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Dictatorship in Nicaragua prohibits Immaculate Conception procession

Image of the Immaculate Conception of the Parish of San José de Tipitapa, Nicaragua / Credit: Parish of San José de Tipitapa

CNA Newsroom, Nov 29, 2022 / 13:39 pm (CNA).

The Ortega dictatorship is once again attacking the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, this time by prohibiting a planned procession for the Dec. 8 Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. 

San José de Tipitapa parish in the Archdiocese of Managua reported Nov. 28 that the National Police — which operates under the orders of the dictatorship of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo — has prohibited their planned Immaculate Conception procession.

“We want to express our deep sadness at this action that denies us expressing our faith in public,” the parish said in a statement posted on its Facebook page.

The decision forces the parish to hold their celebrations in the parish church.

The parish has planned a full program beginning Nov. 28 and concluding Dec. 8 with daily Masses, singing the Salve Regina, reciting the rosary, preaching on Marian themes, and praying the novena for the Immaculate Conception. 

Father Dulio Calero, the pastor of San José de Tipitapa parish, invited Catholics to “continue celebrating Our Lady with fervor and devotion and to participate in each of the activities for these days, placing everything under her protection and maternal intercession for our country and Church.”

Persecution of the Church in Nicaragua

For several years, the Catholic Church in Nicaragua has been the victim of increasing persecution by the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship.

Lawyer and researcher Martha Patricia Molina recently released a new edition of a report detailing the almost 400 attacks on the Catholic Church in Nicaragua from 2018 through 2022.

A few of the most notable attacks include:

In March, the dictatorship expelled the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Waldemar Stanisław Sommertag, and is currently holding the bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, under house arrest.

Several priests have been arrested and incarcerated in El Chipote, a prision notorious for torturing opponents of the regime.

The dictatorship has also shut down Catholic media outlets and expelled various Catholic organizations from the country, including the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

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

Early medical abortion increased 154% in past decade, CDC report finds

Ultrasound. / CDC/Jim Gathany, public domain

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 29, 2022 / 10:45 am (CNA).

Americans are increasingly relying on chemical abortion, or abortion by pill, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Early medical abortion increased 22% from 2019 to 2020 and 154% from 2011 to 2020, the CDC found when looking at 37 areas that provided continuous data on medical abortion during 2011−2020.

The federal agency reported that, in 2020, the highest percentage of abortions (51%) were early medical abortions performed at or before nine weeks’ gestation based on data from 46 areas. An additional 2.4% accounted for medical abortions after nine weeks’ gestation.

The CDC usually releases its annual abortion surveillance report around the Thanksgiving holiday, as it did this year. The report, which lags two years behind, shows abortion data for 2020 — the year the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation.

The CDC’s data relies on voluntary reporting from the central health agencies of 49 reporting areas (47 states; Washington, D.C.; and New York City). The incomplete data set excludes three states: California, Maryland, and New Hampshire. Together, those states account for approximately 20% of all U.S. abortions, the report said, citing the Guttmacher Institute.

Other limitations with the CDC data include incomplete information reported.

On medical abortion, researchers agree that its use is increasing. The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive research organization once associated with Planned Parenthood, found earlier this year that this type of abortion accounted for more than half of all U.S. abortions in 2020.

A CDC spokesperson confirmed to CNA that early medical abortion, here, is defined as “the administration of medications (typically mifepristone followed by misoprostol) to induce an abortion” at or before nine completed weeks gestation, in accordance with the FDA’s labeling for mifepristone that was implemented in 2016.

She added that other drugs (“typically serial prostaglandins, sometimes administered after mifepristone”) also might be used with abortion after nine weeks gestation.

The increase in medical abortion comes before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lifted restrictions on mifepristone, a drug approved for use in medical abortions, in 2021. But the FDA’s move represented a continuation of 2020, when a federal district court blocked the FDA from enforcing its requirement that women seeking abortions must receive mifepristone in person rather than by mail.

Abortion by the numbers

According to the CDC, a total of 620,327 abortions were reported to the federal agency for 2020. This number represents a 1.5% decrease since 2019 (with 629,898 total abortions reported) and a 15% decrease since 2011 (with 730,322 total abortions reported).

