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'The Eucharist is only in this Church'- How one 2019 convert found, and embraced, the Catholic Church

Washington D.C., May 23, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Elise Amez-Droz’s journey to the Catholic Church began in a place well known for religious fervor, but not exactly known for Catholicism: Salt Lake City, Utah.

While at a conference in Salt Lake City, Amez-Droz, 24, met someone who was converting to Catholicism, which surprised her, she said. A native of Switzerland, Amez-Droz said the only Catholics she knew in her home country were not very devout.

“I was shocked that, clearly, he loved Christ, and I could see it,” she said. “But it just puzzled me that he was joining what I thought was a dead faith.”

Amez-Droz was raised an Evangelical Christian, and said that in her youth she had no thoughts of leaving her childhood faith.

But in gradute school, she struggled.

“I started really wondering about the purpose of life. It was a really rough time for me," said Amez-Droz. She started to feel as though her life was suddenly without purpose, she said.

In Salt Lake City, she decided to join her new friend for Mass - the first Catholic Mass she had ever attended.

“My first thought was 'well, it's not as heretical as I thought it was [going to be],’” she said.

She kept in touch with her friend, and asked him questions about converting and why he was becoming Catholic. After she moved to Washington, DC, she made many Catholic friends, and noticed “how good all these people were,” and that they practiced virtue, “without having an incentive to do it.”

She initially found their virtue “annoying,” and was “really struggling” with how nice her new friends seemed to be.

Still, she decided to learn more about the Catholic faith. In 2018, she entered RCIA. But before committing to an RCIA program, she checked out RCIA at several different parishes in the Washington, DC area.

“I was like, ‘this is a long process. I’m signing up for something that’s going to last seven, eight months,’” she said, describing her relatively unusual approach to RCIA.

“I wanted to make sure I could connect well with the leader of it and that I was going to be learning the true doctrine of the Church,” she added.

After a few weeks, she narrowed it down to two parishes, before deciding on St. Peter’s in Washington, DC. She said she was intrigued by the Dominican friars who taught RCIA at the parish.

Amez-Droz also appreciated the approach the parish took to RCIA, which was to include past participants who had already been received into the Church.

"I knew every Tuesday night that there would be a group of people who were going to be there every time," said Amez-Droz. "That really made a big difference for me, because it showed me that people were still learning and they wanted to do that journey with us."

Still, even though she had put in that much effort to find the right RCIA fit, Amez-Droz still was not entirely sold on entering the Church until just a few months before Easter Vigil.

She told CNA that she was convinced after a period of intense study and reading.

“It became more clear to me that I could never go back to my Protestant faith, just having read too much history,” she said. She also was particularly taken by Augustine’s “Confessions,” and she was intrigued by “The Benedict Option.”

“I thought [The Benedict Option] was really interesting. I think it really warmed me up to tradition, considering what community life looks like,” she said. Another huge influence on her conversion was Christopher West’s “Theology of the Body For Beginners.”

“That theology made so much sense,” she said. “I was like, this is one of the most compelling things I’ve ever heard, and it’s from a pope. So that’s what made me think.”

One of the biggest ideological hurdles for Amez-Droz was accepting the authority of the Church. Once she did, however, it was relatively smooth sailing from there.

"As a convert, it comes down to 'do I accept the authority of the Church?' If I do, then everything else is true,” she said, and one must embrace the Church’s teachings.

Amez-Droz chose St. Therese of Lisieux as her confirmation saint, after first learning about her at a retreat.

She told CNA that she appreciated that St. Therese “emphasizes being great by being small,” and that she admired her humility. She also found it interesting that St. Therese died at age 24, the same age Amez-Droz would be when she entered the Church.

Additionally, Amez-Droz spoke French as her first language, the same as St. Therese.

The Eucharist was another major factor for Amez-Droz, and was the reason she decided to stick with Catholicism even amid the “summer of scandal” that plagued the Church.

She also said that she appreciated that the Catholics she knew were open and willing to discuss the scandals, particularly those concerning former Archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick.

"It helped me understand how Catholics were taking it,” said Amez-Droz. “It's true that every time I would hear 'but where else would we go? The Eucharist is only in this Church,’ and I thought that was true."

She explained that the scandals themselves did not impact her decision to join the Church, but did help her discern where to attend RCIA.

"I don't expect the Church to be perfect going forward, either. Ultimately, it didn't really affect my decision,” she said.

“I think the biggest impact it had for me was choosing an RCIA, because I wanted to make sure the priest wasn't involved with scandals himself."

