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New sex abuse lawsuit names Theodore McCarrick, Fr. Michael Barrett

St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York / John Bilous/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Aug 4, 2021 / 14:06 pm (CNA).

A new civil sex abuse lawsuit has been filed against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, also naming Opus Dei priest Fr. Michael Barrett, who is currently a pastor in the Archdiocese of New York.

Jeffrey Anderson, a prominent attorney who represents sex abuse victims, announced the allegations against Barrett and McCarrick on Wednesday in a press conference that was broadcast online.

“My youth, my childhood was robbed from me,” said the plaintiff in the case, who filed the lawsuit anonymously, during the online press conference. He said he was “abused by two people involved in the Catholic Church, and this is Fr. Michael Barrett and Cardinal McCarrick – who wasn’t a cardinal then, and he should have never become one.”

According to Anderson, the plaintiff was abused by Barrett beginning at age 12, and the abuse continued for “three to four years.”

The Archdiocese of New York did not immediately respond to CNA’s request for comment on Wednesday. A spokesman for Opus Dei said the prelature was not aware of the accusation before the announcement of the lawsuit.

“Your email is the first time that we have heard that such an accusation had been made against Father Michael Barrett, or that a lawsuit has been filed,” stated Brian Finnerty, U.S. communications director for Opus Dei, in response to CNA’s request for comment on Wednesday.

“After receiving your email, I contacted Father Barrett, and he informed me that this is also the first time he has heard of it,” Finnerty told CNA. “It is impossible to comment further until we know more about the accusation and the lawsuit.”

The lawsuit was filed under New York’s Child Victims Act, a law which created a temporary window for new civil sex abuse lawsuits to be filed in old cases where the statute of limitations had already expired. The time window for civil lawsuits expires on Aug. 14.

Fr. Barrett was then a lay person “heavily involved with Opus Dei” when he allegedly “invited and recruited” the plaintiff to an Opus Dei house, Anderson said. Barrett was “grooming” the plaintiff at that time, which “led to criminal sexual assault.” 

Barrett ultimately became a priest with Opus Dei, and is currently a pastor at St. Agnes parish in the New York archdiocese.

The allegations to date to the 1970s. The defendants in the lawsuit are McCarrick, then a priest of the New York archdiocese and secretary to then-Cardinal Terence Cooke, as well as Barrett, then a lay member of Opus Dei, Anderson explained. The archdiocese was also named in the lawsuit for alleged negligence in McCarrick’s case.

According to the lawsuit, McCarrick abused the plaintiff from 1975 to 1978, when he was approximately 13 to 16 years old. Barrett allegedly abused the plaintiff from approximately 1974 to 1978 according to the lawsuit. 

Anderson called on Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York to release a list of all clerics the archdiocese has made settlements with, as well as the names of those in the archdiocese known to have committed abuse.

Barrett graduated from Columbia University in 1974 and worked as an account executive for Merrill Lynch. He was ordained a priest in 1985 by Pope John Paul II.

According to the St. Agnes parish website, Barrett served in the past as theological adviser to Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez beginning in 2013. Archbishop Gomez is also a member of Opus Dei.

This story was updated on August 4 with a quote from Opus Dei and with new information.

Bioethicist: There must be conscience exemptions to vaccine mandates

Ball Lunla/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Aug 4, 2021 / 13:01 pm (CNA).

As workplaces have begun to require COVID-19 vaccinations for employees, some Catholic institutions insist that conscience exemptions are necessary.

In addition, priests should be allowed to support Catholics who conscientiously refuse COVID-19 vaccines, says one bioethicist.

“It is Catholic doctrine that people’s well-founded conscientious objections are part of their religion,” said Dr. Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, in an interview with CNA on Monday. Meaney spoke in support of religious and conscience exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandates

“Part of our Catholic doctrine is that you should have to follow your conscience,” he said. “And if your conscience is telling you not to do this, then you’re not doing it not just from your conscience perspective, but also from your religious Catholic belief.”

Some employers have already begun mandating that employees receive COVID-19 vaccines.  New York City this week announced it will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for workers and patrons of some businesses, such as gyms, restaurants, and theaters.

The New York archdiocese, meanwhile, has warned priests against granting religious vaccine exemptions for Catholics.

“There is no basis for a priest to issue a religious exemption to the vaccine,” stated a July 30 memo from the archdiocese’s chancellor, John P. Cahill, to all pastors, administrators, and parochial vicars in the archdiocese. The memo was issued several days before the city announced its vaccine mandate.

While recognizing the “discretion” of individuals to either receive or decline a COVID-19 vaccine, the archdiocese’s memo said that priests “should not be active participants to such actions” by granting religious exemptions.

However, priests could “definitely” have a basis to support Catholics’ religious exemptions to vaccine mandates, Meaney told CNA. The National Catholic Bioethics Center has provided a form letter on its website for Catholics seeking to opt out of vaccine mandates for reasons of conscience.

“People objecting to this [ethically-tainted vaccines] are doing so from a very sound Catholic basis, and so I think they should get the support of the Church for doing so,” Meaney said.

All three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States have some connection to controversial cell lines derived from elective abortions decades prior. All three vaccines – produced by Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson – were tested with the cell lines. Only one – produced by Johnson & Johnson – was produced directly using the cell lines.