The decrease comes after the number of reported abortions increased in 2018 and 2019.

The Guttmacher Institute, which offers more comprehensive data, counted 930,160 abortions in the United States for 2020. That number represented an increase — not decrease — from 2019, when it listed 916,460 abortions.

The CDC, while looking at the 48 areas that reported data continuously from 2011 to 2020, reported overall decreases during that time in the total number, rate, and ratio of reported abortions. Most recently for those areas, from 2019 to 2020, the CDC saw a 2% decrease in both the total number of abortions and abortion rate (number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years), but a 2% increase in the total abortion ratio (number of abortions per 1,000 live births).

For those same 48 areas, a total of 615,911 abortions were reported for 2020, with 11.2 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years and 198 abortions per 1,000 live births.

Of the states providing data, Florida saw the the highest number of abortions at 74,868, followed by New York (63,142) and Texas (55,132). Washington, D.C., had the highest abortion rate (23 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years) and ratio (498 abortions per 1,000 live births).

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New Spanish law threatens future of world’s largest cross and its employees

The cross in the Valley of the Fallen, November 2022 / Estefanía Aguirre

CNA Newsroom, Nov 29, 2022 / 07:05 am (CNA).

An employee says she fears losing her lifelong job at the world’s largest cross locality after the government of Spain passed a law in October to close parts of it down and “re-signify” its basilica.

Alejandra Gómez, who has worked for 30 years at the Valley of the Fallen’s guesthouse, says her biggest fear now is being fired.

“I would like for this place to remain open so that I do not end up on the street,” she said in an interview with CNA on Nov. 24 at the site.

“They are playing with the bread of many families here,” added Gómez, a mother of three. “There are many families working here.”

Alejandra Gómez has worked for 30 years at the Valley of the Fallen’s guesthouse. Estefanía Aguirre
Alejandra Gómez has worked for 30 years at the Valley of the Fallen’s guesthouse. Estefanía Aguirre

The Basilica of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen lies at the center of a memorial site about 28 miles northwest of Madrid.

The landmark under the towering cross includes an abbey and the basilica. The nearly 30 employees currently working at the Valley of the Fallen’s guesthouse and boarding choir school face the same uncertainty regarding their future.

Gómez came from Badajoz, a city in the southwest region of Extremadura, to work at the lodge’s restaurant when she was 22. She remembers the exact date she began working there: Oct. 21, 1992.

“I am very fond of the Hospedería because I came here very young and part of what I have is because of (my time) working here,” said Gómez, now 53. “I would be very upset if they closed it.”

She also got married at the basilica adjacent to the guesthouse, the Basilica of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen, in 2000.

“It was a wonderful experience. Regardless of how this place has been built, for me it was a wonderful day,” Gómez said. “It was all fantastic. One of the monks married us.”

The wedding photo, taken in the Valley of the Fallen. Estefanía Aguirre
The wedding photo, taken in the Valley of the Fallen. Estefanía Aguirre

She also recalled how many guests would call her “Lady Di” years ago due to her close resemblance to the former Princess of Wales. One older guest even asked her for her hand in marriage.

“It made me laugh because I thought it was funny ... Of course, I said ‘no,’” Gómez said.

The guesthouse, which opened in 1958, includes a restaurant, 126 bedrooms, a gym, a chapel, a valuable library (usually closed to the public), and several lounges. It is often used as a retreat house by different religious communities, movements, and diocesan priests from across the country.

In addition to the guesthouse, the precinct includes a boarding school for boys centered on teaching Gregorian music and an abbey — all three adjacent to the underground basilica carved inside a mountain under the world’s largest cross. The monument is surrounded by 3,360 acres of woodland, which is home to wildlife, including roe deer, squirrels, foxes, and boars.

“I had only seen squirrels in cartoons, never in real life, until I came here,” Gómez said. “The people who lived in (the Valley’s) village used to hand-feed foxes. They also gave food to the wild boars.”

Changes under the new law

The government’s Democratic Memory Law entered into force on Oct. 21. One of the changes includes renaming the “Valle de los Caídos” (Valley of the Fallen) to “Valle de Cuelgamuros” (Valley of the Hanging Walls). The government’s agency running the precinct with the Benedictine monks up until now, Patrimonio Nacional, has already changed the sign at the main entrance to its new name.

