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Texas attorney general targets Catholic nonprofit, alleges it facilitates illegal immigration

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at a news conference in Washington, D.C., on May 12, 2021. / Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 21, 2024 / 21:15 pm (CNA).

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is trying to shut down a Catholic nonprofit organization in El Paso based on allegations that the group may be facilitating illegal immigration, harboring immigrants who entered the country illegally, and engaging in human smuggling. 

Paxton filed a lawsuit against the nonprofit Annunciation House, which has operated in the state for nearly 50 years. The lawsuit asks the District Court of El Paso County to revoke the organization’s nonprofit registration, which would prohibit it from continuing to operate in Texas.

“The chaos at the southern border has created an environment where [nongovernmental organizations] funded with taxpayer money from the Biden administration facilitate astonishing horrors including human smuggling,” Paxton said in a statement. “While the federal government perpetuates the lawlessness destroying this country, my office works day-in and day-out to hold these organizations responsible for worsening illegal immigration.”

In response to the lawsuit, Annunciation House issued a statement that called Paxton’s actions “illegal, immoral, and anti-faith” and his allegations “unfounded.” According to the statement, the organization has “provided hospitality to hundreds of thousands of refugees for over [46] years” and that if its activities are illegal, “so too is the work of our local hospitals, schools, and food banks.”

“Annunciation House has kept hundreds of thousands of refugees coming through our city off the streets and [has] given them food,” the statement read. “The work helps serve our local businesses, our city, and immigration officials to keep people off the streets and give them a shelter while they come through our community.”

The attorney general’s office first approached Annunciation House on Feb. 7 of this year with concerns that it may be facilitating illegal immigration. Paxton’s office ordered the nonprofit to immediately turn over various documents and records to examine whether it is engaged in illegal activities. 

Annunciation House’s lawyers requested 30 days to respond, but the attorney general’s office refused. Rather, Paxton’s office informed the organization that if it did not provide the requested documents by Feb. 8, which was the following day, that it would “be in noncompliance.”

Annunciation House quickly filed a lawsuit against the attorney general’s office on Feb. 8, which argues that the demand violates the nonprofit’s right to due process. In its public statement, Annunciation House stated that it wants the court to decide which documents the attorney general’s office is legally entitled to receive. 

“There is nothing illegal about asking a court to decide a person’s rights,” the statement read. “The [attorney general’s office] has now made explicit that its real goal is not records but to shut down the organization. It has stated that it considers it a crime for a Catholic organization to provide shelter to refugees.”

A spokesperson for Annunciation House declined to speak about the lawsuit when reached by CNA but said the organization will hold a news conference on Friday, Feb. 23.

When contacted by CNA about Annunciation House’s response to the legal action, the attorney general’s office referred back to Paxton’s original statement.

When Gender Ideology Infects the Family

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Cardinal Dolan on St. Patrick’s funeral: ‘We don’t do FBI checks on people who want to be buried’

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. / Credit: Jonah McKeown/CNA

CNA Staff, Feb 21, 2024 / 18:05 pm (CNA).

Priests at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City were surprised by the “irreverence and disrespect” that occurred during a funeral for a transgender activist last week, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said in his first public comments on it. 

“We didn’t know the background. We don’t do FBI checks on people who want to be buried,” Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said during his podcast Tuesday. 

He said cathedral staff try to be welcoming when someone requests a funeral.

“All they know is somebody called and said, ‘Our dear friend died. We’d love to have the funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It would be a great source of consolation. She’s a Catholic. It would be a great source of consolation for us, her family and friends.’ And of course, the priest at the cathedral said, ‘Come on in. You’re more than welcome,’” Dolan said. 

The priests at St. Patrick’s made a decision at the beginning of the service not to celebrate a funeral Mass but to conduct a funeral service with no Mass instead. 

It was the right thing to do given the situation, the cardinal said. 

