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Christmas shopping? Check out these gifts handmade by monks and nuns

Dominican nuns at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey, make soap and candles which they sell at their Cloister Shoppe. / Jeffrey Bruno

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 25, 2022 / 07:00 am (CNA).

If you’re looking for unique handmade gifts for those on your list this Christmas, you’re going to love these delicious treats and original crafts created by Catholic monks and nuns. There’s something for everyone, and you’ll have the added satisfaction of knowing that you helped support these religious brothers and sisters in their lives of faith and service.

Fruitcake

You know the old joke about how there’s only been one fruitcake ever made — it’s just been passed around and around and never eaten? Well, the monks of New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California, don’t make that kind of fruitcake. Soaked in brandy and aged for three months, this cake “has converted many a fruitcake ‘atheist,’” according to its creators. Order a one-pound fruitcake for $24.95.

Brandy-dipped fruitcake by the monks of New Camaldoli Hermitage.
Brandy-dipped fruitcake by the monks of New Camaldoli Hermitage.

Fudge

The monks of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, make their famous fudge with premium chocolate and real butter. Try a 12-ounce gift box for $12.95.

Or try some fudge made with Kentucky bourbon from the Trappist monks of the Abbey of Gethsemani. A 12-ounce box sells for $16.45.

Chocolates by Monastery Candy.
Chocolates by Monastery Candy.

Cookies

The Capuchin Poor Clare nuns make their famous butter cookies from their monastery in Denver. The “Clarisas” come in a beautiful gift box featuring an image of St. Clare and sell for $24 for a 1.5-pound box.

Clarisas' Cookies.
Clarisas' Cookies.

Caramels

The contemplative nuns of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa, are known for their delicious caramels, which they make by hand in order to support their way of life. A 9-ounce box sells for $13.75.

Coffee

The Wyoming Carmelites of Mystic Monk Coffee hand-roast their beans in small batches to support their community. The website CoffeeReview.com ranks their coffee among the highest of the coffees they review. A 12-ounce bag of their most popular flavor, Jingle Bell Java, sells for $13.95.

Hot sauce

The monks at Subiaco Abbey in Arkansas make a tangy hot sauce from the habanero peppers grown in the monastery’s gardens. Benedictine Father Richard Walz began making his “Monk Sauce” while he was stationed in Belize, Central America. In 2003, he brought back some seeds from the peppers he grew there and created a tangy sauce made from the chilies along with onions, garlic, carrots, vinegar, salt, and “a few prayers thrown in for good measure.” How spicy is it? According to the abbey’s website, their Monk Sauce has a 250,000 Scoville Unit rating, while Tabasco’s habanero sauce earned a mere 7,000 Scoville Unit rating. Available in green, red, and smoked, the 5-ounce bottles sell for $11 each.

Soap

The nuns from the Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey, live a life of prayer through eucharistic adoration and dedication to the rosary. To support this way of life they create handmade candles and skin-care products, which they sell at their Cloister Shoppe. Create your own Christmas gift bag of two bars of soap, a hand cream, a jar candle, a face moisturizer, and a handmade rosary made from olive wood beads from the Holy Land for $50. The sisters also make hand-poured beeswax taper candles in small batches at the monastery, which they sell for $10 a pair.

Hand-painted china

The contemplative Sisters of the Monastery of Bethlehem in Livingston Manor, New York, support themselves by hand-painting chinaware. The exquisite, intricately-designed pieces make lovely Christmas gifts, and the china is dishwasher- and microwave-safe. Check out these gorgeous designs: a hand-painted serving bowl for $119 or this cookie jar for $89.  “All chinaware is done in solitude and in prayer, anonymously, and with love,” reads the sisters’ website.

Cookie jars from the Monastery of Bethlehem.
Cookie jars from the Monastery of Bethlehem.

What can the Maronite rite offer the Eucharistic Revival? Here’s what two Maronite bishops say

Adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist. / Thoom/Shutterstock

Boston, Mass., Nov 24, 2022 / 11:00 am (CNA).

What can the Maronite Catholic Church offer to aid the U.S. bishops’ Eucharistic Revival that is currently underway in the United States?

The two Maronite bishops in the United States say the answer is the Maronite liturgy, with its deep reverence and focus on Jesus Christ, truly present in the Eucharist.

The U.S. bishops’ National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year initiative by the U.S. bishops to inspire Eucharist belief, follows 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 Christ. 

"I think what we have to offer, of course, is the liturgy, which is the focus of our eucharistic reverence and amazement,” Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn told CNA at the U.S. bishops’ conference in Baltimore Nov. 16.

Mansour said that his parishes offer eucharistic adoration and added that when on retreats the priests will adore the Blessed Sacrament for one hour each night. 

He added that he thinks the Maronite way of receiving Communion by intinction — when the priest dips the Lord's body into his precious blood and places it on the communicant’s tongue — is a “very healthy way” to receive.

“It's almost a way of receiving Communion that you have the best of all the worlds. You have it receiving on the tongue; you have it receiving the body and blood; and you have it where you have a moment just to receive Our Lord and reflect on him,” he said. 

