VATICAN CITY (CNS) – A year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Pope Francis asked, “Can the Lord forgive so many crimes and so much violence? He is the God of peace.”

At the end of his weekly general audience Feb. 22 and with a group of Ukrainian parliamentarians seated in the front row, the pope noted that Feb. 24 would mark “one year since the invasion of Ukraine, a year since this absurd and cruel war – a sad anniversary.”

“The record of deaths, injuries, refugees and displaced people, destruction and economic and social damage speaks for itself,” he said.

Pope Francis signs a Ukrainian flag for a Ukrainian child at the end of his weekly general audience Feb. 22, 2023, in the Vatican audience hall. During the audience, the pope noted that the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is Feb. 24 and prayed for an end to the war. (CNS photo/Vatican Media

At every general audience and public recitation of the Angelus prayer for the past year, Pope Francis has asked people to join him in praying for peace and in offering concrete assistance to the millions of Ukrainians who have sought safety abroad and for the millions of others displaced within Ukraine or struggling to survive because of the fighting.

But, with the anniversary of Russia’s invasion just two days away, the pope’s appeal Feb. 22 was even more intense.

Promising that Catholics continue to be close to the “martyred Ukrainian people who continue to suffer,” the pope asked, “Has everything possible been done to stop the war?”

“I appeal to all those who have authority over nations to commit themselves concretely to ending the conflict, to reaching a cease-fire and to starting peace negotiations,” the pope said. “That which is built on ruins will never be a true victory.”

LOS ANGELES (OSV News) – Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced Feb. 22 that the suspect arrested in the shooting death of Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop David G. O’Connell has been charged with murder.

Carlos Medina, 61, was taken into custody the morning of Feb. 20 by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies as the prime suspect in the shooting death of the bishop, who was found dead in his home in the Los Angeles suburb of Hacienda Heights on the afternoon of Feb. 18.

“This was a brutal act of violence against a person who dedicated his life to making our neighborhoods safer, healthier and always serving with love and compassion,” Gascón said in a statement. “As Catholics around Los Angeles and the nation start the holy season of Lent, let us reflect on Bishop O’Connell’s life of service and dedication to those in greatest need of our care.”

Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop David G. O’Connell is pictured speaking with parishioners outside St. Frances X. Cabrini Church in Los Angeles July 19, 2015. According to local news reports, Los Angeles County sheriffs found him dead of a gunshot wound at his home Feb. 18, 2023. Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced Feb. 22 that Carlos Medina, 61, has been charged with murder. (OSV News photo/CNS file, John Rueda, The Tidings)

“Charging Mr. Medina will never repair the tremendous harm that was caused by this callous act, but it does take us one step closer to accountability,” he added.

Medina was charged with one count of murder “and a special allegation that he personally used a firearm,” according to a news release from Gascon’s office. Medina was to be arraigned later the same day.

At an afternoon news conference Feb. 20, LA County Sheriff Robert G. Luna announced that citizen tips led to the 8:15 a.m. arrest of Medina, the husband of a housekeeper who had worked at Bishop O’Connell’s home, after an all-night search.

In an emotional press conference, Luna said “my heart grieves” for the death of Bishop O’Connell, based on all the calls of support he received in the investigation over a period of 48 hours.

“This man, this bishop, made a huge difference in our community,” said Luna. “He was loved. It is very sad that we are gathered here today about this murder.”

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, one of the speakers at the press conference, stopped several times during his remarks to collect himself. At one point, Luna put his arm around Archbishop Gomez’s shoulder to comfort him.

“On behalf of our entire community, I want to share thanks for your professionalism and sensitivity,” Archbishop Gomez said of the investigation. “It is a sad and painful moment for all of us. Let us keep praying for Bishop Dave and his family, just as he prayed for law enforcement officials.”

Bishop O’Connell was originally from Brooklodge, Glanmire, in County Cork, the largest county in Ireland. He studied for the priesthood at the former All Hallows College in Dublin and was ordained to serve in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1979.

Bishop O’Connell was named an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles by Pope Francis in July 2015. Since then, he had served as episcopal vicar for the San Gabriel Pastoral Region, one of the LA archdiocese’s five regions.

