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'Every person matters,' Father Mike Schmitz tells pro-life marchers

Father Mike Schmitz, the host of the "Bible in a Year" podcast, addresses the crowd at the March for Life rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 21, 2022. /

Washington D.C., Jan 21, 2022 / 14:24 pm (CNA).

The popular podcaster and YouTube star Father Mike Schmitz came well-prepared for his speech at the March for Life rally Friday.

“The first speech I ever gave in my entire life was in eighth grade. We got a chance to choose any topic, any argument, any position,” he told a large crowd assembled at the National Mall. “I chose to talk about the dignity of human life from natural conception to natural death and the evil of abortion and euthanasia.”

Born the year after the landmark Supreme Court abortion decision in Roe v. Wade, the gregarious 47-year-old priest of the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota, is best known for his "Bible in a Year" podcast and his YouTube videos for Ascension, the Catholic multimedia publisher.

A headline speaker at the pre-march rally, Schmitz, a North Star State native accustomed to the frigid January weather, received a rousing, rock-star reception from the crowd, which included thousands of young marchers.

He used the occasion to stress the same message he originally shared with his classmates as a young adolescent: every human life matters. This time, the message was deeply personal.

Schmitz told the story of his maternal grandmother, Helen, a nurse who spoke out in defense of the unborn and the conscientious objections of her fellow nurses when the hospital where they worked decided to peform abortions in the wake of the Roe decision.

“Helen, she knew that people mattered. She knew that children mattered. She knew that her nurses mattered. And so she hated the fact that this hospital that had done such good in that part of the world was now about to do so much evil. And they were forcing her nurses to participate in abortions. They were forcing her nurses to carry the remains of these children to be disposed. And so she went to the board of directors and she said, ‘This needs to stop. Either you stop doing abortions or I'm leaving,’” Schmitz recalled.

The board refused, and his grandmother left her job as head nurse. That decision “almost destroyed her life"; she didn’t regret it, “but it broke her heart,” he said.

“And I think that’s why we’re here, too, right? I think we're here because abortion, what it's done is broken our hearts. And I know so many people here, you're standing here because you know the dignity of human life. And so many people are among us because this story is part of your story, because you found yourself at one point in a place where it seemed like life was an impossible choice," he said.

"And so I know that we're surrounded by men and women who have chosen abortion. Listen, you need to know you're supposed to be here. You matter, you belong here. No matter what your past is, you are still loved. You need to know this. You are still loved and you still matter.” You can watch Schmidt's full speech in the EWTN video below.

Struggling to maintain his composure at times, Schmidt went on to share a recent conversation he had with a woman he helped persuade not to abort her child 12 years ago.

“She said, ‘I thought I hated my baby. And I realized these many years later, I didn't hate my baby. I hated the circumstances in which I found myself. I didn't hate my baby. I was ashamed of myself,’” Schmitz said.

“That young woman, 12 years ago, she gave her son to a couple who adopted him and have loved him. And he's blessed their life. And they've blessed his life. I've met him. He's an incredible young man,” Schmitz said.

He said the woman urged him ahead of his speech to remind people “that regardless of your choices, you are still loved and you still matter.” 

“And that's why we're standing here. That's why we're walking here,” Schmitz said.

“When my grandma Helen … left Sinai Hospital in 1973, it didn't change the hospital, it didn't change the culture, it didn't change the law, it didn't change the country,” he said.

“But when she walked, it changed her. When she stood, it changed her, and it changed her sons and it changed her daughter, my mom. And that …willingness to stand, that willingness to walk, it has echoed into my life. It’s echoed in the life of this young woman. It is incarnate in the life of this 12-year-old boy, who wouldn't be here if my grandma Helen hadn't stood, if my grandma Helen hadn't walked,” he said.

“Every child matters. Every woman matters. Every person matters. And no matter what this (march) does, no matter what this changes, your being here, standing, your being here, walking, it changes you, and you matter. God bless you.”

