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Opponents of campaign finance bill say it presents pro-life, religious liberty concerns

Washington D.C., Mar 3, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).- An campaign finance bill under consideration in the House could present grave concerns for religious liberty, an opponent of the bill told CNA.  

Earlier this month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced the For the People Act of 2021 (H.R. 1), alongside Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and John Sarbanes (D-Md.), saying the bill is necessary because the state of American democracy is in “deep disrepair.”

But some opponents of the bill--including pro-life groups--have warned of First Amendment implications to religious freedom and free speech.

Hans von Spakovsky, manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative and Senior Legal Fellow at the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation, told CNA in an interview that he considers the For the People Act of 2021 the worst bill he’s seen in his 20 years in Washington. 

“It’s filled with so many unconstitutional provisions,” he said. “I think it would change the face of American politics.” He said it could even impose a religious test on people seeking to serve on redistricting commissions. 

Among the bill’s provisions is one that would take away the power to draw congressional districts from state legislatures and grant it instead to “independent redistricting commissions.” In order to serve on such a commission, an individual would need to meet certain criteria, including disclosing “any involvement with, or financial support of, professional, social, political, religious, or community organizations or causes.” 

That language could amount to the implementation of a religious test, von Spakovsky said. 

“It’s very concerning that to get on a commission like this you have to disclose which church, which religion, you’re a member of,” he said, adding “it would discourage individuals from participating.” 

Pro-life groups have come out in opposition to the bill as well. March for Life Action shared its concerns about the legislation to CNA in January, that pro-life donors could be subject to unnecessary public harassment.

The Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) said in a letter to members of Congress that the legislation would put “onerous and unworkable regulatory standards on the ability of pro-life voters and the pro-life community to discuss policy issues with elected officials and the public.”

“It would subject citizens who contribute to nonprofit organizations to harassment and intimidation by making their personal information available in a government-controlled data base, and through an expansion of the definition of ‘electioneering communications’ it would subject virtually all issue-related ads to burdensome disclaimer requirements,” SBA List said.

Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, warned that the bill “would allow lawmakers to employ the threat of criminal sanctions to reduce the amount of private speech regarding the actions of the lawmakers themselves.”

The White House supports the legislation, with President Biden issuing a statement Monday saying that his administration “supports House passage of H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2021.” 

“In the wake of an unprecedented assault on our democracy, a never before seen effort to ignore, undermine, and undo the will of the people, and a newly aggressive attack on voting rights taking place right now all across the country, this landmark legislation is urgently needed to protect the right to vote and the integrity of our elections, and to repair and strengthen American democracy,” the statement said. 

The statement added that as with any bill “of this scope and complexity,” it intends to work with Congress “to refine provisions of H.R. 1 as it proceeds through the legislative process to ensure that the bill achieves lasting reform consistent with Congress’ broad constitutional authority to strengthen our democracy.”

The ACLU opposed a 2019 version of the bill and has criticized portions of the 2021 bill, but has not formally opposed the latest version. 

Saint Casimir

Reliquary of Saint Casimir, Vilnius Cathedral
Image: Reliquary of Saint Casimir | Vilnius Cathedral | photo by Albertus teolog

Saint of the Day for March 4

(1458 – 1483)
Click here to listen

Saint Casimir’s Story

Casimir, born of kings and in line to be a king himself, was filled with exceptional values and learning by a great teacher, John Dlugosz. Even his critics could not say that his conscientious objection indicated softness. As a teenager, Casimir lived a highly disciplined, even severe life, sleeping on the ground, spending a great part of the night in prayer and dedicating himself to lifelong celibacy.

When nobles in Hungary became dissatisfied with their king, they prevailed upon Casimir’s father, the king of Poland, to send his son to take over the country. Casimir obeyed his father, as many young men over the centuries have obeyed their governments. The army he was supposed to lead was clearly outnumbered by the “enemy”; some of his troops were deserting because they were not paid. At the advice of his officers, Casimir decided to return home.

