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New film about writer Flannery O’Connor shows ‘God can deliver his grace in any way’

Maya Hawke as American writer Flannery O'Connor in the 2024 film "Wildcat." / Credit: Oscilloscope Laboratories

CNA Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

A new film depicting the life of American writer Flannery O’Connor, whose work reflected her Catholic faith and frequently examined questions of faith, morality, and suffering, will be released in theaters on May 3. 

"Wildcat" follows O’Connor as she struggles with a lupus diagnosis at age 24, the same disease that took her father’s life, and dives into an exploration of beliefs. Actress Maya Hawke portrays O’Connor, and her father, Ethan Hawke, directed, co-wrote, and produced the film.

The inspiration for the movie came from Maya Hawke, who created a monologue from entries in O’Connor’s “Prayer Journal” for an audition for Juilliard, to which she was accepted. After performing her monologue for her family, they were blown away. She said that ever since, she’s had a personal connection with O’Connor and eventually asked her father to help her make the movie.

Executive producer Eric Groth, a Catholic and the CEO of Renovo Media Group and president of ODB Films, told CNA in an interview that he was drawn to the movie because “we [his company] really love to bring beautiful, good, and true stories front and center and that certainly focus on things of a Catholic nature.”

“I hadn’t read a lot of Flannery, I had read a little bit, but I was very intrigued by her and who she was and how important she was in the 20th century as an author,” he added. “And I was very fascinated by the fact that there hadn’t been a lot of things produced about her or her stories.”

However, what attracted him the most to the film was the “family element.” 

“I love that Ethan and Maya were doing something as a father and daughter and even Ethan’s wife, Ryan, was one of our lead producers and all of Ethan’s other kids found their way into the film as well,” Groth said.

Groth pointed out that he believes this story is important to tell today because “the culture can really learn from her.”

“I think she had a really great ability to converge all her faith with what she was living out in her day,” he explained.

The producer shared that in his eyes, O’Connor “kind of flips grace on its head. We kind of put God in a box and think if God is going to deliver grace it’s going to come through this really nice channel … I think Flannery says, ‘Look, God can deliver his grace in any way, any time, any fashion.’”

He continued: “People need to know that God is there, God is present, and we can look and see that God’s grace comes from all different things.”

Groth hopes that viewers will “walk away with a tremendous appreciation” for the 20th-century Gothic-style writer.

“She saw the messiness of the world, and that messiness — God is in the midst of it, that God enters into it and that our lives are messy,” he said. “I want people to walk away seeing somebody who saw that and understood it. I want them to walk away seeing a young woman who suffered terribly from a disease that ultimately took her life, but that she pressed on.”

He added that he hopes the audience will see that “we’re called to seek that relationship with God and it’s going to be difficult at times, but also that we can be victorious and that we can look to see how God’s going to deliver grace to us in all kinds of ways.”

Watch the trailer for “Wildcat” below.

Abortion amendment disqualified from Maine 2024 election ballot

The Maine State House in Augusta. / Credit: Wangkun Jia/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 11, 2024 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

A proposed constitutional amendment allowing abortion until birth in Maine was disqualified from the November ballot this week after it failed to gain enough votes in the state Legislature.

Though the amendment proposal received a majority of votes this week — 75-65 in the House and 20-13 in the Senate — it failed to reach the required two-thirds supermajority in either body to be added to the ballot.

If it had reached the required supermajority, the “Protect Personal Reproductive Autonomy” amendment proposal would have been included in Maine voters’ November ballot. 

Maine citizens would have been asked to vote yes or no on the question: “Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to declare that every person has a right to personal reproductive autonomy?"

If passed by voters, the amendment would have altered the state constitution to declare that Maine “may not deny or infringe on the right to personal reproductive autonomy,” unless the denial or infringement “is justified by a compelling state interest” and “is accomplished using the means that least denies or infringes” on that “right.”

