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2023 Ratzinger Prize reflects on theological legacy of late Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Francis meets with Father Federico Lombardi, president of the Ratzinger Foundation and Vatican spokesman during Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate (left), and the 2023 Ratzinger Prize recipients Father Pablo Blanco Sarto (center) and Professor Francesc Torralba (right) at the Vatican on Nov. 30, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Dec 1, 2023 / 15:20 pm (CNA).

The Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation awarded its annual Ratzinger Prize this week to two Spaniards, the theologian Father Pablo Blanco Sarto and the philosopher Professor Francesc Torralba, the first time the award was held since the passing of the late pontiff last December.

The award ceremony took place in the frescoed state hall of the Sala Regia of the Apostolic Palace on the evening of Nov. 30 and discussed the legacy of Pope Benedict’s rich theological works, focusing specifically on the theme of dialogue between faith and reason, one of the major concerns of his pontificate.

“The legacy of Pope Benedict XVI is alive and will continue to bear important fruits to the path of the Church,” Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said at the event.

Father Federico Lombardi, president of the Ratzinger Foundation and Vatican spokesman during Benedict’s pontificate, opened the event reflecting on Benedict’s deep contribution to the understating of the relationship between faith and reason.

“Joseph Ratzinger never wanted to build his own system of thought or establish his own school but taught us to seek the truth with the power of reason and the light of faith, always keeping reason ‘open,’ in dialogue between people, disciplines, and the great religious traditions,” Lombardi said.

The pope “was well aware of the possibilities and risks of humanity’s journey, as well as of the Church’s mission for its salvation. He leads us to enter with humility and courage at the deepest level to find and rediscover points of reference and solid and inalienable communities,” Lombardi continued.

Ratzinger Prize recipient Father Pablo Blanco Sarto speaks at the award ceremony on Nov. 30, 2023, in the state hall of the Sala Regia of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. Credit: Elizabeth Alva/EWTN
Ratzinger Prize recipient Father Pablo Blanco Sarto speaks at the award ceremony on Nov. 30, 2023, in the state hall of the Sala Regia of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. Credit: Elizabeth Alva/EWTN

The Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation, established in 2007, aims at “the promotion of theology in the spirit of Joseph Ratzinger.” There have been a total of 28 recipients of the award — usually two recipients per year — since it was first bestowed in 2011.

The recipients this week were introduced by Cardinals Gianfranco Ravasi and Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, with each reflecting on their work on Benedict’s theology.

“Ratzinger defined Christianity as the religion of the words but also the religion of ‘agape’ and, therefore, both are key,” Torralba said in an interview with EWTN. “We have to introduce rationality in our public life because it is very marked by emotionalism and sometimes by fanaticism and fundamentalism, but on the other hand, the world needs agape and agape is donation, it is gratuitous love.”

The morning of the award ceremony, the recipients celebrated Mass in the Vatican Grotto, where they then prayed before the tombs of St. Peter and of Pope Benedict XVI. They were then received by Pope Francis in a private audience.

The award ceremony of the Ratzinger Prize was preceded by a conference held at the Pontifical Gregorian University on Nov. 29 titled “Benedict XVI’s Legacy: Unfinished Debates on Faith, Culture, and Politics,” which featured a range of speakers and scholars, both from Italy and the United States.

The event was co-sponsored by the foundation as well as the University of Notre Dame’s De Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture.

Ratzinger Prize recipient Professor Francesc Torralba speaks at the award ceremony on Nov. 30, 2023, in the state hall of the Sala Regia of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. Credit: Elizabeth Alva/EWTN
Ratzinger Prize recipient Professor Francesc Torralba speaks at the award ceremony on Nov. 30, 2023, in the state hall of the Sala Regia of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. Credit: Elizabeth Alva/EWTN

For Father Roberto Regoli, professor of history at the Pontifical Gregorian University, the conference was an opportunity to evaluate the legacy of the late pope on both the present moment and for posterity, with Regoli describing Benedict’s pontificate as one not of “restoration” but rather characterized by ecclesial reforms and “consolidation” and of “dialogue.”

“One of the characteristic elements of Benedict XVI’s pontificate was that of an intellectual opening and a meeting with exponents of other cultural and religious traditions,” Regoli said.

“This attitude allowed for various cultural repositioning by those with whom he established a dialogue,” he said. “This dialogue responded to a frequent preoccupation that ‘a civilization cannot survive without a great religion to sustain and animate it.’ But the pope’s motivation for dialogue is much more profound, because it is primarily a pastoral concern.”

