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Knights of Columbus pledge $100,000 for families of Baltimore bridge collapse victims

Baltimore workers and relatives attend a press conference to honor families and victims of the March 26 collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge after it was struck by the container ship Dali, in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 29, 2024. / Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, Apr 15, 2024 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

The Knights of Columbus recently pledged a six-figure donation toward a Church-sponsored relief fund for families of workers killed in the collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge.

The fraternal organization said on its website that its board of directors “voted during a recent meeting to contribute $100,000 to a relief fund run by the Archdiocese of Baltimore for families who lost loved ones and livelihoods” in the collapse of that bridge. 

The bridge, which first opened in 1977, was largely destroyed last month after a container ship struck it in the early morning hours of March 26. Six construction workers lost their lives in the collapse, while several other individuals were injured. 

Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly noted in the announcement that the founder of the Knights, Blessed Michael McGivney, created the organization in 1882 “to support widows and orphans.” 

“So it was only natural that, upon learning of the death of six road workers — husbands and fathers from the Catholic Hispanic community — we were moved to join with the Church in Baltimore in providing aid to their widows and orphans,” Kelly said. 

The Catholic Review, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, said that the relief fund — which was established by the archdiocese and is being administered at the parish level — has received about $70,000 in addition to the Knights’ donation. Another related fund has received $25,000 in donations. 

The deceased bridge workers, who hailed from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, had been filling potholes on the bridge at the time of the disaster. 

Last week the Sacred Heart of Jesus-Sagrado Corazón de Jesús Parish in the city’s Highlandtown neighborhood hosted a large prayer service in honor of the deceased workers, the Catholic Review reported.

Archbishop William Lori told the newspaper that the local Church has demonstrated a “beautiful” display of both material and spiritual help to the families of the deceased workers. 

“It’s the accompaniment because these wives and moms and children have lost their husbands and fathers in the most tragic way, and we just have to surround them with love,” Lori said.

9 facts about Catholics in the U.S., according to Pew research

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CNA Staff, Apr 15, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

The Pew Research Center released a new fact sheet Friday that contains nine demographic and statistical facts about the Catholic population in the United States, based on the center’s numerous surveys. 

Here are Pew’s nine facts about Catholics in the United States.

  1. Twenty percent of American adults identify as Catholics — a stable number for the past 10 years. 

Out of 262 million adults in the U.S., about 52 million would say they’re Catholic, Pew reports. In 2007, 24% of U.S. adults said they were Catholic. 

  1. A third of all U.S. Catholics are Hispanic. 

The Catholic population is 57% white, 33% Hispanic, 4% Asian, and 2% Black, while 3% are of another race, Pew reported.

  1. Catholics tend to be older than Americans overall, but Hispanic Catholics trend younger. 

While more than half of U.S. Catholic adults overall are aged 50 or older, Hispanic Catholics break that mold. Fewer than half of Hispanic Catholics (43%) are 50 and older, and just 14% of Hispanic Catholics are ages 65 and older, versus 38% of white Catholics.

  1. Roughly 3 in 10 U.S. Catholics (29%) live in the South, while 26% live in the Northeast, 24% in the West and 21% in the Midwest.

Data cited by Pew, and other data previously covered by CNA, show that Catholicism is growing fastest in the South and West, even as it declines in the Midwest and the historically Catholic Northeast. 

The racial and ethnic profile of the Catholic population varies considerably by region, Pew notes. For example, in the Midwest, 80% of Catholics are white and 17% are Hispanic. In the Northeast, 72% of Catholics are white and 19% are Hispanic.

In the South, 49% are white and 40% are Hispanic. And in the West, there are more Hispanic Catholics than white Catholics (55% vs. 30%), Pew says. 

  1. About a third of U.S. Catholics (32%) have a bachelor’s degree.

Another 28% have some college experience but not a bachelor’s degree, and 40% have a high school education or less — a distribution similar to that of the general adult population.

  1. Just 3 in 10 U.S. Catholics (28%) say they attend Mass weekly or more often.

Pew compared this figure with the share of Protestants who attend weekly services, which they say is 40%. 

Larger shares of Catholics say they pray daily (52%) and say religion is very important in their life (46%), Pew says. Overall, 20% of U.S. Catholics say they attend Mass weekly and pray daily and consider religion very important in their life.

By contrast, 10% of self-identified Catholics say they attend Mass a few times a year or less often, pray seldom or never, and consider religion “not too” or “not at all” important in their life.

  1. About half of Catholic registered voters (52%) identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, while 44% affiliate with the Democratic Party.

Other data has shown that the “Catholic electorate” is fairly evenly divided between the Republican and Democratic parties, while also suggesting that a substantial number of Catholics don’t identify with a party at all. 

  1. About 6 in 10 U.S. Catholics say abortion should be legal, in contrast to the Church’s teaching. 

This includes 39% who say it should be legal in most cases and 22% who say it should be legal in all cases, Pew says. 

A key factor, Pew says, is that Catholics’ opinions about abortion tend to align more with their political leanings than with the teachings of their Church. Among Catholic Democrats, 78% say abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Among Catholic Republicans, 43% say this.