“So I like that practice, and I notice some in the Latin Church have copied it, although I don’t think it’s the norm,” he said.

Bishop Gregory Mansour, of the Maronite Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn shared with CNA what the Maronite Church can offer the U.S. bishops three year Eucharistic Revival. Joe Bukuras
Bishop Gregory Mansour, of the Maronite Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn shared with CNA what the Maronite Church can offer the U.S. bishops three year Eucharistic Revival. Joe Bukuras

Bishop Abdallah Elias Zaidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles said that “the Eucharist must constitute our identity,” noting that “all of us are members of that body of Christ.”

Zaidan, who was also at the bishops’ conference, said that the suffering, the needy, the brilliant, and the intelligent are all part of the body of Christ and “we have to share and put everything in common to help others.”

“From that point,” he said, “in our Maronite liturgy, we have that beautiful reverence to the Eucharist. In everything we do, we go back to the source and summit of our faith as well. Christ’s presence, forever present.”Mansour said that to aid Catholics in their faith in the Real Presence, “I feel strongly it’s good for us to see what we can do to bring people back to church.”

“So we have to have beautiful liturgy, good choir, good preaching, welcoming, youth programs, young adult programs, organization, and we can’t just assume that because the church doors are open, people are going to want to come,” he said.

Bishop Abdallah Elias Zaidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles spoke with CNA about the Eucharist in the life of the Maronite church. Joe Bukuras
Bishop Abdallah Elias Zaidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles spoke with CNA about the Eucharist in the life of the Maronite church. Joe Bukuras

Mansour said that he thinks the Maronite Church had success during the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions because his parish doors were left open while abiding by state and local ordinances.

“And I think because we did that, people came from outside and even our own people as well as non-Maronites came in and found a wonderful treasure. The Maronite Church is a treasure and they made their home there,” he said. 

“So I think the Maronite Church has to just keep doing what she’s always done over the ages. That is just to be a church, be an aesthetical, monastic, prayerful, strong witness to Christ, to the world,” he said.

Mansour said that the laity can inspire faith in others by having a devotion to Jesus, “especially in the presence of the tabernacle.”

“You can come early to Mass and stay a few minutes after to give thanks. You can participate in the liturgy. When the parish does have eucharistic adoration, you could be one of the first to be there and to really believe it. I think your witness is such that you could inspire a few people just by being a faithful man or woman,” he said of the laity.

As far as his role as a bishop, Mansour said that he can inspire eucharistic devotion by being devoted to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. 

“I've learned a few things over the years from others. One of them is an older bishop that I could see every time he’d celebrate the liturgy. He’d go kneel after liturgy, in front of the tabernacle, just to give thanks,” he said.

He added that he didn’t cultivate a strong devotion to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament when in seminary, but he eventually did, and said that “it became such a powerful force in my life.”

“I want to be close to Christ’s presence in the Eucharist everywhere I go. So that’s why I’ve asked all of our priests to put the tabernacle back in the center of the churches. A very clear sign of Christ’s presence,” he said.

Mansour said that one of his predecessors, Archbishop Francis Mansour Zayek, “used to say the life of the priest is like a vigil candle in front of the sacrament. His life is consumed in drawing attention to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. That’s the role of a priest.”

Mansour said that the Blessed Virgin Mary can be an inspiration for all to be “a tabernacle for God’s presence” just as she was when Jesus was in her womb. He said he encourages praying the rosary as well.

Zaidan holds the same sentiments about the Mother of God, noting that “there is always a special mention of her in our prayers” in the Maronite Church.

He said that Marian devotions such as the rosary and the Miraculous Medal can aid eucharistic devotion as well. Zaidan said that all of the Maronite patriarchal sees are always placed under the patronage of the Blessed Mother.

“And if you go to every hometown in Lebanon, if the Blessed Mother is not the patroness of that town, you’d see special shine [to her] or something,” he said.

“She senses our needs in so many ways and she knows in her heart to intercede on our behalf as well,” Zaidan said.

Remembering the hundreds of thousands of Christians martyred in Vietnam 

This work of art was displayed at St. Peter's on the occasion of the Vatican's celebration of the canonization of 117 Vietnamese martyrs on July 19, 1988. / Fair use.

Denver, Colo., Nov 24, 2022 / 10:00 am (CNA).

Christianity arrived in Vietnam in 1533, and many Vietnamese Christians became saints and martyrs in different waves of persecution. The known and unknown who died for Jesus Christ are honored Nov. 24, the feast of the Vietnamese Martyrs.

From 1630 to 1886, somewhere between 130,000 and 300,000 Christians faced martyrdom in the country, often after being held captive and brutally tortured. Others were forced to flee to the mountains and the forests or be exiled to other countries.

The persecutions often came amid political changes and social tensions, especially under emperors who would adopt anti-Christian policies out of fear of foreign influence.

The feast of the Vietnamese Martyrs honors these many unnamed martyrs, represented by 117 known martyrs who died for the Catholic faith in Vietnam during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Their number includes 96 Vietnamese,11 Spaniards, and 10 French. Eight of the group were bishops, 50 were priests, and 59 were lay Catholics. The lay Catholic saints include a 9-year-old child and Agnese Le Thi Thành, a mother of six.

