July 19, 2023 // National

News Briefs: July 23, 2023

Pence Pushes Back on False Claims about Ukraine’s Religious Freedom at GOP Forum

DES MOINES, Iowa (OSV News) – Former Vice President Mike Pence had a tense exchange with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Friday, July 14, at an Iowa candidate forum about the war in Ukraine, shedding light on both how Republican presidential candidates are navigating increasingly conflicted views on the subject among their base, but also an oft-repeated disinformation tactic by Russian propagandists. At a conference hosted by the Family Leadership Summit, a prominent and influential evangelical group in a state home to the first contest in the presidential nomination process, Carlson argued against providing U.S. support to Ukraine to fend off Russia’s invasion, sparring with Pence, who supports providing such aid. Carlson continued to push Pence on Ukraine, arguing that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is “persecuting Christians.” Zelenskyy’s government has taken steps to restrict Moscow-affiliated Orthodox churches under the influence of the Russian government as it seeks to fend off that country’s invasion, a distinction Pence argued was an important one. “I asked the Christian leader in Kyiv if that was happening, and he assured me it was not – people were not being persecuted for their religious beliefs,” Pence said, adding that “he assured me that the Zelenskyy government was protecting religious liberty” in Ukraine while combating “small elements” of a Russian Orthodox Church run by the Kremlin. OSV News in-person interviews with Orthodox and Catholic leaders in Ukraine confirmed Pence’s portrayal while repudiating Carlson’s characterization of Ukraine. The Ukraine’s Institute for Religious Freedom also reports that at least 494 religious buildings, theological institutions, and sacred places “were wholly destroyed, damaged, or looted” by the Russian military as of Jan. 31, 2023, thanks to its invasion.

Allegations Chicago Police Sexually Abused Migrants ‘Disturb’ Catholic Advocates

CHICAGO (OSV News) – A Catholic immigration advocate group told OSV News it is “disturbed by allegations of migrant abuse by law enforcement in Chicago.” The Chicago Police Department acknowledged on Thursday, July 6, that an internal investigation is underway regarding claims one or more officers from the city’s 10th District (Ogden) had sexual relations with migrants temporarily being housed in the station. The admission followed a complaint received earlier that day by the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability. No details about the migrants – including their ages and genders – or the police officers allegedly involved in the matter have yet been released. For several weeks, migrants bused to Chicago from the U.S.-Mexico border have sought shelter in police stations, as the city has struggled to find housing for them. Anna Marie Gallagher, Executive Director of CLINIC (the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.) based in Silver Spring, Maryland, told OVS News in an email that “sadly, we know all too well the dangers that vulnerable individuals face when seeking refuge in the United States.” According to the United Nations International Organization for Migration, irregular migration – usually undertaken in response to violence, poverty, and natural disasters – places women, girls, and LGBTQ+ persons at disproportionately higher risk for gender-based violence, including human trafficking. “Catholic social teaching reminds us that every life is deserving of dignity and respect,” said Gallagher. “We will continue to advocate for conditions in which migrants and refugees are met with open arms, safety, and respect.”

Appeals Court Dismisses Former Guidance Counselor’s Case Against Catholic School

CHICAGO (OSV News) – A federal appeals court ruled on Thursday, July 13, that a Catholic high school and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis have a constitutional right to hire staff who will uphold core religious teachings. The case, Fitzgerald v. Roncalli High School and Archdiocese of Indianapolis, involved Shelly Fitzgerald, whose contract was not renewed because she entered a same-sex union in violation of her contract and Catholic teaching. School officials said her conduct was prohibited by the agreement she had signed with Roncalli. Fitzgerald filed a discrimination lawsuit in 2019 against the school and the archdiocese. In September of 2022, a district court threw out the lawsuit, noting that “Roncalli entrusted Fitzgerald to teach the Catholic faith and carry out” its religious mission. She appealed her case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. In the July 13 ruling, the circuit court dismissed Fitzgerald’s case, saying that the district court properly granted the defendant’s summary judgment on the ministerial exception that protects a religious school’s hiring and firing practices from government intrusion. The ruling “is common-sense: decisions about who conveys the Catholic faith to Catholic school children are for the Church, not the government,” said Joseph Davis, Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the defendant. “Religious schools exist to pass on the faith to the next generation, and to do that, they need the freedom to choose leaders who are fully committed to their religious mission.”

