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Here’s the latest update on abortion measures up for a vote in 2024

null / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, May 22, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The 2024 elections are less than six months away. While all eyes are on the presidential matchup, there are also numerous efforts by abortion activists to enshrine abortion rights in state codes and constitutions.

Nearly a dozen states are considering such measures ahead of the November elections. The efforts come after the 2022 repeal of Roe v. Wade, which returned to the states the power to legislate on abortion, resulting in nearly half of states enacting strong protections for babies in the womb.

CNA is tracking efforts by both pro-abortion and pro-life supporters to put abortion-related votes on the November 2024 ballot. See below for the latest updates on ballot measures around the country.

Arizona

The political action committee Arizona for Abortion Access said in April that it had gathered more than 500,000 signatures to see its pro-abortion constitutional amendment put before voters in November. The threshold for the activists was about 383,000 and the deadline for signatures is July 3.

The proposed amendment would allow late-term abortions up to “fetal viability” — about 22-24 weeks — or later in pregnancy if a doctor deems it necessary for a woman to end the life of her child. The secretary of state’s office will still need to verify the signatures before the initiative can appear on the ballot.

Abortion is currently restricted in Arizona until the 15th week of pregnancy.

The state has been the focus of pro-abortion and pro-life activists throughout 2024 due to fights over an 1860s-era abortion ban still on the books in the state. Democrats and some breakaway Republicans succeeded in repealing the law at the beginning of May. 

Arkansas 

The pro-abortion group Arkansans for Limited Government has proposed ballot language to the attorney general that could result in a vote on abortion in November.

The originally proposed state constitutional amendment, an initial draft of which was rejected by the state attorney general in November, would forbid the state from restricting “access to abortion within 18 weeks of conception, or later in pregnancy in cases of rape, incest, [and] in the event of a fatal fetal anomaly.” 

Arkansans for Limited Government did not respond to a query asking if they had secured enough signatures to put the amendment before voters in November. The group was still calling for signatures on its Facebook page last week; nearly 100,000 signatures must be gathered for the proposal to reach the ballot.

David Cox, the assistant director of the Little Rock-based Family Council, told CNA last year that “if passed, the amendment’s language would effectively erase decades of good, pro-life laws” in the state.

In Arkansas, abortion is illegal in nearly all cases except if a doctor determines that one is necessary to save the mother’s life.

Colorado

Advocates on both sides of the abortion debate in Colorado circulated dueling ballot proposals for 2024. For either amendment to reach the ballot, proponents needed to gather more than 124,000 signatures.

The pro-life initiative, which would have been added to the state statutory code, would stipulate that a living human child “must not be intentionally dismembered, mutilated, poisoned, scalded, starved, stabbed, given toxic injections known to cause death, left to die of the elements for lack of warmth or nutrition,” or otherwise killed. 

It failed to gather enough signatures before its April 18 deadline.

The pro-abortion measure, meanwhile, would affirm state laws that are already in place that allow abortion through all nine months of pregnancy. 

Its language would amend the state constitution to say that the government “shall not deny, impede, or discriminate against the exercise of the right to abortion, including prohibiting health insurance coverage for abortion.” 

The Colorado Secretary of State’s office said last week that the measure had secured enough signatures to qualify for the 2024 ballot.

Abortion is presently legal at all stages of pregnancy in Colorado, one of only a handful of states that allow abortion at any time.

Florida

The pro-abortion group Floridians Protecting Freedom successfully gathered enough signatures to place its Right to Abortion Initiative constitutional amendment on the November ballot.

The proposed language of the measure would add a right to abortion before the point of “viability” to the state’s constitution if 60% of voters approve. It would also allow for abortions later in pregnancy if a woman’s doctor deems it necessary to end the life of her child. 

The Florida attorney general in October 2023 had asked the state Supreme Court to block the effort, arguing that the initiative “does not satisfy the legal requirements for ballot placement.”

The court’s justices ruled in April that the measure could appear on the ballot. 

In Florida, abortion is currently illegal after six weeks of pregnancy with limited exceptions. 

Maryland

The proposed Maryland Right to Reproductive Freedom Amendment would cement an abortion “right” in the state’s constitution and make it impossible for pro-life laws to be enacted. The amendment was added to the ballot by the state Legislature after passing by a supermajority vote (60%). It will ultimately be decided by the state’s voters on Nov. 5.

Maryland state laws on abortion were extreme even before Roe v. Wade was overturned on June 24, 2022. In April of that year, the Legislature allotted $3.5 million per year for “abortion care” training there.

The Maryland Board of Public Works, meanwhile, in June of this year approved nearly $1.3 million in emergency spending to pay for a stockpile of two abortion drugs in response to a lawsuit that could take one of the drugs off the market.

Maryland currently places no gestational limits on abortion. Parental notice is required for a minor to have an abortion.

Missouri

The pro-abortion group Missourians for Constitutional Freedom announced in May that it had turned in more than 380,000 signatures to place its pro-abortion initiative on the November ballot. The measure, if passed, would amend the state constitution to establish a broad right to abortion.

