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Republicans seek to end military’s COVID vaccine mandate by holding up defense bill

null / U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa|Flickr|CC BY 2.0

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 5, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Republicans in Congress, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have vowed to hold up the vote on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to force an end to the U.S. military’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement. 

“We will secure lifting that vaccine mandate on our military,” McCarthy said in an interview on Sunday. 

All military personnel are currently required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine according to an August 2021 policy set forth by United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Though the policy does include an avenue for service members to request medical and religious accommodations, some Republicans in the House and Senate blame the military’s low recruitment on the COVID vaccine mandate.

Now, a number of Republicans are threatening to hold up the NDAA’s passage until Congress requires the DoD to reverse its COVID vaccine policy. The NDAA is a must-pass bill due for a vote this week. 

“Our recruiting goals are way short. The conflict in the world is getting worse, not better. We need more people in the military, not less,” Sen. Lindsay Graham of North Carolina stated on Nov. 30. 

In a Wednesday news conference, seven Senate Republicans, including Graham, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, promised to fight the military’s COVID vaccine requirement. 

“(We) will not vote to get on the NDAA — the defense authorization bill — unless we have a vote on ending this military vaccine mandate,” Paul stated during the conference. 

On the House side, McCarthy hopes to make ending the military’s vaccine requirement “the first victory of having a Republican majority.” 

“I’ve been very clear with the president … And we’ve got something that Republicans have been working very hard, and a number of Democrats, too, trying to find success … And now we’re going to have success,” McCarthy said Sunday. 

When asked to clarify if he meant that the military vaccine requirement would be lifted, McCarthy replied: “Yes, it will. Otherwise, the bill will not move.”

Some key Democrats have signaled they are open to the idea of lifting the military’s COVID vaccine mandate. 

Democratic Chair of the House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith stated on Saturday: “I was a very strong supporter of the vaccine mandate when we did it … But at this point in time, does it make sense to have that policy from August 2021? That is a discussion that I am open to and that we’re having.”

Speaking for President Joe Biden, Security Council spokesman John Kirby signaled the White House’s opposition to lifting the military’s COVID vaccine requirement. Kirby said Monday that “Secretary Austin’s been very clear that he opposes the repeal of the vaccine mandate and the president actually concurs with the secretary of defense.”

Supreme Court hears free speech case of artist who objects to same-sex weddings

Lorie Smith, owner and founder of 303 Creative, at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Alliance Defending Freedom

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 5, 2022 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority on Monday appeared to side with a Colorado graphic artist and website designer who refuses to provide creative services that she says conflict with her Christian faith, including ones that celebrate same-sex weddings.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Lorie Smith’s case303 Creative LLC v. Elenis — for nearly two and a half hours. The case centers on the question of “whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.”

Public-accomodation laws apply to businesses that sell or provide services to the general public. Among other things, Colorado law considers it discriminatory and unlawful for a person “directly or indirectly, to refuse, withhold from, or deny to an individual or a group, because of disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, or ancestry.”  

Represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Smith says that her case concerns the freedom of speech for all artists. The 38-year-old from the Denver metro area is challenging her state’s anti-discrimination law that she says would compel her to use her artistic talents, or speech, to create messages celebrating same-sex weddings. 

At the same time, Colorado argues that the case is one about discrimination: If someone sells a product in the public sphere, he or she has to sell it to all people. 

“What I get is that you’re making a tiny sliver of an argument,” Justice Samuel A. Alito told Eric R. Olson, Colorado’s solicitor general, after Olson agreed that a designer could place anything he or she wants on a standardized website even if it includes a denunciation of same-sex marriage.

Smith previously stressed to CNA that she serves everyone, including clients who identify as LGBT, even though she cannot support every message.

“It’s not who, but it is a what,” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said, bringing up a hypothetical where a freelance writer might be asked to write a press release with religious views he or she disagrees with. He also asked about the difference between selling a product that has already been created — and one that will be custom-made. 

Her case challenges Colorado officials, including Aubrey Elenis, the director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division. 

While weighing the case, justices on both sides explored the lines or boundaries of the arguments on both sides — asking one question after another and, at times, speaking over one another. They ran well over the 70 minutes allotted for arguments.

Nearly every justice raised hypothetical situations.