  1. Three-quarters of Catholics in the U.S. view Pope Francis favorably, though that figure has dipped by 8% since 2021. 

Francis’ approval rating among U.S. Catholics reached 90% in Pew’s 2015 survey. By September 2018 — at a time when the entire Church was reeling from fresh scandals related to sexual abuse — the pope’s approval rating stood at just 72%, the lowest of his papacy. It had ticked back up to 83% three years later, before its latest dip to 75% in February of this year.

Pope Francis’ late predecessor Benedict XVI initially had a low approval rating of 67% among U.S. Catholics upon taking office in 2005. By 2008, however, his approval rating had reached 83%, and he closed out his papacy at 74%, in 2013.

Neither Benedict nor Francis has yet achieved the lofty heights set by the saintly Pope John Paul II, who in 1990 and 1996 garnered approval from 93% of U.S. Catholics, according to Pew’s data.

First-year seminarians will unplug from technology starting in fall at Detroit seminary

Seminarians chat as they walk along the promenade in front of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. Starting in the fall semester of 2024, first-year seminarians at Sacred Heart and seminaries across the country will undertake a "propaedeutic" year focused on personal, spiritual, and relationship growth, limiting the use of technology while spending more time in prayer and communion with others. / Credit: Photos by Marek Dziekonski | Special to Detroit Catholic

Detroit, Mich., Apr 14, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Starting in the fall, seminarians at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit are going to have more prayer time and less screen time.

The sixth edition of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Program of Priestly Formation, or PPF, which began to be implemented last year in seminaries across the country, mandates a “propaedeutic” (pro-pih-DOO-tic) year for all men first entering into seminary.

Following this guidance, Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit will implement a year of preparation for first-year seminarians starting in the fall of 2024, when men discerning the priesthood will focus on personal and spiritual growth, and less on academic work.

A key feature of the propaedeutic year — “propaedeutic” meaning preparatory or preliminary — will be limited screen and device time and more time dedicated to forming a sense of collegiality among seminarians, helping them to develop a spiritual life rooted in prayer as they discern the vocation to which God is calling them, said Father Stephen Pullis, director of graduate pastoral formation at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, who will lead the propaedeutic year program at the seminary. 

“We started it in a small phase this year for those who came out of high school, but for next year, it will go into effect for all new seminarians,” Pullis told Detroit Catholic. “It’s a new year at the beginning that focuses more on human and spiritual formation. It has fewer classes, a different rhythm of life to help them adjust to growing in their human formation and growing spiritually as well.”

The first year of seminary formation will be about becoming accustomed to seminary life, forming good prayer habits and growing in virtue and friendship with fellow seminarians and with God, Pullis said. To achieve this, seminarians will be asked to limit the time they spend with technology, including smartphone usage, to be more present in their surroundings. 

The propaedeutic year has been installed in other seminaries around the country and has yielded positive results for seminarians who appreciate the time to unplug from the outside world and reconnect with the people and community in front of them, Father Stephen Pullis said. Credit: Photos by Marek Dziekonski | Special to Detroit Catholic
The propaedeutic year has been installed in other seminaries around the country and has yielded positive results for seminarians who appreciate the time to unplug from the outside world and reconnect with the people and community in front of them, Father Stephen Pullis said. Credit: Photos by Marek Dziekonski | Special to Detroit Catholic

The change of schedule comes after recommendations from the Holy See on what seminarian formation needs to encompass to form priests centered in prayer, Pullis said.

“One of the challenges men coming into the seminary often have is they used to be very busy,” Pullis said. “We are used to a life on devices, social media, email, lots of noise, and that can be a difficult adjustment to listening to the Lord’s voice.”

The propaedeutic year doesn’t replace anything in seminary formation, meaning overall priestly formation will take an extra year, but it shouldn’t cause extra burdens. The goal isn’t to shun technology, Pullis said, but to place technology and worldly needs in their rightful place.

“It’s about forming the habits of a man whom the people of God can turn to as a priest,” Pullis explained. “These include habits around the use of technology, the use of free time and relating to each other in good, healthy ways, especially in a world with such an emphasis on technology where it has gone from being a tool to something that dominates us.”

Exact rules and technology limitations for first-year seminarians in the propaedeutic year are still being worked out, but the overall goal is to help men better hear God’s voice as they get used to life in the seminary.

“We look at seminary as someone would look at dating or engagement before marriage,” Pullis said. “It’s a time to say, ‘Is this where God is calling me to be?’ Of course, any man who has decided to enter the seminary has already prayed, but our relationship with the Lord will still need to continue and grow.”

Pope Benedict XVI declared priests need to become experts in the spiritual life, Pullis pointed out. But to do that, a man first needs to make his life quieter to more easily hear the Lord’s voice. 

“The challenges for a man who enters seminary this year are different than when I entered seminary,” Pullis said. “A lot of it is technology and anxiety and the speed of things in the world. Some of that is good — it puts us in contact with people we wouldn’t know otherwise. But so much of that can be a distraction or a temptation to trust in ourselves over the Lord. The propaedeutic year, while a mouthful of a word to say, is especially needed for men entering seminary out of the world now.”

The propaedeutic year has been installed in other seminaries around the country and has yielded positive results for seminarians who appreciate the time to unplug from the outside world and reconnect with the people and community in front of them, Pullis said.

