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Colorado parents protest after daughter told to share bed with male student on school trip

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 6, 2023 / 07:30 am (CNA).

Parents of an 11-year-old girl are demanding that a Colorado school district change its transgender policies after their daughter was instructed to share a bed with a biologically male 11-year-old student who identifies as a transgender girl during an overnight school trip.

The parents, Joe and Serena Wailes, sent a letter to the Jefferson County Public Schools through their attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom claiming that the school violated their constitutional rights by failing to notify them of the sleeping arrangements and not providing them with a formal opt-out option.

Attorneys at ADF argue in the letter that the policy and the practice of the school district violates the parents’ deeply held religious beliefs and their parental rights in the education and upbringing of their children, citing Supreme Court precedent on these constitutional protections. The letter also details the parents’ difficulty in getting their daughter moved to a different room when the arrangements made her “uncomfortable.”

“Parents, not the government, have the right to direct the upbringing and education of their children, and that includes making informed decisions to protect their child’s privacy,” ADF senior counsel Kate Anderson, the director of the ADF Center for Parental Rights, said in a statement.

“Schools should never hide information from parents, yet that’s exactly what JCPS officials did here,” Anderson added. “And that put the Waileses’ 11-year-old daughter in a very challenging situation where she had to choose between sleeping in the same bed with a biological boy and advocating for her privacy in front of her teachers and peers. Understandably, the Wailes family is asking JCPS to cease its practice of intentionally withholding information about rooming accommodations from parents. Every parent should have the information needed to make the best decision for their children.”

ADF legal counsel Mallory Rechtenbach told CNA that they hope to settle the dispute with the school district amicably. She said the school district could solve the issue by providing parents with an opt-out option for such sleeping arrangements when registering the children for a trip or simply ask the parents before making the arrangements. 

“If they refuse to provide a simple opt-out… [we] have to evaluate the next best steps,” Rechtenbach added.

The current policy states that, in the context of overnight trips, “in most cases, students who are transgender should be assigned to share overnight accommodations with other students that share the student’s gender identity consistently asserted at school.” It adds that “any student who is transgender or not, who has a need or desire for increased privacy, regardless of the underlying reason, should be provided with a reasonable accommodation, which may include a private room” and “under no circumstance shall a student who is transgender be required to share a room with students whose gender identity conflicts with their own.”

ADF has not yet received a response from the school district, according to Rechtenbach.

A spokesperson for the school district issued the following statement to CNA in response to an inquiry:

"Regarding the December 4 demand letter to Jeffco Public Schools from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF): In Jeffco Public Schools, student safety is paramount and partnership with families is a priority. We take this situation seriously. Because the district was only recently informed, and the trip occurred outside of the school year and through a private travel organization, we are still determining facts. However, it appears that the student’s transgender status was not known when room assignments were made and our understanding is that as soon as their transgender identity was known, room assignments were adjusted. We are working with the private travel organization to learn more and we anticipate a more detailed response by December 18 as ADF requests," the statement reads.

An ‘uncomfortable’ situation

The letter states that the incident occurred this past summer on a cross-country overnight trip when the school district assigned the fifth grade girl to sleep in the same bed as a fifth grade student who is biologically male but identifies as a transgender girl. It alleges that neither the girl nor the girl’s parents knew about the arrangements beforehand but that the girl found out about the arrangements when the transgender student informed the girl on the first night of the trip.

According to the letter, the girl “was immediately uncomfortable with the prospect of sharing a room and a bed with a male, regardless of the student’s gender identity” and “snuck into the bathroom, which did not lock, and quietly called her mother.” The girl “met her mother in the lobby to share her concerns” and her mother asked a teacher and the principal if her daughter could be moved to another room.

The trip chaperones asked the girl “if they could merely move her to a different bed rather than a different room” and even though she was still uncomfortable, she “agreed to try it for one night because she was tired after a long travel day,” the letter asserts. Yet, once she moved to the other bed, another girl “offered to let [the transgender student] also switch to the bed near the air conditioner,” which forced the girl to go “into the hall and again [and tell her mother] she was uncomfortable.” 

“Despite [her] continued uneasiness with the arrangement, she was scared to speak up in front of the other students on such a contentious subject,” the letter states.

According to the letter, the girl and her mother “returned to the school chaperone and again asked for [her daughter] to be moved to a different room [and], this time, the chaperones agreed to move [the transgender student] and one other girl to a different room.”