Liberal justices, such as Justice Sonia Sotomayor, challenged the arguments made by Kristen Waggoner, general counsel and head of ADF, on behalf of Smith. Sotomayor raised the question of discrimination against interracial couples or those with disabilities, asking “where’s the line?” 

A wedding website, Sotomayor added, expressed a couple’s message, rather than the designer’s message.

“I go to a wedding website,” Sotomayor proposed to Waggoner. “It’s something that I send, meaning you, your client, I send it to my family and friends or Lilly and Luke send it to their family and friends. You don’t send it. They go to this website. You’re not inviting them to the wedding. Lilly and Mary are. So how does it become your message?”

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson raised the hypothetical of a photography business in the mall that wants to shoot particular Santa scenes with only white children to create an “authentic” theme for the “It’s a Wonderful Life” film.

Justice Elena Kagan raised the hypothetical of selling the same exact website to a heterosexual couple and a same-sex couple — and a gay couple walking in and asking for a “God blesses this union” placed on their website.

Arguing for Colorado, Olson warned against siding with 303 Creative.

“The free-speech clause exemption the company [303 Creative] seeks here is sweeping because it would apply not just to sincerely-held religious beliefs, like those of the company and its owner, but also to all sorts of racist, sexist, and bigoted views,” he said.

In agreement, Brian H. Fletcher, the deputy solicitor general for the Department of Justice, said of Waggoner’s argument: “It means that any provider of expressive services is entitled to put up a sign saying we do not serve people with particular characteristics whenever they believe that serving those people would change their message.”

In her rebuttal, Waggoner emphasized the root of her argument.

“One need not agree with a particular belief to affirm that law-abiding people have a right to speak their conscience, including on a controversial subject like marriage,” she concluded. “And that noble principle is rooted in love of neighbor, extending the same rights to others that we want for ourselves.”

She added: “This right to be free from government coercion of speech is also foundational to our self-government and to the free and fearless pursuit of truth.”

Smith’s case is similar to 2018’s Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a bakery rejected making a cake for a same-sex wedding because of its owner’s religious beliefs. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission argued that this was an instance of unjust discrimination, but the Supreme Court ruled the commission “showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating” the owner’s objection.

Only pro-life judge on Inter-American Court of Human Rights dies

Chilean judge Eduardo Vio Grossi, the only pro-life judge serving at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), died Dec. 3, 2022, at the age of 78. / Credit: Flickr de la OEA (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

CNA Newsroom, Dec 5, 2022 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

Chilean judge Eduardo Vio Grossi, the only pro-life judge serving at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), died Dec. 3 at the age of 78.

In a Dec. 3 statement posted on Twitter, the IACHR expressed its “deep sorrow for the unfortunate death” and conveyed its “most heartfelt condolences to family and friends for such a painful and irreparable loss.”

The IACHR is an international court based in Costa Rica that was created by the American Convention on Human Rights, a treaty ratified by the Organization of American States.

Doctors for Life of Costa Rica expressed its condolences on Twitter and recalled that Vio Grossi “accurately and masterfully defended human life from its conception.”

“A regrettable loss for the world and for the defense of the human being,” the pro-life organization said.

Bioethics expert Nicolás Lafferriere urged people to pray for this judge “who testified to the truth in the midst of growing relativism.”

“May God receive him in glory,” Lafferriere tweeted.

Vio Grossi’s wake was held Dec. 3 at the church of Sacred Hearts School in metro Santiago and the funeral Mass was offered there the next day.

Vio Grossi served as a judge at the Inter-American Court since 2010 and was the court’s vice president from 2018 to 2019.

In 2021, when the Inter-American Court ruled against El Salvador in the “Manuela” case, Vio Grossi stressed that “there is no inter-American or international legal standard (...) that recognizes abortion as a right.”

“Manuela” (not her real name) was a woman who claimed to have had a miscarriage but was convicted on forensic evidence of aggravated homicide in the death of her newborn. The case was manipulated by abortion rights groups in an effort to legalize abortion in El Salvador.

In 2012, in the ruling that upheld in vitro fertilization in Costa Rica, the judge brilliantly explained his dissenting vote respecting the created order in the conception of new life.