His father was irked at the failure of his plans, and confined his 15-year-old son for three months. The lad made up his mind never again to become involved in the wars of his day, and no amount of persuasion could change his mind. He returned to prayer and study, maintaining his decision to remain celibate even under pressure to marry the emperor’s daughter.

He reigned briefly as king of Poland during his father’s absence. He died of lung trouble at 25 while visiting Lithuania, of which he was also Grand Duke. He was buried in Vilnius, Lithuania.


Reflection

For many years, Poland and Lithuania faded into the gray prison on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Despite repression, the Poles and Lithuanians remained firm in the faith which has become synonymous with their name. Their youthful patron reminds us: Peace is not won by war; sometimes a comfortable peace is not even won by virtue, but Christ’s peace can penetrate every government repression of religion.


Saint Casimir is the Patron Saint of:

Lithuania
Poland
Russia


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EWTN News to launch weekly discussion show

Washington D.C., Mar 3, 2021 / 10:00 am (CNA).- On Friday, EWTN News will launch a new weekly discussion show “EWTN News In Depth,” covering the intersection of faith and current events.

Montserrat “Montse” Alvarado, a Hispanic Catholic who also serves as Vice President and Executive Director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, will be hosting the hour-long discussion program.

On Friday March 5 at 8 p.m. ET, EWTN News In Depth will launch its inaugural episode after being in production since January. The episode will encore on Sunday, March 7, at 11 a.m. ET.



Alvarado told CNA she hopes the show’s thorough treatment of issues will foster “encounter” and “engagement” in a time of widespread social isolation and division.

“Our Catholic community, our global community, has suffered intense division through a shifting political environment, a global pandemic, and a lack of fundamental truths,” Alvarado said.

“To drive out the effects of isolation and fear, we need to come together and encounter each other— and our faith— in a genuine way. My hope is that this show will be a forum to encourage deeper engagement,” she said.

The show will air weekly on Friday evenings at 8 p.m. ET, and will re-air on Saturday mornings at 1 a.m. ET, and again on Sunday mornings at 11 a.m. ET. Viewers can watch the show on EWTN or on the social media handle @EWTNNewsInDepth, streaming on Fridays.

The show’s one-hour length will allow for thorough coverage of current events, culture, politics, and the Church—all from a Catholic lens. EWTN News correspondents from the network’s global bureaus will contribute to the conversations, as well as newsmakers and experts.

Alvarado said that she cannot “take credit for the idea” of the show, but aims to advance its goal of “informed discussions, in depth interviews, and explainer packages from EWTN correspondents that break down news and events from an authentically Catholic perspective.”

EWTN CEO and board chairman Michael Warsaw said he hopes the show will be a “resource” for Catholics everywhere.

"My hope is that EWTN News In Depth becomes a resource for people around the globe that they can turn to have a better understanding of the most important, most significant issues that are impacting them today, but also impacting us for generations to come,” Warsaw stated.

Alvarado said she hopes the show will better inform global Catholics to bring the Church’s teaching into the world.

“The Church is global and the Church is growing,” Alvarado said. “This show comes at the right time to accompany Catholics of all backgrounds so we can face our quickly changing world together with faith and hope for the future.”

Leading German Catholic bishop cautions priests against intercommunion

CNA Staff, Mar 3, 2021 / 08:30 am (CNA).- A leading German Catholic bishop has cautioned priests against intercommunion with Protestants during an ecumenical event in May. 

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg said in a March 1 letter to clergy that they should only give Holy Communion to non-Catholic individuals if they requested it after examining their consciences.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that Bätzing issued the letter ahead of the third Ecumenical Church Congress in Frankfurt on May 13-16.

In the four-page letter, the president of the German bishops’ conference told priests that there could be “no general, inter-denominational reception of the Eucharist” or “new forms of Eucharistic celebration.”

