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Diocese of Toledo to pay $1 million to three priest sex abuse victims

Rosary Cathedral in Toledo, Ohio. / Credit: Susan Montgomery/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jul 11, 2024 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Toledo will pay out a seven-figure sum to three victims of priest sexual abuse after agreeing to a settlement.

The payout will go to victims of disgraced priest Michael Zacharias, who was convicted on five counts of sex trafficking by a federal jury in Ohio last May. His crimes, committed between 1999 and 2020, involved three victims, two of whom were minors when Zacharias began abusing them.

Konrad Kircher, a Cincinnati-area attorney who represented the victims, told CNA on Thursday that he was pleased with the results, which he called “a success” for his clients.

“My clients were the three victims who testified in Zacharias’ case,” he said via phone. “When the criminal trial was over, I contacted the Diocese of Toledo and asked them to consider compensating my clients for what they had been through, otherwise I would proceed with a lawsuit.”

The diocese responded by establishing an “Independent Healing and Reconciliation Program” for the three victims, Kircher said. “Those have been done around the country for large pools of clients,” he noted.

The compensation amount was ultimately decided following recommendations from two judges were were appointed as independent administrators of the process.

“The two judges were compassionate, thorough, and analytical,” he said. “They interviewed my clients about the abuse; it was a very cathartic experience [for the victims].”

Kircher declined to comment on the payout amount, though the Toledo Blade this week reported that the amount was “just over $1 million” for the three victims.

Toledo diocesan spokeswoman Kelly Donaghy, meanwhile, declined to comment on the matter. 

“The Diocese of Toledo will not comment on any outreach work or activities related to any abuse victims as their privacy and healing is of the utmost priority to us,” she told CNA via email on Thursday. 

Zacharias was sentenced to life in prison in November. He had faced a minimum of 15 years behind bars.

The convicted sex offender was subsequently laicized by Pope Francis in March of this year after a request from the Toledo Diocese. The dismissal from the clerical state removed the priest’s ability to licitly execute the functions of the priesthood, except in the extreme situation of encountering someone who is in immediate danger of death.

Zacharias reportedly began grooming some of his underage victims while still a seminarian at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Toledo, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said last year. 

The ex-priest “used his affiliation and position of authority to groom the boys and grow close with their families,” the DOJ last year, “before ultimately coercing the victims into engaging in commercial sex acts and manipulating the opioid addictions they developed.”

Asked if the Toledo Diocese was planning to extend the reconciliation program to any other priest abuse victims, Kircher said he was “hopeful.”

“I don’t know what their intentions are,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, it was a success. I hope they extend that success to other victims.”

The St. Benedict medal: a defense against demonic attacks

Portrait of St. Benedict (1926) by Herman Nieg (1849–1928); Heiligenkreuz Abbey, Austria; “Exorcism of St. Benedict,” by Spinello Aretino, late 14th century. / Credit: Public Domain

National Catholic Register, Jul 11, 2024 / 13:15 pm (CNA).

Temptations in a fallen city, memories of a beautiful woman, a poisoned chalice, the attacks of an envious priest, curses from a pagan priest, a rock that won’t budge, another that falls on a young monk, a kitchen in flames, a dragon that lurks to devour a fleeing monk, threats from Gothic warlords, and the prospect of a destroyed monastery.

St. Benedict, whose feast the Catholic Church celebrates on July 11, endured constant attacks from the enemy throughout his life. The life of a monk only heightens the constant spiritual warfare we all face in the Christian life.

In fact, Benedict even had to use force to manifest his authority as abbot over his monks oppressed by the enemy, as related in Father Robert Nixon’s newly compiled and translated book “The Cross and Medal of Saint Benedict: A Mystical Sign of Divine Power” (TAN, 2024):

“Benedict found this monk outside wandering around aimlessly when he should have been in the oratory in prayer. With a certain degree of paternal severity and charitable discipline, he reprimanded him for his lack of wisdom and discernment and struck him with his staff. At this, the monk fell down, motionless. And after that, the devil ... never troubled him again. It was as if the staff of Benedict had not struck the hapless monk but had rather driven away the wicked tempter himself!” (p. 14).

St. Benedict has come to be recognized for the power of his actions against the enemy, alongside St. Michael, as a major protector against evil, particularly through the medal that bears his image.

