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Several US states consider bills regulating abortion

Pregnancy Test. / Flickr/Ernesto Andrade.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 22, 2021 / 20:01 pm (CNA).

Numerous states of the US have been considering bills regulating abortion in recent weeks.  

In Idaho, a bill which would ban abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat passed the Senate on April 21 and is awaiting the governor’s signature. 

The day before, the bill advanced through the Senate State Affairs Committee, and was voted through the Senate by a vote of 25-7. The bill contains exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or medical emergency. 

“This is good legislation that gives a preborn child the same rights as a mother,” said Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, a Republican who sponsored the bill. 

It is unknown if Gov. Brad Little (R) will sign the bill.

Unlike other “heartbeat” bills, Idaho’s legislation will not go into effect until similar legislation in another state has been cleared by a federal court. Presently, all attempts at passing “heartbeat” abortion bans have been blocked by federal courts. 

Two bills are currently sitting on the desk of Oklahoma Gov. Ken Stitt (R). One bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat; the other would suspend a doctor’s license for a maximum of one year if they perform an abortion. 

If the bills are not signed by the end of the week, they will go into effect in November. 

In Tennessee, lawmakers passed a bill requiring women to bury or cremate fetal remains after a surgical abortion at an abortion clinic. The bill is now on the governor’s desk, awaiting his signature.

Abortion clinics would be required to pay for the cost of burying or cremating the remains of the infant, unless a woman chooses to dispose of the remains at a different location. In that case, the woman who procured the abortion would have to pay for the burial or cremation. 

Typically, fetal remains after abortions are treated as medical waste and disposed. 

The bills’ sponsor, Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), said that “charities (are) out there that are set up to help with the burial expenses” of an aborted child. 


Additionally, under the bill, a woman who undergoes an abortion would have to fill out a form for the Tennessee Department of Health describing how and where the fetal remains will be disposed. 

In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed a bill April 21 requiring women who were sexually assaulted and seeking an abortion after the 20th week of a pregnancy to report their assault to the authorities. 

In Arkansas, abortion is available until the 20th week of a pregnancy, with limited exceptions. Last month, Hutchinson signed a bill that effectively banned abortion altogether in the state; however, it has not gone into effect. 

When Hutchinson signed the bill, SB6, he noted that it is contrary to established precedent set by the Supreme Court, but that he hopes the bill will be used to overturn these precedents. 

“SB6 is in contradiction of binding precedents of the U.S. Supreme Court, but it is the intent of the legislation to set the stage for the Supreme Court overturning current case law,” Hutchinson said at the time.

In Ohio, lawmakers are once again considering a version of the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which requires that doctors provide lifesaving care to infants who are born alive after an attempted abortion. 

Under Senate Bill 157, a doctor who is found in violation of the law will be charged with “abortion manslaughter,” a felony. 

“The heart of the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act is quite simple: no helpless newborn child should be left alone to die,” Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, said in a published statement.  

“It is our sincere hope that shared human decency will compel legislators at the Ohio Statehouse to come together to protect innocent, born babies desperate for a chance to live.”

A similar bill was previously considered in 2019. While that bill passed the Ohio Senate, it was not voted on in the Ohio House of Representatives.

Construction of Marian tower on Sagrada Familia begins

Sagrada Familia. / Stuart Pinfold via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Barcelona, Spain, Apr 22, 2021 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

Work began Tuesday on the completion of the spire atop the Virgin Mary’s tower of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and is scheduled to be completed in December.

The spire will consist of a crown at the base, and a shaft topped with a star. The crown will be made of stone, almost 20 feet in height, with tips rising in an ascending sequence surmounted with 12 smaller stars.

Construction began April 20 with the placement of the wooden formwork, which will be followed by the assembly of a large part of the shaft.

When completed, the total height of the Virgin’s tower and spire will be over 450 feet, the second tallest of several towers.

The almost 60 foot shaft will have a geometric hyperboloid decoration with three arms supporting the star that tops the spire and will be made of concrete colored white and blue.

The spire will terminate with a 12-point star 24 feet in diameter made of textured glass and  illuminated from within, symbolizing the morning star, “the sign of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, the faithful protector who guides us to Jesus by day and by night,"  the Sagrada Familia construction project stated.

