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Update: Notre Dame football coach calls conversion to Catholic faith ‘a personal decision’

University of Notre Dame Head Football Coach Marcus Freeman / Notre Dame Athletics

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 16, 2022 / 11:10 am (CNA).

Marcus Freeman, head coach of the University of Notre Dame’s football team, told members of the press Sept. 15 that he had tried to keep his recent conversion to the Catholic faith under wraps.

The news that he had become a Catholic was made public after his home parish, St. Pius X Catholic Church in Granger, Indiana, published an announcement welcoming Freeman into the Church in its parish bulletin.

In a Zoom meeting with reporters, Freeman said that his decision to join the Catholic Church was a “family decision” and a “personal decision” and said that he was confirmed in September.

“I tried to keep it as private as I could,” Freeman said.

“Obviously, when you’re head coach at Notre Dame, nothing is private,” he added with a smile.

“Welcome to our newest Catholic, Marcus Freeman,” read the announcement in the church’s Sept. 11 parish bulletin.

Freeman was “received into the Catholic Church after preparing with Father Nate Wills, C.S.C., chaplain of the Notre Dame football team,” the bulletin announced. It was accompanied by a photo of the 36-year-old football coach and four priests, including Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., the university’s president.

“Marcus made a profession of faith, was confirmed, and received his First Holy Communion. Please pray for Marcus and his family as they celebrate and continue this journey in faith!” the announcement said. According to sources, Freeman entered the Church at the end of August, before the start of the football season.

Freeman’s wife, Joanna, is Catholic, as are their six children, Vinny, Siena, Gino, Nico, Capri, and Rocco. 

In an interview with the National Catholic Register published Aug. 31, Freeman, who was a Christian before his entrance into the Catholic Church, said that he was grateful to be at Notre Dame because of the school’s emphasis on faith.

“That’s important for me. I want our guys to wonder about what it means to embrace Jesus Christ,” Freeman told the Register.

Vote to enshrine same-sex marriage delayed until after midterms

null / Kulniz/Shutterstock.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 15, 2022 / 15:55 pm (CNA).

The Senate has delayed a highly-anticipated vote to enshrine same-sex marriage into law until after the midterm elections this November. 

The news was announced by lawmakers Thursday after weeks of bipartisan deliberations that left some Republicans with objections to the act’s potential religious liberty implications. 

The bill, titled the Respect for Marriage Act, follows the House version that was passed earlier in July. 

It is being led by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin). and Susan Collins (R-Maine), who are working across aisles to gain at least 10 GOP Senate votes needed to pass it. 

Baldwin told reporters Thursday she is “very confident” the bill will pass but said she needs “a little more time.” 

Some Republicans, including Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), have signaled a need to hammer out legislative protections for religious liberty.

“There are some very legitimate concerns about religious liberty, and those concerns would have to be properly addressed,” Johnson said in an interview last week.

Johnson called the act “unnecessary” but said he saw “no reason to oppose it” in a statement in July. 

A record number of 47 Republicans joined Democrats in passing the bill in the House in July.

The bill would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage in federal law as the union of a man and a woman and permitted states not to recognize same-sex marriages that were contracted in other states.

DOMA was already effectively nullified, however, when the Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriage rights in the 2013 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges. 

Democrats have pushed the bill as necessary after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. In Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in that decision, he suggested the court should reconsider all “substantive due process” cases, including the 2015 Obergefell decision that legalized same-sex marriage. 

Our Lady of Sorrows: What are Mary’s seven sorrows?

Our Lady of Sorrows at the Basilica of Our Lady of Sorrows in Granada, Spain. / José Manuel Ferro Ríos via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0)

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 15, 2022 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Catholics are invited to contemplate the seven sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary in a special way on Sept. 15, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.

The first sorrow begins with the prophecy of Simeon, a devout man in Jerusalem who met Christ as a baby. During the encounter, Simeon foretells Mary’s suffering.

“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed,” he tells her, according to Luke’s Gospel.

As with the first sorrow, Mary’s other sorrows regard her son: fleeing into Egypt to save the Christ Child’s life; losing the child Jesus in the Temple for three days; meeting Christ on his way to Calvary; standing at the foot of the cross; watching Christ’s body being taken down from the cross; and burying Christ’s body.

Reflecting on Our Lady of Sorrows in Slovakia last year, Pope Francis highlighted Mary’s response to these sorrows.

“Mary, Mother of Sorrows, remains at the foot of the cross. She simply stands there. She does not run away, or try to save herself, or find ways to alleviate her grief,” he said. “Here is the proof of true compassion: to remain standing beneath the cross. To stand there weeping, yet with the faith that knows that, in her son, God transfigures pain and suffering and triumphs over death.”

Through these sorrows, Our Blessed Mother also offers hope. She revealed seven promises to St. Bridget of Sweden in the 14th century for those who recite seven Hail Marys daily while reflecting on her tears and sorrows, according to Our Sorrowful Mother’s Ministry (OSMM) in Vandalia, Illinois. 

OSMM lists those seven promises from Mary as:

1. “I will grant peace to their families.”