Nixon’s book offers an overview of how the medal rose to prominence as a Catholic devotion and received papal approval, couching it within the story of St. Benedict’s life and the rise of his order of monks.

If you’ve seen the back of a St. Benedict medal, you may have noticed a series of letters. The first set is arranged in and around the shape of the cross: C S P B C S S M L N D S M D. The next set is arranged in a circle around the cross: V R S N S M V S M Q L I V B.

This arrangement first came to serious attention in the year 1647 in relation to the Benedictine Abbey of Metten in Bavaria when it prevented a series of diabolic attacks. Although some of the laity already had medals with these letters engraved, no one at the time understood their meaning. It was only in researching the library’s manuscripts that a 15th-century illustration of St. Benedict pointed to the full prayer they abbreviated:

“Cross of our Holy Father Benedict. May the cross be light to me. May the dragon not be a leader to me. Get behind me, Satan: Never persuade me to vain things. What you like is evil; may you yourself drink your venom!” 

Due to a widespread story of the medal preventing the effect of curses and bringing about exorcisms and healings, which Nixon details in his book, its use spread across Europe, with Pope Benedict XIV approving an official blessing for it and granting it indulgences in 1741.

The great father of modern Benedictine monasticism, Dom Prosper Guéranger, speculated why God would grant so many favors to those who invoke his help through St. Benedict’s medal. In an age when “rationalism is so rife,” God has deigned to offer help to those “who put their confidence in the sacred signs marked on the medal” with “strong and simple” faith (Guéranger, “The Medal or Cross of St. Benedict,” author’s preface). It’s as if to laugh at the devil and his plans to pull people away from God through the alleged sophistication of the modern world, overcoming them with simple signs pointing us to the cross and the protection of a holy monk.

Of course, the medal should not be used in a superstitious way. It expresses our faith and confidence in God, which conquers the power of the enemy through the blood of Christ. Within God’s plan of salvation, there are certain key defenders of God’s people. St. Benedict proved himself as one over his own monks in spiritual combat. Through the efficacy of his medal, he has manifested himself as a fatherly defender of all who invoke his help. 

Throughout history, the monastic life has served as a constant beacon calling us to greater conversion of life and prayer. Turning to St. Benedict can lead us to embrace some of his spiritual principles, such as humility, obedience, stability, hospitality, the prayerful reading of Scripture in “lectio divina,” and viewing our work as a means of honoring God.

Wearing the medal

If you would like to purchase a St. Benedict medal or a rosary with the medal affixed, crafted by Benedictine monks, you can visit the gift shop at Clear Creek Abbey in Hulbert, Oklahoma. The monks can bless the medal with the approved blessing after purchase, if you request it in the order notes. 

Medals are also available at EWTNRC.com.

This story was first published by the National Catholic Register, CNA's sister news partner, and has been adapted by CNA.

Missouri priest pleads guilty to $300,000 theft from parish 

St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Wardsville, Missouri. / Credit: Diocese of Jefferson City

CNA Staff, Jul 11, 2024 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

A priest in Missouri pleaded guilty this week to stealing $300,000 from a church at which he was pastor for nearly a decade.

Father Ignazio Medina admitted to “transporting stolen property across state lines” after a federal investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri said in a press release this week.

Medina was pastor at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Wardsville, Missouri, from 2013 to 2021. Officials discovered “financial irregularities” at the parish in 2018, after which was discovered “a bank account that was not previously reported” on parish financial documents.

The priest began including the account in annual parish reports, and by 2020 it contained nearly $360,000.

The pastor was transferred to a new parish in 2021, the attorney’s office said, after which “it was discovered that he had emptied that bank account.” Medina had sent a $100,000 check to a sister in Tucson, Arizona, and had written a $200,000 check for himself.

Medina “claimed the bank account was funded by donations that were not intended for the parish itself but rather were intended for his own discretionary use,” according to the prosecutor’s office.

Parishioners contradicted that claim, arguing that their donations to the parish “were intended for parish purposes, not for Medina’s own discretionary use” and that they “never had any conversations with Medina authorizing a different use of the funds.”

The priest further alleged that he was “refunding donations” from the account and that his sister in Tucson “was one of the donors.” The sister, however, told investigators that she had not donated any money and that the $100,000 check was to care for her mother.

