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Archbishop Gallagher meets Vietnam’s Prime Minister in Hanoi

The Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States and International Organizations is in Vietnam until 14 April. During the visit he has held cordial talks with the Prime Minister and other government officials. Meetings with the Vietnamese Catholic community are scheduled in Hanoi, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh City.

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Cardinal Gregory sees ‘Dignitas infinita’ as balanced, challenging document

US Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., speaks with Vatican News about human dignity, the National Eucharistic Revival, and the Synod on Synodality.

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Pope Francis: ‘Bible shows Jesus’ closeness to suffering humanity’

Pope Francis meets with members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and encourages biblical scholars to explore Jesus’ example of compassion and inclusion when faced with the suffering of others.

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Pope Francis advocates for inclusion and dignity for people with disabilities

Pope Francis addresses the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, and emphasises the need for inclusive societies that recognise the dignity and rights of persons with disabilities, denouncing the throwaway culture and advocating for integral inclusion and solidarity.

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Indigenous leader: Pope Francis helps us protect our lands

In an interview with Vatican News, Shaman Davi Kopenawa, the leader of the Yanomami tribe in the Amazon, who met with Pope Francis before Wednesday's General Audience, discusses the "calamitous" situation of the lands being besieged, without scruples, by extractive activities.

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Catholics who participate in Eucharistic Pilgrimage, Congress can receive plenary indulgences

A Massgoer prays at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City before a Eucharistic procession through the streets Oct. 10, 2023. / Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

CNA Staff, Apr 10, 2024 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), announced April 9 the opportunity for Catholics who participate in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage and the National Eucharistic Congress to receive plenary indulgences.

Broglio requested that the Apostolic Penitentiary, the office in charge of granting plenary indulgences within the Roman Curia, grant a plenary indulgence to all those who take part in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage. 

It was also requested that he or another prelate be designated to impart the apostolic blessing with a plenary indulgence to the faithful present at the National Eucharistic Congress, which takes place July 17–21 in Indianapolis.

“It is with gratitude to the Holy Father that we receive his apostolic blessing upon the participants in the National Eucharistic Congress and for the opportunity for Catholics in our country to obtain a plenary indulgence by participating in the events of the Eucharistic Revival,” Broglio said in a statement released by the USCCB. 

He added: “Through the efforts of the revival over the last two years, we have been building up to the pilgrimage and congress that will offer Catholics a chance to experience a profound, personal revival of faith in the Eucharist. Pope Francis continues to encourage and support us as we seek to share Christ’s love with a world that is desperately in need of him.”

A decree issued by the Apostolic Penitentiary and approved by the Holy Father states that the plenary indulgence will be granted to the Christian faithful who participate in the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage at any point between May 17 and July 16.

The indulgence will also be granted to the elderly, the infirm, and all those who cannot leave their homes for a grave reason but who participate “in spirit,” uniting their prayers with the pilgrimage.

A second decree issued by the Apostolic Penitentiary and approved by Pope Francis grants Broglio, or any other prelate of episcopal rank assigned by him, the ability to impart a papal blessing with a plenary indulgence to those who participate in the National Eucharistic Congress following the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

The faithful who, “due to reasonable circumstances and with pious intention,” have received the papal blessing through media communications can also obtain a plenary indulgence.

Both indulgences are granted under the usual conditions of confession, receiving the Eucharist, and praying for the intentions of the Holy Father.

The National Eucharistic Congress is a monumental moment for the U.S. bishops’ three-year initiative, the Eucharistic Revival, which began on the feast of Corpus Christi in 2022 and continues through 2025.

Japanese company’s pivot to adult diapers underscores crashing fertility rates worldwide

null / Credit: ucchie79/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Apr 10, 2024 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

“Growth is anticipated.”

That’s how the Tokyo-based company Oji Holdings described the Japanese adult diaper economy last week. The company announced in a press release that it would be terminating its “domestic disposal diaper business for babies” later this year.

The baby diaper market in Japan is a “low-growth business,” the company indicated, though the 150-year-old company said it will not exit the diaper business altogether.

