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Senate passes same-sex marriage bill, sending it back to the House

null / Africa Studio / Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 29, 2022 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday evening to pass the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA), sending the bill back to the House for a final vote before it reaches the president’s desk. 

The bill, which would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and provide for federal recognition of same-sex marriages, has drawn criticism from Catholic leaders for not providing strong enough legal protections for individuals who believe marriage to be between one man and one woman, as taught by the Catholic Church. 

The present bill would not require any state to allow same-sex couples to marry, but would require states to recognize any and all marriages — regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin” — contracted in other states. 

The bill garnered bipartisan support, clearing the Senate Nov. 29 by a vote of 61-36, and will return now to the House. Should the House pass this amended version, the bill will proceed to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature, which he has pledged to give. Biden first signaled his support for same-sex marriage a decade ago, putting him at odds with the teaching of his Catholic faith. 

The Senate had voted 62-37 in mid-November to end debate on the bill by reaching the required 60-vote threshold. Twelve Republicans crossed the aisle to join all the Senate’s Democrats in that vote, and the same number joined in the Nov. 29 vote.

The final version of the bill includes a bipartisan amendment meant to ensure that nonprofit religious organizations will not be required to provide services, facilities, or goods for the celebration of a same-sex marriage. It also provides for individual conscience protections to the extent provided under the Constitution and federal law, and makes clear the bill does not authorize the federal government to recognize polygamous marriage. 

DOMA, which the present bill would repeal, is a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton that defined marriage federally as the union of a man and a woman, reserved federal benefits to heterosexual couples, and permitted states not to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states. DOMA was already effectively nullified by the 2013 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. 

The Catholic bishops of the United States had urged Senators in July to oppose the Respect for Marriage Act, expressing concerns about the bill’s effect on the religious freedom of those who hold to a traditional definition of marriage. 

And in November, following the bill’s advancement in the U.S. Senate, the nation’s Catholic bishops reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on marriage. They also reiterated their concerns that “the legislation could lead to discrimination against individuals who hold to a traditional view of marriage.”

“The Catholic Church will always uphold the unique meaning of marriage as a lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, said in a Nov. 17 statement. 

“[T]he act offers only limited protections. Those protections fail to resolve the main problem with the act: in any context in which conflicts between religious beliefs and same-sex civil marriage arise, the act will be used as evidence that religious believers must surrender to the state’s interest in recognizing same-sex civil marriages,” Dolan continued. 

Ahead of the Nov. 29 vote, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah called on the 12 Republican senators who voted to advance the RFMA to adopt explicit protections, by way of an amendment he introduced, for individuals who believe marriage is between one man and one woman. Lee had argued that the RFMA will lead to more litigation against those who hold to a traditional view of marriage, unless the bill explicitly provides protections for them and not merely the possibility of a defense in court. 

“Instead of subjecting churches, religious nonprofits, and persons of conscience to undue scrutiny or punishment by the federal government because of their views on marriage, we should make explicitly clear that this legislation does not constitute a national policy endorsing a particular view of marriage that threatens the tax-exempt status of faith-based nonprofits,” Lee wrote in a November letter to his fellow senators. 

“As we move forward, let us be sure to keep churches, religious charities, and religious universities out of litigation in the first instance.”

Lee’s amendment ultimately failed Nov. 29 by a vote of 48-49. 

The RFMA represents one of the first legislative responses to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. While the majority opinion in Dobbs said that “this decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right,” Democrats have pointed to Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion suggesting the court should reconsider all “substantive due process” cases, including the 2015 Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage.

Pray with the cast of ‘The Chosen’ this Advent season on Hallow

Hallow's Advent feat. The Chosen: #Pray25 Prayer Challenge / Hallow

Denver, Colo., Nov 29, 2022 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

Advent is a season of preparation, hope, and joy as we await the birth of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As in every Advent, we are called during this time to prepare our hearts for his miraculous birth. 

This Advent, Hallow, a Catholic meditation and prayer app, invites us to dive further into the journey that led to Christ’s birth by participating in the Advent #Pray25 Challenge featuring the cast of “The Chosen," the hit streaming series about Jesus and his first disciples. 