In the 2008 document Dignitas Personae, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith spoke against the use of cell lines derived from elective abortions in vaccines; the document recognized that parents, for serious reasons, could use these vaccines for their children.

Both the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have said that Catholics may validly receive one of the COVID-19 vaccines with connections to abortion-derived cell lines. The USCCB noted that Catholics should seek, if possible, to receive a vaccine with a lesser connection to the cell lines.

However, these statements have not been a flat endorsement of the vaccines, Meaney said.

“To a certain extent, people have taken the statements that have come out – which are all true, that people can discern in conscience to accept the vaccines – to be kind of an endorsement,” he said. “It’s more like a permission,” he said, “it’s a reluctant permission.”

The July 30 memo of the New York archdiocese cited Pope Francis’ call for everyone to get a COVID-19 vaccine, warning that priests granting exemptions to vaccine mandates would be “acting in contradiction to the directives of the Pope.”

In a January television interview, the pope said, “I believe that ethically, everyone has to get the vaccine.”

“Pope Francis has made it very clear that it is morally acceptable to take any of the vaccines and said we have the moral responsibility to get vaccinated. Cardinal Dolan has said the same,” the memo stated.

However, the Vatican has been clear that Catholics can conscientiously object to receiving the vaccines, Meaney said.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a December 2020 note, stated that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation,” and “therefore, it must be voluntary.” Such theological notes are reviewed by the pope, Meaney added.

“The Church is saying, for certain individuals, they can in good conscience take it [the vaccine],” he said. For others who discern that they do not want to receive COVID-19 vaccines because of their connection to abortion-derived cell lines, the Church says they can decline to do so, he added.

“In both circumstances,” he said, the Church defends “their right to do so.”

A conscience exemption should not function like a “’get out of jail free’ card,” Meaney cautioned, noting the responsibility of Catholics to form their consciences and make well-founded judgments. Those not receiving vaccines should do “everything in their power to make sure that they’re keeping others safe,” he added.

And part of the Church’s teaching on conscience, he said, is that an individual cannot be coerced into making decisions. When vaccine mandates are issued at workplaces without clear exemptions, this presents a real problem for Catholics trying to make a prudent decision, he said.

“The best ethical decision-making is made with all the facts that are available to a person, but also without undue pressure being put upon them,” he said.

“The thing that’s always very, very problematic is when people’s consciences are being coerced,” he said, noting the “terrible” situation of an individual forced to either receive a vaccine or lose his or her job.

Catholic infertility ministry provides community, support

Lauren Allen, the founder of the Catholic infertility ministry the Fruitful Hollow, with her husband. / Courtesy of Lauren Allen.

Denver Newsroom, Aug 4, 2021 / 03:01 am (CNA).

Lauren Allen always jokes that God hit her over the head with the idea for her Catholic infertility ministry, the Fruitful Hollow. 

“I was driving down the back roads, like I do sometimes when I'm upset or to think or pray. And I just heard God say to me, ‘you're called to carry your cross, not pray that it goes away from you,” Allen told CNA. 

Allen and her husband had been struggling with infertility for about a year at that point. She said her prayer was to get pregnant, and have a baby. 

“‘And all of this will just go away, and I can kind of ignore that it happened, and I won't be infertile, and I can move on with my life,’” Allen said. “But, when God, when I heard Him so clearly say ... ‘it's meant to be carried’, then I had a flood of situations that I had been in, or conversations that I had had. And I knew what He was asking.” 

“He was asking for me to create a resource that would put out valid Church teachings on different parts of infertility, and lead people towards holiness, and not towards anger.”

Allen, a Catholic from Texas, launched The Fruitful Hollow in January. The online ministry runs a blog post or an article once a week. It also offers resources on its website, including guides for journaling and information about patron saints of infertility. 

The Fruitful Hollow team has a particular devotion to St. Gianna Beretta Molla, the patron saint of infertility. They also look to scripture for stories of infertility.

“One of our favorites is Hannah,” Allen said. “Hannah in the Bible was infertile. She ended up being the mother of Samuel. But her story is really beautiful, because it really talks about her grief in the process, and crying out to God kind of in frustration.”

The website also offers information about Church teaching on modern medical responses to infertility, such as in vitro fertilization. 

“When you start to realize that you have a problem getting pregnant...a lot of the mainstream OB-GYNs, that's what they know, so it's unfortunately what they push,” Allen said. “You have to really be educated in your Church teachings to know what's okay to do, and what's not. There's not a lot of education in the Catholic Church. Where would you find that unless you were searching for it? I don't think it's a well-known teaching.”

The Fruitful Hollow team is working on an information campaign to parishes nationwide, with the hope of taking it international soon. The ministry will send cards encouraging parishes to remember in its prayers of the faithful couples trying to conceive and couples hoping to adopt. 

“On Mother's Day, [my parish] added into the prayers of the faithful that they were praying for all couples dealing with infertility,” said Serenity Quesnelle, outreach coordinator for the Fruitful Hollow. “It wasn't even just for people that were trying to get pregnant, it was for couples dealing with infertility. Those couple of words make you feel so heard.”

