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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.

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.”

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

null / Credit: Sora Shimazaki/Pexels

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."

Texas priest arrested over allegation of sexual misconduct with minor

Father Fernando Gonzalez, / Credit: Cameron County Sheriff’s Department

CNA Staff, Feb 19, 2024 / 14:51 pm (CNA).

A priest in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, has been arrested after being accused of sexual misconduct with a minor victim. 

Brownsville Bishop Daniel Flores said in a statement last week that diocesan officials had “received an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor by Father Fernando Gonzalez.”

Flores had received the report in early February from the diocesan victim’s assistance coordinator. The following day he “removed [Gonzalez] from active ministry” and “prohibited him from exercising any priestly ministry anywhere.” 

“The individual who came forward, who is now an adult, spoke to the Diocesan Victim’s Assistance Coordinator and was advised to report the allegation to the police,” the bishop said. “The investigation is in the hands of law enforcement and is ongoing. The diocese will fully cooperate with the investigation.”

Law enforcement reportedly arrested the priest last week. The Cameron County Sheriff’s Department lists Gonzalez as arrested on charges of sexual abuse of a child and “trafficking of persons.” His total bond appeared to be set at $600,000. 

The Cameron County District Attorney’s office told local media that as part of his bond conditions Gonzalez “must install an ankle monitor before release, surrender his passport, and not leave Cameron County” while the case is pending.

Prior to the charges the priest had served as pastor of St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Brownsville. As of Monday Gonzalez had been removed from the parish website’s list of parish staff.

“I am deeply saddened and ask you to join me as I pray for the individual who came forward and the family, and all the parties affected, including parishioners and the clergy across our diocese who tend to their faithful with fidelity and compassion,” Flores said in his statement.

Archbishop Vigneron rallies Catholics to engage in a spiritual ‘campaign’ this Lent

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron imposes ashes during Ash Wednesday Mass on Feb. 14, 2024, at St. Aloysius Parish in downtown Detroit. Archbishop Vigneron encouraged Catholics to think of this Lenten season as a military campaign proclaiming the kingdom of Christ. / Credit: Valaurian Waller/Detroit Catholic

Detroit, Mich., Feb 19, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron issued a spiritual call to arms to Detroit’s Catholics this Lenten season, explaining how by accepting ashes, they have engaged in a 40-day campaign to overcome sin.

The archbishop gave his traditional preaching during the midday Ash Wednesday Mass on Feb. 14 at St. Aloysius Parish, a few blocks from Detroit’s Campus Martius Park, home of the Michigan Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument.

Reflecting on the martial language featured in the collect of the Mass — “Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint” — Vigneron invited the faithful to think of Lent beyond the usual reference of 40 days in the desert or as a spiritual retreat.

“Maybe as you were thinking this morning about beginning Lent and taking the ashes of repentance, you didn’t realize you were enlisting in a military campaign,” Vigneron said. “But that is one way the Church has for us to think about what we are doing over the next 40 days.”

Lent is a very personal journey, the archbishop said, but is a journey one makes with the catechumens who will be entering the Church at Easter and the entire faithful, who will be renewing their baptismal vows and their identity as Jesus’ disciples. 

The Lenten season is compromised of three main pillars: prayer, fasting and almsgiving, all of which help us strive to be better followers of Christ, Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron said. Credit: Valaurian Waller/Detroit Catholic
The Lenten season is compromised of three main pillars: prayer, fasting and almsgiving, all of which help us strive to be better followers of Christ, Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron said. Credit: Valaurian Waller/Detroit Catholic

It is a communal campaign centered on three core tenets prescribed in the Scriptures: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. But the archbishop challenged the congregation to think “outside the box” of what Lent can be.

“This is a way for the Church to think about Lent as a military campaign, so that we can have some new energy,” Vigneron said. “I’m in my 76th year, so from the age of reason, about 70 of these I’ve done. But this might be a fresh perspective for all of us to think about how Lent is a kind of military campaign that we are enlisting in today by taking up the ashes.”

By choosing to come to church on Ash Wednesday and accepting the ashes placed upon one’s forehead, people are deciding to “re-up” in the campaign to be ambassadors for Christ, to live for something beyond one’s pleasure and self-satisfaction, he said.

“The Holy Spirit brought you here today, inspired you to leave your pew and come forward and let the ashes be imposed on you,” Vigneron said. “You want to be a soldier, a warrior in the great war led by our captain, Jesus Christ. The war [is] against sin. The war [is] to establish the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of holiness, the kingdom of charity.”