The letter also asserts that the chaperones lied to the other roommates about why the sleeping arrangements were being changed and instructed the girl to lie as well because the transgender student’s parents said their child “was to be in ‘stealth mode,’ meaning students on the trip would not know about their child’s transgender status.”

“After JCPS disregarded [the girl’s] privacy and the Waileses’ parental rights, JCPS then silenced [the girl], thus infringing on her freedom of speech, when a JCPS teacher told the three girls that they were not allowed to tell anyone that [the student] was transgender, even though [the student] voluntarily chose to share this information,” the letter states.

The parents also have two fourth grade children who are registered to take a school trip to New York; Washington, D.C.; and Philadelphia next year, according to the letter. The attorneys are asking the school district to respond to their letter by Dec. 16 with clarification on opt-out options in the policy and assurances that such clarifications are included in the written policy going forward.

This article has been updated to include a statement from the school district.

Pope Francis at general audience: ‘The Spirit is the protagonist’ of evangelization

Pope Francis speaks at his general audience on Dec. 6, 2023, in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Dec 6, 2023 / 04:22 am (CNA).

Pope Francis’ multi-week catechetical series on the essential components of the proclamation of the Gospel culminated with a fourth and final component: the Holy Spirit as the protagonist of evangelization. 

Amid applause at his entrance, Pope Francis greeted the faithful present in the Paul VI Audience Hall on Wednesday, Dec. 6. The Holy Father announced that Monsignor Filippo Ciampanelli would again read the prepared remarks on his behalf — as he did during the Nov. 29 audience — with Francis noting that he was “still struggling” from the lingering effects of a flu infection. “But I’m better,” the Holy Father said. 

Pope Francis speaks with young people at his general audience on Dec. 6, 2023, in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis speaks with young people at his general audience on Dec. 6, 2023, in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

Building off of the series’ previous themes of joy, the universality of the Gospel message, and the relevance of the Gospel for the modern world, the pope observed that the work of proclaiming the Gospel “always belongs to God.”

The Holy Father underscored that proclaiming the Gospel is never an act of self-promotion. By emulating the example of Jesus as the “first and greatest evangelizer,” we are to “cooperate with him and who leads us on by the power of his Spirit.” 

But it is only possible to “imitate his style” by eschewing personal preferences and listening to an authentic call from the Spirit, the pope reflected.

Pope Francis greets pilgrims at his general audience on Dec. 6, 2023, in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis greets pilgrims at his general audience on Dec. 6, 2023, in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

“Without the Holy Spirit, all zeal is vain and falsely apostolic: It would only be our own and would not bear fruit,” the pope observed. 

The pope noted that the Holy Spirit “always precedes the missionaries and makes the fruit grow.” Yet while it “comforts us a great deal” to recognize the Holy Spirit as a gift from God, the pope cautioned against the pitfall of falling into “indolence.” 

“Confidence does not justify disengagement. The vitality of the seed that grows by itself does not authorize farmers to neglect the field,” Francis reflected.

Pope Francis shares a hug with a young pilgrim at his general audience on Dec. 6, 2023, in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis shares a hug with a young pilgrim at his general audience on Dec. 6, 2023, in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

The pope warned against the temptation to cloister ourselves in “safety zones” that can take the form of “the habitual repetition of things one always does, or in the alluring calls of an intimist spirituality, or even in a misunderstood sense of the centrality of the liturgy.”

“They are temptations that disguise themselves as fidelity to tradition, but often, rather than responses to the Spirit, they are reactions to personal dissatisfactions,” he noted.

The pope went on to highlight that this tendency exists not only within the framework of the Church but also is a general challenge presented by a world characterized by rapid secularization and estrangement from God.

Pope Francis greets women religious at his general audience on Dec. 6, 2023, in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis greets women religious at his general audience on Dec. 6, 2023, in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

“In this age of ours, which does not help us have a religious outlook on life, and in which the proclamation has become in various places more difficult, arduous, apparently fruitless, the temptation to desist from pastoral service may arise,” the Holy Father observed. 

To counteract the tendency of falling into closed communities and the danger of living a static faith, the process of listening to the spirit and authentically proclaiming the Gospel is underscored by both “creativity and simplicity,” the pope argued.

