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Explore the Immaculate Conception through art in video series on faith and beauty

A detail from Francisco de Zurbarán’s painting “The Immaculate Conception” (1628–1630) / Benedictine College YouTube channel

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 8, 2022 / 13:45 pm (CNA).

Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, is kicking off a new video series today on art and faith with a video celebrating today’s solemnity, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

The video series, titled “Sacred Image,” is produced by the college’s Center for Beauty & Culture and explores the ways God communicates with us through great works of art.

The first video of the series features Denis McNamara, executive director of the Center for Beauty & Culture and a professor at Benedictine College. In the video, McNamara, who spent two decades at Mundelein Seminary, where he taught at the Liturgical Institute, explains how we can come to a greater understanding of the solemnity through an examination of Francisco de Zurbarán’s painting “The Immaculate Conception” (1628–1630).

Francisco de Zurbarán’s painting “The Immaculate Conception” (1628–1630). Public Domain
Francisco de Zurbarán’s painting “The Immaculate Conception” (1628–1630). Public Domain

The painting is featured in the new book “Solemnities: Celebrating a Tapestry of Divine Beauty,” published by Ascension and co-authored by McNamara and two other experts from the Liturgical Institute, Christopher Carstens and Alexis Kutarna.

The book delves into the theology, history, and cultural significance of each of the Catholic Church’s 17 solemnities through the lens of a great work of sacred art. The next video in the series, to be released Dec. 19, will focus on the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord through an exploration of the painting featured in the “Solemnities” book, “The Mystic Nativity,” by Sandro Botticelli (1500).

"Mystic Nativity" by Sandro Botticelli (1500). Public Domain
"Mystic Nativity" by Sandro Botticelli (1500). Public Domain

Watch the video on the the Immaculate Conception below and visit the Center for Beauty & Culture’s YouTube channel to subscribe for more:

House passes same-sex marriage bill in final vote, sending it to Biden’s desk

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, following the final vote on the Respect for Marriage Act in Washington, D.C., Dec. 8, 2022. / Credit: PBS NewsHour screenshot via YouTube

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 8, 2022 / 09:45 am (CNA).

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 258-169 to pass the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA) on Thursday, sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.

A total of 219 Democrats, along with 39 Republicans, voted “yea” to the bill. One hundred sixty-nine Republicans voted against it. One Republican voted “present” — neither yes or no — and four Republicans were recorded as not voting.

The bill, which would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and recognize same-sex marriages on a federal level, has drawn criticism from Catholic leaders for not providing strong enough protections for those who believe marriage is between one man and one woman — a belief in line with Church teaching.

Minutes before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic, called the act a “historic step forward in Democrats’ fight to defend the dignity and equality of every American.”

“Today we stand up for the values the vast majority of Americans hold dear, a belief in the dignity, beauty, and divinity — divinity, a spark of divinity in every person — and abiding respect for love so powerful that it binds two people together,” the Democrat from California said.

The final vote comes after the U.S. Senate, with the support of 12 Republicans, voted to pass the RFMA on Nov. 29. If it passes now, Biden, also a Catholic, has pledged to sign it into law.

While it would not require any state to allow same-sex couples to marry, the RFMA would require states to recognize any and all marriages — regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin” — performed in other states.

The U.S. bishops stated in a November letter to Congress that the bill’s amendments do not sufficiently protect those with religious objections.

“The amended act will put the ministries of the Catholic Church, people of faith, and other Americans who uphold a traditional meaning of marriage at greater risk of government discrimination,” the letter stated.

“Our opposition to RMA by no means condones any hostility toward anyone who experiences same-sex attraction,” the bishops emphasized. “Catholic teaching on marriage is inseparable from Catholic teaching on the inherent dignity and worth of every human being. To attack one is to attack the other. Congress must have the courage to defend both.”

A United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ explanation appended to the letter read: “Given all this — that the bill establishes an affirmative, enforceable, comprehensive right to federal and interstate recognition of same-sex marriages but sets out religious liberty protections that are far from comprehensive, and are neither affirmative nor enforceable outside of the limited protections in Section 6(b) — it is fair to say that the amendment treats religious liberty as a second-class right.”