“I applaud our priests who made a quick decision that, ‘Uh-oh, with behavior like this, we can’t do a Mass. We’ll do the Liturgy of the Word, which is the readings, and the sermon, and the prayers of petition, and the Our Father, and then we’ll stop it. The Mass is not going to go on,’” Dolan said. “Bravo for our cathedral people, who knew nothing about this that was coming up.” 

Meanwhile, though, supporters of the deceased are demanding an apology from the Archdiocese of New York for what they described as “cutting short” the Feb. 15 funeral service of Cecilia Gentili, 52, a male who identified as a woman who died Feb. 6. Supporters of Gentili also want an apology for what they called “the painfully dismissive and exclusionary language” used in a statement released by the pastor of the cathedral after the funeral. 

“The current narrative from St. Patrick’s Cathedral leadership that they were manipulated by funeral organizers of the identity of Ms. Gentili is simply not true,” an organization called Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society said in a written statement. “Funeral organizers advised cathedral staff to look up Cecilia Gentili, her work, and the community she served. To now place responsibility on the funeral organizers to have affirmatively disclosed the gender identity of their loved one is imposing a burden upon the mourners that would not be expected of a non-transgender person.”

However, the New York Times reported that the funeral’s organizer did not disclose to the cathedral that Gentili, who died Feb. 6 at age 52, was a biological man who identified as a woman.

“I kept it under wraps,” Ceyeye Doroshow, the service’s organizer, told the outlet.

The organization also suggested that cathedral staff violated the Catholic Church’s law. 

“Still reeling from the pain of Cecilia’s loss, community members are asking for an explanation for this decision which seemingly violated Catholic Canon Law governing the denial of funeral [M]asses,” the organization said. “… Ms. Gentili’s service ended an hour earlier than had been scheduled, thus denying her the full funeral Mass that was agreed upon.” 

Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, contacted by CNA on Wednesday said the archdiocese had no immediate comment on the Gentili supporters’ statement. 

Asked by email who decided to replace the funeral Mass with the shorter funeral service, Zwilling said the decision “was made by the priests at the cathedral after witnessing what was taking place.” 

A video of the service posted online last week shows that shortly after the procession down the aisle, the presider, Father Edward Dougherty, looking out into the crowd, said with a laugh: “Well, welcome to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Except on Easter Sunday, we don’t really have a crowd that is this well turned out, you know?” 

After a short delay, the crowd responded with more than 40 seconds of clapping, standing, and cheering, with occasional chants of “Cecilia.” 

During the ovation, the video shows, a priest dressed in black approached Dougherty and told him, “No Eucharist,” eventually followed with the words “a funeral service, no Mass.” 

Outburst at funeral

As CNA reported last week, the prayers of the faithful during the service included a call for “Cecilia’s community” to “have access to life-affirming health care” — an apparent reference to gender transitioning — to raucous applause. 

Two of the three eulogies were critical of Catholic teaching on human sexuality. The organizer of the funeral, Doroshow, a male who identifies as a woman, who wore a purple dress, said Gentili “worked so hard to make sure girls like me, boys like you are safe, are grounded, got health care, that sex workers are free.” A standing ovation followed the “sex workers” reference. 

A man who delivered a third eulogy used a Spanish word for “whore” several times. Another man lauded the deceased as “This whore, this great whore, St. Cecilia, mother of all whores.” Raucous applause and a standing ovation followed. 

On Tuesday, Cardinal Dolan addressed the Gentili funeral about five minutes into his podcast after discussing a few other topics, including the recent shooting at the Super Bowl parade in Kansas City. Dolan mentioned that he had received “a note of solidarity” from Harrison Butker, the Kansas Chiefs kicker, about what Dolan described as “the irreverence and disrespect” of the crowd at the funeral, and the “very irreverent and disrespectful” eulogies. 

The cardinal asked the cathedral staff to celebrate a Mass of reparation after the funeral service, which the pastor, Father Enrique Salvo, said last week was done. 

“In a way, it’s redundant,” Dolan said Tuesday. “Because every Mass, every Mass is the renewal of the infinitely powerful act of reparation that Jesus did on the cross, correct? He’s the one that made reparation. We can’t do much. All we can do is unite with him on his cross in his sacred act of reparation. There is a bit of an arrow in the quiver of the Church’s treasury of prayer that if a particularly sacrilegious or scandalous act has occurred in a church, it would be good to offer a Mass in particular reparation for that act of irreverence. So we did that.” 