Some of the priests were Dominicans, others were diocesan priests who belonged to the Paris Mission Society.

The martyrs are also grouped as “St. Andrew Dung-Lac and companions.” St. Andrew Dung-Lac was born to poor non-Christian parents who entrusted him to a guardian who was a Catholic catechist. He was baptized and later ordained a priest in 1823. He served as a parish priest and missionary across Vietnam. He was imprisoned more than once and ransomed by the Catholic faithful.

He was martyred by beheading in Hanoi on Dec. 21, 1839.

Groups of Vietnamese martyrs were beatified by various popes. Pope John Paul II canonized the 117 martyrs together on June 19, 1988, praising their witness.

“How to remember them all? Even if we limited ourselves to those canonized today, we could not dwell on each of them,” the pope reflected in his homily for the canonization Mass. He compared the persecutions in Vietnam to that faced by the apostles and early Christians.

“Once again we can say that the blood of the martyrs is for you, Christians of Vietnam, a source of grace to progress in the faith,” he continued. “In you the faith of our fathers continues to be transmitted to the new generations. This faith remains the foundation of the perseverance of all those who, feeling authentically Vietnamese, faithful to their land, at the same time want to continue to be true disciples of Christ.” 

He added: “From the long line of martyrs, their sufferings, their tears comes the ‘harvest of the Lord.’ It is they, our teachers, who give me the great opportunity to present to the whole Church the vitality and greatness of the Vietnamese Church, its vigor, its patience, its ability to face difficulties of all kinds and to proclaim Christ. We give thanks to the Lord for what the Spirit generates abundantly among us!”

“All Christians know that the Gospel asks us to be submissive to men’s institutions out of love for the Lord, to do good, to behave like free men, to respect everyone, to love our brothers, to fear God, to honor the authorities and public institutions,” the pope said.

John Paul II said the Vietnamese martyrs began “a profound and liberating dialogue” with the Vietnamese people and culture. They proclaimed “the truth and universality of faith in God” and proposed “a hierarchy of values and of duties particularly suited to the religious culture of the whole oriental world.”

“Under the guidance of the first Vietnamese catechism, they bore witness to the fact that it is necessary to adore only one God, as the one God who created heaven and earth,” Pope John Paul II continued. “Faced with the coercive dispositions of the authorities regarding the practice of the faith, they affirmed their freedom of belief, arguing with humble courage that the Christian religion was the only thing they could not abandon, since they could not disobey the supreme sovereign: the Lord.” 

“Furthermore, they forcefully proclaimed their will to be loyal to the authorities of the country, without contravening all that was just and honest; they taught to respect and venerate their ancestors, according to the customs of their land, in the light of the mystery of the resurrection,” the pope said. 

“The Vietnamese Church, with her martyrs and through her own testimony, was able to proclaim her commitment and she will not to reject the country’s cultural tradition and legal institutions; on the contrary, she has declared and demonstrated that she wants to be incarnated in this country, faithfully contributing to the true growth of the homeland,” Pope John Paul II said.

The pontiff invoked the old Christian saying “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” He also noted those who face persecution in the present day. 

“In addition to the thousands of faithful who, in past centuries, walked in Christ’s footsteps, there are still today those who work, sometimes in anguish and self-denial, with the sole ambition of being able to persevere in the Lord’s vineyard as faithful who understand the goods of the kingdom of God.”

The duty to work and pray for the coming of the kingdom of God, the pope said, is a “constant and rigorous interior activity” that “requires the patience and trusting expectation of those who know that God’s providence is working with them to make their efforts and also their suffering effective.”

The little-known connection between hoops and holiness

null / Gearstd/Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., Nov 24, 2022 / 09:00 am (CNA).

The start of basketball season always coincides with the American holiday of Thanksgiving, lending a proper season to be grateful for the American-born sport. But precisely how grateful should Catholics be for basketball (or any other sport, for that matter)?

In a homily on Oct. 29, 2000, St. John Paul II celebrated the world of sport and all it does to prepare Christians to become “athletes of the spirit” who are able to win the imperishable crown of everlasting life.

“Sports contribute to the love of life, [teach] sacrifice, respect, and responsibility, leading to the full development of every human person,” John Paul II remarked.

From creativity to solidarity, from old-fashioned fun to heartbreaking sacrifice, these four viral videos exemplify something of the little-known connection between hoops and holiness and why Catholics can be grateful for the sport of basketball.

An exercise of body, intellect and will

Six years ago, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal debuted their viral basketball video “Renewal in Motion.” After two million views on Facebook, their remix of basketball dunks, music, and trick shots continues to delight fans of the game and illustrate just how creatively sport can engage body, intellect, and will — a combo that must be engaged in proper proportion in the pursuit of holiness.

The ability to form habits — the repetition of acts needed as the basis for strengthening virtues — requires creativity, dynamism, and dedicated practice.

Solidarity in action

By telling the epic story of a parish gym that became a neighborhood phenomenon, Detroit Catholic captured the social essence of the ability of sports to solidify human relationships in a video that garnered 2,300 views on YouTube in 2021.

