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Catholic schools are booming — new EWTN poll sheds light on possible reasons

Students at St. Maria Goretti School in Long Beach on Oct. 26, 2020, the first day of in-person classroom instruction since the start of the pandemic. / David Amador Rivera for Angelus News

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 7, 2022 / 06:00 am (CNA).

An EWTN News/RealClear Opinion Research poll of Catholic voters suggests that dissatisfaction with several aspects of public education may help explain why Catholic schools are enjoying an increase in enrollment nationwide. 

The poll found that 74% of Catholic voters are concerned about children suffering from an educational “COVID deficit” caused by the shift to online learning during the pandemic. Seventeen percent said they were not concerned and 10% said they were not sure.

EWTN’s polling also revealed concerns among Catholics about the quality and content of education at public schools. Nearly 47% of respondents with children in public school said they have considered, in the past year, moving their children from a public school to a private or parochial school because of concerns about the quality of the education received. 

A majority of Catholic voters also support parents of K–12 students helping determine what is being taught in schools (64%), oppose biological boys who identify as girls competing against biological girls on school sports teams (76%), and oppose introducing Critical Race Theory (CRT) into the classroom (60%).

The poll, conducted by the Trafalgar Group Sept. 12–19, surveyed 1,581 Catholic voters and has a margin of error of 2.5%. The questionnaire was administered using a mix of six methods, including live phone calls, text messages, and email.

The poll’s results point to several possible explanations for the recent uptick in Catholic school enrollment. Several educators CNA spoke with cited Catholic schools’ emphasis on a quick return to in-person learning during the COVID shutdown, the high quality and Christ-centeredness of the education provided, and an emphasis on partnering with parents in the education of their children as contributing factors in parents’ decisions to switch from public schools since the pandemic.

The COVID effect

Enrollment dropped sharply in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, falling 6.4% from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021, according to the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). That was the largest decline in the 50 years since the NCEA started collecting enrollment data.

The numbers rebounded in the 2021-2022 school year, reaching record levels in some dioceses. 

Nationwide, Catholic enrollment jumped from 1.63 million to 1.69 million, an increase of more than 3.5%, the NCEA reported.

Though the statistics show that enrollment has not yet reached pre-pandemic levels — 1.74 million students enrolled in 2019 — the reversal is notable, as before the pandemic enrollment was trending down by 2% to 3% annually. 

Several of the 10 largest dioceses for Catholic school enrollment registered increases of between 1.22% and 5.37% in 2021-22. 

Catholic schools, on the whole, reopened for in-person instruction following the COVID-19 lockdowns much sooner than their public counterparts — most by September 2020. While 43% of public schools and 34% of charter schools offered in-person learning in September 2020, 92% of Catholic schools offered in-person learning at the same time, according to the NCEA.

While it cannot be conclusively proven that Catholic schools’ pandemic response was responsible for the overall rise in enrollment, the timing of the spike suggests it may have played a key role. In addition, several Catholic school administrators told CNA that the pandemic was at least one factor in parents’ decisions to enroll their children in parochial schools. 

Several dioceses in the U.S. have already touted their increased enrollment numbers for this year, which may indicate that this trend is continuing.

Maryland public schools, which were among the last to return completely to in-person learning, saw a decrease of 28,000 students during the pandemic, according to the Baltimore Sun. Many of those students enrolled in Catholic schools.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore, for example, has seen an increase in enrollment this year of nearly 2%. Combined with an even greater increase last year, Baltimore’s Catholic schools have increased in enrollment by nearly 8% since the pandemic, said Donna Hargens, superintendent for schools for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Hargens noted that during the pandemic the schools in the archdiocese followed all health and distancing protocols in order safely to return to in-person instruction much earlier than the local public schools. 

While most of the growth in enrollment nationwide took place at the elementary and pre-kindergarten levels, Catholic high schools also saw growth that their administrators attribute, in part, to their handling of the pandemic.

Brandon Meyer, the director of admissions at Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School in Cincinnati, told CNA that the urban school has been steadily growing since 2010 but saw a sharp rise in enrollment, from 676 students to 700, over the last two years.

“Based on the health and well-being of our school community, the primary goal was to preserve as much in-person instruction as possible for our students. We know that students learn best when they are learning alongside their teachers and classmates,” Meyer said.

Families expected to stay

According to Hargens, students who enrolled in Baltimore’s Catholic schools because of the pandemic may stick around for other reasons.

“I really think the value of Catholic education became very clear to families during the pandemic, and how we handled the pandemic,” Hargens said. 

Hargens told CNA that in her discussions with parents, many expressed a desire for a “Christ-centered, academically excellent environment that focuses on the whole child spiritually, emotionally, physically, morally, and academically.” 

Jennifer Feldhaus, principal of Infant of Prague Catholic School (IOPCS) in Jacksonville, North Carolina, told CNA that they have seen many younger parents choosing a Catholic education for their children from the onset of their schooling years rather than switching from public schools. 

As with Baltimore, she said she heard from a lot of parents switching to Catholic schools because they wanted in-person education for their children. 

IOPCS has experienced a 95% increase in student enrollment in the last decade, the diocese says. The school is purchasing and renovating buildings to expand its education space. 

Father J. Victor Gournas offers a blessing outside Infant of Prague Catholic School in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Infant of Prague Catholic School
Father J. Victor Gournas offers a blessing outside Infant of Prague Catholic School in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Infant of Prague Catholic School

“At first some of the movement may have been, ‘Well you’re the only school that’s open during the pandemic,’” Feldhaus said. 

“But now that we’re a year or so into it, they’re looking at the long-term value of a quality Catholic education. Once they’re here within this school, the retention rates are very high for families.”

School choice supported

EWTN’s poll found that Catholic parents largely back initiatives to support school choice, with two-thirds saying they support a policy that allows students to make use of public education funds for the schools or services that best fit their needs.

In some states, school choice is helping increase enrollment at Catholic schools. 

Arizona and Florida are national leaders on the school choice front, with 92% and 75% of Catholic schools respectively participating in voucher, tax credit, and education savings account programs, according to the NCEA. 

Arizona’s steady expansion of these benefits culminated in a universal K–12 school voucher program that took effect last week. Under the program, all of the state’s 1.1 million schoolchildren will have access to an Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) that provides approximately $7,000 per child that families can use for tutoring, private school tuition, at-home curricula, special needs therapies, and other education expenses.

“As Catholics, we believe parents are the primary educators of their children, and they need to have meaningful options,” said Ronald M. Johnson Jr., executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, which has lobbied for years to expand the state’s tuition tax credits and ESA program.

Even the more restricted ESA program that existed previously has given the state’s Catholic schools a major boost, he said.