The Fruitful Hollow has also had requests for coordinating local chapters, for members to gather for community and sharing. They haven’t been able to do that yet, but hope to in the future. 

Allen said her ministry’s growth signals just how common the experience of infertility can be, and how hungry for resources and community are the Catholics who experience it.

“I think that's of the biggest points of feedback that we get from our readers,” Allen said. “We interact often through social media polls... and our readers really talk about a lack of just a conversation about infertility.”

Allen said one of the Fruitful Hollow’s team members, who is a convert to Catholicism, was shocked that infertility was at time treated as a taboo subject even within the Catholic Church.

“It's a very lonely part of the body of Christ that we're trying to minister to,” Allen said. “I know Mother's Day and Father's Day are hard because if you see two Catholics who are sitting in a pew by themselves— I mean, going to Mass itself is hard, because everybody talks about how much of a blessing a big, Catholic family is. And that's kind of the desire...but when you can't, it becomes very lonely and just really hard.”

Allen said many members of her audience have said they wish they had heard discussions about infertility during their marriage preparation. 

“When you go through marriage prep, they tell you you're supposed to be open to life, and children are a blessing,” Allen said. “But even in our marriage prep, no one ever said, ‘but it's okay...if you're open to life and you can't have children.’”

One member of the Fruitful Hollow wrote into the ministry anonymously, asking if it was even licit for her and her husband to have sex, since they were experiencing infertility. Allen and her team found the question heartbreaking. 

“As Catholics, we're taught that sex is supposed to be this beautiful marital act. But now there are so many couples that just don't feel like they should even be able to have that gift because it's not resulting in offspring,” Quesnelle said. 

Katie is editor of the Fruitful Hollow. She asked to be referred to by only her first name, for privacy. She and her husband have been married for five years, and they have not been able to conceive.

Katie said her infertility may be linked to a diagnosis from before their marriage. She was open and honest with her then-fiance about the diagnosis, and she said the prospect that the diagnosis could result in infertility loomed over their marriage preparation classes. 

“I didn't disagree with what the Church teaches about children being a big part of the sacrament of marriage, about being open to life and accepting children willingly from God,” Katie said. “[But] something about it made me a bit uncomfortable, given that, in the back of my mind, I knew that I might face infertility. Would my marriage be somehow ‘less than’?”

“I was grappling with this question of, ‘if children are such a key part of the sacrament of marriage, then what if you can't have children, is your marriage incomplete?’”

Katie connected with Allen and the Fruitful Hollow team through a Facebook group for Catholic women experiencing infertility. She says the ministry has brought her a lot of comfort. 

“I think on such an isolating journey, community is key,” she said. “I think that's one of the best things to have come out of The Fruitful Hollow, is just finding such a community of like-minded Catholic women and men who are struggling with the same questions, and this rollercoaster of an infertility journey, and how different it can look.”

“Just like every family looks different, every infertility journey is different. Some people will go on to grow their family in other ways. Some people will remain a family of two. But the focus of the Fruitful Hollow is helping people to be fruitful in that wait, be fruitful right now. Not to see that the only way our marriage can be fruitful is to have children, but that our marriage can be fruitful in and of itself.”

“We're not just helping people to get pregnant or to find ways to find solutions,” Katie said. “We're helping people to live out their vocation in this wait, and to carry this cross gracefully.”

Allen said that mindset is at the heart of her ministry. 

“I want people to know...that the plan that we have for our lives is never the plan that God has,” Allen said. “You are still called to be fruitful, even if it's not in the way that we think of when we often think of fruitfulness. We're called to be open to life, but even if you...never conceive, there's still a call to be fruitful and work towards holiness.”

Knights of Columbus highlight charitable work, faith formation at annual meeting

Patrick Kelly, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, delivers his first Supreme Knight's Report during the organization's 139th Annual Convention, Aug. 3, 2021. Credit: Knights of Columbus/screenshot.

Hartford, Conn., Aug 3, 2021 / 19:55 pm (CNA).

Patrick Kelly, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, highlighted the group’s charitable work amid the COVID-19 pandemic, announced plans to support faith formation initiatives, and lauded the group’s newly-beatified founder in a speech Tuesday. 

“Make no mistake: Now is a time for Knights. The past 18 months have amplified old challenges and given rise to new ones. They face our families, our faith, and our culture as a whole,” Kelly said during the Aug. 3 virtual address. 

Being a Knight means “a life of faith in action, a life of boldness in brotherhood, a life worth living. Catholic men are looking for nothing less. In the Knights of Columbus, they will find it,” Kelly said. 

The Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization, has over 2 million members in 16,000 councils worldwide. The order was founded in 1882 by a Connecticut parish priest, Blessed Michael McGivney. Initially, the organization was intended to assist widows and their families upon the deaths of their husbands. 

Fr. McGivney was beatified Oct. 31, with Pope Francis praising his “zeal for the proclamation of the Gospel” which “made him an outstanding witness of Christian solidarity and fraternal assistance.” 

“These words are a powerful validation of our Founder’s vision and of our own work. They remind us that Father McGivney’s life is an inspiration to the Church and to the world,” Kelly commented. 

Kelly’s speech follows the opening Mass of the Knights’ 139th annual convention, held at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, where Blessed McGivney is buried. The Knights normally convene in-person each year, but 2021 marks the second year in a row that the meeting has been held virtually.