2. “They will be enlightened about the divine mysteries.”

3. “I will console them in their pains and I will accompany them in their work.”

4. “I will give them as much as they ask for as long as it does not oppose the adorable will of my divine Son or the sanctification of their souls.”

5. “I will defend them in their spiritual battles with the infernal enemy and I will protect them at every instant of their lives.”

6. “I will visibly help them at the moment of their death, they will see the face of their Mother.”

7. “I have obtained from my divine Son, that those who propagate this devotion to my tears and dolors, will be taken directly from this earthly life to eternal happiness since all their sins will be forgiven and my Son and I will be their eternal consolation and joy.”

The faithful can also ask for the intercession of Our Lady of Sorrows through the seven sorrows rosary, or chaplet. OSMM provides general instructions on how to pray it: The prayer resembles a regular rosary, except that there are seven sets of seven Hail Marys. Each of the seven sets — consisting of an Our Father and seven Hail Marys — focuses on one of the seven sorrows.

Can Santa Rosa end family homelessness? New Catholic Charities project says yes

The ribbon cutting at Caritas Center in Santa Rosa, Calif., Sept. 12, 2022. / Christopher Chung/Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa

Denver Newsroom, Sep 14, 2022 / 17:40 pm (CNA).

Catholic Charities in Santa Rosa, California, has opened a new homeless services center opened to help families and others at risk of homelessness, with the specific goal of helping families.

“This is a Catholic Charities project, but it is built on proven partnership,” John Pavik, director of communications and public relations for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, told CNA Sept. 14. “We acknowledge no one single entity can or should try to solve homeless alone. It takes community support and fellow nonprofit and government cooperation.”

Caritas Center, which opened in Santa Rosa on Monday, is a 48,000-square-foot, three-story facility built at a cost of $53 million. It provides “wrap-around” services that aim to help people secure permanent housing and prevent at-risk people from becoming homeless, Catholic Charities said Sept. 9.

The center has a 192-bed family shelter, child care facilities, chapel space, and a health care clinic. There are also 38 recuperative beds for people recently discharged from the hospital.

A “drop-in” center allows nonresidents access to shower and laundry facilities, mailboxes, and bike and storage lockers. They may also meet with case workers.

Caritas Center is now the largest homeless services center in Sonoma County. As families move into the center next month, it will replace Catholic Charities’ aging shelter facilities in a former hospital building next door. This facility has a capacity of only 138 beds.

Sonoma County, north of the San Francisco Bay Area, has about 500,000 residents. Almost 3,000 of them are homeless, but only a few hundred are part of homeless families.

“Our community has already invested heavily in our homeless system of care,” Pavik told CNA. “Our number of families in this system is low enough now that we are striving to end family homelessness, a primary goal of Caritas Center.”

In February a Sonoma County count of people experiencing homelessness found 2,893 people living outdoors or in shelters, a figure considered to be an undercount. It is a 5% increase from February 2020. Those living outdoors or in vehicles are now estimated at 2,088, a 23% increase in two years, the Santa Rosa newspaper The Press Democrat reports.

The 2020 count reported 80 homeless families, making up 235 people. Of these, 97% were sheltered. Another 59 were unaccompanied children, most of whom were unsheltered, while another 245 were transitional-age young adults. These figures do not include the 508 who were chronically homeless.

For a community to achieve “functional zero” homelessness, Pavik said, it must ensure that the number of people experiencing homelessness does not exceed the community’s ability to house them.

Caritas Center services are part of this plan to help the homeless. Its onsite clinic will have physical and mental health care provided through Santa Rosa Community Health. The center’s Head Start program for preschool-aged children facing homelessness will be operated by the nonprofit Community Action Partnership Sonoma.

The Children's Center at Caritas Center in Santa Rosa. Justin Warmack/Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa
The Children's Center at Caritas Center in Santa Rosa. Justin Warmack/Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa

On-site health care limits unneeded and expensive emergency calls and keeps beneficiaries engaged on the site, Jennielynn Holmes, CEO of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, told The Press Democrat.

She predicted success in a design that incorporates many services on one site.

“Caritas will be the only facility of its kind to bring all these elements under one roof, provided by the experts in the community,” Holmes said Sept. 9. “By replicating this model, we can dramatically alleviate if not end homelessness, not only in the county, but across the state and beyond. Our organization and all of our partners are ready to share the blueprint and invite others to the table. So many cities around the country are working hard to end homelessness, and we want to link arms with others who share our mission.”

Pavik said that Catholic Charities is “motivated to serve by Gospel teaching” and “inspired by the love and teachings of Christ.”

“We serve and advocate for vulnerable people of all cultures and beliefs, prioritizing those experiencing poverty,” he said.

The facility staffers also have the necessary qualifications and training to follow best practices.

Caritas Center has the backing of $35 million in private donations, $6.9 million in funding through California New Market Tax Credits, and $11.5 million from Project Homekey, California state government grants for housing that serves the homeless.