The parish gym would come to be known as Ceciliaville after it opened its doors beyond parishioners of St. Cecilia Catholic Church to persons of all faiths, races, and backgrounds.

Ceciliaville was a marquee of the best of Detroit’s NBA players and hopefuls in the late ‘60s and ‘70s and contributed to the rebuilding of tensions after race riots in 1967, according to two-time NBA champion and Detroit native Earl “The Twirl” Cureton, making this video a unique chronicle of building the virtue of solidarity through sport.

Old-fashioned fun

An entire genre of punny humor and sport collides to provide 35 seconds of pure, old-fashioned entertainment in the viral video produced by the nuns who served at a local Catholic high school to cheer on Miami Heat star Kendrick Nunn during the 2019-2020 NBA season.

Some 5,000 viewers enjoyed this video made by principal Margaret Anne and her Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, proving the old basketball pun “you don’t want nun of this” to be false and proving true that cheering others is an assist in the spiritual life.

Heartbreaking sacrifice

In 2019 ESPN produced this heart-wrenching video that garnered 72,000 views about the life of Shelly Pennefather, the leading all-time scorer for both men’s and women’s basketball at Villanova University who traded her professional basketball career for the cloistered Poor Clare convent. A poignant story of sacrifice and love, it shows the ability of sport to open the soul to transcendence and gives a glimpse into the discipline required to lay down the ball and move on to a higher calling.

Pennefather sank a baseline jumper in her final professional game in Japan after a prayer and a promise. The prayer: to make the shot that would win the game and $10,000 bonuses for each player. The promise: to volunteer at a convent if she made it. Twenty-five years after becoming Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of the Angels, the video brings home what it means to become an athlete for Christ and, like St. Paul, to “have accepted the loss of all things and … consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

Was Squanto Catholic? What we know about this hero of the first Thanksgiving

Image from page 155 of "Young Folks' History of the United States" (1903). / Public Domain

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 24, 2022 / 08:00 am (CNA).

In 1621, lacking both the skills and the resources necessary to survive in the harsh territory of New England, European pilgrims encountered a miracle: a Native American who not only spoke English but who also used his skills and knowledge to help the Pilgrims adapt to their environment and survive the brutal winter. 

This was Squanto, a man who occupies a special place in the hearts of many people who celebrate Thanksgiving because of his willingness and ability to help the newcomers to his land. 

Squanto’s full name was Tisquantum, and he was a member of the Patuxet tribe, which lived in and around modern-day Plymouth, Massachusetts. He was probably born around 1585 in the area that is now Boston. 

Little is known about Tisquantum’s early life, but what is known is that he was abducted from his homeland as a slave by an Englishman, Thomas Hunt, in 1614. He ended up in Malaga, Spain, where a group of Franciscans bought him in order to free him. It is apparently thanks to these Franciscans that he received baptism and became Catholic, though it is not clear to what extent he was catechized and practiced his new faith. 

Damien Costello, a Catholic historian and theologian, told CNA that the historical record portrays “a very skillful agent” in Tisquantum who was able to change his situation and engage with European culture. He was able to find employment as a translator in England and later convinced a wealthy financier to fund an expedition back to his homeland. 

When Tisquantum finally made it back to where his tribe lived in present-day Massachusetts, his life took a tragic turn. He found that his entire tribe, while he was in Europe, had been wiped out by disease — he was the sole survivor.  

The Pilgrims arrived in New England in 1620 and were far from the first Europeans to set foot on those shores — this was many years after Jesuit missionaries had started missionary activity in the area but hadn’t settled. When the Pilgrims arrived in what had once been Patuxet territory, the empty land made a good place to settle. Tisquantum, no doubt mourning the loss of his people, was nevertheless able to deftly reinvent himself as an intermediary between the Pilgrims and Native leaders. 

In March 1621, the chief of the Wampanoag confederation, Massasoit, went to meet with the Pilgrims and brought Tisquantum along to translate. After negotiations fell apart, Tisquantum stayed with the Pilgrims and helped to facilitate what we now know as the first Thanksgiving — a meal between the Pilgrims and the Natives of the area. Tisquantum died the next year, in 1622.

So, was Tisquantum a Catholic? Costello says it is likely he was baptized and thus, theologically, he was indeed a Catholic. Native American culture was very spiritual, and Costello said he doesn’t think it unlikely that Tisquantum saw his baptism as a positive spiritual experience. 

“Catholicism was a crucial ingredient in Squanto’s resiliency, the regenerative principle that gave spiritual power to sustain the disjunction of being a global citizen in a world forever turned upside down,” Costello later wrote in an article for U.S. Catholic

As to whether Tisquantum continued to practice his Catholic faith for the rest of his life, there’s little evidence to say for sure. In a very real sense, God only knows. 


his article was adapted from an episode of Catholic News Agency’s award-winning storytelling podcast, CNA Newsroom. You can listen to that episode here.

Federal same-sex marriage bill still needs religious freedom fixes, bishops say

U.S. Capitol, Senate side, public domain. / null

Denver, Colo., Nov 23, 2022 / 17:47 pm (CNA).

