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Parents at school board meetings were subject to FBI intimidation, witnesses say

null / D.Somsup/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Mar 24, 2023 / 17:15 pm (CNA).

House Republicans held a hearing Thursday featuring testimony from parents who said their decision to speak up at school board meetings resulted in a Department of Justice effort to intimidate and silence them.

The witnesses offered their testimony at the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government’s first hearing on “Free Speech: The Biden Administration’s Chilling of Parents’ Fundamental Rights.”

Much of the discussion surrounded the DOJ’s October 2021 memorandum that Attorney General Merrick Garland issued to address an alleged “spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence at school board meetings.”

The memo called for federal intervention and tasked the FBI with investigating parents to “facilitate the discussion of strategies for addressing threats” against education officials.

Nicole Neily, the founder of Parents Defending Education, told the committee her office worked with parents who became worried about speaking against their school boards following the memo.

“Unsurprisingly, parents were frightened by this escalation,” Neily said. “In the days following the release of [the] DOJ’s memo, we fielded dozens of requests from concerned parents who worried whether they should continue their advocacy work or simply stay home, fearing a knock at the door from federal law enforcement.”

Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, who chairs the subcommittee, said during his opening speech that the memo was used to “target concerned parents” and “to intimidate these parents into silence by sicking federal law enforcement on them.”

The congressman alleged that the “ambiguity” of the document helped the administration “silence the critics of its radical education policies.”

Tiffany Justice, the founder of the parental rights organization Moms for Liberty, agreed with Johnson’s assessment and said the FBI “made phone calls to parents” who confronted school board officials.

She cited one mother affiliated with her organization who was allegedly questioned by the FBI about whether she owned guns or had mental health problems because she “disagreed with her school board.”

According to Justice, the memo “sent shockwaves across this country that we still feel today.” She said activists in her organization were frequently mistreated.

“We attended school board meetings, often facing unjust treatment,” Justice said. “Parents were expelled, their mics were cut off, and many were prevented from speaking.”

Several Republican lawmakers expressed empathy with the parents, including Rep. Wesley Hunt, R-Texas, who noted that the FBI investigations failed to find any criminal activity.

“According to the FBI, not one of these school-board-related investigations resulted in federal arrests or charges,” Hunt said. “Not a single one.”

Democratic members of the subcommittee disputed some of the testimony and the statements made by Republican subcommittee members.

Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pennsylvania, who serves as the subcommittee’s ranking member, said the memo was focused on potential criminal activity, such as threats of violence.

“Any reasonable person can see the difference between threats of political violence and legitimate political discourse,” Scanlon said. “Unfortunately, this hearing is based upon [a] false narrative … designed to promote chaos and division in our communities.”

Scanlon claimed the “real First Amendment threat” comes from “extremists [who] are imposing their beliefs on all students and parents through library book bans, bans on certain subjects in the public school curricula, and censorship of educators all to the detriment of students’ learning.”

PEN America Managing Director Nadine Johnson also testified before the committee about states and school districts that have restricted access to controversial books in school libraries.

“In this new era of censorship, we have tracked 303 bills, which we term educational gag orders, in 44 states,” Johnson said. “These government restrictions forbid the teaching of specific curricula or ban certain concepts from the classroom.”

Several Republican committee members, including Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, countered that they believe the books being removed from school libraries are inappropriate for children.

Roy referred to the book “Gender Queer,” which he said contained “graphic pictures that are being put in front of our kids in schools,” such as “two men engaged in a sexual position” and “two men engaged in oral sex.”

Rep. Mike Johnson indicated there would be additional hearings from the subcommittee to address these matters further.

U.S. House passes ‘Parents Bill of Rights’ with amendments on transgender issues

Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Republican House members introduce the "Parents Bill of Rights" Thursday, March 23, 2023. / Speaker Kevin McCarthyYouTube channel

Washington D.C., Mar 24, 2023 / 16:42 pm (CNA).

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives narrowly passed a “Parents Bill of Rights” designed to ensure that parents can have a stronger role in the public education system, which included last-minute amendments to bolster transparency on schools’ transgender policies.

The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Julia Letlow, R-Louisiana, passed the House in a 213-208 vote, with the support of most Republicans and no Democrats.

“As a mom of two and a former educator, I believe for children to succeed, they need families and schools to work together as partners throughout the learning process,” Letlow said in a statement. “After spending nearly a year and a half working to pass this bill, I’m grateful that we’re finally able to advance this critical legislation.”

The resolution would set new federal standards for the public education system that would mandate greater transparency over the school curriculum and budget, set up more opportunities for parents to voice their opinion on school matters, and establish stronger privacy rights and security protocols for students.

