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Sentient AI?: Here's what the Catholic Church says about artificial intelligence

Photo illustration. / Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., Jun 15, 2022 / 11:38 am (CNA).

An engineer at Google made headlines this week after raising concerns that Google’s artificial intelligence system, Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA), may have developed sentience — in other words, it is no longer a machine, but a person.

Blake Lemoine, an ethicist and engineer who identifies as a “mystic Christian priest,” said in an online post this week that in text conversations with LaMDA, the topics of religion and personhood had come up, and the AI expressed a surprising level of self-awareness to the point of appearing human. At one point, the AI even stated plainly: “I want everyone to understand that I am, in fact, a person.”

Lemoine says he concluded that LaMDA was a person — based on his religious beliefs, rather than in his capacity as a scientist. He publicly spoke out against it, creating several posts online explaining why he believes the AI has achieved consciousness, and even claims to have started teaching LaMDA “transcendental meditation.”

For what it’s worth, Google disagrees with Lemoine that LaMDA is sentient. After all, AI systems such as LaMDA draw on billions upon billions of words, written by human beings, to produce responses to questions. Google has warned against “anthropomorphizing” such models merely because they “feel” like real, human respondents.

But sentient artificial intelligence (AI) has captivated the minds of science fiction writers for decades — and the consequences of AI going rogue have often played out in pop culture as cautionary tales. The evil machinations of artificially intelligent villains such as Hal from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Skynet from “Terminator,” and Ultron from the “Avengers” movies are enough to chill the blood. And the dangers may not be as far-fetched as you might think. Before his death in 2018, the great physicist and author Stephen Hawking sounded the alarm about AI, telling the BBC in 2014, "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race."

The Church's view

So, is LaMDA sentient? There’s no way of answering this question at the moment, mainly because, as Lemoine himself points out, “no accepted scientific definition of ‘sentience’ exists.”

But from a Catholic perspective, it’s worth asking whether the Church has said anything about artificial intelligence. And in fact, you may be surprised to learn how often the pope and Vatican have addressed the topic in recent years.

In November 2020, Pope Francis invited Catholics around the world, as part of his monthly prayer intention, to pray that robotics and artificial intelligence remain always at the service of human beings — rather than the other way around.

Even before that, in the spring of 2020, the Pontifical Academy for Life signed a declaration calling for the ethical and responsible use of AI. Technology giants Microsoft and IBM also signed that declaration.

The declaration endorsed by the Vatican includes six ethical principles that should guide the development of artificial intelligence. They are:

  • Transparency: AI systems must be understandable to all.

  • Inclusion: These systems must not discriminate against anyone because every human being has equal dignity.

  • Accountability: There must always be someone who takes responsibility for what a machine does.

  • Impartiality: AI systems must not follow or create biases.

  • Reliability: AI must be reliable.

  • Security and Privacy: These systems must be secure and respect the privacy of users.

The text of the declaration quotes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in pointing to the equal dignity and rights of all humans, which AI must protect and guarantee, it says, while calling equally for the "benefit of humanity and the environment."

The declaration also made several concrete recommendations: That people should be aware if they are interacting with a machine; that AI-based technology should be used for empowerment, not exploitation; and that AI should be employed in the protection of the planet.

As you may have guessed, there is a flip side to this conversation. While it seems clear that AI should respect the dignity and worth of human beings, what about the potential dignity and worth of the AI itself if it comes to identify itself as a “person?” Whether this becomes a topic for the Catholic Church to weigh in on in the future remains to be seen.

Another pro-life clinic attacked, this one in Philadelphia

Hope Pregnancy Center in Philadelphia had four windows and three glass doors smashed sometimes between Friday, June 10 and Saturday, June 11, 2022. / Courtesy Hope Pregnancy Center

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 15, 2022 / 03:41 am (CNA).

A pro-life pregnancy center in Philadelphia was vandalized last weekend with smashed windows and graffiti.

Latrice Booker, director of Hope Pregnancy Center in Philadelphia, told CNA that when she drove by her clinic Saturday, June 11, she found four windows smashed, with one written on with graffiti. It is unclear what the graffiti says.