A seminarian spends time in prayer in the chapel of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. Withdrawing from the world to focus on prayer and relationship with God and others isn't a new concept, Father Stephen Pullis said, but in a world dominated by technology, building healthy habits will contribute to forming better priests. Credit: Photos by Marek Dziekonski | Special to Detroit Catholic
A seminarian spends time in prayer in the chapel of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. Withdrawing from the world to focus on prayer and relationship with God and others isn't a new concept, Father Stephen Pullis said, but in a world dominated by technology, building healthy habits will contribute to forming better priests. Credit: Photos by Marek Dziekonski | Special to Detroit Catholic

Withdrawing from the public to go and pray in private is a practice that’s been around since the Old Testament. The Church has always seen a wisdom in decompressing in order to better discern the word of God.

Still, seminarians going through the propaedeutic year aren’t going to become monks or hermits; they’ll still live in community, visit family and their home parish, but it will allow them to break from the constant stream of tagging, sharing, retweeting, and reposting, Pullis said.

“I’ve seen both in potential seminarians and young people in general and in my own life, the way social media can lead to tremendous unrest and a sense of measuring myself against what other people are doing; it can lead to an idea that my life has to be perfect. It’s an ‘Instagram-ification’ of my life that shows the coolest vacation, the most exotic food, that I’m having the best time of my life, and of course that doesn’t correspond to reality,” Pullis said. “But it also becomes a real distraction from where God has put me.”

Unlike a book or a movie, with a beginning, middle, and end, one can always refresh social media, creating a generation that is constantly checking one’s notifications.

“It creates an appetite that doesn’t have a finite end and doesn’t fulfill us,” Pullis explained. “You see that on the scientific side, how it can change our brains, it makes us less attentive to the people who are in front of us.”

Pullis added that first-year seminarians will find plenty of opportunities to fill that social media void: pursuing hobbies such as movies and sports, having conversations, or even scheduling the increasingly rare downtime people crave in the 21st century: just being for the sake of being.

For the faithful in the pews, having priests more attuned to the present can only be a good thing, Pullis said.

“The Church asks, ‘How can we help the people of God have the best priests possible?’ Because we live in the world, that’s going to depend on the gifts and challenges of the world. What are the potential pitfalls?” he said. “The Church wants you and your family to have the best priests possible.”

This article was first published in Detroit Catholic and is reprinted here with permission.

‘Christ wants to be with us’: how Catholic ministries are responding to the mental health crisis

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CNA Staff, Apr 13, 2024 / 07:30 am (CNA).

In October 2023, the U.S. bishops announced the launch of a mental health initiative to address the high rates of anxiety and depression, especially in youth. In recent years, Catholic organizations and ministries throughout the nation have been dedicating more resources to address the mental health crisis.

The percentage of U.S. adults diagnosed with depression has risen almost 10% since 2015, reaching 29% according to a 2023 Gallup poll. A higher percentage of teenagers — 7% more since 2019 — report persistent sadness and hopelessness, according to the Center for Disease Control data, which found that almost half of U.S. teens report experiencing these feelings. 

A number of events and projects focused on mental health and healing have been launched by Catholic groups and institutions this spring. 

Making mental health ministry ‘available in every Catholic parish’

The Catholic Association of Mental Health Ministers (CMHM) will host its second conference at the end this month for mental health ministry leaders in the U.S. “to network and support each other and share ideas, because this is a very new ministry within the Church,” said Deacon Ed Shoener, the organization’s president.

Shoener helped found CMHM to build mental health ministries in the Catholic Church in 2019 soon after his daughter, Katie, who struggled with bipolar disorder, died by suicide in 2016. 

Shoener has traveled around the world educating Catholics on how to build mental health ministries in their local church communities. 

“Our hope is that someday, mental health ministry [would] be available in every Catholic parish,” he told CNA in a phone call. “When someone is struck with a mental health challenge or a mental illness, the first place that everyone realizes they can go, where they’ll find understanding and compassion and support, is the Catholic Church.”

Shoener noted that the Church can offer “spiritual support” while also “encourage[ing] people” to get professional help, just like with physical illnesses.  

The upcoming conference “Building a Culture of Community: Equipping Leaders for Mental Health Ministry,” set to take place April 25–27 in Mundelein, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago, is already sold out. Those interested may attend virtually. 

Shoener noted that the interest reflects the need. 

“There’s definitely a need in the Church. There’s no doubt about that,” Shoener noted. “Any place you go, literally, any place you go in the world, there is need and interest in this ministry.”

“I’m convinced the Holy Spirit sees that this is a need of the times and the Church,” he said. “The body of Christ is responding to it.”

Speakers at the conference include the association’s chaplain, Bishop John Dolan of Phoenix, Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, and Charleen Katra, executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability

Deacon Ed Shoener (left) participates in a panel discussion with Charleen Katra, executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, at the Catholic Association of Mental Health Ministers (CMHM) conference in 2022. Credit: Photo courtesy of CMHM
Deacon Ed Shoener (left) participates in a panel discussion with Charleen Katra, executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, at the Catholic Association of Mental Health Ministers (CMHM) conference in 2022. Credit: Photo courtesy of CMHM

Shoener noted that while the “structured” mental health ministry is new, the Church has been dealing with mental health issues since the time of Christ. 