By doing so we “return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world,” the pope observed, quoting from his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium

5 things to know and share about St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas, by Jaroslav Čermák (1831-1878). / Credit: Galerie Art Praha via Wikimedia (Public Domain)

Vatican City, Dec 6, 2023 / 04:00 am (CNA).

St. Nicholas, whose feast day is celebrated on Dec. 6, is well known as possibly the real-life inspiration for the beloved Christmas character of Santa Claus.

Not a lot is known about the historical Nicholas, who was bishop of Myra, a Greek city in modern-day Turkey, during the fourth century A.D.

But there are many stories and legends that explain his reputation as a just and upright man, charitable gift-giver, and miracle worker.

Here are five things to know and share about St. Nicholas:

1. The legend behind why St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children

Many people know that St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children, but they may not know why he has that title.

There is a grisly legend that says that during a famine in Myra, three young boys were lured into a butcher’s shop, where they were killed and then brined in a wooden barrel with the intention of being sold as “ham.” The good bishop worked a miracle, bringing the pickled children back to life and saving them from a gruesome fate.

Painting by Gentile da Fabriano, who lived in Italy from c. 1370 to 1427. Public Domain.
Painting by Gentile da Fabriano, who lived in Italy from c. 1370 to 1427. Public Domain.

This story became the subject of many portrayals of Nicholas in art, especially during the Middle Ages. Some people believe depictions of Bishop Nicholas with the three boys led to his reputation as a protector of children.

The legend of the brining may explain how he also became, oddly, the patron saint of brewers and coopers (people who make wooden casks, barrels, vats, troughs, and similar containers from timber).

2. One of the foremost saints in the Russian Orthodox Church

St. Nicholas is a unifying figure among Catholics and Orthodox Christians since both groups venerate him.

But he is incredibly important in the Russian Orthodox Church, where he is known as St. Nicholas the Wonderworker for the many miracles attributed to him both during and after his life.

To the Orthodox, Nicholas is principally honored for his qualities as a holy bishop and good shepherd of his people.

Also, in their weekly liturgical cycle, which dedicates different days of the week to Jesus Christ and other saints, only three are specifically named: Mary, the Mother of God; John the Forerunner (known to Catholics as John the Baptist); and St. Nicholas.

Nicholas did not leave behind any theological writings, but when he was made a bishop, he is credited with saying that “this dignity and this office demand different usage, in order that one should live no longer for oneself but for others.”

3. Jolly ol’ St. Nicholas?

Because of his popularity among Orthodox Christians, St. Nicholas is a favorite subject in iconography.

But don’t be surprised if, among the hundreds of icons depicting him, you don’t see any merry dimples or a “round little belly.” He does have a white beard, though.

An icon of St. Nicholas painted in 1294 for a Russian Orthodox church on Lipno Island in northwestern Russia. Public Domain
An icon of St. Nicholas painted in 1294 for a Russian Orthodox church on Lipno Island in northwestern Russia. Public Domain

4. Patron saint of unmarried people, fishermen, pawnbrokers, and the falsely accused

One of the most popular legends about Nicholas is that the saint, who is said to have come from a wealthy family, secretly helped a poor man with three daughters.

The father could not provide proper dowries for the girls to marry, and without husbands to support them, they might have been forced to turn to prostitution.

After learning about the situation, Nicholas secretly slipped a bag of gold coins through the family’s window while they were sleeping. He later left a second bag of coins, and likewise, another bag for the third daughter, at which point, the legend says, the father, who had waited up all night, “caught” Nicholas red-handed in his gift-giving. But Nicholas made him promise to keep the secret.

The story is likely the explanation for why the modern Christmas character of Santa Claus brings his gifts for children under the cover of night.

In artworks referencing this legend, the three bags of coins are often depicted as three golden balls. Images of gold balls were also used to mark the shops of pawnbrokers, which is probably how Nicholas came to be their patron saint, too.

A painting of St. Nicholas and Mary Magdalene by Antonello da Messina, created between 1475 and 1476. Public Domain
A painting of St. Nicholas and Mary Magdalene by Antonello da Messina, created between 1475 and 1476. Public Domain

One of many miracles attributed to St. Nicholas happened at sea as he traveled aboard a boat to the Holy Land. Nicholas is a patron saint of sailors and travelers because he calmed the stormy waters that threatened their lives.