The original name was “Pinar de Cuelga Moros,” which means “Pine Forest of Hanging Moors.”

Meanwhile, the region of Madrid — currently led locally by the conservative People’s Party — may declare the Valley as a “Bien de Interés Cultural” to be a “good of cultural interest,” a good in the economic sense.

The region’s local government has proposed a cultural heritage law. If approved, the law’s article 73c would mean creating a new protection for ethnographic heritage assets. But the new law, expected to be discussed and approved by May 2023, would possibly only protect the world’s largest cross and not the basilica.

The world's longest basilica in the Valley of the Fallen, Spain. Estefanía Aguirre
The world's longest basilica in the Valley of the Fallen, Spain. Estefanía Aguirre

It may not prevent the Benedictine monks from being kicked out, or the boarding choir school and guesthouse from being closed under the new decree currently being elaborated to establish the precinct’s new legal framework.

The Democratic Memory Law has now extinguished the “Fundación de la Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos” — the Foundation of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen, jointly owned up until now by both the government’s agency Patrimonio Nacional and the Benedictine monks, who reside at the site’s abbey. The foundation was in charge of operating the whole precinct.

The monks are seeking donations for their work on their website.

What it is like to be a Catholic priest in Qatar

Father Charbel Mhanna offers Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary in Doha, Qatar. / Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church

Rome Newsroom, Nov 29, 2022 / 06:09 am (CNA).

When Father Charbel Mhanna needs to acquire altar wine for Mass, he must use a special card issued by the government of Qatar at the only venue that sells alcohol to residents of the country.

The 2022 FIFA World Cup’s stadium beer ban irked many soccer fans who traveled to the Arabian Peninsula for the international sporting event, but Qatar’s alcohol laws are just a minor restriction compared with what Catholic priests face ministering in the Muslim-majority country, where public displays of Christian religion are forbidden.

Father Mhanna has lived in Qatar for nine years. Originally from Lebanon, he ministers to Maronite Catholics living in Qatar as well as Italian and French-speaking communities at the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Doha.

In an interview in Arabic with ACI Mena, CNA’s news partner in the Middle East, Mhanna explained that there are no bells or crosses on church buildings in Qatar.

Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Palm Sunday 2022. Our Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Rosary
Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Palm Sunday 2022. Our Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Rosary

“It is not possible to preach or grant the sacrament of baptism to the descendants of non-Christians or to convert from one religion to another,” Mhanna said.

He added that “churches are considered embassies” that deal with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Religious processions are only allowed to take place within the walls of the Qatar Religious Complex, a complex opened in 2008 that holds six different churches: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Syrian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, and an interdenominational group for Indian expatriate Christian communities.

“Copies of the Bible can [only] be distributed inside the church complex campus,” Mhanna said.

Father Charbel Mhanna celebrating the Divine Liturgy in Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Qatar. Our Lady of the Rosary Church
Father Charbel Mhanna celebrating the Divine Liturgy in Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Qatar. Our Lady of the Rosary Church

On the other hand, the priest noted that he has not faced any censorship in his homilies and is free to go out to minister to Catholics in Qatar, many of whom are foreign workers.

“We give eucharistic Communion to patients in hospitals without any problem and we can pray in cemeteries, as there are tombs for non-Muslims,” he said.

“We also have every liberty to preach. No one ever interfered with my sermons. We recite our spiritual words without restrictions,” he added.

When it comes to marriages, however, the priest is only allowed to celebrate a wedding between two Christians. He said: “If a Christian wants to marry a Muslim, they cannot get married in our church. We usually invite them to marry in another country.”

The Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia estimates that about 200,000 to 300,000 Catholics live in Qatar. All are migrant workers, mainly from the Philippines and India.

According to the vicariate, employment and camp rules can make participation in Catholic liturgies impossible for some of these workers. The Catholic community also struggles with restrictions on the number of priests allowed in the country and the limited capacity of its church inside the religious complex.

Mhanna is currently overseeing the construction of a new Catholic church in Qatar — a Maronite Catholic church that will have a capacity of 1,500 people.