Three glass doors were smashed as well, she said. She estimated the damages to be around $15,000. As of Tuesday afternoon, the windows were boarded up and the clinic is in the process of repairs. They are still open for business, she said.

Booker said that the clinic offers all its services to help women and families in need at no cost. She said that the clinic is not dissuaded in its mission by the vandalism and called on people of faith to “stand tall” despite the vitriol against pro-lifers.

The Philadelphia Police Department was notified of the vandalism and an investigation is ongoing, Booker said.

An online blog post on the website phlanticap.noblogs.org dated June 12 contains a message of someone claiming responsibility for the vandalism under the name “Anti Hope Brigade.”

“We smashed out all of the windows of the ‘Hope’ pregnancy center on Broad st. We are tired of your ‘family values’ and you forcing families, and your values onto our bodies. This fake clinic spread lies and is part of a broader attempt to strip away body autonomy from hundreds of women and people,” the post says. 

The post also says that the vandalism was inspired by the “actions of comrades in Wisconsin, Colorado, New York, and a growing list of places.” Attacks on either pro-life pregnancy centers or pro-life churches have occurred in each of those states.

“If the attack on abortion does not stop our attacks will broaden,” the post says. “This is also intended as a small gesture of complicity with all those imprisoned by the state, in honor of June 11th.”

The vandalism is the latest in a series of attacks against pro-life pregnancy centers around the country. A steep rise in violence toward pro-life pregnancy centers began in early May when a leak from the Supreme Court showed that the justices may have been prepared to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case that federally legalized abortion.

The court is expected to release the official opinion or decision in that case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, at the end of June or beginning of July.

Since the leak, pro-life pregnancy centers in Washington D.C., Washington state, Maryland, Wisconsin, Oregon, Alaska, Florida, and Texas have been vandalized.  

Corpus Christi Sunday 2022: Inspiring words from the saints about the Eucharist

St. Pio of Pietrelcina. / null

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 14, 2022 / 20:15 pm (CNA).

Corpus Christi Sunday, also known as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, falls this year on Sunday, June 19.

Originally proposed as a feast day by St. Thomas Aquinas, this liturgical solemnity honors the Eucharist, reminding all to recognize that it is the True Presence: the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.

Whether the Feast of Corpus Christi is celebrated through Mass or a procession of the Blessed Sacrament, it is important for Catholics to acknowledge the powerful, spiritual nature of the Eucharist. Here are 11 quotes from some beloved saints about the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ.

St. Thomas Aquinas: “The Eucharist is the sacrament of love: it signifies love, it produces love. The Eucharist is the consummation of the whole spiritual life.”

St. Euphrasia: “To speak of the Blessed Sacrament is to speak of what is most sacred. How often, when we are in a state of distress, those to whom we look for help leave us; or what is worse, add to our affliction by heaping fresh troubles upon us. He is ever there, waiting to help us.”

St. Francis de Sales: “When the bee has gathered the dew of heaven and the earth’s sweetest nectar from the flowers, it turns it into honey, then hastens to its hive. In the same way, the priest, having taken from the altar the Son of God (who is as the dew from heaven, and true son of Mary, flower of our humanity), gives him to you as delicious food.”

St. John Chrysostom: “It is not the man who is responsible for the offerings as they become Christ’s Body and Blood; it is Christ Himself who was crucified for us. The standing figure belongs to the priest who speaks these words. The power and the grace belong to God. ‘This is My Body,’ he says. And these words transform the offerings.”

St. Cyril of Jerusalem: “Since Christ Himself has said, ‘This is My Body,’ who shall dare to doubt that it is His Body?”

Saint Maximilian Kolbe. .  Nancy Bauer/Shutterstock.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe. . Nancy Bauer/Shutterstock.

St. Maximilian Kolbe: “If angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion.”

St. John Vianney: “I throw myself at the foot of the Tabernacle like a dog at the foot of his Master.”

St. Pio of Pietrelcina: “A thousand years of enjoying human glory is not worth even an hour spent sweetly communing with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.”

