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Catholics with mental health struggles aren’t alone, Phoenix bishop says

null / Photo credit: Chanintorn.v / Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Sep 24, 2022 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Catholics who struggle with mental illness, and their loved ones who want to help them, will soon find more formal support in the Phoenix Diocese. Bishop John Dolan has announced the launch of an office dedicated to Catholic mental health ministry.

“There are lots of people who are dealing with loved ones who are in crisis,” Dolan told CNA Sept. 19. “It’s a quiet work of charity, and obviously they need all the help they can get.”

The bishop hopes the new office will “let people know that they’re not alone when it comes to mental health.” He emphasized the need to help people talk and communicate about mental illness.

Dolan announced the office on Sept. 4 at Sts. Simon and Jude Cathedral during a Mass of Remembrance for those who died by suicide, the diocesan newspaper The Catholic Sun reported.

During the Mass, the bishop led a procession of clergy. Joined by others in the congregation, they placed carnations in baskets in front of a shrine at the cathedral. Each carnation represented a person who died by suicide. The diocese had solicited suicide victims’ names to be commemorated during the Mass and had received more than 1,200.

The issue is personal for the new bishop. In a video message “Sharing My Story: A Life Changed by Suicide,” posted to the diocese’s YouTube channel, Dolan recounted how his family lost an older brother, a sister, and her husband to suicide.

“Losing a loved one is very, very hard. When we lose a loved one through suicide, it’s doubly difficult,” Dolan said in the video. “I had support from the Church but not ongoing support, real opportunities to continue to talk about it. I buried so much that I just never really looked into growing as I should have grown.”

Dolan, who was installed as bishop of Phoenix on Aug. 2, has co-edited a pastoral handbook, “Responding to Suicide.”

Mental illness is relatively common. The National Institutes for Mental Health says that as of 2020, nearly one in five U.S. adults — about 53 million people — were living with a mental illness. An estimated 14.2 million U.S. adults — 5.6% of the adult population — suffer from a severe mental illness. Of these, only 65% received mental health treatment in the previous year.

The planned focus of the Office for Catholic Mental Health Ministry includes mental health education for clergy and laity. The office aims to provide opportunities for Catholics to find support in accompanying friends and loved ones who struggle with mental illness.

The new office will provide priests with a mental health “first-aid kit” to help them advise or respond to those in need, Dolan said.

The educational aspect will aim to help clergy and religious know more about mental health and get basic training “so that they don’t jump to conclusions and kind of over-spiritualize behavior,” Dolan said. This educational effort should help inculcate in clergy “a broad view of what mental health is” so that they don’t “try to solve the issues on their own.”

Education will come through the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. The council, founded in 1969, is an advocacy and educational group that represents more than 3,100 mental health and substance use treatment organizations.

“They basically try to train them about what to expect and what to look for,” Dolan said. “It’s strictly clinical in education; it doesn’t focus on any of the spiritual aspects.”

The organization’s Mental Health First Aid program has trained more than 2.6 million people in the U.S. “to identify, understand, and respond to signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use challenges.” The training covers common signs and symptoms of mental health challenges and substance use challenges, how to interact with a person in crisis, and how to connect a person with help. It also includes content on trauma, substance use, and self-care.

The psychological sciences have a role to play in Catholic thought and practice, Dolan said.

“We see the science of psychology and psychiatry as a valued gift to our human person. We should not shy away from that,” he told CNA.

The aim is not to increase the burdens on priests. Rather, they will have a resource to which they can direct those in need. Dolan aims to have locations in each of the diocese’s 15 deaneries for people suffering from mental health problems, behavioral issues, trauma, or bereavement.

Dolan said he is not yet familiar with the particulars of how the diocese’s current seminarians are being prepared.  

Speaking generally of seminarians, he said that “counseling is perhaps one aspect of their training” and future priests receive only “little samplings” of psychology unless they are taking classes on the subject in their university or seminary.

A 2016 document from the Dicastery for the Clergy, “Ratio Fundamentalis,” discusses the formation of seminarians. It notes that the “useful contribution” of psychology to pastoral theology will benefit seminarians’ education as future pastors.

The Office for Catholic Mental Health Ministry will also have an advocacy role. It will seek to improve government policy and increase funding that addresses mental health. Dolan said this will help “to make sure that mental health is at the front of all of our conversations, particularly as we’re seeing more and more people on the streets with mental health disorders.”

According to the bishop, there are a “whole host of reasons” why some homeless people live on the streets, including trauma, mental disorders, or drug use disorders. The simple situation of experiencing homelessness causes additional anxiety and mental problems, he added.

The office, set to open in January 2023, has financial support from the Phoenix-based Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust. Those responsible for organizing the new office are Dr. Anne Vargas-Leveriza of the diocese’s Office of Child and Youth Protection and Dr. Maria Chavira, the diocese’s chancellor.

Dolan, a former auxiliary bishop of San Diego, noted previous Catholic statements like the California bishops’ 2018 letter on caring for those who suffer from mental health.

He said Catholic dioceses in San Diego, San Francisco, and Orange are already working to address mental health, often under the efforts of other diocesan departments. He noted the work of the University of San Diego-based Catholic Institute for Mental Health Ministry, which seeks to train mental health ministry leaders at the diocesan and parish level across the U.S.

