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U.S. Supreme Court: Idaho can enforce ban on sex changes for children

"I’m proud to defend Idaho’s law that ensures children are not subjected to these life-altering drugs and procedures," said Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador in reaction to the decision. / Credit: AP Photo/Kyle Green, File

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 15, 2024 / 18:45 pm (CNA).

The United States Supreme Court awarded Idaho emergency relief that will allow the state to enforce its ban on doctors performing sex-change operations on children and providing them with sex-change drugs.

In a 6-3 decision on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that the lower appellate court had gone too far when it blocked Idaho from enforcing the law altogether. The decision, however, does not settle the question of whether the law is constitutional. 

The lower court had blocked the state from enforcing any part of the law in response to a lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of the rules. The lawsuit is still ongoing, but the order had been preventing the law from going into effect while both sides litigated the constitutionality of the law in court.

Per the Supreme Court’s decision, Idaho can broadly enforce the law and is only blocked from enforcing it against the plaintiffs who are named in the lawsuit until the litigation is settled.

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador, a Republican, praised the Supreme Court’s decision in a statement Monday

“I’ve witnessed firsthand the devastating consequences of drugs and procedures used on children with gender dysphoria,” Labrador said. “And it’s a preventable tragedy.” 

“The state has a duty to protect and support all children, and that’s why I’m proud to defend Idaho’s law that ensures children are not subjected to these life-altering drugs and procedures,” the attorney general continued. “Those suffering from gender dysphoria deserve love, support, and medical care rooted in biological reality. Denying the basic truth that boys and girls are biologically different hurts our kids. No one has the right to harm children, and I’m grateful that we, as the state, have the power — and duty — to protect them.”

The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement that noted the constitutionality of the law has not yet been settled but called the ruling “an awful result for transgender youth and their families across the state.”

“Today’s ruling allows the state to shut down the care that thousands of families rely on while sowing further confusion and disruption,” the statement read. “Nonetheless, today’s result only leaves us all the more determined to defeat this law in the courts entirely, making Idaho a safer state to raise every family.”

Nearly half of the states in the country have enacted restrictions on doctor’s performing sex-change operations on children or providing children with drugs to facilitate a gender transition.

New York’s Cardinal Dolan ‘safe and secure’ after sheltering amid Iranian airstrikes

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

CNA Staff, Apr 15, 2024 / 18:15 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is “safe” after he took shelter in Jerusalem as Iran fired more than 300 drones and missiles over Israel beginning in the late hours of April 13. 

Dolan, who leads the Archdiocese of New York, was visiting Israel in his role as chair of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) and was set to visit various charitable organizations. But his visit was interrupted when he and his team were forced to take shelter from the Iranian airstrikes. 

“This Sunday in Bethlehem, all seems calm and bright, and it is for us — we feel safe and secure,” he said in a video filmed from Bethlehem and posted on X on Sunday morning. “That wasn’t true in the middle of last night, when the air raid sirens went off and when we had to go down and seek security at Notre Dame Center.”

“But right now things look good, and we’re grateful for that,” he said. “Thanks for all your expressions of concern.”

Dolan and his team took shelter at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, an organization that offers hospitality to pilgrims visiting the Holy Land. 

With the support of the U.S. and other allies, Israel intercepted 99% of the more than 300 airstrikes launched by Iran and its proxies operating out of Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. According to a report by the Associated Press, some missiles made it through Israeli airspace, injuring a Bedouin child and causing minor damage to an Israeli air base.

The Iranian attack followed an airstrike in Syria on April 1 reportedly launched by Israel that killed two Iranian military leaders in an Iranian consulate. Iranian general Mohammad Reza Zahedi, who was killed in the attack, was involved in orchestrating the Oct. 7, 2023, terrorist attacks, according to a statement by the Iranian Coalition Council of Islamic Revolution Forces. 

President Joe Biden “condemn[ed]” the Iranian attacks on Israel in an April 13 statement from the White House. The U.S. and Israel had been preparing for an attack by Iran over the course of last week.

“Thanks to these deployments and the extraordinary skill of our service members, we helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles,” Biden said in the statement.

Israel is still on “high alert” and has approved plans for “offensive and defensive actions,” according to a statement by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

Biden has since told Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that the U.S. would not participate in or support a counterstrike against Iran. 