“When other Catholic schools across the country have been closing, we’ve been growing,” he told CNA.

Without the tuition tax credits and the ESAs, “many of our schools wouldn’t be open now, especially those in inner cities or on reservations,” Johnson said. “In some of those places, 100% of the kids wouldn’t be there except for that assistance.”

Jim Rigg, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Miami, told CNA that the archdiocese’s schools have seen two consecutive years of overall enrollment growth. For 2021-22, they had a net growth of 767 students, or 3%. While official counts for this school year will not be in until October, they are anticipating growth of at least 4.5%, or approximately 1,100 new students, Rigg said. 

While he believes an expansion of school choice in Florida contributed to the increase in enrollment, he believes that other factors may have been at play.

“I believe the reasons for the enrollment growth are various. I like to think the reputation of our Catholic schools for providing a strong, faith-based education partly explains the growth,” Rigg told CNA by email. 

“I do think the pandemic partly explains the growth. We have had many families join us who cite dysfunction and drama in the public schools as a significant factor in their choice,” he said.

Feldhaus, of Infant of Prague Catholic School in North Carolina, says her school has benefited greatly from the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program, a state initiative that provides funding of up to $5,928 per year for eligible children who choose to attend a participating nonpublic school. Feldhaus estimated that approximately 42% of the school’s students are making use of the scholarship. 

“It’s been a tremendous program for Catholic schools because what was considered before unreachable, whether on income or location, is now an option for families,” she said. 

According to the Raleigh Diocese, in 2021-22 more than 900 students enrolled in diocesan schools received Opportunity Scholarships. For 2022-23, that number is expected to be more than 1,100. 

At the same time, the Diocese of Raleigh saw its total current enrollment increase 8.4% in 2021-2022 and another 2.2% this year, for a two-year increase of 10.6% and record enrollment.

Critical Race Theory and parent protests

The EWTN poll also showed that Catholic voters are concerned about what children are learning in school. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said that they support parents being involved in determining what is being taught in schools. 

In response to a separate question, 59% said they oppose Critical Race Theory (CRT) being introduced into schools. CRT, which was not defined in the question, refers to an academic concept based on the idea that U.S. institutions and society are rooted in racism and primarily benefit white men, to the detriment of minorities. 

The introduction into classrooms of certain tenets of CRT has become a hot-button political issue. At least seven states have banned the teaching of CRT in schools, and more than a dozen others are considering legislation to restrict it. 

In his successful bid for the Virginia governor’s seat in 2021, Republican Glenn Youngkin made CRT in schools a top issue after highlighting teacher training materials that he said were steeped in “inherently divisive concepts.” Other political candidates have made CRT an issue in several midterm election races.

French Jesuit and American legal scholar win 2022 Ratzinger Prize

Credit: © L’Osservatore Romano / Pope Benedict XVI in Vatican City on August 28, 2010.

CNA Newsroom, Oct 7, 2022 / 03:01 am (CNA).

A French Jesuit and an American legal scholar were named the recipients of this year's Ratzinger prize on Friday.

The Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Foundation announced on Oct. 7 that Father Michel Fédou and Joseph H. H. Weiler will receive the prize from Pope Francis on Dec. 1.

The Ratzinger Prize was launched in 2011 to recognize scholars whose work demonstrates a meaningful contribution to theology in the spirit of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Bavarian theologian who became Benedict XVI.

Father Michel Fédou SJ (left) and Professor Joseph H. H. Weiler. Fondazioneratzinger.va
Father Michel Fédou SJ (left) and Professor Joseph H. H. Weiler. Fondazioneratzinger.va

Father Fédou has been teaching Dogmatic Theology and Patristics at Centre Sèvres, a Jesuit institution in Paris, since 1987. He is a member of several theological organizations and commissions regarding ecumenical dialogue with Lutherans and Orthodox Christians, according to a Vatican communiqué.

The 69-year-old native of Lyon (France) is the author of several works, mainly about Patristics and Christology.

Famous for his role in defense of the display of crucifixes in public schools before the European Court of Human Rights, Professor Joseph H. H. Weiler is a legal scholar at many universities in the US and the UK, including at Harvard and New York University, as well as in other places.

The 71-year-old native of Johannesburg (South Africa) was the president of the European University Institute of Florence and is the author of many works about constitutional and international law as well as human rights.

In his book "A Christian Europe: An Exploratory Essay," the Jewish scholar coined the term Christophobia, a phenomenon papal biographer George Weigel has written about extensively.

Last year's winners of the Ratzinger Prize were Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz and Ludger Schwienhorst-Schönberger.

Candidates for the prize are chosen by the scientific committee of the Ratzinger Foundation and presented to the pope, who approves the winners.

The Ratzinger Prize has been awarded yearly since 2011 to two or three scholars.

The scientific committee members are appointed by the pope.

Members until recently have been Cardinals Angelo Amato (Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints), Kurt Koch (President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity), Luis Ladaria (Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), Gianfranco Ravasi (President of the Pontifical Council for Culture), Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg (Bavaria, Germany) and President of Pope Benedict XVI Institute. Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella stood in for Cardinal Amato.

Pope Francis mourns 23 children and several adults killed in Thailand daycare attack

Pope Francis prays on St. Peter's Square, Oct. 5, 2022 / Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

CNA Newsroom, Oct 7, 2022 / 02:31 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has expressed deep sorrow and mourning at the news of a deadly rampage at a daycare center in Thailand that left at least 34 people dead — 23 of them children.

In a telegram signed by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, the pontiff offered his heartfelt condolences.

“Deeply saddened to learn of the horrific attack that took place at a child-care centre in Uthai Sawan, His Holiness Pope Francis offers his heartfelt condolences and the assurance of his spiritual closeness to all those affected by this act of unspeakable violence against innocent children,” the message said.

The pope prayed that grieving families and all those injured would receive support from their neighbors and concluded his message with “blessings of peace and perseverance in every good”.

According to media reports, the massacre was perpetrated by a single man, armed with a gun and knife, on Oct. 6 in the town of Uthai Sawan, some 310 miles northeast of the capital Bangkok.

Authorities identified the man as a former police officer, apparently facing trial on a drugs charge. The motive is still the subject of an ongoing police investigation. Drawing on local media coverage, Reuters reported the perpetrator had initially gone to collect his child after attending court earlier in the day. Upon not finding his child there, he began the attack.

According to a report by BBC News, only one child survived the killing spree.

The 34-year-old attacker then returned home, killed his wife and step-child before committing suicide, several media drawing on local authorities reported.

The massacre is understood to be one of the worst involving children in history.