He wrote: “The prerequisite for a worthy reception of the Eucharistic gifts, for both Catholics and non-Catholics, is the examination of one’s conscience.” 

“As pastors, we respect the decision of conscience when someone receives Holy Communion after serious examination and in accordance with the Catholic faith.”

He issued the letter amid debate over a controversial proposal for a “Eucharistic meal fellowship” between Catholics and Protestants in Germany.

The proposal was made by the Ecumenical Study Group of Protestant and Catholic Theologians (known by its German initials, ÖAK) in a 2019 document entitled “Together at the Lord’s Table.”

The ÖAK adopted the text under the co-chairmanship of Bätzing and the retired Lutheran Bishop Martin Hein. 

The study group, founded in 1946, is independent of both the German Catholic bishops’ conference and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), an organization representing 20 Protestant groups. But the ÖAK informs both bodies about its deliberations.

The ÖAK document raised concerns at the Vatican, prompting an intervention by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in September 2020.

In a four-page critique and a letter to Bätzing, the doctrinal congregation emphasized that significant differences in understanding of the Eucharist and ministry remained between Protestants and Catholics.

“The doctrinal differences are still so important that they currently rule out reciprocal participation in the Lord’s Supper and the Eucharist,” it said.

“The document cannot therefore serve as a guide for an individual decision of conscience about approaching the Eucharist.” 

The CDF cautioned against any steps towards intercommunion between Catholics and members of the EKD.

Following the Vatican intervention, Bätzing reaffirmed his view that intercommunion with Protestants should be possible.

The 59-year-old bishop, who succeeded Cardinal Reinhard Marx as president of the German bishops’ conference on March 3, 2020, discussed his stance on the issue with journalists last week.

Asked how he would respond if a Protestant came to him seeking the Eucharist, he told reporters: “I have no problems with it and I see myself in line with papal documents.”

He added that this was already a “practice” in Germany “every Sunday” and that priests in his Diocese of Limburg would not face negative consequences if a case were reported to him.

He underlined that one should not “simply invite everyone.” But while a general invitation to receive the Eucharist was not permitted, he said it was important to show “respect for the personal decision of conscience of the individual” seeking Communion.

“I do not deny Holy Communion to a Protestant if he asks for it,” he said.

In the letter to his priests, Bätzing said that the ÖAK text represented a “valuable opening” that he did not want “to endanger under any circumstances.”

“Therefore, I strongly expect and emphasize that what I have said above will be observed in the Eucharistic celebrations,” he wrote.

Investigator: There could be 10,000 abuse victims in French Catholic Church since 1950

Rome Newsroom, Mar 3, 2021 / 07:30 am (CNA).- The head of an independent commission said on Tuesday that there could be at least 10,000 victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in France since 1950.

Jean-Marc Sauvé, president of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE), said that the body’s previous suggestion in June 2020 of 3,000 victims was an underestimate.

“It’s possible that the figure is at least 10,000,” he said at a press conference on March 2.

CIASE, set up by the Catholic Church in France in 2018, said its investigation has so far received 6,500 testimonies concerning at least 3,000 individual victims.

Its final report is due to be released in early fall 2021.

The French bishops’ conference is funding the commission’s investigation, but members are not paid and their work is not directed by the bishops.

In the press conference, Sauvé said that the investigation is intended to answer several questions, including: “What is the order of magnitude? The number of victims and perpetrators? What percentage of priests are perpetrators of attacks? What do the abuses committed in the Church represent for society?”

The commission received testimonies from June 2019 through October 2020, during which time it identified approximately 3,000 victims, but Sauvé said this “certainly does not take account of the totality.”

Given the voluntary nature of the commission’s request for reports, Sauvé said “the big question which arises for us: what percentage of victims did it touch? Is it 25%? 10%, 5% or less?”

Sauvé said that most of the events reported to CIASE took place in the 1950s and 1960s, and the abuse primarily happened in schools, followed by catechism classes, and youth movements or summer camps.