The cornerstone of the basilica was laid March 19, 1882. The basilica is the masterpiece of Antonio Gaudi, who devoted 43 years of his career to the project. Construction has been interrupted over the years for various reasons, but is nearing completion.

Though unfinished, Sagrada Familia was consecrated in 2010 by Benedict XVI.

A date for the project’s completion has been set for 2026, 100 years after Gaudí died in a car accident. Since his death, the progress has been based off the artist's plaster models and copies of his drawings, which had been partially destroyed in a fire set during the Spanish Civil War, and which were later reconstructed.

The architect was a devout Catholic and has numerous modernist architectural pieces throughout Barcelona. His cause for canonization was opened in Rome in 2003.

Names of accused Rochester priests will not be blocked

Priest collar /

Rochester, N.Y., Apr 22, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

A federal judge has said the names of priests accused of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Rochester cannot be kept confidential during the diocese’s bankruptcy proceedings.

 

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Paul Warren on Thursday sided with Gannett Co., Inc., the parent company of the local Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

 

Gannett had filed a motion to intervene in the diocese’s bankruptcy proceedings after the diocese asked in an earlier motion to have the identity of abused priests kept confidential.

 

The motions involve the diocese’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, which were begun in September 2019 following a flood of lawsuits accusing priests in the diocese of sexual abuse.

 

Gannett argued that keeping the identities of accusers secret would “perpetuate the very secrecy that has allowed the scandal to continue for generations.”

 

However, the Diocese of Rochester said in court documents that it was not trying to conceal information but rather “reduce the risk of vigilantism or other breaches of the peace.”

 

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Rochester told CNA that the purpose of their motion was to protect survivors who had come forward and exposed sex abuse.

 

“The primary purpose of our recent court motion was to protect from public disclosure in required ‘Certificate of Service’ documents – which notify all interested parties of case filings – the identities of those persons who have come forward in this case as survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and who wish to remain anonymous,” the spokesperson said.

 

“It should be noted that the Committee of Creditors in our Chapter 11 case, which represent survivors, supported our motion,” the spokesperson said.

 

The spokesperson said the diocese wanted to “preserve public safety and avoid potential breaches of the peace that might possibly ensue with the publication of the names and addresses of those accused, as well as preserve the due process rights of individuals against whom allegations may not at this time be substantiated.”

 

The diocese maintains that Gannett’s objection did not force them to withdraw their previous motion.

 

Rather, the spokesperson said, they had determined that they did not have an immediate need to file Certificates of Service containing perpetrator information, so they withdrew their motion from the court prior to the court hearing and the judge’s decision.

 

The diocese said it will still be permitted “to protect the privacy of survivors and…to request redaction at a future time of those who are accused but whose cases have not as yet been proven or acknowledged.”

 

The harrowing story of an LA priest who survived a shooting in Nigeria

Father Aloysius Ezoenyeka / John McCoy/Angelus

Los Angeles, Calif., Apr 22, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Father Aloysius Ezoenyeka didn’t know how long he had been unconscious. A gentle slapping on his face stirred him, and his eyelids flicked open to an African hospital room filled with people clapping and cheering.

“Father, Happy New Year. Welcome to 2021.” Joy flooded the faces of the weary doctors, nurses, friends, and family who surrounded his bed.

The news of the new year wasn’t the only surprise awaiting his waking moments. The medical staff recounted everything that had happened to him over the past 24 hours, relaying the harrowing tale of the father-and-son rescue team that brought him to the hospital, the struggle to find a clinic that could perform life-saving surgeries, and more—a flurry of events that followed Father Al’s being shot by armed assailants while alone on Southwest Nigerian roads, just one night before.

The events of the previous night began with Father Al praying the rosary while he drove, contemplating what post-prayer music to put on for the rest of his long drive. Suddenly, he heard a sharp noise. Perhaps it was just a pebble propelled loudly from under his tire.

In the next split second, the origin of that sound was unmistakable. His windshield shattered as bullets passed by his side, fired by two men hiding in roadside bushes directly in front of him.

“I didn't know what to do, but I didn't have any time to be afraid,” he told CNA. He had traveled this road many times as a Benedictine of Ewu Monastery, and he had heard it was a dangerous stretch of land because of bandits. But he never expected that he would be on the receiving end of violent gunfire.