“Jesus understands mental health, mental illness, because he’s human, and it’s been part of the human condition forever,” Shoener said. “Just like he understands physical suffering, he understands mental health and mental illness.”

Shoener noted that he’s visited other nations to discuss mental health issues. He has traveled to Canada, India, Italy, and South Africa to work with leaders and local Catholics on mental health ministry.  

“The stigma or the types of beliefs about mental illness might vary from culture to culture,” he noted. “But the actual occurrence of mental illness as an illness — it doesn’t discriminate based on culture or ethnicity. Everybody’s affected by depression, anxiety, serious mood disorders, schizophrenia.”

“It’s pretty clear to me that the Holy Spirit is moving and guiding this, because Christ wants to be with us in these struggles and these sufferings,” he said of the ministry.

Seeking local leaders

Another event this spring focused on mental health will be held in Maryland. The Archdiocese of Baltimore is hosting a St. Dymphna Mental Wellness Retreat in partnership with Seeds of Hope at the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton on May 15. 

The retreat will include Mass for families as well as breakout sessions on relevant topics. 

“We are hoping to reach people who live with their own mental health challenges and their loved ones,” Melissa Freymann, a clinical mental health therapist who is organizing the retreat in her role as a mental health ministry consultant for the archdiocese, told CNA. 

Freymann said the retreat is “a day of accompaniment and support” as well as a “day to gather” to launch the “next stage” of the Archdiocese of Baltimore Mental Health Initiative. 

“We have a special breakout for those who have lost loved ones to suicide and another for those who want to start a mental health ministry in their parish,” she noted. 

Freymann explained that Catholic mental health ministry “meets people where they are at.” The ministry “is not professional mental health care” but rather “a resource” that “offers hope and support.” 

Yvonne Wenger, an organizer of the retreat and director of public relations for the archdiocese, said that one of the goals for the retreat is to “reach participants who are interested in establishing ministries in their parish communities.” 

Wenger told CNA that some local churches are sending delegates to the retreat who “are interested “in exploring the possibility of establishing a ministry.” 

“We want to help people understand what the ministry could look like,” she explained.

The retreat itself is named for St. Dymphna, the patron saint of mental illness. The choice of location — the Seton Shrine — is equally fitting given Seton’s experience with anxiety and depression.  

A statue of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in the Seton Legacy Garden at the Seton Shrine in Maryland. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Seton Shrine
A statue of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in the Seton Legacy Garden at the Seton Shrine in Maryland. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Seton Shrine

“Based on the review of her writings, there’s been a lot of speculation that it seemed like she dealt with some significant anxieties,” noted Shoener, who is speaking at the retreat. “Certainly, some of her children had their challenges with alcoholism and addiction — she certainly understood mental health conditions and severe grief.” 

“It’s an example with Mother Seton — and many other saints — that mental illness and mental health challenges are by no means an impediment to holiness, to great holiness,” he added, noting how St. Oscar Romero lived with obsessive compulsive disorder, while Blessed Rutilio Grande had schizophrenia.

“God can overcome everything,” Shoener said.

The saints ‘went before us’

The Seton Shrine itself is also growing its mental health ministry through a series of Easter reflections by Catholic writer Paula Huston.

“There’s different lenses [through which] you could look at Elizabeth Seton’s life, and definitely one of them is the struggles and the loss that she experienced and her need to overcome that,” said Rob Judge, executive director of the Seton Shrine, who told CNA that he sees the shrine as “a place of healing.” 

Judge said the shrine staff took inspiration from “the larger Catholic world,” including initiatives by the bishops and others in the Church for anyone who is struggling with mental illness or health.

“It’s an issue that touches all of us at different points, either more or less directly,” Judge noted. 

While the series is “applicable to all stages” of life, Huston wrote each installment with “young people” in mind, Judge said. 

“We see a lot that that generation is maybe struggling more than some previous generations and just discovering meaning in life and their way,” he noted. “And certainly [the] culture has many distractions for them.”

“We framed [the series] around the woundedness that we all have, and then through this series of writings, applied Elizabeth’s example to it,” he explained. 

“Many people think of Elizabeth Seton, and they think of founding Catholic schools, and they think of her as a teacher,” Judge said. “They often don’t necessarily think of her as a child who was lonely, or a teenager who felt left out and didn’t know where to turn at times, and a mom who was trying to support her kids and came into the Church and then felt rejection.”

He noted that these feelings of “loneliness and rejection, abandonment, feeling like you don’t control your life, or powerlessness” are “very human experiences.”  

“We’re not alone,” Judge said. “That’s hopefully what we learned through the saints, is that we’re not alone. They went before us.”

Pro-life leader: State-by-state approach to abortion will lead movement to ‘ash heap of history’

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser told EWTN News the pro-life movement is grounded in the dignity of the individual "and has never stopped at a state line." / Credit: Screenshot/EWTN News in Depth

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 13, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

As pro-life politicians try to figure out the most effective way to defend unborn life, a top leader in the movement argues that leaving abortion policies up to the states — rather than pursuing national pro-life policies — will push the movement into the “ash heap of history.” 

“Where is the appropriate battleground for this most important human rights battle of our time?” Marjorie Dannenfelser, a Catholic and CEO of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, rhetorically asked during an interview with “EWTN News In-Depth."