The Day 1 Families Fund, a project of Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos, gave an additional $5 million to support both family program operations and innovation at the Caritas Center. Other backers include Tipping Point Community, Providence Health System, and Kaiser Permanente.

The Caritas Center is part of a planned Caritas Village, which will incorporate affordable housing and other options for people at risk.

Caritas Homes, next door to the homelessness service center, is a planned apartment complex of 128 affordable homes being built in partnership with Burbank Housing, an affordable housing construction and management nonprofit. These apartments aim to serve unmarried workers, vulnerable seniors, veterans, and families whose incomes cannot keep up with rent. There are 64 apartments presently under construction.

Including Caritas Center, Caritas Village is expected to cost $120 million or more.

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa helps about 20,000 people per year. Its work in five northern California counties helps beneficiaries find housing, achieve financial stability, and progress on immigration hurdles they might face.

Notre Dame head football coach Marcus Freeman joins the Catholic Church

Notre Dame head football coach Marcus Freeman / Notre Dame Athletics

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 14, 2022 / 12:10 pm (CNA).

Marcus Freeman, the new head football coach at the University of Notre Dame, has reportedly converted to the Catholic faith, a process he began since his arrival in South Bend, Indiana.

“Welcome to our newest Catholic, Marcus Freeman,” read an announcement in the Sept. 11 bulletin published by St. Pius X Catholic Church in Granger, Indiana.

According to the announcement, Freeman was “received into the Catholic Church after preparing with Father Nate Wills, C.S.C., chaplain of the Notre Dame football team.” It was accompanied by a photo of the 36-year-old football coach and four priests, including Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., the university’s president.

“Marcus made a profession of faith, was confirmed, and received his First Holy Communion. Please pray for Marcus and his family as they celebrate and continue this journey in faith!” the announcement said. According to sources, Freeman entered the Church at the end of August, before the start of the football season.

Freeman’s wife, Joanna, is Catholic, as are their six children, Vinny, Siena, Gino, Nico, Capri, and Rocco.

In an interview with the National Catholic Register published Aug. 31, Freeman, who was a Christian before his entrance into the Catholic Church, said that he was grateful to be at Notre Dame because of the school’s emphasis on faith.

“That’s important for me. I want our guys to wonder about what it means to embrace Jesus Christ,” Freeman told the Register.

The successor to longtime coach Brian Kelly, Freeman began the football season by resurrecting a very Catholic tradition at Notre Dame: the team’s game-day Mass.

Once again, for home games, the team will go to Mass together at the Basilica, leave through the “God, Country, Notre Dame” door, and walk across campus to Notre Dame Stadium. One of Kelly’s reforms had been to reschedule the team Mass for the night before games.

Freeman had fond memories of attending a pre-game Mass he attended as a high school recruit from Huber Heights, Ohio. At a press conference marking the beginning of practice last spring, he said he was “caught by surprise” to learn that the team no longer followed the tradition.

“It’s what I remember from my recruiting trip — watching the players walk out of the Basilica on the way to the stadium. I was a little caught by surprise when we didn’t do it last year,” he said, adding that he was restoring the tradition. Freeman did not end up attending Notre Dame, electing to go to Ohio State instead.

Freeman discussed with the Register why he thought it was important for the team to attend Mass together before games.

“To me, what better time is there to go have Mass?” he said. “What better time to be able to really be on the edge of your seat to get every word that comes out of the priest’s mouth and to be as close to God as you can?”

Freeman and spokespeople for Notre Dame and St. Pius X Church were not immediately available for comment Wednesday.

This is a developing story.

Lila Rose drops mic on ‘Dr. Phil’: ‘If it’s not a human life why do you have to kill it?’

Dr. Phil and Lila Rose / Screenshot of Live Action video

Denver, Colo., Sep 14, 2022 / 10:06 am (CNA).

Lila Rose, the founder and president of the national pro-life group Live Action, recently spoke in defense of the unborn in cases of rape and fetal anomalies to a national audience on Dr. Phil’s talk show.

In response to the talk-show host’s statement that the scientific community is divided on the question of whether life begins at conception, she countered with a powerful one-liner.

Rose asked: “In an abortion, if it’s not a human life why do you have to kill it?”

Two recent abortion cases were the focal points of the episode of Dr. Phil, which aired on Sept. 12. The show focused on a case involving a Louisiana woman who was unable to have an abortion after receiving a devastating diagnosis regarding the unborn child she was carrying, and that of a 10-year-old girl who was raped and traveled out of state to receive an abortion.

Dr. Phil was joined by Louisiana State Sen. Katrina Jackson; Rose; attorney Ben Crump; and Christian Nunes, the president of the National Organization for Women.

The pro-life case for babies who are going to die

Nancy Davis and Shedric Cole, a couple from Louisiana, were denied access to an abortion after receiving a fatal diagnosis regarding what would have been their fourth child. The baby was diagnosed with acrania, a rare but fatal condition in which the fetus does not form a skull. She was advised by doctors to terminate the pregnancy but, due to a law enacted after the overturn of Roe v. Wade in the state of Louisiana, would have to travel out of state to receive an abortion. 