The amendment would have further expanded abortion in what is already one of the most permissive states in the union. Abortion is currently legal in Maine until viability; it is further permitted after viability if deemed necessary by a physician.

According to the Maine Division of Public Health Systems’ most recent data, there were 2,225 abortions in the state in 2022, up from 1,915 in 2021.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Portland, Maine, told CNA that the diocese is “grateful” that the required two-thirds of the Legislature “did not cooperate with this attack on the dignity of human life.”

In a strongly worded condemnation of the amendment issued earlier this year, Bishop Robert Deeley of Portland called it “immoral and unnecessary.”

“This is a political attempt to distract from the heinous law passed last June that eliminated any restrictions for abortion,” Deeley said. “A change to the constitution to promote abortion on demand will affect unborn children who cannot speak for themselves but will suffer the ultimate price.”

Daniel Schmid, an attorney for the national religious liberty law firm Liberty Counsel, told CNA that the measure’s defeat is a “positive step forward for Maine because they’re fairly progressive in their abortion laws.”

“I think it’s always a good day when an amendment is defeated that would have otherwise legalized abortion at all stages,” he said.

Schmid argued that the Maine amendment was particularly deceptive in its wording.

“You’re asking, ‘Do you support a woman’s autonomy?’ A lot of people support that type of language, not knowing that, oh yeah, that means that they can kill a child right before birth,” he said.

Schmid said that the amendment would have meant that “any regulation that was ever put forward that concerned abortion would have had to satisfy the most demanding test known to constitutional law.”

“If you’re in that test, the law rarely passes,” he said. “So that basically was setting up an impossible hurdle for even reasonable regulations of the practice of abortion in Maine.”

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, five states — California, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Vermont — have passed constitutional amendments enshrining abortion into state law. 

Three states, meanwhile — New York, Maryland, and Florida — have finalized abortion-until-birth amendments that will be included in this November’s ballot. Ten more states could add similar amendment proposals to their ballot as well.

Schmid called the proposed amendments across the country “a fatal threat to unborn children in all of the states.”

“The proponents of these [amendments], they’re clever in trying to hide their intent in the language, but the effect of all of these amendments is essentially to legalize unrestricted abortion at will, and they ought to be honest about that,” he said. 

“Most states require that your ballot initiative not be deceptive, that it not try to confuse voters, that it tell them what it’s doing. Most of them do not, and they’re dumping millions of dollars into these initiatives to try to deceive the people into voting for them, not knowing that what they’re voting for is unrestricted, unrestrained abortion at will.”

“After 50 years of the genocide of Roe, we’re not going to start it all over again at the state level,” he continued. “The pro-life community needs to be vocal about that and needs to stand up and say no, people won’t tolerate this.”

A full breakdown of where abortion is on the ballot this election year can be seen here.

Portuguese bishops announce financial compensation fund for Church abuse victims

On April 11, 2024, Bishop José Ornelas Carvalho Leiria-Fátima, Portugal, said that a “fundamental team” would be convened in order to determine the total amounts of compensation awarded to abuse victims.  / Credit: Santuário de Fátima

CNA Staff, Apr 11, 2024 / 15:25 pm (CNA).

The Portuguese Episcopal Conference announced on Thursday the creation of a “financial compensation” fund for victims of Church abuse in that country.

The Conferência Episcopal Portuguesa (CEP) said on its website that the bishops at their plenary assembly “unanimously approved the allocation of financial compensation, on a supplementary basis, to victims of sexual abuse against vulnerable children and adults in the context of the Catholic Church in Portugal.”

The assembly had convened in Fátima on Monday of this week. The fund “will count on the solidarity contribution of all dioceses” in the country, the announcement said. 

An independent commission authorized by the Portuguese bishops found last year that thousands of children had been sexually abused by priests and others within the Church in that country since the 1950s.

The commission, which began its work in January 2022, received a total of 564 testimonies, of which it validated 512. Many of the victims who testified said they knew of other children who also had been abused. 