The company “aims to continue … focusing its resources on the market for the domestic disposable diapers business for adults, where growth is anticipated,” the press release said. 

Oji’s pivot toward adult diaper manufacturing underscores an ongoing crisis facing many developed nations around the world, Japan in particular: cratering fertility rates. 

Global fertility has been falling for decades, though the problem is often most acute in industrialized nations with high standards of living.

Many of these countries are well below the “replacement rate” of fertility — generally about 2.1 births per woman over her lifetime — needed to keep a population stable. In the U.S. the overall fertility rate is about 1.7; in the U.K. it’s about 1.5; in Germany it’s about 1.4. 

Japan, meanwhile, sits at about 1.3 births per woman. The country’s severely low fertility rate has persisted for decades; it has not been at replacement rate since roughly the 1970s. 

With so relatively few births of children, the country is growing steadily older: The International Monetary Fund in 2020 said that “with a median age of 48.4 years, Japan’s population is the world’s oldest,” with the government predicting that by 2060 “there will be almost one elderly person for each person of working age.”

Church has warned of cratering fertility for years

Catholic leaders have for years been warning of the decline in fertility rates worldwide. In 2022 Pope Francis described the ongoing collapse of fertility in Western countries as a “social emergency” and a sign of “new poverty,” with the Holy Father arguing that the “beauty of a family full of children” is “in danger of becoming a utopia, a dream difficult to realize.”

Vincenzo Bassi, the president of the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe, told CNA in 2020 that “without children, without future workers, we cannot maintain the generational balance which is essential for the future, the economic future of Europe, of my country [Italy], and of the whole world.”

Denver Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodríguez, meanwhile, told Crux in 2021 that in addition to major “societal consequences” of low fertility, “the decrease of births means a decrease in our capacity to love and to cherish life.”

Laurie DeRose, an assistant professor in Catholic University of America’s sociology department, told CNA this week that aging and fertility crises have their roots in birth rates that began years ago. 

“[It] doesn’t matter so much what age people are dying on average (60, 70, 80, 90) as whether the number of new zero-year-olds is plentiful,” she said. 

“The average age is going to change a little if people die at 90 instead of 80 (a bit older), but it is going to change a whole lot if a newborn isn’t born,” she noted. 

“In other words, a baby not being born makes the population older for a long, long time whereas an elderly person not dying makes the population older for at most 30ish years.”

Brad Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia as well as the director of the school’s National Marriage Project, told CNA that Japan “is an example of where things can go.” 

“I don’t think the U.S. is going to reach that point, but it’s emblematic of the demographic problems many countries are facing,” he said. 

Wilcox, who recently published the book “Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization,” said Japan’s “workist” culture is partly responsible for its low fertility rate. 

“There’s an excessively intense work ethic in Japan, as with many East Asian countries, where people are expected to spend many long hours in the office,” Wilcox said. “A lot of Japanese women are not looking forward to a family life where the husband is going to be away from the home so frequently and for so long.”

Japan’s “struggling” demographic of young men is another factor, he said, with many young men floundering at schools and retreating to heavy internet usage, rendering them less suitable as potential boyfriends and husbands. 

“Young women [in Japan] are flourishing, educationally and otherwise, and are expecting a lot more from potential mates,” WIlcox said, “and their expectations are not always being met in significant numbers. That means less dating, less marriage, less children.”

Japan is also a “profoundly secular place,” he pointed out. Religious communities and institutions “tend to foster marriages and childbearing and parenthood, in part because of the social support, in part because they endow meaning and purpose to the sacrifice and suffering that’s attendant to family life.” 

DeRose said combatting workism in Japan could be a path forward to reversing its fertility woes. In a 2021 essay at American Affairs, she argued that policymakers “should think more in terms of enabling men and women to work less rather than seeking to help them still ‘do family’ while remaining career-centric.” 

Some solutions include “encouraging more flexible work arrangements” and “rolling back strict licensure and certification rules for work,” she wrote. 

Another solution could be “working toward gender egalitarianism in the home,” she told CNA. 