During his time as auxiliary bishop in Los Angeles, evangelization, pastoral care for immigrants, and ensuring the future of his region’s Catholic schools were all top priorities for Bishop O’Connell, who believed that “parishes and schools are powerful instruments of transformation of people’s lives and of neighborhoods.”

Before being named a bishop, he was well-known for his pastoral work in south LA — where he served as pastor of four different parishes — in the years before and after the 1992 Rodney King riots. He played a key role, along with other local faith leaders, in bringing together communities already suffering from gang violence, poverty and drugs, while working to restore trust between community members and law enforcement.

(OSV News) – The latest phase of the 2021-24 Synod on Synodality is coming to a close, with a final document to be written over the next six weeks and submitted to the Vatican by March 31.

On Feb. 17, the North American Synod Team, led by bishops from Canada and the United States, wrapped up a weeklong retreat in Orlando, Florida, to synthesize the results of synod listening sessions throughout the two countries. (According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Church in Mexico is participating in the synod with the Latin American bishops’ council, or CELAM, given its long partnership with that council.)

The team — eight bishops, three laywomen, two priests, two laymen and two women religious — spent time in prayer, discernment and discussion to distill responses for inclusion in the text, which forms a response to the Document for the Continental Stage issued by the Vatican’s general secretariat of the synod in October 2022.

The final document for the continental stage from North America, along with the contributions of the six other continental assemblies, will form the basis of the “instrumentum laboris,” or working document, to be released by the general secretariat in June 2023.

The synod itself – the theme of which is “Communion, Mission, Participation” – has been “a tremendous grace,” Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, said in a Feb. 21 statement issued by the USCCB.

Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, speaks during a Nov. 17, 2021, session of the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (OSV News photo/CNS file, Bob Roller)

In particular, “a deep love for Jesus Christ and the church animated the continental assemblies, and the participants expressed a great desire to pray and work for a more synodal style in the church going forward,” said Bishop Flores, who has been overseeing the synodal process in the U.S. “The synodal way has focused more attention on the baptismal dignity and mission of Christ’s members, and has brought great hope that we can, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, strengthen our communion with one another and with the Lord.”

Bishop Raymond Poisson of Saint-Jérôme and of Mont-Laurier, Quebec, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), said he was grateful for a renewed sense of mission and kinship among the church in North America.

“Deepening relationships between the church in Canada and the U.S. is invaluable for the ongoing synodal path,” he said. “Bringing our two countries together in a meaningful way will serve to form the foundation for greater unity among the people of God in North America.”

Launched by Pope Francis in October 2021, the multi-year synod seeks to cultivate an ongoing dynamic of discernment, listening, humility and engagement within the church.

The word “synod” itself derives from the Greek for “with” and “path,” signifying a way in which “the people of God walk together,” according to a 2018 document by the International Theological Commission.

Initially scheduled to culminate at the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October 2023, the synod was extended by Pope Francis to include a second session in October 2024, allowing for what he called “a more relaxed period of discernment.”

Throughout its three stages – diocesan, continental and universal – the synod has solicited the insights of all the baptized, as well as those who have left the faith and those of other faith traditions.

Marginalized communities have been especially encouraged to participate in the listening sessions, which have taken place in Catholic churches, schools and pastoral spaces throughout the world.

The continental phase gathered the USCCB and the CCCB and more than 900 bishop-selected delegates in 12 virtual sessions — variously conducted in English, Spanish and French — at which listening session reports from 236 U.S. and Canadian dioceses were presented and discussed.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Diocesan bishops must have Vatican authorization to allow the celebration of the pre-Vatican II Mass in a parish church, to establish a new “personal parish” for devotees of the old Mass or to allow its celebration by a priest ordained after July 2021 when Pope Francis issued rules restricting the celebration, he said.

Any bishop who has granted a dispensation from those rules must inform the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, “which will assess the individual cases,” said a rescript approved by Pope Francis during a meeting Feb. 20 with Cardinal Arthur Roche, prefect of the dicastery.

The rescript, signed by Cardinal Roche, was released by the Vatican Feb. 21.

