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Religious broadcasters ask Supreme Court to strike down ‘discriminatory’ fees

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CNA Staff, Apr 8, 2024 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

Religious broadcasters, with the support of Catholic media groups, are asking the Supreme Court to rule whether government officials charged them unfairly high rates in violation of their constitutional rights.

The Catholic Radio Association (CRA) and CatholicVote.org Education Fund have both filed amicus briefs in the case National Religious Broadcasters Noncommercial Music License Committee v. Copyright Royalty Board.

The committee is arguing that the Copyright Royalty Board is subjecting religious broadcasters to a discriminatory royalty fee that violates U.S. religious freedom law. 

The Copyright Royalty Board consists of three judges who “oversee the copyright law’s statutory licenses,” according to the board’s website. Those licenses “permit qualified parties to use multiple copyrighted works without obtaining separate licenses from each copyright owner.”

The legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which forms part of the committee’s legal team, says that the Copyright Royalty Board in its 2021 rate adjustment “set [music streaming] rates that are 18 times higher for religious noncommercial webcasters with an audience above a modest 218-listener threshold than the average rate for secular NPR stations.”

John Bursch, the vice president of appellate advocacy at ADF, told CNA that the royalty board offered “no real justification” for the higher rates it mandated in 2021.

“They didn’t justify it other than to say there are some noncommercial nonreligious broadcasters who have to pay the same rates,” Bursch said. The Copyright Royalty Board did not respond to CNA’s requests for comment over the dispute.

Bursch gave an example of what he said was the stark fee disparities mandated by the 2021 rates. 

“Let’s say you had a Christian station webcasting 15 Christian songs per hour,” he said.
“They’d have to pay $257,000 to play those annually, but an NPR station would have to pay $18,000.”

Religious stations “need to keep their audience intentionally low to not hit those fees,” Bursch said. 

In its amicus filing, the CRA said the rule “threatens hundreds of Catholic webcasters.”

The 2021 rate adjustment “discourages Catholic webcasters from reaching more than 218 listeners a month on average — less than the size of a typical university lecture course,” the CRA said. 

The group argued that stations “without substantial funding from underwriting or donations may be forced to stop webcasting.”

The CatholicVote.org Education Fund, meanwhile, argued that religious broadcasters “face the threat of discriminatory practices” under the existing rate regime. 

The copyright committee’s 2021 rate schedule “imposed a substantial burden on the free exercise of ​​religious broadcasters,” theCatholicVote filing said, arguing that the Supreme Court is “the only court that can protect the free exercise rights of religious webcasters.”

The Supreme Court has not yet said if it will hear the case. Bursch told CNA the petitioners are ultimately “just asking to be treated as well as NPR.” The lawsuit argues that the fee rates violate both the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act as well as the First Amendment.

“The bottom line is you can’t discriminate against religious broadcasters vis-à-vis secular, public-run National Public Radio,” Bursch said. 

The Copyright Royalty Board, meanwhile, last month waived its right to respond to the challengers in their Supreme Court petition, a sign that the board likely feels confident in securing a favorable outcome in the case. 

Missouri bishops plead for death row inmate on eve of execution

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CNA Staff, Apr 8, 2024 / 15:15 pm (CNA).

The Catholic bishops of Missouri are urging the faithful to contact Republican Gov. Mike Parson to stay the execution of convicted murderer Brian Dorsey, who is controversially scheduled to die Tuesday, April 9, in the state’s first execution of 2024. 

Dorsey, 52, was arrested in 2006 and later convicted of shooting and killing his cousin Sarah Bonnie and her husband Ben. Dorsey’s lawyers argued that he was in a drug-induced psychosis, as he was suffering from chronic depression and addicted to crack cocaine at the time of the killings. 

The Missouri Catholic Conference, which advocates for public policy on behalf of the state’s five bishops, said that in addition to the fact that Dorsey “endured substantial mental and physical childhood trauma,” he also has claimed ineffective assistance of counsel, as his attorneys at the time — who were being paid a small flat fee to defend him — entered him into a plea deal without contesting the possibility of capital punishment. 

Dorsey’s death sentence has garnered scrutiny. During more than 17 years spent on death row, Dorsey complied zero infractions and served as a barber for other prisoners and for wardens, staff, and chaplains — trusted using potentially deadly instruments. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, a group of 72 current and former Missouri correctional officers submitted and signed a letter vouching for his character and asking Parson to grant Dorsey clemency and commute his death sentence.