“I didn't think there would be any problem at all for me. I knew that there could be robbers, but I never really thought seriously it would happen to me.”

Although unscathed after the first volley of bullets, he knew that the assailants’ intention was to kill him. “You might as well at least try a little bit to give them a run for their money,” thought Father Al.

In that desperate moment, he found himself faced with three options: he could take the lane further from the shooters, but that would allow more time for them to shoot at him. Or he could take the lane closer to the bush in which they hid, but that would just make his car a closer shot.

The third option was to drive towards his attackers. “That would scare them. Or, they would get me right away, and that would be the end of it.” Making a life-or-death decision, he pressed himself under the steering column, taking meager cover under the dashboard as he slammed on the gas pedal.

The assailants ran into the bush behind them to avoid his car and unleashed another barrage. Rounds lodged in the front tire and around the engine—and painfully into Father Al’s stomach.

“There's no way you can have that amount of bullets without being hit. I'm just surprised I was only hit once. I didn't stop... I held the wound as much as I could to keep the blood from flowing, but it was practically impossible to do that. I did that the best I could.”

As he later recounted the story, Father Al nonchalantly noted the irony of his situation, laughing: “Drive-bys are usually people inside the vehicle shooting at people or houses, but this drive-by was me driving by.”

He decided to stop for help once he was out of range and out of danger. As soon as he was clear, almost like clockwork, the engine died and he coasted off the road near a lonely truck stop with broken vehicles. He stepped out of his own mangled car, and then collapsed. 

An 11-year-old boy named God-is-Great watched Father Al’s wounded body fall to the ground, unmoving. The boy ran to get his father, SonyMopo. Others came to help, too, but no one had medical training, there were no supplies, and not even a 9-1-1 number to call. While SonyMopo went to get his own vehicle, nothing could be done for Father Al.

“There's no emergency line. They were confused. What's truly sad is that you couldn't do anything for another human being that is in need. Just thinking about it is really strange. I could feel that they wanted to help, but didn't know what to do,” the priest said.

He lay bleeding on the ground for over an hour. Eventually, SonyMopo came speeding along, coming to a rolling stop next to the crowd surrounding Father Al’s wounded form. They loaded him into the back of the vehicle to take him to the local clinic.

The only path they could take was blocked by the same shooters. Unknown to Father Al, SonyMopo had grabbed a gun. He told his son to drive the car while he shot out of the lowered passenger-side window to scare off the assailants so they could pass safely. 

“At that point, I was in pain, just trying to pray,” Father Al said.

A young man named Chidiebere sat in the back with Father Al and prayed Hail Marys in their familiar, shared language. They were both from the same tribe, just one village over from each other. Interspersed in these prayers were appeals for Father Al to pray out loud and to not close his eyes.

“Any time I would try to give up, he would say, 'No, no, no, Father, you'll make it.'”

Together, they arrived at the first clinic, Okada Teaching Hospital, at 6 p.m. and stayed there for about two hours. But they had no supplies at the clinic.

The hospital staff murmured at Father Al’s volatile condition. “Don't worry about that man—he's not going to make it. He's going to die anyways, so just look at other ones,” he remembered hearing.

Chidiebere, SonyMopo, and God-is-Great continued to encourage him to stay awake as they sped for more than 90 minutes to their next option for care: the emergency room at Benin, to which they arrived at around 10 p.m. Multiple times, they were delayed by policemen who pulled them over for speeding.

“A lot of things go through your mind. You say a lot of prayers,” Father Al said. “Apart from saying those prayers, you have to make peace with the fact that this is the end. And I did. The beginning hours were praying for God to help me and all that, but by the time we got to the hospital in Benin, I had already made my peace. I could not believe that I was going to make it, and I was okay with that. I prayed to God.”

When the medical team found that he was a priest, they called everyone they could think of and worked to get a team of doctors to leave their families to prepare for surgery on New Year’s Eve.

At this point, Father Al assumed he was going to die. He had lost a lot of blood, and the doctors had said it was too late for him.

The priest’s brother Titus drove the three hours from their village to the hospital and collected Father Al’s things from SonyMopo.