Details of Kansas investigation into Father James Jackson emerge

Father James Jackson, FSSP, appears at an arraignment before the Rhode Island District Court, Nov. 15, 2021. / Joe Bukuras/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 6, 2022 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

A Kansas police detective said that Father James Jackson was the “primary target” in a child pornography investigation run by a local police department, according to a court document in Jackson’s federal case in which he has pleaded not guilty to child pornography charges.

Information regarding the Overland Park Police Department’s investigation into Jackson came to light in a petition that Jackson’s federal probation officer issued to the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island where the priest faces the federal charges.

The probation officer’s July 12 petition cited the police department’s investigation as evidence that Jackson broke the conditions of his pretrial release that were mandatory while he was allowed to live in Leawood, Kansas, with his sister, pending adjudication of the federal charges.

Jackson was originally arrested at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Providence in October 2021 after law enforcement agents allegedly found child pornography on his laptop and external hard drive. Through his lawyer, John L. Calcagni III, Jackson is now asking the court to suppress evidence found by law enforcement during the search, citing a violation of the Fourth amendment.

In the petition, Jackson’s U.S. probation officer, David A. Picozzi, said that the U.S. Probation Office in the District of Rhode Island was contacted by Overland Park Police Department Detective Christopher Moore on July 11.

Moore told the office that there was a search warrant issued for Jackson’s residence in Leawood “in response to a child pornography investigation in which Mr. Jackson was the primary target,” the petition says.

“According to Detective Moore, the child pornography investigation conducted by his agency identified internet activity linked to Mr. Jackson from May 2022 to June 2022 in which he allegedly engaged in accessing child pornography,” the petition said. 

The petition said that a search of Jackson’s residence resulted in the discovery of a Microsoft Surface Pro computer and an external hard drive, both of which were “seized.”

“Detective Moore noted that Mr. Jackson appeared to have tried to concealed/hidden the devices at the time of the search and also that he was not cooperative with officers throughout the search process,” the petition said. 

Moore notified the office that Jackson was not arrested during the search and added that a forensic exam of his devices will be conducted, the petition said. Pending the exam, an arrest warrant could be issued, Moore said, according to the petition.

Around the time of Jackson’s arrest in July, Overland Park Police Major James Sutterby told CNA that the department had an ongoing investigation into Jackson but he would not elaborate on the details.

Sutterby could not be reached for further comment Thursday.

Jackson’s Oct. 5 motion to suppress the evidence found in the October 2021 search by law enforcement claims that the search warrant from the Rhode Island State Police was unconstitutional.

“In Mr. Jackson’s case, the search warrant showed the premises to be searched as multiple buildings housing a church, its offices, and residences of its priests, with no showing of any investigation or attempt to narrow down the visitor, employee, or priest who might have used the IP address assigned to the facilities, at the times in question, to view the alleged pornography or the location from which the viewing occurred,” the motion says. “Therefore, the warrant is in violation of the particularity clause regarding the place to be searched.”

The motion says that “The fact that an IP address serviced the buildings did not provide an objectively reasonable belief that probable cause existed for such an exhaustive search without any attempt to narrow down, or ‘particularly describe’ the place to be searched and the things to be seized.”

According to the federal court system PACER, responses to the motion are due Oct. 19.

Picozzi alleged in the petition that Jackson “accessed child pornography and is the target of a local/state law enforcement investigation.” The petition also says that Jackson “possessed and accessed computer equipment not authorized/approved by the” probation officer.

Following Picozzi’s petition, Jackson was subsequently arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service three days later.

In Jackson’s Oct. 3 court appearance at federal court in Providence, Rhode Island, he admitted that the government could prove that he violated certain conditions of his pre-trial release.

He is currently in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island.

“Law enforcement made no effort to narrow down the potential defendant among the multiple employees and priests, and parishioners of the church, or the particular device that was involved in viewing the child pornography,” Jackson’s motion said. 

“Whether they could have, like the name listed on the warrant, is ‘unknown,’ but they should have tried, and no showing was made in the warrant affidavit of any attempt to do so,” the motion said.

Jackson’s trial is set for November.

California voters must reject 'no limit' Proposition 1 abortion amendment, critics say

Participants in a demonstration against Proposition 1 outside the California capitol in Sacramento, Oct. 6, 2022. / Photo courtesy of California's No on Prop. 1 Campaign

Denver Newsroom, Oct 6, 2022 / 17:02 pm (CNA).

Unlimited abortion would become a fundamental right, as would abortion on viable unborn children, if voters pass the proposed California ballot measure Proposition 1, a broad coalition has warned.

“The proposed amendment to the state constitution has no language on limits and no recognition of the viability of the infant and late-term pregnancies,” Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento said at an Oct. 6 press conference outside the capitol in Sacramento.

He said Proposition 1 seeks to make abortion a “fundamental right” in California while “removing any common-sense limits on late-term abortions.”

The California Together, No On Proposition 1 press conference drew speakers from various political and religious backgrounds, including Catholics, Evangelicals, Muslims, and backers and foes of legal abortion.

Bishop Soto said Prop. 1 is “an unneeded, radical and expensive proposition.” He invoked Pope Francis’ rejection of a “throwaway culture,” saying “the leaders of a ‘throwaway society’ are trying to impose an expensive ideology on California.”

The proposed amendment, titled “Constitutional Right to Reproductive Freedom,” was placed on the November ballot by the state legislature, with support from abortion provider Planned Parenthood. Amendment backers anticipated the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision overturning the pro-abortion rights Roe v. Wade decision.

The text of Proposition 1 reads, in part: “The state shall not deny or interfere with an individual’s reproductive freedom in their most intimate decisions, which includes their fundamental right to choose to have an abortion and their fundamental right to choose or refuse contraceptives.”

Critics emphasized the proposed amendment’s lack of limits on legal abortion.

“We are here to say that Prop. 1 is extreme, expensive and unnecessary.” Catherine Hadro, media director of California Together, No on Proposition 1 said Wednesday. “We all know that Prop 1. means late-term abortion in California up until the moment of birth, even if both mother and baby are healthy. And we all agree that that is too extreme. That is why we are coming together to stop Prop. 1.”

According to Hadro, only 13% of Californians support unrestricted legal abortion. The proposition’s creators left out viability language “on purpose,” she said. She encouraged voters to read the ballot measure and take note that viability language is missing.

“Proposition 1 means post-viability, late-term abortion without limit paid for by your taxpayer dollars,” she said.

When the California legislature debated the proposal, lawmakers asked whether it would allow abortion past viability, when an unborn child can survive outside the womb. A promised answer never came.

Dr. Pratima Gupta, a San Diego obstetrician-gynecologist involved in drafting the law, told the Northern California radio station KQED that drafters deliberately excluded the word “viability.” He said every pregnancy is “individual” and a “continuum.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a generally pro-abortion rights organization, removed the term “viability” from its guidance on abortion in May.