Additionally, Dorsey’s attorneys have argued that the Missouri Department of Corrections’ execution protocols, which include the practice of “cut down,” or cutting into the person to set an IV line, will prevent Dorsey “from having any meaningful spiritual discussion or participation in his last religious rites with his spiritual adviser,” the Kansas City Star reported.

Despite his apparent rehabilitation, the Missouri Supreme Court scheduled Dorsey’s execution last December. Dorsey has appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

In addition to submitting a clemency request to Parson, the Missouri Catholic Conference will be hosting a “respectful protest” outside the governor’s office at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City from noon to 1 p.m. on the afternoon of Tuesday, April 9.

The conference urged the public to attend the protest and to contact the governor to express their support for clemency. Parson has not granted clemency to anyone on death row since he took office in 2018, the Kansas City Star reported. 

“The Catholic Church is strongly opposed to the death penalty because it disregards the sanctity and dignity of human life,” the conference noted. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, reflecting an update promulgated by Pope Francis in 2018, describes the death penalty as “inadmissible” and an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” (No. 2267). The change reflects a development of Catholic doctrine in recent years. St. John Paul II, calling the death penalty “cruel and unnecessary,” encouraged Christians to be “unconditionally pro-life” and said that “the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil.”

Missouri is among the most prolific of all U.S. states when it comes to the death penalty, having carried out four executions in 2023 alone and being one of only five states to carry out executions last year.

The Catholic Church by the numbers: more Catholics but fewer vocations 

The crowd in St. Peter's Square for the pope's Angelus address on Jan. 14, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

CNA Staff, Apr 8, 2024 / 14:45 pm (CNA).

The number of Catholics worldwide increased by 14 million in 2022, according to the Vatican’s 2022 Statistical Yearbook of the Church released earlier this month and highlighted in a report by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.

The figures from 2021 to 2022 — the most recent years where numbers are available — marked a decrease in the number of priests and seminarians.

While vocations to the priesthood and religious life have decreased overall, the Church shows signs of growth in some parts of the world — most notably Africa and Asia.

More Catholics 

The number of baptized Catholics has increased by about 1% — 14 million — rising from 1.376 billion in 2021 to 1.390 billion in 2022.

As in previous years, the Catholic Church in Africa continues to grow. Africa had the highest increase in Catholics at 3%, while the Americas recorded a 0.9% increase and Asia a 0.6% increase. 

The number of Catholics in Europe remained steady at about 286 million from 2021 to 2022.

The Church has fewer priests and seminarians 

The number of priests continued the downward trend that began in 2012.

Globally, the number of priests decreased by 142 from 2021 to 2022, going from 407,872 to 407,730.

But the number of priests continues to grow in Africa and Asia, while vocations in other continents plateau or decline.

The number of priests in Africa and Asia increased by 3.2% and 1.6%, respectively, while the number remained steady in the Americas. Oceania saw a 1.5% decrease in priests, while Europe had a 1.7% decrease.  

There are also fewer seminarians worldwide. According to the Vatican numbers, there were 1.3% fewer men preparing for priesthood in 2022 than in 2021. 

This decrease is most marked in Europe, where there has been a noted vocations crisis since 2008. The number of seminarians decreased by 6% from 2021 to 2022. The number of seminarians also decreased in the Americas by 3.2% and in Asia by 1.2%. 

But Africa saw a 2.1% increase in the number of seminarians, while Oceania had a notable 1.3% increase.

Africa had the highest number of seminarians in 2022, at almost 35,000 men, while Oceania (which makes up only 0.6% of the world’s population) had the least, at almost 1,000. 

Asia and the Americas had roughly 30,000 and 27,000 seminarians, respectively, while Europe, which makes up almost 10% of the world’s population, had only 14,461 seminarians. 

But not all is lost for parochial Church leadership. The numbers show a marked increase in permanent deacons, increasing by 2% from 2021 to 2022. 

While the global Catholic Church saw 142 fewer priests from 2021-2022, there are 974 more permanent deacons worldwide. 

The number of bishops from 2021 to 2022 increased by a quarter, from 5,340 to 5,353 bishops, with most of the growth centered in Africa and Asia. 

In the Americas, the number of bishops remained steady at about 2,000, while in Europe the number of bishops declined slightly at less than 1%.

Vocations are on the decline for both men and women

The number of professed religious men — not including priests — decreased by 360, from 49,774 in 2021 to 49,414 in 2022. 