“Listen. I love you, take care of everyone else. I will see you again,” Father Al told Titus before being ushered into surgery right around midnight, New Year’s Day.

A violent attack from gunmen and a five-hour surgery were certainly not part of Father Al’s plans. As a priest serving in California, he was in Nigeria just on a visit to family. 

Father Augustine Ebido called Father Al’s American physician, Kevin White. Dr. White attempted to get through to Father Al’s regional bishop, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, to inform him of the priest’s condition.

But through all the chaos and a literal game of telephone, incorrect information was shared throughout the staff and diocese. “Some people were thinking I was going to die, that I didn't make it, that people died in the car with me... it was just a lot of mixed up messages,” Fr. Al said.

Bishop Barron traveled to Father Al’s parish, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, to give the unfortunate news of his shooting.

“We heard that he had been shot many times and was left on the side of the road,” Bishop Barron told the Angelus. “When I first got the news, it was that he was dying. We had very little hope.”

Unsure of his condition, Father Al’s parishioners started a 3-day Novena, and the parking lot filled with cars to pray. They sent donations and more than 400 pounds of gifts for him and the people in Nigeria.

A few days later, Father Al was able to call Bishop Barron directly and give him the news of the successful surgery. 

“He was very weak. I could barely understand him. But he was conscious, and he knew who I was,” Bishop Barron told the Angelus.

Bishop Barron called often to check on his recovery and to offer help, encouraging Father Al to return to America to receive medical attention.

Father Al insisted he did not want to go anywhere until he had healed, so the bishop told him, “Whatever you need, let us know and we'll provide it for you.” 

Although appreciative of the many offers he received to be transported to America, Fr. Al said he chose to remain in Nigeria with his family to help show people in the United States that despite the troubles Nigeria faces, it is filled with good people.

The priest said he is saddened by the media portrayal of Nigeria, which tends to focus on negative events but not positive aspects of the country. Father Al said he is proud of his country and grateful for the care he received, feeling God worked through the doctors and nurses there.

“There's no way you can survive six, seven hours without medication with losing so much blood,” he said. “That was almost an impossibility. They said at that clinic there was no way else I was going to survive. The doctors at the hospital said it was not going to work. I think it was purely providential.”

Father Al eventually healed and did return to the United States, where 600 people attended a “Miracle In Nigeria Thanksgiving Mass & Celebration” that Bishop Barron concelebrated with Fr. Al on Palm Sunday this year at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

Today, Fr. Al has almost entirely recovered.

“I don't have much pain anymore. I ran four miles this morning. I guess if I can run four miles, I've recovered,” he laughed.

Fr. Al remains grateful for the experience, saying it has brought him closer to God and changed his views on life. 

“This is the way I read my own life: God prevented my death because he believed I was not ready,” he said. “I was not ready for eternity. I was not ready for Heaven. I needed more work for sanctification. I needed to be alive for him to sanctify me and purify me and help me to be ready.”

Abortion survivor hopes her story spurs support for mothers in need

Claire Culwell / EWTN Pro-Life Weekly

Washington D.C., Apr 22, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

An abortion survivor hopes that her story of life will help people be “the hands and feet of Jesus” to women in need.

Claire Culwell, who survived an abortion attempt, authored the forthcoming book telling her life story, “Survivor: An abortion survivor’s surprising story of choosing forgiveness and finding redemption.”

“My hope is that as people read this book, they will know what abortion is, they will know what it does, and they will act on being the hands and feet of Jesus, being that support system for women,” Culwell said on EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, in an interview that will air on Thursday night.

Culwell, who regularly speaks on abortion at public events, was adopted and did not know her birth story until she was in college. She met with her biological mother for only the second time when she received news that would change her life.

Culwell had presented her mother with a ring, a necklace, and a card thanking her for “choosing life.”

“And she said ‘Claire, there’s something I need to tell you,’” Culwell recounted to EWTN Pro-Life Weekly. “She said, ‘Your life is a miracle. Because I had an abortion when I was pregnant with you at 13 years old.”

Culwell’s mother was pregnant with twins and had undergone a dilation and evacuation “D&E” abortion, a common second-trimester abortion that results in the dismemberment of the child. After several weeks, her mother returned to the doctor complaining that she did not feel normal.