Pope Francis: Young people are missing the ‘spiritual capital’ that gives life meaning

Pope Francis at the Economy of Francesco conference for young economists, researchers, and activists in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 24, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Rome Newsroom, Sep 24, 2022 / 07:42 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Saturday lamented the loss of spiritual meaning in the lives of many young people today — a lack that is often replaced by an undue focus on material goods, he said.

“Human beings, created in the image and likeness of God, are seekers of meaning before being seekers of material goods. That is why the first capital of any society is spiritual capital,” he said at an international conference on the economy in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 24.

“Young people especially suffer from this lack of meaning,” the pope said. “Faced with the pain and uncertainties of life, they often find their souls depleted of the spiritual resources needed to process suffering, frustration, disappointment and grief.”

“Look at the youth suicide rate, how it has gone up,” he added.

Pope Francis attended the final day of a Sept. 22-24 conference, The Economy of Francesco, in Assisi, Italy. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis attended the final day of a Sept. 22-24 conference, The Economy of Francesco, in Assisi, Italy. Vatican Media.

“Technology can do much: it teaches us the ‘what’ and the ‘how’: but it does not tell us the ‘why,’” he said, “and so our actions become sterile and do not bring fulfillment to life, not even economic life.”

Pope Francis spoke about the importance of spirituality in an address to participants in The Economy of Francesco, a Sept. 22-24 conference for young economists, entrepreneurs, and researchers from around the world.

The initiative followed a call from Pope Francis to young people to build “a different kind of economy” based on greater care for the poor and the environment.

Francis traveled to Assisi for the final day of the meeting on Sept. 24. Before addressing attendees, the pope watched a skit based on Isaiah 21:1-12, followed by a meditation on the meaning of the scripture passage.

There was also a musical performance, presentations, a video of the first two days of the conference, and participant testimonies from economists, and activists for the environment, women’s rights, and social issues from Italy, Benin, Argentina, Thailand, Kenya, Afghanistan, and Poland.

‘I am counting on you’

Throughout his speech, Pope Francis emphasized the need for young adults to put their energy and creativity to good, practical, use to build a more just economy.

“You young people, with the help of God, know what to do, you can do it,” he said.

“According to Scripture, young people are the bearers of a spirit of knowledge and intelligence. It was the young David who humbled the arrogance of the giant Goliath,” he pointed out.

Pope Francis speaks at The Economy of Francesco conference in Assisi, Italy, on Sept. 24, 2022. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis speaks at The Economy of Francesco conference in Assisi, Italy, on Sept. 24, 2022. Vatican Media.

“Indeed,” he continued, “when civil society and businesses lack the skills of the young, the whole of society withers and the life of everyone is extinguished. There is a lack of creativity, optimism, enthusiasm. A society and an economy without young people is sad, pessimistic and cynical.”

“I say this with seriousness: I am counting on you. Please don’t leave us undisturbed, and lead by example.”

‘Poor at the center’

The pope also reflected on the example of Saint Francis of Assisi and what it means to help the marginalized. “Developing an economy inspired by [Saint Francis] means committing ourselves to putting the poor at the center,” he said.

“Starting with them, we look at the economy; starting with them, we look at the world,” he noted. “There is no ‘Economy of Francesco’ without respect, care and love for the poor, for every poor person, for every fragile and vulnerable person — from conception in the womb to the sick person with disabilities, to the elderly person in difficulty.”

“As long as our system ‘produces’ discarded people, and we operate according to this system, we will be accomplices of an economy that kills,” he underlined, challenging young economists to ask themselves if they are doing enough to change structures, or if they are content with just slapping a coat of paint on the house.

“Perhaps our response should not be based on how much we can do but on how we are able to open new paths so that the poor themselves can become protagonists of change,” he said.

He closed his address with a prayer to God the Father, asking his “forgiveness for having damaged the earth, for not having respected indigenous cultures, for not having valued and loved the poorest of the poor, for having created wealth without communion.”

“Living God, who with your Spirit have inspired the hearts, hands and minds of these young people and sent them on the way to a promised land, look kindly on their generosity, love and desire to spend their lives for a great ideal. Bless them in their undertakings, studies and dreams; accompany them in their difficulties and sufferings, help them to transform their difficulties and sufferings into virtue and wisdom,” he prayed.

Pope Francis joins Economy of Francesco participants in signing a pact promoting an "economy of the Gospel" in Assisi, Italy, on Sept. 24, 2022. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis joins Economy of Francesco participants in signing a pact promoting an "economy of the Gospel" in Assisi, Italy, on Sept. 24, 2022. Vatican Media.

Economy of Francesco Pact

At the end of the encounter, Pope Francis joined participants in signing a pact promoting “an economy of the Gospel.”

