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St. Peter Damian, the driving force behind the reform of the Church 1,000 years ago

Pilgrims gather in St. Peter's Square for the Angelus on the Solemnity of All Saints, Nov. 1, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 21, 2024 / 04:00 am (CNA).

This doctor of the Church was simple, firm, and honest in the face of error.

Report: Cardinal Calls for ‘Permanent’ Dialogue with Freemasons

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Pro-life scholars challenge study that claims abortion pills are ‘safe’ and ‘effective’

A pro-abortion activist displays abortion pills as she counter-protests during an anti-abortion demonstration on March 25, 2023, in New York City. / Credit: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Newsroom, Feb 20, 2024 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Several pro-life scholars are pushing back on a recently published study that claims abortion pills are “safe” and “effective” when prescribed without an in-person meeting and distributed through the mail.

The referenced study, which was published by pro-abortion academics in the peer-reviewed medical journal Nature Medicine, claimed that telehealth chemical abortion “is effective, safe, and comparable to published rates of in-person medication abortion care.” The study evaluated risks and potential complications related to the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol.

According to the study, nearly 98% of chemical abortions procured via telehealth effectively aborted the preborn child. The study also claimed there was a very low likelihood of “serious abortion-related adverse events.” 

About 1.3% of women required visits to the emergency department after their chemical abortion, 0.16% needed treatment for ectopic pregnancies, and 0.25% required more serious treatment for adverse events, such as blood transfusions or abdominal surgery.

The study relied on self-reported responses to a survey. Only 74% of the outcomes were known, which means that the outcomes for more than one-fourth of the survey respondents were not included in the study.

Pro-life scholars have questioned the veracity of the findings, noting that it relies on self-reported survey results rather than actual concrete data and fails to account for the results for approximately one-quarter of the women surveyed.

“Once again, the abortion industry is relying on patchwork, piecemeal survey data to conclude that abortion drugs are ‘safe and effective,’ but there are key gaps in the study that should call into question this conclusion,” Tessa Longbons Cox, a senior research associate at the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, told CNA. 

“With a 74% follow-up rate, we don’t know what happened to a quarter of the women in the study,” Cox added. “We know that the women who feel the most negative reactions following their abortions are least likely to participate in follow-ups, and FDA data shows that women who have been harmed by abortion frequently end up seeking care from another doctor. Those missing voices are a crucial piece to the clinical puzzle as we can’t assume that those women had a positive outcome.”

In a statement to CNA, Dr. Ingrid Skop, the director of medical affairs at the Charlotte Lozier Institute and a board-certified OB/GYN, also questioned the researchers’ definition of a “serious adverse event.” 

Skop says she has treated women who, after receiving a chemical abortion, have required emergency surgery to remove the child’s tissue or placenta. Others have bled heavily for six to eight weeks but did not require a blood transfusion, and still others have contracted an intrauterine infection that required medical care and could lead to future infertility. 

“According to these authors, my patients’ experiences would not qualify as a ‘serious adverse event,’” Skop said. “It’s extraordinary to see these serious complications dismissed and considered not worthy of discussion when I know these women felt otherwise.” 

Michael New, a professor of social research at the Catholic University of America, told CNA: “We really have no idea what happened to [about] 25% of the people” and that women who have health complications are “less likely to respond to a follow-up.” 

He pointed to studies that have shown that chemical abortions have “complication rates [that are] four times higher than surgical abortions.” The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has also pointed to these studies when voicing its opposition to chemical abortion pills. 

In addition to health complications, New warned that the deregulation of chemical abortion pills could have other adverse consequences, such as an abuser or romantic partner obtaining these pills to coerce an abortion by drugging a girl or woman who he does not want to go through with a pregnancy. 

New added that “these are not unbiased researchers,” pointing to the academics’ ties to the pro-abortion movement. He said “there’s a lot of bias and I think it’s getting worse in the field of public health.”

The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of mifepristone to kill a preborn child up to 10 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy. The drug accomplishes this by blocking the hormone progesterone, which cuts off the child’s supply of oxygen and nutrients. Misoprostol is taken between 24 to 48 hours after mifepristone to induce contractions meant to expel the child’s body from the mother, essentially inducing labor.

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear a lawsuit that challenges the FDA’s approval of mifepristone and subsequent deregulation, which currently allows the drug to be prescribed without an in-person doctor’s visit as well as be delivered through the mail.

New Orleans Restaurateur Johnny Blancher — With a Lenten Recipe for Oysters Bleu

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Francisco and Jacinta: Brother and Sister Saints Who Were Seers at Fatima

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Catholic prison ministry makes good use of large donation of Bible study materials

null / Credit: OFFSTOCK/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Feb 20, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Jerry Trzeciak leads a lot of Catholic retreats. But the participants aren’t your typical parishioners, and they live in a place where not many people have the courage to go. 