She was told that she had twins, and that only one of the twins had been aborted.

When Culwell received the news from her mother, “it felt like the room was spinning out of control, I couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of her mouth,” she told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly.

“But I saw her tears,” she added, noting that she forgave her mother for the abortion attempt.

“I can grapple all day with the fact that my life was spared and my twin’s wasn’t, and what am I missing, and I’ll never understand,” she told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly. “The only person that understands is the God that wrote this story for me, and He wrote it perfectly, and I can trust in that.”

Culwell has chronicled her story in her book “Survivor,” which will be released on April 27.

Now she speaks out about abortion, including testifying before members of the Kentucky state legislature on a proposed “heartbeat” abortion ban in 2019, and testifying before members of the Texas state legislature on a bill requiring care for abortion survivors.

“After finding out I’d survived an abortion, I developed an interest in pro-life issues. And in time that interest grew and grew,” she told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly.

“Soon, I began telling my story to small groups at schools and churches near me – a major accomplishment for one of the world’s quietest introverts. And eventually, telling my life story would become my calling,” she said.

She said that her story has touched the hearts of many people.

“People come up to me all the time and they’re like ‘Claire, because of you, because of the way that you have been able to forgive, because of the way that you shared that God has forgiven you and has forgiven your birth mother, I believe now that my child forgives me, that my God forgives me,” she said.

Care for nature, pope tells world leaders at climate summit

Pope Francis delivers a message for Earth Day, April 22, 2021. Credit: Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Apr 22, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

In a video message sent to a climate summit on Thursday, Pope Francis urged care for nature and the preservation of the environment.

 “I greet you who are gathered in this initiative, which seems to me a happy one,” the pope said April 22 to participants in a climate summit of 40 international leaders that was organized by US president Joe Biden.

Francis said the summit encourages humanity “to take charge of the care of nature, of this gift that we have received and that we have to heal, guard, and carry forward. This is increasingly significant because it is a challenge we face in the post-pandemic era. We need to keep moving forward and we know that one doesn’t come out of a crisis the same way one entered. We come out either better or worse.”

“Our concern is to see that the environment is cleaner, purer, and preserved. We must take care of nature so that it takes care of us.”

During the summit, held on Earth Day, Biden pledged that the US would cut its carbon emissions to about half of 2005 levels by 2030.

In an earlier message marking Earth Day, Pope Francis had urged world leaders to “act with courage, operate with justice, and always tell the truth to people” with regard to the environment.

Francis said that for some time people have been more aware of the need to protect nature, and that interactions with the biodiversity given to us by God must take place “with the utmost attention and respect.”

Pope Francis meets with Legionaries of Christ leader

Pope Francis receives Fr. John Connor, general director of the Legionaries of Christ, in a private audience at the Vatican, April 22, 2021. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Apr 22, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis received Fr. John Connor, the general director of the Legionaries of Christ, in a private audience on Thursday.

Following the meeting on April 22, Connor sent a note to the Legionaries in which he said that the audience “renewed in him the importance of filial love for the Holy Father as one of the principal characteristics of our spirit.”

A statement from the religious congregation said that the general director told Pope Francis about the “steps taken in the path of renewal” and “asked him for light and advice in the task that he has been entrusted with.”

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

Connor was elected to lead the embattled religious congregation in February 2020 during its general chapter in Rome.

The priest, who was born in Severna Park, Maryland, had served as the North American territorial director of the Legionaries of Christ since 2014.

The Legionaries of Christ presented a report last month, “Truth, Justice, and Healing,” on their fight against the sexual abuse of minors by members of the congregation.

Unlike a previous report released in December 2019, the new document included the full names of some of the priests who committed sexual abuse.

The congregation founded by Fr. Marcial Maciel -- who himself abused at least 60 minors -- promised to continue to publish an annual report on the progress being made, updating the data, and providing accountability in addressing abuse.

In 2006, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI, removed Maciel from public ministry and ordered him to spend the rest of his life in prayer and penance. The Vatican congregation decided not to subject him to a canonical process because of his advanced age. Maciel died in 2008 at the age of 87.