A countermeasure, one that would have seen abortion legalized in the state, had been proposed by the Missouri Women & Family Research Fund. That group, which was launched by longtime Republican staffer Jamie Corley, argued on its website that the state should provide “reasonable exceptions for abortion care, protection for birth control, and immunity for mothers and doctors against criminal prosecution.” 

To that end the group submitted multiple proposed constitutional amendments to the state in August. Yet the group suspended its campaign in February, with Corley stating that the dual pro-abortion campaigns could “create confusion and potentially split the vote.”

Abortion is illegal in Missouri with narrow exceptions for the mother’s life and/or health.

Montana

In April, the Montana Supreme Court said pro-abortion activists there could gather signatures to put a pro-abortion state constitutional amendment on the November ballot. 

The measure, if passed, would “amend the Montana Constitution to expressly provide a right to make and carry out decisions about one’s own pregnancy, including the right to abortion.”

Activists need to gather more than 60,000 signatures by June 21 to place the measure on the ballot.

Nebraska

The pro-abortion group Protect Our Rights filed language with the secretary of state that could see abortion on the ballot in November. More than 87,000 signatures must be gathered for the proposal to reach the ballot. 

The measure, if approved, would “amend the Nebraska Constitution to provide all persons the fundamental right to abortion without interference from the state or its political subdivisions until fetal viability.” 

Backers of that measure did not clarify to CNA if they’ve reached enough signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot. The deadline is July 5.

A proposed pro-life amendment, meanwhile, would amend the state constitution to outlaw abortion “in the second and third trimesters” except in cases of medical emergencies or when the baby is the product of rape or incest. Advocates with that amendment similarly did not respond when asked if they had secured enough signatures.

The state earlier this year limited abortion to 12 weeks into pregnancy

Nevada

The pro-abortion coalition group Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom said in April of this year that it had reached “more than 50%” of its goal of collecting enough signatures to put a state constitutional amendment on the November ballot. Supporters of the initiative need 102,000 valid signatures by June 26 to qualify for the ballot.

The measure would affirm current extreme laws on abortion and add to the state constitution a “fundamental right to abortion” up to the point of “fetal viability.” It would also allow for abortions later in pregnancy if a woman’s doctor deems it necessary to end the life of her child. 

The group has already met the threshold necessary to place the measure on the ballot, but an activist told local media that abortion advocates “want to make sure all of our data is absolutely correct” and are thus collecting double the number of signatures required. The pro-abortion group did not respond to a query from CNA asking whether it had met its signature goal since April. 

Earlier this year Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo, a Republican, signed into law a measure to protect abortionists who violate abortion laws in other states and prevent health care licensing boards from disqualifying a person due to his or her participation in providing abortions.

Abortion is legal up until about 24 weeks of pregnancy in the state, or even later in pregnancy if the life of the mother is at risk. 

New York

In New York, lawmakers initially succeeded in getting a proposed amendment on the 2024 ballot. It would have added a so-called “right” to abortion to the state constitution in the form of an equal rights amendment. 

The amendment was added to the ballot by the state Legislature after passing by a majority vote in both chambers in two consecutive legislative sessions, as required by law. The proposal stipulated in part that state residents “shall [not] be denied equal rights under the laws [of the state]” on the basis of “pregnancy.” 

But a state Supreme Court judge ruled in May that the measure could not appear on the ballot in November because the state did not follow the proper procedure in adding it. The state has vowed to appeal the decision. 

Abortion is legal in New York through “viability,” though it is largely available after viability as well, given exceptions for the mother’s “mental health.” 

South Dakota

The South Dakota secretary of state confirmed in May that a pro-abortion amendment would appear before voters on the November 2024 ballot. 

The measure would establish “a constitutional right to an abortion” and allow the fatal procedure through all nine months of pregnancy. Signature-gathering was spearheaded by the pro-abortion group Dakotans for Health. 

Abortion is illegal in South Dakota barring exceptions to save the mother’s life.

Catholic high school decades in the making breaks ground in northern Colorado

The graduating senior class pioneered St. John Paul II High School in Colorado as freshmen. The 12 students are the first to have gone through all four years of the St. John Paull II program. / Credit: Monica Yee/St. John Paul II High School

CNA Staff, May 22, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

After operating out of a parish for four years, a long-anticipated Catholic high school in northern Colorado celebrated graduation on its newly broken ground last weekend.

The seniors who pioneered St. John Paul II High School as freshmen studying at Our Lady of the Valley Parish four years ago graduated on the 44 acres that will be home to the school’s future building. These 12 students — the first graduates to have gone through the entire program — joined the founding headmaster, Blaise Hockel, in breaking ground days before graduation. 

The executive committee breaks ground at graduation. Credit: Monica Yee/St. John Paul II High School
The executive committee breaks ground at graduation. Credit: Monica Yee/St. John Paul II High School

Local Coloradans have been waiting decades for a Catholic high school in the Fort Collins area, miles away from any Catholic high school. Forty-nine years before St. John Paul II opened its doors in Windsor, Colorado, on Aug. 17, 2020, local Catholics sent a letter to the archdiocese requesting a Catholic high school. 

As the closest Catholic high school in a 45-mile radius, St. John Paul II draws students from a 60-mile radius, even bringing students in from Cheyenne, Wyoming.