Thirty percent of the victims who contacted the commission are over 70 years old and 50% are between 50 and 69 years old.

CIASE is looking not only at clerical sexual abuse of minors but also clerical abuse of vulnerable adults. Of the abuse accounts received, however, 87% were committed against minors.

Among young adult victims, 33% were members of religious communities or seminarians at the time of the attack, Sauvé said.

Sauvé added that “we can say with a high degree of certainty that within the Catholic Church, the abuses mainly concerned men and not women, unlike society.”

French bishops took part in an extraordinary plenary assembly on Feb. 22-24 reflecting on abuse within the Church. 

A press statement on Feb. 24 said that the meeting, held via video conference, would help the bishops to prepare for their spring plenary assembly, on March 23-26, “whose goal will be to commit the Church in France for several years to a viable mechanism to lead it out of the crisis of sexual assault and abuse of power.”

In March 2019, Pope Francis issued a set of canonical norms to strengthen existing laws on sexual abuse for the Vatican City State and Roman Curia.

Among these norms, the pope expanded the Church’s definition of a “vulnerable adult” from someone who “habitually lacks the use of reason,” to include anyone “in an infirm state, of physical or mental deficiency, or deprivation of personal freedom, that in fact, even occasionally, limits their capacity to intend or to want or in any way to resist the offense.” 

Sauvé declined to provide an update on the last figures that an estimated 1,500 clergy and Church officials are believed to have perpetrated the abuse.

The independent commission was announced by French bishops in November 2018, as they held their plenary assembly in Lourdes.

Pope Francis sent a message to the bishops during their meeting. According to Vatican News, Francis urged the bishops to continue to have “zero tolerance” against clerical sexual abuse while not forgetting “to recognize and support the humble fidelity lived in daily life, with the grace of God, by so many priests, men and women religious, consecrated and lay faithful.”

The pope also asked them to listen to victims and their stories.

How Pope Francis used a donated Lamborghini to help rebuild Iraqi Christian communities

Rome Newsroom, Mar 3, 2021 / 06:15 am (CNA).- Christians in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains were able to rebuild a nursery school and other facilities destroyed by the Islamic State thanks to a custom Lamborghini auctioned off by Pope Francis. 

The pope received the white Lamborghini Huracán emblazoned with gold stripes on its hood as a donation from company executives of the Italian sports car manufacturer in November 2017.

After blessing and signing the luxury sports car, the Vatican auctioned it off six months later via Sotheby’s in London for $950,000, a portion of which was earmarked to help with the restoration of destroyed towns in the Nineveh Plains.

The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need was entrusted with 200,000 euros (around $240,000), which it used to complete two building projects in Iraq, according to its director in Rome.

Alessandro Monteduro, director of Aid to the Church in Need Italia, said he was pleased that these rebuilding projects had been completed just before Pope Francis’ trip to Iraq, which will take place on March 5-8.

With the funds from the auction, the pontifical charity reconstructed a Syrian Catholic nursery school, which has room for 70 children, and a multipurpose room for a Catholic church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. 

“With the two projects described, Aid to the Church in Need wanted to honor the donation of the Holy Father by concretely placing itself alongside the Christians attacked by ISIS, and is pleased that they were completed close to the historic apostolic journey of Francis himself to Iraq,” Monteduro said.

Both rebuilding projects took place in Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul. Bishop Yohanna Boutros Mouche of Mosul said he hoped that the rebuilt infrastructure would help displaced families returning to the region.

“We are happy to finish the work on the Virgin Mary kindergarten, which will help and encourage our children to return to Bashiqa and study again,” the Syrian Catholic bishop said, according to ACN.

Aid to the Church in Need reported that just over 45% of the families originally residing in the Nineveh Plains and driven out by the Islamic State had returned to their homes as of January 2021.