In 2009, Benedict XVI ordered an apostolic visitation, or worldwide administrative review, of the religious institute. He then placed it under direct Vatican oversight. Benedict ordered the congregation to develop and implement new governing documents and policies after Church officials found substantial problems in the Legion’s formation and governance structures.

Pope Francis has continued pushing for reforms to the religious order. In a message to the Legion and to the lay consecrated members of Regnum Christi in January 2020, the pope told members to look toward the future as they continue to reform themselves, seeking continuous conversion under the guidance of the Church.

Regnum Christi is a Catholic movement made up of the Legionaries of Christ religious congregation of priests and seminarians, as well as consecrated and lay members.

There are fewer than 1,000 priests in the Legionaries of Christ, which runs schools in South America, North America, and Europe.

At the end of the private audience, Fr. Connor asked for the pope’s blessing for all of Regnum Christi.

Pope Francis: The biggest defeat for an athlete is to not play as a team

Pope Francis meets a delegation from the Pro Recco Waterpolo 1913 Team at the Vatican, April 22, 2021. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Apr 22, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis met with a water polo team Thursday and shared a message about the importance of teamwork.

“Your sport, water polo, is not easy, but it is interesting. It takes discipline to move forward,” Pope Francis told Pro Recco, one of the most successful water polo teams in Italy, during a meeting in the Apostolic Palace April 22.

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

The team is made up of multiple Olympic athletes, including an American, Ben Hallock, who hopes to be a part of the U.S. men’s national team in the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

“When I speak with athletes, I say the same thing. I say two things. Teamwork is the first thing,” the pope said.

“In sport, the biggest defeat for an athlete is to work, to play alone.”

Pope Francis said that his second piece of advice to athletes was not to lose the amateur spirit of sport because this is the true source of the “mystique of sports.”

“That little bit of amateur that must always be there,” he added.

The water polo team from Liguria, northern Italy, gave Pope Francis a pennant signed by each of the athletes. One player also gifted the pope a water polo cap for the Argentine national team.

It was the second papal audience in the team’s history. Pope Pius XII also met with the Pro Recco team in 1957. Team president Maurizio Felugo also participated in that audience 64 years ago.

“It was a historic day that we will cherish forever. We thank the Holy Father for the profound words and affection with which he received us,” Felugo said after the audience, according to the Italian newspaper Settimana Sport.

/ Vatican Media
/ Vatican Media

“In such a difficult period, his figure is a beacon that illuminates our path, which is made up of joy, passion, but also of sacrifice. His testimony will strengthen even more the social values that accompany our commitments, both as athletes and as people, in everyday life."

On Earth Day, Pope Francis says the world is ‘at the limit’

Pope Francis delivers his message at the Vatican for Earth Day, April 22, 2021 / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Apr 22, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

In a message marking Earth Day, Pope Francis urged world leaders to “act with courage, operate with justice, and always tell the truth to people,” so that the destruction of the planet can be prevented before it is too late.

“The adversity we are experiencing with the pandemic, and which we already feel in climate change, must spur us, must push us to innovation, invention, to seek new paths,” the pope said April 22.

The pope’s video message was played during an Earth Day live stream on YouTube organized by EarthDay.org, which oversees the event held annually on April 22 since 1970.

In his message, Pope Francis said that we do not emerge from a crisis the same, but “we come out better or worse.”

“This is the challenge, and if we do not come out better, we go down a path of self-destruction,” he said.

“In this commemoration of Earth Day, it is always good to remember that the things we have been saying to each other for a long time must not fall into oblivion,” he continued.

Francis said that for some time people have been more aware of the need to protect nature, and that interactions with the biodiversity given to us by God must take place “with the utmost attention and respect.”

The coronavirus pandemic, he said, has taught us more about the impact our lives have on nature and climate change.

“And this shows us that global nature needs our lives on this planet. It involves us all, albeit in multiple, different and unequivocal forms,” he said.

“In summary, the COVID pandemic has taught us this interdependence, this sharing of the planet. And both global disasters, COVID and the climate, show that we don’t have time to wait any longer. That time is pressing us and that, as COVID-19 has taught us, yes, we have the means to face the challenge. We have the means. It is time to act, we are at the limit.”

