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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.

Padre Pio sculptor’s work to be blessed on saint’s feast day: ‘I have to honor him’

Artist Timothy P. Schmalz touches the hands of Padre Pio in one of his sculptures. / Courtesy of Timothy P. Schmalz

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 23, 2022 / 07:15 am (CNA).

Catholic artist Timothy P. Schmalz calls Padre Pio his favorite saint. And so, when he learned that four of his sculptures would honor the Italian mystic on his feast day — Sept. 23 — he was overjoyed.

“I thought a couple years ago about that moment in my life where Padre Pio gave me that peace and comfort and I thought, ‘I have to honor him,’” the 53-year-old sculptor told CNA over the phone, his hands full of clay. “I really do. And the best way I can honor a saint is by sculpting them.”

St. Pio of Pietrelcina, more commonly known as Padre Pio, is one of the most popular saints of the 20th century. The Capuchin friar is famous for his stigmata (Christ’s wounds, present in his own flesh), his spiritual wisdom and guidance, his ministry in the confessional, his reported ability to miraculously bilocate, and his being physically attacked by the devil.

On Friday, Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley of Boston will bless Schmalz’s bronze sculptures that will be installed that same day. Three of them will be placed in the plaza of San Giovanni Rotondo in Italy, where an average of seven million pilgrims visit annually to pray at Padre Pio’s tomb. The fourth will stand at another popular, nearby pilgrimage site: St. Michael’s Cave.

A video on Schmalz’s YouTube channel shows the artist working on his Padre Pio sculptures in his studio located in St. Jacobs, Ontario, Canada. At one point, he holds a rosary.

“I usually consider my sculpture [to be a] prayer, and my hands are always not busy with beads, but busy with clay,” he told CNA. “I do believe that these sculptures — all of them — are prayers, visual prayers and cast in bronze.”

Schmalz is not new to sculpting. The experienced artist’s work can be found worldwide, from St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican to Washington, D.C. He is perhaps best known for his “Homeless Jesus” sculpture and the “Angels Unaware” statue. Right now, he is also creating a life-size Stations of the Cross to be placed by Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

It took him roughly a year, he said, to form his Padre Pio sculptures. Each one is different.

A struggle with evil

His first sculpture depicts the saint wrestling in combat with a demon.

“I really do believe that it is something that, if you did not know who Padre Pio was, seeing this sculpture, you would want to know about him,” he explained of the sculpture that he hopes introduces more people to the saint.

In particular, he hopes that his work attracts the younger generation.

“Art can be a wonderful entrance, a wonderful doorway, but it has to be exciting,” he articulated.

Artist Timothy P. Schmalz's sculpture illustrates Padre Pio strangling a demon and pushing him into nothingness, with one fist posed to strike. Courtesy of Timothy P. Schmalz
Artist Timothy P. Schmalz's sculpture illustrates Padre Pio strangling a demon and pushing him into nothingness, with one fist posed to strike. Courtesy of Timothy P. Schmalz

This sculpture illustrates Padre Pio strangling a demon and pushing him into nothingness, with one fist posed to strike.

“I think so many people today have struggles with evil and they have these battles going on,” Schmalz said of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. “I thought that to have this saint in combat with evil and winning is a wonderful representation — and a very much authentic representation — of St. Padre Pio.”

A pietà offering peace

The second shows Jesus’ mother, Mary, and Padre Pio encircled in a sculpted ribbon.

“It's the ribbon for breast cancer, and many people around the world have that ribbon as a symbol of all cancer,” Schmalz said, adding that people frequently pray to Padre Pio when they have a family member suffering from cancer.

But the ribbon doubles as something else: a fish — an ancient symbol of Christianity — facing upward toward the sky.

Inside the outline of the ribbon (or fish), Mary looks down on Padre Pio in a way that Schmalz likens to a pietà. Padre Pio’s gloved hands reach out, inviting passersby to touch them.

Schmalz hopes that, when they do, they encounter peace.

