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Denial of clemency to death row inmate disappoints Oklahoma archbishop

null / California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0).

Denver Newsroom, Sep 28, 2022 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

One day after a parole board denied clemency to death row inmate Benjamin Cole, the archbishop of Oklahoma City registered his disappointment in the decision.

“The denial of clemency by the Pardon and Parole Board is disappointing, as there is hardly any justice to be seen in taking the life of a man who is hardly able to speak and lacks the basic understanding of why the state is seeking his execution,” Archbishop Paul Coakley said Sept. 28.

“While it is too late to provide Benjamin Cole with any care or treatment that might have prevented his crime almost 20 years ago, we still have an obligation to recognize the dignity bestowed upon him by God and the effects of his debilitating mental illness.”

Cole, the archbishop said, “should be allowed to live out what remains of his life in the hope that he receives the mental health care he should have received decades ago. Pray for the victims of violence and their families, that God brings them comfort and peace. Pray for the soul of the condemned and those who will be involved with his execution.”

The Pardon and Parole Board voted 4–1 to deny clemency to Cole, 57, on Sept. 27.

In 2002 Cole killed his 9-month-old daughter, Brianna.

His attorneys maintained that Cole is “severely mentally ill and that he has a growing lesion on his brain,” the AP reported. The lawyers told the board that he has refused medical care and has little or no communication with others.

Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor welcomed the panel’s decision, saying, “Although his attorneys claim Cole is mentally ill to the point of catatonia, the fact is that Cole fully cooperated with a mental evaluation in July of this year. The evaluator, who was not hired by Cole or the state, found Cole to be competent to be executed and that ‘Mr. Cole does not currently evidence any substantial, overt signs of mental illness, intellectual impairment, and/or neurocognitive impairment.’”

Cole had been incarcerated previously for the abuse of another of his infant children, and prosecutors, according to the AP, “noted that [Brianna] had numerous injuries consistent with a history of abuse.”

Relatives of Brianna’s mother asked that the board deny clemency.

A county judge is due to decide whether a trial will be held to determine whether Cole is competent to be executed. 

The parole board having denied clemency, the Oklahoma governor is unable to commute Cole’s sentence. Cole is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection Oct. 20.

While the Church teaches that capital punishment is not intrinsically evil, both Pope Francis and his immediate predecessors have condemned the practice in the West.

Regarding the execution of criminals, the Catechism of the Council of Trent taught that by its “legal and judicious exercise” civil authorities “punish the guilty and protect the innocent.”

St. John Paul II called on 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.” He also spoke of his desire for a consensus to end the death penalty, which he called “cruel and unnecessary.”

And Pope Benedict XVI exhorted world leaders to make “every effort to eliminate the death penalty” and told Catholics that ending capital punishment was an essential part of “conforming penal law both to the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order.”

In August 2018, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a new draft of the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s paragraph regarding capital punishment.

Quoting Pope Francis’ words in a speech on Oct. 11, 2017, the new paragraph states, in part, that “the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

Reasons for changing the teaching, the paragraph says, include: the increasing effectiveness of detention systems, growing understanding of the unchanging dignity of the person, and leaving open the possibility of conversion.

Dominican Father Thomas Petri, a moral theologian at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., told CNA at the time that he thinks this change “further absolutizes the pastoral conclusion made by John Paul II.”

“Nothing in the new wording of paragraph 2267 suggests the death penalty is intrinsically evil. Indeed, nothing could suggest that because it would contradict the firm teaching of the Church,” Petri said.

Supreme Court Justice Alito: faith ‘should affect the way you treat people’ as a judge

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito / Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 28, 2022 / 16:45 pm (CNA).

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito — author of the deciding opinion that overturned Roe v. Wade — stressed the importance of his Catholic faith to serving on the highest court in the country Tuesday in a lecture to law students at the Catholic University of America (CUA).

“A person’s faith shapes what kind of person [he or she] is,” Alito said, adding “it also should affect the way you treat [people] when you’re serving as a judge.”

Alito’s inaugural lecture was given at the opening of CUA’s new Project on Constitutional Originalism and the Catholic Intellectual Tradition (CIT), a program started for students at the university’s Columbus School of Law.

CIT explores the relationship of Catholicism to American Constitutionalism, focusing on doctors of the church such as Sts. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and secular thinkers such as Aristotle and Cicero.

Professor J. Joel Alicea, who co-directs the program, said in the lecture’s opening statement that the school believes the Catholic intellectual tradition “can help us better think through the challenges of our day.”

Alicea, who clerked for Justice Alito in 2016, introduced the justice as the honorary chair of the project’s advisory board to the reception of thundering applause.

The justice then gave remarks outlining how CUA’s project will consider how the Catholic faith relates to law but did not address the overturning of Roe or other controversial opinions from the summer.