Join Jonathan Roumie, the actor who plays Jesus; Elizabeth Tabish, who plays Mary Magdalene; George Harrison Xanthis, who plays John the Evangelist; Paras Patel, who plays Matthew; Vanessa Benavente, who plays Mother Mary; David Amito, who plays John the Baptist; and Dallas Jenkins, the director and founder of “The Chosen," in daily reflections, prayers, and meditations that tell the story of salvation. 

These daily reflections will take the listener back to the beginning with Adam and Eve, continue with Noah, Abraham, Moses, Ruth, David, and the prophets in the Old Testament, and end with the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Nativity in the New Testament, showing how God has called people throughout the generations.

The 25-day prayer challenge starts “in the beginning” with a meditation on the opening of the Gospel of John, read by Xanthis, and then turns its focus back to the Old Testament with the Book of Genesis. Each session starts with prayer followed by a reading from Scripture and ends with thought-provoking questions to guide your meditative prayer. 

When asked what his favorite part of the challenge was during an Instagram livestream Monday, Roumie explained that the imaginative prayers with Benavente, who plays Mother Mary, were particularly “impactful.”

“A lot of the placing yourself in the time periods and the moments before, and the moments leading up to Christmas, I think a lot of those readings were really impactful for me personally,” he explained. “Especially having that on-screen relationship with Vanessa Benavente, who plays Mother Mary, and then just thinking about our interactions and thinking about some of the stuff coming up this season even.”

Roumie added: “I think it was a really powerful instinct to move forward to try to execute this for Advent this year. I think people are really going to come away from it changed on another level.”

“I am excited for people to pray with their favorite characters on the show,” he said.

Alex Jones, CEO of Hallow, said in a press release on Nov. 23: “We’ve been blessed at Hallow to partner with a lot of amazing content creators, but I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to announce a partnership than I am today. ‘The Chosen’ has changed my own life and brought so many millions of folks around the world closer to Christ. We’re blessed to be able to journey together with some of our favorite folks from the series this Advent season in a one-of-a-kind prayer experience.”

“The Chosen,” created and directed by Jenkins, an evangelical Christian, premiered on Christmas Eve in 2017. During its first season, the show was the largest-ever crowdfunded television series. The series has been translated into 56 languages and has more than 420 million views worldwide.

The first two episodes of Season 3 are being shown in theaters through Dec. 14. The production was among the top 10 grossing films over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, outselling “She Said,” the film about Harvey Weinstein and the “Me Too” movement.

“The Chosen” can be streamed for free through The Chosen app for iOS or Android systems and the website of its distributor, Angel Studios. From the app you can stream to your TV using another device, such as Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, Android TV, and Chromecast. Season 1 was recently released on Netflix. The seasons are also available to purchase on DVD/BluRay.

Hallow bills itself as “the No. 1 Catholic app in the world” and the “No. 1 Christian app in the United States.” Launched in 2018, it has had more than four million downloads and has been used to pray more than 100 million times across 150 countries, according to the press release. It can be downloaded on the App Store and Google Play. 

Watch the trailer for Hallow’s “Advent featuring The Chosen: #Pray25 Prayer Challenge” here: 

Major win for Catholic doctors fighting Biden’s transgender mandate after appeal deadline passes

null / Credit: Chodyra Mike 1/Shutterstock.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 29, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

President Biden’s controversial transgender mandate has been blocked after the administration failed to meet last week’s deadline to appeal a court ruling that struck down the mandate earlier this year.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the mandate Aug. 26, ruling that religious groups could not be required to perform procedures that violate their beliefs. The deadline for the Biden administration to appeal the decision passed Nov. 25.

“The final demise of this unconscionable mandate is a major victory for conscience rights and compassionate medical care in America,” Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel for Becket Law, told CNA.

“Thousands of doctors will be able to do their jobs without the government requiring them to perform harmful, irreversible procedures against their conscience and medical expertise,” Goodrich added.

Becket, a religious liberty nonprofit legal firm, served as counsel to thousands of Catholic and other religious medical professionals in a federal lawsuit — Franciscan Alliance v. Becerra — challenging the mandate in a continuation of a long legal battle stemming from a similar rule enacted by the Obama administration in 2016. 