Democrats blocked an amendment Monday offered by Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas that would have included explicit protections for Americans who believe marriage is between one man and one woman. The same amendment, which has the support of the bishops, was previously introduced in the Senate by Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.

The RFMA represents one of the first legislative responses to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. While the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization said that “this decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right,” Democrats have pointed to Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion suggesting the court should reconsider all “substantive due process” cases, including the 2015 Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage.

DOMA, which the bill would repeal, is a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton that defined marriage federally as the union of a man and a woman, reserved federal benefits to heterosexual couples, and permitted states not to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states. DOMA was already effectively nullified by the 2013 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

Pope Francis calls on Catholics to entrust themselves to Our Lady, prays for peace in Ukraine

Pope Francis visits the statue dedicated to the Immaculate Conception near Rome’s Piazza di Spagna Dec. 8, 2022. / Credit: Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

CNA Newsroom, Dec 8, 2022 / 08:42 am (CNA).

On Thursday, Pope Francis publicly visited the statue dedicated to the Immaculate Conception near Rome’s Piazza di Spagna for the first time in two years. 

Like a row of dominoes: an analysis of the latest Vatican appointments

Pope Francis at his general audience in Paul VI Hall on Dec. 7, 2022. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Dec 8, 2022 / 07:40 am (CNA).

The latest appointment at the Vatican kicks off several changes for the Church, both in Rome and around the world.

Former Jesuit provincial on the Rupnik case: It is a ‘tsunami’ of lack of transparency

Jesuit Father Marko Ivan Rupnik with the official image of the 10th World Meeting of Families in Rome. / Screenshot from Diocesi di Roma YouTube channel.

Denver Newsroom, Dec 7, 2022 / 22:30 pm (CNA).

A former provincial for the Society of Jesus demanded full transparency from his community in dealing with the current situation of Father Marko Rupnik.

Who is Father Marko Rupnik, the Jesuit priest and artist accused of abuse?

Father Marko Rupnik, SJ. / Screenshot Vatican News

Denver Newsroom, Dec 7, 2022 / 21:25 pm (CNA).

Who is the Jesuit priest and artist that has been accused of abusing at least nine consecrated women in the Slovenian community he helped to found?

UK Supreme Court rules in favor of banning prayer, protests at abortion clinics

null / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 7, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

A Northern Ireland law to ban pro-life advocacy near abortion providers, including advocacy of abortion alternatives, is “justifiable” and compatible with the rights of people who want to express their opposition to abortion, the U.K. Supreme Court unanimously ruled Wednesday.

The law prohibits “direct” and “indirect” pro-life “influence,” broadly defined, within 100 meters (about 328 feet) of an abortion provider. The designated areas have been called “censorship zones” by critics of the law, who include the legal group ADF UK.

“We are of course disappointed to see today’s ruling from the Supreme Court, which fails to protect the basic freedoms to pray or to offer help to women who may want to know about practical support available to avoid abortion,” Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, said Dec. 7.

“Peaceful presence, mere conversation, quiet or silent prayer — these activities should never be criminalized in a democratic society like the U.K.,” he said.

The Northern Ireland pro-life group Precious Life voiced stronger criticism, calling the decision “a travesty of justice.”

“The judges in the Supreme Court ruled this is appropriate and justifiable, even though it breaches rights of freedom of speech and assembly protected by the European Convention on Human Rights,” the group said Wednesday.

“Our work to protect mothers and babies from abortion has always been peaceful and legal. We will use innovative and creative new methods to continue offering help and support to women outside abortion centers,” the group said.

The ruling concerned a query regarding the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Northern Ireland Bill, which passed in March. Prohibited activities near abortion providers include quiet or silent prayer as well as the distribution of leaflets that offer women alternatives to abortion.