In July 2021 Pope Francis promulgated his apostolic letter “Traditionis Custodes” (Guardians of the Tradition), declaring the liturgical books promulgated after the Second Vatican Council to be “the unique expression of the ‘lex orandi’ (law of worship) of the Roman Rite,” restoring the obligation of priests to have their bishops’ permission to celebrate according to the “extraordinary” or pre-Vatican II Mass and ordering bishops not to establish any new groups or parishes in their dioceses devoted to the old liturgy.

At the time, Pope Francis said his decision was meant “to promote the concord and unity of the church.”

Many bishops granted temporary permission in the summer of 2021 for the liturgies to continue while they studied the papal document and consulted their priests and faithful.

Some bishops then granted dispensations to the rules, citing a paragraph of “Traditionis Custodes” that affirmed “it belongs to the diocesan bishop, as moderator, promoter and guardian of the whole liturgical life of the particular church entrusted to him, to regulate the liturgical celebrations of his diocese.”

In December 2021, then-Archbishop Roche published a formal “responsa ad dubia” — response to questions — asserting that it is up to his dicastery, “exercising the authority of the Holy See in matters within its competence,” to grant requests from bishops wanting to give dispensations from the specific norms set forth in “Traditionis Custodes” regarding the use of parish churches for the celebration of the pre-Vatican II liturgy.

And he used the same language about the authority of the dicastery to require a bishop to seek the authorization of the dicastery before allowing a newly-ordained priest to celebrate the old rite.

In the new rescript, Pope Francis affirmed that “these dispensations are reserved in a special way to the Apostolic See: the use of a parish church or the erection of a personal parish for the celebration of the Eucharist using the ‘Missale Romanum’ of 1962; and the granting of permission to priests ordained after the publication of the motu proprio ‘Traditionis Custodes’ to celebrate with the ‘Missale Romanum’ of 1962.”

“The Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments exercises the authority of the Holy See in the above-mentioned cases, supervising the observance of the provisions,” it said.

The rescript added that “should a diocesan bishop have granted dispensations in the two cases mentioned above, he is obliged to inform the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which will assess the individual cases.”

ROME (CNS) – With the first anniversary of Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine just days away, the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church spoke about gratitude and powerlessness in the face of a “blind, absurd, sacrilegious war.”

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of Kyiv-Halych, spoke with a small group of reporters in Rome by Zoom Feb. 20 from Kyiv, a city he has left only a couple of times and only for a few days in the past year.

Like many Ukrainians who refuse to leave or have returned even to heavily damaged homes, the archbishop said, “I have a psychological difficulty in abandoning Kyiv. Everyone asks me to come for this conference or that visit, but I can’t leave Kyiv for more than a week. I am afraid something will happen” if he does leave.

Perhaps that is for the best, he said. “A bishop must live in his see.”

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, visits the basement of the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Resurrection with Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Dec. 29, 2022. This is a space where hundreds of people took refuge during the first days of Russia’s war on Ukraine. (CNS photo/Oleksandr Savransky, courtesy Ukrainian Catholic Church)

As the archbishop was being interviewed, U.S. President Joe Biden was visiting Kyiv.

A year ago, as it appeared Russia was about to invade, all the embassies in Kyiv — except for those of the Vatican and Poland — moved operations to western Ukraine or to Poland, the archbishop said. “A year later, they’ve all returned and now the president of the United States has come.”

Archbishop Shevchuk said he obviously could not comment on the political or military importance of the visit of Biden or other world leaders, but “speaking in the name of common citizens, we feel like we have not been forgotten and abandoned.”

“It’s a great consolation that you have not abandoned us,” he said. “The Russian army condemned us to death. This solidarity, shown in the visits, gives us hope that the sentence will not be carried out and that we are able to survive, defend ourselves and build a free and democratic country.”

A year after Russia started its all-out attack on Ukraine, Archbishop Shevchuk said he felt “joy and gratitude” that Ukraine is still there, that the Ukrainian church has found myriad ways to support the people and that Catholics around the globe have shown their solidarity, including concretely by sending aid.