To bolster transparency, the resolution would require school districts to publicly post their school curriculum and provide a list of library books and other library reading materials to parents. It would require states to provide parents with timely notice if gifted and talented programs are to be eliminated and publicize all changes to academic standards and learning benchmarks. The resolution would further mandate that school district budgets, individual school budgets, and all revenues and expenditures be publicly disclosed.

In addition, the resolution would seek to ensure greater cooperation between the schools and the parents by requiring school boards to provide opportunities for parents to address the board and mandating that teachers offer parents at least two in-person meetings every year.

To ensure students’ privacy, the resolution would require that schools receive parental permission before sharing student data with technology companies and would ban the sale of student data for any commercial purposes. It would also require that schools get parental consent prior to any medical exams of students.

As a way to improve student safety and transparency, the resolution would require schools to inform parents of violent activity on school grounds and at school-sponsored events. The schools would be required to maintain the privacy of students involved in the violence when notifying parents.

Lawmakers also approved some last-minute amendments to the resolution, which included two proposed by Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colorado. Her amendments would require that schools notify parents if they allow biological males who identify as female to participate in girls’ sports or use the girls’ restrooms.

“We have seen public schools promote extremely divisive content like critical race theory, radical gender ideology, and even drag shows to impressionable young children,” Boebert said in a statement. “Speaking as a mother of four boys, enough is enough. I send my boys to school to receive an education, not indoctrination. Parents have a right to know what’s happening at their child’s school, and my amendments will ensure just that.”

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-New York, issued a statement that accused Republicans of putting “politics over parents” by passing the resolution and claimed they were intent on banning books.

“Rather than actually invest in empowering parents, making sure parents have the opportunity to be engaged and involved in the education of their children, extreme MAGA Republicans want to jam their right-wing ideology down the throats of students, teachers, and parents throughout America,” Jeffries said.

The resolution now heads to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it faces an uphill battle.

Nancy Pelosi criticizes the U.S. Catholic bishops during Georgetown panel discussion

null / Michael Candelori/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Mar 24, 2023 / 16:12 pm (CNA).

Speaking at a panel discussion at Georgetown University’s Center on Faith and Justice on Thursday, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi criticized the U.S. Catholic bishops over their opposition to abortion and transgender treatments for children.

“They [the bishops] are willing to abandon the bulk of [Catholic social teaching] because of one thing [abortion],” Pelosi said. “And that’s the fight that we have.”

As an outspoken abortion advocate as well as a supporter of the LGBTQ+ movement, Pelosi regularly cites her Catholic faith as the reason behind her policy positions.

During her time as speaker of the House, first in 2007–2011 and then again in 2019–2023, Pelosi backed legislation opposed by the U.S. bishops, including the Affordable Care Act and the Respect for Marriage Act.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has called abortion a “grave evil” and LGBTQ+ legislation “deeply concerning.”

In May 2022, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, the city Pelosi represents, announced in an open letter that he would begin forbidding the priests in his diocese from distributing holy Communion to Pelosi because of her stance on abortion.

On Thursday, Pelosi said, “I figure that’s his problem, not mine.”

“He made it very clear, maybe we’re not all God’s children. Maybe we do not have a free will,” Pelosi said of Cordileone, whom she also criticized for opposing LGBTQ+ ideology.

“We have had very negative, anti-LGBTQ stuff coming from our archbishop and others,” Pelosi said, criticizing in particular the bishops’ stance against transgender surgeries on children. 

“Right now our challenge is trans kids, that in certain states they will arrest you if you try to meet the health needs of your trans child. They will call that child abuse. So, yeah some of it is stirred up by some of the more conservative leaders in the Church. It’s sad to say — not His Holiness.”

When it comes to her pro-abortion stance, Pelosi said she considers herself pro-life because she had five children in just over six years and because she cares about children.

“I was raised in a family that you would describe probably as ‘pro-life,’ although I think I’m pro-life because I care about children,” Pelosi said. “Because I had five children in six years and one week … so I keep saying to my members, you got five kids in six years? You want to talk about this subject?”

According to Pelosi, she and the bishops are “pretty much in sync” with most Catholic social teaching except for the abortion issue.

Pelosi also touted her role in passing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, in 2010.

The USCCB opposed Obamacare on the grounds that it would result in taxpayer dollars being used to pay for abortions as well as force employers to cover abortions and include contraceptives in their employees’ health insurance plans. Congress eventually passed the legislation by overcoming opposition from pro-life Democrats with the inclusion of restrictions to abortion in ACA insurance plans.

Pelosi claimed that the U.S. bishops “were mischaracterizing what was in that bill,” adding that she believes that “their purpose was to destroy Roe v. Wade, right in that bill.”

“Today is the 13th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, something that I’m very, very proud of,” Pelosi said. “But all I can say about how we passed that is, thank God for the nuns, thank God for the nuns because they offset the bishops.”