Monteduro said that of the 200,000 euros received from the pope, 166,000 euros (around $200,000) went toward the reconstruction of the destroyed church multipurpose room and 34,000 euros (approximately $40,000) helped to rebuild the nursery school.

Pope Francis decided to donate the other portion of the auction sale of the Lamborghini to assist victims of human trafficking through the Pope John XXIII Community and to help fund humanitarian work in Africa through the GICAM consortium of medical workers and the Friends of Central Africa organization.

Pope Francis prays for a renewal of the Sacrament of Reconciliation

Vatican City, Mar 3, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis’ prayer intention for the month of March is for a renewed experience of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In his video for the prayer intention, created by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, the pope asked for prayers that the Sacrament of Reconciliation would be experienced “with renewed depth, to taste the forgiveness and infinite mercy of God.”

Reconciliation, also called the Sacrament of Penance or confession, is the means through which God grants pardon for sins.

In the sacrament, the contrite penitent discloses his sins to a Catholic priest who grants sacramental absolution. The penitent resolves to not sin again and performs an act of satisfaction, usually called a penance.

Through the priest, God grants his pardon and peace, and the penitent is reconciled to God.

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has frequently encouraged Catholics to receive God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance.

In his March 2021 prayer intention video, the pope said: “When I go to confession, it is in order to be healed, to heal my soul. To leave with greater spiritual health. To pass from misery to mercy.”

He emphasized that “the center of confession is not the sins we declare, but the divine love we receive, of which we are always in need.”

Jesus, who waits for us, listens to us, and forgives us, is the center of confession, the pope said. “Remember this: in the heart of God, we come before our mistakes.”

Francis also encouraged prayers that God would give the Catholic Church “merciful priests and not torturers.”

In October 2013, Pope Francis spoke about the importance of confessing one’s sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, stressing that it is not the same as “going to a psychiatrist, or to a torture chamber.”

In 2016, Francis gave advice to priests about how to be good confessors, saying that even if they cannot give absolution in some cases, “please, do not beat up on the penitent.” 

Someone who comes to the confessional is seeking “comfort, pardon, peace in his soul,” he said. “Let him find a father who embraces him and says, ‘God loves you,’ and makes the penitent feel that God really does.”

Pope Francis has often emphasized the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the life of the Church. In 2014, he instituted a Lenten tradition of “24 Hours for the Lord,” during which Catholics can find extra opportunities for Eucharistic adoration and for going to confession.

The day-long period usually begins with a penance service in St. Peter’s Basilica. At the 2014 liturgy, Pope Francis surprised a priest by approaching him for the Sacrament of Reconciliation himself before hearing the confessions of others.

The “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative began in Rome and is organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, which encourages bishops to organize the event in their own dioceses.

During a general audience in February 2014, Pope Francis urged those present to ask themselves “when was the last time I went to confession?”

“And if it has been a long time, don’t lose another day!” he said. “Go, the priest will be good. And Jesus [will be] there, and Jesus is better than the priests -- Jesus receives you. He will receive you with so much love! Be courageous, and go to confession.”

In the same catechesis, he noted that sometimes people felt ashamed at the idea of confessing their sins, but he explained that “even embarrassment is good. It’s healthy to have a bit of shame... it does us good, because it makes us more humble.”

“Don’t be afraid of confession,” he stressed. “When someone is in line for confession he feels all these things -- even shame -- but then, when he finishes confessing, he leaves [feeling] free, great, beautiful, forgiven, clean, happy.”

Pope Francis calls for end to ‘bloody clashes’ in Burma

Vatican City, Mar 3, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis appealed on Wednesday for an end to “bloody clashes” and the release of political leaders in Burma.

Speaking at the end of his general audience on March 3, the pope lamented the deaths of protesters following a military coup in the Southeast Asian country on Feb. 1.

“Sad news of bloody clashes and loss of life continue to arrive from Myanmar,” he said, using the country’s official name.

“I would like to draw the attention of the authorities involved to the fact that dialogue prevails over repression and harmony over discord.”