The priest faces up to 10 years in prison, the prosecutor’s office said.

In addition to the criminal conviction, Medina faces Church sanctions over the financial malfeasance as well as a separate violation involving sexual solicitation.

The Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri, announced last year that Medina had been found guilty of “abuse of ecclesiastical power” stemming from the financial mismanagement. The priest had made “full restitution of the missing funds,” the diocese said at the time, and had also been ordered to pay more than $25,000 to cover diocesan audit and legal fees.

In January of this year, meanwhile, Medina was found guilty of sexual solicitation of an adult during confession and was permanently barred from holding any office in the Church or hearing confessions.

He is also barred from celebrating Mass without the express permission of the bishop.

“I want to be clear that sexual solicitation during confession is a sacrilege, a crime in our Church, and a grave form of abuse; it cannot be tolerated,” Jefferson City Bishop W. Shawn McKnight said at the time.

Knights of Columbus to cover Rupnik art in DC and Connecticut

Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly speaks with EWTN News President and COO Montse Alvarado on Thursday, July 11, 2024, regarding the organization's decision to cover mosaics by the accused abuser Father Marko Rupnik in chapels in Washington, D.C., and Connecticut. / Credit: EWTN News

Rome Newsroom, Jul 11, 2024 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The Knights of Columbus announced Thursday it will cover mosaics by the accused abuser Father Marko Rupnik in Washington, D.C., and Connecticut, a dramatic move that represents the strongest public stand yet by a major Catholic organization regarding the former Jesuit’s embattled art.

The 2.1-million-member lay Catholic fraternal order said July 11 it would use fabric to cover the floor-to-ceiling mosaics in the two chapels of the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington and in the chapel at the Knights’ headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut — at least until the completion of a formal Vatican investigation into the Slovenian priest’s alleged abuse.

Patrick Kelly, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, told EWTN News Thursday the opaque material would be installed “very soon” but gave no firm timetable. The Knights said in a statement released Thursday afternoon that the artwork may later be more permanently hidden with a plaster covering after the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith issues its ruling on Rupnik.

The decision by the Knights to cover the sprawling works, which envelop both spaces, was made at the end of a comprehensive, confidential review process that included consultations with sexual abuse victims and those who minister to them, art historians, pilgrims to the shrine, bishops, and moral theologians.

“The Knights of Columbus have decided to cover these mosaics because our first concern must be for victims of sexual abuse, who have already suffered immensely in the Church, and who may be further injured by the ongoing display of the mosaics at the shrine,” Kelly said in the statement.

“While opinions varied among those consulted,” he said, “there was a strong consensus to prioritize the needs of victims, especially because the allegations are current, unresolved, and horrific.”

Kelly reiterated that point in his interview with EWTN News.

“Our decision process really came down to multiple factors. But the No. 1 factor was compassion for victims,” Kelly said. “We needed to prioritize victims over anything, any material thing. So that was our primary consideration.”

The first segment of Kelly’s interview with EWTN News will air on “EWTN News Nightly” Thursday at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. ET. Additional comments will air on “EWTN News In Depth” on Friday at 8 p.m. ET.

Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly speaks with EWTN News President and COO Montse Alvarado on Thursday, July 11, 2024, regarding the organization's decision to cover mosaics by the accused abuser Father Marko Rupnik in chapels in Washington, D.C., and Connecticut. Credit: EWTN News
Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly speaks with EWTN News President and COO Montse Alvarado on Thursday, July 11, 2024, regarding the organization's decision to cover mosaics by the accused abuser Father Marko Rupnik in chapels in Washington, D.C., and Connecticut. Credit: EWTN News

Once a renowned artist Rupnik, whose mosaics are featured in hundreds of Catholic shrines, churches, and chapels around the world, was expelled from the Jesuits in June 2023.

His expulsion followed a long review of what the society called “highly credible” accusations of serial spiritual, psychological, and sexual abuse of as many as 30 religious sisters by the priest spanning decades. Some women allege Rupnik’s abuse sometimes happened as part of the process of creating his art at the Centro Aletti, an art school he founded in Rome.

The Vatican announced in late October 2023 that Pope Francis had waived the statute of limitations in the Rupnik case, allowing the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith to do a canonical investigation into the abuse allegations.