Father Mario Amore of St. Aloysius Parish greets parishioners after Mass. Archbishop Allen Vigneron challenged Catholics gathered on Ash Wednesday to consider how God is calling them to engage in a great campaign to win back the world for Christ. Credit: Valaurian Waller/Detroit Catholic
Father Mario Amore of St. Aloysius Parish greets parishioners after Mass. Archbishop Allen Vigneron challenged Catholics gathered on Ash Wednesday to consider how God is calling them to engage in a great campaign to win back the world for Christ. Credit: Valaurian Waller/Detroit Catholic

The faithful were handed information about the Lenten campaign and ways to get involved and grow in holiness, including the Archdiocese of Detroit’s I AM HERE Lenten Challenge, featuring daily trivia questions on what’s happening during Mass, powered by the Hallow app.

Vigneron said even if a person hasn’t figured out what he or she wants to do for Lent, it’s not too late to reflect and hear what God is calling them to take on during this holy season.

But he did point to a key resource that will power them along the journey: the Eucharist.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron said the Eucharist serves as the faithful's "ration" during this Lenten campaign. Credit: Valaurian Waller/Detroit Catholic
Archbishop Allen Vigneron said the Eucharist serves as the faithful's "ration" during this Lenten campaign. Credit: Valaurian Waller/Detroit Catholic

“During this year of Eucharistic revival, realize the Eucharist is our ration for us as soldiers in this great struggle,” Vigneron said. “This is the most important struggle anyone can be engaged with in life: the struggle to be a saint, the struggle to be God’s daughter, to be God’s son, the struggle to be the person that God created me to be, that he wants me to be by the power of the grace of baptism.”

And even as it seems this battle is just beginning this Lenten season, Vigneron assured the congregation of its outcome.

“I promise you victory,” Vigneron said. “I promise you we have won. That is what Easter means. Yes, we engage in the struggle, but we know how the war ends. It ends in Christ’s victory.”

This article was originally published at Detroit Catholic and is reprinted here with permission.

‘Guadalupe: Mother of Humanity’ opens Feb. 22 in U.S. theaters

Credit: Courtney Mares/CNA

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 19, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Goya Producciones has announced that the film “Guadalupe: Mother of Humanity” will premiere on Feb. 22 in the United States (with English subtitles), Mexico, Central America, Puerto Rico, Bolivia, and Chile.

“Shot on location in Mexico, the United States, Spain, and Germany, the feature film opens with powerful fictionalized recreations of the five apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Guadalupe in 1531, inspired by the original true account of St. Juan Diego,” said a press release sent to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. 

Spanish filmmaker Pablo Moreno directed the portion of the film that includes powerful testimonies and features actress Karyme Lozano as presenter, Angelica Chong as the Virgin of Guadalupe, and Mario Alberto Hernandez as Juan Diego. Pepe Alonso, popular EWTN host, does the narration.

The film debuts in Colombia, Peru, and Uruguay on Feb. 29, in Spain on March 1, and in Brazil on May 2.

The movie tells the true story of a Hollywood producer who owes his life to Our Lady of Guadalupe; a movie actress who prays to her in the midst of the hustle and bustle of filming; two converts from crime and drug trafficking; and a post-abortive woman who recovers her faith and the desire to live thanks to Our Lady. 

The archbishop of Los Angeles, José H. Gómez, also testifies to the miracles attributed to the Virgin of Guadalupe in that city.

Andrés Garrigó, the overall director of the film, “shows us the dramatic history of pre-Hispanic Mexico at the time of arrival of the Spaniards and how, after the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the people abandoned in masse the bloody human sacrifices to embrace Christianity,” the press release explained.

“With the help of the latest technologies, the film reveals the messages hidden in the tilma, the miraculous cloth on which the image of the Virgin Mary was

captured: the human images that appear in her eyes, the meaning of the stars, and other drawings on the mantle,” the release added.

“With this movie, we set ourselves a very high goal: to recreate in the hearts of people today the marvelous effect that the apparitions of the Virgin of

Guadalupe had 500 years ago. We can now offer many people the joy of

experiencing them again,” stated director Garrigó.

More information about the film can be found here.

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

New wilderness program for seminarians promises to ‘strengthen faith and brotherhood’

Incoming students at Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyoming, are required to take a three-week wilderness trek that challenges them both body and soul. / Credit: Photo courtesy of Aeja DeKuiper

Cheyenne, Wyo., Feb 18, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

A small Catholic college in Lander, Wyoming, has launched a new program that challenges seminarians with wilderness experiences to strengthen their faith, vocations, and pastoral skills as eventual priests.

Wyoming Catholic College (WCC), known for its rigorous academics and COR Expeditions, offers backcountry treks to high school students, families, and undergraduates as well as specific seminaries such Holy Trinity in Irving, Texas, and the New York-based Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. But its new St. Jogues Seminarian Project is open to individual seminarians ages 18+ from dioceses throughout the country. 