His patronage of the falsely accused can be attributed to an early story about his rescue of three innocent men moments before their execution. It is said that St. Nicholas, then bishop of Myra, boldly pushed away the executioner’s sword, released the men from their chains, and angrily reprimanded a juror who had taken a bribe to find them guilty.

5. Two feast days

Most people know that Nicholas’ feast day is celebrated on Dec. 6, the day he died in the year 343, but for East Slavs, as well as the people of Bari, Italy, May 9 is also an important day to celebrate the saint.

That date is the anniversary of the day that St. Nicholas’ relics were moved from Myra, in present-day Turkey, to Bari, not long after the Great Schism of Catholics and Orthodox in 1054 A.D.

Accounts differ over whether the transmission of the relics was theft or an attempt by Christian sailors to preserve the saint’s remains from destruction by the Turks. But whatever the real reason, the relics can still be venerated today in the Basilica of St. Nicholas in Bari.

Pope Francis visited Bari, in Italy’s southern region of Puglia, two times during his papacy. During both the 2018 and 2020 visits, he stopped in the basilica’s crypt to venerate St. Nicholas’ relics.

Perrant via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0
Perrant via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0

The pontifical basilica is an important place of ecumenism, since the Catholic Church welcomes many Eastern Catholics and Orthodox Christians to the pilgrimage site. In the crypt, where St. Nicholas is buried, there is also an altar for the celebration of Orthodox and Eastern Catholic liturgies.

For Christians who follow the Julian calendar, as the Eastern Orthodox do, St. Nicholas’ principal feast day falls on Dec. 19. An Orthodox Divine Liturgy is usually celebrated at the Basilica of St. Nicholas that morning.

On Dec. 6, Catholics in Bari celebrate the beloved saint with Mass, concerts, and a procession of the saint’s statue through the city’s streets.

This article was originally published Dec. 6, 2022, and has been updated.

Sen. Tuberville ends pro-life blockade for hundreds of military appointments

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, speaks to members of the press at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 15, 2023 in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 5, 2023 / 21:02 pm (CNA).

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, will allow hundreds of military appointments to get through the Senate as he ends his 10-month-long pro-life blockade that sought to force the Pentagon to change its abortion policies.

The senator began blocking military appointments that need Senate confirmation in February by refusing to allow them to pass via unanimous consent. The blockade was a protest against a Department of Defense policy that provides paid leave and reimbursement for travel expenses for service members who seek to obtain an abortion. It also covers travel costs for dependents and spouses.

Although the policy is still in place, Tuberville announced on Tuesday that he would end his blockade for most appointments — the backlog has grown to more than 400. He said he would only maintain his blockade against a handful of very senior positions. 

“I’m not going to hold the promotions of these people any longer,” Tuberville told reporters, according to CBS News. “We just released them —  about 440 of them. Everybody but 10 or 11 four-stars.”

The military appointments are normally a routine process approved in large blocs by unanimous consent of the Senate. Without unanimous consent, the Senate would have needed to vote on each appointment individually. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, chose to only bring a handful of appointment votes up individually, declining to bypass the blockade of most appointments.

Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America, thanked Tuberville for maintaining the blockade for 10 months in a post on X, which was reposted by the senator.

“We’re proud of the stand that [Tuberville] took on behalf of the preborn,” Hawkins said. “Every day he stood firm was a message sent to Washington that the lives of America’s preborn are worth defending, even if Joe Biden and his Pentagon don’t think so.”

Federal law prohibits Department of Defense funds from being “used to perform abortions except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or in a case in which the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.”

Even though the law does not expressly prohibit funds for travel expenses or paid leave to obtain an abortion, some Republican lawmakers have argued that such policies violate the statute. Republicans have introduced bills that would expressly prohibit agencies from using funds in this way, but those efforts have been blocked in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Mexican lawmakers urged to oppose bill criminalizing ‘conversion therapy’

null / Credit: Image of Freepik

ACI Prensa Staff, Dec 5, 2023 / 18:40 pm (CNA).

More than 170 civil society organizations, led by the National Front for the Family and the Citizens’ Initiative for Life and Family, are calling on the political parties represented in the federal Chamber of Deputies (lower house) in Mexico to oppose a bill that seeks to “criminalize” so-called “conversion therapy” for persons with unwanted same-sex attraction.