The St. Charbel Catholic Church, currently under construction. Photo provided by Father Charbel Mhanna
The St. Charbel Catholic Church, currently under construction. Photo provided by Father Charbel Mhanna

“Qatar provided land on which we can build today a church in the name of St. Charbel,” he said.

Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the Maronite Catholic patriarch, laid the foundation stone for the church in 2018 at the invitation of Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

“The church is in the process of being finished,” Mhanna said.

Being a priest in the smallest country to ever host the World Cup also comes with some perks. Mhanna was able to attend the opening match of the soccer tournament along with other Christian leaders who minister in the Qatar Religious Complex.

“We sat near the seats designated for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and church representatives were wearing pectoral crosses without any problem,” he said.

UK Catholic bishop speaks out after woman with Down syndrome loses abortion law appeal

The Court of Appeal is based at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. / Anthony M. from Rome, Italy - Flickr via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0).

CNA Newsroom, Nov 29, 2022 / 04:38 am (CNA).

The Catholic Church in England and Wales has spoken out against the U.K.’s abortion law, branding it “illogical and unjust,” after a woman with Down syndrome lost a legal challenge to the law relating to abortion and disability.

In a ruling on Nov. 25, the Court of Appeal ruled that the U.K. abortion law did not discriminate against disabled people, even though it permits abortion up to birth if medics suspect the baby is disabled.

Heidi Crowter, a 27-year-old woman with Down syndrome, launched her legal challenge in the High Court in July 2021, arguing that the law does not respect her life.

Following her defeat in the High Court in September 2021, the case was then reexamined by the Court of Appeal this month, but Lord Justice Underhill said in his judgment that the disability clause in the Abortion Act 1967 does not play “any significant role in causing discriminatory attitudes against disabled people generally, or those with Down’s in particular.”

In a statement on Nov. 29, Bishop John Sherrington, auxiliary bishop of Westminster and lead bishop for Life Issues, told CNA that the verdict was upsetting.

Bishop John Sherrington, auxiliary bishop of Westminster  Mazur/ (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
Bishop John Sherrington, auxiliary bishop of Westminster Mazur/ (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

He said: “I am deeply saddened that Heidi Crowter’s campaign to recognize the child with a disability in the womb as an equal has been rejected by the Court of Appeal.

“The law which protects her after birth did not protect her in the womb — indeed, a disabled person such as Heidi can be aborted up to the moment of birth based on their disability alone. This is illogical and unjust. Whilst the judgment claims that section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act 1967 does not have ‘any significant role in causing discriminatory attitudes against disabled people generally, or those with Down’s in particular, the year-on-year increase in disability-selective abortions tells a very different story.”

“I echo the words of Pope Francis, who strongly discouraged the use of prenatal diagnosis for selective purposes as ‘it is an expression of an inhuman eugenic mentality, which deprives families of the possibility of welcoming, embracing, and loving their weakest children.’ We must continue to advocate for greater support for families caring for a child with disability.”

The bishop concluded: ”I offer my prayerful support as Heidi considers seeking permission for the case to be heard at the U.K. Supreme Court.”

Speaking outside the Court of Appeal on Nov. 25, Crowter said: “I will keep on fighting because we have already informed and changed hearts and minds and changed people’s opinions about the law.”

She added: “The law was made in 1967, when we were not even allowed to go to school because of our extra chromosome. So, I think it’s time that the judges move with the times and actually meet with people with Down syndrome.”

Crowter and her legal team are now considering taking her case to the U.K. Supreme Court.

Following the ruling, pro-life advocates and parliamentarians expressed their solidarity with Crowter and reiterated their opposition to the U.K.’s law.

Lord Alton of Liverpool, crossbench peer, Catholic, and human rights advocate, shared an article on Twitter about the case along with the Tweet: “Heidi Crowter with Down syndrome loses bid to end barbaric law and allows abortion up to birth on Down babies — which I opposed when enacted. Judges say it’s up to Parliament not the Courts. Heidi’s right — it’s a terrible, discriminatory law which should be repealed.”

Meanwhile, Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson said in a statement on Nov. 25: “This is a great disappointment for people with Down syndrome and disabilities in general. The law clearly discriminates against people with Down syndrome and does not provide the same protections that other unborn babies have. Hopefully, Heidi and her team will have more success if they decide to take this case to the Supreme Court.”