When asked by a student how his personal faith affected his professional life, Alito pointed to how formative Catholicism is in shaping how a person treats other human beings.

“Among other things, [faith] shapes how a person regards other people and treats other people,” Alito responded.

“Judges affect people — indirectly, but sometimes very powerfully, through their decisions,” he continued. “It’s important to keep in mind that these decisions are not just abstract discussions. They have a real impact in the world and you have to keep that in mind.”

Alito authored the historic Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

“Roe was … egregiously wrong and on a collision course with the Constitution from the day it was decided,” Alito wrote in the decision’s opinion.

The decision denounced the claim that there is a “constitutional right to abortion” and returned the question of it to the states.

“Abortion presents a profound moral question,” the opinion concluded.

The son of Italian immigrants, Alito was born to a Catholic family in Trenton, New Jersey. He was a graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School. After serving in positions for the Justice Department and as the U.S. attorney general for the district of New Jersey, he was nominated to the Supreme Court by President George W. Bush — a position he’s held since 2006.

Following this summer’s landmark decision overturning Roe, Alito and the other justices have faced virulent criticism both nationally and abroad, increased violence, and even death threats.

Alito dismissed some of these attacks in a speech at a Notre Dame conference in July.

“I had the honor this term of writing, I think, the only Supreme Court decision in the history of that institution that has been lambasted by a whole string of foreign leaders who felt perfectly fine commenting on American law,” Alito said.

Afghan refugees reunited with baby thanks to pro-life pregnancy center

null / Vulnerable People Project

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 28, 2022 / 15:51 pm (CNA).

On Tuesday night Benafsha and her husband, Mustafa, anxiously waited at Dulles International Airport for their son, 22-month-old Jasoor, to arrive from Afghanistan.

Benafsha tugged at her long brown hair nervously, and Mustafa held his wife close to him as they watched for their son to walk through the airport security exit and into their arms.

The last time they saw Jasoor was over a year ago — they had been separated from him for more than half his life.

An unexpected, tragic parting

On Aug. 26, 2021, the family was supposed to begin a new life together. 

Benafsha had served as a translator for coalition forces in Afghanistan, and when the U.S. withdrew its last troops from the country after more than 20 years, she was among the lucky ones granted Special Immigrant Visas to evacuate to the United States. 

While the family was waiting to board a flight to the U.S. at Kabul’s airport, a suicide bomber detonated explosives, killing more than 170 people. Jasoor was in the arms of his grandmother, and in the chaos that ensued, as soldiers exchanged gunfire with militants of the Islamic State – Korasan Province, the pair were separated from the baby’s parents. 

Benafsha and Mustafa, distraught but powerless in the face of a military operation reacting to a wartime situation, were forced to leave Kabul without Jasoor. The hope that they would soon be reunited and that by leaving they would best ensure their son’s safety sustained them as they departed without him.

A crisis pregnancy center says 'yes'

By December, however, that hope appeared to be fading. It had been almost four months since they had seen their son, and things were not going well. Jasoor and his grandmother were barely surviving on their own in Kabul — as the dead of winter approached, they were running out of coal and had little food. 

Things were no better for Benafsha and Mustafa, who were about to be evicted from the temporary housing they had found with a relative in Texas. Adding to the stressful situation, Benafsha was pregnant and in need of medical care.

Desperate for help, she contacted the Pflugerville Pregnancy Resource Center outside of Austin. Little did she know that this pro-life crisis pregnancy center would not only help her with her immediate needs, but it would be the means to seeing her son again.

Brittany Green, executive director of the pregnancy center, told CNA that when Benafsha came to them, they saw there were two critical issues facing the couple: medical care and housing. 

The clinic helped her get health insurance and made an appointment with the center’s medical director for OB-GYN care. 

Next came finding a place for the couple to live. While the pro-life pregnancy center offers counseling and health care to women in crisis pregnancies, there’s a lot more to the services they offer. 

“Our perception here is we come from a place of ‘yes.’ If it is something that we can do, we’re going to do it. If it’s something we can’t do, we’re going to find the people who can help us do it,” Green said. 

“The people that we serve often hear ‘no.’ And we don’t want them to come to us and hear another ‘no.’ So we will do everything in our power to make sure that their future and success is set up,” she explained.

With the help of Loveline Outreach Ministry and a local church, the Pflugerville pro-life clinic found Benafsha and Mustafa a hotel room for a month, and they helped Mustafa find a job. Then, through Texas Alliance for Life, she learned about Jason Jones’ work evacuating refugees in Afghanistan through the nonprofit he founded, the Vulnerable People Project (VPP). 

Green got in touch with Jones, who happened to be in Texas at the time, and arranged to have coffee with Jones, Benafsha, and Mustafa.  

Jones asked for Jasoor and his grandmother’s address, and within 24 hours a care package of coal and food was delivered to them in Kabul. He also helped make funds available for Benafsha and Mustafa to secure more permanent housing in Texas. VPP works with organizations in Afghanistan to provide much-needed services including food, health care, and education to those still in the country. 