Davis described the experience as “emotionally draining” and said that she was forced to “carry my baby, to bury my baby.”

In response to this case, Rose shared her heartfelt condolences saying, “My heart broke when I heard your story, because that’s the worst thing any mom wants to hear is that their baby is going to die.”

“My husband and I, we had a miscarriage about two years ago. They were some of the darkest days of my life and they were dark days because it was our child,” Rose added. “You know, we knew this was a baby. And I think that’s the fundamental point here is that we’re talking about a baby, we’re talking about a human life.”

“And the pro-life position is that all humans have human rights. And the first right is life. To not be killed … Nancy, you deserve better. You deserve better health care. There’s perinatal hospice, there’s palliative care so that your baby could die in the loving arms of their, of their parents instead of at the abortionist’s tools,” she said.

The pro-life case for babies conceived in rape

The focus then shifted to a 10-year-old girl who was raped and traveled from Ohio, where most abortions are illegal, to Indiana to have an abortion. Dr. Phil asked his audience members for their thoughts on the matter. 

One woman directed her comments to Rose, saying, “You just want to legislate evil. That’s really how it feels when I hear you speak, especially when you’re talking about a 10-year-old girl who was raped. To hear you say that, you know, they should just have that anyway is disgusting.” 

“I really think you’re a traitor to your own, and I will never be able to agree with you,” she added. “There is nothing you could possibly say to justify that level of lack of empathy.”

Rose responded: “Abortion is devastating to women’s mental health.”

The audience member interrupted, questioning, “Do you know what it’s really like to get raped and then have to have the child? What kind of trauma is that that you’re inducing on somebody?” 

“The trauma is from the rape. The child’s an innocent party there,” Rose said. 

“The child isn’t born yet. It’s not there,” the audience member interjected back. 

Rose responded: “Our fundamental human right, that we all share in this room, is life. It’s the first human right. Laws are meant to protect the weak. In a society, who’s the weakest? Who’s the weakest in the society? A child. They don’t have a voice. They can’t speak.”

“Whether you live 10 minutes or 10 years or a hundred years, you’re human life and you have the right to not be killed. And that’s what the pro-life fight is all about,” she continued. “That’s what we’re fighting for. A culture of life where we provide real health care. You know, abortion is the intentional destruction of an innocent human life. We can do better than that.”

The pro-life case for life from the moment of conception

The guests also debated the question of when human life begins after Dr. Phil commented that “there is no consensus among the scientific community.”

“There is, Dr. Phil. Ninety-six percent of scientists say that life begins at fertilization,” Rose stated. 

A study conducted by a University of Chicago doctoral student showed that a majority of biologists believe life begins at conception. Of the 5,577 biologists who responded to a survey he sent out, 96% supported this fact.

“When do you say human life begins then?” Rose asked. 

Dr. Phil replied, “Well, it doesn’t matter what I think, I don’t care what I think. What I’m saying is the scientific community does not have a consensus about when life begins.”

“A single-cell embryo is a unique, new human life,” Rose stated.

“You can go to the body of scientific literature and you can find neuroscientists who say that it begins when there is a detectable brain wave,” he said.

At this point, Dr. Phil turned his attention from Rose to his live audience encouraging them to “fact check” him, find the different definitions available from scientists, and decide for themselves what to think.

Priest inspires thousands to sign up for novena to defeat ‘right to abortion’ in Michigan

Father Gordon Reigle, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas parish in East Lansing, Michigan, has inspired thousands to pray a 54-day rosary novena aimed at defeating an attempt to insert a "right to abortion" in the state's constitution. The novena begins Sept. 15, 2022, and ends on Nov. 7, 2022, the day before Michigan's general election. / Diocese of Lansing/FAITH Magazine

Lansing, Mich., Sep 14, 2022 / 09:00 am (CNA).

One Michigan priest’s prayerful insight is inspiring thousands of people to sign up for a 54-day rosary novena aimed at defeating an attempt to insert a “right to abortion” into the state constitution.

The proposed constitutional amendment is titled Reproductive Freedom for All. The ballot initiative seeks to enshrine abortion up to — and including — the day of birth. It also seeks to eliminate dozens of Michigan laws that presently regulate abortion, including parental consent and notification laws and laws that prohibit partial-birth abortion.

The novena begins tomorrow, Sept. 15, the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. It ends the day before Michigan’s general election on Nov. 8. 

“One evening in July, I was praying in the rectory chapel at St. Thomas Aquinas in East Lansing with the proposed constitutional amendment weighing heavy on my mind and on my heart,” Father Gordon Reigle, the parish’s pastor, explained.  

“So, I asked God what can be done to overcome such powerful and well-financed lobby groups [such] as Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union? Within a matter of minutes, the idea of a 54-day rosary novena popped into my head.”

A novena is nine days of prayer, and a rosary novena means praying the rosary every day for nine days. Hence, a 54-day rosary novena is actually a series of six novenas: three novenas to petition God and three novenas to thank God. Its roots go back to the 19th century and the miraculous cure of a young Italian woman, Fortuna Agrelli, through the intercession of Our Lady of Pompeii. 