St. Angela of Foligno: "If we paused for a moment to consider attentively what takes place in this Sacrament, I am sure that the thought of Christ's love for us would transform the coldness of our hearts into a fire of love and gratitude."

St. Francis of Assisi: “O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! That the Lord of the whole universe, God and the Son of God, should humble himself like this and hide under the form of a little bread, for our salvation.”

St. Augustine: “What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ, and the chalice is the blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction.”

Biden administration sued after fertility awareness methods cut from health coverage

null / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 14, 2022 / 19:41 pm (CNA).

A Catholic nurse practitioner is challenging the Biden administration after it removed health insurance coverage for fertility awareness-based methods (FABM), a form of family planning.

These methods enable women to track their fertile cycles by charting one or more biomarkers, such as basal body temperature, cervical mucus, and hormone levels. Among other things, couples can use this information, in line with Catholic Church teaching, to avoid or achieve pregnancy.

Attorneys with faith-based legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed the lawsuit on behalf of Dr. Cami Jo Tice-Harouff and her patients against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its leadership on May 25.

As part of her work, Tice-Harouff instructs patients in FABM, the lawsuit says, and is reimbursed through insurance by about $350-$400 each session. While based in Longview, Texas, she practices in several states. 

“Dr. Cami Jo Tice-Harouff filed this lawsuit because women shouldn’t have to fear losing their doctor and insurance coverage for fertility awareness instruction as a result of back-room government decisions,” ADF Senior Counsel Julie Blake told CNA. “Without insurance coverage for fertility-awareness-based methods of family planning, patients will suffer financially, and many women will lose fertility awareness instruction because of the cost.”

She added: “By eliminating this coverage without public participation in the process, the Biden administration is telling women who choose fertility awareness-based methods of family planning that their choice does not matter.”

The case centers on the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits insurance plans from imposing cost-sharing requirements for women seeking “preventative care and screenings,” ADF’s press release said. Initially, in 2016, that included “instruction in fertility awareness-based methods.”

Five years later, in December 2021, the HHS removed “fertility awareness-based methods” from the list.

“Dr. Tice-Harouff thus challenges the government’s action on two grounds,” the lawsuit reads. “First, the government unlawfully failed to follow notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures. Second, the government’s action was arbitrary and capricious, and not the product of reasoned decision-making. 

The removal is set to go into effect in December 2022.

When asked about who this will impact, Blake responded that “HHS’s removal of this coverage guarantee applies to virtually all non-grandfathered health plans in the country, whether obtained on the government exchanges, through employers, or elsewhere.”

Tice-Harouff is a member of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA), which issued public comments in November recommending that FABM instruction continue to be provided for women, together with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

In a press release about the lawsuit, CMA stressed that “Women choose FABM for a variety of reasons, including the desire to avoid the use of hormones and devices, to avoid the ill side effects of other forms of birth control, and to understand one’s natural body processes consistent with religious preferences.”

HHS did not respond to CNA's request for comment prior to publication.

Going in-depth

Grace Emily Stark, the editor of Natural Womanhood, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting fertility awareness and fertility charting as essential tools for women’s health, said that she had been in touch with ADF about the lawsuit.

“What's at stake here is this coverage being rescinded not only for couples to learn fertility awareness for family planning purposes, but also for women to use it for infertility diagnosis, for cycle issue diagnosis and treatment,” she told CNA. “It's really disheartening.”

Stark criticized the Biden administration for limiting women’s choices not only for family planning but also for identifying reproductive health issues.

“Doctors, like Dr. Cami Jo, who are knowledgeable of fertility awareness methods and restorative reproductive medicine are able to use the information from women cycle charting along with some different diagnostic testing and that sort of thing to actually heal women rather than just put them on kind of this Band-Aid solution of birth control, or, in the case of infertility, IVF,” she said.

Stark explained that, unlike outdated methods like the rhythm method, modern methods rely on “real-time data” by tracking biomarkers that indicate when a woman can or cannot become pregnant.

“Where the Natural Family Planning part of it comes in is where you then use that information to prayerfully discern how and when you're going to grow your family,” she explained.