‘Only God could make this happen’

In addition to providing aid in Afghanistan, the VPP has helped thousands of Afghan citizens obtain visas to leave their country and find a safe haven elsewhere. Jones set the wheels in motion to get Jasoor a visa to the U.S. 

Marilis Pineiro, the nonprofit’s legislative and diplomatic relations liaison, successfully lobbied the State Department to approve Jasoor’s visa after months of paperwork and negotiations. 

Since Jasoor is considered an infant, it was particularly difficult to get him a visa to travel without his parents, Pineiro told CNA. The State Department finally allowed his 24-year-old aunt a visa to accompany him.

Vulnerable People Project
Vulnerable People Project

While Pineiro has helped shepherd hundreds of Afghanis to safety, she said that reuniting Jasoor with his parents was an especially emotional experience for her.

“I’m still in shock because it was such a seemingly impossible task,” Pineiro told CNA. “I ask myself ‘How?’ and the answer is that only God could make that happen.”

Jones told CNA that getting the family back together again showed the important role pro-life pregnancy centers play in serving mothers and their families.

“I’m so grateful for the thousands of pregnancy centers across America that help women meet their needs. If not for this pro-life clinic reaching out to us, we never would have met Benafsha and Mustafa and been able to help them reunite with Jasoor,” he said.

When a curly-haired Jasoor, now a toddler, finally entered the international arrivals waiting area at Dulles Airport, his mother and father hugged him and kissed him as they thought they might never get a chance to see him again.

The last time they saw each was at another airport, and the circumstances could not have been more different. 

“This is the happiest day of my life,” Benafsha said, holding baby Helen in her arms, and Jasoor by his hand, as they set off to their new home in Virginia, a dream come true after so much sorrow and uncertainty. 

The family of four is together for the first time. Vulnerable People Project
The family of four is together for the first time. Vulnerable People Project

Vulnerable People Project
Vulnerable People Project

Florida Catholic schools prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Ian with action and prayer

A vehicle drives through the winds and rain from Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28, 2022, in Sarasota, Florida. Ian is hitting the area as a likely Category 4 hurricane. / Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

St. Louis, Mo., Sep 28, 2022 / 12:15 pm (CNA).

Catholic schools of all levels are taking measures to keep their students safe amid the imminent arrival of Hurricane Ian, which strengthened into a Category 4 storm overnight and is expected to hit Florida’s Gulf Coast starting on Wednesday.

Ave Maria University, a Catholic college located about an hour northeast of Naples, Florida, has canceled classes through Sept. 30. Though the school is not in the direct path of the hurricane, heavy rainfall and wind are expected. 

As of midday on Sept. 28, Hurricane Ian had reached Category 4 strength with winds of 155 mph, barely shy of a Category 5 rating. Naples, Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and Port Charlotte are expected to be hit with major storm surges.

Matthew Dionisi, a freshman business major at Ave Maria, told CNA that most of his friends are remaining in their dorms, but they haven’t yet received a mandate from the school to do so. As of Wednesday, all classes at the university have been moved online, and the school says it will ask students to shelter in place if they receive a tornado warning.

In addition to switching to online learning, Ave Maria has canceled virtually all extracurricular activities. The school is running shuttles from the dorms to the dining hall to allow students to eat.

“For the rest of the day today, please do not ride your bikes, scooters, or skateboards around campus. If you would like to go to the Dining Hall, please take one of the three van shuttles from the residence halls to the Dining Hall that are running continuously today,” reads a Sept. 28 noon announcement from the school.

“It is likely that we will continue to experience heavy rainfall and wind throughout the day. Avoid nonessential travel. Updates will continue throughout the day.”

Dionisi said the mood is generally good among most fellow students he’s encountered, mainly because they know that the buildings on campus are designed to withstand a hurricane. The school, in its Sept. 28 message, noted that the campus was built to withstand a direct hit of a Category 4 hurricane — 130–155 mph sustained winds.

Dionisi said he also is confident that if an evacuation becomes necessary, the school will be able to provide that. He said despite being disappointed that he is no longer able to sing in the choir at an upcoming Mass — which had been scheduled for Wednesday evening — most of the people he has encountered are in good spirits and relaxed.

The Tampa Bay area, two and a half hours north of Naples, is expected to suffer hurricane-force winds and heavy rain likely to cause flash flooding and power outages, the Tampa Bay Times reported. Though the hurricane will likely hit just south of the bay area, mandatory evacuations have been ordered for coastal and low-lying areas, and Tampa officials warned residents on Tuesday to take the hurricane seriously, as first responders are not sent out if winds are higher than 40 mph.

Jesuit High School in Tampa, an all-boys school, has canceled all classes and extracurricular activities through Sept. 30.