A federal bill to recognize same-sex unions as marriages lacks sufficient religious freedom protections and will undermine the truth about marriage, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said Wednesday.

“The Respect for Marriage Act’s rejection of timeless truths about marriage is evident on its face and in its purpose. It would also betray our country’s commitment to the fundamental right of religious liberty,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester said in a Nov. 23 letter to members of Congress.

Dolan heads the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, while Barron heads the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth.

“This bill is needless and harmful and must be voted down,” the bishops’ letter said. “At the same time, Congress, and our nation as a whole, must resolve to foster a culture where every individual, as a child of God, is treated with respect and compassion.”

The Respect for Marriage Act advanced last week in a key U.S. Senate vote of 62-37, with some Republican support. If the bill becomes law, it would federally recognize same-sex marriage and require states to recognize any marriage contracted in other states. It would also provide legal protections for interracial marriages.

The act would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton that defined marriage federally as the union of a man and a woman and permitted states not to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states. That law is not in effect under the 2013 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges, which required states to recognize same-sex unions as marriages.

Backers of a bipartisan religious freedom amendment to the bill say their amendment ensures that nonprofit religious organizations would not be required to provide services, facilities, or goods for the celebration of a same-sex marriage, and protects religious liberty and conscience protections available under the Constitution and federal law, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The amendment, backers say, would ensure that churches, universities, and other nonprofit religious organizations would not lose tax-exempt status or other benefits for refusing to recognize same-sex marriages and would not be required to provide services for the celebration of any marriage.

However, the U.S. bishops questioned these claims.

“Unfortunately, a number of religious groups and senators are asserting that the amended text of (the Respect for Marriage Act) sufficiently protects religious freedom,” Dolan and Barron continued. “From the perspective of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, whose bishops’ ministries comprise the largest non-governmental provider of social services in the United States, the provisions of the act that relate to religious liberty are insufficient. If passed, the amended act will put the ministries of the Catholic Church, people of faith, and other Americans who uphold a traditional meaning of marriage at greater risk of government discrimination.”

In an analysis accompanying the bishops’ letter, the U.S. bishops’ conference said the bill “will be used to argue that the government has a compelling interest in forcing religious organizations and individuals to treat same-sex civil marriages as valid.” This will allow lawsuits to revisit current precedent based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and other relevant law.

“(R)eligious objectors are likelier to be denied exemptions,” the analysis said. If the Respect for Marriage Act becomes law, it could affect employment decisions, employee spousal benefits, eligibility for grants or contracts, accreditation, and tax exemptions.

Faith-based foster care and adoption agencies, housing providers, and social services agencies that serve immigrants could all be affected. Faith-based groups that help provide foster care to unaccompanied refugee children could be shut out of working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Religious organizations could be forced to hire and retain staff who publicly repudiate the organizations’ beliefs about marriage,” the analysis said.

Wedding vendors could be forced to participate in same-sex weddings. The IRS could revoke the tax exemptions of religious organizations with traditional beliefs about marriage. Government agencies could exclude religious schools from eligibility for public benefits and programs, including scholarships and school vouchers. Further, government agencies could exclude religious organizations from access to or use of public facilities.

According to the analysis, only the stronger religious freedom amendment proposed by Utah Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Lee has “comprehensive, affirmative and enforceable protections,” but this amendment has not been added to the bill. Lee’s amendment would prohibit the federal government from discriminating against anyone who holds a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is a union between one man and one woman or is a union between two individuals.

The U.S. bishops noted that the bill is being considered in the wake of a deadly mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, a gay nightclub, where five were killed.

Opposition to the act, Dolan and Barron said, “by no means condones any hostility toward anyone who experiences same-sex attraction.”

“Catholic teaching on marriage is inseparable from Catholic teaching on the inherent dignity and worth of every human being,” they said. “To attack one is to attack the other. Congress must have the courage to defend both.”

Emails raise questions about Philadelphia children’s hospital transgender surgeries on minors

Exterior of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. / Shutterstock

Boston, Mass., Nov 23, 2022 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

In a 2017 email, a doctor at the transgender clinic at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia said she was not aware of any medical studies at the time that supported the irreversible surgeries the clinic had been performing on minors, public records show.

The statement is contained in internal emails, obtained by a private citizen through a public documents request, between Dr. Nadia Dowshen — co-director of the Gender and Sexuality Development Clinic at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — and Dr. Rachel Levine. At the time Levine, a biological male who identifies as a transgender female, was Pennsylvania’s physician general. Today Levine serves as assistant secretary for health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Critics of so-called “gender-affirming” surgeries and treatments for young people with gender dysphoria were outraged by the disclosure, which one leading pediatrician says suggests that these procedures amount to “a giant experiment on children” that lack a clear understanding on the part of health care professionals and their young patients of the risks and long-term consequences involved.

But in a statement to CNA, Levine said there was “nothing unusual” about the email exchange and maintained that the “medical validity” of these procedures has been “affirmed.”