“Benedict XVI’s legacy is thus simple and full of faith; it is the vision of a beautiful Church that is the work of God and not of man,” Regoli continued.

“His heritage is this radical faith in God. It is an aspect of no little importance in a tired and self-destructive era which exalts man but, in the end, it continuously humiliates him. Benedict XVI chose both faith in God and in man. He chose the harmony between faith and reason. This is his heritage.”

Cardinal Tobin: Faith leaders can influence the world on climate change

Cardinal Joseph Tobin: We must align our spiritual values with our actions toward the planet and each other.

Hard-living Irish musician Shane MacGowan received last rites before he died, family says 

Shane MacGowan on June 16, 2016, in London, England / Credit: Dave Benett/Getty Images

CNA Newsroom, Dec 1, 2023 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

Irish songwriter and former Pogues lead singer Shane MacGowan received last rites before he died Thursday, his family said. 

“Prayers and the last rites were read during his passing,” the family said in a written statement Nov. 30. 

MacGowan, 65, is best known as the co-author of the 1987 Christmas mega-hit “Fairytale of New York,” which still enters the charts each December, more than 35 years after its initial release. 

He was also the frontman and founder of the Pogues, a London band that fused Irish traditional music and punk rock, along with occasional forays into other genres. 

MacGowan was raised a Catholic and often used Catholic imagery in his songs, though he did not practice the faith for most of his adult life, which included decades of heavy drug and alcohol use and frequent infidelity. 

Yet he told an interviewer that he often prayed to Jesus, Mary, St. Martin, St. Francis, and his dead relatives who he thought were in heaven. 

“His anxiety around loss and death, including almost certainly his own, was presented as one of the reasons behind his strong Irish Catholic faith,” wrote his biographer, Richard Balls, in his 2021 book “A Furious Devotion: The Life of Shane MacGowan.” 

Irish Catholic identity 

Born and raised in England to Irish parents, as a boy Shane visited Ireland often, staying with his extended family in a stone cottage in County Tipperary for as long as six weeks at a time. The arrival of Shane and his parents and sister would cause a stir, and his aunts would get emotional to the point of crying. 

“When they came to leave, the tears would flow all over again and holy water would be sprinkled over them to keep them safe,” his biographer wrote. 

The Ireland side of the family was steeped in Catholicism. They had collies named Peter and Paul. As a lad, Shane used to walk to daily Mass with his aunt Nora as she prayed the rosary on the way. His aunt would also tune in at 6 p.m. every night to the broadcast of the Angelus on RTE, the national television network. 

MacGowan was fascinated by the Catholic Church. 

“I might have become a priest if I hadn’t been a singer,” MacGowan told his biographer. 

Drugs, alcohol, violence 

As a teenager, MacGowan got into drugs, particularly LSD, which affected his grip on reality and led him at 17 to a six-month stay at a psychiatric hospital. His loving but permissive parents did little to stop his drug use. 

For most of the rest of his life, MacGowan drank large amounts of whatever alcohol happened to be near and consumed large amounts of illicit substances, including heroin. His famously self-destructive behavior led the author of a humorous 2000 book about Irish culture to call it “Is Shane MacGowan Still Alive?”

Even while almost constantly inebriated, he pumped out songs, which drew praise from fans and well-known musicians for their sound, imagery, detail, candor, comedy, and connection. 

In his lyrics he often drew on his difficult life, which included illness, inebriation, street beatings, and, as a young man, dabbling in male prostitution. 

His friends found him good company but also maddening, with sudden mood swings. 

“I can be tender. But there’s a lot of psychotic hatred coming out of me as well,” he told an interviewer. 


MacGowan’s faith wasn’t doctrinaire. He explored Eastern religions and philosophies, and he called himself a “free-thinking Catholic.” 

But he felt a strong connection to the Church. 

“The Sacred Heart of Jesus and a statue of Mary holding Jesus have pride of place on the mantelpiece of his flat in Dublin to this day and he wears a crucifix around his neck,” his biographer wrote in 2021. 

MacGowan’s songs explored degradation and violence, but often with humor and a hint of redemption. 

“Lorca’s Novena,” for instance, on the 1990 Pogues album “Hell’s Ditch,” includes a gruesome murder but also a suggestion of resurrection, linked to women in a nearby chapel praying “Mother of all our joys / Mother of all our sorrows / Intercede with him tonight / For all of our tomorrows.” 

