moved like wildfire and we hope this leads to many who will become curious.”

Moriarty, writer and director of the film and founder of the production company Castletown Media, said in a press release: “Our team at Castletown Media has been profoundly moved by the overwhelming responses to ‘Jesus Thirsts: The Miracle of the Eucharist.’”

“Viewers, often with tears in their eyes, have rediscovered a beauty in their faith that they had perhaps only glimpsed before. Many fallen-away Catholics and those outside the Church have shared how the film illuminated for them the very heart of Catholicism,” he said.

“Let this film be a clarion call to all Catholics: The time for being ashamed of our faith has ended,” he added. “Now is the moment to rediscover the boundless love of God, who meets us in the humble guise of bread and wine, and to share this love with a world in desperate need.”

On May 7, Moriarty spoke with CNA at the premiere of the film in Orange County, California, and shared that when he was first approached with the idea he believed it was “the perfect film for our times.”

“We are in a time in our Church where we need to get back to fundamentals,” he said. “We need to get back to what is at the heart of our faith, which is the ongoing incarnation of Christ in the Eucharist.”

Moriarty shared that despite being raised Catholic, there was a period in his life where he fell away from the faith and it was the Eucharist that brought him back.

“It’s the greatest gift in the world,” he said. “It’s Jesus himself and there is nothing on Earth that can satisfy that deepest longing in us.”

This story was updated June 18, 2024, with the information regarding the extended release of the film.

Judge blocks Biden gender identity protection rule in 6 states

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CNA Staff, Jun 18, 2024 / 13:15 pm (CNA).

A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked a new Biden Title IX rule in six states that included “gender identity” in Title IX’s long-standing protection against discrimination by sex.

“There are two sexes: male and female,” began Chief Judge Danny Reeves of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky in his opinion.

In his ruling, Reeves said the rule was an attempt to “dramatically alter the purpose” of the law, which was originally set to protect women’s equal opportunity to education. 

The U.S. Department of Education issued new regulations in April that radically redefined long-standing federal sex discrimination policy under federal Title IX provisions. The new rules in part redefined “sex discrimination” under Title IX to include protections for “gender identity.” Title IX rules apply to any educational institutions that accept federal money. 

Reeves halted the enforcement of Biden’s changes to Title IX in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, explaining that Title IX was set to enable women to receive equal educational opportunities. 

“The new rule contravenes the plain text of Title IX by redefining ‘sex’ to include gender identity, violates government employees’ First Amendment rights, and is the result of arbitrary and capricious rulemaking,” Reeves wrote. 

The ruling follows that of another federal judge who temporarily blocked the new rule in Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Montana following April lawsuits by the states. More than a dozen other states have pending lawsuits against the rule.

The new law bans “different treatment or separation on the basis of sex,” which includes a prohibition on any policy or practice that “prevents a person from participating in an education program or activity consistent with their gender identity.”

Opponents have argued that the law could damage the safety of women’s spaces such as bathrooms, sports, and locker rooms.

At the recent U.S. bishops’ conference, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, president of the conference, reiterated the incompatibility of “sex change” with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

“Teaching about the need to respect the natural order of the human person, Pope Francis affirmed that ‘creation is prior tous and must be received as a gift. At the same time, we are called to protect our humanity, and this means, in the first place, accepting it and respecting it as it was created,’” he said, quoting Pope Francis.

In April, the bishops came out against a New Biden HHS Obamacare rule for advancing an “ideological view of sex.”

“These regulations … advance an ideological view of sex that, as the Holy See has noted, denies the most beautiful and most powerful difference that exists between living beings: sexual difference,” Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, said in the April 30 press release.

Two years after overturning of Roe, pro-lifers come to DC to ‘Celebrate Life’

Pro-life activists chant during a Celebrate Life Day Rally at the Lincoln Memorial on the first anniversary of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, June 24, 2023, in Washington, D.C. / Credit Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 18, 2024 / 12:12 pm (CNA).

With the second anniversary of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision by the U.S. Supreme Court approaching, thousands are expected to travel to the nation’s capital to partake in the second annual Celebrate Life Conference from June 21–23.

In response to the June 24, 2022, ruling, which overturned Roe v. Wade and the authority to regulate abortion to states, the Pro-Life Women’s Conference and National Sidewalk Advocacy Center have joined forces to convene the upcoming Celebrate Life Conference, offering attendees opportunities for discussion, collaboration, and strategizing to protect unborn children.