The full text of the pact is below:

We, young economists, entrepreneurs, and changemakers, called here to Assisi from every part of the world, aware of the responsibility that rests on our generation, commit ourselves today, individually and all collectively to spending our lives so that the economy of today and tomorrow becomes an economy of the Gospel, and therefore:

an economy of peace and not of war, an economy that opposes the proliferation of arms, especially the most destructive, an economy that cares for creation and does not misuse it, an economy at the service of the human person, the family and life, respectful of every woman, man, and child, the elderly, and especially those most frail and vulnerable, an economy where care replaces rejection and indifference, an economy that leaves no one behind, in order to build a society in which the stones rejected by the dominant mentality become cornerstones, an economy that recognizes and protects secure and dignified work for everyone, an economy where finance is a friend and ally of the real economy and of labor and not against them, an economy that values and safeguards the cultures and traditions of peoples, all living things and the natural resources of the Earth, an economy that fights poverty in all its forms, reduces inequality and knows how to say with Jesus and Francis, “Blessed are the poor,” an economy guided by an ethics of the human person and open to transcendence, an economy that creates wealth for all, that engenders joy and not just riches, because happiness that is not shared is incomplete.

We believe in this economy. It is not a utopia, because we are already building it. And some of us, on particularly bright mornings, have already glimpsed the beginning of the promised land.

Meet Chloe Cole, the 18-year-old leading the fight to protect children from transgender surgeries

Chloe Cole in her AirBnb in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 21, 2022. A self-described “former trans kid,” she de-transitioned after undergoing years of puberty blockers and an irreversible double mastectomy at the age of 15. / Edie Heipel/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 24, 2022 / 06:30 am (CNA).

An 18-year-old woman is rapidly becoming one of the most powerful voices against transitioning children at a moment in which most politicians and media outlets lack the courage to speak out. 

Chloe Cole is a self-described “former trans kid” who de-transitioned after undergoing years of puberty blockers and an irreversible double mastectomy at the age of 15. 

Cole is now traveling across the country to share her story and raise the alarm about gender transition procedures on children, a growing trend she calls “child abuse” and “medical experimentation.”

“I’m planning to keep doing this until it stops,” Cole told CNA Wednesday in an interview.

Cole, who grew up in Northern California, was just 11 years old when she was first exposed to gender ideology through online platforms.

“I kind of lacked female role models growing up,” Cole told CNA, citing body image issues, early exposure to LGBTQ content, and unmonitored internet access as factors that propelled her struggle with gender dysphoria.   

Cole was also diagnosed with autism and ADHD at age 7, which she says are “common comorbidities with gender dysphoria.”

The link between autism and gender dysphoria has been scientifically studied and reported on by independent journalist Abigail Shrier, suggesting that children on the spectrum are particularly vulnerable to the pull of transgenderism.

A ‘false’ choice

It didn’t take long before medical professionals fast-tracked Cole into medically transitioning from a girl into a boy, a trend she says has exploded among children.

Cole said Wednesday that her parents “were scared and desperate for answers” when she first told them she was a boy and that their decision to sign off on transitioning her was “forced under extreme duress.”

“The gender clinic presented my parents with the classic false dichotomy: Would you rather have a dead daughter or a living son?” Cole said. 

Cole was put on puberty blockers and testosterone at just 13 years old, which caused a ripple of negative side effects including unbearable hot flashes and what she describes as an endless feeling of boredom. 

“For me it was pretty bad, like they were making my whole body really itchy. There were certain days that I couldn’t even wear sweaters or long pants in cold weather,” Cole told CNA.

“I felt like there was this feeling of boredom that just wouldn’t go away. I would just wake up waiting for the next best thing,” she remembered. 

Cole continues to experience joint pain from weakened bone density — a known side effect of puberty blockers — as well as certain allergies and ongoing urinary tract infection symptoms. 

But all of this pales in comparison to the double mastectomy Cole underwent at age 15, which permanently removed both of her breasts. 

“The name of the operation I went under was ‘double mastectomy with nipple grafts,’ meaning they make cuts under the breast and take out the tissue underneath,” she explained. 

Cole added that the surgeons also surgically removed her nipples and grafted them back on in a “more masculine position” — creating serious side effects that she will deal with for the rest of her life. 

“They severed the nerve endings. The sensation is never the same again and there are permanent changes in pigmentation — it might not ever look the same,” she explained. 

Cole says she was given the impression from doctors that her grafts would mostly be healed by a year and a half after the surgery, but she still has complications more than two years later. 

“The top layer of skin is not really healing over. It emits this fluid constantly so I have to wear non-adhesive bandages over them all the time.” 

But what Cole most regrets is how “the beauty of motherhood” was stripped from her at an age when she wasn’t able to fully comprehend the loss. 

“At 15, I wasn’t really thinking. I was a kid, just trying to fit in — not thinking about the possibility of becoming a parent.” 

Cole told CNA she went through a long period of grief as she came to regret the mastectomy and de-transitioned in 2021 — a realization that catalyzed after she took a psychology class studying the attachment between mothers and infants. 

The study, which examined rhesus monkeys, observed the importance of mother-child bonding through breastfeeding. 

“At the time when I was taking this class, I was 11 months post-op. I realized what I took away from myself because I was allowed to make this decision when I was barely in my mid-teens,” Cole said.

“I’ll never have the experience, or even the option, of breastfeeding my children and bonding with them in that way.” 

