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Vatican: Nuns who feuded with Texas bishop will be governed by monastery association

Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, and Rev. Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach of the Most Holy Trinity Monastery in Arlington, Texas. / Credit: Diocese of Fort Worth; Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity Discalced Carmelite Nuns

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 19, 2024 / 18:40 pm (CNA).

A Carmelite monastery that has engaged in a yearlong feud with Diocese of Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson will be governed by a religious association of monasteries going forward — but must normalize relations with the bishop, per a Vatican order.

The Association of Christ the King in the United States of America will oversee the “government, discipline, studies, goods, rights, and privileges” of the Arlington-based Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity. This decision ends the bishop’s role as the pontifical commissary, which had previously given him governing authority over the monastery. 

“It is my prayer that the Arlington Carmel will now have the internal leadership needed to save the monastery and enable it to flourish once again, in unity with the Catholic Church,” Olson said in a statement.

A feud between the monastery and the bishop began in late April of last year when the bishop launched an investigation into the Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach. She was ultimately dismissed from religious life for alleged sexual misconduct with a priest over the phone and through video chats.

The monastery filed a civil lawsuit against the bishop and the diocese for conduct related to the investigation, which was eventually dismissed by a judge. The bishop imposed harsh penalties on the monastery, which led to the nuns issuing a statement that appeared to reject his authority in governing the monastery.

In the Vatican’s letter to the monastery about the transfer of governing authority, the Church has ordered the nuns to “withdraw and rescind your declaration” challenging the bishop’s authority and “regularize your relationship with the bishop of Fort Worth and the local Church.” The letter also added that the bishop still retains canonical authority over the monastery. 

The Vatican’s letter to Olson thanked the bishop for his “heroic and thankless service to the local church and the Carmel of Arlington as pontifical commissary” and noted the “hardship and unwarranted public attention” brought to the diocese over the past year. 

“We are fully aware that the health and longevity of this monastic community was always your goal, throughout the ordeals of the last year,” the letter read.

The Vatican decree, which entrusted the monastery to the Association of Christ the King, went into effect on Thursday, April 18. With this order, the association’s president, Mother Marie of the Incarnation, is now the lawful superior of the monastery. 

“With the entrustment of monastery to the Association of Christ the King, you are instructed to cooperate fully with the president of the association,” the Vatican informed the nuns.

Olson said in his statement that he “will work closely with [Mother Marie], providing counsel, resources, and support as needed.” The bishop added that, per his responsibility under canon law and the rules of the Carmelite order, “I will oversee at the appropriate time the election of new leadership of the Arlington Carmel.”

“I ask the faithful of the Diocese of Fort Worth and all people of goodwill to continue to pray with me for the Catholic Church in North Texas, in particular the Arlington Carmelites, as we persevere together in service to Christ through ministry to our community,” Olson said.

Michigan bishop apologizes for calling President Biden ‘stupid’

Bishop Robert D. Gruss. CNA file photo. / null

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 19, 2024 / 18:20 pm (CNA).

Bishop Robert Gruss of Saginaw, Michigan, issued an apology on Friday for having referred to President Joe Biden as “stupid” during a talk earlier in the month.

Gruss had made the comment in a talk on April 5 titled “Forgiveness as the Heart of Christianity.” During the address the prelate remarked that he “[doesn’t] have any anger toward the president. I feel sorry for him.”

“I’m not angry at him, he’s just stupid,” the bishop said, arguing that he didn’t use the word in “a derogatory way.”

“It’s stupidity in the sense of he doesn’t know until he does things,” the bishop said.

On Friday the diocese provided CNA with a statement from Gruss in which he argued that his remarks “were taken out of context.”

“I was speaking in the context of forgiving the president and any people in government who offend us by their words and actions — that we cannot harbor resentment toward them because in doing so, it would be sinful,” Gruss said.

“We must forgive them if we are to be free,” he said.

“I used the word ‘stupid’ in reference to President Biden, recognizing that it was poor judgment in my choice of words,” Gruss said. “It was not meant to be disparaging, and I apologize.”

“I will continue to pray for the president and all political leaders, that they may seek and be guided by the Spirit of Truth,” he said. “I encourage people of all faiths and goodwill to pray for our great nation.”

The bishop noted that “you can find the whole talk online to understand what was really said.”

The Saginaw Diocese, one of seven in Michigan, is located in the central part of the state.

Biden DOJ report: ‘No malicious intent’ behind leaked FBI memo targeting traditional Catholics

Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz speaks during a Senate Judiciary hearing on Capitol Hill on Sept. 15, 2021, in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

CNA Staff, Apr 19, 2024 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

The Department of Justice released a report to Congress on Thursday that concluded that the analysts who created an internal memo linking traditionalist Catholics to violent extremists “failed to adhere to FBI standards” but showed no evidence of “malicious intent.”

Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s 10-page report found no evidence that anyone ordered either of the unidentified analysts who authored the memo to find a link between racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVE’s) and members of any religion or political affiliation. The report concluded there was no “underlying policy direction” indicating a link.

“We also found no evidence that Analyst 1 or 2 took investigative steps beyond searching FBI and other databases to obtain information for the [memo],” the report said.

The since-retracted leaked memo, dated Jan. 23, 2023, originated from the bureau’s Richmond office. It claimed that racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists will likely become more interested in “radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology” within the next 12 to 24 months “in the run-up to the next general election cycle.”

The U.S. bishops, along with many Catholic leaders, condemned the memo after it was leaked to the press. Additionally, lawmakers, some of whom have accused the FBI of targeting traditionalist Catholics, have demanded answers from the Department of Justice as to how, why, and through whom the document came to be.

The report, which Horowitz said included only a “limited review” due to time constraints given by Congress, focused on the work of two unnamed analysts who were the main authors behind the memo titled: “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities.”

Both analysts denied targeting anyone for practicing their faith, with one of them saying suggestions that his motivations included anti-Catholic bias are “patently false.”

“Analyst 1 also stated that a close reading of the [memo] would show that it was intended to focus entirely on the threat posed by RMVEs and to promote outreach to the Catholic Church, in part to protect that community from potentially violent actors. Analyst 2 similarly stated the intent behind the [memo] was to try to protect these houses of worship by sensitizing them to a potential threat to their congregations,” the report said.

Another major concern raised by critics of the leaked memo was the Richmond field office’s use of biased sourcing, such as the nonprofit activist organization Southern Poverty Law Center, and its designation of nine “Radical Traditional Catholicism” organizations as “hate groups.”

The inspector general asked both analysts about its sourcing and both “acknowledged that there were concerns about perceived bias on the part of those organizations and sources,” the report said.

“However, both analysts said that the intended audience (FBI Richmond executive management) would understand those concerns without the need for commentary and would weigh the information accordingly,” the report said.

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley told CNA Friday that he appreciated the inspector general’s work under a tight deadline.

“However, the report leaves questions unanswered that I and many of my colleagues have been asking of the FBI for over a year. The most important part of this report is what’s not in it, rather than what is,” he said.

“[FBI] Director [Christopher] Wray has failed to sufficiently explain why he described the memo to Congress as a ‘single product’ when there were two — one internal to Richmond, and one the FBI planned to elevate to the whole bureau nationwide,” he said.

“The FBI has also failed to explain why it ordered the permanent deletion of files related to the memo or why it continues to use biased sources like the Southern Poverty Law Center. The FBI owes the Senate many more answers regarding this appalling case,” he said.

CNA reached out to the bureau for comment but did not immediately receive a response by time of publication. 

In a statement to the New York Times on Thursday, the bureau said that its account of the events agreed with the inspector general’s report.

“The FBI has said numerous times that the intelligence product did not meet our exacting standards and was quickly removed from FBI systems,” it said. “We also have said there was no intent or actions taken to investigate Catholics or anyone based on religion.”

U.S. bishops on new federal rule: Employers should not be forced to facilitate abortions

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, was tabbed as the next chair of the Committee for Religious Liberty on Nov. 16, 2022, in Baltimore. / Credit: Shannon Mullen/CNA

CNA Staff, Apr 19, 2024 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on Friday criticized a new rule from the Biden administration that will force employers to offer leave for employees seeking abortion. 

The Biden administration’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) this week issued a change to federal regulations regarding pregnant workers’ fairness, one that mandates employers make “reasonable accommodations,” including granting leave, for workers to obtain abortions.

The new rule, which is set to take effect 60 days from its publication on Friday, is part of the commission’s efforts to implement the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), according to a final EEOC rule change announcement.

Responding to the new rule on Friday, Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, Bishop Kevin Rhoades said in a statement that “no employer should be forced to participate in an employee’s decision to end the life of their child.”

“The bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, as written, is a pro-life law that protects the security and physical health of pregnant mothers and their preborn children,” Rhoades, the chairman of the USCCB’s Committee for Religious Liberty, said in the statement.

“It is indefensible for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to twist the law in a way that violates the consciences of pro-life employers by making them facilitate abortions,” the prelate argued. 

The USCCB had last year submitted comments on the proposed rule in which the bishops, along with the Catholic University of America, argued that the PWFA “does not require the provision of any benefit for purposes of facilitating an abortion.” 

“The intent of the PWFA is to require accommodations for ‘pregnancy,’ ‘childbirth,’ and
‘related medical conditions’ — in other words, to assist pregnant workers and workers giving birth to a child by providing accommodations that would permit them to continue to remain both gainfully employed and healthily pregnant,” the bishops and the school argued in the comments. 