Speakers at Thursday’s press conference included Democrats for Life communications director Jess Meeth, Democrat attorney Christopher Bakes, International Faith Based Coalition president Tak Allen, and Tarbiya Institute representative Mashal Ayobi. They were joined by California Family Council communications coordinator Sophia Lorey and Traditional Values for Next Generations founder Sarah Kim.

“Together with our partners here around this podium we see the illogic, the imprudence and the danger of Proposition 1,” said Bishop Soto. “We have been companions for women who find themselves alone and unsupported. This mission will continue. Say ‘no’ to Prop. 1 and let us offer better alternatives to women and children.”

Ann Stone, Republicans for Choice founder and national chairman, said Prop. 1 is “a sloppy over-reach by the pro-choice side.”

“It doesn’t codify Roe. It goes beyond. Badly beyond,” she said.

One speaker delivered remarks on behalf of Kristin Turner, executive director of Pro-life San Francisco and a self-identified progressive vegan atheist. Turner said the proposal is “an extreme violation of human rights” and contradicts what Californians know about the humanity of the unborn child.  

“The majority of us can see that at seven, eight, nine months old, that is clearly a baby,” she said. Turner advocated that California direct money to better causes, like reducing maternal mortality, which especially affects Black women.

Dr. Vansen Wong, an obstetrician-gynecologist, is among the critics of the measure. He performed hundreds of abortions, before he rejected the procedure as morally wrong.

Wong warned of the medical problems that abortion can cause after 21 weeks. Women who have late-term abortions face a greater risk of pre-term delivery in future pregnancies and are at greater risk of delivering babies with no hope of survival. Women who have late-term abortions face greater mental health risks including anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.

Bishop Soto said that October is “a time to renew our commitment to pray, advocate and do works of mercy promoting the dignity of human life.”

“For almost 50 years the Catholic community has been an alternative voice of reason protecting the dignity of human life in the womb,” he said.

“We are here to present a different vision and offer the hopes of a better California,” said the bishop. “The gospel of Jesus gives life and hope to all. Like the first disciples of Jesus, we are fortunate to have been chosen, to be messengers of a life-changing, life-giving gospel in a time of great change and turmoil in California.” 

Foes of the measure must work to sway voters. Though an August poll from Rasmussen Reports indicated that only 13% of California voters support abortion through the third trimester, an August survey from the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies said that 71% of the state’s voters would vote in favor of Prop. 1.

2022 midterms: Is abortion a winning issue for Democrats?

Arizona Secretary of State and Democratic candidate for governor Katie Hobbs speaks to reporters at a news conference on Aug. 2, 2022, in Tolleson, Arizona. Hobbs has made her support for abortion a centerpiece of her campaign against Republican Kari Lake. / Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 6, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Is abortion a winning midterm issue for Democrats?

Large public protests in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June and a resounding defeat of a pro-life amendment in Kansas in August have fueled Democrats’ hopes that the abortion issue will help tilt the Nov. 8 midterm elections in their favor.

Is this wishful thinking — considering President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings and the worrisome state of the economy — or a sound strategy?

Democrats are banking on the latter. The party has spent an estimated $124 million in abortion-related television ads this midterm season, according to a recent AP analysis. That’s almost 20 times more than what it spent on such ads in 2018.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress have doubled down on efforts to federalize abortion up until birth while trying to paint Republicans as the extremists on the abortion issue — a strategy that kicked into gear the moment Roe was overturned.

That day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned that Republicans would pursue a national abortion ban if they won the midterms.

“They cannot be allowed to have a majority in the Congress to do that. That’s their goal,” Pelosi told reporters.

For the Democrats, there are signs the strategy may be paying off. Some polls suggest that abortion has risen in importance and will galvanize voter turnout. Voter registration surged after Dobbs, a recent Politico analysis reports, notably so in states like Pennsylvania where abortion features prominently in this year’s campaigns.

Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race pits Republican Doug Mastriano, who would enact a heartbeat bill, against Democrat Josh Shapiro, who promises to veto any bill restricting abortion. Shapiro is ahead of Mastriano by 10 percentage points in some polls.

The abortion issue has seemed to help Democrat Senate candidate John Fetterman, who is leading Republican Mehmet Oz by a slim margin.

In September, a CBS poll found that 70% of likely voters cited abortion as key to why they favored Fetterman, compared with 30% who supported Oz.

“Women are the reason we can win,” Fetterman said at an abortion rights rally in September.

But Fetterman’s recent drop in support shows a possible toss-up race that could go either way. Fetterman originally led among suburban women 57% to Oz’s 33%; one recent poll shows his lead has narrowed in the suburbs, 47% to Oz’s 41%.

Even in historically red seats, where abortion is unlikely to outweigh inflation or jobs for voters, Democrat candidates are pushing hard to make abortion a focal centerpiece.

Washington State’s 3rd Congressional District House race is a case in point. Democrat candidate Marie Gluesenkamp Perez describes herself as a “pro-choice mother” who needed an “immediate abortion” to save her life after having a miscarriage.

Perez’s messaging echoes the Democratic Party’s efforts to raise fears that abortion bans will endanger women who have miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies.

Meanwhile, Republican opponent Joe Kent has said he’d move toward a national abortion ban and has discussed fetal pain and cutting federal abortion funding — positions Perez classifies as “extremist.”

Perez currently trails Kent by 4 percentage points, according to the latest poll by the Northwest Progressive Institute.

Where do Republicans stand?

In large part, current GOP leadership has shied away from directly engaging on abortion in this campaign cycle, hoping that voter concerns about the economy will win out.

Political strategists say Democrats have seized the GOP’s abortion messaging vacuum as Republicans have floundered on a post-Roe strategy.

Jon Schweppe, policy director at American Principles Project, says Democrats could win on abortion if Republicans continue to play on defense.

“Republican leadership over the summer basically decided to ignore abortion,” Schweppe told CNA.

“They’ve been caught flat-footed,” Schweppe added. “What happens is pretty logical. If one team is on the field, and the other team isn’t, the team that’s on the field wins.”

As one example, the Commitment to America plan House Republicans unveiled in September makes only a brief reference to a pledge to “protect the lives of unborn children and their mothers,” avoiding any concrete plans on how Republicans will reckon with abortion at the federal level if they regain the House.

“The problem is — and we’ve already seen this in a bunch of races — you can’t punt,” Schweppe said. “Ultimately, the Democrats [will] run the messaging, whether you pivot to inflation or not.”