On that occasion, he recalled that the American Convention on Human Rights defends life from conception, which must be understood “beyond any other consideration as the fertilization of the ovum by the sperm.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Human rights commission ‘outraged’ as State Department excludes Nigeria from watchlist

State officials walk past injured victims on hospital beds being treated for wounds following an attack by gunmen at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, southwest Nigeria, on June 5, 2022. / AFP via Getty Images

St. Louis, Mo., Dec 5, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

For the second year in a row Nigeria has been left off of the U.S. State Department’s list of countries that engage in or tolerate the world’s worst religious freedom violations, despite regular reports of kidnappings and killings of Christians, sparking outcry from members of a bipartisan government watchdog group. 

For more than two decades, the U.S. president has been required to annually review the status of religious freedom in every country in the world and designate those governments and entities that perpetrate or tolerate “severe” religious freedom violations as Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs). U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced this year’s designations on Dec. 2, and although several Islamic terrorist groups active in Nigeria were listed, Nigeria itself was not. 

In Nigeria as a whole, at least 60,000 Christians have been killed, many by their Muslim countrymen, over the past two decades. An estimated 3,462 Christians were killed in Nigeria in the first 200 days of 2021, or 17 per day, according to a study.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in a statement that its leaders were “outraged” by Nigeria’s exclusion from the list as well as the exclusion of India, where reports of Hindu nationalism and violence against Christians have emerged in recent years. 

“There is no justification for the State Department’s failure to recognize Nigeria or India as egregious violators of religious freedom, as they each clearly meet the legal standards for designation as CPCs. USCIRF is tremendously disappointed that the Secretary of State did not implement our recommendations and recognize the severity of the religious freedom violations that both USCIRF and the State Department have documented in those countries,” said USCIRF chair Nury Turkel

“The State Department’s own reporting includes numerous examples of particularly severe religious freedom violations in Nigeria and India.”

Nigeria was included in the State Department’s list of CPCs in 2020 but not in the 2021 or 2022 lists, despite Christians reporting little to no improvement in their situations. USCIRF has been recommending the designation of Nigeria as a CPC since 2009. 

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and the demographics overall are almost evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Nigeria’s Christians, especially in the northern part of the country, have for the past several decades been subjected to brutal property destruction, killings, and kidnappings, often at the hands of Islamic extremist groups. Some U.S. and Nigerian officials have characterized the attacks as climate-change-spurred clashes over resources and land, a claim that Christian leaders have denounced as “incorrect and far-fetched.”

Nigerian Christians have told CNA that the Muslim-controlled government has largely responded slowly, inadequately, or not at all to the problem of Christian persecution. President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, in power since 2015, has been accused by Amnesty International and other human rights groups of ineptitude, indifference, and even complicity in the surge of raids, killings, kidnappings, and rapes targeting Catholics and other Christians.

Bishop Jude Arogundade, bishop of the Diocese of Ondo in southwestern Nigeria, observed to CNA that “whenever the [U.S.] Democrats are in power they look away from the killings of Christians in Nigeria. It was very visible during Obama’s administration. We will keep up the pressure to get the world’s attention. Those who have died will not die in vain.”

Arogundade knows firsthand about the persecution that Christians are facing in Nigeria — in June, a group of armed men attacked a parish in his diocese, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, killing at least 41 people. That community is “still waiting for justice,” Arogundade told CNA. 

Other Nigerian Catholic leaders such as Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah have criticized the government harshly for their “silence” despite numerous attacks on Christians. 

Last summer, five Republican U.S. senators signed a letter to Blinken calling on the secretary of state to redesignate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern.

India is also a country whose government has been accused of inaction in the face of Christian persecution. In recent years, Christians in India have decried an apparent rise in anti-Christian violence and Hindu extremism whereby Hindu mobs — often fueled by false accusations of forced conversions or reports of the eating of beef — have attacked Christians and Muslims, destroyed churches, and disrupted religious worship services.

Among the State Department’s CPC designees for this year were Burma/Myanmar, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. 

The State Department also proclaimed several groups to be Entities of Particular Concern: al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS-Greater Sahara, ISIS-West Africa, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, the Taliban, and the Wagner Group. 

Douglas Burton contributed to this story.

Canadian veteran offered assisted suicide after asking for wheelchair help

Christine Gauthier spoke before she competed in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Para canoe. / YouTube Screenshot 2016 video

Boston, Mass., Dec 5, 2022 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

A former Paralympian who served in the Canadian military contacted Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) in 2019 to ask for a home wheelchair lift to help her maneuver her home more easily. 