“Abortion is neither pregnancy nor childbirth,” they argued. “And it is not ‘related’ to pregnancy or childbirth as those terms are used in the PWFA because it intentionally ends pregnancy and prevents childbirth.”

The USCCB had previously supported the PWFA when it was being considered by Congress, despite some concerns at the time that the bill could be used to force employers to pay for abortion expenses.

The new rule applies to all public and private employers with 15 or more workers and is contingent on the accommodations not presenting an “undue hardship on the operation of the business of the covered entity,” the government says.

Catholic Charities denies its purchase of airfare for migrants was misuse of federal funds

Groups of migrants wait outside the Migrant Resource Center to receive food from San Antonio Catholic Charities on Sept. 19, 2022, in San Antonio, Texas. / Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 19, 2024 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Antonio is denying recent accusations that it misused federal taxpayer funds by paying for migrants’ airfare.

This comes after two South Texas members of Congress, Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, and Rep. Monica de la Cruz, a Republican, accused the San Antonio Catholic relief group of an inappropriate use of funds made available to it by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Jose Antonio Fernandez, CEO of Catholic Charities San Antonio, confirmed to CNA that the group did indeed help migrants with air travel from San Antonio to other locations in the United States, but he claimed that this was a licit use of funds under FEMA’s rules.

Cuellar said in an interview with Border Report that the nonprofit group’s practice of buying airfare for migrants has made San Antonio a destination for many migrants looking to travel to other parts of the U.S. He said that funding he helped secure for Catholic Charities of San Antonio was intended for humanitarian relief, not to purchase airfare for migrants.

“From the very beginning I said it would only be used for food and shelter, maybe transportation inside a city but not to be sending them [across the country],” Cuellar said. “The family or somebody should pay for that, not the taxpayer.”  

De la Cruz, meanwhile, told Border Report that the San Antonio Catholic Charities’ use of funds is “just simply unacceptable.”

“They misused funds and sent these illegal immigrants where their preferred destination was with taxpayers’ hard-earned money,” she said.

Fernandez responded to these allegations by telling CNA that “we have never misused the funding because the funding was given to us to provide transportation.”

According to Fernandez, the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP) FEMA grant given to Catholic Charities of San Antonio “clearly stated that you could provide transportation.” 

“The funds were given to us to provide food, clothing, all these activities, including transportation,” he said.

“It’s not my interpretation, it is a fact; many companies in the U.S. provide transportation because it is allowed,” he said. “If you contact FEMA, they will tell you that, yes, you are actually allowed to provide transportation.”

CNA reached out to FEMA about its regulations but did not immediately receive a response. 

Fernandez clarified that Catholic Charities of San Antonio is not currently paying for migrants’ air travel and has not been doing so since the end of 2023. 

He said that the group stopped purchasing air travel for two reasons: 1) Limited funding necessitated budget cuts, and 2) instead of receiving EFSP FEMA funding the group is now receiving funding under the Shelter and Services Program, which limits transportation spending to 5% of the grant.

He said that under these limitations San Antonio Catholic Charities would not have been able to offer travel services to all who were seeking it.

“It was a huge amount of money spent, I don’t know exactly the amount, but we just couldn’t afford [it],” Fernandez said, adding: “Hopefully people can find a way and we can try to help them.”

This, Fernandez said, has presented its own challenge with more migrants amassing in San Antonio. In 2023 alone, Fernandez said that San Antonio Catholic Charities helped well over 250,000 migrants with food, shelter, and other services.

“Now we’re seeing a lot more people staying in San Antonio because they don’t have the funds to go someplace else,” he said. “We feed them, we clothe them, we provide them with counseling services, with financial assistance to the people staying in San Antonio, legal services, shelter services. We try to provide them with all these wraparound services to help mind, body, and spirit.”

Tony Wen, a representative for Cuellar, declined to comment further on the matter but did clarify that the congressman “never said they were misusing funds” and that particular verbiage was only used by de la Cruz. 

Despite this, Wen said that Cuellar still stands by his comments about the intended use of federal funds.

A proponent of funding for humanitarian relief at the border, Cuellar recently helped advance an appropriations bill that granted San Antonio Catholic Charities and other border relief groups hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds.

Catholic Charities of San Antonio alone received $10,877,226 from the appropriations bill. Ten other Catholic relief groups at or near the southern border also received federal funding from the same appropriations bill, totaling tens of millions of dollars.

Cuellar and several other lawmakers issued a statement after securing the funding in which they praised Catholic Charities of San Antonio and other similar groups as a “lifeline” in the face of the “historic number of people being displaced from Latin America.”