In addition, the mixed support from Republicans and pro-life groups for South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s federal 15-week ban on abortion in September hints at the difficulties the pro-life movement is having in reaching a consensus on a national strategy post-Roe.

“If Republican leadership and the pro-life movement doesn’t come together and establish a federal position for the party, we’re going to set the pro-life movement back 20 years,” Schweppe warned.

He added that the GOP’s skittishness has made Democrat misinformation on abortion much more effective.

“If the American people think you’re gonna ban [treatment for] ectopic pregnancies — which we know is not an abortion, but [Democrats] lie about that — the American people will pick the status quo,” he added.

Charles Camosy, professor of medical humanities at Creighton University, agrees.

“It will certainly be true if pro-lifers and pro-life politicians do nothing and let our opponents grab the whole narrative,” he said.

Camosy isn’t a Republican but says he wants whatever party that “protects prenatal justice and supports women who choose to keep their children” to win.

Kaitlin Makuski, political coordinator for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told CNA that ignoring abortion will hurt Republicans.

“There is a desire to run away from this question among certain candidates. But ultimately voters do want to know where you stand on these issues. This is a fundamental question: the right to life.”

Makuski said that hoping the issue will go away is not a winning strategy.

“You have to be clear on what you believe and where you stand. Voters care about your opinion on a broad swath of issues; that’s why you’re running for office,” she added.

Makuski cited the Republican candidate for governor of Arizona, Kari Lake, as an example of one of the best on abortion strategy and messaging.

Lake has played on offense throughout her campaign, including on abortion. Her response to a reporter’s hostile question on the issue went viral in a video last week.

“My plan would be that every woman who walks into an abortion clinic knows that there are options out there,” Lake said. “We want to help our women.”

Lake challenged the media in the room to ask her opponent, Democrat Katie Hobbs, where she stands on abortion.

“Let me tell you where she stands,” Lake said. “She supports abortion right up until birth, and after birth.”

“None of you ever try to get her to talk about her stance,” she pointed at the media. “Tell her I want to debate this topic with her on Oct. 12.”

Arizona Republican nominee for governor Kari Lake greets the audience during a stop at American Way Market on Sept. 20, 2022, in Chandler, Arizona. Lake, the Trump-endorsed nominee for governor, faces Democrat Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in November. Rebecca Noble/Getty Images
Arizona Republican nominee for governor Kari Lake greets the audience during a stop at American Way Market on Sept. 20, 2022, in Chandler, Arizona. Lake, the Trump-endorsed nominee for governor, faces Democrat Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in November. Rebecca Noble/Getty Images

Makuski said Lake’s emphasis on Hobbs’ abortion extremism coupled with supporting women has made her successful.

“[Lake has] been very unapologetic about her pro-life values, but also unapologetic about wanting to support women,” she said.

Hobbs has largely campaigned on the abortion issue. She has pledged to immediately repeal Arizona’s reinstated 1901 abortion ban, veto abortion restrictions, appoint pro-choice directors to the state’s health departments, and fund Planned Parenthood.

“Let me be clear — the decision to have a child should rest solely between a woman and her doctor, not the government or politicians,” Hobbs said on her campaign site.

Patrick Brown, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, says the shifts in polling indicate a voter bloc conflicted over abortion.

“Democrats recognize that America is very muddled on abortion. A lot of people don’t like abortion, but also are sort of uneasy with the idea of it being unavailable,” he told CNA.

“There’s a very conflicted middle, so Democrats are trying to obviously paint Republicans as the extremists on this topic,” he said.

Brown urges Republicans to lead on pro-family policies like child tax credits, paid family leave, and investing in crisis pregnancy centers. 

“It calls for a new era of politics,” Brown said. “We’re seeing this vacuum of leadership that I don’t think is healthy.”

Dems can’t ignore inflation, Biden poll numbers

Ultimately, Democrats still have to contend with Biden’s low approval ratings and polls that show that the economic downturn remains among voters’ highest priorities this November.

“Democrats know that [the economy] is a losing issue for them, so they’re going to try and ignore that as much as possible and focus on abortion,” Makuski said.

“But I also think some of them are realizing they’ll have to reckon with the economy,” she added.

The American Prospect, a progressive public policy magazine, argued last month that Democrats need to message on prices and inflation to young voters.

“Pro-choice sentiments may drive [young voters] to the polls [but] economic challenges may either keep them away or even move some of them into the Republican column,” the article suggests.

A recent Kaiser poll reported that although the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling has motivated women and other key populations to vote Democrat in November, 74% of registered voters cited inflation and gas prices as “very important” to their midterm vote compared with 55% for abortion access.

All 435 seats are up for election in the House and 35 seats in the Senate in November. There are also 36 governorships up for election.

Democrats currently control the House with 220 seats to Republicans’ 211, meaning a shift of just five seats would transfer power to the GOP. Democrats also hold the Senate by a thin margin with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote, for an edge of 51-50.

St. Louis hopes FOCUS conference will spark Catholic renewal in the ‘Rome of the West’

Father Mike Schmitz addresses the crowd at "SEEK First," a preview event put on by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students in St. Louis on Oct. 1, 2022. / Jonah McKeown/CNA

St. Louis, Mo., Oct 6, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Nearly 1,000 Catholic students and adults gathered in St. Louis last weekend for a preview of the upcoming Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) national conference, which is expected to draw 20,000 people to the Midwest metropolis in January.

It will be FOCUS’ first in-person national conference since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and conference organizers hope it will help to revitalize a city where Catholicism, once a vital part of the fabric of society, is largely on the decline.

The Jan. 2–6, 2023 conference, SEEK23, is expected to draw tens of thousands of people — a large portion of whom will be college students, but the organizers stress that it provides tracks for all ages and backgrounds — to the America’s Center Convention Complex in downtown St. Louis for talks, workshops, entertainment, prayer, and worship.

FOCUS sends missionaries to college campuses across the United States and abroad to share the Catholic faith primarily through Bible studies and small groups, practicing what it calls “The Little Way of Evangelization” — winning people to the faith through authentic friendships and forming others to go out and do the same.

The smaller Oct. 1 event, called “SEEK First,” served as a preview of the conference for the people of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Father Mike Schmitz, host of the “Bible in a Year” podcast, spoke about “letting Jesus into your boat,” drawing on the example of St. Peter in Luke 5, in his address at St. John Vianney High School in St. Louis. Schmitz will return as a keynote speaker in January.

Father Mike Schmitz addresses the crowd at "SEEK First," a preview event put on by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students in St. Louis on Oct. 1, 2022. Jonah McKeown/CNA
Father Mike Schmitz addresses the crowd at "SEEK First," a preview event put on by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students in St. Louis on Oct. 1, 2022. Jonah McKeown/CNA

Schmitz encouraged the crowd to give God access to all aspects of their lives — past, present, and future — including their failures, which he said God can use as an opportunity to “get in our boat” and change their lives for the better.