Christine Gauthier testified before Canada’s House of Commons veterans committee last week that she was shocked when the VAC employee offered her assisted suicide as a solution to her suffering.

Gauthier told the MPs that she has fought for wheelchair accommodation for five years, according to cbc.ca

“I have a letter saying that if you’re so desperate, madam, we can offer you MAID, medical assistance in dying,” Gauthier said, according to the outlet. She agreed to provide a copy of the letter to the MPs, the outlet reported.

“I was like, ‘I can’t believe that you will … give me an injection to help me die, but you will not give me the tools I need to help me live,’” Gauthier said in a Dec. 2 interview with Global News.

“It was really shocking to hear that kind of comment.”

Gauthier served in the heavy artillery section of the Canadian Army and was severely injured in a training accident in 1995, according to canoeicf.com. Her back, knees, and hips took heavy damage after a jump into a trench, and she underwent a series of surgeries, but to no avail. She has competed in several paralympic sports including para ice hockey, para nordic skiing, and para canoe sprinting. 

A portion of Gauthier’s interview can be seen below.

Gauthier said that she wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with concerns about the unnamed employee’s offer of assisted suicide. 

The July 9, 2021, letter from the retired corporal said that “if you do not want to allow me to live with autonomy and dignity, put an end to my suffering and my days but unfortunately, you will need to do it, as my convictions and my faith prevent me from doing so,” according to Global News.

Trudeau told reporters on Friday that the VAC employee’s comments were “absolutely unacceptable,” according to Global News.

“I have said repeatedly that this is absolutely unacceptable, and as soon as we heard about this we took action,” he said.

“We are following up with investigations and we are changing protocols to ensure what should seem obvious to all of us: that it is not the place of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), who are there to support those people who stepped up to serve their country, to offer them medical assistance in dying,” Trudeau added.

Lawrence MacAulay, minister of VAC, said before the same committee last week that four or five instances of veterans being offered assisted suicide as an option have occurred, cbc.ca reported. A VAC agent has been suspended in connection with those reports, cbc.ca reported. 

It’s unclear whether the suspended agent was the same agent that Gauthier dealt with. MacAulay called on veterans who have experienced similar treatment to report it, the outlet reported.

Assisted suicide in Canada was federally legalized in 2016, according to the government’s annual report on the program. In 2021, 10,064 people died as a result, which accounted for more than 3% of deaths in the North American country. 

Each year since its legalization, every Canadian province has seen a rise in assisted suicide, which is euphemistically coined “Medical Assistance in Dying.”

Since its legalization, almost 32,000 deaths have occurred through assisted suicide.

For those receiving assistance in suicide in 2021, 65.6% cited cancer as an underlying medical condition. Almost 19% cited cardiovascular conditions, with 12.4% citing chronic respiratory conditions. Over 12% cited neurological conditions. According to the report, 75% of the recipients cited one main underlying medical condition. The rest cited two or more. 

In a Saturday column for the New York Times, Ross Douthat criticized Canada’s assisted suicide policy.

“It is not barbaric for the law to acknowledge hard choices in end-of-life care, about when to withdraw life support or how aggressively to manage agonizing pain,” he wrote.

“It is barbaric, however, to establish a bureaucratic system that offers death as a reliable treatment for suffering and enlists the healing profession in delivering this ‘cure.’ And while there may be worse evils ahead, this isn’t a slippery slope argument: When 10,000 people are availing themselves of your euthanasia system every year, you have already entered the dystopia,” he wrote.

Who’s behind those ‘He Gets Us’ ads about Jesus?

A He Gets Us ad in Washington, D.C. / Credit: He Gets Us

Denver, Colo., Dec 5, 2022 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

Television, internet, and billboard ads encouraging people to take a deeper look at Jesus have been running across the U.S. since March, thanks to the nondenominational Christian campaign He Gets Us.

With a $100 million price tag and planned Super Bowl spots, He Gets Us is an initiative of the Servant Foundation. The foundation is managed by the Kansas-based foundation and donor-advised fund The Signatry.

“Funding for He Gets Us comes from a diverse group of individuals and entities with a common goal of sharing Jesus’ story authentically,” Jason Vanderground, spokesperson for He Gets Us, told CNA Dec. 2.

The specific donors are tough to discover. In March, Christianity Today reported that the funds came from “a small group of wealthy anonymous families.”