Asia and the Americas were the only regions where religious vocations for men increased, with the most substantial increase in Asia. 

While there are more religious women than priests by almost 50%, the number of religious women is also declining. According to the most recent data from 2021 to 2022, their numbers have declined by 1.6% — meaning almost 10,000 fewer religious sisters worldwide.

This decline is most prevalent in Oceania, Europe, and North America, where the number of women religious decreased by 3.6%, 3.5%, and 3% respectively. South and Central America also saw a slight decrease of more than 2,000 religious women.

But Africa had the largest increase in religious women at 1.7%, increasing by more than 1,000 vocations. Southeast Asia’s numbers also reflected a small increase of 0.1% — almost 200 more religious women.

Jessica Hanna, Catholic mother who chose life amid cancer battle, dies

Jessica Hanna and her son, Thomas Solanus. / Credit: Jessica Hanna

CNA Staff, Apr 8, 2024 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

Jessica Hanna, a Catholic mother of four and pro-life advocate who chose to forgo cancer treatments for the sake of her unborn child, died on April 6, her family has announced.

Her husband, Lamar, shared the news of her passing on her Instagram account, where she went by the handle @blessed_by_cancer. 

“At 8:02 p.m. on Saturday, April 6, my beautiful bride Jessica peacefully went to her eternal reward,” Lamar Hanna wrote. “She received extreme unction and the apostolic pardon from Father Canon Sharpe [on] Thursday. On Saturday she was very peaceful, and surrounded by her loving family, she breathed her last. The cancer was just too aggressive. She suffered joyfully and without fear in her last days. Please keep our family in your prayers.”

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In 2022, Hanna joined “EWTN Pro-Life Weekly” to share her pro-life testimony. Two years before, while 14 weeks pregnant with her youngest son, Thomas, she received a breast cancer diagnosis. Several doctors advised her to have an abortion, but she declined.

After undergoing surgery, she was told the tumor was 13 centimeters, while cancer was also found in 43 lymph nodes in the area. Due to her pregnancy, doctors could not scan the rest of the body to see if the cancer had spread.

A devout Catholic, Hanna turned to her faith for support during the trial. She had a special devotion to Blessed Father Solanus Casey. During her battle with breast cancer while pregnant, she prayed at Casey’s Detroit-area tomb after each chemotherapy treatment. 

After she gave birth, her scans came back clear, with no signs that her cancer had spread to any other organs or lymph nodes, which she attributed to the intercession of Casey. However, in 2022, the cancer returned, this time as stage 4. 

Jessica Hanna with her husband and four children. Credit: Jessica Hanna
Jessica Hanna with her husband and four children. Credit: Jessica Hanna

Social media created community of faith around cancer battle

At the time of her diagnosis, Hanna had felt God was calling her to something. Unsure of her own future, she made a social media account two days after her diagnosis to share her journey with others and create a prayer community where she could pray with her followers and offer up her suffering for their intentions. 

“I thought no suffering should ever go to waste,” Hanna told “EWTN Pro-Life Weekly.” “I don’t know where God is taking me. Is he going to take me to the path where I need to show people how to die gracefully, with his grace and mercy? Or is he going to show a miracle?”

“I decided to use the social media to show people that no matter what you think is going to happen, it’s trust in God that is the most important … That you are going to abandon your own desires and wants and you’re going to leave it at the foot of the cross and let him take care of it.”

Over the years, Hanna’s Instagram account grew to more than 45,000 followers. It was here that she shared updates on her health, prayed for others who reached out to her with intentions, and showed her followers what it means to offer up your sufferings and suffer graciously. 

On March 29 she wrote: “I’m here, in my Good Friday. During this Lent I have experienced emergency heart issues resulting in a drain and then surgery around the heart. I went from the ICU to the regular floor with more surgery on my lung and many other complications.”

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“The difference between [my Good Friday] and that of Jesus’ is that I indeed deserve my time here walking to Calvary and he certainly did not,” she wrote. “In fact, it was my sins that led to many of his excruciating pains. For myself, my suffering is an offering given back to him not only to atone for the crimes I committed in my life but also to cooperate with the body of Christ to offer atonement for others as well.” 

“If I was bold enough to commit such crimes of sin in my life, I should also be bold enough to accept my penance,” she wrote. 

“However, be sure to remember — with every Good Friday comes an Easter Sunday,” she pointed out. “With death comes resurrection — Christ made it so.”

Hanna leaves behind her husband and their four children.

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