MacGowan had been in declining health for years. A 2015 fall fractured his pelvis and left him wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. The time in the hospital helped him stop using heroin, but he continued to drink alcohol. 

In 2018 he married his longtime on-again/off-again girlfriend Victoria Mary Clarke, who took care of him in his declining years. 

He spent most of the last four months of his life in a hospital. 

Clarke, MacGowan’s younger sister Siobhan, and their father (in his 90s) were at MacGowan’s side when he died at a hospital in Dublin, according to the family’s written statement. 

The term “last rites” can include confession and Eucharist, but it is more frequently used to describe the final of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, which the Church used to call “extreme unction” but now refers to as “anointing of the sick.” A priest anoints the forehead and hands of a “seriously ill” person with blessed oil and prays for grace and mercy for the person, adding: “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.” 

The sacrament is meant to offer “strengthening, peace, and courage” to the sick person, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which quotes the Council of Trent as saying: “If he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” 

U.S. bishops urge public to petition Biden administration over rule denying funds to pregnancy centers

Credit: Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock / null

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 1, 2023 / 13:45 pm (CNA).

The U.S. bishops are urging the public to petition the Biden administration to revise a proposal that the bishops say would “unfairly cut off” federal assistance money from going to pregnancy resource centers. 

In a statement published Thursday, the bishops called on Catholics to join them in urging the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to refrain from restricting Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding available to pregnancy centers.

In a rule change posted to the federal register in October, the Biden administration argued that some states have been using TANF funds “to pay for activities with, at best, tenuous connections to any TANF purpose.”

One of TANF’s purposes, the government said, is to “prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies.”

Organizations such as “crisis pregnancy centers” or “pregnancy resource centers” sometimes receive funding for that purpose, the government said. But if those initiatives only offer pregnancy counseling to women “after they become pregnant,” then TANF funds for that outreach “likely do not meet” the federal government’s standards.

The bishops’ statement this week said that the proposal “would strengthen TANF in multiple ways, making sure it gets to the people who need it most.” However, “this same proposal could also unfairly cut off TANF funds from pregnancy help centers.”

The prelates, through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of the General Counsel, argued in a petition to HHS that pregnancy centers “may provide information or counseling about chastity or natural family planning, to help prevent future out-of-wedlock pregnancies.”

The bishops asked the faithful to join them “in telling HHS to strengthen TANF without taking away support from the good work of pregnancy help centers.”

Public comments may be submitted to the HHS here. Comments must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 1.

A study published in 2021 by the pro-abortion group the Women’s Law Project said that “at least” 10 states send some TANF funding to pregnancy help centers.

In a statement last month, Arlington Bishop Michael Burbidge — the chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities — called the work of pregnancy help centers a “lifesaving ministry” standing in “radical solidarity” with pregnant and parenting mothers and families.

Burbidge said that “when women in challenging circumstances do not know where else to turn, the loving staff and volunteers at pregnancy help centers embrace them with empathy and service.”

Pregnancy help centers “provide a spectrum of care, resources, and material goods to support new mothers,” Burbidge said, including diapers and layettes, babysitting and career services, referrals for housing and food assistance, and personal mentorship and support, as well as medical services, including ultrasounds and prenatal and postnatal care.

“Often, there is nowhere else a mother in need can go for this kind of comprehensive assistance,” the bishop said. 

“The practical, loving service that pregnancy help centers offer extends far beyond the birth of the child, with relationships between mothers and help centers continuing for years.”

Other groups, such as the pro-life organization Human Coalition, have also condemned the Biden administration’s rule change.

Chelsey Youman, national director of Public Policy at Human Coalition, said in a Friday statement that pregnancy centers create a “giant safety net of care and assistance for women in need” and that the Biden administration’s policy change is “cutting this lifeline in the name of abortion.”

Youman also said that “stripping funding from these centers would hurt vulnerable women” and “undermine healthy families.”

“By attempting to remove pregnancy centers from funding, this discriminatory proposal callously blocks pregnant women in need from resources when they need it most,” Youman claimed. “The administration completely disregards the fact that these centers meet program goals by providing aid to needy families, promoting job preparation and marriage, and encouraging two-parent families.”

America’s Catholics weigh in on Pope Francis’ climate change priorities

null / L'Osservatore Romano.

CNA Staff, Dec 1, 2023 / 12:41 pm (CNA).

A defining theme of Pope Francis’ papacy has been his urging of humanity to better care for the natural environment, which he has done most prominently in his landmark 2015 encyclical Laudato Si and numerous subsequent writings and speeches.