Kelly succeeded Carl Anderson as Supreme Knight in March. The new Supreme Knight praised his predecessor’s leadership, noting that in Anderson’s 20 years of leadership, the group gained more than 400,000 members, charitable donations rose by more than 60%, and the order expanded to Europe and mainland Asia.

Kelly pointed to Pope Francis’ declaration of a Year of St. Joseph, and highlighted the pope’s call to imitate the “creative courage” of Christ’s foster father. 

“In St. Joseph, we see our mission and mandate. Guard the family. Guard the truth. He led through service and creative courage. So must we. It is the only way to overcome the hurdles facing our families, the Church and our culture,” he said. 

Kelly announced that the Knights will, this fall, debut on network TV a documentary on St. Joseph, which he said will explore why St. Joseph is the ideal model for Catholic men. 

In particular, Kelly lauded St. Joseph in his role as “Guardian of the Truth”— in his case, guardian of The Truth Himself, Jesus Christ. 

“We, too, must defend this truth,” Kelly said.  

“We live in a time of bigotry and intolerance. Key truths — about life, marriage, the nature of the family, and the meaning of freedom — are increasingly denied and even vilified. Yet, this makes our commitment to truth all the more important. Now is the time to inspire our fellow Catholics to stand for what’s right. St. Joseph is our guide. Let us pray for his intercession. And let us make his creative courage our own, for the sake of the family, and the truth.”

Kelly said the Knights will continue to be a sign of unity by standing for the truth. 

“I have long admired the Order’s impact on men. As a Navy JAG officer for many years, I saw young men who had the courage to serve their country, but who nonetheless made poor decisions and got into trouble. My job was to represent them at courts-martial. Many lacked strong families or strong father figures. And too few had a living and real faith. This made a lasting impression on me and I came to appreciate that one of the best things about the Knights is that we can help fill this void.”

Kelly said that the truth is grounded in the Eucharist, and said the Knights are called to have a special reverence for the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Kelly announced that the Knights are and will continue to be major sponsors of the US bishops’ planned Eucharistic revival, set to take place over the next few years. 

“As supreme knight, I will prioritize new initiatives to strengthen the faith of men, and the faith of our families. I firmly believe that, more and more, our success as an Order will be judged by this standard,” he said. 

“Our growth depends on empowering men to be the husbands and fathers that God wants us to be. It is harder than ever, and for that reason, we must push forward as never before. It will require creative courage.”

In the past year, the Knights have provided more than $150 million in donations and more than 47 million hours of hands-on volunteer service, he said. 

Some notable charitable projects include support for Special Olympics, scholarships for seminarians, and funds to rebuild churches in the Middle East and other aid for persecuted Christians both there and in countries like Nigeria. 

In addition to financial aid, the Knights of Columbus have in the past advocated for persecuted Christians before the U.S. government, sending researchers to Iraq in 2016 to compile a 300-page report on the crimes of the Islamic State against Christians in the country.

The Knights announced a new initiative in mid-2020 to report on Christian persecution in Nigeria, where at least 60,000 Christians have been killed in the past two decades. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and the demographics overall are almost evenly split between Christians and Muslims.

The Knights are also working on a shrine to St. Kateri Tekakwitha in Gallup, New Mexico, and in July, Knights in South Dakota led a pilgrimage to the burial site of Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk, a revered Lakota medicine man and Catholic. 

In discussing the Knights’ charitable work, Kelly focused strongly on the Knights’ response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

“This was not our first pandemic. Father McGivney died during a pandemic less than a decade after our founding. A century ago, the Knights of Columbus confronted the Spanish Flu and emerged even stronger,” Kelly noted.

“This pandemic will be no different. Our duty was clear from the start. When loss and suffering struck our parishes and communities, the Knights responded, with service and sacrifice.”

In sum, Knights donated nearly $7.7 million to community and parish projects, Kelly said, as well as 1.2 million pounds of food, and almost a quarter million pints of blood. Through the Knights’ life insurance programs, the organization paid more than $524 million in death benefits, of which approximately $35 million was related to COVID. 

Kelly highlighted several projects undertaken by local chapters during the pandemic, including donations to the Little Sisters of the Poor, and donations of truckloads of food worth more than $335,000 to the Acoma, Navajo, and Zuni nations in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.

He also highlighted the Knights’ pro-life activities, including sponsoring numerous Marches for Life across North America. Kelly also highlighted the Knights’ Ultrasound Initiative, which since 2009 has placed more than 1,400 ultrasound machines in pregnancy resource centers. 

In terms of policy goals, Kelly reiterated the Knights’ strong support for the Hyde Amendment, federal policy since 1976 that prohibits funding of most elective abortions in Medicaid. This summer, the appropriations committee of the US House of Representatives advanced a funding bill without including the usual prohibitions on abortion funding.

At the time, Kelly called the elimination of Hyde “an extreme measure” that “is not what most Americans want and is out of step with our democracy. We urge Congress to preserve provisions like the bipartisan Hyde Amendment that ban the use of taxpayer funding for abortions and affirm the desire of the American public.”