Europe’s Catholic bishops ask for prayers for peace in Ukraine

Catholics pictured near the Co-Cathedral of St. Alexander in Kyiv, Ukraine. April 3, 2021. / paparazzza/Shutterstock.

Vatican City, Jan 21, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Catholic bishops in Europe have expressed support for Ukraine and appealed to Christians to pray for peace.

“At this extremely delicate time, we ask Christians to pray for the gift of peace in Ukraine so that those responsible may be filled with, and radiate, a peace that is ‘contagious’ and that the crisis will be overcome exclusively through dialogue,” a Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) communique said.

Archbishop Gintaras Grušas of Vilnius, the president of the CCEE, issued the statement on behalf of the council on Jan. 21. He said that Catholic bishops in Europe wished to express closeness to the people of Ukraine “in this dramatic moment of tension.”

“While the entire international community interprets the actions of the Russian military forces as a real threat to peace throughout the world, we embrace — in this time of fear and uncertainty for the future of the country — our brothers and sisters in the faith and all the people of Ukraine,” Grušas said.

The bishops’ statement called on the international community to “offer its support to the country in the face of the danger of a Russian military offensive.”

“We also, as shepherds of the European continent, want to appeal to the leaders of the nations so that they do not forget the tragic world wars of the last century and so that international law, as well as the independence and territorial sovereignty of each country, will be defended,” Grušas said.

“Together with the Holy Father, we want to call on governments to find ‘acceptable and lasting solutions’ in Ukraine based on dialogue and negotiation and without resorting to arms,” the bishops’ statement said.

Ukraine, which has a population of 44 million people, is the second-largest country by area in Europe after Russia.

The conflict between the two countries — known as the Russo-Ukrainian War — began in February 2014, focused on the east of Ukraine. The warring parties agreed to a cease-fire in July 2020.

Russia has sent an estimated 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border. U.S. President Joe Biden said at a press conference on Jan. 19 that he expected Russian President Vladimir Putin to order an invasion.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, Switzerland, on Jan. 21.

Bliken told journalists after the bilateral meeting that if any Russian military forces move across Ukraine’s border, “it will be met with swift, severe and a united response from the United States and our partners and allies.”

Pope Francis addressed the situation in Ukraine in his annual “state of the world” address to diplomats last week.

“Reciprocal trust and readiness to engage in calm discussion should also inspire all parties at stake, so that acceptable and lasting solutions can be found in Ukraine,” the pope said on Jan. 10.

The pope also issued an appeal for “beloved Ukraine” in his Angelus address last month, calling on world leaders to resolve the crisis through “serious international dialogue and not with weapons.”

“I want to assure you of my prayers for beloved Ukraine, for all its Churches and religious communities, and for all its people so that the tensions it is experiencing might be resolved through a serious international dialogue and not with weapons,” he said on Dec. 12.

Knights of Columbus donates 1500th ultrasound machine

A dedication ceremony for the ultrasound machine donated by the Knights of Columbus to the First Choice Women's Resource Center in New Brunswick, N.J. / Knights of Columbus

Metuchen, N.J., Jan 21, 2022 / 11:49 am (CNA).

The Knights of Columbus donated an ultrasound machine to a New Jersey pregnancy center on Wednesday, a charitable milestone that marks the fraternal organization’s 1500th donation of the technology.

The Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization, with more than 2 million members in 16,000 councils worldwide.

The donation is part of a Knights’ initiative which began in 2009. Since then, the Knights have donated ultrasound machines in all 50 states.

The Jan. 19 donation was given to First Choice Women’s Resource Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly attended a dedication ceremony of the machine, which included a blessing of the machine by Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen.

Kelly said that the Knights of Columbus believes that every human life has dignity and worth.

“Our Founder, Blessed Michael McGivney, devoted his life to the care of widows and orphans,” he said. “We continue the Order’s mission by working tirelessly, through prayer and action, to support mothers and their children, both unborn and born.”

The founder of the Knights of Columbus, Blessed Michael McGivney, was beatified in October 2020.

The cost of the ultrasound machines are entirely covered by the Knights of Columbus. Half of the cost is fundraised by local councils, while the Supreme Council covers the rest of the funds.