Applications are now being accepted for the 10-week summerlong program, which includes multi-day backcountry hikes in the Rocky Mountains for 12 men and a priest with daily Mass and adoration followed by practical pastoral experience with homeless people in urban environments. The program begins the first week of June.

Thomas Zimmer, Ph.D., and Andre Klaes of COR Expeditions told CNA that the project is named for the heroic martyr St. Isaac Jogues, a French Jesuit missionary priest who spread the Gospel in North America in the mid-1600s under harsh conditions. 

“For the last two years, we have attended the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors and shared our mission with them and talked about what the Lord is able to do with us on our seminarian trips that we have been running for six years,” Klaes told CNA. 

According to Zimmer, vocation directors have been seeking summer assignment opportunities for seminarians to foster lifelong friendships and community as well as pastoral awareness amid adverse environments and challenges. 

After a typical nine months of seminary studies, seminarians are usually sent to parishes and other summer assignments as part of their formation. Seminary deans are looking for programs that get seminarians away from computer screens and out of classrooms but still prepare them for pastoral assignments, according to Klaes, who described what they will experience for a summer assignment in the Rockies.

“They are forced to live in a tent with three other guys, live seven days straight on the trail, cooking meals, and never alone. It’s a very different experience for guys who’ve been able to isolate themselves. So that’s a big part of what we provide,” he said.

“We are providing human formation: They are literally living together, relying on each other to cook, gather water, set up shelter, and endure storms. These are things that are easily stripped away from us in today’s society where everything is so easy,” said Zimmer, who has led wilderness trips in much of the United States and several foreign countries for more than a decade. He is also a faculty member at WCC.

Young men participating in Wyoming Catholic College's COR Expeditions program pray in the mountains. Credit: Damien Walz of COR Expeditions/Wyoming Catholic College
Young men participating in Wyoming Catholic College's COR Expeditions program pray in the mountains. Credit: Damien Walz of COR Expeditions/Wyoming Catholic College

Beginning this June 3, six to 12 seminarians will start with wilderness and first aid training plus three weeks of hiking in the Rocky Mountains. They will hike five to eight miles each day with heavy packs and attempt mountain climbing and river rafting. There will be daily Mass and adoration, plus spiritual direction from their chaplain. 

Upon completion of the expedition, the seminarians will spend several weeks assisting in wilderness trips for high school students and families before a final week of ministering to homeless people in conjunction with Christ in the City ministries in Colorado. 

A former seminarian, Klaes recalled that a seminary dean once told him: “’The friendships you form now will be those you carry into the priesthood.’”

In Klaes’ experience, he said, “some of my priest friends struggle in the priesthood because of a lack of friendship coming into the priesthood. But those who are full of life, full of joy and doing amazing things are those who have a tight-knit group of friends on whom they can rely. Formation directors have acknowledged the fact that diocesan priests often live entirely alone, so it will be their friendships that carry them through their priesthood.”

“If we can get seminarians to have an incredible experience, where the stakes are high … the hope is that with the friendships formed, they will be well prepared with friendships as they return to seminary,” Klaes said. He added that bishops and formation recognize that while diocesan priests do not typically live with other priests, they must serve as “social people who can build rapport and have connection.”

According to Zimmer, the initial first-aid course provides skills that, as priests, they can transfer to parish life.

“They will be taught risk management and how to recognize problems before they occur,” he said, adding that he will teach the course based on his decades of mountaineering, skiing, and wilderness travel.

“They may never go into backcountry again. We want to get them to transfer what they learn to their vocation. They will recognize heart attacks, for instance, so that as parish priests, if they notice someone at a parish barbeque with symptoms, they can apply their knowledge,” Zimmer said.

As part of the application process for the project, seminarians are interviewed and informed about the challenges they face. For example, they are expected to carry backpacks weighing 40-50 pounds for 21 days. Priests who join as chaplains are also expected to backpack along with the younger men. Use of cellphones is limited to taking photographs on all trips organized by COR.

In addition to hiking and pastoral work with high school students and families, participating seminarians will have the opportunity to take college credits through WCC applicable to seminary studies. There are courses in Latin, theology, and philosophy available.

Zimmer said there is no other comparable program for seminarians anywhere. “We are the only Catholic program that is nationally accredited and the only one connected to a Catholic college that’s for credit,” he said.

“There are a few programs that do short trips, here and there,” Zimmer added about the summerlong experience, “but in the Catholic world of outdoor ministry, we’re the biggest program doing things like this.”

The St. Jogues project is designed for incoming college-age seminarians in their first and second year of formation.

COR missionary Damien Walz, 22, who will accompany seminarians this summer, said the program is “not for the faint of heart.” 