“For many Catholic families in the area, including my own and my wife’s, when our families came into northern Colorado, they were hearing whispers and rumblings about a Catholic high school opening up,” Hockel told CNA in a phone call. 

Now, some 53 years later, the long-awaited school will have its own building, grounds, and even a chapel. 

“When we started this process, we very intentionally wanted to build something that was beautiful, that would lead to families, to students, to the people of northern Colorado seeing it as the heart of the Church in northern Colorado,” Hockel said. 

Edward Mulholland, a professor at Benedictine College, was the commencement speaker for the St. John Paul II High School graduation. Mulholland directs the Great Books program at Benedictine. Credit: Monica Yee/St. John Paul II High School
Edward Mulholland, a professor at Benedictine College, was the commencement speaker for the St. John Paul II High School graduation. Mulholland directs the Great Books program at Benedictine. Credit: Monica Yee/St. John Paul II High School

The model plan shows landmark paintings such as “The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo, while the chapel features an altar rail, elegant altar, and accents of blue paint on the vaulted ceiling and walls. 

“When you walk into a space where you’re supposed to be pursuing the good, and it is a bland beige, it’s really hard to aspire,” Hockel continued. “It’s hard for teachers to inspire. It’s hard for students to aspire towards greater things. So we’re trying to design this building not like so many of the other things that have been slapped up over the last couple of decades.” 

Averi Ulibarri, valedictorian of the senior class, gives a speech at graduation. Credit:  Monica Yee/St. John Paul II High School
Averi Ulibarri, valedictorian of the senior class, gives a speech at graduation. Credit: Monica Yee/St. John Paul II High School

The new building is set to be completed in time for the 2025-2026 academic year. Hockel said the school has received an “unprecedented” amount of support in the most necessary area — more than $25 million in funds for the school.

“At the beginning of the process, we were working with a major consulting firm who told us that we would be able to raise a certain amount of dollars and no more,” he said. “And we tripled the number of dollars that we raised within four months of going out, masking the community for support.”

“The experts have been at a loss to explain why this is going as well as it is,” Hockel continued. “But the answer is pretty simple. It’s a combination of a desire of the people for the good for their community and the will of God, and nothing short of it.”

The school began with 26 students in 2020 and has nearly doubled in size; Hockel anticipates more growth.

“As we’ve closed on our land here … we’re going to be building our first phase of the school with the anticipation of growing to 180 students in the next two years, and then growing up to 250 while we’re in our Phase 1 plan,” he explained. “Then as we look to our next two phases across the next 10 to 20 years, we’ll look to increase that number to a population of about 400 to 450 students and maxing out at, within the next 30 years, a 600-person campus.”

St. John Paul II offers “a four-year program steeped in traditional classical education” that emphasizes “a holistic education,” Hockel noted. 

The classical education model at St. John Paul II emphasizes primary sources, the early Church Fathers, as well as a “very robust” math and science program.

Father Gregg Pederson and Father Crispan Kibambe celebrated the baccalaureate Mass in a tent on the new grounds of St. John Paul II High School. Pearson is pastor of Our Lady of the Valley Parish, which hosted the school for four years. Kibambe is the parochial vicar at St. Mary Parish. Credit: Monica Yee/St. John Paul II High School
Father Gregg Pederson and Father Crispan Kibambe celebrated the baccalaureate Mass in a tent on the new grounds of St. John Paul II High School. Pearson is pastor of Our Lady of the Valley Parish, which hosted the school for four years. Kibambe is the parochial vicar at St. Mary Parish. Credit: Monica Yee/St. John Paul II High School

“The students read primary sources, they read Church Fathers,” Hockel said. “They go through a very robust math and science program so that they can get up into modern calculus and into modern physics, with the anticipation that by the time they graduate from our school, they’re prepared to be well-formed young men and women if they choose to pursue college or if they choose to pursue trade, that regardless, they are well-formed citizens.”

“We’re built on the principle that we should give to the children a holistic education, which is built around their mind, around their body, around their communal development, around their spiritual development, so that ultimately they can fulfill that call of the Great Commission and go out and make disciples of all nations,” he added.

Philippine cardinal condemns chapel bombing as ‘horrendous sacrilegious act’

Archbishop Orlando Beltran Quevedo / Credit: Wikimedia Commons

CNA Staff, May 21, 2024 / 18:20 pm (CNA).

A Catholic cardinal condemned the grenade attack on a village chapel during a Bible service that left two wounded in the southern Philippines on Sunday.

The grenade attack happened on Pentecost Sunday at Santo Niño Chapel in Cotabato City at about 10:30 a.m.

Cotabato City is in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, known as “Bangsamoro,” an area that has experienced religious freedom challenges in recent years. 

Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, the archbishop emeritus of Cotabato, denounced the grenade attack, calling it a “dastardly bombing,” according to the news site of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

Of the about 20 people in attendance, the two churchgoers injured in the attack were Maribel Abis, 46, and Aniceta Tobil, a senior citizen. Initial reports revealed the attack was by two men riding a motorcycle. 

Quevedo called the attack a “horrendous sacrilegious act that cries out to heaven.”