“I also appeal to the international community to ensure that the aspirations of the people of Myanmar are not stifled by violence. May the young people of that beloved land be granted the hope of a future where hatred and injustice make way for encounter and reconciliation.” 

Referring to a speech he made to diplomats on Feb. 8, he added: “Finally, I repeat the wish I expressed a month ago: that the path towards democracy taken in recent years by Myanmar may be resumed through the concrete gesture of the release of the various political leaders imprisoned.”

The pope’s intervention came after days of deadly clashes between police and protesters. The UN Human Rights Office reported that on Feb. 28 at least 18 people were killed and more than 30 wounded after security forces fired live ammunition into crowds.

Following his appeal, the pope looked ahead to his March 5-8 visit to Iraq.

“The day after tomorrow, God willing, I will go to Iraq for a three-day pilgrimage. For a long time I have wanted to meet those people who have suffered so much; to meet that martyred Church in the land of Abraham,” he said.

“Together with the other religious leaders, we shall also take another step forward in brotherhood among believers. I ask you to accompany this apostolic journey with your prayers, so that it may unfold in the best possible way and bear the hoped-for fruits.” 

“The Iraqi people are waiting for us; they awaited St. John Paul II, who was not permitted to go. One cannot disappoint a people for the second time. Let us pray that this journey will be a good one.”

In his general audience address, Pope Francis continued his cycle of catechesis on prayer, which he launched in May 2020 and resumed in October following nine addresses on healing the world after the pandemic.

He dedicated Wednesday’s audience -- the 25th address in this catechetical cycle -- to prayer and the Holy Trinity. The audience took place in the library of the Apostolic Palace due to coronavirus restrictions.

He said: “In our journey of catechesis on prayer, today and next week we will see how, thanks to Jesus Christ, prayer opens us up to the Trinity -- to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit -- to the immense sea of God who is Love. It is Jesus who opened up Heaven to us and projected us into a relationship with God.” 

The pope suggested that before the Incarnation, human beings did not truly know how to pray. 

“Not all prayers are equal, and not all are convenient: the Bible itself attests to the negative outcome of many prayers, which are rejected,” he said. 

“Perhaps God at times is not content with our prayers and we are not even aware of this. God looks at the hands of those who pray: to make them pure it is not necessary to wash them; if anything, one must refrain from evil acts.” 

The pope said that the “most moving” recognition of the poverty of human prayer came from the Roman centurion who asked Jesus to heal his ill servant (Matthew 8:5-13).

“He felt totally inadequate: he was not a Jew, he was an officer in the detested occupying army. But his concern for his servant emboldens him, and he says: ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed,’” he recalled.

“It is the phrase we also repeat in every Eucharistic liturgy. To dialogue with God is a grace: we are not worthy of it, we have no rights to claim, we ‘limp’ with every word and every thought... But Jesus is the door that opens us to this dialogue with God.”

The pope said that before Christ, God’s love for humanity remained hidden from many cultures.

“So much so that most mythologies do not contemplate the possibility of a god who cares about human affairs; on the contrary, they are considered bothersome and boring, entirely negligible,” he said.

He continued: “God who loves humanity: we would never have had the courage to believe in him, had we not known Jesus. The knowledge of Jesus made us understand this, it let this be revealed to us. It is the scandal -- it is a scandal! -- that we find inscribed in the parable of the merciful father, or in that of the shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep.” 

Pope Francis said that Jesus revealed the depth of love found within the Holy Trinity. He added that we could glimpse this mystery in Eastern Orthodox icons.

Quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he said: “The sacred humanity of Jesus is therefore the way by which the Holy Spirit teaches us to pray to God our Father.”

“And this is the grace of our faith,” he concluded. “We really could not have hoped for a higher vocation: the humanity of Jesus -- God who came close to us in Jesus -- made available to us the very life of the Trinity, and threw wide open this door of the mystery of the love of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”