Kelly also urged prayers for a favorable decision in an upcoming Supreme Court case over Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, which if allowed to come into force could open the door for states to ban abortion before the age of viability.

The Knights’ life insurance program has $116 billion in life insurance in force. Its asset advisors program provides Catholic social teaching-compliant investment services to individuals and institutions and manages over $26 billion in assets.

In 2019, the organization launched the Knights of Columbus Charitable Fund, whereby donors can set aside money to benefit charities aligned with Catholic teaching. Last year, the Charitable Fund enabled donors to grant more than $1.9 million to charities around the world.

Kelly urged all Knights to pray for Blessed McGivney’s intercession. He also urged prayers to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas and of the Knights. 

The Knights’ virtual convention continues Wednesday, beginning with an awards session and culminating with a memorial Mass. 

A message from Pope Francis, read during the opening Mass, included the pope’s gratitude for the Knights’ “unfailing support of our Christian brothers and sisters experiencing persecution for the sake of the Gospel,” as well as their “manifold charitable activities” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati: Living life as an 'explosion of joy'

Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati. / Faith on Tap Brisbane (CC BY NC 2.0).

Denver Newsroom, Aug 3, 2021 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

Few young Catholic Blessed are more popular in the United States than Pier Girogo Frassati. 

Numerous ministries, schools, youth camps and awards bear the name of the handsome and wealthy Italian Catholic activist who was equally known for his social justice concerns, his amiable character, his boisterous laughter and his accomplishments as an avid mountaineer.

Author Christine M. Wohar’s "Finding Frassati and Following His Path to Holiness" is meant to bring all the accomplishments of Frassati's short life into a practical set of principles that can guide anyone, especially younger and restless souls, into reconciling the true joy of life with the straight and narrow way to Heaven.

The book cover of "Finding Frassati and Following His Path to Holiness," by Christine M. Wohar / EWTN Publishing
The book cover of "Finding Frassati and Following His Path to Holiness," by Christine M. Wohar / EWTN Publishing

Wohar is the founder of FrassatiUSA, a Nashville-based organization that works to promote the spirituality of Blessed Frassati and to further his cause for canonization, and she clearly knows her subject intimately, having spent extended periods of time in Pollone with members of the Frassati family, including Pier Giorgio's younger sister and biographer Luciana.  

"His friends called him an explosion of joy. Mountain climbing, music, practical jokes, and political debates were among his many passions,” the book’s editors write. “With film-star looks, commonsense intelligence, and amazing athleticism, Pier Giorgio Frassati had every reason to pursue worldly success. He chose to focus on higher goals instead.”

Identified as “the man of the eight beatitudes” and recognized as one of the most fascinating and relatable saintly examples of the 20th century, he was devoted to the Eucharist and the Blessed Mother and led a mostly hidden life of charity that ultimately cost him his life at the age of 24.

When his body was exhumed in 1981, it was found to be perfectly incorrupt. He was beatified in 1990. All three popes since then have commended this dynamic young Italian’s life to the Church - and especially to younger Catholics.

In the words of St. John Paul II: “I, too, in my youth, felt the beneficial influence of his example and, as a student, I was impressed by the force of his Christian testimony.” 

In short, this is a book every parent should consider as the perfect present for teenage and young Catholic adults.

"Finding Frassati and Following His Path to Holiness"  - EWTN Publishing

Catholic gymnast Simone Biles makes triumphant return to Olympics

Simone Biles at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games / Salty View/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Aug 3, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

Although the Tokyo Olympics did not go as planned for Simone Biles, the Catholic 24-year-old gymnast made a triumphant return to competition on Tuesday and will leave Japan with two medals.

Biles had been favored to win as many as five gold medals in Tokyo, but withdrew from four events after revealing that she was suffering from “the twisties.” The twisties refers to a disconnect between a gymnast’s brain and body, and essentially amounts to a random loss of muscle memory. 

It was also reported on Tuesday that Biles was dealing with the death of her aunt while in Tokyo.

After returning to competition, Biles won a silver medal in the team competition and a bronze on the balance beam. She is now tied with Shannon Miller for the most Olympic medals ever by an American gymnast. 

Biles has spoken about her Catholic faith in the past, and she keeps a rosary in her gymnastics bag and prays prior to competitions. She says she lights a candle to St. Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes, prior to competition.

Her mother, Nellie Biles, was unable to join her in Tokyo this year due to the coronavirus protocols. Nellie kept a supportive presence for her daughter on Twitter, telling her to “be the best Simone.” 

On the day of the team final in Rio, Nellie tweeted that she was “wearing out (her) rosary beads.” The day of the vault final, she tweeted that her daughter was “Flying high, even Saint Sebastian is smiling.” 

Biles had told her followers on Instagram that the twisties appeared “randomly” the day after the Olympic qualifying round, and that she “literally can not tell up from down” when twisting in the air. She also shared videos of herself falling on her back while attempting routine uneven bars dismounts. 

While Biles had previously experienced the twisties on the floor and vault, in Tokyo she felt them during all four events. She began training privately in a gym in Tokyo in an attempt to get some of her skills back.

In the qualifying round of the Women’s Artistic Gymnastics competition, Biles performed as expected, qualifying for the event finals for each apparatus and winning first place for the all-around final. 