In one of the emails, Levine asked Dowshen and another co-director of the Gender & Sexuality Development Clinic, Dr. Linda Hawkins, about what Levine called “gender confirmation surgery” for “young people under 18 years of age,” which Levine said could include “top surgery for trans young men and top and bottom surgery for trans young women.”

“Top” and “bottom” surgery are the common parlance among transgender supporters for major, irreversible surgical changes to make a person appear to be a different sex. These include the removal of women’s breasts and the removal and reconstruction of male sexual organs.

Rachel Levine, then a nominee for assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 25, 2021. Caroline Brehman/AFP via Getty Images
Rachel Levine, then a nominee for assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 25, 2021. Caroline Brehman/AFP via Getty Images

“Is there any literature to support this protocol?” Levine asked in the May 4, 2017, email. “Please let me know if you have any references.”

The same day, Dowshen responded and wrote: “Hi Rachel, I’m not aware of existing literature but it is certainly happening. I think we’ve had more than 10 patients who have had chest surgery under 18 (as young as 15) and 1 bottom surgery (17).”

Dowshen said she was currently working with colleagues to “get some pre-post data for top surgeries for youth under 18” and suggested that a research assistant could do a literature search to make sure they were “not missing anything,” to which Levine agreed.

“A lot of our youth are being denied coverage for top surgery if under 18,” Dowshen said.

In a statement to CNA Wednesday, Levine downplayed the significance of the email exchange.

“As physician general of the state of Pennsylvania, I worked to remain aware of the latest science in a number of health areas. This allowed me to offer policy recommendations to the governor, to offer strong managerial oversight on behalf of the people of Pennsylvania, and to coordinate effectively with my peers,” Levine said.

“My question about the existing literature on surgeries for minors was asked in the same spirit as many of the other questions I asked in that role — that of making sure I was aware of the latest and most relevant data on an issue of public interest,” Levine said.

“There was nothing unusual about that exchange, and in the years since it occurred, the medical validity of gender affirming care has only been reaffirmed and strengthened,” Levine said. “It is important to note the standards of care for patients include psychological and medical evaluations and, if necessary, treatment and support for the young person and their family. Children who have not yet started puberty do not receive medical treatment — at that age, care focuses on counseling and being mindful of the needs of the young person, their family, and their school.”

CNA also contacted Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for comment but did not receive a response.

‘A giant experiment on children’

Dr. Quentin Van Meter, president of the American College of Pediatricians — an organization of pediatricians that advocates for children’s health and well-being — criticized the email exchange. He told CNA that it is wrong for any doctor to be doing experimental surgeries when there are no long-term studies to support them.

Van Meter said the result of the doctors doing experimental sex-change surgeries on minors is that “the lives of what will be tens of thousands of children are ruined.”

He said that there are no long-term studies in existence to support sex-change surgeries, whether that be for minors or adults.

“This is a giant experiment on children,” he said. “Medicine cannot be practiced that way.”

Van Meter also took issue with Levine’s response to CNA. 

Van Meter said Levine is wrong about transgender surgeries being “affirmed” by science, saying that “it’s actually been torn to shreds by science.”

“It’s the most embarrassing, non-scientific facade in a very scientific environment,” he said.

The original publicizer of the emails, Twitter user Megan Brock, told CNA she gained access to the emails through a Pennsylvania Right to Know Law public document request.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) is the latest hospital to come under fire after media exposés have shown that gender transition surgeries on minors have been taking place at medical institutions across the nation.

In August, Boston Children’s Hospital took heavy criticism when news broke that it was offering gender transition treatments and surgeries for kids. The hospital has since updated its website and says that only 18-year-olds qualify for “phalloplasty or metoidioplasty and for vaginoplasty surgeries.”

The website still says that the hospital will perform “chest surgery” on 15-year-olds.

In October, Vanderbilt University Medical Hospital paused gender transition surgeries on children after an investigation into the hospital was called for by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee. Vanderbilt’s surgeries on minors — and the lucrative nature of its transgender surgeries in general — were originally exposed by Matt Walsh, an internet host for The Daily Wire.

Catholic publisher pulls book on princess saints after illustrator says it was her idea

An illustration by Fabiola Garza (left) and the cover of Ascension Press' book, "Catholic Princess Saint Stories, Volume I." / Images courtesy of Fabiola Garza and Ascension Press

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 22, 2022 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

A major Catholic publishing house is pulling a book on Catholic princess saints days after an illustrator took to social media saying that the company had published the book based on her ideas and illustrations. 

Ascension, a publisher of Catholic books and digital media, including Father Mike Schmitz’s “Bible in a Year” podcast, emailed a statement to CNA Tuesday announcing that it would no longer be selling the book, “Catholic Princess Saint Stories, Volume I,” which was released earlier this month.

Fabiola Garza, the illustrator who is at odds with Ascension, posted on social media that she had spent months talking with the publisher about plans for a book on princess saints. When those talks did not lead to a contract, she decided to shop her idea around, and eventually signed a contract with Word on Fire to publish a book on princess saints. 

Garza, who works as an illustrator for the Disney Design Group in Orlando, Florida, published an account of her dealings with Ascension on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter following the publication of the publisher’s book on princess saints.