In his post, Dolan shared that he just celebrated Mass in Bethlehem and that he would go on to visit the site of the Nativity. 

Yesterday he visited “a magnificent center” run by religious sisters who take in abandoned babies.

“And they said to me, every time we get a new baby on our doorstep … we feel that it’s Christmas all over again, as another one of God’s children is born,” Dolan recalled in the video. 

For the April 12–18 trip, Dolan planned to meet with local religious leaders and visit social service and humanitarian organizations, according to an Archdiocese of New York April 3 press release

Dolan began the visit with a Shabbat dinner with Rabbi Noam Marans of the American Jewish Committee, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, and Monsignor Peter Vaccari, who heads CNEWA.

After the Iranian attack, Dolan met with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian National Authority, on Sunday.  

The trip marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine by Pope Pius XII in 1949.

The trip was planned before the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks, but Dolan made plans to meet with the families of the hostages currently being held by Hamas as well as with Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups, according to the release. 

This province in Italy ‘invests’ in children and families

Pope Francis blesses an unborn baby during the Papal Foundation's annual pilgrimage in Rome, Friday, April 12, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

ACI Stampa, Apr 15, 2024 / 17:45 pm (CNA).

“Italians are in danger of disappearing.” 

“The birth rate in Italy is at an all-time low.” 

These are not just canned phrases but the specific findings of Italian research and surveys. The famous “demographic winter” often mentioned by Pope Francis is evident in many regions of Italy except one: Alto Adige-Südtirol and its capital, Bolzano. 

To date, this area has been called a “parallel procreation universe” in Italy, with a birth rate that has remained constant for decades.

Its secret? This region invests in children and families.

According to an April 1 New York Times article, “the reason [for the consistent birth rate], experts say, is that the provincial government has over time developed a thick network of family-friendly benefits, going far beyond the one-off bonuses for babies that the national government offers.”

But what are these reforms specifically about?

In Bolzano, parents enjoy discounts on day care, child care products, groceries, health care, energy bills, transportation, after-school activities, and summer camps. According to the Times, “the province supplements national child care allocations with hundreds of euros more per child” and boasts child care programs, including one in particular “that certifies educators to turn their apartments into small nurseries [nursery schools].”

“All of that, experts say, helps free up women to work, which is vital for the economy,” the Times reported.

The website of the administration of the province of Bolzano states: “The province supports families, starting with financial contributions in favor of households with children and through the work done by the Family Agency for entities that provide child care services. The Family Agency also provides information for parents and works to improve family conditions. Families in Alto Adige need to live well and enjoy, even in the future perspective, a good quality of life.”

Everything is about family in these areas. Walking around Bolzano or South Tyrol, one can see an abundance of flyers advertising “Welcome Baby” backpacks that are filled with picture books and advice for new parents.

“The difference is that it has a constant investment, over the years, unlike most national policies that are one-offs,” Agnese Vitali, a demographer at the University of Trento, told the New York Times. “Nobody plans to have children on the basis of one-off policies.”

In addition to the state check, it is possible for families to apply for a provincial check.

Another Bolzano perk is the “Family+” benefits card, promoted by the municipality and is tied to the Despar Aspiag Service brand (a food retailer), which pledges to make a booklet of 12 vouchers, each worth 10 euros, for families with three or more children.

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

Kansas governor vetoes bills to ban sex changes for minors, coerced abortions

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly arrives to address the crowd during her watch party at the Ramada Hotel Downtown Topeka on Nov. 8, 2022, in Topeka, Kansas. / Credit: Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 15, 2024 / 17:15 pm (CNA).

Democratic Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed legislation that would have prevented doctors from performing transgender surgeries and providing gender transition drugs to children. Kelly also vetoed a bill that would criminalize coerced abortions. 

According to the governor, she vetoed the sex change restrictions because she believes they would restrict parental rights. She said she vetoed the ban on coerced abortion because the language was too vague. 

Some Republican lawmakers have already indicated they will try to override the vetoes. The Republicans hold a supermajority in both chambers of the Kansas Legislature, which provides the party with enough votes to override a governor’s veto if most Republican members vote for the override.

Legislation to prohibit sex change operations on minors

The legislation that prohibits transgender drugs and surgery on minors would ban doctors from providing any type of surgical intervention on anyone under 18 that is intended to facilitate a gender transition. It would also prohibit the prescription of puberty blockers, hormone treatments, or any other drug to facilitate the gender transition of a minor. 