Though the USCCB opposed the Affordable Care Act, the bill was endorsed by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The Vatican has investigated the organization and censured it for embracing a political agenda in contrast with the teaching of the Church. ​

Jim Wallis, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Faith and Justice, also chimed in, saying that “Catholic women religious were central” in passing Obamacare, “because they thought the Affordable Care Act was pro-life.”

Wallis called this a “consistent ethic of life” based on Catholic social teaching that is “not just focus[ed] on one issue.”

Instead, she asserted that “because we had the nuns, we were able to prevail … So, when we pushed open that gate, the nuns were right there with us, pushing open the gate.”

According to Pelosi, her style of faith and politics is something she shares with President Joe Biden.

“Justice is something that means a great deal to President Biden, in his Catholicism, justice in how we meet the needs of the people, justice in listening to how they want their needs,” she said. “When you’re in [politics], you have to be prepared to take a punch, and you have to be prepared to throw a punch, for the children, always for the children.”

“My ‘why’ is one in five children lives in poverty, goes to sleep hungry at night,” Pelosi added. “That’s what took me from the kitchen to the Congress, from housewife to House speaker.”

During the discussion at the Jesuit Catholic university, Pelosi also called for the Church to start allowing women to become priests, saying that her mother had wanted her to be a nun, but she would have preferred to be a priest.

“Every day [priests] have the power … of turning bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, that is real power, now we’re talking power, and that’s why I was more attracted to that than being a nun,” Pelosi said. “On the other hand, maybe women will be able to do that as well, that’s something to think about, something I was hoping the pope would do.”

Pope Francis asked Catholics to renew Marian consecration every March 25. Here’s what that means

Pope Francis reads the Act of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in St. Peter’s Basilica, March 25, 2022. / Vatican Media.

St. Louis, Mo., Mar 24, 2023 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

March 25 marks one year since Pope Francis consecrated Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Earlier this week, the pope encouraged “each believer and community, especially prayer groups,” to renew the consecration of the whole world every March 25 on the solemnity of the Annunciation. But what does all this mean? Here’s what you need to know.

What does consecration mean?

To “consecrate” is to set aside for a holy purpose. The word “entrustment” is often used synonymously with the word “consecration.”

The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship defines consecration to Mary as an overt recognition of the “singular role of Mary in the Mystery of Christ and of the Church, of the universal and exemplary importance of her witness to the Gospel, of trust in her intercession, and of the efficacy of her patronage.”

St. John Paul II — who consecrated the entire Church and world to Mary three times during his pontificate — taught that by consecrating oneself to Mary, we accept her help in offering ourselves fully to Christ.

Colin Donovan, vice president for theology at EWTN, told CNA that consecration “is an entrustment and also an appeal to God. The entrustment here is the fact that we lay ourselves, our hearts, our prayers, our desires at the feet of Our Lady, and that serves God’s purposes because it elevates Our Lady in the mind of the Church, and hopefully in the mind in the world. And it’s an appeal to God for our particular needs.”

What is the Immaculate Heart of Mary?

The Immaculate Heart of Mary is an object of devotion, as it symbolizes her perfect will as expressed in her “fiat.” Mary’s heart is generally depicted with seven wounds and pierced by a sword. Early devotion to the heart of Mary was exemplified by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, but the modern devotion was founded by St. John Eudes, a French priest of the 17th century.

The feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was first observed by Eudes, and it began receiving papal approbation at the opening of the 19th century. The feast was placed on the General Roman Calendar in 1944, to be observed Aug. 22, the octave day of the Assumption.

What was Pope Francis’ consecration of Russia and Ukraine?

Taking place just over a month after the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Pope Francis said he wanted to entrust the nations at war to the Blessed Virgin Mary in response to the “numerous requests from the people of God.”

“Nearly a month has passed since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine that is daily inflicting immense suffering upon its sorely tried people and threatening world peace,” Pope Francis said in a letter dated March 21, 2022.

“At this dark hour, the Church is urgently called to intercede before the Prince of Peace and to demonstrate her closeness to those directly affected by the conflict.”

The pope released another letter March 23 asking all Catholics to assemble in their parishes on that Friday to pray the act of consecration. Catholics around the world — including in every U.S. diocese — participated.

In his homily last year before praying the consecration, the pope said that the prayer “is no magic formula but a spiritual act.”

“It is an act of complete trust on the part of children who, amid the tribulation of this cruel and senseless war that threatens our world, turn to their Mother, reposing all their fears and pain in her heart and abandoning themselves to her,” he said.

What am I being asked to do now?