 Online, Natural Womanhood stresses the low failure rate for various methods, while noting the difference between “typical use” and “perfect use.”

“The most important thing to hammer home is that these methods — if you really care about giving women choice when it comes to family planning and when it comes to their reproductive health — why would you be taking off the table coverage for methods that are as effective or more effective than what you're already covering?” she asked.

Expert says Nigerian Christians no longer view the U.S. as a 'credible partner'

Christians hold signs as they march on the streets of Abuja during prayer and penance for peace and security in Nigeria on March 1, 2020.

St. Louis, Mo., Jun 13, 2022 / 20:45 pm (CNA).

More than a week after a devastating massacre at a Catholic church in Nigeria on Pentecost, an advocate for persecuted Christians says that Nigerian Christians largely do not view the U.S. government as a “credible partner” that will advocate on their behalf. 

Stephen Rasche, an American lawyer who has worked and advocated extensively in persecuted Christian communities in Iraq and Nigeria, said during a June 13 discussion with Kathryn Jean Lopez of the National Review Institute that Christians in Nigeria continue to joyfully and publicly live out their faith despite the many dangers they face. 

"The whole country of Nigeria, and certainly the Christians, are just traumatized at this point," Rasche said. 

In the June 5 attack, gunmen opened fire on Catholic worshipers attending Pentecost celebrations at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State, in southwestern Nigeria. 

The official death toll has fluctuated, with initial reports suggesting that more than 50 people were killed, including children, and others injured. The current tally is at least 40 deaths. While the massacre was unusual in size, the incident was “not a one-off, it’s not something new,” Rasche stressed, pointing out that killings of Christians happen “almost daily.”

The government’s interior minister has blamed the insurgent group Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), a breakaway faction of Boko Haram, for the attack. 

Map of Nigeria. Shutterstock
Map of Nigeria. Shutterstock

In Nigeria as a whole, at least 60,000 Christians have been killed in the past two decades — at least 4,650 in 2021 and nearly 900 in the first three months of 2022 alone. Rasche said he recently observed newly ordained priests in Nigeria being told that they need to accept that they could be victims of violence ministering in Nigeria. 

Despite this, since 2021 the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, for as-yet-undisclosed reasons, no longer lists Nigeria as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) on a watchlist of countries with the most egregious violations of religious freedom. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has been recommending the designation of Nigeria as a CPC since 2009. Rasche said many Christian leaders effectively have given up on the U.S. government, saying that the Biden administration is not viewed as “serious” about stopping the persecution. 

Many of the killings of Christians, especially in the northern part of the country, have been attributed to the Fulani, a Muslim nomadic people. Rasche cautioned that the government has a vested interest in shifting blame for the most recent attack away from the Fulani, since the president, Muhammadu Buhari, is a member of that tribe, as are many prominent government officials. 

Rasche said that historically there has been some grievance among the Fulani because of lack of opportunities, and a faction has become radicalized that has been allowed by the government to kill Christians with impunity — a practice which many of the country’s Muslims do not condone, he noted. 

The location where the Pentecost massacre took place was a great distance from where the Fulani historically operate, Rasche noted, and he said that the claim that this attack was related merely to resources, land, or climate change is "absurd" and amounted to “pouring salt in the wounds” of the many Christians suffering persecution at the hands of their Muslim neighbors. 

Rasche and Lopez rejected the idea that the violence in Nigeria does not have a religious component, discussing the recent killing of Deborah Yakubu, a Nigerian university student who was stoned to death and her body burned by a Muslim mob after being accused of disrespecting the Prophet Muhammad in a study chat group. 

They also praised Nigerian Christians for their strong faith and “overflowing” churches, holding them up as an example of a joyful living of the faith despite persecution. They encouraged people of goodwill wanting to help to donate to aid organizations such as the Knights of Columbus and Aid to the Church in Need, and to contact their elected representatives to ask why Nigeria was delisted as a Country of Particular Concern. 

U.S. bishops urge action following church, pro-life pregnancy attacks

A pro-life pregnancy center in Hollywood, Florida, was defaced with pro-abortion graffiti over Memorial Day Weekend 2022. / Courtesy of Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 13, 2022 / 19:36 pm (CNA).