The pope’s emphasis on this topic — especially his foray into climate science via his recent encyclical Laudate Deum — has variously drawn both praise and consternation from Catholics in the United States, about half of whom do not share Pope Francis’ views on climate change, according to surveys.

In Laudate Deum, which was released in October as a continuation to Laudato Si’, Francis wrote that the effects of climate change “are here and increasingly evident,” warning of “immensely grave consequences for everyone” if drastic efforts are not made to reduce emissions. In the face of this, the Holy Father criticized those who “have chosen to deride [the] facts” about climate science, stating bluntly that it is “no longer possible to doubt the human — ‘anthropic’ — origin of climate change.”

The pope in the encyclical laid out his belief that there must be a “necessary transition towards clean energy sources, such as wind and solar energy, and the abandonment of fossil fuels.” This follows a call from Pope Francis in 2021 to the global community calling for the world to “achieve net zero carbon emissions as soon as possible.”

He further lamented what he called “certain dismissive and scarcely reasonable opinions [on climate change] that I encounter, even within the Catholic Church.”

In light of the new encyclical — which extensively cites the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — Pope Francis was invited to speak at this week’s United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP28. Though the 86-year-old pope was forced to cancel his trip due to health issues, the Vatican has indicated that he aims to participate in COP28 this weekend in some fashion. It announced today that Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin will represent the pope at the conference. 

While various Catholic groups have welcomed the pope’s latest encyclical, some Catholics have reacted with persistent doubts, questioning whether the pope’s policy prescriptions would actually produce the desired effects. 

How do Americans feel about climate change?

According to a major survey conducted by Yale University, 72% of Americans believed in 2021 — the latest available data year — that “global warming is happening,” and 57% believe that global warming is caused by human activity. 

More recent polling from the Pew Research Center, conducted in June, similarly suggests that two-thirds of U.S. adults overall say the country should prioritize developing renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, over the expansion of the production of oil, coal, and natural gas. That same survey found that just 3 in 10 adults (31%) say the U.S. should completely phase out oil, coal, and natural gas. The Yale study found that 77% of U.S. adults support at least the funding of research into renewable energy sources.

Broken down by party affiliation, Pew found that a large majority of Democratic and Democratic-leaning independents — 90% — favor alternative energy sources, while just under half, 42%, of Republicans and Republican-leaning adults think the same. Within the Republican cohort, however, 67% of Republicans under age 30 prioritize the development of alternative energy sources, compared with the 75% of Republicans ages 65 and older who prioritize the expansion of oil, coal, and natural gas.

In terms of the expansion of alternative energy sources, two-thirds of Americans think the federal government should encourage domestic production of wind and solar power, Pew reported. Just 7% say the government should discourage this, while 26% think it should neither encourage nor discourage it.

How do America’s Catholics feel about climate change?

Surveys suggest that Catholics in the United States are slightly more likely than the U.S. population as a whole to be skeptical of climate change, despite the pope’s emphatic words in 2015 and since. 

separate Pew study suggests that 44% of U.S. Catholics say the Earth is warming mostly due to human activity, a view in line with Pope Francis’ stance. About 3 in 10 (29%) said the Earth is warming mostly due to natural patterns, while 13% said they believe there is no solid evidence the planet is getting warmer.

According to the same study, 71% of Hispanic Catholics see climate change as an extremely or very serious problem, compared with 49% of white, non-Hispanic Catholics. (There were not enough Black or Asian Catholics in the 2022 survey to analyze separately, Pew said.)

One 2015 study from Yale did suggest that soon after Laudato Si’ was released, U.S. Catholics were overall more likely to believe in climate change than before. That same study found no change, however, in the number of Americans overall who believe human activity is causing global warming. 

Pope Francis’ climate priorities

Beyond his groundbreaking writings, Pope Francis has taken many actions during his pontificate to make his own — admittedly small — country, Vatican City, more sustainable, including the recent announcement of a large order of electric vehicles, construction of its own network of charging stations, a reforestation program, and the continued importation of energy coming exclusively from renewable sources. 

Francis has often lamented what he sees as a tepid response from developed countries in implementing measures to curb climate change. In Laudate Deum, he urged that new multinational agreements on climate change — speaking in this case specifically about the COP28 conference — be “drastic, intense, and count on the commitment of all,” stating that “a broad change in the irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model would have a significant long-term impact.” 