Here’s what Pope Francis said:

“Let us not tire of entrusting the cause of peace to the Queen of Peace. I would therefore like to invite every believer and community, especially prayer groups, to renew every March 25 the act of consecration to Our Lady, so that she, who is Mother, may preserve us all in unity and peace. And let us not forget, in these days, troubled Ukraine, who is suffering so much.”

What is the prayer I’m being asked to pray?

The text of the prayer can be found here.

Housekeeper’s husband pleads not guilty to murder of Bishop David O’Connell

A memorial Mass for the late Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop David O'Connell was held at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Hacienda Heights, California, on March 1, 2023. / Credit: YouTube/St. John Vianney Hacienda Heights

Boston, Mass., Mar 24, 2023 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Carlos Medina, the man charged with murdering Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell in February, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in court Wednesday.

News of O’Connell’s Feb. 18 murder shocked the nation after it was reported that he died after suffering multiple gunshot wounds at his Hacienda Heights home. The local and wider Catholic community mourned O’Connell, who was remembered as a man of peace dedicated to serving the poor and immigrants.

Medina, 61, is the husband of O’Connell’s housekeeper, and it remains unclear what the motive for the murder might have been. He is being held on more than $2 million bail and will have his next court hearing May 17.

Before his not guilty plea, Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón said in a Feb. 22 press conference that Medina admitted to the murder.

“He admitted that he had done the killing and we believe we recovered the weapon that they were using, and we have other evidence from the bed, certain things that indicate that they were in the place where the killing occurred,” Gascón said in Spanish, translated here by CNA.

Following the revelation of the alleged admission, a current and former colleague of Gascón criticized him for breaking the L.A. District Attorney’s Office’s own policy of forbidding the disclosure of a defendant's admission in an open criminal case.

John Lewin, a former deputy district attorney for Los Angeles, told Fox News Digital that the statement could affect the outcome of the trial.

“It cannot be more simply stated, George Gascón is a DA who either doesn’t know the basic ethical rules that govern the agency he leads or doesn’t care to follow them,” he said.

“What if a court decides that the confession will not be admitted to trial? You can’t put that genie back into the bottle,” he added.

John McKinney, a current LA deputy district attorney, told Fox News Digital that the disclosure was contrary to police department rules. 

“By disclosing a defendant’s confession in an open criminal case, George Gascón has not only committed a blatant violation of LADA policy but has also potentially violated the due process rights of the accused.” 

Obtained by CNA, the District Attorney’s Legal Policy Manual states that “at the time of arrest, the issuance of an arrest warrant, the filing of a complaint, or the public revelation of an indictment,” information about a confession, admission, or statement given by the accused shall not be released.

Marc Debbaudt, a former career deputy district attorney for Los Angeles, told CNA Feb. 27 that he didn’t think Gascón’s announcement of the admission could cause the case to be thrown out but said that “it could result in motions to change jurisdiction.”

“It’s just embarrassingly unprofessional,” he said.

Three days of memorial services were held for O’Connell, 69, in early March. O’Connell’s funeral was attended by thousands as Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez called him an intercessor for souls.

Speaking briefly at the conclusion of the funeral liturgy, Gomez said “Bishop Dave,” as O’Connell was affectionately known, would be sorely missed, but “we know that he’s in heaven.” 

“From there he’s going to continue to intercede for us,” Gomez said, “as he has done his whole life.”

Texas bishops support plan to give families tuition credits to spend on private or parochial schools

null / Credit: Cherries/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Mar 24, 2023 / 11:08 am (CNA).

Catholic bishops in Texas are all-in advocating for parental school choice in the state Legislature this spring. 

“St. Paul VI spoke well of the Catholic Church’s understanding of education. He said, ‘Parents, who have the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children, must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools.’ Therefore, parental choice continues to be a top priority of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops,” Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth said in a video released Monday.  

A bill introduced by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, would establish an education savings account program to allow parents to receive some of their tax dollars back to help pay for the educational institution of their choice. This would allow more Catholic parents to be able to better afford to enroll their children in a Catholic or private school or home-school. 

In Iowa earlier this year, Catholic bishops hailed the passage of a school choice bill as a boon for Catholic schools. That state’s bill would allow students to put $7,598 in an educational savings account to be spent at any private or parochial school. 

“Currently, there are not any private school choice programs in Texas,” Helen Osman, a spokesperson for the Texas Catholic Bishops, told CNA. 

“There are charter schools in many areas of the state, and the state does allow home schooling, but there is no funding provided to parents to choose educational options for their children … We will be testifying in support of [parental choice legislation],” she said. 

With the backing of the state’s Catholic bishops, school choice reform seems likely to happen in Texas. 

In addition, state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, introduced the Texas Parental Bill of Rights to guarantee parents the right to access information about their children and make decisions regarding their education. 