Per the legislation, a health care professional in violation of the proposed law would have had his or her license revoked. The health care professional would also have been liable for civil damages if the minor developed any physical, psychological, emotional, or psychological harm from the operations or drugs up to 10 years after the minor turns 18. 

In a statement accompanying her veto, Kelly said the bill “tramples parental rights.”

“This divisive legislation targets a small group of Kansans by placing government mandates on them and dictating to parents how to best raise and care for their children,” the governor said. “I do not believe that is a conservative value, and it’s certainly not a Kansas value.”

Republican House Speaker Daniel Hawkins criticized the governor’s veto, claiming that the procedures and drugs are experimental and should not be given to children. 

“As we watch other states, nations, and organizations reverse course on these experimental procedures on children, Laura Kelly will most surely find herself on the wrong side of history with her reckless veto of this commonsense protection for Kansas minors,” Hawkins said. 

Legislation to prohibit coercive abortions

The legislation to prohibit coercive abortions would have made it a felony to engage “in coercion” against a woman while knowing she is pregnant “with the intent to compel such woman to obtain an abortion when such woman has expressed her desire to not obtain an abortion.”

According to the proposal, coercion would have included physical restraint, physical threats, financial threats, abuse or threatening abuse of the legal system, and extortion, among other acts.

In her veto message, Kelly said she agreed “that no one should be coerced into undergoing a medical procedure against their will” but argued that “it is already a crime to threaten violence against another individual.”

“I am concerned with the vague language in this bill and its potential to intrude upon private, often difficult, conversations between a person and their family, friends, and health care providers,” the governor said. “This overly broad language risks criminalizing Kansans who are being confided in by their loved ones or simply sharing their expertise as a health care provider.”

Hawkins criticized the governor’s veto and said Republican lawmakers “are ready to override her radical stance” and “protect Kansas women.”

“It’s a sad day for Kansas when the governor’s uncompromising support of abortion won’t even allow her to advocate for trafficking and abuse victims who are coerced into the procedure,” Hawkins said in a statement. “Coercion is wrong, no matter the circumstance, and Laura Kelly’s veto is a step too far for commonsense Kansans.”

50,000 march for life in Poland as its parliament considers legalizing abortion

Before the march began, the president of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Tadeusz Wojda, stressed that “life is a gift from God and as such it is an inalienable right of every human being, which is why it must be protected and supported at every stage of its development.” / Credit: EWTN Polska

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 15, 2024 / 16:45 pm (CNA).

On Sunday, April 14, 50,000 people flooded the streets of Warsaw, Poland, for the National March for Life to defend the unborn at a time when the country’s parliament is considering bills to legalize abortion. 

Under the motto “Long live Poland,” the event was organized by the Fundacja św. Benedykta (St. Benedict Foundation) and was sponsored by the Polish Bishops’ Conference, among other organizations.

The spokeswoman for the march, Lidia Sankowska-Grabczuk, announced the estimated number of march participants. In addition, the bishops of Poland asked all parishes to pray for the unborn at all Sunday Masses.

At the march, signs could be read with messages such as “To kill or not to kill, that is the choice,” “I choose life,” “Together for life,” and “Love them both.”

An emotional moment for the participants was when the heartbeat of an unborn child was played over the loudspeakers. The march was broadcast by Radio María in Poland, EWTN Polska (Poland), TV Mn, and W Realu 24, among others.

Father Piotr W. Wisniowski, the spiritual director of EWTN Polska, noted that the National March for Life took place “exactly on the 1,058th anniversary of momentous event of the baptism of Poland (April 14, 966) and on the National Day of the Christianization of Poland, established by the Polish Parliament five years ago.” 

Before the march began, the president of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Tadeusz Wojda, stressed that “life is a gift from God and as such it is an inalienable right of every human being, which is why it must be protected and supported at every stage of its development.”

“Respect for life, which belongs to the most important values, is one of the fundamental duties of every human being,” he said.

The prelate highlighted that the National March for Life is “a manifestation of respect for the life that has been conceived, of acceptance of this life in love and of an expression of gratitude to the parents who undertake difficulties of raising children, giving them the opportunity to grow and develop.”