Northern Ireland’s attorney general, Dame Brenda King, had referred the bill to the U.K. Supreme Court out of concern that it was incompatible with fundamental freedoms enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Abortion critics may protest anywhere outside of the designated zones, the court noted. Conviction under the law will not “interfere disproportionately with a protestor’s rights.” The context is “highly sensitive” and there is “particular importance” to protecting “the private lives and autonomy of women,” the court’s decision summary said.

“(W)omen who wish to access lawful abortion services have a reasonable expectation of being able to do so without being confronted by protest activity designed to challenge and diminish their autonomy and undermine their resolve,” the court said. Women and abortion provider staff are “a captive audience who are compelled to witness anti–abortion activity that is unwelcome and intrusive.”

The court’s explanation for the ruling also cited the bill’s stated aim of implementing obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Igunnubole objected that the law’s criminalization of “influencing” is “vague” and “uncertain” and “reduces the threshold of criminality to an impermissibly low level.”

“Northern Ireland’s broadly drafted law hands arbitrary power to police officers, with the inevitable consequence being the unjust arrest and prosecution of those expressing pro-life views, even though such views are protected under domestic and international human rights law,” he added.

Another critic of the law is Alina Dulgheriu. She changed her mind about having an abortion because pro-life advocates at the doors of an abortion clinic offered to help her. She now speaks on behalf of the pro-life group Be Here for Me.

“What kind of society withholds help from vulnerable women?” Dulgheriu asked. “I didn’t want an abortion but I was abandoned by my partner, my friends, and society. My financial situation at the time would have made raising a child very challenging.”

“Thanks to the help I was offered by a group outside of a clinic before my appointment, my daughter is here today,” she said. “My experience is typical of hundreds of others. Refusing charitable volunteers from offering much-needed services and resources for women in my situation is wrong. Let them help.”

For its part, Precious Life said it “will not be deterred by this court ruling.”

“Our legal team is now working on how this ruling can be appealed and challenged in the European Court of Human Rights,” the group said. “Meanwhile, we will redouble our efforts in our public awareness campaigns to expose the horrific reality of what abortion does to an innocent baby in the womb.”

“In a humane society, the safest place for a baby should be their mother’s womb. Precious Life will work to create ‘safe zones’ for all unborn babies and their mothers throughout Northern Ireland.”

Lois McLatchie, communications officer for ADF UK, cited a 2018 Home Office review of the work of pro-life advocates outside abortion clinics. The most common pro-life efforts include quiet or silent prayer or offering leaflets about alternatives to abortion and charitable support for women. The review found that instances of harassment outside abortion clinics are “rare” and police already have powers to stop it.

“Censorship zones go much further. They introduce a disproportionate and unjustified blanket ban on all pro-life activity, including offering meaningful charitable help and support to women where they need it most,” McLatchie said. “Authorities do not hold a right to silence the public expression of a viewpoint with which they simply disagree.”

In addition to the Northern Ireland law, several U.K. town councils have passed similar laws.

Observers expect the decision of the Supreme Court will likely influence the direction of similar legislation in Scotland, England, and Wales.

Parliamentarians in England and Wales have also conveyed concern about the direction of religious freedom within their jurisdiction as the Public Order Bill makes its way through Parliament.

Clause 9 of the bill proposes to institute “buffer zones” around abortion clinics nationwide, which campaigners argue would have a detrimental impact on outreach for women facing crisis pregnancies while raising fundamental questions concerning freedom of religion and expression. The clause faced notable scrutiny in the House of Lords on Nov. 22 as peers across the political spectrum expressed their unease with the introduction of buffer zones.

“Westminster’s proposal to ban such activities is much further reaching than Northern Ireland’s,” Igunnubole commented. He said it would ban “informing,” “advising,” “persuading,” or even “occupying space” or “expressing opinion” with a penalty of up to two years in prison.

“This is clearly grossly disproportionate. Nobody should be censored for simply holding pro-life beliefs,” he said.

House expected to pass same-sex marriage bill Thursday

null / Kulniz/Shutterstock.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 7, 2022 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA) on Thursday, sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.

The bill, which would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and recognize same-sex marriages on a federal level, has drawn criticism from Catholic leaders for not providing strong enough protections for those who believe marriage is between one man and one woman — a belief in line with Church teaching.