Artist Timothy P. Schmalz touches the hands of Padre Pio in his sculpture that includes the Blessed Virgin Mary. Courtesy of Timothy P. Schmalz
Artist Timothy P. Schmalz touches the hands of Padre Pio in his sculpture that includes the Blessed Virgin Mary. Courtesy of Timothy P. Schmalz

“If you consider all the miracles of St. Padre Pio, I think one of the greatest miracles is that he brings people peace,” he said. “What I like to think about St. Padre Pio is [that] the comfort and peace he gave people, including myself, was the miracle.”

‘Be Welcoming’

His third piece embodies a pilgrim who turns into an angel. It is, Schmalz said, a visual translation of Hebrews 13:2: “Be welcoming to strangers; many have entertained angels unaware.”

“You have the pilgrim that has a staff, who has a conch — which is the symbol of pilgrims — and then before your eyes, artistically, that stranger turns into this mysterial-looking angel,” he described.

Sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz's work embodies a pilgrim who turns into an angel in a visual translation of Hebrews 13:2: “Be welcoming to strangers, many have entertained angels unaware.” Courtesy of Timothy P. Schmalz
Sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz's work embodies a pilgrim who turns into an angel in a visual translation of Hebrews 13:2: “Be welcoming to strangers, many have entertained angels unaware.” Courtesy of Timothy P. Schmalz

Schmalz said he is particularly excited that the “Be Welcoming” sculpture will be located at San Giovanni Rotondo because “it’s the place where pilgrims go.”

St. Michael the protector

The sculpture that will be placed in St. Michael’s Cave depicts the archangel protecting Padre Pio, as he kneels in prayer, from a demon.

“It makes me so happy that [on] this feast day of St. Padre Pio, this sculpture will be permanently installed and blessed in St. Michael's Cave,” he said. “It’s just beyond my wildest dreams of happiness that these celebrations are happening right now.”

Artist Timothy P. Schmalz's sculpture depicts St. Michael the Archangel protecting Padre Pio, as he kneels in prayer, from a demon. Courtesy of Timothy P. Schmalz
Artist Timothy P. Schmalz's sculpture depicts St. Michael the Archangel protecting Padre Pio, as he kneels in prayer, from a demon. Courtesy of Timothy P. Schmalz

Which U.S. states rank first (and last) in religious freedom protections?

null / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 23, 2022 / 07:00 am (CNA).

A nonprofit legal organization specializing in religious liberty cases has conducted a study comparing U.S. states on the basis of how free its residents are to practice their faith. 

Spoiler alert: Mississippi offers the most protections for religious freedom, while New York comes in last on the First Liberty Institute’s “Religious Liberty in the States 2022 (RLS)” index.

The states are ranked according to how many laws are on the books that protect the free exercise of religion, with the states with the most laws providing safeguards for religious freedom ranked the highest.

Sarah Estelle, a research fellow with the Institute’s Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy (CRCD) and associate professor of economics at Hope College in Michigan, directed the project. She analyzed laws in all 50 states and narrowed the index down to 29 separate laws, the majority of which offer protections for medical professionals, allowing them to opt out of providing abortions, sterilizations, and contraception.

Top-ranking Mississippi, for example, scored a 20 out of 20 on laws that allow health care workers to refuse to take part in procedures or services that go against their religious beliefs.

By comparison, New York at No. 50 scored only a 5 out of 20 on health care exemption laws. Doctors in the Empire State have no legal protections if they were to refuse to perform sterilizations or prescribe contraception, nor does the state protect them from criminal liability if they refuse to perform abortions.

Five states — Alabama, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Washington — have enacted “general conscience provisions,” which do not specify the type of medical care covered but offer protection to those who refuse to take part in any medical services that are contrary to their beliefs.

Estelle explained that these five states "can be considered models," for states considering enacting religious freedom protections for health care workers.

“The most extensive protection a state can provide to health care practitioners is a general conscience provision,” she told CNA.

A general conscience provision would protect health care practitioners who refuse to take part in transgender treatments, for example. Estelle said next year’s survey could conceivably reflect the public’s changing opinions about such treatments.

“If concerns about specific health care procedures spur changing laws in existing areas, say encouraging more states than the current five to codify general health care conscience provisions, then we’ll see that too as we update our data each year,” she said. 