“Now is a crucial moment for life. Our compassion, understanding and generous support are all essential,” Kelly said. “Our bold witness is needed to change not only laws, but also hearts and minds.”

The total value of all donated ultrasound machines surpasses $72 million.

From 2018 through 2020, local Knights councils have contributed almost $14 million worth of funds and supplies to pregnancy resource centers and maternity homes. They also assisted those organizations by offering more than 1.3 million volunteer hours.

The Knights of Columbus also puts its pro-life beliefs into action through many other pro-life programs, including Marches for Life, diaper drives, Special Olympics, Masses for people with special needs, and more.

March for Life underway, with hopes rising that Roe's days are numbered

Tens of thousands gathered for a pre-march rally and concert at the National Mall for the 2022 March for Life in Washington, D.C. / Katie Yoder/CNA

Washington D.C., Jan 21, 2022 / 11:36 am (CNA).

Tens of thousands of pro-life Americans gathered Friday to participate in the 49th annual March for Life, amid rising hopes that the event’s goal of overturning the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide may be within reach.

The march is timed in observance of the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision, on Jan. 22, 1973.

“We are hoping and praying that this year, 2022, will bring a historic change for life,” Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, the event’s organizer, told participants who gathered at a pre-march rally and concert on the National Law.

“Roe is not settled law,” she said.

This year’s event is taking place as the nation awaits the high court’s ruling in a pivotal Mississippi abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s  Health Organization. At issue is the constitutionality of the state’s abortion ban after 15 weeks of gestation — a direct challenge of Roe’s prohibition on state laws restricting access to abortion before fetal “viability,” judged to be between 24 to 28 weeks of gestation. If Roe and the related decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania v. Casey were overturned, the regulation of abortion would return to democratically elected state legislatures, many of which are poised to enact major abortion restrictions.

Speakers at the rally included Katie Shaw, a pro-life advocate who has Down syndrome, and Father Mike Schmitz, the host of Ascension's popular "Bible in a Year" podcast.

"There's a reason we're here. And the reasons have principles," Schmitz said in an interview with EWTN Pro-Life Weekly prior to his speech. "The Church introduced to the world 2,000 years ago this truth that every human being matters, that every life matters … every person here matters."

Schmitz, a priest of the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota, continued on that same theme in his speech.

"I think we're here because abortion, what it's done is broken our hearts. And I know so many people here, you're standing here because you know the dignity of human life. And so many people are among us because this story is part of your story, because you found yourself at one point in a place where it seemed like life was impossible choice," he said.

"And so I know that we're surrounded by men and women who have chosen abortion. Listen, you need to know you're supposed to be here. You matter, you belong here. No matter what your past is, you are still loved. You need to know this. You are still loved and you still matter." You can watch Shaw's speech in the video below.

The march itself got underway at about 1:30 p.m. EST, proceeding from the Mall up Constitution Avenue, culminating in front of the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Prior to the march, a scattered group of early arrivals gradually swelled to a large crowd of tens of thousands of people over the course of a sunny but cold morning, with temperatures in the 20s.

Mary St. Hilaire, of Wichita, Kansas (left), and Kristina Massa, 22, of Lincoln, Nebraska, at the March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 21, 2022. Katie Yoder/CNA
Mary St. Hilaire, of Wichita, Kansas (left), and Kristina Massa, 22, of Lincoln, Nebraska, at the March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 21, 2022. Katie Yoder/CNA

Mary St. Hilaire, 21, of Wichita, Kansas, and Kristina Massa, 22, of Lincoln, Nebraska, attended the march with a group called Justice For All, which trains people to have “productive” conversations about the right to life.

“I’m pro-life because I think that life begins at conception, that there's a new, unique individual human being from the moment of conception,” St. Hilaire told CNA. “And I think that killing that human being is a grave injustice, that they're equal to you and I, and that they deserve the same right to life. And I also think that abortion harms women, and women deserve better.”

