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Letters to the editor about the real meaning of the Eucharist

Letters to the editor: NCR readers respond to Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese's series about the Eucharist, in which he examines real presence, the Eucharist's Jewish roots, and the meaning of the eucharistic prayer.

EWTN on fake news: Physician, heal thyself

Associating "fake news" with only one side in the culture wars is itself a kind of fake news, says columnist Michael Sean Winters.

How the Salesians are helping youth in Syria, a country in its 12th year of civil war

Young Salesians in Syria. / Credit: Salesian ANS

ACI Prensa Staff, Mar 16, 2023 / 17:30 pm (CNA).

March 15 marked the 12th year of civil war in Syria, where bombs, poverty, and earthquakes have destroyed the country. Nevertheless, the Salesians — the order founded by St. John Bosco in 1859 to help disadvantaged youth — are trying to give hope to young people who have lost everything.

According to the Salesian News Agency (ANS), the armed conflict has focused on the north in an area controlled by rebels. This was compounded beginning in 2013 by attacks by the Islamic State terrorist group, which terrorized cities and killed Christians.

According to ANS, the war has taken a toll of more than a half million killed, 2.1 million injured, 13 million displaced, and an estimated 6.6 million refugees in other nations.

“More than 11 [million] of the 17 million inhabitants that the country has today urgently need humanitarian aid to survive, and among them there are 6.5 million minors,” the Salesians noted in a report.

All of this is aggravated by the lack of work and electricity, the rise in the price of fuel, and the devaluation of the currency. But more worrisome is the experience of future generations that are now growing up.

According to Father Alejandro León, superior of the Salesians in the Middle East, the younger generation “only knows war, and many young people who have lived most of their lives in the midst of violence are thinking of leaving the country.”

León noted that although they are educated in the culture of peace, many adolescents openly state that “they do not see a future for themselves and their families.”

As if this were not enough, northwest Syria suffered a powerful earthquake on Feb. 6, which along with its more than 11,000 aftershocks has killed almost 6,000 Syrians, destroyed more than 100,000 buildings, and left 1.5 million people homeless.

Despite everything, ANS noted that in these 12 years of war and destruction, the Salesians have not closed their doors but have financially assisted hundreds of families and welcomed the displaced.

They have also provided business training to groups of young people, some of whom have even received financial support to start their own businesses. The order has also rented apartments in order to give classes to the children and prevent them from traveling long distances to study.

The religious received many needy families in Aleppo and Kafroun after the earthquake. They are promoting volunteering by university students to serve children who are seeking to get up to grade level. In addition, they plan to build a youth center near Damascus.

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

Church in Spain has fewer than 1,000 diocesan seminarians for first time in 21 years

null / Credit: Cathopic / Moisés Becerra

ACI Prensa Staff, Mar 16, 2023 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Spanish seminaries continue to suffer a downward trend in enrollment. According to official data from the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, in the 2022-2023 academic year the total number of aspirants to the priesthood is fewer than a thousand for the first time in 21 years, since records were first kept on a national level.

Every March 19 on the solemnity of St. Joseph, the Catholic Church in Spain observes Seminary Day and the bishops’ conference provides data on seminary enrollment. In the current 2022-2023 academic year there are 974 candidates for the diocesan priesthood.

The number of young men entering the seminary has also fallen for the first time below 200, at 172, and ordinations were fewer than 100, at 97.

These are significant figures, although for years there has been a downward trend. There were close to 1,700 seminarians in the 2002-2003 academic year, when more than 350 men entered and almost 200 were ordained.

Already in the 2016-2017 academic year, the number of aspirants to the priesthood fell for the first time below 1,300, and in the 2018-2019 academic year there were only 1,203.

The bishops’ subcommittee for seminaries said that the drop in the number of 54 seminarians compared with the 2021-2022 academic year “is explained, among other things, by the new methodology in data collection and was the responsibility of the Office of Transparency of the Episcopal Conference.”

Other factors cited affecting the number of seminarians include “secularization and lack of commitment on the part of not a few young people, which are also reflected in other statistical data, such as the decreasing number of marriages, both civil and ecclesiastical.”