Pope Francis recalled a Spanish saying: “God always forgives, we men forgive from time to time, nature no longer forgives.”

“And when this destruction of nature is triggered, it is very difficult to stop it. But we still have time. And we will be more resilient if we work together instead of doing it alone,” he said.

New Justice Department official opposed Little Sisters of the Poor in contraceptive mandate case

Christopher E Zimmer/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Apr 22, 2021 / 10:23 am (CNA).

An Obama-era Justice Department official with a history of pro-abortion and pro-transgender statements was confirmed to a top position at the agency on Wednesday.

The Senate voted 51-49 to confirm Vanita Gupta, former president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and former civil rights head at the Justice Department, as associate attorney general on Wednesday afternoon. Gupta, a daughter of Indian immigrants, will be the first woman of color to hold the position.

From 2014 to 2017, Gupta served as head of the civil rights division at the Justice Department. In her new role, she will be expected to address race relations and police reform at the Justice Department, but in overseeing the civil rights division she could also be in a position to advance transgender ideology and abortion.

At her March 9 confirmation hearing before members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gupta would not directly answer what restriction on abortion, if any, she supported. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) posed the question to her.

When Cruz followed up by asking Gupta if she believed the government could ban partial-birth abortion, she replied that “my duty, if confirmed, will be to federal laws and the Constitution.”

“Roe versus Wade is established precedent and has been reaffirmed numerous times by the courts,” she said.

Gupta was also grilled on religious freedom. Cruz asked Gupta if she supported a provision of the Equality Act which supersedes existing religious freedom protections under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

The provision would bar people from making religious freedom claims, when they are sued for discriminating against others based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Equality Act passed the House in March,

“Religious liberty is incredibly important to me. I am a person of faith,” Gupta said. Later, she said that “I support RFRA. I have enforced provisions of RFRA. And the Justice Department must enforce the law. The Justice Department enforces religious liberty and protects it. and it also enforces our nation’s anti-discrimination laws.”

However, in past statements Gupta has argued that religious freedom should, at times, give way to claims of LGBT or sex discrimination.

In the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor against the HHS contraceptive mandate, Gupta argued in 2020 that the sisters and others should not have a religious exemption to the mandate; the rule required health plans to cover contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacients.

“Religious freedom does not create a license to discriminate,” she said, arguing that women seeking contraceptives would be discriminated against.

“This troubling decision allows employers and universities to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage based on religious or moral opposition,” she said of the Catholic sisters being exempt from the mandate.

In 2017, Gupta argued that Christian business owners should be forced to serve events they are morally opposed to.

Colorado Christian baker Jack Phillips was at the Supreme Court after he was sued for not baking a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony. Phillips said that he could not in conscience serve a same-sex wedding ceremony, and said that he should not be forced to do so against his religious beliefs.

Gupta compared the case to segregation-era cases of racial discrimination where business owners flatly denied all service to people based on their race. She argued that religious freedom at times must yield to claims of discrimination.

“On that principle, there ought to be no question that Colorado’s law allowing Charlie Craig and David Mullins to buy a wedding cake from any bakery they choose – notwithstanding that they are gay – should trump claims by a bakery that providing the cake would violate the owner’s religious beliefs,” Gupta wrote in a SCOTUSblog symposium on the case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

“At times, the free exercise of religion yields to other foundational values, including freedom from harm and from discrimination,” she wrote.

While previously at the Justice Department, Gupta also praised the agency’s work on behalf of people identifying as transgender.

In a May 9, 2016 press conference announcing a Justice Department complaint against North Carolina’s bathroom bill, Gupta reiterated the agency’s support for people identifying as transgender.

”Here are the facts.  Transgender men are men – they live, work and study as men.  Transgender women are women – they live, work and study as women,” she said.

Gupta has also supported abortion in previous statements. After the Supreme Court struck down Louisiana’s abortion regulations last summer, she called for passage of federal legislation that would overturn many state limits on abortion.

“Despite this victory, depending on where they live, too many people in America face insurmountable obstacles to obtaining an abortion.  Congress must pass the Women’s Health Protection Act to ensure reproductive freedom is available to all,” Gupta stated. The proposed legislation would subject state abortion laws to increased legal scrutiny.