Religious medical groups including Franciscan Alliance, Christian Medical and Dental Society, and Specialty Physicians of Illinois fought to to stop the requirement from taking effect.

Goodrich applauded the decision on Twitter Monday, adding that “the Admin has declined to appeal to #SCOTUS — meaning this win is FINAL.” 

According to Goodrich, the fight will continue in a similar case pending in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is expected to issue a decision in the coming weeks. 

Mandating ‘unconscionable’ procedures

If finalized, Biden’s rule would have empowered the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to force hospitals and doctors to perform gender-transition surgeries, in addition to expanding the Obama-era version of the rule to include abortion.  

The rule revised Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act to add “sexual orientation and gender identity” and “reproductive health care services” including “pregnancy termination” to existing “protections against discrimination on the basis of sex.” 

It also reversed Trump-era conscience protections that sought to allow medical professionals to opt out of performing procedures against their beliefs.

The proposal met with strong opposition from religious doctors, medical organizations, and the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, which condemned the move in a statement July 27.

“[The] proposed regulations threaten our ability to carry out our healing ministries and others’ to practice medicine,” the bishops wrote. “They mandate health care workers to perform life-altering surgeries to remove perfectly healthy body parts. Assurances that HHS will honor religious freedom laws offer little comfort when HHS is actively fighting court rulings that declared HHS violated religious freedom laws the last time they tried to impose such a mandate. This is a violation of religious freedom and bad medicine.”

The HHS did not respond to CNA’s request for comment.

Canadian fashion retailer runs ad promoting assisted suicide 

null / HQuality/Shutterstock.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 29, 2022 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

A new ad campaign from a Canadian fashion retailer features a terminally ill woman who ended her life by assisted suicide.

“Dying in a hospital is not what’s natural. It’s not what’s soft,” 37-year-old Jennyfer Hatch says at the start of the three-minute video. “In these kinds of moments, you need softness.”

Produced by La Maison Simons, a popular fashion chain better known as Simons, the video has received more than one million views since its release on Oct. 24 — the day after Hatch died. 

Hatch sought medical assistance in dying (MAID) after being diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a group of inherited disorders that affect connective tissues, CBC News reported.

Since Canada legalized assisted suicide in 2016 the number of MAID deaths has increased each year. In 2016 the number of people who chose assisted suicide was 1,018. In 2021 there were 10,064 MAID deaths, making up 3.3% of all deaths in Canada.

The Simons ad, titled “All is beauty,” follows Hatch as she draws in the sand, watches the waves, blows bubbles, and laughs with friends while soft music plays in the background. The words “The most beautiful exit” float across the screen.

“Last breaths are sacred,” Hatch says at one point. “Even though as I seek help to end my life, with all the pain and in these final moments, there is still so much beauty.”

In another, separate video, Peter Simons, chief merchant for the fashion chain, says he felt inspired to tell Hatch’s story after meeting her earlier this year. He insists that it is “not a commercial campaign.”

“It’s more an effort to use our freedom, our voice, and the privilege we have to speak and create every day here in a way that is more about human connection,” he says. “And I think we sincerely believe that companies have a responsibility to participate in communities and to help build the communities that we want to live in tomorrow and leave to our children.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which summarizes Church teaching, explicitly condemns euthanasia. 

“Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible,” it says. “Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.”

It also forbids “an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering,” saying that it “constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator.”

Simons did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication.

U.S. bishops express outrage at increase in antisemitic attacks

People participate in a Jewish solidarity march across the Brooklyn Bridge on Jan. 5, 2020, in New York City. / Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 29, 2022 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Catholic bishops strongly condemned in a Nov. 28 statement what they called a “reemergence of antisemitism in new forms.”

“Outraged by the deeply hurtful proliferations of antisemitic rhetoric, both online and in person, and the violent attacks on Jewish individuals, homes, and institutions, we wish to convey our sincere support to the Jewish people,” the bishops wrote.

“In unequivocal terms, we condemn any and all violence directed at the Jewish people, whether motivated by religious, racial, or political grievances,” said the statement, which was signed by the nine bishops on the Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Committee.