“Sometimes the thing that we think disqualifies us from being called by Jesus is actually the one thing that has paved the way for Jesus’ voice to speak to our hearts. It is not our failure that disqualifies us; in many ways, it is our failure that opens the way for Jesus to say, ‘Let me step in,’” Schmitz told the crowd.

“This is how God works. He uses our past, our strengths, our brokenness, our failures and our victories; he uses all of that, if we let him … He can use them to change our present and give us a future.”

Attendees at the Oct. 1 event also got the opportunity to see and pray with a first-class relic of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, one of FOCUS’ patrons.

A student prays with a first-class relic of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, one of FOCUS' patron saints, at a preview event put on by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students in St. Louis on Oct. 1, 2022. Jonah McKeown/CNA
A student prays with a first-class relic of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, one of FOCUS' patron saints, at a preview event put on by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students in St. Louis on Oct. 1, 2022. Jonah McKeown/CNA

FOCUS has since 2015 been in the process of expanding beyond college campuses by creating a Making Missionary Disciples track designed to bring their relationship-based evangelization model to parishes. The organization is testing the model of sending its missionaries to parishes in almost two dozen parishes across the country, including one in the St. Louis archdiocese — Immaculate Conception in Dardenne Prairie.

Brian Miller, director of evangelization and discipleship for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, told CNA that St. Louis was chosen for SEEK in part because it is centrally located and convention-friendly, but also because the city is ripe for the kind of renewal that FOCUS aims to provide.

St. Louis, a city with a historically vibrant Catholic presence that earned it the informal moniker “The Rome of the West,” is today undergoing a strategic planning initiative whereby an as-yet-undetermined portion of its 178 parishes will close or merge in an effort to better use archdiocesan resources for evangelization. Data from the archdiocese show that in 2021, the number of Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Louis dipped below 500,000 for the first time since the 1960s.

As part of the All Things New restructuring process, the archdiocese is considering designating some of its area as mission territory. Large swaths of the archdiocese — especially those that are predominantly Black — have a low Catholic percentage of the population. Though the archdiocese is expected to announce the final plans for parish consolidations and closings in May 2023, the archdiocese has already announced that St. Mary’s High School and Rosati-Kain High School — all-boys' and all-girls' schools respectively — will be closing at the end of the school year due to low enrollment.

Jesuit Father Kevin Dyer, FOCUS’ senior national chaplain and a St. Louis native, explained that his hometown’s deep Catholic roots combined with its present challenges are “ripe for what FOCUS provides; to reignite a spirit of missionary discipleship and evangelization within people.”

Miller said he hopes that SEEK in St. Louis will be akin to “a little Catholic bomb going off,” similar to the way World Youth Day 1993 in Denver served as a catalyst for a large number of vocations and many apostolates.

SEEK23 will be FOCUS’ first in-person conference since Indianapolis in 2019 and a smaller student leadership summit in Phoenix in the earliest days of 2020. Conferences for 2021 and 2022 conferences were held online due to the pandemic.

At the Oct. 1 event, Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of St. Louis addressed the crowd and encouraged them to bring Christ’s presence to others in a face-to-face way, seeking to break through the isolation wrought by an individualistic society and a reliance on technology. He noted that often, evangelization takes the form not of argumentation or apologetics, but of people noticing the joyful witness of a Catholic friend.

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of St. Louis addresses the crowd at "SEEK First," a preview event put on by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students in St. Louis on Oct. 1, 2022. Jonah McKeown/CNA
Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of St. Louis addresses the crowd at "SEEK First," a preview event put on by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students in St. Louis on Oct. 1, 2022. Jonah McKeown/CNA

“The Lord has planted the seed of faith in our hearts, not merely to hold it to ourselves but to share it with others, to share it by the witness of our lives,” Rozanski said.

Rozanski encouraged those present to consider exploring FOCUS’ Making Missionary Disciples track as a means of learning more about how to evangelize as part of daily life.

Ryan and Sara Huelsing, parishoners at St. Joseph parish in Cottleville, Missouri, at a preview event put on by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students in St. Louis on Oct. 1, 2022. Ryan leads a men's group at his parish and both hope to get involved with FOCUS' "Making Missionary Disciples" track. Jonah McKeown/CNA
Ryan and Sara Huelsing, parishoners at St. Joseph parish in Cottleville, Missouri, at a preview event put on by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students in St. Louis on Oct. 1, 2022. Ryan leads a men's group at his parish and both hope to get involved with FOCUS' "Making Missionary Disciples" track. Jonah McKeown/CNA

Miller said part of his office’s goal is to encourage Catholics to recognize, as Vatican II affirmed, that there is a “universal call to holiness” for every person to go out and share the Catholic faith, not merely an institutional or “programmatic” call for the Church to do so. He said he hopes that the information, encouragement, and connections that SEEK aims to provide will touch people’s hearts and help to build a Catholic presence “in every square mile of the archdiocese.”

“It's a perspective shift for many Catholics, who are used to just showing up, or letting the programs of the Church take care of evangelization and caring for the needs of others,” he said.

Beyond the young people and students who will attend SEEK, Miller said they hope to use FOCUS’ Making Missionary Disciples track as a launchpad for getting more mature Catholics excited about sharing their faith as well. He also said his office plans to host follow-up events for St. Louis Catholics to build upon what people will learn at SEEK about evangelization as well as provide them with resources to help them start Bible studies and small discipleship groups.

He said he hopes that as parishes in St. Louis “come together in their new parish realities” after the merging and closing processes, that “they have some common footing, some common training, and they have a common mission.”

Bogotá councilwoman files complaint against mayor for failing to prevent cathedral attack

The Primatial Cathedral of Bogotá. / Bernard Gagnon via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Denver Newsroom, Oct 6, 2022 / 14:10 pm (CNA).

A complaint has been filed with Colombia's attorney general’s office against Bogotá mayor Claudia López to determine her responsibility in the Sept. 28 attack on the Bogotá cathedral by pro-abortion feminists.

The complaint was filed by city councilwoman Diana Diago of the Democratic Center Party, who accused López of not fulfilling her “constitutional and legal duties in maintaining public order” and of “blaming the police commander” for what happened at the cathedral.

The attack on the cathedral

The night of Sept. 28, a group of feminists tried to set fire to the doors of the Bogotá cathedral. The incident occurred during the march for the Day for the Decriminalization and Legalization of Abortion and in view of officials from the mayor’s office, who accompanied the demonstration. 

In a video posted by the press and on social media, workers from the mayor’s office are seen preventing a group of police officers from taking action. After several minutes, the feminists were removed by the officers.