Officials ultimately estimated “a minimum number of 4,815 children” abused by Church officials there. 

On Thursday, Leiria-Fátima Bishop José Ornelas Carvalho said that a “fundamental team” would be convened in order to determine the total amounts of compensation awarded to abuse victims. 

Carvalho, who serves as president of the CEP, noted that “no amounts or contingents have been fixed for each diocese” and that “if a diocese has more difficulties of means, it will not be alone in this situation.”

The conference will “take until the end of this year to collect the applications” for the fund, the prelate said. 

The conference in its announcement expressed “communion with the suffering of the victims,” adding that the Portuguese bishops “reaffirm the total commitment to do everything for their reparation.”

Last year, announcing steps to end sexual abuse in the Portuguese Church including all-lay diocesan commissions and a memorial to victims, the bishops expressed “deep gratitude to all the victims who have given their testimony” to the investigation. 

Father Manuel Barbosa, a spokesman for the conference, said at the time that the bishops also offered “a word of courage to all the victims who still harbor the pain in the depths of their hearts.”

California bishop praises district attorney for seeking to change death sentences

Bishop Oscar Cantú of San Jose, California. / Credit: Rendon Photography & Fine Art/Courtesy of Archdiocese of San Antonio

CNA Staff, Apr 11, 2024 / 14:50 pm (CNA).

Bishop Oscar Cantú of San Jose recently praised a California district attorney for seeking to convert the death sentences of more than a dozen prisoners to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Jeff Rosen, the district attorney for Santa Clara County, announced last week that he had made a filing in state superior court to resentence 15 condemned men, saying he has “lost faith in capital punishment as a fair and effective crime deterrent.” 

The prosecutor added that he views capital punishment as an “antiquated, racially biased, error-prone system that deters nothing and costs us millions of public dollars and our integrity as a community that cherishes justice.”

Rosen pointed to the California law that took effect at the beginning of 2019 and allows district attorneys to resentence a person if they determine the sentence no longer serves justice.

“Judges and juries of the people should decide where an inmate dies. God should decide when,” Rosen said, while acknowledging the “horrible” crimes committed by the inmates.

In an April 4 statement, Cantú, whose diocese includes Santa Clara County, praised Rosen’s “prophetic and principled decision.”

“Catholic social teaching urges us to recognize the dignity of every human being, especially the most vulnerable,” Cantú said. 

“In alignment with these teachings, the Church advocates for a consistent ethic of life, encompassing the unborn, the poor, the migrant, the sick, and those in the criminal justice system.”

“DA Rosen’s decision aligns with these values, challenging us to seek alternatives to the death penalty that respect human life and dignity, promote rehabilitation, and foster a safer and more compassionate society,” the bishop said. “It is a call to move away from punitive justice towards restorative justice that heals and rebuilds lives.”

California technically has more prisoners on death row than any other state, but the state’s death penalty has been under moratorium since 2019 and has not been applied since 2006. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, reflecting an update promulgated by Pope Francis in 2018, describes the death penalty as “inadmissible” and an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” (No. 2267). 

The change reflects a development of Catholic doctrine in recent years. St. John Paul II, calling the death penalty “cruel and unnecessary,” encouraged Christians to be “unconditionally pro-life” and said that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.

The Vatican’s top doctrinal office’s new declaration on the theme of human dignity, released Monday, reiterated that the death penalty “violates the inalienable dignity of every person, regardless of the circumstances.”

Bishop-elect dies within days of his episcopal consecration 

The consecration of Father Martin Chambers as the new bishop of Dunkeld, Scotland had been scheduled for April 27. / Credit: Diocese of Dunkeld/Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 11, 2024 / 14:05 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Dunkeld, Scotland, announced Wednesday that Bishop-elect Martin Chambers, who was scheduled to be consecrated as its new bishop on April 27, passed away at the age of 59.