The bill explicitly states that a parent has “the right to direct the moral and religious training of the parent’s child, make decisions concerning the child’s education, and consent to medical, psychiatric, and psychological treatment of the parent’s child.”

If passed into law, the bill would guarantee Texas parents the right to have input on their children’s courses and educational materials. Parents would have the ability to opt their children out of unwanted vaccinations or instruction deemed objectionable such as on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Key Texas political leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, have also signaled their support for the legislation.

Abbott, a Catholic Republican, said on Tuesday that “we must empower every parent in Texas to choose the best education opportunity for their child. This session, we’ll deliver education freedom for every family in Texas.” 

Both parental choice bills were presented to the state Senate’s education committee on Wednesday, the first step the bill needs to clear to be passed into law. 

Many Texas Catholics showed up at the state capitol in Austin Wednesday to show their support for the bill. Some, including Bishop Olson and Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops legislative director Jennifer Allmon, testified before the education committee in support of parental choice. 

“This is not a zero-sum game where private schools win, and public schools lose. It is a win-win for communities when all children can flourish in the educational setting best suited for them,” Allmon said in her testimony.

“It is unrealistic to expect every public school to be everything to every child. By combining public school parental rights improvements with an education savings account, [parental choice legislation] recognizes that public schools will remain the predominant method of receiving education in Texas while allowing children who need something else to have a better chance to access it.”

Here’s what real exorcists are saying about Russell Crowe’s Vatican exorcist movie

Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto) and Father Gabriele Amorth (Russell Crowe) in Screen Gems’ The Pope's Exorcist. / Jonathan Hession © 2023 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Denver, Colo., Mar 24, 2023 / 09:56 am (CNA).

The trailer of the upcoming Russell Crowe movie “The Pope’s Exorcist” indicates that the film might not do justice to the Italian exorcist Father Gabriel Amorth or the rite of exorcism as practiced in the Catholic Church, according to an exorcist organization Amorth himself helped to found.

The International Association of Exorcists on March 7 voiced concern that the film seems to fall under the category of “splatter cinema,” which it calls a “sub-genre of horror.”

The Vatican, the statement said, is filmed with a high-contrast “chiaroscuro” effect seen in film noir.

This gives the film a “‘Da Vinci Code’ effect to instill in the public the usual doubt: Who is the real enemy? The devil or ecclesiastical ‘power’?” the exorcists’ association said.

While special effects are “inevitable” in every film about demonic possession, “everything is exaggerated, with striking physical and verbal manifestations, typical of horror films,” the group said.

“This way of narrating Don Amorth’s experience as an exorcist, in addition to being contrary to historical reality, distorts and falsifies what is truly lived and experienced during the exorcism of truly possessed people,” said the association, which claims more than 800 exorcist members and more than 120 auxiliary members worldwide.

“In addition, it is offensive with regard to the state of suffering in which those who are victims of an extraordinary action of the devil find themselves,” the group’s statement added. The statement responded to the release of the movie trailer and promised a more in-depth response to the film’s April 14 theatrical release.

Father Gabriele Amorth, chief exorcist of Rome, speaks to CNA on May 22, 2013.  Steven Driscoll/CNA
Father Gabriele Amorth, chief exorcist of Rome, speaks to CNA on May 22, 2013. Steven Driscoll/CNA

Amorth, who died at age 91 in 2016, said he performed an estimated 100,000 exorcisms during his life. He was perhaps the world’s best-known exorcist and the author of many books, including “An Exorcist Tells His Story,” reportedly an inspiration for the upcoming movie.

Several of Amorth’s books are carried by the U.S. publisher Sophia Institute Press. The publisher’s newly released book “The Pope's Exorcist: 101 Questions About Fr. Gabriele Amorth” is an interview in which the priest addresses many topics ranging from prayer to pop music.

Michael Lichens, editor and spokesperson at Sophia Institute Press, voiced some agreement with the exorcist group.

“The International Association of Exorcists is right to be concerned and I’m thankful for their words,” Lichens told CNA. “My hope is that audiences will remember that Father Amorth is a real person with a great legacy and perhaps a few moviegoers will look up an interview or pick up his books.”

“This was a man who included St. Padre Pio and Blessed Giacomo Alberione as mentors, as well as Servant of God Candido Amantini, who was his teacher for the ministry of exorcism,” he said. “Father Amorth fought as a partisan as a young man and grew to fight greater evil as an exorcist. His life is an inspiration and I know that his work and words will still reach many.”

Amorth was born in Modena, Italy, on May 1, 1925. In wartime Italy, he was a soldier with the underground anti-fascist partisans. He was ordained a priest in 1951. He did not become an exorcist until 1986, when Cardinal Ugo Poletti, the vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, named him the diocesan exorcist.