The next morning, the mayor made a statement on Twitter about what happened at the cathedral and criticized the chief of the Bogotá Police, Brigadier General Carlos Fernando Triana Beltrán.

“This is vandalism. It has and deserves social and legal sanction. This video was sent to me by the commander of @PoliciaBogota. Why, instead of recording, didn’t you enforce the district protocol and the Law? I ask with respect, do you have an order from your national command to do nothing and let it happen?” López wrote.

The complaint against López

In a video posted on the Bogotá city council’s social media, Councilwoman Diago criticized the mayor for “washing her hands and blaming the police commander” for what happened at the cathedral.

“Mayor, you’re the chief of police and even if you don’t like it, you have constitutional and legal duties to maintain public order,” she said.

Article 315 of the Colombian Constitution states that “the mayor is the top police authority of the municipality. The National Police will promptly and diligently comply with the orders given by the mayor through the respective commander.”

The councilwoman pointed out to López that “the alleged omission of your duties allowed the primatial cathedral, the emblematic church of Catholics, to suffer material and moral damage due to the wrongs, due to the offenses committed by this group of vandals.”

“Because of the foregoing, I filed a formal complaint with the Attorney General’s Office to investigate your conduct. This cannot go unpunished; you have to fulfill your duties, defend the city and citizenry, and not be silent in the face of these acts of vandalism by people who may share your ideology,” she concluded.

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

Supreme Court to hear case of designer who won’t create websites for same-sex weddings 

Lorie Smith is challenging a Colorado law that would require her to design websites celebrating same-sex marriages. / ADF Legal

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 6, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

The Supreme Court’s fall term features a major case that will push the question of religious liberty back into the national spotlight as the court determines whether or not a Colorado woman can be forced to violate her religious beliefs about marriage.

Lorie Smith, an artist and small business owner, is challenging a Colorado state law for her right to refuse creative services when they conflict with her religious beliefs.

Smith, the plaintiff in the case, 303 Creative vs. Elenis, is suing members of the state’s government — including the director of the state’s civil rights division, Aubrey Elenis — in a challenge to a Colorado law that would require her to design websites celebrating same-sex marriages, something she opposes as a Christian. 

Smith is being represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the same conservative legal nonprofit that represented fellow Coloradan Jack Phillips in the well-known Masterpiece Cakeshop case that went to the Supreme Court in 2018. 

“Colorado is trying to compel [Smith] to celebrate and create custom work for marriages that she doesn’t agree with,” Matt Sharp, senior counsel for ADF, told CNA in an interview. 

“This is ultimately about whether our Constitution protects artists like Lorie, who simply want to be able to serve everyone but not create all messages,” he added. 

Smith is the owner of 303 Creative, a graphic- and website-design business based out of Denver that she has run since 2012.

According to her testimony, Smith believed that God was calling her to “promote and celebrate his design for marriage” by making custom wedding websites for heterosexual couples. Smith detailed her belief in the sanctity of biblical marriage to potential clients and on her website.

“As a Christian who believes that God gave me the creative gifts that are expressed through this business, I have always strived to honor him in how I operate it,” Smith’s website reads. “Because of my faith, however, I am selective about the messages that I create or promote.” 

While Smith states that she serves “anyone,” she is selective about not communicating and promoting ideas or messages “that are inconsistent with my religious beliefs.”

The complaint explains that Smith would “gladly” create designs for LGBTQ-identifying clients “so long as the custom graphics and websites” do not violate her religious beliefs, just like she would not create designs celebrating abortion or sexual immorality. 

But the same Colorado law that punished Jack Phillips for refusing to bake a cake celebrating same-sex marriage is the one Smith argues is preventing her from expressing her religious beliefs.

Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA) bans discrimination in places of public accommodation, including on the grounds of sexual orientation and marital status.

According to the original complaint filed by ADF, Smith argued that CADA violated her rights by declaring it illegal for her to decline to design websites that celebrate same-sex marriages.

“Solely because of Colorado law, Lorie and 303 Creative are refraining from expressing their views of God’s design for marriage [and] from offering their services to design, create, and publish wedding websites expressing their desired message celebrating and promoting marriage as an institution between one man and one woman,” Smith’s complaint explains. 

Represented by ADF, Smith challenged the law before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in July 2021. Though the court of appeals ruled against her, Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich dissented. 

Tymkovich called the majority’s holding “unprecedented” and said that “[t]he Constitution protects Ms. Smith from the government telling her what to say.”

Smith then appealed to the Supreme Court, which granted her petition for review in February.

ADF will argue Smith’s case before the Supreme Court this term on the grounds that the Colorado law violates her freedom of speech. 

CADA states that it is discriminatory and illegal for businesses to “publish, circulate, issue, display, post, or mail any written, electronic, or printed communication, notice, or advertisement” that communicates that a person’s patronage is “unwelcome, objectionable, unacceptable, or undesirable” on the basis of sexual orientation or marital status.

“Our argument is that free speech is for everyone,” Sharp told CNA. “No one — no artists, no American — should ever be forced by the government to say something they don’t believe in.” 

“In Lorie’s case, the state of Colorado is misusing its law to force her to speak messages that she disagrees with as it relates to marriage. Lorie has long served everyone, people from all backgrounds and walks of life. But she doesn’t create all messages,” Sharp said.

“What she is seeking is the freedom to be able to create custom graphic design websites that celebrate weddings consistent with her view of marriage,” he added. 

Parallels to cake case could help Jack Phillips

Smith’s case closely resembles that of the widely-known Masterpiece Cakeshop case in which Colorado baker Jack Phillips was sued by a same-sex couple for declining to bake a cake celebrating their union. 

After the couple sued Phillips for discrimination, ADF represented him in state court. The battle ultimately went to the Supreme Court, which voted in favor of Phillips in a 7-2 decision.

However, Sharp says the ruling did not address the issue at the heart of the case.

Sharp explained that several Coloradan commissioners and government officials compared Phillips’ religious beliefs about marriage “to being no different than those that justified the Holocaust,” prompting the Supreme Court’s rationale. 

“When the Supreme Court ruled for Masterpiece Cakeshop and Jack Phillips, it focused on the hostility that the state of Colorado showed towards Phillips’ beliefs about marriage, specifically during the hearings,” he said.

In the court’s opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that “the Commission’s treatment of Phillips’ case … showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection.”

Sharp says this meant the Supreme Court “didn’t have to reach the free speech question of whether Jack’s artistry through cake design is protected by the First Amendment.”

Upon winning at the Supreme Court, Masterpiece Cakeshop was immediately sued again for refusing to bake a cake celebrating a gender identity transition. 