In a letter addressed to the presidents and coordinators of the political parties that have a presence in the Chamber of Deputies, the organizations denounced the attempt to criminalize any person “for proposing any therapy, support, accompaniment, guide, or orientation; by creating new crimes against ‘gender confusion.’”

The proposal, which seeks to amend the Federal Penal Code and the General Law on Health, calls for significant penalties, including prison sentences and fines that could exceed 207,000 Mexican pesos (about $11,800) for those who offer or perform such therapy.

According to the bill, so-called “conversion therapy” would be classified as “crimes against people’s sexual orientation or gender identity” and would penalize any person who “performs, imparts, applies, forces, or finances any type of of treatment, therapy, service, or practice that hinders, restricts, impedes, undermines, nullifies, or suppresses the sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression of a person.”

The bill also states that the parents or guardians of people “who engage in the penalized conduct will be subject to being sanctioned with a reprimand or warning at the discretion of the judge.”

The pro-family civil society organizations expressed their concern about the “ambiguity” in the wording of the initiative, pointing out that terms such as “any practice” and expressions such as “hinder, restrict, impede, undermine, annul, or suppress” are “extremely subjective and ambiguous,” which could lead to indiscriminate interpretations.

“With a simple complaint from someone who subjectively believes that their sexual orientation, identity, or gender expression is being ‘hindered, restricted, impeded, undermined, nullified, or suppressed,’” any citizen could get two to 24 years in prison, the organizations warned.

If the bill is passed, they pointed out, “Mexico would be turned into the country with the least respect for fundamental freedoms, since a regime of terror would be installed contrary to health care workers’ [freedom to]  exercise their profession, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and academic freedom.”

The bill is expected to be discussed during an ordinary session Dec. 5.

What is ‘conversion therapy’?

Commonly understood, “conversion therapy” encompasses both a series of psychological and scientific practices as well as religious methods that come, for the most part, from the American Protestant world and are based on evangelical anthropology, which is very different from Catholic anthropology.

However, the LGBT community often uses the term “conversion therapy” to denigrate and criminalize any form of help, even psychological, for people with same-sex attraction.

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

Boy walks 7 miles on muddy roads to receive confirmation, gets a blessing from the pope

Maximiliano Pavillaux walks in the mud to reach the parish for confirmation on Nov. 11, 2023. / The child receives the recognition of Pope Francis from Bishop Mauricio Landra, the auxiliary bishop of Mercedes-Luján, Argentina. / Credit: Photo courtesy of the Pavillaux family

ACI Prensa Staff, Dec 5, 2023 / 18:20 pm (CNA).

An Argentine boy recently made the special effort to walk 11 kilometers (about seven miles) on muddy roads to receive the sacrament of confirmation, and the news reached Pope Francis, who sent him a blessing.

Maximiliano Pavillaux, 11, has been living along with his parents and four siblings in the rural area around Suipacha, a small town in Buenos Aires province, since December 2022.

Throughout the year, the boy has been preparing to receive the sacrament of confirmation, which was scheduled for Nov. 11.

To help him prepare, week after week, his catechist, Eva, sent the study materials to his house. However, as the date for the sacrament approached, worsening weather conditions threatened his being confirmed.

The night before confirmation, and in the midst of incessant rain, Carola and Rolando, Maximiliano’s parents, began to worry because the family vehicles were not going to be able to make it to town on the muddy country roads, and the tractor they use to work the fields had broken down that same week.

There was an alternative, but the parents thought the child wouldn’t accept it: walk seven miles in the mud. However, to their surprise, Maxi said yes.

The boy and his parents left at 7 a.m. so they could reach the church in time for the ceremony that would begin at 10:30 a.m.

“Our boots sank in the mud, we slid,” Maximiliano recalled, speaking with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. On the way, the father joked with the little boy: “When you grow up, you’re going to have a good story to tell.” But they didn’t expect his story to reach so many people.

Upon arriving at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Suipacha, Eva, his catechist, was waiting for him in tears: “She was very happy,” the newly confirmed said.

The priest who offered the Mass mentioned the little boy’s feat as an example to follow, and many came up later to congratulate him.

After the ceremony, “we came away relieved. I was ‘on cloud nine’ all week," the boy’s mother confessed. “We didn’t regret anything, we were happy.”