Amez-Droz received the Eucharist for the first time on April 21, 2019 at the Easter Vigil.

She almost immediately broke down in tears.

She explained to CNA that she had spent the day with her best friend, and watched “The Passion of the Christ.” The movie, she said, made her feel as though she was “totally not worthy” of receiving communion.

“At the Easter Vigil, I was really happy and I was super-excited to get confirmed, but when it came to communion, it was like ‘this is what it's all about,’” she said.

“I was just overwhelmed that I could share in God’s very person in such a close way, even though I’m totally unworthy,” she said.
 
While she has only been a confirmed Catholic for a few weeks, Amez-Droz told CNA that she feels entirely supported by her parish, and that she is fond of the structure provided by Mass, and the requirement that Catholics attend Mass each Sunday.

“There’s so many ways that Christ exposes himself to you in life. It’s not like you finding him, it’s like ‘this is part of your schedule,”” she said.

“It’s making me a lot closer to God.”

 

This story is part of "The New Catholics Project," a CNA series profiling new converts to the Catholic faith. Look for additional profiles to come.

 

'Abortion saves lives'? Catholic doctor responds to NYT op-ed

New York City, N.Y., May 22, 2019 / 04:51 pm (CNA).- Following an op-ed in the New York Times claiming that all pregnancies are life-threatening, a Catholic doctor emphasized that pregnancy is a natural and healthy condition, and that complications which may arise can be treated without abortion.

“[Pregnancy] is not a serious health risk to the vast majority of women in this country. And unless these women have some underlying medical problems to begin with, most pregnancies are perfectly normal by any means,” said Dr. Mary Jo O’Sullivan, a high-risk obstetrician and Professor Emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Miami.

“There are pregnancies that are complicated by diabetes, hypertension, previous Caesarean sections, some of those things that he mentioned. But they are uncommon, and with good medical care there is no reason why a woman who is desirous of continuing her pregnancy cannot do so,” she told CNA.

In an op-ed published Tuesday in the New York Times, a Colorado-based late-term abortion doctor argued that because women are more likely to die in childbirth than from complications related to an abortion, “pregnancy is dangerous; abortion can be lifesaving.”

“Pregnancy is a life-threatening condition. Women die from being pregnant. We have known that for thousands of years,” abortion doctor Warren Hern wrote May 21.

Hern wrote the piece in response to recent developments related to abortion in Alabama, where the governor recently signed a near-total abortion ban into law. In Alabama last year, nearly six out of every 100,000 white women who gave birth died as a result of their pregnancy. Among black women, it was 27.6, he said.

Hern claimed from this data that a ban on abortion would disproportionately harm black women, citing data suggesting an abortion procedure is much less risky than giving birth. He offered a list of potential complications that can result from pregnancy, as well as risk factors that can make pregnancy, in his view, especially dangerous.

O’Sullivan argued, however, that the op-ed was “bombastic” and employed scare tactics. She reiterated that although any pregnancy carries some risk, it is not a “serious” threat to a woman’s health, especially in the United States. The United States has a higher maternal death rate than Europe, for example, but maternal deaths are still very rare, even in rural areas.

“She doesn't have a 50/50 chance of dying, unless she has some very serious cardiac problems. So I really think that this is scare tactics to prevent women from getting pregnant at all.”

O’Sullivan acknowledged that maternal death rates are higher in black women, especially those of lower socioeconomic status. She pointed out that these women also have a higher risk of hypertension, obesity, diabetes, poor nutrition, and previous Caesarean sections, all of which are risk factors for maternal death.

Better medical care to address these issues is what is needed, she said, especially for women who are at risk for conditions like hypertension, who should seek medical care earlier rather than later in their pregnancy.

For the United States overall, the maternal mortality ratio was 20.7 in 2018, meaning that about 20 mothers die for every 100,000 live births. The rate of death for mothers in Sierra Leone, with the highest maternal mortality ratio in the world, is seventy times that.

In his piece, Hern argued, “Pregnancy itself poses a ‘serious health risk’ — including the risk of dying and losing all bodily functions.” He said that “A woman’s life and health are at risk from the moment that a pregnancy exists in her body, whether she wants to be pregnant or not.”

O’Sullivan expressed doubt that the statistics Hern quotes were entirely accurate.

“There are still issues with proper recording of maternal deaths,” she said. “We're getting better, but we're very poor at that in the United States. And also, what we call a 'maternal death' might be a different definition than other countries may use. So we have to be careful with that too.”

In addition, the statistics Hern used to demonstrate the “safety” of abortion procedures did not include adequate follow-ups on the women it studied, she added, meaning there may have been deaths or complications later on that the study missed.