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said the pro-life movement cannot afford to become “complacent,” regardless of the outcome of Dobbs.

“The Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion is a response of love for both mothers and their children in the womb. The Church’s teaching proclaims a message of life, reminding us that every life is a sacred gift from God from the moment of conception until natural death,” Lori said in a statement.

“We cannot build a truly just society and remain complacent when faced with the massive impact of Roe v. Wade, which has taken over 60 million lives since 1973. May we pray, fast, and work for the day when the gift of every human life is protected in law and welcomed in love,” he added.

Vatican appeal court confirms former IOR officials liable for mismanagement

The Institute for the Works of Religion, commonly known as the Vatican bank. / Andrea Gagliarducci/CNA.

Vatican City, Jan 21, 2022 / 10:30 am (CNA).

A Vatican appeal court this week fully confirmed an earlier ruling that two former senior managers at the Institute of Works of Religion (IOR) were liable for mismanagement.

The appeal court ordered Paolo Cipriani and Massimo Tulli to compensate the IOR with 40.5 million euros (around $46 million) plus court costs.

Cipriani and Tulli had served until 2013 respectively as the director and deputy director of the IOR, which is often called the “Vatican bank,” though it does not operate as a bank. The IOR derives its acronym from its Italian name, Istituto per le Opere di Religione.

This week’s ruling upheld the judgment of the Vatican Court of First Instance in 2018, while reducing the amount of compensation from 47 million euros (approximately $53 million).

Cipriani and Tulli still have a further right of appeal at the Vatican and may then challenge the verdict in the international courts.

The pair were found to have violated statutory obligations, autonomously deciding on investments that would have caused financial damage to the IOR.

An IOR press release issued on Jan. 21 said that the two men were ordered to pay compensation amounting to “35,740,587 euros by way of emerging damage, as well as 4,799,445 euros by way of loss of profit (therefore for a total of 40,540,032 euros, plus monetary devaluation and legal interest).”

It went on: “The court charged the appellants with court costs, including those relating to the first instance.”

The IOR added that “the judgment concerns Mr. Paolo Cipriani and Mr. Massimo Tulli mala gestio [mismanagement] arranged with some investments of the Istituto per le Opere di Religione between 2010 and 2013, and which proved to be immediately harmful as problematic and, in several cases, also illegitimate and subject to criminal proceedings.”

The court ruling is based on the losses that would have been caused to the IOR by two consultancy contracts and the opening of the Ad Maiora fund. This fund was used for a real estate operation — the acquisition of the former Budapest stock exchange building — made with a Maltese company, also now the subject of a complaint by the IOR.

The IOR accuses its Maltese counterpart of having sold higher than the market price, favoring other intermediaries. The Maltese side accuses the IOR of not having kept the agreed commitments, as well as having always rejected the purchase offers that would have settled the debt. There is even an insinuation that the IOR is putting the investment at risk to strengthen allegations against past management.

The same real estate investment is considered by the ruling to be a violation by managers, given that there was a moratorium on real estate investments from 2003.

But as evidenced by some subsequent decisions and acquisitions, the moratorium would no longer be in force. In December 2012, the IOR’s board of superintendence decided to launch a new class of investments of a more speculative nature, effectively circumventing the moratorium.

It should be noted that both the moratorium and regulation of the IOR were missing from the appeal documentation. Their inclusion would have allowed a better understanding of responsibilities. The same Vatican court of appeal judges consider that there is no “dual system” of decisions at the IOR because everything passes through the board of superintendence.

When the defense argued that none of the investment decisions could have been taken without the approval of the board of superintendence, the prosecution replied that the board meetings were “rarefied, unlike what is practiced in similar institutions,” the ruling said. But the verdict admitted that the board members may have studied the papers before the meetings.

Cipriani and Tulli resigned in July 2013. They left the IOR in a healthy situation, but profits dramatically dropped after their exit.

In 2014, the IOR filed a civil suit against the old management, complaining that the investments made by the administration had not managed the IOR’s assets well. In 2018, Cipriani and Tulli were found liable for mismanagement.