Other safeguards included in the index are laws concerning absentee voting (whether states have laws that recognize religious holidays as a legitimate reason to vote by absentee ballot), childhood immunization requirements, and the freedom to refuse to participate in same-sex weddings.

Several areas of laws not included in the index are at the center of current legal disputes over religious liberty. The study notes that issues relating to state-funded scholarships for religious schools, adoption and foster care, employment discrimination, and the treatment of prisoners were not taken into consideration in the rankings.

In some cases, those issues involved federal laws, so state comparisons were not possible. For their inaugural index, researchers decided to narrow their criteria to a set of state religious freedom laws, which they note in the introduction to the index provides a “sketch” of religious liberty protections in the United States.

“To get an accurate understanding of religious liberty in America, we must start our sketch with the base level before we might move on to examine other phenomena that strengthen, weaken, or leave untouched these foundational elements,” Jordan J. Ballor, director of research at the CRCD, wrote in the introduction to the survey.

Here’s a look at why Mississippi ranks No. 1 and New York ranks No. 50 in religious freedom protections among U.S. states according to the RLS:

The First Liberty Institute's Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy (CRCD), “Religious Liberty in the States 2022 (RLS)
The First Liberty Institute's Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy (CRCD), “Religious Liberty in the States 2022 (RLS)
The First Liberty Institute's Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy (CRCD), “Religious Liberty in the States 2022 (RLS)
The First Liberty Institute's Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy (CRCD), “Religious Liberty in the States 2022 (RLS)

To view the entire study and learn about its methodology visit the First Liberty Institute’s website.

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Benedict XVI writes about ‘inner drama of being a Christian’ in new letter

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Sep 23, 2022 / 05:29 am (CNA).

In a new letter, Benedict XVI praised the story of a woman who lived “the inner drama of being a Christian” and dedicated her life to the spiritual encounter with Christ in eucharistic adoration and other practices. 

The pope emeritus wrote that his own personal experience was similar to what Mother Julia Verhaeghe went through in a letter to the author of a new biography. 

The writer, Father Hermann Geissler, is a former official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and a member of the Spiritual Family “The Work” that Mother Julia founded and Pope John Paul II designated as a family of consecrated life in 2001.

In his letter to Geissler, made available to CNA, Benedict did not hide the fact that he had “the fear that her life could be of little interest as a whole because it lacks any external drama.”

Benedict praised the author for making “the inner drama of being a Christian visible, writing a genuinely fascinating biography. The external path of this life, which leads from Belgium through Austria and Hungary to Rome, with a focal point in Austria, becomes a reflection of the interior path through which this woman was led.”

“In this way, the true drama of life becomes visible, which is found above all in the encounter with Paul and, through him, with Christ himself, allowing others to retrace it,” Benedict added. 

“All the external and internal drama of faith is present in her life. The tension described here is particularly captivating because it is similar to what I have experienced since the 1940s.”

The biography, titled “She Served the Church: Mother Julia Verhaeghe and the Development of The Spiritual Family The Work,” explores the period from 1950 to 2001, from the second postwar period to the recognition of the Family, four years after the founder’s death in 1997.

The book is divided into four parts and includes testimonies, excerpts from Mother Julia’s letters, and other archival documents. Furthermore, the book contextualizes the life and choices of Mother Julia, connecting them to the situations of the time, of which Mother Julia was a careful observer.

In the introduction, Father Thomas Felder and Sister Margarete Binder wrote that “the following pages tell of a woman who had neither a particular culture, nor good health, nor any economic means.” Yet, they added, “a fire burned in her heart.”

This fire is the basis of the encounters that formed her life: first of all, the one with St. Paul; then the one with Pope Pius XII, who appeared to her in a dream and who predicted the Second Vatican Council; finally, the encounter with Cardinal John Henry Newman, to whom “The Work” has a particular relationship.

These meetings and relationships are part of a spiritual path to encountering Christ. Geissler’s book tells of these encounters with delicacy, without sensationalism, demonstrating that prophecy comes only when one is open to listening.

From the meeting with Pius XII, a great intuition was born: the human and humanizing element of the Second Vatican Council will try to take over, going beyond what must be the center of the Church, namely the sacred.