Abuse Allegations Down, but Challenges Remain, US Bishops Say in Report

WASHINGTON, D.C. (OSV News) – Abuse allegations against Catholic clergy and religious in the U.S. declined last year, but challenges remain with protecting vulnerable adults and ensuring online safety, according to the U.S. Bishops. On Friday, July 14, the USCCB’s Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection released the “2022 Annual Report – Findings and Recommendations on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” USCCB President Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio said in his preface the report was “a milestone accounting of the continued efforts in the ministry of protection, healing, and accompaniment.” The document – covering the period of July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022 – noted that 1,998 individuals came forward with 2,704 allegations of abuse, with claims down 399 from 2021 and 1,548 from 2020. The decrease was largely due to resolutions of allegations received through lawsuits, compensation programs, and bankruptcies. Sixteen reports during the period involved current minors, with all other allegations made by adults citing abuse as minors. The secretariat said in its assessment “the year-over-year trends are encouraging as the number of current minor allegations in the U.S. remains low.” However, while many dioceses and eparchies are exceeding the specific requirements of the Dallas Charter, specific challenges remain in ensuring review boards function properly, and in clarifying reporting procedures for abuse against “vulnerable adults,” which are treated under the motu proprio “Vox Estis Lux Mundi” rather than the charter.

‘God Protected Him’: Louisiana Priest Stable After Machete Attack

MELVILLE, Louisiana (OSV News) – Father Stephen Ugwu, Pastor of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Melville, Louisiana, is recovering following a July 13 attack with a machete. The priest is at a hospital being treated for lacerations to his head and body. According to local media reports, a man wielding a machete attacked the priest at the church’s campus after Father Ugwu declined the man’s request to perform work in exchange for food, leaving Father Ugwu with cuts on his head and body. Melville police arrested the attacker and assisted Father Ugwu, a priest from Nigeria serving the Diocese of Lafayette. The suspect, identified as Johnny Dwayne Neely, 58, of Palmetto, is in custody, according to St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office. He faces charges of attempted second-degree murder, hate crimes, and home invasion and a bench warrant. Based on words used by the suspect, Melville Police Chief Phillip Lucas told local media that he believed the attack was racially motivated. Blue Rolfes, Diocesan Director of Communications, told OSV News on Saturday, July 15, that Father Ugwu’s condition was improving. He has some “serious wounds,” she said, but he is receiving the care he needs, and doctors are optimistic about his recovery. “He feels blessed to be alive and that God protected him during his time of need,” Rolfes said.

FDA Approves First Over-the-Counter Birth Control Pill

WASHINGTON, D.C. (OSV News) – The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday, July 13, announced it approved the sale of a birth control pill without a prescription for the first time in the United States, a move that will increase the availability of oral contraception and impact ongoing debates about abortion policy post-Roe. While some have called for expanded access to contraception in the wake of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade last year, others have argued that their misuse without medical supervision could cause more unintended pregnancies.

In a guide about the Church’s teaching on issues including contraception, the National Catholic Bioethics Center describes contraception as “any action that is specifically intended, whether as an end or as a means, to prevent procreation either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse.” Bishop Robert E. Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, said in a statement that the oral contraceptive announcement “flies in the face of responsible medical practice and concerns for women’s health.” The bishop added that, “allowing this hormonal contraception to be dispensed ‘over the counter’ – without the supervision of a doctor and contrary to the mounting evidence of many harmful side effects – violates the Hippocratic Oath by putting the health of women at grave risk.” Opill is expected to be available for retail sale in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2024, its maker, Perrigo, said in a statement.

Pope Francis poses for a photo with children in the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall July 18, 2023. About 250 children of Vatican employees are attending a summer program July 3-Aug. 4. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

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