The law in England and Wales allows abortion up to 24 weeks, but if the baby has a disability, including Down syndrome, cleft lip, or a club foot, abortion is then permissible up to birth.

A Nov. 24 statement from the campaign group Right to Life said: “There were 3,370 disability-selective abortions in 2021. The number of late-term abortions at 24 weeks’ gestation or over where the baby has a disability increased by 20% from 229 to 274.

“The statistics showed there were 859 abortions where a baby had Down syndrome in 2021, an increase of 24% from 2020. The statistics also show a 71% increase in late-term abortions at 24 weeks gestation or over where the baby had Down syndrome, increasing from 14 in 2020 to 24 in 2021.”

Balenciaga apologizes amid outcry over ad featuring sexualized children

null / Roman Zaiets / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 28, 2022 / 16:35 pm (CNA).

Top luxury fashion brand Balenciaga has issued an apology after outcry over the company’s recent ad campaign featuring young children surrounded by sexualized symbols.

In the ad, young children — appearing to be no older than 6 years old — hold stuffed teddy bears that are dressed in leather bondage gear, including fishnet tights and chains used in BDSM (bondage, discipline/dominance, submission, and sadomasochism).


The images went viral on social media, provoking public outrage over other disturbing elements in the photographic ad series, including court documents in one photo that reference child abuse and pornography. 

“The ads blatantly exploit the innocence of children to glamorize perversity and sell merchandise,” Mary Rice Hasson, director of the Person and Identity Project for the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told CNA. 

Balenciaga has since removed all traces of the ad campaign and deleted or hidden all of its Instagram posts.

Kim Kardashian, a frequent partner with the Spanish-based designer and wearer of its products, said Sunday she was “re-evaluating” her relationship with the brand.

“As a mother of four, I have been shaken by the disturbing images,” Kardashian tweeted. “The safety of children must be held with the highest regard and any attempts to normalize child abuse of any kind should have no place in our society — period.”

Kardashian said she would base her assessment on the company’s “willingness to accept accountability for something that should have never happened to begin with” and “the actions I am expecting to see them take to protect children.”

The company issued an apology on Instagram shortly after Kardashian’s reproof, stating it “strongly condemn[ed] child abuse” and that the “BDSM-inspired outfits” “should not have been featured in a photoshoot with children.”

“It was never our intent to include it in our narrative,” the post read. “We could have done things differently.”

The post blamed third-party entities for providing court documents of a real Supreme Court ruling on child pornography for the photoshoot. 

“All the items included in this shooting were provided by third parties that confirmed in writing that these props were fake office documents,” the post read. 

“The inclusion of these unapproved documents was the result of reckless negligence for which Balenciaga has filed a complaint.” 

The brand has since sued production company North Six, Inc. for including the legal documents in the ad for damages of $25 million.

According to Hasson, Balenciaga’s “thin apologies” are “calculating and ultimately meaningless.”

“Balenciaga and its elite designers had no qualms about surrounding children with perverse sexual images to push its products. They care about money, not morality,” Hasson said.

Social media activists have also drawn attention to disturbing content posted by the brand’s main stylist, Lotta Volkova, featuring photographs of children mutilated or held hostage.

Patrina Mosley, who formerly worked in leadership at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, told CNA that Balenciaga’s advertisements are part of a growing push to “normalize pedophilia.” 

Mosley currently serves as a national advisory board member for Project 21, a Black leadership network that promotes the voices of conservative and moderate African Americans. 

“From Jeffery Epstein to Balenciaga, elite society is telling us exactly what they want — and that’s to normalize pedophilia. We still do not have the client list of those who frequented Epstein’s pedo-island, and who knows how long Balenciaga has been incorporating insidious nods to child sexual abuse in their campaigns. This is evil and just flat-out satanic,” Mosley said.

“As adults we have a responsibility to protect children, and they are grooming our children right in front of our faces for the next phase of liberalization: pedophilia, or as they have already begun to call it, MAPs: minor-attracted people,” Mosley warned.

Balenciaga did not respond to CNA’s request for comment.