“Only in the states, or is it a matter for our nation?” Dannenfelser continued. “If this movement cedes the territory to the states only and says that your geography is predictive of whether you live or die in our country, then this movement is headed for the ash heap of history, in my opinion.”

Dannenfelser’s comments come just days after presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee and former president Donald Trump announced that states should determine abortion policies. He said abortion policy is “all about the will of the people” and that “now it’s up to the states to do the right thing.”

“Many states will be different,” Trump said April 8 upon announcing his position on the issue. “Many will have a different number of weeks, or some will have more conservative [policies] than others, and that’s what they will be.”

On Wednesday, during a visit to Atlanta, Trump said he would not sign a national abortion ban if Congress sent one to his desk when asked the question by a reporter. 

Trump’s policy approach to abortion puts the former president at odds with Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America and other pro-life activists, who have called on lawmakers to pass a federal law that prohibits abortion at the 15th week of pregnancy, with exceptions in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the life of the mother.

During the interview, Dannenfelser said one can debate whether such a 15-week bill is strong enough, but that the federal government needs to be starting somewhere — and cannot simply defer the issue to states. 

“The most important question on the table is whether the federal government has anything to say,” Dannenfelser added. “Is there anything rooted in our Constitution that points to the value and dignity of every human life, or does it not?”

Despite her disagreements with Trump on how to approach abortion policy, Dannenfelser said she still supports his candidacy to unseat incumbent President Joe Biden. 

“[The Biden] administration, if they have a Senate and a House, would wipe out every single pro-life protection,” Dannenfelser said. “They will eliminate the filibuster. They will do that. So the contrast means, yes, of course, we have to elect [Trump].”

Biden has urged Congress to pass legislation that would codify into law the abortion standards that had been in place under the now-defunct Roe v. Wade decision. Such a law would prohibit states from passing most pro-life policies in addition to overturning the ones currently in place. In his budget proposal, Biden has also requested that Congress eliminate the current ban on taxpayer funding for abortion.

Although Trump has sparred with some pro-life figures over the past year, the former president has taken credit for appointing three of the Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, which allowed states to adopt pro-life laws.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, more than 20 states have passed pro-life laws that put further restrictions on abortion. However, when abortion policies have been put up to a vote via statewide referenda, every pro-life initiative has failed and every pro-abortion initiative has passed — including in Republican-leaning states. This string of electoral defeats has led some pro-life lawmakers to reconsider their approaches to abortion policy.

Police arrest man suspected of robbing Catholic parishes in fake priest scam

Police in California on April 11, 2024, announced the arrest of a man suspected of posing as a priest to gain access to, and rob, several Catholic parishes across the country. / Credit: Diocese of Brooklyn; Riverside County Sheriff

CNA Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

Police in California have announced the arrest of a man suspected of posing as a priest to gain access to, and rob, several Catholic parishes across the country. 

Multiple Catholic parishes in both New York and Texas over the last several months reported encountering a man who in some cases identified himself as “Father Martin” and who managed to gain access to private parish areas and steal hundreds of dollars. 

The scammer was most recently reported at several New York-area parishes; at one he succeeded in stealing nearly $1,000.

On Thursday of this week, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in Riverside, California, announced in a media release that they had apprehended the individual suspected of perpetrating those scams. 

The sheriff’s department said that on Wednesday they had located a car matching the description of the vehicle connected to the robberies. 

“The driver of the vehicle, identified as 45-year-old Malin Rostas, a resident of New York, was taken into custody for an outstanding felony warrant out of Pennsylvania for burglary,” the department said.

Local investigators “discovered Rostas was ‘Father Martin’ and had just attempted to burglarize a local church,” the sheriff’s office said. 

Rostas was booked on the outstanding warrant, police said, and he will additionally be charged with the attempted burglary. 

The sheriff’s office “believes there may be additional burglary victims,” they said. Investigation of the case is ongoing. 

In New York last month, the scammer gained access to a Queens parish as well as the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville’s motherhouse on Long Island. He also reportedly attempted the scam at a Brooklyn parish last year.

Last fall, meanwhile, he showed up at six different parishes in the Diocese of Dallas and also managed to steal several hundred dollars from a Houston parish.

Pope Francis’ approval rating remains high in the U.S. but has slipped since 2021

Pope Francis waves to pilgrims in St. Peter's Square gathered for his weekly general audience on April 3, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

CNA Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

new Pew Research study has found that three-quarters of Catholics in the U.S. view Pope Francis favorably, though that figure has dipped 8% since 2021. 

In addition, the Pew report suggests that a majority of Catholics in the U.S. want the Church to change its teaching on a number of key issues, including the all-male priesthood, contraception, and so-called same-sex marriage. But broken down by political affiliation, significant differences in opinion emerge. 

“Regardless of their partisan leanings, most U.S. Catholics regard Francis as an agent of change. Overall, about 7 in 10 say the current pope represents a change in direction for the Church, including 42% who say he represents a major change,” the new April 12 Pew report reads. 

Francis’ approval rating among U.S. Catholics reached 90% in Pew’s 2015 survey. By September 2018 — at a time when the entire Church was reeling from fresh scandals related to sexual abuse — the pope’s approval rating stood at just 72%, the lowest of his papacy. It had ticked back up to 83% three years later, before its latest dip to 75% in February of this year.