“To be honest, I’ve never prayed a 54-day rosary novena before,” Reigle admitted. “I knew that it exists and that it is very powerful but, I have to tell you, the insight in prayer came as a surprise.” 

Reigle, who is also pastor of St. John Church and Student Center in East Lansing — which serves Michigan State University students, faculty, and staff — took his prayerful insight to his immediate superior, Bishop Earl Boyea of the Diocese of Lansing. The bishop heartily approved of the idea of the novena. Other dioceses across Michigan have since expressed an interest in the prayer initiative.

Already thousands have signed up to receive a daily text reminder for each day of the novena. Reigle believes that victory in November’s election is only possible through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary as “the patroness of the Gospel of Life.”

“Mary’s sorrowful heart grieves over the sufferings of her children, especially when our most innocent and vulnerable are threatened,” Reigle said. “May Our Lady protect us and save our children!” 

To sign up for a daily text reminder of Reigle’s 54-day rosary novena, text FightLikeHeaven to 84576.

Watch the video of Reigle explaining the novena and his inspiration for it below.

Catholic college official in hot seat for comments about allowing ‘students for choice’ club on campus

null / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 14, 2022 / 08:00 am (CNA).

A Wisconsin pro-life organization has taken issue with Viterbo University, a Franciscan Catholic college, for comments a school official made suggesting a willingness to allow an abortion rights group on campus.

The comments came to light after Pro-Life Wisconsin — a lobbying and educational organization — released a recording it obtained of the school’s executive director of mission and social justice saying she “would love to say yes to the club.” The official, Sister Laura Nettles, also discusses “curtailing” a student pro-life group.

“According to their website, what makes Viterbo Catholic is ‘a commitment to upholding the gospel understanding of the sacredness of all human life,’” Anna DeMeuse, Pro-Life Wisconsin’s communications director, wrote on the group’s website Aug. 25. Nettles’ comments, however, “raise suspicion over the validity of this commitment.”

She added: “It is long past time for these institutions to reclaim their Catholic identity and boldly profess the teachings of the Catholic faith, the Gospel of Life, without apology.”

Nettles and other administrators say her comments at an employee convocation were taken out of context, insisting that the roughly 2,500-student school in La Crosse remains strongly pro-life.

Rick Trietley, Viterbo University’s president, told CNA that Nettles’ remarks were “part of an informal discussion that doesn’t reflect the context of the presentation, which focused on why Catholic identity is so important at Viterbo University.”

“As a Catholic institution,” he said in a statement, “we embrace the words of His Holiness Pope Francis, who once eloquently said: ‘All life has inestimable value, even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn, and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.’”

DeMeuse, of Pro-Life Wisconsin, declined to comment on the school’s responses.

What was said on the recording

Nettles — a member of the school’s founding order, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration — spoke during the Aug. 22 convocation about a student’s request to establish a “Students for Choice” club on campus.

“I would love to say yes to the club, but I asked him if he would be willing to consider a different name like a ‘Health Club’ or ‘Reproductive Rights’ club,” Nettles says on the recording.

“What the student described he wanted to do in the club was to really advocate for women’s rights in health care to which I said, ‘amen’ to,” the religious sister continues. “So the question was whether he would be willing to think of a different title for it but do much of the same work.” 

Nettles says on the recording that the “pro-life, pro-choice issue is a hot-button issue in the Church,” adding that using the term “pro-choice” in the club’s name is “a bit of a challenge.”

On the recording, someone in the meeting can be heard asking Nettles if the student pro-life club, V-Hawks for Life, should have to change its name. She replies that the club does not have to change its name because the Catholic Church is pro-life.

“However … we are significantly curtailing their activities — what they can do, what they can’t do; they have to actually jump through a lot of hoops to be able to do what they do, in a way that doesn’t feel great either,” Nettles says on the recording.

“But we want to make sure that they have a right to share what they do as would a reproductive-rights group that might be supporting access to abortions as a right. But we want to make sure that it’s done in a tasteful way, in a way that invites dialogue and doesn’t just alienate and anger,” she said.

“And I think certainly ... the way that V-Hawks for Life ended last year — with a poorly timed display and how they went about it — that’s not going to happen again this year. Right, that was something that we needed to change.” 

The recording, which lasts less than four minutes, ends with Nettles saying that V-Hawks for Life can keep its name but the group has to follow a certain set of rules.

Why curtail a pro-life group?

CNA interviewed Nettles about the controversy via email. She said her remarks were taken out of context and she criticized Pro-Life Wisconsin for not reaching out to her for comment.

Nettles told CNA she explained to the student that he could start a club that would advocate for high-quality women’s health care but not abortion or contraception.