But the impact did not end there. In recent days, Maximiliano’s story reached the ears of Pope Francis, who sent him his apostolic blessing and a gift from Rome.

The framed apostolic blessing and the gifts of the Holy Father were given to Maxi at last Sunday’s Mass, which was celebrated by Bishop Mauricio Landra, the auxiliary bishop of Mercedes-Luján, who made a special trip to Suipacha to place the recognition from the pope in the boy’s hands.

“I can’t stop crying,” Maxi’s mother told ACI Prensa, highlighting the warmth of the Suipacha community, which came to visit her son and also brought him gifts. “It’s a paradise,” she said.

The protagonist of the story shared with ACI Prensa that “everyone was very happy,” even his rural school classmates, who were “impressed.”

To other children who are preparing to receive the sacrament of confirmation, Maximilian reminded them “that Jesus awaits you and will always be with you, just as he will be with me.”

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

Mexican exorcist warns against ‘vampires’ that can draw you away from God during Advent

null / Credit: Josh Applegate/Unsplash

ACI Prensa Staff, Dec 5, 2023 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Father Eduardo Hayen, an exorcist of the Mexican Diocese of Ciudad Juárez, offered a reflection for the first week of Advent, warning about the “vampires” that can draw people away from God, such as alcohol, sexual vices, and addiction to social media.

Hayen, director of the weekly publication Presencia, explained the process in a post on X on Dec. 3, the first Sunday of Advent, titled “Beware of Vampires.”

Advent in the Catholic Church is the time of spiritual preparation for the birth of the baby Jesus. This year, Advent began on Sunday, Dec. 3, and will conclude on Sunday, Dec. 24, Christmas Eve.

“Do you remember ‘Dracula’ and the novels about vampires? They are fictional beings that suck people’s blood while they sleep. Victims must be in a deep sleep to be attacked by these creatures of the underworld. A vampire first injects a sleep-inducing substance into the victim to keep him asleep and meanwhile sucks his blood,” the priest explained as he began his meditation.

In the same way, the exorcist continued, “in the spiritual life our vampires are our bad habits, especially vices. They enter our lives slowly, like a narcotic; when we are asleep, they begin to suck our plasma, little by little. We start losing energy, strength, motivation, will, courage, enthusiasm, attitude.”

“We can even be living with good habits,” he pointed out, “such as going to church, but only out of habit, without any inner life that motivates us. The conscience falls into a deep sleep and nothing awakens it. We can even lose our sense of good and evil. We stop having pangs of conscience and thus we die spiritually.”

“I believe that all of us, at some point in our lives, have been victims of vampires: alcohol, drugs, the idolatry of money, sexual vices, morally prohibited relationships, addiction to social media, pride and arrogance, the vice of working like a dog, seriously neglecting the family,” he continued.

Given this reality, the Mexican priest asked: “What vampire has injected me with his poison and is consuming my blood?”

The ‘repellent’ to the attacks of the devil during Advent

Hayen explained that “Jesus frees you from the vampire: If we fall asleep, the monster will approach to sink his fangs to our necks. We then need to be awake so that it doesn’t get close. Christ is the only one who can keep us attentive, vigilant. ‘Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come’ (Mk 13:33).”

“The word of God is the repellent to the attacks of the enemy. That is why on this first Sunday of Advent Jesus says: ‘Watch!’ He tells us this because of the immense love he has for us, and he doesn’t want us to go astray.”

The exorcist then urged listening “more attentively to the divine Word in this time of Advent, and let us keep our souls awake in prayer.”

“We don’t know when the Master of the house will come to ask us to give an account — that will be at the moment of our death, whose date we do not know,” the priest explained, “but what we are sure of is that the one with the long fangs will remain far away, at a good distance.” 

To conclude, the Mexican exorcist encouraged his readers to open up “our house to salvation: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me’ (Rv 3:20).”

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

Maryland parents argue for right to opt children out of LGBT curriculum in appeals court

Parents protest the Montgomery County School Board's policy blocking them from opting out their children from pro-homosexual and transgender materials. / Credit: Photo courtesy of Becket

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 5, 2023 / 15:18 pm (CNA).

Attorneys for a group of over 300 primarily Catholic, Muslim, and Ethiopian Orthodox parents from Montgomery County, Maryland, argued in federal court today that the parents should be allowed to opt their children out of school reading materials promoting homosexuality and transgenderism.