“It is with deep regret and sadness that I have to inform you that our bishop-elect, Martin Chambers, died in his sleep last night,” diocesan administrator Father Kevin Golden posted on the diocese’s X account April 10. “May he rest in peace and may his family and loved ones find comfort in the risen Lord and in the love of family and friends.”

The diocese did not give a cause of death. However, the bishop-elect had believed to be in good health, according to The Tablet in the U.K.

The diocesan administrator invited the faithful to join in prayer for the bishop-elect at a Mass this Friday at 1 p.m. in St. Andrew’s Cathedral.

Chambers’ sudden death was also mourned by neighboring dioceses.

“Father Chambers was due to be ordained bishop of Dunkeld on April 27. Last week he traveled to Lourdes to pray for his new diocese,” the Archdiocese of Glasgow observed on its X account.

Chambers was born on June 8, 1964, and ordained a priest for the Diocese of Galloway on Aug. 25, 1989.

Pope Francis appointed him bishop of Dunkeld on Feb. 2, and his episcopal consecration was scheduled for April 27.

Upon learning of his appointment this past February, Chambers said: “As I undertake this new mission as bishop of Dunkeld, I promise to sit in prayer as a disciple at the feet of Jesus, listening to his voice calling me forward in faith.”

“Together, with the strength and inspiration of Christ, we can all continue to build the kingdom in the Diocese of Dunkeld,” he said.

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

Puberty blockers may cause irreversible harm to young boys, Mayo Clinic study finds

A Mayo Clinic study published in late March 2024 found that boys who take puberty blockers may suffer “irreversible” harm. / Credit: Nephron|Wikimedia|CC BY-SA 3.0

CNA Staff, Apr 11, 2024 / 13:35 pm (CNA).

When parents seek medical help for their gender-confused children, they are assured that puberty blockers are “reversible” treatment that pauses puberty, offering the “chance to explore gender identity.” 

But a Mayo Clinic study published in late March found that boys who take puberty blockers may suffer “irreversible” harm.

The study, published on a website hosted by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Minnesota, found that adolescent boys who take puberty blockers may experience fertility problems and atrophied testes.

Eleven Mayo Clinic scientists based in Rochester, Minnesota, studied the effect of puberty blockers on testicular cells. The researchers discovered “unprecedented” evidence “revealing detrimental pediatric testicular sex gland responses to [puberty blockers].” 

While the Mayo Clinic website currently claims that puberty blockers simply “pause” puberty and “don’t cause permanent physical changes,” this recent study is just one of many that have sounded the alarm about the various harms of puberty blockers. In 2022, one study gained national attention after it found that putting children on puberty blockers causes irreversible harm to bone density

The March study suggested that “abnormalities” from the data “raise a potential concern regarding the complete ‘reversibility’ and reproductive fitness of [spermatogonial stem cells]” for youth taking puberty blockers. 

Researchers found that puberty blockers hurt the development of sperm production and could affect fertility when children grow up. They reported “mild-to-severe sex gland atrophy in puberty blocker-treated children.”

The study, which has not been peer-reviewed yet, looked at testicular samples for 87 patients under the age of 18. The study included 87 children total, with 16 boys who identified as girls and nine of whom took puberty blockers. 

Two of the nine who were taking puberty blockers had abnormal features on their testicles that were observable from a physical examination. 

The Mayo Clinic researchers noted that they began the study in a context where “the consequences” of puberty blockers for “juvenile testicular development and reproductive fitness” are “poorly understood.” 

“To the best of our knowledge, no rigorous study has been reported on extended puberty blockade in pediatric populations and its long-term consequences on reproductive fitness,” the authors noted. 

Yet puberty blockers, originally developed to suppress hormones of minors who began puberty too early, are prescribed to children experiencing gender dysphoria. 

Meanwhile, European countries such as Finland, Holland, Norway, Sweden, and the U.K. have restrictions or bans on puberty blockers for children. England ended puberty blockers for kids just last month. 