Sister Laura Nettles, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration and administrative official at Viterbo University, was recorded in an employee meeting indicating that she would favor hosting a "students for choice" club on campus. She says her remarks were taken out of context. Screenshot YouTube video
Sister Laura Nettles, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration and administrative official at Viterbo University, was recorded in an employee meeting indicating that she would favor hosting a "students for choice" club on campus. She says her remarks were taken out of context. Screenshot YouTube video

She added that she strongly supports the V-Hawks for Life club and considers herself proudly pro-life. She also said that her response in the recording about curtailing the V-Hawks for Life included curtailing activities from all student clubs that are not officially approved by the school.

“To be clear, Viterbo University will not allow a pro-choice club to form on our campus, as it would be a direct contradiction to Catholic teachings,” Nettles stressed.

Kirsten Gabriel, dean of students and vice president of student life at Viterbo, told CNA that when Nettles spoke about “curtailing” the pro-life club she was referring to a new policy for all clubs that prohibits the presence of individuals not affiliated with the university at “tabling” events.

A tabling event is a display table hosted by a student club, around which the members hand out literature and engage with students.  

V-Hawks for Life held such an event in May that included a display with information on pregnancy and parenting resources, information on the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade, and an explanation of certain abortion procedures. A representative of Students for Life of America, a pro-life advocacy group, was present at the event.

Danielle Smits, president of V-Hawks for Life at Viterbo University. Courtesy of Danielle Smits
Danielle Smits, president of V-Hawks for Life at Viterbo University. Courtesy of Danielle Smits

Danielle Smits, president of V-Hawks for Life, told CNA she feels the rule singles out the pro-life club because of its dealings with Students for Life of America. Smits said she was hurt to hear Nettles speak on the recording about possibly allowing a club that advocates for abortion rights on campus. 

Smits said that Nettles told her that the leaked recording was an edited version of what she said.

“I don’t know who to believe, but if there is a movement to create this so-called ‘Health Club’ that promotes abortion on our Catholic campus, you can believe I will not be quiet,” said Smits, a 20-year-old junior.

Learning the Right Questions

“Yes, Ken, excellent!  I am excited.  John” 

This was the last email I received from Fr. John O’Malley, SJ, sent last July in reply to a message detailing my plans to interview him for Commonweal. As with all his prose, it was brief, lively, and to the point. 

At the age of ninety-five, he warned me, he was no longer able to move about easily, much less travel to Chicago where I had hoped to do the interview live before an audience at the Lumen Christi Institute. All the same, he wanted me to know that our planned interview at the Jesuit retirement home in Baltimore, where he now lived, still excited him. 

That’s the word that resonated with me last weekend when I learned that he had died. I can’t pretend to a long and close friendship with Father O’Malley. He was nine years older and traveled a different professional circuit. But I read and much admired his work, as anyone who cares about the craft of history must, and was fortunate to enjoy a relationship with him based as much on coincidence as anything else. As it happened, we were both from Ohio, he from a small town along the Ohio River, and I from a suburb of Cleveland, on Lake Erie. He reminded me of that in a longer email last July: “I assume you are as proud about coming from Ohio as I am,” he wrote. He then quoted something Orville Wright said to someone who asked him how to succeed in life: “First choose good parents. Second, be born in Ohio.” 

This was not just Buckeye boosterism. As O’Malley makes clear in The Education of a Historian, his autobiographical last book—published at the age of ninety-four!—he believed that you could not really understand others until you understood where they came from. Roots mattered, and so did all the other breathing pressures of particularity—time, place, happenstance. 

O’Malley believed that you could not really understand others until you understood where they came from.

O’Malley’s own life history, as he construed it, proceeded from one coincidence to another, each of the serendipitous kind. He never met a Jesuit until he entered the novitiate. He never planned on becoming a university teacher but did. He did plan to get his doctorate in Europe but ended up at Harvard. He did not intend to focus on Renaissance history, much less write books on Renaissance art, but did both. 

There are some historians—good ones—who never see the inside of an archive once they finish their dissertation, but O’Malley’s fascinating account of working from difficult primary sources—medieval texts written in abbreviated Latin—for his dissertation at Harvard is revealing of the man and his work: 

Historians have no choice but to begin their research with their own questions, but these questions are simply clumsy tools to get at the questions driving the authors of the texts the historians are studying. In other words, historians must be ready to abandon or at least modify the questions with which they began in favor of questions lurking with the texts that make the texts intelligible.

This insight is manifest on every page of O’Malley’s magisterial interpretations of the councils of Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II, in which he not only tells us what issues each council was called to address, but how well it succeeded or failed in that endeavor and what tools—conceptual, linguistic—the participants had at their disposal. It wasn’t all Church politics. 

Doing original research taught O’Malley another valuable lesson:   

I now knew on an entirely new and deep level what it was to know on the basis of what I had discovered on my own rather than accepted on faith from somebody else. I knew on that level because I had first wrestled with difficult sources to come to see things nobody had seen before. I knew what I knew and that I knew, which made me keener in recognizing sham, especially in myself. Knowing what I knew made me painfully aware of the vastness of what I did not know…a lesson in humility as well as pride.” 

Also not a bad lesson for those who practice the much humbler craft of journalism. 