PLEASE SHARE Hold Ascension accountable,” Garza wrote. “MY EXPERIENCE WITH ASCENSION HAS BEEN THE MOST AWFUL OF MY CAREER. I like many artists cannot afford a lawyer, and my hope is that by making this known no other Catholic creative will have to go through this,” she wrote.

In her social media post, Garza said that in 2019 she was approached by an editor at Ascension about a book on saints who were princesses.

“Ascension contacted me because he heard me speaking on Leah Darrow’s Podcast about my idea to do a PRINCESS SAINTS BOOK," she wrote, adding that she signed a mutual non-disclosure agreement with the publisher.

"In the end, I decided not to sign with ASCENSION,” she wrote in the social media post.

In its statement, Ascension said it had decided to pull the book after Garza went public with her story.

“An illustrator Ascension worked with several years ago recently posted on social media about her experience working with us. We strongly disagree with the allegations in her post and we are confident that our approach was consistent with the law and industry standards,” the statement said. 

“Nevertheless, as a leader in Catholic publishing, Ascension aspires to hold itself to a higher standard and we will therefore be voluntarily discontinuing sales of the book in question,” the statement said.

'Different creative visions'

In its statement Ascension said that after Garza told the publisher that she had decided not to work with the company it went ahead with plans to come out with a book about princess saints by a different author and illustrator. Ascension maintains that the book it published was different from the one it had discussed with Garza.

Over the eight months Ascension had discussed the project Garza had provided one illustration of St. Joan of Arc, and when it went with a new illustrator, it chose different saints to highlight, Ascension said.

“As we each had different creative visions for the project, we continued our vision with a new illustrator. We chose different saints for our book alongside a different storytelling style and different illustrations,” Ascension said.

“For background on the project, we provided the new illustrator with the single image of St. Joan of Arc that Fabiola had shared publicly. Our new illustrator went on to create illustrations for 80 pages of stories about St. Margaret of Scotland, St. Bathild of France, and St. Jadwiga of Poland,” read the statement.

Garza posted photos of her illustration of St. Joan of Arc alongside an illustration from Ascension’s book, noting the similarities between the two. Both illustrations feature blue ribbons and banners surrounding the drawings of the saints.

In its statement, Ascension denied any wrongdoing but said it regretted showing the new illustrator Garza’s original drawing.

“Any similarities between Fabiola’s St. Joan of Arc drawing and our illustrator’s depiction of St. Margaret of Scotland (such as a banner, ribbons, a crown, and a blue garment) are incidental and common in portraits of princesses in works by other artists,” the company said.

“Nevertheless, we understand and respect that Fabiola is deeply invested in her artwork, and we acknowledge that a better course of action would have been to use other public sources rather than her drawing as a reference for our illustrator."

Garza posted emails she had exchanged with Ascension. In their correspondence, she says that on Oct. 7, 2020, she decided to discontinue talks on the book because no contract had been signed.  

Garza wrote to Ascension explaining her reason for looking for another publisher. 

She said she had asked for “some details on contract and compensation before I continued to work.” She said she was told “that we hadn’t got to the contract stage because we didn’t yet have a complete sample chapter.” She said she was told that the firm was “contemplating bringing in another author entirely, who I would have no ability to vet, interview, or apparently control in any way.”

In an email to CNA, Ascension said that it never signed a contract in part because Garza “wanted to be both the author and illustrator.”

“This creative difference was one of the key reasons that Fabiola and Ascension never signed a contract together,” Ascension said in its statement.

Garza told CNA that she decided to break off talks with the publisher because she began to get nervous when no contract was proposed.

After emailing Ascension earlier this month to express her disappointment that it had published a book on princess saints, the publishing house offered to compensate her for the time spent on the project.

Garza then took to social media because, she told CNA, she could not afford to get legal help. She explained that she felt that by going public she could help other “Catholic creatives” facing similar situations.

“So many people have emailed me with similar stories, and nobody has ever talked about it publicly. I could see that I’m in a position to do this, and perhaps I owe it to the community to start a conversation on it,” she said. “But if everything has always been treated in a very hush hush way, I was like, 'There's never going to be any change.'”

Upon being informed by CNA that Ascension had pulled its book, Garza said she was relieved.

“Oh, my gosh, I'm gonna cry,” she said after reading Ascension’s statement. “I know that it's not a direct apology. I mean, it's corporate speak, you know. I understand that they have to protect themselves as much as possible. I would have loved a direct apology,” she said. 

“But even the fact that because of people helping this is able to happen without having to go to court is amazing, because that sounded awful. Yeah, that sounded awful,” Garza said. Later, Garza thanked Ascension for pulling the book.

Her book with Word on Fire is written but still being edited and won’t be published for over a year, adding that she works full-time.

Philly archbishop to head Catholic Relief Services board of directors

Archbishop Nelson Perez speaks about the heroic virtues of Father Bill Atkinson, O.S.A., and the work performed to prepare the formal documents related to his cause for beatification and canonization. / Sarah Webb

Denver, Colo., Nov 22, 2022 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

Philadelphia’s Archbishop Nelson Pérez will serve as the next chairman of the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) board of directors, heading up the U.S. bishops’ international relief agency that serves 193 million people in 116 countries.