‘Adults need to take a stand’

Cole has no plans to back down from advocating against gender transitions for children and hopes her story opens the eyes of parents of children struggling with gender dysphoria as well as lawmakers who have remained silent. 

“Spend time with your kids, keep them off technology for as long as possible. Let them know they’re loved and stay in touch with them. If they’re on the internet, monitor their usage,” she urged parents. 

“Adults need to take a stand,” Cole emphasized. “Complacency is what led to this happening to me in the first place.” 

“If you look away for even a second, it’s very contagious,” Cole said, speaking of what she calls “skewed information” that medical professionals are sharing on the internet.

Cole referenced Dr. Sidhbh Gallagher, a gender-affirming surgeon from Miami who advertises transition procedures to minors on her Tik-Tok account.  

“There’s definitely a money incentive, especially for those who are doing gender-affirming surgeries,” Cole said. “Surgeons get the most money out of this.” 

So far, Cole has traveled to five states across the U.S. — including her home state of California, Louisiana, Florida, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. — to bear witness to lawmakers about her experience and urge them to take a stand. 

In September, Cole testified against California Democrat Scott Weiner’s proposed S.B. 107, which would make the state a “sanctuary” for children to obtain irreversible gender surgeries without parental consent. 

Alliance Defending Freedom and over 40 other parental rights organizations wrote to California Gov. Gavin Newsom protesting the bill.

“This legislation allows the ‘taking of a child’ to California (without parental knowledge or consent) to obtain gender transition procedures — including puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and irreversible surgeries — and impermissibly gives California courts the power to strip custody from lawful and well-intentioned parents,” ADF urged.

Cole says that for the most part, politicians on both sides of the aisle have “just shied away from the issue.”

“Mostly they get into petty fights over it, but nothing has really been done about it,” she said.

CNA interviewed Cole the day after she testified outside Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in favor of a bill proposed by U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, that would criminalize gender procedures on minors. 

Greene’s Protect Children’s Innocence Act, H.R. 8731, would make it a Class C felony to perform gender transition procedures — including mastectomies, phalloplasties, and vaginoplasties — on minors. The bill is being supported by over 40 other Republican lawmakers.

“No child deserves to suffer under the knife of a gender-affirming surgeon,” Cole said in a press conference Sept. 21 unveiling the bill. “America’s children — all children — deserve better.”

“Chloe’s story is so important,” Taylor-Greene told CNA. “We’re so proud of her for being brave enough to come out and tell it, but her story isn’t the only one — there are many beyond her. If anyone is pushing this on children, they’re on the wrong side of history, and we will show that to be true.”

Suzanne Satterfield, a parental-rights activist based in Virginia, spent extensive time with Cole over her trip to D.C. to testify against child transitions.

“Chloe’s a ray of sunshine in the darkness that is looming over the children of today,” Satterfield said to CNA. 

“She could easily stay out of the public’s eye and live a much different life. But she has a big heart and has chosen to sound the alarm of the irreversible damage being done to children at the hands of ‘trusted health care providers.’”

When asked if she was happy, Cole’s face broke into a smile as she nodded vigorously.  

“I’m a lot happier today,” she said, her eyes shining.

“Doing what I’m doing now is giving me a purpose. That’s something that I’ve been seeking for quite a while.”

‘Unconscionable’: California Gov. Newsom cites Jesus on billboards promoting abortion

California State Governor Gavin Newsom. / Matt Gush/Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., Sep 23, 2022 / 18:56 pm (CNA).

When Gov. Gavin Newsom of California unveiled his plan for a billboard advertising campaign inviting women to travel to his state to have abortions, he was swiftly condemned by Catholics, who called the ads “unconscionable” and “blasphemy.”

Why the strong reaction? The abortion-selling ads include a passage from Scripture:

“Need an abortion? California is ready to help,” reads the message to be displayed along Indiana and Oklahoma highways.

In smaller lettering, the ads cite Jesus Christ’s words in the Gospel of Mark: “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these. -Mark 12:31”

“It is unconscionable that these ads distort Scripture to support abortion, specifically in states that have already dramatically limited abortion in favor of supporting life,” Kathleen Domingo, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, told CNA Sept. 23.

Funding ads in other states is “nothing more than a political stunt by our governor,” she said. “It is virtue-signaling that California, with our extremely permissive abortion laws, is superior to red and purple states enacting abortion restrictions.”

Newsom, a Democrat, is expected to win re-election as California governor this fall. On Sept. 15 he announced seven versions of the pro-abortion ads that would run on billboards in seven states that restrict abortion.

The ads, which list an abortion access website hosted by the California state government, note that they are paid for by Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign. His campaign committee had almost $24 million cash on hand as of June 30, according to filings available on the website of the California Secretary of State.

Domingo said the use of scripture to back abortion was misleading.

“If we truly loved our neighbor as ourselves, we would want the best for our neighbor, which means true comprehensive support services so that no mother or father is misled or coerced into ending a child’s life, and no mother or father walks their parenthood journey alone,” she told CNA.

She added that basic needs aren’t being met in Newsom’s home state.

“California is not just providing abortions but promoting abortion as a solution for women,” said Domingo. “When California families are struggling to pay for gas, afford rent, and put food on the table, promoting the violence of abortion solves none of the urgent problems countless families are facing.”