The pope lamented what he sees as the fact that when new projects related to green energy are proposed, the potential for economic growth, employment, and human promotion are thought of first rather than moral considerations such as the effects on the world’s poorest. 

“It is often heard also that efforts to mitigate climate change by reducing the use of fossil fuels and developing cleaner energy sources will lead to a reduction in the number of jobs,” the pope noted.

“What is happening is that millions of people are losing their jobs due to different effects of climate change: rising sea levels, droughts, and other phenomena affecting the planet have left many people adrift. Conversely, the transition to renewable forms of energy, properly managed, as well as efforts to adapt to the damage caused by climate change, are capable of generating countless jobs in different sectors.”

‘Leave God’s creation better than we found it’

Dr. Kevin Roberts, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation think tank, told CNA that he has noticed a theme of frustration and confusion among many Catholics regarding the Holy Father’s emphasis on climate change. 

A self-described outdoorsman and former president of Wyoming Catholic College, Roberts spoke highly to CNA of certain aspects of Laudato Si’, particularly the pope’s insights into what he called “human ecology,” which refers to the acceptance of each person’s human body as a vital part of “accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home.”

Dr. Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation. Courtesy of Heritage Foundation.
Dr. Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation. Courtesy of Heritage Foundation.

“I like to think [Pope Francis] personally wrote that, because I could see him saying that,” Roberts said of the passage, which appears in paragraph 155 of the encyclical. Roberts said he even makes a point to meditate on that “beautiful and moving” passage during a retreat that he does annually. 

That portion of Laudato Si’ notwithstanding, Roberts said he strongly believes that it detracts from other important issues, such as direct ministry to the poor, when Pope Francis elevates care for God’s natural creation as “seemingly more important than other issues to us as Catholics.” He also said he disagrees with Pope Francis’ policy prescriptions, such as a complete phasing out of fossil fuels, contained in Laudate Deum

“We of course want to pray for him. We’re open to the teaching that he is providing. But we also have to remember as Catholics that sometimes popes are wrong. And on this issue, it is a prudential matter. It is not a matter of morality, particularly when he’s getting into the scientific policy recommendations,” Roberts said. 

Roberts said the Heritage Foundation’s research and advocacy has focused not on high-level, multinational agreements and conferences to tackle the issues posed by climate change but rather on smaller-scale, more community-based efforts. He said this policy position is, in part, due to the historical deference such multinational conglomerates of nations have given to China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases overall. 

He said agreements within the U.S. itself, with businesses and all levels of government working together, have produced the best results so far when it comes to improving the environment. He also pointed to examples of constructive action that don’t involve billions of dollars, such as families making the choice to spend more time outdoors or engaging in local activities that contribute to environmental conservation and community life, such as anti-litter campaigns and community gardening. The overarching goal, he said, should be to “leave God’s creation better than we found it.”

Roberts — who said he personally believes humans likely have “very little effect” on the climate — said he was discouraged to read other portions of Laudato Si’, as well as Laudate Deum, that to him read as though they had come “straight out of the U.N.” Despite his criticisms, Roberts urged his fellow Catholics to continue to pray for the Holy Father and to listen to the pope’s moral insights. 

“I just think that the proposed solutions are actually more anti-human and worse than the purported effects of climate change,” he added.  

‘A far more complex issue’

Greg Sindelar, a Catholic who serves as CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a conservative think tank that studies the energy industry, similarly expressed concerns to CNA about the potential impact of certain climate change mitigation policies on human flourishing. 

Like Roberts, Sindelar spoke highly of certain aspects of the pope’s message while expressing reservations about some of the U.N.-esque solutions proposed in Laudate Deum

“I think the pope is right about our duty as Catholics to be stewards and to care for the environment. But I think what we have to understand — what we have to balance this with — is that it cannot come at the expense of depriving people of affordable and reliable energy,” Sindelar said in an interview with CNA. 

“There’s ways to be environmentally friendly without sacrificing the access that we all need to reliable and affordable energy.”

Greg Sindelar is CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a think tank in America's leading energy-producing state. Courtesy of Texas Public Policy Foundation
Greg Sindelar is CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a think tank in America's leading energy-producing state. Courtesy of Texas Public Policy Foundation

Sindelar said TPPF primarily promotes cheap, reliable access to energy as a means of promoting human flourishing. The free-market-focused group is skeptical of top-down governmental intervention, both in the form of regulation and incentives or disincentives in certain areas of the energy sector.

When asked what he thinks his fellow Catholics largely think about the issue, Sindelar said many of the Catholics he hears from express the view that government policies and interventions rarely produce effective solutions and could potentially hinder access to energy for those in need.