The statement was issued on the 60th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Nostrae Aetate, which made clear the Church’s condemnation of hatred and violence against Judaism, beginning a new era of understanding and cooperation between the two faiths.

Since Nostrae Aetate, the bishops’ statement explained, “the Catholic and Jewish faiths have learned to encounter each other in a spirit of goodwill and a sincere desire to encourage our respective faithful to live together.”

The bishops called on Christians to join them in opposing acts of antisemitism:

“As the 60th anniversary of this prophetic document approaches, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs has issued a statement urging all believers in Christ once again to decry all ‘hatred, persecutions, displays of antisemitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone’ (Nostra Aetate, 4).”

The bishops went on to remind the faithful of Christianity’s shared heritage with Judaism.

“We continue to remind ourselves of the shared spiritual patrimony that remains the foundation of our relationship with the Jewish people. We affirm that the Jewish people cannot be held responsible for the death of Christ or be depicted as rejected or accursed in theological discourse. It must always be remembered that Jesus, Mary, and his apostles were all Jewish.

“Finally, we remain firm in our dedication to a just political solution — a secure and recognized Israel living in peace alongside a viable and independent Palestine,” the bishops wrote.

Antisemitism in the form of violence and online rhetoric has been a growing issue in recent months. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported 2,717 antisemitic incidents across the nation in 2021, a 34% increase in incidents from 2020 and an all-time high since ADL began tracking.

“As partners and neighbors, we seek to foster bonds of friendship between members of the Body of Christ and the Jewish people,” the bishops stated, recalling that Pope Francis said “a true Christian cannot be an antisemite.”

In a statement to CNA, Bishop Jeffrey Monforton of Steubenville, one of the bishops who signed onto the document, said, “as the documents from the committee called, mutual understanding and respect for our Jewish brothers and sisters,

 this is all the more important since we find ourselves in a culture that permits, if not encourages others to demonize or dehumanize our elder brother and sisters of the Jewish faith.”

In a statement to CNA, Bishop Jeffrey Monforton of Steubenville, one of the bishops who signed onto the document, said, “as the documents from the committee called, mutual understanding and respect for our Jewish brothers and sisters,

 this is all the more important since we find ourselves in a culture that permits, if not encourages others to demonize or dehumanize our elder brother and sisters of the Jewish faith.”

In a statement to CNA, Bishop Jeffrey Monforton of Steubenville, one of the bishops who signed onto the document, said, “as the documents from the committee called, mutual understanding and respect for our Jewish brothers and sisters,

 this is all the more important since we find ourselves in a culture that permits, if not encourages others to demonize or dehumanize our elder brother and sisters of the Jewish faith.”

In a statement to CNA, Bishop Jeffrey Monforton of Steubenville, one of the bishops who signed onto the document, said, “as the documents from the committee called, mutual understanding and respect for our Jewish brothers and sisters,

 this is all the more important since we find ourselves in a culture that permits, if not encourages others to demonize or dehumanize our elder brother and sisters of the Jewish faith.”

In a statement to CNA, Bishop Jeffrey Monforton of Steubenville, one of the bishops who signed onto the document, said that speaking up against antisemitism is today, “all the more important since we find ourselves in a culture that permits, if not encourages others to demonize or dehumanize our elder brother and sisters of the Jewish faith.”

Dictatorship in Nicaragua prohibits Immaculate Conception procession

Image of the Immaculate Conception of the Parish of San José de Tipitapa, Nicaragua / Credit: Parish of San José de Tipitapa

CNA Newsroom, Nov 29, 2022 / 13:39 pm (CNA).

The Ortega dictatorship is once again attacking the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, this time by prohibiting a planned procession for the Dec. 8 Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. 

San José de Tipitapa parish in the Archdiocese of Managua reported Nov. 28 that the National Police — which operates under the orders of the dictatorship of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo — has prohibited their planned Immaculate Conception procession.

“We want to express our deep sadness at this action that denies us expressing our faith in public,” the parish said in a statement posted on its Facebook page.

The decision forces the parish to hold their celebrations in the parish church.