“The wilderness is a very real environment and you can’t hide from it. You can’t put on a mask and pretend everything is okay. There’s no place to hide. All of your strengths, all of your weaknesses come out and force you to acknowledge them,” he said.

“There is ‘decision point’ in every course,” Walz said. “You see people come to a point where they are going to man up and decide to grow or they won’t engage with it. What I tell the formation directors and seminarians is that this isn’t a backpacking fairy tale. This is real life and as real as it gets. It is a place where we can delve into who we are as sons of God and live as sons of God in an authentic and masculine way. By going through the challenge, they are able to engage better with the rest of seminary formation and the people whom they will lead and serve.”

Blake Brouillette, managing director of Christ in the City, who will receive the St. Jogues seminarians toward the end of the program, told CNA that the ministry is now working with more than 20 dioceses and seminaries.

“Formation directors are seeing a transformation in their seminarians, and we are grateful to be a part of it,” he said. “We are telling seminarians, ‘Come join us. Learn and equip yourselves for your call to the priesthood, serve the poor, and equip your parishioners to do so.’”

Diocese of Rapid City announces death of Bishop Peter Muhich

Bishop Peter Muhich of the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota. / Credit: Diocese of Rapid City

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 17, 2024 / 16:13 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Rapid City on Saturday announced the death of Bishop Peter Muhich at the age of 62, with the prelate’s death coming days after he entered hospice care.

“With sorrow, the Diocese of Rapid City shares the news that Bishop Peter M. Muhich, 62, died on Feb 17,” the diocese said in a tweet on Saturday afternoon.

“He was in hospice care after suffering from esophageal cancer,” the diocese said. “Funeral arrangements are pending. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him.”

Muhich had announced Wednesday that he would be moving into hospice care amid treatment for esophageal and lymphatic cancer.

“Despite the best efforts of my health care team, all treatment options have been exhausted and there is no more that can be done without causing greater harm to my system,” the bishop said in a statement posted to the diocesan website.

The prelate had previously announced his cancer diagnosis in a July 2023 Facebook post. He said after several months of difficulty swallowing food, an endoscopy procedure found cancer in his lower esophagus.

Pope Francis appointed Muhich to lead the diocese, which serves roughly the western half of South Dakota, in May 2020. He was born in northern Minnesota and was ordained a priest in 1989 for the Diocese of Duluth.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral offers reparation Mass after ‘scandalous’ funeral for trans activist

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. / Credit: Richard Trois via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

CNA Staff, Feb 17, 2024 / 13:56 pm (CNA).

The pastor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City said the church has offered a Mass of Reparation after a controversial irreverent funeral service was held there this week for a well-known transgender advocate.

The Manhattan cathedral hosted the Feb. 15 funeral service for Cecilia Gentili, an activist who helped to decriminalize sex work in New York, lobbied for “gender identity” to be added as a protected class to the state’s human rights laws, and was a major fundraiser for transgender causes. Gentili was a man who identified as a woman.

Throughout the liturgy, the presider, Father Edward Dougherty, referred to Gentili with feminine pronouns and described the trans-identifying man as “our sister.” Additionally, during the prayers of the faithful, the reader prayed for so-called gender-affirming health care, while attendees frequently and approvingly referred to Gentili as the “mother of whores.”

On Saturday, Father Enrique Salvo, the pastor of St. Patrick’s, said in a statement on the website of the Archdiocese of New York that Church officials shared in the “outrage over the scandalous behavior at a funeral here at St. Patrick’s Cathedral earlier this week.”

“The cathedral only knew that family and friends were requesting a funeral Mass for a Catholic and had no idea our welcome and prayer would be degraded in such a sacrilegious and deceptive way,” Salvo said.

“That such a scandal occurred at ‘America’s Parish Church’ makes it worse; that it took place as Lent was beginning, the annual 40–day struggle with the forces of sin and darkness, is a potent reminder of how much we need the prayer, reparation, repentance, grace, and mercy to which this holy season invites us,” the priest wrote.

“At [archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s] directive, we have offered an appropriate Mass of Reparation,” Salvo said.

Several mainstream media outlets had framed the event as a breakthrough occasion and a sign of the Catholic Church shifting its teaching — or at least its tone — on sexuality and human anthropology.

Time magazine described the fact that a funeral service for a trans activist was held in a Catholic cathedral as “no small feat,” while The New York Times described the service as “an exuberant piece of political theater.”

Organizers reportedly did not disclose to the cathedral that Gentili, who died Feb. 6 at age 52, was a biological man who identified as a woman.

“I kept it under wraps,” Ceyeye Doroshow, the service’s organizer, told The New York Times.