“I call upon our security, military, and investigative forces to ferret out the perpetrators and bring them to justice,” he added.

A Philippine government official condemned the attack on Tuesday, according to a local report

“This horrendous act of violence, carried out on Pentecost Sunday, a day of religious significance for Catholics, is a direct attack on the Filipino people’s commitment to religious freedom and peaceful coexistence and blatant disregard for human life,” said chief Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity. 

“We stand in solidarity with the Catholic community of Cotabato City and the entire Bangsamoro region during this unforeseen challenge,” he continued. “Rest assured that this act of terror, which has no other aim but to sow fear, animosity, and mistrust, will not slow down or dampen our resolve to achieving lasting peace, mutual understanding, and solidarity in the Bangsamoro.”

“Let us all work together to prevent such tragedies from happening again and to help foster a more peaceful, inclusive, and harmonious environment that respects the diverse faiths within our communities,” Galvez added.

Only about six months ago, a bombing during a Mass on Dec. 3, 2023, at the Mindanao State University in Marawi City killed four churchgoers, most of them students. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

‘Equal Rights Amendment’ that could have expanded abortion fails in Minnesota

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in early May urged Catholics to join a rally to oppose the “Equal Rights Amendment” (ERA) at the state capitol in St. Paul. The proposal “fails to protect Minnesotans from discrimination based on religion, could constitutionally mandate legal abortion up to the moment of birth, and promotes harmful gender ideology,” the archdiocese said. / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, May 21, 2024 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

A controversial proposed constitutional amendment in Minnesota, which the state’s Catholic bishops had opposed due to concerns it would expand abortion access, failed to advance this week amid partisan deadlock.

The proposed amendment, sponsored by St. Paul Rep. Kaohly Her of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), would have added several protected categories to the state’s constitution, in part saying the state cannot discriminate against a person on the basis of sex.

Within the category of sex, the proposal included “making and effectuating decisions about all matters relating to one’s own pregnancy​ or decision whether to become or remain pregnant,” as well as “gender identity or gender expression” and “sexual orientation.”

The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis had in early May urged Catholics to join a rally to oppose the “Equal Rights Amendment” (ERA), saying the proposal “fails to protect Minnesotans from discrimination based on religion, could constitutionally mandate legal abortion up to the moment of birth, and promotes harmful gender ideology.”

The ERA in Minnesota failed on Sunday evening after time ran out for the Democratic-controlled Senate to vote on it before the end of the legislative year, leaving the measure tabled. The amendment is dead for now until January 2025 unless a special session is called. Democratic Gov. Tim Walz said Monday he will not call a special session to try again to pass the ERA, the AP reported.

The proposed amendment, if the Senate had passed it, would have been submitted to the people at the 2026 general election. If ratified by a simple majority, the amendment would have taken effect Jan. 1, 2027. 

Bishop Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester, speaking in a May 6 video message on behalf of the state’s bishops, warned that the proposal constitutes “an imposition of the sexual revolution on the people of our state.”

The so-called right to abortion, which the Church has always opposed, would become enshrined in Minnesota’s constitution, making it “so fundamental that we can’t even legislate against it,” Barron said. In addition, he noted that the proposal lacks the possibility of conscientious objection, meaning churches, schools, and health care institutions guided by faith could be mandated to endorse practices or speech that violate their beliefs. 

At the May 8 rally at the Minnesota State Capitol, Bishop Joseph Williams, then an auxiliary of St. Paul and Minneapolis, spoke against the proposal and said moments like this show that what “unites us as people of faith is much greater than what divides us.” Williams was named coadjutor bishop of Camden, New Jersey, by Pope Francis on May 21. 

From a statutory perspective, abortion is already legal up to birth in Minnesota following the 2023 passage of the Protect Reproductive Options (PRO) Act, which enshrined a constitutional right to “reproductive freedom,” ensuring the right to abortion in Minnesota up to birth for any reason as well as the right to contraception and sterilization.

Possible miracle at Lourdes: Almost-blind woman recovers her sight

null / Credit: Célian de La Rochefoucauld via youheritage.com

ACI Prensa Staff, May 21, 2024 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

The Hospitality of Our Lady of Lourdes of Madrid, an archdiocesan pilgrim service organization, concluded its 101st pilgrimage on May 19, serving 800 participants, one of whom apparently was cured of severe visual impairment. This extraordinary event, however, will have to be studied before it can be qualified as a miracle.

The most recent miracle at Lourdes, No. 70, was officially recognized in February 2018. This case could become No. 71.

The adviser to the archdiocesan association of faithful, Father Guillermo Cruz, sent a statement to the different groups that made up the pilgrimage, calling on them to accept what happened with humility and simplicity, following the example of St. Bernadette.

“The experience of making a pilgrimage and discovering the love of God through our Mother, the Virgin Mary, as St. Bernadette teaches us in simplicity and humility, will always be the greatest grace that is granted at Lourdes, since it is the one that renews life,” he said.

This consideration prefaces the announcement that during the days of the pilgrimage, “an event has occurred that is extraordinary, although it would be misleading people if we call it a miracle,” Cruz explained.