The parish has planned a full program beginning Nov. 28 and concluding Dec. 8 with daily Masses, singing the Salve Regina, reciting the rosary, preaching on Marian themes, and praying the novena for the Immaculate Conception. 

Father Dulio Calero, the pastor of San José de Tipitapa parish, invited Catholics to “continue celebrating Our Lady with fervor and devotion and to participate in each of the activities for these days, placing everything under her protection and maternal intercession for our country and Church.”

Persecution of the Church in Nicaragua

For several years, the Catholic Church in Nicaragua has been the victim of increasing persecution by the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship.

Lawyer and researcher Martha Patricia Molina recently released a new edition of a report detailing the almost 400 attacks on the Catholic Church in Nicaragua from 2018 through 2022.

A few of the most notable attacks include:

In March, the dictatorship expelled the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Waldemar Stanisław Sommertag, and is currently holding the bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, under house arrest.

Several priests have been arrested and incarcerated in El Chipote, a prision notorious for torturing opponents of the regime.

The dictatorship has also shut down Catholic media outlets and expelled various Catholic organizations from the country, including the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

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

Early medical abortion increased 154% in past decade, CDC report finds

Ultrasound. / CDC/Jim Gathany, public domain

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 29, 2022 / 10:45 am (CNA).

Americans are increasingly relying on chemical abortion, or abortion by pill, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Early medical abortion increased 22% from 2019 to 2020 and 154% from 2011 to 2020, the CDC found when looking at 37 areas that provided continuous data on medical abortion during 2011−2020.

The federal agency reported that, in 2020, the highest percentage of abortions (51%) were early medical abortions performed at or before nine weeks’ gestation based on data from 46 areas. An additional 2.4% accounted for medical abortions after nine weeks’ gestation.

The CDC usually releases its annual abortion surveillance report around the Thanksgiving holiday, as it did this year. The report, which lags two years behind, shows abortion data for 2020 — the year the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation.

The CDC’s data relies on voluntary reporting from the central health agencies of 49 reporting areas (47 states; Washington, D.C.; and New York City). The incomplete data set excludes three states: California, Maryland, and New Hampshire. Together, those states account for approximately 20% of all U.S. abortions, the report said, citing the Guttmacher Institute.

Other limitations with the CDC data include incomplete information reported.

On medical abortion, researchers agree that its use is increasing. The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive research organization once associated with Planned Parenthood, found earlier this year that this type of abortion accounted for more than half of all U.S. abortions in 2020.

A CDC spokesperson confirmed to CNA that early medical abortion, here, is defined as “the administration of medications (typically mifepristone followed by misoprostol) to induce an abortion” at or before nine completed weeks gestation, in accordance with the FDA’s labeling for mifepristone that was implemented in 2016.

She added that other drugs (“typically serial prostaglandins, sometimes administered after mifepristone”) also might be used with abortion after nine weeks gestation.

The increase in medical abortion comes before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lifted restrictions on mifepristone, a drug approved for use in medical abortions, in 2021. But the FDA’s move represented a continuation of 2020, when a federal district court blocked the FDA from enforcing its requirement that women seeking abortions must receive mifepristone in person rather than by mail.

Abortion by the numbers

According to the CDC, a total of 620,327 abortions were reported to the federal agency for 2020. This number represents a 1.5% decrease since 2019 (with 629,898 total abortions reported) and a 15% decrease since 2011 (with 730,322 total abortions reported).

The decrease comes after the number of reported abortions increased in 2018 and 2019.

The Guttmacher Institute, which offers more comprehensive data, counted 930,160 abortions in the United States for 2020. That number represented an increase — not decrease — from 2019, when it listed 916,460 abortions.

The CDC, while looking at the 48 areas that reported data continuously from 2011 to 2020, reported overall decreases during that time in the total number, rate, and ratio of reported abortions. Most recently for those areas, from 2019 to 2020, the CDC saw a 2% decrease in both the total number of abortions and abortion rate (number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years), but a 2% increase in the total abortion ratio (number of abortions per 1,000 live births).

For those same 48 areas, a total of 615,911 abortions were reported for 2020, with 11.2 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years and 198 abortions per 1,000 live births.