The priest was frequently in the news for his comments on the subject of demonic forces. In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph in 2000, he said: “I speak with the devil every day. I talk to him in Latin. He answers in Italian. I have been wrestling with him, day in, day out, for 14 years.”

The movie “The Pope’s Exorcist” claims to be “inspired by the actual files of the Vatican’s chief exorcist.” The Sony Pictures movie stars the New Zealand-born actor Russell Crowe as Amorth. Crowe’s character wears a gray beard and speaks English with a noticeable accent.

“The majority of cases do not require an exorcism,” the Amorth character says in the movie’s first trailer. A cardinal explains that Crowe’s character recommends 98% of people who seek an exorcism to doctors and psychiatrists instead.

“The other 2%... I call it… evil,” Crowe adds.

The plot appears to concern Amorth’s encounter with a particular demon. Crowe’s character suggests the Church “has fought this demon before” but covered it up.

“We need to find out why,” he says.

The trailer shows short dramatic scenes of exorcism, including a confrontation between Amorth and a girl apparently suffering demonic possession.

The International Association of Exorcists said such a representation makes exorcism become “a spectacle aimed at inspiring strong and unhealthy emotions, thanks to a gloomy scenography, with sound effects such as to inspire only anxiety, restlessness, and fear in the viewer.”

“The end result is to instill the conviction that exorcism is an abnormal, monstrous, and frightening phenomenon, whose only protagonist is the devil, whose violent reactions can be faced with great difficulty,” said the exorcist group. “This is the exact opposite of what occurs in the context of exorcism celebrated in the Catholic Church in obedience to the directives imparted by it.”

CNA sought comment from Sony Pictures and “The Pope’s Exorcist” executive producer Father Edward Siebert, SJ, but did not receive a response by publication.

Amorth co-founded the International Association of Exorcists with Father René Laurentin in 1994. In 2014 the Catholic Church recognized the group as a Private Association of the Faithful.

The association trains exorcists and promotes their incorporation into local communities and normal pastoral care. It also aims to promote “correct knowledge” about exorcism ministry and collaboration with medical and psychiatric experts who have competence in spirituality.

Exorcism is considered a sacramental, not a sacrament, of the Church. It is a liturgical rite that only a priest can perform.

Hollywood made the topic a focus most famously in the 1973 movie “The Exorcist,” based on the novel by William Peter Blatty.

“Most movies about Catholicism and spiritual warfare sensationalize,” Lichens of Sophia Institute Press told CNA. “Sensationalism and terror sell tickets. As a fan of horror movies, I can understand and even appreciate that. As a Catholic who has studied Father Amorth, though, I think such sensationalism distorts the important work of exorcism.”

“On the other hand, ‘The Exorcist’ made the wider public more curious about this overlooked ministry. That is a good thing that came out, despite other reservations and concerns,” he continued. “Still, I would love it if a screenwriter and director spoke to exorcists and tried to show the often-quotidian parts of the ministry.”

An unhealthy curiosity can be a problem, Lichens said.

“When I work as a spokesperson for Amorth’s books, I am always concerned about inspiring curiosity about the demonic,” he told CNA. “As Christians, we know we have nothing to fear from the demonic but curiosity might lead some to want to seek out the supernatural or the demonic. Father Amorth has dozens of stories of people who found themselves afflicted after party game seances.”

Lichens encouraged those who are curious to read more of Amorth’s writings, some of which are excerpted on the Catholic Exchange website. Sophia Institute Press has published “Diary of an American Exorcist” by Monsignor Stephen Rosetti and “The Exorcism Files” by the American lay Catholic Adam Blai.

“First and foremost, Father Amorth was involved in a healing ministry,” Lichens said. “Like other exorcists, his work often involved doctors in physical and mental health because the goal is to bring healing and hope to the potentially afflicted.”

“Those of us who read Amorth might have been excited to read firsthand accounts of spiritual warfare, but readers quickly see a man whose heart was always full of love for those who sought his help,” he added.

The International Association of Exorcists, for its part, praised the 2016 documentary “Deliver Us,” saying this shows “what exorcism really is in the Catholic Church and “the authentic traits of a Catholic exorcist.” It shows exorcism as “a most joyful event,” in their view, because through experiencing “the presence and action of Christ the Lord and of the Communion of the Saints,” those who are “tormented by the extraordinary action of the devil gradually find liberation and peace.”

Exiles describe Nicaragua regime’s ‘unholy war against the Catholic Church’ at congressional hearing

Nicaraguan political prisoner Juan Sebastian Chamorro speaks to the press ouside a hotel in Herndon, Virginia, on Feb. 9, 2023, after he was released by the Nicaraguan government. / Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

Washington D.C., Mar 23, 2023 / 17:14 pm (CNA).