The Vatican appeal court’s verdict defends the work of the IOR but leaves some questions open. Some could already be answered by the results of the lawsuit filed by the IOR in Malta.

Cardinal Gregory criticizes activist group's 'antics' at basilica on eve of March for Life

Pro-choice messages projected onto the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20, 2022. / Catholics for Choice

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 21, 2022 / 10:20 am (CNA).

Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, responded strongly Friday to an activist group's projection of pro-choice messages on the facade of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Thursday night, the eve of the annual March for Life.

Gregory said in a Jan. 21 statement: "Those whose antics projected words on the outside of the church building demonstrated by those pranks that they really are external to the Church and they did so at night – John 13:30."

Referring to Judas Iscariot, John 13:30 reads, “He therefore having received the morsel, went out immediately. And it was night.”

Gregory said, “The true voice of the Church was only to be found within The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception last evening. There, people prayed and offered the Eucharist asking God to restore a true reverence for all human life.”

Catholics for Choice was responsible for the images, which for 90 minutes were beamed from a median across the street from the basilica while a prayer vigil to end abortion was going on inside.

In large letters visible blocks from the basilica, the messages read “PRO CHOICE CATHOLICS YOU ARE NOT ALONE,” “1 IN 4 ABORTION PATIENTS IS CATHOLIC,” and “PRO CHOICE CATHOLICS.”

Other slogans included the words “STOP STIGMATIZING” and “START LISTENING” on the church. The words were projected on both the 329-foot bell tower and upper facade of the church above the front entrance. The projections included Spanish translations of the messages as well.

“The March for Life twists our faith to villainize people who seek abortion services and silences the 68% of Catholics who do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned,” Catholics for Choice President Jamie L. Manson said in a statement.

“That’s why, during the ‘Vigil for Life’ at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., we prominently projected our message to Catholics who support legal abortion access and those who have abortions themselves: no matter what the Church hierarchy tries to make you think, you are not alone,” she said.

The images were first reported on Twitter by Jack Jenkins of Religious News Service. Widely shared on social media, the images drew some support but also sharp denunciations.

"The attempted desecration is enormous. Diabolical," Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco tweeted. "Mother Mary, pray for them, now and at the hour of death. Amen."

"Just when you thought @Catholic4Choice couldn’t sink any lower. The group inside is praying for babies and mothers—and for the group outside to repent and believe the Gospel," tweeted Ryan T. Anderson, president of the Ethics & Public Policy Center.

The American Life League tweeted on Friday, “Not only do they hate God's Law ‘Thou shall not kill’, they hate His houses of prayer, too.”

Catholics for Choice’s act underscores a rise in hostility toward this year's March for Life, when many pro-life Americans are hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. A decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization is expected in June.

On Saturday, a group called NYC for Abortion Rights plans to hold a rally titled "F--- the March for Life" outside St. Patrick's Cathedral. "Come picket and MAKE SOME NOISE with us!! We're disrupting the Catholic Church's anti-abortion bull--- on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision,” the group tweeted Wednesday.

“MEANWHILE, we're going to commemorate by disrupting their bull---- as much as we can, at the symbol of the Catholic Church's grotesque power in NY. Come speak out, sing, play, and show the antis that abortion isn't going away, and we aren't either,” the tweet says.

Catholic politician rejects ‘false accusations’ in European Islamophobia report

Marijana Petir, a member of the Croatian Parliament and former Member of the European Parliament. / Provided/CNA.

Zagreb, Croatia, Jan 21, 2022 / 07:15 am (CNA).

A Catholic politician has objected to her inclusion in a report on Islamophobia in Europe, saying that it is based on “false accusations.”

Marijana Petir, a member of the Croatian parliament, said that the reference to her and others in the European Islamophobia Report 2020, published on Dec. 29, 2021, amounted to an “attack on freedom of speech.”

The 886-page study, which defines Islamophobia as “anti-Muslim racism,” cited Petir, a former member of the European Parliament, in a section entitled “Islamophobia in Croatia National Report 2020,” one of 31 country reports.