CNA sought comment from several Catholic dioceses in California, Mississippi and Oklahoma but did not receive a response by publication.

Chris Check, president of the California-based apologetics organization Catholic Answers, said the ads “commit blasphemy by co-opting Sacred Scripture in service of abortion.”

Writing in a Sept. 21 commentary for Catholic Answers, Check noted that the biblical quotation refers to another commandment in which it should be grounded, the preceding Bible verse where Jesus says: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

Check cited other verses which stressed the need to care for widows and orphans. A woman abandoned by her husband or boyfriend is a sort of widow, and the unwanted unborn child is “a sort of orphan,” he said.

Christianity has rejected abortion from its earliest years. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says "since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion."

Pope Francis has spoken of abortion as an aspect of a "throwaway culture" that also rejects those in need.

As for Newsom, his political rhetoric has labeled bans on abortion “un-American.” He contended that his Republican foes are “literally killing women.”

“The idea that these Republican politicians are seeking to ‘protect life’ is a total farce,” Newsom said on Sept. 15. “They are seeking to restrict and control their constituents and take away their freedom.”

Newsom’s billboard ads refer to a California abortion access website that includes information about abortion and financial aid for the procedure. The website includes telehealth information about receiving abortion drugs by mail. It provides information for specific groups including those under age 18, those who live outside of California, and immigrants and undocumented people.

The website also repeats criticism of crisis pregnancy centers that do not perform abortions, saying they may provide “false, medically inaccurate information” to convince women not to have an abortion. It links to a Planned Parenthood blog post about pregnancy centers and a California Department of Justice bulletin. The bulletin attempts to distinguish crisis pregnancy centers from “reproductive healthcare facilities” and claims crisis pregnancy centers “do not provide comprehensive reproductive healthcare.”

Newsom said the ads will run in seven of the states with the “most restrictive” anti-abortion laws. In the governor’s view, the ads “explain how women can access care — no matter where they live.”

“To any woman seeking an abortion in these anti-freedom states: (California) will defend your right to make decisions about your own health,” he said.

Billboard ads are also planned for Indiana, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota and Texas. The ads tell potential readers that these states “don’t own your body. You Do.” Some of these ads show the back of a woman in a white dress, with her hands handcuffed behind her.

These five ads do not include the citation from the New Testament but still refer to the State of California’s abortion website.

For the Catholic commentator Check, the ads should be a cause for fear, prayer and action.

“These blasphemies of Gavin Newsom and the other leaders of California should fill us with fear — fear for him, of course, whose soul is in grievous danger of a fate too horrible to comprehend,” said Check, who also voiced concern for those he might influence.

He encouraged prayers for the governor and for Newsom’s local Catholic bishop. He also encouraged Catholics to engage in their own spiritual formation and to support the work of crisis pregnancy centers, pro-life sidewalk counseling outside abortion clinics and the work of other pro-life non-profits.

FBI raids home of pro-life leader on questionable charges

Planned Parenthood gets millions of dollars in federal support each year. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 23, 2022 / 17:56 pm (CNA).

A Catholic speaker and author who regularly prays the rosary outside an abortion clinic in Philadelphia was arrested by at least 20 SWAT team members on Friday for an alleged physical assault of a Planned Parenthood clinic escort last year. The alleged assault has been disputed by Houck as well as the legality of the arrest it is based upon.

Mark Houck, 48, of Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, is the co-founder and president of the Catholic ministry The King’s Men, which aims to give spiritual formation to Catholic men. 

News of Houck’s arrest on Friday morning was widely shared on social media after well-known Catholic speaker, Chris Stefanick, posted about it online. Houck’s wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, told CNA about the arrest Friday.

“A SWAT team of about 25 came to my house with about 15 vehicles and started pounding on our door,” Ryan-Marie Houck said. “They said they were going to break in if he didn't open it. And then they had about five guns pointed at my husband, myself, and basically at my kids,” she added.

She said that multiple agencies were present at the arrest and that she was handed a warrant after she requested to see it.

Stefanick called the arrest, "government sponsored bullying & intimidation."

The FBI confirmed to CNA Friday that Houck was arrested outside his residence Friday morning “without incident.” In a press release, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said that Houck is being charged with a violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, more commonly referred to as the FACE Act.

The federal indictment says that Houck twice assaulted a 72-year-old man who was a patient escort at a Planned Parenthood clinic at 1144 Locust St. in Philadelphia on Oct. 13, 2021.

According to the indictment, Houck shoved the escort, identified only with the initials B.L., to the ground as B.L was attempting to escort two patients. Houck also “verbally confronted” and “forcefully shoved” B.L. to the ground in front of Planned Parenthood the same day, the indictment says. The indictment says that B.L. was injured and needed medical attention.

Brian Middleton, the Houck family spokesman, maintains the injury was minor, only requiring “a Bandaid on his finger.”

According to Father James Hutchins, who serves as the chaplain of Houck's organization, the case against Houck may have been deliberately exaggerated.

A statement from Joe and Ashley Garecht on a recently created fundraising page for Houck described a very different scenario--one of defense of Houck's child.