The abortion debate in Poland

Two days prior to the march, on April 12, CNN reported that lawmakers in the Polish Parliament voted on four proposals, one of which would return the abortion law to what it was before 2020, which allowed abortion if “the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest, if the mother’s life was at risk, or in the case of fetal abnormalities.” In 2020, a law was passed that prohibits abortion almost completely in the country.

The proposals approved for debate also include one from Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s party, which would allow abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. However, if passed, it would face the possible veto by the country’s Catholic president, Andrzej Duda.

The former president of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, recently pointed out that Article 38 of the Polish Constitution “guarantees the legal protection of the life of every human being,” which was confirmed by the Constitutional Court in its May 28, 1997, ruling.

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

Wisconsin man sentenced to over 7 years in prison for firebombing pro-life organization

null / Credit: Brian A Jackson / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 15, 2024 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

A man convicted of firebombing a pro-life organization’s office in Madison, Wisconsin, was sentenced to over seven years in federal prison on April 10.

The 29-year-old man, Hridindu Sankar Roychowdhury, pleaded guilty to one charge of attempting to cause damage by means of fire or an explosive for firebombing the Wisconsin Family Action office. The bombing, which he carried out in May 2022, occurred early in the morning when the office was empty and there were no injuries.

Roychowdhury launched his attack just days after an unidentified person leaked a draft of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The firebombing was accompanied by a threat graffitied on the pro-life group’s exterior walls: “If abortions aren’t safe, then you aren’t either.”

“Roychowdhury’s arson was an act of domestic terrorism,” U.S. Attorney Timothy M. O’Shea for the Western District of Wisconsin said in a statement released by the Department of Justice

“Domestic terrorism is cowardly and profoundly undemocratic,” O’Shea added. “It is not speech; it is not an exchange of ideas; instead, it is an attempt to harm or frighten one’s fellow citizens, thus driving Americans apart and weakening the fabric of our democratic society. The U.S. Department of Justice, and this U.S. Attorney’s Office, with our local and federal law enforcement partners, will never flinch from holding domestic terrorists accountable.”

Christine File, the president of Wisconsin Family Action, was disappointed with the sentence. The organization had recommended that Roychowdhury receive 15 years in prison. The charges carried a minimum of five years and a maximum of 20 years in prison.

“The court missed an opportunity to strengthen the protection of constitutional rights like free speech and free exercise, rights that have themselves been under assault in recent years,” File said in a statement. “The defendant’s act of domestic terrorism to threaten our people, our families and friends, our neighbors, and our greater pro-life community is unconscionable. Ultimately, the defendant — and others who attacked pro-life groups they disagree with — attacked our civil society and the constitutional rights foundational to it.”

In addition to his 90-month sentence, Roychowdhury received three years of supervised release and a $32,000 fine. 

“Given the severity of his crime and the charges he pled guilty to, the sentence lacks proportionality,” File said. “However, as we’ve said since the day of the attack, no act or threat of violence or terrorism will deter us from our mission — being a voice for the voiceless.”

Threats to pro-life organizations on the rise

Attacks on pro-life organizations, churches, and pro-life pregnancy centers have seen an uptick since the Supreme Court draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked, according to a CNA tracker. At least 115 organizations, including 38 churches, have been vandalized over the past two years with varying degrees of severity. 

Most of the acts of vandalism have gone unsolved, which has prompted criticism of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation from Catholic groups, pro-life organizations, and Republican lawmakers.

On April 9, CatholicVote sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland that criticized the lack of prosecutions and requested information on how the Justice Department intends to combat these attacks. 

“Catholic churches and individual Catholics have an absolute right to practice their faith and vote their consciences,” Brian Burch, the president of CatholicVote, said in the letter. 

“These attacks against Catholic churches standing for the right to life are textbook examples of voter intimidation and voter suppression,” Burch said. “You have sued multiple states which you allege are engaging in voter suppression … yet you have not devoted a single minute of federal time to addressing the intimidation and suppression of Catholic voters.” 

Garland has claimed that the Justice Department has dedicated full resources to prosecuting these incidents but that most of the actions occur at night, which makes them difficult to solve.

Alternatively, several pro-life activists have faced convictions for blocking access to abortion clinics under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. Some of the activists could face more than a decade in prison.