There has been no further communication from the Vatican about the inquiry, and it is unclear whether Rupnik may still be living in Rome despite having been given priestly faculties in a diocese of his home country of Slovenia last year.

Growing public outcry

What to do with Rupnik’s once widely-praised works, colorful mosaics characterized by grand, flowing figures and large eyes, has proven to be a divisive question in the wake of the numerous allegations against him, which first came to public attention in December 2022.

While some want to await Vatican judgment before dismantling and replacing Rupnik’s works, much of it made in collaboration with other artists of the Centro Aletti — a Rupnik-founded art school and theological center in Rome — the public outcry for the removal of his art has intensified.

The Knights also announced several immediate changes that would be enacted at the shrine in solidarity with abuse victims, including providing educational materials about the mosaics, making clear that their display during the consultation process “was not intended to ignore, deny, or diminish the allegations of abuse.”

Every Mass at the St. John Paul II National Shrine will now also include a prayer of the faithful for victims of sexual abuse, and saints with connections to abuse victims, such as St. Josephine Bakhita, will be specially commemorated.

The group said it became aware of the allegations against Rupnik in December 2022 — and noted that the artist, while under investigation, remains a priest in good standing in the Diocese of Koper, Slovenia. 

“This decision is rooted in a foundational purpose of the Knights of Columbus, which is to protect families, especially women and children, and those who are vulnerable and voiceless,” Kelly said in the July 11 statement.

The "Redemptor Hominis" chapel of the National Shrine of St John Paul II in Washington, DC, is decorated with mosaics by Father Marko Rupnik. Credit: Lawrence OP|Flickr|CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The "Redemptor Hominis" chapel of the National Shrine of St John Paul II in Washington, DC, is decorated with mosaics by Father Marko Rupnik. Credit: Lawrence OP|Flickr|CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The St. John Paul II National Shrine is a pastoral initiative of the Knights of Columbus, established in 2011, and designated a national shrine by the U.S. Catholic bishops in 2014.

Rupnik’s mosaics were installed at the shrine in 2015. The Holy Family Chapel at the Knights’ headquarters has featured Rupnik’s art since 2005.

Highlighting the John Paul II shrine’s mission of evangelization, the supreme knight said, “the art we sponsor must therefore serve as a stepping stone — not a stumbling block — to faith in Jesus Christ and his Church.”

Rupnik has not made any statements since the allegations came to light.

An eye on Lourdes

The Knights’ move to conceal the mosaics follows just a week after the bishop of Lourdes, France, said that despite his personal feelings that Rupnik’s artwork at the renowned Marian shrine there should be removed, he has decided to wait to make a final decision due to “strong opposition on the part of some.”

After forming a special commission in May 2023, Bishop Jean-Marc Micas of Tarbes announced July 2 that more time was needed “to discern what should be done” about Rupnik’s mosaics at the Marian apparition site, because his belief that they should be torn down “would not be sufficiently understood” and “would add even more division and violence” at this time.

As a “first step,” the French bishop said he had decided the mosaics will no longer be lit up at night during the shrine’s nightly candlelight rosary processions.

In his interview with EWTN News, Kelly said the Lourdes bishop’s intent to make a decision of some kind this spring galvanized the Knights to act at this time.

In his July 11 statement, Kelly thanked the Lourdes bishop for his “thoughtful decision” and said it “both informed and confirmed us in our own decision-making. Shrines are places of healing, prayer, and reconciliation. They should not cause victims further suffering.”

Emphasizing the importance of discernment based on mission and context, the supreme knight said: “Every situation is different. In the United States, Catholics continue to suffer in a unique way from the revelations of sexual abuse and, at times, from the response of the Church. It is clear to us that, as a national shrine, our decision must respect this country’s special need for healing.”

The Knights of Columbus was founded in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1882 by Blessed Michael McGivney, a parish priest. Dedicated to the advancement of the group’s key principles — charity, unity, fraternity, and patriotism — its members in 2022 provided 50 million service hours and nearly $185 million to charitable causes in their communities.

National Catholic Register Editor-in-Chief Shannon Mullen contributed to this story.

Vatican reveals details about 1974 ruling on alleged ‘Lady of All Nations’ apparition

The Lady of All Nations painting. / Credit: Judgefloro (shifted, cropped & recoloured by Rabanus Flavus), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Rome Newsroom, Jul 11, 2024 / 11:40 am (CNA).