"Last year, Mark and his son were praying in front of the PP at 12th and Locust. When one of the escorts began harassing Mark's son they walked down the street away from the entrance to the building. The escort followed them, and when he continued yelling at Mark's son, Mark pushed him away," the couple said, noting that the incident is on video.

According to the Garechts, "that hasn't stopped Planned Parenthood and the Biden Administration. With no prior warning, and in spite of the fact that Mark is represented by an attorney, Biden's Justice Department sent a fully armed SWAT team into a home full of young children at daybreak, to arrest a father for protecting his son."

If he is convicted, Houck could face up to 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $350,000, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. 

The FACE Act “prohibits violent, threatening, damaging and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain or provide reproductive health services,” according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). 

Violating the FACE Act is a federal crime and protects “all patients, providers, and facilities that provide reproductive health services, including pro-life pregnancy counseling services and any other pregnancy support facility providing reproductive health care,” according to the DOJ.

Ryan-Marie Houck told CNA that her husband prays the rosary outside one of two different Planned Parenthood’s every Wednesday and hands out literature to anyone who wants it. She said that praying outside the clinic is part of The King’s Men ministry. 

“This was a gross over-reach from the ‘justice’ department with excessive use of force and trumped up allegations and our story needs to be told truthfully,” Ryan-Marie Houck said in a text. “These are false allegations.”

She said that he had his first appearance before a judge and was subsequently released on Friday. As of Sunday night, an online fund drive had raised more than $126,000 to help the family with legal costs.

"Planned Parenthood and its pro-abortion allies want to send a message of fear to the pro-life community of Pennsylvania," said the fundraising page.

"But we have a different message to share: We will not back down, we will not stop fighting to protect the lives of Pennsylvania's unborn children, and we WILL NOT TOLERATE the harassment of our leaders by a corrupt and politicized justice system."

This story was updated on September 25, 2022 with new facts provided by several sources.

Pro-life caucus forms in Colombia’s Congress in aftermath of legalization of abortion, assisted suicide

null / Credit: Pixabay

Denver Newsroom, Sep 23, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

This week it was announced that 54 members of Colombia’s Congress, including representatives and senators, joined the new pro-life caucus created to defend life, family, and religious freedom.

The announcement of the formation of the new multiparty caucus was made in a statement posted on social media Sept. 21 by several parliamentarians and by the United for Life organization.

Its creation was approved by the steering committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives, accepting the request of congressmen from various political parties, including the Conservative Party, Fair and Free Colombia, Democratic Center, Liberal Party, Radical Change, Green Alliance, and the Social Party of National Unity.

The statement explained that this new caucus “will give continuity to the efforts made by the Pro-Life Caucus that was constituted in the year 2020.”

“It will be made up of congressmen supporting the protection of life from conception to natural death, the safeguarding of the family in accordance with the provisions of Article 42 of the Political Constitution, and the defense of the guarantees for the exercise of freedom of religion and worship in the context of recent national and international events,” the statement explained. 

In a video posted on Twitter, the members of the pro-life caucus stated that “there is a major commitment to life, family, and religious freedom.”

The new pro-life caucus is made up of 25 representatives and 29 senators. Its members include Yenica Sugein Acosta, Daniel Restrepo, Teresa Enriquez, Juan Espinal, Mauricio Giraldo, and Luis Miguel López.

In February, Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled 5-4 to decriminalize abortion up to six months, or 24 weeks of pregnancy.

By a 6-3 vote, the Constitutional Court decriminalized assisted suicide in May. 

In late August, Colombian authorities dismantled the Catholic chapel in El Dorado International Airport located outside Bogotá to turn it into “a space for worship and neutral reflection.”

Just days ago, a member of the Liberal Party introduced a measure in the House of Representatives to dismantle the Catholic chapel in the capitol building where the Congress meets and turn it into a “a space of neutral worship,” despite the fact that there is already a space set aside for interreligious services.

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

Pastor and more than 80 others kidnapped in attacks on two Nigerian churches

null / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 23, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Armed men kidnapped more than 80 Christians last week in attacks on two separate churches in north-central and northwest Nigeria, reported Morning Star News.

On Sept. 17, militants raided the Cherubim and Seraphim Church in Suleja in Niger state and abducted dozens of worshippers gathered together for an all-night vigil, according to the report.

Morning Star News, a news service that covers the persecution of Christians worldwide, identified some of the attackers as Fulani herdsmen based on reports from witnesses.

Suleja resident Elisha Musa told a reporter from the news service: “The Fulani herdsmen kidnapped the pastor of the church and some of his members.”

“Soldiers from Zuma Rock Barracks, Suleja, who rushed to the church to rescue worshippers and repel the attackers got there hours after the attackers had left with the kidnapped victims,” Musa added.

Only days before the attack in Suleja, “suspected Fulani herdsmen and other terrorists” kidnapped at least 57 Christians during another all-night prayer vigil held at another Cherubim and Seraphim Church located in Kasuwan Magani in Nigeria’s Kaduna state, sources told Morning Star News.