Among many events scheduled to take place at this year’s conferenceMarch for Life President Jeanne Mancini will deliver the opening keynote session on the next steps for the pro-life movement following the Dobbs decision.

In addition to Mancini, the lineup of speakers includes Abby Johnson, founder of And Then There Were None and ProLove Ministries; Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America; Shawn Carney, president of 40 Days for Life; and Lauren Muzyka, founder of Sidewalk Advocates for Life, among others.

In their talks, the speakers will address ways the pro-life movement can engage younger generations, the ongoing sex-trafficking crisis, and healing those affected by abortion, among other subjects. 

Apart from these various breakout sessions, the conference will host the Celebrate Life Gala, featuring speaker Matt Walsh of the Daily Wire’s “The Matt Walsh Show.” On Saturday morning thousands will gather at the Celebrate Life Rally, held at the Lincoln Memorial to hear more calls to action by pro-life leaders and representatives.

This three-day conference comes just over a week after the unanimous Supreme Court ruling unanimously ruled against a physician-led challenge to the abortion pill, rejecting an attempt by advocates to impose stricter regulations on the drug.

In a setback for the pro-life movement, the ruling will allow abortion pills to continue to be mailed to patients without an in-person doctor’s visit under the Food and Drug Administration.

Since the Dobbs ruling, the pro-life movement has suffered several defeats at the ballot box and in the courts. Initiatives protecting the “right to abortion” passed in California, Vermont, Michigan, and Ohio. There are currently four states with abortion on the ballot in 2024, as well as an additional nine states considering ballot measures pertaining to the issue.

In addition to these legislative setbacks, the Biden administration has aggressively targeted pro-life advocates for peacefully protesting and blockading the inside of abortion clinics. Several of these individuals, including elderly women, have recently been sentenced to years in prison for violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. 

While the Celebrate Life Conference promises to commemorate the victory of the overruling of Roe v. Wade, its main focal point will center on continuing the fight for the unborn amid such setbacks.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, shared a similar sentiment following the recent ruling on abortion pills:  “The fight for life is far from over.”

Catholic migrant shelter calls ‘human smuggling’ accusations ‘utter nonsense’

Migrants mostly form Central America wait in line to cross the border at the Gateway International Bridge into the U.S. from Matamoros, Mexico, to Brownsville, Texas, on June 4, 2024. / Credit: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 17, 2024 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

As Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is threatening to shut down a Catholic nonprofit known as Annunciation House for allegedly facilitating illegal border crossings from Mexico, a lawyer for the group has called the state’s claims “utter nonsense.”

Attorneys representing both sides argued before El Paso District Judge Francisco Dominguez in a hearing on Monday.

Jerome Wesevich, a lawyer with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid (TRLA), which is representing Annunciation House, claimed that Paxton’s actions constitute an attack on the free exercise of religion and violate the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Rob Farquharson, an attorney with the Texas attorney general’s office, claimed that Annunciation House has been breaking portions of the Texas penal law that prohibits “knowingly encourag[ing] or induc[ing] a person to enter or remain in this country in violation of federal law by concealing, harboring, or shielding that person from detection.” 

He said the nonprofit has “expressly said that the federal government knows that undocumented persons reside at Annunciation House” and the shelter “publicizes its willingness to shelter [illegal] immigrants and yet the federal government does not prosecute.”

Meanwhile, Wesevich called the state’s accusations “utter nonsense,” saying that “there’s no legitimate dispute that Annunciation House serves undocumented persons as an expression of the Catholic faith and Jesus’ command to love one another, no exceptions.” 

“I would submit that if religious freedom does not allow Annunciation House to obey Jesus’ primary command to love another by providing a child a safe and warm place to sleep on a cold night, then there is no religious freedom in Texas,” Wesevich said. 

What is Annunciation House?

Located just a few minutes from the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Annunciation House is a lay-run Catholic organization that offers migrants temporary shelter, food, and clothing and advocates on their behalf. 

The attorney general’s office first approached Annunciation House on Feb. 7 with concerns that it may be facilitating illegal immigration. Paxton’s office ordered the nonprofit to immediately turn over various documents and records to examine whether it is engaged in unlawful activities. 

On Feb. 20 Paxton filed a lawsuit against Annunciation House, accusing the nonprofit of being “engaged in the operation of an illegal stash house by potentially allowing others to use its real estate to engage in human smuggling.” 

Dominguez issued a temporary ruling in March in which he said that Paxton could not revoke Annunciation House’s license to operate or force it to turn over documents immediately.