Catholic priest pepper-sprayed during confessions at Texas cathedral

null / Quisquilia/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 15, 2024 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

A Catholic priest who serves at St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Amarillo, Texas, was pepper-sprayed while hearing confessions last week, according to a statement from the parish. 

The parish said in a statement on Facebook that “someone dealing with mental health issues” sprayed rector Father Tony Neusch with the irritant while he was hearing confessions.

Police are investigating the incident. It’s unclear whether officers have identified a suspect at this time.

“I am okay and do not require medical attention,” Neusch said in the statement.

The cathedral has temporarily suspended its twice-a-week regular confessions, with priests only hearing confessions by appointment for the time being.

Regular confessions will resume after the cathedral installs security cameras in the chapel, according to the statement. 

“I am sorry for any inconvenience this may cause, but the safety of our confessors and those waiting to receive the sacrament needs to be preserved,” Neusch said in the statement.

The priest declined comment when reached by CNA on Monday.

The Amarillo Police Department, meanwhile, did not immediately provide the police report to CNA and declined to comment on the incident.

Pope Francis’ Indonesia visit to ‘strengthen message of tolerance, unity, and world peace’

Graha Maria Annai Velangkanni Church, an Indian-Mughal style Catholic church in Medan, Indonesia. / Credit: MarlonH/Shutterstock

Rome Newsroom, Apr 15, 2024 / 15:15 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis’ visit to Indonesia later this year has now been announced by the Vatican, and the Indonesian government has confirmed that the country will be the first destination in the 87-year-old pontiff’s apostolic journey to the Asia Pacific region, scheduled to take place Sept. 2–13. 

The anticipated 11-day international trip will be the longest voyage of Pope Francis’ pontificate. Following his visit to Indonesia, the Holy Father will travel to Papua New Guinea Sept. 6–9 and East Timor Sept. 9–11, concluding his journey in Singapore Sept. 11–13. 

Following an official invitation of President Joko Widodo on March 25, an official statement from Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs states: “The visit of Pope Francis to Indonesia holds significant importance to the Indonesian people, not only for Catholics but also for all religious communities. The visit is also expected to strengthen the message of tolerance, unity, and world peace.”

The Catholic Church is currently the third-largest religious community in the country with approximately 8.5 million members, who account for 3% of the country’s total population.

Although Indonesia does not have an established state religion, 87% of the population is Muslim, making it the most populous Muslim country in the world. Subsequently, Catholicism is one of six official religions recognized in the country alongside Islam, Protestantism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. 

Following the announcement of the pope’s upcoming visit to Indonesia, Cardinal Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, archbishop of Jakarta and president of the Indonesian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, reiterated the significance of building religious tolerance, peace, and unity — particularly among Christians and Muslims — within the country. 

“The national mosque, called Istiqlal, meaning liberty, or freedom, lies just in front of the Catholic cathedral in Jakarta,” Hardjoatmodjo said in a video message. “The national mosque was intentionally built at this site as a symbol of harmony.”

Benedictus Nuwa, an Indonesian Claretian missionary currently studying interreligious dialogue at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, believes Pope Francis’ visit to his homeland will bring a “message of peace, social justice, freedom of religion, and worship” and be key in strengthening the “relationship and dialogue between Catholics and Muslims.” 

Though Nuwa expressed pride in the ethnic and religious diversity present in his country, he also expressed concern about the discrimination and persecution against minorities occurring in parts of the country. “There are still groups that are intolerant to differences,” he said. “The Indonesian people in general and the government in particular must not close their eyes to these facts.” 

Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Indonesia will mark the third papal journey to Indonesia. Paul VI visited Indonesia in 1970 followed by St. John Paul II in 1989.

Notre Dame fire, 5 years later: What are the plans for reopening the cathedral in Paris?

Approximately 1,000 people have been working daily on the restoration of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, France. / Credit: Sumit Surai, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 15, 2024 / 14:45 pm (CNA).

On April 15, 2019, Paris witnessed one of the most devastating tragedies in its recent history. Notre Dame Cathedral, a religious, architectural, and cultural symbol that had withstood the passage of time, was engulfed in flames.

The fire, which originated in the space under the roof, quickly spread through the wooden rafters of the attic loaded with centuries of history and flammable material. The flames consumed the iconic spire of the cathedral, which collapsed in a dense column of smoke.