“Research on developed countries show that couples are much more likely to have another child if the father is involved in the domestic sphere,” she said

Wilcox, meanwhile, was not hopeful about Japan’s prospects. “There’s already an effort to manage the demographic decline,” he said. “We’re talking about care robots [and] the age of retirement being raised.” 

Wilcox also warned about the likelihood of pressure mounting to provide assisted suicide to elderly adults, including through Canadian-style “medical assistance in dying (MAID)” programs.

“The practical and financial ability of the government and society to support older people will be strained,” he said. “There will be pressure to introduce measures.”

Japan’s endonym, Nippon, is translated as “the sun’s origin”; Japan itself has consequently often been referred to as “the Land of the Rising Sun.” Wilcox, however, said the country’s cratering fertility paints a grimmer picture for the ancient country and for others that soon may follow. 

“I call it the ‘Land of the Setting Sun,’” he said. “It’s certainly a harbinger of where many advanced countries are heading.”

New Idaho law aims to protect against forced use of incorrect pronouns, names

null / Photo credit: Kryvosheia Yurii/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Apr 10, 2024 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Republican Gov. Brad Little of Idaho on Monday signed a law designed to protect government employees and students at public schools from being forced to use names and pronouns that violate their sincerely held beliefs. 

HB538, which the Idaho Legislature passed last week, is set to take effect July 1. The new law provides for “a prohibition on any governmental entity in the state of Idaho from compelling any public employee or public school student to communicate preferred personal titles and pronouns that do not correspond with the biological sex of the individual seeking to be referred to by such titles or pronouns.”

“Such prohibition is essential to ensure that the constitutional right to free speech of every person in the state of Idaho is respected,” the bill reads.

Government, public school, and higher education employees “shall not be subject to adverse employment action” for declining to use a person’s preferred pronouns or addressing a person with anything other than his or her legal name. The act also covers students, saying they “shall not be subject to adverse disciplinary action” for declining to use a person’s preferred pronouns or addressing a person by a name other than his or her legal one. 

In terms of enforcement, the act provides for a “private cause of action for injunctive relief, monetary damages, reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, and any other appropriate relief.”

Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group, praised the governor’s actions, saying: “All of society benefits when freedom of speech and conscience flourish.”

“No one should lose their job or face punishment at school for declining to say something they believe is false,” ADF senior counsel Matt Sharp said in a statement.  

“Words and language carry meaning, and when used properly, they tell the truth about reality, feelings, and beliefs. Yet forcing individuals to say things that are untrue — such as inaccurate names, pronouns, and titles — imposes real harm on the speaker. In no world is it acceptable for schools to force good teachers out of a job all for the sake of promoting gender ideology to vulnerable children. Now and always, there are only two sexes — male and female — and denying this basic truth only hurts kids.”

The Idaho bill comes in response to a number of cases throughout the country in recent years of teachers and students facing disciplinary action for expressing Christian beliefs about gender. 

In August 2021, Virginia’s Supreme Court sided with a teacher after he challenged a school district policy requiring teachers to refer to students by their preferred gender pronouns.

And in 2022, Ohio’s Shawnee State University and Nicholas Meriwether agreed to a $400,000 settlement after the professor faced disciplinary action for declining to use the preferred pronouns of a self-identified transgender student. The university denied claims it had violated the professor’s free speech and religious freedom, though the professor’s attorneys claimed victory.

Later that year, a Kansas middle school teacher was awarded a $95,000 settlement with her school district, which had suspended her in an effort to force her to comply with its gender policies, which included a mandate to lie to parents about their children’s gender transitions.

Trump says he will not sign a national abortion ban if reelected

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he arrives at the Atlanta airport on April 10, 2024, in Atlanta. / Credit: Megan Varner/Getty Images

CNA Staff, Apr 10, 2024 / 14:20 pm (CNA).

Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he would not sign a national abortion ban if reelected to the office of the presidency in November. 

The Republican presidential candidate was at an event in Atlanta on Wednesday when a reporter asked him: “Would you sign a national abortion ban if Congress sent it to your desk?” 

“No,” Trump said in response. 

Asked by the reporter: “You wouldn’t sign it?” Trump responded again: “No.”