What happened is that “a pilgrim who suffers from several diseases and had very severe visual impairment, after making ‘the water gesture’ recovered her sight. This extraordinary event was immediately verified by the doctors, and the shrine was notified and has already recorded it.”

With the “water gesture” the pilgrims in the area of the baths, in an atmosphere of meditation, prayer, and trust in providence, cup water in their hands and three times wash their face and then take a sip of the water as St. Bernadette Soubirous did when directed by the Immaculate Conception at the Masabielle grotto.

Why can’t it yet be called a miracle?

The priest also explained the reason why it is not proper at this time to speak of a miracle, since this declaration requires “a process of medical and spiritual discernment that must be followed” in which “the following requirements regarding the healing must concur: Immediate. Complete. Lasting. Inexplicable.”

Consequently, the adviser said: “We can’t get ahead of ourselves. A study has to be done and above all that the healing be maintained over time.” The priest emphasized that “jumping ahead leads to presumption and we have to be humble. Here we have to wait for the study carried out by the Church at the Lourdes shrine, and then for the bishop of Madrid to make a pronouncement, to verify not only that it is inexplicable, but that it is also miraculous.”

Cruz is well aware of the desire of the members of the Hospitality of Lourdes and the pilgrims they accompany to the shrine every year to be able to speak of a miracle, “but that’s not our decision,” he said and noted that “it’s always an undeserved grace that is received.”

He warned that “we can create confusion if we are already talking about a miracle,” while at the same time we could “create false expectations if we reduce the fruits of the pilgrimage to a single event.”

What is the Lourdes Medical Bureau?

The Medical Bureau of the Lourdes Shrine in France was founded in 1883 at the same time that the area of the baths was established. As noted on the shrine’s website, it is the only organization of its kind in the world, including pilgrimage sites of other religions.

To date, more than 70,000 cases of extraordinary events have been presented, of which 70 have been recognized as miraculous by the Catholic Church. In most of them, women are the recipients of this special grace. In 50 of the 70 cases, the miraculous event occurred through contact with the shrine’s water, which has no special properties.

It was Pope Leo XIII who in 1886 gave his approval to the procedures followed by the medical bureau. In 1902, the Holy See ratified these protocols, which have four fundamental stages:

The office director receives the person who claims to have received a miracle. If the director considers the case worthy of being taken seriously, he calls in the doctors on staff that day at the shrine. If they agree that the case should proceed, an investigation begins that can last several years. When completed, the members of the International Scientific Committee of Lourdes vote on whether the extraordinary event is “unexplained in the current state of our knowledge.” This vote is sent to the bishop of the place where the cured person resides, who is the one who has the authority to declare the miracle.

The seven criteria doctors must take into account

The website of the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes also specifies the seven criteria that must be observed during the medical investigation of cases. Before healing, the following must be taken into account:

1) The disease must be serious and have an unfavorable prognosis.

2) The disease must be known and cataloged by medicine.

3) The disease must “be organic, lesional,” and be examined by “objective, biological, radiological criteria.” This means that “even today, cures for pathologies will not be recognized without precise objective criteria, such as psychological, psychiatric, functional, and nervous diseases, etc.”

4) There should be no treatment to which the cure can be attributed.

5) The healing must be sudden, abrupt, instantaneous, immediate, and without convalescence.

After healing, two more criteria must be considered:

6) It should not be a simple regression of symptoms but rather a return to all vital functions.

7) It should not be a simple remission but rather a cure, that is, lasting and definitive.

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

UK plans to end gender ideology in schools, set age-based sex education rules

null / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, May 21, 2024 / 15:55 pm (CNA).

The United Kingdom’s Department of Education intends to prohibit the promotion of gender ideology within public schools, set age-based guidelines for sex education, and protect parental rights, according to proposed guidance for schools.

A proposed update to Relationships, Sex, and Health Education (RSHE) lesson guidance, which is now undergoing an eight-week public comment period, would prohibit schools from teaching that “gender is a spectrum.” Rather, if asked about gender identity, schools would need to “teach the facts about biological sex” and could not present alternative views about gender as being facts. 

“Material suggesting that someone’s gender is determined by their interests or clothing choices should not be used as it risks leading pupils who do not comply with sex stereotypes to question their gender when they might not have done so otherwise,” the proposed guidance reads. 

The proposal states that “schools should not teach about the broader concept of gender identity” and calls the concept “a highly contested and complex subject.” The proposal adds that schools “should be clear that an individual must be 18 before they can legally reassign their gender.” For students under the age of 18, it states “a child’s legal sex will always be the same as their biological sex and, at school, boys cannot be legally classified as girls or vice versa.”

When using “external resources,” the proposed guidance would instruct schools to “avoid materials that use cartoons or diagrams that oversimplify this complex concept or that could be interpreted as being aimed at younger children.” It also states that “schools should consult parents on the content of external resources on this topic in advance and make all materials available to them on request.”

The guidance also states that schools should teach students about laws related to protected groups, which includes those facing discrimination for gender reassignment, sexual orientation, religion, sex, and other characteristics. 

Per the proposed guidance, schools would not provide any sex education until Year 5, when the students are usually 9 or 10 years old. The proposal also sets age-based guidelines for the type of sex education students receive. 