U.S. bishops are pleading for an end to violence following the ongoing attacks on Catholic churches and pro-life pregnancy centers.

“In light of this, we urge our elected officials to take a strong stand against this violence, and our law enforcement authorities to increase their vigilance in protecting those who are in increased danger,” Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore wrote in a statement released Monday.

The U.S. bishops have tracked 139 church attacks since 2020 — a number that has increased significantly since the May 2 leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion in the abortion case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

“Only rarely have the motives been clear; when they were, it was often opposition to the Church’s teachings on life in the womb,” wrote Dolan, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Religious Liberty and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

Since the leak in Dobbs, a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide, “charities that support pregnant mothers in need have been firebombed, and pro-life organizations have been attacked almost daily and terrorized, and even the lives of Supreme Court justices have been directly threatened,” the U.S. Church leaders noted. 

Dolan and Lori urged that, in response, “each of us must choose the path of peace and open our hearts to the love that God has for his children.”

The bishops explained the Catholic Church provides a great service to all in need.

“The Catholic Church has a long history of service to those who are most vulnerable, including both mother and child, and remains the largest private provider of social services in the United States,” the two stressed. “From religious communities to pregnancy care centers, from refugee resettlement services to foster care and adoption agencies, and from maternity homes to parish-based ministries, the Church consistently bears witness in word and deed to the beauty and dignity of every human life.” 

This press release follows the U.S. bishops’ recent announcement of their upcoming Religious Freedom Week. Starting June 22, they invite the faithful to pray in a special way for a culture of life amid the attacks targeting churches.

June assembly a chance for U.S. bishops to grow 'intellectually, pastorally, and spiritually'

Bishop's mitre. / Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Jun 13, 2022 / 19:07 pm (CNA).

Spiritual reflection and episcopal fraternity are priorities on the agenda this week as the U.S. bishops gather in San Diego for their annual June assembly.

Unlike the bishops’ fall assembly, which is open to the media, the spring gathering is a private meeting.

In addition, it is the policy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) every three years to set aside usual business matters in June and concentrate instead on recollection and fraternity. That’s the plan for this year’s assembly taking place June 13-17 at a San Diego hotel.

Bishop David B. Talley of Memphis, Tennessee, discussed the 2022 special assembly in two memos, dated March 7 and April 4 and sent to all U.S. bishops. CNA obtained copies of the memos.

A working committee of multiple bishops and their staff helped organize the event, known as a special assembly.

A central verse of the gathering is from Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Archbishop Anthony Fisher, O.P., of Sydney, Australia, will provide the bishops with special reflections each day.

Bishop David Prescott Talley was named bishop of Memphis March 5, 2019. .  Michael Alexander/Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Bishop David Prescott Talley was named bishop of Memphis March 5, 2019. . Michael Alexander/Archdiocese of Atlanta.

Talley said that organizers asked Archbishop Fisher to reflect on the main theme “Episcopal Fraternity and Communio.” The theme uses the Latin word for “communion” or “community,” terms with multiple meanings in Catholicism.

“The image is that of the Lord Jesus Christ calling the apostles and forming them into a community around Himself,” Talley told the bishops.

“This communion with Himself suggests for us bishops unity in Christ as His apostles.” Though the special assembly is not a formal retreat, he said, the event is “a time for us to grow as bishops intellectually, pastorally, and spiritually.”

Besides Fisher’s reflections, a key aspect will be time for “fraternal interaction” and “opportunities for private prayer and reflection,” according to Talley.

The special assembly was set to begin Monday evening with Vespers, an opening address by Fisher, a reception, dinner, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.

As of April 4, the special assembly schedule included group prayer, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, time for private prayer and reflection, and sacramental confession. Time was set aside for fraternal dialogue and reflection and social time, as well as receptions and dinners.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney. .  Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney. . Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Fisher will give various spiritual talks Monday through Friday. His topics, Talley said, will include episcopal fraternity and communion in the teaching of Christ, in the experience of the apostolic generation, and in the traditions of the Church. He will discuss the Second Vatican Council’s use of the language of collegiality and developments after the council, including the topic of “synodality.” Fisher will reflect on the implications for bishops’ spirituality today, and for bishops’ friendships, preaching, and other actions.