Trump had minutes earlier indicated that he disagreed with this week’s historic ruling at the Arizona Supreme Court. That court on Monday ruled that state law does not guarantee a right to an abortion and that an 1864 law prohibiting all abortions can take effect later this month.

Asked in Atlanta on Wednesday if that ruling “went too far,” Trump responded: “Yeah they did, and that will be straightened out.”

“I’m sure that the governor and everybody else are going to bring it back into reason and that’ll be taken care of, I think very quickly,” the former president said. 

Trump has been steadily positioning himself as more of a centrist on abortion in recent months. 

On Monday he said in a social media video that “at the end of the day” abortion law in the U.S. is “all about the will of the people” and that “now it’s up to the states to do the right thing.” 

Last September, meanwhile, he called Florida’s six-week abortion ban “a terrible thing” and “a terrible mistake.”

President Joe Biden, on the other hand, last month promised to support a law that would legalize abortion nationwide in response to the repeal of Roe v. Wade two years ago.

Indian bishops’ ‘guidelines’ for Catholic schools elicit mixed reaction

Students in morning assembly prayer in Catholic school at Seppa in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. / Credit: Anto Akkara

Bangalore, India, Apr 10, 2024 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

New guidelines for Catholic schools from the Catholic bishops of India have elicited mixed reactions in the country, with many applauding the move to respect “all faith traditions” while others have accused the Church of bending to pressure from Hindu fundamentalists.

The 13-page document issued to India’s 15,000 Catholic educational institutions includes a recommendation that schools display the preamble to the Indian Constitution at school entrances and that children recite the preamble during daily assemblies.

The bishops’ education commission said the document was written “to face the emerging challenges due to the current socio-cultural-religious-political situation in India.” Its release comes ahead of elections that will take place between April 17 and June 1.

The guidelines come at a particularly tense time in India, where Hindus make up 79.8% of the population. The Hindu fundamentalist group Kutumba Surakshya Parishad (Family Safety Council) in Assam launched a protest in February demanding a ban on Christian symbols such as crosses and statues, the religious dress of priests and nuns, and Christian prayers in educational institutions.

The Indian bishops’ recommendations have been widely hailed as a bold initiative by the Church and are in stark contrast to Hindu nationalists of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) efforts to delete the word “secular” from the preamble to the Indian Constitution.

The secular media applauded the Church guidelines with front-page headlines such as “Church calls for making constitution a shield” and “Recite preamble, don’t force Christian traditions: Catholic body to its schools.”

Besides calling for respecting “all faith traditions without any discrimination [and to] not force our religious traditions on students of other faiths,” the guidelines also prescribe the promotion of “religious and cultural sensitivity and respect for diversity with separate interreligious prayer rooms in the school, celebrating all important religious festivals.”

“Reciting the preamble is a great idea that the government and Hindu schools should also follow instead of religious morning assembly,” remarked John Dayal, a Catholic columnist, in his commentary in The Wire news portal on April 8. 

However, he decried what he said was “a response to the demands that have been made on institutions by state governments and non-state actors [Hindu fundamentalist groups].”

“Article 30 allows all religious and linguistic minorities to run educational institutions to nurture their core values, including faith, for future generations,” Dayal said.

“The Church has unnecessarily succumbed to the pressure tactics of the Hindu fundamentalists,” outspoken Jesuit activist Father Cedric Prakash told CNA on April 8. 

“These guidelines have not been made under pressure from any group,” Father Maria Charles, secretary of the Indian bishop’s education committee, told CNA when asked about recent threats from Hindu fundamentalists in northeastern states such as Assam and in central India. 

“There has been a lot of misunderstanding. The guideline calls for respect for other faiths in our institutions. But that does not mean that customary [Christian] prayers in the schools will stop. It will go on as usual,” Charles said. 

The guidelines, he said, were drafted following the November 2023 conference of 250 Catholic education experts from the Church, including diocesan education directors, hailing from across the country.

“The guideline addresses various challenges in dealing with admissions to administration in our Catholic institutions,” Charles explained. 

The Catholic Church in the country, he said, runs more than 14,000 schools, 720 colleges, seven universities, five medical colleges, and 450 technical and vocational training institutions.