Recently released political prisoners and human rights activists testified before members of Congress Wednesday about the ongoing persecution in Nicaragua, which one witness called an “unholy war against the Catholic Church.”

In recent years, the Nicaraguan government under Daniel Ortega has detained, imprisoned, and likely tortured numerous Catholic leaders, targeting at least one bishop and several priests. 

In addition, the Ortega regime has repressed Catholic radio and television stations and driven Catholic religious orders, including the Missionaries of Charity, from the country. 

Among those to testify March 22 was Juan Sebastian Chamorro, a former presidential candidate opposed to the Ortega regime who detailed his arrest and imprisonment.

“I was kidnapped by the police from my house the night of June 8, 2021. I was captured in front of my wife and my daughter … My family did not know anything about me until I was able to see my sister … almost three months after my arrest,” he said.

“Today, as the result of this authoritarian project in Nicaragua, there is no law, there is no media, and there are no civil rights.”

Other witnesses included Bianca Jagger, a Nicaraguan human rights activist and former actress, and Felix Maradiaga, a Nicaraguan scholar and activist who is another recently freed political prisoner. It was Jagger who called the repression an “unholy war against the Catholic Church and civil society in Nicaragua.”

Dozens of other Nicaraguan exiles attended the hearing, held at the Rayburn Office Building on Capitol Hill before members of two House subcommittees: the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere and the Subcommittee on Global Health, Human Rights, and International Organizations. The latter body is chaired by Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey.

“Under President Ortega, Nicaragua has become a pariah dictatorship, in league with other human rights abusers like Cuba. Russia, Iran, North Korea, and the People’s Republic of China,” Smith said in his opening statements.

According to Chamorro, “the repression against the Catholic Church in Nicaragua is unprecedented in the history of Latin America … After putting all opposition in jail, repressing all forms of protest, the dictator had to deal with the last standing voice defending freedom, defending peace, and defending human dignity.”

“Ortega had to silence the voice of the Church in order to impose his own voice of hate and violence,” Chamorro added.

On Feb. 10, the Ortega regime struck at the heart of Nicaraguan Catholicism by sentencing one of the country’s foremost leaders, Bishop Rolando Álvarez Lagos, to 26 years and four months in prison for being a “traitor to the homeland.” 

Pope Francis condemned Alvarez’s arrest, likening Ortega’s regime to Nazi Germany

Last week the Vatican’s diplomatic headquarters in Nicaragua was forced to close and its last remaining diplomat, the chargé d’affaires (ambassador), left the country, officially cutting diplomatic ties with the Church in what is a deeply Catholic country. A little more than a year ago, Ortega expelled the Vatican’s apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag.

“Alvarez is in prison because he was the only voice left free to preach an undeniable truth, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Maradiaga said during his Wednesday testimony. 

Members of Congress, including Smith; Rep. Maria Salazar, R-Florida; and Rep. French Hill, R-Arkansas, followed the testimony by focusing their questions to witnesses on the reasons beyond Ortega’s repression and how the U.S. can best respond to the Ortega regime’s oppression.

Salazar asked why Ortega has targeted the Catholic Church in particular.

“This guy is a tyrant. This guy is willing to bet anything to do anything to push his plan … and he knows that the Catholic Church is the only institution in his way,” Maradiaga answered.

“The message of the leaders of the Catholic Church was very powerful,” Chamorro said. “They defended with a strong voice and Ortega didn’t appreciate that; he doesn’t like criticism.”

Smith told CNA after the hearing that he “learned a lot” from the testimony, and he criticized what he called a lack of response from the Biden administration.

“Not enough is being done. I wish somebody would ask Biden … ‘You say what a great Catholic you are, what about Bishop Alvarez?’” Smith said.

“Why aren’t we doing something with the [U.N.] Human Rights Council? Bring an action against Nicaragua right now, do it,” he continued. “Charles Taylor, the president of Liberia, has got 50 years for his crimes against humanity. It can be done. It takes a commitment and purpose, and it’s lacking.”

Priest stripped of faculty to hear confessions after he advocated violating that sacrament in sex abuse cases

Pleuntje via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Boston, Mass., Mar 23, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee has stripped one of his priests of the faculty to hear confessions following the clergyman’s public support for civil laws mandating that priests break the seal of confession for sins of sexual abuse.

“I have informed Father James Connell that effective immediately he is to cease all such erroneous communications that distort the teachings of the Church about the confessional seal,” Listeicki wrote in a March 22 statement. 

“I have also immediately removed the canonical faculties of Father Connell to validly celebrate the sacrament of confession and to offer absolution, here in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and thereby also in the Catholic Church around the world.”