But, he said, he also has experienced a great sense of impotence.

“For the first time in my life, I’ve seen how modern weapons are able to destroy everything: life, cities, even the environment,” he said. “And in the face of this use of blind violence, the whole world has shown itself to be impotent.”

Yet, the archbishop said, “I am proud of my bishops, priests, monks and nuns who have seen Christ present in those people wounded by the war. We truly have met the living Christ in those who are hungry, without a home, without anything.”

Tens of thousands of people have turned to the church for material and spiritual help, he said. “They trust us completely; they have placed their lives completely in the hands of the church, and when I think about their total trust, it moves me. And I say, ‘Lord, give me the faith to entrust myself to you like these people are entrusting themselves to their pastors.'”

A year of war and death is taking its toll on everyone, including the priests and bishops, he said. “They are becoming demoralized because almost every day they must celebrate the funerals of new victims, military and civilian. A bishop said to be, ‘Your Beatitude, there are funerals without end.'”

Asked about victims of the war among the clergy, Archbishop Shevchuk again demanded the release of two Eastern-rite Redemptorist priests — Father Ivan Levitsky and Father Bohdan Geleta — who were detained by Russian troops in the occupied city of Berdyansk in November.

“For 100 days they have endured daily torture,” he said. “No negotiation, no form of diplomacy or dialogue has been able to end the suffering of these two.”

Father Vitaliy Zubak and St. Joseph Sister Darija Panast were injured by Russian artillery fire while delivering aid in late January, the archbishop said, but they are recovering.

And, he said, a small community of Incarnate Word priests are still in a Russian-occupied town — the archbishop would not say which for their safety — where they live “clandestinely. It’s a miracle that they are still there. They cannot exercise their ministry, but they are there praying.”

The Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religions has identified about 500 churches, synagogues, temples and mosques that have been destroyed or heavily damaged in the fighting. Most of those are in eastern Ukraine where there were not many Catholics, Archbishop Shevchuk said.

The Ukrainian Catholic cathedral in Donetsk “is damaged, but still standing, although there are no priests left,” so no services are held inside, he said. Another 16 churches belonging to Eastern-rite Catholics have been damaged or destroyed.

The entire population has been traumatized by the repeated, piercing sound of air-raid sirens and the daily barrage of missiles exploding, he said. “We are not ashamed of these wounds of Christ that we see each day on the body of our people. And we pray for peace.”

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The Vatican Philatelic and Numismatic Office is marking the 10th anniversary of Pope Francis’ election with a series of four postage stamps.

“We want to celebrate some of the most significant moments of Pope Francis’ pontificate,” the office said in a statement announcing the stamps would go on sale Feb. 27, just about two weeks before the anniversary of the pope’s election March 13, 2013.

The 1.20-euro stamp features a photo of Pope Francis praying during the Mass he celebrated to inaugurate his papacy March 19, 2013.

A Vatican postage stamp with the title “first pastoral visit” shows Pope Francis praying for migrants who drowned in the Mediterranean during a visit to Lampedusa, Italy, July 8, 2013. The Vatican Philatelic and Numismatic Office is marking the 10th anniversary of Pope Francis’ election with a series of four postage stamps. (CNS photo/Courtesy of the Vatican Philatelic and Numismatic Office)

The photo on the 1.25-euro stamp shows Pope Francis kissing the Book of the Gospels and, the office said, was chosen to celebrate the Sunday of the Word of God, a celebration Pope Francis decided in 2019 to add to the church’s calendar.

The third stamp, carrying a value of 2.40 euros, shows Pope Francis smiling during the sacrament of reconciliation and marks his institution of the “24 Hours for the Lord,” a Lenten observance in Rome and at the Vatican focused on making confession widely and easily available.

The final stamp, with a face value of 3.10 euros, features a photo from Pope Francis’ first pastoral trip outside of Rome. He flew to the Italian island of Lampedusa July 8, 2013, to pray for the thousands of migrants who had lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean, to offer words of hope to the asylum seekers who had made the crossing and to encourage everyone to help the newcomers.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Laypeople are not “guests” in the Catholic Church and priests are not the “bosses,” Pope Francis said; rather all the baptized belong and share responsibility for its life and mission.