“I think it’s a far more complex issue than just saying we need to cut emissions, and we need to transfer away from fossil fuels, and all these other things. What we need to do is figure out and ensure ways that we are providing affordable and reliable electricity to all citizens of the world,” he reiterated. 

“When the pope speaks, when the Vatican speaks, it carries a lot of weight with Catholics around the world, [and] not just with Catholics … and I totally agree with him that we need to be thinking about the most marginalized and the poorest amongst us,” Sindelar continued. 

“[But] by going down these policy prescription paths that he’s recommending, we’re actually going to reduce their ability to have access to that,” he asserted. 

Sindelar, while disagreeing with Pope Francis’ call for an “abandonment of fossil fuels,” said he appreciates the fact that Pope Francis has spoken out about the issue of care for creation and has initiated so much public discussion.

“I think there is room for differing views and opinions on the right ways to do that,” he said.

Effective mitigation efforts 

Susan Varlamoff, a retired biologist and parishioner at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in the Atlanta area, is among those Catholics who are committed to Pope Francis’ call to care for creation and to mitigate the effects of climate change. To that end, Varlamoff in 2016 created a peer-reviewed action plan for the Archdiocese of Atlanta to help Catholics put the principles contained in Laudato Si’ into action, mainly through smaller, more personal actions that people can take to reduce their energy usage. 

Retired biologist Susan Varlamoff. Photo courtesy of Susan Varlamoff
Retired biologist Susan Varlamoff. Photo courtesy of Susan Varlamoff

The Atlanta Archdiocese’s efforts have since garnered recognition and praise, Varlamoff said, with at least 35 archdioceses now involved in an inter-diocesan network formed to exchange sustainability ideas based on the latest version of the plan from Atlanta. 

“It’s fascinating to see what everybody is doing, and it’s basically based on their talents and imaginations,” Varlamoff said, noting that a large number of young people have gotten involved with their efforts. 

As a scientist, Varlamoff told CNA it is clear to her that Pope Francis knows what he’s talking about when he lays out the dangers posed by inaction in the face of climate change. 

“He understands the science, and he’s deeply concerned … he’s got remarkable influence as a moral leader,” she said. 

“Part of what our religion asks us to do is to care for one another. We have to care for creation if we’re going to care for one another, because the earth is our natural resource system, our life support, and we cannot care for one another if we don’t have that life support.”

Responding to criticisms about the financial costs associated with certain green initiatives, Varlamoff noted that small-scale sustainable actions can actually save money. She offered the example of parishes in the Atlanta area that have drastically reduced their electric bills by installing solar panels. 

“[But,] it’s not just about saving money. It’s also about reducing fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions, and protecting the natural resources for future generations,” she said. 

Moreover, Varlamoff said, the moral imperative to improve the natural environment for future generations is worth the investment. “When [Catholics] give money, for example, for a social justice issue like Walking with Moms in Need or special needs, the payback is improving lives. We’re improving the environment here,” she emphasized. 

Indi Gregory remembered as ‘true warrior’ at funeral

Indi Gregory. / Credit: Christian Concern

CNA Staff, Dec 1, 2023 / 11:55 am (CNA).

The funeral for Indi Gregory, the 8-month-old baby who lost her life last month after an end-of-life legal battle, was held at Nottingham Cathedral in England on Friday, Dec. 1, at 10:15 a.m. local time.

More than 100 people attended the service led by Bishop Patrick McKinney of Nottingham. Ahead of the service, Indi’s white coffin, adorned with white and pink flowers, was carried through the streets in a horse-drawn carriage. Behind the carriage, a procession of eight Rolls-Royce cars transported her family to the funeral. Indi’s parents, Dean Gregory and Claire Staniforth, placed her favorite musical lamb toy inside her coffin with her body.

Canon Paul Newman read a tribute on behalf of Dean Gregory in which he called his daughter a “true warrior.”

“I honestly and truly feel, deep in my heart, that Indi was not only beautiful, strong, and unique. I just knew, from the start, she was very special,” he said. “Nonetheless, I could never have imagined the sort of journey we and Indi would have to go through to fight for her life.”

“She didn’t only have to battle against her health problems, she had to battle against a system that makes it almost impossible to win. Yet, it was her weakest point, her health problems, that distinguished Indi as a true warrior.”

Gregory pointed out that Indi had much to overcome, including “seizures, two operations, sepsis, e-coli, including other infections, that even another child would struggle to beat.”