The Signatry was founded in the year 2000 by Bill High, a Kansas lawyer turned philanthropic adviser. The fund has received more than $4 billion in contributions and has helped make more than $3 billion in charitable grants, its website says. 

According to its website, The Signatry funds “discipleship and outreach efforts, Bible translations, cultural care, church plants, anti-human-trafficking missions, student ministries, poverty alleviation, clean water initiatives, and so much more.”

A He Gets Us ad in New York City. Credit: He Gets Us
A He Gets Us ad in New York City. Credit: He Gets Us

The He Gets Us website describes its campaign as “a movement to reintroduce people to the Jesus of the Bible and his confounding love and forgiveness. We believe his words, example, and life have relevance in our lives today and offer hope for a better future.”

The organization says it is not a political organization of any kind and has no church or denominational affiliation.

“We simply want everyone to understand the authentic Jesus as he’s depicted in the Bible — the Jesus of radical forgiveness, compassion, and love,” its website says.

He Gets Us partners include the National Association of Evangelicals and Christianity Today Magazine, Religion News Service reported.

A He Gets Us ad. Credit: He Gets Us
A He Gets Us ad. Credit: He Gets Us

In a series of Instagram posts, the campaign asks: “Have you ever been bullied? Have you ever felt betrayed? Have you ever been unfairly judged? So was Jesus.”

One video ad depicts Jesus as a rebel and his disciples as a gang that drew opposition from community and religious leaders for spreading love, not hate.

Another ad describes a controversial figure who drew opposition, challenges, and insults. He refused to retaliate “because he believed he could change the world… by turning the other cheek.” It closes with the phrase “Jesus gets us.”

Since the campaign launched in March, it has reached more than 120 million people in the U.S., according to Vanderground. It has aired ads during prime-time national television and major live sports broadcasts. Its short videos, in English and Spanish, have received 374 million views on YouTube.

The campaign aims to provoke interest from non-Christians.

Visitors to the He Gets Us website will find articles that describe Jesus as someone who “invited everyone to sit at his table.” They describe how Jesus was “fed up with politics, too” and how he faced criticism. “How would Jesus be judged today?” another article asks.

To the question of what Jesus would think of teen moms, it notes that Jesus was born to a teenage Mary.

A He Gets Us ad at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas. Credit: He Gets Us
A He Gets Us ad at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas. Credit: He Gets Us

The He Gets Us website offers reading plans about Jesus, drawing on Bible passages. The campaign offers a text-message system for users to receive messages of prayer or positivity. The website can connect those interested with someone local to learn about Jesus or with groups where they can ask questions about life and faith.

“Our hope is that you see how Jesus experienced challenges and emotions just like we have. We want to provide a safe place to ask questions, including the tough ones,” the website explains. “We are also about sharing Jesus’ openness to people that others might have excluded. His message went out to all. And though you may see religious people as often hypocritical or judgmental, know that Jesus saw that, too — and didn’t like it either. Instead, Jesus taught and offered radical compassion and stood up for the marginalized.”

The website offers T-shirts, hats, and stickers with the phrases “Jesus was wrongly judged” or “Jesus was an immigrant.” They are available free of charge, provided the person placing the order has shown love to a stranger, forgiven someone, or paid someone a compliment.

Vanderground said that although He Gets Us is not associated with any particular denomination or church, many Catholics are involved in the development of the campaign and it has received positive feedback from Catholic media.

“As we work to call up Christians to reflect Jesus and prepare them for new conversations with spiritual explorers, it is vital that we engage Catholics who represent 70 million people in the U.S.,” he said.

The He Gets Us campaign plans to make a special impact at a time when many Americans are watching their televisions early next year.

“We are excited about the opportunity to have two ads during the upcoming Super Bowl on Feb. 12, 2023,” Vanderground said. “He Gets Us is just eight months into a long-term, sustained effort to create a new movement to increase the respect and relevance for Jesus in our culture and call up Christians to reflect him in their interactions with others.”

European Parliament displays Nativity scene for first time in its history

Installation of the first Nativity scene in the European Parliament / Credit: European People's Party

CNA Newsroom, Dec 5, 2022 / 12:25 pm (CNA).

Christmas this year marks the first time in its history that the European Parliament has allowed a Nativity scene to be set up at its headquarters in Brussels. Until now, officials of the European institution had considered it “potentially offensive.”