C-SPAN Capitol Hill Producer Craig Caplan tweeted Wednesday that the House plans to vote on the final version of the RFMA Thursday morning, followed by a bill enrollment ceremony around 11:30 a.m. in the U.S. Capitol.

The final vote comes after the U.S. Senate, with the support of 12 Republicans, voted to pass the RFMA on Nov. 29. If it passes now, Biden, a Catholic, has pledged to sign it into law

While it would not require any state to allow same-sex couples to marry, the RFMA would require states to recognize any and all marriages — regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin” — performed in other states. 

The U.S. bishops stated in a November letter to Congress that the bill’s amendments do not sufficiently protect those with religious objections.

“The amended act will put the ministries of the Catholic Church, people of faith, and other Americans who uphold a traditional meaning of marriage at greater risk of government discrimination,” the letter stated.

“Our opposition to RMA by no means condones any hostility toward anyone who experiences same-sex attraction,” the bishops emphasized. “Catholic teaching on marriage is inseparable from Catholic teaching on the inherent dignity and worth of every human being. To attack one is to attack the other. Congress must have the courage to defend both.”

A United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ explanation appended to the letter read: “Given all this — that the bill establishes an affirmative, enforceable, comprehensive right to federal and interstate recognition of same-sex marriages but sets out religious liberty protections that are far from comprehensive, and are neither affirmative nor enforceable outside of the limited protections in Section 6(b) — it is fair to say that the amendment treats religious liberty as a second-class right.”

Democrats blocked an amendment Monday offered by Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas that would have included explicit protections for Americans who believe marriage is between one man and one woman. The same amendment, which has the support of the bishops, was previously introduced in the Senate by Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.

After the vote was initially delayed, Reuters reported that the legislation was expected to pass in the House later this week with bipartisan support.

The RFMA represents one of the first legislative responses to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. While the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization said that “this decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right,” Democrats have pointed to Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion suggesting the court should reconsider all “substantive due process” cases, including the 2015 Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage.

DOMA, which the present bill would repeal, is a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton that defined marriage federally as the union of a man and a woman, reserved federal benefits to heterosexual couples, and permitted states not to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states. DOMA was already effectively nullified by the 2013 and 2015 Supreme Court decisions United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. 

U.S. bishops back bill to protect pregnant workers as some warn it’s paid abortion leave

null / DONOT6_STUDIO / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 7, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Catholic bishops are confirming their support for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) amid concerns that the proposed legislation could require employers to pay for abortion expenses.

The U.S. Senate is currently considering a bipartisan bill that promises protections for pregnant employees. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in May. 

The legislation states that it aims to “eliminate discrimination and promote women’s health and economic security by ensuring reasonable workplace accommodations for workers whose ability to perform the functions of a job are limited by pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.”

The bill would require employers with 15 or more employees to make “reasonable accommodations to the known limitations” related to “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” — unless the employer can demonstrate that it would impose an undue hardship.

In a comment to CNA, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) confirmed its support. 

“As part of the USCCB’s longstanding advocacy in these areas [for women, children, and families in need], we specifically endorsed the version of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act reported out of the Senate HELP Committee (Aug. 3, 2021), which added key conscience protections for employers,” James Rogers, the chief communications officer for the USCCB, told CNA in a statement. 

The USCCB has repeatedly expressed support for the PWFA and encouraged members of Congress to support it as well. This legislation, the bishops say, will empower women rather than enable the destruction of the unborn in abortion.

“We believe that version of the bill, read in light of existing religious liberty protections, helps advance the USCCB’s goal of ensuring that no woman ever feels forced to choose between her future and the life of her child while protecting the conscience rights and religious freedoms of employers,” Rogers added.

He concluded: “We are eager to find a way forward to address any impediments to the bill’s passage.”

Rogers commented on this in light of the bishops’ current work related to the pro-life issue.