O'Sullivan pointed out that throughout her medical career, she has aided women through many difficult pregnancies, and had never once had to perform an abortion.

“Abortion is not absolutely indicated under any circumstances,” she said.

There are occasions, she clarified, when a lifesaving procedure for a mother may indirectly result in a child’s death, but this is not the same as an abortion. An example, she said, could be the situation of a severe hemorrhage in a mother’s placenta, known as Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC).

“In that case, we have to deliver the placenta,” she explained.

“The secondary thing that's going to happen is that that baby is not going to survive...the intent is not to kill the baby, but the intention is to remove the placenta. So in that case, yes, if you do not deliver her, [the mother] could well die.”

Even a situation like DIC is extremely rare, she reiterated.

“The most important thing is that pregnancy is generally followed by a very good, healthy outcome for both mother and baby,” she concluded. “And with good medical care, even better.”

Users who left comments on the New York Times website argued that all successful abortion procedures, even if they may be “safer” for the mother, result in the death of the unborn child.

“Every child has a right to life. Every child,” O’Sullivan said.

These Franciscan University alumni expect 'great things' from new president

Steubenville, Ohio, May 22, 2019 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- Franciscan University of Steubenville announced Wednesday the appointment of Fr. David Pivonka, TOR, as the university’s seventh president. Several prominent Catholic alumni of Franciscan said Pinvonka’s appointment is positive news for the university.

Pivonka is the first alumnus of Franciscan University to be named to its top post. The priest, who graduated from the school in 1989, will begin presidential duties immediately and be formally installed in a ceremony later this year. He has served previously as a vice president at the university, and in other administrative and teaching roles.

Curtis Martin is a 1993 master’s graduate of the university, and was given an honorary doctorate by the university at its commencement ceremony this month.

Martin is the founder of national campus ministry apostolate FOCUS. He told CNA that Pivonka’s appointment is “great news for Franciscan University!”

“In each of my encounters with Fr. Dave, I have been impressed by his commitment to Christ and the new evangelization. He is the perfect choice to keep Franciscan University as the leading force for equipping young leaders for a lifetime of dynamic, Christ-centered renewal.”

Lay evangelist Chris Stefanick, founder of Real Life Catholic, is also a graduate of the university.

Stefanick said he expects “great things” from Pivonka’s leadership.

“Franciscan University has remained the hub for dynamically orthodox Catholicism under the two presidents since Fr. Mike [Scanlan]. That said, get ready for a renewal like the university hasn’t seen since Fr. Mike took the helm in 1974.”

Stefanick referred to the renewal of Catholic identity the university experienced under the leadership of Fr. Michael Scanlan, TOR. Scanlan led the university from 1974 to 2000. When he took the helm, the school was a failing regional college on the verge of financial collapse. By the time Scanlan retired, the university had gained a global reputation for “dynamically orthodox” Catholicism, and for graduates reaching leadership roles across the Catholic Church.

Dr. Timothy Gray, president of the Augustine Institute, a Colorado-based graduate school offering degrees in theology, is one such graduate.

Gray told CNA that “Fr Pivonka brings tremendous faith and passion to the leadership of Franciscan University and he will continue its amazing service to the Church in the new evangelization. I can think of no one better to continue Franciscan’s spiritual leadership than Fr David Pivonka. This is good news indeed!”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry earned a master’s degree in theology from Franciscan University in 1996. Fortenberry told CNA that Pivonka is “faithful, sacrificial, and approachable.”

“America has been devastated by corruption and loss of once-great Catholic institutions— Franciscan must remain strong in a world screaming for meaning,” Fortenberry added.

National Catholic Register editor-in-chief Jeanette DeMelo is a 1998 graduate of the university, and received an honorary doctorate from the school in 2018.

DeMelo told CNA that “I have no doubt that Fr. Dave understands what makes Franciscan unique. He experienced it himself as a student and, in a way ever since then, has carried that experience to others through his pastoral ministry.”

“I remember Fr. Dave from my days as a student, when he had recently returned from his graduate studies and became a faculty member. Students loved him. He is energetic, vibrant and a convincing preacher much like Fr. Mike [Scanlan] was.”

Pivonka “will build well on the foundation built by his predecessors, especially the recent work of [outgoing president] Fr. Sean [Sheridan], who has led at a time of intense growth as well as pivotal moment in the wider culture,” DeMelo added.

Alumni of the university are not the only ones to praise Pivonka’s appointment.