Jimmy Mitchell, director of campus ministry, told CNA that the school itself is not at particular risk of storm surge and that it has storm-proof windows and other safety features. Still, he said, many of the school’s families have evacuated north, but others have decided to ride out the hurricane.

“I know the Jesuits are staying in their residence and offering Mass and many prayers for our greater school community each day,” Mitchell told CNA by text.

“Lots of students [are] connecting in small groups to pray rosaries over Zoom and things like that as well,” he said.

St. Leo University, a Benedictine college located 40 minutes northeast of Tampa, also issued a weather advisory on Tuesday canceling classes. While the university is closed for normal business operations, only essential personnel and students who are being sheltered may be on campus, the school says.

In the nearby Diocese of St. Petersburg, Bishop Gregory Parkes on Tuesday asked for prayers for “protection during the storm.”

“Loving God, maker of heaven and earth, protect us in your love and mercy. Send the spirit of Jesus to be with us to still our fears and to give us confidence in the stormy waters. Jesus reassured his disciples by his presence, calmed the storm, and strengthened their faith,” Parkes prayed in a message emailed to each parish in his diocese and posted on the diocese’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

“Guard us from harm during the storm and renew our faith to serve you faithfully. Give us the courage to face all difficulties and the wisdom to see the ways your Spirit binds us together in mutual assistance,” Parkes prayed. “With confidence, we make our prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

Legislators raise concerns about FBI raid at pro-life family’s home

Mark and Ryan-Marie Houck with their seven children, ages 2 to 13. / Courtesy of the Houck family

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 27, 2022 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

Twenty-two members of Congress are demanding an explanation from the Department of Justice after the arrest of a Catholic pro-life leader in front of his wife and children at the family’s home in Pennsylvania last week. 

Mark Houck, 48, was charged with two counts of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or the FACE Act, and entered a not guilty plea at his arraignment in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

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). 

“The FBI’s treatment of pro-life leader Mark Houck is chilling,” Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines said in a press release that accompanied the Sept. 27 letter. “Instead of allowing for a local resolution of the dispute, the FBI nationalized the matter by using excessive force with an early morning raid at gunpoint in front of young children. The American people deserve answers.” 

The letter requests, by Sept. 30, “an explanation for the excessive level of force used by the FBI in this case, and why the power of federal law enforcement was once again used against an American citizen in what should be a state and local matter.”

“Attorney General Merrick Garland oversees an increasingly politicized FBI that seems hell-bent on making examples of average American citizens who don’t align politically with the administration,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said in the press release. 

“Given what we know about it thus far that is what the case of the raid on Mark Houck’s home appears to be,” Roy added. “And the FBI should immediately answer for its apparent use of a 25- to 30-person SWAT team with guns drawn to target Mark Houck, a pro-life father of seven, for allegedly shoving a guy in front of an abortion clinic (while he maintains he was defending his 12-year-old son).”

Houck’s arrest gained national attention after his wife publicly offered her account about details of the resources and tactics used by the FBI to arrest the pro-life leader and family man.

“A SWAT team of about 25 came to my house with about 15 vehicles and started pounding on our door,” Houck’s wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, told CNA the day of the arrest.

“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.

The FBI disputed Ryan-Marie Houck’s account of the arrest in a statement on Monday, calling the claims “inaccurate.”

“No SWAT Team or SWAT operators were involved. FBI agents knocked on Mr. Houck’s front door, identified themselves as FBI agents, and asked him to exit the residence. He did so and was taken into custody without incident pursuant to an indictment,” the statement said.

“Extensive planning takes place prior to the service of any federal warrant. The FBI then employs the personnel and tactics deemed necessary to effect a safe arrest or search,” the statement said.

“While it’s the FBI’s standard practice not to discuss such operational specifics, we can say that the number of personnel and vehicles widely reported as being on scene Friday is an overstatement, and the tactics used by FBI personnel were professional, in line with standard practices, and intended to ensure the safety of everyone present in and outside the residence,” the statement concluded.

An FBI spokesman declined to answer CNA’s questions about the number of law enforcement personnel at the scene and whether any drew their weapons and pointed them at the family.

The charges

Houck was indicted by a federal grand jury Sept. 22 after a Planned Parenthood clinic escort alleged that Houck pushed him twice, causing him to fall to the ground both times.

The federal indictment says that Houck twice assaulted the 72-year-old man, identified in the indictment by the initials B.L., who was at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia on Oct. 13, 2021.

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

Houck regularly prays the rosary, hands out literature, and “does some sidewalk counseling” outside the clinic, his wife told CNA the day of the arrest.

Brian Middleton, who acted as Houck’s family spokesperson, told CNA Monday that Mark Houck maintains that he pushed the clinic escort in an effort to protect his then 12-year-old son from the man’s verbal harassment of the boy.