In the face of growing secularization, the Spiritual Family “The Work,” guided by Mother Julia, emphasized eucharistic adoration. It is a daily habit in every house of “The Work.”

The book also describes how Mother Julia felt the same enthusiasm and concern for a unified Europe, just as Brussels was preparing to host the 1958 Expo. Her view was always one of spiritual renewal, of a return to Christ.

Perhaps there was no external drama, but the restlessness of Mother Julia’s soul that Benedict refers to is good, open to reflecting on the issues of the time. 

In Geissler’s book, one perceives the constant amazement before the mystery of Christ, which leads her, already elderly, to visit the Holy Land and experience the desert.

The life of Mother Julia told in this book is of a woman who could look at her times with the concreteness that comes only from contact with God.

Benedict XVI, who turned 95 in April, often spoke about the need for contact with God and said that the encounter with Jesus was the answer to the world’s challenges.

Cardinal O’Malley: ‘Padre Pio shows us the power of the cross’

Cardinal Seán O'Malley celebrates Mass in San Giovanni Rotondo for the feast of Padre Pio Sept. 23, 2022 / Screenshot of Youtube livestream from Padre Pio TV.

Rome Newsroom, Sep 23, 2022 / 04:20 am (CNA).

Padre Pio shows the world the power of bearing physical suffering with patience and love, Cardinal Seán O’Malley said at Mass for the Italian saint’s feast day on Friday.

O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, celebrated Mass on Sept. 23 in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, in the Church of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina.

“Padre Pio carried the burden of the stigmata for five decades, this and so many other physical sufferings were borne with love and patience. In a world where pain is seen as the greatest evil, Padre Pio shows us the power of the cross,” O’Malley said.

“He shows us that the greatest evil is not pain, but sin and selfishness,” the cardinal continued. “Pain can be a two-edged sword that turns us in on ourselves, leads to self-pity, anger, or despair. When the cross is born with love and in union with Jesus it is life-giving and leads to resurrection.”

O’Malley, 78, has been a member of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin since 1965. Padre Pio, one of the 20th century’s most beloved saints, was also a Capuchin friar.

Pio, born Francesco Forgione in 1887, made solemn vows with the Capuchins at the age of 19. His life was marked by illness and physical suffering, including receiving the visible stigmata — bleeding wounds corresponding to the five wounds Christ received at his crucifixion — in 1918.

A statue of Padre Pio in the Church of Saint Pio of Pietrelicina in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy. Screenshot from Youtube livestream by Padre Pio TV.
A statue of Padre Pio in the Church of Saint Pio of Pietrelicina in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy. Screenshot from Youtube livestream by Padre Pio TV.

His desire to create a hospital founded on the principle of caring for both the body and soul of the sick and suffering also led him to establish Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, or Home for the Relief of the Suffering, today a state-of-the-art private hospital and research center.

Padre Pio’s mission, Cardinal O’Malley said, “was a mission of mercy, to those who were sick physically or spiritually and, in that context, he announced the good news of the Gospel.”

“The confessional and the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza are just two of the ways Padre Pio manifested the loving mercy of God in the world convulsed by pain and suffering and sin,” he noted.

The cardinal quoted a line from the book “Padre Pio: The True Story.” The author, Bernard Ruffin, wrote that “Padre Pio made God real.”

“In a world of unbelief, the presence of holiness brings light and peace into a world of darkness and chaos,” O’Malley said in his homily. “The saints next door, and the saints that God magnifies with his graces, are a gift to increase in us a nostalgia for homeland yet unseen, for which we were created.”

Cardinal Seán O'Mally celebrates Mass for the feast of Padre Pio Sept. 23, 2022, in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy. Screenshot from Youtube livestream by Padre Pio TV.
Cardinal Seán O'Mally celebrates Mass for the feast of Padre Pio Sept. 23, 2022, in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy. Screenshot from Youtube livestream by Padre Pio TV.

He recalled when Pope Francis said that the two paths to holiness are prayer and community.

“Padre Pio,” he said, “is an outstanding example of this in a society that has largely abandoned prayer and the Sabbath observance, but this holy man teaches us that prayer brings the power of the cross into our lives and allows us to enter into the mystery of the Eucharist.”