The efforts of Isabel Benjumea, a member in the EU’s House of Representatives from Spain, were key to finally having a Nativity scene on display at the institution.

When she was elected in 2019, Benjumea tried her first year in office to prepare the groundwork for a gift of a Nativity scene to the parliament that would be exhibited during the Christmas season. However, she ran into European bureaucracy and deadlines.

The following year she began to take the necessary steps. The response could not have been more disheartening.

A Nativity scene could not be installed, she was informed by the office of the President of Parliament, because it was “potentially offensive” to nonbelievers.

“This had become a kind of crusade because it seemed unacceptable to me to ignore the Christian roots of Europe,” the parliamentarian told Spanish newspaper ABC.

Finally, this year the effort had the support of the Maltese president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, although the Nativity scene has only been “authorized as a special exhibition,” which may or may not be renewed in the future.

The Nativity scene on display in the European Parliament is from Murcia, a region in southeastern Spain with a great tradition of Nativity scenes and imagery.

Artisans from the workshop of Jesús Griñán created the Nativity scene.

In his Aug. 24, 2003, Angelus address, St. John Paul II noted that he was prayerfully following the drafting of the Constitutional Treaty of the European Union.

The pontiff said that “the Catholic Church is convinced that the Gospel of Christ, which has been a unifying element of the European peoples for many centuries, should be and continue to be today too an inexhaustible source of spirituality and fraternity. Taking note of this is for the benefit of all, and an explicit recognition of the Christian roots of Europe in the treaty represents the principle guarantee for the continent’s future.”

However, the pope’s efforts were ignored.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI strongly criticized the EU for excluding any mention of God or the continent’s Christian roots in the institution’s declarations on the 50th anniversary of its founding.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Jesuit artist Father Rupnik’s ministry restricted following reports of abuse allegations

Father Marko Rupnik, SJ, in an interview with EWTN in 2020. / EWTN

Rome Newsroom, Dec 5, 2022 / 05:45 am (CNA).

A prominent Jesuit priest and artist had his ministry restricted, reportedly after an investigation by his religious order into allegations of abuse against religious sisters in Slovenia.

The Jesuits said in a statement dated Dec. 2 that the order has barred 68-year-old Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, SJ, from hearing confessions or conducting spiritual direction since the Vatican received a complaint against him in 2021.

The Vatican declined in October to carry out a canonical process due to the statute of limitations, the order said. The complaint did not include minors.

The Jesuit order said the restrictions on Rupnik’s ministry were still in effect and included a ban on leading the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. The priest is also prohibited from engaging in public activities without the permission of his superior.

Rupnik, the director of the Centro Aletti in Rome, was the creator of the official image of the 2022 World Meeting of Families, and for over 30 years has designed mosaic artworks for chapels, churches, and shrines around the world.

The Jesuit is best known for overseeing the renovation of the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, which reopened in 1999 after three years of work. 

Rupnik also designed the Redemptor Hominis Church at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C., as well as other projects in the U.S.

Despite the restrictions on his public ministry, on Nov. 30, Rupnik received an honorary doctorate from the Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná in Brazil.

The Centro Aletti has also continued to publish a video on YouTube every Sunday of Rupnik commenting on the Sunday Gospel. The Diocese of Rome posted a video of Rupnik speaking about eucharistic adoration in February.

According to the Jesuits, the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) asked the order to conduct a preliminary investigation into the Slovenian priest, who has been incardinated in the Diocese of Rome since the early 1990s.

A final report was submitted to the DDF, and in early October, the Vatican “found that the facts in question” fell outside the statute of limitations, the Jesuits said.

A source in the Diocese of Rome confirmed Dec. 5 to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish partner agency, that the provincial of the Jesuits had informed the diocese of the precautionary measures against Rupnik and suggested that his pastoral activities in the diocese be limited.

The Diocese of Rome did not perform its own investigation into the allegations against Rupnik, the source said, since the accusations concerned alleged abuse in Slovenia, not in Rome.

The source also confirmed that Rome auxiliary Bishop Daniele Libanori had conducted a separate inquiry, unrelated to Rupnik, into the Loyola Community, which was founded in Slovenia.

During the canonical visitation, which is still ongoing, Libanori received accusations from at least nine women against Rupnik, the source said. Rupnik was reportedly the community’s confessor and spiritual director for a number of years.