“Puberty blockers … are not available to children and young people for gender incongruence or gender dysphoria because there is not enough evidence of safety and clinical effectiveness,” the NHS England website’s section on “treatment” for gender dysphoria read after the update. 

13-year-old Filipina who loved the Eucharist is officially on path to sainthood

Exposition of the official portrait of Servant of God Niña Ruíz-Abad on April 7, 2024, at the Cathedral of St. William the Hermit in Laoag City, Philippines. / Credit: Courtesy of the Cenacle of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus

National Catholic Register, Apr 11, 2024 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

On April 7, the cause for canonization of 13-year-old Filipina Niña Ruíz-Abad was officially opened at the Cathedral of St. William the Hermit in Laoag City, Philippines, coinciding with Divine Mercy Sunday.

The event marked the first step of a lengthy process of making Ruíz-Abad one of the youngest saints in history. 

Bishop Renato Mayugba of Laoag City headed the tribunal to hear witnesses testify to the life and holiness of the Servant of God, who has been described as “an inspiration of piety, mercy, evangelization, and fortitude to others.”

“We are starting our investigation on the life of Niña to discern if indeed God has blessed us with a Servant of God who can be elevated to sainthood. … All holiness is, in fact, a work of God. God is the author of holiness, because all holiness is grace. Sanctity is ultimately the work of grace, the fruit of divine mercy,” the bishop said.

Clergy participate in the opening session of the beatification and canonization process of Servant of God Niña Ruíz-Abad at St. William the Hermit Cathedral in Laoag City, Philippines, on April 7, 2024. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Cenacle of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus
Clergy participate in the opening session of the beatification and canonization process of Servant of God Niña Ruíz-Abad at St. William the Hermit Cathedral in Laoag City, Philippines, on April 7, 2024. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Cenacle of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus

A video reenactment of Ruíz-Abad’s life was shown at the beginning of the session, offering attendees a short glimpse of the teen’s life of deep piety and love for God from a very early age. She was shown as a young child to be always engrossed in praying before the Blessed Sacrament, with her arms extended toward God, and was fond of distributing prayer cards and religious images, especially of the “Santo Niño” (“the Child Jesus” in Filipino), to her teachers and schoolmates. The video showed an unfazed girl who, when faced with the diagnosis of incurable heart disease, told her aggrieved mother: “Don’t worry, Mommy; it’s okay — God will heal me!”

Father Dennis Ruíz, postulator of the cause, emphasized the importance of her example, especially for the youth of today, much like Blessed Carlo Acutis

“Many of the youth nowadays are preoccupied by technology, fashion, fun, pleasure, and desire for worldly material things, which sometimes draw their attention away from healthy relationships, especially [relationships] to God,” he said. “With the presence of dysfunctional families and family disintegration in today’s society, children are usually the most affected, which consequently makes them turn for solace and consolation to their environment. But having a good model of piety and fortitude for the youth, they can be saved from utter destruction. Knowing Niña’s character and traits and her strong faith toward God will serve as a guide to the youth.”

The official portrait of the Servant of God by Filipino painter Ariel Caratao was presented to the public during the session. 

Dressed in traditional Filipino attire, the Divine Mercy Children’s Choir, composed of children from the Little Sparks of the Divine Mercy and Immaculate Heart Filipino community, performed four songs for the congregation: “Children’s Entrustment to the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” “The Unity Prayer,” and “Jesus, I Trust in You,” followed by the singing of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

The Divine Mercy Children’s Choir sings the Divine Mercy Chaplet during the opening session of the cause of Servant of God Niña Ruíz-Abad at the Cathedral of St. William the Hermit in Laoag City, Philippines, on April 7, 2024. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Cenacle of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus
The Divine Mercy Children’s Choir sings the Divine Mercy Chaplet during the opening session of the cause of Servant of God Niña Ruíz-Abad at the Cathedral of St. William the Hermit in Laoag City, Philippines, on April 7, 2024. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Cenacle of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus

Ruíz-Abad’s mother, Corazon Abad, and only sister, Mary Ann Abad, and other relatives were present at the event as well as officers and members of the God First Association — an association named after Ruíz-Abad’s renowned slogan “God First” and headed by Eliza Samson, Ruíz-Abad’s third grade teacher. A large number of laypeople, priests, sisters, and seminarians were also present during the event, filling the cathedral.