“But Indi’s determination to fight for a chance of life really inspired me,” he added.

“The strength she had for an 8-month-old child was incredible. And this is one of the reasons I would have done anything for Indi to have the chance to live, which was denied her.”

Gregory and Staniforth promised to make sure Indi’s life is “remembered forever.”

“I have now reached the conclusion that this was indeed Indi’s destiny … but now this chapter of Indi’s destiny is over,” the tribute read. “Her legacy, however, has only just begun. I wanted to make sure Indi would be remembered forever and she will live on in our hearts and through our voices.”

An Italian delegation made up of the Italian government’s minister for families, Eugenia Roccella, and minister for disabilities, Alessandra Locatelli; former Italian senator and lawyer Simone Pillon; and Jacopo Coghe, vice president of Pro Vita e Famiglia, was also in attendance.

The Italian government offered to pay for the funeral after trying to have Indi cared for at the Vatican’s Bambino Gesù Pediatric Hospital.

During the service, a book featuring thousands of tributes from Italy was given to Indi’s parents.

“We wish to express the Church’s care and closeness to her grieving family at this difficult time,” read a statement from the bishop of Nottingham and the cathedral dean, Canon Malachy Brett. “As a Church we will continue to contribute to wider discussions on questions of when treatment becomes disproportionate to any possible benefit, the duty of the continuation of basic care, and the rights of parents,” they added.

“Over the coming week, and especially on Friday, we hope you will understand that our sole concern will be supporting Indi’s family as they prepare to lay her to rest. May baby Indi rest in peace, and may all who loved her find consolation in the days ahead,” the statement concluded.

In a papal telegram, Pope Francis expressed his “condolences” and “spiritual closeness” to Indi’s parents as they mourn the loss of their child.

The message, signed by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, read: “Entrusting Indi into the tender and loving hands of our Heavenly Father, His Holiness joins those gathered for her funeral in thanking Almighty God for the gift of her all-too-short life.”

“He likewise prays that the Lord Jesus, who said to his disciples, ‘Let the little children come to me… for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs’ (Mt 19:14), will grant abiding comfort, strength, and peace to you all,” the letter concluded.

Indi, born in February and baptized in September, suffered from a rare degenerative mitochondrial disease. She had been receiving life-sustaining treatment on a ventilator at the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, England.

England’s high court ruled that it was in the child’s “best interests” to be taken off life support against her parents’ wishes. Indi’s parents repeatedly appealed in U.K. courts to be able to take their baby to Rome for treatment but lost their legal battle, with the second-highest court in the U.K. ruling on Nov. 10 that her life support be removed “immediately.”

Indi died in her mother’s arms in hospice on Nov. 13. 

Pope Francis sends condolences to family of Indi Gregory at British baby’s funeral

Baby Indi Gregory was baptized on Sept. 22, 2023. Despite not being religious, Dean Gregory, her father, expressed that his time in court fighting for his daughter’s life felt like he had been “dragged to hell.” The experience moved him to decide to have his daughter baptized. / Credit: Christian Concern

CNA Staff, Dec 1, 2023 / 11:35 am (CNA).

Pope Francis sent his condolences on Friday to the family of Indi Gregory, the British baby who died last month after U.K. courts ordered her life support removed. 

The 8-month-old baby died in her mother’s arms in a hospice on Nov. 13, having suffered from a rare degenerative mitochondrial disease over the course of her short life. England’s high court had ruled that it was in the child’s “best interests” to be taken off life support against her parents’ wishes.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said in a telegram addressed to Bishop Patrick McKinney of Nottingham on Friday that the Holy Father “was saddened to learn of the death of little Indi Gregory.”

The pope “sends condolences and the assurance of his spiritual closeness to her parents, Dean and Claire, and to all who mourn the loss of this precious child of God,” the telegram said. 

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said on its website that the Friday message was read aloud at baby Indi’s funeral. The Vatican had said in November that Francis was praying for the baby amid the life support dispute. 

“Entrusting Indi into the tender and loving hands of our Heavenly Father, His Holiness joins those gathered for her funeral in thanking Almighty God for the gift of her all-too-short life,” the Friday telegram said. 

Quoting the Gospel of Matthew, the Vatican said Francis “likewise prays that the Lord Jesus, who said to his disciples, ‘Let the little children come to me… for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs’ will grant abiding comfort, strength, and peace to you all.”