The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith on Thursday released new information about its 1974 ruling on alleged apparitions in Amsterdam connected to the “Lady of All Nations” devotion.

The DDF said July 11 that due to “persistent doubts” about the alleged Dutch apparitions, which took place in the 1940s and 1950s, it was revealing that in 1974, the doctrinal office voted unanimously that they were not supernatural and would not be further investigated.

While the Vatican’s judgment on the non-supernatural nature of the apparitions has been known for 50 years, the DDF divulged for the first time that the decision involved a unanimous negative vote by the cardinals participating in the doctrine office’s ordinary session on March 27, 1974.

Both negative judgments — on the supernatural quality of the alleged apparitions and on whether to investigate them further — were approved by Pope Paul VI on April 5, 1974.

The dicastery’s press release noted that while in the past, “as a rule” it had not made public the details of decisions of this nature, it was now choosing to communicate the information “so that the holy people of God and its pastors may draw the appropriate conclusions.”

“The Lady of All Nations” is the Marian title given to alleged visions that Ida Peerdeman, a secretary living in the Dutch capital Amsterdam, claimed to have received between 1945 and 1959.

In 1956, Bishop Johannes Huibers of Haarlem declared that after an investigation he had “found no evidence of the supernatural nature of the apparitions.” 

The Holy Office, a forerunner of the DDF, approved the bishop’s verdict a year later. The DDF, then known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, confirmed the judgment in 1972 and 1974.

Peerdeman was born on Aug. 13, 1905, in Alkmaar, in the Netherlands. She claimed that on March 25, 1945, she saw her first apparition of a woman bathed in light who referred to herself as “the Lady” and “Mother.” 

In 1951, the woman reputedly told Peerdeman that she wished to be known as “The Lady of All Nations.” That year, the artist Heinrich Repke created a painting of “the Lady,” depicting her standing on top of a globe in front of a cross.

The series of 56 alleged visions concluded on May 31, 1959.

Bishop Johannes Hendriks of Haarlem-Amsterdam also issued a clarification about the alleged visions of “The Lady of All Nations” in December 2021 after consulting with the Vatican.

The bishop said that the Vatican regarded the title “Lady of All Nations” for Mary as “theologically acceptable,” but “the recognition of this title cannot be understood — not even implicitly — as the recognition of the supernaturality of some pheno­mena from which it seems to have come.”

Alongside the clarification, the bishop issued a further explanation that “devotion to Mary as the Lady and Mother of All Nations is good and valuable; it must, however, remain separate from the messages and the apparitions.”

Firefighters quell blaze at French cathedral

Smoke billows from the spire of Rouen Cathedral in Rouen, northern France, on July 11, 2024. / Credit: PATRICK STREIFF/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Newsroom, Jul 11, 2024 / 10:10 am (CNA).

Firefighters extinguished a fire that broke out on Thursday on the spire of Rouen Cathedral, a historic Gothic church in northern France.

Rouen Mayor Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol confirmed the incident on social media, sharing an image showing smoke rising from the cathedral’s spire.

According to LeMonde newspaper, 63 firefighters and 33 fire engines participated in the operation. Authorities announced they had “brought the fire under control” in just under two hours after an alert was issued at noon local time.

The cathedral was evacuated and a security perimeter established, local media reported July 11.

Citing information by the French Ministry of Culture, the newspaper Le Figaro said the fire was caused by “mishandling by workers."

The part of the spire where the fire broke out was located about 120 meters (about 400 feet) above the ground and is currently undergoing renovation.

The incident recalled the devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. That blaze caused significant damage to the iconic structure, destroying its spire and much of its roof.

Rouen Cathedral, known for its tall spire and Gothic architecture, has historical and artistic significance. The structure in historic Normandy was famously depicted in a series of paintings by French impressionist Claude Monet in the late 19th century.

The fire in Rouen also occurs against a backdrop of concerns about the Catholic heritage of France. 

In 2021, Edouard de Lamaze, president of the Observatory of Religious Heritage in Paris, told CNA that one religious building is lost in France every two weeks due to various factors, including demolition, repurposing, or destruction.

‘The Bible in 10 Minutes’ becomes Father Mike Schmitz’s most viral video in first 24 hours

Father Mike Schmitz is the host of "The Bible in a Year" podcast produced by Ascension. / Credit: Photo courtesy of Ascension

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 11, 2024 / 09:33 am (CNA).