To fulfill its mission, the church must “overcome autonomous ways of acting or parallel tracks that never meet: clergy separated from laity,” or the “Roman Curia separated from particular churches” or movements separated from parishes, he said.

“The path God is indicating for the church is precisely that of living more intensely and concretely the path of communion and walking together,” Pope Francis said Feb. 18 as he closed a three-day conference sponsored by the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life.

Pope Francis greets participants at a Vatican conference, “Pastors and lay faithful called to walk together,” Feb. 18, 2023, in the Vatican Synod Hall. The meeting was sponsored by the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The meeting brought together more than 200 participants – laypeople, priests and bishops – from 74 countries to talk about the theological basis of co-responsibility in the church and practical steps to overcome the challenges to making it a reality.

Creating silos or divisions in the church is “the most serious temptation” Catholics face today, Pope Francis told the group. “There is still a long way to go for the church to live as a body, as a true people, united by the one faith in Christ the savior, animated by the same sanctifying Spirit and oriented to the same mission of proclaiming the merciful love of God the Father.”

The aim of the conference and of the whole process of the Synod of Bishops on synodality, he said, is to remind all the baptized that they are called to be missionary disciples and that the only way to be effective is to be united and to recognize and share the gifts and talents of all.

Co-responsibility, he said, “is not learned theoretically; it is understood by living it.”

When clergy and laity are focused on sharing the Gospel and helping the poor, they naturally draw closer to another and the “complementarity” of their different gifts become obvious, he said.

From the beginning of his pontificate 10 years ago, the pope told the conference participants, “I said that I dream of a missionary church.”

But too often, he said, the church is a “prison that does not let the Lord out, that keeps him as its own when the Lord came for mission and wants us to be missionaries.”

Mission is the motive for the focus on the co-responsibility of the laity in the church, he said.

“The need to value the laity does not come from some theological novelty, or even from the functional needs left by the diminishing number of priests,” he said, and it is not about making amends “to those who have been sidelined in the past.”

“Rather, it is based on a correct vision of the church: the church as the people of God, of which the laity are a full part along with ordained ministers,” he said. “Thus, ordained ministers are not the masters, they are the servants; the shepherds, not the bosses.”

Pope Francis said that starting in the seminary, those who hope to become priests must have “a daily and normal” experience of working with laypeople so that once they are ordained, communion is a natural expression of belonging to the church and not some exceptional or occasional project.

“It is time for pastors and laity to walk together, in every area of the church’s life, in every part of the world,” the pope said. “Laypeople, and especially women, need to be more valued in their human and spiritual skills and gifts for the life of parishes and dioceses.”

In addition to “preaching” through the way they live their faith in the midst of the world, he said, they can and should collaborate with priests to strengthen parish life, in everything from helping with religious education to preparing engaged couples for marriage.

“They should always be consulted when preparing new pastoral initiatives at every level — local, national and universal,” the pope said. “They must be present in the offices of the dioceses. They can help in the spiritual accompaniment of other lay people and also make their contribution in the formation of seminarians and religious.”

“I would like all of us to have in our hearts and minds this beautiful vision of the church: a church committed to mission and where we unify our forces and walk together to evangelize; a church where what binds us is our being baptized Christians, our belonging to Jesus,” he said.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Tradition is a source of inspiration for seeking out new paths to take with Jesus and for avoiding the traps of stagnation or impromptu experimentation, Pope Francis said.

“Jesus is himself the way, and therefore, both in the liturgical journey (of Lent) and in the journey of the synod, the church does nothing other than enter ever more deeply and fully into the mystery of Christ the savior,” the pope said in his message for Lent, which begins Feb. 22 for Latin-rite Catholics.

Released by the Vatican Feb. 17, the text of the pope’s message focused on seeing Lenten penance and the synodal experience both as arduous journeys that lead to the wondrous experience of Christ’s divine light and splendor.