More than a dozen escaped and 43 remain captive, said the Rev. John Joseph Hayab, Kaduna state chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria. The terrorists have demanded a ransom of 200 million Naira, or $465,294, according to the report.

In 2021 alone, 4,650 Christians were killed in Nigeria, according to the Christian nongovernmental organization Open Doors. In addition to Fulani herdsmen, the terrorist groups Boko Haram and ISWAP are believed to have been responsible for attacks on both Christians and Muslims in Nigeria.

Sixty-eight religious freedom advocates called on U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Sept. 19 to redesignate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) in the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report.

In November 2021, the State Department removed Nigeria from the list of CPCs despite the worsening situation for Christians in that country.

The Cherubim and Seraphim Church in Suleja and the Christian Association of Nigeria did not respond to requests for comment before publication time.

Spanish bishop to Belgian bishops: The Church doesn’t have authority to bless gay unions

null / Credit: Pixabay

Denver Newsroom, Sep 23, 2022 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The bishop of Orihuela-Alicante in Spain, José Ignacio Munilla, reminded the Belgian bishops that the blessing of gay unions goes against the teaching of the Catholic Church.

“It’s not that the Church doesn’t love. It’s that she has no authority to do such a thing," he cautioned.

The prelate underscored in his Sixth Continent program on Radio Maria in Spain that the Belgian bishops’ prayers for the blessing of gay unions are “clearly not compatible” with the declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on this issue that was published March 15, 2021.

Munilla stressed that this incompatibility is manifest “no matter how much they’ve tried to force (the meaning of) words to the maximum," calling the Belgian bishops' initiative a “moment for prayer.”

In this respect, the spokesman for the Belgian Bishops’ Conference, Jesuit Father Tommy Scholtes, defended the blessing of same-sex couples since “it has nothing to do with marriage.”

In a statement to the Associated Press, Scholtes said that it’s “an opportunity for homosexual couples to pray together and for others to pray for them as well.”

Munilla noted that the Belgian bishops’ blessing includes “expressions of commitment” between the homosexual persons who receive it and the commitment of ecclesial community to them.

“Let’s not play with words,” the bishop reiterated, pointing out that “we must be sincere and transparent and say that it absolutely contradicts” what was affirmed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Munilla emphasized that what the Vatican dicastery has stated “is not that the Church doesn’t love. It’s that she has no authority to do such a thing” as bless homosexual unions.

Blessings are sacramentals

The Church has no such authority because a blessing is a sacramental. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1667, sacramentals “are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church.” 

The text continues: “By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy."

The Spanish bishop explained that blessings, therefore, “must be objectively and positively ordered to the will of God” and that “the good will of those who receive them is not enough.”

There is no ‘unjust discrimination’

Thus, “it’s not lawful to impart a blessing on these relationships, even if they are stable, because they imply a sexual relationship outside of marriage,” the bishop explained, in line with what was stated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

For example, Munilla pointed out that the Church cannot bless the union between a man and a woman living in adultery.

Thus, it’s not about “unjust discrimination” against people with homosexual inclinations, but about reclaiming “the truth of the liturgical act.”

“You can bless people with homosexual inclinations, but not a union that is not in accordance with the design of nature and God’s design,” the prelate stressed, because “it’s one thing to bless the sinner and another thing to bless the sin.”

Munilla said that, unlike the sacraments, sacramentals “can be received without being in the state of grace, but they call for conversion.”

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

This Muslim NBA vet is marching for persecuted Christians on Saturday

Former Celtics player Enes Kanter Freedom will be the keynote speaker at the March for the Martyrs, / Freedom: Erik Drost, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Martyrs: Screenshot from the National Catholic Register

Boston, Mass., Sep 23, 2022 / 11:00 am (CNA).

NBA veteran Enes Kanter Freedom has been using his platform as a professional basketball player to take direct aim at the Chinese Communist Party for its egregious human rights abuses.

“People need to understand this … the Chinese Communist Party does not represent the Olympic values of excellence, of respect, of friendship. The whole world knows that they’re a brutal dictatorship and they engage in censorship, they tread on freedoms, they do not respect human rights, and they hide the truth,” Freedom told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham in February.

But with no team signing a contract with the 6-foot-10, 250-pound center since February, he, and others, say that he’s paying the price for his activism — activism that includes explicitly calling out the NBA, his former team the Boston Celtics, and other players in the league for hypocrisy, citing their relationship with, and failure to condemn, China.

The 30-year-old seems more determined than ever to work in defense of human rights.

Freedom, a practicing Muslim from Turkey, will be speaking at Saturday’s March for the Martyrs in Washington, D.C., an event dedicated to raising awareness of the plight of persecuted Christians around the world. 

“His voice in this generation is so important,” said Gia Chacon, founder and president of For the Martyrs, the organization running the march. Chacon told CNA Aug. 25 that Freedom “had the world at his fingertips,” but added that he “sacrificed everything to advocate on behalf of the voiceless.”

Chacon said that the March for the Martyrs exists to “combat the silence” around the issue of Christian persecution. In addition, its goal is to bring the attention and prayers of Western Christians to the persecuted church across the globe. 

But why did Chacon choose a Muslim to speak at an event advocating for persecuted Christians?