The mother of Servant of God Niña Ruíz-Abad (center) and her sister (left) as well as other relatives were present during the opening session of Ruíz-Abad's canonization cause at the Cathedral of St. William the Hermit in Laoag City, Philippines, on April 7, 2024. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Cenacle of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus
The mother of Servant of God Niña Ruíz-Abad (center) and her sister (left) as well as other relatives were present during the opening session of Ruíz-Abad's canonization cause at the Cathedral of St. William the Hermit in Laoag City, Philippines, on April 7, 2024. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Cenacle of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus

Right after the opening session, the tribunal of the Diocese of Laoag and the attendees of the session visited the Servant of God’s tomb in the Church of St. Monica, Sarrat, Ilocos Norte.

The tomb of Servant of God Niña Ruíz-Abad at St. Monica Parish, Ilocos Norte, Philippines. Credit: Photo courtesy of Father Dennis Ruíz
The tomb of Servant of God Niña Ruíz-Abad at St. Monica Parish, Ilocos Norte, Philippines. Credit: Photo courtesy of Father Dennis Ruíz

The petition for Ruíz-Abad’s beatification and canonization is part of the Church’s wider effort to recognize modern-day saints, models for Catholics in the 21st century. The Catholic Church seeks to recognize saints who practiced their faith in the ordinariness of modern life.

As Bishop Mayugba encouraged: “May her life, though short, inspire all of us to put God first in our lives.”

This story was first published by the National Catholic Register, CNA’s sister news partner, and is reprinted here on CNA with permission.

Catholic Relief Services calls for ‘immediate end’ to violence as it ramps up aid in Gaza

A Palestinian woman assists a child playing on the ruinas of a building destroyed by earlier Israeli bombardment in Gaza City on April 8, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas militant group. / Credit: AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, Apr 11, 2024 / 11:45 am (CNA).

Global aid organization Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is calling for an “immediate end” to violence in Gaza as workers struggle to bring critical aid to the population six months into the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

CRS is the official international Catholic relief and development agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The aid agency has been a major presence in Gaza since the outset of the war in October 2023, when Hamas invaded Israel, killing 1,200 and kidnapping hundreds of hostages. Israel responded with a major invasion of Gaza. The conflict has reportedly claimed over 33,000 lives in Gaza. 

In a press release this week, the group said it was reissuing its call “for an immediate end to the violence” and “greater humanitarian access to ensure innocent civilians can access food, shelter, and medical attention.” 

CRS also called on “protection for humanitarians and innocent civilians and the immediate release of all hostages and others unjustly detained.”

Jason Knapp, the Holy Land representative for the U.S.-based Catholic group, told CNA last week that while CRS is “working hard to keep our team as safe as possible,” it remains “committed to doing everything we can to address the significant humanitarian needs of civilians in Gaza.”

Knapp told CNA that CRS is expanding its operations in the region. It has set up warehouses, guesthouses, and offices in Rafah and Deir al Balah and is “in the process of setting up additional distribution points throughout Rafah, Khan Younis, and Middle Area.”

Knapp said in the release this week that many of its workers have been displaced and “have lost homes and family members” during the conflict. He said the crisis in the northern part of the territory is “especially dire.”

“We prioritize people living in the most vulnerable situations, so our goal is to begin serving people living in the north as soon as possible,” Knapp said. 