According to an attorney representing the parents, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, expedited the case and scheduled the hearing promptly, signaling that a ruling in the case, Mahmoud v. McKnight, is a priority.

“Schools have no business pushing instruction on gender and sexuality without even notifying parents,” said attorney Eric Baxter from the law firm Becket in a Dec. 5 statement.  

The parents sued the Montgomery County Board of Education on May 24 after it changed its parental notification and opt-out policies.

Under the new rule, which the board adopted on May 1, the school district will not notify parents about reading materials that portray or promote homosexuality, transgenderism, and other aspects of gender ideology and will no longer allow parents to opt out of such coursework.

“Parental involvement is crucial for children, especially in elementary school,” Baxter said. “The court should restore notice and opt-outs so parents can parent and kids can be kids.”

William Haun, a senior counsel at Becket and co-counsel in the Montgomery County parents’ case, told CNA that the appeals court seemed open to the parents’ arguments and that he is hopeful the court will restore their right to opt out.

Haun said that the parents are merely advocating for “the same opt-outs that the school board was giving parents all of last school year without incident.”

Though there have been protests and significant pushback against the school board’s rule change, a federal district judge ruled against the parents on Aug. 24, allowing the policy to go into effect at the beginning of the fall 2023 semester.

“What we have are parents who are being forced to decide, ‘Do I have to withdraw my children from public school or on pain of criminal penalties have my children be taught things that violate their religious beliefs?’” Haun said.

“The most troubling thing the parents told us is that they can’t even get a straight answer from their teachers about whether these books will ever be read or when they’ve been read,” he said.

Haun shared the story of one impacted family, the Morrisons, whose 10-year-old daughter has Down syndrome and attention deficit disorder. Even in her specialized courses, the Morrisons’ daughter has had pro-homosexual and transgender materials read to her, which Haun said has been “deeply confusing to her.”

Despite the ruling in August, Haun said the appeals court appeared open to the parents’ arguments and asked “many questions about the amount of discretion that the board has and its policies, the fact that the board allowed opt-outs through all of last year, and then also with regard to the age of the children.” 

According to Haun, homosexual and transgender “pride” storybooks are being read to children in the Montgomery County school district as early as pre-K, to children who are 3 and 4 years old.

“When the board has the discretion to accommodate [religious requests] but refuses to do so, that triggers rigorous judicial review under the free exercise clause, and the board simply has no good response to that rigorous review,” Haun said.

Though this case primarily concerns parents and children in Montgomery County, Maryland, Haun said he believes it also has “tremendous national import.”

“If this is allowed to persist,” he said, “it’s going to send a message nationwide that that long-standing partnership between parents and public schools can be changed in favor of cutting the parents out to pursue an ideological agenda.”

As it stands currently, Haun said that 47 states still require either opt-outs or opt-ins whenever sexuality and gender family issues are being taught to children.

“That is a national consensus that is long-standing in our country,” Haun explained. “Montgomery County goes even further and allows for religious opt-outs to all manner of curriculum: Valentine’s Day, Halloween parties, any kind of reading assignment that offends your religious beliefs. You can work with them to come up with an alternative, but only for these books, for these books only, you won’t even be told when they’re read, and you can’t get an opt-out.”

Haun told CNA that the fact that the 4th Circuit Court expedited the hearing in this case indicates that the judges “see the need for an immediate ruling” and that he expects a ruling in the next couple of months.

Notre Dame board elects Father Robert A. Dowd as new university president

Notre Dame President-elect Father Robert Dowd succeeds Father John I. Jenkins, who is stepping down after 19 years. / Credit: Matt Cashore, University of Notre Dame

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 5, 2023 / 14:17 pm (CNA).

The board of trustees of the University of Notre Dame elected as the university’s new president Father Robert A. Dowd, a Congregation of Holy Cross priest and associate professor of political science who serves as a current vice president.

Dowd, who is also an associate provost for interdisciplinary initiatives and a religious superior of the Holy Cross community at Notre Dame, will assume his new leadership role at the conclusion of the 2023-2024 academic year. He will replace the current president, Father John I. Jenkins, who is stepping down after 19 years.

“I am deeply humbled and honored by the board’s decision,” Dowd said in a statement on Monday, Dec. 4, after the election. 