Despite the disaster, except for the main altar, all the works of art in the cathedral and the reliquary containing the crown of thorns were rescued and safely stored in different places.

The archbishop of Paris, Laurent Ulrich, announced in a pastoral letter that the reopening of the cathedral is scheduled to begin with a triduum on Dec. 7 that will include the official inauguration in which the French state, which actually owns the cathedral, turns it over to the Catholic Church for the use of worship. A liturgical celebration with a Magnificat or a Te Deum will be held that day and then vespers.

The consecration of the altar is scheduled to take place on Sunday, Dec. 8, during the first Mass in the restored cathedral. Finally, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception will be celebrated, which this year is moved to Dec. 9 because the feast falls on the second Sunday of Advent.

In addition to the events for the reopening of Notre Dame, the archbishop of Paris announced an octave from Dec. 8–15, with each day featuring a solemn celebration with a particular theme.

Architect Philippe Villeneuve was in charge of supervising the restoration of the church, working with a team of professionals to reconstruct the cathedral according to its original design, including the spire, which was designed by architect Eugène Viollet-le-duc in the 19th century.

Reconstruction work began just 24 months after the tragic incident. The first phase consisted of cleaning and securing the site with the participation of more than 200 different companies.

Those responsible for the project have estimated that approximately 1,000 people have been working daily on the restoration process.

According to the Rebuilding Notre Dame de Paris project, the task of restoring the cathedral is estimated to have cost about $767 million. Thankfully, the global response has been overwhelming: A total of approximately $928 million has been raised to date, given by donors from 150 countries.

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

Baltimore Archdiocese announces major restructuring that will merge dozens of parishes

St. Vincent de Paul Church, the oldest Catholic parish church in continuous use in Baltimore, which was dedicated in 1841, is among the churches slated for closure. / Credit: Smash the Iron Cage|Wikimedia|CC BY-SA 4.0

CNA Staff, Apr 15, 2024 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has announced the details of its major parish merger plan, one that will merge 61 parishes in the episcopate’s titular city into 21 parishes. 

The archdiocese said on its website on Sunday that its Seek the City to Come initiative “has entered its public comment phase,” with the plan set to address “investment and ministries, the realignment of parish communities designed to offer a strong sense of belonging for all, and the merging of parish campuses.”

The plan, detailed on the archdiocese’s website, would reduce the total number of “worship sites” in the area from 59 to 26. 

The final plan will be announced in June, the archdiocese says, although “no changes will be immediate,” with the mergers taking place “with consultation and over time.”

Parishes in the city have faced sustained challenges in recent years, the archdiocese said, including “deferred maintenance, low Mass attendance, and multiple unmet opportunities to better serve the needs of the broader community.”

The diocese has “known for a long time that we could not continue to ignore the decline in Mass attendance and increased resources required to keep our physical plants in good condition,” the plan says, necessitating the local Church to “realign and consolidate our efforts and resources.”

Decisions on how to dispose of the decommissioned parishes will be made at a later date. After those decisions are made, “all churches will be available for sacraments that include baptisms, weddings, and funerals,” the archdiocese said. 

Among the proposed closures is St. Vincent de Paul Church in downtown Baltimore. Dedicated in 1841, it is the oldest continuously operated church in the city and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also facing closure is the historic Corpus Christi Parish, which was consecrated in 1891 in the city’s Bolton Hill neighborhood.

The archdiocese in September of last year declared bankruptcy after warning it might do so in response to a looming wave of sex-abuse-related lawsuits. The bankruptcy process will “involve several steps over the next two to three years,” Archbishop William Lori said at the time. 

This week the archdiocese noted that the restructuring of the city parishes “began long before” the Chapter 11 filing in September. 

“Seek the City is a ground-up solution being developed based on the Church’s decades-long need for creating a sustainable Catholic presence in Baltimore City and commitment to reinvest in vibrant and effective ministries,” the archdiocese said. 

The archdiocese said it would hold two public comment sessions on the proposal later this month. 

Lori in the announcement said the plan will “help the Church in Baltimore minister to our neighbors and respond to the needs of the city for the centuries to come as we have since 1789.”

“Together, we must design a plan that confronts decades of disinvestment and population loss in the city and brings the Eucharistic vision to life through mission and ministry,” the prelate said.