Father Mike Schmitz’s The Bible in 10 Minutes” has become the popular Catholic priest’s most viral video yet, garnering over 358,000 views in its first 24 hours. Released on July 9, the video was produced by Ascension and Coronation Media.

“The Bible is amazing, but sometimes confusing and hard to read,” Schmitz begins in the video. “This is because it’s not just one book, but a collection of books written over thousands of years in lots of different styles, all inspired by God and assembled by the Catholic Church into the Bible.”

While acknowledging the difficulties that some may face in attempting to read the Bible, Schmitz speaks of the “narrative throughout the Bible that tells a single story: the story of God’s plan for our salvation.”

“Once we understand that story, we can understand the context of every book of the Bible,” he continues. “So, here’s the story in less than 10 minutes.”

Beginning with the creation of Adam and Eve, Schmitz outlines the Bible’s story of salvation alongside vivid, colorful animations. The video also brings attention to Moses’ flight out of Egypt, David’s rule over Israel, and the passion of Jesus Christ among other key moments.

According to Ascension Press, “The Bible in 10 Minutes” more than doubles Schmitz’s previous record of 160,000 views in one day with his 2023 video review of the film “Sound of Freedom.” As of July 11, two days later, the video has amassed over 598,000 views and 11,000 likes.

Schmitz serves as the chaplain of the University of Minnesota-Duluth as well as the director of the office of youth ministry for the Diocese of Duluth. He first began hosting the “Ascension Presents” YouTube series in 2015 and has since grown in popularity among Catholic audiences for his various podcasts, books, and talks.

His “The Bible in a Year” podcast has especially received much acclaim and attention, drawing a total of 660 million downloads as of 2023. Consisting of 365 episodes, the podcast features commentary, prayer, and reflections as Schmitz walks the listener through the entirety of the Bible. 

“God wants to illuminate your life with this story and lead you to a relationship with him page by page,” he says in the video. 

Beginning Jan. 15, EWTN Radio began airing Schmitz’s “Bible in a Year” and “Catechism in a Year” podcasts. 

Italy’s prime minister proposes aid for women in financial straits who reject abortion

Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni speaks during a conference on “The General State of the Birth Rate” in Rome on May 12, 2023. / Credit: Daniel Ibañez/CNA

ACI Prensa Staff, Jul 11, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

The government of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who is also president of the Council of Ministers of Italy, has proposed a “maternity income” bill to provide financial assistance to pregnant women in need who reject abortion.

This initiative, promoted by Sen. Maurizio Gasparri of the Forza Italia political party, offers aid of 1,000 euros (about $1,082) for five years to Italian women who decide to continue with their pregnancy despite their financial difficulties.

The bill aims to reduce abortions motivated by the financial hardships of pregnant mothers, based on Article 5 of Italy’s Law 194.

Gasparri said this is “not only moral but also financial” support for women who decide not to end the life of their children in the womb. “Let’s defend life!” he wrote on X when announcing the measure.

The proposal — scheduled to be introduced next week — provides for an increase of 50 euros ($54) per month starting with the second child and 100 euros ($108) up to the age of 18 in the event that the child has a disability.

To finance it, a maternity income fund would be created with 600 million euros ($649 million) annually starting this year, and mothers who wish to apply for it must have an Indicator of Equivalent Economic Situation (ISEE) of less than 15,000 euros ($16,230) and be Italian citizens residing in the country.

In April, Meloni approved a package of measures to curb abortion in the country.

Among the measures, the Italian Parliament allowed volunteers from pro-life associations access to abortion centers to guarantee assistance to mothers who wish to abort their unborn children.

Abortion was legalized in Italy in 1978, under Law 194, which Meloni has pledged not to change, although she stated that her pro-life measures aim to “guarantee women the possibility of choosing an alternative, offering an active role by public institutions in order to remove the financial causes that can push a woman to abort.”