“We can all be grateful for Father Jenkins’ selfless and courageous leadership for almost two decades,” Dowd continued. “Working together with others, his efforts have positioned the university extremely well in every way. We will build on those efforts. Informed by our Catholic mission, we will work together so that Notre Dame is an ever-greater engine of insight, innovation, and impact, addressing society’s greatest challenges and helping young people to realize their potential for good.”

The incoming president, a 1987 Notre Dame graduate, began working in the university’s campus ministry in 1994 after taking his final vows in the Congregation of Holy Cross, according to a university news release. He earned a master of arts degree in African studies from UCLA in 1998 and received a doctorate in political science in 2003. Since 2004, he has been a member of the political science faculty at Notre Dame with a specialization in comparative politics with a focus on researching how Christian and Islamic communities affect support for democratic institutions.

“We are thrilled that Father Dowd will be Notre Dame’s next leader,” Jack Brennan, the chair of Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees, said in a statement. “His character and intellect, along with his broad academic and administrative experience and his deep commitment to Notre Dame, make him an ideal person to lead the university into the future.”

Dowd also founded the university’s Ford Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies. According to the university news release, the program establishes research partnerships in the Global South and is informed by Catholic social teaching. 

Current Notre Dame President Jenkins congratulated Dowd after the board elected him as the next president. 

“I thank and congratulate our Board of Trustees on selecting Father Dowd as Notre Dame’s next president,” Jenkins said in a statement. “An accomplished scholar, a dedicated teacher and an experienced administrator, Father Bob [Dowd] is also a faithful and generous priest. He will lead the university to being even more powerfully a force for good in the world.”

Dowd will serve as Notre Dame’s 18th president. The university was founded in 1842 by a Congregation of Holy Cross priest. Every president since its founding has been a Congregation of Holy Cross priest.

Parish priest in Nigeria abducted while answering sick call

Nigerian priest Father Kingsley Eze was kidnapped Nov. 30, 2023, traveling to a sick call. / Credit: Catholic Diocese of Okigwe

ACI Africa, Dec 5, 2023 / 13:06 pm (CNA).

A priest from the Diocese of Okigwe in Nigeria was kidnapped Nov. 30 while traveling to administer the sacrament of the anointing of the sick to a parishioner.

The diocese announced Dec. 1 that Father Kingsley Eze, who serves as the parish priest of St. Michael’s Umuekebi Catholic Church in Nigeria’s Imo state, was kidnapped at approximately 8 p.m. that evening and his whereabouts are unknown.

In a statement sent to ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, the chancellor of the diocese, Father Princewill Iwuanyanwu, confirmed the kidnapping and asked for prayers for the safe release of Eze.

“We solicit your fervent prayers that he may come back to us safe and sound,” Iwuanyanwu said.

Agenzia Fides, the information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies, gathered witness accounts of the kidnapping, indicating that gunmen attacked the priest, known locally as “Father Ichie,” along with another person, Uchenna Newman, as they got out of their car at an intersection to do some shopping during a stop while responding to a sick call. 

The bandits are said to have first robbed the street vendors, shooting indiscriminately and wounding a passerby, and then forced the priest and his companion to follow them.

St. Michael’s Parish serves parts of Imo state in southern Nigeria, which has been the center of massive attacks that mostly target Christians.

Earlier, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) shared with ACI Africa a report indicating that from January 2021 to May of this year, security forces and “allied militias” killed 900 unarmed citizens, wounded 700, and arrested 3,500 people, most of them innocent Christians in Imo state.

The report compiled in May also indicates that 1,400 people were extorted and 300 others forced to disappear, meaning they were likely abducted and their whereabouts are unknown.

Additionally, 1,200 civilian houses were burned down across the Nigerian state, displacing approximately 30,000 people.

The Intersociety report further indicates that attacks across Imo state also forced 500,000 citizens “in active age brackets” to flee from the state and had sought refuge in neighboring urban residences located in Umuahia, Owerri, Port Harcourt, Aba, Enugu, Onitsha, and Nnewi.

In the report, Intersociety petitioned for the prosecution of more than 30 top government officials in Nigeria for killings of Christians in the West African country’s state.

Among those Intersociety brought to the International Criminal Court in The Hague was Gov. Hope Uzodinma and other government officials of Imo state whom the research entity has directly linked to the killings and mass displacements of Christians in the state.

This story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, and has been adapted by CNA.