Run by law and religion scholars, the Italian website “Silere non possum,” Latin for “I cannot keep quiet,” published a story with reports that Rupnik had abused consecrated women in the Loyola Community.

Catholic student center in Nebraska receives shooting threat, signed ‘Jane’s Revenge’

null / Shutterstock

Boston, Mass., Dec 4, 2022 / 13:23 pm (CNA).

A Catholic campus ministry center at the University of Nebraska received a death threat Saturday morning in a note signed “Jane’s Revenge,” a calling card used by pro-abortion activists. 

“If our right to abortion in Bellevue is taken away due to the attempt to pass an abortion ban and it gets passed[,] we will shoot up your Newman center with our new AR-74 rifles. Sincerely, Jane’s Revenge,” the note, which was posted online, says.

The note was addressed to Father Dan Andrews, pastor of the St. John Paul II Newman Center. 

The threat is the latest in a series of intimidation tactics used against pro-life organizations. In other instances, the threats have come in the form of spray-painted messages with a variation on the words, “If abortion isn’t safe, neither are you.”

Located near the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Scott campus, the Newman Center is about a 14-minute drive south of Omaha in the town of Bellevue. 

Kristan Hawkins, president of the pro-life group Students for Life, shared the note on social media. KETV.com reported that the pro-life group was hosting a “political leadership workshop” at the Newman center on Saturday morning. 

“This morning, a threatening note was found on the St. John Paul II Newman Center Oratory door. The author of the note claims to represent Jane’s Revenge,” a Saturday statement from the Newman Center reads. 

Andrews called the note “unsettling and unfortunate” but added that the “Christ-centered residents and parishioners are undeterred,” according to the statement.

“This obviously causes us great concern. Our number one priority is the safety of our students,” the priest said in the statement. “We are thankful for UNO Police’s prompt response and attention to this threat.”

In a string of tweets, Hawkins related what took place, and called on the Biden administration to act against “pro-abortion terrorist groups.”

“BREAKING: Jane’s Revenge threatens to shoot pro-lifers. This morning in Nebraska, our team arrived for our @SFLAction Political Leadership Workshop where we are gathering activists from across the state to strategize about how to use @studentsforlife’s Campaign for Abortion Free Cities to shut down the late-term abortion facility in the state. When we arrived, a death threat via guns from Jane’s Revenge was posted on the door. We’ve called the police and are scrambling to make it safe.” 

“We are headed towards tragedy if [U.S. Attorney General] Merrick Garland continues to refuse to act to protect peaceful pro-lifers from pro-abortion terrorist groups. Sadly, the incendiary comments of leaders like Hillary Clinton yesterday comparing pro-lifers to the Taliban is case in point the poisoned political climate being deliberately fostered by corporate abortion and their allies,” Hawkins added.

“The Biden administration is laying the groundwork for deadly violence against pro-lifers while they support violence against those in the womb. They must act.”

The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Department of Public Safety said in a Saturday statement that the Douglas County Sheriff’s office and the Omaha Police Department are working together to investigate the threat and increase security measures. 

The Newman Center and the campus are maintaining normal operations, the statement said. 

“Individuals with information that can assist with the investigation are encouraged to contact UNO Public Safety by phone at 402.554.2648, by email at [email protected], or by text using U-TIP. The latest information will be published on the UNO News Center as it becomes available,” the statement said. 

CNA reached out to the Archdiocese of Omaha for comment but did not immediately hear back by time of publication.

Editor's note: A correction has been made to this article. The handwritten note mentioned in the article reads, "we will shoot up your Newman center with our new AR-74 rifles," not "AR-14" rifles as was previously reported here.

The mighty Mississippi was once named ‘River of the Immaculate Conception.’ Here’s why

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

St. Louis, Mo., Dec 4, 2022 / 08:00 am (CNA).

“Immaculate” is not a word most people would use to describe the Mississippi River’s famously muddy waters. But Father Jacques Marquette was not most people.

The Jesuit explorer, who came from France as a missionary to Canada in 1666, was one of the first Europeans to name the Mississippi, which he explored and mapped with his companion Louis Joliet beginning in 1673. And the name he gave to this vital artery of North America was “The River of the Immaculate Conception.”

The entrustment of this mighty waterway — one of the largest and most important rivers in the world — to the Virgin Mary was part of the French Jesuits’ mission to evangelize the Native Americans of the area, which by all accounts they did, not with violence but with fellowship and respect.