Middleton said that the man fell down but was not seriously hurt and required only “a Band-Aid on his finger.”

Houck faces the possibility of 11 years in prison if convicted under the new federal charges. 

The congressional letter addressed the dropped state charges.

“There is much to learn about the extent of the FBI’s operations in this case, especially since state-level assault charges were apparently dismissed by local authorities in Philadelphia,” the congressional letter says.

“Surely, the FBI must have an extraordinary reason for showing up at the home of an American family, allegedly with roughly 25 heavily armed federal agents, and arresting a father in front of his seven children. At the moment, it appears to be an extraordinary overreach for political ends.”

Catholic University raises replica of Notre-Dame de Paris truss

A group of volunteers stand in front of a Notre-Dame Cathedral truss replica at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. / Patrick G. Ryan

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 27, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

A full-scale replica of a Notre-Dame de Paris truss creaked gently in the morning sun as dozens of students and volunteers pulled on ropes to raise it above the lawn of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

The truss — a roof support — went up just hours before Philippe Villeneuve and Rémi Fromont, chief architects leading the restoration of the historic cathedral, visited the U.S. for the first time since a fire engulfed the medieval church in 2019. 

The architects’ first stop, the university said, would be to see the truss.

The raising was no small feat: the 45-foot-wide by 35-foot-high white oak structure weighs 8,100 pounds. Its creation, the university noted, is also remarkable. Produced using traditional, 800-year-old methods, the hand-hewn truss was created using blueprints of the original.

Together with the educational nonprofit Handshouse Studio and other groups, the university’s School of Architecture and Planning crafted the truss during a 10-day workshop last year as part of the Notre-Dame de Paris Truss Project. A team of timber framers, carpenters, faculty, and students followed French protocol from the Middle Ages in everything from timber harvesting and tools to assembly.

“It’s my understanding that we’re enacting the building and the utilization of a truss that was made with authentic materials and in an authentic construction fashion when the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris was raised in the 12th century,” the university’s president, Peter Kilpatrick, told CNA.

While the creators originally dreamed of gifting the truss to the cathedral, now they are hoping to donate their talents instead — and travel to Paris.

“We’ll be sending American students and craftsmen over there to work with their materials and their supplies,” Sam Merklein, a graduate student studying architecture who is involved with the truss project, told CNA.

Architecture students Juan Soto, Andrew Masison, and Sam Merklein helped build a Notre-Dame de Paris truss replica that was raised at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. Katie Yoder/CNA
Architecture students Juan Soto, Andrew Masison, and Sam Merklein helped build a Notre-Dame de Paris truss replica that was raised at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. Katie Yoder/CNA

In the meantime, the truss has stood on the National Mall — between the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol — as well as inside the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Millennium Gate Museum in Atlanta.

Monday marked its fifth exhibition.

Merklein, a 23-year-old from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, called the effort a “symbol of solidarity, from the U.S. to offer to the French their condolences.”

Opening the day with prayer, Bishop John O. Barres of Rockville Centre, New York, a university trustee, called on the intercession of French saints for the rebuilding of not only the cathedral but also the Catholic Church in France.

“This morning we pray in solidarity with Parisians and people around the world who treasure Notre Dame Cathedral’s beautiful expression of the Catholic faith and the Catholic soul in art, architecture, liturgy, and history,” Barres said.

Kilpatrick, together with Andre Finot, the chief communications officer for the cathedral, attended the raising. Afterward, following an ancient tradition, one of the builders scaled the truss to fix a whetting bush, or evergreen, to the top in celebration.

A builder scales the Notre-Dame de Paris truss replica to fix a whetting bush, or evergreen, to the top in celebration at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. Patrick G. Ryan
A builder scales the Notre-Dame de Paris truss replica to fix a whetting bush, or evergreen, to the top in celebration at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. Patrick G. Ryan

Juan Soto, 24, from Ashburn, Virginia, called the truss’ placement on the university lawn, next to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a “beautiful sight.”

“We all worked on this hands-on, we got to hew the logs as they came in last summer,” said Soto, an architecture student who graduated earlier this year. 

With this project, Kilpatrick said that he hopes that these students come away with a new curiosity. He revealed that he attended Mass at the cathedral in Paris as a young assistant professor during his first trip to France in 1984. 

He explained, today, why he is excited about the truss project.

Catholic University of America President Peter Kilpatrick attends the raising of a Notre-Dame de Paris truss replica at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. Katie Yoder/CNA
Catholic University of America President Peter Kilpatrick attends the raising of a Notre-Dame de Paris truss replica at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. Katie Yoder/CNA

“It represents one of the most important elements of our university education, and that is that we believe in the integration of the disciplines,” he told CNA. “So knowledge is not isolated in a discipline, it’s not isolated in a time or chronology. Knowledge is part of human understanding of God’s truth for the world and so when you integrate something like history and architecture and our faith and human culture — when you integrate all those things — you’re helping our students and our community understand the continuity of knowledge and the relationship between the disciplines.”