In a court document filed by Paxton in May, he claimed to have “reviewed and obtained sworn testimony” indicating that the nonprofit is engaging in illegal immigration activities.

Paxton said the group’s “own sworn testimony” as part of ongoing legal proceedings show that Annunciation House “knowingly shelters illegal aliens” and “even goes into Mexico to retrieve aliens who[m] border patrol denied.”

In response, Annunciation House has called Paxton’s actions “illegal, immoral, and anti-faith” and his allegations “unfounded.” 

What happened at the hearing?

During the hearing, which according to Dominguez was held online due to “security concerns,” Farquharson claimed that the nonprofit’s refusal to comply with the order to turn over documents relating to its operations “demonstrates concealment, harboring, and shielding” of illegal activity.

He also claimed that Annunciation House has been violating the Emergency Food and Shelter Act’s requirement to keep daily logs of the migrants they serve.  

Dominguez pressed Farquharson on whether Paxton’s lawsuit diminishes Annunciation House’s Fourth Amendment right to freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures and to due process.

“Are you saying that Annunciation House, regardless of what they do or who they are harboring, to use your language, are you saying they have a diminished Fourth Amendment right?” the judge asked.

Farquharson responded that nonprofits are not guaranteed the same degree of Fourth Amendment protections as individuals.

Wesevich countered that “corporations have Fourth Amendment rights” and said that Paxton has no authority to shut Annunciation House down because “there has been no clear proof of any violation of law.”

“The attorney general is not looking for documents,” Wesevich said. “What the attorney general is looking for is an excuse to close Annunciation House.”

Wesevich went on to say that the “burden of proof of reasonableness” for Paxton’s records request “belongs only to the attorney general.”

TRLA held a press conference after the hearing during in which Wesevich said that Texas’ actions are “an obvious attack on Annunciation House’s fundamental right to practice the Catholic faith.”

Wesevich told CNA during the press conference that if Paxton were to be successful in his actions against Annunciation House the result would be “more people out on the streets” and “everywhere more chaos.”

“If the attorney general were successful, it would result in no decreased immigration whatsoever and only increased chaos,” he went on. “For us, for the business community, for the community at large, for the religious community, as well as for the government.”

What’s next?

Dominguez said during the hearing that he plans to issue a ruling in the next two weeks.

Wesevich said that though he is optimistic, he believes that Dominguez’s ruling will likely be appealed and that the case will go on to higher courts.

Paxton’s office did not reply to CNA’s request for comment.  

New data shows more people traveling for abortions post-Dobbs

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to pro-life supporters before signing a law restricting abortion in Florida. / Credit: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 17, 2024 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

Although birth rate and fertility data have shown that pro-life laws throughout the country have saved thousands of preborn children’s lives, new data from the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute found that more women are also traveling out of their states to obtain abortions.

The data, which tracks month-to-month abortion numbers in the United States, found that more than 171,000 Americans traveled out of state to obtain abortions in 2023 — nearly twice as many as the number of people who did the same in 2019, according to the New York Times. Out-of-state abortion procedures accounted for about one-fifth of total abortions in 2023. These numbers include both surgical abortions and chemical abortions.

Although most people who traveled to obtain abortions went to a neighboring state, thousands crossed multiple state lines for abortions. Longer travel to get an abortion was more common for people who live in states with strong pro-life laws that are also surrounded by other states that have similar pro-life protections.

For example, 3,500 people from Louisiana traveled through multiple states to procure abortions in states like Florida, Illinois, and Georgia because both Louisiana and its neighbors prohibit most abortions.

Some states with more permissive abortion policies that border pro-life states have seen a large influx of people traveling from another state to receive abortions. For example, about 71% of the abortions performed in New Mexico in 2023 were on women who traveled from a state with strong pro-life laws, such as Texas. In 2020, only about 38% of New Mexico’s abortions were performed on women traveling from another state.

Other states with a large increase in out-of-state people seeking abortions included Illinois, Kansas, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

Michael New, a senior associate scholar at the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, told CNA that he believes the Guttmacher analysis is intended “to downplay the impact of protective pro-life laws and make pro-life policies appear ineffective.”