It said: “The politician and independent parliament member Marijana Petir, known for her statement from 2015 saying that Christians were persecuted by Muslims in wars and that the current ‘refugee crisis’ was in fact an attempt by Muslims to occupy predominantly Catholic European countries including Croatia, suggested a proposal worth 1.5 million HRK in the form of aid to Christians prosecuted for their faith in countries where Islamist militants are in power. The government accepted the proposal.”

A footnote cited an article referring to a speech she gave in 2015, published in the Croatian weekly news magazine Nacional on Nov. 25, 2020.

Petir told CNA on Jan. 21 that the description of her 2015 speech, in both the report and the article, was inaccurate.

“The report on Islamophobia in Europe for 2020 contains my statement from 2015, which I never said, so we can consider that this report is based on false accusations,” she said.

She explained that she spoke in 2015 at an event dedicated to war reporters.

“Referring to the migrant crisis that has spread, I expressed my full understanding and sympathy with those fleeing the war, and said that people whose lives are at risk should be unreservedly helped,” she recalled.

“On the other hand, there are those who are looking for a better future and that is why they are going to Europe, but unfortunately Croatia cannot provide jobs for its citizens, so when we talk about migration, we should distinguish between war and economic migrants.”

“Europe, which is the largest donor of humanitarian and development aid, should direct this money to projects in third countries that will enable people to work and enable them to live in dignity at home.”

She continued: “I said that Europe needs to think about its future and demographic renewal, because some countries already do not have enough workers and this problem cannot be solved by illegal migration.”

“European asylum and migration policy has failed the test and needs to be revised as illegal migration can be a potential security problem for citizens.”

“In addition, Europe and the entire Western world have done nothing to stop the war in Syria and Iraq, where Islamist terrorists are killing Christians, which could lead to the disappearance of Christianity from the cradle of Christianity. Only a few journalists talk about it.”

Croatia is a country of four million people bordering Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. More than 86% of the population is Catholic.

Petir, an independent member of parliament, was instrumental in persuading the Croatian government to offer college scholarships to young people from countries where Christians face persecution.

The introduction of the scholarships marked the first time since the country gained independence in 1991 that it had earmarked money specifically to help individuals outside the European Union persecuted for their Christian faith.

Petir said it was unclear how giving scholarships to persecuted Christians could be characterized as Islamophobia.

“We do not give scholarships to Christians just because they are Christians, but because they are the most persecuted religious group in the world, and this is confirmed by reports of international organizations such as Aid to Church in Need and Open Doors,” she said.

Petir was not the only Catholic mentioned in the European Islamophobia Report 2020.

A section entitled “Islamophobia in Poland National Report 2020” criticized Catholic media in the Central European country, as well as the Polish-language section of Vatican Radio.

“Although the Catholic media — including leading media such as Gość Niedzielny or the Polish section of Vatican Radio — continue to lead the way in publishing Islamophobic content, when it comes to clergy and hierarchs, they are no longer as active in the field of fearmongering against Islam as they were in the previous years,” it asserted.

In a footnote, the report cited two Vatican News articles in Polish, one headlined “Sweden: social tensions rise, Christians are powerless” and the other “Christianophobia in Europe increased in 2019.”

Petir also took issue with other aspects of the “Islamophobia in Croatia National Report 2020.”

“If you look at the rest of the report for Croatia, you can see that journalists who wrote articles about the migrant crisis, reported on the Turkish government’s decision on Hagia Sophia or conducted interviews with European politicians who spoke about radical Islamists were also marked as an Islamophobe,” she said.

“Such reporting on Islamophobia attempts to stop any critical thinking and information that has nothing to do with criticism of Islam as a religion, but with criticism of radical terrorist groups that abuse religion for their narrow interests and thus harm the religion to which they belong.”

“I believe that this report is an attack on freedom of speech, made superficially and maliciously with the aim of labeling people who dare to tell the truth, and contains elements of Christianophobia.”