Pope Francis’ late predecessor Benedict XVI initially had a low approval rating of 67% among U.S. Catholics upon taking office in 2005. By 2008, however, his approval rating had reached 83%, and he closed out his papacy at 74%, in 2013.

Neither Benedict nor Francis has yet achieved the lofty heights set by the saintly Pope John Paul II, who in 1990 and 1996 garnered approval from 93% of U.S. Catholics, according to Pew’s data.

Broken down by self-described party affiliation, 35% of Catholic Republicans and Republican leaners said they have an “unfavorable” view of Pope Francis, compared with just 7% of Catholic Democrats and Democratic leaners. Catholic Republicans’ views of Pope Francis have gotten more negative over the past decade, while the views of Catholic Democrats have not changed much, Pew says. 

“The partisan gap in views of Pope Francis is now as large as it’s ever been in our surveys,” Pew noted.

“Roughly 9 in 10 Catholics who are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party hold a positive view of him, compared with 63% of Catholics who are Republicans or lean Republican.” 

Pew asked respondents about their opinions on several hot-button issues related to the Church’s teaching and found that the Catholics most likely to be in favor of changing Church teaching largely identify as Democrats or lean Democratic (57%), and many say they seldom or never attend Mass (56%).

In contrast, Catholics who mostly say the Church should not change its teachings are predominantly Republicans or lean Republican (72%), and many say they attend Mass at least once a week (59%).

Of those surveyed, 83% said they favored a change of the Church’s teaching on contraception; 75% said the Church should allow Catholics to take Communion even if they are unmarried and living with a romantic partner; 69% said priests should be allowed to get married; 64% said women should be allowed to become priests; and 54% said the Church should recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples. (These findings are not markedly different from those of a decade ago, Pew says.)

Catholics who attend Mass regularly — once a week or more — are far more inclined than those who go less often to say the Church should take a “traditional or conservative” approach on questions about the priesthood and sexuality, Pew says. 

‘Irena’s Vow’: The true story of a Polish Catholic nurse who hid Jews during the Holocaust

Sophie Nélisse portrays Irena Gut Opdyke in the new film "Irena's Vow." / Credit: Quiver Distribution

CNA Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

A new film depicting the incredible true story of Irena Gut Opdyke, a Polish Catholic nurse who risked her own life to hide Jews persecuted by Nazi Germany during World War II, debuts in theaters across the country April 15-16. 

“Irena’s Vow” is told through the eyes of strong-willed 19-year-old Irena Gut. When Gut is promoted to be the housekeeper in the home of a highly respected Nazi officer after learning that the Jewish ghetto is about to be liquidated, she makes it her mission to help the Jewish workers.

Gut decides to shelter them in the safest place she can think of — the basement of the German major’s house. Over the next two years, she uses her creativity and quick thinking to keep her friends safe until she is able to help them escape. 

Actress Sophie Nélisse portrays Gut in the film. She and Jeannie Smith, Irena’s real-life daughter, spoke to CNA about what they hope viewers will take away from the film and what it’s like for Smith to share and watch her mother’s story on the big screen.

Sophie Nélisse portrays Irena Gut Opdyke in new film "Irena's Vow." Credit: Quiver Distribution
Sophie Nélisse portrays Irena Gut Opdyke in new film "Irena's Vow." Credit: Quiver Distribution

“I immediately fell in love with Irena’s story because I felt it was just so relevant to this day, and I think there’s so much to learn from her story and a tale that brings a lot of hope, I find, despite all the horrific events,” Nélisse said. 

As a Catholic, Smith shared that her mother’s faith “100% played a role” in the work she did to save the lives of Jews. 

“She was raised that people mattered and that the differences in people did not matter,” she said. “They were all human beings and part of one human family and stood under God created by him.”

Smith added that Gut had “childlike trust.”

“[God] would open a path and she would walk in it and then it was up to him to take care of her, and her job was just to do what she was supposed to do — to follow. She kept that her whole life. It just was part of her. It wasn’t even something she had to think about,” Smith said.

Gut had no intention of ever sharing her story when she came to the United States, Smith explained. It wasn’t until she crossed paths with a “Holocaust denier” that she opened up about her experience. 

“She was faced with a Holocaust denier, over the phone, a young man who was just doing a report in school about the propaganda of it all,” Smith recalled. “That’s when she realized that if she didn’t start talking, history could easily repeat itself.”

From then on, her mother slowly began talking, but it was evident to Smith “how hard it was for her, especially that first time, and I stayed away from the subject.” 

“It wasn’t until I went with her to a school — I was almost 20, [and] I took her to a school so she could talk to kids — that I not only heard her story but saw the saw amazing reaction … and I thought, ‘Man, this story is powerful.’”

Gut received several recognitions for the work she did to protect Jews during the Holocaust, including being honored as a Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli Holocaust Commission. This title is given to non-Jews who risked their lives to help Jewish people during WWII. She also received a Medal of Honor in a ceremony at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, and her story is part of a permanent exhibit in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., among other recognitions.

One that particularly meant a lot to Gut was the papal blessing she received in 1995 from Pope John Paul II for her sacrifice. Smith explained that her mother had a very painful experience when she went to confession, after enduring sexual abuse and being forced to have sexual relations with the German major.