“It is true that some women circumvent pro-life laws by obtaining abortions in states where the laws are more permissive,” New said. “However, it is also true that a substantial body of birth data from Texas and other states that have recently enacted protective pro-life laws shows that recently enacted pro-life laws have saved thousands of lives.”

study last year by The Journal of the American Medical Association found that the state’s law that prohibits abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected led to nearly 9,800 more births over a nine-month period after it went into effect. Data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this year found that states with pro-life laws had slower declines in fertility rates than states that have permissive abortion laws.

“All of this is strong evidence that recently enforced pro-life laws have saved tens of thousands of lives,” New added.

Isaac Maddow-Zimet, a data scientist at the Guttmacher Institute and project lead for the Monthly Abortion Provision Study project, said in a statement that the “striking” findings from the new data are “how often people are traveling across multiple state lines to access abortion care.”

“Traveling for abortion care requires individuals to overcome huge financial and logistical barriers, and our findings show just how far people will travel to obtain the care they want and deserve,” Maddow-Zimet said. “Despite the amazing resiliency of abortion patients and providers, we can’t lose sight of the fact that this is neither normal nor acceptable: A person should not have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to receive basic health care.”

Florida was another state to witness an increase in women traveling across state lines to obtain abortions. However, Guttmacher Vice President for Public Policy Kelly Baden noted in a statement that Florida’s law that outlaws abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected — which occurs at about six weeks of pregnancy — went into effect this May, which will mean Florida will no longer be a common destination for women traveling out of state to obtain abortions. 

“We see that a state’s abortion policies affect thousands of people beyond that state’s borders,” Baden said.

The Guttmacher Institute’s data estimates nearly 1.04 million clinician-provided abortions took place in the United States in 2023 in states that do not prohibit most abortions.

Tessa Cox, a senior research associate, and Mia Steupert, a research associate, both at the Lozier Institute, told CNA in a joint statement that “a handful of pro-abortion states have driven up abortion rates by enacting increasingly extreme policies, including shipments of unregulated mail-order abortion drugs and abortionist shield laws.”

“There is a tendency to oversimplify abortion travel and conclude that the increase is solely attributable to Dobbs, but we know this is a complicated issue with many factors in play — just look at pro-abortion New York, where the largest group of out-of-state residents is women from New Jersey, accounting for nearly 3,000 abortions in 2023, according to Guttmacher,” they said.

Will Harvard return an alleged third-century relic of St. Sebastian to the Church?

Harvard University. / Credit: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

Boston, Mass., Jun 17, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

As Harvard University undergoes the process of returning some of the thousands of Indigenous human remains in its possession to those with cultural, ancestral, or religious ties to them, one Catholic group is calling on the university to return a sacred first-class relic of St. Sebastian to the Catholic Church.

“The appropriate location for a relic of St. Sebastian is a Catholic church, chapel, or shrine, not the library of a secular university,” C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, told the College Fix in May. 

“Harvard should do the right thing and donate it to a local Catholic church,” he said.

In a statement to CNA, Harvard Library spokeswoman Kerry Conley said the relic was acquired by the school through a purchase from an antiquarian bookseller in 2021. 

The bone relic, in a medallion reliquary, is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity by the Catholic Church with two illegible signatures, according to its description on Harvard Library’s website.

The coat of arms of Bishop Nicola Angelo Maria Landini, titular bishop of Porphyreon — which is present-day Jieh, Lebanon — and vicar general of the Vatican Curia are on the certificate, which is dated Oct. 12, 1774. 

A cartouche on the reliquary says “S. Simonii Ap,” indicating that “it might have previously held a relic of St. Simon the Zealot,” the description says.

The relic is located in Houghton Library in its special collection stacks, an area only available to staff and researchers by request.

Conley said that, although the university listed the relic in a 2022 report detailing human remains located in Harvard museum collections, the object “has not been tested and we do not know whether it is indeed human, nor can we say whether it dates from the third century.”

“It was included in the university’s report because the documentation it accompanied purported the bone to be human; however, there is no genetic testing or carbon dating to affirm that claim,” she said.

Who is St. Sebastian?

In Pope Francis’ March 2019 postsynodal apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit, the Holy Father spoke of St. Sebastian as a role model for young people.

“In the third century, St. Sebastian was a young captain of the Praetorian Guard. It is said that he spoke constantly of Christ and tried to convert his companions, to the point that he was ordered to renounce his faith,” the Holy Father wrote.

“Since he refused, he was shot with arrows, yet he survived and continued to proclaim Christ fearlessly. In the end, Sebastian was flogged to death,” the pope wrote.

The early Church martyr is the patron saint of archers and athletes.

Is the relic real?