However, parents can opt their children out of all or some sex education lessons, except for lessons that are part of the science curriculum (which teach about topics such as puberty and sexual reproduction) — this is already part of existing guidance. A student who is at least 16 years old can opt themselves back into the sex education lessons with or without parental approval, which is also part of existing guidance.

The guidelines would establish new protections for parental rights. Per the proposal, schools would need to make all sex education material available for parents to review.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said in a statement that the proposal “puts protecting children at its heart, and enshrines parents’ right to know what their children are being taught.”

“It will support schools with how and when to teach often difficult and sensitive topics, leaving no doubt about what is appropriate to teach pupils at every stage of school,” Keegan said. “Parents can be reassured once and for all their children will only learn age-appropriate content.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement that he was “horrified” to hear reports last year that schools were providing sex education to students that was inappropriate for their ages.

“I will always act swiftly to protect our children and this new guidance will do exactly that, while supporting teachers to teach these important topics sensitively and giving parents access to curriculum content if they wish,” Sunak said.

Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre (CLC), which is a nonprofit based in London, expressed support for the proposed guidelines. 

“We are glad and relieved that primary school children will now be protected from such lessons,” CLC Chief Executive Andrea Williams said in a statement. “But this must only be a beginning. So much harm has been done and so much confusion sown. Schools must return to their Christian roots and the biblical beliefs on identity and sexual ethics, which set children and stable families up for life.”

The changes come just months after England ended the prescription of sex-change drugs to minors back in March. Scotland soon followed, ending such prescriptions in April. The policy changes stem from an independent review from Dr. Hilary Cass, which found insufficient evidence to support the efficacy and safety of providing these drugs to children. 

Pope Francis praises historic council in China as ‘an authentic synodal journey’

Pope Francis delivers a video message to the conference “100 Years Since the ‘Concilium Sinense’” at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. / Credit: Fabio Gonnella/EWTN

Rome Newsroom, May 21, 2024 / 13:57 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis has praised the Catholic Church’s first council in China 100 years ago as “an authentic synodal journey” that opened the way for the Church in China “to increasingly have a Chinese face.”

In a video message to a conference in Rome on the Catholic Church in China, the pope noted that Chinese Catholics have endured “times of patience and trial” in the past century.

“The Lord in China has safeguarded the faith of the people of God along the way. And the faith of God’s people has been the compass that has shown the way throughout this time,” Pope Francis said in the May 21 address.

Pope Francis delivers a video message to the conference “100 Years Since the ‘Concilium Sinense’" at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. Credit: Fabio Gonnella/EWTN
Pope Francis delivers a video message to the conference “100 Years Since the ‘Concilium Sinense’" at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. Credit: Fabio Gonnella/EWTN

The pope pointed to a Church council that took place in Shanghai 25 years before the Chinese Communist Revolution as an example of a moment when “the communion between the Holy See and the Church in China manifested its fruits, fruits of good for all the Chinese people.” 

The 1924 council, called the Primum Concilium Sinense, brought together 105 Catholic missionaries, bishops, and Chinese Catholics to establish a framework for a native Chinese hierarchy.

“The Fathers gathered in the Concilium Sinense lived an authentically synodal experience and made important decisions together,” Pope Francis said.

“Remembering the Council of Shanghai can also suggest today new paths to the entire Church and open paths to be undertaken with boldness to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel in the present,” he added. 

Among the crowd listening to the pope’s video message were representatives from the People’s Republic of China, including Bishop Shen Bin of Shanghai, who was unilaterally installed by Chinese authorities as bishop of Shanghai in April 2023 without a papal mandate, thereby breaking the terms of the Vatican-China deal. Pope Francis confirmed his appointment in July 2023.

The Holy See first entered into a provisional two-year agreement with Beijing on the appointment of bishops in 2018, which has since been renewed twice and is again up for renewal this fall. 

Pope Francis opted not to speak of the Vatican’s diplomatic efforts with Beijing or religious freedom in China in his message but said that Chinese Catholics today “bear witness to their faith through works of mercy and charity, and in their witness they give a real contribution to the harmony of social coexistence.”

A large statue of Our Lady of Sheshan stood on the pope’s desk as he spoke. The pope noted that during the month of May many Chinese Catholics usually go on pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine of Sheshan, located near Shanghai.

“I too ideally climb the hill of Sheshan, and let us all together entrust to Mary, Help of Christians, our brothers and sisters in the faith who are in China, all the Chinese people, and all our poor world, asking for her intercession, so that peace may always win everywhere,” Pope Francis said.

Following the pope’s message, Shen Bin delivered a 15-minute speech in Chinese to the packed auditorium of the Pontifical Urban University on the Janiculum Hill overlooking St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Chinese bishop offered a different interpretation of the 1924 council from the pope in his speech, saying that “the Council of Shanghai did not lead to an immediate and radical change in the Church in China,” adding that by the 1949 Communist Revolution “only 29 of China’s 137 dioceses had Chinese bishops, and only three of 20 archbishops were Chinese.”

“The Catholic Church in China had not really freed itself from foreign powers to become a work led by Chinese Christians and had not yet managed to shed the label of ‘foreign religion,’” he said.