Unable to confess to her usual priest one day, Gut went to a young priest who Smith said was “more anti-Semitic and told her she didn’t have a part in the Catholic Church, which broke her heart.”

“So [there was] this papal blessing where Pope John Paul II, the Polish pope, sent a delegation from the Vatican, and we had a ceremony in a Jewish synagogue in Irvine, California,” she said. “So the mixture was amazing, and it was just coming home for her. It meant a lot.”

Nélisse pointed out that Irena Gut’s life can inspire everyone. 

“I think we as individuals think that we can’t really make a difference or that we’re too small to really have an impact, and I think that she’s the perfect example that — I mean, she obviously did heroic things — [but] by doing tiny things that seem so simple, it could be smiling to someone or helping them with a bag or complimenting them, it does have a ripple effect,” Nélisse said.

Smith added that she has heard from kids who were thinking about taking their lives by suicide, but one day someone sat with them at lunch and that changed their minds. She hopes that her mother’s story reminds people that “we are all able to do amazing things.”

“People will call my mom a hero or somebody who’s special, and she wouldn’t have liked that and I don’t either, because you label somebody that way and it gives them permission to do things that you can’t, [but] the bottom line is we are all able to do amazing things,” she said.

Former porn actress embraces Catholic faith after trip to Italy that changed her life

Bree Solstad, a young woman who previously produced and acted in the pornography industry, is among the adult converts who entered the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil this year on March 30, 2024. / Credit: Miss B Converted in X

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

Bree Solstad, a young woman who previously produced and acted in the pornography industry, is among the adult converts who entered the Catholic Church this Easter, leaving behind her life of “countless sins” and embracing the Catholic faith.

Solstad told ChurchPop that prior to her conversion, she led a life full of promiscuity and self-obsession, which spiked when a “recruiter” reached out to her.

“I was drinking more heavily and started a blog about my hedonistic behavior. The blog caught the attention of a successful sex worker, who reached out to me and essentially recruited me,” she said. “She showed me how to get set up and introduced me to some important people in the industry who could help me make as much money as possible. I had no moral compass and was all about myself anyway.”

Solstad, who now goes by Miss B Converted on X and presents herself as “a repentant sinner who converted to Christ; former porn actress and producer,” announced on Jan. 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, her decision to “quit sex work. To repent of my countless sins. To give up my life of sin, wealth, vice, and vain self-obsession.”

She shared with her followers that her decision came after a trip to Rome and Assisi in Italy, where touched by the beauty of the art she saw in the churches she visited and the theology it represented, she experienced “what can only be described as a life-altering conversion.”

“This is a humbling experience and one that I know may be mocked or questioned by many. I am giving up all my income and turning my life over to Christ. I am leaving behind my life of rampant sin, vice, pride, debauchery, vanity, and lies to — with God’s grace — live a life of truth, beauty, obedience to God’s divine will, virtue, and humility,” she wrote on X. 

Solstad, who had an account on various pornographic content platforms, said that she had been preparing for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) for some time and that she planned to be confirmed and receive her first Communion during the Easter Vigil this Holy Week. She made her first confession on Spy Wednesday.

“Thank you, Jesus,” she prayed on X, “for not giving up on such a wretched sinner. Thank you Blessed Mary, Mother of God, for your immense love and consolation.”

The young convert added that “God’s forgiveness and mercy is real. If someone as broken and sinful as me can be redeemed and converted, there is no doubt anyone reading this can also be saved by his divine mercy.”

The Virgin Mary and St. Clare of Assisi

Solstad was baptized as a Lutheran when she was 8 years old and considered herself at least “nominally Christian,” she explained April 5 to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner.

However, during college she lived a life of “drunkenness, drugs, and promiscuity.” Experiencing a tragedy in her life, she prayed hard but, she said, “I felt like God had turned his back on me and so I did the same to him,” Solstad commented to ChurchPop.

In 2023 she traveled to Italy, where she always noticed the crucifixes in the churches she visited. However in Sorrento, she said, “I noticed the Virgin Mary on street corners all over the place. All of a sudden, I felt like Mary was calling me in the strangest way. Each time I entered a church, I felt compelled to seek her out.”

At Assisi, she said, “I was impressed by St. Francis, but I was moved to tears by St. Clare. I knelt by her tomb and again asked for assistance. I felt like St. Clare was actually present with me and that she was going to take all the pain and anxiety from me and somehow give it to God,” Solstad told ACI Prensa.

After that experience and returning home, “I quickly realized that I didn’t like what my life was like,” she said. “I hated my job. I felt disgusting and guilty for the work I had been doing for a decade. I couldn’t stop thinking of all the things that I had done and all the lives I negatively affected through pornography. I felt grotesque.”

Solstad soon looked for a priest and spoke with him and his secretary, who told her “God loves you,” words that were like “a waterfall of light” and made her long “to be someone better. I wanted to be clean, I wanted to be happy and a great example of God’s love.”

While in RCIA, she said, she had to overcome some anti-Catholic prejudice she inherited from the Lutheran background, but she diligently researched everything “and I always came to the realization that what the Catholic Church was teaching was true.”