“In standing with women, children, and families in need, we should have policies to ensure that pregnant, working women are afforded appropriate accommodations to ensure their own health and the health of their pre-born children,” he told CNA. “The bishops have also articulated a comprehensive vision for the Church and public policy to support families. This includes the Walking with Moms in Need initiative as well as the bishops’ Oct. 26 letter on family supporting public policies in the wake of the Dobbs decision” that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Abortion concerns

Some groups, such as CatholicVote, have warned that the bill — as it stands — could be used to force employers to pay for abortion-related expenses. They add that the bill does not provide adequate protections for religious organizations. 

The Catholic advocacy organization cautioned in November that, in the context of the current legal system and culture at large, “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” includes both contraception and abortion.

The group quoted Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina: “If an employee working for a religious organization requests time off to have an abortion procedure, H.R. 1065 could require the organization to comply with this request as a reasonable accommodation of known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.”

In the Senate, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky expressed similar concerns, with a spokesperson telling CNA: “The bill could force religious employers to provide accommodations that arise from an abortion, which could violate the free exercise of their religious beliefs.”

Responding to concerns, a Republican Senate aide told CNA in a statement that “the legislation as introduced does not supersede current law protections for religious employers, which is why this legislation is endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

Unlike the House version, the current version of the PWFA being considered in the Senate explicitly states in its text that the legislation would not require employer-sponsored health plans to pay for certain things — such as abortion.

Under section 7, it specifies that “Nothing in this Act shall be construed … by regulation or otherwise, to require an employer-sponsored health plan to pay for or cover any particular item, procedure, or treatment or to affect any right or remedy available under any other federal, state, or local law with respect to any such payment or coverage requirement.”

Pregnancy protections

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also supports the PWFA, saying that “no one should be forced to choose between their job and a healthy pregnancy.” While Congress has outlawed pregnancy discrimination, the ACLU warns that employers routinely deny pregnant workers temporary job modifications, from more frequent breaks and schedule changes to reassignment of hazardous tasks.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. 

The act’s text mirrors the PWFA: “The terms ‘because of sex’ or ‘on the basis of sex’ include, but are not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions,” it reads. 

It also clarifies: “This subsection shall not require an employer to pay for health insurance benefits for abortion,” except in cases where the mother’s life is endangered or where there are medical complications arising from an abortion.

The U.S. bishops stress the difference between the 1978 act and the PWFA in a backgrounder.

“While the current set of laws requires an employer to have already made an accommodation for a different worker and for the pregnant worker to be aware of this instance before a reasonable modification is required, the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act begins by asking if an accommodation is possible,” the bishops say. “This approach is modeled after the well-established Americans with Disabilities Act framework, with which employers are already familiar.”

Christian pro-family group denied access to Virginia restaurant because of values

null / arturasker / Shutterstock

Boston, Mass., Dec 7, 2022 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

A Christian pro-family organization in Virginia was told by a local restaurant that the organization would not be allowed to host a gathering there because of its values.

The Family Foundation — which has a mission of promoting biblical, family values in the state of Virginia — had a Nov. 30 reservation at the Metzger Bar and Butchery in Richmond in order to update some of their supporters on their work.

An owner of the restaurant contacted the organization an hour and a half before the event was to take place to inform them that their reservation was cancelled.

The owners of the restaurant put out a statement on social media Dec. 1 explaining their reasoning.

“Metzger Bar and Butchery has always prided itself on being an inclusive environment for people to dine in,” the statement says.

“In eight years of service we have very rarely refused service to anyone who wished to dine with us. Recently we refused service to a group that had booked an event with us after the owners of Metzger found out it was a group of donors to a political organization that seeks to deprive women and LGBTQ+ persons of their basic human rights in Virginia,” it says.

Victoria Cobb, vice president of The Family Foundation, condemned the restaurant’s actions, saying that discrimination toward someone because of their faith is against the law.

“There are those that do believe they violated the law, and certainly we think discriminating against people because of their faith is unlawful,” Cobb told CNA in an interview Wednesday.

“I don’t think anyone wants to think that we live in a country where there’s going to be restaurants that have a political litmus test or a religious litmus test at their door before somebody can walk in and have dinner,” she added.