Then on the day of the team final on July 27, Biles - a gold medalist and two-time world champion on vault - faltered on her signature apparatus. She performed only one-and-a-half twists instead of the expected two-and-a-half, and nearly crashed into the mat on her landing. She left the arena and returned with the shocking announcement that she would withdraw from the remaining three rounds of the team final. 

Biles told reporters that she was not injured, but instead was going to focus on her mental health and would make decisions on the competition day-by-day. This announcement sparked controversy and outcry over her decision to “quit,” but those in the gymnastics community largely rallied behind her. 

Biles explained that after her uncharacteristically poor showing on vault, she withdrew from the competition to preserve the team’s chance at a medal of any color. 

The United States won a silver medal in the team final. Biles withdrew from the individual all-around, vault, uneven bars, and floor finals, but announced on August 2 that she would be competing in the following day’s balance beam final. 

Unlike her other routines, which featured anywhere from two to seven aerial twists, Biles’ balance beam routine did not contain twists aside from the dismount. Instead of competing her usual dismount - either a full-twisting double backward somersault, or a double-twisting double backward somersault, which is known as “The Biles” - she opted for a double backward piked somersault with no twists. 

She stuck the landing, and it was good enough for the bronze medal behind favorites Guan Chenchen and Tang Xijing of China. Guan and Tang had qualified for the final in first and second place, respectively, and held those positions. 

This article was updated on August 3 with more information.

More than 75 briefs filed supporting Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban at Supreme Court   

U.S. Supreme Court building / Addie Mena/CNA

Washington D.C., Aug 3, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

More than 75 amicus briefs have been filed at the Supreme Court supporting Mississippi’s ban on most elective abortions after 15 weeks, the state’s attorney general said last week. Many of the briefs were filed by Catholic or pro-life organizations. 

In the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization - a critical abortion case that will be argued before the court this fall - Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s office said hundreds of experts filed 76 amicus briefs, or legal documents requesting a certain outcome in a case. 

The National Catholic Bioethics Center was one of the amici curiae in the case. Its president, Joseph Meaney, told CNA on Tuesday that the case presents “a remarkable opportunity” for the court to substantially alter or overturn its previous rulings that claimed a right to abortion. 

Expressing optimism that the court will reevaluate or possibly overturn its Roe v. Wade decision as a result of the Dobbs case, Meaney said “there’s a real light at the end of the tunnel here.” 

“There’s a growing cultural momentum that people have had enough of abortion-on-demand,” Meaney said, adding the Supreme Court overstepped its authority in the Roe case by imposing legal abortion on the nation. 

“At the NCBC we always cherish the opportunity to talk about the dignity of the human person,” he said, adding, “this is another moment where they [the justices] can do the right thing.” 

Heather Hacker, the former assistant solicitor general of Texas, filed an amicus brief on behalf of law professors Mary Ann Glendon and Carter Snead, as well as one on behalf of The Catholic Association. Hacker told CNA that the high court’s abortion jurisprudence “is not grounded in the text, history, or tradition of the Constitution.” 

Hacker said the brief for the law professors argued that Roe “was a leap when it was created, it’s been criticized by scholars since then ranging the political spectrum.” 

“Every time the court since Roe has tried to fix its abortion jurisprudence, it’s esentially made it worse,” Hacker said.  

On behalf of The Catholic Association, Hacker argued that at the time of the Roe decision in 1973, “our understanding of fetal development was very limited.”

Modern ultrasound technology means “you can really see the baby’s humanity, and that was something really not contemplated by Roe,” Hacker said.   

Dr. Grazie Christie, a policy advisor for The Catholic Association, told CNA there has been “tremendous change and advancement in the science since Roe versus Wade.” 

“There is really no mystery to the fact that at 15 weeks the fetus is very much alive and very human,” Christie said, adding that the understanding of fetal pain has changed as well. 

“It used to be thought that a baby couldn’t feel pain until the third trimester,” Christie said. “Now, we know it could be as early as 12 weeks.” 

Another brief was filed on behalf of pro-life feminists, including the group New Wave Feminists. The group’s founder, Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, said in a statement to CNA, “For far too long feminists have been fighting for a piece of the pie while settling for the crumbs.” 

“We’re here to demand a future where women are able to participate in society without having to sacrifice their children on the altar of ‘equality,’” Herndon-De La Rosa said. “We are able to do something men cannot – bring new life into this world. Patriarchy gained its power by using violence against the vulnerable, and we refuse to replicate that model as it has no place in a truly equitable future for every member of the human family.”

In her statement last week, Attorney General Fitch said, “As evident by the compelling briefs filed here by legal experts, medical providers, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, there are countless reasons why the Court should return the abortion discussion to the legislative branch.” 

“Science and society have changed dramatically in the 50 years since Roe, and it will only continue to march forward,” Fitch said. “It is time to release states from these outdated standards and allow lawmakers who are accountable to the people to decide how best to promote dignity and support for mothers and children.”

Archbishop Cordileone named prior of historic order of Catholic knights  

Members of the U.S. delegation of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St. George / U.S. Delegation of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St. George.

Washington D.C., Aug 3, 2021 / 13:05 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco was recently named the new prior of a historic order of knighthood.