Attorney Trevor O. Resurreccion, 43, traveled from Santa Ana, California, to attend the raising. A donor to the project, he attended the university’s architecture school as an undergraduate.

“I jumped at the opportunity and I thought, what a great way to not only support the school and the students here but also a project that is important — not just for Catholic University, but also for people around the world and, of course, Paris,” he told CNA. 

Attorney Trevor O. Resurreccion, 43, traveled from Santa Ana, California, to attend the raising of a Notre-Dame de Paris truss replica at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. A donor of the project, he formerly attended the university’s architecture school as an undergraduate. Katie Yoder/CNA
Attorney Trevor O. Resurreccion, 43, traveled from Santa Ana, California, to attend the raising of a Notre-Dame de Paris truss replica at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. A donor of the project, he formerly attended the university’s architecture school as an undergraduate. Katie Yoder/CNA

Afterward, the cathedral’s Finot, representatives from Handshouse Studio, and Catholic University faculty participated in a panel discussion. The group identified two carpenters present who will help with the efforts to help rebuild Notre-Dame de Paris — after making connections through the truss project.

Marie Brown, executive director of Handshouse Studio, highlighted the beauty of building something the way it was originally fashioned, whether with the truss replica or with the cathedral itself.

“By remaking something in the method it was originally made, the process of that maker, the experience of that maker, is actually embodied,” she said. “The person now picks up the tool — they might not even be familiar with it if they’re a beginner, they might be next to a person who is an expert and get to watch and learn. But then their actual embodiment of that action gets you into the mind of the maker.”

She added: “It suddenly brings out this whole understanding of history in a way that’s so personal.”

A group of students and volunteers pose in front of a Notre-Dame de Paris truss replica at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. Patrick G. Ryan
A group of students and volunteers pose in front of a Notre-Dame de Paris truss replica at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. Patrick G. Ryan

Colorado Springs Diocese mourns death of emeritus Bishop Sheridan

Bishop Emeritus Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, who died Sept. 27, 2022. / Diocese of Colorado Springs.

Colorado Springs, Colo., Sep 27, 2022 / 16:17 pm (CNA).

Bishop Michael Sheridan, who led the Diocese of Colorado Springs from 2003 to 2021, died Tuesday. He was 77.

The diocese announced his death at Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs Sept. 27.

Bishop James Golka, Sheridan’s successor, wrote on Twitter: “Please join me in praying for the repose of his soul. He was a faithful servant until the end.”

Sheridan was born in St. Louis in 1945. He attended Rockhurst College for a year and then Cardinal Glennon College Seminary and Kenrick Seminary. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis in 1971. 

He continued his studies at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, earning a licentiate, and returned to teach at Kenrick. He was active in the theater group there.

In 1997 Sheridan was consecrated a bishop and appointed an auxiliary of the St. Louis Archdiocese.

In 2001 he was appointed coadjutor bishop of Colorado Springs, and he succeeded as ordinary on Jan. 30, 2003. He retired in 2021 at age 76.

“Among his many achievements during his tenure as bishop of Colorado Springs were the development of a robust vocations program that resulted in the ordination of many new priests for the diocese and the construction of the St. John Henry Newman Chapel and Catholic Student Center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs,” the diocese said.

Sheridan also hosted a weekly radio show from 2008 to 2020.

A vigil for Sheridan will be held Oct. 6 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Colorado Springs, and his funeral Mass will be said the following day at the city’s Holy Apostles Church.

Florida bishop calls for prayers ahead of Hurricane Ian

United States Naval Research Laboratory's infrared-gray satellite image of Hurricane Ian. / Public Domain

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 27, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

As Hurricane Ian bears down on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Bishop Gregory L. Parkes of St. Petersburg asked for prayers for “protection during the storm.”

In a message emailed to each parish in his diocese and posted on the diocese’s Facebook page and YouTube channel, Parkes offered a prayer of his own.

“Loving God, maker of heaven and earth, protect us in your love and mercy. Send the spirit of Jesus to be with us to still our fears and to give us confidence in the stormy waters. Jesus reassured his disciples by his presence, calmed the storm, and strengthened their faith,” he said.

“Guard us from harm during the storm and renew our faith to serve you faithfully. Give us the courage to face all difficulties and the wisdom to see the ways your Spirit binds us together in mutual assistance,” Parkes prayed. “With confidence, we make our prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

On Tuesday afternoon the Category 3 storm struck western Cuba and headed into the Gulf of Mexico. While the exact path of the hurricane is not yet known, forecasters have issued warnings for the entire Gulf Coast. Current projections are for the storm to hit between Tampa and Ft. Myers on Wednesday.