For the past several years, Trzeciak has worked with the Texas Department of Corrections as a volunteer chaplain in the Jim Ferguson Unit, located in Midway, Texas, which has a maximum capacity of over 2,000 men and mainly houses those who are violent and gang-affiliated.

Working with a Catholic lay group called Kolbe Prison Ministries (KPM), Trzeciak and his fellow volunteers are admitted to the prisons to lead three-day retreats for the inmates, usually about 66 at a time. The volunteers share their faith in talks, pray with the incarcerated men or women, and give them opportunities to attend Mass or Communion services. After the face-to-face retreat ends, the volunteers are able to provide the inmates with follow-up education, including Bible studies and OCIA (formerly RCIA).

KPM’s work with the inmates — bolstered in recent years by a large donation of study materials from Ascension, a Pennsylvania-based Catholic publisher — has changed lives, Trzeciak says. 

“The retreat is always received positively, and it’s amazing to see not only the growth of the ministry but the growth and the witnessing to the way the Holy Spirit works,” said Trzeciak, a retired sales and marketing professional and a parishioner at St. Anthony of Padua Parish near Houston. 

“Without a doubt, we hear this cliche, but I just can’t tell you how much God rewards those who do the corporal works of mercy, and in particular those folks who do prison ministry, because Jesus knows it’s difficult. It’s not easy to go in there, right? It’s not for everybody. And when you extend yourself, when you put those fears aside, when you put self aside for what God wants, he just rewards you constantly. It’s just a constant blessing, a gift.”

Jerry Trzeciak, a Catholic prison ministry volunteer from Texas. Credit: Photo courtesy of Jerry Trzeciak
Jerry Trzeciak, a Catholic prison ministry volunteer from Texas. Credit: Photo courtesy of Jerry Trzeciak

Security measures in the prison mean the likelihood of any harm coming to a prison ministry volunteer are very low. But needless to say, the idea of entering a maximum security prison at all — let alone with the intention of sharing Jesus with the inmates — can be intimidating and takes some getting used to. The key, Trzeciak said, is to as much as possible come in with a nonjudgmental, loving attitude. 

“Generally speaking, folks don’t have a positive image of prison inmates,” he commented to CNA. 

“The majority of the prisons that we go into are high security, maximum security units. And for many folks, until they’ve gone in once or twice or three times, they can be a little uncomfortable.”

Perhaps in part because it is such a challenging call, Catholic prison ministries across the United States have struggled for years to attract volunteers and, with often meager financial resources, provide the materials needed to ignite or nurture the faith of men and women in prison after the volunteers leave. 

But that changed — at least in Texas — in March 2022, when Catholic publisher Ascension connected with KPM to coordinate a donation of $338,000 worth of Bible study materials related to Ascension’s flagship Bible study, “The Bible Timeline: The Story of Salvation,” a 24-session program presented by Jeff Cavins. Ascension is known, among other things, for producing Father Mike Schmitz’s “Bible in a Year” podcast. 

Thanks to the blockbuster donation, Kolbe says it now has nearly 400 inmates participating in “Bible Timeline” Bible studies at facilities across Texas and other states. Trzeciak said they had been using the “Bible Timeline” before the donation and that he has seen the course foster “amazing” growth in the faith of incarcerated men and women. He said the inmates are often interested in talking about forgiveness — both for others and for themselves. 

“It’s just amazing to see the growth in the men and women due to the ‘Bible Timeline’ courses,” he said.

Ascension, in a press release, added that inmates have reported to them that they “feel much more confident and able to respond to questions about the Catholic faith and practice from fellow inmates of other faiths.”

The retreats given by KPM are not exclusive to Catholic inmates; any inmate is welcome to attend, though Trzeciak said Catholic inmates are generally the most enthusiastic to participate. Some inmates come for the free food but stay for the content. 

“From our standpoint, if it’s the food that brings them in, praise God, because again, by the end of that day three, the Lord has worked his miracles,” Trzeciak commented. 

“It’s closed to no one, open to everybody. And I believe that, in its own way, just really builds a faith-based community in the institution by making it more inclusive, as opposed to exclusive.”

St. Frances Cabrini Planted Roots in This Once-Remote Corner of Manhattan

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Education initiative seeks to bolster Catholic schools with ‘treasury’ of Church’s tradition

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CNA Staff, Feb 20, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

A K–12 education initiative out of the Catholic University of America (CUA) seeks to bolster what its director calls “the distinctive excellence of Catholic education” by offering school accreditation and fostering professional development of Catholic school leadership around the country. 