“I have honestly fallen in love with the Catholic Church,” she continued,  “There is such richness in the faith. The Holy Trinity, the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Mary the Mother of God, all the inspiring, heroic, and beautiful saints, the sacraments, the history, the tradition, everything! But what has touched me the most is the Eucharist … something so surprising for me with Jesus physically present.”

Entry into Catholic Church, first Communion

On April 3, Solstad shared on her social media some photos of her first Communion at the Easter Vigil on March 30.

“These five seconds will forever be emblazoned in my heart, mind, and soul. This is the best moment of my life,” the young woman wrote. 

“My life has changed for the better so much during these past several months, but it pales in comparison to how much this moment of receiving my first Eucharist permanently transformed me,” she recounted.

“I will never be the same again and I thank God for this undeniable fact. I am so in love with you, Jesus. Never allow me to move even one inch from your most Sacred Heart,” she wrote.

Solstad concluded her post with the first part of the Magnificat, the prayer the Virgin Mary exclaimed when she was pregnant with Jesus and met her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist.

“My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation,” she wrote, quoting Mary’s response to Elizabeth as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. 

Solstad’s sole source of income now is from her religious goods store, which can be found here.

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

El Paso bishop criticizes Texas border efforts, laments ‘anti-immigrant’ rhetoric

Bishop Mark Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso speaks at the “Responding to Changing Realities at the U.S. Border and Beyond" conference, hosted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic University of America on April 11, 2024. / Credit: Photo courtesy of The Catholic University of America

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 12, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Bishop Mark Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso criticized a Texas law that increases the state’s role in deterring illegal immigration to the United States and denounced “anti-immigrant” rhetoric that he said is rising in the country’s two major political parties.

Seitz, who chairs the Committee on Migration of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), commented on the Lone Star State’s new law during an immigration conference jointly hosted by the Catholic University of America and the USCCB. The April 11 event was titled “Responding to Changing Realities at the U.S. Border and Beyond.”

SB 4, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed in December 2023, makes illegal border crossing a state crime and allows state police to arrest people who enter the United States illegally through Texas. U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has sued the state over the law based on allegations that it usurps the federal government’s authority to enforce laws related to immigration. 

“We’re concerned that this leads to profiling — racial profiling as well,” Seitz said. “It puts fear into every immigrant no matter what their immigration status may be.”

The bishop questioned the constitutionality of the law and how it could be effective without the cooperation of Mexican authorities. He further argued that the law threatens the right to seek asylum by denying the “opportunity to be processed … to see if their claims to asylum are legitimate or not.” 

“[We] hope and pray the courts will not cave to the political pressure,” Seitz said.

During his discussion at the conference, the bishop was critical of “anti-immigrant” rhetoric and approaches to policy, which he said now exists in “both parties.” He claimed the media has “misrepresented” the situation at the border, which he said has also stoked anti-immigrant sentiment.

“You’re not going to see chaos [at the border],” Seitz said. “You’re going to see lots of fences and wires and things like that.”

The bishop, who works with migrants and hosts a shelter on his property in the diocese, spoke positively of the individuals with whom he has interacted. 

“I meet these people every day,” Seitz said. “They’re some of the most peaceful, patient family-oriented people I’ve ever met.”

Speaking to CNA following his remarks at the conference, Seitz said the Catholic Church provides a “beautiful balance” for ensuring the dignity of migrants is respected and that countries can maintain their borders. 

“The Church says nations have a right to a border and they have a right and a responsibility to control their border,” the bishop explained. “So we don’t have a problem with that.” 

Seitz said, however, that the answer cannot be “to close off the possibility of a legitimate flow across the border.” 

“People have a right to migrate when there is a need,” the bishop added. 

Other speakers at the conference echoed similar concerns about policy and rhetoric. 

Father David Hollenbach, a Jesuit priest and research professor at Georgetown University, cited messages in Scripture about welcoming strangers and argued that the United States has a moral obligation to assist migrants and refugees because the country has the capacity to help in a way that poorer countries do not. 

“These people are created in the image and likeness of God,” Hollenbach said during a panel discussion. 

Another speaker, Sister Sharlet Ann Wagner, executive director of the Newcomer Network at the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., branch of Catholic Charities USA, said during a panel discussion that politicians are “using immigrants as political footballs.” 

Although Wagner acknowledged that some local communities have “unanticipated costs” when dealing with the influx of migrants, she said most are of prime working age and desire to work. 

“This is an investment that will pay off,” Wagner said.

Although the conference focused mostly on an obligation to assist migrants in coming to the country, some Catholics have expressed a more cautious approach to the influx of people who have entered the country between official ports of entry.

Chad Pecknold, a professor of systematic theology at the Catholic University of America, who was not a part of the conference, told CNA that the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas on immigration provide “a sound and reasonable guide for these discussions.” 

Referencing Aquinas in the Summa Theologiae,” Pecknold recalled that the doctor of the Church “teaches that while hospitality should be offered to the wayfarer passing through, political communities must ensure that those ‘entering to remain’ demonstrate a commitment to the customs, language, religion, and mores of their commonweal.” 

“Every human being having dignity does not immediately and obviously supersede the sovereignty of nations,” Pecknold added. “Statesmen have a sacred duty to safeguard the political common good of their country, and this will sometimes mean restricting who can legally enter and remain in their countries,” he noted.