ADF submitted oral arguments on behalf of Phillips at the Colorado Court of Appeals Wednesday afternoon in Scardina v. Masterpiece Cakeshop. 

Smith’s case, if decided favorably by the Supreme Court, would bode well for Phillips.

“Lorie’s case goes directly to that question that was left unanswered in Masterpiece: Does the Constitution protect the right of artists like Lorie, Jack, and others to create consistent with their beliefs and not be punished or coerced by the government to speak otherwise?” Sharp said.

“We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will affirm this and that the ruling would also help Jack and other artists across the country that are facing similar threats to their free speech,” he concluded. 

Sharp told CNA that “a win for Lorie truly is a win for everyone.”

“Should the government force an LGBT website designer to design something for a Catholic organization that wants to celebrate their view of marriage? Or should the government be able to force a Democrat ad person to do ads for a Republican candidate? I think we’d all say ‘of course not,’” he said.

“The government should never have the authority to force artists to create messages to celebrate events or ideas that violate their own beliefs.”

Well-known Jesuit priest calls cases ‘homophobia’ 

Jesuit Father James Martin, editor-at-large of America Magazine, spoke out on Twitter following the news of Smith’s case.

“The only matter that seems to offend the consciences of these few Catholic and Christian business leaders is same-sex marriage. So let’s not call this a case of ‘religious liberty.’ Let’s call it what it is: homophobia,” Martin said in a long tweet thread that drummed up widespread controversy on the platform. 

“In the guise of ‘religious liberty,’ Catholic business owners could deny services to Protestants and, more broadly, Christians could deny services to Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, and so on,” he added.

One commenter said in reply, “Respectfully, as a gay Catholic myself, I disagree. In a free society, people shouldn't be compelled to say anything they don't want to, including, ‘Congratulations on your marriage!’”

“Gay Catholics and their supporters should stand up for the conscience rights of their fellow Christians, even when our consciences lead us in different directions,” he added.

The U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) and Colorado Catholic Conference have issued an amicus brief in support of Smith’s case.

With Roe gone, Ohio’s first March for Life emphasizes support for pregnant women

Students participate in the Ohio March for Life in Columbus, Oct. 5, 2022. / Courtesy of March for Life.

Denver Newsroom, Oct 6, 2022 / 12:05 pm (CNA).

Pro-life advocates held the first Ohio March for Life in Columbus on Wednesday to celebrate the end of the Roe v. Wade decision and to rally support for pro-life laws and pregnant women in need.

“What we saw was just incredible,” Jeanne Mancini, event speaker and president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, told CNA Oct. 5. “The Ohio pro-life grassroots are really enthusiastic, very young.”

According to Mancini, the attendees wanted “to show the world that love is the heart of the pro-life movement” and “to do everything possible to support women and families facing unexpected pregnancies.”

Mancini heads the organization responsible for the National March for Life, which partnered with Ohio Right to Life to run the statewide event. She estimated attendance at the Columbus event to be about 4,000 people.

“It’s just a tremendous gain that Roe, after 50 years, has been overturned,” she said. “The much loftier goal is to change hearts and minds so that abortion will be unthinkable in our culture.”

The event began with a rally outside the Ohio Statehouse followed by a march.

Speakers included Bishop David Bonnar of Youngstown; David Forbes, pastor of the Columbus Christian Center; Peter Range, executive director of Ohio Right to Life; Margie Christie, president of the Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio; State Rep. Jena Powell; and Dr. Alveda King of Alveda King Ministries.

Ohio mother Ruth Cabrera-Henriquez told the rally her story of how she chose life for her unborn son after a doctor recommended that she procure an abortion.

Aaron Baer, president of the Ohio Christian public policy group the Center for Christian Virtue, was another speaker. He said the March for Life is “a celebration of all we’ve accomplished and a recommitment to serving those in need.”

“Ohio is a pro-life state,” Baer said. “From the passage of the Heartbeat Bill to the pregnancy centers throughout our 88 counties, Ohio has made protecting unborn children and their mothers a priority.”

An Ohio law banning abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is about six weeks into pregnancy, took effect in June. However, Hamilton County Judge Christian A. Jenkins, a Democrat, temporarily blocked the law for two weeks in mid-September and then extended the ban another two weeks.

Mancini noted the need for legislative efforts to protect the right to life of the unborn. Personal involvement, she said, can help “build a culture of life.” She encouraged people who wish to become more involved in the pro-life movement to visit the March for Life website for resources.

She praised the Ohio-based organization Heartbeat International for its work to help pregnant women and families. The organization is a pro-life information resource and directory for pregnancy care centers across the U.S.

“Pregnancy care centers, of course, help families when they’re facing an unexpected pregnancy, and they do so out of the goodness of their heart,” Mancini said. Across the U.S., she said, these centers provide over $270 million annually in free resources to families facing pregnancies and newborn children.

“We’re going to need to do everything we can to help moms in need,” she said. “The pro-life movement needs to increase our safety net for families facing unexpected pregnancies.”

According to Mancini, the end of the Roe v. Wade pro-abortion rights Supreme Court precedent could mean 200,000 fewer abortions in 2022 across the U.S. as some states enact abortion restrictions.

Last month the Ohio Department of Health released figures showing that 21,813 induced abortions were performed in the state in 2021, an increase from 20,605 the previous year. More than 60% of abortions took place before nine weeks into pregnancy. Ohio Right to Life said it expected the number of abortions to have been reduced during the three-month period in which the state Heartbeat Law was in effect.

On Wednesday morning before the Ohio March for Life, Youngstown’s Bishop Bonnar celebrated Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral in Columbus.

“The pro-life movement has much to be grateful for as we enter this rich prayer of thanksgiving. Our collective voice has been heard. Our prayers have been answered,” Bonnar said in his homily. “And yet, our efforts are not complete, as there are still more prayers to be prayed and more work to be done to eradicate the culture of death. We must continue to promote the culture of life and to protect the dignity of the human person from conception until natural death.”

The bishop cited the example of St. Joseph as a protector of life. He invoked the Christian duty to be “mindful of the poor.” This includes those without money, possessions, or relationships, but also those who are “without hope, voice, or opportunity,” like the unborn, he explained.

He encouraged the congregation not to disregard the lives of those who think differently than they do, “despite the sharp and painful differences that divide us not just on the issues of life but so much more.”

“We cannot dismiss the fact that God created them, too. They are life, too,” Bonnar said.

“May the Eucharist we receive today empower us to continue our march forward to ‘welcome, cherish, and safeguard’ life always with a heart for the poor,” the bishop said, “especially the unborn and moms and families in need with a firm commitment to prayer to the one God in whom we are all brothers and sisters.”