In addition, Spain has a very serious demographic problem with fewer and fewer children being born and the population aging more and more.

Despite the decrease in numbers, the Spanish Bishops’ Conference encouraged the faithful “to be grateful that a significant number of young people live committed to searching for the will of God, who invites us to embrace a beautiful vocation in his Church.”

Given the serious import of the data, the conference launched the Vocational Pastoral Service in September 2022, which reports to the General Secretariat and whose objective is “to create in our pilgrim Church in Spain a vocational culture that helps children, young people, and adults to consider their vocation.”

For five years the Spanish Bishops’ Conference has not offered data broken down by diocese.

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

Here’s why a popular canon law website will have to remove much of its content

null / Credit: Alex Verrone/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Mar 16, 2023 / 16:35 pm (CNA).

A popular canon law website, CanonLaw.Ninja, is removing much of its content by Friday, March 17, to comply with a copyright complaint, which will leave the website without an English translation of the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law. 

The website, which describes itself as “a resource for both professional and armchair canonists,” includes an up-to-date translation of the Code of Canon Law with a tool that helps users easily find the information they’re seeking. Father Paul Hedman created the website when he was a seminarian and pays for the website’s upkeep with donations from users.

“Prior to my site, the only place that the code was online was, which was out of date, poorly formatted, and unsearchable,” Hedman said on Twitter

“So I made a tool to be of help. Sourcing the canons from the Vatican website and other places the code was freely available, I put together a website that for the past several years has helped hundreds of canonists, students, and Christian faithful know the law of the Church,” he wrote.

Hedman was served with a cease-and-desist order from the Canon Law Society of America (CLSA), which is the copyright holder of the translation. 

“The Code of Canon Law, Latin-English Edition,” which is the society-owned translation, is sold on the CLSA website for $75 but is currently out of stock. “The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches” is available for $50. “Dignitas Conubii: Norms and Commentary” is also available for $50. 

The Minnesota priest tweeted that the letter “came as a shock” and wondered why “the CLSA [would] want to prevent people from accessing the law” and why they had not contacted him before taking legal action, based on the principles of Canon 1446. 

“If the CLSA chooses to make their fine translation of the code less accessible, the study [and] application of canon law will suffer,” Hedman said. “I beg them to reconsider: rather than make an adversary of a priest trying to serve the Church, be a team for the salvation of souls — the Lex Suprema.”

Hedman said he requested several alternative solutions to the problem, which would have allowed the content to stay on the website, but the CLSA did not accept any of them. He offered to stop collecting donations, split the donations with CLSA, pay yearly royalties, or even give the CLSA rights to the tool. 

“I am asking the CLSA to reconsider their course of action and allow for licensing of their translation of the code so that it may be used on,” Hedman said. “It would be regrettable if the resource had to be temporarily disabled until another translation can be found.”

The CLSA did not respond to requests for comment from CNA. 

Some priests took to Twitter to voice their opposition to the legal action. 

“The reality is that whether it’s a biblical translation (USCCB) or translation of the code (CLSA), these things need to move into the public domain after cost is recouped,” Father Josh Miller tweeted. “Instead, they end up paying for the cocktail parties, and that’s pretty disgraceful.”

Father Matthew Schneider, a priest with the Legionaries of Christ, urged the CLSA to work with Hedman to ensure the website can continue to function as it has. 

“Please find some way to work with Fr. Paul & keep operating with the best English translation of canon law,” he tweeted to the Canon Law Society’s Twitter handle.

The cease-and-desist letter demands Hedman remove and destroy all copyrighted material from the website and halt any further use, reproduction, and transmission that would infringe on CLSA’s copyright. It further demands that Hedman destroy all materials, including physical copies, of the copyrighted translation, except for publications purchased from CLSA. 

According to the cease-and-desist letter, copyrighted materials include the website’s Code of Canon Law translation, the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches translation, and the Dignitas Connubii translation, which is a Vatican document on the nullification of marriages. This would not affect the other material on the website. 