Of the states providing data, Florida saw the the highest number of abortions at 74,868, followed by New York (63,142) and Texas (55,132). Washington, D.C., had the highest abortion rate (23 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years) and ratio (498 abortions per 1,000 live births).

New Spanish law threatens future of world’s largest cross and its employees

The cross in the Valley of the Fallen, November 2022 / Estefanía Aguirre

CNA Newsroom, Nov 29, 2022 / 07:05 am (CNA).

An employee says she fears losing her lifelong job at the world’s largest cross locality after the government of Spain passed a law in October to close parts of it down and “re-signify” its basilica.

Alejandra Gómez, who has worked for 30 years at the Valley of the Fallen’s guesthouse, says her biggest fear now is being fired.

“I would like for this place to remain open so that I do not end up on the street,” she said in an interview with CNA on Nov. 24 at the site.

“They are playing with the bread of many families here,” added Gómez, a mother of three. “There are many families working here.”

Alejandra Gómez has worked for 30 years at the Valley of the Fallen’s guesthouse. Estefanía Aguirre
Alejandra Gómez has worked for 30 years at the Valley of the Fallen’s guesthouse. Estefanía Aguirre

The Basilica of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen lies at the center of a memorial site about 28 miles northwest of Madrid.

The landmark under the towering cross includes an abbey and the basilica. The nearly 30 employees currently working at the Valley of the Fallen’s guesthouse and boarding choir school face the same uncertainty regarding their future.

Gómez came from Badajoz, a city in the southwest region of Extremadura, to work at the lodge’s restaurant when she was 22. She remembers the exact date she began working there: Oct. 21, 1992.

“I am very fond of the Hospedería because I came here very young and part of what I have is because of (my time) working here,” said Gómez, now 53. “I would be very upset if they closed it.”

She also got married at the basilica adjacent to the guesthouse, the Basilica of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen, in 2000.

“It was a wonderful experience. Regardless of how this place has been built, for me it was a wonderful day,” Gómez said. “It was all fantastic. One of the monks married us.”

The wedding photo, taken in the Valley of the Fallen. Estefanía Aguirre
The wedding photo, taken in the Valley of the Fallen. Estefanía Aguirre

She also recalled how many guests would call her “Lady Di” years ago due to her close resemblance to the former Princess of Wales. One older guest even asked her for her hand in marriage.

“It made me laugh because I thought it was funny ... Of course, I said ‘no,’” Gómez said.

The guesthouse, which opened in 1958, includes a restaurant, 126 bedrooms, a gym, a chapel, a valuable library (usually closed to the public), and several lounges. It is often used as a retreat house by different religious communities, movements, and diocesan priests from across the country.

In addition to the guesthouse, the precinct includes a boarding school for boys centered on teaching Gregorian music and an abbey — all three adjacent to the underground basilica carved inside a mountain under the world’s largest cross. The monument is surrounded by 3,360 acres of woodland, which is home to wildlife, including roe deer, squirrels, foxes, and boars.

“I had only seen squirrels in cartoons, never in real life, until I came here,” Gómez said. “The people who lived in (the Valley’s) village used to hand-feed foxes. They also gave food to the wild boars.”

Changes under the new law

The government’s Democratic Memory Law entered into force on Oct. 21. One of the changes includes renaming the “Valle de los Caídos” (Valley of the Fallen) to “Valle de Cuelgamuros” (Valley of the Hanging Walls). The government’s agency running the precinct with the Benedictine monks up until now, Patrimonio Nacional, has already changed the sign at the main entrance to its new name.

The original name was “Pinar de Cuelga Moros,” which means “Pine Forest of Hanging Moors.”

Meanwhile, the region of Madrid — currently led locally by the conservative People’s Party — may declare the Valley as a “Bien de Interés Cultural” to be a “good of cultural interest,” a good in the economic sense.

The region’s local government has proposed a cultural heritage law. If approved, the law’s article 73c would mean creating a new protection for ethnographic heritage assets. But the new law, expected to be discussed and approved by May 2023, would possibly only protect the world’s largest cross and not the basilica.