The Diocese of St. Petersburg is, for now, to the north of the hurricane’s expected path, but dangerous flooding and damaging winds are expected for all of Florida's west coast. Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for coastal and low-lying areas.

Tampa officials warned residents on Tuesday to take the hurricane seriously, as first responders are not sent out if winds are higher than 40 mph.

With sustained winds expected to reach 115 mph, and gusts up to 145 mph, the National Hurricane Center warned that “locations may be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”

National Hurricane Center's track of Hurricane Ian, expected to make landfall onWednesday. Public Domain
National Hurricane Center's track of Hurricane Ian, expected to make landfall onWednesday. Public Domain

Cardinal Arinze explains why Belgian bishops can’t bless same-sex couples

Cardinal Francis Arinze. / Padre Mimmo Spatuzzi via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Denver Newsroom, Sep 26, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The Belgian bishops’ introduction of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples has drawn rebuke from Cardinal Francis Arinze, the former head of the Vatican’s liturgy office. 

The cardinal said Belgium’s bishops have taken an erroneous and pastorally flawed approach.

“Human beings have no power to change the order established by God the Creator,” Arinze said in a Sept. 24 message included in the email newsletter of Vatican journalist Robert Moynihan.

“Even if the aim is to be pastorally helpful to homosexual couples, this is an error on the part of the bishops,” Arinze said.

The Nigerian-born cardinal, now 89 years old, served as the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship from 2002 to 2008. Even in retirement, the cardinal has responded to the Belgian Catholic bishops’ open defiance of the Vatican and Catholic teaching.

On Sept. 20 Belgium’s bishops announced the introduction of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples in their dioceses. The bishops of Flanders also published a liturgy for the celebration of homosexual unions for the Flemish-speaking parts of the bilingual country.

Arinze criticized the bishops’ statement, citing its title “Being pastorally close to homosexual persons: for a welcoming Church that excludes no one.”

The cardinal said their approach is not pastoral and ignores Catholic teaching.

“Holy Scripture presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,” he said, adding that Church tradition, as represented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”

“While persons with homosexual inclination are to be respected and not unjustly discriminated against, they, like every Christian and indeed every human being, are called to chastity,” Arinze said. He cited Christ’s words in Matthew 5:8: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

He also cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s teaching that homosexual persons are “called to chastity.”

“By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection,” says the Catechism, as quoted by Arinze.

The cardinal also referred to a recent statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Catholic Church’s doctrinal watchdog, though he did not go into detail.

The CDF addressed the question on March 15, 2021. The congregation said that the Church does not have the power to bless same-sex relationships. The Vatican statement was issued with the approval of Pope Francis.

The CDF statement made clear that blessings can be given “to individual persons with homosexual inclinations, who manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching.”

“(T)he Church recalls that God Himself never ceases to bless each of His pilgrim children in this world, because for Him ‘we are more important to God than all of the sins that we can commit,’” the congregation said. “But he does not and cannot bless sin: he blesses sinful man, so that he may recognize that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him. He in fact ‘takes us as we are, but never leaves us as we are.’”

The CDF statement came amid an effort in the Church in Germany to push for blessings of same-sex unions. The statement sparked protests and open defiance in the German-speaking Catholic world. German priests and pastoral workers also openly defied the Vatican and conducted blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.

LGBT advocates who believe Catholic teaching can and should change are active in the U.S.

In 2015, the American dissenting Catholic groups Dignity USA and New Ways Ministry called for the blessings of same-sex unions as marriages within the Church.

Amid outcry, FBI disputes account of raid at pro-life Catholic family’s home

An FBI agent stands outside the Houck residence in Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 23, 2022. Mark Houck was arrested that day and charged with assaulting a Planned Parenthood escort outside an Philadelphia abortion clinic on Oct. 13, 2021. / Courtesy of the Houck family

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 26, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

The FBI is disputing published accounts of a “SWAT” raid on a pro-life Catholic family’s home in Pennsylvania last week.

The alleged circumstances of the Sept. 23 arrest of Mark Houck, a 48-year-old father of seven, have led to a public outcry about what many view as an unnecessarily aggressive show of force.

Houck’s wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, told CNA that a large contingent of federal law enforcement officials arrived early that morning outside the family’s home in Kintnersville in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

“A SWAT team of about 25 came to my house with about 15 vehicles and started pounding on our door,” she 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.

On Monday the FBI disputed her account.

“There are inaccurate claims being made regarding the arrest of Mark Houck,” the FBI’s Philadelphia office said in a statement.

“No SWAT Team or SWAT operators were involved. FBI agents knocked on Mr. Houck’s front door, identified themselves as FBI agents, and asked him to exit the residence. He did so and was taken into custody without incident pursuant to an indictment,” the statement continued.

An FBI spokesman declined to answer CNA’s questions about the number of law enforcement personnel at the scene and whether any drew their weapons and pointed them at the family.