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

‘Worst platform I’ve ever seen’: Conservatives slam Republicans for softening pro-life stance

“Beyond Dobbs” panelists at the 2024 National Conservatism Conference on July 10, 2024, in Washington, D.C., included, left to right: Emma Waters, senior research associate at The Heritage Foundation; Mary Margaret Olohan, author and journalist at The Daily Signal; Tom McClusky, conservative policy strategist; Chad Pecknold, professor of systematic theology at The Catholic University of America; and Katy Talento, CEO of AllBetter Health. / Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 11, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Top conservatives at a “Beyond Dobbs” panel discussion at the 2024 National Conservatism Conference expressed anger over the Republican Party’s softening of its pro-life stance ahead of this November’s election, with one calling the GOP’s new platform the “worst platform I’ve ever seen.”

Organized Wednesday in Washington, D.C., by the Edmund Burke Foundation in partnership with over a dozen other major U.S. conservative think tanks, the conference’s panel on the subject focused on the political landscape in the post-Roe v. Wade era.

Several panelists, including a former Trump administration official, severely criticized the 2024 GOP platform, which was approved by the Republican National Convention’s platform committee on Monday.

What’s going on with Republicans and abortion?

Since Roe’s overturn in 2022 the pro-life movement has struggled to achieve any significant policy wins at the polls, leading some Republicans to believe abortion is a losing issue.

This belief appeared to be reflected in the GOP’s new platform, which removed a long-standing “right to life” plank and any call for a national law protecting unborn life.

Tom McClusky, a veteran operative in the pro-life movement, led the charge in slamming Republicans for backing away from the life issue.

“The RNC platform, I’m sorry, it is the worst platform I’ve ever seen,” McClusky said. “The platform, to me, has always been a promissory note. This is what the Republican Party stands for, this is the ideals that we strive for, and we’ve lost that now.”

He pointed to the Biden administration’s actions to promote abortion, saying it has “proven” that abortion cannot “just go back to the states.”

“Look at everything that he [Biden] has done,” he said. “They’ve turned our veterans’ hospitals into abortuaries. They’ve turned our military into abortion travel services. They’ve taken the Department of Justice and gone after people who stand up for life.”

“That is not something the states can stop,” he added. “That is only something the federal government can do.”

‘Quietly transforming every agency into Planned Parenthood’

Katy Talento, another panelist and former Trump administration Domestic Policy Council adviser, also criticized Republicans for backing away from the national abortion debate.

According to Talento, the Biden administration has been “quietly transforming every [government] agency into Planned Parenthood.”

Leaving the status quo regarding abortion, Talento claimed, would greatly advantage the abortion industry and result in more deaths of not only unborn babies but also pregnant women.

“I would strongly urge any hand-wringing politician worried about suburban women to read the FDA label before advocating for [abortion] pill-pushing on demand. The next woman bleeding out in the fetal position could be their daughter or their granddaughter,” Talento warned.

“It appears that there is little courage or appetite among our national leaders to try to protect unborn Americans with new federal laws,” she added. However, she emphasized, “there are too many radical policies implemented by Team Biden throughout many agencies to let any new president or cabinet secretary off the hook.”

Promoting marriage and families

Various panelists also suggested strategies to push back against abortion and reverse the ongoing decline in births.

Emma Waters, a senior research associate at The Heritage Foundation, said promoting a culture conducive to life involves all aspects of society, government, and religion.

Government policy, Waters said, must include not only on materially supporting mothers but also on promoting stable marriages and families.

“All policy must be pro-family policy,” she said. “We don’t need a separate policy group focused on family policy, we need those who are working in foreign policy, those who are in education, those who are in welfare and beyond, asking themselves, ‘Does this policy that I’m putting forward help support and encourage the family?’”

“To solve the fertility crisis,” she continued, “we can’t simply focus on creating more children. We must focus on creating more healthy marriages between married men and women. That’s where we’re going to find our solution.”

As marriage rates continue to plunge, how can the Church get more people to the altar?

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CNA Staff, Jul 11, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

The Catholic Church needs to be focused at the parish level to drive up plunging marriage rates among the faithful, experts say, as low marriage rates in the Church mirror the collapse of matrimony in wider society. 

Catholic marriage rates dropped by about 70% between 1969 and 2019, according to data from Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate

The collapse reflects the broader decline of marriage rates throughout the United States, with a record 25% of 40-year-olds in the U.S. currently having never been married, according to Pew Research data

Experts and marriage advocates have long offered explanations for plummeting marriage rates. Mary Rose Verret, who with her husband, Ryan, founded the marriage renewal and preparation initiative Witness to Love, has argued that young Catholics are “not seeing holy, healthy, happy marriages being lived out,” leaving them without meaningful examples of successful unions.