A mosaic called “Face of Christ” appears in an exhibit, “He Became Flesh,” in Florence, Italy, in this file photo from Nov. 9, 2015. Pope Francis reflected on the transfiguration of Christ in his 2023 Lenten message. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“Lenten penance is a commitment, sustained by grace, to overcoming our lack of faith and our resistance to following Jesus on the way of the cross,” he said.

The Gospel accounts of the transfiguration of Christ offer an illustration of this, he said.

Jesus led three of his disciples to Mount Tabor to pray after they failed to understand and accept the reality of his coming passion and death on the cross. On the mountaintop they witnessed his face shine “like the sun” and his clothes become “white as light,” and they heard a voice from a cloud proclaiming Jesus as the “beloved Son” of God.

“The disciples’ experience on Mount Tabor was further enriched when, alongside the transfigured Jesus, Moses and Elijah appeared, signifying respectively the law and the prophets,” the pope said.

“The newness of Christ is at the same time the fulfillment of the ancient covenant and promises; it is inseparable from God’s history with his people and discloses its deeper meaning,” he said. “In a similar way, the synodal journey is rooted in the church’s tradition and at the same time open to newness.”

A poster distributed by the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development Feb. 17, 2023, depicts a community of faithful ready to climb a mountain. In his message for Lent 2023, Pope Francis chose the account of Christ’s transfiguration as a guide for experiencing Lent as a journey up a mountain in the company of others and with Jesus. (CNS photo/Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development)

Therefore, he said, “tradition is a source of inspiration for seeking new paths and for avoiding the opposed temptations of immobility and improvised experimentation.”

“To deepen our knowledge of the Master, to fully understand and embrace the mystery of his salvation, accomplished in total self-giving inspired by love, we must allow ourselves to be taken aside by him and to detach ourselves from mediocrity and vanity,” the pope said.

“We need to set out on the journey, an uphill path that, like a mountain trek, requires effort, sacrifice and concentration,” he said. “These requisites are also important for the synodal journey which, as a church, we are committed to making.”

“During any strenuous mountain trek, we must keep our eyes firmly fixed on the path; yet the panorama that opens up at the end amazes us and rewards us by its grandeur,” Pope Francis wrote.

In the same way, “the synodal process may often seem arduous, and at times we may become discouraged,” he said, “yet what awaits us at the end is undoubtedly something wondrous and amazing, which will help us to understand better God’s will and our mission in the service of his kingdom.”

Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, presented the Lenten message at a Vatican news conference.

Lent is a time for Catholics to “work on ourselves” and understand that a “change of mentality – conversion – and the communal nature of human life are blessed labors, on which depends ‘something wonderful and surprising’ for this broken world,” the cardinal said.

“If we want a Lent of charity, if we believe that prayer and fasting have real effects on the world,” he said, “we must broaden the idea of almsgiving to something larger, namely the biblical idea of restitution.”

“The path is the mission. And the mission is charity, which calls into question an organization of the world and of the church that may seem unchangeable, but is changeable, because it is the outcome of decisions, of freedom,” he said.

When asked about the role of fasting as a form of penance, Cardinal Czerny said fasting also has a positive side in that it is a form of “liberation and a gesture of solidarity with those who have nothing to eat.”

“In fact, we eat too much and, perhaps, irresponsibly, so fasting reorients us toward a way of eating and drinking that is more in tune with our vocation” as followers of Christ, he said.

The cardinal also said the dicastery would be relaunching elements of the pope’s message each week over the 40-day period of Lent to help parishes live their own “transfiguration” in a more practical way.

People are encouraged to follow the #Lent2023 campaign on the dicastery’s Twitter and Instagram accounts and download new materials each week from its website:

(OSV News) – Lawmakers in 13 states since January have introduced legislation to fortify a right to abortion or amend state constitutions to include abortion, signaling a vigorous response to last year’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

The June 2022 decision by the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that the Constitution contains no right to abortion returned the issue to the states.

While congressional attempts to codify Roe at the federal level have stalled, Democratic legislators in nine states — Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Nebraska, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington — have proposed amending their constitutions to add an explicit right to abortion or to “reproductive freedom,” which includes abortion, contraception, sterilization, fertility treatments and other procedures.