Shen Bin, who has held leadership positions in the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association established by the Chinese Communist Party and under the control of the United Front Work Department, went on to defend Beijing’s religious freedom record and underlined the need for the Church in China to “follow a path of sinicization.”

“The policy of religious freedom implemented by the Chinese government has no interest in changing the Catholic faith but only hopes that the Catholic clergy and faithful will defend the interests of the Chinese people and free themselves from the control of foreign powers,” Shen Bin said in his speech.

“Today the Chinese people are carrying out the great rebirth of the Chinese nation in a global way with Chinese-style modernization, and the Catholic Church in China must move in the same direction, following a path of sinicization that is in line with Chinese society and culture today,” the Shanghai bishop added.

The conference, titled “100 Years Since the ‘Concilium Sinense’: Between History and the Present,” was held in Chinese and Italian in the Great Hall of the Pontifical Urban University. The Pastoral Commission for China and Agenzia Fides, the information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies, organized the conference, which featured Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle as speakers.

Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the conference, Parolin said the Holy See would like to increase and deepen its contacts in China.

“We have been hoping for a long time now to have a stable presence in China, even if initially it may not have the form of a papal representation of an apostolic nunciature,” Parolin said.

German priests do not support Synodal Way, new study finds

Cardinal Reinhard Marx. / Credit: Rudolf Gehrig/CNA Deutsch

CNA Newsroom, May 21, 2024 / 12:56 pm (CNA).

Priests in Germany are not supportive of the controversial German Synodal Way, according to a new study commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference.

The study, officially titled “Who Becomes a Priest?”, found that priests are “alienated from the concerns of Church reform,” lead author Matthias Sellmann said on May 17.

“Priests are also clearly not supporters of the German Synodal Way,” Sellmann emphasized. 

According to a statement by the bishops’ conference, the study aimed to investigate “the socio-religious background and motivations of newly ordained priests in order to make strategic personnel decisions based on the results.” 

Researchers contacted all of the 847 priests who were ordained between 2010 and 2021 in Germany to take part in the study. “In total, a representative sample of 17.8% took part.”

Among other findings, more than 70% of those surveyed said that silent prayer was where they discovered their vocation. “So where do we create such places of silent prayer in our pastoral landscape?” asked Bishop Michael Gerber of Fulda, who heads the bishops’ vocations commission.

Lead author Sellmann voiced concerns that priests were more interested in being a pastor and the liturgy than performing as a supervisor or team leader, which was not in line with the role they were expected to play “as managers of ever-larger and more resource-rich complexes.” 

Another critical concern identified by the study, according to Sellmann, is that the priest occupies a particular and idealized position in “Roman theology,” reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner. 

This also required addressing and change management, the German theologian demanded: “What is needed is a determined, consistent, and both spiritually and theologically well-founded will to change course.”

It is unclear whether any course changes will provide for priests who support the Synodal Way, however — or indeed priests in the future: As Sellmann admitted, vocations are likely to dwindle even further, given priests tend to come from faithful families with many children, a source that was “drying up.”

Criticism and indifference

Inaugurated by Cardinal Reinhard Marx in 2019, the multiyear, multimillion-dollar project has not only failed to convince German priests but also has drawn fire for its very premise, approach, and resolutions by Pope Francis, cardinals, theologians, and many bishops around the world

At the same time, most German Catholics reportedly are indifferent to the exercise. According to CNA Deutsch, a survey in September 2020 showed that only 19% of Catholics agreed with the statement that the Synodal Way was of interest to them. The vast majority of Germans responded in the negative.

This finding starkly contrasted claims made by Marx, who said in September 2019 that “countless believers in Germany consider [these issues] to be in need of discussion.”

Since then, the Synodal Way has passed resolutions demanding the Church adopt transgender ideology, women’s ordination, and other controversial goals. Organizers are now working to turn the project into a permanent controlling body — called the “Synodal Council” — to oversee the Church in Germany.

Spain archbishop on schismatic nuns: ‘I don’t know if they realize the profound consequences’

The schismatic decision of the Poor Clares "seems absolutely wrong to me" but we must see "if it is possible to heal it, cure it, reverse it," said Spanish Archbishop Mario Iceta. / Credit: Archdiocese of Burgos, Spain

ACI Prensa Staff, May 21, 2024 / 12:26 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Mario Iceta of Burgos, Spain, in whose jurisdiction is located the convent of the Poor Clares of Belorado and Orduña, expressed his surprise and concern over the nuns there going into schism and noted: “I don’t know if they realize the profound consequences” of their decision.

The prelate made the remarks May 17 on the “La Linterna de la Iglesia” (“The Church’s Lantern”) program broadcast by the Spanish radio station COPE following the schismatic decision of the Poor Clares of Belorado to leave the Catholic Church to place themselves under the authority of Pablo de Rojas, a false bishop excommunicated in 2019. 

“I’m worried about the situation, thinking about what has come about in such a surprising way on Monday [May 13],” Iceta said. Regarding what surprised him the most, the archbishop responded: “First of all, the secrecy with which all this has been proposed and that, indeed, when early on Monday morning, around 6 in the morning, I receive a WhatsApp message from a priest telling me that these nuns are leaving the Catholic Church, I thought it was fake news.”