She says it’s because a bridge needs to be built between Muslims and Christians. 

“For him to speak about persecuted Christians; to talk about the importance of freedom of religion makes this issue that much more powerful,” she said.

“And,” she added, “it’s a message to Muslims — not just in the United States, but around the world — that we need to build a bridge between Christians and Muslims,” especially given that Islamist terrorists are among the top persecutors of Christians around the world. 

This won’t be Freedom’s first speaking engagement for religious freedom. He spoke at the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C., in June.

Freedom also recently launched his foundation — the Enes Kanter Freedom Foundation — in June, which, according to the Washington Times, advocates for civil rights in authoritarian countries like China and Turkey. The Times reported that Freedom will be taking on the foundation’s work full time.

In a June 22 Facebook post, Freedom said: “I’m so excited to announce my new foundation that aims to promote #Freedom, Universal Values, Social Harmony, Poverty Alleviation #HumanRights & #Democracy around the GLOBE.” On Freedom’s website, there is a page to donate to the foundation.

Freedom was born in Switzerland and raised in Turkey before coming to the U.S. to play basketball. He was drafted by the Utah Jazz as the third overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft and made his debut that same year.

The Bleacher Report recently called him one of the most underrated players of the last 10 years, citing his top 10 performance in career rebounding and offensive rebounding plus his general awareness on the court. 

Freedom is a longtime critic of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, often calling him a dictator. Although his family still lives in Turkey, Freedom has said in past interviews that he hasn’t spoken to them in years, which hurts him. But he says that communication must be cut off because of the political climate there and his criticism of the regime. 

While he was with the New York Knicks, Freedom said in 2019 that he skipped a team trip to London because he feared being killed, while calling the Turkish president a “freaking lunatic” and a “dictator.” 

Other speakers at the March for the Martyrs event include Chacon; David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA; Esther Zang, a survivor of Christian persecution in China and North Korea; Jacob Coyne, founder of Stay Here, an organization dedicated to ending the mental health crisis and suicide; Father Simon Esshaki, a Chaldean Catholic priest; Jason Jones, a filmmaker, humanitarian, and founder of the Vulnerable People Project; Shane Winnings, CEO and president of Overcomers Inc., an evangelical organization that helps Christians preach and teach the Gospel; Russel Johnson, pastor of The Pursuit church; and Ryan Helfenbein, executive director of the Standing for Freedom Center. 

Delivering another keynote address will be evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson, who worked to spread Christianity in the Middle East for years before he was imprisoned in Turkey for two years. 

His experience as a pastor in the Middle East, in addition to his imprisonment, will be the topic of his speech, Chacon said.

As many as 1,000 people are expected at this year’s march, which begins at 3 p.m. with an opening rally before moving from the National Mall to the nearby Museum of the Bible. A new addition to this year’s event includes free busing for any group of 50 people located three or four hours from the march. 

The buses will pick the groups up and drop them off at the end of the night, Chacon said. Groups interested can email [email protected].

In addition to the march, Chacon’s organization leads an annual mission trip to visit persecuted Christians around the world. In 2021, Chacon and her team went to Iraq. 

The organization spreads awareness of Christian persecution through online content, especially through videos. It also sponsors various development projects overseas to help persecuted Christians such as a computer lab in Iraq for internally displaced Christians, Chacon said.

According to Open Doors USA, an organization dedicated to serving persecuted Christians across the globe, more than 360 million Christians around the world face extreme persecution and discrimination because of their faith.

The organization, which compiles a “World Watch List” of “The top 50 countries where it’s most difficult to follow Jesus” lists Afghanistan as the top persecutor of Christians in the world, citing “Islamic oppression.” 

The other countries that make up the top 10, in order, are North Korea, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Eritrea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, and India. China is ranked 17th on the list. Turkey is ranked 42.

Pope Francis’ chief Vatican prosecutor retires; deputy prosecutor promoted

Alessandro Diddi addresses Pope Francis during the opening of the Vatican City State court's 93rd judicial year on March 12, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Sep 23, 2022 / 08:10 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Friday accepted the resignation of the chief prosecutor of the Vatican City State court, Gian Piero Milano, and named a new prosecutor.

Milano, who will turn 75 in November, has been the Vatican tribunal’s prosecutor, also known as the promoter of justice, since October 2013.

As Vatican promoter of justice, Milano oversaw the investigations that led to the two “Vatileaks” trials and the prosecution of a priest and former Holy See diplomat for the possession and distribution of child pornography, among other cases. He was formerly a professor of canon and ecclesiastical law.

The pope on Friday appointed Alessandro Diddi as new head prosecutor. An adjunct prosecutor for the Vatican since 2015, Diddi is lead investigator for the Vatican’s major finance trial against defendant Cardinal Angelo Becciu and nine others. He also has a background as a criminal defense lawyer in Rome.

To fill the spot left by Diddi’s promotion, Pope Francis on Sept. 23 named Settimio Carmignani Caridi adjunct prosecutor. Caridi, 68, is a professor of canon and ecclesiastical law at Rome’s Tor Vergata University. He also teaches Vatican law at the private Catholic LUMSA University in Rome.