Cordileone will serve as principal chaplain to the U.S. delegation of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St. George. The Order is an organization of Catholics who prioritize the propagation of the faith and support Catholic education, vocations, the restoration of churches, and various charitable projects.

Noting Cordileone’s “southern Italian heritage and his humble orthodoxy,” Brendan Young, executive director of the order, told CNA on August 2 that the archbishop “is a natural choice for assuming the priorate of the Constantinian Order's American Delegation which he will lead spiritually for years to come.”

Young said the order's origins date to the Roman Emperor Constantine's vision of the Holy Cross at Milvian Bridge in 312 A.D.; the order received papal approval in the 1500's. 

“It was founded as a military religious order, but developed into a dynastic order, always fully Catholic and with papal approval,” Young told CNA, “but never under the direct jurisdiction of the Holy See like the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre or the Order of Malta.”

“Membership in the Order goes much deeper than attending events, or a matter of philanthropy for its own sake,” he said. “They [members] feel drawn to do more for Christ and His Church by participating in the Order’s unique mission.”

Cordileone was named prior by the order’s Grand Master, Prince Carlo of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, Duke of Castro, as well as the Grand Prior, Cardinal Renato Martino. The order’s website officially announced his appointment in a Aug. 2 press release.

Archbishop Cordileone will oversee clerical members of the order. Cordileone, who has not had a public investiture as of yet, became prior on Aug. 1.

Young stated that the American delegation’s support of Catholic education is “near and dear to the Archbishop’s heart,” as is a serious support of evangelization. Cordileone shares a vision with the organization on the sanctification of the family through Catholic education, Young said. 

The order’s national delegate, John Viola, said it was an “incomparable honor” to have Cordileone as the prior. 

“For centuries, the Constantinian Order has been dedicated to the glorification of the Cross, the propagation of the Faith, and the defense of Holy Mother Church,” Viola said in a statement provided to CNA. “I can think of few prelates who have lived this vocation more actively and passionately than Archbishop Cordileone."

The Order has been in the U.S. since 1979, and was officially incorporated there in 1989. Currently, its main outreach is in support of Catholic education, vocations and the restoration of churches, as well as financial and practical assistance to the poor. 

Young told CNA the delegation helps support a school in Lahore, Pakistan run by the Religious of Jesus and Mary. Last year, he said, the delegation also raised $50,000 as part of a worldwide fundraiser to help Italian hospitals at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic; the global fundraiser brought in a total of over 230,000 euros. 

The order runs events around the country, but Young said that Cordileone will most likely preside at the annual or biannual investiture ceremony, and attend the annual council meetings. “But the day to day is handled by the Delegation’s Subprior, Fr. Edmund Luciano of the Diocese of Metuchen, NJ,” he said.

The order’s principal feast days are Sept. 14, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and Apr. 23, the feast of St. George. 

This article was updated on August 3.

Young told CNA that the order is open to adult Catholics, both men and women, “in good standing” with the Church. 

Catholic exorcist says Converse pentagram shoes ‘create a fascination with evil’

Converse Pentagram Sneakers / Image via screenshot. Instagram @Converse

Washington D.C., Aug 3, 2021 / 10:32 am (CNA).

A Catholic exorcist said on Tuesday that a recently-unveiled Converse shoe with a pentagram design could lead to a fascination with the occult.

“The danger with these types of things,” Fr. Vincent Lampert told CNA, “is that they create a fascination with evil.”

Warning: the photos shown below may be disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.

The shoe, which became available for purchase Jul. 27, is currently sold out. Named the TURBODRK Chuck 70, it was designed by the famous fashion icon Rick Owens in partnership with Converse. The design contains an upside-down pentagram on both the sole and the heel of the shoe, with an exaggerated downward-facing point of the symbol. 

“The aesthetic is all about disrupting formality—embracing traditional structure and then blowing it up,” the Instagram account of Converse wrote in a post revealing the shoe design. 

Converse shared a picture, in a following Instagram post, of two people dressed in black holding complimentary poses to create the exaggerated shape of an upside-down pentagram. 

The pentagram is a historic symbol used in many contexts, including by Freemasons, on national flags such as those of Morocco and Ethiopia, and in modern occult practices by Wiccans. The upside-down pentagram with a goat’s head inside is the official symbol of the Church of Satan.

In the post, Owens is quoted as saying he had used the pentagram in fashion “for a long time because obviously, it has adolescent occult associations.” Owens said the pentagram refers to an “alternate system,” and suggests a “pursuit of sensation” and the “pursuit of pleasure.”

“But one of the main things that I think it suggests,” he said, “is empathy and a consideration of systems of living that might not be standard. So that leads us to be more accepting and tolerant of other systems, which I think is a good thing.” 

Fr. Lampert told CNA that while use of such a symbol might simply be “entertainment,” it could foster a harmful introduction to the occult.

“At first glance one might think that a pentagram on a sneaker may seem to be nothing but harmless fun,” Fr. Lampert said. “We may think of it as nothing more than some form of entertainment but the devil can use this interest in things associated with the occult as an entry point to enter a person’s life.”

Lampert told CNA that seeing the pentagram on the sneaker could lead to greater curiosity about the demonic world, “and the person’s life begins to spiral downwards.”