O’Malley’s work first came to my attention at Newsweek in 1983 when a commentary of his was published in a book by the art historian Leo Steinberg with the (then) provocative title, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and Modern Oblivion. Steinberg’s argument was that the preoccupation of Renaissance painters with showing the genitalia of the infant Jesus was not simply evidence of the era’s wider interest in reviving the nudity of classical art, as conventional history had it. Rather, as O’Malley’s commentary emphasized, it was the artists’ way of emphasizing the full humanity as well as the divinity of Jesus. And that, I thought, was newsy enough to merit the notice I gave it in Newsweek. But around the office my piece was dubbed, inevitably, “the Christ’s pee-pee story.” 

O’Malley published thirteen books all together, but my favorite will always be his dazzling Four Cultures of the West, not only for what it says but also for how he says it. (He often cited Flaubert’s axiom on writers, “The style is the man himself.”) The four cultures are the prophetic, the academic/professional, the humanistic, and the artistic—each of them claiming its own sovereignty, each employing its own language, conceptual as well as linguistic, and often at cross purposes. Here, for example, is O’Malley describing the scholars at the Council of Trent responding, inappropriately, in the language of the academic/professional to Martin Luther’s culturally prophetic description of the Christian as “simul justus et peccator”—at once saint and sinner: 

Luther’s discourse is psychological and relational, the theologians at Trent logical and metaphysical. Luther glories in the paradox, the theologians are puzzled or even repelled by it. The decree of Trent was the scholars’ solution to Luther’s anguished cry…. They responded…not in his language but in theirs. 

O’Malley’s own cast of mind was more Erasmian than prophetic, but he did enjoy paradox, as any historian must. “The only way to get rid of the past,” he liked to say, “is to remember it.”  The best way to remember O’Malley, for those who never knew him, is to read his books. And to thank God for the gracious gift of his learned servant.  

Building the Culture of Encounter

Paul Elie’s recent Commonweal piece on the meaning of “encounter” is timely for many reasons. As he notes, Pope Francis recommends a “culture of encounter” repeatedly in Laudato si’ and elsewhere. And the idea’s intersection with the theme of synodality is immediately obvious, if also clearly undeveloped.   

What are some of the related themes—for lack of a better word—that either anticipate or at least contribute to the clarification of “encounter”? One might think of Chicago’s 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions, held in conjunction with the World’s Fair, which Thomas Albert Howard pointed out in his comprehensive essay “Enough Bromides” [Commonweal, May 2021]. Then, from an inner-Church perspective, one might think of the basic concept of collegiality at Vatican II and the various communitarian models of the Church that developed subsequently. We remember the watchwords that hierarchical leadership conceived as exercised “sub et cum Petro”: shared responsibility, mutual respect and exchange, a participatory community not only in liturgy but in doctrine and governance—but which unfortunately also often turned into debating points as much as into inspirational ideas. 

Of great (and all but revolutionary) importance, of course, was the Council’s “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions,” Nostra aetate, which clearly endorses interreligious dialogue. There followed a series of significant and productive interreligious dialogues organized by the Catholic Church and its sister churches, as the Council spoke of them. With first-rate scholarship in an ecumenical spirit, they produced major documents on liturgy, doctrine, and social questions. Here “dialogue” was not only a concept, but a practice. It was a structured encounter with varying practices and procedures but with the expectation of finding common—and new—agreements (or at least mutually respected understandings). 

The pastoral letters of the American Bishops in the 1980s were examples also of dialogue, with the drafting committees holding hearing sessions that seriously influenced the bishops’ final documents. Bishops, theologians, and laity “met together” to talk over issues of war and peace and the economy. It was clearly not a scholastic exercise but a practical encounter of different perspectives within the Church in the United States. The “dialogue” was structured for experiment, discovery, and mutual encouragement. And it took time. All elements, I think, of what a significant “culture of encounter” requires today. 

Then there are the lessons that faith-based community organizing can have for the synodal process, as Michael N. Okińczyc-Cruz discussed in his Commonweal piece in July 2022: making an intentional commitment to building relationships, recognizing people’s vision and aspirations, and devising an effective strategy for achieving goals. An emphasis on building relationships brings about a radical shift for people active in faith-rooted organizing—a full understanding that one can’t accomplish anything meaningful in a community if one “goes at it alone.” Okińczyc-Cruz believes such organizing can make vital contributions to the synodal process. “There are no shortcuts when it comes to building a Church that reflects the liberating spirit of Jesus,” he writes “Building relationships with one another will help in forging a robust and ambitious moral and spiritual path for our Church, so that we can advance justice and equality and realize a greater approximation of God’s kingdom.” This is again an inner-Church perspective, but one with strong resonances with anything that can realistically be called a “culture of encounter.” 

An emphasis on building relationships brings about a radical shift for people active in faith-rooted organizing.