Catholic diocese in Australia found vicariously liable for clerical abuse

The Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia. / Nickbenanh via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Melbourne, Australia, Jan 21, 2022 / 07:00 am (CNA).

In a ruling believed to be the first of its kind in Australia, a judge has found a Catholic diocese vicariously liable for clerical abuse.

A judgment issued on Dec. 22 by Justice John Forrest in the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne held that the Diocese of Ballarat was vicariously liable for the conduct of Father Bryan Coffey.

The Legal Information Institute defines vicarious liability as the liability that a supervisory party bears for the actionable conduct of a subordinate or associate, based on the relationship between the two parties.

Coffey, who was convicted of child abuse in 1999 and given a three-year suspended sentence, died in 2013.

Justice Forrest awarded a man identified only as “DP” damages of AU$ 230,000 (around $165,000).

DP said that he was sexually abused by Coffey at his parents’ home in Port Fairy, southwestern Victoria, in 1971, when he was five years old.

“Coffey assaulted DP as he alleges; The diocese is vicariously liable for the assaults perpetrated by Coffey,” Justice Forrest declared in his judgment.

The survivor’s solicitors, Ken Cush & Associates in Canberra, said that the ruling was a landmark decision.

“It marks for the first time in Australia a decision that exercises attribution of liability to a bishop for the acts of his predatory priest or assistant priest,” lawyer Sangeeta Sharmin said.

The judgment noted that the diocese had argued that “unless it is demonstrated that a priest is an employee of the diocese then it cannot be vicariously liable.”

But the judge concluded that factors including “the close nature of the relationship between the bishop, the diocese and the Catholic community” in Port Fairy and “the diocese’s general control over Coffey’s role and duties within St Patrick’s Parish” made the diocese vicariously liable for the priest’s conduct.

The judge also defined the relationship between DP, his family, Coffey, and the diocese as one of “intimacy and imported trust in the authority of Christ’s representative, personified by Coffey.”

The concept of vicarious liability has been invoked in legal action against Catholic dioceses around the world, including in the case of disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

It was also mentioned in a dissenting opinion related to the European Court of Human Rights ruling in October 2021 that the Vatican cannot be sued in local courts for the actions of clerical abusers because it has sovereign immunity.

Seven things to know about March for Life speaker Father Mike Schmitz

Father Mike Schmitz / Courtesy of Ascension

Denver Newsroom, Jan 21, 2022 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Tens of thousands of pro-life advocates are expected to gather at the National Mall in Washington later today for the annual March for Life. The march will kick off with a noon rally featuring speakers including the host of the “Bible in a Year” podcast, Fr. Mike Schmitz. Here are seven things to know about the priest:

1. Schmitz was raised Catholic. He is one of six kids. But his faith was not a priority in his life until he had what he described as an encounter with Christ in Confession at the age of 15. “That really affected me such that I said to myself, ‘This is real.’,” Schmitz said in an interview with Legatus magazine. “There was an interior recognition that I need this, I need Jesus. It led me down the road to asking God what He wants.”

2. He was ordained a priest in 2003 for the Diocese of Duluth. He is Director of Youth Ministry for the diocese, and chaplain at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He has said his favorite part about being a priest is celebrating the sacraments. “I love offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,” he said in a Q&A with the Newman Center where he is chaplain. “I love preaching. I love hearing confessions. There is nothing that I know of that can compare with getting to be a part of someone’s Great Story, the story that God is calling His children to live.”

3. He left a relationship to enter the seminary. Schmitz shares his vocation story in a 2021 episode of his podcast. 

4. He gained national attention through a video series he started in 2015 with Ascension Press. The videos have covered topics including forgiveness, the saints, and relationships. He continues to produce those videos today

5. He is perhaps best known for hosting The Bible in a Year podcast. The podcast jumped to the top of Apple Podcasts charts within hours of publishing its first episode on Jan. 1, 2021, surpassing secular podcasts produced by organizations including The New York Times and National Public Radio. In 2021, it hit 142 million downloads, and 3.3 billion minutes of listening worldwide.