“For more than 75 years, CRS has been a beacon of hope for poor and vulnerable families around the world,” Pérez said in a statement Tuesday. “Its humanitarian aid initiatives are often the difference between life and death for those facing poverty, famine, war, and epidemics.”

The three-year appointment is one of the first official acts of Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services, USA, who was elected president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) at its fall assembly last week.

Broglio chose the Philadelphia archbishop for this role “because of his commitment to the agency’s mission,” Chieko Noguchi, a spokesperson for the USCCB, told CNA Nov. 22.

CRS was founded in 1943 and will mark its 80th anniversary next year. Together with more than 1,700 partners, it works in emergency response, agriculture, capacity-building, education, health care, justice and peacebuilding, microfinance, and water and sanitation. According to the agency’s fact sheet for fiscal year 2021, the agency had about $1 billion in annual revenue, 93% of which it dedicated to programs.

Pérez, 61, has served as archbishop of Philadelphia since February 2020. Born in Miami to Cuban exiles, he was ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 1989 and spent his time as a priest with a particular focus on Hispanic ministry. In 2012 Pope Benedict XVI named him an auxiliary bishop for New York’s Diocese of Rockville Centre, and Pope Francis named him bishop of Cleveland in 2017.

“We are thrilled to welcome Archbishop Pérez as the chairman of our board of directors,” Sean Callahan, president and CEO of CRS, said in a statement. “I look forward to working with him as we address some of the most pressing issues CRS has faced, including the global food crisis and the impact of climate change on people living in poverty.”

Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, the outgoing CRS board of directors chairman, praised Pérez as “a man of deep conviction about the need to protect the dignity of all of our brothers and sisters, particularly the most vulnerable among us.”

Pérez said he was “deeply grateful” to Caggiano.

“His work to promote and defend human life while fostering a more just and peaceful world is truly commendable/ I look forward to building on his efforts,” the archbishop said.

“In addition, I thank Archbishop Broglio for his confidence in my ability to provide counsel and serve the best interests of the poor and vulnerable,” he continued. “I am excited to collaborate with the other members of the CRS board whose hearts are on fire for Jesus and serve as his missionary disciples.”

“I ask for your prayers as I embrace this new role in service to the broader Church,” he said.

The U.S. bishops at their annual meeting elected three episcopal board members. Atlanta’s Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., will serve his first term, while Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso and Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock will both return to serve a second term.

On Jan. 1, Matthew M. McKenna of Bronxville, New York, will join the CRS board. McKenna is a resident executive at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. In that role, he launched an initiative to study the role of private-sector investment in rural economic development.

Archbishop Broglio will be leaving his role as chairman of CRS’ Overseas Operation Committee. Board member Stephen Walsh will also leave after six years on the CRS board.

While CRS is overseen by the USCCB, it is part of the Caritas Internationalis confederation of 162 Catholic relief agencies based around the world. The confederation is overseen by the Vatican and headquartered on Vatican territory in Rome.

On Tuesday Pope Francis removed the entire leadership of Caritas Internationalis, including its president, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle. The pope appointed an administrator to improve the organization’s management. An independent review reportedly found deficiencies in Caritas Internationalis’ “management and procedures” and these were “seriously prejudicing team spirit and staff morale.”

Disgraced Louisiana priest pleads guilty to filming pornographic material on parish altar

Father Travis Clark after his Sept. 30, 2020, arrest. / St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 22, 2022 / 15:40 pm (CNA).

Travis Clark, the disgraced priest of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, pled guilty Monday to a felony count of obscenity for his actions in filming pornographic material with two hired women atop the altar of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Pearl River, Louisiana. 

Clark admitted his guilt as part of a plea deal in the state district court in Covington, Louisiana.

Clark received a suspended three-year prison sentence, three years supervised probation and a $1,000 fine, WAFB.com reported

In a statement Tuesday, the Archdiocese of New Orleans said it will now take the necessary steps to remove Clark from the priesthood.

“Now that the criminal proceedings involving Travis Clark have concluded, the Archdiocese of New Orleans will move forward with the process to have him formally laicized. The necessary information will be sent to the Vatican where in consultation with Vatican officials, the Holy Father will make the final determination on Clark’s laicization," the statement said.

On Sept. 30, 2020, Clark was arrested, along with the two women involved. A bystander called the police after seeing the lewd actions occurring while passing by the church windows. When authorities arrived at the scene, they removed Clark, the two women, multiple articles of sexual paraphernalia as well as lights and recording devices. 

In the wake of the arrest, Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans called Clark’s behavior “obscene,” “deplorable,” and “demonic.” Aymond ordered the burning and replacement of the desecrated altar. 

The two women arrested with Clark pled guilty in July to misdemeanor counts of institutional vandalism. Both received two years probation. One of the women refers to herself as “Satanatrix” and had posted on social media the day before that she planned to “defile a house of God.” 

Though the desecrated altar had to be destroyed, the New Orleans Archdiocese released a statement at the time saying that “there was no desecrating of the Blessed Sacrament” and that no other sacred vessels were known to be involved.