The Institute for the Transformation of Catholic Education (ITCE) was founded at CUA in October 2021 following several years of consultation and exploration of how the university might contribute more to Catholic education in the United States. 

Daryl Hagan, the director of ITCE, told CNA that one consultant suggested that CUA “found an institute that would coordinate the delivery of a variety of programs and services aimed at strengthening leadership and instruction in Catholic schools.” 

The institute would do so by “utilizing the diversity of expertise found across the departments and units of the university,” Hagan said. 

CUA is home to several hundred full-time and part-time academic staff. The university says on its website that the school “served as the center of Catholic education in the United States throughout the first half of the 20th century.”

Hagan told CNA the institute “advances the distinctive excellence of Catholic education as a gift for each person and for society.”

It accomplishes this in part through “school accreditation, teacher and leader degree and professional development programs, and research,” Hagan said. 

The ITCE does work in six states, eight archdioceses, and nearly 300 Catholic schools, serving just under 100,000 students.

Among its offerings is Lumen Accreditation, a certification program that ITCE says presents “a framework of guiding principles for K–12 Catholic schools” that helps schools “align their community more fully to the example and teaching of Christ.”

Rob Bridges, the president of Cathedral High School in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, told CNA that the school was “very happy to partner with ITCE, as our mission aligns wonderfully with theirs.” 

“[W]e are part of the pilot group for the program and would definitely recommend them to any Catholic school interested in enhancing their focus on their mission,” Bridges said. “We used their material to lead a beginning-of-the-year all-educator retreat and also for our board of directors retreat in November.”

ITCE also offers Catholic educators a program called Insight, which it describes as “the first social and emotional learning professional development program for K-12 Catholic school educators.”

First developed in the 1960s, social-emotional learning (SEL) places emphasis on social and emotional skills in the classroom. ITCE’s curriculum uses its 10-part program to discuss pointedly Catholic topics such as “forgiveness, justice, and mercy” and answer questions such as “Who is the human person?” 

Jeff Kummer, who serves as president of St. John Paul the Great Catholic High School in the Archdiocese of Denver, said it was “paramount” for the school to “select a mission-aligned accrediting partner.”

“Our Catholic identity permeates all aspects of school life — from curriculum development to hiring and retention practices to back-office processes,” Kummer said. 

“Based on our experience with the team at ITCE, we are confident that Lumen Accreditation will not simply tolerate our Catholic principles but will support them and allow them to guide the entire accreditation process,” he said.  

“The result will be a Catholic high school poised to meet high expectations in curricular, pedagogical, and organizational areas but most importantly to achieve the spiritual and evangelistic goals at JPG as well.” 

“We feel blessed and grateful to be a part of the inaugural Lumen cohort, which is the fruit of much prayer and discernment on the part of both our organizations!” he added.

Hagan said the ITCE is funded through benefactors. The initiative, he said, has thus far “served hundreds of Catholic educators through conference presentations, a webinar, retreats, and tailored professional development programs for Catholic dioceses and schools.”

“We foster a vision of education and formation that is rooted in Christ, draws from the great treasury of the Church’s tradition, and aims at the full flourishing of the human person in wisdom, virtue, and holiness,” he said.

Alabama Supreme Court rules that frozen embryos are children under state law

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 20, 2024 / 06:31 am (CNA).

The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that frozen human embryos constitute children under state statute, a decision that could have wide-reaching effects on in vitro fertilization and other medical concerns there.

The nine-judge court said in the 8-1 ruling that the state's "Wrongful Death of a Minor Act" is "sweeping and unqualified," and that its provisions extend to children "regardless of their location."

"It applies to all children, born and unborn, without limitation," the ruling said. "It is not the role of this Court to craft a new limitation based on our own view of what is or is not wise public policy."

The court said that assessment was "especially true where, as here, the People of [Alabama] have adopted a Constitutional amendment directly aimed at stopping courts from excluding 'unborn life' from legal protection."

Alabama voters in 2018 approved a state constitutional amendment affirming "the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children," while in 2019 the state enacted a near-total ban on abortions, one that went fully into effect with the repeal of Roe v. Wade in 2022.

The state high court's ruling came following a lawsuit brought by several parents whose frozen embryos had been accidentally destroyed at a fertility clinic. The plaintiffs had argued that the destruction fell under the state's Wrongful Death of a Minor Act.

In the decision the justices cited, in part, the Bible, including passages from Genesis affirming the sanctity of human life, as well as commentary from Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin.

The justices in their ruling said the phrase "minor child" means "the same thing in the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act as it does in everyday parlance: 'an unborn or recently born' individual member of the human species, from fertilization until the age of majority."

"Nothing about the Act narrows that definition to unborn children who are physically 'in utero'," the justices said. "Instead, the Act provides a cause of action for the death of any 'minor child,' without exception or limitation."