The letter requests that the content be removed on March 16, but Hedman told CNA that he was given a one-day extension. He said he will comply with all of the demands in the letter and remove the copyrighted materials by Friday, March 17. 

“I fully intend to comply with the cease-and-desist order and remove the content that the CLSA owns, if that is what it comes to,” Hedman said in a tweet. “I hold no animosity against the society, and if I ever became a canonist would plan to join.”

Ecclesiastical documents are often copyrighted, except for older documents that have entered the public domain. According to Canon 828: “It is not permitted to reprint collections of decrees or acts published by some ecclesiastical authority unless the prior permission of the same authority has been obtained and the conditions prescribed by it have been observed.” 

Other Catholics have also had similar problems when trying to republish ecclesiastical works and specific translations. Matthew Warner, who founded a church communications software company called FlockNote, sent free daily emails with excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was meant to cover the entire catechism in one year. 

He discontinued that practice after he received a cease-and-desist letter from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which owns the copyright to the catechism.

The English version of the Code of Canon Law is available on the Vatican’s website. 

UPDATE: Where are Catholics allowed to eat corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day this Lent?

St. Patrick and corned beef. / Left: Hope Phillips / Shutterstock. Right: Slawomir Fajer / Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Mar 16, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

This year St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday.

For those who aren’t Catholic but are keen on observing the feast day with green beer and the traditional corned beef and cabbage, this is something of a happy coincidence and a great way to end the work week.

For Catholics it’s problematic. It’s Lent, a penitential time when Catholics are supposed to abstain from meat on Fridays.

As the luck of the Irish would have it, there is a way out of this dilemma. Diocesan bishops can give the faithful a dispensation to allow them to eat meat on March 17.  The National Catholic Register’s Matt McDonald surveyed all of the bishops in the U.S. to find out which ones are offering a free pass on St. Patrick’s Day.

Here’s what he heard back:

“As of Thursday, March 16, 73.1% of the dioceses — 128 — were offering some relief from the no-meat-on-Fridays-during-Lent rule for St. Patrick’s Day.

“Of those saying some form of yes, 94 diocesan bishops are providing a dispensation with no strings attached — although many of those bishops suggest extra prayers or spiritual exercises or abstaining from meat on another day. Thirty-four diocesan bishops said some form of ‘yes, but …’  — requiring a substitute through what canon law calls a ‘commutation’ of the requirement, such as attending Mass on St. Patrick’s Day, saying the Breastplate of St. Patrick, praying the rosary, abstaining from meat another day, or helping the poor.

“Also in the yes-but category is the Archdiocese for the U.S. Military Services, which is requiring abstinence from meat on another day the same week as St. Patrick’s Day for those planning to eat meat on Friday, March 17.

“Forty-five diocesan bishops have said no to a general dispensation or commutation for all Catholics in the diocese, although many of those say they would grant individual dispensations upon request. That’s 25.7% of the dioceses.”

So, before heading out to celebrate, here’s a handy map showing which dioceses have given the green light (sorry) to eating meat on St. Patrick’s Day:

To learn about the history of the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day by Irish Catholics in the United States read this fascinating article by McDonald in the National Catholic Register.

Texas lawmakers propose making illegal immigration a felony

Migrants, mostly of Venezuelan origin, attempt to forcibly cross into the United States at the Paso del Norte International Bridge in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, Mexico, on March 12, 2023. / Photo by HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP via Getty Images

Washington D.C., Mar 16, 2023 / 15:24 pm (CNA).

The Republican leadership in the Texas House announced last week that passing a bill to make illegal immigration a felony is a top priority this spring.

The “Border Protection Unit Act,” introduced last week by state Republican Rep. Matt Schaefer and supported by key leaders of the majority-Republican Texas House of Representatives, would create a specialized border protection police force and make illegal immigration a state felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan issued a March 10 press release announcing that House leadership will prioritize passing the Border Protection Unit Act. 

“Addressing our state’s border and humanitarian crisis is a must-pass issue for the Texas House this year, and I thank Representatives Guillen and Schaefer for filing … [bills that] will lead to a safer Texas that overall reduces the cost to taxpayers,” Phelan said.