Father Jacques Marquette among the Native Americans. Wilhelm Lamprecht, 1869
Father Jacques Marquette among the Native Americans. Wilhelm Lamprecht, 1869

French missionary activity in North America was driven by great devotees to Mary, like Father Marquette, who had a vision of the meeting of two civilizations — European and Native American — under the Catholic faith, rather than a conquest of the land, said James Wilson, professor of humanities at St. Thomas University in Houston.

“They set out on their canoes entrusting themselves entirely to God’s grace, entrusting themselves entirely to Mary as the Immaculate Conception, and they didn’t seek to build lasting monuments to their conquests or to plant flags,” Wilson, author of a seven-part poem called “River of the Immaculate Conception,” noted.

“They sought primarily to enter as agents of grace among the Indians and to live with them, preach to them, and enter into communion with them.”

Of course, the Mississippi today bears its original, Native-given name, which roughly translates to “great waters.” But Wilson said far from being a footnote in history, Marquette’s consecration of the Mississippi endures as a testament to how God’s grace was already working in North America. Nearly two centuries later, in 1846, the bishops of the now United States declared Mary, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, as the patroness of the country.

The church on Immaculate Conception River

Though forgotten by most, the “River of the Immaculate Conception” endures in the memories of one community in particular: the congregation at the Immaculate Conception Chapel in Kaskaskia, Illinois. 

Immaculate Conception Chapel, Kaskaskia, Illinois. Diocese of Belleville
Immaculate Conception Chapel, Kaskaskia, Illinois. Diocese of Belleville

Kaskaskia was, at one time and in some ways, the center of the Mississippian universe. The now-tiny hamlet, located on the river, predates the historic riverside metropolises of New Orleans to the south and St. Louis to the north. Known at one time as the “Grand Village,” Kaskaskia was a prosperous nexus of trade for Natives and French trappers alike. The town of 1,900 people was the logical — and in some ways the definitive — place for Catholic missionaries to use as their evangelical hub. 

Emily Lyons, the historian at the Immaculate Conception Chapel in Kaskaskia, told CNA that the church’s founder, Marquette, had an “absolute devotion to the Immaculate Conception.” He entrusted anything and everything he could to Mary’s care.

Marquette founded the mission at Kaskaskia on Easter Sunday in 1675 and died later that year.

Since that time, the church dedicated to Mary in Kaskaskia has endured as a remarkable testament to God’s grace. Lyons said since the earliest days, when the church was a simple structure of upright logs, the congregation has “worn out about five different buildings.”

The island on which Kaskaskia sits is extremely prone to flooding, and the church has had to be moved several times over the years. The current brick church dates to 1894 and endured significant damage in the major Mississippi floods of 1993. The next year, the Diocese of Belleville designated it a chapel. Today, the once thriving village of Kaskaskia only has about two dozen residents.

Though no longer a parish, Immaculate Conception Chapel still attracts many visitors and worshippers. Lyons said every year on or around the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, the community has a celebratory Mass whereby they sing Marian hymns translated into the Algonquin language. The liturgy has attracted many Native American Catholics over the years, she said.

The congregants also hold a procession and reenact a purported miracle that occurred at the church many years ago, whereby a young Native woman found lilies growing near the church — despite the prohibitive winter cold — and brought them inside as an offering for Mary.

God’s grace in America

Unlike the Spanish, whose conquest of North America was often marked by brutality, the French entered with “relative peacefulness” and largely respected the humanity of the Natives, Wilson said. Many of the Natives were subsequently converted and incorporated Christianity into their way of life.

To meditate on this, Wilson says, is to reconceive of the United States not as a wild frontier later tamed by man but as “a stage where God’s grace is the first actor.” The French Jesuits, through their devotion to prayer and to the devout life, were attuned to this reality, Wilson said.

“To consecrate the Mississippi River as the ‘River of the Immaculate Conception’ is not to plant a flag or to lay conquest. It’s rather to recognize that this vast, open continent must, objectively speaking, be defined primarily not by what any human being does but by the actions of God through his grace,” Wilson said.

“Even when Christians try to talk about history, they talk as though only humans have acted in history and don’t consider that God is always the primary author of every action, and God's grace is the most dynamic agent of everything in history.”