Sean Callahan, the president and CEO of CRS, told CNA in February that the situation in the region is “catastrophic.” Yet he said that in a recent visit, his team witnessed considerable “resiliency” and “hope” from the local population. 

Callahan said workers in Gaza are providing “food commodities” and “hygiene kits,” among other services, to those who live there. At the outset of the conflict, CRS said it was mobilizing “emergency food, water, and living supplies” and “safe and dignified shelter” for those caught in the conflict.

“I was actually very impressed, given the situation on the ground,” Callahan said of his recent visit. “You heard explosions relatively frequently, and jets overhead, and drones. But our teams were still able to register people to get supplies out to them.”

In this week’s release, meanwhile, Nesma Naseem, the group’s shelter field officer in Gaza, said the region is marked by “resilient individuals with dreams, aspirations, and the capacity to rebuild their lives.” 

“Continued assistance and solidarity can make a meaningful difference in their journey toward recovery,” Naseem said. “We hope this bad dream will end soon, and we can rebuild our souls and our lives again.”

Pope Francis decries how ‘the unborn with disabilities are aborted’ in throwaway culture

Pope Francis addresses members of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences on April 11, 2024, at the Vatican. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Apr 11, 2024 / 11:15 am (CNA).

Pope Francis decried how “the unborn with disabilities are aborted” in a speech on Thursday to a Vatican conference on disability inclusion.

The pope warned that “the throwaway culture” turns into “a culture of death” when people “presume to be able to establish, on the basis of utilitarian and functional criteria, when a life has value and is worth being lived.”

He pointed out that we see this today especially on the two extremes of the spectrum of life — “the unborn with disabilities are aborted and the elderly close to the end are administered an ‘easy death’ by euthanasia.”

According to the University of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life, it’s estimated that there are as many as 27,000 abortions annually due to a poor prenatal diagnosis in the United States.

“Every human being has the right to live with dignity and to develop integrally. Even if they are unproductive, or were born with or develop limitations, this does not detract from their great dignity as human persons, a dignity based not on circumstances but on the intrinsic worth of their being,” Pope Francis said in the Apostolic Palace’s Clementine Hall on April 11.

The pope addressed this message to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which is made up of academics and professionals in the fields of law, political science, economics, and sociology.

The academy is meeting at the Vatican this week for its plenary session on disability inclusion

“The plenary intends to take up the challenge and make its own contribution by identifying what … represent the barriers that increase the disability of a society and prevent persons with disability from fully participating in social life,” the plenary session’s program says.

The three-day conference includes discussions on the rights of persons with disabilities, policies for greater economic inclusion, and philosophical perspectives on disability and the human condition. 

In his speech to the pontifical academy, Pope Francis underlined that “vulnerability and frailty are part of the human condition and not something proper only to persons with disabilities.”

He said that “combating the throwaway culture calls for promoting the culture of inclusion” by “forging and consolidating the bonds of belonging within society.”

The pope added that “the bonds of belonging become even stronger when persons with disabilities are not simply passive receivers but take an active part in the life of society as agents of change.”

According to the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, there is no exact number for the amount of people with disabilities worldwide, but international organizations estimate that 16% of the world’s population experience significant disabling conditions.

The “First World Report on Disability” found that people with some form of physical, sensory, or intellectual impairment experience multiple disadvantages compared with the rest of the population, which include barriers in accessing services, lower levels of education, poverty, and less participation in political and cultural life.

“Sadly, in various parts of the world, many persons and families continue to be isolated and forced to the margins of social life because of disabilities,” Pope Francis said.

“And this not only in poorer countries, where the majority of disabled persons live and where their condition often condemns them to extreme poverty, but also in situations of greater prosperity, where, at times, handicaps are considered a ‘personal tragedy’ and the disabled ‘hidden exiles,’ treated as foreigners in society.”

In the pontifical academy’s concept note for the plenary session, the academy recognized the strong solidarity found in family associations that support and accompany families who care for disabled individuals, noting that this solidarity takes on a social significance.