The Diocese of Steubenville told CNA that Bishop Jeffrey Montforton sent a letter to Pivonka, congratulating the priest on his new role.

“I look forward to our collaboration along the lines of Franciscan University these coming years. I also look forward to our ministerial relationship and sharing our Lord Jesus Christ with our brothers and sisters throughout the region,” Montforton wrote.

“I have every confidence you will be a great blessing to everyone at Franciscan, a university I hold in high regard.”

 

'Lust is a monster': Gay porn star quits industry, joins fight against porn

Salt Lake City, Utah, May 22, 2019 / 03:35 pm (CNA).- An actor who has been featured in dozens of homosexual pornographic films has announced his exit from the industry and his entrance into the anti-porn movement.

Markie More, a porn star of six years, recommended Fight the New Drug, an organization that educates about the dangers of pornography addiction.

“I’ve decided that I’m officially done with the adult industry,” said More on Twitter.

“If you’re wondering, I’ve quit because I can no longer promote lustful and deviant behavior. Lust is a monster, and the more you feed it, the hungrier it becomes,” he added.

The 26-year-old’s former employer, Next Door Studios, still has some already-created pornographic content that may be released in the future, but More says he is not looking back as he exits the industry.

He said he is not out to spread hate but to show an accurate depiction of how pornography harms people.

“I’ve witnessed porn destroy numerous people, friendships, relationships, families, etc. It does far more harm than good for people,” he tweeted on May 18.

QueerTY reported that More’s resignation comes five months after he accused the vice president of production at Next Door Studios, Rocco Fallon, of making violent threats. Porn Star Paul Canon said he left for similar reasons.

According to Towle Road, More had previously decided to exit the industry in 2017, but later changed his mind, stating that the porn industry had helped him in self-discovery.

However, recently on Twitter, he said his actions in the porn industry were not always a true representation of himself.

“Unfortunately, telling people you fantasize real love isn’t something a studio wants you to say. So, instead I told lies, not even good ones either. I sincerely apologize for misleading you. I will only speak truths from this point forward,” he said.

More said he is now recovering from spending the last six years in the porn industry. In his Twitter bio, he directed those suffering from porn addiction to a link for Fight the New Drug.

Fight the New Drug highlights decades of research and personal accounts that demonstrate various negative effects of pornography consumption, including how porn can fuel violence particularly toward women, distort sexual tastes, and damaged relationships

The group describes itself as “a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts, and personal accounts.”

Biden backs federal abortion protections 'if necessary'

Washington D.C., May 22, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Joe Biden would support federal laws protecting abortion rights, “should it become necessary.” The former vice president is the current frontrunner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination often references his Catholic faith in political speeches, publicly making the sign of the cross as a punch-line to jokes and displaying a rosary worn on his wrist.

Biden’s position was announced by campaign staff on May 21 in response to questions from the Associated Press. His staff further clarified that he would support immediate efforts to enshrine the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade in Federal law.

The announcement marks the latest evolution in Biden’s views on abortion policy over a 50-year career in politics. Earlier on Tuesday he released a video criticizing recent state-level pro-life laws as “pernicious” and “wrong.”

Shortly after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision found a legal right to an abortion throughout a pregnancy, Biden said in a profile interview with the magazine “Washingtonian” that he did not agree with the court’s conclusion.

“But when it comes to issues like abortion, amnesty, and acid, I’m about as liberal as your grandmother,” said Biden. “I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion. I think it went too far. I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.”

By 2007, his last year in the Senate prior to becoming vice president, Biden had been given a zero rating by the National Right to Life Committee. The last time Biden received a score above zero from the National Right to Life Committee was in 2003-2004.

Biden received a 75% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America during his last year in the Senate, having received perfect 100% ratings from the organization in 2001, 2004, 2005, and 2006.

Previously, Biden had been in favor of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits taxpayer funding of abortions in the United States. In 1994, he reassured one of his constituents in a letter that he was guided by the principle that “those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them,” and that he had voted more than 50 times against the federal funding of abortions.

Twelve years ago, in his 2007 book “Promises to Keep,” he described his position on abortion as “middle-of-the-road,” and he reiterated his opposition to both federal funding of abortions and partial-birth abortions.

On May 4, he was asked by a volunteer with the American Civil Liberties Union if he supported “abolishing” Hyde, and he quickly answered “Yes.”

In the 2012 vice presidential debate against Rep. Paul Ryan, Biden described himself as agreeing with the Church’s view on abortion but that he “refuse(s) to impose that on others, unlike my friend here,” referring to Ryan.

“I do not believe we have a right to tell women that they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor,” Biden said.