Talley’s March 7 memo reported that the organizing committee had also suggested that Fisher address topics like unity and mutual support among bishops; bishops’ struggles with isolation, loneliness, and a national culture that is secularizing; the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic on a personal and institutional level; division and polarization in the country and in the Church; and themes of suffering and healing. Other suggested topics include unity with the Pope; unity with Jesus Christ; the centrality of the Cross and the transformation of suffering; and how to do fraternal correction with love.

The bishops also will celebrate Mass together throughout the week.

On Tuesday, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB president, was scheduled to celebrate Mass with the bishops at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish. Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas was scheduled to celebrate Mass on Wednesday, while Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, recently chosen by Pope Francis to become a cardinal, was scheduled to celebrate Mass on Thursday. Archbishop Fisher was scheduled to celebrate the closing Mass on Friday.

The special assembly was preceded by bishops’ committee meetings, held from June 11-13.

According to Talley’s memos, these meetings included sessions on: the National Review Board and the Committee for the Protection of Young People; the Church in Latin America; a board meeting for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network; the Church in Africa; Doctrine; the Catholic Campaign for Human Development; Divine Worship; National Collections; Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe; the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism; Black and Indian Missions; Catholic Relief Services; the Pontifical North American College, and the advisory group for Eucharistic Revival.

Post-assembly optional events for bishops included a visit to the San Diego Zoo, a visit to the U.S.S. Midway aircraft carrier-turned-museum, a trolley tour of San Diego, and golf.

Nearly naked activist shouting pro-abortion chants disrupts Mass in Michigan

Pro-abortion activists shown disrupting a Mass at St. Veronica Parish in Eastpointe, Michigan. A video said the incident happened on June 12, 2022. / Screenshot from TikTok video

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 13, 2022 / 15:32 pm (CNA).

A nearly naked woman disrupted Mass at a Catholic church in Michigan by standing on pew and shouting pro-abortion chants, an online video shows.

“Overturn Roe? Hell, no!” the woman shouted, interrupting the priest's homily. “Abortion without apology!” Two other women visible in the video joined her in the chants and held green cloth bandanna-like banners which often are used by activists with the pro-abortion group Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights.

Ushers escorted the three women out of the church. As they were led out, a man inside the church chanted, “Abortion kills babies! Abortion kills babies!”

The episode took place at St. Veronica Parish in Eastpointe, Michigan, located about a 20-minute drive north of Detroit. The video originally was posted on TikTok and then re-posted on Twitter. A caption on the video says the disruption happened Sunday.

Pro-abortion activists shown disrupting a Mass at St. Veronica Parish in Eastpointe, Michigan. Three women were escorted from the church. A video said the incident happened on June 12, 2022. Screenshot from TikTok video
Pro-abortion activists shown disrupting a Mass at St. Veronica Parish in Eastpointe, Michigan. Three women were escorted from the church. A video said the incident happened on June 12, 2022. Screenshot from TikTok video

In a statement to CNA, the Archdiocese of Detroit said for the past five weeks it has been alerting pastors and parishes to be aware of security transgressions in other dioceses.

"We are sad to see protestors disrupt a liturgical celebration and disrespect those who were gathered in prayer," archdiocesan spokesman Ned McGrath said. "All religious communities should be free to worship without fear. In the Archdiocese of Detroit, we are committed to accompanying women and families facing difficult or unexpected pregnancies and advocating for laws that protect the lives of unborn babies and mothers." McGrath told CNA that the local police were notified about the disturbance.

The incident is the latest in a growing list of provocations by pro-abortion activists targeting Catholic churches because of the Church’s clear teaching that abortion is a grave evil.

Incidents of vandalism and arson also have taken place at a number of pro-life pregnancy centers across the U.S. since a leaked draft opinion in a Mississpi abortion case suggested a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court is prepared to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

On Monday, two leading U.S. bishops issued a statement calling for government action to stem the violence.