Salvo released a written statement Feb. 17, two days after the funeral, acknowledging what he called “outrage over the scandalous behavior” during Gentili’s funeral. 

“The cathedral only knew that family and friends were requesting a funeral Mass for a Catholic, and had no idea our welcome and prayer would be degraded in such a sacrilegious and deceptive way,” Salvo said in the statement. 

Some mainstream media news stories last week hailed the funeral as a shift in the Catholic Church’s approach to gender identity. Dolan expressed frustration Tuesday with criticism by some Catholics of the cathedral staff and his archdiocese. 

“We have a lot of misunderstanding. Why in the world our people out there still believe what the secular press reports is beyond me,” Dolan said. 

Later, he added: “Our policy at the cathedral is to be as open and welcoming of anybody who wants to be buried from here. And we had absolutely no idea about this. But why people still think the cathedral purposely did that? Well, a lot of people always want to believe the worst. And they don’t like us any more than the protesters did, in the cathedral. But who knows.” 

Two of Father Rupnik’s alleged victims speak publicly for the first time

Lawyer Laura Sgro, left, sits with Gloria Branciani, center, and Marjiam Kovač, during a press conference in Rome on Feb. 21, 2024. Branciani and Kovač allege that they were subjected to spiritual, psychological and sexual abuse by famous mosaic artist Father Marko Rupnik. / Credit: Matthew Santucci/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Feb 21, 2024 / 17:43 pm (CNA).

Two alleged abuse victims of mosaic artist Father Marko Rupnik spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday, detailing the tactics the former Jesuit allegedly used to manipulate them.

Italian Gloria Branciani and Slovenian-born Marjiam Kovač, former sisters of the now-dissolved Loyola Community in Slovenia, shared their stories at a crowded press conference in the Rome offices of the trade union for Italian journalists.

They were joined by their high-profile lawyer, Laura Sgrò, who has represented clients in the VatiLeaks scandal as well as the family of Emanuela Orlandi, an Italian girl who disappeared under mysterious circumstances decades ago.

Branciani, 59, reflected on how her introduction into the community was propelled by a desire to grow her spiritual life but wound up being subjected to spiritual, psychological, and physical abuse, which amounted to “the total loss of my identity.” 

Detailing the dynamics of Rupnik’s alleged manipulation, Branciani recounted how this multifaceted abuse reflected a deeper and more intimate “abuse of conscience” and was a total violation of the deep intimacy of her spiritual life.

She alleged that Rupnik used her interest in art and culture “to put pressure on my personality,” which allowed him to affect a change in her “ideas, the way of thinking, the way of behaving, the way of dressing.”

“So with an imposition of his spiritual, theological, and artistic vision, he had an ever greater power over me, an exclusive power,” Branciani said.

In one example, she claimed that while in his art studio, which was also the place where their spiritual direction sessions were held, Rupnik, while painting, was “staring at parts of my body” and afterward performed a sexually suggestive gesture on Branciani, which Rupnik allegedly likened to an act of biblical divine revelation that expressed “the wisdom of the father.”

Father Marko Rupnik. Credit: Screen shot/ACI Prensa
Father Marko Rupnik. Credit: Screen shot/ACI Prensa

Rupnik has been at the center of a nearly six-year-long scandal centered on his alleged abuse of over 20 religious sisters spanning across three decades. After initially deciding in October 2022 not to pursue sanctions against Rupnik because the statute of limitation had expired, the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) reopened the case after Pope Francis lifted the statute of limitations in October 2023. That decision came on the heels of public outcry over the news that Rupnik had been incardinated in a diocese in Slovenia where he could continue his priestly ministry.

On Wednesday, Vatican News reported that the DDF’s investigation was underway and that “it will now be necessary to study the acquired documentation in order to identify which procedures can and should be implemented.”