Various forms of “cosmopolitanism” (citizenship of the world) have their origins in Greek thought, from the Cynic Diogenes in the fourth century BCE through to the Stoics of the third century CE (who were very influential in early Christianity). Perhaps the most prominent single example of cosmopolitan thought is found in Immanuel Kant’s “Toward Perpetual Peace” in 1795. For Kant, the ideal citizen was not a freely responsible member of her own society alone but of a world society. (Kwame Anthony Appiah masterfully develops the idea in his 2006 book, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers.) Kant’s position is not meant to be an abstract guide but a concrete goal. 

There are also many secular counterparts to planned encounter—in universities, think tanks, and international associations, for example. To name but one: In 1965 David Rockefeller established the Americas Society, an organization dedicated to education, debate, and dialogue in the Americas. Its mission is to foster an understanding of the contemporary political, social, and economic issues confronting Latin America, the Caribbean, and Canada, and to increase public awareness and appreciation of the diverse cultural heritage of the Americas and the importance of inter-American relationships. 

In the United States alone there are also major communitarian thinkers whose work should enlighten our understanding of “encounter,” among them surely Amartya Sen and Michael Sandel (as well as, in a more popular vein, David Brooks). These are authors who have expertly diagnosed the fragmentation of community in our country and suggested new mentalities to bring about what amounts to a conversion to community. 

They are also realists who recognize the difficulty of steering our ship of state in a new direction, together with other nations and cultures that are wary of renewed colonialism and the imposition of purportedly Western (universalist) values. But whatever one calls the new vision, it is certainly not simply an “enlightened capitalism” or a postmodern liberalism. 

Appiah advocates, in fact, a “rooted cosmopolitanism.” Without grounding in one’s own culture and its language, people all too easily become idealistic exporters of uncritical grand schemes. (Think of the committed environmentalist who at home is a NIMBY opponent of plans for his own community. Or, as Rousseau famously quipped, cosmopolitans who “boast that they love everyone, so as to have the right to love no one.”) One might also find a close parallel to Appiah’s conception in the development of comparative theology by Frank Cloooney, SJ, of Harvard Divinity School, which is grounded in one’s own faith but openly and sympathetically studies another. It is also interesting to note that well before Appiah’s book appeared, a faculty committee at Georgetown University, discussing over a full year how to characterize the university as a Catholic institution, coined the term “centered pluralism.” 

Creating a culture of encounter supposes serious invitation to other cultures to share the experience.

What key elements for a true culture of encounter might we draw from these and similar considerations on cosmopolitanism, dialogue, communitarianism? Thomas Banchoff, of Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. has helpfully analyzed the “virtue structure” of true encounter. Archbishop Paul Gallagher has called it “a call to responsibility in an age of entitlement.” Let me suggest several structural requirements. 

The first is that creating a culture of encounter supposes serious invitation to other cultures to share the experience. Here, countless forms of psychological and social preparation will be needed—but by no means legislated. Genuinely to meet “someone else” (the fabled “other”) presupposes what? A welcoming manner. Modesty. Prudence. Patience (as Banchoff emphasizes). And a long list of other virtues of which none of us can be assured of more than a few. 

The process, particularly of cultures encountering cultures, takes time—and proceeds under a dark sky of possible oppression (from colonialist co-optation to outright war). And that is not the only risk. Truly to encounter another culture requires a certain suspension of loyalty to one’s own, its most cherished beliefs, doctrines, and practices. If we thought we “had” the truth (in its full, world-shaping meaning), then why enter into genuine dialogue with another culture? 

The answer can only be that we intimate, and for Christians the Spirit of God inspires us, that the truth of the Holy Mystery is truly incomprehensible, beyond our grasp, always admitting of only a partial appropriation of its enlivening, encouraging, liberating, and redemptive reality. So the most ardent Catholics may find, as they encounter other cultures, religions, and searching people, that our belief in the Petrine office may be compatible with accepting other ways of structuring religious community; that our Marian doctrines may be eminently worthy to speak of the Mother of Jesus but not necessarily the mode of piety of other faiths; even that Jesus as the Name above every other name does not properly “compete” with holy figures of other traditions. 

The great John S. Dunne, in “A Search for God in Time and Memory,” offered a model of such an expansion of consciousness beyond an “either/or” mentality when he wrote of Christians “passing over to the other and back to their own faith community” without leaving or compromising their Catholic faith. But Thomas Albert Howard insightfully reminds us of some of the pitfalls of religious dialogue, among them assuming in an excessively Western way that “religion” is a genus that particular religions relate to as species; selectively determining who in fact will speak for a particular religion (the “representivity problem”); neglecting the contributions of art and music; over-privileging elites; and relating violence to religious grounds when many other social factors are actually in play. 

And so the Holy Father’s encouragement that we cultivate a culture of encounter is at once promising in the extreme but likewise equally challenging, a “reason,” as Howard puts it, “for both hope and concern.” Among comprehensive students of interreligious dialogue, he is one of the most judicious and balanced, holding that such dialogue represents “a new dimension of human religiosity” but also suggesting that “perhaps the next stage of interreligious dialogue should be a willingness to re-open the age-old question of religious truth, as confoundingly difficult as this may seem.” 

We seem invited into a boat on a stormy sea that Jesus alone masters but that the Father always holds in ongoing creation.