The act would give the new border protection unit full legal authority to “arrest, detain, and deter individuals crossing the border illegally including with the use of nondeadly force.” Additionally, the unit’s chief, who would be appointed by the governor, would have the authority to deputize civilians “to participate in unit operations and functions” so long as those individuals have not been convicted of a felony.”

Another bill proposed by state Rep. Ryan Guillen would establish a Border Safety Oversight Committee to oversee the new border protection unit and provide border policy recommendations to the Legislature.

The Texas House Mexican American Legislative Caucus immediately denounced Schaefer’s proposed legislation, calling it an “extreme vigilante death squads policy.” 

“This dangerous, radical, and unconstitutional proposal which empowers border vigilantes to hunt migrants and racially profile Latinos is going to result in the death of innocent people,” the statement read.

Schaefer responded in a tweet: 

“The Texas Border Protection Unit will be an organization of professional men and women hired/trained under the authority of the Dept. of Public Safety to protect Texans. Many will be licensed peace officers, others trained and specifically authorized by the Governor to make lawful arrests. Exactly as the Nat’l Guard & DPS operate now under Operation Lone Star.”

Operation Lone Star is an ongoing border security initiative that was first launched in the spring of 2021 by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. 

The initiative has dedicated billions of state dollars and resources to border security and sent thousands of public safety officers and National Guard soldiers to the Texas-Mexico border. 

To become law, Schaefer’s bill will have to pass both houses of the Texas Legislature before the end of the legislative session in May. Republicans hold majorities in both the Texas House and Senate, making increased border security policies very possible.

According to the Border Protection Unit Act’s text, if two-thirds of both houses approve the act it will take effect immediately. If the bill is passed without a two-thirds majority, it will take effect on Sept. 1 of this year.

Texas Republican Sen. Brian Birdwell introduced similar legislation in the Senate, making illegally crossing the border a state felony punishable by jail time. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who oversees the state Senate, has signaled his support for Birdwell’s bill.

Abbott, who is a Catholic Republican, has said that securing the border is an “emergency item” for the 2023 Texas legislative session.

A Feb. 16 press release from Abbott’s office announced that he intends to work with the Legislature to “secure another $4.6 billion to bolster border security efforts” and to “pass legislation making it at least a 10-year mandatory minimum jail sentence for anyone caught smuggling in Texas.”

With a record 2.76 million-plus undocumented migrants crossing the border in the fiscal year 2022, illegal immigration has been a growing concern for not only Republicans but also some key Democrats, including President Joe Biden.

In February, the Biden administration announced a new policy that will take effect May 11 and automatically deny asylum to migrants who cross the border illegally or cross other countries illegally to get into the United States. Biden’s new rule, which is his most restrictive border policy yet, will remain in effect until May 11, 2025.

Responding to Biden’s new policy, Dylan Corbett of the Catholic relief group Hope Border Institute told CNA that those setting immigration policy should consider the effects on migrants.

“We spend billions of dollars every year on border and immigration enforcement. There is no doubt that we can reinvest some of those resources into putting in place a safe, efficient, welcoming system at the border that upholds the rights of vulnerable migrants and keeps our country safe.

“At this point, it is only a question of overcoming the political hurdles. Unfortunately, many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle today only see the political cost of making progress on immigration, but they don’t realize that there is also a moral cost to shutting the door on the most vulnerable that is far more consequential,” Corbett said.

UK bishops say law criminalizing prayer outside of abortion clinics is discriminatory

Father Sean Gough, a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England, faced criminal charges for praying for free speech outside an abortion clinic after business hours in violation of a strict buffer zone law in the English city of Birmingham. “I pray wherever I go, inside my head, for the people around me. How can it be a crime for a priest to pray?” he said in a Feb. 9, 2023, statement from the ADF UK legal group. / Credit: ADF UK

Denver, Colo., Mar 16, 2023 / 12:52 pm (CNA).

Catholic bishops in the United Kingdom said a new law criminalizing prayer and outreach outside abortion clinics in England and Wales discriminates against people of faith.