Many people no longer attend Mass on Sundays because they do not know how to pray, Cardinal O’Malley said: “Today we stand in this holy place to ask Padre Pio to pray for us and teach us how to pray, to love, and to heal.”

“May he lend us that ladder that will allow us to climb the cross and lovingly pull out the nails from the hands of our brothers and sisters who are, as Mother Teresa used to say: ‘Christ in a distressing disguise.’”

“Today we stand before this great saint and say thank you for showing the world that God is real and that the only real success in life is holiness,” he said.

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President Biden fundraiser remarks muddle Catholic teaching on abortion

President Joe Biden speaks during the Global Fund Seventh Replenishment Conference in New York on Sept. 21, 2022. / Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Denver, Colo., Sep 22, 2022 / 20:22 pm (CNA).

President Joe Biden on Thursday appeared to suggest — erroneously — that the Catholic Church makes exceptions for rape and incest in its condemnation of abortion.

Biden made the remarks at a fundraising event for the Democratic National Committee at a private home in New York City’s Central Park South neighborhood while discussing a Republican-backed congressional bill to ban abortions after 15 weeks into pregnancy. The president incorrectly said the bill has no exceptions for rape and incest.

“You have Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and others talking about how they’re gonna you know, make sure that Roe is forever gone and Dobbs becomes a national law,” Bloomberg quoted the president saying.

“Talk about, what, no exceptions. Rape, incest, no exceptions,” Biden continued, according to Bloomberg. “Now, I’m gonna deal with my generic point. I happen to be a practicing Roman Catholic, my Church doesn’t even make that argument.”

Reporters with the Los Angeles Times and The Hill tweeted similar comments.

A White House spokesperson was not immediately available Thursday night to clarify what Biden meant. But any implication that the Catholic Church makes exceptions where abortion is concerned is incorrect.

“Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church states. “This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed as an ends or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law” (No. 2271). 

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also has addressed the difficult situation of a pregnancy conceived in rape.

“(A)ny woman subjected to sexual assault needs our compassionate and understanding care, including psychological and spiritual as well as medical support,” Richard Doerflinger, the then associate director of the pro-life secretariat, said in a July 2013 commentary on the U.S. bishops’ website.

“(A)ny child conceived in rape is, like his or her mother, an innocent victim. That child, too, has a right to life, and destroying the child does not punish the rapist or end the woman’s trauma,” he added.

The Biden administration is presently making a strong push against the proposed federal abortion ban, introduced by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham on Sept. 13. The bill would bar abortions nationwide except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is in danger. 

The bill is called the Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act. It drew qualified support from pro-life leaders who described it as the “bare minimum.”

Biden is only the second Catholic to be elected U.S. president. He has repeatedly supported abortion rights despite the Church’s teaching that human life must be respected and protected from the moment of conception.

Biden has given conflicting statements over the years about when he believes life begins. At the 2012 vice presidential debate against Republican nominee Paul Ryan, he said “life begins at conception, that's the Church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life,” though he said he refused to “impose” this view on others.

In September 2021, after Biden reaffirmed his support for the now-overturned pro-abortion rights Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, said he did not agree that human life begins at conception.

Shortly after those comments, Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington took issue with the president’s statement. “The Catholic Church teaches, and has taught, that life — human life — begins at conception,” he said. “So, the president is not demonstrating Catholic teaching.”

After the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this year, Biden made a strong push to reassert legal protections for abortion at the federal level. On July 8, he issued a major executive order that aimed to protect access to abortion.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, said at the time that it is “deeply disturbing and tragic” that Biden would use presidential power “to promote and facilitate abortion in our country, seeking every possible avenue to deny unborn children their most basic human and civil right, the right to life.”

The pope himself soon addressed Biden’s stand, in response to a journalist’s question about Biden’s position and whether Catholic politicians who back abortion should be admitted to Holy Communion.

“Is it just to eliminate a human life?” Pope Francis said in an interview with Univision and Televisa broadcast July 12.

The pope said he left the matter of Biden’s defense of abortion to the president’s “conscience.”

“Let him talk to his pastor about that incoherence,” he said.