There are many purported relics that are actually not real relics at all, according to Sean Pilcher, an expert on relics and director of Sacra, an organization that promotes the veneration of relics while repairing and authenticating them.

“The question is less about whether it is actual human remains because there’s basically no doubt that it’s human remains. The question is: ‘Is it the relic that it purports to be? Are the bones in the reliquary the bones of that saint or is it a forgery?’” Pilcher told CNA in a phone call.

Pilcher, who has worked with thousands of relics, said he wouldn’t be able to authenticate the purported St. Sebastian relic at Harvard from afar. 

“I’d have to examine and compare the sources, find out where it came from, look at the seal and the document and some other tangibles about the relic,” he said.

Should Harvard return the relic?

If the relic is authentic, does Harvard have an obligation to transfer it to the Catholic Church?

In an email to CNA, Father Carlos Martins, another relic expert and director of Treasures of the Church, said “yes.”

“Yes, as would any organization that comes into possession of something held deeply sacred by a church or by another organization, such as a nation,” he wrote.

“Imagine if an individual somehow came into legal ownership of the original copy of the Declaration of Independence,” Martins wrote. “While it might be tempting for him to keep it — or even sell it for the great sum it would fetch — the noble, honorable, and moral thing to do is to return it to the people of the United States.”

“Great sensitivity and self-transcendence must be exercised whenever something is held to be sacred by others,” the priest said. 

“What is sacred is not just important. It is part of the very identity of the people who hold it to be such. It is a grave injustice for the object to be profaned or even just alienated from those people.”

Will Harvard give the relic to the Church?

A policy set by Harvard in 2022 put in place a process for the return of human remains and other sacred objects possessed by the university but notes that returns would be on a “case-by-case basis.”

Claimants must approach the university and provide evidence of “standing” for their request of the object or remains, the policy says. 

“Claims should demonstrate the significance of the object to the claimant, a category that could include sacred, cultural, religious, national, communal, or historical importance. How does the absence of the item affect the claimant community? Does the significance or other attribute of the item make it unsuitable for display and/or continued research? Are there other claimants?” the policy says.

As of June 7, no one has reached out to Harvard requesting the St. Sebastian relic, according to Conley. 

The Archdiocese of Boston did not respond to a request for comment about the alleged relic at Harvard. 

Harvard’s policy for the return of human remains is an extension of the school’s commitment to fulfill its legal obligation as outlined in federal law via the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA). That law provides for the return of Native American human remains and cultural objects to the Native peoples.

Holly Jensen, a Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokeswoman, told Harvard’s student university newspaper in February that the school’s Peabody Museum has repatriated over 40% of its more than 10,000 held Indigenous “ancestors” under NAGPRA.

The Peabody Museum wrote on its website that “to address return of cultural items beyond NAGPRA, Harvard University published guidelines on the Consideration of Claims for the Return of Items in Harvard University Collections (2022),” which is the name of the policy.

Relics in other museums

According to Pilcher, the problem of relics in secular places is wider than just Harvard: “Any art museum of reasonable size in a large American city possesses sacred relics.”

In the Art Institute of Chicago, there is a relic of St. Christina. The museum also has relics of St. Anne, Sts. Bernward and Godehard of Hildesheim, St. Anianus, and St. Lawrence.

In the Cleveland Museum of Art, there is another bone relic of St. Sebastian. And in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, there is a copper reliquary from Italy that is purported to hold the tooth of St. Mary Magdalene.

Some reliquaries in American museums appear to still be holding objects inside them, such as this one from the Detroit Institute of Arts. However, its online exhibit does not specify whether the relic is still held within.

Martins said that relics “possess an innate sacredness” and are forbidden to be sold under canon laws.

“They are not sacramentals (e.g., rosaries, water, scapulars, crucifixes) that are blessed and become holy through the blessing (i.e., water that is blessed is called holy water),” he said. 

“Relics are holy in and of themselves simply by being what they are — an object associated with a saint, who is a ‘temple of the Holy Spirit,’” he said.

New study suggests more than two-thirds of Catholics believe the Eucharist is truly Jesus

Archbishop Samuel Aquila carries the Eucharist out of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver on June 9, 2024. / Credit: Kate Quiñones/CNA

CNA Staff, Jun 16, 2024 / 07:30 am (CNA).

A new study has found that 69% of Mass-going Catholics believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist — a result that calls into question the accuracy of a bombshell 2019 study from Pew Research Center, which found that only a third of Catholics believe in this core tenet of the faith. 