6. Though The Bible in a Year is complete, Schmitz will be involved in an upcoming virtual retreat for the community that grew around the podcast. The three-day retreat will take place Feb. 18-20. Schmitz is also in the early stages of developing a catechism-in-a-year podcast. 

7. Schmitz has long been a staunch pro-life advocate. The priest has said someone cannot be both Catholic and pro-abortion. “Abortion is one of the “deal breaker” issues,” he wrote in a 2014 Q&A. “If my conscience leads me to the place where I think it is okay for a person to be able to murder another innocent person, then I’m not Catholic. By that point, I’ve left the Church. No one is “kicking me out”; I’ve already left.”

Pope Francis declares St. Irenaeus ‘Doctor of Unity’

St. Irenaeus of Lyon. / Wolfymoza via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Vatican City, Jan 21, 2022 / 04:50 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Friday officially declared St. Irenaeus of Lyon as the 37th Doctor of the Church, with the title “Doctor Unitatis” (“Doctor of Unity”).

“May the doctrine of such a great Master encourage more and more the path of all the Lord's disciples towards full communion,” the pope wrote in a decree signed on Jan. 21.

The pope signed the decree mid-way through the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, taking place on Jan. 18-25.

“St. Irenaeus of Lyon, who came from the East, exercised his episcopal ministry in the West: he was a spiritual and theological bridge between Eastern and Western Christians,” Pope Francis wrote.

“His name, Irenaeus, expresses that peace which comes from the Lord and which reconciles, restoring unity.”

St. Irenaeus is a 2nd-century bishop and writer revered by both Catholics and Orthodox Christians and known for refuting the heresies of Gnosticism with a defense of both Christ’s humanity and divinity.

While some of St. Irenaeus’ most important writings have survived, the details of his life are not as well preserved. He was born in the Eastern half of the Roman Empire, likely in the coastal city of Smyrna, in what is now Turkey, around the year 140 A.D.

As a young man, he heard the preaching of the early Christian bishop St. Polycarp, who had been personally instructed by the Apostle John. Irenaeus became a priest, serving the Church in the region of Gaul, in what is now France, during a difficult period in the late 170s.

During this time of state persecution and doctrinal controversy, Irenaeus was sent to Rome to provide Pope St. Eleutherius with a letter about the heretical movement known as Montanism.

After returning to Lyon, Irenaeus became the city’s second bishop, following the martyrdom of his predecessor St. Pothinus.

In the course of his work as a pastor and evangelist, the second bishop of Lyon came up against heretical doctrines and movements that insisted that the material world was evil and not part of God’s original plan.

Irenaeus recognized this movement, in all its forms, as a direct attack on the Catholic faith. He rebutted the Gnostic errors in his lengthy book “Against Heresies,” which is still studied today for its historical value and theological insights.

A shorter work, the “Proof of the Apostolic Preaching,” contains Irenaeus’ presentation of the Gospel with a focus on Jesus Christ’s fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Several of his other works are now lost, though a collection of fragments from them has been compiled and translated.

Irenaeus died in Lyon around 202, when Emperor Septimus Severus ordered the martyrdom of Christians.

The U.S. bishops voted in 2019 in favor of having St. Irenaeus named a Doctor of the Church at the request of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the then archbishop of Lyon, and sent their approval to the Vatican for the pope’s consideration.

Pope Francis previously declared St. Gregory of Narek, a 10th-century Armenian monk, a Doctor of the Church in 2015.

Benedict XVI named Sts. John of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen Doctors of the Church in 2012.

Seventeen of the 36 figures declared Doctors of the Church by the Catholic Church lived before the Great Schism of 1054 and are also revered by Orthodox Christians.

St. Irenaeus could be the first martyr to be declared a Doctor of the Church.

His entry on the website of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints says: “He died in 202, but his martyrdom is not certain. In the 4th century St. Jerome and two centuries later Gregory of Tours stated that Irenaeus ‘ended his life in martyrdom,’ which would have happened during a bloody persecution, most likely that of Septimius Severus, which took place between the years 202-203.”