Rupnik has not commented publicly about the allegations but his collaborator at the Aletti Center — an art and theology school founded by Rupnik in Rome — has said the allegations are unproven.

Marjiam Kovač spoke for only 10 minutes, describing how the ideals of religious life, along with the sisters’ “training and obedience and trust in the people who guided us,” were “exploited for abuses of various kinds, of conscience, of power, spiritual, psychic, physical, and often even sexual.”

According to Kovač, 20 sisters were abused out of a community of 40 women.

For Kovač, the press conference was an opportunity to break the “silence” that victims have faced, which she characterized as “a rubber wall, which bounces off every attempt to cure the unhealthy situation.”

“We are sorry because the institutions, instead of taking inspiration from our experience to review their way of acting, continue to close themselves in silence,” she said.

Following their remarks, Sgrò, their lawyer, said she hoped the example of the two women would encourage other victims to speak out to civil as well as Church authorities.

“And they must not limit themselves from going to ask the bishop or the Mother Superior for help. They must go and report to the state courts, to the state authorities. Go to the police … go to a lawyer, go to the prosecutor’s office, because he who has done that to Gloria must go to prison,” Sgrò said. 

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the organization Bishop Accountability, a Boston-based organization that has tracked clerical abuse in the Catholic Church for the past 20 years, moderated the press conference.

She praised the women’s courage for speaking out publicly against Rupnik, whom she characterized as “a powerful cleric who’s been protected at the highest levels of the Jesuits and the Vatican.”

At one point, Doyle held up a poster with the images of Rupnik alongside Marcial Maciel and former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, declaring that like them, Rupnik is “charismatic … famous, a friend of popes and others in high places … like them, he is a serial predator.”

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2024 International Congress of Families to be held in Mexico

Guadalajara Cathedral (Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady), Mexico. / Credit: Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 21, 2024 / 09:00 am (CNA).

With the theme “All Families Can Be Better,” the city of Guadalajara in Jalisco state, Mexico, will host the International Congress of Families (CIFAM) from March 1–3.

CIFAM 2024, an opportunity for meeting, learning, and intersectoral and interreligious collaboration, seeks to unite and equip leaders, organizations, and families to affirm, celebrate, and strengthen the family institution as the natural foundation of society.

The purpose of the event is to give continuity to the experience lived at the XIV World Congress of Families held in Mexico City in 2022.

The president of the congress in Mexico, Fernando Milanés, announced at a Jan. 31 press conference that the event will provide a time for “learning and collaboration to strengthen” the family.

Milanés recognized that families face innumerable challenges and thus CIFAM aims to “equip them so that they can be a source of security and comprehensive health, identity and belonging, planning, and purpose.”

Lupita Venegas, owner of Valora Radio and a spokesperson for the congress, highlighted the importance of addressing the various ailments that affect families, such as infidelity, depression, and domestic violence. She emphasized that CIFAM 2024 represents an opportunity to strengthen families and “change the world one family at a time.”

Karen Ahued, another spokesperson for CIFAM, focused on women and said that the congress will provide an opportunity to “improve our relationships with our children” and to seek “personal reconciliation and heal many wounds that are hard to bear and difficult to accept.”

The event will have four programs: general, youth, adolescents, and children. Among the prominent specialists will be Dr. Catherine L’Ecuyer, a world leader on the impact of technology on education, and the psychologist Isabel Rojas Estapé. International popularizers and specialists in family and education will also be presented, such as Dr. María Calvo and Dr. Rafael Guerrero.

CIFAM 2024 will have renowned speakers from Mexico, including Dr. José Medina Mora, national president of COPARMEX (Employer Confederation of the Mexican Republic); Dr. Julia Borbolla, a specialist in children and adolescents; and Dr. José Antonio Lozano, president of the governing boards of the Pan American University and its business school. The youth program will also include recognized talents and influencers such as Minesweeper and Rorro Echávez.

In addition, the event will feature the Family Expo, a space with more than 120 booths where various institutions will offer programs, activities, products, and services for families. 

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

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