“Extensive planning takes place prior to the service of any federal warrant. The FBI then employs the personnel and tactics deemed necessary to effect a safe arrest or search,” the statement said.

“While it’s the FBI’s standard practice not to discuss such operational specifics, we can say that the number of personnel and vehicles widely reported as being on scene Friday is an overstatement, and the tactics used by FBI personnel were professional, in line with standard practices, and intended to ensure the safety of everyone present in and outside the residence,” the statement concluded.

Brian Middleton, who has acted as the Houck family’s spokesperson, responded to the FBI’s statement.

“They’re turning this into a technical conversation about the representation of a woman who on Friday morning was awakened by a bunch of FBI agents armed with automatic weapons, some of them with body armor … pointing automatic weapons at her and her husband when they arrived in front of their children,” Middleton told CNA.

“This is absurd. If they’re not going to tell us the number, what they’re trying to do is make it look as if the Houcks aren’t telling the truth,” he said. “This isn’t a math contest. The issue is excessive force for the crime of maybe pushing another person.”

Middleton noted that publicist Tom Ciesieka will be taking over the role of family spokesman.

Altercation on video

Mark Houck, the founder and co-president of a men’s spiritual formation apostolate called The King’s Men, faces the possibility of 11 years in prison if convicted of violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, more commonly referred to as the FACE Act.

The law carries stiff penalties for those who engage in “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.

A federal indictment accuses Houck of twice assaulting a Planned Parenthood client escort, identified in the document as “B.L.,” outside a Philadelphia abortion clinic on Oct. 23, 2021.

Houck regularly prays the rosary, hands out literature, and “does some sidewalk counseling” outside the clinic, his wife told CNA.

Mark Houck maintains that he pushed the clinic escort away from Houck’s then 12-year-old son because the man was verbally harassing the boy, Middleton told CNA.

The man fell down but was not seriously hurt, Middleton said, requiring only “a Band-Aid on his finger.”

Mark Houck with two of his seven children. Courtesy of the Houck family
Mark Houck with two of his seven children. Courtesy of the Houck family

Middleton said the altercation was captured on camera, though he said Sunday that the Houcks were still trying to locate the video.

Middleton said after local authorities declined to press charges, the escort pressed charges in Philadelphia municipal court, but the case was dismissed when the man repeatedly failed to show up for court dates.

As of Monday afternoon, an online fund drive for the Houck family has raised more than $191,000.

Defended by Thomas More Society

Houck’s arraignment on the charges is scheduled for Tuesday in federal court in Philadelphia. In a press release issued Monday, the Thomas More Society nonprofit legal firm announced it is representing Houck.

The law firm said one-on-one altercations like the one involving Houck do not fall under the federal FACE Act, citing a decision in a similar case Thomas More lawyers won in June 2019 on behalf of a sidewalk counselor.

“This case is being brought solely to intimidate people of faith and pro-life Americans,” Peter Breen, a Thomas More vice president and senior counselor, said in a statement. “Mark Houck is innocent of these lawless charges, and we intend to prove that in court.”

The law firm said it informed the Department of Justice in June that if Houck were charged he would turn himself in voluntarily.

“Rather than accepting Mark Houck’s offer to appear voluntarily, the Biden Department of Justice chose to make an unnecessary show of potentially deadly force, sending 20 heavily armed federal agents to the Houck residence at dawn this past Friday,” Breen said.

“In threatening form, after nearly breaking down the family’s front door, at least five agents pointed guns at Mark’s head and arrested him in front of his wife and seven young children, who were terrified that their husband and father would be shot dead before their eyes.”

Accounts of how Houck was taken into custody have been met with sharp criticism from GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri.

“I want to know from Merrick Garland directly why Biden’s DOJ is arresting Catholic protestors like terrorists — complete with SWAT-style tactics — while letting actual terrorist acts like firebombings go unpunished,” Hawley said in a tweet.

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, wrote a letter to Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a ranking member of the Committee on the Judiciary, imploring him to “get to the bottom of this duplicity.” 

“I am not in a position to judge the veracity of the account offered by the FBI or Houck. But it surely seems that the FBI overreacted in its handling of this matter. Houck had seven children at home as the SWAT team pounded on his door, showing up fully armored, yelling at him to open it,” Donohue wrote.

“This kind of overreaction for a minor infraction of the law is deeply troubling, and it becomes even more troubling when paired with the underreaction by the Department of Justice when the pro-life side is targeted,” the letter said.

Donohue wrote in June to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking him to “immediately deploy the full resources of the Department of Justice to apprehend and prosecute domestic terrorists who have recently attacked Catholic individuals, vandalized Catholic churches, and torched Catholic-operated crisis pregnancy centers.”

“Not only did I not receive a response from the attorney general, there have been no news stories on SWAT teams crashing the homes of abortion-rights terrorists,” Donohue said in the letter to Grassley.