People on both sides of the abortion issue express their views at the State Capitol in St. Paul Jan. 27, 2023, as members of the Minnesota Senate debated a bill that would place a right to abortion into state law. (OSV News photo/Dave Hrbacek, Catholic Spirit)

Several states are considering legislation that would codify abortion as a fundamental right but stop short of including it in their constitution.

In the 2022 midterm elections, voters in California, Michigan and Vermont passed constitutional amendments protecting abortion. Constitutional amendments require a public vote in every state but Delaware, potentially setting up 2024 for several state ballots on the constitutionality of abortion.

Mario Villanueva, executive director of the Washington State Catholic Conference, said the Dobbs decision has driven legislatures even in states that already favor abortion to be more extreme.

“The effort to push pro-abortion legislation and agendas is significant this year, more than in a lot of legislative sessions we can recall to mind,” he said.

Washington’s Catholic bishops criticized in a letter the legislature’s attempt to pass “an extreme constitutional amendment” that would allow abortion up to birth and emphasized the need for laws respecting the sacredness and dignity of human life.

“We have to talk about how supporting women and families helps the public good, and we need to be willing to stand behind those who need support and value life,” Villanueva said.

Washington law requires two-thirds of the state House and Senate to approve a constitutional amendment prior to a public ballot. Without a supermajority in either branch, Democrats will need support from Republicans before they can send their amendment to voters, making it unlikely to pass.

Enshrining the right to abortion in a constitution insulates it from later legislative or judicial attempts to restrict the procedure and narrows the discretion state courts have when interpreting the law. Critics have argued the broad language of constitutional amendments protecting abortion from state interference could lead to the removal of any limits on the procedure.

“That’s not a phantom fear,” said Teresa Stanton Collett, professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. A constitutional right to abortion could trump other statutes restricting it if a case reached the courts, she said.

During legislative debate on California’s constitutional amendment on abortion, Democratic lawmakers were unable to say whether the amendment would change state laws limiting abortion past viability.

In Minnesota, a district judge last July struck down several laws relating to abortion, including parental notification requirements and a 24-hour waiting period, for violating the “fundamental right” to access abortion in the state’s constitution.

Supporters of legal abortion have argued they are only protecting current rights in state law against further interference.

Minnesota’s Protect Reproductive Options (PRO) Act, signed Jan. 31 by Gov. Tim Walz, makes abortion and other medical procedures including contraception, sterilization and fertility treatments “fundamental rights” in state law. A 1995 decision by the state’s Supreme Court established a constitutional right to abortion.

“Today, we are delivering on our promise to put up a firewall against efforts to reverse reproductive freedom. No matter who sits on the Minnesota Supreme Court, this legislation will ensure Minnesotans have access to reproductive health care for generations to come,” Walz said.

Maggee Hangge, policy associate at the Minnesota Catholic Conference, said the new law is more expansive than supporters have acknowledged. While its foremost goal is to prevent a repeat of Dobbs in the state and direct Minnesota courts to protect access to abortion and other services, it would “likely expand access to abortion,” including late-term abortions, she said.

Republicans failed to add amendments to the legislation to prohibit, with some exceptions, third-trimester abortions.

Democratic control of the state legislature and governor’s office, coupled with the sense the midterms that swept them to power were a response to Dobbs, has created “the political environment to pass radical abortion laws long desired by abortion activists,” Hangge said.

Another Minnesota bill under consideration would repeal laws around parental notification, the born-alive infant protection act, informed consent, a 24-hour waiting period, data collection, non-physicians performing abortions and limitations on state funding.

During the passage of the PRO Act, Minnesota’s Catholic bishops argued lawmakers should instead pursue policies to support families and children, including better funding for nutrition, healthcare, child care and housing programs.

“We must be committed to a long-term strategy to ensure every child is welcomed in life and protected by law,” Hangge said.

(OSV News) – Catholic experts are expressing concern after a recent Pew Research Center survey found that only 35% of U.S. Catholic parents say that it is extremely or very important to them that their children grow up to hold similar religious beliefs.

The survey also showed that 30% of Catholic parents say it is somewhat important to them, while 34% say it is not too important or not at all important.