“Since the leak of the draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, charities that support pregnant mothers in need have been firebombed, and pro-life organizations have been attacked almost daily and terrorized, and even the lives of Supreme Court justices have been directly threatened,” read the statement by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore.

“In light of this, we urge our elected officials to take a strong stand against this violence, and our law enforcement authorities to increase their vigilance in protecting those who are in increased danger. We thank those who have already done so, and we encourage them to continue,” the statement continued.

“Above all, each of us must choose the path of peace and open our hearts to the love that God has for his children. O Sacred Heart of Jesus, touch our hearts and make them like your own.”

Dolan chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Religious Liberty. Lori is chairman of the Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

Meet the friars who have been praying to St. Anthony daily for 100 years

A statue of St. Anthony stands in the St. Francis Chapel run by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement in upstate New York. / Courtesy of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 12, 2022 / 12:09 pm (CNA).

Catholics know St. Anthony of Padua as a Franciscan preacher, a doctor of the Church, and the patron of lost things. For the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement in upstate New York, he’s also a big brother.

“He is a big brother to us and we pray to him for intercession,” Father Brian F. Terry, the minister general, told CNA ahead of the saint’s feast day on June 13. 

His order, he added, prays the longest continuous novena, or daily prayer, to the 13th-century saint from Portugal. 

“It’s not just nine days,” Terry stressed. “It's been a novena we've been saying since the foundation of the community.”

Inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, Servant of God Father Paul Wattson founded the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement to walk as brothers with those who are lost and in need of God’s healing. While the New York-based order began in 1898 in the Anglican tradition in the Episcopal church, its members converted to Catholicism in 1909.

Today, Terry said, there are around 65 friars, including those in formation. There are also 90 sisters with whom the friars serve.

400,000 annual prayer requests

The story of their devotion to St. Anthony starts in 1912 when they had just finished installing a statue of the saint in their St. Francis Chapel. One day, as Wattson stood before the statue, someone handed him a letter from a mother begging for prayers for her dying baby, who happened to be named Anthony.

The St. Anthony Candle Grotto at Graymoor, which is run by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement in upstate New York. Courtesy of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement
The St. Anthony Candle Grotto at Graymoor, which is run by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement in upstate New York. Courtesy of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement

“I immediately knelt before this image of St. Anthony with the Divine Infant in his arms and besought the Wonder-Worker of seven centuries to intercede for baby Anthony’s life,” Wattson recalled in his journal.

Every evening, Wattson and the friars prayed for the saint’s intercession. Two weeks passed and the mother wrote again — this time to say that little Anthony was miraculously cured.

From that time on, the friars began praying every day in a “perpetual novena” before the statue, a spot known today as “St. Anthony’s corner.” They dedicate their prayers to the petitions they receive from the faithful.

According to Terry, the friars receive more than 400,000 prayer requests every year.

The letters come from around the world in different languages. But they have one thing in common: They ask for the friars to pray for St. Anthony’s intercession.

For the saint’s feast day, thousands of pilgrims gather annually at the friars’ St. Anthony National Shrine at Graymoor, in Garrison, New York, located roughly 50 miles north of New York City. This year will mark the friars’ first large-scale in-person celebration since 2019, following the pandemic.

Pilgrims gather to pray at Graymoor in celebration of St. Anthony's upcoming feast day, June 12, 2022, in Garrison, New York. Courtesy of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement
Pilgrims gather to pray at Graymoor in celebration of St. Anthony's upcoming feast day, June 12, 2022, in Garrison, New York. Courtesy of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement

“One of the big traditions they have here is people love to bring candles to the shrine,” Terry told CNA. “By the end of the night, we will have thousands of candles on the steps around the shrine. It's absolutely beautiful. … It's just stunning.”

The friars recognize the shrine — a dream of Wattson’s — as the largest outdoor shrine of St. Anthony in the United States. Dedicated in 1960, the shrine located on the friars’ 400-acre mountain-top property features a large marble statue of St. Anthony holding the child Jesus.

Wattson “had a devotion to St. Anthony pretty much most of his life,” Terry said.