“Fascination with the evil one” is not what should be fostered, Lampert told CNA. Instead, society should be promoting that the human person is created in the image and likeness of God and has the innate desire for God, he said. 

Owens, the Converse post said, had “emerged from the glam-rock and grunge underground to become one of fashion’s essential iconoclasts,” noting that his “DRKSHDW diffusion line, launched in 2005, blends punk edge with couture-like sophistication.”

In a 2019 interview with Nathan Heller for Vogue Magazine, Owens revealed he was once a Catholic who then “fell off.”

During the interview at Owen’s 2019 residence in Paris, he and Heller visited the nearby historic Sainte-Clotilde Basilica church. Owens said that he enjoyed the “space” of the church being part of his life. “When I was growing up, religion was my first example of the connection between exoticism and the morality of behavior. There was glamour, but there was also a sense of higher purpose,” Owens said.

Owens had previously visited the church with his parents to discuss “serious matters,” Heller wrote.

Heller reported that in 2018 Owens considered having a fashion show in the basilica. Owens did not find the idea irreverent, “because it had become his church-a deeply personal, sacred place- and he felt duly protective of it.”

Converse is a subsidiary of its parent company, Nike Inc. Earlier this year, famous rapper Lil Nas X began selling Nike-branded “Satan Shoes” that supposedly contained one drop of human blood, a pentagram, and had “Luke 10:18” stitched on them. The shoes cost $1,018 per pair and sold out in less than one minute. The verse of Luke 10:18 states, “Jesus said, ‘I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky.’”

The New York Times reported in April that the shoe line was recalled because Nike did not authorize sale of its design. After Nike sued the subsidiary company, MSCHF, the shoes became available for return. 

The Times reported that Nike said it had nothing to do with the shoe line. Nike announced the release of Rick Owens’ pentagram shoes on its website in July. 

Catholic schools proud of US Olympic medalist Katie Ledecky


Washington D.C., Aug 2, 2021 / 18:01 pm (CNA).

American Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky will be leaving Tokyo with four medals, making her the most decorated female swimmer of all time - and her Catholic alma maters are proud.

In the Olympic games in Tokyo, Ledecky, 24, won the gold medal in the first-ever women’s 1,500-meter freestyle, as well as in the 800 free. Ledecky had won the 800 meter freestyle at both the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics, and took the silver in the 400 free and in the 4x200 freestyle relay.

Ledecky is a native of Maryland and an alumna of Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, an all-girls independent Catholic school in Bethesda. She was joined on Team USA by fellow Stone Ridge alumna Phoebe Bacon. Bacon, 18, competed in her first Olympics and placed fifth in the 200 backstroke. 

In a statement provided to CNA, administrators at Stone Ridge expressed their delight in their Olympian alumnae. 

“Stone Ridge is incredibly proud of these alumnae athletes, not only for what they accomplish in the sport of swimming, but for the values and character they represent,” head of school Catherine Ronan Karrells said. . 

Karrells noted that the school community has seen the two swimmers train and compete for years, “consistently inspired by their dedication to hitting their goals in the pool while also fully embracing the academic, community, and spiritual components of their education.” 

Andrew Maguire, the school’s athletic director, called Ledecky and Bacon women who “have taken their humble and faith-based roots with them to this Olympic stage and it has proven to serve them well.” 

He said that while students at Stone Ridge, “Katie and Phoebe both led by example with their passion for representing (the school) and their incredible competitive drive for achieving at a level far greater than their peers.” 

Ledecky and Bacon will be “role models for future U.S. Swimmers,” said Maguire, and that he cannot wait to welcome the two back to campus in the future. 

“I am so proud of them for setting their athletic goals as high as possible and putting in the work and commitment to achieve those goals - both swimmers deserve all of the accomplishments and accolades they achieve and both will always be Stone Ridge Gators,” Maguire said. 

In an interview with NBC immediately following her victory in the 800 free, Ledecky laughed at the idea that she had just finished her last swimming competition. She noted that the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris are only three years away, and even hinted that the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles could be in her future. 

The Catholic Standard reported that Ledecky and Bacon were paired as “buddies” at their Catholic elementary school, Little Flower School in Bethesda, Maryland. Their families both attend the parish, which sports a sign out front praising its parishioners’ success in the pool. 

Msgr. Peter Vaghi, who is the pastor of Church of the Little Flower, said that he was “so very proud of these two daughters of our parish and school,” and that the parish would be praying for them while they were in Tokyo. 

Stone Ridge, meanwhile, held a pep rally for its pair of Olympians on July 23, and sold shirts cheering them on. 

The Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters, who formerly administered Little Flower School and reside in the parish’s convent, were “particularly fired up” after both women qualified for the Olympics. 

Ledecky has long spoken about how her Catholic faith has kept her grounded, saying that she finds the Hail Mary to be a “calming” prayer and prays it before races. 

In 2016, she told the National Catholic Register that she appreciates the “consistency” of Catholicism and has a particular devotion to Mary. 

“I’ve counted on my faith to give me strength through both training and competition — but also in school, with my family and everyday life,” she said in 2016. 

“So while my goals in the pool have changed, my faith remains something that’s consistent and something I can always rely on,” said Ledecky.