Pope Francis highlighted that “the Church’s care and concern for those with one or more disabilities concretely reflects the many encounters of Jesus with such persons, as described in the Gospels.”

“Jesus not only relates to disabled persons; he also changes the meaning of their experience,” he said. “In fact, he showed a new approach to the condition of persons with disabilities, both in society and before God.” 

“In Jesus’ eyes, every human condition, including those marked by grave limitations, is an invitation to a unique relationship with God that enables people to flourish.”

Vatican official meets Vietnam’s prime minister during historic diplomatic trip

Vatican Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul Gallagher (center) meets with Vietnamc’s Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son (unseen) and other officials at the Foreign Ministry in Hanoi on April 9, 2024. / Credit: NHAC NGUYEN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Rome Newsroom, Apr 11, 2024 / 09:40 am (CNA).

The Vatican’s foreign minister met with Vietnam’s prime minister in Hanoi on Wednesday during the first high-level diplomatic visit by a Church official to the country since the Vietnam War.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican secretary for relations with states, spoke with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh about the possibility of Pope Francis becoming the first pope to visit the Southeast Asian country.

The Vietnamese state-run news agency reported on April 10 that both Gallagher and the prime minister agreed “on the need to push ahead with high-level contacts, including Pope Francis’ visit to Vietnam.”

During his six-day trip to Vietnam, Gallagher will visit Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Hue. He will offer public Masses at the cathedrals in all three cities, according to the schedule released by the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Gallagher met with his counterpart, Vietnamese Minister of Foreign Affairs Bui Thanh Son, on his first day in the country on April 9. He is also scheduled to meet with seminarians in Hue and members of Vietnam’s bishops’ conference in Ho Chi Minh City before he leaves the country on April 14.

The high-level diplomatic visit comes amid a warming in Vatican-Vietnam relations. Within the last year, Vietnam has agreed to allow the Vatican to send an official papal representative to live in the country and open an office in Hanoi. 

Pope Francis also received a delegation from Vietnam’s Communist Party government at the Vatican in January, and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin could make a trip to Vietnam later this year.

Gallagher’s visit has fueled speculations of a possible papal trip. The foreign minister said earlier this year that he thinks a papal trip to Vietnam will take place but added that “there are a few further steps to be taken before that would be appropriate.”

“But I think the Holy Father is keen to go and certainly the Catholic community in Vietnam is very happy to want the Holy Father to go. I think it [a papal trip] would send a very good message to the region,” he said.

Vietnam has one of the largest Catholic populations among countries never visited by a pope. The country is home to an estimated 7 million Catholics. An additional 700,000 Vietnamese Catholics live in the United States today, many of whom are refugees or descendants of refugees who fled by boat during the Vietnam War.

Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Marek Zalewski, a Polish Vatican diplomat, as the resident papal representative to Vietnam in December 2023.

Zalewski’s appointment was a historic step toward the possibility of someday establishing full diplomatic relations. Vietnam severed ties with the Holy See after the communist takeover of Saigon in 1975. 

With the new appointment, Vietnam is the only Asian communist country to have a resident papal envoy live in the country.

The Catholic Church in Vietnam has seen a rising number of religious vocations in recent years. The country has 8,000 priests and 41 bishops, according to government data. More than 2,800 seminarians were studying for the priesthood across Vietnam in 2020, 100 times more than in Ireland.

Kimviet Ngo, a Vietnamese American Catholic, told CNA last fall that she hopes that a potential papal visit to Vietnam would help improve religious freedom in the country. 

The Vietnamese Constitution guarantees individual freedom of belief and individual religious freedom. However, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which advises branches of the U.S. government, recommended that Vietnam be designated a “country of particular concern” in its 2024 report.

Ngo’s hope has been backed by a 2024 academic study, which found that papal trips can have a significant effect on the host country’s human rights protections.

Pope Francis is expected to travel to Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries in early September if his health allows.