Vinea Research, a Catholic firm that conducted the new survey in late 2022, says the survey language it used, which was different from Pew’s, produced a figure that “more accurately represents how Catholics understand the Eucharist.”

“[U]sing language more commonly understood by Catholics, Vinea’s research indicates that many more Catholics than originally thought have an authentic understanding of the core Catholic teaching of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist,” the group said in a press release. 

The 2019 Pew study was widely cited as a catalyst for the ongoing National Eucharistic Revival, an initiative of the U.S. bishops beginning in 2022 to spread and deepen devotion to Christ in the Eucharist. The revival will culminate with the National Eucharistic Congress, a major gathering in Indianapolis from July 17–21. 

As part of the 2022 survey, Vinea sampled 2,200 people, giving half of the respondents the original Pew wording and the other half questions the group revised to better reflect Catholic language. (The Vinea study was done independently, said Hans Plate, founder of Vinea Research, with no involvement or sponsorship by the U.S. bishops or the Eucharistic Revival.) 

The Pew study asked respondents what they think the Church teaches about the Eucharist and also what they personally believe, using the same question for both: 

“During Catholic Mass, the bread and wine… 

a. Actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ 

b. Are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ”

Vinea’s revised questions, taking into account the fact that the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes Jesus as “truly present” in the Eucharist, read as follows:

  1. Which of the following best describes Catholic teaching about the bread and wine used for Communion? 

    a. Jesus Christ is truly present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist 

    b. Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not truly present 

    c. Not sure 

  2. Regardless of the official teaching of the Catholic Church, what do you personally believe about the bread and wine used for Communion? 

    a. Jesus Christ is truly present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist 

    b. Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not truly present

Plate told CNA that among their respondents who got the original Pew questions, 41% expressed belief in the Real Presence — slightly higher, but not dissimilar, to Pew’s result. However, among those who got the revised questions, 69% overall expressed belief. 

“I don’t want to compare my study to Pew’s study, but I am comparing Pew’s language to more Catholic-accurate language … wording matters significantly,” he said. 

Plate also noted that the level of belief in the Real Presence varied considerably by self-reported Mass attendance.

Among those Catholics who say they “seldom” attend Mass, only 51% expressed belief in the Real Presence. By contrast, 81% of Catholics who attend weekly and 92% who attend more than weekly said they believe. Even among Catholics who only attend a few times a year, nearly two-thirds said they believe in the Real Presence.

This study is not the first to attempt to revise the questions posed by Pew to get more a more accurate sense of Eucharistic belief; in 2023, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University conducted a study tweaking the wording of the questions and found that 64% of those surveyed “provided responses that indicate they believe in the Real Presence.” That study also found that 95% of weekly Mass attendees and 80% who attend at least once a month believe in the Real Presence.

Plate was quick to point out that Vinea’s study does not in any way refute the need for a national “Eucharistic revival.” In addition to the still-sizable portion of Catholics who don’t believe in the Real Presence, he noted that their study uncovered a Catholic population that rarely attends Mass yet believes Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. 

“That’s something that, I think, can be nurtured with a lot of the things that the Eucharistic Congress and Revival are doing,” he said. 

“That’s where the revival and further catechesis on the Eucharist is really important, to get them to want to know and love the Eucharist, and want it for themselves.”

In addition, Plate said a large majority of Catholics in the survey — 88% — who were aware of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist also said that is what they themselves believe. 

“What this tells me is that for the ‘symbol only’ people, it’s less about rejecting Church teaching and more about being misinformed,” he explained. 

“I’m drawing a conclusion on the basis of just two questions, but that seems to me to be a reasonable hypothesis that could be explored in future Eucharistic-centered research.”

Tim Glemkowski, CEO of the National Eucharistic Congress, told CNA that they are “grateful to Vinea for this research, which shows the reality of Catholics in the pews with greater precision.”

“Catholics do love and believe in the Real Presence and are coming out in droves to encounter Our Lord in the Eucharist as he passes through the country along the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage routes,” he said in an email to CNA. 

“Though a larger number believe in the Real Presence than previously thought, the Church is still far from 100% of Mass-going Catholics holding that core belief,” Glemkowski noted. 

“In response to this, the National Eucharistic Congress has been preparing for the last two years to prepare disciples to go out and share the good news of our Eucharistic Christ with the world. This will continue to be the core mission of the National Eucharistic Congress organization as we complete the revival and go forward from there.”