“After that first surprise and verifying with the vicaress of the congregation itself, of the monastery itself, that this was the case, little by little we have learned the news. First of all [they said] that it was unanimous, and the next day a sister left [the monastery].”

In fact, on May 16, Sister María Amparo left the convent and said that she left “above all, so as not to belong to this sect,” noting that before her departure she endured “three days without Mass and without anything” and that “I suffered total surveillance so that I couldn’t speak with the older sisters,” she complained.

In the conversation with “La Linterna de la Iglesia,” the archbishop of Burgos commented that he was able to speak with that nun and that “it’s clear that they didn’t want her to be well informed about what was happening and she found out on Sunday afternoon when Pablo de Rojas showed up.”

The prelate also said that recently a person wrote a letter in which he praised the “fervor” of the nuns during Holy Week, which is why what has happened is even more surprising. “It’s all absolutely strange and I don’t know if the sisters themselves realize the consequences,” Iceta lamented.

Schism of the Poor Clares of Belorado

On May 13, when they announced their departure from the Catholic Church, the Poor Clares of Belorado indicated in a letter and a declaration that they recognize “H.H. Pius XII as the last valid Supreme Pontiff,” a decision that was explained through an attached 70-page text titled “Catholic Manifesto” claiming that “the see of St. Peter is vacant and usurped.” 

At the time, the nuns stated that their community “is leaving the Conciliar Church to which it belonged to become part of the Catholic Church.” They complained that in recent years there have been “contradictions, double and confusing language, ambiguity, and loopholes in clear doctrine have been coming from the Chair of Peter.” 

The archbishop stressed that if for them ”after Pius XII everything that follows is invalid, then the ministry of apostolic succession is invalid and this means that all the sacramental acts, except baptism, are invalid and evidently all vows and legal issues. Therefore this means that they haven’t taken vows as religious either.”

“When I saw on a television network that they were happy, content, well I am glad that they are well but I don’t know if they are really aware that this is not like changing your room or changing your habit or dress,” the prelate continued. 

“I don’t know if they realize the profound consequences that this step has and that is why my option or my opinion is that this should not be done precipitously, let this media tidal wave pass, let’s see if it’s possible to establish a relationship with them and dialogue and look at these issues and give them time to reconsider this situation that seems so surprising and strange to me,” the archbishop said.

After pointing out that Sister Paz, the vicaress, told him that the decision to separate from the Catholic Church was unanimous, Iceta said that on the contrary, “the sister who left [the monastery] says that there was no chapter, there was no vote, and therefore it is totally irregular” since “the proper capitular and voting mechanisms of the congregations” have not been respected.

Path of reconciliation for the Poor Clares of Belorado

A possible path of reconciliation for these Poor Clares, the Spanish prelate noted, involves “first a meeting and a reconsideration, and also listening to them about how they got to this point. They express discontent, they express difficulties, things that they have not conveyed to the [bishop’s] delegate for religious” nor to the chaplain.

Then it is necessary to listen to “what are the reasons for profound discontentment, because life is complicated, but to the point of saying I am leaving the Catholic faith to embrace another type of doctrine, it seems to me to be so extreme.” 

This decision of the Poor Clares “seems absolutely wrong to me,” but we must see “if it is possible to heal it, cure it, reverse it” and “give time for this to happen,” he emphasized.

“It seems to me that a 90-something-year-old nun, after 70 years” of religious life, can’t just go over to “another worldview of life.” For these sisters, the archbishop said, it would be good to spend “the last years of their lives in the Catholic Church.”

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

Pope expresses ‘spiritual closeness’ to Iran after death of president in helicopter crash

People participate in a funeral procession of president Ebrahim Raisi and his seven aides in Tabriz, East Azerbaijan province, on May 21, 2024. / Credit: Photo by AZIN HAGHIGHI/MOJ News Agency/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, May 21, 2024 / 11:56 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Monday offered prayers to the Islamic Republic of Iran after the country’s president was killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday. 

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was among eight killed in the Iranian Air Force helicopter crash in the country’s East Azerbaijan Province on May 19.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was also among those killed. The cause of the crash is still under investigation. 

In a telegram signed by Pope Francis on Monday, the Holy Father wrote that he sent “condolences upon the deaths of President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and all who perished” in the disaster.

“Entrusting the souls of the deceased to the mercy of the Almighty, and with prayers for those who mourn their loss, especially their families, I send the assurance of spiritual closeness to the nation at this difficult time,” the pope said. 

The letter was addressed to Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic republic. 

The Holy Father had spoken with Raisi last November about a month after the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war. In that discussion, the Iranian president reportedly asked the pope to use his influence to bring an end to Israel’s offensive in Gaza. 

Raisi reportedly also asked the pope to “correctly explain the position of the oppressor and the oppressed” in the conflict. Iran and Israel have been engaged in a decades-long “proxy war.” 

Amir-Abdollahian, meanwhile, spoke with Vatican foreign minister Archbishop Paul Gallagher in October, with the two diplomats also discussing the Israel-Hamas war. 

Mohammad Mokhber, formerly the vice president of Iran, is currently serving as acting president of the country following Raisi’s death.