The world's longest basilica in the Valley of the Fallen, Spain. Estefanía Aguirre
The world's longest basilica in the Valley of the Fallen, Spain. Estefanía Aguirre

It may not prevent the Benedictine monks from being kicked out, or the boarding choir school and guesthouse from being closed under the new decree currently being elaborated to establish the precinct’s new legal framework.

The Democratic Memory Law has now extinguished the “Fundación de la Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos” — the Foundation of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen, jointly owned up until now by both the government’s agency Patrimonio Nacional and the Benedictine monks, who reside at the site’s abbey. The foundation was in charge of operating the whole precinct.

The monks are seeking donations for their work on their website.

What it is like to be a Catholic priest in Qatar

Father Charbel Mhanna offers Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary in Doha, Qatar. / Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church

Rome Newsroom, Nov 29, 2022 / 06:09 am (CNA).

When Father Charbel Mhanna needs to acquire altar wine for Mass, he must use a special card issued by the government of Qatar at the only venue that sells alcohol to residents of the country.

The 2022 FIFA World Cup’s stadium beer ban irked many soccer fans who traveled to the Arabian Peninsula for the international sporting event, but Qatar’s alcohol laws are just a minor restriction compared with what Catholic priests face ministering in the Muslim-majority country, where public displays of Christian religion are forbidden.

Father Mhanna has lived in Qatar for nine years. Originally from Lebanon, he ministers to Maronite Catholics living in Qatar as well as Italian and French-speaking communities at the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Doha.

In an interview in Arabic with ACI Mena, CNA’s news partner in the Middle East, Mhanna explained that there are no bells or crosses on church buildings in Qatar.

Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Palm Sunday 2022. Our Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Rosary
Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Palm Sunday 2022. Our Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Rosary

“It is not possible to preach or grant the sacrament of baptism to the descendants of non-Christians or to convert from one religion to another,” Mhanna said.

He added that “churches are considered embassies” that deal with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Religious processions are only allowed to take place within the walls of the Qatar Religious Complex, a complex opened in 2008 that holds six different churches: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Syrian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, and an interdenominational group for Indian expatriate Christian communities.

“Copies of the Bible can [only] be distributed inside the church complex campus,” Mhanna said.

Father Charbel Mhanna celebrating the Divine Liturgy in Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Qatar. Our Lady of the Rosary Church
Father Charbel Mhanna celebrating the Divine Liturgy in Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Qatar. Our Lady of the Rosary Church

On the other hand, the priest noted that he has not faced any censorship in his homilies and is free to go out to minister to Catholics in Qatar, many of whom are foreign workers.

“We give eucharistic Communion to patients in hospitals without any problem and we can pray in cemeteries, as there are tombs for non-Muslims,” he said.

“We also have every liberty to preach. No one ever interfered with my sermons. We recite our spiritual words without restrictions,” he added.

When it comes to marriages, however, the priest is only allowed to celebrate a wedding between two Christians. He said: “If a Christian wants to marry a Muslim, they cannot get married in our church. We usually invite them to marry in another country.”

The Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia estimates that about 200,000 to 300,000 Catholics live in Qatar. All are migrant workers, mainly from the Philippines and India.

According to the vicariate, employment and camp rules can make participation in Catholic liturgies impossible for some of these workers. The Catholic community also struggles with restrictions on the number of priests allowed in the country and the limited capacity of its church inside the religious complex.

Mhanna is currently overseeing the construction of a new Catholic church in Qatar — a Maronite Catholic church that will have a capacity of 1,500 people.

The St. Charbel Catholic Church, currently under construction. Photo provided by Father Charbel Mhanna
The St. Charbel Catholic Church, currently under construction. Photo provided by Father Charbel Mhanna

“Qatar provided land on which we can build today a church in the name of St. Charbel,” he said.

Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the Maronite Catholic patriarch, laid the foundation stone for the church in 2018 at the invitation of Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

“The church is in the process of being finished,” Mhanna said.

Being a priest in the smallest country to ever host the World Cup also comes with some perks. Mhanna was able to attend the opening match of the soccer tournament along with other Christian leaders who minister in the Qatar Religious Complex.

“We sat near the seats designated for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and church representatives were wearing pectoral crosses without any problem,” he said.

UK Catholic bishop speaks out after woman with Down syndrome loses abortion law appeal

The Court of Appeal is based at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. / Anthony M. from Rome, Italy - Flickr via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0).