“This study is concerning in that it points to an ambivalence that many people involved in pastoral ministry see so much among our families,” Susan M. Timoney, associate professor of practice, pastoral studies area, and associate dean for undergraduate studies at The Catholic University of America’s School of Theology and Religious Studies in Washington, told Our Sunday Visitor, the weekly newspaper of OSV based in Huntington, Indiana.

A family is pictured in a file photo praying the rosary in their Phoenix home. Catholic experts are expressing concern after a recent Pew Research Center survey found that only 35% of U.S. Catholic parents say that it is extremely or very important to them that their children grow up to hold similar religious beliefs. (OSV News photo/CNS file, J.D. Long-Garcia, The Catholic Sun)

“Parents want their children to be ‘good people,’ which is inclusive of many elements of a Catholic worldview, but what parents seem to struggle doing is sharing a conviction about the importance of practicing the (Catholic) faith and speaking to a personal relationship with God,” Timoney said. “It calls for a spiritual renewal among parents and families.”

The numbers come as part of a larger survey of 3,757 U.S. parents with children younger than 18, conducted last fall. An analysis of that survey, published on Feb. 6, focused on religious and ethnic differences in parenting among Protestants and Catholics.

Greg Popcak, director of, a pastoral telecounseling practice, suggested that the findings are due to the lack of impact people believe faith and religious practice have on their daily lives and relationships, especially family relationships.

“Most people see faith and religious involvement as something that complicates their relationships more than it benefits them,” he said. “At best, church is one more thing to do in an already busy life. At worst, it asks me to follow rules that I fail to see having any positive impact on the quality of my relationships.”

He highlighted efforts such as the CatholicHOM (Households on Mission) app, a digital family formation platform for Catholic families launched by his practice, as important for both the future of Catholic family life and the future of the church itself.

“Unless we can show people how our Catholic faith helps people lead more loving, connected, caring lives — especially in their families — most people will find no compelling reason to celebrate the faith themselves or encourage their children to own it,” Popcak said.

Joseph White, a child and family psychologist and the associate publisher for catechetical resources at OSV, found it “especially striking” that a third of Catholic parents do not consider it important to pass on their faith.

“I think this highlights the need for evangelization of Catholic adults,” White said. “The issue here is not just that Catholic adults don’t ‘know’ their faith; they don’t see why their children would ‘need’ it.”

He said this represents not only a failure to catechize but also a failure to evangelize. In response, he called for a refocus on the “kerygma” – which he described as the core message of the Gospel – to help Catholics discover or rediscover why they and their children need Jesus and the church.

He encouraged the refocus not only for adults, but also for children.

“When we fall in love with someone, we want to know everything about them,” he said. “If we can help our children see the need for Jesus and the church in their lives, to understand what Jesus has done for them and who he is, they will want to know everything about him and will want to be active in his church.”

In many areas of Pew’s analysis, responses by Catholic parents resembled the responses of U.S. parents in general.

The percentage of Catholic parents and the percentage of all parents who say it is extremely or very important that their children have similar religious beliefs to their own as adults is the same: 35%. Of all parents, 22% say it is somewhat important and 42% say it is not too or not at all important.

The majority of U.S. parents (81%) and Catholic parents (81%) find it extremely or very important for their children to grow up to become people who help others in need, according to the analysis. The majority of U.S. parents (80%) and Catholic parents (79%) also say it is extremely or very important for their children to grow up to be accepting of people who are different from them.

Parents’ answers changed depending on how often they attend religious services or Mass, according to Pew. U.S. parents who attend religious services at least once a week are more than three times as likely to consider it important to raise children who will share their religious views.

With two-thirds of Catholic parents saying it is at least somewhat important that their kids share their religious beliefs as adults, White recommended that ministry leaders in Catholic parishes and schools consider what evidence-based tools they can give parents to ensure that the Catholic faith is handed on to the next generation.

“We need to use this knowledge to help parents who want to raise their children as lifelong disciples of Jesus,” he said. “This is a primary responsibility of the parish. Pope Francis calls us to be ‘a family of families,’ and we need to work harder to ensure that the family stays together.”