The Verrets told CNA that the Catholic Church should be considerably more proactive in encouraging marriages. 

“As a Church, we can do a better job talking about marriage from the pulpit,” Mary Rose said. “We need to talk to young people about marriage when they’re younger. We need to sing the benefits of marriage. We should have married couples go to schools and espouse the benefits of marriage.”

Ryan told CNA that such witness is a critical component to bolstering marriages, especially for those who lack those examples in their own lives. “How do you know there’s another way of doing things if you don’t even see it?” he said.

‘An opportunity for conversion’

Pope Francis last year named the Verrets as consultants to the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life, which Mary Rose said would allow them to “serve the sacrament of marriage in a more impactful way.” 

The couple’s Witness to Love program offers a “full-circle” approach to promoting strong marriages in order to counteract collapsing marriage numbers in the U.S. The ministry helps couples “explore the depths of their relationship” by “nurturing qualities that form the foundation of enduring love and commitment.” 

Yet Ryan told CNA this week that “more and more couples these days don’t know someone who’s married.” 

J.P. De Gance, the founder and president of a marriage and relationship ministry called Communio, pointed out that dioceses often invest much more in priestly vocations than matrimonial ones. 

“Every diocese has a vocations director, and that director typically focuses on vocations to priestly ordination,” he told CNA. “When we focus in that area, we’re trying to get men to commit to a celibate life dedicated to Our Lord and to priestly ministry.”

“That’s a harder ask, typically, than marriage,” he pointed out. “... If you compare marital vocations to priestly vocations, ordinations are down 38% since 1970, but Catholic marriages are down north of 70%.” 

That ratio, he said, means that “we’re getting twice as many priestly ordinations per Catholic wedding.” 

He pointed out that historically marriage has been seen as the “foundation” of success, whereas in the modern era it is increasingly seen as a “capstone” to success. 

“Today a lot of parents, even faithful parents, are saying: ‘Don’t think about getting married or even getting serious until after college. Wait until you’re established’,” DeGance noted. “Any time parents say that, you’re advancing a message that causes our kids to delay marriage.”

Parishes have a significant role to play in helping reverse this decline, De Gance said.

“At the parish level, we need to teach the skills of discerning a good Christian relationship and a good Christian spouse,” he said. 

Though not everyone is called to marriage, De Gance said, pastors should stress that it’s “the most common path to grow in holiness.”

“A lot of time parish priests are concerned about preaching in this way,” he said. “They’re afraid of hurting people by talking about this.” 

But “if we fail to preach and teach about it, we’re not going to have any chance to push back against the zeitgeist that’s saying the exact opposite,” he said. 

Mary Rose Verret told CNA that she has observed intense interest from young people about marriage. When she facilitated marriage-focused events while working for the Family Life Office of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, “we’d hit the capacity of the building,” she said.

“It’s not that young people value marriage less,” she said. Rather, “they idealize it, they delay it,” and, further, they “don’t surround themselves with marriageable people.”

Ryan Verret said parishes should help facilitate relationships in which young adults can help each other toward getting married, including introducing single friends who are seeking marriage.

“We’re helping parishes to say: ‘If you want engaged couples to be married in the Church, then there needs to be an opportunity to enrich marriages,’” he said. To get to that point, he noted, young men and women “need to have a reference point for what marriage looks like in society.”

De Gance, meanwhile, said one way parishes can help is to defray the high costs often associated with weddings. The average wedding in the U.S. can run more than $30,000, which is often prohibitive for young people looking to get married.

Parishes often charge money for wedding services, including receptions, and De Gance said they should aim to keep those fees as low as possible.

“Parishes should see marriages and weddings as an opportunity for conversion, not as a way to offset costs for the parish,” he said. “The cost of a wedding is a barrier for a lot of young people. There should be inexpensive ways to leverage the facility so you can host a low-cost wedding reception.”

Part of the danger, De Gance noted, is that many Church leaders have become used to the new paradigm of low marriage rates and young people who don’t want to get married. “There is a general cultural zeitgeist that Catholics and other Christians have imbibed, and we don’t even realize it.”

Yet the crisis, he said, should not be overlooked. “This is the civilizational challenge facing the Church,” he said.