CNA Newsroom, Nov 29, 2022 / 04:38 am (CNA).

The Catholic Church in England and Wales has spoken out against the U.K.’s abortion law, branding it “illogical and unjust,” after a woman with Down syndrome lost a legal challenge to the law relating to abortion and disability.

In a ruling on Nov. 25, the Court of Appeal ruled that the U.K. abortion law did not discriminate against disabled people, even though it permits abortion up to birth if medics suspect the baby is disabled.

Heidi Crowter, a 27-year-old woman with Down syndrome, launched her legal challenge in the High Court in July 2021, arguing that the law does not respect her life.

Following her defeat in the High Court in September 2021, the case was then reexamined by the Court of Appeal this month, but Lord Justice Underhill said in his judgment that the disability clause in the Abortion Act 1967 does not play “any significant role in causing discriminatory attitudes against disabled people generally, or those with Down’s in particular.”

In a statement on Nov. 29, Bishop John Sherrington, auxiliary bishop of Westminster and lead bishop for Life Issues, told CNA that the verdict was upsetting.

Bishop John Sherrington, auxiliary bishop of Westminster  Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
Bishop John Sherrington, auxiliary bishop of Westminster Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

He said: “I am deeply saddened that Heidi Crowter’s campaign to recognize the child with a disability in the womb as an equal has been rejected by the Court of Appeal.

“The law which protects her after birth did not protect her in the womb — indeed, a disabled person such as Heidi can be aborted up to the moment of birth based on their disability alone. This is illogical and unjust. Whilst the judgment claims that section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act 1967 does not have ‘any significant role in causing discriminatory attitudes against disabled people generally, or those with Down’s in particular, the year-on-year increase in disability-selective abortions tells a very different story.”

“I echo the words of Pope Francis, who strongly discouraged the use of prenatal diagnosis for selective purposes as ‘it is an expression of an inhuman eugenic mentality, which deprives families of the possibility of welcoming, embracing, and loving their weakest children.’ We must continue to advocate for greater support for families caring for a child with disability.”

The bishop concluded: ”I offer my prayerful support as Heidi considers seeking permission for the case to be heard at the U.K. Supreme Court.”

Speaking outside the Court of Appeal on Nov. 25, Crowter said: “I will keep on fighting because we have already informed and changed hearts and minds and changed people’s opinions about the law.”

She added: “The law was made in 1967, when we were not even allowed to go to school because of our extra chromosome. So, I think it’s time that the judges move with the times and actually meet with people with Down syndrome.”

Crowter and her legal team are now considering taking her case to the U.K. Supreme Court.

Following the ruling, pro-life advocates and parliamentarians expressed their solidarity with Crowter and reiterated their opposition to the U.K.’s law.

Lord Alton of Liverpool, crossbench peer, Catholic, and human rights advocate, shared an article on Twitter about the case along with the Tweet: “Heidi Crowter with Down syndrome loses bid to end barbaric law and allows abortion up to birth on Down babies — which I opposed when enacted. Judges say it’s up to Parliament not the Courts. Heidi’s right — it’s a terrible, discriminatory law which should be repealed.”

Meanwhile, Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson said in a statement on Nov. 25: “This is a great disappointment for people with Down syndrome and disabilities in general. The law clearly discriminates against people with Down syndrome and does not provide the same protections that other unborn babies have. Hopefully, Heidi and her team will have more success if they decide to take this case to the Supreme Court.”

The law in England and Wales allows abortion up to 24 weeks, but if the baby has a disability, including Down syndrome, cleft lip, or a club foot, abortion is then permissible up to birth.

A Nov. 24 statement from the campaign group Right to Life said: “There were 3,370 disability-selective abortions in 2021. The number of late-term abortions at 24 weeks’ gestation or over where the baby has a disability increased by 20% from 229 to 274.

“The statistics showed there were 859 abortions where a baby had Down syndrome in 2021, an increase of 24% from 2020. The statistics also show a 71% increase in late-term abortions at 24 weeks gestation or over where the baby had Down syndrome, increasing from 14 in 2020 to 24 in 2021.”