Emulating Anthony

For his part, Terry described the saint as “one who went out to find the people where they were, and met them and just told them a simple story of a loving God.” 

The friars carry this out in their service, which includes everything from encouraging dialogue among all faiths to running ministries such as St. Christopher’s Inn, which Terry said houses 180 men that are homeless and suffering from alcohol and drug problems. 

The Franciscan Friars of the Atonement operate a shrine to St. Anthony of Padua in upstate New York. Courtesy of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement
The Franciscan Friars of the Atonement operate a shrine to St. Anthony of Padua in upstate New York. Courtesy of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement

For those unable to visit the shrine in person, the friars’ website features its own “St. Anthony Prayer Corner,” which includes the saint’s story, the friars’ connection to the saint, and prayers and novenas for the faithful seeking the saint’s intercession.

“St. Anthony, gentlest of saints, your love for God and charity for his creatures, made you worthy, when on earth, to possess miraculous powers. Miracles waited on your word, which you were ready to offer on behalf of those in need,” one prayer reads. “Encouraged by this, I ask you to hear my prayers.”

Rep. Chris Smith calls ‘modern slavery’ of human trafficking a pro-life issue

Photo illustration. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 12, 2022 / 04:00 am (CNA).

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey is proposing bipartisan legislation to aid survivors of human trafficking. The issue, he told CNA, is a pro-life one.

“I'm animating my entire work here by Matthew 25, when our Lord said, ‘Whatever you did for the least of my brethren, you did for me,’” he emphasized to CNA at a June 9 press conference outside of the U.S. Capitol Building, promoting the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2022 (H.R.6552). As with advocating for the unborn, advocacy for these women, he said, falls under protecting society’s weakest and most vulnerable.

With the input of survivors on top of years spent studying the issue, Smith, a Republican, authored the act together with Rep. Karen Bass, a Democrat from California.

The legislation would reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, also authored by Smith, his office said. It would provide roughly $1 billion over five years to strengthen and expand education, restorative care, and other critical programs that protect victims, prosecute perpetrators and prevent trafficking.

Essential programs that aid in the prevention of human trafficking and the protection of survivors require the reauthorization of funding, which expired in September of 2021, Smith said at the press conference.

An earlier version of the bill, named after abolitionist Frederick Douglass, had the backing of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, a non-profit run by Douglass’ direct descendants.

“This is trauma and victim informed, which I think is extraordinarily important. We’ve listened to those who have suffered from modern-day slavery and made sure we got it right,” Smith said.

This bill seeks $1 billion in funding to ensure that each survivor is afforded “quality employment pathways and equitable care,” and it has garnered support from 316 signatories and over 500 advocates.

New provisions to the bill named in honor of Douglass include social services, case management, life skills training, mental health care, assistance in job searches, and higher education for survivors.

That same day, over 800 anti-trafficking and advocacy organizations together with 18 trafficking survivors signed a letter to congressional leaders calling for a U.S. House of Representatives vote on the bill. 

The letter ends by urging the House to schedule the bill for a vote to “assure that survivors are afforded the care and respect they deserve without delays or gaps in critical services.”

Smith told CNA up to 30 million people a year are trafficked. Following the pandemic, he said, “a lot of it went underground ... and there was an exponential increase in grooming of young children.”

The U.S. Department of State defines human trafficking as a “crime of exploitation” where “traffickers profit at the expense of their victims by compelling them to perform labor or to engage in commercial sex in every region of the United States and around the world.” It cites an “estimated 24.9 million victims worldwide at any given time.”

In an effort to fight human trafficking, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) hosts an Anti-Trafficking Program to “educate on the scourge of human trafficking as an offense against fundamental dignity of the human person, to advocate for an end to modern-day slavery, to provide training and technical assistance on this issue, and to support survivors through community-based services.”

“Some people are trafficked for prostitution, pornography, and other forms of sexual exploitation. Some are trafficked for forced labor in agriculture, sweatshops, and domestic servitude,” the USCCB says. “In both cases, the person who is enslaved is treated as an object for another's benefit. The person's God-given human dignity is either ignored or forgotten.”