“We lament that prayer, holding certain views, or peacefully witnessing to the Gospel of life in certain ‘zones’ across these lands may now be a criminal offense,” Auxiliary Bishop John Sherrington of Westminster, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales’ lead bishop for life issues, said March 15.

“Throughout this bill’s passage through Parliament, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has reiterated its concern that this proposed legislation, despite any other intent, constitutes discrimination and disproportionately affects people of faith,” Sherrington said.

Britain’s House of Commons approved legislation on March 7 to create “buffer zones” across the country, which strictly bans behavior that “interferes with any person’s decision to access, provide, or facilitate the provision of abortion services” around abortion facilities.

The law’s broad provision would prohibit a wide range of behavior, including silent prayer.

Violation would be punished with a fine. However, the fine is potentially unlimited.

Several individuals have already run afoul of buffer zones enacted by localities. Adam Smith-Connor, whose unborn son died in an abortion decades earlier, was fined for praying outside an abortion facility under a protection order in Bournemouth in November 2022.

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, co-director of March for Life UK, and Archdiocese of Birmingham priest Father Sean Gough were acquitted in February of all charges against them after they were accused of breaking a Birmingham council protection order for praying in front of an abortion clinic. The charges concerned separate incidents. The day before the vote in Parliament, Vaughan-Spruce was detained for praying again outside the same abortion facility.

The bishops of England and Wales were especially concerned that lawmakers rejected an amendment to protect silent prayer and consensual communication in affected buffer zones. The amendment failed by a vote of 299-116.

Religious freedom is essential for society and human flourishing, the bishops’ statement said.

“This includes the right to manifest one’s beliefs in public including through witness, the raising of one’s mind and heart to God in prayer, and charitable outreach,” they added. “Yet this new law potentially inhibits this, restricting freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.”

The bishops emphasized that such zones could be expanded to other topics and these raise “serious questions about the state’s powers in relation to the individual in a free society, both those with faith and those without.”

Paul Coleman, executive director of the religious freedom advocacy group ADF International, characterized the buffer zones as “censorship zones.”

Writing in a March 10 Newsweek essay, he said the law is “about leveraging the full power of government censorship to suppress a particular viewpoint, giving police the authority to question and arrest individuals solely on the basis of their thoughts.”

In their statement, the bishops condemned all harassment and intimidation of women and said there is “little, if any, evidence to suggest that vigil participants engage in these behaviors.” The new law, they said, is too broad and “both disproportionate and unnecessary.”

At the same time, peaceful prayer and outreach outside abortion facilities are part of Christian witness and practice, according to the bishops.

“Christian prayer cannot be confined to places of worship or the privacy of one’s own home,” they said. “In each moment of every day, Christians are called to prayer.”

They cited Jesus’ “greatest commandment,” to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our mind, and with all our soul and to love our neighbor as ourself.”

“This new law potentially strikes at the heart of being able to respond to this call and duty,” the bishops said. Christians are called to show “special regard for the most vulnerable and the poorest among us.”

“Who can be more vulnerable than a baby in the womb?” they asked. “As Catholics we hold that life is sacred from the first moment of conception and that harming, attacking, or denying life in these circumstances is completely foreign to the religious and cultural way of thinking of the people of God.”

For decades, since abortion was legalized in 1967, Catholics have taken part in “peaceful and often silent witness to the dignity of human life outside the places where over 10 million unborn lives have been taken.”

“Catholics feel a strong call to witness through peaceful presence to the sanctity of life and the injustice of abortion,” they said.

At the same time, love of neighbor motivates believers to “offer practical help to those in need.” Catholics have long offered “vital practical support outside abortions clinics to expectant mothers who might dearly wish to keep their babies.”

“Where there is need, Christ bids us to serve,” the bishops of England and Wales said.

First listen

Pencil Preaching for Friday, March 17, 2023

Biden's greenlight for major Alaska oil project draws moral rebukes

The Biden administration's approval this week of a massive oil drilling project in northern Alaska amounts to "a betrayal" of the president's pledges on climate change and endangers Arctic communities with pollution, said faith-based organizations who joined environmental and Indigenous groups in condemning the decision.