Connell, a retired priest in the archdiocese and former vice chancellor, made comments March 13 in delawareonline.com advocating for a Delaware state bill that mandates priests break the seal of confession for penitents who confess sins of child sexual abuse. 

Connell wrote that “no institution in our society, not even a recognized religion, has a significant advantage over governments’ compelling interest and responsibility to protect its children from harm by abuse or neglect.”

“Thus, no valid freedom of religion argument rooted in the absence of truth can provide a moral justification for sheltering perpetrators of abuse or neglect of children from their deserved punishment, while also endangering potential victims,” he continued.

This isn’t the first time Connell, a canon lawyer, has spoken publicly on the issue. In 2018, he appealed to Pope Francis in an online article to “release from the seal of confession” all information regarding child or vulnerable adult sexual abuse so authorities can be notified.

The seal of confession “is not a matter of divine law,” he said in that piece. 

In the Code of Canon Law, Canon 983 says that “the sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.”

In 2019, he filed a lawsuit in a U.S. district court against Wisconsin and nine other states arguing that exemptions for the clergy from being mandatory reporters in cases when sexual abuse became known to them under the sacramental seal are unconstitutional.

That lawsuit was dismissed by the judge one day after it was filed.

Connell is a vocal advocate for victims of clerical sexual abuse. Following the August 2022 death of Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who covered up priestly sexual abuse and paid hush money to a former adult seminarian with whom he had a sexual relationship, Connell publicly called for clergy in the archdiocese to boycott the funeral.

Connell himself was accused in 2009 of covering up a sexual abuse case when he worked in the chancery, a claim that both he and the archdiocese denied.

In his recent column, Connell wrote that “all people in Delaware should support the proposed HB 74 that would repeal the Delaware clergy-penitent privilege statute.”

Listecki said that Connell’s comments on the confessional seal are “gravely contrary” to Church teaching and that the Church “firmly declares that the sacramental seal of confession is always, and in every circumstance without exception, completely inviolable.”

“The false assertions of Father James Connell have caused understandable and widespread unrest among the people of God, causing them to question if the privacy of the confessional can now be violated, by him or any other Catholic priest,” he said.

CNA reached out to Connell for comment but received no response by time of publication. 

Sandra Peterson, the archdiocese’s communications director, referred CNA to Listecki’s statement and added that she is unaware of any intervention against Connell for his prior comments against the seal of confession in the two years she has been working for the archdiocese.

Archbishop Gomez to lead 6-mile eucharistic procession through Los Angeles

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St. Louis, Mo., Mar 23, 2023 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles will lead a six-mile eucharistic procession on Saturday through the city as part of the National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year initiative of the U.S. bishops to renew Catholics’ devotion to Christ in the holy Eucharist.

The March 25 procession will go from a historic Los Angeles mission church, three miles down a main road to another parish, and back.

The day will begin with Mass at 8:30 a.m. PT at the historic Mission San Gabriel, which held its first Mass in more than two years last September after suffering severe damage in an arson attack in mid-2020. Following the Mass, the procession will begin at 9:30. The faithful are invited to walk along with the procession after signing up online.

The route will take the Eucharist through downtown Los Angeles to St. Luke the Evangelist Church before returning to Mission San Gabriel for Benediction. The total route is about 6.5 miles, according to the archdiocese.

A eucharistic procession serves as a way to honor God by professing Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist in a public way. A priest carries a monstrance containing the Eucharist, and traditionally at least three altar servers — one carrying a cross, flanked by two others holding candles — lead the crowd of participants. Traditionally, the monstrance containing the Eucharist will be carried under a small canopy. The canopy serves as a reminder of the “tent of the presence” in which the Israelites of the Old Testament transported the bread of the presence — the prefigurement of the Eucharist — and also serves as a focal point for the procession.

The Los Angeles procession is part of the national revival’s Year of Diocesan Renewal, which kicked off last June with more than 100 eucharistic processions in dioceses across the country. During this stage of the revival, each U.S. diocese is invited to offer events to promote and inspire understanding of the Eucharist. The revival was launched, in part, in response to a 2019 Pew Research study that suggested that only about one-third of U.S. Catholics believe the Church’s teaching that the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

A subsequent Year of Parish Revival launches on the solemnity of Corpus Christi on June 8. The bishops have said they want to encourage “grassroots creativity” and embrace diverse eucharistic traditions to help parishes foster a greater love for the Eucharist among their members. Parish-level initiatives could include offering teaching Masses and small-group formation, the leader of the initiative, Bishop Andrew Cozzens of Crookston, Minnesota, has said. 

The revival is set to culminate with the National Eucharistic Congress to be held in Indianapolis from July 17-21, 2024. More than 100,000 Catholics are expected to attend in person, with more joining remotely, to celebrate the Eucharist.