The decision to remove baby Indi from life support was the culmination of a bitter back-and-forth between her parents and the British courts. British Justice Robert Peel originally ruled in early November, following an “urgent online hearing,” that her life support be discontinued. 

The family appealed the decision, but a panel of judges subsequently ruled that the life support removal continue.  

At one point the Vatican’s pediatric hospital, Bambino Gesù, offered to treat the 8-month-old baby, with the Italian government electing to grant her Italian citizenship and to cover the cost of her medical treatment.

Dean Gregory said the fight over his daughter’s life left him feeling as if he’d been “dragged to hell” and ultimately influenced his decision to have the girl baptized.

In unique governors’ debate, DeSantis and Newsom bicker, trade criticism

Florida governor and Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis (left) and California Gov. Gavin Newsom appear on screen from the press room during a debate held by Fox News in Alpharetta, Georgia, on Nov. 30, 2023. / Credit: CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, Dec 1, 2023 / 11:10 am (CNA).

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday sparred at a unique political debate in Georgia, with the 2024 GOP primary candidate and the Democratic governor trading jabs and criticizing each other’s records over the course of 90 minutes.

The event, held in Alpharetta and billed as “The Great Red vs. Blue State Debate,” was broadcast on Fox News and moderated by network host Sean Hannity, who opened the discussion by saying it would focus on “things that impact [Americans] every single day.”

The matchup — between DeSantis, the distant-second-place Republican primary candidate, and Newsom, who is not running for the presidency in 2024 — was a notable enough spectacle in American politics that even Newsom remarked on it, asking rhetorically at the outset of the event: “What are we actually doing here?” 

The Democrat answered himself by saying he was on the stage to “tell the truth about the Biden-Harris record” and make a “point of contrast” between Democrats and Republicans, including DeSantis. 

The two politicians would spend much of the next hour and a half bickering with each other, accusing each other of lying and ruining their respective states.

Abortion, education, taxes

The debate took the form of topics proposed by Hannity, who struggled many times to keep the candidates from lapsing into shouting matches. 

On abortion, Hannity at one point asked Newsom if there should be “any restrictions on the issue of abortion,” including later in pregnancy. Newsom, who has been an outspoken proponent of abortion, skated around the question several times, eventually stating: “It should be up to the mother and her doctor and her conscience.” 

DeSantis, meanwhile, argued against abortion, saying: “I believe in a culture of life. I think we’re better off when everybody counts, when everybody has an opportunity to do well.” Both candidates are Catholic.

On education, Newsom criticized DeSantis for having signed Florida’s parental rights in education bill, a law that in part forbids teachers from discussing sexuality topics with very young children. 

Newsom alleged that DeSantis has been “using education as a sword for [his] cultural purge,” including what Newsom alleged was a “banning binge” by the Florida governor. 

“The role of the school is to educate kids, not to indoctrinate kids,” DeSantis argued. It’s inappropriate to instruct young children on gender ideology, he said. “It’s also important to respect parental rights to know what curriculum is being used in the classroom. And everything should be age-appropriate,” he said. 

The two governors further sparred over a host of topics related to their respective states, including crime rates, taxes, and other political matters. At one point the conversation delved into what Hannity alleged was President Joe Biden’s “significant cognitive decline.”

“He should not be running. He is not up to the job,” DeSantis said of the president. 

“I will take Joe Biden at 100 versus Ron DeSantis any day of the week at any age,” Newsom fired back.

In what was arguably the only moment of bipartisan unity of the evening, the Democrat and Republican both had sharp words of criticism for the terrorist group Hamas, which launched an attack on Israel on Oct. 7 that led to the present Israel-Hamas war. 

“This is a fight between good and evil. Hamas is a terrorist organization. They need to be eliminated,” Newsom said.

Hamas wants a “second Holocaust,” DeSantis said, arguing that the group wants to “destroy Israel and wipe every Jew off the map.”

DeSantis has throughout the early 2024 race remained the only GOP candidate to remotely approach former President Donald Trump in popularity in the primary polls, though even he has lagged very far behind Trump for most of the year, polling at an average of 12% to Trump’s 60% by the last week of November.

Newsom is not running for president in 2024, though commentators have viewed his continued national prominence as a sign of his likely candidacy in 2028 or beyond.

The Democrat has rebuffed suggestions that he has been positioning himself as an emergency candidate in 2024 in case Biden drops out. On Thursday night he confirmed again that he is not running when asked directly by Hannity.

Newsom easily won reelection in California in 2022, with DeSantis similarly coasting to victory in Florida the same year.

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